How to collect a Nobel prize for literature

Say something funny about Sweden, don’t overdo the humility … As the 2017 Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro undergoes his Nobel induction, we look back on speeches from winners of the past

“All writers belong to the class of non-orators,” Thomas Mann warned his audience at the outset, accepting the Nobel prize for literature in 1929 in a self-described state of “festive intoxication”. In a paradox the 2017 laureate, Kazuo Ishiguro must be keenly aware of as he undergoes this week’s induction process, the Nobel honours authors for their books but asks them to appear in person (though some, such as Bob Dylan last year, refuse) and morph into celebrity performers expert in the very different art of rhetoric.

The contrast was starkly exemplified 20 years after Mann by William Faulkner, whose brief speech (calling for writers to return to the anguish of “the old verities ... of the heart”) was little ...

Kingsley Amis was spied on – but he’s in the best literary company

MI5 kept tabs on Amis, who joins Byron, Wordsworth, Orwell and Iris Murdoch as having been suspected of espionage

Related: Profumo had long-term relationship with Nazi spy before 60s sex scandal

The National Archives revealed this week that MI5 kept a file on Kingsley Amis after learning in the 1940s that he was a student communist. Amis was then called up and his commanding officer, responding reassuringly to an inquiry by MI5’s gloriously named Lt Col John Baskervyle-Glegg, perceptively foreshadowed his ensuing career by saying that he voiced outrageous views “to compensate for a nebulous personality by making extreme and controversial statements in the hope it will make an impression”. This put the subsequently reactionary author of Lucky Jim in rather distinguished company, since British writers who have been spied on are often classier, in literary terms, than those who have been spies (including John Buchan, Graham Greene, Ian Fleming ...

Going for a gong: the week in literary prizes – roundup

We toast the winners of the Goldsmiths prize, the National Book awards, the Warwick prize for women in translation and the Stephen Spender for poetry

There were gongs galore this week. First to figuratively spray champagne from a podium was Nicola Barker for her formally tricksy novel H(a)ppy, promoted by its publisher William Heinemann as “a post-post-apocalyptic Alice in Wonderland”. It saw off shortlisted works by Jon McGregor and Will Self to take the £10,000 Goldsmiths prize for fiction that “embodies the spirit of invention”. Barker is the third female winner of a five-year-old award that has previously been given to Eimear McBride and Ali Smith (who both then went on to win the Baileys prize).

Also on Wednesday evening, but five hours later in New York City, Cynthia Nixon hosted the National Book awards, a multi-genre jamboree resembling Britain’s Costa awards in both its lineup of categories and its ban on ...

Gunpowder plots: how Guy Fawkes ignited an explosive literary legacy

Remember, remember … from Shakespeare to James Shapiro to the website that deals in political scandal, the name of Guy Fawkes is literary dynamite

The gunpowder plot’s literary legacy began almost immediately and is remarkably stellar. In 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear, James Shapiro identifies oblique references to the foiled plot in Macbeth and King Lear, which mentions the bad omen of a double eclipse – there had been one in autumn 1605 - foreshadowing evils including “in palaces treason”. He also sees traces in (then a Catholic recusant) from the same year Volpone by Ben Jonson, and points to Latin poems directly addressing the attempted coup by the teenage John Milton, notably the virulently anti-Catholic “On the Fifth of November” (1626), in which Satan and the Pope conspire to destroy Britain’s leaders. And that poem, he suggests, “anticipates so much of what, decades later, ...

Boccaccio in bikinis: the appeal of ITV’s Love Island

Some claim it’s Shakespearean, some Chaucerian – but in reality it’s more like the Decameron, a 14th-century collection of often bawdy tales Over the last fortnight, brainy authors with columns have been explaining the appeal of Love Island. The novelist Rachel Johnson perhaps initiated the fad, justifying her addiction to the titillating Majorca-based dating showbecause it enables her to bond with her student-age son, and because it is “actually about relationships”. In the Times, Ben Macintyre took time out from promoting SAS: Rogue Heroes and recommended the series as a “quite remarkable ... anthropological experiment” (an argument others deployed in relation to Big Brother when it made its UK debut 17 years ago): it reflects how “isolated communities swiftly evolve unique forms of behaviour”, such as the contestants’ distinctive language – mug off, sack off, melt and so on – and mating rituals. His colleague Caitlin Moran, meanwhile, saw it as ...

Cocktails, wit and activism: in praise of Dorothy Parker – 50 years on

Fifty years after her death, this master of the one-liner has survived better than the rest of her New Yorker set, but everything you know about her is liable to be wrong A bestselling poet who moved on to fiction, Dorothy Parker, who died 50 years ago this month, single-handedly invented “the New Yorker short story”, the kind of debonair but melancholy tale later associated with JD Salinger and John Cheever. She was equally innovative as a critic, pioneering a first‑person style and busting the taboo on hatchet jobs by women when reviewing theatre – she was fired under pressure from Broadway managers after three plays that she had slated closed – and books (as “Constant Reader”, best remembered for her one-liner on AA Milne, “Tonstant Weader Fwowed Up”). Related: Dorothy Parker showed me that it was possible to live the life I wanted | Mary Kenny Continue reading...