To Obama: With Love, Joy, Hate and Despair

book review

to obama: with love, joy, hate and despair

by Jeanne Marie Laskas

Remember when politics was motivated by hope and empathy? I challenge anyone, even the most hardened Republicans, to not feel a pang of loss when reading this fabulous book.

Obama received 10,000 letters a day. Having earned the reputation for corresponding personally wherever possible whilst on the campaign trail, Americans wanted to write to Barack Obama. They wanted him to know their story. They felt he would want to know. They were right.

Obama assembled a dedicated and committed team to sift this volume down to the 10 he would take home to read every single day. This team of staff and interns would settle on the 10 as the letters were categorised and sampled through the hierarchy of the mail office.

Laskas’ book contains many, many of these letters, reproduced in the form in which they arrived, and also the replies they received from Obama himself. My tired eyes took a while on some of the smaller print but it is well worth the effort.

The 10lads (letters of the day), as they became known were intended to give a flavour, a refelection of the mood of America. Ranging from simple thank you notes to heart rending pleas from desperate veterans, victims of the economic crisis that marked the early Obama years, migrants and so minorities.

I finished this book as the current incumbent is shouting at anyone daring to question his increasingly worrying moves to bypass democracy. On folding the beautiful, simple, hardback cover closed, I was too emotional to speak. The passage describing the mood in the mail room team (“team little people” as they referred to themselves) after election night 2016 is numbing and humbling.

To Obama isn’t just about the letters though. There are chapters devoted to a selection of those who received replies. A window into America through the eyes and words of the people that live there.

And then there’s the staff, the interns, people that grew up with the Obama years. The tales of having to walk away from letters, letters pinned to walls (including the President’s), letters being walked around and around the building.

An operation which deals with pushing 4 million pieces of correspondence a year is delicately crafted into a tale of people through the guile and sensitivity of Laskas.

Wonderful

As Barack Obama put it himself:

“It was a way for me to, every day, remember that what I was doing was not about me, it wasn’t about the Washington calculus … It was about the people who were out there living their lives, who were either looking for some help or angry about how I was screwing something up.”

I received this book as a gift from my wonderful wife – go and buy it for someone you love too x

BOOKS OF THE YEAR

OOO, we do love a good book – not all of these books were published in 2018, they’re my favourites that I’ve read during the year.

My top 3 Non-Fiction reads of the year were…..

THE SALT PATH by Raynor Winn, THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA & RUNNING FOR MY LIFE BY Rachel Ann Cullen

My top 3 Fiction reads of the year were…..

WHITE TEARS by Hari Kunzru, THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ by Heather Morris and THE CHALK MAN by C. J. Tudor

In no particular order, the 32 books I’ve read this year are:-

NON-FICTION

Adults In The Room by Yanis Varoufakis

Running For My Life by Rachel Ann Cullen

Corbyn by Richard Seymore

On Writing by Stephen King

Chavs by Owen Jones

The People by Selina Todd

Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People (About Race) by Renni Eddo-Lodge

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

The Wrong Way Home by Peter Moore

The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela

FICTION

Conclave by Robert Harris

Fool Me Once by Harlen Coben

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

Magpie Murders by Anthony Harowitz

Two Sketches Of Disjointed Happiness by Simon Kinch

Don’t Let Go by Michel Bussi

Man And Boy by Tony Parsons

A Natural by Ross Raisin

Waterline by Ross Raisin

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy

White Crocodile by K.T. Medina

Exit West by Mosin Hamid

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

The Librarian by Sally Vickers

Never Coming Back by Tim Weaver

God’s Own Country by Ross Raisin

The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor

No Safe House by Linwood Barclay

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Anatomy Of A Scandal by Sarah Vaughan

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

dsc_06474258139930410043374.jpgThis incredible book has been devoured. You know a book has you when you are drying yourself after a shower one handed in order to grab a quick page. At emotionally vulnerable times it could easily have felt corny to seize on a book with a torrid, heart breaking tale, put your favourite sad songs on repeat simply weep.

This book, though, about a journey on our very own South West Coast Path, told by Raynor Winn, but also about the incredible journey of a time in life with her beloved husband Moth, hits that sweet spot emotionally. Stomach twistingly heart breaking, yet so beautiful it paints rainbows across your tears. Winn crafts this deeply personal, brutally honest wander through the roughest tracks of life with such poise, it seems outrageous to think she hasn’t been previously published.

Thrown into the void of life after being evicted from their home, their life’s work gone, the follow up punch comes instantly when Moth is given a terminal diagnosis. What to do? They head for Minehead.

And from there, learning the errors of their preparation, or lack of it, as they go, they set off for Lands End (and beyond?) on foot. Camping wild and surviving on £40 a week, their wits, their humour and the spark they’ve carried together through their entire adult lives, they battle on.

Progress can be slow, painful or simply non-existent and Winn describes, sometimes agonisingly, often hilariously, the people they meet, the towns and villages they pass through, or linger in, and their encounters with the elements.

So life size is the narration, I found myself smelling their clothes, feeling the drying of their skin, hearing the sounds of the Atlantic, the call of the sea birds and shifting uncomfortably with the book as she describes some of the ground they slept on.

I can’t pretend that the books proximity to home (both in geography, emotion and ambition) doesn’t add an extra personality to its appeal to me personally, but please, please believe me, it is a wonderful thing.

Winn echos the message so delicately reinforced by my very own wondrous adventurer, soul mate and partner for life in reassuring me that hope is actually a GOOD thing. Why not hope, dream, dare or just ****ing DO IT!

If you want your spirits lifted, your emotions exposed, your adventurous bones ignited then this is surely the book for you. It has already become one of our most treasured possessions.

Check out what else I’ve read so far this year HERE.

 

 

 

Serious Sweet

SERIOUS SWEET by A.L. Kennedy – A Review
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Regular readers (should there still be any!?), will know that Alison Kennedy is one of my favourite ever authors. I was sure to delve into this rather hefty novel on the front foot, although rest assured if I hadn’t loved it, I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

Nicky (my rather splendid, completely beautiful and awe inspiring lady wife) always claims I have a leaning towards, as she says, ‘high brow’ books. I think the industry calls it ‘literary fiction’, although I couldn’t give a shit what it’s called, I either enjoy a book or I don’t. And, Nicky, i do believe you’re currently reading the vintage autobiographical novel, Heartburn, by Nora Ephron. High brow indeed!

This heartbreaking, yet heart warming, tale is told without any suggestion of formula. The prose combines a personal third person narration with soul searching internal dialogue. And the same method is applied to both the main characters.

Powerful it is. Floyd’s ‘Two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl’ lyric would surely be on the soundtrack to the movie this book DEMANDS to be made into.

A flawed love story of flawed love as our two main characters battle their way through 24 London hours. There’s a darkness to Jon and Meg, our hopes for them never soar too ambitiously as we fear for their fate. Jon, in late middle age, working within the inner reaches of the civil service and privy to the hideous secrets that come with that, finds a unusual outlet for his feelings and emotions. Meg, a recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant, lost and alone in a crowded city, takes the bait and seeks refuge in Jon’s words.

Will destiny allow this unlikely pair to find romance? Told by the two protagonists in short bursts, the day starts and finishes in darkness, but will there be light?

The attention to detail, the imagery, the complex plot and history, together with the deeply personal voices make this a compelling read. It has to be read, there’s no room for skimming or presumption. Falling asleep with this book in my hands was always a frustration, I would grab it on awaking and even read a page whilst the kettle boiled for morning coffee.

Not a small book and it demands the readers’ involvement, but boy it’s good.

There are no ‘cheats’

Nope.

My two favourite hobbies. The one I tend to do alone and the one I sometimes do alone but MUCH prefer it if my beautiful wife is doing it with me.

“Of what do you witter now?” I hear you cry…..

Writing, of course, and running, naturally. Although keen observers have rarely described me as running ‘naturally’!

Anyway, it turns out you can’t just pitch up with your pen or your trainers and instantly be a published author or complete a marathon.

Nope.

You’ve got to write.

You’ve got to run.

Luckily for me I REALLY enjoy running and I REALLY enjoy writing.

Phew!

It all depends what I want my hobbies to give me back.

I could run like Forrest Gump (and there’s plenty who’d suggest I already do!) and still never become an ‘elite’ athlete but I will always get so much pleasure from each and every step.

Writing, on the other hand, well, there might just be a chance of writing becoming a double edged sword, slicing backwards and forwards through the fatigue of life. Yes, with some focus and commitment, writing might just open a few doors.

So what does a man who is regularly barely able to drag his aching feet high enough to stand on the bulging demands and pressures on his time trying to squeeze them into the available hours do?

Signs up for a Creative Writing course. Naturally…….

Wish me luck…….

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

After three wonderful, exhilarating, life affirming years of marriage to Nicky, my world, my reason, my soul mate, I find myself reflecting on just why she has transformed my life, my whole being.

There are reasons by the bucket load.

Just one example: Books. At various times during my life I’ve been a keen reader. But, it has taken sharing a space with someone who KNOWS how to live in the pages of whatever is in your hands, someone who isn’t afraid to say “I can’t wait to get back to my book”, someone who will happily share two hours in a book shop.

One of our most prized possessions is our Waterstones loyalty card, eagerly watching the stamping at the till as we approach yet another £10 discount.

Wonderfully, also, we don’t do genres, we aren’t confined to fiction or non-fiction. Believe it or not we don’t just read about running, cycling and swimming!

As our ‘to be read’ pile starts to diminish we both start mentally preparing our justifications to unleash another armful of tomes onto the counter on our next pilgrimage.

Books. Yup. We like them.

Anyway, I’m waffling……

I’ve finished a couple of books in the last two weeks, and as I declared on ‘the other blog’ I intend to only write reviews of those I’ve thourougly enjoyed.

I picked up White Tears by Hari Kunzru after having seen off a more standard thriller Don’t Let Go by Michel Bussi. Bussi’s latest work was a great, pacey, page turning who-dunnit-and-why thriller. Enjoyable but perhaps I was ready for something which challenged me further, explored a bit of me.

Well White Tears has certainly done that. A tale of friendship, of hurt, of obsession of darkness which explores its characters to their core.

The geeky lad, playing with technology, exploring sound, forms an unlikely alliance with the cool student. Popular and confident, from an extraordinarily wealthy family, Carter sees Seth to be the curve that closes the circle of his craving.

Carter collects and is absorbed by old blues and rare black music, chasing those rare catalogue numbers on fragile 78s.

Seth’s gathering of obscure sounds using his own obscure technological creations, combined with the scratchy tones of obscure blues recordings becomes an art form in itself.

A chance collision of old and new from their increasingly fractious teamwork sends both their worlds into chaos.

And the story too.

As tragedy and mayhem crowd in on him, Seth’s life becomes a search for the reason behind the cursed recording.

Hooking up with old blues collectors, Carter’s sister, crazy chess players and the characters living in the home of the poor man’s blues, in the deep south.

It is a tale of a young man barely clinging to sanity, told in an increasingly anxious tone as Kunzru dares the reader to turn each page.

Tragedies of old play throughout the challenge of today as Seth is increasingly sucked into the characters behind the torture that created the ‘cursed’ recording.

An exploration into the extremities of the power of music, its role in racial divisions, class conflict and the souls of us all, White Tears is a broken record of a tortured tale. I read it in less than a week, fighting sleep in my urgency to go with Seth to the next town, the next chapter.

Wonderfully following no formula or fitting with any agenda or genre, I would unreservedly recommend it. I do think it will polarise, like Marmite, but I do love a bit of Marmite…….