Wednesday, January 20, 2016

january 2016 books

New Year book stuff:
Chrysalis (Alan Jamieson): For someone like me, who has struggled on my “journey of faith” (haven’t we all?), this book is pretty special. Our good friend Lee Barnes recommended it. Jonny Baker’s book review sums it up: “there are many who come to a stage in their Christian faith where what once worked and sustained them has grown dry and lifeless. No amount of trying harder seems to improve things… ‘Chrysalis’ is a gift to the person in this place offering some signposts or a roadmap and encouragement for the difficult journey”. ‘Chrysalis’ uses the transformation from caterpillar into butterfly as a metaphor for changes on our spiritual journeys. The analogy doesn’t always work (and there were one or two chapters that I found somewhat predictable… and repetitive), but I did find the book extremely helpful. It accurately described the difficulties and frustrations of my own haphazard spiritual journey and provided me with reassurance for this ‘transition’ stage in my own faith… and, having my own situation described so perfectly, gave me reassurance and ‘permission’ to take my time and to move on slowly. A very good book.
The Penguin Lessons (Tom Michell): This is a really charming, delightful book (when was the last time I used the word “charming”?!). It’s ridiculous, uplifting, funny, true story about a 22 year-old Englishman who took up a teaching position at an Argentinian boarding school in the early 1970s and, by chance, rescued a penguin (who he named “Juan Salvador”) from an oil slick in Uruguay just before the start of a new school term… and ended up smuggling it across the border, through customs and back to school. The penguin ends up “transforming the lives of all he meets”. Sounds soppy doesn’t it! Well, in some ways, yes it is… but that doesn’t stop making it a great story (and one that Michell has clearly told his children+grandchildren over the subsequent years… and eventually put into book-form in 2015).
Fidel Castro (Nick Caistor): I’ve always been rather fascinated by Fidel Castro and this book (Caistor is a former BBC Latin American analyst) provides a rational, readable and well-balanced account of Castro’s life and politics. In the late 1950s, Castro’s idealism, overpowering personality and remarkable qualities of leadership were instrumental in transforming a US-dominated dictatorship into a progressive Marxist-Leninist state which he led for almost five decades. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many predicted the imminent demise of the Castro regime but, in fact, there was a something of a resurgence of support and interest in the Cuban model – with its anti-imperialist/anti-capitalist stance in the face of globalisation, dominance of the market and apparent unbridled consumerism. The 1959 Revolution certainly can’t be described as having had a “successful” outcome (what some would regard as Castro’s flawed ideology – with continuing massive economic and social failings… including choking the press and suppressing dissidents) but, for many, Castro remains a champion of humanitarianism, socialism and environmentalism. A fascinating book.
The Naked Civil Servant (Quentin Crisp): Everyone’s heard of Quentin Crisp (the self-proclaimed ‘stately homo of Britain’)(1908-1999) and, indeed, you might have watched the acclaimed TV dramatisation of this book, his autobiography, featuring John Hurt as Crisp? This book, first published in 1968 (only a year after the repeal of the Buggery Act of 1533) is an absorbing, sad, funny account of his difficult, colourful life. It’s about his own tolerance of others and the intolerance of many, many more towards him and a reminder of how much society has changed, especially over the past 20 years or so. Crisp described his autobiography as ‘an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing’. Well, in the event, following the book’s TV dramatisation, Crisp became a personality, famous for simply being himself… he moved to New York in 1981 where, for the next two decades he enjoyed the sort of career that, in his twenties, he had considered completely out of reach. A fascinating insight to a vibrant life.
Coastlines (Patrick Barkham): This book is an absolute delight. Barkham mixes his descriptions, reflections and walks along particular sections of the most beautiful 732 miles of coastline in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the care of Enterprise Neptune (the National Trust’s maritime arm) alongside subjects including childhood, war, art, faith, work and the shores of the future (the hard battle to preserve our rich coastal heritage) in an almost poetic, thoughtful and joyful way. I REALLY enjoyed it.

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