First emerging from the oceans to live on land over 350 million years ago, the humble moss plant is an evolutionary pioneer. The natural world is blessed with an amazing 22,000 varieties, and yet its entry in the English Dictionary insults with its miserly wordage. The splendid Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer seeks to introduce us to these beautiful ‘rainforests in miniature.’ A scientist and proud Native American, Kimmerer combines biology, cultural history and indigenous philosophy. In this deliciously unexpected bestseller, we learn not only the history of an unsung plant hero, but the forgotten practice of true attentiveness.
The spirit of George Orwell hovers over the memoir A Waiter in Paris by Edward Chisholm. Indeed when Chisholm first arrives in the city in 2012, a copy of Down and Out in Paris and London is nestled in his suitcase, set to provide succour for his subsequent years of living unexpectedly on the brink of destitution. His account of life as a poorly paid, highly stressed waiter, surviving almost literally on coffee, cigarettes, and filched bread rolls, deglosses the elegant façade of one of the world’s most iconic cities.
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The public wasn’t ready for The Glass Pearls by Emeric Pressburger when it was first published in 1966. Despite Pressburger’s fame as a filmmaker, sales of the book were poor. The reason becomes apparent once you start reading this psychological thriller. The protagonist is a Mengle-style Nazi war criminal hiding in a Pimlico boarding house and working as a piano tuner. However, Karl Braun (aka Dr Otto Reitmüller) is not your usual villain, he’s both cultured and charming and, as the story progresses, you find yourself oscillating between (almost) wanting him to escape and wanting him to be caught. Pressburger, himself a Jew whose mother and several family members perished in concentration camps, wanted to make a point. Even villains can be likeable which is exactly why they are so dangerous.
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A hero for some and villain for others, Haile Selassie cuts a controversial figure. Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, Selassie stood up to white imperialism, introduced a wide range of reforms and courted Western powers who showered him with foreign aid. He’s considered God by some in the Rastafarian movement. He also ignored millions of starving Ethiopians while spending lavishly on himself and his courtiers, imprisoned or executed his own people on a whim and built up a considerable fortune in Swiss bank accounts. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuscinski, is a collection of interviews with some of his surviving courtiers, conducted clandestinely after Selassie’s fall. It’s an absorbing study in what power does to people and of a court which makes the courtiers at Buckingham Palace seem like pussycats.
Lost track of the many literary prizes and literary dates? Just missed the announcement of the Booker or Pulitzer prize winners? Join the club! Even we struggle to keep up. Here’s a bit of help with all the important dates for the literary calendar. We’ve focused mainly on dates for the UK except some internationally significant book prizes and festivals. Please let us know in the comment field below if we missed any (which we surely have)!
A novel of doomed love in 1920’s Berlin, Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali is a Turkish treasure. It tells the story of Raif, an introspective and solitary young man who leaves Turkey for the bright lights of Weimar Berlin. In this city of flourishing intellectual and cultural freedoms, he encounters Maria, an enigmatic artist who will come to transform his melancholic life. Told in two parts by an unnamed narrator, we follow Raif’s journey of discovery, as the free-thinking Maria challenges his notions of romantic love, gender roles, and self-reliance.
Set in 1985 in an Irish seaside town, Booker Prize long-listed Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan feels like it might as well have been set in 1885. We meet protagonist Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, as he delivers goods to his freezing clients in the run up to Christmas. Poor but happily married with five bright daughters, Furlong takes nothing for granted. Bill was born outside wedlock and owes his relatively harmonious upbringing to the kindness and acceptance of his mother’s employer. Up at the abbey, not everyone has had the same luck.
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley positively springs from the Booker Prize 2022 longlist, and not merely for its conspicuously pink cover. At the age of 20, Mottley is the youngest author ever to make the longlist, dazzling with a debut coming-of-age novel set on the meanest streets of Oakland, California. This is 17-year-old Kiara’s story, technically still a child, but with adult-sized problems. When a dire financial emergency pushes Kiara into prostitution, her ‘baby ho,’ status renders her irresistible to a certain type of man, some of them even sporting Oakland Police Department uniform. What follows is a blistering study of corruption, abuse of power, and young black womanhood.