Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Reading Round-Up 5

I have invited some bloggers to nominate a couple of books they have enjoyed recently and write a few sentences about each. 

You are welcome to send me your own choices. I suggest you nominate one political and one non-political book, but I don’t insist on that.

You can read Round-up 1Round-up 2Round-up 3 and Round-up 4 on this blog.

Alex Marsh

The New Few: Or a Very British Oligarchy by Ferdinand Mount

One of the most interesting books I've read recently. Much of the critical commentary on the changing nature of British society originates with the political left. Mount is very clearly a man of the right, having been closely aligned with the Thatcher administration, and yet he expresses grave concerns about the way in which our political economy is being transformed.

He is as exercised by increasing income inequality and the rise of an increasingly unaccountable corporate elite as any member of the Occupy movement. He sees this as signifying a corrosion of capitalism – undermining the characteristics that made capitalism socially beneficial in the first place. He is similarly concerned about the erosion of democracy.

In particular he highlights the concentration of power at the centre. This leads to an increasingly detached and homogenous political class and an increasingly disengaged population who feel they have little influence over what happens to them.

Mount’s diagnosis of the maladies afflicting us could be seen as a counsel of despair, but there is a strand of optimism in his thinking. He argues that the move to oligarchy is not inevitable or irreversible. But we need to wake up and recognise that our social order is being challenged at a very profound level.

The Chill by Ross MacDonald

I am a great fan of American hard-boiled mysteries of the mid-twentieth century. The absolute master of the genre is Ross MacDonald. He moves beyond earlier writers like Raymond Chandler to develop more psychologically complicated characters and more sophisticated plots.

I’m currently reading The Chill from 1963. As is often the case with MacDonald, the story starts with a missing person and family breakdown, as a young newly-wed goes missing and MacDonald’s detective – Lew Archer – is hired by her distraught husband to find her. What follows is a gradual unpicking of a web of murderous events over the previous two decades.

One of the advantages of having read many of these classic American mysteries is that it helps appreciate the achievements of Malcolm Pryce in his ongoing series of Aberystwyth noir novels. Not only do they manage to capture key aspects of Welsh life and character with humour, but they also do a good job of pastiching the hard-boiled genre.

Alex Marsh blogs at Alex’s Archives. Follow him on Twitter.

Jennie Rigg

My political book is a classic: John Stuart Mill's The Subjection of Women - available free on Kindle so no excuses. Those in the know about Mill are familiar with the idea that he was a feminist, partly due to his respect for and collaborations with his wife Harriet, whose intellect he saw as equal to his own. Anyone who does not believe feminism is intrinsic to Liberalism should read this clear and and forensic deconstruction of the second-class status of women.

My non-political book is Terra by Mitch Benn, which is a quirky and warm-hearted sci-fi tale, and impressively well-written for a debut novel. The lead character is adorable and there is some wry observational stuff about how we run things on this little planet. If you want to sample the first chapter there's a bunch of famous people reading it here.

Bonus recommendation: if you like audio books and share my soft spot for horror, I run a spotify playlist called Christopher Lee reads stuff, which is full of genre classics and I find very soothing when I have a migraine, such as I have had today, and can't bear to have the light on but want a bit of fiction.

Jennie Rigg blogs at Automated Attack Monkeys, Scalpel Mines, & Acid. Follow her on Twitter.

Caron Lindsay

Just Russell: The collected speeches of Sir Russell Johnston MP, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Party, 1979-1986

This second collection of Russell’s conference speeches coincides with the time when I became politically aware, so it’s good to read as an adult the sort of things that fuelled the idealism and liberalism I embraced as a teenager. It’s rejuvenating and inspiring to hear his often poetic, emotional yet intellectually coherent and consistent. Much of what he says could still apply today, although perhaps Robert Mugabe may not be quoted so readily. There are also some messages for us about how we should conduct ourselves in political debate that I think might be useful for both leadership and critics to apply. Find out which journalist walked out during one speech  - and which can’t be fully reproduced because the hand-written draft was lost. It’s a must-read commentary on the politics of the 1980s covering Thatcherism, the Labour Party falling apart and, crucially, the fate of the Alliance.

Moranthology by Caitlin Moran

This is little more than a slightly augmented collection of her Times columns but well worth reading or re-reading. From tales from her holidays, to compelling arguments for maintaining libraries to outlining the effects of welfare reform to interviews with rock stars and visits to the sets of Sherlock and Doctor Who, there’s a diversity of quick-witted writing which will make you laugh, cry and, occasionally, want to chuck the book across the room – although, as mine was an e-book, I managed to resist that temptation.

Caron Lindsay blogs at Caron's Musings. Follow her on Twitter.

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