Wednesday 28 June 2023

What I've Been Reading Recently

Let's talk about books. Here are some that I have read in the last three months as per the regular custom. If you like lists, knock yourself out:

Leviathan Falls by James SA Corey
Undoing the Demos by Wendy Brown
Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
Blue Labour by Maurice Glasman
Authority by Jeff VanderMeer
Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd
The Hiding Place by Trezza Azzopardi
Nat Tate by William Boyd
Critiquing Capitalism Today by Frederick Harry Pitts
Cal by Bernard MacLaverty
Salvation by Peter F Hamilton
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
The Green Man by Kingsley Amis
Jerusalem the Golden by Margaret Drabble
Eon by Greg Bear
A World Beyond Work? by Ana Cecilia Dinerstein and Frederick Harry Pitts
The Black Locomotive by Rian Hughes
Invitation to Sociology by Peter Berger
A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe
Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer
Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
That Uncertain Feeling by Kingsley Amis
A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam
The Doors of Eden by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Mr Standfast by John Buchan
Hegel's Theory of the Modern State by Shlomo Avineri
The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

If you've wondered what I've been doing instead of blogging, here's your answer. Starting with my most recent read, The Marchioness, I thought it was an enjoyable if incongruent slice of Victoriana. The first half is all lovely and innocent, almost like an Austen novel. But in the second half there's black magic, skulduggery, and murder plots aplenty. Who knew late 19th century bourgeois marriages were so eventful? The White Tiger was an excellent read as well. If you're familiar with the tongue-in-cheek style of Indian fiction (at least the fiction I've read), you'll know what to expect. Irreverence, absurdity, and all with a dark undertone. Told as a series of letters to then Chinese leader Hu Jintao, it's so funny and wonderfully written that there would have been fireworks had it not won that year's Booker.

Martin Amis passed away just as I was reading one of his dad's novels. I've always been a fan of the younger Amis over dear old pops. Perhaps it was an age thing. I read Lucky Jim a long time ago and, if I'm honest, found it ghastly. Now I'm a little older I've grown a touch more appreciative. Both The Green Man and That Uncertain Feeling were good fun. Probably best read through a pair of Carry On spectacles with Divine Comedy albums on repeat. I want to give the Rian Hughes a shout out too for some really imaginative science fiction, which involves original aliens that do screwy things with physics and ... steam trains. Highly recommended. And those with a bit more of a social and political theory bent might be wondering why Frederick Harry Pitts and Maurice Glasman are on the list. One, because I've got something cooking on Blue Labour and Starmerism, and two I wanted to see how Pitts's take on Marxism fits with rejecting Corbynism but buddying up with the likes of Jon Cruddas. It doesn't, if truth be told. Nevertheless, his renovated PhD and collab with Ana Dinerstein did have a lot of useful material on the labour theory of value, critiques of the basic income, and an attack on old friends of the blog. Some of which are fair enough, and others? Perhaps I'll write about them when I get a moment.

Now I've settled in to the new place and quite habituated to this readerly/writerly pace, I imagine the next list will be as lengthy. There are two books on the go at the moment but ... I don't do spoilers and you'll have to wait for next time for the big reveal.

What have you been reading?


Zoltan Jorovic said...

My reading list is much shorter:

End State by James Plunkett
Corruptible by Brian Klaas
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
The Scottish Clearances by T. M. Devine
Over Nine Waves by Marie Heaney
We Need New Stories by Nesrine malik
The Lord of The Rings by JRR Tolkien
Good Economics for Hard Times by Abhijit Banerjee & Esther Duflo

Just finishing the last one. It takes a genuinely evidence based view of Economics which is refreshing as most Economics books tend to be a carefully selected set of case histories that demonstrate why that author's particular take on economic theory is correct. A lot are pushing a view rather than taking a look at what has happened, then trying to draw conclusions from this.

Tolkien's book is an undiscovered gem (;)- no, in reality I have read it a number of times before, but not since the first film came out. It was interesting to realise how much the film left out or changed, and what an engaging story it is. The penultimate chapter, which is key to the book, was omitted from the film entirely, oddly. Yet it without it, the whole underlying concept, that the small, ordinary, decent, non-magical people with strength of purpose, kindness and friendship, are what matters.

I read the Heaney book to find out what Irish mythology is about. Its confusing and bizarre, with a lot of repetitious heroes who seem to have the same flaws and powers. Interesting but also disappointing compared to Greek myths.

The Salt Path is a moving and uplifting account of a real mid-life crisis i.e. one where circumstances force traumatic change and how to respond to events over which you have no control. One way to react to being made homeless and diagnosis of a terminal illness is to set off to walk the 630 mile SW coast path. This tells what happened.

Corruptible is based on research interviewing corrupt leaders and discusses what makes corruption happen, and how to avoid it. There are lots of anecdotes based on real events which make it fascinating and enlightening.

Both James Plunkett and Nesrine Malik offer insights into why things are the way they are, and how that could be changed. The world view of how society works and what can be done seems ever narrower, with the "there is no alternative" mantra becoming more and more embedded and generating a sense of hopelessness and despair. Much of our public discourse is fenced in by accepted "truths" that are often unspoken assumptions and rarely questioned. yet many of them are myths. Unlike the Irish myths they offer little entertainment or folkloric colour. What is refreshing is to hear alternative views and solutions. Hope is necessary, and when faced with so many crises, the possibility of change that could lead to a better world is what we all desperately need - or at least, I do.

Douglas Carnall, @juliuzbeezer said...

My old reading habits have been trashed by social media and l'actualité, but I did recently read De Gaulle's La Discorde chez l'Ennemi, his 1944-published analysis of the political failures that led to German defeat in 1918. I can't particularly recommend it either as a work of history: its referencing is too poor; nor as a literary treat: it reads well enough, but its merely a plain account of the doings of great men, and lacks any leavening of personal, social or cultural insight. Such is life as the reader of the contents of the book donation boxes that pepper French towns and villages

Anonymous said...

Since you ask:

Electric Dreams - Philip K Dick
1914-1918: The History of the First World War - David Stevenson
Collapse: The Fall of the Soviet Union - Vladislav M Zubok
Maoism: A Global History - Julia Lovell
Stonemouth - Iain Banks
The Miseltoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales - Kate Mosse
Who Lost Russia?: From the Collapse of the USSR to Putin's War on Ukraine - Peter Conradi
The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu
Flights - Olga Tokarczuk
The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice - Shon Faye
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
The Picture of Dorian Grey - Oscar Wilde
When Things Get Dark - Various (Ed- Ellen Datlow)
Reformation: Europe's House Divided, 1490-1700 - Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Familiars - Stacey Halls
Carry On, Jeeves - PG Wodehouse
The Prague Cemetery - Umberto Eco
Moby Dick - Herman Melville
The Best Science Fiction of the 19th Century - Various (Ed- Asimov, Waugh, & Greenberg)

Dialectician1 said...

Interesting to see Peter Berger among the list of authors. I often used that text many decades ago with students to enable a group discussion about what was, and what was not, sociology. However, it was his work on social constructionism that had the most far-reaching effect on the discipline of sociology, being partly responsible for the rise of postmodernism. Social constructionism is still the dominant discourse in the social sciences; it has led us down the current rabbit hole of anti-rationalism, perspectivalism and an obsession with social identity. The current tortuous debates about hierarchies of prejudice and what constitutes gender are the consequence of these developments.