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The Book Gnome, a site for book reviews and reading ideas about authors

David Sedaris - June 17

David Sedaris is an American best-selling humorist and radio contributor. He has written plays, short stories and essays, with humour frequently at his own expense covering his upbringing in North Carolina to his life in France with partner, Hugh Hamrick.

Through his satirical tone, he examines human experiences and feelings in an honest and unreserved way blending sharp wit with empathy. His work has universal appeal with themes like work, education, and family.

Sedaris made his comic début on National Public Radio's Morning Edition, reading SantaLand Diaries, which recounted his strange but true experience working as a Macy's elf clad in green tights.

His first collection, Barrel Fever, was published in 1994, followed by Naked in 1997, Holidays on Ice in 1997, Me Talk Pretty One Day in 2000, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim in 2004, and When You Are Engulfed in Flames in 2008. He contributes to The New Yorker, and has sold over 7 million copies of his books each of which has become New York Times Best Sellers.

James Kelman

James Kelman, a Scottish author born in 1946 in Glasgow, has written novels, short stories, plays, and political essays. He left school at 15 and decided to write when he was around 22 years old according to him.

He won numerous prizes, including the Cheltenham Prize with Greyhound for Breakfast in 1987, the 1989 James Tait Black Memorial Prize with A Disaffection, and the 1994 Booker Prize with How Late It Was, How Late.

How Late It Was, How Late is the story of a man who wakes up in a police cell after an encounter with the police leaves him blind. Awarding it the Booker Prize was controversial due to the novel's use of bad language. Rabbi Julia Neuberger, one of the judges, threatened to resign stating that the award was "disgrace" and "frankly, crap" while a critic denounced it as "literary vandalism". Kelman argued that that "standard english" was unrealistic for his characters.

Kelman used Glaswegian speech patterns and language saying "The stories I wanted to write would derive from my own background, my own socio-cultural experience. I wanted to write as one of my own people."

Thomas Keneally

Born in Sydney in 1935, Thomas Keneally is a highly successful Australian novelist. He studied for the Catholic priesthood but was never ordained and instead became a school teacher until his success as a novelist. He has also written screenplays, memoirs and non-fiction books.

Thomas Keneally has been short-listed for the Booker Prize 4 times - The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith in 1972, Gossip in 1975, Confederates in 1979, and Schindler's Ark in 1982. He finally won the prize with Schindler's Ark which Spielberg made into the award-winning Schindler's List in 1993.

Schindler's Ark was inspired by Poldek Pfefferberg, a Holocaust survivor. In 1980 Pfefferberg met Keneally and showed him his extensive files on Oskar Schindler. Pfefferberg accompanied Keneally to Poland where they visited the sites associated with the Schindler story.

In Australia, Keneally won the Miles Franklin Award twice with Bring Larks and Heroes, and Three Cheers for the Paraclete. In adddition, The People's Train was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway is regarded as one of America's greatest novelists famous for novels like A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Hemingway was born in 1899. At 17, he started work as a journalist and in 1918, he joined a volunteer ambulance unit in the Italian army. and was later by the Italian government. On his return to the US, he returned to journalism and was soon sent back to Europe as a foreign correspondant.

Living in Paris in the twenties, Hemingway wrote The Sun Also Rises (1926), and A Farewell to Arms (1929), about an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war. Hemingway drew on his experiences as a reporter during the Spanish civil war for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). The Old Man and the Sea (1952), the story of an old fisherman long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, won him the 1953 Pulitzer Prize.

In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize. His physical and mental health deteriorated steadily and on 2 July 1961 suffering from depression, he committed suicide.

Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy was born in London, England in 1956 to Jamaican parents.

Levy did not begin writing until in her mid-thirties. There was little written about the black British experience in Britian, the novels she chose to write.

Her first book, Every Light in the House Burnin' (1994) is about a Jamaican family in 1960s London. Her second, Never Far from Nowhere (1996) is the story of two very different sisters living on a 1970s London council estate, and in her third, In Fruit of the Lemon (1999), Faith Jackson, a young black woman, visits Jamaica after suffering a nervous breakdown.

She is best known for her fourth novel, Small Island (2004) which won the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction, the 2004 Whitbread Book of the Year, and the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize. It is set in 1948, explores the interaction between a black couple, Gilbert, a former RAF recruit, who has returned to Britain on the SS Windrush, and his Jamaican wife Hortense, and a white couple: Queenie, their landlady, and her recently demobbed husband, Bernard.

Andrea Levy has been a judge for the Saga Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith was born in North London in 1975 to an English father and a Jamaican mother. She read English at Cambridge, graduating in 1997.

Her first novel, White Teeth (2000), is the story of two North London families and three cultures over three generations in contemporary London. Plodding Archie married to Jamaican Clara, heads one family and Muslim Bengali Samad, father to very different twin sons named Millat and Magid, heads the other. Archie and Samad are a unlikely friends.

White Teeth won a number of literary awards including the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. She has since written The Autograph Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), NW (2012), and Swing Time (2016), as well as a collection of essays, Changing My Mind.

Zadie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002, and was listed as one of Granta's 20 Best Young British Novelists in 2003 and again in 2013. She has proved herself to be an exceptional talent.

Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman was born in Norwich in October 1946.

His father died in a plane crash when he was 7, and orphaned children often feature in his books, because for children to have an adventure, one needs to be "rid of those who stop [the child] falling into danger".

Pullman went to Exeter College, Oxford, to read English, receiving a Third class BA in 1968. He said later that he did not enjoy his degree and would have preferred to go to art school.

He first published adult novels. His second children's novel, Ruby in the Smoke (1986), told the story of a young Sally Lockhart trying to unravel her father's death in Victorian London. The series of 4 novels was a great success. More than 10 years later, he won popular acclaim with the Dark Materials Trilogy. The trilogy sold more than 17.5 million copies, was translated into 40 languages, and became a box office hit film.

Philip Pullman has proved to be an accomplished storyteller with a vivid imagination and exceptionally skilled with words. He has deservedly won many awards for his work.

Hanif Kureishi

Hanif Kureishi, British playwright, screenwriter, novelist and film-maker of Pakistani and English descent, was born in Kent in 1954 and read philosophy at King's College, London. Kurieshi has written novels, short stories, plays, film scripts, and non-fiction.

In 1981, his play Outskirts won the George Devine Award, and in 1982, he became writer in residence at the Royal Court Theatre, London. In 1984, his screenplay for My Beautiful Laundrette was nominated for an Oscar, and in 1990, his semi-autobiographical novel, The Buddha of Suburbia won the Whitbread Prize for Best First Novel. In 1998, his short story 'My Son the Fanatic' was adapted as a film to critical aclaim, and in 2001, the film of Intimacy won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film festival.

Hanif Kureishi has proved himself to be a skilled author able to deal with a wide range of difficult topics from the Muslim community in Britain to drug use in the media industry, in a range of formats. He writes with intensity and insight reflecting a deep understanding of the human condition, and an ability to portray complex and interesting characters with empathy and honesty.

Roddy Doyle - May 2017

Roddy Doyle is an Irish novelist, dramatist, and screenwriter, probably best known for the novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, for which he was awarded the Booker Prize in 1993. He has written in a number of forms including novels, children's books, and short stories.

Doyle's first three novels, The Commitments (1987), The Snapper (1990) and The Van (1991), centre on the Rabbitte family, and together are known as The Barrytown Trilogy. The Van was shortlisted for the 1991 Booker Prize and all three have been made into succesful films.

In 1993, Doyle published Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which portrayed Dublin through the eyes of a ten-year-old in 1968. His vivid portrayal of the time and convincing use of colloquial language, resulted in a passionate novel.

The Woman Who Walked into Doors is the story of a battered wife, The Last Roundup series follows Henry Smart through several decades, and The Guts continues the story of the Rabbitte family from the Barrytown Trilogy, focusing on a 48-year-old Jimmy Rabbite and his diagnosis of bowel cancer.

Alan Hollinghurst - April 2017

Hollinghurst was born in 1954 and grew up in Faringdon, a market town twenty miles from Oxford surrounded by farms and chalk hills.

Hollinghurst established himself as a skilled author when he won the Man Booker Prize in 2004 for The Line of Beauty, the moving story of James, a young student, beguiled by the glamorous life of a Tory family. The novel is set in the Thatcher years when deaths from AIDS were at a peak.

Hollinghurst moved to London in his twenties where he discovered an active gay scene. In his first novel, The Swimming Pool Library, William Beckwith, a promiscuous young gay man, learns what being gay was like for an earlier generation, with graphic descriptions of gay sex.

The Folding Star and The Stranger's Child, reflect the rural England of his childhood, and both The Folding Star and The Spell feature a man who falls in love with someone much younger. The ways in which the present is shaped by the past is a theme in all his novels, including the last, The Stranger's Child, the story of a minor poet, Cecil Valance, who is killed in the First World War.

Lionel Shriver - March 2017

Lionel Shriver's career took off with We Need to Talk About Kevin. It won the 2005 Orange Prize, and provoked considerable controversy by examining the impact of an ambivalent mother in her son's killing spree.

She was Margaret Ann Shriver in North Carolina, to a deeply religious family. She did not like her name and thought that as a tomboy, a boy's name would suit her better. She started calling herself Lionel at 15.

We Need to Talk about Kevin was not her first book, in fact, she wrote seven novels and published six before this one. While We Need to Talk about Kevin is extremely well crafted, so are her earlier books.

She is an experienced journalist, having written for The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The Economist, and many other publications. In July 2005, Shriver began writing a column for The Guardian.

Shriver studied at Columbia University, and has lived in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast. She now lives in London with her husband.

Julian Barnes - February 2017

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester on 19 January 1946. He read for an honours degree in modern languages from Magdalen College at Oxford University. He worked as a lexicographer, then a reviewer and literary editor, followed by a television critic before becoming an author.

Julian Barnes has received an impressive list of awards and honours, simply too many to name in a brief review of his career to date. He won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Sense of an Ending and was nominated a further three times, no mean feat. He has won awards in France, America, Italy, Germany, and Austria including, in 2016, the American Academy of Arts & Letters which elected Barnes as an honorary foreign member, and the Siegfried Lenz Prize for outstanding contributions as a European essayist.

So far, Julian Barnes is the author of ten novels, two books of short stories, and also three collections of journalism, with his work translated into more than thirty languages. He has proven himself to be an exceptionally highly skilled author producing novels, short stories, and essays that are well worth reading.

Peter Carey - January 2017

Peter Carey, born in 1943, is an Australian novelist, science graduate, and the author of two collections of short stories, nine novels, a children's book, and several short works of non-fiction.

He has focused on fiction, with only brief forays into non-fiction, and explored a range of genres including both science and literary fiction. Australian identity and historical context are a recurrent topics in his work.

At university, he first planned to be an organic chemist then a zoologist but according to him, "he had no aptitude for either, started faking his science experiments and then failed his exams anyway" and writing was a fall back option with no firm plan.

Peter Carey won the Miles Franklin Award three times and is one of only four writers to have won the Booker Prize twice, in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and in 2001 with The True History of the Kelly Gang. The True History of the Kelly Gang and Jack Maggs won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book in 2001 and 1998 respectively.

Barbara Kingsolver - December 2016

Barbara Kingsolver was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa. As an adult, she lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands.

Kingsolver has a bachelor's and a master's degree in biology, and worked as a freelance science writer in the mid 1980s, before she began writing novels.

Kingsolver has won multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association. The Poisonwood Bible was a Pulitzer finalist. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle won prizes like the James Beard award. The Lacuna won Britain's prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction.

Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally. Each of her books since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list.

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't" and in 2007, she discusses The Poisonwood Bible with James Naughtie and an audience on the BBC. She has created her own website to compete with a plethora of fake ones"

Alexander McCall Smith - November 2016

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, starring Mma Precious Ramotswe in Gabarone, Botswana. With 17 extremely popular books about the Detective Agency, it is more of a phenomenom than a series, and has made him a household name having sold over twenty million copies in English alone.

The appeal of the No. 1 Ladies series, appears to be the gentle and affectionate portrayal of the people of Botswana, along with the kind wisdom of the central character, Mma Ramotswe, who solves numerous mysteries improving the lives of the people with whom she interacts.

Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific author of fiction, with several series to his credit including the Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street series. For many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the UK and abroad before turning his hand to writing fiction. He has an insightful and witty style that makes his books appealing and entertaining. His style is engaging and his characters are credible. This, along with plots that combine humour and interest, makes his books are a good read.

Charles Dickens - Oct 16

Charles Dickens, born on 7 February 1812 in Portsmouth, is an English writer and social critic. He is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. He was very popular during his life, and his novels and short stories continue to be read and studied.

When his father went to prison, Dickens left school and took a job in a factory. Despite not completing his formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, 5 novellas, many short stories, and several non-fiction articles. He also lectured and performed extensively, and was an active campaigner for social reforms, especially children's rights, and education.

The Pickwick Papers launched Dickens' writing career, with his novels published in installments, the Victorian mode of publishing novels. He quickly became popular internationally because of his satire laced with humour. His plots and characters were carefully constructed to reflect topical issues for which he campaigned, and his writing is thus as much entertainment as it is social commentary.

ARCHIVES 2017

ARCHIVES 2016

Sexism in publishing: 'My novel wasn't the problem, it was me, Catherine'

Author reveals that submitting her manuscript to agents under a male pseudonym brought more than eight times the number of responses.

'They had issues': Sally Wainwright and Tracy Chevalier discuss the Brontës

Sally Wainwright's new drama To Walk Invisible offers a radical new take on the Brontës. She talks to novelist Tracy Chevalier about the siblings' extraordinary lives.


The 10 Best Books of 2016

The year's best books, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. 1 December 2016.


Charlotte Brontë, the filthy bitch

Enough of the Brontë industry's veneration of coffins, bonnets and TB. It is time to exhume the real Charlotte - filthy bitch, grandmother of chick-lit, and friend.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë to assist with A level English Literature revision, essays and coursework.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald to assist with A level English Literature revision, essays and coursework.

Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote to help with A level English Literature revision.


Visit KS Learning for notes and articles on A Streetcar named Desire by Tennessee Williams for A level English Literature.

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