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Jul 16, 2022

The journalist’s thorough investigation finds that corporations are unearthing alternatives to fossil fuels. Who will benefit?

Henry Sanderson has written a remarkably hopeful and useful book. My guess is that was not his original plan. The longtime commodities and mining reporter for the Financial Times, Sanderson may well have sold this book on the idea that “going green” was actually taking us in dark directions. And indeed his in-depth reporting – stronger on corporate histories than on-the-ground interviewing – shows the corruption that underlies many of the mining schemes for the minerals used in batteries, the human rights abuses and environmental troubles that can come from that mining and the geopolitical complications that emerge when countries such as China and Russia control crucial parts of the trade.

These defects are fairly well known at this point: the underside of, say, “artisanal” Congolese cobalt mining has been widely reported and the Ukraine war, which happened too recently to be reflected in Sanderson’s account, has underlined Moscow’s control of some critical materials, such as nickel. Indeed, understanding of these kinds of threats has penetrated deeply enough that it’s become a favourite trope of the fossil-fuel industry; I was debating recently with a former Republican congressman who was indignant about African child labour in the mineral supply chain.

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Jul 16, 2022

The Indiana-born author on the midwest setting of her acclaimed debut novel, her fascination with rabbits, and the ‘dazzling’ poetry of Tayi Tibble

Tess Gunty was born and raised in South Bend, Indiana. It’s the inspiration for Vacca Vale, the post-industrial setting of her debut novel, The Rabbit Hutch, which tracks the entwined fates of a multifarious cast – including a man who paints his body with the liquid from broken glow sticks and a teenage girl aged out of the foster system who is obsessed with female mystics – over the course of a single summer. At its centre is a low-cost housing complex whose name provides the novel’s title. Inventive, heartbreaking and acutely funny, The Rabbit Hutch already counts Jonathan Safran Foer and Raven Leilani among its fans.

How did the novel begin?
I had just left the midwest, it was summer and I was living in Brooklyn and spending my time in Prospect Park. I would just take a notebook and some books and no electronics, and almost all the characters came to me then. It was so hot, I sometimes think they were heat hallucinations. They arrived with nothing but their most extreme qualities, and so the five-year task ahead of me was to make these eccentric behaviours not only believable but inevitable in these people.

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Jul 16, 2022

Two years after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations that sent Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race to the top of the bestseller lists, its author assesses how far we’ve come, in an edited extract from an updated edition of the book

25 May 2020. Minneapolis, Minnesota. George Floyd is leaving a shop after paying for a packet of cigarettes with a fake $20 bill. In line with the workplace’s policy, a member of staff has called the police. George is arrested, handcuffed, and led to the police car. It’s at this point that he begins to display severe distress. Police officers restrain him, and one of them takes up a position on top of him, placing his knee on top of George’s neck. George protests and says he can’t breathe, but he receives no reprieve from the officer killing him. Then, he seems to accept his fate. “Mom, love you,” he says. “Tell my kids I love them.” Soon after, he stops talking. It is only when paramedics arrive that the knee is lifted. George’s body is put on to a stretcher, his limbs loose and floppy. An hour later, he is declared dead at a hospital nearby.

On 26 May, video footage of the murder, filmed by a teenage bystander, is uploaded to social media. Protesters gather in Louisville, Minneapolis and Glynn County, united by the same cry: Black Lives Matter. The protests quickly spread across the United States.

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Jul 16, 2022
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Jul 15, 2022

The scrapbook approach of this lively graphic novel vividly captures Alison’s journey from uncertain teenager to successful modern-day artist

‘You fascinate me, Alison,” says Patrick, “with your big eyes and that wretched jumper.” Patrick Kerr, who visits Alison’s Dorset town in the late 1970s to teach an art class, is the former enfant terrible of portraiture known as “the last great painter”. Alison is a newly married young woman baffled by adulthood. Kerr’s portraits of her – including Alison Reclines, Alison and Aspidistra and Alison Sleeps – will be highlights in his glittering career. But this isn’t his story. Instead, Stewart’s affectionate and beautifully pitched account follows Alison from uncertain teenager to successful modern-day artist.

The fictional Kerr is, as you might have gathered, a self-satisfied bore, and Alison spends much of her life inching out of his shadow. But Stewart renders their relationship and its fallout with a nuance and care that runs throughout her first full-length adult work. The setup is brief but effective. Alison grows up in a small town with her parents and older brother: “We were certainly ordinary, which made us assume that we must be happy.” She marries a local council worker, knuckles down as a housewife in a chilly, cliff-set house and searches for the hobby that, her husband tells her, will fill her days.

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Jul 15, 2022

The Partisan by Patrick Worrall; More Than You’ll Ever Know by Katie Gutierrez; The Last to Vanish by Megan Miranda; All I Said Was True by Imran Mahmood; The Cliff House by Chris Brookmyre

The Partisan by Patrick Worrall (Bantam, £16.99)
Chess has long been popular as a metaphor for politics, particularly during the cold war when, like the spy novel, it came into its own. Worrall’s ambitious debut thriller moves back and forth in time between 2004, when former resistance fighter Greta returns to her native Lithuania to recount her activities in the second world war; and 1961, the year in which building commenced on that more corporeal metaphor for east–west relations, the Berlin Wall. This is when Yulia and Michael, chess prodigies with parents in high places on either side of the iron curtain, meet and fall in love. The large cast and wide geographical sweep of this complex, intricate book, which travels to London, Moscow, eastern Europe and Valencia, means that it takes a while for the various threads to knit together. However, attention is rewarded with a compelling and – given the current situation in Ukraine – tragically resonant story.

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Jul 15, 2022

From childhood holidays to encounters with sexism … the actor narrates these autobiographical essays with humour and verve


Managing Expectations opens with the young Minnie Driver leaning out of her mother’s car window and screaming: “Help me, I am being abducted!” It is Sunday night and, after spending the weekend at home, she is being returned to her Hampshire boarding school. “We live three miles from the school. It makes no sense,” she says.


Read with verve and humour by Driver, the book comprises a series of essays on the pivotal moments in her life. These include the time her father sent her home from Barbados, aged 11, as a punishment for being rude to his girlfriend. The journey back to London, which she undertook alone, included a stopover at a swish hotel in Miami where she got her revenge by buying up half the gift shop on her father’s credit card.

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Jul 15, 2022

Looking for a new reading recommendation? Here are some fantastic new paperbacks, from an open-minded study of drugs to affecting short stories

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Jul 15, 2022

A long-dormant topic has now been given a moving, powerful and timely literary anthology, beautifully edited by Annie Finch

The first abortion I encountered in literature isn’t named. In Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants, which I studied at school, a man and a woman wait at a sleepy Spanish train station for the express to Madrid and conduct a veiled conversation as they drink:

“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

Whereas I stand almost intact,
giddy with freedom, not with pain.
I lift my light basket, observing

how little I needed, in fact;
and move to the checkout, to the rain,
to the lights and the long street curving.

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Jul 15, 2022

The Bangladeshi-born writer on her teenage obsession with When Harry Met Sally, drawing inspiration from Salman Rushdie, and returning to Ibsen

My earliest reading memory
My first language is Bangla, and I can remember my father reading Tagore’s short story Kabuliwala – about a refugee who longs for his daughter – and trying to figure out the letters.

My favourite book growing up
The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, starring Sesame Street’s Grover. It has it all – an unreliable narrator, a great buildup of suspense, and a twist at the end.

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Jul 15, 2022

This literary and cultural survey of a neglected emotion takes in Beckett, Boy Scouts and breakfast cereal


The BBC’s wartime radio comedy It’s That Man Again – or ITMA – kept British peckers up during the blitz. It was a morale-boosting cavalcade of wacky characters, cheeky catchphrases and proto-Goon sound effects, in which depressed charlady Mona Lott, played by Joan Harben, would drone the latest awful thing that had happened to her and then hit you with the devastatingly deadpan punchline: “It’s being so cheerful that keeps me going.”

ITMA is not mentioned in this intriguing and amusing history of cheerfulness by the American cultural historian Timothy Hampton, although Mona could be regarded as the standard-bearer for postwar intellectual respectability, as educated people increasingly assumed that being cheerful was shallow. Samuel Beckett famously responded to someone asking if the lovely weather didn’t make him glad to be alive: “I wouldn’t go as far as that” – and of course there is Philip Larkin, who said that deprivation was for him “what daffodils were to Wordsworth”.

Cheerfulness is this book’s unashamed subject: not joy, not passion, not euphoria, but ordinary common-or-garden cheerfulness, the cheerfulness that Hampton records was specifically demanded of Boy Scouts in their Handbook of 1911; the scout “must never go about with a sulky air. He must always be bright and smiling … ” Could there be a more unfashionable idea in 2022, when young people who open up about feeling terrible are praised for their courage? Isn’t cheerfulness delusional, damaging and emotionally illiterate?

Maybe not. In his genial and scholarly guide, Hampton takes us through the evolution of cheerfulness from the Middle Ages to the present. It was the concept that in 1941 gave the US its much-loved breakfast cereal, Cheerios, which were originally called Cheerioats. But the new name included the briskly pleasant “oh!” in its final syllable, calling us to join a community of happily contented consumers, just as, he writes, “Saint Paul had pointed to cheerfulness as the mediating affect that defines our relationship to the mystical body of Christ in the community of the new church”.

Like Michel Foucault discussing the history of sexuality, Hampton proposes a history of cheerfulness that is not about the sunny character trait of the individual, which it’s possible to find enviable or annoying, but the unexamined social and cultural practice. It is a learned discipline, to be taken perfectly seriously as something that promotes social cohesiveness and personal humility. He finds Friedrich Nietzsche to be a key figure in the history of modern cheerfulness. While not obviously Mr Cheerful, the philosopher was someone who rejected the idea of it as mere placid wellbeing.

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Jul 14, 2022

An examination of the 200-year-old history of the notion of ‘normal’ and its power to alienate and oppress

“Are you Norma, Typical Woman?” With that headline, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, an Ohio newspaper, launched a contest in 1945 to discover the woman whose body matched an alabaster statue, “Norma”, sculpted by Abram Belskie and American obstetrician Robert L Dickinson. Their “Norma” and “Normman” statues were based on measurements taken from 15,000 young women and men, almost exclusively white and able-bodied. Nearly 4,000 women submitted their height, weight, bust, hip, waist, thigh, calf and foot sizes to the newspaper’s competition. Not one of them matched Norma’s contours exactly.

As Sarah Chaney notes in her captivating book, Norma, the ostensible epitome of female grace, was a fiction derived from a biased sample. In fact, much of what we believe is “normal” about human bodies, health and behaviour is based on data from a sub-section of the world’s population classified as WEIRD: western, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. WEIRD people make up less than 12% of the world’s population, Chaney notes, but 96% of subjects in psychological studies and 80% in medical ones.

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Jul 14, 2022

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time author said his choice was ‘pretty instant’ after the supreme court overturned Roe v Wade

Author Mark Haddon is to donate all future royalties from US sales of his bestselling book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Haddon made the announcement on his Twitter and Instagram accounts, saying that from now until the supreme court’s “overturning of Roe v Wade is reversed, or some equivalent action is taken” he would be donating all US royalties from the book.

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Jul 14, 2022

The Simon & Schuster employee is accused of masterminding a phishing scam to obtain manuscripts from top authors

The man charged by the FBI with stealing hundreds of book manuscripts may not face trial, under an agreement between prosecutors and his lawyers.

Filippo Bernardini, an Italian citizen who worked at UK publisher Simon & Schuster, was arrested in the US in January, with the FBI alleging he had “impersonated, defrauded, and attempted to defraud, hundreds of individuals” to obtain unpublished and draft works. The indictment said Bernardini had registered more than 160 fake internet domains to impersonate others since 2016.

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Jul 14, 2022

Two sisters make their way through a ruined Londinium in this lyrical tale set in AD500

Best known for her Costa-winning autobiography In the Days of Rain, Rebecca Stott is also a novelist and historian. Her third novel, Dark Earth, is set in AD500 and tells the story of two sisters, Isla and Blue, living in exile on an island on the Great River (known to us as the Thames). When their father dies, the two young women are in danger.

Isla’s eyes “have curses in them” – they are different colours – and she has learned to make Firetongues (swords which apparently will never break). Blue is blessed with “the Sight”, and believes that she does not “belong to anyone”. But in order to survive, the sisters need Kin Protection, so they cross to the distant bank of the Great River to throw themselves on the mercy of Osric, the local overlord, and his power-hungry son Vort. In this world of blood feuds, capricious gods and unburied ancestors, Blue hopes that “muttering nonsense in one of her made up tongues” will keep them safe. Instead, her garbled stories lead to accusations of witchcraft.

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Jul 14, 2022

How birdwatching helped an extraordinary young woman and her family through testing times

In deciding to write a personal memoir at the age of 20, the ornithologist and activist Mya-Rose Craig has shown considerable courage. On the one hand, she has a straightforward, if unusual, tale to tell about her life as a bird lover. She first came to attention online as the youngest person to have seen more than half of the world’s known bird species. Not only has she travelled the length and breadth of Britain, she has visited every continent on Earth, rising at dawn, sleeping on ice, walking up mountains and baking in deserts in order to view over 5,000 different birds. Throughout the book, her passion for these animals takes centre stage, and leads her to an environmental activism that feels both necessary and urgent.

On the other hand, there is a more difficult story about the parents who took her on these journeys. The book begins with their first meeting in a Bristol club. Her father Chris, a middle-class white man who studied engineering, had watched birds from an early age, while her mother Helena, a young lawyer from a fairly strict Muslim family of Bangladeshi origin, had no interest in them. Gradually, the birds they began to discover together came to underpin their love. “My parents understand each other better when they’re birding – this was true then and it’s true now. They share a special language.”

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Jul 13, 2022

This grief-stricken yet very funny tale about the search for an endangered fish speaks to our age of mass extinctions

In a somewhat more nerdy and blokeish literary culture, Ned Beauman would probably be more famous. It’s easy to imagine the four precision-engineered, shaggy-dog thriller-comedies that he published between 2010 and 2017 going down a treat in, say, the 60s or 70s. But in the 2020s, the vast majority of literary fiction is, as we are frequently reminded, bought (and, increasingly, written) by women; and there is something fundamentally boyish about Beauman’s novels that puts him, I suspect, out of step with prevailing tastes.

By which I certainly don’t mean that his books espouse the cruder brands of toxic masculinity. Rather, they tend to skirt the dramatic intricacies of the human heart in favour of the sort of hobbyish enthusiasms we associate with a teenage boy who, let’s say, has a large collection of science fiction novels (don’t get me wrong: I was this teenage boy). We have come to valorise this kind of writer less and less; and with this re-evaluation has come both profit and loss.

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Jul 13, 2022

Writers from William Shakespeare to Angela Carter and George RR Martin have been been inspired by the doubled lives of these familial pairs

I am not a twin, but as a child I had an imaginary twin sister who would accompany me everywhere and agree with everything I said. Of course, I can see my naivety now: I had conflated “twin” with “ideal friend”, another version of yourself who is perfectly in harmony with you. But sibling relationships are rarely straightforward, and twins aren’t magically protected from the tensions created by weird family dynamics, clashing personalities and too much time spent in close proximity with each other.

When a twin relationship deteriorates, the breakdown can feel all the more marked because there was a greater expectation of closeness in the first place. With this in mind, I set out to explore twins in conflict in my novel I’m Sorry You Feel That Way.

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Jul 13, 2022

A fascinating study of the tech giant and its symbiotic relationship with the Chinese government

Five years ago, the Chinese tech company Tencent overtook Facebook to become the fifth largest company in the world. Though it’s still an unfamiliar name to many in the west, Tencent is a major stakeholder in tech companies and products including Spotify, Tesla, Snapchat, Monzo and Reddit, as well as the makers of video games such as Fortnite, League of Legends, Clash of Clans, and Call of Duty. The company’s interests reach, tendril-like, into the worlds of finance, cloud computing, media, messaging, video streaming and film production. And, in China, the business runs the Swiss Army knife super app WeChat – part social media platform, part digital wallet – currently used by 1.3 billion people.

That Tencent has achieved international capitalist supremacy from a communist base is astonishing, although readers of Lulu Chen’s book may be unsurprised to learn that, according to her, it has done so by maintaining close ties to the Chinese government, which values the access to the torrents of information Tencent collects daily. With few data protection laws in place, apps owned by Tencent have reportedly been used by the government to monitor, even imprison users. With Influence Empire, Chen, a reporter for Bloomberg, seeks to tell the story of arguably China’s greatest entrepreneurial success, expose the threads that link Xi Jinping’s regime to your Snapchat account, and familiarise us with the company’s reclusive, 50-year-old founder Ma Huateng, who goes by the incongruous English moniker “Pony”.

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Jul 13, 2022

The country set confront the realities of the second world war in this sweeping historical epic

The title sounds like a metaphor, but there really is a theatre made of a whale’s ribcage in this sweeping historical epic. It stands on a grassy headland on the Dorset coast, draped in scenery, the creation of young Cristabel Seagrave, whose passion for amateur dramatics ropes in family and servants alike at the Chilcombe estate. Here we have the country set in all their jazz-age glory, with cocktails at breakfast, costumes at teatime and a general sense that the world is a peach ripe for plucking.

Joanna Quinn, a creative writing teacher, has gone big with her first novel, following the fortunes of the Seagraves from 1919 to 1945. The focus is mainly on Cristabel, feisty and imaginative, though the narrative flits to other characters including her flighty stepmother, Rosalind, and her step-siblings, sensitive Digby and romantic Flossie. Social variety is provided by a visiting painter, Taras, whose wild black beard and Russian elan establish him as the essence of Louche Bohemian Artist. (“You know Paris?” someone asks him. “As I know the bodies of my lovers,” he replies.)

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Jul 12, 2022

The former nun argues that reconnecting with the spiritual side of nature could help us contend with the climate crisis

In Laurence Sterne’s 1759 novel Tristram Shandy, the hero describes how his good-natured uncle Toby is plagued by a particularly large and annoying fly which “buzzed about his nose, and tormented him cruelly all dinner time”. Eventually he manages to catch the offending insect, but instead of killing it, he releases it out of the window.

“Why should I hurt thee?” he says. “This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me.” The novel’s hero is a child at the time, but this “lesson of universal good-will” leaves an abiding impression on him, setting, as he put it “my whole frame into one vibration of most pleasurable sensation”.

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Jul 12, 2022

The Bridgerton actor, Doctor Who writer and I May Destroy You creator are among 60 new fellows appointed to the UK’s charity for the advancement of literature

Bridgerton actor Adjoa Andoh, I May Destroy You creator Michaela Coel, Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies and poet Lemn Sissay are among the new fellows elected to the Royal Society of Literature (RSL).

The RSL, the UK’s charity for the advancement of literature, announced 60 new appointments at an event held at Battersea Arts Centre in London.

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Jul 12, 2022

Six groups will be chosen to read a shortlisted book, with the most ‘original and engaging’ readers to be invited to the prize ceremony

Book clubs across the UK are being invited to take part in the inaugural Booker prize book club challenge, with seats at the prize ceremony dinner up for grabs.

Six book clubs will be chosen for the challenge by this year’s judging panel, which is chaired by cultural historian Neil MacGregor. MacGregor and his fellow judges – broadcaster Shahidha Bari, historian Helen Castor, author and literary critic M John Harrison and novelist Alain Mabanckou – will be looking for the “most interesting, passionate and wide-ranging set of readers possible”.

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Jul 12, 2022

Contestants will enter a writers’ retreat and be given 30 days to write a novel while completing ‘live-wire’ challenges

Reality TV producers have exhausted singers, dancers, drag artists, potters, tailors, and beautiful young people hoping to find love. Now, it seems, the spotlight has fallen on writers. This week, a call has appeared on social media for contestants to apply to be on the pilot of a new show called America’s Next Great Author (ANGA).

Billed as “the groundbreaking reality TV show for writers”, ANGA will give its contestants one minute to pitch their novels to a panel of judges that includes New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds, Fox5 TV presenter Angie Goff, and stage writer and comedian Marga Gomez.

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Jul 12, 2022

The tensions of a small community inspire a couple of ‘island noir’ crackers, while three female authors explore revenge

Agatha Christie found And Then There Were None, her story of 10 strangers invited to an island off the Devon coast, her hardest book to write. “I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been,” she wrote in her autobiography. But Christie’s struggles failed to put off future crime writers: from PD James’s The Lighthouse to, more recently, Lucy Foley’s The Guest List, the charms of a closed, dangerous setting, where everyone is a suspect, are just too tempting for mystery novelists.

This July, we have two crackers on offer in what I’ll call island noir. First up is Chris Brookmyre’s The Cliff House (Little, Brown, £18.99, pp352), which sends Jen off to a remote Scottish island for her hen party, accompanied by her best friends and her future sister-in-law. “Many of them didn’t know each other, one of them didn’t know anybody, including Jen, one of them quite possibly hated her, and two of them definitely hated each other. What could possibly go wrong?” They are the only guests at the luxury resort, but from the famous pop star to her estranged former best friend everyone here has a nasty little secret. When one of the party disappears, those remaining are told they need to confess or she’ll die. There’s no way off the island, no wifi, no signal. Brookmyre is always a class act and it is a pleasure to be back in the hands of one of our best crime writers with this clever, propulsive thriller with a whole lot of heart.

To support the Guardian and Observer, order any of these titles at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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