Kindling by the pool – the changing face of holiday reading

I’m writing this by the pool in Greece. It’s not a pool I own, you understand (though give it a couple of years and we might all be able to afford one). No, it’s the pool in the resort to which my partner and I have repaired for a week, safe in the knowledge that our son can be deposited in the excellent childcare facilities every afternoon, trapping him until such time as we deign to return and collect him. (You have to give a pre-arranged password to prove you’re the parent, by the way – one couple chose the place in which said child had been conceived. I con

Life’s too short to read tedious books

‘My friend and I were working out how many more books we’ll read before we die,’ a customer said to me in the bookshop, the other day. ‘We read a book every couple of weeks, so we figured around 500.’ I rapidly did the maths. Twenty years. It seemed a little pessimistic for someone who can’t have been much older than fifty. Those of you who feel inspired to do your own calculations might feel depressed by how few books you’ve got left, or overwhelmed by how many you’ve yet to read. At 29 years old, I’m not so far from the beginning of my reading life and it feels

The curious incident of the books on the Kindle

If you had a pile of 300 books in your house waiting to be read, what would you do? Would you go out and buy any more books? I doubt it, even if you could battle your way to the front door. Yet if you’d got 300 books on your Kindle/iPad/Other E-Readers Are Available waiting to be read, would you stay in and click on any more ‘Buy It Now’ logos? More than possible. Because you probably wouldn’t even have noticed how many books were on there. Never mind 300, you can put 3000 books on an e-Reader and it’ll look and weigh just the same as if you had

Review: Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson

Winning the Booker can do strange things. For one, critics tend to become noticeably shyer around authors with some bling in their trophy cabinets, hyperbole blunting their edge. But if ever there was a writer primed to dismantle automatic appreciation it is Howard Jacobson. Zoo Time, his first novel since The Finkler Question won the 2010 Booker Prize, does everything short of physically assaulting the reader to excuse itself from being a bland follow up. In fact, its very obnoxiousness is both its weakness and its strength. I must confess to both liking and loathing it, pushed between extremes depending on the subject matter. (Forget narrative, simply because there isn’t

Booker Prize shortlist announced

The 2012 Booker Prize shortlist has been announced. The runners and riders are: Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books) Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber) Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate) Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt) Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury) Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber) The Booker longlist was ambitious, a challenge to readers that was high-brow and out of touch as the world went mad for E.L. James’s easy mix of spanking and wanking. The judges have continued in this high-minded vein with the shortlist, self-consciously so. Chairman Sir Peter Stothard said: ‘We loved the shock of language shown in so many different

A poem a day

I’m fresh back from the Port Eliot festival in Cornwall where I spent a day prescribing poetry prescriptions to those in need. It was a revelatory experience. Having spent twenty years or so promoting poetic excellence through the Forward Prizes for Poetry and broader access to the art-form through National Poetry Day, I’ve been battling with the challenge of making poetry appear more relevant to people in their everyday lives. Battling because there is no doubt that most people find poetry intimidating. It’s a fusty, dusty, back of a bookshop, elite, slim-volumed thing that’s not really for them. The occasional line of a poem will be lodged in their mind

Wanted, books to read

I’m off for my annual digital detox: no ConservativeHome, no PoliticsHome, just my wife’s family home in Stockholm and swapping my Blackberry for a primitive mobile with a battery that lasts a week. But before I sign off completely, I’d like to abuse my position to ask CoffeeHousers for book recommendations. I’ve done this for three years now, and each year the results pretty much give me a reading list for the next 12 months. I’ve only now finished the last of summer 2010’s suggestions (Exodus, by Leon Uris.) I’m midway through Max Hastings brilliant All Hell Let Loose, which I’m interspersing with the restored World at War on DVD

Summer reading | 21 July 2011

It’s a tradition of the British summer. A Tory MP produces a summer reading list of weighty and worthy tomes to co-incide with the summer recess. This year, Keith Simpson has compiled the list, and as you can see it’s long as your arm. Spectator Book Blog contributor Nik Darlington has made a few selections from the list. And of course, we’d like CoffeeHousers’ recommendations too. Diary: Alastair Campbell, Diaries Vol. II: Power and the People and Diaries Vol. III: Power & Responsibility. Peter Catterall (editor), The Macmillan Diaries Vol. II: Prime Minister and After, 1957-1966. Earl Ferrers, Whatever Next? Reminiscences of a journey through life. Chris Mullin, A Walk-On Part: Diaries 1994-1999, A View

Staycation reading

When it comes to choosing good books to read on holiday, I am a great believer in selecting reading matter to match the destination. What better to read in Sicily than Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa’s The Leopard, for instance? And how wonderful to read Laurie Lee’s beautiful As I Walked Out one Midsummer Morning while in Spain. This school of thought can be taken to extremes — I even have a friend who chooses her holidays based entirely on what she wants to read. The only downside to this approach is that when summer stretches ahead of you with no sunny holiday on the horizon, then you feel not only

Alternative Reading: Passion Bum

Robert Silverberg is the great 20th-century pioneer of science fiction, the multiple Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning author of books such as Nightwings and Lord Valentine’s Castle. Robert Silverberg is the great 20th-century pioneer of science fiction, the multiple Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning author of books such as Nightwings and Lord Valentine’s Castle. What few know, however, is that he is also the super-prolific author of scores of soft-porn pulp titles under pseudonyms such as John Dexter, Don Elliott and Loren Beauchamp. Passion Bum is a prime example of this output (the phrase ‘passion bum’ sounds like the sign-off in a letter from Philip Larkin to Kingsley Amis, but uses ‘bum’ in the