My “reading” highlights this month were three audiobooks by Alan Bennett. All three are wonderful and gain a lot from being read by Bennett himself, in his distinctive voice.
Smut is actually a set of two novellas about sex: “The Greening of Mrs. Donaldson” and “The Shielding of Mrs. Forbes”. Both are well written, funny, and a genuinely touching portrait of characters that feel real — in particular, because of their flaws. The Clothes They Stood Up In is about the inner life of a repressed English housewife who, upon arriving with her husband from the opera one evening, finds that literally all their possessions have disappeared. And The Laying On of Hands is a very funny account of the funeral of a male prostitute, who dallied with celebrities of all types and who died, apparently, of AIDS, rendering the entire congregation — including the vicar — fearful for their own health. Highly reccommend all three.
On a completely different note, Robert Iger’s The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company is a surprisingly good read. Written in clear, simple prose, it narrates his rise from obscurity to being one of the most important CEOs in the world. Particularly interesting were the sections on the nerve-wracking campaign to take over the top job at Disney and the intricate process of buying Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox. The business lessons are not unexpected or revolutionary but are well-articulated.
Ian McEwan is one of my favourite authors, but his Machines Like Me is not the best of his books. An alternate reality science fiction novel about artificial intelligence, androids, and the limits of human emotion, this veers into the excessively philosophical at times, losing the driving urgency of the ploy. But reading McEwan is never a waste of time, because the language is beautiful and the plotting, intricate.
Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent is an academic study of the wealth managers who manages the assets of billionaires, the instruments they use to do their jobs, their impacts on the global economies, the functioning of offshore tax shelters, etc. Interesting but a bit repetitive — I think it could have been a great long magazine article.
Finally, Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson and his Revolutionary Comic Strip, by Nevin Martell, has very little material — largely due to Watterson’s almost paranoid secretiveness. Martell then resorts to talking a lot about himself to fill up the space. Some nuggets of new information, but even as a lifelong Calvin and Hobbes fan, I cannot say this was worth the two days it took me to read it.