Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

Its important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. Im going to tell you that libraries are important. Im going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. Im going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: Im an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

So Im biased as a writer. But I am much, much more biased as a reader. And I am even more biased as a British citizen.

And Im here giving this talk tonight, under the auspices of the Reading Agency: a charity whose mission is to give everyone an equal chance in life by helping people become confident and enthusiastic readers. Which supports literacy programs, and libraries and individuals and nakedly and wantonly encourages the act of reading. Because, they tell us, everything changes when we read.

And its that change, and that act of reading that Im here to talk about tonight. I want to talk about what reading does. What its good for.

I was once in New York, and I listened to a talk about the building of private prisons a huge growth industry in America. The prison industry needs to plan its future growth how many cells are they going to need? How many prisoners are there going to be, 15 years from now? And they found they could predict it very easily, using a pretty simple algorithm, based on asking what percentage of 10 and 11-year-olds couldnt read. And certainly couldnt read for pleasure.

Its not one to one: you cant say that a literate society has no criminality. But there are very real correlations.

And I think some of those correlations, the simplest, come from something very simple. Literate people read fiction.

Fiction has two uses. Firstly, its a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if its hard, because someones in trouble and you have to know how its all going to end thats a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, youre on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them.

I dont think there is such a thing as a bad book for children. Every now and again it becomes fashionable among some adults to point at a subset of childrens books, a genre, perhaps, or an author, and to declare them bad books, books that children should be stopped from reading. Ive seen it happen over and over; Enid Blyton was declared a bad author, so was RL Stine, so were dozens of others. Comics have been decried as fostering illiteracy.

No such thing as a bad writer… Enid Blytons Famous Five. Photograph: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

Its tosh. Its snobbery and its foolishness. There are no bad authors for children, that children like and want to read and seek out, because every child is different. They can find the stories they need to, and they bring themselves to stories. A hackneyed, worn-out idea isnt hackneyed and worn out to them. This is the first time the child has encountered it. Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing. Fiction you do not like is a route to other books you may prefer. And not everyone has the same taste as you.

Well-meaning adults can easily destroy a childs love of reading: stop them reading what they enjoy, or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like, the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian improving literature. Youll wind up with a generation convinced that reading is uncool and worse, unpleasant.

We need our children to get onto the reading ladder: anything that they enjoy reading will move them up, rung by rung, into literacy. (Also, do not do what this author did when his 11-year-old daughter was into RL Stine, which is to go and get a copy of Stephen Kings Carrie, saying if you liked those youll love this! Holly read nothing but safe stories of settlers on prairies for the rest of her teenage years, and still glares at me when Stephen Kings name is mentioned.)

And the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. Youre being someone else, and when you return to your own world, youre going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

Youre also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And its this:

The world doesnt have to be like this. Things can be different.

I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

Its simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere youve never been. Once youve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.

And while were on the subject, Id like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if its a bad thing. As if escapist fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in.

If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldnt you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.

As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.

Tolkiens illustration of Bilbos home, Bag End. Photograph: HarperCollins

Another way to destroy a childs love of reading, of course, is to make sure there are no books of any kind around. And to give them nowhere to read those books. I was lucky. I had an excellent local library growing up. I had the kind of parents who could be persuaded to drop me off in the library on their way to work in summer holidays, and the kind of librarians who did not mind a small, unaccompanied boy heading back into the childrens library every morning and working his way through the card catalogue, looking for books with ghosts or magic or rockets in them, looking for vampires or detectives or witches or wonders. And when I had finished reading the childrens library I began on the adult books.

They were good librarians. They liked books and they liked the books being read. They taught me how to order books from other libraries on inter-library loans. They had no snobbery about anything I read. They just seemed to like that there was this wide-eyed little boy who loved to read, and would talk to me about the books I was reading, they would find me other books in a series, they would help. They treated me as another reader nothing less or more which meant they treated me with respect. I was not used to being treated with respect as an eight-year-old.

But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

I worry that here in the 21st century people misunderstand what libraries are and the purpose of them. If you perceive a library as a shelf of books, it may seem antiquated or outdated in a world in which most, but not all, books in print exist digitally. But that is to miss the point fundamentally.

I think it has to do with nature of information. Information has value, and the right information has enormous value. For all of human history, we have lived in a time of information scarcity, and having the needed information was always important, and always worth something: when to plant crops, where to find things, maps and histories and stories they were always good for a meal and company. Information was a valuable thing, and those who had it or could obtain it could charge for that service.

In the last few years, weve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. Thats about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need.

Photograph: Alamy

Libraries are places that people go to for information. Books are only the tip of the information iceberg: they are there, and libraries can provide you freely and legally with books. More children are borrowing books from libraries than ever before books of all kinds: paper and digital and audio. But libraries are also, for example, places that people, who may not have computers, who may not have internet connections, can go online without paying anything: hugely important when the way you find out about jobs, apply for jobs or apply for benefits is increasingly migrating exclusively online. Librarians can help these people navigate that world.

I do not believe that all books will or should migrate onto screens: as Douglas Adams once pointed out to me, more than 20 years before the Kindle turned up, a physical book is like a shark. Sharks are old: there were sharks in the ocean before the dinosaurs. And the reason there are still sharks around is that sharks are better at being sharks than anything else is. Physical books are tough, hard to destroy, bath-resistant, solar-operated, feel good in your hand: they are good at being books, and there will always be a place for them. They belong in libraries, just as libraries have already become places you can go to get access to ebooks, and audiobooks and DVDs and web content.

A library is a place that is a repository of information and gives every citizen equal access to it. That includes health information. And mental health information. Its a community space. Its a place of safety, a haven from the world. Its a place with librarians in it. What the libraries of the future will be like is something we should be imagining now.

Literacy is more important than ever it was, in this world of text and email, a world of written information. We need to read and write, we need global citizens who can read comfortably, comprehend what they are reading, understand nuance, and make themselves understood.

Libraries really are the gates to the future. So it is unfortunate that, round the world, we observe local authorities seizing the opportunity to close libraries as an easy way to save money, without realising that they are stealing from the future to pay for today. They are closing the gates that should be open.

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the only country where the oldest age group has higher proficiency in both literacy and numeracy than the youngest group, after other factors, such as gender, socio-economic backgrounds and type of occupations are taken into account.

Or to put it another way, our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce.

Books are the way that we communicate with the dead. The way that we learn lessons from those who are no longer with us, that humanity has built on itself, progressed, made knowledge incremental rather than something that has to be relearned, over and over. There are tales that are older than most countries, tales that have long outlasted the cultures and the buildings in which they were first told.

I think we have responsibilities to the future. Responsibilities and obligations to children, to the adults those children will become, to the world they will find themselves inhabiting. All of us as readers, as writers, as citizens have obligations. I thought Id try and spell out some of these obligations here.

I believe we have an obligation to read for pleasure, in private and in public places. If we read for pleasure, if others see us reading, then we learn, we exercise our imaginations. We show others that reading is a good thing.

We have an obligation to support libraries. To use libraries, to encourage others to use libraries, to protest the closure of libraries. If you do not value libraries then you do not value information or culture or wisdom. You are silencing the voices of the past and you are damaging the future.

We have an obligation to read aloud to our children. To read them things they enjoy. To read to them stories we are already tired of. To do the voices, to make it interesting, and not to stop reading to them just because they learn to read to themselves. Use reading-aloud time as bonding time, as time when no phones are being checked, when the distractions of the world are put aside.

We have an obligation to use the language. To push ourselves: to find out what words mean and how to deploy them, to communicate clearly, to say what we mean. We must not to attempt to freeze language, or to pretend it is a dead thing that must be revered, but we should use it as a living thing, that flows, that borrows words, that allows meanings and pronunciations to change with time.

We writers and especially writers for children, but all writers have an obligation to our readers: its the obligation to write true things, especially important when we are creating tales of people who do not exist in places that never were to understand that truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are. Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all. We have an obligation not to bore our readers, but to make them need to turn the pages. One of the best cures for a reluctant reader, after all, is a tale they cannot stop themselves from reading. And while we must tell our readers true things and give them weapons and give them armour and pass on whatever wisdom we have gleaned from our short stay on this green world, we have an obligation not to preach, not to lecture, not to force predigested morals and messages down our readers throats like adult birds feeding their babies pre-masticated maggots; and we have an obligation never, ever, under any circumstances, to write anything for children that we would not want to read ourselves.

We have an obligation to understand and to acknowledge that as writers for children we are doing important work, because if we mess it up and write dull books that turn children away from reading and from books, we ve lessened our own future and diminished theirs.

We all adults and children, writers and readers have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. Im going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. Its this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things.

We have an obligation to make things beautiful. Not to leave the world uglier than we found it, not to empty the oceans, not to leave our problems for the next generation. We have an obligation to clean up after ourselves, and not leave our children with a world weve shortsightedly messed up, shortchanged, and crippled.

We have an obligation to tell our politicians what we want, to vote against politicians of whatever party who do not understand the value of reading in creating worthwhile citizens, who do not want to act to preserve and protect knowledge and encourage literacy. This is not a matter of party politics. This is a matter of common humanity.

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. If you want your children to be intelligent, he said, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales. He understood the value of reading, and of imagining. I hope we can give our children a world in which they will read, and be read to, and imagine, and understand.

This is an edited version of Neil Gaimans lecture for the Reading Agency, delivered on Monday October 14 at the Barbican in London. The Reading Agencys annual lecture series was initiated in 2012 as a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share original, challenging ideas about reading and libraries.

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Bernard MacLaverty: The story you have just finished is of little help to writing the next one

Acclaimed Northern Irish author Bernard MacLaverty has actually taken 16 years to complete his newest book. A great deal of things simply obstructed, he states

I n his coat recommendation for Bernard MacLavertys Midwinter Break, the renowned American author Richard Ford explains the brand-new book as much-anticipated. It is a respectful method of stating that MacLavertys 5th book has actually been taken its time in coming. Sixteen years, to be exact, because his last, The Anatomy School, and longer still if you return to the magnificence days of the 1980s and 1990s when this Belfast-born however Glasgow-based author was all over, winning acclaims and rewards in equivalent step for his narrative collections (A Time to Dance, Walking the Dog and The Great Profundo), his books Cal and Lamb, both which he adjusted as well-known movies starring respectively Helen Mirren and Liam Neeson, his tv series and radio plays, and his Booker-shortlisted Grace Notes in 1997.

A case of authors obstruct? More life obstructing of art, MacLaverty responds, set down nervously on the edge of his armchair in a main London hotel as we talk. I have a journal note from 2001, when Madeline [his spouse] and I went to Amsterdam for a break in January. I presume I was beginning to believe about the task from there, however there were so lots of things that came along to get in the method.

Among the interruptions he notes and this simple and affable 74-year-old has a timely sheet to hand were: an un-turn-downable invite from Scottish Opera to compose a libretto; 2 years as a symphonic music DJ on Radio Scotland; a five-year stint on a film script based upon Robin Jenkinss fantastic 1950s unique, The Cone Gatherers, which lastly concerned nought when the manufacturer behind the task passed away; a collection of narratives; and Bye-Child, a Bafta-nominated brief movie of a poem by his buddy Seamus Heaney, which he directed in 2003.

And, he includes, Ive likewise had 8 grandchildren because time. Or we have. His 4 developed kids, 2 kids, 2 ladies, all reside in the exact same postal code as he does, so he has his hands complete. Its a brand-new twist on Cyril Connollys line about the pram in the hall being the opponent of excellent art.

MacLaverty would be the last one to take himself so seriously, however his short run through those 16 lost years exposes him as a guy of lots of skills to which must be likewise included mentor stints at British, American and european universities. With a lot he readies at, exactly what would he pick if he had only time left for another task? Id paint something excellent, he addresses without a time out.

No tip of any autumnal constricting of horizons here, however Midwinter Break is, by contrast, a tale of peaceful dissatisfaction, about long-married Gerry Gilmore, a retired designer, and his better half Stella, as they avoid on a mini-break. Both are at chances with their lot and with each other. He is pulling away into beverage, she into religious beliefs.

She is believing, MacLaverty states, on a various plain. This is not a story about old individuals. Its the story of 2 youths who got old and they have actually fallen out of action.

A two-hander, it covers the exact same broad area as 45 Years, the 2015 Tom Courtenay/Charlotte Rampling movie, based upon a David Constantine narrative. When it comes to Midwinter Break, however, the previous injury that haunts the couple is bound up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which they relocated to Scotland to leave.

The parallels with MacLavertys life appear. In 1974, he, too, made the very same refugee journey with his young household. The Troubles were bloody and dreadful, he remembers, individuals and bombs being eliminated on their doorsteps.

His homeland, however, has actually continued to loom big in the books he has actually released in exile. You compose from exactly what you understand, and among the important things you understand is that you are not informing your very own story, however little bits of it are your very own story. Its like tessellation of a mosaic. You take a bit that took place to you and you put it next to a bit that you comprise.

It needs a fragile touch, he stresses, and can be a lengthy procedure. We are edging back around to that long area in between books now he is more going to resolve exactly what has actually been keeping me back. Whatever background, or perhaps tone his books might share, he discusses, the story you have actually simply completed is of little assistance to composing the next one. He estimates Thomas Mann in his defence. Didnt he state, an author is somebody for whom composing is harder than it is for other individuals?

There was at least one incorrect start with Midwinter Break, he confesses, with an opening area, embeded in the now run-down modernist Catholic academy at Cardross in Argyll and Bute, that needed to be ditched.

Is he a perfectionist? MacLaverty offers a warm, intimate laugh. Im an author. Theyre the exact same thing.

Religion is one function of his books. He long back turned down the Catholicism of his youth, it continues to sustain his creativity. I stop to think in one element of it, however I continue to think in the features.

Another trademark is the spareness of his writing, not a squandered word or information in between the covers of exactly what ended up being as an outcome little work of arts. Its not like assembling Lego, he concurs. You need to be really mindful that you are weighing the words. As soon as utilized, #peeee

The expression makes him keep in mind something his mom. Shed discovered a wee dead bird. She chose it up and she stated, youd have actually understood by the weight of it that it was dead. He laughes. And its the exact same with a story. You understand whether you can achieve it in 6 pages [as a narrative] or whether it will take 200. And this one he indicates the copy of Midwinter Break on the table in between us is large product. It has to do with love and life and death and religious beliefs and exactly what matters.

And then, naturally, theres his other repeating style, Ireland. All the books nod to exactly what is taking place to Ireland, he concurs. Lamb [1980] was at the worst of the Troubles. Cal [1983] Had a downbeat ending, however then there were the things and ceasefires started to repair. Grace Notes had a positive middle, and a downbeat end, or 2 endings. I was hedging my bets. And this one well, I mustnt state more about the ending, however Im slightly positive about Ireland. I do not believe they are going to return to slaying each other.

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty will be released by Jonathan Cape on 3 August (14.99). To purchase a copy for 12.74 go to or call 03303336846. Free UK p &p over 10, online orders just. Phone orders minutes p &p of 1.99

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To Kill the President by Sam Bourne review has Trump saved the thriller?

Having a sociopath in the White House has actually assisted reanimate a category that appeared except concepts, as this all-too-plausible page-turner shows

I n typical situations, To Kill the President would be simply another thriller. Sam Bourne is the pseudonym of Jonathan Freedland, a senior figure on the Guardian, our sibling paper. Freedland is constantly worth reading, obviously. A book that started with United States authorities rushing to stop their president responding with a nuclear strike to mockery of his manhood from North Korea would have appeared ludicrous just a year earlier. Everybody understands the North Koreans would strike back by decreasing Seoul to debris.

Readers would not simply need to suspend their shock however send it off on vacation, if those very same agents of the Washington deep state had actually then concluded that the only safe alternative was to assassinate their commander-in-chief.

Now that the worlds most effective guy resides in the grey location in between the sociopathic and the demented, no dream appears too improbable. Trump always remembers an insult. Rather of governing, he hops channels searching for opponents to abuse. His tweets consume about blood putting out of ladies he dislikes to a degree that recommends a long-lasting psychological illness altering into a dark insanity.

Freedland does not have to overemphasize for impact. He has his Trump tweeting a lady on a skill contest: That skirt is far too brief for a teen on prime-time show tv. Still, if she wishes to carry out a personal program for me @whitehouse the response is yes! He gets the crotch of a female assistant and hisses: Don’t believe anything. Im the brains around here. To put it at its mildest, you can not state that these are creations that extend the readers credulity.

Like murder in Greek disaster, Freedland keeps Trump off phase. His heroine needs to handle a hardly camouflaged Steve Bannon rather. An unfortunately confidential Twitter user just recently removed a wonderful Sartre quote about the antisemites of the 1930s that uses too to Bannons alt-right (and its equivalents left wing). Never ever think antisemites are entirely uninformed of the absurdity of their replies, Sartre stated. Their foes utilize words properly, while they enjoy acting in bad faith, given that they look for not to convince by sound argument however to perturb and frighten.

Freedlands Bannon enjoys lolling around the White House. He impersonates a middle-aged rock star on a fond memories trip. When the heroine aims to fix him, he sneers about prissy little missies who deal with red-blooded white males as wrongdoers. They do not get the joke, or why folks chose the huge man.

Reading Freedland, you can see how the huge man might conserve a category that looked tired. Genuine intelligence firms combat Islamist extremism, Russia and China. For the bulk of thriller authors the only appropriate bad guy is a western bad guy. Industrial imperatives own the plotlines. Hollywood desires an international audience, and a thriller with the Chinese state as the opponent, for example, would never ever be evaluated in the large Chinese market. Liberal authors, on the other hand, watch out for the threat of excusing bigotry in anti-muslim and basic bigotry in specific.

For years, you have actually just had to glance a political leader or CEO to believe that by the last scene he will be unmasked as the organiser of a plot of supernatural iniquity. In the west, we anticipate our leaders to be wrongdoers. It is simpler to blame our issues on wicked males and females than accept that they might be insoluble. Repeating had actually made even the finest thriller authors sound worn out. In John le Carr s early books, you might state as you check out of Smiley going after Karla that the Soviet Union had genuine moles at the top of British intelligence. No court or newsroom has actually ever discovered the equivalent of the corrupt Foreign Office and MI6 officers in The Night Manager, paid off by merchants of death to assist in murder.

He might accomplish absolutely nothing else, however Trump has actually conserved the thriller. When was paranoid now checks out as sensible, what. As Freedlands plot grows more violent, and Trump and Bannons aspirations end up being more dictatorial, you can never ever rather dismiss his story as dream. Trump might be a catastrophe for the world however he is a present covered in stiff, glossy paper for each author who tackles him.

To Kill the President by Sam Bourne is released by HarperCollins (7.99). To buy a copy for 6.79 go to or call 03303336846. Free UK p &p over 10, online orders just. Phone orders minutes p &p of 1.99

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Best holiday reads 2017, picked by writers part one

A plagiarist in a kitchen and a horse walking into a bar; Dublin crimes and Washington misdemeanours; relationships, revolutions and relaxations … leading writers reveal their summer recommendations

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A book I absolutely loved was Margo Jeffersons Negroland(Granta), a memoir of her life as part of the African American economically privileged class. It is a sharply honest, biting, reflective look at America, and a useful guide on how race and class do not merely intersect, but race becomes class. Im looking forward to reading Salt Houses (Hutchinson), a novel by Hala Alyan, which feels very promising. The Big Stick (Basic) by Eliot Cohen has been on my to-read pile for a while and I plan to get to it this summer. And House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a new poetry collection, by Ishion Hutchinson.


Julian Barnes

Svetlana Alexievichs first book, The Unwomanly Face of War (1985), finally arrives in English (Penguin): as with her others, terrifying documentation meets great artfulness of construction. Marie Darrieussecqs Being Here: The Life of Paula Modersohn-Becker (Text) recounts a brief, powerful artistic life that went painfully unrewarded until after the painters death. And an autumn book: I was lucky to see an advance proof ofNathan Englanders Dinner at the Centre of the Earth (Weidenfeld), a subtle, nuanced, fierce novel about Israel/Palestine, which should usefully stir things up.

William Boyd

In the 1960s and 70s my parental home was in Ibadan, western Nigeria. From there I used to visit Lagos regularly even then an unruly, exciting place. The unruly factor and the excitement factor are now off the dial not to mention the stress factor, the population factor and the danger factor. This heady ambience is perfectly caught in Chibundu Onuzos tremendous second novel Welcome to Lagos (Faber). Nigerian novelists appear to be energising the form these days, and on this showing Onuzo is leading the charge. Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador) is a remarkable first collection: great precision of language married to a uniquely informed and focused view of the natural world. Finally, if you want a clear-eyed, subversive take on the strange world that is Donald Trumps American dystopia take out a subscription to the Baffler( a chunky quarterly magazine with superbly wry, dry, intelligent (and funny) writing.

In the summer of Brexit, I find myself drawn to fiction in translation, as a challenge to personal, as well as political, solipsism. Alvaro Enrigues Sudden Death (Vintage) recently beguiled a long transatlantic flight with his fanciful, erudite, hilarious tale of a tennis duel between Caravaggio and Francisco de Quevedo, played out against the backdrop of the Spanish conquest of South America and the Counter-Reformation. Olga Tokarczuks Flights (Fitzcarraldo) is described as a meditation on movement, and involves tales across history, including the journey made by Chopins heart from Paris to Warsaw. As someone who loved Laurent Binets HHhH, and had to read a lot of Roland Barthes as a postgraduate student, I am also greatly looking forward to The 7th Function of Language (Harvill Secker), in which Binet has a 1980s detective investigating the accidental death of Barthes: French postmodern high-jinks will be a welcome respite from political realities. And David Grossmans Man Booker International prize-winning A Horse Walks into a Bar (Vintage) sounds like the perfect antidote to Trump.


William Dalrymple

Summer for me is coming back from the blistering Indian heat to the cool and cloudy skies of Scotland. This year I am packing Adam Nicolsons The Seabirds Cry (HarperCollins) to read at Seacliff, the worlds most beautiful beach, which lies directly opposite one of the places Nicolson writes about: the Bass Rock, the worlds biggest gannetry, with 150,000 resident seabirds. Nicolson writes that they sound like a regiment of Cossacks cheering Ura, Ura, Ura . Maya Jasanoffs masterpiece The Dawn Watch (William Collins) will take us rather further afield up the Congo in Conrads footsteps. Judging by the opening chapters, this is one of the most important books on colonialism to be written in our time, and by one of our most brilliant young historians. Finally, Im looking forward to finishing The Epic City (Bloomsbury), a beautifully observed and even more beautifully written new study of Calcutta. In its author, Kushanava Choudhury, we clearly have an important new talent.

Richard Ford

If youre interested in Dublin, or if youre interested in the novelist John Banville, or if youre just interested in radiantly superb sentences about whatever Im all three then Time Pieces: A Dublin Memoir(Hachette Ireland) is a book youll not be able to put down. Banville walks the streets of his adopted hometown both sides of the Liffey giving us history (his, in some instances), wry anecdote, cultural commentary, architecture, famous personages and savages, ultimately providing a privileged glimpse into what makes this rambunctious old hodge-podge a genius disguised as a town. Take it along on your holiday. The City Always Wins (Faber), Omar Robert Hamiltons vivid debut novel, reads at times like gritty frontline reporting of the Egyptian revolution of 2011. But it is a novel through and through felicitous, immensely perceptive and thorough in its insights, and scrupulously humane. Its portrayal of the young, who are committed against insuperable odds to the salvation of the Egyptian ideal, is a bitter history lesson coupled with a riveting human story about political innocence and passions that wont die.


Garth Greenwell

Omar El Akkads American War (Picador) is the most impressive new novel Ive read this year. Set in a scarily plausible future scarred by civil strife and climate change, its thrilling for the sheer transporting force of its storytelling. Its lasting power, though, lies in its complex account of moral disintegration, both individual and societal. Igiaba Scegos Adua (New Vessel), newly translated from the Italian, is at the top of my pile of books to read this summer. The title character is a woman torn between Italy, her home for 40 years, and her native Somalia. One of the most brilliant writers I know, Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (whose House of Stone is published next year by Atlantic), has been raving about it, and she has never steered me wrong. If you like your thrillers sexy, smart and elegant, dont miss Christopher Bollens The Destroyers (Scribner). It manages to be both fast-paced and contemplative, an excellent entertainment and also something more lasting, a haunting meditation on friendship and desperation.

David Hare

Ive resisted Tana French in the past, thinking that she, like James Joyce, throws too many words at too few events. But in The Trespasser (Hodder) the proportions are perfect, and her procedural thoroughness takes her deeper and deeper into a wholly convincing portrayal of Dublin police. First-rate. Joan Didions South and West (4th Estate)is contrastingly slim. Her diary of a trip through the southern states in the 1960s, essay-length, is so potent that you wonder how much can be evoked by so little. The Plagiarist in the Kitchen (Unbound) is hilariously grumpy, muttering at us Dont you bastards know anything? You can read it purely for literary pleasure, but Jonathan Meades makes everything sound so delicious that the non-cook will be moved to cook and the bad cook will cook better.


Kazuo Ishiguro

Universal Harvester(Scribe), John Darnielles novel set amid the cornfields and small communities of Iowa, starts like a spooky thriller, then opens out into a moving, beautifully etched picture of Americas lost and profoundly lonely. Both Evan Davis and Matthew dAncona recently published excellent books on our so-called post-truth era, but Id like to highlight James Balls Post-Truth: How Bullshit Conquered the World (Biteback) for its vivid analysis of how the business models and incentives currently prevailing in digital media render decent discourse all but inaudible. Many people tell me the emergence of young Irish novelist Sally Rooney is a moment of real significance, so Im going to read her Conversations with Friends (Faber) to find out if theyre right.

Mark Lawson

At a time when either a vacation or a staycation is likely to find the reader in a country recently subject to an unexpected election result, Im looking forward to the explanation of maverick candidates offered by a fine political commentator, Steve Richards, in The Rise of the Outsiders: How Mainstream Politics Lost Its Way (Atlantic). Among the small squad of good novels about football, A Natural by Ross Raisin (Cape) is said by reliable scouts to be well worth its purchase fee. And, after being impressed by how Susie Steiner managed to find fresh ground in the police procedural with last years Missing, Presumed, Im keen to team up with her intriguing cop, DS Manon Bradshaw, again in Persons Unknown (Borough).


Robert Macfarlane

In Ravilious & Co: The Pattern of Friendship (Thames & Hudson), Andy Friend seems to have opened new vistas on to the lives, loves and connections of this mesmerising and migrant artist right up to his last, fatal flight off Iceland in 1942. Ive been saving Paul Scratons Ghosts on the Shore: Travels Along Germanys Baltic Coast (Influx) until I had time to take its journeys properly, so I look forward to page-walking that unsettled and unsettling coastline with him. I also want to read, properly, Denise Rileys collection Say Something Back (Picador), which includes her heart-piercing elegy to her son Jacob, A Part Song: the most powerful contemporary poem Ive read in years. Not everyones choice of summer reading, I admit … but it is mine!

Illustrations by Owen Gatley.

Paul Mason

Bitch Doctrine (Bloomsbury) by Laurie Penny, one of the most accomplished and acerbic of the new, young journalists emerging from the protest movements of the 2010s, takes you to the front trench of the gender war and keeps you there longer than anyone should really stay. In No Is Not Enough (Allen Lane), Naomi Klein anatomises the roots of Trump in the already dystopian world of corporate-ruled America and predicts the end run around democracy. A clear and readable guide to action, if it is action you are contemplating. This year will see an avalanche of reactionary bullshit written by the patrician chroniclers of Soviet Russia. Get your retaliation in by flaunting China Mivilles October (Verso) on the beach as the yachting fraternity sashays by.


Eimear McBride

Not many writers can straddle short and long form fiction as well as Sarah Hall. This summer she has her short story hat on and if the rest of the stories are as good as Evie Im betting Madame Zero (Faber) will be superb. The excellent bookseller Katia Wengraf, from the excellent Review Bookshop in Peckham, recently gave me a copy of Sphinx (Deep Vellum)by Anne Garrta by a friend who said Id like it. Best described as Its a genderless love story and written by one of the few female members of the Oulipo writers group, and I think shell probably be right. Modernism might not be making Will Self a millionaire but its certainly helping him prove what a great writer he is. Im still thinking about Umbrella and Shark, so I cant wait to read Phone(Viking), the final instalment of the trilogy. Self is one of the few writers whose language and ideas are at constant war with the easy-access tonelessness churned out by many though not all of todays creative writing industries. He has a brilliant mind, is a master of the compound pun and never writes for idiots; whats not to adore?

Pankaj Mishra

Writers from Russia and Eastern Europe remain the most eloquent witnesses to the insidious appeal of authoritarianism and demagoguery, especially as it goes global. In Miosz: A Biography (Harvard) Andrzej Franaszeks life of Czesaw Miosz, we see a profound sensibility living through, and grasping, the inherent nihilism of three very different promises of power and wealth: nazism, Stalinism and Americanism. Ivan Krastevs After Europe (Pennsylvania), a sober reckoning with the challenges to Europe, defines the dangers that will outlast, and may even be aggravated by, Emmanuel Macrons triumph. I am only half-way through Masha Gessens The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia (Riverhead), but it already seems indispensable. I was very struck by The Story of a Brief Marriage (Granta), a novel by Anuk Arudpragasam. With its unflinchingly account of the suffering of war, it reminds you of Andre Malrauxs novel set in Chinas civil war in the 1930s La condition humaine; but with its intense physicality it renders intimate what is often seen as the remote struggles for humanity of those caught up in large-scale violence. I also much admired The Promised Land: Poems from Itinerant Life (Penguin), Andr Naffis-Sahelys sharp meditations on our vast but remarkably homogeneous global landscape.


George Monbiot

Ive started reading Roman Krznarics Carpe Diem Regained: The Vanishing Art of Seizing the Day (Unbound) and its brilliant. One of those rare books that forces you to ask what the hell youre doing with your life. Jane Mayers Dark Money (Scribe) is a terrifying insight into how 21st-century politics works, and a great lesson in how to write non-fiction. But my book of the year so far is Pankaj Mishras Age of Anger (Allen Lane): a fascinating explanation of the roots of terrorism.

Daljit Nagra

Unnerved by the despicable state of the world, I shall be flogging myself with the following books to help me understand and interpret it: Teju Coles essays, Known and Strange Things (Faber), because I love a writer such as Cole who says: When I cannot sleep, I rise from bed and watch Jacques Derrida talk. Hannah Arendts critique The Origins of Totalitarianism (Penguin) is a highly readable discussion about the advent of racism and its links to power. Arendt is particularly good on the insidious methods by which power is achieved for its own means. Beauty and terror, pain and forgiveness, and the healing of a breadfruit; music has no finer tune, no gravitas more earned than The Poetry of Derek Walcott 19482013 (Faber).


Sarah Perry

It would be a pretty paltry sort of summer without a pile of crime novels, and the one Im most excited about is Dark Water (Bloomsbury) by Parker Bilal. These are wonderfully written, compelling thrillers that give an exhilarating depiction of contemporary Egypt. Private Investigator Makana is everything you could want in a detective hero: brilliant, bruised and melancholy and he lives on a dilapidated houseboat on the Nile. Short stories are perfect summer reading, especially when the heat makes one indolent, and nothing could be more fitting than Attrib. and Other Stories (Influx) by Eley Williams. She is a writer for whom one struggles to find comparison, because she has arrived in a class of her own: witty, melancholy, occasionally sensual, occasionally mordant, elegantly droll without the kind of hipster quirkiness that makes me want to hurl books at the wall. She has in common with George Saunders the ability to be both playful and profound, and we are lucky to have her. Ill be spending a little time in the Peak District, so I plan on doing some themed reading and taking with me Alan Garners The Weirdstone of Brisingamen(HarperCollins). I havent read this since the scene involving an escape down a rabbit-hole gave me a lifetime of mild claustrophobia, and ever since I have been haunted by faint memories of a tear-shaped stone on a bracelet, shape-shifting sorcerers, and ordinary children plunged into peril. Im hoping it will do what the very best childrens fiction has always done: offer promise of hope and heroism in a world which seems to offer none.

Philippe Sands

History and memoir offer insights into other times and lives that make Britains current miserable travails marginally more tolerable. The Greatest Comeback (Biteback) by David Bolchover is astonishing, not least for its unlikely melding of football and mass murder, two of my daily passions; there is no escape from the continuing powerful embrace of Hisham Matars The Return (Penguin), recently awarded a Pulitzer prize even as President Trump would, no doubt, if he possibly could, ban the author from setting foot in the US; and Han Kangs Human Acts (Granta) offers a gripping Korean perspective on the human consequences of abuses of power. Three extraordinary stories.


Nikesh Shukla

Im looking forward to reading Olumide Popoolas When We Speak of Nothing (Cassava Republic), a debut novel about race, London, the riots and being black and queer, which sounds fantastic. Im also really excited about Sympathy (One) by Olivia Sudjic. Having written a novel about the internet/social media myself, I cant wait to see how this one deals with it. Finally, the poetry of Kayo Chingonyi (Kumukanda, Chatto) and Ocean Vuong (Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Cape) demand revisiting, and both their collections currently come with me everywhere.

Ahdaf Soueif

I know William Sutcliffes We See Everything (Bloomsbury) is for young adults but I read a couple of pages, where people were living in the underground stacks of the British Library after London had been turned into The Strip, and I was gripped. Then theres Pankaj Mishras Age of Anger. I love his angles and analyses, his links between past and present. And then I, finally, will get round to Elena Ferrantes My Brilliant Friend (Europa) after everyone else in the world has finished it.


Francis Spufford

I just chanced on Eleanor Cattons first novel The Rehearsal (Granta), the one she wrote before the Man Booker winner The Luminaries, and it looks very promisingly disconcerting: a book about the ironies of adulthoods appetite for youth and vice versa. Thats definitely going on the heap for summer, and so is China Mivilles October, both because friends I trust tell me it may complicate my present sense that the October Revolution was a straightforward catastrophe for 20th-century socialism, and because I really want to see what happens when a brilliant fantasist turns to narrative history. And Ill be working my way on backwards through George Saunders, having been hooked conclusively by Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury), tonal whimsies and all. Im presently on Tenth of December (Bloomsbury), but I expect to have reached The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by the time we go on holiday.

Colm Tibn

The Story of a Brief Marriage by Anuk Arudpragasam is set at the end of the Sri Lankan civil war. During the shelling and the mayhem, Dinesh is asked to marry a young woman. The story, written with slow tenderness and real emotional precision, is an intimate portrait of what happens over a day and a half, and the study of a sensibility under pressure. It is the best novel I have read in ages. Miosz: A Biography by Andrzej Franaszek is a fascinating account of the life of the Polish poet Czesaw Miosz. The chapters about surviving as a poet in Warsaw during the second world war are especially interesting, as are the pages about the years in exile. In The Rule of the Land (Faber), Garrett Carr walks along the Irish border. This is great writing about landscape and history, essential also for anyone who needs to know about hard and soft borders after Brexit.


Sarah Waters

There are three books Ive been recommending like mad recently. The first is Margaret Drabbles The Dark Flood Rises(Canongate), an astute, elegant, blackly funny novel about ageing, dying and taking stock. The second isDiary of a Wartime Affair(Viking) by Doreen Bates, a previously unpublished journal from the 1930s and 40s which chronicles, in frank and fascinating detail, the turbulent romance between a female civil servant and her married male colleague. And the third is Neel Mukherjees A State of Freedom (Chatto). Set in contemporary India, technically daring, deeply compassionate, its a powerful, pertinent novel about migration and social injustice.

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Word up: new Chicago museum celebrates American authors

Chicagos brand-new American Writers Museum has actually provided the country a fitting centre to commemorate the impact of its literature, and with Hemingways birth place likewise in the area, the city produces a terrific literary journey

Admirers of the fantastic American book have a reward in shop, as the very first museum committed to United States authors opened in Chicago in mid-May.

Seven years in the making, the $5m American Writers Museum (adult $12, kid complimentary, open Tues-Sun) uses a often unexpected and amusing trip through the entire custom, from early colonists to modernists such as Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. Along the method visitors can learn more about their terrific words and rackety lives, and simply how the United States has actually seen itself for many years.

This nation wased established on the composed word, states museum president Carey Cranston. From the Declaration of Independence and the constitution onwards, our entire history has actually been involved the power of composed words. We wish to commemorate that and make individuals comprehend exactly what composing can do for them.

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The museum is on the 2nd flooring of an art deco high-rise building on Michigan Avenue, opposite Millennium Park with its cultural landmarks the mirrored Bean sculpture by Anish Kapoor, outside arena by Frank Gehry and large Art Institute of Chicago. Inside, its a purpose-built circuit of spaces including interactive activities and graphic display screens.

The essential exhibition is A Nation of Writers, a wall-length expedition of 100 authors returning to 1490. Facing it is the Surprise Bookshelf of less-literary wordsmiths, such as reporters and lyricists. Even more on is an area for short-term exhibits, beginning with Jack Kerouac and his coast-to-coast journey that ended up being On The Road. The 37-metre-long paper roll on which it was typed, in a three-week craze of drugs and words, is here.

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Visitors are motivated to take part digital literary video games and common composing tasks. A substantial interactive map permits Americans to find authors in their house states, and affiliate museums provide the opportunity to check out authors houses, from Robert Frosts farm in New Hampshire to Mark Twains shack in Missouri.

One such shrine, on the edge of Chicago, is the Hemingway Birthplace in Oak Park. The clapboard vacation home with wraparound patio is a cultured Victorian house, stuffed with dark furnishings and household images. When Ernest Hemingway was born, in 1899, it surrounded open meadow. Maybe it was the fresh air and large areas that led him to a life time of experience. Simply throughout the roadway in this now classy suburban area is the Hemingway Museum, exploring his life and operate in remarkable information.

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For bibliophiles, a great time to go to Chicago is the yearly Printers Row Festival in June, when the old printing district hosts author readings and occasions. And on Sunday nights the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge hosts the popular Uptown Poetry Slam. There, in the 1940s splendour of Al Capones preferred jazz club, fans can see on their own how the USs literary custom continues to progress.

The journey was offered by Choose Chicago and Aer Lingus, which flies two times everyday to Chicago by means of Dublin from 279 one method

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