Review: Train and Buttered Toast by John Betjeman (ed. Stephen Games)

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What’s It About?

John Betjeman was a popular BBC radio presenter.  Between 1932 and 1952 he was a predominant radio personality giving over 300 talks.  In ‘Trains and Buttered Toast’ Stephen Games has used transcripts and archives to bring together a large and varied selection of these talks.  These talks bring to life Betjeman’s wit and nostalgia, and often his love of architecture.

My Thoughts:

I am too young to have ever heard John Betjeman (or to have heard of him), but that didn’t stop me from picking up this book at the library.  To me it read like a book of fairly short essays (possibly even blog posts?), though at times I did feel that I was missing out on not being able to imagine how these talks were given.

Betjeman covers many subjects yet continuously comes back to architecture and often his talks are tinged with anger over the ‘new’ architecture that “littered the roadside with shacks and hoardings” (pp 38).  While I did find a lot of interesting, after a while I found that I was beginning to get bored of this constant whining and aggravation, even if I did agree with it.  I can easily see how there could be split feelings towards his style and content.

This book begins with a preface by Stephen Games, but one of my favourite parts of the book was the introduction.  As expected this gave an overview of Betjeman’s life which I found very helpful as a complete newbie, though admittedly this tinged how I read and accepted Betjeman’s talks as I had already been told opinions about it; no matter how hard you try and make your own opinions, once you’ve been told something it is impossible to not let that affect how you accept something.

Generally speaking I think this is an okay read.  It doesn’t include anything incredible, though there were moments that I smiled in appreciation or nodded my head in agreement.  Likewise, its only real downfall is the overbearing information about architecture appreciation and the ending poetry which felt misplaced after the rest of the talks.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, unless you are either a huge fan of Betjeman or architecture, but nor would I say that it wasn’t worth reading.  I have a feeling it’s one of those books that everyone will have their own reaction towards.

Overall rating: 3/5

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