Sunday 30 March 2008

Holiday reading

Enjoying the warmth of Tenerife provided a good opportunity to catch up on my reading. I found Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope strangely uninspiring. The book is undoubtedly well-written, but its insights seemed shallow and its history rudimentary, though some of the racial insights are as refreshing as the 2004 convention speech that propelled the author into national politics. This is far more boilerplate Democratic politics than the 'new politics' it affects to represent. J.G Ballard's autobiography Miracles of Life is a splendid evocation of growing up in pre-war Shanghai, of the child's sense of wonderment in two years' detention in a Japanese concentration camp (his basis for Empire of the Sun) and of the author's life in drab post-war England and as a provocateur with his enthusiasms for surrealism, science fiction and psycho-sexual exploration (notably through Crash). It is a very readable, fascinating story. I finally got around to reading Khaled Hosseini's brilliant history of modern Afghanistan through the eyes of a fictional boy, The Kite Runner, which offers as many insights into the tragic story of the nation and its people as any history book. Less satisfactory for me was Mark Slouka's The Visible World, an award-winning story of a Czech boy growing up in New York who returns to piece together his parents' past in wartime Czechoslovakia, particularly the events surrounding Heydrich's 1942 assassination by partisans. Though an intriguing story which I wanted to like, it didn't really work for me, and felt both cliched and pretentious. For light relief, I enjoyed Joshua Ferris's comic tale of Chicago office life in an ad agency as the boom years give way to layoffs, Then We Came to the End, a splendid evocation of contemporary business and office culture, and a fascinating contrast with the brilliant TV series Mad Men, set in the early 1960s Madison Avenue. I also enjoyed the latest John Grisham, The Appeal, a murky tale of political, legal and big business shenanigans over a Mississippi environmental scandal, and Alexander McCall Smith's latest tale from Botswana's finest lady detective, The Miracle at Speedy Motors.

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