Episode #15: How to Read

Images (CW): Nancy Mitford // Jean Rhys // Zadie Smith // Logo by  @3Dperson  // Laurie Colwin

Images (CW): Nancy Mitford // Jean Rhys // Zadie Smith // Logo by @3Dperson // Laurie Colwin

Charlotte and Emma discuss fiction as a source for political history, comfort reads, classics bound up in class and the problem with Elena Ferrante’s book covers. Plus: join the TNK book club...

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Some of Charlotte's favourite books

Some of Charlotte's favourite books

  • Tomas Tranströmer, Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson, Pär Lagerkvist, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Verner von Heidenstam and Selma Lagerlöf are all Swedish Nobel literature laureates. Quite a few of them served on the selection committee, but Tranströmer (who won the award decades after the others, in 2011), Pär Lagerkvist, Harry Martinson and Selma Lagerlöf are all favourites of Emma’s and therefore legit. Norvik Press has just published a new translation of Lagerlöf’s The Emperor of Portugallia. Norvik also publishes lots of other Swedish-language classics in English, including works by August Strindberg, Kerstin Ekman, Hjalmar Söderberg, Edith Södergran and Victoria Benedictsson. Want to read Swedish arbetarlitteratur? Seek out classics by Moa Martinson, Harry Martinson, Eyvind Johnson and Vilhelm Moberg, and Susanna Alakoski, Eija Hetekivi Olsson, Kristian Lundberg and Kjell Johansson for the contemporary take;
  • “To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men axed as Gove orders more Brit lit: New English literature GCSE ditches American classics for pre-20th century British authors such as Dickens and Austen” The Guardian, 25 May 2014;
  • “Translated book sales are up, but Britain is still cut off from foreign literature” The Guardian, 30 September 2016;
  • Here’s a round-up of Elena Ferrante covers from around the world by Georgiana of Readers’ High Tea. Emily Harnett wrote an article for The Atlantic in 2016 where she discusses the “subtle genius” of Ferrante’s bad book covers – read that here and follow Emily on Twitter @therealeharnett. Elena Ferrante is published by Europa Editions in the UK; 
  • Well-read authors have websites: here’s Marian Keyes and Sam Binnie. Emma’s former place of work – Vogue House – featured in Lisa Jewell’s 31 Dream Street from 2008. They are also on Twitter: @MarianKeyes, @thesambinnie and @lisajewelluk;
  • Why don't men read books by women? When asked which three authors she would invite to her dream dinner party by The New York Times, Lauren Goff replied: "This is a fantasy, so instead of three writers, I would invite every woman writer I have mentioned here, plus hundreds of others I did not have space to name. I would serve unlimited quantities of excellent wine and we would get blitzed and the conversation may eventually meander to touch on that most baffling of questions: When male writers list books they love or have been influenced by — as in this very column, week after week — why does it almost always seem as though they have only read one or two women in their lives? It can’t be because men are inherently better writers than their female counterparts (this would get a huge laugh. After all, Toni Morrison, Can Xue, Marie N’Diaye and Elena Ferrante are in the room!). And it isn’t because male writers are bad people. We know they’re not bad people. In fact, we love them. We love them because we have read them. Something invisible and pernicious seems to be preventing even good literary men from either reaching for books with women’s names on the spines, or from summoning women’s books to mind when asked to list their influences. I wonder what such a thing could possibly be." Read the whole article here, read more about Lauren's work here, and follow her on Twitter @legroff;
  • LitHub recently published an article by David Hayden called ‘Men Still Too Often See Their Writing as the Canon: An Homage to the Women Who Influenced My Writing’. Sample paragraph: “Men reading only, or largely, male writers often do so as an unreflected-upon exercise of taste; thinking, it seems, that they are not missing much. But they are imposing upon themselves an enormous loss of connection with half and more of humanity and rejecting an immense gain of vision and understanding in a dazzlingly expanded universe of books.” Read the whole article here and follow David on Twitter @seventydys;
  • Male Authors We’ve Seen on Men’s Bookshelves: J.G. Ballard, Tom Wolfe, Sebastian Faulks, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan (whose latest book, Nutshell [2016], tells the story of Hamlet through a nine-month-old foetus, and whose son got a C for his A-Level paper on Enduring Love);
  • Joan Didion on the art of non-fiction, Paris Review, no. 176 (Spring 2008): “Writing fiction is for me a fraught business, an occasion of daily dread for at least the first half of the novel, and sometimes all the way through. The work process is totally different from writing nonfiction. You have to sit down every day and make it up. You have no notes—or sometimes you do, I made extensive notes for A Book of Common Prayer—but the notes give you only the background, not the novel itself. In nonfiction the notes give you the piece. Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.” Read the whole article here;
  • “On Gendered Book Covers and Being a Woman Designer: Jennifer Heuer Wonders Why She's Always Getting Offered a Certain Kind of Book” was published on LitHub on 25 July 2016. Sample paragraph? “Just because I’m a woman, don’t assume that I automatically empathize with a brooding 20-something Elizabeth-Bennett-type protagonist. (Trust me, I don’t.) This doesn’t mean I can’t design the latest update of Pride and Prejudice (I have, but due to a title change that design never left my hard-drive) or a biography on Susan Sontag—or, for that matter, a spy novel, a political satire, or a memoir about a Japanese game show host set in outer space.

I can do all of these things.

Because it’s my job to design book covers.”

See Jennifer’s work here and follow her on Twitter @jenheuer;

Compare and contrast the covers of Diana Evans'  Ordinary People  (2018), Zadie Smith's  NW  (2012) and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels:  My Brilliant Friend  (2012),  The Story of a New Name  (2013),  Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay  (2014), and  The Story of the Lost Child  (2015).

Compare and contrast the covers of Diana Evans' Ordinary People (2018), Zadie Smith's NW (2012) and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels: My Brilliant Friend (2012), The Story of a New Name (2013), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2014), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015).

In an uncurtained room across the way
a woman in a tight dress paints her lips
a deeper red, and sizes up her hips
for signs of ounces gained since yesterday.

She has a thoughtful and a clever face,
but she is also smart enough to know
the truth: however large the brain may grow,
the lashes and the earrings must keep pace.


Great gods of longing, watch me as I work
and if I sprout a martyr’s smarmy grin
please find some violent way to do me in;
I’m burning all these candles not to shirk

a night of passion, but to give that night
a richly textured backdrop when it comes.
The girl who gets up from her desk and dumbs
her discourse down has never seen the flight

of wide-eyed starlings from their shabby cage;
the fool whose love is truest is the one
who knows a lover’s work is never done.
I’ll call you when I’ve finished one more page.

Read the whole poem here.



  • #16 is all about Windrush, citizenship, empire and migration (homework: listen to TNK009 on imperial nostalgia);
  • #17 is our Men's World Cup special - Charlotte will make use of her German heritage to gloat about the 2014 tournament; Emma will reveal what it was really like to go to school with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and why the summer of 1994 can never be bettered. Plus: we set our sights on the 2019 Women's World Cup.


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Emma Lundin