Reviews: e-books and audiobooks - on Syria, Gawker and '50s factory girls
by Samar Yazbek
Ebury Digital (e-book)
The Crossing is difficult to read, but only because the stories Samar Yazbek tells are hard to bear. These were the accounts she sought to discover by returning, three times, to Syria to talk to people dodging bullets and bombs in her war-torn homeland. In 2011the now Paris-based writer was forced into exile because she had been an outspoken critic of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. In sneaking home, to help build schools and lend support, particularly to women, Yazbek, from an Alawite sect of Shia Islam, meets the maimed and touches the dead. She also travelled widely through “Liberated Syria”, possibly the only Syrian writer to have traversed the area where Islamic State, not Assad, are in control. Before the war and the presence of IS and other militant groups, she notes, “It had been very normal to see uncovered women in Syria”. The Syria she visits has Yemeni, Saudi, Somali and other foreigners at IS checkpoints and every little community turned into a state in itself. Readers will be able to take in this important book only a little at a time.
by Brian Abrams
Kindle Single (e-book)
Gawker is annoying, hard to follow, bitty and unsatisfying. But, like its namesake blog, this Kindle Single by Brian Abrams is moreish. Using an oral-history format for people who like to skim the news, it tells the story of the media and gossip website from the perspectives of the people who made it famous for running stories others shied away from. That's a lot of people, if you consider that, since its beginnings in 2003 it has had 13 editors in chief, beginning with Elizabeth Spiers. Her recollection of how it all started? She met Nick Denton at a MetaFilter party; both were reading each other's blogs (hers was about finance and politics; his was personal); she started dating one of his best friends; he dumped her but she kept Denton. Former Gawker managing editor Lockhart Steele gives credit to Denton for his insights into how to penetrate the world of NYC journalists. The story continues in fits and starts until the July 16 incident that led Denton to explain to his troops that Gawker was no longer the "insolent" blog it once was. You'll want to see why.
The Biscuit Girls
by Hunter Davies
Random House Audiobooks (audiobook)
There's a TV mini-series waiting to be made from The Biscuit Girls. Centred on Carr's factory in Carlisle, England, and narrated by Janine Birkett, it tells the stories of half a dozen women whose oral histories Hunter Davies captured to show what life was like for female factory workers in the 1940s, '50s and '60s. Some were still working at the factory until the past few years, he says, explaining that instead of simply recording their memories, he was able to coax material out of the women because he was of a similar age and spent his childhood in the area. Many will find the social history fascinating (you find out, for instance, why biscuit tin production ceased during the war and about life at home), even if they don't entirely connect with women such as Ivy (who had "no ambition in life"), or Jean (a 22-year veteran who remembered how much the camaraderie meant to her). Although teachers warned children they'd end up as "cracker packers" if they didn't study hard, this book shows that, for some women at least, the work had its rewards.