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
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
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
Dr. Ralp Schock, literary editor of the Saarland Radio, will host a two and a half hour radio program about W.G. Sebald on Tuesday January 26 starting at 20:00 (German time). Titled “Ein Themenabend mit und über W. G. Sebald,” the program on station SR-2 will include readings, discussions, and recollections of Sebald from friends and colleagues. Here is the link to the program’s s web page. The program is designed to air on the seventy-first anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Some of the individuals rumored to be participating in the program include author and musicologist Wolfgang Schlüter,... read more
Here is my annual listing of works of fiction and poetry published during the previous year which contain embedded photographs as part of the textual matter. You can see all of my previous lists via the drop-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of this page. I’ve updated a number of the annual lists recently, usually thanks to readers who point me in the direction of books I’ve overlooked. If you know of a book from any year that I might not have mentioned, please let me know in a comment. (Revised February 7, 2016.)
Megan Mayhew Bergman. Almost Famous Women.... read more
Every year I read many more books than I can find time to write about on Vertigo, and so I use the category Recently Read as a way of bringing attention to the occasional book that stands out but isn’t quite at the heart of what I tend to write about here. Two books have lingered in my imagination over the last couple of months – Elise Blackwell’s The Lower Quarter (Unbridled Books, 2015) and Michelle Bailat-Jones’ Fog Island Mountains (Tantor, 2014).
Reading The Lower Quarter is like closely examining an inset that magnifies a small neighborhood on a map of... read more
I let my coffee run cold and thought about detectives. Partners depend on one another’s eyes. The one says, tell me what you see. His partner must speak assuredly, not leaving anything out. But a writer has no partner. He has to step back and ask himself – tell me what you see. But since he is telling himself he doesn’t have to be perfectly clear, because something inside holds any given missing part – the unclear or partially articulated.
Patti Smith’s M Train (I presume the M stands for memory) is essentially a series of conversations with the dead and... read more
In the final pages of her recent autobiographical novel The Double Life of Liliane, Lily Tuck seems to tell us how we should be reading her book. She is writing about her university days as a student of the literary theorist Paul de Man. One day in class, de Man says:
Autobiography occurs when it involves two persons building their identities through reading each other. This requires a form of substitution – exchanging the writing “I” for the written “I” – and this also implies that both persons are at least as different as they are the same…In this way, I... read more
The Literarisches Zentrum in Göttingen, Germany will host a program led by two Sebald experts – Sven Meyer und Uwe Schütte – on Monday, December 14, 2015. The program is called “W.G. Sebald: Zwischen Kanon und Außenseitertum” (Between Canon and Outsider). Tickets are required and may be purchased online. Here is the description of the program from the website:
Acht zahlende Gäste waren anwesend, so will es zumindest die Legende, als W.G. Sebald 2001 im Literarischen Zentrum aus Austerlitz las. Als er am 14. Dezember desselben Jahres bei einem Autounfall ums Leben kam, war der Autor gerade zu Weltruhm gelangt. Selten... read more
Tense, unnerved, and close to madness before writing–and when I read what I've written it looks so calm. An entry from January 1976 in Peter Handke's journal The Weight of the World. Forty years on its force remains, or at least still haunts me.
Isn't this the wonder and terror of writing, so that, for all the talk of its utility – how writing can report the reality of this or any other world, entertain us with a well-told yarn, bestow the joys of an imagination run wild and offer an outlet for tensions and nerves on the... read more
All this began in November 2000, so think about that: fifteen years of blogging about books, eleven in this particular fortress, this particular prison house. My reading list of that first year includes books by Borges, Bernhard, Blanchot, Bellow, Teodolinda Barolini, Nicholson Baker and BS Johnson, while this year's list adds only Beckett to that odd focus; volume three of his letters. This year has been dominated by two other letters: Jen Craig, Rachel Cusk, Jill Stauffer, S.D. Chrostowska, Jeff Fort, Gabriel Josipovici, Todd Colby and Cormac McCarthy; volume one of the Border Trilogy. Next year I hope to explore... 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
Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett
Virago, 4 February 2016
368 pages, e-book
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
It was huge, unmistakably, though most of its mass was concealed underwater; grey-black in colour with a flat broad back. Its ugly, misshapen head had the tumorous quality of an ancient anthill, or a tree stricken with abscesses. These tumours, one of which sat comically atop its head like a bonnet, were whitish in quality similar to lichen, and within this lichen, odd dark stalagmites sprouted from which rivulets of water streamed. Its vast coal-scuttle mouth curved downwards, and at one end of... read more
Rat Queens (Vol 1): Sass and Sorcery by Kurtis J. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch4
Image Comics, 2015
128 pages, paperback
*Borrowed from the library
Welcome back to my naive adventures into the graphic form, sponsored by your recommendations and the holdings of York libraries. This installment sees my English prudery and tolerance for gory violence tested once again; who knew that I was so easily shocked and embarrassed? One thing I'm learning fast is that reading about something in bare prose is a lot lot different from looking at technicolour pictures in comic form. The former I'm attuned to. My imagination fades the mental... read more
The Ballroom by Anna Hope
Doubleday, 11 Feb 2016
352 pages, e-book
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
"Are you going to behave?" The man's voice echoed. "Are you going to behave?"
She made a noise. Could have been yes. Could have been no, but the blanket was pulled off her head and she gasped for air.
An arched hall stretched before her, lit with lamps. The thin hiss of gas. Plants everywhere, and the smell of carbolic soap. On the floor were tiles, reaching out in all directions, polished till they shone, some in the shape of flowers, but the flowers were black.... read more
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
Fig Tree, 2015
304 pages, e-book
*Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley.
It has been a mild sunny winter morning and my dog Juno really didn't want her early walk to end. She was in a pootle and sniff sort of mood, and because it was so bright and because I'm overly indulgent ,I let her walk me around our village (pop. 250) and the neighbouring fields for almost two hours. While she entertained herself tracking mice and digging for spiders, I wrote bits of this post in my head. I should absolutely have been... read more
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens (Wells & Wong, Book 1)
316 page, paperback
*Borrowed from the library
One of the requirements for this year's Read Harder challenge is to read a middle-grade book, something written for the 8-12 age group. Not a category of books that I know a great deal about, beyond an inkling that Harry Potter falls into it (at least at first) and probably all those Enid Blyton and E. Nesbitt books I read when I was a kid. I wandered into the children's library at work to grab something, feeling a bit self conscious on my lunch... read more
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
592pp, hard copy
*Purchased by me.
Once upon a time (c.2005) I read Michel Faber's astonishing Victorian pastiche The Crimson Petal and the White, and it was one of those intense heady experiences that counts as spiritual. I felt All The Things with that book, many times over, and have read it another couple of times since. In the way I do when I discover an author I love I bought all of Faber's back catalogue and assiduously collected each new release in hardback, right up to The Book of Strange New Things. ... read more
So finally my hypothalamus is starting to realise it is not still in New Zealand, but it seems to have taken a very long time. Thank you to everyone who said it would take two weeks, you were right.
Next time I will plan the homeward leg differently. I hadn't really given much thought to jet lag but now realise that being away for a month, and acclimatising very quickly to the land of bright light and sunshine, and then coming home to the gloom of February in the UK and, well maybe it was going to be a bit of... read more
I must confess that I read the first half of The Colour by Rose Tremain about ten years ago before giving up...
'Joseph and Harriet Blackstone emigrate from Norfolk to New Zealand in search of new beginnings and prosperity. But the harsh land near Christchurch threatens to destroy them almost before they begin. When Joseph finds gold in the creek he is seized by a rapturous obsession with the voluptuous riches awaiting him in the deep earth. Abandoning his farm and his family, he sets off alone for the new gold-fields over the Southern Alps. a moral wilderness where many others,... read more
I'm not sure that I would have been led to this reading of The Balkan Trilogy and the writing of Olivia Manning had it not been for that recent journey with Horatio Clare and Orison for a Curlew.
It was talk of the night train from Bucharest that did it I think.
Sadly the entire expedition was almost thwarted by my old Penguin edition, with its print that suited my 1970s 20/20 vision, but not my 2015 lesser equivalent. The online search for another edition came to a halt at delicious looking a New York Review Books volume priced at £15, but again... read more
I'm still not sure what day it is, but lest I forget my true raison d'etre for the scribbles it will be back to some bookish posts next week, which will doubtless be regularly interspersed with some New Zealand recollections as I go along. So many unexpected connections to home and things familiar happened along the way, and I met some fascinating people too, so plenty to write about.
Meanwhile I have been combating the jet lag which seemed barely noticeable on the way out bar a few nights of disrupted sleep. But then I had put that down to my... read more
Safely home after the uphill flight to the UK...we'll surely it is uphill, south to north, it certainly felt that way, especially the fourteen hour Singapore to London leg which seemed to go on for ever. Things got off to a hilarious start when my suitcase was pronounced over the weight limit at Christchurch. Didn't you always used to feel sorry and slightly embarrassed for those poor people you saw frantically unpacking, discarding and repacking on the airport floor. Please continue to do so, it is... read more
..squeezing every last minute out of these final few days of my stay and, on an unusually wet and soggy Christchurch summer's day (clearly weather preparing me for a return to the Shire) Offspringette and I spent a happy few hours in the Canterbury Museum. It's all given me plenty to read up on when I get home. We both enjoy a good taxidermist's diorama and there were plenty of them... ... read more