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December 11, 2013

State surveillance of personal data is theft, say world’s leading authors

Clockwise from top left, eight of the people who have signed the petition: Hanif Kureishi, Björk, Arundhati Roy, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis

Clockwise from top left, eight of the people who have signed the petition: Hanif Kureishi, Björk, Arundhati Roy, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard, Margaret Atwood and Martin Amis

• 500 signatories include five Nobel prize winners
• Writers demand ‘digital bill of rights’ to curb abuses

By Matthew Taylor and Nick Hopkins

More than 500 of the world’s leading authors, including five Nobel prize winners, have condemned the scale of state surveillance revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and warned that spy agencies are undermining democracy and must be curbed by a new international charter.

The signatories, who come from 81 different countries and include Margaret Atwood, Don DeLillo, Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass and Arundhati Roy, say the capacity of intelligence agencies to spy on millions of people’s digital communications is turning everyone into potential suspects, with worrying implications for the way societies work.

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May 21, 2013

Howard Jacobson wins comic fiction prize

Cheering news: Howard Jacobson wins prize for comic fiction

Cheering news: Howard Jacobson wins prize for comic fiction

Howard Jacobson wins this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for his novel Zoo Time.

By Jon Stock

Howard Jacobson has been named the winner of this year’s Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for his novel, Zoo Time. It is the second occasion he has triumphed, having won the prize in 2000, the first year of the award.

Jacobson fought off stiff competition from Michael Frayn, Deborah Moggach and Helen DeWitt. Previous winners include Ian McEwan, Marina Lewycka, DBC Pierre and, most recently, Terry Pratchett.

Zoo Time tells the tale of Guy Ableman, a writer struggling with his affections for his wife and mother-in-law, and the terminal state of literature. Reviewing the book for the Telegraph, Alexei Sayle described it as “seriously funny”.

Jacobson will be presented with a suitably Wodehousian prize, a Gloucestershire Old Spot pig, which will be named ‘Zoo Time’. It will join other pigs named after books that have won the prize, including ‘A Short History of Tractors in the Ukranian’ (Marina Lewycka) and ‘Fun and Games until Somebody Loses an Eye’ (Christopher Brookmyre).

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April 29, 2013

The 10 Best Book Endings

Jessica Soffer

Jessica Soffer

By Jessica Soffer

Jessica Soffer’s Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a novel about families, food, and facing uncomfortable truths. It also culminates in a revealing and satisfying ending that brings all its pages together. For Tip Sheet, Soffer shared 10 of her favorite endings in books.

I don’t like to play favorites. It’s not right. Sometimes, it’s an act in futility. Apples and oranges and such, especially in literature. But here we are. Ten Best Book Endings, according to me, a woman who has read as much as she possibly could during her twenty-seven years and who wishes every day for more reading time so that she could say “Ten Best,” and feel more certain. Until then, “best” is a moving target—and I’m not even in possession of all the darts.

Bottom line: the most we can look for is an end that justifies, honors, makes meaningful the means. And sometimes we might hope for an end that does more: an end that outdoes the means. Sometimes, a deftly plotted twist will do the trick, or a really grand grand finale, or a thought so moving, so appropriate that we write it down and keep it in our wallets for years. When endings work they feel both inevitable and earned, which just doesn’t happen in real life where nothing is ever still long enough to really end at all. And so good endings must do more than life: honoring what’s come before, swelling with the promise of what’s to come, and hovering in exactly the right place so that when it’s over, it’s hardly over. It’s just right.

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March 26, 2013

Folio to sponsor Literature Prize; stellar Academy revealed

folioprize | By Charlotte Williams

The Folio Society has been announced as sponsor of the Literature Prize, the new award co-founded by Aitken Alexander director Andrew Kidd.

In an announcement at the British Library last night (13th March), organisers revealed the £40,000 prize, which aims to “celebrate the best English-language fiction from around the world”, will now be known as The Folio Prize.

The organisers also revealed a stellar and international list of over 110 authors and critics —including many of the biggest names in books—who have agreed to become members of the Folio Prize Academy, which judges the award.

Ian McEwan, J M Coetzee, Peter Carey, Zadie Smith, Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Philip Pullman and Jeanette Winterson are among them; they are joined by literary editors including Claire Armitstead (the Guardian), Gaby Wood (the Telegraph) and Erica Wagner (the Times), as well as Granta editor John Freeman. The Academy members are listed in full below.

The inaugural award will be presented in March 2014 for books published in the UK between 1st January and 31st December 2013, written originally in English from authors anywhere around the globe, and published in any form or from any genre.

The Academy will choose 60 titles, and then pick an additional 20 books from publisher nominations. The five judges of the prize will be Academy members, and will be drawn by lots in July. The panel must include three members from the UK, and two from outside the UK, and there must be no more than three members of the same gender. Five names will be drawn randomly from the two groups alternately, starting with those from the UK.

The selected judges then choose a shortlist of eight books, which will be announced in February 2014.

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February 16, 2013

Ian McEwan: when faith in fiction falters – and how it is restored

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:48 pm

‘Realism bolstered by the actual’: Dominic Guard with Julie Christie in the 1970 film adaptation of LP Hartley’s The Go-Between

‘Realism bolstered by the actual’: Dominic Guard with Julie Christie in the 1970 film adaptation of LP Hartley’s The Go-Between

What happens if our faith in novels falters, if we find ourselves unable to suspend disbelief? Ian McEwan on when the ‘god of fiction’ deserts him – and how he finds his way back to the fold.

Like a late Victorian clergyman sweating in the dark over his Doubts, I have moments when my faith in fiction falters and then comes to the edge of collapse. I find myself asking: am I really a believer? And then: was I ever? First to go are the disjointed, upended narratives of experimental fiction. Ach well … Next, the virgin birth miracle of magical realism. But I was always low church on that one. It’s when the icy waters of scepticism start to rise round the skirts of realism herself that I know my long night has begun. All meaning has drained from the enterprise. Novels? I don’t know how or where to suspend my disbelief. What imaginary Henry said or did to non-existent Sue, and Henry’s lonely childhood, his war, his divorce, his ecstasy and struggle with the truth and how he’s a mirror to the age – I don’t believe a word, not the rusty device of pretending the weather has something to do with Henry’s mood, not the rusty device of pretending.

When the god of fiction deserts you, everything must go. The book-lined church and miked-up pulpit, the respectful congregation, the interviewer’s catechism, confessions disguised as questions, the supplicant line to the healing power of a signature, the reviewer’s blessing or curse. I confess, I’ve been on those panels with fellow believers as we intone the liturgy, that humans are fabulators, that we “cannot live” without stories. Priests, too, always imply that we cannot live without them. (Oh yes we can.) My doubter’s heart fails when I wander into the fiction section of a bookstore and see the topless towers on the recent-titles tables, the imploring taglines above the cover art (“He loved her, but would she listen?”), the dust-jacket plot summaries in their earnest present tense: Henry breaks free of his marriage and embarks on a series of wild …

This is when I think I will go to my grave and not read Anna Karenina a fifth time, or Madame Bovary a fourth. I’m 64. If I’m lucky, I might have 20 good reading years left. Teach me about the world! Bring me the cosmologists on the creation of time, the annalists of the Holocaust, the philosopher who has married into neuroscience, the mathematician who can describe the beauty of numbers to the numbskull, the scholar of empires’ rise and fall, the adepts of the English civil war.

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February 8, 2013

The 10 Most Notorious Parts of Famous Books

bolanoBy Gabe Habash

A little controversy goes a long way in the book world, where tweets from prestigious publishers resembling Kanye West lyrics cause people to flip out. In the case of the books below, notoriety and controversy have added an extra facet to their reputations, propelling discussion and (in some instances) fierce debate that involved censorship. Here are our picks for the most infamous passages of famous books. Some spoilers follow.

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February 7, 2013

Finnegans Wake becomes a hit book in China

Puntastic success ... Stacking shelves at a Beijing bookshop.

Puntastic success … Stacking shelves at a Beijing bookshop.

Following billboard ads, James Joyce’s nigh-incomprehensible book leaps over language barrier to reach surprising readership

By Jonathan Kaiman

After spending eight years translating the first third of James Joyce’s famously opaque novel Finnegans Wake into Chinese, Dai Congrong assumed it was a labour of love rather than money. The book’s language is thick with multilingual puns and brazenly defies grammatical conventions. It begins: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

So the 41-year-old professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University was incredulous when the translation became a surprise bestseller in China after hitting shelves last month. Backed by an elaborate billboard ad campaign, the first volume of “Fennigen de Shouling Ye” sold out its first run of 8,000 copies and reached number two on a prestigious bestseller list in Shanghai, second only to a biography of Deng Xiaoping. Sales of 30,000 are considered “cause for celebration” according to Chinese publisher Gray Tan, so 8,000 in a month has made Joyce a distinctly hot property. Ian McEwan, for instance, is considered pretty buzzy in translation, but the print run of Atonement was only 5,000 copies.

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November 29, 2012

Christmas gifts 2012: the best fiction

  Justine Jordan wraps up the year’s novels, short stories and graphic fiction.

As with Wolf Hall three years ago, Christmas novel-wrapping will be dominated by Hilary Mantel’s latest feat of historical imagination. Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate) won its author a second Booker, and continues to build a Tudor world that feels solid enough to touch, bringing Thomas Cromwell’s life into the precarious present tense and the reader to the heart of Henry VIII’s court. This volume focuses on the downfall of Anne Boleyn, the darkening mood of Henry’s reign, and the chilling practicalities of interrogation and torture.

This year’s Booker also gave a welcome boost to some left-field books from small publishers, shortlisting Alison Moore’s immersive tale of a man unable to escape his own family history, The Lighthouse (Salt), and Deborah Levy’s sly melodrama Swimming Home (And Other Stories). Also on the shortlist was Will Self with Umbrella (Bloomsbury), his deepest and most rewarding novel to date. Madness, war, mechanisation; class, feminism and modernity – all these and more are interrogated in a dense slab of prose that spans the 20th century and jumps from one consciousness to another in the high old modernist style. One for the hard-to-buy-for James Joyce fan in your life.

Though you wouldn’t have known it from the Booker lists, all the big names were out this year.

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July 2, 2012

Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2012 Book Preview

2012 has already been a rich year for books, with new novels from Toni Morrison, Richard Ford, and Hilary Mantel and essay collections from Marilynn Robinson and Jonathan Franzen, to name just a fraction of what we’ve featured, raved about, chewed on, and puzzled over so far. But the remainder of this year (and the hazy beginning of next year) is shaping up to be a jackpot of literary riches. In just a few short months, we’ll be seeing new titles from some of the most beloved and critically lauded authors working today, including Martin Amis, Zadie Smith, Michael Chabon, Junot Díaz, Alice Munro, Ian McEwan, George Saunders, and David Foster Wallace. Incredibly, there’s much more than that to get excited about, but, were we to delve into it further up here, we would risk this introduction consuming the many previews that are meant to follow.

The list that follows isn’t exhaustive – no book preview could be – but, at 8,700 words strong and encompassing 76 titles, this is the only second-half 2012 book preview you will ever need. Enjoy.

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March 9, 2012

100 books that defined the noughties

Zadie Smith

Zadie, Nigella, Steig and, of course, the boy wizard. The decade has seen publishing phenomenons like no other, but which books, for better or worse, have summed up the noughties?

By Brian MacArthur

Never in the history of bookselling has there been such a phenomenon as Harry Potter; JK Rowling’s series sold in tens of millions and appealed to adults as well as children. The great success of the British book trade this decade was the Richard & Judy Book Club. It ran in the late afternoon on Channel 4, and made instant bestsellers of Victoria Hislop, Audrey Niffenegger and Zoë Heller, among others. The 100 titles they selected sold 30 million copies.

A decade defined in Britain by Tony Blair is represented in this list by two revealing books about the making of New Labour and the rivalries, quarrels and often poisonous relationships among the leading personalities – Cherie Blair’s memoir and Alastair Campbell’s diaries.

Across the world, it was a decade defined in blood by al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks on America, which precipitated the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – see books by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Ed Husain, Ahmed Rashid and Khaled Hosseini.

It was also the decade of often tawdry celebrities, such as Russell Brand and Ashley Cole, and those, such as Katie Price, who didn’t even pretend to write their own books. Alan Hollinghurst won the Man Booker Prize for an explicitly gay novel; Ian McEwan rose above his rivals as the country’s pre-eminent literary novelist; and a black man became president of the United States – and wrote two bestsellers.

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