Exclusive For the past eighteen months Amazon.com browsers have been informed and delighted by the contributions of one Henry Raddick. He's one of very few amateur reviewers to attain celebrity status - he's officially ranked as the 122nd most valuable contributor - and it's not hard to see why.
Whether he's reviewing self-help tomes, manuals on sado-masochistic sex, or - a particular area of expertise, this - pugs and spaniels, Raddick has brought his unique expertise and warmth into the cold medium of e-commerce. What undoubtedly makes Raddick - "cheeriness personified", as he describes himself - so popular with Amazon users are the personal narratives he introduces.
Reviewing The English Cocker Spaniel Handbook Raddick, whose own spaniel Barry died last year, enthuses, adding: " I enjoyed the book immensely and, though I have a sneaking suspicion that Barry is using the book as porn, I wholeheartedly recommend it."
Describing Get Anyone to Do Anything: Never Feel Powerless Again--With Psychological Secrets to Control and Influence Every Situation by David J Lieberman, Ph.D, Raddick says:- "Do believe the hype, this marvelous book really does make good on its bold promises. Forcing Clive from sales to do that scene from "Deliverance" really made my day last Tuesday. I would recommend this book to anyone."
But Raddick's confessional style takes no prisoners. Reviewing Guy (Mr Madonna) Ritchie's movie Snatch on DVD, Raddick wrote:-
"After seeing this film (or the 30 minutes of it I could bear) I felt an overwhelming need to try to let the director know that there is a sweating, balding, 465 lb man out there who has knelt on the floor with his wife's album covers fanned out in front of him. I should know. I am that man. I feel Guy Ritchie has done exactly this to me with this bilge."
He's raised the profile of hitherto neglected classics, such as Margaret Thatcher's A History of Antarctic Science (Studies in Polar Research) , and Richard Whiteley's Love the Work You're With. And added to the debate on postmodernism, with architect Charles Jencks.
But it's Raddick's knowledge of canines that distinguishes the work of this suburban polymath, this e-commerce Candide.
Whether he's discussing The Bulldog : Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow ("the little fellow just cracks me up with his baby slobber-chops"), When Rover Just Won't Do: Over 2,000 Suggestions for naming your Puppy ("Jonathan wants something 'ironic', though his suggestions owe less to irony than inappropriate buffoonery and disrespect (viz 'Schlong'…"), or Will I See Fido in Heaven?: Scripturally Revealing God's Eternal Plan for His Lesser Creatures ("Barry … does not accept Christ as his saviour. Even so, a few wafer hosts can't hurt his chances, and he just loves them"), Raddick sheds new light on the relationship between man and dog. Or man, dog and homophobic Uncle, too.
So when we got the opportunity to do an interview with Raddick - the first of its kind, we're honoured to say - that's where we began.
Raddick breaks his silence
We cut straight to the core: wife or dog? Who takes up most of your time, Marjorie or Grendel?
"Grendel, by a long way. But what you have to remember is that Marjorie and I have been married for years and have a sound relationship based on our complicit denial about our binge-eating, and our children. Grendel’s a relative newcomer and I am gradually getting to know his quirks."
We wondered how Raddick was coping with the spaniel-to-pug transition. Barry the spaniel died last year, and Grendel the pug is a relative newcomer.
"It’s been a difficult transition," Henry told us.
"Partly because, as I would be the first to admit, I put Barry on a bit of a pedestal. But he’s a tough act to follow.
"Also I got off on the wrong foot with Grendel in that I bought him labouring under something of a misapprehension. Ever since, I look at him and see not a pug but a walking embodiment of my own crass gullibility. But I am learning to see Grendel as dog rather than metaphor of my own shortcomings."
"And you don’t need a book to tell you to avoid 'projecting' onto dogs. Or do you?"
Delving deeper, how far had Raddick been able to test Grendel's obedience. Surely a pug is no match for the loyalty of a spaniel?
"I thought that too, but Grendel keeps surprising us. It seems he was a UK Customs Narcotic Detection operative before we bought him."
"Well, more of a cadet," he admits. "He was drummed out of basic training for planting evidence on suspects, but not before he learned some handy skills; and after the recent (successful) dawn raid on my son Jonathan’s bedroom, I am starting to warm to the little fellow."
That's good to hear.
Is Uncle Sandy making any progress with confronting his prejudices?
"Sadly not," sighs Raddick. "He has just gone into a beautiful retirement home with magnificent facilities, but he hates it. Let’s just say that the words 'male nurse' mean just one thing to certain people."
Although Jonathan's adolescence has been described in some detail, Raddick rarely mentions his daughter. We wondered why.
"Simple. She’s a teenage girl and I’m her father. I don’t mention her because I am terrified of saying the wrong thing.
"We’re at the stage that if I praise her she squirms, if I chastise her I’m a fascist, and if I have a few beers before my mascot duties at her school football match I get the cold-shoulder for almost a year.
"But I am pleased to say that we are starting to talk again."
The very private man
How much time does reviewing books consume, as opposed to walking Grendel, SM or other interests we don't know about?
"As much time as a busy father of four can," he says.
Choosing a favourite was tricky, and Raddick paused for a long time before delivering his verdict:-
And does he plan to include fiction in his withering gaze?
"I have turned my hand to reviewing romantic fiction and have reviewed a so-called classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but for me non-fiction, and self-help in particular, provides the greatest challenge and satisfaction."
So apart from "keep reading!", what other advice would Raddick have to other 400lb men with low self-esteem?
"Enjoy the battle," says Raddick. "It's you against the entire world."
Henry Raddick - we salute you. ®