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Only books for politicians at Christmas

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Only books for politicians at ChristmasIn the ideal world where I am Santa Claus, my gesture for world peace will be to fill the stockings of politicians with books.

Just books I’m afraid. I’m liberal as to subject matter but a puritan about object matter. No bottles of single malt. No Tom Waits triple CD (alas). Only books. Blame my family. For years my beloved father-in-law used to disappear into his bedroom at about 11am on Christmas morning to emerge with a Penguin Classic for each one of us. My husband got the same book three times in one decade. But you can’t have too many copies of The Confessions of Saint Augustine, particularly if you are an agnostic philosopher whose first approach to the woman who will eventually become your wife is to sell her a copy of The Freethinker.

With one exception (read to end), I haven’t specified which politician should get which book. But I have appended a loosely devised "degree of difficulty" so you can decide whether you want to read the book yourself or give it to Great Uncle Alistair (I have one lined up specially for G.U.A, but use your own discretion).

And yes, I am being devious. Yes, I do want you to read some of the books yourself because they are what I would unembarrassedly call, signs of the times. At the very least, stand up or sit down in your favourite bookshop and browse through them. Be tempted. I discovered quite a few of my best books that way. In one American university bookshop that boasted squishy armchairs, I read half of Lewis Lapham (of him more anon), and a few toxic chapters of Ann Coulter (more of her too). I subsequently paid good money for Lapham but put Coulter back, all pristine, on the "new releases" table (she’s the kind of author one should read wearing white gloves lest the bile rub off) and resisted the temptation to cover her with a copy of Bob Woodward’s State of Denial.

Quarterly Essay: Voting for Jesus, Amanda LohreyOkay, here’s the little list.

Start with Amanda Lohrey’s lucid and generous Quarterly Essay, Issue 22 (Black Inc), "Voting for Jesus, Christianity and Politics in Australia". If you are worried about the rise and rise of fundamentalism in Australia this is the (slim) volume for you. And if you are anxious about a blurring of the line between church and state, then it’s also for you. Note particularly the way Lohrey can blend charity and logic. And make sure you read the correspondence in Issue 23. Short, a pleasure to read.

Contrast Lohrey with America’s Ann Coulter (TIME magazine’s "Ms Right") and her most recent book, Godless, The Church and Liberalism, just so you know how tough they play the religion and politics game in the US. If you don’t want to boost her sales just check out her style via Google. Definitely not for Great Uncle Alistair.

Kevin Rudd is not Ann Coulter’s kind of politician. His two essays, "Faith in Politics" and "Howard’s Brutopia", in The Monthly (October and November 2006) would probably bring her out in hives. The essays are remarkable not just because Rudd wrote them himself but because they restate, with some passion, old-fashioned Catholic social justice imperatives. They also respect the intelligence of their audience. Intellectual? Yes (should that be a bad thing?). Accessible? Definitely.

My Israel Question, Antony LowensteinAntony Loewenstein is in all kinds of trouble over his brave book My Israel Question (MUP, 2006). If you want to know why, read his views on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the role played in it by the Jewish diaspora in Australia. Illuminating and bound to offend.

Paul Collins, religious commentator and author, has offended most authorities in his time, but his collection of interviews with famous Catholic dissidents, From Inquisition to Freedom (Simon and Schuster, 2001) is a showcase of grace under pressure. The book doesn’t fudge the theological controversies that led to the delation of Rome and silencing of many of the interviewees (Hans Küng, Lavinia Byrne and Tissa Balasuriya among them). But the persistence of hope is more remarkable than the abuse of power, and these brave people are great exemplars. Read Charles Curran on community. He’s wonderful. Ecumenical enough even for Great Uncle Alistair.

He (G.U.A.) might, however, prefer Lewis Lapham’s Pretensions to Empire, Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration, A Case for Impeachment (The New Press, 2006). After that title I hardly need tell you what the book is about, but I do recommend it for the high rhetoric and righteous indignation that has been Lapham’s hallmark throughout his long years as editor of Harper’s Magazine. It is also formidably detailed—a case to answer. Easy to read but heartburn if you are a Republican.

After Lapham’s verbal extravaganza, Shaun Tan’s wordless The Arrival (Lothian Books, 2006) is an oasis. No writing, just eloquent drawings that take you inside the world of people displaced, people who have to leave one home and find another. But still your bleeding heart and marvel instead at the surreal invention of this talented young man. Suitable for six-year-olds. Suitable for 60-year-olds.

Revolutionary Chinese CookbookFinally, and less frivolous than you might suppose: two cookbooks. Could one resist a culinary long march through China with a woman named Fuchsia Dunlop? Sichuan Cookery I bought on the recommendation of a broadminded Cantonese gourmet. Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook, Recipes from Hunan Province (Ebury Press, 2006) is its equally enticing sequel. Dunlop put in a rigorous apprenticeship in China and writes so well you could forget her recipes and just take the book to bed—that’s if you absolutely must prepare for a barium-meal test next day. For chilli lovers and China watchers. And for Kevin Rudd, from his loyal deputy. Julia can go to work on his hair, while he teaches her to cook—in Mandarin.

I recommend Chairman Mao’s Red-Braised Pork. For the succulence, not the politics. For Christmas perhaps. And may yours be blessed.



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Existing comments

You may be shocked to know that Conservatives also like to read books. Can I recommend for them

andrew nelson | 22 December 2006  

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