What I’m Reading: Fayke Newes by Derek J Taylor

For anybody with even a passing interest in democratic institutions, it was jarring to hear the American president describe the free press as the ‘enemy of the people’.

‘Surely’, I thought, ‘surely we have now shifted the Overton window to a new extreme!’

It turns out that I was dreadfully wrong. The ‘Media’ and ‘the Mighty’ have fought for centuries with mud-slinging, lies and aggression (and counter-aggression).

Fayke Newes cover

With a delightfully irreverent cover, a title of faux-medieval origin and the (current) American president in Henry VIII’s garb, Derek J Taylor’s latest book immediately invites us to place modern ramblings about ‘fake news’ into their rightful historical context.

Taylor begins the tale with the Western world’s favourite serial husband (Henry, not Donald). And with his decidedly Trumpian cry of ‘false fables and tales’ against an opponent, Henry VIII is an excellent place to begin.

Charting his way through Tudors, wars and revolutions (of both the bloody and industrial persuasion), Taylor’s mapping of the relationship between those who make the stories and those who tell them (or both, simultaneously) is an engaging read. Their co-existence appears to be a form of uneasy symbiosis; the mighty providing the fire, and the media, the oxygen (or does that make it antibiotic?).

A particularly engaging part of the book involves the suffragettes. Emmeline Pankhurst and her WSPU did not gain real traction – despite serious action – until the media picked up the story (one way or another). The sheer starvation of information or recognition meant that there was no real engagement… until a turning point. And with the media attention came real reaction from the mighty – to the press and to the suffragettes. And so the cycle continues.

A lengthy historical tome this is not. A salutary lesson: more likely.

Fayke News is published by the History Press. Additional details and vendors available here.

On Reading: Relapsing into the Addiction

I grew up with a borderline-unhealthy attachment to books. I devoured everything from The Lord of the Rings to trashy teen fiction to dog-eared copies of Readers Digest in the doctor’s waiting room.

Law school, traumatic reading experience that is, changed that. A few years after graduating, I realised that I no longer regularly read for pleasure. The magic had been murdered by my LLB. I immediately set myself a modest goal to read 12 books by the end of the year.

That year, I read 17 books in total. I’ve since gone further (more on that later…), but those first few months, I learned three key things about (re)developing a reading habit.

1. “Let it gooo”: accept that it’s okay not to finish a book.

This should be rule number 1, 2 and 3.

A salutary lesson: in the afterglow of my goal-setting, I went to my nearest bookstore and bought three books. I got through three pages of the first, put it back down and didn’t read again for two months.

I had no desire to keep reading that book, but the idea of starting another without finishing the first was even less appealing.

In the end, I gave the first book away so it could not judge me, un-read, from my shelf. This let me start the second book (Grisham’s fun collection of short stories, Ford County). I had learned my first lesson: if a book is not working for you, move on!

2. Be flexible: read however works for you

Just start reading! Read wherever you possibly can, whenever you are able to, and whatever you feel like reading.

None of those first few books I read were particularly deep books. I needed to de-program my brain from approaching books like legal puzzles. Heavy literature is not the only (or best…) form of true reading. Reading something is nearly always better than reading nothing. Read what you enjoy!

Initially I resisted eBooks, feeling that a ‘true book experience’ (whatever that is) must be in paper form. What garbage. You need to read however works for you. I now read mostly on my kindle, often standing on the train, sometimes walking to Sainsbury’s. Audio books in the car might work as well. Snatch time where you can get it.

Just read!

3. Relax: have fun

Setting reading goals might not work for you. In fact, it might be counter-productive! If 12 books in a year is unattainable for you, start with 6; one book every two months is achievable for most folks. Even if you get 3, that is better than zero!

As you read, savour what you can; one of the joys I find in reading is encountering lines or passages that stick with you. I still find myself mulling over lines from East of Eden (“I wonder how many people I have looked at all my life and never really seen” being a particular favourite).

You might enjoy getting to know the characters – either way, enjoy the journey!

… and have fun.