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Blair, Barnes and big reads: the books to look out for in 2016

From political autobiography to the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, our culture editor rounds up the most interesting books of the year.

The publishing year begins with fond goodbyes to two writers known for their humanity and, in different ways, their gifts for storytelling. Henning Mankell, the creator of Inspector Wallander, and David Cesarani, an authority on modern Jewish history, died last October. Quicksand (Harvill Secker, February) is a collection of Mankell’s essays tackling “what it means to be human”, and in Final Solution: the Fate of the Jews 1933-49 (Macmillan, January) Cesarani draws on decades of scholarship to question assumptions about the causes of the Holocaust.

Many thought that by now we would also have bid farewell to Clive James and the Dr Feelgood co-founder Wilko Johnson, yet both, miraculously, have endured their illnesses. Johnson’s Don’t You Leave Me Here: My Life (Little, Brown, May) will consider his complicated relationship with mortality as well as his rock’n’roll youth. The prolific James has three books lined up: Collected Poems: 1958-2015 (Picador, April), Gate of Lilacs: a Verse Commentary on Proust (Picador, April) and Play All: a Binge-Watcher’s Notebook (Yale University Press, August), in which he gets to grips with the television box set streaming revolution.

It is not known whether Clive James and John le Carré have kissed and made up since James incinerated The Honourable Schoolboy in 1977 (“Already working under an assumed name, le Carré ought to assume another one, sink out of sight, and run for the border of his reputation”) but in September le Carré will finally publish a memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories from My Life (Viking), which the publisher describes as “an exhilarating journey into the worlds of his ‘secret sharers’ – the men and women who inspired some of his most enthralling novels”.

In politics, autobiographies are also expected from the multi-talented Labour peer Joan Bakewell (Stop the Clocks, Little, Brown, February) and Malcolm Rifkind (Memoirs, Biteback, July), one of only four ministers to serve throughout the whole of both the Thatcher and Major premierships. For emotional honesty, look to midlife memoirs from Miranda Sawyer (Out of Time, Fourth Estate, June) and Marina Benjamin (The Middlepause, Scribe, June), or Maggie Nelson’s meditation on gender fluidity and motherhood, The Argonauts (Melville House, April).

In the arts, the world’s most successful performance artist, Marina Abramovic, tells her story (Fig Tree, November). And the world’s most divisive electronic musician, Moby, gives an account of his early career in Porcelain (Faber & Faber, June): Salman Rushdie welcomes it as “a life comically overcrowded, filthy, alcohol-fuelled, vegan, unbelievably noisy, full of spit and semen and some sort of Christianity; and often, suddenly, moving”.

Presumably a rather different sort of Christianity will be on display in Pope Francis’s first book published during his papacy, The Name of God Is Mercy, a “deep, simple and intimate dialogue” that will be released simultaneously in 84 countries (Bluebird, January). The NS contributor and former archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will assess St Augustine’s contribution to theology, philosophy and psychology in On Augustine (Bloomsbury, April).

Books about Islam are sadly outweighed by books about Islamic State. This year, publishers have unearthed some personal stories of defiance. The Girl Who Beat Isis by Farida Khalaf (Square Peg, May) is the true story of a Yazidi girl’s capture and escape from enslavement; Fighting Isis by Tim Locks (Sidgwick & Jackson, July) is the tale of a British former prison officer and bouncer who sold his house and joined a Christian militia group in Iraq. Bigger-picture accounts are offered in Chaos and Caliphate: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East by Patrick Cockburn (OR Books, April) and The War of the End of Times: What the Islamic State Wants by Graeme Wood (Allen Lane, September), which is based on his influential report for the Atlantic magazine last year.

It was the threat of Isis (and the ensuing debate over bombing the group in Syria) that split Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party so badly in December. His strong views on foreign affairs are likely to be examined in what Biteback describes as the “first comprehensive biography”, Comrade Corbyn: a Very Unlikely Coup by Rosa Prince (February). Nick Clegg had his own unlikely coup back in 2010 and his book Politics: the Art of the Possible in an Age of Unreason (Bodley Head, May) will “draw on stories and lessons” from his time as deputy prime minister. But a bigger noise is likely to be made by Tom Bower’s Broken Vows: Tony Blair – the Tragedy of Power (Faber & Faber, March). Bower is a “big-game hunter”, an investigative reporter whose biographies have left lawsuits littered in their wake. What skeletons will fall clattering from the Blair cupboard when he prises open its doors?

Europe’s political economists are still trying to identify the best escape routes from the financial crisis. The former Syriza minister Yanis Varoufakis presents his case against austerity in And the Weak Suffer What They Must? (Bodley Head, April) and Thomas Piketty, whose Capital in the 21st Century caused a sensation in 2013, returns with Chronicles: On Our Troubled Times (Viking, April), a collection of his columns for the French newspaper Libération.

Russia is another headache for Europe. A Very Expensive Poison: the Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War With the West by Luke Harding (Faber & Faber, March) is an in-depth investigation into what happened before, on and after 1 November 2006, when Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London. For deeper history, turn to Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian writer who won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her Chernobyl Prayer is published in April by Penguin Classics; Second-Hand Time, a collection of first-hand pieces on nostalgia and the Soviet Union, had already been snapped up before her win by the enterprising Fitzcarraldo Editions, which will publish it in May.

In the US, this will be a year of constant political hectoring and point-scoring as the presidential election draws closer. The Second Amendment is held so dear by so many Americans that Barack Obama has conceded that it will be impossible to scrap it – but in 2016, gun control is at least on the debating agenda. Published as the country goes to the polls, A Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge (Faber & Faber, November) will take a day at random and explore the lives and deaths of all the young people who were shot dead that day. The state of America – and particularly its continuing racial crisis – is also addressed in Ta-Nehisi Coates’s memoir The Beautiful Struggle (Verso, February) and in Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundations of a Movement by the renowned activist Angela Davis (Haymarket, January).

Back on home turf, London has its portrait painted from various angles – Ben Judah meets its denizens in This Is London: Life and Death in the World City (Picador, January) and Rowan Moore traces its changing physical fabric in Slow Burn City: London in the 21st Century (Picador, March). The aesthetics and identities of cities more broadly are examined by two architecture critics in All that Glitters: Architecture and the City of Spectacle by Tom Dyckhoff (Random House Books, June) and The Language of Cities by Deyan Sudjic (Allen Lane, July) – and the great malaise of urban living is ­diagnosed and explored by Olivia Laing in The Lonely City (Canongate, March).

How could societies of the future become fitter, happier, more productive? The Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari had a global bestseller with Sapiens, his history of humankind. In September, Harvill Secker will publish Homo Deus: a History of Tomorrow, which promises to “set out the new agenda for the modern sapiens: achieving immortality, happiness and omnipotence”. Other notable science titles include The Gene: an Intimate History (Bodley Head, June) by Siddhartha Mukherjee, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies, and Do Statins Work? by medicine’s arch-sceptic Ben Goldacre (Fourth Estate, June). In Rethink (Random House Books, June), Steven Poole tells the story of how ideas that once were ridiculed are now setting the scientific agenda.

The publishing industry thrives on anniversaries. July 2016 marks 50 years since England’s 1966 World Cup win. That milestone has prompted the Times football writer Henry Winter to examine where the national side has gone wrong since in Fifty Years of Hurt (Bantam, June), and, in a more celebratory mood, Bobby Charlton shares his Memories of ’66 (Yellow Jersey, June). Shakespeare died 400 years ago in April and Oxford University Press is publishing a tranche of books to mark the occasion, including Shakespeare’s First Folio: Four Centuries of an Iconic Book by Emma Smith (March). Meanwhile, the Hogarth Shakespeare project continues with “cover versions” of The Merchant of Venice (by Howard Jacobson, February), The Taming of the Shrew (by Anne Tyler, June) and The Tempest (by Margaret Atwood, October).

The big beasts of literary fiction are represented this year by Julian Barnes, with The Noise of Time (Jonathan Cape, January), set in Leningrad in 1937, and Don DeLillo, whose Zero K (Picador, May) describes a billionaire’s hi-tech efforts to cheat death. American novelists seem likely to dominate the autumn, with books from Ann Patchett (Commonwealth, Bloomsbury, September), Jay McInerney (Bright, Precious Things, Bloomsbury, September) and Cormac McCarthy (The Passenger, Picador, October). Jonathan Safran Foer and Lionel Shriver have written family stories against backdrops of national crisis: Here I Am (Hamish Hamilton, September), set in Israel, is Safran Foer’s first novel in ten years and Shriver’s The Mandibles (Borough Press, May) follows her politically loaded 2013 novel, Big Brother. The fifth (and penultimate) volume in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s celebrated My Struggle series, Some Rain Must Fall (Harvill Secker), is out in March, and Annie Proulx’s Barkskins, ten years in the writing, will be published by Fourth Estate in June.

Followers of the Goldsmiths Prize for innovative fiction, co-founded by the NS, will be pleased to see new novels by winning and shortlisted authors. Eimear McBride won the inaugural prize in 2013 with her debut; her new novel, The Lesser Bohemians (Faber & Faber, September), is “set across the bedsits and squats of mid-1990s north London”. Autumn by Ali Smith, who won in 2014, is out in August from Hamish Hamilton. Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake was shortlisted in 2014: the sequel, Beast (Faber & Faber, August), is set in the present day and finds Edward Buccmaster “a man alone on a Midlands moor in search of enlightenment”. The final instalment in the trilogy will be set a thousand years in the future. Kingsnorth also contributes, along with Neil Gaiman, Philip Pullman and many others, to First Light (Unbound, May), an anthology celebrating Alan Garner, the influential author of The Owl Service and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, edited by the NS contributing writer Erica Wagner.

Other eye-catching fiction includes Augustown by the Forward Prize-winning poet Kei Miller (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, August), set in sprawling Jamaican suburbs; the debut novel from the Mercury Prize-nominated rapper Kate Tempest, The Bricks that Built the Houses (Bloomsbury, April); and two novels that give reality a sly tweak – Naomi Alderman’s The Power (Viking, November), picturing a society in which girls are physically more powerful than boys, and Dan Vyleta’s Smoke (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, July), in which, because sin is visible, “the rich are taught to control their sinful thoughts and live unstained lives”.

Raoul Moat’s sins were all too visible: in 2010 he shot three people, before killing himself, after a very public manhunt. Andrew Hankinson’s You Could Do Something Amazing With Your Life (You Are Raoul Moat) (Scribe, February), is an account of Moat’s last days, that, written in the second person and drawing on diary entries and previously unheard tapes, reads like a novel.

The poetry highlight of the year is a new book from the late Seamus Heaney. In 2008, five years before his death, he spoke of “one Virgilian journey that has indeed been a constant presence and that is Aeneas’s venture into the underworld. The motifs in book VI have been in my head for years – the golden bough, Charon’s barge, the quest to meet the shade of the father.” Heaney’s verse translation, which he worked on up to a month before his death, will be published by Faber & Faber in March: a journey into the afterlife, in more ways than one. 

Tom Gatti is Culture Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.

 

This article first appeared in the 07 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The God issue

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.