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Books | The Guardian

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

Published: Mon, 25 Sep 2017 05:10:32 GMT2017-09-25T05:10:32Z

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

The 100 best nonfiction books: No 86 – A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (1755)

Mon, 25 Sep 2017 04:45:04 GMT2017-09-25T04:45:04Z

Dr Johnson’s decade-long endeavour framed the English language for the coming centuries with clarity, intelligence and extraordinary wit

British national self-confidence boomed throughout the 18th century, with that familiar mix of pride and insecurity. Now, more than ever, the educated English reader needed a dictionary. In the new world of global trade and global warfare, a language that was becoming seeded throughout the first British empire required an authoritative act of definition by a vigorous and practical champion. Enter Dr Johnson.

Samuel Johnson, born in Lichfield in 1709, was a pioneer who raised common sense to heights of genius, and a man of robust popular instincts whose watchwords were clarity, precision and simplicity. The Johnson who challenged Bishop Berkeley’s solipsist theory of the nonexistence of matter by kicking a large stone (“I refute it thus”) is the same Johnson for whom language must have a daily practical use, and a ready application to the everyday world of the common man.

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What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton – digested read

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 16:00:49 GMT2017-09-24T16:00:49Z

‘I take full responsibility for everything that went wrong apart from those things that were other people’s fault. And don’t forget the Russians’

What happened? I wish I knew for certain. What I can say is that I absolutely gave it my best shot and that I couldn’t have had a wiser team around me. When I shed a tear as I waited in line at President Trump’s inauguration, it wasn’t for me. It was also for all the people in America who would have to live with that man as their leader.

I won’t deny that the six months since I lost the election have been some of the toughest of my life. But I’ve gotten by a day at a time thanks to the love of my husband, Bill, the support of close friends, such as Sheryl Sandberg, and the knowledge that I won the popular vote. I’ve learned to concentrate on taking pleasure from the little things. Like my daily yoga practice and buying a farm in upstate New York. In particular I find alternate breathing through each nostril helps me centre myself. It sounds hard but it gets easier with practice: you breathe in through one nostril in one of your homes, then get in the car and breathe in through the other in another.

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Jennifer Egan: ‘I was never a hot, young writer. But then I had a quantum leap’

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 06:00:37 GMT2017-09-24T06:00:37Z

Six years after winning a Pulitzer with the ‘postmodern’ A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan reveals why she has now embraced traditional storytelling

In interviews, Jennifer Egan used to spend a fair amount of time explaining what she wasn’t interested in doing with her writing. Verisimilitude was boring. The linear was “the weird scourge of writing prose”. Conventional narratives were absolutely not her bag. In the same conversations, she would sometimes refer to her time at the University of Pennsylvania, when she was “a literary theory nut”; such ideas, she insisted scarily, were with her still. All of which made it seem a safe bet that when she finally delivered a new book – it’s six years since the publication of her Pulitzer prize-winning fourth novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad, which came with a chapter in the form of a PowerPoint presentation – it would be every bit as formally daring as her last.

But, no. Reach for your smelling salts, Goon Squad fans. For her next trick, Egan has written a 400-page historical novel called Manhattan Beach. Set in New York during the Depression and the second world war – specifically, much of the action takes place in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, then the biggest builder and repairer of allied ships – it comes not only with a forward-moving plot, but with a thoroughly old-fashioned heroine: the kind of girl, brave and determined, with whom readers are almost duty bound to fall in love. A Victorian novel by any other name, its sensibility is, in other words, so thoroughly conventional, I can’t help but wonder: when, exactly, did its author start thinking verisimilitude and the linear might be interesting after all?

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Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides review – men behaving badly

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 09:00:40 GMT2017-09-24T09:00:40Z

Husbands and fathers harbour dark thoughts in the novelist’s witty collection of short stories whose characters prove hard to love

In the perfectly paced, middle-aged, middle-class drama that completes Jeffrey Eugenides’s first collection of short stories, a famous physics professor “watches his life implode” after an ill-advised one-night stand with a high school student who has a trick up her sleeve. We’ve already been treated to a country music radio consultant with a restraining order against his family, and a music teacher about to get a visit from the bailiff for defaulting on the payments for his clavichord. It’s fair to say that, in Fresh Complaint, men are well intentioned enough, but also pathetic and faintly absurd.

There are plenty of women in these stories, written over the past 22 years, but Eugenides is particularly adept at piercing the darker, unsaid inner thoughts of husbands and fathers. Charlie is, as he freely admits in Find the Bad Guy, a “defective husband” to a woman who only married him for a green card. He works out – too late – the key to a good relationship. “At breakfast you pass the jam. You ask: ‘How was your day?’ and pretend to care. Stuff like that really works.”

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Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis review – provocative and challenging

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 11:00:43 GMT2017-09-24T11:00:43Z

The celebrated Greek economist draws on ancient myth, modern culture and personal experience to explore the nature and significance of capitalism

The famed former Greek finance minister has an 11-year-old daughter, Xenia, in Australia. Knowing she will have learned about the indigenous inhabitants of that continent, he starts this paternal polemic on capitalism by twisting a familiar fact, asking why Aboriginal Australians didn’t invade Britain.

This sets the tone for a provocative, challenging, yet non-patronising analysis of the global economy: what it is, how it came to be and why it can never be apolitical. By using ancient myths, contemporary culture and family stories, Varoufakis makes the text intimate and accessible.

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‘Dazzling and worrying’: my memories of Bruce Chatwin and In Patagonia

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 07:30:39 GMT2017-09-24T07:30:39Z

Forty years ago, Chatwin’s debut book transformed travel writing. But just 12 years later, its author was dead. The Observer theatre critic, Chatwin’s editor for that book, reflects on a brief, brilliant career

‘Does anyone read Bruce Chatwin these days?” asked Blake Morrison, reviewing his letters seven years ago. Well, someone must: nearly 30 years after his death, all six of Chatwin’s books are still in print. But it is true that when the dominant writers of the 1970s and 1980s are discussed, Chatwin’s name is rarely among them. The penalty of once being fashionable is that you may come to be thought of as merely fashionable. Almost violently successful at first, his books are now less likely to be mentioned than the Moleskine notebooks in which he sketched and jotted.

Vintage’s 40th anniversary edition of In Patagonia is an invitation to look again at one of the most vivid but elusive writers of the late 20th century. Chatwin’s first book, it helped to change the idea of what travel writing could be. It appeared at a rich literary moment, when both reportage and the novel were beginning to fly high in new directions. I remember the time well – I edited In Patagonia and in doing so became friends with the author. Angela Carter and Ryszard Kapuściński, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie were already publishing; Julian Barnes was preparing to take off. In Patagonia was in a category of its own. It was clearly not a novel, but it flirted with fiction. A collage of histories, sketches, myths and memories, with short scenes glinting towards each other, without judgment, conclusion or, often, links. Chatwin said he was trying to make a cubist portrait. It is paradoxical, in content and in style. The syntax is snappy but the vocabulary is orchidaceous. It holds back from intimate revelation – “I don’t believe in becoming clean,” Chatwin announced – but is fuelled by autobiography, lit up by personal obsessions.

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The Square and the Tower by Niall Ferguson review – a restless tour through power

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 07:00:38 GMT2017-09-24T07:00:38Z

The historian’s breadth of reference is impressive in this study of networks and hierarchies – but his conclusions are underwhelming

Niall Ferguson is not the kind of historian who suffers from understatement. He writes big, muscular books with high-concept ideas that target current concerns through the prism of the past. They are pull-yourself-together warnings to the present by way of arresting historical precedent.

In The Great Degeneration (2013) he describes the collapse of the institutions on which the west made its success. His 2011 book Civilisation was subtitled, with a market eye on contemporary buzzwords, The Six Killer Apps of Western Power. His latest book, The Square and Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power, claims to be “a whole new way of looking at the world”.

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Mr Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense review – honey and heartbreak

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 05:30:36 GMT2017-09-24T05:30:36Z

Jenny Uglow’s moving biography of Edward Lear reveals a tortured, unfulfilled soul for whom nonsense was a necessity

If ever there was an English national literary treasure, he must be Edward Lear. In polls, including a recent one for National Poetry Day, The Owl and the Pussycat is often voted our favourite poem. Anyone who has ever doodled a limerick, of any tone or topic, pays homage to his genius. As well as timeless nonsense such as The Jumblies, there’s also his art – brilliantly studied paintings of exotic creatures in far-off lands; luminous desertscapes; antic sketches of men with birds in their beards – work that puts him in a class of his own as an important Victorian artist.

Edward Lear is one of those English one-offs who are treasured because they seem to suggest that there are no more important things to do than paint or write, and who embody a benign, provisional and above all amateur spirit. Lear himself, slyly complicit, summarised his place in the English cultural landscape with a teasing, encrypted self-description:

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Moving to a war zone was better than living with what was in my head

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 22:07:19 GMT2017-09-23T22:07:19Z

Eddie Ayres has a lifetime of musical experience but much of it was as Emma Ayres, and much of it was overshadowed by depression. In this book extract he explains how his path to salvation was teaching music in Afghanistan

I had a dream job, presenting classical music radio [for ABC Classic FM]. Easy. Don’t be late for work, sit in a studio, chat, press the right buttons, go to concerts, chat some more. And that’s what I did for nearly a decade. The job of a radio presenter, at least the way I see it, is to be calm, kind, entertaining. A friend to all. Being light and easy is fine if you feel like that, but if you don’t feel light and easy, what then?

Related: Is it really a win for queer rights if we exclude our most vulnerable to achieve it? | Allison Gallagher

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Slouching towards Biloxi: Joan Didion on life in America's south

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 05:00:07 GMT2017-09-23T05:00:07Z

In 1970 the writer spent a month in the south because it seemed to represent the future of America. And now that we are ‘living though the scariest of times’, she has decided to publish her notebooks

John and I were living on Franklin Avenue in Los Angeles. I had wanted to revisit the South, so we flew there for a month in 1970. The idea was to start in New Orleans and from there we had no plan. We went wherever the day took us. I seem to remember that John drove. I had not been back since 1942–43, when my father was stationed in Durham, North Carolina, but it did not seem to have changed that much. At the time, I had thought it might be a piece.

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AA Milne, Christopher Robin and the curse of Winnie-the-Pooh

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 13:00:16 GMT2017-09-23T13:00:16Z

Not only was AA Milne’s life eclipsed by the creation of Pooh Bear, so was that of his son, writes the screenwriter of the new biopic, Goodbye Christopher Robin

As Quentin Crisp once pointed out in a lecture: if he were to bring a distinguished old Yorkshireman on stage, the audience might be perplexed; but if he brought a polished abstract sculpture with a hole in the middle, the audience would cry out, “Ah! Henry Moore!” So AA Milne’s long career as poet, playwright, polemicist, peace campaigner and novelist is completely eclipsed by four short children’s books which, as he put it in 1952, he created, “little thinking / All my years of pen-and-inking / Would be almost lost among / Those four trifles for the young”.

That “almost” is no longer needed. Pooh is one of a tiny handful of creations that are so enormously successful we forget the infelicity of their names: Boots, the Beatles, Star Wars, Winnie-the-Pooh. One of the great secrets of success is that, more often than not, it is not the kind of success you were hoping for. You want to be Hamlet but you’re hailed as a clown, and now you can never be any kind of Hamlet. You want to move on but your global hit exerts all the gravity of a planet and you are trapped in its orbit. Failure at least has the comfort of hope. Milne’s life story brilliantly illuminates what it feels like to be tested by huge, unlooked-for success.

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So They Call You Pisher! by Michael Rosen review – Communism, Clive James and attitude

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 11:00:14 GMT2017-09-23T11:00:14Z

A joyful mishmash of a memoir from the novelist and poet ranges from his parents fighting against fascists to Bob Dylan’s singing style

I can see that, as a body of writing, it is a rag-bag of styles and genres,” Michael Rosen once said of his work. “But does it matter? I’m not trying to hoodwink anyone. I’m not trying to gain membership to a Peerage of Poets. I write ‘Bits’ and ‘Stuff’.” As always, the future children’s laureate was being both modest and a little feisty. Still, it’s a good description of So They Call You Pisher! It’s a mishmash, at once merry and pensive, of personal memoir, a history of left politics in postwar England, a portal into a lost Jewish London and a portrait of the artist as a nervy young man.

Famous individuals flicker in and out of the narrative – among them Christopher Hitchens, Howard Marks and Clive James (the latter yelling, “I’ll fucking have you! You’re ruining everything I’ve ever worked for!” when Rosen fluffs lines at a student revue audition) – but at its heart are his parents Harold and Connie Rosen. Harold was a poet, a noted educationalist, author of Are You Still Circumcised? (1999), and treated by some contemporaries “as if he was a cross between Lenny Bruce and Isaiah Berlin”. He and Connie met at a Young Communist League meeting in 1936 and both fought against Oswald Mosley’s fascists in the battle of Cable Street that year.

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‘Not amused’: Princess Margaret’s misadventures in bohemia

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 11:00:14 GMT2017-09-23T11:00:14Z

Picasso wanted to marry her, Gore Vidal defended her, but most writers and artists she met were spiteful about her behind her back – and, explains Craig Brown, she didn’t really like them much either

She was drawn to bohemians, just as they were drawn to her. She liked the louche hours they kept, their smoking and drinking, their refusal to do the right thing. They, in turn, enjoyed the cachet of having a real-life princess on display. It didn’t really matter that she could be difficult. After all, being difficult was her party piece. If she happened to round off an evening with a display of her famous hauteur, then it gave them something to write about.

As for Princess Margaret, she never quite understood the stuff and nonsense to which she found herself drawn. Or perhaps she understood the stuff, but not the nonsense. “What is a bohemian? What does it mean?” she once asked a lady-in-waiting, in all innocence, shortly after her marriage to the fashionable photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones.

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Penelope Lively: ‘One of the pleasures of old age is the thought that I shall never see Heathrow again’

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 09:00:12 GMT2017-09-23T09:00:12Z

The Booker prizewinning novelist tries to fit in a couple of hours of writing a day, but she no longer feels guilty if she would rather be in the garden

What writing day? I am 84, for heaven’s sake. Which is not to say that I no longer write, simply that the concept of an ordered daily ritual is now out of reach. I look back – not with nostalgia, but with a kind of friendly interest – to those years when I would get to the desk by about half past nine and stay there till five or so, even if staring out of the window a good deal of the time.

Not that my working days were always like that. There were many other commitments: organisations to which I gave time, much travelling for bookish reasons. The desk days were jealously guarded. Looking at old diaries, I see that I am always complaining that I can’t get to the book that I am writing – too many other demands. One year, I left Heathrow 12 times. Well, no more of that. One of the pleasures of old age is the thought that I shall never see Heathrow again.

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Can Benedict Cumberbatch make Ian McEwan work on TV?

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 08:00:11 GMT2017-09-23T08:00:11Z

The Child in Time, starring Cumberbatch, kicks off a trio of adaptations that may make the author the most screen-friendly novelist of his generation

Three decades after it won the Whitbread prize, Ian McEwan’s The Child in Time has become a TV film. It will be screened this weekend in the coveted Sunday 9pm drama slot on BBC1, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing a children’s writer whose daughter vanishes on a shopping trip.

This transmission launches an unofficial festival of McEwan adaptations: Dominic Cooke’s On Chesil Beach (in which I play a minor role) will be shown at the London film festival next month before a general release next year, soon followed by Richard Eyre’s movie of The Children Act.

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The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell review – a fantasia of ancient Britain

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 09:00:12 GMT2017-09-23T09:00:12Z

A magical excursion into a land of mysterious forests, witches and warriors by the author of How to Train Your Dragon

A hugely successful series is a hard act to follow. Those of us who loved Cressida Cowell’s brilliant How to Train Your Dragon books about Hiccup, his dragon Toothless and the Viking world they live in might have felt a little concerned when they came to an end in 2015. What would she do next?

I am pleased to report that The Wizards of Once – the first book in a new middle grade series – is terrific. It introduces us to a new fantasy world, though its roots again lie deep in a familiar mulch of history and legend. Not the Norse myths this time, but a fantasia of ancient Britain, a land of dark, mysterious forests and powerful magic.

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Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck review – humanising migration

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 06:30:09 GMT2017-09-23T06:30:09Z

The plight of African asylum seekers in Europe is vividly drawn in this powerful, candid novel

Displacement has moved beyond a literary theme; for millions, it is reality. The notion of war has been overtaken by upheaval, which forces desperate people to flee without hope of a final destination, allowing history to repeat itself, relentlessly. This is the humanising lens through which Jenny Erpenbeck, Europe’s outstanding literary seer, views our world.

Previously she had looked to the layered history of her own country, Germany, in dazzling metaphysical fictions such as Visitation and The End of Days. As a Berliner born in the former East Germany in 1967, her early experience was dominated by living in a divided city within a fractured country; her work suggests that she believes human understanding resides in memory.

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Two glasses of red wine every evening? Tick

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 07:00:09 GMT2017-09-23T07:00:09Z

And if two glasses are good, only imagine the benefits that accrue to me from five

By my reckoning, I must be the healthiest person in the country. Brisk 10-minute walk a day? Tick. Two glasses of red wine every evening? Tick. (And if two glasses are good, only imagine the benefits that accrue to me from five.) Four cups of coffee a day? Tick. No smoking? Tick. No recreational drugs? Tick. Sunscreening? Tick. Statins? Tick. More than five hours’ sleep? Tick. More than six hours’ sleep? Tick. Emotional agility: as, for example, overcoming negative emotions by welcoming them with self-compassion? Tick. Porridge? Tick. Porridge and berries? Tick, tick. Cheese (I was once off it to avoid fat, now I’m on it again for protein, calcium and vitamins A and B12)? Tick. Not wearing Lycra? Tick. (I’m not sure whether I shouldn’t be wearing Lycra for health or for fashion reasons, so I’m not wearing it for both. In which case, make that another double tick.)

So why aren’t I feeling well? Could it be that some people are simply not fashioned to feel well no matter how many boxes they tick? There’s a presumption in the health industry that all any of us wants is to get ourselves into shape and live for ever. We are shepherded into blooming longevity, and before we are able to ask ourselves if we wouldn’t rather burn with Walter Pater’s “hard, gem-like flame” and then go out early, we find ourselves 110, unable to remember our name.

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Alan Hollinghurst: ‘I was fortunate to come along just as gay lit was coming into its own’

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:00:46 GMT2017-09-22T11:00:46Z

As he publishes his new novel, the Booker prize winner explains why he is looking back to an era before the Sexual Offences Act

As he was working on his sixth novel, Alan Hollinghurst, who describes himself as highly distractable during the throes of creation, found himself writing an introduction to Offshore, Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1979 Booker prize-winning miniature masterpiece, and then reviewing Hermione Lee’s biography of the writer. “And so I read every word, and I fell very much under her spell, and was troubled by her example – why can’t I write a wonderful book which is 173 pages long, rather than 473 pages long? And I rather beat myself up about this, before facing up to the fact that actually I was writing a 400-and-something page book and just have to live with it. It is what I do. But I really envy that and long to write a short novel.”

Looking at his back catalogue, from his 1988 debut novel The Swimming-Pool Library to The Line of Beauty, which led him in Fitzgerald’s footsteps to the Booker podium in 2004 (accompanied by “Gay Sex Wins Booker” headlines from various predictable quarters), the emergence of a novella seems unlikely, although he tells me he’s attempting to fool himself that his next project – merely glimmers at the moment, although he has started a new notebook – is precisely that.

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Jonathan Franzen: 'The book that had the greatest influence on my writing? CS Lewis's Narnia'

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 10:20:06 GMT2017-09-22T10:20:06Z

The American novelist on the books that changed his life, made him cry and the ones he wishes he’d written

The book that changed my life

To read is to have experiences; every book changes my life at least a little bit. The first time I can remember this happening was when I was 10, with a biography of Thomas Edison.

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Naomi Klein to address Labour conference

Mon, 25 Sep 2017 05:01:05 GMT2017-09-25T05:01:05Z

Writer will appear in Brighton on Tuesday in international speaker slot previously filled by Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton

The climate campaigner Naomi Klein will address the Labour party conference this year as its international guest speaker, a slot previously given to prominent international politicians including Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and the then Afghan president Hamid Karzai.

Klein, an award-winning journalist whose works include This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, will also address the grassroots festival The World Transformed (TWT), which is organised by Momentum.

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Annie Proulx wins high honour for writing on 'the beauty of rural America'

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:05:46 GMT2017-09-22T11:05:46Z

The Shipping News author joins previous winners of the National Book Foundation’s award such as Toni Morrison, Elmore Leonard and Norman Mailer

The Shipping News author Annie Proulx has been named as the latest recipient of one of the highest honours in US fiction, the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and praised for her “deep reverence for the beauty and complexities of rural America”.

The medal, which recognises “a lifetime of literary achievement”, has been awarded to authors including Elmore Leonard, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison and Judy Blume. Authors are put forward for the $10,000 (£7,300) honour by US literary experts, with the National Book Foundation’s board of directors making the final choice. Chair David Steinberger said that Proulx’s work was “widely loved and uniquely significant”, and that “her commitment to crafting compassionate, honest stories has left an indelible mark on literature and created a powerful and enduring legacy”.

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The Good Immigrant's editor plans new journal and agency for writers of colour

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 07:00:40 GMT2017-09-22T07:00:40Z

Nikesh Shukla and literary agent Julia Kingsford have launched Kickstarter appeal to fund The Good Journal, with further plans for an affiliated agency

After selling more than 50,000 copies and being named the British public’s favourite book of 2016, the success of anthology The Good Immigrant has prompted the launch of a new literary journal to showcase British writers of colour.

The book’s editor, Nikesh Shukla, published the collection of essays on race and immigration after crowdfunding the project with support from big names such as JK Rowling and thousands of pledges from the public. Its success has, said Shukla, been so phenomenal that he and the literary agent Julia Kingsford are now looking to raise £40,000 on Kickstarter to publish a new quarterly, The Good Journal.

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Husband's elegy for Jenny Diski wins Forward prize for best single poem

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 20:30:28 GMT2017-09-21T20:30:28Z

Ian Patterson’s The Plenty of Nothing, begun in the days leading up to her death, shares honours with best collection win for Sinéad Morrissey’s On Balance

Ian Patterson’s elegy for his late wife, the writer Jenny Diski, which he began writing in the days leading up to her death, has won the Forward prize for best single poem.

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Zadie Smith says using social media would threaten her writing

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:27:11 GMT2017-09-21T11:27:11Z

Novelist tells interviewer that avoiding Twitter and Instagram protects her ‘right to be wrong’, which would be inhibited by instant public reaction

Zadie Smith has spoken of how staying away from social media gives her “the right to be wrong” without fearing other people’s reactions, saying that if she knew readers’ reactions to her work, she wouldn’t be able to write.

At a live event with the New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino in New York, the British novelist said: “Because I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Instagram, I’m not on the internet, I never hear people shouting at me.”

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'A vote for freedom': Jacob Rees-Mogg joins Lionel Shriver and Matt Haig in Brexit anthology

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 14:25:31 GMT2017-09-20T14:25:31Z

In Goodbye, Europe, a forthcoming collection of essays and stories, the Eurosceptic backbencher says ‘it was bold of the electorate to ignore the experts’

Jacob Rees-Mogg has contributed to a forthcoming literary anthology about Britain’s exit from the European Union, with the Eurosceptic backbencher’s unlikely voice joining those of authors including Ian Rankin, Sarah Perry and Lionel Shriver.

Publisher Orion has gathered 46 contributors for its collection Goodbye, Europe, out on 16 November. A mix of letters, fiction, illustrations and reminiscences, it is described by the publisher as an examination of “the political, emotional, historical, gastronomic and cultural influence of Europe on the United Kingdom”.

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Testosterone Rex triumphs as Royal Society science book of the year

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:40:25 GMT2017-09-19T18:40:25Z

Psychologist Cordelia Fine’s dissection of the myths that sustain assumptions about sexual difference acclaimed by judges as ‘a cracking critique’

A book that rubbishes the idea of “fundamental” differences between men and women has become the 30th winner of the prestigious Royal Society prize for science book of the year.

Related: Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine review – the question of men’s and women’s brains

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On eve of trial, Ahmet Altan writes how imagination sustains him in Turkish jail

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 10:29:36 GMT2017-09-18T10:29:36Z

Essay describes the novelist’s strict isolation as he awaits judgment on charges condemned by PEN as punishment for his criticism of Turkish government

The prominent Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan has written an essay from his prison cell on the eve of his trial, describing his detention in a high-security jail where he is forbidden to send “even a two-line letter to my loved ones”.

Altan, the author of 10 acclaimed novels that have been translated around the world, as well as essays and journalism, was arrested last September following the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016. Charges against him include “giving subliminal messages in favour of a coup on television”, “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “attempting to overthrow the government”. Altan faces a possible life sentence if he is found guilty of the charges.

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BBC national short story award shortlist offers a 'festival of ideas'

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 18:45:51 GMT2017-09-15T18:45:51Z

Work by Will Eaves, Jenni Fagan, Cynan Jones, Benjamin Markovits and Helen Oyeyemi now in line for £15,000 annual prize

Judges for the BBC national short story award have announced a shortlist for 2017 that is “enduring, bold, humane and moving”, with work from five acclaimed writers now in line for the £15,000 award.

Will Eaves’s “quiet and horrifying” Murmur, about a gay academic who is convicted for gross indecency, was inspired by the real-life tragedy of Alan Turing. Eaves, a novelist, poet and former arts editor of the Times Literary Supplement, is one of the finalists for the prize, which has been won in the past by authors including Sarah Hall, Julian Gough and David Constantine. More than 600 stories were submitted, with judges unaware of the authors’ names until they made their selection.

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National Book awards 2017: Jesmyn Ward and Jennifer Egan among finalists

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 17:42:34 GMT2017-09-15T17:42:34Z

The longlist for the biggest prize in American literature includes previous finalists as well as a host of debut authors

The longlist for the 2017 National Book award for fiction was announced on Friday, with 10 contenders vying for one of the highest honors in American literature.

The list includes two previous NBA honorees, including Jesmyn Ward, who won the fiction prize in 2011, and Jennifer Egan, who was a finalist in the category in 2001. This year’s list, which includes eight women and two men, features fiction of various kinds, including two short-story collections and a number of debut honorees. Six years ago, Jesmyn Ward won the award for her novel Salvage the Bones, about a fictitious Mississippi town affected by Hurricane Katrina.

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Terry Pratchett exhibition offers peek into writer's own world

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 16:47:38 GMT2017-09-15T16:47:38Z

Reconstruction of room where Discworld novels were written is centrepiece of show that proves as eclectic as author himself

The objects on display range from the cosy and nostalgic, such as Terry Pratchett’s Blue Peter badge, to the grand: a gleaming sword infused with shards of meteorite created by the author himself to commemorate his own knighthood.

Fans will, no doubt, love the vivid, original paintings of Pratchett’s beloved Discworld characters and the chance, for the first time, to peek inside a detailed reconstruction of his study, nicknamed The Chapel.

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The Journey carries off £5,000 Klaus Fugge picture-book award

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 13:08:26 GMT2017-09-15T13:08:26Z

Francesca Sanna’s illustrated story, inspired by her meetings with refugees, ‘will move all readers, whatever their age’

From Julia Donaldson’s mouse who “took a stroll through the deep dark wood” to the classic Rosie’s Walk, the journey is an archetype of children’s literature. The Italian artist Francesca Sanna, however, who has won the 2017 Klaus Flugge prize for most exciting newcomer to children’s picture book illustration, chose a rather tougher trek for her debut title: that of a mother and her two children who are fleeing a war.

Sanna’s The Journey opens with an ordinary family playing on a beach by the city, using images that are redolent of classic fairytales, and simple text told from a child’s perspective. But “one day the war took my father”, and eventually the mother takes her children away to what she tells them will be a “safe place”. They face hurdles – an angry border guard, magnified to the size of a monster, turns them back; they hide in the forest; they cross the sea. “There is not much space and it rains every day, but we tell each other stories. Tales of terrible and dangerous monsters that hide beneath our boat ready to gobble us up if the boat capsizes!”

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Amazon redacts one-star reviews of Hillary Clinton's What Happened

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 10:59:06 GMT2017-09-14T10:59:06Z

Hundreds of damning verdicts on memoir of 2016 presidential race, posted within hours of publication, have been removed by the online bookseller

Hundreds of one-star reviews of Hillary Clinton’s memoir What Happened, which appeared online within hours of the 512-page book’s publication, have been removed from Amazon.

What Happened, in which Clinton gives her account of the 2016 presidential campaign, was published on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, there were more than 1,500 reviews of the memoir on, the majority either glowing or scathing.

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hero 'was originally black'

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 11:03:35 GMT2017-09-13T11:03:35Z

Roald Dahl’s widow and biographer say first Charlie was black but writer was persuaded to make him white

Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day on Wednesday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”

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Man Booker prize 2017: shortlist makes room for debuts alongside big names

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 09:20:20 GMT2017-09-13T09:20:20Z

George Saunders, Fiona Mozley and Emily Fridlund are nominated for their first novels, alongside new books from Ali Smith and Paul Auster

American heavyweights Paul Auster and George Saunders are to go head to head for this year’s Man Booker prize, as major names make way for two new faces on the 2017 shortlist.

The judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, announced their shortlist of six titles on Wednesday morning. Alongside Auster and Saunders, the 29-year-old British debut novelist Fiona Mozley has secured a place in the final line-up, as did American first-timer Emily Fridlund.

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Why are comic cons no longer about comics?

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:00:39 GMT2017-09-22T06:00:39Z

More and more of these events pay less and less attention to the form they are supposed to be about. Thank goodness for the Leeds event that lives up to the name

On the website of a recent comic con in Lancashire, the big draws were: a puppeteer who worked on Star Wars and The Dark Crystal; an actor who was in Space: 1999 and played the Stormtrooper in Star Wars who said: “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for”; a child actor who appeared in Game of Thrones. Oh, and Knight Rider’s car was there, as was The Simpsons school bus and Luke Skywalker’s Land Speeder. There was a gaming area. All of which, I hasten to add, sounds absolutely brilliant to a geek like me. And yet … this was a comic con, right? What became of the comics?

I find myself annoyed by the ever-growing number of comic cons that don’t seem to be about comics at all. The five comic creators named on the aforementioned con’s website were tucked away at the bottom: two from the Beano, one at Marvel, a Jack Kirby expert and the fifth who was more a fantasy illustrator than a comics artist. Again, all great – but isn’t it a bit disingenuous to continue to call these events comic cons?

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The Ludlow Ladies' Society withdraws from the 2017 Not the Booker prize

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 09:50:33 GMT2017-09-21T09:50:33Z

The reader-chosen award has always been a turbulent affair, and this year’s storm has seen Ann O’Loughlin leave the competition

After a relatively quiet couple of years here on the Not the Booker, our old friend the Lord of Chaos has swooped down to add an extra bit of excitement and drama into this year’s competition.

Following on from my review of her novel The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, Ann O’Loughlin has decided to withdraw from the competition. She has asked us to post the following statement:

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Send us your questions for Philip Pullman

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 14:29:20 GMT2017-09-19T14:29:20Z

The Observer New Review offers you the chance to put your questions to the master storyteller

Next month sees the publication of Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, the long-awaited first volume of The Book of Dust, an epic fantasy trilogy intended to stand alongside his bestselling series, His Dark Materials.

Pullman devotees have waited 17 years for him to return to the magical world of Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, which have together sold more than 17.5m copies and been translated into 40 languages.

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The F-word: feminism must be reclaimed by today’s teens – they’re our future

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:50:37 GMT2017-09-19T10:50:37Z

With feminism a dirty word for some, the suffragettes’ struggle to secure rights we take for granted is not only inspiring history – it’s a guide for other fights

When I was a teenager, I knew little about the suffragettes. I’d heard of Emmeline Pankhurst, and had a vague idea of women in silly hats hitting things with toffee hammers and going on hunger strikes, but that was about it. So when I started researching early feminism for a novel I was writing, I was astonished. The suffragettes were bloody amazing. They flew in dirigibles and got themselves posted to Downing Street. They wrote suffrage speeches, newspapers, novels and plays. They organised a woman’s peace congress in 1915, with representatives from all warring nations, and met world leaders including Woodrow Wilson to try to negotiate peace. The British government was so worried about their activity that it cancelled all North Sea shipping until the congress was over. Did you know about that? I didn’t.

It may be the case that today’s teenagers don’t know about it either: two years ago, the government announced that it was axing feminism from the politics A-level. While it reversed the decision a few months later after a public outcry, it is a worrying sign of how little women’s history is valued today.

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Rushdie's Shame is about 70s Pakistan, but it speaks directly to us, now

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 12:04:57 GMT2017-09-19T12:04:57Z

The antic fairytale of billionaires and ‘badmashes’ is rooted in the details of a time that might sound remote, but it reads with startling immediacy

We live in unstable times. The truth shifts and eludes us. Reality is under assault. Even fiction is in a state of bewildering flux. In a fascinating interview last week, the novelist Attica Locke said: “When Trump was elected, I remember feeling: oh my God, overnight my book changed, and I didn’t alter a word.” Her book about murders carried out by the Aryan Brotherhood, she explained, had suddenly taken on new resonance. Meanwhile, dystopian science fiction has come to seem like a pale imitation of the Technicolor horrors of the new US regime. Classic novels, too, have taken on unexpected new shapes; I recently read Barnaby Rudge and was surprised to realise that this novel purporting to be about the Gordon riots of 1780 was actually a Brexit parable, warning against the dangers of demagogues and scapegoating outsiders. It even had stirring passages about the need for brave parliamentarians to stand up to the fury of the mob.

Related: Has Donald Trump ruined the dystopian novel? Let's hope not

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

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 14:00:26 GMT2017-09-18T14:00:26Z

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.

Where are the songs of spring? Think not of them... It’s autumn on Tips, Links And Suggestions and readers like Brooke Sherbrooke have been tailoring their choices accordingly:

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Poem of the week: Origin of the Mimeo by Siobhán Campbell

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 11:25:56 GMT2017-09-18T11:25:56Z

A terse reflection on the power of guns, decommissioned or otherwise, is itself a small, loaded object

Origin of the Mimeo

What do guns when they are not in use?
In the dead of night they double and divide,
naming new owners, finding a new ruse.

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Iain Sinclair’s farewell to London

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 04:59:03 GMT2017-09-16T04:59:03Z

After 50 years Iain Sinclair has lost his compulsion to write about the city. In the wake of terrorism and tragedy, he makes a final pilgrimage
• Read the top 10 non-fiction books about London here

A voice. “Are you on the street?” Reverberating footfall in the underpass. And an urgent call demanding acknowledgement. He hustled after me, swearing, smacking a fist into his open palm. We moved, pursuer and pursued, in steady bank holiday drizzle, down a slippery, stone-flagged ramp towards the laby-rinth of borough engineer Sidney Little’s reinforced concrete subterranea: a buried swimming pool, a vault to take cars away from the promenade, a marine walkway pressed against a wall of broken bottles. Like a reliquary for beachside drinking schools, the thirsty ones at the end of the land.

Panoramic sea windows, lacking glass, are set in expectation of invasions still to come. (Between 1940 and 1944, Little had a sideline, working with the Admiralty on the construction of a concrete Mulberry harbour for the D-day landings.) Hastings in the 1930s, in the borough engineer’s pomp, was a punt at the better way: sanctioned leisure time for all, seasonal tourism as a benefit. And smooth rail connections to the capital, the Smoke. Open roads, carving through the humped folds of the chalk downs, beneath the outlines of mythical giants, were celebrated in collectable posters by the finest artists and designers. Cars were not yet weapons of choice, primed for mindless assault on the crowd, those who are privileged to walk freely in the city.

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Do celebrity book blurbs 'blackmail' readers?

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 12:31:44 GMT2017-09-15T12:31:44Z

Man Booker prize judge Colin Thubron has complained this week that star endorsements bully readers into admiring books, but it’s long been standard practice

Setting cats among pigeons has long been an unofficial part of the contract for judges of the Booker prize. Remember Chris Mullin’s insistence on “zip–along” novels, or, way back in 1992, AN Wilson’s condemnation of the prize itself as “essentially trivial”?

This year’s flurry of fur and feathers was provoked by a tirade from Colin Thubron on celebrity endorsements. Some blurbs, said the veteran travel writer, “almost blackmail” readers into feeling that “you’re either intellectually or morally incompetent if you don’t love this book or you’ve failed if you haven’t understood it”. Some people, he felt, “seem to earn their living … saying: ‘This is the most profound book of our generation.’”

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The endless adaptability of Philip K Dick

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 09:00:03 GMT2017-09-15T09:00:03Z

From the new Blade Runner to Channel 4’s Electric Dreams, the insatiable hunger for ‘PKD’ stories on screen shows no sign of abating

With the Channel 4 series of dramas based on his short stories starting, Philip K Dick has cemented his reputation as one of the most adapted science fiction authors of the modern age.

The most famous big-screen outing of recent years was Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, released in 1982, the year the author died. But there has also been Total Recall, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (and its 2012 remake); Minority Report (2002), with Tom Cruise; the Richard Linklater “rotoscoped” version of A Scanner Darkly, which overlayed animation on live-action footage of Keanu Reeves; and 2011’s The Adjustment Bureau.

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What Richard Dawkins could learn from Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 07:00:01 GMT2017-09-15T07:00:01Z

The author of How I Live Now on why the government is wrong to be sceptical of storytelling. And how Einstein agrees with her

Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. One day, while strolling about in a dark wood, she happened upon a charming cottage. Actually it was more of a filthy den dug deep in the earth. Goldilocks knocked, but when no one answered, she crawled down into the den.

On the table in the den, she found three bowls of porridge.

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What happened to the others? Ten more books by failed presidential candidates

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 09:10:01 GMT2017-09-14T09:10:01Z

As Hillary Clinton’s campaign postmortem hits shelves, here are some other great runners-up – from Mike Huckabee’s guns and gravy to Gary Hart’s waterborne monkey business

What happened? It’s the question we’ve all been asking since Donald Trump’s surprise ascent to the US presidency. It is also the title of Hillary Clinton’s new book, in which she looks back at her campaign and reveals what she thinks … happened. Some Democrats, Bernie Sanders included, have objected to the book, saying it is important to look forward and not back, but those of us still walking around incredulous will probably buy it seeking answers. Even if that answer is clarifying just how bad Clinton’s campaign was.

Clinton is not alone as a failed candidate in publishing a book dissecting events – she’s not even alone as a failed candidate of 2016 publishing a book. Here’s a list of some other titles written by hopefuls who never made it to the White House (or in some cases, the nomination):

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Why Boris Johnson's 'singing birds' are just what the doctor ordered

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 05:00:38 GMT2017-09-22T05:00:38Z

‘We are a nest of singing birds,’ Johnson recently insisted to quash rumours of Brexit bust-ups. So why is the classicist foreign secretary now invoking the 18th-century writer Dr Johnson?

“No, we are a government working together,” Boris Johnson insisted post-jog to journalists in New York. “We are a nest of singing birds.” You could be forgiven for assuming that the classicist foreign secretary had reached for another Latin-lit allusion (Horace? Ovid?) to pooh-pooh the idea of continual Brexit bust-ups. In fact, the quote comes from Dr Johnson and has nothing to do with interpersonal harmony.

Quizzed by Boswell about his student days, the 18th-century Johnson noted how many poets had attended Pembroke College, Oxford, besides himself, adding “with a smile of sportive triumph, ‘Sir, we are a nest of singing birds’”. The original quote and its use are so bizarrely askew as to require imaginative inference about the workings of the bookish Borisonian subconscious: could he have referenced his namesake (despite the allusion making no sense) as a way of repressing the words he really wanted to use about the cabinet? John Webster after all came up with a much better known avian quotation (in The White Devil) in conjuring “a summer bird-cage in a garden” where “the birds that are without despair to get in, and the birds within ... fear they shall never get out”. Or perhaps Boris was thinking of another literary allusion by another namesake: Catherine Johnson’s 2008 novel A Nest of Vipers.

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The Hobbit at 80: much more than a childish prequel to The Lord of the Rings

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 10:42:59 GMT2017-09-21T10:42:59Z

It was deemed ‘juvenile trash’ when first published and, yes, the dwarves’ songs do irritate some – but ideas laid down in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit shape fantasy to this day

The Hobbit, that retelling by Mr JRR Tolkien of the adventures of Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, is celebrating its 80th birthday, albeit with no party of special magnificence nor, perhaps, much talk and excitement in Hobbiton or beyond.

But while the the book is not as venerable as its hero – Bilbo died aged 131, we are told in Lord of the Rings; hobbits live, on average, to the age of 96.8 years according to the wonderful number-crunching site – it is still an anniversary worth noting.

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Man With a Seagull on His Head by Harriet Paige review – a bona fide gem

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 13:47:49 GMT2017-09-18T13:47:49Z

An uncanny story about an outsider artist and the woman that he paints compulsively, delivers unsettling reflections on art and life

One of the consolations of art is that it helps us make human connections. We can see something of ourselves (and something of the artist) in a painting, novel or piece of music. We can link into a wider network of like-minded souls, holding hands across the ages, sharing truths and emotions. And that’s a lovely thought. While I may feel alienated from many of my fellow citizens here in Brexitannia, I can at least comprehend something of Virgil’s sorrow for Dido, Van Gogh’s joy at the stars or Bruce Springsteen’s desire to bust the heck out of town …

The idea is appealing but Harriet Paige’s debut novel makes a convincing case that this is too simple and that there can be a disparity between an artist’s vision and the way we receive it.

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Robert Webb on modern masculinity – books podcast

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 08:28:36 GMT2017-09-19T08:28:36Z

Comedian and writer Robert Webb, star of Peep Show, discusses modern masculinity and his own boyhood in his new book ‘How Not to Be a Boy’

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

Comedian Robert Webb has been a fixture on our screens for almost two decades, appearing alongside David Mitchell in their eponymous sketch show, on the bleak comedy Peep Show and in the new sitcom, Back.

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Novel recipes: gazpacho from Love, Nina

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 05:30:01 GMT2017-09-15T05:30:01Z

As her days working as a nanny come to an end, Kate Young enjoys Nina Stibbe’s warm and witty book about nannying – and finds a meal to make

  • Scroll down for the recipe

It’s a thing you can have in the summertime. One, because it’s chilled and, two, because you need seasonal tomatoes. But it’s very simple and easy to make (in the whizzer). I decided to make some using a recipe that came from the wife of the Spanish Ambassador (via Pippa), so bona fide. I couldn’t believe the amount of olive oil you were supposed to put in, so I only put half the amount, and it came out a bit thick.

Nunney tried a spoonful.

Love, Nina: Despatches from Family Life, Nina Stibbe

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Ladee Hubbard: 'There’s an official history of how things were – and there's the truth'

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 15:18:07 GMT2017-09-14T15:18:07Z

The author of The Talented Ribkins explains how a century-old essay by civil rights campaigner WEB Du Bois inspired her story of 21st-century superpowers

At the dawn of the 20th century, the American sociologist and campaigner WEB Du Bois argued that African Americans needed more than industrial training to vanquish inequality in the wake of slavery, declaring: “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men.”

“The problem of education,” he wrote in a celebrated 1903 essay, “must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races.”

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Top 10 books about consciousness

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 11:55:39 GMT2017-09-20T11:55:39Z

From octupuses that might be thinking with their arms to early humans’ blind obedience to gods, these are some of the best guides to the deep enigma inside ordinary life

What is consciousness? At first blush this question appears to be rather simple, but with further investigation, it quickly becomes much more complex. Consciousness is the most intimate of mental experiences, and yet the hardest to explain. It is the faculty that allows you to read this sentence, to remember yesterday’s events, to enjoy music and art, and to daydream about your plans for tomorrow. It provides your whole experience of the world and yet is mysteriously altered, or absent altogether, when you fall asleep at night.

For centuries, writers have argued about both the nature and purpose of consciousness, yet several rather basic questions remain unsettled. For example: at what stage does a foetus or newborn become conscious and able to understand the world that we, as adults, inhabit? Likewise, how does animal consciousness differ from ours and why do animals not respond as we do to music and art? What would it take to construct a machine that was conscious? And finally, could conditions like coma and the vegetative state harbour conscious minds within unresponsive bodies? These are some of the thorny questions I asked in my new book Into the Grey Zone, through the lens of a neuroscientist working at the border between life and death.

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

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

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

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

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

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Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark review – we are ignoring the AI apocalypse

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 06:30:40 GMT2017-09-22T06:30:40Z

Yuval Noah Harari responds to an account of the artificial intelligence era and argues we are profoundly ill-prepared to deal with future technology

Artificial intelligence will probably be the most important agent of change in the 21st century. It will transform our economy, our culture, our politics and even our own bodies and minds in ways most people can hardly imagine. If you hear a scenario about the world in 2050 and it sounds like science fiction, it is probably wrong; but if you hear a scenario about the world in 2050 and it does not sound like science fiction, it is certainly wrong.

Technology is never deterministic: it can be used to create very different kinds of society. In the 20th century, trains, electricity and radio were used to fashion Nazi and communist dictatorships, but also to foster liberal democracies and free markets. In the 21st century, AI will open up an even wider spectrum of possibilities. Deciding which of these to realise may well be the most important choice humankind will have to make in the coming decades.

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Nick Cave: Mercy On Me review – portrait of a bad seed

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 11:00:32 GMT2017-09-21T11:00:32Z

Reinhard Kleist’s graphic biography is full of visual delights, but the musician’s wit – crucial foil to his own myth-mongering – is less apparent

The cover already stakes out the franchise: Cave lopes towards us, a Marvel superdude crossed with a Reservoir Dogs gangster. Any moment, he may reach into a holster concealed in his jacket and … and what? Whip out the script of a lecture, ready to deliver edification to a bunch of grey-haired lit graduates? No, this graphic biography is not interested in that Nick Cave. It’s interested in the crazed outlaw who screams, “Hands up who wants to die!” and attacks the front row with a bloodspattered microphone stand.

Cave endorses the book, noting that it’s woven together from “half-truths and complete fabrications” but applauding its vision. “Closer to the truth than any biography, that’s for sure!” A typical example of the liberties Kleist takes is the scene where Tracy Pew, the bassist of Cave’s early 1980s band the Birthday Party, first dons his signature cowboy hat. In truth, it was given to him by a friend to wear in a music video. In Kleist’s version, Pew steals it from a liquor store when he and Cave go on a spree of shoplifting and destruction. No opportunity is spared to emphasise what bad seeds these young punks were.

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The Rub of Time by Martin Amis – brilliant, except when it’s not

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 07:59:28 GMT2017-09-21T07:59:28Z

Amis is sublime on JG Ballard, writes Anne Enright, but she is less convinced by his views on Islam, ‘foreigners’ and war

Some writers make poor critics because they can only ever describe themselves, so it is greatly to his credit that Martin Amis really does write about Nabokov in his essays about Nabokov, and about Roth in the pieces about Roth. His portrait of Iris Murdoch is more about her presence in life than on the page, and this gap allows in some other thing that is hard to identify – is it sorrow? “I knew Iris; I have respectfully kissed that cunning, bashful, secretive smile” – maybe it’s just Oxford.

His piece on JG Ballard is sublime for managing to illuminate the work of both writers at once, and should stand as a classic in any discussion about influence, but it is hard to see anyone other than Amis in a piece about Saul Bellow’s essays. This reads like a manifesto, a note to self. Bellow is “abnormally alive to social gradations”; a highbrow writer who nonetheless has “a reflexive grasp of the street, the machine, the law courts, the rackets”. He is a “rampant instinctivist”, whose “fictional and non-fictional voices intertwine and cross-pollinate”. Bellow had certain core principles: The writer must “resist the heavy influences” of people such as Flaubert and Marx as well as “the savage strength of the many”, because the imagination has an “eternal naiveté” that he cannot afford to lose.

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Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker review – how more sleep can save your life

Thu, 21 Sep 2017 06:30:26 GMT2017-09-21T06:30:26Z

A neuroscientist has found a revolutionary way of being cleverer, more attractive, slimmer, happier, healthier and of warding off cancer – a good night’s shut-eye

Awake at 4.30am the other morning, having been roused from sleep by my four-year-old son climbing into bed with my wife and me (a more or less nightly occurrence), I found myself sitting up and reading about the effects of insufficient sleep. It has been making me stupider, fatter, unhappier, poorer, sicker, worse at sex, as well as more likely to get cancer, Alzheimer’s and to die in a car crash. At the same time, my lack of sleep has been slowly but inexorably shrinking a) my chances of living into my mid 60s, b) my testicles.

Why We Sleep by the neuroscientist Matthew Walker – my ill-chosen small-hours reading material – is filled with startling information about the effects of suboptimal shut-eye levels. It’s not a book you should even be thinking about in bed, let alone reading. If it weren’t too unsettling to permit sleep in the first place, it would be the stuff of nightmares. The marginalia in my review copy, scrawled in the wavering hand of a man receiving dark intimations of his own terrible fate – “OMFG”; “This is extremely bad!” – might seem less appropriate to an affably written popular science book than to some kind of arcane Lovecraftian grimoire.

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Nincompoopolis by Douglas Murphy review – the disaster that is Boris Johnson

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 10:59:17 GMT2017-09-20T10:59:17Z

A searing indictment of the record of the former mayor of London, who emptied the public purse to produce ill-conceived ornaments

London’s former mayor Boris Johnson might now spend most of his time on planes, performing Brexit badinage around the world in his new pantomime role as foreign secretary, but his presence still looms large over the capital.

He is there in the east, in the inescapable form of the ArcelorMittal Orbit, a mangled £20m totem pole intended to make £1.2m a year for the upkeep of the Olympic park, but which has instead cost the taxpayer £10,000 a week to maintain. He trundles along the streets of London in the bulbous shape of the New Routemaster bus, an overheating, overpriced lump of nostalgia, whose famed back doors turned out to be faulty. He dangles across the Thames in the form of the Emirates Air Line, a novelty cable car ride presented as a crucial transport link, which has failed to attract regular commuters and loses an estimated £50,000 a week. And he is to be found all over the skyline, in the tens of tacky towers that sprouted across the capital during his tenure, stacks of empty investment units to fill his “housing” quota, without actually providing any homes.

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The Animals Among Us by John Bradshaw review – the science behind our love of pets

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 06:30:39 GMT2017-09-20T06:30:39Z

Will Self is convinced by an evolution-based account of humans’ close relationship to dogs and cats, not least because of his beloved terrier

About a decade ago something strange happened to me: slowly but surely, I fell in love with a dog. I say “fell in love”, because this seems the only available language with which to describe my feelings of intense protectiveness towards, sympathy with and joy in the presence of what even I could see was objectively a rather yappy little terrier. I’d grown up with dogs – both the family mutt, a depressed brown mongrel with the determining name Brownie, and the rather more sprightly creatures belonging to Alison, who looked after me and my brother while my mother was in her own brown study. Alison wasn’t just a pet owner – she was a hugely successful dog trainer, who worked for the Metropolitan Police as well as the Self family: her alsatian, Kate, came third one year at Crufts in the obedience trials. As for her human charges, I remember visiting Alison in her retirement, with my then wife, and her small sitting room being hung with photographs of the dogs she’d trained and owned. Alison talked about her life primarily with reference to them – and only incidentally to any humans she may have nurtured.

Until my own canine coup de foudre I’d tolerated and to some extent enjoyed dogs, but I’d viewed dog-obsessives such as Alison as emotionally warped: devoting their lives to domesticated animals because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, expose themselves to the messy complexities of their wilder conspecifics. Yet at the climax of my terrier infatuation, I would have cheerfully smacked any human who dared to censure my beloved furry baby, and was at a loss to explain my feelings. A friend counselled me thus: “The thing about dogs is that they love us more than they love each other – and we love them more than we love each other.”

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Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet, edited by Sandra Piesik – review

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 06:30:10 GMT2017-09-19T06:30:10Z

This compelling survey of houses built in harmony with their natural surroundings is inspiring but doesn’t quite meet its lofty aims

The purpose of a house, to state the obvious, starts with protection against the worst of the climate, which depending where you are in the world might be heat, cold, wet or wind. It will also be built, in times and places with no industrial materials, with whatever is near to hand, which is in turn a reflection of its environment: turf, mud, straw, reeds, paper, stone, brick, timber, animal hides, tree bark, snow. So a house, whose basic idea is much the same everywhere, becomes in the infinite varieties of its construction an index of climate and geology.

The idea of Habitat, a hefty, handsome tome edited by Sandra Piesik, is that, as environmental issues get more pressing, we should learn from the ways in which builders all over the world “create architecture without jeopardising the equilibrium of the world’s ecosystems”. “If we are to navigate successfully our changing relationship with our planet in the present age”, the book says, then we “must fully take into account the entire multifaceted treasury of traditional wisdom”.

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Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker by AN Wilson – review

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 08:00:04 GMT2017-09-18T08:00:04Z

AN Wilson writes with ‘Dickensian energy’ but seems determined to cast his subject in a bad light

“Darwin was wrong,” begins AN Wilson in this entertaining and maddening book. Thus having tossed a dead pigeon upon the picnic rug, he gleefully sets about ruining everybody’s lunch. The originator of “the single greatest idea anybody ever had” was, we are told, an intellectual thief, a morose hypochondriac, objectionably flatulent, obnoxiously ambitious and – worst of all – mistaken.

The author follows Darwin from boyhood bereavement to the deck of the Beagle, thence to the study and sickrooms of Down House and the publication of On the Origin of Species, evoking the epistemological hurly-burly of the mid-Victorian age in characteristically stylish prose. These are vividly peopled pages: here is the pious depressive Robert FitzRoy, captain of the Beagle, fretfully clutching his bible; here is Emma Darwin, who preferred her husband sickly to well. Episodes are narrated with Dickensian energy: the tubercular death of Annie Darwin is highly affecting; there’s comical verve in the scene of the Oxford debate at which “Soapy Sam” Wilberforce inquired of Thomas Henry Huxley if he was descended from an ape on the paternal or maternal line (a nearby lady fainted); and there is enjoyment to be had in watching Darwin scrutinise the sexual organs of barnacles, puzzling over their relevance to his nascent theory.

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Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret – review

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 05:30:32 GMT2017-09-17T05:30:32Z

A thoroughly rotten royal – perhaps matched only by her mother – is laid uproariously bare by Craig Brown

What on earth brought on Craig Brown’s intense interest in the Queen’s late sister, Princess Margaret? At the start of his naughty new book about her, he attributes it to Margaret’s Zelig-style appearance – ubiquitous, if not exactly chameleon-like – in just about every other memoir, biography and diary written in the second half of the 20th century. It is, he writes, like playing Where’s Wally? or a super snobby form of I-spy: everyone seems to have met this prickly and parenthetical figure at least once, from Kenneth Williams to Evelyn Waugh, Ken Tynan to Elizabeth Taylor – a fact all the weirder when you know that the same people were often frequently desperate to avoid her.

But perhaps Brown’s obsession has another, more – how to put this? – Freudian source. He dishes up a Margaret-related encounter of his own. At school, he tells us, he had a friend called Michael, the second son of a lord and a nice, diffident chap to whose family houses – among them a castle in Yorkshire and a stately home in Norfolk – he was often invited to stay. It was in the hallway of their grandest place that the incident occurred. Asked to sign the visitors’ book, Brown leafed nosily through it, at which point he discovered a photograph of Margaret, posing in the same hallway in which he stood, resplendent in a blue frock and fixed smile. Beside her was Michael’s older brother, William, looking unremarkable save for one thing. The “downward trajectory” of the fabric of his trousers was, his pal couldn’t help but notice, being “sent askew by a bluff diagonal”. It seemed that at the moment the camera’s shutter clicked, poor William had been struggling to contain a teenage erection.

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Help by Simon Amstell; Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand – review

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 06:00:33 GMT2017-09-17T06:00:33Z

Two driven comedians attempt to put their demons to the sword in this pair of entertaining confessional memoirs

The sad clown is a trope as old as drama; think of Shakespeare’s melancholy fools, with their discarded pearls of wisdom, or the likes of Tony Hancock and Robin Williams, spreading laughter on stage or screen while private pain corroded their lives until it became unbearable. In recent years it’s been fashionable in standup comedy to use that pain as material, often with the intention of encouraging audiences to talk about difficult issues with an acknowledgment of the black humour they entail.

Since Simon Amstell started performing long-form standup 10 years ago, he’s made a virtue of holding his angst up to public scrutiny with an honesty that many performers shy away from, so it’s perhaps inevitable that a book should follow. Yet it’s hard to escape the sense that this particular book doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. He nods to this in the introduction, explaining that the original suggestion was to publish transcripts of his major standup shows. “And who for? For people who don’t like hearing standup out loud?”

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Anquetil, Alone by Paul Fournel review – no one ever looked as good on a bike

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 08:00:06 GMT2017-09-16T08:00:06Z

A delightful evocation of the first man to win the Tour de France five times, and of the author’s childhood infatuation with him

No one ever looked as good on a bicycle as Jacques Anquetil. The first man to win the Tour de France five times – in 1957 and from 1961 to 1964 – seemed to have been manufactured in the same factory as the machines he rode, every ounce of superfluous weight pared away, streamlined to perfection and running on frictionless bearings. Frozen in motion by the still camera, he revealed an aesthetic perfection that would have brought a light to any sculptor’s eye.

On the first page of his slender memoir of devotion, Paul Fournel captures his subject’s essence: “Anquetil pedalled blond, with supple ankles; he pedalled on points, back bent, arms at right angles, head straining forwards … He was made to be seen alone on the road, silhouetted against the blue sky; nothing about him suggested the peloton, the crowd and the strength of being united. He was cycling beauty out on its own.”

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What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton review – entertainingly mean but essentially wrong-headed

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 13:04:28 GMT2017-09-14T13:04:28Z

There’s nothing careful about this memoir, which throws lots of blame around. But it misses how out of touch Clinton was

The announcement of an autopsy by Hillary Clinton of the 2016 election raised a distressing possibility: the defeated candidate was back. After 25 years in the public eye, she simply could not leave the political arena, and her campaign memoir would play prelude to the next phase, no matter how badly US politics needed new blood. We needn’t have worried. What Happened is quite different from Clinton’s careful, tedious autobiographies. Those books tried to sell a wise and relatable candidate to the public, while playing down controversies. Her new book is more gossipy, it is meaner, more entertaining and more wrong-headed than anything she or her speechwriters have written before.

The book begins with a recounting of Donald Trump’s inauguration, which she attended, smiling. I remember wanting a dose of whatever she was on. (The book does not reveal.) She recalls attending Trump’s wedding in 2005, back when he was just “like a lot of big-shot real estate guys in the city, only more flamboyant and self-promoting”. At the inauguration, she shakes hands with US Republican politician Jason Chaffetz, thinking he is the new White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus. When Chaffetz tweets the photo with a nasty caption, Clinton responds: “I came this close to tweeting back, ‘To be honest, thought you were Reince.’”

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The Hungry Empire by Lizzie Collingham review – how food shaped the world

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 07:59:36 GMT2017-09-14T07:59:36Z

An innovative study of British imperial history, structured around 20 dishes, from West African jollof rice to the plum pudding

Saturday 18 July 1545 was fish day on the Mary Rose. The crew ate on the cramped gun deck, sitting wherever they could find room. Fish days were not popular, but on this Saturday the meal provided a welcome respite from frantic activity, as all 185 soldiers, 30 gunners and 200 mariners on board were readying the ship for war.

The next day the ship sank. A chance gust of wind caused the vessel, overloaded with artillery, to keel over. No more than 40 men survived, out of a crew of 415. In the face of the tragedy, Henry VIII is supposed to have exclaimed: “Oh my gentlemen! Oh my gallant men!” He could hear the cries of the drowning sailors as he watched from the shore in Portsmouth.

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Out of the Wreckage by George Monbiot review – the thrill and danger of a new left politics

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 06:30:35 GMT2017-09-14T06:30:35Z

With neoliberalism in crisis, it’s time to emphasise the importance to people of belonging and co-operation, argues this optimistic call to action

That which is dangerous can also be thrilling. Many liberal democracies are engaged in something dangerous, as questions of identity, community and nationhood are being asked with a fresh urgency, with some of the answers turning out to be deeply disturbing. But is there also something thrilling going on? The capacity for democracy to throw up surprises, such as Britain’s 2017 general election result, is mesmerising. Brexit may be a famous act of economic self-harm, but something new will be born one way or the other. Still the danger persists and may be growing.

That this is happening now, as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago, is a direct consequence of the disintegration of the economic policy framework that has held sway in Britain, the US, the European commission and many multilateral institutions for much of the previous 40 years. That framework is often referred to as “neoliberalism”, even if the term irritates a certain class of pundit, for whom it is some sort of swearword without any clear referent. Its disintegration is producing conflicting sympathies, as many on the left come to realise the xenophobia that can be unleashed in the absence of stable market-based rules.

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Forgetfulness by Francis O’Gorman review – an open window on history

Sun, 24 Sep 2017 06:30:37 GMT2017-09-24T06:30:37Z

Francis O’Gorman explores the different ways we forget, and the danger of ignoring the lessons of our own past

Francis O’Gorman’s new book centres on his belief that people in the 21st century are detaching themselves from the past to their detriment. He examines the ways we forget: the erasure of memory that comes with age, and the modern impulse to untether ourselves from the places we came from, orienting ourselves instead towards the future, with scant regard for history and its lessons.

O’Gorman (whose last published work was a history of worrying) writes with a crisp and elegant, if occasionally high-handed, tone. He explores the role of cultural memory in classical society and the west’s shifting relationship with history across the centuries. He looks at the emergence of a culture of forgetting, a desire to overwrite and wipe clean.

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All The Good Things by Clare Fisher review – a sparky and unsettling debut

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 08:00:42 GMT2017-09-22T08:00:42Z

Prisons, real and metaphysical, feature heavily in this tale of a 21-year-old trying to find the good in her life

Beth is 21 and has done “lots of 100% TM certified grown up things like wash up my own plates in my own flat, rubber gloves and all”. She’s had a boyfriend and a baby, but she is also in prison. Her counsellor, Erika, has asked her to make a list of the good things in her life. Beth thinks this is “pretty retarded”. What if she can’t think of any? Erika assures her that she will. So Clare Fisher’s deeply involving debut novel sets up a framework for her character to reflect on her experience, as she begins to trawl her memories for positives in a life that hasn’t provided many obvious ones so far.

The novel is mostly written in the second person, addressed to Beth’s child, who we presume has been taken into care. Absent from her child’s life, she is repeating a cycle that began with her own mother’s abandonment of her. Her mother’s failure to show up for promised meetings is the focus of some heartbreaking moments early in the story, as Beth’s self-worth plummets and her sense of guilt intensifies.

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The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux review – the power of stories to shape reality

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 08:00:00 GMT2017-09-20T08:00:00Z

Theroux kicks down the fourth wall to show how the troubles of early 20th-century Europe mirror our ownWe live in a world made up of competing and contradictory stories: stories about origins and identity, the good and the bad, the future and the past. Although we can never be sure that any one of these stories represents the absolute or permanent truth, some are more believable and appealing than others. While some encourage hope and tolerance, others foster only anxiety, anger or despair. But what makes one kind of story, one version of reality, more successful than another? Why do some live and flourish, while others are ignored or disappear? In the era of Twitter storms and fake news these questions are more important and pressing than ever, and they lie at the core of Marcel Theroux’s ambitious, if idiosyncratic, new novel. As he tells us himself, in one of the novel’s several moments of disarming directness: “The thesis of this book is that we are trapped in stories but that we may be able to imagine our way to better ones. There are other stories than the ones we have collectively chosen. There are second chances and redemption.”Theroux explores these big philosophical and historical questions through the life story of his protagonist Nicolas Notovitch. Notovitch, who is based on an actual historical figure, is born into a Jewish family in Crimea in the late 19th century, but at 17 abandons them and his Jewish heritage and begins a process of life-long reinvention, becoming first a journalist, then a propagandist, a spy, a revisionist biblical scholar, and finally the owner of a Parisian department store. He represents a modern cosmopolitanism that is open-minded and free-wheeling but also, on more than one occasion, morally vague. For Notovich the price of his escape from tradition is a kind of perpetual uncertainty; he is a man who is never entirely sure of himself, and whose story is, as a result, never exactly fixed. In stark opposition to Notovich, Theroux gives us, as the villain of the piece, Pierre Rachkovsky, the head of the tsarist secret service in Paris, a Machiavellian bon viveur who is both [...]

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Munich review – inside a compelling conspiracy on the eve of war

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 07:00:34 GMT2017-09-17T07:00:34Z

Robert Harris is on sure ground in this brilliantly constructed spy novel set amid the politicking of Chamberlain’s last-ditch negotiations with Hitler

It’s one of the defining – and in hindsight humiliating – images of the 20th century: Neville Chamberlain stepping off the plane from Munich in September 1938 clutching a paper signed by Hitler and, later that day, declaring “peace for our time”.

The Munich agreement came against a backdrop of ultimatums from power-hungry leaders, devious negotiations and – unknown at the time – a conspiracy to overthrow Hitler with a plot straight from a spy drama. The perfect setting, then, for another thrilling historical novel from Robert Harris.

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The Wardrobe Mistress review – out of the closet, into the paranormal

Sun, 17 Sep 2017 09:00:36 GMT2017-09-17T09:00:36Z

Patrick McGrath’s mesmerising and multi-layered story set in London’s post-war theatreland brings to life a secret past

Patrick McGrath’s ninth novel is a story in which nothing is ever quite as it seems: characters confound those closest to them with shocking secrets; supernatural hauntings morph into real-world horror; and the dead haunt the living in ways more disturbing than a ghost story.

Set in London’s theatreland in 1947, the wardrobe mistress of the title is newly widowed Joan Grice. Her husband, Charlie – “Gricey” – had been a famous actor, and their psychologically fragile daughter, Vera, is following in his footsteps.

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The Golden House by Salman Rushdie review – a parable of modern America

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 06:31:05 GMT2017-09-16T06:31:05Z

Rushdie puts his finger on the nationwide identity crisis in this novel of race, reinvention and the different bubbles of US life

Comparisons have been drawn between Salman Rushdie’s latest novel, F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. All three are tales involving great wealth and a great downfall, and all three share a narrator who is not the protagonist, who is peripheral to the action, but yearns to be part of it. Rushdie’s René Unterlinden, the twentysomething son of Belgian academics, lives in the same New York garden square as Nero Golden and his three sons and watches their world with growing fascination. In a book replete with filmic references, this setting owes more than a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

At the centre of the novel is the story of Nero, whose often silent presence flows like a great river off which branch the stories of his three sons. The Goldens pitch up one day out of the blue, take up residence in a house maintained as an anonymous holding, and refuse to reveal anything of their origins. René, a would-be film-maker, decides they are the perfect subject for a film, a “mockumentary” as he puts it, in which he is free to imagine what is going on when he isn’t there. It’s an ingenious conceit, which gives Rushdie much greater scope as a writer than if he restricted himself (and us) to René’s viewpoint. It also mirrors the way we all see our neighbours, with only partial access to their lives; what we cannot see, we amuse ourselves by imagining.

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The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz – review

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 10:59:08 GMT2017-09-13T10:59:08Z

Lisbeth Salander is back – can this latest addition to Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series live up to the originals?

Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson planned 10 instalments in his Millennium series before his untimely death. The three novels he did write, beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, had energy, spectacular violence and superb plotting. Larsson’s weird, sometimes clunky prose style was forgiven because there was real chemistry – empathy, even – between his two stars, the computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and the journalist Mikael Blomkvist. The series made a fortune and, as no good deed goes unpunished, it has been turned into a franchise.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye is the second instalment to be written by the Swedish biographer and novelist David Lagercrantz, translated by George Goulding. The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2015) sold very well and this new outing has been published with full blockbuster treatment.

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Smile by Roddy Doyle review – a bleak picture of institutional abuse

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 08:00:00 GMT2017-09-11T08:00:00Z

A chance encounter in a Dublin pub leads a middle-aged man to relive his past in a devastating novel with a shocking twist

Smile – classic Roddy Doyle, but with a shocking twist – opens with the 54-year-old narrator, Victor, alone in a Dublin pub. He doesn’t share a home with Rachel, the woman he calls his wife, but is vague about why. He feels out of place. When he says, “Good man; thanks very much” to the guy pulling his pint, he immediately tells us “the words felt great and a bit forbidden. I hadn’t earned the right to slip into the rhythm of a middle-aged Dub.”

Why not? Unease grows when a former classmate who might be called Eddie Fitzpatrick – at least that’s how Victor thinks he remembers him – accosts him in the pub, raising uncomfortable memories of the Christian Brothers school they went to. They’re the same age and their fathers died in the same month; people in the bar take Fitzpatrick for Victor’s brother or his cousin.

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A Legacy of Spies review – a final turn from Smiley’s Circus?

Sun, 10 Sep 2017 06:00:29 GMT2017-09-10T06:00:29Z

John le Carré revisits old ground in a polished thriller with a distinct valedictory tone to it

Old age marks a rendezvous with reality that provokes timeless questions. At the end of John le Carré’s new novel, his greatest creation, George Smiley, observes that “an old spy in his dotage seeks the truth of ages”.

As he approaches 86, David Cornwell, AKA John le Carré, still has to make a necessary rapprochement with his divided self, his past and its achievements. There are, no doubt, obscure and unreconciled regrets, obsessions and disappointments. But if you are lucky, as Cornwell has been, to retain your joie de vivre and your marbles, this final reckoning offers the resolution of an inner conflict. Le Carré has always loved German literature, and he knows his Heidegger: “Every man is born as many men, and dies as a single one.”

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The Burning Girl by Claire Messud review – innocence and loss

Sat, 09 Sep 2017 06:30:00 GMT2017-09-09T06:30:00Z

Young adolescence is vividly captured in this sober novel about relationships and the price of maturity

David Copperfield, Jane Eyre and Huckleberry Finn all employed a voice that was then new to fiction: that of a powerless child indicting power misused. It is a compelling tactic, used by contemporary novelists so often that I’ve wondered whether adults are allowed to tell stories any more. It’s a risky tactic, too; for if we see innocence and wisdom only in children, and all adults as wicked and uncaring, the indictment is not of reparable wrongs and misdeeds but of maturity itself.

In The Burning Girl, American novelist Claire Messud, whose previous books include The Emperor’s Children and The Woman Upstairs, avoids such sentimental cynicism. Her story of a childhood friendship, recounted in the voice of a girl of 16 or 17, does not demonise adulthood or dismiss maturity as valueless; but neither does it say that growing up is going to help much. These children are not merciless judges of their parents, or vice versa. There is a good deal of sympathetic understanding on both sides. The problem, perhaps, is not so much power misused by adults against the helpless as a general powerlessness.

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Moving Kings by Joshua Cohen review – the baggage of the past in contemporary America

Sat, 09 Sep 2017 13:01:08 GMT2017-09-09T13:01:08Z

Two young Israeli former soldiers find parallels with home when living in the US

Still in his 30s, the brilliant American novelist Joshua Cohen has already published several novels, books of short stories and a masterpiece, Witz (2010), which is basically two-thirds David Foster Wallace to one third Philip Roth, but somehow adds up to considerably more than the sum of its parts. Moving Kings, his latest novel, combines the same ingredients, but perhaps adds up to rather less.

The book begins as the story of David King, the middle-aged proprietor of King’s Moving in the New York Tri-state area: “David King the Moving King Will Move Your Mothertrucking Everything”. David is a kind of Jewish Tony Soprano, entirely vivid, his politics “aspirational, inferior: he was in favour of contacts, contracts, the right not to diet, and the right to jump lines at dessert stations”. David has got a lot of baggage – literally and metaphorically (David King = King, David, King David, yes?). The son of Holocaust survivors, he is divorced from his wife Bonnie, and his daughter Tammy has decided that Israel is a “criminal regime”: “What I learned at NYU was just how psycho Jews are,” she tells him.

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The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk review – ancient myths and authorial friskiness

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 08:01:33 GMT2017-09-08T08:01:33Z

Everyday life and inherited stories combine in a parable about present-day Turkey

Orhan Pamuk has written better than most contemporary novelists about the relationship between east and west. His great book Istanbul: Memories of a City mingles history, personal reminiscence and political analysis to produce a panorama of the city that is also a map of the world – at once clearly drawn and poetically evocative. Much the same goes for his novels. While they explore separations, they look for elements that unite.

The Red-Haired Woman, translated by Ekin Oklap, is driven by the same obsessions, but develops them in suggestive new directions. While establishing a link “between the nature of a civilisation and its approach to notions of parricide and filicide”, it blends the close observation of details with the broad brushstrokes usually associated with myth-making and fables.

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Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang review – from China to the US

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:00:45 GMT2017-09-22T11:00:45Z

A bittersweet debut short story collection from the Shanghai-born poet and essayist gives voice to young female narrators “Am I still the sourest girl you know?” asks Christina, protagonist of the two stories that bookend Shanghai-born American writer Jenny Zhang’s moving and energetic debut collection. Zhang (right) is a young poet and essayist, and Sour Heart is the first title acquired by Lena Dunham for her Lenny imprint at Random House in the US. In Zhang’s stories, young female narrators – sour and sweet, wild and wilful – bear witness to the journeys of their families, who have left China to establish new lives in the US. “Will she be sour too? I pointed at her belly. Will she become one of us?” Christina asks her eight-months pregnant mother, who replies, “That’s the dream, sourheart.”Sour girl, tartberry, sour grape, sour apple, sourheart: these are the fond epithets given to Christina, a little girl who, like her mother, loves only the tartest of fruits, gleefully puckering her mouth to suck their juices. This sourness is a point of pride, a family resemblance that binds the two of them; difference is recast as uniqueness – an ability to appreciate those special qualities misunderstood by others. They move from cramped apartment to cramped apartment, across the boroughs of New York. Lucky breaks here and there land them on the clean floors of relatives or friends of friends; other times, there are five families to a wall-to-wall mattressed room. “E flat,” they call their home in Bushwick, “because we loved the sound of E flat on the piano and we liked recasting our world in a more beautiful, melodious light.” Continue reading...[...]

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The Wizards of Once by Cressida Cowell review – action-packed fantasy fun

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 08:00:12 GMT2017-09-19T08:00:12Z

Worlds collide when a young wizard meets a warrior princess in this charmingly illustrated adventure from the author of How to Train Your Dragon

It’s a self-assured author who decides to write a children’s novel about the adventures of a “young boy wizard” in a world of magic, but then Cressida Cowell has reasons to be confident: 8m copies sold of her How to Train Your Dragon books, a film franchise and a spin-off series for TV.

As with the Viking world of Dragon, the eagerly awaited The Wizards of Once is set in the ancient past and our two heroes are scrappy kids struggling with that timeless issue of failing to live up to parental expectations. In place of dragons, there are sprites, deep-thinking giants, ogres and snow cats living in an enchanted wildwood.

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On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna review – alive to the power of nature

Sun, 10 Sep 2017 12:00:36 GMT2017-09-10T12:00:36Z

A ramble in the woods proves transformative in this award-winning celebratory tale

Anyone keen to pass on a love of the great outdoors will welcome the latest picture book from Italian-French talent Beatrice Alemagna, about a child lured away from technology to find fun in a forest. Using a beautiful earthy palette and intricate lines, loops and curls, the author/illustrator evokes a woodland world so full of textures and sights you can almost feel the shafts of sunlight on your back.

It’s a wet day and, in a scene familiar to most parents, a mum (herself glued to a laptop, presumably working) snaps at her offspring to do something other than play computer games all day. The child, whose gender seems ambiguous (great for little readers who can decide for themselves), skulks off into the woods in a neon orange raincoat that dazzles against the foliage – the child is outdoors and out of place. But, having lost the computer console, the child grows captivated by the forest’s sensuous delights – from stroking slimy snails to slurping icy rainwater.

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A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge review – spooky English civil war mystery

Mon, 04 Sep 2017 08:00:07 GMT2017-09-04T08:00:07Z

A girl is possessed by the spirit of a bear in Hardinge’s hypnotic follow-up to her Costa prize-winning The Lie TreeFrances Hardinge’s 2015 novel The Lie Tree became the first children’s book to win the Costa book of the year award since Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, introducing her distinctive voice to a new audience. Hardinge’s latest book is a deliciously strange and uncompromising mystery set in the English civil war. Makepeace is an illegitimate daughter of the aristocratic Fellmotte family and shares their supernatural hereditary gift: the capacity to be possessed by ghosts. Unbeknown to them, the wild, brutish spirit of a bear already resides in Makepeace, and may be her only defence against the Fellmottes’ terrible plans for her. She escapes into a countryside divided by war in a complex tangle of plots, spies and intrigue.Spiky and curious, resourceful and brave, Makepeace is a typically unique Hardinge heroine who finds strength in the very things that make her different. She may only be 12 years old when the novel begins but, as with The Lie Tree, this won’t stop adult readers from finding much to savour in the rich, sophisticated prose that bristles with menace and the unexpected. The story is at its best behind the oppressive walls of ancestral home Grizehayes and in the bewitching synergy between girl and bear. The pace flags a little as Makepeace and her strange jumble of ghosts traverse the war-ridden land, but this is really the most minor of gripes; Hardinge’s tale of ghosts, puritans and shaping your own destiny is an unmissable, hypnotic treat. Continue reading...[...]

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

Sat, 26 Aug 2017 07:00:29 GMT2017-08-26T07:00:29Z

From a swamp monster who speaks in verse to a guinea pig in search of world renown, plus a chilling graphic novel and an adventure in the AmazonThis month, lucky eight-plus readers can plunge into the green wilds of Katherine Rundell’s marvellous new novel, The Explorer (Bloomsbury). Stranded in the Amazon rainforest, Fred, Lila, Max and Con overcome their initial terror to adapt to the uncompromising fierceness and beauty of their surroundings, gradually shedding the constraints of home – and discovering much more than they expected. Hannah Horn’s delicate line drawings encroach, vine-like, on Rundell’s dangerous, intoxicating pages in this love-song to the natural world and those who find release in it. This is essential reading for lovers of Eva Ibbotson.Also for eight plus comes a Newbery medal-winner by Kelly Barnhill, The Girl Who Drank The Moon (Piccadilly) – a poignant, humorous fantasy with glints of Margaret Mahy, Neil Gaiman and Robin McKinley. It features a village that sacrifices its children and a witch who saves them, a swamp monster who speaks in mellifluous poetry and a girl growing up perilously powerful, without knowing why. This is a gorgeously stratified and satisfying novel, full of archetypal, bone-deep fairytale resonances. Continue reading...[...]

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Grandma Forgets: The picture book that helps families cope with pathos of dementia

Sat, 26 Aug 2017 13:48:12 GMT2017-08-26T13:48:12Z

In a publishing first, Paul Russell uses his own experience to bring the disease out of the shadows for young readers

From the earliest fairytales warning of the dangers of talking to strangers in the woods, to Roald Dahl’s moral messages about selfishness and greed, stories for children have been useful devices to broach difficult subjects. Now a new picture book tackles an issue largely overlooked by children’s literature, yet which affects an increasing number of families: what happens when a grandparent has dementia?

Grandma Forgets, by Paul Russell, tells the story of a little girl dealing with her grandmother’s illness, touching on the cruelty of a condition that robs sufferers of their memories. In the story, Grandma does not recognise family members, forgets how to play their games and frequently loses Dad’s keys.

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A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge review – darkly splendid mystery

Sat, 23 Sep 2017 08:30:11 GMT2017-09-23T08:30:11Z

The 2015 Costa prize winner is back with a worthy follow-up to The Lie Tree, set just before the English civil warFrances Hardinge’s last novel, The Lie Tree, won the overall Costa book award in 2015; the only other children’s book to have done so is Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass, in 2001. Hardinge is at the forefront of children’s fiction, with a rich, unusual taste for language, an eye for the striking and apt image and stories that reveal a staunch defence of the weak and the oppressed. What is more, she combines a subtle, intellectual approach with plots that swoop and soar.Her darkly splendid new book is a worthy follow-up to The Lie Tree, set just before the start of the English civil war. Hardinge has always been interested in splits and doubles; in how a character, apparently good, can be only a sliver away from being bad; in how perceptions and opinions shift according to perspective and situation. Her heroine in Cuckoo Song was a fairy changeling, unaware that she had been created and placed into the family that she thought hers; Faith in The Lie Tree must fight against the strictures placed on women in the 19th century, while unpicking a web of falsehoods around her scientist father. Continue reading...[...]

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Danielle Macdonald: 'I will never stop being excited about Harry Potter'

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:29:18 GMT2017-09-20T00:29:18Z

In our series Beauty and the books, the actor – who has been cast opposite Jennifer Aniston – talks about why she keeps going back to young adult fiction

It’s been a huge year for the 25-year-old Australian actor Danielle Macdonald. Now living in Los Angeles, she was home in June to promote her first lead in a feature film – Sundance’s heartwarming hip-hop hit Patti Cake$ – when her next role was announced: another title character, this time opposite Jennifer Aniston.

The film is an adaptation of Julie Murphy’s coming-of-age book Dumplin’, about a plus-size teen who wants to be a beauty queen. Aniston will play her mother. “The first time I saw [Aniston] I was like, ‘I was watching Friends on the plane – and now I’m here,’” Macdonald told Guardian Australia. “It’s weird. It’s always weird.”

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Michael Rosen webchat – your questions answered on beards, inspiration and Arsene Wenger

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 11:51:50 GMT2017-09-13T11:51:50Z

The prolific children’s author discussed his opinions on Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn and what the education system can do to encourage children’s creativity 12.51pm BST That’s all, folksAu revoir – sorry to not answer all your questions, I'm on the Jeremy Vine show in a minute! 12.50pm BST Cleggalike asks:Did you dislike Watford grammar school as much as I did?No, I did not dislike Watford Grammar School! I found it challenging because I came from quite an easygoing co-ed grammar school, and Watford seemed very academic, high-flying, and very aware of its status in Watford and nationally. I found all that a bit overwhelming to start off with – I've written about this in my memoir, out today! – but by the time I finished I am happy to say I benefitted massively from the intensity of the teaching, and there are great chunks of it I have never forgotten. However, I don't think we benefit from schools unless there is something in our background which enables us to access what they offer. I know that's a kind of circular argument, but in my case, my parents were very argumentative and ideological. They exposed everything and anything to a kind of cross-examination. At the time, I didn't realise that what this was doing was enabling me to treat education as if what was on offer were possible views of the world and knowledge, rather than fixed facts that I had to learn. The learning was part of a process, not a process in itself. This meant that most of the time when I was assimilating knowledge, I was doing a running commentary on the knowledge itself. Comparing and contrasting it with alternate views. This was an incredible gift th[...]

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AA Milne memoir shows Winnie-the-Pooh author longing to 'escape' his bear

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 10:03:39 GMT2017-09-12T10:03:39Z

It’s Too Late Now, being republished after 70 years, reveals a writer frustrated at the eclipse of his work for adults by runaway success of children’s books

Winnie-the-Pooh may have secured a place in the hearts of children worldwide and made his creator a millionaire, but author AA Milne resented the way the bear of little brain undermined his reputation as a serious writer.

The revelation appears in his 1939 memoir It’s Too Late Now, which is to be republished on 21 September, 70 years after it went out of print and ahead of the release of a biopic about his son, Goodbye Christopher Robin. Despite the success of Pooh, Piglet, Tigger and friends, Milne was frustrated that his reputation as a writer for adults had been irrevocably damaged.

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Lauren Child: ‘We should let children dawdle and dream’

Sat, 09 Sep 2017 23:03:20 GMT2017-09-09T23:03:20Z

The new children’s laureate on why society is too goal-oriented and how she plans to use her role to encourage youngsters to develop their creativity by ‘just having a go’

Children are often told what’s good for them, but the advice of the new children’s laureate may take them by surprise. Lauren Child, speaking for the first time since her investiture in Hull this summer, has a simple message: just stare into space.

In an age of prescriptive talk about targets and aspirations, Child, the creator of Charlie and Lola, plans to make a stand against the theorising and goal-setting during her two-year tenure.

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VE Schwab on international success and being censored in Russia

Wed, 20 Sep 2017 13:47:13 GMT2017-09-20T13:47:13Z

The fantasy novelist recently struck a $1m book deal, but her storylines have also fallen foul of a Russian ban on ‘gay propaganda’

When bestselling fantasy author VE Schwab discovered her series Shades of Magic had been edited in Russia without her permission, to cut a romantic storyline with two gay characters, she had to make a decision: should she tolerate the redaction, to allow younger, possibly LGBT Russian readers to buy the books – or try to find another publisher?

“It was really heartbreaking, a moment when I had to sit with myself and ask myself what’s important to me. And at the end of the day, having the queer representation is just too important,” she says. “But it was not a simple solution and one of the reasons I wasn’t more vocal about it was because I was trying to resolve it with the publisher.”

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Tillie Walden: young graphic novelist breaks the ice with memoir Spinning

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 15:42:30 GMT2017-09-19T15:42:30Z

The 21-year-old cartoonist on life as a competitive, teen ice skater, her work rituals and how her emotions affect her art

American cartoonist Tillie Walden has been a quiet yet confident force to be reckoned with from the moment she published her debut graphic novel, The End of Summer, in 2015. Since then, Walden has been a veritable machine: just as one piece wraps up, we hear she’s working on something new. In just two years, the 21-year-old has published four books and a webcomic (On a Sunbeam, a 20-chapter webcomic that she updated with 30 fresh pages a week).

Related: Get ready, here I come: 20 talents set to take 2017 by storm

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How well do you know Samuel Johnson's dictionary? – quiz

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 10:26:48 GMT2017-09-18T10:26:48Z

As a popular search engine marks the great lexicographer’s birthday, it’s a good time for some defining questions. Can you get them right without Googling?Google celebrates Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday today with a new doodle. Johnson was born on 18 September 1709, but when was his hugely influential A Dictionary of the English Language published?1729174517551765How long did it take Johnson to write the work?Two yearsEight yearsTwenty yearsFifty yearsHow many entries did it run to?4,77621,12342,773100,000Which profession does Johnson describe in the dictionary as that of a “harmless drudge”?Lamp lighterPublisherMPLexicographerAnd to what is he referring here? “A man of artifice; one of deep contrivance.”A politicianA literary agentAn actorA publisherWhich word does Johnson describe in his definition as “a ludicrous word”?JobberknowlLoggerheadFar-fetchWhigWhat is Johnson defining here? “A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.” WhiskyBranWheatOats What is his definition of "depucelate"?To bereave of virginity.A convulsion of the lungs, vellicated by some sharp serosity.Any thing reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.A dish so changed by the cookery that it can scarcely be known.What is Johnson defining here? “To deprive a dog of something, nobody knows what, under his tongue, which is said to prevent him, nobody knows why, from running mad.”The verb “to castrate[...]

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Martin Amis: ‘I miss the English’

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 08:00:07 GMT2017-09-16T08:00:07Z

Six years after he left London for New York, is the novelist feeling homesick? He talks about the shock of Trump and status anxiety on both sides of the pondFor the past nine months, Martin Amis has been living in his mother-in-law’s house, a grand, many-storeyed residence in downtown Manhattan to which he and his wife, the novelist Isabel Fonseca, decamped after a fire wrecked their home. This was the place in Brooklyn where they had been living since 2011, and almost a year after the fire – the result of a defective chimney and which, Amis says, broke out on New Year’s Eve like “the last kick in the arse of 2016” – he still looks like a man who has suffered a shock. In the gloomy drawing room, he moves stiffly around nursing a back injury, ruefully enumerating the ways in which old houses can ruin one’s life. The property was salvageable, but the couple’s peace of mind was not, and they will soon be moving to a new home, an apartment in a skyscraper in downtown Brooklyn. “It’s on the 20th floor, so you are up there in the clouds,” he says. “It’s going to be very heady, certainly to begin with.”It seems strangely fitting that, two years shy of his 70th birthday, Amis should be plunged into a modern setting, although the very idea of Amis at 70 is somehow absurd. For many, he is frozen in time as he appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s: young, rangy, belligerent, chucking out neologisms with a verve readers found either delightful or altogethe[...]

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Kamila Shamsie: you can’t avoid talking about your relationship with the internet

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 09:00:08 GMT2017-09-16T09:00:08Z

The Man Booker-longlisted author on why she gave up writing in the early hours, the benefits of a good walk and why Twitter during work is a no-noThe day begins with the alarm at 8.30 and then commences the great struggle: wake up or go back to sleep. I am by nature a nocturnal person; the hours between midnight and 3am are when the world feels almost enchanted in its stillness, and writing comes most easily. Through my 20s, I wrote at night – 10pm to 4am. If I were a different kind of person, one who could shut out both the world and myself, in order to work I would still be writing during those hours. But my life requires both solitude and sociability, and in the interest of the latter I have to reshape the ways in which I interact with the former. So, no more writing into the early hours of the morning. The alarm rings; I struggle with myself; I get out of bed. (How long this process takes is entirely dependent on how keen or not I am to get to my writing desk).Into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and stop along the way to pick the Guardian off the doormat. Drink coffee; read paper. (How long this process takes is entirely dependent on how keen or not I am to get to my writing desk). Then I change into something comfortable verging on unviewable by the outside world. I read what I’ve written the day before, read it out loud to see if the ear might pick up flaws and failures that the eye can’t see. This is necessary, but that doesn[...]

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Attica Locke: ‘When Trump was elected, overnight my book changed. I didn’t alter a word’

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 13:01:08 GMT2017-09-15T13:01:08Z

The novelist and screenwriter on white supremacists, the lure of crime fiction and why her latest book is a love letter to black Texans‘I wrote the book primarily in 2016,” Attica Locke says of her new crime novel Bluebird, Bluebird, “so the rise of Donald Trump and of people feeling free to speak their white supremacist beliefs” had begun. The plot revolves around murders with a connection to the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas: “Are you talking about the Klan?” her hero, Darren Mathews, is asked. “Worse,” he replies: “It’s the Klan with money and semi-automatic weapons.” The politics of race saturate the suspenseful tale, which is the first in a series set in the near present day. “When Trump was elected,” Locke tells me, “I remember feeling: oh my God, overnight my book changed, and I didn’t alter a word.”Mathews, a Texas Ranger beset by difficulties but proud to wear the lone-star badge, is determined to investigate “homicides with a racial element – murders with a particularly ugly taint”. He reflects on the long history of racial prejudice his family has suffered and his recent hope that “change might trickle down from the White House”. But “in fact the opposite had proved to be true. In the wake of Obama, America had told on itself.” Locke has been forthright in her analysis of the discomfort many Americans felt having a black man as president: “A large segment of white[...]

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Ian McEwan’s finest work: just a figment of his imagination?

Fri, 15 Sep 2017 11:57:37 GMT2017-09-15T11:57:37Z

The author believed he had mislaid the manuscript for a novella that was ‘perfect in every way’ – but now thinks he didn’t write it at all

Name: Ian McEwan.

Age: 69.

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Tom Gauld on psychogeographers – cartoon

Fri, 22 Sep 2017 05:30:39 GMT2017-09-22T05:30:39Z

The illustrator responds to Iain Sinclair’s essay about losing his compulsion to write about London

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