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Wynn Wheldon rss

Large crow feather necklace by Alex Monroe

A master craftsman of the anecdote

15 March 2014
Two Turtle Doves: A Memoir of Making Things Alex Monroe

Bloomsbury, pp.222, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408841181

One of the many charms of this book is its sheer unexpectedness, which makes it hard to review, for to reveal the brilliancies too fully would spoil their effect. My… Read more

Portrait of Vernon Scannell by Charlotte Harris, who ‘tried to catch his half smile, and the sadness and humour in his eyes’

Deserter, wifebeater, great poet: the shame and glory of Vernon Scannell

14 December 2013
Walking Wounded: The Life and Poetry of Vernon Scannell James Andrew Taylor

OUP, pp.415, £25, ISBN: 9780199603183

Vernon Scannell was a thief, a liar, a deserter, a bigamist, a fraud, an alcoholic, a woman-beater and a coward. Plenty of material for a biography, then, especially given that… Read more

Basil Bunting, 1980
(Photo: Jonathan Williams/
Basil Bunting Poetry Archive, Durham University Library)

A Strong Song Tows Us, by Richard Burton - review

12 October 2013
A Strong Song Tows Us: The Life of Basil Bunting Richard Burton

Infiniteideas, pp.608, £30, ISBN: 9781908984

How minor is minor? ‘Rings a bell’ was more or less the response of two English literature graduates, now successful fifty-somethings, when asked what the name Basil Bunting meant to… Read more

Six Bad Poets, by Christopher Reid - review

28 September 2013
Six Bad Poets Christopher Reid

Faber, pp.87, £12.99, ISBN: 9780571304035

Is poetry in good enough health to be made fun of in this way? The irony is that this long, funny poem describing the incestuous peccadilloes of contemporary poetry’s social… Read more

There and Then: Personal Terms 6, by Frederic Raphael - review

31 August 2013
There and Then: Personal Terms 6 Frederic Raphael

Carcanet, pp.201, £18.95, ISBN: 9781847771407

Frederic Raphael is forensic in his description of the failures of successful people. He is enviously superior and he is partial to the clever oxymoron: ‘predatory caution’, ‘reticent curiosity’, ‘intimidating… Read more

ploughing

Country Boy, by Richard Hillyer - review

10 August 2013
Country Boy Richard Hillyer

Slightly Foxed Editions, pp.255, £16, ISBN: 9781906562519

Under his real name, Charles James Stranks, the author of this little masterpiece wrote on a number of ecclesiastical subjects: the Venerable Bede, Jeremy Taylor, Durham cathedral, where he was… Read more

A Slap in the Face, by William B. irvine - review

3 August 2013
A Slap in the Face William B. Irvine

OUP, pp.253, £14.99, ISBN: 9780199934454

A friend of mine who works for the NHS has been told recently by a superior that his ‘attention to detail is bordering on the obsessive’. Aside from observing that… Read more

They really were in love: Scott, Zelda and their daughter Frances (‘Scottie’) in Paris

Z, by Therese Anne Fowler, Beautiful Fools, by R. Clifton Spargo, Careless People, by Sarah Churchill - review

1 June 2013
Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald Therese Anne Fowler

Two Roads, pp.376, £17.99, ISBN: 9781444761405

Beautiful Fools: The Last Affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald R. Clifton Spargo

Duckworth, pp.366, £16.99, ISBN: 9780715645437

Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby Sarah Churchwell

Virago, pp.438, £16.99, ISBN: 9781844087662

The Great Gatsby is one of those great works of literature, like Pride and Prejudice, that appeals as much to the general reader as to the literary bod. It’ll always… Read more

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Holloway, by Robert Macfarlane - review

11 May 2013
Holloway Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood and Dan Richards

Faber, pp.40, £14.99, ISBN: 9780571302710

This is a very short book recording two visits to the hills around Chideock in Dorset.In the first Robert Macfarlane and the late Roger Deakin, author of Waterlog, go searching… Read more

'Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls', by David Sedaris - review

27 April 2013
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls David Sedaris

Abacus, pp.275, £12.99, ISBN: 9780349121635

David Sedaris writes principally for The New Yorker. Urbane, then, American, smart. But is he a memoirist, a fabulist or an essayist? He is most often described as a humorist,… Read more

I Know You’re Going to be Happy: A Story of Love and Betrayal, by Rupert Christiansen – review

16 March 2013
I Know You’re Going to be Happy: A Story of Love and Betrayal Rupert Christiansen

Short Books, pp.175, £12.99, ISBN: 9781780721248

This is an unsettling book. On the face of it a memoir by the opera critic of the Daily Telegraph, it veers from social history to intimate confessional, from objective… Read more

Two Hunting Dogs by Jacopo Bassano (1510-92)

What dogs know about us

2 March 2013
The Genius of Dogs: Discovering the Unique Intelligence of Man’s Best Friend Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods

Oneworld, pp.367, £20, ISBN: 9781851689859

In Aesop’s fable of the Dog and the Wolf, the latter declares that it is better to starve free than be a fat slave, but the fact is that, without… Read more

Redemption through rock and roll

1 December 2012
Bruce Peter Ames Carlin

Simon and Schuster, pp.495, £14.99, ISBN: 9781471112331

E Street Shuffle Clinton Heylin

Constable, pp.438, £20, ISBN: 9781780335797

‘I’m the President, but he’s the Boss’, Barack Obama declared a couple of years ago, and most Spectator readers will know Bruce Springsteen as the President’s celebrity pop star friend.… Read more

A 1922 poster promoting a new development in Greenwich and the issuing of housing bonds to fund it

Little boxes, all the same

24 November 2012
Greater London: The Story of the Suburbs Nick Barratt

Random House, pp.608, £25, ISBN: 9781847945327

This book purports to be a history not of London but of its suburbs. In the end this amounts to much the same thing, because the author is referring not… Read more

Shaw

Narrative drive

17 November 2012

Michael Holroyd describes this tiny, charmingly pointless publication (On Wheels, Chatto, £9.99) not as a book but as an example of ‘nostalgic intertextuality’, which is a grand way of saying… Read more

Miami vice

27 October 2012
Back to Blood Tom Wolfe

Cape, pp.704, £20, ISBN: 9780224097277

This is an exhilarating novel. Its general gist is that in a multicultural society so-called honour often trumps virtue, political expediency frequently wins out over inconvenient truth, and comforting illusion… Read more

Pitch perfect

15 September 2012
The Footballer Who Could Fly Duncan Hamilton

pp.343, £16.99, ISBN: 9781846059803

It is fashionable, in the wake of all those rowers and cyclists and runners, abled and otherwise, who do what they do for something — glory, pride, joy of physical… Read more

The Heart Broke In, by James Meek

25 August 2012
The Heart Broke In James Meek

Canongate, pp.550, 17.99, ISBN: 9780857862907

This is a big juicy slab of a book, as thrilling and nourishing as a Victorian three-parter.  It resembles its forebears thematically, too.  It asks a straightforward question: how does… Read more

Marriage_chart1

Tricks of the trade

11 August 2012
The Weight of a Human Heart Ryan O’Neill

Old Street Publishing, pp.229, 9.99, ISBN: 9781908699206

If you are in the habit of reading short-story collections straight through you will not fail to notice the repetition of motifs in Ryan O’Neill’s playful debut. I’ve no doubt… Read more

A Gawain for our times

28 July 2012
In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero Otto Penzler

BenBella Books/ Perseus, pp.257, 8.58, ISBN: 9781935618577

As a subject for literature, virtue and its celebration is fairly unfashionable. This is particularly true in Britain, where we like to maintain ironic detachment. This perhaps explains why Robert… Read more

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An enigma wrapped in a conundrum

26 May 2012
Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall Will Ellsworth-Jones

Aurum, pp.323, 20

What to make of Banksy? Artist or vandal? Tate Modern holds no Banksys and, other than a redundant phone box that he folded in half and pretended to have reconfigured… Read more

An ordinary monster

12 May 2012
Facing the Torturer: Inside the Mind of a War Criminal by Fran

Rider, pp.214, 16.99

While studying Buddhist trance in Cambodia in 1971 the ethnologist François Bizot was ambushed and imprisoned by Khmer Rouge rebels. In his previous much lauded and horrifying book, The Gate,… Read more