Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Billy Hayes

picks the eight books he'd take to the ends of the earth with him

August 23, 2009
5 min read

Soledad Brother

The Prison Letters of George Jackson

Chicago Review Press, new edition 1994

This is a book about courage. The writer showed tremendous guts by writing it. There is a black man in the White House, yet mostly black men in prisons in the USA. George Jackson was sentenced from one year to life for stealing $72 from a gas station. He spent ten years inside (seven years in solitary confinement), and was eventually killed in a prison riot. His writings are an articulation of isolation and determination not to be chained to his past, teaching himself the language of his ancestors and expressing his love for his family and friends.

The Essential Lenny Bruce

edited by John Cohen, Ballantine 1967

This made me laugh out loud. It’s a book that uses humour like no other; before reading it I never knew laughter could be so serious. Lenny Bruce is dead. Long before ‘alternative comedy’, he broke taboos. Charged with obscenity, he wouldn’t give in. Here was proof that we could sit with those we loved and lie to them. Another death in the custody of convention.

Sirius

Olaf Stapleden, Secker & Warburg 1944

This is science fiction as it’s supposed to be. I loved sci-fi books in my teens and Olaf Stapleden uses this genre like no other. A British scientist bioengineers a dog of human intelligence and raises it as one of the children. Sirius’ relationship with his human sister, Plaxy, has all the elements of family life, yet he is isolated from his kind. Loneliness, pathos and instinct over thought, a very human story.

Coming Up For Air

George Orwell, Penguin Classics, new edition 2001

This is Orwell’s forgotten classic. Despite some of his funny ways, Orwell is one of the best and clearest writers I’ve ever come across. In this book, George ‘fatty’ Bowling decides, because of a bit of luck, winning on a horse, to visit Lower Binfield. He tries to recapture the days of his youth. Set in 1938, war was approaching. Orwell foresaw that war was inevitable with Hitler in power. He captures the childhood feeling of not being in a hurry, the warmth, happiness and security, but he finds that there is no going back physically or emotionally; we are prisoners of the present, hemmed in by our memories.

The Dispossessed

Ursula Le Guin, Harper & Row 1974

Trying swearing without using profanities or sex being dirty – one of the thoughts that have stuck with me since reading the book. Le Guin was attempting to work out how an anarchist society would function, inspired by the work of the anarchist and pacifist, Paul Goodman. I’ve read this book at least four times and I learn more every time.

The Invention of the Human

Harold Bloom, Fourth Estate 1998

Croxteth was a great place to be in the 1960s; St Swithen’s didn’t do culture for us ‘Bash Street Kids’. Alf Riley led me to Shakespeare’s plays. Bloom suggests that Shakespeare invented the human character. Alf would have loved it. A raw egg, a banana, a cup of tea ‘says he was ambitious, if it were so, it was a grievous fault …’ Alf’s quotes from Shakespeare led me to this. Shakespeare wrote for everyone, he was a man for every person.

The Art of Loving

Erich Fromm, Harper & Row 1956

Despite the title this is a book not about sex but about the human condition. Coping with disappointment, the biggest of which is that we die before or after those we love. Every impulse and action trying to escape the prison that is self. We search for oceanic feelings. Love is the active – we find our being through what we do, not how we feel.

Revolution in the Head

Ian McDonald, Fourth Estate 1994

A book that will tell you about an aborted revolution. It made me love the Beatles more than I already did. Two sisters going to the Cavern meant nothing. The Beatles at Shea stadium switched me on to the soundtrack of the 1960s. McDonald’s book analyses every Beatle song in detail. Music matters, and is more precise than words. He gives an overview of the 1960s, how the right triumphed and what the music meant. All art is discovery.

Billy Hayes is general secretary of the Communications Workers Union, and his selections can be purchased here.

A portion of the sales from purchases made through Red Pepper/Eclector’s book store contribute money to Red Pepper. Not all titles are available.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now

The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee

Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell

Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths

Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe

How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency

Empire en vogue
Nadine El-Enany examines the imperial pretensions of Britain's post-Brexit foreign affairs and trade strategy

Grenfell Tower residents evicted from hotel with just hours’ notice
An urgent call for support from the Radical Housing Network

Jeremy Corbyn is no longer the leader of the opposition – he has become the People’s Prime Minister
While Theresa May hides away, Corbyn stands with the people in our hours of need, writes Tom Walker

In the aftermath of this disaster, we must fight to restore respect and democracy for council tenants
Glyn Robbins says it's time to put residents, not private firms, back at the centre of decision-making over their housing

After Grenfell: ending the murderous war on our protections
Under cover of 'cutting red tape', the government has been slashing safety standards. It's time for it to stop, writes Christine Berry

Why the Grenfell Tower fire means everything must change
The fire was a man-made atrocity, says Faiza Shaheen – we must redesign our economic system so it can never happen again

Forcing MPs to take an oath of allegiance to the monarchy undermines democracy
As long as being an MP means pledging loyalty to an unelected head of state, our parliamentary system will remain undemocratic, writes Kate Flood

7 reasons why Labour can win the next election
From the rise of Grime for Corbyn to the reduced power of the tabloids, Will Murray looks at the reasons to be optimistic for Labour's chances next time

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 25 June
On June 25th, the fourth of Red Pepper Race Section's Open Editorial Meetings will celebrate the launch of our new black writers' issue - Empire Will Eat Itself.

After two years of attacks on Corbyn supporters, where are the apologies?
In the aftermath of this spectacular election result, some issues in the Labour Party need addressing, argues Seema Chandwani

If Corbyn’s Labour wins, it will be Attlee v Churchill all over again
Jack Witek argues that a Labour victory is no longer unthinkable – and it would mean the biggest shake-up since 1945

On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist
Hilary Wainwright pays tribute to the life and legacy of Robin Murray, one of the key figures of the New Left whose vision of a modern socialism lies at the heart of the Labour manifesto.

Letter from the US: Dear rest of the world, I’m just as confused as you are
Kate Harveston apologises for the rise of Trump, but promises to make it up to us somehow

The myth of ‘stability’ with Theresa May
Settit Beyene looks at the truth behind the prime minister's favourite soundbite

Civic strike paralyses Colombia’s principle pacific port
An alliance of community organisations are fighting ’to live with dignity’ in the face of military repression. Patrick Kane and Seb Ordoñez report.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for a political organiser
Closing date for applications: postponed, see below

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.