Lead book review

Islands of inspiration: a poet’s life on Shetland

Shetland comprises an archipelago of some 300 islands and skerries situated roughly half way between London and the Arctic Circle. Stereotyped by many outsiders as bleak and somehow ‘on the edge’, according to the poet Jen Hadfield’s stylish memoir – about her 17 years of living there – it can be more illuminating to see

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Why would anyone choose to live in Puerto Rico?

From the eastern Atlantic, the US looks boringly uniform. Yet Alaska is almost as different from Alabama as Turku is from Turkey. If you travel the length of the Mississippi, food, laws, customs and lingo change as surprisingly as along the Danube. Particularism is rife. In two counties in Vermont, there are warrants for the

Imprisoned for years on Putin’s whim

Imagine: it’s 16 December 2004 and you are a middle-ranking banker living in Moscow – prosperous but ordinary, a long way below oligarch level. You are looking forward to a New Year’s trip with your family to Prague – the hotel is booked; your young son is excited. Your phone rings while you are at

Nothing rivals a traditional Chinese banquet for opulence

In February 1985 I had the good fortune to be a guest in Hong Kong at the Mandarin hotel’s 21st birthday celebration, a lavish three-day reconstruction of the sort of imperial banquet given during the Qing dynasty by the Kangxi emperor (1654-1722) and his grandson the Qianlong emperor (1711-1799). Kangxi started the custom of banqueting

The important business of idle loafing

In our godless, post-industrial, hyper-competitive world, rest is seen merely as recuperation: it’s when we man-machines ‘recharge our batteries’, as the cliché goes, before dashing back to the factory or work-station. It’s a negative concept. You rest for a reason, which is to avoid burnout. All you should really do to be happy is read

The clue to Shakespeare’s sexuality lies in the sonnets

The question ‘Was Shakespeare gay?’ is not very rational. It might be a little like asking ‘Was Shakespeare a Tory?’. Some of his scenarios might coincide with later developments – Jaques trying to pick up Ganymede in As You Like It (gay), or Ulysses’s speech on degree in Troilus and Cressida (Tory). But the historical