Raftery Recommends...

The Dead School by Patrick McCabe 

Excellent novel with usual McCabe madness - characters descending into insanity -but set against the backdrop of 20th Century Ireland and the momentous changes which it underwent. Ending is like James Joyce on speed! 

Hands Of Stone by Christian Giudice 

'The life and legend of Roberto Duran' is a factual account of the turbulent life of the Panamanian boxing legend who ruled the lightweight division for many years before moving up to fight (and win world titles) at several higher weights. An interesting and detailed analysis of a complex (and somewhat flawed) human being with an insight into the so-called 'fight game' of the seventies and eighties. Apparently he was something of a musician as well! 

Darker Than The Deepest Sea by Trevor Dann

is another valiant attempt (and the most successful so far) to capture the essence of the short life of Nick Drake, who recorded briefly on the Island label in the late sixties and early seventies before succumbing to depression and eventually taking his own life. Dann does not shy away from the less appealing side of his subject and at times a more cynical reader might conclude that Drake was just another posh kid with over-indulgent parents. However the sense of 'the lost boy' and what might have been are pervasive themes. Somehow it is hard to listen to Drake without thinking of a rainy Sunday afternoon in a quiet English suburb with an overwhelming air of gentle decay. 

The First Man by Albert Camus

A tale of growing up in Algeria. One of those books I meant to read years ago and somehow never got round to. It is absorbing from the outset with profiles of family members and characters in the neighbourhood. Jacques Cormery, the central character, returns to his home to confront his poverty-stricken, fatherless childhood. In doing so he is forced to confront inner turmoil over the issue of his identity. Highly recommended. 

Hank Williams: The Biography by Colin Escott

The tale of doomed singer Hank Williams, the so called 'Father of Country Music' who, by his early drug-related death provided the blue-print for a Rock n' Roll lifestyle. A tragic tale of a man who, despite being successful in his field, seemed to live life as though he knew he had not long on this earth. Drink, marital conflict and a hillbilly outlook permeate just about every page. He was 'never going to get out of this world alive' as he once phrased it! 

Flat Earth News by Nick Davies

An astounding book which lifts the lid on modern journalistic practices. If you imagine that news stories appear thanks to the unstinting efforts of hard-nosed newshounds desperate to unearth the truth then prepare to have your illusions completely shattered. In a nutshell, most news items are either PR 'plants' or stories which at best contain a slight element of truth and a huge dollop of fiction. Investigative journalism is now seen as a relic from a bygone age. Along the way Davies paints a chilling picture of how major news stories have been bungled, suppressed or distorted beyond the point of recognition. 

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

How the public are continually misled by inaccurate reporting of scientific 'findings'. Most media science stories fall into one of three categories - the 'big scare' (swine flu will kill us all); the miracle cure (fish oil pills will raise your IQ); and the novelty item (Kate Winslett has perfect legs top boffins reveal - or some such twaddle). Lack of research, misuse of statistics and general ignorance all contribute to a woeful collective ignorance. An essential read, especially for anyone who desperately wants to know where homeopathy stands in the grand scheme of things! 

Adventures On The High Teas by Stuart Maconie

This book is a joy from start to finish with Maconie taking a swipe at everything from town planners to grown men in baseball hats (always a sign of dimness, apparently - I knew as much!); but with a generosity of spirit conceding that much of what exists in Middle England is commendable and at odds with the Daily Mail-reading stereotype. He seeks to identify and explain that 'ineffable sadness and loss' which underpins so much of the poetry and music emanating from Middle England; citing Nick Drake, Syd Barrett; Vaughan Williams and Wilfred Owen as just some of its chief exponents. And now I know finally what 'Umma gumma' means! Pies and Prejudice (Maconie's book about the North) here I come! 

Why Join A Trade Union? by Jo Phillips and David Seymour

In the current climate, with much talk of 'big society' by smarmy politicians, it is timely to reflect that even today may people devote a good deal of their spare time in trying to make the world a better place. They care about such unfashionable ideas as pay and conditions; equal rights; health and safety and even the ruthless exploitation of workers in developing countries by multi-national corporations. In an age of 'outsourcing' in which politicians of different parties desperately try to outdo one another in expressing their adoration of the 'free market' and 'healthy competition' it is timely to recall why Trade Unions came into being and how they may be the only voice which ordinary people will have when seeking to protect their interests against a coalition government with the dismantlement of the welfare state and the public sector firmly in its sights. It is humorously written and very useful for anyone who needs reminding why unions exist.

The Talk Of The Town by Ardal O'Hanlon

Better known as Father Dougal of Craggy island in the Channel 4 Father Ted comedy series this, so far as I am aware, is Ardal O'Hanlon's only venture into novel writing. It is an overlooked gem! The story of Frank Scully is a bleakly comic tale of a youth with an aspiration to follow his late father in joining the guards (Irish Police Force) but whose life spirals out of control. Reminiscent of Patrick McCabe at points and very compelling in much the same way.

The Price of Inequality by Joseph Stiglitz

A former Chief Economist at the World Bank has to be worth listening to and Stiglitz does not disappoint. In a very compelling work he pinpoints why the USA is spiralling downwards thanks to the continued preoccupation of successive governments with tax cuts, allowing the wealthy to get ever more wealthy at the direct expense of the poor and the ("hollowed out") middle classes with inevitable increases in crime rates, illiteracy, poor health and an increasing disconnection from mainstream politics. All of which is unsurprising when governments are mainly composed of the super-rich who subsequently frame laws to benefit the 1%. Stilitz describes this as government "of the 1% for the 1% by the 1%". It is not hard to detect similarities with the policies of the coalition government in the UK.