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Old 02 October 2017, 03:32 PM
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Richard W Richard W is offline
Join Date: 19 February 2000
Location: High Wycombe, UK
Posts: 26,334

In September I read:

The Rise of the Meritocracy by Michael Young. He's the guy who coined the term "meritocracy" (which actually means the same thing at root as "aristocracy" but is a chimeric Latin / Greek word). This is a satire written (in 1958) from the perspective of a sociologist in 2034 who is wondering why the perfect meritocratic society in which they live is still beset by riots and unrest from all the undeserving lower orders, even though they are being treated perfectly fairly by their betters.

It's interesting, in so far as a lot of it is still relevant (I'd not realised that Theresa May felt she was being "meritocratic" in supporting grammar schools), but it's also quite dull because a lot of it's a discussion of 1950s educational policy, and it's hard to get the jokes because you need the perspective of a sociologist from 1958. Sometimes it's also hard to know which of his quotes are real, and which are made up. Obviously if they're dated after 1958 then they're made up, but some are undated, and some from before 1958 might not be real either (or worse, are real but being presented out of context for satirical effect). It gets better in the second half when the author, who is an extreme meritocrat, starts talking about the place of the lower orders in more obviously satirical terms.

So, for a while I was thinking I should buy a copy for everybody because it so well reveals the problems with a lot of modern politics - many people didn't pay attention to the satire and thought the whole idea sounded great, and the second half is depressingly familiar. But on the whole it's not really a barrel of laughs for a modern lay reader.

I also read Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fair Isle: A Celebration of the Islands Around Britain by Mathew Clayton and Anthony Atkinson. This is hand-written and drawn by Atkinson and is a nice little book with lots of interesting titbits, but some odd careless mistakes too, such as inaccurate areas for some islands (which, perhaps coincidentally, match the incorrect figures in Wikipedia) which can easily be checked these days on Google Earth using the scale tools or the polygon tool. And for some reason there are three or four pages about landmarks in Orkney which have been put in at the beginning of the section on the Hebrides, not the Orkney section. But it was a fun read despite this.

And I cracked and bought two new books which I can't justify under any of my book-buying rules. In my defence, I've been getting through the heavier part of the remainder pretty well, and both these were light enough that I've read them already. I picked them up in what appeared to be the "Books for Guardian Readers" section of the Marlow Bookshop - Dad You Suck by Tim Dowling, and Don't Be A Dick, Pete by Stuart Heritage.

Dowling's is a selection of his weekend columns, chosen around the subject of his children and mildly tweaked to fit together in book form. And Heritage's is a sort of combined memoir and biography of his brother Pete (who is a bit of a dick). They're both funny; there was more to Stuart Heritage's than there was to Dowling's columns, although Tim Dowling is a better writer. If you've read any of their columns or journalism you'd probably already know if you'd like them.

(eta - forgot to add my current books). Currently I'm reading Eddas and Sagas by Jónas Kristjánsson (translated from Icelandic by Peter Foote), which I've been reading on and off for months but don't seem to have mentioned. It's less gripping than I'd hoped - not as readable as the sagas, but obviously more historical. It's about the history of the poems and writings themselves, not about the history of the events within them.

Also reading A Harlot High and Low (Splendeurs et misčres des courtisanes) by Honoré de Balzac (trans. Rayner Heppenstall) which is a sequel to Lost Illusions. It's really quite heavily misogynistic in the plot (although arguably mostly through the attitudes and actions of the characters rather than Balzac himself), and there is also a pretty racist description of an Asian servant (which is Balzac himself). I already know part of the ending thanks to the introduction to Lost Illusions giving it away (the introduction to this one doesn't - only a hint!) but will have to see how it plays out.

Last edited by Richard W; 02 October 2017 at 03:39 PM.
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