Reads

bargepole's picture

The Zone of Interest

Author: 
Martin Amis
It's about: 
There was an old fairy tale about a king who asked his wizard to create a magic mirror - one that when you looked into it showed not your own reflection but your soul. No-one could look into it without turning away. In this instance, the mirror is the Kat Zet concentration camp, resurrected from 'Time's Arrow' - except this is a mirror that there's no turning away from. This novel is a love story wrapped up in a black comedy within a tale of human tragedy, told through the eyes of three protagonists and set against the backdrop of industrial scale slaughter and the 'banality of evil' of the reptilian Nazi mind. Quite simply,it reinstalls Amis as one of the leading literary figures of the moment.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
After a long run of disappointing novels, Amis has rediscovered his mojo with a vengeance. This might not quite rank alongside his stunning run of early novels, but it's certainly his best work since 'London Fields'. If you'd written him off as being in terminal decline after the likes of 'Lionel Asbo' and 'The Pregnant Widow', then prepare to revise your opinion.
One thing you've learned: 
As a child in the novel asks - 'What would you rather - know everything or know nothing?' Essential reading!

Life after the State

Author: 
Dominic Frisby
It's about: 
I’d have to admit that the idea of a stand-up comedian writing about a serious topic doesn’t sound all that promising, but Dominic Frisby has managed to pull off a quite startling achievement; he has written a book about the economy that is actually a pleasure to read. ‘Life after the State’ seeks to address these basic questions: What is money? Who controls it? What happens as a result of that control? His central argument is that our fiat monetary system (in which governments, regardless of their assets, print money whenever it suits them) doesn’t just encourage massive debt or stifle innovation and self-reliance; it is doomed to fail. The book reaches some alarming conclusions about the massive Ponzi scheme that is the western economy and argues that we have to end the racket of central banking by separating 'money' and 'state'. To sum it up in a sentence: the closer you are to the people who control money, the better off you'll be.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
It should appeal to anyone who is concerned about where crony capitalism and the deficit spending model of government is taking us. The author describes himself as a ‘bleeding heart libertarian’ and unashamedly espouses that libertarianism to champion ideas that would be familiar to many 'progressives' (although it's fair to say that most of his proposed solutions will be anathema to those of a statist disposition).
One thing you've learned: 
I've learned some interesting ideas about taxation and about how having the freedom to choose between competing currencies might begin the process of rolling back the power of the state. I've learned something about fractional reserve banking and I'm now afraid of the phrase 'quantitative easing'. I'm also more inclined to believe that politicians really don't have a clue what they are doing and that, sooner or later, fiscal reckoning (a.k.a. 'reality') is going to raise its ugly head.
RubyBlue's picture

Animals

Author: 
Emma Jane Unsworth
It's about: 
The opening line tells you most of what you need to know: 'You know how it is. Saturday afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move.' This is the story of two thirty-something anti-herione flat-sharers and their friendship. It’s very good on the co-dependence, loyalty and tensions within female friendships, and the deadening nature of work (and not writing your novel). The writing is particularly powerful on the reinforcing (and dangerous) nature of friendships based on booze, drugs and dodgy men. But it is best on the crushing nature of female conformity- when women get to a certain age, the pressures to settle become overwhelming, particularly around marriage, babies and family. Unsworth also writes very perceptively about the reality of sex- the ick, the stink, the mess and how it’s really rubbish sometimes (especially when sober). It’s written at a breakneck speed and I got through it in a very enjoyable afternoon.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
For those who partied hard at any stage (however long ago) it’s very easy to recognise a younger version of oneself in it, and the male characters are reasonably well-written (although slightly flat and foils for the women, really). In the end it’s a woman’s quest for agency and independence and its consequences. Might appeal to people who enjoyed: Caitlin Moran’s books; ‘The Lemon Grove’ by Helen Walsh; Possibly Irvine Welsh: the drug descriptions are spot-on and less stomach-turning.
One thing you've learned: 
• Drugs are baaaad, m’kay? • Pop fact: Emma Jane Unsworth is Guy Garvey’s ex. I wonder if he bears any resemblance to Jim, the globe-trotting musician? (Also a lot of ‘The Take-off and Landing…’ was written about her, I think.) • A girl needs a room of her own.

How to Build a Girl

Author: 
Caitlin Moran
It's about: 
It’s the 1990s, teenager Johanna Morrigan lives in a Wolverhampton council house with an unemployed father, a depressed mother and four unruly siblings. Her only way out is to reinvent herself as savvy, sassy, cynical rock critic Dolly Wilde. But that’s not easy when you have to borrow CDs from the library at 20p a time. Imagine Adrian Mole meets High Fidelity as written by Tony Parsons, narrated in the audio book version by Noddy Holder and you’ll have just an inking of how this book reads. Sharp and true to life, like all the best coming of age stories it veers between toe curlingly accurate and snort-coffee-down-your-nose funny. It has some of the most hilarious sex scenes you’ll read anywhere. Above all How to Build a Girl truly captures the trials of breaking away from the family shadow and becoming your own person.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
If you like Nick Hornby or Sue Townsend or Jonathan Coe you'll enjoy this.
One thing you've learned: 
An interesting new use for a roll-on deodorant.
Vincent's picture

Watching the Door: Cheating death in 1970s Belfast

Author: 
Kevin Myers
It's about: 
Myers was a drifting journalist who found himself in Norn Ireland just when it went off in the early 1970s. He worked for RTE, wrote for various posh papers, and lived and loved (and nearly died) as he interviewed, cuckolded and drank on both sides of the Sectarian divide. He develops an understandable PTSD, and his knee-jerk student radicalism is car-bombed and kneecapped by reality as he sees the psychopaths and vindictive prejudices that are shared by the Republicans, Unionists, and pre-PC British Army regiments. Nobody comes off well by this book, least of all the author. I'm pretty damn sure the thinking that maintained the brutality on all sides is generalisable to wherever there is an interminable and apparently intractable conflict, whether it be the West Bank, Iraq, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Any reader of books on terrorism, Northern Ireland's "troubles", or, in my opinion, P J O'Rourke's writings on war zones ("Holidays in Hell", "All the Trouble in the World", etc.).
One thing you've learned: 
People who support terrible things mostly try to get useful idiots to do the dirty work so they can have plausible deniability. These people can end up as MPs and representatives of the managerial boss-class a few decades later. I knew this, but it never hurts to be reminded of the fact.

Weird Scenes inside the Canyon

Author: 
Dave McGowan
It's about: 
The Laurel Canyon (in the L.A. hills) scene in the 60’s and the U.S. military intelligence connection to major names in the music and cinema industry like - Zappa, The Doors, The Byrds, CSNY, The Mamas and the Papas, The Monkees, America, Gram Parsons, Poco, the Beach Boys, and a host of others. It tackles the question: "Did the hippy, sex, drugs and rock and roll rise up organically as an affront to the status quo... or did the US intelligence machinery take steps to implant this phenomenon into Laurel Canyon L.A. so as to distract any anti-war/anti-government fervour and turn it into a mess so it could never get the traction it needed to make any difference? It’s a very enjoyable, intelligent and fascinating read. The facts really do speak for themselves. There are too many common threads in the lives of Laurel Canyon inhabitants back then to be dismissed as mere coincidence. McGowan’s style is quite funny and totally unputdownable.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Books about 60’s musicians, books about popular culture, music from L.A. based bands in the ‘60s, The Black Dahlia, the Easy Rider movie, The “Young Turks” actors of the 60’s, books about the Manson murders, conspiracy books with evidence, the occult...
One thing you've learned: 
I don’t look at the 1960's in the same way. Bands considered to be ground breaking and part of rock history seem to have had a whole lot more going on than just a chance getting together. If the sixties was partly manufactured, what are they capable of now? It boggles the mind. If you're happy with the accepted view of rock and pop music culture as being "4 lads who get together to write songs", beware of this book!

The Deliverance of Marlowe Billings (A false memoir by Dan Stuart)

Author: 
Dan Stuart
It's about: 
Why Green On Red front man Dan Stuart wanted to make music. Sort of. Dan takes a snapshot approach, tracing his journey from Tucson punk to New York psychiatric patient by providing a series of vignettes that are by turns hilarious and horrific. It's a bruising ride and you're not going to finish the book liking him, but if you were a fan of Green On Red back in the day or feel you would enjoy a brutally honest autobiography dressed up as a pack of lies, this is for you.
Length of read: 
Short
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Green On Red, Dan Fante
One thing you've learned: 
Dan thinks he's been faking it. He'll probably be a lot more comfortable in his own skin when he wises up to the fact that everybody else is too.

Rock Stars Stole My Life

Author: 
Mark Ellen
It's about: 
How he (and lots of people like us) became so obsessive about music, how it has changed over the years, how different the world of rock music is for artists and fans these days....
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
The Word
One thing you've learned: 
A number of the tales and anecdotes had been touched on in the Word and on the podcast, and yet there's a surprising amount of detail and more fun still to be had. I've also learned I can't read his book without his voice reading it to me in my head, which slowed me down a bit. It was like an imaginary podcast.
Cookieboy's picture

Hurricane The Life of Rubin Carter, Fighter

Author: 
James S Hirsch
It's about: 
Authorised biography of the man made famous by the superb Dylan song, largely his twenty year struggle to be freed from jail. Interestingly, and contrary to my understanding, he was never exonerated, the judge who released him said basically, "The proof against him is crap so I'm letting him go but the prosecution can re-file if they wish" They chose not to mostly due to the twenty years that had elapsed. I'm not qualified to be a judge or a lawyer but I am qualified to be a juror and I wouldn't have convicted him. He may very well have done it but the evidence against him is shoddy to say the least. The lyric, "Guess who testified? Bello and Bradley and they both boldly lied." is no exaggeration. With all the trials and hearings that were held the prosecution were sometimes confused which version of the truth they wanted Bello to attest to. However Arthur Dexter Bradley recanted what he said in the first trial about Rubin's guilt and refused to take further part.
Length of read: 
Short
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Anything about Dylan He makes several appearances including one baffling incident. Long after the song had run it's race and Rubin had lost his second trial, one of Rubin's supporters met Bob and asked if he would like to visit Rubin in jail to lift his spirits. Bob pointed to a TV set that was showing roller skaters and responded, "Do you like roller skating? Look at the cool stuff they do." When the man tried to steer the conversation back to Carter Dylan began quoting the bible.
One thing you've learned: 
While in South Africa for a fight Carter claimed to have become friendly with Stephen Biko and when he returned to SA for another bout he provided guns for him. Each of them were destined to be portrayed on film by Denzel Washington, a coincidence I find extraordinary. Also the only person who sued Bob over the song was Patty Valentine. She didn't like the line "Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head." The case was thrown out of court.
davidks's picture

Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk

Author: 
Ben Fountain
It's about: 
The Bravo Squad are national heroes after surviving an ambush in Iraq. They are paraded across the US on a "we are winning the war" tour. The story is based on their visit to Dallas to the Thanksgiving NFL game, with the soldiers knowing that they are going back to Iraq once the game is over. You get corporate America, Hollywood, the American public and their reactions to these heroes. Billy Flynn is the youngest member of the squad and the heart of this book, and its through his eyes that we see America's relationship to war.
Length of read: 
Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed: 
Its got satire, humour, great writing, believable characters and some very biting cynicism. If you like good writing, you'll like this book. Like this: "Then someone asks are we winning [the war in Iraq], and Billy gets passed around like everybody's favorite bong..."
One thing you've learned: 
Living in America, I am bombarded with "Support the Troops" imagery and messages, but how do we actually support the troops? Do we actually know what these "grunts" go through, and mere platitudes of "You're a hero, we are behind you" may be condescending. I also learned that this is one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It's critical praise is very well deserved. The ending really got to me.

Pages