Adam Spencer, Brene Brown, EU Referendum, Forbes, Fromelies and Pozieres, Jack Reacher, Jim Grant, Lee Child, Make Me, Martin Meredith, Mega Change, Peter FitzSimons, The Fate of Africa, The Gifts of Imperfection
Despite the lure of Netflix etc. summer has always been the time to buy a good book and read it. As many of us are drifting back to work, it is time to reflect on what were the books we have been reading over the summer. For fiction according to Angus and Roberston the top three best sellers were:
- All the Light We Cannot See by Anythony Doerr. A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
- The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks. A compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from 1000 BC – part legend, part history. Full of drama and richly drawn detail, it is a vivid story of faith, family, desire and power.
- The Lake House by Kate Morton. Central character Alice Edevane leads a life as neatly plotted as the bestselling detective novels she writes until a young police detective starts asking questions about her family’s past and seeks to resurrect the complex tangle of secrets Alice has spent her life trying to escape….
Non-fiction top three were:
- Reckoning by Magda Szubanski. An autobiography of this Australian comedian.
- Gut. The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Under-rated Organ by Guilia Enders. Bringing together information about the remarkable role played by our alimentary canal.
- The World of Numbers by Adam Spencer. Adam who took a selfie with me recently (see above) explores the fun and interesting side of numbers.
I have to admit I read none of these but did randomly read and dip into four main books. Three in paper form and one on my ipad. So from the top then. I downloaded the latest Jack Reacher novel. For those not familiar with the Reacher phenomenon (yes even his mother called him Reacher) it is worth briefly recounting author Lee Child’s story. He was a commercial and news writer for Granada, a TV studio based in Manchester my old home town and as legend has it was laid off. This next bit is my spin on it but makes a great story if true. They did a corporate re-structure and he was seen as supernumerary so he says ‘bugger you lot I’m going to go and write a novel and make a fortune so there.’
Back to reality now. Since 1997 he has written 21 books in which loner, drifter, fighter, lover and harsh justice deliverer Reacher cuts a swathe mainly through small-town America. There, I have summed up the character in six words! His current novel Make Me is very typical Reacher but a bit underdone for my liking. Not that Mr Child is worried, as he has sold over 70 million books to date.
Forbes magazine in 2014 named him the most successful brand in international book sales. John Grisham, who has outsold Child, has a 41% brand loyalty rating meaning 41% of readers want to buy the next novel without knowing what it is. Child stands at a staggering 70%. So while this was a frivolous read over the summer, from a personal and business perspective you can see there is a lot to learn from Child. Firstly, he did not let adversity get the better of him. On being retrenched he got ‘better not bitter’. From a commercial point of view he consistently delights his customers. He is as reliable for his readers in delivering the knock-out punch as his main character is in a bar fight (of which I am warning you there are many).
Conscious of the changing nature of the world and the speed at which it is doing so occasioned by the Cloud, big data, digitisation, IoT, A-i, I read Mega Change: The World in 2050 published by the Economist and edited by Franklin and Andrews. I wanted to get a bit more of a handle on the data that sits behind the predictions that people make; many of which are putative. There are a number of interesting chapters and can be read as standalone vignettes. ‘By the numbers’ or infographics have become a popular way of presenting data and information nowadays, presumably because our attention span is such that it needs to be chunked down to a set of visuals that look like they could be digested by a student in primary school. Mega Change avoids such temptations but I have been able to lift some juicy ‘infobites’ that I might at some stage guiltily sneak into my own infographics. I found the chapter on demographics particularly absorbing.
Africa it would appear is where the demographic impacts are going to be most noticeable and this raises all sorts of possibilities and challenges in a continent still coming to grips with its colonial past. As an aside, Meredith has written a insightful book on the subject, The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. One for the colder months I think! More young people in Africa will produce either more growth – or if they do not find work – more instability. With the increase in automation, what strategies does Africa need to have in place to ensure it is the former rather than the latter? We have come together in Paris to assist the less wealthy nations around climate change. Do we need to do the same around demographic change?
The other startling prediction is the fact that France will be more populous than Germany by 2050. Two world wars and the EU were based on suspicions between these two heavy-weight European neighbours. What will we make of Europe then? Britain soon goes to the polls on its continuation in the EU. Its reversal out of this compact primarily designed to stop war will have a seismic impact if it happens.
There is also the prediction that there will be a greater levelling between rich and poor. The proposition is that the gap between rich and poor in the future will increasingly be about education and not geography. The lottery of where you were born is now no longer a barrier when we can exist as an entity and work in cyberspace.
While letting the body go to wrack and ruin (and maybe the mind if you count the Reacher novel) through excessive eating and drinking, the summer break is a good time to do the opposite with the spirit and to that end I had a quick breeze through Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection. As far as self-help books go it makes a lot of sense and is easy to read. As anyone who has viewed her TED Talks will know Brown often promotes the notion of authenticity. She describes it thus: ‘..the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.’ Trite or confronting? I opt for the latter.
The final book, Fromelies and Pozieres: In the trenches of Hell, is one that I didn’t spend too much time with on account that I sent it to my Dad in New Zealand for Christmas. Each year I send him the latest (always well timed for Christmas) release from Australian author Peter FitzSimons (of red bandana fame, Republican movement and rugby raconteur). Peter is a good man and tolerates the continuation of a tradition with me every year – one that is now well entrenched in our family. He is uniquely able to blend history in conversational style in a way that brings it very much to life leaving you with a sense of really being there but also imparting a surprising amount of knowledge along the way. He is more remarkably able to engage my 84 year old Dad with each successive book. While FitzSimons has yet to get on the Forbes list, in my family his brand loyalty rating stands at 100%.