Cringeworthy by Melissa Dahl review – why feeling awkward is good for us

This lively study explains how embracing embarrassing conversations or exposing situations can improve your life

I read part of this book in somebody else’s reserved seat on an overbooked train; do train companies have any idea of the anxiety they cause when they suddenly announce that all seat reservations are suspended? As each stop triggered another mortifying conversation about seats, the book explained what was going on in our brains to make the situation feel so painful, why that matters so much to us and what we can learn from it.

Melissa Dahl is an American science journalist who has been writing about psychology for 10 years, and her book, about the very specific phenomenon of awkwardness, “began as an attempt to permanently banish the feeling from my life with science!” Like all good scientists, though, she has changed her opinion based on the evidence she collected. Dahl now ...

The Happy Brain by Dean Burnett review – the science of happiness

The neuroscientist, comedian and science blogger rattles through studies and reflects on his own life in a quest to find the secret of contentment

As a neuroscientist, comedian and Guardian science blogger, Dean Burnett knows that science communication is both important and hard to get right. Early in this book he expresses his frustration with the way that the media often sensationalise research to sell a story. In one newspaper, the following headlines all purported to reveal the latest scientific truth about how to be happy: “Forget cash – how sex and sleep are the key to happiness”; “Key to happiness? Start with £50k a year salary”; “Why the secret to happiness is having 37 things to wear”… Readers would be forgiven for thinking that it’s all nonsense. So how does a responsible scientist condense all of the relevant research and make it accessible?

The Burnett method is to combine ...

The most beautiful books of 2017

Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent won last year, but which of these six covers will claim this year’s prize?

The best looking shortlist of the year has been announced, as the Books Are My Bag readers awards reveal who is in the running in the most beautiful book of the year category. The six have been selected by booksellers for the annual event, which celebrates physical books and real-life bookshops. And in an era of ebooks and online piracy, beautiful books are more important and popular than ever. Last year’s winner, The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – which was released by Waterstones in an extra shiny edition – sold 287,566 copies and helped its publisher, Profile, increase its turnover by nearly 7%.

Continue reading...

Alice Roberts: ‘Science needs more visible women’

Broadcaster, author, anthropologist and qualified doctor Alice Roberts is on a mission to prove that science needs to engage with the public – and be more diverse

Physical anthropologist, author, broadcaster and professor of public engagement in science, Alice Roberts is a 21st-century Renaissance woman. Her face might be most familiar from Channel 4’s Time Team, or BBC2’s Coast, or one of several Horizon programmes she has presented; but she is also a qualified medical doctor, an anatomist and the author of seven popular science books, including the Wellcome prize-nominated The Incredible Unlikeliness of Being.

Like its author, her new book Tamed: 10 Species That Changed Our World weaves together many forms and disciplines: genetics, archaeology, anthropology and history combine with personal anecdote, travelogue and little pieces of fiction to create a book that is both chatty and academic, rigorously scientific and full of empathy. It describes how ...

Male writers still dominate book reviews and critic jobs, Vida study finds

The annual Vida count of authors across the world suggests about two-thirds of those published, and the critics who review them, are men – but their intersectionality survey is less conclusive

The 2016 Vida count has been released and it demonstrates yet again that the media can’t seem to locate enough female writers. Every year Vida – the New York-based organisation for Women in Literary Arts - counts the writers featured in dozens of literary journals and periodicals across the world, and finds that the authors represented, and the critics who are evaluating those authors, are consistently about two thirds men. For the second year, the survey also looks into “intersectional” data, and analyses factors such as ethnicity, sexuality and disability, as well.

Once again, the London Review of Books “has the worst gender disparity”, with women representing only 18% of reviewers and 26% of authors reviewed. The LRB’s ...

Well done Unesco for honouring the culture of the Lake District

Wordsworth’s daffodils, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons – Cumbria has been fertile ground for countless writers The Lake District has just become the first UK national park to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, alongside global wonders such as the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon. It has been honoured for its culture as well as its landscape. William Wordsworth, perhaps the most celebrated local writer, called the area “a sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”. He was born in Cockermouth, lived in Grasmere and Rydal Mount, and found his daffodils on the shore of Ullswater. Beatrix Potter is another famous chronicler of the Lakes, though she found her inspiration for Squirrel Nutkin and other characters on her childhood holidays there. She was also crucial to ...

Well done Unesco for honouring the culture of the Lake District

Wordsworth’s daffodils, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit, Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons – Cumbria has been fertile ground for countless writers The Lake District has just become the first UK national park to be listed as a Unesco World Heritage site, alongside global wonders such as the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canyon. It has been honoured for its culture as well as its landscape. William Wordsworth, perhaps the most celebrated local writer, called the area “a sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”. He was born in Cockermouth, lived in Grasmere and Rydal Mount, and found his daffodils on the shore of Ullswater. Beatrix Potter is another famous chronicler of the Lakes, though she found her inspiration for Squirrel Nutkin and other characters on her childhood holidays there. She was also crucial to ...

Matt Haig: ‘I think books can save us. They sort of saved me’

How to follow a bestselling memoir about depression? With a novel about a 400-year-old adventurer …Matt Haig and I meet in a flat in London, the morning after the terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena. Typically, he has already spent several hours battling racists and trolls on Twitter (he has a very large following), but he doesn’t seem stressed. “I’m actually quite relaxed; I like this period just before I get really neurotic [about the launch of a new book],” he laughs. As for social media: “I tweet more when I’m writing more ... I’ve got quite a distracted brain anyway.” Haig is probably best known for his 2015 book Reasons to Stay Alive (it was in the top 10 bestseller lists for nearly a year) – a warm and moving memoir-cum-self-help book about his first descent into depression, aged 24, and his subsequent efforts to climb out of it. Haig is also the ...

Rebus at 30: Edinburgh celebrates

RebusFest, featuring Ian Rankin, is taking place all over the city, dedicated to ‘the many facets of the irascible old rogue’, DI John RebusHappy 30th birthday to DI John Rebus, who will be celebrated all over Edinburgh this weekend with his creator Ian Rankin and their publisher, Orion. RebusFest is taking place at venues around the city, dedicated to “the many facets of the irascible old rogue”, according to the publisher. Appropriately, the Highland Park Whisky masterclasses are all sold out. Rankin conceived of Rebus in his bedsit in Arden Street, Edinburgh in March 1985; the books are bestsellers on several continents. Rebus himself is now technically retired, but nevertheless marked his birthday this week with a No 1 bestseller, Rather Be The Devil, which is also longlisted for the McIlvanney prize for crime books. Continue reading...

Greatest Hits by Laura Barnett review – a life in music

Read the novel, then buy the album: the lyrics that punctuate this tale of a songwriter’s life and loves have also been set to music
When it comes to listening to pop music, there are two types of people: those who pay attention to the lyrics and those who don’t notice them. The former are drawn to artists such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen; the latter end up choosing a song about breaking up as the first dance at their wedding. Greatest Hits is a novel for music lovers who pay attention to the words. Now in her 60s, Cass Wheeler is an “ex-musician. Ex-mother. Ex-daughter. Ex-wife.” She is at home, in the remote farmhouse where she lives alone after huge personal loss and a spell in rehab. Spending one day forcing herself to listen to her entire back catalogue, she compiles “a very particular kind of ...

Political favourites: the books politicians claim to have read

Theresa May says she’s read all the Harry Potter novels, but won’t discuss which character she resembles While France’s new president, Emmanuel Macron, can apparently quote Molière from memory, and Justin Trudeau has read “just about everything” by Stephen King, Theresa May claimed on Wednesday, during a visit to a school, that she has read all of the Harry Potter books. When pressed, though, she refused to say which of the series’ characters she most resembles. “I don’t think I’m similar to any of the characters,” she snapped. Related: Theresa May – what lies beyond the public image? Continue reading...

Frequent readers make the best lovers, say dating-app users

Heavy reading increases empathy – and makes users of dating sites more likely to click on your profile A dating website claims to have discovered what kind of reading preferences make one more attractive to potential partners. According to eHarmony, women who listed The Hunger Games among their favourite books saw the biggest boost to their popularity, while men who read Richard Branson’s business books were approached most often. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a hit for both genders. But crucially, reading anything is a winning move; men who list reading on their dating profiles receive 19% more messages, and women 3% more. This welcome news does not come out of the blue. Last year, the dating app My Bae also announced that people who used reading tags on its profiles were more successful in finding dates. More recently, research from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, showed ...

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg review – difficult, selfish, a true-to-life heroine

This single-woman-about-town fiction is not like Sex and the City or Bridget Jones’s Diary – it is a warts-and-all portrait of independence The blurb for Jami Attenberg’s fifth novel, about a single, childless 39-year-old New Yorker, makes it sound like ideal reading for a 40-year-old, childless, London-based book reviewer. The novel, we are promised, will pose such questions as “What if I don’t want to hold your baby?” “Can I date you without ever hearing about your divorce?” and “Why does everybody keep asking me why I’m not married?” So far, so Carrie Bradshaw? Maybe, but that’s where the similarity ends. If All Grown Up is like any recent single-woman-about-town fiction, it is not Sex and the City or Bridget Jones’s Diary, but Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s darkly comic series Fleabag, which appeared on BBC3 last year, with its solitary, uncompromising heroine, her damaged past gradually ...

The parliamentary book awards: in literature at least, Labour come out on top

From Alan Johnson’s latest to a biography of Attlee, the first ever parliamentary book awards went mainly to left of centre authors or subjects It’s been a great year for the Labour party … from a literary perspective anyway. The 2016 parliamentary book awards, which were handed out on Tuesday, all went to left of centre authors or subjects: Alan Johnson’s The Long Winding Road won best memoir by a parliamentarian; Called to Account by Margaret Hodge (right), about the government’s use of public money, was the best non-fiction; Melvyn Bragg’s novel Now is the Time was the best fiction; and John Bew’s biography of Clement Attlee, Citizen Clem, won the title of best political book by a non-parliamentarian. The winners were voted for by parliamentarians and the ceremony presided over by Gisela Stuart MP, a former bookseller. Ed Balls sadly didn’t score a 10 with these judges, but ...

JG Ballard’s house – the perfect place to crash

JG Ballard’s Shepperton home is up for sale or you can rent Ted Hughes’s Bloomsbury love nest. How do the prices compare with other authors’ homes? These are high times for house-hunters of a literary bent. The three-bedroom semi in Shepperton, Surrey, where JG Ballard lived for nearly 50 years has just gone on sale for a relatively modest £475,000, while those stuck in the rental market can console themselves with the Bloomsbury house where Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath first got together. Hughes, who rued the “unlit and unlovely lavatory” in the poem “18 Rugby Street” might be surprised to find a price tag of £5,850 a month on a property which he described as a stage-set for “the love struggle in all its acts and scenes”. Continue reading...

The best literary events of Christmas 2016 – from Hay’s winter weekend to Adventures in Moominland |Katy Guest

Celebrate a Dickensian Christmas with candelit processions, carols and 1940s radio So literary is the town of Folkestone that its Christmas lights are being switched on by a famous novelist. The town’s book festival opens on 18 November, with an afternoon of free events that include Father Christmas, fireworks, carols and a lantern-lit parade, as well as Jonathan Coe switching on the creative quarter’s Christmas lights at 5.30pm. From there, he will head to the Quarterhouse to open the book festival at a ticketed event, where he will talk about his trademark combination of social commentary and farce. A glass of wine and a mince pie are included in the ticket price.
18 November, folkestonebookfest.com Continue reading...

Valley of the Dubious Tie-Ins

A special pink edition of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls is due out this month to mark the book’s 50th anniversary – but no serious fan would be seen without a branded clutch bag, earrings and eyeshadow In an era when merchandising is everything, any book worth its advance comes with its own branded mug, T-shirt or handy cotton bag. Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls, however, has always been that little bit more marvellous. A 50th anniversary edition of the 30m-selling novel is released later this month with a black cover, pink pages and its own matching notebook and mug – but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Continue reading...