I first came across Stephen Mitchelmore's blog This Space on one of those long, anxious evenings, when the only thing that was going to settle me was to read something new about one of my favourite writers. This was also around the time when I had become tired of being the only one I knew who liked the books that I liked. As soon as I tried to explain to my good friends that a particular book didn't interest me at all, no matter that it was 'profoundly moving' or 'fascinating', it would always seem, in contrast to what they... read more
Right, time to get down to some proper reading, and Wolfgang Hilbig's The Sleep of the Righteous (out from Scott Esposito's Two Lines Press) sits atop the TBR-pile. (His novel "I", described as the "perfect book for paranoid times", out from Seagull Books, is waiting in the wings too.)
László Krasznahorkai tells us "Hilbig is an artist of immense stature" and LARB suggests he writes as "Edgar Allan Poe could have written if he had been born in Communist East Germany."
Enough to intrigue, for sure...... read more
Well, I've waited around a long time for this, and I couldn't be more thrilled... Zero Books have announced the forthcoming publication of my wonderfully talented friend Stephen Mitchelmore's This Space of Writing:
What does 'literature' mean in our time? While names like Proust, Kafka and Woolf still stand for something, what that something actually is has become obscured by the claims of commerce and journalism. Perhaps a new form of attention is required. Stephen Mitchelmore began writing online in 1996 and became Britain's first book blogger soon after, developing the form so that it can respond in kind to the... read more
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
Inspired by a recent comment about paywalls on my review links, I thought it would be a good idea to post an update on how I use my blog now, and how you can make best use of it too.
But first, the past. I started this blog in 2007 and for a time kept up what looks now like impossible – or get-a-life – levels of activity: posting a new review every other day, more or less. Of course that was before I had children… After a while it settled down to a regular pattern of two reviews a week.
In... read more
Click here to read my review in The Guardian of Stig Dagerman’s most famous novel, recently reissued in the U.K. in a new translation. (It’s been published before under the title A Burnt Child.)
As you can see from the image below, it’s the latest in the handsome and interesting Penguin European Writers series.
... read more
Photo credit: Nile Scott
The adventurous Boston-based Merz trio named themselves after the nonsense word that German artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) used for his collage and assemblage artworks that often included found objects. Their goal is to offer “passionate, original playing and thoughtfully curated programming, often in the form of interdisciplinary collaboration.” Two years ago they developed a project of chamber music paired with visual arts and readings from W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. Here’s the program description from their website:
On November 5, 2017, Merz Trio launched its first season with a “walking tour” through German diasporic art. Audience members... read more
It’s the most innocent of beginnings: “Now I am going to tell the story of something that happened one night, years ago, and the events of the morning and afternoon that followed.” The nameless narrator of Sergio Chejfec’s The Incompletes (Open Letter, 2019) begins to tell us what happened on a pier in Buenos Aires when he saw his friend Felix off on a voyage decades earlier. But scarcely three pages elapse before the narrator digresses and begins to relate the strange tales contained in the postcards and letters that Felix has written him during the many years of his... read more
On Thursday September 26 at 8:00 PM, there will be a book launch for Uwe Schütte’s new book Annäherungen – Sieben Essays zu W.G. Sebald. at the Literarische Buchhandlung Der Zauberberg, Bundesallee 133, 12161 Berlin. Here’s how to register to attend, according to the bookseller’s website:
Anmeldungen zu allen Veranstaltungen in der Buchhandlung unter 56 73 90 91 oder per E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Eintritt: 5 Euro
... read more
Film still from Fritz Lang’s M (1931)
I urge you to scoot over to Adam Scovell’s website & blog Celluloid Wicker Man and soak in his excellent recent post “Echoes & Imprints: Towards A Sebaldian Cinema,” which is an edited transcript of a talk he gave at Norwich Castle on August 27, 2019 in conjunction with the exhibition “Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald’s East Anglia.” Here’s how Scovell summarizes his own talk:
I’m going to talk about Sebald from three angles, all related to cinema. The first is to look at cinema as an influence on Sebald’s writing, his relationship to cinema... read more
Jewish cemetery, Alderney Road
In the hands of an expert photographer, a single pinhole can serve to transform the world we normally see into something visceral, something that can play tricks with our sense of time. An exhibition of color pinhole photographs by Karen Stuke called “Wanderhalle: after Sebald’s Austerlitz” opens September 1 in Berlin at Kommunale Galerie Berlin (Hohenzollerndamm 176, 10713 Berlin). Here are the details from the website of the exhibition’s co-organizers The Wapping Project:
The Wapping Project in partnership with Kommunale Galerie Berlin and PhotoWerkBerlin restages its 2013 commission by German artist Karen Stuke responding to W.G. Sebald’s masterpiece... read more
The two exhibitions celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of W.G. Sebald continue their runs in Norwich. “Lines of Sight” at Norwich Castle runs until January 5, 2020, while “Far Away – But From Where?” at the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts closes August 18 of this year. In the meantime, I highly recommend the outstanding piece of writing over at The Quietus by Adam Scovell, who reflects on what both exhibitions can tell us about Sebald. In “Circular Histories: The Contemporary Resonance Of W.G. Sebald,” Scovell observes that it has become increasingly difficult to write... read more
A friend read my walk in the park post with its interjections of 'I thought' and its sarcastically italicised clichés and warned me to stop reading Thomas Bernhard: he is a zombie who takes control over writers who read him, she said winningly. Of course she is right – Geoff Dyer cheerfully admitted as much recently – and I didn't really need telling. While A walk in the park felt like a happy release from dreary blogmode and entirely natural – it's how I handwrite in my Leuchtturms – it emphasises how compromised my dissent of genre writing is. I... read more
This is an interview with JG Ballard published in the NME in October 1985. It lives in a scrapbook of articles I kept as my interest shifted from music to books.
According to my records, 1985 was the year before I started reading novels; my records being a slip of paper from 1986 with twenty-four books listed and scored, not one of which is by JG Ballard. And yet I know in that library spree I read The Drowned World (which I first typed as The Drowned Sea, a more intriguing title), The Crystal World, High Rise,... read more
I've been reading Peter Handke for thirty years and have described before how a chance reading of the opening lines of Across in 1989 was a revelation. So when October comes around and speculation begins about who should receive the Nobel Prize, I remember this moment and Alfred Nobel's will stating the prize should be awarded to a writer who has produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”, wishing only that the agitations about the race, gender or otherwise of the potential recipient could be replaced by a discussion of what this might mean and to which authors... read more
The French for lighthouse is phare, so the title for this novel is a witty pun. It takes the form of a journal written by Geoffroy Lefayen, a French lighthouse keeper. It was first published in 1998 as Vincent de Swarte's first novel and in 2013 Nicholas Royle chose it as the first in a top ten of first novels, adding that it was his ambition to translate and publish it, in part "to honour the memory of De Swarte, who died in 2006 at the tragically young age of 43". Now it has been translated and published by Cōnfingō... read more
After days stuck indoors, I went for a walk in a park and, rather than listen to myself, I listened to Michael Silverblatt's interview with Ariana Reines about her new book. Bookworm is an oasis of public discussion of novels and poetry because it discusses novels and poetry.
Reines says A Sand Book is unusually long for a poetry title because she loves long books, books that "go beyond themselves", and she wanted to write a work that bore witness to her experience of many, various cultures, and for that experience to stay with her. Silverblatt tells... read more
In 2009 Tim Parks warned of the Dull New Global Novel in which "culture-specific clutter and linguistic virtuosity have become impediments" to commercial success. "From the moment an author perceives his ultimate audience as international rather than national, the nature of his writing is bound to change". "What" he asks "are the consequences for literature?".
Dullness, apparently. Parks offers a handful of examples of authors whose novels have been planed to removed the jagged edges of a specific culture, and while he doesn't include Ágota Kristóf, her novel Yesterday might well be the apotheosis of smooth. First published in... read more
I've been watching a lot of book videos on YouTube recently, with a growing desire to contribute to the conversation. At the same time I've wondered if making videos might be an answer to those times when writing a longish blog review is beyond my powers. Somehow a couple of thousand words seems like a lot more effort than talking to myself for 10 minutes. Anyway, I decided to give it a go and do a 'tag' video by way of introduction, without any special equipment or editing or, well, forethought really. It's taken me almost a week to... read more
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Fourth Estate, 14th June 2016
E-book, 736 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped.
Annie Proulx's new novel is about devastation, both cultural and environmental. Over the course of 700 intensively researched pages and 300 years it charts the story of the colonization of North America, and the landscapes and ways of life it destroyed,... read more
Forgive me lovely people for I have slumped, both in my reading and in my blogging.
It's been over a month since my last confession and I've had to drag myself back to the keyboard like a stroppy teenager.
After a phenomenally good January to May of books, June was a bit of a wasteland. Thankfully July is looking up, but after an absence it's always difficult for me to get back on the horse and write again. The longer the gap the more books there are to be read for review, the more reviews there are to write, the easier it... read more
The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Bloomsbury, 2 June 2016
E-book, 355 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
At nineteen Katherine North is the oldest Phenomenaut at Shencorp, the world's leading Consciousness Projection provider. Recruited at the tender age of twelve she has spent much of the last seven years hooked up to life support in a lab while her mind inhabits the bodies of other animals. In that time she has contributed enormously to scientific research on endangered species - her specialism - bringing back data and the lived experience of being an animal into the human... read more
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg
Fourth Estate, 2nd June 2016
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
The 2nd of June seems to be this year's fashionable publication date for all the books designed to appeal to me. I count four ARCs on my TBR coming out that day and all of them sound ruddy amazing. I've been psyching myself up for a personal mini-challenge of reading them in quick and glorious succession, so that I can write about them in the run up to the Big Day. First up is a debut by Eleanor Wasserberg, a recent graduate from... read more
Journeyman by Marc Bojanowski
Granta, 5 May 2016
*My copy provided by the publisher for review.
Just a year ago the look, feel and blurb for this book would have sent me running for Bailey's Prize hill and the safety of my comfort zone post-haste. A carpenter has a dark night of the quietly masculine soul in mid-2000s California against the back drop of war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Take note of how I'm trying to extend my reading repetoire by trusting to the judgement of Granta and ploughing on in. As brave ventures go, this one turned out surprisingly... read more
Doing a bit of housework behind the scenes here on the scribbles and I idly clicked 'draft posts'. This is a helpful little feature that allows me to sift 'draft' from 'published' and it sometimes holds nice surprises.
Surely I had already shared my thoughts on Dæmon Voices - Essays on Storytelling by Philip Pullman early last year?
Perhaps this was a duplicate..
I hunted high and low, up and down the side bar and could find no record.
I read the post through again, written in the early months of 2018 and have decided to publish it now, warts and all, given my... read more
It is no secret here on the scribbles that I am a huge fan of the girls' boarding school novel, and aren't we lucky to have such a rich seam to choose from. Whilst the boys had to make do with Tom Brown's School Days and Goodbye Mr Chips and Jennings (there must be more I just can't think of them) us girls were spoiled for choice. I cut my reading teeth on Malory Towers and begged to be sent to boarding school where I thought I'd fit right in. Darrell Rivers and lacrosse and midnight feasts and tuck boxes.... read more
Sailing along happily with my Tove Jansson reading, I picked up The True Deceiver. First published in 1982 and translated from its original Swedish by Thomas Teal in 2009 for Sort of Books, this is a little gem of a novel. So much tightly bound into one narrative as Katri Kling decides that she and her brother Mats, a boat-yard worker, need money and perhaps the best way to achieve it is to inveigle their way into the life of famous local artist and illustrator of children's books, Anna Aemilin.
'Nothing can be as peaceful and endless as a long winter... read more
You might remember that I had a moment of great fortune in one of the town's charity shops backalong. Someone had donated their entire collection of poetry books and I might have been the first in the door, who knows, but I scooped up a few gems for 50p each, poets I'd always meant to explore, along with a few new names that had drifted onto my radar.
I started my reading of this bounty with The Remedies by Katharine Towers and it resonated with me from the first page and the first lines of the first poem The Roses
Because my... read more
The TV adaptation of His Dark Materials has started here in the UK, to much-generated hype and anticipation and I'm wondering whether anyone else watched the first episode on Sunday evening, and if so what did you think?
I'm deeply into The Secret Commonwealth and the world of Lyra and the Magisterium and alethiometers and dæmons, so it was an easy transition for me. Having loved La Belle Sauvage I have slipped straight back into the world that Philip Pullman creates. He makes it effortless for a reader prepared to suspend disbelief and immerse themselves, and I was reminded (thank you... read more
I mean ‘smell’ too, but scent is a much nicer word.
My first deliberate memory of scent is probably the tin of Dust of the Stars talcum power that seemed to be bottomless, and sat in our bathroom for as long as I can remember. Oval shaped and rusting around the base, it seemed to go on and on. Growing up there'd be a lot of excitement about the box of blue hyacinth bath cubes for Christmas which segued into Aqua Manda...
and Kiku perfume (Kiku matching my bright yellow 1960s bedroom) but as I recall the scent was a bit overpowering.