"Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class", by Owen Jones

Non-fiction, 2011 Compelling account which does what the title suggests, setting out how the working class has been set apart and savaged by contemporary power bases. Jones makes his arguments clearly and backs them up, then repeats them before going back again and doing it all over again. The book flags as a result – this feels like a tight documentary spun into a mini-series. … Continue reading "Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class", by Owen Jones

"The Year of Magical Thinking," by Joan Didion

Non-fiction, 2005 An account of Joan Didion’s coping and mourning the death of her husband at a time when their daughter was also perilously ill. Didion’s mixture of terror and bemusement when negotiating every day events and reminders feels detached at times until there’s a crack in the narrative action or town, which suddenly brings the tragedy into sharp focus. This isn’t a book with … Continue reading "The Year of Magical Thinking," by Joan Didion

"The Best Minds of my Generation," by Allen Ginsberg

Non-fiction, 2017 Write up of 1977 university course, surveying some of the Beat Generation’s most celebrated practitioners. A curious, patchy, though ultimately rewarding mixture of biography (which is great) and literary criticism (a little less so – though probably something which would best work in an actual lecture). Sections on Jack Kerouac are particularly good, although the overall sense is of a serious look at … Continue reading "The Best Minds of my Generation," by Allen Ginsberg

"Nairn’s London," by Ian Nairn

Non-fiction, 1966 Idiosyncratic architectural guide to the capital, in which the excellently opinionated, self-taught Nairn takes the reader on a tour of the notable landmarks, in his eyes, in 1960s London. Descriptions of styles in suburban pubs rub shoulders with churches and the odd stately home and town centre. Nairn often doesn’t make an awful lot of sense, but there’s a real drive throughout the … Continue reading "Nairn’s London," by Ian Nairn

"Slouching Towards Bethlehem," by Joan Didion

Non-fiction, 1968 New Journalism without quite the crushing egotism and boorishness of either Hunter S Thompson or Tom Wolfe, focusing around a piece describing, in human terms, the human wreckage around Haight-Ashbury in the Summer of Love. This, and other pieces, are often wonderfully written, mixing an air of despair with one of nonchalance and painting an America roiling and clashing with itself and in … Continue reading "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," by Joan Didion

"The Big Midweek" by Stephen Hanley and Olivia Piekowski

Non-fiction, 2014 Sardonic, celebratory account of Stephen Hanley’s two decades playing bass guitar for The Fall. It would have been quite easy for Hanley to have ranted, although in his balanced descriptions, band members are brought to life and what feel like balanced recollections are made. Highs comfortably balance the lows with a claustrophobic inevitability setting in from the early 1990s, at around the time … Continue reading "The Big Midweek" by Stephen Hanley and Olivia Piekowski

"Chronicles: Volume One", by Bob Dylan

Non-fiction, 2004 Dylan picks a few key points in his career in producing this hybrid of memoir and autobiography in what, ultimately, is an engaging, entertaining and occasionally laugh-out-loud account. In telling his tale, the lyricism and atmosphere of his song writing is retained, although the detail is nonetheless present in hugely convincing observations and memories. And contained within are some interesting tidbits – the … Continue reading "Chronicles: Volume One", by Bob Dylan

"H is For Hawk" by Helen Macdonald

Non-fiction, 2014 Curious, ambitious and successful interweaving of three narratives – the loss of a father, a meditation of TH White and his book The Goshawk and Macdonald’s own struggles with training her own bird. Different sections will work better for some people than others; the training was enthralling and beautifully done, although for me, parts of the looking back at White felt a tad … Continue reading "H is For Hawk" by Helen Macdonald