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Tome time…

To kick off the book club our own Dan Carrier offers his choice of must-reads

03 April, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

PLAYING Desert Island Discs makes me wince: how could you possibly choose six pieces of music to see you through?

And picking three books to re-read during the lockdown conjures up a similar feeling. So much time, so many tomes that offer comfort when it is required.

On the shelf by my bed are wobbling towers of favourites: The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs, David Rennick’s Muhammad Ali biography King Of The World, Francis Pryor’s Britain BC – a reminder of how utterly insignificant and brief the times you are living in are – Lloyd Bradley’s Bass Culture, the seminal history of reggae music, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood – brilliant journalism, Volume VI of Martin Gilbert’s Winston Churchill biography, which deals with 1939 to 1941 and will stiffen your resolve…

Review writer Dan Carrier

To whittle it down to three is a tough chore, but here goes:

Les Misérables, by Victor Hugo, will see you through a good number of weeks. It looks daunting, due to its sheer size – which also makes it annoying to read in bed, as it weighs a ton. This is partly because Hugo spends many pages rambling off onto philosophical tangents. But because of this, the opening chapters are one of the greatest ever polemics about why we should be nicer to each other – something that this pandemic is illustrating in such a tragic way. How the Bishop of Digne helps Jean Valjean is inspirational storytelling, laying out why the only true reason to be on this planet is to be good to one another. It is neatly summer up in Hugo’s epigraph, which ends “as long as ignorance and misery exists in this world, books like this are not entirely useless…”

• That’s heavy stuff, so for book number two, I’m going to plump for lyrical escapism. Laurie Lee’s trilogy of Cider With Rosie, As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning and A Moment of War is a beautiful window into years between the wars, a time where Britain changed beyond recognition and the modern world was truly ushered in, while also being when Lee grew from child to man. The middle volume, As I Walked Out Midsummer Morning, will make you yearn to set out on an adventure, head down a dusty, sun-baked road with a rucksack on your back and a violin under your arm. His journey through Spain is one of the nicest travelogues ever committed to paper.

• Staying in Spain, my third re-read is Arturo Barea’s Forging Of A Rebel – another three-part memoir about a man who saw first-hand the fight between fascism and the Popular Front in the Spanish Civil War. Barea’s book begins with a Madrid childhood, takes us through the 1920s, and then into the conflict. It combines everyday life with global political events. As a personal story it is moving social history, while on a larger scale he shows how political tragedies impact on everyone, a poignant lesson for today.

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