What’s Been On My Mind This Week

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1. From the Labour Party Conference last week to the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Party Conference this week. But what I found more interesting than the various takes on Cameron and Clegg and the parties’ policies was this interview with Alain de Botton in which he discusses what he thinks politicians are really like, the role of the media in today’s society, and why the UK needs to be more like Norway.

2. Hong Kong has also been in the news a great deal lately over the latest protests in favour of democratic reform. There was a short but interesting article in the Economist about the role of social media, China’s digital censorship and how many posts the Chinese government have deleted from Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

3. Chelsea Clinton gave birth to a baby girl, Charlotte, and there was – unsurprisingly – this short article in Time magazine about the ‘strategic use of babies’, Hillary Clinton’s new role as grandmother, and why Americans are so interested in this baby.

4. There was a great deal that caught my eye in the literary world this week. First of all there was this article in the New York Times about the continued dispute between Amazon and Hachette – one of the world’s biggest publishers – over eBook prices. It mentions Authors United, a group of writers (not all of whom are published by Hachette) who have joined together to protest Amazon’s actions as a result of the dispute. There was also this related article in the New York Times about the annual luxury literary weekend that Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon) hosts every year and how the current dispute might be having an impact on who has agreed to attend this year.

5. Lionel Shriver, one of my favourite writers (not only for Kevin), was announced this week as the winner of the BBC National Short Story Award. It’s wonderful to have a prize that richly rewards such a complicated art form. You can read Shriver’s winning story, Kilifi Creek, in the New Yorker here.

6. Speaking of literary prizes, there was an interesting article in the New Statesman about just that this week. In recent years two new prizes for fiction have been inaugurated, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Folio Prize, both of which seek to reward brilliant, experimental fiction. It is generally understood that they were set up in reaction to the more ‘populist’ long and shortlists that recent Man Booker Prize juries have selected. The article examines the overlap and difference between the three prizes.

7. American novelist Jane Smiley has a new book out soon. Her 1991 novel A Thousand Acres was a brilliant reimagining of King Lear in contemporary Iowa and I highly recommend it. This week the New Yorker published an interesting feature by Smiley in which she celebrates her father’s ‘gift of absence’ and how she thinks that has affected her life and literary career.

8. Writer and regular contributor to the London Review of Books Jenny Diski has written a provocative article for that publication about writing and cancer. Interesting that Diski calls herself a ‘canceree’.

9. When the BBC cancelled period drama Ripper Street last year there was a wave of discontent on Twitter and an online petition was signed to reinstate the programme. The BBC did not do so; instead Amazon picked it up. We are constantly told that the future of television (and film) is changing – how it’s made, how we watch it, how we receive it – and this week there was an article in the New York Times about how Netflix (the online streaming service) has announced that it will release the forthcoming sequel to the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon across its platform simultaneously with the film’s in cinemas.

10. Moving away from cultural news, to sport, and sexism. There was a piece in the New Statesman this week about sexism in football and how it doesn’t only happen on the pitch, but amongst fans and in the offices of those running clubs or teams.

11. From sexism to racism (also a problem in football), and there was this feature in Salon about what it was like to be Latina and working at the New York Times.

12. This week I’ve been reading The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher. It’s an ambitious, complex novel with five discrete narratives that take place over thousands of years – from ancient Rome to Weimar Germany and the present day – but are united by themes of friendship, liberation, prejudice and gaiety (or being gay).

13. I’ve been listening to the fourth album from The Czars this week. It’s an old album, from 2001, but it is – as are most things John Grant is involved in – brilliant, particularly the opening track, Drug.

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