Uncategorised Archive

Under siege in Ukraine

The latest book from the Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov (best known for his post-Soviet satire Death and the Penguin) is a version of the diary he has been writing since Russian tanks rolled into his country last February: Diary of an Invasion (Mountain Leopard, £16.99). In The Observer last weekend, which published extractsKurkov was interviewed by Rachel Cooke. His book, she says, brings the early days of the war vividly to life:

He writes stirringly of the notes people begin leaving in their cars offering lifts to the border; of his sudden longing for the comforting sweetness of honey; of the cigarettes required to bribe Russian soldiers at checkpoints in the east. Here are the kind of stories you don’t see on the television news: a description of the evacuation of dolphins trained to work with autistic children from Kharkiv to Odesa; of the doll talismans (known as oberig or “protectors”) that Ukrainians knit and transport to the front along with warm socks; of the rise of the TikTok star Tetyana Chubar, a tiny, blond, 23-year-old divorced mother of two, who is the commander of a self-propelled howitzer.

Annie Proulx on our unloved wetlands

Fen, Bog and Swamp (Fourth Estate, £16.99), in which the novelist Annie Proulx (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain) lays bare the reality of wetland destruction and what it means for the planet, is currently Book of the Week on Radio 4. It was reviewed in The Observer on Sunday and in the Literary Review earlier this month. Proulx covered the subject of wetlands recently for The New Yorker and, I see, is due to speak to one of the magazine’s staff writers, Sarah Stillman, in a session next month at New York Public Library.

Wainwright winners; Boardman Tasker short list

The winners of the three categories in the Wainwright Prize were announced on Wednesday: James Aldred for Goshawk Summer (nature writing); Dan Saladino for Eating to Extinction (writing on conservation); and Rob and Tom Sears for The Biggest Footprint (children’s writing on nature and conservation).

The short list was announced yesterday for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature.  The six titles on it are: Climbing the Walls by Kieran Cunningham (Simon & Schuster); Time on Rock by Anna Fleming (Canongate); High Risk by Brian Hall (Sandstone Press); Through Dangerous Doors by Robert Charles Lee (WiDo Publishing); A Line Above the Sky by Helen Mort (Ebury Press); and The Mountain Path by Paul Pritchard (Vertebrate Publishing). The winner will be announced  at the Kendal Mountain Festival, in Cumbria, on November 18.

Grand Tour to package

In Tourists: How The British Went Abroad to Find Themselves (Bloomsbury), Lucy Lethbridge tells the story of the opening up of travel from Britain, taking readers from the last years of the Grand Tour to the first years of the package holiday. Early reviews have come from Guy Stagg in The Spectator, Gillian Tindall in the Literary Review and (behind the paywall) Caroline Eden in the Financial Times.

Sara Wheeler to write Jan Morris biography

Faber, which published many of the books of Jan Morris, has bought a biography of her by her fellow travel writer Sara Wheeler, The Bookseller reported yesterday. Laura Hassan, associate publisher at the company, said Wheeler’s proposal promised “a spirited, truly compelling” book and that the project was “the perfect marriage of subject and writer”.

Morris died in 2020, at 94. A collection of essays, Allegorizings, looking back over key moments of her life, appeared, as she had wished, the following year. Wheeler’s biography is scheduled for publication in 2026, to tie in with the centenary of Morris’s birth, when Faber will be organising events to celebrate her legacy.

On Lopez, and Paris and Stockholm

Work on another project has left me little time to update Deskbound Traveller lately, and there’s been plenty to catch up on. The latest “books update” email from The New York Times at the weekend included a link to Ben Ehrenreich’s review (which I missed when it was published last month) of a posthumous essay collection from Barry Lopez, Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World (Random House). If the essays “have a unifying theme and express a single mandate,” Ehrenreich writes, “they are about the redemptive importance of paying attention to the planet and to the other beings with which we share it. Attentiveness works as an antidote not only to distractedness but to the fatal unseriousness of modern life.”

In a new series, The New York Times has asked some of its favourite writers to suggest what visitors to their cities should read and what literary landmarks they should head for. The opening piece, from the novelist Leila Slimani, was on Paris; the second, from the husband-and-wife team who write crime fiction under the pen name Lars Kepler, was on Stockholm.

Chatwin and Greene revisited

Considerations of the lives and work of two great literary travellers, which first appeared in June 1989, were among pieces released this week from the archive of the Literary Review. Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here is reviewed by Hilary Mantel, who says its author is “one of the practitioners who have enlarged, liberated and dignified the notion of travel writing”. The first volume of Norman Sherry’s “long” and “plodding” biography of Graham Greene, The Life — Graham Greene: Volume One – 1904-1939, is assessed by Paul Theroux, who reckons that Greene’s decision in 1935 to walk through the hinterland of Liberia was “crucial” to his development as a writer.

On the North, and on the river

A quick mention of a couple of new books on place and travel that have appeared recently in the US: Extreme North: A Cultural History by Bernd Brunner (W W Norton & Company), which Liesl Schillinger, in The New York Times, describes as “an idiosyncratic inquiry into the power of the north in the popular imagination” (I’m reminded of Peter Davidson’s The Idea of North); and Riverman by Ben McGrath (Alfred A Knopf),  which was inspired by the disappearance of a canoeist, Dick Conant, and is, according to Gregory Cowles, also in The NY Times, “a portrait of forgotten American byways and the eccentric characters who populate them, a cursory history of river travel in America and, not least, an effort to solve the riddle of Conant himself — not only his whereabouts but also his elusive and irresistible nature”.

‘A treasure chest’ on France

When I compiled my roundup of books on travel and place coming out this year, I hadn’t heard of the latest from that cycling historian Graham Robb. France: An Adventure History won’t officially be published until March 17 (Picador, £25), but it was reviewed yesterday in The Sunday Times by David Sexton, who said it was “packed full of discoveries: a treasure chest to be opened with relish by all who love France”.

New travel/literature podcast

A new podcast that promises to combine travel and literature, The Wandering Book Collector, is due to be launched today by the writer and broadcaster Michelle Jana Chan (see my earlier post on her novel, Song). She is planning to have conversations with writers “around themes of movement, memory, borders, longing and belonging, and home”. Her first guest is the journalist and author Janine di Giovanni, best known for her reporting of war and the politics of conflict; the second, on December 29, will be Bernardine Evaristo, winner of the Booker Prize in 2019 for her novel Girl, Woman, Other and the first black woman and black British person to receive the award in its 50-year history.