What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

Wonderwoman and Ishiguro

 - Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Steve: The Secret History of Wonderwoman by Jill Lepore—a 1970s teenager I admit I gave more than a passing glance to Lynda Carter as the Amazon Princess super-heroine in the TV series Wonder Woman (1975-1979). However, unlike the origins and creators of Superman and Batman, with which I was familiar, I was completely ignorant of the mighty Amazonian's genesis. Four decades later, Jill Lepore's obsessively researched book has solved that problem. Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, and was the creation of  Dr William Marston (1893–1947), a psychologist from Harvard, inventor of the lie detector, lifelong polygamist and an ardent feminist who was inspired by his wife, Elizabeth, and their live-in girlfriend, Olive Byrne. Jill Lepore explores the origin story of Wonder Woman in this very entertaining cultural history/biography and sees her as 'the missing link in understanding the struggle for women's rights...the suffragist as pinup'—red bustier, high heeled-boots and all.

Andrew: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro—A new novel by one of Britain's literary giants (no pun intended) is always an exciting thing, and Faber and Faber have done a wonderful job of building a sense of excitement in advance of its release this month. The advance copy that I received in January came with no description of its contents other than a single beguiling sentence from the first chapter: 'There's a journey we must go on—and no more delay'. It's a bolshie technique—to try to entice a jaded bookseller by telling them absolutely nothing about the book—but I must say it paid off beautifully, and what a joy it was to dive headlong into a book knowing nothing about where I was headed. I really loved this book; and am reluctant to speak too much about it, in case you want to take a similar leap of faith. What can I say? It is not set in the dystopian future, of Never Let Me Go, but rather a post-Arthurian Anglo-Saxon Britain. Fable-like in style and tone, it dwells on memory and loss, and the place of honour in a war-torn society. Profound, and as moving in its own way as Remains of the Day, it is nevertheless a corker of a page-turner. Hugely accessible, I reckon it will be a popular read for the Game of Thrones generation.

Viki: I'm reading Johann Hari's Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs. So far I'm not a big fan of Hari's writing—a bit too earnest in his assigning of emotions to players in this spurious 'war'—but the history is fascinating. A war on drugs has always seemed a bit ridiculous to me—an expensive waste of time when the stats constantly support the fact that legalising all drugs and spending money on rehabilitating those with addiction issues (rather than jailing them), whilst not a manly 'tough on crime' election posture is a far more cost effective use of taxpayers' money. That the early 20th century war on drugs was more a race war conducted by panicked white (America) men (encouraged and possibly payrolled by organised crime) is an interesting reframing of the usual equation: drug problems in the West and their former colonies as the end result of imperialist misadventure. I'm reading on.