Welcome to our weekly Books Digest where we round-up what you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Marie Le Conte, Dan Kovalik and Clare Sestanovich.

For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.

Honourable Misfits: A Brief History of Britain’s Weirdest, Unluckiest and Most Outrageous MPs by Marie Le Conte (Hodder & Stoughton), £14.99.

Bill Bowkett 

Some – not all – politicians we have elected have been a peculiar bunch. So much so that journalist Marie Le Conte has written an entire book about it. Honourable Misfits: A Brief History of Britain’s Weirdest, Unluckiest and Most Outrageous MPs is everything you come to expect from the ever acute Le Conte. “This book is not about politics,” Le Conte clarifies in the introduction. It is an attempt to celebrate the oddest and most eccentric people the House of Commons has ever seen.

The decision to focus on the House of Commons I found baffling. Why solely focus on the lower chamber? The House of Lords is bound to have had some oddballs sat on the red benches. Another quibble I have is the lack of MPs that were present from the 1970s onwards. No George Galloway and his purry Celebrity Big Brother cameo; no Dennis Skinner and his infamous Queen’s Speech quips.

Instead, we get John Benjamin Stone for being a photographer and Joseph Brotherton for being… a teetotal vegetarian? The selection of MPs – the majority of whom are perhaps predictably male – are a mixed bunch. There are eccentrics, adventurers and idlers. 

Some are worth turning the page over for, like Ignaz Trebitsch-Lincoln and his treachery and conversion to Buddhism. Others, however, fall frustratingly flat. The only interesting thing about James Morrison is the wealth he passed down.

Marie Le Conte’s writing style is accessible, filled with verve and the odd sarcastic jab. But it is not enough to sustain interest for 200 pages, not least because the profiles vary in length and intrigue. She even admits this flaw, asking the reader: “How are you reading this book? Is it in large chunks, swallowing biography after biography, or only one MP at a time, when you have a moment?” The latter was the case.

As side hustles go for Marie Le Conte, Honourable Misfits is a waning effort to “celebrate human nature… in all its odd, compelling complexity”. She should look at the misfits currently running our country instead.

Cancel This Book: The Progressive Case Against Cancel Culture by Dan Kovalik (Skyhorse Publishing), £18.99.

Olivia Gavoyannis

After making its way through America, “cancel culture” is now an undeniable part of British public life. Rule Britannia, artist Jess de Wahls, the film Grease and banjo player Winston Marshall are just a few of the British public figures and cultural touchstones that have been publicly condemned, or “cancelled”, this year for expressing an objectionable behaviour or viewpoint. To its supporters, “cancel culture” champions social justice and holds people accountable for their actions. To its critics – a group that includes American human rights lawyer, professor and peace activist Dan Kovalik – the practice is often counter-productive and destructive of the very values which the “cancellers” claim to support.

In Cancel This Book, Kovalik makes what he describes as “the progressive case against cancel culture” – detailing how his own experiences of left-on-left bullying compelled him to speak out about the issue. The book is billed as an exposé of the views that other progressives are too afraid to air publicly, and Kovalic certainly does not shy away from contentious topics. Over the course of the book, he rips apart diversity training, criticises white protestors for hijacking the Black Lives Matter demonstrations and takes on the “blood sport of academic cancellation”. Whether or not you agree with his opinions – and Kovalik himself acknowledges that you will probably take umbrage with a few – the book offers a welcome starting point for discussing an issue which is made so toxic by its intolerance of debate.

Objects of Desire by Clare Sestanovich (Pan Macmillan), £14.99.

Alice Crossley

Short stories often feel like the literary equivalent of glancing into the window of a stranger’s house and observing a snippet of their life. The challenge for the writer is making those few stolen moments worth watching. Clare Sestanovich, an editor at the New Yorker, excels at this task in her debut short story collection, Objects of Desire. These eleven short stories about lust, womanhood and self-identity portray the author’s meticulous skill for observation as she draws out the amusing and the melancholic from seemingly everyday interactions.

“Separation” follows Kate, whose first husband dies only a year after they marry and who dreams of telling the daughter she has with her second husband about her first love, only for her daughter never to ask. “Security Questions” is about Georgia, a twenty-six-year-old, and Debbie, the wife of the much older man Georgia is having an affair with. In “By Design”, Suzanne, a middle-aged mother, falls for one of her employees only to find herself embroiled in a sexual harassment claim.

In each chapter, and even within each story, Sestanovich expertly places you in the mind of different women, young and old, rich and poor, single and in relationships. The stolen glimpses into the complex minds of her characters will leave you unable to resist writing the rest of their story in your head.

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