Why is America’s teen-pregnancy rate the highest in the industrialised world, while the Netherlands boasts one of the lowest? Because, suggests Peggy Orenstein in her bestselling Girls & Sex, in the Netherlands teachers, doctors and even parents talk candidly to children about sex and pleasure, whereas in America adults are largely squeamish on the subject and many schools still push students to hold off until marriage. This turns what should be a joyful experience into one that is often full of shame and regret.
When questioned about his position on homosexuality on a flight back from Brazil, the Argentine-born Pope Francis first uttered his now legendary line, “Who am I to judge?” It endeared him to the non-religious and alarmed those who think that he, as God’s representative on Earth, is the one person who ought to be able to judge. His first book as pope, The Name of God Is Mercy, expands on this theme, emphasising compassion over judgment, and individual experience over starchy doctrine. Since becoming pope, Francis has yet to visit his native country, in spite of numerous trips to Latin America. This rankles, but Argentines are reading him nonetheless.
Hitler still sells. Sadly, because the title of the upcoming English translation of the German bestseller – High Hitler: Drugs in the Third Reich – undersells the scope of Norman Ohler’s work. A journalist, Ohler crafts a fascinating picture of drug use in the 1930s and 1940s that undercuts the idea that drug culture is modern. Crystal meth? From 1938 a Berlin-based pharmaceutical company made methamphetamine under the brand name Pervitin as a stimulant for civilians – and later Wehrmacht soldiers. Armies around the globe followed.
The country’s preoccupation with its horribly high murder rates – and the politicians’ failure to reduce them – gives extra resonance to the work of Bernardo Esquinca, a doyen of ficción de lo extraño (weird fiction). His fifth novel, Coffin Meat, set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, tells the story of Eugenio Casasola, a journalist troubled by the return to murderous action of El Chalequero, a real-life serial killer, and explains the birth of nota roja (red note) sensationalist journalism, which Mexicans still devour.
Korea’s twentysomethings are known as the sampo, because economics is forcing so many to renounce or postpone three (sam) major life events: courtship, marriage and children. They are gripped by The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, a self-help novel from (and a hit in) Japan, that follows a debate between a morose young man and a philosopher. Its premise is that unhappiness comes from human relationships and that you don’t have to seek society’s approval – a powerful message in conformist countries.
Padre Marcelo, a priest with a talent for producing blockbusters, is back on Brazilians’ bedside tables, this time in his apron. His last book was on how to beat depression; his latest, Ruah (a Hebrew word for breath), looks at weight loss. From his own experience of going from too fat to too thin, he provides advice and recipes, extolling the virtues of healthy eating and exercise. With the country’s economy on its knees and its politics rotten to the core, Brazilians may be hoping for divine intervention but will have to settle for a sensible diet and a soupçon of clerical wisdom.