Why Nationalism by Yael Tamir – review


This post is by Nick Cohen from Books | The Guardian


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The rise of nationalism – a product of the left’s embrace of globalism – can be a benevolent force, according to this ‘wine-bar’ polemic. Nick Cohen begs to differ

You must have once sat in a bar listening to an apparently informed companion. At first, they beguile you. Then the drink flows, tongues loosen, fingers wag and the evening degenerates. I have been on both sides of the table. I have wagged and been wagged at so often I know the danger signs. Nowhere are they more evident than in today’s lectures on how liberals “just don’t get it”.

Yael Tamir offers an upmarket version of contemporary cliches. She is more wine bar than saloon bar, although, as the glasses are downed, the distinction between the two blurs. Tamir is from the subgenre of former or self-declared liberals and leftists. She was an anti-war activist in the Israeli Peace Now ...

Let Me Not Be Mad by AK Benjamin review – a doctor on the edge


This post is by Hephzibah Anderson from Books | The Guardian


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Clinical case studies meet personal revelations in a neuropsychologist’s eye‑opening memoir

Author’s notes – those arse-covering pleas bent on cloaking shiftiness with candour – tend to be skipped by all but the pernicketiest of readers. An exception should be made for AK Benjamin’s. The eight lines that preface Let Me Not Be Mad slice straight to the singed, fast-beating heart of a mental-health memoir like no other. Having explained that he’s changed all identifying details, from physical features to backgrounds and locations, as well as blending real and imagined encounters, he adds: “If anything, this confusion makes the book more faithful as an account of my experience.”

It is fair warning. And yet the true nature of that experience isn’t immediately apparent. Benjamin – not his real name, of course – is a clinical neuropsychologist in his late 40s. He specialises in diagnosis and acute rehabilitation, and the book’s ...

Let Me Not Be Mad by AK Benjamin review – a physician’s descent into mania


This post is by Colin Grant from Books | The Guardian


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A clinical neuropsychologist charts his own disturbing thoughts in this original, provocative study

Have you ever embarked on a relationship with someone you instantly found attractive, knowing from the start it would end badly? The same exhilarating but doomed sentiment is evoked on encountering the authorial voice of Let Me Not Be Mad, a debut non-fiction work by clinical neuropsychologist AK Benjamin (not his real name). He is erudite, funny and quite possibly (but not definitely) crazy. That is Benjamin’s own assessment and fear, hence his title.

Much of the book takes the form of a handful of neurological case studies, a form now reassuringly familiar thanks to books by writer-medics from Oliver Sacks to Suzanne O’Sullivan. “Michael” is the survivor of a skydiving accident that sliced “two cubed inches” off the front of his brain, as a result of which the “super normal, unimaginative” financier became “a compulsive ...

The Joy of Missing Out by Svend Brinkmann review – forget Fomo


This post is by Steven Poole from Books | The Guardian


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Don’t let the fear of missing out ruin your life. Count your blessings and be there for other people – but beware the ‘elitist trap’

In our time, “personal growth” is the corporate-approved dream. As the Danish psychologist Svend Brinkmann notes, it is a “rampant development culture that knows no boundaries”. Personal growth must be thought of as literally endless in order to feed the market for training and self-discovery. But just how huge does one person need to be? Infinite personal growth is no more sustainable than infinite economic growth. And so this smart little pamphlet is, in a way, a manifesto for personal degrowth, or shrinkage.

Fear of missing out, or Fomo, is wrecking our lives, Brinkmann argues, so we should cultivate the pleasure of disengagement. He cites Aristotle’s rule of moderation in all things, research indicating that too much choice is psychologically toxic, and the idea ...

Afraid of public speaking? This is what the experts say


This post is by Sam Leith from Books | The Guardian


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From ‘pitch coaches’ to TED talkers, there’s an industry of self-help books about public speaking. What can we learn from the professionals?

You’ll probably remember reading somewhere that the deepest human fear – more profound even than death or waking up in bed with the 45th president of the United States of America – is the fear of public speaking. That’s nonsense, of course, to be bracketed with other factoids such as the seven spiders we’re all supposed to eat in our sleep, or the impossibility of bumblebee flight. The most recent Chapman University Survey on American Fears last year found public speaking at No 52, well behind sharks (41), death (48) and Obamacare (33). That’s the science.

But there’s no question that for most of us, public speaking is a fear. A big one. It’s one that may not loom front and centre in our lives, since we will ...

‘Identity is a pain in the arse’: Zadie Smith on political correctness


This post is by Claire Armitstead from Books | The Guardian


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At Hay Cartagena festival author questions role of social media in policing personal development

The writer Zadie Smith laid into identity politics in a headline session at the 14th Hay Cartagena festival, insisting novelists had not only a right, but a duty to be free.

Asked how she felt about cultural appropriation, she told an audience of nearly 2,000 at the festival in Colombia on Friday: “If someone says to me: ‘A black girl would never say that,’ I’m saying: ‘How can you possibly know?’ The problem with that argument is it assumes the possibility of total knowledge of humans. The only thing that identifies people in their entirety is their name: I’m a Zadie.”

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Lucy Wood on north Cornwall: ‘When gales brew up, there’s nowhere to hide’


This post is by Lucy Wood from Books | The Guardian


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The author on packed summer beaches, empty winter ones, surf culture and being a connoisseur of Cornish junk food

Apparently the area where I grew up is one of the furthest places from a train station in Britain. It’s a place of huge cliffs, wide, stony beaches, trees bent over like fishermen. When rain comes in sideways, or gales brew up, there’s nowhere to hide. I once saw someone blown across the street into a shop window. Isolated is how it’s most often described. But for almost half the year it’s the opposite: full to the brim with holidaymakers.

It was strange, I suppose, growing up with this kind of disparity, where the place I lived changed so radically from season to season. Beaches were suddenly packed. Cars jostled for spaces. Lights came on in holiday houses. It felt like mine and not-mine at the same time. I played tennis, ...

Janice Galloway on Saltcoats: ‘I imagined the nostalgia might be fun. I was wrong’


This post is by Janice Galloway from Books | The Guardian


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The writer on her ambivalent affection for her hometown and the school – and teacher – that changed her life

A long time ago now, I took my wee boy to my old home town on the train. I imagined the nostalgia might be fun. I was wrong. The sky over Saltcoats on our arrival had the lemon-juice glare of January sun over the freezing shoreline – brightness that held no warmth. Nothing like building a sandcastle when it’s freezing, I said. We can look across the water to Aran. Even at the age of six, my son knew the word freezing was the one to watch. More than anything, we were cold.

My ambivalent affection for the dying seaside resort that was home till I was almost 19 has never changed. The winter chill of the tides set against the coffee-warmth of the Cafe Melbourne (a real Italian ice-cream ...

Where next? How to cope with Brexit uncertainty


This post is by Susie Orbach from Books | The Guardian


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As Brexit debates become ever more fractious, we are trapped in a cycle of anger, disbelief and impotence. Can psychotherapy help us find a way out?

Divorce, which is what Brexit is, takes a long time because it is serious. For divorce to work within a family, mediation is recommended. When a family breaks up with this much hostility its members rarely emerge unscathed.The escaping partner may be buoyed up by the hope of new adventures but the remaining partner is bequeathed with anxiety, insecurity and uncertainty.

On both sides of what we might term our national trauma, there is fury and hurt. It hasn’t gone away. In many ways it has heightened in the last fortnight, as the clock ticks down. There is fear and a sense of fragility, often masked by aggression and even bullying. It is easy for both parties in this traumatic break to exclude ...

‘Like Charlie Brooker on Buckfast’: the caustic world of Chris McQueer


This post is by Libby Brooks from Books | The Guardian


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He quit his job selling trainers in Glasgow to become a writer. Now his contorted visions are earning him comparisons with Irvine Welsh. How does he feel about it all? ‘A bit poncy’

Chris McQueer’s granny thinks he should get a real job. The 27-year-old Glaswegian, who quit his work punting trainers in a sportswear shop last year to concentrate on a writing career that has already prompted comparisons to Irvine Welsh, admits that he still feels shy describing himself as an author.

“Even with taxi drivers, if they ask ‘Whit dae ye dae?’, I still tell them I work in the sports shop. I feel a bit poncy...” But McQueer has had to get used to talking about himself since he started self-publishing short stories on Twitter three years ago to see if he could make his pals laugh. His first collection, Hings, brought into ...

Bradford libraries face further £2m cuts


This post is by David Barnett from Books | The Guardian


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Beleaguered service is facing fresh funding squeeze, with budget set to shrink by two-thirds and professional staff under threat

Bradford’s libraries are facing a £2m cut over the next two years, reducing funding by two-thirds and raising fears of widespread job losses, and for the continued provision of the service in the West Yorkshire district.

Plans to turn existing libraries into “community hubs” are due to be put before the council on Tuesday, including proposals to share resources with other local authorities and cut the book-buying budget by 30% in the next financial year.

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David Keenan on Belfast: ‘It’s like a different planet, where different rules apply’


This post is by David Keenan from Books | The Guardian


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The writer on his family in Belfast and the influence of a city ‘populated by ghosts’

For me, Belfast has long been a place of myth, apocrypha, danger and glamour. My first encounter with the city was via the birthday and Christmas cards my father’s family would send to me in Glasgow from north Belfast in the 1970s. Few of my dad’s family were educated, and they would write like they were guessing how language worked. It was an early inspiration as a writer, the idea that you could transcend the most difficult of environments by laying claim to your own words.

Various books contributed to my experience of Belfast; Show Me the Man, the biography of ex-Provisional IRA member turned Sinn Féin politician Martin Meehan, who had grown up in the same street in the Ardoyne as my dad’s family; Nor Meekly Serve My Time, an incredible ...

Was Eric Hobsbawm a dangerous Communist?


This post is by Richard J Evans from Books | The Guardian


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He was branded a Stalinist, and was spied on for decades by MI5, but was the famous historian a hardliner and renegade? His private papers tell a different story

The historian Eric Hobsbawm, who was born in 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, and died in 2012 at the age of 95, was widely regarded as an unrepentant Stalinist, a man who, unlike other Marxist historians such as EP Thompson and Christopher Hill, never resigned his membership of the Communist party, and never expressed any regret for his commitment to the communist cause.

In the later part of his long life he was most probably the world’s best-known historian, his books translated into more than 50 languages and selling millions of copies across the globe (about a million in Brazil alone, for example). Yet when the BBC invited him on to the radio programme Desert Island Discs ...

How do you heal a troubled soul? A walk in the forest can help, says one author


This post is by Sarah Hughes from Books | The Guardian


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Luke Turner’s Epping Forest memoir adds to a new wave of highly personal nature writing

Epping Forest, a 2,400-hectare woodland straddling the border of London and Essex, has been home to hermits, hunters and highwaymen. Its shaded groves have sheltered children skiving off school and gay men seeking encounters. Babies have been born beside its twisted trees and bodies buried under them. It is both haven and hazard, its secrets known by criminals and preachers alike.

Luke Turner, the 40-year-old author of a bold new memoir, Out of the Woods, which details his complicated relationship with the forest and his own troubled past, understands all this. The Epping Forest he depicts is not “some twee fetishised place” but rather an ever-changing landscape, by turns nurturing and terrifying, in which it is as easy to fall apart as to be saved.

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Stuart Turton on Widnes: ‘It’s famous for its smell. On bad days, the air punches you in the nose’


This post is by Stuart Turton from Books | The Guardian


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Paul Simon had been so demoralised by the place he wrote ‘Homeward Bound’ on the platform of Widnes station – but unlike Turton, he was only visiting

On a map, it looks as if it’s sidling up to Liverpool to scrounge a cigarette. Manchester has taken a step back, probably to get away from the smell. Widnes is famous for its smell. The town is basically a load of chemical factories and manufacturing plants with some houses squished between them. On bad days, the air punches you in the nose.

I hated living there. As an adult, I know that Widnes is a deprived town that’s suffered awful neglect under successive governments who don’t give a toss about the working class or the places they live. As a kid, I just thought it was a hole.

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The money, job, marriage myth: are you happy yet?


This post is by Paul Dolan from Books | The Guardian


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The ‘success’ narrative is at the heart of our idea of wellbeing, but the evidence tells a different tale, argues behavioural scientist Paul Dolan in this extract from his new book

There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives. We are expected to be ambitious; to want to be wealthy, successful and well educated; to get married, be monogamous and have kids. These social narratives can make our lives easier, by providing guidelines for behaviour, and they might sometimes make us happier, too. But they are, at their heart, stories – and ones that may not have originated with present-day people in mind. As such, many of these stories end up creating a kind of social dissonance whereby, perversely, they cause more harm than good.

Since we’re talking about stories, let’s start with an experience of mine. It’s about a working-class kid who becomes a university ...

Emma Healey on Clapham Junction: ‘I felt that I stood on the edge of the city and looked in’


This post is by Emma Healey from Books | The Guardian


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The novelist on south London gentrification and afternoons in the greasy spoon

I grew up five minutes from Clapham Junction station in south London. Our house backed on to the railway, so the regular rattle of passing trains is a sound I find comforting. Sometimes, lying awake, I think I can still hear that noise where I live now, far from a railway line.

Clapham Junction is famously busy, but it isn’t on the tube, and feels separate from the rest of London, as if its purpose is to carry people away from the capital. I felt that I stood on the edge of the city and looked in. Or rather, faced in, often holding a book between me and the view.

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Lissa Evans on Lichfield: ‘I went into the library the day we moved and never really came out’


This post is by Lissa Evans from Books | The Guardian


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The author on her childhood move from leafy Surrey to the West Midlands

Until I was nine, we lived in Englefield Green, a sprawling commuter village next to Windsor Great Park in Surrey. We had a big garden, my best friend lived in the next road and I went to the village school where we sat at desks according to our rank in class. I don’t need to tell you which articulate little know-all was ultra-keen to cling on to desk No 1. I was bossy and self-confident, and utterly secure in my status as both baby of the family and Queen of the Playground. Then we moved to the West Midlands.

I don’t know exactly how I introduced myself on my first day at Chadsmead junior school in Lichfield, but I’m guessing I used several of the following phrases: “Hello, my name’s Felicity; my father’s a scientist; my favourite ...

Insomnia by Marina Benjamin review – sleeplessness as resistance


This post is by Elizabeth Lowry from Books | The Guardian


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Ranging from Penelope to Virginia Woolf, this study makes a case for restlessness and insomnia as acts of female rebellion

If you think you sleep badly it will soon become clear, on witnessing Marina Benjamin wrestle with the problem, her mind “on fire … messages flying, dendrites flowering, synapses whipping snaps of electricity across my brain”, that you really don’t. Never again will I refer to the kind of sleeplessness that can be tamed with Ovaltine and a few pages of Knausgaard as “insomnia”. Benjamin’s impassioned and elegant memoir is not just an intimate account of a disorder for which there is still no straightforward cure, but a defiant celebration of its paradoxical potential. For, as she suggests, insomnia is more than “just a state of sleeplessness, a matter of negatives. It involves the active pursuit of sleep. It is a state of longing.” In fact she pursues sleep ...

Benjamin Zephaniah rejects poet laureate overtures: ‘They are not worthy’


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Poet says he has ‘absolutely no interest’ in state appointment after being speculatively named as a contender to follow Carol Ann Duffy

Benjamin Zephaniah has ruled himself out of the running for the poet laureateship, saying he has “absolutely no interest in this job”.

Zephaniah, one of the UK’s most celebrated poets, had been mentioned in news reports as a possible candidate for the position once Carol Ann Duffy steps down from her 10-year term in 2019, alongside names including Lemn Sissay, Simon Armitage, Vahni Capildeo and Patience Agbabi. But the poet who describes himself as “profoundly anti-empire”, and who turned down an OBE in 2003, saying at the time, “Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought”, has made it clear that he is not an option for the laureateship.

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