From Penguins to why writers drink

image-medium (48)Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? This is discussed in one of the non fiction nominees up for a Costa award.

Empire Antarctica: Ice, Silence and Emperor Penguins by Gavin Francis 
Gavin Francis fulfilled a lifetime’s ambition when he spent fourteen months as the base-camp doctor at Halley, a profoundly isolated British research station on the Caird Coast of Antarctica. Antarctica offered a year of unparalleled silence and solitude, with a few distractions and very little human history, but also a rare opportunity to live among emperor penguins, the only species truly at home in the Arctic. Following the penguins throughout the year – from a summer of perpetual sunshine to months of winter darkness – Gavin Francis explores a world of great beauty conjured from the simplest of elements, the hardship of living at 50 degrees centigrade below zero and the unexpected comfort that the penguin community brings. Gavin Francis was born in 1975 and brought up in Fife, Scotland. After qualifying from medical school in Edinburgh he spent ten years travelling, visiting all seven continents. He has worked in Africa and India, made several trips to the Arctic, and crossed Eurasia and Australasia by motorcycle. His first book, True North, was published in 2008. He has lectured widely and his essays have appeared in the Guardian, Granta and The London Review of Books. He lives in Edinburgh.
Judges: “A mesmerising account told in crystalline prose, of fourteen months spent in the silent vastness
of the last unknown continent.”

Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding 
Hanns Alexander was the son of a prosperous German family who fled Berlin for London in the 1930s. Rudolf Höss was a farmer and soldier who rose through the ranks of the SS to become the Kommandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where he oversaw the
deaths of over a million men, women and children. In the aftermath of the Second World War, the first British War Crimes Investigation Team is assembled to hunt down the senior Nazi officials responsible for the greatest atrocities the world has ever seen. Lieutenant Hanns Alexander is one of the lead investigators, Rudolf Höss his most elusive target. Thomas Harding is a journalist who has written for the Sunday Times, Financial Times and the Guardian, among other publications. He co-founded a television station in Oxford, England, and for many years was an award-winning publisher of a newspaper in West Virginia. He lives in Hampshire, England. Judges: “A beautifully-balanced double biography, admirably measured but also gripping in its telling, which offers a fresh perspective on a much-examined subject.”

The Pike: Gabriele D’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett 
In September 1919 Gabriele D’Annunzio, successful poet, dramatist and occasional politician with an innate flair for the melodramatic, declared himself the Commandante of the city of Fiume in modern day Croatia. He intended to establish the utopian modern state upon his muddled fascist and artistic ideals and create a social paradigm for the rest of the world. It was a fittingly dramatic pinnacle to a career that had been essentially theatrical. Lucy Hughes-Hallett is the author of Cleopatra: Histories, Dreams and Distortions which was published in 1990 to wide acclaim, and Heroes: Saviours, Traitors and Supermen, published in 2004, which garnered similar praise. Cleopatra won the Fawcett Prize and the Emily Toth Award. Lucy Hughes-Hallett reviews for the Sunday Times. She lives in London.
Judges: “A classic, meticulously researched biography, told with a twist, and riveting in its historical sweep.”

The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink by Olivia Laing 
Why is it that some of the greatest works of literature have been produced by writers in the grip of alcoholism, an addiction that cost them personal happiness and caused harm to those who loved them? In The Trip to Echo Spring, Olivia Laing takes a journey
across America to examine the link between creativity and alcohol through the work and lives of six extraordinary writers – F Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Berryman, John Cheever and Raymond Carver, all of whom were alcoholics. It is also a personal journey for Olivia, wanting to make sense of alcoholism – a disease that had affected her own family. Olivia Laing’s first book, To the River, was a book of the year in the Evening Standard, Independent and Financial Times and was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year. Olivia is the former Deputy Books Editor of the Observer and writes for a variety of publications, including the Observer, New Statesman, Guardian and Times Literary Supplement. She’s a 2011 MacDowell Fellow, and has received awards from the Arts Council, The Society of Authors and the Authors’ Foundation.
Judges: “An enthralling meld of memoir, travelogue, literary biography and personal journey, which sends you eagerly back to the work of six troubled but brilliant US writers.”

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