Lead book review

The final frontier

In 1932, the Daily Plainsman of Huron, South Dakota, ran a feature about a local woman convalescing in hospital. Grace Dow had been visited by her sister, Carrie Swanzey, who read a children’s book to her. What made this mundane story newsworthy was that the book was called Little House in the Big Woods, and

More from Books

War of words

At the close of the 1970s, I found a selection of postcards in an antique shop which had been sent from the Western Front in 1917 by a soldier named Private Howe to his young daughter Ena. I was struck by the immediacy of the language, and the careful avoidance of anything hinting at danger,

Shooting from the hip

The career of the photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank stands in direct antithesis to the characteristics of his native Switzerland. Switzerland sucked the air out of him, he claimed, through its orderliness, decorum, neatness and predictability. As R. J. Smith’s vivid biography explains, Frank displays none of these traits. Just as coming to America was

Answerable only to God

The late Michael Foot used to say that the first thing he needed to know about a new acquaintance was, on which side he or she would like their forebears to have fought in the English Civil War. He himself, of course, was firmly for Parliament. But having read Leanda de Lisle’s book, it is

An uphill struggle

‘It’s a grand thing to get leave to live’, perhaps the most famous line Nan Shepherd wrote, is carved in the slate paving of the Writers’ Museum’s Close in Edinburgh. But many who read it, either there or on the new Scottish £5 note, will be surprised to learn that it is not actually taken

A banquet of delights

While the short story is currently under-going one of its periods of robust, if not rude, health, its two dominant modes — the classical or Chekhovian, and the postmodern or experimental — have become harder to define, with authors happily borrowing tricks from both approaches. None of the collections here can definitively be confined to