104 in 2014 : December and Curtain
So this challenge draws to a close. I completed 107 books, and lost 22 kilos, so that all went rather better than expected. My reading this month has been wrecked by watching the 48 hours of the Project for Awesome Livestream, where a community centered on the author John Green and his science educator brother Hank raised 1.2 million dollars for charity. Impressive, but deadly to my reading habits.
106 : Revolution by Russell Brand
I listened to this book, and would recommend that to you if you prefer audiobooks, because Russell Brand writes in an older way, where his prose rolls best if read aloud. His sentences roam on, with digressions and dangling clauses, not really terminating and bleeding into each other, much as this paragraph has done, to demonstrate the point that a reader can make better sense of this text with stress and breath than a silent reader can.
Brand’s book has received some criticism for its embrace of mysticism, and for not, in its final chapter presenting a detailed blueprint for his revolution. I’d have more sympathy with his critics if, at every great lurch forward of social justice, there had not been similar voices saying similar things. When people suggested Britain giving up the slave trade because it was morally wrong, there were rich guys writing furiously to the papers saying that it was religious twaddle and would break the economy. When people suggested women might be allowed to vote, there were rich guys nearby suggesting that their brains were not up to it, and they’d vote for more shoes. When the black civil rights movement was kicking off in America, people suggested it would wreck the economy and noted that it had a spiritual rather than practical focus. Convincing as it is to say “This blueprint is inadequate, and the moral underpinning is mumbo-jumbo”, that’s been the argument on the losing side of every great social justice platform.
Now, I don’t particularly like Brand’s belief that science has a limited role in determining truth, and that mediation is, in some spheres, superior. I don’t agree, and it does mean that for me, the book dips in the middle. That being said, all great social justice tracts have a bit of this. Wilberforce could just have worn a “because Jesus said so!” T-shirt and saved people a lot of time. Of course, in his day, people didn’t want momentous things debated in soundbites: a problem that Brand needs to deal with. Also, I think he’s fundamentally wrong about some of his loopier ideas concerning the Twin Towers and the Cuban Revolution.
On the deeper level, though, I think Brand has something essentially right in this book. If an economic system is based on grinding poverty for many, so that wealth accorded previously only to gods is given to a handful, it’s fine to note that this is not fair, and to work to reduce the unfairness, without having worked out all of the ramifications. It was fine to call off slavery before we worked out how it would affect agriculture. It was fine to let women vote before we knew what they would do with the vote. You don’t need to know precisely how gay marriage will work to suggest that gay-bashing is a bad idea. Similarly, it’s fine for Brand to start pulling things apart with no detailed design of what needs to be built next.
107 : Kings and Queens of England
I listened to this through our Overdrive service and doubt it was a book to begin with. It seems to me to be a repurposed radio recording. As a recording it’s a pleasure to listen to. The narrator isn’t listed in the notes, but I think it’s Sir Derek Jacobi, who is excellent at these sorts of things. He is supported by voice actors reading extracts from royal letters and diaries. It is a series of brief bits of gossip about each of the kings between William the Conqueror and Queen Victoria.
I’m not really sure what the book was for. It doesn’t argue any particular point. It amuses, but doesn’t particularly inform or convince. Worth a listen if you like that sort of thing, but far less interesting than, for example, the Pageant of England series, by Costain.