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
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
Leonard Michaels (1933 – 2003) is one of those writers who has attained minor icon status in the USA (his fiction is published there by a classics imprint) but has never really taken off in the UK. In his introduction to this book – its first British publication – David Lodge suggests that this is because Michaels’ “concentrated, genre-busting” stories, widely considered to be the best of his work, “were challengingly unfamiliar in content and form, written with an intensity that demanded a corresponding effort from the reader.” For example his story ‘City Boy’, included in The Paris Review’s Object Lessons anthology... read more
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of Gavin Corbett’s strong and strange new novel, Green Glowing Skull.
“You could throw it against the wall, but it would just bounce back.”
... read more
This short novella – and that is not a pleonasm, as the book could not be much more than 20,000 words long top to tail – is one of the most unpleasant stories I’ve read in ages. You can take that how you will, though I read so many books without finishing them, and finish so many without reviewing them, that you might have guessed even by now that I do recommend it.
The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (2013, tr. 2015 by Sophie Hughes) is another book – like Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant – which both attracts and repels consideration as... read more
Between 1977 and 2000, I traveled to Mexico City a dozen times or more, exploring the neighborhoods and suburbs of this bewildering megalopolis which often feels more like an endless series of villages than one giant city. After an absence of nearly two decades I began to read Francisco Goldman’s recent book The Interior Circuit (Grove Press, 2014) and immediately felt that I had been plunged back into the heart of Mexico City. The book’s title refers both to the expressway that rings the interior of the city as well as a poem by Efraín Huerta. But it also serves... read more
Today, two very different books by Mexican writers: Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd (Coffee House Press, 2013) and Sergio Pitol’s The Journey (Deep Vellum, 2015).
The subway, its multiple stops, its breakdowns, its sudden accelerations, its dark zones, could function as the space-time schema for this other novel.
Valeria Luiselli’s unnamed narrator is a young Mexican woman struggling to become a writer. There are three strands to her narrative: her years as a single woman working for a small publishing company in New York City, the succeeding years as a young mother in a dissolving marriage in Mexico City, and her... read more
If there is a Hell on earth, the Austrian novelist Josef Winkler seems to be nominating his own country for that honor. Winkler’s When the Time Comes is set in a small village in Carinthia in the south of Austria and the central figure in this novel is the bone burner, a man who fills “his satchel up with bones, especially in winter, when the farmers slaughtered their pigs and cows…”
All winter he kept the bones hidden from his dog in a niche in his goat pen. In spring, with the first thaw, before the draught horses were driven over... read more
W.G. Sebald greatly admired the writing of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) perhaps above all others. The two men, separated by three centuries, were in many ways kindred spirits. Here is Sebald reflecting on Browne (and, by extension, himself) in The Rings of Saturn:
The invisibility and intangibility of that which moves us remained an unfathomable mystery for Thomas Browne, too, who saw our world as no more than a shadow image of another one far beyond. In his thinking and writing he therefore sought to look upon earthly existence, from the things that were closest to him to the spheres of... read more
“Now the only thing I ask is that they respect the loneliness to come.”
The owner of the beauty salon in Beauty Salon is a gay guy who dresses in drag at work and cruises for men after hours. He raises tropical fish in aquariums placed throughout the salon for the amusement of his clients. But then a local gang called the Goat-Killer Gang begins causing havoc in the city and their wounded victims routinely become infected (and infectious) with a fatal disease. The salon owner renames his business The Terminal and takes in the dying victims who have been shunned... read more
Dedication page for The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us this Far.
I whisper my equations to her; they are orderly and balanced.
She knows this, and replies with the chemical formulas for salt, for devotion, for intimate confession.
The stories and photographs in Quintan Ana Wikswo’s The Hope of Floating Has Carried Us this Far (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2015) strike a balance of power that is exceedingly rare in books that combine fiction with photography. This has something to do with the fact that text and images each occupy a more or less equal amount of page space. But more important... read more
"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
What follows the break wasn't going to be posted. I wrote it last week and decided it would be more effective to summarise on my Tumblr blog and then publicise on Twitter. To my surprise, bar one message of support, there was no response. The silence was instructive.
In the early days of February 2015, 3AM Magazine advertised an event in London to celebrate "the recent boom in online criticism" and to encourage readers "to get involved in the growth of digital literary culture". My interest was piqued, as the subject is close to my heart... 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
Hand on heart I can't say that I have remembered the significance of this day every year since it happened, but today, if my maths is right, it will be eighteen years since the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One of those days when most of us can remember the moment that we heard the news, and how normal life seemed to be on hold for the duration of what was to follow.
I doubt I would have remembered but for two coincidental mentions in my reading in the last week or so and then some music on the... read more
Book thoughts proper will be back in the autumn, but for now I am still enjoying a summer break, indulging my creative thinking to the hilt and reading accordingly.
Though, as I have said, I am not a member now I did spend time perusing the various stands and displays exhibited by The Quilter's Guild at the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, and in particular the pieces from the Guild's heritage collection, as well as picking up more issues of the British Quilt Study Group's annual journal. I don't belong to this group either, but I applaud and enjoy their work which embraces... read more
Total immersion and that feel-good factor from a weekend of lino-cutting, or hours and hours of quilting explained.
I have been looking for this article for ages. I'm not a great one for feel-good psychology, but this evidence-based article made complete sense when I first read it last year, and who knew where I'd read it until late last evening when I must suddenly have typed the right combination of words into google....and then I saw Susan's comment...we must have hit the page at the same time.
This is your brain on crafting...
"Little research has been done specifically on crafting, but neuroscientists... read more
My summer of creative ventures continued this weekend with a two day print-making course at Cowslip Workshops with Sophie Fordham. The plan was to experiment with various methods and print up some fabric but Sophie was flexible, with the emphasis on pleasure and enjoyment and pleasing ourselves, and I quickly realised that this was a really good opportunity to dust off the lino-cutting tools and finally get to grips with it all, and without slicing off my fingers...and with an expert on hand to advise.
'Oh didn't I ever make you a bench block? ' asked Bookhound when I arrived home... read more
My feet have finally touched the ground after the wonder that was this year's Festival of Quilts at the NEC in Birmingham.
I am no longer a member of The Quilter's Guild based in York, preferring to re-join the South West Quilters and benefit from more local events, so I hadn't really been paying attention beyond the boundaries of the Shire and was very last minute with my booking for the Festival of Quilts. I had suddenly discovered that a coach trip was travelling up from Plymouth to Birmingham for the weekend, and including a hotel room, meals and weekend tickets for... read more
In existence since 1891, Okehampton Agricultural Show (Okey Show here) is only twenty minutes drive from us and one our favourites. Always held on the second Thursday in August and it invariably rains. It can be scorching the day before and the day after but on the day chances are it will be wet. Had we believed it the forecast this year gave a month's rain in two days with added thunderstorms and lightning so we were in half a mind as to whether to go or not. But I do have the new waterproofs after all, and we spared a thought... read more