LRB Book Collections

LRB Collections numbers 1 to 7

Rediscover classic pieces, recurring themes, and the dash the London Review of Books has cut through the history of ideas, for the past 40 years, with LRB Collections: a new series of little books exclusively available at the London Review Bookshop and from our online store.

1. Royal Bodies: Writing about the Windsors

‘I used to think the interesting question was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not?’ – Hilary Mantel

‘People sometimes ask me why I moan on so much about the royal family,’ Glen Newey wrote on the LRB blog in 2013. ‘Aren’t there more important things to worry about, like war, political repression, man-made climate change or Arsenal’s exit from the Champions League? To give the short answer, yes. But in a funny way, no.’ As the pieces in this selection make clear, the LRB hasn’t taken a clear editorial stance on the monarchy over the last forty years. A subscriber showed up at our office almost speechless with rage when we published the Newey essay included here, ‘About as Useful as a String Condom’. Did we realise that his wife read the paper? This book is not for him. Other unhappy readers feel that we have the opposite problem: not a lack of deference to the Windsors, but a surfeit of it. This book is not for them, either.

Featuring: Jenny Diski, William Empson, Paul Foot, Thomas Jones, Hilary Mantel, Ferdinand Mount, Caroline Murphy, Tom Nairn, Glen Newey and Bee Wilson.

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2. Foodists: Writing about eating

‘If, as Lévi-Strauss once opined, “to eat is to fuck,” then that coconut kirsch roulade is just asking for it.’ – Angela Carter

‘Food, like sex, is mostly in the head,’ writes John Bayley in the piece which gives this anthology its title. Sure enough, in the LRB’s pages, food has often been a medium to think about other things: about history, literature, art, cultural criticism, philosophy and – in the second half of the paper’s lifetime – more political concerns, too, such as agro-industry, ecology and inequality. This changing emphasis is salutary, but these essays also serve to remind us that food is fun, and that nothing about it is ever completely new. As his 1980 piece about vegetables makes clear, E.S. Turner, a contributor born when Edward VII was king, knew that avocados were a ‘cliché’, and that is was hard work pretending to like kale.

Featuring: John Bayley, Joanna Biggs, Angela Carter, John Lanchester, James Meek, Emma Rothschild, Steven Shapin, Adam Smyth, E.S. Turner, Margaret Visser, Bee Wilson and Francis Wyndham.

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3. The Flood: Writing about rising seas

‘Soon it will be everywhere, overheard conversations with no human source. Soon we will all think it. And then it will happen.’ – Iain Sinclair

The world has always been ending. From The Epic of Gilgamesh to the dire warnings of the latest IPCC report, the prospect of our annihilation has always been with us, and the warning signs are often written in water. The ocean has always reminded us of unfathomable deeps and forces beyond our control, but in the past few decades, the prospect of apocalypse has taken a strange new turn. Myth has collided with science and left us reeling. In the forty-year span since the LRB was founded, we have lost half of the ocean’s vertebrates. Fisheries will fail. Coral reefs will disappear. Huge swaths of ocean will become ‘dead zones’. This is not doomsday ranting; this future has arrived. How are we to think about all this? What are we to do? The pieces collected in The Flood sketch a chronology of our dawning awareness of this ongoing catastrophe.

Featuring: Meehan Crist, James Davidson, Frank Kermode, James Meek, Patrick O’Brian, Iain Sinclair, Rebecca Solnit, Theo Tait, Margaret Visser, Marina Warner and Emily Witt.

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4. Four in a Bed: Writing about sex

‘Ten, no, five seconds
after coming all
over the place
too soon

I was lying there
where to put the
line-breaks in.’

– Hugo Williams

The articles in this book deal with a range of topics within the general subject of sexuality in the cultures of England, America and Europe, including divorce, bisexuality, boy toys, masturbation, impotence, bodice-rippers and involuntary celibates (incels), as well as the erections of Christ and the erotic fantasies of the French surrealists. Some of the authors pretend to apologise for being unable to resist the temptation to joke about sex, but the truth is it really can be very funny. Of course, the other face of the comedy of sex is the tragedy of sex. But perhaps, as Wendy Doniger writes in her introduction, the pieces collected here will strike a blow for more humour – and more humanism – in our thinking about these subjects, and the spaces in between.

Featuring: Mary Beard, Jenny Diski, Wendy Doniger, Frank Kermode, Andrew O’Hagan, Adam Phillips, Amia Srinivasan, David Sylvester, Barbara Taylor, Hugo Williams and Mary-Kay Wilmers.

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Coming soon: Writing about China, fashion, witches, music.


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