Skip to main content

Paxman and Why Reading Matters

Firstly, having got well and truly soaked in last night's torrential rain after finding myself walking up to Highgate via Parliament Hill Fields, I returned home to see several messages alerting me to the fact that University Challenge had formed a question from A Clockwork Apple. I thought of my Dad, a big Jeremy Paxman fan, who would probably only have realised I'd written a book had it come from the mouth of the Newsnight presenter himself. I watched it back courtesy of BBC iPlayer and yes, it is surreal hearing Paxo say 'Belinda Webb'. What is it about hearing your own name? Whoever set the question also realised that the surname of main character Alex, Fawley, had been taken from one of my favourite novels, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure as this formed the question that followed.

If you didn't manage to watch it last night, BBC4 (10pm) also showed 'Why Reading Matters', focussing on that visceral heart-wrenching novel, Wuthering Heights. The psychologist presenter visited a reading group in Liverpool to discover that they were using said group as a way to beat depression, with one woman claiming that her grand-daughter had told her that, since joining the book group, she had become a changed woman and that it was giving her more than a daily anti-depressant! It is, for me at least, that gut-level reaction and also the safety of being an observer of different worlds, different structures of feelings - the passion and rage of Wuthering Heights is, perhaps, something which people want to act out in their own lives? Who doesn't want to be a Cathy and have a Heathcliffe? And yet it is no 'fairy tale' in the conventional sense. I know people bang on about Jane Austen's wry and highly perceptive observations of social conventions, but I've never felt Austen in the same passionate way that I've felt the writings of the Brontes, and I've had this theory for a while that it had a lot to do with the fact that the Brontes (or the Bruntys if we are using the undoctored Irish surname of their father) had an Irish father who venerated the written word and language, and who himself could be a tad unpredictable. Interestingly, the programme also highlighted what I've found to be one of the least mentioned parts in the book, that of the young Cathy teaching Hareton to read.

After Why Reading Matters it was back to BBC2 and to Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight Review in which he hosted a 'discussion' for and against the bankers. John Prescott seems to have become a lot more comfortable within himself since retiring, yet paradoxically having lost none of his passion for traditional Labour politics. He launched into the bankers' greed like a rottweiler with a slipper and claimed their actions in taking huge bonuses from tax-payers bail out money was verging on the criminal, although I wouldn't have used 'verging' but 'actual'. There was also time for Alistair's Campbell's appearance in which he spoke candidly of the need to remove the stigma of mental illness.

Finally, the British Library, in its February Readers' Bulletin has appealed for help to save a medieval manuscript, the c.1500 illuminated 'Macclesfield Alphabet Book', described as 'a rare English writing pattern book which has been in the library of the Earls of Macclesifeld since around 1750'. It doesn't state how much they're looking to raise, but further information can be had from Chloe Strickland

Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…

Days Without End and Mosul's Avengers

So fed up am I of buying books that I don't finish, that I decided I would go to the local library for a copy of Sebastian Barry's latest novel, Days Without End, which has just been awarded the Costa Prize. Unfortunately, I could only borrow it on the proviso that it was return by 1 February. I returned it the day after, without having finished it. I was about three quarters through, and will now have to go out and buy it for the final quarter. I loved Barry's The Secret Scripture, and on every publication of a new work, his star rises. Days Without End follows two boys, one descended from native Americans, and the other having arrived on one of the notorious coffin ships from famine struck Sligo. The tale is brave, funny, touching, but most of all Barry has achieved the perfect pitch. It is quite remarkable.

Another remarkable work comes in the form of reportage in the New Yorker (February 6, 2017) The Avengers of Mosul, by Luke Mogelson 'A Reporter at Large'.