Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Title: How to be Idle

Author: Tom Hodgkinson

Genre: Self Help/ Humour (but really common sense)

Lazy cliche: An instruction manual for the modern idler.

Within the one broad theme of ‘Idleness’, Hodgkinson manages to encompass so many neglegted yet important facets of life. Our need to work less and play more is justified in a very well written book using examples and quotes from some great thinkers through history.
The greatest strength of this book is that it gives you a warm feeling that things you enjoy – beer gardens, sleeping etc – are actually really good for you. The guilt associated with not working so many hours per week, or needing to get up early to do DIY, are actually relics from the industrial revolution. This era of mass production with time as a mere commodity can be changed if people take on board the ideas of this book and adjust their lives to suit their soul and not their bank balance.
The book is divided into neat sections, each with a well placed quote, this makes it easy to read when visiting the toilet or having a bath. Although the tone is humourous and flippant I think you can take a serious message from How to be Idle. I think Tom Hodgkinson should be commended for his bravery in taking on outdated and traditional thinking methods. Most people still work as if there is a war on, or of the British Empire is still steaming ahead. In reality we should realise that most modern practices do little to further our health, families, and general wellbeing.

It sits amongst other slow living titles very easily and continues a growing trend of questioning why we still live the Victorians. Who would I recommend this book to? Well…, everyone really.

Title: The Road to Oxiana

Author: Robert Byron

Genre: Classic Travel Literature

Lazy cliche: …Indiana Jones meets Noel Coward in exotic Central Asia

Byron set out to investigate and explore Islāmic architecture but he found himself doing far more. I don’t doubt his interest and knowledge on the initial subject matter, but I feel it was mainly an excuse to express his unique perspective on all manner of things.
The narrative takes in the people and places surrounding his quirky quest from Persia through to the Oxiana river in Turkestan (present day Afghanistan I think). There is a vast cast of characters breezing in and out of the pages which gives it a real Jazz-age feel. This style is of its time and takes a while for the modern reader to be acquainted with the fractured descriptions. Once you get past this whimsical style, the book rewards you with some pretty lyrical descriptions of far-flung places. The undertone of  dry humour and numerous witty asides make it very entertaining and enjoyable to read. Byron is at his best when recounting his rakish behaviour e.g – passing himself off as Muslim to enter a Mosque, he is also a master at recording and mocking numerous eccentric conversations.
This book is not really for a general readership;  if you enjoy those ‘picking-olive-blossoms-in-the-Tuscan-breeze’ type books you may not get into this. If you like well written classics from the Imperial past like Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene etc you will love this book.


I have been a big fan of Edward I since I saw his chain of castles in North Wales. I have been told by people not to use the word fan in this context; I ignored their advice. Edward I is often overlooked in our history of the monarchs, especially with recent Henry VIII events. Without this book Edward ‘Longshanks’ ran the risk of being a supporting character in a Mel Gibson film, and the associated history has also been romaticized to support or justify various modern notions of nationhood and independence.
Luckily for us, Morris has provided an in depth study of the man the myth and the mayhem of this interesting period of history. The book is accessible enough for someone with little or no prior knowledge of Edward I, it also has more than enough for any serious study into this period. We follow the deeply flawed and often superficial reign of Henry III through the actions of Edward, an ambitious Prince keen on asserting his own qualities to deal with his own affairs. The narrative includes Edward’s Crusades, dealings with the complex dynastic problems of Europe and his changing relationships with the various factions at court. The skill of Morris is his use of archive sources to piece together a rounded view of Edward the man.
I already had a reasonable knowledge of Edward’s reign and his ventures into Wales and Scotland. I studied this in year 8 or 9 History class and when I say studied I actually memorized the essays word for word and got an ‘A’ in the exam. It was rare for m to study but when something took my interest I would study obsessively, not for the temporary reward of achieving a good grade but for the sake of wanting to know something. When I saw this book as an adult it reignited my interest in this period of history and in Edward himself. This book was really helpful in illuminating the political complexities associated with ‘The Hammer of the Scots’. Forget the two dimensional views put forward by ‘patriots’ from England, Wales and Scotland… the political truth is far more interesting and enjoyable. When you consider that most of the problems between England and Scotland resulted from a young Norwegian girl dying en route to Scotland, it puts Hollywood speeches about freedom into a new context.

So, there you have it… a superb historical thriller with Political intrigue, giant Trebuchets, Chivalry and a King who must surely be placed in the company of Alfred the Great, Richard the Lionheart and Henry VIII.

When I lived in Manchester I used to cycle and walk everyday. On weekdays I dodged the insane buses on what I still believe is the busiest bus route in Europe – Oxford Road. On weekends I had a more leisurely pace and just cycled past any places that interested me. One of the places I went past was the Armenian Church in Ardwick, it’s round the corner from the Turkish Baths which won the Restoration programme’s vote on that BBC show. If you know your history then you will realise the ultimate irony of being round the corner from a Turkish place, many Armenians left their homes due to the Turks. Seeing this Church with its mystical looking alphabet filled me with curiosity about a place I knew nothing. It was with this in mind that I searched and found one of my favourite books and subsequently, one of my favourite authors.

From any perspective Armenia is one of the most interesting places on earth. The first Christian state, sight of Eden or resting place of Noah’s Ark. The problem is, few people actually know this. Luckily Phillip Marsden took the trouble to enlighten us by learning Armenian in Jerusalem and visiting members of the Armenian Diaspora (often by complete chance). I have rarely read a travel book that tackles so many important subjects without being crushed by it’s own weight. The author succeeds in being engaging without losing the complexity and academic weight of the subject. Marsden develops a real affinity for all things Armenian but always remains objective and critical. The book’s greatest asset, and the main reason why I chose to recommend it, is the fact that it is like a biography of a place and it’s people all rolled into one. If you want to find out a little more without reading the book click below:

As liberal democracy sweeps (most of) the globe it still leaves a few areas in the darkness of despotism and personality cults. This book is about those darker corners of our political World that exist outside our democratic grid. Funny and tragic, this is a must read for anyone interested in eccentric dictators and global politics. It is especially relevant as we begin to reflect on the recent changes in North Africa and the Middle East. The political systems of the West have taken a long time to germinate, and they are still far from perfect; this book helps to illustrate the fine balance between a need for regime change and a need to let other nations develop organically. You realise that if Liberal Democracy really is all is cracked up to be then it may take a very, very long time to develop in some places. The central theme for me is: ‘How does supreme power affect the psychology, actions, and tastes of men in power?’ There is a perverse pleasure in seeing how completely insane people like Karimov, Gudaffi and others are (or were). Maybe the World would be a much better place if there were less of these colourful characters and more anonymous grey-suited bureaucratic types.
The format of the book is concise and direct, you can read it in one go, or just dip into a chapter whenever the need takes you. Some of the information is obviously out of date, but I strongly recommend getting a copy of this book.