Review: Why We Get the Wrong Politicians – Isabel Hardman (2018)

Isabel Hardman’s Why We Get the Wrong Politicians offers a clear and lively explanation of the parliamentary system’s working in both theory, and in practice. I recommend it for all those with an interest in why our system seems to be mired in crisis, regardless of existing levels of knowledge: she offers clear explanation of the systems workings for those unfamiliar with the detail of our parliament, along with insider knowledge and accounts of how it actually works, and why.

The Peterborough by-election depressed me.  The top two candidates were so patently unfit for public office that it really made inescapable the growing feeling I’ve had that our political system is in crisis. 

I turned to Isabel Hardman’s well received 2018 account of Why We Get the Wrong Politicians.   This had been sitting on my shelf for a few months, seemingly awaiting just such a moment of total loss of confidence in the system from me, so I note here I have the first edition hardback.  It has since been updated and issued as a paperback, with an updated Brexit section and preface on ‘how it’s just got worse’, and I would like to read these further thoughts from Hardman.

Continue reading “Review: Why We Get the Wrong Politicians – Isabel Hardman (2018)”

Book Review: Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov (1957)

Pnin is a complicated, but mild and melancholy character. It is perhaps a sad reflection that he seems inherently less interesting as protagonist than another, roughly contemporaneously written, middle-aged academic, Lolita’s sexually predatory Humbert Humbert.

Pnin is a rather sad quiet account of a Russian émigré academic, scraping his insecure living as an untenured assistant professor.  The tone is often lightly comic thanks to Pnin’s idiosyncratic English, and various set pieces and anecdotes showcasing Pnin’s ineptitude.  The core of the novel though is the effect of Europe’s tragic twentieth century history on those who fled from it to the US. 

Continue reading “Book Review: Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov (1957)”

Book Review: Always Unreliable, Clive James (2001)

From these memoirs Clive James comes across as a dynamic and interesting guy, always in danger of becoming insufferable. Having only ever known of him previously from his TV work, the memoirs make clear that his is a serious mind, worth engaging with, even through the thick shell of often funny, but equally often wearyingly distracting and unnecessary, wit.

Always Unreliable is the omnibus edition of the first three volumes of Clive James’ memoirs (he has since written two more):

  • Unreliable Memoirs (1981)
  • Falling Towards England (1986)
  • May Week Was In June (1990)

This is a lot of James’ company to keep, and while largely fun and interesting, the faults magnify through repetition.  It makes it harder than it should be to say I really liked this book, or James as revealed within it.  He is though almost always interesting, generous to others in his assessments, and fundamentally honest, and for that I can forgive a lot.  James is amusing, even laugh out loud funny at times, but from the experience of reading this, I would say his style suits shorter forms, where his wit runs less danger of becoming monotonous.

Continue reading “Book Review: Always Unreliable, Clive James (2001)”

Review: Re-reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

My strongest memory of reading this book a as teenager was of the power Siddhartha’s ability to fast gave him in his negotiation with the businessman Kamaswami.  His asceticism freed him from being disciplined by the desire for material things, even food, removing much of Kamaswami’s leverage over him.

I was prompted to re-read this book by my own Ash Wednesday fast, which brought this interaction back to me. Having now re-read the book, the scene remains effective.  Kamaswami assumes that as Siddhartha is without possessions he is destitute and comes to him seeking to serve him to survive. Instead Siddhartha points to the value of his experience fasting, saying that if he hadn’t learned to fast ‘I would have to accept any kind of service before the day is up, […] because hunger would force me to do so’. As it is he can ‘wait calmly, knowing no impatience’.  The demonstration puts him on an equal footing with Kamaswami and he prospers as his business partner from there. Continue reading “Review: Re-reading Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse”

2019…

2018 was an intense year for me. The full cycle of life made itself felt with birth, illness and death within my family.  Despite the vicarious brushes with mortality (or maybe also because of them), the birth of my son made last year the best yet.[1] It was also, for good or ill, the year when I really started to feel like a middle-aged adult with a lot of responsibilities and very little time or energy. Continue reading “2019…”