Book review: Dissident Gardens, by Jonathan Lethem

The idea of The Great American Novel feels like an albatross around the neck of that country’s literature. Sooner or later every white middle-class male writer with any kind of reputation feels obliged to have a stab at it, usually with limited success. Eventually they think it’s time to pack away all the fun stuff like storytelling, energy and plot, and make some big state-of-the-nation address, telling people exactly how things stand in the good ol’ US of A. Interestingly, America’s women writers don’t tend to feel the obligation to grandstand so strongly, and their novels are usually all the better for that.

Interesting object: The creation of the first part of the Oxford English Dictionary was particularly arduous

'One of its most notable contributors was in Broadmoor'

Travel agenda

From Ben Fogle's shore excursions to a new Hemingway hotel in Madrid, and discounted family rail travel in the UK

Novelists writing ballads? Song-writers dashing off novels? What does it all mean?

Does success in one genre guarantee it in another?

Nathan Filer: One minute interview

Where are you now and what can you see?

I’m at the BBC recording Front Row and apparently I’m looking at a brass bust of Henry Wood. The statue is in the foyer.

Arifa Akbar: We've come a long way since the 'madwoman in the attic': week in books

For a long time, the mentally ill were dumb and mute in literature. Inarticulacy surrounded those lumped together as Bedlamites: Jane Eyre’s classic “madwoman” in the attic, for instance, served as little more than a plot device, a thing to fear and loathe that got in the way of a Gothic romance.

White Beech: The Rainforest Years by Germaine Greer; book review

Mohammed Ali  used to boast that when boxing,  he would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee. So it is with Germiane Greer. She writes lightly, gracefully even when agitating for a cause. But the words still sting. And unsettle. Here she consciously creates a quasi-religious epic out of a part of her remarkable life when she decided to restore a small, wrecked rainforest in Australia, her homeland. The tone is apocalyptic, themes existential and critical: (wo)man not against, but ardently for ITALS PREVIOUS WD wondrous, pitiless and predatory nature. She, the Lionheart, is awed, meets devastation, fears cataclysms, intuits prophecies, bears historical and biological guilt,  seeks redemption and takes stupendous, fervent  action. It really is some story.

Barry Miles's Book of a Lifetime: Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs

Without question, the book that has most influenced my life has been Naked Lunch by William S Burroughs. I was astonished by the outrageous pot-head humour: crazy ideas taken way beyond their normal limits. The book was a savage indictment of American racism and consumerism, it dealt with the corruption, graft and lies of politicians with Swiftian humour. I had never read anything like, then or since.

Jumbo - The Unauthorised Biography of a Victorian Sensation by John Sutherland, book review

Jumbo the elephant was a Victorian sensation, who between his birth in modern-day Eritrea and alcoholic death in the American circus of the incorrigible showman PT Barnum was the star attraction at London Zoo.

Russian teacher 'kills friend in heated poetry versus prose argument'

Suspect stabbed his friend to death after victim insisted prose was superior as literary genre

Francois Hollande and his then partner Valerie Trierweiler greet thousands of gathered supporters at Place de la Bastille after victory in French Presidential Elections on May, 2012

Valerie Trierweiler: Former French First Lady set to pen a tell-all book about the Francois Hollande affair and her time at the Elysee

In interviews published today, Trierweiler says she “fell from a skyscraper” when she learned that Hollande was having an affair with an actress

Cacheco reads one of his poems in Mexico City; his birthplace formed the backdrop to his writing

Jose Emilio Pacheco: Poet, essayist and novelist who won the Cervantes Prize and was regarded as one of the finest writers in Spanish

Jose Emilio Pacheco was considered one of the finest writers in the Spanish language, winning the Cervantes Prize for Literature in 2009, the highest award for writers in what is the native language of more than 300 million people. The award from the Spanish Ministry of Culture was presented at the University of Alcala by Spain's King Juan Carlos. In his later years Pacheco became visiting Professor of Literature at the University of Essex.

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, pictured in 1944

‘Lost’ Dylan Thomas play starring Richard Burton given first radio broadcast

Original production of South Pacific mystery 'The Beach of Falesá' was shelved after poet’s death in 1953

Nathan Filer, winner of the 2013 Costa Book of the Year

Costa Book of the Year: Debut novelist Nathan Filer is shock winner of prestigious prize

33-year-old upsets the odds with his novel 'The Shock of the Fall' - the story of a teenager's descent into mental illness

Does a master's degree make you any more employable?

As the possibility of unemployment looms for many, more than 500,000 each year choose to pursue further study in the form of a postgraduate taught programme such as a master's. The motivation behind this decision is often related to belief that a higher-level qualification will result in a better job. But does the CV addition of an MA, MBA or MSc actually improve employment prospects?

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