When she first read Lolita in her early teens, Kate Elizabeth Russell became obsessed with the character of Dolores Haze. “I saw a lot of similarities between her and me,” the author says, on a phone call from Wisconsin, and not just because of their age. “Some of them were superficial, like we’re both from New England, but also she’s lazy and moody and she has a good sense of humour. You can find snippets of her real personality if you read the novel closely and I did because I was always looking for her.”It’s strange hearing someone say they were drawn to Dolores. To most readers, it never seems as though there’s much going on beneath the pale white skin, knee socks, fluttering eyelashes and thin wrists that Humbert Humbert lusts after in the cult classic about an illicit adult-child affair. But growing up, Russell read Lolita enough times that she learnt to see the girl beneath the veil of sexualisation. She recognised that Lolita was clever and had dreams and aspirations. She refers to a moment in the novel where Humbert hears the results of Dolores’s IQ test and asserts that they must be wrong because she isn’t that smart. Even though she was young, Russell remembers thinking, “No, she is that smart. You just don’t understand her”.
Self-care has often been dismissed as a millennial fad – but these books promote the idea that looking after your wellbeing is sensible rather than selfish. And for those who suffer with mental health issues, it’s essential.“Self-care techniques and general lifestyle changes can be very useful in helping us manage the symptoms of many mental health problems,” says Rachel Boyd from mental health charity Mind.
Right now, it feels as though the world becomes a worse place to be with every passing day. But there are plenty of other ways to make yourself feel better that don't involve spooning ice-cream out of the tub while rewatching Gossip Girl for the ninth time.From war to heartbreak, poetry has helped people endure all manner of painful experiences. So why not read our selection of uplifting poems below? Then you can go back to Gossip Girl.
When the coronavirus pandemic shut down entire industries mid-March, it didn’t spare publishing. In a matter of days, authors who had been working on new releases for months – and sometimes years – weren’t sure what would happen to the fruit of their labour.Those whose books had already come out weren’t sure how to promote them as bookstores closed and major literary events found themselves derailed. Just last week, all “Big Five” publishers announced they would not attend BookExpo, the largest book trade fair in the US, planned for July in New York City’s Javits Center – which has been turned into a temporary hospital due to the pandemic.
Carole P Roman didn’t expect The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids, one of the 50+ children’s books she has authored, to become Amazon’s top bestseller any time soon. The book came out in August 2019. Sales began to climb around Christmas, until – as Roman recalls on a phone interview conducted from her home in Long Island, where she’s confined – the stock ran out. New books couldn’t be printed fast enough to meet demand, and The Big Book of Silly Jokes for Kids lost its edge.“It was really disappointing,” says Roman. “I was really kind of sad. I didn’t think it was going to get another opportunity.”
Books, books, books. They will increase your lifespan, lower your stress and boost your intelligence. They will give you fuller, thicker hair.Whatever the breathless claims about reading, one thing is certain: losing yourself in a great novel is one of life’s most enduring and dependable joys. Job satisfaction comes and goes, partners enrapture and abscond, but you can always fall back on the timeless ability of literature to transport you to a different world. From Jane Austen’s mannered drawing rooms to the airless tower blocks of 1984, novels do something unique. They simultaneously speak to the heart and mind. They teach you about the history of our world, the possibilities of our future and the fabric of our souls.
What’s it like having a novel published in the middle of a global pandemic?“Oh, the book feels completely inconsequential,” says Evie Wyld whose much-anticipated third book, The Bass Rock, is out next week. “I’ve just done my first bit of stockpiling; it’s mainly Twiglets and whisky.”
Here are a small collection of singular lines, stanzas, and notions possessing the power to spring the most moving of thoughts and feelings into the humming imagination of the reader.Such poets as TS Eliot, Pablo Neruda, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Wilfred Owen are all included.
Barely five minutes have passed and David Lammy is already making fun of our prime minister. The Labour MP and I are discussing imposter syndrome, which we agree is something most people experience. Not Boris Johnson. “He just exudes entitlement,” Lammy says, letting out an almighty cackle. “All we hear about him as a young person is that he had a phenomenal sense of his place in the world. I can’t imagine him ever thinking, ‘Do I belong here?’ No. ‘Of course I belong here,’ he said when he arrived at Eton. ‘This place was made for me!’” But Johnson’s confidence is coveted in politics, Lammy adds. He’s stopped laughing now. “It makes people feel safe, particularly in turbulent times.”If there’s supposedly something comforting about Johnson’s confidence, then there’s certainly something galvanising about Lammy’s. Elected in 2000 at the age of 27, the Tottenham MP is one of the most well-known figures in parliament – quite a feat, considering he has been on the backbench since 2010. Adored by his constituency – he often gets stopped on the street for selfies – Lammy has been hailed as a voice for the vulnerable, campaigning relentlessly on behalf of victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire and famously eviscerating the government over its treatment of the Windrush generation in 2018. He’s an ardent Remainer, too, and has been unrelenting towards hardline Brexiteers, at one point likening them to Nazis, only to later state that the comparison “wasn’t strong enough”.
Two summers ago, I was in the middle of a tricky draft for a children’s book. My heroine was a ghost, but that was all I knew. Doubt crept in. What, exactly, was I writing? Then Serena Williams had a bad day on the tennis court and everything changed.You probably saw the images. When Williams lost her temper in the 2018 US Open final, every second of outrage – pointing her finger at the umpire, breaking her tennis racket – was captured by a lens. While furious male tennis players rarely make it beyond the sports section, a female athlete’s anger was singular enough to be splashed on front pages around the world. An Australian newspaper depicted Williams as a grotesque giant baby in an infamous cartoon. Later that year, the TimesUp and MeToo movements gained momentum, fuelled by the fury of women refusing to be silenced any more. In an interview with Vogue that autumn, languid priestess of cool Phoebe Waller-Bridge talked about women’s anger as if it was an art form. “I’ve always found female rage very appealing,” she said.
The world is full of books by terrible people. The Marquis de Sade was a serial rapist who enjoyed a successful literary career. William Burroughs, the Naked Lunch author and totem of the Beat Generation, shot his wife. Saddam Hussein published a romance novel in the early 2000s, and liked the experience so much he wrote three more, thus expanding the rarefied if not feted genre known as “dictator lit” (other authors include Castro, Gaddafi, Mussolini and Hitler).While I couldn’t tell you about the literary merits of the film director Woody Allen’s memoir Apropos of Nothing, I do know I have no desire to read it. This is because I’m not keen on being in the company of a man who slept with, and later married, his partner’s adopted daughter (“the heart wants what it wants” he said, by way of justification), and whose films went off the boil a quarter of a century ago. Anyway, even the so-called classics such as Husbands and Wives and Manhattan, with their flagrant ogling of young girls, don’t look so jolly now.
Given that literature thrives on probing difficult but defining experiences, you would expect the shelves of the canon to creak with the weight of great writers exploring motherhood. After all, what is a tricky love affair compared to expelling a new human being from your body and keeping it alive as it goes from helpless blob to something capable of sarcasm and quadratic equations? Surely there can be few greater fuels for writing than the bubbling brew of love and loss that goes with the transition from being a free, autonomous person to someone who can’t go to the toilet in peace. So where are all the books?The answer is that they’re mostly missing in action, because the canon has not only long marginalised women, but in a more subtle way trivialised anything connected with the female experience. As Rachel Cusk – one of those notable exceptions – put it, there’s a “gloomy suspicion that a book about motherhood is of no real interest to anyone except mothers”.
Fever dreams: did author Dean Koontz really predict coronavirus?From ‘Wuhan-400’, the deadly virus invented by Dean Koontz in 1981, to the plague unleashed in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, novelists have long been fascinated by pandemics
Whether you’re a master chef or can barely boil an egg, it’s hard to dispute that cooking is an awesome life skill to give a child.Getting youngsters comfortable in the kitchen is the first step to what can be a lifelong pleasure, hobby, profession or obsession.
We all have cherished memories of the books we read and shared as children. Big friendly giants, honey-loving bears, hungry caterpillars, iron men: these figures populate the vivid imaginary landscapes of our childhoods. Everybody will remember the book that made them laugh and cry, the one that they turn to again and again. Like totems, we pass them on to our own children, each book a spell in itself.But there isn’t room in this list for everything. I’m sure that every single reader will gasp at omissions and query the order. There are many personal favourites that I’ve left out, and many more 20th- and 21st-century writers whom I would have liked to include.
From the razor-sharp opening paragraph to the dramatic ending 863 pages later, Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & The Light is superb, right to the last crimson drop.The portrait of Thomas Cromwell that started with Wolf Hall (2009) and continued with Bring Up the Bodies (2012) – both Booker Prize-winning novels – concludes with another masterpiece of historical fiction. The Mirror & The Light opens with the execution of Anne Boleyn in May 1536. She was killed by a hired Frenchman, who used a sword made of Toledo steel from Spain. It’s doubtful the so-called Calais Executioner, the foreigner brought in to separate the Queen’s skull from her neck, would have ranked highly on Priti Patel’s points-based immigration system. “A head is heavier than you might expect,” the executioner notes drolly, as one of Anne’s attendants swaddles the severed remains in linen to carry away for burial.
The second and final part of Sarah Phelps’ new version of Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse screened on Sunday, bringing it to what The Independent called a “satisfying conclusion”.Christie is no stranger to adaptation, and has a stranglehold on the public’s imagination to rival any of her nefarious murderers. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, with roughly two billion copies sold in English and in translation. Her works also still inspire new murder-mysteries today, like last year’s Oscar-nominated Knives Out.
To the American public, Jack London was one of the most romantic figures of the early 20th century. To his eldest daughter Joan, though, the famous author of The Sea-Wolf, White Fang and The Call of the Wild was a man of “relentless calculating cruelty”.In her posthumous memoir Jack London and his Daughters, Joan, who died in 1971 at 70, was still scarred by correspondence she received from her father in February 1914. He ended his letter with a brutal message. “If I were dying I should not care to have you at my bedside,” London wrote. “A ruined colt is a ruined colt, and I do not like ruined colts.” Joan was just 13 at the time. By then, London was the highest-paid writer in America, receiving 10,000 fan letters a year, many of which were in praise of what he called his “crackerjack dog book”.
Gone are the days when parents would read a handful of classics to their children at bedtime, with Beatrix Potter, Dr Seuss, and Roald Dahl on constant rotation.Worthy writers all, of course, but the reading list is likely to be a little more diverse nowadays, and to include self-reflective picture books about loving oneself and the planet.
Oprah Winfrey has addressed the backlash surrounding her latest book club pick, Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt.Last week, Winfrey announced she’d chosen the novel, which tells the story of a mother and her son who leave Mexico for the United States after they are targeted by one of their home country’s most powerful drug cartel leaders, on Instagram.
There’s a crucial bond we’ve been severed from,” says journalist and nature writer Lucy Jones. As humanity has industrialised, commodified, gentrified and all-but destroyed the natural world – as we have shut ourselves off from it in cars and offices and flats – we have simultaneously found ourselves craving it. “The civilising process which imperils wild nature,” says the environmental historian Roderick Nash, as quoted in Jones’s galvanising new book Losing Eden, “is precisely that which creates the need for it”. Or, as Joni Mitchell would put it, we’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot. And we want it back.Maybe that’s why there’s such an abundance of nature memoirs at the moment. Alice Vincent’s Rootbound, which comes out later this month, is a deeply personal exploration of the healing power of plants. Luke Turner’s Out of the Woods notes the link – both literal and metaphorical – between the forest and his own sexuality. Elizabeth Jane Burnett’s The Grassling is a document on grief; the wildlife of Devon connects her to her dying father, while the Swahili words she often uses to talk about it connect her to her mother.
Between the climate crisis, Brexit and the launch of winter Love Island, it is easy to feel caught in an existential spiderweb, waiting for anxiety (or the onset of World War Three, whichever comes first) to consume you.But some writers are making light work of untangling the last 10 years. Incisive and exacting, their essays tackle the big and the small – meme culture, Dostoyevsky, Bieber pandemonium, race politics, and the climate crisis are made comprehensible in their hands. These are the essay collections that make any resolution to “read more nonfiction” infinitely more enjoyable.
Christopher Tolkien, the son of The Lord Of The Rings author JRR Tolkien, has been hailed as a “titan” of fantasy literature following his death aged 95.The Tolkien Society, which promotes the life and works of the revered fantasy writer, confirmed the news in a statement on Twitter.
It’s the new year. I could have given up booze and bacon, or embarked on a punishing new fitness regime. But these seemed too harsh for the drab days of January and besides, I had more ambitious plans for personal transformation. Namely, to turn myself into a witch.At this opening of a scary new decade, we’re in the midst of a resurgent interest in all things mystic, superstitious or more than a little bit woo. As the New Yorker magazine observed, “astrology is currently enjoying a broad cultural acceptance that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s”. And its cousin in dogged resistance to logic, specifically witchcraft, is also having something of a moment, refitted for the age of self-care as a way for women to reconnect with themselves and the natural world. Think crystals, not cauldrons. Last summer, Publishers Weekly noted that witchcraft was one of the strongest trends in the “mind-body-spirit” category, and the interest shows no sign of abating.
One evening in October 1969, Elizabeth Kendall went to a bar in Seattle with her friend Angie. Kendall had just received a parking ticket, which had left her – a divorced mother of one – upset. In a counter-intuitive move, Angie’s roommate’s boyfriend had suggested she go out to celebrate the ticket, rather than lament it.At the Sandpaper Tavern, two men invited Kendall to dance. One of them was a “tall, sandy-haired” stranger, while the other “turned out to be a creep”. Luckily for Kendall – she thought – the sandy-haired man was still there, providing her with the perfect escape.