The Reading Room

Books For Christmas

Books are for life, not just for Christmas!…

Christmas has come early for Retro Culturati this year and with it a fine array of reading material for the festive period. This year sees a familiar theme run through the selection, namely the Cold War period. As historical periods go, the years 1945 to 1989 are this particular writer’s favourite. Politically and culturally it strikes a chord and casts a wide net, certainly so in this case with Cuba, Berlin and the Soviet Union all waiting to be delved into.

So, what do we have? Out of shot are Hans-Herman Hertle’s ‘The Berlin Wall Story’, a charming pocket-sized guide to the leading political figures of the period, crucial dates, stories of resistance and escape, the Stasi and the collapse of the State itself. At first glance the book would appear to be a handy reference guide to key events combined with interesting photographs and maps which would suit those wishing to cross-reference and fact check.

Also out of sight is the latest from ‘man of the moment’, Mohsin Hamid, ‘Discontent and it’s Civilizations’, a selection of factual essays which, one would assume have helped shape his thoughts and subject matter for his best-selling novels. There are an interesting array of subjects from Pakistan and Bin Laden to religion and globalization. Hamid speaks well on these subjects, his arguments are always considered and articulate and this book will make an interesting bridge between his future novels.

Malcolm Bradbury’s classic ‘The History Man’ was a request, having reviewed the television series here I wanted to compare it to the book and shall review it in due course.

‘The Frock-Coated Communist’ by Tristram Hunt tells the story of Friedrich Engels, co-author of ‘The Communist Manifesto’ with Karl Marx. It is a well received biography of a very interesting character and offers an important grounding in the birth of communism and the leading thinkers of its conception.

Coming right up to date with a sixty year old story (?) is Simon Reid-Henry’s account of the relationship between Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. With Cuba being very much in the news at the moment now must surely be a good time to understand the period which separates capitalism before and after these two revolutionaries invaded an island near you. Simply titled ‘Fidel and Che’ it shall sit comfortably alongside my copy of ‘Motorcycle Diaries’ with the vacuous Che wannabe Russell Brand nowhere in sight thank you.

In a Christmas past I was treated to the complete collection of Martin Cruz Smith’s ‘Arkardy Renko’ novels. Fans of the writer will doubtless concur that the books offer a fascinating insight into Soviet life from 1980s Cold War up to the present day. ‘Tatiana’ is his latest novel which is set in present day Russia combining a murder mystery with politics and Cold War referrals for fans like me.

We go to 1970s Northern Ireland for the classic Gerald Seymour novel, ‘Harry’s Game’. Those of a certain age will remember with fondness the excellent 1982 television film of the same title starring Ray Lonnen who sadly died this year. It’s a cat and mouse thriller of police versus IRA assassin and I look forward to comparing its merits to that of the film.

‘Cancer Ward’ by Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel prize winner for literature and iconic advocate for change in the Soviet Union. Having recently read ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’ I believe this will be a compelling follow up. Set in Uzbekistan it chronicles the accounts of those who contracted cancers during Stalin’s ‘Great Purge’ and whilst it is set post-Stalin (1955) it will, I confidently assume, describe with painful accuracy life during Stalin’s reign and the legacy endured at such an awful cost by so many following his death.

Last but by no means least is ‘1989 The Berlin Wall. My Part in its Downfall’.  Written by Peter Miller it is his account of life as a journalist in Berlin during the 1970s and 1980s and the characters he met along the way. Miller is an amusing writer and any account of 1970s Fleet Street and Soviet controlled Berlin is reason enough for this reader to pick it up.

So, a fine array indeed. I wish all of you a pleasant festive break and hopefully the opportunity to dip into something both retro and cultural!



2 replies »

  1. You can’t beat books for presents I think – culture, joy and knowledge and at prices anybody can afford – the ultimate present? Could be!


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