Untroubled Times: David Stubbs in conversation with James Cook

by James Cook

I talked to journalist and author David Stubbs about his recent book, 1996 & the End of History, an examination of the year as it unfolded in the UK in politics, music, light entertainment and sport. We also discuss Memory Songs, my alternative history of the Brit-Pop moment, told through analysis of the music that informed the era, and recollections of my time as a songwriter during the 1990s. [read full interview]

American Anxiety

Jay McInerney, Bright, Precious Days

reviewed by Andre van Loon

‘You never see The Donald at the kind of parties I go to!’ – Jay McInerney Bright, Precious Days is Jay McInerney’s latest Manhattan novel, a glitzy tale of well-to-do New Yorkers who attend dinner parties and charity events but go to bed illicitly or ignored, riddled with anxiety. While writing the novel, McInerney thought of naming it Thin City, and one sees why instantly. Few of the writers, editors, models, socialites and financiers inhabiting his rarefied universe eat anything... [read more]

Contested Spaces

Henry Heller, The Capitalist University: The Transformation of Higher Education in the United States since 1945

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

It is one of the most potent ironies of the neoliberal age that the expansion of the universities has also meant a narrowing of their contribution to social understanding. For those of us born into the era of ‘critical courses’ and university occupations, the hope was that the education sector would produce critical citizens, interrogators of governments and institutions, free thinkers driven by moral and ethical principles. And their debates would be informed by a sense of history, whose... [read more]

More of the Same

Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

reviewed by Jakob Horstmann

It is hard to miss the fact that Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari is supposed to be a very monumental work indeed. The main title's scarlet letters, each the size of a small fist, on the Terminator-style cover alone might well cause some alarm among more sensitive onlookers. And neither the wilfully mysterious subtitle nor the back blurb does anything to dispel the impression that this here is intended to be a book of major consequence: 'This is the next stage of... [read more]

‘Exactly what I am saying is’

Matthew Welton, The Number Poems

reviewed by Holly Isemonger

Jeffrey Wainwright writes that the central paradox of poetry results from two conflicting desires: the desire to ‘say something meaningful and memorable’ and the desire to say nothing and simply delight in the nature of language itself. This issue is at the heart of Matthew Welton’s praxis, and his latest collection uses experimental techniques coupled with more conventionally meaningful elements of lyric poetry to engage with this poetic contradiction. Welton is certainly not the first... [read more]

Another Girl, Another Planet

Carola Dibbell, The Only Ones

reviewed by David Collard

‘My name is Inez Kissena Fardo. I lived my whole life in Queens and never got anything.’  Fifty years from now, in a world regularly swept by pandemics, Inez is a so-called 'hardy' and thus immune to all diseases. She exploits this adaptive advantage by selling her genetic material — teeth, nails, urine, cells, eggs — to unregulated obstetricians and gynaecologists. At the start of this unnerving, beautifully written dystopian fiction Inez travels from New York to The Farm, a backwater... [read more]

Self and Nation

Hannah Kohler, The Outside Lands

reviewed by Mark West

David Foster Wallace's The Pale King features a debate about civics in a stalled elevator, in which a number of characters offer reflections on the perceived decline of civic idealism and national collectivity. The 1960s come in for particular attention, with one character suggesting that in protesting the Vietnam War, a generation of young people asked whether individuals owe ethical duty firstly to the nation or to themselves. As Wallace puts it, the protestors ‘said that their individual... [read more]

What We Think About When We Think About Driving

Lynne Pearce, Drivetime: Literary Excursions in Automotive Consciousness

reviewed by Elsa Court

The age of the car is coming to an end. Or at least, the driving era as we know it. As we count the benefits (urban, social, environmental) of switching to driverless cars in a not-too-distant future, one looks back on what we may be losing with the activity of driving a personal car. The mind, for example, has a life of its own when the body is at the wheel of a car. Drivers are conscious of the surrounding landscape of the road when they drive, but the activity of driving also delivers us to... [read more]

A Blueprint for Resistance

Amílcar Cabral, trans. Dan Wood, Resistance and Decolonization

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Amílcar Cabral was born in Portuguese Guinea in 1923, trained as an agricultural engineer in Lisbon, and returned to the colony to become one of the founding members of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) in 1956. After six years of unsuccessful civil protest, the PAIGC took up arms against Portuguese rule and opened hostilities in the Guinea-Bissau War of Independence with an assault on a military garrison in 1963. Cabral was assassinated ten years later,... [read more]

‘Things that thing’

Evija Trofimova, Paul Auster’s Writing Machine: A Thing to Write With

reviewed by Alex Wealands

Paul Auster once stated in an interview that all of his books are in fact the same book. Whilst this may seem like a playful misdirection from the author, anyone familiar with Auster’s work will be aware of the interconnections woven throughout his entire oeuvre, which Evija Trofimova has explored in Paul Auster’s Writing Machine: A Thing to Write With. Cigarettes or cigarillos, typewriters, notebooks, New York, names, doppelgängers, themes of chance and fate – these are all motifs that... [read more]

A Temporary Phenomenon?

Alex Nunns, The Candidate: Jeremy Corbyn’s Improbable Path to Power

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

Where did Jeremy Corbyn come from? For decades he had been in the minority as a left Labour MP, his columns appearing in the comparatively obscure Morning Star rather than the more mainstream newspapers. He had stuck firmly to his socialist principles, defying the Labour whip consistently, especially during the years of New Labour. Alex Nunns’ The Candidate superbly brings into clarity the three key processes that facilitated Corbyn’s rise. First, and often unappreciated by other writers... [read more]