Books of the month: From Alan Bennett’s House Arrest to Hamish McRae’s The World in 2050

Martin Chilton reviews six of May’s biggest releases for our monthly column

Wednesday 04 May 2022 11:34 BST
May is a fruitful month for fans of non-fiction
May is a fruitful month for fans of non-fiction ( The Independent)

As a banana-a-day muncher, I admit I was intrigued by a fact box called “Think you know bananas?” in Alex Renton’s entertaining 13 Foods That Shape Our World: How Hunger has Changed the Past, Present and Future (BBC Books). Turns out, I’ve been yellow-bellied in my fruit adventures, never having even tried any of the thousand varieties that are neither yellow nor even banana flavoured. The silk or tundan type, for example, grown in west Africa, has a tangy hint of apple. The most intriguing-sounding variety, though, is a red one that has “a faint raspberry flavour”. I bet that causes a few slip-ups in blind tastings.

Literary figures played a key role in some of the songs of Radiohead, and Thom Yorke has paid tribute to the inspiration of writers such as Ben Okri. The band were also influenced by Kurt Vonnegut’s 1963 science fiction novel Cat’s Cradle when composing their song “Nice Dream”. The Vonnegut link is one of the hundreds of intriguing facts in a new biography of the band, Radiohead: Life in a Glasshouse (Palazzo Editions), written by John Aizlewood, a music expert and editor of Q magazine in its heyday. Covering more than three decades, the book is a must-have for fans of this influential group.

A timely, albeit troubling, read is Yevgenia Belorusets’s Lucky Breaks (Pushkin Press, translated from the Russian by Eugene Ostashevsky), which is a collection of vivid stories by a Ukrainian photo-journalist, looking at recent events through a feminist lens. The book focuses on women affected by the war in east Ukraine, dealing with Russian military activities that pre-date the current invasion. The author’s search for sincerity shines through moving tales of displaced women. Lucky Breaks also offers a reminder that the truth is never pure and rarely simple.

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