Lib Dem bloggers’ summer reading (Part II)

by Stephen Tall on July 20, 2009

To read Part I, published yesterday, click HERE.

For me, it’s the most difficult decision of the year – which books to take with me on holiday. So, I thought, what could be better than to pick the brains of my fellow Lib Dem bloggers, and ask them to select just two: 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). Here’s what they said:

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!)

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett – In political books terms I would describe this as a ‘sleeper hit.’ It came out a few months ago with little fanfare but since then I have had people recommending it to me on an almost weekly basis.

The Unwritten by Mike Carey and Peter Gross – Another sleeper hit? Issue three of this monthly comic series is about to hit the shelves (and no doubt a collection of the first few issues will be out soon). This series follows the misadventures of Tommy Taylor, the star of a series of childrens books which are more than a little reminiscent of Harry Potter. In “real” life Tommy is also the Christopher Robin-style son of the books’ author. But is the fictional version of Tommy really real? Or is his whole life a fiction? Mike Carey’s previous Lucifer series was fantastic and this meditation on how reality and fiction interweave looks like it might be another triumph.

Linda Jack (Lindyloo’s Muze)

I got Unjust Rewards by Polly Toynbee and David Walker for my birthday from my lovely pal, Martin, but still haven’t managed to read it – so that will be my political book.

Last year I ended up reading Who Moved My Blackberry? by Martin Lukes (aka Lucy Kellaway) while on holiday. It was brilliant for a Blackberry addict who has so far lost two :-) Can I ask for suggestions of similar books? I love John O’Farrell too, but he hasn’t published a novel for yonks, so I could end up re-reading his May Contain Nuts.

Jonathan Calder (Liberal England)

The Long Affray: The Poaching Wars in Britain by Harry Hopkins. Rural England never looks quite the same once you have read Hopkins’ book from 1985. It begins in the churchyard at North Baddesley in Hampshire, where there are two gravestones for the same man. He is Charles Smith, hanged at Winchester in 1822 for wounding a gamekeeper whilst resisting arrest for poaching. The first, according to local tradition erected by William Cobbett, quotes Ecclesiastes on the oppression of the poor. The second, put up by a local aristocrat in Edwardian days, emphasises the seriousness of Smith’s crime. Hopkins opens out this story to show the oppressive effect that the Game Laws. His sympathies are clearly with the poachers – he describes them as the maquis after the French Resistance – and he paints a persuasive picture of a landscape teeming with food and a hungry populace afraid to touch it. The Long Affray teaches you that our modern freedom to enjoy the countryside was hard won.

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay.

“Take my camel, dear,” said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

The opening line of this novel is famous, but it is wonderful throughout. Macaulay, a relation of the great Whig historian, made her reputation as a bright young writer before the First World War, but this was her last book, published in 1956. It encompasses and satirises High Anglicanism, the Cold War, the BBC, Christendom’s relations with Islam and much else. Last summer I chose a book by T.H. White, and Rose Macaulay shares his ability to bring together the comic and the tragic in the same book. Everyone should read The Towers of Trebizond.

Mark Thompson (Mark Reckons)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. This is a sociological tour-de-force which examines how extraordinary people and situations usually turn out to have been products of extraordinary circumstances rather than by accident. For example, Bill Gates, given his age and family background was one of the only teenagers in the world at that time who had access to a computer that he could program enough in order to get 10,000 hours (Gladwell says this is amount of time you need to put in for success in any field) worth of experience by the time he founded Microsoft. There is also fascinating analysis of how the Beatles became successful (10,000 hours is again the key), Aeroplane crashes caused by cultural mores and a small town in the USA where people live longer and healthier lives than almost anywhere else in the world. It is a great read for anyone curious about extreme success and failure.

View from the Foothills by Chris Mullin. I am very much looking forward to continuing to read this. I started it a while ago but got sidetracked by work and other commitments (it’s a big book!) but will finish it on holiday. What I have read so far is excellent though. It is a great insight into the lower echelons of the Blair government and already the futility and powerlessness of his position is coming through loud and clear. He pulls no punches and is clear about the shortcomings of his colleagues and most of all himself. I would say he is shaping up to be the Alan Clark of his political generation.