The long list has finally been published by The Guardian, so I can now reveal it was Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman that was the subject of the last featured post in this series.
I’ll resist any urges to list the remainder – they can easily be found on the newspaper’s website. This week it was the turn of Chavs – The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones.
The introduction set the scene well, and the chapters were readable and well-constructed using a journalistic style. I found the subject matter compelling, the arguments well-measured, and there was a mischievous quality at times. Owen Jones is on a mission – to reveal who exactly is waging class war on whom. As I read account after account of fascinating anecdotal material, I identified 2 threads emerging as strong themes: The lack of decent housing and jobs for the working classes. The book was thought-provoking, and as I was reading it, from beginning to end, I felt a shift occur within, the political beast inside me was invigorated.
For too long, ordinary people have been squashed down by a system designed to benefit the wealthy and the priveleged. Chavs looks hard at the aspirational model of personal self-improvement championed by Margaret Thatcher and embraced so readily by New Labour, and blasts massive holes in it.
This book is a must-read. If you read nothing else this year, then choose Chavs.
At the reading group this evening we held a lively debate. Some were of the opinion that it was like a ‘badly written dissertation’, and while I agree that many of the statistics used could have been tightened up, and that there was a degree of thematic repetition, I felt it was well-constructed and readable. After all, what’s the point of writing in an academic style, with lots of in-depth
statistical analysis if it bores the pants off the reader? If nothing else, Chavs is an engaging read.
Another point of discussion was the notion that Jones failed to develop or flesh out much of his material. I was dismayed to hear my fellow readers make such statements. Although I too recognised that some of the material on subjects such as the Miners’ Strike was incomplete, it made me think I should seek out other texts and find out more for myself, not simply sit and expect to be spoon-fed all the information. Sign of the times I suppose.
Such notions underestimate that mischievous quality Jones has. He drops bombs. The reader is drip-fed a theme through a connected or sometimes disconnected series of threads, and then the tap is switched off. Do you want to find out more?
On a positive note one or two group members were able to admit that reading the book fired a spark of anger inside them, and the group agreed it was a thought-provoking read. The group also agreed that the book would be a good one for young people to read as a starting point in political education.
Overall, I felt this book is for the present-day, it’s a starting point for Owen Jones, who, all in the group agreed, has much to offer.