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Books | The Guardian



Latest books news, comment, reviews and analysis from the Guardian



Published: Wed, 21 Feb 2018 13:44:12 GMT2018-02-21T13:44:12Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2018
 



Awards for women, writers of colour, small presses – why are there so many books prizes?

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 12:29:58 GMT2018-02-21T12:29:58Z

There are so many literary prizes these days that they could be regarded as an industry in their own right – but they’re needed to change the status quo

How many literary prizes are there in the UK today? To Wikipedia’s tally of around 70, I can immediately add half a dozen more – and still they come. It doesn’t seem too much of an exaggeration to see them as an industry in their own right, involving flotillas of administrators, squads of judges and hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in prize money.

The value of this industry has long been hotly debated, with some writers going so far as to maintain that having so many prizes deforms the literary culture. The Man Booker prize, in particular, has been charged with dictating the sort of novel that is thought to be worth publishing and promoting, thereby influencing the books authors have felt compelled to write over the last 50 years.

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Top 10 books about cheating

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 10:00:14 GMT2018-02-21T10:00:14Z

From illicit James Salter to category-defying Jeanette Winterson, here are the best contemporary works about romantic infidelity

Why do we keep coming back to the adultery novel? What is it about infidelity that bears retelling across the centuries, especially now, when the ancient prohibitions against sex outside marriage have all but disappeared? These are questions I asked myself as I was writing Fire Sermon, the story of a married woman’s physical, intellectual and spiritual affair with a married poet.

I’m not sure I have all the answers. However, given the current cultural moment, I believe it’s a crucial time for female artists to write frankly and openly about female sexuality in all its forms: longing, shame, guilt, transgression, ecstasy. The assumption that male writers can have sexually transgressive imaginations while female novelists should be more demure is passé. If we’re going to secure gender equality, we must be allowed the same imaginative expression, on the page, as our male counterparts.

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Sight by Jessie Greengrass review – a stunning debut novel about minds and bodies

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 07:30:15 GMT2018-02-21T07:30:15Z

This poised meditation on medicine, pregnancy and parenthood considers what we can know of our bodies, our selves and of others

The man who invented the x-ray, Wilhelm Röntgen, happened upon his discovery by accident, devoting a few weeks to it before moving on. Nevertheless he revolutionised medicine, and changed for ever the way we relate to our bodies. No longer opaque, obscure things, they were now – at this very beginning, in 1895 – more knowable. But this did not mean that they were any less inscrutable.

Related: Top 10 contemporary short stories

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Operation Chaos by Matthew Sweet review – spies, Vietnam deserters and a cult of evil

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 08:59:17 GMT2018-02-21T08:59:17Z

A horribly readable account of the US military deserters who found asylum in Sweden during the Vietnam War, and their group’s infiltration by the CIA

It is almost forgotten now what a decisive role Sweden played in the Vietnam war. Even at the time, the armies doing the fighting and the million or so Vietnamese doing the dying may have underestimated the importance Swedish public opinion had on their struggle. But in Sweden it was never in doubt. The starting point for this weird, sad, horribly readable story is the arrival in Stockholm in May 1968 of six misfit and confused US deserters from the Vietnam war after they had been shepherded across the Soviet Union from Japan, where a fishing vessel had smuggled them on to a Russian ship.

They had been transported across the USSR “on a current of vodka” and with women supplied by the KGB; they had even been questioned by Yuri Andropov, later to rise to supreme power, and helped to make a propaganda film in which one of them, who had been a ship’s cook and never landed in the country, gave wrenching testimony of all the atrocities he and his unit had committed on the ground in Vietnam.

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Milo Yiannopoulos drops lawsuit over his cancelled book

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 18:13:02 GMT2018-02-20T18:13:02Z

The rightwing provocateur, who recently attempted to represent himself in court, and his former publisher asked that the case be dismissed ‘without costs or fees to either party’

Rightwing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos is dropping a lawsuit against his former publisher Simon & Schuster, after attempting to sue the firm for cancelling his memoir Dangerous.

In papers filed on 20 February in New York state supreme court, Yiannopoulos and the publishing house asked that the case be dismissed “without costs or fees to either party”.

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'Ebooks are stupid', says head of one of world's biggest publishers

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 14:40:34 GMT2018-02-20T14:40:34Z

The chief executive of Hachette Livre, Arnaud Nourry, says the industry has had ‘one or two successes among a hundred failures’ and that ebooks have ‘no creativity’

The head of one of the world’s largest book publishers has described the ebook as “a stupid product” that is unlikely to see further growth.

Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of Hachette Livre, made the comment to the Indian news site Scroll.in in a wide-ranging interview about Hachette’s future in India, which also touched on digital publishing. According to Nourry, the “plateau, or rather slight decline”, that ebook sales have seen in the US and the UK in recent years is “not going to reverse”.

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Pressure from Turkey blamed as Sarajevo reverses decision to honour Orhan Pamuk

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 13:03:06 GMT2018-02-20T13:03:06Z

The Nobel laureate, who is a vocal critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was nominated for the honour while writing screenplay about Bosnian war

The city of Sarajevo has abandoned plans to make Orhan Pamuk an “honorary citizen” of the Bosnia-Herzegovina capital, with critics blaming the move on fears of offending Turkey.

Pamuk had been nominated for the honour by local publisher and bookshop Buybook, which suggested the Nobel laureate be made an “honorary citizen of Sarajevo” as he was planning to visit the city this spring while working on a screenplay about Bosnia during the war. According to Buybook director Damir Uzunović, while the council commission initially voted seven to zero to make the Turkish author an honorary citizen, a second vote saw Pamuk’s candidacy rejected by four votes to three.

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A Good Time to Be a Girl review – Helena Morrissey’s ‘gentle’ manifesto for change

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 08:00:07 GMT2018-02-19T08:00:07Z

The City superwoman’s grand plan for greater diversity in the workplace is often disappointingly conservative

Helena Morrissey is different. She stands out in ways that are obvious – she has nine children and works in the senior echelons of the City – and ways that are not. She is a Brexiter, in a profession that mainly voted Remain. She is radical in some ways and distinctly conservative in others, making her difficult to pigeonhole. Morrissey is unusual and her book is essentially about why that is a good thing; why people who don’t fit the mould should be valued for that, rather than forced to conform. Although only, perhaps, up to a point.

Her book is pitched as a mild rebuke to the gung-ho American cult of “lean in” corporate feminism preached by Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg. Why, Morrissey asks, should women “lean in” to an old-fashioned patriarchal system that’s no longer fit for purpose, when we could change the system instead? Women shouldn’t have to copy men to get on but should be free to succeed in their own way, perhaps working more flexibly (when Morrissey ran her own investment management company, she offered a four-day week to anyone who wanted it) or managing more creatively or just approaching issues differently. So stop telling women to push harder for pay rises like the men do and ask why on earth you’d encourage a pay system that rewards self-promotion over talent.

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Building and Dwelling by Richard Sennett review – sharp insights

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 07:00:06 GMT2018-02-19T07:00:06Z

With more than half the global population living in cities, the author’s observations on urban planning and street life are timely and engaging

There is a thriving line of business, in publishing, architecture and academe, in talking about something called “the city”. It entails thick tomes, conferences in interesting locations, meetings with mayors and power-brokers, events posing as public debates that are in reality diplomatic rituals. This industry draws strength and publicity from the facts that more than half the world’s population now live in cities and that the proportion seems set only to increase.

These same facts also dissipate and confuse. If so much of humanity lives in cities, then to talk of them is to describe, almost, the whole world. “The city” becomes a term so extensive and multiple as to be meaningless or useless. What, for example, might a prosperous, static, historic city in northern Europe have in common with an exploding megalopolis in south-east Asia? Often, studies of “the city” collapse into awe at its endless, sprawling, incomprehensible vastness, to the point where these epithets – endless, sprawling and incomprehensible – apply as much to the academic and publishing endeavours themselves as to the subject they are supposed to address.

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Ground Work: Writings on Places and People by Tim Dee – review

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 07:00:37 GMT2018-02-18T07:00:37Z

This astute anthology is a reminder to communicate with nature in a way that forces us to inhabit the present

Last summer I attended the funeral of the eye surgeon and musician Andrew Tullo, in Oswestry, Shropshire. At the door of the church two mourners gave out sprigs of apple blossom. When I asked why, I learned of the community orchard that Andrew had helped create in a crescent of abandoned ground between a disused railway line and the B5069. The Cambrian Railways Orchard Project combines orchard, camp fire, party venue, beekeeping and conservation, and it is beloved by the townsfolk that care for it.

It is typical of the kind of community scheme inspired by the lobby group and charity Common Ground, which was founded in 1983 by Sue Clifford, Angela King and the writer Roger Deakin “to seek imaginative ways to engage people with their local environment”.

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The Wife’s Tale by Aida Edemariam review – anatomy of an unyielding spirit

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 10:00:41 GMT2018-02-18T10:00:41Z

The extraordinary life of the author’s grandmother, who married aged eight and survived tumultuous events, is richly and painstakingly evoked

Aida Edemariam found the subject of this engaging biography in her own family tree – The Wife’s Tale being the story of her paternal grandmother. And in choosing to excavate and write a family history, she follows a growing trend among biographers reshaping the genre with intimate studies of late mothers, complicated fathers and tragic siblings, from Helen Macdonald and Richard Beard to 2017’s Costa prize-winning biographer, Rebecca Stott.

In Edemariam’s case, it is the life of Yetemegnu, who was born in the northern Ethiopian city of Gondar and died five years ago at the grand age of 97 (or thereabouts: the timeline in the book explains that formal birth certificates weren’t used in Ethiopia in the early 20th century). She emerges as a bewitching and resilient figure whose life-changing moments sometimes intersect with the tumultuous history of her nation. Edemariam’s narrative often expands to cover the bigger picture – Italian occupation in the 1930s, resistance, liberation, political coups, revolts and famine – before contracting back to Yetemegnu’s life.

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Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington review – birds of deadly beauty

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 10:00:12 GMT2018-02-17T10:00:12Z

Darlington tracks down the European continent’s native owl species and gives achingly beautiful descriptions of these magnificent creatures

Darlington’s book begins with a chance encounter on an English street. The great grey owl, native to Lapland, is just a few months old: “Her softness took my breath away. Deadly beauty.” She is tethered by jesses to her keeper, who is trying to get the bird used to people. Suddenly startled, she spreads her wings in fear, straining at the leash: “I must have closed my eyes and when I opened them again, in front of me a striped grey haze of staggering silence and softness was rising; a giant butterfly, a god of the tundra.”

With their eerie cries and nocturnal habits, owls have haunted the skies of this planet for some 60m years. Homo sapiens has been around for a mere 200,000 or so years. An unequalled stealth hunter, using hearing so acute it can be termed “earsight”, the owl has featured in our myths and stories since the beginning. But Darlington is interested in the real predator and she travels across Europe tracking down nearly all the continent’s 13 native species. They range from the diminutive pygmy owl that “would fit inside a coffee cup” and is found at the edge of the Alps in southern France, to the Eurasian eagle owl, the world’s largest, armed with “jugular-crushing talons” and a “flesh-ripping bill”. In parts of Liverpool some drug dealers keep eagle owls instead of aggressive dogs: it is the “avian equivalent of a pit bull terrier”. But even these fearsome birds are now endangered, their numbers down by 60% in Finland, where she travels to see them; this sad story is echoed across all the species Darlington encounters.

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Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson review – a memoir not just for Suede fans

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 07:30:09 GMT2018-02-15T07:30:09Z

A rich evocation of the singer’s youth, parents and life in a council house

Brett Anderson, lead singer of Suede, has been thinking about his band’s backstory for a long time. In 1994, less than a year after their self-titled LP had become the UK’s fastest-selling debut since Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome, he told a journalist from New Musical Express: “The history of this fucking band is ridiculous. It’s like Machiavelli rewriting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It involves a cast of thousands. It’s always been fiery and tempestuous and really on the edge and it never stops. I don’t think it ever will. It would make a fucking good book.”

Coal Black Mornings is not that book. That’s to say it’s not, in his phrase, “the usual ‘coke and gold discs’ memoir”. Rather it’s a pre-history, a ruminative and often gorgeously written meditation on his early life: before Suede released their first single; before, without having released a note of music, they appeared on the cover of Melody Maker hailed as “The Best New Band in Britain”; before they were yoked into a still violently argued debate about national identity and guitar music. Anderson, who describes himself as “hunched over the fossils of my past”, claims early on that he’s writing “a book about failure”.

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Paper Cuts by Stephen Bernard review – a powerful memoir of sexual abuse

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 09:01:40 GMT2018-02-16T09:01:40Z

As a child, Bernard was repeatedly abused by a Catholic priest. Now an Oxford literary scholar, he has written a remarkable account of the damage done

Starting in 1987, when he was 11 years old, Stephen Bernard was sexually abused by Canon Thomas “Dermod” Fogarty, the priest who was, supposedly, helping him with his French and Latin. This was in Midhurst, Sussex, in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton, then headed by Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the future leader in England of the Roman Catholic church. A few years ago, reading about Murphy-O’Connor’s reaction to other cases of abuse in the 80s, Bernard “wanted to die” – he’d already been in hospital more than once after previous suicide attempts – but decided, this time, to go to the police.

The deaths of Fogarty in 2012 and Murphy-O’Connor in 2017 presumably have a lot to do with the timing of this book.

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Home by Amanda Berriman review – a child’s view of family poverty

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 12:00:14 GMT2018-02-17T12:00:14Z

A four-year-old narrator powerfully brings home the fears of living life on the edge

You already know Jesika, the four-year-old protagonist of Amanda Berriman’s debut. You will have seen her with her mum and baby brother squeezing a buggy laden with shopping bags on to the bus. Maybe you know them from the supermarket aisles, the mum exhausted and close to snapping, silently doing sums in her head. Jesika and her family live on the edge. They are scraping by, renting a slum flat in dangerous disrepair. One stroke of bad luck could push them into the abyss – and they face more than a few pushes in this book.

It is Jesika’s naive voice that tells this story of a family moving ever closer to disaster. Her first-person narration features childlike logic and rhythms of thought, misinterpreted and compacted words. On night falling, she says:

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Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin review – a meditation on loneliness

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 07:30:09 GMT2018-02-17T07:30:09Z

This bruising yet surprisingly tender tale of urban isolation shines a light on the drifters and the broken-down

Hector Hidalgo is a young Mexican boxer who wants to turn professional. Only “Hector Hidalgo” doesn’t exist – he’s the persona of Horace Hopper, a 21-year-old ranch hand born to a Native American father and an Irish mother who is desperate to escape his own stifling sense of failure. The trouble with reinventing oneself is that it involves leaving other people behind, and US novelist and musician Willy Vlautin’s fifth novel is a meditation on loneliness, in which the outer and inner landscapes ring with a sound akin to desolation.

Horace lives in Nevada on the Reese ranch, having been taken in as a teenager by Mr Reese and his wife, now in their 70s. Mr Reese wants Horace to take over the ranch but Horace feels unworthy of such trust, gnawed at by his mother’s abandonment of him, aged 12, to his Irish grandmother, who is sketched with Vlautin’s typical blunt strokes as a woman who “drank Coors light on ice from 11am until she fell asleep on the couch at nine, who chain-smoked cigarettes, who ate only frozen dinners, and who was scared of Indians, blacks and Mexicans”.

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The best recent crime novels – review roundup

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 12:00:46 GMT2018-02-16T12:00:46Z

Sunburn by Laura Lippman, Righteous by Joe Ide, The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh, That Old Black Magic by Cathi Unsworth, Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas

Sunburn (Faber, £14.99), Laura Lippman’s homage to the hardboiled, morally ambiguous novels of James M Cain, has the texture and many of the tropes of classic American noir but is set in 1995. Tired of her loveless marriage and limited horizons, beautiful redhead Polly Costello walks out on husband Gregg and young daughter Jani during a beach holiday and fetches up in the one-horse town of Belleville, Delaware, where she takes a job in the High-Ho bar-slash-restaurant. Here, she meets Adam Bosk, and a flirtation commences. It soon becomes clear that Adam knows more about Polly than he is letting on, and that her past is infinitely more complicated than either Adam or Gregg realise, and the skeletons in the cupboard begin to pile perilously high. Lippman uses multiple narrators and controls the flow of information masterfully in this tantalising, ingeniously constructed page-turner.

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Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi review – strange, violent and wickedly funny

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 07:30:38 GMT2018-02-16T07:30:38Z

Absurdist morality fable meets horror fantasy as a victim of sectarian violence is brought back to life in Iraq

It is two centuries since Mary Shelley’s reanimated monster drifted into the darkness on an ice floe. In this surreal, visceral and mordant novel by Iraqi author and film-maker Ahmed Saadawi, the winner of the 2014 International prize for Arabic fiction, we meet his 21st-century cousin, who would certainly have much to say to Frankenstein’s creature were they to meet on the dissecting table.

Frankenstein in Baghdad is set in the aftermath of the US invasion of Iraq. Baghdad seems somehow both ordinary and extraordinary: it is a city where journalists and government officials might meet at the Novotel and deplore the state of things, and where one must decide whether bus or taxi offers the quickest route to the office at rush hour; but it is also a city in which men take canvas sacks to the sites of explosions and collect the detritus of passers-by blown into bits.

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The Hoarder by Jess Kidd review – a lyrical gothic detective saga

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 15:00:18 GMT2018-02-15T15:00:18Z

Strange photographs spark this unsettling journey into a labyrinth of decay and eccentricity

Irish author Jess Kidd’s debut Himself was one of the standout titles of 2016, rightly praised for its unique voice and tenor. Shifting her focus in this second novel from the rural to the urban, Kidd takes us from west Ireland to west London, where careworker Maud Drennan has been tasked with looking after “bedraggled giant” Cathal Flood, the hoarder of the book’s title. It’s a tough, thankless job and Maud suspects that it has been given to her because, like Flood, she is Irish and therefore more likely to be able to persuade him that he needs help. And it’s clear from the start that he does. Since his wife’s death, he has gradually allowed himself to descend into squalor; and Bridlemere, his sprawling, Grade II-listed townhouse, has become overwhelmed with years of accrued jumble.

From the outside, it is an imposing place of louring grandeur, even if the garden path is lined with “eviscerated mattresses and abandoned car batteries”. The interior is similarly chaotic, and Kidd renders all its mouldering glories with a sharp eye, from the “dead mouse curled in a teacup” to the dismembered Barbie doll that Maud imagines as “part of some sort of art installation, like the abstract expressionist shit that splatters the wall and the mug tree lodged in the toilet bowl”.

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London Rules by Mick Herron review – high jeopardy, big jokes and bigotry

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 09:00:14 GMT2018-02-14T09:00:14Z

Herron cleverly subverts Le Carré in the latest instalment of the Jackson Lamb spy series, a farce around terrorist atrocities

This is the fifth in Mick Herron’s Jackson Lamb series, which in characterisation and tone is essentially a rollicking subversion of John le Carré’s books about George Smiley. Whereas Smiley is the humane genius of the British secret service, his worst vice being reading German poetry in the original, Herron’s main spy is Lamb, a bigoted, philistine, morbidly obese, spectacularly flatulent, alcoholic chain-smoker whose newest grossness, introduced in this instalment, is spitting back into the office’s communal Haribo packet the flavours he finds unappetising.

Lamb is himself found distasteful by MI5 high command; after a previously vague disgrace, which is finally detailed in this book, he was sent as punishment to run Slough House, an MI5 naughty step for those who have suffered personal or professional reverses of fortune.

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The Melody by Jim Crace review – a story with real bite

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 08:00:09 GMT2018-02-13T08:00:09Z

A singer is attacked by a night-time intruder in Crace’s typically tricksy novel, a meditation on grief and poverty

“I also ought to thank the people of...” That’s how the acknowledgments to Jim Crace’s new novel end, mid-sentence at the foot of the page, as if in error. Although this is the kind of game Crace has played ever since his 1986 debut, Continent, which fabricated an epigraph from “the Histories of Pycletius”, no one imagined he was joking when he noted in his acknowledgments to his last novel, 2013’s Booker-shortlisted Harvest, that he had “enjoyed a fortunate career in books and publishing” – an ominously solemn observation that sounded (as interviews confirmed) a lot like goodbye.

Well, maybe Crace played us yet again, because here he is once more, on typically strange, slippery form. It starts when the concert singer Alfred Busi is attacked by a mysterious nocturnal scavenger rummaging in the larder of the seaside villa that has been his home for seven decades. Nursing a nasty bite to his hand, as well as the pungent memory of his assailant’s potato-like odour, he turns for help – in the absence of his late wife – to his sister-in-law, Terina, who once gave him an evening to remember and still inspires chaste fantasy. He’s less keen to talk to his nephew, a timber tycoon whose plan to gentrify the area finds a handy catalyst in the ensuing newspaper gossip about the scary beast-like hominids lurking in the nearby woodland.

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I left my childhood cult behind, but not the cynicism it instilled in me | Ellie Marney

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 17:00:03 GMT2018-02-20T17:00:03Z

Niggling doubt freed me from a dysfunctional upbringing and led me to write a novel daring teens to find their own path

Hey there! I’d like you to join my cult. Sell your house and come live in the same street as all my other followers. You can join us for gatherings two or three evenings a week, then devote another weeknight to special teachings. Every Saturday and Sunday will be spent in our hall, in one long inspirational love-fest. Doesn’t that sound great?

Your children can date the children of other followers. Don’t worry, we’ll keep a close eye on them, especially if they’re girls, who should really pay attention to how they look and behave; the women of our community are respectful and model passive submission, which is just biology after all. You can probably put aside things like outside social contacts, contemporary music and certain types of literature and media – you’re really better off without them. Oh, and if you’re having emotional trouble, relax. We’ve got special counsellors who can make everything better.

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How we made Peppa Pig

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 18:36:37 GMT2018-02-19T18:36:37Z

‘After its success, we’d go to meetings with lots of ideas for other shows – but they just wanted 3,000 more episodes of Peppa Pig’

Animation is a slow, laborious process. I’m way too impatient for it. I want a lunch and a life. So, after studying animation at Middlesex University, I became a producer instead. However, two guys I met there – Mark Baker and Neville Astley – stuck at it. By 2000, things had become very hand-to-mouth for them: they’d make an animated film, pitch another, then make it. So we decided to do something together and Peppa was one of our ideas.

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A field guide to spotting a good shag | Brief letters

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 17:29:14 GMT2018-02-19T17:29:14Z

Shags versus mullets | Black dresses at the Baftas | Childhood books | Missing the moon? | Pensioners making a difference

Your “Mullets we have loved” (In pictures, 17 February) was highly flawed. Half of these “mullets” were actually shags (Ronnie Wood, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Joan Jett).
Camilla Jackson
Bedworth, Warwickshire

• Your front page stated: “All three wore black dresses after a call for the awards to focus on industry rather than clothes” (Taking a stand at the Baftas, 19 February). However, on page 11, there were three columns commenting on what the actors were wearing. I am confused.
Mike Harrison
Bath

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Maze Runner author James Dashner dropped by US publisher amid harassment claims

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 11:22:24 GMT2018-02-16T11:22:24Z

Author of the popular young adult series has issued an apology for being ‘part of the problem’ in the wake of anonymous claims posted online

James Dashner, author of the bestselling young adult Maze Runner books, has issued an apology in which he says that he “will seek counselling and guidance” after he was accused of sexual harassment. He has also been dropped by his US publisher, Penguin Random House.

The anonymous allegations were made online on Sunday, in the comments section of a piece about sexual harassment in the children’s books world, published by the US trade magazine School Library Journal. Several accused Dashner of sexual harassment; one comment alleged that the “harassment/abuse from James Dashner was not a one-time unwanted touch or a joke I took the wrong way. It entailed months of manipulation, grooming and gaslighting”.

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Cancer, Clare and me: actor Greg Wise on the death of his sister

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:40 GMT2018-02-18T09:00:40Z

A year after the death of his beloved sister, Wise talks about caring for Clare in her last days, and the blog, now a book, they wrote together

It is more than a year since Clare Wise, sister of the actor Greg Wise, died of cancer. She lived just down the street from the West Hampstead house her brother shares with his wife, Emma Thompson, and their daughter, Gaia. As Greg opens his front door and leads the way into his kitchen, one can see, within minutes, why he was such an indispensable carer to his sister during the last weeks of her life. Today, he has organised elevenses with good coffee and patisserie. As an actor, he is routinely cast as a reprobate (Mountbatten in The Crown a debatable exception). In life, he could not be nicer if he tried. And that’s precisely it: he does not appear to be trying – the charm is not fake. When I ask him how he is feeling about Clare’s death now, his eyes fill.

“I’ve had very few days when I’ve not been actively doing something about Clare, be it probate, sorting out her flat, moving furniture – or just the book.” The book is Not That Kind of Love and is a shared effort, written by Clare and Greg. It is fuelled by wisdom and wisecracks, a story of brotherly, and sisterly, love. Clare was 18 months Greg’s senior (he is 51) and worked for the UK Film Council and as vice president of Universal Pictures. She started a blog in 2013 (although the first lump in her breast was found in 2007) and her take on illness drew a crowd – 96,000 hits (by 2015). No wonder: her style is gallant, funny, self-deprecating. It was not until June 2015 that cancer made its terrible comeback into her bones and Greg moved into her flat to take care of her and Grably (her attention-seeking cat). He also took over the blog when she became too sick to write.

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Tara Westover: ‘In families like mine there is no crime worse than telling the truth.’

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 18:00:21 GMT2018-02-17T18:00:21Z

Education was the author’s escape from an abusive childhood with survivalist Mormon parents, described in her extraordinary memoir

Tara Westover grew up preparing for the End of Days in rural Idaho with radical survivalist Mormon parents. She didn’t get a birth certificate until she was nine and had no medical records because her father did not believe in doctors. She and her six older siblings worked in her father’s junkyard. As she grew older, her father’s beliefs became more extreme and one of her brothers grew violent. At 17, she decided to educate herself as a means of escape. Within 10 years she had earned a PhD in intellectual history and political thought from Cambridge but was estranged from her parents and half of her siblings. Now 31 and still living in Cambridge, she has written a powerful memoir, Educated, about the transformative power of education and the price she had to pay for it.

Can you describe your childhood?
It was very isolated. Because I didn’t go to school I didn’t have friends in the way other people do. The only people I knew were the children of families like ours, who were home-schooled, anti-doctor, and we didn’t see them that often. I think I was 13 when I first went to another child’s house who went to school. I didn’t ask her back because she teased me about not knowing what a fraction was.

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Francisco Cantú: ‘This is work that endangers the soul’

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 09:00:39 GMT2018-02-18T09:00:39Z

The ex-US border patrol agent tells Ursula Kenny about his first book, a powerful account of the horrors suffered by Mexican migrants

Francisco Cantú worked as a US border patrol agent between 2008 and 2012. A third-generation Mexican American, he lives in Tucson, Arizona and his job included tracking migrants in the Sonoran desert, which separates Mexico from the US. After leaving the agency, he studied creative writing and his essays and translations have appeared in magazines including The Best American Essays, Guernica and Harper’s. A former Fulbright fellow and the recipient of a Pushcart prize and a 2017 Whiting award, his first book, The Line Becomes a River, is based on journals he kept while patrolling the border and was described by US Esquire as “a must-read for anyone who thinks ‘build a wall’ is the answer to anything’”. It is published in the UK in March by Bodley Head (£14.99).

Where did the impetus to be a border agent come from?
I grew up in south-west Arizona, where my mother was a park ranger. As a child I was very close to the landscape – always out in these wild places. I went on to study immigration and border policy in Washington DC, but when I was in college reading books and academic accounts of the border, I really felt like something was missing. By the time I graduated I knew that I wanted to go back to the border, to deepen my understanding of it and be out in it.

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Punk poet Eileen Myles, on their dog memoir: 'We were regarded as an unruly pair'

Fri, 16 Feb 2018 12:00:46 GMT2018-02-16T12:00:46Z

Lauded by Lena Dunham and the basis of a character in TV show Transparent, the poet discusses newfound fame, dogs and a ‘screwy memoir of queerness’

Afterglow is described on the jacket as a “dog memoir”, and by Eileen Myles as “a weirdo, Kafka-type book” that is also a “screwy memoir of queerness”. For those familiar with Myles’s work, these descriptions shouldn’t surprise; for the past 40 years, Myles has lived in accordance with the principle, expressed in the 1991 poem “Peanut Butter”: “I am absolutely in opposition / to all kinds of / goals”. The book, like the life, defies categories. What is surprising, perhaps, is that at 68 Myles has been taken up by the mainstream, featuring in a New York Times magazine shoot last year, lauded by Lena Dunham and Maggie Nelson, and providing the basis for a character in Transparent. The world of fringe poetry can be unforgiving and in previous years, on the basis of much milder success, Myles was accused by some peers of selling out. And now? The poet smiles, and says drily: “I think I would know if I had written Eat, Pray, Love.”

Related: Transparent review – the best thing on TV at the moment

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Altered Carbon author Richard Morgan: 'There’s no limit to my capacity for violence'

Tue, 13 Feb 2018 06:00:07 GMT2018-02-13T06:00:07Z

As Netflix screens his brutal body-swap novel, the writer talks about the anger – and the argument at a party – that fuelled its creation

On my way to meet Richard Morgan, I pass a poster for Altered Carbon, the new Netflix series based on his hardboiled cyberpunk novel about a future Earth where humans can transfer into different bodies. The writer, seated in a London cafe, grins with delight when I mention it: he lives in a village just outside Norwich and that poster, of a body preserved in plastic, is the first one he’s seen.

Altered Carbon tells the story of ultra-tough antihero Takeshi Kovacs, who wakes up on Earth “180 light years from home, wearing another man’s body on a six-week rental agreement”. Kovacs, a former member of a military elite, is tasked with investigating the apparent suicide of one of Earth’s richest men – or, as he puts it: “freighted in to do a job that the local police wouldn’t touch with a riot prod.”

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Jeet Thayil: 'I have a liver condition, I'm reckless and I'm very aware that time is limited'

Fri, 09 Feb 2018 08:00:50 GMT2018-02-09T08:00:50Z

The former addict whose novel Narcopolis was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize on the western whitewashing of saints and the diagnosis that forced him to write

Jeet Thayil is everywhere at the Jaipur literary festival. The poet, novelist and former drug addict moves between panels on the future of the novel, moderating sessions with poets and a spoken word gig. He also finds time to talk about his new novel, The Book of Chocolate Saints, which, he says, “reclaims for the east the historical figures that had been whitewashed by the west, from Jesus Christ to Saint Augustine”. In person, the 58-year-old is softly spoken, polite and extremely self-contained. At several points during our time together, there are long pauses. In those moments, he cries.

Thayil’s work draws deeply on life experiences from which many would not recover. His years as a drug addict in Mumbai and New York were poured into his 2012 debut Narcopolis, an experimental novel set in the Indian city’s opium dens, which began with a bravura six and a half page opening sentence. Narcopolis was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, won that year by Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, and went on to win the DSC prize for South Asian literature in 2013, making Thayil the first Indian writer to take home the $50,000 (£35,842) award.

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Do our memories make us who we are? – books podcast

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 06:01:34 GMT2018-02-20T06:01:34Z

On this week’s show, we take a look at the brain and how it relates to our sense of self. Wendy Mitchell, who was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s at 58, talks about her memoir Somebody I Used to Know and what changes her dementia has caused in her personality, tastes and everyday life.

Neuroscientist Dr Jules Montague explains the science of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, and talks about her new book Lost and Found, a philosophical look at the human brain and the impact conditions and chemistry can have on our sense of self.

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The cult of the unreliable female narrator must be stopped | Stephanie Merritt

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 10:00:10 GMT2018-02-19T10:00:10Z

In fiction and life, women’s testimony is held up to scrutiny and dismissed on the grounds that our biology makes us irrational

One of the recurrent responses to the flurry of #MeToo allegations, in Hollywood and beyond, was for those accused to cast doubt on the credibility of the women involved, either by implying that they were seeking publicity, or that they were too unstable to be taken seriously.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the case of Rose McGowan, a woman whose sometimes erratic behaviour, candid discussion of her troubled childhood and history of emotional fragility was pounced on by lawyers bent on undermining her version of events.

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week?

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:00:16 GMT2018-02-19T15:00:16Z

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blog. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from last week.

First, three pleasingly positive reviews. George Saunders’ Lincoln In The Bardo has left conedison “reeling”:

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Book clinic: how do I get my teenage son interested in reading?

Sun, 18 Feb 2018 12:00:43 GMT2018-02-18T12:00:43Z

From a modern classic by Nick Hornby to a rock memoir, our expert suggests books for reluctant bibliophiles

Q: How do I get my 15-year-old son interested in reading? He likes football, listening to music and the history of the Greco‑Persian wars.
Gaverne Bennett, London

A: Alex Preston is an award-winning author. His latest book is As Kingfishers Catch Fire: Books & Birds

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Pushing back: why it's time for women to rewrite the story

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 08:00:10 GMT2018-02-17T08:00:10Z

Poe, Updike, Roth, Mailer: many male authors have contributed to a culture in which the credibility of women is undermined. It’s time to put a stop to the gaslighting, writes Sarah Churchwell

In 1938 a play debuted at the Richmond theatre, which opens with a Victorian husband telling his wife that though she has been “very good lately”, she mustn’t “read meanings into everything” or “imagine things”. “Is it possible you’re beginning to see my point of view?” she asks. On the contrary: her husband is systematically working to extinguish her perspective, to convince her that she is mad. Every night as he searches their attic (for jewels he believes are there), his movements cause the gas lamps to flicker.

In Patrick Hamilton’s play, the flickering lamps verify the wife’s suspicions; in the Hollywood film of Gas Light, released six years later, they make her further doubt her own senses. “Gaslighting” soon came to denote psychological warfare, the deliberate undermining of another’s sanity. More recently, it has been resuscitated as a metaphor for the cultural sabotage of women’s perceptions, for trivialising their concerns as imaginary. Gaslighting is about women fighting to get men to see their point of view.

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Poem of the week: Fiametta by John Peale Bishop

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 10:29:10 GMT2018-02-19T10:29:10Z

There is real music to this understated tribute to a young woman’s beauty by a poet who has been unjustly neglected

Fiametta
Fiametta walks under the quincebuds
In a gown the color of flowers;
Her small breasts shine through the silken stuff
Like raindrops after showers.
The green hem of her dress is silk, but duller
Than her eye’s green color.

Her shadow restores the grass’s green
Where the sun had gilded it;
The air has given her copper hair
The sanguine that was requisite.
Whatever her flaws, my lady
Has no fault in her young body.

She leans with her long slender arms
To pull down morning upon her
Fragrance of quince, white light and falling cloud.
The day shall have lacked due honor
Until I shall have rightly praised
Her standing thus with slight arms upraised.

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What does Boris Johnson mean by a ‘teleological construction’?

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 06:00:07 GMT2018-02-15T06:00:07Z

Word of the week: the foreign secretary’s attempted slur on the EU backfires

The British public has been gratefully exposed to almost every conceivable way of insulting the EU, but Boris Johnson has offered a novel one. Johnson, who gave a key speech on Brexit this week, calls the EU a “teleological construction”; it is “ends-driven”, towards total political unity. In ancient Greek philosophy, teleology is the study of things that have a purpose or are directed towards a goal (telos). So beware the goal those foreigners are plotting towards! Shun teleological constructions!

Related: Boris Johnson warns thwarting Brexit vote would be disastrous

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A Far Cry from Kensington is the Muriel Spark novel to fall in love with

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 09:31:38 GMT2018-02-20T09:31:38Z

Although astringent in places, this portrait of publishers and poseurs is also marvellously warm-hearted

After some epic comment threads last week, I’m won over: you’ve convinced me that Memento Mori is a fascinating and impressive book. But it took a while to get to this understanding, and I still feel more admiration than affection for this sharp novel and its harsh wit.

I have no such hesitation when it comes to A Far Cry from Kensington. I love Spark’s evocation of 1950s London and the postwar publishing industry. When I finished the last page, I actually said out loud: “That was just great.” It was, as Claire Tomalin proclaims on the cover of my old Penguin edition, “pure delight”.

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What can we learn from Marie Stopes's 1918 book Married Love?

Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:15:31 GMT2018-02-14T11:15:31Z

A century on, its overheated language can seem quaint, but the book was a pioneering attempt to tackle a problem that is still unsolved

“More than ever today are happy homes needed,” declared crafty Marie Carmichael Stopes in the very first sentence of her sex manual Married Love, which turns 100 this year. Happy homes, her logic held, were the consequence of happy marriages and thus “the only secure basis for a present-day state”. So a book geared to teaching married couples how to have great sex (and thus a great marriage) was a service to the country.

Stopes’s was a clever argument and it worked, if not for the betterment of society, then certainly for her publisher. Married Love was a huge hit in Britain, selling out six printings within a few weeks of publication, as eager couples gobbled up its contents. The Americans were less keen on better sex for the sake of the state; they immediately banned the book, with US customs barring its import for more than two decades. By that time, Britons had bought more than half a million copies of the book and were far ahead of their prudish US counterparts in the quest to understand female sexual pleasure. They were also well on their way to “entering on a new and glorious state” based entirely on “the joyous buoyancy of their actions”.

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Hanya Yanagihara: ‘A book that made me cry? I haven’t cried since 1995’

Fri, 02 Feb 2018 10:00:26 GMT2018-02-02T10:00:26Z

The author of A Little Life on life-changing Philip Roth, her jealousy of Kazuo Ishiguro, and why Hilary Mantel’s earlier work is underrated

The book I am currently reading
David France’s How to Survive a Plague, a history of Aids and Aids activism in the United States. And Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair.

The last book that made me laugh
How about the last book that made my heart race? That’d be Neel Mukherjee’s A State of Freedom: completely propulsive and horrifying and astonishing.

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Paul Mason: five books to understand the left

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 06:00:05 GMT2018-02-19T06:00:05Z

From the charge against neoliberalism to the manifesto that inspired activists to join labour – Paul Mason on the books that explain the left today

From the end of the miners’ strike to the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the left in Britain stumbled from one nadir to the next. How they made a clean sweep of Labour’s NEC elections is a process even the participants do not yet fully understand. However, one thing is certain: this was not a theory-led revolution. The ideas of the modern left were primarily born out of a new kind of practice and some undeniable facts. Neoliberalism had failed. In the survival strategies adopted by governments it has become, as the economist William Davies writes, “literally unjustified”. Davies’ book The Limits of Neoliberalism sums up the wider thinking of the UK left about the system it is trying to replace. It identifies the coercive imposition of competition by a centralised state as the core problem, and contains the most succinct definition of neoliberalism in the English language: “the disenchantment of politics by economics”.

The 2011 protest movements massively strengthened the hold of horizontalist activism. The most influential book here is the 2009 manifesto The Coming Insurrection, by the French anarchist Invisible Committee. Its key message – that the proletariat was over, that the networked human being was the agent of change – resonated strongly with the students who occupied English universities in 2010. Just like the Communist Manifesto, it was published on the eve of events it predicted but, unlike Marx’s famous text, it was widely read. More importantly, a version of its main injunction – “find each other and act” – was certainly what lay behind the surge of activists into Labour in 2015-17.

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The 100 best nonfiction books of all time: the full list

Sun, 31 Dec 2017 08:30:25 GMT2017-12-31T08:30:25Z

After two years of careful reading, moving backwards through time, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books. Take a quick look at five centuries of great writing

1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
An engrossing account of the looming catastrophe caused by ecology’s “neighbours from hell” – mankind.

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
This steely and devastating examination of the author’s grief following the sudden death of her husband changed the nature of writing about bereavement.

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The 100 best novels written in English: the full list

Mon, 17 Aug 2015 09:11:54 GMT2015-08-17T09:11:54Z

After two years of careful consideration, Robert McCrum has reached a verdict on his selection of the 100 greatest novels written in English. Take a look at his list

1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)

A story of a man in search of truth told with the simple clarity and beauty of Bunyan’s prose make this the ultimate English classic.

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2018 in books: a literary calendar

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 09:00:09 GMT2018-01-06T09:00:09Z

Essays from Zadie Smith, Arnhem from Antony Beevor and novels from Julian Barnes, Sarah Perry, Pat Barker, Rachel Cusk … and Bill Clinton. Place your book orders now

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How I beat anorexia by savouring the lavish meals of literature

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 12:20:00 GMT2018-02-17T12:20:00Z

Laura Freeman had the eating disorder since her teens, but the enticing food conjured by Charles Dickens and Laurie Lee set her free

Laura Freeman was first diagnosed with anorexia aged 14. A decade later she had begun to rebuild her life but still struggled with her attitude to food, eating small portions of the same thing for months on end. “At 24, I’d got to the point where I was recovered enough that I could eat, but only in a very formulaic way,” she says. “I had a pretty boring diet. It was more about getting through each day.”

Then one day she read a passage in Siegfried Sassoon’s 1928 Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man describing “a breakfast of boiled eggs eaten in winter”. It changed everything.

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Hanif Kureishi: my beautiful box-set binge

Sat, 17 Feb 2018 11:00:13 GMT2018-02-17T11:00:13Z

For years, the novelist resisted the lure of TV. And then he watched all 86 episodes of The Sopranos, followed by Gomorrah and Mad Men. He salutes the most vital writers of our culture

If you really want to know about it, I will own up. I’ve barely left the house in the last 18 months because I’ve been watching what for me seems like a lot of TV, around five hours a night. And I can’t say that a moment of it – apart from, say, the second season of Mr Robot – feels like wasted time. There are scenes in Mad Men and Transparent that are as accomplished and lovely, as profound and truthful, as anything I’ve seen in the cinema. And the episode in Breaking Bad where the former chemistry teacher Walter White buries the money he has accumulated by selling crystal meth – transforming the spoils into waste or shit – is one of the most illuminating in all art.

Apart from the news, sport and documentaries about the Beatles, I hadn’t watched much television since the 1980s. Nor, as a young man, did I consider writing for TV. It was too compromised; and, with a few exceptions, the overall standard was low. As for the movies, many of the film directors wanted to be artists rather than storytellers, a vanity that ruined many directors and displaced writers. The screenwriter’s best hope was to resemble a back seat driver, yelling mostly unheard ideas from behind. It looked as if the truest test of the good dramatist was his or her ability to script plays.

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My life as a bookworm: what children can teach us about how to read

Thu, 15 Feb 2018 12:00:15 GMT2018-02-15T12:00:15Z

To adults, rereading feels like an indulgence – but for children it is a necessity. Lucy Mangan reflects on a childhood spent with The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Milly-Molly-Mandy

I spent most of my early years – aged one to three, say – being trodden on. “It was your own fault,” my mother explains. “You were too quiet. You used to stand by my feet, not making a sound, so I’d forget you were there. What toddler does that?”

I think the explanation lies in the fact that I wasn’t really a baby. I was a bookworm. For the true bookworm, life doesn’t really begin until you get hold of your first book. Until then – well, you’re just waiting, really. You don’t even know for what, at that stage – if you did, you would be making more noise about it and be less covered in court-shoe-shaped bruises. But it’s books.

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'A stab at truth': my grandmother and the problem with family histories

Mon, 12 Feb 2018 06:00:49 GMT2018-02-12T06:00:49Z

Secrets, missing pieces and shocking opinions: writing a family’s story is never simple. Can a biographer tell the truth without rewriting the past?

In his mid 30s Michael Ondaatje, who grew up in Sri Lanka but was by then living in Canada, realised he had “slipped past a childhood I had ignored and not understood”. So he returned, determined to talk to his relations and “touch them into words”, which is a kind of comprehension. Those words became Running in the Family, which conjures up a vivid world of rackety, racy, disappearing privilege, of overgrown garden and monsoon, of generous, eccentric people given to amateur dramatics and a kind of wild, untethered, grief-laced chasing of fun. So vivid, in fact, that a note in the acknowledgements comes as a slight shock: “I must confess that the book is not a history but a portrait or ‘gesture’. And if those listed disapprove of the fictional air I apologise and can only say that in Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts.” Which feels like a bit of a last-minute rearguard self-defence – but also a serious acceptance that writing about family is a complicated thing, and not always for obvious reasons.

Late in Running in the Family, too late in some ways, as the book is nearly done, Ondaatje’s brother Christopher, who has been helping with the research, voices a warning. “‘You must get this book right,’ my brother tells me. ‘You can only write it once’” – which is true both for Michael, and perhaps for his whole family.

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Why one story explaining racial segregation in America is overlooked

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 11:00:42 GMT2018-02-21T11:00:42Z

In his extract from Cause: . . . And How It Doesn’t Always Equal Effect, Gregory Smithsimon explains that black people live in black neighborhoods because white neighborhoods are unsafe

White people in America tell themselves many stories about racism and race. Some are comforting myths, designed to naturalize racial hierarchies or dispel the guilt and responsibility of privilege. Others are sociological and historical narratives, which locate the causes of racism in specific times, places and institutions, so that the problem of racism can be quarantined, and more easily cured.

But there is another, mostly overlooked story in which the causes are more diffuse and more difficult to accept – one that goes a long way towards explaining our recent racial tragedies.

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Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

Fri, 25 Sep 2015 06:59:11 GMT2015-09-25T06:59:11Z

The fate of industrially farmed animals is one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time. Tens of billions of sentient beings, each with complex sensations and emotions, live and die on a production line

Animals are the main victims of history, and the treatment of domesticated animals in industrial farms is perhaps the worst crime in history. The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals. Even tens of thousands of years ago, our stone age ancestors were already responsible for a series of ecological disasters. When the first humans reached Australia about 45,000 years ago, they quickly drove to extinction 90% of its large animals. This was the first significant impact that Homo sapiens had on the planet’s ecosystem. It was not the last.

About 15,000 years ago, humans colonised America, wiping out in the process about 75% of its large mammals. Numerous other species disappeared from Africa, from Eurasia and from the myriad islands around their coasts. The archaeological record of country after country tells the same sad story. The tragedy opens with a scene showing a rich and varied population of large animals, without any trace of Homo sapiens. In scene two, humans appear, evidenced by a fossilised bone, a spear point, or perhaps a campfire. Scene three quickly follows, in which men and women occupy centre-stage and most large animals, along with many smaller ones, have gone. Altogether, sapiens drove to extinction about 50% of all the large terrestrial mammals of the planet before they planted the first wheat field, shaped the first metal tool, wrote the first text or struck the first coin.

Continue reading...'The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals.' Photograph: John Eveson/Rex'The march of human progress is strewn with dead animals.' Photograph: John Eveson/Rex


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Tomorrow by Elisabeth Russell Taylor review – an early 90s gem

Wed, 21 Feb 2018 09:58:14 GMT2018-02-21T09:58:14Z

A tale of grief with a beautiful structure and wrenching twist

Taylor’s reissued 1991 novel feels as though it could date from much earlier in the century, such is its cool, formal beauty and the exquisite portrait of unhappiness it paints. Yet when the protagonist’s glacial self-control cracks, the disturbing images that dart out from the damaged mind beneath the facade remind one that this is indeed a modern novel with a very sophisticated understanding of the depredations of grief.

Elisabeth Danziger, a Jewish refugee living in London, returns every year to the Danish island where her family once had idyllic holiday homes and where, absorbed in their own happiness, for too long they ignored the gathering storm of antisemitism in their German home town.

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Women better represented in Victorian novels than modern, finds study

Mon, 19 Feb 2018 15:44:33 GMT2018-02-19T15:44:33Z

Analysis finds proportion of female authors and characters fell after 19th century, with male authors remaining ‘remarkably resistant’ to writing women

Women in novels have tended to “feel”, while men “get”; women smile or laugh, while men grin or chuckle. An analysis of more than 100,000 novels spanning more than 200 years shows how gendered even seemingly innocuous words can be – as well as revealing an unexpected decline in the proportion of female novelists from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century.

Academics from the universities of Illinois and California at Berkeley used an algorithm to examine 104,000 works of fiction dating from 1780 to 2007, drawn mostly from HathiTrust Digital Library. The algorithm identified both author and character genders. The academics expected to see an increase in the prominence of female characters in literature across the two centuries. Instead, “from the 19th century through the early 1960s we see a story of steady decline,” write Ted Underwood, David Bamman and Sabrina Lee in their paper The Transformation of Gender in English-Language Fiction, which has just been published in the Journal of Cultural Analytics.

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A Hero for High Times by Ian Marchant review – the forgotten man at the heart of the counterculture

Tue, 20 Feb 2018 10:00:38 GMT2018-02-20T10:00:38Z

The stories of Bob Rowberry, the first person to sell acid to RD Laing, provide a perfect initiation to four decades of beats, hippies, punks and freaks

This book is not for me. Nor was it meant to be. I am pretty much the age of its star witness and involuntary co-author – the old man of the woods, the retired thief, friend of the future famous and prompted taleteller, Mr David Robert Rowberry (AKA Bob), who is a fantastic but evidence-supported conduit to the vanished culture of Freakdom. A Hero for High Times is Ian Marchant’s monumental defence of the alternative way, and Bob is the capitalised Hero, an honourably weathered and charity shop outfitted crusty who dabbles in dragon sculpture and free-festival jewellery. Smell the woodsmoke, the wellington boots, cats, dope and hot metalwork. “Low mist has lain over Radnorshire like a mildewing duvet for about a week.”

Here, then, is a formidable double act: the Ancient Mariner who struggles, with distant mountain-focused gaze, towards the impossible conclusion of a smoky monologue, and the eager, overweight, stool-splintering theorist, born at the dawn of the action, mopping his wrinkled brow and arriving panting too late, with primed recording device, into an abandoned yurt. Marchant brandishes a pad of strategic questions to nudge his yarn-spinner to the next topic: situationism, skiffle, Gurdjieff, Profumo, CND, women’s liberation, Glastonbury, the Angry Brigade, drugs and more drugs. The old man skins up and plays along. “The easiest way to live a superficially non-alienated life,” the author concludes, “is just to have lots of money.”

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The 100 greatest novels of all time: The list

Sun, 12 Oct 2003 14:27:00 GMT2003-10-12T14:27:00Z

From Don Quixote to American Pastoral, take a look at the 100 greatest novels of all time

The 100 greatest non-fiction books

The 2015 version of the 100 best novels

1. Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has entranced readers for centuries.
• Harold Bloom on Don Quixote – the first modern novel

2. Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan
The one with the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair.
• Robert McCrum's 100 best novels: The Pilgrim's Progress

Continue reading...The greatest novel of all time? ... windmills in La Mancha feature in Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quixote. Photograph: Victor Fraile / ReutersThe greatest novel of all time? ... windmills in La Mancha feature in Miguel de Cervantes' novel Don Quixote. Photograph: Victor Fraile / Reuters


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12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B Peterson – digested read

Sun, 28 Jan 2018 17:00:24 GMT2018-01-28T17:00:24Z

‘Here’s a rule that’s catnip for right-wingers everywhere: do not bother children while they are skateboarding’

Just a few years ago, I was an unknown professor writing academic books that nobody read. Then, with God’s help, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and develop my potential. Pinkos and wishy-washy liberals had cornered the market in cod psychology, so I guessed there must be a huge hunger for a self-help book, backed up with religion, mythology, CAPITAL LETTERS and stating the obvious – one directed at responsible, socially minded conservatives craving some pseudointellectual ideology to prop up their beliefs. And bingo! Here are my 12 Rules for Life.

1 Stand up straight with your shoulders straight
Most lobsters are complete bastards left to their own devices. Most humans are complete bastards left to their own devices. This proves there is a God who wants us to have Order. Order is Masculine and Chaos is Feminine. Therefore to move towards Order, we all need to man up. Happiness is pointless. We are all on this Earth to suffer. So learn to suffer like a man. Not everyone can be as rich and successful as me, but try to be less of a failure than you already are.

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Top 10 errant teenagers in fiction

Wed, 31 Jan 2018 10:13:34 GMT2018-01-31T10:13:34Z

From Infinite Jest’s antsy prodigy to Brighton Rock’s haunted antihero, debut novelist Danny Denton picks the best bad girls and boys in books

A few years back, I started teaching secondary school and was suddenly reintroduced to the hysterical world of the teenager. Returned to me was their constant turmoil, bubbling beneath the surface, bursting to be heard, screaming to be left alone. Reading their essays (I taught English), I was struck by the fact that, as a teenager, everything feels at stake, every day. These essays featured stabbings, murders, suicides, love, zombies, global disasters … These were the tropes of the adolescent (though in some cases these were lived realities too – it was a neglected borough of London), and by extension perhaps the most suitable creative expressions for raging hormones.

The teenager endures an awful state in which innocence is daily lost but the mystery of selfhood remains unsolved. The world is increasingly known, but the emotional capacity, vocabulary and maturity to process it haven’t yet been fully acquired. Or perhaps the teen’s particular brand of indignation is the appropriate response to this fraying world. Either way, it is no wonder so many teens err en route to adulthood. In writing The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow – a novel that would be about a heroic act in a fallen society – it seemed to me that only a teenager would possess enough love, hope, hate, fear, outrage, naivety and bravery to take the action required of the myth.

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