Saturday, 27 February 2021



 BOOKS @ VOLUME #218 (26.2.21)

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>> Read all Stella's reviews.























 

One of a Kind: A story about sorting and classifying by Neil Packer     {Reviewed by STELLA}
Big beautiful children’s books are beguiling and informative. One Of A Kind is one such book. Opening the cover reveals endpapers that I would have spent hours looking at when I was young. An array of small drawings of objects and animals, food and buildings loosely circled with curly arrows making connections, gives a taste of what is to follow: a wondrous selection of objects, and the relationships that particular objects have to each other. This is a book of classifications, of organising that is sure to please a young mind and lead to explorations of subjects as diverse as musical instruments, the family tree and cheese. It starts with Avro walking along with his musical instruments—maybe on the way to a class. Turn the page and here is his family tree right back to his great-greats and branching in all directions—with a clear visual explanation of the various sorts of cousins (first cousin, second, third along with first cousin once removed, second once removed, etc). Next we get to meet his cat, Malcolm, and then, of course, Malcolm’s family of cats. There are ones you know—cheetah, lynx and tiger—but what about the sand cat, fishing cat and kodkod? And all these people and cats you have met belong to the wider group—the animal kingdom (species, genus, family, order, class, phylum, animal kingdom). Packer goes on to classify a few other things, arranging them in their groups, actions and linkages. Musical instruments (wind, string, electrophones, percussion) from the voice to the bombarde to the hurdy-gurdy to drum machine and the cabasa. Vehicles—choose your means of transport. The tool shed—learn your hammers! Clouds—sky-gazing becomes a new adventure spotting the cirrus, nimbostratus and altocumulus. Buildings by use, age and material will start the conversation of form and function. How well do you know your apples? And then the books at the library—classifications galore. Avro finds the art books—sorted into their periods and styles each with an apt feline illustration. After we follow Avro through his day’s explorations, there are explanatory pages about each section and what it means to sort things into groups—how that makes sense of the world. And how in all this wide world with all the different things—some strange, others familiar, some opposites, many similar—there is just one unique you. One Of A Kind is a book for curious minds, with its striking illustrations and excellent classifications. 

 

Friday, 26 February 2021

 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


























 

Calamities by Renee Gladman   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
I began the day remembering, or what for me passes for remembering, or at least attempting to perform what passes for me for remembering, the book I had read, a torrent of short essays written by Renee Gladman, each of which begins with, I began the day. The essays, or what pass for Gladman as essays, start out being about not very much, small ordinary particulars of Gladman’s life, or small observations such as a poet might make about the ordinary particulars of life, but really they are not so much about these things as they are about the writing about these things, that is to say about the relationship of a writer to her experience and to her work and about her trying to decide what sort of relationship there might be, both actually and ideally, between this experience of hers and this work. The essays that start out being about not very much end up being about even less or rather more, depending on your point of view, depending on whether you think the universals that open from particulars lie within them or beyond them. Gladman is concerned not so much with the signified, or even with the signifier, as she is with the act of signification, the act of conduction which causes, or allows, a spark to sometimes leap across. Gladman’s touch is light, and she constructs some beautiful sentences, and the sparks leap often, and she usually avoids being precious. In the final, numbered, section of the book, Gladman ties the compositional knot as tight as it can be tied, removing content almost entirely from her writing other than the act itself of writing. “I was a body and it was a page, and we both had our proverbial blankness.” What is her relationship to the text she produces, irrespective of the content of that text? “ I didn’t know whether at some point in my past, perhaps at the very moment that I set out to write, the page had fallen out of me or I had risen out of it.” She relates her prolonged rigours in attempting to find the essence, so to call it, of writing, to reduce writing to the irreducible, the making of a mark, the drawing of writing. “Language was beautiful exposed; it was like a live wire set loose, a hot wire, burning, leaving a trace. The wire was a line, but because it was electrified it wouldn’t lie still: it thrashed, it burned, it curled and uncurled around itself. … I was amazed that I was talking about wires when really I was talking about prose.” I’m not sure that the making of a mark is the irreducible essence of writing, but it is the irreducible essence of something, something which may perhaps be taken for some aspect of writing, at least in the physical sense. But maybe this is what Gladman is trying to isolate and understand, or to split, the duality between content and form, literature’s version of the mind-body problem (or, rather, the mind-body calamity). Although writing is all her art, Gladman wants to reach the limits of this art, of narrative, of words, of the act of writing, “writing so as not to write, so to find the limit (that last line) beyond which the body is free to roam outside once more.”


 

Book of the Week. Stephen Fry's lively retellings have brought Ancient Greek myths and legends to a new and wider readership, and have plenty to offer those already familiar with these stories. In his latest volume, Troy, he turns his attention to the Greek war on Troy, a tragic ten-year siege that tested loyalties and resolve both on the battlefield and at home. Fry breathes life into the characters and reveals the depth of their relevance to modern times. 
>>What made this story extraordinary? 




 NEW RELEASES

The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter            $17
Madrid. Unfinished. Man Dying. A great painter lies on his deathbed. Max Porter (author of Lanny and Grief is the Thing With Feathers) translates into seven extraordinary written pictures the explosive final workings of the artist's mind. 
"Reads like a private communion with the painter." —Guardian
little scratch by Rebecca Watson           $35
Watson's remarkable project evokes, to often hilarious effect, the thought processes of its character through the course of a day. Beneath the world of demarcated fridge shelves, office politics, clock-watching and WhatsApp notifications emerges a instance of sexual violence that has shaken and disordered the character's existence. 
"little scratch reads like the cinders settling in the air after an explosion. The silent and enraged inner testimony of a character trying to maintain 'normalcy', little scratch is daring and completely readable." —Colin Barrett
"Playful precise and insightful, Rebecca Watson's writing bursts with enormous energy." —Nicole Flattery
Seven Kinds of People You Find in Bookshops by Shaun Bythell            $17
Shaun Bythell, proprietor of The Bookshop, Wigtown, follows his (cuttingly accurate) Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller, with a hilarious 'useful' handbook to the types of customers booksellers are faced with every day. Which type are you? 


The Walker: On losing and finding yourself in the modern city by Matthew Beaumont            $43
A literary history of walking From Dickens to Zizek. Every time we walk we are going somewhere. Moving around the modern city becomes more than from getting from A to B, but a way of understanding who and where you are. In a series of riveting intellectual rambles, Matthew Beaumont, retraces a history of the walker.   From Charles Dicken's insomniac night rambles to wandering through the faceless, windswept monuments of the neoliberal city, the act of walking is one of escape, self-discovery, disappearances and potential revolution. Pacing stride for stride alongside such literary amblers and thinkers as Edgar Allen Poe, Andrew Breton, H G Wells, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Ray Bradbury, Matthew Beaumont explores the relationship between the metropolis and its pedestrian life. He asks can you get lost in a crowd? It is polite to stare at people walking past on the street? What differentiates the city of daylight and the nocturnal metropolis? What connects walking, philosophy and the big toe? Can we save the city—or ourselves—by taking the pavement?
Serpentine by Philip Pullman           $24
A story from the world of 'His Dark Materials' and 'The Book of Dust'.
Lyra Silvertongue, you're very welcome. Yes, I know your new name. Serafina Pekkala told me everything about your exploits.
Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon have left the events of 'His Dark Materials' far behind. In this snapshot of their forever-changed lives they return to the North to visit an old friend, where we will learn that things are not exactly as they seem.
A lovely small hardback, beautifully illustrated throughout by Tom Duxbury.


Wars Without End; Ngā Pakanga Whenua o Mua: New Zealand's land wars, A Māori perspective by Danny Keenan              $40
The possession and dispossession of land continues to cast a long shadow between the partners of the Treaty of Waitangi, and until these issues are adequately addressed a wound will remain in New Zealand race relations. 
Ngā Kete Mātauranga: Māori scholars at the research interface edited by Jacinta Ruru and Linda Waimarie Nikora         $60
24 Māori academics share their personal journeys, revealing what being Māori has meant for them in their work. 
News, And how to use it by Alan Rusbridger             $28
An A-Z guide on how we stay informed in the era of fake news, from former Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger. Nothing in life works without facts. A society that isn't sure what's true can't function. Without facts there can be no government or law. Science is ignored. Trust evaporates. People everywhere feel ever more alienated from—and mistrustful of—news and those who make it. We no longer seem to know who or what to believe. We are living through a crisis of 'information chaos'.
Paradise: Dante's Divine Comedy, Part three, Englished in prosaic verse by Alasdair Gray             $33
The posthumously published concluding volume of Gray's inventive vernacular version of Dante's poem. 
>>Is Lanark also some sort of version of The Divine Comedy

Sapiens, A graphic history, 1: The birth of humankind by Noah Yuval Harari, David Vandermeulen and Daniel Casanave       $48
Noah Yuval Harari's remarkable set of thinking tools for looking at human history are now presented as a graphic novel. 




The Covent Garden Ladies by Hallie Rubenhold            $24
In 1757, a down-and-out Irish poet, the head waiter at the Shakespear's Head Tavern in Covent Garden, and a celebrated London courtesan became bound together by the publication of a little book: Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies. This salacious work—detailing the names and 'specialities' of the capital's prostitutes—became one of the eighteenth century's most scandalous bestsellers. Rubenhold, author of the revisionist history The Five, reveals the lives of women on the list and gives us remarkable insight into women's lives in the 18th century precariat. 

Charts the rise of the New Romantics, a scene that grew out of the remnants of post-punk and developed quickly alongside club culture, ska, electronica, and goth. Not only did the movement visually define the decade, it was the catalyst for the Second British Invasion, when the US charts would be colonised by British pop music—Depeche Mode, Culture Club, Wham!, Soft Cell, Ultravox, Duran Duran, Sade, Spandau Ballet, the Eurythmics.

When We Got Lost in Dreamland by Ross Welford              $18
When 12 year-old Malky and his younger brother Seb become the owners of a "Dreaminator", they are thrust into worlds beyond their wildest imagination. From tree-top flights and Spanish galleons, to thrilling battles and sporting greatness - it seems like nothing is out of reach when you can share a dream with someone else. But impossible dreams come with incredible risks, and when Seb won't wake up and is taken to hospital in a coma, Malky is forced to leave reality behind and undertake a final, terrifying journey to the stone-age to wake his brother.
Beethoven: A life in nine pieces by Laura Tunbridge             $48
Beethoven is for many the archetype of the classical composer, yet his life remains shrouded in myths, and the image persists of him as an eccentric genius shaking his fist at heaven. Tunbridge cuts through the noise in a refreshing way. Each chapter focuses on a period of his life, a piece of music and a revealing theme, from family to friends, from heroism to liberty. It's a combination of biographical detail, insight into the music and surprising new angles, all of which can transform how you listen to his works.

Maxwell's Demon by Steven Hall           $37
With the same white-knuckle thrills as Hall's first novel, The Raw Shark Texts, this new book is also a freewheeling investigation into the magic power locked inside the alphabet, love through the looking glass, the bond between parents and children, and, at its heart, the quest for meaning in a world that, with each passing season, seems to become more chaotic and untidy.

An Event, Perhaps: A biography of Jacques Derrida by Peter Salmon          $43
For some, Derrida is the originator of a relativist philosophy responsible for the contemporary crisis of truth. For the far right, he is one of the architects of Cultural Marxism. To his academic critics, he reduced French philosophy to "little more than an object of ridicule." For his fans, he is an intellectual rock star who ranged across literature, politics, and linguistics. An Event, Perhaps presents this misunderstood and misappropriated figure as a deeply humane and urgent thinker for our times.

The Japanese: A history in twenty lives by Christopher Harding            $70
An enjoyable introduction to Japanese history, from the earliest records to the present, as distilled in the lives of twenty very various individuals. 
"Harding's book is a marvellous read, full of startling information." —The Times


Erosion: Essays of undoing by Terry Tempest Williams        $38
How do we find the strength to not look away from all that is breaking our hearts? We know the elements of erosion: wind, water, and time. They have shaped our physical landscapes. Here, Williams explores the many forms of erosion we face: of democracy, science, compassion, and trust. "These are essays about the courage to face what is most brutal and monstrous by finding what is beautiful and merciful." —Rebecca Solnit

Open Water by Caleb Azuman Nelson           $33
Two young people meet at a pub in South East London. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists—he a photographer, she a dancer—trying to make their mark in a city that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence. At once a love story and an insight into race and masculinity, Open Water asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body, to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength, to find safety in love, only to lose it.
The International Brigades: Fascism, freedom and the Spanish Civil War by Giles Trewlett          $33
The Spanish Civil War was the first armed battle in the fight against fascism. Over 35,000 volunteers from sixty-one countries around the world came to help defend democracy against the troops of Franco, Hitler and Mussolini. This is the first major history of the International Brigades. 
"Magnificent. Narrative history at its vivid and compelling best." —Fergal Keane
Max Makes a Million by Maira Kalman            $32
Max's dream is to live in Paris and be a poet—even though no one will buy his poems, and he is penniless. And he's a dog. But living in New York City isn't so bad. Where else could he have friends like Bruno, who paints invisible pictures, or Marcello, who builds upside-down houses? Fun!

Saturday, 20 February 2021

 


BOOKS @ VOLUME #217 (19.2.21)

Read out latest newsletter and find out what we've been reading and recommending, and about new books and book news. 




 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.













 

Blind Spot by Teju Cole   {Reviewed by STELLA}
When we can’t travel, we seek the unknown in our familiar environs, whether this is looking up at the sky on a bright day through your fingers, seeing your own back garden differently, or consciously taking a different route to work, to school, to the supermarket. Walking became a defining pastime for many in 2020 (remember the carless roads) and for some of us, it is the constant that keeps giving. When we walk we see. Perspective. The change in the way we view or in how we consciously look again or see anew is how we find out about our familiar worlds, how we see what we missed before helping us build layers of experience and understanding. In my own art practice, I have been always interested in how we view the world, how we interact with it and how art may see us, the beholder. That is why I find Teju Cole’s photography intriguing. Here are moments in time, memory. But more than that. In the postscript of his book Blind Spot he says, "I have used my camera as an extension of my memory. The images are a tourist’s pictures in that sense. But they also have an inquiring feeling to them and, in some cases, showed me more about the place than I might have seen otherwise.” Blind Spot is the accompanying book to a solo exhibition in Milan several years ago, an accumulation of his travel photography—150 countries plotted on a map. Over time Cole visited for numerous reasons, work, pleasure, study and invitation. The book doesn't follow a chronological or thematic framework, and while I imagine it is precisely planned, it doesn't feel intentional taking the reader on a tour where image and text build a network of internal images and thoughts. This is a book where you let the words and thoughts wash over you and the images pique your curiosity, where you will return to reread the texts, look again at the images and build new pathways, ways of seeing. Cole is an artist, writer (novelist, journalist and essayist) and art critic. The succinct pieces of writing that accompany each photograph are fascinating, intelligent and rewarding, taking you on their own journey of discovery. They are sometimes critiques of his own work, drawing on history, literature and referencing other art subjects, while at other times they are lyrical, personal and somehow familiar. Our experience is our own, but the observations are sometimes uncannily similar. Do we all get to the same place, emotionally and psychologically, eventually when we stop and observe or conversely fail to see? From cityscapes to creeks on the fringes of a road to poles, posts and pipes on the edges of our periphery, to people caught in their personal moment—asleep, looking at a sign, waiting for traffic or by chance catching the eye of the man behind the camera—to the debris of everyday human existence, to the form and edges of a hotel room, balcony or the view through the window, Cole captures what it's like to travel, to be elsewhere and somehow to be in any place—and to seek the known in our blind spot.  

 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

































 

The Disinvent Movement by Susanna Gendall    {Reviewed by THOMAS}
He could tell she was a serious writer because she had been photographed in front of a brick wall and it is well known, he thought, that all serious writers, or at least those persons who are keen to present themselves as serious writers, are so photographed, he knew that he would never be taken seriously as a serious writer unless he was so photographed and, actually, he had even been so photographed at some time but usually found that he had been cropped out of the photograph in which he appeared. He at one time had compiled an informal collection of such serious writers photographed against brick walls but he could no longer find this collection, he had perhaps left it on his old computer or deleted it as insufficiently interesting, but he remembered, or it seemed to him that he remembered, if that is not the same thing, that the serious writers in these photographs all looked squarely at the camera, staring down the photographer perhaps, or the reader more likely, each wearing a winter coat of some description, some sporting a cigarette, impressing upon us that they were not only serious writers but writers with grit, attuned to the disaffection of modern urban life. None of them, however, as far as he remembered, had been photographed with her head tilted to one side as had the author here, a posture he thought usually indicative of persons whose desire for approval outstripped their self esteem but in this instance accompanied by a glance so guarded and accusatory or just plain sad that he was compelled to look away, unable to decide whether this photograph reinforced or undermined the concept of a serious writer. He considered the possibility of ceasing the review of actual books and commencing the review of author photographs but he did not consider this possibility for very long. “Once I was in I wanted to get out,” writes the author of The Disinvent Movement, or, more precisely, states the narrator written by that author, if we can make such a distinction. The novel begins as a series of fragments, seemingly unrelated other than being what he called I-related, a grab-bag, if it could be likened to a bag, of snippets and impressions, writing course exercises perhaps, what else can you do with them, verbal jokes, somewhat smart, a bit too cute, lightly irritating, presumably deliberately so, he thought, phrases turned upside down to drain the meaning out of them, phrases expressing their lack of meaning. Fragments are the only truth, as the philosophers say, but these passages are a facade, he thought, a facade constructed of detritus, cast-offs, abandoned matter, abandoned phrases presented strangely, and all this verbal capering, what could it be but some sort of exercise in avoidance, an exercise in staying on the surface, dog paddle, an exercise in not sinking down to the heart of things. Despite, or because of, all that light shone glinting on the surfaces there must be something dark beneath, he thought, there is something horrible hidden but not very well hidden, the impulse to hide is the impulse also to reveal, once he began to look for clues they were everywhere, how could he have not seen them from the start, the narrator calling out for help but stifling her call in pleasantries and cleverness. Once you start to look for it, the truth reveals itself like an injury. What is it that makes people serial victims of relationship violence? Where lies the harm when the harm is endlessly repeated in different situations? “There was a basic outline,” states the narrator of her relationships, “which I filled with different stuffing. There was one role that always had to be filled. It was always a surprise to see who had got that role.” For her, people are interchangeable, everything is replaceable and therefore inescapable. Everything must be repeated. Escape is not possible and therefore has to be “attempted”, rather than actually attempted. One must go through all the motions. “In Switzerland the landscape was not mixed up in my problems yet.” This is my favourite sentence in the book, he thought. The narrator attempts to fool herself, knowing that she cannot fool herself, that running away is possible. “In Switzerland your actions in other countries were of such little consequence that it was unclear if they really mattered at all. I guessed my job didn’t exist any more. That was one way of dealing with it. It didn’t require much imagination to consider that the house we lived in and the unmade beds and the unpaid bills didn’t exist either.” But actually to escape would require a narrative and narrative is only a literary device of no real use in a world of fragments, he thought, narrative is impossible in such a world. The only option left, then, is erasure. The narrator forms The Disinvent Movement, a feckless group of sloppy idealists, or should that be anti-idealists, he wondered, who set out to disinvent the evils of the world but whose only action, if it actually occurs, is to paint the windshields of a few vehicles black to shock their owners with their inability to see. But is not seeing the same as disinventing, he wondered, or just the best we can hope to achieve? The narrator has a pile of ‘Disinvent Yourself’ T-shirts at the back of her drawer. Will the narrator’s self-obliterative impulses, he wondered, result in invisibility or self-destruction? What is the difference between these options? Is not being the only way of not being a victim? Why all these questions? I am guilty, he realised, because I do not help, even though I cannot help. No wonder the accusatory look. The narrator is completely I-obsessed, he realised, because she is intent upon the destruction of the I. Refuge in nullity. There is no helping her. “It turned out to be harder to hurt someone,” she writes, “whose personality kept turning blank.”

 

This week's Book of the Week has just been awarded Australia's richest literary prize. Its author lives in Palmerston North. The Animals in that Country by Laura Jean McKay has as its protagonist a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed alcoholic grandmother who, as the result of a pandemic, is suddenly able to understand the speech of animals and sets off, accompanied by a dingo, to find her granddaughter in an Australia in which the relationship of humans to their environment and to other animals has been drastically reconfigured. 
>>Read Stella's review
>>Stella reviews the book on Radio NZ
>>Laura Jean McKay talks with Kim Hill
>>The author interviewed by a dog
>>On winning the Victorian Prize for Literature. 
>>Other consciousnesses and the the limits of language. 
>>Stranger than fiction
>>With her back to the sea.
>>A Kafkaesque crisis
>>Interspecies Communication in Contemporary Literature
>>The author's website
>>Read the book!

Friday, 19 February 2021

 NEW RELEASES

The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book: An interactive guide to life-changing books by Logan Smalley and Stephanie Kent        $48
The authors of this lovingly assembled book instigated a phone service on which callers could leave messages about their favourite books. Now, in The Call Me Ishmael Phone Book, these messages are collected for book lovers everywhere. Designed in the style of the classic Yellow Pages, there is something exciting to discover on each page, from unique phone extensions that have been assigned to each voicemail, as well as transcripts of those calls, literary advertisements, bookstore checklists, bookish Easter eggs, all organised by category.  
>>Like this!
Passages by Ann Quin                  $33
A woman, accompanied by her lover, searches for her lost brother, who may have been a revolutionary, and who may have been tortured, imprisoned or killed. Roving through a Mediterranean landscape, they live out their entangled existences, reluctant to give up, afraid of the outcome. Reflecting the schizophrenia of its characters, the novel splits into alternating passages, switching between the sister and her lover's perspective. The lover's passages are also fractured, taking the form of a diary with notes alongside the entries. An intricate system of repetition and relation builds across the passages. 
"Passages stirred up a certain kind of curiosity that I hadn’t felt kindling in me for so long. It’s difficult to describe – it’s almost like the omnipotent curiosity one burns with as an adolescent – sexual, solipsistic, melancholic, fierce, hungry, languorous – and without limit." —Claire Louise Bennett
"To read Passages is to look down through clear water. It's absolutely lucid and blindingly reflective. It moves and you don't know how deep it goes. Perhaps there's a body down there. Perhaps it's your own." —Joanna Walsh
A Man's Place by Annie Ernaux           $32
Barely educated and valued since childhood strictly for his labor, Ernaux's father had grown into a hard, practical man who showed his family little affection. Narrating his slow ascent towards material comfort, Ernaux's cold observation reveals the shame that haunted her father throughout his life. She scrutinizes the importance he attributed to manners and language that came so unnaturally to him as he struggled to provide for his family with a grocery store and cafe in rural France. Over the course of the book, Ernaux grows up to become the uncompromising observer now familiar to the world, while her father matures into old age with a staid appreciation for life as it is and for a daughter he cautiously, even reluctantly, admires.
"Ernaux has inherited de Beauvoir’s role of chronicler to a generation." —Margaret Drabble, New Statesman
"A lesser writer would turn these experiences into misery memoirs, but Ernaux does not ask for our pity – or our admiration. It’s clear from the start that she doesn’t much care whether we like her or not, because she has no interest in herself as an individual entity. She is an emblematic daughter of emblematic French parents, part of an inevitable historical process, which includes breaking away. Her interest is in examining the breakage. Ernaux is the betrayer and her father the betrayed: this is the narrative undertow that makes A Man's Place so lacerating." —Frances Wilson, Telegraph
Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman            $38
Ezekiel Hooper Stark is a cultural anthropologist and bemused commentator on the contemporary world. Zeke has carved out an academic career studying family photographs, gender and images. Meanwhile – now 38 – he still contends with his own family’s perversities and pathologies, which charge his chaotic love life. While living in London, Zeke finds himself spiralling into crisis. As the centre ceases to hold, so too does any pretence of his having a dispassionate, purely academic interest in these issues. Zeke finds a new research topic: himself. He embarks on a quixotic new project, studying the ‘New Man’, born under the sign of feminism. What, he asks his male subjects, does masculinity mean today, in a world in which all the old models are broken? What do you expect from women? What do you expect from yourself? Meanwhile, what will the reader make of Zeke – is he enlightened or misguided, chauvinistic or simply delusional?
"A true force in American literature." –George Saunders
"A new thought in every sentence." –Lydia Davis
The Weak Spot by Lucie Elven               $37
On a remote mountaintop somewhere in Europe, accessible only by an ancient funicular, a small pharmacy sits on a square. As if attending confession, townspeople carry their ailments and worries through its doors, in search of healing, reassurance, and a witness to their bodies and their lives. One day, a young woman arrives in the town to apprentice under its charismatic pharmacist, August Malone. She slowly begins to lose herself in her work, lulled by stories and secrets shared by customers and colleagues. But despite her best efforts to avoid thinking and feeling altogether, as her new boss rises to the position of mayor, she begins to realise that something sinister is going on around her.
"In prose reminiscent of Fleur Jaeggy, The Weak Spot is a prismatic fable spiked with dozens of elegant relevations." —Catherine Lacey
"This eccentric, intensely observed book—full of dry humour and sturdy, elegant sentences—examines the slippery quality of the self in relation to others and the treacherous terrain of a world governed by manipulative men." —Kathryn Scanlan
Trout, Belly Up by Rodrigo Fuentes         $34
In seven interconnected short stories, the Guatemalan countryside is ever-present: a place of timeless peace, and the site of sudden violence. Don Henrik, a good man struck time and again by misfortune, confronts the crude realities of farming life, family obligation, and the intrusions of merciless entrepreneurs, hitmen, drug dealers, and fallen angels, all wanting their piece of the pie. Told with precision and a stark beauty, Trout, Belly Up is a beguiling, disturbing ensemble of moments set in the heart of a rural landscape in a country where brutality is never far from the surface.

Grimoire by Robin Robertson           $40
The new book from the author of The Long Take, shortlisted for the Booker Prize and winner of both the Walter Scott Prize and the Goldsmiths Prize. Like some lost chapters from the Celtic folk tradition, Grimoire tells stories of ordinary people caught up, suddenly, in the extraordinary: tales of violence, madness and retribution, of second sight, witches, ghosts, selkies, changelings and doubles, all bound within a larger mythology, narrated by a doomed shape-changer—a man, beast or god. 
"'I've long admired Robin Robertson's narrative gift. If you love stories, you will love this book." —Val McDermid
"Robin Robertson is a fearless and thrilling poet in what he confronts in himself as well as what he unearths from the commons of myth and balladry." —Marina Warner
Marie Curie and Her Daughters by Imogen Greenberg and Isabel Greenberg           $30
Meet Marie Curie. Shy and reserved, she loved science more than anything else in the world. But she lived at a time when women couldn't be scientists. Marie followed her passion and is now remembered for her game-changing discoveries. But while she tinkered away with test tubes and experimented with a glow-in-the-dark chemical elements, Marie became a mother. Irene and Eve grew up to be fiercely independent and determined women just like their mother, and had many adventures of their own.


Bolt from the Blue by Jeremy Cooper         $38
An epistolary novel charting the relationship between a mother and daughter over the course of thirty-odd years. In October 1985, Lynn moves down to London to enroll at Saint Martin's School of Art, leaving her mother behind in a suburb of Birmingham. Their relationship is complicated, and their only form of contact is through the letters, postcards and emails they send each other periodically, while Lynn slowly makes her mark on the London art scene. Bolt from the Blue captures the waxing and waning of the mother-daughter relationship over time, achieving a depth of feeling with a deceptively simple literary form.
Winner of the 2018 Novel Prize. 
The Emperor's Feast: A history of China in twelve meals by Jonathan Clements           $38
There are barely a dozen words for cooking processes in English. But in Chinese there are 26 verbs for preparing food, from stir-frying to cooking in embers (wei) and baking in moist clay (baozai). Its ancient cuisine reflects China’s long history of invasion and conquest, as each new emperor has sought to unify this diverse land. Modern Chinese cooking brings together many regional and foreign influences, from the fresh seafood of Fujian province in the south to the love of roast meat in the north (“the Manchus ate little else”). Even the habit of eating rice varies across China: in the wheat-growing north, rice formed only 1% of the diet in the 20th century, whereas in the south it was a quarter of all calories.
"A splendid introduction to the cooking and history of China." —Guardian
Vitamin D3           $110
An astounding survey of contemporary drawing from over 100 artists, selected by over 70 international experts. 


The Art of the Glimpse: 100 Irish short stories edited by Sinéad Gleeson          $55
a radical revision of the canon of the Irish story, uniting classic works with neglected writers and marginalised voiceswomen, LGBT writers, Traveller folk-tales, neglected 19th-century authors and the first wave of 'new Irish' writers from all over the world now making a life in Ireland. Sinéad Gleeson brings together stories that range from the most sublime realism to the downright bizarre and transgressive, some from established literary figures and some that have not yet been published in book form. The collection draws on a tremendous spectrum of experience: the story of a prank come good by Bram Stoker; Sally Rooney on the love languages of the new generation; Donal Ryan on the pains of ageing; Edna O'Brien on the things we betray for love; James Joyce on a young woman torn between the familiar burdens and oppression of her home and the dangerous lure of romance and escape; and the internal monologue of a woman in a coma by Marian Keyes. Here too are vivid and less familiar stories by Chiamaka Enyi-Amadi, Oein De Bharduin, Blindboy Boatclub and Melatu Uche Okorie. Sinead Gleeson's anthology is a marvellous representation of a rich literary tradition renewing itself in the 21st century. 
Waves Across the South: A new history of revolution and empire by Sujit Sivasundaram              $38
Too often, history is told from the northern hemisphere, with modernity, knowledge, selfhood and politics moving from Europe to influence the rest of the world. This book traces the origins of our times from the perspective of indigenous and non-European people in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. From Aboriginal Australians to Parsis and from Mauritians to Malays, people asserted their place and their future as the British empire drove unexpected change. The tragedy of colonisation was that it reversed the immense possibilities for liberty, humanity and equality in this period. Waves Across the South insists on the significance of the environment: the waves of the Bay of Bengal or the Tasman Sea were the context for this story. Sivasundaram tells how revolution, empire and counter-revolt crashed in the global South. Naval war, imperial rivalry and oceanic trade had their parts to play, but so did hope, false promise, rebellion, knowledge and the pursuit of being modern.
"Fresh, sparkling and ground-breaking, Waves Across the South helps re-centre how we look at the world and opens up new perspectives on how we can look at regions, peoples and places that have been left to one side of traditional histories for far too long." —Peter Frankopan
"Global history at its finest: eloquent, surprising, and deeply moving." —Sunil Amrith, author of Unruly Waters
The New Possible: Visions of our world beyond crisis edited by Philip Clayton and Kelli M. Archie           $45
Will pandemic, economic instability, and social distance lead to deeper inequalities, more nationalism, and further erosion of democracies around the world? Or are we moving toward a global re-awakening to the importance of community, mutual support, and the natural world? The New Possible offers twenty-eight visions of what could be, if, instead of choosing to go back to normal, we choose to go forward to something better. With essays by Mike Joy, Rebecca Kiddle, Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael Pollan, Varshini Prakash, Vandana Shiva, Jack Kornfield, Mamphela Ramphele, Justin Rosenstein, Jack Kornfield, Helena Nordberg-Hodge, David Korten, Tristan Harris, Eileen Crist, Francis Deng, Riane Eisler, Arturo Escobar, Natalie Foster, Jess Rimington, Jeremy Lent, Atossa Soltani, Mark Anielski, Ellen Brown, John Restakis, Zak Stein, Oren Slozberg, Anisa Nanavati, and Joshtrom Isaac Kureethadam.
Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle             $33
Nobody free till everybody free. Moa is fourteen. The only life he has ever known is toiling on the Frontier sugar cane plantation for endless hot days, fearing the vicious whips of the overseers. Then one night he learns of an uprising, led by the charismatic Tacky. Moa is to be a cane warrior, and fight for the freedom of all the enslaved people in the nearby plantations. But before they can escape, Moa and his friend Keverton must face their first great task: to kill their overseer, Misser Donaldson. Time is ticking, and the day of the uprising approaches. A gripping YA novel following the true story of Tacky's War in Jamaica, 1760.

Under-Earth by Chris Gooch                 $60
The most ambitious graphic novel yet from the devastating Chris Gooch. Under-Earth takes place in a subterranean landfill, hollowed out to serve as a massive improvised prison. Sunken into the trash and debris of the past -- gameboys, iphones, coffee cups, old cars -- we follow two parallel stories. In the first, a new arrival struggles to adapt to the everyday violence, physical labour, and poverty of the prison city. Overwhelmed and alone, he finds a connection with a fellow inmate through an old, beat-up novel. While these two silent and uncommunicative men grow closer thanks to their book, the stress of their environment will test their new bond. Meanwhile, a pair of thieves pull off a risky job in exchange for the prisons' schematics and the promise of escape — only to be betrayed by their employer. On the run with their hope for escape now gone, the two women set their minds to revenge. Yet as they lay their plans, their focus shifts from an obsession with the outside world to the life they have with each other. Equal parts sincerity and violence, Under-Earth explores humanity's inextinguishable drive to find meaning, connection, and even family — and how fragile such constructions can be.
The Corona Crash: How the pandemic will change Capitalism by Grace Blakeley             $23
The pandemic has caused the deepest global recession since the Second World War. Meanwhile the human cost is reflected in a still-rising death toll, as many states find themselves unable—and some unwilling—to grapple with the effects of the virus. This crisis will tip us into a new era of monopoly capitalism, argues Blakeley, as the corporate economy collapses into the arms of the state, and the tech giants grow to unprecedented proportions. We need a radical response. The recovery could see the transformation of our political, economic, and social systems based on the principles of the Green New Deal. If not, the alternatives, as Blakeley warns, may be even worse than we feared.
The Dead are Rising: The life of Malcolm X by Les Payne and Tamara Payne           $70
Thirty years in the making, this remarkable book is as much a history of racism in the United States of America as it is the story of the revolutionary Black separatist whose deep understanding of the mechanisms of inequality illuminates many of today's problems. 
The Happy Reader #15              $12
Featuring a literary interview and photo session with Sarah Jessica Parker, and an exploration of the legacy of Lafcadio Hearn and his strange and interesting collection of Japanese Ghost Stories









Saturday, 13 February 2021


 

BOOKS @ VOLUME #216 (12.2.21)

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The Kiosk by Anete Melece  {Reviewed by STELLA}
If you sat inside a kiosk all day what would you dream about? Olga dreams about a place far away, watching a beautiful sunset. Olga has worked in the kiosk in a busy city for many years; some may think too many. Every day regular customers come by with their wants and needs, some like clockwork, running past at exactly 10:35 am to buy water, and others collecting their morning papers or magazines or just stopping for a chat. There are always tourists who have lost their way and Olga is adept at giving instructions on how to get to the art gallery or museum. Every night Olga settles down with her magazine about faraway places and armchair travels. Olga has worked in the kiosk for so long she can no longer fit out the door. One day the bundled newspapers are left a little further away from her door than usual. While she reaches out with a stick to drag the papers closer, two boys take the opportunity to grab some goodies from the front of the kiosk! Olga in her attempt to stop them topples over, bringing the kiosk with her. Upright again, she goes about making order in her small world and surprises herself. She can walk about—and so she does! She goes for a walk, encased in the kiosk. It’s a fine feeling, even if some of the locals look either startled or a bit bemused. All is fine until she meets one of her regular customers, the man with the excitable dog, on a bridge across the river in the park. The dog runs around her feet and she topples over into the water. Olga floats, which is a good thing—the kiosk is proving to be a suitable vessel—but where will she end up? Let’s just say it involves ice cream... Anete Melece’s illustrations are delightful, with plenty to seek out in the pictures adding to this simple but charming tale. Whether it’s the expressions on people’s faces or the funny magazine covers (No Time) or the bird’s-eye-view pages of the city or Olga floating on the river, each page is lively in content and colour palette. The front of the book has a square cut out—the window to the kiosk—while the back is, of course, the door. Open the cover and the front endpaper is Olga’s wonderful home inside. She’s happily eating a biscuit and reading a travel magazine (palm trees and sun) surrounded by toilet paper rolls, bags of chips, lotto cards, lollipops and so on. The text is both funny and a little melancholy, but this story is mostly joyful and has a wonderful ending—you never know where an unexpected incident may take you!