I reviewed the first exhibition in the ‘Kaleidoscope’ seres being staged during 2016 to mark Modern Art Oxford’s 50th anniversary for Frieze magazine. You can read the piece here.
I enjoyed going behind the scenes at Heathrow to research this piece about the experience of passing through an airport — the curious, weightless state we enter when we have checked in our luggage and passed security but haven’t yet left the ground.
Here are a trio of reviews of books about Beat Generation related themes, all for the Independent: first, a review of Jack Kerouac’s lost novella This Haunted Life; second, of Barry Miles’ biography of William Burroughs; third, of Iain Sinclair’s American Smoke.
Volume 6 of TS Eliot’s Letters covers the years 1932-1933, the year during which the poet left his first wife Vivien, a relationship breakdown played out to comments from eminent members of the literary audience. I was almost more interested in what Eliot’s voluminous correspondence revealed about his life as a publisher: continually caught up in negotiations over rights, copyright, translation of his own work and with the elusive Mr Joyce, perennially late with delivery of his Work in Progress, that would eventually become Finnegan’s Wake.
The title of Jay Parini’s exhaustive and fascinating biography of Gore Vidal sums up at least one aspect of his mercurial character: Every Time a Friend Succeeds, Something Inside Me Dies…
Travel, walking and psychogeography
It was tough picking just five books for the Independent’s Christmas round-up of travel books for 2015. In the end, these were the ones I went for: a hymn to air travel by a 747 pilot, two rambles through London, an immersion in Putin’s Russia and a love-song to Granada…
Paul Theroux’s Deep South sees a master of the travel writing genre travelling through his home country and being deeply disturbed by what he finds.
Here is my review of Iain Sinclair’s account of his return to the land of his birth, Black Apples of the Gower.
In Night Walking, Matthew Beaumont has written a crepuscular classic, given a full review (beyond its mention in my best of 2015 round-up) here for the Independent. Staying with perambulatory titles, here’s a stroll through A Philosophy of Walking by Frederic Gros.
My review of Simon Armitage’s Walking Away is here.
Here is a review of Hugh Thomson’s The Green Road into the Trees. The multi-talented Gruff Rhys (of Super Furry Animals) created a suite of songs, an app and a book around his journey into the American Interior.
Click here for a review of Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts’ fascinating book Harlem is Nowhere: A Journey to the Mecca of Black America.
More on the Arts…
Click here to read about John Tusa’s coruscating attack on those who would subvert the arts with bureaucracy and management-speak, A Pain in the Arts. Here’s a very different, wonderfully strange and at times laugh-out-loud funny art world perspective in A New Concise Reference Dictionary and Glossary of Contemporary Art A-Z, by Neal Brown.
I swam against the tide a little with my review of Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks. Wish I’d had more space, as always. I also have reservations about Melissa Harrison’s Rain, for some of the same reasons. Interestingly (a fact edited from my review for reasons of space) many of the words included in a glossary of rain in the back of Harrison’s book are word for word the same as the definitions in Landmarks. Both authors have found them in old dictionaries and guides to local dialect, some a century old, rather than in use in local parlance.
Click here for a review of George Monbiot’s provocative and thought-provoking book Feral that has gone on to spawn a movement.
Easter Saturday 26 March 2016, the last ever print issue of the Independent comes out carrying my review of Tim Birkhead’s The Most Perfect Thing. A blend of scientific rigour and passion, Birkenhead’s book will be in many lists of the best nature writing of 2016, as one more great broadsheet institution becomes extinct.
My review of Helen MacDonald’s H is for Hawk for the Independent was one of the first… So glad that book had the success it deserved. Mark Avery’s A Message from Martha seems to have touched a nerve, with its account of the extinction of the most populous bird in the world in less than a century. From the same author, Inglorious is a devastating exposé of the grouse-shooting industry. Horatio Clare has written an elegiac account of another vanished species in Orison for a Curlew which manages to find something positive in the lives and work of those engaged in conservation in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable.
Nature cameraman John Aitchison’s book The Shark and the Albatross is technologically enabled nature writing, seen through a lens, that adds something to the genre.
Stuart B Schwartz’s Sea of Storms provides an alternative history of the Caribbean, told through the eye of the hurricane that is the area’s most distinct weather feature.
I wrote a piece called ’8 Ways the Railways Changed Everything for Britain’ for History Extra. You can read it here
This is a piece called Gazing into the Watery Abyss I wrote for Tate Etc.
You can find a piece I wrote for the Daily Dot called ‘Reclaiming the Night from the Net’ here. Here is an article I wrote about the moon in literature, headlined Satellite of Love and Fear. And a short piece for the Observer, for their Ideas for Modern Living column, curated by The School of Life, on darkness.