A year ago, as one of his first official acts as President, Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769. The order banned anyone travelling from seven Muslim-majority countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States. “We don’t want them here” Trump said. In response, Comma Press have just published Banthology (£9.99, pb, 978 1910974360); a collection of short stories by writers from the seven countries included in the ban. Subtitled Stories from Unwanted Nations, Comma says the book “seeks to champion, and give voice to, a set of nations that the White House would like us to believe are populated entirely by terrorists.” Banthology is comprised of seven stories, one from each country, and is translated from the authors’ original languages. The stories vary in style and tone, ranging from satire to literary realism to allegory, but each one examines the personal and emotional impact of the restriction of freedom. “We wanted the book to encourage debate and discussion, and deliberately chose writers who have been affected directly or indirectly by the ban,” says one of the book’s editors, Sarah Cleave. “One of the authors, Anoud, moved to New York from Iraq just a month before the first travel ban came into place, and was, like many others, scared to leave in case she wasn’t allowed to return.” The majority of authors featured in Banthology are not only writers, but also journalists and activists who have long advocated for freedom of expression. As you would expect, there has been loads of great publicity for this title! You can read a brilliant interview with Sarah and the US publisher in Literary Hub, here. The State of the Arts said “this is finely spun magical realism to rival the likes of Borges and García-Márquez.” The Skinny gave it a 4* review, saying “Banthology aims to give voice to and better understand a set of nations who have been writ off in one sweeping stereotype, and it does so. Those in power try to silence many voices – this is a triumphant refusal to let that happen.” And the collection was included in BookBlast's Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds saying "The writing is varied, vibrant and superb. The collection brings together a brilliant line up of writers I have not read before" – you can read that article here. This was a brilliant idea for a book – and as you can see from the reviews, it has been brilliantly executed and stands up on literary merits as well as being, as Sarah says “a way to fight for precarious rights we often take for granted.”
It’s Muriel Spark’s 100th birthday this week and Polygon’s Spark Centenary celebrations are going magnificently! This week saw a fantastic Crème de la Crème event in a jam-packed Usher Hall in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival starring Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and Nicola Sturgeon! And this is only the beginning of the celebrations for Muriel Spark’s centenary year with more events planned at book festivals, film festivals, schools, universities, bookshops, libraries and galleries across the UK and beyond. To catch up on all things #MurielSpark100, please visit the website www.murielspark100.com. And do listen here to the latest Hitchhikers Guide to Scottish Literature podcast – which features all things Sparky! You can get all the bibliographic info on all twenty-two of the new Polygon hardback centenary editions here. Ali Smith wrote recently; “I long for Spark right now, the knowing Spark smile in the era of Trump." We quite agree Ali – you can read that Guardian article here.
Here's an interesting Guardian piece discussing how disability is portrayed in books and plays; and how from Richard III to Captain Ahab, literature reveals much about how we treat disabilities. And here's a great piece from Jessica Kingsley author Richy K Chandler talking through the challenges that come with creating diverse characters in stories, and why it is so important to do.
All at Sea by Julian Sayarer (£9.99, pb, 978 1911350231) has just been confirmed as the March Book of the Month in Geographical Magazine – and there’s a review coming up in the Daily Telegraph too. Julian Sayarer was the winner of the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year in 2016 for Interstate (£8.99, pb, 978 1910050934) and this new title about his adventures in Thailand looks equally enthralling. Julian travels to the small island of Surin, near the naval border of Thailand and Myanmar, and hears the stories of an indigenous people known as Moken 'sea gypsies' who struggle to maintain the same timeless existence as their ancestors. It’s published by Arcadia.
Those of us who love animals often believe that our pets know more about us than we realise. Gordon Smith is a well-known medium, and in his new title Animal Magic: The Extraordinary Proof of Our Pets' Intuition and Unconditional Love for Us (978 1781170635, pb, £10.99) he recounts some of the remarkable experiences that people have had with animals – both in the spirit world and our own. In this extraordinary book you can read about pets who saved their owners' lives, moving accounts of dogs who know intuitively when their owners are coming home, and animals who have found ways of proving they are still with their families after death. Through these amazing stories, Gordon shows just how deeply animals care for their human families and the profound understanding they have of the world around them. Animal Magic is currently the number one Amazon bestseller in the category of New Age Reincarnation – who even knew that WAS a category?! Throughout the book, Gordon shares his own experiences with his springer spaniel 'Cheeky' Charlie, who came into his life unexpectedly, completely overturning it! Animal Magic has been featured recently in the Daily Express and Chat It’s Fate and Gordon was talking about it on ITV’s This Morning this Tuesday (30th Jan). Gordon will also be on Talk Radio on 5th February. Animal Magic has just been published by Hay House.
Great piece in the Independent on Burns night on Nan Shepherd entitled “Move aside Robert Burns, it's time to celebrate Scotland's identity with a woman” which you can read here . It featured Into the Mountain by Charlotte Peacock (£20, hb, 978 1903385562) – the first biography of Nan Shepherd who is of course featured on the Scottish £5. This title, which is published by Galileo unravels some of the mysteries, dispels some of the rumours and gives insight into the life and work of this perceptive and intensely private woman.
There’s a nice article on Abandoned Wrecks in BLOC magazine this month – which is read by airline travellers coming in and out of Gatwick. It includes lots of the beautiful and evocative photographs which you can see at here, click on page 40 onwards. Abandoned Wrecks (hb, £19.99, 978 1782745204) explores 150 fascinating sites from all around the world and across centuries of history. Aside from the peculiar beauty of rusting hulks on forgotten battlefields, anemone-covered battleships on the seabed and cars being consumed by forests; the images and text introduce us to some fascinating stories in haunting style, showcasing these battered time capsules and their stories of wars, natural disasters and changing fortunes. It is published by Amber.
With the news this week of the death of Ingvar Kamprad the founder of IKEA; this is a good chance to sell some more copies of The Truth about IKEA (978 1908096074, £9.99, pb) which is published by Gibson Square. In it, Johan Stenebo reveals in close-up detail the brilliance of the flatpack giant in growing its business, as well as where it fell short of its green ideals, exposing the nepotism and murky financial dealings behind Sweden’s iconic export. Casting an insider’s eye over the practical application of the ‘IKEA philosophy,’ Stenebo provides an exclusive view inside this successful profit machine, and how Ingvar Kamprad secretly became one of the world’s richest men. The Financial Times called it “racy”, the Guardian “explosive”. Johan Stenebo was a key IKEA director for over twenty years and one of Ingvar Kamprad’s closest collaborators.
Owen Lowery has received £2,800 from the Royal Society of Literature as part of their Literature Matters Awards for his proposed project R. S. Thomas for a New Generation: The Poet Prevails. The project is a production of poetry, music and film, inspired by the poetry of R. S. Thomas and in Jonathan Keates’s, view this “mixed-media homage to R. S. Thomas is a tribute long overdue, celebrating one of Wales’s most idiosyncratic and sharply-defined poetic voices.” You can read more about it here and also here in the Bookseller. Owen’s own poetry collection Otherwise Unchanged (pb, £9.95, 978 1847772008) is published by Carcanet.
With all the publicity surrounding The Darkest Hour, there has been a surge of interest in all things Churchillian – and one of the most authoritative titles is Churchill Warrior: How a Military Life Guided Winston's Finest Hours by Brian Lavery which was published recently by Casemate (hb, 978 1910860229, £25). Forces News commissioned an article from Brian entitled Darkest Hour: How Much of it is True? which you can read here which has been much shared on social media. Brian Lavery is a renowned maritime and military Sunday Times bestselling history author and has written a fascinating and complete overview of how Churchill's military experiences and experience of command enabled him to lead Britain to victory. It covers his childhood, education, the First World War, the inter-war period and the events of the Second World War, including of course, the darkest hour. Military History Monthly have also commissioned an article on Churchill by Brian which will refer to the book.
Who’s watching the documentary Working Class White Men on Channel 4 where Professor Green explores why many working class white men in Britain feel demonised, forgotten and angry. It’s really interesting; you can catch up here. Social class remains a fundamental presence in British life in the twenty first century, woven into the very fabric of political discourse and undiminished by the end of mass industry. Three of our publishers have books on this very subject coming up this Spring. The New Working Class: How to Win Hearts, Minds and Votes by Claire Ainsley (pb, 978 1447344186, £12.99) is coming from Policy Press in March. The majority of people in the UK still identify as working class, yet no political party today can confidently articulate their interests. So, who is now working class and how do political parties gain their support? Based on the opinions and voices of lower and middle-income voters, this insightful book proposes what needs to be done for political parties to reconnect with the electorate and regain trust. This will specifically appeal to readers interested in whether the Conservatives can find a way into former Labour areas and is the first book, based on the opinions and voices of low income voters. It identifies the ‘new working class’, a key demographic looking to the 2020 election and Brexit. Class Matters: Inequality and Exploitation in 21st Century Britain by Charles Umney (pb, 9780745337081, £18.99) is a provocative critique of widespread popular assumptions regarding class which reasserts the importance of a Marxist framework for understanding pressing issues of inequality today. Charles Umney brings Marxist analysis out of the 19th century textiles mill, and into the call centres, office blocks and fast food chains of modern Britain. It is published by Pluto in May. And finally, The Working Class: Poverty, Education and Alternative Voices by Ian Gilbert (pb, £24.99, 9781781352786) draws together educators from across the UK who call on all those working with young people to adopt a new approach to children in challenging circumstances. When it comes to the education of children living in poverty there has been a great deal of talk about resilience and the drive for social mobility. Yet such terms are also part of a narrative which puts all the onus on young people to ‘pull themselves up’ or else accept their fate among the ranks of the ‘feckless poor’. This unique collaboration challenges this destructive narrative and calls on all those working with disadvantaged children to adopt a more enlightened, empathetic and practical approach. It’s coming in March from Crown House. There’s a blog and even a Spotify playlist to go with this book – which is an idea I like VERY much – you can access that here.
Both the Waitrose food trend predictions and the Trendspotter Panel of the Specialty Foods Association are tipping black-hued products as a major trend for 2018 – a reaction apparently to the unicorn and rainbow trends of the past few years! Top of the “blacklist” is liquorice. Hailed the latest superfood with benefits listed as helping fight depression and menopause symptoms, it comes from the root of a plant that’s been shown to fight inflammation and viral infections, not to mention constipation. It is used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine and is said to calm stomachs, open lungs, and ease minds and some are saying that it might be one of the most overlooked natural remedies to digestive health there is. So, this is the perfect time for Lorenz to be publishing Liquorice: A Cookbook: From Sticks to Syrup: Delicious Sweet and Savoury Recipes by Carol Wilson (hb, £10, 978 0754833659) which is published on 10 February. With gorgeous photographs by Nicki Dowey, the reader is expertly guided through the different products – roots, sticks, powder, syrups and essence - and shown which to use and when. This brilliantly priced hardback is both a fascinating history, and a treasure trove of recipes that will appeal even to people who say they don't like liquorice! Learn how to create a sumptuous liquorice cheesecake, choc chip muffins with liquorice buttercream, liquorice macarons and liquorice brownies as well as lots of tips on using liquorice in savoury dishes such as a glaze for chicken and roast pork, as a distinctive salad dressing, in a crisped topping for fish, and in drinks and preserves.
That’s all for now folks! More next week!
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