Scribblings and Blether

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STICKY: November 2022 reading list and notes

Currently reading

November 22

  • The Escape Artist by Jonathan Freedland
  • The Last Colony by Philippe Sands
  • A Man With One of Those Faces by Caimh McDonnell
  • Mission Economy by Mariana Mazzucato
  • The Great Mental Models: Vol 1 by Shane Parrish
  • Letters to a Young Contrarian by Christopher Hitchens
  • The Restless Republic by Anna Keay
  • Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning
  • Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens
26 November 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Migrating to Mastodon

I’m now on Mastodon. And, do you know, I am thoroughly enjoying it. It is, of course, micro-blogging and social media, but there are slight differences that make a huge difference to one’s wellbeing when using it. Part of that may just be the reduced traffic but I think the underlying structure gives me cause for optimism that it won’t descend into the hellsite that is now Twitter.

Get yourself signed up to a server and follow me there:

26 November 2022 Scribbles

October 2022 reading list and notes

Recommended book of the month

October 22

  • Flying Blind: The 737 MAX Tragedy and the Fall of Boeing by Peter Robison
  • To Live by Élisabeth Revol
  • Chums: How a Tiny Caste of Oxford Tories Took Over the UK by Simon Kuper
  • Breaking the Social Media Prism by Chris Bail
  • The Life of an MP by Jess Phillips
  • The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation by Michael Matthews
  • PhD by Published Work by Susan Smith
  • Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre

I’ve already commented on Chums below so won’t add more. I happened upon Flying Blind as it was longlisted for the 2022 FT Business Book of the Year. Quite Ugly One Morning was the first Brookmyre book and I had a hankering for a bit of darkly humorous crime.

29 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Exposing the chumocracy

I enjoyed Chums by Simon Kuper and it is certainly a book for modern political times. (Though it would be relevant at any point in recent years/decades.) The Matthew Parris quote on the cover sums it up nicely:

A searing onslaught on the smirking Oxford intimation that politics is all just a game. It isn’t. It matters.”

It is a brutal takedown and a damning indictment. Kuper doesn’t generally offer much hope of future change - he seems resigned, though not hopelessly, to the likelihood that the status quo will be maintained.

It’s easy to read this as a takedown of Johnson, Cameron, Gove et al. And, Kuper certainly manages to eviscerate them. It’s not pretty. More importantly, Kuper’s book is just one aspect of a wider discussion around inequalities. It is eye-opening when you breakdown the impact of Oxford and just how much it has facilitated a ruling class to grasp the reins of power. Kuper’s thesis here is that it is profound. Perhaps that won’t be maintained and this is a blip but Kuper’s book presents evidence that it is simply the way things have been done for a century at least. It is the norm.

…Kuper’s book is just one aspect of a wider discussion around inequalities.

And, although there is not much space devoted to it, a sliver of optimism is offered at the end that it could be done very differently at institutions like Oxford. (I say like Oxford” but really Oxford is almost in a class of its own here.) It is certainly done differently at universities in other European countries. They could move to postgraduate courses only and concentrate on research and other teaching initiatives, moving away from undergraduate courses. It wouldn’t break the stranglehold of the independent sector and the domination of just a few schools on admissions but it might help.

6 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

September 2022 reading list and notes

Recommended: an eye-opening vision of the future of humanity

September 22

  • Nomad Century by Gaia Vince
  • What We Owe The Future by William Macaskill
  • Don’t Put Yourself on Toast by Freddy Taylor
  • Comedy, Comedy, Comedy, Drama by Bob Odenkirk
  • Mud, Rock, Blazes by Heather Anderson
  • The Art of Rest by Claudia Hammond
  • High Risk by Brian Hall

Nomad Century is the book that I keep recommending to people. On that basis alone it has to be flagged here. It might not be racist to be against immigration but it is certainly economically illiterate. She sets out that case convincingly. The book goes much further though and the vision Vince offers here is of a very different world, one where humanity finds itself pushed up into the higher latitudes by global warming. It is remarkable, almost fantastical, but it could very well be the best future on offer.

5 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

August 2022 reading list and notes

Recommended: still not persuaded about the climate emergency? Really?

August 22

  • Against Borders by Gracie Mae Bradley
  • Hothouse Earth by Bill McGuire
  • Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire by Kojo Koram
  • The Meaning of Human Existence by EO Wilson
  • The Dirty South by John Connolly
  • How Not To Be A Boy by Robert Webb
  • Just Ignore Him by Alan Davies
  • The Nameless Ones by John Connolly
  • Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit
  • Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall
  • An Unsung Hero by Michael Smith

Phew, what to choose for August? I probably have to recommend Hothouse Earth as it is a very powerful compact book. I also read, unusually, a couple of fiction books and John Connolly is my go-to author when I want a dose of high quality crime fiction.

I also have to mention the books by the two actor-comedians in this list - Robert Webb and Alan Davies. Both are very moving and Davies’ account, in particular, is deeply affecting given a keen insight into the experience of sexual abuse. Webb leavens his challenges with humour to a far greater degree in his book. Both are recommended.

4 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

July 2022 reading list and notes

Recommended: being anti-capitalist’ can be a lot of different things…

July 22

  • The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan
  • Windswept & Interesting by Billy Connolly
  • Good Pop, Bad Pop by Jarvis Cocker
  • C: Because Cowards Get Cancer Too by John Diamond
  • Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
  • Improvise! by Max Dickins
  • How Words Get Good by Rebecca Lee
  • How to Be an Anticapitalist in the Twenty-First Century by Erik Olin Wright

I read the late Erik Olin Wright’s book last year and so this was second time around. Well worth it too. The best book in July for sure.

3 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

June and July 2022 reading list and notes

Recommended: should be read by anyone with any involvement, however peripheral, in child protection cases.

June 22

  • Unfree Speech by Joshua Wong
  • Behind Closed Doors by Polly Curtis
  • Classic Scrapes by James Acaster
  • The Trespasser’s Companion by Nick Hayes
  • My Fourth Time, We Drowned by Sally Hayden
  • Sidesplitter by Phil Wang
  • Do Not Disturb by Michela Wrong
  • Internet for the People by Ben Tarnoff
  • The Premonitions Bureau by Sam Knight

Some absolute corkers this month. Perhaps, interestingly, the bestseller The Premonitions Bureau might be my least favourite. It’s decent but the others are tremendous.

2 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

April and May 2022 reading list and notes

Recommended: a remarkable exposé of the situation in Xinjiang.

It’s never good to apologise on blogs so I won’t go there — but it has been a while since I posted. A flurry of reading lists is coming up as I get back up to date.

April 22

  • The Perfect Police State by Geoffrey Cain
  • Very Bad People by Patrick Alley
  • From Marathon to Ultra by Jonathan Cairns
  • Stranger Faces by Namwali Serpell
  • Finding Ultra by Rich Roll
  • The Lost Art of Running by Shane Benzie
  • Failure is an Option by Matt Whyman
  • Training Essentials for Ultramarathons by Jason Koop
  • Ultra Success by Anthony Rogan

No prices for guessing my interest this month. No less than 7 books about running and ultras… The other two by Cain and Alley are also highly recommended.

May 22

  • In It For The Long Run by Damian Hall
  • Otherlands by Thomas Halliday
  • Mental Training for Ultrarunning by Addie. J. Bracy
  • Still Not Bionic: Adventures in Unremarkable Ultrarunning by Ira Rainey
  • The Rise of the Ultrarunners by Adharanand Finn
  • Endure by Alex Hutchinson
  • Why You Should Be a Trade Unionist by Len McCluskey
1 October 2022 Scribbles Monthly Reading List

Windswept and Interesting by Billy Connolly

I’ve good memories of Billy Connolly. I can recall watching his Audience with…’ programme in the 1980s with my family and us all laughing uncontrollably. Yet I’ve mixed feelings about this book. I’ve never read any of Billy’s books but, even for me, there was barely an anecdote/joke in here I haven’t heard before at some time. I have to admit that some of it is getting a bit tired.

He asserts he is not a violent man but he fully admits that he is free with his fists and has a casual approach to violence. He tells several tales along those lines. Yet, there is a disconnect between his attitude and the reality. Violence is OK when he does it as he is one of the good guys and he tells it as part of a funny story. All those who he lamps deserve it and he offers sage advice on how to best use violence. On those occasions he imbues it with a cartoonish quality, all the better to minimise the bleak ugly reality of violence. Of course, Connolly had a traumatic upbringing and he endured some horrendous abuse but, sadly, he revels in violence he has meted out, quite unapologetically, despite the awful toll it took on him.

…sadly, he revels in violence he has meted out, quite unapologetically, despite the awful toll it took on him.

There are other small paradoxes and if Connolly has more profound reflections on his own personality and behaviours he doesn’t reveal them here. It all feels a little superficial and, occasionally, one feels his ego just running away a little with the stories. Undoubtedly, he has a considerable amount of which to be deeply proud and he is one hell of a character.

Like just about everyone, I like him and I’m charmed by him. His tales are all told with enormous charisma and his trademark humour but I found it hard to ignore the underlying tensions.

8 July 2022