Thursday, May 08, 2014

april-may 2014 books

More book stuff:
This Boy (Alan Johnson): This is a remarkable, extraordinary account by Labour MP Alan Johnson of his childhood living in Notting Hill of the 1950s. He lived with his mother and his amazing, resourceful sister in condemned housing (no electricity, no running water and certainly no central heating!). His lazy, drunken, violent father abandoned the family for a barmaid when Alan was very young. His hard-working mother struggled with poor health and died, aged 42, when Alan was just 13 and his sister Linda 16. Johnson is only a year or so younger than me and so many of his childhood memories (post-war working class background, 1960’s music, football – but NOT, thankfully, the abject poverty) are also mine. It’s a moving and an uplifting story (with not a hint of self-pity) about the childhood of a man who was brought up in poverty and yet, despite this, later became General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union before entering parliament as an MP in 1997 (and, in my view, should have succeeded Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party). He’s an excellent writer and someone I greatly admire (even more so after reading this). I can’t wait for his next book.
On Beauty (Zadie Smith): This is the first Zadie Smith book I’ve read and, clearly, she’s a gifted writer (the book won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction). For me, however, although I found it entertaining and very readable, I thought it was actually an unremarkable book and another example, perhaps, of why I have a preference for reading non-fiction. Sorry!
Swimming In A Sea Of Death: A Son’s Memoir (David Rieff): Susan Sontag (American writer+filmmaker, professor, literary icon, political activist etc) died in December 2004, aged 72, and this is a courageous tribute of her final years by her son, David Reiff. She’d previously overcome two bouts of cancer, but was eventually diagnosed with an incurable form of leukaemia in 2004. In many ways, this book represents Reiff’s continuing process of grieving (which verges at times on self-pity)… and also an attempt to deal with his (as he sees it) guilt for perhaps not doing as much as he might have. It’s an elegant and profound book.
Hawthorn+Child (Keith Ridgway): Blimey, this is a strange, dark, uncompromising, unpredictable, but rather refreshing “detective” novel (except that it isn’t really). At times, I felt as if Ridgway had simply cut-and-pasted together unconnected stories he’d jotted down in his notebook. It’s a curious, very clever book (probably far too clever for me!) – well written and somewhat mesmerising.
I Was Born There, I Was Born Here (Mourid Barghouti): Barghouti is a Palestinian poet and writer. This powerful, angry and yet gentle, passionate and supremely eloquent book provides a tragic insight into the plight of Palestinians and their perspective on the conflict and the injustice and humiliation of living under Israeli occupation - the unjust deportations, the outrageous borders and checkpoints and simply trying to exist in a dangerous, fearful world waiting for electricity and water to come back on. It’s an absolutely beautiful book which, given its context, is surprisingly uplifting and encouraging. I think all politicians (especially from USA and Europe) should read this and get a proper sense of the injustice of the Israeli occupation.


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