Published: Tue, 25 Oct 2016 22:52:26 GMT2016-10-25T22:52:26ZCopyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2016
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 20:49:38 GMT2016-10-25T20:49:38Z
Author wins for The Sellout, a satire of US racial politics, making him the first American writer to win award
Paul Beatty has become the first American writer to win the Man Booker prize, for a caustic satire on US racial politics that judges said put him up there with Mark Twain and Jonathan Swift.
The 54-year-old Los Angeles-born writer won for The Sellout, a laugh-out-loud novel whose main character wants to assert his African American identity by, outrageously and transgressively, bringing back slavery and segregation.Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 16:00:27 GMT2016-10-25T16:00:27Z
An illuminating new commentary gives historical context to Holbein’s famous woodcuts
To take three of the 41 woodcuts in this famous sequence as examples: an advocate is interrupted in the act of receiving money by a skeleton, barging in, as if to say, “excuse me”; an astrologer points at his orrery, as if in appalled contradiction, while a skeleton, as if to ram his point home with extra unsubtlety, shoves another skull at him; a knight is skewered, even through his armour, by a lance-wielding skeleton.
The Dance of Death was composed by Hans Holbein the Younger between 1523 and 1525; the woodcuts were eventually collected in book form in 1538 by the Trechsel brothers, who had hitherto specialised in expensive works in Latin – so there was already a precedent, of considerable vintage, for this book of illustrations to be released by a publisher of classic texts, even before Penguin Classics took it on. (As far as I know, and the edition’s editor has confirmed, this is the first time that the imprint has published a book consisting largely of illustrations.)Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 15:45:46 GMT2016-10-25T15:45:46Z
Paddington’s Finest Hour, a new title in the 90-year-old author’s much-loved series, brings fresh misadventures for the much loved children’s hero
Michael Bond has written a new Paddington book, the latest to feature the marmalade sandwich-munching, duffle-coated ursine icon from “darkest Peru” in a series stretching back nearly 60 years.
Paddington’s Finest Hour, which will be published in the UK and the US in April 2017, and in Australia in March, finds our hero in trouble once more, suffering a run-in with the police, starring in a TV cookery programme and even bestowing one of his celebrated hard stares upon a hypnotist on stage.Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 14:53:37 GMT2016-10-25T14:53:37Z
A series of posts riffing on the names of classic books under the hashtag #TrumpaNovel has stirred up Twitter bigly. Please add to the reading list
Donald Trump might be setting out to Make America Great Again, but those described by Margaret Atwood as the “punsters and wordsmiths of Twitter” have been experimenting to see what the addition of a sprinkle of Trumpisms will do to the world’s great literature.
The hashtag #TrumpaNovel has been running riot on Twitter, bringing us everything from “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: A Lesson in Debate Tactics” (thank you, Open Road Media), to The Giant Left Hand of Darkness (thank you, Joanne Harris – but should it be the Tiny Hand?).Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 13:53:27 GMT2016-10-25T13:53:27Z
The idea of plants as rebellious, intelligent organisms took years to take root – and with some care grew into The Cabaret of Plants
It seems to be an article of faith among most writers that the making of The Book is the pinnacle of creative endeavour. Only through these long crusades against entropy can real seriousness of purpose be demonstrated. Book writing is like a military campaign, demanding ideological certainty, labyrinthine strategy, and the smug self-purification of abandoned weekends. Ask any author’s partner in the three months before delivery.
The essay is my natural form, the equivalent of a satisfying round walkContinue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 15:00:26 GMT2016-10-25T15:00:26Z
A TV crew and the subjects of their documentary struggle to survive, in this excerpt from this post-apocalyptic novel by the acclaimed Dutch author
Today, we present a haunting extract from a newly translated novel by critically acclaimed Dutch writer, columnist and journalist Hanna Bervoets. Stranded in a school building after a catastrophic event leaves the outside world uninhabitable, a TV crew and the subjects of their documentary struggle to survive in Bervoets’ post-apocalyptic universe. From the scattered diary pages of the crew’s researcher, we learn the troubling story of everything there was, and the little there was left.
—The editors at AsymptoteContinue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 13:21:20 GMT2016-10-25T13:21:20Z
Children’s laureates Chris Riddell and Malorie Blackman vie with past winners and new faces for the UK’s most prestigious prizes in children’s writing and illustrating
Over 200 books have been nominated for the UK’s two top awards for children’s literature, with 114 in the running for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie medal and 93 contending for the CILIP Kate Greenaway medal.
The awards, which are judged by librarians, were set up to recognise writers (the Carnegie) and illustrators (the Greenaway).Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 11:30:32 GMT2016-10-25T11:30:32Z
Actor and comedian Elaine C Smith has published a translation of Julia Donaldson’s children’s classic in the Scottish city’s vernacular
The wee gallus moose squares uptae an auld owl, a sleekit snake an a ginormous gruffalo in a new version of Julia Donaldson’s classic picture book The Gruffalo, now translated into Glaswegian.
Actor and comedian Elaine C Smith, known for her role as Rab C Nesbitt’s wife Mary Doll Nesbit, has written a Glaswegian version of Donaldson’s well-known opening to her children’s story, “A mouse took a stroll through a deep dark wood. A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.” Smith writes, instead: “A gallus moose taen a dauner through a scary big wood. A fox clocked the moose an the moose looked good.”Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:55:57 GMT2016-10-25T10:55:57Z
In the first of a series by authors shortlisted for the 2016 Guardian children’s fiction award, Alex Wheatle, AKA The Brixton Bard, explores the difficulties of dialogue-driven fiction, and the challenge of writing his shortlisted novel Crongton Nights
Dialogue, in my view, is the poor cousin of prose. The writers who are best at it have time and again been undervalued by reviewers, even though the creation of speech that chimes true involves a complicated negotiation of regional identity, racial backgrounds, social class, individual temperament, popular culture, accents, dialects and the evolving slang of the day.
Dialogue-driven novels – I liken them to a locomotive pulling the narrative carriages along – are few and far between, and very difficult to pull off. And even if you correctly capture a period of time, you run the risk of helplessly observing your forensically crafted exchanges date more swiftly than X Factor winners.Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 06:00:15 GMT2016-10-25T06:00:15ZArthur Lubow’s life of the controversial US photographer is sometimes eye-opening, but casts no new light on her troubled genius
“My favourite thing,” Diane Arbus once said, “is to go where I’ve never been.” As Arthur Lubow’s deeply researched, sometimes prurient, new biography of the artist attests, she was not just speaking about her photography. The book is punctuated by revelations about her private life, including the claim, based on her psychoanalyst’s notes, that she had a fitful but prolonged incestuous relationship with her beloved older brother, Howard, up until a few months before her death.
References to what Lubow calls Arbus’s “multivalent” sex life are scattered throughout Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, somewhat belying the book’s matter-of-fact title. We know from previous biographers – the scholarly Patricia Bosworth and the psychoanalytical William Todd Schultz – that Arbus’s transgressive art and life were intertwined to a complex degree: she sometimes had sex with some of the so-called “freaks” she photographed and once took part in an orgy when shooting a story on swingers. Lubow digs deeper, but without shedding much more light than either of his predecessors on her art or the deep discontentments that fuelled it.Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 07:00:16 GMT2016-10-25T07:00:16ZDon’t be put off by his name or his banking past, for Amor Towles’s first novel, Rules of Civility, is a heady cocktail of ambition and romance
The other day, my husband strolled into my office bearing major booty in the form of a proof of A Gentleman in Moscow, the new novel by Amor Towles. It isn’t out here until February, but given that it has already been published in the US, I think it’s probably OK for me to say that it tells the story of one Count Alexander Rostov, an elegant Russian aristocrat who in 1922 is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to house arrest in a luxury hotel. Should he step outside the Metropol’s door, he will be shot, and so, inside it he remains, for the next 32 years.
I’d clean forgotten about Towles, whose first novel, Rules of Civility, came out in 2011. Five years ago, I opened that book with a certain amount of reluctance: the work of a former banker with dandy-ish clothes and (or so I read) a covetable Manhattan townhouse, it seemed, outwardly, to be little more than a quite brazen attempt to mash up Sex and the City and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I remember thinking that even its author’s name – who is Amor Towles, if not a character in a Truman Capote short story? – came across as part of what we might call “the concept”. But then I began reading. Uh oh. Sometimes you just have to give in to a book, even one of which you (slightly) disapprove. There followed the most delightful few hours.Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:44:35 GMT2016-10-24T15:44:35Z
Cash-strapped West Midlands authority proposes drastic cuts to libraries and art gallery, designed to save £86m by 2020
Walsall council is asking residents for their views on its plans to close 15 out of 16 of its local libraries.
The council’s drastic proposals to cut back its libraries, leaving just Walsall Central Library, come as it looks to save £86m by 2020. Cuts are also being proposed to Walsall’s New Art Gallery and other services.Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 17:30:30 GMT2016-10-24T17:30:30Z
Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them
Welcome to this week’s blog, and our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
To start, two short, but nonetheless persuasive reviews. The first from taipingtianguo is about Stephen King’s On Writing:Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 12:08:31 GMT2016-10-24T12:08:31Z
Literary establishment’s alternative to the Man Booker will return as ‘the only major prize to reward what is genuinely the best book of the year’
The Folio prize, the literary award that was established in the wake of criticism of the Booker and suspended last year when its sponsor dropped out, has announced that it will be returning in 2017 and expanding its focus to include non-fiction.
The award’s director said that this was because “readers are less and less interested in the distinctions between fiction and non-fiction”, and that the change in focus would mean it would become “the only major literary prize to reward what is genuinely the best book of the year”.Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:00:26 GMT2016-10-24T15:00:26Z
A huge store found in the San Francisco Bay area, Green Apple Books has a ‘circus, magic and hobos’ section and a wealth of stories, on everything from proposals, deaths and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake
Green Apple Books opened in 1967. From what the current co-owners know, Richard Savoy opened the 750-square-foot shop because he loved books and was sick of his job as a radio technician for United Airlines. For 47 years, Savoy stocked used books, comics, and National Geographic magazines, becoming a staple neighborhood gem in the San Francisco Bay area. Now 10 times its original size, with new and used books, LPs, and 750-plus magazines and journals in stock, the store has gone through another big, behind-the-scenes change. After years of hunting for a successor, Mr Savoy assembled a team of three long-time employees to buy the business. Their gradual buy-out, which started in 1999, enabled Mr Savoy to monitor the store’s success and allowed the new owners plenty of time to learn from their mentor. The “new” owners are Kevin Hunsanger, Kevin Ryan, and Pete Mulvihill. We spoke with co-owner Pete Mulvihill about what makes Green Apple Books the kind of store where you not only want to work, but that you want to buy.
What’s your favorite section in the store?Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:54:42 GMT2016-10-24T13:54:42Z
Shirley Hughes and Malorie Blackman are among the nominees for the world’s largest children’s literature prize, won in May of this year by Meg Rosoff
Alfie creator Shirley Hughes, children’s laureate Chris Riddell and award-winning novelist Malorie Blackman are among the 23 British contenders for the Astrid Lindgren memorial award, the world’s largest prize for children’s literature.
Won this year by Meg Rosoff, the SEK 5m prize receives nominations from literary experts around the world, with 226 candidates from 60 countries in the running for this year’s prize. The nominees can be writers, illustrators, reading promoters or storytellers, but must produce work “of the highest artistic quality”, featuring Pippi Longstocking author Lindgren’s own “humanistic values”. Last year, judges said that, “like Astrid Lindgren, Rosoff empathises completely with young people and is utterly loyal to them”.Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:52:10 GMT2016-10-24T10:52:10Z
An illuminating offering from one of the world’s ‘active poetic volcanoes’ uses haiku influences to reflect on death’s proximity
When summer comes
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 04:45:05 GMT2016-10-24T04:45:05Z
George Orwell’s unflinchingly honest account of three northern towns during the Great Depression was a milestone in the writer’s political development
“The first sound in the mornings was the clumping of the mill-girls’ clogs down the cobbled street.” This opening line is the sound of a great writer finding his authentic voice. With absolute confidence, after several false starts, the mature George Orwell takes charge of this idiosyncratic account of working-class life from his first page.
Formerly Eric Blair, he was now writing with the urgency of a freelance with a much-needed commission, and also as a man just back from a journey through the industrial wastes of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the depths of the Great Depression.Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 07:00:08 GMT2016-10-24T07:00:08Z
The strongest shortlist in years heralds the next generation of great writers. This week’s winner will need to be more than just a good read
On 25 October, the Guildhall should witness one of contemporary English-language fiction’s good nights. The shortlist for the 2016 Man Booker prize is among the best, and most confident, of recent years. Chaired by Amanda Foreman, the jury will be choosing from a distinctive slate of new writers, all of them deserving of the attention bestowed on their work by Booker. On my reading, Foreman should raise the curtain on a significant new generation. Dramatically enhanced publicity for new fiction will always be a raison d’etre for this prize.
Just as important, Foreman and her team have resisted the temptation to look backwards and confer new laurels on the work of established writers such as JM Coetzee. With the exception of Deborah Levy, the 2016 shortlist contains new names, three of whom (Paul Beatty, Graeme Macrae Burnet and Madeleine Thien) come from independent imprints.Continue reading...
Mon, 24 Oct 2016 06:00:07 GMT2016-10-24T06:00:07Z
The film historian’s enjoyable, anecdotal book traces TV’s shift from family unifier to a medium over which we have scant control
I mistakenly expected David Thomson, the most imaginative and affectionate writer on cinema, to take a dim view of television. After all, the big screen usually treats the small screen with disdain. In Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows, widowed Jane Wyman is given a TV set by her children: it signals that they expect her to settle on her sofa and sink into meek, housebound obsolescence. Enraged by the fatuous sales pitches that drivel from a set in his motel room, the hero of Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities hefts his boot into the box, concusses it and gloats over the charred mess.
Thomson, however, understands the futility of such gestures. We can switch the set off, but the medium remains permanently and ubiquitously on; distending to cover the sides of skyscrapers in Times Square or shrinking to fit into our smartphones, it has taken over the world. We may grip a remote control but, Thomson warns, “we are not in charge”, because “technology is less our tool than something that makes tools of us”. Television values us as customers for the wares it sells, or as gloating spectators of deaths it is eager to broadcast live. Its eye, Thomson remarks with a shudder, is “impatient for terrible action” – Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, Niki Lauda’s car exploding into flames, the Columbia space shuttle disintegrating as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.Continue reading...
Sun, 23 Oct 2016 20:07:53 GMT2016-10-23T20:07:53Z
Comic community mourns loss of Luton-born artist who also worked on the popular Punisher and Judge Dredd series
Steve Dillon, the comic book artist known for his work on Preacher, The Punisher and Judge Dredd, has died aged 54, his brother has said.Continue reading...
Sun, 23 Oct 2016 07:00:39 GMT2016-10-23T07:00:39Z
Slang has always evolved one step ahead of the mainstream. But how is it changing in the digital age, when a ‘wrong’ word so easily offends?
Slang has always fascinated me. My father, who grew up in the council estates of Slough during the second world war, knew slang words for most situations, good and bad, which I would hear regularly around the house as a child.
Somewhere in my early 20s, I stumbled across a cheap secondhand reprint of a book by an 18th-century Londoner named Francis Grose, which recorded the everyday speech of the people he encountered in the low drinking dens, bagnios and rookeries around Covent Garden and St Giles. First published in 1785, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue remains for me the single most important slang collection of them all. Bawdy, mocking, occasionally brutal, superbly inventive and yet somehow overwhelmingly good-hearted, it helped fuel my interest these past 30-odd years in the language of everyday people – not as heard in drawing rooms or public orations, but late at night three sheets to the wind, or dodging shells in the trenches, when circumstances call for choice expressions that sum things up or cut them down.Continue reading...
Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:04:29 GMT2016-10-22T23:04:29ZIgnored by critics during her lifetime, the Haunting of Hill House author is now recognised as a great American novelist
She has been cited as an inspiration by Stephen King, Donna Tartt, Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris. Now the American author Shirley Jackson, once memorably described as writing “not with a pen but a broomstick”, is set for a long overdue reappraisal on this side of the Atlantic.
This week sees the release of a new biography, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, swiftly followed by a graphic novel version of her most famous short story, The Lottery, illustrated by her grandson, Miles Hyman, and the publication of Dark Tales, a collection of her most chilling short stories. And the revival does not stop there: next year will see a film of her book We Have Always Lived In The Castle, with rising stars Taissa Farmiga and Alexandra Daddario, alongside Sebastian Stan and Crispin Glover.Continue reading...
Sat, 22 Oct 2016 07:00:10 GMT2016-10-22T07:00:10Z
Madeleine Thien, David Szalay, Deborah Levy, Paul Beatty, Ottessa Moshfegh and Graeme Macrae Burnet reveal the inspirations behind the books competing for the UK’s top literary prize
Do Not Say We Have NothingContinue reading...
Sun, 23 Oct 2016 08:00:00 GMT2016-10-23T08:00:00ZThe Bolshevik leader is too often cast as a romantic figure in this readable story of his journey out of exile to seize power in 1917
On Easter Monday, 9 April 1917, allied troops went over the top on the first day of the Battle of Arras – an offensive that would take 160,000 British lives, including the poet Edward Thomas. On that same snowy morning, a small, bald Russian with a goatee beard, accompanied by his wife and 30 companions, boarded a train in Zurich, where he had been living in exile. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was about to steam into history.
It was no ordinary passenger carriage that the veteran revolutionary and his comrades occupied. The third-class coach with its hard wooden seats made its laborious way across a Germany struggling for survival in the first world war. A chalk line drawn across the floor of the carriage separated the Russians from their German military minders, for the two countries were at war and Lenin’s sealed train represented a desperate last throw of the dice by the Kaiser’s government in Berlin.Continue reading...
Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:05:29 GMT2016-10-22T23:05:29ZFirst English version of novel compared to Albert Camus
It is a novel lauded in the Netherlands as a modern classic, while its author is a literary titan. But British readers are unlikely to have heard of The Evenings or Gerard Reve.
Nearly 70 years after the novel’s publication and 10 years after Reve’s death, it has finally been translated into English. Set in Holland just after the second world war, it is a powerful story of an alienated young office worker who is cynical about his loving, middle-class parents and friends.Continue reading...
Sat, 22 Oct 2016 06:00:09 GMT2016-10-22T06:00:09ZThis followup to The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a charming story of love and friendship
The old-style model of publishing was: you wrote your book; you got an agent; your agent got you a publishing deal; you got published. Then the hard work began – getting noticed, getting reviews, sales, awards, bestseller lists, film deals. Finally, you relaxed on your yacht off Cap d’Antibes. Of course, very few writers made it to the end of that sequence.
The world has changed. Nowadays publishing is simultaneously easier and much, much harder. Easier because anybody can e-publish their book and present it to a global market with a couple of mouse-clicks. And, boy, are people presenting their works, uncountable rivers of e-books flowing over the cliff-face of the internet. Which is why it’s harder too, of course: with so much “content” out there, how is anyone to attract readers? Some manage it. Andy Weir initially published The Martian on his own website because nobody else was interested, and then watched it become first a global bestseller (quickly snapped up by a conventional publisher) and then an Oscar-nominated movie. But who else can pull off such a trick?Continue reading...
Tue, 25 Oct 2016 10:14:10 GMT2016-10-25T10:14:10Z
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, is a hit with readers – but gamblers are backing Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing
With hours to go before the winner of this year’s Man Booker prize is announced, former Waterstones bookseller Graeme Macrae Burnet’s tale of murder in a Scottish crofting community, His Bloody Project, is comfortably outselling the rest of the shortlist. But Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing has emerged as the frontrunner at the bookies.Continue reading...
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 21:57:15 GMT2016-10-21T21:57:15Z
Decision to make the DC superhero an honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women led to a petition and silent protest by employees
“This is the most fun the UN has had, I’m pretty sure right?” Diane Nelson, president of DC Entertainment said at a ceremony appointing Wonder Woman as the United Nations’ honorary ambassador for the empowerment of women and girls. The ceremony was meant to honor the fight for gender equality and the 75th anniversary of the character.Continue reading...
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:23:17 GMT2016-10-21T15:23:17Z
‘It’s not for the black person to be more open-minded. It’s for the white person to be less racist,’ says Booker winner in essay arguing it’s ‘time to stop talking’ about diversity in publishing
Marlon James, the author of the Booker-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, has said that it’s “time to stop talking” about diversity, arguing that “it’s not for the black person to be more open-minded. It’s for the white person to be less racist.”
In an essay posted on the Literary Hub on Thursday, the Jamaican novelist suggests that “we too often mistake discussing diversity for doing anything constructive about it”, with the same points raised on panels about diversity year after year.Continue reading...
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:19:45 GMT2016-10-21T14:19:45Z
A US publisher claims to have produced the world’s longest graphic novel – a 2,000-page adaptation of the Old and New Testaments
There may be demons, plagues and the all horrors of the apocalypse, but there’s no room for any spandex superheroes in a graphic novel that its publishers are claiming is the longest ever produced. The only superpowers that feature in the 10,000 panels of the Kingstone Bible are wielded in the good fight, as the greatest story ever told gets a 12-volume comic-book adaptation.
Christian publisher Kingstone has been working on the project for seven years, using more than 45 illustrators to pull together what it is calling “the most complete graphic-novel adaptation of the Bible ever published”, at over 2,000 pages, in either 12 paperback volumes or three larger hardcover volumes.Continue reading...
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:35:55 GMT2016-10-21T11:35:55Z
J Scott Campbell’s drawing of Riri Williams in a crop top in her dorm room criticised by fans for ‘age-inappropriate objectification’
Marvel has pulled a forthcoming comic cover after it was criticised for “sexualising” the 15-year-old girl who is the new Iron Man.
The variant cover showed Riri Williams, a science genius who reverse engineers one of Iron Man’s suits in her dorm room at MIT, in a revealing crop top, and drew sharp criticism online. “It’s as though they decided a teenage girl’s face was fine, but let’s attach a more grown-up body to that face, because she’s not a true female superhero until you can imagine having sex with her,” wrote Teresa Jusino at comics site the Mary Sue, calling on Marvel to “stop sexualising female teenage characters like Riri Williams”.Continue reading...
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 06:30:23 GMT2016-10-21T06:30:23Z
Nine Dots award invites book proposals from writers exploring whether digital technologies make politics impossible
A new literary award with a prize pot of $100,000 (£82,000) puts the Baillie Gifford’s £30,000 and the Man Booker’s £50,000 in the shade. But the entry that takes the inaugural Nine Dots prize will differ from the season’s other prizewinning books in one crucial respect: it won’t exist.
Drawing its name from a puzzle that can be solved only by lateral thinking, the Nine Dots prize is asking for responses to the question: “Are digital technologies making politics impossible?” Established writers and debut authors are invited to send 3,000-word answers, along with an outline showing how they would develop their argument into a short book. The award, judged anonymously by a 12-strong panel of academics, authors and journalists, also includes a book deal with Cambridge University Press.Continue reading...
Fri, 14 Oct 2016 10:00:33 GMT2016-10-14T10:00:33Z
A communal space offering an ever-changing view of life passing by, buses have opened windows on to the world for many poets. Share your bus verses here
I’ve been reading Peter Riley’s recent pamphlet Pennine Tales, and the first thing to really strike me about it (apart from the quality of the writing) is the ubiquity of buses and bus trips through the poems. These are short, local journeys in and around Riley’s adopted home of Hebden Bridge, the kind of trip that makes life possible for the carless local or for anyone who fancies an evening in a local pub. Reading the poems made me think of the way bus journeys have formed part of the fabric of so many poems in the last century or so.Continue reading...
Fri, 14 Oct 2016 09:00:31 GMT2016-10-14T09:00:31Z
What does it mean to be an ‘African’ writer? And is provincial writing always political? The Nigerian author explains why the best literature is accessible to all
When I published my novel, The Fishermen, last year, one of the most common – and most surprising – questions I received was about my intended audience. This question, I came to discover, is frequently asked of writers who have a similar provenance to mine. In the past few years, writers have responded in various ways. One reaction comes from a group of writers – including Taiye Selasi – who have sought to nix the idea of the “African” writer’s identity. Others, many of whom live in Africa, have argued that the solution is to play up their identity to an extreme – seeking to be read chiefly because of their origin rather than in spite of it.
In a recent article, Nigerian writer Eghosa Imaseun argued that provincial writing is always political, objecting to the way things are explained unnecessarily for international audiences. For example: “If you write ‘He dipped his hand into the eba’, a phrase will follow to explain that eba is ‘that yellow globular mashed potato clone made from Cassava chippings’.” His frustration is evident: “You’re like, ‘Arrghhh, don’t explain it, they can Google it!’”Continue reading...
Mon, 17 Oct 2016 12:15:59 GMT2016-10-17T12:15:59Z
Acclaimed Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard answered your questions – from raising children, his struggles with self-esteem, and whether Norweigen people drink as much as they do in his books
I wish I could answer more questions! The one on favourite albums for example... Remain in Light, Talking Heads. Thanks, lots of questions were really good and interesting.
Karl Ove, what do you think about W.G. Sebald and Thomas Bernhard? Are they important writers to you? What books by them do you like (if you like)?
Both those writers are important to me. Sebald, his books The Rings of Saturn is very important to me, the way he leaves the present and goes into memory, the past, without leaving the place, it evokes what is in that place all the time. Bernhard, I absolutely love, he is one of the darkest and funniest writers. My favourite book of his is Extinction, a must read for everybody.Continue reading...
Tue, 11 Oct 2016 09:37:51 GMT2016-10-11T09:37:51Z
‘What originality, what pleasure’ gushed Ronald Blythe on first tasting this 1974 novel. Join us as we uncork it 42 years on
This month we’ll be reading Beryl Bainbridge’s novel The Bottle Factory Outing, which won our public vote by a significant margin.
This work comes from the first successful part of the writer’s career when she specialised in “deftly distorted biography”, as AN Wilson put it. It’s partly inspired by a period in 1970 when Bainbridge and a friend worked in Belloni’s wine warehouse in London. This was a pretty miserable job, sticking labels on to bottles in conditions so cold that the writer claimed she tried to keep warm by wrapping herself up in newspaper. It wasn’t well paid either – although it came with the dubious perk of an unlimited wine allowance. Bainbridge would later claim she often had to be wheeled home by 3pm. Or sometimes even 10.30am.
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 04:44:31 GMT2016-10-10T04:44:31ZAmerican culinary icon MFK Fisher was one of the first writers to use food as a cultural metaphor, describing the sensual pleasures of the table with elegance and passion
To WH Auden, in 1963, she was America’s “greatest writer”. The poet declared, “I do not know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose”, a verdict that mixed provocation and tease in a way that would have delighted Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher.
The author of more than 25 inimitable books on food (each a highly original macedoine of cooking, travel, and autobiography) MFK Fisher was nothing if not singular, and had been so since childhood, growing up in California, the daughter of Rex Kennedy, the editor-proprietor of a string of small-town newspapers.Continue reading...
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 09:00:36 GMT2016-10-10T09:00:36Z
A luminous depiction of these beautiful creatures conceals a stark warning of environmental catastrophe
After the Dragonflies
Dragonflies were as common as sunlight
hovering in their own days
backward forward and sideways
as though they were memory
now there are grown-ups hurrying
who never saw one
and do not know what they
are not seeing
the veins in a dragonfly’s wings
were made of light
the veins in the leaves knew them
and the flowing rivers
the dragonflies came out of the color of water
knowing their own way
when we appeared in their eyes
we were strangers
they took their light with them when they went
there will be no one to remember us
Sat, 08 Oct 2016 12:00:42 GMT2016-10-08T12:00:42Z
Writers including JM Barrie, Compton Mackenzie, George Orwell and Robert Louis Stevenson spent formative periods on the remote, wild, romantic Hebrides
Jura drifts off mainland Argyll in a sea littered with small islands and skerries. From the ferry, it appears to be near-empty. “There is nothing”, is how people describe the place – an expression of either appreciation or horror. The writer Kathleen Jamie called it “fabulous nothing”.
Only slightly smaller than the Isle of Wight, which has a population of 133,000, Jura has fewer than 200 inhabitants. The island has been associated for decades with the Astor family, scions of the fabulously wealthy American Waldorf dynasty, and in particular with the former Observer newspaper editor, David Astor. David Cameron visits his father-in-law’s estate for family holidays, a reminder of the persistence of Anglo-Scottish privilege among the British elite.Continue reading...
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 11:46:04 GMT2016-10-10T11:46:04Z
Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them
Welcome to this week’s blog, and our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
Let’s start with a philosophical question from Kristina Wilde about Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series of novels: “Why do you need nine books of 800+ pages of willies and swords?”Continue reading...
Sat, 08 Oct 2016 11:00:41 GMT2016-10-08T11:00:41Z
News that philosopher Charles Taylor has scooped $1m for the inaugural Berggruen prize is the latest sign of a rise in big-payout humanities awards
For humanities dons grumpily watching their scientific counterparts becoming instant millionaires and global celebrities in the current Nobel prize season while they go unhonoured, there was one reason to rejoice this week: a philosopher securing a prize worth $1m (£810,000) more than the current value (about $930,000, or £750,000) of each Nobel.Continue reading...
Fri, 07 Oct 2016 14:00:15 GMT2016-10-07T14:00:15Z
Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness may follow a 20-year silence, but authors from Tolstoy to Harper Lee have taken longer rests between books
There was much rejoicing this week when Arundhati Roy, the author of the 1997 Booker prize-winning The God of Small Things, announced that her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, will be published in 2017. Twenty years is a long time to wait for a novel, but Roy is by no means the tardiest author in literary history.Continue reading...
Fri, 07 Oct 2016 13:00:14 GMT2016-10-07T13:00:14ZThe high literary style of Woolf and Nabokov was long ago condemned as elitist and replaced by bland accessibility. But there is now a return to verbal complexity, not least in the unlikely medium of TV
The death of Geoffrey Hill this summer put one of his more astringent declarations back into circulation: “Accessible is a perfectly good word if applied to supermarket aisles, art galleries, polling stations and public lavatories, but it has no place in the discussion of poetry and poetics.” Characteristically for Hill, this sounds imperious, but you can’t deny that it’s funny. And it’s funny because the statement embodies the difficulty it’s arguing for – “difficulty” not necessarily in the literary sense, where it’s conflated with “obscurity”, but in the sense pertaining to human beings, as in “She’s quite difficult”, where the word is synonymous with peculiarity, intransigence and eccentricity. Human beings who are difficult are irritating; but their oddity sometimes gives them charm. Hill knows perfectly well that, notwithstanding his abrasiveness, there’s a charm to what he’s saying, because there’s humour in a difficult man’s gestures towards non-cooperation and resistance. “Human beings are difficult,” he goes on. “We’re difficult to ourselves; we’re difficult to each other and we are mysteries to ourselves; we are mysteries to each other ... Why is it believed that poetry, prose, painting, music should be less than we are?”
What makes poetry “difficult”? There’s the fact that most poems have no story to outline the experience of reading, no characters to love or hate, no beginning or end in the sense we understand those terms. There is nothing in a poem to cushion us from the encounter with form and language. And form estranges: those short or long lines, one beneath the other, comprise an appearance that’s immediately puzzling. Rhyme helps, as do refrains: they bind the disparate lines. But line endings in a poem constitute a primary strangeness.Continue reading...
Fri, 07 Oct 2016 08:00:08 GMT2016-10-07T08:00:08ZAt the bottom of this so-called investigation is an obsessional outrage at the success of a writer – female – who decided to publish and promote her books on her own terms
“Her books’ sensational success made the search for her identity inevitable. It also left financial clues that speak by themselves.” So writes Claudio Gatti in the New York Review of Books. We know that money talks, but personal bank accounts have nothing to say for themselves unless a journalist is doing the ventriloquism.
These accounts weren’t the Panama Papers or bungs or bribes or secret payments to secret mistresses. The woman in question wasn’t a politician or a Berlusconi-style businessman. She paid her taxes. She wished to live quietly and get on with her work. She is the writer we know as Elena Ferrante.Continue reading...
Mon, 03 Oct 2016 16:00:35 GMT2016-10-03T16:00:35Z
Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them
Welcome to this week’s blog, and our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
Let’s start with an enjoyable question from HulloHulot:Continue reading...
Fri, 07 Oct 2016 10:00:10 GMT2016-10-07T10:00:10Z
KJ Orr, the winner of the 2016 Short Story award, explains why writers need freedoms in order for the form to thrive
Since winning the BBC National Short Story award this week for “Disappearances”, I have been asked whether I am writing a novel. This is something that happens to short story writers. I have responded obliquely. There are good reasons for this: most importantly, one of the exciting aspects of writing is finding the form appropriate to the subject you are exploring – whatever it may be.Continue reading...
Thu, 06 Oct 2016 12:34:26 GMT2016-10-06T12:34:26Z
The hugely popular Japanese novelist is Ladbrokes’ most-backed author for the award, with Adonis, Philip Roth and Ngugi wa Thiong’o close behind
With a week to go before the revelation of this year’s Nobel literature laureate, internationally renowned names including Irish Booker winner John Banville and Japanese favourite Haruki Murakami are edging up the odds at bookmaker Ladbrokes.
The Swedish Academy, the 18 members of which select the author they judge to have, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s will, “produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”, has yet to officially unveil the date its announcement will be made. But the Academy’s Per Wästberg told Swedish press that the winner would be revealed on 13 October, denying suggestions that the date had been delayed from 6 October because of members disagreeing.Continue reading...
Tue, 04 Oct 2016 08:15:04 GMT2016-10-04T08:15:04Z
The many times she came close to winning the Booker prize show how good a novelist she was. Please help decide which of her books we’ll read this month
Already it’s October, and the UK literary world is beginning to focus again on the Booker prize, an annual tradition full of fun and frustration, disappointment and delight. An event that has been sadly diminished, however, by the fact that the great Beryl Bainbridge can no longer be in contention to win. For a long time, a new novel by the Liverpudlian writer would usually find a place on the final six, and she would have to sit there smiling at the award ceremony as the prize went to another. In 1973, The Dressmaker lost out to JG Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur; in 1974, The Bottle Factory Outing lost out to joint winners Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist and Stanley Middleton’s Holiday. In 1990, An Awfully Big Adventure was beaten by AS Byatt’s Possession and in 1996, Graham Swift’s Last Orders scooped the prize over Every Man For Himself.
Bainbridge turned up for the ceremony and was disappointed so often that she became known as the Booker Bridesmaid. She was renowned for her graciousness in defeat; according to the longstanding literary director of the prize Ion Trewin, she smiled wistfully and sighed “maybe next time”. Alas, the time after 1996 was 1998, when her sublime novel Master Georgie lost out to Ian McEwan’s ridiculous Amsterdam. Her final book The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress was knocked out of contention because Bainbridge died in 2011: Booker rules state that only living authors can win.Continue reading...
Mon, 03 Oct 2016 11:04:35 GMT2016-10-03T11:04:35ZThe Italian author’s closely guarded anonymity has been blown by an idiotic bin rummager, as though she were a fraud or criminal
Rifling through someone’s bins looking for clues about their life or identity is considered a tabloid activity performed by low-lifes who sell information on celebrities. In this game celebrities “owe” us something because we made them, therefore we can take them apart via such intrusion.Continue reading...
Mon, 03 Oct 2016 10:15:14 GMT2016-10-03T10:15:14Z
A benign metaphor for inspiration and recollection, this is a rare creature in poetry, and an unusual image of creation
The dog itself
Memory rounds this up, breathless,
like the dog herding sheep
below the bedroom window:
Sat, 01 Oct 2016 07:00:12 GMT2016-10-01T07:00:12Z
Jonathan Franzen claimed he won’t write about race because of limited ‘firsthand experience’, while Lionel Shriver hopes objection to ‘cultural appropriation is a passing fad’. So should there be boundaries on what a novelist can write about?
Clearly, if writers were barred from creating characters with attributes that we do not “own” (gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and so on), fiction would be impossible. Stories would be peopled by clones of the author. Since trespassing into otherness is a foundation of the novelist’s work, should we restrict ourselves in some way, so as to avoid doing violence to those who identify with our characters? The injunction to refrain from “cultural appropriation” sounds like a call for censorship, or at best a warning to self-censor, an infringement of the creative liberty to which so many surprising people profess themselves attached.Continue reading...
Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:00:06 GMT2016-10-20T17:00:06Z
Knowing that novelists tend towards the shy and solitary end of the personality spectrum, I tailored the North Cornwall book festival to their needs
I am a literary poacher-turned-gamekeeper; a novelist who has started a book festival.
Festivals have become such a cornerstone of our culture and visiting them such a major part of promoting a book that it’s hard to remember when most book events were confined to libraries and bookshops. Visiting festivals now takes up so much time that I divide my life into writing years and talking years, so as to minimise the discomfort of talking about one book when my head is filling up with another. Most novelists are at the shy end of the spectrum – sly watchers of life rather than noisy graspers of it – and many of us have had to overcome that and develop a performative persona behind which the sly watcher can continue to lurk. Never mind learning how to tweet – when I talk to writing students now, I urge them to act, or at least get some training in handling an audience.Continue reading...
Thu, 20 Oct 2016 08:21:24 GMT2016-10-20T08:21:24Z
A doctor tries to diagnose why so many novelists, from Chekhov to Khaled Hosseini, have also been physicians
Chekhov, Bulgakov, Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham; more recently, Michael Crichton, Abraham Verghese, Khaled Hosseini: these are just a few of the best-known doctors with second careers as creative writers. I’m one myself. I’ve been in practice for 25 years, and have five novels and a scattering of literary prizes to my name.
What is the link? Doctors are privileged with a ringside seat during every one of life’s landmarks – pregnancy, birth, childhood, marriage, divorce, employment, redundancy, illness, ageing, bereavement, death. We see these acted out in countless different families and lives; there is no end to the inspiration for character and story. And, as generally empathic people, most doctors have strong emotional reactions to the things they encounter professionally. Chekhov wrote: “A doctor has terrible days and hours … these terrible hours and days that I am speaking of only happen to doctors.” Ethan Canin would agree: “It’s like being a soldier. You’ve seen great and terrible things,” he told one interviewer.Continue reading...
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 15:42:38 GMT2016-10-18T15:42:38Z
The 1932 elegy to crofting sees off contemporary stars including Iain Banks, Irvine Welsh and JK Rowling to top BBC poll
Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s classic novel Sunset Song has been voted Scotland’s favourite novel, beating titles including JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter story to the top spot.
A public vote conducted in August by BBC Scotland, together with the Scottish Book Trust and the Scottish Library and Information Council, offered readers the chance to choose their favourite of 30 well-known novels by writers born or based in Scotland, as selected by a panel of literary experts. Titles by some of Scotland’s biggest contemporary authors, including Rowling, Val McDermid, Jackie Kay and Michel Faber, were pitted against classic works by the likes of Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan and Arthur Conan Doyle, but Grassic Gibbon’s 1932 elegy to crofting, the first part of his trilogy A Scots Quair, emerged triumphant.Continue reading...
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 13:18:55 GMT2016-10-18T13:18:55Z
A competition is offering fans of Dracula the chance to spend October 31 in Transylvania. Fun, perhaps, but I reckon there could be scarier literary Halloweens
I thought last week that I’d discovered the book-related prize that I’d most like to win – free reading material for the rest of my life, courtesy of London’s Heywood Hill bookshop. But I fear it may have been topped, thanks to Bram Stoker’s great-grand-nephew Dacre Stoker, who has teamed up with Airbnb to offer two people the chance to spend the night of 31 October in Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania.
“Nestled in the Carpathian mountains, high in the heart of Transylvania, lies the home of the most chilling tale of the 19th century. Are you brave enough to test the myth?” asks the prize’s description. “A secret passage on the first floor leads to the grand dining room, where an intimate candlelit dinner will await, prepared exactly as described in Bram Stoker’s novel. Following the hearty, blood-enriching meal, you will be left to sleep in luxurious velvet-trimmed coffins in the seclusion of the Count’s crypt.”Continue reading...
Mon, 17 Oct 2016 15:46:45 GMT2016-10-17T15:46:45Z
Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them
Welcome to this week’s blog, and our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.
Naturally, given the recent Nobel Prize announcement, there has been a lot of discussion about Bob Dylan. Most people on TLS seemed happy about the award. The general feeling was put very well by conedison:Continue reading...
Mon, 17 Oct 2016 15:28:44 GMT2016-10-17T15:28:44Z
After another contentious year’s reading, there are six remaining books for you to choose between. And to add to the excitement, there’s also a whole new way not to vote
So, we’ve reached the final furlong of this year’s Not the Booker prize. All we have to do now is vote, judge and award the glorious mug – or do we? Excitingly – and not for the first time with this prize – we have some controversy to contend with first.
Generally, at this point I sum up the books with five-word summaries. This year, however, it’s tempting to use just one word for some of the contenders: meh.
Wed, 05 Oct 2016 10:26:27 GMT2016-10-05T10:26:27Z
This sprawling, self-consciously avant garde novel is the product of serious thought, but it’s also terribly overwritten – and much more traditional than it thinks
Louis Armand’s themes are as big as his novel is long. His anti-novel The Combinations sets out to investigate – among other things – the psychological fallout from the collapse of communism and the more intimate breakdown of a lost soul. The soul in question belongs to a man called Nemec, who wanders around a city very similar to Armand’s home city, Prague (here called Golem City) while attempting to come to terms with a world without moorings. There are grand political and moral themes here, as well as more personal explorations of loneliness, loss and intellectual instability.
To borrow one of Armand’s most frequently recurring images, Nemec is playing a game of chess with no clear idea of the size of the board or the rules. He’s been sent on a quest to unlock the secrets of the Voynich manuscript, here described as composed “by an Unknown Author, in an Unknown Language” and which has, “over the course of its moderately long history, attracted the various attentions of occultists, amateur riddlers, pseudoscientists and crackpots of every stripe from the four corners of the globe”.Continue reading...
Wed, 21 Sep 2016 14:30:23 GMT2016-09-21T14:30:23Z
These stories owe a great deal to Hemingway, and if they don’t quite live up to Papa’s example they are still vivid, affecting records of soldiers’ experience in Afghanistan
First, a declaration of interest. I published a short story by Dan Clements a few years ago as part of the Galley Beggar Press ebook Singles series. You may see evidence of bias in the fact that I think his first novel What Will Remain is by some distance the best so far on the Not the Booker shortlist.
I think that this book’s connected stories about army life in Afghanistan – and what happens on the return home – are vivid and real and clearly born of the hard-won experience of Clements’s own time in the Royal Marines. They have emotional, almost physical heft; the descriptions of the Afghan terrain, and the mental landscapes of the various soldiers, seem real to me. The book is shot through with moments of genuine insight and intimacy – as when a soldier steps outside his air-conditioned pod into the strange “nighttime city smells” of Kabul and gets the “sudden dumb feeling” that he is on holiday.Continue reading...
Wed, 14 Sep 2016 11:41:00 GMT2016-09-14T11:41:00Z
This story of dark passions in a sun-scorched small town addresses some heavy questions but cannot bear their weight
Tiffany McDaniel’s debut sees a satanic presence turn up in small-town America and apparently unleash chaos; a familiar idea to anyone who has watched the TV series Fargo. But there are important differences – as the title suggests, The Summer That Melted Everything is takes place in the hot season in Ohio, rather than Fargo’s wintry setting. More crucially, McDaniel’s novel doesn’t have the warped charisma of Billy Bob Thornton to pull you through when things get a bit silly. And because McDaniel’s book starts getting silly in its first paragraph, that’s a big problem.
Here is the initial offending item:Continue reading...
Wed, 07 Sep 2016 12:08:44 GMT2016-09-07T12:08:44Z
It’s not often that a book comes along with a review built into the title, and if you think I’m going to be able to let this one pass by without making the obvious comment, you’ve got another think coming. The temptation to riff is all the stronger because the title accurately reflects the book’s contents.
First, the legend. That titular heroine’s real name is Donna Crick-Oakley, as Micklethwaite insists on repeating in the early chapters, spelling out the full name every time his focus lands on her. Which is just about every other paragraph. And adds to the strangeness of his staccato delivery. Yes. This book is full of short repetitious sentences. That could really actually just be one longer sentence. And that sometimes give the book a clever-clever air.
Wed, 31 Aug 2016 07:00:30 GMT2016-08-31T07:00:30Z
A perceptive depiction of the fragility of life in an embattled land gets drowned out by strident politics, in the first of this year’s Not the Booker shortlist
Researchers recently published research showing that literary fiction improves “empathy”. It all seemed a bit odd – not least because the study seemed to be about reading people’s eyes rather than the inside of their heads, which is surely where literary fiction goes. But I’d challenge anyone to deny that a good novel can provide emotional insights. And Chains Of Sand would be a fine book to back up that challenge.
This is a book that offers both perception and understanding, an achievement that matters all the more because Jemma Wayne’s subject is one that is often misunderstood and misrepresented: the state of Israel. Her narrative follows two young men and various associates as they try to work out their place in the country, and their own equally confused feelings about this complicated society.
Mon, 15 Aug 2016 10:15:43 GMT2016-08-15T10:15:43Z
Our longlist of 147 contenders has now been narrowed to six novels, all of them from indie publishers. Now help us choose the winner
The votes are in – record number of them. More than 1,500 have been cast in this year’s competition. That’s impressive enough in itself – but even more so when you consider our rules and that more than 1,500 reviews have also been written, and more than 1,500 second preference votes also cast. So despite the really very modest prize on offer, our uniquely democratic judging process (any reader can help decide) seems to be attracting growing interest.
I’m happy to say that – as far as I know – it has been a relatively orderly and respectable process this year. There have been a few accusations of entryism and outside pressure, but it wouldn’t be a proper election without some controversy, and I’d say we’re doing much better than most. Not least because we know have an interesting and unusual group of books to consider. Here’s our current top six, chosen from the 147 books longlisted, ranked by number of votes:Continue reading...
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 06:00:16 GMT2016-10-10T06:00:16Z
Australia has an undeniably gothic obsession with missing people, says singer-songwriter Throsby. Her debut novel, Goodwood taps into that rich vein
Holly Throsby’s first solo album as a singer-songwriter was released in 2004, and after over a decade of music-making and a swag of Aria nominations, she has recently shifted gears and moved from music to books.
Goodwood is Throsby’s debut novel, named for the small, fictional Australian town in which the story is set – a town in which two people mysteriously go missing.Continue reading...
Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:14:07 GMT2016-10-19T11:14:07Z
From Bruce Chatwin to Cormac McCarthy, these are some of the best stories about what happens when boundaries – physical, political and psychological – are crossed
A border is a question. In fact, a border poses a whole series of implied questions; such as “can you cross me?”, “will you cross me?”, “what am I doing here in the first place?” and maybe most importantly: “Will you be someone else on the other side?”
Writers relish questions. They’re what propel narratives, for one thing, but more importantly, I believe good books are themselves sprawling, messy questions, tens of thousands of words long.
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 17:12:00 GMT2016-10-21T17:12:00Z
As publishing begins the long climb to Christmas, Paul Beatty joins us to talk about life on the Man Booker shortlist
In this week’s podcast we discuss the limits of acceptability with novelist Paul Beatty, whose scorching satire of black American identity has been shortlisted for next week’s Man Booker prize. He explains why he created a character who enslaves an elderly African American comedy actor, reintroduces racial segregation to schools and makes free with the N-word in a furiously funny novel that looks at gentrification from the wrong end of the telescope. We also leaf through some of the hundreds of books published on Super Thursday to see what they say about readers today, while Benedicte Page, of the publishing journal The Bookseller, reports back from the Frankfurt book fair on the deals that will determine our future reading.Continue reading...
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 09:52:07 GMT2016-10-18T09:52:07Z
The masterful restraint of Beryl Bainbridge’s sentences reveals an author in complete control of her artistry, while the book itself displays unexpected political aptness
The film critic Mark Kermode often talks about the moment when he realises he’s in safe hands at a screening, and comes to understand that the film he’s about to review is going to be fantastic, and that he can sit back, relax and begin to enjoy himself. That moment frequently comes within the first 10 seconds, he says. And it’s a great feeling. Having just read The Bottle Factory Outing, I know exactly what he means.
Here’s the opening:
Sat, 22 Oct 2016 09:00:12 GMT2016-10-22T09:00:12Z
The novelist and screenwriter avoids the deadening effects of routine, and walks the dog when he needs a break
I try not to think in terms of writing days. Writing is so solitary, so repetitive, that if you allow it to become routine the whole experience can become deadening. So I don’t start at a particular time or write a certain number of words. I can be in London, Suffolk or – during the summer – Crete. I might be writing TV, books or journalism (I’m writing this article in a hotel in Los Angeles). I’m afraid that writing has more or less consumed my life. I never really stop.
Generally, I’ll start around 7am. I don’t have breakfast. If I can hold off eating, I find I work better. I live in Clerkenwell and have a purpose-built study on the top floor, with views of St Paul’s and the Old Bailey. The room is very long and narrow and everything in it relates in some way to my work – from the Tintin rocket which first inspired me when I was at school to the human skull that reminds me that time is short. I have a desktop computer and a laptop but I always write the first draft with a fountain pen. I like the feel of the nib on paper, the flow of ink, the sense of being part of a tradition that stretches back to my heroes: Charles Dickens, George Orwell.Continue reading...
Fri, 12 Aug 2016 16:00:05 GMT2016-08-12T16:00:05Z
Perhaps because of their own deskbound lives, many novelists have been able to find the outlandish stories filed away in the drabbest corners of modern life
There’s nothing wrong with being a bureaucrat. So you’re a tiny cog in a machine made of abstract rules, paperwork, and the broken dreams of those who do not understand either. So what? You’re just misunderstood. Without you, nobody would know where to file their TPS reports. Nobody would even know what a TPS report is.
But writers understand. As species of personality go, the writer and the bureaucrat are closely related: they’re deskbound creatures who enjoy the comfortable certainties of Microsoft Office and dazzling us with wordcraft, be it small-print legalese or the impenetrable prose of literary fiction. Of course, Kafka understood the true power of the bureaucrat because he was one – and thus portrayed bureaucracy as a looming, all-powerful presence. The wonderful Douglas Adams imagined an entire planet faking the apocalypse just to get all its middle managers to evacuate in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, while in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, hell itself is one endless system of bureaucratic red tape, where doomed souls are made to sit through every last codicil and sub-paragraph of the rules pertaining to Health and Safety – all 40,000 volumes of them.Continue reading...
Sat, 09 Jul 2016 13:00:02 GMT2016-07-09T13:00:02ZThe writer and Holocaust survivor fought for justice, defending persecuted people of all races and religions. He taught us that the word ‘refugee’ need not be unpopular
I met Elie Wiesel only once, in his New York office two years ago. He had joined the board of directors of the International Rescue Committee in 1985, and continued on our board of overseers. As the new president and CEO, I wanted his advice.
Wiesel remained doughty, passionate, inspiring. “I am a refugee but the word refugee is not popular,” he told me. “But everyone likes the idea of refuge. Fight for refuge. We all need refuge.”Continue reading...
Sun, 23 Oct 2016 06:00:37 GMT2016-10-23T06:00:37Z
Grayson Perry’s timely, entertaining book explores how rigid masculine roles can destroy men’s lives
It is a strangely embarrassing time to be a man. You only have to watch the news, or log on to Twitter, or just open your eyes, and you will see a man doing something atrocious. Very often the man we see is Donald Trump, but Trump is just the most visible example of the toxic masculinity on offer. It is there, in some form or other, all over our virtual and actual reality.
Of course, men have always done terrible things. You could pinpoint any moment in history and men would have been doing something despicable. Pol Pot and Hitler and Stalin were men, for instance. So was Jack the Ripper. So is, indisputably, Donald Trump.Continue reading...
Sun, 23 Oct 2016 07:00:39 GMT2016-10-23T07:00:39Z
Richard Holmes explores the literary art of telling a life story in this glorious autobiographical study
There is a wonderful moment in Richard Holmes’s new book in which he describes himself gazing at a flowerbed of his own making. The flowerbed is abundant in “old friends” and its roses, anemones and potentillas are redolent of the memory of their planting. In a book concerned mostly with the lives of others, Holmes offers a glimpse of himself amid the flowers. He is a fond and forgetful figure, longing to subside into the skirts of a plant the size of a “plump chaise longue”, the name of which has escaped him.
It is a brilliant vignette, prompting a meditation on the role of memory in biographical writing, and an exploration of the things that get forgotten in the writing of lives. Throughout This Long Pursuit, Holmes moves between reflections on the subjects of his career as a biographer and sketches of himself at work. We see him lecturing on Coleridge at the Royal Institution, scribbling at a table in the Cévennes, scurrying from the National Portrait Gallery with a glossy catalogue under his arm and newly discovered stories brimming in his mind. The result is a glorious series of essays on the art of life writing and a worthy successor to his earlier volumes on the craft, Footsteps and Sidetracks.Continue reading...
Fri, 21 Oct 2016 07:00:23 GMT2016-10-21T07:00:23ZIn his memoir the TV presenter paints a vivid portrait of his childhood – though feelings are distinctly absent, as is deep analysis
The last time I saw Jeremy Paxman in action it was at a bizarre debate organised by Channel 4 on the eve of the EU referendum, held in an old bingo hall on the Commercial Road in London’s East End. An odd mix of panellists had been convoked – Katie Price, Alastair Campbell, Selena Scott among others – while the audience was comprised of other has-beens, wannabes and just-abouts. The vibe was quite extraordinarily rancorous, which is uncommon for these big TV set-pieces: in my experience, a broadcast studio full of interviewees and their interrogators is the soul of amiability – everyone’s too intent on not screwing up once on camera to snipe at each other in the wings.
But the stakes were high that night, and the jibes from the audience began early on, as speaker after speaker failed to articulate any rational case, but only heaped their own prejudices on the growing pile of bigotry. Paxman, however, remained in his element: unflappable – afflicting those he thought too comfortable, and comforting anyone he believed too afflicted. Without him it would have been a complete mess – as it was, towards the end I began shouting abuse at the panellists from the bleachers, which is what earns me my mention in this book. Since what Paxman writes about me is scrupulously accurate, I’ve no reason to disbelieve anything else he recounts.Continue reading...
Thu, 20 Oct 2016 07:59:31 GMT2016-10-20T07:59:31Z
Part urban-industrial sprawl, part wild marshland, the Thames Estuary is often derided. This personal study rescues its inhabitants from condescension
On the face of it, there is nothing very eerie about Southend Pier. Opened in 1830 and restored many times since, it’s meant to be a place of fun, as cheap and cheerful as the town itself (“Southend is the Pier, the Pier is Southend,” John Betjeman said). Certainly Rachel Lichtenstein, who grew up nearby and whose memories of the area are “filled with colour, noise and laughter”, was unprepared for the night she spent five years ago moored beside the pier’s lower deck in a Dutch barge called (correct spelling and no irony) Ideaal:
Something kept banging incessantly against the hull, metal on metal. It felt like we were in a war zone … I began to hear other noises aside from the banging – the clamour of a great crowd of people crying out … a woman’s scream, the dreadful noise of children sobbing – the sound of hundreds of men shouting. It went on for hours, unbearably loud …Continue reading...
Wed, 19 Oct 2016 14:00:09 GMT2016-10-19T14:00:09ZThe practice of making a dark shape is named after one of Louis XV’s ministers. Its history embraces cartoons, racial stereotypes, cubism and Elvis Presley posters
When waiting for a friend in a busy public place, we spot them by their outline long before their features come into focus. It’s this border between flesh and the world that is the starting point and organising principle of Georges Vigarello’s inventive book on the body in history.
The word “silhouette” turns out to derive from a finance minister at the court of Louis XV, who managed to last only eight months in office: one theory is that it was Étienne de Silhouette’s flickering impact on public life that gave rise to the idea he was a kind of human shadow. Another is that the former minister liked pushing his friends up against the walls of his chateau and drawing around their edges. Either way, it was only in the middle of the 18th century that the pursuit of representing people in profile made much sense at all. Thanks to the Enlightenment’s emphasis on individual rather than collective identity, people were now able to imagine themselves as unique beings rather than anonymous functionaries of the cosmos.Continue reading...
Wed, 19 Oct 2016 14:00:09 GMT2016-10-19T14:00:09Z
The fourth and final volume of these impeccably edited letters covers the years in which Beckett won the Nobel prize but became ‘weary with words’
In late-1960s New York, a writer and Samuel Beckett superfan called Stephen Block memorised huge chunks of Beckett’s novels Watt and Molloy, “and had begun to worry about having adopted some of their character traits and attitudes”. He wrote to the author “out of desperation, not expecting a reply”, but on 28 March 1968 Beckett sat down in his Paris apartment and wrote to Block, albeit to deny him what he wanted. “I find it impossible to write or speak about my work,” Beckett explained. “My only contact with it is from the inside and I understand very imperfectly the effect it has on readers and critics.” The formulation is encountered again and again in his letters.
While Beckett was notoriously reticent about his work, there were exceptions. Otherwise, how could a project he stipulated be restricted to letters “having bearing on my work” run to four volumes and around 3,000 pages? That said, anyone hoping to find answers to the many riddles inhabiting Beckett’s poetry, short stories, plays and novels will not find them here. “I simply know next to nothing about my work in this way,” Beckett writes to the academic James Knowlson in 1972. “As little as a plumber of the history of hydraulics.”Continue reading...
Wed, 19 Oct 2016 06:00:00 GMT2016-10-19T06:00:00ZFrom spelling bees to Only Connect to the King’s William College general knowledge paper, this sideways social history looks at the best questions and the worst scandalsOnce, on a rainy Friday evening at the end of a long week, I found myself arguing with the proprietor of an off-licence about who had been the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. The off-licence offered a student discount that hinged on the customer’s ability to answer a Trivial Pursuit question correctly. In this case, the answer on the card was Nancy Astor – which, as is well known by pedants (hello) and Irish people (hi again), is incorrect. Astor may have been the first woman to take her seat in the Commons, but the first woman elected was the Irish MP Constance Markievicz, who (thanks to her party’s abstentionist policy) never darkened the door of the House. In a great victory, my questioner relented and I emerged victorious, clutching a discounted bottle of bad wine. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that quizzing is a serious business.In The Joy of Quiz, Alan Connor uncovers the history of one of our stranger pastimes: sitting around and answering questions on various topics, sometimes in the hope of winning a speedboat or a ham. Connor has an insider’s view of the quizzing world: he’s set questions for such shows as BBC2’s Only Connect – a pencil-chewingly difficult quiz aimed at the kind of person who, in films, is usually shown frantically writing equations on a see-through blackboard. As such, he has a keen sense of what makes a question good, fun, or dull, and he peppers his narrative with classic examples, one of the best of which, from Trivial Pursuit, is this: “What word was intentionally omitted from the screenplay of The Godfather?” (The Guardian’s typesetters won’t allow me to put the answer upside-down at the end of my review – so here, after a sufficiently lengthy delay, is the answer: “mafia”.) Continue reading...[...]
Wed, 19 Oct 2016 08:00:02 GMT2016-10-19T08:00:02ZThis wonderful book, lavishly illustrated, comprises conversations between Hockney and Gayford about the making of art, from the caves of Lascaux to today
David Hockney, I have always thought, is running his own airline, on which one may book a flight to a better world. I first thought this when I arrived in London in the early 1960s and saw a copy of the London Magazine which had a small but sparkling reproduction of one of his most celebrated early paintings, The Flight Into Italy. Fresh out of art school, he was only just getting started in those days, but even his first works had that magic thing, lyrical authority.Continue reading...
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 06:00:30 GMT2016-10-18T06:00:30ZPaul Tremblay’s horror tale of an apparent teenage possession is a thoroughly frightening take on classics of the genreImagine a literary horror novel that riffs on one of the best and creepiest short stories out there, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wall-Paper: “It is so pleasant to be out in this great room and creep around as I please!” Then throw in elements of every tale of possession you’ve read or seen, from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, and you’ll end up with Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, one of the most frightening books I’ve read this, or any, year.Tremblay’s story, winner of a Bram Stoker award in the US, is told in layer upon layer. Merry – Meredith Barrett – is a 23-year-old woman telling an author about her childhood – how when she was eight, her 14-year-old sister Marjorie suffered a psychotic break, behaving as if she were possessed by a host of spirits. There are multitudes of voices, strange languages and impossible knowledge. Marjorie tells her little sister terrifying stories: “I’ll keep your tongue and put it on a string, wear it like a necklace, keep it close against my chest, let it taste my skin until it turns black and shrivels up like all dead things do.” At one point Marjorie is found in her bedroom “clinging to the wall like a spider”, her arms and legs “spread-eagled, with her hands, wrists, feet, and ankles sunk into the wall as though it were slowly absorbing her”. Continue reading...[...]
Tue, 18 Oct 2016 08:30:33 GMT2016-10-18T08:30:33ZHorror stories by the author of Mapp and Lucia break the membrane between the waking and dreaming worldThe extraordinarily prolific EF Benson is chiefly remembered for his archly amusing Mapp and Lucia novels, but before them he turned his hand to horror stories, casting a chill upon the long Edwardian summer. I remember getting hold of a collection when I was about 13, luridly packaged under the title The Horror Horn; I was just old enough to snigger a little at the title (it refers actually to a Swiss mountain) and young enough to be disturbed by them.Well, it turns out that I am still young enough to be disturbed by them. This collection, selected by that connoisseur of the eldritch, Mark Gatiss, contains enough nastiness to give you just the right kind of frisson for the time of year. Benson is often compared to his near-contemporary, MR James, who is considered the master of the genre. But HP Lovecraft spoke of the “singular power” of Benson’s stories, and called one of them, “The Face”, “lethally potent”. The evil things in Benson’s stories are more gruesome, and more palpable, than those in James – you can see the appeal for Lovecraft. James’s idea of the fear that walks in the night is something conjured up, sometimes almost literally, from the page: his terrors resemble byproducts of academic research. Benson’s monsters tend to be enormous slug-like creatures, grey and faintly luminous, acting as the terrible instruments of God’s wrath. As vehicles for giving readers the willies, they are most effective. When I reread “Caterpillars”, for the first time in four decades, I very quickly regretted that I had chosen to do so at night. Gatiss, in his introduction, says that it is “perhaps a ghost story like no other”, and he’s not wrong: it’s the kind of story that leaves one feeling almost unclean, checking clothes and body for vermin. Con[...]
Mon, 17 Oct 2016 06:00:04 GMT2016-10-17T06:00:04Z
David Cameron’s spin doctor faults everyone but himself and his boss in this flat account of the EU campaign
It is the morning after the shock of the night before. David Cameron comes down from his flat at 7am to discuss his next move with his closest aides. Some of them have been in tears over a referendum result that will eject them and their boss from No 10. It will also, and rather more importantly, wreck more than four decades of British economic and foreign policy. And what does he say to them? He says: “Well, that didn’t go to plan!”
I would have found Cameron a more sympathetic figure had he greeted defeat by showering the room in profanities, by roaring with rage or howling with despair. The man has just immolated his premiership and accidentally amputated Britain from the European Union. He responds by sounding no more troubled than had he singed a few sausages on his barbecue.Continue reading...
Sun, 16 Oct 2016 11:00:32 GMT2016-10-16T11:00:32ZFor a Tory maverick who’s had a ringside seat for years, Ken Clarke is surprisingly tight-lipped
Was it a great moment or was I, even at the time, deceiving myself? On 14 October 1999, Tony Blair led five other senior figures from the three main parties on to the stage of London’s Imax cinema to proclaim their affinity for the European Union. One of them, Ken Clarke, said he was enjoying the opportunity to have an “intelligent debate about the national interest”.
What bathos; Britain’s political class refused to embrace Europe. Blair tried a bit, but not very hard. Gordon Brown did what he could to stop him. For Clarke, proud leader of the Conservatives’ awkward squad for four decades, that dream is in ruins. His party now calls for foreign workers to be named and shamed, for Britain to go its own way, the little dinghy floating off into the mid-Atlantic, a little union flag bobbing about in tow.Continue reading...
Sun, 16 Oct 2016 07:00:28 GMT2016-10-16T07:00:28ZHumility and ego characterise these two warring sides of the Beach Boys story
In 2002, just before he embarked on his long-awaited comeback tour, I interviewed Brian Wilson in his house high in the hills above Los Angeles. Sitting on a sofa with a blanket over his knees, looking pale and vulnerable, he recounted his brief good times and protracted bad times with disarming honesty in a quiet, hesitant voice. I described him afterwards as “fragile, slightly lost, almost childlike”.
Reading I Am Brian Wilson, a ghostwritten account of his troubled life, it is clear that not much has changed in the interim. “My story is a music story and a family story and a love story, but it’s a story of mental illness, too,” he says in the prologue, in which he also alerts us to the threatening voices he still hears in his head despite decades of medication. They include Chuck Berry, Phil Spector, his tyrannical father, Murry, and sundry others that “don’t sound like anyone I know... except that I know them too well”.Continue reading...
Fri, 14 Oct 2016 07:00:29 GMT2016-10-14T07:00:29Z
This powerful study tells the stories of 10 children killed by firearms on an ordinary day in the US, providing insights into the issues of poverty, race and gun culture
To those born outside the US, the importance of guns in American life is bewildering. America is an outlier among developed countries, both in the number of shooting deaths that happen here and the lack of effective firearms regulation. Though the nation’s relationship with guns is, considered globally, unusual, it has deep cultural roots.Continue reading...
Sat, 15 Oct 2016 06:00:07 GMT2016-10-15T06:00:07ZHaving gained access to the SAS archives, Macintyre tells with flair the story of the unit during the second world war in a Boys’ Own comic-strip version of the conflictThis is a book for readers of second world war history who like the Boy’s Own version of the conflict. The cast of characters could have stepped straight from a comic strip story. Yet the men of the SAS were real flesh and blood, “rogue heroes” as the title suggests. The organisation now famous for its derring-do, and as famously secretive, has opened its archive to the historian and journalist Ben Macintyre, so that he can produce the first authorised history of what the SAS did in the war.Macintyre has made the most of the opportunity. The history needs scarcely any embellishment, though he tells it with flair: the simple facts of SAS activity make the “ripping yarns” of comic book heroes pale by comparison. The organisation was the brainchild of two officers posted to the war in Egypt, David Stirling and John “Jock” Lewes. Stirling was an awkward soldier, hostile to spit-and-polish and authority, charming, fun-loving and irreverent (“layer upon layer of fossilised shit” was how he described military bureaucracy). Bored by life in Cairo, he discussed with the ascetic, hard-working, serious-minded Lewes, his complete opposite in personality, the possibility of creating a unit of awkward men like himself, who wanted action, few rules and adventure in small hit-and-run assaults behind enemy lines. Astonishingly, Stirling persuaded the high command in Cairo that he could achieve something significant at low cost in men and materials. The chief of British deception in the desert war, Dudley Clarke, gave the unit its name. Already fooling the Italians with a bogu[...]
Wed, 12 Oct 2016 14:00:14 GMT2016-10-12T14:00:14ZSylvia Beach’s store, where Hemingway, Joyce and others gathered, was closed down by the Nazis. A new incarnation has welcomed readers for more than 50 yearsThe over-painting of a fascia board bearing the name Shakespeare and Company, in Paris in 1941, remains a significant moment in the history of bookshops. Two weeks earlier, a German officer had walked in and tried to buy Finnegans Wake. The shop’s creator and owner Sylvia Beach had refused to sell it to him, claiming she had only one copy and it was her own. Two weeks later he returned to inform her that all her goods were about to be confiscated and within a couple of hours every shelf had been emptied. Books, photographs and furniture had all been carried to an upstairs apartment and a house painter had obliterated the shop’s title. The Anglo-American bookshop in the rue de l’Odéon, which had been the rendezvous for famous writers and where early purchasers of Ulysses, published by Beach, sometimes found themselves being served by its author, was no more.There might its story have ended. But Beach lived on, and after the war ended, the GI Bill brought Americans to Paris. One of these was George Whitman. He may or may not have been related to his namesake, but he was certainly a great admirer of Walt. Having gained a degree in journalism from Boston University, this bookish vagabond hitchhiked and train-hopped across Mexico, Central America and the United States, then served in the American army during the second world war, ending up in Taunton, Massachusetts, where, briefly, he ran a small bookshop. Arriving in Paris, in the autumn of 1946, he enrolled at the Sorbonne and began swapping his GI food vouchers for other veterans’ book allowances. In this[...]
Wed, 12 Oct 2016 06:59:05 GMT2016-10-12T06:59:05ZGreenfield considers the brain processes behind the experience of a single day – as ‘you’ work, engage in fantasies, walk the dog, and so on. But is it an exercise worth doing?Yet another book about consciousness? These days it seems no self-respecting neuroscientist should be without at least one book-length stab at explaining how the brain enables that most central, if elusive, feature of what makes us human. This is Susan Greenfield’s second. Yet, as she reminds us, it has only been in the last few decades that consciousness studies, once regarded as the province of philosophers, and off-limits for neuroscience, has become a cottage industry for brain researchers, oblivious to the sceptics who joke that the initiator of this new wave was an anaesthesiologist, Stuart Hameroff, whose day job ought surely to be elucidating the processes through which people become unconscious.This origin may help explain why many brain researchers have such a narrow definition of consciousness, understood by Greenfield, in common with her many peers, as what we retain while awake and lose while asleep or anaesthetised. Such a restricted description raises many questions about this protean term. Can there be consciousness in the abstract, distinct from being conscious of something? Awareness is only one of the several meanings the OED ascribes to consciousness, including self-knowledge and, to me the most important, “the totality of the impressions, thoughts, and feelings, which make up a person’s conscious being”. Continue reading...[...]
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 08:00:35 GMT2016-10-10T08:00:35ZAn intelligent and affectionate analysis captures British pop’s most glittering moment – and much more
There’s a lightning bolt on the cover of this book, in bright red and blue, a logo still alive with the shock of the new. It reminds us of a time when British pop was arguably at its boldest, its flashiest, its most fun, throwing glitter on its eyes and its boots, through the sounds of its electric guitars and skin-tight thumping drums.
It was what pop should be – alien, sensationalistic, hysterical… a place where the sublime and the ridiculous mergeContinue reading...
Tue, 11 Oct 2016 08:29:42 GMT2016-10-11T08:29:42ZA well-read bike courier gives us his view of the city
This book tackes two self-declared needs, one relatively under-addressed, and the other well catered for: the first is the lack of books about cycling in the city, as opposed to walking in it; the second is the keenness of the intellectual to fetishise manual labour. Or, to speak more accurately here, pedal labour.
Jon Day was a cycle courier for about eight years: this can take it out of you. On a tough day you can chew up around 80 miles or more, and it takes a toll on the body, especially the knees. These side effects are worse if you ride a fixed-gear bicycle, or fixie, as Day does: the pedals go round when the wheels do, so there is no freewheeling. The advantage, they say, is that the fixie gives the rider a better “feel” for the road, which I am prepared to believe; just as I am prepared to believe the superficially implausible claim Day makes that “bikes, like water, want to flow downhill and cycling tends to uncover, almost unconsciously, the old waterways and trade routes of a landscape. Ride a bike in London and you often find yourself following the ancient ley lines of the city’s subterranean rivers. The pull feels curiously elemental – your bicycle becomes a dowsing rod.” Those last two words are a red rag to the rationalist; but the more you think about it, the more sense it makes.Continue reading...
Mon, 10 Oct 2016 06:00:33 GMT2016-10-10T06:00:33Z
The former Newsnight presenter gives little away in a frustrating look back at his career
Several times during this non-revelatory but nonetheless oddly revealing memoir, Jeremy Paxman takes people to task for “having their cake and eating it”. It’s a telling accusation because the impression left by these pages is of a man who has perfected the quantum art of both eating and having his large slice of Fortnum’s finest gateau, while insisting that he’d be just as happy with a stale biscuit.
He begins with a throat-clearing warning that a public life is subject to caricature that tells us little of the texture and truth behind the media-fabricated image. Great, you think, so now we’re going to discover the real Paxo.Continue reading...
Sun, 09 Oct 2016 09:00:07 GMT2016-10-09T09:00:07Z
The controversial footballer’s autobiography teems with the rhetoric of self-development, but there’s no denying his self-deprecating humour…
In a fractured and fractious world, diplomacy – or at least tact deployed so that one may get one’s way – is a vital tool. As with greatness, some men are born to it, some achieve it, and some have it thrust upon them: others, like the footballer Joey Barton, appear to have decided to dispense with it altogether. Here he is, resolved to confront his manager at Queens Park Rangers, Harry Redknapp, about the team’s terrible form:
“He was watching the Racing Channel, and it was pointless hedging my bets.Continue reading...
Sun, 09 Oct 2016 11:00:09 GMT2016-10-09T11:00:09ZThe BBC journalist’s account of the ordinary Italian who rescued drowning migrants illuminates the failings of Europe’s governments
Emma Jane Kirby’s is a familiar BBC voice, delivering news reports from the world’s hotspots. Her dispatches for Radio 4’s PM programme from the frontline of the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean won her plaudits and an international prize.
They stood out because they managed to distil the many aspects of this humanitarian disaster, from the tragedy of the thousands who have drowned making the crossing from Libya to Italy, to the distinct lack of welcome many in Europe offered to those who do make it. She achieved this by focusing on the case of Carmine Menna, the local optician on the Italian island of Lampedusa, just 70 miles from the north Africa coast, and one of the main entry points for migrants.Continue reading...
Sun, 09 Oct 2016 07:00:05 GMT2016-10-09T07:00:05ZThis thorough life of the late novelist isn’t true to the spirit of its iconoclastic subjectAt the fag end of the 60s, the novelist AS Byatt attended a recording of a BBC programme at which the poet Stevie Smith read from her Novel on Yellow Paper and answered questions from an audience gathered in a circle around her. Byatt seems not to have enjoyed it much – the atmosphere was “like a bullring” – and perhaps this set the tone for the night, for as she was leaving she was accosted by another writer, one rather more full-blooded than Smith, if no less spiky. Her encounter with this “disagreeable woman” went like this: “She said, ‘My name’s Angela Carter. I recognised you and I wanted to stop and tell you that the sort of thing you’re doing is no good at all, no good at all. There’s nothing in it – that’s not where literature is going.’ That sort of thing. And off she stomped.”It’s hard to imagine such a confrontation – heartfelt, but a bit unnecessary – taking place now, sincerity in the matter of art having since become, for complicated reasons and depressing ones, somewhat embarrassing; in 2016, even the most grumpily earnest of writers tend to politeness backstage at literary festivals. But the 60s and 70s – even the 80s, to a degree – were different. One young novelist could roundly insult another’s work in public, and not even her victim would hold it against her. “I knew she was shy when she said that,” Byatt told Edmund Gordon, author of the first full-length biography of Cart[...]
Sat, 08 Oct 2016 07:00:36 GMT2016-10-08T07:00:36ZThis is the finest single-volume history of Vietnam in English. It challenges myths, and raises questions about the socialist republic’s political futureIn 40 years, the relationship between the United States and Vietnam has swung about as widely as is possible between two countries. In 1975, the US cut diplomatic ties with Hanoi after the end of the Vietnam war (AKA the second Indochina war), which left more than a million Vietnamese and more than 58,000 Americans dead. US officials and allied South Vietnamese famously fled Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in the biggest helicopter airlift in American history. Now, though the country remains a highly repressive, nominally communist state, it has become one of Washington’s dearest friends in Asia.The US navy pays regular port calls in Vietnam. President Obama lifted the ban on sales of lethal arms to Hanoi, which had been in place since the end of the war. The two nations have roughly $45bn (£35bn) in annual bilateral trade. When the head of Vietnam’s Communist party visited Washington last year, he made the rounds of official meetings, think-tank talks and private briefings like a conquering hero. Continue reading...[...]
Fri, 07 Oct 2016 06:01:05 GMT2016-10-07T06:01:05ZFrom Bowie to T-Rex, glam was a gaudy, fun reaction to serious beardy music, as well as a risky celebration of androgyny. Put on your silver platform bootsPop music, David Bowie told Rolling Stone magazine in 1971, suffered by being taken too seriously. “I think it should be tarted up, made into a prostitute, a parody of itself. It should be the clown, the Pierrot medium.” All those qualities could be found in glam rock, the phosphorescence of sound, image and avant-absurdism that lit up the British charts in the early 70s. Blokes sporting make-up and vertiginous platform boots, songs that were precision-tooled melodramas of bubblegum pop and football-terrace stomp, a belief in pop itself as a liberating space for fantasy and shape-shifting: it’s perhaps unsurprising that glam, in whose rise Bowie played a huge part, has never been taken very seriously. It is viewed as too girly and confected, the antithesis of rebellious sonic subcultures such as punk and reggae – light entertainment rather than art.Simon Reynolds, widely regarded as one of the world’s most important music writers – The Sex Revolts (co-authored with his wife Joy Press), Energy Flash (about rave), and Rip It Up and Start Again (on post-punk) are all classics – wasn’t even a teenager when glam was in its ascendancy. And yet, perhaps because he was so young, the records by the Sweet and Alice Cooper he heard on the radio had an outsize impact on him. They convinced him that pop should be “alien[...]
Fri, 07 Oct 2016 07:00:07 GMT2016-10-07T07:00:07ZThe 1823 insanity trial of the earl of Portsmouth was a cause celebre, involving sex, greed and an obsession with funerals. His great-great-great-great-grandson tells of family shame
If one of the main character witnesses to prove your sanity is Lord Byron – “mad, bad and dangerous to know” – then it is always going to be a struggle to persuade people you are a model of lucid propriety.
But the Commission of Lunacy writ brought against the earl of Portsmouth in 1823 was far from a clear-cut case. Was this aristocrat merely a foolish eccentric who liked to put a broom between his legs to chase his servants around the house, or was he a dangerous and sadistic lunatic, a threat not just to his household but to the entire established order?Continue reading...
Thu, 06 Oct 2016 14:00:55 GMT2016-10-06T14:00:55ZThis engrossing study identifies secrecy as a ‘very British disease’, exploring how, as the empire came to an end, government officials burned the records of imperial ruleBritain’s retreat from empire is remembered in a popular iconography that contains only a little violence. Gandhi goes on hunger strikes and performs acts of passive resistance; the Suez debacle calls time on our pretensions as a world power; Macmillan heralds the wind of change in Africa. All is done and dusted in the space of 15 years. For a postwar generation like mine, too young for national service and a troopship to the colonies, most of it happened inside the local Regal or Odeon. Movietone footage would show Princess X or Prince Y standing on a podium to witness a ceremony of national independence, smiling at the native dancers as fireworks explode overhead. This book supplies a more troubling image: as the sun sets on the greatest empire the world has ever seen, long columns of smoke fill the tropical skies. In a thousand bonfires, Britain is burning the historical evidence. Related: Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire | Marc Parry Continue reading...[...]
Thu, 06 Oct 2016 07:00:02 GMT2016-10-06T07:00:02ZVirtually every ‘uniquely human’ characteristic has turned out not to be so. This engaging study has the latest thinking on the intelligence of humans and other animals
In 1747 the French doctor and philosopher Julien Offray de La Mettrie suggested we might, using sign language, teach great apes to speak. He justified this proposal by stating that from “animals to man there is no abrupt transition … What was man before he invented words and learnt languages? An animal of a particular species.” In his fine book, the Dutch-American primatologist Frans de Waal pursues this line of thinking, not so much to see if apes can use language (they can, although only at a very low level), but to show that there is no clear behavioural division between ourselves and other animals.Continue reading...
Wed, 05 Oct 2016 14:00:35 GMT2016-10-05T14:00:35ZThis much-anticipated sequel to The Dream of Reason overturns our thinking about such major philosophers as Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau. They still have much to tell usThere was a time when every self-respecting egghead had to keep up with the latest developments in philosophy; not any more. Today’s intellectuals, if they do not ignore philosophy entirely, can content themselves with reading one or two books about its past. Hundreds of histories of philosophy are available, and they are all much the same: they tell the same basic story, with the same cast of leading characters.Act one: ancient Greek philosophy, where Socrates postulates an ideal world of which our own reality is but a shadow. Act two: modern European philosophy, which begins in the 17th century when René Descartes tried to cast doubt on everything, thus precipitating a civil war between rationalists who thought that knowledge is based on reason, and empiricists who said that it depends on experience. Act three: professional philosophy, in which Immanuel Kant’s investigations into the logic of philosophical disagreement set it on the path to becoming an introverted technical specialism, increasingly subservient to the natural sciences. The details of the plot may be vague but the message is clear: philosophers are very clever, but very stupid too, promising much and delivering little. Philosophy[...]