BBC’s “neglected classics”

BBC Radio 4 has been running a “neglected classics” segment on its programme “Open Book” where they get famous authors to choose books that not enough people still read. There are ten; there is a public vote; then the winner gets dramatised for Classic Serial.

The list is here, along with links to the authors talking about the books to help people choose.

Of those ten works promoted, only four are out of copyright (I was hoping for more than that, given that they are “classics”!)

So, four are available from Project Gutenberg, and can be downloaded for free as E-books:

Lermontov, Hero of our time

Trollope, Miss Mackenzie (apparently very short by Trollope standards)

Johnson, Rasselas

Moore, Esther Waters

If you prefer your classics to be narrated, then two of them have been recorded for Librivox by volunteers, and can be downloaded for free as public domain audiobooks in MP3 format.

Esther Waters by George Moore on Librivox

Rasselas by Samuel Johnson on Librivox


Unpleasant Tory campaign vignettes

This week in the Guardian’s diary column Esther Addley is standing in for Hugh Muir, and she’s chosen a book of the week, True Blue: Strange Tales from a Tory Nation, by Chris Horrie and David Matthews.

Very unpleasant trends are emerging in two vignettes that paint Tory activists as racist and anti-Semitic. Who knew?

The first scene takes us to Richmond:

during the election campaign of 2005, when the book’s undercover authors were canvassing for the local Tory candidate against the Lib Dems’ Susan Kramer. Given a telephone cold-calling script, they were puzzled to find instructions to tell voters that Kramer was an “outsider” and, perplexingly, Hungarian (Kramer was born and raised in London). Why? “She’s a Jewess,” said a party activist, “but we aren’t allowed to say that. We get told off if we say that. So all we can say is that she got off the train from Hungary.”

And then in the London mayoral campaign, we have a charming anecdote:

[Ray] Lewis insisted he had a good idea of what the new job would involve, “which is more than you can say about Boris!”, before doing an impression of his new boss: “Crikey, Ray! What are we going to do? Gosh! Crumbs! Have you got any ideas? Golly!” Cue raucous hilarity, topped only when Lewis joked about a conversation about the local Conservative candidate, Shaun Bailey, who was also present and, like Lewis, is black. “I’ve just been speaking to a lady and she asked: ‘Which one is Shaun and which one is Ray – it’s hard to tell you apart.’”

The book is available on Amazon – and if you use this link you’re helping raise funds for the Liberal Democrats: True Blue: Strange Tales from a Tory Nation. Perhaps a kind reader out there would care to buy a copy and review it for us in greater detail?

Political leadership

A colleague has pointed me at a rather charming anecdote in a tome that was available at Bournemouth conference last autumn. The Politics of Leadership was a book available at a stand promoting Be A Councillor when it ran in London. It’s published by the Leadership Centre for Local Government, ISBN 978-1-84049-639-0

One of the chapters is called “Thinkers, fixers and communicators” and the author, Joe Simpson, explains it thus:

I think of politicians as thinkers, fixers or communicators. To be a good politician you need to be good at – at least – one of these attributes. To be great, you need at least two. In fiction, you might find someone who excels at all three.

But the real fun comes at the end of the chapter:

As an aside, the Leadership Centre runs development programmes for rising local government political talent for each of the three main parties. I recently asked each member of the three Next Generation cohorts which one of the three thinker, fixer or communicator categories they would ascribe themselves. The Labour response covered all three, but out of the Conservatives, only one person thought of themselves as a thinker – instead we had a room full of fixers and communicators. And with the Liberal Democrats, only one person (a party staffer) saw themselves as a fixer: most thought they were thinkers. Recounting this outcome to a prominent Liberal Democrat council leader, he replied that that’s precisely why he found it so easy to succeed in his party, always being the one person in his circle who operated as the fixer.

The predominance of thinkers would certainly explain why we get so many comments whenever we discuss just what it means to be a liberal in these troubled times.

So, dear reader, where do you fit in? Thinker, fixer or communicator?

Offloading books

I’m trying to declutter a bit, and have put a whole loada books on, a place where you offer to post books to strangers for free in the hope that someone will post you books you want.  There are rules and things to try and keep it fair, and I can’t get any books until I offload some.

If you want some of my books, there’s a page here that should list the ones I have knocking about.

I buy too many books – usually the very cheap second hand ones from Amazon that cost £0.01p plus P+P. And then I hold on to them.  I’m trying to get a complete collection of the Janet Evanovich / Stephanie Plum books;  I already own a full set of Alphabet books from Sue Grafton, although a big wodge of those are on loan at the moment.  I want to hold onto those.

But there are plenty of books still available.  Lots of Kathy Reichs, lots of Dan Brown, several Stephen Booth (he’s v good – Derbyshire based policiers).  Join Mooch, get a book, earn me new books. Strangely Mooch doesn’t seem to play well with Google Chrome – practically the first website I’ve encountered that struggles.

All of the books on the list are also on Bookcrossing, where I do not have a good track record.  Despite picking up other people’s books and despite registering dozens on the site, and despite leaving helpfully tagged books in interesting places (eg Cyprus) no-one has ever picked up a book I’ve left somewhere and recorded the fact on Bookcrossing.  Gah!

Book tag

Intelligent Person's Guide to LiberalismIain Dale tagged me yonks ago to write about books. I’ve been rather avoiding answering. Although I love reading, I seldom read anything of any weight. I snatch hours here and there to read detective fiction, but even when I do have longer periods, it does tend still to be the same old tec fic. I carried An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Liberalism around in my bag for months but never got beyond the first chapter. My Dad gets the Booker Prize winner for Christmas each year because he likes weighty fiction, but I haven’t read one of them before giving since Pat Barker’s Ghost Road.

1. Name one book that changed your life.

That’s a very tall order. I was always very taken by Mr Tickle. Just the idea of being able to get biscuits from the kitchen without ever having to get out bed…

2. One book you’ve read more than once.

Marked for Life by Paul MagrsMarked for Life by Paul Magrs.

Back in 1995, I was working at Ludlow Library as my Saturday job during my A Level years. It was a very good job for me since at the time I did a huge amount of reading. I jobshared with someone I only met once or twice, because we were both language students and we were both likely to take time off for travelling. I used to borrow huge amounts of books, CDs and the like for free. Whenever anything interesting came over the counter, I snaffled it for myself. So often, I learned my library card number so I could type it into the terminal: R2206004395.

Another of the perks was that books about to be published got promoted to the library. We used to get a deck of filing cards with titles, and a very brief synopsis. Something about the book grabbed me – it could just have been the word ‘gay’ in the description. I marked the card as one I wanted the library to buy, a few weeks later, the book showed up, I borrowed it, read it, and was wowed. I bought it for myself a few days later. Now I can’t really remember much about what was in the book, but magical realism featured. Something that really sticks in my mind was a sex scene between the tatooed guy the book is named for and an invisible guy who’s only visible at all because of a glow-in-the-dark condom. Marked for Life is the first in a trilogy, the others are Does it Show? and Could it be Magic? Some of the characters from these books also turn up in Magrs’ Dr Who fiction, which is an interesting crossover of genres.

All these books are amongst the very large stash of my books in my parents’ attic. They’re in a box that says I have to look at them again in ten years from when they went up there. That must be coming up soon. Gawd only knows where in this house they’ll go!

3. One book you’d want on a desert island.

This one looks like a good idea.

4. One book that made you laugh.

Tough call – go for the Pratchett or go for the Fforde? I did hoot recently when re-reading The Eyre Affair at the idea of a perfomance of Richard III given the full audience-participation of Rocky Horror. (“When is the winter of our discontent? ‘NOW is the winter of our discontent.'”) And The Big Over Easy was full of terrible jokes all the way through. Then again pterry manages whole books predicated on one bad pun…

5. One book that made you cry.

Grinny, by Nicholas FiskI’m not sure anything has for decades. I do remember being very upset as a nipper by the book You Remember Me! by Nicholas Fisk, a sequel to Grinny and by the same author as Trillions, and A Rag, A Bone and a Hank of Hair. The cover of the Puffin edition of Grinny makes it look like a charming, quirky little story for quite young children. I remember it as a horrifically frightening book – one of those books that scares you witless, but you go back to and read again and again for the thrill. This teaching site lists it as a Key Stage 3 text, which is age-range 11-14, but I think I must have read this at 8. I was probably a wee bit too young. Anyway, I would ly recommend Fisk to anyone with children interested in science fiction. The reviews for Rag sum it up:

i first read this way back in the 70’s and, to be honest, i scared me witless for years after. maybe i was a sensitive child or something. so i came back to it a cynical adult and after the first twenty pages i was laughing at my previous fears, but then the plot really kicks in and remarkably for a thirty year old kids book it hasn’t dated.

6. One book you wish you’d written.


7. One book you wish had never been written.

Oh, what kind of a question is that?

8. One book you’re currently reading.

I’m currently reading 80 Days Around the World for Librivox. Draft files here. I really need to find some time to record more chapters. An actual book? – I have Monster by Jonathan Kellerman on the go, one of the Alex Delaware series.

9. One book you’ve been meaning to read.

I bought that Kennedy biography, but haven’t got off the first page yet.

10. Now tag five people.

I don’t tag people. If you want to do the list yourself, knock yourself out.

Book reviews

The Council has asked councillors for book reviews to display in libraries during Local Democracy Week.  Here’s what I wrote:

The Alphabet Mysteries, by Sue Grafton

I’m going to be greedy and not just choose one book.

I’ve always been a huge reader of murder mysteries and crime novels, from when I started to read Famous Five books as a nipper to when they let me into the adult library for the first time, and I got through the entire back catalogue of Agatha Christie stories.

Even now there’s nothing I like more than to take an evening off and curl up with a good murder story and over the last year, I’ve been working my way through Sue Grafton’s books about private investigator Kinsey Millhone.

It was a very ambitious thing for Grafton to start one book “A is for Alibi” and the next “B is for Burglar”.  It’s saying upfront “I’m not just going to write one or two books, I’m going to write at least 26!”

But Grafton is managing to keep up the pace and has got all the way through to S is for Silence, and shows no sign of slowing down.  And all the books are great – you know what you’re getting when you pick one up.  A fast paced thriller, bad guys, good guys, and a PI who cuts her own hair with nail scissors.  Who could ask for anything more?

On a different tack, as a politician, you could say I like the sound of my own voice.  I make recordings of public domain texts through an international project  —  it’s a group of volunteers from around the world who make MP3s of public domain works.  We’re always looking out for more people to help, both with reading, and with the admin side.  And there’s hundreds of free audiobooks on the site too!

Heyer there

Wenlock, an umrat and a gentleman, posted a week or two ago about men not reading Georgette Heyer very much. He said:

Those very few men that I know who have ventured inside a Heyer novel have enjoyed them immensly.

Last week I was at Basford Library for a councillor advice surgery, and as is sometimes the way, there wasn’t anyone to see me. So I picked up a Heyer novel to see what it was like.

And it was good. I got through 60-odd pages in the hour alotted to me. It seemed an entertaining romp much in the way Jane Austen is. Parties, fools, an all-round good egg hero trying to avoid being married off to a silly empty-headed girl by his silly mother and silly sister. A mystery as well… why has the toll booth keeper disappeared leaving his young charge watching the gate?

Unfortunately, I’m not easily going to find out, because I didn’t have my library card with me, and couldn’t borrow the book. I emptied my wallet of clutter as a precaution when I went to France, and hadn’t got around to putting it back in. Besides, I have an expensive habit of forgetting all about library books until months after they should have gone back.

Minette Walters

One of the things I did during my holiday was get some serious recreational reading done. Before I went off I hadn’t had much time, so it was great to relax and fall back into the easy arms of detective fiction.

Weeks before my departure I spent a small fortune in Amazon Z-shops, buying up paperbacks at a penny each so that I had a small crate of books to take with me. I realised halfway through that I was going to get through my supply of English language books before my holiday came to an end, so had a whole bunch more sent to Nottingham for me to pick up when I got back.

The first supply was almost entirely Reginald Hill novels. The entire Dalziel and Pascoe series and some of the Joe Sixsmith books. I finally got round to reading the outing of Wieldy and the story of how Edgar and Edwin met, both of which have been referenced in more recent books, and left me intrigued. I even read so far back in the series that it was before Ellie and Peter got married and before Rosie was born. But I still don’t think I’ve read the first, A Clubbable Woman. The Hill books were ordered a long time before I went off, so I had time to lend them to my mother before my holiday. Since I got through them while I was over there, I’ve lent them to a friend in France.

For the second lot, I ordered up some authors that I’d read before of (eg Morse omnibuses, endlessly depressing Ruth Rendell novels from the 80s) and some I’d heard of and never actually read before. Minette Walters was one, as was Peter Robinson, so too Sue Grafton.

I easily took to Grafton’s alphabet murder books. Slim, well crafted detective fiction you can polish off in a few hours. I bought A-E and read them very quickly. F-I are waiting in my now huge to-read pile.

Peter Robinson was also good. I read a book from his Det. Insp. Banks series and it was great. I didn’t find it quite such the same page-turner as some of the other books I’ve had in the crate, but it was still enjoyable, and I will be looking up the rest.

But the real star discovery was Minette Walters. I only had one book with me, her first, The Ice House. And boy was it great. A wicked sense of humour, intriguingly written and rather more substantial than the Grafton books. It took me 9 hours to get through, and was the main reason I didn’t actually leave my hotel room in Saintes. I’ve already acquired five more, and have nearly finished Acid Row. I can’t unfortunately spare too many slots of 9 hours straight, so I’ll be reading a bit more slowly than usual.

Also in the pile are a series of Maigret books in French. This will take a little more psyching up for me to actually read them. I’m a quarter of the way through the first one (La Pipe de Maigret, which means Maigret’s Pipe, I suspect, and not Maigret’s Blowjob…)

It occurs to me I’ve been reading detective fiction my entire life. I think it was a sort of detective fiction that taught me to read in the first place. I have a vague memory, either from actually remembering it, or from being told the story, that it was a Famous Five book I took off my mother because she couldn’t read it to me without snickering, and read it for myself. I did with the Enid Blyton books what I’ve done with every author since that I’ve enjoyed, and spent days of my life reading book after book by the same person. Eventually I exhausted the children’s library and was allowed to go through the adult library under the watchful eyes of friendly local librarians who never let me borrow anything too racy or inappropriate. Agatha Christie was next, Ian Rankin fairly recently. Before that, and before Jurassic Park really brought him to everyone’s attention was Michael Chrichton. Nicci French is someone I’ve been reading in the last five years since one was serialised on Radio 4.

It’s all so desperately low-brow. But I’m not ashamed! (Well, maybe I am a little bit since I obviously feel the need to deny it.)

Do please feel free to leave recommendations below.