more book stuff:On Liberty (Shami Chakrabarti): Chakrabarti is one of my heroes and this is a passionate book about how our hard-won individual and collective freedoms have been eroded and are now in unprecedented danger. She highlights, amongst lots of other things, how some senior Tory figures (under what they no doubt see as pressure from UKIP) are pressing for the Human Rights Act to be abolished and for the UK to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. She makes a very powerful and compelling case pointing out why this would be SO wrong and the folly (and huge risks) of allowing politicians make up the rules just to suit themselves. It’s chilling stuff (but, hey, I was already on her side!) and underlines many of my own concerns about current politics in this country.
Norman Foster: A Life In Architecture (Deyan Sudjic): Another one of my heroes (of a different sort). Foster (born in 1935, near Manchester) comes from a working-class background and only decided on an architectural career (very much against his parents’ advice and following a conversation with a work colleague who’s son was studying architecture) after a frustrating time working in Manchester Town Hall Treasurer’s department as an office junior. After obtaining his degree at Manchester University’s School of Architecture, he studied at Yale, in the USA, for his MA (where he met Richard Rogers). Over the past 50 years or so, thanks to inspirational teachers (all keen advocates of the Modernist Movement), his ability to draw, think “outside the box”, explore and communicate ideas, Foster has become one of the leading figures in world architecture. Author Sedjic first met Foster over 40 years ago and this book provides a fascinating and detailed backdrop to Foster’s career and the people with whom he has worked. Foster now employs a staggering 1,400 people worldwide! He’s an amazing visionary with huge determination to succeed – he has a frightening intensity and attitude towards his work. As you might imagine, Foster is also VERY ambitious, incredibly competitive, egotistical and enormously inspiring. I read the book with a mixture of awe, sadness and envy (I had a successful architectural career, but maybe I should have pushed myself further?)(I obviously didn’t have Foster’s talent!)… but also an acknowledgement that my chosen path (ie. leaving the profession aged 55, after over 30 years in practice) was right for me, my family, my lifestyle and my aspirations.
Crow (Ted Hughes): This is a short book of 67 poems (mostly written during 1966-69, but not published until 1972) which provide a mythical narrative/epic folk tale (myth, animal metaphors and dark sub-conscious seem to have become increasing fascinations in his life). It’s a very strange book - sometimes funny, but frequently very dark and harrowing – and it no doubt reflects, amongst other things, Hughes’s interest in the Occult. I’m afraid I REALLY struggled with this book and found myself frequently reflecting on the fact that the book (with its harsh treatment of human relations, religion and morality) was written after his wife’s (Sylvia Plath) suicide in 1963. The book’s completion was delayed by the tragic deaths of his second wife Assia Wevill and daughter Shura (Assia Wevill committed suicide in the same way as Plath, and also killed their 4 year-old daughter) – more darkness and despair! Many people regard “The Crow” as one of Hughes’s masterpieces… I’m afraid I’m probably just not clever enough to “get it”. Sorry!
Queen Lucia (EF Benson): Only my second Benson “Lucia” book (I bought two complete volumes from the National Trust’s Lamb House, Rye – on which the fictional “Mallards”, Tilling was based and where Benson lived for a time - for a bargain £4!). The principal character is Mrs Lucas, who liked to called herself “Lucia” in her ridiculous and snobbish way, effectively rules the “toy kingdom” of Riseholme village. Written in the 1920s and beautifully observed, it’s an outrageously pretentious and excruciatingly farcical account of one-upmanship and class in a society where all the main players don’t need to work for a living. It’s all very tongue-in-cheek, amusing and very readable.
Daughter (Jane Shemilt): I read this on the recommendation of my old school friend Les (partly because it’s a “good book” and because it’s partly based in Bristol). The story is every parent’s nightmare. A 15 year-old daughter fails to return home after a school play and the family is left distraught and in pieces as they try to establish what happened. Told through the eyes of the mother, it’s a haunting, tense story and one of those books you just HAVE to keep reading – it’s 400 pages long (ok, quite large font!) and I finished it within 2 days. It’s very skilfully written and I would thoroughly recommend it.
Footnote: my one slight reservation was that I thought it was probably more of a “woman’s book” (blimey, doesn’t that make me sound un-PC!). After I’d written the above, I googled “Goodread” reviews… and only found ONE “bloke review” in the first 60 reviews.