Those of you who notice these things will have noticed that ReadySteadyBook has been very quiet for a very long time now. Recently, Stephen Mitchelmore wrote: "The main reason I still write this blog is to maintain a contact with the need or condition that drove me to read and write in the first place; a need often misdirected in pursuit of what the industry is talking about. Long silences here report stout resistance to the temptations of disinterested reception. But what is this need?"
My "resistance" is fully compromised, as I work in the industry to which Steve refers; my... read more
PEN Translates "seeks expert linguists with good knowledge of the publishing field to help us assess books submitted for a grant. Assessors are paid £140 per assessment. For the current round, we are urgently seeking assessors in the following languages: Occitan (Gascon), Portuguese (Brazil) and Danish."
Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.... read more
As I mentioned last Monday, I'm enjoying Steven Shaviro's new Whitehead-meets-Speculative Realism (SR) book Universe of Things, but before I (hopefully) review it, I should perhaps make a brief comment on why I'm reading it. And that particular story makes better sense if I mention that I'm also reading Peter Wolfendale's Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon's New Clothes (from the always excellent Urbanomic) and briefly mention why I'm reading that...
I read more philosophy books than books on any other topic – and, to be honest, it's probably more than time that RSB reflected that a little more clearly. It's a little... read more
Why is the life and world of the visual artist such an appealing subject for novelists? Perhaps I’m overstating it, but I’ve seen or read several in the last year (Jonathan Gibbs’s Randall, Niven Govinden’s All the Days and Nights, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian) and have strong memories of others: Patrick McGrath’s Port Mungo, Patrick White’s The Vivisector. Could it be that writers like telling painters’ stories because it enables them to write about the creative process – so familiar to them – but in a slightly, well, sexier form? The Ecliptic is such a book and more. Its narrator is... read more
Leonard Michaels (1933 – 2003) is one of those writers who has attained minor icon status in the USA (his fiction is published there by a classics imprint) but has never really taken off in the UK. In his introduction to this book – its first British publication – David Lodge suggests that this is because Michaels’ “concentrated, genre-busting” stories, widely considered to be the best of his work, “were challengingly unfamiliar in content and form, written with an intensity that demanded a corresponding effort from the reader.” For example his story ‘City Boy’, included in The Paris Review’s Object Lessons anthology... read more
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of Gavin Corbett’s strong and strange new novel, Green Glowing Skull.
“You could throw it against the wall, but it would just bounce back.”
... read more
This short novella – and that is not a pleonasm, as the book could not be much more than 20,000 words long top to tail – is one of the most unpleasant stories I’ve read in ages. You can take that how you will, though I read so many books without finishing them, and finish so many without reviewing them, that you might have guessed even by now that I do recommend it.
The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (2013, tr. 2015 by Sophie Hughes) is another book – like Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant – which both attracts and repels consideration as... read more
Here is my review in the Guardian of Dorthe Nors’ first books to be translated into English, the back-to-back volume containing the excellent short story collection Karate Chop and the brilliant novella (or, as the author has it, “novel in headlines”) Minna Needs Rehearsal Space. This edition is published in the UK by Pushkin Press. In the US, Graywolf Press published Karate Chop last year and will issue Minna next year.
... read more
This book comes freighted with more expectations than many – Ishiguro may, after all, be the only novelist of his lauded generation who has never produced a bad or even mediocre novel. But there are fears, too – his last two books (Never Let Me Go, and the story cycle Nocturnes) are my least favourites. Is he on the slide?
My first response to The Buried Giant was to realise how rudderless we feel in the teeth of a new book which is really new, sui generis, and how much we rely on – or at least use as a springboard –... read more
Dedication page for The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us this Far.
I whisper my equations to her; they are orderly and balanced.
She knows this, and replies with the chemical formulas for salt, for devotion, for intimate confession.
The stories and photographs in Quintan Ana Wikswo’s The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us this Far (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2015) strike a balance of power that is exceedingly rare in books that combine fiction with photography. This has something to do with the fact that text and images each occupy a more or less equal amount of page space. But more important... read more
Two books, both by French authors. One about cinema, one about photography.
A longtime Vertigo reader sent me a copy of Nathalie Legér’s newly published Suite for Barbara Loden, for which I am extremely grateful. Barbara Loden was an American actress, whose second husband was the film director Elia Kazan. Loden wrote, directed and starred in the 1970 movie Wanda. Shot in cinéma vérité on a ridiculously low budget, Wanda retells the real-life story of a bored coal-miner’s wife who gets involved with another man and helps him commit a bank robbery. The robbery fails, the man is killed, and Wanda... read more
Mario Bellatin is a trickster who loves to sow confusion. I recently wrote about Bellatin’s 2012 book Shiki Nagaoka: A Nose for Fiction, his fake biography of a non-existent Japanese writer. In Mishima’s Ilustrated Biography, he gives us a biography (of sorts) about the real Japanese writer Yukio Mishima, but this biography doesn’t begin until after Mishima has committed suicide and after his ritual decapitation by a colleague.
Mishima is part of a slim, bilingual volume that contains two brief novellas – Flowers (Flores) and Mishima’s Ilustrated Biography (Biografía Illustrada de Mishima). But Mishima is the work that most interests me... read more
Over at Virtual Memories, Gil Roth has recorded a long and fascinating interview with one of Sebald’s great translators, Anthea Bell. The entire interview is fascinating and the two talk about Sebald for about five minutes starting at 23:00.
Renowned literary translator Anthea Bell joins the show to talk about getting her start in foreign languages, the schisms in the world of literary translation, the most challenging authors she’s worked on, the one language she’d love to learn, translating everything from Asterix to Zweig, and more!Anthea Bell is a freelance translator from German and French. Her translations include works of non-fiction;... read more
In her book Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W.G. Sebald, Philippa Comber wrote intriguingly of a screenplay that Sebald had written on Immanuel Kant, but which was never produced. Now, as a result of the efforts of Uwe Schütte, the script will be produced for radio by the German station WDR3 for airing on July 11. Jetzund kömpt die Nacht herbey: Ansichten aus dem Leben und Sterben des Immanuel Kant is the only extensive screenplay Sebald ever wrote and drafts of it remain in his archive in Marbach. The title of the screenplay, by the way, comes from the first... read more
The Polish journal Konteksty has just put out a giant issue devoted almost exclusively to “W.G. Sebald: Antropologia, literatura, fotografia.” Nearly 300 of the 408-page issue is dedicated to articles on all aspects of Sebald’s work. The journal is in Polish, but there is a six-page summary of all the articles in English. Even if you don’t read Polish, the many illustrations are fascinating by themselves. Below is the Table of Contents for the Sebald section, taken largely from the magazine itself, but with great help from my Polish contact Tomasz. The page numbers are given to provide the length... read more
The main reason I still write this blog is to maintain a contact with the need or condition that drove me to read and write in the first place; a need often misdirected in pursuit of what the industry is talking about. Long silences here report stout resistance to the temptations of disinterested reception. But what is this need? Only chance can reveal it, as a fall might graze a knee. So one night at 10pm I happened to be looking for the availability of another book when I noticed a bookseller had priced Gabriel Josipovici's 1977 novel Migrations at... read more
The famous opening lines of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable constitute a modern invocation to the gods at the start of an epic. Only this one appears not at the beginning, not even in medias res, but at the end, where there are no gods, and no end.
"I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know"
Answers emerge to provide aesthetic balance, if nothing else, but at least one is conclusive: the unnamable has a name of sorts ('the Unnamable') and the positive spin placed on the... read more
In the early days of blogging, I often wrote about book prizes. At that time I trusted the aura of a shortlist, drawn by what I assumed was the light of Literature shining down and carving deep relief into the profile of an otherwise flat novel. But I also often complained precisely because once read the books themselves didn't seem to deserve such attention, while others that did were ignored. After a while, in fact after serving on a jury, it became clear that I was fascinated instead by the aura of the impersonal force of a collective honour rather... read more
For a short time, I stayed up most of the night. In the long summer months between years at school – my guess is 1978 – there was no all-night radio let alone all-night television. Instead I would listen to the BBC World Service on unreliable Medium Wave reception. One night around two in the morning, an actor with a mellifluous voice read an extract from what I now know as Swann's Way. This was before even Terence Kilmartin had updated Scott Moncrieff's original translation.
Next day, as I played football in the local park, I told my... read more
What follows the break wasn't going to be posted. I wrote it last week and decided it would be more effective to summarise on my Tumblr blog and then publicise on Twitter. To my surprise, bar one message of support, there was no response. The silence was instructive.
In the early days of February 2015, 3AM Magazine advertised an event in London to celebrate "the recent boom in online criticism" and to encourage readers "to get involved in the growth of digital literary culture". My interest was piqued, as the subject is close to my heart... read more
For eighteen years I have wanted the English translation of Georges Bataille's book La Peinture Préhistorique: Lascaux ou la naissance de l'art, ever since Maurice Blanchot's review essay appeared in the collection Friendship published in 1997. A strange yearning because Blanchot had summarised the content, so there was apparently nothing to gain and, what's more, I have never been a big Bataille reader, much preferring at university Blanchot's unparalleled prose to the jargon-scarred theory beloved of my fellow students who thought "transgression" meant wearing rubber.
Still, there was something withheld by this book, the actual thing, the physical... read more
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Random House, March 2015
E-book, 608 pages
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
~Warning: Here Be Really Big Spoilers~
I read Rachel Hartman's debut novel Seraphina in two days, and I liked it a lot. A really lot. In stark contrast it took me a little over a month to read her long-anticipated sequel Shadow Scale. Admittedly it's 600 pages long but that tardy reading pace is a pretty good measure of the experience. It was slow, slow going, especially in the beginning, and terribly stiff in parts. There was much less... read more
Breaking Light by Karin Altenberg
Quercus, July 2014
Hardback, 384 pages
* Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey
Jonathan Cape, September 2014
Ebook, 272 pages
* Review copy kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley
I read Dear Thief and Breaking Light in parallel, and what a strange pairing they proved to be. Neither was an unequivocally positive reading experience for me, but one was so much cleverer, bolder and more beautiful than the other that the comparison was stark.
I originally turned the offer of a copy of Breaking Light down, because I got on so poorly with Altenberg's first book... read more
Hild by Nicola Griffith
Blackfriars (Little Brown), July 2014
E-book, 560 pages
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
"I'm not pretty."
"You don't need to be pretty. You're like lightning. Like a tide. Like a blizzard."
"Something to run from."
"Something to get caught up in. Something to remember for the rest of your life."
There are some books which simply fit you, and you know them almost immediately.
It starts with the chatter. You hear about a book here and there, increasingly. It pops up in your social media feeds and on Goodreads and eventually your friends' bookshelves. The blurb begins to... read more
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback
Hodder & Stoughton, February 2015
E-book, 432 pages
*My copy was kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
"Wolf winter," she said, her voice small. "I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is."
He was silent for a long time.
"It's the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal," he said. "Mortal and alone."
Here I go again, not writing about Hild. I was absolutely going to, because I planned on a whole Sunday afternoon of quality blogging time, but then I started reading another story from Kelly Link's new collection Get in... read more
The prize season fast approaches, with both the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the International Foreign Fiction Prize announcing their longlists at the end of this week. Just after midnight on Friday 6th March I believe for all you eager beavers. I'm excited as always, because LISTS, and also because I anticipate this will be a good year for the Baileys Prize, with Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Lucy Wood, Sarah Moss and Sarah Hall all with eligible novels.
The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has got in early by releasing its longlist last Thursday. It isn't one that I've... read more
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
Faber and Faber, February 2015
E-book, 384 pages
*My copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley
Why is it so much easier for me to write about the books that I feel ambivalent about rather than the books that I really love? This post should be about Hild by Nicola Griffith, which I want you all to run out and read right now. I've got it all ready to compose: quotes transcribed, book jacket uploaded, publishing info set out. But I can't get started, because my love is getting in the... read more
It's getting busy out in the garden. Not only with tasks but with so much to look at. It's easy to forget to spend time looking as well as doing. We stroll around every morning, watering and wandering and noticing new things.
The borders to the front of the house seem to be shaping up nicely. Who'd have thought it, a hundred feet or so to fill seemed impossible but the perennials now taking up their places as second years and not leaving a lot of space for the annuals waiting to go in... this is clearly not good planning.
Walking boots on, rucksacks packed, water bottles filled...we're going on an outing today....
So talk here is of little else but indigo since reading Jenny Balfour-Paul's fascinating book on the subject.
When might I find the woman selling the hand-dyed fabric in the market again (thank you Avis for the tip that she might have moved on to Totnes)
Looking out for indigo everywhere I go...
The Sashiko things have arrived, I can make a start, more about that soon.
And then there was the Kayaker's trip to Sapa..
During his 2012-2014 sojourn in Australia, the Kayaker took three months out to nip across to Asia... read more
The full title is actually Indigo - Egyptian Mummies to Blue Jeans which might give you some indication of the scope and breadth of Jenny Balfour-Paul's 250-page scholarly book on a subject I didn't even know I was that interested in until I went to hear her talk recently.
Good old Launceston for organising the Charles Causley Festival year on year; a weekend of literary and arts events in a Cornish town that it could be argued is not that well known for its cultural calender. Poet Charles Causley was born and bred in the town and taught at the school... read more
Finally we have reclaimed the summer house after years of children various laying claim to the space for bikes, kayaks, baby ducklings, furniture repository, parties, contents of apartment storage, bachelor pad and the rest.
It took us a while to realise that we had vacant possession, that it was actually empty bar an old leather chair that no one wanted, an old leather sofa that one puppy and one kitten had massacred three years ago, an old gate-leg table that didn't fit anywhere else, along with sundry items like a camping stove, a kettle and a set of mis-matched crockery... read more
...Magnus who, like the Queen, has two birthdays. The actual one of which we have not a clue and the official one which is today, June 25th, the day he chose to come and live with us, and in honour of which I have dragged this post up from the basement three years ago...
A funny thing happened on Monday...
It's obviously 'New Animal' week around here and sometimes perhaps things are just 'meant' to happen aren't they.
The Rocky-sized cat 'space' and that rug in front of the Aga has been empty for quite a while now, and we had long ago... read more
...I am high-jacking his prize draw slot.
One of the books I am very much looking forward to reading is The Mighty Dead - Why Homer Matters by Adam Nicolson, and in preparation I thought it might be an idea to at least try and read some Homer.
I am a complete Homer novice I think. Maybe someone shoved some in front of me at school but if they did I don't remember, Virgil yes but Homer no, so I have been reading The Odyssey. Just a few pages each day to see what... read more