Sunday 31 March 2024

What I've Been Reading Recently

Less frequent blogging = more frequent reading, as intended. Here's what I've burned through these last three months:

Bourdieu and Literature by John RW Spellar
11.22.63 by Stephen King
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M Cain
Hyperion by Dan Simmons
A Poetics of Postmodernism by Linda Hutcheon
Serenade by James M Cain
The Care Manifesto by The Care Collective
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons
Tentacle by Rita Indiana
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
Gateway by Frederik Pohl
The English Teacher by RK Narayan
Lean On Me: A Politics of Radical Care by Lynne Segal
The Anomaly by Herve Le Tellier
Salvation Lost by Peter F Hamilton
Empire and Imperialism by Atilio A Boron
Hello America by JG Ballard
At the Jerusalem by Paul Bailey
Beyond the Blue Event Horizon by Frederik Pohl
Cross Channel by Julian Barnes
The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin
Science Fiction by Adam Roberts
Gaston de Blondeville by Ann Radcliffe
Comrade by Jodi Dean
Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds
The Last Starship from Earth by John Boyd
Submission by Michel Houllebecq
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen by Taseusz Borowski
Ancient, My Enemy by Gordon R Dickson
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

That's quite a few books! Where to begin to talk about them? Apart from this already written up, I want to single two out. The first is Matthew Lewis's The Monk. There's been an 18th century gothic thing around these parts of late, and I'm happy to say this is one of the most ridiculous and absurd novels you'll ever read. Watch how a holy man comes undone bit by bit, and whose crimes cause him to commit even greater crimes - much to his detriment. Why this isn't a touchstone in the English literary canon beats me.

The other book, mentioned in passing elsewhere, is Lynne Segal's Lean on Me. Drawing on her experience of care and intimacy in this country's women's movement, she argues that this provides the basis of an alternative to the privatised individualism and its neuroses about ageing and infirmity. Read in conjunction with The Care Manifesto, Jodi Dean's Comrade, and the Lazzarato stuff I'm studying at the moment, Lynne not only asks the right questions but is pointing toward the answers. Highly recommended.

I have a ridiculously large to-be-read pile, and so it's reasonable to expect a relatively generous overview by the end of June. What have you been reading recently?


The Laughing Lemon said...

Oooo... (since just before Christmas: slow reader)

Fleet of Knives - Gareth L. Powell
A Small Stubborn Town - Andrew Harding
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - John le Carre
Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality - Fredric Jameson
Echo Park - Michael Connelly
The Overlook - Michael Connelly
The Palestine Laboratory - Anthony Lowenstein
The Rentier City (nearly finished) - Isaac Rose

Phil said...

Anything stand out from that selection?

SpiesAreUs said...

If you enjoy reading fact based espionage thrillers, of which there are only a handful of decent ones, do try reading Bill Fairclough’s Beyond Enkription. It is an enthralling unadulterated fact based autobiographical spy thriller and a super read as long as you don’t expect John le CarrĂ©’s delicate diction, sophisticated syntax and placid plots.

What is interesting is that this book is so different to any other espionage thrillers fact or fiction that I have ever read. It is extraordinarily memorable and unsurprisingly apparently mandatory reading in some countries’ intelligence agencies’ induction programs. Why?

Maybe because the book has been heralded by those who should know as “being up there with My Silent War by Kim Philby and No Other Choice by George Blake”; maybe because Bill Fairclough (the author) deviously dissects unusual topics, for example, by using real situations relating to how much agents are kept in the dark by their spy-masters and (surprisingly) vice versa; and/or maybe because he has survived literally dozens of death defying experiences including 20 plus attempted murders.

The action in Beyond Enkription is set in 1974 about a real maverick British accountant who worked in Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) in London, Nassau, Miami and Port au Prince. Initially in 1974 he unwittingly worked for MI5 and MI6 based in London infiltrating an organised crime gang. Later he worked knowingly for the CIA in the Americas. In subsequent books yet to be published (when employed by Citicorp, Barclays, Reuters and others) he continued to work for several intelligence agencies. Fairclough has been justifiably likened to a posh version of Harry Palmer aka Michael Caine in the films based on Len Deighton’s spy novels.

Beyond Enkription is a must read for espionage cognoscenti. Whatever you do, you must read some of the latest news articles (since August 2021) in TheBurlingtonFiles website before taking the plunge and getting stuck into Beyond Enkription. You’ll soon be immersed in a whole new world which you won’t want to exit. Intriguingly, the articles were released seven or more years after the book was published. TheBurlingtonFiles website itself is well worth a visit and don’t miss the articles about FaireSansDire. The website is a bit like a virtual espionage museum and refreshingly advert free.

Returning to the intense and electrifying thriller Beyond Enkription, it has had mainly five star reviews so don’t be put off by Chapter 1 if you are squeamish. You can always skip through the squeamish bits and just get the gist of what is going on in the first chapter. Mind you, infiltrating international state sponsored people and body part smuggling mobs isn’t a job for the squeamish! Thereafter don’t skip any of the text or you’ll lose the plots. The book is ever increasingly cerebral albeit pacy and action packed. Indeed, the twists and turns in the interwoven plots kept me guessing beyond the epilogue even on my second reading.

The characters were wholesome, well-developed and beguiling to the extent that you’ll probably end up loving those you hated ab initio, particularly Sara Burlington. The attention to detail added extra layers of authenticity to the narrative and above all else you can’t escape the realism. Unlike reading most spy thrillers, you will soon realise it actually happened but don’t trust a soul.

Zoltan Jorovic said...

My most recent reading:

Late Soviet Britain, by Abby Innes
Island on the Edge of the World, by Charles Maclean
Why? The purpose of the Universe, by Philip Goff
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
Goodbye to All That, by Robert Graves
Weaponising Anti-Semitisim, by Asa Winstanley
A Nation of Shopkeepers, By Dan Evans

Brave New World is interesting in that it posits a future where we are all kept under control by pleasure - through sex, entertainment ('feelies') and a non-addictive, no side-effect drug called Soma. It contrasts with the world of 1984 where oppression and fear are the method of control. Why nobody has in reality developed such a drug is a surprise. It seems like the ideal product. Keeps us happy without much of a downside. I'd buy it.

Late Soviet Britain is a forensic evisceration of neoliberalism, in great and fully referenced detail. She explains why we are in a mess and why those who got us there still pursue the same obviously failing methods. If you want to see the full stupidity and entirely theory derived utopian fantasy made manifest, listen to John Redwood. Perhaps the most ridiculous politician of our age. Entirely sealed in to his own imaginary version of the world, where market fundamentalism is the great answer to everything, if only we could, like he can, see the truth. If it wasn't destroying our world and our country, it would be hilarious. Swap the neoliberals with late soviet 'thinkers' and you could barely spot the difference in terms of how they deny reality. Both sets seek to make reality bend to their theories, and inevitably fail. But persist, nevertheless, to all our detriment.

Goodbye to All That is a great read and a wonderful autobiography of the first half of Graves' life. The WW1 years are the bulk of it and make moving and disturbing reading.

Phil Goff is a philosopher who espouses panpsychism and here he suggests that the universe may indeed have a purpose. I love it because it moves away from either religion or meaninglessness, to something intriguing, and somehow, relaxing. I feel happier knowing there might be a point to the universe, and that it isn't us. Because, let's face it, we've really let the place down if it is.

Island at the Edge of the World is about St Kilda, a real place, and the people who lived there for many hundreds of years, a unique way of life dependent on seabirds, until 1930, when they were evacuated at their request. What led to this is fascinating and sad. It sort of sums up our journey as a species, from subsistence to consumerism, and from being part of nature, to being uncomfortable with it.