Saturday, 23 January 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #213  (22.1.21)

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>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Weather by Jenny Offill      {Reviewed by STELLA}
A novel made from snippets of conversation, observations, facts and wry asides, Jenny Offill’s Weather is contemplative and challenging in its examination of human nature and climate change. You won’t see the dystopic disaster trail here, nor the high-minded rhetoric, as Lizzie, a university librarian navigates the minutiae of her Brooklyn world—mother, wife, sister, daughter, academic dropout, comfortable middle class—and the monumental nature of the changing environment. You will feel a sense of companionship with a woman who sees the approaching crisis but isn’t sure how to tackle it. Lizzie is self-deprecating and highly likeable—even when she puts her ‘recovered addict’ brother ahead of her own partner and child. Who hasn’t had a conflict of loyalty? Her wry observations of the regular library users and her immediate community—the school where her son is in the gifted class but it’s still a liberal heaven with its diversity and philosophy, the other parents, and the increasing polarised views she encounters in her side-line job—shine a darkly funny beam into this novel with serious intent. Employed by her friend, Slyvia, who has a popular climate change podcast, to answer questions sent to her, the letters and emails come from across the spectrum—from the left-liberals who want a solution to the preppers, the deniers, and the confused. These questions send Lizzie on her own quest to understand and counter her growing anxiety about the weather. Running alongside her desire to reassure others and herself is her commitment to her brother, who is battling his feelings of inadequacy in the face of being newly married (to a controlling—probably necessarily so—woman) and their newborn. Lizzie steps in, as she always has, to ‘rescue’ him—her own addiction. In the hands of a different author, this could be melodrama or heavy-handed prophesying but Jenny Offill’s episodic style and her cleverness makes Weather an unexpected joy to read. It’s a novel rich in ideas, both serious and playfully ironic. Like Lizzie, how do we have a sense of urgency when all is comfort with the occasional pinprick?  


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Extinction by Thomas Bernhard    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“When I take Wolfsegg and my family apart, when I dissect, annihilate and extinguish them, I am actually taking myself apart, dissecting, annihilating and extinguishing myself. I have to admit that this idea of self-dissection and self-annihilation appeals to me, I told Gambetti. I’ll spend my life dissecting and extinguishing myself, Gambetti, and if I’m not mistaken I’ll succeed in this self-dissection and self-extinction. I actually do nothing but dissect and extinguish myself.” In the first of the two relentless paragraphs that comprise this wonderfully claustrophobic novel, the narrator, Murau, has received a telegram informing him that his parents and brother have been killed in a car accident. While looking at some photographs of them at his desk in Rome, he unleashes a 150-page stream of invective directed personally at the members of his family, both dead and living. Murau is alone, but he addresses his rant to his student Gambetti in Gambetti’s absence or recounts, however accurately or inaccurately, addressing Gambetti in person at some earlier time. Gambetti, in either case, is completely passive and non-contributive, and this passivity and non-contribution acts—along with Murau’s over-identification with his ‘black sheep’ Uncle Georg, an over-identification that sometimes confuses their identities—as a catalyst for Murau’s invective, as an anchor for the over-inflation of Murau’s hatred for, and difference from, his family. Without external contributions that might mitigate Murau’s opinions, his family appear as horrendous grotesques, exaggerations that here cannot be contradicted due to absence or death. Being dead puts an end to your contributions to the ideas people have of you—stories concerning you are henceforth the domain entirely of others and soon become largely expressions of their failings, impulses and inclinations. We can have no definite idea of ourselves, though—we exist only to others, unavoidably as misrepresentations, as caricatures. Murau states that he intends to write a book, to be titled Extinction: “The sole purpose of my account will be to extinguish what it describes, to extinguish anything that Wolfsegg means to me, everything that Wolfsegg is, everything. My work will be nothing other than an act of extinction.” Murau has not been able to even begin to write this account because his hatred gets in the way of beginning, or, rather, what we soon suspect to be the inauthenticity of his hatred gets in the way of beginning. There is no loathing without self-loathing. As Murau’s invective demonstrates, there can be no statement that is not an overstatement—every statement tends towards exaggeration as soon as it is expressed or thought. By exaggeration a statement exhausts its veracity and immediately begins to incline towards its opposite, just as every impulse, as soon as it is expressed, inclines towards its opposite. Only a passive witness, a witness who does not contradict but, by witnessing, in effect affirms—Gambetti in Murau’s case—allows an otherwise unsustainable idea to be sustained. In the second half of the book, Murau returns to Wolfsegg in Austria for the funeral of his parents and brother. Until this point, Murau’s ‘character’ has been defined entirely by his exaggerated opposition to, or identification with, his ideas of others, but when he is brought into situations in which others have a contributing role, Murau’s portrayal of others and of himself in the first section is undermined at every turn. Without the ‘Gambetti’ prop, he is responded to, and, in response to these responses, he overturns many of his opinions - about his parents, his brothers, his sisters, his mother’s lover, the nauseatingly perfectly false Spadolini that Murau had hitherto admired, and about himself—and reveals his fundamental ambivalence, an ambivalence that is fundamental to all existence but which is usually, for most of us, almost entirely suppressed by praxis, by the passive anchors, the Gambettis to which we affix our desperate attempts at character. We resist, through exaggeration, indifference and self-nullification. “We’re often led to exaggerate, I said later, to such an extent that we take our exaggeration to be the only logical fact, with the result that we don’t perceive the real facts at all, only the monstrous exaggeration. I’ve always found gratification in my fanatical faith in exaggeration, I told Gambetti. On occasion I transform this fanatical faith in exaggeration into an art, when it offers the only way out of my mental misery, my spiritual malaise. Exaggeration is the secret of great art, I said, and of great philosophy. The art of exaggeration is in fact the secret of all mental endeavour.” In this second part, Murau reveals his connection with Wolfsegg and his suppressed feelings of culpability in what it represents. “I had not in fact freed myself from Wolfsegg and made myself independent but maimed myself quite alarmingly.” Separation, or, rather, the illusion of separation, is only achieved by ‘art’, that is to say, by exaggeration, by the denial of ambivalence, by the denial of complicity, by suppression—a desperate negative act of self-invention. Once his hatred of his sisters, and of his parents and brothers, has been undermined by his presence and contact with his sisters and others at Wolfsegg, and without a Gambetti or Georg in his mind to sustain this hatred, the underlying reason for his hatred, a fact that he has suppressed since his childhood as too uncomfortable, the fact that has made “a gaping void” of his childhood, of his whole past, the fact to which he was a passive witness, a complicit witness, namely that Wolfsegg hid and sheltered Nazi war criminals after the war (Gauleiters and members of the Blood Order, who now attend the funeral of Murau’s father) in the so-called ‘Children’s Villa’ (which “affords the most brutal evidence that childhood is no longer possible. All you see when you look back is this gaping void. You actually believed that your childhood could be repainted and redecorated, as it were, that it could be refurbished and reroofed like the Children’s Villa, and this in spite of hundreds of failed attempts at restoring your childhood.”), can now be faced, and, on the final page of the book, at last in some way addressed. Murau also attains the necessary degree of remove to write Extinction before his own death, either from illness or, more likely, suicide. This, his last, is the only Bernhard novel I can think of in which the protagonist makes anything that resembles an effective resolution.

Friday, 22 January 2021


Our Book of the Week is Magnolia 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles. 
Shanghai, Aotearoa, Malaysia, London are all places Powles calls home and not-home; from each she can be homesick for another. The poems dwell within the shifting borderland between languages, and between poetic forms, to examine the shape and texture of memories, of myths, and of a mixed-heritage girlhood. Powles's poetry is attuned to the possibilities within layers of written, spoken and inherited words. 
>>Simultaneously published by Seraph Press in New Zealand and Nine Arches in the UK. 
>>I Spy. 


The Math Campers by Dan Chiasson          $55
A poet, father and husband's meditation on love and adolescence, the poet's art is also revealed in stages in this 'making-of' book, where we watch as poems take shape—first as dreams or memories, then as drafts, and finally as completed works set loose on the world. 
Rein Gold by Elfriede Jelinek            $38
With her characteristic verbal fury, Jelinek exposes Wagner's 'Ring Cycle' as a precursor of the social ills of late capitalism. Structured as a sort of a dialogue between Wotan and Brünnhilde, the book is hyperattuned to issues of power, inequality, sexism, exploitation and self-interest that feed contemporary society and also presage its downfall.
"Rein Gold is a masterful, obsessional, hypnotic journey. Jelinek brings a sharp modernity and relevance to a series of inward wanderings. She is equal to a great myth and makes it new." — A.L. Kennedy

Azadi: Freedom fascism, fiction by Arundhati Roy             $18
In this series of electrifying essays, Arundhati Roy challenges us to reflect on the meaning of freedom in a world of growing authoritarianism. The essays include meditations on language, public as well as private, and on the role of fiction and alternative imaginations in these disturbing times. The pandemic, she says, is a portal between one world and another. For all the illness and devastation it has left in its wake, it is an invitation to the human race, an opportunity, to imagine another world.

Two Besides: A pair of talking heads by Alan Bennett       $23
Bennett has written two further monologues to extend his adored Talking Heads series. Bennett's immense sympathy with his characters and the subtlety of his observations on the interplay of individuality and conformity in the lives of ordinary people make for compelling reading. These two monologues, pitch perfect and unsettling, feature women who must rethink their relationships in ways they had not expected. 
Lost Cat by Mary Gaitskill             $23
"Last year I lost my cat Gattino. He was very young, at seven months barely an adolescent. He is probably dead but I don't know for certain." So begins Mary Gaitskill's stunning long essay, the closest thing she has written to a memoir, about a lost cat and a pair of adopted children. In this searing piece about loss, love, safety and fear, Gaitskill applies her razor-sharp writing to her most personal subjects yet.

On Connection by Kae Tempest         $17
Kae (formerly Kate) Tempest's first work of non-fiction: a hopeful theory of creativity. The increasingly hyper-individualistic, competitive and exploitative society that we live in has caused a global crisis at the turn of the new decade; in order to survive, numbness has pervaded us all. Tempest reckons against this system, placing our legacy in our own hands. Creativity holds the key: the ability to provide us with internal and external connection, to move us beyond consumption, to allow us to discover authenticity and closeness to all others, to deliver us an antidote for our numbness. 

That Old Country Music by Kevin Barry         $33
A new collection of short stories from one of Ireland's most accomplished voices. In That Old Country Music, we encounter a ragbag of west of Ireland characters, many on the cusp between love and catastrophe, heartbreak and epiphany, resignation and hope. These stories show an Ireland in a condition of great flux but also as a place where older rhythms, and an older magic, somehow persist.
>>Read Thomas's reviews of Beatlebone and Night Boat to Tangier

Patch Work: A life amongst clothes by Claire Wilcox          $45
Claire Wilcox has been a curator of fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum for most of her working life. In Patch Work, she steps into the archive of memory, deftly stitching together her dedicated study of fashion with the story of her own life lived in and through clothes. From her mother's wedding outfit to her own silk kimono, her memoir unfolds in a series of intimate and compelling close-ups. Wilcox tugs on the threads that make up the fabric of our lives—a cardigan worn by a child, a mother's button box, the draping of a curtain, a pair of cycling shorts, a roll of lace, a pin hidden in a seam. Through the eye of a curator, we see how the stories and the secrets of clothes measure out the passage of time, our gains and losses, and the way we use them to unravel and write our histories.
Long Live the Post Horn! by Vigdis Hjorth           $33
Ellinor, a 35-year-old media consultant, has not been feeling herself; she's not been feeling much at all lately. Far beyond jaded, she picks through an old diary and fails to recognise the woman in its pages, seemingly as far away from the world around her as she's ever been. But when her co-worker vanishes overnight, an unusual new task is dropped on her desk. She goes to meet the Norwegian Postal Workers Union, setting the ball rolling on a strange and transformative six months. The new novel from the author of Will and Testament

The Paper Chase: The printer, the spy-master, and the hunt for the rebel pamphleteers by Joseph Hone          $48
"The Paper Chase is a remarkable achievement. Hone transforms what is essentially a case study of English press censorship following the expiry of the 1695 Licensing Act into a fast-paced, captivating narrative about the attempt to track down the individuals responsible for a pamphlet called The Memorial of the Church of England (1705). This was an anti-Dissenter work which sought to destabilise the government in the early years of Queen Anne’s reign by arguing that the Church of England was in immediate danger from current tolerationist policies. The queen herself was distressed by the pamphlet’s arguments that she and her ministers were letting established religion go to ruin, and her secretary of state, Robert Harley, set about uncovering and rounding up those responsible for the assertion." —Spectator
I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke          $50
The intriguing and long-awaited memoir of the poet and performer who has been an enduring countercultural knot stubbornly refusing to be disentangled from a Britain still impacted by Margaret Thatcher's economic policies (and all that followed).
A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio      $23
"I was the Arminuta, the girl returned. I spoke another language, I no longer knew who I belonged to. The word 'mama' stuck in my throat like a toad. And, nowadays, I really have no idea what kind of place mother is. It is not mine in the way one might have good health, a safe place, certainty." Without warning or a word of explanation, an unnamed 13-year-old girl is sent away from the family she has always thought of as hers to live with her birth family: a large, chaotic assortment of individuals whom she has never met and who seem anything but welcoming. Thus begins a new life, one of struggle, conflict, especially between the young girl and her mother, and deprivation. But in her relationship with Adriana and Vincenzo, two of her newly acquired siblings, she will find the strength to start again and to build anew and enduring sense of self. Translated  by Ann Goldstein, who has also translated the works of Elena Ferrante.
From Newton's alchemy to Einstein's mistakes, from Nabokov's butterflies to Dante's cosmology, from travels in Africa to the consciousness of an octopus, from mind-altering psychedelic substances to the meaning of atheism, Rovelli is always thinking and rethinking, giving us now insights into reality.

Approaching Eye Level by Vivian Gornick        $25
In these seven essays Gornick chronicles the New York streets that energise her, and looks back on the dangerously charged atmosphere of the Catskills where she waitressed as a student in the late fifties. She describes her introduction to the feminism of the 1970s and the lessons it taught her, reflects on a friendship with an older female writer that faltered, and analyses the failure of connection among like-minded people. She considers what it means to live alone, and the absorbed solitude of writing letters.

Black Spartacus: The epic life of Toussaint Louverture by Sudhir Hazareesingh         $65
The Haitian Revolution began in the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Domingue with a slave revolt in August 1791, and culminated a dozen years later in the proclamation of the world's first independent black state. After the abolition of slavery in 1793, Toussaint Louverture, himself a former slave, became the leader of the colony's black population, the commander of its republican army and eventually its governor. During the course of his extraordinary life he confronted some of the dominant forces of his age—slavery, settler colonialism, imperialism and racial hierarchy. Treacherously seized by Napoleon's invading army in 1802, this charismatic figure ended his days, in Wordsworth's phrase, "the most unhappy man of men", imprisoned in a fortress in France.
Antlers of Water: Writing on the nature and environment of Scotland edited by Kathleen Jamie          $45
Featuring prose, poetry and photography, this collection takes us from walking to wild swimming, from red deer to pigeons and wasps, from remote islands to back gardens. With contributions from Amy Liptrot, Malachy Tallack, Chitra Ramaswamy, Jim Crumley, Amanda Thomson, Karine Polwart and many more, Antlers of Water urges us to renegotiate our relationship with the more-than-human world, in writing which is by turns celebratory, radical and political.

How Life on Earth Began by Aina Bestard        $45
What did the Earth look like 300 million years ago? Here's a chance to travel back through time and discover the days when the Earth was a very different place. Packed with fascinating beautiful illustrations and glassine overlays, this is a wonderful way to understand the story of evolution, from the earliest single-cell lifeforms to the mighty dinosaurs and onwards to the first human beings.
The Look of the Book: Jackets, covers and art at the edges of literature by Peter Mendelsund and David J. Alworth        $100
As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines the interface of art and literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries.

Friday, 15 January 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #212 (15.1.21)

Read our newsletter and find out what we have been reading and recommending. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry    {Reviewed by STELLA}
“I am Winona. In the early times I was Ojinjintka.” From the opening lines of Sebastian Barry’s A Thousand Moons you are immersed in the world of a young Lakota woman and you will not want to leave. Her voice will command your attention and draw you to 1870 post-Civil War America, with its tension, danger and promise. Although a sequel to Days Without End, it stands alone while still encompassing the relationship between Winona and her adoptive parents, Thomas McNulty and John Cole, and the histories that haunt them and the hopes that drive them forward. Now working on a farm in Paris, Tennessee, the family are shaping a home for themselves. The land is new and raw, as are the people, adjusting to the new order. Winona, John Cole and the Bouguereau brother and sister (all working and living on Lige Magan’s farm) watch their backs and keep to themselves—it still doesn’t pay to be Indian or Black in this 'New World'. When Winona is attacked and Tennyson Bouguereau beaten, the Lakota girl decides to take matters into her own hands. She swaps her dress for britches and takes to the road with a knife and a gun to confront anyone that might have information. Her memory of the violence perpetrated on her is hazy, and what she will actually do unsure. Her revenge isn’t quite what she expects, and setting upon a camp of renegades she encounters a young woman much like her—a Chickasaw orphan, Peg, taken in by the rakish outlaw Aurelius Littlefair. A tender friendship, soon love, blossoms between the two young women. Yet the attack on Winona is still unpunished, and despite the efforts of John and Thomas and the lawyer Briscoe, nothing is resolved. “It wasn’t a crime to kill an Indian because an Indian wasn’t anything in particular.” And Winona knows the law isn’t for her. As her own past and the murder of her family by those that surround her haunts her and as tensions in the township increase—there are outlaws, militias, crooked lawmen and opportunists ready to cause mayhem—Winona can’t rest easy until she knows the truth. A young man, Jas Jonski, who was sweet on Winona, is the main suspect. When he is murdered, Winona finds herself under fire. Sebastian Barry writes with lyricism and conviction. A Thousand Moons is compelling and beautiful in both its violence and desire—in the determination of a young woman to make her own future and not the one enforced upon her.   


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Three by Ann Quin  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Boredom is a sub-optimal mode, he thinks, but it is at least a functional mode compared with the revulsion it conceals, boredom at least connects one end of the day to the other, boredom is doubtless detrimental but it is by definition tolerable, let us all hope for boredom. That is not a good way to start his review, he thinks, it has some bearing on the book but it is not a good introduction to the book. Two is a situation of stasis, he thinks, three is dynamic, three is the catalyst that reveals the harms hidden in two, the harms that mathematics suppressed mathematics reveals, or not mathematics, physics perhaps, or chemistry, more likely. This also is not a good way to start. Well, he thinks, the review is far enough through not to worry any longer about starting it, a bad start is at least a start, that is something, I can adjust the performance using the choke, or perhaps the throttle, I need to find out the difference between these two obstructions, he thinks, these two forms of respiratory impediment, our relationship with engines is a violent one, he thinks, and this thought stalls the review. There is no access to the interior save through performance, he thinks, restarting, there is perhaps only performance, who can know, a middle class couple converse, the words pass between them but also bounce off their surroundings, language is a force-field, he thinks, a sonar, and a conversation is the pattern of disturbance, the pattern of interference, produced by two emitters, or should that be transmitters, of language. In this book, he thinks, Quin reproduces, well actually produces, that disturbance, those two voices, the Ruth voice and the Leon voice, as they run together as one entity, caught on the page, as if there is anything about a novel that is not on the page. In the Ruth-and-Leon sections of the novel, these verbal slurries, that is not the word, are both Ruth’s and Leon’s, caught on the framework of descriptions as bald and precise and mundane as stage directions, they are stage directions in the past tense, so hardly directions, stage descriptions perhaps. We learn that S, a younger, working-class woman who had lived with them, has committed suicide by drowning, Quin’s fate eventually incidentally, she left a note, but they still hope it might have been an accident. Are they guilty? In S’s room they find some tapes she has recorded, and her journals, and these are transcribed, if that is the word, inscribed is more accurate perhaps but we have to play the fiction game so transcribed is the better word, in other sections of the novel, but Ruth and Leon do not find either the absolution nor the indictment they both hope for and fear in these tapes and these journals, the tapes and the journals merely complicate the picture, add other layers of performance, leave more unsaid than said. The more that is unsaid, the greater the weight of what is unsaid, the stronger its gravity, the more distorted the said, the said, even in its utter mundanity, points always at the source of its distortion. As the book progresses, though progresses is not the word, there is no progress in Quin, we read also a tape made by Ruth and a diary written by Leon as, respectively, Leon and Ruth gain access to them, they take access, if that is the way to put it. There is no progress but the tension increases, tension in the past, if that which is in the past can be said to increase, each mundanity is freighted, that is not the word, with the catalytic action of each one upon each other two, a sexual static that builds and cannot discharge but reveals ultimately the fundamental destructive incompatibility not only of Ruth and Leon but of any combination of Ruth and Leon and S, and, perhaps, of any persons whatsoever, if Quin held this misanthropic view, perhaps she did. The instance of sexual violence eventually revealed is no surprise, but its awfulness floods backwards through all that precedes it in the book. Boredom is all that holds the horrible at bay, but the horrible is no less horrible for that. 


Whose Futures? asks this week's Book of the Week. Many of us have become accustomed to speaking of what comes next in terms of a singular ‘future’. Such accounts of the future tend to operate within the narrow confines of colonial capitalism and assume continued economic growth. But there is no ‘one’ future; there are many. As contributions to this book attest, irreconcilable and interrelated futures are already playing out in the present. Who are these futures for?
>>Produced by the Economic and Social Research Aotearoa think tank
>>On future-proofing Aotearoa New Zealand for life after Covid-19. 
>>Productivity and the future of technology
>>Ecological crises and equitable futures
>>Preparedness and recovery as a privilege
>>Other ESRA research
>>New Forms of Political Organisation
>>Your copy of Whose Futures?


Girls Against God by Jenny Hval            $33

Welcome to 1990s Norway. White picket fences run in neat rows and Christian conservatism runs deep. But as the Artist considers her past, her practice and her hatred, things start stirring themselves up around her. In a corner of Oslo, a coven of witches begins cooking up some curses. A time-travelling Edvard Munch arrives in town to join a black metal band, closely pursued by the teenaged subject of his painting 'Puberty', who has murder on her mind. Meanwhile, out deep in the forest, a group of school girls get very lost and things get very strange. Awful things happen in aspic. Jenny Hval’s latest novel is a radical fusion of feminist theory and experimental horror, and a unique treatise on magic, gender and art.
"By the close of Girls Against God, the boundaries between reality and film, the corporeal and the fantastic, the coagulated and the fertile have all dissolved. The novel has journeyed from melodramatic teenscape to horror-saturated social panorama. A story that had seemed pointedly provincial has now sprouted universal wings." —Guardian
Whose Futures? edited by Anna-Maria Murtola and Shannon Walsh         $30
Contributors from Economic and Social Research Aotearoa challenge dominant narratives of the future by bringing together a broad collection of voices and perspectives on the question of possible futures. Chapters interrogate whose lives are at stake in different visions and projects of the future, whose voices and visions count, and what elements are at play in the unfolding of certain futures over others. The chapters highlight the need to be attentive to how various social technologies and institutions invite certain ways of being, thinking and acting and exclude others. In doing so, they offer a series of reflections on futures ‘from below’ to amplify voices and fight for alternatives. Many of us have become accustomed to speaking of what comes next in terms of a singular ‘future’. Such accounts of the future tend to operate within the narrow confines of colonial capitalism and assume continued economic growth. But there is no ‘one’ future; there are many. As contributions to this book attest, irreconcilable and interrelated futures are already playing out in the present. When futures are approached in this way – in the plural and in relation – they open to questions of which futures and whose futures. In other words, they open to politics. Contributors: Hana Burgess, Luke Goode, Kassie Hartendorp, Aitor Jiménez González, John Morgan, Anna-Maria Murtola, Te Kahuratai Painting, Anisha Sankar, Sy Taffel, Arcia Tecun, Samuel Te Kani, Shannon Walsh, Toyah Webb. From the group who brought us New Forms of Political Organisation
Reality, And other stories by John Lanchester           $28
Household gizmos with a mind of their own. Constant cold calls from unknown numbers. And the creeping suspicion that none of this is real. Reality, and Other Stories is a gathering of chilling entertainments to be read amidst the ghstly shlock of everyday life.

When We Cease to Understand the World by Benjamin Labatut         $33
The great mathematician Alexander Grothendieck tunnels so deeply into abstraction that he tries to cut all ties with the world, terrified of the horror his discoveries might cause. Erwin Schrodinger and Werner Heisenberg battle over the soul of physics after creating two equivalent yet opposed versions of quantum mechanics. Their fight will tear the very fabric of reality, revealing a world stranger than they could have ever imagined. Using extraordinary, epoch-defining moments from the history of science, Benjamin Labatut plunges us into exhilarating territory between fact and fiction, progress and destruction, genius and madness.
"A monstrous and brilliant book." —Philip Pullman
"Wholly mesmerising and revelatory. Completely fascinating." —William Boyd

Featherhood by Charlie Gilmour         $30
Gilmour's developing relationship with a magpie leads him to deeply consider his relationship with his father, anarchist poet and absconder Heathcote Williams, and also Williams's relationship with a jackdaw. What repeats across generations? Can birds 'run in the blood'? What else 'runs in the blood'?
"The best piece of nature writing since H is for Hawk, and the most powerful work of biography I have read in years." —Neil Gaiman
"Wonderful - I can't recommend it too highly." —Helen Macdonald
"Essex Girls" are disreputable, disrespectful and disobedient. They speak out of turn, too loudly and too often, in an accent irritating to the ruling classes.Their bodies are hyper-sexualised and irredeemably vulgar. They are given to intricate and voluble squabbling. They do not apologise for any of this. And why should they? In this exhilarating feminist defence of the Essex girl, Sarah Perry re-examines her relationship with her much maligned home county. She summons its most unquiet spirits, from Protestant martyr Rose Allin to the indomitable Abolitionist Anne Knight, sitting them alongside Audre Lorde, Kim Kardashian and Harriet Martineau, and showing us that the Essex girl is not bound by geography. She is a type, representing a very particular kind of female agency, and a very particular kind of disdain.
War: How conflict shaped us by Margaret MacMillan          $45
There is always a war in progress somewhere—is it an essential part of being human? What is the relationship between society and war? Economies, science, technology, medicine, culture: all are instrumental in war and have been shaped by it—without conflict it we might not have had penicillin, female emancipation, radar or rockets. Throughout history, writers, artists, film-makers, playwrights, and composers have been inspired by war—whether to condemn, exalt or simply puzzle about it. If we are never to be rid of war, how should we think about it and what does that mean for peace?
Avocado Baby by John Burningham         $18
The Hargraves want their new baby to grow up big and strong. But the puny mite will hardly eat a thing. One day Mrs Hargraves finds an avocado in the fruit bowl and the baby gobbles it up. Soon, the strangest things start to happen... One of our favourite children's books is now back in print as a board book.

Beowulf translated by Maria Dahvana Headley           $35
A radical new verse translation of the epic poem by Maria Dahvana Headley—author of the contemporary Grendel-positive adaptation The Mere Wife—which brings to light elements never before translated into modern English. A man seeks to prove himself as a hero. A monster seeks silence in his territory. A warrior seeks to avenge her murdered son. A dragon ends it all. These familiar components of the epic poem are seen with a novelist's eye toward gender, genre, and history. Beowulf has always been a tale of entitlement and encroachment—of powerful men seeking to become more powerful and one woman seeking justice for her child—but this version brings new context to an old story. While writing The Mere Wife, Headley unearthed significant shifts lost over centuries of translation. 
The Undying: A meditation on modern illness by Anne Boyer         $24
When Anne Boyer was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in her early forties, it was an initiation into a whole new way of thinking about herself, about illness, and about mortality. Her harrowing, beautifully written memoir of survival explores the experience of illness as mediated by digital screens, weaving in ancient Roman dream diarists, cancer hoaxers and fetishists, cancer vloggers, corporate lies, John Donne, pro-pain 'dolorists', the ecological costs of chemotherapy, and the many little murders of capitalism. It excoriates the pharmaceutical industry and the bland hypocrisies of 'pink ribbon culture' while also diving into the long literary line of women writing about their own illnesses and ongoing deaths: Audre Lorde, Kathy Acker, Susan Sontag, and others. Now in paperback. Winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction. Winner of the 2020 Windham-Campbell Prize for Non-Fiction. 
"Profound and unforgettable." —Sally Rooney
"A classic. I have long thought of Boyer as a genius." —Patricia Lockwood
"An outraged, beautiful, and brilliant work of embodied critique." —Ben Lerner
"Some of the most perceptive and beautiful writing about illness and pain that I have ever read." —Hari Kunzru
Prosopagnosia by Sònia Hernàndez         $30
Fifteen-year-old Berta says that beautiful things aren’t made for her, or that she isn’t destined to have them, or that the only things she deserves are ugly. It’s why her main activity, when she’s not at school, is playing the ‘prosopagnosia game’ — standing in front of the mirror and holding her breath until she can no longer recognise her own face. An ibis is the only animal she wants for a pet. Berta’s mother is in her forties. By her own estimation, she is at least twenty kilos overweight, and her husband has just left her. Her whole life, she has felt a keen sense of being very near to the end of things. She used to be a cultural critic for a regional newspaper. Now she feels it is her responsibility to make her and her daughter’s lives as happy as possible. A man who claims to be the famous Mexican artist Vicente Rojo becomes entangled in their lives when he sees Berta faint at school and offers her the gift of a painting. This sets in motion an uncanny game of assumed and ignored identities, where the limits of what one wants and what one can achieve become blurred.
Afterlives by Abdulrazak Gurnah        $33
Restless, ambitious Ilyas was stolen from his parents by the Schutzruppe askari, the German colonial troops in East Africa. After years away, he returns to his village to find his parents gone, and his sister Afiya given away. Hamza was not stolen, but was sold; he has come of age in the army, at the right hand of an officer whose control has ensured his protection but marked him for life. Hamza does not have words for how the war ended for him. Returning to the town of his childhood, all he wants is work, however humble, and security and the beautiful Afiya. 
"A remarkable novel, by a wondrous writer, deeply compelling, a thread that links our humanity with the colonial legacy that lies beneath, in ways that cut deep." —Philippe Sands
"To read Afterlives is to be returned to the joy of storytelling. The story of Hamza and Afiya is one of simple lives buffeted by colonial ambitions, of the courage it takes to endure, to hold oneself with dignity, and to live with hope in the heart." —Aminatta Forna
Harro Schulze-Boysen had already shed blood in the fight against Nazism by the time he and Libertas Haas-Heye began their whirlwind romance. She joined the cause, and soon the two lovers were leading a network of antifascists that stretched across Berlin's bohemian underworld. Harro himself infiltrated German intelligence and began funnelling Nazi battle plans to the Allies, including the details of Hitler's surprise attack on the Soviet Union. 
From the author of Blitzed
Laws of Chaos: A probabilistic approach to political economy by Emmanuel Farjoun and Moshé Machover     $33
A groundbreaking attempt to construct a non-deterministic theoretical framework for the study of mechanisms of exchange, price and profit. It relies on probabilistic and statistical methods of the kind used in the modern foundations of several other sciences, introducing scientific modelling into economics.
In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A life of Pliny by Daisy Dunn          $28
A readable exploration of the relationship between Pliny the Elder, author of the first natural history encyclopedia and casualty of Vesuvius, and his nephew Pliny the Younger, lawyer, senator, poet, collector of villas, curator of drains.

How to Grow Your Own Poem by Kate Clanchy          $40
An introduction to writing poetry, using other poems as guidance and inspiration. 
The Loop by Ben Oliver         $22
It's Luka Kane's sixteenth birthday and he's been inside The Loop for over two years. Every inmate is serving a death sentence with the option to push back their execution date by six months if they opt into "Delays", scientific and medical experiments for the benefit of the elite in the outside world. But rumours of a war on the outside are spreading amongst the inmates, and before they know it, their tortuous routine becomes disrupted. The government issued rain stops falling. Strange things are happening to the guards. And it's not long until the inmates are left alone inside the prison. Were the chains that shackled Luka to his cell the only instruments left to keep him safe? In a thrilling shift, he must overcome fellow prisoners hell-bent on killing him, the warden losing her mind, the rabid rats in the train tunnels, and a population turned into murderous monsters to try and break out of The Loop, save his family, and discover who is responsible for the chaos that has been inflicted upon the world. An exciting YS dystopia. 
Let's Play Outside: Exploring nature for children by Carla McRae and Catherine Ard         $40
Nature activities for a new generation of environmentally conscious children. 

A Long Time Coming: The story of Ngai Tahu's Treaty settlement with the Crown by Mark Fisher             $40
"The Ngai Tahu settlement, like all other Treaty of Waitangi settlements, was more a product of political compromise and expediency than measured justice." The Ngai Tahu claim, Te Kereme, spanned two centuries, from the first letter of protest to the Crown in 1849 to the final hearing by the Waitangi Tribunal between 1987 and 1989, and then the settlement in 1998.
The Treaty of Waitangi / Te Tiriti o Waitangi: An illustrated history by Claudia Orange          $50
Claudia Orange's writing on the Treaty of Waitangi has played a central role in national understanding of this foundational document. This fully revised and updated and illustrated edition takes the narrative into the twenty-first century, with a new chapter recounting the Treaty history of the last ten years, covering major developments such as the Tuhoe settlement, territory `personhood', and issues around intellectual property and language. 

Grown Your Own Spices: Harvest homegrown ginger, turmeric, saffron wasabi, vanilla, cardamom, and other incredible spices—no matter where you live by Tasha Greer and Greta Moore         $37
Well, why not?

Saturday, 9 January 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #211 (8.1.21)

Our first newsletter of the new year.


Mr Beethoven by Paul Griffiths          $38
"What would Beethoven have done with another seven years of life, and where, in the 1830s, might he have gone? The answer, in this audacious but exacting extension of the composer’s late period, is America, where an oratorio, Job, is completed (and performed) in Boston. Suffering and revelation are the subject-matter, but in Paul Griffiths’ hands, the Biblical sorrow undergoes a lasting modulation into a new key of delight in friendship, communication, and creativity." —Judges' citation shortlisting the novel for the Goldsmiths Prize
Red Comet: The short life and blazing art of Sylvia Plath by Heather Clark          $65
"Surely the final, the definitive, biography of Sylvia Plath. Takes its time in desensationalizing the life and the art; this lets Clark place both firmly in the literary and politically engaged contexts that formed them and simultaneously demonstrate how Plath’s work, in return, gifted the writing life unimaginable new sinew.” —Ali Smith, The Guardian 
“Mesmerizing. Comprehensive. Stuffed with heretofore untold anecdotes that illuminate or extend our understanding of Plath’s life. Clark is a felicitous writer and a discerning critic of Plath’s poetry. There is no denying the book’s intellectual power and, just as important, its sheer readability.” —Daphne Merkin, The New York Times
Surviving Autocracy by Masha Gessen             $33
Gessen's coverage of Trump's norm-smashing presidency has been essential reading for a world struggling to wrap their heads around the unimaginable. Thanks to the special perspective that is the legacy of a Soviet childhood and two decades covering the resurgence of totalitarianism in Russia, Gessen has a sixth sense for signs of autocracy—and the unique cross-cultural fluency to delineate its emergence. This incisive book provides an overview of the calamitous American trajectory of the past few years. Gessen not only highlights the corrosion of the media, the judiciary, and cultural norms, but is also lights a beacon to recovery.
Freud, IX. Vienna, Berggasse 19: The origin of psychoanalysis edited by Daniela Finzi and Monika Pessler            $120
A completely fascinating look at the objects and artworks at the Freud Museum (in the building where Freud developed his ideas of the unconscious). 
Health, Hedonism and Hypochondria: The hidden history of spas by Ian Bradley         $43
In their heyday, Europe's spas were the main meeting places for aristocracy, politicians and cultural elites. They were the centres of political and diplomatic intrigue, and were fertile sources of artistic, literary and musical inspiration. The spas epitomised style and were renowned for their cosmopolitan atmosphere in a glittering whirl of balls, gambling and affairs, as much as for their healing waters. Health, Hedonism & Hypochondria reveals the hidden histories of traditional spas of Europe, including such well-known resorts as the original Spa in Belgium; Bath, Buxton and Harrogate in Britain; Baden-Baden and Bad Ems in Germany; Vichy and Aix-les-Bains in France; Bad Ragaz in Switzerland; Bad Ischl and Baden bei Wien in Austria and Karlovy Vary and Mariánské Lázně in the Czech Republic.
Interaction of Colour by Joseph Albers          $45
A new edition of this seminal work, presenting a significantly expanded selection of close to sixty color studies alongside Albers's original text, demonstrating such principles as color relativity, intensity, and temperature; vibrating and vanishing boundaries; and the illusion of transparency and reversed grounds.
Political Sign by Tobias Carroll         $22
In an era of political polarisation and heated debate, what can be learned from studying how our personal space becomes the setting for both through the presence of political signs, badges and stickers? Understanding political signs can help us understand our current political moment—and how we might transcend it.
The Moth and the Mountain: A true story of love, war and Everest by Ed Caesar            $55
In the 1930s, as official government expeditions set their sights on conquering Everest, a little-known World War I veteran named Maurice Wilson conceived his own crazy, beautiful plan: he would fly a Gipsy Moth aeroplane from England to Everest, crash land on its lower slopes, then become the first person to reach its summit. 
"One of the best books ever written about the early attempts to conquer Everest. A fine, fine slice of history by a truly special writer who proves time and time again that he is among the best of his generation." —Dan Jones
The Bookseller's Tale by Martin Latham          $40
Taking us on a journey through comfort reads, street book stalls, mythical libraries, itinerant pedlars, radical pamphleteers, extraordinary bookshop customers and fanatical collectors, bookseller Martin Latham uncovers the curious history of our book obsession—and his own.

The Monsters of Rookhaven by  Pádraig Kenny (illustrations by Edward Bettison)        $30
Mirabelle has always known she is a monster. When the glamour protecting her unusual family from the human world is torn and an orphaned brother and sister stumble upon Rookhaven, Mirabelle soon discovers that friendship can be found in the outside world. But as something far more sinister comes to threaten them all, it quickly becomes clear that the true monsters aren't necessarily the ones you can see.

Shakespearean: On life and language in times of disruption by Robert McCrum           $40
Why do we return to Shaekspeare in times of crisis, and what can we learn from him about the times we are living through? 
Unwitting Street by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky          $35
A collection of philosophically weird and phantasmagorical fictions from the Russian master. Mostly written in the 1920s and 1930s, the stories were not published until 1989. Krzhizhanovsky takes us to the edge of the abyss and forces us to look into it. “I am interested,” he said, “not in the arithmetic but in the algebra of life.”

Five Seasons of Jam by Lillie O'Brien         $45
These innovative recipes are separated into 5 seasons:
ALIVE/spring- blossoming florals and awakenings (Peach & Fig leaf Jam, Salted Cherry Blossom, Wild Garlic Pesto)
HOT/summer - vivid sweetness (Nectarine & Thyme Jam, Strawberry & Wild Fennel Jam, Pickled Walnuts)
BLUSH/early autumn - smoky warmth and rich spice (Blackberry & Cocoa Nib Jam, Elderberry & Pomegranate Molasses, Tomato Jam, Marjoram Jelly)
BARB/late autumn - robust and bristling (Pear & Masala Jam, Pumpkin Jam, Damson Cheese)
FROST/winter - biting, dark and cosy (Salted Mandarins, Seville Orange & Chamomile Marmalade)
The Wild Life of the Fox by John Lewis-Stempel          $24
A beautifully written nature portrait of this fascinating predator. 
Sing New Zealand: The story of choral music in Aotearoa by Guy E. Jansen          $60

Anarchist Communism by Peter Kropotkin          $14
"Everywhere you will find that the wealth of the wealthy springs from the poverty of the poor." Fuelled by anger at injustice and optimism about humankind's ability to make a better, truly communal society, the anarchist writings of Peter Kropotkin have influenced radicals the world over, from nineteenth-century workers to today's activists.
Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the making of science in Europe by Hugh Aldersley-Williams      $40
Europe's leading scientist in the latter part of the seventeenth century, Huygens made contributions in the fields of astronomy, optics, mechanics, and mathematics. Many of his innovations in methodology, optics and timekeeping remain in use to this day. He developed the theory of light travelling as a wave, invented the mechanism for the pendulum clock, and discovered the rings of Saturn, using a telescope that he had also invented.
Marie's Ocean: Marie Tharp maps the mountains under the sea by Josie James           $40
A very informative picture book about the woman who defied gender norms by pursuing a scientific career in the 1940s and 1950s, becoming the outstanding oceanic cartographer, mapping the ocean floor and discovering the Mid-Ocean Ridge and Rift Valley. Her discovery supported the theory of continental drift, which led to the theory of plate tectonics, yet she struggled to gain recognition for her achievements.