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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Portrait of Sebald by Marc Volk, 1992.
Uwe Schütte has written a new book about W.G. Sebald called Annäherungen (“Approximations”) to mark what would have been Sebald’s 75th birthday on May 18, 2019. This highly personal book by Schütte, a former PhD student of Sebald’s, comprises seven non-academic essays which aim to reflect a portrait of the author’s nonconformist personality and idiosyncratic texts. Avoiding the standard Sebaldian topics such as memory, exile, the Holocaust, trauma and so on, Schütte’s essays in Annäherungen deal with subjects like Sebald’s love of trees and his fascination with fire. He examines Sebald’s deep attachment to... read more
Emmanuel Iduma’s A Stranger’s Pose is a discontinuous journey that zigzags across parts of north Africa. As a traveler who often lacks the local language, Iduma and the people he meets are constantly forced to assess each other with little or no language. The camera that he carries can be perceived as a threat or an invitation. Finding a common language—even if it is simply gestural— is the first priority.
The book consists of seventy-seven short pieces that include brief stories, conversations, dreams, reflections, poems, and photographs that are credited to Iduma and a dozen or so others. The book covers... read more
I’m not sure why authors sometimes want to signal to us in advance what the experience of reading their book is going to be like. Maybe it’s a momentary crisis of self-doubt or an honest attempt to assist the reader. On pages 5 and 6, Jen Craig tells us what we should expect as we read her book Panthers & the Museum of Fire. “You have to imagine a book,” the narrator (also named Jen Craig) tells us, before clarifying that the book she is referring to is really a manuscript.
As soon as you started the manuscript, you would find... read more
In Iowa, where I live, it is going to get to at least 24 below zero Fahrenheit this week, maybe colder. The wind chill from this Arctic vortex will be about -50. I plan to stay indoors and read. If you need something to get you through your winter doldrums, I suggest Remedios Varo’s beguiling brand of Surrealism. Wakefield Press has just put out a small volume called Remedios Varo: Letters, Dreams & Other Writings, translated by Margaret Carson. Best known as a painter, Varo (1908-1963) was born in Spain and then became twice an exile. She first fled the... read more
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! [Added to March 6, 11, April 24, 2019.]
Forrest Gander. Be With. NY: New Directions, 2018. Contains... read more
I needed her to say the words, I needed her to spell it out. But the conversation continued, driven by useless bits of information.
Adam Scovell’s Mothlight is a quietly unsettling novel narrated by Thomas, a young academic lepidopterist who specializes in studying and collecting moths. Growing up, Thomas was obsessed with two elderly women—Phyllis, a professor of entomology and a collector of moths, and her sister Billie. At first, Thomas’s obsession revolved around a mystery—why did Phyllis treat her sister with such open disdain? “What had Billie done, I thought, that Phyllis Ewans considered so awful as to behave so... read more
When the postman delivered the book of Józef Czapski's lectures on Proust, I was slightly disappointed that it was such a slim volume, especially as 82 pages of actual text and a 25-page introduction cost me £10. Compared to the lack of moderation that Czapski says characterised Proust's commitment to his novel once he had abandoned his social and sentimental life, which had been marked by the same lack of moderation, the modesty here is extreme. However, given that the lectures were drawn solely from Czapski's memory of Proust's novel and personal experience of its Parisian milieu and delivered to... read more
Today's date means it is thirty years since Thomas Bernhard died. Twenty years ago I wrote a short introduction to his work for Spike Magazine to mark ten years since his death. In those days, Bernhard was more or less unknown in English-speaking countries, with subtitled documentaries like the one below unimaginable, and this was the first essay I had written for the new-fangled internet, so should be considered in that light. Below, I list what I've written about Bernhard on This Space, with a few other treats along the way.
The Indie Book Blog Is Dead says The Vulture, a commerical culturesite I may or may not have seen before – they all look and sound the same – focusing on another commercial culturesite that looks and sounds pretty much the same but one I had definitely seen before though had never considered to be a book blog, which has been sold to another commercial culturesite, signalling, apparently, the end of indie book blogs, a distinguishing phrase that stood out – independent of what, I wondered; any feeling for literature?
The article prompted a bemused shrug from Anthony as... 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
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
Well, how lucky was I when a book group in Berkshire sent me a copy of Forty Autumns by Nina Willner. The group had read and discussed this 'family's story of courage and survival on both sides of the Berlin Wall', were recommending it far and wide and thought I might like to read it too. One of their number had met the author at the school gates whilst living in Prague, and Nina Willner had done a Facetime session with the reading group during their meeting.
It was a Saturday morning, and a leisurely breakfast when the arrival of a... read more
It's time for my annual Easter Recess, a legacy of never being allowed out to play on Good Friday and now using Easter weekend as a chance to switch off the internet and enjoy the peace.
And for those that have enquired... thank you and yes the excitement continues, the barn owls seem to have moved in properly and we watch them every evening.
On the dot of dusky twilight which we call the dimpsey in these parts, (their clever clocks seem to move it on a minute or two each day, currently 8.36 pm) a head will pop out of the... read more
After all that talk of poetry a few days ago I had an astonishing stroke of luck this weekend.
You know, the one where the planets align and you happen to wander into a charity shop just as they have put out a shelf holding someone’s complete and mostly new and unread collection of poetry books.
Can I say that this charity shop luck thing NEVER happens to me.
My Walking Friend ALWAYS walks into a charity shop at the exact moment the Laura Ashley curtains (full length £12) are about to be hung up (but obviously get no further than her waving... read more
Firstly a huge thank you to those of you who reminded me (on the scribbles about Time Song by Julia Blackburn) that Seamus Heaney had written several 'bog body' poems. I had completely forgotten about them, but there he was, Tollund Man..
Some day I will go to Aarhus To see his peat-brown head, The mild pods of his eye-lids, His pointed skin cap.
In the flat country near by Where they dug him out, His last gruel of winter seeds Caked in his stomach...
And quite by chance someone had recommended Meet me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, whose debut novel at the age of seventy is... read more
Thank you to everyone who entered, copies of The Gentle Art of Tramping will be strolling along to these six luck winners
You should each have received an email.
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At last someone (Penguin) is bringing The Artificial Silk Girl (Das kunstseiden Mädchen) by Irmgard Keun back into print, and I for one couldn't be more delighted. I'm sure I have suggested it hither and yon, especially to publishers of 'forgotten women's fiction', all to no avail down the years.
I first read the book in 2006 having acquired this exquisite hardback edition and wrote this about it...
.'...but here at last is Irmgard Keun's The Artificial Silk Girl, she who lived for some time in exile with Joseph Roth.
Born in Berlin in 1905, Irmgard Keun's second novel was published in 1932... read more