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Hello to all our new subscribers and welcome to the first Omnivore Digest of 2013. Scroll down for the Robbie Burns's poem generator, all the latest from Hatchet Job of the Year and a chance to win Alan Rusbridger's new book.

FICTION

    

POW! by Mo Yan
Slaughterhouse rules
'For a writer who purportedly lacks ideological leanings, Mo writes in a surprisingly direct way.' Kyrs Lee, Financial Times VS 'Rather than exploring the darker undercurrents of society or the depths of the characters, he seems to make it his goal to stay on the surface.' Yiyun Lee, Guardian


HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE? by Sheila Heti
Grown-up Girls
'Just when you think Heti has been too cute, or one of her many exclamation marks too archly faux‑kitsch, she will come back with something arresting,' Scarlett Thomas, Guardian VS 'Her whole book feels faker than any fiction she’s supposedly eschewing.' Robert Collins, Sunday Times


SOMETHING LIKE HAPPY by John Burnside
Prose poetry
'The flickering borders between the imagined and the real, and the metaphysical issues of existence, are themes familiar from Burnside’s past novels and poems. In this collection, he proves himself equally masterly when it comes to writing short stories, capturing entire lives and landscapes in just a few thousand words of careful, nuanced prose..' Francesca Angelini, Sunday Times

Best of the rest: THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE by Ayana Mathis, THE INVESTIGATION by Philippe Claudel, THE FRIDAY GOSPELS by Jenn Ashworth, THE SWEET GIRL by Annabel Lyon
 
Paperback picks: THE INNOCENTS by Francesca Segal, THE BEGINNER'S GOODBYE by Anne Tyler, THE GOOD FATHER by Noah Hawley, THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce

NON-FICTION

   

THE LOVE-CHARM OF BOMBS by Lara Feigel
Second World phwoar
‘“…a bounding success as an account of wartime London and as a study of highly strung but tough characters under stress, and of the way that novelists transmute adultery into great art.” Richard Davenport-Hines, Sunday Telegraph VS “Feigel starts out as if her subject is to be the Blitz, but in fact it occupies less than half her book, and the rest is an anticlimax. Her five writers go their separate ways, and we follow them through the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, hopping distractingly from one life story to another. It reads like five characters in search of a subject” John Carey, Sunday Times

BANG: A HISTORY OF BRITAIN IN THE 1980s by Graham Stewart
New romantic
“Stewart has written an accomplished, politically minded history of a decade in which Britain was painfully reborn. He is generally sympathetic to Thatcher, although not a toady or an apologist.” Dan Jones, Sunday Telegraph VS “...this densely detailed tome perhaps ought to carry a health warning: this is a Thatcherite's take on the decade … His focus is on the people who held power and the decisions they made, not on recreating what it was like for ordinary people to live through the period.” Andy McSmith, The Independent

‘“…a clever, endlessly inventive, passionate tour through the most down-and-out, yet still plausibly possible of Amercan cities.” Douglas Kennedy, The Times VS “…his analysis is consistently weighed down by an outsider’s love of symbol and a narrative journalist’s love of the Meaningful Vignette. This means the book feels like a collection of articles, never quite cohering into a larger argument.” Megan Abbott, New Statesman

Best of the rest: AN ENGLISH AFFAIR bRichard Davenport-Hines, SHOOTING VICTORIA by Paul Thomas Murphy

Paperback picks: QUIET by Susan Cain, WHAT MATTERS IN JANE AUSTEN by John Mullan, HEAVEN ON EARTH by Sadakat Kadri, IPHIGENIA IN FOREST HILLS by Janet Malcolm

WIN PLAY IT AGAIN

You can’t teach an old newspaper editor new tricks ... or can you? The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger set his heart on learning Chopin’s notoriously difficult First Ballade (watch someone have a stab at it here). In his book, Play it Again, he details his struggles to perfect the piece in the midst of the WikiLeaks scandal.
 
Igor Torony-Lalic writes in the Telegraph“Simply looked at as a repository of information on how to perform Chopin, the book is invaluable ... Much the most interesting aspect of the book ... is in the main intellectual investigation and defence of the amateur, from the twittering citizen journalist to the online-score-distributing musical enthusiast”
 
In-keeping with its author’s passion for "open journalism", we’re giving away three copies of Play it Again (thank you Jonathan Cape!) to newsletter subscribers who can answer the following: a) how old was Chopin when he died? and b) what had/have you achieved by that age? Email answers  to competitions@theomnivore.co.uk by 8th February.

THE OMNIMETER

Up: First-degree Burns
The Scots may be proud of him but the Rabbie Burns generator proves it's easy to make a poem out of a few funny sounding words (although Address to a Toothache is a masterpiece).
 
 Up: The Story of O
To celebrate Obama's inauguration, Yahoo News asked renowned poet James Franco to compose a poem. He obliged. It contains the immortal lines: "He knew me from Spider-Man. I asked him for advice.” We’re just waiting for him to be revealed as the author behind Guesthouse Games, the latest erotic novel starring Barack, Michelle and a Hawaiian ghost.

Down: Rearranging bookshelves on the Titanic  
With libraries are closing left, right and centre, and left, right and centre seemingly powerless to do anything about it, librarians are resorting to desperate measures to get the punters in. One library in Midlothian is offering free pole-dancing lessons, head massages and table-tennis with books instead of bats. Here are some other wacky ideas for getting people into libraries: opening in the evenings and at weekends, well-publicised author events and workshops, and well-presented stock that people might actually want to borrow.

Down: Hatchet Job of the Year
Mary Beard’s trolls are tame in comparison with ours. This hate mail was anonymous, although we think it might have been from twice-nominated Richard Bradford: “It is unfortunate that, because you find most literary reviews to be boring, you must encourage persons, who might otherwise be and act as civilized, respectable literary critics, to act as if they are wine-soaked, pompous asses ... Thank you very little, for your ugly contribution to my children’s world.”

Down: The Golden Age of book reviewing
In 1932, the LSE hosted a mock trial for “reviewers who do not read”. The defendants were JB Priestley, Rebecca West, Ralph Straus and Sylvia Lynd, who were charged with the offence of “total illiteracy”, of “writing without visible means of support”, and of “steady debasement of the critical currency”. The prosecuting counsel, conducting the case on behalf of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Readers, noted: “The word masterpiece had come to be devoid of any meaning, especially on Sundays. The term distinguished had come to mean dull, and so tepid an adjective as good had come to mean bad.”
HATCHET JOB OF THE WEEK

Yiyun Li in The Guardian wasn’t impressed by Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan’s POW!:

"Politics aside, this book seems to represent everything that has gone amiss in Mo Yan’s work, and perhaps in a broader way what has gone awry in China’s literature of the last 30 years. In the 1990s, Wang Xiaobo, a Chinese writer with millions of followers, famously stated that writing was like masturbation for him – something done out of an inexpressible urge and ending with a pleasurable emptiness. Disturbing or entertaining as the statement might sound, Mo Yan, the most prestigious writer at the moment in China, seems to have confirmed that observation. Pow! reads like public masturbation; at times laughable, in the end it reminds readers that such an act should be done in private rather than in print.
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