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.

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The Snow Tourist – Charlie English

This was picked up from a charity shop on our summer camping trip (in the same shop my son got 6 books as they were trying to clear down their children’s shelves with a 3 for £1 deal. His favourite was an old, small-type, paperback of The House at Pooh Corner.) I picked it up to read on the next camping trip, as it had been stored on the van bookshelf. I had to leave my misgivings about the cover of this book behind, as it was clearly sketched by someone who knew nothing about the geography of the places mentioned. But once I was in the pages I just kept reading.

I should hate this. English decides to deal with mid-life maudlin by abandoning his wife and children frequently and going in hunt of snow. But then again the temptation of snow is strong, and I can see the draw to keep going back. In fact it is only my own set of responsibilities that stops me from setting off now, and I’m hoping for snow on our planned winter walking weekends, with the van winterised and ready to go if we get some within reach on a weekend that we’re free.

This book is not a specialist on any subject, but meanders through the history of colonisation, scientific discovery, sports history and meteorology. It is the richer for that, for English lacks the depth in any of these to be a specialist, but has the passion to provide an overview woven into the narrative of his travels.

One of those gems that is found one in a blue moon, or July snowfall.

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.

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.

The Clothing of Books – Jhumpa Lahiri

This is a lovely little essay I borrowed in ebook format from the library. It examines how little influence most authors have on their book jackets, and yet how much what is on the book jacket influences reader perceptions.

The opening is not on books but on real clothing, and how we choose it to present who we are to the world. She then explores her experience as a normal author, and how covers change between translations.  One little gem was how Virginia Wolfe’s first edition covers were designed by her sister following conversation between them.

I love this look at this aspect of perception of books, and the irony as I was reading this as an eBook, chosen based on the library service’s tagging of it, so with the cover having such little impact on my reading experience!

Rethink – Steven Poole

Rethink is a look at the history of ideas. How there are very few truly new ideas, but a lot of ideas which were thought up before they reached their time. The focus was spread across scientific, political and economic disciplines, leaping from astronomy to mental health via chess.

The encouragement is to look again at currently discredited ideas, and to be patient with new ideas that require time and understanding be accepted as conventional. It makes fascinating reading, as links to modern ideas are found in ancient texts, and I enjoy a good story on an old academic debate, where what we know as a fundamental truth was first proposed.

Then there is a look at what ideas could be due for renaissance. This is where we steer quite firmly into political and economic territory, betraying Poole’s lack of scientific training. But these are all ideas which are moving into the Overton window, and becoming feasible in a way that they weren’t 20 years ago.

An interesting look on how ideas develop and move in and out of being accepted truths in human society.