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
Click here to read my review in The Times of Lila Savage’s debut novel Say Say Say, about a young woman caring for a dementia patient.
(It’s paywalled, but if you register for free you should be able to view two articles per week. Mine first, of course!)
... read more
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of Anakana Schofield’s novel Bina. (Elderly readers may recall that I praised her previous novel Martin John.) Unfortunately if you don’t live in Canada, you will probably only be able to buy it from there and have it shipped internationally—until an enterprising UK, US or Irish publisher picks it up.
... read more
Click here to read my review in The Sunday Times of Lucy Ellmann’s Booker-longlisted thousand-page, one-sentence novel Ducks, Newburyport. What would possess someone to write a book like this? And is it worth reading?
(It’s behind a paywall, but if you register with the Times / Sunday Times website, you can read two articles per week for free.)
... read more
Click here to read my Irish Times review of Jeanette Winterson’s first novel in twelve years*, Frankissstein. Spoiler: it’s a lot better than the title suggests, and (on 24 July) has just been longlisted for the Booker Prize.
* up to a point... 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
The monthly reading group of the British newspaper The Guardian, led by Sam Jordison, has selected W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn as its book for this month. You can read about the details here.... read more
W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz Sequence, Paris, December 1998.
Courtesy of the W.G. Sebald Estate
Today, May 18, 2019, is the 75th anniversary of the birth of writer W.G. Sebald. Two interrelated exhibitions are celebrating and examining his legacy at two neighboring institutions that are only 7 kilometers apart in Norwich: Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery and the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts. I’ve already dealt with Norwich Castle’s exhibition “Lines of Sight” in a recent post. The other exhibition explores Sebald’s use of photography. From the Sainsbury Centre’s website, here is their description of the exhibition “Far Away – But... read more
Julian Study Centre, UEA
In addition to the two upcoming exhibitions celebrating what would have been the 75th birthday of W.G. Sebald, there will be a symposium this Friday and Saturday at the Julian Study Centre Lecture Theatre, University of East Anglia, Norwich. Here are the details from its website:
On Friday evening May 10, 5-6.30 pm, Daniel Hahn will be hosting a panel discussion on “Translating W.G. Sebald,” with translators Jo Catling (UEA), Radovan Charvat (Czech Republic), Teresa Ruiz-Rosas (Peru) and Ulrika Wallenström (Sweden).
On Saturday 11 May the symposium program is as follows:
11.15 Welcome (Jo Catling, Duncan Large)
Richard Hibbitt (Leeds) –... read more
Giorgio Agamben tells the story of the Greek neoplatonist Damascius in exile and close to the end of his life setting out to write a book addressing the largest question of them all, the question concerning God, the One, the Supreme Being, whichever word is appropriate. And it is precisely the uncertainty of the name that raises the demand for an answer. If the object of each name precedes names, questions, answers, and everything else, how can we know it? It becomes more than unknowable because "it doesn't even have the nature of being the unknowable, and it is not... read more
At first glance Caroline's Bikini appears to be the fabled Adultery-in-Hampstead novel; the literary unicorn that provides a caricature of English middle-class fiction. It features Evan, a young London professional, who becomes infatuated with Caroline, the wife in a couple who give him lodgings in their attic flat in a wealthy district of London. Except, rather than setting out the expected love triangle drama of that fabled novel, this is about what happens when Evan insists that his copywriter friend Emily produce a novel as a record of his love and how she then struggles with the task when, in... 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
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 been on some amazing journeys to far off places (from my armchair) so far this year.
Underland (with Robert Macfarlane), Doggerland (Time Song by Julia Blackburn), Antarctica (Erebus by Michael Palin) and I'm currently in the middle of a really surprising and very exciting journey through the audio book of The Lord of the Rings.
Tolkien and Middle Earth are synonymous with the Tinker. It was his most favourite book alongside anything by Charles Dickens, and which he had read at least twenty times, and though I've read The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring several times I've never made... read more
I've been reading, in step with the year, The Wood by John Lewis-Stempel. I love his writing, his observations and above all, as a farmer, his pragmatism about life in the countryside. It's an outlook that chimes with mine. much as Juliet Blaxland did with The Easternmost House. However John and I had a minor disagreement on August 1st.
Having pointed out that it was Lammas Day, the day when traditionally the hay is safely gathered in and the cattle are allowed out on the newly-shorn grass, and my having duly noted that, whilst the owlets slept snug in their branwolery,... read more
My apologies for not catching up with replies to all your comments on 'Sisters'. I will, I will, because there is so much I want to add to all your suggestions, and thank you for them, but this Owl Watching lark is all-consuming right now because the owlets started to emerge on Sunday. This seemed very apt because we had been reliving the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing all weekend and being sixteen again when suddenly there it was...one small step for owlet, one giant leap for owlkind (sorry, we just couldn't stop ourselves) and we've almost... read more
Susan Hill has been urging me to read Rosamond Lehmann for months now and I can't quite believe that I had never read her before when I finally picked up Invitation to the Waltz. Published in 1932 but set in 1920 it has been a hugely enjoyable read, the perfect foil to some uber modern novels of late.
It is her birthday and seventeen-year-old Olivia, woken by her sister Kate the svelte natural beauty, prepares for her day...the family breakfast at The Lodge with her parents, her sister and her young brother James. The table, the presents, the good wishes, the... read more
I'd have loved a sister and spent a good proportion of my childhood praying/begging for at least one. I grew up with a brother, male cousins, male sons of my parents' friends and had to go out and find a girl-friend to swap Judy and Bunty comics with. That said, if there was a single upside to losing my brother when I was twenty-one it was that I gained a very lovely and special sister-in-law who I am still very lucky to have in my life. Mind you, I'm sure there are plenty of people who may not be as... read more
I don't know where to start...cricket...tennis...Grand Prix, but wasn't Super Sunday just what the doctor ordered if you are lovers of sport, as we both are. We've only just recovered having not watched cricket since it went to pay-per-view. My Dad taught me all I ever needed to know to get by at a cricket match but this was something else.
I'm not that into the car whizzing around the circuit however many times but Bookhound is. We had two TVs going and I kept guard over the tennis while he did the Grand Prix and the cricket and we just... read more