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
Click here to read my review in the Irish Times of George Saunders’ long-awaited first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo. (Short version: I liked it, but am less enthusiastic than many seem to be.)
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Click here to read my review in The Times of Danielle Dutton’s slim and charming novel about the life of Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, who was a prolific writer of fiction, philosophy and natural history, and the first woman to appear before the Royal Academy.
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I’ve been remiss this year in posting links to my reviews published elsewhere, so here’s a recap of the year to date.
Anakana Schofield: Martin John
Click here for my Guardian review of this funny, stark, circular novel which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in Canada and the Goldsmiths Prize in the UK.
Carlo Gébler: The Projectionist
Click here for my Times Literary Supplement review of a memoir, by his son, of a writer who once sold millions of novels but is now remembered, if at all, only as Edna O’Brien’s former husband.
Toby Vieira: Marlow’s Landing
Click here for my Guardian... read more
The very existence of this book is a stout marker of the robust good health of the publishing industry, and even, in its own way, small evidence that 2016 hasn’t been all bad. It also shows that, four years after its takeover and relaunch, Pushkin Press has retained an essential part of its character even while expanding into crime, children’s books and contemporary English language titles. In other words, where else might we see a beautifully-produced, mass-distributed book containing two essays written 70 years apart about a city I’d never heard of before now?
City of Lions is about Lviv, now... read more
Readers of this blog (if there are any left after months of inactivity: sorry, and hello again) will know that I’m a sucker for a series design. If something in me aligns with what Trinny and Susannah would have called matchy-matchy, then I justify it on the basis that it’s less judging a book by its cover than allowing my eyes to be opened to new things. And the Penguin Worlds series is just that: a mixture of science fiction, horror and urban fantasy from across the 20th century, chosen and introduced by Naomi Alderman and Hari Kunzru. And they come... read more
A tiny dot had been flashing and circling slowly over a virtual point beside the road on the Google map until the satellites intercepted and correlated my precise position in the imaginary landscape; then the dot stopped moving, coming to rest on the road precisely where I was standing; that’s me, I thought, and as I slid my thumb and forefinger across the tablet to shrink the map, I saw my pulsating point, the beating of a heart, melt into an ever vaster landscape, as if my eye had separated from my body and was ascending high into the sky,... read more
Imagine if The Paris Review gave you 156 pages in its Spring issue. What would you do?
What Jean-René Étienne and Lola Raban-Oliva did with 156 pages (that’s more than half the issue, by the way) was to create a photo-novella called “Formentera Storyline.” The storyline is simple. “An ad hoc group of ten longtime and tentative friends rents a house on the Spanish island of Formentera,” which is just south of Ibiza. They take Pilates classes, eat a strict diet, and basically try to “remedy the deteriorated lifestyle inherent to their high-pressure, low-stakes, medium-impact jobs in the fashion industry.” They... read more
A call for papers is making the rounds:
Call for Papers
Beyond Sebald: New Trajectories in Sebald Studies
A One-Day Postgraduate Workshop
University of Leeds, Tuesday 2nd May 2017, 12:30–16:30
We invite you to join us for a one-day postgraduate workshop at the University of Leeds to discuss the opportunities and challenges of studying W. G. Sebald today. We are particularly interested in two interrelated questions: first, what are the new directions for Sebald scholarship? And second, how do contemporary writers, artists, and filmmakers respond to or challenge the “Sebaldian”?
Sebald’s work is known for its bricolage of styles, genres, modalities, and interests. Combining fiction with... read more
“I feel like a character in a novel written by myself who runs into a character in a novel written by himself.”
I’m not sure how a book as finely written and original as Mark Henshaw’s Out of the Line of Fire stayed under the radar for nearly three decades, but my guess is that it has something to do with the fact that the author is Australian. How could I resist a novel that opens with the purloined line: “You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler” and then invokes the... read more
[print for the Arca Project by Steven Scott]
More than fifteen years after his death, the writings of W.G. Sebald continue to inspire artists and exhibitions. The latest example is an announcement by the PayneShurvell gallery, whose next exhibition will be “The Arca Project: An Exhibition Inspired by the Work of W.G.Sebald.” According to their website, “The Arca Project is an exhibition consisting of 16 visual and 16 textual responses to one single image. Each response has been realised as a limited edition print, developed and made by Invisible Print Studio.” The exhibition is scheduled to open April 1 at a... read more
Make Yourself Happy is the fifth book of poetry by Eleni Sikelianos issued since 2001 by the fine Coffee House Press, just north of me in Minneapolis. I’ve been reading and rereading this compelling book for the past two weeks. Kudos to Coffee House Press for turning out a beautifully designed and produced book that is visually elegant and wonderful to hold.
As a poet, Sikelianos like to think big. Her books deal with topics like science, mythology, history, ecology, extinction, and even, as she writes in one poem sequence in this new book, “the history of man.” Previous books have... read more
"Criticism is as inevitable as breathing," wrote TS Eliot, "and we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it". Nothing uncontroversial about that, as the proliferation of online book reviews suggests.
But what if breathing is difficult and you don't know what passes in your mind? I've often wondered why certain books by certain authors fascinate me without any satisfactory means of saying why. I don't mean only those with complex arguments that require careful precis or that are especially... read more
The first collection of Vila-Matas' short stories in English translation is named after the fifteenth story in the table of contents, but might better have been named after the seventh, Death by Saudade because it compresses Vila-Matas' work into a black hole. Just as Harvill Secker’s abbreviation of Montano’s Malady, his second novel in English, excludes any mention of illness, the choice of this title disguises the nature of his fiction with a predictable play on genre.
This is entirely understandable, as publishers must assume potential consumers read for what is misnamed 'entertainment' rather than to assuage saudade,... read more
In the early days I posted this to Spike Magazine's Splinters blog.
Looking at wood s lot's web archive, I see it began in 2001, the year after Splinters, which makes Mark Woods one of the veterans of literary blogging. When I moved to This Space, wood s lot featured on the blogroll from the start in 2004 until late last year when it became clear that July 13th's entry was its last. It happens, I thought: Spike itself and Ready Steady Book, another site discovered from the referral feed and whose name I also questioned, also closed without... read more
The #Readwomen hashtag has apparently been so influential and successful that of the eight books on the Richard & Judy Book Club Spring list, six were written by women. (There are other examples to confirm its success, such as the much more valuable Goldsmiths Prize, won by female author in its first two years.) However, this didn't stop criticism that the authors were all white. When I observed that this was churlishly moving the goalposts, the critic moved the goalposts back and told me to "count up proportion of women on any bookshop table". Of course, health and safety laws... read more
“What I want to tell you is so intimate, so veiled, so vague, that I fear I’ve occasionally been too precise. Forgive me.” Stéphane Mallarmé, April 1864 This is not a books of the year post. While I enjoy learning of other people's books of the year choices, the genre has come to frustrate me because the comments leave so much unsaid, summing up a selection in the shorthand of industrial standards and ignoring the small, obscure transformations experienced as sentence follows sentence, which for me are often more valuable than the larger work; or, rather, that which gives... read more
In 1986, the New Musical Express described Maurice Blanchot's The Madness of the Day as a '14-page micro novel' rather than a short story, or even a récit, the form Blanchot had redefined. Thirty years later, the choice of genre appears only obscure and uncontroversial, except, on closer examination, it raises questions about our hopes and expectations for writing, which is why I raise it now.
To be fair to the NME, this book is difficult to summarise in generic terms because, while it appears to be a valedictory commentary on a life in which events promise 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
The dovegrey Candlestick Chapter have been pondering Ten Poems about Home for a while now and we have thoughts various to share with you. Today an insightful overview (and I think an excellent suggestion about preserving the pamphlets) from Erika in Delaware, USA along with a poem whose inclusion has mystified Erika...perhaps you have some thoughts on Crossings by Linda Hogan.
I had not heard of this press until it was written about on dovegreyreader scribbles. First I received nine unknown titles and they came into my life like little cloudbursts of excitement. Why hadn't I come across them before? Then... read more
So as I was saying, me and fiction prize-list reading weren't getting on, we seemed to be done with each other in fact, finished, history...the whole kit-and-caboodle was over. Too many lists that had led my reading astray, books that I felt I should enjoy because a group of judges had, and then being disappointed. And in any case I've been so deeply entrenched in reading fiction from the past for the last few months that I really hadn't had my eye on what is out there. I am still sent books (thank you to those who send) and do... read more
Some time ago I had started to read Making Conversation by Christine Longford as one of the Great Unread on my Persephone bookshelf and was struck dumb by the first paragraph...
"Here is a little present for you Ellen," Said Martha Freke. "We got it on the pier."
Ellen, the cook-general, undid the wrappings, which revealed a small cardboard box, and in it, on a bed of cotton wool, a brooch which said "Ellen," in bright gold, written in a cursive hand, with a line below it and a full stop after it.'
What follows, when Martha inadvertently reveals that it had cost... read more
'So much of the forger's dominion is theater and subtext...a series of enticements. An obscure provenance, suggested by visual cues, is irresistible to a certain kind of buyer - it becomes a story of self-discernment, of plucking a second self from the folds of history.'
Has anyone watched that TV programme Fake or Fortune, where Fiona Bruce and art expert Philip Mould endeavour to solve the mysteries and provenance of paintings that may (or may not) be the lost work of a famous artist. The stakes are high and things get incredibly tense for everyone, investigators and owners alike, towards the denouement,... read more
Yes, look lively everyone, the 2017 Dartmoor walking season is officially open. Boots dubbed and at the ready because we're off.
Can someone volunteer to do the flasks of hot chocolate and we'll need someone to do the sarnies.
That's not to say my Walking Friend and I haven't been meeting weekly through the winter and meaning to get out on the Moors, but the biggest obstacle, apart from the weather and the mist, has been her kitchen table and its close proximity to a Rayburn. We have managed a few excursions just not as many as we meant to.
But then... read more
As has been my custom since I started writing dovegreyreader scribbles, I give you all a bit of peace and quiet on here over Easter. It stems from never being allowed out to play on Good Friday, and though I'm a bit lapsed and non-observant these days, old habits and traditions do die hard, so I thought it might be nice to leave you with a quilt show for the next few days.
Those who have been reading here for a few years might remember Sunday Confessions. It usually involved me owning up to buying more books than was good for... read more