Booktopia: James O’Nions

Our new co-editor James O'Nions picks his favourite books

September 26, 2009
5 min read


James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.


  share     tweet  

A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

New Directions 1958

Ferlinghetti’s San Francisco bookshop, City Lights, is my favourite bookshop in the world. Ferlinghetti was one of the major figures of beat culture and later associated with left libertarian politics and opposition to the gentrification of San Francisco. Some of his poems in A Coney Island of the Mind also have a political edge, though this is no didactic tract. Rather it gathers together fragments of America’s post-war reality and presents them in critical juxtaposition. Some pieces are written to accompany jazz and in rhythm seem to anticipate Gil-Scott Heron’s later proto hip-hop.

Live Working, Die Fighting by Paul Mason

Vintage 2008

Paul Mason really brings to life the history of workers’ struggle as he examines different episodes of it, from the 1871 Paris Commune to the experience of the Jewish workers’ Bund organisation in Poland. Alongside this, Mason draws parallels with 21st century struggles in the global south, allowing him not only to present a fascinating historical narrative, but to draw out of it key dilemmas which have informed the alternative strategies pursued by different parts of the international workers movement over time.

The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord

Zone Books edition 1995

Many theoretical tracts lose relevance as history overtakes their insights, but in many ways this one seems more relevant today than when it was written in the 60s. Less self-indulgent than other situationist writing, its not an easy read, but some of its insights into mass consumer society are crucial.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Virago 2001

I’ve yet to come across anyone who’s read this book and didn’t like it. Definitely Atwood’s best novel, it utilises both a common theme of hers, that of people trapped by their circumstances, and her talent for verisimilitude. The result is a book that does what truly great novels can – engross you so thoroughly that you use every spare moment to carry on reading.

The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes

Thames and Hudson second edition 1991

This is the classic account of modernism in visual art in the 20th Century and should be read in conjunction with regular trips to the Tate Modern. I’m not sure I’ve ever actually managed to get through all of the copious text, interesting though it is, but the book is worth owning just for the colour prints. From impressionism to expressionism, dada to pop art, the historical context of artistic movements shines through, helping not just to explain art through history, but history through art too.

The Case of Comrade Tulayev by Victor Serge

New York Review of Books new edition 2004

Though Serge was essentially an anarchist, when he arrived in Russia in 1919 he joined the Bolshevik party to support the revolution. His ended up exiled to Siberia for his opposition to Stalinism, eventually escaping the country but to great personal cost. This novel, set in 1930s Europe stands out as an illumination the Soviet dictatorship and its foreign policy as great as Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

Detroit, I Do Mind Dying by Dan Georgakas and Marvin Surkin

St Martin’s Press 1975

US history is full of exciting revolutionary moments you never hear about, and 1968-72 in Detroit was one of them. This is the definitive account of revolutionary unionism amongst the mainly black workforce in Detroit’s massive car industry. Far more than the ‘counterculture’ which was at least partly absorbed into neoliberal consumer culture, this was a movement which really scared the US establishment and which, along with the rest of the radical black liberation movement had to be definitively defeated.

Christopher and His Kind by Christopher Isherwood

University of Minnesota Press edition 2001

Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin is well known, not least because it eventually became the basis for the film Cabaret. Yet the ‘Christopher’ character is that novel is only loosely based on Isherwood. By 1976 the gay liberation movement had happened and Isherwood felt able to write this properly autobiographical account of his life between 1929 and 1939, covering not just his time in Berlin but his subsequent journey around pre-war Europe and attempts to rescue his German lover Heinz from the Nazis. It’s a fascinating and intimate account.

James O’Nions’ 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.

James O'NionsJames O'Nions is a member of Red Pepper's editorial collective. He also manages local activism and events for Global Justice Now.


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.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences