It’s snuggle season, so what are the Top Reads for Autumn to settle down with?
Westender’s Cover to Cover – with Brian Toal will give you some great recommendations.
But What Can I Do? by Alistair Campbell
Alistair Campbell needs no introduction. His very name is synonymous with spin, Malcolm Tucker and New Labour. However, love him or loathe him, you must acknowledge that when it comes to how politics works and how we can make politics work better, he’s the man to ask. In fact, he’s been asked so many times how people can get involved and how they can change the system, he decided to write a book about it, and here we are. My partner and I went to see him at the ‘Aye, Write’ Festival in town, and he was thoroughly entertaining whilst making a number of salient points – just like this book. He was promoting the book and happily pointed out that it was number one on the Times bestseller list, despite their fairly negative review of the book, much to his delight and their chagrin, I’m sure.
It’s a book of two halves, unsurprisingly for an avid Burnley fan. The first half focuses on why it all went wrong and the second half on how we can help to fix it. He apologises in advance for the negative first half but explains its necessity in providing context for how we’ve got to this parlous state culminating in Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Donald Trump – an unholy trinity indeed. There is a chapter on polarisation and how the right has used this as an effective election and referendum strategy.
The Brexiteers should never have won, we should never have left Europe, and Johnson and Truss should never have accumulated enough support to lead their party. Campbell also details the rise of the populists like Trump who manipulate, lie and say whatever is necessary to get your vote. Sado-populism was a term I’d never heard before: voting for someone who is actually going to make your life worse. We are also told about post-truth and outright lying and how this seems to have become par for the course (Trump joke). We are warned about the perils of disengagement and how fascism thrives on voter apathy.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The second half of the book encourages us to resist cynicism and become more resilient and to persevere – or persevilient, as Campbell coins it. He’s hoping this neologism will be credited to him post-mortem. It sums up the qualities required for anyone considering going into politics. He gives practical advice towards the end of the book about how to start making a difference, who to contact, how to present yourself etc. Whether a future Prime Minister or activist in the background, this book is inspiring and absolutely necessary in these dark political times.
Trespasses by Louise Kennedy
Kennedy was a chef on the outskirts of Belfast until her forties and had previously released a collection of short stories entitled ‘The End of the World is a Cul-de-Sac’. This is her debut novel and although set in Northern Ireland in the 70s at the height of ‘The Troubles’, and although it involves love ‘across the barricades’, that’s where convention ends. Yes, these tropes have been dealt with skilfully by many writers from Bernard MacLaverty to Colm Toibin. However, I can’t remember reading such a visceral account which left me so moved and shocked.
Kennedy’s previous life as a chef has left her with an eye for detail, and some of her descriptions almost jump off the page in terms of their sensory intensity. The love affair is depicted in detail – not prurient or salacious – but tender as well as the more mundane details of an illicit affair. Cushla is a Catholic primary school teacher who also works behind the bar in her brother’s pub. There she meets Michael, a Protestant lawyer who defends Catholics in a system which is set up to damn them. Michael is married, and so when the affair begins, the odds against its long-term success are incredibly long. Cushla’s life needs no further complications as her involvement with the family of her favourite pupil leads to her being censured by the authorities and shunned by her family. The denouement is surprising and powerful in equal measure. A highly enjoyable debut.
We All Go Into The Dark by Francisco Garcia
Many people have written about Bible John, some well and others badly. There have been TV documentaries and a plethora of books. The author has read and watched all of them with their revolving cast of characters of ex-police and talking heads. So why write a new book, given the swathe of previously published ‘exhaustive’ or ‘definitive’ accounts of the ‘Bible John’ killings? Because this is not really a book about Bible John, it’s a book about the obsession with Bible John. Why did his legend cause so much disquiet for so long? Why did he occasion so many inches of tabloid columns and documentaries, becoming the obsession of so many true crime writers, police and journalists since the murders in the late 60s? Because he could have been anybody, and they could have been you.
The murders of Patricia Docker, Jemima MacDonald and Helen Puttock have been almost lost in the glare of the main suspects – John McInnes and Peter Tobin. The author is at pains to remind us that this book is not intended to get to the bottom of the grisly crimes or to pin the blame squarely on one perpetrator or many – he admits that we will probably never know. Instead, the purpose of the book is to look into why we as a nation have been fascinated by these crimes. Bible John captured the mood and gave a name to the anxieties rippling through our city.
Best Reads for Autumn – Westender Cover to Cover
Books available in store or to order Waterstones Byres Road
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