Three Books for Lockdown

I have been a little late to the party here. Really there are hundreds of books I could recommend bit I am going to list just three that have made a big impression on me, one fiction, one poetry and one non fiction.

My fiction choice is the short novella Under The Wheel by Hermann Hesse published in 1906. Set in Hesse’s native Swabia it is the story of a clever boy who, after passing the examinations to go to the local grammar school, looks forward to a summer of fishing, riding his bike,  of being a boy, doing the things that boys like doing.  His parents have other ideas and he is forced to spend a joyless summer rote learning to prepare for school. The relentless pressure eventually destroys him. The book was aimed at the grimly regimented education system of the Kaiser’s Germany but has contemporary resonance in a country where,  over the last 30 yeas of national curriculum and SATs, joy and spontaneity have been squeezed out of education with predictable consequences for the mental health of our young people.

My poetry choice is The Man with Night Sweats by Thom Gunn. Gunn (1929-2003) was a near contemporary of Ted Hughes at Cambridge and the two  were often lumped together (Faber actually published  a joint Selected Poems in the mid 60s) but their work was actually very different. Gunn was also gay and left Britain for San Francisco to be with his American boyfriend. Much of his work in the 70s and 80s was not well received by the critics and it became almost a cliche that he had lost his mojo, possibly permanently. Then , in 1993, he published The Man with Night Sweats, a memorial and tribute to all those, friends and lovers, he had lost in the AIDS pandemic of the 1980s. The book is not an easy read, but it is the work of one of our finest (and unfairly forgotten) poets, a combination of technical mastery and totally raw, authentic emotion.

And on to non-fiction. I am a history graduate and I have picked a history book, This is The Age of Empire 1875-1914 by Eric Hobsbawm published in 1987. It is the third and final  volume of his history of what he called The Long Nineteenth Century, the period from the start of the French Revolution in 1789 to the outbreak of the First World War. He took his time over these, the first volume The Age of Revolution having been published in 1962. Hobsbawm was born in 1917 and describes the world in which his parents grew up. But more than that his book has a global perspective and Hobsbawm’s personal story gives him a quite unique perspective. Brought up in a Jewish family in Vienna, orphaned at the age of 14, he went to live with an uncle in Berlin. After the Nazi takeover he left Germany for England (his father was English so he had family here). A man, therefore, whose own life was changed in profound ways by the rise of nationalism and anti-Semitism, which was already noticeable before 1914. Hobsbawm died in 2012, aged 95. I often think his views on events since then (and an awful lot has happened that hardly any of us could have predicted) would av been fascinating.

So there are my 3 recommendations. There are many more books I could recommend but those will keep you going for a bit won’t they?

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2 thoughts on “Three Books for Lockdown

  1. These are excellent choices – I particularly like how wide-ranging they are – I had/have a bug bear with the education system the pressures within for the kids and the bullying and wanted to home school my kids but in those days it was a difficult thing to set up – as would need to involve other families who were willing to join in. So I will be looking at your first choice this very day – I think the education system has a lot to answer for in regards to many young adults mental health these days.
    May x

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