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 firstname.lastname@example.org.... 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
From one child’s memoir of a parent to another. This one is from Daunt Books, which in five years has established itself as one of the most reliable and interesting publishers in the UK, particularly for its reissues. “The P&L” for the publishing business, says James Daunt frankly, “is shocking”, but perhaps that’s the secret of its success: supported by the Daunt bookshops, the books don’t need to be commercial hits, so the editors can follow their tastes. Here we have the first UK edition of a book published in the US in 1987.
Fierce Attachments is a bright blaze of... 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
In Heike Polster’s book The Aesthetics of Passage: The Imag(in)ed Experience of Time in Thomas Lehr, W.G. Sebald, and Peter Handke, which I wrote about recently, Polster reproduces a painting that I had never seen before by Sebald’s close friend Jan Peter Tripp, which he created in 2003 as a memorial portrait of Sebald. Titled “L’Oeil oder die weisse Zeit” (“The Eye or the White Time”) the acrylic on canvas painting is divided into five sections, four of which represent Sebald seen from different angles. Looked at sequentially, the four portraits depict Sebald gradually disappearing and a bright light coming... read more
Now, as the edges of my field of vision are beginning to darken, I sometimes wonder if I will ever finish the Temple and whether all I have done so far has not been a wretched waste of time. But on other days, when the evening light streams in through the window and I allow myself to be taken in by the overall view, then I see for a moment the Temple with its antechambers and the living quarters for the priesthood, the Roman garrison, the bath-houses, the market stalls, the sacrificial altars, covered walkways and the booths of the... read more
Based in Brooklyn, The Deconstructive Theatre Project has announced that its upcoming project is Searching for Sebald. Here’s the description of the project from their website:
Suggested by the life and writings of “memory’s Einstein” W.G. “Max” Sebald, The Deconstructive Theatre Project’s newest hybrid media experience, Searching for Sebald, is a fractured ghost story that excavates the hidden spaces lurking between geography and time, the imagined and the real, and the language in a book and the cinema in your mind. An innovative and striking collision of live movie making, analogue film reels, live Foley soundscapes, and animation, Searching for Sebald... read more
In 2012, Enrique Vila-Matas was among a small number of writers invited to participate in thirteenth version of the massive quinquennial art exhibition Documenta held in Kassel, Germany. Vila-Matas was asked to serve as “writer-in-residence” at a local Chinese restaurant called Dschingis Khan and to deliver a lecture. In the novelized version of his time in Kassel, The Illogic of Kassel (New Directions, 2015), the entire experience was a blow to his self-esteem, a humiliation that Vila-Matas seemed to fully enjoy. All in all, he writes, he spent a few miserable half days in the restaurant where he was only... 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
"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 and... 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
I've always had a bit of an aversion to marigolds...not the rubber gloves, the flowers.
I think it might be down to 1950's overkill along with municipal bedding associations, plus they really did seem to proliferate in the gardens of my childhood, and the smell seemed very peculiar, not a pleasant one.
I found this picture just to confirm that I wasn't imagining it all..
This must be 1962 and one of the few colour pictures I have of us all together back in the days when photography was all very expensive. One roll of colour film was bought for the Kodak... read more
I am indebted to the Happy Campers (remember them from Port Eliot) this week, not only for the short story reading but also for making the effort to take such brilliant notes at Hilary Mantel's second event that was clearly as spell-binding as the one Bookhound and I attended, and for sharing those notes with us. I had asked them to wear their matching Bretons at our recent lunch for a photo shoot, which is a posh way of saying 'Stand over by that tree and smile,' as we tipped out of Cafe Liaison. The stripey sailor shirts were provided free... read more
Watching the BBC Short Story Award announcement live online has been fascinating...who knew that Mark Haddon's influence for writing Bunny was a TV documentary, unwittingly the exact same thing we had discussed as a comparison to the real truths behind the story.
Every story of the highest standard and finally the announcement...
The runner up...Bunny ~ Mark Haddon
And the winner is Briar Road by Jonathan Buckley.
What a great project this has been, and with thanks to the Happy Campers for reading along.
... read more
I go through phases with short stories, sometimes they are just the ticket, sometimes they are not long enough and I'm in the mood to settle down for the long haul with a novel...talking of which I have hesitated to add The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (800+ pages) to my 'Reading' list over here >>> in case I crashed out at page 200 as per The Quincunx recently. Not so, I am loving it and am hopefully in for the home run now.
But I have also been enjoying Katherine Mansfield's short stories in recent weeks, and so when the suggestion... read more
'Hollyhocks are almost as easy to grow as sunflowers and would probably be grown as often if more gardeners were aware of their good nature. Unlike many other dramatic flowers that are simpler to admire than to actually grow, hollyhocks need no coddling. Their character is superior to their reputation and they are best praised by being grown.'
Well I was utterly convinced and enthused by this information that came with my hollyhock seeds, three different varieties, 125 seeds, plenty of margin for error, what could possibly go wrong.
I had visions of breathing reality into this Mary Azarian wood cut...