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BOOKS: In our good books

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Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 1/2019 vom 19.12.2018

Wir stellen eine Autobiographie vor, zwei Biographien, einen Roman, einen politischen Essay, ein fiktives Teenager-Tagebuch und ein Buch über Austern. Welches Buch steht diesen Winter auf Ihrer Leseliste? Von EVE LUCAS und MARY SIMONS


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What good books would we at Spotlight recommend for long winter evenings? Read the next few pages to find out. We have chosen a mix that includes a bestselling autobiography, a teenage diary, a manifesto for a new start in British politics, a novel about betrayal, a biography of a war reporter, a book about oysters, and the life story — so far — of blues guitarist ...

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... Eric Clapton. As always, if you have your own book tips to share with us, we’d love to hear what they are. Happy reading!

Becoming by Michelle Obama
“Sometimes … I found myself staring at images of people who had given themselves over to political life — the Clintons, the Gores, the Bushes, old photos of the Kennedys — and wondering … was everyone normal? Happy?” These were questions Michelle Obama asked herself as her husband set out on the path that led to his election as the 44th president of the United States. In Becoming, Michelle Obama’s autobiography, we find out what it was like for one family.

Obama, born on Chicago’s South Side, grew up in a happy and loving home, even if family life was under the shadow of illness — her father suffered from MS. From an early age, though, Obama is set apart by her drive. In first grade, she makes a teacher repeat a test so that she, Obama, can correct a mistake. Later, a college counsellor tells her: “I’m not sure that you’re Princeton material.” Obama thinks, “I’ll show you.” And she does.

This determination goes hand in hand with a constant questioning about where her life should lead. So after studying at Princeton and Harvard, Obama works, among other jobs, for a non-profit organization that helps young people become involved in social and political projects — something she finds deeply satisfying.

It is a shock then, when in 2009, Obama is catapulted into a new role as America’s First Lady. She is honest about her frustration over life in the political theatre. She finds the Republicans’ opposition to her husband’s agenda especially hard to bear. She is disarmingly straightforward about the challenges to family life. One evening in June 2015, together with her daughter Malia, she tries to leave the White House for a moment to look at a light display, but almost every exit is locked, and security is unhappy about making an exception.

At the end of the book, Obama writes that her credo is to help and support other people, as she has been supported. “I’ve tried to open my door to others,” she says. In Becoming, she has opened the door on to her life. What we see is inspirational.

Random House US, €31.45

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown by Jeff Kinney US writer Jeff Kinney created puny, but clever middle-school pupil Greg Heffley, aka the Wimpy Kid, more than 20 years ago. Since then, Heffley has appeared in more than a dozen books, each one a teenage adventure. In The Meltdown, he begins by unhappily cataloguing the terrible things about winter: thermal underwear, old pizza boxes that don’t work as snowshoes, cold germs from other pupils and walking to school. When, however, the snow puts a stop to all normal activity, the Wimpy Kid and his friend Rowley discover that extreme weather can create the conditions for extreme adventure. In no time at all, he finds himself in a life-or-death snowball fight. How will it end?

This book is a good way to get lazy teenagers reading in English. The Wimpy Kid can keep adults happily entertained for a couple of hours, too. The stories are a combination of diary entries and line drawings. The language is as simple as the illustrations. Thanks to the author’s genius, the result is a clever and insightful look into teenage life in the 21st century.

Penguin UK, €13.20

Start Again: How We Can Fix Our Broken Politics by Philip Collins It is not clear what the state of Brexit will be as you read this review. It is clear that the process has been a mess and has highlighted the failings of Britain’s political establishment in a way that people inside and outside the country can see.

Philip Collins was the chief speech writer for Tony Blair from 2004 to 2007 and is the author of The Art of Speeches and Presentations (2012) and When They Go Low, We Go High: Speeches that Shape the World — And Why We Need Them (2017). He is also a columnist for The Times.

In his latest book, Start Again, Collins examines why so many people in Britain, including himself, feel that they have no political home. Of the two major parties, he writes, “The Labour Party has fallen victim to a juvenile anti-capitalism and loathing of America… The Conservative Party, meanwhile, has dragged the nation into its own private feud. … The party is in the process of taking Britain out of the EU for reasons it can barely remember let alone define.” The focus of Start Again is how it has come to this impasse as well as a manifesto that Collins believes is a way out.

One of the author’s main points is that today Britain’s workers are not seen as those who create national prosperity. Instead, their job is to create wealth for company shareholders. His vision is for a kind of Common Wealth party by which people will feel valued and truly represented. Over five chapters, Collins sets out a plan to achieve this and covers topics ranging from the abolition of the honours system to climate change. Start Again makes for a thought-provoking read, whether or not you agree with the author’s politics.

Fourth Estate, €11.60

A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne “I want to be a success.
…I’ll do whatever it takes to succeed.” These are the words of a beautiful young Englishman, Maurice Swift, a waiter working in Berlin and an aspiring writer. Listening to Swift is a successful older author, Erich Ackermann, who should have been warned by these words. Ackermann, who is gay, is in love with Swift and, after a lifetime of suppressed desire, suddenly finds it hard to keep his feelings under control. Without thinking about the consequences, Ackermann tells his young friend a terrible secret from his past. When Swift turns the story into a successful novel, it costs Ackermann his career, and he dies soon afterwards a broken man. Swift, though, has not finished ruining other people’s lives. Anyone who has a story he can steal is a target — even his own family.

Boyne tracks Swift’s path of cruelty and self-deception, while the reader, knowing that things can only get worse, cannot help but continue watching events unfold with a horrified fascination. Will Swift become a victim of his own trickery? Boyne will keep you guessing to the end.

Doubleday, €16.99

In Extremis: The Life and Death of the War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum In March 1987, journalist Marie Colvin and photographer Tom Stoddart travelled to Beirut to report on Palestinian refugee camps that were being besieged by Amal, a Shi’a Muslim militia. They paid an Amal commander to stop shooting for one minute so that they could run across no-man’sland to the Bourj el-Barajneh camp to get a story for The Sunday Times. During their 24 hours in Bourj el-Barajneh, a Palestinian woman, who had left the camp to get food, was killed by snipers. It was Colvin’s first experience of the brutality of war.

Over the next 25 years, she made a name for herself covering wars in Chechnya, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, East Timor and finally Syria, where she herself was killed in February 2012 in the city of Homs, probably by government artillery fire. Colvin was known for her willingness to report on even the most dangerous conflicts. She lost the use of one eye during a grenade attack in Sri Lanka and, as a result, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Lindsey Hilsum’s excellent biography of Colvin covers her life, from a feisty teenager growing up on Long Island who would sail out alone in a storm, to her work as a peripatetic reporter determined to show the price of war under any circumstances.

Farrar Straus & Giroux, €24.12
You can listen to excerpts ofIn Extremis on the BBC iPlayer ().

Consider the Oyster by M. F. K. Fisher M. F. K. (Mary Fran ces Kennedy) Fisher was one of America’s finest food writers. Her book on oysters, titled Consider the Oyster, was first published in 1941, just before America entered the Second World War and luxuries were getting harder to find. Like its subject, the book is small, but it packs a tasty punch. It brims with flavours, and bursts with memories, anecdotes and recipes (including one for how “To Make a Pearl” with one mature oyster, one bead, one cage, brushes and one diving girl…). Fisher’s writing is of her time and her class. It speaks of privilege, and of travels to places where oysters are grown and eaten throughout the US, Asia and Europe.

Above all, Consider the Oyster tells a story of knowledge and fascination, seasoned with the humour that this aficionado brings to her subject. The recipe for oysters à la Bazeine covers an entire page. Fisher follows it with a much shorter version: “Or fry oysters and serve with ale.” Alternatively, serve this book with wrapping paper — as the perfect gift.

Daunt Books, €8.69

Slowhand: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton by Philip Norman Philip Norman is the author of the bestseller Shout!: The Beatles in Their Generation, as well as books on Buddy Holly, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and John Lennon. Now he has examined the labyrinthine career of British blues and rock guitarist Eric Clapton.

From playing with the Yardbirds and Cream in the 1960s through countless other collaborations — with everyone from Bob Dylan to Tina Turner — and many years as a solo artist, Clapton’s musical life has been one of superlatives. He has recorded more than 20 solo studio albums and is the only musician to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times.

Clapton’s private life has been marked by a mixture of excess and tragedy. He has been treated for drug and alcohol abuse and has lost a number of close friends to substance abuse. Clapton’s is also a life that has been closely documented: he wrote an autobiography in 2007. So what does Norman discover that is new?

In interviews with fellow musicians, friends and partners, a person emerges for whom the best is never quite good enough, a man who is happier with a guitar than with human beings. As Clapton once said himself: “I like solitude. I like the anomalous life. I like a quiet life.”

Orion Publishing Group, €20.90

Fotos: Sarah Sharp/insplash.com; pr

Fotos: Clay Banks; pr