Wednesday 30 September 2020

What I've Been Reading Recently

Another quarter done, another slew of books for show and tell.

Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
Postcards from the Edge by Carrie Fisher
Babylon's Ashes by James SA Corey
The Enchantment of Lily Dahl by Siri Hustvedt
Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Alan Sillitoe
The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett
Big Sur by Jack Kerouac
The Field of Cultural Production by Pierre Bourdieu
Damned by Chuck Palahniuk
A History of the World in 10½ Chapters by Julian Barnes

The reading drought of Coronavirus quarantine continues. At the beginning of this in March a months' long vista opened up, not unlike the neverending summer beloved of childhood memory. I'd get so much done, and just think about all the books you don't ordinarily have time for. In the event there was plenty of time for a book: the one I'm writing. Not so much for others, hence the modest extent of this here list.

Quality, not quantity right? I guess so. Both the Barneses were entertaining enough, Damned was good fun in the shock schlock mode Palahniuk affects, and Carrie Fisher's novel (don't call it a memoir) was very Less than Zero/Rules of Attraction. If tales of 80s-tinged celebrity hedonism is your bag, grab it by both handles.

I do want to take this opportunity to pick on Arnold Bennett. Largely forgotten now by the wider discourse, Bennett was a popular late 19th/early 20th century novelist and writer from the Potteries. He wrote some excellent novels, such as Anna of the Five Towns and Clayhanger but also some mediocre yarns too, like The Card. The consensus among the literati who've ever paid Bennett any mind cast The Old Wives' Tale as his magnum opus. A sprawling novel of over 700 pages, it follows 60-odd years in the lives of a pair of sisters. One stays put in jolly old Burslem (or Bursley, as Bennett styled the Potteries' mother town), while the other elopes her way off to Paris. Okay. I tried reading this book about 15-16 years ago when I was part of a local library reading group and gave up after the first eight pages. This time yours truly stuck with it, all the while wishing I'd sunk my time in And Quiet Flows the Don, which has glowered from the shelves these last eight months. The Burslem scenes are tedious, and only come alive when a neighbour is killed off. Paris is more interesting, but we're not talking memorable-level engagement here. There's some promise as the story builds up to the siege of Paris at the hands of the Prussians and at any moment you're thinking, "yes, we're going to have some action set during the Commune." And ... it's glossed over in a single page. What a missed opportunity. Does it make any difference as the rest of the novel goes? I suppose it rubs in the plodding, dreary and boring countenance of the narrative. Why this is received as Bennett's masterpiece beats me. Therefore, take this as a warning. If you ever find yourself wanting to dip into the oeuvre of Stoke's literary giant, this book should be far down the list.

Got some interesting things coming up due to feature on next quarter's list. I (might) have got round to finishing Mandel's Late Capitalism by then, and my copy of Huw Lemmy's Red Tory: My Corbyn Chemsex Hell has arrived and awaits the attention of my economy. No doubt destined to be a cult, pornographic classic of the Corbyn moment. Grab your copy while you still can.

What have you been reading recently?


Anonymous said...

Just finished 'Beyond Liberal Egalitarianism' by Tony Smith. He takes on the claims of liberals (broadly defined) who claim that capitalism can be made compatible with sustainable human development via the sufficient political will to regulate. Smith rehearses Marx's theory of capital to show that it cannot.

Well and clearly written. If I were still an academic I would recommend some of the chapters to students who want an accessible introduction to Marx's critique of political economy.

Aside from books, I am making my way through some of the archives of Trotskyist material on the Splits & Fusions blog.

The archive of the "Communist Bulletin" (published in the early 1980s) is worth reading. Marxist analyses of Labour and labourism that makes no pretence that the British working class is simply awaiting the correct revolutionary leadership, or that the Labour-left possesses any capacity to systematically challenge the politics of the Labour-right, beyond periodic bouts of moral indignation.

Some clear and honest thinking about the real prospects for socialist advance in Britain that remains relevant today.


John Smithee said...


I've been reading: "The Fall Of The Red Wall - The Labour Party No Longer Represents People Like Us." by Steve Rayson (£6.45 from Amazon)...

Steve Rayson has done an excellent job and clearly shows how the disconnection between the Labour Party and its (assumed) supporters grew and grew over the years to a point of detachment.

The Brexit position of the Labour Party in 2019 simply added to this sense of disconnection. He illustrates how this is a process that was growing over years, not a single event or topic issue.

The Labour Party has a huge mountain to climb if it is recover and re-establish a credible political narrative with what is once saw as its political base. Essential reading for anyone interested in UK politics over the past 30 years.

Alan Story said...

I have been reading 'Beyond the Red Wall' and numerous analyses ( eg. Jeremy Gilbert) on why Labour lost so badly in Dec. 2019 and what might be the way back for Labour.

The "way back" means, of course, defeating the Tories and few seem to be talking about Labour endorsing proportional representation. Pity.

My main fear for the next election ( in 2024?) is that the Tory vote will drop from 43% to about 35% and the Tories will keep a solid majority of seats. Which is exactly what Blair did in 2005 under FPTP.