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


This post is by Kathryn Hughes from Books | The Guardian


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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 ...

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Novelists have condemned the Staunch prize – for thrillers without violence against women – as a ‘gagging order’, after organisers said the genre could bias jurors

Crime novelists have hit out at the claim that fictional depictions of sexual assault influence the outcomes of rape cases, after a prize for books with no violence against women asserted that stereotypical portrayals of attackers could “seriously affect justice”.

The Staunch prize, awarded to a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered, was launched last year to “offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women”. When it was announced, it was widely criticised by major writers including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. McDermid said that “as long as men commit appalling acts of misogyny and violence against women, I will write about it so that it does not go unnoticed”, and Hannah told her ...

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Novelists have condemned the Staunch prize – for thrillers without violence against women – as a ‘gagging order’, after organisers said the genre could bias jurors

Crime novelists have hit out at the claim that fictional depictions of sexual assault influence the outcomes of rape cases, after a prize for books with no violence against women asserted that stereotypical portrayals of attackers could “seriously affect justice”.

The Staunch prize, awarded to a thriller in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered, was launched last year to “offer an alternative narrative to stories based around violence to women”. When it was announced, it was widely criticised by major writers including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah. McDermid said that “as long as men commit appalling acts of misogyny and violence against women, I will write about it so that it does not go unnoticed”, and Hannah told her ...

Top 10 books about walking in Britain | Gail Simmons


This post is by Gail Simmons from Books | The Guardian


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Travelling on foot is a national obsession that has inspired a whole tradition of great writing, from Laurie Lee to Iain Sinclair

Britain is a nation of walkers. Our landmass may be modest in size but is latticed with a generous 140,000 miles of public footpaths, bridleways and byways, and exploring them is one of our favourite pastimes.

It wasn’t always so. Before the late 18th century most people walked only because they had to, or if they were on pilgrimage. Walking was the preserve of the horseless poor. With the rise of the Romantic movement came the idea of walking for pleasure, prompting such poets as Wordsworth to some of their finest words after traipsing the countryside on foot.

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Over 40 and loving it: let’s celebrate fiction with positive older characters


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Too many books feature sterotypical older women who can’t use phones and don’t like sex. Gransnet and imprint HQ are looking for writers to change all that

There is a passage from Jilly Cooper’s Rivals which, despite first reading it in my early teens, has stayed with me, popping into my head with increasing frequency now I’ve stepped over the threshold into the over-40 bracket. Lizzie Vereker, the curvy, middle-aged wife whose rat of a husband is cheating on her, is contemplating her misery and “feeling rather old and dried-up”.

So she rubs “skin-food into her face, only to realise she’d forgotten her neck, which is supposed to betray your age most, so she rubbed the excess skin-food down into it. Then she remembered you were supposed never to rub skin-food downwards as it made your face droop. Would her life have been different, she wondered, if she’d always remembered ...

Saving ‘woman hand’: the artist rescuing female-only writing


This post is by Elizabeth Dearnley from Books | The Guardian


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Kana let women express themselves freely and was used to write the world’s first novel – then it was wiped out. Meet the master calligrapher keeping the script alive

Anyone who has ever fired off a text in haste will sympathise with the first point on 11th-century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon’s list of “infuriating things”: “Thinking of one or two changes in the wording after you’ve sent off a reply to someone’s message.”

This list, her messages, and her Pillow Book in which they’re recorded – a sparklingly acerbic, blog-style frolic through the lives of Heian-era aristocrats – were written using kana, a Japanese script mainly used by women for nearly a millennium to write literature, arrange secret assignations and express themselves freely within the confines of court life.

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Author Lisa Taddeo: ‘I wanted to explore desire, not sex’


This post is by Rachel Cooke from Books | The Guardian


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In her extraordinary book Three Women Lisa Taddeo charts the intimate lives of real American women. Below, we print an extract

In 2010, a young American writer called Lisa Taddeo published an article in New York magazine about the women who work as highly paid hosts and cocktail waitresses – the so-called “bottle girls” – in America’s most exclusive clubs. It was (and is) quite an eye-popping piece of immersive journalism; among other things, she managed to interview Rachel Uchitel, a host whose affair with Tiger Woods had recently hit the headlines. At the time, however, its author had no idea in what unlikely direction this report would shortly take her, nor for how long. It was an assignment, just like any other.

Soon after its publication, an editor at Simon & Schuster rang Taddeo and asked if she might consider writing a nonfiction book that connected to it in ...

No luxury: book containing tampons is runaway hit


This post is by Alison Flood from Books | The Guardian


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Protest against Germany’s 19% tax on sanitary products sells out first print run in one day

Open up a book and you can find a whole world. But the first book from the German startup the Female Company offers something more straightforward: within its covers are 15 tampons. And it is flying off the shelves.

The Tampon Book is a protest against Germany’s 19% tax on tampons as “luxury goods” – and a way of getting round it. Books are taxed at 7% in Germany, and so the founders of the Female Company, which sells organic sanitary products, decided to publish one and include tampons inside it. Released earlier this spring, the first print-run sold out in a day and the second in a week, said the publisher, with around 10,000 copies sold to date. Only the English-language edition is currently available.

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Profiling the profiler: an interview with Taffy Brodesser-Akner


This post is by Emma Brockes from Books | The Guardian


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The journalist, known for pieces on Gwyneth Paltrow and Bradley Cooper, takes on a new challenge: making things up

The journalist who writes a novel has an inhibition to overcome: the reflex guilt about making stuff up. For Taffy Brodesser-Akner, whose first novel, Fleishman Is In Trouble, she wrote while working as a writer at the New York Times Magazine, the anxiety of leaving behind fact and transcript was alleviated by the knowledge that at least no one was going to yell at her for hurting their feelings.

Not that Brodesser-Akner specializes in hatchet jobs. Her profiles, most famously her deep dive into the world of Gwyneth Paltrow last year, are generous without giving her subjects a free ride. A profile many years ago of the TV anchor Don Lemon, in GQ, was gently satirical without being cruel. At the end of last year, a recalcitrant Bradley Cooper was ...

Kylie Jenner’s party was stupid. But it won’t curtail the power of The Handmaid’s Tale | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett


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


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Celebs can drink their Gilead cocktails. Margaret Atwood’s story remains a pertinent warning about misogyny’s mission creep

I felt a small spark of joy yesterday, as I imagined Margaret Atwood’s facial expression when confronted with the news that a member of the Kardashian family – Kylie Jenner – had provoked internet outrage by organising a Handmaid’s Tale-themed party. The novelist is known for taking no prisoners, and the footage, which shows Jenner and her friends squealing as they are confronted with Handmaid-themed costumes and cocktails, lays bare some of the most flagrant stupidity I think I have ever witnessed.

Was I particularly offended? Before anyone cries “snowflake”, I was not. But I was astonished at the ignorance and privilege of the women in the video, who will never suffer if Roe v Wade is repealed, abortion is outlawed in the US and women’s bodily autonomy is drastically curtailed. The ...

Dressed: The Secret Life of Clothes by Shahidha Bari – review


This post is by Rachel Cooke from Books | The Guardian


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There’s a gap for a smart book about our relationship to clothes, but sadly this isn’t it

As anyone who has ever seen me gazing at a rack of jumble-sale silk scarves will know, I’m not someone who thinks it’s stupid to take clothes seriously. When we get dressed, we tell people all sorts of things about ourselves, some obvious and some more tenderly private. And yet our sartorial semaphore receives little close attention. Writing about clothes generally means fashion writing – and fashion writing, whose engine is commerce, cares mostly for novelty. It understands – or assumes – that you might want this season’s dress. But it isn’t really interested in emotions that run deeper than covetousness and vanity; in the pain you still feel across your heart, say, when you remember your grandmother’s evening bag, left in a taxi when your mind and hands were elsewhere.

Shahidha Bari’s ...

Book clinic: which books will help me navigate singledom in my early 20s?


This post is by Candice Carty-Williams from Books | The Guardian


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Novelist and journalist Candice Carty-Williams recommends guidebooks to love and life from Nora Ephron to Bryony Gordon

Q: What books will best help me to navigate singledom in my early twenties, the position I find myself in at the moment?
Junior doctor, 23

Novelist and journalist Candice Carty-Williams writes:

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Getting rid of books doesn’t have to be a chore. It can be an act of love | Oliver Mol


This post is by Oliver Mol from Books | The Guardian


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Saying goodbye to favourite titles is like saying goodbye to friends. Combining the two can ease the grief of both

Secondhand bookstores used to fill me with dread. They were the places of neglected stories, of lost hours, of the authors the world had forgotten. This is, of course, not entirely true, but back then I was trying to be someone – a writer – and I saw secondhand bookstores the same way I saw graveyards: as places stories went to die.

The books that surround us say a lot about who we are – or were – and, two weeks ago, as I prepared to shift my life from Sydney to Barcelona, I sat on my bedroom floor staring at the 100 or so titles I had acquired over my six years in the city. Some were funny. A couple were classics. Most were depressing. I’m going to get ...

‘I’m such a big fan of the menstrual cycle!’ – the women asking whether it’s possible to have a better period


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Exhausted with doctors not taking periods seriously, a new wave of authors is asking whether menstruation can ever be tolerable – even enjoyable

A tiny drop of blood on our bathroom floor was what gave me away. My mother took it as a sign that, at the age of 15, my period had arrived. After popping out to the shops, she came to my room with sanitary pads and a bunch of flowers; the pads came with a brief lesson on how to use them while the gerberas were left behind without explanation, some unspoken symbolism for my blossoming womanhood.

The truth was, I had had my period for two years. It had arrived without fanfare when I was 13, but, in that short time, I had absorbed so many myths – that I would smell; that sharks would attack me if I swam in the ocean (I grew up ...

Disrupted sleep patterns can lead to ‘deviant behaviour’, research suggests


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Science journalist Linda Geddes calls for more flexi-working to fit in with early risers and night owls

Finally, workers have a new excuse for stealing pens from the office or using someone else’s milk: early risers and night owls are more likely to display “unethical and deviant” behaviour if forced to work outside their natural rhythms, and should be able to set their own hours accordingly.

Speaking at the Hay festival on Monday about light and circadian rhythms, science journalist and author Linda Geddes called for more workplaces to introduce “flexi-working” to accommodate different chronotypes, which are most often split into two groups: larks, who peak in energy and mood in the mornings, and owls, who perform best later in the day.

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Women are happier without children or a spouse, says happiness expert


This post is by Sian Cain from Books | The Guardian


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Behavioural scientist Paul Dolan says traditional markers of success no longer apply

We may have suspected it already, but now the science backs it up: unmarried and childless women are the happiest subgroup in the population. And they are more likely to live longer than their married and child-rearing peers, according to a leading expert in happiness.

Speaking at the Hay festival on Saturday, Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural science at the London School of Economics, said the latest evidence showed that the traditional markers used to measure success did not correlate with happiness – particularly marriage and raising children.

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