Guardian top 10 book lists, part 3 (2009 onwards)

Tämä viestiketju jatkaa tätä viestiketjua: Guardian top 10 book lists, part 2 (2004 onwards).

KeskusteluBook talk

Liity LibraryThingin jäseneksi, niin voit kirjoittaa viestin.

Guardian top 10 book lists, part 3 (2009 onwards)

toukokuu 15, 2022, 9:07 am

John Reader's top 10 potato books
Guardian, 2009-02-10.

Published this month, John Reader's The untold history of the potato charts the tuber's 15,000-year story from the US to China to Peru, Mrs Beeton to Charles Darwin to McDonald's. Here, he chooses his top 10 books on the not-so-humble spud.

1. Redcliffe Salaman, History and social influence of the potato
Initially published by in 1949, but reissued in 1985, Salaman's book has to be first choice. He was nothing if not unrelenting in the breadth of his research, firing off letters to any institution or individual who might add something (or anything) to his study. The result is a deep and thorough book that amazes (in its detail) and exasperates (in its poor structural organisation) by turn. Indispensable.

2. Gunter Grass, The flounder
Food is a principal feature of this book, giving a wonderful sense of immediacy to its lateral approach and presentation of European social history. As Grass puts it: "Amanda's potato peelings are the winding road to do-you-still-remember, late memories of my umbilical cord, which, uncoiled, leads to her as she sits at her kitchen table. Her potato knife knew how the story would go on." And thus begins a compelling fictional take on the introduction of potatoes as a food for the masses in late 18th-century Europe.

3. Joseph O'Connor, Star of the sea
The potato famine that struck Ireland in the 1840s was the greatest social catastrophe of 19th-century Europe – a consequence of the potato's exceptional nutritional attributes, exacerbated by political and economic inequities that had left most of the Irish with nothing else to eat, and executed by a disease, Late Blight, that totally destroyed the country's potato crop. In Star of the sea, O'Connor's writes eloquently, heart-wrenchingly, of a disaster and its aftermath that were God's way, some said, "of converting Connemara peasants into Boston politicians".

4. Cecil Woodham-Smith, The great hunger
Published in 1962, The great hunger was the first account of the Irish famine written by a British historian. I read it while living in Connemara for 18 months in the mid-60s and emerged from its pages with a hefty load of referred guilt. The book is an unsparing indictment of the British government's Irish policy and reaction – sometimes overstated, but a classic account of the accumulating factors that made the potato famine a catastrophe waiting to happen.

5. L. A. Clarkson & E. Margaret Crawford, Feast and famine : food and nutrition in Ireland 1500-1920
A more dispassionate account of the circumstances preceding, during and after the famine – more concerned with the actualities of nutrition, population growth and collapse that the potato brought to Ireland, than with apportioning blame. Academic, but in the best sense – i.e. authoritative and very readable.

6. W. G. Burton, The potato
For a thorough discourse on why the potato is such a wonderful bundle of nutrition, and much else besides relating to its history, production and processing, this is the book to look for ­– supplemented, I suggest, by …

7. J. G. Hawkes, The potato : evolution, biodiversity and genetic resources
Hawkes was a leading figure in 20th-century potato research whose memoir of the British Empire Potato Collecting Expedition to South America 1938-1939 ...

8. J. G. Hawkes, Hunting the wild potato in the South American Andes
... is highly entertaining. This was an expedition that smoothed the rough corners of his personality, Hawkes writes, and laid the groundwork for a career that spanned six decades. An unusual insight into the making of a scientist.

9. John Forster, England's happiness increased, or, A sure and easy remedy against all succeeding dear years; by a plantation of the roots called POTATOES
A rare work (but available as a reprint via the internet) this was originally published in 1664 (just a few decades after the potato's introduction to Europe) "for the good of the poorer sort". Forster's tract at first seems an honourable attempt to popularise potatoes for the benefit of those in need. Closer reading, however, reveals an economic motive: a royal monopoly would earn the king up to £50,000 in licence fees, Forster writes, somewhat ingratiatingly. As Salaman observed, "the potato can, and generally does, play a twofold part: that of a nutritious food, and that of a weapon ready forged for the exploitation of a weaker group in a mixed society."

10. Cookbooks
Every one has recipes for the potato, and there are several which deal with nothing else. But frankly, I can't get excited enough about them to recommend any in particular. The best potato recipe is the one that suits the occasion. Freshly dug earlies that you've grown yourself are hard to beat – simply boiled, buttered and sprinkled with chopped parsley. Or, at the other extreme, try Truman Capote's recommendation: baked, smothered with sour cream, heaped with the freshest, biggest-grained Beluga caviar, and washed down with 80-proof Russian vodka.
LT tag page touchstones: cookbook, cookbooks.


There's quite a gap between the last column of 2008 (11 Dec.) and the first column of 2009 (10 Feb.). Seems to have been the case in 2006/7 and 2007/8 as well. Probably more to do with the book launch circus than the newspaper industry.

Hardly surprisingly, McDonald's isn't an LT author. The nearest I can find on LT is a series of videos, The Wacky Adventures of Ronald McDonald. They look cheap, but as their Wikipedia page says (and yes, they have a Wikipedia page), the artistic look is similar to Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys, which I remember as being pretty good.

Shame on us members of LT. Not one of us with a copy of J. G. Hawkes's, Hunting the wild potato in the South American Andes!! Never mind. Here's COPAC's record for the book:

And again. What have LT members got against the honest spud! No-one with a copy of a 1664 pamphlet. For shame. (/s. Playing the sarcasm card online is just asking for trouble). Again, here's COPAC's record:; there are copies everywhere.

toukokuu 16, 2022, 5:23 am

No.8 sounds as though it should have been a Michael Palin travel film.

toukokuu 16, 2022, 11:15 am

>2 thorold: Yes, or a Monty Python, or better still, a Goon Show sketch. I can imagine someone taking a tumble into one of the ravines around Machu Picchu: "He's fallen in the water!" "You can't park 'ere, mate."

toukokuu 16, 2022, 11:55 am

Hugh Thomson's top 10 South American journeys
Guardian, 2009-02-12.

From Waugh to Lawrence, writer after writer has come to the continent looking for adventure. Writer and film-maker Hugh Thomson has led numerous research expeditions to Peru. The books which have resulted include The white rock : an exploration of the Inca heartland, and Cochineal red : travels through ancient Peru. His latest book, Tequila oil : getting lost in Mexico, is an account of a wild and dangerous adventure through Mexico's past and present.

"The book that probably makes most people want to go to South America is Hergé's Tintin : prisoners of the sun (1949) with its waterfalls, pre-Columbian civilisation and spitting llamas. Although closely following on are Hiram Bingham's Lost city of the Incas (1948) with its romantic description of the discovery of Machu Picchu, and Conan Doyle's enticing description of The lost world (1912). It's a continent that has always drawn travellers with a literary fascination. The conquistadors would never have left Spain for the New World if their heads had not been full of wild romances, of tales of chivalry and confrontation with a strange enemy, however different their actual confrontation with the Aztecs and Incas turned out to be. I chose to go to Peru for my earlier books, and now Mexico, because of the stories I read about those places, even if those stories were by long dead writers and painted a picture barely recognisable from the countries I travelled through. As Evelyn Waugh points out in his book on Mexico, it is only in the disjunction between what we expect and what we find that the experience of a foreign land is forged."

1. Ernesto Che Guevara, The motorcycle diaries, a journey around South America
Che leaves his girlfriend, studies and Argentina behind to take off with a fellow medical student, Alberto Granado, on a freewheeling and delightfully irresponsible tour of the continent. With hardly any money, they beg meals off fellow doctors in the countries along their way, most of whom amiably comply. Che admits that the only difference between the clothes they wear at night and during the day is that they take their shoes off in bed. They fall off the bike a great deal, not least because bits kept falling off the bike. The inspiration for Walter Salles's thoughtful film, but with much that was of necessity left out.

2. Benedict Allen, Mad white giant
The punk-rock classic of travel writing , a raw, visceral account of blundering across the Amazon by someone who was totally unprepared for the jungle: when published, it blew away the old established style of assured British travellers observing the world from under Panama hats.

3. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques
Magnificent, tendentious, infuriating and deeply French. Despite the famous opening ("I hate travellers and explorers"), the book is one long and intense meditation on the need for both, with terrific stories about his expeditions into the interior of Brazil in the 30s and nights spent sleeping with tribes in the ashes of their fires. Unjustly neglected by the British as being something to do with structuralism – it's currently out of print – this is surely one of the greatest of all 20th-century travel books - yet out of print.

4. Katie Hickman, Travels with a circus
An entrancing tale of an English girl who runs away to join a Mexican circus (called Bell's Circus after the whisky), which manages to get under the tattooed skin of the country. Katie Hickman becomes "La Gringa Estrella", a performer in her own right on the elephants. Originally published as A trip to the Light Fantastic.

5. Evelyn Waugh, Robbery under law: the Mexican object-lesson
Ignore the cumbersome title and doubtful provenance (Waugh only wrote the book because he was commissioned to do so by the Pearson family, whose British oilfields had been expropriated by the Mexicans). This contains some of his very best travel writing; the casual cruelty and honesty of Mexico both appealed to Waugh and appalled him: "The fascination of Mexico lies in the stimulus it gives to the imagination."

6. Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the time of cholera
No novelist since Proust has had a more acute sense of smell than Márquez. Penguin should reissue his books with sprayed strips of paper interspersed between the leaves. The hot still air of his un-named Caribbean port, the "city of the Viceroys", is enveloped by "the tender breath of human shit, warm and sad", against which his protagonists wear imported cologne from Farina Gegenuber and the houses are filled with pots of heliotrope to perfume the dusk. The steamboat journey that the finally reunited lovers make into the interior of Colombia is one of literature's most compelling.

7. D. H. Lawrence, Mornings in Mexico
This is far better than the plain daft novel he also wrote in Mexico, The plumed serpent, with its bad-Ken-Russell-movie scenes of chanting and theatrics to revive the pre-Columbian way of life. There are excellent descriptive passages here where Lawrence confines himself to simple observation of life around the country and he has a natural empathy for the campesino.

8. Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
As his editor Susannah Clapp revealed, the original MS for this was four times the length. One can only admire the boldness with which it was pared down to the elegant and elliptical published version, with its tales of Butch Cassidy and the Welsh in Argentina. Paul Theroux famously complained that Chatwin never explained how he got from one place to another – which is actually the book's great strength.

9. Graham Greene, The lawless roads
"How I loathed Mexico," complains Greene in this travel book, the prelude to his infinitely superior novel The power and the glory, which covers much the same ground. He had much anticipated the journey, but found the reality a sad disappointment, talking of his "pathological hatred" for the country, with its persecuted priests and mules that left ticks in his buttocks. It can't have helped that he didn't speak more than a few words of Spanish. But amid the misanthropy are some sharp observations.

10. Tobias Schneebaum, Keep the river on your right
Schneebaum's description of how he had lived for eight years with a Peruvian jungle tribe called the Akarama, participating in homosexual and cannibal rites, caused a sensation on publication. It blew away any last vestige of romantic mysticism about the lifestyle of such Amazonian tribes and hit the 1969 zeitgeist spot on. A generation reared on the ethos of the 60s could immediately see both the appeal and the challenge: it was one thing to survive the tribal excesses of Woodstock or Monterey, but in the jungle the drugs were tougher, the nakedness perpetual and you could no longer spend weekends back with your parents to rest up.

toukokuu 17, 2022, 1:41 pm

Lindsey Davis's top 10 Roman books
Guardian, 2009-02-18.

The classical thriller writer winnows down a lifetime's reading into the very best reads about the eternal city. In 1989, Lindsey Davis published The silver pigs, her first detective novel set in classical Rome, introducing the world to maverick classical PI and poet Falco, who has carried on his investigations through a bestselling series of droll thrillers known for their meticulous historical detail. The 19th Falco novel, Alexandria, has just been published.

"I have nine shelves of Roman books. For this selection I've left out learning Latin, the classics and guidebooks to individual sites, and I have also had to leave out specialisms – glass, gardens, cookery, law ... These are ten that are scholarly but user-friendly. They are all books I have enjoyed, all influenced my love of ancient Rome and most of them are in regular use for my work."

1. Jérôme Carcopino, Daily life in ancient Rome
This dense depiction of the great, bustling, aromatic, highly superior city of Rome is now 90 years old but because it draws extensively on classical authors, it has never gone out of date, and remains an excellent introduction to how Rome worked and how its people thought of themselves. Every sentence is packed with examples. The first part is general background, the second takes us through a typical Roman day.

2. Lesley Adkins & Roy A. Adkins, Handbook to life in ancient Rome
I have always found this an excellent encyclopaedia of Roman facts, people, places and habits. It has good photos, drawings and maps. The gazetteer, which gives the modern equivalent of Roman provinces and towns, is particularly useful, and the book answers all those tricky questions about time, numbers, personal names. And whether the Romans wore underwear.

3. Barry Cunliffe, Rome and her empire
This chunky and beautifully photographed book begins with Rome itself, its roots and history, and its fabulous high point. It has a fold-out depiction of the famous Peutinger Table, then covers the major provinces of the Roman Empire. Finally it discusses how the empire that must have seemed so strong came to disintegrate.

4. Amanda Claridge, Rome : an Oxford archaeological guide
I have used the Time Out and Blue Guides, which cover all periods, but for ancient world purists nothing can beat this travel guide to more than 150 sites. Even the famous locations are sometimes a jumble of broken stone, but this book unravels the mysteries, with photographs or drawings of most features. There are also good introductory chapters so you can march about knowing your Second "Architectural" period of fresco design from your Fourth "Fantastic" – thus avoiding unseemly social gaffes.

5. Keith Hopkins & Mary Beard, The Colosseum
Narrowing the focus, Rome's most famous monument was built by the Emperor Vespasian to win the hearts of the people, who had no football but loved a good spectacle. This engagingly written account tells of its long history as a venue for bloodthirsty sports and other uses (cattle pasture, glue factory ...) and how it has inspired artists, authors and even botanists. The Colosseum is a must for tourists; you will find here all you need about the complex archaeology – but first read the sound advice on making a visit.

6. Peter James & Nick Thorpe, Ancient inventions
Not much is new; almost everything was invented a very long time ago. I fell in love with this book instantly. I trust it absolutely on everything from catapults to hodometers, though the gynaecological instrument found at Pompeii always gives me a bit of a turn. (I only balk at the alleged use of iron filings as a contraceptive which I suspect is an April Fool.) Arranged thematically, the book covers all periods, delighting in human ingenuity from Aztec chewing gum to 2,000-year-old snow goggles.

7. Colin Amery & Brian Curran Jr, The lost world of Pompeii
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79, which destroyed Pompeii, Herculaneum and surrounding areas, left us a unique snapshot of Roman life, as ash and mud preserved so much at that terrible moment. Ever since, this poignant event has had a huge impact on travellers, while the still-unfinished story of uncovering the scene is critical to the development of archaeology and heritage management. Pompeii books abound, but this is one of the best, with wonderful colour illustrations.

8. Keith Branigan, Roman Britain
This is another chunky volume, my favourite on "our" stuff. There is no doubt that the Romans viewed Britain as particularly exotic and mysterious. We have remained just as fascinated by them. They occupied for 400 years and though much disappeared quickly after they left, still our roads, towns and the fabric of our lives owe a very great deal to them.

9. Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth
"Somewhere about the year 117AD, the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eboracum, where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again." Hooked? If not, there's no hope for you. A wonderful novel, for children of all ages.

10. Robert Graves, I, Claudius
One for grown-ups, or two if you include Claudius the God. For the TV generation it's now almost impossible to read this without thinking of Derek Jacobi et al., but that's no hardship. There is no better way to get to grips with the complicated family tree of the early emperors, who are so vital to understanding how imperial Rome came about. And rarely has a male novelist created such a subtle female character as here in the devious Empress Livia. The modern chaps hardly do women at all – they could learn from Graves.

toukokuu 18, 2022, 4:58 am

>5 Cynfelyn: As a fairly sheltered teenager I learnt an awful lot from I Claudius. And it was literature, so no-one could criticise my reading it. Read like a soap opera that would go out after the watershed. Remains a soft spot in my reading memory.

toukokuu 18, 2022, 10:01 am

>6 Helenliz: I haven't read the book, but I am one of what Lindsey Davis calls the TV generation that hears "I, Claudius" and thinks "Derek Jacobi". And as he says, that's no hardship. But I do find it difficult to accept that the BBC TV series is forty-six years years old.

The BBC TV series is on LT at I, Claudius. BBC, and various clips and reunions are available on YouTube.

It is one of the touchstones of "Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics", one of my binge listens on BBC Sounds during the pandemic lockdowns ( She includes introductions to characters along the lines of "Agrippina the Younger is almost impossibly well connected to Julio-Claudian household. So on her mother's side, her mother is Agrippina the Elder. They are not the most imaginitive namers in her family, I'm not going to lie to you. On her mother's side she is the great grand-daughter of the emperor Augustus. That's Brian Blessed if you still like to date your emperors from I, Claudius. I fully understand. So she's the great-granddaughter of Brian Blessed on her mother's side, and on her father's side, her father is Germanicus, she is the great-niece of Rome's second emperor, the emperor Tiberius, George Baker. Ahhhh. Inspector Wexford." All of them highly recommended, funny, and jam-packed with info.

toukokuu 18, 2022, 10:14 am

>5 Cynfelyn: - >7 Cynfelyn: I think I read the book a year or so before the TV series came out, on the recommendation of my classics teacher. Both very “educational”…

The list in >5 Cynfelyn: strikes me as unusually candid: she really seems to be picking genuinely useful books rather than trying to impress the reader with non-obvious picks.

toukokuu 18, 2022, 12:07 pm

>7 Cynfelyn: I'm a little too young for that - as I hit 50 last month it isn't very often I get to say that these days! I was somewhat precocious, but 4 is probably a bit too young to be watching I Claudius >;-)

I've listened to a couple of Natalie Haynes' books and adored them both. I've not yet caught the BBC Sounds thing. I really ought to give her a go.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 18, 2022, 2:14 pm

Patrick Tyler's top 10 'eccentric' Middle East books
Guardian, 2009-02-25.

Patrick Tyler has spent 30 years as a journalist for the New York Times and Washington Post, dividing his time between Washington, and tours in the Middle East, China, Russia and Europe. As chief correspondent for the New York Times he reported from Baghdad on the first Gulf War and covered the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 2003. His latest book, A world of trouble, unpacks the troubled and frequently chaotic history of American involvement in the Middle East.

"I have chosen these volumes because they come at the essential conflict in the region from an obtuse angle, casting surprising light on a situation that often seems all too familiar."

1. Amos Elon, Jerusalem
No city has "evoked such awe and wonder or at the same time given her name to Peace and to all that is tender in the human soul". So says the author, a lifelong Israeli journalist who has chronicled the rise of the Jewish state and who sought, in this richly accessible volume, to convey the religious nationalism, zeal and paranoia of a city whose "inhabitants are poisoned by religion", and where, "one hates one's fellow man to the glory of God".

2. Wilbur Crane Eveland, Ropes of sand
An early insider's account of disillusionment, by an American spy that mirrors T. E. Lawrence's lament about the west's inability to keep its promises to the Arabs. Eveland is an Arabic-speaking intelligence operative who gravitates from the Eisenhower White House to the CIA, where he advises Allen Dulles on coup plotting in Syria and managing the rise of Nasser in Egypt. His narrative stands out as a sincere attempt to understand the failed American seduction of Nasser at a time when Washington wanted desperately to harness his power for the west.

3. Muki Betser, Secret soldier
A simple soldier's story, but one of the most fabled soldiers in the Israeli army. It is not a political book: indeed, Betser confesses that he came to the conclusion that "no people can rule another people without their consent" and that there is no "realistic alternative" to sharing the land with the Palestinians. A story about overcoming fear in battle, the setting out for which "takes a leap of faith to believe that you will survive". Betser tests whether the "psychological mechanism" that allowed him to charge the blazing muzzle of the enemy still worked after he was horribly wounded in the Battle of Karameh.

4. Harold Wilson, The chariot of Israel
An impressive exposition of the half-century of debate in the British parliament, and more broadly in the west, over the creation of the Jewish state and its first decades of war against the Arab states. Wilson, having been there for the big decisions since 1948, carries us through the Suez Crisis and the Six Day War, which broke out while he was prime minister. He does not let his sympathies for the Zionist enterprise undermine a well-balanced narrative. He brings us the voice of Lord Milner, "the great imperialist proconsul," all the way from 1923 to describe the nub of it: "Palestine can never be regarded as a country on the same footing as the other Arab countries. You cannot ignore all history and tradition in the matter … It is sacred land to the Arabs, but it is also a sacred land to the Jew and Christian."
Touchstone: Alfred Milner.

5. Amos Oz, A tale of love and darkness
An epic story of the author's life intertwined with that of Israel. This book was given to me by the family I stay with in Tel Aviv. "If you read this, you will understand everything about us," said my host. Oz's journey touches on growing up in Palestine, his richly varied extended family, his mother's long descent toward suicide and the perseverance of an irrepressibly curious intellect. As a boy, he thought "that soon, in a few years, the Jews would be the majority here, and as soon as that happened we'd show the whole world how to treat a minority ... It was a pretty dream."

6. Moshe Dayan, Living with the Bible
Almost a coffee table book – of anthropology, images and archaeology – by the most important military commander of Israel's early decades. Dayan, the one-eyed Lord Nelson of the desert, was a predator in battle, getting close and going for the jugular. Together with David Ben-Gurion, he enabled the rise of Ariel Sharon as a practitioner of the disproportionate strike to deter Arab aggression. But in this volume, we find Dayan walking the ancient and equally brutal battlefields of the Bible. What comes through is a love of the land, of history and a deep admiration for the varied peoples of the Holy Land.

7. Yaacov Herzog, A people that dwells alone
This collection of essays, speeches and a famous debate was pulled together by the lifelong diplomat to help explain the Zionist outlook. It is the written work of an intellectual partisan in the diplomatic arena. Its centrepiece is Herzog's debate with the British historian Arnold Toynbee in January 1961 at McGill University in Toronto. The debate turned on the question of whether there was a moral equivalence between "what the Nazis did to European Jews and what the Israelis did to Palestinian Arabs". As in a good Oxford Union debate, it is difficult to turn away once engaged.

8. Abu Iyad, My home, my land
This memoir from one of the most articulate leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (written with the French journalist Eric Rouleau) is an introduction to the world of the Palestinian resistance which sprang from the radical ranks of Cairo University in the 1950s. Here Salah Khalaf, known as Abu Iyad, first met the excitable and manic Yasser Arafat. Khalaf describes the roots of his radicalism in the experience of fleeing Jaffa, under fire, with his family. Khalaf was 15, and the family made their way down the shore to Gaza, where they lived a life of misery and despair as Israelis built a country, visible from the Palestinian refugee camps.

9. Ariel Sharon, Warrior
The "bulldozer" of Israeli militarism tells the story of his life, sharing outsized opinions of every political fight and real-life battle. Along the way, there are many interesting stories from inside the security establishment, rivalries among the chiefs and between them and the politicians. Written with David Chanoff, Sharon charges through narrative as if he is crossing Suez, pausing periodically to floor the reader with moments of startling descriptive beauty: "In the Negev, winters are mixed with pain. The clouds blow quickly through the sky, bringing showers here and there – almost always, it seems, on your neighbours' fields, not yours. But you try to be quiet about it, because where rain is concerned complaints are never in order, only thanksgiving. And when the rain comes, as it always does, the land seems to be moving upwards to meet it."

10. Avi Shlaim, The iron wall
To top off the list, here is the definitive history of Israel and the Arab world by one of the new historians, a professor of international relations at St Antony's College, Oxford, whose ruthless scholarship and crisp narrative pull all the threads loosely planted by the works cited above into a coherent skein.


Hmm. Six Israelis (no's 1,3,5,6,7,9), one Palestinian (8), one US spy (2), one British PM (4), and one UK/Israel dual national (10). No matter the credentials of the individual authors, this is hardly the basis of a balanced reading list, however 'eccentric' or 'obtuse'. Also, list no. 4 of the new thread, and already our first all-male list.

toukokuu 23, 2022, 6:16 pm

Leonardo Padura's top 10 Cuban novels
Guardian, 2009-03-04

Hemingway and Hijuelos are here, but the author of the Havana quartet also looks beyond the Cuba we think we know to introduce some of the island's more hidden literary treasures. Translated by Peter Bush.

Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He has published a number of short-story collections and literary essays but international fame came with the Havana quartet, all featuring Inspector Mario Conde. Like many others of his generation, Padura had faced the question of leaving Cuba, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s, when living conditions deteriorated sharply as Russian aid evaporated. He chose to stay.

"Cuba is a country of poets. It would almost be too easy to select 10 poets or books of poetry that play a key role in the short history of Cuban literature. But there are excellent – and diverse – Cuban novelists, too few of whom are available in English translation. The 10 I've picked here will hopefully give some idea of both the country's literary tradition, and its imaginative life."

1. Alejo Carpentier, El siglo de las luces (1962) (trans. John Sturrock, 'Explosion in a cathedral', 1963).
I am convinced that this is the highpoint of the Cuban novel, the perfect fiction and supreme expression of stylistic and conceptual ambition in narrative prose. In this account of the impact of the French Revolution in the Caribbean, the theme is the tragic destiny that awaits all revolutions: the failure of their grand aims and the perversion of their beautiful ideals.

2. Cirilo Villaverde, Cecilia Valdés o la Loma del Angel (1882) (trans. Helen Lane, 'Cecilia Valdés').
This is considered to be one of the best examples of 19th century realism and romanticism in Spanish and the finest evocation of Cuban customs of that era. Its characters departed the novel's pages long ago to become prototypes of what it means to be Cuban. The most beautiful and tragic love story ever written in Cuba, it also encompasses the horrors of the African slave trade and gives full literary expression to the city of Havana. It is the classic.

3. Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Tres tristes tigres (1967) (trans. Suzanne Jill Levine & Donald Gardner, 'Three trapped tigers', 1971).
This is the book which created a literary language of Havana. It's a kind of cathedral of words, and no translation could do it full justice, but readers throughout the world have enjoyed Cabrera Infante's fiction thanks to his wit and the stories he welds together in an unrivalled portrait of 1950s Havana nightlife, the golden age of Cuban music and the city. Once you've read this, Havana will never look the same again.

4. José Lezama Lima, Paradiso (1966) (trans. Gregory Rabassa, 1974).
Admired rather than read or valued, and in many ways poetry rather than fiction, Paradiso is one of the most influential novels in the Spanish language. Written in a completely different register to the baroque of Carpentier or colloquial of Cabrera Infante, the author's mastery of language has created a whole school of "Lezamian" writers. In Paradiso, as in any poet's novel, the way the story is told is more important than the story itself and the digressions much more than mere anecdotes. It is a magnificent exercise in style.

5. Alejo Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos (1953) (trans. Harriet de Onís, 'The lost steps').
Carpentier yet again: we could also include in this list his 1949 novel The kingdom of this world (1957), which gave birth to the aesthetic of "the real and marvellous from America". As in all his work, Carpentier's perspective is universal: he uses the journey of a western intellectual to the heart of the South American jungle to narrate the physical possibility of going back in time to the origins of civilisation. Its great merit, however, is the way it makes us feel the vicissitudes experienced by the novel's musician protagonist, who understands that individuals have no choice but to accept the time and history fate has dealt them.

6. Ernest Hemingway, The old man and the sea (1952)
This is, of course, the best-known novel about Cuba by a non-Cuban author. And that's fair enough: thanks to The old man and the sea Hemingway was awarded the Nobel prize, the gold medal for which still sits in the famous shrine to Our Lady of Charity at El Cobre, the Caribbean version of the Virgin Mary who is Cuba's patron saint. Although it merely recounts the story of a fisherman who after eighty-four days of "bad luck" finally makes a big catch, the novel is also about man's willpower and spirit of endurance. A beautiful fable for the human condition.

7. Lisandro Otero, Temporada de ángeles (1983); 'A season for angels', not translated.
Another great Cuban novel that is not set in Cuba: it goes back to the English Industrial Revolution, the beheading of Charles I and rule by Oliver Cromwell. It too makes a critique, from a literary perspective, of the fate of the great ideals of justice, freedom and equality. And of the perversity of politicians.

8. Óscar Hijuelos, The mambo kings play songs of love (1989),
Hijuelos was born in Cuba but has lived in the United States from childhood and wrote this Pulitzer-prize winning work in English. Significantly, it is a novel created from all the stereotypical features that have gone into the construction of the image of Cubans for foreigners: their music, dancing, passion as lovers and romantic, rebellious spirit. Although there are more important novels written in Cuba from a literary point of view, the great international success of The mambo kings and its nostalgic portrait of a Cuba that is more dream than reality, make it a necessary player in the field of the Cuban novel.

9. Reinaldo Arenas, Antes que anochezca (1990) (trans. Dolores M. Koch, 'Before night falls', 1993).
A novel in every sense of the word, even though the raw materials are more or less real episodes from the more or less real life of its author, Reinaldo Arenas, one of the most intense, maudit, and visceral of Cuban writers. Arenas wrote and published this heartrending work just before his lonely and equally heartrending death in freezing New York. Its style, exuberance and rage are the stuff of great fiction, as was its author.

10. Lino Novás Calvo, El negrero (1933); 'The slave-trader', not translated.
This novel doesn't take place in Cuba, but mainly in the slave-trading centres on the coasts of Africa and in the boats that transported their human cargo to the island: the Africans who have contributed so much to Cuba's economic, cultural, religious and ethnic riches. 'The slave-trader' (the story of Pedro Blanco from Málaga, one of the last slave-traders from the middle of the 19th century) is a wonderful novel that, alongside Faulkner's, inspired Gabriel García Márquez and Juan Rulfo, the creators of the Latin American magical-realist novel.


Fair play to the Guardian. This may not be the first column to have had the original copy translated into English, but it is certainly the first to have named the translator. And then the translators of the books.

There are English-language Wikipedia pages for seven of these books. Plus one Spanish page yn lle:
7. -
10. -
I'm sure I'm seeing more and more Welsh language books with Wicipedia (Welsh) pages. A couple of anecdotes relating to two languages, one a world language, the other a first world 'small' language, is nothing like a representative sample, but is this one of the directions that Wikipedia is pushing, localising the various language Wikipedias with local content?

This also feels like the first time the writer of a column has said as plainly as this: "it's all a bit stereotypical, and there are certainly better works, but it's so popular I just have to include it". Although I do feel that The old man and the sea and/or Moby-Dick are sometimes included in lists on the same (but unspoken) basis.

toukokuu 24, 2022, 7:49 am

Camilla Läckberg's top 10 Swedish crime novels
Guardian, 2009-03-12.

There seems to be an endless supply of great Swedish crime writers. One of the latest northern stars to be translated, Camilla Läckberg, here picks out her own strongest suspects. Born in 1974, Camilla Läckberg began her working life as an economist, but a course in creative crime writing set her on a fresh track that six books later has established her in the front rank of Swedish crime writers. Her mysteries, all set in her tiny home town of Fjällbacka, have all been number one bestsellers in Sweden. The preacher is the latest of her novels to become available in English translation.

"Scandinavian crime fiction has become a great success all across the world and rightfully so. Sjöwall & Wahlöö ushered in a whole generation of Swedish crime writers, many of whom are now available in English. I think ours is a tradition that has much in common with English crime writing: there's a very similar care for setting, characters, and psychology. These are some of my favourites – I hope some of them will become yours."
Touchstones as individual authors: Maj Sjöwall, Per Wahlöö.

1. Håkan Nesser, The mind's eye
Nesser sets his stories in a fictional country that's not quite Sweden, but the people in them are very, very real. He used to be a school teacher before becoming a writer, and it shows in the meticulous way he handles his texts. But yet his writing never feels cold or static – there's heart in everything he writes and you find yourself understanding and sympathising with some real villains.

2. Kerstin Ekman, Blackwater
Loosely based on a true story, this is dark, sinister and wonderfully written. It's been a hugely popular book for many years in Sweden, with an appeal that extends to readers who don't usually touch thrillers. A real classic.

3. Karin Alvtegen, Missing
Karin Alvtegen is the master at psychological suspense, and her plots unfold themselves naturally from the character studies. No one does this better than Alvtegen, and her homeless murder suspect, Sybilla, is one of crime fiction's most memorable characters.

4. Åsa Larsson, Sun storm
Northern Sweden holds a special kind of magic. It's cold, lonely, and the people are tough and silent, or so the stereotype says. This is Åsa Larsson's home turf and I find as much joy in reading her closely observed descriptions of the environment, as in following her intriguing plots. And I love the fact that the heroine in her books is a tax attorney.

5. Henning Mankell, The fifth woman
Inspector Wallander has become a household name along with the little town of Ystad where he pursues most of his cases. But Mankell's range is far from parochial. Drawing on his own experience living both in Sweden and in Africa, this tale of a serial killer takes us around Congo as well as Ystad.

6. Mari Jungstedt, Unseen
Emma and Johan, the intriguing couple caught up in this murderous plot, are characters to really fall in love with, and combined with the picturesque environment of Gotland, and a great plot, you've got a book to cherish. Mari is also not only a colleague but a close friend of mine, and we love talking about murder methods, forensics and criminal psychology over dinner.

7. Karin Alvtegen, Shame
Another winner from Alvtegen, this book really touched me. She often has a theme based on human nature and shortcomings in her books - and this book is a searing portrait of someone bearing the shame of being unloved.

8. Johan Theorin, Echoes from the dead
Johan is a relative newcomer to crime fiction, but has already really carved out his own niche, which blends the murder mystery with the ghost story. It's so spooky, I could never read this one at night!

9. Stieg Larsson, The girl with the dragon tattoo
Fiction like nothing else, Larsson's books offer the unusual experience of serious, character-driven writing that also provides helter skelter action. Buckle up before you start reading!

10. Mons Kallentoft, Midvinterblod (not yet translated)
Mons came to crime fiction relatively late, after three other books including Food Noir, a collection of groundbreaking essays on food and travel. As well as a terrific plot, this book also has one of the best-realised female heroines I've read by a male writer. It's not yet translated into English, but it really should be.


No credits for the translators this time. On the upside, this is what a gender-balanced list looks like. Well actually 6:4. Let's see if we ever get a male columnist to repeat the trick.

"It's not yet translated into English, but it really should be." 2009 is a few years ago now. The book has since been published in the UK and Australia as Midwinter sacrifice (2011), and in the US and Canada as Midwinter blood (2012), both trans. Neil Smith (8).

toukokuu 25, 2022, 10:21 am

Well actually 6:4.

No, 5:5.

toukokuu 28, 2022, 5:42 pm

>13 anglemark:
You're perfectly right!
Female: 2,3,4,6,7 // Male: 1,5,8,9,10.

Muokkaaja: toukokuu 29, 2022, 11:10 am

Laura Lippman's top 10 memorable memoirs
Guardian, 2009-03-18.

The crime writer Laura Lippman was a reporter for 20 years, including 12 years at the Baltimore Sun. Since 2001, she has been a full-time novelist. Her novels have won almost every prize given for crime fiction in the United States, including the Edgar, Anthony, Nero Wolfe and Agatha awards. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, the writer David Simon, who created the hit TV series The wire and Homicide: life on the street. Her most recent novel, Life sentences, is published by Avon.

"I love memoirs, although I have promised my family members that I will never try my hand at one. ("Can I get that in writing?" my sister asked.) However, I'm generally not drawn to the addiction/dysfunction stories that have been popular of late; I wanted no part of A million little pieces even when it was masquerading as nonfiction. As a former reporter, I have a pesky allegiance to fact, although I recognize that the fragile nature of memory makes it difficult for most writers to produce uncontestable versions of their lives. I am drawn to stories about the quotidian – marriage, friendship, childhood, work, life, death."

1. Ruth McKenney, Love story.
Ruth McKenney is known – to the extent that she's known at all these days – for the humorous sketches she wrote for the New Yorker in the 1930s, which blossomed into the mini-industry of My sister Eileen, a book that begat a stage play, film, musical and musical film. In those short pieces, McKenney always played her life for laughs, although there are hints of a hard-knock childhood. Love story is a seemingly more authentic account, which includes the heartbreak of Eileen's death. (She was killed in a traffic accident with her husband, the novelist Nathanael West.) McKenney doesn't gloss over her marital ups and downs, and the last chapter centers on the year in which she and her daughter, Eileen's namesake, almost died from usually pedestrian illnesses. Yet the overall tone is one of cautious optimism. So it was shocking to learn that McKenney's husband, Richard Bransten – called Mike Lyman in her memoir – committed suicide five years after the book was published, on McKenney's birthday. According to a 2003 interview given by her daughter, McKenney never wrote again.
Touchstone: Richard Bransten's pen name, Bruce Minton.

2. Ann Hood, Comfort.
Whenever I recommend this book, I found myself groping for the right verb. It feels wrong to say that I "loved" a memoir that centers on the death of a 5-year-old, Hood's daughter Grace. Yet "admire" is too cold, too distant, to capture this slender volume's achievement. Comfort is difficult but essential reading, a wartime memoir from the trenches of parenthood that no one will ever read twice. You won't have to: Hood's account will be seared into your brain.

3. Bill Bryson, The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid.
I was late to Bryson's work, but this is where I started, buying it on impulse for a long plane ride. About an hour into the trip, after I had read seven or eight long passages aloud, my husband said: "If you insist on depriving me of the pleasure of reading this book on my own, I am going to rip it from your hands and beat you over the head with it." I might be embroidering the story slightly, another reason I'm not a good bet to write a memoir.

4. John Waters, Shock value.
Those who know Waters as a filmmaker may not realize what a funny and, yes, elegant writer he is. (Hairspray began life as a straightforward, utterly earnest paean to a Baltimore-based dance show.) The self-proclaimed odd duck takes readers through his early years as a guerilla filmmaker – and his battles with local censors – while offering a genuinely affectionate portrait of our hometown. My favourite passage: "Baltimore is about as close to reality as I can get, and I've found it's the only place I can work. No one bothers me. They figure, if I still live here, I couldn't be that famous."

5. Katherine Lanpher, Leap days.
Midlife is generally spoken of as a crisis; Lanpher treated it as an adventure, a chance to shake up a contented life with a new job in a new city, New York. The job didn't work out, but the city did. Lanpher embraces her new hometown, even as she looks back with hard-won wisdom, sorting through her small-town upbringing, a career as a newspaper reporter, marriage and divorce. I knew Lanpher slightly in college, but when I discovered her book, I realised I didn't know her at all.

6. Ann Patchett, Truth & beauty.
Ann Patchett and Lucy Grealy, fast friends since their early 20s, were, in Patchett's view, the ant and grasshopper of literature. Grasshopper Grealy found fame first, with Autobiography of a face, a memoir about the childhood cancer that left her with a lifelong legacy of reconstructive surgeries; industrious Patchett published three novels before winning worldwide recognition with Bel canto. Grealy died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2002, and there is a sense of unfinished business between the two friends. I like this memoir because it – perhaps unwittingly – deals with rivalry and competition among writers. Yet in interviews, Patchett seems genuinely puzzled by readers who find her portrait of Lucy less than beguiling. Grealy's sister, Suellen, writing here in the Guardian, called Patchett "a grief thief" and said she wished the book had never been published.

7. Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen confidential.
Foodie memoirs are now a publishing category unto themselves; I have an entire shelf in my library full of such books. Bourdain's, published in 2000, was one of the first in the new wave. And, yes, if you heed Bourdain's emphatic advice on dining and cooking, you'll never again eat fish on Mondays or use a garlic press. But Bourdain also is wryly insightful about the inherent paradox of memoir, noting toward the end: "Writing anything is a treason of sorts. Even the cold recitation of facts – which is hardly what I've been up to – is never the thing itself. And the events described are somehow diminished in the telling."

8. Beth Ann Fennelly, Great with child
When Fennelly, an award-winning poet, was pregnant with her first child and about to move to a new, remote town, she made an interesting promise to a friend. She would write her letters, actual letters, about her experiences as a mother and a wife, to the novelist Tom Franklin. Given that I have profound doubts about writers marrying, I particularly enjoyed this passage about the day Fennelly and Franklin decided to combine their book collections: "About two years into our relationship, Tommy and I made one of the biggest commitment two writers can make... We were sitting on the floor in front of the couch, figuring out how to make the rent. It had been another night of lentils and rice. All around us were bookcases – our separate bookcases. We hadn't merged our books, on the silent assumption that when we'd split up we'd both want our books back. But gradually we were realising that there would be no splitting up."

9. Calvin Trillin, About Alice
When Alice, the wife of journalist Trillin, died in 2001, he received condolence notes from people who had never met her. They believed they knew her because of her role as comic foil in Trillin's essays about his gastronomic quests. But Trillin thought he had shortchanged his beloved spouse with that reductive role and responded with this short, yet subtle and nuanced portrait. This is the story of a happy marriage, something that is hard to capture on or off the page.

10. Eudora Welty, One writer's beginnings
Welty's book proves that a life doesn't need to be stuffed with event to be worthy of a memoir. She ends: "I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."


Off at a tangent, just to say that The wire was one of my favourite clip binges over the covid lockdown. That is, binge-watching the clips available on YouTube. I probably got most of the action and the gross story arc, even if some of it is out of order and I missed out on much of the character development. One day I'll get the DVD and do it justice. Same goes for Game of thrones, The expanse and Foundation (no DVD of the latter to buy or to touchstone yet).

Suellen Grealy's Guardian article, 2004-08-07, is at . Not happy reading.

toukokuu 29, 2022, 11:36 am

Benjamin Obler's top 10 fictional coffee scenes
Guardian, 2009-03-25.

From Cheever to Murakami, debut novelist and coffee lover Benjamin Obler brews up the most aromatic mentions of coffee in literature. Coffee fanatic Benjamin Obler is originally from St Paul, Minnesota, and studied creative writing in Glasgow. His first novel, Javascotia, is published this week by Hamish Hamilton. It follows the story of a naive young American who travels from Chicago to Glasgow to set up a coffee franchise. Here Obler presents his notes on his favourite significant appearances of coffee in literature.

1. Zora Neale Hurston, Their eyes were watching God

Janie went down and the landlady made her drink some coffee with her because she said her husband was dead and it was bad to be having your morning coffee by yourself

So clearly coffee is about companionship, and promotes healing. Coffee has a chameleon-like nature: though it's the consummate non-prescription upper, it's also a balm, a salve. It fosters community and the repair of sorrow. It is a bridge between the despairing and the hopeful. (This scene also contains, later on the page, the brilliant "sankled", a combination of ambled and sank: "Janie sankled back to her room.")

2. Gary Shteyngart, The Russian debutante's handbook

... he grew restless, attributing it to the coffee settling in his stomach

Vladimir Girshkin suffers restlessness in varying degrees throughout the novel, except when he's hungover, which is frequently in the last half of the book. But, crucially, this appearance of coffee is an early occurrence, when he is still in New York and restless in a larger sense. He's unhappy with his girlfriend Challah, unhappy with his bickering parents and paranoid grandmother, and unhappy with his desk job at the Immigration Society. Coffee is a small measure of this generalised ennui - a microcosm. And it only stands to reason that he's drinking coffee, as he's numbed by romantic boredom, tired of bureaucratic red tape, and sexually stymied by his girlfriend's occupational promiscuity (she's a dominatrix). He seems to be living the American dream, yet it's an American nightmare. A sleepless nightmare. He seeks stimulus, inspiration! He wants to be alert! The coffee doesn't make him restless - it only awakens him to his true feelings. Thus coffee is a truth serum! Coffee lifts the veil of self-delusion!

3. Don DeLillo, Running dog

Glen Selvy stuck his head around the edge of the partition to say good night. Lightborne asked him in for coffee, which was perking on a GE hotplate in a corner of the room. Selvy checked his watch and sat in a huge, dusty armchair … (Lightborne) poured three cups. Moll believed she detected an edge of detachment in Selvy's voice and manner

This appears relatively early. Interesting that it brings these three characters together: Selvy, tasked with covertly buying erotic art for a senator; Lightborne, the erotic art dealer; and Moll Robbins, the reporter doing the story on the sex business - whatever she can find. In a Psych 101 class 15 years ago, a professor gave an example of a psychological phenomenon, in which a man and woman meet over coffee, and their accelerated heart rates give them a false impression of excitement: they might mistake their physical symptoms as sexual arousal or emotional interest. Is that what happens here? Moll and Selvy later become involved romantically. Was the impetus a coffee-driven sense of arousal? The hotplate dates the story: 1978. "Perking" is interesting. DeLillo is too gruff to be satisfied with the domestic-sounding "percolating." And of course perking is loaded. Coffee makes you perky and has its perks.

4. Roberto Bolaño, The savage detectives

I'm sick for real. Rosario is making me stay in bed. Before she left for work she went out to borrow a thermos from a neighbour and she left me half a litre of coffee. Also four aspirin. I have a fever. I've started and finished two poems

Coffee as litmus test. Coffee as a baseline, a standard. A token of caring, requiring a suitable vessel. A lover wanting her coffee gift kept warm while she's away. Does it stay in the thermos? Does it grow cold? Coffee appears in many scenes in the first 100 pages of this book: at the cafes where Juan hangs out with the infamous Visceral Realists, and where a girl performs a sex act on him; at Maria's house, where he breakfasts with the whole crazy family. But coffee's presence is like the many poems that are allegedly written and never seen. "We're poets, and we drink coffee!" Sounds like when I was 19. Whether Bolaño is glorifying literary poserdom or poking fun is for someone else to say.

5. Richard Bausch, Good evening, Mrs And Mr America and all the ships at sea

The waiter came to take their orders. He stood in front of them, holding his pad and waiting - a balding, heavyset man with a tattoo of a falcon on one arm.

"Oh," she said. "Let me see. I'll have a cup of chilli with onions and crackers, and the pork chops, with a baked potato, and a salad. And these chicken wings. Am I going too fast?"

The waiter looked at her with drowsy eyes. "Salad - " he said.

"And milk. And coffee. Oh, and sour cream and butter on the potato."

What a scene! One of the best, in one of the best books I've read in the last year. That's Alice Kane ordering, girlfriend of Walter Marshall. In the end, she cancels the feast and gets only an ice cream sundae, after her sweetheart Marshall orders the same, though he also gets coffee. I'm still not sure if Alice is kidding, or if this is her regular diner and assumes the waiter will know she's kidding. But it hardly matters, the way things take off from here, and that's the beauty of it. It shows us how much more she wants than Marshall, how eager she is, how hungry. It plants that seed in the reader's mind. The pressures of romance on the young and idealistic. Diner-weak joe in a white ceramic mug. American dreams. These thing are eternal.

6. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and lovers

What will you drink – coffee?

Paul Morel speaking, a mere 360 pages into my 366-page edition, a more accurate title to which would be Mama's Boy. 360 coffee-less pages. Early on, the Morel family is established for who they are: a brutish, drunkard father; a domineering and doting mother; inconsequential William who escapes the mother only by an early death; Annie and Arthur, siblings hardly mentioned; and Paul, a boy full of promise, brightness, vigour and talent, but bound by Oedipal cords. They are established as such, and for hundreds of pages, remain so. If ever a novel needed a double shot, it was this one. For seven years Paul "goes with" Miriam, hating her all the while. That's a long seven years to consider marrying someone. Here coffee drinker Miriam is taking initiative, setting goals, and striving towards them, aware of her course, a destination in mind. She's engaging with her future in the now. Despite the great murk in this story, verisimilitude reigns.

7. Haruki Murakami, A wild sheep chase

I met her in autumn nine years ago, when I was twenty and she was seventeen.

There was a small coffee shop near the university where I hung out with friends. It wasn't much of anything, but it offered certain constants: hard rock and bad coffee

This early paragraph is marked by Murakami's hallmark plainness of language, and unencumbered, even detached, narration. After this short chapter, we leap ahead eight years, and it is not Murakami's style to make sweeping statements or paint overviews. To understand what transpires in those eight years, we must compare the details ourselves. And in this instance, the difference in coffee habits are illuminating. So, for starters, we know the coffee shop "isn't much of anything" and it serves bad coffee. Other things we learn about this coffee shop in the next page or two are that the 17-year-old borrows books, and makes certain sexual swaps with men willing to pick up her coffee and cigarette bill. Then the next section, eight years later. The protagonist is not drinking bad coffee any more. Though the hard rock on the radio may be the same, our man's fresh-ground manual drip extracted at the right temp and allowed to bloom is certain to yield something better than the "bad coffee" of yesteryear. Are one's coffee habits a gauge of quality of life? Certainly. Of one's emotional state? One's maturity, one's level of detachment or engagement? For this reader and perhaps Murakami too, yes.

8. Muriel Spark, The comforters

"Tell me about the voices," he said. "I heard nothing myself. From what direction did they come?"

"Over there, beside the fireplace," she answered.

"Would you like some tea? I think there is tea."

"Oh, coffee. Could I have some coffee? I don't think I'm likely to sleep."

Isn't it terribly English of the Baron to offer tea to Caroline, who's just fled a religious centre (not a nunnery, not a retreat), has separated from her husband, and is now suffering delusions - hearing the clacks of typewriter keys and a voice narrating her very thoughts! Take comfort in tea. It is in character of the Baron to think so: he's a man of affected intellectualism, calling the sections of his bookshop "Histor-ay, Biograph-ay, Theolog-ay," and addressing everyone as "my dear". But only coffee is up for the job. This is coffee as antidote to madness. What else to clear her head in this fix? They've already had Curaçao - that didn't help. Coffee as realignment. Coffee to reconnect with your own synapses, to reset the senses and solidify reality in the forefront.

9. George Saunders's short story 'The barber's unhappiness' from his collection Pastoralia

Mornings the barber left his stylists inside and sat outside of his ship drinking coffee and ogling every woman in sight

This quote is the opening line to the story. I like it because the casualness of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning mixes with his other activity: woman-ogling. There's a suggestion that one activity is casual, and so perhaps is the other. One is daily, ritualistic - so perhaps is the other. One is a gratifying sensory experience - so perhaps is the other. Or it's meant to be anyway. After all, what about that title? What is the titular barber's unhappiness? It's not the coffee, I'll tell you that. Might it be the other thing?

10. John Cheever's short story 'O City of Broken Dreams' from The stories of John Cheever

The Malloys found their way, that afternoon, to the Broadway Automat. They shouted with pleasure at the magical coffee spigots and the glass doors that sprang open

The Malloys didn't forge a course or stride confidently; they "found their way" to their destination, as if ambling about aimlessly, dreamily. Crucially, it's not a city of dreams, it's a city of broken dreams. The Malloys are innocent and doomed. They are like a cluster of Red Riding Hoods setting into the forest. Cut off any section from the Cheever body of work, and you'll see marbling of these themes. Are these mere two sentences a sufficient microcosm of Cheever's oeuvre? An American family embarking upon enjoyment of innocent pleasures, amid the temptations of the modern world? No, not a sufficient one. But I think it's wonderful to have people in American fiction shouting with pleasure. So often we start with the broken dreams, and from there it's hard to get to redemptive exclamations such as Cheever's famed closing to A Vision of the World: "Valour! Love! Virtue! Compassion! Splendour! Kindness! Wisdom! Beauty!" And any story that includes "magical coffee spigots" is a winner in my book.

toukokuu 30, 2022, 3:50 pm

Douglas Kennedy's top 10 books about grief
Guardian, 2009-04-01.

Douglas Kennedy was born in Manhattan in 1955. He studied at Bowdoin College, Maine and Trinity College, Dublin, returning to Dublin in 1977 when he co-founded a theatre company. In 1988 he moved to London and now divides his time between London, Paris, Berlin and Gozo. His debut novel The dead heart was published in 1994 and was followed by other bestsellers, including The job (1998), The pursuit of happiness (2001) and Temptation (2006). His work has been translated into 18 languages and, following the publication of Woman in the Fifth in 2007, he was awarded the French honour Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His latest book, Leaving the world, is published by Hutchinson.

"My new novel, Leaving the world, is - among other things - about an appalling tragedy that upends the life of a woman in her late 20s. As such, before writing the novel, I did peruse (or re-read) several key works that also grapple with loss and the way we confront the worst that life can throw at us. Intriguingly, I was most attracted to those works that did not provide easy bromides or solutions for the horrors of grief, and instead embraced an approach to loss that eschewed the search for 'closure' (what a hateful word) and instead looked upon loss as one of the prices we pay for being here. Anyway, here – in no particular order – are 10 books that I found essential texts on this subject."

1. Graham Greene, The end of the affair
A love story about the impossibility of love, and the way love often becomes a high-stakes game of possessiveness. It is also a remarkable examination of one man's cathartic journey into the realm of emotional distress after a lifetime of dodging all feeling.

2. C. S. Lewis, A grief observed
C. S. Lewis's unvarnished account of his love affair with the American poet, Joy Davidson, and her death by cancer. Very heart-on-the-sleeve and a little too Christian for some tastes, but still profoundly affecting in its direct examination of the unbridled nature of loss.

3. Ian McEwan, The child in time
My favourite novel by McEwan, and one in which he marries high intellect with great emotional complexity and depth. A child vanishes in a supermarket and the novel not only becomes a tale of loss, but also of the way public and private worlds always impinge on each other (an ongoing McEwan theme).

4. Annie Proulx, The shipping news
That rare thing - a novel about redemption that so cannily eschews sentimentality, but also speaks volumes about the interrelationship between life's innate sorrows and life's ongoing possibilities.

5. Margaret Atwood, The handmaid's tale
The greatest dystopian novel since Orwell's 1984. A bravura imagining of the horrors of a Christian theocracy in the United States, it is also underscored by the narrator's tale of the loss of her daughter. Atwood brilliantly marries pellucid irony with a cool, but marked empathy.

6. Anna Funder, Stasiland
A brilliant human document about life in East Germany, written by an Australian writer who spent several years in the old East Berlin after the fall of the Wall. More than anything it is about the horrors of a totalitarian regime as visited upon its citizens - and the lasting grief of those who survived communism as practised by Germans.

7. Joan Didion, The year of magical thinking
Didion's now-classic account of the sudden death of her husband and (latterly) of her daughter. It brilliantly essays the way the unimaginable enters quotidian life with happenstantial abruptness.

8. Ivan Turgenev, First love
Was there ever a more perfect short story - and one which so brilliantly captures the cognisance of one's own romantic impulse and the equally quicksilver discovery that love rarely ends well.

9. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, On death and dying
This 1969 work by the Swiss-born psychiatrist is still the benchmark about the five steps we all negotiate when dealing with grief and tragedy: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

10. James Joyce, The dead
His masterwork from Dubliners, and a brilliant exploration of the unknowingness of even those most intimate to you, and the way we all harbour sadnesses that we rarely show the world.

kesäkuu 1, 2022, 11:56 am

Owen Davies's top 10 grimoires
Guardian, 2009-04-08.

From ancient Egypt to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, grimoires - books of magic spells - have exerted a huge influence on religion and science. Owen Davies picks his top 10, and yes, HP Lovecraft makes the cut. Owen Davies, professor of social history at the University of Hertfordshire, has written extensively about the history of magic, witchcraft and ghosts. Last month Oxford University Press published his most recent work, Grimoires, the first ever history of the books of spells whose origins were first recorded in the ancient Middle East.

"Grimoires are books that contain a mix of spells, conjurations, natural secrets and ancient wisdom. Their origins date back to the dawn of writing and their subsequent history is entwined with that of the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the development of science, the cultural influence of print, and the social impact of European colonialism."

1. The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses
Although one of the more recent grimoires, first circulating in manuscript in the 18th century, this has to be number one for the breadth of its influence. From Germany it spread to America via the Pennsylvania Dutch, and once in cheap print was subsequently adopted by African Americans. With its pseudo-Hebraic mystical symbols, spirit conjurations and psalms, this book of the secret wisdom of Moses was a founding text of Rastafarianism and various religious movements in west Africa, as well as a cause célèbre in post-war Germany.

2. The Clavicule of Solomon
This is the granddaddy of grimoires. Mystical books purporting to be written by King Solomon were already circulating in the eastern Mediterranean during the first few centuries AD. By the 15th century hundreds of copies were in the hands of Western scientists and clergymen. While some denounced these Solomonic texts as heretical, many clergymen secretly pored over them. Some had lofty ambitions to obtain wisdom from the "wisest of the wise", while others sought to enrich themselves by discovering treasures and vanquishing the spirits that guarded them.

3. Petit Albert
The "Little Albert" symbolises the huge cultural impact of the cheap print revolution of the early 18th century. The flood gates of magical knowledge were opened during the so-called Enlightenment and the Petit Albert became a name to conjure with across France and its overseas colonies. As well as practical household tips it included spells to catch fish, charms for healing, and instructions on how to make a Hand of Glory, which would render one invisible.

4. The Book of St Cyprian
Grimoires purporting to have been written by a legendary St Cyprian (there was a real St Cyprian as well) became popular in Scandinavia during the late 18th century, while in Spain and Portugal print editions of the Libro de San Cipriano included a gazetteer to treasure sites and the magical means to obtain their hidden riches. During the early 20th century, editions began to appear in South America, and copies can now be purchased from the streets of Mexico City to herbalist stalls high in the Andes.

5. Dragon rouge
Like the Petit Albert, the Red Dragon was another product of the French cheap grimoire boom of the 18th century. Although first published in the following century, it was basically a version of the Grand grimoire, an earlier magic book which was infamous for including an invocation of the Devil and his lieutenants. The Dragon rouge circulated far more widely though, and is well known today in former and current French colonies in the Caribbean.

6. The Book of Honorius
Books attributed to Honorius of Thebes were second only to those of Solomon in notoriety in the medieval period. In keeping with a strong theme in grimoire history, there is no evidence that an arch magician named Honorius lived in antiquity - as manuscripts ascribed to him stated. Through prayers and invocations, books of Honorius gave instructions on how to receive visions of God, Hell and purgatory, and knowledge of all science. Very handy.

7. The Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy
Cornelius Agrippa was one of the most influential occult philosophers of the 16th century. He certainly wrote three books on the occult sciences, but he had nothing to do with the Fourth Book which appeared shortly after his death. This book of spirit conjuration blackened the name of Agrippa at a time when the witch trials were being stoked across Europe.

8. The Magus
Published in 1801 and written by the British occultist and disaster-prone balloonist Francis Barrett, The Magus was a re-statement of 17th-century occult science, and borrowed heavily from an English edition of the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy. It was a flop at the time but its influence was subsequently considerable on the occult revival of the late 19th century and contemporary magical traditions. In the early 20th century a plagiarised version produced by an American occult entrepreneur and entitled The Great Book of Magical Art, Hindu Magic and East Indian Occultism became much sought after in the US and the Caribbean.

9. The Necronomicon
A figment of the ingenious imagination of the influential early 20th-century writer of horror and fantasy H. P. Lovecraft, this mysterious book of secret wisdom was penned in the eighth century by a mad Yemeni poet. Despite being a literary fiction, several "real" Necronomicons have been published over the decades, and today it has as much a right to be considered a grimoire as the other entries in this Top 10.

10. Book of Shadows
Last but not least there is the founding text of modern Wicca – a pagan religion founded in the 1940s by the retired civil servant, folklorist, freemason and occultist Gerald Gardner. He claimed to have received a copy of this "ancient" magical text from a secret coven of witches, one of the last of a line of worshippers of an ancient fertility religion, which he and his followers believed had survived centuries of persecution by Christian authorities. Through its mention in such popular occult television dramas as Charmed, it has achieved considerable cultural recognition.


The best known spin-off of The Necronomicon is probably Terry Pratchett's Necrotelicomnicon, although that's more of a yellow pages than a grimoire. I'm not enough of a geek to know whether any of the Unseen University or Hogwarts School libraries' grimoires are named. Or even Giles's grimoire in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer photo at the head of the original Guardian article.

kesäkuu 2, 2022, 12:45 pm

James Runcie's top 10 books about brothers
Guardian, 2009-04-14.

From Dostoyevsky to J. K. Rowling, brothers have provided a rich source for fiction. The author of East fortune introduces his personal pick of fraternal fiction. James Runcie is an award-winning documentary film-maker and the author of four novels. His latest, East fortune, is just published by Bloomsbury:

"A long time ago, a friend at a publishing house told me to stop "mucking about" and write about family life. 'It's the only real subject. BIG TIP.' "

"So I've followed her advice and written East fortune, a novel about three brothers. I did think I was doing something a bit different until I realised there were hundreds of novels about, ahem, brothers and family life. You can't beat it as a subject: submerged emotions, intense rivalries, unrealistic expectations, differing levels of secrecy, betrayals both major and minor, and the genetic identity we can never escape. And if you then factor in the male ego, and tell a story of brotherly love and resentment then surely you can't go too far wrong?"

Here are James Runcie's top 10 sibling sizzlers:

1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The brothers Karamazov
The ultimate tale of three competitive brothers and a hopeless father involves love, hate, faith, nihilsm, despair and patricide. Dmitri, the sensualist, Vanya the rationalist, Alyosha the hero priest may be archetypes for pleasure, reason and faith but each character is much more than an allegorical symbol. An intense interrogation of God, human purpose and the nature of suffering, the book is hardly known for its jokes but Freud called it "the most magnificent novel ever written". Frankly, I'm with Anna Karenina, but this is the gold standard for fraternal fiction.

2. William Faulkner, The sound and the fury
First published in 1929, Faulkner created his "heart's darling", the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story is told through separate monologues by her three brothers: the congenital "idiot" Benjy, the neurotically suicidal Quentin and the monstrous Jason. An intensely passionate novel about loneliness, selfishness, and unreliability, this is, essentially, Virginia Woolf on drugs.

3. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Master of Ballantrae
The two-brothers-on-different-sides-of-the-war story. The Durie family make an each way bet on the outcome of the Jacobite Rising of 1745 in order to preserve their inheritance; elder brother James joins Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebels while younger brother Henry supports King George II. The rising fails, James is reported dead, the decent brother inherits and it's all rather dull and disappointing until it's revealed that elder brother James isn't dead at all: he's a complete shit who plans to ruin them all.

4. Arthur Miller, Death of a salesman
A double helping of brothers here as Willy Loman mourns the absence of successful brother Ben, and, in a mirrored story, his two sons Biff and Happy, struggle to live up to the burdens of unrealistic parental expectation. The greatest American play ever written.

5. John Cheever, Goodbye my brother
The classic slow-build story of the sudden outburst of rage that only a family member can provoke. The Pommeroy family gathers at a beach house in Massachusetts. Among the grown children present are the narrator, whose name we never learn, and his brother Lawrence, a "gloomy son of a bitch". During a walk on the sand the narrator suddenly decides that he's had enough of his brother and tries to kill him.

6. J. K. Rowling, The tale of three brothers
One of the tales of Beedle the Bard that also appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this is also a re-working of Chaucer's The pardoner's tale – a simple, beautifully told parable about the fear of death and our inability to avoid it no matter how many special powers we might have.

7. The Brothers Grimm, Four clever brothers
An altogether more incomprehensible fraternal fable. Four brothers leave home, take four different routes away from a crossroads and return, guess what, four years later. One becomes a thief, another a star-gazer, the third a hunter and the fourth a tailor. When they return they perform an incomprehensible trick with five birds' eggs before rescuing a princess from a dragon. It probably makes more sense in the original German.

8. Willy Russell, Blood brothers
The nature versus nurture debate captured in song and plotted as a love triangle. Mickey and Eddie, a pair of twins separated at birth, have wildly differing lives but both fall in love with the same girl. Then one of them starts waving a gun about.

9. Guy de Maupassant, Pierre et Jean
The classic "family secret" story. When Jean is left money in the will of Léon Maréchal, but his brother Pierre is not, Pierre becomes convinced that it must be because Maréchal was his mother's lover and Jean's father. Plagued by an increasing obsession with his mother's infidelity, Pierre forces the secret out, tells his brother, and ruins his family. Some secrets are probably best kept buried.

10. Alice Munro, Monsieur les deux chapeaux
Simple Ross mends cars and wears two hats at the same time. His brother nearly kills him, feels terrible, and realises that from that moment on he's going to have to watch out for his brother for the rest of his life. First published in Munro's collection The progress of love, it's a story that's both simple and complex and all that really matters is that it's by Alice Munro and I wish I could write like her. She's the tops.


He seems to expect us to know which Freud he is talking about. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the grand-daddy of this clever family, was hardly current in 2009. I'm guessing Clement Freud, stalwart of BBC Radio 4's Just a minute, Liberal MP, and the hangdog face of a canned dog meat commercial, who was much more in the public eye. And incidentally died the day after this column was published. O dear. And Wikipedia reminds me his name was referred to Operation Yewtree.

kesäkuu 2, 2022, 1:20 pm

>19 Cynfelyn: It ought to have been Clement, I agree, but it was actually his grandad who said it, in the opening lines of a 1928 essay “Dostojewski und die Vatertötung” (Dostoevsky and parricide).

kesäkuu 3, 2022, 2:53 pm

>20 thorold: A bundle of laughs isn't he, old Sigmund?

By the way, I notice the Guardian ran another list of "Top 10 books about brothers" last year, by Fíona Scarlett, here.

kesäkuu 3, 2022, 5:13 pm

Brian McGilloway's top 10 modern Irish crime novels
Guardian, 2009-04-22.

Brian McGilloway is author of the critically acclaimed Inspector Benedict Devlin series. He was born in Derry, Northern Ireland in 1974, where these days he combines his writing career with his work as head of English at St Columb's College. His first novel, Borderlands, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed in 2008 by Gallows Lane. His third Benedict Devlin novel, Bleed a river deep, has just been published by Macmillan.

"Crime fiction has taken off in Ireland over the past few years with a number of our best writers winning awards and making an impact on the international scene. If anything marks out the movement it's the sheer diversity of sub-genres, from PI novels to police procedurals, by way of political satire and screwball comedy. And that's not including John Connolly's Charlie Parker series which is absent here only because it is set in the USA. Many of the recent group of Irish crime writers (myself included) cite Connolly as the inspiration that got them writing. As an introduction to this recent growth and range in the genre, here are 10 of my favourites from the past decade."

1. Declan Hughes, The wrong kind of blood
Declan Hughes has crafted a superb series based on his PI, Ed Loy, winning the Shamus Award and being shortlisted for this year's Edgar in the US. The debut novel in the series, The wrong kind of blood, has, among many other things, a corking first line and an unforgettable scene involving a shed, some gardening implements and a psychotic hoodlum called Podge that showcases Hughes's skill in handling dialogue.

2. Ken Bruen, The Guards
Ken Bruen needs little introduction. This novel, the first in the Jack Taylor series, proved that it was possible to set a crime novel in modern Ireland successfully. All the trademarks of Bruen's future work are here; sparse, brutal poetic prose, black humour and a sense of bleak desperation in the voice of the narrator.

3. Bateman, Mystery man
He may have lost his Christian name, but Bateman's sense of humour remains intact. His newest book, Mystery man, is notable for the setting – No Alibis, a specialist crime bookshop in Belfast that has been supporting Irish crime writing for more than a decade. There is a huge amount of enjoyment to be had from author spotting in the book – particularly a certain literary novelist who tries his hand at crime whilst being massively disparaging about the genre. Plenty of laugh out loud moments too, including the mention of one fictional, though strangely believable Northern Irish book title: It was fine when it left us – the building of the Titantic.

4. Alex Barclay, Darkhouse
Her recent book, Blood runs cold, continues to win rave reviews, but there's nowhere better to start than with Darkhouse. Merging plot lines on both sides of the Atlantic, it brought a distinctly American plot onto Irish soil, while offering a dramatic insight into the minds of both the detective and crucially, the killer too. Dark, unsettling and compulsive.

5. Gene Kerrigan, The midnight choir
Gene Kerrigan's novels carry a weight and depth of knowledge few other crime writers can match, born from his work as a journalist. There are no simple answers in his work, no easy demarcations between good and bad. His prose is superb, his grasp of characters and the desires which drive them frighteningly realistic.

6. Declan Burke, The Big O
Declan Burke is single-handedly supporting Irish crime fiction at his site but he is also a terrific crime writer himself. The Big O charts the relationship of armed robber Karen and her new lover Ray. Throw in an ex-prisoner looking to set up a support group and a wolf called Anna and you have some sense of a novel which recalls Elmore Leonard at his best.

7. Adrian McKinty, Dead I well may be
The first in the Michael Forsythe series also boasts one of my favourite book titles, taken from the song, 'Danny Boy'. Adrian McKinty establishes Forstythe from the start as a troubled character, struggling to find revenge and redemption in equal measure. Startlingly violent yet darkly humourous, this is hard-boiled Irish noir at its best.

8. Arlene Hunt, Undertow
Arlene Hunt's novels, based around QuicK Investigations, examine the darker side of modern Ireland. In this, the fourth in the series, the treatment of immigrants, the fate of women forced into employment in the new Ireland, and the personal implications of an ex-partner's death all criss-cross. Recalling Dennis Lehane's Gennaro & Kenzie series, Hunt's novels offer a massively readable insight into the underbelly of Irish society.

9. Ruth Dudley Edwards, The Anglo-Irish murders
Ruth Dudley Edwards satires have hit many targets – academia, the Art world, and here, in arguably her finest novel, local politics. With a happy disregard for political correctness in any sense of the word, and a sharp sense of the ironic in so many aspects of Northern Irish life, her depiction of, amongst others, The MOPES (Most Oppressed Peoples Ever) would be funny, even if it weren't true.

10. Tana French, In the woods
Tana French has enjoyed massive success with both her novels to date, winning a Best Debut Edgar for this book. Dealing with how the events of the past impact on the present is a common theme in Irish crime fiction, but one which French develops in her own way. She is to be applauded too not only for the manner in which she crafts a cracking crime narrative, but also her refusal to reveal all the answers in the end.

kesäkuu 4, 2022, 7:17 am

Malcolm Pryce's top 10 expatriate tales
Guardian, 2009-05-06.

Malcolm Pryce finished his first novel on a cargo ship off the coast of South America and has spent much of the past 10 years abroad somewhere, writing a series of comic private detective novels set in Aberystwyth. His latest novel, From Aberystwyth with love, documents the search for Hughesovka, a legendary replica Aberystwyth built in the Ukraine in the last century.

"All my life I have been fascinated by tales of those vagabond souls who go off searching for promised lands and Shangri-las. People who sailed beyond the dawn driven by the belief that the other man's grass skirt was always greener. It's probably why I have devoted my life to chronicling those spiritual misfits, the people of Aberystwyth."

1. Graham Greene, The quiet American
Ostensibly it is about the eponymous quiet American – a naive and idealistic CIA agent in Saigon during the French colonial war of the 50s. But what lingers is the relationship between the world-weary newspaper correspondent, Fowler, and his beautiful girl Phuong. Greene perfectly skewers the superfluity of western notions of love that invariably inform such situations. Undermining the idyll is the mercenary elder sister, painfully aware of the need to use Phuong's beauty to secure a provider for the family while her beauty still has currency.

2. Jack Reynolds, A woman of Bangkok
One night in Bangkok, so the song goes, makes a hard man humble. The city is, in fact, a combine harvester for the ex-pat male heart. Jack Reynolds captures the ethos perfectly in this, the definitive account, written 50 years ago. A young and unworldly Englishman is posted to Bangkok and falls for a beautiful dancing girl in the Bolero nightclub. The girl requites his love by spit-roasting him with scorn, and turning him into a chump. Reynolds chronicles the various stages of his downfall, without mercy. Read it before you get posted, but don't expect it to save you.

3. Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria quartet
After reading this many years ago I vowed never to visit the city. How could it possibly live up to its fictional portrayal? An unnamed English teacher on a Greek island looks back on his sojourn in Alexandria between the wars. He considers the intertwined fates of the people he met there; they are numerous, but the real protagonist is the city herself, exquisitely presented in all her shifting moods and lemon-tinged light. Some tastes might find the relentlessly extended languor a touch too much, in which case John Crace's satirical digested read ( of the first book, Justine, is a perfect antidote.

4. The Discovery of Tahiti; a journal of the second voyage of HMS Dolphin round the world under the command of Captain Wallis, RN, in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768, written by her master George Robertson
He didn't actually settle there but his description of the island set the tone for the innumerable vagabonds, beachcombers, castaways, mutineers, buccaneers, poets, lovers, dreamers, romantics, and novelists from Aberystwyth who have since fetched up on those parakeet-coloured shores. The salt-rimed tars who had spent six months in the foetid wooden hold of the HMS Dolphin suddenly found themselves in a land where sex was offered to weary travellers as naturally as food. Each one found a sweetheart and all she asked in return was a ship's nail. All was bliss until the ship fell apart. I went there with a ship full of nails but the price had gone up.

5. Laurie Lee As I walked out one midsummer morning

"Mum, I'm nineteen and I've decided it's time I sought my fortune. I will walk to Spain. I'll land in Vigo and walk the breadth of the land, playing my violin, getting drunk on sherry and sleeping under the stars with a sloe-eyed sweetheart in my arms.

"Sounds like a good plan, son, I'll make you some treacle biscuits."

And off he went. That's it in a nutshell, but it's well worth reading the whole thing.

6. Somerset Maugham The gentleman in the parlour
You stand in a sun-dappled, bee-throbbing English churchyard, reading the graves. Curiously, everyone in this town seems to have died in their thirties. The dark-skinned priest waves and you remember with a start you are in Sri Lanka. The headstones were made in Glasgow and shipped out, like the lives they commemorate. I always picture Somerset Maugham as the eponymous gentleman in the parlour. He sits on the verandah at Raffles, chronicling the desolate fates of the broken souls washed up on the remoter shores of Empire; their lives pickled in gin and quinine.

7. Thomas Cook European Railway Timetable
You shouldn't travel without a book of poetry, and this is mine. Foreign railway stations are a spiritual 'home' for the exile. Trams glide round equestrian statues outside; food kiosks, information and cambio booths rub shoulders in dusty cathedrals smelling of salami and Czech beer. Most of the romance has gone, but some still survives fossilised in the pages of the Thomas Cook timetable.

8. Vladimir Nabokov Speak, memory
Nabokov writes an elegy to his lost childhood in pre-revolutionary St Petersburg; the backward lens of time imparting a particularly golden hue to such remembered exotica as Pears soap, Golden Syrup and countless other marvels shipped out from London. The prose is wonderful and occasionally sublime, especially in the child's eye view of the five-day train journey each summer to Biarritz.

9. Malcolm Lowry Under the volcano
Another dissolute ex-pat drinking himself methodically to death in a sun-blanched land. Mexico on the Day of the Dead, his ex-wife turns up to shake some sense into him but he's not in the market for sense. Instead he drinks. It's hot; there's an incident with a whore; he has an argument with a police captain, never a good idea but that's probably why he does it. Then the Day of the Dead comes to an end, and so does he. Someone throws a dead dog into the ravine after him. I've read it countless times and am still not sure quite why I like it so much. But I've ordered the dog for my funeral.

10. Ernest Hemingway A moveable feast
Hemingway in Paris in the 20s. Starving, living in a garret with his wife, but somehow able to write in the morning and go to the races every afternoon. It all seems so achingly romantic that it comes as a shock in later years to find out it was mostly bollocks - he wasn't really starving but had loads of money. Ah well. The bits about sharing the place with Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ford Madox Ford, John Dos Passos, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein are true. As is the sage advice he gave, that when writing one should always leave a bit over for the next day; stop before one has finished what one was ...


Hughesovka was founded by and named after Welsh iron-master John Hughes (1814-1889), son of the head engineer at the Cyfarthfa Ironworks, Merthyr Tudful, Wales, to develop iron and steel works for the Russian Empire at the existing coal mining settlements at Aleksandrovka, with the help of a "considerable number of iron-workers from Merthyr, Dowlais, Rhymney, and Middlesbrough" (Dict. Welsh Biog.). Much as the development of the south Wales coalfield and iron industry pulled in many English speakers from Somerset etc., diluting the Welsh language in south Wales, so Hughesovka pulled in workers from the wider Russian Empire, cementing Russian as the lingua franca. Hughesovka was russified to 'Yuzovka', then renamed 'Stalino' (c.1929), then 'Donetsk' (1961). So yes, one of the deepest roots of the current Russian invasion of Ukraine is a Welsh iron-master. 'Twas ever thus.

John Crace is the Guardian's parliamentary sketch writer, and one of my favourite columnists.

kesäkuu 6, 2022, 9:37 am

Stephen Smith's top 10 subterranean books
Guardian, 2009-05-12.

Stephen Smith is a writer, journalist and broadcaster, and is culture correspondent for BBC Newsnight. He is the author of several books, including Cuba : land of miracles and Underground London. His new book, Underground England, travels the length, breadth and depth of the country in search of wonders both natural and man-made, from smugglers' tunnels to Knights Templar chapels.

"Just about the most counter-productive thing you can say to another human being is "Don't look down!" Tate Modern has never seen crowds like it had for Doris Salcedo's 'Shibboleth', a crack in the ground that visitors couldn't resist lowering a foot – or a face – into. I suspect that my interest in the subterranean began in the subconscious, in an attempt to answer the question at the back of all our minds: what's down there?

"Day to day, we orientate ourselves in what you might call a lateral fashion: let's meet at the pub next to the park, and so on. But I'm fascinated by the under-explored vertical dimension of our surroundings. How much more intriguing to consider what is under the pub – perhaps a secret tunnel once used by the highwayman Dick Turpin in order to stay one step ahead of his pursuers (as is rumoured to be the case at Jack Straw's Castle pub on Hampstead Heath). You could be forgiven for thinking that this is an underground interest in more ways than one. So I thought I'd dig out a few gems from my troglodyte treasury, to show you that many distinguished authors have sunk to startling depths to produce books about the subterranean."

1. J. Meade Falkner, Moonfleet
Smuggling was practised not only on the Spanish Main but around our sceptr'd Isle. At New Brighton, Merseyside, where my family is from, the privateers salted their booty away beneath the butter-soft sandstone. Moonfleet contains my cri de coeur: "I believe there never was a boy yet who saw a hole in the ground, or a cave in a hill, or much more an underground passage, but longed incontinently to be into it and discover whither it led."

2. Jules Verne, Journey to the centre of the earth
Jules Verne's evergreen page-turner is a reminder that the best adventures may be right under our noses, or rather the soles of our feet. The author described the breathtaking feats of underground engineering achieved by the natural world: "a succession of arches appeared before us like the aisles of a Gothic cathedral; here the architects of the Middle Ages might have studied all the forms of that religious architecture which developed from the pointed arch."

3. Mick Jackson, The underground man
A man in Hackney, east London, was recently dubbed the Mole Man for tunnelling under his neighbours' houses. Mick Jackson's real-life model for this novel, the fifth Duke of Portland, was a Mole Man born to the ermine (not inappropriately, you may think, as ermine like to burrow.) He created a sunken ballroom under his ducal seat. He insisted that his servants kept a chicken roasting at all hours of the day, and had it brought to him on heated wagons through underground passages. Jackson brilliantly ventriloquises his lordship in this novel, but the truth is unfathomably stranger than fiction.

4. Christian Wolmar, The subterranean railway
The history of the London tube, the first underground train network in the world. Dirty, stuffy, run for the benefit of private business rather than the poor bloody passengers – and it was just as bad when it started! Christian Wolmar knows more about the railways than the men who run them – on second thoughts, that's not quite the compliment it was intended to be.

5. Jennifer Westwood & Jacqueline Simpson, The lore of the land
Though not confined to the subterranean, this essential gazetteer of folklore is chokka with secret passages, buried treasure and the strange tolling of sunken church bells. The book shows that the same myths recur around the country, including the legend of the plucky violinist who enters a forbidding tunnel. The music suddenly stops and the fiddler's never heard of again. A veritable Crufts of shaggy dog stories.

6. Sarah Hall, Haweswater
Sarah Hall's justly praised debut novel is set in the lost village of Mardale in the Lake District. It was so cut off that when anyone died, the body was carried over the fells on a Corpse Road to the nearest graveyard. Mardale finally got its own consecrated plot, but then it was decided to submerge the whole village under Haweswater to create a reservoir. So the dead of Mardale were dug up and taken to join their ancestors. On hot summer days, the dry stone walls of Mardale eerily reappear.

7. John Preston, The dig
For years, people wondered what was in the extraordinary burrows at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. They were on land owned by the wealthy Edith Pretty. A clairvoyant told her that her late husband wanted the mounds excavated. The task fell not to Tony Robinson and the gadget-toting Time Team but a horny-handed countryman called Basil Brown, who uncovered the remains of an Anglo-Saxon king. Preston's novel is a deft excavation of the class snobberies surrounding the historic 1930s dig.

8. Des Marshall & Donald Rust, Selected caves of Britain and Ireland
The Baedeker of the below-ground world, this is a must for cavers, an excellent primer for novices and deliciously gooseflesh-raising for those who haven't the slightest intention of going anywhere near a pothole. It was my invaluable companion on a descent of Long Churn in the Yorkshire Dales, which was first tamed in 1848 by "J Birkbeck and party" and is described in this Michelin guide to Middle Earth as "a fine though heavily used cave".

9. Daniel Defoe, A tour through the whole island of Great Britain
"Nottingham is situated upon the steep ascent of a sandy rock; which is consequently remarkable, for that it is so soft that they easily work into it for making vaults and cellars," wrote Defoe. "The bountiful inhabitants generally keep these cellars well stocked with excellent ALE; nor are they uncommunicative in bestowing it among their friends." Knowing that the great Defoe had been there before me enhanced my pleasure in keeping alive the tradition of troglodyte tippling in Nottingham, at a pub called The Trip to Jerusalem which was quarried out of the city's Castle Rock.

10. H. G. Wells, The time machine
One of the finest works of science fiction set in the subterranean. In the dystopian future imagined by Wells, the Morlocks are a race who lived below ground. In researching my book, I was amazed to find that some of my fellow countrymen have made similar lifestyle choices to the Morlocks. It's no slight on the good people of Wolverley in the West Midlands to say that they're cavemen. There, a des. res. called Rock House was on the market, carved out of a cliff face and a snip at £25,000.


My main interest in Jules Verne's Journey to the centre of the earth is that it was one Titty Walker's books in Arthur Ransome's Swallows & Amazons series, especially when they visit Slater Bob in Pigeon Post (1936). Several English translations have appeared over the years; Wikipedia mentions:
Anonymous (Griffith & Farran, 1871; a drastically rewritten version),
Anonymous (Routledge, 1876; the most faithful of the early translations),
Frederick Amadeus Malleson (Ward, Lock, & Co., 1877; not quite such a drastic rewrite),
Isabel C. Fortney (Blackie, 1925),
Willis T. Bradley (Ace, 1956),
Robert Baldick (Penguin, 1965),
Lowell Bair (Bantam, 1991),
William Butcher (Oxford University Press, 1992, rev. 2008),
Frederick Paul Walter (State University of New York Press, 2010).

In 1936 Arthur Ransome would have had access to the first four translations. Also, as a published translator of French titles, he may have worked directly from a French edition. All I know is that some of the details Titty mentions show that she and I read different versions. A micro-project for an afternoon in a library with the various editions.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 6, 2022, 10:31 am

>24 Cynfelyn: I read Journey to the centre of the Earth a couple of weeks ago (in French); I'd forgotten that it comes into Arthur Ransome. But of course, that's where all the mastodon references come from.

Ransome presumably first read it in the 1890s, I doubt if he would have gone back to verify quotations later ("what a child actually remembers" is rather the point, isn't it?), so you can probably rule out Fortney as well. I can imagine romantic Dorothy wanting to read it in French, but I'd guess that Titty, and Ransome at that age, would have preferred the translation, even though they were learning French at school.

Talking about underground books without mentioning The Hobbit is quite audacious!

kesäkuu 8, 2022, 6:06 am

>25 thorold: The mastodon also makes a reappearance in Secret water, where footprints left by splatchers on the mud-flats are said to be by 'the Mastodon', later to be revealed Don of the Speedy.

You mention The hobbit. The photograph at the head of the original column made me think of The third man. But perhaps it doesn't count, as I see that the novel was a spin-off from the film's screenplay.

kesäkuu 8, 2022, 10:08 am

Adam Leith Gollner's top 10 fruit scenes
Guardian, 2009-05-20.

From the Bible to Nabokov, the author and self-confessed fruit obsessive charts some of its juiciest appearances in literature. Adam Leith Gollner's first book, The fruit hunters, grew out of a "fruit epiphany" in Brazil that sent him round the world in search of exotic, fun, delicious and disgusting harvests, and back into history, where fruit have propped up dictatorships and sent countries to war. The book won the Canadian McAuslan First Book award and was a finalist for the Mavis Gallant prize.

"Fruit were made for storytelling. Dripping with hidden significance, they provide an ideal rhetorical device. They seem so sweet and pure, yet beneath their tempting exteriors fruit can be as deceitful – and complex – as the knowledge of good and evil. Red hearts or black eyes, capsules of sunlight or crystal drops of blood, fruit are a mystery tool in the crafting of creative acts. The following literary fruit scenes shed light on the ways this ripe symbolism can seduce writers – and their subjects."

1. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
"She had painted lips and was holding in her hollowed hands a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple… She tossed it up into the sun-dusted air, and caught it – it made a polished plop. Humbert Humbert intercepted the apple…"

Fruits and forbidden carnality go way back, an association Nabokov exploits giddily in this climactic scene. It's a Sunday morning in June. Lolita is wearing bobbysocks and a pink cotton dress. Humbert wakes, puts on his purple silk dressing down, and goes downstairs in search of Lo. He finds her pawing a Red Delicious apple, and slithers next to her on the candy-striped davenport. Sprawling herself athwart Humbert, the tanned nymphet devours her immemorial fruit, arousing "a hidden tumor of unspeakable passion". Humbert cannot contain his surreptitious euphoria: "I entered a plane of being where nothing mattered, save the infusion of joy brewed within my body."

2. The Book of Genesis
"She took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. And the eyes of them both were opened".

Fruits have been a way of talking about sacred mysteries since the earliest buddings of narrative. Take the metaphysically charged plant life in the Garden of Eden. The tree of life's fruit apparently bestow immortality; the other tree is even thornier. Note to any original sinners out there: the Bible never stipulates that Adam and Eve ate an apple. Its actual name is "the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil" – sufficiently convoluted to demand contemplation. Beyond the lust and shame, the allegory hints at a distinction between the material, physical world and another realm beyond duality.

In myths and religious texts, fruit are symbols that guide us across the threshold, whether it's an Edenic tree of never-ending youth or Buddha attaining enlightenment beneath a fig tree. Perhaps fruit are used to represent the unfathomable unity of opposites because they themselves are the coming together of male and female flowers, of sugars and acids, of dying flesh and unborn seeds. Shrouded in diaphanous notions of eternity and omniscience, the fruit of Genesis can be interpreted in a variety of ways, yet their ultimate meaning remains elusive. Our eyes will be opened, but the knowledge gained may not set us free. Quite the opposite …

3. Diane Ackerman, The moon by whale light
"I didn't know I was different, truly, irrevocably different, different in what I saw when looking out of the window each day, until one morning when I was going through the orchard with three first grade school mates … Above us, the trees were thick with dark plums huddled like bats."

The fruit trees are an awakening: the discovery of metaphor, the realisation of self, the echolocation of other worlds within this one. For Ackerman, this fruit epiphany led to a life of letters. As she gaped in youthful wonder at the living plum-bats nesting in their twisting limbs, her friends tried to pull her along to school. They asked what she was staring at. When she told them, they recoiled. "The possibility of bats didn't frighten them. I frightened them."

4. Evelyn Waugh, The loved one
"This rendition comes to you by courtesy of Kaiser's Stoneless Peaches. Remember no other peach now marketed is perfect and completely stoneless. When you buy Kaiser's Stoneless Peach you are buying full weight of succulent peach flesh and nothing else."

Fruit as existential crisis. This radio advertisement precipitates the suicide of Aimee Thanatogenos, the triangulated loved one in Waugh's California tragicomedy. Aimee, a cosmetic mortician, is overwhelmed by the futility of modern life. Spurning the advances of a Dennis Barlow, a young poet admirer, she has agreed to marry the dour embalmer Mr Joyboy, an Oedipal wreck in thrall to his mother. As empty as a Kaiser's Stoneless Peach, Aimee kills herself. Waugh's cynical notion of a stoneless peach's putative perfection also foreshadowed the empty promises of today's fruit marketing – from unripe, puckeringly bitter cranberries sold as "all natural, fully ripened, white cranberries" to apples dunked in artificial-grape-flavored bird repellent and branded as "Grapples."

5. Shakespeare, The merchant of Venice
"A goodly apple rotten at the heart: O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath."

Shakespeare pointed out that ripeness is all. He also noted how goodly-looking fruit often taste terrible. Today, many commercial fruit have immaculate exteriors. They've been doused with pesticides, ripening gases, dyes, biochemical growth inhibitors, hormone-based retardants and high-sheen waxes. Oil is used at every step: to power tractors and mechanised farming devices, to make petrochemical fertilizers, to manufacture the plastic PolyEthylene bags we carry groceries home in, and to transport fruit from orchards and warehouses to supermarkets. Accordingly, our produce departments look like new car lots full of enormous, perfect fruit gleaming with wax. The spectrum of colors is heightened by megawatts of directional lighting accentuating the beads of mist dripping from the temperature-controlled display cases. Unfortunately, most of these vehicles are lemons. But that doesn't mean there aren't goodly tasting fruit to be plucked. As the immortal bard might've put it, "There are more fruit in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

6. Galbraith Welch, The unveiling of Timbuctoo
"There were fruit trees with fruit that sang its way down dry throats like the gurgle of rippling brooks … strange native fruits, flaming with colour, bursting with juice. Nature on holiday, spending herself like a drunken sailor."

French explorer Rene Caillié was the first European to penetrate the fearsome city of Timbuctoo – and return alive. Disguised as a mendicant from Mecca, his 1827 pilgrimage took him from the coast of Sierra Leone across the Sahara desert. Throughout this supposedly barren "Land of Death," Caillié was continually astonished by the diversity of fruit he encountered. Writer Galbraith Welch set out to retrace his journey in 1934. As she traverses a thousand miles of unbroken sand, her fantastical descriptions melt into mirages. There are trees like castles aflame, flowers of a thousand colours, scorpions like two-pound lobsters, ants as large as cats trained to collect gold for their masters, and myriad magical African fruit, like the cobaï: "no bigger than a hazelnut but so delicious that natives say that whilst it is in season no one would wish to touch any other food".

7. Edward H. Schafer, The golden peaches of Samarkand :a study of T'ang exotics
"The golden peaches actually existed … what kind of fruit they may have been, and how they may have tasted, cannot now be guessed. They are made glamorous by mystery and symbolize all the exotic things longed for and the unknown things hoped for by the people of the T'ang empire."

From the seventh to the 10th century, China's T'ang dynasty had a thing for fruit. Schafer's 1963 bestiary inventories countless exotics imported by the nobility. Of all their luxurious comestibles, none were as sought-after as the peaches of Samarkand. With a golden lustre, they were the size of goose-eggs and gushed nectar. Other rare fruit were shipped cross-country. Snow-packed watermelons were trundled into the capital from the oasis of Khwãrizm. Mare-nipple grapes arrived by camel from the Mountains of Heaven. Almost as tantalising as golden peaches were imperial lychees. At a time when women stained their lips with cherry juice and painted their eyebrows green to resemble moth antennae, none could outstyle the Emperor's precious consort, Yang Guifei, a concubine who had 700 personal tailors and kept a miniature jade fish in her mouth. To please her, Emperor Hsüan Tsung employed a special horse-riding courier to fetch her lychees in the south. This fruit cowboy would race across the length of China, from Lingnan to the palace at Ch'Ang-An, bearing his royal consignment. A non-locavore love story.

8. Joseph Mitchell, Introduction to Up in the old hotel
"The melons had been picked early that morning in our own gardens – long, heavy, green-striped Georgia Rattlesnakes and big, round, heavy Cuban Queens so green they were almost black."

When Joseph Mitchell wrote the introduction to his collected works in 1992, he was at the tail-end of a three-decade-long writer's block. He'd been unable to write anything significant since his 1964 masterpiece, Joe Gould's secret, the true story of a bohemian vagrant struggling to complete his nine-million-word Oral history of our time. Mitchell's introduction, composed shortly before his death, is a meditation on the remote, mysterious influences responsible for one's cast of mind. Describing his frequent visits to cemeteries as a child, Mitchell recalled how his family used to eat watermelons behind an old country church in North Carolina. They would then walk through the cemetery in a procession as Aunt Annie told horrifying – and horrifyingly funny – tales of the corpses below. This coming together of sweetness and tombs, of laughter and disintegration, presaged the graveyard humour typical of Mitchell's best writing.

9. Jakob Lorber, Saturn
"… a very particular kind of fruit begins to grow on a crystalline knobby stem. In the beginning this fruit consists of nothing but a translucent water pouch, which gradually becomes larger and larger. When this fruit ripens, it resembles a balloon which is six to nine feet in diameter."

According to the 19th century German mystic Jakob Lorber, who wrote at length about the fruit of outer space, the ubra fruit described above grows on Saturn's 180 foot-tall branchless glass trees. Their square trunks of green glass shine like mirrors, allowing passers-by to check out their reflections. As the fruit reaches maturity, the translucent water takes on the aspect of mercury. Once the silvery liquid solidifies, the balloon-shaped fruit fall to the ground and are cut into shiny squares used as plates by locals. Lorber learned about these fruit through "a series of protracted revelations," as Jorge Luis Borges described it. Starting in 1840, the voice of God commanded Lorber to put pen to paper and transcribe everything he heard. From that moment on, until he died 24 years later, he wrote all day almost every day, completing 25 volumes of more than 500 pages each (not including his minor works).

10. Robert Palter, The Duchess of Malfi's apricots and other literary fruits
"I have come to realise that my project is inherently open–ended… My study is ongoing, and this book represents in a way only an 'interim report'."

So many writers have been captivated by fruit that you could spend a lifetime simply attempting to catalogue them all. That's precisely what Robert Palter did: His hefty 850-page anthology itemises and discusses countless fruit scenes in stories, poems, songs, films, and other literary vehicles. The research overwhelmed him early on: "Every time I'd find another instance of fruits in a story, I'd say 'Wow! I can't believe this!'" He decided to end the book with no punctuation, as a sign of its endlessness. Long after publication, he still couldn't stop finding fruit episodes. As he put it in a reminiscence entitled My big fruit book: "Involuntarily, and even against my conscious intentions, I persist in scanning for fruit everything I encounter in the way of print and pictures." The pursuit of fruit becomes a quest for infinity.

kesäkuu 9, 2022, 2:22 pm

Ian MacKenzie's top 10 artworks in novels
Guardian, 2009-06-02.

As occasions for everything from assignations to arson, authors have long been fascinated by fine art. From Joyce to Geoff Dyer, novelist Ian MacKenzie takes a close look at the best examples. Ian MacKenzie is a former high school teacher who writes fiction and criticism. He lives in Brooklyn. His debut novel, City of strangers, follows the story of a fractured New York family, and is published in paperback this month.

"As a writer who can't help but lodge works of art in his fiction, I have always been drawn to art museums as a kind of secret writer's retreat, starting with the Museum of Fine Arts, in my native Boston. I'm not alone. Art holds an enduring attraction for writers and instances of cross-pollination between the visual arts and fiction are countless. Here are 10 of the most memorable."

1. Geoff Dyer, Jeff in Venice, death in Varanasi
The first half of this hypermodern diptych finds a journalist named Jeff Atman in Venice for the 2003 Biennale, where he encounters all of the excess, silliness, depravity, and, finally, hollowness of the contemporary art world's foremost spectacle. Most of the art is, as Jeff puts it, "a waste of one's eyes". But the novel has a fizzy exuberance that lifts it above the shallowness of its setting. One of its loveliest moments comes near the start, when Jeff slips into the Accademia to have a look at an old favorite: Giorgione's The Tempest. Briefly, it holds him there, before he must descend into the froth of the Biennale (a tempest of a different sort), and in that moment he's washed in a rapt stillness, expressed in the painting itself, that could almost be called a state of grace.

2. John Updike, 'Museums and Women' (from The early stories: 1953-1975)
If any writer of fiction knew his way around art, it was Updike; he was a religious museumgoer, and in this odd and lovely story he condensed that relationship to its pith. The narrator, William Young, locates a deep connection between his passion for museums and his passion for women: the condition begins with his mother and extends across every subsequent romantic preoccupation. Dozens of pieces are framed in characteristically rich prose, but Updike saved his most evocative, spot-on description for the Guggenheim itself: "It was shaped like a truncated top and its floor was a continuous spiral around an overweening core of empty vertical space ... The floor width was limited by a rather slender and low concrete guard wall that more invited than discouraged a plunge into the cathedralic depths below."

3. V. S. Naipaul, The enigma of arrival
Naipaul's complexly autobiographical novel borrows its title from a work by Giorgio de Chirico. That painting provides the inspiration for a not-quite novel-within-the-novel – one the nameless first-person narrator dwells on but never writes – about a visitor who arrives at an ancient port city and begins a journey of self-discovery that moves toward an unforeseen ending. The same is basically true of Naipaul's own biography, and of the path taken by the not-quite Naipaul in this extraordinary piece of literature. The book's controlled prose is as cool, liquid, and bewitching as the painting from which it takes its name.

4. Cees Nooteboom, Lost paradise
Nooteboom sends two quite different protagonists to Australia and into the peculiar grip of Deborah Warner's The Angel Project, an event which existed in the limbo between theatre and performance art, and which transformed each of its viewer-participants into a sort of birdwatcher, albeit one in pursuit of a rare species of avian: angels. Actors really did don wings and conceal themselves throughout Perth in 2000, and in the novel, Eric Zontag, a literary critic, succumbs to and then crashes through the artwork's spell when he touches, speaks to, and later goes drinking with one of the angels. Nooteboom dramatises the power of art to strip its audience of everyday preoccupations and replace them with an exuberant disorientation, and in the process he offers a decent epigraph for any work of art: "There is a moment when something that appears to be quite ordinary suddenly becomes mysterious".

5. Javier Marías, A heart so white
Guards watch silently over us as we glide reverently through a museum's hushed chambers. But after we exit the room, the guard has to stay – and stay, and stay. In Marías's fraught, extraordinary novel, one such guard snaps and attempts to set fire to Rembrandt's Artemisa, which hangs in the Prado, with a pocket lighter. He is sick of "the fat woman", and believes that the young girl attending to her is prettier; but her back is turned, and she will never reveal her face, no matter how long he stares. Watching the artwork becomes a kind of water torture. Marías keeps the scene's comic temperature at a low boil, attending to the guard's complaint with utter seriousness, and the reader comes away impressed by the ability of one painting to nudge a man toward madness.

6. Stendhal, Rome, Naples and Florence
A bit of a cheat, since Stendhal's record of his Italian travels isn't fiction – but it's too good to pass up. According to his version of events, Stendhal, after paying a lengthy visit to Giotto's frescoes on the ceiling of the Santa Croce Chapel, in Florence, left and straight away felt dizziness, heart palpitations, and faintness. He had to sit down. His condition – literally being knocked off your feet by a work of art – is now eponymous: the Stendhal syndrome. (A seldom-used alternative designation is arguably the more fun: hyperkulturemia.) But Julian Barnes, in Nothing to be frightened of, suggests that the whole episode might qualify as fiction, after all: he could find no record of the fainting in Stendhal's own diary from the trip.

7. James Joyce, A portrait of the artist as a young man
"You say that art must not excite desire", says Lynch, a school friend of Joyce's alter ego Stephen Dedalus. He's incredulous of the claim, and confesses that he wrote his "name in pencil on the backside of the Venus of Praxiteles" at the National Museum. Stephen points out that Lynch's is not a "normal nature", but surely Lynch has a point: erotic art isn't meant to be anodyne; the male artist knows what he's up to when he paints or sculpts a naked woman. (Joyce later had Leopold Bloom, in Ulysses, contemplate the existence or nonexistence of anuses in the female statuary at the National Museum.)

8. Tatyana Tolstaya, 'See the other side' (from White walls)
Death often suffuses one's thoughts in the presence of art: often the art itself deals with death; most museum art is by the dead. In Tolstaya's story, a meditation on the destructive advance of time, the narrator recalls her late father as she visits Ravenna, "the small Italian city where Dante is buried". Ravenna's mosaics are among the world's great artistic heritages, and Tolstaya conjures an accurate, vivid, and unsentimental description of the city. In mosaic-encrusted churches tourists put lira in a box, switching on a few lamps that bathe the artwork in "fresh white light" – as if, with a few coins, we can replace any unwanted darkness with the warmth of illumination.

9. Henry James, The wings of the dove
The use of art as a tool of seduction is a commonplace: who hasn't imagined striking up a conversation with the beautiful stranger at the other end of the gallery? James gives the fantasy a brutal twist. When Lord Mark, pursuing Milly, tells her that she reminds him of the woman in a Bronzino portrait – probably inspired by a real Bronzino piece, a portrait from 1540, hanging now at the Uffizi – tears gather in her eyes; she is terminally ill, and she cannot see the resemblance. "It was probably as good a moment as she should ever have with him," she decides. Milly's tears are complicated: she reminds herself that the woman in the portrait "was dead, dead, dead".

10. Colm Tóibín, 'The use of reason' (from Mothers and sons)
Another Rembrandt in peril. Tóibín's protagonist, a calm and calculating thief of high-end goods, strays out of his depth when he purloins some works of art, including a 'Portrait of an Old Woman' by the Dutch master. He is fluent in the handling of jewels or money, but fumbles a plan to fence the paintings to some enigmatic Dutch customers, and finds himself weighted down with a priceless but unsalable item. The brilliance of the story lies in the reader's agony as he tracks the fate of the painting, which nears an unimaginable point of no return. In the finale, Tóibín makes us shake at the dark future that awaits an irreplaceable artwork, and in the process forces us to consider what we value, and why.

kesäkuu 10, 2022, 12:25 pm

Elise Valmorbida's top 10 books on the migrant experience
Guardian, 2009-06-10.

'Suitcases. Secrets. Invisible cities.' For novelist Elise Valmorbida, migration is at the heart of all storytelling. From George Orwell to Jean Rhys, here she picks out her favourites. Italian-Australian Elise Valmorbida's books include Matilde waltzing, The book of happy endings and The TV president. Her latest novel The winding stick (Two Ravens Press) features Terry who works in an all-night London garage where the other workers are all Tamil. Haunted by news stories, and obsessed by his mysterious manager Siv, Terry stumbles into love, hope and Tamil London.

"If there's one common element in all my writing, it's an interest in migrants and migration. I guess it's natural given my own multicultural origins, but it's also at the heart of storytelling: the migrant brain is prone to metaphor – the perpetual balancing of here and there, different worlds in simultaneous play. And being translated. Being found in translation. Suitcases. Secrets. Invisible cities."

1. Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
This slim book took many years to make. It's compelling, painful and exquisite. Here's the story of the Creole heiress who leaves the Caribbean for a life in England as the first wife of Mr Rochester. (Jane Eyre is the second.) Unpicking her like a hidden jewel from the weave, the author releases a minor character from a major text. She is a migrant bride, a misrepresented outsider, "the other woman", a mad thing in the attic …

2. Julie Otsuka, When the emperor was divine
"We looked at ourselves in the mirror and did not like what we saw: black hair, yellow skin, slanted eyes. The cruel face of the enemy." This haunting story is about people who are caught forever as outsiders: Japanese Americans interned during the second world war as enemy aliens. From the mother's ritual burning of treasures (letters, photographs, kimonos) to the children's self-protective mask of equanimity, I love the quiet way this book captures the crisis of lost identity. Nowhere is home.

3. George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London
What is it about George Orwell? I think he could write a shopping list and I'd love reading it. Here, he migrates to the slums and lives with "a floating population, largely foreigners, who used to turn up without luggage, stay a week and then disappear again." Orwell takes us deep into the dirt and poverty beneath the dazzling surface of our luxuries. As relevant as ever.

4. Susan Sontag, The volcano lover
In a story that positively heaves with collections of Things, Sontag relishes describing the diplomat's entourage. Sir William Hamilton is not the solitary émigré clutching a shabby suitcase, but a different kind of migrant altogether. He's as possession-prone as a Jules Verne hero – and Naples might as well be the Centre of the Earth. It's a place of volcanic eruption, ritual slaughter and wild seductions. Hamilton writes like so many other migrants: "Letters to encourage letters … Letters that say: I am the same … This place has not changed me, I have the same home-bred superiorities, I have not gone native." And he lives the eternal equivocation: "Sometimes it felt like exile, sometimes it felt like home." It's no accident that this novel is written in tenses that constantly mangle the present and past.

5. Louise Erdrich, The last report on the miracles at Little No Horse
The heroine lives as a man, and pretends to be a priest. If that isn't migration enough, Father Damien Modeste travels to the remote reservation of Little No Horse, where s/he settles with the Ojibwe people for more than half a century. There is mischievous joy here in foreignness, as different cultures rub together to create miraculous sparks. I love the convent built of bricks, each one etched with the maker's name: Fleisch. And who can resist The Deadly Conversions?

6. Patrick White, Voss
Like so many other white men who have tried to conquer Australia, the explorer Voss is doomed. "We rot by living," he says as he faces extinction in a devilish wilderness of corpses and dreams. This is migrant as failed hero, "safe" only when he is in solid bronze trousers and "hung with garlands of rarest newspaper prose". A monumental story of hubris and alienation.

7. Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda
More doom in The Lucky Country! Here is Oscar, a sunburnt Englishman, a quivering man of God driven to desperation and crime, terrified of water and addicted to laudanum, attempting to sail his glass church up a river in remotest Australia. What starker image can there be of the misplaced migrant? The church becomes a fractured furnace where large and frightening insects are imprisoned. Its precious panes craze and crack. You know what must happen next.

8. Annie Proulx, Postcards
More doom, this time in America. Loyal Blood spends the whole book running from a crime he committed, far from the place where he belonged, living countless lives. And so he becomes a perpetual migrant in the foreign parts of his own land. Hence the book's title. "We don't like it here so we're moving along." Postcards home. "What we planned was never meant to be. Plan to strike out west this spring." Doom, doom, doom.

9. J. David Simons, The credit draper
How many books have you read about Glaswegian Jews? The solitary Russian boy who steps off a boat becomes the credit draper who peddles goods to crofters and villagers in the Western Highlands. There is so much hatred between Protestants and Catholics, no one has any left over for Jews. It's another time (1920s) and another world.

10. From there to here : sixteen true tales of immigration to Britain
This down-to-earth anthology is full of idiosyncrasy and insight. The first story is peppered with the refrain: "Let it be. You never know when we will need it." How many migrants have said the same thing about their beloved belongings? How many live with the symbol of their suitcases above their heads? And yet other migrants say: "Why would we want to go back when we have everything here? We are in Heaven." I feel that way about London. Apart from a few dear souls, everything is here. Heaven.

kesäkuu 19, 2022, 8:27 am

Liz Jensen's top 10 environmental disaster stories
Guardian, 2009-06-18.

Liz Jensen is the author of several novels. Her latest, The rapture, is an ecological thriller about a psychotic teenage girl who warns of an earth-changing cataclysm.

"Drastic change, danger, mass destruction, lives upended, radical re-thinkings of the status quo, new societal rules, moral dilemmas, the grinding physicality of daily survival … what's not to love? Environmental cataclysms open huge imaginative possibilities for any writer– and reader - with an interest in big ideas and a penchant for the apocalyptic."

1. Richard Jefferies, After London or Wild England
Jefferies' 1885 fantasy depicts a future England reclaimed by nature and the elements and home to tribes of warring barbarians. The southern counties have become a giant lake, and London – a city the nature writer grew to loathe – lies deep beneath a toxic swamp.

2. John Steinbeck, The grapes of wrath
The magisterial story of the beleaguered Joad family, forced to join the great wave of environmental migrants leaving the poverty of Oklahoma's ruined Dust Bowl in search of the green orchards of California, with "golden oranges hanging from the trees". But there's trouble in paradise. A tale of human greed, corruption and the consequences of intensive farming, first published in 1939.

3. John Wyndham, The day of the triffids
Britain's first GM plant appeared in the early 1950s, and soon everyone had heard of it: the mobile, lethal Triffid, brainchild of John Wyndham, who also birthed The Midwich cuckoos. When flashing lights appear in the sky and blind most of the population, the triffids seize their moment and break free of their fenced-in, cash-crop servitude to thrive in the wild as nature's most dangerous weed.

4. Dr Seuss, The lorax
A must-read for junior ecologists, Dr Seuss's fable caused huge controversy on its publication in 1971, and influenced an entire generation. The wise but helpless Lorax watches the natural world rendered unsustainable by the ravages of the tree-felling, polluting Once-ler. Faced with the consequences of his rampant greed, the Once-ler repents and urges a young boy to plant the very last Truffula seed in the ruined landscape.

5. J. G. Ballard, The drowned world
Ballard's depictions of social and environmental chaos have an increasingly prophetic feel as time passes. His first novel, written in the 1950s, is set in an overheated, semi-submerged, reptile-infested mid-21st century and contains elements of the themes that were to haunt him all his writing life.

6. Maggie Gee, The ice people
This genre-defying masterpiece tells the story of a family torn apart by a fast-evolving ice age, rampant consumerism and the social repercussions of dwindling human fertility in a robot age. A massive feat of the imagination by a writer whose eye is always firmly fixed on the big picture.

7. Michael Crichton, State of fear
If you know a climate sceptic who likes to think of himself as "a maverick", you're sure to find this blockbuster on his shelf. The late Michael Crichton had a knack for tapping into what the American public wanted to hear, and when State of fear was published, the nation was largely receptive to the message that global warming was a) not anthropogenic, and b) not a problem. Comes with a long "science bit" afterword, from which your maverick friend is sure to quote.

8. Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake
Comedy and horror jostle for supremacy in this masterfully-conjured post-disaster novel. Genetically-modified animal species, defrosted tundras, and a new creation myth to explain it all to a new race of bio-engineered humans: wonderful. But Atwood has a deeper purpose, and while the narrative entertains, the big, dark ideas are whirring as furiously as a wind turbine in a hurricane.

9. Frank Schatzing, The swarm
Here's the premise: the world's oceans have had enough of being meddled with by man – and they're taking violent revenge. Soon the whole globe is under attack from embittered whales, toxic jellyfish and exploding lobsters. Is some unknown force co-ordinating their manifestations, and if so, can a Norwegian marine biologist and his colleagues save the day? Gripping stuff, full of plausible extrapolations from real science.

10. Cormac McCarthy, The road
Post-apocalyptic fiction doesn't come much bleaker, or more finely written, than this. A father and his son must cross a landscape devastated by an unnamed cataclysm, and learn the full horror of what some will do to stay alive. A stern, painful, haunting fable of a world beyond the brink, from one of America's greatest living writers.

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 20, 2022, 9:41 am

Top 10 literary ménages à trois
Guardian, 2009-06-24.

Novelist Ewan Morrison snuggles up with his pick of the best literary threesomes, from Ernest Hemingway to Anaïs Nin. Ewan Morrison is the author of three novels which explore modern relationships and sexuality: Ménage, Distance and Swung. Ménage, his most recent novel, is the story of three bohemians in a ménage à trois in 90s London.

"The ménage à trois is a rich and rarified fictional seam which arose in the 19th century and originated from memoirs or fictionalised accounts of real-life events. The number of ménages à trois (as yet barely documented) which occurred in the lives of artists, writers and leaders from the 19th century to the present day – from D. H. Lawrence and George Bernard Shaw to Pablo Picasso and Jack Kerouac – is intriguing, and begs the question: was the ménage à trois the ideal (if publicly unacceptable) lifestyle of the modern 'radical'?"

1. Ernest Hemingway, Garden of Eden
The erotic novel that Hemingway suppressed during his own lifetime, and left incomplete on his death, is set in the Cote d'Azur in the 1920s and tells the story of an author, his adventurous wife, and the psycho-sexual games they play while sharing a young woman. It is largely held to be autobiographical.

2. Henri Pierre Roche, Jules et Jim
Adapted for film, starring Jeanne Moreau, by Francois Truffaut in 1961, the original novel was based on Roche's own experiences with a German couple, the Hessels, between the wars. Roche's seven-volume diary of his many loves and love triangles, which include those with noted surrealists and dadaists, remains unpublished to this day.

3. Adam Thirlwell, Politics
An eccentric, contemporary, urbane ménage à trois with a half-Jewish male, a daddy's girl and a bisexual Indian actress. Meditations on the sex life of Adolf Hitler and Chairman Mao are intercut with descriptions of London and extreme sexual acts in this multicultural mélange that screws around with form as much as it does with character and race.

4. Michael Cunningham, A home at the end of the world
A touching and honest depiction of an enduring love triangle between a gay man, a self-proclaimed fag-hag and their at times bisexual lover, set in New York during the Aids epidemic. A book filled with love, pain and compassionate humour from the author of The hours, it was also made into a film starring Colin Farrell and Robin Wright Penn.

5. Barbara Foster, Michael Foster & Letha Hadady, Three in love : ménages à trois from ancient to modern times
The only authoritative history of the ménage from the middle ages to the 1990s, written in three different styles by three authors who apparently live together in a ménage à trois. A little woolly at times, and very American in its positivity, it's nevertheless invaluable as a source for the curious. The list of historical "ménagers" within is astounding.

6. Carolyn Cassady, Off the road : twenty years with Cassady, Kerouac and Ginsberg
Neal's wife and Jack's lover tells her version of the events behind On The Road and of life with her husband – the model for Kerouac's beat hero Dean Moriarty. A conflicted memoir from a woman caught between her love for the biggest, most volatile egos of the Beat generation and her struggle for self-awareness. While her arrangement with Jack and Neal is revealed, the physical love between the two men is only hinted at and has yet to be fully uncovered.

7. Susan Sontag, The volcano lover
A work of historical fiction, attempting to re-imagine the infamous Napoleonic ménage à trois between Sir William Hamilton, his celebrated wife Emma Hamilton and Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson (he on the column). A political bodice ripper and meditation on revolution in and out of the boudoir, it brings new ambiguity to the famous last words "Kiss me, Hardy".

8. Henry and June from The unexpurgated diary of Anaïs Nin
Adapted from Nin's many-volumed confessional journals, the book charts her affair with iconoclastic author Henry Miller and her obsession with, and desire "to become", his beautiful, if damaged, wife June. It was also made into a film starring Uma Thurman and Fred Ward.

9. Noel Coward, Design for living
Gilda, a decadent aesthete, prefers to have two lovers than to suffer monogamy. The play skilfully uses the ménage à trois as a way of addressing gay sexuality and promiscuity at a time (1933) when such issues were prohibited on the stage. It contains one of the best lines ever written on the matter: "I love you. You love me. You love Otto. I love Otto. Otto loves you. Otto loves me. There now!"

10. The Book of Genesis
In the garden there were not two but three. The temptation of the apple was adultery, and Adam tasted of it too. Thus began monogamy and a long history in which couples blamed each other for something involving a third party who was then kept out of the picture. The eradication of the third – this was the original sin.


LT and Wikipedia both say the film was released 1962-01-23.

The BTL comments were opened on a "Top Ten" column for only the third time, and attracted a few further recommendations, including:

"Good to see Michael Cunningham's 'A Home At The End Of The World' included in the list. A deeply humane, moving, and insightful book, it deserves a much wider readership."

"You forgot to mention She came to stay by simon de beauvoir!!!"

"Off the road is not Carolyn Cassady's first attempt. She wrote a first very bad book called Heart beat, which has since pretty much disappeared."

kesäkuu 20, 2022, 11:32 am

>31 Cynfelyn: I’ve read far more of those than I feel I should have. Especially there are millions of other books based on the same plot idea.

Truffaut’s film is about a million times more worthwhile than Roché’s novel (the same goes for the other Truffaut/Roché threesome, Les deux anglaises et le continent).

I liked A home at the end of the world too. I should probably re-read it.

Fascinating to see that the second book in the LT list for the tag “ménage à trois” is Elegant Chef's Guide to Hors D'Oeuvres and Appetizers. The mind boggles.

kesäkuu 23, 2022, 12:51 pm

Edward Hogan's top 10 out-of-town tales
Guardian, 2009-07-01.

Last week, Edward Hogan won the Desmond Elliott first novel prize for Blackmoor, the story of a Derbyshire village during the miners' strike. He chooses his favourite stories set outside the city.

"I grew up in a village, and loved it – it had a park, the woods, and a Co-op. When I got older I realised that the notion of a perfect small community wasn't always that simple, especially if you didn't play your prescribed role. I am still drawn to stories set in such places, where everyone knows your name, for better or worse, and the natural world is always creeping in. I love spare novels about a handful of people and their passions. These stories show that you don't need to write about big cities to say big stuff."

1. Annie Proulx, Close range
Proulx must have notebooks full of laconic sayings from Wyoming ranches: "The juice ain't worth the squeeze" is one of my favourites. I study Brokeback Mountain all the time, for the effortless way that years are compressed into a sentence. It's technically brilliant and an absolute heartbreaker. It made me sob in the bath.

2. Pat Barker, Union Street
A brilliant, and quite correctly disturbing book. Of Union Street's women, the story of Kelly Brown – a victim of rape – made the biggest mark on me. Barker's take on the care and oppression of communities is complex and thoughtful. "You can get used to anything," Kelly says, ominously, at the start of the book.

3. Miriam Toews, A complicated kindness
Nomi Nickel is a liberal, rock n' roll teenager stewing in a small Mennonite settlement which her sister and mother have already fled. It's a sad book, but a very funny one, too. At one point, Nomi visits an elderly resident whose strange syntax inadvertently makes her sound masochistic. "Throw me down the stairs a face cloth," the woman says, or, "Slice me open a bun."

4. Ronald Blythe, Akenfield : portrait of an English village
An astute gift from a friend, the genius of this book is that it lets the residents of a rural Suffolk village speak plainly for themselves. It is moving and detailed, evoking the horror of war, and the hardship and joy of trades from thatching to bell-ringing. As one former farm labourer says, "Village people in Suffolk were worked to death. It is not a figure of speech."

5. Alice Munro, Walker brothers cowboy
A little girl accompanies her optimistic father on his travelling-sales route through the outlying districts of Depression-battered Huron country. On the way, they visit the father's old flame, Nora – a Catholic (and therefore not marriage material). Munro is amazing because she writes stories about the fleeting nature of time, set in people's kitchens. This story is about 12 pages long and typically profound.

6. Norma Dolby, Norma Dolby's diary : an account of the great miners' strike
Blackmoor is not based on anywhere specific, but the idea of a village sitting on a volatile pit-full of exploding gas came from the real Derbyshire town of Arkwright, whichs was deemed unsafe and demolished in the 90s. Norma Dolby, an Arkwright resident, campaigned for the miners throughout the strike. There is also a brilliant oral history programme about Arkwright by Jan Rogers, in the BBC Radio Archives, collecting the honest and conflicted views of the residents after their village was rebuilt across the road.

7. Patrick McCabe, The butcher boy
An incredible first line: "When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs Nugent." You'd be right to be suspicious of a narrator with a two-decade margin of error concerning his own age. A stunning tale of a town that can't control the man it has created. I imagine it influenced Ross Raisin's excellent debut, God's own country, set in agricultural Yorkshire.

8. William Trevor, The collected stories
I am reasonably new to William Trevor, having incorrectly presumed his stories to be quite sombre, traditional and staid. They are anything but. He writes brilliantly not only about London, but also of rural Ireland, depicting uncanny events and unusual desires. Stories like 'A Choice of Butchers' and 'The Honeymoon' show the desperate arrangements people make in order to go on living by the values they've been taught to respect.

9. Rick Moody, The ice storm
The sections about Wendy, the Hoods' teenage daughter, make me nostalgic, because they show the spooky beauty of nature lurking at suburban doors. Wendy gets her kicks in the graveyard and the meadows by the "funny farm". The creek runs under her patio. Nature will not be stomped down.

10. Shirley Jackson, The lottery
Clearly, Shirley Jackson did not quite agree with propaganda portraying life as rosy in small-town post-war America. In this story, the villagers gather in the square and stone to death the "winner" of the lottery, a young mother, thus ensuring a good harvest. I never said it was subtle. Just as interesting is all the hate-mail Jackson received following publication. She said many of the letters simply asked "where these lotteries were held, and whether they could go there and watch". I taught the story to south London teenagers whom I had thought unshockable. They said it was "sick", and probably meant that in both senses.

kesäkuu 27, 2022, 12:29 pm

Chris Hannan's top 10 tales of the American frontier
Guardian, 2009-07-08.

Missy is the first novel from playwright Chris Hannan, whose work has been produced by the RSC and the National Theatre of Scotland among others. Set in California in 1862, it tells the story of irrepressible, opium-addicted Dol McQueen, on the run in the wild west from a murderous pimp whose supply of "missy" she has stolen.

"I suppose when you think of the frontier – any frontier, a gold rush or an oil workers' camp – the people are the same size but somehow the place is lonelier and seems bigger, and that makes people go just a little bit mad. The American west in 1862 was – in terms of suicide, drug consumption, divorce and sexual freedom – a hundred years ahead of its time. What went on in their heads? Then, when I started writing Missy, I got interested in other writers and all their completely different ideas of the frontier ..."

1. Mark Twain, Roughing it
A young Mark Twain left Missouri in 1861, crossed the continent by stagecoach, and got his first job as a journalist in the biggest, roughest mining town on the western frontier. He wrote it all up in this travel book; the miners and sharpers and gunslingers he met and drank with, and the greed and fantasising that drove everyone on the frontier, himself included.

2. Willa Cather, My Antonia
"I had the feeling that the world was left behind, that we had got over the edge of it, and were outside man's jurisdiction." Something about the loneliness of the west and its landscape seems to act as a magnifier at the moral level, lending in this wonderful 1918 novel enormous scale to small acts of kindness or spite between isolated pioneer farmers in Nebraska, and a sense of the epic to the small-town life of the heroine.

3. John D. Unruh, The plains across
One of the finest histories of the west ever written, it tells the story of the people who made the trek in covered wagons across the great American wilderness. What kind of people could afford the cost of the journey? How many whites and Indians died? What was it actually like to meet with the Pawnee?

4. Annie Proulx, Close range
As well as 'Brokeback Mountain', this impressive volume of stories includes 'The half-skinned steer', selected by John Updike in 1999 for Best American Short Stories of the Century. Beneath the surreal lunacy of the frontier there is a darker madness, and Proulx creates stories and prose that can conduct all that insane lightning.

5. Cormac McCarthy, The crossing
Why do tales of the frontier appeal to city people? I first heard about this story of a 16-year-old boy and a wolf from a Glasgow taxi-driver. He was so excited about it he couldn't stop himself telling me the plot from beginning to end, pausing only to hint at the metaphysical meaning of the wolf.

6. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little house on the prairie
There are huge 19th-century paintings of mountain lakes in the west, teeming with animals that have never seen humans. Nothing captures the thrill of entering that world, being strangers in it, better than this. There's a scene when a ring of wolves surround the little girl's prairie homestead and howl; she can hear them breathe on the other side of the log wall.

7. Thomas Berger, Little Big Man
Western movies are basically weepies for men. Think of the elegiac scores, and the yearning that moves even the most hard-bitten cowboys for a better, nobler, simpler world (with fewer women and immigrants). Thank goodness for the offbeat 1970 film starring Dustin Hoffman and Chief George, a touchingly funny account of the passing of the Sioux, based on Thomas Berger's wonderful 1964 picaresque novel written in the western tall tale tradition.

8. Mollie : the journal of Mollie Dorsey Sanford 1857-66
"Monday July 3rd. This has been a day of horrors. There has been four men killed in saloons." Mollie had the total western experience, from travelling on steamboats to living in a log cabin, running into Indians to joining a gold rush. At the same time she's a 19-year-old girl who wants to look good, fall in love, write bad poetry and think deep thoughts. Captivating.

9. James Fenimore Cooper, The last of the Mohicans
Written when the frontier had only gotten as far west as New York state, this 1826 classic foresaw the whole tragic history of the American frontier and the fate of the Indian. Many books are famous for their opening lines; this lands a punch with the poignancy of its final sentence. "In the morning I saw the sons of Unamis happy and strong; and yet before the night has come, have I lived to see the last warrior of the wise race of the Mohicans."

10. Ken Kesey, One flew over the cuckoo's nest
One of the things that damage the mind of Native American narrator Chief Bromden is the damming of the Columbia River where his tribe used to fish, and maverick hero McMurphy announces himself in the exaggerated, boastful folk language of frontiersmen such as Davy Crockett. Kesey's loony bin is what is left of the frontier after it has been half-murdered and then abandoned – like Proulx's half-skinned steer.


Well done. The list got to no. 8 even-stephens in terms of gender.

But - correct me if I'm wrong - all ten authors come from the colonists' side of the frontier. "The loneliness of the west" (no. 2), "the great American wilderness" (no. 3), "teeming with animals that have never seen humans" (no. 6) - arrant nonsense. It was all already someone's home. The USA's other original sin.

kesäkuu 29, 2022, 10:52 am

Jeffery Deaver's top 10 computer novels
Guardian, 2009-07-15.

Former journalist, folk singer and lawyer, Jeffery Deaver's 25 novels and two short story collections have been translated into 25 languages and appeared on bestseller lists around the world. He's been awarded the Steel Dagger and Short Story Dagger from the British Crime Writers' Association, and is a three-time recipient of the Ellery Queen reader's award.

"I write roller coasters. My job is to strap my readers into the car, crank them to the top and let them plummet through the book, holding on for dear life. With this as my goal, I look for themes and situations for my thrillers that will stoke my audience's paranoia as much as I can. Now that computers and the internet are part of everyday life, I've exploited these phenomena as vehicles to get my readers to think: 'Oh man, that could happen to me.' In my new novel, Roadside crosses, cyberbullying, social networking and blogging lead to a series of horrific crimes. As part of the fun, I've created a real (well, fictional) blog whose web addresses I've worked into the book itself and that includes not only material from the novel, but artwork and extra clues to unravel the mystery."

1. William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, The difference engine
The authors who brought us cyberpunk (the concept and the term itself) penned a computer thriller with indeed a difference: It takes place in 19th-century London. The device in question operates on steam, and the plot is driven by missing punch cards. Figuring prominently in the story are the real-life mathematician and philosopher Charles Babbage and Lord Byron's daughter, Ada, who was in fact the world's first computer programmer.

2. M. J. Rose, The Venus fix
A fast-paced crime novel about a Manhattan psychiatrist who is treating patients addicted to internet pornography. There's great, fast-paced entertainment in this book, but it also raises important questions about the relationship between violence, porn and voyeurism. The shrink, Dr Morgan Snow, is a recurring character of Rose.

3. Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the shell
One of the true classics of manga, the Japanese comic books. In the not so distant future, the world is a massive network of computers and robotic technology (think: The Matrix movies, only done much, much better) in which cyborgs—a blend of human and robot—run everything. The loosely joined episodes of the story follow a team of cyborgs, under a particularly skilled and not unattractive commander, as they stop terrorists from stealing the souls (the "ghost" of the title) of humans. Start with Volume 1, then move on to the many, many offspring, including some equally classic anime. Shirow is both writer and artist.

4. Charles Maclean, Home before dark
Though not prolific, Maclean is a formidable writer, who takes simple ideas and turns them into compelling thrillers. In the recent Home before dark, Maclean takes on a subject I'm surprised hasn't been dealt with more: the internet chat room, which was one of the earliest attractions of online life and that has proven to be among the most dangerous. I'm a sucker for the twisting plot, and that's one of Maclean's specialities.

5. Lincoln Child, Death match
Both a stand-alone author and collaborator (with Douglas Preston), Child has created a high-concept, high-tech thriller that may turn you off computer dating forever. More than a half-million customers have hooked up thanks to a matchmaking supercomputer so brilliant that nothing can go wrong with their relationships. Except for the fact that they start to kill themselves. How's that for a set-up? We're used to all sorts of heroes in thriller fiction but Death match features a new breed of detective: a marriage counsellor, the appealing Dr Lash.

6. David Lodge, Thinks
I first came across Lodge through his wonderful The art of fiction but then picked up and enjoyed several of his gemlike socially observant novels set in academia. While there are no malicious HAL 9000s or gun-toting, black-coated cyborgs, there is battle: Cognitive science and computers provide the backdrop for the funny, barbed and provocative back-and-forth between Ralph, a celebrity professor with an expertise in artificial intelligence, and Helen, a novelist and Henry James scholar. The debate is about sex, morality, immortality and what it means to be human.

7. Robert Harris, Enigma
The author of the great historical what-if, Fatherland, and the great recent what-if (some might say, what-was), The ghost, Harris wrote this thriller as a fictional take on Alan Turing and the Hut 8 crowd in Bletchley Park during the second world war. With his co-workers, Turing, considered by some the father of modern computer science, managed the impossible: cracking the code of the Nazi encryption device Enigma and saving thousands of lives. Harris's story broadens the story for dramatic effect, as any good novelist shaping a true story should do, but the portrayal of the breaking of the code is 100% accurate.

8. Philip K. Dick, A maze of death
I don't write science fiction, though I read much of it growing up. No top 10 of computer-oriented novels would be complete without something by Dick, as the devices figure in one way or another in all of his stories. His Do androids dream of electric sheep? (the basis for the movie Blade Runner) and Ubik are more frequently mentioned, but Maze is my favorite. It's less relentlessly bleak than some (that is a compliment, by the way) and it speeds along like a classic thriller. A disparate group of colonists end up on a distant planet and are forced to fend for themselves in a world where reality and perception blur. I consider this a computer novel because of the mysterious "tenches," part oracle, part circuitry, part Jell-O.

9. Kurt Vonnegut, Player piano
The author's boundless imagination has always been, for me, his key selling point, and this first novel is a sure indicator of what was to come. Nearly 60 years old, its tale of an individual against a society run by machines still holds its own. Vonnegut conceived the idea while working in a factory and hearing workers worry that their jobs would someday be replaced by "a little clicking box". Far-fetched, hmm?

10. E. M. Forster, The machine stops
Imagine this: A novella about a world in which people live in small cubicles, rarely get outside, and communicate mostly through instant messaging and video conferencing, while there's a huge computer network around the planet, monitoring all human activity. Oh, by the way, it was written in 1909. Though not particularly subtle, the story was penned by the author of A passage to India, so the quality of the prose shines through. When the machine of the title begins to stutter, humans are forced to wonder if life on the abandoned surface of the earth – as in the "old days" – might not be their only salvation.

kesäkuu 30, 2022, 12:20 pm

Marcus Sedgwick's top 10 tales from cold climes
Guardian, 2009-07-22.

Since Floodland won the Branford Boase award for the best first children's novel of 2000, Marcus Sedgwick's books have been shortlisted for many awards, including the Guardian children's fiction award, the Carnegie Medal and the Edgar Allan Poe award. His latest novel, Revolver, is a tense psychological drama set in the Arctic willderness.

"I've always loved books set in very cold places, and I've written quite a few myself; I'm not sure where the obsession came from but I do know it's one I haven't shaken in over 10 years of writing about and travelling in cold countries. So if the heatwave of the early summer returns and you need something to cool your fevered brow, why not try a novel set in sub-zero climes? Each of the books below share that wonderful ability of making you feel as if you're right there."

1. James Meek, The people's act of love
Beautifully written, timeless and jaw-droppingly shocking at times, Meek's novel of the collision of a cannibalistic convict on the run from a Siberian labour camp with an obscure angel cult in the chaos of the Russian civil war will leave you chilled in every sense.

2. Jack London, White Fang
Although he is better known for The call of the wild, I prefer this story (an inversion of the other) in which London describes the adventures of a wild wolf dog, a half-breed who is eventually tamed and brought to civilisation. Set against the Klondike Gold Rush at the close of the 19th century, much of the book was based on London's own experiences in the Yukon, and remains fascinating reading for that alone.

3. Henning Mankell, The dogs of Riga
There's something fitting about the connection between crime novels and cold climates, and this is my favourite of Mankell's Wallander stories. Set in Sweden and Latvia during the winter of 1991, Mankell skilfully depicts the gulf between these Baltic neighbours – one modern and liberal, the other bleak and dangerous and struggling to emerge from its Soviet past.

4. Daniel Woodrell, Winter's bone
Woodrell's fourth novel is set in the Ozark Mountains, a desolate, backwoods kind of place inhabited by characters who'd certainly be playing banjo on the front porch if only it weren't so damn cold outside. Woodrell's hero is one of the very best: a frail 16-year-old girl named Ree who tackles the fallout when her drug-dealing father jumps bail, putting the family at risk of homelessness, and worse.

5. Magnus Mills, Explorers of the new century
Mills's strange parallel of Scott and Amundsen's race for the south pole, in which two teams of explorers race across the ice to the Agreed Furthest Point from civilisation, will not be to everyone's taste – but for those who like their fiction to surprise, the twist will leave you not only shivering, but shaking your head in wonder.

6. Geraldine McCaughrean, The white darkness
One of McCaughrean's best novels, this strange, twisting story takes us on an Antarctic adventure with Sym, a quiet and unsure girl, whose hero, Captain "I may be some time" Oates, is her constant imagined companion throughout the book, moving, speaking and guiding her. It's an amazing achievement, and you'll feel the cold at your back all the way.

7. Peter Høeg, Miss Smilla's feeling for snow
A modern classic. Smilla, of joint Inuit and Danish heritage is convinced that there is something wrong with the death of a neighbour's child, who fell from the snowy rooftop of their Copenhagen home. Her suspicions take her to Greenland on an icebreaker, where she tries to unravel an old conspiracy, and where the reader is treated to the bleakness of the Greenland ice sheet.

8. Ian Fleming, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Rather unfairly deemed a second cousin in the series, the film version of Fleming's OHMSS still has its good points (including the best soundtrack of any Bond film) and yet, as so often, the novel gives so much more. As Bond passes himself off as an expert in heraldry to investigate Blofeld's Alpine lair, you can almost hear the swish of skis cut into the crust of the snow as the pages turn.

9. Susan Cooper, The Dark is rising
The second novel in Cooper's eponymous quintet is by far the most atmospheric, thanks to the wonder of the setting: the English countryside in the deep winter. It's here that Will learns of his heritage, and the part he has to play in the battle against the Dark. I still can't hear a rook call in the snow without feeling just a little nervous …

10. Ernest Shackleton, South : the Endurance expedition
Okay, so this one isn't a novel, but when it comes to describing what it's like to try to survive the harshest of climates, Shackleton's account of his 1914 Antarctic expedition is unsurpassed. Just don't read it after Magnus Mills's Explorers of the new century – it's like watching John Boorman's Excalibur after Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

heinäkuu 1, 2022, 3:28 pm

Brian Schofield's top 10 books to make your blood boil
Guardian, 2009-07-29.

Brian Schofield's first book, Selling your father's bones, is a historical travelogue. It traces the great exodus of the Nez Perce Native American tribe who were forced from their ancestral homeland in 1877 by the white settlement of the West, and investigates the modern fate of the people and their territory. It was shortlisted for the 2008 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

"I never thought of myself as an angry man. More easy-going, even-handed, with roughly the same temperament as the BBC editorial guidelines. Then I wrote a book and the critics put me straight. The chap from the Times said I was 'quietly furious', while the Seattle Times reviewer called me 'relentlessly and scornfully scolding'. Turns out, I'm a ball of rage. And looking afresh at my bookshelves, they have a point – because I love angry books. I'm surrounded by furious, indignant works, howls against injustice or screams at the system, the type of books you can't read in bed, because you'll be too fired-up to sleep. It's a miracle I'm not typing this with one eyelid, following a crippling, book-induced aneurysm. So here's 10 books that make you boil with rage.

1. Derrick Jensen & George Draffan, Strangely like war
This is a beginner's guide to the incalculable crimes of the global timber industry, from shattered landscapes to homeless humans. What scumbags.

2. Nick Danziger, Danziger's Britain
This heart-wrenching journey to meet the people that the Thatcher settlement abandoned inspired me to become a journalist, and still riles today.

3. Carl Hiassen, Tourist season
I hero-worship Hiassen slavishly – his Florida thrillers are tearfully funny, but also steam with rage against corruption and eco-crime. The man's a living, vengeful god.

4. Chloe Hooper, The tall man
Hooper retains her calm remarkably well in this blinding portrayal of suspect justice and social collapse in aboriginal Australia. So far, my book of 2009.

5. Martin Meredith, The state of Africa
A forensic profile of the crooks, sociopaths and post-colonial meddlers who have so comprehensively shafted Africa – it's a bewilderingly long hall of shame. Most maddeningly, I was in Afghanistan last month, where it turns out we're currently recreating a Cold War sub-Saharan kleptocracy.

6. James Howard Kunstler, The geography of nowhere
An urbane, hilarious rant against the toxic architecture of sprawl and sameness that blights modern America – which our own town planners all appear to have read, but sadly as a guidebook.

7. Richard Sennett, The corrosion of character
A concise, vital explanation of how modern corporate structures have lowered the market value of integrity, empathy and dedication. I've done some pretty dark corporate jobs in my time, and couldn't agree more.

8. Robert Fisk, Pity the nation
The angriest book I've ever read – in places, too angry – but if you understand how Israel and its enemies colluded to flatten Lebanon in the 1980's, perhaps you can start to understand Gaza in 2009.

9. Mike Davis, Planet of slums
I was in Nairobi last week, visiting elderly slum-dwellers – grannies trying to raise their Aids-orphaned grandchildren, crowded together in tin hovels surrounded by human filth. And it was worse than it sounds. Mike Davis's short statistical barrage exposing the scale and severity of slum life is so good, it almost prepared me for the real thing.

10. James Wilson, The earth shall weep
To my mind, the best general history of Native America and its criminal subjugation. Wilson only dedicates five pages to the story of the Nez Perce, but it's such a gripping (and infuriating!) tale that I ended up spending two years learning more.

And after all that, this…

11. Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier
Rage is good, but this is the book I recommend more often than any other. It's a credible, practical route-map to achieving the 21st century's most rare and precious commodity: optimism.

heinäkuu 4, 2022, 7:38 am

Linda Buckley-Archer's top 10 time-travelling stories
Guardian, 2009-08-05.

In Linda Buckley-Archer's time-travelling adventure, Gideon the cutpurse, two 21st-century children are lost in 1763. In its sequel, The tar man, an 18th-century villain wreaks havoc on 21st-century London. The trilogy concludes with Time quake, in which a corrupt 18th-century aristocrat takes a fancy to contemporary New York. Appalled that the "bothersome little colony" has become a superpower, the villainous Lord Luxon resolves to sabotage the American War of Independence.

"My first proper short story was about a man obsessed with marking the new millennium (he missed it). Ever since, though I'm not sure why, the theme of time has managed to creep into almost everything I've written. We are so used to moving backwards and forwards in time in our heads - revisiting times past and speculating on our future - that the notion of time travel is easy to imagine and accept."

1. H. G. Wells, The time machine
It's impossible to leave out this seminal time-travelling story from of one of science fiction's founding fathers. Having invented a machine capable of moving through the fourth dimension, a gentleman scientist journeys to the distant future where he discovers that mankind has evolved in disturbing ways. Wells's imagination was extraordinary. Published in 1895 (10 years before Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity) The time machine reflects Wells's fascination with both science and social issues.

2. Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court
Predating The time machine by five years, Twain's novel about Hank Morgan, a plain-speaking American who finds himself in an age of chivalry in the court of King Arthur, is still laugh-out-loud funny.

3. Virginia Woolf, Orlando
It's difficult to pin down Woolf's "biography" which is at once satirical and playful (with time, sexuality and literary form) as well as being a love letter (to Vita Sackville West). There's a joie de vivre in the writing that is just lovely. Anyway, who could fail to fall for Orlando? With "eyes like drenched violets" he/she starts life as a shapely-legged Elizabethan nobleman, changes sex around the early 1800s, marries a sea captain and is last seen as a writer, circa 1928.

4. Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
I was a student when I first heard Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy on Radio 4 and recall rushing round to a friend's flat exclaiming "switch the radio on!" Douglas Adams is sorely missed and I often wonder what he would have been writing now. In this comic-sci-fi-fantasy-detective novel, Adams's wild plotting draws on quantum physics, Coleridge, not to mention a time machine that stops working when the telephone is mended, in order to prove the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

5. Daphne Du Maurier, The house on the strand
In this rare example of chemically induced time travel, a man finds it increasingly difficult to resist journeying back to 14th-century Cornwall. From the opening paragraph Du Maurier sweeps you along in a vivid narrative. No one tells stories or creates atmosphere better. The novel features Kilmarth, the house on the Cornish coast where Du Maurier spent the last years of her life.

6. Philippa Pearce, Tom's midnight garden
Tom is bored and in quarantine at his uncle and aunt's flat. One night he discovers that when the clock strikes 13 he is able to enter a sunlit garden where he meets Hatty. Soon he realises that he has somehow stumbled into the 19th century and that with each successive visit Hatty is a different age. In this beloved children's classic, Pearce explores questions about time and childhood and longing in prose which is often poignant and beautiful.

7. Hendrik Willem van Loon, Van Loon's lives
Published in the US in 1942 (and with a moving dedication to his suffering homeland), Dutch writer and illustrator Van Loon describes a series of dinner parties given for the A-List of history. The perfect illustrations have great captions, too - "It was Leonardo, coming down in his glider" or "Thomas Jefferson tried out my best fiddle". To be consumed in small mouthfuls, it is full of whimsy, charm and humour. Ripe for reprint.

8. Jeanette Winterson, Tanglewreck
You can instantly sense the fun Jeanette Winterson had researching and writing this children's book, which features, among other things, an orphaned heroine called Silver, woolly mammoths, a rabbit called Bigamist and an evil woman who sees Time as big business. The pace is furious and the story teems with ideas, flights of fancy, and references to quantum physics.

9. Stephen Fry, Making history
Time travel novels generally fall into two categories. The first is a kind of time tourism during which great care is taken not to alter the past for fear of future consequences. The second involves yanking open the lid of Pandora's box and has characters tampering with the past for a bespoke future. Worth reading simply for the pleasure of being in the company of Stephen Fry's ever-probing mind, Making history takes the counterfactual approach and asks: What If Hitler had never been born?

10. Paul Davies, How to build a time machine
Last but not least, a work of non-fiction to persuade you that you don't have to suspend your disbelief entirely when reading time-travelling stories. This is eminent physicist Professor Paul Davies's response to the question: Is time travel scientifically possible? Accessible and utterly fascinating.

heinäkuu 5, 2022, 5:03 pm

Will Davis's top 10 literary teenagers
Guardian, 2009-08-12.

Novelist Will Davis was born in 1980 and lives in London. His first novel, My side of the story, was published in 2007 and took that year's Betty Trask prize. His new book, Dream machine, is an explosive cocktail of comedy and pathos, in which four lives collide in the wretched pursuit of fame and fortune.

"Love 'em or hate 'em, the teenager is a popular character in fiction – hey, we've all been there. But for writers, the teen is a classic tool for exploring situations and issues from a neutral viewpoint, one as yet unbiased by the rigidity of adult perception. One thing's for sure: they aren't going away."

1. Deirdre in Round the bend by Mitzi Dale
When 13-year-old Deidre sets her bed on fire everyone starts acting like she's crazy. The masterstroke of Dale's brilliant, often-overlooked first novel is how down-to-earth and identifiable her unhinged protagonist feels, trapped in a family where her only method of taking control is madness.

2. Gilly Freeborn in Letters of a lovestruck teenager by Claire Robertson
Unfolding in a series of letters to an agony aunt, Gilly Freeborn is quite possibly the most screamingly funny teenage character ever written. Dealing with being pancake flat, having a vain, bitchy older sister, two warring parents and, of course, falling for "the Vision", Gilly was the female answer to Adrian Mole.

3. Esther Greenwood in The bell jar by Sylvia Plath
For many people Holden Caulfield is the ultimate literary teenage creation – but 19-year-old Esther Greenwood must surely run a close second. Brutal, frank and moving, it is impossible not to read her disaffected journey and think of Plath herself.

4. Cherry Vanilla in Sarah by J. T. LeRoy
OK, technically Cherry Vanilla is 12, therefore not quite a teenager, but I'm including him anyway because J. T. LeRoy (alias Laura Albert)'s fantastically savvy, yet ethereally naive "lot lizard", mired in a fairytale world of drugs and prostitution, must surely be one of the most original characters invented.

5. Orla, Kylah, Chell, Amanda and Fionnula in The Sopranos by Alan Warner
Warner is probably one of the best living novelists, and the five eponymous choir girls of his book, who leave their dead-end Scottish town to take part in a singing competition in the city, are dirty-minded yet touchingly sweet – as well as devastatingly real.

6. Paul Porterfield in The page turner by David Leavitt
The unlucky teenager of Leavitt's novel is seduced by an older concert pianist while holidaying in Italy with his mother. As his story unfolds, there are abrupt revelations in store for all three characters – yet it is only Paul who is able to meet them with the maturity of an adult. Enigmatic and brilliant.

7. Mark in New boy by William Sutcliffe
For all his cleverness, Mark is initially a rather unsympathetic creation. It is only as the novel unravels, in increasingly hilarious segments, that a young man drowning in peer pressure is revealed – tragically only semi-aware of the fact that he is fast losing his own identity.

8. Ann Burden in Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O'Brien
Following a nuclear war, Ann finds herself trapped alone in a sheltered valley which has somehow escaped the fallout. One day a shadowy figure in a hazmat appears on the horizon. Unsure if he is friend or foe, Ann hides in a cave. Soon she realises she must take charge of her destiny, even if it means leaving her home. An extraordinary coming-of-age novel featuring an extraordinary young woman.

9. Elizabeth Wurtzel in Prozac nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
Wurtzel's famous autobiographical novel does not skimp on any aspect of her debilitating depression, which first began when she was a teenager. It might pulsate with an egoism that would make Mariah Carey blush, but you can practically feel the catharsis as she pours out the illness that's marked her life.

10. Mary in Witch child by Celia Rees
After watching her grandmother be tried and executed as a witch, 14-year-old Mary knows she must hide her identity from the group of Puritans with whom she has travelled to America. With tragedy and suspicion hanging over her, Mary feels a spiritual connection to the new land, and makes a brave and original young protagonist.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 8, 2022, 6:01 pm

Malorie Blackman's top 10 graphic novels for teenagers
Guardian, 2009-08-09.

Malorie Blackman's first book, Not so stupid! was published in November 1990 and since then she has written more than 50 books, including Pig-heart boy, Hacker and Whizziwig. She also writes for theatre and TV. Her latest book, Double cross, the fourth in the award-winning Noughts and Crosses series, has just been published in paperback.

"There are so many other fantastic graphic novels that I could've added to this list. Novels such as the Lone wolf and cub series by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, or Palestine by Joe Sacco, to name just a few. But I hope I've given a flavour of some of the graphic novels that have made an impression on me."

1. Alan Moore & David Lloyd, V For Vendetta
This book started my love of graphic novels. I'd always read comics as a child but I didn't realise stories could be told in this format for adults and teenagers until I read this story. V For Vendetta is complex, absorbing and truly brilliant. The story is set in an England in the near future where those deemed "deviants" are sent to camps to be exterminated or experimented on. What I love about this story is that it celebrates the individual, how just one person can make a difference, can start a domino effect that can change a whole society. Awe-inspiring stuff.

2. Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, Watchmen
I still remember the sense of wonder I felt when I first read this. It was the second story by Alan Moore that I read and after that I was hooked, not just on his writing but graphic novels in general. Using the warning "Who watches the Watchmen?" as a starting point, the story follows an ageing, now disbanded group of "super-heroes" after one of their number is murdered. What is believed to be a revenge killing turns out to be something much more globally significant, told against the backdrop of the world rushing forward towards nuclear Armageddon. And the moral dilemma presented at the end of the story is truly thought-provoking. A great read.

3. Frank Miller, Sin City : Hell and back
Hell and back is the seventh in the Sin City series written by Frank Miller. I love all the books in this series but Hell and back is my favourite. The first three books have already been turned into a film directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller. These stories are bloody and brutal but what great storytelling! An ex-Navy seal called Wallace rescues a woman called Esther who has tried to commit suicide. They become close but then she is abducted, and boy, did the kidnappers pick the wrong woman because Wallace is going to find her and make those responsible pay. Loved, loved, loved this story.

4. Garth Ennis & Jacen Burrows, Chronicles of Wormwood
This graphic novel is for mature readers only. And I mean, mature! It is sexually explicit. But I think this story has some very interesting things to say about heaven, hell and religion in general. It's the story of Daniel Wormwood, who is a benevolent anti-Christ. Daniel's best friend is a Rasta called Jay (bearing more than a passing resemblance to Jesus) who is brain-damaged after a police officer used his head for target practice. Jay, Daniel and a talking rabbit called Jimmy take a road trip to heaven, then to hell. But it all goes wrong when Satan captures Jay and tries to force Daniel to bring about Armageddon. I thought this was an amazing read. (Although – did I mention? – it's for mature readers only!)

5. Hellblazer (John Constantine)
There are a number of graphic novels in the Hellblazer series and some are far better than others. A number of writers and illustrators have told the story of John Constantine, the chain-smoking demon hunter. But for me, amongst the very best Hellblazer stories are the ones written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Steve Dillon, including Fear and loathing, Damnation's flame, Son of Man and Tainted love. These are intelligent horror stories which are truly "unputtdownable".

6. Charles Burns, Black hole
This was a story that definitely made an impression! It follows a number of teenagers in a small American town, some of whom are stricken with a sexually transmitted virus which causes irreversible mutations – anything from a second mouth appearing on one boy's neck to a girl growing a tail. It's the story of how these teenagers come to terms – or not – with their changing bodies and the attitudes of those around them.

7. Garth Ennis & John McCrea, Troubled souls
This story is set in Belfast and is the story of two friends, Tom and Damien, during the Troubles. Damian is a member of the IRA, Tom is just trying to keep his head down. This is an amazing story which I read way back when, and I remember the sense of shock I felt when I read the ending. It's a story that truly gets to you.

8. Posy Simmonds, Gemma Bovery
Posy Simmonds is so talented that I could have picked any number of her books for this list. But Gemma Bovery is one of my favourites. Her artwork is expressive and imaginative and I love the way this story is told. It's funny and insightful. Gemma, a British woman, moves to France with her husband to escape her past. Once there she tries to spice up her tedious marriage by having an affair with a guy called Patrick. But then Gemma dies. The story is told by Raymond Joubert, her neighbour in Normandy who has access to Gemma's diaries.

9. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis
Persepolis is a clever, funny and moving graphic novel based on the author's life as an ordinary Iranian girl growing up in the 1980s in the wake of the Islamic revolution. This amazing story gives real insight into what life was like at that time in Iran. The style is deceptively simple but very readable and totally engrossing. Highly recommended.

10. Art Spiegelman, Maus
This is the story of Art Spiegelman's father Vladek, a Polish Jew who managed to survive Auschwitz. Vladek's story is intertwined with Art's present day story as Art tries to understand more about his father and therefore more about himself. In this story, Jews are portrayed as mice and Nazis are portrayed as cats, which works brilliantly as a metaphor. I'd recommend this to any teenager.


Malorie Blackman was one of my daughters' go-to authors, along with Philip Pullman, as they grew out of Michael Morpurgo. Although they were only ever into Noughts and Crosses; we never came across her other books and series while they were young enough for them.

I've read the book once, but know this mostly from the film. I don't know how faithfully the film follows the book for a comic buff's satisfaction, but I think the atmosphere, the banality of fascism, and the perversion of the public and the public services is spot on.

I've been a big fan of Posy Simmonds since we caught the tail-end of her occasional 'Posy' cartoons when we started taking the Guardian regularly. Which Wikipedia tells me must have been no later than the 1980s. The stand-alone stories Gemma Bovery (1990s), Tamara Drewe (2005-2006) and Cassandra Darke (2018) are all very well, but don't appeal quite as much as the 'Posy' collections: Mrs Weber's diary (1979), Pick of Posy (1982), Very Posy (1985), Pure Posy (1987), Mustn't grumble (1993). Perhaps it's the background niggles of everyday family life, reminiscent of what's going on around the edges of the Giles cartoons in the annuals my Nanny (paternal grandmother) bought for each of her four children's families every Christmas for decades.

Full disclosure: my parents bought the Daily Mail during the week (how will I live it down?), and the Sunday Express on Sunday. I think Giles did one cartoon for the Sunday Express and then another mid-week for the Daily Express, so we saw half of his cartoons first time round. The Daily Mail's cartoons were Rupert Bear and Fred Basset, but we were no more likely to go for their annuals than for Andy Capp or The Cloggies. Ngrh, why are s/h copies of The Cloggies so expensive? One day.

heinäkuu 13, 2022, 11:49 am

Selçuk Altun's top 10 Turkish books
Guardian, 2008-08-26.

Selçuk Altun was born in Artvin, Turkey in 1950 and graduated at Bosphorus University. Now retired, he was for many years executive chairman of one of Turkey's largest and most influential literary publishing houses – YKY (Yapi Kredi Publications). His first novel was published in Turkey in 2001. Songs my mother never taught me, his fourth, and the first to be translated into English, was published in 2008. His latest novel, Many and many a year ago, is just out.

"There are many reasons for the limited number of Turkish authors and poets translated into English. Sadly Nobel prize-winner Orhan Pamuk's success hasn't yet increased Anglo-American interest in Turkish authors and poets."

1. Feyyaz Kayacan Fergar, Mrs Valley's war : the shelter stories
Six engrossing short stories about the struggle of a handful of people in wartime London who embrace life with hope. The author, an eminent Turkish poet, respectfully witnesses their heroic resistance.

2. Oktay Rifat, Poems of Oktay Rifat
The modernist Oktay Rifat was the grand master of sophisticated simplicity. Many of his lines are as powerful as individual poems.

3. Yaşar Kemal, Memed, my hawk
The only son of a poor widow, Memed has to fight for his love and life against an evil feudal lord in southern Turkey. A tour de force.

4. Yaşar Kemal, Yaşar Kemal : on his life and art
I'm a compulsive reader of autobiographies and biographies. This is the most powerful life story I've ever read. Master storyteller Kemal's saga is brilliantly illuminated with questions from the influential French poet Alain Bosquet.
Touchstone: probably Yasar Kemal kendini anlatiyor : Alain Bosquet ile gorusmeler.

5. Orhan Pamuk, My name is red
A grand literary thriller and historical journey set in the 16th century. Nobel prize-winner Pamuk delivers a perplexing blend of art, religion, power and love in the ever-mysterious Ottoman era.

6. Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul, memories of a city
A genre-defying jewel of literature, İstanbul and Pamuk time-travelling together. Captivatingly sorrowful, the book is enriched by photos, excerpts and anecdotes.

7. Sait Faik, Sleeping in the forest
Delightful short stories by the Turkish Chekhov. Sait Faik (1906-1954) knows how to attract the reader's utmost attention.

8. Bilge Karasu, Night
A small masterpiece. Karasu (1930-1995) and his four characters are duelling in this eloquent novella. A profound exploration of human inner worlds. Consider the first two lines "Night slowly comes on. Descends. Already it has begun filling the hollows. Once these are full and it empties onto the plain, everything will turn gray."

9. Ahmet H. Tanpınar, A mind at peace
Pamuk described this elegiac masterpiece, first published in 1949, as "the greatest novel ever written about Istanbul". It is also a challenging love story between a fragile aesthete and a complex woman. For those who are not ambitious enough, will love always be punitive?

10. Nazım Hikmet, Beyond the walls : selected poems
Influenced by Vladimir Mayakovsky and Russian Futurism, these are elegant poems of enduring significance.

heinäkuu 15, 2022, 9:44 am

Helen Rappaport's top 10 books on Lenin
Guardian, 2009-09-02.

Helen Rappaport is an historian and Russianist with a specialism in the Victorians and revolutionary Russia. Her books include Ekaterinburg : the last days of the Romanovs and No place for ladies : the untold story of women in the Crimean War. She lives in Oxford. She has a website at Her latest book, Conspirator, reconstructs Lenin's years in exile, moving from city to city across Europe fomenting revolution, and is published by Hutchinson this week.

"Finding 10 readable and – more importantly – revealing monographs on Lenin is quite a tough call. Not very many exist. That's because the Soviet hagiographers for decades so carefully controlled the documentary record on him that they ensured a boring, sanitised view of the Great Leader that has virtually nothing honest to say – in Russian at least, and certainly not until after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Books in English published in the west have been similarly frustrated by a lack of penetrating primary source material except amongst Russian exiles who had the freedom to say what they thought. Lenin's voluminous letters are at times revealing but with their relentlessly hectoring tone are not an easy read. There are no candid diaries by him and – worst of all – from a populist point of view, absolutely no kiss and tell memoirs that dish up the dirt. Here, in no particular order, are my 10 best in English:"

1. Nikolay Valentinov, Encounters with Lenin
Valentinov escaped exile in Russia to join Lenin in exile in Geneva in 1904 as an eager young underground activist. He was for an all too brief time a loyal and admiring acolyte until he saw the darker side of Lenin and became disenchanted by his inflexible political thinking and his ruthlessly domineering behaviour. A wonderful, illuminating source.

2. Dmitri Volkogonov, Lenin : life and legacy
The best post-Soviet book by a Russian available in English. Volkogonov is as unequivocally critical of Lenin as he is of Stalin in his companion biography. Contains some interesting revelations from the newly opened Soviet archives to which Volkogonov had exclusive access, particularly about German financial support for the Bolsheviks in 1917, and clearly shows the roots of Stalinism in Lenin's policies.

3. Nadezhda Krupskaya, Memories of Lenin
This, like it or not and despite its limitations, is the holy grail. Krupskaya, who as a young revolutionary married Lenin in 1898, was the only person who remained consistently close to Lenin throughout the last 27 years of his life. She went on to be the dogged keeper of the flame after his death in 1924. Unfortunately she never said a single controversial word about him, his behaviour, or their life together, but nevertheless this is a valuable and sometimes fascinating source.

4. Maxim Gorky, Days with Lenin
The best literary memoir of Lenin by the great socialist writer; at first a friend and admirer of Lenin and later an outspoken critic of the Bolshevik takeover. Brief but telling in its detail, especially of Lenin at the London Congress of the RSDLP in 1907 and during his visits to Gorky on Capri in 1908 and 1910. Essential reading.

5. Leon Trotsky, On Lenin : notes towards a biography
Episodic and frustratingly incomplete, these notes were to form the basis of a biography that Trotsky sadly never wrote. It is nevertheless a fascinating source, full of insight and a perceptive portrait of Lenin's single-mindedness and his relentless, all-consuming drive towards revolution in Russia.

6. Marc Landau-Aldanov, Lenin
An interesting curiosity, written by a Russian émigré and translated from French. This early (1922) western take on Lenin during his lifetime is a fascinating read for its analysis of the communist experiment in the making. It pinpoints the most disturbing aspects of Lenin's despotism in a brilliant chapter on Lenin's personality, likening him to a moral and intellectual cross between Savonarola and Tartuffe, "a madman with the lunatic's cunning … a man who knows the masses without knowing anything of men".

7. Angelica Balabanoff, Impressions of Lenin
Balabanoff, like many, was at first impressed by Lenin's tremendous dynamism, but after breaking with the Bolsheviks she left Russia and joined the Italian socialists, taking an increasingly jaundiced view of him from the distance of exile. Like Gorky's, this brief memoir is the most human portrait of the man and contains some brilliant and disturbing flashes of insight into Lenin's ruthlessness and amorality.

8. Robert Service, Lenin : a biography
If you need a quick fix on Lenin, his life and political career, then this is the best standard popular biography to date. It has benefited from access to the archives after the fall of communism and is particularly revealing about Lenin's family background, his relationship with his mother and sisters Anna and Mariya, as well as charting the difficulties Krupskaya had in getting on with them.

9. Bertram D. Wolfe, Three who made a revolution
One of the great, authoritative and insightful studies of the rise and development of Russian Marxism, closely interweaving the political careers of Lenin, Stalin and Trotsky. Long but highly readable, it is still a valuable standard 45 years after publication.

10. Louis Fischer, The life of Lenin
One of three major Lenin biographies published in the mid-60s, this perceptive account is by a Jewish-American journalist who was based in Moscow from 1922, where he actually knew Lenin and became an expert on the Soviet system. Not particularly strong on Lenin's years in exile, it is extremely good on his years in power from 1917.

heinäkuu 17, 2022, 9:34 am

Margaret Drabble's top 10 literary landscapes
Guardian, 2009-09-09.

Margaret Drabble is the author of 17 novels, which have won numerous prizes including the John Llewellyn Rhys and James Tait Black awards. Her most recent novel, The sea lady, was published in 2006. She has also written screenplays, critical studies, biographies and this year a memoir, The pattern in the carpet.

"Literary tourism is not new, although some of the places we visit have been added recently to the list. I was told a month or two ago by Barbara Follett, minister (amongst other things) for tourism, that Dan Brown was bringing literary pilgrims from the United States to Britain. Not having read Dan Brown, I cannot say why. My travels are more traditional. I am one of many who read the landscape through those who wrote about it and the words of our great landscape writers – Walter Scott, Wordsworth, Hopkins, Hardy, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath – sound in my ears as I walk and wander. Walking in the footsteps of great writers, and seeing landscapes and buildings through their eyes is one of the most enjoyable and sustaining of pleasures. Years ago, on a lecture tour in Mississippi, I insisted on seeing the land of Huckleberry Finn and William Faulkner. It was a powerful experience, never to be forgotten. But Britain remains my native landscape, and my top 10 are only a sample of the places I like best."
Touchstone : I'm guessing Hopkins is for Gerard Manley Hopkins.

1. Stonehenge.
Stonehenge has inspired innumerable writers, and although it is one of the best known prehistoric sites in the world it is impossible to pass it without a sense of awe. It has a melancholy grandeur that passing traffic cannot diminish. Hardy and Wordsworth were moved by it, and so am I.

2. Burslem.
The Potteries still have some of the picturesque pot banks Arnold Bennett made famous in his Five Towns novels. It's a weird post-industrial landscape now, with a haunting poetic dereliction. The draper's shop from The old wives' tale is still there on the street corner in Burslem, and was for sale last time I saw it (in June this year).

3. Gordale Scar.
Gordale Scar near Malham in North Yorkshire is a classic beauty spot, and none the less beautiful for that. It is at both sublime and romantic, and was celebrated by the poet Thomas Gray, and by me in my novel The waterfall.

4. Tintern Abbey.
Tintern Abbey, in the Wye Valley, is the subject of one of
Wordsworth's greatest poems, in which he describes the restorative power of nature. It was also a favourite destination for the "picturesque traveller" doing the Welsh tour.

5. Tintagel.
Tintagel in Cornwall is a dramatic mythical Arthurian site, and its castle and crags inspired both Tennyson and Hardy. It's both medieval and Victorian, like the Arthurian legend itself.

6. Aldeburgh.
Aldeburgh, now the home of a literary festival, is perhaps better known for its painters and composers, but one of our finest landscape poets,
George Crabbe, evoked the harsh beauty of its seashore, and his story inspired Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes.

7. Godrevy Lighthouse.
This St Ives landmark is the eponymous lighthouse of Virginia Woolf's greatest novel, and an enduring symbol of artistic hope and endeavour. St Ives is full of memories of Woolf, and of all the summer seaside holidays of all children, of all time.

8. The Quantocks.
The Quantock hills in Somerset are where Wordsworth and Coleridge walked when they were composing the Lyrical ballads, and you can still see the thorn tree and the little pond of Wordsworth's poem, The Thorn. This is one of my favourite walks, and I recite their lines to myself as I go.

9. The Lake District.
The Lake District is so closely bound to the lives of so many poets and writers that it is hard to choose a particular landscape from its many famous places, but of them all, perhaps Grasmere, Dove Cottage and the daffodils have the most powerful memories and associations.

10. Haworth.
I tend to prefer outdoor landscapes to writers' houses, but make an exception for the Brontë Parsonage at Haworth, a house in which life was experienced with extraordinary intensity. This place and its churchyard and its surrounding moorland are numinous.

heinäkuu 18, 2022, 8:34 am

The top 10 Agatha Christie mysteries
Guardian, 2009-09-16.

Christie expert John Curran sifts through the evidence to detect the ten best mysteries by the world’s most popular thriller writer. John Curran, a lifelong Christie fan, lives in Dublin. For many years he edited the official Agatha Christie newsletter and acted as a consultant to the National Trust during the restoration of Greenway House, Dame Agatha's Devon home. His first book, Agatha Christie's secret notebooks, which explores the contents of 73 hitherto unseen journals, has just been published.

"Agatha Christie was the greatest exponent of the classical detective story. Her unique literary talents have crossed every boundary of age, race, class, geography and education. While she refined the template for a fictional form, the reading of her books became an international pastime. As we celebrate her 120th birthday these are my highlights of her literary career."

1. The murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926).
Hercule Poirot has retired to the village of King's Abbot to cultivate marrows. But when wealthy Roger Ackroyd is found stabbed in his study, he agrees to investigate. A typical village murder mystery; or so it seems until the last chapter with its stunning revelation. This title would still be discussed today even if Christie had never written another book. An unmissable, and still controversial, milestone of detective fiction.

2. Peril at End House (1932).
The impoverished owner of End House hosts a party where fireworks camouflage the shot that kills her cousin. Which of the other guests is a murderer? Perfectly paced, with subtle and ingenious clueing, and an unexpected but totally logical solution. Of its type, perfection; this is how the classic detective story should be written.

3. Murder on the Orient Express (1934).
The glamorous Orient Express stops during the night, blocked by snowdrifts. Next morning the mysterious Mr Ratchett is found stabbed in his compartment and untrodden snow shows that the killer is still on board. This glamorous era of train travel provides Poirot with an international cast of suspects and one of his biggest challenges. Predicated on an inspired gimmick, this is one of the great surprise endings in the genre.

4. The ABC murders (1935).
Despite advance warnings, Poirot is unable to prevent the murders of Alice Ascher, Betty Barnard and Carmichael Clarke. Can he stop the ABC Killer before he reaches D? One of the earliest examples of the "serial killer" novel this classic Christie is based on a beautifully simple premise. But how many readers are as clever as Poirot?

5. And then there were none (1939).
Ten people are invited to an island for the weekend. Although they all harbour a secret, they remain unsuspecting until they begin to die, one by one, until eventually … there are none. Panic ensues when the diminishing group realises that one of their own number is the killer. A perfect combination of thriller and detective story, this much-copied plot is Christie’s greatest technical achievement.

6. Five little pigs (1943).
Sixteen years ago, Caroline Crale died in prison while serving a life sentence for poisoning her husband. Her daughter asks Poirot to investigate a possible miscarriage of justice and he approaches the other five suspects. This sublime novel is a subtle and ingenious detective story, an elegiac love story and a masterful example of storytelling technique, with five separate accounts of one devastating event. Christie’s greatest achievement.

7. Crooked House (1949).
The Leonides family all live together in a not-so-little crooked house. But which of them poisoned the patriarch, Aristides? Murder in the extended family always provided fertile ground for Christie, and this was one of her own favourites. Another example of a sinister reinterpretation of a nursery rhyme with an ending that her publishers initially considered too shocking, even for Agatha Christie.

8. A murder is announced (1950).
In the village of Chipping Cleghorn, a murder is announced in the local paper’s small ads. As Miss Blacklock’s friends gather for what they fondly imagine will be a parlour game, an elaborate murder plot is set in motion. This was Christie's 50th title and remains Miss Marple’s finest hour. Notable also for its setting in post-war Britain (a factor vital to the plot) this is arguably the last of the ingeniously clued and perfectly paced Christies.

9. Endless night (1967).
Working-class Michael Rogers tells the story of his meeting and marrying Ellie, a fantastically rich American heiress. As they settle in their dream house in the country, it becomes clear that not everyone is happy for them. A very atypical Christie, this tale of menacing suspense builds to a horrific climax and shows that even after 45 years she had not lost the power to confound her readers. The best novel from her last 20 years.

10. Curtain : Poirot's last case (1975, but written during the second world war).
An old and frail Poirot returns to the scene of his first case, the country house Styles, now a guest-house. He summons his friend Hastings to help identify the killer he suspects is a fellow-guest. Christie uses every trick in the book to produce a unforgettable, yet poignant, swan song for the little Belgian. This novel was written during the Blitz and stored in a safe to be published after Christie’s own death. It was actually published in October 1975 (Christie died in January 1976) and Poirot received a front-page obituary in the New York Times. In a lifetime of literary tours-de-force, this is the biggest shock of all.

heinäkuu 19, 2022, 11:43 am

Susheila Nasta's top 10 cultural journeys
Guardian, 2009-09-30.

Susheila Nasta is the editor and founder of Wasafiri magazine, which marks its 25th anniversary this month. Wasafiri, the Kiswahili word for 'travellers', focuses on writing as a form of cultural travelling, extending the boundaries of established literary culture.

"Reading is a passport to travel elsewhere. When we enter a story we are often transported beyond known horizons, lifted into a new world, where we begin to think, see and feel the world differently. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys was one of the first books to take me on such a voyage, throwing me into the haunted landscape of Emancipation Jamaica and the hidden Creole history of Bertha, the so-called 'madwoman' in Jane Eyre. 'There is always the other side, always', Rhys tells us, long anticipating John Berger's vision that 'Never again can a story be told as though it were the only one'. Many international writers have taken me 'travelling' over the years, moving words across worlds and reshaping the spaces which connect us all. Here are some of my favourites."

1. Sam Selvon, The lonely Londoners
A racy chronicle of postwar West Indian immigration to London in the 1950s. The tragic-comic creation of a black city of words that was both magnet and nightmare for its new colonial citizens is a must. As the El Dorado myth is reversed, Selvon's picaresque rogues map London through calypsonian eyes, not only changing the way the city is seen, but Englishness itself.

2. Toni Morrison, The bluest eye
Pecola Breedlove is an 11-year-old black girl growing up in Ohio in the 1940s who longs to have the blue eyes she thinks will transform her tragically torn life. Narrated from a variety of perspectives - black and white - Morrison's first book is a poetic evocation of how Pecola attempts to rise above the frames of the myopic culture of whiteness that define her. An intimate African-American classic which looks forward to Morrison's award-winning novel, Beloved.

3. Anita Desai, Baumgartner's Bombay
In Hugo Baumgartner, we meet Desai's unusual version of the wandering Jew. Delicately interweaving a series of interconnected histories of diaspora and modern dislocation, this haunting story takes us from Baumgartner's tortured childhood in pre-war Berlin to Calcutta and Bombay. A farangi, or foreigner, everywhere - whether in Nazi Germany or India - Baumgartner belongs nowhere and is perilously caught between the crossfire of conflicting nationalisms.

4. W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz
As one of the Kindertransport children, five-year-old Jacques Austerlitz arrives in Britain in 1939 to live with foster parents in Wales. All conscious memory of his previous life is obliterated. As a story about loss and redemption, trauma, repression and memory, this poignant narrative leads us through a maze of uncanny dialogues. An inconsolable Holocaust history, this is a major chronicle of our times.

5. Abdulrazak Gurnah, Paradise
Set in East Africa a decade before the first world war, this novel is a feast of luminous storytelling. In part a lyrical bildungsroman, the mythical and vernacular tales which form the main character, 12-year-old Yusuf, are woven from a number of divergent sources linking the Bible and Koran, Arab slavery and European imperialism. Nothing is simple here, as we experience how histories are made and stories travel.

6. Isabel Allende, The house of the spirits
Covering four generations and teeming with unforgettable characters, this epic brings to vibrant life the unforgettable saga of the Trueba family. They are based in an unnamed Latin American country bound by an oppressive regime. It is a hybrid mix of fiction, politics and journalism, populated by strong female figures who are transported beyond its confining patriarchal history. It takes one to a place where fantasy lives and desire can reside.

7. Amitav Ghosh, Sea of poppies
It may be a surprise that two centuries ago London was at the heart of the opium trade, exploiting coolies to ship drugs to China and cross the forbidden black waters. This previously untold story startlingly exposes the histories of all who were drawn into the corrupt politics of this lucrative business. From the Ganges poppy farmers, to the East India company merchants who controlled them and forced the embarkation of a slave ship taking indentured labourers from Calcutta to Mauritius.

8. Jamaica Kincaid, Mr Potter
Sometimes small books can make a big impact. Mr Potter, Kincaid's semi-fictional portrait of her unknown father, is a powerful and hypnotic prose poem which plunges us into the world of an illiterate Antiguan taxi driver whose mundane existence is defined by absence and loss. The means of invention is the key to this book as the narrator struggles for answers to her own illegitimacy and diasporic US location: It is "… because I learned how to read and … write, only so is Mr Potter's life known … his anonymity ... stripped away, his silence broken".

9. Khaled Hosseini, The kite runner
There are many stories about fathers and sons, about childhood friendships and betrayals, but few set in Afghanistan during the time of the Soviet invasion, and few so moving. Focused on the parallel lives of two young boys, who are raised from birth in the same Kabul household yet divided by money, ethnicity and class, Amir and Hassan are intimately twinned by their shared pastimes. Tragedy comes when Amir's affluent family flee to California. Yet Amir is to return to Hassan, opening up new stories and offering the possibility of redemption.

10. Bernardine Evaristo, The emperor's babe
Set in 211 AD, this verse novel quickly carries us into the world of Roman Londinium. Entering this bustling multicultural city, which thrives on sex and drama queens, we are swiftly led to child bride Zuleika, daughter of Sudanese immigrants. She is keen to break out of her marriage to an absent rich Roman and, once spotted by Emperor Septimus Severus as she flaunts herself in the city, she quickly becomes his new babe. Fast-moving, witty, humorous and above all inventive, we are taken on a journey through the streets of a London which has long had a diverse history.

heinäkuu 20, 2022, 6:57 am

Pauline Melville's top 10 revolutionary tales
Guardian, 2009-10-14.

Pauline Melville's first book, Shape-shifter, won the Guardian fiction prize, the Macmillan Silver Pen award and a Commonwealth Writers' prize. Her first novel was shortlisted for the Orange prize and won a Whitbread prize. She is also an actor – whose work has encompassed roles in Mona Lisa, Utz and Far from the Madding Crowd, as well as appearances in comedies including Blackadder and the Young Ones.

"As a child I wanted to be a trapeze artist. Under the bed I kept a tiny suitcase which contained a red sweater. I was always ready to leave if things didn't suit me. In books too I was definitely looking for danger and adventure. Without moralising over the rights and wrongs of what, depending on your point of view, is called either terrorism or freedom-fighting, I wanted to write a book that explores the attraction of risk over security, whether for reasons of love, politics or religion. One of the themes of Eating Air is the excitement of revolutionary or terrorist action. At a time when bankers have danced back to the top of the heap and are thumbing their noses at us once again, I thought it might cheer the population to read about people who have tried in different ways to overthrow the system. It's good to be reminded that not everyone submits."

1. Alejo Carpentier, Explosion in a cathedral
An exploration of revolutionary euphoria in the late 18th century which sweeps us from Cuba, Hispaniola and the Caribbean through to the French revolution and back again. The book contains a health warning – that revolutions are often followed by the terror or the guillotine.

2. Stuart Christie, Granny made me an anarchist
A rare political thriller that makes you laugh with its warmth and humanity. It's the true story of Christie, who as a young man in 1964 joined Spanish anarchists in an attempt to assassinate General Franco. Captured, he escapes the death penalty and after a few years in a Spanish jail returns to England where, undeterred, he blithely continues political activism along the same anarchist lines.

3. Orhan Pamuk, Snow
A beautifully written, expansive look at secularism and Islam. Set in snow-bound Anatolia, the book weaves together themes of political violence and religion.

4. Chuck Palahnuik, Fight Club
Boredom and dissatisfaction with a consumerist lifestyle leads to the formation of a fight club. The fight club culture spreads culminating in violent nihilist attacks on corporate America.

5. Graham Greene, The quiet American
Greene's cool masterpiece of betrayal and political intrigue is set in Vietnam in the 1950s. Pyle, the eponymous protagonist and probable CIA operative, is betrayed by an older Englishman and love-rival who despises his naive complicity in a terrorist attack in Saigon.

6. Euripides, The Bacchae
Yes, I know it's a play but it enthrals me. One of the many possible interpretations is to read it as a drama about the conflict between the rational and the ecstatic. Anti-authoritarian, it favours extremism and danger over security and domesticity.

7. Joseph Conrad, Under western eyes
Brilliant psychological study of a student in the turmoil of revolutionary Russia. He betrays a college acquaintance who has committed an act of terrorism. The student then becomes an informer and infiltrates a group of revolutionaries until remorse leads to his explosive confession.

8. J. G. Ballard, Cocaine nights
Within the surreal enclave of an exclusive Spanish resort lies a secret world of crime, sex and drugs. Ballard asks the subversive question: "Is crime a healthy and necessary antidote to a society of comatose channel-zappers?"

9. Jean Genet, Prisoner of love
Genet spent two years in the Palestinian refugee camps in the 1970s. This is a wonderfully observed description of his time there, interspersed with his visits to the Black Panthers in America. Genet, himself an outcast, identified with these peoples and endorses a commitment to rebellion itself.

10. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The possessed
Everybody seems to forget that Dostoyevsky can make you scream with laughter. His satire on certain figures and political groupings (the lengthy meeting to decide whether the gathering does, in fact, constitute a meeting) is hilarious. But the darkness of those possessed by a fanatical commitment to a certain ideology brings about a shocking and tragic end.

heinäkuu 23, 2022, 7:52 am

Francesca Simon's top 10 antiheroes
Guardian, 2009-10-21.

Francesca Simon was born in St Louis, Missouri, grew up in California, and attended both Yale and Oxford universities, where she specialised in Medieval Studies. Having worked as a freelance journalist, after her son Joshua was born in 1989 she started writing children's books full-time. Among the 50-plus books that have followed are the immensely popular Horrid Henry series, which has now sold more than 12m copies in 24 countries. The 17th book in the series, Horrid Henry wakes the dead, was published on October 1.

"I have always loved books about rebels and non-conformists, people who swagger through life with a fierce edge and a stubborn refusal to behave themselves. No one in these books would ever win Miss Congeniality or Mr Nice Guy. Their faults definitely exceed their virtues. I'm also partial to selfish, and self-obsessed characters (no surprises there), so I've picked some favourite anti-heroes and heroines. Let's face it, we all need to let our inner imp out sometimes."

1. Jonathan Stroud, The amulet of Samarkand
I read book one of the Bartimaeus trilogy lying on a sofa, and did not get up until I'd finished. Jonathan Stroud has had a brilliant idea, that Britain is secretly run by a cabal of magicians who get power by summoning and enslaving "djinnies". These djinns hate their masters, and of course will do anything to break free. Our young anti-hero, Nathaniel, summons the sarcastic, powerful Bartimaeus, whom he orders to steal the Amulet from Nathaniel's nemesis. The witty, sarcastic Bartimaeus is a wonderful creation, and I loved the tense relationship he has with the arrogant, immature and somewhat amoral Nathaniel.

2. Astrid Lindgren, Pippi Longstocking
One of my all time favourite heroines, the outrageous Pippi does exactly as she pleases, because she's rich, strong enough to lift a horse, parent-free, and completely indifferent to what anyone else thinks about her. I loved the idea of a girl who tricked grown-ups and was a brilliant liar – or should I say storyteller?

3. Richmal Crompton, Just William
I never read Just William as a child and had to wait until I'd written several Horrid Henrys before I dared, as I was quite nervous that the two characters would be very similar. I was relieved to discover that William is actually much nicer than Henry, though they share a similar yearning for freedom and a love of plotting. I adore William's laziness, his disobedience, his refusal to be civilised. It's no accident his gang is called the Outlaws.

4. Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl
Artemis is a swashbuckling anti-hero, a teenage criminal mastermind who devotes his ruthless intelligence to amassing loot and fighting fairies. Great fun, and a great example of the anti-hero as protagonist.

5. Geoffrey Willans, Molesworth
My friend the writer Eleanor Updale was horrified that I'd never read Molesworth, and insisted I buy the books last year, which I did. Molesworth, "the curse of St Custards" is an irredeemably lazy and sardonic schoolboy, trapped at a boarding prep school, where he battles the gruesome head boy, Grabber, (winner of the mrs joyful prize for raffia work), assorted mad masters, and the soppy Fotherington-Thomas. The books are unbelievably funny, and the illustrations by Ronald Searle have an irresistible gothic creepiness.

6. Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
Calvin is a stroppy, imaginative six-year-old at war with the world, Hobbes is his stuffed tiger who comes to life when no one else is around. Our whole family adores Calvin and cheers him on. The funniest, and most delightful modern comic.

7. Heinrich Hoffman, Struwwelpeter
These 10 rhymed stories feature disobedient, truculent children who come to horrible ends. My favourite has always been Kaspar, the strong healthy boy who won't eat his soup, until he wastes away and dies on the fifth day. My siblings and I recited this story endlessly.

8. Patricia Highsmith, The talented Mr Ripley
I discovered this book by accident while on holiday in France and staying with friends of my parents. I remember lying out in the Provence sun quite unable to believe what I was reading, as I'd never encountered an amoral psychopath as a novel's "hero". Utterly gripping and creepy, one of the books that you never forget. I also got sun stroke from lying outside reading for too long, but that's another story.

9. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the wind
Who could fail to be captivated by Scarlett O'Hara and her single-minded determination to have her own way and do whatever needs to be done, whether it's stealing her sister's fiance, or marrying yet another man just to spite Ashley Wilkes? What's fantastic about Scarlett is her incredible determination and bravery. She's also a rotten mother, two-faced, selfish, and a force of nature. I've read this book many, many times; I don't mean to, but Scarlett grabs me and I get swept away.

10. John Milton, Paradise lost
I was stuck for a 10th choice, until my son Joshua reminded me about Paradise lost. Milton's tormented and arrogant Satan, the fallen angel, is a great anti-hero, and demonstrates all too vividly the seductive attractiveness of the rebel who refuses to obey, despite the cost. You can feel Milton struggling to resist him.

heinäkuu 26, 2022, 10:47 am

Sandi Toksvig's top 10 unsung heroines
Guardian, 2009-10-28.

After Horrid Henry's creator Francesca Simon chose her favourite anti-heroes last week, a more edifying selection this time. From the greatest warrior in Kubla Khan's army to the first known author, Sandi Toksvig on the under-acknowledged real-life heroines that have inspired her, and her new book. Sandi Toksvig is well known for her TV and radio work as a broadcaster, writer and actor, and currently chairs Radio 4's News Quiz and presents Excess Baggage. Her numerous books for children include Hitler's canary, based upon her family's experiences in Nazi-occupied Denmark, was published in 2005 to considerable acclaim. Her latest, Girls are best, is a knockabout look at the overlooked achievements of women down the ages.

"When I was a student at Cambridge I remember an anthropology professor holding up a picture of a bone with 28 incisions carved in it. "This is often considered to be man's first attempt at a calendar" she explained. She paused as we dutifully wrote this down. 'My question to you is this – what man needs to mark 28 days? I would suggest to you that this is woman's first attempt at a calendar.' It was a moment that changed my life. In that second I stopped to question almost everything I had been taught about the past. How often had I overlooked women's contributions? How often had I sped past them as I learned of male achievement and men's place in the history books? Then I read Rosalind Miles's book The women's history of the world (recently republished as Who cooked the Last Supper?) and I knew I needed to look again. History is full of fabulous females who have been systematically ignored, forgotten or simply written out of the records. They're not all saints, they're not all geniuses, but they do deserve remembering."

1. Hilda Matheson (1888-1940)
If you love Radio 4 you should love Hilda. She was the BBC's first director of talks and helped shape the programmes we listen to today, founding radio journalism and the notion of quality radio. She was almost solely responsible for the mammoth African survey for which Lord Hailey took all the credit.

2. Catharine Littlefield Greene (1755-1814)
As a child growing up in the United States I was taught that a man called Eli Whitney changed the face of the American economy with the invention in 1793 of the cotton gin, a machine that mechanised the cleaning of cotton. In fact it was Catherine's idea but in those days women didn't take out patents.
Touchstone: Catharine Littlefield Greene (LT character page).

3. Princess Khutulun (c.1251- ?)
The niece of the great Mongol leader, Kubla Khan, Princess Khutulun was described by Marco Polo as the greatest warrior in Khan's army. She told her uncle she would marry any man who could wrestle her and win. If they lost they had to give her 100 horses. She died unmarried with 10,000 horses.
Touchstone: Khutulun (LT character page).

4. Queen Vishpla (somewhere between 3500 and 1800 BC)
The ancient sacred text of India, Rig-Veda, includes the story of this queen who led her troops into battle and lost a leg. She had an iron leg fitted and returned to war. The first person known to have a prosthesis.

5. Jerrie Cobb (1931-)
Chosen for the US astronaut programme in 1958, Jerrie Cobb had twice as many flight hours to her name as John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the earth. She failed to go into space because she hadn't gone through jet-aircraft testing. She hadn't because women weren't allowed to until 1973.

6. Agnodike (Fourth century BC)
Athenian women were not allowed to be doctors so Agnodike disguised herself as a man to study medicine. When she had finished she tried to treat women but they refused, thinking she was male. When she revealed her sex she was arrested but succeeded in having the law against female medics changed.
Touchstone: Agnodike (LT character page) (although only as an Assassin's Creed character).

7. Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Nightingale is well known in history as the Lady with the Lamp but this was actually a phrase invented by a Times journalist. The men of the Crimean actually called her the Lady With the Hammer because she was quite happy to break into supply rooms if her patients needed something.

8. Angelika Kauffmann and Mary Moser
In 1768 Angelika and Mary helped found the Royal Academy of Arts in London. When a portrait of the founders was painted, only the men of the Academy were shown gathered in a studio. The women appear as portraits on the wall.

9. Enheduanna (c.2285-2250BC)
Probably a princess. Certainly the world's first known author, male or female. She wrote hymns to the gods in cuneiform.

10. Edmonia Lewis (1843–c.1900)
The first black woman to be recognised as a sculptor. At college she was accused of trying to poison two white students. Although she was proved innocent she was not allowed to graduate.

heinäkuu 28, 2022, 2:19 pm

Kevin Jackson's top 10 vampire novels
Guardian, 2009-10-30.

Kevin Jackson's childhood ambition was to be a vampire, but instead he became the last living polymath. His expertise ranges from Seneca to the Sugababes, with a special interest in the occult, Ruskin, take-away food, Dante's Inferno and the moose. He is the author of numerous books on numerous subjects, including Fast : feasting on the streets of London, filmmaker Humphrey Jennings and edited The Oxford book of money. His latest book, Bite : a vampire handbook, traces the history of the undead down the ages as well as offering a miscellany of vampiric trivia including the best places for vampire tourism, the best vampire-influenced songs, and, should the need arise, the best ways of killing the beasts.

"Though I first learned to love vampires through the movies, my only access to those movies back in the days of the X-certificate (I was about 11, and you had to be 18, or was it even 21, to see a Hammer film, amazing as that seems nowadays, when they look about as scary as an episode of Scooby-Doo) was through the medium of print – a wonderful magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland. From there, it was a very easy leap to reading the likes of Poe, and Mary Shelley, and Stoker … What larks! These days I obstinately tend to prefer vampire movies to most vampire fiction (the worst of which can be a bit pompous), but there are some wonderful exceptions: here are 10 of the best ..."

1. Richard Matheson, I am legend
Probably the single most influential vampire narrative written between Dracula in the late 1890s and Interview with the vampire in the 1970s, (Anne Rice needs no plugging here; nor does Stephenie Meyer, nor Charlaine Harris ...), this was the novel which dragged vampires out of the gothic world of superstition and into the potentially even more terrifying world of science fiction. In the wake of a global war – probably a nuclear conflict – Robert Neville finds himself apparently the last man alive in all the world. But there are plenty of undead people, and every night when the sun has gone down, they attack his fortress home. There have been three film versions to date, most recently the big-budget production starring Will Smith, which had its moments; but none has captured the nihilistic chill of the original.

2. George R. R. Martin, Fevre dream
A highly atmospheric period piece, set mainly on board a steamboat, plying its trade throughout the southern states of America during the 19th century. Its hero is the captain of the 'Fevre Dream', Abner Marsh; but Marsh has a curious business partner on board, one Joshua York, who dines at midnight and keeps the company of folk who never seem to appear in daylight. And then a series of terrible events starts to happen ashore ... Now widely considered a modern classic of the form, Martin's novel has been neatly described as an ingenious compound of Stephen King and Mark Twain.

3. Simon Raven, Doctors wear scarlet
An unusual digression into the horror genre by a writer more often associated with mordant satire than the biting of jugular veins. The anti-hero is a brilliant but frustrated young Cambridge academic, Richard Fountain – of "Lancaster College" – who goes off on a research expedition to Greece and comes back strangely altered; so strangely that he makes a savage attack on his fiancee, and the daughter of his academic mentor. Raven's book, as one would expect, is thick with social detail and nuance; his interesting decision to make Greece rather than Transylvania the ancestral home of vampirism shows that he had done some proper research into the folklore of the undead.

4. John Marks, Fangland
A recent, well-constructed thriller written as a self-conscious homage to Dracula – so self-conscious that its heroine is called Evangeline Harker, after Bram Stoker's hapless hero Jonathan Harker – and she makes the same journey into Romania/Transylvania as her fictional predecessor. But where Jonathan was a humble solicitor, Evangeline is a producer on the American network news programme The Hour (for which it is probably safe to read 'Sixty Minutes'; John Marks once worked for that show himself, so presumably knows his media turf). The action really clicks into spooky gear when a series of mysterious crates are shipped back to the offices of the show ... Mark's novel has been optioned as a movie, and at last report was already in pre-production.

5. Stephen King, Salem's Lot
Stephen King's only major venture into vampire territory, and a masterpiece of its kind. Dickens might not have enjoyed the subject matter, but he would have nodded with a professional's recognition at King's basic ploy as a story-teller: spend a couple of hundred pages slowly and carefully building up a powerful sense of a real community, with lightning sketches of everyone from schoolchildren to elderly drunks ... and then unleash pure evil. The chapter in which the vampire contagion finally reaches what would now be called the Tipping Point is brilliantly terrifying; on the strength of that passage alone, King would qualify as one of the grand masters of horror fiction.

6. Anne Billson, Suckers
This debut novel by Anne Billson, a noted film critic and frequent contributor to the Guardian, was highly praised by Salman Rushdie and others as a sharp and witty satire on the greedy 1980s. And so it was, but that was only part of the story: it is also a gripping adventure yarn, a tale of the nemesis that may lie in store for us if we have ever committed a guilty act, and a delicious character study of an unconventional young woman whose weaknesses (envy, malice, jealousy) only make her all the more charming to the reader. It contains one of the most chilling moments in all vampire literature: the heroine, trying to pass as a vamp in a crowd of keen-nosed killers, realises that she has begun to menstruate ...

7. Kim Newman, Anno Dracula
Kim Newman's series of novels about an alternative universe in which vampires are the aristocrats, politicians, power brokers and opinion-formers of the modern world is a delicious mixture of wild invention, scholarship, lateral thinking and sly jokes. In the first volume, Anno Dracula, we find out just why the Count came to England – something that Bram Stoker was tight-lipped about: he married Queen Victoria and established a dynasty of Nosferatu. Subsequent volumes include The bloody Red Baron, in which the vampires of Britain wage ferocious air war against their German counterparts, and Dracula Cha Cha Cha, set in Rome at the time when Fellini is shooting La Dolce Vita. (One of the characters is a Scottish secret agent: Bond; Hamish Bond ...) Unmissable.

8. Rachel Klein, The moth diaries
A sophisticated exercise in unreliable narration: the novel purports to be a memoir written some 30 years after the event by a former psychiatric patient who witnessed some terrible events at the exclusive girls school she attended. But, somewhat in the manner of Henry James's classic ghost story "The turn of the screw", the reader gradually comes to wonder whether the true villain of the piece might not be the supposed girl-vampire who broods all day in her dorm room but the narrator herself. There are hopeful rumours of a forthcoming film version, to be directed by Mary Harron; fingers crossed.

9. John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the right one in
No one who has seen the justly acclaimed film version of Lindqvist's bleak but unexpectedly humane novel will need much encouragement to seek out the original, where much that is cryptic about the on-screen story becomes clarified. The heart of the narrative remains the same – a story of friendship and love between Oskar – a lonely, sad, bullied boy – and Eli, the girl (or is she?) vampire who comes to be his protector. But the book encompasses other tales too, and makes explicit the fact that Eli's older male companion is in fact a paedophile as well as a killer. Harsh, and uncomfortable, but compelling.

10. Bram Stoker, Dracula
The daddy of them all; by no means the best-written (Stoker was, at best, a competent prose stylist, and none of his other fictions have stood the test of a century) nor the cleverest, not even the most original ... but none the less a masterpiece of myth-making, comparable only to the works of Mary Shelley and Conan Doyle. It has been said that all western philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato; it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that all modern vampire fiction is haunted by Dracula. If you haven't read it, a bloody treat lies ahead.

heinäkuu 30, 2022, 12:30 pm

Howard Jacobson's top 10 novels of sexual jealousy
Guardian, 2009-11-04.

Howard Jacobson is the author of 10 novels, including The very model of a man, The mighty walzer and Kalooki nights. He has also written studies of Jewishness, Australia and comedy and is a prolific journalist and broadcaster. His most recent novel, The act of love, was described by Nicholas Lezard as "an almost frighteningly brilliant achievement".

"The first story I ever wrote described a bout of jealousy I had suffered. Writing about it, first comically, and then not, was the only way I could gain any mastery of it. It was as though the shame associated with jealousy needed to be expiated in prose. There is a strange affiliation between literature and jealousy. Jealousy is wordy; it gorges on language. It is hyperbolic, growing fatter on every expression of itself. This is delicious for any writer who is not an understater of emotion. I love the dark, interior stickiness of the subject, where torment knows it should not be left to itself, but wants it no other way, and the victim forever haunts the border between the thing he fears and the thing he longs for. This is the subject of The act of love. Tales of innocence and wonderment leave me cold. Black obsessiveness is what the novel does best. And jealousy is its natural domain."

1. Leo Tolstoy, Kreutzer sonata
A great crazed story of desire, rage, real or imagined adultery – but why make fancy distinctions? – and murder, set to Beethoven's nerve-strung violin sonata. If you're going to do jealousy, this is the way to do it. In Tolstoy, the madness of jealousy goes all the way back to the madness of the sexual impulse itself.

2. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Angel Clare cannot live with the knowledge that Tess has known another man. But the novel's real engine-house is Hardy's not being able to bear it either. Tess is not in the end sacrificed to the malevolent Gods but to the writer's palpitating desire to see her violated by a brute. Every sensitive man's jealous dread.

3. Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jealousy
Sexual jealousy in all its minute obsessiveness, watching 10 hours for a curtain to twitch. So accurate it's boring. Not so much a book to read, as to know of.

4. James Joyce, Ulysses
The fact that Leopold Bloom has learnt to live with, and even love, his wife's infidelities, does not exclude this great comic novel from the jealous category. Only a deeply jealous man can make so splendidly complaisant a cuckold.

5. Pierre Klossowski, Roberte Ce Soir and The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes
Companion short novels charting the philosophic subtleties of faithless-wife worship, though wrapped around, in the French way, with theory. These novels itch with the husband's desire to see more evidence of infidelity and suffer more jealousy than he ever quite can.

6. Jane Austen, Persuasion
Sexual jealousy is not normally what we think of as Jane Austen's terrain. But her novels are full of jealousy's tragic potential. If it weren't for her intervention, her heroines would be forever losing men to more moneyed or vivacious rivals. In Persuasion she colludes with her heroine to the extent of throwing the other woman off a sea wall. Almost as murderous in its vengefulness as Tolstoy.

7. Saul Bellow, Herzog
Bellow's heroes appear to be in charge because they are so dazzlingly smart. But they suffer tortures of jealousy at the hands of women who are bored with their dazzling smartness. Herzog more than most. If you want to write a great comedy make your hero a reflective cuckold who reads a lot.

8. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The eternal husband
Spooky story of a man who cannot tear himself away from the company of his wife's former lover. Pinteresque in that you never know who's doing what to whom and which character is causing the other the greater sexual discomfort.

9. Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch, Venus in furs
Gleefully deranged study of a man's desire to be his mistress's slave, from which derives the word 'masochism'. The tension comes from waiting for the punishment to culminate in the ultimate jealous pleasure for the sexual masochist – the woman's infidelity.

10. Shakespeare, Othello
Only not a novel because novels weren't a going form yet. Simultaneously ludicrous and heart-breaking, this is the most convincing of all studies of jealousy's terrifying hold on the imagination, where trifles light as air hound the mind, and dread and desire are so closely intertwined as to deprive you of your reason.


This was one of the few early Top Ten book list columns to open the BTL comments, and attracted a whole twenty two comments. Happier, simpler times.

Other suggestions included:
W. Somerset Maugham, Of human bondage: "gets right down to it too."
Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square
Julain Barnes, Before she met me: "I reread it recently and felt a bit ill afterwards, but whilst reading every step in the escalation of events seemed near-logical."
Ernest Hemingway, Fiesta : the sun also rises: "That's easily the best potrayal of (male) sexual jealousy that I've ever read - and it covers quite a few different types as well. You might call it the definitive guide."
William Faulkner, The sound and the fury: "Now there's a book about jealousy..."
Malcolm Lowry, Under the volcano
Marcel Proust, In search of lost time: "Swann's jealousy of Odette is crafted superbly. But the pièce de résistance is the narrator's obsession with Albertine."
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita: "It has to be, doesn't it?"
Simone de Beauvoir, She came to stay: "really nails the narrator's simultaneous hatred of & obsession with the other woman, incredibly claustrophobic."
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale fire: "Sexual and intellectual/artistic jealousy rolled up into one package."
Julian Barnes, Before she met me: "a prime study of jealousy in the raw; not pretty, but a good read."
Sándor Márai, Embers (orig. A gyertyák csonkig égnek): "fantastic!"
W. Somerset Maugham, The painted veil: "where the husband virtually forces his adulterous wife to accompany him to an area infested by a deadly plague. Presumably in the hope that she'd contract cholera herself."
Graham Greene, The end of the affair
Djuna Barnes, Nightwood "Based on her own doomed romance with Thelma Wood, Barnes shows herself as Nora Flood who loves Robin Vote in 1920s Paris, and wishes to possess her, while Robin drifts from lover to lover despite her. Crushing."
Anthony Trollope, He knew he was right: "the most chilling deterioration into jealousy that I've read."

elokuu 7, 2022, 12:38 pm

Simon Armitage and Tim Dee's top 10 bird poems
Guardian, 2009-11-18.

As well as being one of Britain's most popular and acclaimed poets, Simon Armitage is also a dramatist, novelist, broadcaster and the winner of an Ivor Novello award for his song lyrics to the Channel 4 film Feltham Sings. His nine poetry collections include The universal home doctor and Travelling songs. Tim Dee is a BBC radio producer based in Bristol. He is the author of The running sky, a memoir of his birdwatching life. The poetry of birds is their new – ornithologically ordered – anthology of the best bird poems, newly published by Penguin.

"If we are to continue to live with birds about us we need bird poems as much as the RSPB," writes Tim Dee. "Birdwatchers don't necessarily make good poets but the best bird poems are steeped in observation and detail which promote their authors to among the very best watchers of birds. Since the beginnings of English poetry poets have been drawn to birds. The fleeting bewitching quality of birds' flight and song have been mainstays of poetry ever since. And despite depleted numbers and the loss of house sparrows and cuckoos and many other species, birds continue to populate poetry in a noisy and colourful conversation with the wild. Long may they do so."

Tim Dee's choices

1. Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'The windhover'.
A poem that enacts as well as describes, as if Hopkins were channelling a kestrel hovering 100ft up in the wind; it is mind-blowing no matter how many times you read it.

2. Paul Farley, 'The heron'.
In which a heron taking flight is compared, decisively and brilliantly, to a grumpy old man getting up to buy a packet of cigarettes; perfect pastoral poetry for today.

3. Norman Nicholson, 'The wren'.
A beautifully observed poem about a male wren building an unwanted nest; it is ornithologically accurate but also a heartbreaking elegy for Nicholson's father and the male of the species in general.

4. 'Sing a Song of Sixpence'.
The "blackbirds" of the nursery rhyme might be rooks, they make very tasty pies; but regardless of the birds or their end, the poem celebrates the deep and continuing entanglement of birds and people at all levels of life.

5. John Clare, 'The yellowhammer's nest'.
A birder's poem: Clare's description is pin sharp and indistinguishable from the lofty text of The handbook of British birds. He was a consummate nest finder and put his field-notes into poems and described more birds in them than any other poet before or since. Surely the greatest bird poet in the language.

Simon Armitage's choices

6. Charles Baudelaire, 'The albatross'.
A grand lofty poem by a grand lofty poet, it has a thumping confidence in its assertion that bird and poet are of the same species.

7. W. B. Yeats, 'Leda and the swan'.
A poem of brutality and wild beauty. I've always given swans a wide birth since reading this poem at school.

8. Ted Hughes, 'Cock-crows'.
Hughes is one of the great bird poets. This is an orgiastic firework display of common hens calling to the dawn, as seen from the height of the hill.

9. Robert Frost, 'The exposed nest'.
The lines "We saw the risk we took in doing good,/but dared not spare to do the best we could/though harm should come of it" stay with me. It's about covering up an exposed bird's nest, but it could be about Iraq, Afghanistan ...

10. Gillian Clarke, 'Curlew'.
Wonderfully observed and described. One of those classic bird poems in which the bird appears to offer huge significance to our life and our world (without, presumably, any intention or knowledge of doing so!)

elokuu 9, 2022, 6:29 am

David Charters's top 10 books about bankers
Guardian, 2009-11-25.

David Charters is a former diplomat and investment banker, who left the City after 12 years of working on many large international flotations and privatisations. He has published six novels and is best known for his best-selling Dave Hart series of satires, set in the fictional world of "Grossbank". Where Egos Dare is the fourth instalment, published on 14 September.
Touchstone: City.

"What's different about the City is the numbers. They all have a lot more zeros on the end. This means that when things go well – and sometimes when they don't – the people who work there can demand bonuses which also have a lot of zeros on the end. And the people who determine the bonuses (the bosses) are happy to go along with it because it means that they, in turn, will have to be paid more. Granted, the work is stressful, difficult and demanding, and the hours can be very long, and of course it's highly competitive. But so are a lot of other jobs. The difference is in those zeros. There's also almost no job security, however big the firm.

"So with huge rewards on the one hand and sudden death on the other, it's hardly surprising when the City brutally exposes the fault lines in human nature. Greed, fear, ruthlessness and impatience are a lethal cocktail. And of course people behaving badly make for great fiction and wonderful villains. They may not be attractive, but they are rarely dull. And, as we have all learnt to our cost, the City matters. When things go wrong in the Square Mile we all get to pick up the tab. So here are my top 10 picks to educate and entertain you about what really goes on there."

1. Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the vanities
For my money, the "Big Daddy" of financial fiction, a truly gripping tale of the slow, systematic tearing apart of the opulent facade that a New York investment banker calls his life.

2. Michael Lewis, Liar's poker
A superbly written, City perennial that shows you the inside workings of a high octane investment bank at the peak of its power, complete with rampant egos.

3. Michael Ridpath, Free to trade
Financial fiction definitely does not need to be dull, and Ridpath is a master storyteller. Coincidentally, along the way it is surprising how much you pick up about how the City works (and sometimes doesn't).

4. John McLaren, Black cabs
When investment bankers travel in cabs, they assume the driver hears nothing, sees nothing, spots nothing – to their cost, in this tale of the little guys getting one over on the men in suits.

5. David Freud, Freud in the City
Bankers are human, or at least some of them can be. David Freud's account of his City career is delightfully self-deprecating but at the same time illuminating.

6. J. K. Galbraith, The Great Crash, 1929
The naked emperors waltzing down Wall Street and along Threadneedle Street might have been given shorter shrift if more of our politicians and regulators had read this book. The similarities to recent events will surprise and probably horrify you. Will we ever learn?

7. Niall Ferguson, The ascent of money
A very readable account of the evolutionary history of money and financial systems, made accessible and interesting without being patronising. And yes, it really is a jungle out there.

8. Richard Oldfield, Simple but not easy : an autobiographical and biased book about investing
Oldfield is something of an anomaly in the City: an investment guru with a great track record, who is also a thoroughly decent bloke with his feet firmly on the ground and a lot of common sense – or at least that is how he comes across in this excellent Plain Man's Guide to investing.

9. John Kay, The long and the short of it : a guide to finance and investment for normally intelligent people who aren't in the industry
Does what it says on the cover, rather brilliantly, and wins my award for the book I'd most like to have written myself.

10. David Smith, Free lunch : easily digestible economics
If you only ever read one book about economics – for which I could easily forgive you – make it this one. Smith for Chancellor!

Muokkaaja: elokuu 10, 2022, 4:04 am

C. J. Box's top 10 US crime novelists who 'own' their territory
Guardian, 2009-12-02.

C. J. Box's series of Joe Pickett novels, as well as standalone books, have made him the winner of the Anthony Award, the Prix Calibre 38, the Macavity Award, the Gumshow Award, the Barry Award and the Edgar Award for the Best novel of 2008. US bestsellers, they have been translated into 21 languages. Box lives with his family outside Cheyenne, Wyoming. Visit his website at Three weeks to say goodbye, hailed by Harlan Coben as "a non-stop thrill ride" is his UK debut, and is published this week.

"The dirty little secret about the very best contemporary crime novels is that it often doesn't matter much who did it and why, but where the story is set. Solving the crime is simply a vehicle to travel through the territory. Reading the best crime novels about specific locations by authors who live there and own their home turf is like visiting with the ultimate know-it-all guide who moonlights as a voyeur.

"I write thrillers set in the Rocky Mountains because I want to shine a clear-eyed light on the region, its issues and people. That light can alternate between loving and harsh, but it must provide clarity. My latest novel, Three weeks to say goodbye, is based on a true story in which a young couple is ordered to return their adopted baby to certain danger. It's set in Denver and Montana. When you read it I want you to feel like you're there – struggling, suffering, and plotting righteous revenge with the characters while the snow falls and the mountains loom over your shoulder and your life and hopes plunge into a death spiral. And feel, once the book is over, that you've been someplace very real."

1. Washington DC / George Pelecanos
No one writes about race, class, crime, and urban dreams and nightmares in the US capital better than Pelecanos. By turns brutal, nuanced, and tender, this is the DC visitors rarely experience.
Suggested titles: The night gardener, Right as rain, Hell to pay.

2. Montana / James Crumley
There's a reason why so many first-class crime novelists revered the late James Crumley. Crumley resurrected the tough but literary crime novel and set it under a Big Sky and practically defined contemporary American noir.
Suggested titles: The last good kiss, The Mexican tree duck, The wrong case.

3. Los Angeles / Michael Connelly
Although it's almost sacrilegious not to give this one over to Raymond Chandler or James Ellroy, Connelly's Harry Bosch novels capture the contemporary feel, look, sights, sounds, and politics of The City of Angels with unerring accuracy and verve.
Suggested titles: The Harry Bosch novels, starting with The black echo.

4. New York and New Jersey / Richard Price
A language star, Price specialises in intense long-form cinéma vérité –style novels of fully realised characters in a you-are-there urban world. By the time you finish his novels you feel like you grew up in the Big Apple.
Suggested titles: Lush life, Clockers, The wanderers.

5. Louisiana / James Lee Burke
Burke incorporates the sights, smells, weather, politics, villains, and multiple histories and tangled racial storylines of south Louisiana into a world of its own that would be otherwise impenetrable. You'll find yourself sweating and smelling swamp water along with flawed hero Dave Robicheaux.
Suggested titles: Purple cane road, Tin roof blowdown.

6. Baltimore / Laura Lippman
Lippman is a former journalist who grew up in Baltimore and returned to write about it from the inside out. Like a painter, she illustrates the mean and kind streets of this fascinatingly American city on a big canvas.
Suggested titles: Baltimore blues, What the dead know, To the power of three.

7. New Mexico / Tony Hillerman
Weaving the American Indian culture as well as the landscape of the desert south-west into crime fiction, Hillerman pioneered his own outdoor/mystery genre. Grounded in real-life problems and local colour, Hillerman's novels are a psychic guidebook to the region.
Suggested titles: Skinwalkers, The thief of time.

8. Boston / Dennis Lehane
This is not the Boston of Brahmins and blue-bloods, but blistering tour-de-force examinations of the gritty neighborhoods of Dorchester and multi-generational relationships that are the beating heart of the city. The past is always present and passions run deep, dark and long. Buckle up.
Suggested titles: Mystic river, Gone baby gone.

9. Florida / Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiaasen satirises the changing culture of his beloved Florida in huge, hilarious, and bitter brush-strokes. No one is safe: tourists, developers, politicians, rednecks, do-gooders, or the overly zealous (although environmentalists come out OK). Eccentrics abound. After all, it's Florida.
Suggested titles: Double whammy, Stormy weather, Sick puppy.

10. Chicago / Sara Paretsky
For those curious about "The Chicago Way" and the most American of all American big cities, Paretsky's flinty female protagonist V.I. Warshawski charts a particularly tough-minded course through some very authentic neighborhoods. Filled with unapologetic opinions and sharp elbows, this is the Chicago visitors love, loathe, or both.
Suggested titles: Toxic shock, Blacklist.

elokuu 11, 2022, 9:05 am

Tim Key's top 10 bite-size books
Guardian, 2009-12-21.

Tim Key is a 33-year-old who works in the broad arenas of poetry, comedy, general, film and bookwriting. His first book sold out almost immediately (small print-run) and led to him becoming the resident poet on BBC4's Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe (ever so cool). He also became resident poet on Mark Watson's radio show (Radio 4) and had his poetry published in Vice magazine (niche) and Reader's Digest (different niche). He then went back to the café and wrote a second, altogether less coherent book. Instructions, guidelines, tutelage, suggestions, other suggestions and examples etc. concerns descriptions of photographs and maps, and the possibilities that may be contained in a fiddler's noggin. This year Key has co-penned and starred in Cowards and We Need Answers (both BBC4) and a Christmas Special of his much-loved Radio 4 comedy drama All Bar Luke. Key is a mess.

"A list of books which should be easily accessible around the house, to pick up, poke your beak into for a couple of minutes, and put down again."

1. Daniil Kharms, Incidences.
Daniil Kharms was a Russian loon who scribbled in the 1930s. His material is dark and loopy in equal measure, full of repeated actions and plenty of death. It's troubling – there's a strong impression the guy had a number of screws extremely loose – but it is also compelling and hilarious. 'The tale of the plummeting women' is an obvious highlight.

2. Dan Rhodes, Anthropology.
Rhodes writes short stories which are 101 words long. He writes 101 of them. Every single one is beautiful, funny and impressive in equal measure. The pieces in Anthropology are all about flawed relationships; all flawed in eccentric and delicious ways.

3. David O'Doherty, Claudia O'Doherty & Mike Ahern, 100 facts about pandas.
Everyone loves a panda fact. This cheeky little hardback exploits this; plonking 100 of them next to each other – all spurious; all beautifully illustrated; all funny. Panda Fact 24 claims that panda milk is deadly to any animal other than the panda. So it's a useful book, too.

4. Raymond Carver, Elephant.
Just short stories. But the best short stories ever written. Carver's a master of the genre. Carver writes with incredible economy. Nothing much happens. And yet we watch the character's lives change irreparably before our eyes. American, too, so he uses phrases like "he fed it some gas". Nice.

5. Ben Schott, Schott's miscellany.
Bit of an obvious one. It's Schott's miscellany, innit. Everyone got one for Christmas in 2005. But it is, still, essential to have round the house. Google's only realistic competitor these days, it's important not to allow our attitude to Schott to be destroyed by all these other books with similar covers but about the minutiae of, say, food or Harry Potter.

6. Nikolai Gogol, The overcoat.
Another spot of Russian. Russian short stories are mental and Gogol wrote some real humdingers. This is the saddest and my favourite. About a titular clerk (obviously) who saves up his money to get a new overcoat and turn his life around. It goes quite well for him for a bit. But then Gogol leaves us all devastated.

7. Benrik, This book will change your life.
Clever lunatic combo Benrik stick the best bits of This diary will change your life together to create a big thick selection of things to do. 'Watching Someone Sleep' is one of them, as is 'Freelance as a Traffic Warden'. So there's an argument for enjoying the bitesize entries rather than using it as a basis for sweeping lifestyle changes.

8. Armando Iannucci, Facts and fancies.
Iannucci's brain is clearly as big as a fridge so he is capable of making eye-popping televisual satire and feature films. But you can't put a feature film in your bog so this book plugs a gap. Iannucci lets his hair down and has a lot of fun with the English language as he gets his head round things like queues and noise.

9. Robin Cooper, The timewaster letters.
Deranged, misguided Cooper writes speculative letters to people with far less time on their hands than himself. Often they are provoked into using some of this time to reply to Cooper. Cooper then writes back himself. And so it goes on. Cooper's an astonishing, dreadful man and his targets are imaginatively picked. Sometimes you feel for the poor man who's wasted an hour writing back but only between volleys of cruel laughter.

10. Douglas Adams & John Lloyd, The meaning of liff.
This was always on my old man's desk. A real dip-in-and-out-of classic. Adams and Lloyd have found some funny place names. Adams and Lloyd have assigned some funny definitions. Adams and Lloyd have evidently had a lot of fun. A warm, very English book.

elokuu 19, 2022, 6:50 am

James McCreet's top 10 Victorian detective stories
Guardian, 2010-01-06.

James McCreet is the author of The incendiary's trail, a Victorian detective thriller influenced by the early works of Edgar Allan Poe and drawing on detailed historical research. Our review described it as "splendid… full of vividly depicted squalor and grotesquery". McCreet was born in Sheffield in 1971. He is currently at work on the third book in the series alongside his job as a copywriter.

"Sherlock Holmes and his predecessor, Edgar Allan Poe's Auguste Dupin, were always fantasy detectives. Their powers of deduction often bordered on the paranormal, and what passed for deduction was more usually just imagination. In fact, the real Victorian detectives, though more prosaic, were much more interesting. Armed with little more than their wits and a sharp eye, they were required simply to outsmart the criminals. No DNA, no databases and until the very end of the century no fingerprints – the true detectives of that period were perhaps the purest of the form, either literary or factual. Their London was one that straddled industrial modernity and Elizabethan poverty: a breeding ground for crime, and for stories."

1. Thomas de Quincey, On murder.
The old opium eater's series of articles about the real-life Ratcliff Highway murders pre-dated Poe and arguably have a claim to be the true origin of detective fiction. The Postscript in particular is a thrilling literary reconstruction of how the murders were committed, tracing how "the silent hieroglyphics of the case betray to us the whole process and movements of the bloody drama".

2. Edgar Allan Poe, The mystery of Marie Roget.
This overlooked short story was the follow-up to the seminal Murders in the Rue Morgue and was based on a genuine murder. Eschewing some of the more ludicrous mental gymnastics of Rue Morgue, this one instead has the detective solving the case merely by reading newspaper accounts of it. Fanciful it may be, but the logic is powerful, the parallels with literary criticism are clear, and the true victim lurks tragically behind it all.

3. Charles Dickens, Bleak House.
Dickens was fascinated with the idea of detection and spent much time with real detectives to produce journalism including "The Modern Science of Thief-Taking" and "A Detective Police Party". In Bleak House, he is one of the first authors to feature such an investigator in the form of the sober and practical Inspector Bucket, very likely influenced by the real Inspector Field.

4. Kate Summerscale, The suspicions of Mr Whicher.
This deservedly popular book examines a genuine case to get under the skin of real investigative techniques and provide a useful background to the origins of police detection. The "hero" Mr Whicher was indeed an archetype of the Victorian 'tec who applied a certain objective "x-ray" vision to the people and society around him.

5. Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone.
A competitor with Rue Morgue for the sheer preposterousness of its solution, this was another Victorian celebration of the genuine detective. The character of Detective Sergeant Cuff was allegedly based on the real-life Mr Whicher and exhibited the true traits of the historical detective: method, rationality, pragmatism and a healthy sense of distrust about what one might be told.

6. Henry Goddard, Memoirs of a Bow Street Runner.
This relative rarity is hailed as one of the few authentic accounts of a real detective and as such provides fascinating insight into how these men went about their investigations without the aid of science or technology. Goddard was a detective with the Runners until they were superseded by the Metropolitan Police in 1839, but he worked privately (and lucratively) for years afterwards.

7. Henry Mayhew, London labour and the London poor.
Moriarty, like all master criminals, was pure imagination. Journalist and social historian Mayhew went out in the 1850s to interview the true downtrodden denizens of the underworld: the conmen, prostitutes and chancers who stayed alive on their wits alone. My favourite – the man who sold old newspapers in sealed brown-paper wrappers under the pretence they were obscene prints.

8. Douglas G. Browne, Fingerprints.
Novelist Browne also produced some important history of the art, including a notable book on Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police's Detective Force. His volume Fingerprints documents the development of forensic science from its earliest origins and lends a fascinating parallel to the pseudo-scientific larking of Sherlock Holmes.
Touchstone : Fingerprints : fifty years of scientific crime detection.

9. Lee Jackson, A dictionary of Victorian London.
For all the investigative audacity in Conan Doyle's work, London itself remains little more than a backdrop to the narrative. Dickens knew that the city was the real star, and Lee Jackson's delicious collection of contemporary sources paints a picture of a city that often seemed too weird to be real, but always too real to be entirely fictional.

10. Liza Picard, Victorian London.
Among a multiplicity of books on the period, Liza Picard's social history has a humour and personality that really brings London to life. Her chapter on the smells of the city does more than any cinematic cliché of fog to evoke just what it must have been like to live and work there. These were the very streets upon which Victorian crime played out.

elokuu 20, 2022, 6:30 am

Matt Rees's top 10 novels set in the Arab world
Guardian, 2010-01-13.

Matt Rees was born in Newport, Wales in 1967, and has lived in Jerusalem since 1996. As a journalist, Rees covered the Middle East for over a decade for the Scotsman, then Newsweek and from 2000 until 2006 as Time magazine's Jerusalem bureau chief. His first book was a non-fiction account of Israeli and Palestinian society, Cain's Field. He published the first novel featuring Palestinian detective Omar Yussef, The Bethlehem murders, in 2007, which won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger award. The Saladin murders and The Samaritan's secret followed in 2008 and 2009. The Bethlehem murders won the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2008. The fourth assassin, published next month, follows Omar to visit his son in New York's "Little Palestine" in Brooklyn.

"The Arab literary world and Western publishing don't cross over much. The literature of the Arab world is largely unknown in the west, and even westerners who write about Arabs are sometimes seen as fringe, cult writers. That comes at a cost to the west, because literature could be such an important bridge between two cultures so much at odds. What we see of the Arab world comes from news reports of war and other madness. Literature would be a much more profound contact. I live in Jerusalem and write fiction about the Palestinians because it's a better way to understand the reality of life in Palestine than journalism and non-fiction. The books in this list, in their different ways, unveil elements of life across the Arab world that you won't see in the newspaper or on TV."

1. Yasmina Khadra, Wolf dreams.
A young Algerian on the make becomes disillusioned with westernised morality and joins a violent Islamist group. In turn he sees through the corruption and bloodthirstiness of the group's actions. A tormenting portrayal of the suffocating lack of options available to poor Arabs. Khadra (the pen-name of a former Algerian military officer) lives in exile in France.

2. Paul Bowles, Let it come down.
Writers look for resonance. You might say Bowles has us with his title alone, which resonates with doom even before he writes his first sentence. It's drawn from Macbeth. When the murderers come upon Banquo, he says that it looks like there'll be rain. The murderer lifts his knife and says: "Let it come down." Then he kills him. Such doom impends throughout this book, yet the main character seems barely to want to avoid it. He's become fatalistic, as have so many of the Arabs around him in the face of political and social injustice. Bowles wrote as he travelled through North Africa. Each day, he incorporated something into his writing that had actually happened during the previous day's journey. I often use that technique, adding details from yesterday's stroll through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem or a refugee camp in Bethlehem.

3. Tariq Ali, Shadows of the pomegranate tree.
Spain 1499. A novel set in a disappeared Arab world. In the final days of the Muslim kingdom of Andalus, Ali's characters feel overwhelmed by encroaching Christian intolerance. He seems to mark it as the moment when the flowering of medieval Islamic culture shifted onto the stultifying road that leads to bin Laden, and when the west began the imperialistic, racist expansion that would converge so devastatingly with that path in the last decade.

4. Naguib Mahfouz, Palace Walk.
The first of the Egyptian Nobel laureate's Cairo Trilogy. Set amid the political unrest against British rule at the end of the first world war, it's a marvellous evocation of the repressive, patriarchal nature of the traditional Arab family – and the secrets family members keep in order to have their fun or defy their father's authority.

5. Abdelrahman Munif, Cities of salt.
Saudi Arabia stripped Munif of his citizenship for this critique of the social and psychological devastation wrought on Bedouin villagers by the arrival of the oil fields. With a PhD in oil economics, Munif had deep experience of the injustice that came with the new oil wealth. Anyone who's travelled a desert road with a poor Arab will love this image: "The new trucks flew down the road like lighting, fast and huge. Akoub strained visibly to keep control of his truck in the windy wake when they passed him."

6. Alaa al-Aswany, The Yacoubian Building.
A scathing portrayal of modern Egyptian history by a dissident journalist. The characters, rich and poor, seem to be competing to see who can be most abusive and harsh to those around them. Aswany hits at everything from the graft at the top of the political and business worlds to the rejection of homosexuals and the sexual oppression of women. The only way to be more shocked about things in Egypt is to actually spend some time in the dilapidated Cairo neighbourhood where the book is set.

7. Emile Habiby, The secret life of Saeed (The Pessoptimist).
The only writer to win the highest awards for literature from both the PLO and the Israeli government. A Palestinian citizen of Israel, Habiby sat in the Knesset as a representative of the Israeli Communist Party. His greatest novel tells the story of a simple man who attempts to avoid politics, only to be sucked into terrorism and collaboration with Israel. Shows Palestinians in all their human frailty, rather than as idealised political stereotypes.

8. Lawrence Durrell, Mountolive.
The most political of the novels in The Alexandria Quartet. But because it's Durrell, it also manages to be sexual and seedy. A British diplomat tells his career story, up to the Zionist gun-running going on while he conducts an affair with an Arab woman.

9. Ibrahim Nasrallah, Prairies of fever.
A schoolteacher in a desert town is woken by the police who demand payment for having buried him. They're unimpressed by his claim to be alive and not in need of a funeral. Nasrallah, a Jordanian Palestinian, makes existentialism deeply political and very disturbing.

10. Kanaan Makiya, The Rock : a seventh century tale of Jerusalem.
Former Iraqi exile and architect Makiya writes of Muslim-Jewish relations during the first century of Islamic rule in Jerusalem, culminating with the building of the Dome of the Rock. This was recommended to me by Sari Nusseibeh, head of al-Quds University in Jerusalem, a leader of the first intifada and the man many wish could be the leader of the Palestinians.

elokuu 21, 2022, 5:47 am

Tiffany Murray's top 10 rock'n'roll novels
Guardian, 2010-01-27.

Tiffany Murray's first novel Happy accidents was shortlisted for the Bollinger/Wodehouse prize for comic writing. Diamond Star Halo, her second, was published earlier this month. She studied at UEA, and has taught creative writing there and elsewhere. She lives in the Welsh Marches.

"What is a 'rock'n'roll novel'? Rock'n'roll – from Robert Johnson to Jack White – is a coming-of-age sound that allows us to find ourselves, and maybe others. Writing about it is complex, with clichés lying in wait at every turn. I love these novels because they attempt to capture threshold, anarchic times where anything might happen; that, to me is rock'n'roll. Remember Marlon Brando in The wild one? 'Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?' 'Whadda you got?' Well, there's a lot of that in these narratives. As with some of these stories, my own novel Diamond Star Halo isn't written from the point of view of the rock star, rather from that of an observer, Halo Llewelyn. After all, rock'n'roll is a spectacle – of beauty, truth, all of that – and it's one you want to drink in."

1. Sherman Alexie, Reservation blues.
Robert Johnson arrives on The Spokane Indian Reservation, "with nothing more than the suit he wore and the guitar slung over his back". Misfit and storyteller, Thomas-Builds-the-Fire, wants to set Johnson's guitar on fire and smoke some salmon over it (on the Spokane Rez, they're salmon people). The guitar has different ideas. This guitar talks, sings the blues, and tells Thomas, "Y'all need to play songs for your people…Y'all need the music." And so Thomas, Victor, Junior, and Chess and Checkers Warm Water become the band Coyote Springs. I love everything Alexie does. This is a blues plunge into the magical real, and the all-too-real, of modern Native American life.

2. Roddy Doyle, The Commitments.
"The Labour Party doesn't have soul. Fianna fuckin' Fail doesn't have soul. The Workers' Party ain't got soul … The people o' Dublin, Our people, remember, need soul. We've got soul." So says Jimmy Rabbitte, with the help of Joey The Lips Fagan. Jimmy knows his music. Jimmy knows his preaching, too, and when the Commitments are formed, for one sparkling drip of time, history is made. A brilliant debut from Doyle back in 1987, (and a brilliant film from Alan Parker, too).

3. Nick Hornby, High fidelity.
Self-confessed "arsehole" and record-shop owner, Rob, shares his life of lists – girlfriends, break-ups, dream jobs, variously documented favourite songs – and tells us, "In Bruce Springsteen songs, you can either stay and rot, or you can escape and burn … but nobody ever writes about how it is possible to escape and rot … That's what happened to me; that's what happens to most people."

4. Don DeLillo, Great Jones Street.
"In endland, far from the tropics of fame," rock star Bucky Wunderlick, holes himself up in a bleak apartment on Great Jones St, NYC, after a final tour where he can tell his star is fading because "boys and girls … were less murderous in their love of me". Bucky's intense, crazed narrative voice conveys both the gloriousness and the plain weirdness of fame. With an insert from Bucky's conglomerate management, Transparanoia, entitled "Superslick Mind Contracting Media Kit, 'The Bucky Wunderlick Story', told in news items, lyrics and dysfunctional interviews", the myth of the dead or disappeared rock star and the hovering subjects of money, drugs, terrorist groups, and possibly Bob Dylan, all hum through a 1973 novel that is not showing its age.

5. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.
OK, bear with me here, but to me – or perhaps the teen-me – the ultimate rock star was Heathcliff. He's flinty, elemental, feral, beautiful, violent, mad, gothic, and so very, very rock n' roll. I picture Jack White, although Jack is perhaps too nice. Brontë's narrative structure – with the two outsiders, Lockwood and Nelly, telling the story – gives it the air of an exposé: the common man and woman, watching, reporting. You could call it a 19th century Almost Famous. This is why Wuthering Heights haunts Diamond Star Halo.

6. Colin MacInnes, Absolute beginners.
It's 1958 in London – specifically the shabby west London "Napoli" where our narrator lives – and "youth culture" is taking its first swaggering steps. There's sparkling modernity in the new language MacInnes indulges, too. "So I went out of the Dubious to catch the summer evening breeze. The night was glorious … The air was sweet as a cool bath, the stars were peeping noisily beyond the their neons, and the citizens of the Queendom, in their jeans and separates, were floating down the Shaftesbury avenue canals, like gondolas."

7. Mikael Niemi, Popular music.
Swedish author Niemi proves there was rock'n'roll life in his country long before Abba. The narrator, Matti, will charm you as he dreams of becoming a rock star in Pajala, his ice-bound village, in the 1960s. The first time he hears Elvis he's "petrified". The first time he listens to the Beatles with friend Niila, there's "CRASH! A thunderclap. A powder keg exploded and blew up the room……we splattered down on the floor in tiny damp heaps…Rock'n'roll music…Beatles."

8. Douglas Cowie, Owen Noone and Marauder.
An open-mic evening in a bar in Peoria, Illinois, a young boy watches Owen Noone play an impromptu rendition of "Sweet Child o' Mine". That young man soon becomes the Marauder, Owen's musical sidekick. This is an on-the-road novel, and as we follow their story we imagine what American folk-punk might sound like ("Yankee Doodle" and "The Wild Mizzourye" are some of the tracks, pilfered from Alan Lomax's collection of American Folk Songs). So genuinely rock'n'roll that French band Deskaya have released an eponymous song.
Touchstone: Deskaya, Owen noone et marauder (YouTube).

9. Doug Johnstone, The Ossians.
Connor Alexander is lead singer of the Ossians, a Scottish band made up of his twin sister Kate, girlfriend Hannah, and best mate Danny. Connor loves gin, and more, "I'm the troubled artists, amn't I? The old Cobain syndrome, nobody understands my torment and all that pish." Named after a third-century Scots Gaelic poet, with a record called The St Andrew's Day EP, the Ossians embark on a tour of the Highlands and dive into the underbelly of modern Scotland. As Connor tells a journalist, "it's not as simple as 'It's shite being Scottish'… it's both shite and great being Scottish, often simultaneously."

10. Jenny Fabian & Johnny Byrne, Groupie.
My father said this was the book at the end of 60s. I see his point. It's not exactly fiction, but what is? The groupie, Katie, a thinly veiled Fabian, was encouraged by Byrne to "write it just as you want and I'll help you with it". There's plenty of sex and drugs to go with the rock'n'roll, and there's great slang ("plating" in particular sounds very odd for what it describes). Ultimately Katie is the most interesting thing in the book. The boys, the rock stars, are rather one-dimensional, bless them. I suppose that might be the point.


The Guardian starts opening these columns up to Below The Line comments on a more regular basis from here on. Titles recommended (and occasionally damned) are a mixture of pop 'n' rock and teenage angst, and include:

Mike Moorcock, The great rock 'n' roll swindle.
Salman Rushdie, The ground beneath her feet.
Tom Perrotta, The Wishbones.
Nick Hornby, Juliet, naked.
Kevin Sampson, Powder.
Iain Banks, Espedair Street ("when people are suggesting powder by kevin sampson and espedair street by iain banks it shows nice and clear that there arent very many good rock and roll books out there").
Richard Allen, Punk rock.
Bret Easton Ellis, Less than zero.
Nik Cohn, I am still the greatest says Johnny Angelo.
Carl Hiaasen, Basket case.
Thomas Pynchon, The crying of Lot 49.
Martin Millar, Dreams of sex and stage diving.
Ed Jones, This is pop.
David Littlejohn, The man who killed Mick Jagger.
Anonymous, Go ask Alice.
Soren Hansen, The little red school book ("All grownups are paper tigers").
Caroline Sullivan, Bye bye baby.
Charles Mingus, Beneath the underdog.
George Pelecanos, King Suckerman and The sweet forever.
James Lee Burke, The lost get back boogie.
Willy Vlautin, The motel life, Northline and Lean on Pete.
Evelyn Waugh, Decline and fall.
Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo ("Rock n Roll in prose").
Hell bent for leather and Mother London ("both well read in my immediate circle. I'm not sure this is a recommendation though").
Zachary Lazar, Sway ("a fictional account of the Stones' early years").
Dick Cooper, Jukebox (the only one not yet on LT; nor AbeBooks or eBay!).

10. A BTL comment adds " 'plating' is cunnilingus. At least that's what it meant among me and my friends in the 70s."

elokuu 22, 2022, 8:53 am

Sam Baker's top 10 literary stepmothers
Guardian, 2010-02-03.

Sam Baker has edited some of Britain's bestselling magazines, including Company, Cosmopolitan and currently, Red. She published her first novel, Fashion victim, in 2005, and a second, This Year's Model, followed in 2008. The Stepmothers' Support Group, her third, is published this week in paperback. She lives between Winchester, Hampshire and central London with her husband and grown-up stepson.

"Stepmothers get what can only be called a "bum rap" in literature. From Snow White and Cinderella to Tolstoy to Judy Blume, whenever fiction needs a character to pin it on a stepmother comes in handy. Euripedes didn't help our cause when he wrote, "Better a serpent than a stepmother". And it's pretty much been that way since, with stepmothers pitted, in the main, against their stepdaughters, to create stories of two women battling for one man's attention. There aren't many positive role models, and often you need to dig below the surface, finding characters whose "stepmother-ness" is incidental. That's why I wanted to rehabilitate stepmothers, and made my characters in The Stepmothers' Support Group many things to many people – friends, professionals, lovers, confidantes… Stepmothering is just one of their tasks, and some of them are even good at it! Here are my favourite fictional stepmothers – some good, some very bad, and some downright put upon."

1. The Wicked Queen in Snow White by the Brothers Grimm
Hardly a positive role model, but I can't omit the mummy of them all. The wicked queen in Snow White is the baddest of all. But don't worry, the Brothers Grimm made sure she got her comeuppance. In their original, which has since been sanitised for our more sensitive constitutions, the queen attends Snow White's wedding, ignorant of the bride's identity. During the after-dinner speeches, the prince relates their "meet-cute" and realisation dawns. As she attempts to make a break for it, the queen is stopped by guards, who have some handily heated iron shoes. They force these onto the queen's feet and the wedding party watches as she dances herself to death. Nice.

2. Mrs Dashwood in Sense and sensibility by Jane Austen
As light of touch as ever, Austen gave us the anti-Cinderella story in the form of Mrs Dashwood. The antithesis of the Wicked Queen, she is cruelly wronged when Mr Dashwood dies and, in keeping with the property laws of his time, he leaves everything to his son from his first marriage. Far from being the baddie, Mrs Dashwood and her daughters fall victim to an avaricious daughter-in-law, who sees to it, despite her husband's deathbed promise to his father that he would look after his stepmother and sisters, the rivals are out on their ear by Friday. Was Austen trying to tell us something? Undoubtedly.

3. Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
Blink and you'll miss the fact that Holly Golightly is a stepmother at all. But before she was the responsibility-free Holly, the still teenage Lula Mae hot-footed it away from Texas, her marriage to Doc Golightly and her role as mother to his children. A theme, for Capote, perhaps, whose sharp-tongued stepmother Amy appears in his semi-autobiographical Other voices, other rooms.

4. Edith Grainger in Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens
This book should be renamed Stepmother & Daughter. It is not Dombey or his son who sit at the book's emotional core, but the love between his neglected daughter, Florence, and her stepmother, Edith. A rarity in fiction, it is not the stepdaughter but the husband who is the source of the conflict, and Edith has her work cut out from the word go, choosing to stay with the cold, heartless Dombey only because she can't bear to abandon her stepdaughter Florence. When Edith can finally take no more, Dombey blames his daughter for his second wife's betrayal.

5. Topaz in I capture the castle by Dodie Smith
Bohemian artist's model and sometime nudist, Topaz is not the most likely of stepmothers. She is certainly an occasional trial to Cassandra Mortmain, as the pair hatch a scheme to marry Cassandra's elder sister Rose to a rich American and save the Mortmain family from having to sell their furniture to buy food. Topaz is a stepmother in the elder sister/irresponsible aunt mode, conspiring with her stepdaughters as they attempt to use love to escape the consequences of their father's writer's block.

6. Sydelle in In her shoes by Jennifer Weiner
The most odious of modern stepmothers, Sydelle has married Rose and Maggie Feller's weak father, Michael. (Seeing a "weak man" theme here?) In Jennifer Weiner's immensely popular chicklit tale, Sydelle ticks all the boxes of a stepmother who tries to come between a father and his daughters, whilst pushing her own daughter to the fore. But she also manifests many of the traits of a critical mother. You can't help but laugh at her, but she also makes you want to look over your shoulder.

7. Elsa and Anne in Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
Elsa and Anne represent both sides of the stepmother coin. Elsa, Raymond's mistress at the start of the novel, is another on the merry-go-round of young women in Cecile's life since her mother died when she was two. Young and fun, Elsa is an ally. Anne, older, more determined, is ultimately more of a threat when she announces she and Cecile's father are to marry, and makes the fatal mistake of trying to fill the role of mother. Determined to stop it, Cecile goes to war, but whose side is the reader really on? The mistresses who come and go are fine, but when one threatens to interrupt Cecile and Raymond's relationship, Cecile makes sure she doesn't stand a chance.

8. Yelena in Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov
Mysterious and relatively young at 27, Yelena is on a hiding to nothing before she sets foot through the door. Often stepmothers are cast as plain (their ugly spirit infecting their looks) or very beautiful; both a sure sign of trouble. Here the beautiful, and seemingly unhappy, Yelena is pitted against the "homely" but dutiful daughter Sonya, who is close to her in age, and questions whether Yelena really married her father for love. A question that would never have been mooted had Yelena been older and plainer.

9. Emelia in Love and other impossible pursuits by Ayelet Waldman
William, the five-year-old boy cum "very small 62-year-old man" at the heart of Ayelet Waldman's story is the real hero, but you can't help but be moved by Emelia's struggle to learn to love him, as she copes with the death of her own baby and the resentment of his (now pregnant) mother. Flawed, self-absorbed, grieving and guilt-ridden, Emelia may not be especially likeable – but her battle to love another woman's child lies at the heart of most step-relationships.

10. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The stepmother as (convenient) unseen monster. The stepmother in Persepolis doesn't exist at all, but ably sums up the global image problem. Stopped by the Guardians of the Revolution, who complain about Marji's "whorish" and "decadent" garb, Marji bursts into tears, claiming that if she gets into trouble her stepmother will burn her with the clothes iron and send her off to live in an orphanage. The stony-faced guardians let her go. See, even stoney-faced fundamentalists are scared of stepmothers!


Charlotte Yonge, The young stepmother (1850s serial, "an early and sympathetic portrait of the complexities involved in looking after someone else's children, while trying to bring up one of your own").

Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous. ("While not technically Saph's stepmother, she was in many way's Eddie's partner and her brilliantly cruel verbal shots were memorable").

"Neil Gaiman has a wonderful and quite chilling alternative take on Snow White's stepmother in his short story 'Snow, Glass, Apples'".

syyskuu 3, 2022, 5:33 pm

Markus Zusak's top 10 boxing books
Guardian, 2010-02-10.

Markus Zusak is an Australian author born in 1975, the son of Austrian and German parents. His novels for younger readers have won numerous awards and one, The book thief, has become a worldwide bestseller. Originally published in 2001, Fighting Ruben Wolfe has just been reissued by Definitions.

"When I was growing up, my brother went through a whole catalogue of sports both in and outside the house. Football was banned because we wrecked all of our mum's plants. Cricket ended after a hat trick of broken windows. So we turned to boxing, which turned out to be something I would write about in Fighting Ruben Wolfe, and read about for years to come. Here are 10 of my favourite books on the subject ..."

1. F. X. Toole, Rope burns.
You can almost inhale the smelling salts in these short stories. F. X. Toole, a former corner man, serves as a perfect reminder to any writer to follow the write-what-you-know rule; you read one page and you know he's been there. Standout pieces here are "The Monkey Look", "Black Jew" and, of course, the devastatingly beautiful "Million Dollar Baby".

2. Lars Saabye Christensen, The half brother.
Although this is not exactly a book about boxing, there's a brilliant fight-night moment within this epic novel. The enigmatic half-brother, Fred, trains as hard as any boxer on the planet but, as constantly happens throughout this Norwegian writer's masterpiece, he has a surprise up his sleeve when he enters the ring.

3. Jeff Silverman, The greatest boxing stories ever told.
This is a great book to dip into, depending on your mood. If you feel like hearing from the likes of Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates or Richard Ford one day, but feel more like a boxing passage from Homer the next, you can find it here. It's interesting (and amusing) to see a character from Homer talking up his chances in the fight, too. Already back then, boxers were big-noting themselves before climbing into the ring.

4. W. C. Heinz, The professional.
This book just builds and builds, following a fighter on his way to a shot at the title. The book even has the feel of a training regime that is winding up to deliver the ultimate devastation. It definitely lands a blow that is unforgettable.

5. Leonard Gardner, Fat city.
I have such a clear memory of one seemingly glib moment in this novel. It's when the young boxer, Ernie Munger, is given instructions between rounds. He nods his head and "listens to none of it". This book is acknowledged by many as one of the great books about boxing, desolation, and just getting by in the disaster areas sitting just left and right of the American dream.

6. Harry Mullan, Boxing : the complete illustrated guide.
Comprehensive without being overbearing, this boxing encyclopedia is an excellent introduction to the great boxers, the great moments and the true champions of the ring. Even taking another look at this book to write about it, I was carried away for half an hour or so.

7. Joyce Carol Oates, On boxing.
Not too many people know about this Joyce Carol Oates title. As with all of her writing, she talks about boxing with great clarity and authority. Part history lesson, part psychological study, On boxing is a sort of meditation on the courage it takes to make yourself so vulnerable as to step into the ring.

8. Norman Mailer, The fight.
Some people say that this is a world championship between Muhammad Ali and Norman Mailer as to who had the biggest ego. Still, if you're interested in boxing, how can you not take a look at what Mailer does with the Rumble in the Jungle?

9. A. J. Liebling, The sweet science.
Like F. X. Toole, Liebling gives the reader an insight into the entire world of boxing, not just what happens in the ring. The title alone seems almost like a challenge to those who hate boxing (and who can blame them?) but this book depicts a time as much as a sport. You seem to be sitting in those dusty, men-filled rooms of America in the 1950s.

10. Walter Dean Myers, The greatest.
As a fan of the understated nature of Joe Frazier as opposed to the mouthy Muhammad Ali, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this homage to the latter. Here we see the sporting hero as an inspiration for a writer, and I was reminded that Muhammad Ali was and is – no matter what else is said about him – an amazing and courageous character.

syyskuu 3, 2022, 8:17 pm

>59 Cynfelyn:, carefully observing The Power of One not making the list.

syyskuu 4, 2022, 4:44 am

>60 Cecrow: Having just got home from holiday, and playing host to a daughter that is travelling on today, I felt I could afford the time last thing last night to squeeze in a Top Ten, but not to look through the BTL comments. There is a fullsome recomendation for Bryce Courtenay's The power of one, to add to the 104 members' reviews on LT, which must put it among the top one or two percent:

"Finally (and again, a book set in South Africa!), may I also suggest The Power of One in which the ambition of of the young hero PK to become world middleweight champion and his rise through the schoolboy amateur ranks is a key theme. The Power of One is criticised from all sorts of angles (anglo-centric, post-colonialist, pop-psycholog, only suitable for kids - there's even a sort of chicken spirit-guide!) but it's a good yarn and the fight scenes are great. The stand-out bout (which awakens PK's boxing ambition) between Hoppie Groenwald and Jackhammer Smit is a belter."

Other BTL recommendations include:
Rick Broadbent, The big if
David Remnick, King of the world
Jose Torres, Sting like a bee
Thomas Hauser, The black lights
Kevin Mitchell, War, Baby ("a very disturbing read in places")
Donald McRae, Dark trade
Mike Marqusee, Redemption song: Muhammad Ali and the spirit of the sixties
George McDonald Fraser, Black Ajax ("historical fiction ... peerless, a really great read")
Norman Mailer, The Presidential Papers
Ernest Hemingway, "The retired boxer Olsen in a short story"; also Fifty grand
Jake La Motta, Raging bull
Gavin Evans, Dancing shoes is dead
Brain Burland, The Sailor and the Fox
Jack London, The abysmal brute
Geoffrey C. Ward, Unforgiveable blackness : the rise and fall of Jack Johnson
David Margolick, Beyond glory: Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling and a World on the brink
George Plimpton, Shadow box
Budd Schulbergs, Ringside
George Kimball, Four kings
Thom Jones, Sonny Liston was a friend of mine and The pugilist at rest
Nick Tosches, Night train
Nelson Algren, Never come morning
Harry Crews, The knockout artist ("The only honest novel ever written about boxing, showing the true nature of this viciously stupid 'sport'")
Howard Bingham & Max Wallace, Muhammad Ali's greatest fight: Cassius Clay vs. the United States of America
"What I can't understand is how F. X. Toole's Rope burns makes it to the list at all, never mind at number one. It is so up its own arse it is not actually readable."
Scott Wolven, Controlled burn, for the short story 'El Rey'
Caryl Phillips, Foreigners, for the story of Randolph Turpin
Hugh Mcllvanney, The hardest game : McIlvanney on boxing
Ralph Wiley, Serenity : a boxing memoir
Dave Anderson, Sugar Ray
Peter Heller, In this corner : 42 world champions tell their stories
Mike Silver, The arc of boxing : The rise and decline of the sweet science
Jonathan Rendall, This Bloody Mary is the last thing I own
Katherine Dunn, One ring circus : dispatches from the world of boxing
Kasia Boddy, Boxing : a cultural history
Binnie Klein, Blows to the head : how boxing changed my mind
Bob Dylan, 'Who killed Davy More' ("an excellent and critical song")
Clifford Odet, 'Golden Boy' (play)

syyskuu 5, 2022, 5:20 pm

Henry Sutton's top 10 unreliable narrators
Guardian, 2010-02-17.

Henry Sutton was born in Norfolk in 1963. After training as a journalist he worked for a number of national newspapers and magazines. He is the author of five previous novels, including Gorleston, Flying and Kids' stuff, and a collection of short stories, Thong nation. He also teaches creative writing at UEA and lives in Norwich with his family. His new novel, Get me out of here, is published by Harvill Secker.

"Something strange happened to unreliable narrators in the mid-20th century: they became a little more reliably unreliable, and a lot nastier. In the late-19th century they tended to be untrustworthy either because they were hiding something about themselves or had failed to recognise the truth, generally because of some kind of psychological weakness. However, as modernism shifted into post-modernism and we all became that much more cynical, most narrators were expected to be complicated. Unreliability became inextricably linked with malevolence – not to mention duplicity, delusion, even derangement. Of course, as the parameters stretched, unreliable narrators also became a lot more fun, with humour often countering the blackness. The challenge was to make tricksy first-person characters both intriguing and entertaining."

1. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955).
Never straight with himself, let alone the ladies and gentlemen of the jury to whom he is ultimately addressing his words, Humbert Humbert arrived halfway through the 20th century, intent on justifying his appalling crime. Nabokov's syntactical genius is the one true triumph.

2. Henry James, The turn of the screw (1898).
Is it a ghost story, or the tragic tale of a young woman undergoing a breakdown? Believing her two young charges are communing with the spirits of her two dead predecessors, the prim governess of Bly House becomes increasingly panic-stricken and erratic, until she's left with a dead boy in her arms.

3. Joseph Conrad, The heart of darkness (1902).
Right at the start we're told that Marlow likes to spin yarns. However, his tale of journeying up the Congo, in search first of ivory, and then the infamous Kurtz, is one of the most powerful stories in literature. Whether his story is strictly faithful becomes irrelevant, as Marlow ends up highlighting the moral corruption at the heart of all humans.

4. Martin Amis, Money (1984).
John Self is one of literature's most repulsively addictive narrators. The book might be subtitled "A Suicide Note", but it is in fact a love story, with Self dreaming up ever more extravagant ways to shed his wedge while pursuing entirely corruptible Selina Street, among others. The fact that Self might never have actually existed, revealed towards the end, is Amis's sly take on the death of the self.

5. Bret Easton Ellis, American psycho (1991).
Patrick Bateman makes John Self look even more out of shape, when it comes to commenting on the big brands and applying his murderous hands to the unsuspecting and the vulnerable. Yet Ellis's great comment on consumerism and the death of high culture could just be a mirror to our own deluded thoughts, and Bateman nothing more than a sickly funny fantasist.

6. Jim Thompson, The killer inside me (1952).
It was Jim Thompson, not James M. Cain, who put the hard into hard-boiled, the noir into roman noir. He was also one of the first crime writers to take us into the heads of seriously twisted killers, if not out-and-out psychopaths. Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford is regarded as a pillar of the small Texan community he serves. Yet he's in possession of a secret he doesn't even admit to himself. When the bodies start to appear, the net slowly tightens.

7. J. D. Salinger, The catcher in the rye (1951).
Classic unreliability when first published in the early 1950s which now looks almost tamely reliable. Of course young Holden Caulfield is anything but clear about what his short, privileged life has already led him to believe – he's a teenager. Naturally everything's phoney, except his beloved sister Phoebe. Though even she is abandoned as Holden loses his fragile grasp on reality.

8. A. M. Homes, The end of Alice (1996).
Narrated in the first person by a hyper-intelligent paedophile, and from the third person perspective of a 19-year-old girl with an unhealthy fixation on a much younger boy, Homes's homage to Nabokov didn't just question the nature of desire, but that of literary taste and acceptability. A brutally brave and truly experimental novel that, over here, fell very foul of the Daily Mail.

9. Lionel Shriver, We need to talk about Kevin (2003).
Shriver's Orange Prize-winning novel is a postmodern masterclass in unreliability, as the principal theme of nature versus nurture trickles through the slow revelations of exactly what Kevin has done. Told in a series of letters by Kevin's mother, Eva, to her estranged husband, Franklin, the reader is never quite sure of whether it was Eva or Kevin who exhibited the most disturbing behaviour. Franklin, meanwhile, is guilty of chronic denial.

10. Mark Twain, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).
In his search of freedom, as he floats down the Mississippi, Tom Sawyer's best friend "Huck" Finn finds himself travelling out of his rational mind. First published in 1884, Twain himself described his controversial masterpiece, as "... a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat".


BTL comments were not opened.

syyskuu 6, 2022, 10:14 am

Aifric Campbell's top 10 jobs in fiction
Guardian, 2010-02-24.

Aifric Campbell was born in Ireland. She moved to Sweden where she completed a linguistics degree and lectured in semantics. She spent 13 years as an investment banker in London before leaving to study psychotherapy and creative writing, most recently at UEA. She often writes for the Irish Times. Her new novel, The loss adjustor, is published this week by Serpent's Tail.

"Ever since I was a little girl and spent an afternoon in a slaughterhouse I have been fascinated by work. Career accident and choice has been central to how my own life has unfolded so I guess it's no surprise that when I begin a novel the character's job is absolutely key. The loss adjustor in my latest book has found the perfect profession for someone unable to come to terms with childhood tragedy. Work – and its absence – shapes our destinies and lays our souls bare. My top 10 choices are all compelling stories beautifully told by writers who will keep you up all night."

Estate agent
Richard Ford, The sportswriter / Independence Day / The lay of the land.
You will see your estate agent, or "realtor", in completely different light when you get to know Frank Bascombe who has "lived to face down regret". His young son dies, his early literary success evaporates, he gets divorced and observes New Jersey and the human condition with grace and humour, often from behind the wheel of his car. Viciously funny and incredibly moving, I have re-read my copy of The sportswriter so many times that the pages are falling apart.

Cormac McCarthy, The Border trilogy.
I first discovered McCarthy when All the pretty horses was published in 1993 and it took me back to the westerns I had loved as a child. John Grady Cole is "a man come to the end of something" at the opening of the first volume in the trilogy. When his grandfather rancher dies he rides off for Mexico on a journey that will make him feel "the world's heart beat at some terrible cost." There is a magnificence to McCarthy's writing that is truly breathtaking.

Ryu Murakami (transl. Ralph McCarthy), In the miso soup.
"There are things people do automatically in this country that foreigners can't understand no matter how hard you try to explain." Kenji is a "nightlife guide" for Frank, an American tourist who might also be the serial killer who is stalking Tokyo. Not to be confused with the other better-known Murakami, Ryu's subject is the moral emptiness of contemporary Japan and his books are guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine. Kenji is the curiously passive freelance interpreter who is unable to translate the horror in which he is complicit. Horribly compelling.

Ballet dancer
Colum McCann, Dancer.
The little boy who danced for a ward full of wounded Russian soldiers in 1943 went on to become the greatest dancer in history. Rudi is wild, wonderful and outrageous and dances until his feet bleed and we see him through the eyes of a host of different narrators in this extraordinarily powerful novel. Colum McCann spins unforgettable fiction out of Nureyev's life.

Neil Bartlett, Skin Lane.
Mr F lies about his occupation because "to describe too accurately what he actually did every day would seem grotesque". The trouble begins when he starts to have recurring dreams about a naked body hanging upside down from a cistern. The cutting room in the hidden heart of the City and the eerie tools of the furrier's trade take you to the edge of suspense and beyond. A poignant and sinister meditation on beauty, obsession and desire.

Dennis Lehane, The given day.
Danny Coughlin suspects that "his job was the wrong fit for his heart". The son of a police captain starts out as a beat cop who goes undercover to gather intelligence on political radicals and finds his loyalties tested to the limit when the police go on strike. A love story, a monster family epic set at the end on the first world war, and the inside story of the Boston police will make any Irish reader heartsick.

Car salesman
John Updike, The Rabbit novels.
When Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom reaches middle age he takes pleasure in knowing "that the earth is mortal too" as he looks out the car showroom window. From high school basketball hero, to linotype printer to car dealer, we grow up with Rabbit through the last four decades of 20th century America. Lyrical, brutal drama of the everyday and a true celebration of the human condition in all its wonder.

Javier Cercas (transl. Anne McLean), The speed of light
"Now I lead a false life, an apocryphal, clandestine, invisible life, though truer than if it were real, but I was still me when I met Rodney Falk." I'm often suspicious of novels with writers as central characters since there is always the chance that the author is engaged in a self-help exercise but Cercas's story of the young Spanish writer who takes a teaching job in the US and befriends an off-beat Vietnam vet with a dark secret is utterly absorbing from the opening page. His prize-winning Soldiers of Salamis was critically acclaimed but I thought this was a far better novel. Heart-breaking and intriguing, I could not put it down.

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger.
"All that remains to be told is how I changed from a hunted criminal into a solid pillar of the Bangalorean society," says Balram towards the end of this book. The son of a rickshaw puller "born and raised in Darkness" he dreams of transcending his fate and when he lands a job as chauffeur to a wealthy businessman the White Tiger finds his escape route. There is a steely ferocity to Balram's wit that is utterly captivating.

John Banville, The Untouchable.
"I have lived decorously here, I must not now turn into a shrieking hysteric." Victor Maskell writes in the journal he begins when, as an old man dying of cancer, he is exposed as a Soviet double agent. Inspired by the story of Anthony Blunt, the fourth man of the Cambridge spies, this is classic Banville in all his brilliance.


Civil servant: George Orwell, 1984.
Entrepreneur: Ayn Rand, Atlas shrugged.
Carpenter: The New Testament (I can't agree. There's practically nothing about carpentry as a career. Cynfelyn).
Banker: Michael Lewis, Liar's poker (Several comments "but it's non-fiction").
Spy: "I loved The Untouchable. But surely LeCarre was better at the nuts and bolts of tradecraft."
Postal worker: Charles Bukowski, Post Office.
Servant: Kazuo Ishiguro, The remains of the day
Investment banker: Bret Easton Ellis, American psycho; Tom Wolfe, Bonfire of the vanities ("However, I find Wolfe's A man in full to be a great companion piece which stands up to re-reading much more satisfactorily.")
Tax collector: Peter Carey, The tax collector.
High class prostitute/escort: Emile Zola, Nana.
Office worker: Joseph Heller, Something happened ("by far Hellers' best book and I think perhaps an influence on Mad Men").
Salesman: Glen Ross, Glengary ("hell, it's even better than "death of a salesman", which is no mean feat").
Lawyer: John Grisham (most of).
Journalist: Evelyn Waugh, Scoop.
Doctor: Chekhov (short stories); Samuel Shem, The house of God.
Advertising: Joshua Ferris, And then we came to the end ("a surprisingly nimble debut novel about the gradual meltdown of an advertising agency during the dot com bust"); Matt Beaumont, e ("utterly utterly brilliant").
Manual labour: Magnus Mills, Restraint of beasts ("the best book ever about the pointless, petty ennui of manual labour, and the avoidance thereof (which technically makes it an anti-work book anyway, which sounds much better)").
Bus driver: Magnus Mills, The maintenance of headway ("non too shabby either, arguably the greatest ever novel about bus-drivers").
Fisherman: Ernest Hemingway, The old man and the sea.
Policeman: Flann O'Brien, The third policeman.
Spaceman: Isaac Asimov, Foundation.
Fireman: Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.
Art student: Alasdair Gray, Lanark.
Builder and decorator: Robert Tressell, Ragged trousered philanthropist; Michael Thomas, Man gone down ("There are some wonderful, both poetic, realistic and very professional descriptions of fixing up a loft").
Restaurant worker: Stewart O'Nan, Last night at the Lobster.
Writer: John Fante, Ask the dust.
Private detective: Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy.
Football manager: Merv Grist, Life at the tip.
Mercenary: Frederick Forsyth, Dogs of war.
Kitchen porter/tramp/plongeur/various: George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London.
Shopgirl: Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn.
Journalist: Hunter Thompson, Fear and loathing in Las Vegas.
Second hand book shop worker: George Orwell, Keep the aspidistra flying. ("Oh it is ALL SO TRUE").

syyskuu 7, 2022, 5:46 pm

Shirley Hughes's top 10 picture book characters
Guardian, 2010-03-03.

Shirley Hughes has written and illustrated more than 50 books, selling some 11.5m copies, and collected a string of awards for creating some of the most enduring characters in children's literature, including Dogger, Alfie, and Lucy and Tom. Her latest book is Don't want to go, published this week by The Bodley Head.

"With picture books small children can see themselves as readers long before they have learned to decipher the text. They turn the pages with relish, exploring the plot through the illustrations with tremendous concentration. They are learning how to look, rather than being passively overwhelmed by fast moving electronic imagery. Little wonder then, that the great heroes and heroines of picture books are among the world's best remembered fictional characters."

1. Raymond Briggs, Fungus the Bogeyman.
Fungus is one of Briggs's most inventive picture books. Adults as well as children will be gleefully sucked down into that world deep in the slime, a place of blocked drains, dubious smells and infestations, where the Bogey family thrive. Fungus's sorties above ground to plague luckless humans who are fighting a losing battle against Bogeydom are wonderfully funny.

2. Clara Vulliamy, The bear with sticky paws.
When The Bear with Sticky Paws arrives at Pearl's house, chaos of one kind or another ensues. Clara Vulliamy can draw real children as convincingly as she can invent anthropomorphic animals, a rare quality in contemporary picture books. (I have to declare an interest here, as she is my daughter!) These stories explore Pearl's changing reactions to the engagingly maverick bear, who tears through the action with delicious abandon.

3. Charlotte Voake, Ginger.
The relaxed simplicity of this kind of illustration is the hallmark of a true professional. Many small people will strangely identify with Ginger the cat's irritation when a kitten arrives to ruffle his life. The pictures sprawl nonchalantly across the page but nevertheless express a great deal of emotion.

4. Eric Carle, The very hungry caterpillar.
One of the simplest and most brilliant ideas for a picture book ever. The caterpillar literally worms his way through the story holes punched in the pages. Even the youngest child can follow his progress with her fingers to the glorious dénouement when he emerges as a beautiful butterfly.

5. Ian Falconer, Olivia.
Olivia's jaunty piggy personality is expressed with the true economy of line we expect from a New Yorker cover designer. She is, of course, really an irrepressible preschooler, bouncily engaged in dressing up, taking a bath, reluctant to go to bed and very good at wearing people out. Along the way she also stars as an opera diva, prima ballerina and a talented abstract painter.

6. Mairi Hedderwick, Katie Morag.
Although anthropomorphic animals abound in picture books there are not so many convincingly real child characters. Katie Morag lives on a Scottish island and the details of her life there, all the neighbours and bustling activity of a seagoing life, are the kind you can linger over and return to again with increasing pleasure.

7. Hergé, Captain Haddock.
Hergé has been described as the Homer of strip cartoon. His impeccable draughtsmanship matches his soaring inspiration as a storyteller. Tintin and Snowy are great heroes, but Captain Haddock steals the show – short tempered, fond of drink, but an intrepidly loyal friend in a tight spot. His exclamations alone – "billions of blue blistering barnacles!" – are a claim to immortality.

8. Edward Ardizzone, Little Tim.
Part of Little Tim's enduring appeal is that with his friend Ginger he can take off, go to sea and have all kinds of exciting adventures without grown-ups tagging along. Ardizzone's style both as a storyteller and an artist are in the great English tradition. He uses line and wash with the relaxed eloquence of a true master.

9. Jean de Brunhoff, Babar the Elephant.
"Babar" is perhaps my most favourite of all picture book characters. This wonderfully illustrated saga opens when his mother is shot by a cruel hunter. Luckily, on the very next page a kind old lady gives him her purse. He goes on not only to acquire a smart outfit of new clothes and win a devoted wife and family, but to become King of the Elephants and have many breathtaking adventures.

10. Tove Jansson, Moomin.
The Moomins are another great saga that every child should experience. Tove Jansson's deceptively simple strip cartoon format creates a whole readily inhabitable world. Moominpappa and mamma and their children are irrepressible optimists, though many tiresome villains cross their paths. The dialogue is superb.


The BTL comments include masses of good English-language children's books and picture books, many remembered from the commenters' own childhoods or from their children's own reading, but quickly stray from characters to books. Worth flicking through, but I'm not going to try to produce a list.

syyskuu 8, 2022, 4:37 pm

Frederic Raphael's top 10 talkative novels
Guardian, 2010-03-09.

Born in Chicago but educated in England, Frederic Raphael is probably best known as the author of Glittering prizes, and its sequel Fame and fortune, both of which he adapted into acclaimed TV and radio series starring Tom Conti as writer Adam Morris. This month, he publishes a third volume in this series, Final demands, which finds Morris contending with middle age and its discontents and which he has also adapted for BBC Radio 4. Raphael is also a prolific author of some 20 other novels, as well as history books, biographies and film screenplays. Last year he completed a strikingly contemporary translation of Petronius's Satyrica, (published by Carcanet, priced £12.99).

"Dialogue brings a novel to life. It is possible to compose fiction without it, just as Georges Perec was able to write an entire book without using the vowel "e", but one had better be a genius to affect such forms of composition. And once is quite enough. It may also be possible to contrive great blocks of prose, in which landscapes are described and psychological states analysed as never before. But a writer who cannot make characters talk, and have their conversations require us to listen to them, is locked into airless formality.

"Dialogue tells us what people say and it hints at what they do not. It encourages readers to bring a book to life by enticing their participation in it. They then supply their own reading of how loudly or softly, truly or falsely, words are exchanged. When a writer allows his characters to talk among themselves, he grants them their freedom. If only because the subconscious can then chime in, his premeditated scheme never wholly dictates what someone will say.

"Dialogue in a novel is like stained glass, the surrounding prose is there to frame and support it. Even Marcel Proust, who certainly delivers paragraphs of dense prose, used dialogue brilliantly; and silence too. His greatest character, the Baron de Charlus, is arrogant, garrulous and caustic. But when an arriviste hostess finds the nerve to banish him from her house, his inability to find any kind of crushing retort signals the moment when the narrator, Marcel, is able to stand away from his mentor's shadow. Thenceforth he is free to depict him with merciless accuracy. Dialogue can be used in various ways and various registers, but a writer who masters its nuances will produce novels that always speak to us, not least between the lines."

1. John O'Hara, Appointment in Samarra.
O'Hara was a keen observer, above all of the Pennsylvania Dutch inhabitants of the town he called Gibbsville (a permeable disguise for his birthplace, Pottsville). He could mimic local speech and vocabulary so that the reader can overhear it. The story of the life and death of Julian English is a masterpiece of erotic suggestion and narrative economy.

2. Petronius Arbiter, The Satyrica.
Petronius, who lived during the reign of Nero, who ordered his suicide, wrote a sprawling picaresque novel of which only the chapters concerning the gross Trimalchio, a millionaire ex-slave, have survived in their entirety. Petronius was a master of elegance and of its low cousin, scorn. The adventures of Encolpius, his anti-hero, and his louche companions are salacious and farcical by turns, but they are brought to life by the often absurd and obscene chat which comes directly from the gutters of Roman life. As I discovered when translating Petronius, dead languages can still have raucous voices.

3.Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt.
Lewis was nicknamed "Red", more for the colour of his hair and livid complexion than on account of his politics, but his capacity for catching the vocabulary and aggressive philistinism of middle-western America was as boundless in print as it was, we are told, in person. In company, he was a mimic who did not know when or how to stop; in print, he made accuracy into satire. Babbittry entered the American language as the style of salesmanship and humbug to which John Updike surely paid rhyming tribute in his creation "Rabbit" Angstrom, a salesman in the Lewis tradition.

4. Ivy Compton-Burnett, A god and his gifts.
The last novel published in Ivy's lifetime was one of the first I ever reviewed. I am glad that I recognised genius when I saw it; a limited genius perhaps, but there it was. Ivy's novels were always a tapestry of dialogue, formally phrased but full of hidden poisons and traps. Her milieu was the Edwardian upper middle-class, on the surface polite, savage underneath. She described very little, but lust, violence and greed all emerged from the seemingly prim dialogue. Melodrama was never more elegantly articulate.

5. Iris Murdoch, A severed head.
Murdoch was a philosopher and a romantic, with a sensuous intelligence and a keen ear. Her novels contain slabs of rather too colourful landscape and gushing description, but her great strength lay in the clever edginess of her conversations. I wrote the movie script of A severed head and it was, I confess, an easy job: unlike most writers', much of her dialogue sounded good out loud. I remember, for instance, an unfaithful wife saying, "It's all or nothing" and the husband's answer: "Let me recommend nothing." Facile? You do it.

6. Somerset Maugham, Cakes and ale.
Maugham is regularly dismissed and as regularly resurrected. He had no grand opinion of his own work, but he learnt early on, when writing plays, that a capacity for amusing dialogue supplied the best means for capturing an audience. Cakes and ale (the title comes from Twelfth night) proves that the literary world of the 1930s, with its cliques and claques, is not very different from that dominated by today's Michaels and the ubiquitous Antonias. It is said that Hugh Walpole soon came to recognise his own voice, and character, in Alroy Kear and, no doubt, Thomas Hardy in Edward Driffield. What is a novel of manners without a serrated edge?

7. John Steinbeck, The grapes of wrath.
When I first opened Steinbeck's great novel about "the Okies" – migrant sharecroppers from the 1930s dust-bowl of Oklahoma – I found their dialogue, phonetically reproduced on the page, quite incomprehensible. But read it aloud and the voices of the Joad family come out fighting, as it were. The family's trek to golden California has plenty of cruel incident, but when I think of Rose of Sharon, for instance, I hear her name "Rosa-sharn" the way Tom Joad said it, and says it.

8. Evelyn Waugh, Scoop.
Most pundits now proclaim Brideshead revisited as Waugh's enduring masterpiece. Its purple passages have their nostalgic glamour, but isn't there something lamingly absurd in all that well-spoken snobbery? Waugh does so love a Lord. The earlier Scoop is a satire on pre-war Fleet Street and has a savage larkiness that never visits Bridehead. What does one remember in particular? The line "Up to a point, Lord Copper", the nearest an employee dares come to disagreeing with his tyrannical (Northcliffian) boss.

9. Natalie Sarraute, The golden fruits.
Sarraute was one of the "new novelists" who set out to renovate French fiction in the early 1950s. Her novel, like Cakes and ale, is a satire on the literary world, this time in Paris, written almost entirely in dialogue. Its title refers to a novel which is only talked about in her text. It is first saluted as a masterpiece and then slowly picked to pieces by critics and envious friends of the author.

10. Brian Glanville, A Roman marriage.
The story of an English girl seduced and enchanted by an Italian lover is told with appropriate irony by a man who knows and loves Italy almost as well as England. His novel Along the Arno is early evidence of his ability to bring characters to life by reporting them, so to speak, with curt accuracy. A Roman marriage is a comedy of incompatible manners, Anglo-Saxon and Latin. I confess, if it is a confession, that A Roman marriage is dedicated to me. It is not a sign of corruption to speak well of one's friends, not least when their work deserves it.

syyskuu 13, 2022, 5:01 am

Paul Murray's top 10 wicked clerics
Guardian, 2010-03-17.

Former bookseller Paul Murray's first novel, An evening of long goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize in 2003. The Irish writer has just published his second novel, Skippy dies, the story of death and a doughnut-eating competition at a Dublin Catholic boarding school where French teacher Father Green (known as Père Vert) holds sway.

1. Archbishop Roger degli Ubaldini in Dante's Inferno.
Dante finds the archbishop in the ice of Lake of Cocytus — the innermost circle of hell, reserved for traitors. Frozen beside him, apparently eating his head, is Count Ugolin della Gherardesca, who pauses from his meal to tell the pilgrim how he formed an alliance with the archbishop to get rid of his grandson, Nino, head of a rival Guelf party in Pisa. After Nino was driven out, the archbishop turned on Ugolin and imprisoned him and his four sons and grandsons in a tower. The gate was nailed shut: Ugolin describes watching the children starve to death. Now the count and archbishop are locked together in the ice, and Ugolin feasts perpetually on Roger's head and brain.

2. Friar Hubert in Chaucer's The Canterbury tales.
Devoted to the principles of Francis of Assisi, the friars, who arrived in England in 1221, lived without possessions, travelling the country teaching, preaching and begging. Their graphic depictions of hell proved very effective in separating the laity from their cash, to the fury of the established church, who also accused them of being lenient in confession with criminal types, again for their own financial gain. Hubert is a kind of summary of the common gripes about supposed mendicants who rode fine horses and looked suspiciously well fed; friars also come off badly in The summoner's tale and The canon's yeoman's tale, leading some critics to suggest that Chaucer must have had a personal run-in.

3. Tartuffe in Tartuffe by Molière.
Probably the most famous hypocrite in literature, Tartuffe is an impoverished conman who wangles his way into the home of the well-to-do Orgon. Bewitched by Tartuffe's ersatz religiosity, Orgon arranges for him to marry his daughter; Tartuffe meanwhile is doing his best to seduce Orgon's wife. The play scandalised the church fathers, and was banned before Molière had even finished writing it following a performance of three acts at Versailles in 1664. When it reappeared disguised as L'Imposteur three years later, the archbishop threatened anyone who so much as read the play with immediate excommunication.

4. Abbot Ambrosio in The monk by Matthew Lewis.
Written in ten weeks largely to support his mother, who was in dire financial straits after running off with a music teacher, Lewis's Monk gleefully details the downward spiral of the initially upright Abbot Ambrosio into lust, Faustian pacts, rape (of his sister) and murder (of his mother). This most gothic of all gothic novels also features a vengeful mother superior and a ghostly bleeding nun. First published anonymously, on the second edition Lewis, then an MP, included his name: Coleridge was only one of many who was scandalised to see that "the author of The Monk signs himself — a legislator!"

5. William Collins in Pride and prejudice by Jane Austen.
Mr Collins is one of Austen's most brilliant creations, and his proposal to Elizabeth Bennet is a comic tour de force. After setting out his reasons — good example to his flock; vague sense of altruism; really though because his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, has told him to — he assures Elizabeth of the violence of his affections. When she refuses him, he refuses, in turn, to believe her, pointing out that this is probably the only chance she will get. Two days later, he proposes to, and is accepted by, her more calculating friend Charlotte.

6. Reverend Edward Casaubon in Middlemarch by George Eliot.
The character of Casaubon surely strikes a chord, whether of fear or sympathy, in many writers and academics. A sere, remote clergyman, he has spent his life lost in research for his impossible Key to All Mythologies. At first he appears merely aloof and alienated; after marrying Dorothea, he reveals a more venomous side. He forbids her to see his young cousin, Ladislaw, and threatens to disinherit her should she ever marry him; then he tries to compel her to finish his great work in the event of his death — which follows a few pages later. A blackly humorous portrait of a wasted life.

7. The Grand Inquisitor in The brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.
This "unwritten poem", which nihilistic Ivan Karamazov relates to his saintly brother Alyosha, is set in 16th-century Seville at the height of the Inquisition. Christ has made a brief reappearance to boost the flagging faith of his people. Witnessing him resurrect a little girl, the Grand Inquisitor has him arrested, and that night in his cell reveals that the church has long abandoned his teachings. Christ's insistence on man's freedom led to moral and social chaos, the Inquisitor argues. Man is weak; freedom makes him unhappy; he not only needs but actively wants to be ruled by force, and the church has made a pact with the devil to do just that. Dostoevsky's depiction of the totalitarian state in which the oppressed people effectively collude proved chillingly prophetic.

8. The preacher in A portrait of the artist as a young man by James Joyce.
At a supposed spiritual retreat, an unnamed preacher subjects the boys of Belvedere College to a 15-page description of the tortures of hell. The walls "four thousand miles thick", the rivers of effluent, the agonising flames and the terrifying image of eternity send Stephen Dedalus first into a fantasy of his own death and torment, and then into a prolonged period of unbearable religious zeal. The original of this supremely creepy preacher was one Father James Cullen, of whom Joyce's schoolmate said, "he had a distinct trace of sadism ... He found it humorous to shake hands with young boys and then squeeze their hands until they yelled with pain."

9. The Bad Priest in V. by Thomas Pynchon.
In war-torn Valletta, poet Fausto Maijstral first encounters the Bad Priest when he tries to persuade Fausto's lover to get rid of their child. Loaded with guilt and shame, Elena only escapes through a chance meeting with a good priest, Father Avalanche. During "the Day of Thirteen Raids", when the Luftwaffe repeatedly bomb the city, Fausto witnesses the Bad Priest trapped under a beam: stripped and tortured by local children, the priest is revealed to be a woman — none other than the final incarnation of V, the mysterious, shape-shifting, demonical-mechanical take on the eternal feminine which dances in and out of Pynchon's mesmeric first novel.

10. Brother Leon in The chocolate war by Robert Cormier.
Set in an American high school and revolving around a charity chocolate sale, Cormier's outstanding novel explores the coercive forces which underlie the education system. At its heart is Brother Leon. Outwardly placid, the assistant principal is a power-obsessed sadist without a single saving grace. An expert at finding the boys' weak spots, he exploits them mercilessly and teaches his young disciples to do the same. By the end of the book, one boy is dead and the school is a moral ruin — with Leon proudly installed at the top.

syyskuu 15, 2022, 2:22 pm

Theresa Breslin's top 10 books about the Spanish inquisition
Guardian, 2010-03-24.

Scottish author and librarian Theresa Breslin has written over 30 books for children. Ranging from historical fiction to tales of modern life and from fantasy and science fiction to school stories, Breslin's books for young adults include the Carnegie medal-winning Whispers in the graveyard, starring a dyslexic main character, and Divided city. Her titles for younger readers include Bullies at school and The Magic Factory series. Her new novel Prisoner of the Inquisition, set during the Spanish inquisition and following the story of the pampered daughter of the town magistrate Zarita, and a boy who swears revenge after his father is hanged for an assault on Zarita he didn't commit, is out on 1 April.

1. Rafael Sabatini, Torquemada and the Spanish inquisition.
If you're looking for factual background to the subject of the Spanish inquisition, Sabatini would be a good first port of call. This is a colourful and dramatic biography of the monk who became the first Grand Inquisitor of Spain, and whose name has come down to us through the ages associated with torture and terror.

2. Jean Plaidy, The rise, The growth and The end of the Spanish inquisition.
A three volume non-fiction work which attempts to cover the whole history of the Spanish inquisition. Although sparing of consideration of any aspect of contemporary brutality and comparison with the times, it's still a good introduction and gives conversational style detail as well as an insight into the workings of the inquisition in Spain.

3. Henry Charles Lea, The inquisition of the middle ages : its organisation and operation, and A history of the inquisition of Spain.
If you want to cover the vast scope of the subject, go ahead and knock yourself out with the whole shebang in these titles. Accused of prejudice, exaggerations and inaccuracies, these still remain the seminal texts on the subject. They don't flinch from detail, however, so are not for the fainthearted.

4. Howard Fast, Torquemada.
With such a compelling subject and dramatic characters, it's not surprising that a great many novelists have covered the period of history encompassed by the Spanish inquisition. Most books focus on the early years — the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand and the dreaded but fascinating Tomas de Torquemada. Fast's novel is a chilling psychological study of the relationship between two men: one a Spanish nobleman, the other the monk newly elected as Grand Inquisitor of Spain during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. A tale of obsession, of righteous conviction which obliterates compassion and the effect this has upon the psyche of each man, Torquemada explores the inner truths of the human soul. Utterly compelling.

5. Philippa Gregory, The constant princess.
Brilliant portrayal of Katherine of Aragon from a magnificent historical novelist, this book skilfully uses flashback to tell of Katherine's life in Spain as a pampered princess of the Spanish monarchs. Worth reading too for an insight into the difficulties of the life of Queen Isabella. Gregory's use of language made me feel as though I was walking with Katherine on slippered feet through the halls of the Alhambra Palace in Granada.

6 and 7. Jean Plaidy, Castile for Isabella and Spain for the sovereigns.
It's great to see Jean Plaidy's work being reissued with classy covers. I'm sure I owe a lot of my love of history to Ms Plaidy, as I gobbled her books up as teenager. She might be considered a little old-fashioned in style now, but her well-researched historical settings give her scenes authenticity, while her dialogue develops character and enlists the sympathy of the reader. Without avoiding the ravages of the inquisition, these books personalise the life stories of the great monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand, who unified Spain, brought law to an unruly land and had the foresight to finance the expedition of a little known explorer-mariner called Christopher Columbus.

8. Christopher Gortner, The last queen : a novel of Juana La Loca.
A highly readable account of the fascinating life of one of the daughters of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. Juana was sister to Katherine of Aragon who married Henry VIII of England, and like her sister Katherine, Juana's life was one of many trials. Always mercurial in temperament, she was driven to madness by the death of her much-loved husband. So besotted was she, and so unable to accept the fact he had passed on, that she carted her husband's corpse around with her on her travels for months after he died. The book is a sympathetic treatment of the main character, Juana, and the tragic life of a woman who perhaps lived and loved too intensely.

9. J. M. Cohen (ed. and transl.), The four voyages of Christopher Columbus.
Gives extracts from the log books and diaries Columbus kept while on his voyage, and includes material from the biography written by his son as well as from the letters of some of the officers who voyaged with him. This book allows the reader an intimate glimpse of the compulsion which drove the explorer, the movement in the minds of his contemporaries and the times that shaped him.

10. The Mysterious Lost Book
I know, I know. In addition to being a writer I'm a librarian — professionally trained and everything. I should have all my stock catalogued and key-worded and arranged alphabetically with index cards for each one in little drawers, but I didn't, I didn't. And I'm really very sorry that I didn't. So now I've got a book I can't find. I don't know the title and I can't remember the author (his first name may have been Frank). My edition had a racy cover showing a voluptuous female falling out of the front of her (red?) dress. In that respect the book promised more than it delivered, but it did have a riveting plot and was very revealing on the complexities of religious tension in Europe, relating that the upright Calvinists were not averse to devious plotting and burning a few folks when they felt like it. Oh how I used to adore people who came into my library and asked me to find a book with such scant information. But now I'm offering a prize — a signed copy of the first hardback edition of Prisoner of the Inquisition to anyone who tracks this one down for me. So, go for it, all you interested-in-the-inquisition bibliophiles out there, and let me know if you can track that one down. I'm waiting to hear from you.


The Brothers Karamazov, The legend of the Grand Inquisitor.
Edgar Allan Poe, The pit and the pendulum.
"Oh, and then on to the Monty Python scripts for a slightly revisionist approach. "Crossbeam's gone skew on t'treadle" etc... Cardinal Biggles sends his regards."
Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou.
2000 AD, "The 2 Torquemadas" ("a graphic novel series, in which the Inquisition and their future namesakes (the latter being dictators of the alien-hating, underground-dwelling humans of the planet Termite (Earth)) get to meet each other with terrible consequences for all involved").
Umberto Eco, The name of the rose.
Andrés Claro, La Inquisición y la Cábala: Un capítulo de la diferencia entre ontología y exilio.
Charles Kingsley, Westward Ho!.

Candidates for book no. 10:
Luther Blisset, Q.
Frank Slaughter, Divine mistress.
"Could the author have been Frank Yerby?"
Tobsha Learner, The witch of Cologne.

syyskuu 16, 2022, 5:21 am

Jonathan Kellerman's top 10 LA noir novels
Guardian, 2010-03-31.

Jonathan Kellerman writes tales of crime and detection which expose the shadowy side of glittering Los Angeles. After a career in child psychology, he turned to writing full time. He lives in southern California with his wife, the novelist Faye Kellerman, and their four children.

"I tend to avoid lists, as I don't like reductionism in general, have never viewed writing fiction as a competitive sport and, let's face it, someone good is always going to be excluded. There are many fine contemporary writers covering the LA scene — Robert Crais's latest novel is first rate. But I'm going to concentrate on older books, because it was the previous generation of noir which inspired me to begin the Delaware series over a quarter of a century ago. I'm also going to expand the parameters from Los Angeles proper to southern California: LA isn't a city, it's a concept which applies anywhere in the Golden State where nice weather abounds, a chasm yawns between the haves and the have-nots, and delusional blind ambition is habitually confused with work ethic and wisdom. Given that preamble, here are a few standouts."

1. Nathanael West, The day of the locust.
Not a crime novel per se, this book remains the finest account of Hollywood heartbreak ever written. If it's noir you're looking for, this one's saturated with nuclear fatalism. And would-be starlets.

2. Any novel by Ross MacDonald.
When contemporary reviewers search for a noir icon they inevitably come up with Raymond Chandler. But although Chandler's work was seminal and his alcohol-fuelled chronic depression generated a helluva lot of witty metaphors, his plotting skills never advanced very far. Ross MacDonald (the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar), on the other hand, was a master of structure and story, as well as a writer of immense grace, sensitivity and insight. To my mind, MacDonald was easily the better of the two, and many crime novelists concur. His stories sometimes descend to LA and its environs, but his primary locale is 90 miles to the north in Santa Barbara, which he called Santa Theresa (a conceit adopted by the ever-witty, skillful Sue Grafton.) The chill stands out as the ultimate Freudian crime novel and a later book, The underground man, melds natural disaster, in this case a forest fire, with grisly killings in a way that expands the novel beyond whodunit and whydunit but never lapses into pretentiousness. But really, any Macdonald will do.

3. Jonathan Latimer, Solomon's vineyard.
A creepy, evocative gem which has sunk, unfortunately, into obscurity. Latimer's take on the psychology of fanaticism is as fresh as today's headlines. The sense of place is powerful, the language tough and funny. Latimer, like many novelists who failed to achieve prominence as such, ended up writing for film and TV — a noir story in itself.

4. and 5. James Ellroy, The black dahlia and The big nowhere.
Thirty years on, James Ellroy's early books remain fresh: he was writing about the monstrous psychopaths who later became familiarised as serial killers back when no else could even imagine people like that existed. (I'll take some partial credit here: my fourth novel, The butcher's theatre, covered the same grisly ground because my background in psychology led me to explore the darkest aspects of human behaviour. I set the book in Jerusalem, but there are some LA scenes. Butcher was written in 1985; Ellroy and I were hanging out regularly back then and I've come to realize that the gore level of Butcher may be related to some of our more "interesting" conversations.) Ellroy's first works — Brown's requiem, Clandestine, Blood on the moon and the other Lloyd Hopkins police procedurals — are great reads; The black dahlia and The big nowhere stand out to me as masterpieces. The first uses a famous unsolved true crime as a springboard for beautiful writing and the best type of social commentary — that which masquerades as entertainment. The second is, literally and figuratively, a bigger book, and is, in my opinion, Ellroy's magnum opus.

6. Raymond Chandler, The lady in the lake.
My initial comments about Chandler notwithstanding, The lady in the lake is a great read and you can't quibble with Ol' Ray's .45 caliber cynicism and stunningly accurate feel for Los Angeles.

7. Marc Behm, The eye of the beholder.
A gorgeously taut bit of nastiness.

8. Sue Grafton, The Kinsey Milhone books.
Grafton's Kinsey Milhone books, though sometimes mistaken for lighthearted when compared to all the testosterone-laden stuff out there, really do belong in the SoCal noir tradition. Sue's writing chops are at virtuoso level — she makes it look easy when it's not — and her feel for the region is second to none.

9. Frederick Brown, Horace McCoy, Charles Bukowski.
Two other relatively unsung hardboiled novelists who deserve attention. Bukowski's poetry, meanwhile, is a perfect adjunct to murky nights immersed in hardboiled fiction and good — or bad — booze.

10. John Harvey, The Resnick novels.
Finally, I'm going to go out on a huge geographic limb and say that John Harvey's Nottingham-based Resnick series has always struck me as more LA noir than many books actually set in the city. In any event, they're a blast to read.


Well, Kellerman here seems to have played fast and loose with the column's groundrules: six books, two series, and "anything by" four authors. Perhaps them's the breaks in LA.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 21, 2022, 10:42 am

Carsten Jensen's top 10 seafaring tales
Guardian, 2010-04-14.

Carsten Jensen was born 1952. He first made his name as a columnist and literary critic for the Copenhagen daily Politiken, and has written novels, essays and travel books. Jensen was awarded the Golden Laurels for I have seen the world begin; the Danske Banks Litteraturpris, Denmark's most prestigious literary award; and, most recently, the Palme prize.

"Given that men have sailed the seas for thousands of years, it's perhaps surprising how few great works of literature have been inspired by the seafaring life. Sailing may have promised adventure, but in reality it was a dangerous profession that attracted only the toughest, few of whom were equipped with a talent for writing. Their yarns remained fixed in the oral tradition, and in general, writers directed their attention elsewhere. But the exceptions are majestic."

1. Homer, The Odyssey.
Written in an era when the world believed in magic, and that the unmapped seas contained both marvels and monsters, The Odyssey is the greatest seafaring epic of all. Homer's storytelling skills are so deft that readers tend to overlook the shortcomings of his hero on the seamanship front: not only does it take Odysseus 20 years to cover the relatively short distance between Troy and his beloved island of Ithaca, but during that time, he also manages to lose his entire fleet of 12 ships. When he finally arrives home, not a single one of his crew remains alive. Hardly a great role-model for would-be captains.
(footnote). This footnote was added on 15 April 2010 to clarify that Odysseus was indeed away from Ithaca for a total of 20 years, but 10 of those years was spent at war with Troy and 10 on the journey home.

2. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick.
Melville's masterpiece tells the tale of Captain Ahab and his obsessive quest for a whale whose terrifying whiteness comes to embody evil itself. I doubt that any contemporary publisher would take on such a vast, eccentric, anarchic work if it crossed their desk today. Reading it, you realise what a free and wide-ranging genre the novel once was, and how much has been wrecked by a book industry catering to the most conventional taste. Not only does Melville forget all about his main character, Ishmael, for hundreds of pages, but he also allows himself to indulge in endless speculations about the nature of whales, before reaching the conclusion that they're not mammals, but fish. What to do in the presence of such artistic nerve, but salute?

3. Edgar Allan Poe, The narrative of Gordon Pym of Nantucket.
This is the only novel Poe wrote, and what a strange piece of work it is: a seafaring adventure by a writer who specialised in claustrophobia. Here, Poe explores its opposite: his protagonist, approaching the South Pole, encounters a vast world of menace and shrouded monsters. The story's abrupt end, complete with unsolved mysteries, sucks you in like a maelstrom. But where better to be stuck than inside one of western literature's most fertile and weird imaginations?

4. Joseph Conrad, The shadowline.
The Polish-born Conrad stepped into world literature more or less from nowhere; despite English not being his native tongue, his writing is the most sophisticated I've ever come across. Of his many extraordinary novels, this classic rite-of-passage story remains my favourite. When the ship of a young, untested captain is becalmed, he is faced with his first big challenge – and despite the odds, rises to it. For, Conrad the deck was a microcosm of the wider world. His novels are all about ethics and honour. Those were the days.

5. Robert Louis Stevenson, A footnote to history.
This short journalistic report, which Stevenson wrote during his final stay in Samoa, provides great insight into Samoan culture – along with a wonderfully ironic dissection of the follies of imperialism. Three colonial powers – Great Britain, the US and Germany – prepare to pitch into battle over the spoils of Samoa when a hurricane strikes and wrecks their men-of-war. Stevenson could have called it The Revenge of the South Seas.

6. Jack London, The South Sea tales.
When I read the novel Ulf Larsen as a boy I didn't understand the Nietzschean rantings of London's tyrannical captain, but his The South Sea tales still left a lasting impression on me. His depictions of the brutal life of the Pacific are forthright and disillusioned, especially when the representatives of higher civilisation show up.

7. Victor Hugo, The toilers of the sea.
The story takes place on the island of Guernsey, but its drama is definitely more French than British, concentrating as it does on the fickleness of women's love and the futility of men's heroism. There's a great underwater scene in which a man fights a giant octopus armed with only a knife. And all this happened before Freud, so the sea could carry all the freight of the subconscious without waving symbolism in anyone's face.

8. Hans Christian Andersen, The little mermaid.
The little mermaid isn't strictly a seafaring story, but it does involve a lot of swimming. And fish-tails, too. Readers outside Scandinavia tend to think of Andersen as a precursor of Disney, but read The little mermaid in its original version, and you'll discover he was anything but. The prince and the mermaid don't end up in each other's arms, and love doesn't prevail: it brings pain and doom. The Denmark of Andersen's era was not as idyllic as we'd like to believe. It was a narrow-minded, intolerant and deeply divided society. Andersen, who came from the bottom rung of the social ladder, was never allowed to forget his humble origins. But he cunningly used his fairytales to tell his tormentors harsh truths in a seemingly inoffensive way.

9. Knut Hamsun, August.
Despite being a bestseller in Germany, the Norwegian Nobel laureate never had the popularity he craved in Britain. Some claim this is what drove him into the arms of the Nazis. But a better explanation lies in his loathing of modernity, coupled with his passion for the tough, untamed, tradition-loving Nordland region north of the Polar Circle that was his native landscape. This makes Hamsun's choice of August as the novel's eponymous hero a surprising one, since August represents the rootless cosmopolitanism and "Americanisation of life" that the author so loathed. But August is unquestionably a sympathetic character, and an endless source of fun, inventiveness, tall tales and generosity. In sidelining his own prejudices Hamsun shows an awareness that the requirements of art supersede those of politics, and herein lies his greatness. Hamsun's sprawling, entertaining novel with its vivid portrait of a small town on the shore of a big ocean remains immensely readable to this day.

10. Hans Kirk, The fishermen.
In spite of Denmark's history as a seafaring nation, surprisingly few of its novels describe life at sea. Hans Kirk's 1928 masterpiece is the understated, tightly-crafted story of a deeply religious fishing community which decides to uproot from the harsh shores of the North Sea and seek a more comfortable existence on the banks of an inland fjord. But the fishermen fail to adapt to their new surroundings. Increasingly isolating themselves to safeguard their puritan belief in a punishing God, the community gradually falls apart. Although almost a century has passed since it was written, The fishermen still provides a striking psychological insight into the workings of the fundamentalist mind.

syyskuu 20, 2022, 3:53 pm

>68 Cynfelyn: Non-serial LA noir is not a common thing and for most of the series it is the series and not a specific novel that really matters so there is that :)

syyskuu 21, 2022, 5:24 am

Michael Foley's top 10 absurd classics
Guardian, 2010-04-21.

Michael Foley has published four novels (most recently Beyond, 2002) and four collections of poetry (most recently Autumn beguiles the fatalist, 2006). A New and selected poems will appear in 2011. The age of absurdity is his first non-fiction prose book.

"I seem to have emerged from the womb believing that the human condition is essentially absurd and this belief has been reinforced both by literary and philosophical expressions of the idea and many developments in the contemporary world. Eventually the pressure from these two sources compelled me to make my own absurd contribution, The age of absurdity. The following classics, listed in reverse chronological order, were all important influences."

1. Francis Wheen, How mumbo-jumbo conquered the world.
This survey of contemporary absurdity reveals that the UK government, seeking ways to improve inner-city council estates, hired a feng shui consultant called Renuka Wickmaratne who said: "Red and orange flowers would reduce crime and introducing a water feature would reduce poverty. I was brought up with this ancient knowledge." Also revealed, along with much else – that, as a presidential aide put it, "virtually every major move and decision" made by Ronald Reagan, including the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, was first cleared by a San Francisco astrologer called Joan Quigley; and that 48% of Americans believe in UFOs, 27% in alien visits to earth, while 2% (3.7 million people) actually claim to have been the victims of alien abduction.

2. David Foster Wallace, A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again.
This hilarious and terrifying account of a Caribbean Luxury Cruise is scrupulous documentary realism but also a contemporary fable. The perfect symbol of the age is a cruise liner – a gigantic mobile pleasure palace conveying outsize infants in pastel leisurewear round a series of shopping venues. Wallace reports, in amazement: "I have heard upscale adult US citizens ask the Guest Relations Desk whether snorkelling necessitates getting wet, whether the skeetshooting will be held outside, whether the crew sleeps on board, and what time the Midnight Buffet is."

3. Terry Southern, The Magic Christian.
This is the story of the ultimate prankster Guy Grand, a fabulously wealthy financial genius who amuses himself by buying into different enterprises and subverting them, for instance taking over Vanity Cosmetics and launching a shampoo called Downy, supposedly based on a formula that had been "Cleopatra's secret", but actually designed to destroy hair. But Grand's greatest coup is when he lures celebrities and socialites onto a cruise ship, the SS Magic Christian, and, proceeds, with demonic ingenuity, to drive them mad throughout the cruise.

4. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot.
Kafka gave the quest saga a modern twist by having unexceptional seekers who are always frustrated – the quest story without a hero or a conclusion. Beckett took this a stage further. Godot is a quest saga without even a quest. The two tramps, thoroughly modern men, can't be bothered to embark on a quest and just wait around for meaning to come to them.

5. Albert Camus, The myth of Sisyphus.
This is the finest theoretical work on absurdity. Camus compares the human condition to the fate of Sisyphus, eternally condemned to push a rock up a hill, a fable that will resonate with all those obliged to work for a living. But Camus argues, convincingly, that Sisyphus can be happy with his rock. The book is short, exquisitely well-written, and full of sentences that should be on coffee mugs, T-shirts and fridge magnets everywhere.

6. Flann O'Brien, The third policeman.
This is another vision of life as absurd repetition – but eerie, nightmarish, totally black. In the key scene Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen take the narrator on a visit to eternity (up an Irish country lane and deep underground) and tell him he can order whatever he wants. After some thought the narrator requests, and is given, 50 cubes of gold, a bottle of whiskey, precious stones to the value of £200,000, some bananas, a fountain pen and writing materials, a serge suit of blue with silk lining and a weapon capable of exterminating all adversaries. But as he is about to enter the lift on the way out he is informed that he must exit with the same weight as he came in. Obliged to abandon his treasures, he weeps silent bitter tears – excruciatingly funny and also strangely moving.

7. Franz Kafka, The metamorphosis.
The stroke of genius here is that, when Gregor Samsa wakes up as a gigantic insect, he himself experiences only "slight annoyance". It is other people who are disgusted, especially his family. Only the old cleaning woman is unaffected, chatting familiarly to Gregor as he scuttles happily across the ceiling.

8. Mark Twain, The man that corrupted Hadleyburg.
Twain is generally remembered as a sunny, genial humorist but his late works are invigoratingly savage and dark. In his best late story, the town of Hadleyburg, renowned for incorruptible rectitude, offends a passing stranger so deeply that the man spends a year devising a perfect plan for exposing the hypocrisy of all the town's leading citizens. This plan, involving of course a sack of gold, reaches its diabolical climax in a sublimely funny town hall meeting scene that combines the manic zest of Twain's early writing with the vindictive ferocity of his later vision.

9. Gustave Flaubert, Bouvard and Pécuchet.
Bouvard and Pécuchet are humble copy clerks until Bouvard unexpectedly inherits money and the two friends decide to give up work and devote themselves to acquiring knowledge. They attempt to master in turn farming, chemistry, medicine, astronomy, geology, gymnastics, spiritualism, philosophy, religion and phrenology, in each case following the best contemporary expertise, but always ending in disaster and disillusionment. In their education phase they take in the children of a convict and subject them to the latest pedagogic techniques. Resolutely resisting improvement, the children wreck the garden, smash dishes in the kitchen, steal food and money, attack their philanthropic teachers and finally boil a pet cat alive in a cooking pot.

10. Ecclesiastes.
This short work expresses, in the most beautiful language, everything important about the absurdity of the human condition. No more literature or philosophy was needed but, as the author, perceptive in this too, acknowledges, "of making many books there is no end".


"(Flann) O'Brien's earlier At Swim-Two-Birds is equally absurd and hilarious."
Richard Littlejohn, Littlejohn's Britain. ("I think you would be hard pressed to find a book more absurd"). (Cynfelyn: I'm not sure if this is for real, or someone making a political point about a Sun and Daily Mail columnist).
Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros.
Anything Dada, especially by Breton and Tzara.
Raymond Queneau, Zazie dans le métro or Exercices de styles.
David Foster Wallace. "I'd have gone for E Unibus Pluram as it details a very precise adsurdity: watching TV for six hours a day".

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 21, 2022, 6:41 am

>69 Cynfelyn:, check the touchstones to Joseph Conrad, The Shadowline and to Knut Hamsun, August.

Other standout seafaring: C.S. Forester and Patrick O'Brian.

syyskuu 21, 2022, 6:59 am

Tämä käyttäjä on poistettu roskaamisen vuoksi.

syyskuu 21, 2022, 11:05 am

>72 Cecrow: (i) Thanks. Done. Hopefully.

(ii) I've only read the one Hornblower book, The commodore, the only decent book on a shelf of Danielle Steels and Dan Browns at a summer holiday let a few years ago. I'm afraid I agree with the take-away from the LT members' reviews: decent enough, but not enough to inspire me to start the series from the beginning.

I read the first four of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin books when Harper Collins were reissuing them as paperbacks in 1996. I should have kept buying them and reading them.

syyskuu 21, 2022, 11:06 am

Useat käyttäjät ovat merkinneet tämän viestin asiattomaksi eikä sitä enää näytetä. (näytä)
Hello people

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 23, 2022, 7:16 am

Esther Freud's top 10 love stories
Guardian, 2010-04-28.

Esther Freud was named by Granta magazine as one of the 20 Best of Young British Novelists in 1993. Her books include Hideous kinky (1992), Peerless flats (1993) and Gaglow (1997). Her most recent novel is Love falls (2007). She is a judge of the 2010 Le Prince Maurice prize for literary love stories. The shortlist for this year's prize is East of the sun by Julia Gregson; Small wars by Sadie Jones and Whatever makes you happy by William Sutcliffe. The winner will be announced in Mauritius on 5 June, 2010.

"The love stories that have stayed with me are the ones that broke my heart. Novels that managed to create the unbearable longing of two people to be together as well as the misunderstandings, disenchantment and lost hope when love slips beyond their reach."

1. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the wind.
This was the first book I read that took me on that journey. Rhett Butler's slow, cool devotion to Scarlett through so much of the novel, and the terrible moment when he stops loving her, and she realises she does, in fact, love him, had me feverishly begging fate, or Margaret Mitchell to intervene. My copy was battered and tear-stained by the time the book was finished.

2. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.
Jane Eyre was responsible for a misguided belief in the power of romance that complicated my teenage years. The idea that you could lean out of your window and whisper your lover's name, and that he might actually hear you, appealed to me too much.

3. Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles.
Who can ever forget the moment when Tess fails to find the letter that has been pushed under her door? The scene is seared into the hearts of millions of readers across the world.

4. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina.
Possibly the greatest novel ever written. Tolstoy captures the rollercoaster arc of Anna's passion for Vronsky, and shows us the impossibility of her love ever being a match for what she's lost. The scenes between her and her small son whom she must abandon, are heartbreaking in their restraint, and it is these moments you remember, when Vronsky's ardour begins to fade.

5. Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago.
It's hard to beat a Russian love story, especially this epic tale, set against the backdrop of war, but Zhivago's love for Lara and the unexpected chance they have to re-ignite their passion when fate throws them together in exile, is hard to resist.

6. Nancy Mitford, The pursuit of love.
Like consuming the most delicious treat. An acutely funny novel, it is told from the point of view of Fanny whose mother "The Bolter", has left her to be brought up by an aunt. She spends much of her time with her cousins, the eccentric, glamorous Radletts, and it is Linda Radlett – a composite of Mitford and her sisters – whose search for the perfect companion is at the heart of this wonderful book.

7. Rosamond Lehmann, The weather in the streets.
First published in 1936, this was years ahead of its time in its description of a young woman's affair with a married man. Lehmann takes you on her journey – the waiting, the bright moments of hope – without ever allowing you to lose sympathy for any of the characters. Passionate and brutally honest in its portrayal of how love can overwhelm your life.

8. Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth.
In this collection of stories, Lahiri gives us three linked stories. Hema and Kaushik are two Bengali Americans whose parents were friends when they were young and who meet by chance in Rome. They are drawn to each other, irresistibly, even though Hema is about to be married. As the feelings between them intensify, you are consumed with longing for them to take courage and alter the course of their lives. But then fate – or nature – intervenes, and the pain of the ending had me gasping in physical pain.

9. Nicole Krauss, The history of love.
A many stranded novel about loneliness and the chances missed in love. Alma, a 15-year-old girl attempts to make sense of her life after her father's death by unravelling the story of the novel her mother is translating. This beautiful, funny and mysterious story draws its characters together in the most unlikely but life-affirming way.

10. David Nicholls, One day.
Following the story of Emma and Dexter through 20 years of friendship, infatuation, missed opportunities, misguided marriages and eventual coming together, this is a brilliantly structured, hysterical and ultimately heartbreaking book.


Some suggestions and comments from BTL (I may cut back on this bit in future!):

Kazuo Ishiguro, The remains of the day ("Miss Kenton and Mr Stevens ... a love story at the heart of a remarkable book").
Vladimir Nabakov, Mary, a novella.
William Shakespeare, Much ado about nothing. ("Benedick and Beatrice: the first(?) time that a man stakes his reputation and his life on the word of a mere woman and is rewarded for it with a happy ending").
García Márquez, Love in the time of cholera.
Arundhati Roy, The god of small things.
Scrubs ("the bromance between Turk and JD. I cannot think of anything more touching").
James Salter, Light years and Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road ("don't really 'create the unbearable longing of two people to be together' but are both heartbreaking in their depiction of once wonderful relationships gradually falling apart").
D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley's lover ("Lady Chatterley and Oliver Mellors. Yes, I know, Lawrence is unbearable, but I love the book").
("Thank you so much for not including Wuthering Heights. It infuriates me that it appears on so many lists of great love stories, when it's the film adaptations that are romantic, not the novel").
Edith Wharton, Age of innocence.
Thomas Hardy, The Woodlanders ("Hardy's best love story, IMHO").
Alexandre Dumas père, The Count of Monte Cristo ("So much more than a love story, but ultimately a story of love").
James Joyce, Dubliners, ("Araby or Eveline or, of course, The Dead").
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The great Gatsby.
Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and punishment ("Damn, I can't remember the name of the character, but she follows Raskalnikov to internal exile in Siberia").
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary ("Emma only seeing in her husband's eyes how much he loves her when it is too late and she is dying").
Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli's mandolin ("broke my heart - as did the film, for entirely different reasons").
Kate Chopin, The awakening ("sometimes summed up as a Creole Bovary) is probably the most sensual novel I've ever read").
Milan Kundera, The unbearable lightness of being .
Max Frisch, Homo Faber ("not generally included on "love story" lists, but certainly full of the "misunderstandings, disenchantment and lost hope when love slips beyond ... reach"").
Graham Greene, The end of the affair.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the night.
Mary Lawson, The other side of the bridge.
Hans Christian Andersen, The little mermaid ("if doomed love is the most exquisite kind, I defy anyone to name a bigger heartbreaker").
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The idiot ("Prince Myshkin and Nastasya Fillippovna, pure love and madness").
Wilkie Collins, The woman in white ("the drawing master Walter Hartwright ... his longing for the ethereal Laura Fairlie").
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings ("I always thought the relationship between Frodo and Sam in LOTR made for a good love story").
Annie Proulx, Brokeback Mountain.
Audrey Niffenegger, The time travellers wife ("now the souce book for Dr Who". (Cynfelyn: this was at the very start of Matt Smith's tenure as the Doctor, and there are always some fans snarky about a new Doctor)).
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita ("Also, oddly I always find myself close to tears at the end of Lolita - Humbert's desperately bittersweet tenderness for his ruined nymphet, and his late realisation that he has destroyed the one thing he loved I still find strangely moving") (Cynfelyn: I find it slightly disturbing that a book with such a dodgy reputation crops up in so many Top Ten lists, including now BTL).
Alexandre Dumas fils, La Dame aux Camélias.
Ivan Goncharov, Oblamov ("I've never read a book that describes the sabotage of one's pursuit for happiness and place with so much compassion and in such a non-judgemental manner. Each character is complete in their contradictions and foibles and the redemptive angle is played out so subtly but so powerfully").
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead revisited ("for all the longing, yearning, alienation and ultimate loneliness of not only Charles but the entire March family. Beautiful and very sad, all round").
The English patient ("One of my top three love stories - or at least filmic renderings of a love story - (doesn't quite count I know) is the relationship between Count Almazy and Katherine ... Passion, chemistry, sex; it's totally convincing. The book's good too").
Ford Madox Ford, The good soldier ("An amazing story of love and passion: requited, unrequited, forbidden, obsessive - all types are here. Truly 'The saddest story I have ever heard'.").
Charles Kingsley, Hereward the Wake ("I know nothing more powerful ... the abandoned Torfrida's journey to recover Hereward's head moved me to tears").
David Nicholls, Starter for 10 ("I am clearly heartless because I didn't connect with the characters in One day at all. I don't know why, because I love the Brian-Rebecca dynamic in Starter for 10 which follows a very similar pattern and is equally predictable").
Salman Rushdie, Shalimar the clown.
The Fast Show ("Ted and Ralph").
Bruce Robinson, The peculiar memories of Thomas Penman ("tragic I thought, but brilliantly offers some consolation from an unexpected source. Great book").
Philip Pullman, His Dark Materials ("This might seem a little quirky, but how about Will and Lyra? Their relationship is so tenderly written - how I wept"). ("Also agree with Will and Lyra from His Dark Materials: the ending of the Amber spyglass had me in tears").
Jane Austen, Persuasion ("It's kind of a sedate, repressed love story - which makes the moment when Anne gets Captain Wentworth's letter all the more tremendous!").
Ernest Hemingway, A farewell to arms ("the last book ... would bring a tear to many an eye").
Anton Chekhov, any play, especially The seagull ("I am always moved by the heartache of unrequited love suffered by the main protagonists").
Patrick Hamilton, 20,000 Streets under the sky.
Graham Greene, The quiet American ("it's not really a love story, but the love story in it is heartbreaking").
Dodie Smith, I capture the castle ("rates a mention too").
Nadezhda Mandelstam's memoirs: Hope against hope; Hope abandoned.
James Clavell, Shogun ("The relationship between Blackthorn and Mariko (and even Omi and Kiku) and it's ultimate impossibility in a society driven entirely by Duty and Bushido is hugely affecting").
John Fante, Ask the dust ("The relationship between Arturo and Camilla always got me, especially the final chapter").
Ian McEwan, Atonement ("Cecilia and Robbie").
Homer, Odyssey ("Odysseus and Penelope. The recognition scene is amazing").
Anonymous, The epic of Gilgamesh ("Also, while I'm onto ancient lit: Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Gilgamesh's reaction after Enkidu dies is heartbreaking, and all-too human for someone who is allegedly 'two-thirds' god").
Ayn Rand, The fountainhead ("Roark and Dominique").
Ernest Hemmingway, Fiesta ("Jake and Brett Ashley").
John le Carre's The Constant Gardener ("Tessa and Justin").
Knut Hamsen, Victoria.
Alain Fournier, Le Grand Meaulnes
Han Suyin, Winter love. ("The story of a lesbian affair set in London during World War II. It really made me cry").
Barbara Kingsolver, Poisonwood Bible.
Vikram Seth, A suitable boy ("Lata and Kabir ... broke my heart it did").
Sigrid Undset, Kristin Lavransdatter ("Voted the most romantic ever book by Scandinavian readers").
Penelope Lively, Moon Tiger ("had forgotten quite how much it makes me cry! Almost unbearably sad despite Claudia, the narrator, being almost unbearable herself at times").
Han Suyin, A many-splendoured thing.
Patricia Highsmith, The price of salt, aka Carol ("a lesbian love story ... originally published under a pseudonym. Considered ground-breaking because it had a happy ending (not wishing to spoil it for those who haven't read it)").
Stendhal, The red and the black ("though it's not _only_ a love story").
Ivan Turgenev, On the eve.
Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita.
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South ("It's not as good as Wives and daughters, but at the center of North and South there is a Victorian era Pride and prejudice conflict, set in the gritty world of Manchester's cotton mills. Labour strikes, class divisions, awful parents, characters dying off like flies--rarely have I wanted a happy ending more than I did for these two protagonists").

syyskuu 23, 2022, 8:30 am

>72 Cecrow: >74 Cynfelyn: Forester’s reputation probably comes mostly from the demand for that sort of heroic writing during and after the war, and the absence of any serious competition at the time. O’Brian is in a different league. Much more sophisticated writing, better research, and a marvellous feel for Regency naval English.

syyskuu 23, 2022, 2:16 pm

>76 Cynfelyn:, listing additional great love story suggestions is bound to be highly subjective; my addition to those substantial comments would be Marcel Proust and especially (for me) the second volume of ISOLT, Within a Budding Grove.

syyskuu 24, 2022, 9:42 am

Jim Bob's top 10 illustrated books for adults
Guardian, 2010-05-05.

Jim Bob began his career as the singing half of indie stalwarts Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. Since the band split up in 1997, he has released some eight albums, the most recent two being "concept" accounts of a struggling comprehensive school and a crime-gripped city desperate for superhero help. His rock'n'roll memoirs, Goodnight Jim Bob, were published by Cherry Red Books in 2004, and a "mini-novel" was included with his 2007 solo album A Humpty Dumpty thing. Storage stories, his "comic fictional autobiographical novel and collection of short stories", is published this week.

"I have mild OCD. One of the symptoms is that when I read a book I often have to read each sentence two or even four times before I feel I can move onto the next one without thinking one of my loved ones will die in a plane crash. Big fat doorstops of text are a daunting prospect. The 560,000 words in your copy of War and peace could be as many as two-and-a-half million for me. I like short chapters, big titles and even gaps of empty page. I think this might be one of the reasons why I like books with illustrations. A picture between chapters, mid-paragraph or even mid-sentence takes my OCD-addled mind off all the re-reading nonsense and I can get to the end of a book a lot more efficiently. As Telly Savalas so memorably said, "A picture paints a thousand words." That's two or three pages closer to the end of War and Peace.

"I always wanted to have illustrations in my own novel. Maybe just a couple of graphs and a picture of the building where the book is set, and I knew there'd be a drawing of a job ad at the start of the book. Then I added more and more pictures and they became an integral part of the story and the way it's told – I couldn't imagine the book now without them. My drawing skills are pretty limited, but luckily the main character in my novel – the one who's drawing the pictures in the story – turned out to be somebody with limited drawing skills too."

1. Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus pocus.
It's ridiculous of me to place it at number one, or to even call it illustrated. There's only one drawing of a tombstone that appears a few times in the book. It's not even a particularly good drawing of a tombstone. It's at the top of my chart though, because when the picture appears at the end of the story it's as the punchline to my favourite ending to any book ever. I won't ruin the book by saying what it is.

2. Mark Haddon, The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
I may have stolen the idea of actually making the illustrations part of the text in my novel from this book. For example, the way its young hero will say something like "there was a date on the postmark and it was quite difficult to read, but it said" and then instead of telling us what the postmark says, there'll be a picture of the postmark.

3. Michael Smith, The giro playboy.
I bought this book largely based on the way it looked: its unconventional size and its hardback jacket over a paperback book. I judged it by its cover. Then I read it and it's excellent. Like the images in The curious incident, Michael Smith's simple drawings form an actual part of the text. Perhaps it was actually here I stole that idea from. The writing reminds me of Cormac McCarthy's, if he'd come from Hartlepool.

4. Willy Vlautin, Motel life.
I was originally going to compile a Top 10 of Musicians Who've Written Novels but I've only read five: three of those are by Willy Vlautin. It would have been more like Top 10 Books by Willy Vlautin. The Motel life is the first of his novels. It's the story of two brothers from Reno who skip town to avoid the consequences of a hit-and-run accident. Told in a heartbreaking matter-of-fact way, with illustrations mainly of motel signs, gun shops and trashed cars. Like snapshots from a Greyhound bus window.

5. Douglas Coupland, Life after God.
A book of short stories, with a connecting theme of a generation brought up without religion. Different to Coupland's other stuff – which I also love – this is more of an introspective book. The book's simple sketches are in the same league as those drawn by the character in my novel – perhaps Coupland drew them on the bus on the way to his publishers to deliver the finished book.

6. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The little prince.
The story of a pilot who crash lands in the desert, where he befriends a little prince from another planet who tells him about his journeys and of his love for a self-centred rose back on his own planet. The illustrations once again are incorporated within the body of the text. Is this where I nicked the idea from? Technically not a book for adults but I imagine that's when a lot of people read it, me included. I'd like to tell you that I read the original French version. But I'd be lying, as I can't speak French.

7. Steven Hall, The raw shark texts.
In this book, letters and numbers are used to form the pictures. I don't know how it was done, it looks like it must have taken a long time. There's a series of shark pictures towards the end of the book that are constructed from words and grow in size with each page so the shark appears to approach the reader. This is novel as flick book.

8. Michael Smith & Jim Medway, Shorty loves Wing Wong.
In Michael Smith's second book, he writes about his return to Hartlepool and memories of his childhood there. The illustrations of cats in the pub, cats in school uniform, cats eating fish and chips, cat prostitutes etc are wonderful. My favourite is the cat in the Inspiral Carpets t-shirt.

9. Philip Van Doren Stern (illus Scott McKowen), The greatest gift.
Philip Van Doren Stern wrote this story and had it printed as a Christmas card for his friends in the 1940s. An illustrated version of the book was published in 1996 to mark the 50th anniversary of It's a wonderful life, the film that was based on the story. It's my favourite film of all time. I don't know if I would have liked the book so much if that weren't the case, but it is a very lovely story.

10. Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely loud and incredibly close.
This is Illustrated Book for Adults Extreme. The story's about a nine-year-old whose dad is killed in the 9/11 attacks. The book is full of photographs, doodles, colour text, blank pages and a 15-page flick book. OCD-tastic.


Recommendations BTL include:

Russell T. Davies, The writer's tale ("is about the writing process essentially, is a fascinating insight because it displays what a 'visual' writer RTD is. He literally will sketch out his characters first, or actually draw a place where a scene is set").

Alex Garland, The coma.

Ernest Hemingway, The old man and the sea ("Many years ago I read a hardback copy ... and it had several beautiful pen-and-ink illustrations throughout the book. ... I can still see the depiction of Santiago's battle with the great marlin in my head").

W. G. Sebald ("(His novels) are sparsely illustrated with random black and white photos, as otherworldly and disconcerting as the narratives themselves. Seen in isolation, they often don't tell you anything, but at the same they create a strangely compelling context"). ("it's a trick picked up by a lot of other smart novelists: Aleksandar Hemon in The Book of Lazarus and Ali Smith in The accidental did it really well").

Irvine Welsh, Filth ("Periodically the tapeworm is drawn over the page, obscuring the main text (although you can still see some of it at the edges), with the tapeworm's dialogue written inside it. Pretty cool device I thought").

Hunter Thompson, Fear and loathing in Las Vegas; Fear and loathing on the campaign trail, 1972 ("Ralph Steadman's drawings are integral ... captured the of the American landscape Thompson described").

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy ("had a variety of graphics and typographic oddities interwoven into the tale. Extraordinarily creative and enjoyable").

Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of champions ("Again, not good drawings by any means, but they add an extra level of hilarity to an already funny story").

Jaroslev Hasek, The good soldier svejk ("Very funny, big influence on Joseph Heller, wonderful illustrations").

Philip Pullman, His dark materials ("Only little illustrations, but one for each chapter, all beautifully done by Pullman himself").

Alexander Masters, Stuart : a life backwards ("Stunningly original and moving biography with brilliant - naive but somehow perfect - illustrations").

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 25, 2022, 1:43 pm

Hilary Spurling's top 10 unputdownable Chinese books
Guardian, 2010-05-11.

Hilary Spurling is the award-winning biographer of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett, George Orwell's wife, Sonia Orwell, and painter Henri Matisse. The second volume in her life of the painter, Matisse the master : the conquest of colour 1909-1954 , won the 2005 Whitbread book of the year award. She will be discussing her new book, Burying the bones : Pearl Buck's life in China (Profile Books £15), at The Asia House Festival of Asian Literature on 11 May.

1. Yui Shufang (written & illus.), Chinese children at play (Methuen, 1939).
This was the picture book that transfixed me as a child. I was entranced by these cool, neat, nifty children rolling marbles, whipping tops, kicking little feathered missiles called Chientse, and trying to beat one another with fighting crickets, where we only had conkers on strings. When I finally reached China, I was transfixed all over again. Not this time by the children (the one child policy means that you hardly ever see them or hear their voices), but by the whirlwind of creation and destruction smothering every small town or village you come to in a dense white cloud of cement dust or chemical pollution. Violent, physical, in-your-face and up-your-nose political and social change on this scale is as exhilarating as it is alarming.

2. Pearl Buck, The Chinese children next door (Methuen, 1944).
My mother read me this story before I could read myself, and it became inextricably mixed in my mind with Yui's pictures. It tells the story of six little girls who longed so hard for a baby brother that at last their wish came true. The family's seventh child was a boy, the answer to his parents' prayers, the pet and plaything of his big sisters. Re-reading this captivating book as an adult, I realised that it mirrored much harsher stories my mother told me about her own childhood when she, too, was the last of six unwanted daughters born to parents whose seventh child was the son they had dreamed of having all along. It was only after I started work on my own Chinese book, that I realised it was Buck who wrote the story I used to know by heart as a child.

3. James Cahill, Chinese painting (Skira, 1960).
For 1000 years and more the Chinese painted the same few things with infinite subtlety and in inexhaustible variety: rocks, water, clouds, bamboo, plum blossom, trees, their leaves and – almost more important – the spaces between the leaves. This book was my passport to that magical world of mountains and rivers. Long afterwards, on a visit to Zhenjiang museum, I asked my Chinese companion to translate the delicate lines of calligraphy suspended in a V-shaped patch of sky between a soaring peak at the top of a tall scroll painting, and the single tiny figure of a fisherman almost invisible on his boat far below. I was intoxicated by the sense of boundless space and ambiguity projected by this disembodied, almost abstract landscape. My interpreter was a student, a pragmatic child of communist China who had clearly never looked at a painting before. "The man in the boat is dead drunk," she read out flatly. "He's been knocking it back hard for four days, and now he's run out of liquor money."

4. Arthur Waley, ed. Ivan Morris, Madly singing in the mountains (Allen & Unwin, 1970).
This excellent anthology gave me my first taste of Chinese poetry and its many flavours, as rich, complex and surprising as the same country's painting or cooking. Waley's musical translations incorporate the pure, high, heady sound of flutes and also somehow convey the suppressed belly laugh so often lurking between the lines or in the far corner of a Chinese poem or picture.

5. Maxine Hong Kingston, The warrior woman : memoir of a girlhood among ghosts (Picador, 1981, orig. pub. US 1975).
This account of growing up as a Chinese American combines the harsh raucous energy of US street life, seen from in and outside a Chinese laundry, with the violence and hardship of life in a Chinese village plagued by wild and recklessly inventive ancestral phantoms. I would rank this fabulous book with the best of Nabokov, Bellow or Roth.

6. Peter Hessler, River town (John Murray, 2002).
Another brilliant book by a young American confronting a China beginning for the first time to open its doors to the West in the 1990s. Hessler spent two years teaching English in a nondescript small town on the Yangtze, and used it as a base from which to explore the country's enigmatic past, inscrutable present and unpredictable future. A spellbinding account of a moment that will never come again.

7. Pearl Buck, The fighting angel (John Day, 1936).
This was the first of Buck's books that I read as an adult, and I would never have heard of it if it hadn't been for Henri Matisse who urged his children to read it, insisting at the same time that he was nothing like the man in it. The book turned out to be Buck's fictional biography of her missionary father, who sacrificed himself, his wife and his children in a hopeless attempt to convert the entire Chinese nation to a bleak Calvinist version of Christianity. The book is a classic study of obsession, perceptive, humorous and grim. It explained much about Matisse (whose biography I was writing at the time), and made me pick Buck as my next subject.

8. Adeline Yen Mah, Falling leaves : the true story of an unwanted Chinese daughter (Michael Joseph, 1997).
Gripping account of childhood neglect and rejection redeemed on every page by the writer's courage, intelligence and humanity. Her family history spans the whole of the last century, a time of public turmoil, revolution, war and institutional communist brutality that echoes her private disruption. Historically, culturally and emotionally speaking, this was an education for me.

9. Xinran, The good women of China : hidden voices (Vintage, 2003).
Xinran compered China's first ever radio phone-in programme for woman whose male-dominated culture had never permitted them to talk about themselves and their problems before. Of all the life stories currently pouring out of contemporary China, these are, for me, among the most astonishing and hard to forget.

10. Dai Sijie, Balzac and the little Chinese seamstress (Vintage, 2002).
Funny, lively and startling story of two doctors' sons exiled to a course of punitive labour in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. What saves them is an illicit passion for 19th-century European literature, which provides an escape route to a weird alien world as exotic to them as China itself has always been to me.


1. There's no touchstone for either the author or the book.

Recommendations BTL include:

Jung Chang, Wild swans.

("'Chinese books'? it isn't. 'Books about China' would be more accurate. Most of these are written by westerners or Chinese writers from the diaspora. Nothing wrong with that except that it should be made clear ...").

Eileen Chang, Lust caution ("the short story on which Ang Lee based his film. ... sometimes known as the Chinese Jane Austen but that is to deeply underestimate her ability to convey the reality of trauma, as well as wittily and richly expose the minutae of life in the boudoirs of Chinese homes").

Leslie Chang, Factory girls ("for it's documentation of the lives of the young migrant women that are the driving force of modern China. Not Austen, more Orwell").

Kristof & Wu Dunn, China wakes : the struggle for the soul of a rising power.

Simon Winchester, The river at the centre of the world.

Eileen Chang, Love in a fallen city ("one of the most quoted women in Chinese literature on love and family in mid-Century China").

Pai Hsien Yung, Taipei characters and Crystal boys ("the former a now-classic collection of stories about life in post-war Taipei, filled with types ranging from glittering socialites and nightclub hostesses to faded war generals and the assorted neglected. The latter, Pai's epic story of runaway gays is the first of its kind in modern Chinese literature").

Yiyun Li, A thousand year of good prayers ("Written in English but about Chinese life, these stories are so exquisite they rival Alice Munro's. A new novel, The vagrants, is also rumoured to be excellent").

Guo Xiaolu ("is uneven, but readable. Try her Village of stone if you don't know where to start").

Qian Zhong Shu, Fortress beseiged ("a comic look at the intelligentsia by one of the modern masters").

lokakuu 19, 2022, 10:54 am

Lesley Glaister's top 10 books about incarceration
Guardian, 2010-05-13.

The award-winning Lesley Glaister was "discovered" by Booker prize winner Hilary Mantel while taking a creative writing course in 1989; Mantel was so impressed with her writing that she recommended Glaister to a literary agent. Now the author of 13 novels, her first, Honour thy father, won both the Betty Trask and Somerset Maugham prizes; her latest, Chosen, delves into the world of religious cults as Dodie tries to rescue her brother Seth from the mysterious Soul Life Centre.

"There seems to be a natural link between incarceration and story telling. A person forcibly removed from the comfort and distractions of the familiar, and shut up in a cell (or hospital, hostage situation, madman's cellar or the prison of their own failing body) will be forced to travel inwards to the place where memories twist and loop and spin themselves into story. Incarceration may be a primal human dread, but it also has its fascination, even a peculiar attraction. Freedom may be taken away but with it responsibility, and perhaps deep within our psyches there's an urge to be contained? I don't know, but for whatever reason, writers are very often drawn to explore the experiences of characters challenged by this particular conflict – whether or not they have suffered it themselves. And I'm sure I'm not the only law-abiding writer who has occasionally wondered whether a short prison sentence might provide just the necessary discipline to finish that novel..."

1. Rumpelstiltskin (originally collected by the Brothers Grimm).
Fairy stories are full of people being locked up, needing to be rescued or, more satisfyingly, to find the magic key for their own escape. In this strange story a miller's daughter is imprisoned by the king, after her father has told the boastful lie that she can spin gold from straw. She's helped by a dwarf to complete the magical task but, in return, she must promise the dwarf her first-born child. Once she's married to the king and expecting a baby she begs to be released from her side of the bargain. The dwarf agrees – on the condition that she guess his name. By trickery – not magic – she does this, which so amazes and enrages Rumpelstiltskin that he stamps hard enough on the ground to split it open, falls into the chasm and is never seen again. Oddly, as a child, my sympathies were with him.

2. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.
Like many children, I found the idea of being an orphan extremely appealing and identified to a ridiculous degree with poor orphaned Jane Eyre, who as a child is bullied by her cousin until she retaliates. Her punishment for this is to be locked into the "red-room" in which her uncle, Mr Reed, recently died. She tries to be brave, but as it gets dark thinks she sees her uncle's ghost, panics, screams and faints. (And, of course, as an adult, Jane is brought into opposition with another incarcerated female, the tragic and frightening Bertha, Rochester's first – mad – wife, secretly imprisoned in the attic.)

3. Dodie Smith, I capture the castle.
The teenage narrator of this perfect book is desperate for her father Mortmain, a one-time experimental novelist with terrible writer's block, to begin writing again – for the sake of his sanity as well as the family coffers. She hatches a plan to lock him into the dungeon of their castle home, and, with the help of her brother, traps him there in a sort of enforced writer's retreat. The place is stocked with reams of fresh stationery, and delicious food, wine and cigars are lowered down at intervals. At first Mortmain rages and tries to trick his way out – but by the time he's rescued by his wife, the incarceration has worked and he's successfully embarked upon another strange, eccentric work. (Will somebody please do this to me?)

4. Stephen King, Misery.
There's a less appealing version of the enforced writer's retreat in this terrifying novel – terrifying particularly, perhaps, for a writer. In a remote part of Maine, a popular novelist crashes his car and his life is saved by a mad fan. She's mortified to discover that he's killed off Misery, her favourite character, and keeps him prisoner, insisting that he write a novel resurrecting Misery. She's the most fanatically particular and violent editor/jailer one can imagine. It's an intense book, with just these two central characters locked in a close and claustrophobic tangle of mind-games, combat and downright gruesome nastiness.

5. John Fowles, The collector.
Frederick, a butterfly collector, decides to augment his collection with Miranda, a beautiful young art student. The novel is brilliantly structured so that first of all the reader experiences the "collection" – the capture and imprisonment of Miranda from Frederick's point of view. His almost heroic self-delusion as he goes about trying to win her love and trust makes for excruciating reading. The second part of the book switches to Miranda's narrative, in the form of the diary she's kept secretly during her ordeal in Frederick's basement. And in the last section, we're back with Frederick again as he makes us aware of Miranda's fate and prepares for the capture of another specimen. This adds up to a truly chilling and horribly plausible story.

6. Jean-Dominique Bauby, The diving bell and the butterfly.
Most people find it hard enough to write a book at all, but this one was written against extraordinary odds by Bauby, former editor-in chief of Elle magazine, after he suffered a stroke which left him comatose. Twenty days later, he regained consciousness to find himself entirely paralysed, except for the ability to blink his eyes. This condition is known as locked-in syndrome – the most frighteningly complete manner of incarceration I can imagine. Amazingly, by laboriously blinking his left eyelid to indicate letters of the alphabet, Bauby managed to "write" his devastatingly elegant and moving memoir. Each word took him an average of two minutes to spell out, and the whole process over ten months – truly a triumph of the human spirit and enough to make anyone complaining of writer's block ashamed.

7. Oliver Sacks, Awakenings.
Another example of physiological incarceration, this time caused by an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica – sleeping sickness – in the 1920's. Oliver Sacks tells the story of some of these "locked in" patients, who were studied and cared for in a small hospital in the Bronx. In 1969, it was discovered – almost by chance – that treatment with L-DOPA would reawaken the sufferers, and it's wonderfully moving to see them warm and thaw and regain movement and personality. However, the effect proves not to be permanent and these poor people, having experienced a brief period of freedom, gradually become locked in again.

8. Janet Frame, Faces in the water.
Janet Frame spent eight years of her life in prison having been wrongly diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and true to her calling as a writer transformed her ordeal into a powerful novel. This gives us a visceral insight into the feelings of being mad, terrified, humiliated, and zombified by drugs and electric shock treatment. Frame's main character, Estina, both refuses to and is unable to behave "normally", and thus is scheduled for the ultimate treatment (or punishment) – a lobotomy. Fiction comes to Estina's rescue (just as it did Frame's own) when one perceptive doctor discovers her talent for writing and she is released, with her lobes entire, back into the world.

9. Eric Lomax, The railway man.
My childhood was dominated by the tension surrounding a silence, only subsequently recognised as a sort of smothered trauma – that of my father's never spoken about experience as a POW in Burma. It was only when I came to research my own novel, Easy Peasy, that I was brought face to face with some of what he must have suffered. Central to my research was Eric Lomax's book The Railway Man. Like my own father, Lomax was captured in Singapore by the Japanese army in 1942 and assigned to a prison camp, where he suffered years of filth, vermin, starvation, disease and the brutality of the prison guards. The men were forced to toil naked in the sun, and to endure beatings, torture and the agony of seeing their mates perish around them. Movingly, this book ends on an optimistic note as, half a century later, Lomax meets and is able to shake hands with a young Japanese interpreter who had been present at his torture, and is now a contrite and dedicated anti-war campaigner.

10. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch.
This list would not be complete without the inclusion of this great classic of prison writing. As a warm, well-fed child (and before I knew anything about my father's own terrible experience) I got a masochistic thrill from reading this, and imagined myself subjected to main character Shukov's deprivations. Because the treatment in the freezing gulag was so extremely cruel, the work so terribly hard, there's an intense, visceral pleasure in reading about the scraps of food, warmth and kindness Shukov manages to glean in just one day of the 3,653 that he has yet to endure. Strikingly, with his existence pared down to a few simple needs – warmth, a bit of sausage, a kind word – and having to some extent fulfilled these needs, Shukov ends the day feeling almost happy.


BTL recommendations included:

Alexandre Dumas père, The Count of Monte Cristo ("not only the best book about incarceration but it's also the best book ever. WTF is going on here!!??") ("superb but I would say revenge is the principle theme").

Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit.

Boris Cederholm, In the clutches of the Tcheka.

Ted Conover, Holding the key : my year as a guard at Sing Sing (non-fiction).

Brian Keenan, An evil cradling ("as harrowing as it gets").

Ernie O'Malley, On another man's wound ("gripping stuff") and The singing flame ("comparably accomplished"), both on the Irish war of independence.

Henri Charrière, Papillion ("a romp and almost the benchmark") ("How can we take any list like this seriously that omits Papillon, one of the greatest and most popular books on the subject?") (classic") ("un-reliable narrator anyone?") ("as long as you know that it is largely fiction rather than the, as claimed, truth").

--, Junkie. ("sort of a prison of his own making"). (Touchstone goes to William S. Burroughs, Junky).

Charles Bronson's autobiography ("a grim set of shabby stories. ...").

Jimmy Boyle, A sense of freedom. ("a classic").

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The house of the dead.

Jack Mapanje (ed.), Gathering seaweed ("a collection of African prison writing including the work of Nkrumah, Wole Soyinka and Ngugi").

Vladimir Nabakov, Invitation to a beheading ("the best prison novel I've come across").

Max Frisch, I'm not stiller.

Edward Bunker, The animal factory.

Martin Boyle's Brazilian prison diary. (Is this supposed to be Martin Boyle, Yanks don't cry?).

John Cheever, Falconer.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The first circle ("even greater than One day ...").

Arthur Koestler, Darkness at noon. Also Dialogue with death and Scum of the earth.

Dovlatov, Zone ("unusual this one; memoir of national service as a prison guard in the 1960s; later became a semi-dissident writer & emigre"). (No touchstone).

Anna Akhmatova, Requiem (long poem).

Victor Serge, parts of The case of Comrade Tulayev and Midnight in the century. Also Men in prison ("especially of how he describes deliberate starvation as a method of control").

Primo Levi, If this is a man ("profound"). Also Survival in Auschwitz and Moments of reprieve.

Richard Flanagan, Gould's book of fish : a novel in twelve fish ("pure genius").

Jack London, Star rover ("a great spiritual take on an incarceration novel").

Jacobo Timmerman, Prisoner without a name, cell without a number.

Dulce Chacon, La voz dormida. ("published in English as The sleeping voice").

John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress.

Jean-Dominique Bauby, The diving bell and the butterfly (no. 6 above) ("one of the most over-rated books I've ever read. Take away the achievement of it getting it written considering the physical condition of the author, and treat it simply as a book, and it's a pretty mediocre ramble that shows little insight about life in general or the author himself").

Norman Mailer, Executioner's song

Martin Luther King Jr, A letter from Birmingham Jail

"i am amazed that nobody has mentioned jeffrey archer's prison all of his work it is a truly harrowing read..."

Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram ("written in prison at the third attempt having had two previous copies destroyed by guards. An incredible read").

J. G. Ballard, Empire of the sun

John Berger, From A to X ("a gorgeous, passionate, erotic, despairing, beautiful experience. An epistolary take on the prison novel. A very contemporary cautionary tale").

Robert Hughes, The fatal shore (non-fiction).

Guy Richmond, Prison doctor ("a non-fiction account of life in prison").

Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma ("A top ten list of novels dealing with incarceration without the pre-eminent one of the last two centuries").

Mohammad Hanif, A case of exploding mangoes ("there's an interesting incarceration sequence ... It's a strangely surreal novel, that has the main character put away for attempting to assassinate the late dictator of Pakistan, General Zia ... and follows Zia's paranoia in the last days of his life -- where he creates his own prison").

François Bizot, The gate.

--, A handful of dust. (Presumably not Evelyn Waugh's satirical romp).

Marcus Clarke, For the term of his natural life.

Ken Saro-Wiwa, A month and a day.

Cormac McCarthy, All the pretty horses ("has a section set in a Mexican prison, which is very powerful").

Ken Kesey, One flew over the cuckoo's nest.

Thomas Mann, The magic mountain.

Billy Hayes, Midnight Express ("interesting") ("the book, not the movie, natch").

Rusty Young, Marching powder ("fascinating").

Tahar Ben Jelloun, This blinding absence of light ("the true story of Morrocan soldiers who were imprisoned in the late 1970s, following a failed coup. So far so normal, but the men were pronounced dead then secretly incarcerated in underground holes in the countryside, for 18 years. It's a remarkable story, horrific but also very heartening in the way the protagonist has managed to survive with nothing but his soul intact").

John King, Prison house ("the best ever!").

George Jackson, Soledad Brother.

Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on ice.

John Healy, The grass arena.

Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration.

Günter Grass, The tin drum ("Oscar Matzerath is kind of in the slammer (it's actually a mental hospital, but still), so if that counts its got to be up there").

J. M. Coetzee, Waiting for the barbarians.

lokakuu 27, 2022, 10:02 am

Rachel Trezise's top 10 Welsh underground novels
Guarian, 2010-05-19.

Welsh author Rachel Trezise won the inaugural Dylan Thomas prize, a £60,000 literary award for work by writers under 30, for her short story collection Fresh apples. Her new novel, Sixteen shades of crazy, which launches at the Guardian Hay festival later this month, is based in a small Welsh town and tells the story of three women whose lives are upturned after the local police chief puts a ban on recreational drugs.

"Books that could be described as 'Welsh underground novels for the Skins generation' were once scarce as chicken lips. Remember that there was no such thing as a teenager until the 50s, and that everything comes across the Severn bridge 20 years late. Add the huge hole left in Welsh literature by aspiring writers boarding trains to London and putting memories of the principality firmly behind them from the early 80s onward. Then you'll understand why some of these entries aren't strictly underground, Welsh, or aimed at the Skins generation. But you'll notice too that some of them are. These are the new guard, the brave, hip inkslingers who began cropping up with an extraordinary force in the early noughties."

1. Aneurin Gareth Thomas, Luggage from elsewhere.
A dazzling and devastating account of a bittersweet old south Wales childhood and adolescence, ripe with discotheques and pints of snakebite and blackcurrant. A group of friends grow up and experiment with sex, drugs and political action in a society coming to terms with loss of work and power. "We lived on the coast but only ever knew how to eat fish fingers."

2. Caradog Prichard, One moonlit night.
Devastating poverty, perversion and homicidal violence run happily alongside idyllic scenes of bilberry picking and choral singing in this child's narration of rural life in north Wales in the early 1900s. Originally published in Welsh in 1961, the English translation by Philip Mitchell conveys the original and reads a little like Patrick McCabe's The butcher boy, but better – a novel as complex as Wales itself, thoroughly unsettling and upsetting.

3. Dan Rhodes, Gold.
Nobody treads the tragic-comic tightrope like Dan Rhodes. He's not Welsh, sadly, but this novel is set in Pembrokeshire, where Miyuki has retreated for a break from her girlfriend. This would be the annual break with which she reminds herself not to take her girlfriend for granted. Her evenings are spent in the pub with a cast of amusing characters: tall Mr Hughes, short Mr Hughes and Septic Barry and his Children from Previous Relationships. Elegant, delicate and intricate all in one bundle.

4. Joe Dunthorne, Submarine.
Fifteen-year-old Oliver Tate is obsessed with his virginity, in love with his own intellect, and, like all good teenagers, packed with self-righteousness about his parents' failings as he comes of age somewhere between Port Talbot and Swansea. Dunthorne thrusts poetry into the observational and is unflinching about the business of being a teenage boy, so Tate is a mostly believable and likeable narrator. Wordy, dirty and only occasionally infuriating.

5. Catrin Dafydd, Random deaths and custard.
A heart-warming little novel about 18-year-old valley girl Sam Jones who works at the local custard factory. Dad is fresh out of clink, Mam is pregnant by the new boyfriend and squaddie brother Gareth is suffering a bout of PTSD brought on by a tour of Iraq. This is Dafydd's first English-language work, having previously only written in Welsh. She, and it, have flawlessly bridged the culture gap.

6. Rhys Thomas, The Suicide Club.
Not a grim analysis of teenage suicide clusters à la Bridgend but a fizzy first person narration from 15-year-old emo Richard Harper, a precocious teenager seeking affirmation of his uniqueness. The lure of the charismatic new kid at his posh school sees him becoming part of a suicide pact, with tragic consequences. It hints at The catcher in the rye of course, but brilliantly crafted nonetheless.

7. Ron Berry, So long Hector Bebb.
By day Hector Bebb drives a brewery lorry, by night he's a boxer training for the big fight. Originally published in 1970, this was reissued recently in the Library of Wales collection with a foreword by an admiring Niall Griffiths. Less concerned with politics and religion than any Welsh writer who went before, Berry's characters are working class and influenced by pop culture. They live in the industrialised "American Wales" talked about by Gwyn Thomas, and delight in all the fighting, boozing and fornicating which got left out of the mawkish, rose-tinted How green was my valley.

8. John Williams, Five pubs, two bars and a nightclub.
An introductory note on these interweaving short stories explains that "the Cardiff that appears in this book is an imaginary place that should not be confused with the actual city of the same name". Or, a Cardiff that no longer exists. The Butetown here is home to Britain's oldest black community, full of grungy pubs, sailors, immigrants and captivating fiction-worthy characters, fashioned from a stint as the world's busiest port. Now Tiger Bay is Cardiff Bay, an identikit maritime quarter occupied by slick hotels, restaurants and flash apartment blocks. Visitors are unlikely to hear a Docks accent.

9. Niall Griffiths, Grits.
Drifters from all over the UK and Ireland meet in a small coastal village in west Wales, trying to escape various addictions (drugs, alcohol, crime, promiscuity). The phonetic dialogue is trying; each character has their own in a book of 500 pages. But this novel resulted in a flourishing career for Griffiths, as well as a mini literary revolution in Wales, opening doors for new writers unworried by farming, non-conformism, coal or slate mining.

10. Joanna Davies, Freshers.
Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll amidst the ivory towers of academia in the early 90s. Possibly Wales's first "university" novel, set in Aberystwyth where three students embark on a journey punctuated by "bad boys", chemicals and an affair with a married professor. Originally published in Welsh, the English language translation is out now.


*I'm guessing 'the Skins generation' refers to Skins, a teen comedy TV drama series following the lives of cohorts of teenagers through sixth-form in Bristol, broadcast 2007-2013.

2. Both my children read Un nos ola leuad, the Welsh original, at secondary school as part of the Welsh Literature GCSE. I get the impression it's as close to being a fixture on the reading list as it's possible to be. But it also spoils the enjoyment of the book.

Comments and recommendations Below The Line:

"No mention for Malcolm Pryce's 'Aberystwyth' novels?" ("Another cheer for Malcolm Pryce's bleak, bonkers and brilliant series").

"Freshers (originally Ffreshars) isn't Wales's first university novel, though it is good. There are plenty set in Welsh universities. A good Bangor one (by an Englishman, sorry) is John Wain's Hurry on down"

Mike Thomas, Pocket notebook.

Christopher Meredith, Shifts.

Mihangel Morgan, Melog ("sublime"). (English translation by the same Christopher Meredith).

lokakuu 28, 2022, 9:18 am

Tony Parsons's top 10 troubled males in fiction
Guardian, 2010-05-26.

Tony Parsons' new novel, Men from the boys, is the final instalment of his Harry Silver trilogy, which began with Man and boy, and developed in Man and wife. In it, he returns to the question of what it means to be a man in contemporary Britain, which has underpinned all three of the novels.

"My love of reading comes from my mother. My parents got married when they were teenagers, but for almost 10 years they tried to have a baby without success. They had given up hope of ever being parents – which was devastating for both of them, as they were both from huge families (my mum had six brothers, and my dad had eight sisters and two brothers).

"My parents were bikers – they had a Norton, a classic old English motorbike. My dad wore all black leather and my mum wore all white. They were going to ride their Norton from one end of Italy to the other – their compensation for being childless. My dad loved Italy, and could speak fluent Italian because he was there in the war from the invasion of Sicily to just before the liberation of Rome. Then I came along.

"They sold the Norton and my mum put me on her lap. Then she read to me. Endlessly. Rupert the Bear, mostly. And I fell in love with reading, and books, and stories on my mother's lap. Troubled males have always fascinated me. Nothing gets under my skin quite like a boy or a man – or a male bear, like Rupert – who is working through his problems, and trying to make sense of the world and his place in it. Troubled males just ring some inner bell. We all like to read about what we know."

1. Peter Pan in Peter Pan and Wendy by J. M. Barrie.
Wild, love-starved and cursed with eternal youth, the boy who can never grow up is now 100 years old, yet somehow becomes more relevant with each passing year. Forget Disney; forget grinning boys in green tights with American accents. Peter Pan is infinitely more complex than that. When he flashes his milk teeth at Mrs Darling, they are snarling fangs.

2. Magwitch in Great expectations by Charles Dickens.
From the moment he grabs Pip by the throat in a graveyard until the time he sneaks back from Botany Bay to reveal himself as the young man's secret benefactor, Magwitch is one of the great tormented souls in literature. Violent, uneducated, blundering, yet full of love and desperate to do one good thing in his life.

3. Holden Caulfield in The catcher in the rye by J. D. Salinger.
Holden is the original crazy, mixed-up kid and anyone who can recall the agonies and ecstasies and endless yearning of adolescence will see themselves in him. But you have to read him at 16. Come to Holden later, and it's like trying to hula-hoop for the first time when you are 40. You just can't get it.

4. Dean Moriarty in On the road by Jack Kerouac.
Dean - Neal Cassady's fictional alter ego - is the friend we all want; the great enabler of adventures, leaving love and home behind to answer the call of the wild. We love this restless, reckless boy even more when we see him all forlorn with empty pockets at the end of the rainbow. His fall somehow gives us permission to go home in time for our tea.

5. Jake in The sun also rises by Ernest Hemingway.
The Hemingway hero with the most undiluted Hemingway in him. A hard, hairy nut with a soft, sentimental centre, Jake travels from Paris to Spain and never wavers from his credo of two-fisted machismo and profound feelings of sexual inadequacy. His platonic love for Lady Brett Ashley and his total lack of self-pity make him Hemingway's most likeable hero.

6. James Bond in You only live twice by Ian Fleming.
007 at his most suicidal. This is the mission in Japan when Bond is recovering from the death of his wife. He is shattered physically, spiritually and emotionally. Fleming's greatest book sees James as less of a killing machine, more of a nervous wreck, sedating himself with murder, hard booze and mechanical sex. He was never more tortured, and never less like Roger Moore.

7. Jim in Empire of the sun by J. G. Ballard.
Ballard's memoir of invasion and internment in war-time Shanghai has young Jim at its centre. Unlike the real-life Ballard, Jim has to get through the second world war without his parents. Somehow, this stroke of the fictional brush makes an already incredible story even more compelling. Jim is a typical English schoolboy waking up one day to discover that he is in hell, and totally alone.

8. The Man in The road by Cormac McCarthy.
McCarthy pours every fear and anxiety of the modern father into The Man, who must make his way through a wrecked world with his son. He is the measure of our inability to protect our children from all that is rotten in the world, and you can hear his soul weeping.

9. "You" in Bright lights, big city by Jay McInerney.
McInerney's second-person masterpiece follows the modern male from drug-crazed hedonism all the way to his mother's deathbed. A coke-addled clown on a journey to the end of the night, and the outer suburbs of his youth.

10. Frank Delsa in Mr Paradise by Elmore Leonard.
Detective Delsa has a dead wife and the hots for a good-time girl who may possibly be involved in a murder. He knows it's not the right move, but he just can't stop wanting to spend the rest of his life with her. Even when she tells him she's going out on a date. Like a lot of troubled males, at the very centre of Frank Delsa's world is a hole in the shape of a woman.


The BTL comments include several along the lines of "too many to mention". The first couple of dozen suggestions are:

Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

Cheradenine Zakalwe in Use of weapons by Iain M. Banks ("the ultimate in cool troubled males").

Sam Vimes in the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett ("great tortured soul").

Dr Evil ("he's pretty messed up in a funny way"). (Query: is there a book character somewhere, or is this the Austin Powers film series?)

Captain Ahab in Moby Dick by Herman Melville ("although he never worked through his problems, they ended up destroying him and (almost) everyone who went with him").

Humbert Humbert in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Frankenstein's monster in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley ("he's more male than his creator").

Jude Fawley in Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.

Bob Slocum in Something happened by Joseph Heller.

Prince Myshkin in The idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky. ("but surely all protagonists are troubled by definition -- it's their flaws and desires that lead to the drama of their situation").

Henry Farr in The Wimbledon poisoner ("a great depiction of the middle-class, middle-aged male stuck in suburbia").

Reginald Perrin in the Reginald Perrin series by David Nobbs.

Laurence Passmore in Therapy by David Lodge.

Frodo in The lord of the rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. (Also: "Viggo Mortensen up there (a photo of him as The Man in The Road at the top of the original newspaper column) reminds me of Peter Jackson's attempt to turn Aragorn son of Arathorn into a troubled and uncertain man, more or less completely inverting the supremely single-minded character that appears in the book").

Patrick Bateman in American psycho etc. by Bret Easton Ellis ("and to a lesser extent his younger brother Sean").

Joe Chip in Ubik (etc?) by Philip K. Dick. ("well, pretty much any of the PKD heroes/anti-heroes, they're all fucked up to a greater or lesser degree. But Joe very dead and does not know it - yet").

Stephen Dedalus in A portrait of the artist as a young man and Ulysses by James Joyce ("surely should be in the top ten?").

George Smiley by John le Carré ("too many troubled children here: adolescent angst is another country").

Johan Nagel in Mysteries by Knut Hamsun.

Arturo Bandini in the Bandini series by John Fante.

Meursault in The outsider

Raskolnikov in Crime and punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Either Bernard Marx or the Savage from Brave new world Aldous Huxley ("both tortured and disillusioned individuals who can't adapt to their environment").

Tim Madden in Tough guys don't dance by Norman Mailer ("bisexual drug abusing drunk with a lot of explaining to do when he finds the heads of his ex-wife and current wife detatched from their bodies").

Some other good calls BTL include Gatsby, Inspector John Rebus, Winston Smith, Ignatius Jacques Reilly, the Count of Monte Cristo, Victor Frankenstein ("polluted by moments of cowardice and moral frailties in a way that the monster is not. He's also pretty emasculated by his creation"), Leopold Bloom ("I'd have put him in before Dedalus"), Alex from A clockwork orange, Rochester, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, Macbeth ("had his problems"), Gisli Sursson, Professor Snape, the Narrator in Fight Club, John Yossarian, Jesus, ("Me, after reading Crime and punishment"), Satan ("more than somewhat troubled in Paradise lost"), Hamlet, Achilles, Homer Simpson, Arthur Dent, Josef K, Dirk Gently, Hannibal Lecter, Piggy in Lord of the flies, Harry Potter, Dr Zhivago and Tom Ripley.

lokakuu 30, 2022, 6:38 pm

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's top 10 20th-century gothic novels
Guardian, 2010-06-02.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón was born in Barcelona and is the author of The shadow of the wind, the most successful novel in Spanish publishing history after Don Quixote. Translated into more than 35 languages, it has been read by over 12m readers worldwide. The prince of mist, a children's book and the first work Ruiz Zafón published, is now available in English for the first time.

"Mention the gothic and many readers will probably picture gloomy castles and an assortment of sinister Victoriana. However, the truth is that the gothic genre has continued to flourish and evolve since the days of Bram Stoker, producing some of its most interesting and accomplished examples in the 20th century – in literature, film and beyond. Ours is a time with a dark heart, ripe for the noir, the gothic and the baroque. A basic list of great 20th-century gothic novels could include at least 100 but, since space is limited, here are a few places to begin your explorations. As always, try to get out of your comfort zone and ignore conventional wisdom on what is good or bad. 'Free your mind, and the rest will follow ...'"

1. Shirley Jackson, The haunting of Hill House.
One of the very best ghost stories ever written. Shirley Jackson's writings are a must for aficionados of the gothic and of good literature. Take this as a first step and discover one of the most unusual and underrated writers of the last century.

2. Joyce Carol Oates, Mysteries of Winterthurn.
I've long considered Oates to be one of the greatest living authors, and certainly the undisputed queen of gothic literary fiction. This book is part of her grand Victorian cycle which begins with Bellefleur. Mysteries of Winterthurn is one of the least-known works in her vast oeuvre but it's my personal favourite. Oates is an extremely prolific writer who has been able to sustain an extraordinary level of quality in her output. Life is short, so kill your TV now and start exploring her universe.

3. William Faulkner, Sanctuary.
A very interesting gothic novel set in the American south – and one that will be surprisingly easy to read even for those who tremble in fear at the mention of Faulkner. This was supposed to be his attempt at commercial fiction; perhaps because of this it has always been regarded suspiciously and considered a minor work. It is not.

4. James M. Cain, Double indemnity.
Lean, mean and dazzling. This is one of the great LA gothics, with all the best echoes of classic noir and a femme fatale to end all femme fatales. Most people have seen the great Billy Wilder adaptation of this novel and therefore bypass the book. Big mistake. As glorious as Wilder's film is, this novel has a rare, dark beauty that deserves to be savoured on its own terms.

5. William Hjortsberg, Falling angel.
If you ask me, this novel is the best mystery thriller ever written. It has the classic elements of a Chandler novel combined with the solid tradition of the 1970s supernatural thrillers à la Rosemary's baby. The writing, plotting and characterisation are superb. This is a hard title to find, but do yourself a favour and go looking.

6. Mervyn Peake, The Gormenghast trilogy.
Dark, dense, baroque and hauntingly beautiful. Peake's lush prose and imagery are a pleasure to any lover of the beauty of the written word. A word of warning, however: this one takes its time. Most readers are used to more watery offerings – this is thick, creamy and extra-rich.

7. China Miéville, Perdido Street Station.
China Miéville, poster boy for the so-called "new weird", is one of the most interesting and promising writers to appear in the last few years in any genre. This is a fantastic yarn that follows the roads set by M. John Harrison in his Viriconium world and brings an enormous energy and creativity to the table. A reinvention of modern fantasy with guts, brains and plenty of glory. Plunge in.

8. Angela Carter, Burning your boats : the collected short stories.
A treasure chest of wonderfully wicked stories from the late grand-dame of the modern English gothic. Take one at a time and enjoy them as you would a good red wine. Eventually, it'll go to your head. In a good way.

9. Stephen King, Pet sematary.
A modern-day Dickens with a popular voice and a genius for storytelling in any genre, Stephen King has written many wonderful books. Perhaps none of them are as scary or creepy as this one. Some people write King off because of his enormous success or the rather weak movie adaptations of his novels, but he is a fantastic writer with tremendous powers of characterisation and a talent for driving a narrative that other authors dream of. Don't let the hype or the snobbery blind you. The man is truly a king.

10. John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the right one in.
A notable hit in Lindqvist's native Sweden a few years ago, Let the right one in was adapted into a film that didn't even begin to do justice to this fresh, powerful and brutally honest reinvention of the vampire novel. This is very effective storytelling with a chilled, Scandinavian, noirish element. White snow never looked so dark.


BTL recommendations and comments (besides discussions about what constitutes gothic) include:

Carmen Laforet, Nada ("you're from Barcelona so you really have no excuse for this egregious omission").

John Crowley, Little, Big ("a modern gothic masterpice. New York, fairies, hash-smoking uncles, incest, voodoo and choke-back-the-tear romance").

Franz Kafka, The castle ("a very modern, inscrutable sort of gothic novel").

RIchard Brautigan, The Hawkline monster ("a gothic western").

Charles Maturin, Melmoth the wanderer. ("forget best gothic book, best BOOK").

William Hope Hodgson, House on the borderland. ("Absolutely. Overwhelming, creeping horror and oppression").

Cormac McCarthy, Blood meridian ("very gothic in tone, the oppression of landscape, and hints of the supernatural").

Jean Ray, Malpertuis ("has to feature in a list like this. It's a classic of crumbling scenery and decadence").

Sarah Waters, The little stranger. Also Fingersmith ("all the ingredients of the classic gothic, innocents entering spooky old houses, facing dangers, finding love eventually").

Joe Hill, Heart shaped box.

Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca ("it may be popular, but I still consider it one of the best gothic novels of 20th C.").

Neil Gaiman, Coraline ("it's a children's book, but I think it is excellent modern gothic").

Anne Rice, Interview with the vampire ("this one will get me laughed at for sure. I know, I know, it became a bit hit movie and somewhat out of fashion as a result, but actually it's a really well written book which in its time completely up-ended the original Dracula-esque/Hammer Horror vampire and reconstructed it as a tragic-heroic figure").

Sunset Boulevard ("although it's not a novel, I'd include it under gothic. I love it when there's a twist to the basic premise, or what I understand to be so anyway").

Saki, Sredni Vashtar ("many of Saki's short stories are (a) distinctly gothic in feel, and (b) absolutely superb. Of his gothic/uncanny stories, this stands out!").

Nick Cave, And the ass saw the angel, and Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel ("pretty good. Not necessarily the best, but well written and great fun").

Lucius Shepard, Green eyes and The Golden ("highly gothic, 'Green Eyes' in the dripping-Spanish-moss-and-zombies Louisiana bayou style and 'The Golden' in the high European vampire style").

""The ultimate embodiment of gothic is, even though there are frequently no words, the work of Edward Gorey").

lokakuu 31, 2022, 9:26 am

Mihir Bose's top 10 football books
Guardian, 2010-06-09.

Mihir Bose is an award-winning sports journalist with a career spanning more than 30 years as a sports writer for the Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph and the London Evening Standard. He was the BBC's sports editor until last year. The 2010 World Cup will be the sixth consecutive tournament he has covered.

"Bill Shankly's famous comment that football is more important than life and death was, I am sure, never meant to be taken literally. I have always seen it as meaning that football can reach many levels of society, far beyond the mere physical contest of 22 men and a round ball. It is this aspect of the game that has always fascinated me.

"Not long after my marriage, I took my wife to a match. She is not a football fan but had been eager to know why so many followed the game with such devotion. At the match she realised that followers of a team are really part of a family.

"Outside of football there may be enough evidence to prove the politicians right, that society has indeed broken down. But those who follow the game know it can bring people together. The supporters of a team may or may not meet physically on match days, but the bond that ties them together is their team's fortunes. The communal joy that spreads through followers when their team wins is matched by a sense of desolation when it loses, emotions not that different from communal family occasions.

"I know groups of fans who only meet to go to away matches. They never go to each other's homes, do not even exchange Christmas cards, but the journey they make every other week is a bond as strong as anything that ties family members together. The books I have chosen, which are listed in the order I first read them, deal with this phenomenon of the game."

1. Arthur Hopcraft, The football man : people and passions in soccer.

2. John Moynihan, Soccer syndrome : from the primaeval forties.

3. Hunter Davies, The glory game.

4. Pete Davies, All played out : the full story of Italia '90.

5. Bill Buford, Among the thugs.

6. Eamon Dunphy, Only a game? : the diary of a professional footballer.

7. Nick Hornby, Fever pitch.

8. Tom Bower, Broken dreams : vanity, greed and the souring of British football.
I have particular affection for this book. Not only is this a book from a very fine investigative reporter who has a knack for uncovering the filth hidden under stones, but I, in a small way, was able to help Tom find his way round football. Just before Tom started on his project he asked for my assistance in understanding a game that he did not know much about.

9. Jason Cowley, The last game : love, death and football.

10. David Goldblatt, The ball is round.


The 100+ BTL comments include dozens of recommendations. The first (baker's) dozen are:

Gary Imlach, My father and other working class football heroes.

David Winner, Brilliant orange.

Harry Pearson, The far corner ("brilliant").

Eduardo Galeano, Football in sun and shadow.

David Peace, The Damned United (it's not about supporting football and is a novel so certainly shouldn't be in Mihir's list, but is unputdownable") ("a novel rather than a piece of reportage of course, but I would agree that The Damned United is easily the best novel ever written about football").

Simon Kuper's work, Perfect pitch, Football against the enemy ("unputdownable") ("brilliant") and Ajax ("wonderful") ("all worthy").

Nick Varley, Parklife ("another very good read about the state of football in the late 80s and early 90s".

Paul Kimmage, Full time : the secret life of Tony Cascarino ("another good one ... his negativity had an even more obvious detriment on his career / game").

Jonathan Wilson, Inverting The pyramid and Behind the curtain ("both look at football in a way I haven't read in years").

Tim Parks, A season with Verona ("lived in the city with his family and spent a season watching every Hellas Verona match, home and away while they were playing in Serie A. Wonderfully written and it gets inside the relationship Italians seem to have with their football").

Garry Nelson, Left foot forward ("no ghostwriter there").

Alex Bellos, Futebol : the Brazilian way of life ("definitely worth a mention").

Chuck Korr & Marvin Close, More than just a game ("a great read about the prisoners on Robben island organising a league, shows the power of the game to help organise and motivate people even at desperate times").

Check out the original article for more recommendations.

marraskuu 4, 2022, 10:52 am

Melvin Burgess's top 10 books written for teenagers
Guardian, 2010-06-17.

The author Melvin Burgess published his first book, The cry of the wolf, in 1990, but is best known for Junk, his 1996 novel dealing with the tricky and controversial subject of heroin addiction in teenagers. His latest novel, Nicholas Dane, a punchy modern-day adaptation of Oliver Twist, is out now.

"Fiction for teenagers is a comparatively new affair. When I was in my teens no one wrote any at all. You had to go straight from children's books to adult books without a pause. Even when I started writing in the 1990s, what was called teen fiction was really only for the first two or three years at high school at the most, with one or two honourable exceptions. Today, teenage fiction still covers a multitude of sins. It can range from books really written for children, which publishers call 'teen' for sales reasons, through books aimed at high-school students up to the age of 14 or so, to books for people nearing the end of their school careers. So here's a list of the top 10 writers who write (or wrote) especially for people of at least 14. It contains the most influential, the most popular, and in some cases simply the best."

1. Robert Cormier, The bumblebee flies anyway.
Cormier was writing quality fiction for teenagers way back in the 1970s, which makes him officially the granddaddy of us all. He conquered that most difficult of tricks: writing brilliant thrillers with beautiful prose and startling but believable characters. If he was writing for adults, he'd have won every prize going.

2. Aidan Chambers, Postcards from No Man's Land.
Chambers's teen tales were the first that aimed to be really serious literature. His books aren't for everyone – his dialogue, in particular, clanks alarmingly – but these are intellectually and emotionally challenging books that examine the deeper things that affect teenage lives. It's not about the girl next door, or how well you're going to do in the exams. It's about who are you, why you're here – and what are you going to do about it anyway?

3. Philip Pullman, Northern lights.
Pullman's His dark materials trilogy is famous for its theological mirroring of Paradise lost, but Pullman's reputation stands on his storytelling. Setting up the heavenly hordes as an enemy of life got him into trouble, but the imaginative range and wealth of characters, especially in this first book, is wonderful.

4. Melvin Burgess, Junk.
My novel Junk was the first truly teenage book to attract a wide readership and deal with serious social issues upfront and honestly. There was a tremendous hue and cry when it first came out. At the time, no one really knew about teenage fiction, and the press were appalled and fascinated that a book talking knowledgeably about drugs and addiction should be awarded a children's book prize. Is it any good? I can't say, since I wrote it myself.

5. David Almond, Skellig.
Almond's books contain stories of great beauty and hope – magical realism for young people, written in graceful, accessible prose. There are images in them you will never forget, and Skellig is one of his finest.

6. Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses.
Blackman passes the test on all counts: first black woman to sell more than a million books; an OBE; and a huge following. Plus, she manages about the best plotting of anyone writing for young people today. The trilogy of Noughts and Crosses books are thrillers, but with a sharp eye for social, personal and racial politics. No one does it better.

7. Kevin Brooks, Martyn Pig.
Brooks is another thriller writer, the natural successor to Cormier. His books don't touch on society in the way Cormier's do, but they are beautifully written and stylish. His young male protagonists are at once touchingly innocent and knowing, quirky and very sexy.

8. Mark Haddon, The curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
This book, published for teenagers, became a bestseller with all ages. Like many great teen books, it is the voice of the narrator that makes it work so well. Christopher is autistic, and when he feels things aren't as they seem, he has to find out about them in his own way. Partly because we know more than him, partly because he is so brave and determined, the story makes a fascinating, funny and memorable read.

9. Meg Rosoff, How I live now.
Rosoff's debut spawned a host of copycat efforts, but it remains ahead of the game. Daisy's voice is the key: you'll rarely meet a character with so many facets, so lucidly written. Some find Rosoff's mucking around with punctuation an irritant, but the book will be read for years to come.

10. Stephenie Meyer, Twilight.
Meyer is a game-changer. For years, publishers have been looking for mass-market teen fiction, and she's the first to have broken through. There's nothing new here: Meyer is no stylist; her characters are predictable; this is really just good old-fashioned romance with a supernatural twist. But if your brain is mashed from too much studying, curl up with a Twilight and she'll do the rest.


There are only a few BTL comments, including several expressing incredulity at the inclusion of Twilight ("Twilight? Seriously?") ("Would not touch Meyer with a bargepole at any age: nasty subtext"). The only extra recommendations are:

J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the rye.

Graham Greene, Brighton Rock.

J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter.

Cecily von Ziegesar, Gossip girl.

marraskuu 5, 2022, 3:47 pm

Jennie Rooney's top 10 women travellers in fiction
Guardian, 2010-06-23.

Jennie Rooney's new novel, The opposite of falling, in which Ursula Bridgewater takes Thomas Cook's famous new tour of America after her engagement is broken off, is out now. Her first novel, Inside the whale, was shortlisted for the Costa first novel award in 2008.

"The Victorian era saw a surge in the popularity of women travellers, with adventurers such as Mary Kingsley and Gertrude Bell publishing travelogues, and inspiring others to follow in their hobnailed footsteps. Women travellers in fiction appear in many forms. First there are the more traditional travellers: the unconventional spinster, the ingénue flung into a foreign setting, the formidable chaperone – each of these provides some of the most engaging female characters in fiction. Then there are the interior journeys, where the character does not travel physically but is somehow transformed. Finally there is that unforgettable trio of young girls who cornered the market in early fantasy travel: Alice's tumble into Wonderland, Dorothy's trip to Oz (Touchstone: The wonderful wizard of Oz) and, of course, Wendy Darling's night-flight across London to Neverland (Peter and Wendy). Here are a few to get us started ..."

1. Aunt Augusta in Travels with my aunt by Graham Greene
So often the sidekick, the aunt is a crucial figure in the travelling fiction genre. In this wonderful novel, Graham Greene places the aunt centre stage, allowing her to drag Henry Pulling out of suburbia and on to the Orient Express to Paris, Istanbul and South America; and showing him, on the way, just how much fun aunts can have.

2. Alice in Alice's adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The ultimate female traveller, Alice wanders away from a picnic, falls down a rabbit hole, and is whisked away to a fantasy land where things just get curiouser and curiouser. There is a white rabbit who is always late, a smile without a cat, the Mad Hatter and his tea party, and an endless array of creatures and tales.

3. Miss Lucy Honeychurch in A room with a view by E. M. Forster
Armed with her Baedeker guidebook, Lucy travels to Italy with her cousin and chaperone, the rather snippy Miss Bartlett. Upon arriving at the Pensione Bertolini, they swap rooms with a father and son whose rooms both have views ("Am I to conclude," asks Miss Bartlett upon receiving the offer, "that he is a socialist?"). Lucy's experiences in Italy open her up to the possibility of love – even if it is with a socialist.

4. The Wife of Bath in The Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
Gap-toothed and gossipy, the Wife of Bath travels to Canterbury with Chaucer's rabble of pilgrims. She is unreserved in her discussion of her five marriages, and is particularly gleeful in the descriptions of her sexual activity and the ways in which she liked to exploit this with her various husbands.

5. Hortense in Small Island by Andrea Levy
Hortense knows everything there is to know about England: she has read Shakespeare, uses words such as "perchance", and makes perfect fairy cakes. But when she finally travels there in 1948, she finds that England does not know so very much about her. A fabulous, richly comic voice, exploring the realities of postwar immigration.

6. Isabel Archer in The portrait of a lady by Henry James
Fearing that marriage will stifle her independence, young American Isabel Archer takes up the offer of a trip to Europe with (of course) her aunt. While in Europe she inherits a fortune, bequeathed to her for the purpose of securing her freedom, but which causes her to become the object of scheming bounty-hunters. Dark and goose-bumpingly sinister.

7. The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Inspired by Arthurian legend, Tennyson's poem recounts the curse of the Lady of Shalott, forced forever to weave a magic web without looking directly out at the world. However, upon glimpsing Lancelot in her mirror, she turns to the window, bringing the curse upon her, so that she dies on her subsequent boat journey to Camelot (cue Lancelot, with one of literature's oddest consolations: "she had a lovely face").

8. Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
An interior journey, this one. Told through a stream-of-consciousness narrative, it is the story of Mrs Dalloway's preparations for a party that evening, and takes place over a single day in June. The action is mainly restricted to flashbacks, but by the end of the book, it is clear that this day has been a journey through Clarissa's mind.

9. Orleanna Price and her daughters in The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Married to a Baptist missionary, Orleanna Price accompanies her husband from America to the Belgian Congo with their four daughters. The novel is narrated by the girls and their mother, each witnessing and responding to their father's actions in different ways. A deeply woven study of misogyny, misplaced religion and the blight of colonial occupation.

10. Wendy Darling in Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie
After sewing Peter Pan's shadow back on in the Kensington nursery, Wendy is recruited by Peter to be his "mother" and he asks her to come back to Neverland with him. She flies out of the window with her brothers, following Peter's somewhat unhelpful travel directions: "Second to the right and then straight on 'til morning!"


Well, Rooney name-checks Alice, Dorothy and Wendy ("that unforgettable trio of young girls"), then goes and leaves The wonderful wizard of Oz off her Top Ten. Harrumph!

BTL comments and rcommendations:

("No Edith Wharton?").

Laurie in Rose Macaulay, Towers Of Trebizond ("I would definitely recommend the character of Laurie as a top woman traveller").

Eglantine Price in Mary Norton's Bed-knob and broomstick. ("ignore the Disney travesty: this is a prim piano-teacher and witch who can take on cannibals on a New Guinea-esque island and 17C witch-hunters").

Mary Seacole, Wonderful adventures of Mrs Seacole in many lands ("recounts her life and travels first to Panama and later to Balaclava during Crimean war").

Sylvia Plath, Bell jar.

Miss Betsy Trotwood in Charles Dickens, David Copperfield.

marraskuu 7, 2022, 11:39 am

Michael Stanley's top 10 African crime novels
Guardian, 2010-06-30.

Michael Stanley is the writing team of native Africans Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip. Research for their books has taken the friends tracking lions at night, fighting bush fires on the Savuti plains in northern Botswana, surviving a charging elephant and losing their navigation maps while flying over the Kalahari. Their new novel, A deadly trade, is published in paperback by Headline.

"Ever since we started writing detective stories set in Africa (A carrion death and A deadly trade), we've paid more attention to the many wonderful mysteries set on the continent. Some of the writers were born in Africa, others not. Some are oldies, but others are contemporary, reflecting the surge of mystery writers interested in Africa. The 10 books we've chosen all capture some aspect of African culture or location. All but one relate to sub-Saharan Africa – the lands of colonies and colonial masters; of newly democratic countries and post-independence struggles. Reading these books will introduce you to areas with which you may be unfamiliar and perhaps give you new insights into some of the oldest cultures in the world."

1. Elspeth Huxley, Murder at Government House.
Elspeth Huxley is best known for The flame trees of Thika, in which she recalls her childhood years growing up in Kenya. She wrote a total of 30 books, including three mysteries, Murder at Government House, The African poison murders, and Murder on safari. The first of these mysteries, Murder at Government House (1935), is set in the colonial town of Chania, where the governor is found strangled at his desk after a dinner party. Canadian-born Superintendent Vachel of the CID is called in to investigate. He finds himself in a web of colonial intrigue and dubious business dealings. From a personal perspective, our book, A carrion death, opens with a scene in which a hyena is used to dispose of a body. It was amusing to read that Huxley used a similar same device 70 years earlier. These mysteries give the reader an excellent overview of British colonialism, often very funny to today's mind, and an alluring taste of African geography and culture, including the pervasive influence of witchdoctors. The descriptions of the bush and animals are delightful.

2. Agatha Christie, Death on the Nile.
Death on the Nile (1937) was published around the same time as Elspeth Huxley's mysteries, but is very different from them. Despite being one of the first mysteries set in Africa – but not sub-Saharan Africa – it has very little local colour. In many ways it could take place anywhere. However, this Hercule Poirot mystery is full of intrigue and plot twists. Every other page causes readers to change their minds as to whom to suspect. The passengers on the Nile cruiser are wonderfully eccentric, with a basketful of motivations for murder. It takes the skill of Poirot to see through the misdirections to solve the case.

3. James McClure, Song dog.
James McClure is the father of South African crime writing and the winner of both Gold and Silver Dagger awards from the Crime Writers Association (CWA). He is best known for his Kramer and Zondi series, set in the midst of the apartheid era, in which a white detective, Lieutenant Tromp Kramer of the Trekkersburg police, partners with black Bantu Detective Sergeant Mickey Zondi. Song dog (1991), set in 1962, was the last written of the series, but is actually a prequel to the first book, Steam pig. It is in Song dog that the two protagonists meet for the first time, bumping into each other in a remote place in Zululand while investigating different cases. Song dog, as with the other books in the series, is a wonderful depiction of the complexities and unpleasantness of life in apartheid South Africa. The interactions between people of different races and the tensions between the English- and Afrikaans-speaking whites are realistically portrayed. But what I like best is the relationship between Kramer and Zondi – they develop a fondness and respect for each other that has to exist within the confines of apartheid and often has to be concealed from others. Add to this good plots and wry humour, and all the books in the series are delightful reads. A word of caution: in today's world some of the language in the books would be regarded as very derogatory, but its presence is necessary for the accurate depiction of the era.
(Touchstone: for some reason the Kramer and Zondi series has been deleted, so here is the tag).

4. Robert Wilson, Instruments of darkness.
Robert Wilson is best known for books set outside Africa – in particular A small death in Lisbon which won the CWA gold dagger. But he has an excellent series of books set in West Africa around a dubious hero operating in a dubious environment. In the first book in the series – Instruments of darkness (1996) – set in Benin, we meet English ex-pat Bruce Medway as he buys and sells and fixes, pretty much at the edge of the law. But then no one cares about that there anyway. A deal that goes wrong leads him to a search for a murdered man. Along the way he meets Bagado, a smart and able policeman, whose skills aren't valued in a country where corruption is the currency of officialdom. As he tries to solve the crime, the detective worries if he'll be paid his salary at all and whether he can live on it if he is. The plot is gripping, the characters alive, and the backdrop the shabbiness of a collapsing system.

5. Unity Dow, The screaming of the innocent.
Unity Dow was the first female High Court judge in Botswana and participated in the landmark case concerning Bushmen rights. She is the author of four books. The screaming of the innocent (2002) is a powerful and disturbing book. A young girl vanishes; the police guess that she has been eaten by a lion, but the reader knows that she has been ritually murdered for body parts reputed to bestow great power. Years later a female student doing national service in the community comes across a box of clothing which seems to belong to the missing girl. But after she draws attention to it, the box vanishes. She seeks out a friend – now a lawyer – and the two young women pursue the matter together. The book is good not only because of the intriguing characters and plot, but because the reader finds the premise completely believable because the perspective is purely African. To westerners, witchcraft has become almost flippant superstition, like avoiding a black cat. But in many African cultures, it is not only respected and feared, but deeply believed. It is this that Dow manages to capture so well in her novel. The heroine follows the twists and turns and seems to be taking us to a successful resolution. But Africa is often not like that.

6. John Le Carré, The mission song.
The mission song (2006) revolves around its narrator, Salvo, illegitimate son of a white Catholic missionary and a Congolese mother. Salvo is a professional translator specialising in the languages of the Congo region. Salvo's linguistic abilities lead him into a vipers' nest of business men, civil servants and mercenaries apparently intent on freeing his home province of Kivu. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that actually what is planned is a coup followed by a puppet government to oversee the exploitation of the country's mineral wealth. African crime fiction? Little of the book takes place in Africa. But the key characters are African through and through and their needs and desires drive the story. Le Carré mentions that he made only a brief research trip to the eastern Congo, but he is careful and his settings ring true. While the backdrop of the book is the exploitation of Africa by unscrupulous westerners, the development of Salvo as a thinking person and as an African is the real story.

7. Deon Meyer, Devil's Peak.
Deon Meyer is the best known contemporary South African crime writer. His six books have won a number of awards, and he was the first to honestly reflect the current realities of the new South Africa in his books. Devil's Peak (2007) opens with a high-class prostitute confessing to the minister of a small-town church. The story switches to a black man, once a special agent for the old regime but now grasping for a new life, watching his young son being killed by thugs. The system fails him and the perpetrators are released. He decides to settle the score himself, with vicious murderers who prey on the weak. If you think the vigilante theme is clichéd, read this book. Meyer's detective – Benny Griessel – has to end the killing. But Benny has his own battle with the alcohol he uses as an escape. The book is a page-turning thriller, with one of the scariest parts being where Benny buys a bottle of brandy.

8. Margie Orford, Blood rose.
Margie Orford returned to South Africa in 2001 after 13 years of living overseas and in Namibia. Her work as a crime reporter made her want to complete the fragmented stories on which she worked, leading to her heroine Clare Hart. Like her creator, Hart is an investigative journalist. Her partner is a captain in the South African police. In Blood rose (2007) it seems that a vicious psychopath is at work in Walvis Bay, a sad desert-locked, fishing port in Namibia, fallen on hard times. Street boys are being killed and mutilated. Clare sometimes works as a profiler for the police and gets involved. But is there another motive for the killings? Clare finds a thread leading back to the days of the South African occupation. And other people are looking for the answers, too. The race develops into a tense thriller with surprising twists.

9. Kwei Quartey, Wife of the gods.
2009 saw the debut of a talented Ghanian crime writer who lives in the United States. Inspector Darko Dawson is a detective in Accra, a moody and potentially violent man. He is asked to investigate a murder in the rural village of Ketanu where he has relatives. Soon he is embroiled with traditional beliefs and fetish priests juxtaposed with modern doctors and AIDS concerns. Kwei reveals the cultural conflicts of an African country trying to become a modern nation; many of the issues remind us of similar tensions in Botswana. Darko ponders these issues as he lights a joint, and slowly, with clever intuition and careful police work, homes in on the solution to the case. A solution he would rather not have found.

10. Caryl Férey, Zulu.
Caryl Férey was born in France, grew up in England, and has travelled the world. His writing includes thrillers, mysteries, travelogues, and children's books. He won the French Grand Prix for Best Crime Novel of 2008 for Zulu, published in English in 2010. Zulu's protagonist is a Zulu by the name of Ali Neuman, a survivor of inter-tribal brutality when Xhosas and Zulus were fighting for dominance as South Africa moved towards democracy. As his last name suggests (Neuman = new man), Ali has left his past behind. He is now chief of the homicide division of the South African police in Cape Town. One of his staff is Brian Epkeen, a white man. Together they have to deal with crime that inevitably exists in sprawling areas of un- and under-employed people – crime exacerbated by gangs, both local and from other parts of Africa. Investigating the death of several young women, Neuman encounters a new drug on the scene – one that is so potent that it can cause people to kill without remorse. Then he discovers that the drug likely found its origins in the old apartheid secret service and is being manufactured and sold by ex-apartheid supporters. The world that Neuman and Epkeen work in is incessantly terrifying. Readers of Zulu will find little respite, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with a fine tale.


Only two BTL comments, recommending:

Deon Meyer, 13 hours ("the already namechecked author").

Mike Nicol, Payback ("one of Waterstone's Fresh Blood selection").

joulukuu 2, 2022, 5:45 pm

Robin Ince's top 10 truly bad books
Guardian, 2010-07-05.

Robin Ince is one of the UK's most accomplished, versatile comedians with a string of awards and media appearances to his name. He was the Chortle award winner in 2009 and won the Time Out award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy for his show The Book Club, which was also nominated for a British Comedy award and hailed by the Observer as "the outstanding literary event of the Edinburgh Festival".

"Life on the road has taken me the length and breadth of the country and has allowed me to spend many an afternoon scouring second-hand bookshops, turning the yellowed pages of classics such as What would Jesus eat?, rummaging through jumble sales, and even the odd skip, constantly on the search for the best of the truly bad. Over the last five years, my love of misguided guides and peripheral poetry pamphlets has bordered on obsession, in fact my tattered collection of "killer crab" novels currently stands taller than my child. This is my top 10 today, tomorrow it might include Mills Boon's Rash intruder or God is for real, man."

1. Jessica Russell Gaver, Sign of the speculum.
First, this is one of the most enigmatic titles on my bookshelf, at first suggesting a sequel to David Cronenberg's Dead ringers. Actually, it is a romantic fiction that is also an ethical guide. What should you do if you are a Christian in love with your gynaecologist? The gynaecologist love story is one of the smaller genres in the broad world of romantic fiction.

2. Anthony Dekker, Temptation in a private zoo.
This goes in the top 10 predominantly for its fantastic title. It is a spy thriller with a little bit of bear-baiting and a brief critique on how to spoil a dinner party by offering after-dinner mints. It was found in the compendium Man's Book – books especially compiled for "the rugged reading tastes of men".

3. Terry Major-Ball, Major Major.
This is the delightful autobiography of John Major's older brother. It is an image of an England seen predominantly in Ealing films. Terry fears women and Butlins, though comes to like them both. He knows how to make a cooked breakfast in the microwave too and he'll tell you how. Remember to prick the egg yolk before microwaving though, or it will explode.

4. Albert Durrant Watson, The twentieth plane: a psychic revelation.
An early 20th-century psychic, with the help of his deceased mother, has some conversations with Edgar Allan Poe, Byron, Shelley and other dead notables. This is non-fiction.

5. Guy N. Smith, Crabs on the rampage (and the other five).
Guy N. Smith has written many horror books, but he is best known for his Crabs series, chronicling the pipe-smoking crustacean adventures of Cliff Davenport, on the Welsh coast. A lurid mix of gore, some sex and moral lessons. Moral lesson number one, don't go swimming with your mistress: your adultery will lead to death by claw.

6. Denise Cumpsty, The book of the Netherland dwarf.
A petcare guide book which has the reputation of a mystical tome created by H. P. Lovecraft that may open a portal to hell, populated by very small rabbits. Contains the most idiosyncratic drawings of the human hand holding scared rabbits.

7. Joan B. West, Elvis: his life and times in poetry and lines.
Who couldn't love a slim collection of poems about Elvis from one of his brethren? What it lacks in traditional poetic skill it more than makes up for in passion for its subject. A strange beauty, enhanced by the delightful painting of Elvis on the cover.

8. Ann Coulter, Godless.
If you want to know just how misguided anti-evolutionists can be and how determined to be stupid they are, Ann is a good start as she mulls on why, if evolution does exist, a worm doesn't evolve into a beagle and how there aren't any transitional fossils (apart from the ever-increasing collection of them). A magnificent view of what happens to your mind if you never let facts get in the way of it.

9. ??, The secrets of picking up sexy girls.
A guide for the frustrated man who just can't seem to pick up a sexy girl. Find out the advantages and disadvantages of rutting in a railway siding, why lesbians and OAPs are the same thing, how to spot a wig and why bras are bad.

10. Margaret Kent, How to marry the man of your choice.
The other side of The secrets of picking up sexy girls, Margaret will help women find a man to marry by persuading them to work in shoe sales or boat repair and reminding us that long fingernails "do not appeal to men". Long fingernails suggest to a man that the woman is "unwilling to do household chores and is unavailable for recreational activities".


Titles suggested below the line included, with some of their comments:

Frank McCourt, Angela's ashes (pure schmaltzy coming-of-age mawkish dross).

Ayn Rand, Atlas shrugged (it's more just bad rather than marvellously bad like these are by the sounds of it, but to my shame and regret I did get through (it). Sweet Jesus ...).

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci code (utter bollox!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!).

"OMG you forgot the bible, qur’an and dianetics!?"

Keri Hulme, The Bone People (largely in indecipherable pidgin English, it wanders, randomly as far as I can work out, in and out of time, context and reality).

Pooches in shades.

Nicholas Evans, The horse whisperers

Kate Tremayne, Loveday family (if this seris of historical novels can get published, then the doors to literary success are open to anyone).

Larry Tracey, Seagull's dance (a novel by a former member of Ireland's Olympic Bobsleigh team that plumbed new depths in 'oirishness').

Flavia Bujor, The prophecy of the gems (it read like the exercise book scribblings of a 13 year old. Which was what it was).

Noel Edmonds, Positively happy: cosmic ways to change your life (you also have to like Noel Edmonds and consider him some sort of spiritual guru who has attained the true enlightenment of ,er, daytime telly).

John Christopher, Little people (a chilling tale of Nazi elves).

Robert James Waller, The bridges of Madison County (his editor should hang his head in shame).

Simon Kernick, Relentless (puerile rubbish, with mono-dimensional characters).

joulukuu 3, 2022, 1:49 pm

Richard Francis's top 10 pubs in literature

Richard Francis is the author of nine previous novels and three non-fiction books, and is professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University. His latest novel, The old spring, out this month, tells the story of a day in the life of an English pub. He chooses his top 10 literary drinking dens.

1. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury tales (late 14th century).
Chaucer spends the night at the Tabard in Southwark before setting off on his pilgrimage to Canterbury. A company of nine-and-twenty sundry folk join him, and by the time the sun goes down, he has a good idea of what makes each of them tick. The landlord is a large man, bold of speech, who suggests the pilgrims have a story-telling competition on their way; he will go with them and be their judge. The pub scenario is already in place: plenty of wine, convivial company, proactive landlord, telling of tales.

2. William Shakespeare, Henry lV, parts one and two (late 1590s).
The Boar's Head tavern is a rougher dive altogether, frequented by Falstaff and his gang of reprobates. The landlady, Mistress Quickly, has a clear philosophy: "I will bar no honest man in my house, nor no cheater; but I do not love swaggering." Falstaff's bar tab is a sight to behold, "but one half penny-worth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!" Prince Hal exclaims. He himself frequents the place so he can get to know his subjects – "When I am king of England, I shall command all the good lads in Eastcheap," adding: "They call drinking deep, dyeing scarlet."

3. Charles Dickens, Our mutual friend (1864-5).
Another redoubtable landlady, Miss Abbey Potterson of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters in Limehouse (giving upon the river), reigns "supreme upon her throne, the Bar", and is more than a match for the villainous Rogue Riderhood. She serves delectable "Purl, Flip, and Dog's Nose", but can draw the line when she has to. "I am the law here, my man," she tells a protesting customer, "and I'll soon convince you of that, if you doubt it at all." But later in the novel she takes care of Jenny Wren, combining, as a good landlady should, a firm hand and a warm heart.

4. Thomas Hardy, Far from the madding crowd (1874).
Two watering holes for the price of one here. The first is not a pub exactly but the front room belonging to a maltster – Hardy's nod towards the proto-pubs of medieval England, where the village brewer (often a woman) sold her wares to the locals in her own cottage. "'Tis gape and swaller with us," Warren tells Gabriel Oak frankly, offering him a two-handled tall mug called a "God-forgive-me". Later in the novel Joseph Poorgrass parks the hearse he is driving outside the Buck's Head Inn, and succumbs to temptation inside even though he has to admit "I've been drinky once this month already".

5. H. G. Wells, The history of Mr Polly (1910).
The aptly named Potwell Inn is situated in pleasant countryside by a river. It has a "sun-blistered green bench and tables ... shapely white windows" and a "row of upshooting hollyhock plants". Mr Polly admires the setting but his principal interest is "Provinder ... Cold sirloin for choice. And nutbrown brew and wheaten bread". Finally, he has arrived at utopia after a series of travails, which include what he describes in his abrupt way as "Bit of Arson". The landlady takes this confession in her stride: "So long as you haven't the habit," she tells him. Her "plumpness was firm and pink and wholesome", and her "jolly chins clustered like chubby little cherubim about the feet of an Assumptioning Madonna".

6. T. S. Eliot, The waste land (1922).
EastEnders meets the avant garde in the second section of Eliot's poem, where a cockney woman tells of the woes of her friend Lil, while in the background an impatient landlord keeps calling out "Hurry up please it's time". Lil is only 31 but has lost all her teeth because of taking abortion pills. We are just getting to the point of the story – Sunday lunch, a hot gammon, the narrator invited to join Lil and her husband Albert – when the landlord finally succeeds in clearing them out. The tone is lifted as the farewells modulate into Ophelia's words from Hamlet: "Good night, ladies, good night sweet ladies, good night, good night."

7. P. G. Wodehouse, The Mulliner stories (from 1927 onwards).
The Angler's Rest is presided over by Miss Postlethwaite, the "courteous and efficient barmaid" who is addicted to going to the cinema (awkward hobby for a barmaid) where she raptly watches the sort of films that feature mad professors trying to turn girls into lobsters. The conversation in the bar tends to be similarly wide-ranging: "In our little circle I have known an argument on the Final Destination of the Soul to change inside forty seconds into one concerning the best method of preserving the juiciness of bacon fat." Mr Mulliner, tale-teller extraordinaire, presides, though most of the regulars are known simply by the name of their favourite tipple: a Pint of Bitter, a Lemon Sour, a Small Bass, and so on.

8. Patrick Hamilton, Twenty thousand streets under the sky (1929, 1932, 1934).
The three novels that make up Patrick Hamilton's Twenty thousand streets under the sky probably constitute the most exhaustive and profound study of pub culture ever made. In the Midnight Bell, a pub on the Euston Road, we encounter every type of drunkenness: "talking drunk and confidential drunk and laughing drunk and leering drunk and secretive drunk and dignified drunk". Ella the barmaid, "bright and pert and neat", copes with the boozers and the bores, and is the recipient of "half the confidences, half the jokes, half the leers". She's in love with the self-destructive Bob, who in turn falls for the prostitute Jenny when she fatefully comes into the saloon bar for a gin and pop.

9. Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn (1936).

10. Graham Swift, Last orders (1996).
We end where we began, with a pilgrimage from London to Canterbury. Actually, the destination is Margate pier, where a group of regulars from the Coach and Horses in Bermondsey is heading with the ashes of their friend Jack Arthur Dodds, who asked to be buried at sea, or at least at the seaside. But the journey takes in Canterbury en route, where the travellers are impressed that the cathedral is 14 centuries old, six more than in Chaucer's day. The Coach is a daft name for a pub "when it aint ever moved", one of its regulars joked at the outset; but by the end of the novel these pilgrims have covered plenty of ground, like so many of their literary predecessors.



The Mended Drum in Terry Pratchett, Discworld novels. (springs to mind. It used to be called The Broken Drum because, erm, "You can't beat it..." // The Mended/Broken Drum definitely but never had a pint there yet. // I agree ... but would also have to suggest Biers, Ankh-Morpork's premier undead drinking establishment. Who could resist cocktails like "Neck Bolt", "Head Nailed To The Door and "Like big lump of Steel hammer fru your ears"?)

The Oxford in Ian Rankin, Rebus series. (What about that pub in Edinburgh where Rebus drinks, The Ox ?? // The Oxford is a great wee pub, nice pies too).

Martin Amis, London Fields, the Black Cross on Portobello where Keith Talent drinks and plays arra's in is a great boozer.

The Green Dragon in the Shire and The Prancing Pony, Bree. (J. R. R. Tollkein, The lord of the rings).

You swab, Francis! You're forgettin' The Admiral Benbow, where Blind Pew delivered the Black Spot before meetin' his 'orrible end. (Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure island).

The Shakespere in Martin Amis, Money (where is that boozer?)

Confessions of a justified sinner (I think the Black Bull on the Grassmarket, the site of an almighty Jacobean brawl // you can see an almighty brawl, Jacobean or otherwise, outside most Grassmarket pubs of a Saturday evening!)

The Flying Swan in Robert Rankin, the Brentford Trilogy. ("Mine's a large Nev" // +1 for a pint of large at The Flying Swan, Brentford. Also the Four Horsemen just down the road, strong darts team // Another for drinking with Pooley, O'Malley et al. in the Flying Swan. The Brentford Trilogy is severely underrated, especially as Robert Rankin knows his pubs).

Hmmm, no Flann O'Brien ... shame on you! // And I also agree about the failure to mention Flann O'Brien. - A pint of plain is your only man.

James Joyce, Dubliners. (What about the absolute smorgasbord of inns, public houses, drinking establishments and general drunkenness in Joyce's Dubliners? // Mulligan's in Dubliners. There last Sunday. Hasn't changed a bit I'd say).

How about Arthur C. Clarke's White Hart, somewhere off the beaten track near Fleet Street? An unholy mixture of scientists, printers, and journalists, and some of the tallest tales ever told, courtesy of Harry Purvis. (Arthur C. Clarke Tales from the White Hart).

The Eagle and Child in Joyce Cary, The Horse's Mouth. (and it's indomitable landlady Coker).

George Orwell. (described it best - The Moon Under Water. Although I would love a swift half in the Midnight Bell too. // What about Orwell's Moon Under Water his imaginary ideal pub? Or maybe its evil twin the Chestnut Tree cafe where Winston Smith drinks Victory Gin?)

Ernest Hemingway, The sun also rises. (would also be very fitting. I am pretty sure all they do is drink Sangria and go to bull fights in that book).

The Three Broomsticks in J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter (the one in Harry Potter where they do Butterbeer surely is worthy of a mention!)

Robin Cook, Factory novels. (written under the pseudonym Derek Raymond - contain some great boozers: the Agincourt in He died with his eyes open being particularly splendid in its grimness. The City Darts on Commercial Street had a similar feel before it went upmarket. I'm going for a pint ...).

No Davy Byrne's? And what's the pub in The ragged trousered philanthropists? Is that The Cricketers?

The Hanging Man in Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm.

The Trout, much loved by Inspector Morse, by Colin Dexter. (lovely pub. // it also gets an unexpected plug towards the end of Nevil Shute's wartime thriller Pied Piper, when the doomed spy, Charenton, asks the elderly hero, John Howard, if he ever gets back to Blighty, to "go there and drink a pint for me").

Another Orwell shout - the Crichton Arms in Keep the aspidistra flying evocatively seen from outside through a frosted window by the penniless Gordon Comstock, aching to sink into the warm fug of humanity on the other side of the glass, unable to step through the door, isolated by penury and loneliness. It sums up how both wonderful and horrid the institution of the British boozer actually was, and remains.

I was hoping to see a reference to a glass of Chateau Thames Embankment at Pommeroy's Wine Bar. Every drinking hole can't be a sunwashed village pub, after all. (John Mortimer, Rumpole of the Bailey).

It's a play - but the Coach and Horses in Keith Waterhouse, Jeffrey Bernard is unwell.

The Rainbow, the village inn in George Eliot, Silas Marner. (one of the most memorable pubs in literature).

No one gets close to describing the less glamorous side of drinking than Patrick Hamilton in 20,000 streets under the sky, and Hangover Square. Brilliantly captures the barely perceptible joy of the seasoned drinker - before the desolation kicks in. That and the grim camaraderie of drinkers, among so much else.

Surely "the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters in Limehouse (giving upon the river)" (no. 3 above) is in fact The Grapes, that Dickens is said to have frequented?

The hotel in the Glass canoe - the best boozer in Sydney.

The Truncheon and Tentflaps in Barbara Cartland, The horses can wait.
(Hmm. No touchstones or Google results for this one. Cynfelyn).

The Red Lion in Southampton, you can still have a pint in the same room where Henry V condemned Percy and others to death before embarking for Agincourt, 1415. One of the oldest pubs in Britain, again immortalised in William's play.

How about Gold by Dan Rhodes? Not just a pub, but a pub quiz too.

Kingsley Amis & his old farts in The Bible of course

How about the pubs Anthony Powell writes about in A dance to the music of time? Where Barnby opines about women, Mr Deacon does deals, X. Trapnel expounds on the novel?

I'd love to raise a glass -- or throw one in the fireplace -- at Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, home of some great SF short stories by Spider Robinson.

The Pacific Dining Car in James Ellroy, LA Quartet series. (not really a pub, but 'sounds like an ideal place for a drink, spot of intrigue. Not sure what the reality of it is now but it was the place where mob, politics and police came together to buy and sell).

The Spouter-Inn in Herman Melville, Moby Dick. (one of the most vivid and atmospheric pubs in fiction, surely).

Amis Senior's Green Man? That novel freaked me out.

The Effra, Brixton, in Paul Ewen, London pub reviews.

... Dickens' best pub is surely in Barnaby Rudge - it's the setting for most of the 900-page novel. And my favourite is probably the one where "Dusky Ruth" works in A. E. Coppard's novel of that name. Finally we shouldn't forget George Borrow's 1854 pub crawl that appeared in 1862 under the title Wild Wales, which might well lead us on naturally to dear old Kingsley Amis's The old devils had the landlord not stopped serving by now.

joulukuu 11, 2022, 4:56 am

Greg Baxter's top 10 memento mori
Guardian, 2010-07-21.

Greg Baxter was born in Texas in 1974, and has lived in Dublin for the past 10 years where he works as a journalist, and runs the Some Blind Alleys creative writing courses. His memoir A preparation for death is an unflinchingly honest account of his self-destructive personal decay in his early 30s, and his redemption through writing.

"My interest in autobiography began quite late, relative to my interest in books. I had always assumed heavy lifting in literature could only be accomplished by novels, and I very much wanted to be a heavy lifter. Also, I felt and still feel a natural revulsion toward memoir. Nothing that had ever happened in my life was worth, in itself, a page of published text. But I was sick of my own fiction, and sick of the tired and relentless procession of award-winning novels that all looked the same, and became, through their success, the primary influences of a new generation of fiction writers. The bitterness I felt at not being recognised as a figure in literature almost destroyed me as a writer: I only wrote to be praised, or to avenge, or to insult.

"It was through an intense study of autobiography – beginning with The art of the personal essay, edited by Philip Lopate – that I learned how to write without ambition, and for myself. Every great autobiographical work is a private preparation for death: an author hunts down his weaknesses, his delusions, his inherited values, his everyday enslavements, and murders them in plain sight. Below are some of the works – books and essays – that inspired this sort of ruthlessness in me."

Death of Death: Seneca, 'Asthma'.
All the best autobiographical writers – those who teach us how to live well and how to die well – are to varying degrees stoics. Fear of death expresses itself most commonly as self-pity, and self-pity does not lead to illuminating or fierce autobiography; it leads to therapy. What is the point, Seneca asks, of fearing death when death is all you knew before you were alive?

Death of Style: St Augustine, The confessions.
A man's desire to be cherished, to be measured by the standards of other men, leads to the corruption of his understanding of beauty, Augustine writes, speaking of his own early works. Once this corruption takes place, that man no longer wants to tell the truth: he wants to tell lies that please and awe. He has charisma but no character.

Death of Wisdom: Michel de Montaigne, Essays.
If aliens ever attack earth, and we have one opportunity to prove that the human species deserves a second chance, we must give them Montaigne, the humblest and most noble thinker and writer who ever lived. His incomparable exploration of the human condition begins with one fearless question: What do I know?

Death of Embarrassment: Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo.
When your books are misunderstood and dismissed as the desperate and nonsensical ramblings of a lunatic, you can attempt to change your ways, become more acceptable, and please the greatest number of people. Or you can plunge yourself deeper into lunacy, write for the future, and call yourself a destiny. Who but a lunatic allows himself to say: "I am not a man. I am dynamite"?

Death of Forgiveness: Lu Xun, 'Death'.
What shall we do about our enemies? How can we die without closure? Contemplating, on his deathbed, what to do about all the people who hate him, and whom he hates, the most well-known author in the world – Lu Xun – tells us: "Let them go on hating me. I shall not forgive a single one of them either."

Death of Power: Virginia Woolf, Street haunting : a London adventure.
Virginia Woolf is a writer of unsurpassed beauty and eloquence. Yet beneath the exterior of her text is a violent struggle against an understanding of knowledge and power constructed by men who want to utilise and commandeer the world. To properly observe the world, we must give up our desire for ownership, our desire to seek the usefulness in things, she tells us. Street haunting is not one of her most famous works, but it is among her finest.

Death of Literature: Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer.
Tropic of Cancer is not so much a book as an all-out assault against literature. One does not so much read it as watch it explode. The writers I admire most are not those who seek to publish and please, but who set out to commit an act of heresy towards fine taste. Miller sees literature dying, and stomps on its head to finish the job.

Death of an Elephant: George Orwell, Shooting an elephant.
Orwell, working as police officer in Burma, discovers that "when the white man turns tyrant, it is his own freedom he destroys" – when he is forced to shoot an elephant for no reason other than to avoid looking like a fool. He is inexperienced, unqualified, and records the slow death of the elephant with horrifying precision.

Death of the Epigone: E. M. Cioran, Some blind alleys : a letter.
In this amazing and unrelenting epistolary essay, the Romanian philosopher E. M. Cioran urges a young, aspiring author to give up his ambition to write so that he may protect his sicknesses and sins from the healing power of the word. To write is to destroy the grace bestowed upon us by misery and disease and failure. And to become a literary man is to join the age of the epigone – the copycat.

Death of Manipulation: James Baldwin, 'Equal in Paris'
Baldwin, a young poor American living in Paris, spends his time sitting in cafés, unable to write. He then spends eight days in a French prison for a minor offence. His whole life, he has used people's expectations of him as a black man to solve every crisis. He has never had an identity – he has only used the identity society created for him. But this identity is useless in France. He must stop asking himself what he is and start asking himself who he is.


The only copy of James Baldwin, 'Equal in Paris', listed on LT appears to be in Adam Gopnik (ed.), Americans in Paris : a literary anthology.

BTL 'recommendation':

Greg Baxter, Birth of a salesman : a preparation for death, a riff on the author of the article's own book ("uses philosophically promiscuous memoir dressed up as failure to hide a craven need for success"), and the resultant slanging match.

Possibly the closest I've seen a Guardian book column come to a middle-brow Twitter pile-on.

joulukuu 25, 2022, 5:38 pm

Ali Shaw's top 10 transformation stories
Guardian, 2010-07-29.

Ali Shaw was born in 1982 and grew up in a small town in Dorset. Earlier this year he won the Desmond Elliott prize with his first novel, The girl with glass feet, which he has described as "a love story about a woman who is turning into glass". Here he chooses his top ten stories of transformation.

"Stories about people transforming, often agonisingly, from one shape to another are not just ancient, they're primal. They occupied the earliest storytellers and continue to occupy us now. While they may be old, they're by no means primitive. At their best, they're an expression of a more invisible change: a person's progression into someone better, or their degeneration into someone worse. Here are 10 of my favourites."

1. The Violoncello from Dan Rhodes, Don't tell me the truth about love
This is a beautifully paced love story about a student in Vietnam who falls so madly in love with a young violoncellist that he submits himself to a process that will transform him from a human being to a violoncello. The moment when the musician and the newborn instrument are first brought together is masterfully sad and sensual.

2. Ted Hughes, Tales from Ovid
Ovid's Metamorphoses is one long catalogue of transformations, and Hughes's retelling pulls no punches, restoring in verb-rich poetry all of the sex and violence inherent in the stories. There's a shapeshift or mutation on nearly every page, but a favourite of mine is Echo and Narcissus, who turn into the disembodied voice and woodland flower they lend their names to.

3. The Wild Swans from Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy tales
This is vintage Andersen, swinging back and forth from optimism to pessimism, light to dark. It concerns the trials of a young girl attempting to reverse the transformation of her brothers into beautiful swans. She's very nearly successful, but can't quite dispel the magic in time, leaving her youngest brother forever trapped with a white wing instead of an arm.

4. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The curious case of Benjamin Button
Populised by the recent film, but very different indeed, Fitzgerald's original story is funny and economical. It reminds me of that old riddle that asks what goes on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon and three legs in the evening, because it makes infancy and old age look like similar things.

5. Robert Louis Stevenson, The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
The classic story of a man continuously transforming between good and evil incarnations of himself. It finds time to consider the psychological burden of Jekyll's condition without slowing down the rip-roaring adventure story at the heart of the book.

6. The Cloven Viscount from Italo Calvino, Our ancestors
A dual-nature story following in the tradition of Stevenson. Viscount Medardo is blasted in half on a battlefield, after which the two parts of his body are nursed separately back to life. They both recover and later re-encounter each other, whereupon they learn that they have been transformed from a single Medardo with a conflicting nature into two Medardos, one kind and one spiteful. Can they get along?

7. Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis
The daddy of all transformation stories, and for good reason. The opening sentence is dynamite, and Gregor Samsa's matter-of-fact handling of his overnight transformation from man to giant insect is as horrifying as the metamorphosis itself. Add to this mix Kafka's meticulous, paranoid prose and you get one of the greatest bits of writing ever committed to paper.

8. Royal Jelly from Roald Dahl, Tales of the unexpected
Roald Dahl was, above all else, a horror writer. In his short stories for adults he throws off the shackles of whatever nominal restraint he was maintaining in his children's work and really let's rip. This one is about a man who feeds and then overdoses his new-born baby on a jelly secretion harvested from bees. Almost immediately, the infant begins to transform. You are what you eat, as they say ... It will get you looking up the real royal jelly before the end.

9. Hans-My-Hedgehog from the Brothers Grimm, The complete fairy tales
This fairy story is quite a disturbing affair. Hans is a boy born part-hedgehog, part-man, and grows up into a king of pigs who rides a rooster through the woods, followed by an army of swine. He is a wild beast and not a hero, but, thanks to a flourish of magic at the end of the story, his spiny hide is incinerated and he turns into a man. There are countless other such transformations in fairy tales, but the imagery in this one is distinctive enough to stick.

10. The Tiger's Bride from Angela Carter, The bloody chamber
Angela Carter ripped away all of the patriarchal rubbish that had saddled fairy tales for centuries and in doing so tapped in to something more raw, more in touch with their dreamy vitality. The Tiger's Bride could be read as a metaphor for doing just that, but it has much more to offer besides. It's my favourite from The Bloody Chamber, not just because of the exquisite writing but because of the transformation in which it culminates. As the human narrator changes into a tiger, so too the tiger turns away from his imitation of man. Every sentence oozes atmosphere.


BTL recommendations:

Horacio Quiroga, Juan Darien ("there is at least one translation into English with the title, 'Tiger Boy'").

David Eagleman, Sum (includes an extract from the 2009 Guardian review of the book).

joulukuu 28, 2022, 3:52 pm

Patrick Cramsie's top 10 graphic design books
Guardian, 2010-08-04.

Patrick Cramsie studied graphic design at London's Middlesex University before going on to work in an Anglo-Japanese design company and then later as a freelance designer. His design work has centred on corporate identity and book design, but alongside this he has written book reviews for the Times Literary Supplement and Tate Etc. His latest book, The story of graphic design, covers 5,500 years of cultural history from the invention of writing to the birth of digital design.

"We live in a world of signs and symbols. Street signs, logos, labels, pictures and words in books, newspapers, magazines and now on our mobiles and computer screens; all these graphic shapes have been designed. They are so commonplace we seldom think of them as a single entity, "graphic design". Yet taken as a whole they are central to our modern way of life. Nearly all of these books on graphic design appeal as much to the eye as to the mind, being beautiful as well as useful. In some, this marriage is so complete that they stand as archetypes of their medium; as specimens of perfection in book form."

1. Derek Birdsall, Notes on book design.
Though presented as a practical guide for designing books – how to lay out text and pictures or how to design a cover – this book is much more than that. It is written and designed by one of Britain's most accomplished book designers and then illustrated with some of the best examples of his work. Because the book practises what it preaches, it is as good to look at as to read; the union of form and content could hardly be bettered. Each spread could be taken and hung in a gallery and appreciated as a work of art.

2. Richard Benson, The printed picture.
A book that sets out to explain each of the different printing techniques that have been developed since the Renaissance sounds potentially dry, worthy and technical. The surprise that it is none of these things is quickly overtaken by the thrill of reading a text that is clear, deeply informed and accompanied by an extraordinary range of beautiful pictures, all of which are (of course) printed with an astonishing quality. We are now living in the age of the image, and this book successfully tells us how we got here.

3. Jaspert, Berry & Johnson, The encyclopaedia of type faces.
We all use PCs and mobiles and so, to some extent, we are all now "graphic designers". Each of us can decide what style and size of font our letters, e-mails and texts should appear in. For those who want to explore the world of fonts beyond that provided on their computers, there is no better place to start than here. Though this book lacks any recently designed fonts, the select range of historically important or practically useful fonts it presents could last us several lifetimes. This book is really a celebration of the flexibility of the Latin alphabet. The fact that each font is put into context by a short description of its design makes this celebration educational.

4. Christopher Burke, Active literature: Jan Tschichold and new typography.
Perhaps as many books have been written about this 20th-century German as any other graphic designer. However, none of these books on Tschichold has unearthed so many previously unseen works, and no text has benefited from such detailed research. Unlike so many writers on design, Burke has done his homework, and the fruits of it are displayed in this treasure trove of designs from Tschichold's most radical modernist phase.

5. Hans Wingler, Bauhaus: Weimar, Dessau, Berlin, Chicago.
The influential and much mythologised German art school, the Bauhaus, is made less opaque through this astonishing collection of documents, letters and pictures from its own archive. From the opening line of the school's manifesto, "The ultimate aim of all the visual arts is the complete building!", to a description of "the New Bauhaus" in Chicago as having that "sweet sound of a hive humming", the ability of the personal testament to bring history alive is proven over and over again. The book's design – its sans-serif text set within a rigid grid and bound between a simple but daringly effective cover (itself something of a design classic) – elevates this into a truly unique and important publication.

6. Rick Poynor, Design without boundaries: visual communication in transition.
No British writer has done more to promote graphic design as a subject of interest and importance than Rick Poynor. This collection of articles, most of which were written during the 1990s, focuses on many of the ideas and individuals that continue to dominate graphic design today. The clarity of the writing and the author's evident passion make it an illuminating entry into contemporary graphic design.

7. Paul Rand, Paul Rand: a designer's art.
Paul Rand is one of only a handful of names that is guaranteed to appear on any list of the greatest graphic designers. The almost magical invention in his work, and the prominence he maintained over five decades, mark him out as the Picasso of graphic design. In this collection of his writing he shows as much clarity and verve in articulating his approach to design as in the wealth of examples that illustrate the text. Both make the book enormously compelling.

8. Ernst Gombrich, The sense of order: a study in the psychology of decorative art.
"The story of art" may have been Gombrich's most popular book, but the one he considered to be the most original – and which relates to graphic design most directly – was this one. In explaining the biological roots and social importance of decoration he covers an astonishing range of graphic forms: the flourishing letters of medieval scribes, heraldic symbols, the use of pictures as memory aids, and the appearance of the acanthus leaf in print and architecture, to name just a few. Gombrich's great gift – his ability to express the depth and breadth of his knowledge with simple language – makes this an amazingly rich and rewarding text.

9. Alan Fletcher, The art of looking sideways.
Sometimes, a book can capture the personality of its author much more effectively than any portrait or film footage. Alan Fletcher's special wit and rigour, his extraordinary visual awareness and above all, perhaps, his humanity, are laid bare in this singular, weighty graphic mélange. Each of the 1,000-odd pages have been individually designed to give graphic expression to a lifetime's worth of collected quotes, musings, aphorisms, factual curios, jokes and other assorted titbits. Dip into it and it's impossible to dip out again.

10. Saul Steinberg, The passport.
I could have chosen any number of Steinberg's books, but this is the first one I owned and so it's the first I fell in love with. Steinberg was best known as a cartoonist for the New Yorker – his New Yorker's view of the world showing Ninth and Tenth Avenues in the foreground, a strip of the Hudson River and New Jersey in the middle distance, and then a few rocky outcrops marking China, Russia and Japan will ring a bell with some – but actually he was a truly great artist. Has anybody explored the ideas surrounding individual identity with as much graphic skill, humour and intelligence?


BTL recommendations and comments:

Alan Fletcher, The art of looking sideways ("got me through a fair few creative blocks at uni - highly recommend it" ; "gets on my wick. It's a kind of design desiderata for the coffee table" ; "one of my most hated - my graphics classmates were pretty strongly divided over it. In my opinion it's not about graphic design, it's some guy's ever-so-whimsical musings about nothing in particular" ; "I think it's a good book, but I agree it's not really about design. I still need to finish going through it").

Erik Spiekermann, Stop stealing sheep and find out how type works

Steven Heller & Mirko Ilić, Anatomy of design: uncovering the influences and inspiration in modern graphic design.

Edward Tufte, The visual display of quantitative information.


Robert Bringhurst, The elements of typographic style ("indispensable" ; "as far as type is concerned this book packs in almost everything and considering its price is essential").

Beryl McAlhone, A smile in the mind: witty thinking in graphic design ("was so much fun when borrowed from the library I bought my own copy").

Josef Müller-Brockmann, Grid systems in graphic design: a handbook for graphic artists, typographers, and exhibition designers ("a classic") and The graphic artist and his design problems.

Jan Tschichold, The new typography and The form of the book: essays on the morality of good design.

Eric Gill, An essay on typography.

Erik Spiekermann, Rhyme and reason: a typographic novel ("if you don't understand typographic principles after reading it you should probably explore alternative career options").

David Carson, The end of print.

Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart, A smile in the mind: witty thinking in graphic design ("inspiring").

Judith Schalansky, Fraktur mon amour ("blackletter eyecandy with digital typefaces on a CD inside the book").

Steven Heller & Gail Anderson, New vintage type: classic fonts for the digital age ("excellent resource for vintage-style typography").

Michael Johnson, Problem solved: a primer in design and communication ("while technically not a graphics book, this is a great resource on creativity and design-related problem solving").

Willi Kunz, Typography: macro and microaesthetics and Typography: formation + transformation.

Wolfgang Weingart, My way to typography.

Hans Rudolph Bosshard, The typographic grid ("Brockmann's is indeed a classic, but a tad on the basic side, compared to this").

Kenya Hara, Designing design.

Oliver Simon, Introduction to typography ("hard to find now but a very practical and old-school introduction (published in the 50s). If you want to know how to set poetry or mathematics or work with centred layouts, an essential primer").

William Lidwell, Kritina Holden & Jill Butler, Universal principles of design ("not strictly graphic design but a great book").

Leonard Koren & R. Wippo Meckler, Graphic design cookbook: mix & match recipes for faster, better layouts ("indispensable if you are a designer").

Anne Gerber (ed.), All messed up: unpredictable graphics ("for the way that accident and chance can play an important part in the creative process").

David Crow (ed.), Visible signs: an introduction to semiotics ("for a diagrammatic description of how to understand signs, signifiers, metonyms, metaphors etc.").

Steven Heller, Design literacy: understanding graphic design ("great stories behind some of the most iconic symbols, typefaces and decisions in graphic design, changed my view on my craft").

Francis D. K. Ching, Form, space and order ("not strictly a graphic design book, but ... the first edition, in landscape format, the one in which Ching had hand-drawn and lettered every single page himself. It's been sitting on every desk I've ever used ever since (20 yrs ago). The newer editions are awful, however, substituting his wonderful handwriting for some god-awful typeface that imitates it unconvincingly").

Jost Hochuli, Detail in typography and Designing books: practice and theory.

Josef Albers, Interaction of color.

John Kane, A type primer.

Ian Noble & Russell Bestley, Visual research.

Richard Benson, The printed picture (no. 2 on the list) ("heartily concur with no 2 on the list. As well as fantastically printed (200+ lpi) examples of every kind of process, each verso has a close-up snippet of the actual marks on the paper. Great for print obsessives like myself").

"Where's Eric Gill? ... Shame he was a paedo though."

Bob Gill, Forget all the rules about graphic design: including the ones in this book ("a personal favourite and reminds me every time that the best design tailors itself to each individual brief").

Adrian Shaunessy, How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul ("the most informative and important design book I think anyone can read. Essential reading for students and designers alike").

joulukuu 30, 2022, 1:05 pm

Karl Marlantes's top 10 war stories
Guardian, 2010-08-11.

After studying at Yale, Karl Marlantes served as a marine in Vietnam and was awarded numerous medals including two Purple Hearts. In 1977 he began writing Matterhorn, a novel about his experience of combat in the jungle. The book ended up taking Marlantes 30 years to write while raising a family of five children and working full-time in energy consultancy.

"It seems to me that a great war book must speak the truth about war; that it is mostly tedious, numbing, confusing, occasionally thrilling, filled with love for your comrades, and ultimately leaves you sad. Then, of course, there is the constant authorial challenge to keep the reader turning the pages – a challenge fully met by all of these tales."

1. Homer, The Iliad.
I have to confess I first read this in a Classics Comic Book version. What struck me then – I was about eight or nine – was that the author actually thought that the Trojans weren't morally any better or worse than the Greeks. Maybe a little better, in fact, but I'm half-Greek so that was hard to swallow. It was only after I'd been in a war myself that I read the actual epic, and I did it in both Robert Fitzgerald's and Richmond Lattimore's translations. On those readings I was struck by the changelessness of the experience, no matter the technology, and the utter randomness of it all, in Homer personified by the intervention of the gods.

2. Steven Crane, The red badge of courage.
This one I read because it was required in school. I suspect it got on the required list in part because our teachers thought it was short enough to at least encourage us not to reach for the Classic Comic Book. It is of course notable for the understanding of fear, cowardice, and slaughter from a man who wasn't in combat. This is rare, and I have to admit that I'm highly suspicious of any novel about war that is written by someone who hasn't experienced it.

3. Egil's saga.
I was taken by this ancient tale's authentic celebration of the dark joy of being on the winning side. It's also just a very good adventure that takes place in a time that tends to get romanticised. Here, by contrast, you get the feeling that it's a pretty tough way to make a living. Full disclosure, my grandfather was a Norwegian and I was fairly predisposed to overlook some of Egil's more pathological mental states.

4. Leo Tolstoy, War and peace.
I've read this twice and am going through it for the third right now with the new Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation. This man's genius is to handle a huge cast of characters and points of view, from an Olympian historical analysis, to the minds of dictators and generals, to the minds of individual soldiers. When I read how Prince Andre felt when he went down mortally wounded, seeing the concrete nothingness of the sky, I actually had to stand up and take a walk it hit me so profoundly.

5. The Penguin book of First World War poetry.
Here we get the true feeling of senseless mechanised slaughter, the terror of artillery shellings and poison gas that, supported by rail systems and industrial economies, could go on and on until minds broke, and the numbing degradation of life in the trenches. These poems also made it clear that the day of the individual warrior who could significantly influence his odds of survival through skill of arms had truly come to an end.

6. Robert Graves, Goodbye to all that.
Graves expressed so clearly the aftermath of combat, the wounds to the mind and soul. And he told of the actual experience in chilling understatement.

7. Erich Maria Remarque, All quiet on the Western Front.
This is the first novel I read where "the con" of patriotism was fully revealed. I have nothing against patriotism; it's a good thing. It's just that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.

8. David Jones, In parenthesis.
This small novel is very close to poetry in its spare and beautiful use of language and its use of symbols. Being a mythology nut, I relished the inclusion of the old Welsh epics and myths in the text. He also captures, as does his title, the way the intensity of combat is bracketed between versions of "normal life".

9. James Jones, The thin red line.
Here is a book written by a soldier with a soldier's eye and sensibility. I think Jones captured jungle warfare brilliantly. He also captured the nerve-shredding anxiety of nothing happening.

10. Norman Mailer, The naked and the dead.
Here is war writing that focuses on a group and the interaction within that group. It is the small unit of friends that provides the meaning of war to most veterans, not the sweeping generalisations of the politicians. This is not to say that some sweeping generalisations aren't true – it's fairly easy, for example, to agree that destroying fascism was a good cause. But when my uncles and father and their friends could be persuaded to talk about their experience of the second world war, to a man said they never thought once about "the cause" when they were actually fighting. They thought about their friends.


There are 100+ comments and recommendations BTL. Half a dozen roughly random recommendations are:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a yellow sun (Biafra).

Humphrey Cobb, Paths of glory (WWI).

Guenter Grass, Im Krebsgang (WWII).

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (WWII).

Robert Mason, Chickenhawk (Vietnam).

Emil Zola, Le debacle (Franco-Prussian War).

tammikuu 4, 10:09 am

Stuart Clark's top 10 approachable astronomy books
Guardian, 2010-08-18.

Stuart Clark is the award-winning author of The sun kings, 2007. In his new book, The big questions: the universe, he tackles the 20 biggest questions driving modern astronomy, including Are We Made From Stardust? Are There Other Intelligent Beings? Is There Cosmological Evidence for God? His website is

Stuart is the former editor of Astronomy Now. He is also a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a former vice chair of the Association of British Science Writers and in 2000, the Independent placed him alongside Stephen Hawking and the Astronomer Royal, Professor Sir Martin Rees, as one of the "stars" of British astrophysics teaching. He is now senior editor for the European Space Agency and is a contributor to New Scientist and the Economist.

"Looking at the stars is a good way to provoke a primal reaction. You may experience wonder or awe, maybe even fear about how small you really are. No matter what you feel, the stars have the power to move us and have done so for thousands of years. Understanding the celestial objects and our place within them has been a passion of mine for my whole life. I cannot remember a time when I wasn't consumed with curiosity about the universe. These books span the entire history of mankind's fascination with space. All of them capture the fascination of astronomy and the human stories behind this most noble of sciences."

1. Anil Ananthaswamy, The edge of physics.
Part science, part travel book. Ananthaswamy searches for cosmological truth by visiting the often remote observatories and laboratories studying the universe. Ultimately, this story is an enchanting exploration of the author's quest to understand not just a little more about the universe, but a little more about his own place within it.

2. Dava Sobel, Galileo's daughter.
The most dramatic retelling of the Galileo story for a generation, and a rather tragic tale to boot. Sobel's memorable prose relies on letters between Galileo and his oldest daughter, a nun, to shine new light on the iconic astronomer. A masterful blend of history and astronomy.

3. Owen Gingerich, The book nobody read.
Gingerich's compelling narrative illuminates his quest to explore the cultural reception of Copernicus's revolutionary idea that the Earth orbited the sun and not vice versa. Gingerich also relates the difficulties of being an American researcher during the cold war, knowing that his quarry lay behind the iron curtain.

4. Dennis Overbye, Lonely hearts of the cosmos.
This extended piece of top-class journalism captures astronomy as it is really practised in the corridors of academia and the lecture halls of conferences. Personal rivalries and personalities have as much to do with "progress" as having the right answer. Sprawling, complex and epic, it is also a page-turner.

5. George Dyson, Project Orion.
How far will man go to reach the stars? Back in the 1950s, idealism was running high and a group of scientists and engineers gathered at The Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey. Their goal was to harness nuclear bombs to launch manned spacecraft. Utter madness but beautifully recounted by George Dyson, whose father was one of the misguided idealists.

6. Bryan Burrough, Dragonfly.
Manned spaceflight rather than astronomy, but a vivid behind-the-scenes portrayal of America's participation in Russia's Mir space station. It strips away the PR gloss and builds a factual story that reads likes a near-future thriller. Gripping, with some genuinely jaw-dropping moments of drama.

7. Arthur Koestler, The sleepwalkers.
Dense and detailed, this is a book you may have to work at, but there are rich rewards for anyone who stays the course. It also grows better with each re-reading. Koestler weaves the greatest history of astronomy up to Newton ever written.

8. Charles Seife, Decoding the universe.
Forget matter and energy, space and time, Seife argues that the most fundamental property of the universe is the information it contains. Until we accept this, we are stymied from further progress, rather like a baby playing with the box instead of the gift inside. Provocative and interesting, it challenges you to think differently.

9. John C. Mather & John Boslough, The very first light.
A thrilling tale of big science within Nasa, this is the story behind the mission that discovered the "seeds" of today's galaxies in the faint glow of the very first light left over from the creation of the universe.

10. Kip S. Thorne, Black holes and time warps: Einstein's outrageous legacy.
A fantastic tale of the consequences of relativity rather than the development of it. Black holes are predicted by relativity and are the weirdest things imaginable, so weird that astronomers tried for decades to wish them away. Even today, they still don't know what they are. Cracking story, cracking science.


BTL recommendations and comments include:

Brian May, Bang! : the complete history of the universe ("its even got a hologram on the front").

Anton Vamplew, Simple stargazing ("Blue Peter's science correspondent for a number of years ... a great book for the complete novice that helps people practise amateur astronomy in their gardens. Amongst all the deep thinking of cosmology, this simple fun is often underrated, and gets people to start thinking about the cosmos").

Patrick Moore, Watchers of the stars (aka 'The great stronomical revolution') ("a glaring omission. A history of astronomy, but a very informative and easy to read one. Most of the books on the list above seem to be on the cosmology side of things").

"Needs more Sagan" ; "Nothing by DeGrasse Tyson or Sagan?????" ; "shocking snub" ; "in fact anything by Sagan, he was great".

Carl Sagan, Cosmos ("a good beginning") ("definitely an interesting read").

Italo Calvino, Cosmicomics ("hugely entertaining short stories each based on a different scientific theory concerning the origins and the workings of life and the universe").

Guy Consolmagno, Turn left at Orion ("great book for the amateur; full of information, charts and the like. Great for people starting out and wanting to make some sense of what they see") ("great for recognising what you see in the sky").

Brian Greene, The fabric of the cosmos : space, time, and the texture of reality.

Bill Bryson, A short history of nearly everything ("one of the most accessible books about science and physics ... Love that book").

Marcus Chown, i>The magic furnace ("total game changer for me after a friend suggested it. It got me interested in science books in the first place").

David Levy, Skywatching : the ultimate guide to the universe ("wonderful book, if somewhat oddly shaped!").

Isaac Asimov, The universe, from flat earth to quasars ("I read it when I was a kid and still have my original copy, even though cosmology has moved on ...").

Simon Singh, Big Bang ("a reasonably good attempt at going over the basics") ("hits the mark").

John Gribben, Stardust ("a lovely little book").

"Dear oh dear - what a bunch of dry tomes Clark's suggested, without any practical, hands-on astronomy amongst them" ; "10 books without a star chart amongst them - poor show" ; "I agree that this is not a very good list".

"How about these - Exploring the Moon (Harland); Scientific American's Amateur Astronomer; Norton's Star Atlas (Ridpath); Hill's Portfolio of lunar drawings; The search for our beginning (Hutchinson) and The observer's Sky Atlas (Karkoschka) should get your mind wandering out there. Sagan - there was one who inspired".

Ian Ridpath, Philip's astronomy dictionary.

Patrick Moore, Philip's guide to stars and planets.

Paul Davies, The edge of infinity, The runaway universe and The eerie silence ("Paul Davies is a big one to miss out, Stuart! Science fans should check (these three). Not only brilliant for astronomy/cosmology, but Davies is such an awesome writer").

Patrick Moore, Exploring the night sky with binoculars.

Crossen & Tirion, Binocular astronomy.

James Muirden, Astronomy with binoculars ("I bought Muirden's book when a schoolboy and I can honestly say its one of the few books that changed my life").

Steven Weinberg, The first three minutes ("one of the best of the quantum-physics-meets-cosmology books").

"A brief history of time should be avoided at all costs".

Phil Plait, Bad astronomy ("should be on the list").

Michael Zielik, Astronomy, the evolving universe ("a practical, thorough and easy comprehensible book about the basics. A classic").

Timothy Ferris, Coming of age in the Milky Way ("covers everything from black holes to the revolution of city clocks in the Renaissance. Well written and fun").

Paul Davies, God and the new physics ("I remember reading (this) as a teenager. A great read as I remember, very widely encompassing but the subject matter is expertly handled").

tammikuu 8, 12:45 pm

Mark Pilkington's top 10 books about UFOs
Guardian, 2010-09-01.

Mark Pilkington is a writer with a fascination for the further shores of culture, science and belief. He also publishes books as Strange Attractor Press. In Mirage men Pilkington travels across America looking to explain his own UFO sighting. After scouring the subject's history and meeting former air force and intelligence insiders, Pilkington concludes that instead of covering up tales of UFO crashes and alien visitors, the US military and intelligence services have been promoting them all along as part of their cold war counter-intelligence operations.

"The UFO arena acts as a kind of vivarium for a range of psychological, sociological and anthropological experiences, beliefs, conditions and behaviours. They remind us that the Unknown and the Other are still very much at large in our modern world, and provide us with a fascinating glimpse of folklore in action. A tiny few UFO reports also still present us with genuine mysteries. The first book about UFOs as we know them was The flying saucer, a 1948 novel by British former spy Bernard Newman. I'm not sure how many UFO books have been written since then, but I'd guess that it's well over 1000. Here, in chronological order, are 10 that I can recommend as either informative, entertaining, puzzling or all three at once."

1. Edward J. Ruppelt, The report on unidentified flying objects.
An insider's account of the crucial, early days of the UFO story, by the man who headed the US Air Force's official UFO investigation from 1951 to 1953. Ruppelt documents shifting Air Force attitudes to the phenomenon, which ranged from aggressive denial to apparent endorsement of alien visitation in an infamous 1952 Life magazine article. In a revised edition, published in 1960, Ruppelt was more dismissive of the subject. He died the same year, aged 37.

2. Bryant & Helen Reeve, Flying saucer pilgrimage.
A charming glimpse into the early days of the UFO culture, when the lines between spiritualism, occultism and ufology were largely indistinguishable. The Reeves travelled the US in search of "the Saucerers", meeting many key figures of the time before making contact with real Space People via the wonders of Outer Space Communication (OSC) and a portable tape recorder. Many important questions are answered: How do we look to the space people? Do they believe in Jesus Christ? Is this civilisation ending?

3. Carl Jung, Flying saucers: a modern myth of things seen in the sky.
It was only natural that the Swiss mystic and philosopher-shrink, fascinated by anomalous experiences, should turn his attention to the UFO mystery. Considering UFOs as a "visionary rumour" and a manifestation of the mythic unconscious, Jung compares the perfect circle of the flying disc to the mandala, notes the dreamlike impossibility of many reports and presciently recognises the deep spiritual pull that the UFO would exert over the next half century.

4. J. Allen Hynek, The UFO experience.
Astronomer Hynek was an air force consultant on UFOs for much of his life, and over time transformed from something of a Doubting Thomas to a St Paul. He's regarded as a saint in UFO circles, largely for this book, a sober yet sympathetic overview of the UFO problem that excoriates the US Air Force for their failure to treat the phenomenon seriously. Hynek devised the "Close Encounters" system for categorising UFO sightings, and has a cameo during the cosmic disco climax of Spielberg's blockbusting film (that's him with the pipe looking like Colonel Sanders).

5. John Keel, The mothman prophecies.
Merging unconscious deceptions with deliberate fictions, many of the wilder UFO books would have even the most intrepid postmodernists cowering behind the sofa. Keel, however, was a two-fisted trickster who knew exactly what he was doing and this reads like Thomas Pynchon crossed with Philip K. Dick channelling H. P. Lovecraft. In the late 1960s Point Pleasant, West Virginia was plagued by bizarre entities, UFO sightings and robotic, jelly-fixated Men in Black; Keel investigated only to find himself in too deep and the town doomed to real-life disaster.

6. Jacques Vallée, Messengers of deception.
An intriguing, disconcerting book from one of the field's most progressive thinkers. Vallée, a French astronomer and computer scientist who worked with J. Allen Hynek, became entangled in bizarre mind games while investigating UFO cults in the 1970s. Amongst others, Vallée encountered HIM (Human Individual Metamorphosis), led by "Bo and Peep" who would steer the Heaven's Gate group to their collective death two decades later.

7. Ed Conroy, Report on communion.
Whitley Strieber's Communion is one of the 20th century's great literary mysteries and Conroy's spinoff is just as curious. A hard-nosed investigative journalist, Conroy examined Strieber's alleged alien abduction experiences and odd life story while also researching the history of UFOs and its parallels in folkloric encounter narratives. In a testament to the power of UFOria and the allure of the Other, by the end of the book he's being buzzed by shape-shifting helicopters and wondering whether he too has had contact with the Visitors.

8. William Corliss, Remarkable luminous phenomena in nature.
One of at least 18 hardback volumes of anomalies collected by this modern-day Charles Fort. Ball lightning (miniature, giant, black, object-penetrating and ordinary), bead lightning, lightning from clear skies, pillars of light, glowing owls, luminous bubbles, oceanic light wheels, earthquake lights, marsh gas, unusual auroras, glowing fogs. And that's just for starters. I love this book.

9. George Hansen, The trickster and the paranormal.
Hansen, a former professional laboratory parapsychologist, provides illumination, insight and perspective on the wider paranormal research field, UFOs included. Drawing on folklore, anthropology, literary theory and sociology, Hansen points out the integral, destabilising role of Trickster archetypes in human society. While dwelling predominantly amongst its esoteric fringes, the Trickster can also be seen lurking in the corridors of political, military and corporate power.

10. David Clarke & Andy Roberts, Out of the shadows.
A rock-solid history of the UFO phenomenon in Britain by two of our most reliable and indefatigable researchers. Clarke and Roberts work from interviews and official documentation detailing everything from genuine aerial mysteries during the second world war (investigated for the RAF by the Goon Show's Michael Bentine) to the cold war follies of 1980's Rendlesham Forest incident. Serious UFO research as it should be done.


Nice to see a reference to Michael Bentine. I always enjoyed Michael Bentine's Potty Time as a child (several videos are available on YouTube). Also the sketches involving invisible characters appearing as miniature footprints wandering across a sandbox, although that's all I remember about them; was that more to do with Harry Secombe, or something else entirely?

I find it difficult to take any of this seriously, but BTL comments and recommendations include:

C. D. B. Bryan, Close encounters of the fourth kind : a reporter's notebook on alien abduction, UFOs, and the conference at M.I.T. (Arkana/Penguin 1995) ("both well-written and highly entertaining").

Jim Marrs, Alien agenda (Harper paperbacks) ("well worth a read") ("excellent read if you're interested in the subject. Very well researched and covers a lot of ground over a long period of time").

Budd Hopkins, Witnessed ("a terribly well-written work").

Jim Marrs, Rule by secrecy ("another great read if you're interested in the people, organizations and religious orders that have held the reins of power and influence in Europe, the Middle-East, and N. America over the past 1,000 years or so").

Leslie Kean, UFOs : generals, pilots and government officials go on the record ("contains THE best unexplained sightings of all time").

Timothy Good ("books on UFOs").

James Fox (dir.), 'I know what I saw' (2009 TV documentary).

Perry Defiore, Alien seeding.

Desmond Leslie & George Adamski, Flying saucers have landed (1953) ("the mother-ship of UFO myth-making. ... Big fun").

Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the gods ("an old one I know but still one of the greats").

Timothy Good, Above top secret ("I thought that was the business when I believed") ("how can you have a top 10 list of UFO books without (this)? Without it, the list is meaningless").

Jenny Randles, The Pennine UFO mystery ("a really rubbish book I found in a charity shop").

Don Boys, Flying saucers : myth or madness or made In Moscow.

Patrick Harpur, Daimonic reality.

Nick Pope, Open skies, closed minds.

Philip J. Corso, The day after Roswell (Pocket Books, 1997).

Peter Sturrock, The UFO enigma : a new review of the physical evidence (1999) ("a fine scientific study of the subject by a varied collection of senior space scientists and UFO investigators").

Richard Haines, Advanced aerial devices reported during the Korean war (1990).

tammikuu 25, 1:43 pm

Charlie Higson's top 10 horror books
Guardian, 2010-09-08.

As well as making becoming a household name for his work as a writer and actor in comedy shows such as The Fast Show, Charlie Higson has had a parallel and these days just as stellar career as a writer. After winning acclaim for early, blackly comic crime novels including his debut King of the ants (1992) and Getting rid of Mister Kitchen (1996), he moved on to writing for children in 2005 with the Young Bond series. These books have now sold more than 1m copies in the UK alone, and have been translated into 24 different languages. The enemy, published last year, marked a new departure for Higson into horror writing for teenagers, with a tale of teenagers defending themselves against a zombified adult world. The first in a series, it was this week shortlisted for the Booktrust teenage prize, with volume two, The dead, due out next week.

"What constitutes a horror book? A black and red cover? A primary objective to scare the shit out of the reader? A plug from Stephen King on the back? Most of the books on my list would probably be categorised in other genres first, but then – is Alien a sci-fi film or a horror film, or both? Is Wuthering Heights a ghost story? Is Jane Eyre the mother of all psycho-in-the-attic stories? And Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca is in many ways a haunted house story. I might well have put it in here if I'd ever actually read it.

"You can have a lot of fun mixing genres up. Personally I'm not the world's biggest fan of pure horror novels – ghosts and demons and man-eating slugs leave me slightly unmoved. With no belief in the supernatural, supernatural stories usually have little effect on me. Of the big horror names only Stephen King, with his concentration on character, really works for me. I've enjoyed other horror writers but wouldn't put them in any top 10 lists. H. P. Lovecraft, for instance, is fun but his books aren't exactly scary. I'm not going to lose any sleep over the possibility of Cthulhu and the ancient gods crossing over into our domain.

"And there are other glaring omissions from my list. Why no Dracula or Frankenstein or Edgar Allan Poe I hear you cry. It's sacrilege to leave them out of a horror list, I know. But Poe only really wrote a couple of scary horror stories (The tell tale heart is brilliant) and I find Dracula and Frankenstein rather heavy going and 19th century. Of course they're where it all began as far as the undead are concerned and must be read, I'm just not sure that they still have the power to frighten us. And, let's face it, that's what a horror book should do.

"I've always been interested in the mechanics of frightening people. I like the idea of disturbing my readers, giving them sleepless nights and stamping images in their imaginations that will stay there for a very long time. That way they will always remember your book, and after all, us novelists are like Dracula, all we want is immortality. The first two of my adult novels (King of the ants and Happy now) could easily be categorised as horror books and my new series for younger readers, The enemy, is most definitely horror as it concerns kids vs adult zombies, but it is also an action adventure series, which seems to be my default mode. I'm always open to suggestions, though, so if anyone wants to champion some pure horror books that I absolutely must read, then fire away. I'm all severed ears."

1. Charles Maclean, The watcher.
An extraordinary book, unlike anything else I've ever read, which had a big effect on me when I first read it. The narrator, Martin Gregory, starts out by telling us that he was perfectly normal and happy and that there was no reason for the terrible thing he has done … The sense of impending horror is enormous, and the book, like the narrator, soon spirals into madness. We have to try and work out what is really going on as we see everything through Gregory's distorted perspective. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that everyone around him is in very great danger.

2. Stephen King, The shining.
You can't have a horror list without having Stephen King in there somewhere. It's the law. But the thing is, when he was at his peak his books were brilliant (he hasn't quite been able to sustain it – you can't help but start repeating yourself if you write as many books as he has). Engrossing, tragic and, yes, frightening, which you can't always say about horror books. He's a great writer and for me the greatest horror writer. If you've only seen the film of The Shining then read the book – it's better (first half of the film amazing, second a bit silly).

3. Joe R. Lansdale, The drive-in.
The Drive In, by Texan titan Joe R Lansdale is a great, knowingly trashy nod to the 50s and 60s craze for teen drive-in schlock sci-fi/horror flicks. A bunch of kids at an all-night horror showing at their local drive-in get mysteriously trapped there by some malign force and begin to behave like ants under a glass. Surviving on junk food and fizzy drinks they go crazy and set up a savage and weird alterative society full of great characters like the Popcorn King. Book Two spins off into yet wilder shores.

4. Richard Matheson, I am legend.
A hugely influential horror book, written in 1957. The last human survivor in a Californian suburb ventures forth every day with a supply of stakes to try and wipe out the vampires that have taken over. Matheson was great at mixing horror and science fiction, and rooting the fantastical in everyday reality. This book is a brilliant study in loneliness and obsession, and when the story twists towards the end Matheson very cleverly makes us question all that has gone before.

5. Jim Thompson, The killer inside me.
There has been a lot of fuss recently about the film of this book. But the book – which is every bit as extreme and upsetting as the film – has been around since as long ago as 1952. Amazing how you can get away with so much more in books without people really noticing. "Oh, it's a book, it must be good for you." Well, this book is certainly not good for you. I remember reading it and thinking – should I be reading this, should anyone read this? It is a horrific trip inside the mind of a cold-blooded psychopathic sadist, who is nevertheless good company and at times unnervingly funny. Not in a flip, post-Tarantino way; this is very disturbing and upsetting stuff. There is never any question as to where Thompson stands – the narrator is a monster. We watch his destructive relations unfold and discover the reasons for his condition from the reading equivalent of "behind the sofa". Unlike a lot of modern writers who go into this area in a sort of gleefully voyeuristic adolescent way that is entirely fake (stand up Brett Easton Ellis). Jim Thompson lived the life. He understood these people and fought many demons of his own. He is my favourite author by a long chalk, and this is an extraordinary book, but it's also certainly one of the most extreme (and extremely upsetting) things I've ever read.

6. Pan Books Of Horror.
If any horror collections can be described as seminal it is these. When I was a teenager they were everywhere. Passed around from hand to hand, they had a forbidden, naughty allure, like video nasties. With their classy but trashy covers the stories they contained were gory, nasty, sometimes sexy, often badly written, sometimes brilliant. The collections were a mix of old classics and more modern material, increasingly the latter as the supply of classics ran dry. You'd find Stephen King alongside Algernon Blackwood and some blood-soaked fillers from writers you'd never heard of before and never hear would again. A superfan is currently working with Pan to get the series relaunched, starting with a facsimile reprint of volume one later in the year. Look out for it. And check out his website.

7. Chris Priestley, Uncle Montague's tales of terror.
This one's for the kids. Written in an accessible, cod Victorian style it has a neat framing device. Edgar goes to stay with his uncle in the woods who proceeds to tell him a series of terrifying stories – all the while hinting at some dark secrets of his own. Rest assured, the stories, which all feature a child in some way, are genuinely scary and unsettling and really do get under your skin. They certainly frightened my 10-year-old when I read them to him.

8. Thomas Harris, The silence of the lambs.
Is this crime or horror? It certainly has a classic horror set up – basically it's Beauty and the beast. A naïve and innocent, yet ultimately resilient, young girl enters the monster's lair and he falls in love with her. Then together they sort put each other's problems. The secondary villain – Buffalo Bill - is certainly a monster from a horror story, making clothes out if his victims' skin and keeping his latest victim in a pit. The film played like a horror film, and Anthony Hopkins certainly seemed to think he was in one. The book, as usual, is even better than the film. It's weird and engrossing and seductive and scary with some nice gothic touches. A great, great read.

9. M. R. James, Ghost stories.
Apologies to Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe, but of the old classics I've gone for James. And not really for the original stories but just so I can bang on about Jonathan Miller's extraordinary BBC film of Whistle and I'll come to you. M. R. James was the king of the unsettling ghost story where not very much happens and it's all about atmosphere and dread. Miller's film still has the power to be very, very disturbing. Give yourself a treat and buy it. There are other James BBC adaptations you should look out for as well (A warning to the curious is another favourite), they used to show them at Christmas in the good old days, and all still work.

10. Daphne du Maurier, Don't look now/The birds.
All right, I'll admit it, I'm cheating a bit here. I don't think these two stories actually appear together in a Du Maurier collection except on audiobook. And like M. R. James, my interest in du Maurier is primarily in the films made of her stories (nearly all of her output was filmed – she was the Stephen King of her day). I couldn't leave her out because to have come up with the story for not one but two all-time classic horror films is a feat to be applauded. And as Don't look now is my favourite horror film I had to get a mention of it in here somewhere. The original stories are still good reads and its fascinating to see how two great directors teased complete films out of them.


There are over 200 comments and recommendations BTL. Too many for me to go through, particularly as I'm averse to the genre. Of the above I've read Dracula, watched Alien, Rebecca and The birds, and they were each as unpleasant as each other, thank you very much.

For those interested, the comments are linked at the top of this message.

P.S. Is there a way to touchstone titles so as to have, say, both the book and the film of 'The silence of the lambs' in the same message? After the first touchstone has "taken", I can't see how you can separate a subsequent touchstoned mention of the same title.

tammikuu 26, 3:01 am

>97 Cynfelyn: P.S. Is there a way to touchstone titles so as to have, say, both the book and the film of 'The silence of the lambs' in the same message? After the first touchstone has "taken", I can't see how you can separate a subsequent touchstoned mention of the same title.

Use the :: syntax to force the touchstones. Gone with the wind is a book but Gone with the wind is a movie. That is, put the work number first between the touchstone brackets, followed by :: and then the title.

tammikuu 26, 4:50 am

>98 anglemark: Very many thanks. That's something you really ought to copy to the Talk / The Green Dragon / The New How To Do Fancy Things In Your Posts Thread, perhaps as an expansion of HaydnInVienna's suggestion (message 227) for differentiating between common titles without ploughing through Touchhstones / (others).

Something it would have been handy to have known in earlier lists and their "Complete works" and "Complete poems"!

Swallows and Amazons (1930 book)
Swallows and Amazons (1974 BBC film)
Swallows and Amazons (2016 film - really not recommended if you value the book)

Complete poems (D. H. Lawrence)
Complete poems (Dorothy Parker)
Complete poems (Jonathan Swift)

That's so cool. I'm really happy.

tammikuu 26, 6:06 am

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 28, 2:38 pm

Philip Ardagh's top 10 children's books by Roald Dahl
Guardian, 2010-09-13.

Children's author Philip Ardagh won the upper age category in last year's Roald Dahl Funny Prize for the first of his Grubtown Tales, and his Eddie Dickens adventures have been translated into 34 languages. He's also written funny stuff for radio (including BBC radio's first ever truly interactive drama) and is an "irregular regular reviewer" of children's books for the Guardian. This year, he's a judge for the Roald Dahl Funny prize, which has given him "an excuse to immerse (him)self in some wonderfully inventive fiction from some of today's funniest children's writers". He has an impressively large beard.

"Dahl was the master. When he died, I was working in a library. A child asked me: 'Who will write Roald Dahl books now he's dead?' Fortunately, his books live on for whole new generations, while we oldies have the excuse of reading them to our children."

In no particular order, his top 10 favourites are:

1. The Twits.
Beard-hating Dahl at his best in this tale of an ever-warring couple: repulsive Mr Twit and his equally repulsive glass-eyed wife. Not forgetting the monkeys. You mustn't forget the monkeys. If I tell you any more I might spoil the story. Read it. It's bonkers.

2. Matilda.
Matilda is a lovely girl. Her parents aren't. Matilda loves books and reading. Her parents love conning people and watching telly. School, ruled by the evil Miss Trunchbull, whose speciality is swinging children by their hair and throwing them out of the window, isn't much better. Then Matilda discovers that she has supernatural powers ...

3. The witches.
The Grand High Witch has a simple but fiendishly clever plan to rid England of its children: her hags will take over all the sweet shops, and sell doctored sweets to the children, turning them into mice. (Did I say simple?) Fortunately, a boy overhears their villainous scheming. Unfortunately, he's turned into a mouse before you can say Jack Robi—

4. James and the giant peach.
An everyday story of evil aunts (Sponge and Spiker), a giant, flying fruit (the peach of the title) inhabited by characterful, giant insects (including the Old-Green-Grasshopper) and, of course, James himself. Lots of funny policemen, too.

5. George's marvellous medicine.
George's grandma is such a groucher, a grumbler and a griper that he decides to mix up some medicine to try to cure her of her nastiness. As with 94.8% of plans in Roald Dahl books, this one doesn't turn out quite the way George intended. The results are explosive!

6. Fantastic Mr Fox.
Mr Fox is the good guy, looking out for his foxy family (at least that's how he sees it). Farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean are certainly the baddies. In this battle of wits between farmer and "vermin", Mr Fox is tunnelling for food whilst the farmers are trying to dig him out. A simple tale told as only Dahl can.

7. The giraffe, the pelly and me.
A giraffe with an extending neck, a pelican with a bucket-sized beak, a dancing monkey and a boy with big ideas join forces to create the Ladderless Window-Cleaning Company. Their biggest job? To clean all 677 – yes, six hundred and seventy-seven – of the Duke of Hampshire's windows. Expect chaos in this lavishly illustrated silliness.

8. Esio Trot.
Spell "Esio Trot" backwards and you get the word "tortoise", which should give you a clue as to how crazy this (very short) novel is. It's about Mr Hoppy's unrequited love for Mrs Silver downstairs who, in turn, only has eyes for her pet tortoise, Alfie.

9. Charlie and the chocolate factory.
Dahl's best-known book has everything: grotesque characters, ludicrous situations and, of course, chocolate! Who could ask for more? When Charlie Bucket wins the last "Golden Ticket" to get a free tour of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, he soon discovers that his fellow winners have bitten off far more than they can chew.

10. The BFG.
If flatulence, royalty and a giant with disproportionately large ears are what you're after in a story, this is the book for you. Throw in kidnapped orphan Sophie (snatched and taken to Giant Land) and a trumpet that blows dreams into sleeping children's rooms, and the result is an extraordinary Dahl-esque/Dali-esque vision.

NOTE: All of the above are illustrated by Quentin Blake. What a marriage made in Heaven that was!


Only 23 comments and recommendations, which between them probably include most of the rest of the top of his output:
Danny the champion of the world.
Dirty beasts.
The enormous crocodile.
Roald Dahl's revolting rhymes.
My Uncle Oswald.
The magic finger.

Charlie and the chocolate factory ("re-illustrated of political correctness").

Fantastic Mr Fox ("illustrated by Tony Ross").

("not all of Dahl's books were originally illustrated by Quentin Blake. Many of them were re-illustrated by Blake after his death, a branding consistency ploy by publishers").

tammikuu 29, 4:57 am

Cathy Cassidy's top 10 stories about sisters
Guardian, 2010-09-22.

Bestselling children's author Cathy Cassidy's books include Dizzy, Driftwood, Indigo Blue, Scarlett, Sundae Girl, Lucky Star, Gingersnaps and Angel Cake. Her latest novel, Cherry Crush, is the first book in her new series for over-nines, the Chocolate Box Girls, about five very different sisters.

"I grew up in 1960s Coventry, addicted to daydreaming, drawing and story-making right from the start. My dad repaired cars and dreamed of big adventures and my mum looked after both me and my ill, elderly Irish gran, who lived with us. I shared a room with my gran, and it was she who taught me to love stories. She would tell me perfect tales of long-ago Ireland, an idyllic life in the country with sisters called Maggie, Delia, Lizzie and Nellie. Eventually I had a little brother, but I never did get a sister, so sister stories have always been endlessly appealing to me. In my friendships, I have often looked for something of the family as well, and have been lucky enough to find it. These days, I find that friendships, and the challenge of getting them right, are at the heart of every book I write. It was a challenge for me to write a series about five sisters, but one I have loved. The Chocolate Box Girls are my dream sisters: cool, quirky, arty and individual, full of hopes and dreams. Finally, I have five sisters of my own."

1. Noel Streatfeild, Ballet shoes.
This book had everything I wanted as a child: three cool, adopted sisters who have to cope when times get tough. I loved the ballet theme, in spite of having two left feet myself. Or possibly three, even. This book is about following a dream, and making it happen through sheer hard work – a message that is as clear now as it was back then. Brilliant.

2. Brothers Grimm, illustrated by Jane Ray, The twelve dancing princesses.
I was hooked on fairy stories as a child – apart from annuals, a big grisly compendium of Grimm's Fairy Tales was the only book I actually owned for years. All the rest were from libraries. I still love this story of 12 rebel sisters who outwit their parents and dance all night, every night. My current copy is illustrated by Jane Ray, whose gorgeous artwork is even more perfect than my imaginings.

3. Dodie Smith, I capture the castle.
Doesn't everybody want to live in a castle? I did, and I wanted my life to be exactly like those of Rose and Cassandra Mortmain: creative, eccentric, falling in love for the first time. Like Cassandra, I liked to "capture" the people and things around me with words and pictures, and these days I often think of Cassandra's dad with his worst-ever case of writers' block, being left in a dungeon to write!

4. Jane Austen, Pride and prejudice.
I read many of the classics as a teenager, but this is one of the few I have returned to over the years. Five sparky sisters, but in another world – a world where manners, society and social standing dictate everything. Not just romantic but wonderfully real and believable, even now.

5. Esther Freud, Hideous Kinky.
I love, love, love this book. Two little girls and their hippy mum in 1960s Marrakesh, this book poignantly, perfectly, captures the magic of childhood. Adults may be imperfect, impulsive, untrustworthy – but children can cope with almost anything when they know they are loved.

6. Philippa Gregory, The other Boleyn girl.
I love history – it's all about stories, after all - but hadn't read historical novels for a long time when I came across this. Philippa Gregory is the real deal: she knows how to balance fact with fiction, how to pull you into the story and leave you asking questions you have to know the answers to. Before reading this, I didn't even know Anne Boleyn had a sister, and had no idea of how the two girls had been so used and abused by their family in the pursuit of power. Any woman who isn't sure whether or not to call herself a feminist should read this – guaranteed to make it all startlingly clear.

7. Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible.
Four sisters and their evangelical missionary parents in 1960s Congo. As the girls grow up, they begin to see far more than their rigid, narrow-minded father ever will. This novel opened my eyes to a culture on the brink of turmoil – powerful and unforgettable.

8. Rebecca Wells, Divine secrets of the Ya-Ya sisterhood.
Enchanting, eccentric, full of drama, feeling and emotion, this book is about friends (the Ya-Yas) who pledge sisterhood as young children and stay together through thick and thin. I love the childhood scenes and the searingly beautiful pictures they paint … this book has been passed around my own Ya-Ya sisters.

9. Alice Walker, The color purple.
This book shocked and hurt me, but it opened my eyes, too. Sisters Celie and Nettie are black women living in the US deep south in the 1930s. Bruised and broken by prejudice and poverty, they find strength and love in sisterhood and friendship.

10. Jeffrey Eugenides, The virgin suicides.
The story of five teenage sisters in 1970s Michigan … five sisters who each kill themselves as their family disintegrates around them. Narrated by anonymous neighbourhood boys, this is a fascinating, mysterious story that intrigues and confuses.


Recommendations below the line:

Louisa May Alcott, Little women ("wonderful, to say the least").

Katherine Mary Briggs, Kate Crackernuts ("down-and-dirty retelling of the Scottish folk tale - unusual in that the two stepsisters love and support each other in the teeth of the wicked-witch-stepmother's machinations") ("Wow I loved that K. M. Briggs book - that's one I gave away and regretted it afterwards").

'The four Marys' in the comic Bunty ("I know it's not a book and they're not sisters, but reading this article immediately made me think of them. A primary school friend of mine had STASHES of the Bunty under her bed and I adored staying over at hers and delving in") ("I had the same thought myself. I was just musing that the name Bunty probably had just as much a part in its downfall as new media and that I have only ever come across one Bunty in real life! I used to spend hours reading my friend's Buntys as well")

("I'm looking forward to reading about the Top 10 boys' stories.")

("At the younger end of the spectrum there's the My Naughty Little Sister books, which are a good example of tolerant sisterhood when the younger one can get away with anything, or the Ramona books which have a wonderful portrayal of the relationship between "Beezus" and Ramona showing the frustration as well as the support. I think these are almost the same relationship seen from the two different sides.") ("Loved Beezus and Ramona too, Ramona currently top of my favourite girl's names...and My Naughty Little Sister an old much loved friend, but don't think I own any of them any more. Specially remember I loved the Christmas Pudding story where My Naughty Little Sister used to stay in on firework night to make the Christmas pudding with their grandmother, as neither of them liked the bangs").

Francine Pascal, Sweet Valley High ("Elizabeth and Jessica! Good and evil, clever and cunning, faithful and tarty... Lindsey Lohan and some goody two shoes starlet (are there any?)").

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little house on the prairie.

George Meredith's Rhoda Fleming and Vladimir Nabokov's Ada or Ardor ("memorable sisters").

Angela Carter, Wise children ("Dora and Nora Chance are a riot").

Poisonwood Bible ("completely agree - an amazing book that I have re-read several times. Quite dark themes but I also really rate Helen Dunmore's Talking to the dead and Maggie O'Farrell's The distance between us - both curiously featuring a sister called Nina").

The Chalet School series ("All the sisters that people the series, starting with Madge and Jo Bettany, through their nieces Peggy, Bride and Maeve, the Chester-Lucy-Ozanne clan, the "sisters by marriage" Mary-Lou and Verity-Anne, right down to the Maynard triplets (daughters of Jo, the school's first pupil). By the end of the series, nearly all the girls appear to be related to each other in some way").

Rosamond Lehmann, Invitation to the waltz ("loved that heartbreaking final passage where the younger sister realises she won't confide in her older sibling any more ...").

Antonia Forest, School stories ("shouldn't forget the huge clan of the Marlow sisters, starting with Autumn term, which may possibly have had some connection to my naming my baby daughter Rowan").

Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons series ("the greatest of them all, Captain Nancy Blackett of the 'Amazon' and her sister/straight woman Peggy").

William Shakespeare, The taming of the shrew. Or how about King Lear and its modern equivalent, Jane Smiley, A thousand acres?

Maggie O' Farrell, After you'd gone and The distance between us ("a wonderful author with an uncannily accurate ability to describe the relationship between sisters").

Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, The Makioka sisters (細雪 sasame yuki) ("a wonderful story of four sisters in Ôsaka in the 1930s. Luckily it's been translated - like everything else he wrote - otherwise I wouldn't have read it!").

Diana Evans, 26a ("brilliant. Emphasis is on twins but there are four sisters. Can't recommend more highly").

Crimes of the heart ("oh and I know its a film, though originally a play, but it's one of the most memorable films I've ever seen. Stars Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and Diane Keaton and they all do the brilliant job you'd expect. Superb and original depiction of sisters and the complexity of the bonds and strength of love, plus all the annoyings bits. Makes me both laugh hysterically and cry every time I see it").

Margaret Atwood, The blind assassin and Ian McEwan, Atonement ("two that spring to mind and are at least sort of about the relationship between sisters. Though I'm one of three brothers so what do I know?").

Richard Yates, The Easter parade. ("taps into the familiar yet comforting Yatesian autobiographical misery. The opening line sets the tone for what's to come: 'Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce'").

John McGahern, Amongst women ("tells the tale of the Moran sisters (and brothers) living in the shadow of their impossible father").

Margaret Drabble, A summer birdcage.

helmikuu 1, 5:29 pm

Val McDermid's top 10 Oxford novels
Guardian, 2010-09-24.

Val McDermid is the award-winning author of numerous crime novels, including a series of books starring her most famous creation, clinical psychologist Dr Tony Hill. She read English at St Hilda's College, Oxford – at 17, one of the youngest undergraduates the college had ever taken, and the first from a Scottish state school. Her latest novel, Trick of the dark, is set in Oxford, and is published by Little, Brown.

"I spent three years at St Hilda's College, Oxford. I took a degree in English, but more valuable was what I learned outside tutorials. And finally, with Trick of the dark, I've managed to write about it. Oxford exerts a strong influence on those it touches, whether they love it or hate it, whether they embrace it or resist it, whether they admit it or deny it. I didn't know much about it when I arrived, but thanks in large part to the dozens of books written about it, I know a lot more now."

1. Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead revisited.
I was instantly seduced by Waugh's portrait of the collision between a decent middle-class chap and a dysfunctional bunch of Catholic toffs. Although superficially I had nothing in common with his characters apart from studying at Oxford, I couldn't avoid all sorts of emotional identification with them. This is the quintessential novel of Oxford gilded youth flying too close to the sun.

2. Colin Dexter, The way through the woods.
Impossible to avoid Inspector Morse, whose TV adventures have amplified the city's tourist magnetism. I've chosen this one because it features crucially one of my favourite Oxford streets, Park Town. I remember particularly the day Richard Nixon resigned. I had spent the afternoon reading in a hammock in a garden in Park Town, eating figs and drinking Italian wine, then went indoors as the sun went down to turn on the TV and watch history being made.

3. Edmund Crispin, The moving toyshop.
A classic crime novel that brings a streak of surrealism to the genre. Featuring the anarchic English literature don Gervase Fen, the mystery gets under way when a visiting poet finds a dead body in a toyshop in the middle of the night. By morning, it's been transformed into a grocery store. Written with wit and brio, this is a clever, energetic romp that still entertains.

4. Ian Pears, An instance of the fingerpost.
Set just after the Restoration, when conspiracies were rife, this epistolary novel features a quartet of unreliable narrators giving their versions of the same series of events. Cleverly constructed and completely fascinating, it's loosely based on historical happenings and is crammed with fascinating period detail. It's as much a novel of ideas as it is of character, but none the less compelling for that.

5. Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson.
A mad fantasy, subtitled "An Oxford love story", this is a satire on the sheltered world of Oxford colleges a century ago. Zuleika, granddaughter of the warden of Judas College, is a conjuror whose charms bewitch all the men who come into contact with her. Rejection drives them to mass suicide and Zuleika sets her sights on Cambridge. Beerbohm's a class act whose wit makes this still worth a read.

6. Connie Willis, To say nothing of the dog.
A science-fiction fantasy dressed in the vestments of a Victorian novel, complete with epigraphs, chapter outlines and sidelong nods to Dorothy L. Sayers, Conan Doyle, Jerome K. Jerome and Wilkie Collins. There's time travel; a McGuffin (the bishop's bird stump); a Gothic villainess (Lady Schrapnell); and enough fun and games to fill a rainy weekend.

7. Philip Pullman, Lyra's Oxford.
Strictly speaking, a short story, but an irresistible add-on to the His dark materials trilogy. It takes place two years after the trilogy, in the alternate Oxford introduced in Northern lights. The story itself is intriguing but slight; its main interest comes from the extras that accompany it – a map of Lyra's Oxford, adverts and tourist information from her universe. An amusing divertissement, but still, you should read the trilogy ...

8. Michael Dibdin, Dirty tricks.
No one has ever cast a colder eye on respectablility than Michael Dibdin. Here, a north Oxford couple's perfect life is shattered when a dinner guest seduces the wife in her own kitchen. This triggers a series of escalating events that strip bare the superficiality of their lives and end in ruthless murder. Weaving a terrifying thread of sex and violence, this is a brilliant and satisfying thriller.

9. Naomi Alderman, The lessons.
A recent addition to the canon of Oxford fiction, Alderman's second novel gives a tip of the hat to Brideshead, featuring its own version of a more contemporary gilded youth and an updated take on the grip of the church and its consequences. Alderman is a gifted, witty writer and The lessons is a sharp, insightful overview of a journey that starts out hopeful and ends horrible.

10. Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night.
I am no lover of Sayers – I find her style overblown, her snobbishness irritating and Lord Peter Wimsey infuriating – but no list of Oxford fiction would be complete without Gaudy Night. So I will cheat and quote my fellow crime writer Andrew Taylor: "She tried to use a detective story both as a vehicle for serious themes — the value of scholarship, and the price it exacts — and as a novel of character and manners with an attendant love story. It is a book that has given some of its readers their first glimpse of the intellectual excitement a university can offer."


Recommendations and comments BTL:

Cuthbert Bede, The adventures of Mr Verdant Green.

Evelyn Waugh, Decline and fall ("may be lighter than "Brideshead" but it is all the better for that as an Oxford novel") ("a glaring omission").

Phil Larkin, Jill ("all woozy alienation and abject teenage misery, and a bitterly funny portrait of the dank, grubby, gloomy and boozed-up atmosphere of undergraduate winters, when you're far less likely to spend your time grazing on figs in a Park Town hammock than you are to be awakened by someone you cordially loathe vomiting noisily into a waste-paper basket") ("Another vote for Jill, ... depressing but wonderful") ("brilliant and underrated").

("I'm looking forward to 'the top ten novels from Slough' ; 'Coventry Poly Top 10' ").

Javier Marias, All Souls ("an absolute must on this list, even if it was written in foreign") ("Surprised not to see (it) on the list. It is even known as "Le roman d'Oxford" in the French translation") ("not, perhaps, his best novel, but certainly an engrossing read.").

Edmund Crispin, The moving toyshop ("I really hated (this), fey whimsy at its worst"). ("great premise - but who can take all that "Oh, my fur and feathers!" nonsense?").

Connie Willis, To say nothing of the dog ("a great premise but somehow a hollow book, it should have been just my thing but just didn't seem that involving").

Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night ("fascinating: I can see what she means about Sayers, but there are so many interesting ideas in that book about women in relationships and what you give up and attitudes to marriage & academia at the time"). ("I went to Oxford in part because (it) took women and education so seriously").

("None of these novels are really about Oxford, they are about Oxford University, which is something else entirely").

Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure ("not technically set in Oxford, but a place very much like Oxford. I think the book's a masterpiece and at least deserves a mention") ("could definitely count; there's even a pub in Oxford named after the book") ("sort of addresses the town/gown divide, too").

J. I. M. Stewart, A staircase in Surrey ("magnificent 5-volume series ... this must surely be the definitive Oxford novel if there is such a thing").

Michael Dibdin, Dirty tricks ("does a pretty good job of being outside the University").

Tim Pears, In a land of plenty ("a bit overcooked for my taste, but it's interesting because it's set in a version of Oxford in which the University has been surgically removed").

P. D. James, Children of men ("maybe not about Oxford but very much set in the city and the surrounding countryside ... Would have liked to see Morse investigating a crack-related stabbing in Blackbird Leys or Cowley Road for once.").

Alan Hollinghurst, The line of beauty

John Wain, Hurry on down.

Comptom Mackenzie, Sinister Street ("thought it was wonderful when I was 15").

Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson ("(this) is hell though - criminally unfunny. It has definitively not stood the test of time").

John Cecil Masterman, An Oxford tragedy ("worth a gander").

helmikuu 3, 8:47 am

Annabel Lyon's top 10 books on the ancient world
Guardian, 2010-09-29.

Annabel Lyon is the author of four books, most recently The golden mean, a novel about the relationship between Aristotle and the teenaged Alexander the Great. The novel was a Canadian bestseller, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's award for fiction and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and won the Rogers Writers' Trust fiction prize. It is published in the UK by Grove Atlantic.

"Historical fiction has lately devolved into genre fiction, featuring predictable stories (usually of forbidden love) and affording readers the opportunity for moral outrage at a safe historical distance. It's fun and easy to feel yourself on the right side of issues such as misogyny, racism, classism and gay rights - but not especially challenging or intellectually engaging. As James Wood wrote in a New Yorker review, 'Sometimes, the soft literary citizens of liberal democracy long for prohibition. Coming up with anything to write about can be difficult when you are allowed to write about anything. A day in which the most arduous choice has been between "grande" and "tall" does not conduce to literary strenuousness.' The historical works I enjoy tends to subvert or ignore the tropes of the genre. Here are 10 books concerning the ancient world that subvert, surprise, challenge, and please."

1. David Malouf, An imaginary life (1978).
The Roman poet Ovid is exiled to a barbarian village at the edge of the Black Sea, where he ends up caring for a feral child. Most historical fiction tries to impress the reader with the sophistication of the period it recreates (for some reason my mind jumps here to Gwyneth Paltrow's toothbrush thingy in Shakespeare in love). Malouf, in contrast, portrays the absolute fear and dread of the "civilised" mind (represented by Ovid) in the face of the truly primitive. The author powerfully conveys the sheer otherness of the ancient world.

2. Grant Buday, Dragonflies (2008).
A prose retelling of the Iliad from Odysseus's point of view. The great strength of Buday's novel isn't in any formal innovation or revisionism. Rather, it's the crispness, humour and beauty of the prose that make this book worth seeking out.

3. Mary Renault, Fire From heaven (1969).
The first 20 years of Alexander the Great's life, including his time with Aristotle, from the young boy's point of view. This novel is the first of a trilogy on the life of Alexander. I avoided reading it for a long time because it dealt with many of the events I was writing about, and I didn't want to have my conception of events influenced by another writer. When I finally finished my own novel and allowed myself to read Renault, I was relieved I hadn't read her sooner, because I would have been completely psyched out: the writing is excellent, the research immaculate, the characters subtly drawn. I particularly appreciated her no-nonsense portrayal of Alexander's bisexuality. A lesser author would have made this the focus of the novel, but Renault is cool enough not to let the hot stuff derail her larger narrative.

4. Robert Graves, I, Claudius (1934).
Violent, dirty, shocking, funny, erudite, utterly compelling – Graves's account of the Julio-Claudian emperors of Rome has become a classic, immortalised in the great 1973 BBC series of the same name. The novel is supposedly the autobiography of the emperor Claudius, who survived to adulthood only by pretending to be an idiot. Graves himself is supposed to have claimed to dislike the books, and wrote them only out of financial need.

5. Rosemary Harris, The moon in the cloud (1968).
This young person's book is the first of a trilogy set in ancient Canaan and Egypt at the time of the Biblical flood. The main character, Reuben, journeys to Egypt to find a pair of lions for Noah to win passage on the ark for himself and his wife, Thamar. The book's quietly irreverent humour and delicate use of magic realism are unusually sophisticated for a young audience.

6. Plato, Symposium (385-380BC).
We think of this as a work of philosophy rather than a work of fiction, but it's the author's use of scenes, dialogue, and setting that make the book a 2,400-year-old delight. The characters drink, bicker, make passes at each other, wax lyrical, complain about their sandals, and generally remind us that men were never carved from marble and philosophy can be good fun.

7. Aeschylus (trans. Ted Hughes), Oresteia (1998).
A ferocious translation of Aeschylus's masterpiece by the great English poet. These plays concern the fall of the House of Atreus and the coming of the rule of law to Greek society. Hughes intended his translation to be performed on stage, not simply read, and it's not hard to imagine a modern audience thrilling to this bloody, lyrical, utterly accessible version.

8. Sappho (transl. Anne Carson), If not, winter : fragments (2002).
Reminiscent of small bones or shards of pottery, these poems often consist of single words or broken phrases; it's up to the reader to perform the archaeological task of imagining what they might once have been. Carson's translations are sexy, stark, poignant, and haunting.

9. Margaret Elphinstone, The gathering night (2009).
Elphinstone writes about hunter-gatherers in Mesolithic Scotland. A tsunami that scientists guess struck the east coast in 6150 BCE is the catalyst for the action; Elphinstone says on her website that she "used firsthand accounts of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami" as the basis for her character's story. This interest in linking past and present filtered into her research: she went on archaeological digs and hand-made a coracle of the type her characters would have used. A vivid, detailed book bravely imagining the "silent history" of prehistoric Scotland.

10. John Updike, The centaur (1963).
An anxious teenage boy and his depressive schoolteacher father in small-town Pennsylvania shift and shimmer in and out of Greek myths: the father becomes the tragic centaur Chiron, while the son becomes Prometheus. It's a magical feat, pulled off with Updike's signature wit, painterly vision, and keen eye for beauty in the tiniest of details.


Recommendations and comments BTL:

Gore Vidal, Creation ("epic") and Julian ("hilarious"). ("Another vote here for 'Creation' ... one of the few books I have ever re-read").

("I, Claudius (TV show) was first screened in 1976 not 1973").

Aeschylus, Prometheus bound ("would be on my list").

Catullus 64.

Gene Wolfe Soldier of the mist and Soldier of Arete. ("Yep, the two Soldier books are what I immediately thought of and I am somewhat miffed to be beaten to the punch! The third, and later, book, Soldier of Sidon, is not so good, IMO").

Apuleius, The golden ass ("If you can include the work of Plato, the arch-fascist of the ancient world, surely we can include (this) - even the Penguin translation will suffice. It is one of the greatest "novels" of all time and the only entirely intact one from the Roman period - absolutely hilarious, profound, sensuous, witty, outrageously satirical, ridiculous and utterly engaging. This incredibly rich work of fiction from the 2nd century AD gives us extraordinary insights into daily life in provincial Greece. It is perhaps the most profound reminder of just how tragic is the loss of the bulk of ancient fiction").

Yourcenar, Memoires d'Hadrien ("one of the best books written, ever") ("exemplarary work, witty and profound ... I understand a movie's in the works directed by John Boorman") ("Is that the one with the Vin Diesel in the title role? It's going to be ace. I hope they have all blood and shagging and stuff").

Suetonius, The twelve caesars ("Robert Graves used it as source material in fact a lot of the really good bits in I Claudius are lifted verbatim. Full of salacious gossip. Written by Hadrian's secretary, so he was pretty close in time to the characters he wrote about. Its brilliant").

I. F. Stone, The trial of Socrates.

Cicero, On Friendship ("I don't see how any list of books on the classical world couldn't have something by Cicero").

Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian war ("the first and best study of war and the politics of war ever").

etc., etc., including both ancient and modern works from Virgil to Asterix.

helmikuu 4, 4:07 pm

Nicholas Royle's top 10 writers on the telephone
Guardian, 2010-10-06.

Nicholas Royle was born in London in 1957. His first novel, Quilt, a study of grief in which the news of a father's death is delivered suddenly and brutally by telephone, was published in August.

"I've chosen 10 writers on the telephone, rather than 10 novels, stories or poems, because in a sense everything these authors have written is 'on topic'. Their writings help us see in different and remarkable ways the extent to which literature and telephones are in cahoots. When the phone starts ringing in a novel or short story, the air is charged with magic and coincidence, superstition and death. The word telephone is literally 'voice at a distance'. We can think of the literary work as a telephone call (the author or narrator addressing us), but also as a kind of telephone network (both in the form of dialogue and in the narrator 'bugging' different characters, recording what they say or think)."

1. Mark Twain (1835-1910).
Twain may well have been the first writer to name a character after a telephone operator. "Hello-Central" appears in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's court (1889). But his funniest and most prescient work on the subject is "Mental Telegraphy" (1891), which argues that "the telegraph and telephone are going to become too slow and wordy for our needs" and proposes the invention of the phrenophone (or mind-phone) as a way of understanding the wild and bizarre nature of writing, coincidence and inspiration.

2. Marcel Proust (1871-1922).
Proust only comes to the telephone several years into In search of lost time. In The Guermantes way, the telephone evokes the painful powers of habituation and the strangeness of "lost time" itself: "And I would go down almost without thinking how extraordinary it was that I should be calling upon that mysterious Mme de Guermantes of my boyhood simply in order to make use of her for a practical purpose as one makes use of the telephone, a supernatural instrument before whose miracles we used to stand amazed, and which we now employ without giving it a thought …"

3. Franz Kafka (1883-1924).
Kafka has the telephone play nightmarish roles in both The trial (1925) and The castle (1926), as a machine that summons K. For sheer power and concision, however, "My Neighbour" (1931) is a dazzling one-page tale of telephony and paranoia, in which the narrator is convinced that all his business transactions on the phone are being exploited by his mysterious enemy Harras, listening in to his every word through the "wretchedly thin walls" of his rented office.

4. Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973).
Bowen wrote numerous great novels, including Friends and relations (1931), The house in Paris (1935) and The heat of the day (1948), about how telephones have infiltrated our thinking and desires: waiting for a call, being interrupted by a call, not knowing what might be announced. The phone becomes a sort of crisis for rationality. As a character in The house in Paris demands: "Reason? You might as well say, what reason has one to answer the telephone?"

5. Raymond Chandler (1888-1959).
Perhaps more than any other writer, Chandler established the central importance of the telephone in modern detective stories. It is difficult, indeed, to think of a contemporary crime investigation narrative that doesn't depend on telephones (this is true of TV too, of course: it's the very raison d'être of The Wire). In The little sister (1949), Chandler's melancholy loner detective Marlowe expresses a common feeling that has only proliferated in the era of mobile phones: "Let the telephone ring, please. Let there be somebody to call up and plug me into the human race again ... "

6. Muriel Spark (1918-2006).
Spark is the author of perhaps the most macabre and unnerving telephone book, Memento mori (1959). The phone rings, a voice says "Remember you must die" – and the character who's picked up expires soon after. We never discover the caller's identity. But as with other Spark novels, God seems to be lurking somewhere in this prophetic, eerily omniscient scenario.

7. J. D. Salinger (1919-2010).
Salinger has Holden Caulfield, narrator of The catcher in the rye (1951), express a deep truth: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it." Salinger is loved and admired for this single book. Famously reclusive, however, he was the last author in the world you could have called up whenever you felt like it.

8. Frank O'Hara (1926-1966).
A sad, funny, deceptively straight-talking American poet who gives his pieces titles such as "Meditations in an emergency" and "Having a Coke with you", in 1959 O'Hara wrote a little manifesto called "Personism", based on his realisation that, when writing a poem for someone, he "could use the telephone instead". The solemnity of poetry would never be the same again.

9. Raymond Carver (1939-1988).
Carver wrote many stories featuring telephones. "Put yourself in my shoes" (1971) starts in a characteristically banal, yet compelling, literally distracting, way: "The telephone rang while he was running the vacuum cleaner." As Carver recalls in the wonderful essay "On writing" (1981), when this sentence came into his head, he "knew a story was there and it wanted telling." A later story, "A small good thing" (1983), poignantly links together the death of a young boy, hit by a car on his eighth birthday, to a case of phone-rage, involving the baker whose specially-ordered birthday cake the parents had failed to pick up on that terrible day.

10. Hélène Cixous (1937-)
Cixous's strange and marvellous fictional works all depend on a kind of literary telephony - a sense of many voices calling, singing, telepathically connecting. In one of her finest essays, "Writing blind", she observes: "I owe books and books to the telephone and I will give at least one back to it. May it be this very one." One is left in a kind of magical suspension imagining what such a return call might be.


Recommendations and comments BTL:

Fred M. White, Crimson blind (1905) ("A desperately broke man is contemplating his inevitable ruin when he receives a mysterious telephone call saying his financial problems will be solved if he only visits a certain house. As a bona fides (and to show the caller has done some homework) he's told to look on his front step, where he finds a cigar case he'd been looking at earlier that day. I don't know if it's the earliest example of the telephone as a plot device, but it's got to be pretty early, and not a bad little book either. Especially when someone gets attacked by a faithful hound standing guard over his mistress, who is feigning death in order to escape ... but I say too much ...").

Ed Friedman, The telephone book ("which presented, verbatim, a month and a half of transcribed telephone calls by the then-director of the Poetry Project at St Marks Church. The culture of phone etiquette – this was before you could actually tell who was calling before they identified themselves – combined with the elements of Friedman's life – not just poetry, but also his participation in the controversial do-it-yourself therapy movement called co-counseling – to yield a text that edged up against, say, Bernadette Mayer's works of memory & reconstruction on the one side, and social codes so banal that they were all but "invisible" because of being "too boring to notice"").

Paul Auster, City of Glass ("It was the wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not ...") ("Wot? No Paul Auster?").

Haruki Murakami ("a lot of his stories use silent or mysterious phone calls as the device that sets the plot running").

Evelyn Waugh, Vile bodies (1930) ("much of the dialogue from the Bright Young Things is from telephone conversations -- the Facebook of the times").

helmikuu 9, 3:16 pm

William Fotheringham's top 10 cycling novels
Guardian, 2010-10-14.

William Fotheringham is the Guardian's cycling columnist and the author of Cyclopedia : it's all about the bike, which is published by Yellow Jersey Press. He tweets about cycling @willfoth.

"Two-wheeled life has proved a rich vein for publishers in the last 10 years, in tandem with the rapid expansion of the sport throughout the UK. Memoirs and biographies of racers abound, and the quality is generally high, but literature about cycling – whether for sport or pleasure – rarely breaks the surface and doesn't tend to get into your local shop. Partly that's because, for all its popularity, cycling stopped being a force for social change a century ago, but the recent dearth of two-wheeled novels may be also be down to the fact that in recent years, the stuff that has gone on behind the scenes on the great races surpasses mere fiction. It would take a fair stretch of the imagination to come up with more curious stuff than cyclists hiding condoms of someone else's urine up their behinds to "flick" drugs tests; more unlikely violence than sprinters raining headbutts on the opposition; more gruesome injuries than those unhappily suffered by the occasional crash victim in a major race.

"The criteria I imposed were deliberately restrictive: the novel has to be centred on the act of cycling, rather than merely including bike riding as a means of transport or in background description. Sadly, this eliminated the short passage in The sun also rises in which Hemingway describes the riders in the Tour of the Basque country, and on the same count I ruled out Alfred Jarry's chapter on cyclists involved in a perpetual motion race in The supermale."

1. H. G. Wells, The wheels of chance.
Charming if little-known short romance in which Hoopdriver, a clerk on a cycling holiday, rescues a young lady from a sticky situation and inevitably falls for her. The descriptions of the act of cycling and the mild satire on class distinctions are probably more alluring than the somewhat staid love story.

2. Freya North, Cat.
Two-wheeled chick-lit in which the heroine, a journalist, sets out to report the Tour de France, inevitably getting entangled with some shaven legs along the way. Big egos and bigger bulges in the lycra shorts, as North puts it. Perturbingly, Cat's boss at the Guardian is called William Fotheringham.

3. James Waddington, Bad to the bone.
Racy thriller in which top pros in the Tour de France become ensnared in a Faustian pact with a sports doctor who guarantees success but demands the ultimate price: their lives. Appeared in 1998, the year of the sport's biggest ever drugs scandal. Twelve years on it still seems grimly apposite.

4. Tim Krabbé, The rider.
Surreal Dutch novel, available in translation, which depicts a bike race from within the mind of one of the racers, back story and all. If thought is the enemy of action, it's hard to see how the rider ever made the finish. That apart, there are few better fictional descriptions of the process of racing.

5. Ralph Hurne, The yellow jersey.
Perhaps the most politically incorrect cycling novel ever, from the big-breasted lady on the cover to the narrator's habit of calling possible sexual partners "it". But the tale of washed-up shag-happy pro Terry Davenporting's one last comeback to ride the Tour is curiously compelling, while the loss of most of the top cyclists after a drugs scandal is prescient for a book written in 1973.

6. Flann O'Brien, The third policeman.
Magical realist detective story by one of Ireland's greats, featuring a pair of bike-mad policemen, celebrated for the "atomic theory" according to which bike nuts become half-man, half bike and the machines develop human characteristics. "You can tell a man with a lot of bike in his veins by his walk," writes O'Brien. Some may question whether this is fiction.

7. Mauro Gorrino, Serse e la bestia.
Short Italian novel in which the protagonist is Serse Coppi, brother of the campionissimo Fausto, in a fictionalised account of his last race, an event in which he died. The beast represents either the voracious pack of cyclists chasing down the Italian, or the grim reaper whose pursuit of Serse is just as ineluctable.

8. Claire Huchet Bishop, The big loop.
The only venture I've found into two-wheeled cycling fiction aimed at teenagers. Depicts the sepia world of the 1950s in which Frenchmen always win their own Tour and heroes are easily distinguished from villains. Sweet but sadly outdated now on both counts.

9. Jerome K. Jerome, Three men on the bummel.
Eleven years on, the trio from Three men in a boat are reunited for a cycle tour through the Black Forest. Like The wheels of chance, it depicts cycling in its formative years, but as a series of comic vignettes. It includes the following immortal exchange: "There is a lot of uphill about a bicycle tour," said George, "and the wind is against you." "So there is downhill, and the wind behind," said Harris.

10. Arthur Conan Doyle, The adventure of the Priory School.
Conan Doyle wrote two Sherlock Holmes stories in which cycling figures prominently, the other one being The adventure of the solitary cyclist. In the Adventure of the Priory School, a kidnapping tale, the distinction between the marks left by bikes with different tyres – one with a patch on one wheel – is of great importance.


Comments and recommendations BTL include:

Gerard Woodward, August ("first part of the Aldous Jones trilogy, begins with a bicycle accident and has several long cycle rides throughout, and much musing on the art of cycling ...).

H. G. Wells, A perfect gentleman on wheels ("short story ... another charming comic skit about a cyclist who attempts to aid a lady having bike trouble, but just makes it worse, and is then humbled by a working class type who rocks up and fixes her problem in a jiffy. Worse than that, his story of chivalry is rumbled when it turns out that the inconvenienced lady in question is best friends with his fiancée").

Matt Seaton, The escape artist : life from the saddle ("a really moving account of dealing with loss, the obsession that comes with trying to compete at the highest level and the psychological struggles of cycle racing. A superb story from a great writer!").

Coetzee, Slow man ("would this qualify? His time for the Cape Argus ride was very respectable for a man of his age, I'm told").

Michel Houllebecq, Extension du domaine de la lutte ("translated as 'Whatever' in English. The chainsmoking anti-hero goes on an introspective cycle ride in the mountains towards the end of the book. Guilt, isolation, misanthropy - bit like my Sunday ride up to Lancaster").

Roddy Doyle, The snapper ("If O'Brien's Third policeman can be included").

Sammy Beckett, Molloy ("deserves inclusion as the hero rides around on a bike sucking on stones and carrying crutches (if i remember rightly). but there's a fair bit of biking involved").

Peter Weir, Breaking away ("recently re-released film, ... a fantastic boy's own/rebel biker story").


The description of Arthur Conan Doyle's The adventure of the Priory School put me in mind of Arthur Ransome's The Big Six, another story where an analysis of bicycle tyre tracks is important. Also the scouts on bikes are the Coot Club's eyes and ears, although there's not much description of the actual cycling. There's probably more description of pushing bicycles - the dromedories - in Pigeon post.

helmikuu 13, 5:35 pm

Charles Yu's top 10 time travel books
Guardian, 2010-10-20.

Charles Yu is a director at Digital Domain, the Oscar-winning visual effects and animation company set up by James Cameron to create state-of-the-art digital imagery for feature films. His award-winning fiction has been published in magazines and literary journals, and he was named by The Daily Beast as a "writer to watch". His debut novel, How to live safely in a science fictional universe, tells the story of a time traveller in search of the truth about his father.

"There are two kinds of stories: those that are explicitly about time travel, and those in which the time travel is hidden. Unless a narrative is supposed to represent a single, unbroken, continuous stretch of duration in the timeline of the actions portrayed (in which case it's probably either a court transcript or pornography), there is always, in any story, some element of compression, dilation, distortion or deformation of time – which is a long-winded way of saying there are a lot of time travel stories, and choosing just 10, regardless of criteria, was very hard. I haven't included, for instance, many of the best-known time travel books (The time machine by H. G. Wells, The man who folded himself by David Gerrold, The time traveler's wife by Audrey Niffenegger, to name a few), because (i) everyone already knows about them, and/or (ii) they are already beloved, and deservedly so.

"Instead, I've come up with a much more idiosyncratic list. I've also cheated. This isn't a list of 10 novels. I've got five novels, one book of lectures on literary theory, two short stories, and one seminal scientific paper. If they have anything in common, it's that many of them are probably not thought of primarily as writings about time travel, even though they are all essentially about the fundamental weirdness of moving around in time."

1. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death.
Vonnegut's classic about a protagonist who comes "unstuck in time" is a four-dimensional cross-section (a novel) of a four-dimensional object (a life). A discontinuous, non-chronological examination of Billy Pilgrim's temporal existence, especially his time in the war and the fire-bombing of Dresden. Plus, Trafalmadorians. As Professor Jack Gladney says, in Don DeLillo's White noise, "All plots tend to move deathward." The truth of this statement is never more clear than in a time travel narrative, and particularly in Slaughterhouse-Five. Even though we are rarely moving in a straight, forward direction in time through this book, we are always, in every story, inevitably moving toward The End.

2. Jorge Luis Borges, The garden of forking paths.
"Almost instantly, I understood: 'the garden of forking paths' was the chaotic novel; the phrase 'the various futures (not to all)' suggested to me the forking in time, not in space."

In the space of just a few pages, Borges manages to evoke an idea that might take other writers whole novels to explore: the idea of a narrative as a temporal labyrinth, a set of parallel, counterfactual universes. The brevity only adds to the mystery. We are given a glimpse of one momentarily illuminated portion of a single, ephemeral footpath in a far-flung region of the garden, but in that fleeting interval, we also can sense the scale of the branching structure, infinite in all directions.

3. Alan Lightman, Einstein's dreams.
These are poems made of physics, or maybe physics made of poem. Professor Lightman, a physicist and a literature professor at MIT, creates a kind of rigorous dream, one in which equations (or even perhaps the minutes themselves) seem to hang in the air, or are embedded into the gauzy fabric of the Swiss town in which the young Einstein is dreaming. A town that, despite the fact that it seems to be filled with clocks, is permeated by a haunting stillness, a metaphysical, eternal quality, as if we are inside a word problem as illustrated by de Chirico.

4. Nicholson Baker, The fermata.
Arno Strine can stop time at will (more or less; the exact mechanism that allows him to do so changes over the course of his life). He uses his ability as follows: he finds a woman who is sexually desirable to him, stops time, undresses her, writes down his thoughts about her anatomy, re-clothes her, then re-starts time. It's not as creepy and invasive as it sounds (although maybe it is), because it seems to be an extended metaphor and meditation on fantasy, masturbation, thinking and writing. But here's where the time travel comes in. When Strine has stopped time in the diegesis of the novel, but is still narrating his thoughts to you, as the reader, something very weird is going on. The narration of the story is taking place outside of time for everyone in the world of the book except for Strine, but it is, of course, still taking place in time for the reader in the physical world. In other words, it's not just slowed-down time in the story; for large chunks of the book, no time is passing inside the book, meanwhile, plenty of time is passing for you outside. In other other words, this book is a time machine.

5. David Deutsch, The fabric of reality.
It's hard for me to express how much I love this book. Deutsch weaves together concepts from the theory of computation, quantum mechanics and Karl Popper's epistemology to make something entirely new. I doubt I understand more than 8% of the book. I've read it three times and I'm starting to think Deutsch is actually trying to tell me that I'm in the Matrix. I'll keep reading it until I can't read anymore.

6. Madeleine L'Engle, A wrinkle in time.
I still remember the feeling of being swept away by this book in elementary school. Meg and Charles Wallace Murray, the brilliant children of world-class scientists, Drs Alex and Kate Murry, move through the cosmos via a tesseract, a fifth-dimensional folding of the space-time fabric. This universe felt more real than my own, and I desperately wanted to live in a place where kids could save their parents, where any minute now, one might be visited by an inter-dimensional being who would explain to me how much more there was to everything than I'd ever imagined.

7. Robert Heinlein, "All You Zombies—".
The ultimate time travel short story. The absolute limit in narrative economy and efficiency. One character begets him/herself, and all the others, too. It's like a grand unified theorem of ontological paradox stories. Amazing that Mr Heinlein laid it all out in 1959.

8. Umberto Eco, Six walks in the fictional woods.
Adapted from Eco's Charles Eliot Norton Lectures at Harvard University in 1993. It might seem like I'm veering off the path here a little, but I promise this is time travel-related, especially if you read chapter three, "Lingering in the Woods", in which Eco lays out his explanation of the concepts of "story time", "reading time" and "discourse time", and explains how a text is a "lazy machine" that sometimes wants to linger and slow itself down.

9. Kurt Gödel, 'An example of a new type of cosmological solution of Einstein's field equations of gravitation', Rev. Mod. Phys., 21: 447-450.
OK, now I'm really cheating, but please bear with me. Albert Einstein once told a colleague that he joined the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, chiefly for the purpose of walking home with Kurt Gödel. Somehow, out of those leisurely strolls through campus, the two got to talking, and then one day, Gödel says to Einstein, "Hey, guess what, I've got a solution to Einstein's field equations for gravitation that involves a rotating universe where time travel is possible". Now, granted, Gödel probably didn't call them "Einstein's field equations", since he was talking to Einstein – he probably called them "your equations", and he probably didn't drop it so casually in conversation: more likely he gave him some calculations on a piece of paper. Regardless, the point is that Kurt Gödel actually discovered mathematical solutions to Einstein's equations that would allow for a form of time travel in a universe that was governed by general relativity. Not this universe, a hypothetical yet theoretically possible one. But still: whoa!

10. Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
Who can forget the Future Semiconditionally Modified Subinverted Plagal Past Subjunctive Intentional tense? This book is my own Total Perspective Vortex on writing. Always something to go back to, in order to feel small, and to laugh, and to remember that whatever I think I might do in the future, Mr Adams probably already did it in the past. And did it funnier.


Eighty-eight comments and recommendations below the line, from Terry Pratchett's Night Watch to Philippa Pearce's Tom's midnight garden, Ken Grimwood's Replay (an earlier version of Groundhog Day) to Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates, Scarlett Thomas's The end of Mr Y to Flann O Brien's The third policeman (on it's second outing in succession), and from Isaac Asimov's The end of Eternity to Daphne Du Maurier's The house on the strand.

helmikuu 14, 8:44 am

Kate Mosse's top 10 ghost stories
Guardian, 2010-10-27.

Kate Mosse is the bestselling author of five novels, two books of non-fiction, short stories and a play, Syrinx, which won a Broadcasting Press Guild award in 2009. The first novel in her Languedoc Trilogy, Labyrinth, won Richard & Judy's Best Read award in 2006 and topped the bestseller lists for six months; the second, Sepulchre, was also an international bestseller; and the third, Citadel, will be published in 2011. Her current novel, The winter ghosts, is published in paperback this week.

"Spirits and apparitions, headless monks and white ladies, the traditional ghost story still exerts a hold on our imaginations. Their habitat is ancient woods, ruined abbeys, isolated old houses and crumbling monasteries. But what makes a ghost story? Though purists might quibble, I'd say there are three distinct types of ghost story – as opposed to tales of horror, which have a different dynamic and purpose, or novels that have ghosts in them, such as Marquez's One hundred years of solitude or Ben Okri's The famished road.

"The traditional ghost story is often inspired by folklore and a sense of decaying history, and is similar in tone to the Gothic novels that came before it. In the psychological ghost story, the emphasis is on the mental state of the victim rather than the actions – the existence, even – of the ghost or poltergeist. These stories implicitly, sometimes explicitly, question the reliability and sanity of the heroine or hero, and often reference social or political issues of the day. Finally, there's the antiquarian ghost story which is associated with a certain sort of Edwardian Englishness. Like their traditional counterparts, they draw on old mythologies and folklore, but are rooted in realism and the sense of the ordinary disrupted or made extraordinary. I see the influence of all three traditions in my own books – though The winter ghosts is my first pure ghost story – but in the end, as with the choices that follow, what matters is that each has what the great Edith Wharton called 'the fun of the shudder'."

1. Edgar Allan Poe, The tell-tale heart (1843).
From the master of the morbid imagination, this gem of a story blurs the edges between horror and ghost fiction. A murderer's guilty conscience gets the better of him, driving him to confess his crime. The unnamed narrator murders an old man with a "vulture eye". He plans carefully and hides the body by dismembering it, but his guilt will not let him rest. Is he imagining the beating of the heart beneath the floorboards or is there something there? Gripping and horrifying, the perfect mix of horror and Gothic, the forerunner of the psychological ghost stories that were to come into vogue.

2. Charles Dickens, The signalman (1866).
This perfectly balanced, beautifully judged story both preys on both the anxiety provoked by the new technology of railways and deeply held beliefs that a ghost can be an alarum for events to follow. Three times, the ringing of a spectral bell is followed by the appearance of a ghost, harbinger of a dreadful accident. Creepy, clever, and has you looking over your own shoulder.

3. Mary Elizabeth Braddon, At Chrighton Abbey (1871).
Another classic of ghost-story writing, with a doomed family and a crumbling, historic house at the heart of it. The narrator, Sarah, returns to her childhood home as a guest, having been obliged to work as a governess. There, although the halls are brightly lit and the old servants delighted to see her, a sense of disaster hangs over the festivities and Sarah's glimpse of a ghostly hunt forewarns of tragedy to come.

4. M. R. James, Canon Alberic's scrap-book (1894).
This is the very first story in the first published M. R. James collection, Ghost stories of an antiquary. A young Englishman and scholar leaves his friends for the day to spend time alone in a claustrophobic, decaying French cathedral city in the Pyrenees. He is encouraged by the sacristan to buy an antique manuscript volume which is possessed of older and evil memories. Wonderfully atmospheric, wonderfully creepy.

5. Henry James, The turn of the screw (1898).
This is, possibly, the most exquisite and perfect of all psychological ghost stories. Again, an unnamed narrator, another governess, a different manuscript that claims to tell the story of mysterious country house, a widower and his children and two ghosts of former servants of the house. It is never clear if the ghosts are real or the product of the governess's increasingly unstable mind. And here, unlike in many ghost stories, there are several strong and engaging characters, not least of all the strange children, Miles and Flora. Simply, a masterpiece.

6. Algernon Blackwood, Ancient sorceries and other weird stories (1912).
Blackwood is the neglected master of the Edwardian ghost story renaissance. Gentlemen travellers and scholars fill his pages, but always with a psychological – often animist – slant on things. For Blackwood, Nature always has a capital 'N' and was a living, breathing thing, sometimes benign, but often sinister. This collection is the place to start, even though my favourite story is "The Man Whom the Trees Loved", where a wife finds herself powerless to save her husband from the trees he loves. The forest does seem to be alive, getting closer and closer to the house, until the husband vanishes all together. Atmospheric, beautiful, a very subtle story of a peculiar haunting.

7. Walter de la Mare, The listeners (1912).
De la Mare was a significant writer of ghost stories, publishing some 40 supernatural tales in collections such as Eight tales and On the edge, but I'm choosing perhaps his most famous work, this lyrical and haunting poem. It's never clear what bargain the traveller has made, and with whom, only that he has kept his word to come to the deserted house in the wood. The opening line still makes my hair stand on end: "'Is there anybody there?' said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door."

8. Edith Wharton, Bewitched (1925).
The celebrated author of novels such as The house of mirth, Wharton was also a terrific writer of ghostly tales. A blend of Poe, Hawthorne and Henry James, she has a lightness of touch that belies the often very grisly tale. This story, first published in the Pictorial Review in 1925, has a fabulous sense of place and is a revenant story with a twist. It leaves the reader doubting their interpretation of events. Clever stuff.

9. Antonia Barber, The ghosts (1969).
This is my favourite children's ghost story, a wonderful time-slip novel set during the first world war. Lucy and Jamie Allen move with their mother and baby brother to the country, where their mother has been engaged by a mysterious gentleman, Mr Blunden, as caretaker of an abandoned house until the rightful owner can be traced. One day, Lucy is walking in the garden to explore and to pick flowers when she meets Sara and Georgie. It becomes clear that the children are ghosts, children of the house who died 100 years ago in the fire that destroyed the estate. It's a gentle, thoughtful ghost story, of parallel time and the chance to make amends for mistakes in an earlier life. The novel won the Carnegie Medal and was filmed in 1972 as The amazing Mr Blunden.

10. Susan Hill, The woman in black (1982).
For my money, the greatest of the contemporary ghost writers. Hill creates believable period characters, she creates a hermetic world that yet speaks of wider superstitions and histories, and creates plots with tension, pace and jeopardy without ever becoming heavy-handed. This is a story of vengeance, of an old curse from an embittered woman, all centred on the brooding Eel Marsh House, gloomy and isolated and cut off from the mainland at high tide. As the tension of premonition and disaster builds and builds, the ghostly screams of an accident long ago will haunt the reader's imagination long after the last page has been turned. Perfect.


BTL comments and recommendations:

Kate Mosse, Labyrinth ("Maybe Kate Mosse could have chanelled a little more of the literary ability of these excellent authors when she wrote the unbelievably bad Labyrinth. ... Painful") ("I normally try not to be negative or to carp in these discussions but I'm still haunted by the memory of reading the first few chapters of Labyrinth. How and why did it ever get published? Why, why why?") ("like some of the others on here I'm glad I wasn't the only one to be terrified by how bad was - it made the The Da Vinci Code seem well written").

Witold Gombrowicz, Possessed : the secret of Myslotch.

Bram Stoker, The judge's house. ("one of the few stories that still haunt me").

Charles Dickens, To be taken with a grain of salt ("I prefer (this) to The signalman, a really scary and very original story").

A. S. Byatt, The July ghost ("there is a real ghost here but the unstable mother of the dead boy seems to power his appearance. The setting is everyday London, not ruins, no abbeys, just very creepy") ("it's a marvellous story, but I didn't think it was at all creepy, or intended to be: it's about loss and grief. In a way it's a little like W. W. Jacobs' The monkey's paw, another marvel: you could be scared by it (it ends with what seems to be a revenant), but it's much more tragic than scary").

Michael Marshall Smith, The servants.

Peter Straub, Ghost story.

Shirley Jackson, The haunting of Hill House.

Susan Hill, The woman in black ("Dear God, I hate (this). Not because it's badly written, but because it's too well written. I saw it in play form and for weeks afterwards every time I was alone I was convinced I was about to see her") ("I've never read (the book but) saw the play... brrrrrrrr. It took me a good while to convince myself that shapes such as a coat on a hanger were not an avenging ghost, and I am by no means a wuss") ("probably genre defining").

E. F. Benson, The room in the tower ("admittedly melodramatic, is still very creepy in parts").

Algernon Blackwood ("seriously underrated. I am certain that reading too much of his work would unhinge a man") ("definitely deserves a mention, primarily because he was the inventor of his own subgenre, the 'outdoor' ghost story set in wilderness locations - The willows and The wendigo are great examples") (Keeping his promise had all the elements of the uncanny and the creepy. Read it months ago and I still think about it").

E. M. Forster, The story of a panic.

William Hope Hodgson, The house among the laurels ("A top ten of ghost stories with nothing by Hodgson in it? Not right! Certainly, his over-the-top archaic diction can get on your nerves ... but that moment in (this) when the lights have gone out, and the hero hears a nasty noise and realise that something has just entered his best protective pentacle and killed his dog ...").

Robert Westall ("far too little known as a writer of ghost stories. Check out the compilation Break of dark (and if you find it on the children's shelves at your library or bookshop, have serious words with the staff), particularly 'Blackham's Wimpey', a very nasty piece about a WWII bomber haunted by a vengeful German pilot, and 'Fred, Alice and Aunty Lou', about an upper-middle-class man haunted by a spiteful group of cloth-capped ghosts").

Ramsay Cambell, Demons by daylight ("has some great ghost/horror stories...I remember, in particular, one about standing stones and another called the Viaduct").

Graham Greene, A little place off the Edgeware Road ("an excellent ghost story").

Stephen King, Last rung on the ladder ("both sad and evocative").

("I read a terribly grim Norwegian ghost story (translated) when I was a child, but for the life of me I cannot rememeber the name...I think the name of the story was the same as the individual being haunted").

Guy De Maupassant, The Horla ("should be up there").

Jonathan Aycliff, Naomi's room ("the single scariest ghost story I've ever read").

Margaret Oliphant, The library window ("an excellent ghost story").

L. P. Hartley, Feet foremost ("among ghost stories I dislike, (this) actually made me angry: the 'vengeful ghost' is a teenaged victim of domestic violence, and making something scary and evil of her struck me as in dubious taste. I wanted to rescue her!").

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The yellow wallpaper.

J. S. Le Fanu, stories like Mr Justice Harbottle and Schalken the Painter ("M.R. James is of course the benchmark, but I'd like to mention James' own favorite ghost story writer").

H. Russell Wakefield, The Red Lodge ("one of the first ghost stories I ever read, and is a classic of the haunted house subgenre").

Ambrose Bierce, The damned thing and The middle toe of the right foot ("in addition to penning probably the most horrific war stories ever written in the English language (he was a combat veteran of the American Civil War), wrote a number of excellent supernatural tales, (these) being favourites").

Manly Wade Wellman ("stories about the wandering balladeer John who walks the mountains of South Carolina with his silver-strung guitar, battling the forces of evil and witchcraft, draw heavily on Appalachian folklore and music. They've been collected under the title Who fears the devil? and more recently by Night Shade Press as Owls hoot in the daytime and other omens, part of a five-volume collection of his works. I defy anyone to read 'O Ugly Bird!', 'The Desrick on Yandro', or 'Vandy, Vandy' and not be pleasurably creeped out").

Sarah Water, The little stranger ("a more than half-decent new contribution to the genre, with some genuinely creepy moments").

Justin Evans, A good and happy child ("everybody who likes ghost stories should read (this). Gloriously well-written, complex nuanced characters, well paced and sustains the tension right to the end. I can't imagine why this book is so little known").

H. P. Lovecraft, The case of Charles Dexter Ward or At the Mountains of Madness ("very good indeed").

Stanislaw Lem ("wrote a great ghost story with an SF setting about a haunted spaceship. Cannot remember the title but it was in a collection called Tales of Pirx the Pilot").

A. J. Alan ("wrote great weird and strangely creepy stories, sadly out of print though he pops up in anthologies occasionally").


Re. Susan Hill, The woman in black (1982).

Much as there was a cohort of children who grew up in real time with the Harry Potter in the books (1997-2007), my daughter was part of the next cohort, that grew up nearer in time with the Harry Potter Movies (2001-2010). As a result she was a keen fan of the main actors, and immediately clocked that Daniel Radcliffe was the male lead in the 2012 film of The woman in black. So, one midweek winter evening, and the night already dark, she watched it on her own aged about 13 when she got home from school before everyone else. Despite the film being rated 12A, we got home to find all the lights on and her watching something light and fluffy and, most importantly, distracting! She later came back to Susan Hill, with The small hand and Dolly, but I don't think she's forgiven The woman in black.

She'd earlier had a similar experience with a different emotion with Benedict Cumberbatch, who had a following on the back of 'Sherlock' (BBC, 2010-2017, pre his and Martin Freeman's entres into the Marvel Universe as Dr Strange and Everett Ross). I gathered that his performance in 'Third Star' (2010) was not at all what she'd expected. The perils the latchkey child faces; hey ho.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 15, 5:02 pm

Jennifer Lynn Barnes's top 10 supernatural families
Guardian, 2010-11-04.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes was raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She has been a competitive cheerleader, a volleyball player, a teen model and a primate cognition researcher. She graduated from Yale University with a degree in cognitive science and used her research to imagine the werewolf world in her first novel, Raised by wolves. She currently teaches Yale's most popular undergraduate class, Sex, Evolution and Human Nature, which looks at what evolutionary psychology and mating behaviour in animals can tell us about human nature.

"There's only one thing I love more than a good supernatural story, and that's a story that explores what it means to be a family: the good, the bad and the ugly. Whether it's a family of choice or blood makes very little difference to me, but there's something so compelling about the idea of being connected to other people and part of their lives in a permanent and often complicated way. One of the reasons I chose to write about werewolves was because it offered a lot of opportunities to explore growing up within – and sometimes away from – your family (or, in werewolf terms, your pack). So, in honour of my two favourite things in literature, I give you my top 10 supernatural families in fiction."

1. The Weasleys (the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling).
From Fred and George to the insufferable Percy (not to mention Ginny's performance in Chamber of Secrets), the Weasley family is brimming with memorable characters and complex relationships – leading to some of the best lines and most heartbreaking scenes in the entire seven-book series.

2. Nick and Alan Ryves (The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan).
One's a strategist, the other has a habit of keeping swords under the sink. But as different as they are, these demon-hunting brothers exemplify what it means to put family first – while their twisted family history makes their dedication to each other all the more affecting. With the end of the trilogy forthcoming, my biggest concern isn't the fate of the various romantic relationships in the book. It's the brotherly bond at its core.

3. Paige, Lucas, and Savannah (Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong).
I love that we've seen Savannah (part demon, part sorcerer, part witch and altogether unprecedented) grow over the course of the series from a 12-year-old kid to a 21-year-old striking out on her own – almost as much as I like the way inheriting custody of Savannah forced Paige, a temperamental young witch, to grow up overnight. Add in Paige's husband (sorcerer, lawyer, idealist) and this family is the neatest mix of light and dark, with their devotion to each other stronger than any of their supernatural ties.

4. The Sharpe family (White Cat by Holly Black).
Who doesn't love a family of con-artists? Between a mother in the slammer, a grandfather who used to magically "work" death for a living and older brothers with nefarious plans of their own, this book gives a whole new meaning to the term "family business".

5. The Pevensies (the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis).
While not supernatural themselves, these four dimension-traversing siblings set the bar for family-centred fantasy adventure. Inspired by their adventures, I used to force my brother to look for fantasy worlds hidden in our closets. He was not pleased.

6. The Cullens (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer).
While most people think "romance" when they think of the Twilight franchise, I think the idea of being adopted into a beautiful, mysterious and tight-knit family holds just as much wish-fulfilment appeal as Bella and Edward's human/vampire romance. As a reader, I never fell head-over-heels for Edward, but I would love to play vampire baseball with the Cullens.

7. Stefan and Damon Salvatore (The Vampire Diaries by L. J. Smith).
Long before Twilight mania, these two brothers – on-and-off mortal enemies, doomed to forever fall for the same girls – gave readers a vampire family to sink their teeth into. Reading about them makes me think you really can't escape your family, even if you try for more than a hundred years.

8. The Stackhouses (The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris).
The Stackhouse family has their share of (figurative) skeletons in the closet – supernatural relatives, illicit affairs and everyday trauma and tragedy – but at the end of the day there's nothing Sookie wouldn't do for her brother, Jason, or the cousins (human or not) that just keep crawling out of the woodwork.

9. The Murry family (A Wrinkle in Time quartet by Madeleine L'Engle).
Another family that may not be actually supernatural, the Murry family finds itself constantly entangled in adventures of the science-fiction variety nonetheless – time travel, space hopping, even adventuring into the family baby's mitochondria. Plus, what other family can boast a Nobel prize-winning mum?

10. The Peltiers (the Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon).
I've always been fascinated by big families, so the Peltiers – who have 12 children and run their own bar – would be a favourite of mine even if they weren't also were-bears (yes, were-bears).


Six messages BTL, but only one of consequence:

"What about the Addams Family?"

helmikuu 18, 9:15 am

Anna Shevchenko's top 10 novels set in Moscow
Guardian, 2010-11-10.

Anna Shevchenko studied at the National University, Kiev, before moving to the UK to study at Cambridge University. A linguist and international negotiator, she speaks seven languages and is the author of two cultural guides to Russia and Ukraine. Her first novel, Bequest, is an international thriller set in both Kiev and Moscow.

"I chose the books where Moscow is more than a setting – it shapes the characters and their actions, almost becoming a character itself. I was always intrigued by the way the cityscape can influence the mindset: Moscow, for example, can be seen as a chaotic cluster of villages, a cobweb of streets or as a grid. The Moscow of Russian authors builds various stage sets which resemble giant, grotesque Russian dolls with grimaces on brightly painted faces. Their image of Moscow is often exaggerated or distorted.

"Western writers' Moscow settings are more linear: they recreate and distill the existing reality of controlled society, reflecting western perceptions of monochrome gloom and danger and, recently, of the bizarre chaos of the post-Soviet capital. The Moscow of my novel, Bequest, is a hungry metropolis, which swallows its provincial victims and influences the decisions of one of its characters.

1. Alexander Pushkin, Boris Godunov (Moscow in 1598).
Pushkin's drama about the rule of Boris Godunov, a charismatic leader with dark secrets, untangles Kremlin intrigues and plotting. Red Square is full of drunken crowds, raw emotion and brutal force. ("Why doesn't my baby cry when he needs to? Everybody is crying ..." asks a peasant at the square, throwing her baby on the pavement.) Moscow is dark and intense.

2. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace (Moscow from 1810-1813).
The city of glamour and gambling, of superstition and appearances, relationships and glitzy balls. "Moscow is about gossip, St Petersburg is about politics," says one of the characters. It contrasts with the abandoned and burned city of 1813, Moscow after the Napoleonic invasion: the city of lost hopes, lost loves and lives.

3. Anton Chekhov, Three sisters (Moscow in 1900).
Moscow as a symbol, rather than a city, a dream of escape from drab provincial reality for three educated sisters. Their "To Moscow!" is a desperate cry for help. They do not return to the capital of their childhood, abandoning their hopes of a perfect life. This play is often compared with the story of the Brontë sisters, but I find it very Russian for all its melancholy, nostalgia and layered emotions.

4. Ilf & Petrov, The twelve chairs (Moscow in 1927).
Masterly theatrical satire of the Moscow of the first post-revolutionary decade. Moscow here is a railway station, full of con artists, chaos and ... missing chairs. One of them contains diamonds, hidden under the shabby upholstery: just as the sparkles of humour and joie de vivre are hidden in an impoverished Moscow, under communist slogans of canteens providing carrot burgers.

5. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (Moscow in 1933).
My favourite book of all time. I re-read it on my birthday, together with Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, every decade (at 20, 30, 40), always to discover a different angle, a new depth. The phantasmagoria of Satan's arrival in Moscow in the 1930s is mixed with the sadness of doomed passion. This is a Moscow full of irony and covert satire on the first ominous stirrings of Stalin's regime. This book made the Patriarch's Ponds in Moscow a place of literary pilgrimage.

6. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The first circle (Moscow in 1949).
"If a man has no freedom even in prison, where else might he have it then?" asks one character. Moscow as a prison. The characters work in the first circle of hell – as prisoners in the KGB secret research institute, Sharazhka. They joke, laugh, love, make complex moral choices, but there is no escape from Moscow and from themselves. Autobiographical, chilling; a powerful triumph of the freedom of the human spirit.

7. Martin Cruz Smith, Gorky Park (Moscow in 1981).
For me, as an insider of the Soviet system, Martin Cruz Smith's crime novel was one of the best western descriptions of the Moscow map as a grid of Soviet ideology at the beginning of the 1980s. The background of the story of Soviet investigator Arkady Renko is the hypocrisy and corruption of the system, with the mutilated bodies in a Moscow amusement park as the main attractions.

8. Victor Pelevin, Generation 'П' (published as Babylon in the UK) (Moscow in the early 1990s).
Victor Pelevin is an author you either love or hate, but you cannot remain indifferent to his description of a new generation – the generation that thrived in the post-Soviet Moscow of the early 1990s, where the move from collective to individual is through smoky underground passages, hallucinating mushrooms, drugs and consumerism.

9. Sergei Lukyanenko, The Night Watch (Moscow in the late 1990s).
The Day Watch-Twilight Watch-Night Watch trilogy, by Sergei Lukyanenko, became a phenomenal bestseller in Russia, satisfying Russian craving for all things mystical. The Night Watch is my favourite, set in the futuristic and twisted Moscow of parallel worlds. Dark evil forces, vampires and ordinary Muscovites coexist. Walking the streets of Moscow, you never know where you will be crossing the line ...

10. Frederick Forsyth, Icon (Moscow in 1999).
The city is dark and intense. There are Kremlin intrigues and drunken crowds, a charismatic leader with dark secrets and brutal force.

... Or have I said that already about the Moscow of 1598, in Boris Godunov?


BTL comments and recommendations:

("With Boris Godunov and The three sisters in the first three works, they could change the word "novel" in the headline, I think").

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita ("one of my all-time favourite novels") ("there is also, surprisingly, a great graphic novel version which I bought only recently") ("the most lovable book in world literature. You would be surprised by the number of people I've seen reading it on subways") ("a sheer delight").

Andrey Rubanov, Do time get time ("for a modern one I would go for").

Sergei Lukyanenko, World of Watches Hexalogy ("Light believes in the greater good, Dark believes in everyone for themselves. Looked at sideways, it's Communism vs. Capitalism, but with vampires and mages").

("Wot no Moskva-Petushki"?)

Olga Grushin, The dream life of Sukhanov ("not entirely set in Moscow but I absolutely adored (this)") (another vote - a wonderful book") ("really should have been mentioned. For me it's one of the finest novels of the past ten years").

Yuri Trifonov, The house on the Embankment ("melancholic, sinister") ("an excellent writer").

David Remnick, Lenin's tomb ("if we're going to have Three sisters, then let's have some non-fiction too (and not entirely about Moscow either): a memoir of the perestroika era, which has the most fantastic passage about Moscow's inimitable, shortlived and exquisitely self-flagellatory Museum of Poor Quality Goods").

Boris Akunin, Erast Fandorin ("I'll come across as a literature philistine saying this no doubt, but where's one of (these) mysteries?")

Donald James, Monstrum ("one of the best thrillers I've read, set in a near-future Moscow, in a Russia still getting to its feet after a civil war. I literally could not put it down").

Penelope Fitzgerald, The beginning of spring ("an astounding feat of imagination in which an English woman in her seventies somehow channels all of the great nineteenth-century Russians").

M. Ageyev, Novel with cocaine ("amazing short novel").

Victor Serge, The case of comrade Tulayev ("acute analysis of the disintegration and the collapse of the Bolshevik project from a Trotskist perspective").

Erofeev, Moscow to the end of the line ("comic, surreal and vodka-saturated masterpiece").

Vladimir Sorokin, Sugar Kremlin ("an amazing futuristic novel set in Moscow in 2030, but with the form and language from Ivan the Terrible times").

("Martin Cruz Smith emphatically yes, but Frederick Forsyth: oi, no!").

Stuart Kaminsky, Porfiry Rostinikov ("not great literature but how about ... the weary crippled Moscow detective and amateur plumber/weight lifter and his troubled subordinates and corrupt superiors?").

Maria Tumarkin, Otherland ("passion, verve").

Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov ("if Anna can shoehorn Three Sisters in ...").

George Feifer, Moscow farewell ("an interesting look at then Moscow. However the book is somewhat spoiled - IMHO - by the description of his sexual exploits (who bloody cares?)")

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 23, 2:56 pm

Maxim Jakubowski's top 10 crime locations
Guardian, 2010-11-17.

Maxim Jakubowski is a writer and editor who was the Guardian's crime fiction reviewer for 10 years. He has edited anthologies of noir tales about London, Paris and Rome and is currently working on a Venice volume. Following the Detectives, which has just been published, is an illustrated book that follows the trail of some of crime fiction's greatest sleuths, discovering the cities and countries in which they live and work. His new novel, I was waiting for you, moves between Paris, New York, Barcelona, Tangiers, Venice, Los Angeles and Rome.

"I have always felt that one of literature's virtues and attractions is that it can powerfully evoke places and times and bring them to life alongside plot and characters. Hardy's Wessex springs to mind, as do Thomas Mann's Venice or the Saint Petersburg of Dostoevsky and the teeming London of Dickens. But I would argue that crime and mystery fiction offers the perfect blend of storytelling and sense of place, where characters and atmosphere prove of unique appeal: the location works as an extra, indispensable character and is indivisible from the sometimes breathless action taking place in the narrative. Think of Stockholm and Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander, Sara Paretsky's Vic Warshawski and the mean streets of Chicago, Montalbán's Pepe Carvalho and Barcelona, Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana or Mankell's Wallander in Ystad. What with the tsunami of popularity that crime and thrillers have enjoyed over recent years, there are now few places on the map that are not associated with a specific detective or cop. These are some I find most distinctive."

1. Los Angeles in Raymond Chandler, The big sleep (1939).
Although Michael Connelly is fast becoming the bard of modern Los Angeles, Chandler remains the pioneer whose iconic Philip Marlowe novels define the city's mean streets and sprawl. From rich mansions to backstreet dives, shady bookstores and cheap hotel rooms, Chandler captures the essence of a city in flux between affluence and despair with tarnished knight Marlowe at the helm.

2. London in Derek Raymond, I was Dora Suarez (1990).
From Sherlock Holmes onwards, London has been mapped by successive generations of crime writers, but none has evoked the loneliness of lost souls whose dreams have been shattered by the big city like Raymond in his Factory novels. His anonymous avenging angel figure of a cop is based in Soho's Poland Street and roams a familiar but grim landscape which no tourist would ever contemplate visiting. A bleak but unforgettable view of London.

3. New Orleans in James Lee Burke, The neon rain (1987).
This was the first novel in which Burke introduced his ex-Vietnam vet anti-hero Dave Robicheaux as he roamed ceaselessly through the humid streets of the French Quarter, the Garden District and the adjoining bayou country in search of justice while wrestling with his own demons. The shimmering prose catches the smells, colours and unique atmosphere of the Louisiana city. The decline of the Crescent City has been chronicled in his following books, all the way to hurricane Katrina.

4. Paris in Fred Vargas, Have mercy on us all (2001).
The French capital in which Vargas's Commissaire Adamsberg investigates is the real Paris – the small popular 'quartiers' with their bars, small local businesses and merchants, neighbourhood restaurants and secret histories – not the Paris of the Eiffel tower and the Champs-Élysées. Her idiosyncratic and at times whimsical plots allow her sleuth to look behind the facade of bourgeois Paris and unveil a hotbed of intrigue and crime, a striking web of darkness behind the facade of the City of Light.

5. Bologna in Barbara Baraldi, The girl with the crystal eyes (2008).
Italian cities are not just striking monuments and a crowd of churches. Baraldi's colourful serial killer chiller in the tradition of Dario Argento's "gialli" film thrillers transforms the cobbled streets of Bologna into a shuddering symphony of darkness. The whole city turns into a gothic world of shadows when night falls, a place where Hannibal Lecter and Hitchcock would feel right at home. Emo psychogeography at its most striking.

6. Brighton in Peter James, Dead simple (2005).
The best British crime writers thrive when they associate a character with a city (Ian Rankin's Rebus with Edinburgh, John Harvey's Resnick with Nottingham) and Peter James's cop Roy Grace has put the Brighton of Graham Greene into the shade. His investigations, assisted in a major way by the fact James spends a day a week on average with the local police force, explain why Brighton, behind its gentle facade, is in fact one of the UK's capitals of crime. From sea front to back alleys, posh areas and rundown streets, Roy Grace's Brighton has become a portrait of England today.

7. Miami in Charles Willeford, Miami Blues (1984).
Maybe it's the weather that warps the mind, but Florida is a bedrock for fictional crime. Local authors from John D. MacDonald to Carl Hiaasen, James Hall and Vicki Hendricks have all dissected the often bizarre manifestations of evil and retribution, often inspired by real life, but the late Charles Willeford, with his Hoke Moseley series, best captures the quirky, violent, contradictory place that is Miami. Drugs, beaches, crazed immigrants, rednecks, cults, alligators and crooked cops, it's all here in abundance. Anyone who's spent time in Miami airport will recognise the madness in a trice.

8. San Francisco in Joe Gores, Spade and Archer (2009).
Steve McQueen and Bullitt and the Haight-Ashbury of hippie days have created an indelible image for the city on the bay in the public mind, but it is also the stamping ground of Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, one of crime's iconic sleuths. Ironically, the fascinating city is best recreated in all its teeming complexity and contrasts in Gores's latter-day prequel to Spade's adventures, in which he fills in the gaps that Hammett left. The treachery of Chinatown, the looming shadow of the Golden Gate bridge, the darkened warehouse districts, and the sharp contrast between haves and have-nots fix San Francisco like a fly in amber.

9. Oxford in Colin Dexter, The dead of Jericho (1981).
What with the sheer number of fatalities in Oxford during the course of the Inspector Morse novels, many tourists might still believe it to be one of the UK's most dangerous cities, but there is no denying that Colin Dexter put the city on the fictional map. Quiet campuses. the architectural splendour of academia and its buildings, warm country pubs, opulent houses, working-class shabbiness all come together to construct a convincing image of the city, to the extent that there are now numerous local tours based on the world of Morse which attracts visitors by the busload. How crime fiction put a city on the map!

10. New York in Lawrence Block, Small town (2003).
One of American mystery writing's treasures, Lawrence Block is a New Yorker through and through, despite many years of travel. Small town is his paean to Manhattan, a sprawling narrative that moves effortlessly between Greenwich Village, Hell's Kitchen, the Upper East Side and all points in between and could almost be used as map in your peregrinations through the canyons of the Avenues and side streets. He seizes the unique vibrancy of the city, alongside a gripping plot.


See the sixty comments and recommendations BTL from the link above, the first half dozen that appealed being:

"St Mary Mead"

Berlin in Phillip Kerr's Berlin noir trilogy ("surely worth a mention") ("Kerr's description of Berlin from the Weimar years right up to it's destruction is at the heart of some fantastic detective stories").

Malcolm Pryce's Aberystwyth novels. ("the joker in the pack ... funny yet slightly menacing").

Kiev in Kurkov's Penguin books ("not strictly 'crime fiction' but I would make an argument for them").

Rome in Michael Dibdin's Aurelio Zen stories.

> Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the film version of The big sleep.
"No, that's Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in a film version of The big sleep. There's the one with Robert Mitchum as Marlowe"


Edited to tweek "The big sleep" films' touchstones.

helmikuu 24, 6:09 pm

Anne Holt's top 10 female detectives
Guardian, 2010-12-08.

Anne Holt began her career in the Oslo police department before founding her own law firm. She was then appointed to government and served as Norway's minister for justice in the late 1990s. Her first book was published in 1993 and she has subsequently developed two series: the Hanne Wilhelmsen series and the Vik/Stubo series, all of which will be published by Corvus in 2011.

"If the great male detectives are archetypically loners, female detectives are doubly so. They are alienated both by entrenched male hierarchies at work and the Janus-like disjunction between their formidable professional personas and their vulnerable private lives. They have a special sensitivity to victims and a repressed compassion that fuels their zeal to see justice done. This multi-dimensionality makes for good writing and good reading. The dramatic potential is heightened because female detectives, without the physical strength of their male counterparts, have to be more resourceful, intelligent and tactical to solve the case. The stories tend to focus as much on their character as on the whodunnit.

"I must mention two names at this stage – Detective Mary Beth Lacey (played by Tyne Daly) from Cagney and Lacey and DCI Jane Tennison of Prime Suspect. Both women are TV characters so don't qualify for this particular roll call. But my list would be criminally incomplete without them, especially since it was Mary Beth's multi-dimensional character that first got me thinking about writing a crime series featuring a strong but vulnerable female detective. A highly respected tough cop on the streets of New York, she was also a committed mother, devoted wife and good friend to her overtly sexy single partner Christine Cagney (played by Sharon Gless). And which list of great female detectives would be complete without Lynda La Plante's gritty series character, Jane Tennison? The character, synonymous with Helen Mirren, is in constant battle with an unflinchingly chauvinist police culture, using intelligence, suppressed rage and supreme confidence. She's tough, driven, and damn good at what she does but she's also vulnerable and beleaguered by her personal life – the loss of her father, friction with her sister, retirement and the bottle.

"My character, Hanne Wilhelmsen is another complex character. At the top of her game as a police inspector, she was forcibly retired after her pursuit of truth and justice costs her the love of her life, her career in the police department and the use of her legs …"

1. Barbara Havers.
In my opinion, Barbara Havers is modern crime fiction's most endearing misfit. Drably dressed and working class, Havers is the perfect foil to the urbane and handsome Lord Lynley. She behaves like a temperamental teenager with a chip on her shoulder when it comes to authority figures. She still lives at home and cares for her parents, surviving on a diet of pop tarts and the occasional kindnesses of her neighbours, a Pakistani professor and his daughter.

2. Modesty Blaise.
As dangerous as she is desirable, Modesty Blaise is the heroine of the cult comic strip created by writer Peter O'Donnell. I love Modesty because she showed it was possible for a female to do all the things her alpha-male counterparts had been doing. She's a female James Bond complete with fatal charms, a criminal background and a thirst for adventure, a woman who can out-fight, out-smart, and out-shoot any man.

3. Bertha Cool.
In stark contrast to her fellow pulp detective, Modesty Blaise, Bertha Cool was neither flirtatious nor ravishing. She was the rotund, irascible, penny-pinching widow who opened her own detective agency in 1936 after her husband died. She was as unsentimental as the hardest-boiled male PIs of her era, but it was pies she had a weakness for, not scotch. Together with Donald Lam, a streetwise disbarred lawyer who becomes her partner, Bertha had incredible longevity and featured in more than two dozen books. If a TV series had been made of them, they would be household names now like Perry Mason and Della Street – who were characters created by the same author, Erle Stanley Gardner, writing as AA Fair).

4. Miss Marple.
This legendary figure appeared in 12 of Agatha Christie's crime novels. While kindly and unassuming, she is also worldly with a mind like a steel trap. I love Agatha Christie. She's the author everyone reads when they're eleven years old and then leaves at holiday houses. She is still one of my greatest influences and my new book is a homage to her. 1222 is a contemporary reworking of the classic locked-room mystery. I even have a dénouement scene in a library at the end.

5. Lisbeth Salander.
In Lisbeth Salander, Stieg Larsson created the toughest nut in Sweden. Like Modesty, she's also a relative orphan, abandoned and abused by a corrupt state. On the outside, she is a socially awkward diminutive gothic punk, but smouldering under the surface there's a tough, kick-boxing, Taser-wielding terror. She's as indifferent to physical pain as she is to people, a world-class computer hacker with a fierce intelligence and a photographic memory. A complete original.

6. Annika Bengtzon.
Annika Bengzton is the creation of Swedish author Liza Marklund. This journalist heroine is the hardest-headed professional in Scandinavian literature today. A tabloid journalist in several of the early books, Bengtzon becomes a crime reporter after falling upon dangerous situations. The Bomber, which introduced Bengtzon to the reading public, is in my opinion the most powerful crime novel of the last 20 years.