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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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
As we approach what would have been the 75th birthday of W.G. Sebald on May 18, 2019, two interrelated exhibitions will be 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’ll deal with each in a separate post, starting with Norwich Castle’s exhibition, “Lines of Sight.” From the website of Visit Norfolk:
“Lines of Sight: W.G. Sebald’s East Anglia” at Norwich Castle from May 10 until January 5 2020 is an unprecedented exhibition celebrating the work of the author... read more
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
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
‘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
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
Having had a delightful ten years steeped in poetry and thanks in some part to Carol Ann Duffy, our last Poet Laureate, I am hopping around with delight at the selection of Simon Armitage as our next one.
I’ve made my way through much of Carol Ann Duffy’s oeuvre, even championed The World’s Wife on the radio ( A Good Read, some years ago now) and benefited hugely from the way that poetry is given greater exposure thanks to the Laureate’s different and developing role of providing more than an ode to mark a National Occasion. Mind you, weren’t we all... read more
Imbecile - A stupid person.
Mid 16th century (as an adjective in the sense ‘physically weak’): via French from Latin imbecillus, literally ‘without a supporting staff’, from in- (expressing negation) + baculum ‘stick, staff’. The current sense dates from the early 19th century.
I thought I'd better look up the meaning and origins of the word 'imbecile' because its one of those words that has floated along and possibly changed its inference down the years. I'd suggest used mostly as a form of friendly mockery or intense frustration of or with a. n. other person these days, but used quite seriously in... read more
Twenty-seven years since it won the Booker Prize in 1992 (maybe check my maths as usual) twenty-two years since I read The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje in 1997, a lot happened that year, more or less in this order from January...
I started six years of an OU degree in English Literature...
My mum died...
I had a full-time health visiting caseload of about 400 children...
I was sub-poenaed to give evidence in court in a child protection case concerning a family the multi-agency services had been working to bring back together for two years. It wasn't going to happen. It was awful...
Our... read more
Mothers were not given space to write their occupations on UK birth certificates until 1984. Source : General Register Office
The registrar takes his pen, tips its freight of permanent ink to write Poet in the space that did not exist beside my mother's name.
or my grandmother's name. Those bloody sweat-drenched women sent back to hearth and cradle, their skills cancelled, never known...
I have been reading Rebecca Goss's new collection Girl, (following on from the post about Her Birth earlier in the week) is from the cover information...
'In Girl, Rebecca Goss considers the emotional and physical connections women make to the world around them. The poems interrogate and celebrate... read more
Let's be honest, I was duty-bound to do some pleasurable barn owl homework, and this little beauty, Barn Owl one of the 'Encounters in the Wild' series by Jim Crumley, published by Saraband Books, was a very happy find and a very enjoyable read.
Some time ago I wrote about The Company of Swans by the same author, a book that deservedly sits on my Best Books About Nature shelf and Barn Owl will join it.
Just to update...
Having seen two owls in the pole box we have only been seeing one for a few weeks now. By all accounts this is... read more
Reading the new collection Girl by Rebecca Goss (my thoughts coming up later this week) has taken me back to the first collection 'Her Birth' which wowed me back in 2013. I was just going to link to it, then I thought I'd just pull out an extract, but in the end I've almost made myself cry remembering how moved I was by this book, so with no apology, here's the whole lot; here are my thoughts from five years ago..
'In 2007 Rebecca Goss’s newborn daughter Ella was diagnosed with Severe Ebstein’s Anomaly, a rare and incurable heart condition. She... read more