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Aida Edemariam wins Ondaatje Prize for ‘The Wife’s Tale’

The £10,000 Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”, was awarded last night to Aida Edemariam for The Wife’s Tale (4th Estate).

García Márquez: born to be a journalist but not to fly

Gabriel García Márquez  once said: “I do not want to be remembered for One Hundred Years of Solitude, nor for the Nobel Prize, but for the newspapers.” A new collection of his journalism, Dwight Garner writes in The New York Times, shows how seriously the novelist took reportage — and how scary he found flying.

Airplanes figure often in García Márquez’s journalism. He hated to fly. About air travel after he became famous, he wrote: “I always fly so frightened that I don’t even notice how anyone treats me, and all my energy goes into gripping my seat with my hands to hold it up in order to help the plane stay up in the air, or trying to keep children from running in the aisles for fear they’ll break through the floor.”

‘Robinson Crusoe’ at 300

Three hundred years ago today, Daniel Defoe published Robinson Crusoe. Or, rather, a book that purported to be written by Crusoe. The actual title of the first edition was: 

The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates. Written by Himself.

  Charles Boyle, marking the anniversary for The Guardian, argues that “Defoe infantilised [Crusoe]. Crusoe in turn can infantilise his readers.” Chris Moss, who travelled to Robinson Crusoe Island, off the coast of Chile, for Telegraph Travel, disagrees; in his view, the book “has a timeless power and the virtues it celebrates are universal”.

Weymouth and Stagg on long list for RSL Ondaatje Prize

I’m delighted to see that the long list for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, announced today, includes two of my favourite books from 2018, both of them impressive debuts: Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth and The Crossway by Guy Stagg. The short list will be announced at the “Spirit of a Place” event at the British Library in London on April 16; the winner will be named on May 13. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to reading more from what looks like a fascinating long list.

  The 20 books long-listed are:

No Turning Back by Rania Abouzeid (Oneworld)
Perfidious Albion by Sam Byers (Faber & Faber)
Little by Edward Carey (Aardvark Bureau)
Middle England by Jonathan Coe (Viking)
The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam (4th Estate)
Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
Where the road runs out
by Gaia Holmes (Comma Poetry)
The Café de Move-on Blues by Christopher Hope (Atlantic Books)
A Stranger’s Pose by Emmanuel Iduma (Cassava Republic)
Mary Ann Sate, Imbecile by Alice Jolly (Unbound)
Arkady by Patrick Langley (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
A Line in the River by Jamal Mahjoub (Bloomsbury)
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Granta)
Let Me Be Like Water by SK Perry (Melville House UK)
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan (Doubleday)
The Dictionary of Animal Languages by Heidi Sopinka (Scribe UK)
The Crossway by Guy Stagg (Picador)
The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack (Canongate)
Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador)
Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth (Particular Books).

RSL Ondaatje Prize long list due this week

A long list of contenders for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, an award of £10,000 for a work “evoking the spirit of a place”, is due to be published later this week. The long list is one of several enhancements being made for 2019, the 15th year of the prize. Another is a session next month in which former winners will speak about “the challenges and delights” of summoning a place.

RSL Ondaatje winners to summon ‘spirit of place’

At the British Library in London next month (April 16), four former winners of the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize will speak on “the challenges and delights” of evoking the spirit of a place. Non-members of the RSL may now book through the British Library website.

Macfarlane on Lopez’s ‘Horizon’

In The Guardian, Robert Macfarlane, who has said that reading Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams at 21 made him decide to become a writer, reviews Lopez’s Horizon (Bodley Head) — “a deeply wounded book about ‘the throttled Earth’.”

Can we love the wild enough to… stay at home?

I now have another book to add to an already-tottering must-read pile after seeing an interview with Amy Irvine in Orion magazine. Irvine’s third book, Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness, is a conversation with the ghost of Edward Abbey — conducted 50 years after Abbey’s Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness was published. During the interview she tells Nick Triolo: 

Fidelity is the backbone of marriage, and in our conjunction with a place, we must act in ways that endure. This means reducing our carbon contributions—every single one of us in a radical way. What if we each took a vow of environmental chastity? Could we be faithful enough to turn down the weekend fling with the wild—to put the survival of a place above satisfying our pleasures? Can we love it enough to…gulp…stay home?

There was an extract (which you can read online) from Desert Cabal in the Winter 2018 issue of Orion

From Utopia to Westeros

The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands, edited by Huw Lewis-Jones (Thames & Hudson), was winner in the illustrated-book category in last week’s Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. Oscar Wilde declared that “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at.” Lewis-Jones’s beautifully produced compendium takes in everything from Utopia, charted for Thomas More’s satire of 1516, to Westeros, a continent in that swords-and-sorcery series Game of Thrones. It shows how writers of the past created worlds that have inspired writers of the present, from Joanne Harris to Robert Macfarlane (whose contribution you can read on the Thames & Hudson website). 

  Lewis-Jones, with Kari Herbert, also edited Explorers’ Sketchbooks (2016), a marvellous register of first impressions of the world’s wonders.

Frostrup, Fiennes and Rajesh on Bath Festival bill

The programme was announced this week for the Bath Festival (May 17-26). Contributors include…

Mariella Frostrup, whose latest book, Wild Women, is an anthology of women’s travel writing through the ages;
Monisha Rajesh, author of Around the World in 80 Trains;
Ranulph Fiennes, the explorer, who with Hilary Bradt, founder of Bradt Guides, and Jonathan Lorie, author of The Travel Writer’s Way, will be discussing travel on the road and on the page;
Neil Oliver, archaeologist, writer and broadcaster, whose latest book is The Story of the British Isles in 100 Places;
Raynor Winn, who, having lost her home, walked the 630 miles of the South West Coast Path with her terminally ill husband, a journey recounted in The Salt Path;
and two of the team behind Planet Earth and Blue Planet, Alastair Fothergill, the director, and Keith Scholey, the producer, who will be talking about their new Netflix series Our Planet. Voiced by Sir David Attenborough and due to begin in April, it “showcases the planet’s most precious species and fragile habitats”.