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Stargazing: Memoirs of a Young Ligh
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When Peter Hill answered an ad seeking relief lighthouse keepers, little did he imagine it would lead to spending the next year working in various Scottish lighthouses, 'keeping' with all manner of unusual people. Here, he evokes that time in the early 70s with clarity and laments the loss of values in society at large.
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In 1973, Glasgow-born Hill impulsively dropped out of art school to train as a lighthouse keeper at a series of remote outposts off Scotland's coast. He was, he recalls, the very image of the teenage baby boomer: longhaired, scruffy, dragging his rock 'n' roll tapes around everywhere. Yet he appears to have enjoyed himself immensely, spending weeks in close quarters with a handful of much older men, listening to their anecdotes and learning how to cook huge meals. The biggest problem with this loose, digressive account is that that's pretty much all they did other than keep the lights on. There are some amusing scenes one lighthouse crew's obsession with the televised Watergate hearings; a game of Scrabble in which only nautical terms are allowed but the pace is otherwise slow moving. While that sometimes makes for remarkable character studies, the narrative is burdened by Hill's grandiose faith in the significance of his generational moment. As a result, the memoir reads more like an elegy for his lost youth than one for the lighthouse keepers who would soon be replaced by automated technology. Furthermore, American readers will struggle to make sense of the references to 1970s BBC programming, which serve as hooks to describe nearly everyone Hill meets (the book was published in the U.K. last year). At least it's easy to grasp the Scots dialect; the gruff men who speak it hold much of the tale's vitality. In contrast, Hill's more direct efforts to wax charmingly nostalgic sound too often merely pretentious, like the sort of pompous middle-aged prattle Hill would have fled from if he were still 19. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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