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Internet Archive accused of using Covid-19 as 'an excuse for piracy' [30 Mar 2020|05:13pm]

The ‘National Emergency Library’ has made 1.4m ebooks freely available, many by current bestsellers, and sparked outrage from writers’ organisations

The Internet Archive has launched a “National Emergency Library”, making 1.4m books available free online – but has been accused of “hitting authors when they’re down” by denying them sales of books that are still in copyright.

Founded in 1996 to archive web pages, the IA began digitising books in 2005. It has long been at loggerheads with writers’ organisations who have accused it of uploading books that are not in the public domain, and denying authors potential income from sales and public library borrowing.

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Poem of the week: Letter to My Daughter by William Palmer [30 Mar 2020|11:16am]

A parent’s regretful words, ruing miscommunication, sing with clarity and concision

Letter to My Daughter

The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass…

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Tips, links and suggestions: what are you reading this week? [30 Mar 2020|02:00pm]

Your space to discuss the books you are reading and what you think of them

Welcome to this week’s blogpost. Here’s our roundup of your comments and photos from the last week.

Let’s start with some sunny optimism from Cellamare, who has been reading Bear Grylls’ Extreme Food:

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Prize shares £10,000 between publishers amid coronavirus damage [30 Mar 2020|12:00pm]

Fitzcarraldo Editions wins Republic of Consciousness prize for Jean-Baptiste Del Amo’s Animalia, but money is split between five tiny presses

Small press Fitzcarraldo Editions, which published the Nobel laureates Svetlana Alexievich and Olga Tokarczuk before they were recognised by the Swedish Academy, has landed the Republic of Consciousness prize for the novel Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo – but will share the £10,000 award with its fellow shortlistees.

Half-funded by the University of East Anglia, the award celebrates the best fiction from publishers with fewer than five full-time employees. Animalia, translated from French by Frank Wynne, follows a peasant family in the 20th century as their plot of land is developed into an intensive pig farm.

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Bohemian tragedy: Leonard Cohen and the curse of Hydra [30 Mar 2020|09:00am]

The musician was inspired by married writers George Johnston and Charmian Clift when he visited the Greek island of Hydra in 1960. But their golden age came at a price

I’ve been noticing of late how often the woman you see in the photograph, with her head on Leonard Cohen’s shoulder is captioned as “Marianne”. In fact, this beauty is of a different and wilder nature. Her name is Charmian Clift, and she was one half of the tragic couple, cited by Cohen as his inspiration and often dubbed “the Ted and Sylvia of Australia”. It was Clift’s memoir Peel Me a Lotus, that first set me on the path to the Greek island of Hydra and to writing a novel set among the artists’ colony of which she and her husband, George Johnston, were the undisputed king and queen.

It is 60 years this month since a 25-year-old Cohen – pre-songwriting and with one collection of poetry under his beltset foot there, hoping to finish blackening the pages of his first novel. He had left Montreal on his first trip outside North America with a Canadian Arts Council Grant of $2,000, and had been attempting to complete three pages a day at a boarding house in Hampstead.

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Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing – review [30 Mar 2020|09:00am]
Laing combines passion and curiosity in a collection of art-based essays and profiles that reflect the uncertainty of our age

Funny Weather collects essays, reviews, profiles, occasional writings, and a column for the art magazine Frieze, that Olivia Laing wrote over the 2010s. The bulk of the work dates from the decade’s turbulent latter half and is thus synchronous with Laing’s vault on to the bestseller lists via her third nonfiction book, The Lonely City, and her sole novel, Crudo.

Dealing mainly with contemporary art and anglophone writing, the collection’s binding sensibility is indicated in its subtitle. The “emergency” in question is the one that distressed Crudo’s author-narrator, who “saw the liberal democracy in which she had grown up revealed as fragile beyond measure, a brief experiment in the bloody history of man”. In a foreword, Laing acknowledges that she values art principally for its political capacities of “resistance and repair”. Art can and should change the world, she insists; it reveals the interior lives of others, “makes plain inequalities” and suggests new ways of living.

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Redhead By the Side of the Road review – another gem from Anne Tyler [30 Mar 2020|07:00am]
A mundane life is once again thrown into turmoil in the US writer’s best novel in some time

Anne Tyler has won so many plaudits over the past 50 odd years that it’s hard to think of new superlatives to add. But reading this enjoyable novel – her 23rd – it struck me that there can’t be a writer, of either gender, who creates more engaging or multi-dimensional men. Aren’t some of her most memorable and satisfying novels those where she plumbs the male human heart and psyche with all of her customary tenderness and honesty? Who can forget Saint Maybe’s self-lacerating Ian Bedloe, or the poles-apart brothers from Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant? Or – probably my favourite – the heart-wrenched Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist?

And now – chiming eerily at least in name with Macon – here’s fortysomething Micah, blue-eyed, with “not-so-good posture”, clad in jeans and a “partially erased looking” brown leather jacket. After he walked away from an IT startup, Micah now runs Tech Hermit and runs around the neighbourhood fixing computer problems for old ladies who – and you’d be right to bet Tyler mines this for full comic potential – don’t know what a modem is or does.

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Kids at home? The books you should read to keep everyone entertained [30 Mar 2020|06:00am]

Timeless classics, hilarious capers and new adventures: a tots to teens reading list that even parents can enjoy

Of course, good parents would have already compiled a reading list ready for the day when they are holed up for an unspecified number of weeks with their beloved offspring in the face of a global pandemic unprecedented in modern times. The rest of us, however, will need to play a little catch-up once we’ve finished setting up our makeshift home offices, explaining to aged parents that now is the time to keep calm but not carry on, shopping for immunocompromised neighbours, preparing slipshod lesson plans and secretly sobbing in abject terror under the stairs every two hours or so. So – blow your nose, wipe your eyes, wash your hands and let’s get to work!

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How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang review – an impressive debut [29 Mar 2020|01:00pm]
The western novel is seen through fresh eyes in this tale of two orphans struggling to survive

Sure to be the boldest debut of the year, How Much of These Hills Is Gold by American writer C Pam Zhang grapples with the legend of the wild west and mines brilliant new gems from a well-worn setting. Its protagonists are neither cocky white cowboys nor Native Americans but two destitute children of Chinese descent, struggling to survive after the deaths of their impoverished parents. The novel begins as a quest as they try to find the means to bury their father, but extends into an excavation of their family history as well as an account of their development as growing adolescents.

The story is heavy with layers of trauma, starting with the grim humour of the children, Lucy and Sam, dragging around their own father’s rotting corpse. It is a stirring setting in which nothing is ever truly safe or comfortable, not even the plain air, which is so hot it “shivers, as if trying to lift off”. Alongside Sam and Lucy’s family story are the stories of the genocide and persecution of Native Americans, the colonisation of the west and the compulsive exploitation of the land by desperate settlers and greedy opportunists. It is a world so physically and morally rough that the young protagonists fetishise tiny details that represent beauty and purity, such as when Lucy notices a girl whose “embroidered white dress… puffs from her tiny waist”.

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Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell review – tragic tale of the Latin tutor’s son [29 Mar 2020|09:00am]
A fictionalised account of the short life of Shakepeare’s son, Hamnet, is a work of profound understanding

In 1596, William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son Hamnet died in Stratford-upon-Avon. Four or so years later, Shakespeare wrote the play considered by many to be his greatest work, giving its tragic hero a variation of his dead son’s name. Almost four centuries later still, Maggie O’Farrell was studying Hamlet at school and learned of the boy Hamnet, whose life has been little more than a footnote in his father’s biography. The seed of curiosity planted 30 years ago has grown into her finest novel yet; a reimagining of Hamnet’s death and the long-lasting ripples it sent through his family.

But the title is slightly misleading. Though the novel opens with Hamnet, its central character and beating heart is the boy’s mother, whom O’Farrell calls Agnes. Names are significant in this book; when Agnes eventually sees the version of her son’s name on a London playbill, she feels he has been stolen from her a second time. Meanwhile, the most famous character in the novel goes unnamed; he is variously “her husband”, “the father”, “the Latin tutor”. He is allowed very little direct speech. This deliberate omission frees the narrative of all the freight of association that his name carries; even Stratford is rarely mentioned explicitly, with the author instead naming individual streets and houses to root her story in its location.

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Book clinic: Can you recommend a replacement for Rumpole of the Bailey? [28 Mar 2020|06:00pm]

From courtroom dramas to the Just William stories, a barrister and crime writer recommends novels about the quest for justice

Q: I’m a huge fan of John Mortimer and have yet to find a replacement for Rumpole. Any suggestions?

A: Harriet Tyce is a former criminal barrister and author of Blood Orange (Wildfire). Her new book, The Lies You Told, is out in July. She writes:

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Remaking One Nation: The Future of Conservatism by Nick Timothy – review [29 Mar 2020|07:00am]
Theresa May’s former svengali offers a thought-provoking challenge to conventional rightwing thinking

What Dominic Cummings, the teacosy-wearing consigliere of Boris Johnson, is to the current regime at No 10, Nick Timothy was to Theresa May. He even had a svengalian beard.

During that brief, and now largely forgotten, period when May appeared to be wildly popular, Timothy was her domineering co-chief of staff. In so much as there was anything you might call Mayism, he was the author of it. Then she fought her disastrous 2017 election campaign, in part at his urging and with a manifesto he co-authored, and the Tories lost their majority. “My phone rang. It was Theresa ... I could hear the disappointment and hurt and anger in her voice. There was terror, too. I had seen or heard her cry before, but this was different. She was sobbing. I remember thinking she sounded like a child who wanted to be told everything was just fine.”

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Defiant British Museum appoints Mary Beard as trustee [28 Mar 2020|06:03pm]

Board approves the ‘perfect candidate’ after she was rejected by No 10 for her pro-European views

Renowned classicist Mary Beard has been chosen as a trustee of the British Museum, despite Downing Street blocking her nomination last year because of her pro-European views.

Under the museum’s constitution, its board can pick five of the 25 trustees. Downing Street approves most of the others and after it rejected Beard, the board appointed her itself.

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'You've bollixed up my book': letter reveals Hemingway's fury at being censored [29 Mar 2020|07:05am]

The author threatened to ditch his British publisher, and likened him to a vicar, after his ‘Anglo-Saxon’ expressions were cleaned up

The hard-drinking, hot-tempered American writer Ernest Hemingway was furious when he discovered that the language for the English edition of his latest book had been cleaned up, a previously unpublished letter reveals. “I will make my own bloody decisions as to what I write and what I do not write,” he raged to his British publisher, adding that he did not want the book to be “bollixed up”.

The fury within the lines of the letter would have left Jonathan Cape in no doubt of Hemingway’s feelings about editorial changes to his 1932 nonfiction book about bull-fighting, Death in the Afternoon. That those changes were made without his knowledge or permission left him all the more outraged.

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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell review – grooming as a teen love story [29 Mar 2020|11:00am]

This debut novel about a girl’s relationship with her teacher is compulsively readable

When #MeToo broke, it wasn’t just about high-profile cases of abuse – it felt like a new light being shone on all past interactions, allowing us to see them differently. Everywhere you saw women talking feverishly to each other, you knew it would be about this creepy boss, or that older guy.

My Dark Vanessa – about a 15-year-old schoolgirl, Vanessa, who has a sexual relationship her 42-year-old teacher, Jacob Strane – animates this process of re-evaluation, albeit within an extreme case. Kate Elizabeth Russell resists the (now sometimes shrill) insistence on black and white in sexual dealings – instead inhabiting the mind of a vulnerable teenager, offering insight into how black might feel like white, how abuse might be taken for romance – and how this lie could be desperately clung to into adulthood. My Dark Vanessa reveals a slow journey towards a different understanding.

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Craig Brown: 'It's difficult to spoof boring people' [28 Mar 2020|05:00pm]

The longstanding Private Eye satirist on getting under Alan Sugar’s skin, why Iain Duncan Smith can’t be parodied, and his new book about the Beatles

Craig Brown, 62, is an award-winning satirist, columnist and critic who has written the parodic diary in Private Eye since 1989. He’s also the author of 18 books, including recent bestseller Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret. His new book is One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time.

How did your new book about the Beatles come about?
I was working on a book about the River Thames and mentioned to my publisher that I had an idea for the next one: a big, kaleidoscopic book about the Beatles, similar to what I did with Princess Margaret. He emailed the next day to ask if I’d be able to get it out by 10 April 2020 because that’s the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ breakup. So I shelved the Thames one to do this.

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Howard Jacobson: 'I am a social distancer by instinct' [28 Mar 2020|11:00am]

The novelist was in Tenerife when news of Covid-19 hit. He reflects on a month of uncertainty and the search for hand sanitiser

“It was about the beginning of September, 1664, that I, among the rest of my neighbours, heard in ordinary discourse, that the plague was returned again in Holland... ” So begins Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year.

It was about the beginning of 2020 that I heard a new plague was heading this way from China. On the morning of 27 February I sat with my wife Jenny in a cafe in La Caleta, a pretty fishing village in Tenerife, which we were leaving to go home to London later that day. But for the calima, when wild winds lifted the Sahara and deposited it on our living-room floor, we’d been enjoying glorious weather. This morning was cruelly beautiful. We didn’t want to leave. But while there had been only one reported case of coronavirus on the island, we weren’t entirely convinced the authorities were on top of it; we weren’t sure how well-equipped for dealing with a severe outbreak they were; and we thought that if it did come to hospitalisation, at least in London we spoke the language. We no sooner took that decision than we regretted it. A sadness settled on us – a calima of the spirits – that hasn’t lifted.

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From Virginia Woolf to Stephen Hawking: the best books about time [28 Mar 2020|12:00pm]

As the clocks move forward an hour, novelist Samanatha Harvey shares her favourite books that play with present, past and future

As the clocks go forward, reminding us once more of time’s strange slipperiness, I find myself returning to Ted Hughes. The Poems, selected by Simon Armitage, consider time – the seasons, centuries and eras – through its impact on the natural world; what it does to rivers, horses, trees, birds, ferns, flowers, fish, the moon.

There’s something about his poem “A March Calf” in particular that grasps time’s violence, and also its grace – the moment when a calf realises it’s alive, not knowing how numbered are its days. That embattled bursting forth of a life, and of spring: “Soon he’ll plunge out, to scatter his seething joy, / To be present at the grass, / To be free on the surface of such a wideness, / To find himself himself …” Back when I was a philosophy student I read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, and I’m choosing it now because there’s a jewel-like notion at its heart – that the mind creates and shapes the world, rather than passively receives it. This seemed truly revelatory to my 19-year-old self – in particular the section “Space and Time”, which lays out the idea that time isn’t a concept existing out there in the world, but a subjective property of the mind, a construct that forms a net through which all experience must come.

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Bina by Anakana Schofield review – 'for every woman who has had enough' [28 Mar 2020|07:30am]

Seventysomething Bina has taken to her bed in a quirky novel that captures the mind’s twists and turns with crow-black humour

When the high priestess of commodified minimalism, Marie Kondo, encouraged her followers to gut their book collections and keep only the handful of volumes that “spark joy”, Irish-Canadian author Anakana Schofield led the bibliophilic counter-insurgency. “Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure,” she wrote in the Guardian in January. “Art should also challenge and perturb us.”

Schofield is an unabashed agitator, a conjurer of discomfort: whether it’s the agonised mind of a sex offender, or the sorrows of a disintegrating marriage. Like her absurdist compatriots – Beckett, Joyce, O’Brien – Schofield’s novels are existentially confounding, syntactically wild, and buckshot with wit. And while she may behave like a form wrecker, she is at heart a world builder. Each of her novels inhabits the same literary universe she created in her debut, 2013’s Malarkey, a funhouse mirror reflection of contemporary Irish life.

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Children’s books roundup – the best new picture books and novels [28 Mar 2020|09:00am]

In difficult times, a mysterious robot, a ‘Green Book’ campervan tour, hard lessons in survival, an accidental detective and more

With normal routines disrupted and anxiety levels high, brilliant children’s books may offer a handle on difficult times, or at least a charmed bubble of escapism. This month’s crop of books for eight to 12-year-olds are particularly powerful. Damien Love’s Monstrous Devices (Rock the Boat) is a superbly assured debut, featuring 12-year-old Alex, a mysterious toy robot and a breakneck chase through Europe to discover its secret and stop its terrifying power being unleashed on the world. Alex’s dapper and imperturbable grandfather, some truly sinister villains and an effortless, atmospheric evocation of place and history combine in an unforgettable, immersive reading experience.

For non-magical adventure, award-winning YA author Nic Stone turns her hand to writing for younger readers in Clean Getaway (Knights of Media). When Scoob’s outrageous grandma kidnaps him and sweeps him away on a campervan tour of the landmarks of her past, guided by the “Green Book” that once told African Americans where they could safely travel, Scoob isn’t expecting a series of shattering revelations about his grandfather’s past, his grandma’s secret weakness, and his own father’s love. Funny, warm and highly original, it’s an exciting, poignant and thought-provoking road-trip novel.

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