'I like to think they're old-school Mother Goose storytelling with a Lady Gaga mash-up': Laura Dockrill on her live readings. Photograph: Katherine Rose for the Observer


Chinese author Mo Yan wins Nobel Prize in literature

BBC: Chinese writer Mo Yan is the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature, making him the 109th recipient of the award. The Swedish Academy praised his work, saying the ‘hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.’

Photo: File via AP

"His win makes him the first Chinese writer to win the Nobel in its 111-year history: although Gao Xingjian won in 2000, and was born in China, he is now a French citizen, and although Pearl Buck took the prize in 1938, for "her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces", she is an American author." - From Alison Flood at the Guardian

Philip Hensher: Why handwriting matters

Does handwriting have a value that email and texting can’t replace? In this extract from his new book, The Missing Ink, Philip Hensher laments the slow death of the written word, and explains how putting pen to paper can still occupy a special place in our lives

Photograph: The Granger Collection / TopFoto

“The man who said, on hearing of the death of Truman Capote in 1984, "Good career move" will hardly have expected to be treated with kid gloves when his own turn came. In fact, Gore Vidal would have been insulted to be given the traditional 21-gun salute of half-meant compliments, the fly-past of platitudes.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” The one everyone knows (and quotes). Parodied, spoofed, and misremembered, Austen’s celebrated zinger remains the archetypal First Line for an archetypal tale. Only Dickens comes close, with the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light etc…”

Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice (1813)

The 10 best first lines in fiction

Our guide to the greatest opening lines of novels in the English language, from Jane Austen to James Joyce

“This being Urban Dictionary, there are of course lots of naughtier ones, including the most recherche slang for cocaine I’ve ever heard in the form of “Walt Whitman” – he wrote long lines, see? And then there’s the felicitous “Hemingway”, a verb meaning to write an essay under the influence of alcohol. I think he would have been proud of that one. JK Rowling might be less happy about hers: some belletrist has proposed the children’s author’s name as a marvellously inappropriate if semantically sly term for “being under the effects of cannabis (jay) and ketamine (kay): JK Rowling. Ex: Man, I’m rowling so hard right now.””
— Hermione Hoby unpicks how the Urban Dictionary is redefining literature’s biggest names – add your suggestions for the canon redux
“We have too many languages and cultures, indeed, the idea of an unique [European] newspaper is for now just a utopia. The web, meanwhile, makes us bump into one another; we may not read Russian but we come across Russian websites and we are made aware of others.”

Photograph: Craig Thompson

It took the graphic novelist Craig Thompson seven years to complete Habibi, his epic exploration of child slavery and sexual awakening in an imaginary Middle-Eastern kingdom. In this gallery he shows how it grew from his first ideas to the final pages.

Photograph: Anna and Elena Balbusso

Striking illustrations from a new edition of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale:

As we wait in our double line, the door opens and two more women come in, both in the red dresses and white wings of the Handmaids. One of them is vastly pregnant; her belly, under her loose garment, swells triumphantly. There is a shifting in the room, a murmur, an escape of breath; despite ourselves we turn our heads, blatantly, to see better; our fingers itch to touch her. She’s a magic presence to us, an object of envy and desire, we covet her. She’s a flag on a hilltop, showing us what can still be done: we too can be saved.