Bookface Blog

Archive by tag: David ShariatmadariReturn
Jun 25, 2022

From pageturning thrillers and comic novels to an antidote to doomscrolling – our pick of the best new fiction and nonfiction. Plus 10 brilliant paperbacks, and 10 great reads for children and teens

The Exhibitionist by Charlotte Mendelson
Longlisted for the Women’s prize, this is a darkly funny portrait of a dysfunctional family bent out of shape over decades by its narcissistic artist patriarch – and of what happens when his wife will no longer squash her own creative energies. Wise, waspish and emotionally astute, it’s addictive reading.

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Apr 30, 2022

Oded Galor’s ‘Sapiens’-like history of civilisation predicts a happy ending for humanity. But should we trust him?

Why is the Anglo-Saxon world so individualistic, and why has China leaned towards collectivism? Was it Adam Smith, or the Bill of Rights; communism and Mao? According to at least one economist, there might be an altogether more surprising explanation: the difference between wheat and rice. You see, it’s fairly straightforward for a lone farmer to sow wheat in soil and live off the harvest. Rice is a different affair: it requires extensive irrigation, which means cooperation across parcels of land, even centralised planning. A place where wheat grows favours the entrepreneur; a place where rice grows favours the bureaucrat.

The influence of the “initial conditions” that shape societies’ development is what Oded Galor has been interested in for the past 40 years. He believes they reverberate across millennia and even seep into what we might think of as our personalities. Whether or not you have a “future-oriented mindset” – in other words, how much money you save and how likely you are to invest in your education – can, he argues, be partly traced to what kinds of crops grew well in your ancestral homelands. (Where high-yield species such as barley and rice thrive, it pays to sacrifice the immediate gains of hunting by giving over some of your territory to farming. This fosters a longer-term outlook.) Differences in gender equality around the world have their roots in whether land required a plough to cultivate – needing male strength, and relegating women to domestic tasks – or hoes and rakes, which could be used by both sexes.

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Apr 22, 2022

Ahead of her new memoir, the critic talks about her current pop culture obsessions and why she identifies with Nina Simone

When Will Smith slapped Chris Rock at the Academy Awards ceremony last month Margo Jefferson had stepped away from her TV for a moment. Like millions of us, she watched it on replay, absorbing the sheer novelty of a normally stage-managed spectacle collapsing into chaos. As it happened, the incident crystallised several Jeffersonian themes: televised glamour, Black entertainers, and the question of how to behave in public. In her 2016 memoir Negroland, about the lifestyles and mores of the Black elite in mid-century America, Jefferson recalls her parents dissecting the TV performances of Sammy Davis Jr, Dorothy Dandridge and Lena Horne, and describes the oppressive power of the dictum “everything we do must reflect well on the race”.

But times have moved on, she believes. Both Rock’s routine, in which he joked about Smith’s wife, Jada, and Smith’s response struck her as immature more than anything else. “They’re too old,” she sighs. “They are definitely too old and they should be too astute for these shenanigans.” Speaking to me from her apartment in New York’s West Village, in which the only physical objects appear to be books, she says: “That kind of old ‘respectability’ question did not really enter into it for me.” Why not? “Black culture, and our range of behavioural possibilities and choices, has expanded.” Judged as a performance, however – the critic in her is rarely stilled for long – it was simply cheap, juvenile, “staged hood theatrics”. “I wish it had been handled by Jada herself.”

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Apr 10, 2021

The writer and podcaster talks about his private school days, and why a system that prides itself on creating leaders is selling Britain short

  • Read an extract from his memoir One of Them below

It’s 1996 in a perfectly ordinary suburb just north of Heathrow airport. A teenage boy and his sister are on their way to the optician. Walking under a railway bridge, they pass a man who slows down and gives the boy a stare “as startling as scalding water”. He can’t stop thinking about it all through the appointment, and when they emerge – though surely the man won’t still be there? – they walk a different way back to the bus stop, just in case. When the bus arrives, they climb to the top deck, and as it turns the corner, the boy peers out. The man is still there, and smiles as he catches sight of them, before opening his coat wide to reveal a colourful patchwork of swastikas sewn into the lining: red, white, black, purple.

The boy is Musa Okwonga, and he goes to school at Eton College, just the other side of the M25. Over there racism may not announce itself with swastikas, but it’s a constant background hum, with something of the same menace as the man in the coat: just when you think you’ve evaded it, surprise! Here’s a moment to chill you to the bone, like when a fellow pupil boasts about the fact that his ancestor was a slaver.

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Nov 26, 2020

As dictionaries present their words of the year, we pick 10 terms that defined the past 12 months

How do we get new words and how do old words get a fresh twist? In normal times, it’s a well-worn process, linguistic business as usual. There will be a new invention or thing to buy, such as “wifi” (1999) or an “iPod” (2001). People will pick up on trends or changes in behaviour and give them labels such as “crowdfund” (2008) or “catfish” (2012). Last year, the Guardian identified “femtech” and “cancelled” as among the words that embodied 2019. This year, you may have noticed, has been a bit different, the verbal equivalent of a dawn raid: a few insistent items of vocabulary have smashed down the front door and pointed guns at us while we cower under the duvet. And while it’s right that the changes wreaked by the virus dominate this year’s list, there have been other developments. As the big dictionaries unveil their wotys (words of the year), we ask which ones – for good or ill – best capture the spirit of 2020.

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Sep 25, 2020

How we interpret our feelings depends on where and how we’re brought up, says professor Lisa Feldman Barrett - and not understanding this is making our lives harder

In early March, as the world began to realise that coronavirus wasn’t going to go quietly, psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett was thousands of miles away from home. “I went to New Zealand because I was getting an honorary degree,” she tells me over the phone from lockdown in Newton, a leafy suburb of Boston, Massachusetts, where she runs a lab devoted to the study of emotions. She had arranged the trip to coincide with spring break so her college-age daughter could join her and see the sights. But as countries around the world began to impose restrictions, she started having second thoughts. “I was asking myself, should she really be coming, or should we be going home? Like, how serious is this exactly?” Her heart began to race as she weighed up the possibilities – and she found herself in a state someone else might label fear, panic even. Eventually she rang her husband, but instead of saying “I’m scared,” she blurted out: “I’m experiencing high arousal from uncertainty.”

This is only an odd choice of words if you’re unfamiliar with the paradigm-busting ideas set out in her extraordinary 2018 book, How Emotions Are Made. For Barrett it’s simply the language that most closely reflects what science tells us about how and why we feel what we do. Her family have adapted. “My daughter will say, like many college students, ‘I’m really anxious’, and I’ll look at her and she’ll sigh, ‘OK Mom, I’m having uncertainty and I’m having high arousal.’ Or, ‘I’m really depressed.’ And I’ll be: ‘Are you depressed?’ and she’s like, ‘OK my body budget is out of whack and I’m feeling unpleasant. Are you happy now?’”

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