Born OTD in 1939, Canadian poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist, inventor, teacher, and environmental activist, Margaret Atwood. Can we ever be wholly free? In this book of breathtaking imaginary leaps that conjure dystopias and magical islands, Margaret Atwood holds a mirror up to our own world. The reflection we are faced with, of men and women in prisons literal and metaphorical, is frightening, but it is also a call to arms to speak and to act to preserve our freedom while we still can. And in that, there is hope.

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Born OTD in 1922, American writer publishing fourteen novels, three short story collections, five plays, and five works of non-fiction, with further collections being published after his death, Kurt Vonnegut. Prisoner of war, optometrist, time-traveller – these are the life roles of Billy Pilgrim, hero of this miraculously moving, bitter and funny story of innocence faced with apocalypse. Slaughterhouse 5 is one of the world’s great anti-war books.

Centring on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden in the Second World War, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the journey … More

Before I left the valley I thought everywhere was like this. Then I went away for 40 years and when I came back I realized that nowhere was like this. ‘Laurie Lee walked out of his childhood village one summer morning to travel the world, but he was always drawn back to his beloved Slad Valley, eventually returning to make it his home. In this portrait of his Cotswold home, Laurie Lee guides us through its landscapes, and shares memories of his village youth – from his favourite pub, The Woolpack, to winter skating on the pond, the church through the seasons, local legends, learning the violin and playing jazz records in the privy on a wind-up gramophone.

A moving, never-before-published portrait of the landscape that shaped the life of Laurie Lee, the beloved author of Cider With … More

Born OTD in 1959, author, broadcaster and a professor of creative writing, Jeanette Winterson. ‘Written On The Body’ is the most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman.

Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights: the accumulation of a lifetime gather there. … More

Born OTD in 1890, mid-20th-century novelist who was born and grew up in the Caribbean island of Dominica, Jean Rhys. Good Morning, Midnight is experimental in design and deals with a woman’s feelings of vulnerability, depression, loneliness and desperation during the years between the two World Wars. The book initially sold poorly—critics thought it well written, but too depressing—and after its publication Rhys spent a decade living in obscurity. It was not until it was adapted by Selma Vaz Dias into a radio play, first broadcast by the BBC in 1957, that Rhys was once again put into the spotlight.

Saved, rescued, fished-up, half-drowned, out of the deep, dark river, dry clothes, hair shampooed and set… Set in a 1930s … More

Born OTD in 1909, black American writer, Chester Himes. Himes wrote about African Americans in general, especially in two books that are concerned with labor relations and African-American workplace issues. ‘If He Hollers Let Him Go’ – which contains many autobiographical elements – is about a black shipyard worker in Los Angeles during World War II struggling against racism, as well as his own violent reactions to racism.

Robert Jones is a crew leader in a naval shipyard in Los Angeles in the 1940s. He should have a … More

Born OTD in 1856, Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist, Bernard Shaw. Andrew Undershaft, a millionaire armaments manufacturer, loves money and despises poverty. His estranged daughter Barbara, on the other hand, shows her love for the poor by throwing her energies into her work as a Major in the Salvation Army, and sees her father as another soul to be saved. But when the Army needs funds to keep going, it is Undershaft who saves the day with a large cheque – forcing Barbara to examine her moral assumptions.

Are they right to accept money that has been obtained by ‘Death and Destruction’? Full of lively comedy and sparkling … More

Happy Birthday to local Young Adult writer and screenwriter, Catherine Johnson. A forensic crime thriller set in Revolutionary Paris. Young surgeon Ezra McAdam must hasten to Paris to rescue his friend Loveday Finch and her charge Mahmoud, the Ottoman prince, who have been caught up in the Revolution. On the way, Ezra experiences the war first hand on the battlefields of Northern France, where his surgical skills are in high demand by the beleaguered French army. Meanwhile, in Paris, the guillotine is busy, and the medical world is finding the surfeit of bodies useful to its research into the seat of life.

Ezra is not persuaded by the controversial theories of his French colleagues, but his mind is on other matters. Finding … More

Born OTD in 1759, English writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights, Mary Wollstonecraft. Until the late 20th century, Wollstonecraft’s life, which encompassed several unconventional personal relationships, received more attention than her writing. Today Wollstonecraft is regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers, and feminists often cite both her life and work as important influences.

Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th century who did not believe women should receive a … More