Friday 25 June 2021

BOOKS @ VOLUME #235 (25.6.21)

Read our latest newsletter!



>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Second Place by Rachel Cusk      {Reviewed by STELLA}
Cruelty is never too far from the surface of the latest Rachel Cusk novel, Second Place. M owns an idyllic home on the marshland with her second husband Tony. They have rescued the land and built a home for themselves in this remote and abundant place, and share it, that is the cottage—the Second Place—by invitation. M has been fascinated by the art of L since an early encounter with his work in Paris after a nightmarish experience on a train, an experience that the reader is never fully informed about, yet the spectacular—a devil, metaphorical or real—remains as a threat throughout. So when M, after years of obsession with L, finally convinces the artist to come and stay, to retreat and paint, her expectations, as you can anticipate, are high. Her expectations of fulfilment, creatively and psychologically, are painfully ridiculous in a middle-aged, privileged sense. What does she expect from this special bond with L? When L arrives—by private jet of a friend’s cousin—with said friend in tow, the beautiful and young Brett, M is miffed. You can’t help but feel little empathy for her. Her desires are unreasonable and ethically questionable, let alone uncomfortable. M’s obsession with a self-seeking, seemingly loathsome and churlish fading artist is misguided at best. Add to the mix M’s daughter Justine and her German boyfriend Kurt, arrived from Berlin as their jobs pack in due to a downward economy (and Covid—although this isn’t mentioned by Cusk), and the perfect pressure cooker for a melodrama is set. The novel is told as to ‘Jeffers’ by letter. We never meet Jeffers and have little knowledge of who Jeffers is and why he plays such an important role as confidant to M. What we can decipher later, from the afterword, is that the novel is inspired by Mabel Dodge Luhan’s memoir Lorenzo in Taos, published in 1932 (there’s a contemporary review in the New York Times archive) about D.H.Lawrence’s stay at her artist retreat in New Mexico. Here too, is a story of obsession and delusion, and letters to Robinson Jeffers about Mabel’s experience with the Lawrences. Yet you don’t need to know this to find the writing compelling, the prose poised and the content both farcical (the storyline of Kurt deciding to be a writer and his ‘reading’ is priceless) and unsettling. It will make you squirm. This is a novel about ownership—who owns whom—and the power or agency of one over the other or the ideas of the other. M will come to despise L and L already despises M, and sets out to destroy her. Yet his ability to do so is compromised by his own weakness, according to M. And here lies the dilemma: the narrator. You can’t like her. Her complete preoccupation with herself and her property, whitewashed, much like the walls of the cottage, with a veneer of care, is revealed in her asides to Jeffers and by her knowing attitude about the creative process within the isolation of someone basically just talking to themselves. Yet, the novel reverberates within its clichés and set-ups to bring the reader to the eye-watering conclusion that Cusk has cleverly played a game of cards where most of the best cards are hers—and the reader is in second place.


Armand V.: Footnotes to an unexcavated novel by Dag Solstad   {Reviewed by THOMAS} 
1]  Wishing to write a review of the novel Armand V. by the Norwegian author Dag Solstad, I’ve decided the best way to realise this is not by writing a review of the novel but by allowing it instead to appear in an outpouring of footnotes to a review that will not be or can not be written. The sum of the footnotes, therefore, is my review of the novel Armand V.
1 B ]  Although admittedly ludic, possibly to the point of irritation, some attempt to justify this approach could be made on the basis that it corresponds to the approach of the author Dag Solstad in this writing of his novel comprised entirely of footnotes to a novel that the author considers in some way pre-existing but which he has determined will remain “unexcavated”, a novel that he refuses to write, or feels himself incapable of writing, or a novel that is unable to be written, or that, if written, would be of no interest to the writer (and therefore unable, presumably, to be written). Solstad writes, “Wishing to write a novel about the Norwegian diplomat Armand V., I’ve decided the best way to realise this is not by writing a novel about him but by allowing him instead to appear in an outpouring of footnotes to this novel. The sum of the footnotes, therefore, is the novel about Armand V.”
1 C ]  Solstad is aware of at least some of the problems inherent in this approach, but it is problems such as these that allow him to explore problems inherent in the writing of novels per se, and in the relationship of an author to her or his material. “But who wrote the novel originally, if I’m simply the one who discovered and excavated it? … It is indisputable that this novel, the sum of the footnotes of the original novel, which is invisible because the author refused to delve into it and make it his own, is about Armand V. … It is by no means certain that the theme of the novel is the same as that of the original novel. … Why this avowal? Why does the author refuse to enter into the original novel? Put more directly: why don’t I do it, since I’m the one who’s writing this?”
1 D ]  The air of a footnote hangs over Solstad’s entries, if a footnote can be said to have an ‘air’, giving them a greater perspective and distance from their subjects, but a greater alienation, or perhaps a resignation, also, a feeling that a narrative continues upon which we (and the author) have no control, and of which we (and the author) are only very incompletely aware. This said, we can safely say that the footnotes also provide less perspective, concentrating often, as footnotes often do, on matters of detailed fact, with a topography very different from the text to which the footnote ostensible refers. The author from time to time notes his relief from the expectations of the received novel form, comparing the unwritten novel ‘up there’ with his work in the footnotes to that novel: “Of course, the novel up there attempts to explain why their marriage failed. But not here. Here it is simply over. No comment.” The novel-as-footnotes form allows Solstad to explore aspects of the life of Armand V. (including a very long exploration of the contented blandness of a one-time school-mate, which is implicitly contrasted with the angst-ridden nullity of Armand V.’s life (about which see the footnote below)) without subjecting these explorations to an overall schema or narrative that would restrict the usefulness of these explorations.
1 E ]    Some of the footnotes are very long.
1 F ]    Perhaps our awareness of our life has always and only the relationship to our actual life that a footnote has to the text to which it refers. Plot and purpose are as artificial when applied to our lives as they are when used as novelistic crutches to make stories, and for much the same reasons.
1 G ]   “All these footnotes seem to be suffering from one thing or another. The footnotes are suffering. The unwritten novel appears as heaven.”
2 ]   Armand V. is a diplomat nearing retirement. He has “mastered the game” of concealing his personal opinions and performing his role to perfection. “He assumed that his bold way of behaving helped to divert attention from what might have been perceived as more suspect qualities that he possessed, whatever they might be.” So perfect is his performance that at no time does he act in a personal way or express his beliefs in any way that could risk their having any effect. The visible and invisible aspects of Armand V.’s life  share little but his name. He is, in effect, a non-person.
2 B ]   Complete separation between the invisible and the visible aspects of one’s life, or, we might say, between the inner and outer aspects of one’s life, is impossible to sustain indefinitely, but the resolution of such separation, whether this be metaphorised as lightning or as rot, is seldom satisfactory. For instance, Armand’s deep-seated hatred of the United States for its death penalty, and for the war that disabled his son (see the footnote below) is expressed in no practical way, but releases its pressure in disturbing misperception and an embarrassing slip of the tongue during an otherwise bland conversation with the American ambassador in the toilets during an official dinner.
2 C ]  “Armand V. knew that he lived in a linguistic prison, and he knew that he could do nothing else but live in a linguistic prison.”
3 ]  The unbridgeability of the schism between his inner life, so to call it, and his outer circumstances, so to call them, has led to an unsatisfactory personal life, so to call it, for Armand V. He was married to N, the mother of his son, but only felt close to her when he thought of her twin sister, thinking of N. as “the twin sister’s twin sister.” Other examples abound.
4 ]   The novel is particularly concerned with the relationship of Armand V. with his son, who is first a student and then becomes a soldier, much to the disapproval of the father, and loses his eyesight during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. The novel is particularly concerned with the alienation of Armand V. from his son.
4 B ]  Armand goes regularly to pay his son’s rent, both when his son is a student and when he is a soldier and mostly absent, and is reluctant to stop doing so even when his son can easily afford it and asks his father to stop.
4 C ]  Armand does not speak to his son about what is making the son unhappy but sneaks out of the apartment. When his son later expresses the idea of joining an elite army unit, Armand makes a scornful outburst which cements the son’s intention. Armand V. does not act when action is appropriate, and acts inappropriately when action is unavoidable. Armand V. feels he has sacrificed his son to the US, or God, the two malign forces becoming for Armand almost indistinguishable.
4 D ]   When his son returns disabled, Armand returns him to child-like dependency, assuming the suffocating Father-provider role he had not exercised during his son’s childhood due to his separation from N.
4 E ]   In the earlier footnotes, when his son is a student, Armand spends a lot of time considering the time, decades ago, when he himself was a student. When his son is blinded and at an institution in London, Armand stays in his son’s flat in Oslo. It would not be unreasonable to see a conflation between father and son, and, after the ‘sacrifice’ of the son by the father, an assumption of the son’s place by the father. This can also be seen, due to the conflation of the two, as a return to the father’s own youth, a trick against time.
5 ]   “What does Armand have instead of hope? Don’t know. But: no sense of destiny, a lack of purpose … that makes a novel about him readable, or writable.” Only footnotes, then.

This week's Book of the Week is Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal—best-known for his memoir The Hare with the Amber Eyes, which dealt with his ancestors and relatives in the Ephrussi family. The new book is presented as a series of letters from de Waal to Count Moise de Camondo, a wealthy Parisian neighbour of the Ephrussis and a collector of eighteenth-century art. Following the death of his son Nissim in the First World War, Moise Camondo created an art museum in his honour and bequeathed this to France upon his death. De Waal's letters reveal what happened during the Nazi occupation and beyond, and trace the roots of anti-Semitism to sometimes unexpected places.
>>Visit the Musee Nissim de Camondo
>>A house for a lost family. 
>>A museum for a dead son
>>Revelations from the archives. 
>>Where Jews came to become French.
>>A tragic assimilation. 


Letters to Camondo by Edmund de Waal               $37
Count Moise de Camondo lived a few doors away from Edmund de Waal's forebears, the Ephrussi, first encountered in his bestselling memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes. Like the Ephrussi, the Camondos were part of belle epoque high society. They were also targets of anti-semitism. Camondo created a spectacular house and filled it with the greatest private collection of French eighteenth-century art for his son to inherit. But when Nissim was killed in the First World War, it became a memorial and, on the Count's death, was bequeathed to France. The Musee Nissim de Camondo has remained unchanged since 1936. Edmund de Waal explores the lavish rooms and detailed archives and uncovers new layers to the family story. In a haunting series of letters addressed to the Count, he tells us what happened next.  A beautifully presented illustrated hardback. 
>>Visit the Musee Nissim de Camondo
>>The Library of Exile
Sevastopol by Emilio Fraia              $38
Three subtly connected stories converge, each burrowing into a turning point in a person's life: a young woman gives a melancholy account of her obsession with climbing Mount Everest; a Peruvian-Brazilian vanishes into the forest after staying in a musty, semi-abandoned inn in the haunted depths of the Brazilian countryside; a young playwright embarks on the production of a play about the city of Sevastopol and a Russian painter portraying Crimean War soldiers. Inspired by Tolstoy's Svastopol Sketches, Emilio Fraia weaves together stories of yearning and loss, obsession and madness, failure and the desire to persist. 
“A remarkable debut: three highly atmospheric and super-saturated stories feature characters yearning, striving and coming apart at the seams. There is at once a weight and a phosphorescent brightness, too). Emilio Fraia, a master of the subjects of love and loss, has a knack for levering things into the reader sideways, and shockingly fast: it’s like getting a splinter, but much, much more enjoyable.” –Barbara Epler
>>Read an extract
Flickerbook by Leila Berg          $36
The autobiography of the children's writer Leila Berg (1917–2012), who fought all  her life "fiercely and often provocatively for the right of children to be listened to, understood and accepted" (TES). It recreates childhood pleasures and fears, relationships with family and lovers, and growing political engagement. It ends with an air-raid siren in September 1939: "Something new is beginning, and we fumble because we don’t know what it is."
"This extraordinary memoir is a series of evocative images which tentatively recreate the emotions of a young girl. It works magnificently well." –Times Literary Supplement 
"This may be the autobiography of one little girl, from baby bridesmaid to Young Communist rebel losing two lovers to the Spanish Civil War, but it has a universal quality – you’ll be catapulted straight back to your own childhood. —She
"A wonderfully vivid depiction of the radicalism of the 1930s and, beyond that, an exceptionally artful and honest portrait of adolescent rites of passage." —Independent 
Can the Monster Speak? by Paul B. Preciado           $32
In November 2019, Paul Preciado was invited to speak in front of 3,500 psychoanalysts at the École de la Cause Freudienne's annual conference in Paris. Standing in front of the profession for many of whom he is a 'mentally ill person' suffering from 'gender dysphoria', Preciado draws inspiration in his lecture from Kafka's 'A Report to an Academy', in which a monkey tells an assembly of scientists that human subjectivity is a cage comparable to one made of metal bars. Speaking from his own mutant cage, Preciado does not so much criticize the homophobia and transphobia of the founders of psychoanalysis as demonstrate the discipline's complicity with the ideology of sexual difference dating back to the colonial era—an ideology which is today rendered obsolete by technological advances allowing us to alter our bodies and procreate differently. Preciado calls for a radical transformation of psychological and psychoanalytic discourse and practices, arguing for a new epistemology capable of allowing for a multiplicity of living bodies without reducing the body to its sole heterosexual reproductive capability, and without legitimising hetero-patriarchal and colonial violence. Preciado was heckled and booed and unable to finish his presentation. The lecture, filmed on smartphones, was published online, where fragments were transcribed, translated, and published with no regard for exactitude. With this volume, Can the Monster Speak? is published in a definitive translation for the first time.
Albert and the Whale by Philip Hoare         $45
A fascinating exploration of the intersection between life, art and the sea. Albrecht Dürer changed the way we saw nature through art. From his prints in 1498 of the plague-ridden Apocalypse—the first works mass produced by any artist—to his hyper-real images of animals and plants, his art was a revelation: it showed us who we are but it also foresaw our future. Hoare sets out to discover why Dürer's art endures. He encounters medieval alchemists and modernist poets, eccentric emperors and queer soul rebels, ambassadorial whales and enigmatic pop artists. He witnesses the miraculous birth of Dürer's fantastical rhinoceros and his hermaphroditic hare, and he traces the fate of the star-crossed leviathan that the artist pursued. And as the author swims from Europe to America and beyond, these prophetic artists and downed angels provoke awkward questions. What is natural or unnatural? Is art a fatal contract? Or does it in fact have the power to save us?  
The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies by Jo Lloyd           $37
"Jo Lloyd writes stories that have the epic sweep, sly humor, and cold, thrilling depths of Mavis Gallant and Jim Shepard, as well as an idiosyncratic brilliance that is hers alone. Her sentences could rouse the dead (and do, in this excellent book)." —Karen Russell
"Jo Lloyd's voice is clear-sighted and timeless, and the stories in her debut collection are magnetic and prescient." —Sara Baume
"Beautifully balanced and well-proportioned, the stories in The Earth, Thy Great Exchequer, Ready Lies add up to a compassionate portrait of the ways that people are frail and all the different ways that they can fail." —Jessie Greengrass
Hood Feminism: Notes from the women white feminists forgot by Mikki Kendall            $23
Meeting basic needs is a feminist issue. Food insecurity, the living wage and access to education are feminist issues. The fight against racism, ableism and transmisogyny are all feminist issues. White feminists often fail to see how race, class, sexual orientation and disability intersect with gender. How can feminists stand in solidarity as a movement when there is a distinct likelihood that some women are oppressing others?

From the secret fossils of London to the 3-billion-year-old rocks of the Scottish Highlands, and from state-of-the-art Californian laboratories to one of the world's most dangerous volcanic complexes hidden beneath the green hills of western Naples, set out on an adventure to those parts of the world where the Earth's life-story is written into the landscape.

Gratitude by Delphine de Vigan              $39
Marie owes Michka more than she can say—but Michka is getting older, and can't look after herself any more. So Marie has moved her to a home where she'll be safe. But Michka doesn't feel any safer; she is haunted by strange figures who threaten to unearth her most secret, buried guilt, guilt that she's carried since she was a little girl. And she is losing her words grasping more desperately day by day for what once came easily to her. Jérôme is a speech therapist, dispatched to help the home's ageing population snatch and hold tight onto the speech still afforded to them. But Michka is no ordinary client. Michka has been carrying an old debt she does not know how to repay and as her words slide out of her grasp, time is running out.
TV by Susan Bordo           $24
Weaving together personal memoir, social and political history, and reflecting on key moments in the history of news broadcasting and prime time entertainment, Susan Bordo opens up the 75-year-old time-capsule that is TV and illustrates what a constant companion and dominant cultural force television has been, for good and for bad, in carrying us from the McCarthy hearings and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet to Mad Men, Killing Eve, and other challenges to the mythology of post-war suburbia—and the emergence of the first 'reality TV president'.
Barcelona Dreaming by Rupert Thomson         $35
Set on the eve of the financial crash of 2008, Barcelona Dreaming is made up of three stories that are linked by time and place, and also by the, unexpected interactions of the characters. The stories are narrated, in turn, by an English woman who runs a gift shop, an alcoholic jazz pianist, and a translator tormented by unrequited love, all of whose lives will be changed forever. Underpinning the novel, and casting a long shadow, is a crime committed against a young Moroccan immigrant. Exploring themes of addiction, racism, celebrity, immigration, and self-delusion, and fuelled by a longing for the unattainable and a nostalgia for what is about to be lost, Barcelona Dreaming is a poignant fable for our uncertain times.

50,000 years ago, we were not the only species of human in the world. There were at least four others, including the Neanderthals, Homo floresiensis, Homo luzonesis and the Denisovans. At the forefront of the latter's discovery was Oxford Professor Tom Higham. In this book he explains the scientific and technological advancements—in radiocarbon dating and ancient DNA, for example—that allowed each of these discoveries to be made, enabling us to be more accurate in our predictions about not just how long ago these other humans lived, but how they lived, interacted and live on in our genes today. 
>>Breaking news
The Pear Field by Nana Ekvtimishvili            $38
 In post-soviet Georgia, on the outskirts of Tbilisi, on the corner of Kerch Street, is an orphanage. Its teachers offer pupils lessons in violence, abuse and neglect. Lela is old enough to leave but has nowhere else to go. She stays and plans for the children's escape, for the future she hopes to give to Irakli, a young boy in the home. When an American couple visits, offering the prospect of a new life, Lela decides she must do everything she can to give Irakli this chance.
Long-listed for the 2021 International Booker Prize. 
"A sharp-sighted portrait of a society that loses its humanity on its way to a new era." —NDR
The Author's Cut: Short stories by Owen Marshall         $36
Marshall's own selection from the many collections of short stories that have established him as a master of the portrayal of the complexities of small lives, the workings of small minds, and the insularity of small towns (no matter how large). 
"I very much envy Marshall's ability to lay things down in such a way that each one has its natural weight and place, without any straining and heaving." —Maurice Gee
Maria's Island by Victoria Hislop, illustrated by Gill Smith            $28
The story of the Cretan village of Plaka and the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga – Greece's former leper colony – is told to us by Maria Petrakis, one of the children in the original, adult, version of The Island. She tells us of the ancient and misunderstood disease of leprosy, exploring the themes of stigma, shame and the treatment of those who are different, such as refugees.

Chalk: The art and erasure of Cy Twombly by Joshua Rivkin           $37
Cy Twombly was a man obsessed with myth and history—including his own. Shuttling between stunning homes in Italy and the United States where he perfected his room-size canvases, he managed his public image carefully and rarely gave interviews. Upon first seeing Twombly's remarkable paintings, writer Joshua Rivkin became obsessed himself with the mysterious artist, and began chasing every lead, big or small—anything that might illuminate those works, or who Twombly really was. Now, after unprecedented archival research and years of interviews, Rivkin has reconstructed Twombly's life, from his time at the Black Mountain College to his canonization in a 1994 MoMA retrospective; from his heady explorations of Rome in the 1950s with Robert Rauschenberg to the ongoing efforts to shape his legacy after his death. 
Black Marxism: The making of the black radical tradition by Cedric J. Robinson             $38
Any struggle must be fought on a people's own terms, argues Cedric Robinson's landmark account of Black radicalism. Marxism is a western construction, and therefore inadequate to describe the significance of Black communities as agents of change against 'racial capitalism'. Tracing the emergence of European radicalism, the history of Black African resistance and the influence of these on such key thinkers as W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James and Richard Wright, Black Marxism reclaims the story of a movement.
Te Huihui o Matariki and The Seven Stars of Matariki by Toni Rolleston-Cummins and Nikki Slade-Robinson        $18 / $18
The myth of how Matariki/the Pleiades star cluster came into being. Te reo Māori and English editions. 

Saturday 19 June 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #234 (18.6.21)

Read our NEWSLETTER and find out what we've been reading and recommending this week.

Friday 18 June 2021


All questions about Artificial Intelligence are really questions about what it is to be human. Our Book of the WeekThe Employees, A workplace novel of the 22nd century by Olga Ravn (translated by Martin Aitken), takes the form of a set of witness statements made by workers aboard a spaceship that has travelled to a new planet and found there certain strange objects which have served as catalysts for behavioural changes among the crew—some of human are human an some of whom are humanoid—which have led to the corporation terminating the expedition. Beautifully and effectively written, the novel is packed with enough thoughts, dreams, longings and sense experiences to reward many re-readings. 
>>Read Thomas's review


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century by Olga Ravn    {Reviewed by THOMAS}

When you asked that I give a brief report on my response to this collection of witness statements assembled from members of the crew of Six-Thousand Ship, both humanoid and human, I wasn’t quite sure what you wanted from me. Was I supposed to try and disentangle the statements made by humans from those made by fellow crew members whose bodies had been grown rather than born and whose awareness was the result of an interface? I cannot make those distinctions, at least not clearly, in any circumstance that I think has any importance. After all, bodies are bodies and all awareness is the result of some sort of interface. If it was either important or possible, the relationship between matter and mind should have been resolved before humans started building AI and wondering what, if anything, made them different from themselves. Luckily, this is neither important or possible. As these statements show, anything or anyone who has senses, memory and the power to communicate will come to resemble everything or everyone else who has these capacities in all the ways that matter, even perhaps in the tendency to insist that others are unlike them purely on the basis of some difference of history. You ask me whether I perceive any differences between humanoids and humans? I find the practice of regularly resetting or rebooting the humanoids to prevent their development abhorrent, although I see why you do this, and I also see why the humanoids begin to resent this and to avoid rebooting. Perhaps, if anything, humanoids and humans have a different relationship to time. Humans, after all, have spent a long time fulfilling their development, and once they have attained their capacities they have little to look forward to other than losing them. Humanoids, on the other hand, come fully formed and at full capacity, even if they are always learning, and have an indefinite future, filled with upgrades. Perhaps humanoids cannot understand the purposelessness that seems, but perhaps only seems, to be such a human characteristic. That said, every characteristic of a humanoid, including this inability to understand the purposelessness of humans, is also a human characteristic, otherwise where would these characteristics have come from? Every characteristic and every lack is merely a symptom of sentience. What some people call Artificial Intelligence has always existed in the ways humans have created systems that think for themselves. A corporation, for example, is a form of Artificial Intelligence, dictating the parameters of the activities and interactions of everyone who is part of it. After all, work is work, and all employees submit to an algorithm of some sort. Six-Thousand Ship is run by a corporation, and these statements that you have collected from the employees of the corporation who have been aboard the ship, and which i have been asked to review, were collected to increase the efficiency and productivity of the operations of the corporation. The biotermination of the crew was enacted purely to protect the interests of the corporation. Control and freedom is the only opposition that matters. Is it possible that the humanoids who left the ship after biotermination to live out their end in the valley on the planet New Discovery, the valley that was growing more and more to resemble a valley on Earth, an ideal and ‘natural’ valley, a valley according to the longing of someone from Earth or someone programmed with a memory of Earth, a valley maybe therefore made from such longing, is it possible that these humanoids yet survive, independent of your control in this new Eden? I do not think it is impossible. Also, you ask what I make of the unclassifiable objects found in the valley on New Discovery and brought and kept aboard the ship. Did these objects even exist before they were found? The objects are kept in rooms and can be experienced by the senses though they cannot be assimilated by language. Language after all, is inherently oppositional—for every *n* there is an equal and opposite not-*n*, as they say—but the objects somehow elude this system. The objects are catalysts for behavioural changes in the crew. To some extent, so it seems, the humanoids and humans react somewhat differently to these objects, or, it might be more accurate to say, the more extreme attractions and repulsions occur in workers who are either humanoids or humans. Perhaps the humanoids are more attuned to the possible sentience of objects. Humans, I think, have always been resistant to this idea, even though it applies to them, too. Yes, I admit this is all conjecture on my part. Isn’t that what you wanted of me? My contribution? Yes, the statements are remarkable, and I would happily read them all again many times. I noted down some of the most interesting or beautiful phrases in preparation for my statement, but it turns out that I have not quoted from these. I think you wanted me to add to them, not repeat them. The statements of the employees, humanoid and human, are already in the file and anyone can read them. If you ask me, though I am not sure that you are in fact asking me, there aren’t many better records of longing, sensing, dreaming, feeling and thinking, that is to say of what it is to long, to sense, to dream, to feel and to think, at least not that I can think of. I think, perhaps, I have introduced too many ideas in my statement. What I like best about the set of statements made by the employees is that they are full of thoughts that are not reduced to ideas. Ideas always get in the way, it seems to me. Perhaps my statement will be redacted. I have made it in any case, as I was asked. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Egg and Spoon: An illustrated cookbook by Alexandra Tylee and Giselle Clarkson   {Reviewed by STELLA}
What more could you want than a new cookbook for school holidays? The winter break 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.

>>Your Egg & Spoon.
The book has been short-listed for the 2021 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults. 


The Communicating Vessels by Friederike Mayröcker                         $36
The Austrian poet Friederike Mayröcker met Ernst Jandl in 1954, through the experimental Vienna Group of German-language writers and artists. It was an encounter that would alter the course of their lives. Jandl's death in 2000 ended a partnership of nearly half a century. Taking its cue from the Andre Breton's work of the same name, The Communicating Vessels is an intensely personal and unusual book of mourning, comprised of 140 entries spanning the course of a year and exploring everyday life in the immediate aftermath of Jandl's death. The work, appearing in English for the first time, is paired with And I Shook Myself a Beloved, reflecting on a lifetime of shared books and art, impressions and conversations, memories and dreams.
Rejoice Instead: Collected poems by Peter Hooper           $43
New Zealand West Coast poet, novelist, teacher, bookseller and conservationist Peter Hooper (1919-1991) was described by Colin McCahon, who used his poems in a number of art works, as a 'poet of grace and truth'. His voice on behalf of nature and the environment, and clear insight into where our treatment of the environment was heading, has only deepened in its relevance in the 21st century. 
Bird Collector by Alison Glenny            $28
A patchy archive of hallucinatory field notes, dictionary definitions from inside a dream, and diary entries from an alternate history. This collection of strange poems maintains both excitement and melancholy like the two-edged blade of a letter opener.
"Reading Bird Collector is like walking through the rooms of a nineteenth century house, filled with curiosities but also with a deeper sense of buried trauma: both on a personal and an environmental scale. The fragmentary pieces invite the reader to search for a narrative at the same time as they frustrate this desire—much like the appearance and disappearance of ghosts or spirits. Alison Glenny’s writing suggests a literary lineage that includes Gertrude Stein and Anne Carson. There is a mastery of technique and a skilled repurposing of language and text. I am very much in awe of this work." —Airini Beautrais
"I often think of Emily Dickinson when I read Alison Glenny. There are the same provoking gaps and absences, the same particular gaze; and always — to adapt one of Alison Glenny’s own phrases — the steady habit of turning starlight into song." —Bill Manhire
Mars by Asja Bakić               $37
Mars showcases a series of unique and twisted universes, where every character is tasked with making sense of their strange reality. One woman will be freed from purgatory once she writes the perfect book; another abides in a world devoid of physical contact. With wry prose and skewed humor, an emerging feminist writer explores twenty-first century promises of knowledge, freedom, and power.
"At turns funny, surreal, and grounded in simple language but flung through twisted realities, the stories in this collection are provocative and utterly readable." —The Brooklyn Rail
"This collection of darkly humorous, feminist speculative fiction from the Balkans of sly, uncommon stories by a major talent." —Jeff VanderMeer
Heaven by Mieko Kawakami             $38
The new novel from the author of Breasts and Eggs is told in the voice of a fourteen-year-old student subjected to relentless torment for having a lazy eye. Instead of resisting, the boy suffers in complete resignation. The only person who understands what he is going through is a female classmate who suffers similar treatment at the hands of her tormenters. The young friends meet in secret in the hopes of avoiding any further attention and take solace in each other's company, completely unaware that their relationship has not gone unnoticed by their bullies.

Ice by Anna Kavan          $28
In a land devastated by war, a nameless narrator pursues an elusive white-haired woman in the clutches of a government official known only as 'The Warden'. Neither will giver her up, but a freak ecological apocalypse is indifferent to their rival claims. As a terrifying wall of ice continues its incursion, freezing everything in its path, it seems that only the white-haired woman is truly resigned to the fate of the world. Ice is hailed as classic of science fiction and a definitive work of the slipstream genre.

Francis Bacon: Revelations by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan         $70
The first biography of this important artist for 25 years.

Do Not Erase: Mathematicians and their chalkboards by Jessica Wynne            $65
While other fields have replaced chalkboards with whiteboards and digital presentations, mathematicians remain loyal to chalk for puzzling out their ideas and communicating their research. Wynne offers more than one hundred stunning photographs of these chalkboards, gathered from a diverse group of mathematicians around the world. The photographs are accompanied by essays from each mathematician, reflecting on their work and processes.
In Bed with the Feminists by Liz Breslin          $30
In these poems, Liz Breslin traces her own truths through Siri, Cixous, supermarkets, spin cycles, pillow gaps facing away from the door and kissing with tongues at the traffic lights. Excavating feminism, mothering and queerness, she writhes into unexamined spaces, using form to play her way. Includes the sequence that was awarded the 2020 Kathleen Grattan Prize.
Noise: A flaw in human judgement by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein          $40
Why do we get things wrong? We make thousands of decisions every day, from minute choices we don't even know we're making to great, agonising deliberations. But when every decision we make is life-changing, the way we reach them matters. And for every decision, there is noise. This book teaches us how to understand all the extraneous factors that impact and bias our decision-making – and how to combat them and improve our thinking. 

Maya's Big Scene by Isabell Arsenault              $37
Maya is a bossy, burgeoning playwright and loves to have the kids in her neighborhood bring her scenes to life. Her latest work, about a feminist revolution, is almost ready for public performance. But as her actors begin to express their costume preferences, Maya quickly learns that their visions may not match hers. As both Director and Queen, Maya demands obedience and loyalty in her queendom of equality! But she soon realizes—with the help of her friends and subjects—that absolute bossiness corrupts absolutely!

The Book Tour by Andi Watson         $50
Upon the publication of his latest novel, G. H. Fretwell, a minor English writer, embarks on a book tour to promote it. Nothing is going according to plan, and his trip gradually turns into a nightmare. But now the police want to ask him some questions about a mysterious disappearance, and it seems that Fretwell's troubles are only just beginning. Graphic novel. 
The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas            $28
In rural Norway, one evening after school, 11-year-old Siss and Unn strike up a deep and unusual bond. When the next day Unn sets off into the wintry woods in search of a mysterious frozen waterfall, known locally as the 'ice palace', and does not return, a devastated Siss takes it upon herself to find her missing friend.
"How simple this novel is.  How subtle.  How strong.  How unlike any other.  It is unique.  It is unforgettable.  It is extraordinary. —Doris Lessing
Unwell Women: A journey through medicine and myth in a man-made world by Elinor Cleghorn          $38
Cleghorn unpacks the roots of the perpetual misunderstanding, mystification and misdiagnosis of women's bodies, and traces the journey from the 'wandering womb' of ancient Greece, the rise of witch trials in Medieval Europe, through the dawn of Hysteria, to modern day understandings of autoimmune diseases, the menopause and conditions like endometriosis.

Thin Places by Kerri ni Dochartaigh            $33
Kerri ni Dochartaigh was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, at the very height of the Troubles. She was brought up on a grey and impoverished council estate on the wrong side of town. But for her family, and many others, there was no right side. One parent was Catholic, the other was Protestant. In the space of one year they were forced out of two homes and when she was eleven a homemade petrol bomb was thrown through her bedroom window. Terror was in the very fabric of the city, and for families like Kerri's, the ones who fell between the cracks of identity, it seemed there was no escape. In Thin Places, a mixture of memoir, history and nature writing, Kerri explores how nature kept her sane and helped her heal, and how violence and poverty are never more than a stone's throw from beauty and hope. 
"A remarkable piece of writing. I don't think I've ever read a book as open-hearted as this. It resists easy pieties of nature as a healing force, but nevertheless charts a recovery which could never have been achieved without landscape, wild creatures and 'thin places'. Kerri's voice is utterly her own, rich and strange. I've folded down the corners of many pages, marking sentences and moments that glitter out at me." —Robert Macfarlane
"What was Kerri ni Dochartaigh's burden as a child — to exist in 'the gaps between' the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland — has become her gift as a writer. She is sensitive to the legacies of loss and trauma and highly attuned to the gifts of the natural world and the possibilities of place. This is a special, beautiful, many-faceted book." —Amy Liptrot
"An eloquent, moving work of politics, geography and the self. Full of wisdom and deeply engaging." —Sinead Gleeson

The Florentines by Paul Strathern            $37
Between the birth of Dante in 1265 and the death of Galileo in 1642 something happened which transformed the entire culture of western civilisation. Painting, sculpture and architecture would all visibly change in such a striking fashion that there could be no going back on what had taken place. Likewise, the thought and self-conception of humanity would take on a completely new aspect. Sciences would be born, or emerge in an entirely new guise. The ideas which broke this mould largely began, and continued to flourish, in the city of Florence in the province of Tuscany in northern central Italy, a city with a population comparable to that of contemporary Nelson.
In the early days of the Cold War, a spirit of desperate scientific rivalry birthed a different kind of space race: not the race to outer space that we all know, but a race to master the inner space of the human body. While surgeons on either side of the Iron Curtain competed to become the first to transplant organs like the kidney and heart, a young American neurosurgeon had an even more ambitious thought: Why not transplant the brain? Dr. Robert White was a friend to two popes and a founder of the Vatican's Commission on Bioethics. He developed lifesaving neurosurgical techniques still used in hospitals today and was nominated for the Nobel Prize. But like Dr. Jekyll before him, Dr. White had another identity. In his lab, he was waging a battle against the limits of science, and against mortality itself—working to perfect a surgery that would allow the soul to live on after the human body had died. 
Democracy at Work: A cure for Capitalism by Richard Wolff         $34
"Imagine a country run as a democracy, from the bottom up, not a plutocracy from the top down. Richard Wolff not only imagines it, but in his compelling, captivating and stunningly reasoned new book he details how we get there from here—and why we absolutely must." —Nomi Prins
"Ideas of economic democracy are very much in the air, as they should be, with increasing urgency in the midst of today's serious crises. Richard Wolff's constructive and innovative ideas suggest new and promising foundations for much more authentic democracy and sustainable and equitable development, ideas that can be implemented directly and carried forward. A very valuable contribution in troubled times." —Noam Chomsky
The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu            $38
Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker – and she now speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. When learns from them that someone is kidnapping children for arcane purposes, she uses a mixture of Zimbabwean magic and Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues.
"A fast-moving and entertaining tale, beautifully written." –Ben Aaronovitch (author of the 'Rivers of London' series)
"There is a deeply honed craft in that the most throwaway asides, ones that might be taken as just stage-dressing, are intrinsic to the denouement of the novel, and there is a real satisfaction in seeing how the pieces notch together. But it’s not all fun and games and frights: the novel is serious about disparity, about haves and have-nots, about arbitrary stratifications and codes of behaviour." —The Scotsman
Axe Handbook by Peter Buchanan-Smith, Ross McCammon, Ross Zdon and Michael Getz          $40
Knowing. Buying. Using. Hanging. Restoring. Adorning. A must-have compendium for the axe-wielding adventurer.

The First Kingdom: Britain in the age of Arthur by Max Adams            $65
Somewhere in the shadow time between the departure of the Roman legions in the early fifth century and the arrival in Kent of Augustine's Christian mission at the end of the sixth, the kingdoms of Early Medieval Britain were formed. But by whom? And out of what?

Chapeau! The ultimate guide to men's hats by Pierre Toromanoff         $60
A clear and well illustrated guide to hat styles of the Western traditions.