Autumn – Ali Smooth

This is not any autumn, this is the drawing in of autumn Street the Brexit referendum, with the shock and disbelief spreading through the country and anger against imigrints at a high. But it is also about parenthood and nostalgia.

Elizabeth starts to understand her childhood, and how inspired she was by the musician who lived downstairs and frequently looked after her. At the same time her (previously presumed straight) mother falls in love with her female childhood icon from tv. This is intertwined with current affairs as the country tried to understand what it had just voted for.

The writing style is quite modern and detached, making the pages fly by. The sort of style that gets a book into a Man Booker shortlist.

I appreciated how at the end we just broke into the personal lives of the direct characters, and ended on a note of hope that maybe we could take the he best of the nostalgia with us.

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The Gallery of Vanished Husbands – Natasha Solomons

This has merely a single vanished husband, but a gallery full of portraits. A nice fluffy story, about love, loss and beauty.It is also about a small close Jewish community, motherhood, and the cost of family values. Most the the plot is about a husband who never appears in the pages of the book, and a bohemian artistic community that Juliet finds herself falling into.

This was the third book in a week to mention Constable’s sky studies, so I wandered down to the Manchester Art Gallery to see this one in real life. Its beautiful and I’ve been back twice since in my lunch break to visit it and tour the gallery a bit more.

The News: A User’s Manual – Alain de Botton

This thoughtful little book discusses how the news is chosen, and how this affects our world views. Taking topics by turn, the general theme is that light-touch headlines cause us to be less, not more, aware of the realities of the world around us.

I loved how it looks at good intentions of sharing important information can lead to a bias in how we view the world, and how news cannot allow depth of studying of decisions, but only outcomes.

It certainly has helped break me of my headline-watching habits, and after a couple of weeks I don’t think that is a bad thing. Instead I check a weekly news review, and don’t feel less aware of the world for it.

Unfinished: The Journal of Beatrix Potter transcribed by Leslie Linder

Yet another library oddity – a collection of Potter’s journals, which were originally written in code, transcribed by Linder. Unfortunately although the cracking of the code was interesting, the journal entries themselves had value only for dipping in and out of. Potter had kept a private diary for her own purposes, and as such this was not written from prosperity, but instead just a collection of very human comments.

I do want to see if I can hunt out the Beatrix Potter collection at the V&A next time I am in London though. Linder donated much of it as part of his fascination with Potter.

Bye Bye BnB – Joan Campell

Following two quite heavy-going books, Bye Bye B&B is a humorous anecdotal biography on the last year of operation of a B&B near Thurso in the far north of the Scottish Highlands. This had me laughing aloud at times, especially when Campbell is dealing with BT and their notoriously dreadful customer services. Or when she lets guests ride her own horses and they get carried away by them

The life of a B&B owner is not for everyone, and even for those who choose it certainly has its challenges. Not least the tourist board Visit Scotland’s changing standards and methods of inspection. This is hard enough for a woman who ultimately leaves her B&B for a career with VisitScotland, so you are left wondering just how those less connected to the organisation feel.

 

The Great Escape – Angus Deaton

In the original “Great Escape” some individuals escaped from a prisoner of war camp, but in doing so had little impact on, or even made things worse for, the people left behind. In this book Deaton argues that the Western economic and medical success is of a similar kind, and that much of the world has been left behind. The question then posed is is this inevitable? And are there solutions to the cruelty of inequality?

Although this is by no means a light read, I found the experience of reading an economic text from an economist who doesn’t necessary push that the solutions to structural problems lie in the market to be a good one. Having tackled the costs as well as value of IPR, he then moves onto the aid paradox, and how it can support regimes that would otherwise fall and for which a case should be made that they should be allowed to fall with the will of their citizens.

There are some good bubble charts in the early pages where the underlying patterns for how the health, wealth and inequality of nations are linked, and he makes all this analysis understandable to this statistician.

Since this book was written Deaton has won the Nobel Prize for Economics, which is promising for the recognition of the direction this field can go in.

The Path – Professor Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

One of those books that just seems to have appeared in my to read pile, The Path didn’t grab me for a long time. But I finally picked it up prior to a road trip this summer, and it certainly gave me something to think about.

The central theme is that ancient Chinese philosphy is valuable to everyday life in the modern Western world. I was sceptical of this before I read it, certainly books that usually make such promises then disappear down a rabbit hole. But this book is short and to the point. Each philosopher’s teachings are linked back to the modern world and how they can help us today, and with generous margins this book comes in at under 200 pages.

Puett’s normal audience is an undergraduate course of, not necessarily philosophy, students. It is accessibly pitched and intended to help think about how to live your own life, but also how to manage others, be they family members or in a work environment. It is about how to find The Way, and guide your life so you are working with it rather than struggling against both your own nature and the outside world.

It is a very good sign when a non-fiction book leaves me hunting through the further reading section to learn more, and thinking about how what I read can be woven into my life.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood

This was part of my (not yet complete) attempt to read the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist for 2017. One of two which I purchased rather than accessed through the library, this one didn’t make the shortlist so was dropped into the guilt pile.

This was Atwood’s reimagining of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and there are two main ways that such a reimagining can take place: the character names and plot can be uplifted and used in a different setting without ever mentioning the source material, or a “book within a book” device can be used to include it directly. Atwood chose the latter option for Hag-Seed, which largely revolves around a production of the Tempest, as well as lifting the plot and characters. This enables her to delve deeply into analysis of how the plot works whilst creating another layer around it, and it works well.

The depths were enjoyable, and the revenge angle made this into the sort of book which cannot be put down, as I was desperate to find out how the plot would unfold.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge – Selected Letters – Edited by H. J. Jackson

I had been inspired to try Coleridge from reading The Lure of the Lake District, which specifically recommended some of Coleridge’s letters as further reading. This has been sitting on the “guilt pile” for a while, since the non-completion of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Selected Poems. But I added it to the set to take away with us on a camping trip, and rattled through it.

He has an enviable list of correspondents, including Wordsworth and Humphrey Davvy. It is fascinating to read the correspondence between these “Greats” as just friends who mostly discuss ordinary matters. But in his earlier years he did not shy away from big topics, some of which remain contemporary as he discusses the benefits a minimum wage, and guaranteed work “from the parish” and his and Poole’s plans for a Pantisocracy, a classless society.

Aside from his letters on living in the Lake District, I was surprised by his frankness with his correspondents on the subjects of his ill health, both depression and pain-related. He is an entertaining, satisfying letter writer, and I’m now tempted to keep an eye out for the full letter collections should I find them in a second hand shop.

BlueEyedBoy – Joanne Harris

I am more used to Harris’s magical realism, but this crime mystery novel is way outside this genre. I love the style it is told in: the protaganist’s blog posts and discussions in the comments. It reminds me of We Need to Talk About Kevin, a book which I didn’t keep, but found a good strong read.

The setting is of course as grim and gritty as is expected in this style of book, and in the absence of magic we instead have synaesthesia, because Harris can never have characters who are entirely normal human beings. As the characters are built, we get the feeling of the rug being shifted under us, with nothing ever quite fitting the picture I already had. But despite knowing a twist must be coming, the one taken was not what I expected.

A disturbing but satisfying read.