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10 Books to Read Before Hay Festival 2018

Culture /

10 Books to Read Before Hay Festival 2018

Crack into these before Hay.


is back later this month, from 24 May – 3 June. As the world’s most varied literature festival and one of the greatest meeting of minds in the country, make sure you’ve done your homework beforehand… 


Hay Festival


The Killing of Butterfly Joe – Rhidian Brook

Llewellyn Jones is a directionless young Welshman who falls in with the Bosco family and sets off across America with them selling butterflies. This rollicking, entertaining road novel is as much about make-believe and truth, loyalty and friendship as about the agonies of cold calling: ‘every sale you attempt contains the possibility of failure, rejection and a kind of death’. The prose is a marathon of brilliantly sustained folksiness and linguistic invention, a riot of erudition, both faux and real. A triumph. Picador, £14.99 By Richard Hopton

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Do you really need an excuse to re-read Margaret Atwood’s brilliant Handmaid’s Tale for the gazillionth time? A resurgence in the now-classic novel’s popularity has come thanks to the smash hit American television series, which brilliantly conveys Atwood’s totalitarian dystopian society in which women are treated as property of the state. Especially poignant in 2018, which celebrates the suffrage centenary. A quick refresh of the story is essential ahead of Margaret Atwood’s sell-out talk with Gaby Wood.

The Golden House – Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s latest novel explores contemporary American culture and such vital issues as freedom of speech, race, language, literature, life and death. The Golden House has been compared with classics of American literature including The Great Gatsby and Brideshead Revisited because of its vivid story of great wealth followed by great downfall in the ultimate and hard-hitting reversal of the American Dream. Random House

Hay Festival


Anecdotal Evidence – Wendy Cope

Wendy Cope’s new collection is a gentle celebration of life’s joys as she takes stock at the age of 70. She recalls childhood homesickness, ruminates on her father’s volumes of Shakespeare and grins at the memory of watching the 1972 Olympics on TV in a haze of dope. There is much humour, too, as when she contemplates the notion of an archbishop jogging: ‘There’s no reason at all why he shouldn’t keep fit./It’s commendable. You can’t help sneering a bit.’ Cope’s poems may be deceptively simple, shorn of literary flourish, but they succeed brilliantly. Faber & Faber, £10.99 By Richard Hopton


How Britain Really Works – Stig Abell

Stig Abell, former editor of the Sun and now in charge of the Times Literary Supplement, has written a brisk, readable account of how our most important institutions work. He casts his eye over the economy, politics, the NHS, the military, the police, the justice system and the media. His views are left-leaning – tellingly, he defends political correctness despite the fact that it ‘limits free expression, and precludes honest debate’ – but in general he favours common sense over ideology. There is a good deal of humour in the book too, much of it squirrelled away in footnotes. John Murray, £20 By Richard Hopton

Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House – Michael Wolff

When tickets for Michael Wolff’s talk at Hay were released, they were sold out within hours – much like his book which was published amidst a whirlwind of fascination and excitement, as well as controversy. The book is the first to reveal the goings-on of the White House under Trump, and quickly became the New York Times number one bestseller. While much of the erratic and dysfunctional behaviour of Trump outlined in the book comes as little surprise, there is still much debate around some of the controversial and outrageous claims made by Wolff. Don’t miss your chance to hear the man himself at Hay. Little, Brown, £20

What’s On: The Best Literary Festivals 2018

Hay Festival


Modernists & Mavericks: Bacon, Freud, Hockney & The London Painters – Martin Gayford

Martin Gayford is The Spectator’s art critic whose latest book is the fruit of three decades of interviews with London’s leading painters. It embraces those mentioned in the title but also Auerbach, Bomberg, Hodgkin, Riley and many others. It offers a comprehensive account of their careers as well as tracing the stylistic development of the various schools between 1945 and 1970. The art historical weight of the book is leavened by anecdote. In the 1950s, for example, someone suggested that Francis Bacon should live in Switzerland to which the great man retorted: ‘All those fucking views’. Thames & Hudson, £24.95 By Richard Hopton


Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life – Rose Tremain


Rosie is a clear-sighted memoir of the author Rose Tremain’s upbringing. Abandoned by her father at the age
of ten and unloved by her selfish, bulimic mother, it was her nanny who provided the love that enabled Rose to survive her emotionally suppressed childhood. This memoir is exquisitely wrought, full of telling details recalled with astonishing freshness despite the passage of time. The book is studded with footnotes explaining how specific incidents from her life surfaced in her novels, an interesting insight into how an author draws on life in writing fiction. Chatto & Windus, £14.99 By Richard Hopton

New Glasses for the Festival Season with Tom Davies

My Life, Our Times – Gordon Brown

Former Chancellor and Prime Minister Gordon Brown launches his memoir at Hay this year. My Life, Our Times is a fascinating look back at the three decades during which Brown was in office, told in his own candid and poignant words. Bodley Head, £25

Brave – Rose McGowan

In one of the most anticipated talks of the festival, Rose McGowan discusses her memoir/manifesto, Brave, which exposes the truth about the systemic misogyny in the entertainment industry. As one of the catalysts for the downfall of Harvey Weinstein and the subsequent #MeToo movement that has come to define the past few months, McGowan’s first book is essential reading. HQ, £20

Brought to you in association with our Hay Festival partner

The C&TH Top Picks for Hay


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