A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
“What’s it going to be then, eh?” is a pretty fighty start to any book (considering Alex and his Droogs are ordering drinks), and Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange just gets fightier from then on in. Burgess was a savvy prof who did a Picasso and unlearnt his perfection to do his Cubist Nadsat (Alex’s argot) for this, the book that foresaw the attitude of the future, but with added Beethoven. This 50th anniversary edition, foreworded by Martin Amis, is honest about an uneven masterpiece, described by
Burgess as “a work too didactic to be artistic”.
Inventing the Enemy - Umberto Eco
Inventing the Enemy is something unrequired in these former fictions. The title of Umberto Eco’s new book of essays came from a chat with a Pakistani taxi driver in New York City whose second question to the Italian grand inquisitor (after “where do you come from?”) was “who are your enemies?” A nice kick-off for this philosophical football match that encompasses myth, literature and history, with the idea that every country needs an enemy, even if they must invent him. Discursive, grandiose, witty stuff from the quintessential savvy professor.
The Yellow Birds - Kevin Powers
Lines on the map are what brings John Bartle, a US soldier, to Iraq. Although Private Bartle says, “It [the war] didn’t care about objectives, or boundaries,” they’re there, whether in orders, fenced across the land or in a soldier’s head. It’s the latter that concerns veteran and poet Kevin Powers’s powerful The Yellow Birds, the story of a man trying to leave a war behind once he’s left the war. This debut seems impossibly “there”; stirring, heartrending and wise in knowing it lacks answers.
Risk - CK Stead
The protagonist of Risk, by New Zealand’s pre-eminent novelist and poet CK Stead, doesn’t know he’s heading to a place of conflict until he’s in it and unarmed.Sam Nola, recently divorced and content to enjoy boom-London’s money and women, soon finds the post 9/11 world a strangely sobering place.
On the Map - Simon Garfield
From the Greeks to the Mappa Mundi of 1290 to Mercator in 1569 to the Ordnance Survey to the Googleplex, On the Map makes light work of charting the history, politics, philosophy and learning of maps, not to mention the maths and splashing about in boats done by the explorers, merchants and warmongers that deck the halls of Simon Garfield’s stunning celebration of the cartographic. As one of the UK’s leading contemporary polymaths, Garfield’s always a joy to read for his gossamer-light show of rigorous learning, his shed-dweller precision in research and his infectious glee in passing on the golden nugget of fact.