A quick catch-up on the reading front

As you know, I usually try to write a quick review of books I’ve enjoyed. On the grounds that, if you like reading my blog, you may well like to read the sort of things that I like to read, too. And also because people who write books (usually) put a lot of effort into what they do, so it seems only nice, if I’ve enjoyed their work, to tell other people about it. I’ve built up a bit of a backlog of books to review, though, so in an effort to clear the decks a little, here are some of the things that I’ve read recently. I really think you’d enjoy reading them, too.

English Pastoral is the second book by ‘Herdwick Shepherd’ James Rebanks. It’s very much in the vein of his first book, The Shepherd’s Life, in that it’s based on his experiences as a sheep farmer in England’s Lake District. But it’s more than just a memoir. It’s a call to action.

Rebanks uses his experiences in trying to make his own farm sustainable to reflect on how the farming sector as a whole can move away from its intensive, fossil-fuelled past and embrace a future of regenerative agriculture that works for both people and planet.

It’s a difficult – and sometimes lonely – journey. Because, as Rebanks explains, not all of the agriculture community sees things the same way as he does. But a growing number do. And by engaging with conservationists and with other like-minded souls, he’s proving – at, admittedly, a very local scale – that another way is possible.

He also writes about it in a clear and engaging way. The book is an absolute joy to read, weaving together artfully the author’s own journey into farming, his family’s history and heritage in the Lakes, his approach to farming and the challenges he faces, and insights into how his philosophy might be taken up by the broader agricultural community. A quick word of warning, though: By the end of the book, you will want to be a farmer.

Sarah Corbett’s How to Be a Craftivist likewise seeks to inspire change, but through the medium of craft. That is, things like embroidery and other forms of needlework. I’m slowly getting into embroidery myself (if you think embroidery is for grandmas, Google ‘sweary embroidery’ and think again) and learned about Sarah’s work while watching a craft-related programme on the telly a couple of months back.

Sarah is a campaigner and activist by background, having worked with a range of charities and on campaigns of her own. But she felt burned-out by the constant need to fight against injustice. And she came to realise that yelling at people and telling them they’re stupid isn’t necessarily the best way to get them to change their minds. So she learned to use craft as a medium of ‘gentle protest’, which engages with people who can bring about change in a more considered way and helps those engaged in protest to do so more mindfully.

I’ve found this to be a deeply profound book that has challenged my own views and that has helped me to think more deeply about how best to bring about positive change. And whether you’re into craft or not, this book will be a valuable resource to anyone who wants to make a difference. You can find out more about Sarah’s work, and the community she has built up around it, on the Craftivist Collective website.

The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton is an introduction to, and an argument for, the modern monetary theory of economics. This is an idea that is growing rapidly in momentum, so if you’re into politics and/or economics, you need to know about it. And this is the book to get you up to speed.

Essentially, modern monetary theory says that countries that issue their own currencies (like the US and the UK) don’t need to worry so much about government deficits of expenditure over income, as they’re able to create money when it’s needed. So if the government wants to build a new hospital, for example, it can create the money it needs to pay for it.

The counterpoint to this, though, is the need to control inflation. Because if the government creates too much money, it could generate competition for resources (e.g. builders, bricks and other things you need to build a hospital) and could push prices up. And so, argues Kelton, the real task for the government is to ensure that society has sufficient tangible resources – such as skilled people, manufacturing capacity, etc. – to do all the things it wants to do.

She goes on to debunk several of the ongoing myths about government deficits, which feature strongly in the media and which lead to anyone who questions the received wisdom of mainstream economic theory being portrayed as a dangerous lunatic. And she shows how, rather than being something to avoid, government deficit spending can actually play a positive role in promoting economic and social development.

Kelton also explores what she refers to as ‘the deficits that matter’, such as a lack of universal healthcare (the book has a predominantly US focus), poor educational opportunities, environmental degradation and climate change. And she uses the lens of modern monetary theory to show how, by getting over the false notion that government finances are like our own household finances (I’m a public finance specialist and I can tell you, as Kelton argues, that they’re really not), we’d be in a much better position to do something about them.

Brendan Leonard’s I Hate Running and You Can Too brings a little light relief to my reading list. I first came across Leonard through the artful charts and diagrams that he creates for Outside magazine. You can see some examples on his website and on Instagram. And so when I read that he’d just written a book about running, bringing together his running philosophy (the title of the book gives you in insight into what this philosophy might be) and his awesome charts, I couldn’t wait to get hold of a copy.

And the book doesn’t disappoint. As someone who likes running when I’m actually out running, but gets tired of the whole faff of finding time to go running and actually mustering the enthusiasm to get out the door, I felt that this book had been written especially for me. I get exasperated with all the running evangelists who seem to have nothing else going on in their lives, and who appear to be able to put in seventy miles a week without risking redundancy or divorce. So it was refreshing to read something by someone who, like me, sometimes wishes they had the courage to just ditch the running habit and stay at home on the sofa.

You can buy these books from your local independent bookshop. If you don’t have a local independent bookshop, you can order them from Alistair and Chloe at Books on the Hill in Clevedon, Somerset, which is my local independent bookshop.

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