Books Read in 2022 – 2. Sunburn: The Unofficial History of The Sun in 99 Headlines by James Felton.

Genre: Cultural Comment, Humour, Politics

Narrative Style: Informal, chatty

Published: 2020

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: James Felton dissects 99 headlines from the Sun newspaper and discusses how they have influenced their readers to think in a certain way. Or is it that they move to fit in with what their readers think? It’s hard to say.

Time on Shelf: Not very long. I knew when I bought this that I would read it pretty quickly.

My mother was a Sun reader. No matter how terrible the paper got, she remained loyal to it. She was a reasonable woman most of the time but occasionally, you would hear some comment about care in the community, for example, or Hillsborough and you’d think that came straight from the Sun. I found it really depressing that she kept on reading it no matter how awful it got. As a result I was curious to see what Felton would make of it.

As the title suggests, Felton takes 99 headlines and discusses how horrible / prejudiced / prurient they are and what it suggests about The Sun’s readers. It includes famous headlines such as Gotcha during the Falklands War, Freddie Star ate my Hamster and Fly Away Gays and We Will Pay during the AIDS crisis. I was familiar with some of these headlines and stories but I wasn’t prepared for how horrible it would be to read them one after another. The blatant homophobia of the way The Sun reported the AIDS crisis was horrific, featuring stories about a clergyman who said he would shoot his own son if he ever caught it, was far worse than I remember (I was in my teens at the time). It was hard reading through them all together and I had to keep putting the book down and think of something nicer.

If you are familiar with Felton’s Twitter game, then you will recognise the style here. Sardonic, dark humour runs through this non-subtle analysis of the Sun’s headlines. (I’m not criticising. There is no way to discuss these headlines in a subtle way.) Mostly, he describes the story, offers a small amount of analysis and moves on to the next one. It wasn’t the most satisfactory style. By the end, I was longing for a bit more depth.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It’s hard to say I enjoyed it because it was such a horrible experience at times. Worthwhile if your interested in politics and how the media go to where they are today.