Tuesday, November 29, 2011

november books

I know this is boring, but it’s been quite useful to keep a record of the stuff I’ve read. These are my latest books:
Middles Classes (Simon Gunn+Rachel Bell): An absolutely fascinating book that I bought on impulse at “The Last Bookshop”, Bristol (partly because it was only £2 new!). Written by two of the team who’d made the BBC documentary series “Aristocracy” (which I didn’t see), this book traces the roots of middle-class values in Victorian England through to the great education reforms and changes in the workplace of the 20th century.
Sunset Park (Paul Auster): I’ve become a great admirer of Auster’s books over the past couple of years. This book is set in 2008 in the USA - against the financial crisis that had recently hit the country. The story is divided between a number of characters but with the central player, in his late 20s, reflecting on why, despite his middle-class background, he has ended up in a New York squat. The book is typically Auster in “feel” – minimal dialogue, measured, third-person, past-tense narration – and with a typical lack of “closure”. One of those impressive books that you keep reflecting on long after you’ve finished reading.
And When Did You Last See Your Father? (Blake Morrison): It’s taken me a long time to get around to reading this. A poignant reflection of the author’s larger-than-life GP father (infuriating memories of him jumping traffic queues; “I may not be right, but I’m never wrong” motto etc) as he approached death. Although my own father wasn’t a “larger-than-life” character (or a GP!), Morrison’s reflections on the his father’s final days instantly brought back memories of my Dad’s death (lots of similarities: I think Morrison’s father died the same year as mine – 1992; Morrison and I are similar ages – he’s a year younger; we were both at our fathers’ bedsides when they died). A beautifully observed, honest book and one that has helped to trigger many memories of my own.
Words and Wonderings (Joy Mead): This is a book of conversations between the author and a range of people from different backgrounds, including poets, bakers, environmentalists, artists and musicians. The conversations essentially explore the true meaning of community (beyond the jargon of the “Big Society”!). Some interesting insights and observations. However, I did find the style/format of the book somewhat predictable and a little awkward (and, apart from one or two instances, not convincingly “conversational”). I enjoyed the diversity of the participants and found it useful as a daily source of reflection. This is another of the books our Ithaca group will be “studying” in due course.
The American Future (Simon Schama): This is a book of the television series (again a £2 purchase!) and is typically “Schama” in style – full of rich prose, stylistic “charm” and HIM (I find his ego rather irritating!) - it probably works better as a television programme than a book (although I’ve actually only seen a couple of the programmes). The book, which was written in Barack Obama’s presidential election year, understandably “looks backward in order to see forward” but, to my mind, hardly seems to look forward at all, so I found the title misleading/inaccurate. I felt he was at his most convincing when he provided first-hand encounters with people he’d met and somewhat strangely, given his eminence, found many of his historical accounts rather tedious/overcomplicated in nature (eg. compared with Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals”. Nevertheless, a fascinating book.

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