One Off The Short List.

Those of you interested in refining the art of the perfect holiday read might be interested to know where I have got to with this earth shattering quest, following my last post on this subject.
The most important news is that I have already read the first and fattest novel on the list, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, a fictional account of the life of Laura Bush, a pretty librarian who marries the carousing scion of a Republican family, and goes on to become wife of the President of the US. Sittenfeld draws on certain real life events in Laura B’s life including a car crash she was involved in as a teenager in which a young man died; her life as a librarian and infant school teacher; her whirlwind courtship of George Bush and the widely held presumption that her politics are to the left of her husband on everything from abortion to the war in Iraq.
This is a popular novel with an extraordinarily thoughtful edge. It has a powerful narrative, completely believable characters and performs the difficult feat of drawing on our own images of Laura and George Bush,while also creating wholly independent identities for the main protagonists. It’s a book about the price of fame, and politics at the highest level, and quite a painful read in that regard. It is also a consideration of the compromises within even the happiest of marriages.
Regarding the rest of the short list, I have started two of the non-fiction books, The Classical World and How Fiction Works; both so far are terrific, so they will come on holiday with me. As for novels, I am now considering taking a batch of slim classics; I hate heavy luggage!

ps One Off The Short List is, incidentally, the name of one of Doris Lessing’s most brilliant short stories.

Save our local everything!

Read Melissa Benn’s first post on the new Public Finance website:

If a tired Labour government, 12 years in, struggles to develop a credible vision to sell to the voters, the Conservatives seem to have hit on a rich and popular idea that I am sure we will hear more of as the election edges near, an idea I shall crudely summarise as ‘Save our local everything!’

For the rest of the post click here

Feminism’s calm champion

From time to time in this blog I hope to celebrate some of the most impressive women and men of contemporary politics.

Below,  a profile of one such woman that appeared in this week’s Guardian.

Katherine Rake: Feminism’s calm champion

Katherine Rake has led The Fawcett Society, the UK’s leading campaign for human rights, for seven years. On the day she bows out, she tells Kira Cochrane about being vilified as ‘worse than Hitler’, the postcode lottery for rape victims – and why she never gets angry.

Read the rest of the article here

Missing in domestic action (3)

Below, an opening extract from the Guardian news report today, on the Fawcett report, ‘Not Having it All: How Motherhood Reduces Women’s Pay and Employment Prospects’ and the link to the rest of it.

‘Women with children earn about 22% less than their male colleagues, according to a new report that explores the “devastating” impact of motherhood on earnings.

“Before becoming parents, men and women are equally likely to be employed, but childbirth marks the start of a great divide, which continues even after children have left home and does lasting damage to women’s careers,” the report finds’

Read the rest of this article here.

And for more details of the tenacious campaigning organisation that brings these issues to our attention on a regular basis, go to the Fawcett Society website.

Facing down persecution

There was a powerful moment at the end of a recent vigil held to mark the 64th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi and to call for an end to her decades long detention. One of the demonstrators pinned a photograph of General Than Shwe, the head of Burma’s ruling military junta, to the doorway of the silent but watchful Burmese embassy, across the portal from a picture of Aung San Suu Kyi………………………..

Read the rest of Melissa Benn’s article on Liberty Central, on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, here

Melissa Benn is a member of the Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN and co-minder of honorary member Aung San Suu Kyi.

English PEN Writers in prison committee and JAM host Breaking Through the Silence. St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, July 9, 7.30pm. Tickets from English PEN.

‘You’re wicked, you’re insane’

Sitting in his warmly furnished living room in Regent’s Park, in central London, Nicholas Mosley evokes an air of elegant bohemianism. A celebrated Booker-nominated novelist, winner of the 1990 Whitbread prize for his richly experimental Hopeful Monsters, he is also a skilled memoirist and has worked as a scriptwriter for the film directors Joseph Losey and John Frankenheimer. Now 86, he has just published a new novel and another memoir.

Read the rest of Melissa’s interview with the distinguished writer Nicholas Mosley in today’s Guardian here.

Playing catch up

It might be too early to call, but the rather bold education white paper, published this week, looks like giving Labour a surprise lead in the political battle over public service reform.

Only a week ago, the idea of a fresh vision from Labour on any policy area was being belittled by a largely cynical commentariat, who have got into the habit of seeing everything Brown does as the last gasp of a desperate beast.
At the same time, an increasingly jumpy Opposition had got the bit between its teeth on arguably unrealisable pledges to increase spending, particularly on popular issues such as social housing and schools.

Read the rest of Melissa’s latest Public Finance piece on the government’s Education White Paper here.

The cost of progress in schools

Gordon Brown said earlier this week that parents could expect a private school-style education under plans unveiled in yesterday’s white paper, an extraordinarily bold claim given the current political and economic position. But should Brown’s statement be taken with a pinch of cynicism or just a smidgin of realistic hope?

Read the rest of Melissa’s latest article in the Guardian here