A dead parent, the interrogation of a literary inheritance, and over everything, a bird: Max Porter is apparently unafraid to step into massive shoes. Not just the colossal ones belonging to Ted Hughes, whose ‘Crow’ poems are the jumping-off point for this free-verse novella about a bereaved Hughes scholar visited by Hughes’s corvine manifestation, but also those of Helen Macdonald. H is for Hawk, her memoir of loss, writing, recovery and nature, drawing ingeniously on the life and work of T.H. White, covered this territory with ferocious honesty and eloquence. The comparison is impossible to avoid, and not kind to Porter.
The only girl in England playing football in the boys’ leagues tells the story behind her unique sporting journey.
Attracting attention has always been normal for Niamh McKevitt in her football career. At 16, she is the captain of the South Yorkshire Girls under 17s squad, has represented the Republic of Ireland Women at junior international level, and started playing for Huddersfield Town in the FA Women’s Premier League while still at school. But it’s not her accomplishments in the women’s game that make her stand out. It’s this: since she was 12, Niamh has been the only girl in England playing football in the boys’ leagues, and she’s now written about her experiences in a book called Playing With the Boys.
James Bond seems to have become a problem. Obviously, a literary character that generates billions of dollars over more than six decades is not the worst sort of problem to have, but he presents a problem all the same. Since the death of Ian Fleming in 1964, Bond has passed through the hands of numerous authors – four of them since 2008. Sebastian Faulks, Jeffery Deaver and William Boyd wrote a single novel each, and now we get Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz’s attempt at reviving the cold war relic. The truth is that, payday aside, stepping into Fleming’s blade-heeled brogues seems a thankless business. It’s not that Fleming is exactly inimitable, but the parts of his style that are easy to pastiche are also intolerably obnoxious, while the things that are worth copying are as elusive as they are distinctive.
I don’t know which of the following is weirder: the idea that Idris Elba is the only black British actor, the idea that James Bond is the highest role available in UK film, or the idea that only by putting the two together can we be sure we have vanquished racism in our entertainment industry and in our hearts. I almost feel for Anthony Horowitz, who ballsed up the Elba question in an interview with the Mail on Sunday to promote his newly-authored Bond adventure, Trigger Mortis.
I was right about the 2003 Iraq war. I thought it was a bad idea, and it was a bad idea. For a long time this fact was very important to me. From late 2002 till the start of hostilities, the prospect of war, and whether it could be averted, was the guiding obsession of my life: I consumed all the news I could, hunting out signs and omens of what was coming. I was 21, a student with a baby, and had never cared about anything so much. The stakes were so high, and the issue so staggeringly obvious: of course Al Qaeda was not in Iraq, of course 45 minutes was a nonsense, of course this was really about oil, unfinished Bush family business, and some other hard-to-define international pressures that it definitely wouldn’t be anti-Semitic to discuss.
A level results day! Also known as the day of people who’ve done more than all right tweeting about how they faffed their exams up and it didn’t make any difference to them because look where they are now, so really aren’t A levels meaningless all things considered? (But not actually completely meaningless, because that would be insulting to the people who’ve done well, so better read that back three times before you fire your 140 characters into the world and find yourself beset by narked off teenage overachievers.)
What the well-intentioned successful are actually saying here is: I’m exceptional, you can be too! And the truth is you probably won’t be, because the thing about exceptional people is that they are exactly that – exceptions. For the general population, the general laws apply, and if you didn’t get the grades you needed for the thing you wanted to do, you probably won’t end up doing that thing.
The biggest mistake you can make about fandom is to think of it as a passive state, as if the fan were just a stray piece of paper blown on the breeze of their idol’s endeavours. Fans are curators. Fans are creators, assembling the myths we can believe in. Fans are a kind of clergy: we congregate, we recognise the other believers among us, we seek to make converts. Leon Neyfakh is a fan – not just any fan, but a number one fan. The Next Next Level is the document of his fandom, and the brilliance of this memoir is in no way diminished by the fact that his idolatry is focused on the distinctly unpromising material of a white Milwaukee rap-rock artist called Juiceboxxx who offers lines such as: “Hanging out, chilling on my porch up front / Nothing to do so we let the beat bump.”