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
‘Reading Rushdie’s latest novel, with its characteristic tidal wave of pathological pun-making, paragraph-long lists and how-do-you-do-fellow-kids cultural memery, made me think of the question Frasier Crane once asked Niles: “When was the last time you had an unexpressed thought?”‘
Click here to read my summary in the Irish Times of the runners and riders in this year’s Booker Prize, ahead of the winner announcement on Monday.
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Click here to read my review in The Times of Mary Costello’s exceptional new novel The River Capture.
(If you’re stymied by the paywall, you should be able to register for free and read two articles per week.)
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Click here to read a piece I wrote for the Penguin Books website about Emily Dickinson, and how the real one compares to the one Apple TV is portraying in the trailer for its new series about her…
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Eintritt: 5 Euro
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Film still from Fritz Lang’s M (1931)
I urge you to scoot over to Adam Scovell’s website & blog Celluloid Wicker Man and soak in his excellent recent post “Echoes & Imprints: Towards A Sebaldian Cinema,” which is an edited transcript of a talk he gave at Norwich Castle on August 27, 2019 in conjunction with the exhibition “Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald’s East Anglia.” Here’s how Scovell summarizes his own talk:
I’m going to talk about Sebald from three angles, all related to cinema. The first is to look at cinema as an influence on Sebald’s writing, his relationship to cinema... read more
Jewish cemetery, Alderney Road
In the hands of an expert photographer, a single pinhole can serve to transform the world we normally see into something visceral, something that can play tricks with our sense of time. An exhibition of color pinhole photographs by Karen Stuke called “Wanderhalle: after Sebald’s Austerlitz” opens September 1 in Berlin at Kommunale Galerie Berlin (Hohenzollerndamm 176, 10713 Berlin). Here are the details from the website of the exhibition’s co-organizers The Wapping Project:
The Wapping Project in partnership with Kommunale Galerie Berlin and PhotoWerkBerlin restages its 2013 commission by German artist Karen Stuke responding to W.G. Sebald’s masterpiece... 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
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
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
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
One of you recommended The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray and I thank you for it. The Village Book Group theme was 'Food', I had bought it especially and read it and it would have fitted the bill perfectly had I remembered to go. But it was back in the days of Tinker’s Cott preparations and we were knee deep in paint and curtains. It was only the 'Are you joining us?' text at 7.30pm that had me putting my brain back in and remembering. I walked over the next day to apologise (except everyone was out).
Meanwhile you'd need some... read more
'For a story to hold the child's attention, it must entertain her and arouse her curiosity. But to enrich her life, it must stimulate her imagination; help her to develop her intellect and to clarify her emotions; be attuned to her anxieties and aspirations; give full recognition to her difficulties, while at the same time suggesting solutions to the problems which perturb her...'
I have taken huge liberties with this quote from Bruno Bettelheim's book The Uses of Enchantment - The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales by substituting 'her' for 'him'. It was a book I first came across during... read more
I seem to be happily becalmed in the 1940s with my reading at the moment and I'm in no rush to seek out the wind or the currents that will move me on. Contemporary fiction just isn't cutting it right now; everything I pick up seems to be ticking off the 2019 'woke' PC boxes and if I'm honest I'm a bit weary of it, maybe life seems real and uncertain enough without 'making it up'. I know it will pass, and that fiction is all about reflecting the moment, but for now becalmed in reliable waters is fine. When... read more
Standing at the check-out in Waterstones the other day and a little pile of books caught my eye...
The World of Wolf Hall - A Reading Guide to Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall & Bring Up the Bodies
A free 50 page booklet that will also be published free on Kindle.
'Please do take one,' said the assistant.
'Ahead of the release of The Mirror & the Light, the stunning conclusion to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy, revisit two of the most celebrated novels of our time.
Bringing the opulent, brutal Tudor world of Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII to glittering life, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have... read more
Bringing you up to speed on more of my deckchair reading, which now seems such a distant memory, the sunshine having been replaced by the torrential rain that we knew had to come. All we can say is God bless it for keeping the bore hole happy.
Bookhound and I spent a carefree day or two wandering around the very last Port Eliot Festival back in July. The Kayaker was doing all the outdoor photography workshops for the festival so we kept out of his way, rolled up as usual for Mik Artistik's set before wandering around all the 'talking' tents,... read more
Happy memories still of interviewing Tracy at Port Eliot Festival backalong and I always look forward to a new book from her.
A Single Thread, centred on the city of Winchester and its Cathedral, follows the life of Violet Speedwell in the early 1930s. One war barely over, another beckoning, and life for single woman is often precarious and complicated with many social constraints. There is loneliness, prejudice, fear, and in many cases poverty, so when Violet volunteers and joins the cathedral embroiderers there will be much to learn but also friendships within the cathedral community to be forged.
Woven into... read more