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
PEN Translates "seeks expert linguists with good knowledge of the publishing field to help us assess books submitted for a grant. Assessors are paid £140 per assessment. For the current round, we are urgently seeking assessors in the following languages: Occitan (Gascon), Portuguese (Brazil) and Danish."
Please write to email@example.com.... read more
Click here for my review in the Independent on Sunday of Lucia Berlin’s selected stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women – a book which has been one of my greatest reading pleasures of the year.
... read more
From one child’s memoir of a parent to another. This one is from Daunt Books, which in five years has established itself as one of the most reliable and interesting publishers in the UK, particularly for its reissues. “The P&L” for the publishing business, says James Daunt frankly, “is shocking”, but perhaps that’s the secret of its success: supported by the Daunt bookshops, the books don’t need to be commercial hits, so the editors can follow their tastes. Here we have the first UK edition of a book published in the US in 1987.
Fierce Attachments is a bright blaze of... read more
Being an Adam Mars-Jones completist is not a full-time job, requiring round-the-clock vigilance by a troupe of assistants. He has published so few books (three novels, two story collections and some essays in 34 years as a published author) that I’m never really convinced that there’s going to be another. Nor, perhaps, is he: “I’m not the sort of person who writes every day. I write when there’s something write, and if I can’t think of a way to write something, I just don’t.” This, surely, is preferable to the alternative. And it means that those rare publications, when they... read more
The Stinging Fly Press, an offshoot of the literary magazine, has made itself a publisher to watch with its careful selection of debut writers, many of whom have gone on to award-winning, bidding-war status. They published the first books by IMPAC-winner Kevin Barry, Irish Book of the Year-winner Mary Costello and Guardian First Book Award-winner Colin Barrett. So this new book was on my radar, though it wasn’t until Twitter began filling with praise, and the press agreed, that I picked it up.
Pond is described in the blurb as a ‘collection’ but also as having unity: a “chronicle of the pitfalls and... read more
Why is the life and world of the visual artist such an appealing subject for novelists? Perhaps I’m overstating it, but I’ve seen or read several in the last year (Jonathan Gibbs’s Randall, Niven Govinden’s All the Days and Nights, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian) and have strong memories of others: Patrick McGrath’s Port Mungo, Patrick White’s The Vivisector. Could it be that writers like telling painters’ stories because it enables them to write about the creative process – so familiar to them – but in a slightly, well, sexier form? The Ecliptic is such a book and more. Its narrator is... read more
In the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks and as police turn their attention to Brussels – especially its Molenbeek neighborhood – I couldn’t help but recall a long and prescient section in Teju Cole’s novel Open City (Random House), which I wrote about when it was published in 2011. For more than fifty pages (one-fifth of the book), Julius, the half-Nigerian, half-German narrator, lingers in Brussels, ostensibly searching for more information about his oma, his grandmother, who had moved there many years earlier. But most of the time he loiters, walks the city, hangs around the predominantly immigrant neighborhoods,... read more
“Political power is always criminal.”
In Ricardo Piglia’s novel The Absent City, the central figure, if you will, is a machine that embodies the memories of one Elena Obieta, the wife of Macedonio Fernández, a writer who, upon her early death, wanted desperately to keep his wife’s memories intact and thus had them transferred to a machine built by an engineer named Richter.
OK. At this point we need to take a momentary time out to properly set the stage for the preceding sentence. Macedonio Fernández was a real Argentinian writer (1874-1952) who is generally regarded as the most important mentor to... read more
The six stories in Assumed Name (five written in 1975 and one in 1968) show Ricardo Piglia working out the strategies that he will exploit in his later novels, two of which I have written about in my most recent posts. In these stories we witness his ingenious reinvention of the genre of noir crime fiction, his tendency to leave unresolved the primary conflicts that occur in his fiction, and his deft manner of encoding the history and politics of Argentina into the backdrop of his writing. These highly compact stories focus on the lives of losers and rebels. There... read more
Every once in a while you need to spend some time in the nuthouse, or in jail, to understand what this country is all about.
Ricardo Piglia’s Target in the Night takes place in a small rural town in Argentina about 1972, toward the end of the long exile of Juan Perón. Target in the Night is a tale of betrayal and corruption, written loosely in the form of a police procedural. Here’s the obligatory summary of the plot: A mysterious American of Puerto Rican heritage moves into town at the invitation of the two daughters of the town’s richest industrialist.... read more
Artificial Respiration, the 1981 novel by Argentinian Ricardo Piglia, is a dense, challenging book about the problem of history and the role that literature plays in trying to decipher “the secret message of history.” Should we write history backwards, as one character (Marcelo Maggi) tries to?
I am sure, besides, that the only way of capturing the sense that defies his destiny is to alter the chronology, to go backwards from the final madness to the moment when Ossario takes part with the rest of the generation of Argentinian romantics in founding the principles and bases of what we call the... read more
In Heike Polster’s book The Aesthetics of Passage: The Imag(in)ed Experience of Time in Thomas Lehr, W.G. Sebald, and Peter Handke, which I wrote about recently, Polster reproduces a painting that I had never seen before by Sebald’s close friend Jan Peter Tripp, which he created in 2003 as a memorial portrait of Sebald. Titled “L’Oeil oder die weisse Zeit” (“The Eye or the White Time”) the acrylic on canvas painting is divided into five sections, four of which represent Sebald seen from different angles. Looked at sequentially, the four portraits depict Sebald gradually disappearing and a bright light coming... read more
This novel appears to be a response to the public success of Karl Ove Knausgaard and various other writers in the news for the very personal content of their published work. It is presented as a journal noting with lab-technician impartiality the media consumption of 'Ellis': reports on current affairs from television, radio, newspapers and internet, book reviews in the arts pages, films watched on DVD, music listened to on YouTube, all blended with personal details familiar to readers of My Struggle such as toothache, shopping trips and the effects of eating asparagus on urine.
"My compulsion to write does not occlude the uselessness of filling pages with words" writes Fernando Sdrigotti. "I know that what I do is pointless, one more message in a bottle in a moment when everyone else around me is also casting messages adrift". He expresses sadness at the sight of so many washed up on the shores of labyrinthine bookshops and, to mitigate the condition, offers a mutated version of Borges' infinite library in which an infinite number of alphabets are postulated with their own infinity to be filled, leaving more spaces than even Borges allowed for: "We go... read more
When this blog turned ten years old in 2014, I decided to make a selection of the best posts to see what it looked like minus blog apparatus. Reading them together in this form, I was pleasantly surprised.
Zero Books is now publishing it as a book with a brilliant introductory essay by Lars Iyer and a cover photo by the exceptionally talented Flowerville. Take a look at the page for some words from, among others, Gabriel Josipovici, Lee Rourke, John Self and Lars himself: Stephen Mitchelmore was the first literary-critical blogger, and has remained the best.... read more
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? Only chance can reveal it, as a fall might graze a knee. So one night at 10pm I happened to be looking for the availability of another book when I noticed a bookseller had priced Gabriel Josipovici's 1977 novel Migrations at... read more
The famous opening lines of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable constitute a modern invocation to the gods at the start of an epic. Only this one appears not at the beginning, not even in medias res, but at the end, where there are no gods, and no end.
"I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know"
Answers emerge to provide aesthetic balance, if nothing else, but at least one is conclusive: the unnamable has a name of sorts ('the Unnamable') and the positive spin placed on the... read more
In the early days of blogging, I often wrote about book prizes. At that time I trusted the aura of a shortlist, drawn by what I assumed was the light of Literature shining down and carving deep relief into the profile of an otherwise flat novel. But I also often complained precisely because once read the books themselves didn't seem to deserve such attention, while others that did were ignored. After a while, in fact after serving on a jury, it became clear that I was fascinated instead by the aura of the impersonal force of a collective honour rather... read more
Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman
Random House, March 2015
E-book, 608 pages
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
~Warning: Here Be Really Big Spoilers~
I read Rachel Hartman's debut novel Seraphina in two days, and I liked it a lot. A really lot. In stark contrast it took me a little over a month to read her long-anticipated sequel Shadow Scale. Admittedly it's 600 pages long but that tardy reading pace is a pretty good measure of the experience. It was slow, slow going, especially in the beginning, and terribly stiff in parts. There was much less... read more
Breaking Light by Karin Altenberg
Quercus, July 2014
Hardback, 384 pages
* Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey
Jonathan Cape, September 2014
Ebook, 272 pages
* Review copy kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley
I read Dear Thief and Breaking Light in parallel, and what a strange pairing they proved to be. Neither was an unequivocally positive reading experience for me, but one was so much cleverer, bolder and more beautiful than the other that the comparison was stark.
I originally turned the offer of a copy of Breaking Light down, because I got on so poorly with Altenberg's first book... read more
Hild by Nicola Griffith
Blackfriars (Little Brown), July 2014
E-book, 560 pages
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
"I'm not pretty."
"You don't need to be pretty. You're like lightning. Like a tide. Like a blizzard."
"Something to run from."
"Something to get caught up in. Something to remember for the rest of your life."
There are some books which simply fit you, and you know them almost immediately.
It starts with the chatter. You hear about a book here and there, increasingly. It pops up in your social media feeds and on Goodreads and eventually your friends' bookshelves. The blurb begins to... read more
Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekback
Hodder & Stoughton, February 2015
E-book, 432 pages
*My copy was kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley.
"Wolf winter," she said, her voice small. "I wanted to ask about it. You know, what it is."
He was silent for a long time.
"It's the kind of winter that will remind us we are mortal," he said. "Mortal and alone."
Here I go again, not writing about Hild. I was absolutely going to, because I planned on a whole Sunday afternoon of quality blogging time, but then I started reading another story from Kelly Link's new collection Get in... read more
The prize season fast approaches, with both the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and the International Foreign Fiction Prize announcing their longlists at the end of this week. Just after midnight on Friday 6th March I believe for all you eager beavers. I'm excited as always, because LISTS, and also because I anticipate this will be a good year for the Baileys Prize, with Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Lucy Wood, Sarah Moss and Sarah Hall all with eligible novels.
The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction has got in early by releasing its longlist last Thursday. It isn't one that I've... read more
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
Faber and Faber, February 2015
E-book, 384 pages
*My copy kindly provided by the publisher, via Netgalley
Why is it so much easier for me to write about the books that I feel ambivalent about rather than the books that I really love? This post should be about Hild by Nicola Griffith, which I want you all to run out and read right now. I've got it all ready to compose: quotes transcribed, book jacket uploaded, publishing info set out. But I can't get started, because my love is getting in the... read more
Whilst we are on the subject of hygge and all things Scandinavian we might as well stay there for a bit longer and go to Ikea.
Many many years ago, when all children were young teenagers and still living at home, Offspringette and I set off on a jaunt to Ikea.
Fed up with asking for clothes storage to miraculously appear, and 'things' various for teenage bedrooms, we took it upon ourselves to sort it and we had a lovely time...double 'Swedish Style' chest of drawers, matching blanket box and bedside cabinet, shoe store...oh yes let's throw in some of those... read more
'Why we should all learn to live Danishly' said the headline, 'light some candles, bake a cake, be nice to yourself and embrace the joy of 'hygge'.
I'd been doing all that for years without knowing it was 'hygge,' but first it has taken us some time to actually be able to say the word hygge with the proper Nordic inflection which apparently involves the sound made when clearing the throat so you end up with 'heurgha'.
The article in the Daily Telegraph defines hygge as...
'the absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming; taking pleasure from the presence of gentle soothing... read more
I recently did something I've never done before... helped to crowdfund a book.
The publisher was Little Toller, the book Orison for a Curlew by Horatio Clare and it was simple... buy a copy ahead of printing and make the book happen. I suspect Little Toller may have been taken by surprise when the target was reached and exceeded within days, but hopefully it all became a way for them to know how much they and their books are loved and wanted.
And then I forgot all about it until the book arrived last week....and I quickly had to look up 'orison'... read more
I have been an occasional reader of Granta magazine, with its eclectic mix of essays, memoir, fiction, poetry and photography, for many years now, either buying as published if I feel in need of some erudite reading, or picking up an old edition in a charity shop and catching up.
So it seemed like a deal too good to miss when someone mentioned on Facebook that, for a short while, Granta's annual digital subscription is on special offer at £6 a year instead of £24.
As a digital subscriber you will have access to the latest issue on your smartphone, tablet and... read more
...and this year we are benefiting from a very generous gift of vouchers for spring bulbs from Fentongollan in Cornwall to plant in memory of the Tinker (thank you Alice of All the Bright Day) and we have had a lovely time choosing and planting up another part of the garden.
Here are just a few of them... Bridal Crown, Famille Rose, Actae, After All...
We planted hundreds of daffodils on a sloping bank with my dad the autumn after he moved in with us, and in their second season, in the weeks of early spring this year, they really had come into... read more
‘There was no holy water No one spoke of fame There were no reliable works We were left to figure out things for ourselves’
On the 8th August 1905 twenty-seven men boarded the SS Rimutaka in New Zealand bound for England and a punishing series of more than forty rugby matches against the home nations; small clubs, larger clubs, the English Counties, the well-established names and thus the All Blacks were born and it is all recounted in The Book of Fame which came in just on my 200 page limit and really kick-started my reading again.