Fae the Bookworm

faebook4Books are, obviously, important. Very important. They are the staff of life. From the time my auld man taught me to read I’ve been hooked. And as well as finishing at least one or two books every week without fail, I write the things myself now.

Even more important to me, though, than books is my granddaughter. So it was perfectly natural for me to want to share the thing I love most, with the child I love most. I’ve been buying Fae books since she was about three months old. Too young, right? After all, she isn’t going to have a clue what they are or what to do with them. Well, maybe…

My dad always had a thing about not assuming what kids could and couldn’t take in, at any given age. His reasoning was no one could possibly know what a child could or couldn’t understand so best to expose them to as much as possible and see what sticks. That has always seemed like a sensible approach, to me. No baby-talk for the auld man; he spoke to me using exactly the same words he would use with an adult. Consequently, I recall when in primary 5 positively unnerving my teacher when I told her the longest word I knew was antidisestablishmentarianism and that I could spell it accurately, too. The advantages and benefits of literacy and an extensive vocabulary are so many and so apparent as to render entirely redundant the need to argue for them.

Of course, not everyone enjoys reading, words, language, books etc. It’s also very important, I think, not to force your likes and dislikes onto children; to try and turn them into your own mini-me. Fae might well turn out to be one of those people who doesn’t care for books. But I doubt it, on the evidence so far.

From about five months, when she was hurtling around in a walker, she’d point to the top shelf of one of my bookcases where her small collection was stored, indicating that she wanted them. I’d bring them down and she’d perch happily on my lap as I’d read to her. Often, she’d take them from me and just turn them over, turn the pages as best she could and examine them closely, looking at the front and back covers. It seemed that she viewed them as simply different toys. Which was fine by me. If she viewed books as toys, as things to play with, then, I reasoned, she was associating books with fun. With pleasure. As an enjoyable way to spend one’s time. That’s got to be a good thing.

I soon cleared one of my floor-level shelves for her books so she could access them herself, any time she wanted. And now, every time she visits, without fail, she’ll head for her shelf and stagger over to me with one of her books. And then repeat the trip until I have all of them, spread all over my lap and the arms of my chair. At which point she’ll hold her arms out to me, demanding I lift her up into my chair. Whereupon we read and lose ourselves in her books.

Objective peer-reviewed studies have shown her to be the most intelligent child in the entire span of recorded human history and I reckon she’s got the book-bug. And while it’s gratifying to be able to give my granddaughter anything that makes her happy, it’s as nothing to the sheer joy she gives back to me, a thousand-fold, every time she clambers on to my lap with a book.


Culture Politics & Current Affairs

Favourite Books of 2014

I’d like to resist end-of-year best of lists but it’s a regular feature of the writing gig. I did, though, quite enjoy putting this one together for my publisher, Five Leaves, for their New Year newsletter.

They didn’t necessarily want the favourite five published in 2014 but the favourite five we writers read, or even re-read, during the year.

Here’s my unedited list, all of which are available from Five Leaves Bookshop.

The Lost Key – Robert Lomas, Coronet

Thanks to Dan Brown, Freemasonry has rarely ‘enjoyed’ such publicity as that of recent LOST keyyears.

The ancient secret society (or the ‘society with secrets’, as it’s English ruling body, the United Grand Lodge of England would prefer you have it) has historically been the subject of fevered hysteria and paranoid conspiracy theories.

Here long-standing Freemason, scientist and author Robert Lomas lifts the lid on the secret rituals and their purpose as he sees it. In so doing he has constructed a truly fascinating narrative. The Lost Key is where science and mysticism meet, where religion and facts collide and where the reader is taken on an esoteric journey from the Big Bang, via the temples of ancient Egypt, medieval Scotland and Renaissance Europe to the present day.

If you thought Freemasonry was a bastion of establishment reaction and an excuse for monied gentry and corrupt coppers to indulge in silly pantomime with fine wine and good food at the end of the evening read this and be prepared to re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about ‘The Craft.’Fascinating, challenging and gripping.

Anarchists Against the Wall – Uri Gordon and Ohal Grietzer (editors) AK Press

AATWAnd the best place for ’em some of my more tankie-inclined friends might suggest. But seriously… Anarchists Against the Wall are an anti-Zionist body of Israeli anarchists wedded fast to the Palestinian cause, Anarchists Against the Wall are a group of genuinely principled and courageous activists risking beatings, shootings and imprisonment on an almost daily basis operating, as they do, right at the sharp edge where the Zionist apartheid wall runs.

This small, independently-published edition collects a number of essays and observations by its members and offers an insight into the politics, activities and motivations of this heroic band of men and women.

Inspiring, uplifting and highly recommended.

Darkness, Darkness – John Harvey, William Heinemann

Former DI Charlie Resnick’s final case. The Nottingham-based copper, now retired andJH working as a civilian support officer, takes on the case of a woman who disappeared during the miners’ strike of 1984/5.

The strike provides a strong backdrop to a typically adroitly-spun yarn by the supremely talented Harvey. Set, obviously, in Nottinghamshire where the working majority wrecked the strike and ensured Thatcher’s victory over the Tories’ traditional class enemy, Harvey skilfully treads a fine line between the two sides as does his fictional hero Resnick.

The Resnick series deserves to be ranked alongside Rankin’s Rebus books and here Harvey weaves a poignant, elegiac narrative which is no less than he and Resnick deserve.
As swan-songs go this takes some beating. Beautiful, aching and deeply satisfying.

Intifada: The Long Day of Rage – David Pratt, Sunday Herald Books

IntifadaSunday Herald journalist, David Pratt, has produced here nothing less than a masterpiece of observational journalism.
Based in Israel/Palestine at the start of the first Intifada, and for the succeeding eight years, he records his experiences, observations and thoughts in compelling style.

While there is a refreshingly honest admission of sympathy for the Palestinian cause Pratt is too good a journalist to allow his work to become mired by bias. While the man’s empathy and compassion shines through his professional objectivity and dispassionate eye remain intact.

No one can fail to be deeply moved by this book.

The Enemy Within: The Secret War Against the Miners – 30th Anniversary EditionSeumas Milne, Verso Books

The sub-title is a little confusing. It’s actually twenty-years since this book first appeared.EW The ‘30th anniversary’ refers to the three decades since the strike started.

With a wealth of new material and an extended introductory essay Milne’s classic account of state abuse and the dirty tricks deployed against former miners’ leader Arthur Scargill and the National Union of Mineworkers is as rage-inducing now as it ever was.

From a technical point of view this is truly superb investigative journalism. While Milne is far and away the best journalist currently writing for an English daily this must have taxed even him. A complex and bewildering saga is nevertheless rendered easily readable and the reader will be shocked, appalled and angered at the disgusting campaign of frame-ups, lies and corruption orchestrated by the three-headed monster of security services, press and government. Read it now.