3 Books Weekly #18: The financial crash, and gentle lives on the frontier
09.00, Friday 1 Jul 2016 Link to this post
The following was first posted on the 3 Books Weekly email newsletter and has since been archived here.
Today’s 3 books are from my friend Maya Schram, who is on Twitter as @brixtonfooty. She tells me she works at a tiny fashion school but I’m suddenly unclear whether that is a school that is tiny, or tiny fashion, like, fashion for ants.
I should check.
Here’s the thing about 3 books: I’ve been asking people what three books I should read this year for… oh, a decade. More. Last week at the Strange Tales event (you’ve missed it now, sorry), I asked everyone for their 3 books, and we put them all down on post-its and had a look at them afterwards. One of the post-its recommended two of my favourite books (Left Hand of Darkness and Tainter’s Collapse of Complex Societies if you want to know) and I hadn’t heard of the third. So I’m going to read it. A recommendation is such an exposing thing - you open yourself up so much to share it - and such an incredible gift. To receive a book recommendation is to know the recommender. We have such a limited amount we can read in a lifetime, and there are so many books, that to know what a particular person has read and loves… well it’s to see their journey through life, their perspective. And if you’ve read the same books! Well.
I didn’t know what to expect from Maya’s picks. Reading them now I can hear her voice, and I know a little more about how she thinks and the memories she carries with her. I love these little stories, these little glimpses. Thank you Maya!
Happy Friday all, look after each other.
ps. I’m always after more recommendations to share in this newsletter! Please contribute using this form if you’d be up for playing.
#1. The Golden Notebook, by Doris Lessing
I am not a fan of novels that mess about with structure. This novel is such an experiment, but an extraordinarily readable one. The main protagonist, Anna Wulf, is writing a novel. Alongside, she writes her own thoughts on politics, the art of writing, her relationships, and everyday events, in four separate notebooks. Through Anna we have a fascinating account of London in the mid 1950s, its social history, the labour movement, the sexual politics and the fears of nuclear holocaust. Lessing did not perceive this as a feminist novel. Betty Friedan’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’, now considered to be the launch pad of second wave feminism, was not published until a year later. She was therefore unprepared for the vitriol she received from some male critics at the time and expressed astonishment that they overlooked the originality of structure, a device which she had used to illustrate society’s fragmentation. It is a landmark novel, beautifully crafted, and a superb record of its time.
#2. Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour, by Michael Lewis
Michael Lewis is a financial writer who contributes to Vanity Fair. Following the sub-prime crash, he wrote a series of essays for the magazine focusing on the aftermath in five countries, Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Germany and US. The essays were later gathered together in a book called Boomerang. Lewis approaches the topic almost like a travel writer. He examines each country’s descent into financial madness from an anthropological perspective, while also deftly explaining the intricacies of credit default swaps and the like. Here lies his genius, he approaches the technical world of finance from a human perspective and exposes, with hilarious anecdotes, the greed and incompetence that led us all to total disaster. He is irreverent, and you may not agree with all of his insights. The Letters pages of Vanity Fair were littered with complaints (mainly from Germans). Nevertheless, he will have you laughing out loud, despite the oftentimes tragic subject matter.
#3. Little House in the Big Woods (The Little House on the Prairie), by Laura Ingalls Wilder
When I was eight, I had a teacher called Mrs Boyles who was very, very old. She did not embrace modern teaching methods. Instead we sat in single rows, and worked alone, silently. If we got stuck, we could line up at her desk and get help. She only taught us English, Maths and Needlework. I liked her style. At the end of every day, she would read us a chapter from the Little House in the Big Woods. It is the first of an autobiographical series about a pioneer family who lived in Winscousin in the 1870s. This novel took us to a time when life was simpler, dominated by the seasons, and focused on survival. A lot of time was spent hunting, sewing, pickling preserves and smoking meat for the winter. For recreation, Pa would play the fiddle and sing. It was a world of corn bread, maple syrup, calico dresses and rag dolls. We would all sit quietly, even the boys, totally transported, and groan when the home-time bell rang.