Freedom Reads #120-3

I realise no one is actually affected, but I have let this go a little and in an effort to catch up:

Motherwell by Deborah Orr:

An interesting and engaging autobiography by Orr, who died a couple of years ago aged 57 from breast cancer. She had a typical and fiercely working class upbringing in the titular Scottish town. Her dad worked in and around Ravencraig steelworks while her mum was mainly a housewife / home-maker looking after Orr and her younger brother, and doing some part-time work. Orr seems to have spent most of her life in conflict with these archetypal Thatcherite workers, but also loving them fiercely because they were her parents: loving them in spite of their views. She went to university against their wishes – it ‘isn’t for the likes of us’, she lied to cover up her visit to the open day; she ‘brought shame on the family’ by having sex outside of marriage, and although some of this early sex was violent / rape more than once, she doesn’t seem to have received sympathy; they disagreed with her moving to London, indeed with her getting any kind of work – they expected her to get married, to move with the husband and be provided for, instead she became a successful journalist. The pun in the title is apt and well-worked, she appears not to think that her mother did.

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

A thin, enjoyable book, that reads exactly like the blokey way that Perry speaks – hence it is lovable. He makes some good, if sometimes unscientific or broadly sweeping statements about being a man, toxic masculinity, being comfortable “as yourself”. He is absolutely correct on the teenage / testosterone fuelled feelings of invincibility that can “present” as anger or rage. And he doesn’t try to hide his own drive to win in his chosen area of blokish endeavour – the BMX / mountain bike races that he cherishes. Personally, I take exception to the idea that I dress in an “unflamboyant” way because I am unsure or repressed about my sexuality – I just know that I look best in black. Where the book really hits the mark though, is simply in identifying the urgent, desperate need for men to talk more, because we are being damaged by ‘being men’ in our society at the moment: and that this damage often translates into damage to ourselves and / or others.

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane

Macfarlane is the literary Attenborough of our times. He takes us to places we wouldn’t ordinarily go and introduces new and fantastical things from the natural world to us in a calmly authoritative way…no one would dream of arguing with him. This book – recommended to me by several others, and I am grateful – is an episodic wander around various remote spots of the British Isles – Rannoch Moor, Orford Ness etc – culminating in his realisation that you don’t have to go to “wild places” to find “wildness”. In fact it fits so neatly into this episodic structure that it seems ready made for a TV series. Although I probably shouldn’t wish him back on to Ben Hope, where he almost froze. It is his fault that I now want to spend a year documenting Rannoch.

Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala

This is a deeply impressive and current book. Akala is mixed heritage: Jamaican, English and Scots – the English bothers him a great deal more than either the Jamaican or Scots. He grew up in London and so has first hand experience of being non-white in face of England’s institutions and their racism whether overt or more opaque. He describes himself as a geeky kid – fascinated by Maths – but one who also played football to a decent level, and clearly one who knew his music. His tone is not hectoring, but he knows his stuff and has clearly read widely around his subject – it might well be that it is the kind of reading that a curious kid / young adult would do anyway as he was growing up and learning about the world around him. He has a good argument to back up most of his opinions, astutely tracing much of the current societal malaise back into our imperial history, and our absolute refusal to be honest with ourselves about it and its lingering stench. What most struck a chord with me was his position that racism in society (along with many other -isms) does not stand alone, but must be understood as part of an ongoing class struggle, and that it follows that the answer to these prejudicial behaviours lies in winning a class struggle.

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