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
Showed up to Heathrow today for the two-thousandth time. Got into my taxi and I learned Nick Cave's son died. The news hit me like a bus into a hill. from Exodus by Jesu/Sun Kil Moon
He fell from a chalk cliff last Summer, July 15th, two miles east from where I sit writing this and beside the cycle path along which I have cycled west many hundreds of times, slogging into the prevailing wind. In the background to this photograph is the final uphill ramp before home.
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
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
A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker
Doubleday, 5 May 2016
331 pages, ARC paperback
*My copy sent to me for review by the publisher.
I liked Jo Baker's retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn, a great deal. It was a sweet and delightful book, a dreamy tactile romance that riffed on Austen without trying to echo her wit. I'm incredibly excited to hear it is being made into a film. Her new novel A Country Road, A Tree is not that book, and is both better and worse for it. It has the same spirit, but a new ambition: this time... read more
May is proving to be a bright and gregarious month, of sunshine and chatter. All of my reading has been in the interstices of days, so that the work busyness of April has just been substituted by social busyness. Still there is plenty getting done and I have read some fantastic things already. So I guess I should probably finish off my April round-up before time marches on too far and my thoughts on things get blurry with distance. This time I only have three books to talk about, as the final novel of the month - Annie Proulx's Barkskins... read more
The Last of Us by Rob Ewing
The Borough Press, 21st April 2016
*My copy came from the publisher via Netgalley
A quick, darting review today, in lieu of my second April wrap up post. We had a lovely display from The Borough Press at work in the library recently, and multiple copies of Rob Ewing's debut novel stacked for people to borrow. It reminded me that I had a proof sitting on my Kindle, idling it's engine and waiting for the moment when I would be in the mood for a book described as The Lord of the Flies meets... 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
One of the things that beating the bounds around us here on a daily basis has made me increasingly aware of is the fact that our footprint now extends back over the last twenty-two years. We moved in on a sweltering August day in 1994 with three pre-teenaged children, a dog (dear old Border Collie Ben ) a cat (Corky who sadly succumbed to feline leukaemia) two guinea pigs (Clover and Parsley) and twelve chickens (too many to name). I suspect H.E.Bates would most definitely have recognised us as a version of the Larkins that summer as we settled in,... read more
Shall we have a little sing-song first...how about The Happy Wanderer, and let's give it some wellie on the chorus...
I love to go a-wandering, Along the mountain track, And as I go, I love to sing, My knapsack on my back.
Chorus: Val-deri,Val-dera, Val-deri, Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha Val-deri,Val-dera. My knapsack on my back.
I love to wander by the stream That dances in the sun, So joyously it calls to me, "Come! Join my happy song!"
I wave my hat to all I meet, And they wave back to me,... read more
It was state of the art when I got it for Christmas 2002 and we still use the empty box for the Christmas deccies.
The Bernina Virtuosa 153 Quilter's Edition with stitches that you could programme in from a computer. It seemed to be all-singing, bells-and-whistles and I have loved it dearly for fourteen years. Except that about ten years ago I reprogrammed the stitches and then last year inadvertently ditched my very first Dell laptop, the only one now compatible with un-programming them.
And I wanted my blanket stitch back.
After a fruitless evening spent trying to load old software discs onto... read more
It has been a while since I have read a poetry collection cover to cover, but when Reward for Winter by Di Slaney arrived from Valley Press, a Scarborough-based independent publisher, several planets of current interest aligned and it jumped to the top of the reading pile.
Having abandoned her urban existence Di Slaney becomes 'the custodian' of an ancient farmhouse in Nottinghamshire taking in150 animals along the way..
'Reward for Winter tells the story on three levels: the earthy triumphs and tribulations of a novice smallholder; the history of Bilsthorpe from Viking settlement through Civil War to coal mining in the... read more
I don't really need to ask permission to buy books, but just occasionally, when I feel like I've bought quite a few, I might casually say to Bookhound...
'Tell me to buy this book that I really really want and the fact that the gas lorry is about to deliver a hugely expensive tank full doesn't really matter at all....'
And he looks at me as if I've spoken in a new foreign language.
Anyway I had a bit of a blitz-book-buying day when really I was supposed to be on line looking for a new iron because yet another of these all-singing... read more