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
Engraver and Apprentice, in their room
Of acid baths and photophobic gloom,
Transform to metal dots ten shades of gray…
I have never been a fan of John Updike’s writing, but I have to admit I was really curious when a Vertigo reader mentioned that Updike had published a book of poetry in 1969 that contained numerous photographs. “Midpoint,” the long poem that opens Midpoint and Other Poems (NY: Knopf, 1969), was written “to take inventory of his life at the end of his thirty-fifth year – a midpoint,” as the book’s dust jacket puts it. As it turned out, “Midpoint”... read more
Here is my bibliography of works of fiction and poetry published in the years 1970-1989 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, July 5, 2016, that bibliography contains 228 fiction titles and 68 poetry titles. 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 a comment. [Updated July... read more
The Berlin-based publisher De Gruyter is releasing an affordable paperback edition of Lynn Wolff’s W.G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics: Literature as Historiography, which first came out two years ago. With the hardcover version currently priced at €89.95 (or $126) the paperback price of 19.95 (in both euros and dollars) is welcome news. It comes with high praise from Richard Sheppard, who wrote in Journal of European Studies:
Wolff’s book does not, however, simply challenge the interested reader to think about Sebald’s literary work in a meta-representational way, it also shows the academic reader the advantages of familiarity with his critical work, the... read more
While recently recovering from surgery, I found myself needing something to read that was different from my usual diet. I looked at my stack of unread books with new eyes and lit upon a volume that had I had been passing over for weeks as simply too quirky. But now I was desperately in the mood for something off-beat.
A few months earlier, a long-time Vertigo reader had sent me a book he thought I might enjoy called I Cycled into the Arctic Circle: A Peregrination by James Duthie and Matt Hulse, published by the Saltire Society, Scotland in 2015. As... read more
I was taken to hospital in Norwich in a state of almost total immobility.
W.G. Sebald. The Rings of Saturn.
A little more than a week ago, I suddenly found myself unable to stand or walk without immense pain. Somehow I managed to hobble to the car for the ride to the emergency room, where the triage began. “Have you been out of the country recently? Have you…?” Within a few minutes a sonogram and its operator appeared and she began scanning. The operator and the doctor hovered and pointed. “Gall stones,” one of them declared. Five days later I came home... 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
The novelist and critic Jeff Bursey has reviewed This Space of Writing in the Winnipeg Review. He says the book "reaffirms the high quality of [my] writing and allows for an immersive experience in, primarily, Modernist writing and themes as found in the dead and the living". He also takes issue with the TLS review back in April.
As this is the fifth review from a fifth different country and the only negative one comes from my own native land, my sense that there is something profoundly intellectually fearful and withdrawn about this little England seems... read more
The long post below criticises the dominant mode of fiction as practised in English, with the main complaint being that fiction inhabits the minds of its characters, telling us what they feel and think without any concern for boundaries and what crossing boundaries might destroy. As I admitted there, this is a naïve complaint, as it is precisely because the novel is one of the few places where there are no constraints on human knowledge and control that it is so popular, providing as it does readers and writers with an escape from the otherwise dominant experiences of uncertainty, confusion,... read more
The BBC marked Holocaust Day 2015 by showing the nine hours of Claude Lanzmann's Shoah over consecutive Sunday evenings. I had seen the film almost thirty years before when Channel 4 showed it in full with, as a mark of respect and good taste, a placeholder instead of ad breaks. The decades haven't erased memories of steam trains, lush Polish meadows and crease-faced locals nonchalantly recalling a time when there was a death camp on the doorstep. So why did I watch it all again, hour after hour?
Certainly there is a mesmeric quality. Lanzmann dispensed with overt... 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
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
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
Honestly, you think you know a garden and then suddenly you don't recognise it. A particular blend of rain (plenty) and sun (some) and you look out of the door and think 'How on earth did that happen?' It's gone crazy wild here, way beyond any hope of thinning it out or weeding so we are just letting it have its way and Bookhound just goes round with the strimmer if the sky starts to disappear.
The Tinker's revamped Dahlia bed, now Bean, Dahlia and Onion bed with a few marigolds thrown in, is doing exceptionally well, growing from this in... read more
Well... did we ever know such excitement in the town. Maybe not since the last time the Tour of Britain cycled through and we were swamped with men in lycra, except this time it was just the one 'man' and an engine of an entirely different kind.
'At a secret (ex-mining) location in Cornwall we are now engineering the largest mechanical puppet ever to be built in Britain: a colossal metal Cornish Miner, part man, part machine. When he crawls down the road, the height of the Man Engine is 4.5m (about the same as a double-decker bus) but when he... read more
Staying on the Rowena Farre - Seal Morning trail laid by Happy Camper Angela at our Endsleigh Salon evening on Pseudonyms last month, I eventually diverted off at a crossroads and read Island of Dreams - A Personal History of a Remarkable Place by Dan Boothby. Dan, you might recall, is the author who is pursuing the enigma that was Rowena Farre alias Daphne Macready and then I had chipped in with my Terry Nutkins anecdote (the dolphinarium, Oxford Street) and before we knew it there we were at Gavin Maxwell's Ring of Bright Water doorstep. Terry Nutkins had been... read more
I had bought a full day ticket for the literary festival at Dartington last week and am so pleased I had booked to hear Richard Fortey talking about his book The Wood for the Trees - The Long View of Nature from a Small Wood. I had planned to read it straight through but am now opting for the month by month approach in which the book is written.
I just knew I was going to love this one.
Richard Fortey, heading into retirement from his role as senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, used his earnings from a TV series... read more
I thought you might all appreciate a paddle in the Atlantic today, before the holidaymakers arrive...
We were on a bit of an "In the Footsteps of Rena Gardiner" excursion using this book as our guide...
Printed in 1985, from hand-drawn lithographic plates by Rena Gardiner at the Workshop Press in her cottage at Tarrant Monkton, and whilst professional and exquisite in its content, the book has a beautifully home-made feel to it and is a guide to some of the lesser known properties of the National Trust in North Cornwall.
'Manor houses, farms, cottages, bridges, harbours, monuments, castles, holy wells and... read more
It seems to be Church Window week on here because six still going mad in Dorset and it was off to the village of Moreton where we hoped to find a nice tea room (we did, a splendid one in the old school) and knew we would find the glass engravings by Laurence Whistler in the church.
But, and here was the first surprise, the church hadn't always been dedicated to St Nicholas...
Who could have guessed that word of this Orkney saint would travel as far south as deepest Dorset.
It is thought the church was rebuilt and rededicated to St... read more