Play It Again – An Amateur Against the Impossible, by Alan Rusbridger

Review published on February 13, 2013.Reviewed by Sue Wilsea

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

[product sku=”9780224093774″]Written in diary form, Play it Again – An Amateur Against the Impssible is Alan Rusbridger’s account of a year in which he juggles learning how to play a Chopin piano piece with his demanding and frenetic day job as editor of The Guardian. The fact that the Ballade in G Minor is notoriously difficult and that the year in question, 2010-11, was highly significant for the Press in terms of the phone hacking scandal and Wikileaks espionage, should make for an intriguing read. However, for this particular reviewer the balance between the music and politics – there is simply too much of the former – at times tilts the book into tedium. It is difficult to imagine that the wealth of detail given about the fingering and pedalling of the piece would be of great interest to the general reader. Rusbridger does explore the differences between amateur and professional, not just in music but in journalism too, which admittedly is fascinating but a book of this length would have benefited from more argument and less description. The detailing of an obsession, of youthful unfulfilled ambition, is also a fruitful theme but it is all too much. This editor needed a good editor!

It is inevitable that a memoir (assuming Play it Again is so termed ) encourages the reader to pass judgement on the author. For me Rusbridger emerged as a decent man, not in the least pompous as shown when he quotes Assange’s description of him as,‘ a lily-livered git with eyes like marbles on a pogo stick.’ He is not afraid to admit his insecurities and doubts about playing the Chopin yet in his professional life is someone unafraid of taking risks in order to expose the truth and in fact downplays the personal attacks he suffered as a result. However, he also leads a highly privileged and cocooned existence: mixing in influential circles, having financial resources and travelling the world with even his day to day London life seeming to consist of much wining and dining. For example, almost as an aside he mentions having a ‘private dinner cooked by the most exclusive chef in the world.’ It is hard to imagine him having to cope with the more mundane demands of life (perhaps the shadowy figure of his wife does that!) although to his credit towards the end he does admit this.

Play it Again is a stylish looking book – I loved the dust jacket – which makes it even more inexplicable why the photographs are of such indifferent quality. They are often dark and rarely captioned. The one on P110 is something – probably Rusbridger’s newly-built music room – covered with snow but it’s difficult to tell and anyway the image adds little to the narrative.

I would recommend this book if you are interested in how a top level pianist or a top level journalist work. If so, you will find much that is entertaining and informative. Its more universal appeal is that it does tackle the question of how we all manage our time and how, if we really want to do something, it is always possible to squeeze extra minutes out of already hectic schedule and in the process gain huge personal satisfaction.


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