Beta
X

Bookface Blog

RSS
May 16, 2021

This account of the ‘Preston model’, the Lancashire city’s bold wealth-building scheme whose champions include Labour’s John McDonnell, fails to address to what degree it works

We’d all like to believe in Preston. The Labour-led Lancashire city has, over the last decade, been pioneering its own version of community wealth-building, a concept described as both “guerrilla localism” and “extreme common sense”. What it means, at its simplest, is that money spent in a city by “anchor institutions” – hospitals, universities, housing associations, the council – as much as possible stays in the city. Contracts for catering or construction, rather than going to faceless London-based or international corporations, go to local businesses.

Rather than go to remote shareholders, cashflow and profits stay in the immediate area, not only giving economic benefits to citizens, but also involvement in and ownership of local decision-making. Residents can “take back control” – not in the ersatz sense offered by Brexit slogans, but in concrete and practical ways. In what might have been a classic “red wall” area – an old industrial town where voters feel let down by successive governments – the Labour vote has held up, including in the recent local elections.

There’s a shortage of voices from satisfied citizens, as opposed to the businesses most likely to approve of the model

Continue reading...
Read More
May 16, 2021

The ‘household book’ of Martha Lloyd, who lived with the Austens, contains recipes giving an authentic flavour of the writer’s life

“Grate the Cheese & add to it one egg, & a teaspoonful of Mustard, & a little Butter,” advises Martha Lloyd, a close friend of Jane Austen, in her recipe for one of the author’s favourite meals, “Toasted Cheese”. “Send it up on a toast or in paper Trays.”

This recipe is part of the “household book” written between 1798 and 1830 by Lloyd, who lived with Austen, her sister Cassandra and their mother (also called Cassandra) for years. The four women lived together in a cottage in Chawton, Hampshire, where Jane wrote, revised and had published all of her novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 16, 2021
Hollie NcNish, Modern American Short Stories, Twins
Read More
May 16, 2021
The best book deals of the day, curated by Book Riot.
Read More
May 16, 2021

The Nobel-winning psychologist on applying his ideas to organisations, why we’re not equipped to grasp the spread of a virus, and the massive disruption that’s just round the corner

Daniel Kahneman, 87, was awarded the Nobel prize in economics in 2002 for his work on the psychology of judgment and decision-making. His first book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, a worldwide bestseller, set out his revolutionary ideas about human error and bias and how those traits might be recognised and mitigated. A new book, Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment, written with Olivier Sibony and Cass R Sunstein, applies those ideas to organisations. This interview took place last week by Zoom with Kahneman at his home in New York.

I guess the pandemic is quite a good place to start. In one way it has been the biggest ever hour-by-hour experiment in global political decision-making. Do you think it’s a watershed moment in the understanding that we need to “listen to science”?
Yes and no, because clearly, not listening to science is bad. On the other hand, it took science quite a while to get its act together.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 16, 2021

The rollicking story of a female bareknuckle boxer in Victorian England makes creative use of the novelist’s family history

Mick Kitson’s second novel, following 2018’s Sal, is practically the definition of a ripping yarn: a plucky young “Romi” girl, Annie, is bought by the Tipton Slasher, a bareknuckle boxer, with the winnings from his final fight. He raises her like a daughter and she follows his footsteps into the ring. The sight of a woman fighting “fisty” in Victorian England draws eager crowds and brings our heroine fame, fortune and an Adonis-like prizefighter of a husband. But these illegal fights lead Annie into peril, too, as she encounters vicious opponents, enraged lawmakers and nasty toffs who want her for their private entertainment…

Kitson drew on his family’s myths – Annie and the Slasher are based on his ancestors – although he cheerfully admits the stories his grandmother told about them were notoriously unreliable. No matter: this is historical fiction rich in fun rather than meticulous fact, Kitson’s imagination allowed to roam and play.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 16, 2021

The folk singer offers a lyrical homage to the endangered migrant bird whose uniquely beautiful song he has been communing with up close for years

A few years ago, a group of friends and I followed Barbara Dickson, the Scottish pop star turned folk singer, into a wood deep in the green heart of Kent. We were there as part of Singing With Nightingales, an immersive experience run by another folk singer, Sam Lee. It was night and we had no torches. We came to a small clearing where we sat, silent, until from far off, then closer, and then so close that the sound seemed to be the voice of the very trees around us, a nightingale sang. After listening to its otherworldly carolling for a while, Lee and Dickson took turns singing back to the nightingale, old shanties and folk songs, praising the beauty of its voice, recognising the importance of its role in that bright space where culture and nature meet.

Now Lee, a tousle-haired former Mercury prize nominee (for his 2012 debut album, Ground of Its Own), has turned from song to prose with The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird, a beautiful, lyrical, heartfelt book about the songbird. Part nature writing, part memoir, part miscellany, every page of this book benefits from the incredible intimacy that Lee has built up with the bird over the years of his “undoubtedly romantic and whimsical” pilgrimages to listen to, and sing back to, nightingales.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 16, 2021
In “Why Peacocks?” Sean Flynn adopts three of these amazing animals and learns to see their personality and intelligence and foibles and charms.
Read More
May 16, 2021
Carol Leonnig’s “Zero Fail” is a thoroughly researched and devastating indictment of the United States Secret Service.
Read More
May 16, 2021

The American journalist and author on his history of the Sacklers, the family at the centre of the US opioids controversy, and a special night with the Scorpions in Ukraine

The 45-year-old American journalist Patrick Radden Keefe has written two of the most compelling nonfiction books of recent years and also created and presented one of the best podcasts – Wind of Change, an investigation into whether the classic Scorpions song was actually written by the CIA. Somehow, he combines these projects with his day job as a staff writer on the New Yorker. His new book, Empire of Pain, is a history of the Sackler family, a dynasty long known for cultural philanthropy, some of which has been funded since the 1990s with profits from their company Purdue Pharma and by the production of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin. Keefe’s previous book, Say Nothing, an investigation into the murder of Jean McConville by the IRA in 1972, won the 2019 Orwell prize.

Opioids were responsible for the overdose deaths of nearly 500,000 Americans from 1999 to 2019. It’s hard not to feel very angry towards some members of the Sackler family, both for the way they promoted OxyContin and their lack of contrition. Did you feel that too?
As I was doing my reporting, there were moments where my eyes would bug out of my head. I was shocked. I kept thinking I couldn’t be more shocked. Then I would be. But when it came to the writing of the book, it was important to me to keep the temperature pretty cool and to just allow the evidence and the stories to speak for themselves.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 16, 2021

The author and punk musician draws parallels between her own life and that of the genre-blurring sister of Beyoncé in this hymn to black individualism

The cover image of Why Solange Matters, the first book in Faber’s new Music Matters series charting the story of groundbreaking musicians (Marianne Faithfull and Karen Carpenter to follow), shows the singer washed in red light, her arms loose by her side, gazing towards the audience, or at someone she recognises. In that moment she is bordering on heavenly. Though the photograph was taken five years ago, around the time of Solange’s A Seat at the Table album, for me it conjures a lyric from Down With the Clique on her 2019 LP When I Get Home:

We were rollin’ up the street
Chasing the divine, oh

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021

From Sally Rooney to Raven Leilani, female novelists have captured the literary zeitgeist, with more buzz, prizes and bestsellers than men. But is this cultural shift something to celebrate or rectify?

In March, Vintage, one of the UK’s largest literary fiction divisions, announced the five debut novelists it would be championing this year: Megan Nolan, Pip Williams, Ailsa McFarlane, Jo Hamya and Vera Kurian.

All five of them are women. But you could be forgiven for not noticing it, so commonplace are female-dominated lists in 2021. Over the past 12 months, almost all of the buzz in fiction has been around young women: Patricia Lockwood, Yaa Gyasi, Raven Leilani, Avni Doshi, Lauren Oyler. Ask a novelist of any gender who they are reading and they will almost certainly mention one of Rachel Cusk, Ottessa Moshfegh, Rachel Kushner, Gwendoline Riley, Monique Roffey or Maria Stepanova. Or they will be finding new resonances in Anita Brookner, Zora Neale Hurston, Natalia Ginzburg, Octavia Butler, Ivy Compton-Burnett. The energy, as anyone in the publishing world will tell you, is with women.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021

Frances Wilson’s book is as magnificently flawed as its subject – and a work of art in its own right

In a letter of 1913, DH Lawrence described his belief that in order to be an artist, it is necessary to be profoundly religious: a veritable martyr, in fact. “I always feel as if I stood naked for the fire of Almighty God to go through me,” wrote this man who had always repudiated his christian name, which was David (friends called him Lorenzo). “I often think of my dear Saint Lawrence on his gridiron, when he said ‘Turn me over, brothers, I am done enough on this side.’”

In her new biography, Frances Wilson, who has been quietly in thrall to the novelist since she was a student, does not grill him lightly over charcoal; not for her the righteous disgust of Kate Millett, whose feminist attack on the author in Sexual Politics in 1970 more or less did for him, at least in our universities (a cancellation avant la lettre). Nevertheless, her book is a highly flammable thing. If its subject is a crazed prophet, sex-obsessed and violently contrarian, who stalks Bloomsbury drawing rooms breathing fire all over everyone he meets, her own style is hardly any less combustible.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021

Richard Cohen’s new book, which has reportedly been dropped by his US publisher despite extensive additions, is still set for British release next month

It has taken nearly a decade to research and write, and runs to more than 750 pages. But The History Makers, described as “an epic exploration of those who write about the past”, has itself been rewritten after its author failed to take into account enough black historians, academics and writers.

Richard Cohen was told by his publisher to produce new chapters and expand others after failing to sufficiently acknowledge the roles of black people and African Americans.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021
This week, discover the cultural and societal impact of sneakers, practice your math skills or explore what a net zero climate might look like.
Read More
May 15, 2021

The prize-winning poet on her bond with her giggly late gran, embracing blush-making subject matter and why reading poetry is key to writing

Hollie McNish, 38, grew up in Reading, went on from a comprehensive school to Cambridge and has attracted an online following of millions for performances of her poetry. Winner of the Ted Hughes prize for new work in poetry in 2016, she combines protest and humour with a refreshing lack of self-importance. She is a natural champion of women, an ace inequality spotter – a mum who refuses to keep mum. Her new book, Slug, is in no way sluggish: it frisks, rages and rejoices.

You’ve a highly developed sense of injustice – where from?
It’s from my mum. She’s a nurse and has seen it all in terms of people with illnesses and what they have to face. She’s given me a sense of how lucky I am. I’m in a privileged position to speak out because although my family might be embarrassed by my poems, they’re not going to disown me.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021
The best book deals of the day, curated by Book Riot.
Read More
May 15, 2021
In our May 27, 2021 issue, we published Michael Kazin’s “Ending the Kennedy Romance,” a review of the first volume of Frederik Logevall’s biography of JFK. Kazin begins with a question: “Why, nearly six decades after his murder, do Americans still care so much about and, for the most part, continue to think so highly […]
Read More
May 15, 2021

The author of the Women’s prize-shortlisted The Vanishing Half talks about race, the dangers of nostalgia and writing only what pleases her

There was a rule to which Brit Bennett adhered during the writing of her novel The Vanishing Half. It is a sprawling blockbuster that opens in a small town in Louisiana in 1954 and unspools almost to the present day. It takes twin girls, Desiree and Stella, and through their divergent fortunes tells a story of race and class in America, in which history appears much closer than one might think. Bennett’s rule of composition was this: in a narrative heaving with sadness and disappointment, whenever the writing started to drag like homework, she broke off, only to pick up again when she’d rediscovered the joy. “Just write the parts that are exciting to you,” she thought, “and figure out later how you’re going to connect it.”

The smart premise of The Vanishing Half helped to propel it to the top of the bestseller lists in the US, where it appeared as one of the New York Times’s best books of 2020 and was longlisted for the National book award. Desiree and Stella, twin girls born and raised in the fictional town of Mallard, make a startling decision after running away in their teens. Mallard, which “had always been more of an idea than a place,” writes Bennett, is peopled exclusively with light-skinned African Americans, “fair and blonde and redheaded, the darkest ones no swarthier than a Greek”. After arriving in New Orleans, one twin decides to “pass” as white; the other remains black. Through this device, Bennett is able to explore not only “shadeism” and the arbitrary demarcations between racial groups, but other social boundaries, too. “A lot of stories about passing are about these multiple forms of passing,” she says. When Stella marries a wealthy white man, she is confronted with the task of not only performing whiteness (“there was nothing to being white except boldness,” writes Bennett), but performing wealthiness, too.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021

Despite the obstacles thrown his way, the novelist remains indestructible. He talks about strong women, ‘moral censorship’ and the ‘great wound’ of his life

Poor Salman Rushdie. The one thing I am most keen to talk to him about is the one thing he absolutely, definitely does not want to discuss. “I really resist the idea of being dragged back to that period of time that you insist on bringing up,” he grumbles when I make the mistake of mentioning it twice in the first 15 minutes of our conversation. He is in his elegant, book-lined apartment, a cosy armchair just behind him, the corridor to the kitchen over his shoulder. He’s in New York, which has been his home for the past 20 years, and we are talking – as is the way these days – on video. But even through the screen his frustration is palpable, and I don’t blame him. He’s one of the most famous literary authors alive, having won pretty much every book prize on the planet, including the best of the Booker for Midnight’s Children. We’re meeting to talk about his latest book, Languages Of Truth, which is a collection of nonfiction from the last two decades, covering everything from Osama bin Laden to Linda Evangelista; from Cervantes to Covid. So why do I keep bringing up the fatwa?

We try again. I want to do better because, really, he’s a lot of fun to chat to. Given his success and his history, pomposity should be a given, paranoia would be understandable. But this thoughtful man with an easy giggle is neither, as happy to talk about Field Of Dreams (“A very good film!”) as he is about Elena Ferrante, of whom he’s a fan. Also, Rushdie, 73, tells me, that since he recovered from Covid last spring, he’s been working on his first play. “Ooh, that’s exciting,” I say. “What’s it about?”

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021
Tayari Jones reconsiders a watershed moment of Black storytelling, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place, nearly 40 years later. | Lit Hub How an obsessive scholar saved Iceland’s literary legacy, while a three-day fire burned down Copenhagen—and virtually every book in it. | Lit Hub History Pride and Property: Phyllis Richardson on the homes that influenced Austen’s writing, from […]
Read More
May 15, 2021

The author reflects on the loss of her father, mourned at a distance during the pandemic, in an exquisitely written tribute

On 10 June 2020, the writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie experienced “the worst day of my life. There is such a thing as the worst day of life, and please, dear universe, I do not want anything ever to top it.” Her beloved father had died suddenly at the age of 88. She had talked to him only the day before, on a Zoom call from her home in Maryland to her parents’ in Abba, south-east Nigeria. Every Sunday, the family – a brother in England, two siblings in Lagos and three in the US – had engaged, like so many the world over, in a new routine of remote communication: “our boisterous lockdown ritual”. In the book, she recalls her last moments with her father. “On 8 June Okey [Adichie’s brother in Lagos] went to Abba to see him and said he looked tired. On 9 June, I kept our chat brief, so that he could rest. Ka chi fo, he said. Good night. His last words to me.” When another brother, Chuks, telephones to let her know the awful news, she recalls: “I came undone.”

Notes on Grief, written during the weeks and months following the death, (it first appeared as an essay in the New Yorker) is both emotional and austere, a work of dignity and of unravelling. Spare and yet spiritually nutritious, the book serves as a reflection of Adichie’s turmoil in loss. It is also an exquisitely written tribute to her father, James Nwoye Adichie, who was Nigeria’s first professor of statistics : his self-effacement, sense of calm and wry humour shine through. A lover of sudoku puzzles, he was fondly called “the original dada” by Adichie.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 15, 2021
How a politician who died in 2003 continues to dominate much of today’s political discussion.
Read More
May 15, 2021
The writer and artist spent nearly three years researching why so many of us feel so alone. What she found was much worse than she imagined.
Read More
May 15, 2021

A new crop of novels are exploring work culture and burnout – yet for many, the office feels like a distant memory. In the light of coronavirus, where will this literature go next?

What has become of the office? Its small, mundane daily rituals, its smells – of over-boiled coffee, synthetic fabrics, other people’s perfume – the low hum of phone conversations and the whirring of the printer. To those of us who are still working from home, it feels like a faraway place, a half-forgotten memory, and to those who have returned it is utterly transformed: masked, distanced, hushed.

It’s a strange time to be appraising the workplace novel. Will things return to how they were before, or will we look back on our time of working long, gruelling hours in the office with relief, or even nostalgia? I wonder if books set in offices will make us wistful about some aspects of pre-pandemic life or if, instead, these narratives will act as a warning against returning to a working culture that felt, to many of us, unreliable and unstable.

Continue reading...
Read More
Page 2 of 249 [2]