Elaine Castillo: ‘Have trauma? Join the club’

The Filipino American author’s debut novel draws together a complex, intergenerational story where no character’s pain takes precedence

Don’t be afraid of trying to pigeonhole Elaine Castillo. “I’m not one of those writers who’s like: ‘I just want to be thought of as a writer,’” she says. “No. I’m Filipino American, I’m a woman, I’m bi, and all of those things inform my life and my writing, and I don’t think those things diminish my life or my writing.” And having just written an extraordinary debut novel with Filipino American, bisexual women at its core, Castillo is claiming their right to literary universality in the process.

America Is Not the Heart is an epic, intergenerational story following several women in one family. Hero De Vera, the dominant narrator, is in her mid-30s when she arrives to Milpitas, in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Disowned by her wealthy parents in the ...

Alicia Kopf: ‘I wanted to turn old-fashioned, masculine epics upside down’

Brother in Ice is a form-busting novel that pairs a history of polar exploration with the story of an artist and her autistic sibling. The author reveals the real life behind her imaginative adventures

Brother in Ice is a novel (or is it?) that explores the history of polar expeditions, using them to examine a woman’s personal and artistic life, as well as her brother’s autism. The premise is convoluted – but Alicia Kopf makes it work, seamlessly building a hybrid of fiction, research notes, diary entries and illustration. The result is a lyrical, braided book, that would sit comfortably alongside the auto-fiction of Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti, or the non-fiction of Leslie Jamison, blending reportage with the personal.

A Catalan writer born in Girona and living in Barcelona, Kopf is not only an author but a visual artist, too, and says the two art forms feel almost ...

Emma Glass: ‘I hope my book will help people find the language of the ordeal’

Peach is a startlingly unusual account of sexual violence – but the author explains why it could not be more told conventionally

Emma Glass didn’t set out to write a rape revenge story; when she started her debut Peach, she didn’t know what kind of novel she wanted to write. But 10 years ago, as she sat in a creative writing class, she could see what she did not want: the teacher (“a writer who’s quite successful in the UK with fantasy novels”) was leading a class of 20, who all “seemed to have ideas for really high-concept novels”, she recalls. “I guess that’s where stories start, but for me that’s not where the story started.”

Glass was reading Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, and was “fascinated with how everyone’s reading of those books is highly different, because the focus is on the language and not necessarily the story”. ...

Jillian Tamaki: ‘Our brains are being rewired to exist online’

The stories in Boundless, her latest collection, show the Canadian author-illustrator pushing the boundaries of the graphic form to reflect a changing world In one of Jillian Tamaki’s comic-book stories, entitled 1. Jenny, a “mirror Facebook” appears on the internet. At first, it looks like it is merely a duplicate of the familiar social network – until small changes begin to appear on everyone’s profiles. Like most internet phenomena, it is “all anyone could talk about for two weeks”, considered “playful at best, mischievous at worst”. But as Jenny watches the mysterious mirror-Jenny’s life diverge from her own in tiny ways – growing her hair long, watching Top Gun – she grows increasingly obsessed with the life that could be hers; wishing, all the same, that “she had followed through with her threats to quit Facebook. (Threatening to whom?)” As in many of Tamaki’s stories in her delicate new ...

Eli Goldstone: ‘I can’t think of many great books that aren’t funny’

Strange Heart Beating is the story of a grieving widow, but the debut novelist explains how she has found humour ‘in unusual places’ to tell it Eli Goldstone’s right arm is adorned with a tattoo: a tombstone that reads “Bad Times”. She got it, she explains, to commemorate her bond with a Canadian friend who had to leave the UK and has a matching tattoo that says “Bad Vibes”. “It means ‘no more bad times!’ That’s the end of those for me,” she laughs. Goldstone, 31, seems like someone who knows how to laugh at herself and the darker parts of life, and does so often. “Six-year-old me would be really confused that it’s taken me this long [to write a novel], because I thought I was going to be the youngest person to ever write one,” she jokes. “I was always sitting in front of my typewriter starting ...

Alexandra Kleeman: ‘Where I grew up, there is a daily sense of your smallness’

You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine depicts a young woman’s dissociation from suburban life. Its author explains her focus on a very modern kind of loneliness Alexandra Kleeman wants you to really think about your body and its every internal movement. “A massed wetness pressing in on itself, shapes thrust against each other with no sense of where they are,” she writes in the first pages of her debut novel, You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Are we all the same inside? Anything could be in there – and so it’s no surprise, she writes, that we care most for our surfaces: “They alone distinguish us from one another and are so fragile, the thickness of paper.” Such is just the beginning of an unsettling and vivid descent into everything we consume: from junk food, to makeup, to advertising.
You Too Can Have a Body ...

The Good Immigrant: why BAME writers are ‘done justifying our place at the table’

Nikesh Shukla’s collection of essays by minority British writers makes it plain why the UK is long overdue for a more diverse self-defintion The Good Immigrant starts, appropriately, with an essay titled Namaste. “It just means hello,” says a bewildered Nikesh Shukla to a woman who repeats the Hindi word to him while offering him her henna stained hands. He’s outside an arts space that’s “part bar/club, part sustainable restaurant, part hot-desking for freelance artists and part dance studio”; tellingly, namaste is defined by Urban Dictionary as: “a word thrown around by Trustafarians and hippies as they shop in Whole Foods while wearing their eco-green Birkenstocks”. Namaste is thrown at Shukla again, this time as a defiant retort from two young neighbours when he asks them to turn down their music at 2am. Language matters. A lot. Cultural misappropriation is one of the many themes of this book of essays, ...

The Good Immigrant: why BAME writers are ‘done justifying our place at the table’

Nikesh Shukla’s collection of essays by minority British writers makes it plain why the UK is long overdue for a more diverse self-defintion The Good Immigrant starts, appropriately, with an essay titled Namaste. “It just means hello,” says a bewildered Nikesh Shukla to a woman who repeats the Hindi word to him while offering him her henna stained hands. He’s outside an arts space that’s “part bar/club, part sustainable restaurant, part hot-desking for freelance artists and part dance studio”; tellingly, namaste is defined by Urban Dictionary as: “a word thrown around by Trustafarians and hippies as they shop in Whole Foods while wearing their eco-green Birkenstocks”. Namaste is thrown at Shukla again, this time as a defiant retort from two young neighbours when he asks them to turn down their music at 2am. Language matters. A lot. Cultural misappropriation is one of the many themes of this book of essays, ...

The Mothers by Brit Bennett review – a bold new voice in American fiction

This tale of absent mothers and the daughters they left behind is an impressive debutThe Mothers starts with two ​traumatic endings​: a death and an abortion. ​The novel’s protagonist, ​17-year-old Nadia, ​grief-stricken after her mother’s suicide,​ takes up​ with the local pastor’s son​ and gets pregnant.​ ​She decides to have ​a termination. The novel follows Nadia as she ​enters adulthood (“Like most girls, she’d already learned that pretty exposes you and pretty hides you”) in an African American community in a Californian military town​. Brit Bennett perceptively portrays the impact Nadia’s choice ​has on her life and relationships, focusing on her friendship with another motherless girl, Aubrey. Her decision to put abortion front and centre in the story is in itself extraordinary, given how absent ​it is in cultural narratives about young women, but she doesn’t​ ​linger on it, nor does she judge her characters. She is much ...

Literary life: nature named after writers – quiz

A brittle star has been named Ophiohamus georgemartini after the Game of Thrones author. Many animals bear the names of writers – from birds to extinct whales. Can you classify them? A species of brittle star has officially been named Ophiohamus georgemartini, because of its physical likeness to the thorny crown on the cover of the second book in the Game of Thrones series, A Clash of Kings. Martin was thrilled, if a bit unnerved by the news: “It is all very Lovecraftian. But I’m flattered. And bemused,” he wrote on his website on Thursday. Countless authors and writers have been honoured to in this way, with plants, stars, even mortuaries named after them (what a lucky crime writer Val McDermid is). But how well do you know your author patronyms? Continue reading...

Kathleen Alcott’s journey from east to west coast into print

Abandoning a sociable San Francisco of ‘LSD on rooftops’, the young writer moved to New York, where she discovered loneliness and literary success. Marta Bausells joins her on a tour of this new world As precocious writers go, Kathleen Alcott is an extreme case. In her early 20s, she waved goodbye to a wild life in San Francisco and headed east to New York, hoping it would be a corrective move – with fewer recreational drugs, and more paying rent. In San Francisco, she faced a choice: pursue the writing or go back to school? She went for the former: in New York she took a vow of celibacy, knuckled down on the writing and it worked, when at 22, her debut sold to New York publisher Other Press. These days, Alcott is very much a New York author. Following her 2012 debut, The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets, her ...

Why we read: authors and readers on the power of literature

As World Book Day is celebrated around the world – and World Book Night in the UK – we look at great quotes from authors on why they like reading, as well as some from our own readers When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young. Continue reading...

10 inspiring female writers you need to read

As a response to Gay Talese’s failure to name any inspirational female writers, we asked our readers to explain why and how these authors changed their lives

It is hard to believe that this piece is still necessary. We long for the day when we don’t have to single out authors – or anyone of any walk of life, for that matter – for their gender, but here we are again. Last weekend, author and New Journalism father Gay Talese was asked to name women writers who had inspired him at a Boston University event, to which he answered: “None.” He reportedly went on to say that “educated women don’t want to hang out with anti-social people,” according to what journalist Amy Littlefield, who was in the audience, told the Washington Post.

Undoubtedly, the hashtag #womengaytaleseshouldread ...

Stacks of fun – the man piling up books across NYC

Shaheryar Malik emptied his apartment of books by leaving them in huge heaps in public spaces across Manhattan. Many of them have since made their way around the world

• Manhattan books towers – in pictures

Imagine getting rid of your entire library and starting afresh. This is exactly what Shaheryar Malik has done, in as dramatic a manner as possible.

About a year ago, he decided he would leave stacks of about 40 of his books in several public spaces in New York until he was left with none. Eight times over, he piled them up in places such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the High Line or a subway platform, and just walked away.

Continue reading...









The medium is the message – the power of public poetry

From empty swimming pools to old vans, Robert Montgomery takes the written word to the most physical of spaces. People like it so much, they’ve taken to getting tattoos of his work He has been called a vandal, a street artist, a post-Situationist, a punk artist and the text-art Banksy. Scottish poet Robert Montgomery has consciously made an “awkward space” for himself in between artistic categories – and he thoroughly enjoys it. His work puts poetry in front of people in eye-catching visual formats: from advertising billboards he has covered with poems, to words he has set on fire or lit with recycled sunlight in public spaces – including the Sussex seafront and a Berlin airport. Recently, he has been working on tomorrow’s World Poetry Day “Pay with a poem” campaign, through which customers can ...

Pay with a poem: cafes around the world to exchange coffee for poetry

Poetry will become the new currency in coffee outlets around the world for a day as World Poetry Day campaign spreads to 34 countries

Annoyed at the rising price of your coffee, and a hipsterisation so extreme that it’s apparently become a symbol of gentrification? Offended at your barista for not rewarding your loyalty with a free latte? You can forget it all on Monday and put your literary talent to use instead, by exchanging a handwritten poem for coffee in 1,280 outlets around the world. To mark World Poetry Day on 21 March, an Austrian coffee roasting company is offering a shot of caffeine to customers who hand in a poem. More than 100,000 people gobbled up the offer last year according to coffee company Julius Meinl. The firm has ...

McDonald’s to give away children’s books with Happy Meals

The fast-food chain plans to distribute more than 50m books to kids by year’s end – ‘enough to provide a book to every child in America under the age of 12’ Related: A little Franzen with your burrito? After Chipotle’s Franzen-themed burrito paper bags, McDonalds’s is adding a literary flavour to its food offerings. From Tuesday 9 through Monday 15 February, its stores in the US will change the plastic toys – or variations thereof – that usually accompany its kids’ menus, known as Happy Meals, for books. The four titles that will be distributed with the food, one at a time, will be Bruce Hale’s Clark the Shark Takes Heart; Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond’s Happy Valentine’s Day, Mouse! and Kimberly and James Dean’s Pete the Cat: Valentine’s Day Is Cool – and Michael Bond’s Paddington, the only non-Valentine’s Day themed book. They have been especially made to ...

The best books-and-music pairings

Listening to music and reading not only can go together, but can make fantastic partners and intensify both experiences. Here are your favourite pairings – with couples like Stephen King and Petshop Boys, sci-fi and Aphex Twin or Atwood and Beach House If you don’t think it’s possible or appropriate to read and listen to music at the same time, look away now. We recently covered the best background music to read to. Here are your recommendations for specific book-song pairings that not only go well together but, you argue, even enhance the reading experience. Continue reading...









Finnegans Wake: a musical reading sounds out a cryptic text

An online project has set James Joyce’s infamously difficult novel to 17 songs – thereby making its meaning clearer, it claims. And you can take part

  • Listen to a taster playlist of the book set to music below
Is Finnegans Wake the most difficult novel ever written? With 60 different languages featured in it, a plot with multiple layers, impossibly varied interpretations and a complex “multifractal structure” recently discovered by mathematicians, James Joyce’s classic novel is at best challenging – even more so than Ulysses. Coinciding with the Irish author’s 134th birthday, a group of academics is launching Waywords and Meansigns, a project that sets the entire book to music, unabridged, with musicians and readers collaborating. It’s all so simple. If anyone doesn’t understand a passage, all he need do is read it aloud Continue reading...