Books | The Guardian's Journal [entries|friends|calendar]
Books | The Guardian

[ website | Books | The Guardian ]
[ userinfo | scribbld userinfo ]
[ calendar | scribbld calendar ]

Top 10 dinner parties in fiction [11 Dec 2019|01:40pm]

From Arthurian feasts to awkward moments with Ian McEwan and mealtime at the Macbeths, these miniature dramas are literary staples. Tuck in

Life is full of stresses: death; divorce; disasters, natural and otherwise. But another stress under D in the dictionary of stresses is the Dinner Party. It’s a bit like opening a restaurant, it’s a bit like putting on a play, and it’s all for the benefit of people who are our friends or colleagues but also our audience, our guinea pigs, our judges.

There’s so much that can go wrong: the food can be undercooked or overcooked – or perfectly cooked but not very good. The conversation can stall or it can turn into a competition or an argument or a shouting match.

Continue reading...
post comment

Hate baby showers and dinner parties? Sarah Knight wants you to say no [11 Dec 2019|12:11pm]

The sweary self-help guru behind a string of bestsellers explains her evangelical faith in turning down everything from lunch to love

Fuck seems to have been the word we’ve all needed to hear. As in, stop giving a fuck, calm the fuck down, say “fuck, no”: all sentiments at the heart of every self-help book published since the genre exploded. But where these books were once determinedly optimistic and outwardly focused on goals such as making money and influencing people, they now assume the voice of your bluntest friend, one who is not afraid to curse while telling you how it is.

Self-help has turned sweary, and no one has made being blue a bigger part of their brand than Sarah Knight, author of the five “No Fucks Given Guides”, most recently Fuck No!. The series, which started with the 2015 bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck, has sold more than 2m copies worldwide and ushered in a new wave of tough-love tomes, such as The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson and Gary John Bishop’s Unfuck Yourself – each bestsellers themselves.

Continue reading...
post comment

Fatherhood by Caleb Klaces review – lyrical, unsettling debut [11 Dec 2019|09:58am]

‘Life and language split open’: there is beauty as well as humour in a poet’s portrait of the disruptions of parenthood

Some of the most exciting and unconventional fictions of recent years have converged, improbably or otherwise, on the ancient orthodoxies of the domestic sphere. From Jenny Offill’s wryly subversive Dept. of Speculation to the corporeal meditations of Jessie Greengrass’s Sight, the need to re-examine marriage and motherhood has provoked richly divergent creative responses. With notable exceptions, such as the protean folklore of Max Porter, a new fiction of fatherhood has been slower to emerge. This first fictional experiment by the poet Caleb Klaces addresses the deficit in stark terms, hoping to capture “a life and language split open”.

On the surface, at least, these fissures are not readily apparent. The new parents (neither is named) buy a house and must grapple with the division of domestic labour. The nearest thing to cataclysm is supplied by planning failures and sketchy estate agents: the house has been built on a flood plain and on Christmas morning is duly inundated. A cache of notebooks and a laptop are destroyed, and with them the only draft of the father’s novel.

Continue reading...
post comment

Ian McKellen by Garry O’Connor review – from Richard III to Gandalf [11 Dec 2019|10:58am]

A fascinating biographical study of a stellar acting career – including the secrets that lie behind it

Garry O’Connor’s book about Ian McKellen is as much involved with ideas as it is with facts. It makes no claim to be an exhaustive account. O’Connor has been writing more or less experimental biographies of actors for many years, starting with his classic account of Ralph Richardson, continuing with Paul Scofield, Alec Guinness (twice) and a fine double portrait of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. A former drama critic, he is fascinated by the mystery of great acting. Of the present volume, he says, quoting Hamlet, but sounding more like a fairground barker: “Here is the height, the presumption of my endeavour: to ‘pluck out the heart’ of the Ian McKellen mystery – how such a single being could create a monumental career of such depth and span; where the ever-charging source of his energy comes from; and how his personality and character have continued to develop and change throughout his life. All in all to make it speak as it never has before, to sound him from his lowest note to the top of his compass.”

There is a McKellen mystery and at its centre is his duality, his paradoxical capacity to be both/and. He is simultaneously “deeply secretive, intensely private”, as his former partner Sean Mathias says, and perhaps the most open and accessible personality British theatre has ever produced.

Continue reading...
post comment

The Lost Books of Jane Austen by Janine Barchas review – how Austen's reputation has been warped [11 Dec 2019|07:30am]

A deliciously original study of the cheap editions of Pride and Prejudice and other novels – ignored by literary scholars – casts new light on her readership

Jane Austen aficionados think that they know the story of their favourite author’s posthumous dis-appearance and then re-emergence. For half a century after she died in 1817, her books were little known or read. A few discriminating admirers such as George Henry Lewes and Lord Macaulay kept the flame of her reputation burning, but most novelists and novel readers were oblivious to her. Then, in 1869, her nephew James Edward Austen-Leigh published a memoir about her and the public got interested. Her novels started being republished and widely read. She has never looked back.

Janine Barchas’s The Lost Books of Jane Austen puts us right. Her book about books is a beautifully illustrated exploration, indeed compendium, of the popular editions of Austen’s novels that have appeared over the last two centuries. This includes those decades when Austen was supposedly lost from sight. The first chapter is a “vignette” on a copy of Sense and Sensibility, published in 1851 for George Routledge’s Railway Library (books suitable for reading on the train). It cost one shilling and was bought for the 13-year-old Gertrude Wallace, the youngest daughter of a Plymouth naval officer. It is the first of many examples of cheap and popular editions of Austen’s work that kept it alive for ordinary readers and that literary scholars have largely ignored.

Continue reading...
post comment

Exquisite Cadavers by Meena Kandasamy review – writing in the margins [11 Dec 2019|09:00am]

A short, spiky novella about identity and belonging plays with the boundaries between ‘truth’ and ‘fiction’

In a lecture published in the essay collection Feel Free, Zadie Smith remembers the moment she began to write fiction in the first person. It was a revelation. The “I” had such an immediate “reality effect”, she writes: no longer was it so necessary to build, painstakingly, the “reality” of a third-person world – the “I” cut through at once, and the reader was away.

In autofiction, this power is only intensified. How much is factual (for that has its own deep power also, as every memoirist knows)? How much is not? How unsettled does the reader therefore feel? And how much is in the gift of the author – that is, who gets to call it fiction at all? The Indian poet, novelist and activist Meena Kandasamy, bruised by the reception of When I Hit You, an autofictional account of her own short and abusive first marriage, argues that it all depends on who you are and especially where you are from. “To a Western audience,” she writes in the margins of her new novella, Exquisite Cadavers:

Continue reading...
post comment

Protests grow as Peter Handke receives Nobel medal in Sweden [10 Dec 2019|05:00pm]

The literature laureateship, presented to Handke and 2018 laureate Olga Tokarczuk on Tuesday afternoon, faces boycotts and widespread protest

As Turkey joins Albania and Kosovo in boycotting Tuesday’s Nobel prize ceremony for Peter Handke over his support for Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal regime, war correspondents from Christiane Amanpour to Jeremy Bowen are protesting his win by sharing their harrowing stories from the conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

The Austrian writer, whose stance on the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and attendance at Milosevic’s funeral have been widely criticised, is due to receive his Nobel medal in Stockholm, where a large protest demonstration is expected.

Continue reading...
post comment

'Ridiculously hard': how Neil Gaiman wrote a poem for refugees from 1,000 tweets [10 Dec 2019|03:06pm]

The author and UNHCR ambassador appealed for warm scenes for his poem What You Need to Be Warm – and received ideas from everyone from Ben Stiller to Monica Lewinsky

  • Read the poem below

Coming up with his latest work was “ridiculously difficult”, Neil Gaiman admits. Last month, the Good Omens and American Gods author, who is also an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), asked his Twitter followers to tell him what reminded them of warmth. After receiving almost 1,000 responses – with Ben Stiller and Monica Lewinsky among those to contribute – Gaiman found himself with a 25,000-word document, from which he has composed his newest written work: a freeform poem to launch UNHCR’s Winter Emergency Appeal for refugees across the Middle East.

What You Need to Be Warm touches on everything from “a baked potato of a winter’s night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth” to “the tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house”.

Continue reading...
post comment

'They' beats 'the' to 2019's word of the year [10 Dec 2019|12:22pm]

Merriam-Webster dictionary says look-ups for its winner have boomed since it became a favoured pronoun for non-binary individuals

They, a common pronoun that can be traced back to the 13th century, has been named word of the year by Merriam-Webster dictionary because of its growing usage for non-binary individuals.

The US dictionary, which has been in print for more than 150 years, said that look-ups for “they” increased by 313% in 2019 compared with the previous year, as the public investigated the word’s shifting use and its increasing prominence in the news.

Continue reading...
post comment

Reading group: Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli is our book for December [10 Dec 2019|10:00am]

Telling the stories of child migrants on the US border, this novel is one of 2019’s most acclaimed books. Will we admire it too?

Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive has come out of the hat and will be our reading group choice for December.

The first English-language book written by the Mexican author, Lost Children Archive is inspired by the plight of the tired, poor and huddled masses of refugee children who have fled danger and persecution, only to find that themselves interned or turned away from the US. In other words, it’s about one of the most important stories of our times. It’s a cry for compassion and empathy and the ideal book to round off this turbulent, difficult decade.

Continue reading...
post comment

Idiot Wind by Peter Kaldheim review – a road trip across the US [10 Dec 2019|10:00am]

A ‘freelance dealer’ escapes drugs, debt and New York in a Reagan-era memoir

Peter Kaldheim begins his story in a part of Penn Station familiar to New York daytrippers and passengers stuck in long layovers: the luggage lockers. Three decades ago he used one of these lockers to store all his belongings. He was broke, unemployed and homeless in the city. His life, he writes, had become “only something to survive, and for that I had no one to blame but myself and my accomplices: alcohol, cocaine and a deep-seated streak of what my old Greek philosophy professor would call akrasia – a weakness of will that allows one to act against one’s better judgement”.

Born to working-class parents in Brooklyn, he had graduated from Dartmouth. At 22, he was married to his high-school girlfriend and working as a copy editor at Harcourt Brace in New York. He dreamed of publishing his first novel by the time he was 25. But there is a rift between one’s dreams and one’s deeds that Kaldheim tried to bridge by staying past happy hour every evening in the West Village. His wife left him after she found out he had been cheating. He quit Harcourt and became an acquisitions editor at another publishing firm. The new job came with a pay rise that he again squandered on his drinking. He developed a taste for speed and cocaine, and resigned from his job after spectacularly failing to meet a deadline. Kaldheim landed in prison in Rikers Island after selling coke to an undercover agent. He got married again and lost his wife to a brain aneurysm during a trial separation. By the time he was homeless in his mid-30s, he was spending his nights hopping from bar to bar, drinking and “freelance dealing”. When he realised he was too deep in debt to a violent drug boss, he decided to get out of the city. He abandoned all his clothes in the locker at Penn Station, fleeced a customer for cash one last time and caught a Greyhound bus to Richmond, Virginia, even as a terrible blizzard kept other New Yorkers indoors.

Continue reading...
post comment

Escaping Westboro Baptist Church: Megan Phelps-Roper's journey – books podcast [10 Dec 2019|10:53am]

On this week’s show, Megan Phelps-Roper talks about growing up in the Westboro Baptist Church. Established by her grandfather, the late pastor Fred Phelps, the Kansas church is famous for its aggressive and offensive protests, with members holding up signs with slogans such as “God Hates Fags”, “Thank God for Aids” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” outside funerals, businesses and homes.

Widely regarded as a hate group, the WBC is largely made up of the children and grandchildren of Fred Phelps, who died in 2014. After a lifetime in the church, Phelps-Roper finally left in 2012 at the age of 26, reuniting with several family members already outside – but leaving behind most of her 10 siblings and her parents. She sat down with Sian to talk about her memoir Unfollow, which details how she adjusted to a new life.

Continue reading...
post comment

The Pulse Glass by Gillian Tindall review – hidden histories and heirlooms [10 Dec 2019|07:00am]
An exploration of loss and remembrance told through inherited and found objects is revelatory yet reticent

Gillian Tindall is a high-minded Autolycus, devoted not merely to snapping up the “unconsidered trifles” of past lives but holding them to the light to glean the stories they might conceal. “Most objects, like all people, disappear in the end,” she writes at the start of The Pulse Glass, an excellent suite of essays on transience and remembrance. And yet not everything crumbles to dust; some bits and pieces defy the odds by surviving, and it is Tindall’s delight – albeit of a measured and low-key sort – to describe their escape from “the quiet darkness of forgetting”.

Take, for instance, the scrap of tightly folded paper recently discovered in the crack of a wall at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, possibly to stop up a draught; when examined, it turned out to be a fragment of a musical score by Thomas Tallis, from a service held in St Paul’s in 1544. Or the case of an attic clearance in Westminster Abbey where debris was found strewn across the floor. It was about to be tipped away when an archaeologist happened to notice many tiny shards of coloured glass mixed in there: closer study uncovered 30,000 fragments, which when put together revealed details of “exquisite workmanship” dating back to the 13th century – literally a window on a lost world.

Continue reading...
post comment

Kate Figes obituary [09 Dec 2019|05:25pm]

Writer who excelled as an astute observer of people, in books exploring relationships and family life

“I don’t believe that any of us can ever accept the inevitability of our own death. Life is too bloody wonderful.” So wrote Kate Figes, who has died of cancer aged 62, in her final piece of journalism, published only a fortnight ago. After listing some of the medical crises that had made her life rather less than wonderful over the last few months, she concluded that even this terrible year had its “surprising silver lining”, in that “by coming that much closer to dying I have learned a little more about how to live well.” Living well, for Figes, meant continuing to look beyond her own determined struggle to beat the odds.

Born in London into a family of writers, she found her own writing niche as a smart and accessible synthesiser of complex information, an indefatigable interviewer and an astute observer of people. It was not until her early 30s that she plucked up the courage to write full-time, because “it’s not easy to believe you can when your own mother is one too”.

Continue reading...
post comment

Book prize judge alleges co-jurors did not finish reading shortlist [09 Dec 2019|02:48pm]

Lesley McDowell was one of five judges for the Saltire Scottish fiction book of the year, but claims gender bias slanted decision against Lucy Ellmann

A judge of one of Scotland’s most prestigious literary awards has resigned over its choice of winner, claiming that her fellow judges had not read all of the books, and selected a book by a male author about a woman over three books by women about women.

The Saltire Society literary awards gave out a host of prizes at the National Museum of Scotland last weekend. The Scottish fiction book of the year went to Ewan Morrison for his novel Nina X, described by judges as a “great feat of imagination, showing digital modernity through the eyes of a young woman emerging from a lifetime within the confines of a Maoist commune”.

Continue reading...
post comment

Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week? [09 Dec 2019|03:00pm]

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

Let’s start with a success story. “I’ve just finished Memento Mori by Muriel Spark,” says ignicapilla, “yet another recommendation from this forum and another that I’ve enjoyed enormously”:

Continue reading...
post comment

Aivali: A Story of Greeks and Turks in 1922 by Soloup review – a moving graphic novel [09 Dec 2019|12:14pm]

The traumas of the Turks and Greeks forced to flee their homes a century ago are drawn with moving simplicity and speak clearly to today’s refugee crisis

The distance between the ports of Mytilene, on the Greek island Lesbos, and Ayvalık, a Turkish city known as Aivali in Greek, is 47.5km by sea. Between 1922 and 2019, millions of people have crossed the unpredictable waters, many of them fleeing wars around the world.

Aivali: A Story of Greeks and Turks in 1922, a graphic novel published in Greek in 2014 and recently translated into English by Tom Papademetriou, is the story of the 1.6 million refugees who made the journey that year alone, when the Greek and Turkish governments agreed to a massive population exchange at the end of the Greco-Turkish war. The Greek Orthodox Christians of Asia Minor and other Turkish regions were made to relocate to Greece, while Muslim Greek citizens were forced into Turkey. Both sides suffered, and this is the strongest message in this soul-stirring account, which acknowledges all sides of the tragedy.

Continue reading...
post comment

Frost Fair by Carol Ann Duffy review – icy perfection from a curator of cold [08 Dec 2019|09:00am]
Duffy’s beguiling short ballad, gracefully illustrated by David de las Heras, pithily explores London’s ‘Great Winter’ of 1683

Frost Fair is a tiny book, about 4in x 4in, and might be alighted upon as a stocking filler, though, unlike most stocking fillers, it will surely survive Christmas Day.

It is tempting to take Carol Ann Duffy for granted, in rather the same way that Joyce Carol Oates is sometimes undervalued because of her productivity. But reading this small, icy, perfectly formed book – a ballad, a winter’s tale – one is reminded of Duffy’s consistent excellence. And here she is supported by David de las Heras’s understatedly graceful illustrations. A solitary figure in rusty red walks through a sepia world of snow, flanked by feathery poplars. The ballad begins as an ordinary yarn: “So cold it was –” and then after you turn the page, becomes a singular story:

Continue reading...
post comment

Poem of the week: The Flea by John Donne [09 Dec 2019|10:00am]

A ludicrous image of physical intimacy provides a suitor with a feeble wooing ruse – and us with sharp romantic comedy

Continue reading...
post comment

'Sometimes the world goes feral' – 11 odes to Europe [09 Dec 2019|06:00am]

As Britain braces itself for the Brexit endgame, leading poets – from Carol Ann Duffy to Andrew McMillan – take the pulse of our fragmenting world

From the collection Kin, Cinnamon Press, 2018

Continue reading...
post comment

navigation
[ viewing | most recent entries ]
[ go | earlier ]