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January 30, 2013

Man Booker International prize 2013 reveals shortlist

HomeMarilynne Robinson heads multinational list that includes books in French, German, Hebrew and Kannada.

By Richard Lea

After withdrawals and walkouts at its last outing in 2011, the biennial Man Booker International prize is hoping calm will return with a globetrotting list of 10 finalists for the 2013 award, headed by the American novelist Marilynne Robinson.

Robinson, who was shortlisted for the 2011 award, is one of only three authors writing in English on a shortlist for the £60,000 prize. The rest of the field brings together novelists from around the world and includes writing translated from French, German, Hebrew and Kannada. She is also one of just three women on the list, along with the American writer Lydia Davis and the French novelist Marie NDiaye. Two of the authors, China’s Yan Lianke and Russia’s Vladimir Sorokin, have been censored in their home countries.

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December 30, 2011

The top 10 books stories of 2011

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 8:50 pm

An extract from Jon Ronson's The Psychopath Test topped our books site chart for 2011. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

From non-fiction to Naipaul and psychopaths to Pottermore, here are the stories that brought readers to our books site this year.

By Richard Lea

Another year comes hurtling around the corner, another sinks gratefully back into its easy chair, and in the traditional spirit of openness and honesty it’s time to look back at the literary stories which have made 2011 – or at least the stories we’ve all been reading on the Guardian Books website. With only the briefest nod to the usual caveats, here they are: the most popular stories of 2011.

Except that, er, here they aren’t. I would love to share this year’s top story with you, but Jon Ronson’s witty, touching and illuminating account of Tony – who faked madness to avoid five to seven years for GBH and wound up spending over a decade in Broadmoor – was extracted from his latest book, and, so, as our page glumly announces, “has been removed as our copyright has expired”. Some of you are no doubt grinning smugly and turning to your paper archives, but for those who don’t have the relevant copy of Weekend magazine to hand, I suppose I could point you to Will Self’s excellent review of The Psychopath Test, or try to give you a flavour of how artfully Ronson flips between sympathy for Tony – who finds it’s “an awful lot harder … to convince people you’re sane than it is to convince them you’re crazy” – and the clarity provided by Robert Hare’s psychopathy checklist, but I guess I should really just apologise and move on.

Except, um, moving on is pretty hard when second on the list of 2011’s top books stories is a sorry page. Pottermore: Harry’s digital adventure was a specially-created page which lasted just one day to host one of the clues for the internet treasure hunt leading to JK Rowling’s online project, Pottermore. Maybe it’s only a marketing wheeze, as Sam Jordison suggests, but more than a decade after Harry Potter first found the Philosopher’s Stone, his popularity clearly remains undimmed. Our tech-folk had to wall off this page from our usual content in a custom-built silo to withstand the fierce attentions of Potter fans from around the world – my browser can’t even find the server that it was sitting on.

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November 19, 2011

Kenyan author attacks insularity of British fiction

Binyavanga Wainaina says authors fail to tell ‘universal’ stories, leaving their books ‘indigestible’ for modern Africans.

Binyavanga Wainaina: 'Britain itself has not been able to produce literature that’s global, even though it had a global empire' Photograph: Jerry Riley

By Richard Lea

The prize-winning Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina has attacked the insularity of British authors, describing their work as “indigestible” for Kenyan readers, and suggesting that “you’d struggle to find any significant books that come out of Britain” about the African experience.

Speaking on the Guardian books podcast, he praised the “amazing work that can speak to the diversity within Britain”, but argued that British writers have failed to meet the challenge of finding “codes that are more universal”.

“The generation of my dad could have gotten the English codes,” he said. “We can’t anymore.”

“I can read it because I am familiarised,” he continued. “But as a writer I recognise it is still indigestible, and there are Kenyans – who are English-speaking Kenyans, educated Kenyans – who will not and cannot get the codes.”

Wainaina, who won the Caine prize for African writing in 2002, argued that a generation brought up on Hollywood movies understands American writers rather better.

“It becomes a question of how and why Britain itself has not been able to produce literature that’s global, even though it had a global empire,” he said.

For Rebecca Carter, an editor at translated literature imprint Harvill Secker, the suggestion that British writers are difficult for Kenyan readers comes as no surprise.

“We don’t feel that we have to understand French or Italian literature,” she said, “so why should Kenyan readers be interested in British writers?”

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November 10, 2011

Occupy London’s library provides shelf help

Filed under: Libraries — Tags: , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:08 am

Occupy London library: 'Very open'. Photograph: Richard Lea

The improvised book-lending facility at the St Paul’s protest has held a prominent position at the demonstration from the start. Richard Lea checks it out.

“Books open up a different kind of space for discussion, a different atmosphere.” The Occupy London librarian, Nathan Cravens, is in reflective mood. The rain has stopped drumming on the tents outside St Paul’s Cathedral for a while, and passers-by pause to browse the table of books, chat for a moment and move on. “It seems that the books themselves attract people to have discussions on the issues and the solutions,” he adds.

It’s only a table and a couple of bookshelves, set up for the moment opposite the Starbucks that protesters have attracted such criticism for using, but StarBooks sees a steady flow of books being borrowed, books being dropped off. There’s a constant trickle of donations as well. A man in a smart jacket asks if he can bring along a few books later on. A couple of gentlemen with neatly-trimmed beards, who say they have “access to a lot of books that would normally be given to charity”, but would rather not give their names, take a more direct approach, unloading a stack of donations large enough to temporarily extend the library’s collection to a second table.

Will Hutton’s The State We’re In is shelved alongside Subcomandante Marcos’s Zapatista Stories, Dean Koontz’s The Husband piled on top of Brian Friel’s Translations. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s novel Sashenka is cheek by jowl with John Baylis and Steve Smith’s The Globalization of World Politics, while David Craig’s Squandered sits under a shiny hardback of Cory Doctorow’s young adult thriller Little Brother. Dog-eared paperbacks are shelved alongside political pamphlets, economics textbooks piled on top of secondhand science fiction, slim volumes of poetry slipped between hardback history.

“The ones that are political or economic or historical go very quickly, it’s the novels that are left,” says Cravens, suggesting that maybe fiction doesn’t match up to the present situation. “We’d like to see real things, and read about real things and apply real things.”

The library – or at least a table of books – has been a feature of the camp right from the very beginning.

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October 4, 2011

Nobel prize for literature: place your bets

Assia Djebar, currently 12/1 at Ladbrokes. Photograph: Frank Rumpenhorst/AP

Days away from the announcement of the biggest prize in books, let the learned speculation begin.

By Richard Lea

Here in London it may still feel like it’s summer, but autumn begins in earnest this week, with the announcement of the Nobel prize for literature. The Swedish Academy has announced that special pleading, prediction and speculation will come to an end at lunchtime this Thursday.

So is it finally Philp Roth’s turn? The much-touted Syrian poet Adonis sits atop the betting at 4/1, with last year’s favourite, the Swedish poet Thomas Tranströmer, following at 11/2. The Hungarian novelist Péter Nádas comes next, with the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami close behind – both seem to have important books out this year in Swedish translation. As I write, Philip Roth languishes at 25/1.

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June 15, 2011

Totting up the 100 greatest non-fiction books

Filed under: Lists — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 1:20 pm

They're all here ... Eduardo Paolozzi's statue of Newton, inspired by Blake's drawing, in the courtyard of the British Library. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

We’ve had fun compiling our list of the best non-fiction books to coincide with the announcement of the shortlist for this year’s Samuel Johnson prize, but there’s bound to be the odd omission. Can you fill in the gaps?

Samuel Johnson was in full spate, attacking “the general lampooner of mankind” who turns his ire on others, when he declared that “fiction is easier than discernment”. But on the day when the 2011 shortlist of the prize for non-fiction that bears his name is announced, his disdain for writers who “spare themselves the labour of enquiry” carries a greater weight. Why should novelists and poets get all the acclaim? What about the facts? To celebrate truth-seekers of every stripe, we on the Guardian’s books desk have spent a happy few days assembling a list of what we believe to be the greatest non-fiction books ever written, by anyone, ever. Ever! more

January 12, 2011

‘Extraordinary’ Lorca manuscript discovered

Draft of ‘Office and Denunciation’ revealing previously unknown lines found in Library of Congress’s music division.

Detail from Lorca's manuscript for Oficina y denuncia. Photograph: Moldenhauer Archive, Library of Congress

“I offer myself to be devoured by Spanish peasants,” writes the poet Federico García Lorca in a newly-discovered manuscript of a poem from his portrait of the United States during the Great Depression, Poeta en Nueva York (Poet in New York).

 This was just one of the lines which the poet cut before the poem “Oficina y denuncia” (“Office and Denunciation”) was published in 1940, four years after Lorca was shot by a right-wing firing squad on a hillside overlooking his home city of Granada.

Christopher Maurer, the professor of Spanish at Boston University who discovered the “extraordinary” manuscript, said that although it was “hidden in plain sight” in the music division of the Library of Congress, “no other scholar had ever mentioned it”….read more

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