Yes, of course, I’m talking about reading, the thing you do with books (for youthful readers, a book is like a long series of Tweets bound in paper), not the annual celebration of rockular music, where popular beat combos cavort in front of stoned, cider addled fans in a field.
I would describe myself as an avid reader and possessed of minor bibliophiliac tendencies; I do love being surrounded by books and I don’t think I’ll ever prefer a reader to a real book. I don’t get obsessed with first editions and bindings, though: a new paperback is just fine for me.
I’m not massively well-read: I gave up a few dozen pages into Ulysses, can’t be doing with Dickens and failed to find any of Robertson Davies’ clever novels as captivating and funny as I was supposed to. Literachoor is all well and good but I find I enjoy a throwaway novel about superheroes fighting zombies far more as long as there are a few witty lines.
I say this as qualification because I’m going to recommend a couple of books and I don’t want anyone to think that you need to be able to quote chunks of Heidegger verbatim to be able to get something out of them.
Anyway, alongside the penny dreadful thrillers and comic-book plotted sci-fi that I’ve been enjoying over Christmas, I’ve been reading two slightly more serious books and I want to commend them both to anyone.
I’m a big fan of Ben Goldacre – partly because we share many of the same concerns about the presentation of science to the public, especially in the media and partly because I find his doesn’t-suffer-fools-gladly approach amusing. He’s a lucid, witty communicator of really important ideas. “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.” Is perhaps a slightly off-putting title to some people but please don’t be put off. It’s a collection of essays and articles on the misuse and abuse of science in media, politics and commerce. The book deals with issues that affect us all but, because, as the title suggests, the details are more complicated than the headlines suggest, we are often misled.
The articles are short, easy to read and entertaining. Depending on your reading speed and diet you could easily make it through in three months of entertaining and enlightening (see what I did there?) shits. You will emerge from the lavatory wiser and, I hope, angrier.
Speaking of angry brings me to my second recommendation. Owen Jones’ “The Establishment: and how they get away with it” will divide opinion. It’s divided mine and I give you theWikipedia link rather than the Amazon link so that you can have a look at the reception for the book. Of course, one would expect skilled rebuttal as criticism from the right-wing press for a book like this, so, although many of the criticisms aimed at the book are certainly valid, they should also be perhaps weighted accordingly.
Jones looks at the way that a small part of society has come to wield disproportionate wealth and power and how they continue to protect their privilege and the cost to the rest of us. It’s an angry, passionate book although the observations that the author struggles with some of those ideas and is short of viable solutions ring true. Just because you don’t entirely agree with a book or that it doesn’t make your mind up for you is no reason not to read it, though (in fact, I’d tend to steer clear of books that do try to make your mind up for you rather than invite you to think), and I think that everyone should read this one, even if you end up skimming some sections. If it doesn’t make you angry, I’d be surprised and suggest that you’ve either given up or achieved independent wealth and no longer give a shit what happens to anyone else.
Read them both and agree, disagree, act, don’t act. I’m not making a call to arms here: that should be your call to make. But I think that these are two important, thought-provoking books. You’re welcome to borrow my copies if you wish. Happy reading.