Friday, 10 July 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #186 (10.7.20)

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This week's Book of the Week is The Stone Giant by Anna Höglund (published by Gecko Press)   
When her father leaves to save people from a giant who turns them to stone with his gaze, a child in a red dress is left alone. Many days and many nights go by. Every evening the girl says good night to herself in her mirror. When the last light burns down, the girl takes her mirror and a knife and sets out to find her father. "I will save my father from the giant," she says. A beautifully illustrated version of a Swedish fairy tale. 
>>Buy The Stone Giant we can send it anywhere. 

>> Read all Stella's reviews.



The Stone Giant by Anna Höglund   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Another new favourite from the Gecko Press stables, The Stone Giant is both beautiful and taut. It is fairy-tale telling reminiscent of Grimms', but not too scary for little ones. Anna Höglund, inspired by the Swedish author Elsa Beskow’s Tripp, Trapp, Trull, brings us a tale of bravery, audacity and cleverness. A child lives with her father on an island. When her father, who just happens to be a knight, has to leave her to fight a giant who is turning everyone to stone, she waits for his return. After everything is mended and tidied, she watches out the window for his return by day and lights a candle at the window by night to guide him home over the dark seas. She says goodnight to herself as she gazes into her hand mirror. As the days and nights go by, she starts to think about the stone giant, how the gaze of a giant might turn you to stone and wonders whether her father will ever return. She realises that she must venture out to find him. The sea is dark and cold, but luckily this girl can swim — she can swim a long way. When she reaches land again, the sun shines down and dries her, and ahead of her is a shining path. A path that leads her into the forest. She walks and walks. The sun sets and through the trees, she spies a cottage. An old woman invites her in, feeds her, gives her a bed for the night and sends her on her way with a useful item — an umbrella. She continues her quest until she reaches a barren and dismal land and here she meets the monster. Quickly the umbrella opens and covers the girl.  The monster is curious — who is hiding under the umbrella? What will the girl do? Clever and quick thinking makes the child the hero of this story. And yes, there is a happy ending! Anna Höglund’s text is sparse and direct, creating a harmonic synergy with the illustrations which are delicate and subtle in their detail. The quiet and contemplation in the first part of the book moves towards anticipation and endeavour as we venture with the girl in search of her father and the giant (who just happens to be a giant stone woman). Höglund’s illustrations are made by copper plate etchings and watercolour. They are expressive and have layers of depth, with her use of black and small petals of colour, not often seen in children’s books. Add to this the charm of the book’s design with its swirly green and red endpapers and a shiny hand mirror on the back cover and you will be charmed too with the brave young girl stepping out into the world to rescue her father in her red dress complete with pocket (useful for those everyday items that may defeat a giant). 

 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Fact is to me a hindrance to memory,” writes the narrator in this remarkable collage of passages evoking the ways in which past experiences have impressed themselves indelibly upon her. The sleepless nights of the title are not so much those of the narrator’s youth, though these are either well documented or implied and so the title is not not about them, but those of her present life, supposedly as “a broken old woman in a squalid nursing home”, waking in the night “to address myself to B. and D. and C.—those whom I dare not ring up until morning and yet must talk to through the night.” As if the narrator is a projection of the author herself, cast forward upon some distorting screen, the ten parts of the book make no distinction between verifiable biographical facts and the efflorescence of stories that arise in the author’s mind as supplementary to those facts, or in substitution for them. Elizabeth the narrator seems almost aware of the precarity of her role, and of her identity as distinct from but overlapping that of the author: “I will do this work of transformed and even distorted memory and lead this life, the one I am leading today.” Hardwick writes mind-woundingly beautiful sentences, many-commaed, building ecstatically, at once patient and careering, towards a point at which pain and beauty, memory and invention, self and other are indistinguishable. Spanning over fifty years, the book, the exquisite narrowness of focus of which is kept immediate by the exclusion of summary, frame or context, records the marks remaining upon the narrator of those persons, events or situations from her past that have not yet been replaced, or not yet been able to be replaced, by the ersatz experiences of stories about those persons, events and situations. “My father…is out, because I can see him only as a character in literature, already recorded.” Hardwick and her narrator are aware that one of the functions of stories is to replace and vitiate experience (“It may be yours, but the house, the furniture, strain toward the universal and it will soon read like a stage direction”), and she/she writes effectively in opposition to this function. Observation brings the narrator too close to what she observes, she becomes those things, is marked by them, passes these marks on to us in sentences full of surprising particularity, resisting the pull towards generalisation, the gravitational pull of cliches, the lazy engines of bad fiction. Many of Hardwick’s passages are unforgettable for an uncomfortable vividness of description—in other words, of awareness—accompanied by a slight consequent irritation, for how else can she—or we—react to such uninvited intensity of experience? Is she, by writing it, defending herself from, for example, her overwhelming awareness of the awful men who share her carriage in the Canadian train journey related in the first part, is she mercilessly inflicting this experience upon us, knowing it will mark us just as surely as if we had had the experience ourselves, or is there a way in which razor-sharp, well-wielded words enable both writer and reader to at once both recognise and somehow overcome the awfulness of others (Rachel Cusk here springs to mind in comparison)? In relating the lives of people encountered in the course of her life, the narrator often withdraws to a position of uncertain agency within the narration, an observatory distance, but surprises us by popping up from time to time when forgotten, sometimes as part of a we of uncertain composition, uncertain, that is, as to whether it includes a historic you that has been addressed by the whole composition without our realising, or whether the other part of we is a he or she, indicating, perhaps, that the narrator has been addressing us all along, after all. All this is secondary, however, to the sentences that enter us like needles: “The present summer now. One too many with the gulls, the cry of small boats on the strain, the soiled sea, the sick calm.”
Dance Prone by David Coventry              $35
The much-anticipated new novel from the author of The Invisible MileDuring their 1985 tour, two events of hatred and stupidity forever change the lives of a band's four members. Neues Bauen, a post-hardcore Illinois group homing in on their own small fame, head on with frontman Conrad Wells sexually assaulted and guitarist Tone Seburg wounded by gunshot. The band staggers forth into the American landscape, investigating each of their relationships with history, memory, authenticity, and violence. With decades passed and compelled by his wife's failing health to track down Tone, Conrad flies to North Africa where her brother is rumoured to be hiding with a renowned artist from their past. There he instead meets various characters including his former drummer, Spence. Amongst the sprawl and shout of Morocco, the men attempt to recall what happened to them during their lost years of mental disintegration and emotional poverty.
"A gorgeous panegyric to the purity, poison and impossibly high stakes of punk. Funny, filthy, erudite and rude." —Carl Shuker
>>Read a sample
>>The Invisible Mile.
>>Transit at Marrakech
Lost Property by Laura Beatty           $23
In middle age, a writer finds herself despairing and uncomprehending at how modern Britain has become a place of such greed and indifference. In an attempt to understand her country and her species, she and her lover rent a van and journey across France to the Mediterranean, across Italy to the Balkans and Greece and on to the islands. To travel through space is also to travel through time: along the way, they drive through the Norman Conquest, the Hundred Years War, the wars with the Huguenots, the fragility of the Italian Renaissance, the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the current refugee crisis, meeting figures from Europe's political and artistic past — a Norman knight, Joan of Arc, Ariosto, d'Annunzio and Alan Moore's nihilistic Rorschach, each lending their own view of humanity at its best and at its very worst. 
"The closer they get to their destination, the further they are from finding any definitive answers, and even the questions have become elusive. But this shifting, unsure quality, made luminous with an extraordinary descriptive brilliance, emerges as the book’s strength." —Guardian
The Stone Giant by Anna Höglund        $27
When her father leaves to save people from a giant who turns them to stone with his gaze, a child in a red dress is left alone. Many days and many nights go by. Every evening the girl says good night to herself in her mirror. When the last light burns down, the girl takes her mirror and a knife and sets out to find her father. "I will save my father from the giant," she says. A beautifully illustrated version of a Swedish fairy tale. 
>>Artwork by Anna Hoglund
Machines in the Head: Collected stories by Anna Kavan          $36
This new selection of Kavan's stories gathers work from across the many decades of her career, including oblique and elegiac tales of breakdown and institutionalization from Asylum Piece (1940),  evocations of wartime from I Am Lazarus (1945), fantastic and surrealist pieces from A Bright Green Field (1958), and stories of addiction from Julia and the Bazooka (1970). 
>>The awful force of inanimate things. 
How Do You Make a Baby? by Anna Fiske        $33
A very effective and informative blend of good information and hilarious illustrations. 
>>See also Tell Me.
The U.S. Antifascism Reader edited by Bill V. Mullen and Christopher Vials         $43
Antifascism: as American as apple pie. Since the birth of fascism in the 1920s, well before the global renaissance of "white nationalism," the United States has been home to its own distinct fascist movements, some of which decisively influenced the course of US history. Yet long before Antifa became a household word in the United States, they were met, time and again, by an equally deep antifascist current. Many on the left are unaware that the United States has a rich antifascist tradition, because it has rarely been discussed as such, nor has it been accessible in one place. This reader reconstructs the history of US antifascism the twenty-first century, showing how generations of writers, organisers, and fighters spoke to each other over time.
Ocean by Steve Mentz        $22
The ocean comprises the largest object on our planet. Retelling human history from an oceanic rather than terrestrial point of view unsettles our relationship with the natural environment. Unlike familiar stories of agricultural settlements and conquering empires, an oceanic context immerses human bodies in alien waters. Our engagement with the world ocean can be destructive, as with today's deluge of plastic waste and acidification, but the mismatch between small bodies and vast seas also emphasises the frailty of human experience.
>>Some other books on the 'Object Lessons' series
Merchant, Miner, Mandarin: The life and times of the remarkable Chole Sew Hoy by Jenny Sew Hoy Agnew and Trevor Gordon Agnew        $50
A history and legacy of a businessman from China's Guangdong Province who arrived in Port Chalmers in 1869. Good insight into New Zealand race relations in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 
The Big Book of Blooms by Yuval Zommer         $30
Beautifully illustrated and highly informative. 
>>Other books by Yuval Zommer
Obsessive About Octopuses by Owen Davey         $33
...and silly about squid. Did you know that an octopus has three hearts and a doughnut-shaped brain? You'll discover that these incredible creatures are super-smart and have great survival skills.From the truly terrifying giant Pacific octopus to the inventive common octopus, find out where members of this eight-armed family live, what they eat and how we can protect them.
Madness in Civilisation: A cultural history of insanity by Andrew Scull        $35
From the Bible to Freud, from exorcism to mesmerism, from Bedlam to Victorian asylums, from the theory of humours to modern pharmacology, Scull questions what we mean by madness and what place this construct plays in the functioning of society through time. 
Run Me to Earth by Paul Yoon          $35
A novel of stories exploring the impact of American interference in Southeast Asia on three teenagers living in Laos.
"The chapters exercise hypnotic intensity, but the overall effect is even more profound. With his panoramic vision of the displacements of war, Yoon reminds us of the people never considered or accounted for in the halls of power." —The Washington Post
Turned On: Science, sex and robots by Kate Devlin           $25
An exploration of sexuality, technology, and humanity through the promises of artificial intelligence.

The Quick and the Dead: True stories of life and death from a New Zealand pathologist by Cynric Temple-Camp         $40
More from the author of the very popular The Cause of Death
Basquiat: Boom for Real by Eleanor Nairne, Dieter Buchhart and Lotte Johnson          $90
Basquiat first came to prominence when he collaborated with Al Diaz to spray-paint enigmatic statements under the pseudonym SAMO(c). From there he went on to work with others on collages, Xerox art, postcards, performances, and music before establishing his reputation as one of the most important painters of his generation. This book places his collaborations in a wider art historical context and looks at his career through the lens of performance.
Architek by Dominique Ehrhard         $55
An introduction to architectural creation, the 95 precut cardboard elements in this book can be combined in an infinite variety of ways to build all sorts of fantastical structures. Follow the full-color idea diagrams to create more than 20 unique projects, then disassemble them and try something different. Developing direction-following skills and 3-D creativity, this kit allows young architects to both learn traditional design rules and break them.

Friday, 3 July 2020

BOOKS @ VOLUME #185 (3.7.20)

Reviews — events — new releases — competitions — amusements

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>> Read all Stella's reviews.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St, John Mandel    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Mirage and subterfuge, reality and counterlives, transformation and invention are the players in Emily St.John Mandel’s latest novel. Her previous novel, Station Eleven, was centred in the aftermath of worldly collapse, complete with a pandemic. The Glass Hotel takes us back to the early 2000s, with its escalating wealth capital and house-of-cards financial boom and bust. Vincent is an attractive young woman loitering in her hometown, working as a bartender at an upmarket exclusive hotel on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island: The Glass Hotel, owned by financier Jonathan Alkaitis. The night Vincent and Alkaitis meet, an unnerving action has occurred: someone had written graffiti on the glass window of the entry lounge. “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” A message for Alkaitis we presume — one he never sees — but which shakes Vincent and a guest, shipping executive Leon Prevant, to the core. What does it mean? And why has someone bothered to display this message so viciously (when its target could have easily been accessed in New York), in one of the remotest places Vincent knows, a place she describes as two roads to nowhere. The novel opens and closes with a first-person narrative of falling through the ocean — it is lyrical and strangely eerie. A ghostly theme that recurs in several places in The Glass Hotel — either with hallucinatory drugs or stress-induced experiences, or within the counterlife narratives of Alkaitis. Between these ocean fallings, we follow Vincent, her half-brother Paul, and Alkaitis as their lives unfold and intertwine. Here is the complacency of being a ‘trophy wife’, the denial of a crime (Alkaitis’s financial activities parallel Bernie Madoff’s schemes and his eventual downfall) and the stories one tells to justify rotten behaviour and errors of judgement. Paul is shallow, but wanting to be wonderful — a recovering drug addict who will stoop to any depths to pull himself up. Alkaitis is successful, blooming with the confidence of money. Vincent is ready and able to reinvent herself with merely a blink of an eye. In The Glass Hotel, we move in the dance-drug scene, we traipse through the mundanity of dead-end jobs and the precariat class, we luxuriate in the world of the moneyed, and edge into the knife-sharpened pretence of the art scene. But mostly what we are called out for, as are all the players in this game, is our complacency in being part of this structure. As Alkaitis sits in jail, he questions who is the biggest crook: his criminal activity — a Ponzi scheme — or the investors who want more and better returns on their precious dollars? When Vincent starts life again after her days with Jonathan, can she escape her belief that she knew nothing? When Paul becomes a well-known avant-garde composer can he let loose his demons? Hauntings pervade The Glass Hotel.  Emily St.John Mandel’s excellent writing, from the main threads to the bit players, familiar settings as well as oblique passages, makes The Glass Hotel a fascinating, compelling novel. The more you walk away from The Glass Hotel, the more it will come back to you with its questioning voice and its insistence that responsibility is necessary and long overdue  a  haunting that refuses to be quiet.  

 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

The Other Name by Jon Fosse   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
And I see myself sitting and reading the thick blue book of two parts, not that thick, actually, and I have reached that point in the book, though it is not in fact a point in the book for there is nothing in the book that would mark such a point, but rather a point in my reading of the book, which just happens to be around page seventy-five, that I came to realise that the book is written entirely in one sentence, one slow, patient, uninterrupted flow of words, no, I think, that is not correct, the book is written in two parts, though each begins with the word And, but neither part ends, each rather just leaves off, so it would not be correct that the book is written in one sentence, or in two sentences, one for each part, but rather in no sentences, one, or two, slow, patient, uninterrupted flow, or flows, of words, that much at least I got right, I think, just the kind of thing I like, but done with such virtuosity and with such little display of virtuosity that I had not realised until page seventy-five or thereabouts that there are no full stops to be found in this book, or no full stop, I am uncertain if this absence should be singular or plural, possibly both, this Jon Fosse and his translator Damion Searles having built these words without one misstep, or missomething, the metaphor seems mixed and I has not even realised that it was a metaphor, I must be more careful, capturing the flow of thought, so to call it, and speech, realistically, seemingly of the narrator, a middle-aged painter named Asle, living, I am almost tempted to put, as such people do, in a small town in western Norway, driving in the snow to and from a city on the western coast of Norway, the city of the gallery which shows, which is a euphemism of sorts for sells, his paintings, but also the city in which lives a middle-aged painter named Asle, resembling both in looks and clothing, if clothing is not part of looks, the narrator, the narrator narrating in the first person and this other Asle, the alter-Asle if you like, this alter-Asle to the thoughts and memories of whom the narrator-Asle has extraordinary access, though there is no evidence of any reciprocal mechanism, we are, I am sure, never given an instance of the alter-Asle even being aware of the existence of such a person as the narrator, this aler-Asle, being confined to the third person, and, I wonder, what sort of trauma confines a person to an existence only in the third person? presumably a trauma, I think, this alter-Asle being also an alcoholic and a person who “most of the time, doesn’t want to live any more, he’s always thinking that he should go out into the sea, disappear into the waves,” but not doing so because of his love for his dog, there is, I think as I am reading, some relationship between the two Asles, well, obviously there is, my thought, or the thought I have, being that the alter-Asle is the actual Asle and the narrator-Asle is the Asle that the alter-Asle-who-is-actually-the-actual-Alse would have been if he was not the Asle he became, which, I think, I have made sound a bit confusing, and the opposite of an explanation, not that that matters, on account of whatever trauma, or whatever it is that I speculate is a trauma, that confined him to a third-person existence, the characters being one character, all characters being one character as they are in all books, I speculate, though in this book The Other Name, almost all the characters have, if not the same name, almost the same name, which tightens the knot somewhat, if I can be forgiven another metaphor, though I will not forgive myself for it at least, I will try to avoid, I think, thinking of the relationships between these persons-who-are-one-person, or, in any rate, describing the relationships between these persons-who-are-one-person, in any way other than a literary way, whatever that means, nothing, I think, the person that Asle could have been sees the Asle that Asle became, though Alse cannot know him, the person that Asle could have been rescues Asle when he has collapsed in the snow and takes him to the Clinic and to the Hospital, and takes the dog to look after, who knows, though, if the third-person Asle, the one I was calling the alter-Asle until that became too confusing, at least for me, survives, neither we nor the first-person Asle know that, but after the first-person Asle goes to the city and rescues the third-person Asle from the snowdrift, how could he know where to find him, I wonder, he begins, in the second part of the book, to have access to some deeply buried memories of the Asle that perhaps they once both were, memories all in the third person, for safety, I think, memories firstly of Asle’s and his sister’s disobedience of their parents in straying along the shore and to the nearby settlement, a narrative in which threat hums in every detail, a narrative in which colour impresses itself so deeply upon Asle that, I think, he could have become nothing other than a painter, a narrative that seems searching for a trauma, for a misfortune, a narrative assailed by an inexplicable motor noise as they approach the settlement but which resolves with a misfortune that is anticlimactic, at least for Asle, a trauma but not his trauma, what has this narrative avoided, I wonder at this point, what has not been released, or what has not yet been released, I wonder, Fosse is a writer who writes to be rid of his thoughts, I think, just as his narrator says, “when I paint it’s always as if I’m trying to paint away the pictures stuck inside me, to get rid of them in a way, to be done with them, I have all these pictures inside me, yes, so many pictures that they’re a kind of agony, I try to paint away these pictures that are lodged inside me, there’s nothing to do but paint them away,” and, yes, when the narrator lies in bed at the end of the book and is unable to sleep, he does recover the memory, a third person memory, the memory of the trauma that split the Asles and trapped one thereafter in the third person, the memory that explains the awful motor noise that intruded on the previous narrative of disobedience as the children approached the locus of the trauma, and, I think, all the sadness of the book leads from here and to here
Jerningham by Cristina Sanders         $37
Bookkeeper Arthur Lugg is tasked by Colonel William Wakefield with keeping tabs on his charismatic and erratic nephew Edward Jerningham. This is a novel of Wellington's colonial beginnings and of the rise and fall of one of New Zealand history's remarkable characters. 

Dominicana by Angie Cruz          $37
Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So, in 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.
"In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world." —judges' citation for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction 
>>Other books on the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction short list.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar        $30
Set in Iran in the decade following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, this novel is narrated by the ghost of Bahar, a 13-year-old girl whose family is compelled to flee their home in Tehran for a new life in a small village, hoping in this way to preserve both their intellectual freedom and their lives. But they soon find themselves caught up in the post-revolutionary chaos that sweeps across the country, a madness that affects both living and dead, old and young.
"The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree speaks of the power of imagination when confronted with cruelty, and of our human need to make sense of the world through the ritual of storytelling. Through her unforgettable characters and glittering magical realist style, Azar weaves a timely and timeless story that juxtaposes the beauty of an ancient, vibrant culture with the brutality of an oppressive political regime." —judges' citation, 2020 International Booker Prize
>>Other books on the 2020 International Booker Prize short list.
From Suffrage to a Seat in the House: The path to parliament for New Zealand women by Jenny Coleman         $45
New Zealand enfranchised women in 1893, but it took a further forty years before there was a woman MP. Women were not entitled to stand as candidates until 1919. 
Poetry from the Future: Why a global liberation movement is our civilisation's last chance by Srećko Horvat      $40
Capitalism and historical revisionism have constructed a new world of normalized apocalyptic politics in which our passivity is guaranteed if we believe there is no future. This is a radical manifesto for hope in democracy, union and internationalism. 
>>"The current system is more violent than any revolution."

Fathoms: The world in the whale by Rebecca Giggs       $37
When Rebecca Giggs encountered a humpback whale stranded on her local beach in Australia, she began to wonder how the lives of whales might shed light on the condition of our seas. How do whales experience environmental change? Has our connection to these fabled animals been transformed by technology? What future awaits us, and them? And what does it mean to write about nature in the midst of an ecological crisis?
"A work of bright and careful genius. Equal parts Rebecca Solnit and Annie Dillard, Giggs masterfully combines lush prose with conscientious history and boots-on-the-beach reporting. With Giggs leading us gently by the hand we dive down, and down, and down, into the dark core of the whale, which, she convincingly reveals, is also the guts of the world." —Robert Moor
Losing Eden: Why our minds need the wild by Lucy Jones         $48
What happens as we lose our bond with the natural world — might we also be losing part of ourselves? Travelling from forest schools in East London, to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, via Poland's primeval woodlands, Californian laboratories and ecotherapists' couches, Jones takes us to the cutting edge of human biology, neuroscience and psychology, and discovers new ways of understanding our increasingly dysfunctional relationship with the earth. 
Wilberforce by H.E. Cross          $35
A novel following the misadventures of several boys at a British public school in 1926, especially those of a particularly hapless young man and his possible redemption.

The Island by Ana María Matute          $30
Matute's 1959 novel is a stifling story of rebellious adolescence, narrated by Matia, as she struggles against her domineering grandmother, schemes with her mercurial cousin Borja and begins to fall in love with the strange boy Manuel. Steeped in myth, fairy tale and biblical allusion, the novel depicts Mallorca as an enchanted but wicked island, a lost Eden and Never Never Land combined, where the sun burns through stained glass windows and the wind tears itself on the agaves. Ostensibly concerned with Matia's anxieties about entering the adult world, this internal conflict is set against the much wider, deeper, and more frightening conflict of the civil war as it plays out almost secretly on the island, set in turn against the backdrop of the Inquisition's mass burning of Jews in previous centuries. These two conflicts shimmer at the edges of Matia's highly subjective account of her life on the island, where life is drawn along painful and divisive lines.
The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan         $37
A photograph is hung on a gallery wall for the very first time since it was taken two decades before. It shows a slaughter house in rural Ireland, a painting of the Virgin Mary on the wall, a meat hook suspended from the ceiling — and, from its sharp point, the lifeless body of a man hanging by his feet. The story of who he is and how he got there casts back into Irish folklore, of widows cursing the land and of the men who slaughter its cattle by hand. But modern Ireland is distrustful of ancient traditions, and as the BSE crisis in England presents get-rich opportunities in Ireland, few care about The Butchers, the eight men who roam the country, slaughtering the cows of those who still have faith in the old ways.
Riding in the Zone Rouge: The Tour of the Battlefields 1919 — Cycling's toughest ever stage race by Tom Isitt        $28
The Circuit des Champs de Bataille (the Tour of the Battlefields) was held in 1919, less than six months after the end of the First World War. It covered 2,000 kilometres and was raced in appalling conditions across the battlefields of the Western Front, otherwise known as the Zone Rouge. The race was so tough that only 21 riders finished. It was never staged again, and has largely been forgotten. 
>>Ideal to read in conjunction with David Coventry's The Invisible Mile

The Inferno of Dante Alighieri, translated by Ciaran Carson       $33
"Quite simply the best version of Dante there is." —Paul Muldoon
Fresh from Poland: New vegetarian cooking from the Old Country by Michael Korkorsz          $38

Authentically Polish. All vegetarian. Rozkoszny!
The Life and Times of Malcolm McLaren by Paul Gorman         $38
"The Diaghilev of punk." —Melvin Bragg
>>The Sex Pistols © Malcolm McLaren

Parlour Games for Modern Families by Mfanwy Jones and Spiri Tsintziras        $30
All the games you have forgotten and all the games you never knew. 

Friday, 26 June 2020



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Whose Story is This? Old conflicts, new chapters by Rebecca Solnit    {Reviewed by STELLA}
In her most recent collection of essays, Rebecca Solnit continues her discussions and observations on the political and social structures that shape power relationships. Looking at the major issues — race, gender, climate — and the major movements — Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, Standing Rock, Climate Strike — Solnit digs into the language of power and the depths of these activisms. Who gets to be heard? Who is telling the story? And where did these stories come from? The collection is sub-titled Old Conflicts, New Chapters. In her introduction, 'Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks', her tone is upbeat — she sees the recent rise in collective action as a questioning of the structures which have kept the elite, predominately men, in power and their needs protected and justified. “You can see change itself happening, if you watch and keep track of what was versus what is...the arising of new ways of naming how women have been  oppressed and erased, heard the insistence that the oppression and erasure will no longer be acceptable or invisible.” And this change comes through the power of language — words that define, record and speak out: “This project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies….the real work is not to convert those who hate us but to change the world so that haters don’t hold disproportionate power”. In the essays that follow some of the facts and figures on sexual assault, racial crimes and the legislative changes that attempt to control the autonomous body and the choices people — women — can make about their own bodies are dispiriting. Yet it is the resistance to these actions through direct protest, legal avenues and political channels that have culminated into a perfect storm — a storm that Solnit is clear to point out resides in the now and in the actions of the past. Resistance to hatred, abuse and control is not new and has not been ineffectual, even when it has been silent. While the essays focus on American politics and culture, Solnit’s observations are relevant wherever you happen to reside: the same power structures exist and persist in all places. As our societies become more diverse, so too comes the opportunity to have more just and equal ones. In several of her essays, Solnit touches on the growing diversity of the voting population and what this means for American politics. With younger politicians, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez for example (who was inspired to stand for Congress by Standing Rock), a new generation, Greta Thunberg and the School Climate Strike movement and indigenous voices holding sway in political arenas, it does feel like a time of change  even in the face of the counter megaphonic voices of Trump and Boris. Solnit’s essays are always interesting, thought-provoking and rich. Her ability to bring yesterday’s dissent into today’s realm and tie these historic important actions to what happens now and next, her clarity of thought and exploration of language and how words play an important role in acting out injustices and taking action to overcome silenced lives makes Solnit a voice to be read by everyone, especially those in positions of privilege. I read this last year, but in light of our present socio-political situation, it is even more relevant now. 

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One-Way Street by Walter Benjamin    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
What form would literature take if it was the expression of the organising principles of an urban street rather than those of literary tradition? Between 1923 and 1926, Walter Benjamin wrote a series of unconventional prose pieces in which “script — after having found, in the book, a refuge in which it can lead an autonomous existence — is pitilessly dragged out into the street by advertisement and subjected to the brutal heteronomies of economic chaos.” On the street, text, long used to being organised on the horizontal plane in a book, is hoisted upon the vertical plane, and, having been long used to a temporal arrangement like sediment, layer upon layer, page upon page, text is spread upon a single plane, requiring movement from instance to instance, walking or, ultimately, scrolling across a single temporal surface, a surface whose elements are contiguous or continuous or referential by leaps, footnotes perhaps to a text that does not exist, rather than a structure in three dimensions. Even though Benjamin did not live to see a scroll bar or a touch screen or a hyperlink he was acutely aware of the changes in the relationship between persons and texts that would arrive at these developments. “Without exception the great writers perform their combinations in a world that comes after them,” he wrote, not ostensibly of himself. As we move through a text, through time, along such one-way streets, our attention is drawn away from the horizontal, from the dirt (the dirt made by ourselves and others), away from where we stand and walk, and towards the vertical, the plane of desire, of advertising, towards the front (in all the meanings of that word), towards what is not yet. It is not for nothing that our eyes are near the top of our bodies and directed towards the front, and naturally see where we wish to be more easily than where we are (which would require us to bend our bodies forwards and undo our structural evolution). In the one-way street of urban text delineated by Benjamin, all detail has an equivalence of value, “all things, by an irreversible process of mingling and contamination, are losing their intrinsic character, while ambiguity displaces authenticity.” The elitism of ‘the artwork’ is supplanted by the vigour of ‘the document’: “Artworks are remote from each other in the perfection [but] all documents communicate through their subject matter. In the artwork, subject matter is ballast jettisoned by contemplation [but] the more one loses oneself in a document, the denser the subject matter grows. In the artwork, the formal law is central [but] forms are merely dispersed in documents.” What sort of document is Benjamin’s street? It is a place where detail overwhelms form, a place where the totality is subdued by the fragment, where the walker is drawn to detritus over the crafted, to the fumbled over the competent, to the ephemeral over the permanent. The street is the locus of the personalisation and privatisation of experience, its particularisation no longer communal or mediated by tradition but haphazard, aspirational, transitory, improvised. Each moment is a montage. Writing is assembled from the fragments of other writing. Residue finds new value, the stain records meaning, detritus becomes text. In the one-way street, particularities are grouped by type and by association, not by hierarchy or by value. The here and now of the street is filled with referents to other times and other places. The overlooked, the mislaid, the abandoned object is a point of access to overlooked or mislaid or abandoned mental material, often distant in both time and space, memories or dreams. Objects are hyperlinked to memories but are also representatives of the force that drives those experiences into the past, towards forgetting. But the street is the interface of detritus and commerce. Money, too, enables contact with objects and mediates their meaning. New objects promise the opportunity of connection but also, through multiplication, abrade the particularity of that connection. Benjamin’s sixty short texts are playful or mock-playful, ambivalent or mock-ambivalent, tentative or mock-tentative, analytic or mock-analytic, each springing from a sign or poster or inscription in the street, skidding or mock-skidding through the associations, mock-associations, responses and mock-responses they provoke, eschewing the false progress of narrative and other such novelistic artificialities, compiling a sort of archive of ways both of reading a street as text and of writing text as a street, a text describing a person who walks there.