Luke's Notes

Books I Read in 2022

Communism and freedom; Labour and socialism; class, gender, and inequality; race and migration; war, violence, and survival; love; and footballers.

Normally I read some academic books on alternatives, socialism, environment etc but this year I was finishing off writing a book on those kind of things so it was all writing not reading about that and my reading was more of a non-work kind.

Lea Ypi, Free: Coming of Age at the End of History. Beautifully written book about childhood during the collapse of 'communism' in Albania and the period afterwards, by LSE political theorist Ypi. She is critical of the post-communist developments and nowadays expresses pro-socialist views.This sits on my bookshelves next to Carmen Bugan's astonishing Burying the Typewriter: Childhood under the Eye of the Secret Police, which is about what the sub-title says, in 'communist' Romania.

Roger Titford with Eamon Dunphy, More Than a Job? I saw Eamon Dunphy play for Reading FC in the 1970s. He always stood out as a bit ahead of the other players in terms of skill, to me as a kid at least, and also played for Ireland. This is a story of Reading's 1975/6 season when they got promoted from Division 4, put together out of Titford's memories, Dunphy's newspaper columns that year, and interviews by Titford with Dunphy. I was at a lot of the home matches that year aged 11 and remember all the players mentioned. A long time ago I read Dunphy's unusual and honest diary-type book Only a Game about his season with Millwall, before he played for Reading. More than a Job is like a bit of a sequel to that. Dunphy has gone on to become an outspoken and controversial writer and TV personality. I love these ordinary books about ordinary people, and the books and the people are, of course, a lot more than ordinary.

Qian Julie Wang, Beautiful Country. Powerful, damning memoir of the tough and fearful childhood of an undocumented Chinese migrant to the USA. Important and I recommend it, as does Barack Obama.

Oliver Eagleton, The Starmer Project: A Journey to the Right. Critical account of Starmer's career from lawyer, to MP, to Labour leadership candidate, and leader, published 2022, including some very dubious decisions as Director of Public Prosecutions, which tell a lot. Rather than just peddling the easy line that he has no policies or ideas Eagleton tries to pin down the substance and practice of Starmer. Drawing on inside accounts, and good if you want to know a bit more substance and detail. I'm not sure about the 'journey to the right' subtitle as this book only reinforces my suspicion that Starmer has nearly always been reactionary and anti-left. Lorna Finlayson is great on the lesser evilism of voting for Starmer. I wrote about Starmer one month into his leadership.

Len McCluskey, Always Red. Autobiography of the left-wing trade union leader from Liverpool. A great, engaging, bullish read, as you would expect. About his life, background and being a trade unionist and a lot is about his involvement in the Labour Party and mainstream politics. By the way, Labour Hub is good for blogs from a Labour left perspective.

Charlotte Philby, Edith and Kim. By spy novelist and granddaughter of Kim Philby. A novel about Edith Tudor-Hart who introduced Philby to his Soviet handler. Draws on files of Tudor-Hart and Philby archives. Really enjoyed finding out about this brushed over story.

Kim Philby, My Silent War. Philby's autobiography, from the man himself, unapologetic. Mostly actually focused on his work as a British intelligence officer and much less about his spying for the Soviet Union. But interesting and informative.

Patrick Radden Keefe, Say Nothing, a gripping revelatory book about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, told through the story of Jean McConville who was abducted and murdered by the IRA for being a suspected informer, her children haunted by her disappearance, Dolours Price an active IRA member, Gerry Adams, and Brendan Hughes, IRA member critical of Sinn Fein for, in his view, selling out the cause. There is a spoiler in this article about the book.

Ashley Hickson-Lovence, Your Show. Unusual fictionalised bittersweet story of the Premier League's first, and I think still only, black football referee Uriah Rennie, who I saw referee once at Reading FC and I think on other occasions too. Full of ambitions, doubts, disappointments, and nice little stories.

Andrew Lownie, Stalin's Englishman: the Lives of Guy Burgess. Really good biography of the colourful British spy for the Soviet Union, his spying, defection, and life in the Soviet Union. Drawing on interviews and archives. Fascinating.

David Peace, The Damned United. Fictionalised biography of Brian Clough's short time as manager of Leeds United with flashbacks to his earlier stint as manager of Derby County. Criticised for inaccuracy and negative portrayals but unusually written and an entertaining read. Made into a film.

Lucía Álvarez De Toledo, The Story of Che Guevara. I had read a lot about Fidel Castro's life and beliefs but not much about Guevara until I read this sympathetic book, written by a fellow Argentinian.

Ernest Hemingway, To Have and Have Not. I don't know why I hadn't read this before. As the title suggests, an especially left-wing novel of social commentary by Hemingway. A thriller set in Cuba about a fishing boat captain running contraband. Not one of his most celebrated books but I loved it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. I re-read this absolutely amazing novel, which I think I first read as a teenager. One of the best I have ever read. Too much to it to summarise. Just read it, if you haven't already.

Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls. About Robert Jordan, an American volunteer for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, and his assignment to blow up a bridge, including some real life characters and events. About war, love, betrayal, with rich imagery and passionate dialogue, another one where there is too much going on to summarise. One of his best books. I think this was the third or fourth time I've read it.

Jack London, The Call of the Wild. Absolutely amazing book about the dog Buck and other sled dogs in the Klondike gold rush. Buck goes from a domesticated dog through various changes of ownership, by some brutal owners and others more kind, to become wilder. A story also of survival, or not survival, and a lot more. Another I think I first read as a teenager. Brilliant.

Graham Greene, The End of the Affair. Another love triangle, jealousy, obsession, Catholicism.

Norman Lewis, Naples 44. Memoir by travel writer Lewis, a sergeant in the Field Security Service of the British Army Intelligence Corps in southern Italy 1943-44, published in 1978. Mainly about the local Italian population at the time in a country Lewis was very fond of. Recommended to me by a friend and a book that otherwise I don't think I would have found out about. Beautifully written.

Alternatives to Amazon for buying books include Hive in the UK who make donations to physical independent bookshops and Wordery. Check out, in the UK, The Alliance of Radical Booksellers.

See also: Books I Read in 2023.