‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth, published by Orion: £9.99, Amazon – Buy now Published in 1993, this huge tome – one of the longest novels published in a single volume in the English language – is a much-loved classic. Set in newly independent, post-partition India, it follows the stories of four families, focusing on Rupa Mehra’s efforts to arrange the marriage of her spirited student daughter Lata to “a suitable boy”.The first screen version of this epic story is currently being filmed in India and will be shown on BBC1 in late 2020. “It’s a charming, almost Austenesque story, with a delightfully relatable heroine, set against the turbulent background of India in the years following partition,” says TV screenwriter Andrew Davies.
Matt Haig was on holiday in the south of France when the phone rang. It was someone from British Vogue calling to discuss one of his poems that would be appearing in the September issue. “I was not in work mode, the last thing I wanted to do was have a serious conversation with a journalist,” he recalls. “I just wanted to go in the swimming pool.” Haig ignored the call. The next day, it was announced that the Duchess of Sussex had guest edited the magazine that month and had personally selected Haig’s poem – “A Note from The Beach” – as one of her favourites. She had tried to call Haig to say thank you. “Yeah...” he sighs, laughing. “I probably should have picked up the phone.”Meghan Markle is just one of Haig’s high-profile fans. The 45-year-old has amassed a substantial following since the publication of his bestselling memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive. Published in 2015, the book begins with Haig walking to a cliff edge planning to take his own life. One step away, he stops. Haig was already a novelist when it came out, but the book’s visceral depiction of depression struck a special kind of chord. Overwhelmed by his newfound fame, Haig retreated and wrote something entirely different: a children’s book. A Boy Called Christmas (also published in 2015) was lauded by critics and has since been made into a film starring Dame Maggie Smith and Kristen Wiig that will be out later this year. “As soon as Reasons to Stay Alive became big, I was like, ‘ahh I’m going to run away and write about kids and Christmas,’” he recalls.
Avid fans of the chase vampire franchise Twilight were more excited about the sex scene in the final book than they have ever been about Christmas. So imagine their impatience at having to wait for the next book in the series ever since an early draft was leaked in 2008. Midnight Sun is the fifth novel in the Twilight Saga, the story of how Bella Swan and the vampire Edward Cullen fell in love as retold from his perspective. Author Stephenie Meyer once said she would never finish it, but now it’s finally here and she has dedicated the foreword to all those “young teenagers with bright, beautiful eyes full of dreams for the future” who, 12 years on, aren’t so teenage anymore.Those were the “Twilighters” and “Twihards” who loved the mystical world of werewolves, bloodlust and enforced sexual abstinence that Meyer created. And yet for those now returning to it as adults, you might find yourself struggling with two aspects of this fanged love story. There’s the laughably bad writing, of course – “her scent hit me like a battering ram, like an exploding grenade” or, worse, “her heart throbbed wetly” – but also the questionable romanticisation of a man dating a teenager who a) he wants to eat and b) he is five times older than (not that anyone can tell, because vampires don’t wrinkle).
From the cultural splendour of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur to the glamour of Bollywood, India is a fascinating place.It’s the second most populous country in the world and there’s no better way to learn about its diverse culture and complex history than to read about it.
Whether you loved it or hated it, there's no denying that the Twilight saga has been big news over the past decade.And in May, author Stephanie Meyer announced via a video message on Good Morning America that she would be releasing the fifth novel in her young adult vampire fantasy series on 4 August.
Reading a truly good book is the perfect pastime – it can transport your far from your current woes, as well as spark imagination and emotion in a way that many things cannot.And, with the announcement of the Book Prize for Fiction 2020 longlist, there's plenty to get stuck into.
There are few things more special than friendship.With good friends, we can celebrate our success and triumphs, admit to mistakes, and wallow in self-pity. The transformative power and joy of laughter among companions is undeniable.
Thank you for bearing witness to my vastness,” Lana Del Rey announces grandly in “The Land of 1,000 Fires”, one of 14 poems in the Grammy-nominated singer’s audiobook version of her forthcoming 30-poem hardback Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass.Del Rey cites Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac as inspirations – the Walt Whitman line about “containing multitudes” is her Twitter bio – and says her poems are “not trying to be anything other than what they are”. The singer is a divisive figure and her ardent poems will delight and disappoint in a Marmite taste-test way. They are a mixed bag; some are full of honest self-reflection, others are self-indulgent and mundane.
Hank Green is a busy man. So busy, in fact, that there exists a website solely dedicated to counting the days since he started a new project. At the time of our interview, the counter stands at 15 – the number of days that have elapsed since Green created a newsletter about “creation, media, money, community, education, and power”. Two days later, it resets. Green is working on a “book of good times”, a prompt journal for those looking to live a connected, mindful, grateful existence.You might know Green, 40, from the 13-year-old, ongoing YouTube channel Vlogbrothers, which he shares with his brother John. (Yes, The Fault In Our Stars author John Green – more on that later). You might know him from one of the many other online projects he has got involved in over the past decade, from the educational channel Crash Course to The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a 2012 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in vlog form. You might have heard of SciShow and Eons and How To Adult and Holy F****** Science, which tackle various themes but all aim to share knowledge online for free.
Ever since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series aired in 2017, as a nation we’ve sat up and listened. How could we not after seeing the shocking images of an albatross feeding its young bits of plastic which they’d mistaken for food – and yet this was just a snapshot of what is happening around the world today.It’s been widely reported that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight – so there really has never been a more urgent time to act.
Book subscription boxes are every bookworm’s dreams come true. Imaginative, gripping and thought-provoking stories delivered straight to your door, perhaps with a surprise treat or two? Yes, please!The coronavirus lockdown may have put a stop to our exciting summer plans, but we can think of worse ways to spend 2020 than curling up with a good book, a cup of tea and a biccy.
Holidaying and trips to the beach are back on the agenda, which calls for one thing: a reading list to devour.While many of us have had plenty of time on our hands over recent weeks to get some reading time in, admittedly it’s often the last thing many of us prioritise.
The affordability of clothing coupled with ootd culture leads many of us to think we need a new outfit whenever we leave our homes. And when it comes to fast fashion, we all plead guilty to it one way or another – either by buying Zara’s polka dot dress last summer or copping Mango's Bottega Veneta inspired clutch bag.The thrill we get after finding a cheap dress or dupe of a designer piece is undeniably problematic. And we needn’t look far to know that the price tag of many of our fashion buys frequently does not reflect the item's true cost.
Back in the swirling mists of prehistory, sometime in 2003, I moved to London straight from university. I didn’t have any contacts in the city or a family flat. But I did have the huge privilege of a graduate journalism job that let me rent a room with offensive curtains in a shared house in Zone 3, and still have spare change for too much bad house white wine. Through my twenties, I gradually clawed my way up to buying a flat with my partner. We complained about the price of rent and the cost of a deposit, looking enviously back to older peers who had had it easier – not realising quite how lucky we were to squeak through before the gates of opportunity swung shut for anyone except the rich in London.What has happened to London house prices in recent decades is nothing short of a soul-crushing calamity. In 2020, you would need to have saved an entire average salary for 12 years just to get the deposit for a starter home in Hackney, once home of the hard-up hipster, according to Which?. Meanwhile, the poor are displaced, rattling to insecure shift work on endless night buses, as public services from youth clubs to libraries are shut. And it’s a trend that’s accelerating. A new book, Alpha City: How London was Captured by the Super-Rich, by Rowland Atkinson, explores how the high end of the London property market became a place to invest in rather than to live, with corrosive effects trickling through to the rest of the city.
In March 2020, as the UK and much of the United States went into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was hard not to feel stuck in a horror novel. The pandemic subgenre of horror, in fact, enjoyed an angst-driven surge in popularity. The 2011 movie Contagion became a hot topic again. Stephen King shared a chapter of his novel The Stand for free, to help readers understand how viruses spread.Somewhere in suburban Massachusetts, Paul Tremblay, one of the foremost names in contemporary horror fiction, found himself in a strange position. That horror novel we all feel stuck in? He wrote it, by chance, months before his imaginary scenario became reality.
Who doesn’t love a cocktail? Whether it’s a jug of Pimm’s at your summer barbecue, an after-dinner martini garnished with an all-important olive or a retro snowball at Christmas, there’s a drink for every occasion.And the market is certainly booming, especially with the continued rise in popularity of gin, plus a renewed interest in spirits such as vermouth and Campari (negroni, we’re looking at you!).
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando fell into a deep sleep for two days and when they woke up, they were no longer a man. “The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity. Their faces remained as their portraits prove, practically the same.” These two sentences might have been written by Woolf in 1928, but their proposition of gender fluidity still proves controversial today, 92 years later. Though “she” quickly replaces the non-binary pronouns, Orlando continues to call into question the category of “sex” as something rigid and marked. How long will it take before society catches up to the novel’s casual insistence that “in every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place”? Considering JK Rowling’s reductive assertion of women as “people who menstruate”, it seems some of us will never make it.Orlando was inspired by Woolf’s real-life 10-year affair with cross-dressing, gender-bending noblewoman Vita Sackville-West – or “Julian” – whose own son described it as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature”. Many interpret Orlando as a coping mechanism for the sense of instability Woolf endured as a result of Sackville-West’s unfaithfulness. One letter sent in 1933 saw Sackville-West threaten Woolf with the consequences of her not returning from Italy. “I miss you very very much,” Sackville-West began. “In order to console myself, I am thinking of taking up with Marlene Dietrich. So don’t linger too long at Montepulciano if you value the touching fidelity of your old sheepdog.” In authoring Orlando, Woolf was able to create a more idealised version of Sackville-West – one that would belong to her forever.
There are at least four good reasons why Naoise Dolan is certain to be described as “the new Sally Rooney” this summer. One: she’s Irish and has written one of the most talked-about novels of the year, Exciting Times. Two: they were at Dublin’s Trinity College together. Three: not only are the characters in Exciting Times and Rooney’s debut Conversations with Friends young and liberal, with complicated sex lives, but both authors explore modern female self-loathing. Four: like the adored BBC adaptation of Normal People, Exciting Times has just been snapped up to become a TV series.The comparisons may prove to be superficial, however. Dolan had just finished writing Exciting Times when she was formally diagnosed with autism, but she’d always known she wasn’t like most people. “As a kid, I was broadly pretty cool with being different, until I started school, then I hated it,” she tells me over Zoom from her parents’ attic in Dublin. The 28-year-old was flagged as being on the spectrum aged 16, but “understood the whole thing so poorly that I thought everyone was on the spectrum line, which is completely untrue”.
Whether you’re a bibliophile or not, visiting an independent bookshop is a calming and enjoyable experience. There’s a real joy to surrounding yourself with unread stories – old and new, pre-loved and ready-to-be-loved, first editions and classics – you never truly know what you might find and fall in love with. The quietness and tranquillity also make them an easy place to pass the time.Amazingly, considering the availability of cheap books online, independent bookshops started to pop up increasingly more last year – with the Booksellers Association reporting that the number of independent bookshops increased for the second year running by 16 per cent.
In 2014, Reni Eddo-Lodge wrote a blog post titled “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. In 2017, after finding virality, that blog post became a book of the same name. Last week, it topped the UK bestseller list, making her the first black Brit ever to occupy the position. Since the book’s publication, Eddo-Lodge has often joked that the avalanche of publicity that followed her blog and consequent book deal means she talks about race more than ever before.“I did what felt like dozens of press interviews on publication of the book and I would often speak to white journalists, and they’d say, ‘So, here you are talking to me about your book!’” Eddo-Lodge told Lola Olufemi during a conversation in Cambridge in 2017.
When Notes from an Apocalypse came out last month, a copy was delivered to its author’s Dublin home by an essential worker wearing latex gloves and a mask. But Mark O’Connell shrugs off any flattery of prophetic sensibility as “sheer coincidence”. True, if recent history is anything to go by, any book that takes the end of the world as its subject has a pretty high probability of a fitting publishing date. “I’d actually like it to be less timely,” says O’Connell. “I think it’s too timely; the context that it’s coming out in is in every way horrific.”The Kilkenny-born writer is best known for 2017’s To Be a Machine: Encounters with a Post-Human Future. That book’s investigation into the techno-utopian pursuit of dodging death won him the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature last year and the Wellcome Book Prize the year before that. Evidently, O’Connell remains just as preoccupied with humanity – or more accurately its absence – than ever.
In a dramatic monologue written by Victorian Jewish poet Amy Levy, a 17-year-old Xantippe sits at the loom. Newly married to Socrates, she is increasingly embittered at the life she is consigned to. “I spun until, methinks, I spun away/ The soul from out of my body, the high thoughts/ From out of my spirit.” She had thought that when she married Socrates, he might let her into his world of ideas. But he never thought her worthy: “I think, if he had stooped a little, and cared/ I might have risen nearer to his height/ And not lain shattered, neither fit for use/ As goodly household vessel, nor for that/ Finer thing which I had hoped to be.”These lines, from “Xantippe”, were written in 1880 when Levy was just 20 years old. An ancient heroine taught to be nothing but gentle and quiet is a sad enough story on its own. But it is sadder still to know that 2,000 years after Xanthippe, the woman who gave her a voice suffered a patriarchal dismissal of her own. After receiving much criticism for her work, Levy died by suicide aged 27.
After he was convicted of a felony, Jarvious Cotton was not allowed to vote. Neither was his father, who was barred from voting after failing a literary test at the polling station. Or his grandfather, who was intimated into not voting by the Ku Klux Klan. Or his great-grandfather, who was beaten to death by the Klan for attempting to vote. Or his great-great-grandfather, who was a slave.Lawyer and civil rights activist Michelle Alexander tells the story of Jarvious Cotton’s family tree at the beginning of her immensely clear-eyed, stark indictment of penal society, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Cotton’s story shows how criminal “justice” is used as a system of control which targets and then denies people – particularly young black and Hispanic men – their basic human rights. Since the beginning of the war on drugs, those convicted for the possession and sale of illegal drugs, mainly marijuana, face extremely harsh sentences that leave them either languishing in jail or in and out of parole hearings for the rest of their lives. Once convicted, not only are they barred from voting, but they also face employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of educational opportunity, food stamps and other public services. First there was slavery, then there was Jim Crow’s enforced racial segregation and now there is mass incarceration. As Alexander affirms: “We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”