Ann Cleeves on north Devon: ‘I remember family days on the beach, picnics and space’

Friends, first love and freedom … the crime writer recalls the great happiness of life in Devon

We moved around a bit when I was a child so it’s hard to tell what made me. My dad was a teacher in tiny rural primary schools, at first in Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border. Beautiful places that gave me a sense of the romantic, of being an outsider, or at least that I was always an observer looking in. It’s hard to be the headmaster’s kid in a school of 30 pupils, most of whom have grown up together. I remember it as a time of solitary wandering, watching and listening, but perhaps that’s a romantic idea too. I often featured in my own stories.

When I was 11 we landed up in north Devon. I’d moved to the grammar school in Barnstaple and for the first time made real ...

Jokes about ‘snowflakes’ ignore the crisis in young mental health | Holly Bourne

My young adult novel about mental illness has been ridiculed, along with my call for greater kindness. But really, it’s not a laughing matter

There’s no more powerful way to silence someone than to call them crazy. This one word swiftly minimises a person’s anguish as something wrong with them, rather than an appropriate response to a malfunctioning society. These days, whenever a young person is brave enough to talk about their emotional distress, they’re called “snowflakes”. It’s dangerous abuse, and it needs to stop.

My young adult novel about mental illness, Are We All Lemmings and Snowflakes? asks the question – are young people really overly sensitive, or is their suffering actually a by-product of an unkind world? I’ve been travelling to schools around the country, and talking to them about Compassion Focused Therapy, trying to free young people from their self-hatred and shame about their mental health ...

Francis Fukuyama: ‘Trump instinctively picks racial themes to drive people on the left crazy’

In 1989, the economist’s essay The End of History? asked whether liberalism had triumphed over ideology. History, however, had other ideas and his new book responds to the return of extremism

Every “thought-leader” needs a catchy leading thought. Francis Fukuyama made his name and fortune with the definitive “one-liner” political meme The End of History?, which in the early 1990s seemed a smart way of describing the collapse of communism, and the “triumph” of the west. Since then, in the years in which history has clearly refused to end, Fukuyama, a senior fellow at Stanford University, has had various stabs at repeating that initial success. His new book, Identity, proposes the term “thymos” as the key to understanding our unnerving political moment.

“Thymos” (it does no harm, for credibility or book sales if the crucial thought-leading term is best understood by Ancient Greeks) comes from Plato’s Republic.It ...

Sarah Perry: ‘Chelmsford made me, because I seldom went elsewhere’

The Essex Serpent author recalls playing truant in the library, and feeling an offhand affection for the town that has since warmed into pride

“An Essex girl, huh?” said my fellow students, as I arrived at Anglia Polytechnic in Cambridge in 1998. They eyed me up and down. I was wearing what I’ve always worn: long skirts and stout shoes. The idea that I might own white stilettos, much less wear them to dance around a handbag, was patently absurd. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the phrase “Essex girl”, but it was the first time I realised people meant it.

I was born in Chelmsford in the autumn of 1979. It is now a city, though to our collective fury was not officially one at the time. It has a cathedral, and a river and a statue of Graham Gooch; it has a multistorey carpark, in ...

Yuval Noah Harari: the myth of freedom

Governments and corporations will soon know you better than you know yourself. Belief in the idea of ‘free will’ has become dangerous

Should scholars serve the truth, even at the cost of social harmony? Should you expose a fiction even if that fiction sustains the social order? In writing my latest book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, I had to struggle with this dilemma with regard to liberalism.

On the one hand, I believe that the liberal story is flawed, that it does not tell the truth about humanity, and that in order to survive and flourish in the 21st century we need to go beyond it. On the other hand, at present the liberal story is still fundamental to the functioning of the global order. What’s more, liberalism is now attacked by religious and nationalist fanatics who believe in nostalgic fantasies that are far more dangerous and ...

Nightmarch by Alpa Shah – among India’s Maoist guerrillas

An anthropologist’s nuanced account of life with India’s revolutionary movement, including her 250-km trek, disguised as a male soldier, with a rebel platoon

Between 2008 and 2010, the anthropologist Alpa Shah spent 18 months as a participant observer in India’s largely rural state of Jharkhand. She lived among adivasis, tribal peoples outside the caste system who count among the communities most neglected by the government. Jharkhand is also one of the heartlands of India’s Maoist insurgency, a civil war that in 2006 the country’s prime minister identified as the “biggest internal security threat to the Indian state”. For decades, Indian politicians and commentators have argued about the country’s longstanding Maoist war: are insurgents ideological terrorists fixated on an outdated creed, or are they desperate rebels with a cause, forced to take up guns by state brutality? Dissatisfied by this polarised debate, Shah decided to immerse herself in the communities who ...

Lee Child on Birmingham: ‘The pollution was insane. Rivers would catch fire’

The Jack Reacher author recalls his childhood in a prosperous city, haunting the library and the strong work ethic that has stayed with him

I was conceived in Leicester, born in Coventry, and moved to Birmingham when I was four, in 1959. I lived there until I left for university at 18. Those were my formative years, both in a sense of day-to-day experience, and in an overarching existential sense of being raised determinedly middle class surrounded by an infrastructure and a culture created entirely by the skilled working class.

Birmingham was amazingly prosperous in those early years. Factories were humming, and workers were well paid. I remember my grandma visiting from Yorkshire for Christmas in the early 1960s and helping my mother with some last-minute shopping. She came home trembling with excitement. For the first time in her life she had seen an ordinary person holding a five-pound note.


Germaine Greer’s On Rape: provocative, victim-shaming, compelling, ambivalent

The feminist author’s controversial views are laid out in her latest book. We asked four experts to read it

“What distinguishes the crime of rape from other assaults is the insoluble conundrum of consent.” So writes the feminist provocateur Germaine Greer in a small book, On Rape, that caused considerable fuss before it was published.

The reason was a few remarks pre-publication. Rape was often not a “spectacularly violent crime”, Greer said at the Hay literary festival, but more often than not, “lazy, careless and insensitive”. She distinguished between “violent” rape that caused physical injury and everyday, banal rape that often did not. Greer’s views were dismissed as offensive and outdated.

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Sally Rooney teaches us millennials should be written about, not ridiculed | Sian Cain

Normal People makes being young a drama of universal significance – and, for a millennial such as me, rings entirely true

“The first great millennial author,” rave reviews have dubbed Sally Rooney, one of five millennials on this year’s Man Booker longlist, who, in just two books, has also earned the monikers “Salinger for the Snapchat generation” and “Jane Austen of the precariat”. Rooney herself describes her books as “just a bunch of fake people in a room talking to each other” – but Normal People, her second book, is far more than that.

The critics praising Normal People in the national media right now are, for the most part, well outside the millennials’ bracket (by most definitions, aged between their early 20s and late 30s). Not that youth is a prerequisite for enjoyment – Rooney’s gift for interiority is undeniable, no matter your age – but being ...

Sarah Hall on Cumbria: ‘I grew up raking around outside, swimming in fell pools’

A sensualist, political interest in the relationship between people and place seems to the novelist a very Cumbrian trait

Recently, a friend from Essex came to visit me in the Lake District. I was staying at my Dad’s house – the place where I was born and raised. It’s a remote, rugged spot, an old Westmorland cottage above a river, surrounded by mountains and moorland. “Oh, wow,” said my friend, getting out of the car, “you make more sense now.”

I felt a bit like a predator spotted in its natural habitat. But it’s fair enough. Aside from some orthodontics and a better hairbrush, not much can be done about those wildish qualities your natal landscape instils. I wasn’t raised by wolves, but I did grow up raking around outside, overnighting on the moors, swimming in fell pools and interacting with, probably, more animals than humans.

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Can we choose our own identity?

Caitlyn Jenner is a trans woman, ‘asexual for now’; Rachel Dolezal identifies as black. Who owns your identity, and how can old ways of thinking be replaced?

In April 2015, after a long and very public career, first as a male decathlete, then as a reality TV star, Caitlyn Jenner announced to the world she was a trans woman. Asked about her sexuality, Jenner explained that she had always been heterosexual, and indeed she had fathered six children in three marriages. She understood, though, that many people were confused about the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity, and so she said: “Let’s go with ‘asexual’ for now.”

Isn’t it up to her? What could be more personal than the question of who she is – what she is? Isn’t your identity, as people often say, “your truth”? The question is straightforward; the answer is anything but. And that’s ...

Salley Vickers picks the best books about family dynamics

Struggling to understand your relatives this bank holiday weekend? The novelist picks her favourite books, from Mansfield Park to Cold Comfort Farm

Summer is traditionally a time for lucky families to recover from the strains of the work and school treadmill and take time together on holiday – but this added space and time also allows the tensions that trammel and contain us in the web of family life to spring to life like waiting demons.

Here is some reading that reflects on family relations and the deep fissures of ambivalence we feel towards those to whom we are related. Terri Apter is a shrewd psychologist and her book The Sister Knot covers the subject of sibling rivalry: “She’s got the red spade and you said I could have that!”

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Roberto Saviano: ‘I saw my first corpse in secondary school. It didn’t shock me’

The Gomorrah author on his new book about Italy’s teenage mafia leaders, why he risks his life for his writing, and the UK’s shameful corruption

In 2006, Italian author and journalist Roberto Saviano published Gomorrah, an exposé of the organised crime network Camorra; since then he has had to live under police protection. The book was adapted for the big screen in 2008 and for TV in 2014. Other works include ZeroZeroZero, an investigation into the cocaine trade; his new novel, The Piranhas, a story about children’s gangs in Naples, is published on 20 September by Picador.

How did you get the idea for this novel?
It was such a powerful news story: children who suddenly became mafia leaders. Mafias have always employed muschilli – little mosquitoes – in minor roles. But for a few years, in Naples, kids aged between 10 and 19 were in ...

Four Feet Under: 30 Untold Stories of Homelessness in London review – first-hand study of street survival

Tamsen Courtenay’s conversations with 30 people sleeping on the streets of London uncover abuse and neglect, but also pride and heroism

“It is fatal to look hungry,” wrote George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London. “It makes people want to kick you.”

Not much, it seems, has changed since Orwell lived for a while among the homeless in the late 1920s. For Four Feet Under, Tamsen Courtenay, a former investigative reporter for Panorama and Dispatches, interviewed 30 people who survive on the unforgiving streets of London. Many of them recall violent kickings delivered with relish by passersby, mainly bunches of drunken lads for whom bashing the homeless seems to have become urban blood sport. Even more recount being woken up by laughing men urinating on them.

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Book clinic: which books distil the essence of fatherhood?

From 19th-century letters to a graphic novel, here are the works that define dad-dom

Which books should we read to explore the essence of fatherhood?
Don, 30, book editor and literary translator, Wuhan, China

Author Sam Miller, whose book Fathers was published earlier this year, writes:
I had a dream the other day. Of several fathers, bald and lame, thrown into a huge tureen over a great campfire. They were about to be boiled. Not as a way of torturing them, or as a punishment for mansplaining, or even as a way of making them digestible, but in order to create an essential oil, an essence of fatherhood, to be freely sprinkled on to those who wished for better fathers than the ones that nature, and their mothers, gave them.

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‘Gestures of sharing and love’ … the mini libraries giving books to the community

In an era of funding cuts to public services, the Little Free Library scheme in Leeds is making reading accessible to all

As the general election results were coming in on the morning of 8 June 2017, the artist Carry Franklin was outside her front door, installing the first Little Free Library in Leeds. A year later there are 19 all over the city, with more on the way.

This non-profit project aims to bring the community together by setting up book exchange boxes across Leeds, where anyone can take or leave a book for free.

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Fruit of Knowledge by Liv Strömquist review – eye-poppingly informative

Witty, clever and angry, this book about the suppression of female sexuality is fantastically acute

How I loved reading Liv Strömquist’s Fruit of Knowledge. Mostly, this was down to its sheer, punchy brilliance: should you be in possession of a teenage daughter, you absolutely must buy it for her and all her friends, in addition to those copies you will now immediately purchase for yourself and all of yours (I’m probably addressing female readers here, though there’s no reason why men shouldn’t get with the programme, too; in truth, it’s as likely to change their lives for the better as those of most women). But there was also, I must admit, a certain amount of pleasure to be had in watching people clock its subtitle, The Vulva vs. the Patriarchy: words that are scrawled on its jacket in blood-red letters beneath a photograph of the author with her hands ...

When my childhood bully said sorry, 40 years too late

Novelist Patrick Gale looks back on a school friendship that turned brutal – an experience shared in silence by many others

One day my agent forwarded a letter to me. Nothing unusual there; some of my readers are of an age where they regard email and direct messaging as an unmannerly introduction. But this letter proved to be a thoughtful, clearly heartfelt, two-page apology from a man who had done his best to make my life a misery at school.

“I wanted to say sorry,” he wrote. “I am sure there are many reasons why I behaved the way I did. Sadly, I think people who experience abuse and bullying are vulnerable to passing it on and I know at the time I felt quite helpless and demeaned by my behaviour. However, no explanation amounts to a justification. It was bullying. I was vindictive when you were entirely innocent, and ...

Four Feet Under by Tamsen Courtenay review – talking to homeless people

Rough sleepers are highly visible but we too often don’t really see them. A journalist decided to find out their stories

The most maddening and self-defeating aspect of the Brexit mess is that it consumes political energy and media coverage that is desperately needed elsewhere. More than anything, it is needed by the hundreds of thousands of people in Britain who do not have adequate homes, and most urgently by the estimated 4,500 people who are sleeping on the streets of British cities each night. It only takes a short stroll through any city centre to see that this country is in the grip of a crisis – rough sleeping has increased by an estimated 134% since a Tory-led coalition took power in 2010, according to National Audit Office figures. The lack of any big policy initiative aimed at getting a grip on this situation – or indeed any ...