Friday 10 March 1995
! Roald Dahl by Jeremy Treglown, Faber £6.99. Dahl is the most successful children's author of the century. In 1980s Britain, he sold 11 million in paperback, with every third child being given at least one of his books annually. Meanwhile the Chinese Charlie and the Chocolate Factory had an initial print-run of two million. That is a phenomenal sway over growing minds. What is so encouraging is that Dahl represents all kinds of "bad" influence, a corrective to the mousiness of most children's writing. His world is a frightening, unpredictable place where adults are usually cruel, perverse, selfish and loathsome and children must be brave and resourceful if they are not to go down. The ferocity of folk tales is combined with humour and striking modernity - some of it (we learn here) won at the insistence of his publishers. Treglown's biography, though far from definitive, is enduringly intelligent.
! The Fist of God by Frederick Forsyth, Corgi 5.99. Many of us have never forgotten our first reading of The Day of the Jackal - taut and lean and its lowdown on the hitman's craft sewn as tightly into the plot as a stiletto in a trouser-cuff. Like middle-aged spread, Forsyth's books have grown fatter and flabbier, but they've never entirely renounced the skills which made him a world-class thriller-writer. His latest, set in 1990, tracks an SAS undercover man in Iraqi-occupied Kuwait, an American pilot shot down behind Iraqi lines and the various intelligence agencies and military planners as they cudgel their brains over why Saddam thinks he can win the Gulf War. Fact, speculation and fiction are spliced together with the joins only occasionally showing.
! Time on Our Side: Growing in Wisdom, not Growing Old by Dorothy Rowe, HarperCollins £6.99. Rowe is responsible for some of the most reassuring words ever written about depression, and her calm compassion must have helped tens of thousands beset by contemporary forms of worry and self- doubt. This book is not about old age - it's about the fear of being older than one is now: of passing 30, 40, 50 or the next watershed age. The number of times young callers to radio stations seek commiseration - humourous perhaps, but nonetheless heartfelt - about "the big 3-0", shows that we are dealing in universals here. And Rowe, with a clarity born of fruitful reflection, argues that the answer to getting time back on our side, however old we are, is close at hand and independent of any religious system.
! Winter Pollen: Occasional Prose by Ted Hughes, ed William Scammell, Faber £8.99. Having spent eight years as an English teacher trying, among other things, to show children how poetry works, I have good reason to be grateful to the Laureate. Not only did his poems - with their "taste for simplicity", as he puts it - speak directly to the children, but his short book Poetry in the Making is, for its sheer clarity, one of the best poetry manuals ever written. The text is reprinted in this collection of Hughes's reviews, prefaces and essays, several of which are previously unpublished. To the fore is his trademark brand of poetic directness and boldness, his predatory manner, if you like, turned critical. Another side of him is rather obscure, even occult. What is not in doubt is his commitment to writing, reading and thinking.
! Dark White: Aliens, Abductions and the UFO Obsession by Jim Schnabel, Penguin £6.99. Crop-circle studies, the subject of Schnabel's last book, were a barmy British invention. UFO abduction is primarily a phenomenon of America, where millions apparently believe that sparky little figures with antennae and putty faces are constantly dropping in from beyond the Galaxy to pick up humans for amusement or instruction. It's all done in much the same way you would borrow a video, but clearly some of the abductees are not fully re-wound on return. Schnabel's style is deadpan, and he is unquestionably scholarly. The result is funny, but it is also unsettling.
! The Treasure Chest by Johann Peter Hebel, trs John Hibberd, Penguin £6.99. Hebel was a schoolmaster and Lutheran pastor whose collection of very brief tales (first published in 1811) numbered among their fans Goethe, Tolstoy, Kafka and Wittgenstein. Written for a yearly Almanac in the Alemannic dialect of the Black Forest, they are here translated for the first time - not into Geordie or Scouse but standard English- and prove to be a splendid mixture of apocryphal gossip and moral fable. It's familiar fare to any weekly columnist today, but startling and interesting when you consider the date. The general idea was "improvement", but ironic humour with a distinctly morbid streak was Hebel's strongest suit.
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- 4 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 5 HSBC closes bank accounts belonging to Muslim clients in the UK
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