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
If you’ve ever wondered what I sound like, it’s your lucky day! Click here to listen to me discuss some books of the year with podcasters Olivia Bright and Carrie Plitt on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book, hosted by Mariella Frostrup.
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“When they start discriminating against British people at European borders, they’re not going to go after white British people, they’re going to go after people like me.”
Click here to read my interview in The Guardian with Meena Kandasamy, whose new novel Exquisite Cadavers is one of the most unusual and interesting books of the year.
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“My husband wants to keep me grounded. He sees that as his mission! You don’t have to keep me grounded, I’ve had a long life, I’m very grounded!”
Click here (no paywall) to read my interview with Bernardine Evaristo in the Irish Times, taking in the Booker, Britain’s hidden black history, literary innovation and French & Saunders.
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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
My favorite literary podcast does Sebald! Yes! The crew at Backlisted: The Literary Podcast (John Mitchinson and Andy Miller) plus guests Philip Hoare and Jessie Greenglass discuss W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn in episode 105, which was let loose on the world November 11. Here’s the description of the full episode from the podcast’s website:
In this episode John and Andy are joined by Philip Hoare, a broadcaster, curator, filmmaker and writer whose books include biographies of Stephen Tennant and Noel Coward, the historical studies Wilde’s Last Stand; Spike Island: The Memory of a Military Hospital, and England’s Lost Eden. His book Leviathan or,... read more
The Blind Tourist With Adriene, a weekly program on the independent public radio station WFMU in East Orange, New Jersey, describes itself as “your weekly trip across the world with radio, stories, histories, languages and more. A travel show turning chaos into different chaos.” The most recent show (December 5, 2019) begins a two-episode program dealing with W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn.
“Bookclub! The Rings of Saturn by W.G. Sebald” is an hour-long mashup of readings, lectures, music, film scores, and more. During the first hour you can hear the voices of Sebald, Theodore Adorno, and others, jazz, an excerpt... read more
Contemporary American composer/musician Elizabeth Brown’s string quartet Just Visible in the Distance will be part of the Interpretations program at Roulette in Brooklyn Thursday, December 5 at 8:00 PM. It will be played by the Momenta Quartet, to whom the piece is dedicated. If you can’t make the concert, you can watch them play the fifteen and a half minute piece on Brown’s website. Brown says this about her composition:
Just Visible in the Distance (2013) consists of intuitively assembled small movements, each flowing into the next. Persistent musical material from some of my earlier pieces resurfaces often. The title is... 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 email@example.com. Eintritt: 5 Euro
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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
'Book writing can be a tedious job needing some incentive to keep one at it. The impulse here was 'can this unbelievable feat be made to sound like the truth, even though it didn't happen?
So I stacked the cards - a foreigner with remarkable theories. two young men with good reasons for having quit top class football, a Chairman of Napoleonic ability.
Then I dredged up memories of 1930 when I was an unqualified teacher, 18 years old and playing that single season for South Milford White Rose when we won a final which never ended (Pitch invasion and furious fights... read more
I was struck, when reading about the life of novelist Josephine Tey, by the similarities in her life to that of Nan Shepherd of The Living Mountain. Both women born in Scotland just three years apart in the 1890s, both writers, both reticent about publicity and both committed to caring for elderly parents, perhaps sacrificing some of their own personal ambitions in the process. I wonder if they ever met.
Born in Inverness, Josephine Tey (the pen name of Elizabeth Mackintosh), like Nan Shepherd, would receive a solid education that enabled her to qualify as a physical training teacher and led... read more
You know what it’s like by now. Something comes into my head and we just have to have a conversation about it. Mostly walking trousers today, but also trousers in general, how I hate shopping for them. It’s the standing in front of the mirror and seeing the new bulges,
...or the skin tight legs that won’t go above the knees, and this whole ‘sits comfortably below the hips’ thing...does anything ‘sit comfortably below the hips’ and not sap a mature woman’s confidence.
Or the shops who have the sizing or the shape ALL WRONG....it’s not me obviously.
Nor do I like to... read more
Thank you for entering everyone. A copy of Frost Fair by Carol Ann Duffy will be skating its merry way to the ten lucky winners who should all have received an email by now. If you send your addresses at warp speed Picador will post the books out in good time for Christmas.
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Advent Sunday is here, we can sing Hills of the North (and South) Rejoice and say the word Christmas at last. We’ll be bringing in our bough for the kitchen today and will start decorating it having decided that we will enjoy a full season of Christmas cheer this year, especially given the skies are grey and the rest etc. This will involve a trip up into the loft to find the deccies and yes, it doesn’t seem like five minutes since Offspringette helped me to pack them away before she flew back to New Zealand last year.
It has taken me no less than ten years to make the acquaintance of Olive Kitteridge.
I bought the paperback in good faith backalong even though I loathed the cover. It stayed on the shelf until I read My Name is Lucy Barton and realised I had to fill in the gaps. Elizabeth Strout's writing first came onto my radar with Abide With Me in 2006 and I was an instant fan. Having overcome the cover in 2016 I then started to read Olive Kitteridge only to find the font was miniscule along with the line spacing and I gave up,... read more