Saturday 30 March 2019

BOOKS @ VOLUME #121 (30.3.19)

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Under Glass by Gregory Kan (published by Auckland University Press) is this week's Book of the Week. This superb new collection from the immensely talented Kan in the form of a dialogue between a series of prose poems tracking a progression through mysteriously affecting landscapes, and a series of verse poems compulsively trying to make sense of this experience, the whole forming a kind of  zone where inner and outer worlds contest for definition.  
>> Read Thomas's review
>> Try Gregory Kan's text manipulator!


Under Glass by Gregory Kan   {Reviewed by THOMAS}

“It’s hard / for the world of all possible things / to choose the things that actually happen,” writes Gregory Kan in a book that poses the same generative problems to text as it does to ‘life’ (so to call it). By what methods do we combine and recombine, filter and refilter, separate and reseparate, alter and realter whatever it is in which we find ourselves when we have got sufficiently far in these processes to call this finding? To be aware and to continue to be aware is to maintain the most delicate of balances between words and the thoughts that they both describe and form, and Kan’s remarkable second book, Under Glass, is written with sufficient clarity to obscure that which it does not address, and with sufficient subtlety that the wounds it leaves are difficult to pinpoint (they are pinpoint wounds). The book is comprised of two finely written helical strands. A sequence of short prose pieces in the first person and present tense describe, with careful precision,the narrator’s progress across a landscape and then descent below a lighthouse, drawn by an elusive “second sun”, as black as it is bright, uncertain of its interiority or exteriority. The prose is personal but specific, describing precisely a ‘world’, but one inaccessible to others, a dream world, or a world that has the same relationship to this one as have the worlds of dreams. The verse sequence spliced or twisted through this narrative is often addressed to ‘you’, speaks of ‘we’, is interpersonal, emotional, dealing in nondefinitive generalisations, if such things are possible, almost completely devoid of specific evidence of a forensic or narrative (or forensonarrative or narratoforensic) sense. “Confusing myself is a way to be honest.” Sometimes there is the feeling that a shortcoming or realisation of some sort lies in the past, something that subtly destabilised the nature of a relationship, something that has introduced uncertainty into an area formerly filled with hope (hope being, after all, only an immature form of uncertainty). “I draw my ideas cruelly around me.” “Sometimes I write so that you can be punished / the way I think I deserve to be punished.” The verse pieces take place at a time when an apparent relationship has the apparent bulk of its happenings in its past (but is this not always the case?), the weight of this past pulling at and attenuating the progress into the future. How to go on? What second sun can keep us aware enough to move towards it? Intimacy is the predicament in the verse, just as aloneness is in the prose. Where the verse begins by saying, “The things that are really big and really close / are too big and too close to be seen,” the prose reaches the point in the pursuit of the second sun at which it says, “I recognise the second sun from a distance, but not up close.” The prose with its deliberate track and the verse with its hovering double-spaced lines slowing our reading almost touch, resonate, snag themselves upon each other. “The second sun reveals all and remembers nothing.” At the end of the book, the prose narrator has gone far enough, deep enough, into the interior ‘place’ to step through a crack in that second sun, and the ‘I’ of the verse has relinquished sufficient autonomy to, or acknowledged sufficient autonomy of, the ‘you’ for the wall between the internal and the external to be breached simultaneously from both directions, for the worlds to be inverted, turned inside-out about the separating skin that is the only part of ourselves that we can know to exist, the external reached through the most internal thing, that which was lost seen for the first time once it is finally released. Under Glass is a subtle and powerful book, so cleanly written that it leaves no palpable residue but rather a flavour, a quality of awareness indistinguishable from the longing to reread. 


Enchantée by Gita Trelease   {Reviewed by STELLA}
The world is changing and Camille must find her place in it if she is to survive. It's a time of strife in France. On the cusp of a revolution, the court and its aristocrats are enraptured by their own fantasy, living the high life in their palaces, playing games, partying and gambling while the people in the street starve, die of disease, and the harvests are crippled.  But for Camille, her problems are more immediate. She’s seventeen, her parents have died from smallpox, her younger sister, Sophie, is still frail and recovering from her brush with the disease, and her brother, the supposed bread-winner of the family, is mired in debts and drunkenness. Paris 1789, on the edge of revolution, is not an easy, nor safe, place for a young woman, but Camille has a gift: a little magic at her fingertips. Being able to turn small nubs of metal into coin means bread and candles. But the coins are only temporary and, as Camille has to venture further and further from her home, she realises that something more dramatic is required. The turning point comes out of desperation when Alain, her brother, steals the rent money that she has carefully hidden away and, protesting this theft, he rages against her, striking her down. Maman always warned against opening the partially burnt chest, but needs must and Camille discovers her magic is far more powerful than she imagined. Also more dangerous. Transformed by a dress reeking with dark magic and alive to the touch, Camille enters the glittering world of Versailles and the crazy wickedness of the court - only to gamble for what she and Sophie need. Yet she is enchanting and enchanted - captured by the hunger of the magic, fascinated by the glamour of the court, propelled on by the wit and intrigue of those she meets and their pretty and petty, sometimes dangerous, liaisons. As the Baroness de la Fontaine she navigates this world at first nervously and then at ease, with an appetite she can’t quite believe of herself. Being the Baroness takes its toll though, and the more she lives this double life, the greater the curse of the powerful magic, draining her of vitality and leading her towards a dark tunnel of sacrifice and dangerous individuals. All are not who they seem. In the world of Camille, life isn’t straightforward either. A chance encounter with a group of young men - balloon enthusiasts and amateur scientists - sets her on another course of discovery about herself and her ability to be daring and brave, physically and emotionally. At the centre of this world is Lazare, the reluctant aristocrat and charming (and good-looking) aeronaut - both accepted into the upper-class circles by dint of birth and his powerful fathe,r and looked down upon for his difference - his part-Indian heritage. Camille is both drawn to him yet perplexed by him and her new-found emotions. How can she trust anyone and be truthful, when her life is so complicated? Can she control the magic or will the magic dominate her? This teen novel is filled to the brim with history, intrigue, danger, friends and enemies, love and deceit. Highly enjoyable and charmingly compelling.  

Friday 29 March 2019

Dedalus by Chris McCabe        $38
Chris McCabe playfully reclaims the inventive spirit of the founding text of Modernism in English: Ulysses. Tracing the same structure as the original, McCabe describes the events of the following day, 17th June 1904. Stephen Dedalus wakes up, hungover, with scores and debts to settle, unaware that Leopold Bloom is waking up in Eccles street with his own plans for him. Dedalus is shot through with cut and paste disruptions from the Digital Age. From 1980s Text Adventure gaming to Google maps and pop-ups. McCabe picks up the tradition of Laurence Sterne and B.S. Johnson, underpinning the paragraphs of his storytelling with concrete poetry.
“Parts of this book will remain with me, and pollute my reading of Hamlet and Ulysses, forever. I also add it to my personal library of Great Books About Dead Fathers.” – Max Porter (author of Grief is the Thing With Feathers)
Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt       $38
The much anticipated autofictional novel from the author of What I Loved. The process by which an author looks back on her earlier self and turns their mutual regard into fiction is utterly compelling. 
"Among the many riches of Siri Hustvedt's portrait of a young woman finding her way as an artist are her reflections on how acts of remembering, if they reach deep enough, can heal the broken present, as well as on the inherent uncanniness of feeling oneself brought into being by the writing hand. Her reflections are no less profound for being couched as philosophical comedy of a Shandean variety." - J. M. Coetzee
>> "I'm writing for my life."
>> "Everything is autobiography and nothing is.
>> On reading
A Velocity of Being: Letters to young readers edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick         $50
A wonderful collection of accounts by outstanding people of how books and reading helped them become who they are. Each letter is accompanied by a full-page illustration from an outstanding book illustrator. Includes contributions from Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, Jerome Bruner, Shonda Rhimes, Ursula K. Le Guin, Yo-Yo Ma, Judy Blume, Lena Dunham, Elizabeth Gilbert, Jacqueline Woodson, Marianne Dubuc, Sean Qualls, Oliver Jeffers, Maira Kalman, Mo Willems, Isabelle Arsenault, Chris Ware, Liniers, Shaun Tan, Tomi Ungerer, and Art Spiegelman.
>> Preview on Brain Pickings
Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza        $40
A subtle and intelligent novel 'about' the relationship - and the sapce -between the art a woman views and thinks about, and her own life. What associative sparks are released in our minds when viewing art? 
"Gainza is a writer who feels immediately important. I felt like a door had been kicked open in my brain." - Guardian
>> The artworks mentioned in the book
>> Stuttering cultures

Uncertain Manifesto by Frédéric Pajak        $35
The writer and artist Frederic Pajak was ten when he began to "dream of a work that would mingle words and images: bits of adventure, collected memories, sentences, phantoms, forgotten heroes, trees, the stormy sea," but it was not until he was in his forties that this dream took form. This unusual book is a memoir born of reading and a meditation on the lives and ideas, the motivations, feelings, and fates of some of Pajak's heroes: Samuel Beckett and the artist Bram van Velde, and, especially, Walter Benjamin, whose travels to Moscow, Naples, and Ibiza, whose experiences with hashish, whose faltering marriage and love affairs and critique of modern experience Pajak re-creates and reflects on in word and image. Pajak's moody black-and-white drawings accompany the text throughout, though their bearing on it is often indirect and all the more absorbing for that. Between word and image, the reader is drawn into a mysterious space that is all Pajak's as he seeks to evoke vanished histories and to resist a modern world more and more given over to a present without a past.
>> Walter Benjamin in Ibiza
Sea People: The puzzle of Polynesia by Christine Thompson      $35
"I found Sea People the most intelligent, empathic, engaging, wide-ranging, informative, and authoritative treatment of Polynesian mysteries that I have ever read. Christina Thompson's gorgeous writing arises from a deep well of research and succeeds in conjuring a lost world." - Dava Sobel

"To those of the western hemisphere, the Pacific represents a vast unknown, almost beyond our imagining; for its Polynesian island peoples, this fluid, shifting place is home. Christina Thompson's wonderfully researched and beautifully written narrative brings these two stories together, gloriously and excitingly." - Philip Hoare
Under the Sea by Mark Leidner           $33
"Reading Mark Leidner’s writing taught me how to write, and I owe him an enormous debt of gratitude. He is my favourite writer. His new collection of short stories Under The Sea is unbelievably good. The stories range from long realist pieces about teenagers trying to recover stolen drugs and a middle aged women having a meltdown in a coffee shop to a Chekhovian drama set in an ant colony and a kid writing his memoirs in the style of Philip Marlowe." - Hera Lindsay Bird
>>Hera Lindsay Bird's unholy love for Mark Leidner

 Happening by Annie Ernaux        $32
Ernaux's account of her experiences having an illegal abortion while a 23-year-old student in Paris in 1963 is meticulous, nuanced, and, because of its dispassionate tone, moving. 
>> Read Thomas's review of The Years

Amateur: A true story about what makes a man by Thomas Page McBee           $37
In this remarkable memoir, McBee, a trans man, trains to fight in a charity match at Madison Square Garden while struggling to untangle the vexed relationship between masculinity and violence. Through his experience boxing - learning to get hit and to hit back, wrestling with the camaraderie of the gym, confronting the betrayals and strength of his own body - McBee examines the weight of male violence, the pervasiveness of gender stereotypes, and the limitations of conventional masculinity.
Shortlisted for the 2019 Wellcome Prize and the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize. 
Doggerland by Ben Smith           $33
Doggerland supposes a world in the not so distant future suffering the effects of climate change, pollution, surveillance  and decay. It tells the story of an old man (who isn't really that old) and a boy (who isn't really still a boy) living alone in a post apocalyptic world tending to a vast wind farm. 
"An unremittingly wet book, damp and cold and rusted, blasted by waves and tempests, but also warm, generous and often genuinely moving. It is a debut of considerable force, emotional weight and technical acumen." -Guardian
"The Road meets Waiting for Godot: powerful, unforgettable, unique." - Melissa Harrison
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi         $28Iin the village of al-Awafi in Oman, where we encounter three sisters: Mayya, who marries Abdallah after a heartbreak; Asma, who marries from a sense of duty; and Khawla who rejects all offers while waiting for her beloved, who has emigrated to Canada. These three women and their families witness Oman evolve from a traditional, slave-owning society slowly redefining itself after the colonial era, to the crossroads of its complex present. 
>> Listed for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize
We, the Survivors by Tash Aw       $35
A murderer's confession shows how widely the roots of his crime are spread in the injustices of the modern world. Ah Hock is an ordinary, uneducated man born in a Malaysian fishing village and now trying to make his way in a country that promises riches and security to everyone, but delivers them only to a chosen few. With Asian society changing around him, like many he remains trapped in a world of poorly paid jobs that just about allow him to keep his head above water but ultimately lead him to murder a migrant worker from Bangladesh.

Ursa by Tina Shaw     $23
There are two peoples living in the city of Ursa: the Cerels and the Travesters. Travesters move freely and enjoy a fine quality of life. Cerel men are kept in wild camps and the women are no longer allowed to have children. The Director presides over all with an iron fist. Fifteen-year-old Leho can’t remember a time when Cerels lived without fear in Ursa. His parents once tried to organise an uprising – his mother was blinded, and his father was taken away. But now his world is changing. Revolution is coming. People will die. Will Leho be able to save his family?  
Living With Earthquakes and Their Aftermath by Rosie Belton          $35
Rosie Belton uses captures with intimacy and immediacy the earthquakes experienced by the people of Canterbury. Nothing could have prepared her, she says, for the severity of the quakes, starting with the first one in 2010, and then the ongoing disruption over the next six years: the grinding reality of living through so many months of shaking and the after-effects. Like many creative individuals, Belton found that writing about those terrible events as they unfolded developed into a coping mechanism. And now, the result of her careful record-keeping and reflections can be read and appreciated by others whose lives have been affected by similarly unwanted change. 
"I am reminded of what Harold Nicholson wrote about London during the Blitz: the same uncertainty as to what horror was going to happen next.” – Michael Palin
>> Come and hear Rosie Belton speak. The Suter (Bridge Street). Wednesday 10 April, 5:30 PM
Harsu and the Werestoat by Barbara Else        $20
Harsu has five droplets of god blood and a treasured cloak to remember his father by. Now his father is gone, he lives with his mother, his only friend an old onager donkey. And something is not right with Harsu's mother. She has started kidnapping children, and sometimes her skin grows a soft down, little sharp ears emerge, and she turns into a horrible stoat. Harsu doesn't know if five godlet drops are enough to help him rescue the kidnapped children and turn his own mother to good. And now that he is twelve, he too might be becoming a were-animal.
The Creativity Code: How AI is learning to write, paint and think by Marcus du Sautoy         $37
Can machines be creative? Will they soon be able to learn from the art that moves us, and understand what distinguishes it from the mundane? Du Sautoy examines the nature of creativity, as well as providing an essential guide into how algorithms work, and the mathematical rules underpinning them. He asks how much of our emotional response to art is a product of our brains reacting to pattern and structure, and exactly what it is to be creative in mathematics, art, language and music. 
>> Too dangerous to release? 
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Rauf        $18
"There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He's nine years old (just like me), but he's very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn't like sweets - not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite! But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn't very strange at all. He's a refugee who's run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help." 
>> The book has just won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize

Pagan Light: Dreams and beauty in Capri by Jamie James     $48
Isolated and arrestingly beautiful, the island of Capri has been a refuge for renegade artists and writers fleeing the strictures of conventional society from the time of Augustus, who bought the island in 29 BC, to the early twentieth century, when the poet and novelist Jacques d'Adelswärd-Fersen was in exile there after being charged with corrupting minors, to the 1960s, when Truman Capote spent time on the island. Also features the Marquis de Sade, Goethe, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, Compton Mackenzie, Rilke, Lenin, and Gorky.
Natives: Race and class in the ruins of Empire by Akala      $28
From the first time he was stopped and searched as a child, to the day he realised his mother was white, to his first encounters with racist teacher, race and class have shaped Akala's life and outlook. In this book he takes his own experiences and widens them out to look at the social, historical and political factors that have left Btitain where it is today. Covering everything from the police, education and identity to politics, sexual objectification and the far right, Natives speaks directly to British denial and squeamishness when it comes to confronting issues of race and class that are at the heart of the legacy of Britain's racialised empire.
"My book of the year. It's personal, historical, political, and it speaks to where we are now. This is the book I've been waiting for - for years." - Benjamin Zephaniah
"This powerful, wide-ranging study picks apart the British myth of meritocracy." - David Olusoga, Guardian
>> Unfiltered
Neruda: The poet's calling by Mark Eisner         $40
An empathetic biography of this esteemed Chilean poet, possibly murdered for opposing the Pinochet regime.
Daughters of Chivalry: The forgotten children of Edward I by Kelcey Wilson-Lee      $45
Virginal, chaste, humble, patiently waiting for rescue by brave knights and handsome princes: this idealised - and largely mythical - notion of the medieval noblewoman still lingers. Yet the reality was very different, as Kelcey Wilson-Lee shows in this account of the five daughters of the English king, Edward I. The lives of these sisters - Eleanora, Joanna, Margaret, Mary and Elizabeth - ran the full gamut of experiences open to royal women in the Middle Ages. 
The Braid by Laetitia Colombani         $28
Three women on three continents are forced by circumstances to rebel against their fates. Their stories plait together like a braid. An untouchable in India, a wig-maker in Sicily, a lawyer in Canada - are they linked by more than their courage? 
Drawing, Vision and Perspective by David Jowett        $19
Demonstrates a method of drawing using spherical perspective and shows it to be more accurate than more commonly used perspectival methods. 
Kathy Acker: The last interview and other conversations edited by Amy Scholder and Douglas Martin        $35
From Acker's earliest interviews - filled with playful, evasive, and counter-intuitive responses - to the last interview before her death where she reflects on the state of American literature.
>> A Kathy Acker documentary

Saturday 23 March 2019

BOOKS @ VOLUME #120 (23.3.19)

Read our latest NEWSLETTER and find out what we've been reading and recommending, about upcoming events, new releases and other amusements.

This week's Book of the Week is the wonderfully sharp and insightful Human Relations and Other Difficulties by Mary-Kay Wilmers. Wilmers was one of the founders of the London Review of Books in 1979, and has been its editor since 1992. In all that time, she - and the magazine - have fearlessly interrogated books and politics for their deeper and wider implications, often courting controversy. In these essays - on everything from mistresses to marketing, and seduction to psychoanalysis - Wilmers's uncompromising intelligence, perfect phrasing and devastating wit are evident on every page.
>> Mary-Kay Wilmers talks with Kim Hill
>> The Big Interview
>> The London Review of Books (we recommend a subscription!). 
>> It takes 1 minute and 55 seconds for the LRB to get from the editors' floor to your front door
>> Some reviews by Wilmers from the LRB archive.  
>> What is Mary-Kay Wilmers getting so right? 
>> Wilmers has written a collective biography of her mother's fascinating Russian relations, The Eitingons
>> Nina Stibbe's book Love, Nina was written about her time working as a nanny in Mary-Kay Wilmers's house. >> The book was adapted for television

Review by STELLA


Steve Sem-Sandberg’s The Tempest is a dark and atmospheric novel. On a small Norwegian Island we meet Andreas, who is returning to the place of his childhood, unwillingly drawn by his foster father’s death and his search for answers: answers about who his parents were, about his sister’s decline into rebellion and later oblivion. Andreas, in confronting his past, is digging up the bones of the island - its landscape and its people. Its disturbing history of secrets has been papered over with mythology, making the task of untangling the relationships within the small community difficult, and the only person who might shed light on Andreas’s queries is the least trustworthy, but, unlike many of the other protagonists in his life story, Carsten is still alive - bitterly so. Drawing on his own childhood remembrances (some of which are, not surprisingly, inaccurate and the view of a child), snippets of written material (letters, newspaper clippings and diary entries), and enduring confronting conversations with Carsten, he is able to piece together a truth of sorts. Johannes, the foster father to Andreas and his sister Minna, was a parent who cared for both children but was incapable of moving beyond his guilt, sinking his life into a bottle. While Minna departed from their lives, Andreas would periodically visit the island, attempting to make Johannes's life more palatable, to little effect. In his final return, Andreas’s desire for the truth about his parents and what happened to them on the island during the war years, and the repercussions this had on future generations, burns at him. Throughout the book there are real and metaphoric fires that engulf the island, create distractions, and possibly free those who wish to depart. The island had been in the Kaufmann family for generations. During the war years, the younger Kaufmann, with the farm manager Carsten at his side, took on the rule of the island. An ‘intellectual’ with a keen interest in botany and biological science, he was intrigued with creating a communal society where workers would contribute to the island in return for small land plots - yet this concept in practice made the people virtual servants to the master and his whims. During the war years, Kaufmann was able to gain an audience in Berlin, making the island a complicit player in the Nazi regime. As Andreas digs down into the depths of the past, the revelations are disturbing, yet as the truth is revealed the behaviour of those in his childhood begins to make sense. Minna and Andreas’s histories have been overwritten by lies, mythologies and multiple stories - “your parents had to leave suddenly”, “they promised to return”, “they died in a fiery plane crash”. The island’s story has been buried, but the impact of collaborating with the Nazi regime is written on the faces and bodies of the inhabitants and pushes up through the landscape. Sem-Sandberg’s writing (and the brilliant translation) is compelling - his prose is alive on the page, rich and wild. He breaks all the rules, swiftly moving from one voice to the next with little breath, between past and present without hesitation, his empathy and anger rising off the page. Add to this his drawing on Shakespeare’s The Tempest in a covert rather than overt manner: the play vibrates under the surface of the novel, contributing layers of meaning and complexities that enhance this very astute and confronting piece of writing. 


Concrete by Thomas Bernhard  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
In a single brilliant book-length hysterical paragraph, Rudolph, Bernhard’s narrator, a middle-aged invalid both incapacitated and sustained by his neuroses, obsessed with writing his great work on the composerMendelssohn 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 22 March 2019

Lonely Asian Woman by Sharon Lam      $29
Paula is lazy young woman mired in a rut. In the shallows of the internet she is pushed to a moment of profound realisation: she, too, is but a lonely Asian woman looking for fun. The debut novel of Wellington author Sharon Lam (currently living in Hong Kong) is a wildly sentimental book about a life populated by doubles and transient friends, whirrs of off-kilter bathroom fans and divinatory whiffs of chlorine. Lonely Asian Woman is not the story of a young woman coming to her responsibilities in the world. Funny from the first sentence on. 
>> Interview with Sharon Lam
>> Lam on the radio
>> Read an excerpt
>> Listen to Lam reading 'Potluck'
Concrete by Thomas Bernhard      $23
In a single brilliant book-length hysterical paragraph, Rudolph, Bernhard’s narrator, a middle-aged invalid both incapacitated 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, and shows how this interiority prevents the narrator from taking timely action, with disastrous consequences. Bernhard is one of the best writers of the twentieth century, and this is the first of a series to be reissued in jackets by Leanne Shapton
>> Read Thomas's review
Mouthful of Birds by Samanta Schweblin            $33
Schweblin manages to bury deep into the darkest recesses of her characters' and her readers' minds and find some small detail that inverts their reading of their situations. These superb stories demonstrate how unexpected events and situations bring to the fore aspects of their characters that the characters had hitherto been unaware. 
>> Read Thomas's review of Schweblin's Fever Dream

The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories edited by Jhumpa Lahiri       $55
An excellent, wide and thoughtful selection, beautifully presented. More than half the stories appear here in English for the first time. 
Extinction by Thomas Bernhard      $23
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. He addresses a rant to his absent student Gambetti, full of vitriol against his family and their home Wolfsegg. In the second part, Murau has returned to Wolfsegg for the funeral and the picture we have built is undermined in every way, eventually showing us the extent to which Murau's hatred springs from his family's complicity with the Nazis, some of whom found refuge there after the war (sorry: spoiler). This novel, Bernhard's last, is the only one in which the narrator can move, at the end, towards some sort of resolution for his predicament. 
>> Read Thomas's review.  

Sea Monsters by Chloe Aridjis         $37
17-year-old Luisa leaves Mexico City in the 1980s and runs away to the seaside town of Zipolite ('The Beach of the Dead') with Tomas, a young man she hardly knows (and doesn't want to). The two soon lose interest in each other, and Luisa wanders the beach, observing the various groups and becoming increasingly separated from what she had thought of as herself. 
"A mesmerising, revelatory novel, smart and funny and laced with a strangeness that is never facile but serves as a profound and poetic tool for navigating our shared world. Chloe Aridjis is one of the most brilliant novelists working in English today." - Garth Greenwell

Kitch: A fictional biography of a calypso icon by Anthony Joseph      $34

Combining factual biography with the imaginative structure of the novel, Anthony Joseph gets to the heart of the man behind the music and the myth, to present a holistic portrait of the calypso icon Lord Kitchener. Born into colonial Trinidad in 1922 as Aldwyn Roberts, 'Kitch' emerged in the 1950s, at the forefront of multicultural Britain, acting as an intermediary between the growing Caribbean community, the islands they had left behind, and the often hostile conditions of life in post-war Britain. Short-listed for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize

The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells       $35
The effects of climate change are only beginning to be felt. Soon they will be impossible to ignore, and they will change the way we do everything. Why have we done next to nothing to avoid this? 
>>"Inaction will turn the Earth into a hell." (Radio NZ interview)

The Tempest by Steve Sem-Sandberg        $33
Andreas Lehman returns to the island off the coast of Norway on which he grew up, and starts to unravel the secrets of his past. What was the island's owner's connection with the Nazis via the wartime Quisling government? What horrendous experiments were made upon the island's inhabitants? Well and tightly written, disconcerting and complex. 
>> Hear Stella's review on Radio NZ
Godsend by John Wray       $33
What happens when a young American woman disguises herself as a man and goes to Pakistan to join the Taliban? A novel exploring issues of gender, faith and politics. Subtle and empathetic. 
Living Among the Northland Maori: Diary of Father Antoine Garin, 1844-1846 translated and edited by Peter Tremewan and Giselle Larcombe     $90
French Marist priest Father Antoine Garin was sent to run the remote Mangakahia mission station on the banks of the Wairoa River. His diary records his experiences from 1844 to 1846 as he got to know the Maori in the region. It provides accounts of contemporary events, as Garin came dangerously close to the action of the Northern War, and wrote of such prominent figures as Hone Heke and Kawiti as they opposed the new colonial authorities. Above all, the diary is an intimate record of life in a Maori community. Garin moved to Nelson in 1850 and died here 40 years later. Nelson's Garin College is named after him. 
The Gendered Brain: The new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain by Gina Rippon        $38
Scientific information about brain plasticity shows that there is no such thing as a 'male' or 'female' brain other than what society makes them to be - there are only brains. We need to move beyond our binary thinking to fully understand the wondrous organ in our craniums. 

Unspeakable: The things we cannot say by Harriet Shawcross        $45
As a teenager, Harriet Shawcross stopped speaking for almost a year, retreating into herself and communicating only when absolutely necessary. As an adult, she became fascinated by the limits of language and in Unspeakable she asks what makes us silent. From the inexpressible trauma of trench warfare and the aftermath of natural disaster to the taboo of coming out, Shawcross explores how and why words fail us. 

The Missing Ingredient: The curious role of time in food and flavour by Jenny Linford     $30
Written through a series of encounters with ingredients, producers, cooks, shopkeepers and chefs, exploring everything from the brief period in which sugar caramelises, the days required in the crucial process of fermentation in so many foods we love, to the months of slow ripening and close attention that make a great cheddar, or the years needed for certain wines to reach their peak, Jenny Linford shows how, time and again, time itself is the invisible ingredient.
Bowlaway by Elizabeth McCracken        $37
From the day she is discovered unconscious in a New England cemetery at the beginning of the twentieth century - nothing but a bowling ball, a candlepin and fifteen pounds of gold on her person - Bertha Truitt is an enigma to everyone in Salford, Massachusetts. An epic family saga set against the backdrop of twentieth century America from one of America's sharpest pens. 
Maoism: A global history by Julia Lovell      $40
Mao's ideas became a driver for political change throughout the world and their continued influence today is often underappreciated. 

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa         $38
Two women on a journey travel to the land of their fathers and mothers. They had no idea, when they arrived in Morocco, that their usual freedoms as young European women would not be available. So, when the spry Saleh presents himself as their guide and saviour, they embrace his offer. He extracts them from a tight space, only to lead them inexorably into an even tighter one: and from this far darker space there is no exit. Their tale of confinement and escape is as old as the landscapes and cultures so vividly depicted in this story of where Europe and Africa come closest to meeting, even if they never quite touch.
The Four Horsemen by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel C. Dennett and Sam Harris        $27
A record of the seminal discussion that launched 'new atheism' as a cultural phenomenon. 
Scarfie Flats of Dunedin by Sarah Gallagher and Ian Chapman     $50
A fascinating and thoroughly documented historical survey of the named student flats and the equally shambolic student culture that festered in them. 
>>Springing from the ongoing Flat Names Project.
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