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August 19, 2016


If you’re at the Edinburgh festival this weekend: I’ll be talking about existentialism and surrealism with James King, biographer of the English surrealist Roland Penrose.  It’s at 11.00 am on Sunday 21 August: read more and book tickets here.


May 29, 2016


If you’re anywhere near the Hay Festival on Monday 30 May, do come along and hear me talk about existentialists with Francine Stock – it’s at 5.30 and you can book here.

And if you’re in York the week after that, I’ll be at the Festival of Ideas on Wednesday 8 June – it’s free and you can reserve a place here.

Book of the week, etc.

April 11, 2016


At the Existentialist Cafe UK coverAt the Existentialist Cafe is BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week starting Monday 13 April. Catch up with it online here – a 5-part serialisation, edited by Polly Coles and read by Sasha Behar.

There’s a quick interview on NPR’s The Takeaway, with John Hockenberry, here.

Meanwhile, my US tour is coming to a finale at the Town Hall, Seattle, tonight: see here.  For a flavour of my American conversations, especially when fuelled by a cocktail or two, here’s Martin Pengelly’s piece in the US Guardian on what happened when we met in Manhattan for a Manhattan in the Bemelmans Bar.

Next is a rather brief visit to Canada, where I’m at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto on Wednesday 13 April – an event organised by Flying Books. Read more here.   I also selected five favorite books of the moment for Flying Books – here they are.

More UK appearances coming up with dizzying soonness: join me at “Sunday Morning with Sartre”, organised by the School of Life at London’s Mary Ward Centre: 11.20 am on Sunday 17 April. See here!

Looking ahead to May: on the evening of 9 May I’ll be at Shakespeare & Co in Paris. See their website here for further details when they emerge.  In the UK, I’m at Charleston on 27 May (here),  with Steve Jones, and at Hay on 30 May. More details to follow.

Reasons to be …

March 6, 2016


At the Existentialist Cafe UK cover  
At the Existentialist Cafe
is now out in UK, US and Canada, and here, to celebrate, is a longread by me in The Guardian: Think Big, Be Free, Have Sex .. Ten Reasons to Be an ExistentialistAt The Existentialist Cafe US cover

In other news, I’ll be on tour in the US in early spring, from 29 March to 11 April.  For the latest details of all events, please see the list on Other Press’s website here. That’s followed by an evening at the excellent Flying Books in Toronto on 13 April, with more details to be confirmed.  So if you live in or near Princeton, Cambridge/Boston, Washington DC, New York, LA, SF, Seattle or Toronto, do come along!

For UK events in March, see previous post ..

At the Existentialist Cafe – events in March

February 15, 2016


At the Existentialist Cafe will be published simultaneously in the US and UK in the first week of March.  To celebrate, here are a couple of friendly UK readings/events for that month.  Do join me if you can.At the Existentialist Cafe UK cover

On Thursday 10 March, from 12.00-1.00pm, I’ll be talking with Peter Moore (author of The Weather Experiment) at Daunt Books Marylebone.  Follow the link to the shop page for more details of the event and how to book tickets (£6.00)- it’s part of their excellent festival.

And on Saturday 19 March, from 11.00am-12.00, I’m talking to the philosopher Nigel Warburton at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford, as part of the series Philosophy in the Bookshop.  It’s free: more details on their page (you’ll need to scroll down).

Hope to see you at one of these!



At the Existentialist Cafe

January 12, 2016


At the Existentialist Cafe UK coverIt’s on its way. It’s big, it’s bonny, it’s existential, it’s rectangular, and it’s been five years in the making.  Within its pages, someone gets punched in the street, someone else makes sad remarks about a lump of sugar, another person is chased by imaginary lobsters, and three people drink apricot cocktails in a mood of uncontainable excitement.   Yes, it’s my new book At the Existentialist Cafe, telling the story of twentieth-century existentialism through a blend of biography and philosophy.  It is coming out in the first few days of March from Chatto & Windus in the U.K., Other Press in the U.S., and Knopf in Canada.

There are two versions of the cover, depending on country.  Here they both are. At The Existentialist Cafe US cover

I’ll be talking about the book at festivals and other events in various places this year.  Watch this space for details as they arise..

Moonset at dawn

July 31, 2015


Moonset at dawn 31 July 2015 (2) (1024x768) … on the day I finish my book.

Books that I’ve been reading about New York while being in New York

May 15, 2015


New York books

Another pile. This time it’s of books that I’ve been reading about New York while being in New York.  The hard-to-see two in the middle are Luc Sante’s Low Life: lures and snares of old New York, and Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, about music in the city from 1973 to 1977.  The latter has a great cover: I’m trying to resist colouring it in with crayons rather than reading it.Loves Goes to Buildings on Fire

Jerome Charyn’s War Cries Over Avenue C
is an interesting one, a feverish, Burroughsian tale set in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side – the area covered by Avenues A to D, inserted before 1st Avenue.  I read this when it came out (in the mid-1980s), and thought it was great. Now I’m not so sure, but what I do like is the short introduction excerpted from The Manhattan Spy, a guidebook by Doris Quinn. Doris is a louche and wayward guide, a female Joseph Mitchell who briefs us on the differences between the avenues in Alphabet City, and hints at secrets behind the closed, graffiti’d shutters. On Avenue A:

You can pick your own Russian beanery. Sit and have some stuffed cabbage, say that Doris Quinn sent you, Doris from the Spy. They’ll treat you to golden pancakes, drop a strawberry in your tea, and you’ll think that Avenue A was your own fatted calf.

On Avenue C, she speculates about what goes on in the abandoned Talmud Torah school on Avenue C where a “Saigon Sarah” presides and holds a mysterious after-hours club.  But when she knocks, Saigon Sarah refuses to let her in or speak to her.

I am dying to read the rest of the Manhattan Spy.  But I can’t.  Doris Quinn is one of the book’s fictional characters, and the introduction is an invention.Charyn War Cries over Avenue C

Jerome Charyn is quite a character himself. He’s written almost 50 books in 50 years, is very big in France (where he lived for a long time), and has also been a table tennis champion.  Don DeLillo once said that Charyn’s book about the sport, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, is “The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong.”

Does reading fiction make us better people?

April 30, 2015


TBR March 2015 (600x800)

Does reading fiction make us better people? I was asked this question by Nigel Warburton for the excellent new debate forum at Aeon Ideas. I argued contrariwise, but I also loved Tony Bradman’s argument in favour.  I especially like his image of fiction as a flight simulator for the emotions.  Read it all here.

It seemed appropriate to illustrate this with my recent to-be-read pile . After taking the photo, I dismantled it, read some of them, put some on the shelf, took some back to the library, and left some to seed a new to-be-read pile.

New York Institute of the Humanities

April 16, 2015


Writer in Residence

So this is me for the next two months!    Very excited to be here.

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