Maggie and Me review 'a lightness of touch and warm humour'

Guardian Books - 2 hours 39 min ago
Damian Barr's coming-of-age memoir in Thatcher's Britain is compelling but ends somewhat jarringly

When Damian Barr's memoir Maggie and Me was published last April, complete with Margaret Thatcher beaming beatifically from its front cover, it seemed immaculately timed. Thatcher had died earlier that month, and his book began with Barr as an eight-year-old, watching on a black-and-white portable as Thatcher emerged "Terminator-like" from the rubble of the 1984 Brighton bomb, "dust clouds billowing around her".

A year on, Thatcher has disappeared from the paperback jacket, which may be telling. For although the Britain of her making is always in the background of Barr's Motherwell characterised by unemployment, benefit cuts and the Ravenscraig steelworks really the Thatcher angle is somewhat shoehorned into an otherwise compelling coming-of-age story.

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Running Wild review eerie images of a girls-only world

Guardian Books - 3 hours 36 min ago
Frances Kearney's strange and beautiful photographs are a kind of conceptual meditation on childhood

"In Frances Kearney's extraordinary photographs which appear at once utterly unstaged and wholly composed we are invited to think again about what kind of world the child can make in a world so determinedly made by adults." So writes the psychoanalyst and writer Adam Phillips, in his introduction to Running Wild, a book of photographs that make a up a kind of conceptual meditation on childhood. Kearney is part of a generation of photographers that came though the Royal College of Art in the 1990s, when the influence of Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia loomed large and documentary was shunned in favour of elaborate staging. Her photographs, which are printed in large format 4ft x 5ft for exhibitions, can seem like stills from a mysterious film. Likewise, in book form, you sometimes long for a written narrative, not so much to shed light on the images but to accentuate the sense of mystery.

In the first image in Running Wild, a young girl stands atop a field of newly mown hay, clutching a bunch of leaves. She is looking up at an elevated radar mast that imbues an otherwise beautiful image with a certain tension familiar from sci-fi films or certain novels by JG Ballard. (Most of the pictures in this series were made before Kearney discovered the Ballard story that she borrowed for its title.)

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15 best poetry books of all time

Telegraph - 3 hours 40 min ago
The best books of poems ever written






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The Temporary Gentleman review Sebastian Barry's hard-drinking, continent-spanning love story

Guardian Books - 4 hours 7 min ago
A novel with pleasures similar to those of reading Jane Austen

This novel is an elegy not for a temporary gentleman but for his wife. The prose has the black-bordered elegance of a Victorian mourning letter yet it is, at the same time, a restless recollection of the life of a couple animated but doomed. It is written with a redeeming artistry almost as if good writing might have the power to save a marriage or contain the secret of happiness. It manages, with the lightest of touches, to be a politically adroit sketch of Ireland and of colonial Africa in the last century.

Barry, who won the Costa prize with The Secret Scripture (2008), loosely links his fiction the novels acknowledge each other with a nod. He lets slip here that Jack McNulty is brother to Eneas (from his 1998 The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty). Jack fought in the second world war, although his commission was never permanent, and became a UN observer and a gunrunner in Africa. We meet him, in 1957, in Accra lodgings, waited on by a houseboy, Tom Quaye, whose marital circumstances partly parallel his own.

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The Knowledge review what to do come the apocalypse

Guardian Books - 5 hours 6 min ago
Lewis Dartnell's guide to surviving Armageddon doesn't quite live up to its title, but it makes for a troubling read

Most of the population has been wiped out by a virulent strain of avian flu and the job of rebuilding civilisation falls to you and a few other hardy survivors. Where do you begin, with just a smattering of the knowledge required?

Such is the opening scenario of Lewis Dartnell's book, which aims to provide a crash course in the scientific fundamentals underpinning modern-day living. Its introduction seductively markets the volume as essential reading come the apocalypse, which the author an astrobiologist at the University of Leicester disconcertingly presents as an inevitability. What follows, however, is a prosaic if erudite primer on the essentials of farming, medicine, power generation and technology.

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The Edible Atlas review it's gastronomic heaven

Guardian Books - 5 hours 11 min ago
Mina Holland tours the world for this entertaining yet educational store of food and cultural knowledge

There's a glorious randomness about Mina Holland's world tour of 39 cuisines. Why not 38 or 40? Why three in Africa and five in Italy? Not that it matters. Reading The Edible Atlas is like being on a long car journey with someone who never stops talking, and constantly strays off the point, yet who entrances you with their insight and experience. In the least didactic way possible, The Edible Atlas is educational. It meanders down well-trodden highways and byways of gastronomic and cultural knowledge, celebrating diverse cooking traditions in a wholehearted way, but then homes in with precision on their essential elements. The paired-down larder list Holland gives for each culinary region helps nail it.

Her writing is pleasurably evocative. Istanbul, for instance, "is a wonderful racket of visual splendour". But her observations are refreshingly free from the cliched linguistic incontinence that often attaches to this genre. She can be funny too: the Rhône-Alpes she describes as "a great place to be piggy, but perhaps not to be a pig". There are recipes, too, but the rest of the text is so engaging, it would have stood alone without them.

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Can't and Won't review Lydia Davis drops her guard

Guardian Books - 5 hours 37 min ago
The American writer's latest short stories have lost some of their humour but hint at new depths

A new collection by Lydia Davis is a chance to revel in the possibilities of brevity. Can't and Won't spans 289 pages and features 122 stories; the majority come in at well under a page. Davis deploys many of her usual tropes. There are fictitious (or are they?) letters of complaint to frozen-pea manufacturers and marketing managers. There are arch little commentaries on grammatical oddities. There are single-sentence tales that seem to gather in complexity with each reading. ("Now that I have been here for a little while, I can say with confidence that I have never been here before," runs "Bloomington", perhaps the best of these deceptively simple short-short pieces.)

In addition, Davis adds new elements. There are 30 fragmentary "dream pieces", culled, she explains, from her own "night dreams and dreamlike waking experiences" as well as those of family and friends. There are a dozen "stories from Flaubert", formed from anecdotes in the novelist's letters, presumably encountered in the course of Davis's labours on Madame Bovary. (Her well-received translation appeared in 2010, joining previous ones of Proust and Blanchot.) These elements mark something of a departure: normally, external sources (if there are any) are not disclosed in Davis's fiction. The effect is to make this collection seem a bit less inimitably Davis-esque than usual; her own voice, though often a clear presence, is at other times somewhat muted.

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Can't and Won't by Lydia Davis, review

Telegraph - 5 hours 40 min ago
Devilshly close observation makes these short stories a triumph, argues Anthony Cummins






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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry, edited by Anthony and Ben Holden, review

Telegraph - 5 hours 40 min ago
An anthology of tear-jerking poems is not just for men, argues Wendy Cope






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The Man Who Couldn't Stop review David Adam's compelling study of OCD

Guardian Books - 6 hours 36 min ago
Case studies including Churchill, Nikola Tesla and Hans Christian Andersen offer fascinating insights into OCD

"Only a fool or liar will tell you how the brain works," says the author, midway through this fascinating study of the living nightmare that is obsessive compulsive disorder. And rest assured, Dr David Adam is neither. Indeed, he has written one of the best and most readable studies of a mental illness to have emerged in recent years.

What makes this book compelling reading is its openness. I mean that in every sense. The author is candid not only about the inevitable limitations of any book on mental illness, when we only know so much about the brain, but also about his own experience.

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People diary: soprano proves a plane dresser

Telegraph - 7 hours 40 min ago
Leading soprano Sarah Gabriel refuses to sing to EasyJet's tune






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How one lost sheep found hope in Christianity

Telegraph - 7 hours 41 min ago
Brought to her knees by her addictions, Lilian Pizzichini turned to Christianity for salvation






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War. What Is It Good for? review

Guardian Books - 14 hours 36 min ago
Taking an evolutionary approach to history, Ian Morris argues that humanity has benefited from centuries of warfare

War is good for absolutely nothing; it means "destruction of innocent lives" and "tears to thousands of mothers' eyes" so go the lyrics of the classic 1970 pop hit. Ian Morris does not agree. War is essential to history, he argues in his new book. Only through warfare has humanity been able to come together in larger societies and thus to enjoy security and riches. It is largely thanks to the wars of the past that our modern lives are 20 times safer than those of our stone age ancestors.

This proposition is not as startling or paradoxical as it might at first seem, especially as by "war" Morris means conquest or nation-building. Nor is it particularly original. Back in the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes set the ball rolling with his vision of life as nasty, brutish and short; much more recently, the Israeli historian Azar Gat has set out the evidence at length in his War in Human Civilization. Morris's book is essentially a popularisation of Gat's monumental, if forbidding work.

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Sophie Hannah: 'It's surprising how many poems turn out to be about sex'

Guardian Books - 14 hours 36 min ago
The crime writer and poet on contrasting literary disciplines, the poetry of sex and the genius of Agatha Christie

Sophie Hannah's talents are unusual: she is a bestselling crime writer (author of nine novels) and prize-winning poet (her fifth collection, Pessimism for Beginners, was shortlisted for the TS Eliot award). Her poetry is studied by GCSE, A-level and university students. And all her writing is characterised by a zestful intelligence. Her new crime novel The Telling Error explores the psychology of an erring middle-class mother without diluting a bold plot about the stabbing of a newspaper columnist. It is a novel in which hi-tech and low behaviour collide. She has also just edited The Poetry of Sex for Penguin  the sort of idea that, in the wrong hands, could be a fiasco; with Hannah at the helm, it's a triumph.

How far apart are crime writing and poetry?

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Frédéric Gros: If you walk for several hours, you can escape your identity

Guardian Books - 14 hours 37 min ago
Some of the finest thinkers in history were also enthusiastic walkers. In his surprise bestseller, Frédéric Gros uses philosophy to show how walking can bring about a sense of peace. So why is he so conflicted about life?

It is a sunny spring Sunday and joy! I am off to Paris to go for a walk. Not any old walk, but a walk with a man who really knows about walking: Frédéric Gros, a professor of walking. A philosopher of walking.

Strictly speaking, he's actually a professor of philosophy who writes about walking, but this is nitpicking. What do I care? I love walking. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than walking uphill, for hours, in order to sleep under some flimsy piece of nylon fabric and then do it all again the next day.

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The People's Platform review an 'invaluable primer' for understanding the networked world

Guardian Books - Sat, 19/04/2014 - 21:30
Astra Taylor's study of the internet reveals how our hopes for a brave new democratic world were undone by corporate greed

For the first 20 years of the evolution of the internet from the start of the "internetworking" project in 1973 to the launch of the first major web browser in 1993 cyberspace (the virtual world behind the screen, as William Gibson put it) and "meatspace" (John Perry Barlow's term for the material world) were, effectively, parallel universes. Cyberspace was the preserve of a privileged elite the computer scientists, engineers and graduate students who collaboratively designed and had access to it. And the inhabitants of meatspace were, for the most part, blissfully unaware of its existence.

The two universes were radically different. For the netizens of cyberspace, meatspace the world dominated by "weary giants of flesh and steel", declared Barlow had purchased a one-way ticket to the dustbin of history. Netizens believed that the internet was about to "flatten organisations, globalise society, decentralise control, and help harmonise people", as Nicholas Negroponte, the MIT guru, put it. The network would bring about the rise of a new "digital generation" playful, self-sufficient, psychologically whole and it would see that generation gather, like the net itself, into collaborative networks of independent peers. And so on.

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Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time up for Hugo award after fan campaign

Guardian Books - Sat, 19/04/2014 - 21:00
The massively popular 4.5m-word fantasy epic dismissed as a long-winded The Lord of the Rings by critics makes shortlist for best novel, despite its creator's death seven years ago

Following a campaign launched by fans of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, all 15 volumes of the fantasy series have been nominated for a Hugo award.

The shortlists for one of science fiction and fantasy's most prestigious prizes were announced this evening, setting Jordan's epic which runs to 4.5m words against four single-volume works for the best novel award.

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Kipling knew about the paschal mystery

Telegraph - Sat, 19/04/2014 - 18:30
As I found at the grave of Bill Hannan, who died at the Somme, our grief is second-hand but the tragedy touches us across the century, says Daniel Hannan






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Would the perfect family contain a child from every race?

Telegraph - Sat, 19/04/2014 - 17:00
Josephine Baker thought so - and adopted a 'rainbow tribe' of children to prove it






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My sister Joan needs a cookbook, says Jackie Collins

Telegraph - Sat, 19/04/2014 - 13:02
Launching her first book of recipes, the Beverly Hills author reveals her actress sister Joan Collins can only cook spaghetti bolognese






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