The latest on books and the arts


SRSLY #1: Grey Beginnings

In the first episode of the NS's new pop culture podcast, we discuss Grey by E L James, the new Amy Winehouse documentary, and why One Direction is actually the saddest music you will ever hear.

The gospel according to Taylor Swift: how her vulnerability leads to power
By Simon Parkin - 29 June 13:13

Pop's woman of the moment forms a friendship with fans through her honest lyrics and disarming stage presence.

Sandi Toksvig welcoming her guests for her last News Quiz. Photo: BBC/Lucy Eliot-Higgitt
Black tie, BBC “bias” and blubbing: at Sandi Toksvig’s last News Quiz
By Caroline Crampton - 26 June 15:33

The host of BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz is stepping down after nine years to go into politics. Caroline Crampton was there at her last recording.

Blood and honour: The Duel After the Masquerade (1857-59) by Jean-Léon Gérôme. Picture: © Walter Art Museum, Baltimore
Why are there so many duels in literature?
By John Mullan - 25 June 15:15

John Leigh's Touché: the Duel in Literature wears its learning lightly.

The romantic end of punk: not required for university admissions. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images
My Ucca form wouldn't impress today – I was loitering at bustops and listening to The Cure
By Tracey Thorn - 25 June 14:56

I’d love to go back and read that Ucca form now. Or witness the expression on the faces of those who had to consider my application.

A bandmember at the 150th anniversary of Gettysburg. Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
"The singing war": how the American Civil War created a whole new style of music
By Antonia Quirke - 25 June 14:46

It was not just a huge body of songs that emerged but a whole musical style that was markedly non-European.

The Seattle Music Project, designed by Frank Gehry. Photo: REX
Alan Yentob's TV tribute to Frank Gehry was so in thrall, it was embarrassing
By Rachel Cooke - 25 June 14:23

The Gehry worshippers were like fashion editors at a Prada show, only minus the clothes, handbags and hair.

Back to the OK Corral: Michael Fassbender and Kodi Smit-McPhee (right) star in Slow West.
New indie western Slow West is filled with resonant emotions
By Ryan Gilbey - 25 June 14:16

The Beta Band's John Maclean makes his directorial debut with a wry, rootsy love story.

Sangiovese grapes, the variety used to make the Brunello di Montalcino wine. Photo: Getty Images
The grape that brought power to the people
By Nina Caplan - 25 June 10:31

In wine, the tendrils of power spread like well-nourished vines, wrapping around some surprising edifices.

Romantic revolutionary: Pushkin is seen as the founder of modern Russian literature. Photo: AKG-Images
Russian soul reawakened: startling revelations in a new anthology of Russian poetry
By George Szirtes - 25 June 10:19

The new Penguin Book of Russian Poetry has surprises to offer.

Steve Hilton is offering energetic ideas with a liberal twist. Photo: Sarah Lee/Guardian News & Media
Kind of blue: why Steve Hilton's manifesto is a challenge to the left
By Jon Cruddas - 25 June 10:11

Where is the equivalent to Hilton on the left? We have not even touched on the questions of human fulfilment, power and radical democracy that are offered up by modern technological change.

Hand in hand: Chinese and Pakistani border guards at the Khunjerab Pass, which extends between their countries
Farewell to the American century
By Mark Leonard - 25 June 10:09

As US influence wanes, a new world is emerging.

No resistance: an anti-drone protest in Pakistan.
Eyes in the sky: the legal and philosophical implications of drone warfare
By David Patrikarakos - 25 June 10:07

Regardless of its critics, drone warfare is here to stay.

Sometimes these characters go dancing in Shoreditch or Clapham – but they never enjoy it. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Check your privilege: satire is lacking in Left of the Bang by Claire Lowdon
By Philip Maughan - 25 June 10:05

A “cast of two-dimensional, middle-class bores” prevent this debut novel becoming the “Vanity Fair for our times” that it promises.

The director Nicolas Roeg in the new BBC Four documentary. Photo: BBC
“This is my time”: why the work of filmmaker Nicolas Roeg rewards a second look
By Ryan Gilbey - 24 June 17:07

A new BBC Four documentary reminds us not to take this director for granted.

The original game espoused the opposite political views to the now world-famous version. Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Do not pass go: the tangled roots of Monopoly
By Erica Wagner - 24 June 10:14

The classic Great Depression rags-to-riches story of how the enduringly popular board game came to be invented isn’t quite as simple as it seems.

James Horner won both his Oscars for his work on “Titanic”.
James Horner, Oscar-winning composer of the Titanic soundtrack, dies in a plane crash
By Caroline Crampton - 23 June 12:02

Best known for co-writing “My Heart Will Go On”, Horner wrote innovative and popular scores for a whole host of Hollywood films.

A man reads a Kindle in Victoria Tower Gardens. Image: Getty.
Amazon to pay authors according to how many pages people read
By Barbara Speed - 22 June 15:53

The company will pay self-published authors on its lending services per page from next month. 

A shot of a train from The Darjeeling Limited. Photo: YouTube screengrab
Track record: why trains weave their way through the history of great cinema
By Ryan Gilbey - 19 June 16:20

Films set on trains are some of the best.

Alistair McGowan as Jimmy Savile. Photo: Helen Maybanks
A terrifying, sweaty memory: Alistair McGowan's dark turn as Jimmy Savile
By Mark Lawson - 19 June 12:02

McGowan's performance demonstrates the combination of eccentricity and intimidation that allowed Savile first to lure his victims and then to disguise his abuse of them.

A silhouette of a man in front of a giant Apple logo. Photo: Getty
The Evil Genius theory: do you have to be a nightmare to be truly innovative?
By Alix Christie - 19 June 11:48

From Johann Gutenberg to Steve Jobs, extraordinary creativity is so often coupled with callous disregard for others.

Ginger nut: Chris Evans in his TFI heyday.
Thank f*** it's over: Chris Evans' TFI Friday is still awful, twenty years later
By Rachel Cooke - 18 June 16:59

TFI Friday was quite nasty at its edges: it gave off a strong whiff of bullying and low-level belligerence. The male graduate population of north London seemed not to notice this.

The Jam play the Manchester Apollo, 1980. Photo: Harry Potts/Flickr
Slaves to the rhythm: what the non-frontmen have to say
By James Medd - 18 June 12:42

Accounts of The Jam, the Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper and Belle and Sebastian come from the back.

László Krasznahorkai after receiving the Man Booker International Award. Photo: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images
Man Booker winner László Krasznahorkai is not “difficult” – only defiant
By Jane Shilling - 18 June 12:38

Seiobo There Below, translated by Ottilie Mulzet, is László Krasznahorkai's most recent novel in English.

Game of Thrones: Trust me, if SPOILER were really dead, they'd have died in episode 9
By Jonn Elledge - 18 June 12:15

The sudden death in the last scene of Monday's Game of Thrones was a cliffhanger, nothing more.

Right to roam: our minds’ ability to wander is what allows us to forge creative links. Picture: © Martin O'Neil
This is your brain on unread emails: does the information age stop us thinking straight?
By Sophie McBain - 18 June 12:10

Three new books explore the modern information assault - and how to survive it.