Readersforum's Blog

September 25, 2014

The top 10 walks in books

From Laurie Lee’s departure for Spain one sunny morning to Flora’s unfortunate sexual odyssey in Cold Comfort Farm, Duncan Minshull chooses the best literary journeys on foot.

WalkI’ve always been a walker. Age 10, it was the Sunday outing (family bonding); age 13, it was getting away from home (rebellion); and, as a student of 20, I tramped everywhere (no money).

Later I began examining the activity, which meant writing about it, and after that I corralled 200 walkers and their journeys into an anthology, just re-published as While Wandering. This contains characters from fiction, as well as passages from memoirs, plays and poetry. The purpose of the book was to shed some light on our desire to travel by foot.

John Hillaby said he had no idea why he walked, despite crossing deserts, roaming the length of Britain, and writing great books about it all. Funny, I’ve always believed the opposite. There are a thousand and one reasons for setting out, be they physical, psychological or spiritual, rational or bonkers. I like to think that the following people might inspire us to hit the road, too.

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September 11, 2013

Man Booker Shortlist 2013

Newsletter Img When Robert Macfarlane, the chair of this year’s Man Booker Prize judges, announced the longlist he called it the most diverse in recent memory. He was right, and the same is still true of the shortlist he and his peers have just selected. The 151 novels they started with represented a tour d’horizon of contemporary fiction, a grand vista that encompassed everything from the epic to the miniaturist. The longlist distilled the numbers but kept the flavour and now the shortlist has intensified it further.
The six books on the list could not be more diverse. There are examples from novelists from New Zealand, England, Canada, Ireland and Zimbabwe – each with its own highly distinctive taste. They range in size from the 832 pages of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries to the 104-page The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín. The times represented stretch from the biblical Middle East (Tóibín) to contemporary Zimbabwe (NoViolet Bulawayo) by way of 19th-century New Zealand (Catton), 1960s India (Jumpha Lahiri), 18th-century rural England (Crace) and modern Tokyo (Ruth Ozeki).

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July 30, 2013

Big week for UK prizes

The-Folio-Prize By Clare Swanson

The Man Booker Prize announced their longlist today and, after taking some heat for its populist ways, the award’s judges have deemed the list most diverse it has ever been.

The Guardian reported that Robert Macfarlane, this year’s Man Booker chair of judges, said: “This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject. These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000, and from Shanghai to Hendon.”

The reveal arrives one week after the Folio Prize named the panel of judges for their inaugural prize given in 2014, which includes Pulitzer Prize-winning author (and husband to sometimes controversial essayist Ayelet Waldman) Michael Chabon. The award, created by the Literature Prize Foundation, was perceived by some to be the highbrow answer to the Man Booker Prize when first announced in 2011.

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May 4, 2013

WG Sebald: Reveries of a solitary walker

emigrantsAt the time of his death in a car crash aged 57, WG Sebald was widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest writers. James Wood, Iain Sinclair, Robert Macfarlane and Will Self reflect on what his work means to them.

James Wood

When I first read WG Sebald’s great work, The Emigrants, I kept forgetting whether the book was originally written in German or English. Sebald wrote in German, but lived most of his life in Britain, and it was clear that he worked over the English so that it amounted almost to a collaboration with his translator. Sebald’s prose belongs, mysteriously, nowhere. The enigmatic patience of the sentences, the pedantic syntax, the peculiar antiquity of the diction, the strange recessed distance of the writing, in which everything seems milky and sub-aqueous, just beyond reach – all of this gives Sebald his particular flavour, so that sometimes it seems that we are reading not a particular writer but an emanation of literature.

There’s an undeniably bookish quality to Sebald’s writing; despite his originality, some of his effects come from other writers. He takes his 19th-century Gothic diction from the Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter, and a fair amount of his obsessive extremism from the Austrian novelist Thomas Bernhard. (Sebald mutes Bernhard’s suicidal clamour.) The effect is strange – Sebald seems both real and artificial, both alive and dead. In the essay published here, for instance, the author seems to be telling us directly about the time he spent on the island of Saint-Pierre. Yet the self-conscious pedantry – “during which time I passed not a few hours sitting by the window”; “an island with a circumference of some two miles” – makes the author a little distant, and we begin to wonder if the essay is a true account or a literary concoction spun in the study. As Sebald unfolds the story of Rousseau’s tribulations (“a dozen years filled with fear and panic”), the essay seems, in its placeless antiquity, like one of Rousseau’s own Reveries of a Solitary Walker, and suddenly it’s not Rousseau’s obsessive inability to stop thinking that is the theme, but Sebald’s own obsessive inability (“the thoughts constantly brewing in his head like storm clouds”). In this way – and also, of course, through his use of photographs – Sebald was always asking us to reflect on how we access the past, how we rescue the dead, and how the writer performs that real, but necessarily fictional, reclamation.

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November 27, 2012

Books of the year 2012

From Zadie Smith’s new novel to Robert Macfarlane’s journeys on foot and memoirs by Edna O’Brien and Salman Rushdie…
Which books have most impressed our writers this year?


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October 7, 2012

Macfarlane and Pinker vie on Samuel Johnson shortlist

 | By Benedicte Page

Robert Macfarlane’s latest exploration of landscape The Old Ways (Hamish Hamilton) and Steven Pinker’s study of violence The Better Angels of Our Nature (Allen Lane) are two of the titles shortlisted for this year’s Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, announced today (5th October).

Also in contention for the £20,000 prize are Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (Portobello), about the residents of the Annawadi slum in Mumbai; Wade Davis Into the Silence (The Bodley Head), about Mallory’s 1924 Everest expedition; Paul Preston’s The Spanish Holocaust (HarperPress), billed the first authoritative study of how Franco set out to eliminate 200,000 men, women and children across Spain; and Sue Prideaux’s biography Strindberg (Yale University Press).


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