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Year round-up Best of 2019: Books

“IT IS worse, much worse, than you think.” From its first sentence, The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future (Penguin Books) by US writer David Wallace-Wells is a deeply frightening read in chronicling the existential threat the climate crisis poses to humanity.

He notes that all the commitments made at the 2015 Paris UN climate summit by the 195 signatories would still mean a deadly 3.2°C of warming by 2100. If this isn’t terrifying enough, he explains that, as of 2018, “not a single major industrial nation was on track to fulfil the commitments it made in the Paris treaty.”

Answering Amitav Ghosh’s call for more fiction devoted to climate change, John Lanchester’s allegorical novel The Wall (Faber & Faber) considers how British society and politics could react to a climatic event called “the change.”

With a nod to George Orwell’s 1984, Lanchester imagines a dystopian near future in which a colossal wall has been built along the entire coastline of the nation, manned by conscripted soldiers known as “Defenders” who are  tasked with keeping out climate refugees — “The Others” —  trying to get into the country.

Set in Chicago, Halle Butler’s novel The New Me (Orion) is a cutting, pathos-filled exploration of millennial work and social life, with the bored and depressed female narrator full of loathing for her work colleagues, so-called friends and, most of all, herself.

Comic novelist Sam Lipsyte’s Hark (Simon & Schuster) also has a laser-like focus on the foibles and hypocrisies of contemporary Western culture, brilliantly skewering self-help gurus, hipsters, liberal parenting and mid-life crises — pretty much everything and everyone is a target for satire.

Rarely have I read an author whose every sentence is so full of rich, imaginative language and, like the New Yorker’s 2010 novel The Ask,  it’s also hysterically funny, often in the most dark and delicious ways.

Bad News for Labour: Antisemitism, the Party and Public Belief (Pluto) from the new Glasgow Media Group (GMG) is an essential read for anyone interested in the accusations of antisemitism directed at the Labour Party.

In addition to showing how the media have played a key role in massively exaggerating the scale of the problem, the authors provide some welcome advice on how Labour can communicate much more successfully to the general public on this crucial issue.

Heavily influenced by the GMG tradition, Mike Berry’s The Media, the Public and the Great Financial Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan) highlights how the British print and broadcast media, including the BBC, played a key role in narrowing the national debate after the 2008 financial crisis in ways that suited elite interests.

Taken together, both books have much to teach about contemporary British politics and the hugely negative role played by the media.

As US media analyst Robert McChesney has succinctly put it: “So long as the media are in corporate hands, the task of social change will be vastly more difficult, if not impossible.”

 

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