A MOSQUE IN MUNICH: NAZIS, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD IN THE WEST
Ian Johnson Houghton Mifflin, £18.99 list, or £14.95 on Amazon
Or, the unexpected consequences of partnering with your enemies’ enemies. Johnson, a Wall Street Journal reporter tells a rattling tale of how elite units of Muslim thinkers and soldiers were recruited by the Nazis to fight the Soviet Union, who were then in turn co-opted by the Americans to fight in the Cold War, an opening which in turn was exploited by the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the main drivers of Islamist thought, to form a beachhead in Europe. Blowback is cliché, to be sure, but it’s still eye-opening to see how the decisions taken by spies over 70 years ago still have a frightening relevance to our world today. Rishi Dastidar
Douglas Coupland Penguin Canada, available sencondhand on www.amazon.com for around US$20
Sometimes biographer and subject form a sublime, perfect moment, and this is one of those times. If McLuhan was to have invented his perfect writer, one doubts that he could have done better than sculpt Coupland, with all his hyper-sensitivity to the wrinkles of the information age. And Coupland does his subject proud, explaining the media age prophet’s often complex, contradictory thoughts succinctly, while deploying his usual typographical tricks and hymns to humanity. It’s part of a series of short biographies, published by Penguin, about eminent Canadians, an idea which should cross the Atlantic. Rish Dastidar
GRAPHIC DESIGN: A USER’S MANUAL
Adrian Shaughnessy Laurence King, £19.95 list or £11.68 on Amazon
Clearly this is aimed at the felt tip fairies many of us work with on a regular basis, but mentally swap the words “designer” for “writer” as you read and it’s remarkable how much is relevant. Not just “relevant” in fact, more “absolutely bang on the money”. I’m a big fan of books that aim to tell it like it really is, and Adrian’s latest is no exception. Very highly recommended. Roger Horberry
Natalie Merchant was the singer and main songwriter with Ten Thousand Maniacs, a US band I loved until they split up in the 90s. Natalie then began a solo career and I’ve enjoyed most of her work since. Now she’s released her latest collection of songs called ‘Leave Your Sleep’.
There’s so much about this that will appeal to 26 members. The beauty of her voice. The attention given to words. The fact that, spookily, there are 26 songs. And the CD’s all packaged with an exquisite booklet that’s so much more seductive than a download.
The 26 songs cover a whole range of styles, not surprising as the lyrics are drawn from the work of different poets – EE Cummings, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ogden Nash, for example. She wrote the songs for her six-year-old daughter to show that ‘her mother tongue is rich with musical rhythms and rhymes’. John Simmons
Nawal el Sa’adawi University of California Press, available used and new on www.amazon.co.uk
I advise you to go to prison,” said Nawal el Sa’adawi at the Free the Word festival this April. “It gives you the power to survive. When the known becomes known, you’re not afraid of it.” Nawal’s strong, warm and funny personality translates clearly on the page in her account of the months she spent in Egypt’s Barrages prison in 1981, detained by Sadat as a political prisoner. Writing was banned. So, surrounded by dirt, clamour and cockroaches, she borrowed an eyeliner pencil from a prostitute, wrote on toilet paper and hid her ‘diary’ inside her hair rollers. Read this book to discover how she survived prison and why the authorities thought her ideas were so dangerous. Fiona Thompson
Joseph O’Neill Harper Perennial £7.99 list, or £2.99 on Amazon
At the back of my edition of ‘Netherland’, there’s an interview with the author, where he’s asked about the trouble he had getting this intriguing work published. When you describe it as a novel about the New York cricket scene, told from the point of view of a Dutch ex-pat, you can see why. But actually, it’s a wonderfully original piece about belonging and national identity, as Hans, the protagonist, befriends a group of marginalised immigrants who have a passion for hearing the weekend sound of leather on willow. Separated from his wife and young son, his loneliness allows him to be inexorably drawn into a curious, rather shady world on the other side of the tracks, and through his eyes we get to see a rather different side of post-9/11 New York. Jim Davies
An interesting new site exploring the relationship between literature and technology. 26 Exchanges has already been mentioned as one of the showcase projects. Well worth following and supporting. Nick Asbury
THIS IS NOT A NOVEL
David Markson CB Editions, £7.50
Hmm, a ‘concept’ novel listing the obsessions, afflictions and causes of death of hundreds of artists, writers and composers across the centuries, and weaving it all together into a meditation on art, mortality and the creative spirit. Sounds a barrel of laughs, doesn’t it?
I bought it as a bit of a punt, based on my regard for CB Editions, the publisher who brought us (among other things) Elise Valmorbida’s The TV President and J.O. Morgan’s brilliant narrative poem Natural Mechanical. I’m glad I did. Still not sure if it’s a novel, a poem, or as the book itself has it, just a ‘read’. But it’s funny, thought-provoking, educational and moving. And it explores a new way of writing that feels right for this age. Nick Asbury
Paul Auster Faber & Faber, £7.99 list, or £4.92 on Amazon
The kind of book you’ll read in a few hours. Not only because you can, but because you’ll want to. Auster can sometimes be a bit cold, seeking to amaze us with his supreme mastery of form. But in this shaggy dog story, told from the point of view of the bedraggled stray Mr Bones, he has us reaching for our hankies. And along the way, he provides an incisive four-legged pen-portrait of modern middle America. Jim Davies
Absorbing talk from Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, earlier in the month at the LSE – part of an event that included Professor Richard Sennett and a waggish Sir Howard Davies. Their theme: ‘On Narrative and Ritual’. Rowan grounded his view of narrative in the hard world, and the problems that throws up for us. “Narrative synthesises a whole range of transactions that happen in real time, between real bodies – because we think with matter. But material things are difficult. Material things resist. We start to think when we bump into things. And we construct pictures of the world around those patterns of bumping…. Difficulty is part of human thinking. Something resists, but that resistance also draws us in, invites us, or provokes.” This is why, in his words: “Narrative is a difficult business. There is nothing more difficult than telling someone all about yourself, for example.” However: “Difficulty can give you traction. The perfect human state is not a frictionless, undifferentiated place; a place without resistance… Narrative should not be seen as a way to control conflict. Rather, it is a place in which conflict can play out.” The LSE has added a video of this event