Game over: why haven’t dating guides woken up to new sexual politics?

This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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A domestic violence charity had called for the end of Neil Strauss’ pickup artist book The Game – but dating guides aimed at both women and men are full of retrograde advice

Before writing The Game, Neil Strauss was a self-described “lump of nerd”. But his 2005 bestseller, which has shifted more than 3m copies around the world (270,000 in the UK), revealed the secrets of his midlife transformation into a ladies’ man, through time spent in the company of professional pickup artists. Techniques revealed by Strauss – practised long before his book, but never before exposed to such a big audience – included “negging” (making negative comments to lower a woman’s self-esteem so she’ll stay to earn approval) and “cavemanning” (aggressively escalating physical contact).

None of this reads very well in 2019 and this week, the director of women’s charity Zero Tolerance Rachel Adamson called for UK publisher Canongate ...

We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet review – a child in wartime

This post is by Melissa Harrison from Books | The Guardian

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Parental love is at the heart of a story grounded in the details of everyday life in an English village during the second world war

Domestic stories of women’s lives in wartime are common in genre publishing but rarer in literary fiction. From the off, Frances Liardet’s second novel, published 25 years after her first, distances itself from nostalgia and insists on its own terms. The writing is often dazzling – a child’s voice is “clear, piping, like a twig peeled of its bark” – and this, too, lifts what might have been a sentimental story into different territory altogether.

It is 1940 and a busload of bombed-out civilians from Southampton has arrived in the village of Upton, where Ellen Parr and her much older husband Selwyn, a miller with whom she has what’s described as a mariage blanc, are helping to find them beds for the night. The ...

Why I read aloud to my teenagers

This post is by Giulia Rhodes from Books | The Guardian

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Storytime isn’t just for young children, says literary critic Meghan Cox Gurdon

Meghan Cox Gurdon is reading aloud to her daughter Phoebe. The book is Dominic, William Steig’s tale of a benevolent, wandering dog, and a family favourite. But this is no cosy bedtime vignette with a yawning, pyjama-clad toddler perched on a parent’s knee: Phoebe is 17 years old and she is drinking coffee and eating breakfast as she listens, before heading out to school. Like her siblings – Molly, 24, Paris, 22, Violet, 18, and Flora, 13 – she has grown up being read to, and it’s something that hasn’t stopped just because she’s hit adolescence.

Cox Gurdon is a reading-aloud tub-thumper. She is a children’s literature reviewer for the Wall Street Journal and has just published her own book, The Enchanted Hour, which makes the case for reading to loved ones of all ages.

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George Orwell: British Council apologises for rejecting food essay

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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The author was commissioned to write about British food for an overseas audience in 1946, but piece was spiked amid anxiety about postwar austerity

More than 70 years after the event, the British Council has apologised to George Orwell for commissioning and then rejecting an essay about British food.

The author of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm was, the body has revealed, commissioned to write British Cookery in 1946, as part of the organisation’s efforts to promote British culture overseas. But a discovery in the British Council’s archives has revealed that after commissioning the essay, it declined to publish it, telling Orwell that it was problematic to write about food in a time of strict rationing.

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Why are so many women writing about rough sex? | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

This post is by Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett from Books | The Guardian

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After #Metoo, it’s no surprise a new generation of female authors is exploring sexual abuse and dominance

Recently I have found myself wondering about the prevalence of rough sex in new fiction written by women. It’s viscerally present in You Know You Want This, the new short-story collection by Kristen Roupenian (who shot to fame last year with Cat Person, published in the New Yorker): I found some of the scenes so unpalatable that I had to keep putting it down. They (spoiler alert) include a woman strangled to death as part of a sex game; a man who imagines his penis is a knife when he has sex; and a woman who says to the guy she is sleeping with: “I want you to punch me in the face as hard as you can. After you’ve punched me, when I’ve fallen down, I want you to kick ...

Women write fantasy for grown-ups, too

This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian

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Why are female authors’ adult fantasy novels so often marketed at teenagers?

Why are adult fantasy novels by women often marketed at teenagers? This is the question an article on the website BookRiot has posited, arguing that unconscious sexism is to blame. “As more women’s novels get mistakenly classified as young adult, it furthers the message that grownup fantasy and sci-fi are for men. Sure, women can write for teens who like The Hunger Games, but for the ‘real’ fantasy readers? Try again,” wrote Mya Nunnally.

Sexism exists in science fiction and fantasy: until recently, the genre has remained stubbornly white and male but for the rise of authors including Nnedi Okorafor or NK Jemisin. Every time the Guardian runs reviews of sci-fi by women, commenters invariably debate whether it is sci-fi at all. But while YA fiction as we know it has been around since the ...

Book clinic: what can I read to get along better with Mum?

This post is by Kate Kellaway from Books | The Guardian

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A daughter seeks help, fictional or nonfictional, to patch up a difficult relationship with her mother

Q: I don’t know how to manage my relationship with my mother. Can you recommend any books, fiction or nonfiction, which deal with fraught mother-and-daughter bonds?
Anonymous, 40, Buckinghamshire

A: Kate Kellaway, Observer writer and critic, says:
Reading about dysfunctional mother/daughter relationships can be soothing when struggling with a difficult relationship of your own.

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Cat Person author Kristen Roupenian: ‘Dating is caught up in ego, power and control’

This post is by Emma Brockes from Books | The Guardian

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Her short story was read by millions online – then things got weird. The writer talks about viral fame, power games and her new collection of twisted tales

Kristen Roupenian’s short story Cat Person was published by the New Yorker in December 2017 and, to the author’s best recollection, it went up online on a Monday. The 37-year-old was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while completing a fellowship in writing, and for three or four days after the story came out, enjoyed the world’s customary reaction to most fiction, and all short stories – complete indifference – while basking in the achievement of it having been published at all. “I was thinking, ‘Wow: that was the greatest thing to ever happen, and now it’s over.’” She smiles. “Then it was Friday.”

By the standards of true global celebrity, there is only so far a piece of fiction can ...

Deborah Levy: Marie Kondo can’t have my bookshelves

This post is by Deborah Levy from Books | The Guardian

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I have reached a stage where many of my books no longer speak to me, but I won’t be persuaded to part with Jack Kerouac or Colette

The backlash to Marie Kondo’s suggestion that we chuck out books that don’t “bring joy” shows how attached we are to physical books, even in a digital age. I think Kondo is very impressive. I like how she advises us to fold a shirt with love in our hands. Why not? All the same, I’m not going to give it a go because I believed Virginia Woolf when she advised female writers to kill the angel in the house. Hopefully, we did that with love in our hands. (Actually, I thought it was quite exhilarating when Kondo experimented with ripping books apart so they fit better on shelves. Perhaps it’s even a bit dada.)

It is true that in the current ...

Ben Okri: ‘If you’re hungry, books seem full of feasts’

This post is by John Hind from Books | The Guardian

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The writer on living on the streets in London, eating in a cellar during the Nigerian civil war, and fasting while writing

It’s a mystery to me why Nigerian food is not better known. It can only be the prejudice of poor exposure. I once took Antonio Carluccio to my favourite Nigerian restaurant in London and he raved at the revelation. But it was too late in his career to champion what might become the next great discovery in international cuisine. The moment now feels right.

I was born in Minna [in Nigeria] where my earliest memory is panicking my mother for a whole day, when I was only about a year and a half old, because I headed off across the market and got lost in town. Minna is a groundnut town and I remember seeing these piles – pyramids – of groundnuts.

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Cressida Cowell on the best books to celebrate the magic of Christmas

This post is by Cressida Cowell from Books | The Guardian

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From Charles Dickens to Susan Cooper, the How to Train Your Dragon author chooses books to terrify and cheer – and even inspire a little kindness

The festive season has always been full of defiance against the crowding in of the dark. When the year is at its bleakest, we surround ourselves with friends and loved ones to drive that darkness away with fires and joyful noise. Because this is also the time of year to remind ourselves of all the good humanity can do, and to believe in the impossible.

There are so many stories that convey the magic of the festive season. When we return to Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St Nicholas, or Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales or Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising and read them aloud, we find a kind of magic, cast a spell.

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‘A rose with a thousand petals’ … what makes an aphorism – and is this a golden age?

This post is by Sam Leith from Books | The Guardian

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Forget haikus, epigrams, proverbs, maxims, adages and riddles. If you’re needing a sliver of wisdom, try an aphorism. There are certainly plenty around …

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
“Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
“Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit.”

Social media, these days, burgeons with such words of wisdom, floating around on a sea of hashtags, usually misattributed, and frequently accompanied by photos of sunsets over beaches. So are we living in a golden age of aphorisms? They are, after all, well suited to a 280-character limit, and positively beg to be shared.

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Dream job: the writer paid to send millions to sleep

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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With insomnia on the rise, Phoebe Smith was hired to write stories designed to help people nod off – with the help of Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley

There are countless writing rules that authors are urged to follow, but they can probably all be boiled down to one: seize your reader’s attention and keep it. Phoebe Smith, one of the most popular writers you’ve probably never heard of, has to consciously ignore this when the muse takes her.

“I kind of flip over what we would normally do with writing. We’re normally trying to grab people with a dramatic introduction, and work through a narrative arc with every paragraph we write,” she says. “I’m flipping that on its head.”

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Judith Kerr: ‘I like this generation of teenagers. They seem kind and idealistic’

This post is by Tim Adams from Books | The Guardian

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At 95, the author of The Tiger Who Came to Tea still works every day. ‘Stories are a huge comfort,’ she says over lunch at the Savoy

Judith Kerr has a theory about life. The first half of it, she suggests, lasts until you are about 18. All the rest counts as the second half. “Children’s years go on so long,” she says, “and pack so very much in.” Kerr’s own formative years – fictionalised in her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – are more than a case in point. She escaped from Germany in 1933 with her mother and her father, who was a journalist and fierce critic of the Nazis. They lived for a while in France before being welcomed as refugees in London. She recalls being bombed out of a hotel in Bloomsbury in the blitz. “I was sleeping on a chest of drawers in ...

Watership Down should be about death and destruction, not fluffy rabbits | Stephanie Merritt

This post is by Stephanie Merritt from Books | The Guardian

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I loved the 1978 film as a child, even though it terrified me. The remake should have kept the wild darkness, not toned it down

We don’t like to think about death too much at Christmas these days, especially when it comes to children’s stories. This is a shame, because dwelling on the proximity of darkness has been a significant part of our collective storytelling tradition at this time of year, since long before the Green Knight crashed King Arthur’s Christmas feast.

The Christmas ghost story used to be a family occasion; Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black both begin with the telling of fearful tales around the fire on Christmas Eve, a reminder that as we gather with loved ones around the warmth and lights of the hearth, the dark and the wild are still outside the windows, remnants of our ...

From Madonna’s Sex to Lady Chatterley: inside the Bodleian’s explicit book club

This post is by Richard Ovenden from Books | The Guardian

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Created at the height of Victorian prudishness, the Bodleian Library’s Phi collection was designed to protect young minds from ‘immoral’ books. More than a century later, they’re going on display for the first time

Libraries today take a dim view of censorship. They are places where knowledge is preserved and shared freely, and where ideas that may seem challenging to some, are nevertheless part of what libraries see as their role in society to make ideas accessible to all.

But this was not always the case. My own institution, the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford, created a restricted class, a special category for books that were deemed to be too sexually explicit. These books were given the shelfmark Φ – the Greek letter phi – and students had to submit a college tutor’s letter of support in order to access the racy materials that were contained there. The Bodleian was certainly ...

Bloody Brilliant Women by Cathy Newman review – the history your teacher forgot to mention

This post is by Hannah Jane Parkinson from Books | The Guardian

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A celebration of women who helped shape modern Britain is as entertaining as it is enlightening

Cathy Newman has written a bloody, brilliant book. Bloody Brilliant Women (perhaps a cheeky takedown of Ken Clarke’s description of Theresa May as a “bloody difficult woman”) is one of a few recent titles celebrating lesser known women – or, as the subtitle of Newman’s book puts it, “the pioneers, revolutionaries and geniuses your history teacher forgot to mention”. It is an excellent addition to volumes such as Modern Women: 52 Pioneers by the Guardian’s Kira Cochrane; Zing Tsjeng’s Forgotten Women series; and Hannah Jewell’s riposte to Trump, 100 Nasty Women of History.

It turns out that Newman, a Channel 4 broadcaster, is a riveting teller of history. We are given an insight into the lives of women from Queen Victoria (who pointed out men taking credit for women’s achievements, but also vehemently ...

‘Up-lit’ gives hope to publishers at Frankfurt book fair

This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian

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‘Hopeful’ novel about an elderly woman who adopts a dog leads the charge from feelgood fiction

A debut novel about a lonely old woman who has fallen through the cracks of society has wowed publishers at this week’s Frankfurt book fair, with 10 presses fighting to win a book that is being compared to the smash hit Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

The television producer Beth Morrey’s first novel, The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, has emerged as one of the biggest titles among a deluge of fiction following the trend for uplifting literature, or “up-lit”. Selling to HarperCollins for a six-figure sum after a 10-way auction, the novel finds elderly Missy Carmichael living alone with her husband gone, her daughter not speaking to her and her son in Australia – until she adopts a dog.

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Women avoid transgender debate in fear of reaction, says Jo Brand

This post is by Mark Brown Arts correspondent from Books | The Guardian

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Writer laments vilification of Germaine Greer and infighting within feminism

Many women are wary of entering feminist debates over transgender issues because they are frightened of the reaction, the comedian and writer Jo Brand has said.

Brand was addressing a debate that has led to feminists such as Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel being no-platformed at some universities.

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Untrue by Wednesday Martin review – the ‘new science’ on infidelity

This post is by Kathryn Hughes from Books | The Guardian

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How much does anthropology help to destroy the myth that women ‘naturally’ seek one steady partner?

According to Wednesday Martin, if you want to know how early humans organised their sex lives, before prudery, habit and agrarian production got in the way, you should take a look at bonobos. Once known as pygmy chimps, these primates are the closest thing we have to a living ancestor. Certainly, they resemble us more than the common chimp. They are fine-boned, with pink lips, proportionately long legs on which they can walk upright and hair that falls into a neat centre parting.

However that prissy hair-do is misleading. Bonobos are, as is well known, shameless sexual gluttons, especially the females. They wander around in a girl gang and, when they fancy a bloke, go up and put their arm around him. If he moves away the female follows him for a bit. Pretty ...