Taffy Brodesser-Akner would like to take this opportunity to come out officially as Tom Hiddleston’s “mystery brunette”. In January 2017, paparazzi snaps of the American journalist with the British actor outside his north London home wound up in a UK tabloid. The article, headlined “Moving Swift-ly on?”, referenced the duo’s “cosy chat” and described Brodesser-Akner as “the brunette who couldn’t quite believe her luck”. They were right.“I was so excited,” she recalls. “I was the 40-year-old mother living in the suburbs and I got to be a mystery brunette!” Brodesser-Akner had in fact been interviewing Hiddleston for a profile in GQ, where she worked as a contributing writer. It turned out that after spending two days together discussing success, heartbreak and spaghetti Bolognese, the two got along well enough to permit a goodbye hug. After the photos came out, The Night Manager star phoned Brodesser-Akner to apologise for “the hullabaloo” and to placate her husband, whom he hoped was not offended. “I said, ‘Tom, this has been the best week of our lives, you should try to enjoy this more.’”Brodesser-Akner might not be known to the British tabloids – she remains unidentified in the article – but the 43-year-old is one of the most prolific journalists in America, having won awards for her work in GQ and the New York Times Magazine, where she is currently employed. The Brooklyn-born writer is renowned for her deft and astute profiles of some seriously famous stars: think Gwyneth Paltrow, Nicki Minaj and Bradley Cooper. But her job, like any other, has its obstacles. Minaj famously fell asleep mid-conversation, while Cooper spent his interview denying the concept of interviews. “I won’t have any control, and it really isn’t a collaboration,” he begrudgingly told her.“I feel sorry for celebrities,” says Brodesser-Akner. “It must be very hard to be written about and constantly be obligated to talk about yourself.” The irony, of course, is that the tables have now turned. Brodesser-Akner and I are here to discuss her debut novel, Fleishman Is in Trouble, and she’s finding the process a bit strange. “Doing publicity for my book is the first time I’ve ever been interviewed. I didn’t know it would be like this, I feel powerless.” What does she make of the journalists who’ve interviewed her so far? “I’m so impressed at how they stick to their questions,” she enthuses. “I’m not like that at all, I don’t go in with a lot of questions. I just listen and make conversation.” I can’t tell if that was an answer or an instruction.Rather than the celebrity exposé that Brodesser-Akner’s fans might have expected, Fleishman Is in Trouble is a shrewd meditation on marriage and middle age. The plot follows 41-year-old Toby Fleishman, a morally dubious hepatologist, recently separated from his wife, who seeks refuge via Tinder hook-ups and emoji innuendos. Then Rachel, his ex, goes missing, plunging the reader into a twisty, sophisticated narrative filled with humour and pathos.“When a person goes missing, you get a sense of the vastness of the world,” Brodesser-Akner says of her narrative hook. “They could be anywhere, and I always liked that idea.” The majority of the novel is told from Toby’s point of view, which, in a culture that rewards authors like Liane Moriarty for documenting the female experience, might seem out of sync with the literary zeitgeist. But don’t let that fool you. “I wanted to write a story about a man,” Brodesser-Akner explains, “because I felt like it would be easier to understand a woman’s story if you understood how she was perceived by a man first.” She then implores me to “be discreet” when discussing the plot – another instruction? Perhaps she can’t help it. Throughout the book, Toby repeatedly describes Rachel as “angry”. He paints her as an unloving and irritable wife who starts fights over nothing, and wears T-shirts with slogans like: “Any yoga I do is hot yoga”.“Anger is such a taboo emotion,” says Brodesser-Akner. “These two characters are constantly accusing each other of being angry and then denying their own anger, passing it off as either sadness or frustration. Why can’t you just be angry? That is a really poignant question to me.”It’s an issue that Brodesser-Akner feels is mostly faced by women, pointing to the gendering of words like “crazy” and “psycho”, which are seldom attributed to men. “Nobody’s asking men about their emotional state because nobody’s out to judge them,” she explains. “Women are only asked about their emotional state so we can be reduced to it. So that sucks.”Brodesser-Akner speaks with a lively confidence. She makes candid points in very few words and laughs at her own jokes throughout our conversation. You’d think she’d been doing this for decades. But before she became the successful journalist she is today, her job was to help other people into the profession. From 2001 to 2007, she worked at media resources website Mediabistro, organising seminars taught by established writers to aspiring ones. Brodesser-Akner would sit in on all of them. “I don’t know if I would know how to do what it is that I’m doing without Mediabistro,” she says.After the birth of her first child, which she has previously described as “traumatic” due to postpartum post-traumatic stress disorder, she felt compelled to write about issues that had affected her personally, from childbirth to body image. She started selling them to publications, and soon became known for her compelling first-person essays, published in Self, The New York Times and Cosmopolitan. “When I couldn’t think of one more thing to say about myself, I started writing about other people,” she explains of her career trajectory.A journalist of Brodesser-Akner’s reputation is granted unparallelled access to the celebrities she interviews, usually spending an entire day, or even two, with them – “I generally refuse to do it otherwise.” Has she ever maintained a relationship with one of her subjects? “Very rarely. Sometimes they want to. But they only want to because I’m someone who showed up when and where they wanted, and asked them questions only about themselves. They didn’t have to hear about how my babysitter just quit or how my son is struggling with maths. It’s very hard, in the thing I do, to be the least important person in the room. I don’t know why I would continually sign up for that.”Even if Brodesser-Akner did want to spend her weekends pandering to celebrity egos, there’d be little time to spare. She is already working on a second novel, Long Island Compromise. “It’s about wealth,” she tells me, choosing to withhold further details aside from the fact that “it’s due soon”. The mother-of-two is also co-writing a film for Amazon about Eric Hites, aka Fat Guy Across America, the 40-stone man who cycled 3,200 miles across the US to lose weight and win his wife back.All this on top of a full-time role at the New York Times Magazine. But Brodesser-Akner rattles off her workload to me with such assured insouciance, you’d think she was talking about her supermarket shopping list. She works fast, I learn, and describes writing Fleishman Is in Trouble as “a pretty easy process”, one that took just six months. “It was hard, but I remember thinking [when I’d finished], ‘that can’t be it’.”If Brodesser-Akner has one regret, it’s that she didn’t get started with her writing career earlier. “I was so lost in my twenties and made excuses for myself,” she says, recalling “dying from jealousy” when she watched Girls, which Lena Dunham wrote at the same age. “You don’t need life experience to become a writer,” she adds. “But it can be difficult because you have to ask yourself what the story you choose to tell says about you. At my age, I no longer care what people think about me, so it’s easier. But up to 10 years ago, I cared so much.” When we move on to discuss her favourite celebrity subjects, she instantly mentions Gwyneth Paltrow (“my white whale for so long”) and praises her openness: “Nothing was off-limits.”Next in her sights, she tells me, is Melania Trump. “I like to interview people who have been famous for a while, because by the time I get to them, there are inevitably misunderstandings they believe the general public has about who they are. And it’s very interesting to write a story about someone based on the what the world has wrong about them.” Though I want to probe her on this, to find out how she gets celebrities to open up to her with such ease, Brodesser-Akner interjects because she wants to give me one final instruction. “Don’t let anybody tell you that writing has to be tortured in order to be good,” she insists. “If you just sit down and write the next sentence, you’ll be fine.”Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (£18.99, Headline) comes out on 18 June
He appeared steady as rock when he captained the Pakistan cricket team during some of his country’s most turbulent times, both on and off the field. Away from the crease however, Shahid Afridi is a walking contradiction. As batsman he held the record for the fastest century in one day international cricket and still he still holds the record for the most sixes in that form of the game. But he still considers himself a bowler. Off the field he loved to party, but was nonetheless a devout Muslim. He loves democracy, but has a more than healthy respect for his country’s armed forces and former military dictators. He would refuse to let his daughters play outdoor sports, yet for him cricket was the only thing he wanted to do and could do. And boy could he play. All this emerges in his new autobiography Game Changer, written with esteemed Pakistani journalist and broadcaster Wajahat S Khan, which takes us on his journey as one of 11 children from Khyber mountains, into the megacity of Karachi and to the pinnacle of world cricket. Refreshingly honest and excellently written, Afridi does not hold back. Whether espousing about the spot-fixing scandal, which saw three of his teammates convicted of taking bribes from a bookmaker to underperform, the current state of the team, his country’s relationship with India, or Pakistani politics - now led by another former cricket star Imran Khan \- he tells it how he sees it. It makes for a compelling read. First and foremost, it is the story of a cricketer, one who honed his skills on concrete playgrounds despite his father’s disapproval. Read more about the 2019 Cricket World Cup hereHailing from a nice middle class background, he was sent to a private school in the hope this would lead to a respectable profession. Not a chance.Even he couldn’t have predicted how famous the game would make him and at such a young age. Plucked from a Pakistan under 19s tour of the West Indies, aged just 16 years and 217 days, he would walk into his first, first team match to bat at number three against 1996 World Cup winners Sri Lanka. Within 37 balls he had broken the record for the fastest century in one day international cricket. It would stand for 14-years and catapult him to fame around the cricketing world, while making him an instant superstar in his homeland. Although this would help him to help his family, who were struggling financially at the time, it would bring different pressures both on and off the field - all of which he tackles head on in this book. While many sporting autobiographies get bogged down with the minuteai of every ball, shot or match with the help of Khan he tells his story concisely, but without sparing the detail. He tells you exactly why he fell out with his cricketing idol and on many, many occasions, the Pakistani cricketing authorities. Yet he no less sparing about his own form and failings. As captain at the time, he offers a unique insight into the spot-fixing scandal which brought shame on the game for his country. While he may have talked a little more about his own family, you learn as much, if not more, about the man and what he thinks about a range of subjects, as you do the cricketer. While he denies any interest, at times you wonder whether he might follow Mr Khan into politics. Sometimes spiky, undoubtedly opinionated, he is a warrior both on and off the field. You suspect he might do well were he to enter that arena. For the moment, he will be in the UK for the Cricket World Cup. Looking at the current team, they could use a man like him in their ranks. Perhaps they should read this book, which even for those who are not fans of the sport, is engaging, entertaining and well worth a read.
Jackson Brodie has been away for nine years – but now Kate Atkinson’s private detective (played by Jason Isaacs on screen in the intervening years in Case Histories) is back, older too and somewhat world-weary. But he’s still got a habit of ending up in the thick of things – and in this case, in a thicket of very tangled plot strands. Almost every character (and there’s quite the cast) has a history that simply won’t stay put: “The thing about the past was that, no matter how far you ran or how fast you ran, it was always right behind you, snapping at your heels.”Working out how their histories intertwine is the work of not only Brodie but also a winning pair of young female detectives, Ronnie and Reggie. And for the reader: Atkinson throws in many entertaining diversions, and a fair few juicy red herrings.The crimes at the centre of Big Sky are of a particularly nasty, and rather topical, variety: a historical investigation into a paedophile ring of elite, establishment figures is reopened, while an active company traffic young women into the UK. Yet while Big Sky never makes light of such depravity, it also makes for an exuberant, entertaining read.Set across seaside towns along the Yorkshire coast – Whitby, Scarborough, Bridlington – Atkinson squeezes all the sleaze she can from a world of grotty arcades, dubious tourist attractions and rundown theatres: the paedophile ringleaders, Bassani and Carmody, made their money through fairgrounds and an ice cream empire, because of course they did.Into this seedy milieu, Atkinson places various plucky underdogs. As well as the gruff-but-loveable Brodie, there’s the luckless Vince, a “middle-aged, middle-of-the-road, middle-class man” who’s been booted out of his job, and his marriage to a vicious, grasping wife. Atkinson also seems to skewer the “trophy wife” of Tommy, one of Vince’s golf buddies: Crystal is described as “a construction made from artificial materials – the acrylic nails, the silicone breasts, the polymer eyelashes”, and has a dark past that’s heavily alluded to. But she’s both wilier and kinder than first presented, while her bookworm teenage stepson Harry provides another decent soul to root for in a despairingly venal world.But Atkinson’s work is always playful, and there’s a brisk, jaunty tone to Big Sky and much dry observational comedy. Her characters have their own, distinctly British gallows humour, and there are blackly comic asides in even the most heinous of situations (“You would have thought that getting divorced from a woman would free you from the obligation of identifying her corpse, but apparently not,” goes one typical grumble).If Atkinson’s crime writing has at times raised eyebrows for its reliance on coincidence, it also faces up to that with a sly wink: “A coincidence is just an explanation waiting to happen,” goes Brodie’s repeated truism. In fact, many of the plot strands are here tightly and cunningly braided together – but there are still coincidences, not least in the arrival of Reggie Chase, last seen as a teenager in a previous Atkinson novel, When Will There Be Good News? She’s a welcome addition here, however, forming half of a terrifically deadpan double act. The “spick and span”, petite and neat Ronnie and Reggie – both liable to be criminally underestimated – provide a foil to the sordid corruption that oozes through the book. Surely a spin-off is in the offing.We do, however, get more of Reggie’s back story than we strictly need. There’s a lot going on in Big Sky, and it can get bogged down in allusions to previous stories, especially from Brodie’s past (often delivered in parentheses). These half unpotted case histories feel unnecessary for existing fans, cumbersome for new readers.Atkinson is on surer territory with new characters – she has an almost cruel ability to capture a person in a line or two. On Vince’s Bonsai-growing wife Wendy, for instance: “She shopped from the Boden catalogue and was proud of having grown a horrible stunted little tree.” But you also come to really know and love (or loathe) many of them. While this focus on character means Big Sky can lack the relentless propulsion associated with crime writing, getting to know a plethora of her tenacious, memorable characters seems like a fair trade, especially as they gently offer hope that, in the end, good will out.Big Sky by Kate Atkinson is published on 18 June by Transworld, £16.99
Books, books, books. They will increase your lifespan, lower your stress and boost your intelligence. They will give you fuller, thicker hair.Whatever the breathless claims about reading, one thing is certain: losing yourself in a great novel is one of life’s most enduring and dependable joys. Job satisfaction comes and goes, partners enrapture and abscond, but you can always fall back on the timeless ability of literature to transport you to a different world. From Jane Austen’s mannered drawing rooms to the airless tower blocks of 1984, novels do something unique. They simultaneously speak to the heart and mind. They teach you about the history of our world, the possibilities of our future and the fabric of our souls.So where do you start? It’s a fraught question, because the obvious answer – “the literary canon” – means a pantheon of predominantly dead, white dudes. The power structures at play for centuries have meant that a very narrow band of people have been given the opportunity to say something universal about the human condition. It’s impossible to ignore these biases: the least we can do is acknowledge them, include different perspectives, and point to some excellent resources here, here and here to discover more writers we should be reading.As it stands, whittling this list down to 40 novels has been a process that makes Brexit negotiations look simple and amicable. We hope you enjoy the selection – or at least enjoy arguing about who should or should not have made the cut.You can also view this list as a gallery below.Pride and Prejudice, Jane AustenIt is a fact universally acknowledged that every list of great books must include Pride and Prejudice. Don’t be fooled by the bonnets and balls: beneath the sugary surface is a tart exposé of the marriage market in Georgian England. For every lucky Elizabeth, who tames the haughty, handsome Mr Darcy and learns to know herself in the process, there’s a Charlotte, resigned to life with a drivelling buffoon for want of a pretty face. Ceri RadfordThe Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾, Sue TownsendRead this one when you’re decrepit enough, and chances are you’ll die laughing. No one has lampooned the self-absorption, delusions of grandeur and sexual frustration of adolescence as brilliantly as Sue Townsend, and no one ever will. Beyond the majestic poetry and the pimples, there’s also a sharp satire of Thatcherist Britain. CRCatch-22, Joseph HellerIt’s not often an idiom coined in a novel becomes a catchphrase, but Joseph Heller managed it with his madcap, savage and hilarious tour de force. War is the ultimate dead end for logic, and this novel explores all its absurdities as we follow US bombardier pilot Captain John Yossarian. While Heller drew on his own experience as a WWII pilot, it was the McCarthyism of the Fifties that fuelled the book’s glorious rage. CRTess of the d’Urbervilles, Thomas HardyA good 125 years before MeToo, Thomas Hardy skewered the sexual hypocrisy of the Victorian age in this melodramatic but immensely moving novel. Tess is a naïve girl from a poor family who is raped by a wealthy landowner. After the death of her baby, she tries to build a new life, but the “shame” of her past casts a long shadow. Read this if you want to understand the rotten culture at the root of victim blaming. CRThings Fall Apart, Chinua AchebeA classic exposé of colonialism, Achebe’s novel explores what happens to a Nigerian village when European missionaries arrive. The main character, warrior-like Okonkwo, embodies the traditional values that are ultimately doomed. By the time Achebe was born in 1930, missionaries had been settled in his village for decades. He wrote in English and took the title of his novel from a Yeats poem, but wove Igbo proverbs throughout this lyrical work. CR1984, George OrwellThe ultimate piece of dystopian fiction, 1984 was so prescient that it’s become a cliché. But forget TV’s Big Brother or the trite travesty of Room 101: the original has lost none of its furious force. Orwell was interested in the mechanics of totalitarianism, imagining a society that took the paranoid surveillance of the Soviets to chilling conclusions. Our hero, Winston, tries to resist a grey world where a screen watches your every move, but bravery is ultimately futile when the state worms its way inside your mind. CRGreat Expectations, Charles DickensDickens was the social conscience of the Victorian age, but don’t let that put you off. Great Expectations is the roiling tale of the orphaned Pip, the lovely Estella, and the thwarted Miss Havisham. First written in serial form, you barely have time to recover from one cliffhanger before the next one beckons, all told in Dickens’ luxuriant, humorous, heartfelt prose. CRTo Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee A timeless plea for justice in the setting of America’s racist South during the depression years, Lee’s novel caused a sensation. Her device was simple but incendiary: look at the world through the eyes of a six-year-old, in this case, Jean Louise Finch, whose father is a lawyer defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. Lee hoped for nothing but “a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers”: she won the Pulitzer and a place on the curriculum. CRThe God of Small Things, Arundhati RoyRoy won the 1997 Booker Prize with her debut novel, a powerful intergenerational tale of love that crosses caste lines in southern India, and the appalling consequences for those who break the taboos dictating “who should be loved, and how. And how much.” Sex, death, religion, the ambivalent pull of motherhood: it’s all there in this beautiful and haunting book. CRWolf Hall, Hilary MantelIn an astonishing act of literary ventriloquism, Mantel inhabits a fictionalised version of Thomas Cromwell, a working-class boy who rose through his own fierce intelligence to be a key player in the treacherous world of Tudor politics. Historical fiction so immersive you can smell the fear and ambition. CRThe Code of the Woosters, PG WodehouseIf you haven’t read PG Wodehouse in a hot bath with a snifter of whisky and ideally a rubber duck for company, you haven’t lived. Wallow in this sublimely silly tale of the ultimate comic double act: bumbling aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his omniscient butler, Jeeves. A book that’s a sheer joy to read and also manages to satirise British fascist leader Oswald Mosley as a querulous grump in black shorts. CRFrankenstein, Mary ShelleyShelley was just 18 when she wrote Frankenstein as part of a challenge with her future husband, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron, to concoct the best horror story. Put down the green face paint: Frankenstein’s monster is a complex creation who yearns for sympathy and companionship. Some 200 years after it was first published, the gothic tale feels more relevant than ever as genetic science pushes the boundaries of what it means to create life. CRLord of the Flies, William GoldingAnyone who has ever suspected that children are primitive little beasties will nod sagely as they read Golding’s classic. His theory is this: maroon a bunch of schoolboys on an island, and watch how quickly the trappings of decent behaviour fall away. Never has a broken pair of spectacles seemed so sinister, or civilisation so fragile. CRMidnight’s Children, Salman RushdieThe protagonist of Rushdie’s most celebrated novel is born at the exact moment India gains independence. He’s also born with superpowers, and he’s not the only one. In an audacious and poetic piece of magical realism, Rushdie tells the story of India’s blood-soaked resurgence via a swathe of children born at midnight with uncanny abilities. CRJane Eyre, Charlotte BronteYou will need a cold, dead heart not to be moved by one of literature’s steeliest heroines. From the institutional cruelty of her boarding school, the “small, plain” Jane Eyre becomes a governess who demands a right to think and feel. Not many love stories take in a mad woman in the attic and a spot of therapeutic disfigurement, but this one somehow carries it off with mythic aplomb. CRMiddlemarch, George EliotThis is a richly satisfying slow burn of a novel that follows the lives and loves of the inhabitants of a small town in England through the years 1829–32. The acerbic wit and timeless truth of its observations mark this out as a work of genius; but at the time the author, Mary Anne Evans, had to turn to a male pen name to be taken seriously. CRThe Secret History, Donna TarttStick another log on the fire and curl up with this dark, peculiar and quite brilliant literary murder tale. A group of classics students become entranced by Greek mythology – and then take it up a level. Remember, kids: never try your own delirious Dionysian ritual at home. CRAmericanah, Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieA subtle and engrossing look at racial identity, through the story of a charismatic young Nigerian woman who leaves her comfortable Lagos home for a world of struggles in the United States. Capturing both the hard-scrabble life of US immigrants and the brash divisions of a rising Nigeria, Adichie crosses continents with all her usual depth of feeling and lightness of touch. CRCold Comfort Farm, Stella GibbonsAn absolute unadulterated comic joy of a novel. Stella Gibbons neatly pokes fun at sentimental navel-gazing with her zesty heroine Flora, who is more interested in basic hygiene than histrionics. In other words, if you’ve “seen something nasty in the woodshed”, just shut the door. CRBeloved, Toni MorrisonDedicated to the “60 million and more” Africans and their descendants who died as a result of the slave trade, this is a cultural milestone and a Pulitzer-winning tour de force. Morrison was inspired by the real-life story of an enslaved woman who killed her own daughter rather than see her return to slavery. In her plot, the murdered child returns to haunt a black community, suggesting the inescapable taint of America’s history. CRBrideshead Revisited, Evelyn WaughEvelyn Waugh bottles the intoxicating vapour of a vanished era in this novel about middle-class Charles Ryder, who meets upper-class Sebastian Flyte at Oxford University in the 1920s. Scrap the wartime prologue, and Charles’s entire relationship with Sebastian’s sister Julia (Dear Evelyn, thank you for your latest manuscript, a few suggested cuts…) and you’re looking at one of the most affecting love affairs in the English language. Chris HarveyDune, Frank HerbertYou can almost feel your mouth dry with thirst as you enter the world of Frank Herbert’s Dune and encounter the desert planet of Arrakis, with its giant sandworms and mind-altering spice. It’s the setting for an epic saga of warring feudal houses, but it’s as much eco-parable as thrilling adventure story. Rarely has a fictional world been so completely realised. CHWuthering Heights, Emily BrontëWill there ever be a novel that burns with more passionate intensity than Wuthering Heights? The forces that bring together its fierce heroine Catherine Earnshaw and cruel hero Heathcliff are violent and untameable, yet rooted in a childhood devotion to one another, when Heathcliff obeyed Cathy’s every command. It’s impossible to imagine this novel ever provoking quiet slumbers; Emily Brontë’s vision of nature blazes with poetry. CHThe Great Gatsby, F Scott FitzgeraldThe savage reviews that greeted F Scott Fitzgerald’s third novel – “no more than a glorified anecdote”; “for the season only” – failed to recognise something truly great; a near-perfect distillation of the hope, ambition, cynicism and desire at the heart of the American Dream. Other novels capture the allure of the invented self, from Stendhal’s The Red and the Black to Thomas Mann’s Confessions of Felix Krull, but Fitzgerald’s enigmatic Jay Gatsby casts a shadow that reaches to Mad Men’s Don Draper and beyond. CHA Clockwork Orange, Anthony BurgessFrom the moment we meet Alex and his three droogs in the Korova milk bar, drinking moloko with vellocet or synthemesc and wondering whether to chat up the devotchkas at the counter or tolchock some old veck in an alley, it’s clear that normal novelistic conventions do not apply. Anthony Burgess’s slim volume about a violent near-future where aversion therapy is used on feral youth who speak Nadsat and commit rape and murder, is a dystopian masterpiece. CHLolita, Vladimir NabokovBanned from entering the UK in its year of publication, 1955, Vladimir Nabokov’s astonishingly skilful and enduringly controversial work of fiction introduces us to literary professor and self-confessed hebephile Humbert Humbert, the perhaps unreliable narrator of the novel. He marries widow Charlotte Haze only to get access to her daughter, 12-year-old Dolores, nicknamed Lo by her mother, or as Humbert calls her “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” Cloaking his abuse in the allusive language of idealised love does not lessen Humbert’s crimes, but allows Nabokov to skewer him where he hides. CHDo Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K DickHere be Roy Baty, Rick Deckard and Rachael Rosen – the novel that inspired Blade Runner is stranger even than the film it became. Back in an age before artificial intelligence could teach itself in a few hours to play chess better than any grandmaster that ever lived, Philip K Dick was using the concept of android life to explore what it meant to be human, and what it is to be left behind on a compromised planet. That he could do it in 250 pages that set the mind spinning and engage the emotions with every page-turn make this a rare science-fiction indeed. CHHeart of Darkness, Joseph ConradInspired by Conrad’s own experiences of captaining a trading steamer up the Congo River, Heart of Darkness is part adventure, part psychological voyage into the unknown, as the narrator Marlow relays the story of his journey into the jungle to meet the mysterious ivory trader Mr Kurtz. The novel – although debate continues to rage about whether its attitude to Africa and colonialism is racist – is deeply involving and demands to be read. CHDracula, Bram StokerWhatever passed between Irish theatre manager Bram Stoker and the Hungarian traveller and writer Ármin Vámbéry when they met in London and talked of the Carpathian Mountains, it incubated in the Gothic imagination of Stoker into a work that has had an incalculable influence on Western culture. It’s not hard to read the Count as a shadowy sexual figure surprising straitlaced Victorian England in their beds, but in Stoker’s hands he’s also bloody creepy. CHThe Catcher in the Rye, JD SalingerIt only takes one sentence, written in the first person, for Salinger’s Holden Caulfield to announce himself in all his teenage nihilism, sneering at you for wanting to know his biographical details “and all that David Copperfield kind of crap”. The Catcher in the Rye is the quintessential novel of the adolescent experience, captured in deathless prose. CHThe Big Sleep, Raymond ChandlerDashiell Hammett may have been harder boiled, his plots more intricate but, wow, does Raymond Chandler have style. The push and pull at the start of The Big Sleep between private detective Philip Marlowe, in his powder-blue suit and dark blue shirt, and Miss Carmen Sternwood, with her “little sharp predatory teeth” and lashes that she lowers and raises like a theatre curtain, sets the tone for a story of bad girls and bad men. CHVanity Fair, William Makepeace ThackerayAll the teeming life of 19th century London is here in Thackeray’s masterpiece, right down to the curry houses frequented by Jos Sedley, who has gained a taste for the hot stuff as an officer in the East India Trading Company. But it is Becky Sharp, one of literature’s great characters, who gives this novel its enduring fascination. As a woman on the make, Becky is the perfect blend of wit, cunning and cold-hearted ruthlessness. Try as film and TV might to humanise and make excuses for her, Becky needs victims to thrive! And she’s all the more compelling for that. CHThe Bell Jar, Sylvia PlathThe only novel written by the poet Sylvia Plath is a semi-autobiographical account of a descent into depression that the book’s narrator Esther Greenwood describes as like being trapped under a bell jar – used to create a vacuum in scientific experiments – struggling to breathe. Almost every word is arresting, and the way that Plath captures the vivid life happening around Esther – news events and magazine parties – accentuates the deadening illness that drives her towards suicidal feelings. Plath herself would commit suicide one month after the novel’s publication in 1963. CHCharlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald DahlHarry Potter may be more popular, but Willy Wonka is altogether weirder. From the overwhelming poverty experienced by Charlie Bucket and his family, to the spoilt, greedy, brattish children who join Charlie on his trip to Willy Wonka’s phantasmagorical sweet factory there is nothing artificially sweetened in Roald Dahl’s startling work of fantasy. CHAnna Karenina, Leo TolstoyAndrew Davies’s recent TV adaptation of War and Peace reminded those of us who can’t quite face returning to the novel’s monstrous demands just how brilliantly Tolstoy delineates affairs of the heart, even if the war passages will always be a struggle. In Anna Karenina – enormous, too! – the great Russian novelist captures the erotic charge between the married Anna and the bachelor Vronsky, then drags his heroine through society’s scorn as their affair takes shape, without ever suggesting we move from her side. CHDangerous Liaisons, Pierre Choderlos de LaclosThe most deliciously wicked experience in literature, this epistolary novel introduces us to the Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont, who play cruel games of sexual conquest on their unwitting victims. The Marquise’s justification for her behaviour – “I, who was born to revenge my sex and master yours” – will strike a chord in the MeToo era, but emotions, even love, intrude, to the point where Laclos’s amorality becomes untenable. Sexy but very, very bad. CH100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia MarquezThe energy and enchantment of Garcia Marquez’s story of seven generations of the Buendia family in a small town in Colombia continue to enthral half a century on. Hauntings and premonitions allied to a journalistic eye for detail and a poetic sensibility make Marquez’s magical realism unique. CHThe Trial, Franz Kafka“Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K…” So begins Kafka’s nightmarish tale of a man trapped in an unfathomable bureaucratic process after being arrested by two agents from an unidentified office for a crime they’re not allowed to tell him about. Foreshadowing the antisemitism of Nazi-occupied Europe, as well as the methods of the Stasi, KGB, and StB, it’s an unsettling, at times bewildering, tale with chilling resonance. CHRebecca, Daphne du MaurierThe second Mrs de Winter is the narrator of Du Maurier’s marvellously gothic tale about a young woman who replaces the deceased Rebecca as wife to the wealthy Maxim de Winter and mistress of the Manderley estate. There she meets the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, formerly devoted to Rebecca, who proceeds to torment her. As atmospheric, psychological horror it just gets darker and darker. CHThe Leopard, Giuseppe Tomasi di LampedusaPublished posthumously in 1958, Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel is set in 19th century Sicily, where revolution is in the air. The imposing Prince Don Fabrizio presides over a town close to Palermo during the last days of an old world in which class stratifications are stable and understood. Garibaldi’s forces have taken the island and a new world will follow. It’s a deep and poetic meditation on political change and the characters that it produces. CH
We all have cherished memories of the books we read and shared as children. Big friendly giants, honey-loving bears, hungry caterpillars, iron men: these figures populate the vivid imaginary landscapes of our childhoods. Everybody will remember the book that made them laugh and cry, the one that they turn to again and again. Like totems, we pass them on to our own children, each book a spell in itself.But there isn’t room in this list for everything. I’m sure that every single reader will gasp at omissions and query the order. There are many personal favourites that I’ve left out, and many more 20th- and 21st-century writers whom I would have liked to include. This isn’t intended as a definitive ranking; but as an overview, and a guide. You’ll recognise many; a few perhaps will be not so well known, but deserve more attention. I’ve considered influence as well as originality; but crucially, all of the books here have stood the tests of time, taste and, most importantly, readers. Each one, whenever it was published, can be read and enjoyed by a child today as much as it was by the children of the past.I hope too that this will encourage many adult readers to turn back to their childhood shelves, take up that long-forgotten gem, and find wonder and magic once more. So – are you sitting comfortably? Then let us begin.1\. The Alice books by Lewis Carroll (19th century)Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass, and what Alice Found There, are an extraordinary brace of books, written by the mathematician Charles Dodgson, under his pseudonym Lewis Carroll. He employed logic, humour and inventive fantasy, fashioning the most powerful and unusual works in children’s literature. Some have tried to work out why a raven is like a writing desk. But most will be content to be drawn away into enchantment.2\. Kinder- und Hausmarchen (‘Nursery and Household Tales’) by The Brothers Grimm (19th century)Exceptionally influential, this collection of more than 200 tales underwent many editions in the Grimms’ lifetime. Though the seamier elements were altered for a prudish bourgeois audience, the fairy tales retain a depth that resonates with children and adults alike. We all know The Frog Prince and Hansel and Gretel; but have you read Hans my Hedgehog, about a half-boy, half-hedgehog? 3\. Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen (19th century)A strange and shy man, Hans Christian Andersen produced some of the most beautiful and reverberant literary fairy tales in the world, about loss, love and longing. Gerda’s search for her brother Kay in The Snow Queen; the little mermaid’s mute passion for her prince; gorgeously written, the stories offer solace and enchantment. 4\. The One Thousand and One Nights by Anon. (Folk tales)This scintillating series, which Scheherazade spins to her royal husband every night so that he spares her life to hear their conclusion, first came to Europe in 1704 in a French text that also contained Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sinbad the Sailor. Elemental, opulent and wondrous, the stories are full of passion and revenges, and remain enormously influential.5\. Peter and Wendy by J M Barrie (1911)Some would argue that this novelised form of the play Peter Pan is not a children’s book, being instead complicit with an ironic, adult viewpoint. However, this, and all its variants, are enjoyed immensely by children. There is the theme-park world of Neverland: the sense of unbounded imagination, and the dizzying allure of flight and magic.6\. The Pilgrim's Progress from This World, to That Which Is to Come by John Bunyan (1678)One of the first books enthusiastically taken up by children, this is now largely neglected, even by adults and scholars. Unjustly so, as its allegorical power and beauty are unsurpassed. Its humour and colloquial nature mean it is still accessible. From the Slough of Despond to the Celestial City, it brims with memorable places and people. 7\. The Narnia series by CS Lewis (mid-20th century)The best children’s books have a way of altering the universe around them. Everyone can remember their first encounter with Narnia and then trying to get through the back of the wardrobe afterwards into the enticing other world. Lewis’s stroke of genius, of course, was making the animals talk; the knightly adventures of the children are gripping.8\. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman (1995)Philip Pullman’s daemons, in his lavishly-imagined alternative world run by a sinister religious organisation, are among the most enduring creations of children’s literature. His themes are cosmic and vast, with a dizzying sense of possibility. His story is spellbinding, and, in Lyra Belacqua, he made a heroine at once appealing, spiky and enduring. 9\. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien (1937)In The Hobbit, an odder book than it at first appears, the tiny hairy-footed Bilbo Baggins goes on a journey with some dwarves, and is actually rewarded for being a thief. The charm of the hobbits’ world is matched by the excitement of the adventures Bilbo finds himself entangled in and many readers will be led on to its vast sequel, The Lord of the Rings. 10\. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)There is some debate as to whether The Wind in the Willows is a children’s book, or whether it’s really a book to lift up the spirits of down-trodden city clerks. Either way, the gentle adventures of Mole and Ratty, and Toad’s ridiculous shenanigans, express a lyrical love of the pleasures of rural life.11\. The Once and Future King by TH White (1958)Captivating, wise, witty, this collection of three earlier books treats the Matter of Britain. TH White’s masterstroke was to imagine the young king Arthur as Wart, an ordinary boy thrust into extraordinary situations, and his Merlin as a kindly, forgetful old man (viz. Dumbledore). Neglected in recent years, White deserves a place in the limelight once more.12\. Five Children and It by E Nesbit (1902)A representative from the first Golden Age of children’s fiction in the early 20th century. Nesbit’s grumpy, vain wish-granting Psammead (or “sand fairy”), an immortal who used to eat pterodactyl for breakfast, offers adventure in a world without oppressive evil. The brothers and sisters find that magic doesn’t always offer a solution.13\. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (1894)Raised by wolves, Mowgli must face the terrible tiger Shere Khan, with the help of Baloo, a “sleepy brown bear”, and Bagheera, a panther. Full of invention and adventure, the stories were an immediate hit, the behaviour of the animals believable and, paradoxically, human. Their wildness and subtleties have become thoroughly imbued into the popular imagination.14\. Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)I’m willing to bet that after reading this, many children stared at pencils, hoping they might be able to move them with their mind alone. Dahl’s exuberant imagination is on full display in this emotionally weighty story about a little girl’s fight for love and escape. Miss Trunchbull, the vicious headmistress, is one of literature’s great villains.15\. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (1963)A picture book that reveals more about itself each time it’s read. Note how the pictures expand as Max’s imaginative world grows; how the text, poetic and spare, interacts with the visuals; how Max, through his journey into the interior of his self, meets and conquers his anger at his mother. The drawings are lovely, too.16\. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (1936)What at first seems to be a delightful story about a little bull who hates fighting becomes a potent fable about what’s expected of boys. Rejecting masculine violence, Ferdinand prefers just to sit under a cork tree. The illustrations of Spanish matadors, picadors and their arenas are astoundingly evocative. 17\. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962)This has all the hallmarks of classic children’s literature: missing parents, a usurping adult, terrible injustices and the romance of winter and wolves. Set in an alternative historical era, where James III rules, little Bonnie’s fortune is snatched by a sinister governess. Children will cheer when she gets her comeuppance.18\. The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin (1968)The recent death of Ursula Le Guin, aged 88, has brought renewed attention to her works. Ged, a dark-skinned boy from the goat herding island of Gont, demonstrates exceptional powers and is sent to learn how to be a wizard. His resulting quest is epic, with a depth and strangeness that lasts.19\. Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce (1958)Considered by many to be one of children’s literature’s most outstanding examples. Tom is packed away to stay with his aunt and uncle: but when the clock strikes thirteen, he finds a gorgeous garden, and in it a little girl called Hatty who seems to come from a different time. Emotionally rich, it will leave a lasting impression on any child. 20\. The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively (1973)Penelope Lively once said that “children need to sense that we live in a permanent world that reaches away behind and ahead of us”. Her writing encompasses a huge range, and this, her Carnegie-winning novel about a house beset by the spirit of a sorceror, is eerie, effective and involving.21\. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling (late 20th century)First published more than 20 years ago, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone blazed into the world’s consciousness like a bolt of lightning. Moving from the initial wonder and quirky charm of the first three books, the series took on a darker tone, resulting in an enthralling septet and a cultural phenomenon.22\. The Scarecrows by Robert Westall (1981)I’ve chosen The Scarecrows over The Machine Gunners, which is perhaps Westall’s better known book, as I think this has a quality of terror and an understanding of adolescence that is matchless. It focuses on a boy’s tortured relationship with his stepfather and the encroachment of a murder that happened many years before. Unforgettably spine-tingling, and profoundly affecting.23\. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (2001)A wondrously clever book that upturns children’s literature convention. Its hero, Artemis Fowl, is a 12-year-old boy who also happens to be a criminal mastermind. Containing such characters as a kleptomaniac, flatulent dwarf, and a centaur called Foaly who’s also a technical whizz, this is a hilarious delight. 24\. Down with Skool! A Guide to School Life for Tiny Pupils and their Parents by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle (1953)As any fule know, reading Molesworth is like being a member of a secret skool gang. Complemented by Ronald Searle’s satirical drawings of depressed, deluded schoolmasters and grubby, disobedient schoolboys, all the world’s vanity and hypocrisy is on display through Molesworth’s cynical, instantly likeable and badly spelled voice. A grate writer, indeed.25\. The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban (1967)A bittersweet and unusual tale, in which a clockwork mouse and his child are thrown out of a toy shop, and then must embark on a journey to find safety. Unlike the film Toy Story, in which the toys are complicit in their servitude, this allows discarded toys to find a world of their own, constructed according to their own terms. Full of striking imagery and exciting scenes. 26\. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman (2001)Former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman’s novel described a world in which black Africans had enslaved white Europeans. Whites, or noughts, were economically impoverished, while the blacks, or crosses, were in power. An inter-racial love affair between two teens brings first passion and then tragedy. Powerful, provocative and original.27\. The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge (2015)The recent winner of the overall Costa Book Awards is a remarkable novel from a remarkable writer. Hardinge is a true original, her sentences poised and poetic, her alternative 19th-century world fully imagined, and her intelligent, enquiring female lead not simply a good role model but also a fine addition to literature.28\. How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell (2003)Quite simply, Cressida Cowell has an exceptional ability to give children what they like. Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III is a Viking who doesn’t fit in: gawky and geeky, his adventures with his hunting-dragon Toothless are madcap and marvellous. Give it to a child and see them become engrossed immediately. 29\. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1902)Even Potter knew she was writing nostalgically about an imagined past, but who could not fail to love this slyly observed tale of a naughty rabbit? Potter’s arch, almost Austen-esque prose interacts seamlessly with her keenly observed studies of flora and fauna. Avoid the new film and stick to the original.30\. Tom Brown’s Schooldays by Thomas Hughes (1857)This moving, charming and poignant tale of boarding school life is included partly for its own merits, but also as it was the first in the school story genre that spawned so many thousands of books, through Enid Blyton right up to JK Rowling. And, of course, the bully Flashman, without whom we wouldn’t have George MacDonald Fraser’s hilarious series detailing his further adventures.Philip Womack is the author of six critically acclaimed books for children, including The Liberators (2010), The Broken King (2014), and The Double Axe (2016). He teaches children’s literature, and children’s and young adult fiction at Royal Holloway, University of London, and is crowdfunding a novel on Unbound, The Arrow of Apollo, set in a legendary mythical past
If the lack of sandal-worthy weather is getting you down then fear not as we’ve rounded up the best purchases to be made this May - the perfect way to cheer up, right? With nothing but our jollies at the top of our agenda this month, we’re busy curating the ultimate shopping list to cram into our suitcase. This summer , we’re packing Toast’s must-have raffia tote bag for the flight while there’s a pair of Duchess of Cambridge -inspired espadrilles that have caught our eye. On the beauty front, The Body Shop is helping us to pull together a guilt-free bathroom shelf with the launch of its vegan-friendly carrot cleanser and face wash. While royal fans will be pleased to find a coffee table book destined to provide endless sartorial inspiration from the Queen of co-ords herself. Now all we need is an array of matching brollies... From the jewellery collaboration everyone is talking about to holiday clobber, shop this month’s best buys.
Lamb’s Conduit Street seems almost too adorable to be real, as if Ye Olde Fantasy Englande, the one that exists in your head, had suddenly sprung to life. But it feels exactly right that this cobblestone thoroughfare in Bloomsbury, filled as it is with idiosyncratic shops selling artisanal cheese and homemade cakes and other rarefied items, should also be home to Persephone Books, a gem of a place devoted mostly to overlooked works by female writers of the mid-20th century.Walking into the shop feels for a moment like walking back in time. Vintage posters exhort wartime women to, for instance, Join the Wrens, the British women’s naval service. But the present is here, too. In the window is a blowup of Sen Mitch McConnell’s ill-tempered remarks about Sen Elizabeth Warren in 2017, using language that sounds decidedly Jane Eyre-ish: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”Persistence is one way to describe the philosophy of the shop itself, which began 20 years ago as a mail-order publishing business reprinting forgotten titles from an era in women’s fiction beloved by its founder, Nicola Beauman. Having come into a small inheritance from her father, she opened the business with a list of 12 books that first year.Here you will find books by women you have probably never heard of, like Oriel Malet and Isobel English, and some who might be more familiar, like Katherine Mansfield and Frances Hodgson Burnett. (There are even a few men on the shelves.)You’ll also find, in pride of place, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a 1938 novel by Winifred Watson that was brought to Persephone’s attention by a customer who said it had been her mother’s favourite book. Published by Persephone in 2000, the book – about a poor, drab governess mistakenly sent by her employment agency to work for a glamorous nightclub singer – became an unexpected hit for the company, was made into a movie and has been a consistently buoyant seller ever since.What makes a Persephone book?“I’m pretty allergic to the egocentric idea that it’s all down to my taste, but I have to confess that I have always had this huge interest in early 20th-century fiction by women – what academics would call middlebrow, and I would call a good read,” Beauman says.“The connection between them is that they were forgotten and they’re very well written,” she continued. “I’m very keen on story and on page-turners. When I get to the end of a book, I like to put it down and feel absolutely wrenched by what I’ve read, to be in a different world.”Each year perhaps a half-dozen more books join the list, so that there are now 132 in all. All are still in print, and all are still for sale, each for a flat £13; every time the new titles arrive, the old books are moved a bit and the shelves reorganised to make way.After a few seasons as just a publisher, Persephone became a bookstore, too, leaving its old office in Clerkenwell and expanding into its current space. It is both office and shop, one purpose blending into the other across two rooms.Overall, the shop’s most popular author is a woman named Dorothy Whipple, who has an impressive 10 books on the list, Persephones No. 3, 19, 40, 56, 74, 85, 95, 110, 118 and 127. Her books are funny and spirited and full of insight about real people’s lives.“I like books that tell me how we lived,” Beauman says. “I’m very, very interested in the novel as social history.” Also, she adds: “Good writing is important to me, and that’s why we only have 132 books.”The books are austerely elegant, bound in light-grey paper and unadorned except for the title in a white rectangle on the cover. Beauman was inspired by the plain covers of 1930s Penguin books and the French custom of publishing books with white covers and red writing, she says, while the colours are something of an homage to old Dean & Deluca coffee mugs.“I thought, ‘Why can’t a book look like this?’” she says.Or, as it says on the company website: “Persephone books are all grey because, well, we really like grey. We also had a vision of a woman who comes home tired from work, and there is a book waiting for her, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like because she knows she will enjoy it.”Inside, though, the books are riots of colour. Each book has a different endpaper taken from textiles or prints associated with the year in which it was originally published. Some come from the Victoria & Albert museum; others might be fabrics contributed by customers. “Once somebody brought in a wartime scarf, and you could literally smell their mother’s powder on it,” Beauman says.Persephone has a devoted and passionate following. Some 30,000 people subscribe to its free magazine, the Persephone Biannually, which includes articles about the newest books and other subjects. Its website contains Beauman’s own wittily erudite musings, which lately have taken an alarmed tone because of uncertainty over the fate of small businesses during the protracted debacle that is Brexit, or Britain’s exit from the European Union.Last month, the company celebrated its 20th anniversary with smoked-salmon sandwiches, tea, Champagne and cake in an all-day party with a steady stream of visitors giving way to a larger crowd at night.“The idea at the beginning was that if you like one of our books, you’ll like them all,” Beauman says. “That has worked almost entirely. It’s quite rare for someone to dislike any of the books. I hate to use the word ‘brand,’ but we are something of a brand.”© New York Times
Everyone in Criccieth seems to know Jan Morris, even the waitress at the local fish restaurant. “Have you met Jan before?” she asks as Morris materialises from what, due to a trick of the light, looks to be the ocean itself, clouds of white hair wafting and fluffing around her face.Morris is 92 and walks carefully, with the help of a cane. She has lived in this corner of north Wales – a three-plus hour train ride from London, and then another 45 minutes by car – for most of her life. In Britain, she is a renowned and beloved essayist, historian, journalist and chronicler of places, the author of more than four dozen books, but it wasn’t until her latest work, In My Mind’s Eye, was serialised on BBC radio last autumn that many of her neighbours realised there was a celebrity in their midst.Morris has lived many lives, and it is impossible to separate who she is now from who she was before: James Humphrey Morris, who was born in 1926 in Somerset, England, and whose education and career were typical of privileged Englishmen at the time.Morris was a choral scholar at Christ Church, Oxford, served in the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers during the waning years of the Second World War, and at age 23, met and married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter. They raised four children together (a fifth died in infancy). Morris worked as a journalist specialising in splashy, intrepid assignments for The Times. In 1953, an exclusive account of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic ascent of Mount Everest turned Morris into that rare thing, a famous journalist, because of how exciting and competitive the story was and how physically dangerous to cover.> I was three or four years old when I realised that I had been born into the wrong bodyMorrisA different sort of fame would come in 1972 when, after a lifetime of feeling trapped inside a body that felt as if it belonged to someone else, Morris travelled to Casablanca, Morocco, and underwent gender-reassignment surgery. She was 46. It was an extraordinarily bold thing to do. Few people at the time understood what such a transition entailed, let alone knew anyone who had one.“I was three or perhaps four years old when I realised that I had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl,” the author, now known as Jan, wrote later in Conundrum, her account of her struggle to reconcile body and spirit.Freed from the constraints of her old body, and freed perhaps of the expectations that come with being a male writer, Morris shifted into a different sort of writing, writing lyrical non-fiction books about places (Venice, Trieste and Oxford, among others) and history, including Pax Britannica, a three-volume history of the British Empire.The biggest constant in her life has been Elizabeth, who was first her wife and then her ex-wife – same-sex marriage was illegal in Britain in 1972 – and is now her legal civil partner, her closest companion for more than 70 years. The couple settled here in Wales; Elizabeth mostly stayed home and Morris lived a peripatetic existence, travelling and writing and then travelling again.At lunch, wrestling with a pizza and sipping a glass of wine, Morris is looking back at her life from the vantage point of her 93rd year and reminiscing about the Everest expedition.Covering the story required being embedded with the Everest team, climbing 17,900 feet to base camp for word from the summit, and then, thrillingly, sending a coded telegram via runner to announce the news to the world. Morris felt a kinship with the rest of the expedition, she says, that never really went away.“It altered my life so much,” Morris says. “And now I’m the only surviving member of the expedition, and I miss them all.” When Hillary died, in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2008, the New Zealand government flew her and Elizabeth there to mark the significance of their shared history.Morris now lives in the difficult, vexing, preoccupying land of what she calls “extreme old age”. Although longevity has made her more interesting, she thinks, it is not so fun when there is too much of it. She is no longer able to travel much, for instance, and has had to curtail her old wanderlust. “Old age is a great mistake,” she says.But the remark comes with such a disarming smile and so much charm. In My Mind’s Eye – a collection of mini-essays, written one per day over the course of many months – reveals that her writing is just as elegant and erudite, and her mind just as supple, playful, curious, rigorous, humorous and surprising as ever.The essays range wildly, touching on, among other things, the superiority of her car; the beauty of Welsh rainbows; the felicity of the word “anathema”; the question of whether absolute truth in recollection is possible; the madness of contemporary politics; and the transcendent mundanity of family life.She also writes about the importance of kindness, to each other and to nature. When she sees a bug in the house, Morris ushers it to safety; when she inadvertently kills a woodlouse, as she recounts in a scene in the book, she apologises.“That’s the very last thing I wanted to do to an old friend,” she says to the dead woodlouse, as it disappears down the drain.“It’s so simple, and everyone agrees with it,” she says at lunch, of being kind. “If you could make it the basis for all society, how lovely it would be.”> To me gender is not physical at allMorrisMorris is a handsome woman, tall and formidable, wearing a butter-yellow coat over a pair of trousers and sweater. She is impatient with questions about transgender politics, possibly because she made peace with her own decisions so long ago. Having reached her age and lived for equal amounts of time as a man and as a woman, she says, the transition she made so long ago somehow feels less relevant.“I’ve never believed it to be quite as important as everyone made it out to be,” she says. “I believe in the soul and the spirit more than the body.”Or, as she writes in Conundrum: “To me gender is not physical at all, but is altogether insubstantial. It is soul, perhaps, it is talent, it is taste, it is environment, it is how one feels, it is light and shade, it is inner music, it is a spring in one’s stem or an exchange of glances, it is more truly life and love than any combination of genitals, ovaries and hormones.”In reading Conundrum, you’re struck (among other things) by the good humour, practicality and non-judgemental nature of Morris’s friends and colleagues. Back then, most people seemed to accept her transformation with equanimity, in some cases because they genuinely thought it was none of their business or were too British to bring it up.Gender politics doesn’t seem to intrude too often around here, either, and Morris’s unconventional history has been at once extraordinary and perfectly normal to her neighbours, she says. “I’ve lived two genders, and in this part of Wales they haven’t twitched at all.”Morris is happily working on another book of journal entries, though her age has given her the licence to select only what she wants to do.In Mind’s Eye she recounts her response when offered a writing assignment: “It’s very kind of you to think of me, but to be honest I can’t be bothered.” (To which the editor replied, “Bravo!”)She also has another book of essays, meant for posthumous publication.“It’s quite a nice book, but I don’t know why I have decided that this particular one shall be my last,” she says. “Everyone thinks it’s because I have a flaming revelation. I wish I had, but I haven’t.”Morris’s deep love of Elizabeth, her lifelong companion, has run like a golden thread through the conversation. When they first met, they so delighted in each other’s company that when Elizabeth took the bus to work, Morris would ride with her so the two could keep talking.But now Elizabeth is suffering from dementia, what Morris calls “that subtle demon of our time”, and it is a difficult time for a couple who have always shared everything. Morris prefers not to dwell on it, but it is clear that it weighs heavily.It has made both of them by turns bewildered and grumpy and scared, she says. But “kindness reconciles us still”, Morris writes in Mind’s Eye. “In all our long years together, in life as in love, we have not once said good night without the sweet kiss of reconciliation.”They have already had a headstone made for the grave they will eventually share. It is sitting under the stairs in their house.It says, in both Welsh and English: “Here are two friends, at the end of one life.”© New York Times
The tag line of Irish novelist Cecelia Ahern’s new collection, Roar, is “Thirty Stories. One Roar”: an on-the-nose message that, while every woman’s story is different, women’s collective rage is uniform – and powerful.
Whether you’re a master chef or can barely boil an egg, it’s hard to dispute that cooking is an awesome life skill to give a child. Getting youngsters comfortable in the kitchen is the first step to what can be a lifelong pleasure, hobby, profession or obsession.Cooking with children is different. It’s always messy, usually takes longer than normal and is never disappointing. Watching them taste the food they have prepared for the first time is nothing short of a joy.But a good recipe book is about more than food. Much more. It’s about learning tricks of the trade, how to pick the best produce at markets or methods for making dishes look more creative, playful or sophisticated. They should be easy to digest and beautifully illustrated.From first cookies to three course feasts, the below list of books are all brilliant for budding chefs. ‘Fantastic Eats by Angellica Bell’, published by Quadrille: £7.87, AmazonThis bright and juicy volume by Celebrity Masterchef winner Angellica Bell is her first. In the introduction she explains how, inspired by her grandmother, she spent a lot of time in the kitchen as child. She urges youngsters to have a go – striving for effort rather than complete precision.Her recipes, however, are picture perfect. While they are designed for kids, almost all of them could be served at an adult meal.The monster crispy treats are so inventive and fun – an update on the much-loved rice crispie cakes. But the standout are surely the little toads in the holes.Buy now ‘Cooking Step-By-Step’, published by DK: £7.94, AmazonDK have been releasing excellent cooking books for children for years – we remember having one in the 80s that was dog-eared and totally beloved.This incarnation of over 50 step-by-step recipes is just as exciting including pizza muffins, falafel and cheesecake.It’s boldly illustrated with large, bright shots of food, equipment and mid-recipe pictures to keep little chefs on the right track. There’s a fabulous glossary at the back as well as fully-illustrated skills like prepping avocado and lining a cake tin. We defy adults not to learn something new!Buy now ‘Good Housekeeping Kids Cook!’ by Susan Westmoreland, published by Hearst Communications: £11.99, AmazonWith over 100 recipes to choose from, this collection will keep any family truly busy – and inspired. From simple tuna salad to more complex steak and finger fries or peach melba lollies, there is guaranteed to be something that any child will want to make (and eat).The recipe format was clear with difficulty level stated at the top. Box outs of ideas for leftovers and equipment explanations mean that young chefs will get a comprehensive culinary education.We were really impressed by the amount of basic prep on offer from rule number one “read through the entire recipe” to some essential food hygiene tips.Buy now ‘Gruffalo Crumble and Other Recipes’, published by Pan Macmillan: £7.43, WorderyFans of the Gruffalo will be over the moon with this cookbook dedicated to replicating all the flora and fauna found in the deep dark wood.From mouse toast – a total crowd pleaser, take it from us – to a show-stopping chocolate cake depicting our hero’s warty, toothy face that will be perfect for birthday parties, this collection of recipes is ingenious, inventive and mainly, so much fun.Buy now ‘The Kew Gardens Children’s Cookbook’ by Caroline Craig & Joe Archer, published by Wayland: £9.35, WHSmithThe beautifully illustrated cover boasting a bounty of fruit and vegetables is seductive enough, but the contents are even better. Aimed at children aged between 6 and 8 years old, these pages will do as much to instil a love of gardening as cooking.Little ones will be guided through the planting and nurturing of vegetables such as peas and carrots, before harvesting them and cooking up a storm.Buy now ‘20 Recipes Kids Should Know’ by Esme and Calista Washburn, published by Prestel: £12.99, AmazonThe first thing to say about this gorgeous book is that it is written by a 12-year-old and the photographs were taken by a 17-year-old. It aims to really teach young people how to cook, rather than just being a collection of recipes.The opening introductory spread is a detailed overview of life in any kitchen with a glossary of terms – ‘to mince’, ‘to whip’, ‘to sauté’ as well as a load of important measurements and weights. The 20 recipes included are a thoughtful edit of useful and delicious staples. We must admit to finding the Dijon dressing completely sublime and making it on our own without any children there at all!There is a fresh pasta recipe which is complex even for seasoned chefs but thanks to the detailed step-by-step breakdown it’s a brilliant bonding recipe for parent and child!Buy now ‘My First Cookbooks: Pancakes, Pizza, Tacos, and Cookies!’ by Lotta Nieminen, published by Phaidon: £34.16, AmazonWith arguably the four most delicious food groups placed front and centre, this collection is the real deal, arriving as a bright boxset: weighty and full of promise.Inside are four brilliantly designed books each one focusing on recipes for a different delicacy: pancakes, pizza, tacos and cookies. But that’s not all. The recipes all come with a set of interactive features so that little chefs can experience every aspect of cooking.The four-year-olds we cooked with could break eggs, sift flour and stir the mixture – (and that was just with the cookies) thanks to having tabs to pull, wheels to spin and best of all the ‘finished’ dishes are easy to create out of pop outs. Easily the most fun cookery book out there.Buy now ‘Little Green Kitchen: Simple Vegetarian Family Recipes’ by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl, published by Hardie Grant: £20, AmazonThe cover is gorgeous if a little intimidating to frazzled city-dwelling parents but this sort of barefoot, organic vibe is certainly something to aspire to! This is actually a book geared towards family cooking and eating, with some 70 fun and wholesome vegetarian meals to prepare together.What we really loved was the options to have an “adult upgrade” where more sophisticated flavours can be added, or the “helping hand” guides, where you’re shown how little ones can help you chop tofu, form patties or press buttons on food processors.Highlights include magic green sauce and tommy pepper soup.Buy now ‘Nadiya’s Bake Me A Story’ by Nadiya Hussain, published by Hodder: £10.49, WHSmithThe former The Great British Bake Off’s winner Nadiya Hussain has poured her baking talent into this beautiful book – a colourful blend of baking, storytelling and illustration.Here, 15 original stories are paired with brand-new recipes from star-anise gingerbread men to elephant’s ears – AKA cinnamon palmiers. This works well, we found, especially for younger children who want to see features from the stories brought to life – and then eaten!Buy now ‘The World In My Kitchen’ by Sally Brown and Kate Morris, published by Nourish: £9.35, AmazonCooking goes global in this playful collection of recipes from across the globe. The writing is super playful and engaging, and kids will pack in a whole lot of information about geography, history and other cultures too.The book is divided into continent sections the opening pages of each offering a visual feast of illustrations spread across a regional map – not to mention a list of little-known facts and figures relating to the culinary habits of the people who live there.What we really loved about this book, aside from the charming illustrations, is how it encourages small children to get curious about the tastes and cooking methods that exist beyond their immediate spheres.Buy now The verdict: Kids' cookbooksWe think DK’s Cooking Step-By-Step is a brilliant place for any child to start learning about food prep, nutrition and the ways of the kitchen – and an absolute bargain for how much information it manages to pack in. But for truly beautiful looking and fun food in a book that will brighten up any kitchen Angellica Bell’s Fantastic Eats wins the day.
It’s 80 years since the end of the Spanish Civil War, when General Francisco Franco’s populist forces finally overcame the leftist resistance and plunged the country into full-blown dictatorship. Decades after his death, Franco continues to cast a long shadow over Spain, from the rise of the far-right Vox party to the hundreds of mass graves of people who died in the war that are still waiting to be exhumed. One other hugely important legacy that few people are aware of is the continuing effect on books, both in Spain and throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
“The present is the frailest of improbable constructs,” muses Charlie, the narrator. “Any part of it, or all of it, could be otherwise.” The Falklands War has been lost, and Tony Benn is a Jeremy Corbyn-like figure, adored at mass rallies. Crucially, Alan Turing has survived, becoming the father of a new leap into the technological future.
EL James does not like speaking to journalists, who often want to know deeply personal things, like how much money she makes and whether she has a sex dungeon in her basement. “She hates it,” her agent, Valerie Hoskins, tells me ominously on the phone a week before James and I meet.
You could call Isabella Hammad’s 550-page novel a sprawling, sweeping historical epic. It does chart a turbulent period of Palestinian history, from the end of the Ottoman empire and the First World War, through British rule and mass immigration of Jews as the Second World War looms. The Parisian of the title is Midhat, whom we meet as a young man travelling to Montpellier and Paris to train as a doctor, and journey with through to middle age, marriage and familial duty at his family’s home town of Nablus in Palestine.
It affects one in 100 people, is a lifelong autoimmune condition with no cure, and can cause anything from gastrointestinal symptoms and anaemia to neurological problems and repeated miscarriages. Yet coeliac disease remains widely misunderstood and grossly underestimated. It is not a food allergy or intolerance but instead a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues when gluten is eaten. This causes damage to the lining of the gut and prevents vital nutrients from food being absorbed. Coeliac disease really can be a kick in the gut.More worrying still is the fact that about half a million people in the UK are living with the condition without even knowing it. Emily Hampton, head of food policy at Coeliac UK, says: “Only 30 per cent of people with coeliac disease are currently diagnosed. It is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are very similar to a number of other gut problems, including irritable bowel syndrome. It is important that people are screened for coeliac disease with a blood test before a diagnosis of other gut problems in order to rule it out first.”The charity is working towards a future where the scale of underdiagnosis can be tackled and reduced. The hope is that Coeliac Awareness Week, which runs from 13 to 19 May, will make more people alert to how their body feels and lead them to seek clinical advice to find out whether their symptoms could be undiagnosed coeliac disease.Ultimately, though, the misery that can be caused by coeliac disease can largely be avoided by following a strict gluten-free diet, meaning foods containing the protein – including wheat, rye, barley and oats – are out. One in 10 people (and that is likely to also include those with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which can trigger equally unpleasant symptoms) in the UK now avoid gluten. The market is listening and there are many pre-made gluten-free products available in mainstream supermarkets.But too much can never be said of the benefits of eating as many unprocessed foods as possible, especially as free-from alternatives are often far more expensive than the conventional product. “On a gluten-free diet there are many foods that are naturally gluten free, including meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, rice and potatoes,” Hampton adds.The cookbooks selected here allow those with coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity to enjoy the pleasure of cooking delicious food from scratch. The list includes a wide variety of both sweet and savoury dishes, and many also give excellent advice, which can be particularly useful for those who are newly diagnosed, on transitioning to a new way of eating.You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. ‘Hassle Free, Gluten Free’ by Jane Devonshire, published by Bloomsbury: £15.17, AmazonJane Devonshire flew the flag for gluten-free gastronomy on national TV when her culinary flair saw her become the winner of MasterChef 2016\. We all know how tough that competition can be, but with 14 years’ experience of cooking without gluten – after her youngest child was diagnosed with coeliac disease when he was two years old – she had the talent to take her all the way to the top.With this new cookbook she shares her ideas for dishes for every occasion, including simple yet posh nibbles, comforting breads, welcoming family suppers and fancy dinner party fare. The dessert recipes are also exquisite. Peanut butter cheesecake anyone? You get the picture.Straightforward advice on avoiding gluten cross-contamination during food preparation is a helpful addition to this book too.Buy now ‘Vegan Treats’ by Emma Hollingsworth, published by Octopus Publishing: £11.17, Wodery There was a time when the mere mention of baked goods would send those with coeliac disease running for the hills. Now there is a world of coeliac-friendly baking substitutes that make indulgent goodies totally accessible and easy to create, as can be seen in Emma Hollingsworth’s delightful book.Do not let the title deceive you, the recipes within will appeal to vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. And it made perfect sense to include it here because all the recipes are gluten free, as well as dairy free and refined-sugar free.The book is the ultimate guide to creating all things sweet, from breakfast bars, brownies and biscuits to doughnuts, tarts and a cookie pizza pie. There is even a handy list of free-from alternatives to traditional products.Buy now ‘How to be Gluten Free and Keep Your Friends’ by Anna Barnett, published by Hardie Grant: £7.81, WorderyAs this book rightly declares: “This lifestyle doesn’t need to be an obstacle or a punishment.” Indeed, with the right vision it can be a joy. This book can give its readers just that.The dishes are inspired by cuisines and flavours from across the globe, with Thai, Korean and Mexican recipes among the mix. There are breads and loafs far more exciting than your usual sliced white, and ideas for condiments, including infused oils and a truly delicious sticky chilli jam. Desserts and cakes are also given due attention – think macaroons, a Dutch baby pancake, and gin and pink tonic ice pops.Dotted between the recipes are nuggets of inspiration, including recommendations for apps to download, guidance on free-from flours and even words of encouragement – a nice touch.Buy now ‘Mindful Chef’ by Myles Hopper and Giles Humphries, published by Penguin Random House: £13.18, AmazonCooking coeliac-friendly food can sometimes feel like a complex task that requires a lot of time, but this book shatters that notion because every meal can be made in 30 minutes. The recipes are fresh, nutritious and deliver powerful flavours with easy to source, straightforward ingredients.It is rare to come across a person who does not lead a hectic life nowadays, but even the busiest among us can rustle up tasty dishes, including beef and mustard burger, peanut satay pork, and salted caramel raw chocolates – with the help of this book. All the creations look and taste like a great deal more time and effort have gone into them.Mindful Chef also offers holistic advice on living well, with chapters on energy and productivity, managing stress, exercise tips and how to make sure you are getting enough good-quality sleep.Buy now ‘Honeybuns All Day Cook Book’ by Emma Goss-Custard: £14.99, Honeybee BooksAnyone who has tasted Honeybuns’ range of pre-packaged treats will know the recipes in this book will be delicious. Much like their slices and brownies, the dishes here do not scrimp on flavour or indulgence.The recipes are organised by meal type, and there are charming extras, such as crackers and dips and festival favourites. The weekend brunch bake was a winner, as were the toad in the hole and the chocolate, prune and avocado tart. This book is equally good for those following other diets – there are 69 diary-free and 35 vegan recipes.A wealth of tips to make coeliac-friendly living easy are included too, as well as a section outlining trusted suppliers of those harder to find in the supermarket gluten- and allergen-free products.Buy now ‘Deliciously Ella The Plant-Based Cookbook’ by Ella Mills, published by Yellow Kite: £15, WHSmithIf healthy yet scrumptious food that avoids animal products is what you’re after then this books is one for you. Ella Mills turned a horrible situation, where she was suffering from a rare illness, to a positive one with a radical lifestyle transformation. She has established a hugely successful brand, which has garnered an enormous following, and this latest book serves up more than 100 recipes alongside an insight into her personal journey.It features the most popular dishes from her London deli café, including breakfasts, salads, burgers, stews and curries. The gatherings and supper clubs section is excellent if you are planning a dinner party or special occasion because these recipes are tried and tested at events including Wilderness Festival and a Help Refugees charity evening.Buy now ‘Gluten is my Bitch’ by April Peveteaux, published by Stewart, Tabori and Chang: £7.91, WHSmithFirst and foremost, this book is hilarious. It says it how it is – no sugarcoating of coeliac disease here – and is as much a therapy session as a cookbook.The recipes are easy to find because the pages are blue to contrast against the white pages of all the other content. On those blues pages you will find breakfasts, snacks, sides, mains, desserts and even cocktails. We were most excited about the Italian cream cake and German cream cheese brownies.On top of the recipes, there are useful chapters on making sure your diet is safe while travelling, including the airlines you can trust, how to help a child with coeliac disease and what to go for when dining out.Buy now ‘The Fodmap Friendly Kitchen Cookbook’ by Emma Hatcher, published by Yellow Kite: £13.72, Wordery Go to a doctor with digestion issues and you are likely to be advised to try a low-Fodmap diet (although do push for a blood test to rule out coeliac disease if you suspect you might have it). Avoiding fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (Fodmaps) is a proven way to relieve the symptoms of conditions including IBS and crohn’s disease, and it could help people with coeliac disease too.In this book, Emma Hatcher shares 100 recipes, including yummy brunch ideas, soups, pizza and pastas and some really beautiful desserts. The “something special” chapter is especially good for those days when you have a bit more time on your hands, are entertaining or are cooking for date night.The in-depth and extensive information in this book will guide anyone through embarking on a low-Fodmap diet with ease.Buy now ‘My Kids Can’t Eat That!’ by Christine Bailey, published by Nourish: £10.49, WHSmithThis book provides far more than what you would expect to find in a regular cookbook – to call it an education would not be excessive. Nutritionist and chef Christine Bailey has coeliac disease herself, and her three children have autoimmune conditions so she knows the value of safe, tasty and nutritious food.Beyond the comprehensive information about identifying and dealing with symptoms of coeliac disease and food allergies, Bailey shares 60 allergy-free recipes that all the family will love. The smoky bean burgers were a hit when we tried them, as too were the ginger oaty cookies.What makes this book stand out is the inclusion of advice on how to emotionally support a child through an allergy diagnosis that will help them take control of their diet. The sensible guidance on eating out, and how to deal with schools and other parents, is equally excellent. Meanwhile, the shopping lists and meal plans are brilliant, and extra helpful if you are stuck for ideas and like to plan ahead.Buy now ‘The Ultimate Gluten-Free, Dairy Free Collection’ by Grace Cheetham, published by Nourish: £13.86, WorderyHaving coeliac disease as well as a dairy allergy sounds like a hell of a nightmare, but this tome of more than 200 recipes means you will be hard-pushed to run out of fresh ideas in the kitchen.From the simple to the adventurous, there is something for any time of the day and for every day of the week. Among them are comfort foods such as lasagne, fancier dishes with seafood, and sweet treats including a gorgeous upside-down nectarine and ginger cake. There is even a pork pie recipe.Handy quick reference symbols on each recipe make it easy to identify if the dish is safe for you.Buy now The verdict: Gluten-free cookbooksIf Jane Devonshire’s recipes are good enough for John and Gregg, they are good enough for us. Hassle Free, Gluten Free delivers family-friendly recipes that everyone will love, regardless of their dietary requirements. A close second is Mindful Chef for its quick and simple yet extremely tasty dishes. The Ultimate Gluten-Free, Dairy Free Collection also deserves a mention for its excellent value for money, as much as for anything else.
When The Rosie Project came out in 2014, it marked the beginning of what has become a widely beloved book series – the kind that leaves you checking in with its characters when a new tome comes out like you would on old friends. With The Rosie Result, Australian author Graeme Simsion wraps up what will live on as a trilogy, bringing an end to a story that The Independent originally hailed as “pitch-perfect” and “extremely funny”. Five years have elapsed since The Rosie Project arrived, introducing Don and Rosie, a pair of scientists and mutual love interests, to the world.
Nowadays, there is a 38ft mural of Kurt Vonnegut in his hometown of Indianapolis. The city was less honouring of its famous son when the author returned for a book-signing event a few weeks after the publication of Slaughterhouse-Five on 31 March 1969. Vonnegut, whose book was already a national bestseller by the time of his visit in April, wrote drolly about the lack of fanfare he received when he came back to promote his novel about surviving the allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.
There’s a scene in the new series of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s dark comedy Fleabag that stands out. In the middle of an awkward family dinner, the heroine’s sister Claire (Sian Clifford) rushes to the bathroom. Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag follows, offering her a wad of tissue, assuming it’s a heavy period. It isn’t. It’s a miscarriage.
It is more than 90 years since DH Lawrence’s famously outrageous novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published and times have certainly changed since then. Sally Rooney’s Normal People, Costa Novel of the Year 2018, revisits many of the issues and the ostensible plot of Lady Chatterley. Normal People is basically a romance, but it’s a romance that crosses class boundaries.
April may be the cruellest month, but spring is a time for hope. And Spring, the third instalment in Ali Smith’s series of novels about modern Britain, bursts with the bruised hope of redemption.
At the tail end of the 1970s, a young writer with the initials SH moves from the wilds of Minnesota into a tiny apartment in grimy, violent New York, where she intends, before taking up an academic post, to write her first novel, a murder mystery featuring a boy detective whose idol is Sherlock Holmes (note those initials). SH, we infer, is a version of Siri Hustvedt.
On World Poetry Day, falling on 21 March, we recognise the moving spirit of poetry and its transformative effect on culture. Here are a small collection of singular lines, stanzas, and notions possessing the power to spring the most moving of thoughts and feelings into the humming imagination of the reader. Such poets as TS Eliot, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Wilfred Owen are all included.
In today’s prim culture, where millennials shun nightclubs for spin classes, the unabashed booziness of certain 20th-century writers has a quaint vintage charm. Hemingway considered beer basically a soft drink! Truman Capote would have a double martini before lunch! Can you even imagine the whiskey-soaked Dylan Thomas sipping a mocktail? It’s in this spirit, as it were, that a collection of excerpts by the American writer and professional rogue Charles Bukowski, On Drinking, is published in the UK on 21 March.
There is no avoiding the bitter truth: the literary canon remains dominated by the works of men. History has seen its share of breakthrough successes – from Jane Austen to the Brontës – but each woman who has carved her name in the hall of fame only did so after she overcame the various obstacles faced by those of her gender. Some, like Mary Anne Evans, found the need to write under the guise of a man in order to be heard at all – we know her better now as George Eliot.