In 1981, Rebecca Solnit rented a studio apartment in San Francisco that would be her home for the next twenty-five years. There, she began to come to terms with the epidemic of violence against women around her, the street harassment that unsettled her, and the authority figures that routinely disbelieved her. That violence weighed on her as she faced the task of having a voice in a society that preferred women to shut up or go away. Set in the era of punk, of growing gay pride, of counter culture & West Coast activism, during the latter years of second wave feminism, Recollections of My Non-Existence is the foundational story of an emerging artist struggling against patriarchal violence & scorn.

Recalling the experience of living with fear, which Solnit contends is the normal state of women, she considers how oppression … More

Edna O’Brien depicts James Joyce as a man hammered by Church, State and family, yet from such adversities he wrote works ‘to bestir the hearts of men and angels’. The journey begins with Joyce the arrogant youth, his lofty courtship of Nora Barnacle, their hectic sexuality, children, wanderings, debt and profligacy, and Joyce’s obsession with the city of Dublin, which he would re-render through his words.

Nor does Edna O’Brien spare us the anger and isolation of Joyce’s later years, when he felt that the world … More

More than eight decades after his death, the works of Franz Kafka continue to intrigue and haunt us. Even for those with only a fleeting acquaintance with his unfinished novels, or his stories, diaries and letters, ‘Kafkaesque’ has become a byword for the menacing, unfathomable absurdity of modern existence. Yet for all the universal significance of his fiction, Kafka’s writing remains inextricably bound up with his life and work in the Czech capital Prague, where he spent every one of his 40 years.

Klaus Wagenbach’s biography provides a meticulously researched insight into the author’s family background, his education and employment, his attitude to … More

“Loners are the opposition. Pensive, thoughtful & furious, marooned with stories that need to be spoken out loud and no one to listen, curries to be cooked & no one to taste, days & days of traffic signals to be manoeuvred & no one to congratulate except other loners: they find each other because like all good maps there are familiar signs that lead the way. The loner who both observes & creates worlds necessarily speaks with many tongues. It is with these tongues that she explores the contours of the centre & the margins, the signs for somewhere & elsewhere & here & now.”

Like her namesake Jack Kerouac, J.K. is always on the road, travelling Europe with her typewriter in a pillowcase. From … More

Born OTD in 1926, American poet, philosopher and writer, Allen Ginsberg. He is considered to be one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation during the 1950s and the counterculture that soon followed. Ginsberg is best known for his poem “Howl”, in which he denounced what he saw as the destructive forces of capitalism and conformity in the United States. In 1956, “Howl” was seized by San Francisco police and US Customs. In 1957, it attracted widespread publicity when it became the subject of an obscenity trial, as it described heterosexual and homosexual sex at a time when sodomy laws made homosexual acts a crime in every U.S. state.

Visionary poet Allen Ginsberg was one of the most influential cultural and literary figures of the 20th century, his face … More

Born OTD in 1955, Irish novelist, short story writer, essayist, playwright, journalist, critic and poet, Colm Tóibín. In Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know Colm Toibin turns his incisive gaze to three of Ireland’s greatest writers, Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats and James Joyce, and their earliest influences: their fathers. From Wilde’s doctor father, a brilliant statistician and amateur archaeologist, who was taken to court by an obsessed lover in a strange premonition of what would happen to his son; to Yeats’ father, an impoverished artist and brilliant letter-writer who could never finish apainting; to John Stanislus Joyce, a singer, drinker and story-teller, a man unwilling to provide for his large family, whom his son James memorialised in his work.

Colm Toibin illuminates not only the complex relationships between three of the greatest writers in the English language and their … More

The one & only Zadie Smith, prize-winning, bestselling author of Swing Time & White Teeth, is back with a second unmissable collection of essays. No subject is too fringe or too mainstream for the unstoppable Zadie Smith. From social media to the environment, from Jay-Z to Karl Ove Knausgaard, she has boundless curiosity & the boundless wit to match. In Feel Free, pop culture, high culture, social change & political debate all get the Zadie Smith treatment, dissected with razor-sharp intellect, set brilliantly against the context of the utterly contemporary, & considered with a deep humanity & compassion.

Out now in paperback. This electrifying new collection showcases its author as a true literary powerhouse, demonstrating once again her … More

Working-class stories are not always tales of the underprivileged & dispossessed. Common People is a collection of essays, poems & memoir written in celebration, not apology: these are narratives rich in barbed humour, reflecting the depth & texture of working-class life, the joy & sorrow, the solidarity & the differences, the everyday wisdom & poetry of the woman at the bus stop, the waiter, the hairdresser. Here, Kit de Waal brings together 33 established & emerging writers who invite you to experience the world through their eyes, their voices loud & clear as they reclaim & redefine what it means to be working class.

Features original pieces from Damian Barr, Malorie Blackman, Lisa Blower, Jill Dawson, Louise Doughty, Stuart Maconie, Chris McCrudden, Lisa McInerney, … More

First published OTD in 1914, The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists is a semi-biographical novel by the Irish writer Robert Tressell, published after his death from tuberculosis in 1911, about a house painter’s efforts to find work in the fictional English town of Mugsborough (based on the coastal town of Hastings) to stave off the workhouse for himself and his daughter. An explicitly political work, it is widely regarded as a classic of working-class literature.

‘The present system means joyless drudgery, semi-starvation, rags and premature death; and they vote for it and uphold it. Let … More

The Emigrants is divided into four sections, each one documenting the life of a man no longer living in the country of his birth, men who in the twilight of their lives can find no peace with the past, no happiness in the present. While the book is categorized as fiction, each story reads like a personal narrative, an intimate encounter between the narrator and his subjects.

To enhance the illusion that these stories are true, Sebald had embedded black and white photos throughout the narrative. This … More