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
Mihail Sebastian was a Romanian writer best known for his plays and his journal of 1935-44 (“The Fascist Years”) which recorded Jewish persecution and the antisemitism that even his friends displayed toward him. One handy example arose when he asked the playwright Nae Ionescu to write a preface to this novel, and his friend included antisemitic passages – which Sebastian published anyway. The reception to the book and the preface was such that, when Sebastian later published a collection of essays summarising the experience, he called it How I Became a Hooligan. Having been made homeless by antisemitic laws, he... read more
I found this the other day. It is the start of an essay I was asked to write for an anthology, plans for which came to an abrupt halt when the publisher went out of business. So it was never finished, but I thought it worth sharing as a snapshot and a reflection. It was written 3 years ago, hence references to my second son (now 4) being 16 months old. (Plus: remember Sudoku?)
Before I sat down to write this piece about my reading has changed, I went to the bookcases in our living room and dining room to see... read more
Julian Barnes’ last novel, The Sense of an Ending, won the Man Booker Prize and, almost as significantly, is one of the most commented-upon books on this blog. Barnes, as one of the enduringly big names of the 1980s literary fiction surge – see also Amis and McEwan in particular – has always been prominent, but his Booker win took him to a much wider readership. His first novel since then will be examined with more attention than ever before. I think it will withstand such scrutiny.
The Noise of Time takes its title from a collection of writing by Osip Mandelstam,... read more
I passed over Paulina & Fran when I saw it in Granta’s catalogue last year, but a flurry of praise on Twitter made me reconsider. I’m glad I did.
Paulina & Fran is a sharp and arch tale of two friends – though frenemies might be more apt. Paulina Hermanowitz is a cool, formidable arts student in New England, though her reputation may exceed her and exist mainly in her own mind. “Paulina expected cheers when she walked in. ‘I have arrived,’ she said loudly. ‘Straight from my bed.'” In her bed she left behind her lover Julian – reader, keep an... read more
Another year of diminishing blog activity. Please don’t plot it on a graph year by year, or I will have to rename this site Asymptote. As with last year, I’ve included a few titles that I really liked but haven’t reviewed. In a third tradition, titles are listed alphabetically by author. If these books have anything in common, it is probably strangeness and strength of voice.
EDIT: I somehow forgot to include Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker, which is odd as it’s not just one of the best books I read this year, but one of the best books I’ve ever read. I keep... read more
On September 9 of this year, a symposium on “The Poetry of W.G. Sebald” was held at Stockholm University under the organization of Axel Englund. The participants were:
Axel Englund: “W.G. Sebald as poet: an introduction”
Iain Galbraith: “’A cover / of marbled faux / leather’: the uses of surface in the poetry of W.G. Sebald”
Adrian Nathan West: “Coincidences without antecedents, histories without verification”
Uwe Schütte (with Melissa Etzler): “On W.G. Sebald’s unpublished poetry”
Sven Meyer: “Our brothers the ducks: Sebald’s birds”
Thankfully, translator and writer Adrian Nathan West has posted on his blog (which I highly-recommend) a transcript of his presentation.
Ukrainian... read more
This summer, Manchester University Press released an affordable paperback edition of A Literature of Restitution: Critical Essays on W.G. Sebald, edited by Jeannette Baxter, Valerie Henitiuk, and Ben Hutchinson. The paperback version is priced at $29.95, compared to the 2013 hardcover edition, which runs around $99. For the most part, the various authors managed to at least partially focus on the theme alluded to in the book’s title, lending the volume a sense of unified purpose. Here are my brief summaries of the thirteen essays included in A Literature of Restitution. Keep in mind that I am in no way... read more
I was obliged to return to a country inhabited by drooling freaks with criminal features.
For a longtime admirer of Thomas Bernhard, it was a little eerie to read Horacio Castellanos Moya’s Revulsion: Thomas Bernhard in San Salvador. Castellanos Moya’s mimicry of the narrative voice of some of Bernhard’s novels – especially Old Masters and Woodcutters – feels nearly pitch perfect, and the transposition from post-Nazi Austria to post-civil war era El Salvador is a brilliant piece of stagecraft.
Edgardo Vega, the endlessly complaining narrator who is disgusted with everything he sees (and who stands in for Thomas Bernhard in Castellanos Moya’s... read more
There is a fascinating and revealing article on the New Yorker‘s literature-oriented blog, Page-Turner, that sheds new light on Sebald’s research for his final work of prose fiction Austerlitz. In his essay “W. G. Sebald and the Emigrants: How a friendship with two elderly Jewish refugees inspired the German novelist,” writer André Aciman describes how casual conversations with another father, Martin Ostwald, whose son attended the same kindergarten as Aciman’s, led to the remarkable discovery that Ostwald’s parents had met Sebald and had corresponded with him numerous times. Aciman’s tale is wonderfully told and illustrated with great photographs provided by... read more
Eve walks by, her hair like foamy night, in her skin-tight jeans, and the others snigger and suck in their teeth in lust, but I – I just want to kneel down. She doesn’t look at us. She isn’t afraid of us. She has her solitude for armor.
Saad is one of the four teen-aged narrators who take turns telling us about their lives and interconnected friendships in the poor, gang-ridden Troumaron neighborhood of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. In Troumaron, “one day we wake up and the future has disappeared.” Saad, who worships Eve, has also fallen under the... read more
OK. It’s summer, the distractions are numerous, and the pile of half-read and unread books is mounting. And now I’m away for a week in Door County, which is on a narrow peninsula at the northern tip of Wisconsin, surrounded by Green Bay and and the north end of Lake Michigan. The books that I have brought with me with have to compete with the many distractions that Door County offers, so I don’t know how much progress I’ll make. Bear with me. Vertigo will reconvene in a week or two with a write up off Ananda Devi’s fine (more... read more
This year marks thirty years since I started reading. Below is my first and only handwritten book list of all the books I read that year in the order I read them. Yes, I am embarrassed. In 1985, I had read a short book about the miners' strike and Twice Shy, a Dick Francis crime novel, but it was not until my birthday in January 1986 when I borrowed from the library Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being that everything changed. I'm pretty sure it was mentioned on a TV show and the pretentious and hyperbolic title had attracted me.... read more
I'm still bothered by Karl Ove Knausgaard's fear that the poetry of Hölderlin would not open to him even while he carried on to have a successful literary career. It's worth quoting at length: You could write a whole dissertation about Hölderlin, for example, by describing the poems, discussing what they dealt with and in what ways the themes found expression, through the syntax, the choice of words, the use of imagery, you could write about the relationship between Hellenic and Christian modes, about the role of the countryside in his poems, about the role of the weather, or how... read more
The novelist and critic Jeff Bursey has reviewed This Space of Writing in the Winnipeg Review. He says the book "reaffirms the high quality of [my] writing and allows for an immersive experience in, primarily, Modernist writing and themes as found in the dead and the living". He also takes issue with the TLS review back in April.
As this is the fifth review from a fifth different country and the only negative one comes from my own native land, my sense that there is something profoundly intellectually fearful and withdrawn about this little England seems... read more
The long post below criticises the dominant mode of fiction as practised in English, with the main complaint being that fiction inhabits the minds of its characters, telling us what they feel and think without any concern for boundaries and what crossing boundaries might destroy. As I admitted there, this is a naïve complaint, as it is precisely because the novel is one of the few places where there are no constraints on human knowledge and control that it is so popular, providing as it does readers and writers with an escape from the otherwise dominant experiences of uncertainty, confusion,... read more
The BBC marked Holocaust Day 2015 by showing the nine hours of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah over consecutive Sunday evenings. I had seen the film almost thirty years before when Channel 4 showed it in full with, as a mark of respect and good taste, a placeholder instead of ad breaks. The decades haven't erased memories of steam trains, lush Polish meadows and crease-faced locals nonchalantly recalling a time when there was a death camp on the doorstep. So why did I watch it all again, hour after hour?
Certainly there is a mesmeric quality. Lanzmann dispensed with overt... read more
Showed up to Heathrow today for the two-thousandth time. Got into my taxi and I learned Nick Cave's son died. The news hit me like a bus into a hill. from Exodus by Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
He fell from a chalk cliff last Summer, July 15th, two miles east from where I sit writing this and beside the cycle path along which I have cycled west many hundreds of times, slogging into the prevailing wind. In the background to this photograph is the final uphill ramp before home.
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 have come home from our holiday feeling refreshed and renewed with my reading, and having filleted a strange urge to read anything and everything about whales ( except Moby Dick) out of my system.
I can't remember what started this whale thing off now, but anyway I ordered a supposedly Very Good copy of Leviathan, or The Whale by Philip Hoare for 1p from You Know Where and got what I deserved. There are a couple of well-known sellers on there who have a very different interpretation of a book's condition as Very Good to mine. Sometimes I let them... read more
'To describe a passion to those who do not share it is a difficult enough task, let alone explaining it.' Ivor Richards
Dan Richards on the trail of his great-great aunt Dorothy Pilley, (and by association her husband I.A. Richards, the father of literary criticism) and to be honest we were on the trail of the man himself at Port Eliot Festival. As I recall this was a case of book in book tent selling the event to me and the Happy Campers because, having read the end-flap information of Climbing Days as we browsed, we all realised that this was one... read more
We had awarded ourselves a couple of days in the land of Wainwright and James Rebanks of The Shepherd's Life, the Lake District, en route north as time to pause, unwind and get a feel for the road and the journey, and so we had a wonderful time wandering around Keswick. It really is a lovely town, the last time I was there we had been delivering Offspringette to university at Stirling (we are talking 1999 or so) and I had bought a couple of skirts and shirts and a fleece jumper in a sale at the Rohan shop. Rohan, if... read more
Fran H-B and I shared a humourous moment when we all met for the day at Hardy's Cottage a while back.
Conversation over tea and cake at the end of the afternoon turned to books, as it always does, and as titles flew around the table Fran mentioned a book she had seen I was reading over in the sidebar >>>
'What about The Museum of You?' she asked.'You've read it and it sounds really good, I'm going to get hold of a copy of that.'
Unbeknown to Fran I had just handed her a copy, gift-wrapped and not to be opened until... read more
Well where on earth did the rest of that week go.
2000 miles later and here we are home safe and sound and can you believe that we traversed the length of the country meeting not a single traffic jam or hold up anywhere and given the amount of traffic on the roads that seems incredible.
It has been a wonderful holiday, a rest and a change and we have seen and done some memorable things more of which in the weeks to come I am sure.
Sailed across on a glorious but Very Choppy day for that first glimpse of Stromness to... read more