By TOBY LICHTIG
Amid all the outcry and ill feeling surrounding Ken Livingstone’s Hitler-was-a-Zionist “gaffe”, it’s probably worth referring to a few historical facts. I’m not sure which history book the former London mayor has been reading, but it presumably isn’t Peter Longerich’s Holocaust (2010), in which we can find (on page 67, should Livingstone wish to consult it) a very clear explanation of the Reich’s policy on Palestine:
By MICHAEL CAINES
"Found on the Shelves": you may have already spotted this pocket-friendly series of little books in the bookshops. A collaboration between the ever-elegant Pushkin Press and the London Library, it includes a volume called On Reading, Writing and Living with Books that celebrates the prestigious literary history of the London Library itself by offering a selection of short pieces by former members: Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Leigh Hunt and E. M. Forster. But also: Virginia Woolf's essay "How Should One Read a Book?". It's described here as simply "published in 1932", although its earliest version is a talk Woolf delivered at a school in the mid-1920s. It gives the impression, in any case, of the maturest consideration, so that the title's simple-sounding question – how should you read a book? you pick it up, open it, turn to the first page etc, answers every smart alec or alice, first time round – actually gives on to a prospect of deep critical wisdom . . . .
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
As France prepares to host the Euro championships this summer, it’s a sobering thought that it’s probably an event the country’s security services could happily do without. But on the field of play itself, the hosts have deprived themselves of their star striker Karim Benzema (Real Madrid), over the matter of a sex tape that implicated another player, Mathieu Valbuena. It’s an unsavoury episode with a suggestion of blackmail. The manager Didier Deschamps (captain of the World Cup winners in 1998, and of the European champions two years later) decided that it simply wasn’t possible to overlook Benzema’s errant behaviour.
By MICHAEL CAINES
I took a tour of Shakespeare's England yesterday morning – without leaving central London.
It seemed like the right time to do it. The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death has inspired an extraordinary number of exhibitions and events. I feel as if I reached "peak Bard" some time ago, following the previews for By me William Shakespeare and the BFI's Shakespeare on Film season (where Sir Ian McKellen restated his view, as in his Richard III, that updated or contemporary costumes can help viewers to understand what's going on in the plays). Nevertheless, there has been much more to enjoy. . . .
By MICHAEL CAINES
Some writers float in and out and then back into fashion (no more about John Williams's Stoner for now, please); some sink like the obviously solid objects they are; others seem to become lily pads fit for the critical frogs to bask on, thinking their fine, fly-focused thoughts. (There must be more types, but mercifully I'm out of rubbish metaphors.) Charlotte Brontë, in case you were in any doubt, seems never to have been in any danger of losing buoyancy – she was born 200 years ago today, and has been assured of some kind of attention since 1847 at least, when the publication of Jane Eyre by "Currer Bell" triggered such excitement and curiosity about the pseudonymous author. The novel's immediate reception is well known: Elizabeth Rigby's damning of its "gross inconsistencies and improbabilities", as well as Jane's "unregenerate and undisciplined spirit"; G. H. Lewes's enthusiasm for this "utterance from the depths of a struggling, suffering, much-enduring spirit". What happened after that?
By MIKA ROSS-SOUTHALL
On Thursday night I watched Brian May emerge from underneath a woman’s skirt. Being on stage, commanding an audience – it’s nothing new for Queen’s lead guitarist. What is new is his focus on Victorian crinolines or, to be more precise, stereoscopic photographs of them.
The craze for these undergarments in the mid-nineteenth century coincided with the invention of the stereoscope, May told us last week at the launch of his new book, Crinoline: Fashion’s most magnificent disaster, co-written with Denis Pellerin (they call it a “disaster” because the undergarment was a significant fire hazard: there were around 300 deaths a year from fire accidents during the crinoline’s peak). Stereoscopic cards, dubbed by the press as the “Poor man’s picture gallery”, presented scenes, such as the Egyptian pyramids and crocodiles, in life-like 3-D to a public that had never seen or experienced anything quite like it before.
By SAMUEL GRAYDON
On entering 50 Albemarle Street, I felt as Ali Baba might have as the stone was rolled back from the mouth of the thieves’ cave. For an inconspicuous white town house, a minute’s walk from Green Park underground station, it certainly held more than its fair share of treasures. This was John Murray’s house and, from 1768 to 2002, it was the site of operations for the publisher that bears his name. I was directed up a wide staircase to the first floor where, in a room with grand bookshelves and gold wallpaper, lay a spread of tea, coffee, pastries and fruit (and, oddly, Bloody Marys). This was the “Frankenstein Breakfast” of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association. Evidently, Frankenstein went for the Continental.
We were celebrating the winners of the 2016 Keats-Shelley Prize for poetry and essays on the theme “After Frankenstein” (for the bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s novel), and the winners of the Young Romantics Prize, for sixteen- to eighteen-year-olds, now in its second year. The Association had organized a reading, by the actors Helen McCrory and Damian Lewis, of extracts from Frankenstein intermingled with extracts from Shelley’s diary, arranged by the poet Pele Cox.
By RUPERT SHORTT
Before visiting Malta a few days ago, I’d thought of it as a place of many quiet charms, but few if any superlatives. I was only right about the charms. Among other things, I’d failed to grasp the power and reach of the Knights of St John, who ruled the island from 1530 to 1798, lavishing their wealth on a network of churches, palaces and fortifications that rival much of baroque Rome.
In any case, though, the country’s importance long predates the time of the Knights. First settled by Sicilian farmers in around 4000 BC, Malta and the adjoining island of Gozo contain clover-shaped megalithic temples built several centuries afterwards, but not unearthed until the Victorian era. Later in antiquity came periods of rule by the Phoenicians, Romans (under whose watch St Paul was shipwrecked on the island, c.AD 60), Byzantines, Arabs and Normans. After the last Norman king died without an heir in the late twelfth century, Malta was controlled by Swabians, Angevins and Aragonese in turn. It was a Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who offered the Knights of St John a home on the island after they had lost their foothold on Rhodes to Arab invaders.
By DAVID COLLARD
The author Neil Griffiths runs an engagingly low-tech YouTube channel on which he delivers informal off-the-cuff literary monologues straight to camera, occasionally swigging from a glass of red wine. While preparing a broadcast about his favourite novels of 2015 (see above), he realized that they had all originated with small independent publishers and this was, he says, "a Damascene moment that turned me into an evangelist".
Griffiths brings a convert's enthusiasm and energy to the publishing revolution that has emerged over the past few years – an equivalent, if you like, of micro-breweries, artisanal bakeries and hipster pop-up bars.
Griffiths's Betrayal in Naples (2004) won the Writers’ Club First Novel Award, and Saving Caravaggio was shortlisted for the Costa Best Novel Award in 2007. At the end of February this year, after mulling over that Damascene moment, he launched the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, open to UK and Irish publishers employing no more than five full-time members of staff. Each publisher can submit a novel or single-author collection of short stories. A shortlist of eight books, decided by a group of independent booksellers, will be confirmed at the end of the year, and the winners announced in February 2017. Griffiths freely admits there is a "selfish reason" for launching the prize – he wants his third novel Family of Love to be published by an independent publisher because it is, he says, a "subtle" book about faith that would be "difficult for a major publisher to get on board with" (Griffiths's previous novels were published by Penguin).
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