NWR What are we reading thread?

Unless I’ve missed it, we don’t have a thread re what forumites are reading so here goes. I tend mostly to read historical fiction but have recently started to read Active Measures by Thomas Kid. It’s a fascinating history of disinformation campaigns conducted by various spy agencies around the world over the last century.

Tom Cannavan

Dan, I've always read fairly voraciously, but it's another upside of lockdown and business being slack that I'm reading more than ever. Recently finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenedies which I thought was a masterpiece, and about to finish My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante which couldn't be more different, but also brilliant.
In covidy times I've gone back to comfort reading: scifi and fantasy. Robin Hobb's Assassin trilogy was important stuff for me growing up and I loved the world building and that it wasn't as clichéd as most fantasy. And you know what? Reading it again as an adult, it still seems really good. And apparently the series has gone on and on and the most recent book was published just a couple years ago. I think I'll enjoy continuing the journey. Tade Thompson's Rosewater series set in future Nigeria is just amazing scifi. Lots of good writing coming from Nigeria these days. Adrian Tchaikovksy's Children of Time and Children of Ruin are great space opera / uplift stuff. They feature spiders and cephalopods so of course I like them.

In more serious stuff I recently finished Druin Burch's newest book The Shape of Things to Come. A good look at medicine and how it has genuinely made the world a better place. I do have some minor criticisms of it being overly optimistic about progress in general - though certainly in medicine progress is very probably real. Burch's previous two books were also very interesting reading. Definitely an author forumites should read.
I’ve just finished Michael Frayne’s amusing Magic Mobile (which doesn’t take very long to read) and I’m about to start Evelyn Waugh’s Decline & Fall. Lined up after that is Putin’s People by Catherine Belton.
I`m currently juggling two books, Hugh Johnson`s Wine, A Life Uncorked and Joan Brady`s America`s Dreyfus, The Case Nixon Rigged. The former is something I expect most forum members have read and is one I should have read a long time ago. The latter book is about the trial of Alger Hiss at the time of anti-communist hysteria. It was inspired by the author having met Alger Hiss when she was 18 years old and a ballerina. Her much older partner had invited Alger Hiss over and she had to cook dinner. Alger Hiss was not what she expected. Now, years later, she has gone through the evidence and court transcripts to produce what almost certainly was a show trial. Joan Brady has won the Whitbread Book of the Year as well as Prix du Meilleur Live Etranger.

On the dust jacket, Clare Short, a former UK Secretary of State says "This is an extraordinary book. It is a good read and shows clearly that Alger Hiss was wrongly convicted. Even more, it is a case study in how the progressive experience of the New Deal was wiped out by hysterical anti-communism. So much for the rule of law. And now its happening again."

I’m currently re-reading Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle - a historical trilogy set in the latter 17th and early 18th century. Stephenson is best known as a science fiction-ish author but I love his writing style. If you like historical stuff, Dan, worth a go.

Lined up next are four large volumes of Jonathan Sumption’s history of the 100 Years’ War. I suspect I’ll need something between each volume, and as I seem to be in a re-reading mood at the moment I think I’ll go back to another old favourite, one of Robertson Davies’ delicious Canadian trilogies.

Also lined up is Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, having very much enjoyed Burr, the preceding novel in the “Narratives of Empire” cycle. A couple of his more ancient historical novels, Creation and Julian, are long-standing favourites.

Finally I was working through audiobooks of Patrick O’Brian’s wonderful Aubrey/Maturin series during long weekly commutes, but that has been paused now that I’m at home pretty much all the time. I’ve read the series previously but there’s something nicely different about listening. I must find a way to work that back into the schedule.
I came to O'Brian late, maybe five or six years ago. Once I started I was buying three volumes at once and lapping them up. They are so well written and so well observed, and great escapism. Even made me get the DVD of Master and Commander, good fun but obv doesn't compare.
I suppose I'm surprised as well that we haven't had a reading thread. Like many I've been even more voracious than usual. I therefore won't list everything, but the following two are evidence of my more reflective mood, one of self-examination on many levels.

Lost connections by Johann Hari is ostensibly about mental illness but actually it is much more than that. I don't consider myself to be mentally ill, well no more than the next man, but in critiquing how society treats mental illness (usually very ineffectively) it gives many pointers to the kind of connectivity we have lost as humans, the price of the kind of path of progress we have followed. An easy read and quite enlightening.

The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle is about twenty years old. I guess it's a kind of practical look at what one might loosely call spiritualism. The idea (totally logical) that "now" is all that really exists and by being grounded in the now we can subjugate the ego, many of our worries and worse, and address the pointlessness of much of the negativity in our lives. As I've always been of the view that the haters are NEVER happy, but have been unable thus far to shed the emotion of hatred, I thought I'd give it a go. It's possibly the hardest book to read that I've ever attempted (and hard to understand at times), and it is taking ages to get through it, but that's because you really do need to try to understand what he's saying properly (and in some cases try it out). It won't be for some people but I think there's a lot of really valuable advice, which I guess distils a lot from the major philosophers and religions in terms of ideas.

Then I will finally get round to reading William Dalrymple's latest monster, "The Anarchy", a history of the East India Company.
Just finished Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow so I can review it. The book's about reintroducing beavers to the UK, a subject that greatly interests me, and I was looking forward to reading it. Sadly, IMHO, it's a terrible, terrible book. Avoid.
Just finished Bringing Back the Beaver by Derek Gow so I can review it. The book's about reintroducing beavers to the UK, a subject that greatly interests me, and I was looking forward to reading it. Sadly, IMHO, it's a terrible, terrible book. Avoid.
Thanks for that, Geordie. It's also a subject I am interested in so I might have been tempted.
Yeah, it's a real shame. Very little about why it's a good idea but a lot of petty score-settling - and far, far too many verb-free sentences. And yes, he does make 'humourous' use of that beaver euphemism.
The last thing I finished was Harold Pinter's script for No Man's Land. One of his best plays I think and one I've seen a few notable productions of, including a great one at the Almeida about 30 years starring Paul Eddington and the great man himself. The original run in 1975 with John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson has always been a thing of legend for me, so I was excited to discover recently that the adaptation of it for Granada TV is currently available in full on YouTube. Gielgud in particular really is mesmerising: in this company I would especially point up his delightfully languid monologue about drinking champagne for breakfast and 'trips to Dijon in the '30s, to taste the wines'.

Currently I'm halfway into The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai, a novel about a group of friends during the AIDS epidemic in Chicago and its long aftermath. Absorbing and humane.
I have had a lot of time to read in the last few months and these are books that I have enjoyed;
Underland ; A Deep Time Journey by Robert Macfarlane. I have enjoyed other books by this author and this one, underground journeys by humans both past and present and how they impact on us is worthwhile.
Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Diarmaid MacCulloch. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed the Hilary Mantel trilogy I wanted to get some deeper understanding of Thomas Cromwell and this book supplies it in detail.
The Crossing Place: A Journey Among The Armenians by Philip Marsden. An excellent book about the Armenian Genocide and the author's journey through the Armenian communities of the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
The Catalogue Of Shipwrecked Books: Young Columbus And The Quest For A Universal Library by Edward Wilson-Lee. A biography of Christopher Columbus's illegitimate son Hernando. I knew nothing about Hernando Columbus before I bought this book following a recommendation from a friend and what a fascinating person he turned out to be. Inventor of the bookshelf (previously books and parchments were stored in chests or on tables), he amassed nearly 20,000 printed objects, began Europes first botanical garden was shipwrecked and abandoned in the Caribbean as a child.
Almost Nothing: The 20th-Century Art And Life of Jozef Czapski by Eric Karpeles. Josef Czapski was a Polish aristocrat, soldier, diplomat, writer and most of all an artist. He was a student in Saint Petersburg during the Russian Revolution, painter in Paris in the 1920's and a Polish officer in the Second World War. For reasons unknown he was one of the few excluded from the massacres of Polish officers ordered by Stalin and gave lectures on Proust to his fellow prisoners in a Soviet prison camp.
Chourmo and Solea, the last two books in the Marseilles trilogy by Jean-Claude Izzo. I enjoy European Noir and this is as good as it gets. Deeply violent and and completely compelling. If you like this you will also enjoy books by Massimo Carlotto and the less violent legal thrillers of Gianrico Carofiglio.
Dan, I've always read fairly voraciously, but it's another upside of lockdown and business being slack that I'm reading more than ever. Recently finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenedies which I thought was a masterpiece, and about to finish My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante which couldn't be more different, but also brilliant.
I thought Middlesex excellent.
Recently finished rereading Discworld by Terry Pratchett. Even better than my teenage self remembers it being. I am strongly of the view that, a generation or two hence, Pratchett will be remembered far more than JK Rowling...

On the slightly wonkish side, also enjoyed The Dictators Handbook, Growth by Vaclav Smil, Seeing like a State by James C Scott and How Asia works. Reading this list I truly am an identikit silicon valley wannabe...

Also very much enjoyed the Tade Thompson books so will look out for @Saina Nieminen 's other suggestions too.
I generally like to have a fiction and non-fiction on the go at the same time.

Non-Fiction: Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers. Always enjoyed his books, but often feel like a summary would suffice (talking of which, I've considering subscribing to BlinkList which is like Audible for non-fiction books aimed at impatient people)
Fiction: Just re-reading (for the billionth time) Catch-22, which is my favourite book of all time (and basically shapes my world view of the Corporate world in which in find myself).
To improve my French, also reading La Gloire de mon Pere by Paignol.

Tom Cannavan

Someone asked me to do the "10 favourite books" challenge on Facebook recently, which was extra challenging as I am away from the vast majority of my books during lockdown and I probably forgot loads, but it did make me think that I'd love to re-read all those essential school curriculum novels that sparked so many of us into a love for books - Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, 1984, Catch-22 - I have't read most of them for 40 years, but must get round to doing so.
What would you recommend to get a 6/7 year old into the habit reading? I have just ordered some Famous Five books but is the something more current that I could buy for my grandson.