This Golden Fleece by Esther Rutter review – knit your own history


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Rutter tells a good yarn as she tours the sheepier parts of Britain and teaches herself knitting via YouTube

When Vanessa Bell painted her sister, Virginia Woolf, in 1912 she didn’t give her eyes, although she did supply her with knitting needles and what looks like the beginnings of a reddish-pink scarf huddled in her lap. Woolf, it transpires, was far from being the only member of the Bloomsbury group who liked to spend her downtime plaining and purling. Younger brother Adrian had recently taken up the craft and, by the outbreak of war two years later, Lytton Strachey was busy “knitting mufflers for our soldier and sailor lads”, thrilling to the thought of the tender male bodies he might be warming with his busy fingers. As for Woolf’s novels, they are stuffed with women plying their pins. One academic has totted them up, and discovered that in her ...

Will my cat eat my eyeballs? How Caitlin Doughty teaches kids about death


This post is by Marianne Eloise from Books | The Guardian


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In her new book, the undertaker and YouTube star answers children’s questions about mortality. She explains why we shouldn’t fear talking about it

When faced with the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, very few kids would answer “undertaker”. Caitlin Doughty, perhaps most famous for her YouTube channel Ask a Mortician, certainly wouldn’t have. “I never had any sense of the funeral industry as anything other than this dark, archaic hole with a man in a suit putting electric green fluid through a tube into a corpse. It never even occurred to me that I could be a part of it,” she says.

But maybe that is about to change. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? answers 35 questions about death, sourced from curious children. From “Will I poop when I die?” to “Can I use bones from a human cremation as ...

Mask Off by JJ Bola review – masculinity redefined


This post is by Houman Barekat from Books | The Guardian


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Does maleness need to be entirely dismantled? This primer for young people is an antidote to Jordan Peterson

One of the more welcome publishing trends of the past two or three years has been the glut of thoughtful books about modern masculinity. These include memoirs such as Howard Cunnell’s moving account of his daughter’s gender dysmorphia and reassignment, Fathers and Sons; and Thomas Page McBee’s The Amateur, which recounts the author’s preparations for a boxing bout against a cis male after transitioning. Several recent debut novels, including Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You, Daniel Magariel’s One of the Boys and Matthew Sperling’s Astroturf, have also explored this terrain. The perniciousness of masculinist ideology is a recurring theme in Edouard Louis’s fiction – The End of Eddy, History of Violence and Who Killed My Father – and is also at the centre of ...

‘I was a dangerous person’: Casey Legler on life as a teenage Olympian – and raging alcoholic


This post is by Stefanie Marsh from Books | The Guardian


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At 19, Legler broke the Olympic freestyle swimming record. But she was also an alcoholic and drug dealer who had suffered years of abuse from her trainers. She is surprised she is still alive, she says

One day, when she was a teenager, Casey Legler woke up with a hangover, then jumped into a pool and broke the Olympic freestyle swimming record. The year was 1996 and Legler was in Atlanta, a member of the French team, having a practice session as she awaited the Olympic finals the next day. Legler, at 6ft 2in, was built to swim. She had been groomed to be an Olympian from the age of 12. But when the finals came – the biggest day of her professional life – she bombed, coming 29th in the women’s 50m freestyle. She spent the next day drunk and dealing cocaine – to Olympic teammates and teenage members ...

Top 10 culinary memoirs


This post is by Isabel Vincent from Books | The Guardian


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Going beyond lists of ingredients, these books recall the various ways in which food nourishes our most intimate lives

When I was writing about the dinners I had with my elderly friend Edward, I made a decision early on not to include any recipes. Edward, an accomplished cook, rarely wrote down any instructions for, say, his oysters Rockefeller or chicken paillard. While the food we ate was certainly important, the book was not meant to be a cookbook, but instead a memoir about the nature of friendship.

In this pursuit, I was inspired by a rich literature of culinary writing in which food is a central motif, but is held together by the story of its preparation and the fellowship that comes from sharing a meal. So many writers – from MFK Fisher, who wrote lyrically about the pleasures of dining alone, to New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton, who documented ...

Meet Thatcher Wine: the ‘celebrity bibliophile’ you didn’t know you needed


This post is by Marina Hyde from Books | The Guardian


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He sounds like a Brexit party candidate. In fact, he is the latest mind-body-spirit magnate gifted to us by Gwyneth Paltrow

Important news: we have been gifted a new curator by mind-body-spirit magnate Gwyneth Paltrow. Of course, even that is too limiting an epithet. Gwyneth is, if you will, a curator of curators, lovingly assembling a rolling collection of some of the most preposterous people in late-stage capitalism, and repackaging them for consumption via her Goop website at an undisclosed mark-up.

The latest curator to be raised up by association with madam is one Thatcher Wine, who has assisted Paltrow with the augmentation of her Los Angeles bookshelves, and is described as a “celebrity bibliophile” in an interview with Town and Country magazine.

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Too busy? Distracted by your phone? How to love reading again


This post is by Marianne Eloise from Books | The Guardian


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If reading has given way in your life to social media and other distractions, it can be hard to return to books – but these tips could help

In 2019, books are not just a last resort when the wifi is down. There are Instagram accounts, podcasts and even subscription boxes dedicated to reading. Chances are you’ve noticed your friends joining book clubs or posting beautifully lit bookstagram photos. Reading is – if it ever was – cool again.

Why? Perhaps for the same reason we’ve seen a surge in interest in hobbies such as jigsaws and cross-stitch: right now, our brains are saturated with digital information so it’s no surprise that we’re returning to unplugged hobbies. (But also going online to talk about them.)

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Too busy? Distracted by your phone? How to love reading again


This post is by Marianne Eloise from Books | The Guardian


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If reading has given way in your life to social media and other distractions, it can be hard to return to books – but these tips could help

In 2019, books are not just a last resort when the wifi is down. There are Instagram accounts, podcasts and even subscription boxes dedicated to reading. Chances are you’ve noticed your friends joining book clubs or posting beautifully lit bookstagram photos. Reading is – if it ever was – cool again.

Why? Perhaps for the same reason we’ve seen a surge in interest in hobbies such as jigsaws and cross-stitch: right now, our brains are saturated with digital information so it’s no surprise that we’re returning to unplugged hobbies. (But also going online to talk about them.)

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A secondhand book is a glimpse into the lives of other readers | Hannah Jane Parkinson


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


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You might pick up a book that changed a life. Maybe you’ll then leave it somewhere, and it will transform someone else’s

Something I will always, always remember because, even at age 15 or so, it brought me such joy, was when I bought on eBay a first edition of Sylvia Plath’s Crossing The Water collection (of course I did), and stuck to the page of the poem A Life was a squished dead fly.

I own a lot of books. Whenever I look for a new place to live, there must be a surfeit of shelving or the space to create it. The books come to me in various ways: as gifts, as new hardbacks from independent bookshops, as last-minute airport paperbacks, sent to the office by publishers (thank you), Amazon deals (I don’t think any of us are innocent of that). My favourites are secondhand editions.

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Why are there so many new books about time-travelling lesbians?


This post is by Amal El-Mohtar from Books | The Guardian


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At a time when historical amnesia is making itself widely felt, these stories show how readily the past can be rewritten

Time-travel stories sit at a nexus of the literal and figurative. All of us are travelling through time – at the ambling pace of a human life, moving in a direction we think of as forward, with the future ahead and the past behind. But memory is a form of time travel, the study of history is an attempt at building time machines, and past and future are entangled.

In 2016, I sat down with my co-author Max Gladstone to write our novel This Is How You Lose the Time War, which follows two time-travelling female spies as they fall in love. That same year was also when I first heard people speaking earnestly and frequently about feeling as if they were in the wrong timeline, as the ...

McMindfulness by Ronald Purser; Mindfulness by Christina Feldman and Willem Kuyken – review


This post is by Jonnie Wolf from Books | The Guardian


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Mindfulness may have become a tool of capitalism, but if it works, does it matter?

In a frequently quoted passage, the American professor of medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as “a way of being in a wise and purposeful relationship with one’s experience… cultivated by systematically exercising one’s capacity for paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally”. It sounds harmless enough. But San Francisco-based academic Ronald Purser thinks not. He has written a strident polemic attacking the secular mindfulness movement.

Forty years ago, Kabat-Zinn set about distilling Buddhist wisdom into a framework that could address modern concerns. He originally designed a short course for people suffering from chronic physical pain. These programmes have since been extended to treat a wide range of cases including depression, addiction and workplace stress. They have been adopted in schools, businesses, criminal justice systems, in the US military, the NHS and UK ...

Ahead of the pack: the best books about running


This post is by Ben Wilkinson from Books | The Guardian


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A hidden tribe in Mexico, an Olympic hero and the fells’ unsung heroes … Ben Wilkinson picks books that explore our love of running

Running is in rude health. Two million adults in England alone lace up their running shoes each week. The parkrun initiative – free, Saturday morning, timed 5km events open to all – started as a small get-together in 2004; 15 years later there are more than 5 million parkrunners worldwide. The act of putting one foot in front of another is simple, so what’s the appeal?

Writers of all stripes have questioned why we run. In Born to Run, Christopher McDougall discovers a hidden tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyon; the realisation dawns that “the world’s most enlightened people were also the world’s most amazing runners”. An author’s quest to run injury-free broadens into an anthropological study of our running lineage.

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Hurrah for ‘flyting’ – but we can do better than Piers Morgan and Alan Sugar


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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The ‘frenemies’ have taken to aiming insulting limericks at each other – but they can’t beat 15th-century poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy

The 15th-century Scottish poets William Dunbar and Walter Kennedy would be rolling in their graves at what the noble art of flyting – trading insults in verse – has been reduced to by the likes of Alan Sugar and Piers Morgan. The pair – who are apparently “frenemies” (as in, “Alan Sugar caught up in new homophobic row after joking with frenemy Piers Morgan about gay elephants) – began insulting each other on Thursday with Twitter limericks. It isn’t hard to imagine that they were inspired by the efforts of Britain’s new prime minister Boris Johnson, who wrote a limerick about the president of Turkey having sex with a goat three years ago shortly before his appointment as foreign secretary.

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Walking helped me discover the slow unfurling joy of reading books aloud | Patti Miller


This post is by Patti Miller from Books | The Guardian


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On long treks through France, Spain and remote Australia, I discovered the rich wonder that comes from reading to a friend

It began seven years ago in the hamlet of Ferreira in northern Spain. It was the sixth day of a long-distance walk and my feet had become increasingly sore. I sat outside the hostel, my feet up on a chair, feeling utterly dispirited.

“I’ll read to you,” said Anthony, my long-distance walking companion. “That’ll fix you up.”

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My new novel allowed me to grieve years after losing my baby boy


This post is by Clare Mackintosh from Books | The Guardian


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In 2006 the writer Clare Mackintosh gave birth to twin boys 12 weeks prematurely. At first everything went well, but then one twin picked up a dangerous infection, and mother and father were faced with a terrible decision

Authors are told to write what they know, but my own story was, for many years, too hard to even contemplate. I was too scared to explore the emotions I kept locked away. I wrote other books instead – became known for twisty thrillers – then last year I sat at my desk with new resolve. It was time.

In November 2006 I delivered twin boys 12 weeks prematurely. Josh and Alex were baby birds, with screwed-shut eyes and translucent skin. They drank my milk through a narrow tube, breathed via a mask over their tiny faces, and day by day grew stronger.

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Not Speaking by Norma Clarke review – tight trousers and celebrity hairdressers


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This is an explosive family memoir ... but the remarkable stories are also an exploration of the effect Thatcherism had on Britain

When Rena Clarke was widowed in 2006 at the age of 83, her six middle-aged children duly stepped up to the plate. Nicky, the richest, installed Rena in a luxury flat and continued to take her to church on Sunday. Another son, Michael, managed her money, while daughters Linda, Norma and Tina took turns with marathon sessions of tidying up and chucking out. But then, in the run-up to Christmas 2014, it all started to go wrong for reasons that remain obscure, even now that Norma, the clever one in the family, has set it all down in this intriguing memoir. It’s something to do with Nicky thinking that the others should make a bigger financial contribution to Rena’s upkeep, and Michael being cross about rising property prices in ...

Adventuring while female: why the relationship women have with nature matters


This post is by Megan Mayhew Bergman from Books | The Guardian


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Going camping alone, I was reminded that the great works of environmentalist female writers are often overlooked – and it’s our loss

It’s Monday in the Adirondack state park. I’m driving through little towns, passing junk stores, lumber businesses, small cafes and adventure outfitters. I have heard people call this part of New York state “poverty with a view”. The Adirondacks are a collision of hardship and wealth, but mostly wilderness. Six million acres of it.

It’s almost LaBastille Day, and to celebrate, I’m going to camp alone for the first time in my life.

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The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read by Philippa Perry review – how to raise your kids


This post is by Aida Edemariam from Books | The Guardian


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What should be the top priority for a parent? A bestseller considers screens, sleep and why children should be listened to, though not always agreed with

It is one of the cliches of parenthood that the behaviour which comes most easily (a reproving tone of voice, say, or an attitude to your child’s tears) reflects what your parents did with you. It takes a while to realise that what feels like instinct is often an inheritance, that just because something comes “naturally” it is not necessarily constructive. It may get in the way, first, of the relationship between parent and child, and then, because this relationship provides the foundation for all future relationships, of how the child will get on in the world.

Enter Philippa Perry’s book, which has an inspired title (even if one commenter on Mumsnet argued it veers a little close to clickbait). Perry has a plan ...

I can’t write about a world without rape – because I don’t live in one


This post is by Kaite Welsh from Books | The Guardian


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Women read and write crime fiction as a way to understand real experience. I was raped – and being told by the Staunch prize that books like mine are preventing justice is outrageous

That rape cases are hard to prosecute is no shocker, but the claim that crime writers are partly to blame shocked me. According to the Staunch prize for books with no violence against women, writers who include sexual violence and rape in their books are contributing to a wider culture in which jurors are “reluctant to convict ‘ordinary’ men” because “they don’t fit the idea of a rapist they’ve internalised through the stories and images they’ve received through popular culture”. In great thriller tradition, the call is coming from inside the house.

As someone who analyses culture for a living and often finds it wanting, I’m in the unaccustomed position of noting that what we’re talking about ...