December Picks

Kingsolver, Barbara (2022) Demon Copperhead. Faber.

The problem with a novel that takes its inspiration from a celebrated classic is that you know you have to go through a lot of angst before you get to the good stuff. Damon Fields, aka Demon Copperhead, is an Appalachian David Copperfield born to a teenage single mother in a trailer in Lee County, Virginia. Damon is a casualty of abuse, poverty and addiction. But, although he faces many challenges, and gets caught up in America’s opioid crisis, he is nonetheless resilient, a survivor. We meet the pantheon of characters from Dicken’s David Copperfield, including the McCobbs (Micawber’s), Fast Forward (Steerforth), The Peggots (Peggotty’s), U-Haul Pyles (Uriah Heap) – they are all there! Usually a fan of Barbara Kingsolver but this reworking was a long-winded read at 500+ pages. For an American audience, maybe!

Rating: 3/5

Mchangama, Jacob (2022) Free Speech: A Global History from Socrates to Social Media. Basic Books.

This well-researched and documented history on free speech demonstrates how the free exchange of ideas has underpinned our intellectual pursuits and achievements since early times, although it has been an epic struggle. Mchangama acknowledges that whilst our recent history of free expression can be celebrated it is in decline in the twenty-first century. Mass digitisation has lead to a rise in hate speech, fake news and disinformation, lies and conspiracy theories, mistrust, intolerance and unforgiving tribalism. And, he sees it as unlikely that elites and gatekeepers will willingly give up their privilege to admit the voiceless, ushering in a probable future of government-imposed censorship and repression. Free speech is still an experiment. Compelling and accessible.

Rating: 4/5

Davis, Geena (2022) Dying of Politeness. Collins.

From the age of three Geena Davis wanted to be in the movies. Hailing from a “polite”, although eccentric, New England family her attention-seeking ways put her in the spotlight from an early age. Her first job as a sales-girl led to modelling then to strong award-winning female acting roles, from a road-warrior in Thelma and Louise, a baseball hero in A League of Their Own, to the President of the United States in TV’s Commander in Chief. An unapologetic advocate for women and girls in the film and TV industry she continues to promote the voices of women. A self-depreciating conversational memoir about her evolution and career journey. Few details of her personal life though. Don’t expect too much!

Rating: 3/5

Steadman, Catherine (2022) The Family Game. Ballantine Books.

Harriet Reed, on the brink of fame as a bestselling author, meets and falls in love with Edward a scion of the uber-rich Holbeck family. When she meets her future husband’s family she enters a lavish world of deadly secrets and games which threatens to expose her own past and endanger her unborn child. The family patriarch and Edward’s father, Robert, sets the game in motion by handing her a tape – is it a confession to a grisly crime or the draft to the novel he claims it to be? Will she become the patsy or the game leader? Thrilling and imaginative fast-paced tale.

Rating: 4/5

McRae, Hamish (2022) The World in 2050: How to think about the Future. Bloomsbury.

McRae’s engaging vision for the future draws on decades of research and is a followup to his ground-breaking The World in 2020 (1994). Wholly global in its scope he starts with a historical analysis of our current world and discusses the forces for change before charting a map for our future, all the while highlighting the ingenuity and adaptability of humankind. Focussed my understanding of global trends and challenges. Exceptional. No room for pessimism here. Bold, insightful and courageous. Highly readable.

Rating: 5/5


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