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Tag Archives: Autobiography and memoir

A new book by Greta Thunbergs mother reveals the reality of family life during her daughters transformation from bullied teenager to climate icon

Gretas father, Svante, and I are what is known in Sweden as cultural workers trained in opera, music and theatre with half a career of work in those fields behind us. When I was pregnant with Greta, and working in Germany, Svante was acting at three different theatres in Sweden simultaneously. I had several years of binding contracts ahead of me at various opera houses all over Europe. With 1,000km between us, we talked over the phone about how we could get our new reality to work.

Youre one of the best in the world at what you do, Svante said. And as for me, I am more like a bass player in the Swedish theatre and can very easily be replaced. Not to mention you earn so damned much more than I do. I protested a little half-heartedly but the choice was made.

A few weeks later we were at the premiere for Don Giovanni at the Staatsoper in Berlin and Svante explained his current professional status to Daniel Barenboim and Cecilia Bartoli.

So now Im a housewife.

We carried on like that for 12 years. It was arduous but great fun. We spent two months in each city and then moved on. Berlin, Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Barcelona. Round and round. We spent the summers in Glyndebourne, Salzburg or Aix-en-Provence. As you do when youre good at singing opera and other classical music. I rehearsed 20 to 30 hours a week and the rest of the time we spent together.

Beata was born three years after Greta and we bought a Volvo V70 so wed have room for dolls houses, teddy bears and tricycles. Those were fantastic years. Our life was marvellous.

One evening in the autumn of 2014, Svante and I sat slumped on our bathroom floor in Stockholm. It was late, the children were asleep. Everything was starting to fall apart around us. Greta was 11, had just started fifth grade, and was not doing well. She cried at night when she should be sleeping. She cried on her way to school. She cried in her classes and during her breaks, and the teachers called home almost every day. Svante had to run off and bring her home to Moses, our golden retriever. She sat with him for hours, petting him and stroking his fur. She was slowly disappearing into some kind of darkness and little by little, bit by bit, she seemed to stop functioning. She stopped playing the piano. She stopped laughing. She stopped talking. And she stopped eating.

We sat there on the hard mosaic floor, knowing exactly what we would do. We would change everything. We would find the way back to Greta, no matter the cost. The situation called for more than words and feelings. A closing of accounts. A clean break.

How are you feeling? Svante asked. Do you want to keep going?


OK. Fuck this. No more, he said. Well cancel everything. Every last contract, Svante went on. Madrid, Zurich, Vienna, Brussels. Everything.

One Saturday soon afterwards, we decide were going to bake buns, all four of us, the whole family, and were determined to make this work. It has to. If we can bake our buns as usual, in peace and quiet, Greta will be able to eat them as usual, and then everything will be resolved, fixed. Its going to be easy as pie. Baking buns is after all our favourite activity. So we bake, dancing around in the kitchen so as to create the most positive, happiest bun-baking party in human history.

But once the buns are out of the oven the party stops in its tracks. Greta picks up a bun and sniffs it. She sits there holding it, tries to open her mouth, but cant. We see that this isnt going to work.

Please eat, Svante and I say in chorus. Calmly, at first. And then more firmly. Then with every ounce of pent-up frustration and powerlessness. Until finally we scream, letting out all our fear and hopelessness. Eat! You have to eat, dont you understand? You have to eat now, otherwise youll die!

Then Greta has her first panic attack. She makes a sound weve never heard before, ever. She lets out an abysmal howl that lasts for over 40 minutes. We havent heard her scream since she was an infant.

I cradle her in my arms, and Moses lies alongside her, his moist nose pressed to her head. Greta asks, Am I going to get well again?

Of course you are, I reply.

When am I going to get well?

I dont know. Soon.

Malena Ernman and Svante Thunberg with their daughters, newborn Beata and Greta aged three, 2005. Photograph: Lizzie Larsson/TT/PA Images

On a white sheet of paper fixed to the wall we note down everything Greta eats and how long it takes for her to eat it. The amounts are small. And it takes a long time. But the emergency unit at the Stockholm Centre for Eating Disorders says that this method has a good long-term success rate. You write down what you eat meal by meal, then you list everything you can eat, things you wish you could eat and things you want to be able to eat further down the line.

Its a short list. Rice, avocados and gnocchi.

School starts in five minutes. But there isnt going to be any school today. There isnt going to be any school at all this week. Yesterday Svante and I got another email from the school expressing their concern about Gretas lack of attendance, despite the fact that they were in possession of several letters from both doctors and psychologists explaining her situation.

Again, I inform the school office of our situation and they reply with an email saying that they hope Greta will come to school as usual on Monday so this problem can be dealt with. But Greta wont be in school on Monday. Because unless a sudden dramatic change occurs shes going to be admitted to Sachsska childrens hospital next week.

Svante is boiling gnocchi. It is extremely important that the consistency is perfect, otherwise it wont be eaten. We set a specific number of gnocchi on her plate. Its a delicate balancing act; if we offer too many our daughter wont eat anything and if we offer too few she wont get enough. Whatever she ingests is obviously too little, but every little bite counts and we cant afford to waste a single one.

Then Greta sits there sorting the gnocchi. She turns each one over, presses on them and then does it again. And again. After 20 minutes she starts eating. She licks and sucks and chews: tiny, tiny bites. It takes for ever.

Im full, she says suddenly. I cant eat any more.

Svante and I avoid looking at each other. We have to hold back our frustration, because weve started to realise that this is the only thing that works. Weve explored all other tactics. Every other conceivable way. Weve ordered her sternly. Weve screamed, laughed, threatened, begged, pleaded, cried and offered every imaginable bribe. But this seems to be what works the best.

Svante goes up to the sheet of paper on the wall and writes:

Lunch: 5 gnocchi. Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Not eating can mean many things. The question is what. The question is why. Svante and I look for answers. I spend the evenings reading everything I can find on the internet about anorexia and eating disorders. Were sure its not anorexia. But, we keep hearing that anorexia is a very cunning disorder and will do anything to evade discovery. So we keep that door wide open.

I speak endlessly to the childrens psychiatry service (BUP), the healthcare information service, doctors, psychologists and every conceivable acquaintance who may be able to offer the least bit of knowledge or guidance.

At Gretas school theres a psychologist who is experienced with autism. She talks with both of us on the phone and says that a careful investigation must still be conducted, but in her eyes and off the record Greta shows clear signs of being on the autism spectrum. High-functioning Aspergers, she says.

Meeting after meeting follows where we repeat our story and explore our options. We talk away while Greta sits silently. She has stopped speaking with anyone except me, Svante and Beata. Everyone really wants to offer all the help they can but its as if theres no help to be had. Not yet, at least. Were fumbling in the dark.

After two months of not eating Greta has lost almost 10kg, which is a lot when you are rather small to begin with. Her body temperature is low and her pulse and blood pressure clearly indicate signs of starvation. She no longer has the energy to take the stairs and her scores on the depression tests she takes are sky high. We explain to our daughter that we have to start preparing ourselves for a stay at the hospital, where its possible to get nutrition and food without eating, with tubes and drips.

In mid-November theres a big meeting at BUP. Greta sits silently. As usual. Im crying. As usual. If there are no developments after the weekend then well have to admit you to the hospital, the doctor says.

On the stairs down to the lobby Greta turns round. I want to start eating again. All three of us burst into tears and we go home and Greta eats a whole green apple. But nothing more will go down. As it turns out, its a little harder than you think to just start eating again. We take a few careful, trial steps and it works. We inch forward. She eats tiny amounts of rice, avocado and bananas. We take our time. And we start on sertraline, an antidepressant.

Do they always look at you that way?

Dont know. Think so.

Svante and Greta have been at the end-of-term ceremony at school where they tried to make themselves invisible in the corridors and stairwells. When students openly point and laugh at you even though youre walking alongside your parent then things have gone too far. Way too far.

At home in the kitchen, Svante explains to me what theyve just experienced while Greta eats her rice and avocado. I get so angry at what I hear that I could tear down half the street we live on with my bare hands, but our daughter has a different reaction. Shes happy its in the open.

She devotes the whole Christmas break to telling us about unspeakably awful incidents. Its like a movie montage featuring every imaginable bullying scenario. Stories about being pushed over in the playground, wrestled to the ground, or lured into strange places, the systematic shunning and the safe space in the girls toilets where she sometimes manages to hide and cry before the break monitors force her out into the playground again. For a full year, the stories keep coming. Svante and I inform the school, but the school isnt sympathetic. Their understanding of the situation is different. Its Gretas own fault, the school thinks; several children have said repeatedly that Greta has behaved strangely and spoken too softly and never says hello. The latter they write in an email.

They write worse things than that, which is lucky for us, because when we report the school to the Swedish schools inspectorate were on a firm footing and theres no doubt that the inspectorate will rule in our favour.

I explain to Greta that shell have friends again, later. But her response is always the same. I dont want to have a friend. Friends are children and all children are mean.

Gretas pulse rate gets stronger and finally the weight curve turns upwards strongly enough for a neuropsychiatric investigation to begin.

Our daughter has Aspergers, high-functioning autism and OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder. We could formally diagnose her with selective mutism, too, but that often goes away on its own with time, the doctor tells us. We arent surprised. Basically, this was the conclusion we drew several months ago.

On the way out, Beata calls to tell us shes having dinner with a friend, and I feel a sting of guilt. Soon well take care of you too, darling, I promise her in my mind, but first Greta has to get well.

Summer is coming, and we walk the whole way home. We almost dont even need to ration the burning of calories any more.

Six months after Greta received her diagnosis, life has levelled out into something that resembles an everyday routine. She has started at a new school. Ive cleared my calendar and put work on the back burner. But while were full up with taking care of Greta, Beatas having more and more of a tough time. In school everything is ticking along. But at home she falls apart, crashes. She cant stand being with us at all any more. Everything Svante and I do upsets her and in our company she can lose control. She is clearly is not feeling well.

One day near her 11th birthday I find her standing in the living room, hurling DVDs from the bookshelf down the spiral staircase to the kitchen. You only care about Greta. Never about me. I hate you, Mum. You are the worst bloody mother in the whole world, you bloody fucking bitch, she screams as Jasper the Penguin hits me on the forehead.

Its autumn 2015 when Beata undergoes an evaluation for various neurodevelopmental disorders. She is diagnosed with ADHD, with elements of Aspergers, OCD and ODD [oppositional defiant disorder]. Now that she has the diagnosis it feels like a fresh start for her, an explanation, a redress, a remedy. At school she has marvellous teachers who make everything work. She doesnt have to do homework. We drop all activities. We avoid anything that may be stressful. And it works. Whatever happens we must never meet anger with anger, because that, pretty much always, does more harm than good. We adapt and we plan, with rigorous routines and rituals. Hour by hour. We try to find habits that work.

Outside the Swedish parliament in Stockholm, August 2018. Photograph: Anders Hellberg

The fact that our children finally got help was due to a great many factors. In part it was about existing care, proven methods, advice and medication. It was also thanks to our own toil, patience, time and luck that Greta and Beata found their way back on their feet. However, what happened to Greta in particular cant be explained simply by a psychiatric label. In the end, she simply couldnt reconcile the contradictions of modern life. Things simply didnt add up. We, who live in an age of historic abundance, who have access to huge shared resources, cant afford to help vulnerable people in flight from war and terror people like you and me, but who have lost everything.

In school one day, Gretas class watches a film about how much rubbish there is in the oceans. An island of plastic, larger than Mexico, is floating around in the South Pacific. Greta cries throughout the film. Her classmates are also clearly moved. Before the lesson is over the teacher announces that on Monday there will be a substitute teaching the class, because shes going to a wedding over the weekend, in Connecticut, right outside of New York. Wow, lucky you, the pupils say. Out in the corridor the trash island off the coast of Chile is already forgotten. New iPhones are taken out of fur-trimmed down jackets, and everyone who has been to New York talks about how great it is, with all those shops, and Barcelona has amazing shopping too, and in Thailand everything is so cheap, and someone is going with her mother to Vietnam over the Easter break, and Greta cant reconcile any of this with any of what she has just seen.

She saw what the rest of us did not want to see. It was as if she could see our CO2 emissions with her naked eye. The invisible, colourless, scentless, soundless abyss that our generation has chosen to ignore. She saw all of it not literally, of course, but nonetheless she saw the greenhouse gases streaming out of our chimneys, wafting upwards with the winds and transforming the atmosphere into a gigantic, invisible garbage dump.

She was the child, we were the emperor. And we were all naked.

You celebrities are basically to the environment what anti immigrant politicians are to multicultural society, Greta says at the breakfast table early in 2016. I guess its true. Not just of celebrities, but of the vast majority of people. Everyone wants to be successful, and nothing conveys success and prosperity better than luxury, abundance and travel, travel, travel.

Greta scrolls through my Instagram feed. Shes angry. Name a single celebrity whos standing up for the climate! Name a single celebrity who is prepared to sacrifice the luxury of flying around the world!

I was a part of the problem myself. Only recently I had been posting sun-drenched selfies from Japan. One Good morning from Tokyo and tens of thousands of likes rolled in to my brand-new iPhone. Something started to ache inside of me. Something Id previously called travel anxiety or fear of flying but which was now taking on another, clearer form. On 6 March 2016 I flew home from a concert in Vienna, and not long after that I decided to stay on the ground for good.

A few months later we walked home from the airport shuttle having met Svante and Beata off a flight from Rome.You just released 2.7 tonnes of CO2, Greta says to Svante. And that corresponds to the annual emissions of five people in Senegal. I hear what youre saying, Svante says, nodding. Ill try to stay on the ground from now on, too.

Fridays For Future climate change protest, Stockholm, November 2018. Photograph: IBL/Shutterstock

Greta started planning her school strike over the summer of 2018. Svante has promised to take her to a building suppliers to buy a scrap piece of wood that she can paint white and make a sign out of. School Strike for the Climate, it will say. And although more than anything we want her to drop the whole idea of going on strike from school we support her. Because we see that she feels good as she draws up her plans better than she has felt in many years. Better than ever before, in fact.

On the morning of 20 August 2018, Greta gets up an hour earlier than on a regular school day. She has her breakfast. Fills a backpack with schoolbooks, a lunchbox, utensils, a water bottle, a cushion and an extra sweater. She has printed out 100 flyers with facts and source references about the climate and sustainability crisis.

She walks her white bicycle out of the garage and rolls off to parliament. Svante cycles a few metres behind her, with her home-made sign under his right arm The weather is rather lovely. The sun is rising behind the old town and there is little chance of rain. The cycle paths and pavements are filled with people on their way to work and school.

Outside the prime ministers office, Greta stops and gets off her bicycle. Svante helps her take a picture before they lock the bicycles. Then she nods an almost invisible goodbye to Dad and, with the sign in her arms, staggers around the corner towards the government block where she stops and leans the sign against the greyish-red granite wall. Sets out her flyers. Settles down.

She asks a passerby to take another picture with her phone and posts both pictures on social media. After a few minutes the first sharing on Twitter starts. The political scientist Staffan Lindberg retweets her post. Then come another two retweets. And a few more. The meteorologist Pr Holmgren. The singer-songwriter Stefan Sundstrm. After that, it accelerates. She has fewer than 20 followers on Instagram and not many more on Twitter. But thats already changing.

Now there is no way back.

A documentary film crew shows up. Svante calls and tells her that the newspaper Dagens ETC has been in touch with him and are on their way. Right after that [another daily newspaper] Aftonbladet shows up and Greta is surprised that everything is moving so fast. Happy and surprised. She wasnt expecting this.

Ivan and Fanny from Greenpeace show up and ask Greta if everything is OK. Can we help with anything? they ask. Do you have a police permit? Ivan asks. She doesnt. She didnt think a permit would be needed. But evidently it is. I can help you, Ivan says.

Greenpeace is far from alone in offering its support. Everyone wants to do their utmost to help out. But Greta doesnt need any help. She manages all by herself. She is interviewed by one newspaper after the next. The simple fact that she is talking to strangers without feeling unwell is an unexpected joy for us parents. Everything else is a bonus.

The first haters start to attack, and Greta is openly mocked on social media. She is mocked by anonymous troll accounts, by rightwing extremists. And she is mocked by members of parliament. But thats no surprise.

Gretas Christmas 2018 Instagram post: Happy holidays from me and my family! Photograph: Courtesy Greta Thunberg via instagram

Svante stops by to make sure that everything is OK. He does this a couple of times every day. Greta stands by the wall and there are a dozen people around her. She looks stressed. The journalist from [newspaper] Dagens Nyheter asks whether its OK if they film an interview, and Svante sees out of the corner of his eye that something is wrong. Wait, let me check, he says, and takes Greta behind a pillar under the arch. Her whole body is tense. She is breathing heavily, and Svante says that theres nothing to worry about. Lets go home now, he says. OK? Greta shakes her head. Shes crying.

You dont need to do any of this. Lets forget about this and get out of here. But Greta doesnt want to go home. She stands perfectly still for a few seconds. Breathes. Then she walks around in a little circle and somehow pushes away all that panic and fear that she has been carrying inside her for as long as she can remember. After that she stops, and stares straight ahead. Her breathing is still agitated and tears are running down her cheeks. No, she says. Im doing this.

We monitor how Greta is feeling as closely as we can. But we cant see any signs that shes feeling anything but good. She sets the alarm clock for 6.15am and shes happy when she gets out of bed. Shes happy as she cycles off to parliament, and shes happy when she comes home in the afternoon. During the afternoons she catches up on schoolwork and checks social media. She goes to bed on time, falls asleep right away and sleeps peacefully the whole night long. Eating, on the other hand, is not going well.

There are too many people and I dont have time. Everyone wants to talk all the time.

You have to eat, Svante says. Greta doesnt say anything. Food is a sensitive topic. The most difficult one. But on the third day something else happens. Ivan from Greenpeace stops by again. Hes holding a white plastic bag. Are you hungry, Greta? Its noodles. Thai, he says. Vegan. Would you like some?

He holds out the bag and Greta leans forward and reaches for the food container. She opens the lid and smells it a few times. Then she takes a little bite. And another. No one reacts to whats happening. Why would they? Why would it be remarkable for a child to be sitting with a bunch of people eating vegan pad thai? Greta keeps eating. Not just a few bites but almost the whole serving.

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Greta Thunberg: the speeches that helped spark a climate movement video

Gretas energy is exploding. There doesnt seem to be any outer limit, and even if we try to hold her back she just keeps going. By herself.

Beata sits with Greta one day in front of parliament. But this is Gretas thing. Not hers. The sudden fuss over her big sister is not easy to handle. Beata sees that Greta suddenly has 10,000 followers on Instagram, and we all think thats crazy. But Beata handles it well. Even when her own feed is filled with comments about Greta, and can you tell her this and that. All everyone suddenly cares about is Greta, Greta and Greta. Its nuts, Beata says one afternoon after school. Its exactly like Beyonc and Jay-Z, she states, with an acerbic emphasis. Greta is Beyonc. And Im Jay-Z.

We get death threats on social media, excrement through the letter box, and social services report that they have received a great number of complaints against us as Gretas parents. But at the same time they state in the letter that they do NOT intend to take any action. We think of the capital letters as a little love note from an anonymous official. And it warms us.

More and more people are keeping Greta company in front of parliament. Children, adults, teachers, retirees. One day an entire class of elementary-school pupils stops and wants to talk, and Greta has to walk away for a bit. Feels mild panic. She steps aside and starts crying. She cant help it. But after a while she calms herself down and goes back and greets the children. Afterwards she explains that she has a hard time associating with children sometimes because she has had such bad experiences. Ive never met a group of children that hasnt been mean to me. And wherever Ive been Ive been bullied because Im different.

Several times a day people come up and say that they have stopped flying, parked the car or become vegans thanks to her. To be able to influence so many people in such a short time is bewildering in a good way. The phenomenon keeps growing. Faster and faster by the hour. In the run-up to the end of the strike, Greta is being followed by TV crews from the BBC, German ARD and Danish TV2.

Altogether 1,000 children and adults sit with Greta on the last day of the school strike. And media from several different countries report live from Mynttorget Square. She has succeeded. Some say that she alone has done more for the climate than politicians and the mass media have in years. But Greta doesnt agree. Nothing has changed, she says. The emissions continue to increase and there is no change in sight.

At three oclock Svante comes and picks her up and they walk together over to the bicycles outside Rosenbad.

Are you satisfied? Svante asks.

No, she says, with her gaze fixed on the bridge back towards the old town. Im going to continue.

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg leads a Fridays For Future rally in Turin, December 2019. Photograph: Alessandro Di Marco/EPA

The next day is Saturday 8 September. Its the day before the Swedish parliamentary elections and Greta is going to speak at the Peoples Climate March in Stockholm. She has only given one speech before at a small event. Prior to that shed never spoken in front of more people than fit in a classroom, and on those few occasions she had not exactly seemed at ease.

There are a lot of people in the park for the march and the rally. Almost 2,000 have crowded together at the stage and more are on their way. Somehow theres a different feeling about this protest. It doesnt feel the same as usual. It feels as if something might happen. Soon. Its no longer just the familiar faces. The regulars. The activists. The Greenpeace volunteers in polar-bear suits. Here, suddenly, are all conceivable kinds of people and characters. People who might have all sorts of jobs. This is my first demonstration, states a well-dressed man in his 40s. Mine too, a woman next to him says, with a laugh.

The host introduces Greta and she walks slowly but steadily into the middle of the stage. The audience cheers. Svante, on the other hand, is scared out of his wits. What will happen now? Will she start crying? Is she going to run away? He feels like an awful parent for not putting his foot down and saying No from the start. All this is starting to feel too big and unreal.

But Greta is as calm as can be. She takes the speech out of her pocket and looks out over the sea of people. Then she grasps the microphone and starts speaking. Hi, my name is Greta, she says in Swedish. I am going to speak in English now. And I want you to take out your phones and film what Im saying. Then you can post it on your social media.

My name is Greta Thunberg and I am 15 years old. And I have schoolstriked for the climate for the last three weeks. Yesterday was the last day. But She pauses. We will go on with the school strike. Every Friday, as from now, we will sit outside the Swedish parliament until Sweden is in line with the Paris agreement. The crowd cheers.

Greta continues. I urge all of you to do the same. Sit outside your parliament or local government, wherever you are, until your country is on a safe pathway to a below-two-degree warming target. Time is much shorter than we think. Failure means disaster.

Her voice is steady and there are no signs of nervousness. She appears to be at ease up there. She even smiles sometimes.

The changes required are enormous and we must all contribute in every part of our everyday life. Especially us in the rich countries, where no nation is doing nearly enough.

The audience stands up. Shouting, applauding. The ovation doesnt stop. And Greta is smiling the most beautiful smile I have ever seen her smile. Im watching everything from a live stream on my phone in the hallway outside the dressing rooms at the Oscarsteatern. The tears keep coming.

This is an edited extract from Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena and Beata Ernman, Greta and Svante Thunberg, published by Penguin on 5 March (16.99). To order a copy go to Free UK p&p over 15

Greta Thunberg with her dogs at home in Stockholm. Photograph: Malin Hoelstad/SvD/TT/TT News Agency/PA Images

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Taking heroin, being flashed by David Bowie, and punk-pop brilliance but in this long-awaited memoir the Blondie singer remains mysterious to the last

When Blondies singer, Debbie Harry, was crafting her image as a pop star in the mid-70s, she looked first to cinema. Her love of cartoon fantasy figures led her to Barbarella, as portrayed by Jane Fonda in the Roger Vadim film, though her biggest influence was Marilyn Monroe, who she recognised was playing a character, the proverbial dumb blonde with the little-girl voice and the big-girl body a woman playing a mans idea of a woman. As the only woman in an all-male band, Harry knew she had to make her mark. With her peroxide hair, thrift-store clothes and expression that sat somewhere between a pout and a sneer, she was a pin-up with a subversive streak: My Blondie character was an inflatable doll but with a dark, provocative, aggressive side. I was playing it up yet I was very serious.

In Face It, Harry, who is now 74, outlines the influences and events that led to her rise to fame. Written with the music writer Sylvie Simmons, the memoir is based on a series of lengthy interviews, which makes for a conversational style, though anyone looking for an excavation of the soul might be disappointed. Harry has rock n roll stories to burn but the memoir as a confessional isnt her style. For the most part, the Blondie character remains.

The music, which merged punk rock with pop sensibilities, is only part of the picture; having been awarded the title best-looking girl in her school yearbook, Harry knew the value of her attractiveness early on, and later created an industry around her image. It was she, for instance, who saw an upturned car on a New York street and, rather than moving on, declared it ideal for a photoshoot. Before designers were lining up to work with her, she would find a pillowcase and turn it into a stage outfit; later, years before Lady Gagas meat dress, she would step out in a gown made of razorblades. Harry was driven not by a quest for fame but for creativity. Ultimately for me, she notes, its the overwhelming need to have my entire life be an imaginative out-of-body experience.

We learn how, having been given up for adoption at three months old, Harry was raised by her adoptive parents in New Jersey. Before Blondie took off, she worked variously as a model, a secretary at the BBCs New York office, a waitress and a Playboy bunny, all the while trying to figure out her next move. When she first moved to New York, she wanted to be a painter but, after seeing the likes of Janis Joplin, the Velvet Underground and, later, the New York Dolls, she decided music was her calling. Harry joined and left various bands including the Stilettos, through which she met Chris Stein, who would become her principal collaborator as the guitarist in Blondie, her partner for the next 13 years and, after their split, one of her dearest friends.

Caustic and funny. Debbie Harry and Chris Stein in New York, 1980 Photograph: Allan Tannenbaum

Early on, Harry offers a vivid portrait of a seedy, bohemian scene in late-60s New York in which drugs were part of your social life, part of the creative process, chic and fun and really just there. No one thought about the consequences. Describing her first encounter with heroin with her then-boyfriend, she recalls: It was so delicious and delightful For those times when I wanted to blank out parts of my life or when I was dealing with some depression, there was nothing better than heroin. Nothing.

A similar matter-of-factness runs through her recollections of the man who approached her and Stein one night outside their front door and threatened them with a knife. When they said they didnt have any money, he insisted on accompanying them into their apartment. There he tied up Stein and Harry while he piled up their guitars and amps by the front door. He then untied Harry and raped her. I cant say that I felt a lot of fear, she recalls. Im very glad this happened pre-Aids or I might have freaked. In the end, the stolen guitars hurt me more than the rape.

Her account of the incident indicates the somewhat detached tone of this memoir. Whether reflecting on her fruitless search for her birth parents, or the New Jersey ex-boyfriend who stalked her and threatened her with a gun, or the close shave with a man who offered her a lift, and whom she believes to have been the serial killer Ted Bundy, Harry allows no room for shock, sadness or vulnerability. This is, of course, the authors prerogative and doesnt mean that the book is without depth or charm. She can be caustic and funny, and is drily unfazed by the antics of her mostly male peers. While on tour with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, the latter flashes his penis at Harry in the dressing room as if I were the official cock checker or something. Noting Bowies generously proportioned appendage, she is moved to wonder why Iggy didnt let me have a closer look at his dick.

As her star rises in the late 1970s, towering cultural figures drift in and out of her orbit, among them Miles Davis, Patti Smith, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol. While playing a series of shows in LA, she and Stein are invited to meet Phil Spector at his mansion. He greets them with a Colt 45 in one hand and a bottle of Manischewitz [kosher wine] in the other. Elsewhere, there are forays into film she played a neglected wife in Marcus Reicherts Union City, and Velma Von Tussle in John Waterss Hairspray. She and Stein were keen to re-make the 1965 film Alphaville, and even bought the rights from its director Jean-Luc Godard for a thousand dollars. Only later did they learn that they werent his to sell.

By the early 1980s, band relations were fraught. A last-minute tour cancellation because of Steins ill health (he was later diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease) was the final straw and Blondie fell apart. Shortly afterwards, they discovered they had accrued two years worth of unpaid taxes, prompting Harry to lose her house, her car and even some of her clothes. Swallowing her fury, and having nursed Stein back to health, she got back to work.

Inevitably, Harrys tales of her solo ventures and Blondies eventual reunion lack the atmosphere and excitement of the early years, and its with more than a little awkwardness that she shoehorns in details of her current day-to-day life to spice things up. Could my routines reveal further insight into what makes me tick? she asks, treating us to her morning schedule of letting the dogs out and making coffee, to which the answer is: no.

But when not resorting to padding, Face It makes for an engaging and occasionally surprising read. Its a shame that Harry passes up the chance to dig deeper into her experiences of objectification and the nature of fame, but more disappointing is that we learn so little about her interior life, and how she really thinks and feels. Perhaps thats to be expected from a notoriously private star with such an acute understanding of image. Rather than expose her inner workings to the world, Harry has determined to stay mysterious to the last.

Face It by Debbie Harry is published by HarperCollins (RRP 20) To order a copy go to or call 020-3176 3837. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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Musician says in memoir the pair dated, but Portman disputes account, saying my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me

Natalie Portman has criticised Moby for a very disturbing account of their friendship in his new memoir Then It Fell Apart, comments which he has since contested.

In the book, the musician, now 53, claims the pair dated when he was 33 and Portman was 20, after she met him backstage in Austin, Texas. He recounts going to parties in New York with her, and to see her at Harvard University, kissing under the centuries-old oak trees. At midnight she brought me to her dorm room and we lay down next to each other on her small bed. After she fell asleep I carefully extracted myself from her arms and took a taxi back to my hotel. He says that he then struggled with anxiety about their relationship: It wanted one thing: for me to be alone nothing triggered my panic attacks more than getting close to a woman I cared about. Later, he writes: For a few weeks I had tried to be Natalies boyfriend, but it hadnt worked out, writing that she called to tell him she had met someone else.

Portman disputes Mobys account. I was surprised to hear that he characterised the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school, she told Harpers Bazaar. He said I was 20; I definitely wasnt. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18. There was no fact-checking from him or his publisher it almost feels deliberate. The book has their first meeting dated as early September 1999, which would have made Portman who was born in June 1981 18.

She added: That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasnt the case. There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact-check.

She says Moby had told her lets be friends, and that they had hung out a handful of times.

Moby has responded to her comments, posting a picture of them together on Instagram, and saying that her account confused me, as we did, in fact, date. And after briefly dating in 1999 we remained friends for years. I like Natalie, and I respect her intelligence and activism. But, to be honest, I cant figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. He said the book account was accurate, with lots of corroborating photo evidence, etc.

He added: I completely respect Natalies possible regret in dating me (to be fair, I would probably regret dating me, too), but it doesnt alter the actual facts of our brief romantic history.

Then It Fell Apart is Mobys second memoir, following the account of his rise to fame in Porcelain. Alongside starry encounters with Bono, David Bowie, Russell Crowe, David Lynch and more, he recalls a time he touched his naked penis against Donald Trump as a bet at a party.

He also says that he worked with and tried dating Lizzy Grant (spelled in the book as Lizzie Grant), who went on to become the pop star Lana Del Rey. She had short, bleached hair and looked like a beautiful elf I sat next to her on the piano bench and started kissing her. She kissed me back but then stopped. Whats wrong? I asked. I like you. But I hear you do this with a lot of people. I wanted to lie, to tell her that I didnt, that I was chaste, sane, and ethical. But I said nothing.

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Bass guitarist said he pretty much raped a woman in band autobiography The Dirt, but now apologises for possibly making the story up

Nikki Sixx, bassist with 1980s rock band Mtley Cre, has apologised over a story from the bands autobiography The Dirt in which he admitted to pretty much raping a woman.

In the book, Sixx recounts an incident in which he tricked a woman into believing she was having sex with him in a dark closet at a party, when it was actually bandmate Tommy Lee. The woman reported being raped later that night in a separate incident as she attempted to hitchhike home. On hearing of the second incident, Sixx said that it made him realise I had probably gone too far At first, I was relieved, because it meant I hadnt raped her. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I pretty much had. I was in a zone, though, and in that zone, consequences did not exist.

Mtley Cre in their pomp, in 1984. Photograph: Paul Natkin/WireImage

In a statement to Rolling Stone, Sixx has somewhat retracted the story. I dont actually recall that story in the book beyond reading it, he said. I have no clue why its in there other than I was outta my head and its possibly greatly embellished or [I] made it up. Those words were irresponsible on my part. I am sorry.

He said he did not recall the story because, when the book was being written in 2000, he was at a really low point in my life. I had lost my sobriety and was using drugs and alcohol to deal with a disintegrating relationship which I still to this day regret how I handled. I honestly dont recall a lot of the interviews with Neil, referring to Neil Strauss, who wrote the book with the band.

He added: There is a lot of horrible behaviour in the book. What I can tell you is that we all lived to regret a lot and learned from it. We own up to all our behaviour that hurt ourselves, our families, friends and any innocents around us.

The Dirt has been adapted for a film biopic by Netflix, to be released on 22 March.

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Essays from Zadie Smith, Arnhem from Antony Beevor and novels from Julian Barnes, Sarah Perry, Pat Barker, Rachel Cusk and Bill Clinton. Place your book orders now


Peter Carey. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian


The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers (Hamish Hamilton). Eggers tells the story of a fellow San Franciscan and coffee enthusiast Mokhtar Alkhanshali, raised by Yemeni immigrant parents, who travelled to Yemen to learn about the origins of coffee making and is caught up in the civil war.

Writers Luck: A Memoir 1976-1991 by David Lodge (Harvill Secker). This second volume of autobiography covers the years of the British author and academics greatest success, with the publication of novels such as Nice Work.

Where the Past Begins: A Writers Memoir by Amy Tan (4th Estate). The author of The Joy Luck Club writes about her traumatic childhood and her complex relationship with her father.

The Growth Delusion by David Pilling (Bloomsbury). The story of our ill-judged obsession with GDP, and how we should be measuring societies.


A Long Way from Home by Peter Carey (Faber). The double Booker winner scrutinises Australian identity, indigenous and white, through the story of one womans involvement in a brutally punishing 1950s round-Australia motorsport race.

The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor (4th Estate). Spinoff tales about the characters from the Costa-winning Reservoir 13.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani (Faber). This French bestseller, which won the Prix Goncourt, probes fault lines of class, race and gender through the tale of a nanny who is fatally attached to the family she serves.

Turning for Home by Barney Norris (Doubleday). The follow-up to the playwrights debut novel, the quietly brilliant Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain, focuses on a family gathering.

The Unmapped Country by Ann Quin (And Other Stories). Rare stories and unpublished fragments from the radical 1960s writer.

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Oneworld). Generations of a family suffer under a curse in a Ugandan epic spanning the last 250 years that blends oral storytelling, myth and folklore and has been described as the most important book to come out of Uganda for half a century.


Dont Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (Chatto). An interrogation of race, sexuality and social justice featuring a sequence imagining the afterlife of black men shot by the police.

Events and anniversaries

15 TS Eliot prize awarded.

30 Costa book of the year chosen from the winners of the five categories: novel, first novel, biography, poetry and childrens.


Zadie Smith. Photograph: Brian Dowling/Getty Images


Feel Free: Essays by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton). Smith is as accomplished an essayist as she is a novelist; her subjects here range from Quentin Tarantino to Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging by Afua Hirsch (Cape). An examination of everyday racism in Britain and why liberal attempts to be colour-blind have caused more problems than they have solved.

The Wifes Tale: A Personal History by Aida Edemariam (4th Estate). A narrative of Ethiopia over the past century that centres on Edemariams remarkable and long-lived grandmother.

Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker (Allen Lane). In a follow-up to his bestselling The Better Angels of Our Nature, the Harvard psychologist argues that our turbulent times require not despair but reason and Enlightenment values.


The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (Cape). The cult American author, who died last year, was most celebrated for his only short story collection, Jesus Son; this posthumous collection, completed shortly before his death, sees him contemplating memories and mortality.

The Only Story by Julian Barnes (Cape). A man looks back on how, as a disaffected youth, he fell gloriously in love with a married older woman at the local tennis club; the book gradually darkens into the tragedy of a destroyed life.

The Melody by Jim Crace (Picador). From the author of Harvest, a fable about grief, myth, music and persecution, in which a widowed musician indavertently sparks a campaign of violence against the paupers scratching a living on the fringes of town.

Force of Nature by Jane Harper (Little, Brown). The Dry was one of the stand-out crime debuts of 2017; Australian author Harper follows it with a story of women hiking in the bush five go out, but only four come back.


The Wren Hunt by Mary Watson (Bloomsbury). YA debut about a girl caught between rival magical factions.

Events and anniversaries

1 Centenary of the birth of Muriel Spark.

2 Film adaptation of RC Sherriffs first world war play Journeys End.


Neil MacGregor. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian


Living With the Gods by Neil MacGregor (Allen Lane). The book of the British Museum exhibition and BBC Radio 4 series from the author of A History of the World in 100 Objects.

Debussy: A Painter in Sound by Stephen Walsh (Faber). The acclaimed classical music writer on the French impressionist composer.

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan (Square Peg). The journalist takes a trip back to Narnia and Wonderland, and gets reacquainted with some of the favourite characters of our collective childhoods.

Free Woman by Lara Feigel (Bloomsbury). The prolific scholar and reviewer on the life and works of Doris Lessing.


Dead Mens Trousers by Irvine Welsh (Cape). The Trainspotting crew return; Renton is now an international jetsetter and Begbie a famous artist. But with Sick Boy and Spud trying their luck in the world of organ-harvesting, whos wearing dead mens trousers?

Bizarre Romance by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell (Cape). Riffs on life and love in prose and comic strip form, from the author of The Time Travelers Wife and her graphic artist husband.

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey (Cape). A Somerset man is drowned and the village priest must investigate a medieval mystery from one of the UKs most exquisite stylists.

Upstate by James Wood (Cape). Why do some find life so much harder than others? The leading literary critic delves into depression and the meaning of existence in a novel about family relationships.

Almost Love by Louise ONeill (Riverrun). First adult novel from the author of the scorching YA book about rape culture Asking for It charts the abusive relationship between a young woman and an older man.


Anecdotal Evidence by Wendy Cope (Faber). In Copes first new collection since 2011, she engages with figures from Shakespeare to Eric Morecambe.


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Macmillan). Epic fantasy YA debut of magic and war, inspired by the history and myth of west Africa.

Events and anniversaries

Centenary of publication of Marie Stopes Married Love.

13 Macbeth begins an RSC season in which the new productions are all directed by women, including a musical about Joan Littlewood.

18 250th anniversary of the death of Laurence Sterne.

28 150th anniversary of the birth of Maxim Gorky.


Viv Albertine To Throw Away Unopened. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian


The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli (Allen Lane). The bestselling author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is back with an exploration of the meaning of time.

The Cost of Living by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton). The author of novels Hot Milk and Swimming Home also wrote Things I Dont Want to Know, a living autobiography on writing and womanhood. This short memoir is the second instalment.

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine (Faber Social). In her followup to the much-praised Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys., the former Slits guitarist uncovers truths about her family.

Mothers: An Essay on Love and Cruelty by Jacqueline Rose (Faber). Its always the mothers fault the renowned feminist critic on the ultimate scapegoat for our personal and political failings.

Rosie by Rose Tremain (Chatto). The novelists first non-fiction book is a childhood memoir that casts a revealing light on the vanished world of 1940s and 1950s England.


Agency by William Gibson (Viking). The new novel from the colossus of SF switches between a world in which Hillary Clinton won the US election and London two centuries in the future, after most of the global population has perished.

Circe by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury). The Song of Achilles won the Orange prize in 2012; Millers follow-up stays in the world of Homers Odyssey to explore the story of the witch-goddess who turns Odysseuss men into pigs.

I Still Dream by James Smythe (Borough). A 17-year-old girl builds herself an AI system in her bedroom: as the decades pass, it grows with her. An investigation into artificial and human intelligence, which extends into the past and future.

Never Greener by Ruth Jones (Bantam). A debut novel about second chances from the actor and screenwriter best known for Gavin and Stacey.

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal (Viking). In the follow-up to My Name Is Leon, a young Irish woman in 70s Birmingham is caught up in whirlwind romance and tragedy.

Macbeth by Jo Nesb (Hogarth). The project to novelise Shakespeare continues, with the Norwegian crime writer imagining the antihero of the Scottish play as a drug addict turned cop.

Patient X by David Peace (Faber). The author of GB84 and The Damned Utd is here inspired by the life and stories of the great Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, best known for Rashomon.


Europa by Sean OBrien (Picador). The multi-prize-winning poet focuses on past and uncertain future entanglements between Britain and continental Europe.

Events and anniversaries

10-12 London book fair, with the Baltic countries as this years market focus.

20 Release of Mike Newells film Guernsey, set in the late 40s and based on the novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

23 Womens prize for fiction shortlist.


Zora Neale Hurston Barracoon. Photograph: Little & Brown Publishing


Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston (HarperCollins). A previously unpublished work, in which the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God recounts the true story of the last known survivor of the Atlantic slave trade.

How to Change Your Mind: Exploring the New Science of Psychedelics by Michael Pollan (Allen Lane). The author celebrated for eat food, not too much, mostly plants takes a voyage to the frontiers of human consciousness.

Arnhem: The Last German Victory by Antony Beevor (Viking). The bestselling historian on the great airborne battle for the bridges in 1944.

Shapeshifters: On Medicine & Human Change by Gavin Francis (Profile). The GP and author of the bestselling Adventures in Human Being combines case studies with cultural observation as he examines how our minds and bodies undergo constant change.

Behold, America by Sarah Churchwell (Bloomsbury). A partial history of US rightwing isolationism and the America First movement.


Last Stories by William Trevor (Viking). One of the publishing events of the year: a posthumous collection of 10 final stories from the Irish master of the short form.

Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey (Viking). The followup to Elizabeth Is Missing is the story of a 15-year-old-girl who goes missing, and comes back unharmed but changed.

Kudos by Rachel Cusk (Faber). A female writer travels round a turbulent Europe in the final volume of Cusks innovative trilogy about how we construct our own identities.

The Neighbourhood by Mario Vargas Llosa (Faber). The latest from the Peruvian Nobel laureate features two wealthy couples in 1990s Lima embroiled in political corruption and erotic intrigues.

A Shout in the Ruins by Kevin Powers (Sceptre). Six years after winning the Guardian first book award with his Iraq novel The Yellow Birds, the former soldier explores the violence of the American civil war.


The Colour of the Sun by David Almond (Hodder). The real and the imaginary blend for one Tyneside boy on one sunny day, in the new novel from the author of Skellig.

Events and anniversaries

75th anniversary of first publication (in the US) of TS Eliots Four Quartets.

8 Rathbones Folio prize awarded.

22 Man Booker international prize ceremony.

24 Hay festival opens (continues until 3 June).


Bill Clinton The President Is Missing. Photograph: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP


Liquid: The Delightful and Dangerous Substances That Flow Through Our Lives by Mark Miodownik (Viking). The scientist and broadcaster discusses liquids in a book structured around a plane journey.

Fully Automated Luxury Communism by Aaron Bastani (Verso). This influential voice on the British left looks at automation, machine learning, gene editing and asteroid mining to argue that communism is possible: the third disruption after agriculture and the industrial revolution.

Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna (Canongate). Part memoir from the film-maker and part biography, incorporating interviews with his friends, subtitled a life in art.

Fallout: Disasters, Lies and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age by Fred Pearce (Granta). The science and environment journalist in a shocking book that considers seven decades of nuclear technology.


The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson (Century). The former president brings insider detail to a political thriller written with the mega-selling Patterson.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Cape). His first novel since 2012s Cats Table is set in London after the blitz, as two children are apparently abandoned and left in the care of an eccentric, possibly criminal figure.

Girl, Balancing and Other Stories by Helen Dunmore (Hutchinson). Dunmore became the posthumous winner of the Costa poetry prize for Inside the Wave; this collection of stories will be published a year after her death.

Crudo by Olivia Laing (Macmillan). Set in the febrile summer of 2017, an autobiographical fiction debut from the author of The Lonely City, about hitting 40 and finding intimacy in a world that seems to be spiralling out of control.

You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian (Cape). The debut collection from the author of 2017s most discussed short story, Cat Person, is expected to be published some time in the summer.


Blackbird, Bye Bye by Moniza Alvi (Bloodaxe). A collection unified by an engagement with birds that examines immigration, grief and art.

Events and anniversaries

6 Womens prize for fiction winner announced.

15 Film version of On Chesil Beach, self-adapted by Ian McEwan, starring Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle.


After two years of careful consideration, Robert McCrum has concluded his selection of the 100 greatest nonfiction books of all time. Take a quick look back at five centuries of great writing

1. The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014)
An engrossing account of the looming catastrophe caused by ecologys neighbours from hell mankind.

2. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
This steely and devastating examination of the authors grief following the sudden death of her husband changed the nature of writing about bereavement.

3. No Logo by Naomi Klein (1999)
Naomi Kleins timely anti-branding bible combined a fresh approach to corporate hegemony with potent reportage from the dark side of capitalism.

4. Birthday Letters by Ted Hughes (1998)
These passionate, audacious poems addressed to Hughess late wife, Sylvia Plath, contribute to the couples mythology and are a landmark in English poetry.

5. Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama (1995)
This remarkably candid memoir revealed not only a literary talent, but a force that would change the face of US politics for ever.

6. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)
The theoretical physicists mega-selling account of the origins of the universe is a masterpiece of scientific inquiry that has influenced the minds of a generation.

7. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe (1979)
Tom Wolfe raised reportage to dazzling new levels in his quest to discover what makes a man fly to the moon.

8. Orientalism by Edward Said (1978)
This polemical masterpiece challenging western attitudes to the east is as topical today as it was on publication.

9. Dispatches by Michael Herr (1977)
A compelling sense of urgency and a unique voice make Herrs Vietnam memoir the definitive account of war in our time.

10. The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1976)
An intoxicating renewal of evolutionary theory that coined the idea of the meme and paved the way for Professor Dawkinss later, more polemical works.

Tom Wolfe in 2012. Photograph: Mark Seliger/AP

11. North by Seamus Heaney (1975)
This raw, tender, unguarded collection transcends politics, reflecting Heaneys desire to move like a double agent among the big concepts.

12. Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (1973)
Sackss moving account of how, as a doctor in the late 1960s, he revived patients who had been neurologically frozen by sleeping sickness reverberates to this day.

13. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (1970)
The Australian feminists famous polemic remains a masterpiece of passionate free expression in which she challenges a womans role in society.

14. Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom by Nik Cohn (1969)
This passionate account of how rocknroll changed the world was written with the wild energy of its subject matter.

15. The Double Helix by James D Watson (1968)
An astonishingly personal and accessible account of how Cambridge scientists Watson and Francis Crick unlocked the secrets of DNA and transformed our understanding of life.

16. Against Interpretation by Susan Sontag (1966)
The American novelists early essays provide the quintessential commentary on the 1960s.

17. Ariel by Sylvia Plath (1965)
The groundbreaking collection, revolving around the poets fascination with her own death, established Plath as one of the last centurys most original and gifted poets.

18. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
The book that ignited second-wave feminism captured the frustration of a generation of middle-class American housewives by daring to ask: Is this all?

19. The Making of the English Working Class by EP Thompson (1963)
This influential, painstakingly compiled masterpiece reads as an anatomy of pre-industrial Britain and a description of the lost experience of the common man.

20. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)
This classic of American advocacy sparked a nationwide outcry against the use of pesticides, inspired legislation that would endeavour to control pollution, and launched the modern environmental movement in the US.

Susan Sontag, pictured in 1975. Photograph: The Peter Hujar Archive; courtesy Pace MacGill Gallery

21. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S Kuhn (1962)
The American physicist and philosopher of science coined the phrase paradigm shift in a book that is seen as a milestone in scientific theory.

22. A Grief Observed by CS Lewis (1961)
This powerful study of loss asks: Where is God? and explores the feeling of solitude and sense of betrayal that even non-believers will recognise.

23. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and EB White (1959)
Dorothy Parker and Stephen King have both urged aspiring writers towards this crisp guide to the English language where brevity is key.

24. The Affluent Society by John Kenneth Galbraith (1958)
An optimistic bestseller, in which JFKs favoured economist promotes investment in both the public and private sectors.

25. The Uses of Literacy: Aspects of Working-Class Life by Richard Hoggart (1957) This influential cultural study of postwar Britain offers pertinent truths on mass communication and the interaction between ordinary people and the elites.

26. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin (1955)
Baldwins landmark collection of essays explores, in telling language, what it means to be a black man in modern America.

27. The Nude: A Study of Ideal Art by Kenneth Clark (1956)
Clarks survey of the nude from the Greeks to Picasso foreshadows the critics towering claims for humanity in his later seminal work, Civilisation.

28. The Hedgehog and the Fox by Isaiah Berlin (1953)
The great historian of ideas starts with an animal parable and ends, via a dissection of Tolstoys work, in an existential system of thought.

29. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1952/53)
A bleakly hilarious, enigmatic watershed that changed the language of theatre and still sparks debate six decades on. An absurdist masterpiece.

30. A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David (1950)
This landmark recipe book, a horrified reaction to postwar rationing, introduced cooks to the food of southern Europe and readers to the art of food writing.

American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin in 1979. Photograph: Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images

31. The Great Tradition by FR Leavis (1948)
The controversial critics statement on English literature is an entertaining, often shocking, dissection of the novel, whose effects are still felt to this day.

32. The Last Days of Hitler by Hugh Trevor-Roper (1947)
The historians vivid, terrifying account of the Fuhrers demise, based on his postwar work for British intelligence, remains unsurpassed.

33. The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care by Dr Benjamin Spock (1946)
The groundbreaking manual urged parents to trust themselves, but was also accused of being the source of postwar permissiveness.

34. Hiroshima by John Hersey (1946)
Herseys extraordinary, gripping book tells the personal stories of six people who endured the 1945 atom bomb attack.

35. The Open Society and Its Enemies by Karl Popper (1945)
The Austrian-born philosophers postwar rallying cry for western liberal democracy was hugely influential in the 1960s.

36. Black Boy: A Record of Childhood and Youth by Richard Wright (1945)
This influential memoir of a rebellious southern boyhood vividly evokes the struggle for African American identity in the decades before civil rights.

37. How to Cook a Wolf by MFK Fisher (1942)
The American culinary icon was one of the first writers to use food as a cultural metaphor, describing the sensual pleasures of the table with elegance and passion.

38. Enemies of Promise by Cyril Connolly (1938)
Connollys dissection of the art of writing and the perils of the literary life transformed the contemporary English scene.

39. The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell (1937)
Orwells unflinchingly honest account of three northern towns during the Great Depression was a milestone in the writers political development.

40. The Road to Oxiana by Robert Byron (1937)
Much admired by Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, Byrons dazzling, timeless account of a journey to Afghanistan is perhaps the greatest travel book of the 20th century.

George Orwell seen at his typewriter. Photograph: Mondadori/Getty Images

41. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (1936)
The original self-help manual on American life with its influence stretching from the Great Depression to Donald Trump has a lot to answer for.

42. Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain (1933)
Brittains study of her experience of the first world war as a nurse and then victim of loss remains a powerful anti-war and feminist statement.

43. My Early Life: A Roving Commission by Winston Churchill (1930)
Churchill delights with candid tales of childhood and boys own adventures in the Boer war that made him a tabloid hero.

44. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves (1929)
Gravess account of his experiences in the trenches of the first world war is a subversive tour de force.

45. A Room of Ones Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
Woolfs essay on womens struggle for independence and creative opportunity is a landmark of feminist thought.

46. The Waste Land by TS Eliot (1922)
Eliots long poem, written in extremis, came to embody the spirit of the years following the first world war.

47. Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed (1919)
The American socialists romantic account of the Russian revolution is a masterpiece of reportage.

48. The Economic Consequences of the Peace by John Maynard Keynes (1919)
The great economists account of what went wrong at the Versailles conference after the first world war was polemical, passionate and prescient.

49. The American Language by HL Mencken (1919)
This declaration of linguistic independence by the renowned US journalist and commentator marked a crucial new chapter in American prose

50. Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (1918)
Stracheys partisan, often inaccurate but brilliant demolitions of four great 19th-century Britons illustrates life in the Victorian period from different perspectives.

Virginia Woolf, pictured in 1933. Photograph: Central Press/Getty Images

51. The Souls of Black Folk by WEB Du Bois (1903)
The great social activists collection of essays on the African American experience became a founding text of the civil rights movement.

52. De Profundis by Oscar Wilde (1905)
There is a thrilling majesty to Oscar Wildes tormented tour de force written as he prepared for release from Reading jail.

53. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1902)
This revolutionary work written by Henry Jamess less famous brother brought a democratising impulse to the realm of religious belief.

54. Brief Lives by John Aubrey, edited by Andrew Clark (1898)
Truly ahead of his time, the 17th-century historian and gossip John Aubrey is rightly credited as the man who invented biography.

55. Personal Memoirs by Ulysses S Grant (1885)
The civil war general turned president was a reluctant author, but set the gold standard for presidential memoirs, outlining his journey from boyhood onwards.

56. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain (1883)
This memoir of Samuel Clemenss time as a steamboat pilot provides insight into his best-known characters, as well as the writer he would become.

57. Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson (1879)
The Scottish writers hike in the French mountains with a donkey is a pioneering classic in outdoor literature and as influential as his fiction.

58. Nonsense Songs by Edward Lear (1871)
The Victorians loved wordplay, and few could rival this compendium of verbal delirium by Britains laureate of nonsense.

59. Culture and Anarchy by Matthew Arnold (1869)
Arnold caught the public mood with this high-minded but entertaining critique of Victorian society posing questions about the art of civilised living that still perplex us.

60. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (1859)
Darwins revolutionary, humane and highly readable introduction to his theory of evolution is arguably the most important book of the Victorian era.

Mark Twain. Photograph: Alamy

61. On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
This fine, lucid writer captured the mood of the time with this spirited assertion of the English individuals rights.

62. The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands by Mary Seacole (1857)
A gloriously entertaining autobiography by the widely revered Victorian sometimes described as the black Florence Nightingale.

63. The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell (1857)
Possibly Gaskells finest work a bold portrait of a brilliant woman worn down by her fathers eccentricities and the death of her siblings.

64. Walden by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
This account of one mans rejection of American society has influenced generations of free thinkers.

65. Thesaurus by Dr Peter Mark Roget (1852)
Born of a Victorian desire for order and harmony among nations, this guide to the English language is as unique as it is indispensable.

66. London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew (1851)
The influence of the Victorian journalists detailed, dispassionate descriptions of London lower-class life is clear, right up to the present day.

67. Household Education by Harriet Martineau (1848)
This protest at the lack of womens education was as pioneering as its author was in Victorian literary circles.

68. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)
This vivid memoir was influential in the abolition of slavery, and its author would become one of the most influential African Americans of the 19th century.

69. Essays by RW Emerson (1841)
New Englands inventor of transcendentalism is still revered for his high-minded thoughts on individuality, freedom and nature expressed in 12 essays.

70. Domestic Manners of the Americans by Frances Trollope (1832)
Rich in detail and Old World snobbery, Trollopes classic travelogue identifies aspects of Americas national character still visible today.

Frederick Douglass, pictured in 1855. Photograph: Library of Congress/Getty Images

71. An American Dictionary of the English Language by Noah Webster (1828) Though a lexicographical landmark to stand alongside Dr Johnsons achievement, the original sold only 2,500 copies and left its author in debt.

72. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey (1822)
An addiction memoir, by the celebrated and supremely talented contemporary of Coleridge and Wordsworth, outlining his life hooked on the the drug.

73. Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb (1807)
A troubled brother-and-sister team produced one of the 19th centurys bestselling volumes and simplified the complexity of Shakespeares plays for younger audiences.

74. Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa by Mungo Park (1799)
The Scottish explorers account of his heroic one-man search for the river Niger was a contemporary bestseller and a huge influence on Conrad, Melville and Hemingway.

75. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1793)
The US founding fathers life, drawn from four different manuscripts, combines the affairs of revolutionary America with his private struggles.

76. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
This radical text attacked the dominant male thinkers of the age and laid the foundations of feminism.

77. The Life of Samuel Johnson LLD by James Boswell (1791)
This huge work is one of the greatest of all English biographies and a testament to one of the great literary friendships.

78. Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke (1790)
Motivated by the revolution across the Channel, this passionate defence of the aristocratic system is a landmark in conservative thinking.

79. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano by Olaudah Equiano (1789)
The most famous slave memoir of the 18th century is a powerful and terrifying read, and established Equiano as a founding figure in black literary tradition.

80. The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne by Gilbert White (1789)
This curates beautiful and lucid observations on the wildlife of a Hampshire village inspired generations of naturalists.

Mary Wollstonecraft. Photograph: Alamy

81. The Federalist Papers by Publius (1788)
These wise essays clarified the aims of the American republic and rank alongside the Declaration of Independence as a cornerstone of US democracy.

82. The Diary of Fanny Burney (1778)
Burneys acutely observed memoirs open a window on the literary and courtly circles of late 18th-century England.

83. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (1776-1788)
Perhaps the greatest and certainly one of the most influential history books in the English language, in which Gibbon unfolds the narrative from the height of the Roman empire to the fall of Byzantium.

84. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)
Blending history, philosophy, psychology and sociology, the Scottish intellectual single-handedly invented modern political economy.

85. Common Sense by Tom Paine (1776)
This little book helped ignite revolutionary America against the British under George II.

86. A Dictionary of the English Language by Samuel Johnson (1755)
Dr Johnsons decade-long endeavour framed the English language for the coming centuries with clarity, intelligence and extraordinary wit.

87. A Treatise of Human Nature by David Hume (1739)
This is widely seen as the philosophers most important work, but its first publication was a disaster.

88. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729)
The satirists jaw-dropping solution to the plight of the Irish poor is among the most powerful tracts in the English language.

89. A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain by Daniel Defoe (1727) Readable, reliable, full of surprise and charm, Defoes Tour is an outstanding literary travel guide.

90. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke (1689)
Eloquent and influential, the Enlightenment philosophers most celebrated work embodies the English spirit and retains an enduring relevance.

Graham Caveneys defiant, important memoir details how the Catholic establishment fails abuse victims

Pope Francis has taken great strides in challenging all sorts of entrenched attitudes and prejudices in the Vatican that have given the Catholic church such a bad name of late. Progress has been disappointingly slow, however, on the commission he appointed in 2014 to tackle the appalling scandal of clerical sexual abuse. In March of this year Marie Collins, the last remaining member of the panel who was a survivor of abuse, resigned after a Vatican department failed to comply with the commissions recommendation that it respond to every correspondent who writes in with allegations that they have been a victim. If the curia is resisting such simple steps, how to have faith that they will tackle the bigger underlying issues?

Reluctance to face up to the consequences of clerical abuse remains hard-wired into the structures of the church: an instinct to protect the institution at the cost of the individual who has suffered, and a brick-wall resistance to addressing the profound questions about the nature of vocation posed by such abhorrent behaviour. And so church leaders not all, granted; certainly not Pope Francis tend to speak of historical allegations whenever victims find the courage to speak up 20, 30 or even 40 years after events that are not for them in any way historical, but are a psychological and emotional trauma they will live with until their dying day.

Individuals like Graham Caveney. The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness recounts with great courage and candour how, in the 1970s, as the clever, awkward, nerdy, only child of devoutly Catholic working-class parents in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his local grammar school in Blackburn, and then sexually abused by him.

A casual glance might suggest he has managed to put it behind him he has a successful career as a writer on music (the sounds of the 70s are one thread of this well-structured, rounded memoir) and biographer of William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. But as he describes, without self-pity, Caveney dropped out of university, struggled to form adult relationships, turned to drink and drugs to blot out the trauma, and on occasion attempted suicide.

The abuse leads you to fuck up yourlife, he reflects bleakly but unsparingly, and a fucked-up life means that youre a less credible witness to the abuse that fucked you up in the first place. Its an ironic trick of memory and survival: abuse makes you want to forget the abuse.

John and Kath, his mum and dad, had no idea what was wrong. They watched their beloved boy, in whom they had invested so much hope that he would have more life opportunities than them, change first into a sulky, angry adolescent who refused to go to mass, and then into a messed-up wreck, beset by panic attacks.

They died in 1998 and 2002, still none the wiser. They continued to direct their flailing son back towards his old headteacher for wise counsel, never suspecting that Father Kevin ONeill had sexually abused him as a 15-year-old and set off the downward spiral.

The Caveneys had believed that the youthful, relaxed Rev Kev the Catholic equivalent of a trendy vicar was doing their boy a favour by taking him to theatres, cinemas and restaurants, broadening his mind. Whatthey couldnt know was that on the way home, the priest they looked up to would turn his car into quiet side-road and force himself on their son. Later, when he invited young Graham to go on holiday to Greece with him and a group of others, John and Kath enlisted the help of relatives to scrape together the cost, but it was just a pretext for more abuse.

Its them that I cant forgive you for, Caveney writes, addressing his abuser in the pages of a book that must have cost him dear to complete, the way in which you made their hopes and aspirations the tools of your own needs. Its them who spent their lives worrying if it was something they had done wrong to make their boy turn out the way he did.

Given how much Catholic grammar schools from the 1950s through to the 1970s were the route by which generations of working-class Catholic boys and girls got on in life the Irish Christian Brothers in my own home town of Liverpool boasted that they took the sons of dockers and made them into doctors it is impossible to believe that the betrayal of Graham Caveney and his parents is an isolated case. How widespread it is, however, remains impossible to know because every bit of information has to be dragged out of a compulsively secretive church that recoils from thinking in terms of deep-rooted, complex patterns of abuse.

And what happened when Caveney identified his abuser in the early 1990s to Father ONeills religious order, the Marists? Id just slashed up my arms, he adds, by way of context. The priest was challenged, apparently confessed his crimes, but was referred to a US therapy centre rather than the police. In 1993, he retired with full honours as headteacher. Kath even sent her son a cutting about the celebrations from the local paper. You were always one of his favourites, she reminded him. The report told of ex-pupils lining up to sing the priests praises, little suspecting how they too had been betrayed.

ONeill died in 2011, the serious charges against him covered up to the grave. He still doesnt seem to appear on any register I can find of abusive clergy. What distresses Caveney almost as much as the churchs failure to involve the police and courts is that he now can never confront his abuser, save in this raw, defiant but important memoir. A part of him, he confesses, still thinks in his darkest moments that what happened was somehow his own fault.

What was it about me? he asks. You see, theres a bit of me that still believes Im unique, that I really was your prime number, indivisible only by myself. I dont want to think of myself as part of a pattern, just another victim.

ONeills old school, St Marys, Blackburn, today has a drama block named after him, an honour accorded despite the Marist order having been told about Caveneys allegations nearly 20 years earlier. Is it plausible that there is no one who knew of them who could have spoken up? Or did they consider that whatever good he had done at the school cancelled out sexually abusing a 15-year-old in his care? It is part of the same impossible-to-fathom and offensive attitude that now apparently stops Vatican officials answering letters from those reporting abuse, in defiance of the pope.

Quite how long it will take for that prejudice to be defeated, I dont know. But after they have read The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness, the school governors might at least like to revisit the naming of their drama block, which rubs salt into open wounds.

Peter Stanford is a former editor of the Catholic Herald

The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness by Graham Caveney is published by Picador on 7 September (14.99). To order a copy for 12.74 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

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John Crace takes a memoir by the bete noir of the far right, and cuts it down to size

This is the book people said couldnt be published because I was so dangerous. Well, you dont get to silence The Worlds Most Dangerous Faggot that easily. Have I said that I am dangerous? And a faggot? Thats because I am a dangerous faggot. Grrr. Be afraid. Very afraid. Or, failing that, just a bit bored.

So my $15m book deal got cancelled because a few snowflakes were a little upset about something I said about paedophilia. Well, diddums. Get over yourself. The truth cannot be silenced by Fake News. Lets get something straight: I never said it was OK for men to have sex with babies. Everyone has to draw the line somewhere and thats mine. All I said was that it was perfectly cool for men to have sex with 13-year-olds. What could possibly be controversial about that?

People are afraid of me because I am richer and more handsome than them. I also Love Using Capital Letters. Capital Letters Are so LIKE DANGEROUS. Donald Trump uses CAPITAL LetteRS a lot too, because he iS aLso daNGErouS. I like to call Donald TruMp Daddy. Yeah! DaDDy hates ForeIgNers and people I hate too. That makes hIm RITE. If I mention NIEtzscHe will anyone taKe me more SERIOUSLY?

All lefties hate me. Why? Because I am dangerOUs. I say the things no one else dares too. So let me say it loUD and cLear. The reason the white working class are so pissed off is because GOVERNMENTS spend all their money on blacks, MusLIms and fat people. Thats a Fact. As JaMes HalfWIT rote on BreitbART, 75% of all tax revenuEs get spent on Obese Black Muslims, so it Must be true.

Sum people have said Im a racist. FAKE NewS. Im a Jew and I love Jews. StoPPing peepul from saying what they want is a fundamental Denial of freedom of Speech. Like Twitter. And Facebook. Both of them are left-wing fascist organisations that have tried to ban me.

On Twitter my haNdle was @NERO. Nero was like me. Handsome. Faggot. And DangerOUS. All I did was call a black actress fat. Whats wrong with that. She is black and fat. People should be called out for being Fat. If you tell someone they are fAT often enough, they might lose wait and live a BIT longer. So I was doing the FATTy a favour.

Dangerous by Milo Yiannopoulos (Dangerous Books, 21.95)

Black people hate mE. But I dont Care because I am dANGErous. Like MadonnA. She was DanGErous too. Black Lives Matter is one of the biggest evils in modern society. So a couple of thousand BLAck guys get gunned down by the poliCE every year. FAKE NEWS! Anyone can make an hoNEst mistake. What leftwing rags like the Guardian, the New York Times and other papers dont say is that the people doing the most killINg of black guys is OtheR black guys. Youd have thought that if Black Lives really did Matter, then black people would stop killing one aNother.

Gays hate me too. Dont get me wrong. I am not A self-hating faggot. I love being Gay because most GayS are a great deal thinnER than heteroSEXuals. My issue is with gays who want to get married. BeinG married is NORMAL and Being Gay isnt. The reason I chose Yes, CHOSE to be gay is because it isnt normal. ITs TransGRessive and DANGEROUS. And I know I am right because STEVE BANNON and DADDY agree with me.

All Muslims are a menace. Dont be taken in by their beards and their LAME claims to piety. They are all potential suicide bombers. They prey on the weak. Thats why so many GINGERS like LINdsay LOHAN are attracted to Islam. Daddy is doing exactly the right thing by building a wall between MexiCo and the US because its only way to stop the country being flooded with Muslims. If you dont believe me, try reading St ThomaS Aquinas. Make America Great Again.

I am the best. I am the strongest. Only I can save the world from the lefty EVIL that pervades it. I am the Saviour. I am DanGEROUS. Please dont ignore me. Anything but that. Where are you? Im here. Im still here

Digested read, digested: desperate.

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What to pack along with the aftersun and flipflops? From novels about gay footballers and updated Greek classics to biographies and poetry, our guest critics offer their holiday must-reads

John Banville

Colm Tibns exhilarating House of Names (Viking 14.99) is a retelling of Aeschyluss drama on the sacrificing by Agamemnon of his daughter Cassandra and its tragic consequences, including the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytemnestra. The book has a controlled, hushed quality, like that of a Morandi still life, which only serves to heighten the terror and pity of the tale. Michael Longleys latest collection, Angel Hill (Jonathan Cape 10) what a genius he has for titles is at once lush and elegiac, delicate and muscular, melancholy and thrilling. I shall not be going anywhere hate holidays but will stay happily at home, rereading Evelyn Waughs second world war Sword of Honour trilogy (Penguin 14.99). Pure bliss.

Clover Stroud

With five children to entertain, Im not sure how much reading Ill actually do on holiday in Santander this summer, but luckily I have already romped through my best summer books.

Haunted by the shadow of a father killed in a motorbike accident, William Giraldis The Heros Body (No Exit Press 9.99) is a terse, gripping memoir set in working-class New Jersey. Giraldis hyper-masculine childhood is a foil for his revelations on the true fragility of male identity. I loved Elizabeth Days glamorous thriller The Party (4th Estate 12.99), about a sinister secret between two friends that unravels in midlife. Days writing is both elegant and claustrophobic, and deeply revealing of how entrenched questions of class remain today. I could not put it down. And I galloped through Mr Darleys Arabian (John Murray 25), Christopher McGraths brilliantly colourful romp through the extraordinary horses and scandalous characters who make up the history of British horse racing.


AM Homes

Neel Mukherjees A State of Freedom (Chatto & Windus 16.99) is a brilliant novel, deeply compassionate and painterly, reminding me of Howard Hodgkins paintings. Mukherjee brings to life the colours and sounds of a place where modern life is constantly crashing against tradition. And in my suitcase: Howard Jacobsons Pussy(Vintage 12.99), because as much as I need to laugh, I also need to confirm that my sense of horror is not just in my imagination but indeed shared; David Goodharts The Road to Somewhere(C Hurst & Co 20), because I am still looking for clues as to how we got where we are, and where we might be headed next; Don DeLillos entire backlist, and a bit of Norman Mailer because in retrospect, despite what one might call his personality problems with women, he was an amazing writer with a political eye.

Curiously, Im coming to the UK, spending a month in Oxford, keen to look at a landscape other than my own.

Curtis Sittenfeld

I loved the novel The Idiot (Jonathan Cape 16.99) by Elif Batuman. Its about a girl in her first year at Harvard in the mid-90s, and her email correspondence (when email is still new) with an older male student. The whole novel is full of hilarious, brilliant observations about writing, life and crushes. I was also blown away by Jane Mayers nonfiction book Dark Money (Scribe Publications 9.99), which meticulously, fascinatingly and horrifyingly explains how eccentric American billionaires hijacked our democracy. Im travelling to see my sister in Providence, Rhode Island, this summer, and Ill take the story collection Strangers to Temptation (Hub City 13.33) by Scott Gould (about a boy in the American south of the 1970s) and the novel Silver Sparrow (Algonquin) by Tayari Jones (about two girls in the American south of the 1980s). Im hearing buzz about Joness 2018 novel (An American Marriage) so I thought Id read this one first.

Melvyn Bragg

In the 11 skilfully detailed chapters of The Matter of the Heart (Bodley Head 20), Thomas Morris gives us the spectacular history of heart surgery. He spares us nothing and in gripping stories delivers everything you would want to know about his superbly chosen subject. Deaths of the Poets by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape 14.99) is a witty and erudite journey into the characters of doomed poets using location as a steer. Chatterton kicks off and along the way there are arguments for and against the notion of whether poets are especially doomed artists. Surprisingly entertaining. For my own travels, I shall be taking House of Names by Colm Tibn (Viking 14.99). Tibns recent masterworks, Brooklyn and Nora Webster, gave little intimation that he would home in on the bloodiest violence in Greek tragedy for this novel. I cant wait to see what he does with it.


Jackie Kay

Id recommend readers take poetry with them on holiday poetry is so portable, travels light, but digs deep. Id take Hollie McNishs Nobody Told Me (Blackfriars 13.99), winner of this years Ted Hughes award, and a funny, very moving collection, taken originally from the poets diaries, about motherhood. Another wonderful debut is Kayombo Chingonyis Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus 10) a subtle and affecting, lyrical and powerful collection that explores boyhood, rites of passage, the ancient and the modern world. Id pack the small poetry pamphlet Toots by Alyson Hallett (Mariscat Press 6) poems so fresh and enlivening, you want to knock back the whole book with a cold beer. Im hoping to go to the Greek island of Halki. I went last year and loved it. And Im going to pack George Mackay Browns short stories Andrina (Polygon 7.99), having just come back from St Magnus festival in Orkney. I love the mystery and militancy he weaves into stories like The Box of Fish. And Im also going to take Maxine Beneba Clarkes The Hate Race (Corsair 18.99) a powerful memoir about growing up black in Australia.

Harriet Lane

Based on a True Story (Bloomsbury 12.99) by Delphine de Vigan (elegantly translated by George Miller) is a wonderful literary trompe loeil, a novel about identity and writing, reality and imagination. Its dark, smart, compelling and extremely French. I also enjoyed James Lasduns The Fall Guy(Jonathan Cape 12.99), a creepy little satire in which several New Yorkers, none of them terribly appealing, escape the city heat for a summer in the Catskills, and Denise Minas bleak and atmospheric The Long Drop(Harvill Secker 12.99).

For my own holiday (rural East Sussex, near Eastbourne the sunshine coast!), I will pack Amanda Craigs The Lie of the Land (Little, Brown 16.99) and Susie Steiners Persons Unknown(Harper Collins 12.99).

Patrick Ness

Definitely take two titles from the Baileys prize longlist this year (both of which, I think, are better than the winner): CE Morgans The Sport of Kings (4th Estate 16.99), contender for the Great American Novel, and Heather ONeills The Lonely Hearts Hotel (Quercus 16.99). For your teen, After the Fire (Usborne 8.99) by Will Hill a tough, enthralling YA novel about the Waco cult. I just got back from holiday, where I finally read Wilkie Collinss The Woman in White(Alma Books 4.99), which is, if were honest, ridiculous but ridiculously enjoyable, and Adam Johnsons fascinating Pulitzer prize-winning novel about North Korea, The Orphan Masters Son(Black Swan 8.99). Go big; youve got the time.


Lionel Shriver

I strongly recommend Lawrence Osbornes forthcoming novel Beautiful Animals(Hogarth 14.99), about two young women who try to help a refugee washed up on the Greek island where their families are holidaying. The altruism doesnt end well Im also intrigued by Dirk Kurbjuweits novel Fear (Text Publishing), about a stalker living downstairs. Im not finished, but so far so good. While in both NY and on a quick first trip to Mexico, I also hope to get through Preparation for the Next Life (Oneworld 8.99) by Atticus Lish, a strenuous recommendation by my friend Tracy Chevalier, and perhaps to finally have a go at CE Morgans The Sport of Kings (4th Estate 16.99).

Kirsty Wark

Sebastian Barrys Days Without End (Faber 8.99) is a novel so rich with character, so visceral in its action, that you literally hold your breath reading it. The character and voice of Thomas McNulty who escapes the Irish famine and becomes embroiled in both the American Indian wars and the American civil war will last in your mind much longer than your summer holiday. For a fast-paced, brilliantly constructed thriller with a difference, reach for Robert Harriss Conclave (Cornerstone 20). All you wanted to know about the Vatican but were too scared to ask. Ill be taking Richard Fords memoir Between Them: Remembering My Parents (Bloomsbury 12.99) in my own book bag in preparation for interviewing the author at the Edinburgh book festival (and also rereading Canada, which I loved first time around) as well as Judy Murrays Knowing the Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story (Chatto & Windus 18.99) because, quite simply, she is inspirational, passionate and great fun. I admire her enormously and theres always the chance that my serve might improve.

Cornelia Parker

Dadland (Vintage 8.99) by Keggie Carew is a brilliant, bittersweet biography of her maverick, charismatic father Tom Carew. He was an undercover agent in Vichy France, a guerrilla fighter, Lawrence of Burma, and very possibly the inspiration for his friend Patricia Highsmiths infamous character Ripley. We Do Things Differently: The Outsiders Rebooting Our World (Profile 12.99) by Mark Stevenson is an inspiring book that makes you feel optimistic about the future; much needed at this moment in time. I have just finished reading Zeitoun (Penguin 9.99) by Dave Eggers a chilling factual account of a family caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and an indictment of Bushs America. I wonder how the inevitable climate-related disasters will fare under Trump?


Rohan Silva

You cant go wrong with Harriet Harmans wonderful autobiography A Womans Work (Allen Lane 20) its just so human and inspiring, and my favourite book of the year so far. The Nature Fix (WW Norton & Co 20) by Florence Williams is an ideal holiday pick too, chock-full of insights about the health benefits of spending time in nature. (It turns out that lying on the beach is good for you.) And if youre worried about the state of the world, Matthew Boltons brilliant How to Resist (Bloomsbury 9.99) shows how each of us can do our bit to fight populism.

As for me, Ill be packing Arundhati Roys new novel The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton 18.99), which Ive been saving for my travels. Im sure itll be worth the wait.

Carol Morley

When I go on holiday I love to read short stories. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? (Granta 12.99) by the film-maker Kathleen Collins is a beautiful collection, written in the 60s and 70s, but unpublished in her lifetime. I also love the language and surprises in Irenosen Okojies collection Speak Gigantular (Jacaranda Books Art Music Ltd 8.99). For August, I have pre-ordered We That Are Young (Galley Beggar Press 9.99) by Preti Taneja. It sounds wonderful an epic family tale involving corruption and betrayal that looks to hold a mirror to our times.

Mark Haddon

I need you to read four books, so Ill be brief. The Man Booker-shortlisted Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Oneworld 12.99) is a single afternoons disturbing read that will haunt you for weeks. Joe Moshenskas A Stain in the Blood: The Remarkable Voyage of Sir Kenelm Digby (Cornerstone 20) reads like a thrilling historical novel but amazingly happens to be nonfiction. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan 20) is the best true-crime reportage and simultaneously the best memoir Ive read for several years. And The Unaccompanied by Simon Armitage (Faber 14.99) won me over completely after a period of several years in which I suffered a profound allergy to poetry of all kinds.

My own summer reading (during a week in Portugal and a week in Switzerland in an attempt to satisfy all family members) will be the new translation of The Arabian Nights by Malcolm C Lyons (Penguin Classics). Its three volumes of a thousand pages each so it may be my reading for the following summer as well.


Louise Doughty

Ive been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and three very different books that Ive admired are: The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich (Macmillan 20), true crime in the same category as Truman Capote or Janet Malcolm; A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney (Aurum Press 20), about friendship between famous female writers; and Hannah Lowes engaging cross-cultural memoir, Long Time No See (Periscope 9.99). Its time for some novels on holiday I think its going to be Croatia this year and were living in a golden age for genre-busting fiction, narrative-driven books that are still beautifully written. Among the many Im looking forward to catching up with are The Party by Elizabeth Day (4th Estate 12.99), The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig (Little, Brown 16.99) and two debuts, You Dont Know Me by Imran Mahmood (Michael Joseph 12.99) and Conversations With Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber 14.99) good prose and a secret waiting to be unlocked are always a winning combination for me.

Laura Barnett

No suitcase should be without a copy of The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss (Granta 12.99) one of the sharpest, most startlingly original novels Ive read in years. And while A Manual for Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink (Picador 8.99) might not sound like holiday reading, its the perfect choice for anyone keen to use the time off to make sense of any recent emotional upheaval.

Many people I respect have raved about Amy Liptrots The Outrun (Canongate 8.99), so Ill be taking that to a yoga retreat in Sweden. And Fran Coopers debut novel These Dividing Walls (Hodder & Stoughton 14.99) will be coming with me on a weekend trip to Paris: its set in the city, and I cant resist a location-appropriate holiday read.

Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara.

Marina Warner

I recommend: The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (Solaris 10.99), entertaining, sexy, and mischievous; The Power (Penguin 12.99) an enthrallingly told Cassandra-like prophecy from the ever-inventive Naomi Alderman; and Lesley Nneka Arimahs tales, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Headline 14.99), ranging from the memorably weird to the delicate and psychological. Ill be going to Sicily, and am packing Jerry Brotton, This Orient Isle: Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (Allen Lane 20), which continues his brilliant recovery of the intertwined Mediterranean, and Jack Zipess Catarina the Wise (University of Chicago Press 15), a fabulous dish of frutti di mare.


Nick Hornby

Two books have stood out for me so far this year: Keggie Carews Dadland (Chatto & Windus 16.99) and Francesca Segals The Awkward Age (Chatto & Windus 14.99). Carews memoir about her father follows a winding, extraordinary path through the thickets of dementia and the jungles of Burma a thrilling, bloody, educative history of Churchills Special Operations Executive (AKA the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare) in the second world war combined ingeniously with a tender, moving, funny portrait of the authors father. Segals The Awkward Age is a very smart, soulful, compelling, elegantly written domestic novel about a wedged-together family, and what can go wrong when teenage children decide they have minds (and hormones) of their own. I will be sitting on a sun-lounger reading Glenn Frankels High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic(Bloomsbury 30), Naomi Aldermans The Power (Penguin 12.99), and one of the many classics that I have hitherto ignored, Willa Cathers Death Comes for the Archbishop (Virago 8.99).

Lucy Hughes-Hallett

I recommend A Bold and Dangerous Family (Chatto & Windus 20), Caroline Mooreheads humane and engrossing book about two brothers, both courageous anti-fascists, murdered by Mussolinis hit men. Also Standard Deviation (4th Estate 12.99) Katherine Heinys novel is a comic masterpiece and her Audra is the funniest heroine ever. A faltering marriage, a vulnerable child, an origami class full of seriously weird loners dark material transformed into pure gold by Heinys spot-on comic timing. Ill be in Suffolk rereading another comic masterpiece The Diary of a Nobody (Penguin 6.99) because Rough Haired Pointers hilarious stage version (directed by my daughter Mary Franklin) returns to the Kings Head Islington from 31 October.

Julie Myerson

Ive been writing a novel of my own, which means I can only allow in certain voices and so am woefully behind on reading, but Delphine de Vigans Based on a True Story (Bloomsbury 12.99) hit the exact right note: frighteningly honest, precise and thrilling. I hope to spend most of August by the bluest of blue seas in East Sussex where I will sit under a huge purple umbrella reading Elizabeth Strouts Anything Is Possible (Viking 12.99), Monique Roffeys The Tryst (Dodo Ink 8.99) and Richard Lloyd Parrys Ghosts of the Tsunami (Jonathan Cape 16.99) all of them enticing-sounding books by proper grown-up writers who arent afraid to go to uneasy places and whose work I have previously found so inspiring.


Frank Cottrell-Boyce

Andrew OHagans The Secret Life (Faber 14.99) brings together three brilliant pieces hes written about the impact of the digital world on our fleshly selves. They are written like thrillers freighted with challenging and urgent questions. In these dark times we have a responsibility to imagine what good times would look like. Rutger Bregmans Utopia for Realists (Bloomsbury 16.99) is a cheery rough guide to an archipelago of ideal societies. In my suitcase, as we head to the west of Ireland, is Walter Millers sci-fi classic about a future monastic society, A Canticle for Leibovitz (Orbit 9.99), and this years Carnegie winner, Ruta Sepetyss Salt to the Sea (Puffin 7.99) the story of the greatest maritime disaster of all time. On audible Ive got Stay With Me (Canongate 14.99) by Aybmi Adby.

Alex Preston

Im going to be speaking about a neglected classic Charles Sprawsons extraordinary literary history of swimming, Haunts of the Black Masseur (Vintage 9.99) on the brilliant Backlisted podcast in a few weeks time. Its the perfect poolside companion. If youre holidaying in more rugged terrain, how about Adam Nicolsons light-filled hymn to the birds of our coasts and oceans, The Seabirds Cry (HarperCollins 16.99)? I adored it. Finally, Ive been delighted to see Amanda Craigs The Lie of the Land (Little, Brown 16.99) being garlanded with such praise. Its a hell of a novel dark, gripping and beautifully written. For my own holidays in France, Ill be taking two advance proofs that have got me moist-palmed with anticipation. Ive read bits of Anthony McGowans The Art of Failing (Oneworld 12.99, out in September) and cant wait to immerse myself in this excruciating memoir of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. Kamila Shamsies new one, Home Fire (Bloomsbury 16.99, also September), reimagines Antigone in two modern Muslim families.

Linda Grant

The most memorable nonfiction work of the year so far has been Allan Jenkinss Plot 29(4th Estate 14.99), his account of a search for family and the solace of gardening which for me, as a new gardener, was an instructive pleasure. Gwendolyn Rileys First Love (Granta 12.99) is a tremendous novel with an unreliable narrator and one of the most enjoyable monsters in contemporary fiction, the mother, holding forth in a Liverpool cafe. Loved it. Ive come absurdly late to Henry James having developed an allergy reading The Ambassadors as a set university text. I expect to finish The Portrait of a Lady (Vintage, 6.99) in Fowey, Cornwall. So much more fun than Middlemarch.


Geoff Dyer

For long summer days I warmly recommend Gerard Revess hilariously gloomy The Evenings (originally published in Dutch in 1947 but only recently appearing in English courtesy of the Pushkin Press, 12.99). I see it as a Dutch version of Kafkas Metamorphosis in which the narrator who lives at home with his parents instead of turning into a giant bug undergoes a psychic disintegration which is all but unnoticeable on the outside. In the intriguingly titled Novel 11, Book 18 (Vintage 8.99) Norwegian writer Dag Solstad serves up another helping of his wan and wise almost-comedy. (Lydia Davis taught herself Norwegian entirely from his books.) My wife and I are heading that way-ish, to Iceland, where Ill be reading Raja Shehadehs Where the Line Is Drawn: Crossing Boundaries in Occupied Palestine (Profile 14.99).

Charlotte Mendelson

Reading has always been everything: until now. My concentration is shot; life is complicated, the news is so bad. Dozens of just-begun books pile up by my bed; the only two that gripped me to the end are Susie Steiners novel Persons Unknown (HarperCollins 12.99) and Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevichs The Fact of a Body(Macmillan 20). Holiday reading makes me panic at the best of times, which this is not. The classics I mean to bring Laxness, Chekhov will stay on the shelf. I can manage Elizabeth Strout, and Alys Fowlers Hidden Nature(Hodder & Stoughton 20); Im impatient for Maggie OFarrells memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am (Headline 16.99), out in August, and Alan Hollinghursts sixth novel The Sparsholt Affair (Picador, October). Please hurry; meanwhile its back to my crime stockpile, and trying to ignore the news enough to write.

Alastair Campbell

At the risk of coming over all Remainiac, I am recommending a French book as the best I have read this year. Lettres Anne by Franois Mitterrand (Gallimard 35), is a 1,200-page collection of the letters the former French president wrote to his mistress, Anne Pingeot, over the decades of their love affair. It is breathtakingly romantic at times. I would also recommend The End of Europe by James Kirchick (Yale University Press 18.99), a young Americans brilliant analysis of the dire state of world politics. The subtitle, Dictators, Demagogues and the Coming Dark Age, gives you a flavour. Putin, Trump and Brexit figure large, and Kirchick shares my exasperation that we are turning away from liberal values and the benefits of the EU. Top of my reading list for the summer is The Jacobite Trilogy by DK Broster. I have read the first of the three, Flight of the Heron. I have also got the new book about Emmanuel Macron, Un jeune homme si parfait, by Anne Fulda (Plon 15,90). And, yes, I am going to France.


Julian Baggini

Travel will for once broaden your mind this year if you pack Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperbers The Enigma of Reason (Allen Lane 25). It takes the new common sense that human beings are governed by irrational emotions and shows why these are not design flaws in the brain but design features. Erica Benners Be Like the Fox (Allen Lane 20) turns more conventional wisdom upside down by showing that Machiavelli was not as Machiavellian as you thought. Im hoping to be in post-deadline mode at home reading David Foster Wallaces essays on tennis, String Theory (Turnaround 16.99), ready to start watching the real thing if it disappoints.

Suzanne OSullivan

I will be alternating scuba diving with lots of reading on a Maldivian island this summer. I plan to take The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (Pan 8.99). Henriettas story is extraordinary she changed the world without ever knowing it. I will also be reading Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt (Granta 12.99). Im a big admirer of deWitts originality. And I recommend In

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In this extract from his memoir, Bill Hayes, partner of Oliver Sacks, recalls the neurologists unworldly charm, their remarkable stay with Bjrk in Iceland, and the dignity of Sackss final weeks

He wrote me a letter. Thats how we met. He had read my book, The Anatomist, in proof, and enjoyed it. (I meant to provide a blurb, but got distracted and forgot.) This was when I was still in San Francisco early 2008. This was when people still wrote letters regularly and when one got a letter, sat down and wrote a letter back.

Dear Mr Hayes
Dear Dr Sacks

Thus, a correspondence between O and me began.

A month later, I happened to be in New York and, at Olivers invitation, paid a visit. We had lunch at a cafe across the street from his office: mussels, fries, and several rounds of dark Belgian beer. We lingered at the table, talking, well into the afternoon. We found we had something other than writing in common: he, too, was a lifelong insomniac indeed, from a family of insomniacs. (It was understood at an early age that one could not sleep without sedation, he told me wryly.)

I had not known had never considered whether he was hetero- or homosexual, single or in a relationship. By the end of our lunch, I hadnt come to any firm conclusions on either matter, as he was both very shy and quite formal qualities I do not possess. But I did know that I was intrigued and attracted. How could one not be? He was brilliant, sweet, modest, handsome, and prone to sudden, ebullient outbursts of boyish enthusiasm. I remember how O got quite carried away talking about 19th-century medical literature, its novelistic qualities an enthusiasm I shared.

We stayed in touch. I sent him photographs I had taken in Central Park of bare tree limbs. I thought they looked like vascular capillaries. With his neurologists eye, he felt they looked like neurons.

I am reminded of how Nabokov compared winter trees to the nervous systems of giants, he wrote back.

I was sort of smitten, I had to admit.

Even so, that was that for then. There was an entire country between us, not to mention 30 years age difference. My decision to move to New York more than a year later really had nothing to do with Oliver, and I certainly did not have a relationship in mind. I had simply reached a point in my life where I had to get away from San Francisco and all the memories it held and start fresh.

But once I moved, O and I started spending time together and quickly got better and better acquainted.

Not long after I moved to New York, Michael Jackson died. O had no idea who Michael Jackson was. What is Michael Jackson? he asked me the day after the news not who but what which seemed both a very odd and a very apt way of putting it, given how much the brilliant singer had transmuted from a human into an alien being. O often said he had no knowledge of popular culture after 1955, and this was not an exaggeration. He did not know popular music, rarely watched anything on TV but the news, did not enjoy contemporary fiction, and had zero interest in celebrities or fame (including his own). He didnt possess a computer, had never used email or texted; he wrote with a fountain pen. This wasnt pretentiousness; he wasnt proud of it; indeed, this feeling of not being with it contributed to his extreme shyness. But there was no denying that his tastes, his habits, his ways all were irreversibly, fixedly, not of our time.

Do I seem like I am from another century? he would sometimes ask me, almost poignantly. Do I seem like I am from another age?

You do, yes, you do.

For me, this was part of the fascination with him. I was seeing a few other men during my first summer in New York, but dates with O were completely different. We didnt go to movies or to MoMA or to new restaurants or Broadway shows. We took long walks in the botanical garden in the Bronx, where he could expatiate on every species of fern. We visited the Museum of Natural History not for the dinosaurs or special exhibitions but to spend time in the often empty, chapel-like room of gems, minerals, and, especially, the elements O knew the stories behind the discoveries of every single one. At night, we might walk from the West Village to the East, O talking excitedly nonstop, to have a beer and burger at McSorleys OldAleHouse.

I learned that not only had he never been in a relationship, he had also never come out publicly as a gay man. But in a way, hed had no reason to do so he hadnt had sex in three-and-a-half decades, he told me. At first, I did not believe him; such a monk-like existence devoted solely to work, reading, writing, thinking seemed at once awe-inspiring and inconceivable. He was without a doubt the most unusual person I had ever known, and before long I found myself not just falling in love with O; it was something more, something I had never experienced before. I adored him.

Spring Shadows. Photograph: Bill Hayes

26 August 2012
I, listening to Bjrk on my iPod; O, reading and writing in his travel journal; We: drinking champagne on a flight to Reykjavk. I look over and see O making a list in his journal. He tells me he is writing out all the elements that are NOT present in the human body:


When I ask, he names each of them, following my finger as I go down the list. He interrupts himself at one point: They like to be remembered and recited like this. They? O nods. He could not look more delighted, and its not because of the alcohol. Listed separately, under the heading No or infinitesimal, are the exceptions. He goes on to explain the difference between organic and nonorganic chemistry. I do not and expect I never will understand half of what heissaying.

28 August 2012
Bjrk invited us to her home in Reykjavk for lunch a remarkable afternoon; O said it best: Everything was unexpected. The two met a couple of years ago when Bjrk asked Oliver to appear in a BBC documentary about music, but they had never spent time together socially. And in fact, O knew very little about her work up until shortly before we made this trip. I got a DVD compilation of her music videos and conducted a crash course in Bjrk for him. O sat on the edge of his bed, inches from the TV screen, as he needs to in order to hear properly, and watched without stirring, mesmerised especially by the visuals, for 90 minutes. Because of his face blindness, which makes it difficult for O to recognise people not only on the street but also in movies and on TV, hed sometimes ask, Is that Bjrk? or, Which one is Bjrk? A swan dress one minute, robotic gear the next, her constant changing of costumes and hairstyles utterly confounded him, but he was deeply impressed by her artistry.

We pulled into the driveway at the back of Bjrks home and I saw her through the kitchen window. She looked to be in the middle of a task, concentrating. A simple hedge fenced the house. There was a child-sized table and chairs in the front yard, the setting for a tea party. We didnt see a path, so we parted a hedge awkwardly and made our way to the front door. She answered. In my memory, she curtsied. Of course she didnt, but her air of modesty and respect in greeting O had that feeling. She ushered us into the dining room, where a table was set.

Bjrks hair was up, held by a barrette with blue feathers. She wore a simple tunic made from several different kinds of coloured and patterned fabric; she may have made it herself. She wore white pants under the tunic and wedge sandals. Her face: unlined, no makeup, pretty; eyes the color of jade; lush, jet-black eyebrows, shaped like two feathers.

Bjrk urged us to sit and eat. The chairs were carved from tree stumps. The tablecloth was embroidered with seashells. On the table: warm, salted mixed nuts in tiny dishes. Almost immediately, she brought out a steamingpan of baked trout, a salad and a bowl of boiled potatoes I like it with the skins left on, she said, almost apologetically, dont you? O and Inodded.

Conversation was lively. We talked about Iceland, about Olivers new book, Hallucinations; about her CD, Biophilia, and her new projects. She told us that shed recorded Biophilia (its name inspired by Olivers Musicophilia) in the lighthouse Id spotted the night before when I was chasing down the sunset. Bjrk said she had a calendar in the kitchen with the time for the tide going in and out, so they would know when they could get to the lighthouse and how long they would be stuck there while the tide was in. She laughed. It was really, really good, because it forced me to work; I couldnt leave if I wanted to.

After eating, Bjrk led us from the table, through a little door, and to the stairs. These were not stairs in any conventional way. Oliver ever the naturalist knew exactly: Why, these are basalt stones! This looks like a stairway carved out of a wall of basalt! Bjrk nodded. Adding to this remarkable sight: the railing in the winding stairway was made of whale rib bones. Bjrk smiled and helped Oliver up. And this, she pointed to the shimmering lamp hanging overhead, dropping into the stairwell actually my daughter and I made it out of mussel shells. It wasnt supposed to be permanent, but we like it.

She wandered into an upper room, and we followed. There, she showed us two custom-made instruments, a celeste and what looked like a harpsichord. Both had been modified somehow through instructions from a programme on her Mac. I could tell that O was completely lost as sheexplained how this worked. Yet it was then, right then, that I realised how much she and O were alike fellow geniuses, incredibly, intuitively brilliant while being at the same timesuch an unlikely pair of friends.

Back downstairs, Bjrk brought out a gooseberry pie, with berries picked from her own trees. Shed made it with her daughter the night before. As she was the cook, of course she had to have the first piece, she said, pointing out the missing wedge. She served it topped with fresh, plain skyr, which has a sour bite to it along with coffee and tea. The tea set was out of Alice in Wonderland each cup literally half a cup, sliced in half. Ive learned that these are for right-handed people, these teacups, she says, or I learn who is left-handed by watching them try to drink from them. She giggled.

We finished the pie. I looked at Olivers watch and saw that it was almost 3.30; wed been here three hours. Oliver signed an advance copy of Hallucinations You will be the only person in all of Iceland with this book and I gave her a copy of one of mine. For Bjrk, with gratitude, I signed it.

30 December 2012
On a red-eye to Reykjavk for New Years Eve: Leaving New York, the city looked embroidered in gold thread. Now, clouds and stars, and what sounds like a hymn: Craving miracles Bjrk sings.

1 January 2013
Supper of skyr, biscuits and tea in our tiny hotel room. Recovering. Snow falling. Last night, a New Years Eve dinner at Bjrks, was like being safely in the middle of a very happy war; a huge bonfire on the beach across the street from her home encircled by people singing; fireworks going off in every direction, from every home, all night long, and culminating in a chaotically beautiful, or beautifully chaotic, fireworks display at midnight in the town square. As if the sky were full of shooting stars. As the church bells pealed 12 times. As the ground was snow-covered, white, the floor of a cloud. As everyone kissed and hugged one another. Bottles of champagne and brennivn, an Icelandic schnapps clear and strong.

17 February 2013
Oliver and I went to a small chamber orchestra concert at the American Irish Historical Society, a jewel box of a building directly across the street from the Metropolitan Museum. He knows the Irish gentleman who organises these concerts, Kevin. They feature students from Juilliard. Very intimate. Unpretentious. Free of charge. A handful of people in folding chairs maybe 40. Kevin had saved seats for O and me in the front row. Just as he was making his introductions, a woman rushed in by herself and plopped on to the cushy rose-coloured sofa right next to our seats: Lauren Hutton, the model from the 70s: I recognised her instantly by her gap-toothed smile and slightly crossed eyes. Now in her late 60s, still beautiful, her face naturally lined. And, one couldnt help but notice, she had a big bruiser of a black eye.

The concert began with no further ado, and we all sat back and enjoyed the programme Brahms, Haydn, Ravel by these enchanting musicians.

With the final note, Lauren Hutton was the first to pop up and give the trio a standing ovation. Do you have a fan club? she yelled above the clapping; it was a little startling, like someone yelling in a church. Im starting your fan club. Youre fantastic, youre going places! The musicians bowed shyly and departed.

There was a small reception afterwards. Nothing fancy two bottles of San Pellegrino and a couple bottles of wine but no bottle-opener. O and I were talking with Kevin when Lauren Hutton walked up to us: Do one of you kind gentlemen have an opener? Even a knife would do I could pry it open with a penknife.

Why dont you use your teeth? I said to her.

She laughed and smiled that famous gap-toothed smile. I could. I could have once, but she wandered off. The bottle got opened somehow. Eventually she circled back and poured water for everyone. She overheard Oliver talking to Kevin about his new book, Hallucinations, which was coming out in a couple weeks. Lauren leaned across the table and listened intently.

Hey doc, you ever done belladonna? she asked. Now theres a drug!

Well, as a matter of fact, yes, I have, and he proceeded to tell her about his hallucinations on belladonna. They traded stories. Eventually she began to figure out that this wasnt his first book.

Are you are you Oliver Sacks? The Oliver Sacks? Oliver looked both pleased and stricken.

Well, it is very good to meet you, sir. She sounded like a southern barmaid in a 50s western. But it wasnt an act. Ive been reading you since way back. Oliver Sacks imagine that!

Oliver, I should note, had absolutely no idea who she was, nor would he understand if I had pulled him aside and told him.

Fashion? Vogue magazine? No idea

The two of them hit it off. She was fast-talking, bawdy, opinionated, a broad the opposite of Oliver except for having in common that mysterious quality: charm.

Somewhere along the way, she explained the black eye: a few days earlier, she had walked out of a business meeting at which shed learned that she had been robbed of a third of everything shed ever earned, and in a daze walked smack into a scaffolding pipe at eye level on the sidewalk. She didnt seem too bothered by it: shithappens.

I looked up and saw that the room was empty by now but for Kevin and us.
Well, gentlemen, Im going downtown. Share a cab?
Uh, we have a car, I said.
Even better. Much more civilised. Im downtown.
How could one refuse? Lets go, shall we? I said. Lauren Hutton offered Oliver an arm and we walked slowly to the parking garage. I pushed things out of the way in the back seat; she tossed in her handbag, and dove in. She immediately popped her head between our seats the three of us were practically ear-to-ear.

Her incredible face blocked my rearview mirror. When O took out his wallet to give me a credit card for the parking, she spotted the copy of the periodic table he carries in lieu of a drivers licence. This prompted a series of questions about the periodic table, the elements, the composition of the very air we were breathing. A dozen questions led to a dozen more, like a student soaking up knowledge. We talked about travels Iceland, Africa and Plato, Socrates, the pygmies, William Burroughs, poets She was clearly intensely curious, life-loving, adventurous. In passing, she said something about having been a model The only reason I did it was so I could make enough dough to travel but otherwise didnt say anything about that part of her life. Traffic was thick, so it took quite a while to get downtown.

Eventually, we reached her address, or close enough.

Well, gentlemen, it has been a true pleasure. I cannot thank you enough. This is where I exit. Goodbye for now. And she was gone, as suddenly as shed arrived. Oliver took a breath as we headed west and home. I dont know who that was, but she seems like a very remarkable person.

12 January 2015
Got back last night from St Croix in the US Virgin Islands a birthday trip. I turned 54 (equivalent to the atomic number for xenon, so O gave me four xenon flashlights). O did not feel well much of the time nauseated, tired, slept a lot. We almost cancelled the trip, last minute. Two nights before we left, he told me he had dark urine. I was sceptical hes hypochondriacal even on good days, as he is the first to admit.But I could see he was worried, talked him into peeing into a clear glass so I could check, and was startled when he brought it into the kitchen; his urine was the colour of Coca-Cola. It seemed to clear up some while we were in St Croix. Even so, he had made a doctors appointment before leaving for the trip.

O just returned from his GP, who thinks he has some kind of gallbladder inflammation, maybe gallstones. Did an ultrasound, but theyre running moretests.

15 January 2015
Os doctor phoned: peculiar findings re: Cat scan yesterday. So: am taking him to see a radiologist at Sloan Kettering. They want to see him thisafternoon.

Olivers Periodic Table.

Sloan Kettering is a cancer hospital, but cancer had not entered my mind. I was still banking on the possibility of gallstones; I thought, at worst, Oliver might have to have his gallbladder removed. I remember the doctor entering the consulting room with a young medical fellow (he was from Italy, I think), and how nervous the young man looked. The doctor got right to it and told us that he had carefully reviewed the Cat scan and, although a confirmatory biopsy would have to be performed, he was 90% sure of the diagnosis and said he had some tough news. I remember that word, tough. He asked Oliver if hed like to see the Cat scan. Oliver said yes, of course, and he flipped on the computer monitor.

Later he told me that he knew instantly what the scan said. I did not, and I was stunned when the radiologist explained that what we were looking at was a recurrence of the uveal melanoma Oliver had had nine years earlier a cancer arising from the pigment cells in his right eye; over time, it had metastasised to his liver, which was now riddled like Swiss cheese with tumours. He enlarged the image on the monitor, so the white spots the tumours looked as large as those made by a hole punch. In cases like this, with a possibility of the cancer spreading, and at Olivers age, the doctor said, neither a liver resection nor a liver transplant would be possible. What has stuck with me so clearly is how calmly Oliver took this news. It was as if he was expecting it, as perhaps he was. He sort of tilted his head and stroked his beard and asked about the prognosis, and the doctor said: Six to 18 months.

And theres no effective treatment?

The doctor didnt say no, but he didnt say yes. He explained what could be done, that everything possible would be done, an oncology team was already in place, hed just gotten off the phone with a specialist, and so on, but Oliver cut him off. He said he was not interested in prolonging life just for the sake of prolonging life. Two of his brothers had died of different forms of cancer, and both had regretted undergoing horrid chemotherapy treatments that had done nothing but ruin their last months.

I want to be able to write, think, read, swim, be with Billy, see friends, and maybe travel a bit, if possible. Oliver added that he hoped not to be in ghastly pain or for his condition to become humiliating, and then he fellsilent.

The next day, we went swimming at noon, as we always did on Fridays, and then spent a quiet weekend together, taking walks, reading, listening to music, going to the open-air market at Abingdon Square, cooking, both of us trying to absorb the overwhelming news. Oliver consulted with a few colleagues, including the ophthalmologist who had treated his cancer years before; he had had a chance to look at the Cat scan, too. Recurrences such as this were considered extremely rare, yet the consensus seemed to be that the preliminary diagnosis was most likely correct and that treatment options were few.

Over the weekend, Oliver mentioned a few times that he was considering writing a little piece about receiving his diagnosis. And on Sunday night, after we had made dinner and cleared the dishes, he took up a small notepad and his fountain pen. Well, lets see He paused. I suppose I want to begin by saying that a month ago, I felt that I was in good health. But now my luck has run out

Hold it, I interrupted, let me get a pen. I did so, and a notepad, and I scribbled what he had just said. OK, keep going. From there, Oliver dictated the entire essay, nearly verbatim to the version that would eventually appear in the New York Times.

He spent several days tinkering with it but then he set it aside. Oliver worried that his feelings were perhaps too raw, and felt it was too soon to publish it, given that most of his friends and family members did not yet know his news.

In lieu of any experimental treatments, Oliver made the decision to go ahead with a surgical procedure called an embolisation, which would cut off blood supply to the tumours in his liver and therefore kill them off temporarily (they would inevitably return, he was told). Dramatically lowering the tumour burden held thepromise of offering him several more months of active life. As we waited in the hospital for him to be admitted for surgery, Oliver suddenly turned to Kate [Edgar, Sackss long-time friend and collaborator] and me and said he felt the time was right to send the piece over to the New York Times. Neither of us questioned him; we just said, OK. Kate emailed the essay to our mutual editor at the Times, and we heard back almost immediately: They wanted to run the piece the next day. We asked for one extra day to get Oliver safely through the procedure first and they agreed. Olivers essay My Own Life was scheduled for publication on 19 February 2015.

17 February 2015
In post-surgery recovery: cutting off blood supply to the tumours in the livermay sound somewhat benign, butthe body revolts with full force against such an intrusion. O repeatedlytears off his hospital gown because he is in so much pain that even the thin cotton material causes discomfort. The young female nurses act scandalised by this and keep tryingto cover him up. At one point, O yells out in exasperation: If one cant be naked in a hospital, where can one be naked?! I hear a nurse in the hallway join me in laughter. I cover hisgenitals with a washcloth when themorphine finally kicks in and he falls asleep.

27 February 2015
I brought O a few of the letters and emails written in response to his New York Times essay. I: Howd it feel to read those? O: Good! I: You have about 800 more to go. O: Id like to see all of them.

22 April 2015
O: The most we can do is to write intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively about what it is like livingin the world at this time.

7 July 2015
O, proudly, playing a new Schubertpiece, and with great flair demonstrating how it requires crossedhands. I am quite amazed and impressed, and I clap.

8 July 15
The day before Os 82nd birthday, and we got bad news with his latest Cat scan bad much worse than expected. Not only have the tumours regrown, the cancer has spread: kidneys, lungs, skin. O wants to go ahead with his birthday party, and doesnt want people to know. Auden always said one must celebrate ones birthday, he says.

9 July 2015
Os birthday: at his party O asks me to go get the bottle of 1948 Calvados a rare brandy given to him as a gift years ago and sealed in a wooden box. I open it for him. I: Do you want a glass? O: No, he says, and takes a swig, eyes closed. Lovely, he pronounces and looks around the room. Who would like some? Later, he tells me hed forgotten that he had left the Calvados to a friend in his will.

13 July 2015
Very, very tired, I did the dinner dishes quickly, gathered my things, and earlier than usual, told Oliver I was heading to bed and said good night. But as I headed for the bedroom, O called to me from his desk, Do you know why I love to read Nature and Science every week? I turned. No, I shook my head. I was almost confused; this seemed such a non sequitur. Surprise I always read something that surprises me, he said.

25 July 2015
In the country: O is finishing one essay,working on two others at leasttwo others. Hows the writing going? I ask, waking from a nap. He smiles mischievously. I meant to stop,but I couldnt. And he goes back to it. I watch. He doesnt have a fancy desk here; its just a folding table. All heneeds is a pad and his fountain pen and a comfortable chair.

Later, we go for a swim. The water in the pool is a bright emerald green, caused by an excess of copper and iron in the well.

You are swimming in the elements,I tell O, swimming in a poolof copper.
Lovely, he murmurs, doing his backstroke.

1 August 2015
He plays Beethoven he never used to long, haunting pieces, complex pieces whereas he used to only play Bach preludes, and in stops and starts.

10 August 2015
O is working on a new piece: Sabbath. Every now and then, a little request comes, always phrased politely: If you would be so kind: look up something for me on your little box? Little box is his name for an iPhone, a name he finds too ugly to pronounce, to speak. Its not even a word, as he points out, its a brand. Sometimes he calls the phone my communicator, as if out of Star Trek. Today, he wants me to look up the meaning of the Latin nunc dimittis. As is almost always the case with O, it wasnt necessary: hed had the definition exactly right in the first place: nunc dimittis is the final song in a religious service.

16 August 2015
I say I love writing, but really it is thinking I love that rush of thoughts new connections in the brain being made. And it comes out of the blue. O smiled. In such moments: I feel such love of the world, love of thinking

23 August 2015
What are your wishes, Dr Sacks? said the hospice nurse. How would you like to pass? At home, answered O in a clear, steady voice, with no pain or discomfort, and with my friends here.

28 August 2015
O, who has had no appetite, suddenly asked to have smoked salmon and Ryvita for lunch. He insisted we get him out of bed, into his dressing gown, take him to his table, and to seemy piano. We brought a plate to him: with incredible dignity, and slowness, he carefully cut a single piece at a time. He could only eat three bites. And when I suggested something sweet some ice cream? He said: No, a pear. He had one slice then asked that we take him back to bed.

29 August 2015
I am at his side, in his bedroom, where Kate and I have been keeping a special watch since 5.30am. Thats when Maurine (our hospice nurse) woke me in the other room: Billy, come now his breathing has changed. It has slowed to just three or four breaths per minute long silences in between. He is no longer conscious. He is stretched out on his bed diagonally and looks comfortable. Maurine, who has been at the side of many patients as they die, tells us this is the last phase, but that it could go on for many hours, days maybe. A little while ago, I looked around the room, crowded with bedsheets, towels, pads, medications, an oxygen tank and other medical equipment, and I began clearing it out, all of it. First, I brought in stacks of all of Os books, cleared a bedside table, and put them there. I brought in a cycad plant and a fern. Kate joined me, and we cleared more space, making room on another table for some of Os beloved minerals and elements, his fountain pens, a ginkgo fossil, his pocket watch. Elsewhere, a few books by his heroes Darwin, Freud, Luria, Edelman, Thom Gunn and photos his father, Auden, his mother as a girl with her 17 siblings, his aunts and uncles, his brothers. We brought in flowers, candles. I am heartbroken but at peace. Last night, before getting some sleep, I came in to see if he neededanything.

Do you know how much I love you? I said.

No. His eyes were closed. He was smiling, as if seeing beautiful things.

A lot.

Good, O said, very good.

Sweet dreams.

Bill Hayes Q&A: Conversations and scenes jumped off the page

Oliver Sacks, left, and Bill Hayes in 2015. Photograph: Corbis

What made you publish your diaries? Some of the entries are very intimate and personal why did you want to make them public?
I didnt expect to. I had signed a contract to write a book about New York a long time before Oliver got his diagnosis and initially I had no expectation that I was even going to write about us. But things changed after his death and I began to think about how I would write about my life in New York, my relationship with New York City and my relationship with Oliver. It was then that I went back to my journal, which I had started at Olivers urging a few weeks after I moved here in 2009. Conversations and scenes just jumped off the page and I realised they could be much more effective at chronicling our lives than if I were to write a more traditional narrative.

The entries that follow the diagnosis of Olivers cancer are terribly affecting. How difficult were those days for you?
Extremely difficult, heartbreaking at times. But it wasnt a first experience for me [Hayes cared for his previous partner through several Aids-related illnesses before losing him to a heart attack]. As a gay man living in San Francisco in the early 1990s, I had very deep and intimate experience of the Aids epidemic, caring for and losing friends and co-workers at the
San Francisco Aids Foundation. Thats not to say it made it easier, exactly, caring for Oliver but dying was something I knew about.

How would Oliver have felt about Insomniac City?
I think he would have been delighted and proud. Oliver published his autobiography, On the Move, in May 2015, three months before his death. Its very candid and open about his sexual identity and about our relationship. Prior to that, Oliver had never spoken or written at all about his private life and his decision to do so gently opened a door, allowing me to write about my life with him in a way I am not sure I would have or could have had he not done that.

How would you describe Olivers legacy tothe world?
I think there are several legacies. I think he opened up for the world and for all of us conversations about neurodiversity and neurological conditions and how people adapt to them, everything from autism to Tourette syndrome to blindness. I think he also left an amazing legacy in his writing about mortal illness and facing death in his columns in the New York Times. That was, I think, a very generous and gracious act in his final year. And his final legacy is that, while on one level my book is about me reinventing myself in middle age, theres another story there about Oliver Sacks reinventing himself, in his 70s. And I love that. At age 75, he opened his heart up and fell in love, started a new romantic and domestic life with another person with me and continued to work so productively all of which made being old seem adventurous and fun.

What do you miss most about Oliver?
His companionship. I hope the reader gets a sense of what our relationship and conversations were like. We talked and laughed a lot. He was very funny and liked wordplay and puns. He could be very self-deprecating and eccentric. So most of all I miss the comfort of his company and thelaughter.
Interview by Lisa OKelly

Extract from Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me by Bill Hayes (Bloomsbury 16.99). To order a copy for 14.44 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99

Bill Hayes will be signing copies of Insomniac City on Monday 3 April at the London Review Bookshop, London WC1, and on Tuesday 4 April at Gays the Word, also London WC1. He will be giving a talk on 4April to the How to Academy, at the Cond Nast College of Fashion & Design, London W1

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