Robert Butler

  • ZINGERS ABOUT PHONE-HACKING

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, July 1st 2014

    The man in front of me, on the way in to see "Great Britain"—Richard Bean's raucous new satire about newspapers and phone-hacking—was the playwright Howard Brenton. In the mid-80s he had co-written (with David Hare) the defiant Fleet Street satire "Pravda". Following behind us was Tom Stoppard, who in the late-70s had written his own astute account of the fourth estate, "Night and Day". Last night's first night was also notable for the number of seats taken by people with a professional interest in the play. A few rows in front sat Nick Davies, the Guardian reporter who had done more than anyone else to expose phone-hacking.

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  • THE NIGHT SKY ON TWO LEVELS

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, April 4th 2014

    When Eleanor Catton gives talks in public, which she did at the Union Chapel in London on Thursday night (and which she's been doing much more often since winning the Man Booker prize), she doesn't mention her mum. She knows her mum would hate that sort of thing. But she does mention her dad—which is how we know that he gave her a theme and an all-important link.

    Catton was talking to Robert Macfarlane, chair of the judges who last October awarded her the prize, in front of an audience of 750, plenty of whom were twice her age. During the time when she was writing "The Luminaries", she said, her dad, who was a lecturer in philosophy, was becoming increasingly dismayed by the "corporatisation" of his university (students were rebranded as "customers") and eventually he resigned. One of the major themes of her huge second novelwhich depicts the gold rush in New Zealand in the 1860sis "the capitalisation of the world".

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  • THE SHORT STORY IS IMPOSSIBLE

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, March 28th 2014

    The short story is a bullet. The short story is a bomb. The short story is a core sample which—if the writer has the sensitivity and ability to be glancing—can tell you as much about a world and a society as a geologist learns from a sliver of ice. Whichever image you go for, the short story has to combine the qualities of good prose and good poetry. Every word has to count. It has to be intense. It's the opposite of the kind of chat you hear at parties.

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  • SMART LINES BEAT EARNESTNESS

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, February 5th 2014

    The first piece I wrote for Intelligent Life, in autumn 2007, was about a bunch of eco-bloggers. Seven years ago this month, a middle-aged New Yorker on Fifth Avenue had turned off the power supply to his apartment and set out to see if he could live for a year without making any net impact on the environment. He wasn't alone in attempting this as he had a wife and a two-year-old daughter; but he wasn't alone in other ways either. That very February, a young woman in Toronto was trying to take one green action a day—from banning all polystyrene to getting rid of her car—and each action she took had to stick. Another person was spending a year without using any plastic. And another had got rid of the freezer, and then the fridge. It was possible to follow each of these unusual adventures because the people involved were going online and chronicling their actions.

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  • THE LIGHTER SIDE OF SCANDI NOIR

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, January 25th 2014

    It started with the curtains. Viewers had noticed something odd in the first series of "The Bridge"; then in the second series, when the detective's wife Mette moved house, they noticed it again. Her bedroom still had no curtains. On the comments thread that runs below the Guardian's weekly blog someone explained, "Scandinavians don't use curtains in their houses. Source: I live in Sweden." This idea did not appeal to others. "Do peeping Toms not exist in Scandinavia?"

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  • CHEKHOV'S GUIDE TO NOT SLEEPING

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, November 14th 2013

    When Anthony Gardner attended an evening class for us last week on how to sleep better, he discovered there were four basic rules. He wasn't the only one keen to learn what they were: the class itself was very well attended and his blogpost was the most-read article on this site. 

    I was ready to follow his advice and when I woke at two this morning I remembered there was no listening to the radio, no switching on the computer, and no checking the phone. Instead I reached for a collection of short stories and picked the one which sounded as if it would be the least stimulating. 

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  • TWENTY STORIES OVER ONE COFFEE

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, May 22nd 2013

    It's often thought that people buy a book because they have read a rave review or had a nudge from Amazon. But, in my experience, stray remark is just as likely to do it.

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  • THE MAN BEHIND AVAAZ

    Can we change the world, one click at a time? Ricken Patel, a young Canadian, thinks so, and he now has 33m followers to show for it. Profile by Robert Butler

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  • THE DARK MOOD VANISHES IN A SECOND

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, December 16th 2013

    A wet Monday morning, a crowded tube train, and heads sunk in novels and newspapers: suddenly there's a long high-pitched scream. In the carriage, the passengers stiffen and inwardly groan.

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  • THE LAST PICTURE SHOW

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, December 12th 2013

    The steely concentration is fixed by the large dark eyes, the delicate eyelids and the deep crease that runs at a sharp angle down his cheek to his trim beard. The face alone would make Millais's immaculate oil portrait of Disraeli arresting, but the resolute folding of the arms and the black bulk of his figure give this Victorian painting a daunting sense of purpose. For the first-time viewer, there's a small shock in store. The words next to the painting, which hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London, say that Millais was prevented from receiving more than three sittings for this portrait by Disraeli's "fatal illness". When he posed for Millais in 1881, Disraeli knew he was dying; the picture was completed after his death.

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