COLUMNS Give Astérix A Gritty Reboot

by Ka Bradley

Listen to me. Goscinny and Uderzo are dead now. They can’t lay a curse on you the way Alan Moore does with all the adaptations of all his films. French Netflix series are having what they call a moment: witness Lupin and Call My Agent. You can build on that momentum! And because it’s a gritty reboot, you won’t have to worry about getting all the visual speech bubble gags right, nor reproduce the sublime playfulness of the translations for which Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge deserved Man Bookers, Pulitzers, Nobels. Light it with teal gels against stark black backgrounds and made it pour with rain. You know I’m right. Give Astérix A Gritty Reboot. [read full column]

COLUMNS This Column is Live

by Nina Ellis

Nine months ago, I barely knew what live-streaming was. But after Cambridge closed in March, my PhD supervisor sent me an article about working remotely, which suggested ‘Study With Me’ YouTube videos. These are livestreams or recordings of people studying, often in libraries: my favourite, by Jamie of The Strive Studies, has over a million views. I played it over and over in the corner of my screen as I prepared for my doctoral registration exams last June, and it almost made me feel like I was in a library too. [read full column]

COLUMNS And That Man’s Name was Adolf Hitler

by John Phipps

You have to do one book on World War 2 a year or they take away your man card. This year mine is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William L. Shirer. I love knowing things about Hitler because you can turn them into innocent sounding anecdotes that end with the campfire twist: ‘and that man’s name was. . . Adolf Hitler’. Everything you learn about him takes on a phantom significance, by mere dint of his having done it. I am thinking of condensing my findings into a small Christmas book called Wow, I Never Knew THAT About Hitler! [read full column]

COLUMNS The Frumptious Bellytots

by Jack Solloway

There’s no such thing as a great band name. There are only those we know and those we don’t. It’s true: algorithmicised playback has made it harder to experience the thrill of discovering new music. That is, until a well-meaning friend – with the word of their mouth – tells you about the Frumptious Bellytots, a band you must listen to, because the Frumptious Bellytots play exactly the kind of music you like. [read full column]

COLUMNS Terror and Detestation

by Minoo Dinshaw

Dominic Cummings, late of Downing Street, has been compared to many ‘evil counsellors’ of kings bygone or imagined. The name of Grima Wormtongue, adviser to Theoden, King of Rohan, ran aflame on Tory benches animated, perhaps, by locked down Lord of the Rings marathons. More learned if not perhaps visually discerning commentators invoked George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, generally spoken of as a lover of James I of England, and an ill-fated chief minister to James’s son, Charles I. It is, however, to a third ‘evil counsellor’ that I think Cummings can be most productively compared — an even more hated, if in many respects more admirable minister to Charles I, Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford. [read full column]

COLUMNS Airplane Mode

by Martin Schauss

The act of flying and the act of reading form a unique couple, for me, for lots of people. ‘Reading in the utopia of airplanes is quite total,’ writes the poet Lisa Robertson. I can’t think of many other situations in which, under no particular pressure to finish, I can read a long book without looking up. Phone off, laptop stowed away, nowhere to go, and, especially if you’ve got an aisle seat, nowhere to look, really. In-flight movies exacerbate, rather than soothe, my airborne anxiety, the rom-coms, the minuscule, low-res quality, the poor sound from faulty headphones, so my screen stays off. [read full column]

COLUMNS The Good Swimmer

by Martha Sprackland

I got in the sea the other day, on a warm October evening in East Sussex, to where I have recently moved. I’d thought I would go swimming the day I arrived, and every day since, but a week, two weeks passed, and I’ve been timid. I’m a good swimmer, and a good sea-swimmer – though no thanks to my childhood on the north-west coast of England, in a village whose beach, though golden, wide and sandy, sloped so imperceptibly, so diffidently, that to achieve swimming depth you had first to walk what felt like several miles in your swimming costume in icy, shin-deep water, like sloshing through a big puddle. [read full column]

COLUMNS Lockdown on the Move

by Nina Ellis

Lockdown is meant to be about staying inside, in one place. The New York Times Style Magazine recently ran an article on Tehching Hsieh’s ‘One Year Performance’, in which he locked himself in a wooden cage in his studio for a year. The London Magazine published a supplement in June about the experience of being ‘cooped up’ during coronavirus. But I missed the memo: since the middle of March, I’ve moved house four times (in a mask, of course) — from Cambridge to join my partner in Pakistan, and then to North Wales, to London, and back to Cambridge. [read full column]

COLUMNS What are Book Prizes For?

by Richard Smyth

In May this year, with the UK chafing under Covid-19 lockdown, the four authors shortlisted for the 2019 Highland Book Prize — led by acclaimed poet and nature writer Kathleen Jamie — volunteered to split the £1,000 prize between them, as a collective, ‘as a celebration of life, literature and community’. It was a nice gesture, if you don’t look too hard at the logic, and the authors’ decision to donate the prize money to the Highland Food Bank anyway placed it safely above reproach. It did, however, raise the question of what book prizes are for. [read full column]

COLUMNS On Villains

by Kwaku Osei-Afrifa

I’m a writer and I often have a villain problem, in that they’re rarely villains to me. I leave it to the reader to decide based on the evidence presented in the work of fiction and their own feelings about the concepts. That nuance is vital to the work lingering in a potential reader, and to me makes the process interesting. Of course, these characters and I aren’t the same. The difference here — beyond millions of sales and pounds in Rowling’s corner — is you can trace her characters’ reprehensible behaviour back to her own. [read full column]