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Books

Fiction
The Death of Grass
John Christopher
As eerily visionary as John Wyndham and as English as Enid Blyton, John Christopher’s unflinching vision of a world brought backward to savagery by an aggressive and uncontrollable crop-killing virus was part of 1950s British sci-fi royalty before drifting out of print. In a world of climate change and pandemic-dread, Penguin’s reissue seems as prescient as the prose.

Science fiction
Cyberabad Days
Ian McDonald
Revisiting the sci-fi dystopia of his award-winning River of Gods, McDonald’s latest collection of novellas and shorts explores an India warped by new technologies and ancient beliefs. The Subcontinent provides vibrant material for his overtly political vision, which asks questions about where capricious economies, environmental damage and social inequalities take us in an accelerated world of technological excess.

Fiction
Leaving Tangier
Tahar Ben Jelloun
All Azel wants is to leave his native Tangier where he’s doomed to a jobless existence despite a first-class university degree. After a sugar daddy arrives to sweep Azel from Tangier to the “right” side of the Strait of Gibraltar, things don’t instantly improve. Tahar Ben Jelloun tackles the subject of North African brain drain and the political corruption that pre-empts it in this surprisingly funny and sexually frank account.

Photography
Store Front: the Disappearing Face of New York
James T Murray & Karla L Murray
Collected over almost 10 years by husband-and-wife team James and Karla Murray, Store Front is a photographic compilation of New York’s odder old store fronts. Shunning digital for 35mm film, the photos’ retro feel emphasises the antique appearance of many of these facades. From peeling candy stores in Brooklyn to bagel joints on the Lower East Side, this is a humorous anthology of Americana and a tale of family-run success against the retail giants.

Graphic comedy
All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem
Laurie Rosenwald
Rosenwald’s colourful book is a fantastically inappropriate, kaleidoscopic trip through adolescence in real time. Her musings cover shoplifting, getting kicked out of yoga and self-righteous green marketing scams. Should appeal to neurotic teens and adults everywhere.

Music

Electro-rock
Wave Machines
Wave If You’re Really There
The Photoshop’d cover and song titles such as I Joined a Union might make you go, “Urgh – more dance music you can’t dance to.” But you’ll be doing karaoke robotics to this catchy debut, cackling as your iPod overheats, getting hysterical as your speakers smoke, keeping it on repeat until melted hardware floods the party like a candle-wax tsunami. Artful electro sounds belie a human heart and sense of humour.

Art-pop
Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career
On reflection, Phil Spector probably wishes he’d been holed up in a Glaswegian semi with this lot making one last classic record. For behind the wonderful California-cum-Caledonia vocals of Tracyanne Campbell labour five other bandmates to produce their sweet and soulful country-pop. That’s six alibis. From the moment the needle drops, the Scots’ fourth is a stone-cold chip-shop Wall of Sound classic.

Folk-pop
Pajaro Sunrise
Done/Undone
When it comes to effortless tunefulness it’s often the chilly places that rule; Norway have their Kings of Convenience, Scotland their Belle & Sebastian. Sure, the Madrid winter’s cashmere weather, but not so nippy that Pajaro Sunrise’s melodic mastery should be so unseasonably, metaphor-ruiningly assured. This is a youthful yet masterful collection of deceptively simple songwriting. So hot it’s cold.

Film

Thriller
L’instinct de mort
Dir: Jean-François Richet
Jacques Mesrine was the French provincial Carlos the Jackal, playing cat and mouse with les flics in Quebec and Paris during the 1960s and 1970s. Vincent Cassel is his reincarnation in this two-part biopic (right, top), and it is his finest hour – channelling Pacino as Scarface without the mania, and De Niro in Raging Bull without the self-loathing, but with the weight gain for the later-life scenes. Formidable.

Thriller
Pour Elle (Anything For Her)
Dir: Fred Cavayé
If this film were American it would be full of CGI and might well star Tom Cruise. Luckily Pour Elle is French and its male lead is played by a grizzled Vincent Lindon – a desperate husband planning to break his wrongly convicted wife (Diane Kruger right, bottom) out of prison. The action is fast-paced but plausible, even when Lindon morphs from grumpy prof to robotic hitman.

Art

Contemporary
Cy Twombly
The Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago
Now until 13 September 2009
The grand old man of contemporary expressionism opens Renzo Piano’s bright young thing of a Modern Wing at Chicago’s mighty institute with a survey of recent works concerned with the natural world. Twombly’s oblique interpretations of his decade-long preoccupation with land and seascapes span huge canvases, multi-panel installations and sculpture. As for the extension, Piano’s gracious, pavilion-like structure promises a naturally illuminated view of Twombly and the rest of the institute’s premier 20th and 21st century collection.

Contemporary
Various
The 53rd Venice Biennale, Giardini and Arsenale, Venice
7 June – 22 November 2009
The sprightly and commercially savvy Daniel Birnbaum curates the 53rd bi-annual behemoth of contemporary art under the bold, all-embracing theme, “Making Worlds”. While specifics are closely guarded secrets, big names aren’t: Steve McQueen, Carsten Höller, Miranda July, John Baldessari and maker-of-the-moment Keren Cytter will all feature. And Venice’s extra-pavilion action is as anticipated as the main show. Ever artistic, Monocle will be filming the best of the biennale, so all eyes to monocle.com from mid-June.

Should I wear a mask to watch rolling news?

In Rolling Newsland, no-one can hear you scream. Unless you say everything in capital letters

By Robert Bound

Rolling news has been quiet recently. Here’s why: despite Republican grumbling, Barack Obama is safely in the White House; despite grumbling from spaniel-lovers, Portuguese water dog Bo Obama is safely in the White Kennel (despite grumbling from Michelle Obama that the First Dog is “kind of crazy”). Politics, then: tick. The economy continues to be beyond buggered despite CBS, CNN and the BBC sending their most telegenic raincoats to stand outside AIG and RBS in a stiff breeze. No amount of pinstripe-bashing or nodding at graphs seems to produce green shoots. It’s baffling. Business: tick.

Thank God, then, for May’s lather: Mexico’s swine flu. At time of writing, H1N1 is just a few days old. It’s a developing story, which, in TV land, means making no assumptions about the intellect of your viewer and flashing DEVELOPING STORY in shouty capital letters (Sky News) over footage of a bemused nine-year-old in a sombrero walking through arrivals at Gatwick airport. As it’s a virus, it helps to have a huge animated chimera swirling around behind the newsreader’s head (Sky News) like a dripping-mouthed Alien set to swipe Sigourney Weaver. CNN’s graphics department opted for a twisting viral close-up that morphs into the phrase “SWINE FLU OUTBREAK” that owes its panicky font and dirty green colour-scheme to The X-Files and X-Men. Fox relied on booking a guest likely to say something insulting, to serve the channel’s own political agenda. On Fox News’ compellingly clunky Strategy Room, a panelist said swine flu could be a “good excuse” to shut up the Mexican border properly, as if with a giant disinfected padlock. Illegal immigrants: tick.

Perhaps in a show of solidarity with a time of austerity, the networks’ big-gun graphics – 3D projections etc – have been rolled back after the US election. Due to economic uncertainty, we’re in a time of wondering “what the fuck?”. And because wondering isn’t the same as telling (“BREAKING NEWS, KIDS!”) or projecting (“OBAMA SET TO BE BIGGER THAN JESUS”), rolling news is floundering. Despite his Daily Bugle branding, Larry King Live isn’t a forum for big questions. And anyway, philosophers don’t drink from coffee mugs with their own name on.

For rolling news, politics and business can be tricky. There’s not much to film until there’s a great speech, a dreadful speech or more bankers walk out of their offices with their BlackBerrys and hair gel in old Doritos boxes. And don’t think TV news producers aren’t thinking just what you felt guilty about thinking: just how Mexican are Doritos, anyway? Is there a link? Was that doleful trader bearing more than just a photo of the-wife-and-kids? The best outcome for the news would be the tenuous but fretful link between the two. “LEHMAN bros BAILED OUT OVER WATERING GREEN SHOOTS OF MEXICAN PIG FLU.” Be safe; be sure to wear a mask for the perfect scaremongering storm. Rolling news: TICK.

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