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Nick Richardson: ‘The Bestseller Code’

17 November 2016
... In​ Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller the protagonist encounters two sisters who have different styles of reading. Ludmilla reads for pleasure, unencumbered by academic-literary-critical goggles, delighting in writers who write as ‘a pumpkin plant produces pumpkins’. Lotaria, on the other hand, is an academic who reads books ‘only to find in them what she was already convinced of before reading them ...

Travelling Southwards

Andrew O’Hagan: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

19 July 2012
Fifty Shades of Grey 
by E.L. James.
Arrow, 514 pp., £7.99, April 2012, 978 0 09 957993 9
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... that wasn’t a copy of Jaws was by Jackie Collins, Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, or Danielle Steel. I noted this cultural deficit in my compendium of things to complain about to God but I read The Bitch myself on the way home and remember a very fruity passage in which the heroine, a woman who owned a disco and ...

Masters of Art

John Sutherland

18 December 1980
Loon Lake 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Macmillan, 258 pp., £6.95, October 1980, 0 333 30641 4
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Alice fell 
by Emma Tennant.
Cape, 124 pp., £5.50, November 1980, 0 224 01872 8
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The Covenant 
by James Michener.
Secker, 873 pp., £8.95, November 1980, 0 436 27966 5
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Ancesteral Vices 
by Tom Sharpe.
Secker, 231 pp., £6.50, November 1980, 0 436 45809 8
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... The jacket informs us that Loon Lake is ‘a novel by E.L. Doctorow Author of RAGTIME’. Ragtime must have been a hard act to follow. In its day (1975), it was the most highly paid-for novel ever. Doctorow had well over two million dollars in subsidiary-rights advances and a whole generation of readers were introduced by it to the meaning of the word ‘hype ...
11 January 1990
Oxford History of the United States. Vol. VI: Battle Cry of Freedom, The Civil War Era 
by James McPherson.
Oxford, 904 pp., $35, June 1988, 0 19 503863 0
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Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877 
by Eric Foner.
Harper and Row, 690 pp., $21.95, April 1988, 0 06 015851 4
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... of generations, the Civil War will lose its chronological centrality in American history, and may well come to be regarded, not so much as the great crisis of the very principle and possibility of the Union, but rather as an early difficulty that had to be overcome – one of the Union’s teething troubles. ...
28 September 1989
The Vision of Elena Silves 
by Nicholas Shakespeare.
Collins, 263 pp., £11.95, September 1989, 0 00 271031 5
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Billy Bathgate 
by E.L. Doctorow.
Macmillan, £11.95, September 1989, 0 333 51376 2
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Buffalo Afternoon 
by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer.
Hamish Hamilton, 535 pp., £12.95, August 1989, 0 241 12634 7
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The Message to the Planet 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 563 pp., £13.95, October 1989, 0 7011 3479 8
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... in 1980, after 12 years of military junta, with the installation of civilian rule under President Bealunde Terry. It was a false dawn. Since then, Peru has been afflicted by the hemispheric curses of debt-driven inflation and insurgency. But the violence which is currently destroying Peru is all its own and quite different from narco-terrorism in ...
5 March 2015
The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies 
by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.
Norton, 306 pp., £17.99, January 2014, 978 0 393 23935 5
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Average Is Over: Powering America beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation 
by Tyler Cowen.
Plume, 290 pp., £12.99, September 2014, 978 0 14 218111 9
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... a trillion such calculations per second. Once Red was up and running at full speed, by 1997, it really was a specimen. Its power was such that it could process 1.8 teraflops. That’s 18 followed by 11 zeros. Red continued to be the most powerful supercomputer in the world until about the end of 2000. I was playing on Red only yesterday – I wasn’t r...
6 November 1980
Studies in English Linguistics for Randolph Quirk 
edited by Sidney Greenbaum and Jan Svartvik.
Longman, 304 pp., £18, September 1980, 0 582 55079 3
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... has never had an official body equivalent to the Académic Française or the Italian Accademia della Crusca. And that is no accident. For the Englishman has scant respect for experts, of whatever kind. Telling Englishmen what they ought to do for their own good has been a hazardous enterprise throughout history. But a ...

Vicarious Sages

Michael Mason

3 November 1983
John Forster: A Literary Life 
by James Davies.
Leicester University Press, 318 pp., £25, June 1983, 0 7185 1164 6
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Mr George Eliot: A Biography of George Henry Lewes 
by David Williams.
Hodder, 288 pp., £12.95, June 1983, 0 340 25717 2
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Johnnie Cross 
by Terence de Vere White.
Gollancz, 153 pp., £7.95, September 1983, 0 575 03333 9
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... recognition as contributors in their own right to serious branches of study. Both made an adequate living at first by their prodigious writing efforts, but came to wealth at the end through their marriages, after they had more or less abandoned journalism. They were sociable men, fraternising widely and vigorously with the ...

The Ultimate Novel

William Empson

2 September 1982
Ulysses 
by Hugh Kenner.
Allen and Unwin, 182 pp., £10, March 1982, 0 00 480003 6
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A Starchamber Quiry: A James Joyce Centennial Volume 1882-1982 
edited by E.L. Epstein.
Methuen, 164 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 416 31560 7
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... is at once a rather quaint obstacle. Most readers of Ulysses do not believe in omens, but Joyce eagerly did; in this he is genuinely like Homer. Four of the characters receive omens, and Joyce would regard these as an assurance that some great event would occur. Stephen on the previous night had a disturbing dream which he increasingly recalls; and the absurd ...

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