Monday, December 30, 2013

november-december books

More book stuff:
Somewhat amazingly (well, it’s amazing for me at least!), this is the third year running that I’ve read a book a week throughout the year (yes, I realise I’m the only one counting but: 55 this year, 55 in 2012 and 56 in 2011)!
The Vagrant Mood (W Somerset Maughan): A varied and colourful collection of essays first published in 1952 – on such wide-ranging subjects as Kant, Burke, Augustus Hare, Raymond Chandler and the art of the detective story! I don’t think I’d previously read anything by Maughan and was pleasantly surprised… he’s easy to read and portrays himself as intimate and straightforward (which was probably not the case!).
Thirty Nine New Articles (Martyn Percy): I was sent this book by the author himself (he’s the Principal of Rippon College, Cuddesdon – where students are trained for ordained ministry in the Anglican Church) as a thank-you for a sketch I’d made of the college, which was passed on to him by a friend. Inspired by the original Thirty Nine Articles of Religion, the Church of England's historic statement of belief, it explores thirty-nine beliefs and practices that characterise Anglicanism today and the issues it grapples with (the new book actually contains 42 articles!). Despite the fact that I “left” the Anglican Church (following its continuing failure to recognise women bishops), I found it to be a very wise, hopeful and encouraging book.
There’s No Home (Alexander Baron): This is a war novel, set in WW2, but isn’t a story of war. It’s set in 1943, in a lull in the fighting, after the allied invasion of Sicily. A British battalion marches into a bombed out city to be met by the women, children and old men. Now seems exploitative, sexist and, in many ways, unreal… but an unusual and powerful story nonetheless. First published in 1950 and apparently “semi-autobiographical” (Baron was a “sapper” and witnessed some of the horrific fighting in Sicily and D-Day landings).
Unapologetic (Francis Spufford): Refreshing… and certainly not like any other book I’ve ever read about faith - even though, at times, he irritated me hugely and I longed for him to stop ranting or for his editor to have had a firmer hand (he apparently did no research for the book and wrote at least some of it rapidly in a Cambridge café - which probably explains why it has such a raw, unedited, in-your-face quality). In the book, he attempts to describe what it feels like to go on believing when you know and have experienced all that can be said against faith. He freely admits that he doesn't know if there is a god…"and neither do you, and neither does Richard bloody Dawkins, and neither does anyone. It not being… a knowable item. What I do know is that, when I am lucky, when I have managed to pay attention, when for once I have hushed my noise for a little while, it can feel as if there is one. And so it makes emotional sense to proceed as if he's there, to dare the conditionality."  I found Spufford’s book both challenging and stimulating (and, frankly at times, also pretty tedious!), but I didn’t really warm to him as an individual and suspect that, if I met him for a chat in his Cambridge café, I wouldn’t be able to get a word in edgeways!
Down and Out in Paris and London (George Orwell): Fictional, but apparently part autobiographical, account of a penniless writer among the down-and-outs in a) Paris: working in appalling conditions as a dishwasher/plongeur in posh French restaurants, and b) London: experiencing the world of tramps, street people and free lodging houses while awaiting a job. Written in the early 1930s, it’s a sobering tale of the effects of abject poverty, hopelessness and survival. One for Iain Duncan Smith’s new year reading list perhaps?

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