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Latest news and features from theguardian.com, the world's leading liberal voice

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    From celebrity-penned tales to fresh interpretations of the classics, here is our pick of the best for hungry readers from tots to teens

    Children’s books have had a record-breaking few years. The sector was worth £381.9m in 2017, according to Nielsen BookScan, and 2018 may well top that. One in every three physical books sold is now a children’s book. Judging by bestseller charts and supermarket displays you’d be forgiven for thinking that most of those were by celebrities. Famous faces certainly continue to sell in big numbers: David Walliams’s The Ice Monster (HarperCollins), David Baddiel’s Head Kid (HarperCollins) and Greg James and Chris Smith’s Kid Normal series (Bloomsbury) are among the year’s most notable. But beyond this, a rich and varied landscape of books for children and young adults is very much in evidence. This year, Jacqueline Wilson returned to her best-loved heroine in My Mum Tracy Beaker (Doubleday) and magical “middle-grade” fiction became the hot ticket, in adventures like Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor (Orion) and Abi Elphinstone’s Sky Song (Simon & Schuster). Fresh interpretations of classics conjured up some of the season’s most beautiful gifts, including Lauren Child’s Mary Poppins (HarperCollins) and Jessie Burton’s The Restless Girls (Bloomsbury), illustrated by Angela Barrett. In picture books, the Oi! Frog series (Hodder) by Kes Gray and Jim Field began to challenge Julia Donaldson (and her various illustrators) in popularity. Poetry is having something of a boom, particularly anthologies like Chris Riddell’s Poems to Live Your Life By (Macmillan) and I am the Seed That Grew the Tree (Nosy Crow), gloriously illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. Children’s nonfiction has seldom looked better and sales are soaring, led by Matthew Syed’s You Are Awesome (Wren & Rook) and Fantastically Great Women Who Made History (Bloomsbury).

    Why such a renaissance? The stock answer is that children’s books offer an antidote to screen time. But I think it’s more profound than that. In troubled times, books have the power to help children and young people make sense of the world, and a look at 2018’s award winners reveals just how writers and illustrators are responding to our challenging times. Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s The Lost Words (Hamish Hamilton), a winner at The Bookseller’s British Book Awards, is a symphony to the wonders and vulnerability of the natural world and a stand against the disappearance of wild childhood. Katherine Rundell’s The Explorer (Bloomsbury) and Geraldine McCaughrean’s Where the World Ends (Usborne), which claimed the Costa and Carnegie prizes respectively, are ultimately stories of bravery, survival and resilience. Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different (Quercus) by Ben Brooks and illustrated by Quinton Winter, looks beyond gender stereotypes at alternative male role models and won the Specsavers National Book Award. Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, awarded the Amnesty CILIP Honour, is a political call to arms rallying against racism and prejudice, and its success is helping to fuel long-overdue investment in writers from more diverse backgrounds. Fiona Noble

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    A canny verse from ‘the Muse of Surbiton’ takes a wry look at ageing at the same time as flattering its subject’s beauty extravagantly

    To a Lady Who Sent the Author a Present of a Fashionable Bonnet

    Since you are, dear madam, so favoured by time,
    That he seems to have granted a lease of his prime,
    With the power to renew it whenever you please;
    Unencumbered by taxes of age and disease;
    Prolonging that date, which in others appears,
    The frail fleeting tenure of very few years:
    Why could you not ask him some favour to send,
    Enclosed with a present designed for a friend?
    One tint for her cheeks of youth’s vivid hue,
    To suit with those beautiful ribands of blue;
    One spark for her eyes of a juvenile twinkle,
    One smile of her mouth undeformed by a wrinkle;
    One ringlet or two – on her forehead to play,
    Unmixed with the sorrowful colour of grey?
    Yet too modest, perhaps, these requests you forbore,
    Yourself so indebted would not ask for more.
    And perchance had you teased him, thus Time might reply:
    “That to you I am partial – I will not deny;
    Nor need I declare – what who sees you must know:
    That on few I such singular graces bestow.
    But if from my rules I recede for your sake,
    And still give to you what from others I take,
    I cannot for all so go out of my way,
    And reverse those decrees which all mortals obey.
    My law is that youth shall soon wither and fade,
    And like morning’s bright beam shall be followed by shade.
    Most severe is the sentence I pass on the face,
    Full soon on its features my finger you trace.
    Yet I no such dread rigour extend to the mind,
    In age that still charms if it be but resigned.
    If calmly beholding fair youth’s setting sun,
    It with fortitude reckons my sands as they run;
    Not with peevishness fraught as each wrinkle appears,
    And resisting my progress with petulant tears.
    No – your sex must learn patient good humour of you,
    And meet my approaches with smiles as you do:
    With temper unruffled by envy or spleen,
    Like the sun of the autumn – thus mild and serene,
    Learn of you to converse with politeness and ease;
    Then in spite of my spoils – they will know how to please.”

    Related: Poem of the week: Event by Charles Tomlinson

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    It’s impossible not to cheer for the poet’s third collection, with her reflections on female bodies and violence feeling exceptionally timely

    Tishani Doshi’s third collection, Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods departs from the more transcendent, restless poems of her previous collection, 2012’s Everything Begins Elsewhere. At times, Doshi’s work still hovers over inner landscapes of longing, where the self trails its mortal question across a personal geography from south India to Europe. Her skilled engagements with form, as in her Jungian Postcard, a sestina for Carl Jung, alongside her wry humour, most evident in Ode to Patrick Swayze, continue to show the range and dexterity of her voice. Poems on ageing and family are wrought with a similarly deft irony, laying out the grim absurdities of women’s bodily surveillance from without and within.

    In the opening poem, Contract, the speaker appeals directly to her audience: “Don’t kill me, Reader. / This neck has been working for years / to harden itself against the axe.” In exchange for love, the poet commits to various kinds of self-destruction and resurrection, forming a pact with the reader that allows them both to thrive, to “live / seized with wonder”. Straight away, Doshi’s remarkable and knowing blend of irony and sincerity subverts any expectation her reader might bring to the page. Elsewhere, her poems sound a stark warning, grounded in a refusal to suffer violence or shame. Doshi deliberately sets out the boundaries of the female body in order to challenge those who might lay claim to it. The title poem is a haunting vision of retribution, drawn both from the murder of Doshi’s friend Monika Ghurde, to whom the collection is dedicated, and the rape of Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi in 2012. Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods is a chilling call to arms whose forceful, oracular incantation compels us to listen to girls “wrapped in cloaks and hoods, / carrying iron bars and candles / and a multitude of scars, collected / on acres of premature grass and city / buses, in temples and bars.”

    I will touch your discoloured skin,
    your beard, the sundry coils of hair,
    as your body morphs from man to farm.
    It will almost kill me to see the swarms
    of blowflies colonise the fens and flowerbeds
    of your nose, mushrooms vaulting
    from the mud of abdomen, skin so blue
    and mottled, the bloat and putrefaction.

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    The Huddersfield poet was praised for spinning ‘poems of emotional weight and musical grace from the fabric of our everyday lives’ by laureate Carol Ann Duffy

    English poet and novelist Simon Armitage has been awarded the Queen’s gold medal for poetry for his body of work “giving voice to those rarely admitted into poetry, and extending an arm around the unheard and the dispossessed”.

    The Huddersfield poet, who began writing poetry while working as a probation officer in Greater Manchester, has written 21 collections over his career, the most famous being Book of Matches, which features many poems included on the GCSE English literature syllabus. He has also translated multiple early English works including Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and worked on several history documentaries for the BBC. Awarded a CBE in 2010 for his services to poetry, Armitage is currently professor of poetry at Oxford University and Leeds University, and previously at Sheffield.

    Related: Poet laureate: the highest office in poetry | Simon Armitage

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    Forget haikus, epigrams, proverbs, maxims, adages and riddles. If you’re needing a sliver of wisdom, try an aphorism. There are certainly plenty around …

    “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
    “Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”
    “Winners are not those who never fail, but those who never quit.”

    Social media, these days, burgeons with such words of wisdom, floating around on a sea of hashtags, usually misattributed, and frequently accompanied by photos of sunsets over beaches. So are we living in a golden age of aphorisms? They are, after all, well suited to a 280-character limit, and positively beg to be shared.

    'In the misfortunes of our best friends we always find something not altogether displeasing to us'

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    Young performers are electrifying audiences in Ireland and beyond

    The seanchaithe were Ireland’s traditional storytellers, itinerant poets, entertainers and historians who travelled the island regaling audiences with ancient lore.

    They thrived for centuries, repositories of a rich oral tradition, before petering out in the era of radio and television, their spell broken, their services apparently no longer required.

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    The enigma of the stranger in front of you on the bus takes on a droll grandeur in this look at everyday infinity

    The Back of Your Head

    Stranger, I’m looking at the back of your head;
    at the heart of the crown
    where the whorl starts;
    at the touch of skin
    like the stars
    clustered at the core of a spiral galaxy,
    curls whirling out in points of light on dark
    to infinity and beyond …

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    My mission: quit social media and spend the time reading the year’s top titles. The results were refreshing – and surprising

    On a Sunday in mid-December, I drove towards Nevada City, a former Gold Rush mining camp in the foothills of the Sierras in northern California. I had rented a secluded internet-free cabin – a “tiny house” to be precise – outside town.

    Related: 'I watch old westerns while the spuds are in the oven': creative people on how they relax

    Related: Best books of 2018

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    A hushed Welsh lyric reflects on the cyclical nature of time

    Lavernock

    Moor and sea, skylark’s song
    ascending through the wind’s demesnes,
    we too standing listening
    as we’d listened formerly.

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  • 12/31/18--09:40: Hugh Dickson obituary
  • Actor with a gift for reading poetry who appeared in the BBC’s Elizabeth R and was a regular in every kind of radio drama

    Hugh Dickson, who has died aged 91, was one of a small band of actors: the select few whom writers, poets in particular, are grateful and relieved to have reading their work to audiences when they have not been engaged to read it themselves – and who sometimes make a better job of it.

    Most actors, poets believe, read poetry badly, adopting the dreaded “poetry voice” or simply over-dramatising the material. Hugh’s skill and intelligence – and marvellous voice – made him one of the finest of exceptions.

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    From a tiny copy of the Divine Comedy and a once-illegal birth control guide to a Bible the size of a stamp, these strange artefacts are masterpieces writ small

    It is known as the “fly’s eye Dante”: an 1878 edition of the Divine Comedy which is so small – just 11/4 by 13/4 inches – that it is said to have taken 11 years to print, and to have damaged the eyes of both its compositor and corrector. Bound in red leather embossed with gold, the world’s smallest edition of Dante’s classic poem, which was printed by the Salmin Brothers in Padua, is one of almost 50 officially designated miniature books housed in the London Library. Nomenclature is important here: according to the US-based Miniature Book Society, a miniature book “is no more than three inches in height, width, or thickness”, and while the London Library has some 350-odd “small” books, of less than five inches, it has only 47 true miniatures. The library decided they were being overshadowed by their larger cousins, so now they are gathered together in a glass-fronted cabinet.

    Related: Miniature milestone as Russian claims new record for world's tiniest book

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    Poems of violence and motherhood, told through a brutal and compelling evocation of Zeus

    Nothing in Fiona Benson’s fine 2014 debut collection Bright Travellers prepared us for this. After a premonitory poem about puberty (“Sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming”), Vertigo & Ghost explodes into furious life with a series of poems and fragments about the Greek god Zeus and what some sources have referred to as his “erotic escapades”. No such weasel words for Benson, whose Zeus is a serial rapist, eating women like air, in jagged, staccato poems that shoot down the pages like lightning bolts. “Rape is rarely / what you think. / Sometimes you are / outside yourself / looking down / thinking slut / as you let him / do what he wants / on your own familiar sheets / to stop the yelling / and the backhand to the face / and the zeroing in / of the fist.”

    The poems record Zeus’s and other gods’ relations with mortals and nymphs, including those – Io, Cyane, Daphne – who undergo transformation in the Greek myths, though here the metamorphosis becomes an attempt to hide from their rapist or the post-traumatic change they suffer after him. Callisto “holds herself down, clamps her mouth, / piles on flesh like upholstery” while “Daphne is a hare / trying to leap free”. Other anonymous voices are heard too, reporting rape in relationships (“How light I was. / How doubtfully safe”) and we even get Zeus himself, who speaks in screaming italics with bitter comedy: “NO FUN / THIS ANKLEBAND / TAZERS ME / EVERY TIME / I BRUSH THE BOUNDS / AND YET IT IS / SHALL WE SAY / EROTIC?” As that poem makes clear, this is a timeless, universal Zeus, though it’s only when Benson makes specific contemporary references – to the sexual assult trial of Brock Turner or to Donald Trump (“I LOVE THIS PRESIDENT. / HIS SHINY GOLD TOWER”) – that she seems to strain for effect. But overall this extraordinary cacophony of voices (Ted Hughes’s Crow rewritten by Anne Carson) is an addictive, thrilling, sickening experience.

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    For Roddy Lumsden

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    The Goldfinch takes flight in cinemas, Robert Macfarlane goes underground and Margaret Atwood continues The Handmaid’s Tale … what to look forward to in the world of books

    1 Centenary of the birth of The Catcher in the Rye authorJD Salinger.
    7 Winners of Costa category awards announced.
    11 Release of the biopic Colette, starring Keira Knightley.
    12 50th anniversary of the publication of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint.
    14 TS Eliot prize for poetry awarded.
    29 Costa prize-giving with book of the year revealed. Germaine Greer turns 80.

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    The inner life of Elizabeth Jennings remains frustratingly elusive in this first biography of the troubled English poet

    Elizabeth Jennings certainly has ballast in the ranks of 20th-century poets and maintains a strongish claim on our attention in the 21st. She first made her name as the only woman among the “movement” poets – Philip Larkin, Kingsley Amis, John Wain, Donald Davie. They were fashionable in the 1950s, reflecting the spirit of the times with their reverence for the real not the romantic, and their restrained, comprehensible language.

    Jennings would later insist that she was never part of their gang, and outlasted many of them as a poet in her own right, her collections appearing to acclaim, substantial sales and a procession of prizes right up until her death in 2001. She has left her mark on the canon, with a few enduringly popular, much anthologised works (some on the A-level syllabus) such as One Flesh, where a daughter looks at her elderly parents in their twin beds and wonders about the passion that once begat her.

    Do they know they’re old,
    These two who are my father and my mother
    Whose fire from which I came, has now grown cold?

    Jennings’s cradle Catholicism caused great damage to her emotional life, giving her a horror of sex

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    The muscular blank verse of this great classic reveals a visionary amalgam of the biblical and the classical

    From Paradise Lost, Book Two

    He ceased; and Satan stayed not to reply,
    But glad that now his sea should find a shore,
    With fresh alacrity and force renewed
    Springs upward like a pyramid of fire
    Into the wild expanse, and through the shock
    Of fighting elements, on all sides round
    Environed wins his way; harder beset
    And more endangered, than when Argo pass’d
    Through Bosporus, betwixt the jostling Rocks:
    Or when Ulysses on the larbord shunned
    Charybdis, and by the other whirlpool steered.
    So he with difficulty and labour hard
    Moved on, with difficulty and labour he;
    But he once past, soon after when man fell,
    Strange alteration! Sin and Death amain
    Following his track, such was the will of heaven,
    Paved after him a broad and beaten way
    Over the dark abyss, whose boiling gulf
    Tamely endured a bridge of wondrous length
    From Hell continued reaching the utmost orb
    Of this frail world; by which the spirits perverse
    With easy intercourse pass to and fro
    To tempt or punish mortals, except whom
    God and good angels guard by special grace.
    But now at last the sacred influence
    Of light appears, and from the walls of heaven
    Shoots far into the bosom of dim night
    A glimmering dawn; here nature first begins
    Her farthest verge, and Chaos to retire
    As from her outmost works a broken foe
    With tumult less and with less hostile din,
    That Satan with less toil, and now with ease
    Wafts on the calmer wave by dubious light
    And like a weather-beaten vessel holds
    Gladly the port, though shrouds and tackle torn;
    Or in the emptier waste, resembling air,
    Weighs his spread wings, at leisure to behold
    Far off the empyreal heaven, extended wide
    In circuit, undetermined square or round,
    With opal towers and battlements adorned
    Of living sapphire, once his native seat;
    And fast by hanging in a golden chain
    This pendent world, in bigness as a star
    Of smallest magnitude close by the moon.
    Thither full fraught with mischievous revenge,
    Accurst, and in a cursèd hour he hies.

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    Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle wins £5,000 honour, alongside Sally Rooney who is the youngest author ever to win best novel

    His debut The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle might be being praised as an “ingenious, intriguing and highly original mindbender of a murder mystery” by judges after it landed the Costa first novel award, but author Stuart Turton says that the process of writing it was “just awful”.

    On Monday night, Turton was announced as the winner of the £5,000 award for his genre-bending debut, in which Evelyn is murdered hundreds of times at a party thrown by her parents. The only way to break the cycle is for Aidan – who wakes each morning, Groundhog Day-style, in the body of a different guest – to identify her killer.

    Related: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton review – Quantum Leap meets Agatha Christie

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    Buoyed by social media, Urdu poetry is enjoying new popularity in the face of divisive sectarian politics

    In a Delhi hockey stadium in December, about 100,000 people of various ages, genders, and classes flooded in for two days of poetry, debates, food and calligraphy sessions. It was Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day Urdu cultural festival, and its popularity reflects a wider appreciation for Urdu poetry. Shayari, historically associated with the politics of resistance, is experiencing a revival in the face of rising Hindu nationalism in Delhi.

    At the festival, as people take selfies in front of an “I love Urdu” cutout, Shweta, a 20-year-old college student, says she believes shayari poetry could unite people.

    If you are feeling oppressed by the government, you need a medium

    I literally love you all,every single of you who stood up against hate & bigotry. It was never my movement,I asked nobody to change name,Not one . But this is an befitting answer to hate. I want to apologise to all Muslims ,I am sorry we didn’t do better but we will #MyNameInUrdu

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    Musa’s one-man show, Since Ali Died, is a densely packed hour of theatre, hip-hop and spoken word

    Those who think Australia is a land of pretty beaches, long lazy Januarys and no culture wars should be marched tout suite to the Sydney festival, and made to watch Omar Musa’s one-man show, Since Ali Died. It’s all there, densely packed into an hour of theatre, hip-hop and spoken word.

    There’s Musa’s own story of how his life fell apart after the death of his hero, Muhammad Ali. There’s his best mate, out of Goulburn jail and riding a self-destructive streak. There’s the woman he fell in love with –inscrutable, captivatinghim as she halves MDMA caps, and breaking his heart when she starts calling him “champ”.

    I love the smell of Australia – fire and smoke and earth and salt, the height of summer. You’re on the edge of an adventure.

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    The trial shocked Sweden and meant there was no Nobel prize for literature in 2018. But long before Jean-Claude Arnault was jailed for rape, I met him

    I was in my early 20s. I thought of myself as a poet, well aware of the rule that you couldn’t call yourself one until you had had a book of poems published. In Stockholm, where I lived, a place called Forum had opened for people interested in poetry and art; it called itself a contemporary space for culture. In those days, the late 80s, it attracted a young, elitist crowd, where everyone shared a rather earnest desire for profound experiences. I didn’t feel threatened by any of it. My parents were both well-known writers; my father a literary critic, my mother a poet and translator.

    I had no writer friends of my own age. I had fallen into the gap between an adult world to which I did not yet belong, and a young person’s world that was mostly about sex and alcohol. I loved to dance. I loved going to nightclubs. The music, the anonymous backs at the bar, the dark corners. The smells of perfume, sweat, spilled drinks. The little details of men and women: a woman’s shirt, dazzling white; a thin gold chain in a cleavage. Sometimes there were men I liked, or desired. I made it a point of honour to salute them, make a small bow, and turn on my heel. Sometimes the farewell itself worked as a seduction technique.

    I don’t want to have sex with him. But I want us to have something adult, between equals. I take off my clothes

    My memory is a series of still lives, fixed in time. But my feelings about them change between sadness, anger, repulsion and embarrassment

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