Book reviews

What's the top read this week, we pop on our glasses, peruse the shelves, and find out…

Time In
Granta #104: Fathers Ed. Alex Clark

5/7
Granta Dhs72 Available to order from Magrudy’s

Alex Clark, the first female editor in Granta’s 120-year history, debuts with a collection of writings about fathers, a rather tardy bookend, perhaps, to No. 88’s Mothers anthology. Some are previously unpublished works by established authors; others are by new writers. There’s a good balance, bound by a sense – reflected in the title of David Goldblatt’s terrible account of the emotional and physical fallout from his father’s violent death, ‘Doing The Paperwork’ – that to fail to record our familial memories is to risk losing them forever.

Goldblatt’s may be the most harrowing piece here but it’s not the only one packing an emotional punch. Siri Hustvedt’s essay deals with issues of psychosexual identity and inheritance, but she makes her complex points accessibly, via personal revelation, while Michael Bywater’s ‘Comrades’ is a poignant rumination on what friendship means to men, sparked by his ageing father’s decline. There are shorter musings by Jonathan Lethem, Adam Mars-Jones, Reina (daughter of Sid) James and others on photographs of their fathers, while Ruchir Joshi’s memoir is a vivid rendering set against a subtle political backdrop.

All in all, a collection of compelling reflections on each writer’s complex relationship with the first man in his or her life, providing an inevitable trigger for the reader’s own. Sharon O’Connell

On Kindness Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor

4/7
Hamish Hamilton Dhs98 Available to order from Magrudy’s

‘It’s so easy to laugh, it’s so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind…’ So sang Morrissey in the 1986 Smiths song ‘I Know It’s Over’. On the subject of kindness, he had a point, at least according to the arguments in this compact overview of the subject. It seems that in recent years we’ve forgotten how and why it feels good to be kind.

If we believe the individualist views espoused in Thomas Hobbe’s 1641 book Leviathan, the reason we find it problematic is because we’re naturally ruled by self-interest. Then again, if we subscribe to the theories of 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, we’re not actually born selfish or unkind, but become that way through the corrupting influence of a flawed society.

Add to that some classical notions about brotherly love and friendship, courtesy of Seneca, Marcus Aurelius and others, the effects of a belief in a powerful and protective God and a lot of Freudian theories about childhood and sexual and family relationships, and what we have is an interesting if rather patchy and unbalanced read.

The main niggle is probably due to the book’s co-authorship by a psychoanalyst (Phillips) and a historian (Taylor). Rather than fully integrate these two strands, the text skims over most of the philosophical and historical ideas in favour of the psychological analysis.

The conclusion is that kindness is not really about kindness at all, it’s about intimacy. Being kind makes us feel good because it connects us to other people, and the fear of being kind is really a fear of being vulnerable and therefore a fear of intimacy, because to be kind is to acknowledge the vulnerability in others and therefore, our own neediness. So, come on – big hugs all round. Helen Sumpter

The Stephen Sprouse Book Roger Padilha and Mauricio Padilha

5/7
Rizzoli Dhs228 Available to order from Magrudy’s

Stephen Sprouse met Debbie Harry when he moved in upstairs in 1973, aged 20. Blondie was newborn, and Sprouse was fashion designer Halston’s main assistant with his eyes on above-the-title billing. Harry would help make him famous, but his subsequent tendency to rise and fall like a talented yo-yo were all his own doing. Sprouse’s ability to mix street and style was perfect for punk and post-punk: his fabrics were extraordinary reincarnations of the everyday, from graffiti to scan lines (the lines you used to see if you looked closely at a TV set).

Unfortunately, his creativity was not matched by any business sense; despite the fan base, the followers and the fashion press attention, there were multiple bankruptcies and comebacks.

One particularly talented admirer, Marc Jacobs, invited him to collaborate on a line of Louis Vuitton handbags; this graffiti collection, in 2001, was one of the last rises before the final fall: lung cancer claimed Sprouse in 2004, aged 50. But as this lavish book shows, his designs still startle and his influence remains strong. It seems that this fickle industry’s most fluctuating superstar is on top once again. Nina Caplan

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