Literature | The Knowledge Dynasty


Have a lover, have friends, read books. Montaigne was right about one thing | Germaine Leece

We think we are escaping ourselves when we read literature, but we might be going deeper into our interior worlds through the therapy of reading.

The understanding that literature can comfort, console and heal has been around since the second millennium BC; it is no coincidence that Apollo was the god of medicine as well as poetry.

As a bibliotherapist, I’m interested in the therapeutic value stories have to offer us, particularly during times of stress. Here the intent around reading is different; the value of the story lies solely in our emotional response to it.

One of the greatest arguments for using literature as therapy was posited by the Renaissance essayist Michel de Montaigne, who believed there were three possible cures for loneliness: have a lover, have friends and read books. But he argued sexual pleasure is too fleeting and betrayal too common, and while friendship was better it always ended with death. Therefore, the only therapy that could endure through life was the companionship of literature.

Why were the ancient Greeks and Romans right to suppose literature heals the soul? Why did Montaigne trust we could endure loneliness through a lifelong relationship with books? Why, despite all the distractions of modern life, do books still get published and writers festival events get sold out? The answer lies in the power of stories.

Stories have been around since time began; they tell us what it is to be human, give us a context for the past and an insight towards the future. A narrators voice replaces our stressed, internal monologue and takes us out of our life and into the world of a story. Paradoxically, we think we are escaping ourselves but the best stories take us back deeper into our interior worlds. Freud, who believed the reading cure came before the talking cure, once wrote that wherever he went he discovered a poet had been there before. It is difficult to access emotional language and this is why we have writers. They remind us of the universality and timelessness of emotions, helping us better understand our own.

What stories have shaped you? It’s a question worth reflecting on, as this shaping is often subconscious. The act of making it conscious will allow your future reading to perhaps have a different intent; you will be reading your life from now on, allowing you to live it more fully and better understand it.

Recently, more studies are telling us what the ancient Greeks and Romans already knew: reading improves our mental health. In 2009, research out of the University of Sussex found reading could reduce stress levels by 68%, working better at calming nerves than listening to music, going for walks or having a cup of tea. Subjects only had to read silently for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in muscles.

A 2013 study found reading literary fiction can help you become more empathetic, by giving you the experience of being emotionally transported to other places and relating to new characters. Other studies have shown reading can improve sleep quality and ease mild symptoms of depression and anxiety.

As a bibliotherapist, I am continually reminded that all forms of literature can help people in all sorts of ways. A person who is grieving may need a predictable plot and an ordered fictional world; a man searching for direction or coming to terms with retirement may need a novel that reflects and explores the transience of life; a mother of young children may reach for a novel that illustrates the arc of life and reminds her she is in just one albeit messy and tiring chapter for now.

Sometimes it is not the content of the stories themselves but just knowing you have control by choosing to read or listen that provides the calming effect. All stories offer a safe, contained world with a beginning, middle and end. We have the power of when to start or stop and choose how long we stay in this story’s world.

Time spent listening to authors talk about their work and their own understanding of the power of literature also allows us, as readers, to reflect on stories that have shaped us.

:Why do stories matter so terribly to us, that we will offer ourselves up to, and later be grateful for, an experience that we know is going to fill us with grief and despair?” questions Helen Garner in her latest collection, Everywhere I Look.

Robert Dessaix, in his memoir What Days Are For, explores narrative as an optimistic form: “Is that why I’m reading a novel in the first place? It’s not a Pollyanna-ish form, it’s not devoid of unravellings and pain, but it’s optimistic in the sense that you keep turning the pages, one after the other in the hope of something transforming happening. Isn’t that it? In the hope of a transforming answer to your particular questions.”

Both authors are exploring their identity as readers and the impact reading can have. The writers festival is more than an event celebrating authors; it also celebrates the power of literature and the power of you, the reader.

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Barbershop Books is using barbershops to inspire kids to read

Sometimes a book is just a hobby, a fun way to consume a new story. But sometimes a book is a powerful tool to advance social change.

The National Book Foundation announced the winner of the 2017 Innovations In Reading Prize on Monday. The prize is an annual award that honors individuals and organizations that are using literature to make a social impact on the world and comes with a $10,000 prize. The award was founded in 2009, and since it launched, it has honored a variety of organizations including Next Chapter Book Club and Chicago Books to Women in Prison.

This year, the winner of the Innovations in Reading Prize is Barbershop Books, a community-based literacy program that creates child-friendly reading spaces in barbershops.

The program was founded in 2013 by Alvin Irby, an author and former kindergarten and 1st grade teacher, as a way to help young black boys identify as readers.

“At Barbershop Books, we believe that by pairing books and reading with barbershops, over time an association will be formed in community members and children that when they see a barbershop, it will trigger them to think about books and reading,” Irby explains.

The idea came to Irby when he saw one of his students walk into a barbershop without a book.

“[My student] just sat there with this bored look on his face for 15 or 20 minutes, and the whole time, I kept thinking, He should be practicing his reading right now,'” he said. “So it was literally that perfect storm that brought about the idea: me being a teacher, me seeing my student, and me spending a lifetime going to the barbershop and understanding how important it is for the young boys who go there.”

Since its launch, Barbershop Books has partnered with more than 50 barbershops across 20 cities in 12 different states to provide books for young black boys, a community that Irby explains is often underserved in school.

“Many young black boys may literally never see a black man reading in school during the years when theyre learning to read because there are so few black male elementary school teachers,” Irby says.

Because of this, Irby says, many young black boys never have people who look like them encouraging them to read.

But that’s where barbershops come in.

“For many of those same young black boys, if they go to a barbershop, they actually see their barber at least once or twice a month,” he said. “Those frequent trips to the barbershop creates this opportunity to help boys identify as readers.”

Image: Barbershop Books

But Barbershop Books is about more than just giving kids access to books it’s about giving kids access to books they want to read.

“This is really what Barbershop books is about, getting young black boys to say three words: Im a reader.”

“One of the things youll notice as I talk about Barbershop Books is that you wont hear me talking about reading skills or vocabulary,” Irby said. “Thats not a coincidence. I think there are far too many young black boys whose first and early reading experience are almost all skills-based. And there are fewer and fewer opportunities for children just to have fun, low-stress interactions with books and reading. And thats what Barbershop Books is trying to do. Our belief is that if we can create positive reading experiences early and often for young black boys, then they will choose to read for fun because they will identify as a reader.”

And that is the very core of Barbershop Book’s mission not just getting students to pick up a book, but rather to self-identify as a reader.

“This is really what Barbershop books is about, getting young black boys to say three words: Im a reader,” he said. “If we can get young black boys to say those three words, we believe they will read for fun, and if they read for fun, we believe they will reach higher levels of reading proficiency.”

It’s a mission that Irby hopes to spread to more and more places. With the $10,000 prize money, Irby plans to expand Barbershop Books to expand to Little Rock, Arkansas (Irbys hometown), partnering with 10 new barbershops and conducting trainings for barbers to learn how to establish reading community spaces.

Barbershop Books wasn’t the only organization spotlighted by the National Book Foundation with the innovations in reading prize. The organization also announced several honorable mentions including: Books@Work, Great Reading Games, Poetry in Motion, Reach Out and Read.

You can learn more about each organization below.

Honorable Mentions:


Image: Books@Work

Books@Work brings professor-led literature seminars to workplaces and community settings to build confidence, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. Through shared narratives, Books@Work builds human capacity to imagine, innovate, and connect, strengthening cultures of trust, respect, and inclusion.

Great Reading Games

Image: Great Reading Games

Great Reading Games is a national audiobook reading competition from Learning Ally, a non-profit that helps students with print-disabilities. The contest is designed to motivate students to increase the frequency and duration with which they read.

Poetry in Motion

Image: Poetry In Motion

Poetry in Motion is a project by the Poetry Society of America that places poetry and accompanying art in subway cars throughout New York City. Since it was a founded in 1992 (with a brief hiatus between 2008 – 2011), Poetry In Motion has brought more than 200 poems and excerpts to millions of subway riders.

Reach Out and Read

Image: Reach Out and Read

Reach Out and Read is a nonprofit organization that gives young children a foundation for success by incorporating books into pediatric care and encouraging families to read aloud together.

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How one woman harnessed people power to save old New York

New film tells story of Jane Jacobss battle’s against the wealthiest developers in the city.

She was a beaky, bespectacled architecture writer, hardly a figure likely to ignite protests that changed the shape of one of the worlds great cities. Yet such is the legend of Jane Jacobs and her bitter struggles to preserve the heart of New York from modernisation that a film charting her astonishing victories over some of the most powerful developers in the US is set to inspire a new generation of urban activists around the world.

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City tells the story of Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who made herself the bane of New Yorks powerful city planners from the 1950’s to 1970’s. Her nemesis was Robert Moses, the city’s powerful master builder and advocate of urban renewal, or wholesale neighbourhood clearance what author James Baldwin termed negro removal.

Moses dismissed the protesters as a bunch of mothers, and attempted to ignore their efforts to attract wider attention, which included taping white crosses across their glasses in the style of Jacobs.

But through a combination of grassroots activism, fundraising and persistence, Jacobs blocked Moses and successive city overlords from running Fifth Avenue through the historic Washington Square, tearing down much of SoHo and Little Italy to make way for a billion-dollar expressway, and building a six-lane highway up Manhattans west side.

“Some issues you fight with lawsuits and buy time that way,” she later wrote. “With others, you buy time by throwing other kinds of monkey wrenches in. You have to buy time in all these fights. The lawsuit is the more expensive way.”

Little Italy, in New York, saved from demolition for a $1bn expressway. Photograph: Maremagnum/Getty Images

Jacobs warned of the dangers of mixing big business and government, and called them monstrous hybrids. She warned, too, that huge housing projects favoured by developers from the school of Le Corbusier would only bring social dislocation to the poor while making developers wealthy.

Jacobs’s method of prevarication, says Citizen Jane director Matt Tyrnauer, wrote the manual for activism. Speaking truth to power was her great strength, and she was fearless, but she was also a great strategist and analysed how to get to politicians and threaten them in ways that were going to be effective.

Robert Hammond, who produced Citizen Jane and co-founded the High Line, a significant renewal project along Manhattan’s west side that turned an elevated rail track into a garden and walkway, says key to her protest was targeting lower-tier elected officials because they depend on you for their jobs and they know it. She understood that fighting government is a slog, and no matter how powerful you think people are, things can be changed the value of individuals coming together and working as an organism, which today we call crowdsourcing.

Those lessons, in particular Jacobs’s later studies of economics, helped shape The Indivisible Project, an umbrella organisation for thousands of protest groups that have sprung up in the US in the aftermath of the presidential election.

Tyrnauer, who previously directed Valentino: The Last Emperor, considers that Indivisible’s activism, which includes berating local officials and challenging congressional leaders at town hall meetings, is cut from the Jacobs playbook. Late last year the group’s founders, four congressional aides moved to act by the election of Donald Trump, published suggestions that have become central to democratic resistance. Six thousand groups have registered so far, seeking to follow Indivisible’s basic, Jacobs-esque credo: localised defensive advocacy; recognition that elected representatives think primarily about re-election and how to use that; efforts to build constituent power through organically formed, locally led groups; and a focus on congressional representatives via town hall meetings, district office visits and mass phone calls.

Jane Jacobs won many victories over her nemesis Robert Moses, the powerful master builder. Photograph: Library of Congress/Sundance Selects

In her academic and personal life, Jacobs looked at the power individuals have in their own communities, says co-founder and executive director Ezra Levin. Indivisible is fundamentally about constituent power, and we recommend that people assert that power on their own turf, in their own communities. But the connection runs deeper. Jacobs maintained cities are best left to be self-organising. Too much control and they become lifeless. She believed they should be messy something old, something new and warned of the concentration of money and too little diversity. Crucial to Indivisible’s success is an individual group’s basic autonomy. “It’s crucial that this is not a franchise operation. We’ve created a platform but the decisions these groups are taking, or their exact form is fundamentally driven at a local level.”

Jacobs, who died in 2006 and whose centennial falls this year, used to tell an anti-authoritarian story about a preacher who warns children: In hell, there will be wailing and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“What if you don’t have teeth?” one of the children asks.

Then teeth will be provided.

“That’s it the spirit of the designed city: teeth will be provided for you,” she told the New Yorker in 2004.

In Citizen Jane, the documentarians seek to apply the lessons of Manhattan in the 50’s to the urbanisation of China and India. The results are inconclusive.

Many of the challenges cities now face, at least in the west, are reversals of the clearances that affected cities in the last century. “The suburbs are where the poor people are moved to, and they’re becoming more impractical than cities to live in,” says Hammond.

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Bob Dylan receives Nobel Prize in literature in Sweden

(CNN)Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan finally received his Nobel Prize in literature Saturday at a private ceremony in Stockholm, according to a statement posted online by the head of the Swedish Academy.

The presentation came five months after the academy announced Dylan was the winner and more than three months after the formal award ceremony, which Dylan didn’t attend because of “pre-existing commitments.” Singer Patti Smith stood in for him.
But Dylan was in Stockholm this weekend to perform concerts and the private ceremony was arranged.
It’s not known what Dylan had to say about the award. Swedish media reported no cameras were present at the ceremony. There were no comments made to media by Dylan,or any member of the academy, either before or after the event.
Upon the announcement of Dylan’s award in October, the academy’s permanent secretary, Sara Danius, said Dylan “is a great poet in the English-speaking tradition,” drawing parallels between his work and that of ancient Greek poets.
Saturday, she issued the following statement on Dylan’s receipt of the award:
“Earlier today the Swedish Academy met with Bob Dylan for a private ceremony in Stockholm, during which Dylan received his gold medal and diploma. Twelve members of the Academy were present. Spirits were high. Champagne was had.

The debate over Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for literature


“Quite a bit of time was spent looking closely at the gold medal, in particular the beautifully crafted back, an image of a young man sitting under a laurel tree who listens to the Muse. Taken from Virgil’s Aeneid, the inscription reads: Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes, loosely translated as, ‘And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery.’ The day came to an end with Dylan’s extraordinary performance at the Waterfront concert house.”
Dylan — the first songwriter to win a Nobel Prize — was acknowledged by the Swedish Academy “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

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Detained on Nauru: ‘This is the most painful part of my story when you realise no one cares’

In this excerpt from the book They Cannot Take the Sky, Benjamin talks about his years detained on Nauru, and his undying hopes for the future.

Benjamin was taken to Nauru in 2013 with his family. He told the first part of this story on Christmas Day 2014. He is still on Nauru.

You just have to cope with it

We were in Offshore Processing Centre compound number 3 the family compound in the Nauru detention facility for a year and three weeks. In that time lots of things happened between us and Wilsons, the security guards running the camp, especially with my father because everyone trusted him. So if problems happened, people would tell my father and my father would try to help. But after a couple of months the Wilsons tried to somehow punish us as a family, you know, for just simple things. One day my father was in the line for food and the Wilson didn’t let him go inside he sent another family in rather than us. My father tried to just talk to them but suddenly they called the police. Police came and they sent my father straight to custody.

My father had a stroke when he was in custody. He’s a little better now, after four or five months, but he’s still really not able to use the left side of his body very well.

Because of the stroke, they sent my father alone to Darwin. They gave us a time to visit just before he left. There was a neck brace around his neck and he was in a wheelchair. I could just see him for 15 minutes and then they took him away and sent him to Darwin. I was 18 at that time and my sisters were all minors. There wasnt a guardian for us, but they let us be inside a camp. My sisters, they all got lots of problems. They couldn’t sleep at night. Me either.

I went to the psychologist and I told her, I’ve got these types of problems, and she said, “You just have to cope with it. You cannot go to where your father is. You just have to wait until he comes back.” I warned them that if they didn’t give me any answer at least tell me how my father is I would suicide, and she laughed at me and said, “Go, do what you want to do.” And so I cut my wrists and my hand, because I couldnt control it anymore. It was too much for me. And the funny thing is, they didn’t care. They said, “If you keep trying to do this we will send you to the custody too.”

My sisters came and they saw lots of blood coming out of my body and they called Wilson.

When my father heard that I cut myself, he did his own protest. He sat in the wheelchair and he didn’t eat, he didn’t move, he didn’t drink anything.

I’m still feeling that I’m not a human

After this, things happened to my father too. When he first went to Darwin he was in the family camp. He was a single male but he was in the family camp. I had a friend over there in the family camp who was looking after him. I was little bit OK because I knew my friend was helping, but after my fathers protest they sent him to the single camp. In the single camp he was totally alone. There was nobody to help him. When I heard this I tried to talk to immigration about it and tell them that this was not fair, what theyre doing to my father, that my father needs someone to help him. But they didn’t answer me, they just forgot about it.

Children play near a fence at Naurus Australian-run detention centre.

After two months they sent my father back here, to Nauru. He was still the same. In that time they didn’t do any medical checks for him. He was just wasting his time over there. My case manager came and said, Your father is back in Nauru. I was so shocked and a little bit happy too because I thought that maybe hes OK. I went to OPC1 with my sisters to see him. I was sitting there with my sisters, talking with them, and suddenly one of the cultural advisors came his name was Darryl and he told me, “Your father has to go back to the gaol.” I asked him, “Why?” I tried to tell them it was against the rules if someone is not medically well, you don’t put them in custody but they didn’t care. I said, “If you want to take my father you have to take me too because I need to look after him.”

My father was in custody for three days and they just let me be with him only for one night. After that we went to OPC1. We were there for months. They kept sending my father to court for what had happened, just for a simple argument. We just kept going to the court, every day, and at the end of it they found that my father was not guilty and they sent us back to OPC3.

For now I don’t have any plan for my future because I am still feeling that I am captured. I’m still feeling that Im not a human. I’m still thinking about whats happened in the past. I can’t think about what I am now, and what I’ll do in the future.

I just need to get my freedom first, then Ill try to find my way somehow.

Nearly two years later, in October 2016, Benjamin continued his story.

We have beautiful dreams, but everything has been ruined

I’m still here.

I came here when I was 18 and now I’m nearly 22 years old. I wasted all of the best time in my entire life, the time that I was about to make my future happen, the time that I promised myself I would study hard and become the best. But I couldn’t, because of the Australian government.

Five months ago, my neighbour, his name was Omid, he burnt himself right in front of my eyes. We have beautiful dreams, we have beautiful futures, but everything has been ruined. We are all exhausted.

That day, my neighbour Omid, he burned himself in front of me and I still cannot forget it. Omid was a good person. I still feel unhappy, I still feel stressed about him. I still punish myself, “Why didn’t I make him stop?” But I didn’t know that he was gonna do it, and he did it in front of me. He burned himself. I tried to go and put the fire out on his body, but I couldn’t do it and he died. And I still punish myself because I think that if I was a bit smarter I could have saved him.

Omid Masoumali, a 23-year-old Iranian refugee who set himself alight in protest outside a refugee compound on Nauru. He died in a Brisbane hospital on 29 March 2016.

When the UNHCR people came to our settlement to talk to refugees, Omid and his wife were the first ones they met.

I don’t know what happened but I just saw that Omid and his wife went to their house and after like five to 10 minutes Omid came back and he was soaked in petrol and he was shouting, “I’m tired and we are all tired and I cannot take it anymore.”

He was actually complaining to the government of Australia.

It’s enough. Whatever we have suffered in all these years, it is enough, for we are innocent people. We’re not terrorists. We are innocent people and we were just seeking freedom.

And then he just turned the lighter on and set himself on fire. I ran to him and tried to put him out with blankets but I … he was still conscious when we took him to hospital. He was there, he was having so much pain. The hospital here is a very, very bad hospital. When this kind of incident happens, the Australian government asks for an ambulance aeroplane to come to Nauru immediately, but for Omid it took like 12 hours or more than that. He was suffering from the pain and no one could help him. The ambulance came late and he died. After he got back to Australia, the Australian government didn’t even pay for the body to be transferred to Iran. Omid’s family paid for that.

He burned himself to show it around the world, to big countries, that there is no hope, there is no happiness, there is no life here.

Refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru protest their indefinite detention by the Australian government.

This is not a place that I can live

The payments that we receive from the Australian government are very low. We get just $200 each per fortnight which is not enough for all of us, you know. Living here is very expensive. The food and everything is all imported from Australia. You have to spend all your money just buying your food.

We are still having stress about water. When we were in the camp we were having problems with showering we only had a right to shower for three minutes and now we are outside we still have those problems. Just today they told us that theres a shortage of water so you have to be careful with it. We were protesting and they sent me to court for unlawful assembly, which I dont understand. I should have a right to make a peaceful protest so I can tell the world that this is not a place that I can live. We are desperately seeking other powerful countries to help us and release us from this inhuman policy. This is the most painful part of my story when you realise no one cares.

I wanted to study. I put myself into danger coming to Australia. My main requirement was having freedom freedom of speech, a society where people respect human rights. My plan was to study hard. I had finished my diploma of pure maths and physics, but I wanted to study more … maybe civil engineering or electrical engineering. But with all these punishments in these three years I became so lazy I cannot even read a book right now.

I always try to forget the bad incidents that happened to me before, so I just go to the gym. Try to lose some energy so I can relax. It’s not a very good gym, but at least it is something. This is the best vocation you can have: going to the gym and coming back home.

I always try to be charming

My dad is much better … he is physically good now. But mentally he’s worse than before. Most of the time he is at home and not doing anything, because there is nothing to do. He feels guilty because he is thinking, I have ruined my children’s future.

There is a very, very cold relationship in every family here. I mean, you get frustrated very quickly. You cannot talk fairly and make good decisions, because your mind has been punished a lot. Our life is like this, you know? We are unhappy so everything goes in a bad way. For example, I always try to keep my family motivated. I always say, like, I’m 100% sure that in 2017 we are gonna get out of this island. I always say this. Every month I’ll say that next month there will be good news from the immigration department of Australia. I always try to motivate them, but they always say, “No, it’s an illusion.”

I’ll try to do something, but it always turns out that I make it worse because I have hope. They say, “No, you lied to us.” My sisters always say, “You lied to us last year. You told us that we were gonna go out of here in 2015, but we are still here and it’s 2016.” These kinds of things.

The Australian immigration minister, Peter Dutton. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

We talk about immigration, we talk about what’s gonna happen, we read all the media. We try to make our own observations from there. It always turns out that we discuss it for two hours and we finish in a very unhappy mood. I have to say, we have those conversations every day. [Laughs.]

Sometimes time goes very quickly, but sometimes, it really kills you. Like when we reach the end of the year, because we expect something magical, like at Christmas … that Santa brings a gift. We wait to see if maybe Mr Peter Dutton will announce something that we have wanted to hear for all these years. But it never happens. [Laughs.]

I usually don’t show my pain or my frustration to my family. I try to keep it to myself. Whenever I go inside our room, I always try to be charming. This is what I do, I always try to keep the energy up, because I dont like to upset them. I am upset, but I never show it.

If I want to be honest, the only thing that I enjoy is going to gym and coming back home. But my family doesn’t enjoy that. My sisters want to go to a decent shopping mall, buy some good food, buy some good clothes. Or maybe they want to go to a cinema, or a zoo. But the only entertainment that we have here is just drinking alcohol. Forget what’s happening and just get drunk for a night.

I have good friends here, even Nauruan friends. The Nauruans I hang out with, they really understand our situation and most of them have been studying in Fiji and Australia. They are qualified people and they respect humanity. When you hang out with them, you enjoy it, because they dont get insulted if you say something about the governments of Nauru or Australia. These two governments have created all these traumas. The people are innocent, you know?

The problem with my refugee friends is we can’t really tolerate each other anymore. I mean, we live here without excitement. We see each other every day, talk about the same old things. We get tired of each other. Im not saying this in a bad way, but this is a human being you feel discouraged. Seriously, we don’t have anything to say to each other anymore! We know everything, whatever happened from when he’s born until now. It’s like time has been stopped.

Photographs of Australian-run asylum seeker detention facilities on Nauru. Photograph: Google / Remi Chauvin

It will be like I’m reborn

My situation has changed. I’ve learned how to be strong and keep myself motivated, so I’m not doing any self-harming and suicide. Sometimes the Australian government makes me worse. For example, when Peter Dutton says refugees are uneducated, or Scott Morrison says we need to live here forever so Australias borders are safe and sound. I just try to heal my pain so I don’t get really out of control. I have learned that even if I … did something crazy to myself, nothing will change. I just have to make myself healthy, so if I get out of here I could try to show the Australian government that I’m not a bad person, I’m actually a very useful person, and a very successful person. And I’m surely gonna do that.

I have read books about what successful people have done in their lives. For example, Mahatma Gandhi, Barack Obama, and also, Larry Page, founder of Google, and all of those people. So many people I cannot count them [laughing]. I’ve read their books, I’ve learned from them with all the struggles they had, they could still manage their lives and become successful.

The cover of They Cannot Take the Sky Stories from Detention.

I’m sure that one day I’m going to get out of here and reach my main goal, which is freedom. Yeah, I imagine I will enter a country where there are more opportunities, so I can improve myself, I can improve my education. I will start my new life it will be like I’m reborn. It’ll be a very big event. I’m sure it’s going to happen and it will be soon. It will be very soon.

Benjamin is still living in Nauru. He told his story to journalist Karl Mathiesen in December 2014 and Michael Green in October 2016. Mathiesen had travelled to Nauru posing as a snorkelling enthusiast and covertly spoke to refugees who had been released into the community. Additional editing by Angelica Neville and Andr Dao.

This is an edited extract from the book They Cannot Take the Sky Stories from Detention, edited by Michael Green, Andr Dao, Angelica Neville, Dana Affleck and Sienna Merope, and published by Allen & Unwin.

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MashReads Podcast: If you read one book this year, it should be ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders

Image: MJ Franklin/ Mashable

George Saunders has a rule for art: “If you do it right, it’s almost like this beautiful prism, and no matter what the time is, you can shine a light through it and it will make some sense.”

It’s an apt description and an excellent way to describe Saunders’ newest book Lincoln in the Bardo, a postmodern novel that’s both incredibly timely and quintessentially timeless.

Lincoln In The Bardo tells the story of one fateful night in a Georgetown graveyard in 1862. When his son Willie dies, a grief-stricken Abraham Lincoln goes to visit his body three times throughout the course of a night. But unbeknownst to him, he’s not the only inhabitant in the graveyard.

The cemetery is also full of ghosts stuck in bardo, the period between death and whatever comes next in the afterlife. Drawn to his father’s presence, Willie Lincoln decides to stay in the bardo, starting a fateful battle for the boy’s soul.

Told through a chorus of 166 different voices, Lincoln In The Bardo is a perfectly crafted novel about the universal themes of grief, empathy, family and the existential angst of moving on. Do yourself a favor and go read this book ASAP.

This week on the MashReads Podcast, we read and discuss Lincoln in the Bardo with George Saunders himself! Join us as we talk about history, postmodern novels and the power of empathy in literature.

And as always, we close the show with recommendations:

  • George has a host of book recommendations including: Moonglow by Michael Chebon, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, Swingtime by Zadie Smith and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and I Will Bear Witness: A Diary of the Nazi Years, 1933-1941 by Victor Klemperer.
  • Aliza recommends the audiobook version of Lincoln In The Bardo. “The audiobook for this book, Lincoln In The Bardo, is amazing. All of the 166 different perspectives have a different voice actor; they’re all well known celebrities/ big name actors, and they all apparently knocked it out of the park.”
  • Peter recommends rewatching the first John Wick movie (before seeing John Wick: Chapter 2). “What I love so much about that movie is that it all takes place in its own kind of silly world, but it knows it’s silly and it’s fine being silly.”
  • MJ recommends Kathryn Schulz’s ‘When Things Go Missing,’ a new essay in the New Yorker about grief and the phenomenon of losing things. “It’s both a really heartbreaking and emotional essay, but also a masterful one. [Kathryn Schulz] is such a phenomenal writer. I highly recommend you go read this.”

We hope you’ll join us next week on the podcast as we read and discuss History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera with Silvera himself.

And if you’re looking for even more book news, don’t forget to follow MashReads on Facebook and Twitter.

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MashRead Podcast: ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’ is the classic novel that should be on every reading list

Image: Mashable Composite, HarperCollins

Sometimes the best way to understand the present is to look at the past.

Or at least that’s true with Zora Neale Hurston’s classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. The book was written 80 years ago, but the commentary it makes on race and feminism feels as fresh and contemporary as anything published today.

Their Eyes Were Watching God tells the story of Janie Crawford, a southern woman living in Florida in the early 1900s. When Janie returns to home from an extended time away, she is followed by a wave of gossip about her past. Determined to set the record straight, she tells her life story to her friend Pheoby, recounting her adventures as they relate to her three marriages and how each marriage shaped her into a sharp and fiercely independent woman who must navigate the pressures placed on her as a black woman in the south.

This week on the MashReads Podcast, we read and discuss Zora Neal Hurston’s timeless novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Join us as we talk about the book’s portrait of the south, how the book is like The Odyssey by Homer and how Hurston wrote the feminist boss queen we all need right now.

Then, inspired by Their Eyes Were Watching God and Black History Month, we discuss our favorite books by black authors including Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi.

And as always we close the show with recommendations:

  • Aliza recommends the Everything, Everything trailer. She also recommends a list of geeky feminist projects after attending the Strand’s Galentine’s Day event this week including Geek Girl Brunch, an international meetup group that hosts activities for geeky women and Geek Girl Strong, a program and community that combines geekdom with fitness.
  • Peter recommends The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. “It’s really, really, really great. Especially in terms of fantasy… It’s a rainbow of people and characters in a way that I have personally have found sendom in a fantasy genre. And it’s wonderful and refreshing.”
  • MJ recommends Dear White People, the 2014 movie that inspired the upcoming Netflix series of the same name. “What I loved about this movie is that it felt like a dialogue…Whether you agree with the politics of the characters or not, [the movie] felt like a smart, rich dialogue that we should be having right now.”

And if you’re looking for a book to sink your teeth into, we recommend History Is All You Left Me by Adam Silvera, which is this month’s official MashReads book club book.

If you’re looking for even more book news, don’t forget to follow MashReads on Facebook and Twitter.

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Watch Hulu’s Super Bowl spot for original series The Handmaids Tale

Hulu just released a trailer for its adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a science fiction tale in which the U.S. Government has been toppled by a theocratic authoritarian dictatorship and women suffer a horrible revocation of rights.

So yeah it’s a little too on the nose right now. Maybe the hope is that showing this during America’s leather ball smash man contest will wake some people up to why dystopian sci-fi cautionary tales should legitimately be regarded as ACTUALLY CAUTIONARY TALES.

The show is out on April 26, streaming on Hulu, with each of 10 episodes debuting weekly starting on that day.

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Baileys Prize: Why do book awards keep changing their name? – BBC News

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lisa McInerney won the 2016 Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction for The Glorious Heresies

It’s all change in the world of literary prizes.

This year will be the last Women’s Prize for Fiction has the word Baileys attached to it.

The liqueur company, owned by Diageo, said it had “regretfully decided to make way for a new sponsor”.

Orange sponsored the award for 17 years up to 2012 before Baileys took over in 2014.

How often do book prizes change their name?

The shifting nature of commercial partnerships means that book prizes can often change their names every few years.

It can just be a minor tweak – such as a simple change of prefix.

But sometimes well-known prize names can be rendered suddenly unrecognisable.

Up until 2015 the the most prestigious non-fiction prize was known as the Samuel Johnson Prize.

In 2016 it became the Baillie Gifford Prize to reflect a new sponsorship deal.

First awarded in 1999, it has also been known as the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize and then the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Margo Jefferson and Svetlana Alexievich were among the nominees in the 2016 Baillie Gifford Prize

The Costa Book Awards started out as the Whitbread Awards in 1971 and only became known by their current name in 2006. The overall 2017 winner is announced this week.

The best-known literary prize of them all, the Man Booker Prize, was founded by the Booker McConnell company in 1968. Investment company Man Group began its sponsorship in 2002 and retained Booker in the official title.

What happened in the case of the Folio Prize?

The Folio Prize is a new kid on the block in terms of book awards.

It was first announced as the Literature Prize in 2011 amid a row about the decision by Man Booker Prizes judges that year to focus on “readability”.

It was the first major English language book prize open to writers from around the world.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ahdaf Soueif will chair this year’s Rathbones Folio Prize

Under the sponsorship of The Folio Society, its first 40,000 accolade was handed out in 2014. After the 2015 award, the Folio Society announced that it would not renew its partnership.

The prize took a year off in 2016 while it searched for a new sponsor and is back in 2017 as the Rathbones Folio Prize, with backing from Rathbone Investment Management.

Andrew Kidd, co-founder of the Folio Prize and of digital book club Alexi, knows all about the challenge of changing sponsor.

“We are a very young prize and we are still building public awareness,” he says. “We haven’t established ourselves enough to say we have a right to exist. We were born out of a particular moment.”

During its year off it was decided to open the fiction prize to any literary genre, including non-fiction.

Mr Kidd says the search for a new sponsor wasn’t as hard as he had expected.

“Because we waited until we had our own USP [Unique Selling Point] it was not that difficult at all. We had a compelling story to tell.”

This year’s winner will be announced on 24 May, with the Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif as chair of the judging panel.

So how easily will the Women’s Prize for Fiction Book find a new sponsor?

Its co-founder, novelist Kate Mosse, is, as you might expect, optimistic.

“We feel very confident about attracting a new sponsor,” she told the BBC.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Kate Mosse is co-founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction

“We know that brands want to be associated with something that’s inspirational… and we know customers like to be involved with companies that have some sort of social purpose.”

Mr Kidd agrees: “Even when it was the Orange Prize everybody knew what it was. They’ve been so successful at building that unique brand that I would imagine it will be relatively easy to find a sponsor.”

He said that having such a high profile advocate in Kate Mosse also puts them in a strong position.

“There’s no question that there’s an important place for a prize that focuses on female voices,” he added.

“I would imagine that a lot of sponsors will be interested in associating themselves with something that has such a strong purpose.”

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Paul Beatty: For me, Trumps America has always existed

Booker prize winner says presidents rise is not a shock and race relations have improved very little, even under Obama.

When Donald Trump was being inaugurated, Paul Beatty was lying in bed with his wife, groggy with medication halfway around the world, in Jaipur, India. His book, The Sellout, a sarcastic, complex novel on race relations in the US, was the first American work to win the Man Booker prize, but Beatty, faced by a phalanx of cameras at a press conference at the Jaipur literature festivalon Saturday, refuses to play along and be the voice of black America that the journalists so desperately want him to be.

“I don’t claim to offer any special insight,” he says. “I read the same newspapers you all do.” Reclining on a large sofa hidden from the crowds of literature enthusiasts attending the festival, Beatty slumps as though a dark cloud is hanging over his head. His pessimism about America’s future seems to reflect the gloom of many Americans who watched the former reality-TV star take the oath on Friday.

“It’s like a big test and it’s like, is the world going to fail? [Trumps victory] is so symptomatic of so much thats happening [in the world]. In the States everybody pays attention, because supposedly the States is different. But this xenophobia, this fear, this insecurity, with [Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi here, [Rodrigo] Duterte in the Philippines, they’ve always been there, but the fact that they’re making progress, that’s scary.”

“Trump’s rise is difficult to comprehend,” Beatty says. “It’s like a diorama on how we do things against our own self- interest,” he says. “Despite his misogyny, his rhetoric, 48% of women voted for Trump, 8% of African-Americans.”

He muses that many who support Trump do so just to provoke reactions. “I had a friend who was telling me about this friend of hers who she sees as a progressive, nice guy. And for the past month [before the election], he’d been saying pro-Trump things as jokes. And in my head I was like, you know hes not joking. And she was like, you’re probably right. He’s just testing these trial balloons. And I bet there’s so many people like this.”

To Beatty, Trump stood out as particularly undignified against the dignified ritual of the inauguration. “It’s funny because you have this decorum, and this guy is anything but gracious, anything but. At least Barack Obama has a level of civility that Trump doesn’t.”

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Barack Obama after taking the oath of office. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

But watching him take the oath, Beatty felt none of the shock or horror that many liberal Americans have since election results were announced. “Trump’s America,” he says, “is one that has existed for a long time, and one that Beatty knows well. This is nothing new. To me thats the part that feels disingenuous. When people go, I don’t recognise this place. And I’m like, where have you been? That’s the part that bothers me. With the police violence people are like, oh I didn’t know. And it’s like people have been putting this in your face for ages and all of a sudden now why now?”

After Trump’s victory was announced, a class of students that he teaches at Columbia University in New York greeted him in tears. “They were distraught. They were inconsolable. They are in their early 20s, so they’ve grown up with whatever Obama does symbolise, they’ve grown up with that for a big part of their lives. They’ve come of age with it, and all of a sudden that’s gone.”

For many, Obama’s presidency marked an era of change in America. But Beatty always doubted the rosy image of improving race relations under the nations first black president that was presented at the time. Some of his students, he says, were horrified and hurt when their own parents started spouting pro-Trump rhetoric. “What’s to be hurt by? Why are you hurt? Is this new for you? How is this new?”

The existence of white supremacy, xenophobia and violence is something he and many of his generation of non-white Americans have grown up with. Beatty describes always feeling an outsider in his own country. “Maybe I just don’t feel accepted, so I don’t feel hurt. I’m not a patriot. It’s just my home, where I grew up, but hurt, no. I don’t have that parental relationship to the place. It’s like if my mom kicked me out of my house, I’m hurt. I don’t have that relationship to the government, to the people. I don’t.”

Beatty doesnt want to make predictions about the future (at least, not in public), but he fears Trump’s presidency will make life more difficult for black Americans. I think things can get worse. I have zero faith in this guy. Zero faith in the people that stand behind him.

Within hours of being inaugurated, the LGBT and climate change pages on the presidential website were taken down. This and Trump’s America first rhetoric were alarming, Beatty says.

So was his victory despite his refusal to release his tax returns during the election campaign, and the leaked tape of him boasting about sexually assaulting a woman that presented a dangerous and terrifying new reality, where people no longer care how their politicians behave.

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