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Sheer Enthusiasm

Thomas Chatterton Williams: Zadie Smith, 30 August 2018

Feel Free: Essays 
by Zadie Smith.
Hamish Hamilton, 464 pp., £20, February 2018, 978 0 241 14689 7
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... Several​ of the last century’s finest non-fiction writers – Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, James Baldwin – longed to be novelists. In interviews with the Paris Review, each touched on the tension and insecurity involved in their dual métier. Sontag wrote in surprisingly aspirational tones of ‘the novelist [I’d] finally given myself permission to be ...

Of the Mule Breed

David Bromwich: Robert Southey, 21 May 1998

Robert Southey: A Life 
by Mark Storey.
Oxford, 405 pp., £25, April 1997, 0 19 811246 7
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... a morbid appeal in the eclipse of a career that spun out Thalaba, The Curse of Kehama, Roderick, Joan of Arc, and the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Adepts of cultural studies have found Southey the most open-minded of the Romantics, but the truth is that he was the most serviceable. He cast his eye in every direction, in book-making as in ...

The Atmosphere of the Clyde

Jean McNicol: Red Clydeside, 2 January 2020

When the Clyde Ran Red: A Social History of Red Clydeside 
by Maggie Craig.
Birlinn, 313 pp., £9.99, March 2018, 978 1 78027 506 2
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Glasgow 1919: The Rise of Red Clydeside 
by Kenny MacAskill.
Biteback, 310 pp., £20, January 2019, 978 1 78590 454 7
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John Maclean: Hero of Red Clydeside 
by Henry Bell.
Pluto, 242 pp., £14.99, October 2018, 978 0 7453 3838 5
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... however, there was ‘no clear demarcation between “revolutionary” and “reformist”’, as Joan Smith points out in The ILP on Clydeside, 1893-1932, and, in Glasgow at least, the ILP and BSP ‘shared similar policies and held joint demonstrations’ and were involved in both political and industrial activism (nationally, the SDF/BSP was much less ...

Seeing Stars

Alan Bennett: Film actors, 3 January 2002

... just as I’m sure we’d seen him in the cinema when he was the Gestapo chief in Pimpernel Smith and, if it was in the late 1940s we would have seen him as Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist and Jaggers in Great Expectations. It was Francis L. Sullivan, whose huge bulk must have been gracing the stage of the Grand that week, though we did not know it, thinking ...

Like Colonel Sanders

Christopher Tayler: The Stan Lee Era, 2 December 2021

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee 
by Abraham Riesman.
Bantam, 320 pp., £20, February, 978 0 593 13571 6
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Stan Lee: A Life in Comics 
by Liel Leibovitz.
Yale, 192 pp., £16.99, June 2020, 978 0 300 23034 5
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... of the 1950s, and Lee began to cast about for a more elevated job. By this time he had married Joan Boocock, a hat model from Newcastle who had come to the US with her first husband before meeting Lee and getting a quick annulment. They lived out on Long Island, where Lee presented himself as a dapper Manhattan publishing executive, keeping quiet about ...

Ways to Be Pretentious

Ian Penman, 5 May 2016

M Train 
by Patti Smith.
Bloomsbury, 253 pp., £18.99, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6768 6
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Collected Lyrics 1970-2015 
by Patti Smith.
Bloomsbury, 303 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6300 8
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... to remember punk but a neo-hippy these days – recently mentioned she’d been to see Patti Smith, who was touring her 1975 album, Horses, for its 40th anniversary. ‘Patti, yeah! Went to see her at the Roundhouse. Paid £30, which I didn’t think was too bad … Didn’t stay that long, though’ – snip, snip – ‘Went up the front and had a ...

Putting down

Emma Rothschild, 4 June 1981

The Zero-Sum Society 
by Lester Thurow.
Harper and Row, 230 pp., £7.95, February 1981, 0 465 09384 1
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... theorist of economic recovery seems to be the early 19th-century French populariser of Adam Smith known to Marx as ‘the inane Jean-Baptiste Say … [who] refutes himself again’. The most successful recent guide to the economy – a work called Wealth and Poverty, described by the Republican Director of the Office of Management and Budget as ...


Randolph Quirk, 25 October 1979

Collins Dictionary of the English Language 
by P. Hanks, T.H. Long and L. Urdang.
Collins, 1690 pp., £7.95
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... similar check? Obviously not: yet on what principle shall we include Margaret Thatcher and Bessie Smith (both in Collins) and exclude some John Smith who had to be rescued after a fall in Snowdonia? The answer is, of course, common sense – and on the whole there seems to have been a good supply in Aylesbury (largely, one ...


John Bayley, 23 May 1991

The Oxford Book of Friendship 
edited by D.J. Enright and David Rawlinson.
Oxford, 360 pp., £15, April 1991, 0 19 214190 2
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... unself-consciously and unsentimentally. There can seem to be no problem. In ‘Poem Read at Joan Mitchell’s’ Frank O’Hara writes that The poem goes on too long because our friendship has been long. In the context of poetry and longevity friendship seems to take a quite natural place at the civilised table. Mention of ‘friendship’, that ...


A.J.P. Taylor: An Unexpected Experience, 6 December 1984

... the Society. Not long ago I received the present of a book called The English Companion by Godfrey Smith.* This is described on the dust-cover as ‘An Idiosyncratic A to Z of England and Englishness’. Godfrey Smith’s taste is wide: towns, shops, sports, epochs, writers, eatables. Public Schools come next to Pubs, and ...

The Last Column

Hal Foster: Remnants of 9/11, 8 September 2011

... appear almost artistic. Intentionally or not, sculptors who worked in welded steel, such as David Smith and Anthony Caro, rendered industrial production aesthetic, while others like John Chamberlain and Arman artified its debris: some of the trashed cars and smashed commodities at Hangar 17 recall the work of the latter pair. There is a further ambiguity of ...

A Pound a Glimpse

Daniel Smith: Epilepsy, 16 November 2017

A Smell of Burning: The Story of Epilepsy 
by Colin Grant.
Cape, 242 pp., £16.99, August 2016, 978 0 224 10182 0
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The End of Epilepsy? A History of the Modern Era of Epilepsy, 1860-2010 
by Dieter Schmidt and Simon Shorvon.
Oxford, 208 pp., £39.99, September 2016, 978 0 19 872590 9
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... He parades a long line of geniuses, trailblazers and heroes – some of whom, like St Paul, Joan of Arc and Van Gogh, may or may not have had epilepsy, and some of whom, like Julius Caesar, Dostoevsky and Harriet Tubman, almost certainly did. He also keeps vigil over his brother, determined ‘to discover what it was that marked him with ...

Short Cuts

Tom Crewe: The Independent Group, 7 March 2019

... names – we don’t think of them at all. What is an Ann Coffey? A Mike Gapes? An Angela Smith? What is a Joan Ryan? Every once in a while we are forced to grapple with questions like these. We are forever asking for our MPs to be human; but when we are confronted by their humanity, their spiky, quirky, sulky ...

Silly Buggers

James Fox, 7 March 1991

The Theatre of Embarrassment 
by Francis Wyndham.
Chatto, 205 pp., £15, February 1991, 0 7011 3726 6
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... photographers – seemed to want to write for the Magazine, then under the editorship of Godfrey Smith. It was both a serious and a very glamorous publication, soon to be the apogee of photo-journalism; its style was a vital part of the machinery of ‘the Sixties’ – all hard to imagine now. The newspaper itself was perhaps the best in the world, well ...


John Lanchester, 21 October 1993

United States 
by Gore Vidal.
Deutsch, 1298 pp., £25, October 1993, 0 233 98832 7
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What Henry James Knew, and Other Essays on Writers 
by Cynthia Ozick.
Cape, 363 pp., £12.99, June 1993, 0 224 03329 8
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Sentimental Journeys 
by Joan Didion.
HarperCollins, 319 pp., £15, January 1993, 0 00 255146 2
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... There is a long list of enthusiasms: for William Howells and Ulysses S. Grant, for Logan Pearsall Smith, Frederick Prokosch, Edith Wharton, Leonardo Sciascia, Thomas Love Peacock and Henry Miller: ‘If he often sounded like the village idiot, that was because, like Whitman, he was the rest of the village as well.’ But alongside the blessings, kicks and ...

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