Category Archives: Books

How I beat anorexia by savouring the lavish meals of literature

Laura Freeman had the eating disorder since her teens, but the enticing food conjured by Charles Dickens and Laurie Lee set her free

Laura Freeman was first diagnosed with anorexia aged 14. A decade later she had begun to rebuild her life but still struggled with her attitude to food, eating small portions of the same thing for months on end. “At 24, I’d got to the point where I was recovered enough that I could eat, but only in a very formulaic way,” she says. “I had a pretty boring diet. It was more about getting through each day.”

Then one day she read a passage in Siegfried Sassoon’s 1928 Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man describing “a breakfast of boiled eggs eaten in winter”. It changed everything.

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Source: gad

Home by Amanda Berriman review – a child’s view of family poverty

A four-year-old narrator powerfully brings home the fears of living life on the edge

You already know Jesika, the four-year-old protagonist of Amanda Berriman’s debut. You will have seen her with her mum and baby brother squeezing a buggy laden with shopping bags on to the bus. Maybe you know them from the supermarket aisles, the mum exhausted and close to snapping, silently doing sums in her head. Jesika and her family live on the edge. They are scraping by, renting a slum flat in dangerous disrepair. One stroke of bad luck could push them into the abyss – and they face more than a few pushes in this book.

It is Jesika’s naive voice that tells this story of a family moving ever closer to disaster. Her first-person narration features childlike logic and rhythms of thought, misinterpreted and compacted words. On night falling, she says:

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Hanif Kureishi: my beautiful box-set binge

For years, the novelist resisted the lure of TV. And then he watched all 86 episodes of The Sopranos, followed by Gomorrah and Mad Men. He salutes the most vital writers of our culture

If you really want to know about it, I will own up. I’ve barely left the house in the last 18 months because I’ve been watching what for me seems like a lot of TV, around five hours a night. And I can’t say that a moment of it – apart from, say, the second season of Mr Robot – feels like wasted time. There are scenes in Mad Men and Transparent that are as accomplished and lovely, as profound and truthful, as anything I’ve seen in the cinema. And the episode in Breaking Bad where the former chemistry teacher Walter White buries the money he has accumulated by selling crystal meth – transforming the spoils into waste or shit – is one of the most illuminating in all art.

Apart from the news, sport and documentaries about the Beatles, I hadn’t watched much television since the 1980s. Nor, as a young man, did I consider writing for TV. It was too compromised; and, with a few exceptions, the overall standard was low. As for the movies, many of the film directors wanted to be artists rather than storytellers, a vanity that ruined many directors and displaced writers. The screenwriter’s best hope was to resemble a back seat driver, yelling mostly unheard ideas from behind. It looked as if the truest test of the good dramatist was his or her ability to script plays.

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Source: gad

Pushing back: why it's time for women to rewrite the story

Poe, Updike, Roth, Mailer: many male authors have contributed to a culture in which the credibility of women is undermined. It’s time to put a stop to the gaslighting, writes Sarah Churchwell

In 1938 a play debuted at the Richmond theatre, which opens with a Victorian husband telling his wife that though she has been “very good lately”, she mustn’t “read meanings into everything” or “imagine things”. “Is it possible you’re beginning to see my point of view?” she asks. On the contrary: her husband is systematically working to extinguish her perspective, to convince her that she is mad. Every night as he searches their attic (for jewels he believes are there), his movements cause the gas lamps to flicker.

In Patrick Hamilton’s play, the flickering lamps verify the wife’s suspicions; in the Hollywood film of Gas Light, released six years later, they make her further doubt her own senses. “Gaslighting” soon came to denote psychological warfare, the deliberate undermining of another’s sanity. More recently, it has been resuscitated as a metaphor for the cultural sabotage of women’s perceptions, for trivialising their concerns as imaginary. Gaslighting is about women fighting to get men to see their point of view.

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Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin review – a meditation on loneliness

This bruising yet surprisingly tender tale of urban isolation shines a light on the drifters and the broken-down

Hector Hidalgo is a young Mexican boxer who wants to turn professional. Only “Hector Hidalgo” doesn’t exist – he’s the persona of Horace Hopper, a 21-year-old ranch hand born to a Native American father and an Irish mother who is desperate to escape his own stifling sense of failure. The trouble with reinventing oneself is that it involves leaving other people behind, and US novelist and musician Willy Vlautin’s fifth novel is a meditation on loneliness, in which the outer and inner landscapes ring with a sound akin to desolation.

Horace lives in Nevada on the Reese ranch, having been taken in as a teenager by Mr Reese and his wife, now in their 70s. Mr Reese wants Horace to take over the ranch but Horace feels unworthy of such trust, gnawed at by his mother’s abandonment of him, aged 12, to his Irish grandmother, who is sketched with Vlautin’s typical blunt strokes as a woman who “drank Coors light on ice from 11am until she fell asleep on the couch at nine, who chain-smoked cigarettes, who ate only frozen dinners, and who was scared of Indians, blacks and Mexicans”.

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Source: gad

Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson review – a memoir not just for Suede fans

A rich evocation of the singer’s youth, parents and life in a council house

Brett Anderson, lead singer of Suede, has been thinking about his band’s backstory for a long time. In 1994, less than a year after their self-titled LP had become the UK’s fastest-selling debut since Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Welcome to the Pleasuredome, he told a journalist from New Musical Express: “The history of this fucking band is ridiculous. It’s like Machiavelli rewriting Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. It involves a cast of thousands. It’s always been fiery and tempestuous and really on the edge and it never stops. I don’t think it ever will. It would make a fucking good book.”

Coal Black Mornings is not that book. That’s to say it’s not, in his phrase, “the usual ‘coke and gold discs’ memoir”. Rather it’s a pre-history, a ruminative and often gorgeously written meditation on his early life: before Suede released their first single; before, without having released a note of music, they appeared on the cover of Melody Maker hailed as “The Best New Band in Britain”; before they were yoked into a still violently argued debate about national identity and guitar music. Anderson, who describes himself as “hunched over the fossils of my past”, claims early on that he’s writing “a book about failure”.

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Source: gad

How to eat flowers without poisoning yourself

I spent a week adding a floral touch to my meals – but if you don’t know what you’re doing, swiping flowers from the meadow can be a risky business

There are ups and downs in the world of edible flowers. By her own admission, Jan Billington, who grows and sells them from her organic farm in Devon, “smells amazing”. On the downside, she is regularly stung by Italian honey bees and is badly allergic, “although it’s just a matter of swelling”, she says. “It goes down eventually.”

Billington sells seasonal flowers to chefs and cocktail-makers, but more recently she has begun selling to amateur cooks who are hoping to inject a little personality into their cooking. Edible flowers are in the spotlight, or rather the polytunnels (thanks to the frost), because of Instagram, where they are used to zhoosh up food shots, and because of the rise of veganism, where they provide a bit of textural variation.

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Source: gad

What does Boris Johnson mean by a ‘teleological construction’?

Word of the week: the foreign secretary’s attempted slur on the EU backfires

The British public has been gratefully exposed to almost every conceivable way of insulting the EU, but Boris Johnson has offered a novel one. Johnson, who gave a key speech on Brexit this week, calls the EU a “teleological construction”; it is “ends-driven”, towards total political unity. In ancient Greek philosophy, teleology is the study of things that have a purpose or are directed towards a goal (telos). So beware the goal those foreigners are plotting towards! Shun teleological constructions!

Related: Boris Johnson warns thwarting Brexit vote would be disastrous

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Source: gad

What can we learn from Marie Stopes's 1918 book Married Love?

A century on, its overheated language can seem quaint, but the book was a pioneering attempt to tackle a problem that is still unsolved

“More than ever today are happy homes needed,” declared crafty Marie Carmichael Stopes in the very first sentence of her sex manual Married Love, which turns 100 this year. Happy homes, her logic held, were the consequence of happy marriages and thus “the only secure basis for a present-day state”. So a book geared to teaching married couples how to have great sex (and thus a great marriage) was a service to the country.

Stopes’s was a clever argument and it worked, if not for the betterment of society, then certainly for her publisher. Married Love was a huge hit in Britain, selling out six printings within a few weeks of publication, as eager couples gobbled up its contents. The Americans were less keen on better sex for the sake of the state; they immediately banned the book, with US customs barring its import for more than two decades. By that time, Britons had bought more than half a million copies of the book and were far ahead of their prudish US counterparts in the quest to understand female sexual pleasure. They were also well on their way to “entering on a new and glorious state” based entirely on “the joyous buoyancy of their actions”.

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Educated by Tara Westover review – escape from a Mormon fundamentalist family

A coming-of-age memoir that chronicles a young woman’s efforts to study her way out of a tough childhood in Idaho and find herself through books

We hear a lot about the edges of the US these days. Geographically, these places might be in the middle of the continent, but they are on the periphery of the country’s economic life, and often the social one too. The people who live there are desperate and pitiable, we are told, just as much as they are brutal and superstitious.

Tara Westover’s memoir is about being from just such a place and people. She was born to Mormon fundamentalist parents in Idaho, the youngest of seven. Her father Gene was the prophet of their small family, convinced the world was going to end at the stroke of the millennium. (When it did not, the author observes, the “disappointment in his features was so childlike, for a moment I wondered how God could deny him this”.) He does not believe in sending his children to school, but does believe that dairy products are sinful, owing to a message from God. “Isaiah doesn’t say which is evil, butter or honey,” is how he delivers the good news. “But if you ask, the Lord will tell you!”

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Source: gad