A weird little BBC News story today, "Poll reveals UK's Reading Secrets" (terrible headline). It suggests that "1984" and "Dreams from my Father" are two books that people lie most about having read. Which is a bit odd, since I finished 1984 recently, and am currently reading Dreams...etc.
I hadn't read 1984 since I was at school, and listen - do not lie about reading it. READ IT. It is stunning. The language is blunt and to the point. And here's the thing - it hasn't aged a day. Orwell eschews any 'posh' language, and absolutely everything that is in any way slangish, or culturally 'of the moment', so the story is presented straightforwardly, in an urgent, driving sort of way. Christ, it has so many knowing layers - it, as the intro suggested, is a flawed vision if one looks at it purely as a futuristic novel, but of course, it was never that. He wrote it whilst he knew he was dying. He was fighting to get the thing out of his head. It's a vast political and social critique and it's as relevant today as it was when he wrote it. I cannot recommend it highly enough, and I'm telling you, it will colour your own social critique in not so subtle ways afterward.
"Dreams from my Father" meanwhile is fascinating. I've read various bits and pieces of African-American literature from Zora Neale Hurston through Chester Himes and the post-sixties feminist authors, Morrison and Walker. I remember describing reading Chester Himes as shocking, but necessary. Like having a large sticking plaster ripped from your brain. He's a stunning, urgent, bitter, almost vicious writer who really wanted to punch his readers in the face. contextually, it's not difficult to see why: the post war industrial experience, pre-1960's - there's a huge correlation with this period of time pushing forward the cause of women's rights too, ie: it was a shitty, awful time for women and for black men, back from the war, where there was at least a semblance of equality. I've read a couple of Himes' books and I'd strongly recommend them. Obama's biography recalls much more though a very different mind set coming from the post sixties experience, obviously. He's a great writer -so much so that I'd love to see him try a novel some time. Having only read black American women, from more recent times, it's incredibly useful to see a moderate, thoughtful masculine voice examining the recent black American experience. He comes across as you'd expect, but more so, to be honest. thoughtful, and also very good at letting other people take the limelight for his successes. He constantly talks up the various strong women he comes across in the book - as if his actions and his energy come as a direct result of his interactions with them. Early in the book, he doesn't explicitly address young American black men with regard to the missing fathers question, but he spends thoughtful sections discussing the effect that a confused young man, dealing with the loss of a day to day standard to live by, the confusion of identity, and the ease with which youngsters can conceal their psychological woes under layers of dope and other drugs (which he did, too, for a time) - it's all there. He has a message. I've already bought this book for my Mum to read, not because I'm an excessive Obama cheerleader *exactly* (although I'm a fan of him personally, I want to judge his presidency on his successes) but because it's a compelling story through a classically melting pot-American stew of experiences.
The recurring 'ghost' of his Father, whether at that time living or Dead is interesting and very truthful. I'll tell you what really impresses me, you know. He has a strong, open understanding of his own motivations, and his own personality fuck ups. And he shares them. He is remarkably honest and that really suits a 21st century outlook. We haven't got time for ceremony, bullshit and hidden agendas right now - let it all be out in the open, and let's get on with positive change.
I wish he hadn't backed Bush's decision to keep the Guantanamo information secret though. National security my ass.
Anyway. Books. I don't read enough of them, I read these. Now you read them and stop lying and pretending you did. If you do that. Which... er... why?