The latest on books and the arts


Under the cherry blossoms trees in the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Photo: Getty
To be Japanese today is to negotiate the conflicting dreams of east and west
By Yo Zushi - 28 March 10:12

It’s not surprising that alienation is a persistent theme in much of the country’s fiction.

Appetite for destruction: from Turner to Tacita Dean, artists have long been drawn to ruins
By Michael Prodger - 28 March 10:05

A new exhibition surveys artistic visions of decay.

Faraway, so close: Bérénice Bejo and Ali Mosaffa in The Past
In Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, it’s only feelings that get hurt
By Ryan Gilbey - 27 March 18:53

The director of the Oscar-winning A Separation returns with a new family drama, this time set in a Parisian suburb.

We can't all be orators like Cicero, you know. Image: Getty
Bitter experience has taught me never to wing it when giving a speech . . . so I decide to wing it
By Nicholas Lezard - 27 March 11:39

This is my default way of dealing with things. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Prince Philip looks on as David Cameron plants an oak tree in the grounds of Chequers, February 2014. (Photo: Getty)
Squashed by two fat ladies, Churchill’s choice of oak and “Crinks” the lost Liberal
By Stefan Buczacki - 27 March 10:00

Notes by the former Gardeners’ Question Time chairman Stefan Buczacki.

A Bradford town garden, late 19th century. (Photo: Garden Museum, London)
Hardy blooms: the British urge to garden, against all odds
By Katherine Lambert - 27 March 10:00

Green fingerdom throughout the ages in the face of wars, poverty and social upheaval.

Comrade Kim: Philby in Moscow in 1968, five years after defecting to the USSR. (Photo: Rex Features)
William Boyd on Kim Philby: how did a privileged young Englishman become a national traitor?
By William Boyd - 27 March 10:00

The story of how Philby and four other privileged young Englishmen became spies or double agents for the USSR borders on a perverse sense of national pride.

Shotgun Billy: William Burroughs posing in front of his paintings in 1987. (Photo: Getty)
Wild boys: the high lives of William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac
By Douglas Kennedy - 27 March 10:00

Sixty years on, the beats continue to exercise a formidable grip on cultural life on both sides of the Atlantic.

Kylie Minogue: “It’s not right if you’re a woman who enjoys expressing her sexuality pretending you’re not sexual”
By Jude Rogers - 27 March 10:00

Jude Rogers talks to the pop princess about gay best friends, life after breast cancer and why she spent New Year alone.

A still from a Skylanders game.
Should I be worried that my son is hooked on a game without any credible female characters?
By Belinda Parmar - 26 March 12:04

It’s tough to be “game positive” when your son is addicted to Skylanders, a game in which a mostly male cast of fantasy heroes have to smash and bash their way through a mostly male cast of fantasy baddies.

The arrivals board at Beijing International Airport on 8 March lists Flight MH370 as cancelled. Photo: Getty
The lost passengers of Flight MH370: why the modern world can’t cope with missing people
By India Ross - 25 March 11:09

In a world where we expect everyone to be accounted for, missing people enter into the realm of fiction.

Adrian Lester and Natasha Parry in a 2000 production of Hamlet. Photo: Getty
We need more racial diversity on the stage both sides of the pond
By Tony Howard - 25 March 10:21

British theatre is part of an industry that produces highly skilled practitioners but doesn’t always know how to use them. Except stereotypically.

A performance of Britten’s opera “Peter Grimes” on the beach at the Aldeburgh Festival in 2013. Photo: Bethany Clarke/Getty Images
Controller of Radio 3 Roger Wright departs BBC for Aldeburgh
By India Ross - 24 March 14:37

Roger Wright, who was also director of the BBC Proms, had worked at Radio 3 since 1998.

San Jose in Silicon Valley. Photo: Getty
The brutal ageism of tech: meet Silicon Valley’s obsolete workforce
By Noam Scheiber - 24 March 12:34

In the one corner of the American economy defined by its relentless optimism, there is now a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins.

Land that time forgot: Martin Amis’ England. (Photo: BBC/Les Films d’Ici 2/Mark Kidel)
Martin Amis’s England: a baffling highly subjective take on the nation through the eyes of an expat
By Rachel Cooke - 24 March 12:20

A documentary made for French TV by a writer entirely out of touch with modern Britain – and it showed. This stereotyped land of stiff-upper-lip repression just made Amis sound stupid.

Germaine Greer, who will be speaking at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 5 April 2014. Photo: Getty
Literary festivals haven’t always been as inclusive as they should be – but we can change that
By Alex Clark - 24 March 11:29

Books and the act of reading are about removing barriers, and public events that celebrate them must do the same, as Alex Clark, guest programmer for this year's Cambridge Literary Festival, explains.

Sara Serraiocco.
Salvo by Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza: Ways of seeing
By Ryan Gilbey - 21 March 13:30

The story of a Sicilian hit man whose life is changed by the blind sister of his intended target struggles on the border between grittiness and sentimentality.

“This house believes that baby boomers left society worse than they found it”.
The NS debate: This house believes that baby boomers left society worse than they found it
By New Statesman - 21 March 12:17

Key event at the Cambridge Literary Festival on 5 April will pit Shiv Malik, Laurie Penny and Simon Heffer against Kwasi Kwarteng, Mansoor Hamayun and Allison Pearson on the question of inter-generational equality.

In the Frame: In Moratorium
By Tom Humberstone - 21 March 10:03

Tom Humberstone's weekly comic.

John Mark Ainsley, Susan Bickley, Iestyn Davies and Rebecca Evans in the ENO's Rodelinda. Photo: Clive Barda
Rodelinda and Die Frau Ohne Schatten: the operatic search for truth amid the noise
By Alexandra Coghlan - 20 March 12:47

Two new shows from English National Opera and the Royal Opera House might sound completely different, but each finds the still small voice of human truth hidden underneath the excess.

Home Birth
By Carolyn Jess-Cooke - 20 March 10:00

A new poem by Carolyn Jess-Cooke.

Protestors at Harmondsworth in 2007 when it was under threat of being bulldozed for a Heathrow third runway. (Photo: Getty)
Will Self: A field trip to Heathrow via Harmondsworth Great Barn
By Will Self - 20 March 10:00

A picturesque anomaly near the airport, ever waiting to be submerged by the tarmac of runway three.

Fire-starters: Khoisan children in southern Africa around a fire. (Photo: Getty)
Ray Mears: “What I believe defines us as human is our mastery of fire”
By Ray Mears - 20 March 10:00

Our ability to harness flames has shaped who we are.

Call of duty: US Iraq war veterans. (Photo: Corbis)
Iraq and ruin: two fictional examinations of life after war
By Phil Klay - 20 March 10:00

Two new American novels about physically and psychologically damaged veterans from the Iraq war get inside their subjects’ heads with varying success, writes a former US marine.

Majestic flight: hawks have been considered sacred in cultures throughout history.
Hawk eyed: how to write about birds of prey
By John Burnside - 20 March 10:00

From sacred symbolism in ancient mythology to paeans by 20th-century naturalists, hawks and eagles have always been lauded in art and literature.

Fight or flight: a British soldier stands guard near a republican mural in Belfast, 1982. (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty)
The lady was for turning: Margaret Thatcher’s Battle With the IRA by Thomas Hennessy
By John Bew - 20 March 10:00

The extraordinary sequence of events now seems too far-fetched even for a British version of Homeland.

a scene from BBC3's Bluestone 42 (Photo: BBC/Coco Van Oppens)
BBC3 is the Wild West of TV yet it produces some gems
By Rachel Cooke - 20 March 10:00

Rachel Cooke pits the youth channel against its counterpart, the cerebral BBC4, by comparing Bluestone 42 and How to Get Ahead.

Unreconstructed man: a crowd outside a Soho "sauna" in 1972. (Photo: Getty)
Asked to pop down an alleyway by a working girl, I am relieved to find Soho not entirely sanitised
By Nicholas Lezard - 20 March 10:00

But it's unsettling to see a woman trying to make ends meet in such a desperate way, especially when dressed as if for the school run.

Binyavanga Wainaina (Photo: Phil Moore/Guardian)
Binyavanga Wainaina on coming out: “This is not going to be very good for my love life”
By Philip Maughan - 20 March 10:00

The fearless Kenyan writer talks about the “lost” coming-out chapter from his memoir and the response in Africa and elsewhere.

Books on Books (2003) by Jonathan Wolstenholme/Private Collection/Bridgeman Art Library
Living life by the book: why reading isn't always good for you
By Leo Robson - 20 March 10:00

Somewhere along the line, an orthodoxy hardened: cigarettes will kill you and Bon Jovi will give you a migraine, but reading – the ideal diet being Shakespeare and 19th-century novels, plus the odd modernist – will make you healthier, stronger, kinder. But is that true?