Click here to read, just in time for last-minute present-buying for bookish friends, my review in The Spectator of The Penguin Classics Book, a beautiful, sumptuous, detailed and shaming history and catalogue of perhaps the only classics publisher in the UK that is a genuine household name.
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Click here to read my Irish Times review of two new Lucia Berlin books: Evening in Paradise (more stories, following from A Manual for Cleaning Women) and the memoir/photos/letters collected as Welcome Home.
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Click here to read my review of Anna Burns’ Booker-shortlisted novel Milkman, in Literary Review magazine. This is a novel that’s had a lot of praise, on my Twitter timeline at least, so my lukewarm response may show the unconvinced that they’re not alone.
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Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in 2018 containing embedded photographs. You can see bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo. I also maintain bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo). If you know of a book that I have not mentioned, please let me know in a comment. My thanks to the many Vertigo readers who have already pointed out books that I had not known about!
Forrest Gander. Be With. NY: New Directions, 2018. Contains a poem sequence called “Littoral Zone,” which consists... read more
I have several duplicate Sebald books in my collection that could use good homes. $25 each plus $2.50 media rate postage per title (within the US).
Logis in einem Landhaus. Hanser, 1998. Second printing. Cloth bound. An unread copy without dust jacket.
For Years Now. Poems by W.G. Sebald, Images by Tess Jaray. Short Books, 2001. First edition. Paper bound. An unread copy. SOLD.
Die Beschreibung des Unglücks. Residenz Verlag, 1985. First edition. Cloth bound. A fine copy without a dust jacket.
Schwindel. Gefühle. Eichborn, 1990. First edition of Vertigo. Cloth bound. A very good copy with very minor evidence of wear at corners... read more
Film still from Patience (After Sebald).
Today is the seventeenth anniversary of the death of W.G. Sebald, and it seemed like a good time for another shout out to Grant Gee’s excellent documentary Patience (After Sebald). I’ve watched Patience numerous times and it never fails to impress me. It’s also a sad reminder of what we lost when Sebald died suddenly at the age of 57. I wrote about Gee’s film shortly after it came out in 2011.
There are several ways to see Patience. It’s currently available on the streaming service Mubi (although, unfortunately, not in the United States).... read more
Michelle Bailat-Jones. Unfurled. NY: Ig Publishing, 2018.
Olga Medvedkova. Going Where. London: Sylph Editions, 2018. The Cahiers Series 33.
Neither of us realized we had been living in a borderland all that time, a place where rules are too often unspoken, never declared. We didn’t understand there were passports and checkpoints involved. And that not all three of us would make it through.
So begins Michelle Bailat-Jones’s second novel Unfurled, whose narrator Ella is about to have one very bad week. Ella is a veterinarian, highly sensitized to the health and needs of animals, but prone to ignoring those things that make... read more
Let me just say right from the start that Uwe Schütte’s new short, general introductory book W.G. Sebald is excellent. Published in Liverpool University Press’s “Writers and their Work” series, Schütte’s book is now the place to start with one’s study of Sebald. I am really surprised that something like this had not been done in the seventeen years since Sebald’s death. It seems so simple, doesn’t it—summarize an author’s life, books, and impact in 130 pages? Schütte makes this look easy, which is a credit to the clarity of his writing and critical thinking. But in truth this is... read more
I had gradually begun to transform into a sickness.
Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Females (Two Lines Press) is an angry explosion of a novel. The target of Hilbig’s haunting wrath in this brief book is the nation of his birth, the German Democratic Republic. Hilbig (1941-2007) lived in East Germany until he was finally allowed to emigrate in 1985 to West Germany.
Whenever I’d felt within me the unforeseen power to examine myself, even to know myself, and consequently, perhaps, expunge the germs of my sickness, I found that the state snatched every tool from my hands . . . For me, reality... read more
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us, says Kafka in the famous letter.
I wondered what this might mean as the 'books of the year' lists began to appear last month. Imagine if each contributor constrained themselves to choose only axe-books. Each entry would likely remain blank and the value of what did appear would be extreme compared to the predictable logrolling we see each year. Or maybe they would be exactly the same, as the idea of such a book is so vague that it could include everything from everyday escapist relief to... read more
‘The best things in museums are the windows’ Paintings on gallery walls have always been distant to me. I think of Pierre Bonnard's quip as I wander, aware that I am too soon drawn toward the text panel on the wall beside each painting, to the wall itself, to the design of the gallery space – what if there were a hundred windows and only one painting? – and then to the giftshop, as if in search of something to close that distance: a postcard or Mondrian mug. I am always trying to understand this space, specifically why a painting, any... read more
Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point is to be reached.
On Saturday I discovered that another secondhand bookshop in Brighton has closed; the third this year. Saturday mornings have often involved a walk along the promenade, a turn right into Ship Street and onto Colin Page's around the corner on Duke Street. There will be no motivation now the books are gone.
The window displayed antiquarian volumes of no interest to me, and indeed more or less everything inside the shop was of no interest to me, but in good weather the... read more
This sumptuous Folio Society edition of Dante's Vita Nuova translated from the Italian by Mark Musa arrived with the suggestion that I post photographs to accompany anything I wanted to write. So here it is, bathed in marine light.
What I wanted to write was unclear to me, and feeling incapable of adding anything worthwhile to the centuries of studies, I began with the basics.
The book was published in 1295 and comprises 31 poems and a prose narrative described by Robert Harrison as juxtaposing "quasi-hallucinatory dreams and visions with pedantic commentary on the poems"; an unusual... read more
The saints were uneducated. Why, then, do they write so well? Is it only inspiration? They have style whenever they describe God. It's easy to write from divine whispers, with one's ear glued to his mouth. Their works have a superhuman simplicity. But they cannot be called writers, since they do not describe reality. The world won't accept them because it does not see itself in their work. EM Cioran, Tears and SaintsA surprising conclusion: realism, the new narcissism.
It might explain why I prefer to read non-writers. But what do they write about if God no... read more
This is a novel about a translator who moves from London to Paris after the death of his first wife and then to Wales with his second wife, from where the novel is narrated, sometimes through the translator's imagination and sometimes via the guests invited to dinner parties in their cottage on the hills above Abergavenny. I admit that this doesn't sound like the most exciting premise for a novel, but I have read it three times in quick succession with increasing pleasure and relief (an odd word to use in a review perhaps), so let me try to explain... 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
I've had to delve a long way back in my reading journal to find out when I read Diane Setterfield's first novel The Thirteenth Tale. August 2006, the scribbles here would have been a mere five months in existence and now look...we're heading for teenage-dom and our thirteenth year this March. I always enjoy a look back over books read, The Thirteenth Tale preceded by The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moburg, The Girl From the Chartreuse by Pierre Peju and The Barracks by John McGahern, and followed by Lying Awake by Mark Salzman, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters and Hotel Savoy... read more
A lot of writers were kind enough to take me along with them on their journeys last year...
It is by chance that I seem to have been on a journey each month (more or less) with these twelve amazing books. Links back to original scribbles with just my thoughts on paddling down the Yukon still to come...
The Mighty Dead ~ Adam Nicolson
In Pursuit of Spring ~ Edward Thomas
The Salt Path ~ Raynor Winn
St Kilda - The Silent Islands ~ Alex Boyd
Coasting ~ Jonathan Raban
Swimming With Seals ~ Victoria Whitworth
A Single Swallow ~ Horatio Clare
The Odyssey ~ Homer (trans. Emily Wilson)
The Rings of... read more
A round-up of recent good reads which includes extracts from my reading journal notes...
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
When a group of volunteers gather in a 'haunted' house as part of an experiment there's bound to be trouble. Vulnerable Eleanor Vance, until recently full-time carer for her mother, the enigmatic but seemingly confident Theodora, Luke Sanderson, nephew of the owner described as a liar and a cheat and overseeing the project Dr Montague. Everyone gives a false and slightly ethereal account of themselves, nothing seems true, not house nor people. With the narrative comes all the uncertainty as... read more
It really was a mistake to whisper the words 'Couch to 5k' within earshot of Offspringette. Having added the Personal Trainer string to her bow whilst in New Zealand, she was on it in a flash and once I had downloaded the app there was no going back.
In fairness I had been considering it for a while. Whilst I do a fair few summer miles up on Dartmoor, the regular winter miles are more elusive, and I could definitely feel the lack of fitness creeping up and the pounds creeping on...but running...seriously?
For those that don't know what on earth I'm... read more
Firstly here's wishing you all a belated but very happy and peaceful New Year; one that prospers where you need it too and is gentle where it needs to be too. I hope you have all had a restful mid-winter break too. We've had a splendid few family weeks covering Christmas, New Year and Bookhound's birthday, but now that Offspringette is flying home to New Zealand it's time to fire up the desktop, wake up the scribbles and get started on a new year of reading and other exciting projects.
We bade our farewells at 4am this morning. I waved Bookhound... read more
...isn’t ended here yet either, but I’m nipping in to send good wishes your way and sharing my owl shelf in this year’s card department.
We hosted our usual family Christmas breakfast with three ‘children’ under one roof for once, and it was the mayhem of the olden days. It’s the homemade crackers that do it. Same toys year after year, the wind-up clockwork reindeers, the whoopee cushion, the false teeth and everyone recognising their favourites.
We’ve opened presents (there will be no shortage of socks in this family for the foreseeable) and I have scooped, lovely books, diary, pen, notebook, thermal... read more