Bookish Newsweek…

Since I’ve spent the week gazing disbelievingly at the news instead of reading, I thought I’d try something a bit different – a bookish “newspaper”…

Click on the book titles for the full reviews.


Seventy years ago today, India finally gained independence from the British Empire and was partitioned, thus bringing into being the new state of Pakistan. Happy Independence Day!

Gandhi and Churchill by Arthur Herman

Two of the most iconic figures of the 20th century, Gandhi and Churchill met only once, but spent much of their lives locked in a battle over the future of India, a battle that would have repercussions far beyond the borders of that nation and long after both men had quit the political stage. A definitive account of the long road towards independence and partition.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee

Set in the Calcutta of 1919, this is first and foremost an excellent historical crime novel, but worked through the plot we hear about the rise of Gandhi and the Congress Party, and the move towards non-violent resistance. The main character, Inspector Sam Wyndham of the colonial police force, is British, there to uphold the Raj. His sergeant, Surrender-Not Bannerjee gives the educated Indian perspective. He is ambivalent about the question of independence but believes it will inevitably come, and that it is therefore the duty of Indians to prepare themselves so that they are ready to run their own country when that day comes.

The Way Things Were by Aatish Taseer

Set in the present day, this book is about roots, or about what happens to a person, and by extension a society, when it becomes culturally detached from its roots. But Taseer suggests that India’s disconnect with its own culture and heritage pre-dates Empire, that already India had forgotten or distorted its history and that this has fed into the divides within modern society. Though Taseer avoids giving any easy answers, I came away from the book with a sense of optimism; a feeling that perhaps the intellectual direction of India might finally be moving somewhat away from contemplation of its failures towards consideration of how to achieve a better, and inherently Indian, future.

Gandhi with his beloved spinning wheel…

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No Western country is free of the taint of racism, but this week it is America which has had a sharp reminder that white supremacism has not yet been defeated.

The Counter-Revolution of 1776 by Gerald Horne

In a simplified nutshell, Gerald Horne’s argument in this book is that the Revolution was in large measure a response to the colonists’ fear of London’s drive towards abolition of slavery. Horne argues that slavery underpinned every aspect of the pre-1776 economy and as such was seen as crucial by the colonists, even while slave resistance was growing and slave revolts were becoming more common.

A Time to Kill by John Grisham

When two white men rape a young black girl, her father, Carl Lee Hailey, takes the law into his own hands. Grisham tells the story of the subsequent trial in a plot that widens out to look at racism, ethics, fatherhood, friendship, politics, gender and, of course, corruption and the law. While there’s a lot of sympathy for Carl Lee, especially amongst the black townsfolk, there is also a sizeable slice of opinion that vigilantism, whatever the provocation, is wrong; and then there’s the minority of white racists who think Carl Lee should be lynched. Soon the town is plunged into fear as the Ku Klux Klan take the opportunity to resurrect the days of burning crosses and worse.

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It’s a strange old day when Kim Jong-un no longer seems like the maddest megalomaniac amongst world leaders…

Douglas MacArthur: American Warrior by Arthur Herman

MacArthur was involved in most of the important military events of the first half of the 20th century, not least the Korean War which ended with the current partition, as two sides of the broken country stare at each other over the Demilitarized Zone – one backed by the might of the US, the other shielded by the power of China. This book explains how we got here…

The Accusation by Bandi

This is a collection of seven short stories written between 1989 and 1995 under the regimes of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea. The author’s identity remains secret, since he still lives in the country – his pseudonym means “firefly”. He is, or perhaps was, part of the official writers’ association, writing articles approved by the regime, but in his own time he began secretly to write these stories, showing a different version of daily life under this extreme form of totalitarianism. They provide a unique insight into this regime from a personal level – so often we are only aware of the high level politics, and it’s easy to forget how each decision we make in dealing with dictators, in terms of sanctions or military action, impacts profoundly on those much further down the social order.

The current tyrant, Kim Jong-un, and a few of his toys…

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The annual Edinburgh Festival is underway with its usual eclectic mix of weird and wonderful plays, performance artists, brilliance and awfulness.

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

In McDermid’s humorous update of the Austen original, our heroine Cat Morland is fairly inexperienced in the ways of the world, having been home-schooled by her mother in a Devon rectory. So when her well-off arty neighbours Andrew and Susie Allen invite her to come with them to the Edinburgh Festival, Cat is thrilled. Naturally Cat is mainly interested in the Book Festival and I doubt there is anyone better qualified to write about that event than Val McDermid.

Cat had convinced herself that in spite of Henry Tilney’s failure to appear at the Book Festival grounds, he would surely attend the dramatic adaptation of last year’s best-selling novel about love, zombies and patisserie, Cupcakes to Die For. Had they not touched on the subject of the fluency of women’s writing at Mrs Alexander’s dance class? Was this not the most sought-after ticket of the Fringe? And was not the Botanic Gardens the coolest of venues?

Royal Botanical Gardens dressed up for the Festival

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This week’s front-page headline in the Kirkintilloch Herald is:

Flu vaccine coming to East Dunbartonshire Schools


Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A particularly virulent strain of flu wipes out the population of most of the world within a few weeks. This is the story of before that event and twenty years after it. Just before the flu struck, famous actor Arthur Leander died of a heart attack during a performance of King Lear. The story is based around him and the people who were connected with him – either family, friends or people who were in the theatre that night. The future story has as its main character, Kristen – a child actress in Lear, now a young woman travelling with a band of fellow actors and musicians bringing Shakespeare to the small communities of survivors that have sprung up since the apocalypse.

Red Queen by Honey Brown

The time feels much like the present, but society has been destroyed by a lethal virus. The narrator, Shannon, is a young man living in isolation with his older brother, Rohan, in a well-stocked house prepared by their now-dead father for just such a contingency, since he always feared that one day disaster would strike humanity. It’s been months since they saw another person, but one day a young woman, Denny, appears at the farm and throws herself on their mercy. Suspicious at first, both men soon find themselves attracted to her, but it still seems as if Denny may be hiding a secret…

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No books, but he deserves a section all to himself…

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50 thoughts on “Bookish Newsweek…

  1. I love this feature!! Somehow, it makes the bizarre and horrifying events of the world seem a little more manageable. Now – I think I had the flu mentioned in Station Eleven earlier this year. How I survived it, I’ll never know. It’s a wonder the UN didn’t sanction me for cultivating a hazardous biological weapon…

    • Hahaha! I used to hate flu season when I worked in the GP practice! The waiting room was like some form of hideous chemical warfare – I always wanted to just go in and spray them all with a disinfectant! But flu vac season was even worse – hundreds of screaming pre-schoolers. There was one kid who was so scared he was hysterical, so the nurse, who hadn’t had her own vac yet, said “Look! I’ll get the other nurse to give me the jab so you can see how easy it is!” Well, the other nurse, a newbie, gave her the vac, but something went horribly wrong and suddenly blood spurted out and started running down her arm. The child was last seen belting through the waiting room towards the door, screaming his little head off – such fun!

  2. He does, indeed, deserve the section to himself, FictionFan. And I think you’ve done a fabulous job here. So creative!! And a really effective way to link books you’ve read to the current news. I really, really like this idea a lot, and I hope you’ll do it again!

    • Yep, we’ll miss Usain! Though I’m sure he’ll be around entertaining us all in some other form. Thank you – I’m glad you enjoyed it! Haha – the drawback is it would depend on new news stories every week, and them all being about things I happen to have read books on… I fear the newspaper may fold soon… 😉

    • Haha – thank you! 😀

      I know – I sympathise! Britain’s pretty vile at the moment with all the Brexit stuff, but America’s even worse. I’ll meet you in Canada…

  3. What a great idea!! The only one among all these that I’ve read was Grisham’s, and I enjoyed it a lot. Northanger Abbey and Red Queen also sound good, as does The Accusation. How forward-thinking some of these writers are/were!!

    • Glad you enjoyed it! 😀 I think A Time to Kill is Grisham’s best book – very powerful. Northanger Abbey is a lot of fun, and I quite liked Red Queen, though not as much as lots of other people did. The Accusation is more interesting for what it is rather than for the actual stories, if you see what I mean. Yep, there’s very little you can’t learn about from books – factual or fiction!

  4. Brilliant idea, though it does demonstrate that, as a species, we seem not to be very good at learning from history……… Was it one of the King Louis’ of France who was said never to have forgotten a mistake so that he could make it again? But the picture of Bolt is cheering.

    • Glad you enjoyed it! 😀 Yes, and the worst thing is that we seem to be moving away from the type of politician who could be depended on to have a reasonable grasp of history. Now their ability to lie and create conspiracy theories seems to be more valued… grrr! Bolt for World President, I say!!

    • I thought I had, but just looked it up to remind myself of the plot and discovered I definitely haven’t. I think I was confusing it with I Married a Communist. From the blurb, I think that would be an excellent addition indeed, and I really must read it…

  5. Wow, I’m impressed. Way to turn around the awful headlines into interesting and enticing book recommendations! I usually steer clear of Austen re-dos and sequels, but that McDermid Northanger Abbey sounds great! It’s been a really long time since I’ve read the original, though.

    • Haha – I had to do something to get the news out of my system! Glad you enjoyed it. 😀 I usually hate Austen updates too, but this one was a lot of fun – probably because Northanger Abbey is the lightest anyway and is easier to update. Well worth a read, if you ever get time… 🙂

  6. Oh this is brilliant – not the news itself obviously which I now read with mounting disbelief, I know August is supposed to be the silly season but really people!!! Some brilliant books featured here though, I don’t know how you do it.

    • Hahaha – silly season indeed! I’m hardly reading at all at the moment – I’m hypnotised by the news. So this was the only thing I could come up with, and it was just luck I’d read a couple of books that worked for each headline – glad you enjoyed it! 😀

  7. What a fabulous idea! I am not allowed to watch the news, read the news, listen to the news, for the next two weeks because of my anti-anxiety program but I love your newspaper! I love what you did with some of the hardest headlines of the moment.

    • Thank you – I’m glad you enjoyed it! Ha – the problem is it depends on what stories are in the news and whether I can find any relevant books, but I did enjoy doing it so it might reappear sometime… 😀

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