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review 2018-07-17 12:04
A Higher Loyalty
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership - James Comey

I didn't know what to expect with Comey's memoir, and I ended up being impressed by his sense of principled leadership and ethical conduct. I don't necessarily see eye-to-eye with him on every issue, but I can appreciate his thought processes as he describes his reasoning behind various difficult decisions.

 

Going back to working in Rudy Giuliani's U.S. Attorney's office in New York City in the 1980s, to being in the Department of Justice under the Bush II administration, to Barack Obama's appointing him as FBI Director, through Donald Trump firing him (via the TV news), Comey takes the reader on a fascinating ride, with a narrative peppered with humor that sometimes made me laugh out loud (while in public, listening to my little mp3 player). Regardless of what your current opinion of James Comey might be, I think the book is well worth reading/listening to.

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review 2018-07-16 21:02
F*** You Very Much
F*** You Very Much: The surprising truth about why people are so rude - Danny Wallace

[I received a copy of this book from NetGalley.]

That was an interesting read. Perhaps not as funny as I had expected, but interesting nonetheless. Basing his argument on what he calls the ‘Hotdog Incident’, where he had to wait for 1 hour to get served a hotdog, and was rudely treated when he dared complain, Danny Wallace goes to explore rudeness and rude behaviours in general. Why are people rude? What’s in it for them? Why are the usual reactions to rudeness, and what do they reveal about people in general?

According to Wallace, it seems that there is something in it for rude people. Rudeness and bullying often tend to create a cognitive dissonance in people who’re at the other end of it, making them slower to react to it; so it looks like this explains why we keep wondering why rude people ‘get away with it’, when it’d stand to logics that they should be pointed at and shamed for their behaviour. I bet most of us had at least one experience of that kind (not necessarily about an actual hotdog) where hours later, we were still thinking about what we should’ve said or done instead. Why didn’t we do it for starters? Because of the shock of being treated rudely. I don’t know if the science behind this is really exact, however, I’m willing to agree with that out of empirical evidence, so to speak.

There were moments when I thought, ‘Did he really dwell on that Hotdog Incident for so long, isn’t that a little far-fetched?’, and it felt more like an artificial gimmick than an actual example to write a book about. But then, I guess it also ties with the point the author was making: what seems like little incidents can indeed stay with us for a lot longer than the few minutes or even seconds they took to happen.

And I do agree that rudeness is contagious. It’s happened to me quite a few times. If someone bumps into me in the street and doesn’t apologise, I’m much more likely to stop caring about the people around me: ‘If -they- don’t make way for me, why should -I- make way for them?’ So, it’s a vicious circle. Being aware of it helps, of course, because then it’s easier to act upon it. Still, it’s frightening how being rude can come… naturally.

A few parts are also devoted to exploring cultural differences, such as what is considered rude in one country but not in the other. Some of those I already knew about (the ‘Paris Syndrome’), others I discovered through this book. This, too, was interesting, because it puts things back into perspective. That’s not to say that we can afford to be rude because we can ‘make it pass as if it’s normal somewhere else’, of course.

The book definitely makes you take a look at yourself: we’ve all been rude at some point or other, and will be rude again. Yet acknowledging it is the first step to stop. (And if it helps facing rudeness from others in a calmer way, because we know the mechanisms behind it, I guess it’s also good experience to put annoying people back in their place.)

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quote 2018-07-02 19:56
I’d once overheard my daddy tell my momma that the six Winston boys had inherited their father’s ability to charm snakes, the IRS, and women.

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text 2018-07-01 05:33
Reading progress update: I've read 5 out of 382 pages.
Truth or Beard (Winston Brothers Book 1) - Penny Reid

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review 2018-06-30 18:44
"A Delicate Truth" by John Le Carré
A Delicate Truth - John le Carré

I came late to John Le Carré, falling in love with his prose storytelling style upon my first encounter with them when, last year, I read his remarkable novel"A Legacy of Spies".

 

Naturally, I had to have at least one Le Carré in my Summer of Spies reading challenge this year, I picked "A Delicate Truth" because, published in 2013, it was his next most recent book and because the audiobook version that I listened to was narrated by Le Carré himself.

 

I found the novel very satisfying both because the world it describes is frighteningly plausible without ever becoming melodramatic and because the cadence of Le Carré's prose and his nuanced use of language, especially in dialogue call to something in me in the same way that the best music does.

 

In some ways, this is not a very dramatic tale. It covers poorly conceived, disastrously executed and robustly covered-up covert operation. The body count is low by genre standards. There are no car chases. No desperate gun battles on the streets of London. No evil genius strapping our hero to a table to be dissected by an industrial laser. Yet the import of what it describes is truly disturbing.

 

The tale starts slowly satisfyingly,  by establishing the point of view of a mature senior Civil Servant in the FCO, pulled in over his head by an ambitious Minister, to oversee a covert operation in Gibraltar.

 

As I watched the stolidly upper-middle class civil servant, son of a general, married to money, well-educated but only moderately accomplished, thrill, in an appropriately low-key it-wouldn't-be-good-form-to-express-my-feelings kind of way, to the opportunity to serve his country, even if that meant obeying a bullying, egocentric, self-serving Minister, I understood that Le Carré's England is not mine or, at least, not an England I want to tolerate.

 

I recognise that it's real enough. It's the kind of England the odious Boris Johnson and the surprisingly dangerous Jacob Rees-Mogg want to drag us all back into so that they can live the Eton dream while the rest of us touch our forelocks and hope to keep our jobs. 

 

It's an England where the under-funded State is preyed upon by billion dollar Private Military Corporations that are contracted to kidnap and kill with an impunity secured by anti-terror legislation that has eroded public accountability to the point of non-existence.

 

Le Carré describes the people of this world with great precision and insight without ever once straying into empathy. I admire that.

 

Nothing in the content of Le Carrè's story surprised me, a fact I find deeply depressing, but it acted as a reminder of how the clannish secrecy of an entitled ruling class mixes with the greed and egocentricity of politicians whose eyes are the revolving door into high-flying commerce to create something fundamentally corrupt.

 

Yet what I like most about Le Carré is the way he tells his tale. He takes his time. He uses complex sentences. He moves the reader effortlessly backwards and forwards along the timeline and he perfectly evokes a sense of place, whether it is a Cornish Fair, a Private Club or the corridors and conference rooms of the FCO.

 

Here's a sample of that prose from the start of Chapter Two, where we are introduced to Toby Bell, the man around whom most of the story centres. It's a slightly long extract but that is necessary to demonstrate how he evokes the man and his situation. If you like this, you'll like the book.

"On a sunny Sunday, early in that same spring, a thirty-one-year-old British Foreign servant, earmarked for great things, sat alone at the pavement table of a humble Italian café in London's Soho, steeling himself to perform an act of espionage so outrageous that, if detected, it would cost him his career and his freedom. Namely, recovering a tape-recording elicitly made by himself from the private office of a Minister of the Crown whom it was his duty to serve and advise to the best of his considerable ability.

 

His name was Tony Bell and he was entirely alone in his criminal contemplations. No evil genius controlled him. No paymaster provocateur or sinister manipulator armed with an attaché case stuffed with hundred dollar bills was waiting around the corner. No activist in a ski mask. He was, in that sense the most feared creature of our contemporary world: a solitary decider. of a forthcoming clandestine operation on the Crown Colony of Gibraltar, he knew nothing. Rather it was this tantalising ignorance that had brought him to his present pass.

 

Neither was he in appearance or by nature cut out to be a felon. Even now, premeditating his criminal design, he remained the decent, diligent, tousled, compulsively ambitious, intelligent-looking fellow, that his colleagues and employers took him for. He was stocky in build. Not particularly handsome with a shock of unruly brown hair that went haywire as soon as it was brushed. That there was gravitas in him was undeniable. The gifted, State educated only child of pious artisan parents from the South coast of England who knew no politics but Labour..."

One of the joys of the book, for me, was Le Carré's narration. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear him read the start of Chapter One.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/89424970" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

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