Jane Austen’s pinny

28 May 2013 9:30

This is the third entry in an occasional series by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. You can read the other instalments here. It’s almost two… Continue reading


Dangerous romance – Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

21 May 2013 9:10

‘The bus company’s yellow tin sign on its concrete post seemed for a long while a forlorn flag announcing nothing,’ notes Stella, the narrator of Tessa Hadley’s new novel Clever… Continue reading

A makeshift memorial for the victims of the Boston marathon bombing. Picture: Getty

God, guns and America

17 May 2013 15:27

While training as a playwright, I was taught that any gun brought onstage must go off. Anton Chekhov said, ‘One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no… Continue reading

Lord Byron circa 1810, shortly after the publication of ‘Stanzas to [Mrs Musters] on Leaving England’, the poem which prompted his childhood friend Elizabeth Parkyns to write a savage riposte.

Taking revenge on wicked Lord Byron

15 May 2013 8:30

This is the second article in an occasional series by Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Library. You can read the first instalment here. By 1814, two… Continue reading

Joe Dunthorne attending the premier of the film adaptation of his novel 'Submarine'. He was not included on Granta's list of Young British Novelists. (Photo by Fergus McDonald/Getty Images)

The power of Granta’s gift to British writers

19 April 2013 16:39

Philip Hensher was one of Granta’s 20 under forty in 2003, so what does he make of the new list? Writing in this week’s Spectator, he says that there are… Continue reading

Charles Dickens as a very young man. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

A.D. Harvey in The Spectator – a little tribute to Eric Naiman’s ‘When Dickens met Dostoevsky’

19 April 2013 15:22

Beginning with what he finds to be a rather implausible account of a meeting between Dickens and Dostoevsky, Eric Naiman’s recent essay for the Times Literary Supplement spins out an… Continue reading

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The Fun Stuff by James Wood is published by Jonathan Cape.

Interview with James Wood

12 April 2013 8:15

James Wood is arguably the most celebrated, possibly the most impugned, and definitely the most envied, literary journalist living. By his mid twenties he was the chief book reviewer for… Continue reading

The British Library has been given the right to archive the digital world from today. An estimated billion pages a year will be available for researchers to access through the new archive.

The British Library goes digital

11 April 2013 9:09

If you go down to the British Library today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Because as of last weekend, it’s archiving not just every book published in the UK… Continue reading

Ian McEwan pictured in 1979. His generation of English writers generally worship at the altar of realism. (Photo by Mike Moore/Evening Standard/Getty Images)

What is the point of fiction if not to expand horizons?

8 April 2013 9:00

While Ian McEwan’s recent piece in the Guardian is not expressly termed a treatise on the value of art, it is hard to see it otherwise. What is the use… Continue reading

The sun sets over the river Liffey in Dublin. (BARRY CRONIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Interview with a writer: Kevin Maher

5 April 2013 10:30

Kevin Maher’s debut novel The Fields is set in the suburban streets of south Dublin in 1984. The story is narrated by Jim Finnegan: an innocent 13-year-old boy who lives… Continue reading

Field Marshal Alan Brooke's diaries will keep our 21 year old interested and provide invaluable advice about leadership and working with difficult superiors. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

21 books for a godson, pt. 2

26 March 2013 11:30

This post is the second half of a list of 21 books that a man might give to his godson on the occasion of his twenty-first birthday.That is novels done.… Continue reading

Martin Amis's 'Money' is just the sort of book a godfather should give his godson on reaching his majority. (Frederick M. Brown/Online USA)

21 books for a godson, pt. 1

25 March 2013 11:30

There is much to be said for godfathers. They offer the wisdom of maturity without the complications of direct filial ties. Likewise there is much to be said for 21st… Continue reading

Heavy Snow Fall Hits Southern England

Death Comes For The Poets by Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams – review

19 March 2013 10:00

Death Comes For The Poets is an unliterary book with a highly literary subject. It’s usually done the other way around: exquisite quodrilogies about American car salesmen; towering works about… Continue reading

Mo Yan collects the Nobel Prize for Literature last December. Image: Getty

The world has yet to see the best of Chinese literature

13 March 2013 10:18

- Hong Kong  Imagine if every British novel published since the 1940s was about the Second World War. That’s about as accurate a view of contemporary China held by readers… Continue reading

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Books do a furnish a room; but what to do when they take over the room! (Chris Ware/Keystone Features/Getty Images)

Books do furnish a room

7 March 2013 10:55

The first time you run out of space for your books is a rite of passage for booklovers. It’s the moment that you realise the extent of your addiction to… Continue reading

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The new poison pen. Image: Getty

The Leather Case

16 February 2013 15:44

Last year I wrote an unpatriotic column for the Observer. I said that while American literary and journalistic frauds tended to be simple men, who lied and plagiarised to boast… Continue reading

English Romantic poet George Gordon Byron in Albanian dress, painted by Thomas Phillips circa 1815. Image: Getty

Young Romantics quiz

6 February 2013 11:45

Byron may have been mad, bad and dangerous to know, but how’s your knowledge of the rest of the Young Romantics? Are you a connoisseur of Keats, or a specialist on… Continue reading

The skull of King Richard III. Image: Getty

Reading Richard III

4 February 2013 13:32

The confirmation that bones found beneath a Leicester car park are ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ those of Richard III has launched a deluge of familiar puns. ‘A hearse! A hearse! My… Continue reading

For John Burnside, happiness can be found in simple pleasures like a cup of coffee or a walk in the snow. Image: Getty.

Interview with a writer: John Burnside

18 January 2013 11:50

It’s Friday at 10am in a remote field in Fife. John Burnside is taking his morning walk, whilst simultaneously attempting to conduct a conversation with me down a dodgy telephone… Continue reading

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Paul Emsley's portrait of Catherine Duchess of Cambridge, presently showing at the National Portrait Gallery. Image: Getty

The Duchess of Cambridge, defining a portrait

14 January 2013 12:26

Poor Kate Middleton. In the royal tradition of artistic and literary representation, what defines her at this moment in time? The creepy feature on her wardrobe statistics in February’s Vogue?… Continue reading

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Some literary '13's for 2013. Image: Getty

Some literary thirteens for 2013

10 January 2013 15:28

I suspect I might not be the only one who finds it unnerving to be at the start of a year that features, so prominently, the number thirteen. 2013 –… Continue reading


The Costa Book Awards make history

2 January 2013 19:32

The Costa Book Awards has made its own history tonight by selecting, according to its press release, an all women shortlist* for the first time. Here are the category winners,… Continue reading


The great books Spectator writers and others hate

21 December 2012 10:00

Find out which books PD James, Sam Leith, Susan Hill, Mark Amory, Barry Humphries and many more hate, then tell us about yours in the comments section. Craig Brown Which… Continue reading

The railways and the past are recurring themes of Sean O'Brien's frequently political but never preachy poetry. Image: Getty

Sean O’ Brien: Poetry is political, all writing is political

14 December 2012 11:55

Sean O’ Brien was born in London in 1952. Shortly afterwards, he moved to Hull, where he grew up, thus firmly cementing an allegiance to the North of England: a… Continue reading

Mo Yan collects the Nobel Prize for Literature. Image: Getty

Mo Yan’s malignant apology for ‘necessary’ censorship

11 December 2012 15:58

The Chinese writer Mo Yan collected the Nobel Prize for Literature last night. In his acceptance lecture, he reiterated his view that a degree of censorship is ‘necessary’ in the… Continue reading