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
In Young Once, we meet Louis and Odile, married with children, living comfortably in Switzerland but feeling vaguely lost. They are only thirty-five years old, yet it feels like they have nothing more to expect from life. “Could anything new happen to them at thirty-five?” One day, while downtown, Louis hears the voice of a singer on a television program drifting out from open café windows. He can’t understand the words. A warm wind starts blowing. The first drops of rain appear. And just like that we are taken back to Louis at the age of nineteen, just demobilized from... read more
I was narrowly narrator,
yet superbly so.
In an essay several years ago for the British magazine Source Photographic Review, I wrote: “if one were to look for the most innovative and challenging uses of photography in literature today, I would point to a handful of contemporary poets who are finding ways to turn visual images into poetic vocabulary, notably Anne Carson, Christian Hawkey, Susan Howe, and Leslie Scalapino.” Today, I would add a number of names to that list, one of which is Don Mee Choi, whose new book of poems and photographs Hardly War (Seattle & NY: Wave Books, 2016)... read more
Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in the years 1990-1999 containing embedded photographs. You can see individual bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo. I also maintain a comprehensive bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo). As of today, March 30, 2016, that bibliography contains 222 fiction titles and 64 poetry titles spanning the years 1892-2016. I am always updating these lists as I learn of new books. If you know of a book not included on my list, please let me know in... read more
In 1990, when Carole Maso’s novel The Art Lover was first published (SF: North Point Press), there weren’t many recent and obvious precedents for including photographs and other types of reproductions with a novel. A few that come to mind that would have been more or less widely known were Ishmael Reed’s Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Kobo Abe’s The Box Man (first published in the US in 1974), Theresa Hak Kyung’s experimental novel Dictee, and Andre Breton’s 1937 novel Amour Fou, which finally appeared in English in 1988 as Mad Love. So The Art Lover, which contained some sixty-five or so... read more
As I wrote in my earlier post, Jack Cox’s debut novel Dodge Rose (Dalkey Archive Press) is a complex, elusive, multi-level narrative. There is so much going on in these 201 pages (too much, one might argue) that it begs to be unpacked word for word, phrase by phrase. (Not to mention the likelihood that many of the book’s Australian references a will undoubtedly go right over the heads of non-Aussie readers like me.) However, my intention here is simply to look at a couple of the things that most intrigued me as I read it.
Property law. In a way,... read more
Dodge Rose (Dalkey Archive Press, 2016), the first novel by Australian writer Jack Cox, is a linguistic tour de force that kept me reading and Googling into the wee hours. It’s one of those rare books that will absorb and reward all the reader participation that you might want to put into it. As soon as I finished it, I started reading it again – partly to see just how much I had missed the first time and partly to admire Cox’s deft, Joycean handling of language. And what I discovered during my second reading is that there is a... read more
For years friends have told me about how different literary life is on the continent: reviews less suspicious and less petty than they are here, audiences more interested in the books than the author's celebrity, more interested in discussing ideas than suppressing them, and the culture generally more receptive to new writing rather than the hollow echoes of epigones. Well, now I have direct experience.
This is a screenshot from page one of Alexander Carnera's review-essay on This Space of Writing in Le Monde Diplomatique's Scandinavian edition, released monthly as a supplement to the Norwegian newspaper... read more
Actually, I expected the Spanish Inquisition. After a few months in which only Being in Lieu reviewed my book, the TLS pooped up with this full-pager by Oxford graduate, Assistant Editor of Areté Magazine and debut novelist Claire Lowdon.
It seems appropriate to include these details because her first novel Left of the Bang is described by one review as not so much "a revelation of souls but of CVs".
In the following week's edition, there's a letter about the review:
My own reaction has been a combination of disgust and amusement,... read more
Perhaps I nailed my colours to the mast too soon. So let the excuses begin. Volume one of My Struggle was sent to me before publication in an ARC minus a title on the spine, well before the serious praise, before the potatohead hype and before the deluge of interviews and features, so I had low expectations, which were then lowered when I found, tucked into the book, a playlist of songs to accompany the reading. The kind of music liked by most everyone of my generation, for sure, Knausgaard's generation, but not me. So unlike almost everyone else, I... read more
More Thomas Bernhard. Thanks be given to Douglas Robertson for completing this Liebe zur Sache.
Thomas Bernhard. Yes, I know. Forgive me for returning to this writer like a dog to somebody else's vomit.
Specialisation has been described as knowing more and more about less and less, which seems correct given the proliferation of English translations of Thomas Bernhard in recent years, and especially these letters, as they reveal only how far removed this writer is from the comforts of Sunday supplement profile chumminess. No matter how many letters he writes, he never resolves into anything clearer or... 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
April was a thesis-heavy month, with most of my reading and writing energy going into preparation for my upgrade from provisional PhD status to confirmed we-think-you’ll-really-get-a-doctorate status. At York the process is quite formal, involving submission of a complete thesis chapter and a mini viva with a panel of academics from other departments. To cut a long story short: I was quite stressed and panicked about it; there was much frenzied drafting and redrafting of my chapter up to the last minute; but in the end I passed and ‘confirmed’ fine. Phew.
It slowed my leisure reading down a bit... read more
At Hawthorn Time by Melissa Harrison
*Borrowed from the library.
At Hawthorn Time opens with an accident, an early morning collision on a quiet A road in rural England. A brash, fast "muscle car" has hit an Audi at a junction, and three people are caught up in the tangle of metal and broken glass. A boy "upside down and veiled in blood", a "slumped figure...perfectly still" and "a third body, face down, on the road." The tableau is still by the time the reader comes upon it, the impact and the noise having happened a precise seven... read more
Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Moss
Trade paperback, 357pp
*My own purchased copy.
[Warning: It's impossible to write about this book without spoiling some major plot points from the first two in the trilogy at the outset. If you haven't read those, would like to and care about being spoiled, then I recommend you get to them post-haste and leave anything past the second paragraph of this post well alone.]
I was listening to the most recent episode of The Readers podcast this morning while out walking with Juno. It wasn't the usual banter and chat; instead it was a recording of... read more
Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (trans. from Hebrew by Sondra Silverston)
Pushkin Press, March 2016
My copy supplied by the publisher via NetGalley.
Waking Lions, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen's second novel, has a desperately compelling beginning. Tired and groggy after a long night shift Dr. Eitan Green gets into his brand new SUV and drives out to the desert. It's hours after midnight and dark; he should go home to where his wife Liat and two sons are still sleeping. Instead he takes his car off-road, looking for a quick burst of adrenaline at high speed under the stars. He turns the music up, feels his... read more
It has been a glorious Spring day here, a brilliant start to the long Easter weekend, with blue skies from dawn until dusk and a piercing sparkling light. For the first time in six months I didn't wear wellies, hat and gloves to walk Juno; I even took my coat off in the sunshine. The ground along the field edge and the lane was wondrously blessedly dry. It has been nothing but mud and dirty puddles since October and I had forgotten what it was like to walk on firm ground. What a relief. It would have been a crime... read more
They Are Trying to Break Your Heart by David Savill
Bloomsbury, 24 March 2016
ARC, 348 pages
*My copy supplied for review by the publisher.
On Boxing Day 2004 a massive earthquake out in the Indian Ocean caused a tsunami that swept the coasts of Thailand, Sri Lanka and India and killed over a quarter of a million people. In the aftermath of this utter devastation the fates of those who died and those who survived seemed arbitrary. People who had been standing side by side experienced entirely different endings: one surviving with barely a scratch, the other wrenched away and battered... read more
As we drove into the coastal town of Oamaru on a sweltering South Island Sunday afternoon my first impressions were of a rather prim, nay immaculate place. The wide streets (something I loved about New Zealand) every house pristine and clean with a well-manicured garden...no there'd be nothing out of the ordinary here.
Except then I discover that Oamaru is the Steampunk capital of the world.
Now I know nothing about Steam Punk beyond the fact that it featured in the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, and seemed to consist of odd-looking bits of scrap metal and vaguely familiar chunks of machinery... read more
Just so that you know all is well, here are the pair of them, Magnus back in his Red Basket, and catching up on sixteen day's worth of news..
And now a book...
Before I went to New Zealand I checked out some authors I would like to read and complied a list of books I might find while I was out there.
Well now, I got that all wrong. The books were incredibly expensive and I only came across a couple of independent bookshops. Plenty of UK and US authors but the NZ authors seemed a little sparse. Perhaps one of the best... read more
We woke up this morning and there was Magnus...as if nothing had happened... Starving hungry, but loooooook... The Dowager who was starting to fade, and barely eating, greeted him like a long lost friend and tucked into the bowl with him. I knew it, the minute I wrote a blog post... Posted on the move...
... read more
That's a high-risk and probably doubtful Scottish Gaelic online translation for Magnus please come home.
Now I'm purposely not calling this sad news, because though we live in hope more than expectation, maybe just maybe that darned cat will stroll back in the door, but to date no sign of Magnus for over two weeks now.
And my hope is that writing this and telling you all will be his cue to fly back in through the cat flap as if nothing had happened.
Maybe it was because his horse didn't win the Grand National (he had one in the traditional family... read more
Rows and flows of angel hair And ice cream castles in the air And feather canyons everywhere I've looked at clouds that way...
Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now from the album Clouds and I expect you are all humming it now and might be all day...sorry.
One of the many joys of New Zealand was to be there for myself and see the Long White Clouds for which the Land is famous, and there were plenty of them to choose from...
This one as we crossed the Canterbury Plain from Arthur's Pass...
..or this little wispy one over Mount Cook.
It all began with Beating the Bounds, my project on here to look closely at everything within a one-mile radius of home. We have lived here for twenty-two years now so we're getting to know the land well and then along came my obsession with the 1841 tithe map and an interest in what are known as the apportionments which have continued unabated.
Fortunately for my purposes, our Parish has what is deemed a First Class Tithe Map. I have discovered that those considered 'sufficiently accurate to serve as legal evidence of boundaries' were marked with a seal of approval before being... read more