Best showbiz books for Christmas

William Cook
Friday 11 December 2009 01:00 GMT

During the last decade, show-business autobiographies have monopolised the Christmas bestseller lists, and in December it's hard to see beyond the LightEnt memoirs that clutter up booksellers' front desks. Most are pap of course, but there are usually few gems amid the dross, and this year's haul includes several remarkably good books by TV entertainers. The pick of this bunch is My Shit Life So Far by Frankie Boyle (HarperCollins, £18.99). As you might expect from such a self-deprecating title, Boyle is supremely disparaging about virtually everything, from his Spartan Scottish upbringing to his comedy career. His main claim to fame is as a panellist on Mock The Week, a pretty flimsy premise for a full-length autobiography and his healthy contempt for television ("a shiny bauble used to distract morons while they're having their pockets picked") makes this a refreshing antidote to the usual feelgood books by TV stars.

It's no surprise to find that Chris Evans has no such doubts about his media career. It's Not What You Think (HarperCollins, £20) is so infused with chutzpah, it's like a DIY guide to mega-stardom, right down to the top-ten tips.

The big surprise is that it's a really good read. Despite his overbearing image, Evans has an acute sense of his own absurdity – and though his self-belief rarely wavers, he never slips into pomposity or self-pity. The book ends on a cliffhanger, just as he buys a multimillion pound stake in Virgin Radio. I'm already looking forward to Part Two.

Jack Dee's Thanks For Nothing (Doubleday, £20) also seems to have been written with one eye on a sequel, since it ends when he lands an agent, and gives up his day job as a waiter. A string of dead-end jobs is the best apprenticeship for a TV entertainer, and it's no coincidence that Dee, like Evans, never went to university. Instead he delivered incontinence pants and made false legs (among other things) while stumbling towards stand-up comedy. His descriptions of these dreary jobs are the best parts of this moving and entertaining book.

Which brings us to The Blaze of Obscurity: The TV Years (Picador, £17.99), the fifth volume of Clive James's ongoing autobiography. By rights, this should be an exasperating book. Old scores are settled, illustrious names are dropped from a commanding height and long-forgotten TV programmes re-examined in exhaustive (and often exhausting) detail. Yet this memoir holds your interest in a way most showbiz memoirs fail to do.

The reason is that Clive James is a gifted writer who has been on television, rather than a gifted TV star who can write. For him, the words are not just a nice little earner but a vocation, a way of life. The Blaze of Obscurity sheds some fresh light on television in the late 20th century, but as the tape-recorded reminiscences of B-list celebrities oust real writers from our bookshops, its greatest service is to remind us that a famous face is no substitute for proper authorship, however good the ghost.

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