First up it's On Royalty by Jeremy Paxman.
Paxman, as most Brits will know, is a well known TV journalist who works primarily for the BBC. I can't say I like his interviewing technique all that much - he's one of a band of interviewers who think it's clever to ask a question, allow the interviewee to get four words out and then interupt. As someone who often wants to hear what the person has to say I find this infuriating. That said, I still like him. He has a keen, intelligent, brain and uses it in his writing. I very much enjoyed his book, The English and have now enjoyed On Royalty. It's not really a subject I'm all that fascinated by; I'm not a fanatical Royalist, nor even a moderate one to be honest. But nor would I do away with them and I'm interested in as much as I enjoy history. Paxman's book is a mixture of pure facts, opinions and anecdotes and not at all a dry, chronological retelling of the lives of Kings and Queens of England. His lively sense of humour is very apparent and he uses it in the retelling of his weekend at one of Prince Charle's house parties, in the introduction. Truthfully, it's worth reading this book just for that. Not bad.
Next: Moab is my Washpot by Stephen Fry.
Stephen Fry is pretty much accepted in this country as a National Treasure. It would be hard to find anyone who is not a fan of his wonderful sense of humour and intelligence. This is his first autobiography, or memoirs, or whatever you choose to call them, and deals with his life from birth to around the age of twenty. Born to well off parents - his father was a boffin type - he had quite an idyllic childhood and was sent off to prep school in Wiltshire at the age of eight. The book deals exhaustively with his life at both prep and, following that, public school. Interspersed with the facts are Stephen's thoughts on everything you can think of. He is very self-critical of himself and his behaviour as a child and young adult, and very kind and tolerant of everyone else and their actions. The over-whelming impression I came away with was, yes, he made mistakes, but he never blames anyone but himself. It takes a strong person to take that attitude, many would be muttering, 'Poor me...' A wonderful book, probably the best non-fiction I'll read all year. His second autobiography is out in a week or so and my copy is already preordered.
Next Cameron: The Rise of the new Conservative by Francis Elliott and James Hanning.
You'd have to have been living under a rock not to have known that we have a new government here in the UK and that our new Prime Minister is one, David Cameron. Fascinated by the whole coalition thing I sent for two biographies and this is the first. The authors have done a warts and all study of their subject, starting with his childhood - prep school, Eton, Oxford etc. and also revealing a lot about his family, friends, colleagues etc. There's a lot of political history of the last 25 years or so included; this was, at times, a bit dry but never less than readable. I found the personal stuff much more interesting and the chapter on the death of his disabled oldest son, Ivan, actually brought me to tears. All in all, the thing I came away with most was how like Yes Minister! political life really is. All that back-biting, scheming, lying through your teeth, having to know the right people and so on and so on. A fascinating read and I would now like to read more books with a political slant. Mandelson's 'New Labour' book is on my radar but I'm told John Major's autobiography is also rather good. Haven't made up my mind about Blair's book yet.
And lastly some fiction - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.
It's quite hard to know what I can say about this book without giving away any spoilers. Basically, I was reading it because I'd done a search on books set in schools, as the Stephen Fry book had piqued my interest. This was one of the books the search came up with. I have to say, it was not at all what I was looking for! (Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players is closer to the mark.) But, nothing daunted, I ploughed on even when I realised the direction in which it was heading. In brief, it starts with a girl looking back on her life in a residential school, her friends and so on. It's clear she is now some kind of carer and that the school was a special school. You get hints and I very quickly guessed the gist of the thing. More than that I'm not going to say. The author writes beautifully, the book is intense, frightening and not one you'll want to pick up if you're feeling a bit down in the dumps. He also wrote the very well known, Remains of the Day, which I haven't read but have seen the very beautiful and poignant film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. I think I'm intrigued enough to read more by him... but not just yet.