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Eleanor (Oxford, England)
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The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
The Speechwriter: A Brief Education in Politics
by Barton Swaim
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.71

5.0 out of 5 stars A highly enjoyable memoir, 14 July 2015
Between 2007 and 2010 Barton Swaim was a speechwriter for the governor (later 'disgraced governor') of a southern state (Republican Mark Sanford, of South Carolina - although he is never named). "The Speechwriter" is Swaim's thoughtful, witty, and often hilarious memoir of that time.

Swaim is a born writer and starts the job delighted to think that he can make a living from turning the governor's 'weird' language into beautifully-crafted prose. However, to his horror, he realizes that 'my job wasn't to write well; it was to write like the governor'. So he sets to work composing speeches, letters, and op-ed pieces which showcase all of his boss's mixed metaphors, non-sequiturs, and cliched yet weird phraseology.

At the heart of "The Speechwriter" is the governor himself who is tyrant, hero, child, and fool. I frequently found myself laughing out loud both at Swaim's portrayal of the man and his analysis of the 'verbiage' surrounding him. Having enjoyed Swaim's occasional pieces in the TLS about him and the governor, it is a delight to read a whole book about the experience.

[I was given a free download of this book by the publishers for review.]


What She Left
What She Left
by T. R. Richmond
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.49

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't ring true, 11 July 2015
This review is from: What She Left (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Alice Salmon is a young journalist who is found drowned after a night out in Southampton. "What She Left" presents a picture of Alice and the aftermath of her death, pieced together from diary entries, news reports, blogs, texts, and all the other written artefacts we humans now leave in our wake.

A novel such as this depends on the author's skill at recreating the different documents and voices to provide an aura of verisimilitude. Unfortunately, I found it hard to believe that people would write in the way they do here, and it was the novelistic voice of the author that came through most strongly. "What She Left" has a good premise and some nice touches, but this lack of authenticity combined with some implausible plotting made it a disappointment.


Reinier Gerritsen: The Last Book
Reinier Gerritsen: The Last Book
by Reinier Gerritsen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.00

5.0 out of 5 stars 'What are you reading?', 6 July 2015
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Whenever I see someone reading a book in public I have an overwhelming urge to know what it is, craning to get a look at author and title whilst trying not too seem too nosy. "The Last Book" allows me to indulge this curiosity at leisure, consisting as it does of photographs of people reading on the New York Subway. The photographs, which date from 2011, are mainly black and white, interspersed with three sections of colour plates.

These photographs are arranged alphabetically by author, so you get runs of particular authors such as Suzanne Collins, E. L. James, Junot Díaz, and Gore Vidal. This ordering also allows for some pleasing juxtapositions such as "Choose to Lose: the 7-day Carb Cycle Solution" coming straight after a battered Loeb of Pindar's poems. You can't help comparing book and reader, seeing whether the combination accords with your preconceptions and prejudices or confounds them. You get the urge to create your own stories about, for example, the woman reading "When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times", the burly man with a Jane Austen novel, and the woman whose face is lit up by Deborah Eisenberg.

I read this book with a massive smile on my face throughout, imagining the spaces these readers had carved for themselves among the crowds of the subway and feeling uplifted by the wide variety of books. On the evidence of this work, the written word and the pursuit of knowledge is very much alive and kicking.


Coffee (PRS - Polity Resources series)
Coffee (PRS - Polity Resources series)
by Gavin Fridell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to the global coffee trade, 5 July 2015
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In "Coffee" Gavin Fridell gives a lucid overview of the global coffee market, past and present, one marked by massive inequality between the coffee-growing South and the buyers, roasters, and consumers of the North, with an emphasis throughout on the role that states have and could play in reducing this inequality.

After an introductory chapter, Fridell, in five further chapters, discusses the history of coffee, the implementation of the International Coffee Agreement from 1963 to 1989, the boom and bust cycle of the coffee market following the collapse of the ICA (including how Vietnam came to be the second largest exporter of coffee in the world), fair trade and corporate branding, and finally the ways in which states practice 'coffee statecraft' within the capitalist, free-market system.

Fridell's key argument is that the neoliberal championship of free trade is wrong, not least because the existence of free trade is itself a myth, given that the state always, for good or ill, has an instrumental role to play in the market. Fridell's argument is persuasive and an antidote to formulations which give the illusion that things can only be changed, one way or another, from within a framework that is itself the product of a particular ideology. As a layperson, I came to the subject fresh and Fridell's short book is a bracing introduction to the economics, politics, and ethics of coffee production.


Rexel Advance 280x255mm Subject Notebooks - Black (Pack of 5)
Rexel Advance 280x255mm Subject Notebooks - Black (Pack of 5)
Price: £48.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Useful notebooks, 19 Jun. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been using this notebook for a while now and there are a number of pleasing things about it. The lined paper, being quite porous, is satisfying to write on with a fountain pen (although there is some show through on the other side of the page), the three tabbed sections are great for keeping different projects separate, and the plastic pockets at the beginning of each section are very useful for keeping track of stray bits of paper that accumulate for each project. The pages are perforated so they can be removed and filed elsewhere, although the paper size is American rather than A4 and you'll have to punch your own holes.

There are a generous number of pages in the notebook which results in it being quite heavy. At the moment it mainly stays on my desk as I wouldn't really want to be carrying this from meeting to meeting


Death of the Artist
Death of the Artist
by Karrie Fransman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars A clever graphic novel, 16 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: Death of the Artist (Paperback)
In 2013 Karrie Fransman and four friends reunited for a week in the Peak District; their aim to cast off their grown-up selves and create stories. Ten years have passed since they met at university, and since then 'we five tottered off to work in offices and agencies, for clients and companies and kidded ourselves that we were still artists'.

"Death of the Artist" consists of five autobiographical chapters, each one the creation of one of the friends. These chapters comprise beautiful watery inks, clean graphics, photographs, hectic Crumbesque drawings, and finally Karrie's own attempt to bring the work into a coherent whole.

So believable are the five friends and so distinctive are their chapters, that I found it difficult to believe that they are all the products of just one person. "Death of the Artist" is a cleverly-structured, dark, and moving work. It repays rereading.


Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography
Yesterday Came Suddenly: An Autobiography
by Francis King
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars An anecdote-fuelled read, 4 Jun. 2015
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I have to admit I bought this book mainly for the cover (strangely cats receive hardly a mention in the text itself...), but once I started reading I found myself thoroughly enjoying it. The novelist Francis King published his autobiography in 1993 at the age of seventy and in it he looks back over a long life characterized by travel and a host of literary friends.

The anecdotes come thick and fast and I found King's portraits of figures such as L. P. Hartley and Ivy Compton-Burnett fascinating. Many of the names were unknown to me (a reminder of how many mid-century authors have fallen into obscurity), but the effect is similar to hearing a juicy story about a friend of a friend. King is a genial companion throughout and it is in only in the last few chapters that things become very dark (despite the horrible fates of many of his acquaintances in the preceding pages). The last paragraphs are almost unbearably sad.


Tender
Tender
by Belinda McKeon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book to immerse yourself in, 4 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Tender (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Every so often I come across a book that I end up binge-reading, a book which takes over my thoughts and makes me long for the end of work so I can return to reading it. "Tender" was one of those books. Set in Ireland in the late nineties its focus is the intense friendship between the two main characters.

Catherine is in her first year of university in Dublin and over the course of the novel we see her develop from a shy teenager to an outwardly confident student. McKeon is pitiless in her depiction of Catherine: her insecurities, her selfishness, her self-justification, and her fragile swagger. What makes her characterization so powerful is that it seems so real and I'm sure I'm not the only one who cringed, thinking back to my own youth. James, her best friend, and the book's supporting characters are just as well-drawn and I found myself inhabiting their lives completely. Today, I saw two students walking through town together and at once I found myself thinking of James and Catherine, so real had they become.


The Shelf
The Shelf
by Kay Dick
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars 'I did not intend to have an affair with her', 4 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: The Shelf (Paperback)
In "The Shelf", first published in 1984, Kay Dick gives a very thinly fictionalized account of a love affair of twenty years earlier. The book takes the form of Cass explaining to her friend (who is surely the novelist Francis King) that 'I did not, my dear Francis, intend to have an affair with her. Some letters were found - three to be exact - under her pillow. They were mentioned at the inquest'. These letters are the only ones which Cass had written to Anne, her besotted lover, and the novel anatomizes the affair from Cass's initial hesitance and suspicion to her retrieval of the letters.

"The Shelf" is a very short book, but I found it hard-going at first. It took me a while to get into Dick's mannered prose and I didn't find the heated accounts of Anne's obsession particularly interesting. What is interesting is Dick's evocation of the period and her characterization of various bit players (such as the novelist Olivia Manning, Sophia in the novel). However, Dick is so unsparing and sometimes cruel in her portrayals that reading them becomes uncomfortable.

It is in the last third that "The Shelf" comes into its own, with its moving and perceptive account of death's aftermath. For readers wanting to know more about the real people behind the fiction, Anna Swan, the daughter of Joan Swan, on whom Anne was based, has written a memoir of her parents "Statues without Shadows" in which she discusses both Dick and the novel ('the gospel according to Kay').


The New Sorrows of Young W. (Pushkin Collection)
The New Sorrows of Young W. (Pushkin Collection)
Price: £6.64

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 'That Old High German stuff', 4 Jun. 2015
In the "The New Sorrows of Young W." an estranged father interviews various people from the life of his son Edgar Wibeau, in an attempt to build up a picture of his final days. These interviews are interspersed with Edgar's own commentary from beyond the grave, which offers a corrective to the story his father is hearing as well as bringing the foolish teenager vividly back to life.

As the title indicates, this is a book in conversation with Goethe's "The Sorrows of Young Werther". And Plenzdorf rings the changes in numerous ways. Like Goethe's hero, Edgar is in love with a married woman, quits a job he hates, and feels like he has the potential for genius. The book also makes an appearance in the narrative although none of the characters are aware of its title or author, and regard its words as some sort of nonsense or code - so removed is Goethe's 'Old High German stuff' from their own modes of expression. Finally, on a higher level, both Plenzdorf and Goethe's novel share the same narrative ambiguities and tension between reality and subjectivity.

The differences between the novellas are also striking. "The New Sorrows of Young W." was published in the DDR in 1972, and Edgar's voice is slangy and irreverent, his favourite book is "Catcher in the Rye", and anyone over the age of twenty is old and square.

This is a lively and enjoyable novella, which gives an insight into the time and place in which it was written as well as providing much intertextual fun for a Goethe-primed reader.

[I was given a free download of this book by the publishers for review.]


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