Transports of delight: 5 great Books about reading other Books

It wasn't a plan particularly, but then that's part of the joy of books - I never have a plan for what I'm going to sink my teeth into next. It is usually just a matter of wanting something different from the one before. But a couple of books recently have done that self-referential thing: they're books about books (a bit like U2's recent self-referential album, I suppose). And it got me thinking about the other books I've loved that have done this.

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The perils of drink – but it’s not quite what you think

It's Friday, and so that would normally call for some Friday fun. Well, this post more or less qualifiesasa bit of fun, but it's also a bit of seriousness too. So I'll let it stand on its own merits. Here is a very helpful and salutary public health warning from the great nineteenth century social reformer and polemicist William Cobbett. It has much to teach us. As I'm sure you'll agree...

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Václav Havel’s 1978 warning to the West

I'm trying to understand power - what it means, how it's wielded, how it affects us. Big topic. But I'm increasingly convinced that we can't understand the culture of suspicion without grasping the power of power (and itsabuses). This has drawn meto someone who has been a bit of a hero, but whose writings I'd only dipped into. Reading Václav Havel's masterly and vital 1978 essay The Power of the Powerless has blown me away. Written in the dark days of Czechoslovak communism (only 10 years after the false dawn of the Prague Spring), it is a profound analysis of what it was like to live under a regime built entirely on lies. The only response, the only subversion of the regime, therefore, is to live in truth.

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Let the meaning choose the word: Orwell on political language

It has its gainsayers (eg Steven Poole is pretty disparaging, though unfairly in my view) but George Orwell's Politics and the English Language (the whole essay is online), is prophetic. Of course some of his linguistic concerns are matters of taste and fashion (as Steven Poole rightly notes). But written at the close of the Second World War, this article exposes the sham sincerity and dissembling motivation behind so much political speech and writing. That is the essay's great virtue. And it has not gone out of date at all.

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Memento Mori: Matthew Parris, The House of Commons and the 1994 Death of John Smith

John Smith MP was one of those tragic political should-have-beens. But while Leader of the Opposition riding on Labour's 23% point lead over the Tories in 1994 and widely assumed to be Prime Minister in waiting, he died 18 years ago tomorrow from a pair of massive heart attacks. He was only 55. For those concerned with public life, it was one of those remember-what-you-were-doing-moments. But the reason for picking up on it here is that I was blown away at the time, and recalled in conversation lastweek, the piece written by the great Matthew Parris, at the time The Times' Parliamentary Sketch-writer and oft-quoted by Q.

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Orwell on The Unspeakable Wrongness of Taking a Life.

I get restless if I don't have something to read on the bus. So I grabbed the closest thing on my desk as I ran out yesterday - which had been a recently thumbed anthology of George Orwell's Essays. (I'd been looking at it because of the seminal piece Why I Write, recently recommended to me by the Real Grasshopper). I found myself, somewhat incongruously, sitting upstairs in the front row motoring down Park Lane, and reading a short account of an experience Orwell had in the British Imperial Police in Burma - starkly entitled 'A Hanging'.

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