Why this Blog?

I hope that this blog will become a place to look after my writing ideas and that, over time, I can use it to archive all my favourite creative sites on the web. Maybe others will enjoy it too.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Book List - Part 3

Ah, the final part. I said 'top three' in my last post and, well, I lied. I implied that I had a 'top' of anything. Again, these are just ten of the books that stayed with me "for some reason" and some of them are for different reasons. So far, most of them have been fiction (and I suspect that will remain so) but I ought to explain this apparent bias.

Factual books I love, I do, but I view them as a means to an end - a way to acquire more knowledge or to think in a new way. As a consequence I am strictly utilitarian, mostly, when reading them. Some, like one in this installment, make me think so much in a new way that they stay with me. Most, I dip in and out of chasing references or sources. I am an historian and I read like that all the time. I said before that I do not prize a clever narrative over facts, and I don't, so 'great literature' to me can rarely be factual - mostly I chase information through labyrinthine corridors left by dry academics, and I like that. See a clever bit of prose and I get suspicious - what angle are they going for and why would they want me to focus on the prose rather than the facts?

However, I do respect the fact that some factual books are simply mind-blowing. Here I must plead the arrogance of youth and of my profession. I have worked so long and so hard to appear unfazed that I usually convince myself that mind-blowing information isn't. Now, I have already cited The Politics of Breastfeeding as one of my books and tonight I shall cite two more factual tomes that did blow my mind. But, hopefully, this explains why fiction has such a lasting hold on me.

I move onto one of those factual books now, Childbirth Without Fear by Grantly Dick-Read. This was a medical book written in the 1950s and, though quaint in some of its outlook, it was revolutionary then and, sadly, remains revolutionary now. In it Mr Dick-Read shows true compassion, understanding and research. His truly Christian approach (that is, compassionate and standing with suffering) in studying childbirth and the women who went through it - and what he discovered. He has a touching optimism about human beings that made me smile when reading it and made me angry that what he says has never been heeded. It changed the way I think about things, and so it was that when our youngest was born we banned the word 'pain' to describe what was going on down there. I'm still not certain what to call it, that pressure, but pain was and remains mostly the wrong word. Because pain tells us something is wrong and needs attention, but birth done right (with some preparation and training) is not wrong and needs little attention. I'm not diminishing the act, but... well, Mr Dick-Read does a far better job than I of describing it which is odd on one level but also unsurprising given when he was writing and doing his research. Birth was more open than it is perhaps now, more normal. It is a factual book. It blew my mind.

And so did the next book on my list: Hengeworld by Mike Pitts. It was bought me on our honeymoon whilst walking around in Wiltshire. I wanted to show off my knowledge of Stonehenge and Avebury and the prehistoric monuments that litter the landscape. I was convinced they all worked together because when I had visited as a child we had covered a vast swathe of them in a single day. So I was bought Hengeworld and suddenly I had the factual basis for my hunches. And it was fascinating. It changed, forever, the way I viewed prehistory. I already knew that people in the past were not stupid or thicker than we, but this extended that and spoke of complexity beyond my dreams. I am not suggesting some perfect lifestyle (that must wait until I have studied Doggerland and the mesolithic) but I am beginning to wonder why about a great many things. This is a book that will change the way you think about life today. And it's actually a really good read - accessible to eejits who know nothing like me and Jon Snow. It is packed with references too. I like it. I don't trust the author, but I trust his research.

Finally, another historically themed book, but one that simply defies explanation. I always fail to sell this. So, here's the bad bits: it took me five weeks to get into this, and that was 55 pages. It took three attempts to read it before I managed to get into enough to do so. It's about the Wars of Religion, a period in which I have little to no historical interest. I despise it. No, I despised it, I had no interest. It is Q by Luther Blissett. But it is not by Luther Blissett. It is written by an anarchist collective, four authors in this case, in Bologna. It is a masterpiece and it completely changed the way I think about narrative, unreliable narrators, plotting, world-building, history and the way the world works. Read it. It's worth it.

And all this leaves out wonderful works like the Mars trilogy, the Night's Dawn trilogy, virtually every major history of the First World War or the Somme, Stalingrad by Anthony Beevor, Sahara by Clive Cussler, Invasion by Ian MacKenzie, The Historian by Elizabeth Kostakova, The Undercover Economist, Freakonomics, everything Harry Potter, and a whole host of other books that I can heartily recommend. But there, you have my list.

I now nominate the following lovely people to furnish us with similar lists that I may quail before their better reading choices than I! +Nina MJ +Karen Schumacher +Karen Woodward +Lewis Miranda +Laura Klein Stephens +God Emperor Lionel Lauer +Tracy Swearsalot +Ayoub Khote +Sarah Rios and +Daniella Donati

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