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Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

https://www.theguardian.com/books/librariesplay episode download
18 August, by Neil Gaiman[ —]

A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

It’s important for people to tell you what side they are on and why, and whether they might be biased. A declaration of members’ interests, of a sort. So, I am going to be talking to you about reading. I’m going to tell you that libraries are important. I’m going to suggest that reading fiction, that reading for pleasure, is one of the most important things one can do. I’m going to make an impassioned plea for people to understand what libraries and librarians are, and to preserve both of these things.

And I am biased, obviously and enormously: I’m an author, often an author of fiction. I write for children and for adults. For about 30 years I have been earning my living through my words, mostly by making things up and writing them down. It is obviously in my interest for people to read, for them to read fiction, for libraries and librarians to exist and help foster a love of reading and places in which reading can occur.

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Five books to shed light on America's problem with white supremacy

https://www.theguardian.com/world/raceplay episode download
18 August, by Nadja Sayej[ —]

As the events in Charlottesville serve as yet another bleak reminder of how racial divisions persist in the US, history professors and community leaders recommend vital texts

It took Donald Trump two days to condemn the white supremacists who held the recent alt-right rally in Charlottesville that resulted in the death of civil rights activist Heather Heyer.

The US president’s response? To sympathize that members of this group of white nationalists are “fine people”. But as Seth Myers noted, no one gets accidentally caught up in a white supremacist rally. Even though the march, as captured in photos, looks like a throwback to Ku Klux Klan rallies of the 1920s, hate groups are unfortunately not a thing of the past. Since 2014 their number across the country has risen 17% to a total of 917 groups in the US, according to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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Has Donald Trump ruined the dystopian novel? Let's hope not

18 August, by Alison Flood[ —]

Sci-fi author John Scalzi has despaired at the impact on fiction of the dramatic, lurid US presidency – but the best dystopias have emerged in the toughest times

First it was the literary authors, lambasted by Aleksandar Hemon in June 2016 for failing to take on the era of Trump in their fiction. Hemon had declined to sign a letter denouncing Trump that more than 400 of his fellow authors had put their names to, and wondered if their time might have been better spent tackling the approaching election on the page. “One has a hard time recalling a novel that has forcefully addressed the iniquities of the post-9/11 era,” he wrote last summer. “Perhaps there is an author among the open letter signatories eager to develop a narrative in which Trump … wouldn’t be the false cause of our discontent but a symbol of an America struggling to forestall its precipitous intellectual and political decline, to which the absence of its literature from its politics must have contributed.”

Related: How can fiction compete with the drama of Donald Trump’s presidency?

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Ways of seeing John Berger

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/drawingplay episode download
18 August, by Eamonn McCabe[ —]

A new exhibition celebrates Berger’s vision through the drawings that were given to him. The room is filled with affection, writes photographer Eamonn McCabe

The late Booker-winning writer and art critic John Berger was the shop steward for photography; he argued that it was an important way of seeing. Now, to celebrate his life, a wonderful exhibition of drawings is taking place in Norwich. “Isn’t drawing the polar opposite of a photo?” Berger asked. “The latter stops time, arrests it, whereas drawing flows with it.”

On show are pieces by Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff , Maggi Hambling and Berger’s son, Yves, who drew his father on his deathbed just as Berger had drawn his own father in 1976. Most of the works were sent to Berger as gifts, often by his friends; there is so much affection in the room.

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Donald Trump has 'fascinating parallels' with Caligula, says historian

18 August, by Mark Brown Arts correspondent[ —]

Tom Holland tells Hay festival the notorious Roman emperor was a conscious populist like the US presidential candidate

He has not yet made a horse his running mate, but Donald Trump can be compared to one of the most notorious of all Roman emperors, Caligula, according to best-selling historian Tom Holland.

Holland told the Hay festival there were fascinating parallels between the actions and success of Trump and what was going on in Rome 2,000 years ago.

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Beautiful Animals by Lawrence Osborne review – compulsive reading

18 August, by Molly McCloskey[ —]
An encounter on a Greek island between rich holiday-makers and a migrant stranger leads to jeopardy

It’s another summer on the Greek island of Hydra, another summer among the rich – specifically, the Codrington and Haldane families. Jimmie Codrington is a British airline owner and art dealer who keeps a “famously ironic” bust of Hitler in his front room. Jimmy’s first wife died when their daughter Naomi, now in her 20s, was a teen, and now he’s married to an absurdly snobby Greek woman. The Haldanes are American, less ridiculous and a little more opaque. Their daughter Sam, feeling bored by her own independence, falls quickly under the spell of the slightly older Naomi, who is dominant, naughty, cynical.

Early in the novel, Sam thinks: “A thousand summers could be like this, each one as beautiful as the last, and still nothing worth reliving a second time.” The pair aren’t alone in noting the lack of heft to their lives. Jimmie – not the most authentic of persons – wonders if you can make your children authentic against their will. Puzzling over why the young adopt political positions that don’t quite square with their own material conditions, Jimmie concludes that the problem with them is that they hardly come into contact with the real world. “Their consciousness had been created by the media, not by life.”

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'BAME writers must tell their own stories – and we have to be disruptive'

https://www.theguardian.com/world/raceplay episode download
18 August, by Tanya Byrne[ —]

In a series to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, author Tanya Byrne says true diversity in books for young people is shamefully overdue

As a BAME author who writes BAME characters, I’m frequently asked to explain why my books are so unusual. They’re not unusual, at least I don’t think they are. My books are about teenagers doing what teenagers do, trying to find their place in the world and fucking it up along the way. The fact that some of my characters are Nigerian or Jamaican or, in the case of my story for the new anthology A Change is Gonna Come, Guyanese, doesn’t make them unusual. It just means that my books reflect the world in which we live, as all books should.

Related: Do black children's lives matter if nobody writes about them? | Daniel José Older

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I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell review – 17 brushes with death

https://www.theguardian.com/books/biographyplay episode download
18 August, by Fiona Sturges[ —]

An encounter with a murderer, a plummeting plane and severe illness are among the episodes detailed in this elegant, thought-provoking memoir

We are all, in one way or another, just moments from death. Catastrophe lurks wherever we care to look. Most of us tend not to dwell on our mortality since that way madness lies, but many have stood on the precipice, often several times over, and stared it squarely in the face.

The writer Maggie O’Farrell has chronicled 17 of her own near misses in I Am, I Am, I Am (the title is taken from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar). These include a haemorrhage during childbirth, miscarriage, childhood encephalitis, amoebic dysentery and an ill-advised leap off a harbour wall into the sea as a teen. Written in self-contained essays, the events recalled here are blips, coincidences, flashes of folly or plain bad luck. Some are startling but later shrugged off; others are lingering and life-changing.

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‘Alt-right’, ‘alt-left’ – the rhetoric of hate after Charlottesville

18 August, by Steven Poole[ —]

What’s the difference between a Nazi and a white supremacist, antifa and alt-left? Steven Poole deconstructs the new political discourse

The left-right spectrum of political speech is getting increasingly crowded. The rise of Donald Trump has popularised the term “alt-right”, which sounds more indie and cool than “far right”. Meanwhile, those on the alt-right have recently begun to describe their opponents as the “alt-left” – a coinage that, asymmetrically, seems to be an attempt to rhetorically downgrade them to a fringe group of eccentrics, rather than a broad coalition of people who don’t like racism much. “What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at the, as you say, the ‘alt-right’?” Trump asked, Solomonically, after the clashes in Charlottesville. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

Some of the people who actually protest against alt-right protesters in the US are from a group called “Antifa”, short for anti-fascist. Their opponents happily adopt the term, aiming to paint any and all anti-racist liberals as a small militant conspiracy, but their acquiescence in such language seems a bit peculiar when you think about it. American shock-babbler Ann Coulter, for example, tweeted that she hoped Trump would denounce “the violent left-wing Antifa that shut down my Berkeley speech!” If Coulter agrees to call her opponents “Antifa”, does it logically follow that she is happy to identify as a fascist?

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Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss review – a brilliant achievement

18 August, by Emily St John Mandel[ —]
Moving from New York to Tel Aviv, Krauss’s first novel in seven years is a fascinating meditation on fiction itself

In his magnificent prose poem “The Blue House”, Tomas Tranströmer wrote of a man contemplating his house – and his life – from the vantage point of the nearby woods: “I am grateful for this life! And yet I miss the alternatives. All sketches wish to be real.” There is the life you live, in other words, and then there are the sketches of the lives that might have been yours, if you’d gone to a different school, married a different person, emigrated instead of staying or vice versa. But perhaps, Tranströmer suggested, these lives too are unfolding somewhere: “We do not actually know it, but we sense it: our life has a sister vessel which plies an entirely different route.”

This is one of the many ideas animating Nicole Krauss’s brilliant new novel, Forest Dark. It has two narrative threads, occupying alternate chapters, both concerning characters who have found themselves adrift. One centres on a New York philanthropist named Jules Epstein, who has recently disappeared in Israel. The other is narrated by an American novelist named Nicole, for whom this idea of Tranströmer’s has recently become pressing. On returning home one afternoon, she steps into the house and realises that she’s already there. “Simply that: already there. Moving through the rooms upstairs, or asleep in the bed; it hardly mattered what I was doing, what mattered was the certainty with which I knew that I was in the house already.” A ringing telephone breaks the spell, and the sense of doubleness passes.

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