I WISH we could un-invent the smartphone. Now our books are always under threat from the device in our pocket, humming with tweets, gifs and important articles that we simply have to read this instant.
MY FAVOURITE BOOK IS Runaway by Alice Munro. It’s a collection in which each story has the reach and scope of a novel but the poise and clarity of the short form at its best.
MY DESERT ISLAND BOOK WOULD BE Paradise Lost. One of the oldest stories and one of the best. I’d pace the shoreline on my unspoilt Eden, reading aloud until I knew it off by heart. Then when I’m rescued I’d at least have a decent dinner party trick.
THE LAST BOOK I READ WAS The Last Party by John Harris. With Britpop nostalgia at its peak, what better time to read this brilliant account of the era? Harris is as good on the politics and business as he is on the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll that briefly gave Britain back its cultural swagger.
THE BOOK I LEARNED THE MOST FROM IS Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. How to write economically, how to tell a story, how to value the imagination and think about our inner lives. It’s all there in this masterpiece of image and text.
The Next Factory of the World by Irene Yuan Sun
There is a widespread view in the West that the heavy investment in Africa by China is a geopolitical powerplay by a great empire. In this fascinating and highly personal account, Chinese investment is shown in a different light. The case for the defence is built largely on China’s own experience.
Having grown up in China, the author describes her first ever ride in a car - a big event in China as late as the 1990s when few owned a car. Today China’s streets are clogged with cars. The transformation came through trade, and from China turning itself into “the factory of the world”.
A similar economic uplift is what Chinese investment might bring to Africa in the next 20 years, working where centuries of empire and aid have failed. The story is told from the viewpoint of Chinese owners and investors in four African countries and all have compelling tales. If there is a slight lack of geopolitics in the book, it still feels complete. This is a fascinating story and may be the one to shape the next decade.