Monthly Archives: December 2017

Review, The truth and lies of Ella Black

YA is not necessarily my favourite genre so maybe I’m missing a nuance or too but I just can’t help feeling that this book is so full of teen cliches that it’s hard to wade in further to find the author’s actual meaning.

The story is about the ‘dark side’ of a teenager who finds her life boring and wants to escape while not letting that dark side out.

I’m a bit spoilt having read Patrick Ness who manages to find the human condition beyond ‘teenage-ness’ but still speaks true to the younger experience of looking for purpose and meaning.

The character thinks in an immature tone even for someone meant to be young and immature.

“Flying to Brazil, for the three of us, can’t be cheap. Is it from my parents’ savings? Is it embezzled? Stolen? Laundered? I can’t imagine any of those things. It can only be money they had in the bank.”

The constant references to her parents as ‘boring’ and ‘annoying’ aren’t particularly endearing even as they play to type. Adults do think that teenagers consider them boring but the boring part is the lack of interest in the other person’s priorities. It’s the lack of understanding that is the main issue and that holds true across all ages. The thought of ‘boring’, however limits any interest. It’s a cliche.

The storyline is limited. There is a traumatic event that is discovered. I think that’s about it. The dramatic event in the past and the uncontrollable rage of the teenager lead to a dramatic change in a way of life. It could have been interesting if Ella wasn’t written as ‘teenage-y’ and ‘angsty’ as she was.

This was not a book I enjoyed and it might be because it was just too caught up in all the drama of every single thing that happened even when what happened was trivial. It’s a simple story that becomes overdramatic but not interesting.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

It’s a shame really that Tom Hanks is so rich that he immediately garners huge publicity for his book without it needing to be any good. These stories could have been good. There’s a lovely touch of humanity to all of them and a great way of noticing the little details that make up characters.

The ‘atta boy’ from the first story, the effort to not slip in the snow in the second story because Virgil has a prosthetic leg, the light touch of the social influencers in an actor’s interview schedule. The little bits and pieces are there but the narrative arcs fall clumsily right around the middle of each piece.

You can’t fill a story with funny and touching details and assume it will make up for having no purpose. Short stories are tough work and they may take a lot less to construct than a novel but that makes them even more important.

I imagine that fans will love this collection as there are traces of Hanks throughout. He uses the details well and it’s an opportunity to catch a glimpse of his life that isn’t hidden too much. The wealthy man who has nothing to do but is happy with his life, for example, but blended with characters from Saving Private Ryan and every interview schedule in “A Junket in the City of Light”.

They are nice enough stories. They could have been better.

Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks is out now.

Review, Lobbying for Change by Alberto Alemanno

Alberto Alemanno is an academic and an advocate for citizen lobbying and this book fits in well with both of those narratives. The content is well-researched and comprehensive without losing focus on the main purpose: how to lobby as a citizen.

I admit I was a bit impatient about getting to the lobbying part, which doesn’t get addressed until the 30% mark of the book. The theory is important, however, and since I quickly waned in my interest after finding out what lobbying is and how to do it — with some specific and concise examples and a handy instruction section — I can appreciate the effort that went into the first part of the book.

The instructions on how to lobby are clear and accessible and dispel the notion that only a few well-placed people or corporations in society can take part in this type of activity.

One of the latest lobbying actions Alemanno took part in was trying to get glyphosates banned through the EU. The chemical that has been linked to health concerns was renewed for five years through parliament but it could have been renewed for fifteen years. Citizen lobbying has helped in limiting the renewal to a much smaller space of time.

After years of campaigning by NGOs and citizens about its alleged harmful health effects, demonstrated by the four million signatures collected by the European Citizen Initiative (ECI) ‘Stop Glyphosate’ supported by WeMove and Avaaz, no decision-maker could turn a blind eye to such concerns.

Alemanno writes about lobbying the EU but there are legitimate avenues for citizens to have their voices heard in local arenas too and instructions can be found for those as well. When efforts are harnessed in the right way we can all make change happen to a certain extent.  Lobbying for Change: Find Your Voice to Create a Better Society reveals various routes  other than through the traditional forms such as voting. This is called citizen-lobbying and through these years of austerity it’s a nice start to be given directions about how to help.

One example in the UK is the Petitions Committee that provides a mechanism for people’s opinions to be heard. If a petition receives 10,000 signatures, Government will provide a response; if it reaches 100,000 signatures, it will be debated in parliament. So far there have been 44 responses and two debates in parliament.

This book feels like a positive addition to our times, which aims to empower when all around feels like a disempowering exercise to benefit corporations and those already in power. A small read for a greater purpose.

[Also see this book review on the LSE blogs]

Lobbying for Change by Alberto Alemanno available through The Hive (which benefits local bookshops)