Sphere £11.99

Robin Ince's Bad Book Club, By Robin Ince

From Ricky Gervais's support act to a darling of the "indie" comedy scene, Robin Ince has become a cult favourite mainly because of his Book Club nights, which saw him introduce an array of cabaret acts amid his readings of books such as the autobiography of Syd Little and The Secrets of Picking Up Sexy Girls.

Ince's act, rather like his career, builds up heads of steam that propel him on erratic journeys, on which he becomes giddy with his own guile and gabble. And so it is with his book, which chronicles the treasures he has uncovered during many forays to the darkest reaches of charity-shop bookshelves. Put simply: he has read this crap so you don't have to, and made something approximating a silk purse out of numerous sows' ears.

Take these examples, which traverse the range of the ridiculous to the unpalatable: the 1970s sitcom misogyny of The Secrets of Picking Up Sexy Girls advises that women in hats are more conceited than ones who go bare-headed; Starlust delves into the sexual fantasies that arise from celebrity worship, including one woman who likes to imagine her pop icons, from Blondie to Boy George, in pain; and Elvis: His Life and Times in Poetry and Lines is another extreme, if not quite so disconcerting, example of fandom. In this work – a whole volume of poetry in praise of the King's godlike qualities – it is dedication, not imagination, that is taken to the brink. It even rivals Danielle Steel's poetry about jam, quoted elsewhere by Ince, for nonsense.

All these are, of course, comedy sitting ducks. Discussing Starlust, Ince derides one fantasist for his aborted sexploit with Sheena Easton, describing it as "a proper British fantasy" where he sees the protagonist as essentially saying "I am awfully sorry but I think that this fantasy has gone quite far enough, young lady."

Some sitting ducks quack more than others, of course. Sharon Stone's coffee-table book on bereavement is so vacuous that it allows for little comedy gold to be mined from it. There's far more return from a hipster's guide to Christianity, for example, and from the autobiography of Don Estelle, best known as Lofty in It Ain't Half Hot Mum.

Estelle, it seems, is more preoccupied with his home improvements than his acting credits and the potential stories therein, and this domestic quality is one that Ince admires. This also explains Ince's attachment to Terry Major-Ball's autobiography, in which the former prime minister's late brother stuns us with the revelation: "I must admit, although it's not politically correct, that I do like bacon and eggs."

Ince is affectionate towards the earthy concerns of Messrs Estelle and Major-Ball and, indeed, he strikes a benevolent tone throughout. He almost manages to hold his tongue through chapters on his known bête noires – "Bad Science" (a chapter heading with the same name as his buddy Ben Goldacre's rationalist tome), "New Age" and "Columnists". He could do with a little more factual analysis in the latter chapter, to help his fish-in-a-barrel shooting of Garry Bushell and Richard Littlejohn – though his description of the US commentator Ann Coulter as "showing off to the right-wing hordes like Eva Braun dancing in crotchless pants in a bunker" is almost enough to make you forgive this.

If it is piquant observations you want in between these homages to the unfashionable, failures and charlatans, then Ince has them. Occasionally, they may be hidden in blather and wrong turnings, such as his protracted musings on Cliff Richard wondering about the ability of monkeys to swim, or on the contents of The Correct Guide to Letter Writing as used in an uneven, and surprisingly short, chapter about self-help manuals. But at other times they are staring you in the face: "Many celebrities," he observes in the chapter on autobiography, "are no more than walking ghosts, pepped up by their vampire-like management until they crumble like chaff and blow under the carpets of the public's memory."

It's a sentence that, in its truth, is beautiful and terrifying at the same time, and one of the nuggets of gold at the end of the rainbow of Ince's odyssey of the odious.

Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Arts and Entertainment
All-new couples 'Come Dine With Me'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Black Sabbath's Ozzy Osbourne
musicReview: BST Hyde Park, London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Gamble and Amy Hoggart star in Almost Royal burning bright productions
tvTV comedy following British ‘aristos’ is accused of mocking the trusting nature of Americans
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice