Over the last year, I’ve been lucky enough to breathe the same air as three of my favourite novelists, and a bonafide guitar god. Thanks to the Guardian Events team, I’ve been to talks by William Boyd, Robert Harris, Julian Barnes and Jimmy Page. They’ve all been selling something: their new novels, or a glossy picture book in Page’s case. But they’ve all been really interesting – and they’ve all shed some light on their extraordinary talents. Think of these talks as mini-Wordstocks, and you’ll get the picture. Next up is Alexei Sayle on 18th May. He’ll be talking about his 80s memoir, Thatcher Stole My Trousers. He’ll be joined by The Guardian’s Andy Beckett, author of Promised You A Miracle: Why 1980-82 Made Modern Britain.
This book stays with you, like no other, written by Paul Kalanithi with degrees in English literature, human biology, history and philosophy of science and medicine from Stanford and Cambridge universities before graduating from Yale School of Medicine. He also received the American Academy of Neurological Surgery’s highest award for research. He died a year ago this month, age 37.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, is another tear jerker, very intense and powerful.
And finally, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, is a terrific story about mothers and daughters, from the Pulitzer prize-winning writer of Olive Kitteridge.
Maura Dooley is a prize-winning poet whose latest collection “The Silvering” has just been published by Bloodaxe. It’s a beautiful, sometimes melancholy but uplifting collection of short poems. Maura also includes ‘The Gough Looking-glass’, the sestude she wrote for 26 Treasures at the V&A, so it’s good to see that included in this collection. Those who have been on a Dark Angels course might know Maura’s poem ‘What every woman should carry’, a regular inspiration at the end of a course.
My best read was ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr. It won the Pulitzer Prize and I recommend it unreservedly. Wonderful prose about World War II with a twist. The evacuation of Paris and the horror of St Malo during the bombing are chillingly similar to events happening now.
It’s not often that I get excited about a website, but when I took a look at the new digital home for Penguin’s Little Black Classics, I genuinely let slip an audible “ooooh”. It’s like a virtual bookshelf where you can pick any book and be rewarded with a nice nugget of a quote. Simple but brilliant. Can’t. Stop. Scrolling.
Would thoroughly recommend Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, a poetic, evocative, perceptive and often very funny imagining of John Lennon’s attempt to escape the attentions of the press – the world, maybe – in the late 70s by hiding out on the bleak, wind and rain-sodden island he’d bought off the west coast of Ireland? Thoroughly original.