The latest on books and the arts


Not everyone’s Christmas looks like this. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty
Suzanne Moore: I never learned exactly what my mother put in the buckets brewing under the bed
By Suzanne Moore - 19 December 17:39

Jay the lesbian gannet made our Christmas much less tense than normal. The home-made Baileys flowed.

The Phil Spector Christmas album is the aural equivalent of being inside a snowglobe. Photo: Getty
Tracey Thorn: Not for me the party songs. Come, listen to the clanging chimes of doom!
By Tracey Thorn - 19 December 16:48

Is there a darker Christmas lyric than Band Aid’s “Well, tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”?

Back to the bleak house: a playground and flats in the Estonian village of Purksi, in a former Soviet border protection zone
Minority report: the plight of Estonia’s ethnic Swedes
By Sigrid Rausing - 19 December 14:07

Estonia’s Swedes survived revolution, invasion and exile. Their struggles tell the story of 20th-century Europe.

Transport of delight: Porters on a railway platform in Liverpool, 1890s. Photo: Getty
Making tracks: the parallels between cinema and train travel
By Antonia Quirke - 19 December 13:10

All was harmony, until Jon mentioned the legend of how people in the audience in 1896 had ducked when the train suddenly appeared on-screen.

Love, anarchy, and wonderful violence: how to remember Rik Mayall
By Jenny Landreth - 19 December 12:41

The death of Rik Mayall in June 2014 quite rightly made the front page of every newspaper. There is no one better than the BBC to make a warm and loving tribute to a comedy hero.

In the Frame: Customs
By Tom Humberstone - 19 December 12:07

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Vision of life unfrozen: ice skaters by the Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp (1585-1634). Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty
Christmas cards were my window to another world
By John Burnside - 19 December 11:44

The child of a grey coal town in Calvinist Scotland, I was hungry for imagery, wild about colour and, even though I accepted that I would never live there, desperate for proof of some other world.

Will Self and Nick Lezard by Jackson Rees.
Will Self: I couldn’t believe the Hovel was as bad as Nick Lezard makes out, so I went to see it
By Will Self - 19 December 11:27

From without in the chilly night, the Hovel – which is a maisonette above a shop – looked cosy; I could see lamplight and books ranged on shelves.

Independent spirit: Burke as "the Man in the Moon", holding forth on liberty and revolution (1790)
Doctor to the body politic: how a Whig outsider became a Tory hero
By David Marquand - 19 December 10:30

David Marquand on why Edmund Burke still strikes political sparks. 

Head to head: Wilkinson with Cromwell's skull
Barbarism begins at home: a macabre history of severed heads
By Andrew Harrison - 19 December 10:26

Far from being a benighted practice from popular fiction – the sort of thing that you might find in an H Rider Haggard novel – it turns out that beheadings went hand in hand with western empires.

Shami Chakrabarti in 2013. Photo: Getty
Keep it civil: Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty
By Sophie McBain - 19 December 10:24

This is “my story and the story of Liberty”, Chakrabarti writes, but she offers no more than the odd glimpse into her life.

Addicted to espadrilles: Joe Perry (left) and Steven Tyler of US rock band Aerosmith
Boys’ own tales: four rock stars who refused to grow up
By Stuart Maconie - 19 December 10:22

Stuart Maconie wades through books by monsters of rock Carlos Santana, Neil Young, Joe Perry and Billy Idol. 

A customer uses an RBS cash machine in Edinburgh. Photo: Getty
Power to the economists: new books by Ha-Joon Chang and John Lanchester
By Charles Kenny - 19 December 10:15

Both books are based on the premise that if the general public knew more about finance and economics things might be better.

Fully booked: fans queue outside Waterstones on Piccadilly for a book-signing. Photo: Getty
Eyes on the prize: a brilliant satire of the Booker set
By Ben Myers - 19 December 10:12

A novel about those writers who attract fans so ardent that the work is never enough.

Death becomes her: the sinister glamour of Guy Bourdin
By Yo Zushi - 18 December 17:05

Did Bourdin really cause a 20-year-old model to pass out when he covered her entire body with glue and pearls?

No ban: An inmate in a Cuban prison reads a book. Photo: Getty
Why reading books in prison can set you free
By Kester Aspden - 18 December 16:55

A former youth offender-turned-writer reflects on the prison books ban. 

Gossip about the hacked Sony emails isn’t news, or newsworthy, or remotely justifiable
By Ryan Gilbey - 18 December 11:01

These are not politicians, or powerful corporations meddling with our data, they are Hollywood executives bickering like anyone else. The free speech argument just doesn’t add up.

“My CV’s probably under-exaggerated”: The Apprentice blog series 10, episode 11
By Anoosh Chakelian - 18 December 9:01

The final five candidates are interviewed by people even more obnoxious than they are.

Manic pixel dream Orcs: suspense-free battles fail to convince in the third Hobbit film.
Time to say goodbye: the end cannot come too soon for the third Hobbit film
By Ryan Gilbey - 12 December 13:04

The first two parts of Peter Jackson’s super-sized Hobbit trilogy held their own, but the director squanders all his best assets in this sorry mess of a final installment.

In the Frame: See Film Differently with David and George
By Tom Humberstone - 12 December 10:47

Tom Humberstone’s weekly comic.

Houses. Photo: Getty
Things can only get meta: Kirsty Gunn’s Infidelities reviewed
By Sophie Elmhirst - 11 December 10:54

“Nobody buys short stories anyway,” says a character, Richard, in the prologue to Kirsty Gunn’s new collection, Infidelities. “No one thinks there’s enough going on.” The challenge from writer to reader is stark; watch out, there will be plenty going on here.

A food bank in Spain. Photo: Getty
Hard Times review: how the crash made our society more unequal
By Lucy Fisher - 11 December 10:46

The central tenet of Hard Times is that the economic slump of 2008 and its aftermath have augmented the schisms already present in two rich, but profoundly unequal societies: the UK and the US.

A manifesto for readers: The Republic of Imagination reviewed
By Erica Wagner - 11 December 10:02

The task Azar Nafisi sets herself here, to build an argument for fiction in western culture, is one that has driven her personal and professional life.

A Canadian cabin. Photo: Getty
The end of the affair: Rose Tremain’s The American Lover reviewed
By Alex Clark - 11 December 9:55

The protagonists of Rose Tremain’s fifth collection of short stories – her first since 2005’s The Darkness of Wallis Simpson – are all operating under some form of constraint: social, sexual, emotional, pressingly immediate or far distant, unrelentingly real or garlanded with imaginative flourishes.

Wat Tyler being killed while King Richard II looks on. Photo: Getty
Reading the riot act: the true story of the Great Revolt
By Paul Kingsnorth - 11 December 9:53

Richard II’s meeting with the rebels is one of the most astonishing moments in English history, as a 14-year-old boy rides out to meet thousands of his armed and angry people.

Ferdinand Foch (right) with Lloyd George in 1921. Photo: Getty
Offensive to excess: the controversial military tactics of Marshal Ferdinand Foch
By Allan Mallinson - 11 December 9:35

The life of a forgotten First World War character.

Photo: Getty
John Burnside on Seamus Heaney: poems as drops in the moral ocean
By John Burnside - 11 December 9:28

The work of a great artist often appears so fluent, so graceful, that we assume it must have come easily – but nothing in art is worth much if it is not hard won.

Bacon, the answer to hangovers. Photo: Getty Images
Felicity Cloake: Hangover cures shouldn’t involve further suffering
By Felicity Cloake - 11 December 9:12

In the spirit of festive generosity I would like to offer a helping hand when it comes to surviving the onslaught of hot plonk. Here, food, as in so many situations, is your friend.

Chris Rock is right – Hollywood has a race problem. Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET
Why Hollywood needs to listen to Chris Rock about its race problems
By Sam Moore - 10 December 13:16

On screen and off, Hollywood is terrible at giving opportunities to anyone who isn’t white, and one of the US’s biggest stars is calling them out on it.