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Books | The Guardian



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



Published: Thu, 17 Aug 2017 13:05:26 GMT2017-08-17T13:05:26Z

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



'England hath need of thee': appeal to save Milton's Paradise Lost cottage

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 10:46:58 GMT2017-08-17T10:46:58Z

Charity seeks to build on lottery pledge to secure a lasting future for museum in home where writer completed his epic poem on the fall of man

Pointing to Wordsworth’s comment more than 200 years ago that “Milton! Thou shouldst be living at this hour. / England hath need of thee”, a charity has launched an “urgent” appeal to the public to help it preserve the 16th-century Buckinghamshire cottage where John Milton completed Paradise Lost, 350 years ago.

The radical poet lived in the Chalfont St Giles cottage after he fled London during the 1665 plague. Although he remained there for less than two years, it was where he completed his masterpiece, Paradise Lost. The cottage is the only surviving residence of the poet and is open to the public as a museum. It holds a leading collection of first editions, as well as a lock of the poet’s hair, and an original proclamation from King Charles II, banning his books. According to the charity, it is the second-oldest writer’s home museum in the world after Shakespeare’s birthplace. Without a much-needed injection of cash, however, the museum risks closure.

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Michael Sheen reads from Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage – video

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 11:52:02 GMT2017-08-17T11:52:02Z

The Book of Dust is a forthcoming trilogy of fantasy novels by Philip Pullman, a companion series to His Dark Materials. The first book, La Belle Sauvage, is set 10 years before Northern Lights and centres on Lyra Belacqua, one of the original protagonists. Alethiometers, dæmons and the Magisterium also return, alongside new characters, including a new hero. La Belle Sauvage will be published in October 2017

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'I already feel like I've won': Fiona Mozley, the new face on the Booker longlist

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 06:59:51 GMT2017-08-17T06:59:51Z

Catapulted from anonymity to literary stardom, the 29-year-old from York talks about her sylvan debut novel, Elmet, and how it was fuelled by her anger at inequality

Fiona Mozley was sitting in a cafe when she heard the news. She had been out walking her dog by the river, and had stopped for a coffee on the way home, when she got a call from her editor.

“I thought she’d managed to secure a good quote for the front cover,” says Mozley. “It was obviously good news. I could tell from the tone of her voice.” The rest is a bit of a blur, with her dog, Stringer, barking and jumping around as he caught on to her gradually increasing excitement. By the time she put down the phone, Mozley was reeling from the discovery she had been longlisted for the Man Booker prize with a book that wasn’t even due to be published until September.

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We That Are Young by Preti Taneja review – King Lear in Delhi

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 11:00:46 GMT2017-08-17T11:00:46Z

Contemporary India provides a fascinating backdrop for a reworking of Shakespeare’s tragedy

Thanks to publishing’s conservatism, fiction set in modern India can too easily be pigeonholed: post-colonial, Raj-nostalgic, focused on slum dwellers or a globetrotting elite. We That Are Young, the doorstop debut novel from Preti Taneja, a Cambridge academic and human rights activist, ignores and subverts these stereotypes by turns.

A recasting of King Lear in today’s Delhi, the family at its centre consists of ageing patriarch Devraj, head of the multi-tentacled India Company, his daughters Gargi, Radha and Sita, right-hand man Ranjit and his son Jeet. They aren’t simply an elite; they’re practically royalty, with the Company (insistent on its capital letter) standing in for the country in more than just name, its operations covering every aspect of modern Indian life from traditional woven fabrics to coffee chains and luxury hotels. The book opens aboard a BA flight above London, with Ranjit’s illegitimate son Jivan not arriving but departing, turning his back on a somewhat passé “west” and a white girlfriend whom he derides for her attempts to “try on” his culture.

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Gainsborough by James Hamilton review – the painter’s secret sauciness

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 08:00:03 GMT2017-08-17T08:00:03Z

An astute biography casts a new light on famous paintings and underlines the importance of the artist’s risque private life

Thomas Gainsborough’s early masterpiece, Mr and Mrs Andrews (c1750), has long been read as a celebration of that pivotal moment in mid-Georgian Britain when man managed to wrestle nature to its knees and tell it what to do. To one side of the painting are the recently married Robert and Frances Andrews, a lucky young couple handsomely dressed in a rustle of linen, satin and soft leather. Significantly, though, the pair are posing not in the library or hall of their manor house but out in the grounds, in the well-worked, wheat-covered bit of Suffolk’s loamy Stour valley that provides the capital on which their combined fortune depends. In the far distance you can just make out the tower of All Saints’ Church where this alliance between two local landowning families – one gentry, one trade – has recently been settled to everyone’s satisfaction.

Gainsborough painted the happy couple, not to mention their happy acres, with such a zesty freshness that it’s a shock to learn that, until the picture was bought by the National Gallery in 1960, Mr and Mrs Andrews was kept hidden away by the family, like some mad aunt in the attic. James Hamilton, the author of this richly humane biography of the artist, thinks he knows why. Hamilton suggests that, far from being a servile recorder of other people’s good fortune, young Tom Gainsborough was never afraid to blurt out inconvenient truths, much in the manner of his great hero William Hogarth. Why else would he have introduced into his lyrical landscape a pair of plebeian donkeys, corralled in an enclosure? Hamilton believes this is a deliberate jibe about the matrimonial trap into which Robert Andrews, who was an old schoolmate from Sudbury Grammar, has blundered. Then there’s the billowy way in which Andrews’s gunpowder bag and gun have been rendered to make them look like a set of swollen genitalia, waiting to seed the fertile ground. Oddest of all, though, a space on Mrs Andrews’s lap has been left blank, with only the canvas peeping through. Art historians have long argued about whether Gainsborough was reserving room for a baby, a lapdog or a dead pheasant. But for Hamilton, who is as astute a reader of Gainsborough’s smuttiness as he is of his blazing talent, what matters is the faint scratch of a design that you can just make out in the empty space: “Frances Andrews has a drawing of a penis on her skirt.”

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Everybody Lies by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz review – what internet searches reveal

Thu, 17 Aug 2017 06:30:01 GMT2017-08-17T06:30:01Z

Do web porn clicks deliver data that ‘Freud and Foucault would have drooled over’, or are we not as weird as our online behaviour suggests?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz wanted to call his new book How Big Is My Penis?, but his publishers demurred. He settled for Everybody Lies. The book is subtitled What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are and it’s a polished display of some of the early fruits of “big data” science. Its principal defect, perhaps, is that it doesn’t say enough about how many of these fruits are rotten.

Stephens-Davidowitz’s first source, when he set up as a data scientist, was Google Trends, which records the relative frequency of particular searches in different places at different times. He soon added Google Adwords, which registers the actual number of searches. Then he moved on to other vastnesses: Wikipedia, Facebook and then PornHub, one of the largest pornographic sites in the world. PornHub gave him its complete data set, duly anonymised: every single search and video view. He also “scraped” many other sites, including neo-Nazi sites such as Stormfront, which account for the internet’s resemblance to the box jellyfish, a highly poisonous predator with 60 anuses.

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Top 10 twists in fiction

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 11:41:31 GMT2017-08-16T11:41:31Z

Court dramas, classic mysteries and bloody crimes ... from Du Maurier to Lehane, Sophie Hannah chooses her favourite twists in novels (or does she?)

  • There are no spoilers in this article, but we can’t guarantee the comments

The word “twist” exerts a strange power over crime fiction addicts like me. Publishers know this all too well, which is why the promise of a twist is often used to advertise books that don’t have twists at all. “You’ll never see the breathtaking twist coming!” screams the press release. Well, no, you won’t, because it doesn’t exist. And so many people think a brilliant resolution is the same thing as a twist. It isn’t. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express offers the most impressive puzzle solution in all of detective fiction. But, however ingenious and surprising, it’s not a twist ending.

So what is a bona fide twist? In my view, it has to be something that overturns or negates an already drawn conclusion or a firmly entrenched and reasonable assumption (Orient Express overturns an unreasonable assumption on the part of the reader, which is why I wouldn’t call it a twist).

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Authors voice fury at Russian publisher cutting gay scene from novel

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:15:58 GMT2017-08-16T14:15:58Z

Author VE Schwab ‘devastated’ after discovering a storyline was cut without her permission in Russia, where LGBT books are regularly shrinkwrapped

VE Schwab’s Shades of Magic series follows the story of the magician Kell, a “traveller” with the ability to move between four parallel versions of London. Acclaimed and bestselling – in the Guardian it was called “a compelling, swashbuckling read” – the fantasy trilogy features a diverse array of characters, from the gender-fluid pickpocket Lila to the bisexual prince Rhy. However, Schwab was horrified to learn last week that her books aren’t quite so diverse in Russian translations, where her publisher excised a scene about the romantic relationship between two male characters.

“The Russian edition of Shades of Magic has been my favourite. This week I learned that they redacted the entire queer plot w/out permission,” she wrote on Twitter to her more than 50,000 followers, describing herself as “positively devastated”.

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My fellow authors are too busy chasing prizes to write about what matters | Amit Chaudhuri

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 05:00:30 GMT2017-08-16T05:00:30Z

What we read is now defined by the market, as the views of Booker prize judges carry more weight than the need for originality and innovation

There are at least two reasons why almost every anglophone novelist feels compelled to get as near the Booker prize as they can. The first is because it looms over them and follows them around in the way Guy de Maupassant said the Eiffel Tower follows you everywhere when you’re in Paris. “To escape the Eiffel Tower,” Maupassant suggested, “you have to go inside it.” Similarly, the main reason for a novelist wanting to win the Booker prize is to no longer be under any obligation to win it, and to be able to get on with their job: writing, and thinking about writing.

Today, there’s little intellectual or material investment in writers: prizes and shortlists are meant to sell books

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The Locals by Jonathan Dee review – lost in the heart of America

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:00:04 GMT2017-08-16T14:00:04Z

A moneyed interloper muscles in on a small Massachusetts town in an allegory of US politics that confounds expectations

The town of Howland sits amid the wooded hills of south-western Massachusetts. To reach it from Manhattan, one must first ride the commuter train north to the end of the line, shedding passengers at every stop, and then drive east on Route 23. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the town feels reassuringly remote, 120 miles from the horror of ground zero. For Mark Firth – who was stranded in the city when the planes hit the towers – Howland is undeniably home. For billionaire Philip Hadi, it is something else: virgin territory, a new-found land. He arrives in the place like some millennial pilgrim father, scouting the woodland, keen to make nice with the natives.

Jonathan Dee’s mercurial seventh novel installs Hadi as the archetypal stranger come to town. The hedge-fund mogul acts as a catalyst for the community and a symptom, perhaps, of tensions in the land at large. Claiming to possess insider information about future terrorist attacks, he hires Mark to improve the security measures at his country house. Then he puts himself forward as Howland’s first selectman (the New England equivalent of mayor). Hadi is happy to forego the paltry $24,000 salary. He only wants to help; he now sees Howland as his home. Before long he’s writing personal cheques to prop up failing businesses and reducing the property tax rate to a record low. He also orders a pair of CCTV cameras to be placed at either end of Main Street.

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Lovers and Strangers: An Immigrant History of Postwar Britain by Clair Wills – review

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 06:30:32 GMT2017-08-16T06:30:32Z

Migrants not only from the empire but from Latvia, Malta and especially Ireland changed the face of the UK after the second world war

Going home can be disconcerting. Over the last few years, when-ever I have returned from New York, where I live, to Gloucester, where I grew up, what has struck me most – more than the rundown state of the local library, the decamping of the local newspaper to posher Cheltenham, the ailing, asthmatic feel of the town centre – are its ethnic transformations. Neighbourhoods that in the 1970s and 80s seemed like havens of timeless Englishness augmented by a few Asian convenience stores and smoky cafes vibrating to militant reggae are now full of Romanian grocers and Polish bakers. The shaven-headed guy trying to cadge a fag from me does so with a Spanish accent. A Commonwealth city has morphed into a European city.

Related: West Indians arrive in Britain on board the Windrush – archive, 23 June 1948

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Ghosts of the Tsunami: Death and Life in Japan’s Disaster Zone by Richard Lloyd Parry review

Wed, 16 Aug 2017 08:00:34 GMT2017-08-16T08:00:34Z

A compassionate and piercing look at the communities ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011

Because of its harsh climate and remoteness from the centre, Tohoku, Japan’s north-eastern region, has long been regarded as the country’s backwater. Along with that reputation comes a set of unflattering stereotypes about its people – that they are taciturn, stubborn, somewhat enigmatic. Rather than speaking their minds, they grit their teeth, bottle up their feelings and go about their business in gloomy silence. But those very traits were seen as an admirable asset in the immediate aftermath of the 11 March 2011 disaster that hit Tohoku’s coastal communities, when a magnitude-9 earthquake was followed by a tsunami, then a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

Journalists reporting from the disaster zone commended the resilience of Tohoku people, marvelling at the restraint demonstrated by survivors, many of whom had lost everything. Uncomplaining, they organised themselves at makeshift evacuation centres, queued to receive rationed food and took care of the weak and wounded. Observers were made to feel that Tohoku was coping.

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The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: a charming novel about beautiful people bonking

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:33:26 GMT2017-08-15T15:33:26Z

Michael Chabon was heralded as a bright new voice in fiction in the late 1980s for his precocious debut. Does it still live up to the hype?

The economics of publishing have always been baffling, but never more so than in the late 1980s, when unknown writers frequently found themselves the recipients of stonking great advances. There are all sorts of reasons, most of twhich boil down to a heady combination of madness and hubris. But one explanation makes sense: huge advances got people talking. Spending $100,000 on an author was still cheaper than paying an equivalent amount for marketing, with the bonus of making people desperate to know what all the fuss was about.

Related: Fiction to look out for in 2017

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I didn't 'ban' Fanny Hill because of trigger warnings – I don't teach it at all | Judith Hawley

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 14:35:05 GMT2017-08-15T14:35:05Z

The media has falsely accused me of removing the erotic novel from a reading list – but it’s just an attempt to portray today’s students as sensitive snowflakes

I never thought that I would make it into Vogue, but on Monday I did. “Eyebrows were raised when the first erotic novel in the English language, Fanny Hill, was dropped from a 18th-century literature course ‘for fear of offending students’,” the magazine’s website proclaimed. In a chain of news-as-gossip – recognisable both from our internet age and the 18th-century coffee houses beloved of Fanny Hill’s readers – a comment I had made on the radio had been twisted into headlines. “Erotic novel first banned 270 years ago for describing a young girl’s sexual exploits is censored AGAIN – in case it upsets students” crowed the Mail on Sunday, as did a follow-up in the Times.

This was all prompted by a remark I made on the Radio 4 series The Invention of Free Speech; in it, I said: “In the 1980s I both protested against the opening of a sex shop in Cambridge and taught Fanny Hill. Nowadays I would be worried about causing offence to my students.” I didn’t, as I was accused in the papers, remove Fanny Hill from the university course reading list for The Age of Oppositions, 1660-1780 “following a consultation with students” as the Times reported. It was never on the course, therefore it could not have been withdrawn (or “banned”, as the Evening Standard put it).

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Living with Oliver Sacks and love in later life: Bill Hayes and Sylvia Brownrigg – podcast

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 15:06:44 GMT2017-08-15T15:06:44Z

Subscribe and review: iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud and Acast. Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

On this week’s show, we’re exploring love. When photographer Bill Hayes moved to New York in 2009, he wasn’t expecting to find love – but to his surprise, he found himself falling both for the city and for the neurologist Oliver Sacks, who died in 2015. Hayes explores both these passions in a collection of photographs and written vignettes, Insomniac City and spoke to Sian about his life with the famous and eccentric Sacks.

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Good Omens: David Tennant and Michael Sheen to save the world in TV adaptation

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 11:41:52 GMT2017-08-15T11:41:52Z

Terry Pratchett would be ‘over the moon’ at the casting according to his estate, while co-author Neil Gaiman reminds Hollywood to give both equal credit

The late Terry Pratchett would have been “over the moon” at the “dream” casting of David Tennant as the demon Crowley in the forthcoming adaptation of Good Omens, according to the Discworld author’s long-time assistant Rob Wilkins.

Amazon confirmed that Michael Sheen will play the angel Aziraphale, and Tennant will take on the role of Crowley, in Amazon Studios’ six-episode adaptation next year. Co-authored by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, the 1990 fantasy bestseller Good Omens tells of Crowley and Aziraphale’s attempts to prevent the apocalypse, following the birth of the antichrist, Adam, in Lower Tadfield, Oxfordshire.

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Nick Clegg book will reveal How to Stop Brexit

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 13:49:47 GMT2017-08-15T13:49:47Z

The ex-deputy prime minister’s ‘resistance handbook’, out in October, explains how the EU referendum decision can be reversed while reuniting the UK – and seems destined to fill many remoaners’ Christmas stockings

Alongside tips on household management from Mary Berry and help with home cooking from Nigella Lawson, a different kind of guide is also due to land on bookshop shelves this Christmas: How to Stop Brexit, by the former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg.

Publisher the Bodley Head has announced that Clegg’s manual about remaining in the EU would be published on 5 October. How to Stop Brexit (And Make Britain Great Again) will, said the publisher, see the former leader of the Liberal Democrats show that there is “nothing remotely inevitable” about Brexit – and lay out how readers can help to stop it.

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Driving Short Distances by Joff Winterhart review – a masterful picture of manhood

Tue, 15 Aug 2017 06:00:06 GMT2017-08-15T06:00:06Z

In its superbly funny but tender portrait of the everyday struggles of men, this book is perfect

In Driving Short Distances, Joff Winterhart’s second graphic novel, 27-year-old Sam returns home to the boring town where he grew up, following three unsuccessful attempts at university and a breakdown. Long of face and mournful of eye, Sam, whose worldly possessions now fill a largish padded envelope, needs a job that will demand very little of him and on this score at least he is about to get lucky: the other day, a man claiming to be a second cousin of his father approached his mother, with whom Sam will now be living, in the supermarket car park and informed her, unprompted, that he’d be very happy to take her son into his employ. Doing what? Sam looks at the business card his mum has removed from the depths of her handbag. “Keith Nutt,” it reads. “Distribution and delivery.”

And so it is that Sam meets Keith, a character who, as Zadie Smith has already noted, deserves to join Keith Talent in the “short but potent list of great British literary Keiths”. Keith, an older gentleman of “remarkable textures”, has nostrils like hairy caves and fingers like hairy bolsters and he is the undisputed master of his realm, which is… what, exactly? Hmm. It’s something to do with filters. And Portakabins. Sam, though, spends most of his time in Keith’s Audi, observing Keith’s fastidious habits and listening to Keith’s feebly boastful stories, the majority of which involve his former mentor, Geoff Crozier (“As good old Geoff Crozier used to say, every village has its idiot”). Together, they eat a lot of pasties, bought from flirty Hazel-Claire at the bakery.

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Eimear McBride wins James Tait Black prize for The Lesser Bohemians

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 18:45:03 GMT2017-08-14T18:45:03Z

The Irish novelist’s ‘astonishing’ novel about the sexual awakening of a teenager with an older actor lands the UK’s oldest literary award

Eimear McBride, who won the Baileys prize in 2014 for a first novel which had struggled to find a publisher, has taken Britain’s oldest literary award, the James Tait Black prize, for her second, The Lesser Bohemians.

Won by names from EM Forster to DH Lawrence, the James Tait Black prizes for fiction and biography have a history that stretches back to 1919. More than 400 titles were submitted for this year’s prizes, with a shortlist chosen by University of Edinburgh academics and postgraduate students.

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'Lazy and sloppy': historical novelist Philippa Gregory's bizarre take on genre writing

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 13:01:09 GMT2017-08-14T13:01:09Z

In an interview that raised many hackles, Gregory dismissed erotica as ‘pornography’ and crime novel villains as ‘blindingly obvious’ – despite her own novels occupying a distinct genre themselves

In a bizarre miscalculation, the historical novelist Philippa Gregory took a sideswipe at the authors of genre novels in an interview with the New York Times yesterday. “Choosing to write a genre novel is like fencing the universe because you are afraid of space,” said Gregory, loftily. “Why does anyone write lazy, sloppy genre novels? The typing alone is so exhausting — surely if you’re going to undertake 150,000 words, you might as well have something interesting to say?”

Quite apart from the fact that every piece of writing falls into one genre or another, the comment is bizarre first because of who Gregory is. The author of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Taming of the Queen, and most recently The Last Tudor, Gregory writes historical fiction – and is indisputably a genre novelist herself. You know what you’re going to get when you pick up a Philippa Gregory novel – and I write that as someone who has read a fair few of them.

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Hugo awards 2017: NK Jemisin wins best novel for second year in a row

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 19:45:24 GMT2017-08-11T19:45:24Z

The Obelisk is headline winner in a year marked by diminished presence of conservative Sad Puppy lobby and strong showing from women

A year after NK Jemisin became the first black person to win the Hugo award for best novel, the African American author has landed the prestigious science fiction prize for the second year running.

Jemisin was announced as the winner of the best novel Hugo at Worldcon in Helsinki on Friday. She took the prize, which is voted for by fans, for The Obelisk Gate, the follow-up to her Hugo award-winning novel The Fifth Season. The series is set in a world that is constantly threatened by seismic activity, and where the mutants who can control the environment are oppressed by humans. The New York Times called Jemisin’s writing in the series “intricate and extraordinary”.

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Booksellers Association calls for end to Amazon's 'deeply unfair' tax advantages

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:11:06 GMT2017-08-11T15:11:06Z

After figures showed that the online giant pays proportionally far less UK tax than its bricks-and-mortar competitors, the trade body has demanded change

Bricks-and-mortar bookshops have launched a broadside against Britain’s “deeply unfair” tax system, which they say forces them to compete against the likes of Amazon “with one hand tied behind their backs”, after it was revealed that the online retailer’s corporation tax more than halved last year.

On Thursday, Amazon’s latest annual accounts for its European online retail business revealed that while turnover at Amazon UK Services – the company’s warehouse and logistics operation – rose to almost £1.5bn in 2016, its corporation tax payments fell from £15.8m to £7.4m year on year.

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Read like a girl: how children’s books of female stories are booming

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:26:22 GMT2017-08-11T11:26:22Z

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World are just two of a raft of inspirational titles changing bedtime reading

Studies in the past have found that children’s books are dominated by male characters, that history books are overrun by male authors writing about male figures, and that literary fiction is less likely to win a prize if it focuses on a female character.

A new wave of books aimed at children might just be doing its small bit to change that. Thousands of little girls – boys as well, but likely mainly girls – will be settling down for bed this evening with a new kind of bedtime story, one in which the heroines are not fictional, but real. From Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls to Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World, sales of books about inspirational women have boomed this year – and look set to grow.

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A 'gurt' plan: National Poetry Day to celebrate England's local words

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 13:45:40 GMT2017-08-10T13:45:40Z

From the Bristol word for great, via Merseyside’s ‘geg in’ and London’s ‘fam’, 12 authors are writing poems celebrating language tied to English regions

From the Berkshire term for a woodlouse, “cheeselog”, to a Suffolk phrase for lopsided, “on the huh”, England’s poets are set to do their bit for preserving regional dialects, with a series of poems celebrating local words.

The initiative to “shine a light into a lexicon that’s too often overlooked”, as the lexicographer Susie Dent described it, stems from the #freetheword project, a partnership between BBC English Regions, National Poetry Day and the Oxford English Dictionary to find unrecorded words used in everyday speech all around the UK.

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Eva Rausing's father condemns 'self–indulgent' memoir about her drug addiction

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 11:55:16 GMT2017-08-09T11:55:16Z

Mayhem, by sister-in-law of the wealthy socialite whose drug-related death in 2012 was a media sensation, is due to be published next month

The father of Eva Rausing, the wealthy American socialite whose death made headlines around the world, has accused her sister-in-law – the author of a forthcoming memoir about Eva’s drug addiction – of contributing to her decline, and questioned “the agenda and objectives” of her book.

Eva, the 48-year-old wife of the billionaire Tetra Pak heir Hans Kristian Rausing, was found dead in 2012, under piles of bedding and plastic in a squalid room in the couple’s London mansion. The body was only found two months after she died, during a police search of the property when Hans Kristian was arrested on suspicion of possessing Class A drugs. He later pleaded guilty to preventing the lawful and decent burial of a body and was given a suspended sentence. An inquest found that his wife had died from the effects of cocaine on a damaged heart.

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Shocking figures: US academics find 'dramatic' growth of swearing in books

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 16:14:59 GMT2017-08-08T16:14:59Z

Textual analysis of more than 1m books by scholars shows startling proliferation of swearwords since the mid-1950s

Mark Twain wrote: “There ought to be a room in every house to swear in,” because “it’s dangerous to have to repress an emotion like that”. Today, the great American novelist might have applauded the increase in cursing, with a new study identifying a “dramatic” increase in swear words in American literature over the last 60 years.

Sifting through text from almost 1m books, the study found that “motherfucker” was used 678 times more often in the mid-2000s than the early 1950s, occurrences of “shit” multiplied 69 times, and “fuck” was 168 times more frequent.

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Save your local! Should volunteers help keep our public libraries open?

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 14:41:36 GMT2017-08-08T14:41:36Z

Hundreds of UK libraries are still open – but only because voluntary staff have stepped in. Campaigners and professionals explain why this is a mixed blessing

Readers checking a book out of the village library might not immediately notice much of a difference, but Congresbury is the latest public library to haven been handed over “to the community”. You may be used to libraries being run by volunteers – maybe your local is – but this structure is relatively new. Over the last decade, as many libraries began closing across the UK due to swingeing cuts to local authority funding by central government – 121 libraries closed last year alone – some have instead been handed over by councils to the community to run.

Since librarian Ian Anstice began charting the cuts to UK libraries on his campaigning website Public Libraries News in 2010, 500 of the UK’s 3,850 remaining libraries have now been taken over, at least in part, by volunteers. “I’ve been looking at the count going up steadily for the last few years,” says Anstice. “In 2010, there were a handful – perhaps 10 in the whole country. So this is quite a staggering change.”

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Monica Lewinsky defends Mary Beard in Twitter row over black Roman Britons

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 12:12:15 GMT2017-08-07T12:12:15Z

Classical historian’s support for accuracy of educational video draws fire from US academic, but support from President Clinton’s former intern and other stars

Public figures from Monica Lewinsky to JK Rowling and Diane Abbott are lining up to support Mary Beard, after the the classical historian found herself at the centre of a storm of Twitter abuse at the weekend.

Beard came under fire after she wrote that a BBC educational video that showed a black Roman soldier was “pretty accurate”. The video, uploaded to YouTube by the BBC last December, had been criticised by some viewers as being anachronistic, but Beard wrote on Twitter that “there’s plenty of firm evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain”.

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Mary Beard abused on Twitter over Roman Britain's ethnic diversity

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 15:06:26 GMT2017-08-06T15:06:26Z

Classicist says her assertion that there was at least some diversity under Roman rule led to ‘torrent of aggressive insults’

Mary Beard has said she faced a “torrent of aggressive insults” on social media after posting messages asserting the ethnic diversity of Roman Britain.

The historian had been defending a BBC schools video that featured a high-ranking black Roman soldier as the father of a family, prompting a wave of online abuse. One person said she was “literally rewriting history”.

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Philip Pullman leads writers condemning 'pernicious' book discounts

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 05:00:34 GMT2017-08-04T05:00:34Z

His Dark Materials novelist says today’s steep price cuts devalue authors’ work and cheapen the experience of reading

With more than two months to go before Philip Pullman’s long-awaited new novel from the world of His Dark Materials is published, pre-orders have sent La Belle Sauvage flying up bestseller lists. But with booksellers already slashing the cover price in half, the award-winning author has spoken out about how cheap books devalue the experience of reading, and called for an end to the “pernicious” doctrine of “market fundamentalism” if literary culture is to survive.

Pullman is president of the Society of Authors, which is launching a campaign for publishers to stop damaging authors’ earnings by discounting bulk sales to book clubs and supermarkets, and has slammed the cut-price culture in his trade.

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Not the Booker prize 2017: 'extraordinary' Elizabeth Strout joins final shortlist

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 12:35:39 GMT2017-08-14T12:35:39Z

The 2016 judges have picked Strout’s novel on small-town America as the sixth book on this year’s shortlist. Now, we are on the hunt for three new judges ...

The 2017 Not the Booker shortlist is now complete, with our three judges choosing Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout as the wildcard entry.

Tracey Hope, Dana LeMarr and Sara Richards, the judges from the final round of last year’s competition, have spent the past few weeks reading and discussing the novels on our very long list and emailed me on Friday to let me know their decision.

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

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 14:00:35 GMT2017-08-14T14:00:35Z

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

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

It’s been a week for discovering classic books. Some of them lost, some of them just, somehow, missed - as VelmaNebraska explains:

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Poem of the week: Helpline by Suzannah Evans

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 08:00:37 GMT2017-08-14T08:00:37Z

A dystopian narrative, this fragmentary story compellingly depicts a familiar world gone terribly wrong with mystery, horror and a few glints of lyric beauty

Helpline

In the call centre at the end of the world
everyone is wearing the rags
of the clothes they came to work in two weeks ago.

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When breaks go bad: why a holiday is the perfect setting for a fictional emotional crisis

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 11:59:44 GMT2017-08-12T11:59:44Z

The anxious mother, the doomed cruise, the angry swarm of jellyfish … all rich pickings for novelists and short story writers

Often, even now, with twenty-four days of the cruise behind her and only twenty more to be lived through, the fears she had experienced the first evening would recur: She was at sea, alone. There was no one around to tip stewards, order drinks, plan the nights, make love to her, pay the bills, tell her where she was and what it was all about. How had this happened?”

Even on terra firma, on a far shorter trip, or in the midst of a crowd of jolly steward-tippers, we’ve probably all experienced some of the feelings that strike Mrs Ellenger, one of the two central characters in Mavis Gallant’s 1954 story “Going Ashore”. Having a far worse time is the other, Mrs Ellenger’s daughter, Emma, who must cope with her mother’s anxiety, ennui and her persistent habit of telling everyone how well she treats her (she doesn’t).

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Strange fascination: The best David Bowie books

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:00:38 GMT2017-08-12T07:00:38Z

There are surprisingly few good books about the late star – but, as a new collection of reminiscences by friends is published, we pick out the heroes of the Bowieography

Alongside the supremely well-read Bob Dylan, David Bowie was probably popular music’s most bookish star. Christopher Isherwood was an obvious influence on his so-called Berlin period; George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four inspired much of his classic album Diamond Dogs. Judging by a much-circulated list of his favourite 100 books released in 2013, he was also a fan of such literary touchstones as William Faulkner, Albert Camus and F Scott Fitzgerald, as well as a range of modern works, from Martin Amis’s Money to the ribald British comic-cum-institution Viz.

It’s a little strange, then, that whereas good books about Dylan and the Beatles extend into the distance, the range of decent texts about Bowie remains relatively small. Such coffee table works as Mick Rock’s The Rise of David Bowie, 1972-1973 (Taschen, 2016) handsomely showcase the visual aspects of his legend; if you want a forensic guide to his songs, dramatic roles, videos and more, you should start with the pretty authoritative A-Z dossier, The Complete David Bowie by Nicholas Pegg (Titan), first published in 2000 and most recently updated after its subject’s death. But when it comes to in-depth career histories, there are not many to choose from.

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Tainted love: why women still pay for adultery

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 08:58:54 GMT2017-08-11T08:58:54Z

Women might not be killed for their desires in novels any more, but infidelity remains a potent theme in fiction

It was only when someone who read a draft of my novel, about a woman who has an adulterous affair in the 1990s, remarked on my heroine’s “lack of shame” that I began to think more consciously about how other adulterous heroines had felt and fared. I thought: why would she be ashamed of desire? Bad behaviour, maybe, but desire?

I was well acquainted with the first (long) phase of female adultery in western literature: the phase in which this most private of acts was – particularly for women – utterly public, a threat to the social order that required a correspondingly communal punishment. I had on my shelf La Princesse de Clèves (1678) – the first novel of female adultery that had ever bewitched me – but I’d discovered it at a time in my life when I was both addled by hormones and in thrall to an ideal of asceticism, and it was the princess’s renunciation of all pleasure that fascinated me as much as it was her illicit love.

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Christopher Kissane: ‘Historical myopia is to blame for the attacks on Mary Beard’

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 07:00:52 GMT2017-08-11T07:00:52Z

On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, the historian calls for an end to the trivialisation of the lessons of the past

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther sparked a movement of Reformation that would leave indelible marks on European history. While some have used this anniversary as an opportunity for reflection, and others a chance to heal old wounds, 2017 finds us in an age of intense historical myopia. Breathless news cycles and furious outrage are shrinking our horizons just as they need to widen. Public debate barely remembers the world of last year, “old news”, let alone that of a decade or few ago.

History’s expertise, and most dangerously its perspective, are being lost in our inability to look beyond the here and now. We stumble into crises of finance and inequality with ignorance of economic history, and forget even the recent background to our current politics. We fail to think in the long term and miss a growing environmental catastrophe. We refuse help to millions of refugees by turning away from our own history. As technology and globalisation bring the world closer together, we have narrowed rather than broadened our perspective. With challenges on many fronts, history needs to be at the heart of how we think about our ever-changing world.

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August's reading group: The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 11:50:12 GMT2017-08-08T11:50:12Z

We have come to know him as one of the finest novelists of our era, but this neglected book began his career with a bang. So this month, we go back to his future

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon has emerged from the hat and will be this month’s reading group choice. It’s a fascinating pick. Even if it weren’t interesting for its own sake, it would be worth reading because it’s the first novel from one of the finest writers of our era. I’m keen to return to the first appearance from the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and - doubters be damned – Telegraph Avenue. Was all that dazzling accomplishment on display in his debut, written when he was 23 and still a student at the University of California, Irvine?

If advances are anything to go by, Chabon was certainly a prodigy. He was given $155,000 (that’s circa 1987, so a meaningful sterling calculation would be hard – but it was definitely “a lot”) to publish The Mysteries of Pittsburgh after his professor, David Heiney, sent it to his own agent. This gamble on an unknown writer paid off when the book became a bestseller and Chabon, in turn, a reluctant celebrity — who even found himself turning down an offer to appear in People magazine’s list of 50 Most Beautiful People.

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Seriously, why do we still use cash? | Jenny Colgan

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 10:24:07 GMT2017-08-04T10:24:07Z

Five hundred years on from the Reformation, the novelist votes to consign all that tinny, grubby money festering in our purses to history

Cash needs reforming. But this isn’t about how much money different people have through no fault of their own, and how rubbish that is. Obviously if anyone had even the vaguest answer to that we wouldn’t currently be: a) fighting for our glorious liberated Brexit uplands; b) recycling our post-Brexit string by candlelight (delete as to personal preference).

No, the problem is simply how outdated it is as a physical system. I can just about appreciate the aesthetic value of a 20 pence piece, but seriously, what’s it for? It can’t buy anything, and there are four even smaller coins to come after that, including the frankly horrifying five pence piece, which for some reason was designed to be too small to be picked up by human fingers larger than a six-year-old’s.

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Sun, sea, sand, text: the 10 hottest highbrow books for the beach

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 11:00:41 GMT2017-08-04T11:00:41Z

Ditch domestic thrillers and romcoms and pack fiction by literary giants with seaside settings instead. From Death in Venice to Persuasion, how to be one up on the beach

Crusoe’s rescue of Friday from cannibals on the beach in the seminal castaway tale initiates their ... friendship? Or master-slave relationship? Or both?

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Bravo the BBC for its U-turn on axing Saturday Review

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 11:00:10 GMT2017-08-05T11:00:10Z

Radio 4’s discussion programme has been reprieved. The arts need professional critics more than ever in the age of Twitter

When the Observer film critic Philip French died two years ago, many tributes were paid to the qualities that made him an outstanding reviewer: his breadth of reference, incisive opinions and talent (or weakness) for terrible puns. Less remarked on was his contribution to the BBC’s review coverage of the arts: from the 1960s till his early retirement in 1990, he worked on the weekly radio arts programme The Critics and its successor, Critics’ Forum. The highbrow tone of participants was parodied by Peter Sellers. But the programme’s simple premise – that when three or four people are gathered together in the name of criticism, something informative and entertaining can ensue – guaranteed its longevity.

Since 1998 Radio 4’s Saturday Review has ably filled the void left by Critics’ Forum, with Tom Sutcliffe acting as chair and a format that’s very much the same: 45 minutes of discussion recorded “as live”, in which a book, play, film, exhibition and broadcast are reviewed. The programme has a loyal following, so when Gwyneth Williams, the Radio 4 controller, announced that the programme would be axed from this autumn, listeners were shocked. Even more surprising was her volte-face last week. After a budgetary rethink and an online petition to save it, Saturday Review has been reprieved.

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Best holiday reads 2017, picked by writers – part one

Sat, 08 Jul 2017 07:00:01 GMT2017-07-08T07:00:01Z

A plagiarist in a kitchen and a horse walking into a bar; Dublin crimes and Washington misdemeanours; relationships, revolutions and relaxations ... leading writers reveal their summer recommendations

A book I absolutely loved was Margo Jefferson’s Negroland (Granta), a memoir of her life as part of the African American economically privileged class. It is a sharply honest, biting, reflective look at America, and a useful guide on how race and class do not merely intersect, but race becomes class. I’m looking forward to reading Salt Houses (Hutchinson), a novel by Hala Alyan, which feels very promising. The Big Stick (Basic) by Eliot Cohen has been on my to-read pile for a while and I plan to get to it this summer. And House of Lords and Commons (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a new poetry collection, by Ishion Hutchinson.

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Novel recipes: wonton soup from The Joy Luck Club

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 05:30:35 GMT2017-08-04T05:30:35Z

When life is uncertain, a warming dish of broth can make you feel at home

“Time to eat,” Auntie An-mei happily announces, bringing out a steaming pot of the wonton she was just wrapping ... The wonton soup smells wonderful with delicate sprigs of cilantro floating on top.”

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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Zinzi Clemmons on her first novel: 'I’m proud of it, because I didn’t hold anything back'

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 11:44:27 GMT2017-08-10T11:44:27Z

What We Lose is a startlingly experimental and intimate debut, about a character whose complicated cultural identity reflects the author’s own

About five years ago, Zinzi Clemmons’s mother’s health worsened dramatically, and doctors told her she didn’t have much longer to live. Clemmons, who was away studying, returned home to Philadelphia – a detail she says “is highly relevant because of what’s going on right now [with healthcare in the US]”, as it was partly an economic decision: “I acted as her primary caretaker, and my family wouldn’t have been able to afford that unless I had done it. And we’re not badly off in any way.”

At that point, Clemmons was working on a story about HIV, exploring illness and its politicisation – themes that remain in her mesmerising debut novel What We Lose – but she didn’t have “enough direct experience”, and it wasn’t working. At the same time, she had started writing vignettes about illness and anticipatory grief, born from “the idea that I would have to go through this process very soon”. At the encouragement of her agent, she turned them into the skeleton of her first novel.

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100 best nonfiction books: No 80 - The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (1789)

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 04:45:33 GMT2017-08-14T04:45:33Z

This curate’s beautiful and lucid observations on the wildlife of a Hampshire village inspired generations of naturalists

The Rev Gilbert White was that now extinct species, the unmarried Oxbridge don in holy orders. A lifelong curate and a fellow of Oriel College, White devoted himself to observing flora and fauna at large in the natural world, a sequence of observations for which he became world famous.

In 1755, after the death of his father, he returned to the family home in Selborne, settling for comfortable obscurity in a remote Hampshire village, an enviable career move. On the face of it, the passage of his declining years would be tranquil and serene, with no greater vicissitudes than bad weather or poor harvests.

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Tom Phillips: two skulls, 50,000 postcards and a book that took 50 years to finish

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 15:00:19 GMT2017-08-11T15:00:19Z

He’s now in his 80s but the man who painted Beckett, illustrated Hell and made art out of beard trimmings, is still fired up. As his half-backwards opera Irma returns, we join the great experimentalist for a boozy lunch of artisanal bubble and squeak

One day 51 years ago, Tom Phillips strolled from his home in Peckham, south London, with his friend, the American painter Ron Kitaj. His idea was to buy a secondhand book at random and work on it for the rest of his life as an art project. Whatever book Phillips found, he would draw, paint and collage over its pages. The result would be a found text with a new story, a creative betrayal of the original. “Betrayal is too strong a word,” the 80-year-old painter, poet and composer corrects me as we drink tea at his kitchen table. “I envisaged myself climbing on someone else’s shoulders to make myself taller.”

The book he bought for threepence at a nearby junk shop was the 1892 romantic potboiler A Human Document by forgotten Victorian novelist William Hurrell Mallock. Oh come on, I say to Phillips. It wasn’t really random. What if you’d picked up An Introduction to Macroeconomics? “I might have put it back and chosen something else.”

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Carlo Rovelli: 'I felt the beautiful adventure of physics was a story that had to be told'

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 08:25:39 GMT2017-07-25T08:25:39Z

How does a book about theoretical physics sell more than 1m copies? Rovelli explains how he set about sharing his wonder at quantum science

There are two kinds of popular science books. The first kind is for passionate readers. Say you are mad about butterflies. You want a book that gives you all the details about all varieties of butterflies, their lives, habits and colours. You are keen to know everything.

The other kind of popular science book is written for everybody else. Say you never cared much for butterflies, but one day you happened on a book filled with incredible images of their phantasmagorical wings and read an interesting fact, such as how many of them live only for a single day … even though you don’t want many details, you suddenly find yourself wanting to learn more.

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Make Your Bed: Small Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World by William H McRaven – digested read

Sun, 30 Jul 2017 16:00:23 GMT2017-07-30T16:00:23Z

‘Measure a person by the size of his heart – the guy with the biggest flippers is not always the man you want in a crisis’

On 17 May 2014, I was asked to give a speech at the graduation ceremony of my alma mater, the University of Texas. I chose to tell them the 10 lessons I had learned during my 34-year career as a navy SEAL. I hope you enjoy them rather more than they did.

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Michael Holroyd: ‘Escaping from myself has been my aim as a writer’

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 09:00:40 GMT2017-08-12T09:00:40Z

The biographer on writing in bed, the enviable freedom of novelists and the bravery of Bloomsbury’s gay artists

For some 50 years or more I believed that a quick beginning of the next day’s work was essential. To make sure of this advantage I would write a paragraph the previous night and place it carefully next to my bed. When I got up next morning, there it was, still on the floor loyally waiting for me. Some special nights, when waking from a dream, I would see it as chance to make some subtle and necessary improvements to my original bedside text, turning drama into mysterious comedy. The reason was that I often woke from my dreams laughing – which was rather alarming for anyone near me.

Everything is slower now and my excuse is that I am less young – which is to say in my early 80s, so they tell me. My early bedtime paragraphs have gradually dwindled these days into a single sentence – and have now been reduced to a couple of words, if I can still find them under my bed.

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So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley review – revelatory

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 06:00:34 GMT2017-08-14T06:00:34Z

Roger Steffens’s sprawling but compelling biography is a fitting tribute to Jamaica’s favourite son

Among biblical quotations favoured by Rastafarians comes psalm 118: “The stone that the builders refused is become the headstone of the corner”, a teaching put to song by Bob Marley on 1970’s Corner Stone, and one that neatly frames a life that began in poverty and ended in global superstardom, a rags to riches tale unparalleled in pop. Some 36 years after his death, Marley remains a planetary icon, his image as likely to turn up at a Native American protest as on a Camden Town T-shirt. For millions, he represents an irresistible mix of righteous rebellion, physical and spiritual joy (livity in Rasta speak) and, of course, musical genius.

Marley’s story has been told many times, most notably by the late Timothy White, whose Catch a Fire, as much imaginative construct as conventional biography, best captures the mystique that swirled round the singer. Marley’s mythos owed much to the fevered atmosphere of Jamaica in the late 1970s, when millenarian Rasta prophecy became entangled with a political feud that saw Kingston’s ghettos in near civil war amid allegations of CIA destabilisation. Marlon James’s Booker winner, A Brief History of Seven Killings, centred on the attempted assassination of Marley in 1976, crystallises the era masterfully.

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The Templars: The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God’s Holy Warriors by Dan Jones – review

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 10:00:10 GMT2017-08-13T10:00:10Z

Who were the Knights Templar? This rollicking history brings them out of the shadow cast by The Da Vinci Code

Anyone who has read The Da Vinci Code will have an idea of who the Knights Templar were, albeit perhaps not an accurate one. Their reputation has been that of a shadowy sect lurking on the fringes of early medieval Christianity, combining occult dealings with near-limitless power and influence. In this thrillingly lucid account, Dan Jones demystifies the Templars in a story spanning hundreds of years and countless rulers, knights and archbishops, a seemingly disproportionate number of whom ended up beheaded.

The Templar sect originally lived in Jerusalem, leading lives “with humble attire and spare diet”. They were a Catholic military order dedicated to the promotion of Christian aims and values, by aggressively direct means. By the 1140s, three decades after their foundation, they were famous all over the Christian world, both for their bravery in battle and for the vast wealth their order had amassed.

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The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World by Lizzie Collingham - review

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 08:00:08 GMT2017-08-13T08:00:08Z

A colourful history of how Britain’s diet drove the rise of its empire sidesteps many unpalatable truths

Food history narratives sell only in the tiniest quantities in the UK, so any publisher contemplating such a proposal needs to find a marketing angle, one that resonates with contemporary issues perhaps, or addresses our national psyche.

In the cinema world, films such as Viceroy’s House, and Victoria & Abdul are testament to our enduring fascination with the British empire, the gift that keeps on giving. In the book world, empire nonfiction is another demonstrably commercial genre, and the latest title from distinguished historian Lizzie Collingham, The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World – with its striking similarity to Niall Ferguson’s Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World – clearly aims for this market.

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The Power and the Story: The Global Battle for News and Information – review

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 06:00:06 GMT2017-08-13T06:00:06Z

John Lloyd’s thorough survey of the state of the free press is a timely reminder of how vital it is to democracy

John Lloyd is one of Britain’s most perceptive journalists, as anyone who remembers his Moscow years for the FT can attest. He is also, these days, a senior researcher for the Reuters Institute at Oxford University. So when he sets out to write a magisterial account of “the global battle for news and information”, he’s ideally equipped for the task.

Lloyd inevitably links freedom of the press to democracy itself. Without independent media doing a determined reporting job, there can be no true democracy. But see how creeping oppression – and the absence of any settled online funding model – silences or impoverishes newsrooms around the world.

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We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled review – voices from Syria

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 06:30:37 GMT2017-08-12T06:30:37Z

Wendy Pearlman’s remarkable collection of testimonies from Syrian refugees offers a strong anti-Assad narrative

Everyone talks about Syrians, but very few actually talk to them. Perhaps that’s why Syria’s revolution and war have been so badly misunderstood in the west – variously as a US-led regime-change plot, an ancient Sunni-Shia conflict or a struggle between secularism and jihadism.

We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled bucks the trend. Here the story is told entirely through the mouths of Wendy Pearlman’s Syrian interviewees, hundreds of them, from all social backgrounds, Christians and Muslims, Ismailis and Druze, rural and urban, middle class and poor. These best of all possible informants – the people who made the events, and who suffer the consequences – provide not only gripping eyewitness accounts but erudite analysis and sober reflection.

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Watling Street by John Higgs review – the myths and stories of Brexit Britain

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 11:00:43 GMT2017-08-12T11:00:43Z

An aficionado of the counterculture journeys along the ancient route from Dover to Anglesey in search of glimmers of utopia

You might know Watling Street as a shortcut in the heart of the City of London where crumpled-looking office workers dash on their way to somewhere else or linger after work for an expensive pint. But as John Higgs explains, the street is more than a quaint rat run with a Dick Whittington vibe. While its origins are “far older than recorded history”, it remains one of the great highways of modern Britain, running virtually unbroken from Dover to Anglesey. You probably don’t recognise it because it mostly goes by other names: the A2, the A5 and, when it’s feeling fancy, the M6 Toll. Sometimes, as it wiggles its way through the market towns of central England, it becomes simply “the high street”.

Around the time of last year’s referendum, Higgs set out to explore the people and places around Watling Street. The idea was to take a series of soundings about where modern Britain (or rather, England with a top slice of Wales) sees itself today. What stories did we tell about ourselves that resulted in the vote to leave the EU? What new versions might be needed now if we are to start to resolve the bitter disagreements that the referendum laid bare?

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St Petersburg by Jonathan Miles – ‘300 years of murderous desire’

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 08:00:53 GMT2017-08-11T08:00:53Z

A compelling history of Russia’s northern capital features the deaths of countless serfs, the Nazi siege, post-Soviet crime – and tourist glamour

In 1811 the French woman of letters Madame de Staël arrived in St Petersburg to find herself enchanted by a city in which “a wizard with a wand had conjured all the marvels of Europe and Asia in the middle of a wasteland”. From the windows of the house she rented on the edge of Senate Square, De Staël could look down on the wizard himself. Étienne Falconet’s statue of Peter the Great, commissioned by Catherine the Great as a homage to her predecessor (and as a means of cementing her own claims to legitimacy), is the very embodiment of autocratic resolve. Peter bestrides a horse that tramples the serpent of Sweden beneath its hooves as it rears up on its hind legs at the edge of its vast granite plinth, the “thunder rock”. With arm outstretched, the imperious horseman urges his steed into the void.

The sculpture remains to this day the preeminent symbol of the city that Peter founded in defiance of nature on the freezing marshes of the Neva delta in 1703. It was immortalised in Alexander Pushkin’s narrative poem “The Bronze Horseman”, which tells the story of the great flood of 1824 that engulfed entire neighbourhoods and washed away the lives and the homes of many of the city’s poor. Ever since, Falconet’s statue has represented one of the great fractures that runs through Russian history: the conflict between the ambitions of the rulers and the aspirations of the ruled. The bronze horseman emerges as the central motif, the “manifestation of the spirit of St Petersburg”, in Jonathan Miles’s cinematic telling of the 300-year history of Russia’s northern capital.

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Linescapes by Hugh Warwick review – a manifesto for reuniting with nature

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 09:00:54 GMT2017-08-11T09:00:54Z

A good-humoured, hedgehog’s-eye view of the country’s ditches, dykes and railways

There is a venerable tradition of literature about the lines humans have created in the British landscape. Alfred Watkins’s The Old Straight Track, Francis Hitching’s Earth Magic, Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways and a plethora of natural histories and hedgerow-seeking illuminations – recently John Wright’s The Natural History of the Hedgerow. All are fascinated with fragmentation and connection, and infused with the joys and conundrums we layer on our land with our human footfall. In Linescapes, Hugh Warwick provides a good-humoured, even visionary, perspective on the fragile ecology of our hedges, roads, power lines and railways. Often opting for the hedgehog’s-eye view (his first book, A Prickly Affair, declared his passion for this important indicator species), he reveals how the man-made lines in our landscape present a paradox. They were originally put there to fragment, assert ownership or to restrain livestock, yet over time their edges and intricacies have provided opportunities for adaptable wildlife to flourish. Walls sympathetic to wildlife can contribute to its recovery, sometimes “very slowly, as lichens inch to the corners of the compass. Sometimes with the sneaky speed of a stoat on a mission.”

While we have lost 98% of our wildflower meadows and 50% of our ancient woodland in the last 100 years, Warwick asks us to shift our sightline away from ugliness and ruination towards the potential of new habitats. “Connection is what we need, and what nature needs if we are to tackle the global collapse of species,” he argues.

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Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls review – radical, unsettling, relevant

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 06:30:30 GMT2017-08-10T06:30:30Z

A superb new biography of the seer of Walden Pond reconsiders his reputation as tax-refuser, recluse, environmentalist and writer

In March 1845, Henry David Thoreau borrowed an axe and set off for Walden Pond, near his home in Concord, Massachusetts. He was going to build a hut, and he knew exactly where: on a spot near the water, backed by a pine grove and fronted by smaller pines and a chestnut tree. Before stopping for his first lunch break, Thoreau had cut and trimmed enough of these pines to make the house’s main timbers.

Then he paid $4.28 to buy a shanty from a railroad worker who was moving on – the line had just been built past Walden Pond. Thoreau dismantled it and dried its planks in the sun to become the hut’s roof and sides. He laid a chimney foundation using cobblestones from the pond. When he finished the house that autumn, it had weatherproof shingles on the outside, neat plastering inside and a few carefully counted possessions: three chairs, a desk, one cup, two forks. He planted rows of potatoes, corn and peas and miles of white beans – “making the earth say beans instead of grass”, as he put it. The project had begun: Thoreau would live there, dedicating himself to the principle of simplicity. He would observe nature and write.

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Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World by Kumari Jayawardena – review

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 11:00:06 GMT2017-08-09T11:00:06Z

Stories leap from the page in this reissue of the Sri Lankan scholar’s classic study of women’s movements in Asia and the Middle East

In the early 1980s the Sri Lankan historian Kumari Jayawardena, travelling by train from Brussels to The Hague, wrote lecture notes for a course on the history of women’s movements. Many lecture notes crumble into dust – but not these. They were published in 1982, and later evolved into the influential work Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World. The book has been republished, as one of Verso’s feminist classics, with a foreword by Rafia Zakaria.

More than three decades after it first came out, the book remains the best introduction to the history of women’s movements in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan. It takes us into the lives and ideas of a host of women and men who sought reform and revolutionary transformation.

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Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8 by Naoki Higashida review – why autism is misunderstood

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 07:59:02 GMT2017-08-09T07:59:02Z

The author of the bestselling The Reason I Jump movingly addresses a range of topics from the perspective of an outsider

Naoki Higashida is, by any measure, a phenomenally successful author. His first book, The Reason I Jump, written when he was just 13, entered the bestseller charts in Britain and the US. It has now been translated into 30 languages, making him, according to his co-translator, the novelist David Mitchell, the most widely translated living Japanese author after Haruki Murakami. He has published several other books in Japan, but Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is the second to make its way into English.

Higashida is profoundly autistic. In person he is largely non-verbal, apart from a few stock phrases (“I’m home!” “Welcome back!”). He has a number of typically autistic traits: he jumps, he has meltdowns when plans go awry, he cups his ears and finds it difficult to make eye contact. He appears to inhabit his own solitary world. Only when he and his family discovered that he could communicate using text, on an “alphabet grid” and, occasionally, a keyboard, did the richness of his inner life become apparent to others.

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Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 by Lizzy Goodman – review

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 05:59:31 GMT2017-08-08T05:59:31Z

This oral history of New York’s musical renaissance is vivid, informative and full of passion

Oral histories work brilliantly at encapsulating complex music scenes (for example: Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk), with one proviso – you’ve got to marshal a veritable army of interviewees who’re not only prepared to talk, but also to gossip, muse, digress, ramble, even bitch and fume, to build the most accurate picture.

Set against a backdrop that encompasses 9/11, the collapse of the old-style music industry, the gentrification of New York, and an emergent social media, journalist Lizzy Goodman’s Meet Me in the Bathroom more than fulfils this brief. She features not only an impressive array of key musical players from in and around the early 00s’ New York-flavoured guitar explosion (the Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the White Stripes, Interpol, Ryan Adams, LCD Soundsystem, the Moldy Peaches, Vampire Weekend, Kings of Leon, the Killers), but also record labels, nightclubs, DJs, artists, journalists, managers and music executives, fleshing out and contextualising the fast-evolving milieu.

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The Book of Emma Reyes: A Memoir in Correspondence review – portrait of a painter’s harrowing adolescence

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 07:00:03 GMT2017-08-07T07:00:03Z

The Colombian artist’s raw, poetic letters to a friend illuminate the horror of her isolated childhood in a convent

As translator Daniel Alarcón says in his introduction, even the existence of Emma Reyes’s book is “miraculous”. She died in 2003, aged 84, in Bordeaux – an émigré from her native Colombia, little known as a painter (a singular style of densely decorative primitivism), not at all as a writer. She “rubbed shoulders with Alberto Moravia, Jean-Paul Sartre” and was “a kind of godmother to Latin American artists and writers” in France – but only two people knew she had written this book: Reyes’s friend Germán Arciniegas, a Colombian historian and journalist, and Gabriel García Márquez.

The book comprises 23 letters to Arciniegas that recall the harrowing onset of her life journey as child and pubescent. It’s described with such quirky grace and raw honesty, such a childlike eye for detail and disarming explanation of the inexplicable, that it is as poetic as it is horrific. A fatal fire caused by fireworks upon the arrival of the governor of the region of Choco into the town of Chaqueta is “the most beautiful and extraordinary spectacle of my childhood”. And on the day her baby half-brother is abandoned by their mother, “I didn’t cry, because tears wouldn’t have been enough”.

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The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness review – a tale of betrayal by the church

Mon, 07 Aug 2017 06:00:02 GMT2017-08-07T06:00:02Z

Graham Caveney’s defiant, important memoir details how the Catholic establishment fails abuse victims

Pope Francis has taken great strides in challenging all sorts of entrenched attitudes and prejudices in the Vatican that have given the Catholic church such a bad name of late. Progress has been disappointingly slow, however, on the commission he appointed in 2014 to tackle the appalling scandal of clerical sexual abuse. In March of this year Marie Collins, the last remaining member of the panel who was a survivor of abuse, resigned after a Vatican department failed to comply with the commission’s recommendation that it respond to every correspondent who writes in with allegations that they have been a victim. If the curia is resisting such simple steps, how to have faith that they will tackle the bigger underlying issues?

Reluctance to face up to the consequences of clerical abuse remains hard-wired into the structures of the church: an instinct to protect the institution at the cost of the individual who has suffered, and a brick-wall resistance to addressing the profound questions about the nature of vocation posed by such abhorrent behaviour. And so church leaders – not all, granted; certainly not Pope Francis –tend to speak of “historical allegations” whenever victims find the courage to speak up 20, 30 or even 40 years after events that are not for them in any way historical, but are a psychological and emotional trauma they will live with until their dying day.

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Other Russias by Victoria Lomasko review – stories from the forgotten and persecuted

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 15:18:43 GMT2017-08-14T15:18:43Z

A compassionate collection of interviews and drawings from a fierce critic of the self-serving powers that be

Graphic artist and activist Victoria Lomasko’s compassionate and compulsively readable chronicle of Russia’s forgotten and persecuted, translated by Thomas Campbell, collects her drawings and writing from the last decade. She teaches prisoners to sketch, visits remote schools, joins a trucker camp and a gay film festival, speaks to the survivors of a slavery ring and attends protest after protest, as the police and pro-government youth brigades look on. Yet while Lomasko is a fierce and involved critic of the self-serving powers that be, Others Russias is propelled by the idea that everyone has a story worth telling, and she tells most of them straight. Interviews hit harder for being matter-of-fact (“the boss lady ordered the guard … to break the fingers on both my hands”), and she follows homophobes as well as activists, nationalists as well as anti-fascists. There’s a wonderful immediacy to her portraits, which give colour and humanity to what is at times a grim read. When she shows energised gatherings of people, guitars, placards and balloons, streaks of light illuminate the darkness.

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St Petersburg: Three Centuries of Murderous Desire by Jonathan Miles review – a brilliant history

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 11:00:12 GMT2017-08-13T11:00:12Z

This political and cultural study of a city built on dreams, and a swamp, expertly distils its blend of high culture and toxic corruption

So fluent, so textured is Jonathan Miles’s ease with prose and argument that his vivid dissection of 300 years of St Petersburg’s history should be devoured in captive sittings.

The cultural, and sometime political, capital of Russia, St Petersburg, built on a drained swamp by pitiless and homicidal tsar Peter the Great, mixes romantic fancy with vile reality. Cultural historian Miles skilfully forges and exposes the tangled character of what he calls this “absurd” city in which “dreams are big and information and truth are in short supply”.

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Crimes of the Father by Thomas Keneally review – something rotten in Catholicism

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 07:00:07 GMT2017-08-13T07:00:07Z

The Booker prize winner’s powers remain undimmed, as he shines a light on institutionalised abuse, and denial, in the Catholic church

It is over half a century since a young Thomas Keneally had a breakdown and abandoned his studies at an Australian seminary. His Catholicism, he now says, is more cultural than practising, yet he still knows better than most the mindset of today’s priests.

Crimes of the Father, a characteristically brave and unflinching novel by the Booker and Miles Franklin prize-winner, examines how the overwhelming majority of Catholic clerics, who may struggle with their vow of celibacy but still manage to give something positive to the world, are coping in an institution where a tiny minority have abused children, too often while the church turns a blind eye.

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Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed review – a misogynist dystopia

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:59:39 GMT2017-08-12T07:59:39Z

The influence of The Handmaid’s Tale is clear – but this is a skilful novel full of suspense

Gather the Daughters is set in the alternative reality of a misogynist dystopia. On an island just out of sight of “the Wastelands” (the mainland, or the rest of the world), the descendants of 10 families live in a closed community with no technology later than pen and paper, no money and some disturbing sexual practices.

The island is ruled by “the Wanderers”, a group of elite adult men who make regular trips to the Wastelands, returning with a small selection of useful commodities to eke out the produce of small-scale subsistence farming. Other men follow the kinds of trades one might find in a small medieval town: blacksmithing, weaving and carpentry (though the population is so limited that when the papermaker dies, the islanders simply run out of paper). The women stay at home, contriving what they can by way of food, clothing and cleanliness with limited resources. They divert themselves with gossip and attendance at each other’s childbirths, these being the only occasions on which they may gather without a male chaperone.

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French Poetry from Medieval to Modern Times review – warm humanity, brave choices

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:30:14 GMT2017-08-11T11:30:14Z

Editor Patrick McGuinness has assembled a rich and wide-ranging anthology that shows the strong links between French and English

‘Il faut être absolument moderne,” wrote Rimbaud: we must be absolutely modern. Has there been a foreign-language tradition more influential to modern English poetry than French? From WB Yeats’s symbolist beginnings to Ezra Pound and TS Eliot’s discovery of Jules Laforgue and Tristan Corbière, from Gertrude Stein’s cubist prose poems to Frank O’Hara carrying a Pierre Reverdy book in his pocket, 20th-century Anglophone poetry offers strong evidence for Wallace Stevens’s claim that “French and English constitute a single language”.

Patrick McGuinness, who is among the most Gallic (or, strictly speaking, Belgian) of modern British poets, has assembled a careful yet copious anthology, demonstrating just how close the two traditions are. Handily pocket-sized, this is not the book for great tracts of the Roman de la Rose and other early epics in translation; its medieval selections incline to ballades and chansons and the ultra-concision of this Christine de Pisan rondeau, in Norman Shapiro’s translation:

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A Life of Adventure and Delight by Akhil Sharma review – beautiful, sad short stories

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 06:30:51 GMT2017-08-11T06:30:51Z

Hapless, hopeful men abound in these intricate tales from the Folio prize-winning author of Family LifeThese beautiful, funny, intelligent short stories are told with such apparent simplicity. That’s Akhil Sharma’s style, honed in his two novels: An Obedient Father and the Folio prize-winning Family Life, his semi-autobiographical story of a family emigrating from India to America and then devastated by a dreadful accident, when their elder son hits his head in a swimming pool (the accident appears again in one of these stories, “Surrounded by Sleep”). Sharma’s short, declarative sentences, avoiding taking metaphorical flight, never feel mannered, or like a Carveresque moody disavowal of the possibility of saying anything. The simplicity is Sharma’s effort to get past all the temptations of falsity, of false style and ready-made ideas. His writing shines its clean light, never mercilessly or voyeuristically, on these characters winding round and round inside the muddled opacity of their lives and their thoughts. They, as well as the writer, struggle for the truth.In “The Well”, an unhappy, awkward, overweight young man, son of Indian immigrants in America, has always been “in love” with someone – at first Wonder Woman and Superman’s girlfriend, and now Betty, a blond, tennis-playing girl at work. His hungry need for Betty makes him clumsily oblivious to what she actually is, or what she wants herself. And yet there’s a moment of lovely clarity at the heart of the story, where he wonders why, as she doesn’t really like him much, she’d allowed him to get her pregnant. “The only possible explanation was that there was something in her that was weak and baffled, just like there was in me. The sympathy I felt, seeing her lie there, in the dark, murmuring to herself, would briefly brush aside my insanity.” Continue reading...[...]


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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie review – a contemporary reworking of Sophocles

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 07:59:31 GMT2017-08-10T07:59:31Z

The story of Antigone plays out in the modern world, in this Man Booker-longlisted exploration of the clash between society, family and religious faith

In Sophocles’s play Antigone a teenage girl is forced to choose between obeying the law of the land (her uncle, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the burial of a traitor) and religious law (the traitor is Antigone’s brother, Polynices, who has declared war on his city, and killed his own brother, Eteocles, along the way). Antigone’s “good” brother gets a funeral, the “bad” one is left to rot. Leaving a relative unburied is profoundly taboo in ancient Greece, so Antigone must decide: does she obey her conscience and bury Polynices – the punishment for which is the death penalty – or does she obey the law and leave her brother to be picked apart by dogs?

Related: Kamila Shamsie: let’s have a year of publishing only women – a provocation

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That Was a Shiver, and Other Stories by James Kelman review – a challenging collection

Thu, 10 Aug 2017 11:00:35 GMT2017-08-10T11:00:35Z

Haphazard, perplexingly oblique stories from the Booker prize-winning author of How Late it Was, How Late

In a UK literary landscape dominated by the bloodless southern prose of the Oxbridge-UEA axis of Standard English, the pungent, unapologetically polemical work of Scottish writer James Kelman cannot help but stand starkly out. Kelman’s signature register is a fuck-infested, mercurially punctuated, Glaswegian vernacular. His characters and settings come from the lowest, smashed rungs of working-class life. He has published fiction prolifically – nine novels, nine short-story collections, including this latest book – but while some of the writers he has influenced, most notably Irvine Welsh, have gone on to achieve popular acclaim with a similarly dialect-intensive aesthetic, Kelman’s work has failed to find even a modest general audience.

The critics have done their best. If Kelman is an obscurity, he is a venerated obscurity. He even won the Booker in 1994. Careers are routinely transformed by that prize, but Kelman’s remained stubbornly immune to the Booker’s unit-shifting auspices. How Late it Was, How Late – a splenetic stream of consciousness spat out by an unemployed alcoholic ex-con named Sammy, recently blinded by an entirely deserved smack to the head, who spends most of the novel trying to get disability benefit – is reputedly the worst-selling winner in the prize’s history.

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley review – the wild card on the Man Booker longlist

Wed, 09 Aug 2017 06:30:01 GMT2017-08-09T06:30:01Z

This dark debut about a family living on the outskirts of society is an impressive slice of contemporary noir steeped in Yorkshire legend

Fiona Mozley’s Man Booker-longlisted debut is an elemental, contemporary rural noir steeped in the literature and legend of the Yorkshire landscape and its medieval history. Doncaster is the nearest orienting location, the geographic heart of the ancient kingdom from which the novel takes its name and on which Ted Hughes based the Remains of Elmet cycle of poems. Robyn Hode and his people’s uprising nourish the narrative. As Mozley’s narrator Daniel has it: “The soil was alive with ruptured stories that cascaded and rotted then found form once more and pushed up through the undergrowth and back into our lives.”

Daniel and his sister Cathy live in a house they and their Daddy have built with their bare hands near the main East Coast rail line. Daddy’s name is John, but for Daniel and Cathy he is only ever Daddy. The contrast between this gentlest of paternal diminutives and the man himself – a bare-knuckle boxer of epic stature – casts into sharp relief the primal tenderness binding the three when the children wash and cut their father’s hair or share with him roll-ups and cider. Outsiders take a harsher view: “Others saw reciprocity and debts, imagined threats founded in nothing more than his physical presence.” That presence is excessive: compared with the bailiffs and fighters he comes up against, “Daddy was gargantuan. Each of his arms was as thick as two of theirs. His fists were near the size of their heads. Each of them could have sat curled up inside his ribcage like a foetus.”

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Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne review - worlds collide on the beach

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 08:00:35 GMT2017-08-06T08:00:35Z

This tale of two wealthy women coming across a Syrian refugee on their Greek beach holiday fails to convinceIn a speech about the Arab spring at the Edinburgh world writers’ conference in 2012, the Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif questioned the place of the novel in the white heat of political turmoil. “Attempts at fiction right now would be too simple,” she said. “The immediate truth is too glaring to allow a more subtle truth to take form… Your talent – at the time of crisis – is to tell the stories as they are, to help them to achieve power as reality, not as fiction.”Five years later and the hopefulness of those early days has been lost amid the horrors of Syria and Libya, the watery deaths of refugees fleeing the bloodshed. Against this dismal backdrop, Soueif’s statement appears to hold largely true. There have been some excellent nonfiction books dealing with the crisis – The Optician of Lampedusa by Emma Jane Kirby and The New Odyssey by Patrick Kingsley among them. And while some novels – by JM Coetzee and Aleksandar Hemon, for instance – felt like they were inspired by the nightmarish visions of the past few years (and by the west’s shamefully half-hearted response) – we are yet to have a great, direct novelistic response. Continue reading...[...]


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What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons review – a debut of haunting fragments

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 06:30:05 GMT2017-08-05T06:30:05Z

Loss, identity and the struggles that face post-apartheid South Africa

American writer Zinzi Clemmons’s debut novel is about haunting. In a series of fragmented meditations and vignettes, it tells the story of Thandi, who narrates the trajectory of her life in the context of her mother’s death – a loss so great that it overwhelms her. In overt and subtle ways, the novel sets out to do important work: to explore the contours of race, class and gender and the legacy of apartheid; and it succeeds best when exploring these ideas through the delicately drawn and profoundly moving portrait it offers of a relationship between mother and daughter.

Like Clemmons, Thandi is half “Coloured” (a distinct ethnic group in South Africa) and half African American. She is, therefore, heir to the peculiar pain of all people who are half something and half another, caught between cultures and identities: the dilemma of inbetweeness, the struggle of almost belonging.

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Eureka by Anthony Quinn review – pacy plot and effortless prose

Sat, 05 Aug 2017 08:59:08 GMT2017-08-05T08:59:08Z

‘It’s about secrets and the mysterious power of art’ – and it’s also a knowing and lively novel

Few readers who enjoyed Freya, Anthony Quinn’s last novel, will be surprised to discover that Nat Fane is back. In a tale of female friendship and identity in the bohemian 1950s, Freya’s louche friend Nat nearly stole the show, bursting the confines of his supporting role with his waspish epigrams and his penchant for silk suits and spanking.

Eureka is the third in Quinn’s 20th-century trilogy (the first, Curtain Call, was a thriller set in 1930s theatreland) and, though Freya returns, it is Nat’s turn this time to take centre stage. In London in the steamy, seamy summer of 1967 the playwright turned screenwriter is struggling. At not quite 40, his star is on the wane: it is eight years since his first film brought him fame and an academy award, and the flops are mounting fast enough for the Evening Standard to disdain him as “British theatre’s youngest living has-been”. Everything hangs on his latest project, “Eureka”, a modern-day adaptation of a Henry James story for the hotshot German auteur Rainer Werther Kloss, scheduled to begin shooting in six weeks. Unfortunately Nat is still to write a single word.

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The City Always Wins by Omar Robert Hamilton review – an astonishing debut novel

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 06:30:36 GMT2017-08-04T06:30:36Z

The triumphs and disappointment of the 2011 Egyptian revolution – and the energy of the Cairo streets – brought vividly to life

This astounding debut novel, by British-Egyptian film-maker Omar Robert Hamilton, opens after the seeming triumph of the 2011 Egyptian revolution’s early stage has passed, though it is remembered, cinematically, as “an explosion of light, sound and epic consequence with no room for ego or doubt”.

Now the revolutionaries are flailing in various tides of counter-revolution. The new Muslim Brotherhood government forces through a constitution that ignores key revolutionary demands. Brotherhood “security” and a revived police force torture and murder at will. The army kills too, and prepares to seize control. To emphasise these reversals, though the story moves forward chronologically, parts one, two and three of the novel are titled Tomorrow, Today and Yesterday.

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Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue review – an impressive debut

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 10:01:40 GMT2017-08-04T10:01:40Z

This is not a story of noble immigrants versus the evil banking class: it is about people who have no room to manoeuvre

So charged has the word “migrant” become that I hesitate to call Imbolo Mbue’s impressive debut a migrant novel; yet all the ingredients are there. The protagonist Jende Jonga is, like Mbue, a Cameroonian migrant to America along with his wife Neni and their six-year old son Liomi. And Clark Edwards, Jende’s boss, an investment banker, is also a migrant, coming to Wall Street from the American hinterland; his ancestors were once newcomers with funny accents and funnier customs.

The novel begins with an interview. Clark needs a driver and Jende needs a job. In this opening exchange, power, the central theme of the novel, is laid bare. For Clark, the interview is a blip in his busy day. To Jende, in his carefully chosen clothes and with his carefully doctored CV, it is the only way to sustain life for him and his family.

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So Happy It Hurts by Anneliese Mackintosh review – an epistolary novel

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 09:01:39 GMT2017-08-04T09:01:39Z

Diary entries, emails and receipts are used to great effect in this untidy, generous and funny storyOttila McGregor has a new year resolution. She’s going to make herself happy – “so happy it hurts,” she tells her therapist, “SO FUCKING HAPPY IT REALLY FUCKING KILLS,” she writes to herself. At the moment, she’s just hurting herself, via a destructive relationship (an affair with her boss) and too much drink. That’s not too much drink in a Bridget Jones, fake-horrified, unit-totting sort of way. It’s too much drink in a sexting-your-manager-again, tweeting-that-you-want-to-die, having-your-stomach-pumped way. So Ottila is going to “turn everything around”, confiding the process to the “grief scrapbook” she’s assembling inside a vandalised copy of The Little Book of Happy. Ottila knows about grief scrapbooks: she works in a support centre for people with cancer and their families. What is she grieving for? Booze, of course – and other things, the things her drinking tried to chase away.The Little Book of Happy doesn’t actually exist, but I assumed it was real until I checked: one of those small, square hardbacks where inspiring quotations nestle against platitudinous advice. So Happy It Hurts, on the other hand, is a pleasingly unfamiliar kind of book. Anneliese Mackintosh’s debut novel (a follow-up to the scabrous short-story sequence Any Other Mouth, many of the themes of which are revisited here) is told through Ottila’s diary entries, transcripts of therapy sessions, emails, Snapchats and receipts. It’s an epistolary novel for a hyperconnected world, and the effect is appropriately chaotic – the reader feels at first a little like a drunk turning out her pockets and trying to reconstruct another night of blackout from the detritus she’s accumulated. Continue reading...[...]


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Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi review – a striking initiation

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 06:00:10 GMT2017-08-01T06:00:10Z

The Zambian-born British poet proves himself much more than ‘another brother who can rhyme’ in this assured debut

I first came across Kayo Chingonyi at the Coronet – once a seedy cinema in Notting Hill Gate, now home to the Print Room and a bohemian den of unexpected charm where, once a month, a trio of poets reads aloud. It is a wonderful destination for poets, and Chingonyi has the huge advantage of being a natural performer. He reads his poems with an immediacy that gives each one to you like a present (sample his extraordinary performance at the South Bank with dancer Sean Graham).

His delivery is the opposite of the wistful singsong that has become chronic at poetry readings (so many poets would benefit from the attention of a really good theatre director). My particular pet hate is the way poets meaninglessly turn the last words in each line upwards to sound like a question that did not need to be asked.

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Tin Man by Sarah Winman review – an exquisitely crafted tale of love and loss

Sun, 30 Jul 2017 10:00:16 GMT2017-07-30T10:00:16Z

Two boys and a girl are caught up in a tender love triangle in the third novel from the author of When God Was a Rabbit

In the prologue to Sarah Winman’s third novel, a woman defies her husband at the local community centre when, upon winning a raffle, she chooses as her prize not the whisky her husband desires but a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers: “It was her first ever act of defiance. Like cutting off an ear. And she’d made it in public.”

The transformative power of art and the untapped potential in quotidian lives are themes that pervade Tin Man. In a novel of two halves, the first narrator is 46-year-old Ellis, who works nights in the paint shop of an Oxford car plant, smoothing out dents so that no imperfection will ever be detected. Ellis had wanted to be an artist but after his mother’s death, when he was a teenager, his father forbade it. Now, a middle-aged widower, his loneliness is palpable: “This had always been the worst time when the quiet emptiness could leave him gasping for breath. She was there, his wife, a peripheral shadow moving across a doorway, or in the reflection of a window, and he had to stop looking for her.”

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Come Let Us Sing Anyway by Leone Ross review – short stories that seduce and shock

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 08:00:45 GMT2017-07-29T08:00:45Z

The women in these compassionate tales of love, loneliness and desire have strong passions and huge problems

Leone Ross’s first short-story collection demonstrates her imaginative power and great psychological depth. The protagonists are predominantly female and Caribbean; abuse, sex, loneliness, betrayal and abandonment are recurrent themes. The collection opens with “Love Silk Food”, about an older woman married to a philanderer. She calls his mistresses “Excitement Girls”: “Wet things with their oiled spines, sweating lips, damp laps.” Deeply hurt, she spends hours sitting alone in busy shopping centres or aimlessly riding the London underground. When she gets chatting to a friendly man on a train, she misreads the signals and ends up painfully humiliated. As with her two novels, Orange Laughter and the Orange prize-nominated All the Blood Is Red, Ross writes here with searing empathy and compassion. Her women are rounded, wounded, and we cannot help but feel for them.

She also shows how people act out the patterns of their pasts. The much envied model in “Roll It” is a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend, Parker. We learn that her back was whipped raw by her mother in childhood and that Parker’s father broke his nose as a teenager. The model cannot bring herself to escape her abuser: she resorts to a spectacular act of self-immolation on the catwalk. “Whoomph! Her hair burns. Her bruises peel away under the heat, like black paper. Roll your hips, she thinks. Her eyes burn last.” The effect is mesmerising, shocking, unforgettable.

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The best recent science fiction, fantasy and horror novels – reviews roundup

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 11:00:20 GMT2017-07-28T11:00:20Z

Shattered Minds by Laura Lam; Lost Boy by Christina Henry; Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory; Mormama by Kit Reed; The Truants by Lee Markham

In Shattered Minds (Macmillan, £12.99) Laura Lam combines William Gibson’s noirish cyberpunk vibe with Kim Stanley Robinson’s social concern and world-building to produce a gripping, fast-paced hi-tech thriller peopled by flawed but believable characters. In a near-future US west coast state known as Pacifica, ex-neuroscientist Carina was the subject of an experiment carried out by Sudice Inc. It left her with violent urges and an addiction to a drug called zeal. With her memory of the experiment wiped, she begins to hallucinate a dead girl, a fellow victim of Sudice’s sinister mind-mapping operation. Together with a team of hackers, she works to bring down the organisation, restrain the homicidal urges in her own shattered mind and come to some understanding of her fraught past. The novel works as a tense techno-thriller, as state-of-the-art extrapolative SF, and as a moving exploration of character in which even the bad guys are portrayed with sympathy.

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This Zoo Is Not for You by Ross Collins review – an irresistible pleasure

Mon, 14 Aug 2017 07:00:36 GMT2017-08-14T07:00:36Z

This beautifully illustrated tale of a put-upon platypus is given extra bite by the author’s mischievous sense of humour

Some books seem to carry a memory of the fun their creators must have had conceiving them and the latest from Scottish author/illustrator Ross Collins – about a platypus enduring a series of job interviews with some snooty zoo animals – is shot through with a particular brand of mischief. Told in rhyming couplets with beautifully expressive illustrations, it bounces along, a pleasure to read aloud.

First to grill the platypus is Chi Chi the panda, who resembles a podgy, ageing star, surrounded by his own merchandise: “I’m special, rare/ and famous too/ To get me here/ was quite a coup/ But you don’t even eat bamboo!/ I think, this zoo/ is not for you.” And it’s downhill from there: to the flamingos the platypus looks like “a worn-out shoe”, while the monkeys target him with poo.

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Beyond the Wall by Tanya Landman review – brutality and hope in Roman Britain

Fri, 11 Aug 2017 09:00:54 GMT2017-08-11T09:00:54Z

Chases and cliffhangers abound in an excellent YA novel about a 14-year-old slave girl escaping sexual exploitation

What was it like to be a slave in the Roman empire? Pretty grim, according to Tanya Landman’s excellent YA novel set in fourth-century Roman Britain. Well, of course, you might say – how could deprivation of liberty and hard labour be anything else? But as we soon discover, there was something even worse in store for many slaves, particularly the young, vulnerable ones – sexual exploitation.

Fourteen-year-old Cassia is a slave on the estate of Titus Cornelius Festus, a rich, powerful Roman and a nasty piece of work. He tries to rape her, but she fights him off and goes on the run to nearby Londinium. There she is saved from being recaptured by the enigmatic Marcus Aquila, a young Roman only a few years older than her. But is he a true friend or an enemy in disguise?

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Children’s books roundup: the best new picture books and novels

Sat, 29 Jul 2017 06:59:44 GMT2017-07-29T06:59:44Z

From a retelling of Rapunzel to a tentative romance, there is something for all ages from toddlers to teens

Author-illustrator Bethan Woollvin returns to enthral picture-book fans with a retelling of Rapunzel (Two Hoots) in her characteristic, starkly beguiling graphic black and white. The contrasting waves of Rapunzel’s hair, in over-saturated buttery yellow, light up a heroine every bit as defiant, quick-witted and tough as Woollvin’s award-winning Little Red.

Another strong-willed girl features in Sean Taylor and Kasia Matyjaszek’s I Am Actually a Penguin (Templar), in which the narrator dons a seabird persona along with her beloved new costume and refuses to behave in any way unbefitting a penguin. It’s warm, hilarious, with acutely observed behaviour and a delightful twist.

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Picture books for children reviews – from old hats to new homes

Sun, 23 Jul 2017 07:00:01 GMT2017-07-23T07:00:01Z

Neil Gaiman’s mute, pearl-eyed princess and a magical tale of moving house are among the best illustrated reads for kids this summer

It is summer – the season in which mad dogs and Englishmen are said to go out in the midday sun. A better idea might be to stay in the shade and read Raymond, by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec (Walker £11.99, ages 3+). Even before you have opened the book, you will be won over by the brilliant sunshine-yellow cover and Raymond – a little dog with big dreams – standing on his hind legs, looking perkily assured, with a cup of what looks alarmingly like coffee in his left paw.

Raymond’s big dream is to be more than one of the family – he wants to “act more and more like a human”. He becomes a celeb journo on Dogue magazine – and it all gets a bit much. It is not until he goes on holiday with his faithful old family that he remembers the enchantment of simply being a dog. The delight for readers is partly in acknowledging that we should all be careful what we wish for.

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The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue review – it’s a family affair

Sat, 22 Jul 2017 07:59:33 GMT2017-07-22T07:59:33Z

Big is beautiful in the Room author’s tale of seven children, four parents (and a three-legged dog) who follow their dreamsEmma Donoghue, the award-winning novelist best known for Room, has made her first foray into children’s fiction. The Lotterys Plus One is set in cosmopolitan Toronto and features a household that embodies diversity and respect for the planet. It’s a tale that’s funny, heartwarming and quietly provocative.There is a huge difference between writing about children and for children. In sharp contrast to the grim tale of five-year-old Jack and his virtuoso narration of Room, Donoghue’s latest novel is full of warmth and light, its third-person perspective introducing us to a large and, in some respects, utopian family unit. The Lotterys are people “who like to say why not?” There are two sets of committed same-sex parents (of different ethnicities), seven children, mostly adopted (ditto), and their pets, including a rat and a three-legged dog. Caroline Hadilaksono’s charming illustrations help keep track of the large cast of characters. Having won the lottery, the parents can devote themselves to bringing up their brood in a way that cherishes their individuality, educates and encourages a sense of responsibility towards family, community and planet. “Love is not a pie,” the parents say. “Everyone doesn’t have to fight for a slice.” The parents all have nicknames, such as PapaDum and MaxiMum. The children are named after trees. The young Lotterys are home-schooled and live in a spacious, well-equipped Victorian house called Camelottery, where “the only routine is to wake up and decide what to learn”. Continue reading...[...]


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Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence review – gripping urban teen fiction

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 08:00:04 GMT2017-07-11T08:00:04Z

The award-winning author gets to the raw heart of her diverse characters in this winning sixth form tale of romance and identity

Her award-winning debut Orangeboy, a gripping urban thriller, announced Patrice Lawrence as a bold, fresh voice in young adult fiction. This promise is realised in her second book, a tender and complex story of first love, family and belonging.

The chemistry is instant when Indigo and Bailey meet at sixth form. But these are two teenagers from very different places. As a small child, Indigo witnessed her father kill her mother and has grown up in the care system. Her notorious story and her own reputation for losing it shadow her start at this “last-chance” school. Mixed-race Bailey, meanwhile, who’s known for his love of guitars and distinctive ginger afro, lives with his middle-class parents. A hesitant romance develops between the pair, beautifully capturing both the shine of mutual attraction and the awkwardness of fledgling lovers. When Bailey is approached by a tramp who knows far more about Indigo than he should, he faces the most difficult decision of his life.

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Summer reading with John Gordon Sinclair and Horatio Clare – podcast

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 16:46:01 GMT2017-08-08T16:46:01Z

Subscribe and review: iTunes, Soundcloud, Audioboom, Mixcloud and Acast. Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter

On the podcast this week, Gregory’s Girl and World War Z actor John Gordon Sinclair talks to Richard about his latest crime novel Walk in Silence, and explains how being mistaken for the actor Tim Robbins lead him – in a roundabout way – to writing books.

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The Explorers by Katherine Rundell review – wildly exciting adventure

Sun, 06 Aug 2017 10:00:38 GMT2017-08-06T10:00:38Z

The gripping tale of four youngsters plunged into the Amazon forest will delight with its warmth and wisdomFrom the whimsical streets of Victorian Paris in Rooftoppers to the frozen white plains of Russia in The Wolf Wilder, Katherine Rundell conjures an extraordinary sense of place in her novels, no more so than in the lush Amazon rainforest of her latest. Readers are plunged, quite literally, into a wildly exciting adventure when four children crash-land hundreds of miles from civilisation after their pilot suffers a heart attack. They are alone and in absolute peril, without food or water, at the mercy of the ferocious jungle. But it’s also a place of wonder: Rundell’s rich, descriptive prose will transport her young readers to a mesmerising world where they can swim with river dolphins, eat a tarantula and discover a ruined city. The mystery deepens when the discovery of a map suggests they are not the first humans to find this place.The early 20th-century setting disallows the pesky interference of modern technology, lending a timeless feel to the plot. At the heart of the novel is how her four main characters – aspiring explorer Fred, gloriously spiky Con and Brazilian siblings Lila and Max – embark on a journey of self-discovery, coming to terms with their situation and finding the bravery and ingenuity they need. On one level it’s a gripping story of survival and the tenacity of the human spirit against all odds, but it’s also a hymn to hope, love and courage, delivered with all the warmth and wisdom we’ve come to expect from one of our most talented writers for children. Continue reading...[...]


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Bernie Sanders aims to inspire revolution among young adult readers

Fri, 04 Aug 2017 11:58:14 GMT2017-08-04T11:58:14Z

Former presidential candidate’s Guide to Political Revolution is written for ‘the smartest, most idealistic and least prejudiced generation in modern US history’

A generation of young readers raised on the struggle for justice imagined in The Hunger Games and Divergent can welcome a new superstar YA author aiming to inspire a revolution in the US’s contemporary dystopia: Senator Bernie Sanders.

The Bernie Sanders Guide to Political Revolution is out on 29 August. According to publisher Henry Holt, the former Democratic candidate for the US presidency calls for young people “to fight for a progressive economic, environmental, racial and social justice agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, protects the environment and provides healthcare for all”.

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Young adult literature convention under fire over disabled facilities

Tue, 01 Aug 2017 13:37:20 GMT2017-08-01T13:37:20Z

Authors speak out after reports of problems because a specialised toilet had been given over to celebrity guests at associated Comicon festival

Authors who appeared at the YALC young adult literature convention over the weekend, including Alex Wheatle and Joanne Harris, have spoken out about what they feel was a lack of disabled facilities at the event. Their complaints centre on the sequestering of one of two disabled toilets for the use of celebrities attending the associated Comicon festival on a lower floor.

Organisers of the event, tied to the London Film and Comic Convention (Comicon) at Olympia in London, were accused by one visitor of “ablism” after wheelchair users ended up squeezing into busy lifts and negotiating crowds to reach accessible toilets on the Comicon floor.

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Iranian artist to attend Edinburgh book festival after visa volte-face

Fri, 28 Jul 2017 14:50:57 GMT2017-07-28T14:50:57Z

Children’s book illustrator Ehsan Abdollahi was denied entry to UK but decision has been overturned by UK embassy in Tehran

A respected Iranian illustrator who came under the spotlight after he was denied entry to the UK to attend the Edinburgh international book festival has been granted a visa.

Ehsan Abdollahi’s original visa application was declined by the Home Office despite the festival’s invitation to him to speak about his books. But the decision has been overturned by the British embassy in Tehran.

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Filth and fame: how David Walliams became king of kids’ books

Tue, 25 Jul 2017 15:27:17 GMT2017-07-25T15:27:17Z

The actor, writer and author has been the UK’s bestselling children’s author for 100 weeks. What is the secret to his success?David Walliams’ colossal sales figures are the stuff of dreams for most kids’ authors; he has just hit his 100th consecutive week as the UK’s top‑selling children’s writer. So, what is the secret of his success? Is it the power of celebrity – or is he simply a brilliant author?Well, fame has certainly helped. Well known for his work with Matt Lucas on the sketch show Little Britain, Walliams had already established himself as a familiar funny face and a writer with a turn for grotesque humour when his first book for children was published by HarperCollins in 2008. The Boy in the Dress was deeply indebted (as Walliams acknowledges) to Roald Dahl; it also benefited from the involvement of Quentin Blake, the most celebrated of Dahl’s illustrators. It struck an unlikely balance between gross-out humour of the squelchiest kind and subtler ideas of identity and courage; it starred a neglected, put-upon child hero; and it handled the idea of cross-dressing with a humorous lightness of touch. While the Sunday Times’ Nicolette Jones commented gently that Walliams’ writing was “not the finest”, Philip Ardagh praised its “genuine child-appeal”. Book-buying parents, however, were evidently unsure about the theme of transvestism for younger readers. Continue reading...[...]


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George Saunders: what writers really do when they write

Sat, 04 Mar 2017 08:00:10 GMT2017-03-04T08:00:10Z

A series of instincts, thousands of tiny adjustments, hundreds of drafts … What is the mysterious process writers go through to get an idea on to the page?

Many years ago, during a visit to Washington DC, my wife’s cousin pointed out to us a crypt on a hill and mentioned that, in 1862, while Abraham Lincoln was president, his beloved son, Willie, died, and was temporarily interred in that crypt, and that the grief-stricken Lincoln had, according to the newspapers of the day, entered the crypt “on several occasions” to hold the boy’s body. An image spontaneously leapt into my mind – a melding of the Lincoln Memorial and the Pietà. I carried that image around for the next 20-odd years, too scared to try something that seemed so profound, and then finally, in 2012, noticing that I wasn’t getting any younger, not wanting to be the guy whose own gravestone would read “Afraid to Embark on Scary Artistic Project He Desperately Longed to Attempt”, decided to take a run at it, in exploratory fashion, no commitments. My novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, is the result of that attempt, and now I find myself in the familiar writerly fix of trying to talk about that process as if I were in control of it.

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‘Words are the best weapons with which to come to terms with ageing’

Sun, 13 Aug 2017 08:00:08 GMT2017-08-13T08:00:08Z

After a brush with death in 1995, Robert McCrum had settled back into life as a literary journalist. Then, aged 60, came a fall that would force him to contend with mortality once more…No one will ever know exactly what happened inside my head on the night of 28 July 1995, but probably it went something like this. First, for reasons that remain mysterious, a surreptitious clot began to form in one of my cerebral arteries, cutting off the blood supply to part of the one organ in the body that, after the heart, is most greedy for blood. Eventually, perhaps some hours later, like a breaking dam, the clot burst into the right side of my brain, causing an uncontrolled “bleed” that would achieve the irreversible destruction of cerebral tissue deep inside my head, in the part of the cortex known as the basal ganglia. In medical textbooks, this is “a severe insult to the brain”; in everyday conversation “a stroke”; and in my own life, an exceedingly close shave.My first reaction, when I came round in University College hospital, drifting in and out of consciousness, was a kind of weird exhilaration. I had no idea about what had happened to me, but whatever it was, I seemed to have survived. Lying naked under a pink blanket in the intensive-care unit, wired up to the monitors, I was aware of being in the antechamber to the grave. Even now, years later, I can still recall the eerie fascination of this experience and of having, by great good fortune, returned to tell t[...]


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Maggie O’Farrell: 'I've revealed the secrets I’ve spent my life hiding'

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:30:38 GMT2017-08-12T07:30:38Z

An armed ambush, a traumatic labour, near drownings... The novelist tells Decca Aitkenhead about her brushes with death• Scroll down for an exclusive extract from her new memoirIn an average year, Maggie O’Farrell comes close to death once or twice. Seized with terror, she dials 999 and is rushed to hospital in a white-knuckle dash that navigates the border of life and death. Breathing becomes impossible, the skin bubbles and blisters; as consciousness fades, cardiac arrest can be just minutes away. The death O’Farrell must come this close to, over and again, is not her own but her daughter’s.O’Farrell’s middle child is eight years old. Since birth, she has suffered extreme allergic reactions between 12 and 15 times a year, one or two of which will tip her into full-blown anaphylactic shock. These reactions can be triggered by – and this list is far from exhaustive – sitting beside someone who ate muesli for breakfast, or at a table where sesame seeds were recently consumed; sharing a paddling pool with someone wearing sun cream containing almond oil; touching the hand of someone who has eaten nuts or eggs or salad with pumpkin oil; eating a biscuit picked up with tongs used earlier to hold a brownie; being stung by a bee. Continue reading...[...]


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My friend David Bowie by Hanif Kureishi

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 07:00:38 GMT2017-08-12T07:00:38Z

They went to the same south London school, a decade apart, and ended up working together. As a new anecdote-filled book is published, the novelist recalls the Bowie he knew

One of the first, and most important pieces of advice David Bowie ever gave me – this was in the early 1990s – was to make sure I noted down the names of secretaries and assistants I came into contact with. This would help me later, he explained, when I needed to get through to the important people.

Charm, as Albert Camus put it in The Fall, is a way of getting people to say yes before you’ve told them what you want. And Major Tom, or Captain Tom, as Frank Zappa insisted on calling him when Bowie tried to poach his guitarist, had already used his ample portion to get through to the important people. And to the assistants, secretaries and thousands of other women he slept with, sometimes in threesomes and at orgies in Oakley Street in Chelsea, where he lived with Angie Barnett in what was then cutely called “an open relationship”.

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Shelf life: novelist Hanya Yanagihara on living with 12,000 books

Sat, 12 Aug 2017 10:00:41 GMT2017-08-12T10:00:41Z

The A Little Life author opens the doors to her one-bedroom New York apartmentMan Booker prize-shortlisted author, editor of the New York Times Style magazine T, travel writer: Hanya Yanagihara has distilled three of her greatest passions – books, art and travel – into her one-bedroom apartment in downtown Manhattan. The flat, housed in a steel-framed former bottle factory, has no dividing walls: instead, a vast, double-sided bookcase, containing more than 12,000 titles, acts “as a kind of suggestion of a wall”, Yanagihara says. On one side are her private quarters – bedroom, study, wardrobe and bathroom – on the other, a living room, kitchen and dining table. Floors are black, polished floorboards.Every book is arranged alphabetically by author. “Anyone who arranges their books by colour doesn’t truly care what’s in the books,” she says. “I’ve always had them and collected them. I have multiple editions of certain titles so I can give them away. But I do try to do a big cull every few years.” Continue reading...[...]


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Mark Millar's superhero rise from comic book nerd to Netflix winner

Tue, 08 Aug 2017 19:35:11 GMT2017-08-08T19:35:11Z

How Scotsman made multi-million pound leap from page to screen with sale of Millarworld titles to US streaming giantLike many comic book writers and artists, Mark Millar’s love of comics began as a young child when his older brother would take him to comic book shops. But now the Scottish author has become the latest beneficiary of the global obsession with bringing the stories to life on the screen, after his publisher Millarworld – whose titles include Kick Ass, Kingsman and Wanted – was bought by Netflix this week.The price paid has not been disclosed but experts estimated it would be between $50m and $100m (£39m-£77m). It is the first company acquisition in Netflix’s 20-year history and an indicator that superheroes, old and new, will be on our screens for a long time to come. Continue reading...[...]


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