“After two years of careful reading, moving backwards through time, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books. Take a quick look at five centuries of great writing.” — The Guardian

Includes: Former President of the United States, Barack ObamaBetty FriedanEdward SaidGeorge OrwellJames BaldwinJoan DidionMichael HerrNaomi KleinOliver SacksSusan SontagVirginia Woolf, and many more.

Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton
Bright morning. Watching American news broadcasts. Currently reading Thomas Merton‘s journals, and was reminded that he entered the monastic order during the Second World War (c. 1941).

Attended a fascinating talk by Professor Chris Weedon yesterday evening at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University. The talk was entitled ‘The Cultural Politics of Memory: the Case of GDR’, and explored what often gets forgotten in accounts of the German Democratic Republic.

In an insightful piece for The New Yorker, Jia Tolentino revisits Ivanka Trump‘s 2009 self-help book The Trump Card. Tolentino observes: ‘Ivanka’s aesthetic differences from her father are often parsed as political differences, and she has made the most of such misperceptions.’

Michiko Kakutani has listed George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four as a must-read for 2017.

As director of Faber & Faber, T.S. Eliot rejected George Orwell’s now-classic Animal Farm explaining “we have no conviction … that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation.” Source: Harriet: The Blog.

Edward Docx (The Guardian) reviews the controversial new novel by Dave Eggers

DaveEggers-the-circle-illustration.jpgIn a recent essay published in these pages, Jonathan Franzen inveighed against what he sees as the glibness and superficiality of the new online culture. “With technoconsumerism,” he wrote, “a humanist rhetoric of ’empowerment’ and ‘creativity’ and ‘freedom’ and ‘connection’ and ‘democracy’ abets the frank monopolism of the techno-titans; the new infernal machine seems increasingly to obey nothing but its own developmental logic, and it’s far more enslavingly addictive, and far more pandering to people’s worst impulses, than newspapers ever were.”

I cite this because it chimes with the points that Dave Eggers is making in his latest novel, The Circle; we are at an interesting moment when two such significant figures of American letters have both independently been so moved to expound on the same subject. But my guess is that Eggers won’t suffer the same online crucifixion that has subsequently been Franzen’s fate. Why? Because although Eggers is saying all the same things as Franzen (and so much more), he makes his case not through the often tetchy medium of the essay, but in the glorious, ever resilient and ever engaging form of the novel.

The Circle is a deft modern synthesis of Swiftian wit with Orwellian prognostication. That is not to say the writing is without formal weaknesses – Eggers misses notes like an enthusiastic jazz pianist, whereas Franzen is all conservatoire meticulousness – but rather to suggest that The Circle is a work so germane to our times that it may well come to be considered as the most on-the-money satirical commentary on the early internet age. [Read More]

‘A Nice Cup of Tea,’ originally published in the Evening Standard on 12 January 1946 (Source)

Jim Clarke (The Guardian) on the cultural proliferation of new vocabularies of expression.

George Orwell’s war diaries, spanning 1938-1942, are freely available to read online. Open Culture has the details.

In 1949, George Orwell received a curious letter from his former high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley. Open Culture has more.

An interview with Trisha Gupta for Caravan Magazine
abc2b-margaret-atwood-100-years
Margaret Atwood

[Margaret Atwood:] So I went to Harvard and became a nineteenth century specialist. You get to read a lot of utopias. They thought everything was going to get better and better. We didn’t get dystopias until the twentieth century.

That’s fascinating. Does that connect to what you said recently, that now isn’t the time for realistic fiction?

What I said was, it’s hard to write really realistic fiction, unless you pretend that nobody watches TV, or is on the internet. To make it plausible, people would have phones. Things get arranged differently. It’s not as easy as it was when reality was more static. Think of Dave Eggers’ 2013 novel, The Circle—is it predictive, or is it of the moment in which he wrote it? It has to be the latter, because there isn’t any “the future.” There’s an infinite number of possible futures, and we don’t know which one we’re going to get. So I say, write plausible fiction. The reader has to believe it. (more…)