Book clinic: which writers can lead me inside the minds of millennials?

Sally Rooney’s confessional style and Joe Dunthorne’s satire should help a teacher understand the ‘avocado generation’

I’m teaching millennials but find it hard to know what makes them tick. Can you recommend millennial writers who would help me better understand my students?
Christina Melia, 47, Paris (originally from Ireland)

Johanna Thomas-Corr, literary critic, writes…
Ah, those millennials. So hard to pin down, aren’t they? Once denoting the generation born c1980-1995, millennial is now often used to mean “digital-era whippersnapper” or “profligate consumer of avocados”. Such is the difficulty of generalising about a generation born at the apex of individualism – but happily, this most overanalysed group is now telling its own stories.

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Gabriel Tallent: ‘I follow my inspiration, however difficult’

The US novelist talks about the genesis of his gripping debut and his willingness to lay bare the dark, morally abject corners of life

Gabriel Tallent grew up on the Mendocino coast, California, with two mothers. My Absolute Darling, his debut novel, is the story of an isolated teenage girl who is being abused, physically and sexually, by her survivalist father. Set on the wild coastline where Tallent grew up, and following the feints towards freedom made by Tallent’s heart-piercingly courageous heroine, Turtle, it drew waves of praise when it was published in hardback and became the only literary debut novel to enter the bestseller lists in the US and the UK simultaneously last year.

Was My Absolute Darling always going to be centred on Turtle, your 14-year-old protagonist, or did she come to life in the process of writing?
My initial project was a much more academic, idea-driven ...

Andrew Motion on Stisted: ‘That’s where I first began to care about poems’

The former poet laureate on the village perched between Braintree and Halstead where his eyes were opened to the world

“Fair seed-time had my soul,” says Wordsworth in the first book of The Prelude, “And I grew up / Foster’d alike by beauty and by fear.” Quite so. Beauty and fear. The essential, paradoxical ingredients of childhood. One filling us with wonder; the other threatening our hold on the world and hereby making it all the more precious.

When Wordsworth wrote this phrase he was thinking about his birthplace – in Cockermouth, on the northern edge of the Lake District. My own birthplace had no such effect – I now think because the balance between beauty and fear was tipped too heavily towards fear. Fear that my parents, my mother especially, would disappear; fear (of a more circumstantial and less existential kind)of my father’s severities; fear that as time ...

Room to Dream review – a remarkable insight into David Lynch

This hybrid biography cuts between essays from Kristine McKenna and reflections from the great auteur

Kristine McKenna admits at the outset of Room to Dream that she and David Lynch have come up with an approach to life writing “that some might find strange”. This hybrid form combines memoir and biography: each of McKenna’s chapters is followed by one by Lynch on the same years, “having a conversation with his own biography”. Clearly this highlights the subjectivity of experience and the inadequacy of life writing, but it could also compromise a biographer’s freedom to speak frankly about her subject. Nevertheless, Room to Dream is a memorable portrait of one of cinema’s great auteurs.

Lynch was born in 1946; his devout Presbyterian parents moved to Boise, Idaho, in 1955. This “most beautiful golden era” of rock’n’roll, early TV and girls in bobby socks and saddle shoes laid the foundations of the Lynchian universe: “When ...

Days of Awe by AM Homes review – disorienting stories

Usually Homes is merciless at skewering the comedy of disappointment and dread, but her new collection swings between send-ups and soul-searching quests for meaning

Reading AM Homes’s new collection of stories, I’m brought up against that dull old chestnut: do we need to like characters in fiction in order to enjoy reading about them? Well no, of course not, again and again of course not. It’s pretty near impossible, for instance, to like Homes’s collapsed, incompetent, self-pitying couple Elaine and Paul in her 1999 novel Music for Torching – and yet the funny awfulness of their dialogue and their doomed attempts at self-improvement are compelling and page-turning; when their child is taken hostage in a shoot-out, they are sublimely craven. It’s not only Elaine and Paul; it’s their whole set. “Saturday afternoon at the cookout, regardless of the fact that they were all together the night before, they act glad ...

The strange cult of Emily Brontë and the ‘hot mess’ of Wuthering Heights

Brontë was no romantic child of nature but a pragmatic, self-interested Tory. Why is she still adored for her ‘screeching melodrama’ of a novel?

Over this ecstatic high summer, visitors to the Haworth parsonage museum will be able to watch a film that simulates the bird’s-eye view of Emily Brontë’s pet hawk, Nero, as he swoops over the moors to Top Withens, the ruined farmhouse that is the putative model for Wuthering Heights. You’ll be able to listen to the Unthanks, the quavery Northumbrian folk music sisters who have composed music in celebration of Emily’s 200th anniversary. If that’s not enough, you can watch a video installation by Lily Cole, the model-turned-actor-turned-Cambridge-double-first from Devon, which riffs on Heathcliff’s origins as a Liverpool foundling. Finally, Kate Bush, from Kent, has been busy on the moors unveiling a stone. In short, wherever you come from and whoever you are, you will find ...

Full Gas by Peter Cossins review – tactics and the Tour de France

A cycling journalist turns his gaze on the puzzles of the peloton, and falls back in love with the sport

The Tour de France, which finishes in Paris next weekend, attracts more than 10 million spectators to line its near 3,500km route, uniquely comprehensive press coverage for the sport and a TV and online audience estimated to be in the billions. Yet only a tiny fraction of those watching will have the first clue as to what is actually going on.

Yes, there are obviously winners of the 21 stages, and an overall champion is crowned when they reach the Champs-Élysées. But in a peloton of 180 riders, operating in a seemingly chaotic working environment best described as like being inside a washing machine, very few are attempting to win. The vast majority are implementing a dizzyingly fluid set of agendas and allegiances that can combine – often in ...

How thrillers offer an antidote to toxic masculinity

This genre’s modern incarnation of the ancient hero myth can give boys essential but neglected lessons in how to be a good man

In the cultural conversation – whatever the hell that is – we hear endless talk about toxic masculinity. But we never seem to talk about positive masculinity.

This absence of strong men leaves us mistaking bullies and tyrants, bruhs with backwards baseball caps, and politicians who say whatever they think as leaders to be emulated. We have to give young men role models who are good and courageous and willing to take risks in the name of adventure. The best place to start is in books, film and TV.

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We can’t paint over our racist past | Letters

Manchester university students defacing a Kipling poem draws mixed responses from readers

I read the article about how at the University of Manchester the students painted over the Kipling mural and replaced it with a Maya Angelou poem (Report, 20 July). How disappointing. It seems England is following the same path as the US where our 19th- and early 20th-century racist past is concerned. We cannot go back and undo what was done but we can learn from them. Whitewashing the past, pretending it did not happen is not how we learn.

In the US we are also selective in what monuments etc we tear down. Statues of Robert E Lee and other southerners must be torn down immediately, but the golden statue of a northern general in New York’s Central Park must not be touched, even though William T Sherman turned to the same scorched-earth policies against ...

Impractical Magic: Lily Anderson’s Undead Girl Gang

Mila Flores is miserable. She’s an outcast at school because she’s fat, grumpy, and Mexican American in a town of skinny white people. She abides by Wicca instead of Christianity, much to the chagrin of her community. She is drowning in a sea of unrequited love for a boy who barely notices her. But mostly she’s miserable because her best friend Riley is dead. It was not, she’ll have you know, a suicide, no matter what the incompetent police say. They also declared the hangings of two other schoolmates, June and Dayton, to be suicides as well, despite the suspicious circumstances. No, someone killed Riley, and Mila is going to find out who no matter what it takes. Especially if that “whatever” means raising her BFF from the dead.

With the help of a creepy grimoire and her heretofore undiscovered magical abilities, Mila casts a spell that brings Riley back…and ...

Has Stan Lee put his troubles behind him?

The man who created the Marvel universe has spent the past year struggling with illness and in a series of disputes. But things are ‘much better’ now, he says

Stan Lee wants you to know that he’s OK.

The 95-year-old mastermind of the Marvel universe has had a very bad year. His wife Joan died last July, after 69 years of marriage, and not long after, stories began to circulate suggesting he was being stolen from and abused. It was even reported that he had become estranged from his only surviving child. But things are looking up, he reports via email.

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The best recent crime novels – review roundup

Give Me Your hand by Megan Abbott, A Noise Downstairs by Linwood Barclay, Take Me In by Sabine Durrant, City of Sinners by AA Dhand and Sticks and Stones by Jo Jakeman

American author Megan Abbott’s explorations of the dark heart of female adolescence in novels such as Dare Me and The End of Everything are second to none, and in her latest book, Give Me Your Hand (Picador, £14.99), she presents the equally blood-curdling tale of adult frenemies Kit and Diane. When they met in high school, golden girl Diane gave Kit the impetus she needed to succeed, and their joint motivation to scale the academic heights created an unbreakable bond between them – until Diane divulged her terrible secret. Twelve years on, Kit, still haunted, is a scientist working in the lab of glamorous Dr Severin, competing for one of only two places on a team ...

Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk on his book becoming a bible for the incel movement

The American novelist talks about extremism, learning about failure from Brad Pitt, the power of protest – and why losing nearly all his money has been ‘kind of nice’

First his father-in-law died of cancer. Then came the suspicion that his income for the last few years had been embezzled by an accountant at his literary agency. And to top off Chuck Palahniuk’s 2018 so far, there was the death of Anthony Bourdain – fondly remembered by Palahniuk for a TV show they made together in 2007, doing a gastronomic tour of the novelist’s hometown, Portland, Oregon. “It’s been a spring to remember,” he murmurs.

I’d idly assumed that the author of Fight Club, Choke and other vivid studies of all kinds of American violence would be an expansive raconteur, maybe even a bit boorish and alpha. But sitting in the lofty space where he teaches writing in Portland, ...

Lauren Groff: ‘The last book to make me cry? The one I’m trying to write’

The novelist and short story writer on drawing inspiration from Emily Dickinson, rereading Middlemarch, and which book she gives as a gift

The book I am currently reading
I’m reading through the back catalogue of a largely forgotten American writer named Nancy Hale. From the 1930s to the late 1960s, most of her stories appeared in the New Yorker; some are slight, but a surprisingly large number of them are strange, thoughtful and deeply moving.

The book that changed my life
I read Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America as soon as it came out in 1998, when I was an undergraduate. Five years later, I decided to go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for my master’s in fine arts because Lorrie was teaching there and I wanted to sit in her brilliance.

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A Honeybee Heart has Five Openings and Buzz review – the wonders of bee life

A memoir of a life put back on track by beekeeping, and a hopeful study of bees in the wild

Early on in Helen Jukes’s A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings she ponders the increasing popularity of urban beekeeping, referring to the idea that “one possible psychological response to the apprehension of a threat is to begin producing idealised versions of the thing we perceive of as being at risk”. That’s also a good explanation for the current crop of bee books: not just A Honeybee Heart and Thor Hanson’s Buzz, but Kate Bradbury’s wonderful The Bumblebee Flies Anyway and Maja Lunde’s The History of Bees, among others. Books, like hives, are ways of capturing something and holding on to it: either helping to preserve it, or looking at it closely before it’s gone.

A Honeybee Heart is in the tradition of H Is for Hawk and other ...

Hold by Michael Donkor review – a debut with quiet dignity

Shuttling between Ghana and south London, this is a tenderly observed study of friendship, family and coming of age

One of the most poignant depictions of the grieving process is to be found in a fragment composed by the American poet Jack Gilbert in 1994. The 13-line prose-poem, “Michiko Dead”, describes the stoic juggling act of a man who “manages like somebody carrying a box that is too heavy”. First he clutches the load until his arms go numb, before transferring the weight to one shoulder and finally shifting back to the original position “so that he can go on without ever putting the box down”.

You may wonder what the elliptical lament of an obscure American beat writer has to do with a novel that shuttles between the southern Ghanaian city of Kumasi and the west African communities of Brixton, south London, in 2002. But Michael Donkor’s ...

From anxiety to Zuckerberg: an A-Z of Brexit

Hard or soft, clean, dirty or frictionless? As the EU debate reaches boiling point, it’s time to take a closer look at its unique lexicon

The syndrome known as “Brexit anxiety” is now so common that a team of psychotherapists from the Existential Academy is offering free sessions to help people avoid “being sucked into a vortex of gloom and doom”. Unfortunately only continental Europeans living in the UK qualify, so the rest of us will just have to pretend we like living in a vortex.

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Stav Sherez wins crime novel of the year for ‘moving the genre forward’

The Intrusions, in which the case of an abduction reveals online terrors, takes the 2018 Theakston Old Peculier prize

Stav Sherez has won the 2018 Theakston Old Peculier award for crime fiction with his novel The Intrusions.

The third outing for detectives Jack Carrigan and Geneva Miller begins when a young woman arrives at their west London police station, saying that her friend has been abducted from the seedy Bayswater hostel where they both live. Soon the investigators discover that someone has been using remote-access technology to gain control both of the women’s laptops and their lives.

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Magical Hypocrisy: Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell

Sebastien de Castell’s first fantasy series, the Greatcoats (Traitor’s Blade, Knight’s Shadow, Saint’s Blood, and Tyrant’s Throne) was well-received. Unaccountably, I don’t seem to have read them already, and Spellslinger—the opening volume in a new series—makes me suspect that I’ve been missing out.

Spellslinger was first published in hardcover in 2017 by UK outfit Hot Key Books, along with sequel Shadowblack. The third novel, Charmcaster, came out earlier this year, and a further volume is scheduled to appear in the autumn. Now Orbit Books is releasing a paperback edition of Spellslinger, with sequels soon to follow.

Spellslinger features a main character who’s just about to turn sixteen. Kellen is a young man in a society ruled by magic. His parents are among the most powerful mages of their generation, and his younger sister bids fair to be just as strong. But Kellen’s ...