Friday, August 19, 2016

Holiday reading review, eight recommendations and one stinker

I'm just finishing the last of my designated holiday reads - Matt Haig's Reasons to Stay Alive - about his life with depression. I hesitate to describe it as a battle, because it doesn't do it justice. It just is. His depression is part of who he is, it doesn't define him. Anyway, he is talking at the moment about what a period of intense reading does for him. For me, that's what holidays represent, that and sunshine and spending time with the people you love the most.

I read two biographies, two factual books, five thrillers, one set in Ibiza and Liverpool, one in Scotland, two in the US, one in Geneva. And then there was one I ditched, which I'll come to later.

So here's a quick review, left to right. The latest Jack Reacher is another stormer. I think I've read them all now and they are like a guilty pleasure, a comfort blanket, a familiar journey involving bad people bullying good people and the satisfying dishing out of rough justice.

Jon Ronson's So You Have Been Publicly Shamed was on the reading list for a debate I hosted at the International Festival of Business in Liverpool. The social media apprentices at Juice Academy wanted to thrash out whether social media is out of control. After reading Ronson's book and after seeing the destruction of civil debate before our very eyes, I am convinced it is, especially the way the algorithms continually serve to amplify our prejudices and fill our echo chambers with more and more noise.

Kevin Sampson's The House on the Hill sees the return of Detective Billy McCartney. I liked his attention to the musical and cultural detail of Ibiza 1990 that peppered and then lit up a sharp and urgent writing style. I loved that he has the brass neck to retrospectively write a terrorist plot based on what we know now, rather than what was going on back then. Flawed characters and plausibly but outrageous bad guys permeate the pages. I loved it.

Tim Marshall's medley of football songs and culture, mixed in with his early life, was a bit of a ramble, but I lent it to a football mad teenager who lapped it up. I was pleased he identified this fantastic Stockport County song as one of the best.

Robert Harris' Fear Index picked up on the terror of a world led by machines out of control. I devoured Dave Eggers' dystopian Silicon Valley tale The Circle last year, this Hollywood movie script in waiting was every bit as good and brilliantly researched.

I gave up on Martin Amis' Lionel Asbo. Disgraceful poverty porn masquerading as irony.

After randomly ploughing through James Crumley, Mark Timlin, Kevin Sampson and now Lee Child, I've found a new author to immerse myself in. Christopher Brookmyre's Scottish noir is rapier sharp and lightning quick. Full of knowing references to football, politics and Scottish culture, I think I'm going to like Jack Parlabane almost as much as Jack Reacher.

Having seen New Order on my special birthday for the first time, it seemed right to get Bernard Sumner's take on the evolution of one of the greatest bands of my lifetime. It's an extraordinary early story, jaw dropping at times. But the edited highlights of the New Order story seem to be as fascinating for what's left out as much as what is in. That said, he doesn't seem to leave much out of his account of the deteriorating relationship with Peter Hook.

Finally, Gone Girl was a strange experience. A skillful manipulation of the loyalties and emotions in the story, veering between the perspectives of the two characters. Rarely comfortable, sometimes shocking.

That's a pretty good catch up on where I'm up to book wise at the moment. I have to read a lot for work, so fiction and biogs are a nice complement to industrial strategies, sector reviews and political tracts. Any recommendations gratefully received.


Horace Ontal said...

I agree with you on the Christopher Brookmyre. He is definitely on original 'must read'. Some of earlier books had a bit of a gimmick - making the first chapter or so quite outrageous, then moderating the drama/violence for the remainder of the book.
The Jack Reacher ? Well written, but once you've read one you've read them all.

Michael Taylor said...

Cheers Horace. I love the familiar format of the Jack Reacher books.