The mystery of Haruki Murakami’s whimsy

Kafka on the Shore is the work of an acknowledged master. So why does this book seem so full of pointless – and pedantic – fancy?

One of the pleasures of writing for the Reading group is that it’s a place I can safely get things wrong. Generally, when you write a review, your opinion is pretty final and you don’t get much chance to recant later. I’ve recently been doing some research about HG Wells and there are a good handful of critics whose sole remaining claim on immortality is having written completely wrong-headed reviews about the appeal and longevity of The War of the Worlds.

“What a splendid opportunity is lost in the description of the exodus from London!” wrote the otherwise forgotten Basil Williams. “One thinks what a writer with a great eye for poetical effect like Mr Meredith would have made of such an idea; ...

Make literary history by helping us to judge the 2015 Not the Booker prize

With the contestants for the UK’s not-quite-premier prize gathered on the starting line, the hunt is on for volunteers to pick a winner

Back in 2012, the Not the Booker prize almost fell of a cliff. The Lord Of Chaos, who has always stalked us, who has always longed to trip us up and laugh as we fall, he took his chance. He swooped down and did us over, cackled loud and pushed us right to the edge of the precipice. Our public voting system all but collapsed in a tide of acrimony and anger.

It wasn’t pretty. But actually a lot of good came out of it. Thanks to some excellent suggestions for improvements, we were able to continue stronger than ever before, and to maintain our open democratic ethos.

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Six of the best: Not the Booker prize shortlist revealed

The votes have all been counted … and my head hurts. Now I hope you’ll join me in reading your chosen six – and perhaps become one of our chosen three (judges)

There were just under 1,000 votes for this year’s Not the Booker prize shortlist.

On the one hand, that’s astonishing, amazing, huge. Thank you. Such enthusiasm for literature is affirming and overwhelming.

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Journeys in literature: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – a trip into inner space

Only 40,000 words long, this story of colonial brutality is a mesmerisingly ambiguous voyage into the darkest parts of the soul

Conrad’s famous novella is based on a real journey the author took up the Congo in 1890, during King Leopold II of Belgium’s horrific rule. It is a fantastic, imaginative journey to find a man named Kurtz who has lost his mind in the African jungle. It is a journey into inner space; a metaphorical investigation into the turbid waters of the human soul. It is a political journey into the dark heart of European colonialism. It is a nightmare journey, into horror. It is a journey to nowhere, set on a boat lying motionless and at anchor on the river Thames, which also “has been one of the dark places on the earth”.

There’s no shortage of journeys to talk about in relation to Heart of Darkness – ...

What’s your favourite book of the noughties? Let the Reading group know

In August, we’ll be reading and discussing a great book from the 21st century’s first decade. It’s your choice which …

It’s been almost six months since we’ve had a fully democratic nomination process here on the Reading group. On the one hand, that’s a good reflection of just how many interesting book-related anniversaries and events have taken place over the last six months. On the other hand, sorry. It’s time you got a say.

Out last full vote looked at books published since 2010 and we ended up with the superb Caribou Island . Since that was a happy experiment, I thought we might repeat it, only this time looking at books published between 2000 and 2010. Which post-millennial books are standing the test of time? Which do you remember most fondly? Which have been unfairly neglected?

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The magnificent 70: Guardian Not the Booker prize longlist announced

The nominations are in: here are the contenders for this year’s Not the Booker prize. The next stage – creating the shortlist – is up to you. Read on …

Let’s get straight to business. Our longlist of Not the Booker novels is so long this year that we don’t have much space to waste.

These are the nominations for this year’s Not the Booker prize, which is, as ever, a Guardian mug:

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Go Set a Watchman: the real triumph of the book that set tills ringing

The Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird gave the US something to aspire to. Now, Harper Lee’s long-lost companion novel offers a protagonist who could make us look at ourselves anew

Our time with Go Set a Watchman is almost done. Soon, we can let posterity deal with it. I’m guessing that, by now, quite a few people may be glad to do so.

Related: Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman published – as it happened

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Mr Ripley’s great talent? Making us like a killer and his crimes

The Reading group verdict is in: Patricia Highsmith’s amoral protagonist in The Talented Mr Ripley offers a queasy kind of entertainment – and an armchair psychologist’s perfect case study

“I couldn’t make an interesting story out of some morons,” said Patricia Highsmith in 1981. She explained: “The murderers that one reads about in the newspaper are, half the time, mentally deficient in some way, or simply callous. There are young boys, for instance, who pretend to be delivering, or who may help an old lady carrying her groceries home, and then hit her on the head when she invites them in for tea and rob her. These are forever stupid people, but they exist. Many murderers are like that, and they don’t interest me enough to write a book about them.”

Ripley, however, is a different case. He, Highsmith says, is “reasonably intelligent” and, crucially, amoral. “I suppose I ...

Tom Ripley, the likable psychopath

Patricia Highsmith manipulates our sympathies in The Talented Mr Ripley so expertly that we find ourselves rooting for a brutal killer

Do you only read books containing “likable” characters? Are you put off if there’s no one to root for in a novel?

This debate has been buzzing in the literary community for quite a few years, but I sometimes wonder if it’s been exaggerated. I’ve rarely heard people complain that they “didn’t like any of the characters” in a novel. What I have often heard is people complaining about people who make this complaint. When I googled “likable characters” I came across articles in the New York Times, The New Yorker, and here in the Guardian, all worrying over the issue – but fewer actual people who were upset because they couldn’t find someone “nice” to to take sides with in a book.

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June’s Reading group: The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

For the next month, as he turns 60, we’ll be investigating one of literature’s best loved psychopaths

Ah, summer! Doesn’t it just make you want to jump on a boat to somewhere sunny, make a brand new friend, and kill him with an oar?


Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt that the man was after him.”

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Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch – politically inspiring, gloriously funny

Reading group: In this book we see the author maturing along with his storytelling skills, while losing none of his wit

How’s this for a cynical analysis of last week’s general election?

People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness.

... the bastards, the rich bullies, the wheelers and dealers in people’s fates, the leeches, the hangers-on, the brown-nosers and courtiers and smarmy plump devils in expensive clothes, all those people who didn’t know or care about the machine, but stole its grease...”

Related: Is The Colour of Magic a good introduction to Terry Pratchett?

There was a rustle of hessian, and then:
‘Er... it’s half a brick,’ Ned reported.

Is The Colour of Magic a good introduction to Terry Pratchett?

Reading group: Although Discworld’s vast fictional realms are not yet fully developed in this novel, it is already extraordinary – and extraordinarily funny

Would you recommend The Colour of Magic as a first book to someone who has never read Terry Pratchett before? Is it a good place to start with this month’s Reading group?

Those aren’t questions that I’d have thought of asking two weeks ago. But now I realise that they are open to debate. Not least because there’s been a fair bit of back and forth about them here. The argument goes that since The Colour of Magic is not Pratchett’s finest work, to focus on it is to undersell him.

Related: May’s Reading group: the novels of Terry Pratchett

Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he ...