Bracing Walks In Bleak Settings

Dear Mr Key, writes a correspondent I have just made up, I know you are a constant reader who always has “a book on the go”, as they say. It would interest me to know how you go about choosing which book you are going to read next.

In the normal course of things, I would be hard put to give a straightforward answer to that question. Like most of us, I suspect, I alight upon books for all manner of different reasons, not always rational. Today, however, I can say definitively that I decided on my current reading simply because I saw a photograph in the newspaper of Michael Gove reading it.

When he was sacked as Education Secretary the other week, the Grauniad had a double-page spread on Gove, much of which was of course devoted to attacking him. Among the accompanying photos was one of Gove “at a literary festival”, where he was shown reading from – the title was clearly visible – The Lost World of British Communism by Raphael Samuel, essays written in the 1980s but published in book form (by Verso) in 2006.

I immediately wanted to read this book, and eventually got round to borrowing it from the library. Just a few pages in, and it looks very promising. In the preface by Samuel’s widow Alison Light, I learn that among the treats in store are such details as

what Communists sang or watched at the cinema; what they wore, (open-necked shirts, if they were men, with a pen or pencil prominently displayed in the breast pocket; jumper, slacks and ‘sensible shoes’ if they were women); how Party members comported themselves in public (they were urged to be neat and clean); where they went on holiday – if indeed they took holidays – preferring ‘bracing walks’ in bleak settings; the content and feel of their homes, which were usually uncomfortable, with a small shrine of books and the garden left a wilderness, the author tells us, for want of ‘personal time’.

I shall report further snippets of interest as I read on. Meanwhile, if any readers are able to provide further photographs of Michael Gove reading particular books, I will be very grateful.

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