Members recommend – 2007

 

REVENGE OF THE LAWN

Richard Brautigan

Canongate, £5,49 on Amazon

They may be ultra-fashionable now, but ultra-short stories have a long pedigree, especially in the USA, where the short story has a lot more cultural traction. Brautigan, a late Beat author was probably the best short short writer. A clear influence on the playful games of Dave Eggars, his tales of pre and post-Depression American, and the relaxed vibe of San Francisco are captured with a poet’s eye and startling economy, and twists as breathtaking as a California highway.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: Revenge of the Lawn

Seduced - Art & Sex from Antiquity to Now

SEDUCED – ART & SEX FROM ANTIQUITY TO NOW

Barbican Art Gallery, London EC1

admission £8

After a moment under the mistletoe, you might want to take a trip down to the Barbican.

Sex sells, so they tell us. That would certainly seem to be the case judging by the numbers ogling this revealing show, which is already into its second month. Graphic, but never salacious or titillating, the show considers how sex has been represented in art by different cultures and in different eras. Though mainly visual, ‘Seduced’ touches on the literary (De Sade, Bataille, DH Lawrence) and the aural – how sex can be expressed through sound and dialogue. In the end what comes across – bar the odd deviant – is how similarly artists have treated the hot topic over the world and over the centuries. Though it’s complex and emotive, sex is in many ways an extremely basic subject.   Jim Davies

Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog

SISTER BERNADETTE’S BARKING DOG

Kitty Burns Florey

Harvest Books, £6.56 on Amazon

A real little curio this. I discovered it in a midtown Barnes and Noble, during a recent trip to New York. It’s all about sentence diagramming, what was apparently a common method of teaching grammar to US kids until the 1960’s. Using the method, one can break down the relationship between clauses, objects and other elements of grammar that frankly I don’t understand, in the hope that this leads to ‘better’ writing, whatever that happens to be.

Burns Florey is an excellent guide to this lost art, at once nostalgic and enthusiastic, but not blind to the faults of the methodology, as well as its strengths. And some of the sentences that she diagrams – especially those of Henry James – are eye-poppingly complex, and worth the price of entry alone. If you found ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves’ a tad too strident, this could be for you.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog’

The Complete West Wing: Seasons 1-7

THE COMPLETE WEST WING: SEASONS 1-7

Directed by Jason Ensler

Warner Home Video, £208.99 list, or £118.97 on Amazon

What I’d like in my stocking is… the sock-destroying boxset that is the complete ‘The West Wing’ on DVD. Can there be anyone left who hasn’t sung the praises of this show now? As much as I consider Aaron Sorkin a genius of TV drama (yes, even to the point of sticking with the unjustifiably maligned Studio 60), I even love the seasons post-Sorkin, for the usual sharpness, paciness and strong-hearted idealism. As escapist fantasy goes, it’s pretty much near damn perfect.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Complete West Wing: Seasons 1-7’

The Wisdom of Crowds

THE WISDOM OF CROWDS

James Surowiecki

Abacus, £7.99 lits or £5.99 on Amazon

My fantasy present would be an advance copy of the “Nottingham Forest’s glorious 2010 Premiership winning season” DVD, but in the likely absence of that, I’d be delighted to find a copy of ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ (not football crowds of course), which is quickly turning into one of those Tipping Point style books that identify and describe ideas that are out there and being highly influential.    Martin Lee

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

WILDWOOD: A JOURNEY THROUGH TREES

Roger Deakin

Hamish Hamilton, £12 on Amazon

A barky, smoky exploration of the role of woods and wood in our lives.  Deakin interviews all sorts of woodfolk, from aboriginal women to sculptor David Nash. This is atmospheric autumnal reading full of insight and warmth, but it comes with spirit and edge. "The enemies of woods are always the enemies of humanity", writes Deakin, who died last year.   Tim Rich

Buy from Amazon: Wildwood

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

YORKSHIRE SCULPTURE PARK

Just off junction 38 of the M1 near Barnsley

Free admission

I went up to Yorkshire Sculpture Park the other weekend. So here’s a present for all members of 26 – write yourself (or request it as a surprise from your loved one) a handwritten note suggesting a day out in the week after Christmas. Go to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – just off junction 38 of the M1 near Barnsley – and spend a few hours wandering around. Beautiful landscape with sculptures placed cunningly in it. And a fantastic exhibition of work by Andy Goldsworthy that you really shouldn’t miss – exhibition finishes 6th January. www.ysp.co.uk <http://www.ysp.co.uk>
 
Even better, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is free, although you can make a donation. It has a nice cafe too. Whatever the weather (snow might be best) it’s a wonderful place to go walking and look at some amazing works of art in a natural landscape.   John Simmons

Cassell's Dictionary of Superstitions

CASSELL’S DICTIONARY OF SUPERSTITIONS

David Pickering

Cassell Reference, from £0.75 (used and new) on Amazon

For Hallowe’en, I recommend a candlelit night in with Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions by David Pickering. Glance through it and even the most rational of humanists will have picked out a good few weird habits to add to their normally reasonable behaviour. How about stuffing thin slices of orange peel up your nose to cure a cold? Drinking cold coffee to improve your complexion? Curing whooping cough by letting a ferret drink from your bowl of milk (before you do)? About Hallowe’en is says that “attempts to Christianise the festival by making it the eve of All Hallows Day or All Saints Day, when Christian saints are and martyrs are commemorated, have failed to obliterate its essentially pagan character”. Delighted to find that it’s unlucky to clean a house after the month of May. (But which year?)   Sarah McCartney

Buy from Amazon: ‘Cassell’s Dictionary of Superstitions’

Deadwood

DEADWOOD

HBO

Paramount, Seasons 1-3, £52.49 on Amazon

Deadwood, the HBO series set in a Dakota gold-rush town in the 1870s, is perfect for a Hallowe’en night in. It has a high gore factor, from the blood dripping down the butcher’s window in the opening credits, to the mandatory throat-slitting per episode, and the unfortunate victims that are frequently fed to Mr Wu’s pigs. But Deadwood has a compelling darkness that is due to much more than blood ‘n’ guts. I watch it for Lovejoy brilliantly transformed into Al Swearengen, the foul-mouthed saloon owner, for Wild Bill Hickok, for its great writing and for the vicarious thrill of witnessing a place without any laws or rules.   Fiona Thompson

Buy from Amazon: ‘Deadwood’

Mutants

MUTANTS

Armand Marie Leroi

HarperPerennial, £6.74 on Amazon

A scientific history of human mutation, and how various unfortunate ‘mutants’ over the centuries have helped to advance our understanding of genetics. Written with admirable precision, the cast list includes the likes of James Merrick (the Elephant Man), Eng and Chang (conjoined twins), Uther Hermann (the Armless Fiddler – don’t ask) and Tognina Gonsalvus (the Hairy Child – definitely don’t ask). The heart-warming conclusion is that, to a greater or lesser degree, we’re all mutants in our own special way.   Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: ‘Mutants’

Off the bone

OFF THE BONE

The Cramps

EMI, £4.49 on Amazon

Imagine Elvis crossed with the freakiest B-movie, and you’ll have some idea of what The Cramps are like. The original US ‘psychobilly’ band are camp, comic and caustic, obsessed with sleaze, sexual fetishism, clever bad jokes, and cheap comic-book cliché. ‘Off The Bone’, a compilation of their raucus early stuff  is a good place to start, and it includes one of their finest moments – ‘Human Fly’.

Well I’m a human fly
It’s spelt F-L-Y
I say buzz, buzz, buzz, and it’s just becuzz…
I’m a human fly and i don’t know why
I got ninety-six tears in my ninety-six eyes

I got a garbage brain, it’s drivin’ me insane
And I don’t like your ride, so push that pesticide
And baby I won’t care, cuz baby I don’t scare
Cuz I’m a reborn maggot using germ warfare.

Play loud.   Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Off The Bone’

The Masque of the Red Death

THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

Punchdrunk theatre at Battersea Arts Centre

This is a theatrical performance unlike anything else (unless you happened to see Punchdrunk’s brilliant production of "Faust" in Wapping last year). It’s set in a Victorian Gothic building, the old Battersea town hall, and the various narratives are based on stories by Edgar Allen Poe. The audience wear white masks and you wander in this disguise through half-illuminated, meticulously detailed stage sets. Around you, slowly at first, but then with increasing frenzy as the evening passes you become part of one of Poe’s disturbing stories with the actors performing around you. I found myself locked in a medical room with a mad nurse who made me promise to dance with her at the end. And so at the end the whole audience converges from different parts of the building that we’ve all been wandering through, in and out of of stories, to take part in the ball….It’s all very unsettling, uplifting and memorable. If you can get tickets to be part of it on Halloween night, you’ll be very lucky (it’s pretty booked up till January) – but if you can’t stay in and read a collection of stories by Edgar Allen Poe.   John Simmons

The Rocking Horse Winner

THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER

DH Lawrence

‘Selected Stories – DH Lawrence’, Penguin, £12.99 list or £12.34 on Amazon

This originally appeared in the July 1926 issue of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, but as you won’t lay your hands on that in a hurry, you can find it in various collections of DH Lawrence’s short stories. It’s a seriously creepy tale of a young boy who can predict horse-race winners by working himself up into a state of frenzy while riding his rocking horse. This was read to me as an impressionable ten year old just before bedtime, and has spooked me out ever since.   Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Selected Stories – DH Lawrence’

The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror

THE SIMPSONS: TREEHOUSE OF HORROR

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, £15.99 on Amazon

The ‘Treehouse of Horror’ series has become a Simpsons Halloween institution. It’s an annual, gleefully-seized opportunity for brilliant spoofs of writers like Edgar Allen Poe, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, and movies including ‘2001’, ‘Harry Potter’, ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ and ‘The Shining’ (or ‘The Shinning’ as Homer calls it). These are the only Simpsons episodes that are allowed stray far, far away from the self-contained universe of Springfield, and into a freer, more fantastical format that allows the writers’ imaginations to run riot. Gloriously gory, curiously creepy, ‘Treehouse of Horror’ is the Simpsons in another dimension.   Jim Davies

Buy on Amazon: ‘Treehouse of Horror’

All About My Mother

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER

Pedro Almodovar

Old Vic Theatre, London

For some reason the snobby theatre critics have it in for Kevin Spacey’s Old Vic. The latest play in the repertoire there is a stage version of Almodovar’s film ‘All About My Mother’. The critics were luke-warm about it, but I thought it was the best thing I’d seen on stage for a few years. You won’t get many more chances to see Diana Rigg perform, and she turns in a wonderful performance – as do the rest of the cast. Get yourself a ticket, whether or not you’ve seen the original film – this translates well to a different medium and Almodovar was personally involved in the production.   John Simmons

This production is first time that Spanish auteur Pedro Almodóvar has allowed one of his films to be transferred to the stage. Playwright Samuel Adamson has kept the all the key Almodóvar themes and expanded upon them, to produce something that, while not as sumptuous as the film, has plenty to intrigue. It is impeccably acted, with Lesley Manville the still heart around which the emotional hurricane blows, and the intensity of the second half is judged to perfection.
 
But what most struck about the play is that it is not just about religion, family, guilt and homosexuality, but also and nearly as importantly about writers and writing (Adamson quoting Almodóvar quoting Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Lorca, at my rough count) and the importance of writing, and the need that we have to tell stories, to ourselves and about ourselves, to attempt to find ourselves. That the realisation came while watching a transvestite from Barcelona speaking in Welsh accent somehow made it deeper.   Rishi Dastidar

Any Human Heart

ANY HUMAN HEART

William Boyd

Penguin, £7.99 list, or £7.99 on Amazon

My best read of the summer was a book I first read a few summers ago and listened to again while driving in the rain around France this August. It’s Any Human Heart by William Boyd, the story of a writer called Logan Mountstuart whose life follows the narrative of the century. He becomes a minor player in major events like the Spanish Civil War, and a minor character in the lives of the famous like the Duke of Windsor and Picasso. A wonderful cast of characters, brilliantly told to make you laugh at times, reflect at other times. On the audio book version, read by Timothy West, the story, characters and the whole world came alive again as we drove north and south, east and west across a very grey France.   John Simmons

Buy from Amazon: ‘Any Human Heart’
 

Ashes for Breakfast

ASHES FOR BREAKFAST

Durs Grünbein

Faber & Faber, £12.99 list, or £12.34 on Amazon

This was an unexpected discovery in Borders one Monday afternoon, as I was looking for something to remind me of this summer’s trip to Berlin. It does that, and much more. Grünbein is one of Germany’s foremost poets, and this collection bridges his work from before the Wall fell, and after. He weaves urban folktales, and has an eye for the telling and ridiculous detail, which he brings into wider narratives of life in, and the decline of, East Germany. Michael Hoffman’s translation (and introductory essay) is perfectly weighted too. I’ve dipped into it repeatedly in the past few months, and carried it round with me as a reminder of a great trip. It’s got me writing poetry again too, which I think is the highest recommendation of all.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘Ashes For Breakfast’

Chroma

CHROMA

Derek Jarman

Vintage, £6.99 list, or £5.24 on Amazon

This is a glorious celebration of colours. What are they? Why are they? How are they? What do they mean to us? How do we use them? What do we want from them? What qualities do we invest them with? Assigning each chapter a colour, Derek digs deep into painting, literature, philosophy, popular culture, the classics and his extraordinary life, to explore the mind-boggling subjectivity surrounding colours; that once we look beyond the hues they trigger responses, memories, relationships, prejudices, impulses and sensual bomb-shells that go to the very core of us. All the more poignant then that he compiled Chroma as he was dying. His failing eyesight and crumbling bodily functions give it a ghastly urgency; that this man who had celebrated light and colour so profoundly – from his iridescent movies to his Dungeness beach garden – should spend his last months gasping for it.   Tom Lynham

Buy from Amazon: ‘Chroma’

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS

J K Rowling

Bloomsbury, £17.99 list, or £8.99 on Amazon

My best book of the summer. I’m taking best to mean not the most thought provoking, challenging, fascinating or life enhancing, just the one I looked forward to picking up and which was still in my hands as I fell asleep. Harry Potter. I could pretend otherwise, but the karma police would get me later.   Sarah McCartney

Buy on Amazon: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’

Riddley Walker

RIDDLEY WALKER

Russell Hoban

Out of print, but you can get it second hand on Amazon

Witty, eloquent and brilliant. I read ‘The Book of Dave’ by Will Self recently and someone told me I had to read ‘Riddley Walker’ to go with it. There are startling similarities – both are set in post apocalyptic England, both are written in their own mutated version of English and both are utterly thought provoking. To be fair  Self has written the introduction to the edition I’ve got so at least he’s clear about the debt he owes Hoban.  Dystopian fiction at its best.   Roger Horberry’s best book of the summer.
Buy on Amazon: ‘Riddley Walker’

The Accidental

THE ACCIDENTAL

Ali Smith

Penguin, £7.99 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

I ploughed through quite a few books this summer, most of them admirable in their way. But ‘The Accidental’ really shone through. It’s the easy virtuosity of the writing, the switching from one point of view to the other, the unexpected turn of phrase and mood, poetic stream-of-consciousness passages juxtaposed with an almost brutal directness. Though the conceit of the mysterious stranger who turns a family’s life upside down is not a new one, Smith brings a freshness to it, managing to keep you intrigued well after you’ve turned the last page. In turns funny, sexy, moving and profound, ‘The Accidental’ is the most satisfying contemporary novel I’ve read in years.   Jim Davies

Buy on Amazon: ‘The Accidental’

The Complete Pratt

THE COMPLETE PRATT

Davied Nobbs

Arrow, £14.99 list, or £10.49 on Amazon

Probably my second-best book of the summer. (Or more accurately three books.) The Complete Pratt is a collection of three volumes chronicling the misadventures of Henry Pratt, winsome but accident-prone northerner. These semi-autobiographical comic novels paint a wry picture of growing up in austere post-war Britain, as the set-upon Pratt battles through the school system, lands a job as a hack on the local paper and moves on to greater things at the Cucumber Marketing Board. It’s well observed and darkly funny, just as you’d expect from the creator of Reggie Perrin.   Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Complete Pratt’

The Man Without Qualities

THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES

Robert Musil

Picador, £15 list, or £10.50 on Amazon

The best book I read this summer also doubles up as the book I read this summer, partly because the summer was so short, but mostly because the book was so demanding.  Somehow, I got it into my head that I needed to read more of The Great Novels, and this is definitively in that camp. Weighing in at 1130 pages, and with more depth of German philosophy than anyone can possibly need for a lifetime, I feel more self-righteous than enriched in truth. So, fellow 26ers, this falls into the category of I’ve-read-this-so-you-don’t-have-to. 

So what’s it about?  Bright, but drifting and dissolute young(ish) Viennese wastrel brilliantly observes the comings and goings in high society, in the meantime commenting on matters of national, personal and sexual identity, truth and deception, honour and the rest.  Truly, a work of genius.  Now, where did I put that Ian Rankin?   Martin Lee

By on Amazon: ‘Man Without Qualities’

Crow Country

CROW COUNTRY

Mark Cocker

Jonathan Cape, £16.99 list or £11.89 on Amazon

A whole book about crows. But somehow you don’t have to be a closet twitcher to enjoy it. It starts with the sight of 40,000 rooks coming home to roost near the author’s new home in deepest Norfolk. From there, he sets out to write a book “about that moment, about the ritual and the elements of the natural world – the light, the environment, the birds, myself – which create it.” The result is poetic and meditative, but also entertaining and eye-opening. You’ll never look at a crow the same way again.   Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: Crow Country

Invisible Monsters

INVISIBLE MONSTERS

Chuck Palahniuk

Vintage, £7.99 list or £5.99 on Amazon

More murder and mayhem from the man who brought you Fight Club. Brilliant, stripped down, muscular prose with more ideas per square inch than most authors manage over a book (or indeed career). As might be expected, somewhat intense and visceral. If tales of self mutilation, sex changes and prescription drug abuse aren’t your thing (although I can’t think why they wouldn’t be) then steer clear.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: Invisible Monsters

Ludmila's Broken English

LUDMILA’S BROKEN ENGLISH

DBC Pierre

Faber & Faber, £7.99 list or £3.99 on Amazon

It ain’t Vernon God Little, but don’t let that stop you. Some of the writing and use of language is just breathtaking, in other places it just doesn’t work and seems to try to hard. Interesting to contrast the glowing praise on the cover with the Amazon reviews. That said it still knocks most novels into a cocked hat. Give it fifty pages and see what you think.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: Ludmila’s Broken English

Pet Shop Boys Versus America

PET SHOP BOYS VERSUS AMERICA

Chris Heath and Pennie Smith

Penguin, from £20 on Amazon

In 1991, Pet Shop Boys decided that the USA should fall for their charms, and took their Perfomance tour there for a month long jaunt. Journalist Chris Heath and legendary photographer Pennie Smith were invited to document what was one of the odder rock shows to hit America, with its operatic staging, outrageous costumes and non-resolving narrative. The resulting book is a real treat: a collection of verbal and visual asides which detail the sheer inanity of the US music business and the tensions between commerce and art, and the difficulty of being true to your vision. And unexpectedly it is Chris Lowe rather than Neil Tennant who emerges as the star: by turns, scathing, sarcastic, dry, aloof, petulant, playful – and howlingly funny. If you’re a PSB fan, or indeed a wannabe music industry Machiavelli, it’s well worth tracking this down.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: Pet Shop Boys Versus America

Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words

SPARKLE AND SPIN: A BOOK ABOUT WORDS

Ann Rand and Paul Rand

Chronicle Books, £9.99 list or £9.49 on Amazon

“Some words are gay and bright and full of light like tinsel and silver and sparkle and spin…”

This children’s classic was originally published in 1957, with words by Ann Rand and predictably brilliant design by Paul Rand. It fell out of circulation for a few years but has recently been re-released and it’s well worth getting hold of a copy. If ever you need an example of words and design working together in joyous harmony, this is it.   Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: Sparkle and Spin

TED

TED

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It began in 1984 as a conference for people from those three areas, but has grown to become an annual gathering of "the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers". From science and technology to culture, the arts, business and global affairs, the talks at TED are fascinating and inspiring.

The TED website provides a continually updated archive of talks from previous conferences. And it’s also a beautifully designed site in its own right. If you’re ever feeling like your brain needs a kick-start, take a look through TED. There’ll be something there to get the wheels turning again.   Mike Reed

Unforgettable: Images That Have Changed Our Lives

UNFORGETTABLE: IMAGES THAT HAVE CHANGED OUR LIVES

Peter Davenport

Chronicle Books, £2.90 from Amazon

This is one of those ingenious, deviously simple books that infuriates you because you think “Now why didn’t I have that idea?” It can be easily described. Each page is blank, except for a caption at the bottom that describes what you are “seeing”.  Andy Warhol’s soup can, the moon landing, DNA, the Penguin books logo etc etc.  The point is, of course, that these iconic images are so perfectly stored in our minds that even the mention of the words evokes the image. A far better book than the same book with all the pictures could ever be. And cheaper to reproduce as well. If you’re thinking, OK, I’ve got the idea, I don’t need to buy the book, well, that’s fair enough, but it’s a fascinating talking point and is a great kick start to  creativity.   Martin Lee

Buy from Amazon: Unforgettable

 

BLOGGING IS 10

Blogging was born 10 years ago (my, haven’t you grown). Wall Street Journal analyses what’s happened and asks 12 commentators to commentate. Tom Wolfe is “weary of narcissistic shrieks and baseless ‘information’.”
http://online.wsj.com.   Tim Rich

Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics

BREWER’S ROGUES, VILLAINS AND ECCENTRICS

William Donaldson

Phoenix, £9.99 list, or £6.49 on Amazon

Incredibly readable roundup of 500 years of the mad, bad and dangerous to know, all brought to you by the man behind the Henry Root letters. The restrained writing only accentuates the sheer weirdness/wildness on display. There’s an explosive first novel in almost every entry (if only I could get off my backside and begin).   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘Brewer’s Rogues’

 

BUSINESS RULES OF THUMB

Insightful, irritating, eloquent and simplistic soundbites about different areas of business. http://rulesofthumb.pbwiki.com.   Tim Rich

 

DAVID MCCANDLESS

One for anyone who uses Apple products – a very funny way to promote a book about the Internet. www.davidmccandless.   Tim Rich

Kate Nash

KATE NASH

I’ve recently stumbled across Kate Nash’s music, and she’s terrific with words. Original, witty, enchanting. A sort of cross between John Hegley and Mike Skinner. But female. And with her own distinctive sound. So that’s as clear as mud.

There’s an eponymous album on its way and two singles so far: ‘Foundations’ and ‘Caroline’s a Victim’. ‘Foundations’ is great – a funny, bitter end-of-love song:

Your face is pasty ’cause you’ve gone and got so wasted – what a surprise.
Don’t want to look at your face ’cause it’s makin’ me sick.
You’ve gone and got sick on my trainers,
I only got these yesterday.
Oh my gosh, I cannot be bothered with this.

Well, I’ll leave you there ’til the mornin’,
and I purposely won’t turn the heating on,
and dear God, I hope I’m not stuck with this one.

My fingertips are holding on to
the cracks in our foundation,
and I know that I should let go,
but I can’t.

Have a look at www.katenash.co.uk and www.myspace.com/katenashmusic

Mike Reed

Make it bigger

MAKE IT BIGGER

Paula Scher

Princeton Architectural Press, £17.99 list or £13.49 on Amazon

Really inspiring book by Pentagram partner Paula Scher. Like a lot of good design books, it’s tempting just to flick through and enjoy the pictures. But a proper read pays off. You get a tangible sense of the stories behind the work – particularly the tortuous approval processes and corporate politics with which every designer (and writer) has to contend. And there’s a rare insight into the inner workings of Pentagram, whose financial structure she compares with a houseshare, with “an appropriate mechanism to compensate one roommate for the extra milk consumed by the other”. Full of good sense, good humour and great design.   Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: Make it bigger

Mister Pip

MISTER PIP

Lloyd Jones

John Murray, £12.99 list, or £7.78 on Amazon

I love Dickens and Great Expectations, so I was attracted to this new novel. This is a book set in the South Sea islands, drawing on Dickens for inspiration in the most extraordinary way. The story of Great Expectations and its protagonist Pip becomes a way for the novel’s young narrator to understand herself and her own life. The story becomes the creative means of survival but also the cause of destruction during an uprising that brings violence and tragedy to family and community. It’s a meditation upon the power of storytelling that will inspire and haunt members of 26. Read it with Robert Mighall’s chapter in Common Ground as a companion piece, particularly for its moving ending.   John Simmons

Buy from Amazon: ‘Mister Pip’

Monocle

MONOCLE

£5 RRP

Not entirely sure about Tyler Brule’s latest publishing venture. On the one hand, the international lifestyle it celebrates is jarringly at odds with the green spirit of the age. (It apparently targets the kind of person who has dinner in Madrid and pops over to Reykjavik for dessert.) On the other hand, it looks undeniably smart and has some interesting writing, like the recent piece on the world’s top 20 most liveable cities. (Munich came top.) Worth a look – just make sure you recycle it when you’re done.   Nick Asbury

Monocle

Penguins Stopped Play: Eleven VIllage Cricketers Take on the World

PENGUINS STOPPED PLAY: ELEVEN VILLAGE CRICKETERS TAKE ON THE WORLD

Harry Thompson

John Murray, £12.99 list, or £7.79 on Amazon

Here’s another book about the peculiarities of the English, as refracted through fruitless summers spent chasing a red ball around a field. For those of you who have flailed helplessly as the dobber dribbled past your bat, or who’ve stood by helplessly as your perfect leg-cutter has whistled by your ears, Harry Thompson’s evocations of the exasperations that is the mediocre cricketer’s lot will ring true. For the rest of us, marvel in the sheer lunancy that is organising a cricket tour that visits five continents in three weeks, and the gallery of rogues that troops on and off the field. Did I mention there’s a laugh on nearly every page too?   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘Penguins Stopped Play’

Unreliable Memoirs

UNRELIABLE MEMOIRS

CLIVE JAMES

Picador, £7.99 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

Snort. Mmmmfff. Gurgle. Hee hee. These were some of the sounds that I made while trying to read this on the Tube. The first volume of his memoirs, James’ tall tales of growing up in 1950s Sydney, are a joy. From terrorising all and sundry with his high jinks, to being terrified by girls ’n’ stuff, the retelling of the countless scrapes that he got into will leave you amazed that he ever got out of them.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: ‘Unreliable Memoirs’

 

WEASEL WORDS

Delightfully snipey Australian site about business language. www.weaselwords.com.au.   Tim Rich

 

AT THE END OF THE DAY, YOU’VE GIVEN 110 PER CENT

A revealing piece on the Telegraph’s web site where readers have sent in examples of the words, phrases and language that most annoys them. Note that 80 per cent of it is best-of-breed, end-to-end, mission-critical, world-leading business speak.   Jim Davies

Dali's Mustache

DALI’S MUSTACHE

Salvador Dali & Philippe Halsman

Flammarion, £10 list, used copies available on Amazon

There are two real, and little known, treats at Tate Modern’s current exhibition about the impact of film on Dali. One is his collaboration with Disney, the short and gripping film, ‘Destino’. This book is a record of the other: a ‘photographic interview’ from 1954 conducted by ‘Life’ photographer Halsman. He asks Dali a series of faux-naïf, deeply philosophical questions, about his life, his art, his beliefs. Dali answers using just his moustache. Which is as mind-boggling as it sounds. It is acres of fun, and left me smiling for hours.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: Dali’s Mustache

Diagram

DIAGRAM

Another fabulous online edition for those with a peculiar love of old information design and schematics. Look at that horse!   Tim Rich

Kean

KEAN

The Apollo Theatre, London

This is a play by Jean-Paul Sartre in a new version directed by Adrian Noble. It’s about the actor Edmund Kean who was famous for playing the great Shakespearean roles in the 18th century. Confusingly (perhaps) this version is set in the 20th century. The main reason for seeing it is the central performance by Anthony Sher as Kean. Given the opportunity to ham it up as Othello, Macbeth, Richard III etc, Sher seizes it with both hands and wildly revolving eyeballs. But this is a tormented character too, on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The biggest surprise, though, is that the play and the performance are wonderfully funny. Sartre – funny? I know, it’s not what you might expect. That’s why you should go and see it. It’s on until mid-August.   John Simmons

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT

Simon Armitage

Faber & Faber, £12.99 list, or £7.79 on Amazon

I was in a rain-soaked traffic jam on the M25 when a deep, mesmerising voice spoke to me from the radio. These were the first words of the first performance of a wonderful new version of Gawain, written by 26er Simon Armitage and read by Ian McKellen. The rhythm and intrigue and visceral turns of phrase keep you hanging on each new line. If you can’t find the recording, the print version is published by Faber.   Tim Rich

Buy from Amazon: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Suite Francaise

SUITE FRANCAISE

Irene Nemirovsky

Vintage Classics, £7.99 list, or £3.99 on Amazon

Strangely compelling novel documenting the fall of France in the spring and summer of 1940. It was supposed to be in five parts; the author only finished the first two before perishing in Auschwitz. Despite everything it’s not at all gloomy and in fact comes over as rather life affirming. Not my usual thing but the quality of the writing won me over. Don’t let the crap cover put you off.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: Suite Francaise

The Book of Dave

THE BOOK OF DAVE

Will Self

Penguin,£7.99 list, or £4.80 on Amazon

Blimey, some of this is a hard going, not least because of the language Will invents for his dystopian world. Not exactly a barrel of laughs (some of his earlier stuff is really very funny) but instead intelligent, unnerving and disturbing. I must say I think A Clockwork Orange does the language thing better. Good stuff but not for the fainthearted.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: The Book of Dave

The Quiet American

THE QUIET AMERICAN

Graham Greene

Vintage Classics, £7.99 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

I’ve just finished this fantastic book, my first Greene (I’m ashamed to say). What a read: big, important ideas about life, death, love, politics, Vietnam, America… none of which overwhelm a story so compelling it tugs insistently at your sleeve whenever you’re not reading it. The prose is spare, clean and piercing, and the main character – a cynical reporter named Fowler – is a perfect narrator: precise and lucid but never unnaturally so. He’s also frequently unkind and selfish, but remains engaging and caustically funny enough to keep you with him. By the end, you can’t think of Fowler (or indeed any of the characters) as anything but real flesh and blood, with real pain, real confusion, real anger and real love. Fabulous.   Mike Reed

Buy from Amazon: The Quiet American

The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative

THE SITUATION AND THE STORY: THE ART OF PERSONAL NARRATIVE

Vivian Gornick

Farrar Straus Giroux, £6.57 list, or £5.91 on Amazon

Here’s a book that’s really helpful for non fiction writers and could be useful for copywriters searching for a narrative too. Vivian Gornick explains her theory that every work of literature has a situation and a story. The situation is the context, circumstance or plot; the story is the emotional experience of the writer. And if you just describe the situation, you deprive the reader of the guts of the story. Gornick gives examples by George Orwell, James Baldwin and Joan Didion to illustrate her point.   Fiona Thompson

Buy from Amazon: The Situation and the Story

Affluenza

AFFLUENZA

Oliver James

Vermillion, £17.99 list, or £10.46 on Amazon

Money can’t buy you love, as my Uncle Paul used to sing and recently demonstrated in his divorce from Auntie Heather. Can it buy you happiness?
Now that happiness can be measured, the stats are out there and they are showing that once basic needs are met, we don’t get any happier as we get wealthier, particularly not if everyone else gets wealthier at the same rate and most definitely not if you’re getting left behing your mates. When the London School of Economics starts to investigate whether the pursuit of growth and wealth is a major strategic mistake for the whole human race, you’ve got to take it seriously, haven’t you? Nevertheless, the stats show that on the whole we all think we’d be perfectly happy if we earned one third more than we did now.

James has identified the Affluenza virus as the major cause of depression and anxiety in the West. (The East are catching up fast). Except Denmark. They seem to be immune. The workaholic, brand-hungry Japanese aren’t too badly affected either. The author travelled the world to check this theory: the accepted wisdom of the west that we will be happier the more we own is wrong and is causing increasing anxiety and psychological problems. Affluenza is not a complicated scientific tract; it’s full of stories about real people which James tells and interprets. We may not agree with him, but he makes us think and that can’t be bad.   Sarah McCartney

Buy from Amazon: ‘Affluenza’

Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company

BROOKLYN SUPERHERO SUPPLY COMPANY

Though they do sell some superhero supplies (grappling hooks and cans of anti-matter) the storefront of the BSSC hides its true purpose: a drop in centre for young writers known as 826NY. All under 18s are welcome, and the centre aims to help with basic literacy, homework advice and just simply providing a space for children to be creative and explore their own, and other’s, writing. The brainchild of Mcsweeney’s editor, Dave Eggers, the centre also has a twin in San Francisco, 826 Valencia.

For more information check out:

www.826nyc.org/

And

www.superherosupplies.com/

 Matt Simmons

 

CHARLESTON – AN ARTIST’S HOME AND GARDEN

Nr Lewes, East Sussex

Adult entry £6.50

Lots of talks, walks, workshops and other great days out to be enjoyed at the home and meeting place of the Bloomsbury Group. Look out for the Small Wonder Short Story Festival. www.charleston.org.uk.   Tim Rich

How I Write - The Secret Lives Of Authors

HOW I WRITE – THE SECRET LIVES OF AUTHORS

Edited by Dan Crow

Rizzoli, £19.95 list, or £13.97 on Amazon

The title’s a nod to the famous Orwell essay ‘Why I Write’, but the premise is quite different. This is a mainly visual compilation of the personal crutches, good luck charms, window views and ergonomic quirks that help writers to… well… write. In other words, a rare glimpse into the working environments of authors like Douglas Coupland, Alain de Botton, Michael Faber and Ian Rankin. Will Self has a wall of regimented Post-It notes, which he uses to arrange ideas and bits of dialogue; Jonathan Letham collects pages and pages of names; Nicolson Baker has drawers full of ear plugs; Jonathan Franzen swears by his squeaky office chair. Me? Well thanks for asking. I have a pair of bright orange office chairs, and three outsize pin-boards peppered with personal artefacts – a photo of Stevie Wonder in his 70s pomp; a B-52’s badge I had at university; garlic packaging in the shape of a coffin; and a pair of joke eyebrows given to me by Jon Barnbrook.   Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘How I Write’

If on a Winter's Night a Traveller

IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER

Italo Calvino

Vintage Classics, £7.77 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

Bit of an old one but this strange tale of writers and readers is utterly captivating. If you like fiction that twists and turns like a twisty turny thing then this is right up your street. Slightly reminded me of Borges with all its switchbacks and labyrinthine action. Post modern without being po faced.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller’

NIXON AGONISTES: THE CRISIS OF THE SELF-MADE MAN

NIXON AGONISTES: THE CRISIS OF THE SELF-MADE MAN

Garry Wills

Mariner Books, £6.78 on Amazon

If you’ve recently seen Peter Morgan’s ‘Frost/Nixon’, which is currently wowing them on Broadway, then this is essential reading. Wills, a regular contributor to the ‘New York Review of Books’, is liberal America’s pre-eminent political commentator, and this is the book that made his name. It is a magisterial account of Nixon’s rise, fall and rise to win the 1968 presidential election, after his failure in 1960. He traces the austere family background, the sense of outsiderness, the hard work and ‘iron butt’ political ability, as well as the persecution complex which made Nixon the most compelling politician of his age. Underpinned by solid reporting, it reads a great American novel, and has a eye-popping relevance to today’s politics, in the US and UK.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: Nixon Agonistes

Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral

SELECTED POEMS OF GABRIELA MISTRAL

Translated by Ursula K Le Guin

University of New Mexico Press, £28.50 list, or £21.50 on Amazon

I’d never heard of Gabriela Mistral until this week, when a friend went in search of a poem of hers called ‘Flight’, about the death of the poet’s mother. It was a hauntingly beautiful poem that made me want to know more. Mistral was a Chilean poet who was a friend of Neruda. In 1945, she became the first Latin American writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but is little known now. Maybe these evocative translations by Ursula K Le Guin (weirdly, the same author who wrote the children’s sci fi Earthsea books) will help to raise her profile.   Fiona Thompson

Buy from Amazon: ‘Selected Poems of Gabriela Mistral’

The Ha-Ha

THE HA-HA

Dave King

Little, Brown, £15.99 list, various bookseller prices through Amazon

Howard Kapostash is a Vietnam vet who can’t speak, due to a wartime injury. He gets by pretty well by generally ignoring the outside world and focusing on his work, gardening at a convent. Then his life changes when his ex-girlfriend dumps her young son on him, as she goes off to get treatment for cocaine addiction. Howard is one of those wonderfully stoic misunderstood heroes in the mould of Quoyle from The Shipping News, and this novel keeps you gripped, waiting to find out if looking after a nine year old boy will open Howard up or lead him down a new path of self-destruction.   Fiona Thompson

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Ha-Ha’

Can I change your mind?

CAN I CHANGE YOUR MIND?

Lindsay Camp

A&C Black, £9.99 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

This is a first book about writing for business from Lindsay Camp whom many of us will know (or know of). Lindsay’s been around for many years as a respected and admired copywriter, and his book is all about persuasive writing – for websites, proposals, brochures etc. He sets out his advice and wisdom in a way that is disarmingly light – but if you follow what he says you’ll end up being a better writer. This should be a core book for 26 members.   John Simmons

Buy from Amazon: Can I change your mind?

Fopp

FOPP

Music, film + books, at a town near you

When I moved out of London eight years ago, I happened across the fabulous Fopp in Leamington Spa. Proclaiming itself ‘the UK’s leading independent music chain’, it sold CDs for a fraction of the usual price, and I quickly became addicted. The staff were incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, and would even put by any new stuff they thought might interest me. At the time it was one of only six Fopps in the country, but since then they’ve expanded massively, with a huge flagship store in Tottenham Court Road. Now my secret’s out, I just hope Fopp can retain its original edge, tone and character.

One thing’s for sure, you can still pick up some real treats in there – last week I bought the fabulous two-CD collection ‘It Came From Memphis’, featuring little known gems by Howlin’ Wolf, Al Green, Isaac Hayes and Booker T & the MG’s. All for a princely £3. Oh, and some great book deals too.   Jim Davies

Harpo Speaks!

HARPO SPEAKS!

Harpo Marx

Limelight Editions, £10.18 list, or £9.67 on Amazon

The famously mute Harpo Marx wasn’t mute at all – his voice was just too high and squeaky for movies. In fact, Harpo spent his life talking to an enormous variety of people, many of them outrageously famous – like the famous Algonquin group that included Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott and Dorothy Parker. Marx’s voluminous autobiography takes you from his scratch-a-living childhood in New York through adventures in showbiz (the boys’ mother put them on the stage), troubles in Russia, piano-playing in a whorehouse and his eventual success and familial bliss. It’s the sort of life nobody would believe in a novel, told with charm, verve and a big, friendly dollop of unguarded sentiment. A terrific read.   Mike Reed


Buy from Amazon: Harpo Speaks!

How To Be Free

HOW TO BE FREE

Tom Hodgkinson

Hamish Hamilton, £14.99 list, or £8.39 on Amazon

This is a lovely little book from the chap behind The Idler magazine. Slightly dippy in places but full of fine ideas about how to live a better, more fulfilling life. Amusing and inspiring in equal measure.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: How to be Free

No one belongs here more than you

NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU

Miranda July

You’ve written a book and you want to produce an amazing website that gets people interested. Something unusual. Something free of the normal constraints of publishing blurb, and web design. Your budget is tiny. Solution?   Tim Rich

Q and A

Q AND A

Normally publications focused on visual arts are forbidding. This one is very different. Q & A is a new newspaper which, as its name suggests, is structured around a simple question and answer format. They’ve persuaded some people that you’ve heard of – including David Shrigley, Peter Saville and Terry Hall – and plenty that you haven’t, to talk about their inspirations and work. It’s all insightful and engaging. and best of all, free. If you can’t get down to London to find a copy, you can still read a heck of a lot on www.qandamagazine.com   Rishi Dastidar

Tales of the City

TALES OF THE CITY

Armistead Maupin

Black Swan, £7.99 list, or £5.59 on Amazon

Maupin’s delightful series of stories from ’70s and ’80s San Francisco is charming, inventive and completely addictive. Originally published as a serial in the SF Chronicle, the early books are made up of bite-size chapters, and it’s always difficult to resist ‘just one more’. What’s really striking, though, is how Maupin manages to introduce deadly serious subjects into what appears at first an entirely light-hearted and frothy entertainment. The Jonestown massacre, homophobic attacks, and the rise of HIV are all woven into the books with aplomb – and remarkable success. It’s only when spectres such as these – especially the last – begin to haunt the books that you realise just how much you’ve come to care for these funny, flawed and fully human characters.   Mike Reed

Buy from Amazon: Tales of the City

The Gashlycrumb Tinies

THE GASHLYCRUMB TINIES

Edward Gorey

Bloomsbury, £5.99 list or £4.19 on Amazon

In fact, I recommend any and all of Gorey’s weird and wonderful work. In case you don’t know, he was an illustrator and writer pitched somewhere between Poe and Edward Lear. His humour is surreal, gothic, dark and hilarious, and frequently attributed to anagrammatic versions of himself, like Ogdred Weary. The Gashlycrumb Tinies was my first Gorey: a grimly hilarious A to Z of children’s deaths. ‘A is Amy who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil assaulted by bears,’ and so on. (See the whole alphabet at http://users.aol.com/emarko/gorey.html.) You can buy his collected works as Amphigorey and Amphigorey Too, but the stories work much better in the little individual books that have been reissued lately.   Mike Reed

Buy from Amazon: Gashlycrumb Tinies

The Gigolos

THE GIGOLOS

Richard Bracewell

A film by Richard Bracewell which is intriguing but could have been so much better if it hadn’t been a writer-free zone. The appearance of four grandes dames of British acting contrasts with the new talents of the two male leads. This must be a low-budget movie, yet that just doesn’t show through – it’s well staged, very well shot, evocatively lit, and slickly edited. Worth watching out for the scenes in the Audley Club (is Bracewell paying homage to the thrillers of Anthony Price?) which make gigoloing out to be a profession like any other – with a whip-round for an anniversary party that wouldn’t be out of place in a pub full of solicitors’ clerks. See it – you won’t regret it. And you’ll be able to say you saw Richard Bracewell’s first movie first time around, because there’ll be more, bigger films to follow from him. And it’s also an object lesson in the value that a writer can add to a project…   Ken Munn

More details here…

 

The Men Who Stare at Goats

THE MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS

Picador, £7.99 list, or £3.99 on Amazon

An intriguing, funny and, ultimately, disturbing book about the US military’s use of peculiar psychological and psychic techniques, by journalist Jon Ronson. Seemingly laughable and absurd experiments become seeds for new forms of combat and interrogation in Iraq. Wry and dark.   Tim Rich

Buy from Amazon: Men Who Stare At Goats

Wall and Piece

WALL AND PIECE

Banksy

Century, £12.99 list or £8.57 on Amazon

It’s not graffiti I object to. It’s just bad graffiti. If all roadside ‘art’ was as thought-provoking, witty and mischievous as Banksy’s, the urban landscape would be a richer place for it. ‘Wall And Piece’ is a photographed collection of subversive stencils, slogans, installation art and stunts that the elusive Bristolian has created everywhere from London and Melbourne, to the Segregation Wall in Israel. As temporal as a Richard Long sculpture, these arresting pieces make political points and observations with delicious flair and economy. Deservedly the best-selling graphics book of 2006.   Jim Davies


Buy from Amazon: ‘Wall And Piece’

Etre et Avoir

ETRE ET AVOIR

Directed by Nicholas Philibert

£19.99 list, or £15.98 on Amazon

Strange one this, because it’s probably one of the least dramatic documentaries you’ll ever see. The film follows a tiny mixed-aged class of schoolchildren in the Auvergne region of France. It moves at a slow pace, and although there is violence (one child pushes another over) and pathos (a little girl tries to cope when someone nicks her rubber), it is the teacher who really steals the show. He patiently talks the children through learning to read and write, adjudicates playground spats, and counsels them as they prepare to leave for big school. It’s really moving and touching, because it’s a refreshing counterpoint to all the media stories that would have you believe that school is mostly about drugs, flick knives and gangs.   Fiona Thompson

Buy from Amazon: ‘Etre et Avoir’

Horace Dorlan

HORACE DORLAN

Andrzej Klimowski

Faber & Faber, £12.99 list, or £7.79 on Amazon

This isn’t out until 5 April, but I was fortunate enough to review it for ‘Design Week’. Part novel, part film noir storyboard, ‘Horace Dorlan’ flits from written to visual narrative to create a surreal juxtaposition, as if you were dropping in and out of a strange dream. Klimowski cleverly sets the scene and then the reader does the rest, applying their own interpretation to this mesmerising tale of existential angst. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.  Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Horace Dorlan’

Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley

LAST TRAIN TO MEMPHIS: THE RISE OF ELVIS PRESLEY

Peter Guralnick

Abacus, £12.99 list or £8.57 on Amazon

A meticulously researched book that calmly sets about reclaiming Elvis from the pop culture caricature – telling the story of his early years in a way that’s both exhilarating and achingly sad, given our knowledge of what comes next. In the process, it evokes an America that seems part of a mythical bygone age, rather than just a couple of generations past. The second instalment – ‘Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley’ – is equally brilliant but necessarily covers more familiar ground.   Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: Last Train To Memphis

Mother Leakey and the Bishop

MOTHER LEAKEY AND THE BISHOP

Peter Marshall

OUP, £12.99 list or £7.79 on Amazon

‘Mother Leakey’ is historical detective work at its best. Marshall has uncovered, and then woven together, two tales which at first glance are both odd and unrelated: the supposed appearances of a ghost in seventeenth-century Minehead, and the hanging of a bishop in Ireland. It is a rip-snortingly good piece of micro-history, shedding light on contemporary attitudes to sex, money, the Church and Anglo-Irish politics of the period, while providing a valuable insight into the workings of the historian’s craft. If the tales weren’t true, you’d have wanted someone to make them up.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘Mother Leakey And The Bishop’

 

MURAKAMI ON THE WEB

A stunning multimedia website for the very wonderful Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, with excerpts, interviews, and a quintessentially Murakami-esque soundtrack ghosting along with you, as you wander its corridors. Play loud. Murakami on the web.   Tim Rich

Shaun the Sheep

SHAUN THE SHEEP

Aaardman Animation

BBC1, weekdays 3.45pm

A 40-part animated TV series featuring Shaun (and the rest of his woolly flock), who originally appeared in Nick Park’s Oscar-winning film ‘A Close Shave’. Each episode is just five minutes long, and is an exercise in concise yet inspired storytelling. Its appeal and comedy is universal… as I can testify first hand, it manages to get seven year olds and 40 year olds rolling about on the floor in uncontained mirth.   Jim Davies

Slowly Downward: A Collection of Miserable Stories

SLOWLY DOWNWARD: A COLLECTION OF MISERABLE STORIES

Stanley Donwood

Naked Guides Ltd, £10 list, or £9.50 on Amazon

Essex man, mythmaker, husbander of countryside and in his spare time, sleeve designer for Radiohead and Thom Yorke, this is a re-issued edition of Donwood’s first collection of short stories. Think Dave Eggars-like interventions, only shorter, bleaker, grimmer and even more truthful. It’s a negative amuse bouche, and all the better for it.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: ‘Slowly Downward’

The 33 1/3 series

THE 33 1/3 SERIES

Various Authors

Continuum Books, £6.99 each, or £5.59 on Amazon

A great series of pocket-sized books on the making of classic albums – and not just the obvious choices. There’s everything from Doolittle to The Kinks, Meat is Murder to OK Computer, The Stone Roses to Born in the USA. Each book takes a different tack, some including interviews with the artists involved, others tackling a track at a time – and unearthing some great trivia along the way. Some authors make a better fist of it than others, but all approach the subject with obvious lifelong enthusiasm. They’re nicely designed too and make for a smart collection.   Nick Asbury   

Buy on Amazon: Doolittle

The Book Thief

THE BOOK THIEF

Marcus Zusak

Doubleday, £12.99 list, or £7.79 on Amazon

Following JK Rowling and Philip Pullman’s lead in creating credible crossover fiction, Aussie author Marcus Zusak ups the ante with ‘The Book Thief’. It tells the tale of Liesel Merminger, a foster child in Hitler’s Germany, who steals books to satisfy the solace she finds in them. Zusak sidesteps sentimentality by making Death his narrator, introducing instead a note of black humour and realism that feels spot-on for today’s audience. It might sound gimmicky, but above all else this is a terrific piece of storytelling that will touch the hearts of young and old alike.   Freddie Baveystock

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Book Thief’

The Magic Spring

THE MAGIC SPRING

Richard Lewis

Atlantic Books, £8.99 list, or £7.19 on Amazon

Former business journalist Richard Lewis gave up his job to dress as a horse in public. This is his account of time spent hanging out with Mummers, Morris dancers and assorted pagans in a quest to discover his English roots. It’s a funny, poignant tale involving a lot of men with beards, and a good deal of real ale. A great read.   Lu Hersey

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Magic Spring’

The Pentagram Papers: A Collection of 36 Unique Publications

THE PENTAGRAM PAPERS: A COLLECTION OF 36 UNIQUE PUBLICATIONS

Kit Hinrichs and Pentagram

Thames & Hudson, £35 list, or £23.10 on Amazon

A superb roundup of Pentagram’s idiosyncratic and influential annual  documents. Think of it as three decades’ intellectual curiosity, neatly compressed into one (slightly funny smelling) big book. Comes with the latest of these highly sought after documents (No. 36 – African Folk Signs), which unfortunately proves to be distinctly underwhelming. Don’t let that
put you off.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘The Pentagram Papers’

Under the Skin

UNDER THE SKIN

Michael Faber

Canongate Books, £7.99 list, or £6.39 on Amazon

Unsettling, sinister, engrossing, terrifying, disturbing, riveting, upsetting, utterly unputdownable. Will do for hitchhiking in the Highlands what Psycho did for low-budget motels.   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: ‘Under The Skin’

A few choice blogs

A FEW CHOICE BLOGS

Billboardom (pictured here) is a site packed with innovative and often brilliant bits of outdoor and ambient advertising. Good for shaking the mind out of a rut.

amillionpenguins.com is Penguin’s experiment in communal novel-writing. (Which I found through 26 and Innocent man Dan Germain’s blog – also well worth a look)

The Penguin site is a ‘wiki’ that allows anyone to join in, either adding their own words or editing those already posted. It sounds like it would produce a complete mess, which seems to be exactly what is happening.

The Friday Thing is a ‘weekly email comment sheet’ that you can have delivered free to your inbox every Friday. It’s rude, cynical, satirical and often very funny indeed. There are no bylines but apparently some fairly big names stick their oars in now and then (Gervais and the like.) It’s very long, so I often don’t get through it all before work-guilt takes over. But I’ve come to look forward to its arrival, and always try to read it all. If, like me, you’re pressed for time, check out the ‘Haiknews’: haiku condensations   Mike Reed

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football

BRILLIANT ORANGE: THE NEUROTIC GENIUS OF DUTCH FOOTBALL

David Winner

Bloomsbury, £7.99 list, or £3.99 on Amazon

Quite simply the best football book I have ever read. Mainly because it’s so much more than that. ‘Brilliant Orange’ is an exhilarating cultural commentary, taking a mazy dribble through Dutch politics, history and sociology and explaining how they all feed into the sublime but often maddening way the Oranje play football. I defy you to find another football book that tackles airport design and has all its chapters in random order, mimicking the fluidity of total football.   Jim Davies

Buy on Amazon: ‘Brilliant Orange’

Flash For Freedom

FLASH FOR FREEDOM

George Macdonald Fraser

HarperCollins, £7.99 list, or £5.99 on Amazon

In which Flashman, the beastly bully of Tom Brown’s School Days, gets up to all sorts of caddish behaviour and somehow emerges unscathed (and indeed unreformed). About as PC as a 1970s Bernard Manning club routine. Thankfully much, much funnier.   Roger Horberry

Buy on Amazon: ‘Flash For Freedom’

 

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS: IN POWERPOINT

For any of you that ever have to resort to presenting PowerPoints to clients, the following link will keep you honest. The Gettysburg Address, reduced to PowerPoint, is as powerful an indictment of reductionism as you’ll see. Read it and laugh, followed closely by weep.   Martin Lee

Like A Fiery Elephant: The Story Of BS Johnson

LIKE A FIERY ELEPHANT: THE STORY OF BS JOHNSON

Jonathan Coe

Picador, £9.99 list, or £6.59 on Amazon

BS Johnson was… well, you’d expect to be able to complete that sentence easily enough after finishing a biography of him. But Jonathan Coe’s incandescently brilliant reconstruction of his troubled life leaves you unsure.
 
Was Johnson a criminally overlooked English man of letters, lauded abroad but forgotten at home, his high modernist experiments actually literary cul-de-sacs? Or maybe he was a ‘porcine lout’, the aggressive, depressive, working class warrior in thrall to a nonsensical idea about ‘truth’, copious amounts of alcohol and crippling superstitions, meaning penury was forever on the way?
 
The fragments of Johnson’s life, work and brutal disintegration are expertly assembled and layered, to form not only a fabulous primer on an important writer, but a deconstruction of the arts of fiction and biography. It is gripping from start to finish, and will not only send you in search of Johnson’s work, but re-invigorate your desire to challenge literary conventions. It’s the best bloody biography I’ve ever read, and it makes me want to write more, and write harder and better. It really is that good.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: ‘Like A Fiery Elephant’

Moondust

MOONDUST

Andrew Smith

Bloomsbury, £8.99 list, or £5.39 on Amazon

This remarkable book is the true story of what’s become of a very small and select minority group – the Apollo astronauts who actually walked on the moon. Only nine of the original twelve moonwalkers are still alive, and they’re all old men. This account of their experience, and how profoundly it affected their lives, makes for a fascinating, very poignant read.   Lu Hersey

Buy on Amazon: ‘Moondust’

Room To Rhyme

ROOM TO RHYME

Seamus Heaney, with artworks by Brigid Collins

University of Dundee, £7.50

Heaney was invited to give a ‘Greatest Minds’ lecture at the University of Dundee’s Graduation Day in 2003. This is the transcript and, as a writer’s manifesto, it’s wonderfully inspiring. It’s also a beautiful publication.   Stuart Delves

Copies are available from a.j.constable@dundee.ac.uk
Tel: (01382) 385564

The Crane Wife

THE CRANE WIFE

The Decemberists

Rough Trade, £8.99 on Amazon

The Decemberists are America’s pre-eminent fabulists, fantasists and fatalists. Based in the exacting dampness of Portland, Oregon, they’re the sort of band whose guitarist can turn up on TV to participate in a guitar duel with Peter Frampton, adjudicated by Henry Kissinger.
 
Whilst we wait for that snippet to appear on YouTube, we have their sterling new effort The Crane Wife to keep us company. Songwriter Colin Meloy has fashioned 11 stirring and gothic tales of, amongst others, Yankee soldiers in the Civil War, and their Japanese wives who turn into birds. He tells these tall tales over a chiming background that is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac at their most thrillingly open-throttled and R.E.M. in their plangent, folk-rock pomp.
 
It is some of the most complex, lyrical and gripping music you will hear this year.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy on Amazon: ‘The Crane Wife’

The Drawbridge

THE DRAWBRIDGE

While the broadsheets go tabloid along comes a beautiful quarterly independent broadsheet to remind us what a delight large formats can be. But it’s the mix of contributors that really makes The Drawbridge such a revitalising read. DBC Pierre on backgammon sits by Gerry Adams
storytelling about Long Kesh and David Shrigley directing us down a hole before Noam Chomsky considers Iraq. More at www.thedrawbridge.org.uk   Tim Rich

The Paris Review Interviews, Volume 1

THE PARIS REVIEW INTERVIEWS, VOLUME 1

Philip Gourevitch (Editor)

Canongate Books, £14.99 list, or £9.89 on Amazon

Twenty remarkable conversations with exceptional writers (Didion, Bellow, Hemingway, Capote, Vonnegut…) drawn from the pages of the Review between 1956 and 2006. Free of critical abstraction and obfuscation, this is about great writers discussing how they write: the problems, the habits, the motivation.   Tim Rich

Buy on Amazon: ‘Paris Review Interviews’

 

‘LA PHOTOGRAPHIE HUMANISTE’ AND ‘ROBERT DOISNEAU’

Bibliothèque nationale de France and Hôtel de Ville, Paris

Even a 26 member has to concede that some shows don’t need words at all. Even though photo-journalism has gone the way of magazines such as Life and Picture Post, two remarkable exhibitions in Paris — La Photographie humaniste, at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, and the retrospective of Robert Doisneau’s wonderful photos of the capital at the Hôtel de Ville — have lessons in framing, composition and above all economy that any writer could (should) learn from. Spare, mostly black and white, these ‘frozen moments’ are communication stripped to essentials: some of the most urgent and compelling testimonies to the human condition ever produced.   Simon Caulkin

Faust

FAUST

Punchdrunk Theatre/National Theatre
This is extraordinary and almost indescribable. It’s the story of Faust (selling his soul to the devil for a life of pleasure) performed on five storeys of a disused warehouse in Wapping in London’s docklands. The location adds its own dark atmosphere. Inside, you are invited by a strange collection of characters, to explore the space. You wander around the floors, in virtual darkness, and you become part of the telling of the Faust story, wandering in and out of different scenes and settings. You are in a mythical America of the early 20th century, but seen through the surreal eyes you bring to it as you watch through a mask. You’ll never forget this experience. Go between now and the end of March – you can book through the National. www.nationaltheatre.org.uk   John Simmons

Filthy Shakespeare – Shakespeare’s Most Outrageous Sexual Puns

FILTHY SHAKESPEARE – SHAKESPEARE’S MOST OUTRAGEOUS SEXUAL PUNS

Pauline Kiernan

Quercus £12.99, or £8.57 on Amazon

In which eminent Shakespearean scholar Kiernan gets down and dirty with the Bard. Starting with his name, which she interprets as a pun meaning ‘Prick Wanker’, she jumps to no-holds-bard chapters entitled ‘Pertaining to… Fucking, Cunt, Prick, Wanking, Cunnilingus, Dildos and Pimps’, among others. All in the name of pertinent scholarship, of course. She claims there are at least 400 puns on the words penis and vagina in the Complete Works, and these are the mere tip of decidedly filthy iceberg. Her explicit ‘translations’ of the text, printed in red under the original, show in no uncertain terms that the old boy would make even the bluest of today’s comedians blush. Good, not-so-clean, fun.  
Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Filthy Shakespeare – Shakespeare’s Most Outrageous Sexual Puns

Great Brand Stories – Innocent

GREAT BRAND STORIES – INNOCENT

John Simmons

Cyan, £8.99 list, or £7.19 on Amazon

The latest in Cyan’s ongoing series, which has covered Starbucks, Google, Ikea and LA’s own David Beckham, among others. 26 founding father John Simmons engagingly tells the story of the brand that really knows how to tell a story itself. How it grew from three mates selling fresh fruit drinks at a music festival, to the fastest-growing brand in the UK’s food and drinks industry. How that tapped into the zeitgeist for pure, healthy, ethically sourced produce. And how it used slightly cheeky, everyday tone-of-voice to create a vivacious, covetable personality – something that was to become bane of every jobbing copywriter’s life as they began constantly to hear the words “We’d like to sound like Innocent.”   Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Great Brand Stories – Innocent’

 

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

Jon Ronson

Picador, £8.99 list, or £5.39 on Amazon

Essentially an adapted and updated collection of his regular Guardian columns and various feature articles – so if you’re a regular reader, there may be nothing new here. But it stands up well to a second, third and fourth reading. Subjects range from encounters with Jonathan King and Charles Ingram (the Millionaire cougher), to the everyday absurdities of his own family life. What I really like is the writing style, which has the kind of simplicity that’s very complicated to achieve. And it’s very funny too.   Nick Asbury

Buy from Amazon: ‘Out Of The Ordinary’

Penguin By Design – A Cover Story 1935-2005

PENGUIN BY DESIGN – A COVER STORY 1935-2005

Phil Baines

Allen Lane £17.99 list, or £11.87 on Amazon

A really fascinating history and compendium of Penguin paperback covers. From the classic two-colour banded design that heralded the arrival of the exciting new format in the 1930s, to today’s intriguingly illustrated fare. The influence of seminal designers like Jan Tschichold and Abram Games are assessed, as well as the roles of influential illustrators like David Gentlemen and Alan Aldridge. All with the obsessive detail that you’d expect from a typographer like Phil Baines. Look out for some fab blasts from the past. These covers really map out your life.   Jim Davies

Buy from Amazon: ‘Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005’

 

POETRY ARCHIVE WEBSITE

I love this recent discovery. You can listen to poets reading their own poetry and it makes such a difference to hear the real voice of the poet. Simon Armitage (26 member), Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas and lots of discoveries to be made, mostly contemporary but lots from way way back. It’s beguiling and addictive – you might need an hour or two once you’ve started – or simply go there every morning to hear a poem read by the poet. www.poetryarchive.org.   John Simmons
 

Spiked

SPIKED

Irritated by The Independent’s front page pant-wetting? The Observer’s crass mix of environmental hand-wringing and airline-fuelled ‘Travel’ pages? And the lack of politics in most political ‘journalism’? Spiked is a refreshing injection of critical thinking, surprising angles on important issues and opinionated writing from people who think harder about life than most of the droney content grubbers writing newspaper columns.www.spiked-online.com.   Tim Rich

The Corrections

THE CORRECTIONS

Jonathan Franzen

HarperPerennial, £7.99 list, or £5.59 on Amazon

An examination the foibles, fears, hopes, anxieties and neuroses of 21st-century American life (it says here). It’s a bit big but it’s beautifully written, quietly funny and rather moving. I’m lovin’ it.   Roger Horberry

The Queen

THE QUEEN

Director Stephen Frears, writer Peter Morgan

Miramax Films

“Bugger it!” In the mouth of Helen Mirren, playing the Queen in the film of the same name, the impeccably articulated expletive, uttered as the royal Land Rover grinds to an unscheduled halt in the middle of a Highland stream, is the funniest, most cathartic line in any recent movie — expressing in two words the tension between humanity and public performance that is the heart of the film. Proof that while they usually are, rude words don’t have to be crude, loutish and boring.   Simon Caulkin

The Testament of Gideon Mack

THE TESTAMENT OF GIDEON MACK

James Robertson

Penguin £7.99 list, or £3.99 on Amazon

An extraordinary novel from last year’s Booker Prize long list. Gideon Mack is a disbelieving church of Scotland minister whose encounter with a strange standing stone leads him eventually to spend a week with the Devil in a cave beneath a waterfall into which he has been swept. A story about belief and believing, scepticism and gullibility, in the secular age, Gideon Mack’s testament, discovered after his death on a remote Highland mountian, reveals the voice of an unreliable narrator. Or does it? James Robertson is one of Scotland’s finest contemporary novelists, writing here at the peak of his intellectual and imaginative powers.   Jamie Jauncey

Buy on Amazon: ‘The Testament of Gideon Mack’
 

Venice

VENICE

Jan Morris

Faber & Faber, £9.99 list, or £6.59 on Amazon

Just back from staying in a Venetian palazzo for Christmas. Nose buried in Jan Morris’s stunning portrait of this fabulously ambiguous city. She lived there for years and her beautiful observations are so fond and tender, so acute and withering, they conjure up astonishing pictures of its citizens and visitors, idiosyncrasies and infrastructure like little jewels set in the framework of its bizarre history.   Tom Lynham

Buy from Amazon: ‘Venice’

 

WORDIE

Wordie is a new social networking site, utilizing the latest in Flash-based, AJAX programming lang…. wait! Come back! Don’t be scared by the buzzwords; Wordie is actually a great way to share words with people you haven’t met. You create a profile, enter up some words, and then they appear on the front page of the site. Simple as that. The real joy of it is to see who shares your particular lexical bent: I’m still shocked that there’s someone else out there who likes the word ‘metaverse’ as much as me. I’m using it so much that, whisper it quietly, I’ve even stopped writing down individual words in a notebook, and am posting them to the site instead. Come and play. www.wordie.org.   Rishi Dastidar
 

 

WWW.RHYMEZONE.COM

If you don’t know it yet, make sure to have a peek at a modest, beguiling and brilliantly useful site. In a rather Ronsealish way, its primary function is to provide you with rhyme words, but it’s so much more than that. A source of quotes, homophones, a thesaurus, diverting quizzes. In short, a joy. It’ll be in your favourites in no time. www.rhymezone.com.   Martin Lee

Chinatown

CHINATOWN

Robert Towne

Faber Reel Classics, £4.99

Picked up on a whim and read in a trice, Towne’s Oscar-winning script is a masterclass in lean and mean dialogue, switchback plotting, and tension notched up at the end of a switchblade. It reads as good as it watches, and it’ll send you scurrying back to the DVD: a good thing.   Rishi Dastidar

Buy from Amazon: Chinatown

How Language Works

HOW LANGUAGE WORKS

David Crystal

Penguin Books, Used from £8.31 on Amazon

Full of the most marvellous little insights. Did you know that the Finnish have to learn to speak in a different tone when they speak English, or they sound as if they are being permanently ironic? Apparently, they don’t have a clue why the British laugh when they mean something perfectly seriously.   Sarah McCartney

Buy from Amazon: How Language Works

Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn

SELECTED LETTERS OF MARTHA GELLHORN

Caroline Moorehead (Ed.)

Chatto & Windus, Hardback, £17.06 or £15.35 on Amazon. (Paperback due out May 2007)

The American journalist and writer Martha Gellhorn was  a prolific letter-writer.  Her many correspondents included Eleanor  Roosevelt and Diana Cooper, HG Wells, Leonard Bernstein, William Walton and of  course Ernest Hemingway to whom she was briefly married.  But the real  fascination of these letters lies in her unflinching, sometimes funny, often  painful, revelations about herself and her own restless, questing spirit.   Whether reporting on the Spanish Civil War or the Vietnam War,  ruminating on her troubled relationship with her adopted son, or fulminating  about the reprehensible behaviour of her closest friends, she placed personal honesty above everything else, and her  commitment to the writer’s craft shines through every word she wrote.   Jamie Jauncey

Buy from Amazon: Martha Gellhorn

The Road

THE ROAD

Cormac McCarthy

Picador, £16.99 or £10.19 on Amazon

An unspecified apocalypse has struck America. Nature is poisoned and every town has been ransacked for the very last morsel of food. Bands of feral cannibals hunt the few survivors. A father and his young son must walk south to escape the fatal ravages of winter… McCarthy’s beautiful story is the most remarkable thing I’ve read this year. And the only book that’s had me shouting in my head, "Please don’t eat him."   Tim Rich

Buy from Amazon: The Road

The Stone Book Quartet

THE STONE BOOK QUARTET

Alan Garner

Flamigo Modern Classics, Paperback. £6.99 or £5.59 on Amazon

The 26 children’s book project provided a good to excuse to revisit Alan Garner. But that may have been a big mistake. Reading Garner’s astonishing, lyrical prose, one almost wonders why anyone would bother writing anything again. Tracing a line through his own Cheshire lineage, Garner celebrates his craftsman ancestors in language as finely worked as their own stone and metal. Deceptively simple words are cut, shaped and placed with exquisite care, building into something both intimately personal and mythically profound. Only in the final pages do you fully appreciate the accumulated power of the previous stories, as the details of character and place combine with the deep current of history to knock you sideways. ‘There was a line, and he could feel it. It was a line through hand and eye, block, forge and loom to the hill. He owned them all: and they owned him.’ Read and wonder.   Mike Reed

Buy from Amazon: Stone Book Quartet

The Time Traveler's Wife

THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE

Audrey Niffenegger

Jonathan Cape, Paperback, Used from £46.95 on Amazon

It’s a love story – ahh! – but a highly unusual and satisfying one that manages to combine satisfying one’s intellectual curiosity with being a real pleasure to read. Any story that messes with metaphysics is alright by me. A bit sad at the end but that’s life, isn’t it?   Roger Horberry

Buy from Amazon: The Time Traveler’s Wife

Timbuktu

TIMBUKTU

Paul Auster

Faber & Faber, £6.99 on Amazon

This falls into the category of the book I’ve read in 2006 that I expect to remember after I’ve forgotten all the others. It’s a simple, beguiling tale of a dog who is yoked to a deadbeat owner who’s down on his luck and terminally ill. The story is told from the perspective of the dog, and ranges back over all their time together. It’s a version of a love story,and it’s moving, sad and uplifting all at once. A perfect literary confection for Christmas.   Martin Lee

Buy from Amazon: Timbuktu

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