Havana is a city which many believe is poised at a watershed in its history, about to change forever. The Book of Havana, (which is part of the Reading the City series) is published on 22 February and brings together ten stories by Havana-based authors, offering different perspectives on a city that has stood in defiance of much of the rest of the world for decades. Covering everything from the hardships of the ‘Special Period’, to the frustrations of the city’s schizophrenic currency system, and the dispossession felt by so many of its young people (especially among the LGBT community) these stories take us beyond the intoxicating colours of the tourist-friendly Malecon and Old Town, and into a far more complex and contradictory place. The Book of Havana (978 1910974018, pb, £9.99) is edited by Orsola Casagrande and published by Comma.
Let’s get ourselves into a Cuban mood by listening here to the super-catchy song by Camila Cabello. Or would you prefer the Donald Trump version here?!
Caroline Bird’s In These Days of Prohibition published by Carcanet has just had a great review in the Sunday Times which said it “achieves serious funniness by filtering mental illness and addiction through the prism of pop-surrealism.” It was also much praised in the Telegraph which said “Since she published her debut aged 15 in 2002, Bird's witty writing has been wrongly dismissed in some quarters as lightweight. This brave eighth collection (a slant account of her year in rehab) proves those critics wrong from its first page.” You can read the whole piece here. And you can watch Caroline reading her work along with the other TS Eliot shortlisted poets here.
I really love the look of these three children’s titles out from Arcturus this month, they are paperbacks at £4.99 with a great funky retro-style cover design – what’s not to love! The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain (978 1788282567), What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge (978 1788282581) and The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit (978 1788282574) all feature the original, unabridged text and classic illustrations. These tales of adventure, bravery, curiosity, ambition, and triumph over adversity are loved the world over – and there are three more coming in February: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (978 1788282536) Heidi by Johanna Spyri (978 178828-254-3 and The Call of the Wild by Jack London (978 1788282550).
If you are not familiar with the three January titles – I can tell you they all contain famous (and frequently tear-jerking) scenes; Compass Points will now bring you a five-minute résumé! Firstly, here is the most famous moment from Tom Sawyer; then here is a précis of What Katy Did – which as you can see is something of a weep-fest, and finally here are the closing moments of The Railway Children – hankies at the ready please!
Mridula Baljekar, author of the Complete Indian Regional Cookbook: 300 Classic Recipes from the Great Regions of India (978 0754833598, £28.50, hb) appeared on Channel 4's Food Unwrapped last week creating a low-fat chicken korma; the programme told her it was hugely popular and got a lot of follow-up asking for the recipe. She's also talking to the channel about doing a series on healthy Indian cooking, so watch this space! In the meantime, her vibrant award-winning cookbook came out last summer from Lorenz, and really is one of the most comprehensive around with an enormous (512 pages) variety of dishes, an authentic sub-continental taste, and almost fool-proof step-by-step instructions. Recipes are grouped by region, taking you on a regional tour of India, and a real culinary adventure awaits anyone who buys this sumptuously illustrated book.
And if you would like to see Mridula Baljekar cooking some of her healthy and tasty recipes, you can watch them here on her YouTube channel.
How many of us judge other people? All the time? As journalist Catherine Gray says in Stella “I realised judgemental comments were constantly flying out of my mouth. I judged people for drinking too much (I drank way too much myself); I judged them for calling in sick to work (and did it myself); I judged colleagues for leaving uptight notes about washing-up in the staff kitchen …” The list goes on and I’m sure this is sounding all too familiar to most of us! Gabrielle Bernstein is clearly onto something by suggesting we all do a Judgment Detox (978 1788170734, £12.99, pb) with our lives, as her new book showing us how to Release the Beliefs That Hold You Back from Living a Better Life from Hay House has had LOADS of coverage – as well the big article in the Sunday Telegraph’s Stella magazine there are features in The Times, Marie Clare, Red Magazine, Woman and Home and lots more. I think this book is going to sell and sell – in these tricky times it’s nicer to be nice.
Sidelines: Selected Prose 1962–2015 by Michael Longley published by Enitharmon. (978 1911253297 hb, £30) had a good review in the TLS this week; a nice feature on the prose writings of this tender, wise and much-loved poet.
A BIG feature in last weekend's Mail on Sunday for the shocking, hilarious and brutally honest Biteback memoir Confessions of a Recovering MP (978 1785903359) by veteran Tory backbencher Nick de Bois. As always with a Mail article there was a big spike in sales on Amazon following its publication – don’t let them get all the benefit of this great publicity! Full of indiscreet anecdotes, this great read lifts the lid on David Cameron’s turbulent time as Prime Minister and the rise of Theresa May; and reveals what really goes on behind the scenes at Westminster. You can read the whole piece here.
And the Mail on Sunday will be running another extensive feature on 28 January – this time for Behind Diplomatic Lines by Patrick R. H. Wright (978 1785903380, hb, £25) which is published by Biteback on the same day. Do make sure you have it on display – there have also been recent diary mentions of this title in the Times. Patrick Wright was a diplomats at the forefront of some of the late twentieth century's most important global events. His five years at the Foreign Office found him dealing with the backlash from the Falklands War, the collapse of the Soviet Union, strained relations with the EU, the First Gulf War and, perhaps most challenging of all, the `fire and glares’ of Margaret Thatcher. Lord Wright's account is not only an essential documentation of a significant historical period, but is entertaining throughout, painting lurid pictures of ‘Britain versus the Rest' and recalling numerous amusing scenarios. He is also brutal in his assessment of various high- profile political figures – sure to make headlines!
Congratulations to debut novelist Sheena Kalayil who has won the Best First Novel in the Writers’ Guild Awards in a winners list dominated by women. The Bureau of Second Chances is a quiet but compelling story, based on a widower returning to his native India. Bookbag gave it five stars saying “There is plenty of light, with passages that will make you smile, but it has its share of darkness, touching on caste and social expectations in India, as well as reflections on marriage, illness and parenting ... I raced through the last third of the book on the edge of my seat, desperate to know how it turned out” while Scotland on Sunday wrote: “A bittersweet, uplifting tone makes it impossible to put down … Kalayil writes beautifully, painting colourful portraits of her characters and managing her story's unexpected twists with aplomb.” It’s published by Polygon.
Waterstones has reported an 80% jump in annual profits, with the bookseller predicting an even brighter future just six years after the rise of the ebook threatened its existence. James Daunt, said the chain had transformed its fortunes since he took over in 2011. “When I took over Waterstones was bust, it was losing horrendous amounts of money and the Kindle was eating away at sales,” he said. “It did look very bleak. Now it doesn’t, it’s nice and sensibly run, with every prospect of doing better still.” Read more on that story in the Guardian here.
That Ann Quin renaissance? It's happening said Jonathan Coe in the Spectator. The Guardian Review agreed, and you can read Jennifer Hodgson's fascinating piece about “the free-wheeling life and wild, weird fiction of the cult 1960s author” in the New Statesman here. Unmapped Country: Stories and Fragments (978 1911508144, £10, pb) was published yesterday by And Other Stories. As Jennifer writes: “The stories collected in The Unmapped Country for the first time distil Quin at her wildest and often her most virtuosic. And collectively they demonstrate, in rare and unexpected ways, an imagination committed to pushing British fiction into weirder, dirtier and more anarchic places.” Please do read it if you haven’t done already!
Here's a fab piece in the Irish Times where independent publishers tell us about their top reads for 2018 by selecting two of their books they’re most excited about this year. Lots of good publicity for our publishers including And Other Stories, New Island, Parthian and Comma who all forecast exciting times ahead. Hurrah! 2018 will certainly be a great year for Welsh publishing, as it’s Parthian's 25th anniversary! “So, we’re looking back and seeing if it’s all been worth it with the best of our Carnival of Voices series” says one of its founding partners, Richard Lewis Davies.
Sinéad Morrissey will be on Radio 4’s Poetry Please on Sunday 4th February at 4.30pm. Her many awards include first prize in the UK National Poetry Competition, the Irish Times Poetry Prize (2009, 2013), and the TS Eliot Prize (2013). In 2017 On Balance won the Forward Prize for Best Collection, a Poetry Book Society Choice Award, and was also shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. She’s published by Carcanet.
So, let’s finish with some of that stonking Memphis 60s sound! Firstly, how about some Elvis. And how about a bit of Aretha? But we have to end with where the book starts; with the city's most famous recording artist, Otis Redding, who died in a plane crash in the final days of 1967. Frankly, we could probably all try a little more tenderness. Music doesn’t get much better than this.
That’s all for now folks! More next week!
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