Feb 2013 tbrContinuing through my February reads, we’ve got a slightly uncomfortable mix of religion and politics. It’s just how the TBR (To Be Read (Mountain)) has fallen, not deliberate – as you probably know by now, I try to read my TBR in order of acquisition (how do you approach yours?), and you can see two of the books on the extreme left of the February TBR photo, just waiting to be picked off, whereas Tony had been with me for, well, quite a while.

Tony Blair – “A Journey”

(26 January 2012; Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop, Stratford-Upon-Avon)

As regular readers will know, I do like a political biography. When this one came out, as a lifelong wavering voter between Labour and Liberal (with a touch of Green for the locals and a wobble towards Respect for Salma’s sake) but not a big TB fan, I was intrigued. Then I didn’t want to buy it new and give him the royalties. Then I discovered the royalties were going to charity (or have I made that up?) but I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of getting my vote in the ratings … so when I found it in a charity shop, I did eventually pick it up.

There was an interest there, although it was a bit of a slog, too (not helped by leaving it to one side while I did my Re-Reading in January project). The interest mainly lay in some of the background to the Irish peace process, relationships with other heads of state and royalty, and the mechanics of being the prime minister – having a drum kit in the top room; buying ice creams with Gordon; doing carefully planned and pre-checked “spontaneous” trips to shops, etc. A lot of the rest of it was the usual self-justification that is rife in the political autobiography, and some of it rather tedious (the famous sex bit comes in early, thank goodness). What really rather grated on me was that he was trying so hard to be “Tony, man of the people” that it just wasn’t very well written – or edited. There were too many asides, too many “for sure”s and too much plain dodgy grammar. It read rather as if he’d dictated it and it had gone straight down onto the page without the benefit of much thought.

I’m glad I faced up to and read it – you can’t just read your heroes’ bios, can you? Or maybe you should …

Michael Muhammad Knight – “Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America”

(21 March 2012)

I bought this around the same time that I bought Journey to the End of Islam, which I read first, mistakenly, as this one is the earlier volume and the second one feeds off it somewhat. Another somewhat ambivalent read. I loved the challenging and provocative “The Taqwacores”, a brave novel about a Muslim punk band which spawned a music genre and made some daring statements and told some shocking stories. So when I found that Knight, a white American Muslim convert, had written some books about exploring Islamic America and the world he travelled when in the process of learning and converting, I was really looking forward to reading them.

It’s complicated, though. Although in this book he does talk about selling copies and engaging in lawsuits, he was already moving away from his association with the earlier novel at this stage. He’s still really good on alternative movements, feminism, and some provocative people, but with a respect for his religion and an understanding that at the time he was writing the novel, he was going through a time of questioning, picking and choosing what he wanted to accept, embrace and believe. Now he has a more mature attitude, although he’s still sleeping in his car and hanging out with all sorts of people.

So we find him settling down, revisiting old haunts, and thinking a lot, which is fine. Unfortunately for me, the more casual reader, perhaps, he gets very keen on tracing some of the founders of the Nation of Islam, and here is, I admit, where I got a bit lost and confused, not having the knowledge and background to be able to pick my way through history, conjecture and theory along with the writer. But there is a lot to like in this interesting book still.

Leo Abse – “Margaret, Daughter of Beatrice”

(10 March 2012)

And so we complete my trio of ambivalence. I was looking forward to this one – a psychoanalytical study of Mrs Thatcher by a Welsh Labour MP (brother of the surgeon-poet, Danny, to whom I gave my youthful poetic oeuvre at a poetry reading in Tunbridge Wells in the 1980s, I shudder to admit). He’s a good, solid Freudian, although he does engage with the post-Freud psychoanalysts, especially the feminists, and this informs the most interesting chapters on the effect that weaning, potty training, etc. had on the infant Mrs T. He tells his tales with a little glee, I feel, and I certainly felt a bit gleeful reading them, too, although he is at pains to point out that he pities Margaret for her harsh upbringing, even as he criticises her for letting it have its influence on her politics and reign.

All well and good, and his Freud is solid and his arguments well-mustered and impressive. Unfortunately, the book is bolstered with a big chapter on Keith Joseph and Enoch Powell, and another all about spies, with only tenuous links to the subject at hand, and I’m afraid I did skim a little there. Also, he seems to have some rather odd views on the origins of homosexuality in people; informed by his Freudian paradigm of nurture not nature, and to be fair it’s not clear if he applies this theory to all gay people or just some who “become” gay, but it makes uncomfortable reading in this age of less Freud and more understanding of the nature side of things. So again, a good book in parts.

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I’m currently very much enjoying John Lanchester’s “Capital”, reading along with Matthew on audio book and Linda on Kindle. We’re getting on well with it and it’s ever so good – might even get it finished before the end of the month! I’m not sure what else is coming up – looks like some Heyers and Viragoes if you peer at the photo of the bookshelf …

So, how do you read your TBR? And have you read any of these books? I’d love to know!