Good reads for 2018!
Selected and reviewed by members of the ITM Team.
The people at Consilium Education and ITM give their recommendations for some New Year reading!
Working Class Boy & Working Class Man – by Jimmy Barnes.
Recommended by Brian Ambrosio
Jimmy Barnes is an Australian Rock legend who gained fame as the front man of Cold Chisel, and then as a solo singer. Songs such as “Flame Trees”, “Khe Sanh” and “Working Class Man” have stood the test of time and are iconic anthems for many “Aussies”. His autobiography over 2 books launched approximately 12 months apart is far more than your typical rock star story.
Working Class Boy is about his life growing up with poverty, domestic violence, addiction and the struggles of an immigrant family who sought a better life in Australia, away from the glum streets of Glasgow. What they found however was even more poverty, domestic violence and alcohol fuelled mayhem with the added complexity of being away from family in a foreign land. Working Class Boy covers Jimmy’s life until approximately 17 years of age when he first meets his “Cold Chisel” buddies. He writes from the heart, in a raw style, chronicling how he manages to survive a dysfunctional upbringing. The emotional openness of his tale are absorbing. The descriptions of his coping mechanisms such as hiding himself in a cupboard as a child to escape the noise of domestic violence is gripping.
Working Class Man, continues from where the first book left off as Cold Chisel begin performing gigs for very little money and slowly evolve into the cult band that they are today before pursuing their own careers as solo artists. However, as Jimmy writes about his struggles and eventual success in the music industry, his past is never far away as he continues a life of self destruction. While on the outside he may be a person who seemingly has everything, his reality is that he has nothing.
While I found the first book to be more engrossing than the second, the two books provide a fascinating insight into the long term impact of childhood trauma on a person’s life. A true legend for his honesty and courage to share his tale “warts and all”.
Reviewed by Brian Ambrosio
Things Can Only Get worse? Twenty Confusing Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter – by John O’Farrell
Recommended by Peter Hudson
Alan Johnson says on the fly leaf: ‘John O’Farrell couldn’t be unfunny if he tried”, but this book is even better than his famous take on Labour’s eighteen years in opposition. Hilarious and insightful in equal measure, this is vintage stuff from Maidenhead’s finest political brain.’
O’Farrell started his professional life as one of the script-writers for Spitting Image, that hugely successful political satire on British TV from 1984 to 1996. His humour, in times of dire worldwide events in many spheres but particularly the political one, is like a breath of fresh air. And yet the political events he describes are serious and he never cheapens them.
Amongst many other things, O’Farrell devotes a lot of time in the book to his campaigning for, and finally getting a secondary school in Lambeth, where he became the Chair of Governors.
‘These children are begging for boundaries, one of the teachers said to me. It was so true; they just needed fair rules consistently applied, and everyone would be much happier, especially them. When I walked my dog in the mornings I used to see our students leisurely strolling across the common twenty minutes after they were supposed to be in school. Now if I saw someone late for school, they were running.’ Note the wisdom as well as the gentle humour, but O’Farrell does not pull his punches:
‘There was a time when we thought that George W Bush was the dumbest, crassest American President we could possibly imagine. This guy has to be the worst it ever gets, Hasn’t he? No, believe me, by 2017, you will feel a burning nostalgia for this kind of mainstream intellectual.’
There’s loads of similar examples in this book, and better. If you want something to cheer you up over the holidays ‘Things Can Only Get Worse’ is the book for you.
Reviewed by Peter Hudson
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! – by Dr. Seuss
Not just for Christmas! Recommended by Delice Scotto
The children’s story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr Seuss is by far my favorite Christmas story. Although written for children the story has a great deal to teach adults. The green Grinch having been wronged in his youth and shunned by the residents of Whoville has decided to seek revenge on them by stealing what they hold most dear. He and his reluctant sidekick, Max, a loveable dog who poses as a reindeer, plan to steal everything in Whoville that represents Christmas…the decorations, the gifts, and even the Christmas feast!
That is until the Grinch comes up against adorable Cindy Lou Who…and he remembers the true meaning of Christmas.
Reviewed by Delice Scotto
Keeping On Keeping On – by Alan Bennett.
Recommended by Tony Richards
It is over seven months since I first opened this weighty volume and I still have to reach the final page, page 702. Whilst this might not appear the most promising opening to a review or recommendation, it in fact illustrates the sheer wealth of insightful gems within this body of work. Following Writing Home (1994) and Untold Stories (2005), Keeping on Keeping On contains ten years of Bennett’s diary, articles, lectures and two plays which I have still to read.
Bennett again demonstrates his uncanny ability to see the profound in ordinariness and normality. His diaries are not bursting with dramatic incident, yet they are delightfully engaging. There is a wealth of humour ;“I wouldn’t want to be as bald as that. You’d never know when to stop washing your face”, but also a provocative critique of private education, a heartfelt defence of public libraries, “Closing libraries is child abuse.”, a disdain for Tony Blair “… intoxicated with himself” and Margaret Thatcher, “… a mirthless bully” and much more.
Delightfully self-effacing, Bennet writes, “Robert Hanks, the radio critic of the Independent, remarks that personally he can have too much of Alan Bennett. I wonder how he thinks I feel.” But he is also principled and genuinely hurt by threats to a caring society and those he sees as “self-seeking liars”.
For some, like me, this will be a book to dip into and savour every morsel of delicious humour, righteous indignation and wistful observation. After all, there is a suggestion that this might be the last such work by the author; whilst seeking a title he considered The Long Slide … to extinction perhaps? Well into his eighties and reporting poignantly yet unsentimentally about the deaths of friends and colleagues, one senses Bennett is acutely aware of his own mortality.
Bennett writes, “I have been very lucky.” We too have been very lucky to enjoy his humour, humanity, intellect and generosity of spirit. Long may it continue.
Reviewed by Tony Richards
My Name Is Lucy Barton – by
Recommended by Jan Homden
This short story explores the relationship between a mother and her estranged daughter (Lucy Barton). Lucy, a writer and compassionate story-teller recalls a surprise visit made by her mother when she hospitalised for nine weeks in New York. Set in the mid-1980s Lucy’s poignant story unfolds during conversations with her mother. Growing up with her brother and sister in the rural community of Amgash, Illinois, the family lived in a garage next door to her great-uncle’s house until she was eleven. They were regarded as outcasts in the local community and shunned at school because they smelled.
Her mother stays with her in hospital for five days and sleeps in a chair in Lucy’s room. They gossip about people they remember from Amgash, establishing safe ground on which to reconnect, but we also learn of Lucy’s escape from her detached family life, “I have no memory of my mother ever kissing me. She may have kissed me though; I may be wrong.” We learn about the difficult relationship she has with her siblings, “we were equally friendless and equally scorned,” she says of herself and her sister Vicky, “and we eyed each other with the same suspicion with which we eyed the rest of the world.”
In this compelling, jewel of a novel, Strout explores the complexities of a poor and abusive family life; delivering an unforgettable narrative.
Reviewed by Jan Homden
Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones
Recommended by Elly Tobin
Mr. Pip by New Zealand author Lloyd Jones was published in 2006. It is an enthralling read, set on the island of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands and charts the events of the 1997 civil conflict there. Mr Watts, the only white man on the island, reopens the school closed in the throes of war and teaches through the reading of Great Expectations.
Matilda, his prize pupil, survives the emotional strains of conflict through her absorption in the story and her attachment to the fictional character of Mister Pip, based on the character of the same name in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. It is full of simple wisdom, humanity and dedication but also the tragic consequences of war and the brutality of men to their fellow human beings. It is a page turner that is hard to put down and will bring out a range of emotions as you join Matilda in her struggle to survive and make sense of the former island paradise falling apart around her.
Reviewed by Elly Tobin
A Very English Scandal by John Preston
Recommended by Paul Cabrelli
Sexual promiscuity, attempted murder, financial impropriety, shady dealings, dead dogs, homophobia, establishment cover ups – it can only be a tale of Westminster! A Very English Scandal tells the astonishing tale of the trial on charges of incitement and conspiracy to murder of Jeremy Thorpe, Leader of the Liberal Party from 1967 to 1976.
Jeremy Thorpe was charming and urbane, full of wit and charisma. He was decent, a pillar of society and held appropriately liberal, and sometimes very unpopular views. However, there was another side to Thorpe. He was a closet homosexual who had secret affairs which would eventually lead to his downfall.
A Very English Scandal is a thunderingly good read – a real page-turner with twists and turns on every page. Preston has clearly spent hours researching and interviewing those involved in the scandal who are still alive. The level of detail is astounding, the cast of characters riveting and the whole tale is elegantly and compellingly written. Switch off the TV in 2018 and enjoy!
Reviewed by Paul Cabrelli
Feature Image: Pixabay
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