Click here to read, just in time for last-minute present-buying for bookish friends, my review in The Spectator of The Penguin Classics Book, a beautiful, sumptuous, detailed and shaming history and catalogue of perhaps the only classics publisher in the UK that is a genuine household name.
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Click here to read my Irish Times review of two new Lucia Berlin books: Evening in Paradise (more stories, following from A Manual for Cleaning Women) and the memoir/photos/letters collected as Welcome Home.
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I’m not sure why authors sometimes want to signal to us in advance what the experience of reading their book is going to be like. Maybe it’s a momentary crisis of self-doubt or an honest attempt to assist the reader. On pages 5 and 6, Jen Craig tells us what we should expect as we read her book Panthers & the Museum of Fire. “You have to imagine a book,” the narrator (also named Jen Craig) tells us, before clarifying that the book she is referring to is really a manuscript.
As soon as you started the manuscript, you would find... read more
In Iowa, where I live, it is going to get to at least 24 below zero Fahrenheit this week, maybe colder. The wind chill from this Arctic vortex will be about -50. I plan to stay indoors and read. If you need something to get you through your winter doldrums, I suggest Remedios Varo’s beguiling brand of Surrealism. Wakefield Press has just put out a small volume called Remedios Varo: Letters, Dreams & Other Writings, translated by Margaret Carson. Best known as a painter, Varo (1908-1963) was born in Spain and then became twice an exile. She first fled the... read more
Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in 2018 containing embedded photographs. You can see bibliographies for other years underneath the pull-down menu “Photo-Embedded Literature” at the top of Vertigo. I also maintain bibliography that spans 1892 to the present at Library Thing (http://www.librarything.com/catalog/VertigoTwo). If you know of a book that I have not mentioned, please let me know in a comment. My thanks to the many Vertigo readers who have already pointed out books that I had not known about! [Added to March 6, 11, 2019.]
Forrest Gander. Be With. NY: New Directions, 2018. Contains a poem... read more
I needed her to say the words, I needed her to spell it out. But the conversation continued, driven by useless bits of information.
Adam Scovell’s Mothlight is a quietly unsettling novel narrated by Thomas, a young academic lepidopterist who specializes in studying and collecting moths. Growing up, Thomas was obsessed with two elderly women—Phyllis, a professor of entomology and a collector of moths, and her sister Billie. At first, Thomas’s obsession revolved around a mystery—why did Phyllis treat her sister with such open disdain? “What had Billie done, I thought, that Phyllis Ewans considered so awful as to behave so... read more
I have several duplicate Sebald books in my collection that could use good homes. $25 each plus $2.50 media rate postage per title (within the US).
Logis in einem Landhaus. Hanser, 1998. Second printing. Cloth bound. An unread copy without dust jacket.
For Years Now. Poems by W.G. Sebald, Images by Tess Jaray. Short Books, 2001. First edition. Paper bound. An unread copy. SOLD.
Die Beschreibung des Unglücks. Residenz Verlag, 1985. First edition. Cloth bound. A fine copy without a dust jacket.
Schwindel. Gefühle. Eichborn, 1990. First edition of Vertigo. Cloth bound. A very good copy with very minor evidence of wear at corners... read more
Film still from Patience (After Sebald).
Today is the seventeenth anniversary of the death of W.G. Sebald, and it seemed like a good time for another shout out to Grant Gee’s excellent documentary Patience (After Sebald). I’ve watched Patience numerous times and it never fails to impress me. It’s also a sad reminder of what we lost when Sebald died suddenly at the age of 57. I wrote about Gee’s film shortly after it came out in 2011.
There are several ways to see Patience. It’s currently available on the streaming service Mubi (although, unfortunately, not in the United States).... read more
When the postman delivered the book of Józef Czapski's lectures on Proust, I was slightly disappointed that it was such a slim volume, especially as 82 pages of actual text and a 25-page introduction cost me £10. Compared to the lack of moderation that Czapski says characterised Proust's commitment to his novel once he had abandoned his social and sentimental life, which had been marked by the same lack of moderation, the modesty here is extreme. However, given that the lectures were drawn solely from Czapski's memory of Proust's novel and personal experience of its Parisian milieu and delivered to... read more
Today's date means it is thirty years since Thomas Bernhard died. Twenty years ago I wrote a short introduction to his work for Spike Magazine to mark ten years since his death. In those days, Bernhard was more or less unknown in English-speaking countries, with subtitled documentaries like the one below unimaginable, and this was the first essay I had written for the new-fangled internet, so should be considered in that light. Below, I list what I've written about Bernhard on This Space, with a few other treats along the way.
The Indie Book Blog Is Dead says The Vulture, a commerical culturesite I may or may not have seen before – they all look and sound the same – focusing on another commercial culturesite that looks and sounds pretty much the same but one I had definitely seen before though had never considered to be a book blog, which has been sold to another commercial culturesite, signalling, apparently, the end of indie book blogs, a distinguishing phrase that stood out – independent of what, I wondered; any feeling for literature?
The article prompted a bemused shrug from Anthony as... read more
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us, says Kafka in the famous letter.
I wondered what this might mean as the 'books of the year' lists began to appear last month. Imagine if each contributor constrained themselves to choose only axe-books. Each entry would likely remain blank and the value of what did appear would be extreme compared to the predictable logrolling we see each year. Or maybe they would be exactly the same, as the idea of such a book is so vague that it could include everything from everyday escapist relief to... read more
‘The best things in museums are the windows’ Paintings on gallery walls have always been distant to me. I think of Pierre Bonnard's quip as I wander, aware that I am too soon drawn toward the text panel on the wall beside each painting, to the wall itself, to the design of the gallery space – what if there were a hundred windows and only one painting? – and then to the giftshop, as if in search of something to close that distance: a postcard or Mondrian mug. I am always trying to understand this space, specifically why a painting, any... read more
Beyond a certain point there is no return. This point is to be reached.
On Saturday I discovered that another secondhand bookshop in Brighton has closed; the third this year. Saturday mornings have often involved a walk along the promenade, a turn right into Ship Street and onto Colin Page's around the corner on Duke Street. There will be no motivation now the books are gone.
The window displayed antiquarian volumes of no interest to me, and indeed more or less everything inside the shop was of no interest to me, but in good weather the... read more
I've been watching a lot of book videos on YouTube recently, with a growing desire to contribute to the conversation. At the same time I've wondered if making videos might be an answer to those times when writing a longish blog review is beyond my powers. Somehow a couple of thousand words seems like a lot more effort than talking to myself for 10 minutes. Anyway, I decided to give it a go and do a 'tag' video by way of introduction, without any special equipment or editing or, well, forethought really. It's taken me almost a week to... read more
Barkskins by Annie Proulx
Fourth Estate, 14th June 2016
E-book, 736 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
As he cut, the wildness of the world receded, the vast invisible web of filaments that connected human life to animals, trees to flesh and bones to grass shivered as each tree fell and one by one the web strands snapped.
Annie Proulx's new novel is about devastation, both cultural and environmental. Over the course of 700 intensively researched pages and 300 years it charts the story of the colonization of North America, and the landscapes and ways of life it destroyed,... read more
Forgive me lovely people for I have slumped, both in my reading and in my blogging.
It's been over a month since my last confession and I've had to drag myself back to the keyboard like a stroppy teenager.
After a phenomenally good January to May of books, June was a bit of a wasteland. Thankfully July is looking up, but after an absence it's always difficult for me to get back on the horse and write again. The longer the gap the more books there are to be read for review, the more reviews there are to write, the easier it... read more
The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen
Bloomsbury, 2 June 2016
E-book, 355 pages
*My copy supplied by the publisher via Netgalley.
At nineteen Katherine North is the oldest Phenomenaut at Shencorp, the world's leading Consciousness Projection provider. Recruited at the tender age of twelve she has spent much of the last seven years hooked up to life support in a lab while her mind inhabits the bodies of other animals. In that time she has contributed enormously to scientific research on endangered species - her specialism - bringing back data and the lived experience of being an animal into the human... 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
For anyone in need of a bit of escapism, maybe a nice journey in search of spring (with apologies to the Southern Hemisphere), this year I'm giving you advance warning that tomorrow is March 21st, the day that Edward Thomas set off In Pursuit of Spring, travelling from the London suburbs, through Surrey, Hampshire and Wiltshire towards the Somerset coast.
The Vernal Equinox for the Northern Hemisphere (should all these things have capitals...I like to think so) is actually today, March 20th. The sun will pass north through the Earth's equator at 21.58 and will be ours again. Thank you Southern... read more
Thank you for all those wonderful comments on my last scribble and doesn't the world work in such mysterious ways...that I had written and pre-scheduled those thoughts on Skybound and South Island on the very day that the world's heart and mind was taken there as of one, in solidarity with New Zealand and Christchurch. My feeling and real hope, and I have to be optimistic in the face of such carnage, is that perhaps this might just be a turning point. Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister, has impressed me and many with her genuine compassion and determination... read more
'The loveliest places of all are those that look as if there's nothing there to those still learning to look'
'Deserts for Instance' - Brian Turner (Elemental - Central Otago Poems)
Choosing another book from the shelf of Journeys that I plan to do from my armchair this year, and 'learning to look' at new places is becoming a real treat. I'd no sooner travelled back in deep time searching for Doggerland with Julia Blackburn and Time Song than I decided I was ready for a bit of vast open sky and my hand settled on a proof copy of Skybound A Journey in Flight... read more
I've had some reading disappointments in recent weeks, books that have started well and lost my interest after about seventy pages, but plenty more that have keep me going to the last page and given me much to think about beyond. Here are three of them.
Travelling in a Strange Land ~ David Park (Bloomsbury 165 pages)
David Park has been on the edge of my reading radar for years, though never quite made it into the mix until now and this book.
Tom and Lorna's son Luke is studying at Sunderland University when he is taken ill a few days before Christmas... read more
You may remember a while back that, having been invited to be a member of the Walter Scott Prize Academy, we all contributed to a list of suggestions for submissions for The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
The long list was revealed this week and a very exciting one it is too...
Little by Edward Carey (Gallic Books) *
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey (Faber) *
After The Party by Cressida Connolly (Viking) *
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail) *
The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape) *
Dark Water by Elizabeth Lowry (riverrun)
Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller (Sceptre) *
Warlight... read more
I was persuaded by my media savvy offspring to record a podcast.
'What for?' I said, 'no one has time to listen to me rabbiting on, and in any case how on earth do I do it?'
Feeling like a luddite off I went on a walk up four fields to the woods on New Year's Eve with the dogs, just to see how it felt to walk and talk to myself, because if I was going to try this then perhaps it would mean I could take you all on a few of my favourite walks around the Tamar Valley.
I'd call... read more