Books I read in.......... September 2017

Lady reading a book

Books I read in.......... September 2017

I spent quite a lot of September travelling.  Long flights, and time spent in departure lounges, provided ample reading time but long working days away from home did not.  Nevertheless, I still enjoyed a few good reads.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft – Stephen King 

If there is one author whose books have formed a backdrop to my adult life, it would be Stephen King.  I first read one of his novels aged 21 (Christine) and was hooked.  He is the only author whose books I have bought in hardback because I could not wait for the paperback version to come out.  I am his ‘Constant Reader’.

Back in the 1980s and 90s King was largely dismissed by the critics as a peddler of ‘pulp fiction’ and I think it is only quite recently in his writing career that he has finally been acknowledged as one of the greatest writers of his generation.

His books may not be highbrow but he knows how to tell a good story.  It’s been a long time since he wrote what I would classify as a ‘horror story’ and I think his writing has got better and better over the years.  He writes books which you simply cannot put down.

This book is part memoir, part guide book to writers.  I found the memoir section gave a fascinating insight into his back story and there are a lot of useful pointers on writing which could benefit any writer trying to improve, whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction.

The final part of the book deals with the accident in 1999 which nearly killed him.  I for one am grateful he survived and keeps writing.  Anyone, who has such a remarkable grasp of the English language that they can think to describe television as ‘the glass teat’ is a genius, in my opinion.

The New, New Thing: Michael Lewis

Yes, Michael Lewis again, this time writing about Jim Clark, the Silicon Valley billionaire who was behind Netscape and Silicon Graphics.  I can feel a slight obsession with Silicon Valley coming on – it truly is another world.  The more I read about its inhabitants, the more bizarre it seems.

Jim Clark is no exception.  He comes across in this book as being either wildly eccentric, or slightly mad – it’s that fine line being trodden.

Before reading it, I hadn’t realised how long ago it was set – the late 1990s – and it was published in 1999, so before the ‘tech wreck’.  I found that reading it knowing what was just around the corner made me wonder ‘what happened next?’ (the answer, I discovered, in part is this)

To be honest, although I enjoyed it, this is – so far – my least favourite of Lewis’s books.  For me, although the underlying story was interesting, it was too long and drawn out which made it a bit dull in places.  The focus for much of the book became not Clark and his companies but rather his boat, the Hyperion, which, although an amazing feat of engineering was not – in my opinion – worthy of as much of the attention in the book that it received.

Grit: The Power of Passion & Perseverance – Angela Duckworth

‘Why do we assume that it is our talent, rather than our effort, that will decide where we end up in the very long run?’

That is the question this book strives to answer and does so very well.  I think we all know someone who has achieved something on the back of pure bloody-mindedness rather than an amazing level of skill or talent.  This book examines the link between how passionate we feel about something and how that links to the perseverance to keep slogging away until you achieve your goals.

Duckworth’s theory is quite simple:

Talent* x effort = skill

Skill x effort = achievement

*Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort, as opposed to a natural state of being brilliant at something

Without dismissing genius and raw talent, Duckworth shows us that those of us who are blessed with neither can still achieve great things if we put our minds (and sometimes our bodies) to it.  Success, it seems, really is all in the mind.

This is a fascinating book.  My main takeaway? “…. the main thing is that greatness is doable.  Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”

Schtum – Jem Lester

I’ll finish this month’s reads with a fiction choice.

Jonah is 10 years old and has never spoken.  He has autism.  This is a book about family, about marriage, about autism.  It’s about the dreadful way in which we cater for (or, rather, fail to cater for) such children in our education system.  However, it is not a depressing book.

This book throws you in at the deep end right away.  It is both laugh out loud funny, and heartbreakingly sad.  Autism is not a subject about which I know much but the book comes across as being an honest and searing portrayal of what living with an autistic child could be like (the author has an autistic child).  It pulls no punches and Jonah’s parents are a long way from being saints.

This is the author’s first novel and a very fine one.  It should be compulsory reading for anyone in the public sector who has any involvement in the education of autistic children.

I hope my comments will tempt you to read one or more of these.

Warm regards