The Book Nook: November

Image: Medium
Image: Medium

The Book Nook aims to give an insight into the bookshelves of editor’s and writer’s of The Yorker. It acts as a type of online book club and reviewing platform, where editor’s and writer’s can review and reflect on recent books they have read. Please contact edtior@theyorker.co.uk if you and your book would like to be featured! Welcoming all forms of literature and non-fiction. November’s Book Nook features: Becoming by Michelle Obama, Rise by Liam Young and Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon.

 

Isabelle Kennedy. Becoming, Michelle Obama (2018) 

November saw the release of Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated autobiography Becoming. Even if Obama was unknown on the world stage, the story she tells would be impressive. From a working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago, to student at Princeton (despite being told by a college advisor in high school that she was “not Princeton material”), to Harvard Law School, a top Chicago Law Firm and a subsequent career change to work in local government, charity and healthcare. Told in a conspiratorial, conversational tone, one almost feels as if Obama is sitting in the room speaking the story out loud. Obama’s love for her family shines through the entire book. Particularly touching is the description of her first summer with Barack Obama, and their subsequent relationship, as well as her candid revelation that the couple needed IVF treatment to have their two daughters. Evident also is the sheer amount of sacrifice it takes to become a public political figure, and not only that but the first African-American First Lady. But it is Obama’s down to earth attitude which roots her story and makes it so inspirational. The book is touched with a relatable anger too, especially in the final chapter’s detailing the end of Obama’s second term in the White House and the election of Donald Trump. Becoming is a must-read for anyone with the vaguest interest in politics, and for anyone who wants to remind themselves that hard work is the key to transforming one’s life. Funny, down-to-earth, sombre and inspiring all in one, Obama’s autobiography is a triumph that makes the Obama administration even more sorely missed.

 

Violet Daniels. Rise, Liam Young.  (2018) 

Critiques of Jeremy Corbyn like to assign his surge in recent years purely to the youth vote without offering any genuine explanations. Although the Labour Party has always had historic young support, denouncing Corbyn’s success in generalizing phenomena misses the point. Liam Young explains the logic behind the Corbyn youth success and excludes the assumption that his success is only because the young historically do not vote for the opposition (The Conservatives.) Young himself is a political activist, who campaigned for Corbyn in 2015, he is now a writer and advises a member of parliament.

Youth support for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party, is actually very logical, argues Liam Young. It is not because the young are liberal and would never vote Tory. It is because this generation has been suffering for decades and seeks a return to a society that values everyone equally and has the best long-term outcomes for the future. Part of understanding the rise of the young, he argues, is to accept their concerns as legitimate, they are not something to be scoffed at by older generations. Corbyn’s success with the young rests on his ability to offer a genuine alternative to Tory rule which has failed to improve the lives and the futures of young people today. In Corbyn, the previously young and apathetic found a leader they could back due to his charisma and genuine, life long dedication to attaining improvements both nationally and on a global scale.

The opposition has failed the younger generation in the provision of a stable future: the decline of the NHS, lack of affordable housing, Brexit negotiations, an average of £50,000 worth of debt for university fees and the failures of mental health services, are just a few examples. Thus, in opposing these measures and offering alternative solutions, the Corbyn youth phenomena becomes not inexplicable, but legitimate.

This book is an expert explanation for how the recent youth surge happened. Young provides references and quotes from young people and considers the grievances of young people in their own right. He refrains from assumptions and explains the surge in all its seriousness. A must read for anyone who wishes to understand this trend as more than a phenomenon. Recent politics is heralded by a lot of the mainstream media as incomprehensible, however, Young directly opposes this sentiment in his thorough explanation and justification for the surge in youth engagement in 2015 and beyond.

 

Richard Tester. Star Maker, Olaf Stapledon. (1937) 

The must-readness of this novel cannot be emphasised enough, for it is vast and evidence of an imagination worthy of its title.  In Star Maker, a follow-on from his Last and First Men, the philosopher and novelist Olaf Stapledon spawned alien worlds in a multitudinous swirl, consequently not only tracing the future consciousness of the universe but also opening up science-fiction as a genre of newness, reflection, and possibilities, of radical ways of thinking. The novel is narrated by an ordinary human, who is likely Stapledon himself, who lives an isolated and cosy existence. On an evening stroll, his consciousness is disembodied and then beamed out into the cosmos, to contact alien minds and witness the growth of galactic and death of universal civilisation. Strange worlds and brave civilisations come and go in the face of monstrous ideologies, sciences, and ecological collapse. The unifying whole of the book, though, is cultural exchange and intellectual adventure in the face of nihilism and inevitable extinction. It is no wonder that figures as diverse as Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, and Freeman Dyson are so often cited as fans of this book, because it is so ambitious, so idea-filled, so fruitful. If a world-builder like Isaac Asimov can influence the likes of Elon Musk, then a millionaire-of-worlds like Stapledon should also come to inspire our civilisation and its leaders going forward. Go out and find a copy and let it blow your mind.

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Violet Daniels

Editorial Director
Full time History student | Editor of the Yorker 2017-19, Alumni & Public Relations Officer 2019

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