Friday 26 March 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME (26.3.21)

Our 222nd newsletter!


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Egg & Spoon by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson    {Reviewed by STELLA}
What more could you want than a new cookbook for Easter? That long weekend break, filled with time and lie-ins, is the perfect opportunity to get your children into the kitchen cooking for you, themselves, friends and family. Another excellent book from Gecko Press is Egg & Spoon. From the wizardly whisk of Pipi Café’s Alexandra Tylee, it’s good and it's fun—and beautifully illustrated by Giselle Clarkson. So many cookbooks aimed at children fall flat—they are either too easy or too difficult, or they over-explain which leads to confusion rather than clarity or leave a little bit too much to the imagination. Tylee has the pitch just right. Real food recipes ranging from the simple making of Strawberry Chocolate Toasted Muesli, Fish Cooked in Paper, and Walnut Thumbprint Biscuits, to ‘a few more steps to produce’ nosh of  Chocolate Eclairs, Avocado & Corn Tacos and Sticky Pork Meatballs and Rice. There are gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian and vegan options with an extra few pages at the back for alternative ingredients for allergies and food preferences. The recipes, in most cases, would be easy to convert with a small amount of assistance from a more experienced cook. For example, the Risotto can be vegetarian by changing the stock type, ditto the pumpkin pasta dish by eliminating the bacon. There’s a quick fix for egg replacement for vegans—chia balls, which could come in handy for converting some of your favourite cake recipes. Tylee uses a minimum of processed sugar, preferring honey, bananas, dates and maple syrup for sweetness. My favourite pages are the extra information ones—How to Boil An Egg (making the perfect egg is a skill worth acquiring), How To Tell When a Cake is Done (useful), and the beautifully drawn foraging pages with recommendations for use (Oxalis—a wanted salad ingredient! Picking nettles—don’t forget your gloves). Recipes cover breakfast—check out Breakfast Popsicles, baking—Secret Ingredient Brownies (while avocados are still plentiful), in-between meals—Quick After-School Pasta or Noodles with Marmite(!), and meals from the small—Corn Fritters or Lemon, Thyme and Garlic Pasta; to the more substantial Pipi Pizza, Roast Chook, and Sweet Potato & Pea Curry. There are delicious drinks and plenty of chocolatey delights, all with a twist of humour and good health. Great for the young budding chef and a good go-to cookbook to have on your shelves for the less experienced cooks in your household.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

little scratch by Rebecca Watson   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
His outfit was a clown outfit, he realised, he was standing there in a clown outfit, a vintage double-breasted tailored herringbone woollen clown outfit but a clown outfit all the same, he realised, basically a joke outfit, tailored but not for him, the jacket too tight and too short for one thing, or two things, the trousers too narrow above the knees for another, at least to his way of thinking, the kind of outfit that he would laugh at upon anyone else but had, it seemed, somehow tricked himself into wearing, presumably it was a trick, suddenly, it seemed, he now found himself wearing a clown outfit, he found himself wearing it suddenly although he had in fact been wearing it for months without realising that he was wearing what basically amounted to a clown outfit, or suppressing that realisation for some reason, all the better, perhaps, to trick himself into wearing it. But why? Why had he for months been wearing what amounted to nothing short of a parody of his own dress sense, even perhaps a parodic attack on what might otherwise have passed for his own dress sense, if he could be said to have such a thing, a self-ridiculing impulse directed perhaps at his own vanity, everybody’s got their own vanity, he thought a simple test not requiring too much imagination can prove this, though he was not certain that in this instance he was in fact testing for or reproving his own vanity, he could perhaps have been trying instead to cure his own shyness, if shyness is the correct term for his discomfort in being caught in the attention of others, shyness is not perhaps the word, in any case a therapy, so to call it, gone in this instance a step too far into parody, or could it be that he had found in his brown double-breasted clown outfit the perfect refuge from being caught in the attention of others, nobody sees beyond the surface of a clown outfit after all, a clown outfit is an impenetrable defence, he thought, I am no-one or anyone in my clown outfit, let them find ridiculous that which I also find ridiculous, he thought, they cannot see me, they cannot ridicule me, they cannot catch me in their attention, their ridicule stops at the ridiculousness of my clown outfit, which I also find ridiculous, I know that whatever they think of me is wrong. The book I have been reading, he thought, is also concerned with the surface that divides a person from the world of other persons, the surface that both attracts and stops the gaze of other persons, the surface that both protects and makes vulnerable the person it both covers and defines. The little scratch in little scratch is the scratching the narrator performs upon her own skin, the scratching she attempts to resist but cannot always resist, “and now I’m scratching because I’m annoyed that I’m scratching,” she says, the scratching that ritualises her frustration with her own bodily existence for a reason that becomes apparent in the course of the book but which the narrator attempts to prevent surfacing in her thoughts, she needs to get through her day at work after all, she wants to enjoy her evening with her boyfriend if she can, very much, she wants to undo the effect of the historic violation that has been performed upon her, she wants to be once again gatekeeper to her own skin. The spoiler came more quickly than I had thought it would, he thought, I had tried to hold back the spoiler, he thought, could I have written this paragraph without the spoiler at all, he wondered, it is too late now, whatever the spoiler spoils or has spoiled, I’ll carry on. From the moment she wakes up the narrator is both hyperaware of her body and dissociated from it, well, more dissociated than aware, I’d say, he thought, can she scratch her skin and find herself in there, perhaps she wonders, who is there? she wonders, “me, completely separate from my body, but still in it,” from the moment she wakes up, the narrator is stuck in her head, her thoughts move down the page in all their parallel paths, confluences, bifurcations, trifurcations, and diversions, the book attempts a record of ALL HER THOUGHTS during the course of one day, even the most mundane thoughts, but also those thoughts not mundane at all. The effect is remarkably effective, he thought, though he could have chosen better words to express this thought, the effect is that of being stuck in yourself, of being stuck in time moving either too slowly or too fast, of being aware to the point of desperation of all your thoughts as you have them, how does the narrator and how did the author stay sane, he wondered, if they do stay sane, and likewise the reader, the effect is claustrophobic. Just like his thoughts, he thought, her thoughts, though mostly mundane, occasionally allow that mundanity to think itself a little less mundane. Whe she sees some young men at the railway station on her way to work, she imagines “them seeing me, me seeing my own face, body, legs etc, assessing the me which I cannot see but see them seeing, forgetting to assess them because I am too busy assessing what they’re assessing, which I can’t actually assess because there is no full length mirror balanced against nothing in the middle of the platform for me to use to assess my assessment of their assessment to see if it is accurate, although, come to think of it, if I don’t have time to assess them, because I’m assessing me who they’re assessing, then who’s to say they’re not doing the same—assessing what I’m assessing, or, indeed, what they assume I’m assessing, so we’re all just assessing what we assume they’re assessing, i.e. ourselves, which we cannot see,” which, he thought, reveals the mundane as a sort of matrix for gauging the nature of one’s relationships with those with whom one shares that matrix, intimately or less intimately or not intimately at all, if awareness can ever be anything but intimate. The matrix is a linguistic matrix, he thought, the book is a linguistic matrix upon which the narrator’s awareness is arranged, I do not think linguistic matrix is the right term though, he thought. How could experience be any clearer than this, he wondered, but he does not have much time to wonder because “morning! morning! simultaneous, a little awkward, the call and response conjoined so now we don’t know who is the caller and who is the responder, and, in the place where the second morning! would actually fall, silence!” The narrator is desperate to suppress a thought with thought, she thinks to the brink of the thought and turns away so many times, but the thought she does not want to think draws her towards it, “I cannot get through the day, if everything brings up something else,” she thinks, the thought she does not want to think is underneath her other thoughts, pulling at them always, sabotaging her at inopportune moments, pulling her even from her own body. Such is the harm. 


"I do nothing because I don’t know how to defend a person who’s being crushed and dragged along the ground and kicked to a pulp with complete impunity, nor do I know how to get a job or write a CV or any biography, nor even poetry, not a single line of it.” Our Book of the WeekNoémi Lefebvre's new novel Poetics of Work, explores the cultural crises of late capitalism against the backdrop of increasing bigotry, nationalism and police brutality during the state of emergency that followed the 2015 terrorist attacks in France. What possibility is there for poetry in a language deformed by authoritarianism and the description of assault weaponry? 
>>Read Thomas's review.  
>>Read an extract
>>Poétique de l'emploi.


In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova           $45
After the death of her aunt, Maria Stepanova is left to sift through an apartment full of faded photographs, old postcards, letters, diaries, and heaps of souvenirs: a withered repository of a century of life in Russia. Carefully reassembled with calm, steady hands, these shards tell the story of how a seemingly ordinary Jewish family somehow managed to survive the myriad persecutions and repressions of the last century. In dialogue with writers like Roland Barthes, W. G. Sebald, Susan Sontag and Osip Mandelstam, In Memory of Memory is imbued with rare intellectual curiosity and a wonderfully soft-spoken, poetic voice. Dipping into various forms – essay, fiction, memoir, travelogue and historical documents – Stepanova assembles a vast panorama of ideas and personalities and offers an entirely new and bold exploration of cultural and personal memory.
"A luminous, rigorous, and mesmerizing interrogation of the relationship between personal history, family history, and capital-H History. I couldn’t put it down; it felt sort of like watching a hypnotic YouTube unboxing-video of the gift-and-burden that is the twentieth century. In Memory of Memory has that trick of feeling both completely original and already classic, and I confidently expect this translation to bring Maria Stepanova a rabid fan base on the order of the one she already enjoys in Russia." —Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot
"Dazzling erudition and deep empathy come together in Maria Stepanova’s profound engagement with the power and potential of memory, the mother of all muses. An exploration of the vast field between reminiscence and remembrance, In Memory of Memory is a poetic appraisal of the ways the stories of others are the fabric of our history." —Esther Kinsky, author of Grove
"Extraordinary – a work of haunting power, grace and originality." —Philippe Sands, author of East West Street
The Homely II by Gavin Hipkins             $30
In 2001, Gavin Hipkins unveiled his photo frieze, 'The Homely', at City Gallery Wellington. Consisting of eighty photos taken between 1997 and 2000 on travels in New Zealand and Australia, neighbouring antipodean colonies, it became his best-known and most celebrated work. In 2018, he unveiled its sequel in the exhibition This is New Zealand, also at City Gallery. 'The Homely II' also comprises eighty photos, shot in the same manner, arranged in the same frieze format. Hipkins took the images between 2001 and 2017 on excursions through New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the former colony and the colonial homeland. Contributions by Megan Tamati-Quennell, Robert Leonard, Felicity Barnes, Andrew Clifford, Blair French, Terrence Handscomb, Emil McAvoy, Emma Ng, and Lara Strongman.
>>A few images
Poetics of Work by Noémi Lefebvre         $34
Sparring with the spectre of an overbearing father, torn between the push to find a job and the pull to write, the narrator wanders into a larger debate, one in which the troubling lights of Kafka, Kraus, and Klemperer shine bright. Set against the backdrop of police brutality and rising nationalism that marked the state of emergency following the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, Poetics of Work takes a jab at the values of late capitalism. A blistering treatise of survival skills for the wilfully idle.
"A smart, timely, and novel proposal for poetics in the age of personal and political patriarchy." —Joanna Walsh
Havana Year Zero by Karla Suárez     $35
"It was as if we'd reached the minimum critical point of a mathematical curve. Imagine a parabola. Zero point down, at the bottom of an abyss. That's how low we sank." The year is 1993. Cuba is at the height of the Special Period, a widespread economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet bloc. For Julia, a mathematics lecturer who hates teaching, this is Year Zero: the lowest possible point. But a way out appears: the search for a missing document that will prove the telephone was invented in Havana, secure her reputation, and give Cuba a purpose once more. What begins as an investigation into scientific history becomes a tangle of sex, friendship, family legacies, and the intricacies of how people find ways to survive in a country at its lowest ebb.
A Room Called Earth by Madeleine Ryan         $37
A young woman gets ready to go to a party. She arrives, feels overwhelmed, leaves, and then returns. Minutely attuned to the people who come into her view, and alternating between alienation and profound connection, she is hilarious, self-aware, sometimes acerbic, and painfully honest. A book about love, loss, and the need to belong from a neurodivergent author, and with a protagonist on the autism spectrum.

The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington           $35
One of the first things ninety-two-year-old Marian Leatherby overhears when she is given an ornate hearing trumpet is her family plotting to commit her to an institution. Soon, she finds herself trapped in a sinister retirement home, where the elderly must inhabit buildings shaped like igloos and birthday cakes, endure twisted religious preaching and eat in a canteen overlooked by the mysterious portrait of a leering Abbess. But when another resident secretly hands Marian a book recounting the life of the Abbess, a joyous and brilliantly surreal adventure begins to unfold. Written in the early 1960s, The Hearing Trumpet remains one of the most original and inspirational of all fantastic novels. With an afterword by Olga Tokarczuk. 
>>The Surreal life. 
>>Surrealism, feminism, and old ladies in revolt
The Best American Poetry 2020 edited by Paisley Rekdal and David Lehman      $40
"One of the mainstays of the poetry publication world." —Academy of American Poets
What is Life? Understand biology in five steps by Paul Nurse         $30
"A nearly perfect guide to the wonder and complexity of existence." —Bill Bryson 
"Nurse provides a concise, lucid response to an age-old question. His writing is not just informed by long experience, but also wise, visionary, and personal. I read the book in one sitting, and felt exhilarated by the end, as though I'd run for miles—from the author's own garden into the interior of the cell, back in time to humankind's most distant ancestors, and through the laboratory of a dedicated scientist at work on what he most loves to do." —Dava Sobel
Artifact by Arlene Heyman                $33
By her early twenties, Lottie finds herself trapped in a marriage gone stale, with a daughter she adores but whose existence jeopardizes her place in the lab and her dream of becoming a scientist. How can a young woman make her way in a world determined to contain her brilliance, her will, and her longing to live? Artifact is a celebration of her refusal to be defined by others' imaginations, and a meditation on the glorious chaos of biological life.
Under a White Sky: The nature of the future by Elizabeth Kolbert            $37
The author of The Sixth Extinction returns to humanity's transformative impact on the environment, now asking, After doing so much damage, can we change nature, this time to save it? 

The Sourdough School: Sweet Baking by Vanessa Kimbell          $50
If it rises, it can be made with sourdough. A companion to The Sourdough School, this book focuses on sweet recipes that are gut-friendly and rely on natural sweetness where possible. 
"It is impossible to read this book without wanting to scuttle off into the kitchen." —Nigella Lawson
The Frozen River: Seeking silence in Ladakh by James Crowden          $28
In 1976 James Crowden travelled to Ladakh in the Northern Himalaya, one of the most remote parts of the world. The Frozen River is his extraordinary, luminous account of the time he spent there, living alongside the Zangskari people, before the arrival of roads and mass tourism. Now in paperback.
Signature by Hunter Dukes            $22
Why do we sign our names? How can a squiggle both enslave and liberate? Signatures often require a witness—as if the scrawl itself is not enough. What other kinds of beliefs and longings justify our signing practices? Signature addresses these questions as it roams from a roundtable on the Greek island of Syros, to a scene of handwriting analysis conducted in an English pub, from a wedding in Moscow, where guests sign the bride's body, to a San Franciscan tattoo parlor interested in arcane forms. The signature's history encompasses ancient handprints on cave walls, autograph hunters, the branding of slaves, metaphysical poetry, medical malpractice, hip-hop lyrics, legal challenges to electronic signatures, ice cores harvested from Greenland, and tales of forgery and autopens. 
The Language of Thieves: The story of Rotwelsch and one family's secret history by Martin Puchner            $40
Since the Middle Ages, vagrants and thieves in Central Europe have spoken Rotwelsch, a secret language influenced by Yiddish and written in rudimentary signs. When Martin Puchner inherited a family archive, it led him on a journey into this extraordinary language but also into his family's connections to the Nazi Party, for whom Rotwelsch held a particular significance.

The Escape Artist by Helen Fremont            $35
Fremont writes about growing up in a household held together by a powerful glue: secrets. Her parents, profoundly affected by their memories of the Holocaust, pass on to both Helen and her older sister a zealous determination to protect themselves from what they see as danger from the outside world. The family dynamic produced a startling devotion to secret keeping, beginning with the painful and unexpected discovery that she has been disinherited in her father's will. In scenes that are frank, moving, and often surprisingly funny, she writes about growing up in an intemperate household, with parents who pretended to be Catholics but were really Jews—and survivors of Nazi-occupied Poland. 
"Beautifully written, honest, and psychologically astute." —Mary Karr
Bloom by Nicola Skinner          $17
Sorrel Fallowfield is so good at being good that teachers come to her when they need help remembering the school rules - and there are lots. Luckily, Sorrel doesn't have any trouble following them, until the day she discovers a faded packet of Surprising Seeds buried under a tree in her backyard. Now she's hearing voices, seeing things, experiencing an almost unstoppable urge to plant the Seeds in some very unusual places... and completely failing to win her school's competition to find The Most Obedient Child of the School. And all that's before flowers start growing out of her head...
In 1994, a team led by Tim White uncovered the bones of a human ancestor in Ethiopia's Afar region. Radiometric dating of nearby rocks indicated the skeleton, classified as Ardipithecus ramidus, was 4.4 million years old, more than a million years older than "Lucy," then the oldest known human ancestor. The findings challenged many assumptions about human evolution—how we started walking upright, how we evolved our nimble hands, and, most significantly, whether we were descended from an ancestor that resembled today's chimpanzee—and challenged a half-century of paleoanthropological orthodoxy.

Saturday 20 March 2021

For book news and new books, read our latest NEWSLETTER.

BOOKS @ VOLUME # 221 (19.3.21)


Our Book of the Week is Kazuo Ishiguro's new novel Klara and the Sun.  A hugely empathic AI, Klara is bought as an Artificial Friend for a girl suffering from an undefined illness. As the full extent of the girl's predicament becomes apparent, Klara, with her wonderful mixture of naivety and capacity, does all she can for the girl, and makes us question what it is to be human. Klara and the Sun is Ishiguro's first novel since being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro    {Reviewed by STELLA}
We meet Klara at the store with her best friend Rosa. Soon it will be their turn to be in the window—the sweet spot for attracting attention—and, hopefully, purchased. Manager is very pleased with Klara and, while the week in the window doesn’t yield immediate success, the attention of teenager Josie is garnered. Klara is an AF (artificial friend)—a model with high sensitivity, great observation skills, a talent for mimicry, and superb computational skills. She probably has a perfect EQ score. When Josie and her mother return to the store some weeks later, Klara passes the questions and tests posed by the Mother, and is packed and ready to dispatch to her new home. This is a near-future America where the elites are scaling further ahead with their advantages of education and resources, where children are ‘lifted’—genetically improved—and where company for children can come in the form of an AF. The world is polluted cities, intensive farming, and social anxiety. Josie, like her peers, studies from home with her tutors streamed in (school is too dangerous), has few interactions outside the home (Mother, Melania Houskeeper and Klara are the household)—her childhood friend, Rick (not lifted), and the set social occasions with the other lifted teenagers to help them learn social engagement behaviours are the exceptions. But Josie is often unwell, and it’s Klara’s role to help her through these times—to keep her company and be her friend. Ishiguro’s eighth novel, Klara and the Sun is reminiscent of his wonderful Never Let Me Go (which was a cautionary tale about cloning), and is told solely from Klara’s viewpoint. Klara is highly intelligent, emotionally superior (especially when it comes to empathy), and curious (she questions what she sees and hears—something that may be an unexpected and possibly unwelcome consequence of her model), yet she is fetchingly naive and seemingly without endless knowledge. She’s not hardwired into the internet. She has to piece new experiences together—whether these are physical or emotional—but she can do this extremely well and quickly. We, the readers, may not be as fast as Klara, but we too have to gather the clues and piece together the actions of Josie, her mother, Rick, and the others we meet through Klara’s eyes, to make sense of this future world and the motivations of the players. Not surprisingly, the motivations are familiar—self-improvement and selfishness to retain privilege. As Josie’s illness worsens we discover that the process of 'lifting' can be fatally detrimental. Klara, with her sense of loyalty, love and responsibility, is convinced she can make a difference if she can communicate with the Sun (she is solar-powered), who she believes has special powers—to make a deal that may save Josie’s life. Kazuo Ishiguro will make you love Klara and question the depth of understanding and sensitivity in our humans, despite the real issues of loss and fear that are faced by Josie and her parents. Klara and the Sun is wonderfully narrated, compelling and stimulating. Who has the greater human heart in this tale of loyalty, love, fragility and uncertainty?


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Poetics of Work by Noémi Lefebvre   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
How should we occupy ourselves, he wondered, whatever that means, lest we be occupied by someone else, or something else, how do we keep our feet, if our feet at least may be said to be our own to keep, by leaning into the onslaught or by letting it wash through us? Too many metaphors, if they’re even metaphors, he thought, too much thought thought for us by the language we use to think the thoughts, he thought, too many ready-made phrases, who makes them and why do they make them, and what are their effects on us, he wondered, where is the power that I thought was mine, where is the meaning that I meant to mean, how can I reclaim the words I speak from those against whom I would speak them? No hope otherwise. The narrator of Noémi Lefebvre’s Poetics of Work happens to be reading Viktor Klemperer’s Language of the Third Reich, in which Klemperer demonstrates that the success of, and the ongoing threat from, Nazism arose from changes wrought on the ways in which language was used and thus upon the ways people thought. Whoever controls language controls thought, he thought, Klemperer providing examples, authority exerts its power through linguistic mutation, but maybe, he thought, power can be resisted by the same means, resistance is poetry, he shouted, well, perhaps, or at least a bit of judicious editing could be effective in the struggle, he thought, rummaging in the draw of his desk for his blue pencil, it’s in here somewhere. Fascism depends on buzzwords, says Klemperer, buzzwords preclude thought, and the first step in fighting fascism, says Klemperer, is to challenge the use of these buzzwords, to re-establish the content of discourse, to rescue the particular from the buzzword. Could he think of some current examples of such buzzwords, he wondered, and he thought that perhaps he could, perhaps, he thought, if terms such as the buzzword ‘woke’ or the buzzword ‘cancel’ were removed from discourse and the wielders of these buzzwords had no recourse but to say in plain language what they meant, these once-were-wielders would be revealed to be either ludicrous or dangerous or both ludicrous and dangerous and the particulars of a given situation could be more clearly discussed. That is a subversive thought, he thought, to edit is to unpick power. “There isn’t a lot of poetry these days, I said to my father,” says the narrator at the beginning of Poetics of Work. A state of emergency has been declared in France, it is 2015, terror attacks have resulted in a surge of nationalism, intolerance, police brutality, the narrator, reading Klemperer as I have already said, is aware of the ways in which language has been mutated to control thought, power acts first through language and then turns up as the special police, it seems. What purchase has poetry in a language also used to describe police weaponry, the narrator wonders. “I could feel from the general climate that imagination was being blocked and thought paralysed by national unity in the name of Freedom, and freedom co-opted as a reason to have more of it.” Freedom has become a buzzword, it no longer means what we thought it meant, but even, perhaps, well evidently, its opposite. “Security being the first of freedoms, according to the Minister of the Interior, for you have to work.” You have to work, is this the case, the narrator wonders, you have to work and by working you become part of that which harms you. The book progresses as a series of exchanges between the narrator and their father, the internal voice of their father, of all that is inherited, of Europe, of the compromise between capital and culture, of all that takes things at once too seriously and nowhere near seriously enough. “He’s there in my eyes, he hunches my shoulders, slows my stride, spreads out before me his superior grasp of all things,” the narrator says, embedded in their father, struggling to think a thought not thought for them by their father, their struggle is a struggle for voice, as all struggles are. “I am like my father but much less good, my father can do anything because he does nothing, while I do nothing because I don’t know how to defend a person who’s being crushed and dragged along the ground and kicked to a pulp with complete impunity, nor do I know how to get a job or write a CV or any biography, nor even poetry, not a single line of it.” What hope is there? Is it possible to find “non-culture-sector poetry”, the narrator wonders, or even to write this “non-culture-sector” poetry if there could be such a thing? What sort of poetry can be used to come to grips with even the minor crises of late capitalism, for instance, if any of the crises of late capitalism can be considered minor? “I watched the water flow south, and the swans driven by their insignificance, deaf and blind to the basic shapes of the food-processing industry, ignorant that they, poor sods, were beholden to market price variation over the kilo of feathers and to the planned obsolescence of ornamental fowls.” The book sporadically and ironically gestures towards being some sort of treatise on poetry, it even has a few brief “lessons,” or maxims, but these are too half-hearted and impermanent to be either lessons or maxims, perhaps, he thought, they might qualify as antilessons or antimaxims, if such things could be imagined, though possibly they ironise an indifference to both. “Indifference is a contemplative state, my father said one day when he’d been drinking.” Doing nothing because there is nothing to be done, or, rather, because one cannot see what can be done, is very different from doing nothing from indifference, but the effect is the same, or the lack of effect, so something must be done, the narrator thinks, even if it is the case that nothing can in the end be done. For those to whom language is at once both home and a place of exile, the struggle must be made in language, or for language, resistance is poetry, or poetry is resistance, I have forgotten what I shouted, I will sharpen my blue pencil, after all one must be “someone among everyone,” as the narrator says. “There’s a fair bit of poetry at the moment, I said to my father,” the narrator says at the end of Poetics of Work. “He didn’t reply.”

Friday 19 March 2021


The Twilight Zone by Nona Fernández         $35
How do crimes vanish in plain sight? How does one resist a repressive regime? Who gets to shape the truths we live by and take for granted? In Fernández's novel, it is 1984 in Chile, in the middle of the Pinochet dictatorship. A member of the secret police walks into the office of a dissident magazine and finds a reporter, who records his testimony. The narrator is a child when she first sees this man's face on the magazine's cover with the words "I Tortured People." His complicity in the worst crimes of the regime and his commitment to speaking about them haunt the narrator into her adulthood and career as a writer and documentarian. Like a secret service agent from the future, through extraordinary feats of the imagination, Fernández follows the "man who tortured people" to places that archives can't reach, into the sinister twilight zone of history where morning routines, a game of chess, Yuri Gagarin, and the eponymous TV show of the novel's title coexist with the brutal yet commonplace machinations of the regime.
>>Read an extract.
A Burning by Megha Majumdar                     $35
A young Muslim woman in Kolkata is accused of a terrorist outrage, in a novel about poverty and social aspiration that is also a moral drama. 
"Taut, symphonic, propulsive, and riveting from its opening lines, A Burning has the force of an epic while being so masterfully compressed it can be read in a single sitting. Majumdar writes with dazzling assurance at a breakneck pace on complex themes that read here as the components of a thriller: class, fate, corruption, justice, and what it feels like to face profound obstacles and yet nurture big dreams in a country spinning toward extremism."
"Brilliant." —Guardian
"Indelible." —Washington Post
"Fierce and assured." —New York Times
How We Are Translated by Jessica Gaitán Johannesson           $37
Swedish immigrant Kristin won't talk about the Project growing inside her. Her Brazilian-born Scottish boyfriend Ciaran won't speak English at all; he is trying to immerse himself in a Swedish språkbad language bath, to prepare for their future, whatever that means. Their Edinburgh flat is starting to feel very small. 
As this young couple is forced to confront the thing that they are both avoiding, they must reckon with the bigger questions of the world outside, and their places in it.
"How We Are Translated is the most contemporary of novels; set somehow both in the now and in the distant past; in one city that could be many cities, and in two different languages, though also in defiance of language, with as much focus on the silences between words as the words themselves. It's a novel that maintains just the right balance of oddity, intimacy and illumination. It's a novel that anyone interested in the future of the English novel needs to read!" —Sara Baume
"One of the gentlest and most patient, humane, and quirky things I have read in a long time. Hugely original." —Niamh Campbell
Poor by Caleb Femi             $28
"Lyrical, heart-breaking and hopeful, the Peckham poet’s debut collection celebrating the lives of young black boys and the architecture that shapes them." —Judges' citation for the 2021 Rathbones Folio Prize
Murder in the Age of Enlightenment by Ryunosuke Akutagawa           $28
The stories in this fantastical, unconventional collection are subtly wrought depictions of the darkness of human desires. From an isolated bamboo grove, to a lantern festival in Tokyo, to the Emperor's court, they offer glimpses into moments of madness, murder, and obsession. Translated by Bryan Karetnyk, they unfold in elegant, sometimes laconic, gripping prose.
>>Read Thomas's review of Patient X, David Peace's outstanding. novel of Akutagawa's life

Poems to Night by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Will Stone          $28
In 1916 Rainer Maria Rilke presented the writer Rudolf Kassner with a notebook containing twenty-two poems meticulously copied out in his own hand which bore the title Poems to Night. This cycle of poems are now thought to represent one of the key stages of the poet's development. Never before translated into English, this collection brings together all Rilke's significant night poems in one volume.

Kate Edger: The life of a pioneering feminist by Diana Morrow           $40
In 1877, Kate Edger became the first woman to graduate from a New Zealand university. The New Zealand Herald enthusiastically hailed her achievement as 'the first rays of the rising sun of female intellectual advancement'. Edger went on to become a pioneer of women's education in New Zealand. In 1883, she was the founding principal of Nelson College for Girls. She also worked to mitigate violence against women and children and to fortify their rights through progressive legislation. She campaigned for women's suffrage and played a prominent role in the Women's Christian Temperance Union and in Wellington's Society for the Protection of Women and Children. Later in life she advocated international diplomacy and co-operation through her work for the League of Nations Union.
A Net for Small Fishes by Lucy Jago             $33
Frances Howard has beauty and a powerful family and is the most unhappy creature in the world. Anne Turner has wit and talent but no stage on which to display them. Little stands between her and the abyss of destitution. When these two very different women meet in the strangest of circumstances, a powerful friendship is sparked. Frankie sweeps Anne into a world of splendour that exceeds all she imagined—a Court whose foreign king is a stranger to his own subjects; where ancient families fight for power, and where the sovereign's favourite may rise and rise so long as he remains in favour. Based on the true scandal that rocked the court of James I.

The Octopus Man by Jasper Gibson           $33
Once an outstanding law student, Tom is now lost in the machinery of the British mental health system, talking to a voice no one else can hear: the voice of Malamock, the Octopus God—part-comforter, part-autarch, part-guide. After Tom is coerced into a drugs trial, his loving sister, along with his doctors and carers, all celebrate the loss of Malamock. However, Tom's own sense of relief soon turns to despair. He was Jacob, wrestling with the angel. Now he is just Tom, struggling on benefits. Tom decides to get his voice back.
"The Dharma Bums meet Clozapine." —DBC Pierre

Entitled: How male privilege hurts women by Kate Manne           $26
Philosopher Kate Manne offers a new framework for understanding misogyny. The idea that a privileged man is tacitly deemed to be owed something is a pervasive problem, manifesting in society in all sorts of unexpected and unrecognised ways. Manne shows that male entitlement can explain a wide array of phenomena, from mansplaining and the undertreatment of women's pain to mass shootings by incels, and sheds new light on gender and power. 

The Arabesque Table: Contemporary recipes from the Arab world by Reem Kassis             $60
The Arabesque Table takes inspiration from the traditional food of the Arab world, weaving Reem Kassis's cultural knowledge with her contemporary interpretations of an ancient, diverse cuisine. She opens up the world of Arabic cooking today, presenting 130 delicious, achievable home recipes. Organised by primary ingredient, her narratives formed by her experiences and influences bring the dishes to life, as does the book's vivid photography. From the author of The Palestinian Table
>>"Food is more than just sustenance."
You Don't Belong Here: How three women rewrote the story of war by Elizabeth Becker           $37
Catherine Leroy, Frankie Fitzgerald and Kate Webb were the first female frontline journalists in the history of the US war reporting. Over the course of the Vietnam War they challenged the rules imposed on them in an effort to get the story straight. Kate Webb, an Australian reporter was captured by the Vietcong only to continue her reporting after her release. American Frankie Fitzgerald's coverage earned her bylines in The New Yorker, and she became the first female war reporter for the magazine. And at only twenty-two, the French Catherine Leroy was the only female photojournalist covering the war. 
Office by Sheila Liming          $22
From its origins in the late 19th century to its decline in the 21st, Sheila Liming's Office narrates a cultural history of a place that has arguably been the primary site of labor in the postmodern economy.
>>Other 'Object Lessons'.

October Mourning: A song for Matthew Shepard by Lesléa Newman         $20
On the night of October 6, 1998, a gay twenty-one-year-old college student named Matthew Shepard was lured from a Wyoming bar by two young men, savagely beaten, tied to a remote fence, and left to die. October Mourning, a novel in verse, is Lesléa Newman's response to the events of that day. The author creates fictitious monologues from various points of view, including the fence Matthew was tied to, the stars that watched over him, the deer that kept him company, and Matthew himself.
Game Changer by Neal Shusterman            $22
A football head injury triggers an interesting YA exploration of parallel worlds from the author of the 'Arc of Scythe' series. 

Seven (and a Half) Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett          $40
An excellent introduction to the latest developments in brain science. Why do we have brains, why are the formed the way that they are, how do our brains relate to our thoughts? 

I Am In Bed With You by Emma Barnes            $25
Playful and fluid but completely serious, Emma Barnes’s surreal poetry collection I Am in Bed with You leads us through the very personal worlds of sex, gender and the body. Barnes cracks jokes, makes us uncomfortable, shows us a little tenderness, leaves a lot unsaid and does it all with language that provokes and confounds.
How to Live. What to Do. In search of ourselves in life and literature by Josh Cohen          $40
What can Alice in Wonderland teach us about childhood? Could reading Conversations with Friends guide us through first love? Does Esther Greenwood's glittering success and subsequent collapse in The Bell Jar help us understand ambition? And what can we learn about death from Tolstoy? Not only does literature provide escapism and entertainment, it also holds a mirror up to our lives to show us aspects of ourselves we may not have seen or understood. From jealousy to grief, fierce love to deep hatred, our inner lives become both stranger and more familiar when we explore them through fiction.
Couch Fiction: A graphic tale of psychotherapy by Philippa Perry and Flo Perry          $48
Have you ever wanted to know what goes on in a psychotherapist's consulting room? This compelling study of psychotherapy in the form of a graphic novel vividly explores a year's therapy sessions as a search for understanding. 
"I loved it. I smiled and laughed. And nodded. One to read." —Susie Orbach
"Full or wit and good sense. Philippa is a tonic even if you're not her patient." —Rachel Cooke, Observer

Saturday 13 March 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #220 (12-3-21)

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