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Preview: Books news, reviews and author interviews | guardian.co.uk

Books | The Guardian



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



Published: Wed, 13 Dec 2017 00:01:53 GMT2017-12-13T00:01:53Z

Copyright: Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. 2017
 



Cat Person is 'mundane', Austen is 'dross': why do so many men hate female writing?

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 16:30:33 GMT2017-12-12T16:30:33Z

Giles Coren hates Jane Austen so much he’s made a TV show about it, and men are tweeting their disdain for Kristen Roupenian’s New Yorker short story. It’s all part of a modern literary witch-hunt

Although you might expect to see “short story” in a sentence topped and tailed with “is the” and “dead?”, in the past few days a New Yorker short story written by the previously unknown Kristen Roupenian has gone viral.

The story of Margot and Robert, who meet at the independent cinema where Margot worked and gradually build a connection, has resonated with many readers – most of them women – to the point that it is now being held up as the perfect example of the reality of 21st century dating. Margot and Robert’s bond is constructed primarily over text messages, in which they share jokes and emojis and an imaginary correspondence on behalf of their cats, but it becomes clear both are talking to a version of the other that doesn’t really exist.

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Attrib. this: Eley Williams's experimental stories are a microblast

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 12:06:51 GMT2017-12-12T12:06:51Z

This thought-stoppingly daring debut (and other stories) offers the winterval reader a bounteous sharing platter of thinking experiments. And a whole lot of fun

Generally, the trick in storytelling is to make the reader forget about the building blocks of language, and concentrate on the larger structure. As a reader, you might subconsciously pick up on rhythms. Sometimes you will notice a sharp phrase or two, a rhetorical flourish, perhaps the odd bit of alliteration and assonance. If you let him, Will Self might bash you over the head with his dictionary. But, on the whole, it’s what the words do that matters, rather than what they are. You focus on the broader picture, not the pigment and paint, even if you can also appreciate the colours.

Related: Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams review – life’s big microdrama moments

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1947: When Now Begins and the best books of 2017 – books podcast

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 14:38:50 GMT2017-12-12T14:38:50Z

On this week’s show, Sian sits down with Swedish journalist and writer Elisabeth Åsbrink to discuss her book 1947: When Now Begins, examining the complicated and interesting ways the events of that year affect the world we know today.

That year, the world witnessed an unprecedented movement of refugees after the second world war. The UN partitioned Palestine to create the state of Israel, and British India was split to create India and Pakistan. In the courts, concepts like human rights and genocide were legally defined for the first time, the CIA was established, and the first computer bug was discovered. Women were fighting to keep their jobs after men returned home, just as Simone de Beauvoir began writing the Second Sex. Meanwhile, a huge line-up of classics began to take form: JRR Tolkien submitted Lord of the Rings to his publishers, Thomas Mann finished Dr Faustus, Primo Levi began If This Is a Man, and George Orwell finished Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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Send us your questions for Zadie Smith

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 12:21:45 GMT2017-12-12T12:21:45Z

The Observer New Review offers you the chance to put your questions to the award-winning writer

In February next year, Zadie Smith will publish Feel Free (Hamish Hamilton), a book of essays on topics ranging from Brexit to Beyoncé, JG Ballard to Justin Bieber.

Smith has written six novels – including White Teeth, On Beauty, NW and last year’s Swing Time – and a number of nonfiction publications, edited collections and essays. Raised in north-west London, she lives between London and New York with her husband Nick Laird and their two children.

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Harry Potter and the £4.50 chocolate frog | Alice O’Keeffe

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 06:00:26 GMT2017-12-12T06:00:26Z

I was delighted when my son discovered JK Rowling’s books. But the boy wizard’s magic is in danger of being sullied by a glut of pricey merchandise

It was the frog that pushed me over the edge. I’ve never been a Harry Potter fan myself – I was already out of kids’ books when they first came out, and those clever grown-up covers weren’t enough to tempt me back – but I’d always admired JK Rowling from afar. Who wouldn’t? A writer whose imagination transfixed the world, whose riches now exceed those of the Queen, but who has founded a children’s charity, pays her taxes in full, and remains both poised and politically engaged: as role models go, it is hard to think of a better one.

So I was pleased when my seven-year-old son went Harry Potter crazy. Having never read to himself before, he was suddenly racing through book after book, his bedside light on late into the night. His brother and several of his friends caught the bug – just as the Suez canal flowed through Clarissa Eden’s drawing room, Hogwarts overshadowed our house, as children constantly dashed about on broomsticks, casting spells and looking for snitches.

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Spinning by Tillie Walden review – portrait of adolescence on ice

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 07:00:27 GMT2017-12-12T07:00:27Z

An intimate graphic memoir of competitive skating feels like a coming-of-age classic

Spinning, the fourth book in two years by the Ignatz award-winning cartoonist Tillie Walden, is surely her best to date. A memoir of the decade Walden spent as a competitive skater – having taken to the ice as a small girl, she did not abandon it until shortly before she graduated from high school – it conveys brilliantly not only the dedication involved in mid-level competitive sport, but also the occasional (and sometimes more-than-occasional) loathing. In a longish afterword, Walden, the acclaimed author of The End of Summer, insists that her latest comic “ended up not being about ice-skating at all”. But I disagree. Yes, Spinning touches on bullying, her complex relationship with her parents, and her sexuality (for which reason it would, I think, make a brilliant Christmas present for a teenage girl). Nevertheless, the rink is always centre stage. How could it be anywhere else when it’s the place she goes both to lose and to find herself?

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Figures show children worst hit by library cuts

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 16:17:41 GMT2017-12-11T16:17:41Z

Official figures show more than 100 libraries closed last year, with campaigners warning that the heaviest impact is being made on the youngest readers

More than 100 branch libraries closed in the last year, according to official figures, with library campaigners warning that the cuts hurt children in big cities such as Birmingham and Sheffield the most.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy’s annual survey of Great Britain’s libraries paints familiar picture: for the seventh year running, the number of branches and paid staff declined. There are now 3,745 branches remaining in England, Scotland and Wales, down by 105 since 2016, while the number of paid staff has declined by 5% compared with a year ago.

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Six-figure deal for 'Irish Bridget Jones' series

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:30:05 GMT2017-12-08T16:30:05Z

Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen sign two-book deal to follow their breakout debut, Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling

Two friends whose novel about a “complete Aisling” is being hailed as the Irish answer to Bridget Jones have landed a six-figure two-book deal.

Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen started sharing “Aisling-isms” with their friends in 2008, while they were sharing a flat in Dublin. But when the two journalists set up a Facebook page to swap stories of a country girl who has never dyed her hair or lost her phone, who walks to work as fast as she can to get her steps in, they gradually found an audience beyond their immediate circle.

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US author William H Gass dies aged 93

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 14:33:08 GMT2017-12-08T14:33:08Z

Acclaimed writer of novels Omensetter’s Luck and The Tunnel – and coiner of the term ‘metafiction’ – has died at home in Missouri

The US author William H Gass, who explored the boundaries of fiction in novels such as The Tunnel and Omensetter’s Luck, has died at the age of 93.

Gass passed away on Wednesday at his home in Missouri, Penguin Random House announced, describing him as “a leading experimental writer, known for abandoning traditional narrative”, and highlighting his influence on writers including Jonathan Safran Foer and David Foster Wallace.

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Fifty Shades sequel tops bestseller lists but whips up little enthusiasm

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 17:35:09 GMT2017-12-07T17:35:09Z

The latest twist in EL James’s erotic saga posts only a quarter of its predecessor’s first-week sales, but still storms to bestseller summit

EL James may have bagged another number one bestseller slot, but the public appetite for Christian Grey’s violent sexual antics appears to be on the slide, with the latest Fifty Shades novel selling 300,000 copies fewer than its predecessor in its first week on sale.

Darker is the second volume in James’s project to retell the story of Grey and Anastasia Steele’s BDSM relationship through the eyes of the millionaire businessman. According to the Bookseller, it sold just over 85,000 copies on publication last week – enough to catapult the novel to the top of the book charts, but only 22% of the 385,972 copies notched up in a week by the retelling’s first volume, Grey, in 2015.

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Doris Lessing's Nobel medal goes up for auction

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 14:07:43 GMT2017-12-07T14:07:43Z

Bids for the medal presented to one of the few women to win the Nobel prize in literature will start at £250,000

Doris Lessing’s Nobel prize medal, won in 2007 for “subject[ing] a divided civilisation to scrutiny … with scepticism, fire and visionary power”, is to be sold at auction next week, with an expected price upwards of £150,000.

Christie’s, which has set a guide price of between £150,000 and £250,000, said that only one other Nobel medal for literature has previously sold at auction. That was Andre Gide’s, which sold in Paris last year for €300,000. Sotheby’s put William Faulkner’s Nobel medal up for auction in New York in 2013, with a guide price of $500,000 to $1m, but did not find a buyer.

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

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:00:07 GMT2017-12-11T15:00:07Z


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

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

We might as well embrace it: Christmas is coming. And there’s definitely a good side. Maggie B, for instance is using the festive season as an excuse to read Terry Pratchett:

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Poem of the week: Microbial Museum by Maya Chowdhry

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 10:00:01 GMT2017-12-11T10:00:01Z

Finding the poetry in scientific vocabulary, this work is alive to the marvels of its discoveries as well as the ecological peril it reports

Microbial Museum

April ship sets sail, sea freezes ripples, leaves Rothera
behind. One hundred and fifty thousand years of snowfall in

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Diversity in publishing – still hideously middle-class and white?

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 08:00:01 GMT2017-12-09T08:00:01Z

Two years ago, we called publishers to account for the glaring lack of diversity in the industry. Pledges were made and initiatives set up. Have things improved?

  • Find out about the new projects to encourage inclusivity in the book business

In December 2015, British publishing stood accused of woeful blindness to diversity, and not for the first time, after World Book Night (WBN) announced its titles, and none of the 15 books was by a writer of colour. An apology was issued by organisers but a wider malaise had already set in, and along with it, the troubling feeling that WBN’s oversight was less an isolated incident and more a recurring pattern of exclusion that stretched across the literary establishment.

A report on the state of the books industry had been published earlier that year by the development agency Spread the Word, which drew attention to how intransigently white, middle-class (and further up the ladder, male) it remained, from literary festivals and prizes to publications and personnel. Then, last autumn, there was more embarrassing exposure when World Book Day – which focuses on children’s titles – issued its own all-white book list and an independent publisher, OWN IT! flagged up the fact that only one black, British male debut novelist had been published in 2016 (which they published). Earlier this year, there was talk of a boycott when the Carnegie medal for children’s literature revealed its all-white longlist.

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Arthur C Clarke at 100: still the king of science fiction

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 11:00:05 GMT2017-12-09T11:00:05Z

2001: A Space Odyssey, Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World … one hundred years after his birth, the British writer is the undisputed master

Born on 16 December 1917, Arthur C Clarke lived long enough to see the year he and Stanley Kubrick made cinematically famous with 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it seemed for a while as though he might see in his centenary too: he was physically active (he had a passion for scuba diving), non-smoking, teetotal and always interested in and curious about the world. But having survived a bout of polio in 1962, he found the disease returned as post-polio syndrome in the 1980s; it eventually killed him in 2008.

For a while Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov constituted the “big three”, bestriding science fiction like colossi. Like many SF fans I grew up reading Clarke. He was, for a time, everywhere: his books thronging the shops, he himself popping up on telly to present Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World. He was a prolific science writer and presenter, a rationalist and space flight advocate. But most important was his science fiction. With “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953), Childhood’s End (1953) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) he has a fair claim to have produced the best short story, novel and screenplay in 20th-century SF.

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Will Self: memories of the artist as a young addict

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 11:00:00 GMT2017-12-08T11:00:00Z

‘To purge our dirty brains, we had to write out our sins on ruled paper, in Biro’ … 30 years on, the writer recalls his time at a recovery centre in Weston-super-Mare

How was your day? he’d say, at Broadway Lodge, in the somnolent suburbs of Weston-super-Mare, in the mid-1980s. How was your day? He wore khaki cargo pants (although they weren’t called that yet) and had a nice line in the homiletic: try to get up from that chair, he’d say, and when I expressed perplexity, continued: trying is lying – either you get up or you don’t, and it’s the same with your addiction …

On another occasion, when I accused him and his fellow counsellors of brainwashing us, he was unrepentant: We have to wash your brain, Will … he angled his cleanly shaven chin at me, adamant: because it’s dirty …

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Ian Rankin: ‘The most overrated book? Nabokov’s Lolita’

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 10:00:35 GMT2017-12-08T10:00:35Z

The author on the novel that inspired Rebus, the importance of Miss Jean Brodie – and the book that made him laugh and cry

The book I am currently reading
Still Dark by Alex Gray.

The book that changed my life
My novel Black and Blue – it was my first taste of success.

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Diana Athill webchat: your questions answered on Jean Rhys, love affairs and turning 100

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 15:29:32 GMT2017-12-11T15:29:32Z

The literary editor and memoirist turns 100 in December, so she answered Guardian readers’ questions about her life, books and career

Many thanks for all your questions. I'm sorry I haven't had time to answer them all.

Diana turns 100 on 21 December – remember to lift your afternoon cup of tea or gin and tonic to toast that milestone then.

Lislorien asks:

Best advice you would give a woman about to embark upon her 30s?

I should advise her to have a very good love affair if she hasn't had one already.

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Reading group: Attrib. by Eley Williams is December's book

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 10:57:50 GMT2017-12-05T10:57:50Z

The draw to find a neglected treasure from 2017 has turned up this collection of short stories, which promises to bring a happy close to the year

Attrib. by Eley Williams has come out of the hat and will be the subject of this month’s reading group. Since the theme of the month is catching up on the books we’ve missed in 2017, a quick primer:

Atrrib. is the debut collection of 17 short stories from a hitherto unknown writer. The blurb on the back advertises “affectionate, irreverent and playful prose” in stories dominated by “the inability to communicate exactly what we mean”.

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Best books of 2017 – part one

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 07:00:17 GMT2017-11-25T07:00:17Z

‘Funny, outrageous, touching, intimate, gorgeous’ … writers from George Saunders to Ali Smith pick their favourite reads of the past year

  • Part two: Sebastian Barry, Paula Hawkins and others share their favourites
  • Tell us your books of the year in the comments below

The Once and Future Liberal; There Your Heart Lies; Angel Hill

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The best fiction of 2017

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 07:30:01 GMT2017-11-30T07:30:01Z

We look back on a year that saw Arundhati Roy’s return and George Saunders’ Man Booker victory, along with dark short stories and a haunting last novel

One of the joys of the novel is its endless capacity for reinvention, and 2017 saw fiction writers trying out fresh approaches and new forms. The Man Booker winner was a debut novel from an author with 20 years of short stories under his belt: George Saunders’s magisterial Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury), in which the death and afterlife of Abraham Lincoln’s young son is told through snippets of civil war memoir and a cacophony of squabbling ghosts, was a fantastically inventive exploration of loss, mourning and the power of empathy. There was an injection of the fantastic, too, in Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (Hamish Hamilton), which added the device of magical portals opening up across the globe to its spare, devastating portrait of victims of war, creating a singular parable about modernity, migration and the individual’s place in the world.

Jon McGregor has always written about communities; in the acclaimed Reservoir 13 (4th Estate), he deepened his pursuit of a collective voice, encompassing the natural world as well as the human in a cyclical tale of the years going by in an ordinary English village wounded by a girl’s disappearance. Each of Nicola Barker’s books is a world unto itself; with H(a)ppy (William Heinemann), winner of the Goldsmiths prize, she pushed the novel towards objet d’art, using colour and madcap typography to conjure a visionary dystopia of surveillance and control in which creativity and individuality refuse to be constrained.

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Robin McKie’s best science books of 2017

Sun, 03 Dec 2017 13:00:41 GMT2017-12-03T13:00:41Z

Why good health requires good sleep, the role our senses play in what we choose to consume, and some mind-boggling maths about the air that we breathe

Think of anything that ever breathed – from bacteria to blue whales to Roman emperors – and some of his, her or its last breath is either circulating inside you now or will be shortly. Thus, with this startling claim, Sam Kean begins his examination of all things gaseous, Caesar’s Last Breath (Doubleday £20), in which he attempts to make stories about gases visible “so you can see them as clearly as you can see your breath on a crisp November morning.”

By and large, Kean succeeds in this hugely enjoyable, slightly rambling account of our atmosphere and the remarkable men and women who transformed our knowledge about the air we breathe. I am not quite convinced by the arithmetic used to justify his claim that a few of the molecules that once danced inside Caesar’s lungs are dancing in our own lungs today but still found enough to entertain and stimulate in Caesar’s Last Breath to make it my science book of the year.

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The best children’s books of 2017

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 07:30:06 GMT2017-12-02T07:30:06Z

Whatever their age, kids will be engaged and inspired by this year’s diverse offerings

Katinka’s Tail by Judith Kerr

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Novel recipes: currant jelly from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 06:00:34 GMT2017-12-08T06:00:34Z

The March sisters may not be at home in the kitchen, but this vibrant fruit preserve is a fitting tribute for a catering partnership

Fired with a housewifely wish to see her storeroom stocked with homemade preserves, she undertook to put up her own currant jelly. John was requested to order home a dozen or so little pots and an extra quantity of sugar, for their own currants were ripe and were to be attended to at once.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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Hera Lindsay Bird: poet of exploding helicopters and dick jokes

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 15:00:16 GMT2017-11-30T15:00:16Z

The New Zealand poet explains the 90s sitcom references and unembarrassed passions that have gone into her eponymous debut

It is an ungodly hour on a Wednesday morning and Hera Lindsay Bird’s disembodied head is telling me about the time that she wet herself at a supermarket checkout. “It was one of the great humiliations of my life,” she says, over Skype from her home in Wellington, New Zealand.

The reason I’m dragging it up again is because it is referenced in the first poem of her debut collection, the self-titled Hera Lindsay Bird, which came out to acclaim in New Zealand in 2016 and is released in the UK this month. “To be fourteen, and wet yourself extravagantly / At a supermarket checkout,” the poem Write a Book begins, “As urine cascades down your black lace stocking / And onto the linoleum / Is to comprehend what it means to be a poet / To stand in the tepid under-halo / Of your own self-making / And want to die.”
This sets the tone for the rest of the collection, which is presided over by a voice that is simultaneously sharp and confiding, sardonic and lugubrious, and peppered with references both gothic and pop cultural. “It’s a contemporary book of long, metaphor-laden love poems filled with exploding helicopters, outdated 90s sitcom references, and dick jokes,” the 29-year-old says, when asked to sum up a book that contains items such as Keats Is Dead So Fuck Me From Behind, and Monica, a five-page rant about the character from Friends and much else besides, (choice lines from the latter include “to be able to maintain a friendship / Through the various complications of heterosexual monogamy / Is enormously difficult / Especially when you take into consideration / What cunts they all were”). Both these poems went viral, gaining so much attention from overseas that her New Zealand publisher had to almost immediately reprint the book, which is now being picked up in the UK by Penguin.

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The 100 best nonfiction books: No 97 – The First Folio by William Shakespeare (1623)

Mon, 11 Dec 2017 05:44:13 GMT2017-12-11T05:44:13Z

The first edition of Shakespeare’s plays established the playwright for all time in a trove of some 36 plays with an assembled cast of immortal characters

In 1612, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, the playwright Thomas Heywood, published An Apology for Actors, in which he expressed a patriotic sentiment about the English language, boastful at the time, which now seems unexceptional:

Our English tongue, which hath been the most harsh, uneven and broken language of the world... is now continually refined, every writer striving in himself to add a new flourish unto it; so that it is grown into a most perfect and composed language.

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Top 10 novels about God

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 11:28:38 GMT2017-12-06T11:28:38Z

He doesn’t appear very often in fiction, but in these books – by authors ranging from Fyodor Dostoevsky to John Updike – his impact is almighty

God seldom features in fiction. Having been dispensed with by Enlightenment philosophes around the time the first novels were emerging, he must have seemed irrelevant. The novel was new and God was old. Even clergy, who were facing an existential crisis of great literary potential, seemed infra dig to most novelists. There were new professions to explore: revolutionary, businessman, detective.

And it wasn’t enough that God was no longer necessary – neither was our need for spiritual nourishment. For the first time, and for most people, it was possible that life on Earth was better than it was in heaven.

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Adam Gopnik: ‘You’re waltzing along and suddenly you’re portrayed as a monster of privilege’

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 12:00:02 GMT2017-12-08T12:00:02Z

The New Yorker essayist on his latest memoir, At the Strangers’ Gate, and the problem of writing about happiness

Adam Gopnik has, by many accounts, including his own, a lovely life. A longtime staff writer for the New Yorker and bestselling author, Gopnik lives in Manhattan with his wife, Martha, a film-maker, and their two children, and he moves in the kind of circles that allow him to drop casual lines into conversation such as: “As John Updike once said to me …”, although he has the nervy Jewish self-consciousness to follow that with “… if you’ll forgive the namedrop.” The first time I met him was almost exactly a year ago when a mutual friend introduced us in a west London restaurant. He was accompanied by his wife and their 16-year-old daughter, Olivia, abright and precocious teenager who described to me another recent trip she’d been on with her parents with an eloquence that is still beyond me, despite my 20 years head start on her. She didn’t even blink at the various London luminaries who came over to talk to her father; Nigella Lawson and Ralph Fiennes, we were told, might pop by later. The Gopniks smiled calmly: this was all par for the course for them.

Related: At the Stranger’s Gate by Adam Gopnik review – a prose stylist on New York

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Legalise prostitution? We are being asked to accept industrialised sexual exploitation

Tue, 22 Aug 2017 10:40:06 GMT2017-08-22T10:40:06Z

Author of Pimp State, Kat Banyard explains how researching her book revealed why we need to end the sex trade - and how to do it

Right now, a global push is under way for governments to not only tolerate but actively enable the sex trade. The call is clear: decriminalise brothel keepers, pimps and other “third parties”, allowing them to profiteer freely – and certainly don’t dampen demand for the trade. This is no mundane policy prescription. The stakes are immense.

How we respond will be a measure of how seriously we take violence against women and the inequality underpinning it. Because what we are being asked to do is accept and normalise industrialised sexual exploitation.

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The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young – digested read

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 17:00:06 GMT2017-12-10T17:00:06Z

‘Every summer we would have a sports day, as cows are very athletic. One
year, Bob the Bull twisted his ankle while jumping over the moon’

My family started rearing cattle in 1953 and since that time I have become a close observer of how cows like to behave. Take Harriet. Harriet was the best-natured cow you could hope to meet, but if you tried to take her out of her barn between 7.00 and 7.15 in the evening when The Archers was on Radio 4 she would kick up rough. She hated that Rob Titchener from the off, which shows you that cows can be very good judges of character.

From the very beginning, we decided to let the cows choose how they wanted to be reared. They were all given a questionnaire and those that said they preferred to be intensively farmed and force-fed antibiotics were sent away, while those that wanted an easier life with fresh grass and central heating were allowed to stay. As a result, many of the cows have become close friends and are invited into the house on Christmas Day for lunch.

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Ayòbámi Adébáyò: ‘Writing a sentence can transport me to another world’

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 10:00:04 GMT2017-12-09T10:00:04Z

The Nigerian author on the importance of counting words, watching cat videos on YouTube, and the creative moments in which magic takes place

I established my first writing routine when I was 13. The school year had just ended and I’d won a stack of books for being the best student in a number of subjects. The pile included several 60-leaved notebooks that I decided to fill with short stories.

During the holidays, I completed a collection that included masterpieces such as “Honesty is the Best Policy”, “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” and “Honour your Parents”. Sadly, the newspaper editors I sent them to never wrote back and I suspected that they felt threatened by my genius. Nevertheless, through the holidays, after I’d spent an acceptable amount of time pushing my breakfast around the plate, I sat at my desk until it was time for lunch. Sometimes, I was forced to take a break when someone in my family wanted to use the ironing table that doubled as my writing desk.

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Betting the House by Tim Ross and Tom McTague and Fallout by Tim Shipman review – Theresa May’s fatal error

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 07:00:29 GMT2017-12-10T07:00:29Z

Two entertaining books expose the destructive role played by the prime minister’s chief advisers in her disastrous 2017 campaign

Some called them “the terrible twins”. To others in government they were “the gruesome twosome”. No one ever cast a vote for Fiona Hill or Nick Timothy. Only a small minority of Britons will have heard of them. Yet both of these excellent books suggest that Theresa May’s chiefs of staff were the most influential people in the British government at a time when it was making decisions of enormous consequence for the nation’s future. In Tim Shipman’s engrossing account, they held the prime minister “captive” during the 11 months it took for May to travel from being a leader so superficially dominant that she was worshipped by Tory MPs with the creepy nickname “mummy” to her spectacular crash at the June election.

“There are three people in this government,” Timothy liked to boast. “It’s me, Fiona and the PM.” This was not just the bragging of a puffed-up apparatchik. A host of witnesses testify that he and Hill did wield huge, unchecked and unaccountable power. Longtime aides to May, a secretive, shy and often insecure personality not always confident of her own political judgment, they were two of the very few people she trusted in the world. In the crude and sometimes cruel way that politicians attempt pseudo-psychological analysis of each other, some Tories viewed the twins as the children that Theresa and Philip May never had. Tim Ross and Tom McTague’s compelling book quotes one senior Tory: “They are more influential than that. I’m close to my kids, but my kids don’t tell me what to say. They are more like parents, actually.”

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Big & Small: A Cultural History of Extraordinary Bodies by Lynne Vallone – review

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 07:30:01 GMT2017-12-09T07:30:01Z

How size has mattered from Queen Henrietta Maria’s dwarf to contemporary fat-shaming

If, like me, you pored over the Guinness Book of Records as a child, then perhaps you too found yourself gripped by the section on the tallest, shortest, thinnest and fattest men and women who ever lived. It was definitely the best section, much better than the bits about people staying awake for 10 days or walking around the world on their hands. My favourite record-holder was Daniel Lambert, a Georgian strongman of 53 stone whose coffin needed wheels. But I also had a soft spot for Robert Wadlow who was nearly 9ft tall and still growing at the time of his death in 1940. How I longed for Wadlow to be still alive so that he could stand beside the current shortest woman in the world, a bright sprite from India of 2ft.

Related: Wiping out human variation | Dan Kennedy

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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie review – a poet and novelist’s memoir

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 12:01:06 GMT2017-12-09T12:01:06Z

Humour and anger combine in this story of the Native American experience

Sherman Alexie has emerged as one of the US’s greatest writers. And because he has always written of the terrible beauty of Native American life with an honesty and humour that makes white people uncomfortable, his work has been deemed controversial. Alexie’s young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, has appeared near the top of annual US “banned books” lists. Each year, new challenges arise to his thinly veiled autobiography of his years growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in eastern Washington state.

In addition to his fiction, Alexie is also well known for his poetry. All told, he has written 26 books, and he wrote and co-produced the film Smoke Signals. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is his long-awaited memoir. In it, he focuses much of the story on one particular year – the year in which his irascible mother, Lillian, died, but also the one in which he underwent brain surgery to remove a large tumour.

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Dawn of the New Everything by Jaron Lanier review – virtual reality patter

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 12:00:10 GMT2017-12-07T12:00:10Z

The techno-sage and Silicon Valley insider sees VR as emancipatory and liberating but what does ‘shared lucid dreaming’ actually mean?

I experienced virtual reality for the first time the other day, at a training workshop for university lecturers. When I donned the Oculus Rift – a sleek plastic headset with handheld controls – I was presented with a desk on which sat some cartoonishly rendered objects: a ball, a toy car, a ray gun. I picked up the gun and fired off a few shots. I rolled the ball off the table. Then the lenses in the goggles misted up and I grew bored.

I couldn’t see how virtual reality was supposed to help with the teaching of literature, but the techno-apparatchiks who were our guides for the day assured me that this was the future of pedagogy (a word they liked). “Just imagine,” they said, “one day your students won’t just be able to read books: they’ll experience what it’s like to be in them.”

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Passchendaele: A New History by Nick Lloyd review – hellish battle reassessed

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:00:09 GMT2017-12-07T11:00:09Z

A powerful account of ‘courage and ingenuity in the face of almost unimaginable horrors’

Passchendaele has become a synonym for military failure as well as the myopia of the British top brass. Nick Lloyd’s book reassesses the conduct and impact of this hellish battle, which lasted from 31 July until 10 November 1917. By then more than half a million men had been killed or injured, many vanishing without trace in the thick mud. The British forces had advanced just five miles, ground that was lost again the following year. It was, says Lloyd, “the ultimate expression of meaningless, industrialised slaughter”. On just one day in August, more shells were fired than in the entire Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71. But Lloyd argues that Field Marshal Haig’s much criticised offensive was very nearly successful and is one of the “lost victories” of the war. His powerful account of this appalling battle is meticulously researched using letters and diaries, including from German soldiers. “Their story is a remarkable one of courage and ingenuity in the face of almost unimaginable horrors,” writes Lloyd. It is a harrowing and important history.

Passchendaele: A New History is published by Penguin. To order a copy for £8.49 (RRP £9.99) go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.

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Proxies: Twenty-Four Attempts Towards a Memoir by Brian Blanchfield review – 21st-century Montaigne

Thu, 07 Dec 2017 09:00:07 GMT2017-12-07T09:00:07Z

From an owl’s face to canteen food to tumbleweed, this collection of essays is a thing of wonder

With its roots in the Latin “exigere”, to examine, and in the Middle French “essaier”, to attempt, to put something to the proof, the essay form, from its inception, has been peculiarly alive to the interrogative relationship it has with the self that writes it. Montaigne, held to be the progenitor of the form with his Essays, published in 1580, asked the question “Que sais-je?” (“what do I know?”) in his essay “Apology for Raymond Sebond”. Proxies is award-winning American poet Brian Blanchfield’s first book of essays, and it returns the form to “Que sais-je”? The short introductory note outlines what might be seen as the book’s USP, “a total suppression of recourse to other authoritative sources” while composing it.

The single-subject essays were written with the internet off and without consulting books and other works that either feature or are referenced in the pieces; his own memory was Blanchfield’s only guide. Accordingly, there is a 20-page “correction” at the end that aims to remedy the occasional blurriness and errors of referencing. And yet this trick, enabling Blanchfield to let the constraint lead him to “an area of personal uneasiness, a site of vulnerability”, is the least interesting aspect of what might well be a book like no other.

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House of Lords and Commons by Ishion Hutchinson review – new literary territory

Sat, 09 Dec 2017 11:00:05 GMT2017-12-09T11:00:05Z

Slavery, a dub musician as Noah and memories of a Jamaican childhood inform a collection that subverts history’s grand narratives

In an elegiac essay on the late Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, Ishion Hutchinson recounts finding Walcott’s poem “Landfall, Grenada” in his local library at the age of 16. Reading in the half-light of evening, the budding poet is galvanised by Walcott’s forceful image of the “blown canes”. These revelatory, sharp words are loaded with the violent history of plantation slavery. Indeed, a ubiquity of cane, the sugar trade of empire and transatlantic slavery inform the landscapes of Hutchinson’s second collection, House of Lords and Commons. But they do not define his subject.

Like his first, more autobiographical collection, Far District, published by Peepal Tree, Hutchinson’s second book expands on experiences from his Jamaican childhood. In the opening poem, “Station”, an absent “stranger, father” is greeted by his son, the “Cerberus”-voiced speaker.

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The White City by Roma Tearne review – London in the grip of endless winter

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:00:03 GMT2017-12-08T13:00:03Z

This dreamlike dystopian novel explores what it means to be a migrant

The dystopian London at the heart of Roma Tearne’s novel is frozen under endless winter. As the snow begins to fall and the ice begins to form, Hera’s life is thrown into chaos when her brother, Aslam, is arrested as part of a counter-terrorism operation. Their parents Hektor and Calypso are distraught at the disappearance of their son, whom the authorities remove with neither warning nor information.

Hera and her Uncle Lyle try to negotiate with the Kafkaesque bureaucracy that has taken Aslam. Her parents are suddenly, shockingly useless: “In that moment and with no warning I saw them as they really were, their powerlessness and their defeat.” But the weather conspires against them, as much as the police officers who ignore their questions and their smashed windows, once the arrest has been reported in the newspapers.

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theMystery.doc by Matthew McIntosh review – a giant scrapbook of ideas

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:01:38 GMT2017-12-08T09:01:38Z

But is there a story worth telling behind the 1,600 pages of asterisks, photos and text messages?

You could, I suppose, blame Herman Melville for the American penchant for maximalism: books that are not just long but weighty. It flourished under William Gaddis, Thomas Pynchon and John Barth; it became even more prominent when David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest appeared the year before Don DeLillo’s Underworld, and recent examples might include Joshua Cohen, Adam Levin and especially Mark Z Danielewski’s proposed 27-volume The Familiar. To be added to this door-stopping tendency is Matthew McIntosh’s theMystery.doc, subtitled “a novel”, although it frets over that description.

What is surprising is that McIntosh would join this vaguely macho club. His debut novel, Well, published in 2005, was a shade under 300 pages: classic creative writing in the key of Raymond Carver, and no bad thing for that. theMystery.doc is a whopping 1,600 pages. It includes photographs, text messages, plagiarisms, discussions about itself and a whole “drawerful of jpegs, tifs, pdfs, mp3s,midis, wavs, aiffs, mpgs, movs, and all other accounts we keep of our / de::: / cline:::”

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Goblin by Ever Dundas review – a brilliant picaresque

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 07:29:10 GMT2017-12-06T07:29:10Z

This prizewinning debut novel about the so-called ‘pet massacre’ of the second world war is a meditation on trauma and loss that brims with wild joy

Dead things can’t die; weirdos always find each other. These two statements, from Scottish author Ever Dundas’s terrific debut novel, contain between them much of the meaning of the book, and much that makes it moving. It is a celebration of freakery, of creating one’s own family; a meditation on trauma and loss and abandonment (in both senses of that word) which, somehow, is never bleak.Goblin brims throughout with a kind of reckless joy.

The story switches regularly and rapidly between past and almost-present, mostly in London: between the firelit city of the blitz and the firelit city of the 2011 riots. Goblin, when we first encounter her, is an 81-year-old reader-in-residence at Edinburgh’s Central Library, where she is kept company by Ben, a homeless man eating his way through Ulysses, page by page, chowing down as if it were a gorgonzola sandwich. Goblin is the name her mother used for her; a term of hatred that she has reclaimed.

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Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre review – murder in zero-gravity

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 07:00:17 GMT2017-11-27T07:00:17Z

The Scottish writer puts his detectives aboard a city-in-space in a twisting, sci-fi-flavoured crime mystery

The award-winning Scottish crime author Chris Brookmyre tweeted a one-star Amazon review he received for his new novel, Places in the Darkness, earlier this month. “This needs a ‘serious science fiction’ warning, in capital letters,” raged the reader, who’d clearly been expecting another slice of Brookmyre’s excellent tartan noir. “I feel kind of bad,” responded Brookmyre, brimming with sarcasm. “My publishers should maybe have put a space station on the cover or something.”

Brookmyre is, it’s true, better known for his crime novels, particularly those starring his doesn’t-do-things-by-the-book reporter Jack Parlabane; the recent Black Widow won him both the Theakston crime novel of the year and the McIlvanney prize. Places in the Darkness does indeed see him boldly going into the realms of science fiction, so count yourself warned – if that space station filling the front cover hadn’t already given it away. It’s set on Earth’s first space station, Ciudad de Cielo, known as CdC, or Seedee. Built 70 years ago, with 100,000 residents, it’s “as close to a city without crime as mankind has seen”. There’s never been a homicide before, but Brookmyre opens with a doozy, his new setting allowing a writer who has never been afraid of diving right into the visceral side of a crime a whole new dimension to play with.

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Poem of the week: Sonnet to Vauxhall by Thomas Hood

Mon, 27 Nov 2017 10:12:01 GMT2017-11-27T10:12:01Z

A dazzling sonnet captures the fizz and excitement of a firework display at London’s celebrated pleasure gardens

Sonnet to Vauxhall

The English Garden.” – Mason

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You Should Come With Me Now by M John Harrison review – stories ​for the uncommon reader​

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 12:00:04 GMT2017-11-24T12:00:04Z

Funhouse​-mirror​ reflections of human nature emerge from these inventive fables and surreal spoofs – but th​e humour is as dry as ether

One of these brilliantly told stories, “The Walls”, begins: “A man, let’s call him D, is seen digging his way out through the wall of his cell. To help in this project, D has only the thinnest and least reliable tools: two dessert spoons (one stainless steel, one electro-plated nickel silver); half of a pair of curved nail scissors; some domestic knives lacking handles; and so on. The cell wall, constructed from grey, squarish cinder blocks about a foot on a side has been carelessly mortared and laid without much attention to detail. But this lack of artifice makes no difference; none of the knives is long enough to reach the last half inch of mortar at the back of each block, and the more D uses them the shorter they get. Each block must, eventually, be loosened and removed by hand, a task which can take several months, and which leaves him exhausted.”

A close attention to detail characterises this story and contributes much to its effectiveness, and yet, like the careless mortaring of the cinder blocks, it makes no difference in the end. Why and how does D have two dessert spoons? What does he live on during these months (which become years)? Who brings it to his cell? We have nothing with which to fill in unstated facts, as we’re used to doing when reading fiction, because the story is consistent only in pulling the carpet out from under its own feet. It is a play of imagination in a void. Its power is that of a dream, in this case a bad one, the kind that keeps repeating itself with variations in an endless loop of frustration.

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Picture books for children reviews – tinselly tales for a child’s Christmas

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 08:00:30 GMT2017-12-10T08:00:30Z

From Quentin Blake’s Scrooge to Judith Kerr’s new cat Katinka and beyond, picture book present ideas abound this Christmas

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Pavilion £14.99), is an uplifting version of Dickens’s classic, bound in scarlet, with which to get Christmas off to a festive start. Dickens and Blake turn out to be a canny pairing – what they have in common is boundless imaginative energy. Blake’s Scrooge is first encountered bent double over his desk. Everything about him and his environs is greyish save for the pile of golden coins upon which he is dolefully focused. The first ghost in the story is rendered as comic and alarming – a mix Blake has down to a fine art. Hair standing on end, desperate mouth – the ghost is chaos on the move. But the most appealing picture is of Scrooge transformed – a benign Christmas figure, if not quite qualifying as a wise man with holly in his hair, satsumas and Christmas pud at his feet (five up – and all the family).

The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen (Walker £12.99), is a model of storytelling: a simple, compelling tale of two animals, a duck and a mouse, who make themselves at home in a wolf’s belly. Barnett’s nice distinction is that being swallowed is not the same as being eaten. The belly is claustrophobic. It lacks mod cons and daylight but the animals do surprisingly well in their dark digs and there are amazing developments to come. Hassen’s edgy, subtle, muted drawings illustrate this story marvellously (three-year-olds of steady character and up).

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Fiction for older children reviews – snow quests, standup and skullduggery

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:31 GMT2017-12-10T09:00:31Z

A well-plotted comic quest from Harry Hill, a treat of a seafaring saga, and a Dickensian dystopia in which a fox leaves an orphanage in search of home

Snow flurries blow across ice palaces, and a penguin or seven crops up in this season’s stockingful of books. Best enjoyed with a mug of sustaining cocoa, Alex Bell’s The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club (Faber £6.99) – probably the start of a series – delights in sleety detail. Twelve-year-old Stella Starflake Pearl dreams of being an arctic explorer like her adoptive father, a derring-doer who disdains club rules about moustaches and not taking girls along on expeditions. Soon Stella is questing through the Icelands. Inadvertently stumbling across the uneasy secrets of her childhood, she forges unlikely friendships. Big on tiny enchanted penguins, pygmy diplodocuses, moustache wax, unicorns and compassion, Bell’s book also packs some fairytale-calibre grimness (hence the need for strong cocoa).

Another series opener, Mr Penguin and the Lost Treasure (Hachette £9.99), finds the titular Mr Penguin – a private investigator-cum-adventurer – dreading a return to the frozen south if he doesn’t get some paid work soon. Icy waves? Brrrr, no, thank you. Written and illustrated by Alex T Smith (of Claude fame), this is a zany whodunnit for emerging readers in which Mr Penguin traipses through mysterious lands below a failing museum in search of treasure, while dastardly baddies keep postponing his lunch (fish-finger sandwiches).

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Teenage book reviews – thrills, spills and girl power

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:59:33 GMT2017-12-10T09:59:33Z

A boarding school for self-absorbed artists, a handbook on changing the world, and bright young women standing up to the bullies

Lydia Ruffles’s gripping novel The Taste of Blue Light (Hodder £12.99) is a hothouse boarding school for performance and fine artists where self-absorption is an art in itself. Luxe, back at school after a breakdown, has synaesthesia and is losing face and friends through her anxiety-fuelled social lapses.

It’s easy to make fun of the students, who pledge allegiance to the muses and Simon Cowell, but an institution where achievement starts with confronting the true self is arguably the best place for Luxe to be. As the gaps in her memory are filled, her progress to recovery becomes even more admirable.

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Barbara Hosking: ‘I couldn’t write my memoir without mentioning that I’ve been gay all my life’

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 09:00:31 GMT2017-12-10T09:00:31Z

The former aide to Harold Wilson and Edward Heath on a rollicking career, coming out at 91 and a daily glass of claret

Born in Cornwall in 1926, Barbara Hosking moved to London aged 21 to pursue a career in journalism. Instead, she joined the Labour party press office and went on to serve as a press officer to Harold Wilson and later Edward Heath. She also spent three years in East Africa running the office at a remote mining company and worked in TV, becoming executive chairwoman of Westcountry Television. Now, aged 91, she has written about her storied life, and her sexuality, in Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant.

Was it a challenge to write a memoir in your 90s?
Not really. The disadvantage was, about 10 years ago, I threw all my diaries away. But I was amazed at how much I remembered, apart from spelling people’s names correctly and getting the dates in order. You could say it’s just a string of after-dinner anecdotes. Or, if you were being academic, you could say it’s a history of the social life of the 20th century. The irony is that I’ve always been a private person, but here I felt I had to be honest and I couldn’t write about myself without mentioning the fact that I’ve been gay all my life.

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Mohsin Hamid: ‘If you want to see what tribalism will do to the west, look at Pakistan’

Sun, 10 Dec 2017 00:02:21 GMT2017-12-10T00:02:21Z

The Booker-nominated writer tackles themes of equality, migration, and belonging that, he warns, should now be worrying us more than ever before

Mohsin Hamid is depressed. The novelist, twice nominated for the Man Booker prize, has seen the three places he calls home – Pakistan, America and Europe – betray their fundamental ideals and become increasingly unwelcoming.

In Pakistan, where he was born, the elected government caved in to a mob of extremist protesters by sacking a minister they accused, essentially, of being a bad Muslim. In a country created as a homeland for south Asia’s Muslims, the fight over who fits that bill means hardly anyone is safe from unfounded accusations of blasphemy. Students have been lynched arbitrarily and, in 2011, the governor, Salman Taseer, was shot for criticising the blasphemy laws. To Hamid, the stunning capitulation to the mob signals the breakdown of an uneasy coexistence between the government, the military and the courts, allowing “raw power” to rule.

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'His suicide shocked the world': Maria Schrader on her Oscar-nominated film about Stefan Zweig

Fri, 08 Dec 2017 16:38:13 GMT2017-12-08T16:38:13Z

The Jewish writer fled the Nazis and fell in love with his new home, a tropical paradise in Brazil. Can we ever know why he took his life? The director of a new biopic talks about the agony of the exile

Suicide always remains a secret, the unknown bit beyond all reasons and explanations,” says Maria Schrader, the German actor best known in Britain for her role as ruthless, wicked but captivating Stasi agent Lenora Rauch in Channel 4’s spy drama Deutschland 83. She is talking about the subject of the Oscar-nominated film she has directed, Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe. The Viennese Jewish writer fled his homeland in 1934 with the rise of Hitler to London, Bath, New York and ultimately Petrópolis, a mountain town 40-odd miles north of Rio de Janeiro that had become home to a colony of German exiles. It was at his Brazilian home on 23 February 1942 that the 60-year-old Zweig and his second wife Lotte, 33 years his junior, were found by their gardener and housekeeper curled up dead together in bed after taking a barbiturate overdose.

It was hard to understand on the face of it why the couple killed themselves. Zweig had just written a book, Brazil: Land of the Future, eulogising his adoptive land. Lotte, in one scene in Schrader’s film, tells a guide showing them around a sugar plantation why they love their Brazilian paradise: “The various races live together so naturally that it seems like a miracle to us.” At least, it seemed very different from where the Zweigs had fled, a Europe bent on exterminating Jews.

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Jerry Fodor obituary

Wed, 06 Dec 2017 17:09:04 GMT2017-12-06T17:09:04Z

Philosopher who saw the mind as a computer processing the language of thought

The philosopher Jerry Fodor, who has died aged 82, was the leading exponent of the philosophy of mind in a period when it became the discipline’s most prominent area. From the early 1960s he did much to set the agenda in his field, notably in the development of cognitive science, a newly emerging interdisciplinary approach to the study of mind.

During Fodor’s student days in the late 1950s, philosophy of mind and psychology in the English-speaking world was dominated by behaviourism. Philosophical behaviourists – many operating under the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein – were hostile to the view that the mind is an inner theatre and to any identification of the mind with the brain. Their psychological colleagues tended to deny the reality of the mind or to hold that the study of the mind has no legitimate place in scientific psychology.

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Kim Moore's 'thrilling' debut poetry collection wins Geoffrey Faber prize

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 15:11:14 GMT2017-11-30T15:11:14Z

The Art of Falling, by a Cumbrian poet and former trumpet teacher, joins illustrious former winners including Seamus Heaney and JM Coetzee

A debut poetry collection that tackles the author’s own experiences of domestic violence, in poems that “jolt the heart”, has won the Geoffrey Faber memorial prize.

Cumbrian poet Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling covers everything from her experiences as a trumpet teacher to her father’s profession as a scaffolder, as well as the suffragettes and a tattoo inspired by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In My People, she writes of how some “swear without knowing they are swearing … scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers, the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady’s house”.

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La Belle Sauvage chosen as Waterstones book of the year

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 06:01:21 GMT2017-11-30T06:01:21Z

Managing director James Daunt says staff showed overwhelming enthusiasm for Philip Pullman’s return after 17 years to the world of Northern Lights

Philip Pullman’s return to the world of Lyra Belacqua, La Belle Sauvage, has picked up its first award: the Waterstones book of the year.

The novel, which is already a bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic, begins 10 years before Northern Lights and tells the story of an apocalyptic flood and how a young boy, Malcolm, teams up with an older girl, Alice, to save the infant Lyra from a sinister plot.

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Cassandra Clare scoops £1m for first adult novels

Wed, 29 Nov 2017 13:54:26 GMT2017-11-29T13:54:26Z

The author, an established star of YA fiction with her Mortal Instruments series, has signed a two-book, seven-figure deal with Pan Macmillan

The writer Cassandra Clare, whose stories of the half-angel shadowhunters in the Mortal Instruments series have won her legions of teenage fans, has landed a book deal worth more than £1m for her first venture into writing for adults.

Clare’s Sword Catcher books will, said the author, tell of “a young man raised to be the body double for an unworthy prince, [and] a young woman destined to change the world”. Pan Macmillan said it “fought off stiff competition” to win UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, in two books, for which it paid seven figures. North American rights in the books have been acquired by Del Rey for an undisclosed sum.

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Jeffrey Eugenides: ‘I’m not trying to compete with the outrageousness of Trump’

Sat, 25 Nov 2017 12:00:23 GMT2017-11-25T12:00:23Z

The Pulitzer prize-winning author on his pledge to be cheerful in dark times

In 2005, before Hurricane Katrina, or the subprime mortgage crisis, or the succession of the first black president by a reality TV star braggart, Jeffrey Eugenides wrote: “One’s country was like oneself, the more you learned about it, the more there was to be ashamed about.” That sentence constitutes the dark heart of a sly yet pathos-packed tale called “Great Experiment” in Fresh Complaint, his recently published first collection of short stories. Twelve years on, surely American national shame is greater than any personal shame?

Related: Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides review – men behaving badly

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Max Tegmark and Ken MacLeod on artificial intelligence – books podcast

Tue, 28 Nov 2017 10:44:10 GMT2017-11-28T10:44:10Z

How would it feel to be outperformed by a machine? We discuss the AI revolution with physicist Max Tegmark and science fiction writer Ken MacLeod

Subscribe and review: iTunes, Spotify, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud & Acast and join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

As big data drives a sudden increase of artificial intelligences into our lives, we examine how it would feel if humans were no longer the smartest beings on the planet, with the physicist and AI campaigner Max Tegmark and the science fiction writer Ken MacLeod.

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The art of Terry Pratchett's Discworld – in pictures

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 13:14:05 GMT2017-11-22T13:14:05Z

The author’s ‘artist of choice’ Paul Kidby introduces some of the images he produced during their decades-long collaboration

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Covers story: Trump in the cartoon frame – in pictures

Wed, 08 Nov 2017 12:02:13 GMT2017-11-08T12:02:13Z

Dismayed by the US president’s election, cartoonist Robert Sikoryak reimagined some of his more lurid quotes on classic comic book covers, turning Wonder Woman into Nasty Woman, and the Donald into a string of villains. Have a browse

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'If only I'd been warned!' - writers choose books to give to their younger selves

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 08:00:06 GMT2017-12-02T08:00:06Z

Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Tessa Hadley, David Nicholls and others choose reading matter that would have been useful when young

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Carol, Bah! Humbug!: How to rewrite A Christmas Carol for the digital age

Fri, 24 Nov 2017 12:00:04 GMT2017-11-24T12:00:04Z

Dickens’s A Christmas Carol has become too familiar – it’s time to revisit it’s original meaning and capture what Scrooge stood for

A Christmas Carol is one of a few literary works that can be cited as a common cultural reference point, so it’s a text people imagine they’ve read without having done so. Politicians and commentators can summon up Scrooge or the Ghost of Christmas Past without having to mention Dickens or why the story was written. When literature assumes this half-panto, half-statue status, it’s easy to lose sight of the subversive side of an original. Think of Wordsworth’s daffodils waving wildly and freely, dead-headed by decades of mindless chanting.

In 1843, Dickens read the second report (trades and manufactures) of the children’s employment commission set up by parliament. His first response was to bring out a pamphlet called An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child, and he told an audience in Manchester of the terrible sights he had seen among the juvenile population in London’s jails and doss houses. But he turned to fiction instead, and his friend Cornelius Felton talked of Dickens weeping and laughing to himself as he began to compose the story, walking the streets of London “when all the sober folks had gone to bed”.

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EU and me: writers reminisce on their relationship with Europe

Sat, 18 Nov 2017 08:00:26 GMT2017-11-18T08:00:26Z

From cappuccinos to constitutional rights, Stieg Larsson to Smetana – writers reflect on what Europe means to them

I’m something of a thief, I’m afraid, and among my stolen possessions I have the score to “Vltava”, the river theme from the Czech composer Smetana’s symphonic poem Má Vlast (“my country”). This I took from school, having played the piano part in the orchestra – nobody, it seemed to me, could possibly love it as I loved it, or play it as I played it; therefore in spirit if not in law it belonged to me.

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'Open the doors and let these books in' - what would a truly diverse reading list look like?

Sat, 11 Nov 2017 08:00:20 GMT2017-11-11T08:00:20Z

Following student calls for university English literature syllabuses to be ‘decolonised’, Hanif Kureishi, Arundhati Roy, Kamila Shamsie and other authors reflect on the debate and choose essential books by black and minority ethnic writers

I once wrote, “I didn’t know I was coloured until I went to school”, and it goes without saying it took me some time to work out what being “of colour” really meant. Along with many others, I’m still trying to work out what it means, and if I’ve grasped something, it was because of the libraries I visited as a kid and the books I found there. Many were American – Richard Wright, James Baldwin – but the British revelation was a short novel by an author I’d never heard of, ER Braithwaite.

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'Women are better writers than men': novelist John Boyne sets the record straight

Tue, 12 Dec 2017 06:00:25 GMT2017-12-12T06:00:25Z

Male authors are always pronouncing their own brilliance – or boasting about not reading books by women. So, after a lifetime of writing and attending literary festivals, John Boyne would like to get something off his chest …

Do you know what the literary tea towel is? It’s an Irish phenomenon that can be found hanging in half the pubs of Dublin and all the tourist shops. Also taking the form of a calendar, a beer mat, a T-shirt and a poster, the tea towel features images of 12 great Irish writers, most of whom look as if they’ve spent the morning drowning puppies.

There’s George Bernard Shaw looking constipated, while Flann O’Brien stares into the distance. Oscar Wilde at least has a half-smile on his face, as if Bosie has just lifted his shirt to show off his abs. Only Brendan Behan seems truly happy, but then he is sitting in a pub.

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The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris review – sumptuous

Mon, 02 Oct 2017 06:30:24 GMT2017-10-02T06:30:24Z

A book combining meticulous wordcraft with exquisite illustrations deftly restores language describing the natural world to the children’s lexicon

In 2007, the new edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary introduced new words such as “broadband” while others, describing the natural world, disappeared. The dictionary’s guidelines require that it reflect “the current frequency of words in daily language of children”. However, the philosopher AJ Ayer introduced a generation to the notion that unless we have a word for something, we are unable to conceive of it, and that there is a direct relationship between our imagination, our ability to have ideas about things, and our vocabulary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a groundswell of opposition to the word cull began to grow and, in 2015, the debate reached a tipping point when an open letter to the OJD, coordinated by the naturalist Laurence Rose, was signed by artists and writers including Margaret Atwood, Sara Maitland, Michael Morpurgo and Andrew Motion along with the brilliant illustrator Jackie Morris and the hugely acclaimed wordsmith, word collector, and defender of the natural world, Robert Macfarlane. “There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s wellbeing,” the letter said. A heated debate in the national press ensued, both for and against the lost words, and the collaboration between Morris and Macfarlane was born.

Related: Oxford Junior Dictionary’s replacement of ‘natural’ words with 21st-century terms sparks outcry

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The best crime books and thrillers of 2017

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 08:59:09 GMT2017-11-30T08:59:09Z

Mark Lawson welcomes the return of George Smiley, drunken spooks and the recreation of a real-life murder trial

In literature, as in boxing, great champions have compromised their reputations by going on too long. But entering the ring for the 24th time, at the age of 86, John le Carré remained an unmatched heavyweight. A Legacy of Spies (Viking) also showed off some new punches, ingeniously recasting an earlier masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. In stingingly topical style, the behaviours of its characters six decades ago, including George Smiley, are examined by the modern forces of political correctness.

The long and enduring power of Le Carré leaves British espionage fiction a cramped space for newcomers. Mick Herron has carved out his own distinctive territory by focusing on a squad of failed spooks whom Sir George would never tolerate. They are known as the “slow horses” of their HQ Slough House, which Herron imagines as an MI5 naughty step for alcoholics, incompetents and possible traitors. In Spook Street (John Murray), this stable of unstable spies deal with a terrorist attack plus the risk that a retired agent with dementia may forget what he shouldn’t know. Chief cowboy of the slow horses, Jackson Lamb, whose vulgar hedonism would be enough to make Falstaff look like Philip Hammond, is becoming one of crime fiction’s great characters.

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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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The best science fiction and fantasy of 2017

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 12:00:13 GMT2017-11-30T12:00:13Z

Adam Roberts finds floods in Manhattan, magic in Paris and a shortage of electricity across the world

A year ago, Amitav Ghosh usefully stirred things up with his rebuke to “realist” modes of writing. Where, he asked, is all the fiction about climate change? Well, it turns out that the answer is science fiction. Genre writing has been exploring the possible futures of climate change for many years, and 2017’s three best novels engage in powerful and varied ways with precisely that subject. Kim Stanley Robinson is the unofficial laureate of future climatology, and his prodigious New York 2140 (Orbit), a multilayered novel set in a flooded Big Apple, is by any standard an enormous achievement. It is as much a reflection on how we might fit climate change into fiction as it is a detailed, scientifically literate representation of its possible consequences.

Just as rich, though much tighter in narrative focus, is Paul McAuley’s superb Austral (Gollancz), set in a powerfully realised near‑future Antarctica transformed by global warming. Jeff VanderMeer’s vividly weird Borne (4th Estate) takes a different, neo-surrealist approach to the topic. You won’t soon forget its star turn, a flying bear as big as a cathedral rampaging through wastelands.

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Best books of 2017 – part two

Sun, 26 Nov 2017 07:00:03 GMT2017-11-26T07:00:03Z

From moving memoirs to far-reaching fiction, the wonders of science and the lessons of history, novelists, poets and critics pick their best reads of the year

  • Part one: George Saunders, Ali Smith and others share their favourites
  • Nominate your books of the year in the comments below

Anything is Possible; Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls

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Goodbye things, hello minimalism: can living with less make you happier?

Wed, 12 Apr 2017 13:23:33 GMT2017-04-12T13:23:33Z

Fumio Sasaki owns a roll-up mattress, three shirts and four pairs of socks. After deciding to scorn possessions, he began feeling happier. He explains why

Let me tell you a bit about myself. I’m 35 years old, male, single, never been married. I work as an editor at a publishing company. I recently moved from the Nakameguro neighbourhood in Tokyo, where I lived for a decade, to a neighbourhood called Fudomae in a different part of town. The rent is cheaper, but the move pretty much wiped out my savings.

Some of you may think that I’m a loser: an unmarried adult with not much money. The old me would have been way too embarrassed to admit all this. I was filled with useless pride. But I honestly don’t care about things like that any more. The reason is very simple: I’m perfectly happy just as I am.

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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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