Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
Penguin Classics, 2000
Joyce came into my life in 1951, when I was 16, in the shape of Ulysses, which I read in sixth form as an optional vacation assignment, and which gave me my first deep introduction to literary modernism and literary Ireland. Both have printed their mark on me ever since. Stream of consciousness was my preferred form of prose for several years – I even used it in the French essay paper for A-level. I can’t think of a better writer in English than Joyce, and the mighty, comic, endlessly inventive Ulysses is probably his best work.
The Making of the English Working Class
E P Thompson
Penguin, new ed 2002
I read this in the early 1960s, around the time it was published – and the time I met Edward at a New Left summer school in west Yorkshire. The book and the man became close friends thereafter. No book has made a deeper impression on my sensibility; no book has enabled me to see my own life and history more clearly. What separates it from most social history is its command of language and – for want of a better word – its poetry. Discussing historical movements and people who ended up getting the future wrong, he argues we must ‘rescue them from the enormous condescension of posterity’. Precisely.
The Country and the City
Oxford University Press, 1975
A long, painstaking and beautiful examination of English literature in the search for shifting images of ‘country’ and ‘city’ through history and the often class-freighted and ahistorical meanings we give them. I challenge anyone to read his first chapter and not be eager to go on. As with Joyce and Irishness, so Williams with Welshness: two national cultural elements in my own background that have resonated within my own thought and work.
Vintage, new ed 1991
For me one of the most important English-language novels of the 20th century, Slaughterhouse 5 tells the story of Billy Pilgrim, a US soldier who survives the Dresden bombings and becomes ‘unstuck in his time’, living his life in a random order and repetitively. It combines an extraordinary realism with a wild and dangerous delight that possessed me in the 1970s and beyond like a virus and still hangs on, unshakable, in my writing and thinking and feeling. Years later, trying to write The Gulf Between Us, about three Brit workers trapped in Baghdad during the first Iraq War, I slowly realised it came straight from Kurt Vonnegut. I challenge anyone to read the final chapter and not weep.
Vintage, new ed 1993
As the 1970s’ promise of a scruffy utopia gave way to the buffed dystopia of the 1980s, I decided to look for a second (shorter) creative form and lighted on photography, a search that brought me face to face with Barthes’ masterpiece. Ostensibly a philosophical analysis of photography, it resolves halfway through into a deep and painful examination of Barthes’ long dependent relationship with his recently dead mother. No one of a certain age can read this book and not feel a memoir coming on.
The Rattle Bag
Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney (eds)
Faber and Faber, 2005
Five hundred and more poems from four corners and five continents make up the best poetry anthology you’ll ever encounter. I send copies of it out each Christmas; and there are three copies strewn about the house in case I feel a sudden need of it. In the words of the editors: ‘This anthology amassed itself like a cairn … each poem full of its singular appeal, transmitting its own signals, taking its chances in a big voluble world.’ A gem.
A Life in Letters
Penguin Classics, 2004
I’ve been reading Chekhov (letters, stories, plays) since the 70s, when Richard Eyre bought me his Selected Letters as companion on my travels into my new English version of The Cherry Orchard. This new volume, much enlarged and with excellent notes in a brilliant translation, confirms that Chekhov is in the first rank of writers, thinkers and human beings.
The Angel of History
HarperPerennial, reprint 1995
Forché is the founder of a movement known as Poetry of Witness. Some years ago I encountered her work (Gathering the Tribes, The Country Between Us, Against Forgetting) and knew at once it was important and would last. The Angel of History, published in the mid-90s, is a scarifying account of the bloody horrors that are the 20th century: war, genocide, holocaust, nuclear destruction; but one filled with love and tenderness and a warm awareness of the smallness of things. These are poems that make the earth a better place.
Radical playwright Trevor Griffiths’ A New World: A Life of Tom Paine was at the Globe theatre this summer and his Comedians at the Lyric last month
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns