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Weekend bookends #4

A weekly round up of miscellaneous bookish news you may have missed.

Country house literature

For all of you who love reading stories set in English country houses, a free new course from FutureLearn could be right up your street.   For generations novelists have set their work in ancestral homes or grand estates from Jane Austen with Mansfield Park to Evelyn Waugh who used Castle Howard in Yorkshire as the setting for Brideshead Revisited. In more recent yearsKazuo Ishiguro made the stately home of the fictitious Lord Darling a hotbed of idealism and treason in The Remains of the Day (1989) while Ian McEwan made his grand home a hotbed for a different kind of passion altogether in  Atonement. 

The Future Learn course covers literature over a period of 450 years from Thomas More’s Utopia to Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost. It will also touch on Shakespeare, poetry by Margaret Cavendish, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens.

If you’re interested, registration is now open for the Literature of the English Country House course which starts on June 2

Books for Prisoners

Last month I wrote about the decision by the UK Government to prohibit prisoners from receiving books as gifts. It’s an issue that has aroused the passion of many leading writers. I knew about the petition and the letters of protest they’ve sent to the Justice Secretary (the Minister responsible for this ridiculous decision) but this week I found out about a very imaginative way in which they are keeping the issue alive. Leading writers have been sending postcards to the Justice Secretary naming a book they would choose for a prisoner. Martin Amis chose Primo Levi’s If This is a Man – The Truce;  Ian McEwan picked John Healy’s The Grass Arena and Margaret Drabble selected John Lanchester’s Capital. Their choices and the reasons for their selection are all on the site of the charity PEN which is campaigning on the issue.

Some of the most fascinating entries are those written by former prisoners of conscience who explain what reading meant to them during the time of their incarceration.  Nigerian editor Kunle Ajibade explains how books were his lifeline when he was sentenced to life imprisonment during his country’s reign of terror. British writer Alan Shadrake who was imprisoned in Singapore at the age of 76 for publishing a book critical of the country’s judicial system, sees parallels between the Singapore ‘carrot and stick’ treatment of prisoners and the attitude of the British government. And Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot who served a two year prison sentence in Russia describes how access to books gave her the freedom to think even while her physical freedom was denied.

You can find these articles and info about the campaign on the PEN site –

There’s a hashtag for those of you on Twitter #BooksForPrisoners





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