reading pile

Recent Reading

I’ve not read much this year, it seems. My writing (and associated activities) takes up a huge amount of mindspace, and so reading fiction has been affected (non-fiction is on the rise, however). That said, I recently enjoyed The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. This was largely a wonderful book – charming, with powerful descriptions, vivid characters and lively dialogue. I loved the hopelessly restrained and British eloquence when it came to the central romance, but the general novel itself seemed strangely empty compared to the only other Mitchell book I’ve read, number9dream. It lacks urgency (particularly about halfway through), but makes up for it in exploring the backdrop and historical detail, which was perhaps a little infodumpy and so obviously researched (such is the cliché of this genre). Mitchell is at his best when he’s trying more ambitious novel structures, but that’s not to say this novel itself lacked ambition. It’s just that, all in all, it was an entertaining and simple love story, and I can see the intellectually wishy-washy book clubs of Middle England being all over this like a rash.

I blitzed through Captive State, by George Monbiot. This has been on the to-read pile for the better part of a decade (though I’ve been a regular reader of Monbiot’s articles for years) and perhaps this taught me a lesson, since much of the detail and relevance was a little out-of-date. However, it is a meticulous and honest account of the most dishonest parts of the New Labour era – notably, how they sold the country (and state assets) to corporations, and was particularly critical of Private Finance Initiatives. What’s wrong with this? Well, for one, companies with shareholders, by law, must maximise value, which often – nearly always – comes at the expense of providing good services for the public; and ultimately they cost the tax-payer more in the medium to long term. (Just check out some of Monbiot’s online articles on the subject of PFIs.) The most amusing and frightening part of the book was the list of various corporate CEOs who were involved with or held positions in government departments, displaying a conflict of interest that would make you laugh out loud (and then perhaps cry at the injustice of it all). Covering subjects from universities to Private Finance Initiatives to GM crops, it’s a scathing criticism of Tony Blair’s era in government – I honestly don’t think anyone who has read this book (which provides constant evidence and references) could ever take what New Labour achieved seriously.

With this in mind, I dread to think what the Tories are up to…

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.