by Stephen Tall on July 13, 2008
Imagine you were going on holiday this summer: which two books would you take with you? One should be a political book – whether you want to re-read it, or try something new you’ve been recommended. The other should be your own choice of summer reading – the book you’re most looking forward to reading (again, could be something new or something old). That was the question I put to some of the Lib Dems’ leading bloggers. And here’s what they said:
Jonathan Calder – Liberal England
The Killing of the Countryside
Harvey shows how the subsidising of agricultural production since World War II (first by the British government, then by the EU) has despoiled the British countryside and impoverished life for those who live there.
The Sword in the Stone
One of those books for children which takes on deeper meaning when you read it later in life. Funny, learned, wise and sad. What more could you ask?
Alex Wilcock – Love and Liberty
My political book is Malcolm Hulke’s ‘Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters’. An adaptation of a 1970 TV story that’s one of the series’ greatest moral fables, this novel has a lot to answer for… Reading its message that green scaly rubber people are people too turned me into a Liberal. Both the original story (now out on DVD as part of the ‘Beneath the Surface’ box) and this novelisation can stake a claim to being the best of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor, the TV serial one of his very few stories as good as the book but the book significantly changing and expanding the story, with much-improved characterisation. As well as appreciating a strongly political message about war, prejudice and co-existence, politically aware readers can marvel at how a “Permanent Under Secretary” can be an MP, while scientifically aware readers might ask a question or two about the central conceit. Despite that, it’s an inspired idea, and if you can’t find a copy, it’s recently been released as a talking book on CD if you want to sit back and relax in the sun.
My non-political book is ‘President Gore and Other Things That Never Happened’, a collection from Duncan Brack. If it’s anything like his previous ‘Prime Minister Portillo’ then it’ll be an amusing pick and mix of history, improbability and bare-faced wish-fulfilment. With my other choice politics hidden under science fiction, this sort of book – the ‘counterfactual’ – is amateur science fiction written by historians and politicians, asking ‘what if…’ and changing history. Just don’t expect any real politics.
I have a large pile of books just waiting for that precious time when I can give them more than 30 minutes’ attention.
I am currently reading Tescopoly by Andrew Simms. It’s hardly classical political philosophy, but it can’t be beaten for a pragmatic understanding of an issue that has huge local political impact. It’s subtitle says it all: ‘How one shop came out on top and why it matters’
For summer holiday reading I will probably re-read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. I was disappointed with the film ‘The Golden Compass‘. As I said in my blog ” The sense of strangeness, of being jolted into an awareness that things are not quite as expected, and the loss of confidence in the ‘known’ – all this is missing. And yet, they are essential if the other books in the series are to be understood.” So I’d like to go back and rediscover his quirky worlds with their Liberal themes of identity and personal responsibility.
Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations – this year’s buzz book about how the world is changing courtesy of the enter key on your computer keyboard, or something like that…
The Defection of AJ Lewinter: wonderfully crafted espionage novel with a twist at the end that plays absolutely fair with the reader – no sudden revealing of information withheld from the reader or introduction of completely new plot device – and yet is still a dramatic twist.
OK, the next political book I will be reading is: The Age of Reagan, A history 1974-2008.
It proposes that the last thirty four years have been about the rise of conservatism in America (heralded by Reagan) and that we may now be coming to the end and going into a new political phase. I think. How would I know though? I haven’t read the book yet!
Non political: I’ve already been on holiday and I read Life & Fate by Vasily Grossman which is an epic which centres on the experiences of several members of the same family during the siege and defeat of the German army at Stalingrad. Now reading ‘The Civil War’ by Bruce Catton, the definitive introductory book to the American Civil War.
I’m going to do the traditional thing, and pick two absolutely fantastic books by friends of mine:
The non-political book is Big Woo! My not-so-secret teenage blog by Susie Day. So technically it’s teenage fiction for girls. I don’t care. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, no matter what your age, and deliciously life-affirming, with a nuanced treatment of the internet and social networking in the lives of Da Kidz. And the ending is superbly handled.
The political book will be Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelmann. It has one of the best opening lines of any political history I’ve read (“On a warm summer night in 1947, the largest empire the world has ever seen did something no empire had done before. It gave up.”), and the pace, humour and insight keeps coming. There’s a real curiosity about how the personal and the political intertwines itself; but the book doesn’t lose sight of the Big Picture. Great stuff.