Wowsers – a real fizzer of a review in the Guardian this week for a Room Little Darker – the debut short story collection from June Caldwell which you can read in full here. “The Irish fiction renaissance continues with a gothic collection of short stories that shock and fascinate in equal measure” it said, comparing her writing to Irving Welsh, William Burroughs and Kathy Acker – pretty good company to be in! “As Irish fiction once again awakens to its true power and potential, Caldwell emerges as one of those giving the tradition a good old-fashioned shaking …. couldn’t get much blacker. It reads like boiling tar… If you prefer your Irish fiction sweet, ponderous and full to the brim with twinkles and craic – horseman, pass by. A work more attentive to – and understanding of – the terrible derangements of simply being alive I have not read in a long time.” Room Little Darker (pb, £9.99, 978 1848406094) has just been published by New Island Books.
Book sales continue to rise, hurrah! According to Mintel, sales of physical books are forecast to rise by 6% this year to £1.7 billion while sales of e-books are predicted to fall by 1 % to £337 million in 2017. And no doubt we can attribute this to the excellent titles we are publishing and the superb job that the nation’s bookshops are doing selling them! Pats on the back all round then. But wait, what’s this? Apparently, the rise is actually due to a "shelfie" interior design craze sweeping the UK! Those cool cats out there are filling their living spaces with bookshelves, correctly believing that this makes them look like quirky, fascinating individuals to their dinner party guests and on social media! And having popped up the IKEA Billy Bookcase, they then realise they need several hundred yards of clever looking books to put on it! Can this possibly be right? Have a look at the article here in the Telegraph to find out!
There have been no end of fabulous events and publicity for the wonderful Wild Things books this summer – I spied a THREE-page feature for Hidden Beaches (pb, £16.99, 978 0957157378) last weekend in the Telegraph. And there’s an event coming up with three of the Wild Things authors at Stamford’s in Bristol. This great bookshop is celebrating their 20th anniversary of being in Bristol this week – Happy birthday guys!
I see Stamford’s Bristol also have an event coming up on 24 August with author Julian Sayarer talking about Interstate: Hitchhiking Through the State of a Nation (pb, £8.99, 978 1910050934) which was published last year by Arcadia. This story of US morals found on the roads between New York and San Francisco grapples with the fault lines in US society and tells a tale of Steinbeck and Kerouac, as well as the frustrated energy of American culture and politics. Readers have found it a “colourful and sharp examination of the current soul of the USA, viewing it from its underbelly” and “enlightening, depressing, challenging and fascinating in equal measure.”
Talking of American politics, in January, President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting all refugee admissions for 120 days and temporarily barring entry to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries. Mass protests followed, and the order has since been blocked, revised and challenged by judges, politicians, activists and artists alike. Comma’s forthcoming collection Banthology (pb, £9.99, 978 1910974360) features seven stories written directly in response to the travel ban. There is an event promoting this title at the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival next week, bringing together writers from some of the seven banned countries, and asking the question: what good is art in response to such times? Zaher Omareen and Cristina Ali Farah will both be reading from the stories in Banthology. The collection also features stories by Rania Mamoun, Anoud, Wajdi al-Ahdal and Najwa Bin Shatwan and is edited by Sarah Cleave. It is published by Comma in September.
The combination of literature and bans has a long history of course – here is an entertaining trawl though a top ten banned books!
“Anne Tyler meets Raymond Carver” says the information sheet, and fans of either of these authors will definitely enjoy Old Buildings in North Texas – a wry, witty and warm debut novel from Jen Waldo, which is out in paperback in August. Reviews for the hardback were universally positive: “Old Buildings in North Texas is about addiction recovery, familial relationships, and a journey to self-awareness. The narrative voice is strong and the main character, Olivia, is witty, complex, and compelling. The dialogue flows smoothly and is realistic. And the idea of exploring abandoned buildings in Texas is intriguing.” “The writing style flows like a river. I could not put this down and I didn't want it to end.” If you would like a reading copy of the hardback to discover the delights of this title for yourself, then please email Nuala at firstname.lastname@example.org. Old Buildings in North Texas (pb, £8.99, 978 1911350170) is published by Arcadia on 17 August.
And if you want to immerse yourself in the experience of actually looking round an old building in Texas – then have a look here!
There an interview in the Times T2 section coming up with Theodore Dalrymple, talking about his new book The Knife Went In: Real-Life Murderers and Our Culture (978 1783341184, hb, £16.99) which is published on 21 July by Gibson Square. Since the 1990s, Theodore Dalrymple has witnessed its modern variety in real life. For over a quarter of a century he has treated and examined many more murderers than most as a prison doctor, psychiatrist, and court expert in some of Britain's most deprived areas. Here, he delves deep into his life of personal encounters with the murderous underclass to determine what has changed overtime and what has not. Inimitably, his unique portrait of modern criminals is at the same time a parable of dysfunction in our own culture. Through his experiences, he exposes today's vicious cult of denial, blaming and psychobabble that hides behind a corrosive sentiment of caring. Illustrated with scores of eye-opening, true-life vignettes, The Knife Went In is in turn hilariously funny, chillingly horrifying, and always unexpectedly revealing. The title refers to a comment made by some of the murders Dalrymple has encountered, who felt “it was the victim of the stabbing who was the real author of the killer’s action: if he hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have been stabbed. My murderer was by no means alone in explaining his deed as due to circumstances beyond his control. As it happens, there are three stabbers at present in the prison who used precisely the same expression when describing to me what happened. “The knife went in,” they said when pressed to recover their allegedly lost memories of the deed. The knife went in—unguided by human hand, apparently.” The Sunday Telegraph said this was a book “crying out to be written” and the Observer called it a “cultural highlight” while the Guardian praised it for its “surgical demolition”.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that TV history was made when Colin Firth's brooding Mr Darcy emerged dripping wet from Pemberley's lake. THAT scene from the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice has clung to our collective conscience as closely as did Firth's white linen shirt to his sculpted torso. Two hundred years after the writer's death, Professor Kathryn Sutherland who is the lead academic on the bi-centenary celebrations, gives her historical perspective here on the long relationship between Jane Austen and the BBC – a most entertaining read!
Last week we were talking about Alexander McCall Smith’s evocative new short story collection, Chance Developments: Unexpected Love Stories (978 1846973703, pb, £9.99) based on old black and white photographs and published by Polygon. This short film caught my eye on the BBC about a Brazilian artist who is bringing new life old photographs in a different way – by adding colour. Have a look, it really is extraordinary how much more vivid and relevant the photos seem when they look more modern, which maybe says something about our ability to empathise.
'50 is the new 30 - haven't you heard?' Or so says Ben Wilde's record producer on the eve of his comeback. If only Ben could win back ex-girlfriend, Kate, he'd be a happy man. But married Kate has moved on, and moved out to Eden Hill, a quiet housing estate in the suburbs. Or is it? Alongside a colourful cast of friends and family, Kate is living proof that older does not always mean wiser because in Eden Hill, there's temptation around every corner. Seeking Eden (pb, £8.99, 978 1911331896) by Beverly Harvey is the perfect summer beach read, and it’s just out from Urbane. There’s been lots of publicity for this author in her local Kent – both in print and on local radio.
A big feature this week in the Mirror for The Gender Agenda (pb, £9.99, 978 1785923203) which is out from Jessica Kingsley on 21 July. Why do boys get sturdy shoes and girls delicate bows? Why do girls learn ballet and boys do martial arts? Boys play with trucks and girls with dolls' houses? Boys get toy dinosaurs and girls get toy unicorns? Ros Ball and James Millar chronicles the differences they noticed while raising their children, and this very thought-provoking title (adapted from the authors’ tweets and blogs and diaries) shows how culture, family and even the authors themselves are part of the 'gender police' that can influence a child's identity. There’s loads to enjoy and debate in the Mirror article – which you can read here and this is a topic that pretty much every parent has a strong opinion on, so there’s bound to be loads more media buzz for this one – there have already been pieces in the Sunday Express, the New Statesman and the Huffington Post. Jo Swinson, former Lib Dem Equalities Minister said of it “One daughter. One son. Two different worlds. This book is a fascinating insight in how gender inequality is embedded in our society from the earliest years of a child's life.”
There was a two page-spread in the Mail this week entitled by Helena Frith Powell, author of Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles: Look and Feel Ten Years Younger Without Effort (978 1783340910, pb, £8.99) published by Gibson Square. It mentioned the book, and you can read that piece here.
Biteback had two titles in this year’s Saturday Guardian’s Best Holiday Reads 2017 which you can see here. Kazuo Ishiguro chose Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World (pb, £9.99, 978 1785902147) saying “Both Evan Davis and Matthew d’Ancona recently published excellent books on our so-called post-truth era, but I’d like to highlight James Ball’s Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World for its vivid analysis of how the business models and incentives currently prevailing in digital media render decent discourse all but inaudible.”
And Phillipe Sands chose The Greatest Comeback (hb, £20, 978 1785901393) writing “History and memoir offer insights into other times and lives that make Britain’s current miserable travails marginally more tolerable. The Greatest Comeback by David Bolchover is astonishing, not least for its unlikely melding of football and mass murder, two of my daily passions.”
Hamlet, starring the very wonderful Andrew Scott, is currently playing to packed houses at the Harold Pinter Theatre. This is a radical new version of Shakespeare’s classic, reworked and directed by Robert Icke, who the Observer called "one of the most important forces in today’s theatre" and the script is published by Oberon (LOVE the cover!) This new production has had absolutely cracking reviews: “an admirable lucidity. Much of the time it feels like a modern and highly charged family drama, steeped in Nordic Noir... Icke’s interpretations of classic plays are unapologetically audacious, yet they have a rigorous logic... rich and beautiful” said the Evening Standard; and there will be a demand for this new paperback. Hamlet (pb, £9.99, 978 1786822246) by Shakespeare/Robert Icke is available now and you can find out more on the Oberon website here.
"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy": Andrew Scott plays Moriarty to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock of course – oh go on then, you know you want to see them; here are his very best moments!
That’s all for now folks! More next week!
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