Luke's Notes

Books I Read in 2023

Capitalists, communists, and climate; spies and assassins; cops and robbers; class, race, and gender. And footballers.

A few years ago a friend told me he keeps a record of books he reads. So, I started doing it. It's nice to look back on what you've read. It also helps you avoid buying books you then realise you've already read.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American. The last few years I've been going back to classics and re-reading them, Hemingway as well amongst others. Colonialism, Vietnam, a young lover, a love triangle, some of these themes in other Greene novels too.  

Ben MacIntyre, A Spy Among Friends. In the early 1980s I knew quite a few people who were pro-Soviet communists or had been, mainly through my involvement in the peace movement. I've always been interested in the Cambridge ring who spied for the Soviet Union out of communist sympathies. Born 40 years earlier, and before the horrors of Stalinism were known about, I may have been tempted in the unlikely event anyone had asked me and I hadn't been too scared. The angle of this book is Kim Philby's friendship with fellow intelligence officer Nicholas Elliott, who had trusted Philby until near the end. There are loads of books on Philby and the Cambridge spies and I think I've read them all.

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility. I'd never read Jane Austen but my daughter suggested it. I enjoyed it. Pride and Prejudice next.

Liz Mackie, The Great Marcus Garvey. Written by a friend of mine from university. A great, unique, important account of his life followed by excerpts from his writing.

Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana. Fun-poking comedy, with twists, about a British spy in Cuba.     

Sean O'Driscoll, The Accidental Spy. Astonishing gripping true story of an American who infiltrated and spied on the Real IRA for the FBI and MI5.

Katja Hoyer, Beyond the Wall: East Germany 1949-90. This is about life in the East German GDR and tries to give a more balanced view than of just a grey and bleak society. It got criticised for this but I don't see why as it doesn't reject critical views, just tries to balance them with a more rounded picture.

Oli Mould, Seven Ethics against Capitalism. I'm reading less academic books these days but this one is great. It's as much about ethics for alternatives to capitalism as ethics against capitalism.

Wensley Clarkson, The Curse of Brink's Mat. True story of a gang who broke into a warehouse to steal some cash and found a huge hoard of gold. Then they had to find ways to dispose of the unexpected haul, which the book charts. It also covers the 'curse' of Brink's Mat and some pretty notable characters involved in the whole saga. There is a film and various radio and TV programmes about it.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. I've read a lot of Plath's poems over the decades, again and again, and her diaries, but not this autobiographical-ish book until now.

Alan Sedunary, The Little Book of Reading FC. You might be surprised to know there are quite a lot of books about Reading Football Club (and our greatest player, the brilliant and wayward Robin Friday, who I did see play in the 1970s) and I think I've read them all. This one is packed full of priceless stories and incidents. It would have been tragic if these had gone unrecorded (seriously).

David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round: a Global History of Football. I'm reading this epic book on and off in between other books. It's a history of football globally since the start, linking the history to wider society.

Yanis Varoufakis, Talking to my Daughter: a Brief History of Capitalism. Short, accessible, and engaging account.

Greta Thunberg, The Climate Book. I already knew how terrible the situation is but felt I should know more about the details, especially the science. But reading this left me depressed and with general inertia afterwards, feeling what was the point in doing anything positive in day-to-day life. I gradually got over that and back to normality. This is a must-read but, for me, also a don't read.

Jason Hickel, Less is More. There are so many books and articles on degrowth it's difficult to know where to start. This is not a bad place. However, the big question for climate change is less what the solutions are, there are plenty of them, more how to get there.   

Nick Hornby, My Favourite Year. Another one I'm dipping in and out of. A collection of chapters by different authors talking about a favourite year in the life of the mostly not glamorous football clubs they support.

Andreas Malm, How to Blow up a Pipeline. On why blow up pipelines more than how to. It argues for sabotage as a way of combatting climate change, given the failures so far of other routes, and does so in a sophisticated way discussing all the quandaries of this path well.

Graham Greene, The Honorary Consul. The British overseas, alcohol, a love triangle, adventure.

Karen Joy Fowler, Booth. A rich dramatised story of John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, of his family, many of them in the theatre, and of slavery and the American civil war.

Jonathan Wilson, Two Brothers. The fascinating story of footballers Bobby and Jack Charlton, their difficult relationship, personalities, history, and a lot more going on in it, told very well. Wilson has written other great books about football including Inverting the Pyramid, on the history of football tactics, more interesting than it sounds, full of global history and personalities.

Gary Imlach, My Father and Other Working Class Football Heroes. A son's story of a father from a small Scottish village who became a successful footballer in England in the 1950s. Someone saw this in a charity shop and bought it for me. It's unlikely I would have found out about it otherwise. Summaries of the book paint it with more sadness and pathos than I saw. I read it more as a rescuing from history of something special.

Alan Garner, Treacle Walker. Full of myth and magic, not usually my sort of thing, but it was good.

Leila Mottley, Nightcrawling. Mottley wrote this in her teens. Fantastic book about a young black woman in Oakland, racism, the police, sex work, and more.

Francis Spufford, Light Perpetual. On the way to work in South East London the author passes a plaque remembering 168 people who died in a V-2 attack on Woolworths in 1944. The book imagines 5 children who died when the bomb dropped and follows their very different lives had they lived, with episodes of detailed description, which I loved. It revisits them every 15 years (reminds me of the 7 Up TV documentaries) and is also a social history of the late 20th century covering: music; London and the city; class, community, and trade unionism; Thatcherism and individualism; mental health; racism, gender, and sexuality; growing old and mortality. Great for people interested in society and politics who lived through this period (like me).

If you want to avoid tax-dodging worker-exploiting Amazon for buying books Hive in the UK is one possibility. Postage is free, prices are good, and they make donations to physical independent bookshops. Wordery is also an Amazon alternative. Some people use AbeBooks as an alternative, but they are owned by Amazon. Check out, in the UK, The Alliance of Radical Booksellers.

See also: Books I Read in 2022.