I blogged about Jon Ronson’s talk at the Hay Festival earlier this year which was about his latest book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. I read it a couple of weeks after attending the Festival and it is by far the most terrifying book I’ve read this year. Shame is one of the most powerful yet least talked-about human emotions and Ronson examines the dark consequences of shaming people on social media, usually after they have said or done something politically incorrect. Having already heard Ronson talk about the main content of the book such as the Justine Sacco and Jonah Lehrer cases, there were fewer elements of surprise for me when reading it as some of the material was already familiar. However, Ronson’s observations on the subject are very astute and he has chosen an interesting range of examples for the book. Although ‘So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed’ doesn’t provide any real “answers” as to why people shame others, it is a thought-provoking look at the very modern phenomenon of online mob justice.
I hadn’t heard of Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans before it was longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year but the story about Noel Bostock, a ten-year-old orphan and evacuee from London taken in by Vee Sedge during the Second World War caught my eye. Struggling with her debts, Vee is desperate to make ends meet and embarks on a money-making scheme with Noel at her side. The humour is subtle, the period detail feels authentic and the “odd couple” pairing of the main characters avoids sentimentality at the end. Overall, ‘Crooked Heart’ is an endearing read which offers a new and original perspective of a familiar setting.
Having enjoyed other medical memoirs in recent months including ‘Being Mortal‘ by Atul Gawande and ‘Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery‘ by Henry Marsh, I picked up Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis from the library a couple of months ago after seeing it on the shelves at the Hay Festival (I didn’t attend the event). Whereas Gawande and Marsh’s books focused specifically on end-of-life care and the brain respectively, Francis takes a more general approach devoting a chapter to each major organ or body part. Like ‘Skyfaring‘ by Mark Vanhoenacker, Francis takes a traditionally scientific subject – in this case, medicine – but explores it in a relatively non-scientific way, reflecting on how each body part has been portrayed in art, philosophy and history over the years. However, while the anecdotes of treating his patients are interesting and very well written, I was a bit less keen on the more philosophical digressions. Francis is also a travel writer and I suspect I might prefer his account of working as a volunteer doctor at the South Pole, ‘Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence & Emperor Penguins’.
Mr Mercedes by Stephen King is the first novel in a trilogy featuring Bill Hodges as a retired detective hunting the killer who stole a Mercedes and deliberately drove it into a crowd of people. The book moves away from the horror genre King is best known for towards cat-and-mouse suspense territory. Although relatively short for a King novel at just over 400 pages, I felt that the middle of the story was too slow whereas his much-longer novel ‘11.22.63‘ had a more balanced pace. I also wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the characters, particularly Bill’s relationship with Janey. The second book in the trilogy ‘Finders Keepers’ has recently been published but I think I will be looking into more of his earlier books first such as ‘The Shining’.
What have you been reading this summer?