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Sunday, October 13, 2013

This week in books: Richard Flanagan, Stephen King, William Boyd on Bond

Stephen King at his home in Maine, US Stephen King at his home in Maine, US. Photograph: Steve Schofield for the Guardian

Why do male authors still dominate our book reviews pages? This week, the Stella Count was released – Australia's equivalent of the US's highly publicised VIDA results. The statistics, revealing how many books by men and women were reviewed in our major newspapers and literary magazines, highlight a striking disproportion, and you can read my analysis of the disparity in the results here.

A fascinating examination of the history of publishing innovations consders how entrepreneurs such as Penguin founder Allen Lane would have reveled in the opportunities of the digital revolution. “Lane's brainwave was the biggest single book innovation of the 20th century, and in its day the equal of the ebook. For a while, his idea dominated the market. Households across Britain began sprouting those colour-coded spines. A format that at the outset seemed to threaten vested interests became an object of veneration.” Read Robert McCrumb on what Allen Lane would have made of Amazon.

"After writing a novel what is there to say? If a novelist could say it in a maxim they wouldn't need 120,000 words, several years and sundry characters, plots and subplots and so on. I'd much rather listen always." In a beautiful interview, Richard Flanagan talks to Michael Williams over dinner, discussing his relationship with his father through his new work, his discomfort with the literary establishment, and his new novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, in which the figure of Weary Dunlop looms large over the book. "Dunlop is too extraordinary a character for fiction. God gets the great stories. Novelists must make do with more mundane fictions," he says.

William Boyd climbs into the interviewer's chair – and back in time – this week as he interrogates the subject of his latest book, Solo, secret agent 007, James Bond. "It was strange being back in Chelsea in 1969, the year of the moon-landing, the year of my first summer in London. Stranger still to be going to interview James Bond," he writes as he walks us through London to Bond's flat. "The door was opened by a rather severe-looking young woman with her brown hair styled in a schoolmarm's sexless bob. I introduced myself and said I had an appointment to interview Mr Bond for the Guardian newspaper. 'I'm afraid we don't take the Guardian, here,' the young woman said in a strong Scottish accent. I said I would make sure a copy reached Mr Bond, somehow."

In our Guardian Books Podcast we’re joined this week by Pulitzer-winning Jhumpa Lahiri who talks about her collection of short stories, Unaccustomed Earth, her favourite short story authors and the challenge of writing from the male perspective. This week was Banned Books Week so we asked readers to send us a photo of their favourite censored books. View our gallery of readers’ favourite banned titles from JD Salinger to Henry Miller.

A book whose “deepest shiverings depend on no made-up devils,” Stephen King’s anticipated new work Doctor Sleep is a sequel to one of his most disturbing novels, The Shining. It follows Dan Torrance, the little boy from the first novel, now grown up. Stephen Poole reviews the latest book from an author who has “grudgingly been admitted by lit-crit folk into the ranks of ‘actually good writers’ as opposed to mere megaselling dimestore artists.” (And if you missed the Guardian's interview with King, you can catch up here)

“The race is now on to write the Worst. Book. Ever. And this may be it.” Lucy Ellmann skewers Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland, a work with a “total immersion in the banality it purports to expose.” It may be a critique of mass culture, “but if this book is satirical, it hides it well. An ironic hamburger is still (usually) a hamburger.”

In a similarly “good bad review” in our non-fiction section, Geoff Dyer applies his biting tongue to The Metaphysics of Ping-Pong by Guido Mina di Sospiro: the story of a man's deepening love of ping-pong with philosophical ruminations about the nature of the game. “And remember the match-winning point of the book: what we discover about spin in ping-pong can be found in 'other fields too'. Not in Mina di Sospiro's writing though. His prose is so lacking in spin and bounce the half-awake reader can see where a sentence is headed before it's left the author's pen.”

View the original article here