Tag Archives: Kurt Vonnegut

Hot Reads Part Deux!

I haven’t been away this year, but I have found John Maguire’s mantra of ‘Read, Reflect, Recharge’ to be a sound one, even if applied at home. I have tried to cram in as much quality reading time as possible, made easier as it has almost been too hot to move. Here are a few of the books that found their way into my hands this summer.

kurt vonnegut a man without a country

A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut

This could be the perfect holiday read as it is a very slender volume. Although that does mean you will read it quickly, there is so much of interest that you will find yourself leafing back through the pages. Part memoir, part ‘state of the world’ treatise, this is Mr Vonnegut at his finest.

I replied that what made being alive almost worthwhile for me, besides music, was all the saints I met, who could be anywhere. By saints I meant people who behaved decently in a strikingly indecent society.

road home

The Road Home by Rose Tremain

There was so much to enjoy in this tale of Lev’s journey from an undefined part of Eastern Europe via homelessness and a celebrity chef’s kitchen in London, to the asparagus fields of Lincolnshire and back again. He is also moving from heartbreak over his wife’s death and the subsequent parting from his small daughter, we hope to something better. The tale was absorbing and the writing beautiful at times.

However, this is let down by the clichés of some of the characters Lev meets – the Irish landlord who’s a drunk with a heart of gold, a terribly represented gay couple – along with the situations that he easily swerves which must surely sink the precarious finances of most economic migrants. I was also stunned by a glossed-over incident between Lev and his estranged girlfriend. It is left ambiguous as to whether it is rape, but it is horribly uncomfortable to read. Despite this, Lev retains his status as a character we are meant to root for. While I wouldn’t regret taking this with me, I would probably leave it behind in the hotel.

our game

Our Game by John le Carré

It is always a dangerous endeavour to begin reading John le Carré before bed as ‘just one more chapter’ soon turns into 1:00 a.m. But it is the holidays, so why not stay up late reading? Twists and turns abound as the Soviet Empire unravels and with it the relationship of two Cold War warriors. There are also some choice views on the futures of ‘The Office’ and the KGB, which le Carré must have been aiming at any critics preparing to cast him as a dinosaur in this new era. Recent events have made this story seem even more prescient, as the author once more leaves the rest of the airport bookshop looking pale by comparison.

under fire

Under Fire by Henri Barbusse

The anniversary of World War I prompted me to pick up this account of a French soldier’s experience of the trenches. Published in 1916, it had the distinction of being one of the first war books and the only one to appear while the conflict remained unresolved. Barbusse was a student of literature before he signed up and it shows in the wildly abstract opening and a scene where his scribbling of notes during a lull attracts the attention of his fellows.

Beset by the constant horrors of attacks, shelling and deaths, the French perspective adds extra weight as many of the men are fighting close to home. A search by the author and a friend of the ruins of the friend’s former village is particularly poignant. There is no better way to mark this dark anniversary than with the words of those who fought and who recognised its futility even as they did.

Don’t forget to tell us about your favourite holiday reads in the comments below!


Filed under The Golden Country

It’ll all come out in the wash

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be

-Kurt Vonnegut

Having trounced the troughing politicians so well, and given the ‘dead tree press’ a run for their (lack of) money, the next battle has been declared against the spinmeisters.  This is one endeavour that everyone, regardless of the direction of their leanings, should aid and abet.

Spin and influence is a distortion of the political process.  It puts the image of democracy above the practice of the doctrine and leaves the common-or-garden voters like you and I looking comparatively less attractive than Ann Widdecombe in a line up of Miss World contestants.  Put simply, we haven’t the yachts or the kudos to compete with the oligarchs for influence with people who can only be persuaded to care about us once every five years on pain of losing their gold-plated lifestyles.

However, it is difficult to see this campaign seizing the popular imagination to the same degree as the moat-clearing, home-flipping, child-employing one.  Let’s not forget that only mere months since the Telegraph revelations that ‘rocked Westminster to its foundations’ (™ = every single newspaper), it is still business as usual in SW1.

I consider it laughable that my fellow citizens will be dismayed by the lengths that politicians go to curry favour with privileged persons or to buff and gloss their dismal actions.  Given half a chance, we would also suck off Alan Sugar for a tilt at the big time and we are all amateur spinmeisters now, obsessed with painting ourselves in the best possible light.  We promote just how damn cool we are, utilising every tool from FaceBook status updates and profile pictures to Twitter meanderings.  We are celebrities!  We have FOLLOWERS!!!  We star in the production which is our own lives every day.

Blame Big Brother if you like, or those faked fly-on-the-wall documentaries so beloved of proper famous people, like Kylie and Madonna (twice) and even Geri, but the knowing wink is everywhere.  People are so aware of being watched and rated that no occasion is too mundane not to be catalogued instead of enjoyed.  Photographs used to serve as a reminder of events, now they are proof: you were there, having a good time, looking amazing.  They present the correct image of You Inc to the global audience who, if you could but notice, are all so tediously worried about their own image they barely have time to consider anyone else’s.

So it would be hypocritical to deny our politicians the right to behave as badly as we do ourselves, to hold them to a higher standard of behaviour than we achieve.  In this shallow, vapid age it seems we have the politicians we deserve.  Be honest, how many of us would turn down an opportunity to put a 40” plasma screen telly on expenses if we thought the boss was looking the other way?  While wishing good luck to those seeking to boil wash UK politics, I think the final result will show our blackened, torn laundry is beyond repair.

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