Diary of a Reader: July 2007
Reason and logic aren’t usually the key factors in determining why I
read the books I do. In fact, when it comes to books I already own,
proximity is a key thing and the book nearest the bed generally has a
That said, there’s always something exciting about waking up on a morning when you need a new book to read on the bus and scanning a series of random piles of books safe in the knowledge that you’re looking for something specific.
A few weeks ago, having recently started working in the London Borough of Hackney, I decided I wanted to read Victor Headley’s Yardie, which I knew I’d bought from a charity shop a couple of years ago.
Sure enough, it had survived two house moves in tact and in sight. The only drawback was that, being a small book at the bottom of
a tall pile; it had to be retrieved at the cost of a loud crash and minor
bruising to my upper body.
Yardie is a gangster novel set in Hackney and other bits of London in the early 1990s. It’s about a Jamaican drug-dealer who comes to London to try and make it big and it serves as a portrait of life for a section Britain’s black community at that time. Many characters in the book consciously decide not to sell drugs or even use them but are still unable to escape their orbit.
Yardie has an underlying message, partly moral, partly just practical, that most big things happen as a result of people’s
actions and you can’t avoid responsibility for your actions. The
problem is that when some people make wrong decisions, other people get caught in the crossfire.
The latest guardian of the nation’s moral compass is, apparently, new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. This is not quite the impression you get from reading The Rivals by James Naughtie.
I got given a copy for Christmas about five years ago but had
managed to avoid reading it until Mr Brown had the removal men in
The Rivals is a readable, if slightly repetitive, unpicking of the relations between Brown and Tony Blair: how their eyes first met
across a tiny, crowded office, how they plotted and schemed together, then plotted and schemed against each other.
It’s a love story without the sex or, in fact, the love; just plenty of
mutual dependence and lots of shouting. It’s definitely worth reading if you need reminding that major political decisions, just like minor
decisions in local government offices, are just as likely to be driven
by jealously and insecurity as they are by to be driven by some
idealised vision of a better world.
Moral compass or not, the new Prime Minister is allegedly a big
fan of hard work and selfimprovement. I suppose there must be a bit of that behind my decision to buy two of Penguin’s exciting 20-book collections.
Having correctly identified the whole thing as cynical marketing
ploy – involving the development of no new writing whatsoever – I
firmly resisted the urge to buy the first set of 20 Penguin Great Ideas books.
Unfortunately, I have since succumbed to the urge to buy Penguin Great Ideas Two last year and recently bought the Penguin Epics collection.
I haven’t read any of these Great Ideas all the way through yet and 58 pages in, I’m no nearer to working out whether I really want to read Soren Kierkegaard’s Fear & Trembling or whether I just like the idea, possibly a great idea, of reading it.
Certainly, having watched an interesting documentary on BBC2
about David Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, it was great to be able to go over to the bookshelf and take down a copy of On Suicide. Then put it back again.
When it comes to the Epics, there’s obviously a bit of me that believes that there are some stories that you really do need to know.
When I hear poets referencing Greek mythology, there’s always a
part of me that wishes I had at least a vague idea of what they were
So far I’ve managed to read all of book one, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and have almost finished book two, Odysseus Returns Home. In the next gripping instalment: Xerxes Invades Greece. Good for him.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The