We think: fascinating discussion on the art of fiction
For the last twenty years, Booker Prize-winning author George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years.
Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are a fascinating take on how fiction works and why it's more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.
We think: if you're not already a fan, you will be
John Cooper Clarke is a phenomenon: Poet Laureate of Punk, rock star, fashion icon, TV and radio presenter, social and cultural commentator.
I Wanna Be Yours covers an extraordinary life, filled with remarkable personalities: from Nico to Chuck Berry, from Bernard Manning to Linton Kwesi Johnson, Elvis Costello to Gregory Corso, Gil Scott Heron, Mark E. Smith and Joe Strummer, and on to more recent fans and collaborators Alex Turner, Plan B and Guy Garvey. Interspersed with stories of his rock and roll and performing career, John also reveals his encyclopaedic take on popular culture over the centuries: from Baudelaire and Edgar Allan Poe to Pop Art, pop music, the movies, fashion, football and showbusiness – and much, much more.
There Are Places in the World Where Rules Are Less Important Than Kindness
by Carlo Rovelli
We think: dip into this and you'll be instantly diverted
One of the most inspiring thinkers of our age, the bestselling author of 'Seven Brief Lessons on Physics' transforms the way we think about the world with his reflections on science, history and humanity. In this collection of writings, Carlo Rovelli follows his curiosity and invites us on a voyage through science, history, philosophy and politics. Written with his usual clarity and wit, these pieces range widely across time and space: from Newton's alchemy to Einstein's mistakes, from Nabokov's butterflies to Dante's cosmology, from travels in Africa to the consciousness of an octopus, from mind-altering psychedelic substances to the meaning of atheism. Charming, pithy and elegant, this book is the perfect gateway to the universe of one of the most influential scientists of our age.
We think: an enduring theme but incredibly evocative of past times
Slightly Foxed put me onto this follow up to Rosamund Lehman's better known 'Invitation to the Waltz' and I'm glad I tracked it down. Years ahead of its time when first published in 1936, this subtle and powerful novel shocked readers with its searing honesty and passionate portrayal of clandestine love. It is beautifully written and eminently believable.
If you enjoyed the Booker Prize winning Girl, Woman, Other (and if you haven't yet read it, you're missing out), why not try one of Bernardine Evaristo's earlier novels? We recommend the Emperor's Babe as a fun, escapist and provocative read. Evaristo's verse fiction will take you back to Gracechurch Street, Londinium AD 211 where Zuleika, a reluctant teenage bride, catches the eye of the most powerful man on earth, the Emperor Septimus and the trouble really starts...
Humankind makes a new argument: that it is realistic, as well as revolutionary, to assume that people are good.
In this major book, internationally bestselling author Rutger Bregman takes some of the world's most famous studies and events and reframes them, providing a new perspective on the last 200,000 years of human history. From the real-life Lord of the Flies to the Blitz, a Siberian fox farm to an infamous New York murder, Stanley Milgram's Yale shock machine to the Stanford prison experiment, Bregman shows how believing in human kindness and altruism can be a new way to think – and act as the foundation for achieving true change in our society.
A wonderfully whimsical evocation of time and place, romance and emotional brutality, set in an out-of-season seaside town on the border between North Korea and South Korea. The small cast of characters weave seamlessly about the central protagonist without ever interacting, yet, while sparsely-drawn, the depth of their impact in establishing the human contradictions that run through this book is impressive in a first novel. Even the extensive white space on the page between vignettes of action is atmospheric, while the denouement leaves the reader with a platform to develop the story in her own way. Undoubtedly, for Shua Dusapin, “less is more” but the relative brevity and slow pace of this non-narrative provide an entry into another world, where the reader can pause, observe, think, feel and forget.
An engaging, and hugely enjoyable guide to poetry by one of our greatest champions of literature.
What is poetry? If music is sound organised in a particular way, poetry is a way of organising language. It is language made special so that it will be remembered and valued. John Carey tells the stories behind the world's greatest poems, from the oldest surviving one written nearly four thousand years ago to those being written today. Carey looks at poets whose works shape our view of the world - such as Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Whitman, and Yeats.
He looks too at more recent poets, including Derek Walcott, Marianne Moore, and Maya Angelou, who have started to question what makes a poem "great" in the first place.
This little history shines a light on the richness and variation of the world's poems-and the elusive quality that makes them all the more enticing.
Siberia's story is traditionally one of exiles, penal colonies and unmarked graves. Yet there is another tale to tell...
Dotted throughout this remote land are pianos - grand instruments created during the boom years of the nineteenth century, and humble, Soviet-made uprights that found their way into equally modest homes. They tell the story of how, ever since entering Russian culture under the influence of Catherine the Great, piano music has run through the country like blood. How these pianos travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place is testament to noble acts of fortitude by governors, adventurers and exiles.
That stately instruments might still exist in such a hostile landscape is remarkable. That they are still capable of making music in far-flung villages is nothing less than a miracle. But this is Siberia, where people can endure the worst of the world - and where music reveals a deep humanity in the last place on earth you would expect to find it.
We think: dip into this and be instantly diverted!
In the context of the current corona virus outbreak, poet laureate Simon Armitage reminds us that poetry can be consoling in times of crisis because it 'asks us just to focus, and think, and be contemplative'.
Paper Aeroplane: Poems 1989-2014 is the author's own selection from across a quarter-century of work, drawing upon all of his award-winning poetry collections.
You can also read his new poem Lockdown, penned to address the coronavirus here
We think: a rediscovered classic - thanks to the customer who recommended it
In 1934, the painter Christiane Ritter leaves her comfortable life in Austria and travels to the remote Arctic island of Spitsbergen, to spend a year there with her husband. She thinks it will be a relaxing trip, a chance to “read thick books in the remote quiet and, not least, sleep to my heart’s content”, but when Christiane arrives she is shocked to realize that they are to live in a tiny ramshackle hut on the shores of a lonely fjord, hundreds of miles from the nearest settlement, battling the elements every day, just to survive.
At first, Christiane is horrified by the freezing cold, the bleak landscape the lack of equipment and supplies… But as time passes, after encounters with bears and seals, long treks over the ice and months on end of perpetual night, she finds herself falling in love with the Arctic’s harsh, otherworldly beauty, gaining a great sense of inner peace and a new appreciation for the sanctity of life.
Brilliant Maps: An Atlas for Curious Minds
by Ian Wright
We think: thought-provoking and fun
Have you ever wondered which countries have North Korean embassies or considered the historic vs present geographical distribution of lions? How about the 22 countries that the UK has not invaded or what the map of Europe would look like if borders were drawn by DNA?
In Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds, you’ll learn all this and much more. One hundred visually arresting maps strike a balance between sobering analysis (number of executions by state) and whimsical insight (the countries of the world where there aren’t any McDonald’s). This unusual atlas will make you see the world in a different light.
The Life and Legend of The Sultan Saladin
by Jonathan Phillips
We think: biography at its best - gripping and impressively researched
Renowned for his epic and mythologised rivalry with Richard the Lionheart, Saladin is one of history's most venerated religious and military heroes. Drawing on a rich blend of Arabic and European sources, this is a comprehensive account of both the man and the legend to which he gave birth, describing vividly the relentless action of his life and then tracing its aftermath through culture and politics all the way to the present day.
We think: entertaining, thought-provoking and impressively researched
'Seeing men as the human default is fundamental to the structure of human society' but, as Caroline Criado Perez persuasively argues in her award-winning book, this leads to a gender data gap which impacts on the health and well-being of women. From government policy and medical research, to technology and workplaces, Invisible Women reveals the biased data that excludes women.
This hugely readable book leads us to question so many aspects of life that we take for granted.
Why You Should Read Children's Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise by Katherine Rundell
We think: a persuasive and thought-provoking essay
Prize-winning children's author and Oxford don Katherine Rundell urges adults to revisit old childhood favourites and to try new children's authors so as not to miss a 'wealth of treasures ... go to children's fiction to see the world with double eyes: your own and those of your childhood self.' You won't be alone - a third of all children's fiction purchased last year was for adults to read themselves!
We think: so glad one of our regular customers told us about this one!
An early morning adventure out stealing horses leaves Trond confused when his friend Jon suffers a nervous breakdown: the first incident in the gradual destruction of the two boys' families. As an old man, Trond chances upon a character from that fateful summer who forces him to look back at his past ... a poignant and moving tale of a changing perspective on the world.
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, transl by Marilyn Booth
We think: an elegant and fascinating novel
The 2019 International Man Booker winner centres on the lives of three sisters and their families coming to terms with social change in Oman. Described by judges as 'a richly imagined, engaging and poetic insight', the novel opens a window to Arabic culture through the universal values of love and freedom.
Set in 1930s Germany, this is a simple story of friendship in not so simple times. First published in 1971, this beautifully crafted yet little-known novella deserves far wider readership. Enjoy it and spread the word.
Penned from a prison cell, this powerful, semi-autobiographical novel assaults the reader with a tale of love, war and addiction. In his uncompromising treatment of an Iraq war survivor battling PTSD and opiod addiction, Walker's debut is hard-hitting and supremely relevant.
We think: a darkly comical novel from this Ukrainian author
Viktor is an aspiring writer with only Misha, his pet penguin. for company. Although he would prefer to write short stories, he earns a living composing obituaries for a newspaper. He longs to see his work in print... until he works out why he can!
We think: Who knew the Eurovision Song contest could be so explosive?
Croatian hitman Tom Boksic slips up in New York - and finds himself riding it out in a suburban family home in Iceland. His new-found enjoyment in the little things in life is cut short when the mob find him - on Eurovision night...
We think: A real feel-good story for even the non-rugby fan
Englishman Ben Ryan coached the Fiji Rugby Sevens team to the country's first ever Olympic medal - a gold in Rio. In this book, he tells the story of how he learnt to adapt to island culture and absorb the richness of the Fijian people on the way to honing a world-beating team. By no means just a "rugby book"!