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snpIn a conversation with Indian author Arundhatl Roy at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival, it was refreshing to hear Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon presenting herself as a proud bookworm and promoting the general benefits of reading.

She said: “I have a theory that if more political leaders read more literature, the world wouldn’t be in quite the state it’s in right now”. I couldn’t agree more.

Trump is obviously the most extreme example of the catastrophic effects of un-learning. It is depressing to observe how his supporters continue to lap up his incoherent torrent of hate speech and pig ignorance rather than seeing it for what it is: a blatant abuse and misuse of power. View full article »

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EARTH ABIDES by George R.Stewart (1949)

earthIsherwood Williams (Ish) is not much of mixer which is just as well because most of humanity has just been wiped out by a deadly virus.

You might imagine this means the horror of piles of corpses lying everywhere but the dead bodies have either all been buried or we assume that all the victims gathered together in medical centers to tidily expire en-masse.

When we meet Ish, he is laid up in his remote mountain cabin after a snake bite. This poison seems to be the reason he is immune to the pandemic.

When he recovers he finds that civilization as he knows is has disappeared.  Being a pragmatic and practically-minded kind of guy he resolves to cope with the great disaster methodically and logically. He gets a truck, food supplies, weapons and a dog. His trusty hammer becomes both a life saver and a symbol of his enduring strength. View full article »

Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker(Penguin Books, 2018)

9780141983769-itThis might just be the perfect book for the bedside table if the contents were not so damned scary.

The list of what lack of sleep causes is vast and should be a concern for those who, up to now, have regarded the daily hours of shut-eye as a waste of time.

The facts and discoveries from decades of scientific research prove that sleeping makes you healthier, wealthier and wiser. It can also makes you more attractive and slimmer.

“Sleep fixes what is upset by wake” states Walker. As director of University College Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, the results of his long research carry a genuine authority. The title of the book is not framed as a question (Why do we sleep?) since the science gives us the answers. You will ignore the findings at your peril. View full article »

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead (Fleet books, 2019)

Screen shot 2019-08-12 at 20.39.32“Be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer; and one day we will win our freedom” . The defiant words of Martin Luther King speak to Elwood Curtis.

An album of speeches by the great man at Zion Hill was the only album he possessed; a Christmas gift from his Grandmother in 1962. MLK put ideas in the young coloured boy’s head and fired the determination to study and, if need be, to suffer to make something of himself. A natural curiosity and a thirst for knowledge meant Elwood excelled at school and great things seem to lie ahead. The chilling prologue to this novel gives fair warning that a harsher destiny lies ahead.

After being convicted for the ‘crime’ of being an unwitting passenger in a stolen car he is sent to the Nickel Academy for juvenile offenders.This is a work of fiction but the events of state sponsored child abuse he experiences and witnesses there are inspired by the true story of the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida. View full article »

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (W.W. Norton, 2018)

This great society is going to smash;
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.

W.H. Auden – Bucolics Part II – Woods (1953)

51-zvpnlixl._sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_The pitch for this remarkable novel, winner of the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction,  is that it follows the converging stories of nine people who are transformed by the emergence of tree consciousness.

In the first section called ‘Roots’ there are separate back stories, more like fables, which introduce the reader to these diverse characters. The following three sections – Trunk, Crown & Seeds – show how these lives interconnect.

Significantly, none of them start out as political activists but each, for different reasons, feel moved to act out of a sense of moral outrage over the way our eco-systems have been, and are still being, destroyed for the sake of economic gain.

The book has 9 humans and over 300 named trees; the latter are in many ways the real protagonists. Powers wants us to appreciate the interdependence between humanity and the inanimate world. In an interview at Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, he poses the question: “What if the living world sets patterns that we have to accommodate?” View full article »

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