In the Critics this week

What rock festivals owe to the Romans, the enduring value of Nabokov and the demonisation of the wor

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In this week's New Statesman, Dominic Sandbrook, the "Critic at Large", writes that little has changed since classical times in our species' appetite for large scale revelry. "In some ways our modern festivals are not so different from the entertainments that meant so much to the ancient Romans - the great public games that were timed to coincide with holidays to honour the gods."

Writing that the adoration of celebrated musicians has replaced the veneration of old deities, he adds: "On the face of it, religion has little place at the modern rock festival. But when you see the crowds of worshippers stretching out their arms towards the tiny figures on stage, voices hoarse, roaring out ritual incantations, you wonder whether the substance of things has changed."

Lead fiction reviewer Leo Robson considers the "irritating genius" of Vladimir Nabokov, as two new books concerning the author have emerged. "Thomas Karshan works his way scrupulously, systematically and perhaps a little soberly through Nabokov's work in Vladimir Nabokov and the Art of Play. Lila Azam Zanaganeh, in The Enchanter: Nabokov and Happiness has written a swoony (or drunken) love letter to him, justly described as "joyful" by Orhan Pamuk and Salman Rushdie."

The Books Interview this week is with Evan Davis. Duncan Robinson questions the Radio 4 presenter on his recent book Made in Britain and why he retains high hopes for the British economy.

Meanwhile, Michael Collins attacks Owen Jones's book Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class, writing: "What emerges is a text as outmoded as its title. The 'chav' phenomenon belongs very much to 2004."

Elsewhere, comedian Doc Brown outlines the inherent distractions that festivals' comedy tents pose for performers, and declares his hatred of camping. Daniel Trilling argues in favour of protest against U2's appearance at Glastonbury, as they "shop around the world for favourable (that is to say soft) tax regimes."

Samira Shackle discusses multiculturalism and immigration with Meera Syal ahead of her appearance this month at the Southbank Centre, as part of the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain. "Syal, who made her name documenting the British Asian experience, is classed as a national treasure - yet only this year, David Cameron declared that multiculturalism in Britain had failed."

Elsewhere, Wayne Hemingway argues for a more creative approach to festival planning, Anne McElvoy reviews David Marquand's "description of Europe's modern malaise," film critic Ryan Gilbey picks apart The Beaver by Jodie Foster, Antonia Quirke admires the soundscapes of Radio 3's Guo Yue programme, and Rachel Cooke is left unimpressed with Channel 4's latest smutty offering The Sex Researchers: "Would you let a woman whose dog wears a lab coat stick a probe up your vagina? No, I wouldn't either."

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