Confessions from Correspondentland – Nick Bryant

Bryant has had an interesting career, shuttling between war zones and first world politics, filing regular reports with the BBC the whole way. He’s been on the sidelines through lots of key events through the last couple of decades, and spends much of this book discussing American policy: from his position as a Washington correspondent, then a war correspondent during the War on Terror.

Although Bryant is a good writer, his style is (probably unsurprisingly) fairly episodic. He writes a few pages of absorbing text, but then that section is wrapped up neatly without a strong “hook” to the next section. This continues for 400 pages.

This disjointedness is worth enduring through however. We see people’s lives close up as wars progress, and the interplay between correspondents and the rest of their teams.

An enlightening book

Advertisements

A Woman’s Work – Harriet Harman

I’ve never actually had all that much patience for Harriet Harman, seeing her as yet another New Labour architect. But in A Woman’s Work, she takes the opportunity to set out her case, and highlight the compromises she took that in her belief improved the world around her.

Her memoirs run from the heartbreaking of struggling against the establishment during the Thatcher era, through to the ridiculous of Robin Cook’s assumption that she was having an affair, when in truth she had kept a promise to her son about a day out. Her lessons from this are:

Firstly, while children will never forget a broken promise, there’s always someone who can stand in for you at work. And secondly, that while it would, in the eyes of my colleagues, have been beyond the pale for me to be absent because of my children, falling down in my duties because of an affair was not only understood by my male colleagues but thoroughly approved of.

But throughout the strong clear message is that compromises are not ideal, but they are worth it if it means that Labour can get into power and start making changes for the betterment of society. When she unexpectedly finds herself as acting leader after Brown’s resignation, her speech is that

….we should be proud of our legacy and that it would endure.

We also get a ringside seat for the Blair/Brown troubles from a woman who was close friends with both, which provides valuable insight to how the power struggle there started, and how it would end. She is also how Ed Milliband first enters politics, along with providing mentoring support to so many of the women who are now household names.

But above all else she is in politics for feminism. To promote equal rights and be a leader who facilitates other women’s liberation. Her use of her whole career to this arena is impressive, and despite her claims that too little progress has been made, to see how much can be attributed to Harman directly or indirectly is inspiring.

I am Malala – Malala Yousafzai

This is not a book to read for the writing style, but then English is not Malala’s first, or second language. But instead it is a story to read for inspiration, about a girl who didn’t give up in the face of insurmountable opposition, and who despite coming so close to paying the ultimate price, has made leaps of progress as a result.

This was a “quick read” abridged version from the library, and I’ll look out for the full version instead because I want to read that greater depth.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – Haruki Murakami, read by Ray Porter

I am a casual runner, doing only 5km a couple of times a week. But I enjoy reading about running, especially thoughtful pieces where people challenge their own motivations and consider what motivates them, as well as just diet and training regime.

Murakami is a wonderful balance of introspective and motivated. He delves deeply into his past as he racks up the miles and plans for the impending marathon. He struggles occasionally, and remembers times when his running motivation abandoned him entirely. More than that, he reflecst on what running brings to his life, an an everyday and a long term basis.

It did however seem wrong to me to be listening to this in a noticable American accent. Even though Murakami spends nearly all his time in English-speaking countries in America, the accent made it harder for me to picture the narrator. The narrating was clear though, and well-executed, so I can’t really complain!

Marrying Out – Harold Carlton

I came across Marrying Out in a copy of Slightly Foxed, which gave a lovely taster of this book. Therefore when I ordered myself a Slightly Foxed subscription, I also ordered the lovely hardback, Everyman-sized copy of this book.

Its an autobiographical book about Harold becoming an adult, and working out what that means in his 1960s Jewish family. He explores the family secrets, and truths everyone holds to be self-evident, and tries to work out what being an atheist Jew means.

The unravelling of secrets at the end finished the book well, and allowed all the strands of the book to make sense.

Dare to be a Daniel – Tony Benn

Its difficult to tell what Benn was aiming to produce with Dare to be a Daniel. The introduction calls it a prelude to his published diaries (all eight volumes). It gives both a selection of his essays and speeches a look at his life before beginning his political life, and how his family life and early experience shaped his socialist, pacifist and republican tendencies which shaped 50 years as a member of the House of Commons, including standing down from a hereditary lords seat.

The title of the book is based on the lines of a hymn sung in childhood “Dare to be a Daniel, Dare to stand alone”  and how this influenced his attitude towards the changing nature of politics and economics.

I enjoyed the stories of family life and the look at a privileged upbringing immediately prior to and throughout the Blitz. They painted an image of a time and a particular type of political belief which showed how the socialist state was built in the aftermath of the Second World War. More interesting however was the collection of speeches made to the House arguing for greater British independence, international peace and the need for social justice.

There are large gaps in this autobiography, which leaves me wanting to read his full set of diaries, and it is important to bare in mind that by its very nature it will reflect well on the subject”s beliefs and actions. However I think that seeing the perspective that individuals have of themselves is important to understand why they took the options they did.