Those Precious Days by Ann Patchett
Bloomsbury, 336 pages, £ 16.99
When Ann Patchett writes an essay, she stops worrying about death. The idea of leaving a novel unfinished, she explains in a tortuous but amiable logic, is haunting, but death “has no interest in testing.” Here she collects 23 results of this distraction exercise, most of them personal, all well worked out, not a few bearing traces of folk, as evidenced by titles such as “The Moment Nothing Changed” and “How Knitting Saved My Life. . Twice.”
Patchett, the author of Bel Canto and state of wonder, begins with a reflection on her “three fathers” – the men to whom her mother was married. In the penultimate essay, she returns to say “two other things” about her biological father before ending with some thoughts on a father figure of a different kind, John Updike. If she could stop time, Patchett argues, it would be to read all of Updike’s books. In fact, time flies, giving her more things to write essays on – the year she didn’t buy anything nonessential, the chosen cover for her novels, and her changing relationship to Eudora Welty’s stories.
By Léo Robson
[See also: Reviewed in short: New books by Ken Worpole, Craig Whitlock, Mary Roach and Ilya Kaminsky]
Breaking the Internet: Pursuit of Influence by Olivia Yallop
Scribe, 288 pages, £ 16.99
In 2021, publishers have a problem: how to publish a book on Internet culture that does not immediately become obsolete because of the pace of change? Scribe can be the first to find an answer with Break Internet, an exploration of the UK influencer industry by strategist Olivia Yallop.
The book is a historic Internet review in the 2010s that assesses how influence has become so lucrative, while avoiding focusing too much on current trends. Yallop includes interviews with fashion bloggers and TikTokkers, plus revealing data (we learn 96.5% of US YouTubers earn below the federal poverty line), but doesn’t allow the book to get too tech-savvy. Her career in influencer marketing provides some juicy anecdotes, like when she observed immense competition among influencers at a party where guests were expected to have a million followers. Break Internet explains how technology, the attention economy and traditional media collide – a fast-paced story that is relevant but also goes beyond.
By Sarah Manavis
[See also: In My Body, Emily Ratajkowski asks difficult questions about beauty and capitalism. Does she have any answers?]
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Getting Around by Duncan Weldon
Small, brown, 352pp, £ 20
This book, says Duncan Weldon, tells ‘how the UK economy got to where it is today’. It is also the desperation of interventionismEconomics may have been a necessary fixation for every UK government, from Robert Peel to Boris Johnson, but it has proven to be an intractable beast. If today’s string-pullers worry about issues like the balance between sovereignty and openness, the impact of new technologies or increasing inequality, then, Weldon shows, our economic ancestors did. too.
For Weldon, a former Bank of England economics writer, economics and history go hand in hand. Modern economists are dealing with a legacy that took recognizable form with the industrial revolution and 19th century urbanization. He distinguishes the 1930s and 1970s as pernicious decades of high inflation and high unemployment, and shows how every measure – from GDP to taxes levied – can be traced backwards: in 2015, for example, real wages were under. pressure for the last time. seen during the Napoleonic wars. One of the many advantages of Weldon’s persuasive analysis is that it makes his topic understandable even to the most economically challenged.
By Michael Prodger
Fall: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Conservative Britain by Phil Burton-Cartledge
Verso, 336 pages, £ 18.99
Despite 140,000 more pandemic-related deaths, corruption charges and a decade of stagnant salaries, current polls suggest the Conservative Party is likely to rule for much of the 2020s. Nonetheless, sociologist Phil Burton-Cartledge believes that the party is in decline. The electoral base that Margaret Thatcher built by selling social housing and shares in privatized industries is aging, he explains. Young people, excluded from the real estate market and punished by successive Conservative governments, cannot acquire the lifestyle that convinced their parents to vote Conservative. Without renewed support, argues Burton-Cartledge, the Conservatives’ electoral base will shrink.
His emphasis on material conditions is a welcome respite from the short-termism of other commentators. But he downplays factors in favor of conservatives, such
as the next electoral district boundaries change which will help them in future elections. It’s a party history asserted since Thatcher, but Burton-Cartledge also overlooks a simple fact of the British electoral system: For the Tories to fail, Labor must succeed.
By Freddie Hayward
[See also: Reviewed in short: New books by Steve Richards, Michael Pye, Justine Picardie and Sandro Veronesi]