Revolutionary Honesty: Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon


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In the first episode of her YouTube series, Yekaterina Petrovna Zamolodchikova discusses the nature of truth and memory. There are, she says, three version of events: the objective truth of What Happened, the remembered truth of the people who experienced What Happened, and the reported truth. Events occur, and then they pass through filters—filters of memory, of identity, of conversation. People lie, and people misremember. People manipulate the truth for purposes of entertainment and personal gain and cruelty.

Over time, the Objective Truth can come to feel completely inaccessible, lost to all the people who’ve divided it into pieces and swallowed those pieces and digested them into stories and gossip and history. The prospect of trying to unravel it all to find out what really happened can feel like an insurmountable obstacle.

But author Mallory O’Meara is an unstoppable force.

Milicent Patrick created the Creature from the 1954 film ...

Listen to the Echoes: The Ultimate Profile of Ray Bradbury


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When I decided to write my recent piece about The Bradbury Chronicles, Sam Weller’s biography of Ray Bradbury, I knew I’d also have to write (just a few words) about the book I always think of as its fraternal twin. Not to do so would’ve meant ignoring the other half of Bradbury.

I declared (perhaps rather grandly) that Weller’s subject in 2005’s The Bradbury Chronicles was a portrait of Bradbury as an artist, a narrative about the development of a writer—his “Other Me”—alongside the details and milestones of the life he’d led. What Weller gives us in 2010’s Listen to the Echoes: The Ray Bradbury Interviews is a portrait of the man behind the typewriter. How does it rate, then, when compared to the earlier volume? I’ll be frank and say that this book is not a “must read” for everyone who read The Bradbury Chronicles.

Not because it isn’t ...

The Demanding, Essential Work of Samuel Delany: The Atheist in the Attic


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Sometimes it seems as if all the publishers and bookstores of the land are engaged in a conspiracy to make Samuel Delany appear less unusual than he is. All of his fiction, whether autobiographical, experimental, pornographic, or some combination of the three, is shelved under “science fiction,” and while a given edition of Dhalgren might or might not advertise its million-seller status, it’s unlikely that any back cover copy will address that book’s games with structure, experiments in typography, or literal unendingness. It’s not until you actually open the books that you realize you’re in the hands of one of SF’s great experimenters. Sometimes Delany himself seems to be in on this game of concealment. His author biography coyly states, for example, that “his four-volume series Return to Nevèrÿon is sword-and-sorcery,” as if he were a latter-day Robert E. Howard, eliding any sense that these strange books, with their disquisitions ...

Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel review – a bibliophile’s demons


This post is by Claire Armitstead from Books | The Guardian


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The urbane Argentinian grumpily boxes up his 35,000 books and writes a Jekyll and Hyde set of reflections on libraries and the power of reading

One feverish night, Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed of a terrifying “hue of brown”. It was the latest visitation from the Night Hag, his term for the horrors that had haunted him from early childhood, and which he exorcised through his writing. From this simple colour dream, Alberto Manguel writes, Stevenson crafted his nightmarish novel, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Manguel has so often referenced the Scottish author in his work (not least in his 2003 novella Stevenson Under the Palm Trees) that it’s tempting to see him as a sort of Hyde to his Jekyll: unworldly, sickly and creatively possessed in a way that the urbane Argentinian-born bibliophile could never be.

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Deborah Levy: ‘The new generation of young women can change the world’


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The writer discusses the quest for a freer life and why she always returns to JG Ballard

Rejected by mainstream publishers for being “too literary”, Deborah Levy’s fifth novel, Swimming Home, was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker prize after being picked up by a small independent press. Hot Milk, her next novel, was also shortlisted for the Booker in 2016. Her early fiction has since been reissued by Penguin. Part memoir, part meditation on writing and gender, Things I Don’t Want to Know, the first volume of what she calls her “living autobiography”, recalled her childhood in South Africa (her father was imprisoned as a member of the ANC) and her teenage years “in exile” in England. The second instalment, The Cost of Living (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99), continues these reflections on art, identity and philosophy, alongside building a new life after the breakdown of her marriage.

...

Shakespeare’s Originality by John Kerrigan review – what the Bard pilfered and changed


This post is by John Mullan from Books | The Guardian


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Shakespeare inhabited a literary culture in which imitation was applauded. This erudite study teases out his alchemical transformations of what he had read or seen

For a long time, the sedulous student who wants to see Shakespeare in the act of creation has been able to go to the extracts contained in the eight fat volumes of Geoffrey Bullough’s Narrative and Dramatic Sources of Shakespeare. Here you can find the stories that he pilfered and changed. You can see how he twisted two completely separate tales together to make The Merchant of Venice, for example, or decided to kill Lear and Cordelia at the end of King Lear when in his chronicle source both survived, or made Othello Desdemona’s murderer, when in Cinthio’s original Italian story, it is Iago who does the deed. The volumes give a dizzying sense of the playwright’s narrative dexterity as you see him extracting ...

Astrid Lindgren: The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking by Jens Andersen – review


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A thoughtful biography of the children’s author reveals an exuberant nonconformist whose eventful life was touched by tragedy

Once upon a time, in the middle decades of the war-torn 20th century, there lived an Australian-born British theosophist and mystic, a respectable English woman hiding behind a man’s name, a gay and depressive Finnish Swede who lived half her life on a tiny island, and the firebrand daughter of a respectable Swedish farmer. These four women radically changed the landscape of children’s literature, making it wilder, stranger, more anarchic, and, crucially, more centred in the dreamy and unfettered imagination of the child.

PL Travers created Mary Poppins, whose sour magic Disney tried to tame. Richmal Crompton unleashed irrepressible Just William on to an unsuspecting conformist society. Tove Jansson beautifully gave us the mysterious outsider’s world of the Moomins. And from Astrid Lindgren bounded fabulous Pippi Longstocking, the strongest girl in ...

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke review – an appetite for destruction


This post is by Rachel Cooke from Books | The Guardian


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Kristen Radtke’s restless memoir of her search for abandoned places is like Planet of the Apes as told by Shelley

At the end of Planet of the Apes (accept no imitations: I mean the 1968 version), Charlton Heston, who plays an astronaut called Taylor, rides off into the distance. “What will he find out there?” wonders one ape. “His destiny,” replies another. In the next moment, we see the actor in shadow, on a bleak-looking shoreline. “Oh my God,” he says, recognition clouding his face. “I’m back. I’m home.” His voice cracks. He falls to his knees. The planet of the apes, he has realised, is Earth, destroyed in a nuclear war while he was off in space – and he is one of the last humans to walk its surface.

I thought of this scene more than once as I read Kristen Radtke’s graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This...

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke review – an appetite for destruction


This post is by Rachel Cooke from Books | The Guardian


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Kristen Radtke’s restless memoir of her search for abandoned places is like Planet of the Apes as told by Shelley

At the end of Planet of the Apes (accept no imitations: I mean the 1968 version), Charlton Heston, who plays an astronaut called Taylor, rides off into the distance. “What will he find out there?” wonders one ape. “His destiny,” replies another. In the next moment, we see the actor in shadow, on a bleak-looking shoreline. “Oh my God,” he says, recognition clouding his face. “I’m back. I’m home.” His voice cracks. He falls to his knees. The planet of the apes, he has realised, is Earth, destroyed in a nuclear war while he was off in space – and he is one of the last humans to walk its surface.

I thought of this scene more than once as I read Kristen Radtke’s graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This...

Thomas Paine by JCD Clark review – a High Tory on the radical hero


This post is by Colin Kidd from Books | The Guardian


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The veteran enfant terrible of English historians sets out to rescue the author of Common Sense from ‘from the enormous approbation of posterity’

JCD Clark is the veteran enfant terrible of English historical writing; now in his mid-60s, but still all petted lip, provocation and attention-seeking. A High Tory, Anglo-Catholic Little Englander, he has spent his career assaulting the central categories of the Whig-Liberal and Marxist versions of the English past. Clark identifies several moments of putrefaction in English history, such as EEC membership in 1973 and the Great Reform Act of 1832.

His Tory traditionalism reaches back further even than that of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the so-called “Honourable Member for the 18th Century”; for Clark thinks the rot set in earlier still, during the late 17th century, at the not-so-Glorious Revolution of 1688, when the country unforgivably abandoned the divine right of kings for the curdled compromises of parliamentary ...

Rebel Prince by Tom Bower – digested read


This post is by John Crace from Books | The Guardian


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‘What shall I do?’ Prince Charles asked his mother when news broke about Diana’s death. ‘Forked if I know,’ she replied. ‘I want to watch the racing on TV’

This book tells the untold truth of the last 20 years of Prince Charles’s life. Up till now, everyone assumed the heir to the throne was a much-respected and well-loved man. But thanks to my research – trawling through the cuttings and speaking to 120 people who don’t like him very much but refused to go on the record – I can now exclusively reveal that he is a bit of a pampered, out-of-touch loser who likes homeopathy and despises modern architecture. As someone who knows Prince Charles well told me: “He has never recovered from being bullied by his father – and with any luck he won’t recover from being bullied by you.”

In July 1996, Prince Charles ...

The Making of the Wind in the Willows review – Toad, Ratty and a manifesto for gay living


This post is by Kathryn Hughes from Books | The Guardian


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Peter Hunt’s elegant account of the genesis of Kenneth Grahame’s classic only hints at the revelations the author has discussed in promotional interviews

It turns out that being a juvenile muse is no guarantee of a happy ending. Peter Llewelyn Davies, JM Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan, grew up only to kill himself. Christopher Milne AKA Christopher Robin was estranged from his mother. Alice Liddell of Wonderland fame seems to have been permanently cross. And then there was Alastair Grahame, for whom The Wind in the Willows was written in 1908. Twelve years later, and still in his teens, he stumbled out of his Oxford college, lay down on the railway line and waited for a train.

There’s one difference, though, between Grahame and the others. While Peter, Alice and Christopher appeared as characters in “their” books, he doesn’t. The Wind in the Willows grew out of bedtime stories that ...

Rebel Prince by Tom Bower review – is Charles the best argument for a republic?


This post is by Bee Wilson from Books | The Guardian


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The Prince emerges from this highly negative biography as vain, cold and out of touch. But it is only a partial account of his life and its contexts

“On the eve of his sixtieth birthday,” Tom Bower writes in his unauthorised biography of the Prince of Wales, “Charles overtook his great-great-grandfather Edward VII as the longest-waiting heir to the British throne.” That was nine years ago and Charles is still waiting to start the job he was supposedly born to do. He was widely mocked for saying, in 2004, that “Nobody knows what utter hell it is to be the Prince of Wales” – a remark that, like so many of his utterances lacks any sense of perspective about the struggles of ordinary people. Millions would happily suffer the “hell” of living in multiple palaces and going on skiing holidays to Klosters.

Yet it remains true that none of ...

Two Sisters by Asne Seierstad review – slow-burn Isis tragedy


This post is by Emma Graham-Harrison from Books | The Guardian


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A detailed exploration of how two teenage girls were lured from Norway to Syria by Isis lays bare the horrors of radicalisation

For a couple of years they flitted across our screens and newspapers like ghosts. One here, two or three there, once a group large enough to fill a minibus, mostly young, all seduced by a vision of purity, an urge to violence, or both. The Islamic State recruits who travelled from Europe had been neighbours, classmates, colleagues, members of close-knit families and intimate communities before they set off to a war zone, where they planned to build paradise on Earth.

But in their departures, announced on the news every few weeks, they seemed to become insubstantial, unreal, as hard to understand as they were to reach once they had crossed the border into Syria. In Two Sisters, Norwegian journalist and writer Åsne Seierstad, the author of bestseller The ...

Debussy by Stephen Walsh review – a fine biography of a painter in sound


This post is by Kathryn Hughes from Books | The Guardian


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The French composer was once dismissed as a Romantic or ‘impressionist’ who prioritised mood and feeling. This life digs deep into his innovations

It turns out that Claude Debussy lived exactly as any self-respecting artist should. He drank too much, showed unwise taste in women, never got the hang of money and assumed that anyone who didn’t see music exactly the same way as he did was a duffer. He often thought of taking his own life but it was actually his first wife who pulled the trigger on herself, standing in the Place de la Concorde to make sure everyone noticed. Finally, the great composer died young, or youngish, leaving posterity to speculate about just where his genius would have taken him next.

Don’t imagine, though, that Stephen Walsh’s compelling new biography, published to coincide with the centenary of Debussy’s death, consists simply of one slack anecdote after another. ...

Among the Living and the Dead by Inara Verzemnieks review – a memoir of the bloodlands


This post is by Sarah Ditum from Books | The Guardian


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An American writer uncovers the remarkable story of her Latvian grandparents, as their homeland is conquered by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union

The map of Europe was shaped in the 20th century by complicity and disappearance. Mass murders. Expulsions. Colonisation. Countries vanished; whole peoples exterminated and displaced. For Europeans, this is the story of our continent, although rarely the version of the story we choose to say out loud. For Inara Verzemnieks, as the granddaughter of Latvian refugees who settled in the US, it’s the story of her family. Among the Living and the Dead is her effort to recover that family history – splintered as it is by war, migration, shame and loss – and put the unspeakable into words.

It is, like all attempted redemptions, both partial and painful. Renowned for her journalism in the Oregonian newspaper, she begins as any reporter should: by going to the ...

What can we learn about our wellbeing from memoirs of ill health?


This post is by Nick Duerden from Books | The Guardian


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Simon Gray, Christopher Hitchens, Joan Didion ... some of the most vivid memoirs have been accounts of illness. But what can they teach us about being well?

I was in my late 30s, and still comparatively fighting fit, when I first came across Simon Gray’s exquisite The Smoking Diaries, which catalogued the eminently fatal damage this thrilling curmudgeon was doing to his lungs with cigarettes. If we read to know that we are not alone, I can hardly fathom why his book so resonated with my younger, nicotine-free self, but the writing was wonderful. Likewise, when I read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, her devastating account of how she coped after her husband’s death, my own spouse was, and remains at the time of going to press, very much alive.

I should like to point out that I consider myself possessed of a fairly upbeat disposition towards ...

Book claims Prince Charles is a capricious spendthrift obsessed with public opinion


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Tom Bower’s unauthorised biography, Rebel Prince, reveals discontented future king who says his life is ‘utter hell’

An unauthorised new biography of Prince Charles paints a picture of a capricious man who is obsessed with the public’s opinion of him, whose lavish spending reveals a royal utterly divorced from the life of ordinary people.

According to Tom Bower’s Rebel Prince, published on Thursday by William Collins, Charles once “shrieked” and “trembled” at the sight of an unknown plastic substance covering his dinner, only to be told “It’s cling film, darling,” by Camilla. On another occasion, Bower claims the prince brought his own mattress, toilet seat, Kleenex Velvet toilet paper and two “landscapes of the Scottish Highlands” when visiting a friend in north-east England.

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Two Sisters by Åsne Seierstad review – a journey to join Islamic State


This post is by Robin Yassin-Kassab from Books | The Guardian


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The author of The Bookseller of Kabul tells the true story of two jihadi daughters and the father who travels to Syria to try to change their minds

Ayan is 19 and Leila only 16 when their parents receive an unexpected email from them. “Please do not be cross with us, it was sooo hard for us to leave without saying goodbye.” They are travelling to Syria to join Islamic State. They want to help Muslims, they say, “everything from fetching water for the sick to working in refugee camps”.

The names of the two sisters have been changed, but the story – related by Åsne Seierstad, author of The Bookseller of Kabul – is entirely true. The girls are Norwegian-Somalis, from a devout but tolerant family. They’ve grown up and attended good schools in Baerum, “the Norwegian municipality with the highest percentage of millionaires and the greatest divide between rich and ...