What I’m Reading In December


As the papers fill with ‘Best Of’ lists we’re being presented with all sorts of interesting books for the winter months, plus some not-very-well-hidden PR promotions. Bookshops charge for table space and listings magazine charge for entries, so to counteract these here’s a selection from my current reading pile, my only agenda being enjoyment and/or enlightenment. These are the physical books; I’m currently reading modern fiction on my remaining unsmashed Kindle. Audiobooks are about to overtake e-book sales for the first time but the book remains and thrives whatever its format.

So, from the bottom to the top; Jerry Toner’s ‘Infamy’ is a history of Rome filleted of the boring senatorial bits and cutting to the chase; sex, violence and alarmingly random acts of cruelty. The metings-out of justice prove shocking and sometimes common-sensical, like the punishment of those who knowingly lend burglary tools to a friend.

Emma Smith’s ‘This Is Shakespeare’ is a no-brainer for all readers. Twenty plays dissected in essays that balance informed opinion and fresh intelligent thinking, clear and concise and kicking off with the problem of the Shrew. Shakespeare’s plays are a black hole you can vanish down for years. Check out the NT’s ‘The Tempest’ app, complete with scripts and clips.

I’m reading a lot of Giles Milton, who highlights forgotten moments not history with clarity and a sense of humorous detachment. ‘Paradise Lost’ is not typical (He’s written more about 20th century Britain), but this story of the destruction of Islam’s city of tolerance, Smyrna, in 1922 is riveting, honest and tragic.

Kathleen Hewitt has been rescued from history’s waste-basket and her wartime classic ‘Plenty Under the Counter’ sets a whodunnit in the Blitz, inspired by her own experiences in wartime London. A highly welcome reissue, one of four from the War Museum.

Speaking of this city, ‘London: A Travel Guide Through Time’ by Dr Matthew Green is a rather brilliant idea that seems impossible to pull off. The plan is to lift readers by the scruffs of their necks and drop them into different moments in time to absorb the sights, sounds and unfortunate  smells of the metropolis, so that we’re whisked from plague pit to Fleet Street pub to Smithfield and back in six different time frames. It’s accessible and fun but is highly atmospheric and enlightens with enough surprises for even the most jaded Londoner.

My classic forgotten author of the week is Norman Collins, to whom I come back again and again. He’s a more suburban Muriel Spark, highly popular in his time, but his novels – like ‘The Husband’s Story’ here – mysteriously lost traction and are mostly hard to find now. I’ve yet to read one I haven’t loved.

More tomorrow.

15 comments on “What I’m Reading In December”

  1. John Howard says:

    Thank you… yet more book buys that will need to be slid onto shelves with the “bought these ages ago dear” aura hanging over them.

  2. Brooke says:

    Are you on of the authors of “Invisible Blood?”

  3. admin says:

    Yes, Brooke, I am indeed, and in fine company.

  4. SimonB says:

    Hmm, the London Travel Guide is on my shelf awaiting attention. And as I finished “Down to the Sea in Ships” by Horatio Clare last night I may well open the cover when I get home.

  5. SteveB says:

    Didn’t Giles Milton also write a book about the white slave trade?

  6. Helen Martin says:

    May I make a brief memorial note here for the events in London over the weekend? The more people are permitted to make hateful remarks the more hateful actions will also be taken. Something else to add to the charge sheets for all those brutes we’ve elected recently.

  7. Mike says:

    There’s a very fine line between stopping hateful remarks and increasing censorship to the point of stopping any contrary views to whoever the government is from being aired.
    I abhor many organisations which spread any form of hate, but feel strongly they should be allowed to air them.
    We don’t have to agree, we have a choice which censorship would remove

  8. Brian Evans says:

    On the lighter side, I’m sure I’m not alone when I see the word “Infamy” and can’t help but think of Kenneth Williams and the classic last line in “Carry on Cleo”…..I leave the rest of you to finish it off.

  9. Andrew Holme says:

    Wasn’t the infamous “infamy” line originally written by Norden and Muir and pinched for the film? Not everything in the back of my head turns out to be true, but I’m sure that is.

  10. SimonB says:

    SteveB – yes, it is called “White Gold”.

  11. davem says:

    Thanks for the London recommendation – I’d missed that one

  12. Brian Evans says:

    Andrew, yes, I’ve heard that too. Apparently it was written for Jimmy Edwards in “Take From Here” and Talbot Rothwell asked them if he could use it and they said it was fine. Perhaps a bit of folding money changed hands as well!

  13. Brian Evans says:

    That should read, “Take it From Here” It was on the radio in the days we called it the “Wireless”

  14. Helen Martin says:

    Mike – I hear what you’re saying and certainly agree with the principle but the amount of ugliness that is spewing out is what is fueling the murderous attacks. I wish there was a way to encourage people to really think before they start talking about “those people” as our unfortunate hockey commentator did recently. I know that “but” is the first step down a dangerous path of regulation so I’ll only “wish” for the above.

  15. Ian Luck says:

    This month, I are mostly ‘bin readin’ ‘Dead Souls’, by Gogol.

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