Archive for April, 2009

Consolations of a hangover

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Well, Fishing in Utopia did win the Orwell prize. This is delicious and wonderful. I knew a couple of the judges liked it. I also knew – or at least strongly suspected – that one didn’t. I knew Tony Judt was also on the list, and thought he was a shoo-in. While faffing about yesterday morning, the FWB said to me, “look at it it this way: either you’re beaten by Tony Judt or you’re beaten with him. Neither of these things are a humiliation.” And she was right, and I felt greatly lightened. I still didn’t think I’d win, though, until about half way through Ferdy Mount’s speech, which was a long and generous appreciation of all the books, and three more that were on the longlist. But it wasn’t in any discernible order: not alphabetical, nor reversed alphabetical. So, I thought, the winner will be the last one he names and with every book from then on a bubble of hope grew inside me until it burst and left me almost speechless when my book came last and I had won.

Afterwards Francis Wheen tried to persuade me that I would have to make another speech at the end of the dinner. He turned out to be the fourth or fifth friend who had won it before me: Neal Ascherson, Tim Garton Ash, Brian Cathcart … the party afterwards is blurring already in my memory.

There were three Nick Cohen jokes in the speeches, but the man himself was not there.

Also the paperback is now out: publication was brought forward to coincide with this. Hurry, and you can have one of the collectors’ edition which has “Shortlisted for the Orwell Prize” on the back. The next run will say “Winner”.

undiscriminating reads

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

on trains in and out of London

Ken MacLeod, the Night Sessions: very good and tightly imagined account of what a war on religion would actually mean; and what a secular Scotland would be like. Written with great sympathy for the villains; also I am extremely glad of the idea that the last best Calvinists in the world turn out to be robots. The best of his I have read to date.

Charlie Stross, Merchant Princes, books one two and three: ought to be really enjoyable fluff, and almost is. But in the end the mashup of chicklit, thriller and Marxism doesn’t work. The heroine is not exactly a Mary Sue, but she is too self-consciously meant as a a figure for readers to identify with. Either that, or the feisty, sexy, divorcee is this century’s answer to the carved white Victorian angel, and every bit as life-like.

Thomas Jackson, Darwin’s Error: very interesting book by an ex-Catholic with the subtitle “the poet who died”. Not about the science at all, but about the philosophy and the prose. I didn’t have room to squeeze it into my “big” New Statesman review,1 but should blog about it next week.

Nick Spencer, Darwin’s God, which, unlike Jackson’s, is actually about religion. A scrupulous account of the development of Darwin’s irreligious opinions.

And, since it is Easter Day, I throw in for free the news that a church in Västerås has, after two years’ work, and the collection of 30,000 white bricks, unveiled their life-size Lego Jesus.

1 I was sent a total of sixteen books, to be reviewed in 1400 words

Auden at press conferences

Saturday, April 4th, 2009

I don’t often go to press conferences nowadays, but whenever I do, I think that Auden had been there too, on both sides. In my edition of the Collected Shorter Poems, the pertinent observations face each other across pages 190-191. First, the view from the floor:

When Statesmen gravely say ‘We must be realistic’,
The chances are they’re weak and, therefore, pacifistic,
But when they speak of Principles, look out: perhaps
Their generals are already poring over maps.

And then the view down from the podium, at us:

Those public men who seem so to enjoy their dominion,
With their ruined faces and their voices treble with hate,
Are no less martyrs because unaware of their fetters:
What would you be like, were you never allowed to create
Or reflect, but compelled to give an immediate opinion,
Condemned to destroy or distribute the works of your betters?

When life gives you lemons

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

The fatality rate on the roads goes down. No, Honest. Science proves it.

Thanks to Jeremy for the link