Friday, 18 November 2011

Book learning #72 Crisis? What Crisis? Britain in the 1970s

I was there.
From that day in March 1973 I was a witness to all that Alwyn W. Turner wrote about.

I am here.
I am living through another bitter, battered and torn decade.

I found this book whilst helping to clear out a friend's house. They let me have it. I had heard about it on 6music a while ago. It had tickled my fancy but I had placed it on the back burner.

I housed this on my shelves for a few months, it was on the list, I was planning to read it. I picked it up, I looked at the pictures, I skimmed the first few pages. I hated it.
Then something changed, I got through the first few pages, Goddamit I was hooked.

If you are looking for a book detailing the every moment of the decade, look elsewhere.
This was not as witty as I had thought it might be. It was not a Maconie-esque memoir of a happily forgotten age. It was a supremely thoughtful account of one of the most difficult decades this country has been through, a decade that until 2007, we thought we had left behind forever.

I ended up loving this book. This was the British 'Nixonland'. In fact, if I were at a party and 'Crisis? What Crisis?' were to bump into 'Nixonland' I would be in one hell of an awkward situation (although not as awkward as it might have been if I had been reading the two at the same time).

I relished the time spent reading about the unions (and reflecting on our current predicament), the political turmoil and the cultural zeitgiest.

And on a bizarro note, I have always fantasised about running a pub called 'The Sunny Jim' or perhaps 'The Callaghan'. I would have a quiz night on a Tuesday called 'Quiz night? What Quiz night?' I do wonder how successful such an endeavour would be?

I'm sending this to a friend in New York. He enjoyed the 70's. He'll enjoy this book.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Book learning #71 Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor

Frozen, vast, incomprehensible.

I had seen the films and the maps, the furthest most reach of the Germans.

The pace of this picked up once it was clear the Germans were defeated. I found the final 100 pages absolutely fascinating, I loved reading the details of the collapse and surrender of the 6th Army.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Book learning #70 The wordy shipmates by Sarah Vowell

I love Sarah Vowell. I love her geeky obsessions and I love her intelligent perspective on so many things so very dear to me (USA, Presidents, history, Presidents, USA, more presidents)
I have really tried to get into the Seventeenth century.
I just can't.
A finely written book, I read it all.
Just didn't love it.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Book learning #69 The end of the party by Andrew Rawnsley.

There is nothing so sweet as hindsight. Hindsight that does prove a stomach full of hints and suspicions, Hindsight that renders one incredulous about the habits and doings of the great and the supposedly good.
This book was originally published in the early spring of 2010, it caused an outrage and many of those who feature within it's pages were quick to comment, to protect reputations and mostly, if I recall, to deny. The author was both praised and vilified within the same newspapers, the politicians were left to face their fate at the polls a few weeks after the original publication.

At the time, I had decided not to rush out and grab a copy of this book. I had read his previous account of the years 1997-2001 and was not terribly excited about the prospect of a sequel. I suspected that much of the juice had been squeezed out during a three week media frenzy following publication. I also hate hardback books, I need to bend and fold my read, to shove it in my pocket and take it to the chip shop.

Summer 2011 comes around, the silly season is non existent, the world is upon my shoulders and my smouldering curiosity about Gordon Brown is ignited by an extended spell as a housefrau.

This book , whether it be completely truth based or whether there be some room for interpretation, was un-put-downable! Yes, much of the big gossip was already known, but to read some of the contextual stuff was great, to follow the fight through to the very bitter end (the original version ended in winter 2010, this edition followed the story through the General Election in May and the negotiations which followed and spawned the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition.

There can be no doubt that politics at the highest level can create immense strain upon those wielding the power, Rawnsley paints poor old Blair as beaten and bruised from the inside whilst maintaining a perma tanned and internationally glamourous exterior. Following the 2007 transition he paints poor old Brown as beaten and bruised by all and sundry, all the time.

I would very much enjoy a third account, the view of the current, fascinating government.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Book learning #68 Cider with Roadies by Stuart Maconie

I was surprised by how short Maconie's music journo career had been. The thing is this, he was writing the words I was reading about most of my favourite bands in the late 80s and 90s. Therefore I had always just assumed that he had been jotting things down about music, and indie in particular since Lennon met MacCartney at the vicarage fete. Of course, a career stretching back to the late 1980's isn't actually a short one.

An amusing stroll through teenage musical fads and then into the final quarter of the book when he emerges into the world of rock journalism and radio. All this made more enjoyable by the fact that he's on the radio about twice a day these days and good value he is too.

I'm not sure how I described Maconie when I made notes about the last book of his that I read. all I will say is that this was an engaging and approachable summer read. Just the tonic for another summer of mayhem and very small children.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Book learning #67 True Grit by Charles Portis

Comes a point when a man, all done with his daily business will look at a book for escape. Such is the way when I turn to reading a novel. I do so about once a year and moreoften than not, I find the experience deeply satisfying.

I found the language in this novel absolutely wonderful, I was entranced by the dialect and the turn of phrase. Why the hell don't we all talk like that anymore? I loved every minute of it. It also helped that it was a pretty good page turner and, well, just something i was determined to enjoy.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Book learning #66. Game Change. John Heilemann & Mark Halperin

Some years ago, an exasperated brother in law exhaled "Why don't you read something different? Why is it always American politics??"

Because I like American politics.

I like other stuff too, but I like to read about American politics an awful lot.

I recently counted books on the shelf in the living room, just under 50% were somehow connected with American politics or history. That means that over 50% were connected to other things, things such as English history and politics, Irish history and politics, football and gardening.

This was a great read, I had forgotten about John Edwards and his personal and political self destruction, I never really knew what a complete old cow his wife was. Just as I began to get a bit bored of the Obama v Clinton marathon, McCain turned up, all grumpy and swearing. Just as everything seemed to be tied up for Obama, Palin turns out to be a complete nut job. Full of backroom gossip, a cracking yarn, there is just one thing.
I think the book doesn't quite catch the atmosphere of the post convention Obama campaign, the wonderous surge of righteousness that seemed so appropriate at the time. I suspect the one person who had doubts about the nature of it was Obama himself, he was never shy in talking about the hard road ahead.

With the gift of hindsight still a great read with some good lessons for anyone even remotely bothered about leadership or how to run a campaign.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Book learning. We interrupt this broadcast.

There is nothing wrong with writing corduroy inspired reviews of the books you enjoy.

It whiles away the hours between tidying up after the kids and opening the next bottle of wine.

For years this takes place in an uneventful manner, few notice, even fewer take it remotely seriously (it's not supposed to be taken seriously).

Then something odd and slightly marvellous happened.

The author of said book drops a cheery comment on your blog.

I checked him out, he's real.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Book learning 65. Nixonland by Rick Perlstein

Oh Christmas book, Oh Christmas book, I love you because you lasted me into March.

I also love you because you were the warm chocolate bath of US political history that this US political uber-junkie needed. The immersion was almost perfect, good enough for the long soggy winter, the damp problem, the crying babies, the work pressures.

I would leave you by the bedside each morning with a whisper, 'I'll be back, tonight, I promise'.

I kept my end of the bargain, you kept yours. I told my friends about you, I took you places, hell, I even took you down the pub once or twice!

You told me about the hippies, the yippies, the war, the riots. We hang out with Ed Muskie, Spiro Agnew, Jerry Rubin and that swarthy fellow who kept on about the silent majority.

You delighted me with tales of the 1972 election and the insanity of the conventions, the social nuggets and Martha Mitchell.

Most of all, you reminded me why I consider Richard Nixon to be the benchmark of the darker arts of politics, the satanic master of the craft.

Thank you.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Book learning 64. The year of living Biblically by A.J.Jacobs

I've read the Bible. It took about 25 years and I didn't read it in order or with much guidance but I can calmly state that I have read the thing.

This book was purchased in a supposed light hearted attempt to see what the author made of it all. It became much more than that. An example would be the page and a half where he summarises the beliefs of Jehovahs Witnesses. Suddenly years of quiet prejudice against door knockers was cleared. In future when I hear them being slagged off in a mild backhanded way I will quietly step in on their behalf. The book was full of such insights. I passed it on to a dear friend.

I'm no churchgoer but I do have a respect for those who do, more importantly those who try to lead good, worthwhile lives. Apart from being a bit of a laugh this book made me think a little differently about some of the things I do.