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

No body told me it would be like this

A BOOK REVIEW – DIARY OF A BODY by DANIEL PENNAC

I’ve read a couple of translated books recently. Having elected to only review books that have given me pleasure, I’m only mentioning one of them here. Quite possibly my problem with the other one is actually, well, MY problem, and not the book’s.

So that leaves us with this, Diary Of A Body. Written as a diary over the life span of French author, Daniel Pennac, and translated into an adorable, quirky, compelling English language read by Alyson Waters.

The unusual cover, the teasing title, the little English Pen Award sticker, they all contributed to me thinking “mmmm?” as my hand tentatively slid the lightweight paperback from the shelf. (We took several books on holiday, between my wonderful wife and I, only one of us took a hearty hard back……that suitcase was slightly overweight.)

I was right to take a chance. Pennac was a French author who kept an occasional, rather quirky diary. Having been humiliated, by his own mother, in front of a mirror as a child, he set about charting his body’s sensations. Tearing a muscular – skeletal diagram from an encyclopaedia,  he pinned this ‘perfect’ physique next to the offending mirror. A quest to attain similar had begun.

Told with a light touch, but exhibiting cringe worthy honesty, the book delivers a friend. Through adolescence, all those moments we never discuss, are, erm, DISCUSSED – yes there’s not a lot left to the imagination as Pennac narrates his body being dumped into adulthood.

Pennac left instructions for his daughter, who only became aware of the diary’s existence upon the death of her father, to do with the documents as she saw fit.

That these posthumous communications are included here only adds to the homely feel of the overall prose. There are gaps (mostly due to active resistance servitude) but somehow, they feel to be correctly placed.

Into retirement, and beyond to old age, frailty and terminal illness, there can only ever be one outcome. Taken right up to his dying days, it would be a truly cold heart that didn’t openly weep (both with sadness and joy) as the last few, bleary eyed pages are softly consumed.

So, if you’re looking for a not-too-hefty, genre defying, heartfelt, cosy read and want to, like  Idid, delve a little deeper into the literary world, this could well be for you.

 

Anyway.

 

Don’t forget, I’ve got other writings over at the OTHER BLOG (when time has permitted). If anybody would like to keep in more regular touch, they can in the comments box here, via kbonfield@live.com, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and by waving to me enthusiastically in the street.

I’m always looking for opportunities to write, and have a regular column in the lovely online running magazine RUN DEEP.

Right, I’m publishing this at 7.15pm on Christmas Eve…… I’m not expecting a massive readership but to those who are reading it ‘live’…. MERRY CHRISTMAS

 

Perfume River

Autumn is about 3/4 of the way through the year. Whilst the brightest and longest days of the year may be behind us, we’re right in the middle of the BEST days.

 

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Autumn – good, init?

The best colours, the best shadows, sunrises, sunsets. Fast changing weather and the challenges of wintry conditions start showing their faces.

 

(Appallingly cliched analagy alert) A bit like my life. Whilst being young was great, the first couple of decades of adulthood were full of, you know, STUFF. So, my bright, silky skinned, jet black barnet days are long behind me.

Phew!

Because THIS, this is the life I’ve been waiting for……

Utopia. Pure and simple.

I guess one man’s utopia is another man’s dystopia.

Clean. Healthy. Loving. Truthful.

What on earth has this all got to do with a book review?

 

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Busy here on the injury bench, although, I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with Charlie!

Well, here I am on the injury bench, Charlie for company, feeling all, er, all wordy……

 

THE LAST DOG ON EARTH by Adrian J Walker.

Yet another holiday read. The main protagonist, Reg (and his dog Linekar) have ended up living in a post-apocolyptic dystopia. Only that’s not how it feels to them.

One man’s…… oh I’ve said that.

I see, going off subject a bit here, that White Star’s Andy Palmer wrote another piece for The Guardian. Nice. Run Deep Magazine got a plug too. I’ve got a column in Run Deep. Tenuous link to fame there…..

Interesting that people I follow in the media and sporting world tend NOT to be columnists for The Daily Mail (no link inserted there, naturally).

By way of example, Kate Carter, Adharanand Finnish, Rob Deering…… and, er, Andy Palmer!

Anyway, one man’s dystopia…..

the last dog on earthSo, THE LAST DOG ON EARTH

On a the face of it, a quirky, light hearted romp, told through the voice of a foul-mouthed mutt, around a make believe world where barely anyone has survived a civil war led apocalypse.

Linekar (the dog) and Reg (his owner) have remained in London, creating their own power and scavenging for food. Living a simple, simple existence in isolation. Dependent on each other for company and the routine they both enjoy.

The sparse pattern of lights that remain on view are the only suggestion that a hint of life in the city goes on. There are barely enough (of these lights) for a football team (which is sort of the point), and we learn that gruesome deaths and a hurried exodus has accounted for nearly all of the city’s population.

Gradually, we encounter those that rule the deserted streets and others who have remained. Belief doesn’t have to be suspended too much.

The rhetoric and undercurrent of hatred which we seem to have cultivated in Britain is enough for me to join the dots from today’s realities to Walker’s imagined future. Scary.

It’s a fabulous, moody yet pacey, look at relationships, at how we interact and, yes, how our dogs become part of our personality (as well as suggesting what THEY might be thinking).

Reg and Linekar have their crude but effective existence blown apart after a mission to find fuel for their generator.

Inadvertently, and unwillingly, they become guardians to a lost child.

Their journey, their bonds, their fights and fears as they venture further out into the world now run by extremists, are all grippingly delivered.

With echoes of one of my favourite ever books, Station 11, this band of misfits grows, makes allies, encounters relics from the past (everyday life items which we don’t even notice).

The battle to avoid the ultimate test to determine whether they still have a use in the world (I’m avoiding too many spoilers) is terrifying, absorbing and quite humbling.

 

charlie angry
Charlie’s best ‘DID SOMEONE SAY SQUIRRELS!?’ face

A book which tackles extremists controlling the future, mass murder, the destruction of what we call ‘civilization’ and yet can open a chapter with the line “Squirrels are c***s” is a rare trick I reckon.

 

From this book, I look closer at the things that frighten me in the world more and more, perhaps ask myself questions, and definitely look at Charlie and wonder what HE’S thinking!

Keep on keeping people……..

After the Lord Mayor’s Show

To be honest, I’ve used the phrase ‘suspend disbelief’ quite a lot recently, mostly in relation to books.

Anyone who knew me 10 years ago or more would have certainly needed to suspend theirs if they’d been told I was going to run a 50 mile ultra marathon. Myself included!

 

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Did I mention I’d ran 50 miles?

Well, I only went and did it!

 

Which I might have mentioned…….. HERE

For some reason I’ve been devouring books of late, there’s been some real page turners, some inspirational factual volumes – Dean Karnazes’ The Road To Sparta was a good read (see this BLOG), and so was the incredible Clem Attlee biography by John Bew (again, see this BLOG).

Also whizzed through whilst we were doing SWEET F ALL in Kefalonia the other week, was Slade House by David Mitchell. Now, I’m not normally your fantasy, nor horror, fiction type of guy, but for some reason, this relatively small paperback ended up on the credit card with I dread to think how many other books on our last Waterstones binge.

 

pile of books
A trip to the book shop is like a trip to the gym for us!

I know nothing of Mitchell, nor, indeed the genre, but what a quirky, mind altering, (VERY) darkly humorous tale it is. Elements of more simple ‘scary’ stories from childhood combine with quite disturbing blackness of hidden alleys, gates and stolen souls.

 

There is a pace and cruel wit to the exploration of the characters’ personalities and how the ‘victims’ are chosen.

The villains, if indeed that is what they are, are comedic in their evil ways, and their increasingly desperate methods of enticing are almost Laurel and Hardy, whilst being as sinister as Burke and Hare. Quite a trick.

 

The house, set secretly and classically behind a tiny gate in a dark high walled alley, holds the secrets and the spirits of the past. Its occupants need to feed on the right type of soul to fuel their otherworldly existence, inevitably based around a spooky loft.

It’s full of wonderful clichés countered by twisted contradictions.

The cyclical need for sacrifice culminates with a Halloween party where the guests get more than they bargained for. Well one of them does, for the others…….. (avoiding too much spoiler there)

It might make you think twice about that enticing alley on your next run, but it will definitely up the heart rate and turn the page.

It took me out of my comfort zone, and off the sun lounger, to a bizarre, only slightly unbelievable world. And I fairly rattled through it.

I have many influences in my reading and writing, one of my favourite writers, and motivational characters is AL KENNEDY and, she has, perhaps unwittingly, done as much as anyone to encourage my writing ambitions……..

“Have more humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life – and maybe even please a few strangers.”  A.L. KENNEDY

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kbonfield@live.com

Don’t forget – free poetry and other ramblings at my other BLOG