Saturday, September 01, 2012

My summer reading

I have had a much needed break and August is a time when I read mainly novels and biography (and I am reading one devotional book).

Longing for God: A couple of people I know are starting to study theology this autumn which is exciting. I would put this on my list for some 'primer' reading. You see there is a reason why the big guns of church history are indeed big guns. These giants had insights, encounters and wisdom that have managed to last the centuries and are still being constantly referred to by many of us today. To name just a few that you will meet if you read this: Augustine, St Francis, Luther, Calvin, St Teresa, Origen and Thomas Aquinas. This is a wonderfully informative and reflective book and is one you might like to try as a 'back to school' read and I am only half way (going at a Chapter a day pace to let it soak in). Foster has dedicated his life to the subject of 'spiritual formation' and this is a very welcome addition to his canon. He writes it with a theological pal called Gayle Beebe who is another rather well-read and clever chappy.

The Agony and the Ecstasy: This is a simply belting and unputdownable read about the life of Michelangelo. One of the things I may not have revealed about my schooling is that I acquired a very average C grade in A-level History of Art. The truth is, I did History of Art because everyone told me it was a breeze and quite a few fun people I knew seemed to be opting for it. Somehow, spending two years looking at slides of pictures and buildings seemed more interesting than the periodic tables of the science labs. As a result, I do now know a wee bit about the Renaissance. Despite this pedigree, I never got around to reading this pretty thick tome. It's so good and so informative and gripping I said I would pay my nephew twenty quid to read it. Since seeing it is 750 pages long I suspect he will negotiating my fee upwards and I sense it may be a while before he actually reads it. One to take on your next holiday.

3. Any Human Heart: I have always enjoyed Boyd and this is a great read. It tells the story of a terrible rogue called Logan Mountstuart and is written in the form of a journal. Stylistically it reads almost identically to The Journals of John Fowles (I wrote about them here) who was a real life literary rogue and must surely have inspired this book. This is not a read for the faint hearted (there are a few E L Jamesesque journal entries) but it made me laugh out loud, particularly once the lead character becomes a grumpy old man. It is perhaps because I am quite familiar with private schools, Oxford, the Army, the lives of writers, the art world and the lives of cads that I enjoyed this so much. However, there is a such a clear and sad backdrop of lostness and pointlessness to this dear man's life. He entertains his every whim but is left in the end with so very little to show for it all. A lesson to us not to trust our hearts too closely until they are regenerate. Logan, I think it's very fair to say, most certainly wasn't nor did he want to be. More's the shame.

Management in 10 Words: When I worked in the world of commerce Tesco was our biggest customer. The story of this company and it's transformation is amazing and is one of the real British business successes of the last twenty five years. This is in no small part due to the extraordinary leadership of Terry Leahy. This is now a much dog-eared book and with many a sentence underlined. The chapters titles sum up the book: Truth, Trust, Simple, Courage, Lean, Act etc. As I now work for an institution somewhat on the wain there may be a lesson or two from Leahy for those overseeing the C of E decline.  Leahy turned around a company that, when he took it on, everyone told him had had it's day. Sound familiar. He didn't listen to them and proceeded to change the face a British corporate culture in a generation. Tesco are not all good: their cost cutting and squeezing of the supply chain forced there customers completely to the wire which you can only do for so long without stifling innovation. Interestingly, the pilot scheme for the concept of 'Express' shopping was none other than the service station opposite my new home in Barnes. The book that Leahy constantly quotes as his leadership inspiration is 'Viscount Slim: Defeat into Victory' which is now on the one to read list.

Still life of a woodpecker: This was a present from a pal and it has taken me too long to get around to reading it. This is a weird, creative, sexy and at times bonkers book that I quite enjoyed. It is not my usual genre and so it took me a bit of time to work out what was going on but once I did it tripped along quite happily. It is one of the most interesting and odd bits of writing I have read in quite some time. It tells the story, among others things, of the history of the Camel cigarette pack and as an ex-tobacco man I probably found this more interesting than most might. It's also about bombs, outlaws, freedom, love, pyramids and solitude. I think it's good for me to read a book like this every now and again and I may be hunting out the Robbins back catalogue.

I also read Catching the Sun and The Fear Index by Robert Harris

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