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Jun 18, 2022

Kate Clanchy’s memoir about teaching won the Orwell prize. Then, a year later, it became the centre of a storm that would engulf the lives of the author, her critics and dozens of people in the book trade. So what happened?

At the end of March, a book that had been condemned to die came back to life. There was no star-studded launch, and no great fanfare, although this book is now somewhat famous. The new publisher of the poet Kate Clanchy’s memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me felt it wrong to cash in on the controversy that has engulfed it. So the new editions – with some intriguing changes to the original text – were quietly resupplied to bookshops willing to stock them.

What follows is a tale that reverberates well beyond publishing. It’s about whose voice is heard, which stories are told, and by whom. But it has broader implications for working life, too, particularly in industries where so-called culture wars raging through the outside world can no longer be left at the office door.

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Jun 18, 2022

Secrecy, stunts and subterfuge: publishers and collaborators reveal the magic that went into creating a children’s classic 25 years ago

“He’ll be famous – a legend – every child in our world will know his name.” So predicts Professor McGonagall in the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Breaking sales records from the beginning, Harry Potter is the biggest success in children’s publishing history, making its author, JK Rowling, one of the most famous writers in the world. But on 26 June 1997, when the first novel in the series was published – after notoriously being turned down by 12 publishers – no one had heard of her boy wizard. Behind this magical story was a team of children’s book devotees who helped Harry Potter take flight.

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Jun 17, 2022

A teenage ghost observes the erotic and creative bond between composer and author in Stevens’s playful debut novel

Nell Stevens’s two works of nonfiction, Bleaker House and Mrs Gaskell & Me, are about her attempts to write, respectively, a novel and a PhD. The young author travels, falls in and out of love, and studies writers from the 19th century as she tries both to make sense of and escape from an uncertain present. Her own prose is frank and companionable, shrewd and funny, capturing the privileged peripatetic grind of the archive stacks and the writers’ retreat. The narrator navigates a path between an obsessive work ethic and a highly developed capacity for distraction, a scorn for the trappings of heterosexual marriage and a desire to settle down.

Stevens’s debut novel, Briefly, a Delicious Life, develops many of these themes. It focuses on 19th-century artists – the composer Frédéric Chopin and the writer born Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dudevant, later known as George Sand – and is organised around a trip abroad, this time from Paris to Mallorca in 1838. The group of unconventional tourists includes Sand’s two children, Maurice and Solange, and Amélie, a maid who dreams of home. They stay in the cold, damp cells of the Charterhouse, a monastery once inhabited by a Carthusian order.

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Jun 17, 2022

Voices of everyday things fill The Book of Form and Emptiness, rooted in how she experienced the loss of her father

The first thing the Japanese American author Ruth Ozeki did the morning after winning the Women’s prize for fiction was meditate. “A very short one,” she says when we meet at her hotel later. She was so convinced she wasn’t going to win (Meg Mason and Elif Shafak were the frontrunners) she had planned “a full schedule” for the day. “Not that I’m complaining,” she laughs. Coolly elegant in black, despite the heatwave, the 66-year-old writer has the sort of glow not often seen in post-award ceremony interviews.

Ozeki can surely lay claim to being the first Zen Buddhist priest to take the Women’s prize, which she has won for her fourth novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness. It tells the story of 14-year-old Benny, who starts hearing the voices of everyday objects after his father’s death. His mother, Annabelle, has become a hoarder, and in a sense inanimate things (her husband’s shirts, snow globes, a yellow teapot) are also speaking to her. Clinging to her job as an archivist, Annabelle has let their house overflow with newspaper cuttings: they are metaphorically drowning in grief, garbage and too much news.

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Jun 17, 2022

A dog’s secret day out; a celebration of wildflowers; a guide to dinosaurs; tales of espionage and more; plus the best YA novels

A Day by the Sea by Barbara Nascimbeni (Thames & Hudson, £10.99)
Mischievous dog Frido is off to the seaside! While his owner naps, he surfs, digs and feasts on ice-cream – but can he get back before he’s missed? A joyful, exuberant, summery picture book.

I am Nefertiti by Annemarie Anang, illustrated by Natelle Quek (Five Quills, £7.99)
Nefertiti’s drumming brings the whole band together – but when her music teacher can’t pronounce her name, shortening it to “Nef”, something happens to Nefertiti’s playing … A deft, empathy-fostering exploration of the importance of names and respect.

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Jun 16, 2022

Timely insights into the ways in which Britain’s education system is failing to cater for all of its students

How should the education system address the problem of Black boys?” It’s a question commonly asked in response to the statistics on exam performance and exclusion rates in the UK when broken down by race.

Jeffrey Boakye, a Black male teacher – a rarity in British classrooms – turns that question on its head in his account of what he’s learned over the years. Instead we should be asking: “How should we address the problem of an education system that fails to cater for Black pupils?” In fact, he adds, the system fails to cater for any pupils growing up in a multicultural society, who need to understand the different communities that make up modern-day Britain.

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Jun 16, 2022

Judges praise ‘incredible’ version of Jason Reynolds’ novel while Katya Balen wins the Carnegie medal for her ‘evocative’ second book October, October

Danica Novgorodoff’s “innovative” graphic novel adaptation of Jason Reynolds’ novel Long Way Down has won the Yoto Kate Greenaway medal, making it the first graphic novel to win the illustration prize since Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas in 1973.

Meanwhile, Katya Balen has won the Yoto Carnegie medal, which celebrates outstanding achievement in children’s writing. The “expertly written” October, October was inspired by Balen’s father-in-law, who lives off-grid.

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Jun 16, 2022

This Dutch novel takes aim at the depersonalising corrosiveness of the internet, but becomes laboured

When he launched his takeover of Twitter earlier this year, Elon Musk sparked consternation by declaring he would loosen the social media platform’s content moderation policies – a move that could set Twitter on a collision course with the EU’s digital regulators. In an online world rife with offensive and potentially dangerous material – hate speech, harassment, misinformation, incitements to violence, accounts promoting self-harm and eating disorders – the problem of content moderation is becoming ever more vexed. What counts as harmful content? Who gets to decide, and why?

We Had to Remove This Post, the seventh novel by Dutch author Hanna Bervoets and her first to be translated into English, is nothing if not timely. Its young narrator, Kayleigh, has just quit her job as a content moderator with a fictitious big tech subsidiary called Hexa. Her role involved reviewing hundreds of problematic social media posts and deciding, by reference to a complex set of criteria, which ones to take down. This work has wrought havoc on the mental health of her former colleagues, several of whom are bringing a joint lawsuit against the company: one is so paranoid he keeps a stun gun by the bed at night; another “can’t handle loud noises, bright lights, or sudden movement in her peripheral vision”. The novel takes the form of a letter addressed to their lawyer, who has invited Kayleigh to join the legal action.

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Jun 16, 2022

An affair drives the author’s highly charged exploration of love in fiction, from marriage to adultery, parenthood to friendship

For many of us, books are an important part of our lives – but do we want them to change our ideas about how to live? Is there a danger that living alongside fictional narrators will make us too reckless? This may be the case especially when it comes to marriage, given that so many great novels are about adultery.

Recently, “bibliomemoirs” have offered a medium in which to think through the relationship between reading and living. Rebecca Mead has charted her changing relationship with Middlemarch; Sophie Ratcliffe resisted the lure of adultery while reading Anna Karenina; Francis Spufford explored the books that shaped him. Now Christina Lupton entwines her own experience of falling unexpectedly into adulterous love with a woman, aged 48, with her experiences of reading about love in books. In the early stages of this affair, she read frantically, both to seek moral guidance and to be turned on. She was in the middle of writing an introduction to Pride and Prejudice, exploring the many kinds of love explored in Austen’s novel. Urgently, she asked herself if her own love affair was the kind that Elizabeth Bennet would have (rational as well as passionate) or the kind her more self-indulgent sister Lydia would have. And she decided to write a book about the broader relationship between literature and love – from marriage to adultery, parenthood to friendship.

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Jun 16, 2022

A journalist and psychotherapist explores what it means to be an adult in a world that often infantilises

What’s going to happen to the children, when there aren’t any more grownups?” sang Noël Coward, satirising the self-indulgent hedonism of the 1920s. But Coward’s ironic lyrics seem even more relevant today when the traditional values of adulthood, self-control, self-sufficiency and the willingness to take responsibility have become sources of angst rather than a desirable, if difficult, end. So what then, if anything, has been lost? In her book, journalist and analyst Moya Sarner attempts to find answers to this question.

The project arose out of her own experience of psychoanalysis, where four times a week, for a number of years, she discovered the remedial effects of being properly listened to. This, in turn, led her to train as a psychotherapist. She takes her skills as a journalist and what she has learned about listening to explore the vexed question of what becoming a mature adult personality might entail, and why achieving it has become such a trial and a puzzlement for so many today, herself included. The answer, inevitably, is many-faceted, as emerges from her accounts of the interviews she holds with a wide variety of people, which she intersperses with psychological commentary drawn from eclectic sources, alongside meditations on her own attitudes to adulthood that have been prompted and enlarged by these conversations.

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Jun 15, 2022

A remarkable debut that imagines the Irish writer communing with lost loved ones in a Paris nursing home

Maylis Besserie does not lack for daring. Her novel is a fictional account of the last months of Samuel Beckett’s life, which he spent in a Paris nursing home, Résidence Tiers Temps. As she says in an author’s note, the book “reconstructs a version of Beckett from real and imaginary facts, as if he were a character at the end of his life, like those who inhabit his own work”.

To set out to portray a master stylist, the author of Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, would daunt the most experienced writer. That this is Besserie’s debut, the first part of a projected “Irish trilogy”, is remarkable; that she carries it off so convincingly, with such elan and poetic force, is a wonder.

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Jun 15, 2022

The Book of Form and Emptiness is praised by judges for its ‘sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence and poignancy’

Ruth Ozeki’s fourth novel, The Book of Form and Emptiness, has won the Women’s prize for fiction.

The novelist, film-maker and Zen Buddhist priest takes the £30,000 award for a book that “stood out for its sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy”, according to the chair of judges, Mary Ann Sieghart.

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Jun 15, 2022

Daphne du Maurier, Mervyn Peake and Angela Carter are among the authors enchanted by these shadowy borderlands of civilisation

Long before Dante found himself lost in a dark wood, forests have been put to metaphorical use by storytellers. They are perhaps the “symbol of symbolism”, as Robert Pogue Harrison has it in his aptly titled book Forests: The Shadow of Civilisation. “Why,” he asks, “should forests haunt the mind like some mystical dream or nightmare that every now and then spreads its long, prehistorical shadows over the ordinary clarity of things modern?”

The forest always lies beyond the familiar, ordered world, and we cross a psychological boundary as we step beneath the trees. There we might, like Dante, lose the path. Enchantment awaits, but so does danger. I’ve chosen 10 fictional forests that might not loom as large on our shelves as, say, Tolkien’s Mirkwood or Shakespeare’s Arden, but which excel in their roles as metaphors. The characters who enter them cannot avoid fateful encounters: with the subconscious, the self, the dark depths of human desire. All emerge changed, for better or worse.

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Jun 15, 2022

Australian author denies he is a plagiarist and says he has been ‘influenced by the greats’ of literature

The Australian novelist John Hughes, who last week admitted to “unintentionally” plagiarising parts of a Nobel laureate’s novel, appears to have also copied without acknowledgment parts of The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and other classic texts in his new book The Dogs.

The revelation of new similarities follows an investigation by Guardian Australia which resulted in Hughes’ 2021 novel being withdrawn from the longlist of the $60,000 Miles Franklin literary award.

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Jun 15, 2022

A cycling tour of regions and delicacies, from hog’s pudding in Cornwall to honey in Ceredigion, is as funny as it is enlightening

Halfway through reading Red Sauce Brown Sauce, I cycled 6km to a fishmonger’s on an industrial estate, between a Hertz car hire centre and a T-shirt printer’s, to buy a tin of laverbread. What can I say? I’m susceptible. Felicity Cloake’s description of cycling from Falmouth to Gowerton – from hog’s pudding HQ in Cornwall to a seaweed-rich estuary of south-west Wales – made me jealous. Not that hers was an entirely painless journey. Early on, Cloake falls awkwardly into a stream near Bath, and so undertakes much of her odyssey with a wrecked hamstring, as well as the usual weariness, saddle ache and frustrating diversions on to thundering roads familiar to anyone who has ever cycled fairly long distances in Britain.

Her book is, put simply, a quest for the great British breakfast. In an era when too many fully grown adults munch through instant microwave oats, overpackaged biscuits or simply skip eating altogether, Cloake is making the case for a cooked, regional, calorie-packed kick off, both as a treat for your senses and as a way of supporting smaller, traditional food producers. Like One More Croissant for the Road before it, in which Cloake cycled around France, Red Sauce Brown Sauce is as much a travel book as it is a piece of food writing. The descriptions of riding through open fields in search of a mustard factory, touring the unlikely Baked Bean Museum in a block of flats in Port Talbot and crossing the causeway to Holy Island in the chapter about stottie cakes are by turns funny, enlightening and evocative.

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Jun 15, 2022

Collection edited by Andrew McMillan and Mary Jean Chan ‘questions and redefines’ the meaning of its title

• Read a selection of the poems below

This Pride month, a new anthology featuring the work of queer poets such as Langston Hughes, Ocean Vuong and Kae Tempest is “questioning and redefining what we mean by a ‘queer’ poem”.

100 Queer Poems, edited by Andrew McMillan and Mary Jean Chan, features work from 20th-century poets as well as contemporary LGBTQ+ voices. It’s a “landmark” anthology, said one of the contributing poets, Kit Fan, because there hasn’t been a collection of this kind “for probably two or three decades”. McMillan has described the book as “an update” to the Penguin Book of Homosexual Verse, the last major anthology of queer poems, published in 1986.

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Jun 15, 2022

The financial crash and subsequent protests provide points of orientation in a surreal tale of love, loss and speculative reality

“Is it possible to imagine something so fully that it takes on a life of its own?” The Visitors, New Yorker Jessi Jezewska Stevens’s second novel, inspects the ways in which reality can be affected by indexes and abstractions: the stock exchange, energy reserve or the dark web. But when C, Stevens’s protagonist, puts this question to herself, she is more concerned about the hallucinatory garden gnome in her flat.

C’s visitor is barefoot, cravatted and beady-eyed. He glides through solid objects. He has a curious range of knowledge: he doesn’t understand the concept of demolition or know what a toaster is for, but he speechifies on complex technological phenomena (rainbow hacking, air gapping). Often, C wishes he would go away. Sometimes she wants to embrace him – but of course, she knows he’s “a projection”.

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Jun 14, 2022

A radical vision for protecting users – but can it save us from our own worst impulses?

There was a moment when Facebook was a democracy. Blink and you would have missed it, but in December 2012, as part of an initiative announced three years earlier by Mark Zuckerberg, the company unveiled new terms and conditions that it wanted to impose on users. They were invited to vote on whether they should be enacted, yes or no. The voters were pretty clear: 88% said no, the new terms weren’t acceptable. It was a triumph of people power.

Except that Zuckerberg had imposed a precondition: the decision would only be binding if at least 30% of all users took part. That would have required votes from about 300 million of the roughly 1 billion users the platform then had (it’s since roughly tripled). But just over 650,000 participated. King Zuckerberg declared that the time for democracy was over, and in future, Facebook – which in reality means Zuckerberg, for he owns the majority of the voting shares – would decide what would happen, without reference to user opinion.

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Jun 14, 2022
Novelist and essayist who made a huge contribution to postwar Caribbean culture

The six novels and the collections of essays by George Lamming, who has died aged 94, did much to shape Caribbean literary culture. He also contributed to it as an educator and activist intellectual, mentoring a host of young writers and scholars in the Caribbean and beyond.

Intensely aware of the impact of colonialism on individual lives and the evolutionary process of social, political and economic reconstruction in the region, Lamming was inspired by the idea of a unified Caribbean.

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Jun 14, 2022

The Rev Richard Coles makes his cosy-crime fiction debut in convincing style, while Robin Morgan-Bentley offers a tense spin on the locked-room mystery

Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99, pp368

To support the Guardian and Observer, order Murder Before Evensong or The Guest House at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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Jun 13, 2022

Plot plays second fiddle to humanity’s primal urges in Moshfegh’s charged and outlandish latest novel set in a medieval fiefdom

There’s something encouraging, and perhaps telling, about Ottessa Moshfegh’s success. Her abject, pervy, excremental fictions carry a whiff of deviance and nihilism into a squeaky clean mainstream that comforts some while alienating others. Although it was set before the horrors of web 2.0, her hugely popular novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation seemed to reflect something of the medicated, desolate, anaesthetised now. While our era’s ruling cultural-literary tone decrees “It’s the end of the world – no laughing”, Moshfegh’s stuff is comically weird, amoral and antisocial.

Lapvona is not her first novel to eschew the contemporary world – her debut, McGlue, was set aboard a 19th-century pirate ship – yet its blurred medieval setting, like a recounted dream of a half-forgotten past, feels like a bold swerve. As I began reading I kept asking myself: “What’s she up to? What skin has she got in this game?” Three hundred pages later, I still didn’t fully have my answers, though by then I’d realised that the (pseudo) historical setting wrenches us out of history and into a timeless, interior landscape of drives, impulses and cravings. A crowd of first name-only characters trace the play of instinct and appetite amid a cheerfully undignified, infantile realm wherein morality either operates in some alien manner or isn’t there at all. Lapvona’s grotesque, shameless world shows us not how it used to be, but how it’s always been.

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Jun 13, 2022

The government’s push to bridge Britain’s geographical divide is unlikely to work – and there are better policies that will

Last autumn, Boris Johnson brought the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities into being. Naming a ministry after a catchphrase seems to suit our age of rhetoric as policy. How long before we see a Department for Getting on Your Bike, or a Department for Unleashing the British Entrepreneurial Spirit?

The levelling up initiative was born out of the Conservatives’ 2019 election victory, in which many former Labour constituencies in the north and Midlands – the so called “red wall” – changed sides. The thinking was that these acquisitions, the fruits of the war over Brexit, could not be kept once Brexit was “done” unless their needs were addressed. The idea of levelling up – finding policies to reverse regional gaps in income, health, education and jobs – was part of a wider narrative of a “realignment”, moving left on economics, right on questions of social policy. It was a way to consolidate the coalition brought together by Brexit so that it would have a life beyond Brexit itself.

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Jun 13, 2022

A vision of jazz’s iconic instrument as an acrobatic, airborne wonder

The saxophones circle in the air
above the moor, the thermal column
that the breath supports.

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Jun 13, 2022

The 10,000-word story about a blind young king and his valet will be released this autumn along with an audio version read by Jarman

An unpublished short story by the late artist and film-maker Derek Jarman will be available to buy for the first time later this year.

Jarman, who is best known for his films Sebastiane, Caravaggio and Blue, wrote Through the Billboard Promised Land Without Ever Stopping, his only piece of narrative fiction, in 1971. More than 50 years later, and marking the year its author would have been 80, the story will finally become available in a special edition book to be published in November by House Sparrow Press, an imprint of independent house Prototype.

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Jun 13, 2022

This caustically comic tale of a disaffected wife, back in print for the first time in half a century with a new introduction by Stewart Lee, is a cause for celebration

The poet, novelist and critic Rosemary Tonks vanished from public life in the mid-1970s after publishing six novels and two acclaimed collections of poetry, leading to fevered speculation about her fate. She had converted to fundamentalist Christianity and lived as a recluse in Bournemouth until her death in 2014, visiting public libraries with the intention of destroying as many copies of her literary works as possible. Fortunately, her writing has survived, championed by admirers such as Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books, who in turn brought her to the attention of Stewart Lee, who has written the introduction to this new edition of her 1968 novel The Bloater, back in print for the first time in half a century.

Lee’s mini essay is as funny as you’d expect; he advises readers to seek out Sono-Montage, the sound-poem Tonks made in collaboration with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, so that they might experience “the kind of transporting cutting-edge taxpayer-funded out-there art that would make the current culture secretary Nadine Dorries shit hot porridge into a hat”. But he also nails the truth beneath The Bloater’s caustic surface; Tonks’s characters are frantically dodging their feelings, “trying to choke off the terror of true love with witty banter and waspish put-downs”.

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