Friday, January 27, 2012

january books

A Visit from the Goon Squad (Jennifer Egan): I finished this book on the first day of the new year. It seemed like the perfect book for this time of year – a time for reflection and looking forward (and especially, for me, following retirement and also after catching up with some old friends fairly recently – either “in the flesh”, as it were, or via FB). It’s a book about memory and friendship, life stories, opportunities lost and gained and about interconnection. It took me a little time to get into the book, but I was gradually won over. I ended up loving it – it’s an absolutely charming book (literally).
Free Radical: A Memoir (Vince Cable): I generally admire Cable; he seems to be an “honest” politician and a decent bloke. In the book, as well as politics, he talks touchingly about his family – especially the death of his first wife from cancer in 1998. Over perhaps the past four years, he has become the “holy grail of economic comment” (as the Guardian once described him). The book provides frank accounts of his life (including his time working in India and with Shell) – but I was struck by the number of poor decisions he consistently seems to have made throughout his life (especially when it came to trying to get himself elected as an MP!). He is pretty scathing about Gordon Brown’s performance as PM and also about George Osborne (“I have never rated George’s understanding of financial and economic matters”) – although he does acknowledge the latter to be a “political operator of some substance”. Inevitably, there is a hint of “I told you so” in the concluding chapter (essentially referring to the “stormy waters” of the global economic crisis) – although I haven’t been desperately impressed by his performance as Business Secretary in the current coalition!
Freedom (Jonathan Franzen): I thought this was a brilliant novel. It’s a (very long book) about a marriage (and contemporary American life?) - about its joys, frustrations and disappointments. But it’s far more than that. It’s about pride, jealousy, resentment, politics, big business, greed, ecology, sex, honesty, inadequacy, relationships, society, education, risk, delight, truth, compromise, falsehood, lifestyle… I could go on! It’s funny, it’s scathing, it’s poignant and, in my view, it’s a book you NEED to read (it’s VERY readable)! I now definitely want to read Franzen’s highly-acclaimed “The Corrections”.
The Tyrannicide Brief (Geoffrey Robertson): Due to the peculiarities of the fast-tracked “Remove” stream at my grammar school, I was sadly forced to give up History at the end of my first year of secondary education(!). As a result, my knowledge of 17th century British history is sadly lacking. This book, by eminent human-rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, tells the story of the little-known John Cooke - the lawyer who essentially “sent Charles I to the scaffold”. It’s an absolutely fascinating and impassioned story of a landmark prosecution based on the King’s “tyranny” (depriving his subjects of their civil rights and mass murder on a vast scale). Robertson argues that Cooke has been widely misrepresented by history. When Charles's son was restored to the throne, soon after the death of Cromwell, his father's trial was seen as an act of treason and his legal execution as murder. Cooke's prosecution for these crimes was duly rigged and Charles II attended the disembowelling of Cooke, still alive after he had been part-hanged and castrated. A brilliant book.
A Moveable Feast (Ernest Hemingway): “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast”. I really enjoyed this short set of memoirs written by Hemingway (completed in 1960) about his time as a young writer living in Paris in the 1920s. It’s an evocative, often funny, sometimes rather cruel, account of his daily routines, his lack of funds and the people he met (including F Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Hilaire Belloc and Gertrude Stein) in the bars and cafes of the city. His descriptions are quite brilliant and the pieces about FSF, in particular, very amusing.

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