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  • Two Hitlers and a Marilyn by Adam Andrusier review – memoir of a driven autograph hunter
    by Anthony Quinn on June 21, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Andrusier’s book puts a singular spin on the cult of celebrity and its allure for a suburban boy in the 1980sThe obsessiveness – the downright creepiness – of the collector is amusingly skewered in this memoir of rueful self-absorption. In the 1980s, long before selfies, autographs were the accepted means of stealing a celebrity’s soul and hunters seldom came more tenacious than young Adam Andrusier. A nice Jewish boy from Pinner, he first catches the scent of his habit on learning that his best friend’s neighbour is Ronnie Barker. Knocking at his door, they are answered by a lady who turns them away, though Adam spots the man himself in the hallway before the door closes: “He didn’t look famous at all.”He has better luck when, on holiday in France, he spots Big Daddy in the hotel swimming pool; after careful stalking, he nabs his prey with paper and pen: who cares if the wrestler’s real name is Shirley Crabtree? “I’d managed to puncture a hole between our universe and the parallel one where all the celebrities lived.” From that moment, there’s no stopping him. In a way he was born to it. His father, Adrian, sold life insurance, but his passions were collecting books on the Holocaust and rare postcards of lost synagogues. He takes Adam to his first ever dealers’ fair, where a jaded old pro tells the boy that most of his present collection is “secretarial”, ie, not signed by the stars themselves. A hard lesson for the fledgling collector, but he learns from it and by the time he’s trading autographs professionally he has an eye for spotting fakes (“if the writing was too slow, if it looked flat or lifeless”). Continue reading…

  • You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone review – Nico as the gothic Garbo
    by Ian Thomson on June 20, 2021 at 8:00 am

    Jennifer Otter Bickerdike’s biography is absorbing and informative but paints a flattering portrait of the enigmatic model turned singerThe German-born chanteuse and model Christa Päffgen, better known as Nico, starred in Federico Fellini’s 1960 box-office hit La Dolce Vita and, for a while, formed part of the New York pop art experiment the Velvet Underground. With her baritone voice and angular “ice maiden” looks, she acquired the reputation of a gothic Garbo or punk Dietrich, by turns mysterious and aloof. Her discomfiting 1968 solo album The Marble Index is revered for its doom-laden, Germanic atmospherics and dirge-like harmonium playing, which lends a low church intensity and sepulchral tone to her extraordinary voice.Nico was only 49 when, in 1988, she died after a cerebral haemorrhage brought on by sunstroke caused her to fall off her pushbike. Junked up on opioids for 15 years, it’s a wonder she ever made it to middle age. In this new biography, You Are Beautiful and You Are Alone, Jennifer Otter Bickerdike digs deep into the life of one of the strangest and most unlikely singer-songwriters of our time. Continue reading…

  • I’m writing my memoir – does that make me just a character in a book? | Hadley Freeman
    by Hadley Freeman on June 19, 2021 at 8:00 am

    It’s the age of personal experience. But once you share, you no longer really own your story“I thought that review was judgmental and talked about me as if I were an idiot and not a journalist and not somebody who has written bestselling books and award-winning articles,” said the (for the record) bestselling and award-winning writer Nancy Jo Sales on the Femsplainers Podcast, in what was definitely the most revealing interview I encountered last week. Sales, probably best known for her work in Vanity Fair, has written a book, Nothing Personal, about online dating culture, following on from her documentary, Swiped, and 2015 Vanity Fair feature on the subject. In all of her takes on this issue, Sales concludes that these apps are bad for women, and she bases this at least partly on her own experience: “I realised this is really not fun in the way sex is supposed to be. A lot of it is bad for women. The guy doesn’t know you or care about you,” she said in the interview.I fully own up to not having read Sales’s book yet. But, judging from what she has said, I gather it focuses on her online dating experience, and she hasn’t particularly liked some critics’ take on that. The review she described as “judgmental” was in the New York Times, and her Femsplainers interview didn’t go much better. The interviewer, Danielle Crittenden, said maybe the reason Sales, 56, found the apps so dismaying was that, despite saying she was looking for “companionship”, she said in her dating profile that she was looking for men in their 20s, and she would then invite them over for casual sex. Related: ‘Mum, what’s a phone box?’: watching 80s films with the kids has become a history lesson | Hadley Freeman Continue reading…

  • Janet Malcolm, author of The Journalist and the Murderer, dies aged 86
    by Sian Cain on June 17, 2021 at 4:19 pm

    New Yorker writer, whose scepticism about her trade brought her both praise and blame, was also famed for studies of psychoanalysis and Sylvia PlathJanet Malcolm, the American journalist who dissected the relationship between the writer and their subject in books including The Journalist and the Murderer, In the Freud Archives and The Silent Woman, has died aged 86.Her daughter Anne confirmed to the New York Times that the cause was lung cancer. Related: A life in writing: Janet Malcolm Related: The flash of the knife: Ian Jack on The Journalist and the Murderer This article was amended on 18 June 2021, to correct the year Malcolm married Botsford. Continue reading…

  • In brief: The Cure for Good Intentions; Widowland; The Moth and the Mountain – reviews
    by Alexander Larman on June 13, 2021 at 3:00 pm

    An eye-opening memoir of leaving journalism for medicine; a gripping counterfactual novel about 1950s Britain; and the moving story of a daring attempt to climb EverestSophie HarrisonFleet, £16.99, pp271 Continue reading…

  • The Great Dissenter review: a superb life of John Marshall Harlan, champion of equality
    by John S Gardner on June 13, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not the only great supreme court justice to have made her name with dissent in the name of progressThe late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent collar is a small part of a larger history. Unlike some high courts, the US supreme court accepts strong dissent. Ginsburg stood in the tradition of John Marshall Harlan – the only justice with the courage, foresight, humanity and constitutional vision to object to the odious 1896 Plessy v Ferguson decision that approved racial segregation. Related: How the Word is Passed review: After Tulsa, other forgotten atrocities Sixty millions of whites are in no danger from the presence here of eight millions of blacks. The destinies of the two races in this country are indissolubly linked together, and the interests of both require that the common government of all shall not permit the seeds of race hate to be planted under the sanction of law … the equality before the law of all citizens of the United States, without regard to race … in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our constitution is color blind and neither knows nor tolerates classes among its citizens. Related: Justice, Justice Thou Shalt Pursue review: how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed America The Great Dissenter is published in the US by Simon & Schuster Continue reading…

  • Rememberings by Sinéad O’Connor review – a tremendous catalogue of misbehaviour
    by Fiona Sturges on June 11, 2021 at 6:30 am

    From childhood beatings to a pillow fight with Prince via ripping up a picture of the pope, the singer’s story of losing her way and finding herselfAs a young woman starting out in music, Sinéad O’Connor rarely did what she was told. When Nigel Grainge, an executive at her label, asked her to stop wearing her hair short and dress more like a girl, she went straight out and got her head shaved. While recording her first album, she discovered she was pregnant, prompting Grainge to phone her doctor and tell him to warn her against having a baby. The doctor duly told her that women shouldn’t take babies on tour but neither should they go on tour without them. O’Connor ignored them both and had her son anyway.Then, in 1992, during a performance on Saturday Night Live, she ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II, and blew up her career. She knew exactly what she was doing. “Everyone wants a pop star, see?” she writes. “But I am a protest singer. I just had stuff to get off my chest. I had no desire for fame.”The writing is conversational and reveals O’Connor as self-deprecating, pragmatic and a sharp observer. She’s funny, tooPrince treats her atrociously. She runs out of the house, though he catches her up in his car and orders her back Continue reading…

  • (M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal review – on the choices of being a woman
    by Christina Patterson on June 10, 2021 at 10:00 am

    A candid account of the joys and agonies of becoming a mother takes aim at patriarchal constraintsWhen Pragya Agarwal started her first period, just after her 11th birthday, her mother handed her a bundle of blue cloth. For Agarwal, as for so many girls around the world, the transition to womanhood was sudden and shocking. “I had to stop playing cricket on street corners at once,” she explains. “And thereafter I was both visible and invisible, not seen or heard except to silence and tease, a provocation and titillation.”If she was silent for a while, she has certainly made up for it since. A behavioural and data scientist who has taught at universities in both the US and the UK, Agarwal is now a passionate campaigner for racial and gender equality. She has written two highly acclaimed books: Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias and Wish We Knew What to Say: Talking With Children About Race. “What are you going to do today to make powerful white men uncomfortable?” her (white) husband asks her at one point as she writes this book. The short answer appears to be: “a lot”.Agarwal writes with searing honesty and tenderness about pursuing a route to motherhood that’s widely seen as taboo Continue reading…

  • In brief: The Hummingbird; 34 Patients; Kant’s Little Prussian Head and Other Reasons Why I Write
    by Hephzibah Anderson on June 8, 2021 at 8:30 am

    A deliciously playful Italian family saga; a doctor’s telling insights into his work; and Claire Messud’s masterly story of her lifeSandro Veronesi, translated by Elena PalaWeidenfeld & Nicolson, £14.99, pp304 Continue reading…

  • This month’s best paperbacks: Alan Davies, Monique Roffey and a ‘near-perfect’ ghost story
    on June 7, 2021 at 10:01 am

    Here are some outstanding new paperbacks for June, including Costa-winner The Mermaid of Black Conch, the comedian’s shocking memoir and a Belgian post-apocalyptic classic Continue reading…

  • Amazon Unbound review: how Jeff Bezos engulfed and devoured us all
    by Charles Kaiser on June 6, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Brad Stone’s second book on the world’s richest person is another portrait of great power – and the great damage it doesAmazon fired him – now he’s trying to unionize New YorkBrad Stone, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, is now the author of a second book-length portrait of what may be the most successful business of the 21st century. When Stone’s first book, The Everything Store, was published in 2013, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was worth a piddling $27bn. That number has risen to $190bn, 70% more than he had at the beginning of the pandemic. Related: Jeff Bezos thinks our cultural heritage is just ‘intellectual property’ | Nicholas Russell Related: ‘Silicon Six’ tech giants accused of inflating tax payments by almost $100bn Amazon Unbound is published in the US by Simon & Schuster Continue reading…

  • Summer books: Bernardine Evaristo, Hilary Mantel, Richard Osman and more on what they’re reading
    by Hilary Mantel, David Nicholls, Yuval Noah Harari, Sarah Perry, Sarah Waters, Richard Osman, Bernardine Evaristo, Diana Evans, Torrey Peters, Douglas Stuart, Sara Collins, Michael Rosen, Elif Shafak, Ian Rankin, Olivia Laing and Polly Samson on June 5, 2021 at 7:00 am

    Authors share the books they have enjoyed reading this year, including a hilarious dark comedy, poetry and a study of mystery illnessesSummer reading: the 50 hottest new books everyone should read Hilary MantelJaap Robben’s Summer Brother, longlisted for the International Booker, has a disabled child at its centre and squares up to dangerous subjects. It is a heartening novel, because though it asks the reader to think hard, it puts its faith in simplicity and love. Neurologist Suzanne O’Sullivan offers The Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories of Mystery Illness to put you wise about Havana syndrome and other puzzles: it’s not cheerful, but it is current and it is bracing.To support the Guardian and Observer, order your summer reading books at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply. Continue reading…

  • ‘Blazing, incandescent’: Bob Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin on 1961-66
    by Charles Kaiser on May 30, 2021 at 6:00 am

    In a new book, one of the most prolific chroniclers of the 80-year-old Nobel laureate draws on rare documents and filmFor three decades, Clinton Heylin has turned out an average of a book a year, about everyone from the Sex Pistols to Orson Welles. But his first love has been his longest. The 61-year-old fell for Bob Dylan when he was 12 and has now published his 11th book about the Nobel laureate, The Double Life of Bob Dylan: A Restless, Hungry Feeling. Covering Dylan’s career to 1966, it coincides with his 80th birthday. Related: My favourite Dylan song – by Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Jones, Judy Collins and more Related: Happy 80th birthday to Bob Dylan, rock’s most prescient, timeless voice | John Harris The Double Life of Bob Dylan is published in the US by Little, Brown Continue reading…

  • The Triumph of Nancy Reagan review – foibles and failings of a troubled first lady
    by Peter Conrad on May 30, 2021 at 6:00 am

    Karen Tumulty’s biography, on the centenary of Nancy Reagan’s ‘official’ birth, paints a romanticised picture of a neurotic prototype for Melania TrumpAfter Jimmy Carter’s glum diagnosis of national malaise in 1979, Ronald Reagan supposedly restored the customary swagger of the US by making the country “feel good about itself”. That folksy blessing didn’t extend to his wife: on the evidence of Karen Tumulty’s biography, Nancy Reagan spent his entire presidency in a state of seething anxiety that frequently tipped over into hysteria.Aides in the White House came to dread her passive-aggressive silences on the phone and her basilisk glare when she allowed them face time. Likening her to a missile, a friend tells Tumulty “she was good at going stealth”. She monopolised Ronnie and staff members who had to relay her phone calls to the Oval Office said they were on the “Mommy Watch”. In later years, as his mind blurred, she became his agitated attendant, whispering panicked prompts in the hope of covering up his debility. Continue reading…

  • Barbara Hepworth by Eleanor Clayton review – art and life
    by Oliver Soden on May 29, 2021 at 11:00 am

    A new biography of the great English sculptor reveals a complicated combination of passionate correspondent, loving mother and dedicated artist If the pram in the hall really is the sombre enemy of good art, then pity the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Few halls can house three prams – or, at least, one wide enough to carry triplets.The subtitle of this biography, by Eleanor Clayton, is Art & Life, but that ampersand could easily have been replaced by “or”, even “versus”. Torn between sculpture and motherhood, Hepworth sent her triplets first to a nursery training college and then to boarding school. Domesticity was distraction. “One can easily expire,” she wrote, “bothering about moths & cleanliness & cabbages.” Continue reading…

  • ‘I don’t know how I’ll ever not be angry’ – an exclusive extract from Sinéad O’Connor’s memoir
    by Sinéad O’ Connor on May 29, 2021 at 7:00 am

    The Irish singer-songwriter remembers the day of her mother’s death, in February 1985Read an interview with her here I love my stepmother. She’s the sweetest lady on Earth. So when I say this, I mean it with kindness: the woman will never give you a lift anywhere.She’s Protestant. They’re way more practical. They don’t have the guilt. No amount of big-eyeing or eyelash-batting or crying or foot-stomping or whining will result in you getting dropped off or picked up. So when I saw her car coming towards me down Beechwood Avenue with my stepsister crying in the passenger seat, I knew my mother was dead. Continue reading…

  • Alexandria by Edmund Richardson review – the quest for the lost city
    by William Dalrymple on May 27, 2021 at 9:00 am

    The mystery of a trailblazing archeologist who faked his own death is finally unravelled In the hot summer of 1840, the young orientalist Henry Rawlinson arrived in Karachi and began anxiously searching for his mentor, the pioneering archaeologist of Afghanistan, Charles Masson. The rumours he had heard profoundly alarmed him.Rawlinson was a rising star: he had recently made his name by helping decipher ancient Persian cuneiform script; but he looked up to Masson as a far greater scholar. For more than a decade, Masson had wandered, alone and on foot, exploring Afghanistan, collecting coins and inscriptions, studying ruins and making sketches. Continue reading…

  • The Case of the Married Woman by Antonia Fraser review – justice delayed
    by Lara Feigel on May 27, 2021 at 6:30 am

    This insightful and spirited biography of Caroline Norton, who initiated the 1839 Custody of Infants Act, reveals the frustrated life of a powerful symbol of justiceHigh up in the House of Lords there is a fresco depicting The Spirit of Justice, painted by Daniel Maclise in 1850. It’s a huge portrait of the 19th-century poet, novelist and campaigner Caroline Norton, her eyes cast upwards, the scales of justice held in one hand. As a celebrated beauty of the era, Norton was an obvious choice. But there was an irony to the portrait, because this was a woman who had been denied justice as a mother.It was a classic story at the time. Married women had no rights – over their property, possessions or children. If husbands tired of their wives, they were entitled to throw them out and deprive them of access to their children. Caroline’s husband, George Norton, was an abusive man who had beaten her for years (allegedly causing a miscarriage); in 1836 (when their sons were two, four and six), he locked her out of the house, sued for adultery and shipped the children off to his relatives.Norton’s husband locked her out of the house, sued for adultery and shipped the children off to his relatives Continue reading…

  • David Lan: In the age of apartheid, theatre resisted
    by David Lan on May 26, 2021 at 7:00 pm

    The theatre director and writer looks back at the spirit of protest that fuelled daring dramas staged in South Africa 50 years agoI grew up in South Africa during the bleak, violent, seemingly never-ending iron age of apartheid. In 1971, when I was studying acting at Cape Town University, the National Party government built a monolithic 1,500-seat theatre complex in a commanding position near the centre of the city. The Afrikaner Nationalists had an easy rule of thumb by which to distinguish between the value of white people and black people – we have culture and they don’t. The purpose of the monolith, with its elaborate stairways, fancy colonnades and picture windows, was to declare and celebrate this belief. White musicians, actors and dancers were to perform to exclusively white audiences.Afrikaans theatre was bursting with contradictions. The finest Afrikaans playwright was William Shakespeare. From the 1950s to the 70s, Afrikaans-language productions of the European modernists – Pirandello, Maeterlinck, Strindberg and especially Chekhov – toured to church halls all over the country. Uncle Vanya was a quintessential Afrikaans cultural experience. Related: Theatre is like church: we gather to bear witness | Nathaniel Martello-White David Lan’s As If by Chance: Journeys, Theatres, Lives is published in paperback by Faber on 3 June. Continue reading…

  • David Foot obituary
    by Matthew Engel on May 26, 2021 at 1:30 pm

    Outstanding cricket writer and biographer whose work graced the pages of the Guardian for 40 yearsFor generations, the path to journalistic success in Britain has run almost inevitably through London. David Foot, who has died aged 92, broke the rule and achieved a high reputation as an outstanding writer, for the Guardian above all, without ever deserting his Bristol base and not often leaving his beloved West Country.Among his cricket-writing colleagues in particular, he had a unique reputation that combined respect for his elegant writing and remarkable affection for his gentle good nature. No one was a more welcome sight at the door of a county press box. A Footy day meant shared wisdom, zero malice and his delicious chuckle. Continue reading…