Saturday, 31 August 2019



BOOKS @ VOLUME #142 (31.8.19)

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Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday       {Reviewed by STELLA}
Opening with a bored young woman sitting on a bench in New York — bored with waiting for something to happen, bored with her book and bored with herself — Asymmetry cleverly lets you into a sliver of Alice’s mind. Actually, not even that much. A well-known older writer sits down and starts a conversation — one that finally gets around to his ‘line’. “Are you game?” (A line that later will reappear with hand-clapping irony!) Lisa Halliday’s debut novel riffs on the greats of American modern fiction — the male novelists that is. It’s fairly obvious that our older writer, Ezra Blazer, is based on a somebody or an amalgam of ‘someones’, and it won’t come as a surprise when you discover that Halliday had a relationship with Philip Roth when she was in her early twenties. Cue the novel-as-life, life-as-novel moment. Yet Halliday gives us a double (or maybe even a triple) twist in this captivating novel of three parts. Part one — 'Folly' — details Alice’s affair with the older author Blazer. She’s an editorial assistant at a publishing house who is easily won over by the dynamic and controlling Blazer. She’s a willing participant, and although we are never given the last damaging scene — the breakup — we are well aware that the end will come in this affair, one in which Alice is both unhappy (really) but content (sort of) with the money that is lavished on her, the account at the ritzy department store and the crack in the door to a ‘better’ life, which she is sometimes allowed through. In return she will be kind to the ailing writer with his bad back and declining libido, fetch and carry for him as necessary, and listen to his opinions. The text's style here is snappy and wry. While we don’t discover too much about Alice’s internal life, we can enjoy the voyeuristic pleasures of watching through the keyhole, and there are some great sardonic moments — ‘peppercorns’ (piquant and spicy) of literary references and cultural textures (baseball and music). Layered under this ‘folly’ are the machinations of politics and social structures of the 2000s, topics that will come to the fore in part two — 'Madness'. We are suddenly thrown out of Alice’s world into Amar’s. Born on a plane coming to America, he is an American Iraqi. We meet him at border control, in London 2009, en route to Kurdistan (to visit his brother). Not surprisingly, he’s been pulled out of the queue and is answering a long series of questions from Denise, the immigration officer. Between numerous and repetitive questions and waiting in the holding cell, we get close and personal with Amar: his life growing up in the US, his time studying in London, his immediate family and the connections to his relatives in Iraq. Unlike Alice, with Amar Ala Jaafari we are given a full story, childhood, parents and a sibling (Sami), his failed relationship with Maddie (who his younger self scorned for her ambition to be a doctor), and his own academic crisis moving from doctoring to economics. Much of the story centres on his adult years — travelling back to an increasingly dangerous Baghdad with his parents to visit relatives, and his time in London where he becomes friends with a jaded war correspondent. We circle around the politics of the middle east, the American invasion of Kuwait, and the bombing of Baghdad and subsequent war in Iraq. Immersed in Amar’s story, as a reader I was wondering where and how Alice’s life would overlap. How would they meet? What was the connection? Yet the two parts stood separate and disconnected in all ways, aside from some themes that are played out quite differently. While in 'Folly' we are voyeuristic, in 'Madness' we are completely engaged — moved to be involved. Yet Halliday does not leave it there, and the final and brief third part, 'Ezra Blazer’s Desert Island Discs', a recorded interview for BBC radio, gives us the connecting lines so we can join the dots. Asymmetry is an enjoyable and clever novel, one that plays with the idea of the novel and questions the role of the author and imagination. It's a consciously delicious demonstration of fiction.
  





































































 

Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He finishes the book and draws up the green table to write his review. He takes a slip of paper from between the pages of the book, his reading notes, he calls such slips upon which he usually notes down quotes from the book he is preparing to review, or ideas he may have had during reading the book, which may or may not have arisen from the book, reading notes which are intended to make the writing of each week’s review a little easier for him, though ease is not exactly his aim in writing the reviews, in fact, if he wanted ease, he wouldn’t write reviews at all, or he would just say, Read this book. I enjoyed it and I think you will too. Or words to that effect. He looks at both sides of the slip of paper, but the only thing he has written on it this week seems to be a sentence that is presumably a quote from the book Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno. “When one writes, one is already someone else.” Fair enough, he thinks. That is the sort of thought he might think if he thought thoughts, he thinks, but more likely it is the sort of thought he would copy out of a book, though this sense of the word ‘copy’ seems more appropriative than he is comfortable with, perhaps, he thinks, revealing something shamelessly (or shamefully, he can’t decide) acquisitory about his reading. Appropriative and not appropriate. Kate Zambreno’s book consists of 58 “stories”, some of them as short as a sentence, some as long as a few pages, followed by five “essays”, written a few years earlier, somewhat longer. In fact, the only real difference between the “stories” and the “essays”, he thinks, is their length. The “essays” are more obviously the result of sustained effort, that sense of essaying, he thinks, though they take no real effort to read, they are easy and pleasurable to read, he thinks, even if not quite as easy and pleasurable to read as the “stories”, which are written with such lightness and quickness that they are already inside the reader’s mind, fully formed, claiming space, before the reader is aware that their beauty is snide, prickly, misanthropic, resonant with misery and failure. Both the “stories” and the “essays”, he thinks, are commonly about, or “about”, writers, artists, actors, filmmakers, photographers and others, engaged in a doomed, and therefore, perhaps, heroic, or, if not heroic, then pathetic, or, if such a thing is possible, both heroic and pathetic struggle with the forces of entropy, age, boredom, depression, addiction, AIDS, poverty, prejudice, and so forth, forces that will strip them of the benefit of their intellectual labour and convert it into intellectual capital that can be appropriated by someone else. He doesn’t know if this intellectual labour/ intellectual capital model is useful, even of itself, though it has been something he has been thinking a bit about lately, suspicious as he is of the workings of intellectual capital just as he is of those of financial capital, and, anyway, it is too heavy and clumsy a tool with which to grasp the poignant evanescences of Screen Tests. When he does write his review, he thinks, if he actually manages to write a review, he will instead say something about the way in which Zambreno’s intense interest in, he will probably call it obsession with, her subject matter identifies her, in her own mind, with another precarious, tentative creative person unable to distinguish a tightrope from a tripwire. “Can one’s obsession be a form of autobiography?” she asks, and it soon becomes evident, he will write, that the unfiltered openness of an obsession allows an immeasurable quantity of cross-contamination between the parties, or, if not so much between the parties, between the obsessor and the idea she has of the other with whom she is obsessed, to the extent that the two can no longer be usefully distinguished. All Zambreno’s pieces in the book are in the first person, he has noted, though this note is mental and not on the almost empty slip of paper that pretends to be his reading notes, all Zambreno’s pieces are I pieces, all her obsessions are self-obsessions, indeed surely all obsessions must be self-obsessions, for reasons already roughly sketched, all Zambreno’s obsessions are self-obsessions but what better access to the experience of another could be provided than through the aperture of obsession? Is this not what literature is for? For Zambreno, as for us all, he thinks, identity is porous, she is the people she writes about, she writes to be them, she writes to somehow exist, to survive, to enact, as they do, a “revolt against disappearance.” She is someone else in order to be herself, he thinks, maintaining the first person but destabilising its referent, in much the same way, he thinks, as he might write in the third person to give the impression that he is not writing about himself, to deflect the eye of a reader but also to destabilise the third person referent, for, he thinks, it must be the case that obsession transgresses identity in both directions. When Zambreno has writer’s block when working on one of her essays she says to herself, “I am unsure of what is the use of all this first person anymore,” and when he similarly has reviewer’s block when faced with reviewing Screen Tests, a book about which it would perhaps be better if he merely wrote, Read this book, I enjoyed it and I think you will too, or words to that effect, he finds himself unable to proceed because he fears that, even if he writes in the third person it might seem as if he is writing about himself instead of about the book Screen Tests by Kate Zambreno even though he really is writing about the book Screen Tests. He would not like people to think he was writing about himself, especially when he was not, and, even worse, he would not like them to think that he was expecting them to be interested in his writing about himself when he certainly would never expect them to be so interested, even if he was writing about himself, which he was not. This is the nature of my reviewer’s block, he thinks. I cannot proceed because I do not wish to be present in the text but I cannot proceed without being present in the text. He drinks his fourth cup of coffee and stares at the blank screen of his computer, the screen upon which he was to compose his review. I have still made no progress, he thinks, though, he supposes, four cups of coffee are in themselves a form of progress. 
Our BOOK OF THE WEEK challenges us to rethink political structures and consider the possibility of moving beyond systems that effectively merely further the economic advantage of the already advantaged. 
NEW FORMS OF POLITICAL ORGANISATION, edited by Campbell Jones and Shannon Walsh, is published by Economic and Social Research Aotearoa as a means to stimulate debate about "new forms of politics and new ways of understanding politics."
>>Visit the ESRA.
Read some extracts:
>> 'Nation destroying: Sovereignty and dispossession in  Aotearoa New Zealand' by  Ben Rosamond
>> 'Land, housing and capitalism: The social consequences of free markets' by  Shane Malva
>> 'Political organisation and the environment' by  Amanda Thomas
>> 'The resurgence of the radical left in Europe' by  David Parker 
>> 'Why we need a new left wing party' by Sue Bradford
>> 'Constitutional Transformation and the Matike Mai Project', a  kōrero between  Moana Jackson and Helen Potter.  
>> Other ESRA research.

Friday, 30 August 2019

NEW RELEASES
New Forms of Political Organisation edited by Campbell Jones and Shannon Walsh         $20
Could politics be anything other than the administration of the economy in the interests of the already privileged? This volume collects innovative thinking about new forms of politics, new forms of political organisation and new ways of thinking politics. Contributions include 'Nation destroying: Sovereignty and dispossession in Aotearoa New Zealand' by Ben Rosamond, 'Land, housing and capitalism: The social consequences of free markets' by Shane Malva, 'Political organisation and the environment' by Amanda Thomas, 'The resurgence of the radical left in Europe' by David Parker, 'Why we need a new left wing party' by Sue Bradford, 'Constitutional Transformation and the Matike Mai Project' a kōrero between Moana Jackson and Helen Potter. 

Fierce Bad Rabbits: The tales behind children's picture books by Clare Pollard         $37
What is The Tiger Who Came to Tea really about? What has Meg and Mog got to do with Polish embroidery? Why is death in picture books so often represented by being eaten? The best picture books are far more complex than they seem — and darker too. Interesting. 
Memories of Low Tide by Chantal Thomas (translated by Natasha Lehrer)        $33
Raised near the beaches of Arcachon, Chantal inherits from her mother a deep love of swimming in the sea. Through her young eyes, Thomas vividly evokes the sensory pleasures of the beach: the smell of seaweed on the shore, the first sharp touch of cold water. With her parents' troubled marriage in the background, the young Chantal roams the maritime landscape freely. In a series of short chapters, Thomas depicts her growing sense of independence through her developing connection to her environment. 
Flora Tristan: Feminism in the age of George Sand by Sandra Dijkstra      $27
A fascinating biography of the early Victorian feminist and social activist Flora Tristan, who chronicled the conditions of women and labour from the sugar plantations of Peru to the mills of industrial England. 
Becoming Beauvoir by Kate Kirkpatrick         $44
"One is not born, one rather becomes, a woman." Similarly, one is not born, one rather becomes, Simone de Beauvoir. In this important new biography, drawing on new primary sources. Kirkpatrick sheds light on some of the more complex corners of de Beauvoir's life and gives a remarkably lively reassessment of her relevance to modern feminism and autofiction (so to call it). 
The Weil Conjectures: On maths and the pursuit of the unknown by Karen Olsson        $40
When Olsson came across the letters between the mathematician André Weil and his sister, the philosopher Simone Weil, she was struck by the way in which, between them, they grappled with the differences (and similarities) between abstract thought and practical approaches to life. What is the relationship between analytical and creative thought? 
Blueprint by Theresia Enzensberger        $38
A novel set in 1920s Germany, where an ambitious young woman learns about love, feminism and modern architectural design at the Bauhaus. Enzenberger's book is also an introduction to the aesthetic and political debates of the modernist avant-garde, and an examination of the opportunities and challenges for female artists in Weimar Germany.
The Shamer's Daughter ('The Shamer Chronicles' #1) by Lene Kaaberbøl      $19
Dina has unwillingly inherited her mother's gift: the ability to elicit shamed confessions simply by looking into someone's eyes. To Dina, however, these powers are not a gift but a curse. Surrounded by fear and hostility, she longs for simple friendship. An excellent new series from the author of 'Wildwitch'. 


Life Finds a Way: What evolution teaches us about creativity by Andreas Wagner         $43
A beguiling symmetry links Picasso struggling through forty versions of Guernica and the way evolution transformed a dinosaur's claw into a condor's wing. How does the existing become the new? 
It Rained Warm Bread by Gloria Moskowitz-Sweet, Hope Anita Smith and Lea Lyon                  $33
A novel in verse for children, telling the true story of Moishe Moskovitz, who was thirteen when he was sent to Auschwitz in 1939. Nearing despair near the end of the war, Moishe was saved by an act of kindness. That was the day it rained warm bread. 


Our Women on the Ground: Arab women reporting from the Arab world edited by Zahra Hankir        $40
A growing number of intrepid Arab and Middle Eastern sahafiyat — female journalists — are working to shape nuanced narratives about their changing homelands, often risking their lives on the front lines of war. The nineteen essays here show that, from sexual harassment on the streets of Cairo to the difficulty of travelling without a male relative in Yemen, their challenges are unique — as are their advantages, such as being able to speak candidly with other women at a Syrian medical clinic or attend an exclusive beauty contest for sheep in Saudi Arabia.
Fundamental: How quantum and particle physics explains everything (except gravity) by Tim James      $38
J. B. S. Haldane once said, "Reality is not only stranger than we imagine — it's stranger than we can imagine." Who better to guide us towards the mind-bending fundamentals of physics than the ever lively Tim James (author of Elemental: How the periodic table can explain (nearly) everything). PS: The Higgs boson is not the end of the story.
Mysterium by Susan Froderberg          $30
Inspired by the true story of Nanda Devi Unsoeld’s 1976 death while climbing her namesake mountain, Susan Froderberg’s novel tells the tale of a courageous woman’s ascent to the summit of India’s highest peak to honor her fallen mother.
"The book offers the unusual combination of an intellectual challenge coupled with a brutal but ecstatic story." —Publishers' Weekly


Sardine: Simple seasonal Provençal cooking by Alex Jackson     $50

A unique French provincial cuisine with Italian and North African inflections. 
Two for Me, One for You by Jörg Mϋhle    $20
Can the bear and the weasel learn to share? 


On the Marsh: A year surrounded by wildness and wet by Simon Barnes         $40

An account of the rewilding of three-and-a-half hectares of marshland in Norfolk set against parallel with that of a family finding the benefits of living closer to nature. 


Promise of a Dream: Remembering the sixties by Sheila Rowbotham        $27
Captures well the excitement, challenges and obstacles experienced by women breaking the rules of politics, sex, relationships and their place in the world. 
Lost in the Spanish Quarter by Heddi Goodrich       $33


A novel of two students searching for love and belonging in the Spanish Quarter of Naples. The author (who, strangely, shares a name with the protagonist) lives in New Zealand. 
The Writing on the Wall: How one boy, may father, survived the Holocaust by Juliet Rieden       $38
In 1938, as the Nazis were marching on Prague, a Jewish couple made  a heartbreaking decision that would save their eight-year-old son's life but destroy their family. Years later, that son's daughter finds her family name repeated many times over on the Holocaust memorial on the wall wall of the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. She traces the grim fate of cousins and aunts and uncles through the archives of Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.


Awatea and the Kawa Gang by Fraser Smith         $25
Can Awatea and his friends foil the poachers during their school holidays? The exciting sequel to Awatea's Treasure


The New Populism: Democracy stares into the abyss by Marco Revelli        $27
The word 'populism' has come to cover all manner of sins. Yet despite the prevalence of its use, it is often difficult to understand what connects its various supposed expressions. From Syriza to Trump and from Podemos to Brexit, the electoral earthquakes of recent years have often been grouped under this term. But what actually defines 'populism'? Is it an ideology, a form of organisation, or a mentality? Marco Revelli seeks to answer this question by getting to grips with the historical dynamics of so-called 'populist' movements. While in the early days of democracy, populism sought to represent classes and social layers who asserted their political role for the first time, in today's post-democratic climate, it instead expresses the grievances of those who had until recently felt that they were included. Having lost their power, the disinherited embrace not a political alternative to -isms like liberalism or socialism, but a populist mood of discontent. The new populism is the 'formless form' that protest and grievance assume in the era of financialisation, in the era where the atomised masses lack voice or organisation. 
Superheavy: Making and breaking the periodic table by Kit Chapman        $33
Creating an element is no easy feat. It's the equivalent of firing six trillion bullets a second at a needle in a haystack, hoping the bullet and needle somehow fuse together, then catching it in less than a thousandth of a second — after which it's gone forever. From the first elements past uranium and their role in the atomic bomb to the latest discoveries stretching our chemical world, this book reveals the stories lurking at the edges of the periodic table.




Friday, 23 August 2019




BOOKS @ VOLUME #141 (23.8.19)

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NEW RELEASES
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry         $33
Two middle-aged Irish gangsters in a Spanish port await a ferry from Tangier in their search for the wayward daughter of one of them. Barry is brilliant at catching the voices of the two, and at capturing lives that resonate with both pathos and humour. Charlie and Maurice are Barry's equivalents of Beckett's Vladimir and Estragon, opening depths of humanity despite their limitations as persons. 
Long-listed for the 2019 Booker Prize
"A true wonder." —Max Porter
"Visionary. What distinguishes the book beyond its humour, terror and the beauty of description is its moral perception." —Guardian
"Brilliantly funny and terrifying at once, I was completely lost inside its dark craziness. Barry blends glorious voluptuous prose with entrancing storytelling." —Tessa Hadley
>>Read Thomas's review of Barry's Beatlebone.

Imminence by Mariana Dimópulos      $30
Another wonderfully disconcerting, perfectly structured novel from the author of All My Goodbyes. When her son is born, the mother is unable to feel a bond with him, and we are led through a fugue-like account of her history of willful emotional detachment and (often failed) performative social roles. 
"Mariana Dimópulos's writing, with its delightfully strange perspectives, its selfishness, its iciness and its passion, its power and its vulnerability, seems somehow to condense the poetry of mathematics. Imminence posits an elegant formula for the experience of contemporary womanhood." —El País 
>>Read Stella's review of All My Goodbyes
28 Paradises by Patrick Modiano and Dominique Zehrfuss         $20
"The grand boulevard of palm trees led to the cloakroom of the angels". This is a tiny treasure of a book: 28 dreams exquisitely painted by Dominique Zehrfuss with texts by her husband Patrick Modiano (who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2014). 
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo         $40
A novel in which twelve interconnected stories chart the lives and experiences of black women in contemporary Britain.   
Long-listed for the 2019 Booker Prize.
"Bernadine Evaristo can take any story from any time and turn it into something vibrating with life." —Ali Smith
"Bernadine Evaristo is one of those writers who should be read by everyone, everywhere. Her tales marry down-to-earth characters with engrossing storylines about identity and the UK today." —Elif Shafak


Interior by Thomas Clerc         $0

What kind of story can be told from a careful description of a house and all its contents? This is the way to give the most rounded and exhaustive possible account of a still elusive life. Full of verbal tricks and unexpected references, Clerc's clever piece of sociology-posing-as-pseudo-sociology is an experiment with the potentials of the novel. Shelve with Life, A User's Manual by Georges Perec and A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre. 
Small in the City by Sydney Smith          $28
Being small can be overwhelming in a city. People don't see you. The loud sounds of the sirens and cyclists can be scary. And the streets are so busy it can make your brain feel like there's too much stuff in it. But if you know where to find good hiding places, warm dryer vents that blow out hot steam that smells like summer, music to listen to or friends to say hi to, there can be comfort in the city, too. We follow our little protagonist, who knows all about what its like to be small in the city, as he gives his best advice for surviving there. 
Sour: The magical element that will transform your cooking by Mark Diacono     $50
Sour foods have never been more fashionable, with the spotlight falling on foodstuffs as disparate as Belgian sour beer and Korean kimchi. But what is it that makes sourness such an enticing, complex element of the eating experience? And what are the best ways to harness sour flavours in your own kitchen?





Granta #148           $28
New fiction from Andrew O'Hagan, Elif Shafak, Adam Foulds, David Means, Jem Day Calder, Magododi OuMphela Makhene, Caroline Albertine Minor, Thomas Pierce, Adam O'Fallon Price, Amor Towles. And Tom Bamforth on the refugee camp in Bangladesh known as 'Cox's Bazaar'.

Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi      $27
Vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories from the author of Kintu, re-imagining the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home.
Winner of the 2018 Windham Campbell Prize. 


The Japanese Table: Small plates for simple years by Sofia Hellsten     $40

Based on the ichijuu-sansai tradition — which literally means 'one soup, three dishes' — uncomplicated, delicious small plates are served with steamed rice, and can be enjoyed any time of day. 


Zed by Joanna Kavenna         $37
An ironic dystopia novel satirising our era of big-tech hyperconnectedness and ensuing corporate management of our personal interactions. 
"Zed is a novel that takes our strange, hall-of-mirrors times very seriously indeed. It is a work of delirious genius." —Guardian
The Unpunished Vice: A life of reading by Edmund White       $25
Literary icon Edmund White made his name through his writing but remembers his life through the books he has read. For White, each momentous occasion came with a book to match: Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, which opened up the seemingly closed world of homosexuality while he was at boarding school in Michigan; the Ezra Pound poems adored by a lover he followed to New York; the biography of Stephen Crane that inspired one of White's novels. But it wasn't until heart surgery in 2014, when he temporarily lost his desire to read, that White realized the key role that reading played in his life: forming his tastes, shaping his memories, and amusing him through the best and worst life had to offer.
Super Sourdough by James Morton     $45
An excellent guide through the science of sourdough and around its pitfalls, with more than 40 recipes for making superb bread at home. 
The Basis of Everything: Rutherford, Oliphant and the coming of the atomic bomb by Andrew Ramsey        $45
The intriguing story of the New Zealander and the Australian who met at the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, collaborated on pivotal experiments using a particle accelerator, and, all in the name of science, happened to lay the groundwork for the development of nuclear weapons. 
The Immortal Jellyfish by Sang Miao       $28
When a young boy's grandfather dies suddenly, he feels overwhelmed and confused. They will never see each other again. To his delight, they meet again in a dream, where his grandfather takes him to Transfer City, where departed loved ones live on through our memories. In this modern telling of the afterlife, death is not an ending, but a new start to life, just like the Immortal Jellyfish which is constantly maturing and then regressing, staying as present as our deceased loved ones do in our memories.
First Map: How James Cook charted Aotearoa New Zealand by Tessa Duder and David Elliot        $50
Beautifully written, illustrated and presented, this book would be ideal as a family gift. 
>>Hear Tessa Duder speak about the book! Thursday 12 September, 6:15. Elma Turner Library, 27 Halifax Street


On Reading, Writing and Living with Books        $15
A compact collection of little pieces assembled by The London Library from the writings of past members such as Virginia Woolf, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, EM Foster, and Leigh Hunt.
>>Visit the London Library


















 

No-One is Too Small to Make a Difference by Great Thunberg   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Greta Thunberg has been in the news constantly over the last few weeks as she sails to America to present at the Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September and the UN climate conference in Santiago in early December. In fact, she has been the focus of news stories, positive and negative, for over a year. Why is a sixteen-year-old from Sweden so newsworthy? Several reasons. She spear-headed the Schools Strike, not through organising them but by being an example to other young people with her FridaysforFuture action. She has a clear message about climate change and she has spoken at the UN, the European Parliament and several high-profile demonstrations. And she is seen as a threat by those who do not want to see changes that may mean losing their ability to profit from the planet. The speeches recorded in this small book, No One Is Too Small To Make a Difference, are direct, frightening (she doesn’t mince her words), and passionate. She calls on the powers that be to ACT NOW, to follow the recommendations of scientists and the recommendations of successive climate findings from international organisations—recommendations that international bodies and governments agree with, but have not acted on. Her main message is that we must stop our reliance on fossil fuels, decrease carbon emissions dramatically by 2020 (next year), and that we have less than 12 years to make it count. Her message is to the adults who have not acted on scientific evidence, to the corporations that continue to believe in on-going growth economics, and to young people everywhere to take the initiative to make change happen. Greta Thunberg inspires not only the young, but reminds us all that the time to act and to change is now. An essential read for us all.
  



















































































































 
Walks with Walser by Carl Seelig  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“When what is distant disappears, what is near tenderly draws nearer,” said Robert Walser, according to Carl Seelig, about walking in the fog. Walser’s collar is crooked, or worn, or both, he carries his furled umbrella under his arm along the mountain path, his hat is battered, the band torn, he is wearing a suit, somewhat raffish, somewhat the worse for wear, but he has no overcoat. Walser does not feel the cold, says Seelig. He enjoys the clouds, the rain. He distrusts clarity. Walser enjoys his walks with Seelig but asks Seelig not to call for him on any day but Sunday, so as not to disturb the routine of the asylum, in Herisau. There he assembles paper bags with glue, sorts beans and lentils, cleans the rooms. “It suits me to disappear,” says Walser, according to Seelig, “as inconspicuously as possible.” Even from his early days, according to Seelig, who did not know Walser in his early days and so must have had this information from Walser, or possibly another source, though no other source suggests itself, Walser took long walks to overcome the effects of nightmares. Or anxiety. Or the panic that results from the inability to engage. Not that Walser suffers from the inability to engage, exactly, though he seldom talks without prompting, not even to Seelig, says Seelig. Seelig spends little time with Walser in the asylum, but instead on the mountain paths, walking in the cloud, and in the rain, the best weather, to the small village inns where they enjoy this wine or that, or beer, or cider, and cutlets, or fied egges, or dumplings, or cheese pies, whatever they are, or meatloaf, and pommes frites, or cabbage, or mashed potatoes and peas and white beans. Seelig records it all, afterwards, each detail of the walk and of the food and the drink and the waitresses, and every word that Walser speaks, we suppose, or, anyway, at least the essentials. With great equivalence. Off they walk again together, over the ridge, around the base of the mountain, Switzerland has many ridges and many bases of mountains, to clear their heads after the wine, and then to catch the train that will return Walser to the asylum and Seelig to wherever Seelig lives. Walser “harbours a deep suspicion of the doctors, the nurses, and his fellow patients, which he nonetheless skilfully tries to hide behind ceremonial politeness,” says Seelig, who either observes Walser more frequently than is recorded or has this information from the doctors. Seelig becomes, after all, Walser’s guardian after the deaths of Walser’s brother Karl and his sister Lisa. He republishes Walser’s work. To no avail. But Seelig is invisible to us, through making Walser visible when Walser doesn’t want to be visible. Seelig is Walser’s Boswell. Seelig is the narrator of Walser now that Walser narrates nothing. “Restraint is my only weapon,” says Walser, narrates Seelig. The restraint that made Walser significant as a writer is no different from the restraint that stopped him writing. “The less plot a writer needs, and the more restrained the setting, the more significant his talent,” says Walser, the author of, first, novels, then stories, then feuilletons, then microscripts approximating a millimeter in height in pencil on tiny scraps of paper, hidden about his person, in the Asylum in Waldau, unrecognised as actual writing until after his death, until they were deciphered in the 1990s, then nothing. When he first meets Seelig, because Seelig admires Walser's writing, Walser has already stopped writing. He has written nothing since he left Waldau and entered Herisau. Walser blames Hitler. Or society. Or the new superintendent at Waldau, according the Seelig. Walser blames editors, critics, other writers, according to Seelig. Walser’s work was admired by Kafka. He was admired by Benjamin, Sebald, Bernhard and Handke, according to them. To mention only a few. One critic called The Tanners “nothing more than a collection of footnotes,” according to Walser, according to Seelig. The Assistant was true, which is a surprise, at one time you could visit the advertising clock designed by Tobler, says Walser, says Seelig. Walser wrote the book in six weeks. The world changed. Walser changed, or he failed to change. He was celebrated and then increasingly ignored. He found it hard and then harder to get his work published. Even in the newspapers. “I could not perform for society’s sake,” says Walser, of his failure, according to Seelig, “All the dear, sweet people who think they have the right to criticise me and order me around are fanatical admirers of Herman Hesse. They are extremists in their judgement. That’s the reason I have ended up in this asylum. I simply lacked a halo, and that is the only way to be successful in literature,” says Walser to Seelig, according to Seelig, not without bitterness. Writing can only be done if it is the only thing done. Once, Walser alternated his writing with jobs as a servant or as a clerk, for money, for the time to write. Now he does not write. He wants to disappear. “It is absurd and brutal to expect me to scribble away even in the asylum. The only basis on which a writer can produce is freedom. As long as this condition remains unmet, I will refuse to write ever again,” says Walser, as recorded by Seelig. Walser’s turning away is from writing and from life. Walser's ceremonial politeness is his way of not existing, or of existing in his own absence. He is distant and withdrawn. He likes long walks, alone, we find out later, or with Seelig. He talks with Seelig, a little, when prompted, but not with others. As far as we know. The withdrawal that gives his writing such brilliance is the withdrawal that makes life unlivable, in the end, or at some point some way before the end, when one lets go of something, it is uncertain what, that everyone else grasps, naturally, or, more commonly, desperately, whatever it is, that keeps them clutching their lives. Walser, says Seelig, failed to take his own life, on more than a single occasion. His sister showed him the asylum at Waldau. He could think of no option but to enter. He did what was expected. He is diagnosed, when the term becomes available, as a catatonic schizophrenic, whatever that means, but his enjoyment of the walking, of the scenery, of the food and more especially the drink, and of the waitresses, seems genuine, at least through the eyes of Seelig, who knows him better than anyone, who sought him out because of his work and befriended him in the asylum and who accompanies him on long walks, who records everything and is sympathetic and transparent, at least to us, so that there is no reason to doubt Walser’s small and simple pleasures as they are recorded by Seelig, an affectionate man, on the level of smallness and simplicity at which they are experienced by Walser, who has set about perfecting smallness and simplicity until it resembles so very little it is almost nothing. Who is the sworn enemy of his own individuality. Who shows no emotion when told of the death of his brother, whom he loves, who refuses to break his routine to visit his sister, whom he loves, when she lies dying and asks him to come. “I too am ill,” says Walser, says Seelig. He doesn’t want to do what the other patients in the asylum aren't doing. He has an intestinal ulcer. “Must I be sick?” he asks the doctor, “Are you not satisfied to have me here in good health?” He refuses the operation. Just as well. “Is it true that you destroyed four unpublished novels?” asks Seelig. “That may be,” answers Walser, according to Seelig. Seelig says that Walser’s brother’s wife Fridolina had been told by Walser’s sister Lisa that Walser had destroyed a photograph of himself that had been taken by his brother Karl. “That may be,” answers Walser, records Seelig. Walser is convinced of his failure. At least of his inability to perform as he is expected to perform, to be successful as a writer, though he has an ambivalence towards success, to live even an ordinary life. Everything must be made smaller. “The snow has now turned to hail,” describes Seelig, of the weather. Walser carries steadfastly on. A life is full of details, even when those details are small, or insignificant, if there is such a thing as insignificant. If you wish to disappear you pay attention to the small. You have relinquished everything else and are relinquishing that too, with great care. The doctor says Walser has a disease of the lungs. It affects his heart. He should not leave the asylum grounds, says the doctor, according to Seelig. Walser accompanies Seelig to the train. The next time they walk, Walser does not walk well, says Seelig. He tires and stumbles. It seems there is not much of life left. Almost nothing. One day Walser goes for a walk. They find him later, face-up in the snow.

The winner of our Condensed Milk poetry competition was Tony Beyer, whose poem 'White Fright' condensed the novel Moby-Dick into 20 wonderful lines. >>Read the poem here

Many thanks to all entrants for all your concentrated work! 
The picture at right shows a selection of the canned entries we received.