As a refugee from the genteel world of publishing, it’s been a pleasant surprise to realise that my colleagues are actually a seriously literary bunch, with a varied taste in books of all shapes and sizes. So here’s this month’s BBH reading pics, featuring narco-thrillers, classic fiction, philosophy, social commentary and, to kick off, the superest of superheroes.
Amazing Spider-Man #19.1, Written by Gerry Conway, Illustrated by Carlo Barberi, Reviewed by Matt Fitch, Creative
In this issue, Spider-Man finds himself caught between a cabal of super criminals known as the ‘Circus of Crime’ who are back and deadlier than ever.
To be honest, it’s not a great issue. There have been some great Spider-Man storylines recently (Death of Peter Parker, Spider-Verse) but it seems like for now we’re coasting through generic-ville while we wait for the next big plot turn.
But I don’t mind. I love Spider-Man. Always have, always will. He’s the superhero for the people, a timeless everyman who faces as many battles in his humdrum day-to-day life as he does in his crime-fighting moments.
Everybody, from teenagers, to students, to young professionals, to Dads (of which I have been all at one time or another) can relate to the trials and tribulations of Peter Parker.
Despite the fact that they’re now a mainstream, billion dollar industry, some people still maintain that comics are for kids. Spider-man proves they’re not.
Matt’s love of Spider-Man and comics in general have inspired him and his creative partner Mark Lewis to create their own comic, Frogman, which lovingly riffs on the whole comic book genre. The latest issue, Frogman 3: The Death of Frogman, is currently funding on Kickstarter, and you can read issue #1 for free here.
The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, by John Le Carré, reviewed by Sacha Ward, Head of Copy
It’s 1962 and Alex Leamas, a British spy in Berlin, is rapidly going to seed. But before he can come in from the Cold, he must frame and expose a high-ranking, deadly East German operative. Even if, after a career of deception, it means surrendering what little morality he has left.
Le Carré’s plot is as dark and devious as the times it was written in. More than 50 years later, it remains relevant – questioning the morality of intelligence gathering methods and whether a righteous end can justify any means.
The Cartel, by Don Winslow, reviewed by Jeremy Ettinghausen, Innovation Director
It felt a strange coincidence to be finishing this fictionalised account of the Drug Wars and their effect on Mexico as Joaquin ‘el Chapo’ Guzman was walking out of his high security jail cell through a mile long tunnel. But then again, fact is often stranger than fiction in a country where corruption, violence and collusion between criminals, law enforcement and government are all endemic, ever-present and devastating in their effect on ‘civilian’ Mexicans.
A sequel to the fantastic Power of the Dog, The Cartel can be read and even enjoyed as a bang-up-to-date narco-thriller. But as it would belittle the scope and gravitas of The Wire to describe it as a ‘police drama’, so The Cartel is, by way of Winslow’s research, empathy and ambition, far more than an unputdownable thriller. It’s powerful, brutal and illuminating – and well worth reading.
I’ve discussed this book with many, and the one thing that keeps coming up is how amazing it is that something written over 2,000 years ago is still so relevant today. In this essay, Seneca challenges the notion that life is short – it only seems short to us plebs because we waste so much of it. Life, he posits, is long if you know how to use it. This is not to say that we should bury ourselves in our work and become superhumans (or inhuman, depending on how you look at it), doing everything for everyone all the time – busyness is in fact the greatest distraction from living. We mindlessly and mechanically go through the motions, present ourselves at our obligations (work, family, society) while being absent from ourselves, mistaking the doing for the being. A must-read for anyone finding themselves empty day after day.
The Circle, by Dave Eggers, reviewed by Stephen Pirrie, Social Strategy Director
Dave Eggers’ The Circle is now a couple of years old – a lifetime in tech – but with each passing month, it becomes more like reality. Set in the near-future, Eggers introduces us to the world’s most dominant tech company The Circle. The Circle releases products that feel unnervingly realistic – not far off what Google or Facebook would release – the ability to search anyone’s past history (back to their colonial roots) or tiny connected cameras that can document everything from what’s going on in your home to personal interactions.
Eggers’ near-future is far from an obvious state-dictated dystopia which makes it all the more unsettling and unnerving – we already let this technology into our homes, willingly. The Circle raises profound questions we should all be asking of social media, personal data and privacy. Readers (myself included) may write it off claiming that we wouldn’t let an invasion of our privacy go so far – until you open the latest Photos app from Google, search for a “car” or “beach” and wonder how the devil Google knows what’s in your photos. More technology like this exists, the key holders simply haven’t turned it on yet.
How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran, reviewed by Charlie Dodd, Producer
It is shocking only by its ability to say the things that are absolutely true that I would like to be able to say without feeling shocked. I found myself hiding the pages I read on the tube this morning in case a man read these secrets of a 17 year old girl when the whole point of the book (and the basis of liberal modern woman) is that these things shouldn’t be matters for embarrassment. Most confusing and liberating. Not high literature but highly important reflections of woman and girlhood.
Far From the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, reviewed by Selina Strasburger, Account Manager
I 100% admit to reading this book because I saw the movie poster on the underground. I read Tess of the D’Urbervilles ages ago and did not enjoy it … at all. She made me angry, he made me angry, everyone in the book made me angry, and it was all just so tragic. After that I decided to avoid Hardy as I didn’t think I could take the emotional trauma. However, I’m glad to report that Far from the Madding Crowd didn’t leave me a total mess. It stars a feisty young woman named Bathsheba and three very different men who are all after her affection. The book has all the drama and all the unfortunate happenstance that Hardy loves, but manages to maintain a thread of hope and humour throughout it. Well worth a read.