Archive for ‘Non fiction’

August 1, 2015

The Fish Ladder – Katharine Norbury

by Team Riverside

Bloomsbury Circus, out now

Katharine Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent, raised by caring adoptive parents, and then had a family of her own. The book opens as she starts a series of British nature journeys with her young daughter, prompted by bereavement following a miscarriage.

In this nature memoir, Norbury describes her life and her relationship with nature with candour and flair. She is compelled to trace her biological mother, and takes us to the end of this difficult journey.

She heads off alone to remote spots: as a woman who often walks out alone, it pleased me to have another woman walker describe her own experiences so effectively. “The more space I put between myself and the wakeful inhabitants of the mainland, the better I felt. The sea shone pearl-grey, opaque, and the sky lightened above it with a bloom as soft as a plum”.

Mixed in are stories from Celtic mythology, andKatharine Norbury THE FISH LADDER thoughts about adoptive families (and non-adoptive ones). The theme of those who are grieving finding some solace, distraction or balm from the natural world has been covered in much recent writing, perhaps most famously in H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. If you liked that, this will appeal. But it is also very readable for anyone thinking about what family means, how marriages can work, and how nature can be a part of our everyday lives.

July 4, 2015

The Last Act of Love – Cathy Rentzenbrink

by Team Riverside

Growing up in Yorkshire, brother and sister Matty and Cathy are ordinary teenagers living in a pub with their parents. Their family is close, loving, and funny. Everything changes when Matty is knocked down in a hit and run, and suffers devastating brain injuries. Matty’s life is saved, but he enters what turns out to be a Persistent Vegitative State (PVS).

In Cathy Rentzenbrink’s courageous and illuminating memoir, she charts what happens to Matty but also to herself and her parents as they deal with the consequences of one life changing moment. A very readable narrative, it Cathy Rentzenbrink THE LAST ACT OF LOVE is also a personal and thoughtful account of a complex and difficult situation. She shows that what may be right is not always evident and may change over time, and details the pervasive effects of grief, guilt and trauma. Using press cuttings and legal reports as well as family memories, we get a useful and unflinching analysis of the very human difficulties that can arise in cases of PVS. While the subject is bleak, the strength, love and commitment that sustain the family run throughout. Highly recommended.

Review by Bethan

May 24, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction: May 2015

by Team Riverside

HOW TO USE YOUR ENEMIES David Nicholls US
The Penguin Little Black Classics series is still going gangbusters here at the Riverside, although it’s the non-fiction titles that are the big sellers. The most popular of the 80 books is How to Use Your Enemies (no 12 in the series), a 17th century Spanish priest’s guide to exploiting your foes (and friends too). If you’re not minded to be Machiavellian, there’s plenty more literary inspiration among our bestsellers this spring…

Top 10 Fiction

1 Us – David Nicholls
2 The Bees – Laline Paull
3 The Children Act – Ian McEwan
4 How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
5 A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson
6 The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair – Joel Dicker
7 Outline – Rachel Cusk
8 The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
9 Family Life – Akhil Sharma
10 The Ballad of a Small Player – Lawrence Osborne

Bubbling under: Wake Up, Sir! – Jonathan Ames

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
3 H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
4 Keeping an Eye Open: Essays on Art – Julian Barnes
5 Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble – Antony Beevor
6 On Palestine – Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe
7 Flash Boys – Michael Lewis
8 The Year of Reading Dangerously – Andy Miller
9 A Buzz in the Meadow – Dave Goulson
10 The Establishment – Owen Jones

Bubbling under: On the Move: A Life – Oliver Sacks

April 23, 2015

The Internet is Not the Answer

by Andre

Andrew Keen THE INTERNET IS NOT THE ANSWERSocial media satire The Circle made you scared about the screens that have enslaved us. Now Andrew Keen’s polemic against the winner-takes-all Web 2.0 will make you angry. It’s a smart, concise exploration of the impact of new technology, but also a howl of rage at the digital disruptors relishing the havoc they have caused. “Failure is success” is the bizarre, Orwellian mantra of the Silicon Valley innovators – and big failure followed by bigger success is the story of Travis Kalanick. He likes to boast that he was sued for a quarter of a trillion dollars by the world’s entertainment companies over his peer-to-peer service Scour. Ultimately, it may have failed but – along with Napster – not before laying waste to the music industry. Now he’s unleashed Uber, a taxi app that’s prompted protests from traditional taxi drivers around the world.

Perhaps that’s just progress. But consider Instagram, which sold to Facebook for a billion dollars when it had 13-full time employees. Around the same time, Kodak was closing 13 factories and 130 photo labs and laying off 47,000 workers. Last year Facebook forked out $19 billion for WhatsApp, which had 55 employees. These are the frightening numbers behind the job-killing digital economy. And those internet giants that do recruit an army of coders to their cults pay hardly any tax and contribute little to the local economy. Keen’s particularly scathing on the segregation in San Francisco (and he’s found an ally in Rebecca Solnit), where the digital overlords travel to work in private buses and never have to leave their plush office complexes. There are plenty more villains – and a few heroes – in this history of the internet. He compares Google with the Stasi, rails against the oddball libertarians who became billionaires and rubbishes the long tail theory, which claims that any creative person can make a living thanks to the reach of the Web (mid-list authors are actually disappearing). As William Gibson said: “The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

April 11, 2015

Top 10 Fiction and Non-Fiction – April 2015

by Team Riverside

Guy de Maupassant FEMME FATALERichard Flanagan NARROW ROAD TO THE DEEP NORTH

If you’re in need of literary inspiration, here’s a snapshot of our bestselling novels and non-fiction (including the 80 titles in the Penguin Little Black Classics series) this spring…

Top 10 Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
3 How to Build a Girl – Caitlin Moran
4 The Children Act – Ian McEwan
5 The Buried Giant – Kazuo Ishiguro
6 The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide
7 Family Life – Akhil Sharma
8 The Secret Place – Tana French
9 Look Who’s Back – Timur Vermes
10 We Are Not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas

Bubbling under: All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews

Top 10 Non-Fiction

1 Penguin Little Black Classics (80th anniversary)
2 Flash Boys – Michael Lewis
3 The Establishment – Owen Jones
4 Rebel Footprints – David Rosenberg
5 This Changes Everything – Naomi Klein
6 The Utopia of Rules – David Graeber
7 H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald
8 So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
9 The Moth – various
10 The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks

Bubbling under: Napoleon the Great – Andrew Roberts

March 21, 2015

A London Year

by Andre

Paperback now available – £12.99

A LONDON YEAR365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters – compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

“With Thelma to the George Inn, Southwark, for a lunch of steak-and-kidney pie, cherry pie and beer. Expected hordes of American tourists but found only English, including three young men with posh accents who went through a repertoire of advert slogans, radio catchphrases and anecdotes about cricket, bloodsports and motors, even calling beer ‘ale’.” – Peter Nichols, Diary, 16 June, 1971

Part of the pleasure of this anthology of diary entries (one or more for each day of the year) is discovering the familiar from a distance. So for Southwark residents like us, there’s playwright Peter Nichols on a certain type of tourist in Borough High Street 44 years ago. Or how about the Quaker merchant Peter Briggins on the retail opportunities of the frozen Thames during the Great Freeze (21 January, 1716):

“Afternoon I went to London Bridge & saw booths & shops as farr as the Temple but they say there is booths to Chelsey, & below Bridge from about the Tower booths & many huts & people crossed over. There was they say 2 oxes roasted.”

With the capital as the changing backdrop, this is a remarkable portrait of London penned by more than 200 diarists, including Samuel Pepys, Kenneth Williams, Alan Bennett, Mary Shelley, James Boswell, Virginia Woolf and George Gissing. From the 16th century to the 21st, it’s an eyewitness account of everyday life that takes in grisly deaths in Tudor times, Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, anti-Vietnam war protests, World War I Zeppelin raids and Derek Jarman’s night out in Soho.

September 15, 2014

Ruth Rendell & Penelope Lively

by Andre

Ruth Rendell THE GIRL NEXT DOORAmmonites and Leaping Fish PENELOPE LIVELYIt’s a truism that old age brings a reawakening of childhood memories. For almost every writer, memory is a rich resource, but things get especially interesting when they undergo that memory reboot in their seventies or eighties. At the age of 84 – and 50 years since her debut From Doon with Death – Ruth Rendell has written a captivating novel about that experience. The Girl Next Door is nominally a crime novel, though the killer is identified at the beginning and the crime (a double murder) occurred in 1944. The case is brought to light by the unearthing of a pair of severed hands. What’s fascinating is the effect the grisly discovery has on the 70-somethings who used to play on the site as children. Memories are stirred and lives are shaken up at a time when the days, months and years might appear to be predictable and unchanging.

Penelope Lively’s brief, meditative memoir, Ammonites & Leaping Fish: A Life in Time, is a treasure trove of memory – from childhood in Alexandria to the ‘hospital years’ of old age – filtered through her precise and discursive prose. She is especially good on the working of memory and how it becomes “the mind’s triumph over time”, as well as childhood amnesia and the importance of teaching history (our collective memory). At 81, Lively has written a rich, absorbing memoir that has you hoping for further novels from this former Booker Prize winner.

March 8, 2014

A Very Short Introduction

by Andre

For the overburdened reader, ‘a very short introduction’ is among the most welcome of phrases. Now you can browse dozens of books on our snazzy new spinner that will each fill a specific gap in your knowledge, without detaining you for more than a few hours. Oxford University Press has literally hundreds of slim, accessible volumes in its Very Short series, and we’ve got dozens of these titles available in the shop. Click on any book cover below for just a selection of this diverse, authoritative series that’s proved popular with both students and general readers.

December 15, 2013

Books of the Year 2013

by Andre

Books_of_2013We’ve expanded our trawl of the literary pages for the books of 2013 to come up with a definitive list of the 10 favourites (click on the image for a clearer view of the books – all available at the Riverside, of course). Here’s our top 10 poll of polls based on the books with the most nominations from critics and fellow authors in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Evening Standard, The Spectator, Financial Times, New York Times, Metro, The Independent, Daily Mail and Sunday Times.

1 The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
“…a deliciously compellingly dazzling jewel about beauty, fate and life.” – Simon Sebag Montefiore, Evening Standard

2 Margaret Thatcher – The Authorised Biography: Volume 1 – Not For Turning
“…an exceptional political biography with dozens of incidental pleasures — it is full of Dickensian walk-on parts and deliciously redolent of its period.” – Philip Hensher, Spectator

3 Tenth of December by George Saunders
“The stories are clever and moving, and the title story is the best piece of fiction I’ve read this year.” – Roddy Doyle, Guardian

4 The Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
“…an extraordinary story of literary accomplishment, passionate war-mongering and sexual incorrigibility.” – John Preston, Spectator

5 The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
“I read… The Luminaries three times in my capacity as Man Booker judge, and each time round it yielded new riches.” – Robert Macfarlane, Guardian

6 Love, Nina: Despatches From Family Life by Nina Stibbe
“…no book this year made me laugh more.” – John Lanchester, Guardian

7 Harvest by Jim Crace
“…easily the best-written novel of the year.” – Philip Hensher, Spectator

8 Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee
“…charts a life that travelled the full 360 degrees on the wheel of fortune.” – Helen Simpson, Guardian

9 Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
“…her most challenging, complex and compelling novel yet.” – Ian Rankin, Guardian

10 Power Trip: A Decade of Policy, Plots and Spin by Damian McBride
“Bankrupt of morals and bankrupt of style, it is a nonpareil of peevishness, and self-delusion shines from it like a Christmas star.” – Hilary Mantel, Guardian

Several of these titles were, in fact, level pegging but at the top The Goldfinch did just edge out Charles Moore’s richly rewarding – and surprisingly funny – account of Thatcher up until the 1982 Falklands victory. The P-Fitz biography did well to make the top 10 as it was only released in November. Stoner by John Williams got plenty of picks as a favourite of 2013, even though it first appeared in 1965. And bubbling under: The Circle by Dave Eggers, The Childhood of Jesus by J M Coetzee and All That Is by James Salter (“no question, the best novel I read this year,” said Richard Ford of the senior American author).

November 17, 2013

Live From Downing Street: Nick Robinson

by Andre

Updated paperback out now – £8.99

Nick Robinson LIVE FROM DOWNING STREETThe BBC political editor is one of TV’s most familiar faces – and one of the most annoying if you accept Alastair Campbell’s assessment of Nick Robinson (“a jerk”). Well, I’d rather read Robinson’s engaging, witty history and insightful memoir than Campbell’s obsessive, late-night scribbling. It’s not an autobiography but it does begin – after a perfectly worthy, BBC-style introduction – with a revealing chapter on his youthful fascination with current affairs (Today presenter Brian Redhead was a neighbour) and his dogged research as BBC producer for a Dimbleby. Even when he switches to reporting, Robinson still seems to write a lot of memos and happily describes himself as a “pointy head” in contrast to BBC Rottweiler interviewers (Paxman, Humphrys, Neil).

Nevertheless, he’s a tenacious reporter who was bloodied early in the Blair years when, he claims, Mandelson tried to get him sacked, as well as being – for the most part – a staunch defender of his trade. While he acknowledges the soundbite culture’s gone too far, he reminds us of Draconian restrictions on reporting parliament from the 1600s to the 1950s. Politicians wouldn’t even deign to be interviewed. (In 1955, Clement Attlee was asked if there was “anything else you’d care to say about the coming election?” His answer in full: “No.”)

Robinson draws perfect sketches of the political pas de deux between each prime minister and the Beeb. Churchill loathed the BBC, which had (wrongly) denied him a platform in the 1930s; Wilson was a paranoiac who preferred ITV; Thatcher was positively hostile. He gets angry about propaganda during the Falklands War and regrets his failure to give Robin Cook’s opposition to the Iraq war airtime when employed by ITV (Robinson avoided the Blair-BBC death duel). Of course, this impartial correspondent’s candour becomes cloudier the closer he gets to the present but his profound questions about the future shape of British broadcasting make this essential reading for students of politics and the media.

August 10, 2013

Winter: Adam Gopnik

by Andre

Adam Gopnik WINTER“Winter is coming,” as the Starks say in A Game of Thrones. It may not be uppermost in our minds during this balmy August, but New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s wonderful, wide-ranging meditation on winter will prepare you for the diminishing December days by stirring an appreciation of our 19th century taming of the season, which went from “being seen as bleak and bitter to sweet and sublime”. Raised in Canada, the essayist knows what a real winter means; his subject is also an excuse to introduce us to ice hockey – a “dross of brutal messiness” in John Updike’s phrase – and its emergence in Montreal.

Gopnik glides through a variety of aspects of the season with all the grace of Goethe on his ice skates (an engraving shows the German poet looking smug on the ice in the 1850s, when the pastime became “essentially social and overtly sexual” according to Gopnik). And while Germans such as the artist Friedrich are credited with transforming winter in our imagination through a “Romantic resistance to the Enlightenment idea of reason”, it’s heartening to see that the British played a part in everything from early ice skating (Pepys writes of this “very pretty art” in 1662) and fashionable Alpine holidays to stiff-upper-lip polar expeditions and, in the 1830s, even central heating. “North Americans who have spent a winter in England and who, clutching teacups and shivering in shaggy sweaters, wonder if they will ever be warm again, may find it hard to believe that this was the first warm modern place,” writes Gopnik.

He’s also good on the “ambiguous festival” that is the Dickensian Christmas and the clamour for the festive season to be less commercial, which is nothing new: US newspapers have been calling for Christmas to be “dematerialized” since the 1880s.

July 12, 2013

Summer Reading 2013 – £2 off!

by Andre

We can help with all your summer reading requirements – and we’ve got £2 off dozens of selected paperback titles in fiction and non-fiction including novels by Zadie Smith, Hilary Mantel and A.M. Homes. The £2 discount applies while stocks last – and we’ll be adding new titles to our Summer Reading so come and have a browse. Click on the book covers below to view a gallery of just some of the books on offer.

July 6, 2013

A Shed of One’s Own: Marcus Berkmann

by Andre

Marcus Berkmann A SHED OF ONE'S OWNNicholas Lezard BITTER EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT MEMarcus Berkmann’s one of those eminently amusing writers I’ve been stumbling across for a couple of decades. So opening his latest comic memoir, A Shed of One’s Own: Midlife Without the Crisis, feels a bit like finding a familiar face in a reassuringly fusty pub where you’ve both retreated to escape the vicissitudes of modern life. He’s a little older, a little more resigned to greengrocers’ misplaced apostrophes and the decline of personal ambition but essentially the same amiable humourist.

Berkmann’s chronicled his cricketing obsession in multiple volumes and featured in the late Harry Thompson’s marvellous Penguins Stopped Play about village cricketers on a quixotic tour of seven continents; he’s a Private Eye regular; and he used to review TV in the Daily Mail back in the early Nineties, which was actually just a few months ago (that’s according to Berkmann’s theory of Decade Erosion among the middle aged). As I recall, he once had a ponytail, and indeed he addresses this hair episode in a chapter called ‘Mutton’, which also features the World’s Oldest Punk and such seismic sartorial shifts as the expunging of slacks and the “universally distressing phenomenon” of the T-Shirt on the Fat Man.

Berkmann wears his wisdom lightly in an engaging read that knows its (crumbling) audience without ever feeling cynical. Yes, he will make you guffaw on public transport but there are also moving passages about the mid-lifer’s filial duties, as well as a philosophical enquiry into the plight of the middle-aged hermit, tucked away in his shed and nurturing an obsession with facts (news websites, military history, true crime) in place of people. In the acknowledgements, Berkmann thanks Nicholas Lezard, a fellow mid-life memoirist whose new book Bitter Experience Has Taught Me promises more of the same –  creaky cricket, excessive amounts of red wine, a glimmer of Wodehousian wit – but with added penury.

June 6, 2013

The Old Ways: Robert Macfarlane

by Andre

Paperback now available – £9.99

Robert Macfarlane THE OLD WAYSRobert Macfarlane HOLLOWAYNominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize, The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot is lyrical nature writing that draws deep on literature, myth and memory. It’s a book for walkers or indeed anyone who’s felt their imagination stir as they put one foot in front of the other on an ancient path. Macfarlane is intensely curious about the places and people he encounters – and himself. If you can read it outdoors with a majestic landscape as your companion then all the better. It’s also a book that does a fine job of reviving interest in the early 20th century poet Edward Thomas, who was heavily influenced by the English countryside. His collected poems are also available at the Riverside.

For fans of Robert Macfarlane, there’s also the intriguing Holloway about the author’s exploration of a sunken path in south Dorset. It’s a slender, exquisite volume illustrated by Radiohead artist Stanley Donwood.

May 27, 2013

The Silence of Animals: John Gray

by Andre

John Gray THE SILENCE OF ANIMALSPhilosopher John Gray has written a sequel to Straw Dogs that is hauntingly beautiful, sometimes bleak and often admonitory. Certainly liberal humanists and Christians alike will feel challenged by Gray’s arguments, particularly the debunking of his opponents’ faith in the “myth” of human progress, which he compares to “cheap music” for its simultaneous spirit-lifting and brain-numbing effect. “There is only the human animal, forever at war with itself,” he writes, rejecting any demarcation between the savage and the civilised. The rational human is, according to Gray, a modern myth; he even questions the notion that humans desire freedom.

There’s a lyrical, discomforting quality to the literary quotations he deploys. J.G. Ballard writes of the sense that “reality itself was a stage set that could be dismantled at any moment” when he recalled the abandoned casino he tiptoed through as a boy in wartime Shanghai. “Progress in civilisation seems possible only in interludes when history is idling,” notes Gray. The flood of quotations – from Norman Lewis and George Orwell, Joseph Roth and Ford Madox Ford, Patrick Leigh Fermor and Georges Simenon – sometimes makes The Silence of Animals read like the finest footnotes selection you’ll ever encounter. However, Gray’s own voice is just as quotable: he’s scathing about the “post-modern plantation economy” of the US, describes a perpetual search for happiness as like being burdened with a character in a dull story and regrets that “the pursuit of distraction has been embraced as the meaning of life”. The title alludes to the human struggle for silence as an escape from language. Turning outside yourself and contemplating the animals and birds, Gray writes, may finally enable you to “hear something beyond words”.

May 22, 2013

Maggie & Me: Damian Barr

by Nicola

Signed copies available – £14.99

Damian Barr MAGGIE AND MEIt wasn’t much fun being a gay kid in Thatcher’s Britain during the Eighties – especially not for Damian Barr, growing up in an aggressively straight community in a Lanarkshire village. His parents separate in 1984, the day that  ‘the blonde woman with a man’s voice’ is seen by the young boy rising from the rubble of The Grand Hotel in Brighton – bombed by the IRA – and taking control. In her he recognises another outsider, a survivor, and this encourages him to work hard and make a better life for himself. I laughed, cried and got angry but I didn’t want it to end.

March 28, 2013

Celebrate 150 years of the Tube

by Andre

Since 1863, vast, silent crowds of people have been heading underground every day to read a book (and maybe go to work). So the 150th anniversary of the London Underground – and the 80th anniversary of Harry Beck’s iconic map – is a good opportunity to pick up some top Tube books here at the Riverside for your Jubilee or Northern Line journey over the road. The Penguin Underground Lines series deserves its own platform announcement: 12 short books for each Underground line from authors ranging from John O’Farrell to John Lanchester, Lucy Wadham to Peter York. They’re just £4.99 each and there’s also a box set for real Tube buffs. We’ve also got new books about the history and the design of London Underground, as well as the poems and 150 years of odd facts. Click on the images above for our gallery of Tube-related titles for the birthday celebrations.

March 24, 2013

David Bowie Is: V&A exhibition catalogue

by Andre

DAVID BOWIE ISMuseum exhibition catalogues are probably purchased more out of a sense of self-improving duty rather than pure pleasure, but the accompanying volume to the V&A’s blockbuster Bowie exhibition (until 11 August) is essential reading for fans – and it seems everyone’s a fan since the surprise comeback – of the man who defined an era with his avant-garde refashioning of pop. Far more than mere nostalgia, the exhibition is a visual and aural celebration of the Starman – the 1972 Top of the Pops costume is framed by footage of that memorable performance – as well as an exploration of the concept of ‘inner space’ (JG Ballard’s Atrocity Exhibition from 1970 is one element that gives the exhibition its wider cultural context). Bowie soaked up so many influences it’s almost worth an exhibition in itself: at the V&A we get to see the cut-up lyrics inspired by William Burroughs (there’s a photo of their meeting), the Diamond Dogs tour designs based on 1984 (Sonia Orwell refused permission for an official 1984 show) and the photo of Little Richard he kept from a young age (an early clue to Bowie’s flamboyant theatricality).

The hype surrounding this exhibition is justified by its bold, non-chronological design and the access the curators had to Bowie’s extraordinary archive: the book and the museum show allow us to gaze at such items as his Berlin house keys, the legal letter changing his name from David Jones and the singer’s sketches and hand-written lyrics, as well as an array of outlandish costumes that provoked family arguments during 1970s editions of Top of the Pops. The book is a lavish, visually stunning companion to an exhaustive, eye-popping exhibition that chronicles Bowie’s reinvention over five decades and definitively captures this alien pop icon’s pioneering performances and his enduring influence on contemporary culture.

March 7, 2013

Richard III: biographies and classic crime

by Andre

David Baldwin RICHARD IIIJosephine Tey THE DAUGHTER OF TIME

The surprise reappearance of Richard III, dug up in a Leicester car park, is a timely opportunity to try and disinter the truth about a king portrayed as a Machiavellian villain by Shakespeare. “We have to concede the curved spine was not Tudor propaganda, but we need not believe the chronicler who claimed Richard was the product of a two-year pregnancy and was born with teeth,” as Hilary Mantel said in her (unfairly) infamous lecture on royal bodies. “The king stripped by the victors has been reclothed in his true identity.” If you want to learn more about the last king of the Plantagenet dynasty, there are a pair of updated historical biographies that feature the car park dig: David Baldwin’s Richard III and – not so snappily titled – The Last Days of Richard III and the Fate of His DNA: The Book that Inspired the Dig by John Ashdown-Hill.

Perhaps the most enjoyable piece of historical revisionism for Richard III, though, is Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time, a unique and classic crime novel in which a bed-ridden Inspector Alan Grant decides to investigate the real facts behind the murderous ‘hunchback king’ after seeing a contemporary portrait of Richard. Could such a sensitive, noble face really belong to one of the most infamous villains of history? It’s a fascinating premise for an exquisite crime novel which, 62 years since publication, is more inventive and adroit in its plotting than almost any modern genre author can manage.

January 15, 2013

The Paris Review, Granta

by Andre

THE PARIS REVIEW 203GRANTA no. 122

New issues out now – £12.99

Object Lessons, the superlative collection of short stories from The Paris Review, was a literary hit over Christmas. For anyone enraptured by that anthology of favourites from the New York magazine’s 60-year history, the obvious next step is to acquire a quarterly habit for The Paris Review’s inventive fiction, poetry and prose from international authors. Issue 203 features new fiction and poetry from James Salter, Rachel Kushner, Sarah Frisch, Tim Parks, Peter Orner, Ben Lerner and Geoffrey Hill, as well as Pulphead essayist John Jeremiah Sullivan and editor Lorin Stein’s interviews from the First Annual Norwegian-American Literary Festival.

British literary magazine Granta, which features award-winning reportage, memoir, fiction and photography, will be making headlines in the spring when it publishes its once-a-decade list of the best of young British novelists. In 2003, their literary roll call included David Mitchell, Zadie Smith and Sarah Waters. The latest issue, no. 122, has the stinging theme of betrayal with new writing by Ben Marcus, Janine di Giovanni, Karen Russell, Samantha Harvey, Colin Robinson and John Burnside.

December 2, 2012

Authors’ Books of the Year 2012

by Andre

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2012

We’ve been trawling the literary pages for the books of 2012 and – after totting up the picks in The Guardian, The Observer, The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Evening Standard, Spectator and New Statesman – here’s our top 10 poll of polls based on the books with the most nominations from fellow authors (all available at the Riverside, of course).

1. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
“Superb history as well as magnificent literature” – David Marquand, New Statesman
2. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert Macfarlane
“[A] magisterial mix of scholarship and exploration of landscape” – Penelope Lively, The Spectator
3. NW by Zadie Smith
“Angry, committed, richly humane” – Philip Hensher, Daily Telegraph
4. Bertie: A Life of Edward VII by Jane Ridley
“A model of how royal biographies should be written” – Philip Ziegler, The Spectator
5. Pulphead: Notes from the Other Side of America by John Jeremiah Sullivan
“The man is astute, funny and wonderful company” – Nick Laird, The Guardian
6. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe by Anne Applebaum
“Comprehensive and compelling” – Amanda Foreman, Daily Telegraph
7. Behind The Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo
“Sets a gold standard for exactly what a gifted reporter may still do alone” – David Hare, The Guardian
8. Canada by Richard Ford
“Breathtaking” – Philip Hensher, The Spectator
9. Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure by Artemis Cooper
“The man whose life I think I would most have wished to live… a triumph of tact and sympathy” – Robert Macfarlane, Daily Telegraph
10. Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie
“A memoir of the fatwa years that showed the human reality behind the headlines” – Louise Doughty, The Observer

It should really be a top 12 as Rushdie has the same number of picks as Skios by Michael Frayn and Alice Munro’s Dear Life. It’s also heartening to see The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, Train Dreams by Denis Johnson and Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway just outside the top 10.

November 26, 2012

In Other Worlds: Margaret Atwood

by Andre

In recent years, a few of the more hidebound members of the science fiction community have sniped at Margaret Atwood’s unwillingness to fully embrace the SF label. It turns out that she’s a lifelong reader – and writer – of genre fiction who’s frustrated that such classification feels like books ‘being sent to their room… for the misdemeanour of being enjoyable’.

The essays in this collection are both fannish – Atwood discloses her childhood stories of flying rabbits and ponders the origin of superhero outfits – and erudite as she discusses the power of science fiction to explore the outer reaches of the imagination, the consequences of technology and the nature of being human. As the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s typically strong on dystopian and utopian societies in literature and she explores SF themes from pioneers such as H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell – authors whose ‘other worlds’ she’s been visiting for 60 years. It’s not an exhaustive survey – for that you’ll need Trillion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss and David Wingrove, or Adam Roberts’s masterly The History of Science Fiction – but it’s a persuasive, superior primer from an author who’s employed SF as a powerful literary warning about the loss of freedom.

October 27, 2012

London Hidden Interiors

by Andre

Special Price: £35

THIS time last year we began excitedly exploring Panoramas of Lost London (still available at the special discount price of £25) and now we’re revelling in London Hidden Interiors. This sumptuous volume will appeal to anyone who loves London and feels a frisson of excitement at the idea of entering a hidden door and marvelling at the conserved architectural heritage inside.

Historian and heritage expert Philip Davies invites you on a tour of 180 of the capital’s best conserved interiors that are either rarely seen or little known. Unusual, odd and eccentric locations are featured in a stunning collection of 1,700 contemporary colour photographs that capture both the architectural detail and the unique sense of each of these conserved interiors. They range from the Speaker’s House and Lord Chancellor’s Residence, Lambeth Palace and 10 Downing Street to the Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, Aldwych Underground Station (closed in 1994) and the Sherlock Holmes pub. Of course, architect Sir John Soane has a number of impressive Georgian interiors in this volume, including his maze of a home (now a marvellous museum) in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

London Hidden Interiors is available at the special price of £35 – £5 off the RRP. Click below for a gallery of pages from the book.

October 6, 2012

2012 Samuel Johnson Prize Shortlist

by Andre

The six titles up for the UK’s leading non-fiction prize include some popular and much admired books here at the Riverside Bookshop. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, by Robert Macfarlane, is lyrical nature writing that draws deep on literature, myth and memory; a book for walkers or indeed anyone who’s felt their imagination stir as they put one foot in front of the other.

The other nominees are:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Slum by Katherine Boo
Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis
The Better Angels of our Nature: A History of Violence and Humanity by Steven Pinker
The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain by Paul Preston
Strindberg: A Life by Sue Prideaux

The winner will be announced on 12 November.

October 1, 2012

Winter Journal: Paul Auster

by Team Riverside

Signed Copies

We’ve still got a few signed copies of the New York author’s latest non-fiction work in hardback (£17.99) – a perfect gift for Auster aficionados. Thirty years after The Invention of Solitude, the 65-year-old has written another memoir, this time examining life through the history of his body – pleasure, pain, eating, sleeping and the ‘scalding, epiphanic moment of clarity’ in 1978 that set him on new course as a writer. It’s an intriguing concept from this prolific author as he enters the winter of his writing life.

August 9, 2012

José Pizarro: Spanish Flavours

by Team Riverside

£3 Special Discount

Something special from our favourite local culinary genius: book of delicious recipes comes with a delicious discount of £3, whilst stock lasts! For details about the restaurant visit: http://www.josepizarro.com/

August 5, 2012

Kurt Vonnegut: A Man Without A Country

by Monika

A bitter and poignant account of a wise old man who asks questions about human responsibility for the fate of the world but knows how hypocritical the answers would be so he doesn’t even want to wait to hear them. “Man without a country” is a mosaic of simple thoughts, perceptions and sharp reflections on human condition, a forthright, poetical and modest quasi-autobiographical ‘teeny-weeny’ form, Vonnegut’s last book. With his unmistakably searing and penetrating sense of humour, Vonnegut intersperses anecdotes from his life with bitter reflections of American post 9/11 politics, expressing for example his deep humanistic disappointment that cigarettes have failed to kill him (as promised on every package) so he is bound to live in a world where ‘the three most powerful people on the whole planet are named Bush, Dick and Colon’.  This is one of these books that even though very short, one needs to read slowly to thoroughly taste and enjoy every bite of it.

August 5, 2012

Artur Domosławski: Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life

by Monika

 There  are not many as disappointing things in life as finding out that someone whose work you’ve always admired was not an impeccable, godlike figure, but a deeply flawed human being. Suddenly it’s down to us to judge if we can overlook these flaws or if we find them utterly unforgivable. This is a decision that the reader of ‘Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life” by Artur Domosławski (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) will have to make for himself. Domoslawski hit hard with a brilliant and thoroughly fascinating biography that openly questions the veracity of Kapuściński’s writing as well as the nature of his political engagement in Communist Poland. It’s a book that caused a little civil war in reporter’s home country: Kapuściński’s wife tried to stop it from being published – fortunately, in vain. It is a beautifully written testimony, full of respect and understanding that is aimed at truth, before that truth would have been (surely) revealed by some other, (surely) far less kind source. A must read.

May 24, 2012

The Physics of the Future: Michio Kaku

by Andy

So this probably will not be winning a major literary prize any time soon – there’s a few too many narrative touches, presumably intended to make it all more ‘reader friendly’ (think clunky Greek mythology shoe-horned into the start of each chapter), but if it is highly polished prose you are after then go elsewhere.  This one is all about the wonder.  Mind-boggling wonder.  And there is more than plenty of that.

It is all very Shape of Things to Come, as you would expect from a book about the shape of things to come, but Kaku knows his onions, as well as a great many industry insiders (and, perhaps, his Greek mythology), and the result is a highly readable, thoroughly fascinating and confident romp through all the wonderful (and some of the terrible) things awaiting us.  It’s short.  It’s to the point.  It’s curiously strange and all so plausible.

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May 5, 2012

The Rise & Fall of Ancient Egypt: Toby Wilkinson

by Andy

As interesting and informative as learning books can be, the reading of them is not always easy and makes impressive demands on the attention. Proper attention, that is.  And that’s if you already have a vague idea of what the book is about (as, quite often, what you bring to the learning book is just as important as what the learning book brings to you, so that if you know nothing and naively think it will be easy to pick something up and simply discover proper attention might well require the re-reading of various bits and the taking of moments to remember who such-and-such a person was and why they did what they did)).  For history in particular there are not that many titles that cater for the vast majority who have not got seven years to spare to really study a subject.

So, Toby Wilkinson’s The Rise & Fall of Ancient Egypt is one of those rare things – a big, fat impressive tome, the completion of which will leave you feeling immensely smug, immeasurably fascinated and thoroughly informed (unless, like me, you have the recall facility of a gnat).  But better than all of that is that you can zip through it in almost no time (which I did) and fully appreciate the scope of over three thousand years of civilisation and finish with a pretty good idea of what happened and feel entertained.  Quite possibly the best history book I’ve read in a very, very long time (and I read a lot of them, and I stop reading a lot more of them).

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