Ever since David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II series aired in 2017, as a nation we’ve sat up and listened. How could we not after seeing the shocking images of an albatross feeding its young bits of plastic which they’d mistaken for food – and yet this was just a snapshot of what is happening around the world today.It’s been widely reported that by 2050 there could be more plastic in the ocean than fish, by weight – so there really has never been a more urgent time to act.
Elfriede Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher is a disgusting book to read. In stark, unsparing prose, it plunges into the mind of Erika Kohut, a repressed piano teacher and failed concert pianist who self-harms and engages in sexual voyeurism as attempts to feel. In one scene at a peep show, she buries her face into a tissue containing ejaculate from the man before her. In another, she urinates from the excitement of seeing a couple have sex in a car. On the train home from work at Vienna’s Conservatoire, she discreetly kicks the shins and pinches the calves of tired workers, using her ladylike, buttoned-up appearance to feign innocence.We meet Erika while the handsome, blond-haired engineering student Walter Klemmer is falling in love with her. After rejecting him several times, she writes him a letter detailing a series of brutal sadomasochistic acts she wants him to perform. What follows is so harrowing it can be an effort to turn each page. You flinch as though a razor were held up to your eyeball. Unsurprisingly, The Piano Teacher divides opinion. When Jelinek won the Nobel Prize in 2004, one member of the jury resigned over the decision, calling her work “whining, unenjoyable pornography” and “a mass of text shovelled together without artistic structure”.
Covering everything from gripping thrillers to original love stories.
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.
It’s not easy to fall in love with Bill Clinton these days. Sure, the former US president was once considered charming – some might even say magnetically charismatic. But he's 73 now, and the MeToo movement has given everyone a different reading of his affair with a 22-year-old White House intern. Add to that his ensuing impeachment on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and Bill seems an unlikely pick in the swoon-worthy love interest category.But at the beginning of Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel, Rodham, Bill Clinton is, well, dashing. He’s young, kind, funny, and witty. He’s also good-looking, charming, and madly in love with his new girlfriend, Hillary Rodham.
In his new book Humankind: A Hopeful History, the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman argues that humanity is not callous and selfish, but fundamentally compassionate. By way of evidence, he presents the true story of six boys from Tonga in Polynesia who, in 1965, wagged school to go on a fishing trip. After getting caught in a storm, the youths, who were aged between 13 and 16, were shipwrecked Lord of the Flies-style on a tiny island for over a year. Theirs was a story not of cruelty and murder but of resilience and communal spirit as they dedicated themselves to fishing, foraging and looking after one another until they were rescued by a passing boat.Since an extract of Bregman’s book appeared in The Guardian earlier this month, the author has reported being inundated by requests from film producers and directors to secure the rights to the story. Bregman told the newspaper that he, the four living Tonga boys and the Australian sea captain who rescued them “are collaborating and will make a decision together”. As the world burns and our leaders pour petrol on the flames, who wouldn’t want to see this tale of human benevolence and cooperation committed to the screen?
Keiko Furukura describes the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart she’s worked at for 18 years as though it were her boyfriend. She tells of how the whirring of the freezers and the beeping of the coffee machine “ceaselessly caress my eardrums”. And when alone at night in her small, pokey flat, she dreams so much of “the brightly lit and bustling store” that she begins to shape herself to please it: “I silently stroke my right hand, its nails neatly trimmed in order to better work the buttons on the cash register.”Keiko is the emotionally detached star of Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, which in 2016 with the help of Ginny Tapley Takemori became the first of her 10 Japanese novels to be translated into English. Prior to getting hired at the Smile Mart aged 18, Keiko was a societal outcast who lived life in such utilitarian terms that she often horrified those around her. When as a kid she found a pretty bird dead in the school playground, her first instinct was to grill it for dinner. As a teacher struggled to break up a fight between two students, Keiko whacked one of them over the head with a spade, so hard there was blood. She gets older and fantasises about silencing her sister’s wailing baby with the small knife they just used for slicing birthday cake. “If it was just a matter of making him quiet, it would be easy enough.”
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.
War veteran Captain Tom Moore is set to release an autobiography as well as a children's book in September and October 2020.
If you've finished reading Sally Rooney's "Normal People",and watching the BBC adaptation, we have compiled a selection of similar books to read.
Rochelle Humes has confirmed her second children's book 'The Mega Magic Teacher Swap' will be released later this year. But which other celebrities have released a storybook for kids?
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, the debut novel by TS Eliot Prize-winning poet Ocean Vuong, is a love letter from Vietnamese-American son “Little Dog” to his mum Rose, whose illiteracy means she will never read it. Sitting in the murkiness between fiction and memoir, On Earth... sees Little Dog telling Rose their story. How she was conceived in a brothel by a soon-to-disappear American soldier during the Vietnam War. How she married a man who beat her until her skin turned purple. How the family fled a refugee camp, when Little Dog was a toddler, to Hartford, Connecticut to find a better life. How that “better life” meant Rose working in a nail salon with chemicals so strong her hands resemble “two partially scaled fish” and later at a clock factory where after long shifts sweating over metal parts, she passes out in the bath, leaving Little Dog “afraid she would drown”.Essentially plotless, Vuong’s deeply tender prose loops around in different time zones and perspectives, most often that of Little Dog growing up in the Nineties, but also his journey into adulthood and literary acclaim in the 2000s, and also back to Lan, his Grandma, in Vietnam in the Seventies. At points, there are long, essayistic meditations on anything from Tiger Woods’ Asian heritage to America’s opioid crisis. In the final part of the book, Vuong jettisons the prose for poetic verse, with Roland Barthes, Duchamp’s Fountain and queer love all collapsing into splintering lines of verse. Vuong’s sentences are so beautiful, sometimes I would say them over and over again in my head, hoping I might be able to trap them in there.
Lionel Shriver is talking to me from her home in London during lockdown. And she’s not mincing her words about the coronavirus crisis, nor the economic damage that the government’s preventative actions will cause. “The numbers are not high enough for these kinds of destructive measures,” says the outspoken American author of the 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin. “Especially since two-thirds of the fatalities would have probably died within the year anyway.”Shriver is “in agony”, she tells me, about the possible implosion of the UK. “If this carries on there aren’t going to be any airlines – this is an island.”
Reading Jessica Simpson’s new memoir Open Book is a bit like scrolling through a leaked celebrity WhatsApp chat: it’s juicier than a Tropicana and often X-rated. The teen pop singer, reality TV star and actor spent most of the Noughties splashed across the covers of US Weekly and People, having every inch of her love life and waist size pored over. But now she’s turned her tales of tabloid hell into a New York Times bestseller, winning acclaim among the sort of crowd who normally read Olivia Laing and Ben Lerner, with her candid stories about sex and sexism, cheating and addiction, with a cast of 2,000-and-something stars and s***ty men.If it appears unlikely that Simpson has turfed out an acclaimed book, that’s because she was never really afforded much depth when she was breaking through. Following the example set by Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, her 1999 debut album Sweet Kisses was marketed as purity ring pop. Then the ring went on and she tied the knot with former boybander, now Love Is Blind host, Nick Lachey, whose short-lived marriage was documented in MTV reality show Newlyweds. Largely forgotten now, Simpson was immortalised in one oft-memed sequence in which she asks of a can of Chicken of the Sea-branded tuna whether it is in fact chicken. It is only now with Open Book that Simpson is finally able to talk about how painful it was to be treated like a punchline.
Developing a love of reading is a vital part of childhood. Research conducted by the National Literacy Trust in 2018 found that children who enjoy reading are three times more likely to have good mental wellbeing than children who dislike it.Non-fiction books are an excellent way to explain the wonders of the world and these days there’s lots of choice – from colourful science guides to inspirational tales about remarkable people.
One is not born, but rather becomes, an immigrant. That’s what I thought when I read John Steinbeck’s 1939 American epic The Grapes of Wrath. Set during the Great Depression, the Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning novel follows the dispossessed Joad family as they are driven from their Oklahoma farm by a drought that has turned the once-fertile soil to dust. Hungry, poor and homeless, the Joads join thousands of others trekking down Route 66 in search of the fruit fields of California, whose vast swathes of green pasture promise them a better life.“Immigrant” shouldn’t be a dirty word, but society makes it into one. Hostile towards the mass movement of people into California, citizens of the sunshine state begin to treat those from Oklahoma as lesser. “Okie use’ ta mean you was from Oklahoma,” laments one dust bowl refugee in the novel. “Now it means you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you’re scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.” As the novel progresses, the once-proud Joad family are whittled down, broken in and humiliated until they must struggle to remember what it is to move through the world with your head held high. When they reach Weedpatch camp, a place of shelter and protection built by the federal government to protect migrants, the respect shown to them reminds Ma what it is to be valued.
At university, I had a lecturer who used to watch Strictly Come Dancing so that she had something she could talk to normal people about. She was so insanely clever, her brain so swollen with theories on phenomenology, existentialism, the categorical imperative, that she often struggled to communicate her thoughts to the rest of us.Often, the smarter you are, the more isolated you become from other people. This is one of the defining messages of Daniel Keyes’s Nebular Award-winning sci-fi classic Flowers for Algernon. Reading the novel made me think of how lonely it must have been for my lecturer when no one in the supermarket queue or the hairdressing waiting room could understand her.
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”.
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.