Saturday 24 February 2018

Are you at home in a book?

Read our latest NEWSLETTER.
BOOKS @ VOLUME #63 (24.2.18)

Is it preferable to love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? Our Book of the Week this week is The Only Story by Julian Barnes. 

>> Read Stella's review

>> "Time, love and the slippery nature of memory."

>> Julian Barnes on the art of fiction

>> Julian chats with Clive

>> "Barnes writes with such shattering emotional acuity."

>> Thoughtful answers to interesting questions from Spanish students

>> The author's website

>> Mixed doubles, a long tradition

>> Julian Barnes at VOLUME

The Only Story by Julian Barnes  {Reviewed by STELLA}
If you enjoyed Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, then you should put his latest novel high on your list (and if you haven’t read either, do). The Only Story describes a relationship, a love story, over several decades. Like in The Sense of an Ending, we enter the head of a man looking back at his relationship from its inception to an end he would not have prescribed. Paul is nineteen, home from university during the summer months and bored by the suburban dulldom in finds himself stuck in. When his mother suggests joining the local tennis club, he does it with a sense of irony, hardly expecting to meet anyone who isn’t a ‘Charlotte or a Hugo’ as he aptly titles the local players. But a mixed double competition sees him paired with the captivating Mrs Susan Macleod. “We are facing one another. I feel at the same time baffled and at ease. She is wearing her usual tennis dress, and I find myself wondering if its buttons undo, or are merely ornamental.” The first part of this book recalls their meeting and subsequent progression to the status of lovers. Told in both the older man’s voice looking back (with all its accumulated knowledge) and from the younger Paul’s perspective, Barnes allows us a glimpse into Paul’s naivety and the rush of first love coupled with dismissive asides to the reader from Paul the older. “The time, the place, the social milieu? I’m not sure how important they are in stories about love.” There are the heartfelt confusions and passions of a young man in a relationship with a woman thirty years his senior juxtaposed with Paul’s unwillingness or inability to reveal all from the privilege of hindsight, with his sometimes flippant commentary. "I never kept a diary...So I'm not necessarily putting it down in the order that it happened. I think there's a different authenticity to memory and not an inferior one. Memory sorts and shifts according to the demands made on it by the rememberer". A much less able writer wouldn’t pull this off, but for Barnes it is seamless. The second part of the book looks at Paul's and Susan's life together as a couple in London. Susan has left her husband, but never goes as far as divorcing him or sorting out their shared property. We are never told why she retains her ties to this marriage, one which occurred more out of convenience or duty than love, yet as the story unfolds we get a glimpse of the reasons. Paul's and Susan’s story is a love story like any other, yet there are cracks in the veneer. Susan is a mystery in many ways to Paul, yet, obsessively in love and fiercely loyal, he is either oblivious or unwilling to see aspects that don’t fit his ideal of Susan. When he does, this is torment, and his inability to help her drives him to abandon their relationship. In the third part, we meet Paul - a successful middle-aged man who holds himself emotionally apart, contemplating the opening lines of this book, “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question”. 

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
In a single wonderful book-length hysterical paragraph, Rudolph, Bernhard’s narrator, a middle-aged invalid both incapacitated by and sustained by his neuroses, obsessed with writing his great work on the composer Mendelssohn Bartholdy but of course incapable of even beginning to write, neurasthenically procrastinating and irritated, riven by every possible ambivalence, unable to write whilst his sister is visiting and unable to write unless she is present, hating his sister but dependent upon her, needing his home but stifled by it, rants about everything from making too many notes to the idiocy of keeping dogs. Bernhard’s delineation of an individual whose interiority and isolation has attained the highest degree is flawless, devastating and very funny. No sooner has Rudolph made a categorical assertion than he begins to move towards its opposite: after describing the cruelty of his sister towards him, we become increasingly aware of her concern for him and his mental state; no sooner does he attain the solitude of his grand Austrian country home (soon after the book opens he makes the categorical assertion, “We must be alone and free from all human contact if we wish to embark upon an intellectual task!”, a common fallacious predicate that one commonly inclines towards but which subverts one’s ends (he follows this swiftly with another self-defeating assertion: “I still don’t know how to word the first sentence, and before I know the wording of the first sentence I can’t begin any work.”)) than he is absolutely certain that he must travel to Palma if he is to write his book on Mendelssohn Bartholdy. Towards the end of the book, we learn that Rudolph did indeed go to Palma, where he is writing this account (instead of his work on Mendelssohn Bartholdy) after learning of the recent suicide of a young woman he had met there on a previous occasion following the death of her husband (who was discovered fallen onto concrete beneath their hotel balcony). Such was the isolation of Rudolph’s interiority that he was incapable of taking timely action to help the unfortunate young woman, though it was easily within his means to do so, incapable of making authentic human contact, stifled by his own ambivalences and self-obsession (the undeclared ironic tragedy being that he may possibly have returned to Palma in order to help the young woman but that he is of course too late, her suicide triggering the self-excoriation that comprises the book).

Friday 23 February 2018

How to Write
Sometimes you need more than a pencil and paper.
Come and browse our display of books on writing, or click through to reserve the books you need. 
Syllabus: Notes of an accidental professor by Lynda Barry     $35
A very enjoyable set of writing classes presented graphically, especially good for those who appreciate the cross-fertilising potential of visual and verbal creativity. 
Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Italo Calvino         $24
"Words connect the visible track to the invisible thing, like a fragile makeshift bridge cast across the void." Calvino explores what he regards as the cardinal virtues of literature: Lightness, Quickness, Multiplicity, Exactitude and Visibility (Constancy was to be the sixth, but Calvino died while writing this book). Very thoughtful. 

How to Write Like Tolstoy: A journey into the minds of our greatest writers by Richard Cohen        $22
"This book is a wry, critical friend to both writer and reader. It is filled with cogent examples and provoking statements. You will agree or quarrel with each page, and be a sharper writer and reader by the end." - Hilary Mantel
Literature Class by Julio Cortázar       $40
Cortazar's novels and short stories ignited a whole generation of Latin American writers, and had an enthusiastic following through the Americas and Europe. In this series of masterclasses he discusses his approach to the problems and mechanisms of fiction writing: the short story form, fantasy and realism, musicality, the ludic, time and the problem of 'fate'. 
"Anyone who doesn't read Cortazar is doomed." - Pablo Neruda

The Very Short Story Starter: 101 flash fiction prompts for creative writing by John Gillard         $35
Useful and fun, this workbook will help you think about your writing in different ways, and find ways to incorporate it into your daily routines. 
The Situation and the Story: The art of personal narrative by Vivian Gornick          $32
In a story or a novel the "I" who tells this tale can be, and often is, an unreliable narrator but in nonfiction the reader must always be persuaded that the narrator is speaking truth. How does one pull from one's own boring, agitated self the truth-speaker who will tell the story a personal narrative needs to tell?
The Art of Memoir by Mary Karr       $35
"Karr is a national treasure-that rare genius who's also a brilliant teacher. This joyful celebration of memoir packs transcendent insights with trademark hilarity. Anyone yearning to write will be inspired, and anyone passionate to live an examined life will fall in love with language and literature all over again. " - George Saunders

I Should Be Writing: A writer's workshop by Mur Lafferty       $23
Prompts! Exercises! Encouragement!
>> Podcasts!

Write to the Point: How to be clear, correct and persuasive on the page by Sam Leith          $33
Writing effectively is partly a matter of not making common mistakes and partly a matter of learning a few key skills. 
Write to the Centre: Navigating life with gluestick and words by Helen Lehndorf     $35
On the use of collage journaling to prepare the mind for writing. 
Juicy Writing: Inspiration and techniques for young writers by Brigid Lowry      $24
Doodle, daydream and discover your creativity - then write hard into the wild land of your imagination. 
Letters to a Young Writer: Some practical and philosophical advice by Colum McCann        $25
Create Your Own Universe: How to invent stories, characters and ideas by The Brothers McLeod        $25
Young creative types can use this book to accelerate their ideas for stories, animations, graphic novels, films, books, &c (and have a lot of fun, too). 

Draft No.4: On the process of writing by John McPhee         $37
A very useful guide for writers, especially on the aspects of a work, such as structure, that should go unnoticed by the reader. 
>> Read an excerpt. 
"A master class in writing. Every sentence sparkles. A superb book." - Kirkus 
"Matchless teaching from a master of the form—seductive, trustworthy and endearingly modest." - Helen Garner 

Children's Writer's Notebook: 20 great writers and 70 writing exercises by Wes Magee        $23
Notable for its range of writing exercises devised specifically for those writing for children.
The Exercise Book: Creative writing exercises from Victoria University's Institute of Modern Letters edited by Bill Manhire, Ken Duncum, Chris Price and Damien Wilkins      $35
Fifty writing exercises and countless triggers. Great stuff. Includes contributions from Elanor Catton, Curtis Sittenfeld, Emily Perkins, David Vann, Elizabeth and Sara Knox, Dora Malech and Kirsty Gunn. 

The Kite and the String: How to write with spontaneity and control - and live to tell the tale by Alice Mattison         $35
"An insightful guide to the stages of writing fiction and memoir without falling into common traps, while wisely navigating the writing life, from an award-winning author and longtime teacher.
A book-length master class." - The Atlantic 
Writing True Stories: The complete guide to writing autobiography, memoir, personal essay, biography, travel and creative non-fiction by Patti Miller       $40

The Story Cure: A book doctor's pain-free guide to finishing your novel or memoir by Dinty W. Moore         $35
A pharmocopoeia of cures for writer's block, plotting and characterization issues, and other ailments writers face when completing a novel or memoir, prescribed by the director of creative writing at Ohio University.
A Primer for Poets and Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr      $26
Writing exercises, topics such as the personal and cultural threshold, the four forces that animate poetic language, tactics of revision, ecstasy and engagement as motives for poetry.

The Fuse Box: Essays on creative writing from Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters edited by Emily Perkins and Chris Price           $35
Contributions from James Brown, Elizabeth Knox, Tina Makereti, Damien Wilkins, Bill Manhire, Charlotte Wood, Ashleigh Young and Hera Lindsay Bird.

Daemon Voices: Essays on storytelling by Philip Pullman         $38
Interesting and enjoyable considerations of storymaking from the author of 'His Dark Materials', 'The Book of Dust', 'Sally Lockhart', &c. 

Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau         $25
Take one small banal story about a man on a bus and a remark about a button, and rewrite it ninety-nine times according to different constraints, from sonnet to antiphrasis, from onomatopoeia to metaphor, from Dog Latin to double entry, from the gastronomical to the abusive, and you come up with a book that is inventive, erudite and very funny. Raymond Queneau is a verbal acrobat of the first order. Reading this book is to attend a circus of rigours - be prepared to be exhilarated.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke       $3
Advice on writing, love, sex, suffering, writing (again) and the nature of advice. 
Reality Hunger: A manifesto by David Shields         $30
“Who owns the words? Who owns the music and the rest of our culture? We do. All of us. Though not all of us know it, yet. Reality cannot be copyrighted.” At once iconoclastic and appropriative (most of the book is comprised of unattributed quotes from everyone from from Burroughs to Barthes, from Plutarch to Picasso, from Thoreau to Joyce), Shields maintains that actuality provides sufficient material for creative pursuit and that nothing needs to be (or can be) a game of 'let's pretend'. Shields is bored with the novel, he is fed up with the made up, he wants more immediacy, less artifice, more pace, he wants to be a ‘wisdom junkie’, he wants to feel really alive, he longs to escape his jaded state in the arms of the lyric essay or the memoir. Shields is against fiction (at least in the way it is generally understood), but he is ambiguous about 'reality', too: "There are no facts, only art." As an impassioned call for relevance, excitement and innovation in literature, Reality Hunger makes a challenge that deserves to be met.
13 Ways of Looking at a Novel: What to read and how to write by Jane Smiley       $36
A good overview of the purpose, qualities and potentials of a novel, with consideration of 101 novels from the entire history of the form. 
The Writer's Diet by Helen Sword        $25
A useful handbook for trimming the fat from your prose, leaving it lean, toned and fit for any purpose.
>> Is your writing flabby or fit? Take the test
Pilot 2018: A diary for writers      $15 (half price!)
An excellent diary with deadlines, writers' events, tips and ways to keep yourself both motivated and organised. 

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado        $28
Machado bends genre to shape startling narratives that map the realities of women's lives and the violence visited upon their bodies. A wife refuses her husband's entreaties to remove the green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague slowly consumes humanity. A sales assistant makes a horrifying discovery within the seams of the dresses she sells. A woman's surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted houseguest.
"Carmen Maria Machado is the best writer of cognitive dysphoria I’ve read in years. " - Tor
"Life is too short to be afraid of nothing." - Machado

Ashland and Vine by John Burnside          $26
An alcoholic film-maker approaches an elderly woman for an oral-history documentary. The woman declines, but tells the film-maker that if she can stay sober for four days she will tell her a story, and other stories beyond that. What emerges is not just a personal story of heartbreak, but something much wider and deeper. 
"Masterful. A meditation on storytelling itself." - Daily Telegraph
"A story about telling old stories again, and never quite settling the truth of a childhood long last. This is a delicate, beautiful novel, filled with tender details and sharply evoked, lyrical moments." - Spectator
I Love You Too Much by Alicia Drake         $35
"There is the most extraordinary sensibility in this book. It is the author's but she gives it to the reader as thirteen year old Paul's out of kilter, isolated, yearning perception. Denied love, this vulnerable boy floats, adrift, through Paris like a lost, living ghost. We see - and feel - through his eyes, and the experience is unsettling, unnerving, strangely delicious. Alicia Drake has achieved something very rare." - Tim Pears
"The enfant naturel of Henry James's What Maisie Knew and Deborah Levy's Swimming Home." - Anne Korkeakivi
This is Memorial Device by David Keenan       $23
This excellent novel, set on the dges of the post-punk music scene of Lanarkshire in the early 1980s, displays remarkable resonance with that of New Zealand in the same period. 
"Many of the chapters would work as brilliant standalone short stories." - Guardian
"I wanted to live in this book." - Kim Gordon
>> Read an excerpt
>> A playlist of appropriate Scottish post-punk tracks
>> And another (more 'easy listening') playlist
>> Interview with David Keenan
The Patterning Instinct: A cultural history of humanity's search for meaning by Jeremy Lent          $50
What are the root metaphors used by all cultures to impose meaning on the world? Why do we classify ad arrange and divide as we do? What do the ways we think imply for our capacity to face the challenges in what we might like to think of as our future? 

Notes on a Thesis by Tiphaine Rivière      $50
An outstanding graphic novel on the miseries (and opportunities) of academia and the epiphanies of procrastination. When Jeanne is accepted on to a PhD course, she is over the moon, brimming with excitement and grand plans - but is the world ready for her masterful analysis of labyrinth motifs in Kafka's The Trial? At first Jeanne throws herself into research with great enthusiasm, but as time goes by, it becomes clear that things aren't quite going according to plan.
"This is a book for anyone who has ever laboured under a deadline, battled a stubborn pig of a boss, or half drowned beneath a wave of bureaucracy and paperwork. Put off what you intended to do today and go out and buy it, right now." - Guardian
How Democracies Die: What history tells us about our future by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt    $40

Democracies die in three stages: the election of an authoritarian leader, the concentration and abuse of governmental power and finally, the complete repression of opposition and citizens. Following the election of Donald Trump in the US, the first stage seems fulfilled. How can the two following stages be averted? 

About the Size of the Universe by Jón Kalman Stefánsson       $35
A modern Icelandic saga, spanning the whole twentieth century, and  kind of companion-piece to the Man Booker International short-listed Fish Have No Feet
"Powerful and sparkling. Translator Philip Roughton's feather-light touch brings out the gleaming, fairy-tale quality of the writing." - Irish Times 
"Stefansson's prose rolls and surges with oceanic splendour." - Spectator

In the Restaurant: Society in four courses by Christoph Ribbat          $33
Food and drink are only pretexts for the real business of a restaurant, which is a jostling for and display of social positioning, and a calibration of functional politics, both withing the staff and in relation to the customers. Ribbat takes us across the dining room and into the kitchen to disentangle the social functions of the restaurant.
The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Photography edited by Nathalie Herschdorfer      $60
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú     $35
A very interesting account of a transformative time spent as a border control officer on the Mexican-US border. 
"This book tells the hard poetry of the desert heart. If you think you know about immigration and the border, you will see there is much to learn. And you will be moved by its unexpected music" - Luis Alberto Urrea
>> "This is work that endangers the soul.
>> "Caught up in the deportation fight." 
Political Tribes: Group instinct and the fate of nations by Amy Chua      $24
Do our group identities matter more to us than any political issue? Is tribalism a better model to understand both the successes and idiocies of recent political situations than any overarching theory of historical development?
"A beautifully written, eminently readable, and uniquely important challenge to conventional wisdom." - J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy 

On Trust: A book of lies by James Womack         $28
Poetry is often regarded as a confessional medium, conveying deeper 'truths' about the poet and their experience. This collection playfully destabilises this preconception, severing the 'I' of a poem from the 'I' of the poet, and assailing such lazy concepts as reliability, sincerity and authenticity. 

Long-listed for the 2018 Dylan Thomas Prize.
A reassessment of the life and role of Henry's fifth wife, from their marriage in 1540 to her beheading less than two years later following one of the more outstanding scandals of Henry's reign. 
Fun fact: The night before her execution, Catherine Howard spent many hours rehearsing laying her head upon the block.
Becoming Unbecoming by Una         $48
This graphic novel is an indictment of sexual violence against women in all its guises - from the 12-year-old protagonist's classroom to the Yorkshire Ripper case on her television set. 

How Money Got Free: Bitcoin and the fight for the future of finance by Brian Patrick Eha        $27
Is Bitcoin the way in which the libertarian right will achieve their goal of collapsing the state? 

If cognitive enhancement, smart drugs and electrical stimulation can increase our mental performance, just what is intelligence? 
Can You Die of a Broken Heart? A heart surgeon's insight into what makes us tick by Nikki Stamp        $33
What is the relation between the physical and metaphorical function of the heart? 

The Three Rooms in Valerie's Head by David Gaffney and Dan Berry     $40
Serially unlucky in love, to feel better Valerie imagines that her previous boyfriends are dead and that their bodies are kept downstairs in the cellar in a strange, mummified state. Every day she brings them upstairs and speaks with them about what went wrong. Funny and sad. 
“One hundred and fifty words by Gaffney are more worthwhile than novels by a good many others.” — The Guardian
Lyla by Fleur Beale          $19
The Christchurch earthquakes and their aftermath as seen through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old student. 

The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien       $38

Subjected to dreadful ordeals (such as holding an electric fence without flinching) by her fanatical and controlling father, who was convinced his daughter would be an exemplar of a new order of humanity, Julien love of nature and, particularly, of literature somehow enabled her to remain sane. 
Mechanica: A beginner's field guide by Lance Balchin       $27
A steampunkish selection of robotic animals constructed at the end of the 23rd century to replace the lamented ex-fauna of Earth. 
Is This Guy For Real? The unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown        $35
A graphic biography of the actor and comedian who made a career out of making himself contemptible to his audience. 

Winnie-the-Pooh: Exploring a classic, The world of A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard by Annemarie Bilclough and Emma Laws        $60
Full of facsimiles of artwork and early editions, and giving an understanding of how the books came into existence. 
>> A vision of the future?