I was invited to celebrate the launch of the BBC’s ‘Novels That Shaped Our World’ campaign at New Broadcasting House on Tuesday night with other book bloggers and vloggers. It begins a year-long celebration of literature at the BBC and also marks the 300th anniversary of ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe which is widely considered to be the first modern English novel.
Six writers and critics – Stig Abell, Syima Aslam, Juno Dawson, Kit de Waal, Mariella Frostrup and Alexander McCall Smith – have come up with a list of 100 novels that shaped our world. The list itself is not going to please everyone. It consists of English language titles only and it also includes several series such as the Earthsea trilogy and Discworld, so to call it a list of “100 novels” isn’t strictly true. However, I think those bemoaning the fact that it is not a collection of “greatest” novels featuring lots of worthy tomes are slightly missing the point, as it is very much a list of books which have had personal impact on the panellists. That’s not to say that books traditionally thought of as great literature are not here because they are (‘Pride and Prejudice’, ‘Middlemarch’, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ are among those which made the cut). But it seems to have upset some people that they appear alongside more modern books considered to be guilty pleasures (‘The Twilight Saga’ and ‘Riders’ being two which are typically excluded from these kind of lists). Organised thematically, it’s a bit like an updated version of The Big Read series from the early 2000s but without a public vote, thereby preventing the overrepresentation of Jeffrey Archer and Jacqueline Wilson this time. Continue reading
‘Gotta Get Theroux This: My Life and Strange Times in Television’ is Louis Theroux’s memoir reflecting on over twenty years of making television documentaries. His career began in 1994 with a one-off segment on Michael Moore’s ‘TV Nation’ on apocalyptic religious sects followed by the ‘Weird Weekends’ series which focused on odd aspects of Americana. More recently, he has moved towards documentaries about hard-hitting topics such as eating disorders and addiction. Continue reading
“Fake news” had yet to become a common term when ‘Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia’ was published in the UK in 2015, but the concept is very much present in Peter Pomerantsev’s anecdotal depiction of post-Soviet Russia. Raised in London, he moved to Russia as an adult and his work as a reality television producer allowed him access to all sorts of people and places at the peak of the television industry boom years in the 2000s. However, Pomerantsev quickly discovered that the media remained heavily state-influenced and he was not always free to produce the content he had planned. It is no surprise that his account of his time there shows how the boundaries between truth and reality were constantly blurred. Continue reading
Emily Maitlis has been a journalist and broadcaster for over twenty years and is currently the lead presenter of the BBC’s Newsnight programme. Her first book ‘Airhead’ is a collection of her most significant and memorable TV interviews, with an explanation of the planning and thinking behind each one, as well as the build-up and aftermath off camera. Sometimes the interviews are carefully planned and structured in order to tease out the most telling response from the person being grilled. More often than not, though, the most effective and surprising ones are brought about by happy accident such as her encounter with Anthony Scaramucci. Coupled with the constant sense of unpredictability associated with live television (which is more cock-up than conspiracy, according to Maitlis), the subtitle “the imperfect art of making news” is certainly fitting. Continue reading
Bloomsbury Book Club Grantchester Christmas Special
On Wednesday night, I attended the Bloomsbury Institute Book Club Grantchester Christmas Special event at Bedford Square in central London with author James Runcie and scriptwriter Daisy Coulam discussing how the first book in the Grantchester Mysteries series, ‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ was dramatised for television by ITV. Continue reading
I really enjoyed ‘A Tale for the Time Being‘ by Ruth Ozeki which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize last year. I was lucky enough to get my copy of her debut novel ‘My Year of Meats’ (or ‘My Year of Meat’ in some older editions) signed at the shortlist readings event at the Southbank Centre in October and this week, I finally got around to reading it. Originally published in 1998, it tells the story of Jane Takagi-Little, a Japanese-American journalist and documentary film-maker who is producing a series called ‘My American Wife’ for Japanese television. Sponsored by BEEF-EX to promote American beef in Japan, the aim of the programme is to promote a “wholesome” image of America. However, as Jane travels across the United States searching for suitable families to participate in the series, she becomes more alarmed by the methods of meat production and plans to expose them in the programme. Meanwhile, the story also follows Akiko, a Japanese housewife married to Jane’s abusive boss, and eventually their lives converge. Continue reading