The editors' blog
~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, May 20th 2014
I wonder what Lily Johnson (cleaning lady, battered wife, heroine) would have made of the Travellers Club. This was the gentlemanly backdrop for last night’s dinner in celebration of the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje prize, an annual award for a book of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place. In the past, the prize has generally gone to books set in far-flung countries—from Bangladesh to Libya, Jamaica to Outer Mongolia—but this year’s winner is set closer to home, in London. The judges, Jenny Uglow, A.L. Kennedy and Imtiaz Dharker, gave the prize to “This Boy”, an extraordinary memoir of a childhood of eye-stretching poverty in Notting Hill in the 1950s, by Alan Johnson, the best Labour prime minister Britain never had. Of all the books I read last year, it has stayed with me the most vividly. And Lily, Alan’s mother, is at its centre.read more »
~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, May 19th 2014
I was recently tasked with finding an unusual dinner venue for a group of friends in London. We're spoilt for choice in this city, but it’s not as easy as it sounds when you have 20 people to please. I suggested Tito’s, a popular Peruvian restaurant I'd heard of, but a friend rejected the idea—“Peruvian food is horrible,” she said. “Most of them won’t like it.” (In the end I played it safe with Pan-Asian.) But later, I pondered her rash dismissal of Peruvian cuisine. Ceviche, quinoa salads and pisco sour cocktails have made it onto supermarket shelves and other restaurant menus, but there must be more to it. What does the full cuisine from the land of Incas and llamas taste like? And can it take off in London?read more »
~ Posted by Jo Caird, May 15th 2014
This year the BBC Proms, which dates back to 1895, will welcome a new sound. On August 3rd, the "War Horse Prom"—inspired by the National Theatre's hugely successful stage production—will feature the Proms Military Wives Choir, the Cambiata North West boys choir, the BBC Concert Orchestra and, most spectacularly, the life-size equine puppets that won the production such acclaim. The audience will hear music from the period by Elgar, Holst and Ravel, along with the "War Horse Suite", specially created by Adrian Sutton from his score for the original production. All this, and the unmistakable clip-clop of the puppets' hooves.read more »
~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, May 13th 2014
Why is it so hard to get rid of books? Our shelves are loaded with good intentions, expressing the hope of all the free time that we'll one day have and implying that life will go on forever. Throwing them out, then, is a little death. But this time, in order to accommodate the tottering piles of books by my bedside, I swore I would be ruthless.
First to go—the easy part—are the books that I didn't like first time round. Why have I kept them until now, when I'm not going to lend them to anyone or reread them? Onto the charity pile go Will Self's "How The Dead Live", Siri Hustvedt's "What I Loved" and others that left me feeling hollow (who cares if that was the author's intention?). I feel a certain lightness come over me.read more »
~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, May 8th 2014
Two months ago, Future Islands were just another rock band, eking out a living in the age of downloads. The three regular members had been making synth-pop together for ten years after meeting at East Carolina University. As Future Islands, they had released three albums and umpteen singles on small labels without troubling the compilers of the charts. By their own reckoning, they had played more than 800 gigs, and they were still well on their way to languishing in near-obscurity. Then they went on the David Letterman show.
It was their first time on a national network. Their frontman Samuel T. Herring, a stocky figure in a workmanlike T-shirt, seemed close to tears as he stalked the stage, bathed in blue light. He thrust his neck in time to the music and pounded his chest with such force it vibrated through the microphone. He sang straight into the camera, first pleading, then roaring with guttural force. “How ‘bout that?” Letterman said, sauntering over to shake Herring's hand, “I’ll take all of that you’ve got!”read more »
~ Posted by Simon Willis, May 7th 2014
In our May/June issue of Intelligent Life the Man in a Suit is Mark Lythgoe, a professor of biomedical imaging at University College London. One drizzly April morning, I visited Lythgoe's laboratory with Ben Thompson, formerly of The Economist's multimedia department, to talk about his research. In this video, he shows how transparent livers are giving us new insights into cancer, what fireflies are telling us about genetics, and how a fruit fly changed his view of human development.
~ Posted by David Bennun, May 6th 2014
A curious feature of my childhood in Nairobi at the end of the Seventies was a shelf stuffed with cheap little paperback collections of American cartoon humour. They retailed for a few shillings a go at a bookshop in Westlands shopping centre, and my family had picked up dozens over the years. They included Charles M. Schulz’s wonderful "Peanuts", the not quite so wonderful "B.C." and "The Wizard of Id" (both distinctively rendered by Johnny Hart) and, best of all, pocket anthologies from the golden era of Mad magazine.read more »
~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, April 30th 2014
People often wonder how siblings can be so unalike when they have the same parents, but—as Oliver James puts it in his book "They F*** You Up"—the fact is that "siblings DON'T have the same parents". That's because "parents are at different stages in their lives when their different children are born, and very often so is the state of their marriage". It struck me, at the National Gallery's Veronese exhibition the other day, that the same thing applies to the way we view art: we are not the same viewer every time we look at a painting.read more »
~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, April 28th 2014
I had forgotten, when writing my latest Applied Fashion column—but was glad to be reminded—that our word for the middle of the eye comes from a glimpsed version of ourselves in someone else's. "And don't forget the tiny reflection of oneself seen in another's pupil!" wrote Anna Blennow on our Facebook page, "From the Latin pupilla, little doll." It seems to be a symbol of our eagerness as a species for both self-knowledge and for human contact—you have to be up close and personal, after all, to see this miniature reflection of yourself.read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, April 25th 2014
As far as students of British situation comedy are concerned, nothing beats Tony Hancock’s sparkling 1950s radio show, “Hancock’s Half Hour”. Written by the peerless Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, it was a bold departure from the tuxedoed variety-show comedy which was the norm at the time, weaving instead the “frustrated, down-at-heel, male flatmates” thread which has run through the British sitcom ever since, from “Steptoe And Son” (also written by Galton and Simpson) to “Only Fools And Horses” to “Men Behaving Badly” to “Peep Show”.read more »