By Andrew Donaldson for The Times
Short, sharp guidance and observations from a journalist with attitude.
IF YOU READ ONE THING THIS WEEK
Forever Rumpole: The Best of the Rumpole Stories, by John Mortimer (Penguin) R180
Horace Rumpole of the Old Bailey is right up there with Wooster and Jeeves. The late John Mortimer’s wine-sodden and rogueish barrister has been speaking an insolent truth to power and keeping his clients out of prison for more than 30 years in 80 stories and four novels. Here are 15 of the best of them, a perfect introduction to one of comic literature’s greatest champions of the underdog.
At the time of writing, Britain was set to launch an international drive to end female genital mutilation.
Although banned in the UK, it’s estimated that up to 24000 girls are at risk of being sent abroad to undergo the procedure, widespread in the Middle East, to make them more “marriageable”.
According to a major new book, Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World, by Shereen El Feki (Chatto & Windus), in Egypt, where much of this investigation is set, 90% of women under 50 who are or who have been married have been cut, and 80% of girls aged 15 to 17 have had their clitoris removed or nicked.
The book aims to rewrite the Arab world’s sense of its social and sexual history and remove it from the constraints of the mullahs. El Feki claims young Arabs are entirely ignorant of the progressive attitude Islam had towards sex in the past, and she wants to restore to prominence in Arabic culture such classic erotic texts as The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight and The Return of an Old Man to his Youth.
In her view, personal freedom is part of the political freedom that many Arabs seek, but the obstacles that women face are enormous.
Intriguingly, it is Western pornography – widely available – that drives the mutilations; Arab men see uncircumcised women having sex and this reinforces the drive to cut their daughters.
“They say that is exactly why they circumcise their women,” El Feki told the London Sunday Times. “It’s depressing how globalisation can be such a force for backwards thinking.”
The London Underground is 150 years old. To celebrate, Penguin has launched a series of paperback shorts, one for each line on the Tube. That’s 12 books in all; authors include William Leith, Paul Morley, Leanne Shapton and Peter York. How long, then, before local publishers follow suit with a series on our public transport systems?
THE BOTTOM LINE
“We have to be smart and careful about the Web. The internet won’t do it for us. The best thing we can do is help kids learn to look out for themselves.” – Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, by Emily Bazelon (Random House).
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