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What I’ve been reading this month

Fall Out: A Year of Political Mayhem was another 600-page tour de force of political journalism by Tim Shipman. Picking up where All Out War finished, Fall Out dissected the 2017 General Election – a less historic event, perhaps, but still covered with remarkable access to the Labour and Tory campaigns, and some really stunning revelations about the inner workings of both. I’d very highly recommend this book. (As a side note, having been a bit less than convinced by Michael Wolff’s book about Trump last month, I was struck by the very different portrayal of Trump in Shipman’s book: “Trump showed his serious side … He was on top of any number of quite complex briefs and he’d only been president for a week. That impressed Theresa [May]”
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Manoush Zomorodi’s Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive & Creative Self was an entertaining self-help book about overcoming smartphone addiction. As someone not addicted to his smartphone, I wasn’t really in the target market for this book. Nevertheless, I did take quite a lot away from this in terms of understanding other people’s reliance on smartphones. I hadn’t really grasped the strength of the feeling of attachment that many people have, nor how widespread the attachment is. I was also interested to read about the research into the mechanics that smartphone software developers use to ‘hook’ people. This book also made me reflect on the nature of my relationship with “screens” in the broadest sense, even if that reflection didn’t make me think there was a need for urgent change.
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I picked up The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion after seeing Bill Gates recommend it on his blog. It was a short, charming, romantic comedy which followed an Australian professor of genetics with an autism spectrum disorder on his mission to find a wife – an process he treated much like one of his research projects. As you might expect, blossoming love forced his “project” off track. I really enjoyed this well-observed genuinely funny novel, and even found it a little moving. It did border on being a little too sweet for my taste at times, but nevertheless, I think I’ll pick up the sequel at some point.
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Law professor Joan C Williams wrote White Working Class in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as US President. This short book tried to elucidate why white working class people in the USA felt marginalised in society, and how this led them to disproportionately support Trump. One of Williams’s central arguments was that because most of the Government assistance this group received was through societal benefits in kind (schools, roads etc) rather than more direct hand outs, they didn’t fully appreciate the support they received, and so voted against increased taxation and higher government spending. This despite the fact they were the group which benefited most from Government support in terms of outcomes, and were net recipients in cash terms. This group therefore voted against its own interests. There was a lot of generalisation about the views and behaviours of groups of people in this book, much of which didn’t ring true. Nonetheless, the book did connect some disparate ideas for me, and made me think a little differently about approaches to similar problems in the UK.
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This 2,328th post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

What I’ve been reading this month

I’ve only made it through two books this month, neither of which were particularly brilliant. But I am part-way through a couple of brilliant books, which I’ll fill you in on next month.

Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury was a best-selling gossipy book about the machinations of the Trump White House. This was the sort of book that elided names (“Jarvanka” for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner) and focused on personalities. It was essentially an unauthorised celebrity biography (with about the level of reliability that genre carries), the gist of which was that Trump and senior White House staff are incompetent, impulsive and petulant. This book made no attempt to analyse. There were no historical comparisons drawn upon, no attempt to examine the wider implications (can the US system of Government function with a dysfunctional Head of State?), and no attempt to address any constitutional issues or lessons for nation builders. Had I known how thin the content was before I started, I wouldn’t have bothered with this.
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I’ve enjoyed the Millennium series so far, but the fifth volume – David Lagercrantz’s The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye – felt a bit “off the boil”. It wove together lots of threads of plot and jumped about in time in a way that seemed unnecessarily confusing. There was also disappointingly little development of any of the central characters in the series (despite presenting more of Salander’s childhood). It all felt a bit flat to me, but I’ll stick pick up the next instalment.
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This 2,327th post was filed under: What I've Been Reading.

TV I’ve been watching lately

Since I started writing about books I’ve read, I’ve found that more and more people come up to me in real life and start talking to me about books. I’m continually amazed that any ‘real people’ take any notice of what I write online; but given that at least some people notice, I thought I should balance those posts with one about veging in front of the TV, which I do at least as often as reading. So here are some TV shows I’ve enjoyed recently.

The Good Wife / The Good Fight

Wendy and I have recently finished an epic marathon of all seven series of The Good Wife, followed by the first season of the sequel series, The Good Fight. The Good Wife is about a politician’s wife whose husband is sent to prison, meaning that she has to return to her former profession as a lawyer after 13 years as a stay-at-home mother. It’s a smart show, with lots of personal drama played out against a background of politics, law and technology. The Good Fight changes the pace and style a little, which was a bit jarring at first, but overall served to freshen the show up well. Wendy and I are both looking forward to the next season!
DVD on Amazon / Stream on Google Play / Stream on iTunes / Stream on Netflix

Mozart in the Jungle

The Amazon Prime series Mozart in the Jungle is a brilliant comedy-drama about passion, professionalism and music. Inspired by Blair Tindall’s autobiography of the same name, the show follows both the appointment of a new conductor to the New York Symphony Orchestra, and the travails of a young oboist trying to break into the orchestral ‘big league’. Wendy and I ran through all three series in a couple of weeks, and are eagerly awaiting the release of series four next month.
Stream on Amazon

The Young Pope

The Young Pope is a beautifully shot ten-parter featuring Jude Law as the first American pope. The plot essentially concerns whether Pope Pius XIII is a megalomaniac intent on the destruction of the Church or an actual Saint capable of performing miracles. Or, I guess, both. This is a series unlike anything else I’ve seen on TV – artistic, dramatic, hilarious, over-the-top, and just plain weird in parts (including the opening shots). I beleive a follow up series is being made next year, and I can’t wait.
DVD on Amazon / Stream on Google Play / Stream on iTunes

The Bridge / Bron / Broen

Despite being years late to the party, I’ve really enjoyed watching the first two series of The Bridge recently. It’s an expertly crafted bi-lingual Scandinavian crime drama. Both series are dramatic and thrilling, but also filled with enough humour and levity to prevent it becoming depressing. Absolutely brilliant – I just wish I’d watched it before I visited Cophenhagen and Malmö last year!
DVD on Amazon / Stream on Google Play / Stream on iTunes

Amanda Knox

The Neflix special Amanda Knox is one of those programmes that feels a bit ethically conflicted, profiting (as it surely does) from the murder of a 21-year-old young woman. But it nonetheless gave an intriguing and thoughtful insight into the events surrounding the crime and provided food for thought and reflection.
Stream on Google Play / Stream on Netflix

American Vandal

The Netflix series American Vandal is a brilliant, hilarious yet strangely dramatic spoof of true crime series, and especially the podcast series Serial. The (scripted, fictional) series follows an amateur investigation into which student at a high school is accused of vandalising 27 staff members’ cars by drawing “phallic images” on them. It’s ridiculous yet brilliant.
Stream on Netflix

This 2,326th post was filed under: Reviews.

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