Enter, Fleeing review – a man going everywhere fast

It’s a challenge to keep up with Mark Ford’s restless poetic energy but well worth the effort

Nairobi, 1963; Lagos 1967; Chicago 1969; Colombo, Hong Kong, Bahrain, New York… Mark Ford’s poems could – several of them – be organised like an airport departure board. Born in Kenya, he had a peripatetic upbringing. There are sightings here of his mother – telling an unfazed Kenyan servant that President Kennedy has been shot, or chasing a thief in Lagos, unaware of how her own voice will sound, years later, in a poem: “How dare you!” she calls without irony.

There are poems about what it means to take leave of yourself – Mickey Finn describes, at entertainingly floundering length, the after-effects of having had a drink spiked, and your trainers and wallet stolen on a Spanish train. It seems fitting that Ford should, in his intelligent restlessness, turn out to ...

See What Can Be Done by Lorrie Moore review – marvellously nuanced

This wide-ranging collection of reviews and cultural commentary is shrewd and worthy of preservation. Just don’t call it ‘enjoyable’…

Lorrie Moore explains, in her introduction, that her book’s title repeats the form of words used by Robert Silvers (1929-2017), editor of the New York Review of Books, along with books he hoped she might review. She was invariably able to see and do – and in unexpected ways, as this incisive, wide-ranging and enjoyable collection of reviews, autobiographical pieces and cultural commentary shows. “Enjoyable”, by the way, is a word on Moore’s adjectival hit list – banned, one presumes, for laziness or for being insufficiently explanatory (she does not explain).

She is an exacting writer but never a conceited one. She knows what it is to try and write fiction – or, rather, to succeed in writing it: her short stories are singular, witty and, at 61, her writing ...

Amy Bloom: ‘Being a writer is a tremendous privilege but does not always go smoothly’

The US novelist talks about the struggle to write her new book about Eleanor Roosevelt’s secret lesbian affair

Amy Bloom’s new novel White Houses – her fourth – is short and yet has the scope and intensity of a saga. It describes the love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok (“Hick”), a relationship that was unrecognised until a recent biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, by Blanche Wiesen Cook, brought it to view.

Bloom, in her mid-60s, is married with three children and has always described herself as bisexual (her non-fiction book Normal looked at attitudes to sex and gender). She worked for 20 years as a psychotherapist and is now a teacher of creative writing at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. She has been nominated for the US national book award and the national book critics’ circle award and feted by fellow American and literary heavyweight Harold Bloom who claims ...

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy review – short, sensual, embattled memoir

The author describes the end of her marriage and the death of her mother with compelling grace and candour

WH Auden once said that writing about your life was “using up capital”, but this is what makes memoir such a generous form. And Deborah Levy is a most generous writer. What is wonderful about this short, sensual, embattled memoir is that it is not only about the painful landmarks in her life – the end of a marriage, the death of a mother – it is about what it is to be alive.

I can’t think of any writer aside from Virginia Woolf (or, perhaps, Helen Simpson) who writes better about the liminal, the domestic, the non-event, and what it is to be a woman. I always feel, reading Levy (this is her second memoir), that she is a writer with nothing much – and with everything – to say.

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The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy review – short, sensual, embattled memoir

The author describes the end of her marriage and the death of her mother with compelling grace and candour

WH Auden once said that writing about your life was “using up capital”, but this is what makes memoir such a generous form. And Deborah Levy is a most generous writer. What is wonderful about this short, sensual, embattled memoir is that it is not only about the painful landmarks in her life – the end of a marriage, the death of a mother – it is about what it is to be alive.

I can’t think of any writer aside from Virginia Woolf (or, perhaps, Helen Simpson) who writes better about the liminal, the domestic, the non-event, and what it is to be a woman. I always feel, reading Levy (this is her second memoir), that she is a writer with nothing much – and with everything – to say.

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Book clinic: recommended books about the best of humanity

From a redemptive tale set in Norfolk to classic Michael Frayn, our expert selects books that are funny and inspiring

Q: I am fed up with so many books and TV programmes being about horrible people doing horrible things to other people. Can you suggest something funny or inspiring or both, which is also a page-turner and well written, that is about the best of humanity, not the worst? Never without a book, I am in my early 60s, live in London, work on a website and want to feel more cheerful about the world. Anonymous

A: Observer writer and critic Kate Kellaway

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Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan – review

Hannah Sullivan’s debut collection of poems is intimate, experimental and rich in delicious description

Hannah Sullivan is an ambidextrous writer. An associate professor of English at New College, Oxford, she recently published a book called The Work of Revision, in which she argued that the idea of revising as a necessary part of the creative process only began with early 20th-century modernism. Her alluring debut collection Three Poems (who knows how extensively reworked?) travels light, illuminated yet never shackled by scholarship, and investigates the way life does – and does not – revise itself. It is as though she were holding this Polish proverb up to the light: “Everything changes and nothing changes.” She writes freshly about everything, including sameness. She is a sensual conjurer of atmospheres – writing almost as a poet-restaurateur. On a single page: cloves, rainstorm, peanut oil, ozone, brandy, frost, freezing blood and ...

The Peace of Wild Things review – a rich harvest

A new edition of work by the American poet Wendell Barnes draws its slow-moving brilliance from the stillness of nature

This column is usually reserved for new collections, but there is a reason to break this rule for Wendell Berry. It is extraordinary that he is not better known. I was on the verge of saying he should be a household name, but households have never been his thing. His selected verse, in a new edition by Penguin, is the work of an outdoorsman; it aspires to Gerard Manley Hopkins’s idea that nature is, for all the depredations, “never spent”. This is poetry to lower blood pressure, to induce calm.

Berry’s gift, as a Kentucky farmer and as a writer, is to root himself as a tree might – not to commandeer nature but to cherish it. I do not think it fanciful to see these poems as a form of manual ...

Cancer, Clare and me: actor Greg Wise on the death of his sister

A year after the death of his beloved sister, Wise talks about caring for Clare in her last days, and the blog, now a book, they wrote together

It is more than a year since Clare Wise, sister of the actor Greg Wise, died of cancer. She lived just down the street from the West Hampstead house her brother shares with his wife, Emma Thompson, and their daughter, Gaia. As Greg opens his front door and leads the way into his kitchen, one can see, within minutes, why he was such an indispensable carer to his sister during the last weeks of her life. Today, he has organised elevenses with good coffee and patisserie. As an actor, he is routinely cast as a reprobate (Mountbatten in The Crown a debatable exception). In life, he could not be nicer if he tried. And that’s precisely it: he does not appear to ...

Afterglow (A Dog Memoir) by Eileen Myles review – anthropomorphism meets Joyce

This dog’s-eye view of its owner, the world and the canine afterlife is told with great literary flair

You may think, at least if you are not a dog lover, that the dog memoir is for a niche, non-literary readership. But some of the best memoirs I have read have been about dogs: JR Ackerley’s indispensable We Think the World of You soothed my broken heart as a teenager after a beloved dog had died, and Paul Bailey’s A Dog’s Life is a splendid memoir about the collie cross that took over his and his partner’s life. Even Virginia Woolf wrote a book about a dog: Flush (which is also a semi-fictional biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning although, admittedly, not one of her best). But Eileen Myles’s Afterglow belongs in a strange category of its own – it is unlike anything I have read and is a work of Joycean ...

Milkshakes and Morphine: A Memoir of Love and Loss by Genevieve Fox review – a lonely past and a painful present

An absorbing account of growing up as an orphan and struggling with cancer in adulthood is, happily, free of self-pity

It is Genevieve Fox’s misfortune – not ours – that she is joining the ranks of those writing about cancer. As an accomplished journalist, she could write about anything and make it interesting. This exceptionally involving memoir doubles as a narrative about growing up as an orphan. And the strands dovetail – she lost her mother to cancer when she was nine years old (her father died of a heart attack when she was younger still). Her book considers orphans in literature (Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Caliban) and she reflects upon this theme partly because, as a mother, she is steeling herself against history repeating itself. In her narrative, a ramshackle past and fraught present collide. Her account of her outlandish upbringing (to the limited extent that she was ...

‘Every poem is political’: Danez Smith, the YouTube star shaking up poetry

Smith’s dear white america was a viral phenomenon. Launching a new collection, Don’t Call Us Dead, the poet is in polemical mood about the black experience in the US

If you watch Danez Smith’s poem dear white america on YouTube – where it has racked up more than 300,000 viewings (not the sort of figures poetry usually attracts) – it is easy to see why Smith is becoming a phenomenon. The video is a powerful introduction to the collection Don’t Call Us Dead (a finalist in the US’s National Book award for poetry), which is about to be published in the UK. Smith has a colossal gift for performance. You are moved – shaken – as if you had been involved in an argument you couldn’t win. And, in a sense, if you are white, that describes the position. The poem – set out like prose – is a ...

Picture books for children reviews – tinselly tales for a child’s Christmas

From Quentin Blake’s Scrooge to Judith Kerr’s new cat Katinka and beyond, picture book present ideas abound this Christmas

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Pavilion £14.99), is an uplifting version of Dickens’s classic, bound in scarlet, with which to get Christmas off to a festive start. Dickens and Blake turn out to be a canny pairing – what they have in common is boundless imaginative energy. Blake’s Scrooge is first encountered bent double over his desk. Everything about him and his environs is greyish save for the pile of golden coins upon which he is dolefully focused. The first ghost in the story is rendered as comic and alarming – a mix Blake has down to a fine art. Hair standing on end, desperate mouth – the ghost is chaos on the move. But the most appealing picture is of Scrooge transformed – a ...

An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe review – pass the frozen turkey

Stibbe’s miscellany of tall tales, advice on unapologetic gift-giving and remembrance of botched Christmases past is a rustled-up delight

There is no disguising it – at least that is what you think at first. This book is a potboiler – or, given its subject, a turkey brick. You can almost hear the publishers – or Nina Stibbe herself – calculating: how about following the success of Love, Nina (her memoir about being a nanny to LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers’ sons) and a couple of amusing novels with a festive bestseller? I opened An Almost Perfect Christmas preparing to be underwhelmed, only to find myself chuckling at every other page. By the end – or, actually, not long after the beginning – I was a convert. This book is the seasonal garnish we all need. There is no subject upon which Stibbe could not entertain.

Having said that, it’s startling ...

On Balance poetry review – an imagination that never closes

Sinead Morrissey’s Forward-winning collection is a breathtaking feat, blending fiction, memoir and history

Sinead Morrissey’s On Balance, which has just won this year’s Forward prize, is a collection that keeps extending itself and that shares many of the satisfactions of fiction, memoir and history (there is an especially arresting poem about a model of Napoleon’s horse, another fine poem about the aviator Lilian Bland and an astounding poem based on a garish photograph of tsarist Russia). Even the poems that cross the finishing line with a flourish are open-ended, leaving one with the sense that there will always be more to say, and this is because Morrissey is possessed of her own invigorating brand of Irish fluency and an imagination that never closes.

On the subject of balance – there is always the likelihood that the world is about to tilt. The Millihelen (the poem that launches the collection) ...

Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi review – a striking initiation

The Zambian-born British poet proves himself much more than ‘another brother who can rhyme’ in this assured debutI first came across Kayo Chingonyi at the Coronet – once a seedy cinema in Notting Hill Gate, now home to the Print Room and a bohemian den of unexpected charm where, once a month, a trio of poets reads aloud. It is a wonderful destination for poets, and Chingonyi has the huge advantage of being a natural performer. He reads his poems with an immediacy that gives each one to you like a present (sample his extraordinary performance at the South Bank with dancer Sean Graham). His delivery is the opposite of the wistful singsong that has become chronic at poetry readings (so many poets would benefit from the attention of a really good theatre director). My particular pet hate is the way poets meaninglessly turn the last words in each ...

Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi review – a striking initiation

The Zambian-born British poet proves himself much more than ‘another brother who can rhyme’ in this assured debutI first came across Kayo Chingonyi at the Coronet – once a seedy cinema in Notting Hill Gate, now home to the Print Room and a bohemian den of unexpected charm where, once a month, a trio of poets reads aloud. It is a wonderful destination for poets, and Chingonyi has the huge advantage of being a natural performer. He reads his poems with an immediacy that gives each one to you like a present (sample his extraordinary performance at the South Bank with dancer Sean Graham). His delivery is the opposite of the wistful singsong that has become chronic at poetry readings (so many poets would benefit from the attention of a really good theatre director). My particular pet hate is the way poets meaninglessly turn the last words in each ...

Hunger by Roxane Gay review – one body’s lessons for everybody

This memoir of suffering and survival subtly questions not just how we judge ‘fat’, but how we dare to judge at all Fat is more than a feminist issue – as this extraordinary memoir by novelist and essayist Roxane Gay reveals. Gay’s last book, Bad Feminist, became a New York Times bestseller and revealed her to be a writer unfazed by inconvenient truths and a champion of women – especially gay and black women. Hunger tells a story that must have been as hard to write as it is disturbing to read. She does not duck from telling us, early on, that at 6ft 3in tall, she weighed, at her heaviest, 577 pounds: “That is a staggering number, one I hardly believe, but at one point, that was the truth of my body.” She does – and does not – know, she says, how things got so out ...

Hunger by Roxane Gay review – one body’s lessons for everybody

This memoir of suffering and survival subtly questions not just how we judge ‘fat’, but how we dare to judge at all Fat is more than a feminist issue – as this extraordinary memoir by novelist and essayist Roxane Gay reveals. Gay’s last book, Bad Feminist, became a New York Times bestseller and revealed her to be a writer unfazed by inconvenient truths and a champion of women – especially gay and black women. Hunger tells a story that must have been as hard to write as it is disturbing to read. She does not duck from telling us, early on, that at 6ft 3in tall, she weighed, at her heaviest, 577 pounds: “That is a staggering number, one I hardly believe, but at one point, that was the truth of my body.” She does – and does not – know, she says, how things got so out ...

Picture books for children reviews – from old hats to new homes

Neil Gaiman’s mute, pearl-eyed princess and a magical tale of moving house are among the best illustrated reads for kids this summerIt is summer – the season in which mad dogs and Englishmen are said to go out in the midday sun. A better idea might be to stay in the shade and read Raymond, by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec (Walker £11.99, ages 3+). Even before you have opened the book, you will be won over by the brilliant sunshine-yellow cover and Raymond – a little dog with big dreams – standing on his hind legs, looking perkily assured, with a cup of what looks alarmingly like coffee in his left paw. Raymond’s big dream is to be more than one of the family – he wants to “act more and more like a human”. He becomes a celeb journo on Dogue magazine – and it ...