Saturday 26 February 2022


BOOKS @ VOLUME #267 (25.2.22)

Read our latest NEWSLETTER and find out what you'll be reading next!


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Block by Ben Oliver   {Reviewed by STELLA}
You can run, you can hide, but eventually Happy will find you. Luka and his friends made it out of The Loop in book one of this trilogy to join an uprising — a revolution of the Regulars against the Alts and Galen Rye’s plans. Yet Luka’s freedom was short-lived and now he’s imprisoned again — you can’t always escape super soldiers no matter how determined you are — this time in The Block. If you thought The Loop was repressive, it’s a walk in the park compared with Luka Kane’s new residence. Hours paralysed on a bed, only to be awoken for energy harvesting and mind games are taking a toll on Luka’s sanity and his desire to find The Missing is a distant dream. So is the chance he’ll ever see his friends again, in particular Kina. Yet the unthinkable happens and he finds someone he can outwit — someone who empathises — just in time for a daring rescue. Although is this just another simulation from Happy? Is it real? Well, it turns out that it is, and once again Luka is in hiding and trying to find a way to avoid the wave of destruction that is bearing down on him, and those that don’t wish to be absorbed into the new world dictated to them by a corrupt, and possibly insane, entity. There are more daring explorations in the ruined city, a hiding place through a maze of underground tunnels, and a new plan to find The Missing while avoiding the increasing surveillance of Happy. Drones are everywhere (only one is a friend), as are Alt soldiers, and the AI, Happy, is up to something sinister at the Arc. Luka finds himself propelled into taking things into his own hands, even though it means he will need to abandon his friends again. To save them, he must go his own way and Tyco — his nemesis — has turned up again. stronger and more dangerous. Can Luka keep his promise to Kina? Can he find his sister, Molly, and what is the strange place called Purgatory? The second book in this trilogy is just as action-packed and fast-paced as The Loop, with plenty of emotional heft and some humour to temper the more gruesome moments and weighty themes. No surprise the second book ends on a cliffhanger! Roll on the third.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff)  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
If a thought is thought it must be thought through to its end. This formula is productive both of great misery and of great literature, but, for most people, either consequence is fairly easily avoided through a simple lack of tenacity or focus, or through fear. Unfortunately, we are not all so easily saved from ourselves by such shortcomings. The narrator of Ariana Harwicz’s razor-fine novel Die, My Love finds herself living in the French countryside with a husband and young child, incapable of feeling anything other than displaced in every aspect of her life, both trapped by and excluded from the circumstances that have come to define her. She both longs for and is revolted by family life with her husband and child, the violence of her ambivalences make her incapable of either accepting or changing a situation about which there is nothing ostensibly wrong, she withdraws into herself, and, as the gap separating herself from the rest of existence widens, her attempts to bridge it become both more desperate and more doomed, further widening the gap. Every detail of everything around her causes her pain and harms her ability to feel anything other than the opposite of the way she feels she should feel. This negative electrostatic charge, so to call it, builds and builds but she is unable to discharge it, to return her situation to ‘normal’, to relieve the torment. In some ways, the support and love of her husband make it harder to regain a grip on ‘reality’ — if her husband had been a monster, her battles could have been played out in their home rather than inside her (it is for this reason, perhaps, that people subconsciously choose partners who will justify the negative feelings towards which they are inclined). The narrator feels more affinity with animals than with humans, she behaves erratically or not at all, she becomes obsessed with a neighbour but the encounters with him that she describes, and the moments of self-obliterative release they provide, are, I would say, entirely fantasised. Between these fantasies and ‘objective reality’, however, falls a wide area about which we and she must remain uncertain whether her perceptions, understandings and reactions are accurate or appropriate. At times the narrator’s love for her child creates small oases of anxiety in her depression, but these become rarer. Harwicz’s writing is both sensitive and brutal, both lucid and claustrophobic, her observations both subtle and overwhelming. As the narrator loses her footing, the writer ensures that we are borne with her on through the novel, an experience not dissimilar to gathering speed downhill in a runaway pram*. 
*Not a spoiler.
>>Harwicz continues her 'Involuntary Trilogy' project in Feebleminded and Tender

Friday 25 February 2022

Our Book of the Week is The Magician by Colm Tóibín         
Tóibín brings his immense sympathies and verbal prowess to bear upon the life of Thomas Mann, a writer forced to cope with the turmoil of both public and private life because of war, exile and suicide. Mann's re-evaluation of his relationship to his homeland and his family underlies his novels, and Tóibín reveals the many layers and contradictions of a complex genius. 
>>Read Stella's review
>>Inside the mind of Thomas Mann
>>At the Thomas Mann House
>>What's the story?
>>"Stop this nonsense!"
>>"I grew up in a society where homosexuality was unmentioned.
>>Shortlisted for the 2022 Rathbones Folio Prize
>>Your copy


Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au             $30
A mother and daughter travel from abroad to meet in Tokyo: they walk along the canals through the autumn evenings, escape the typhoon rains, share meals in small cafes and restaurants, and visit galleries to see some of the city's most radical modern art. All the while, they talk: about the weather, horoscopes, clothes, and objects, about family, distance, and memory. But uncertainties abound. Who is really speaking here—is it only the daughter? And what is the real reason behind this elliptical, perhaps even spectral journey?
Winner of the 2021 Novel Prize.
"Au’s is a book of deceptive simplicity, weaving profound questions of identity and ontology into the fabric of quotidian banality. What matters, the novel reassures us, is constantly imbricated with the everyday, just as alienation and tender care can coexist in the same moment." —Claire Messud
The Surgeon's Brain by Oscar Upperton           $25
I can be of use beyond myself. There is no question
of my right to board a ship, or take a room.
It is as though I were a ghost and I have now been given form.
Dr James Barry was many things. He was a pistol-toting dueller, an irascible grudge-holder, a vegetarian, an obsessive cleaner – and a brilliant, humane military surgeon who served throughout the British empire, travelled the world with a small menagerie of animals, and advocated for public health reform. Barry was also a transgender man living in the Victorian era, a time when the term ‘transgender’ was unknown in Western thought. The poems of The Surgeon’s Brain imagine Barry’s inner worlds and the historical and social pressures that he resisted. As this story unfolds and begins to fragment, it speaks to both our past and future ghosts.
"Upperton has a way of linking the urgency of poetry to the urgency of being human." —Piet Nieuwland, Landfall
RNZ interview. 
The Flying Mountain by Christoph Ransmayr (translated by Simon Pare)             $30
The story of two brothers who leave the southwest coast of Ireland on an expedition to Transhimalaya, the land of Kham, and the mountains of eastern Tibet—looking for an untamed, unnamed mountain that represents perhaps the last blank spot on the map. As they advance toward their goal, the brothers find their past, and their rivalry, inescapable, inflecting every encounter and decision as they are drawn farther and farther from the world they once knew. ​Only one of the brothers will return. Transformed by his loss, he starts life anew, attempting to understand the mystery of love, yet another quest that may prove impossible. This remarkable novel, written in blank verse, was long-listed for the 2018 Booker International Prize. 
Vā: Stories by women of the Moana edited by Lani Wendt Young and Sisilia Eteuati          $42
50 stories from Cook Island, Chamorro, Erub Island (Torres Strait), Fijian, Hawaiian, Māori, Ni-Vanuatu, Papua New Guinean, Rotuman, Samoan and Tongan writers. Never before have so many Moana women writers gathered together to share their stories. Contributors: Amy Tielu, Arihia Latham, Ashlee Sturme, Audrey Teuki Brown Pereira, Caroline Matamua, Cassie Hart, Courtney Leigh Sit-Kam Malasi Thierry, Dahlia Malaeulu, Denise Carter Bennett, Emmaline Pickering Martin, Filifotu Vaai, Gina Cole, Isabella Naiduki, Karlo Mila, Kiri Piahana-Wong, Lani Wendt Young, Laura Toailoa, Lauren Keenan, Lehua Parker, Lily Ann Eteuati, Mere Taito, Momoe Malietoa Von Reiche, Nadine Anne Hura, Nafanua PK, Nichole Brown, Nicki Perese, Niusila Faamanatu-Eteuati, Ria Masae, Rebecca Tobo Olul-Hossen, Salote Timuiapaepatele Vaai Siaosi, Shirley Simmonds, Sisilia Eteuati, Stacey Kokaua, Steph Matuku, Sylvia Nakachi, Tanya Kang Chargualaf, Tulia Thompson, Vanessa Collins.
Museum by Frances Samuel                $25
For many years, poet Frances Samuel worked at a museum, writing the text for exhibitions. In her new book she redefines the notion of a museum, making it infinite and wild. Like freewheeling thought experiments, Samuel’s poems blur the lines between material and immaterial, natural and supernatural, to funny and surreal effect. Objects of significance include water bears and tornadoes, ancient penguins and robots, and a paper-cut skeleton that walks off the page. In this book, a museum is the air itself, and the idea that everything we love survives. The result is continually surprising, intimate and imaginative.
"Frances Samuel's Museum is full of wonders. It's a storehouse of words, objects, feelings – at once strange and marvellous." —Jenny Bornholdt
Palace of the Peacock by Wilson Harris            $23
A crew of men are embarking on a voyage up a turbulent river through the rainforests of Guyana. Their domineering leader, Donne, is the spirit of a conquistador, obsessed with hunting for a mysterious woman and exploiting indigenous people as plantation labour. But their expedition is plagued by tragedies, haunted by drowned ghosts: spectres of the crew themselves, inhabiting a blurred shadowland between life and death. As their journey into the interior - their own hearts of darkness - deepens, it assumes a spiritual dimension, guiding them towards a new destination: the Palace of the Peacock. A modernist fever dream; prose poem; modern myth; elegy to victims of colonial conquest: Wilson Harris's novel has defied definition for over sixty years, and is reissued for a new generation of readers.
"The Guyanese William Blake." Angela Carter
"One of the great originals. Visionary. Dazzlingly illuminating." —Guardian
The Last One by Fatima Daas (translated by Lara Vergnaud)            $33
The youngest daughter of Algerian immigrants, Fatima Daas is raised in a home where love and sexuality are considered taboo and signs of affection avoided. Living in the majority-Muslim Clichy-sous-Bois, she often spends more than three hours a day on public transport to and from the city, where she feels like a tourist observing Parisian manners. She goes from unstable student to maladjusted adult, doing four years of therapy — her longest relationship. But as she gains distance from her family and comes into her own, she grapples more directly with her attraction to women and how it fits with her religion, which she continues to practice. When Nina comes into her life, she doesn't know exactly what she needs but feels that something crucial has been missing.
"Hypnotising and lyrical." —Guardian
Tender by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Annie McDermott and Carolina Orloff)             $33
The third and final book in Ariana Harwicz's loose 'Involuntary Trilogy' finds us on familiar, disquieting ground. Under the spell of a mother's madness, the French countryside transforms into a dreamscape of interconnected imagery: animals, desire, the functions of the body. Most troublingly: the comfort of a teenage son. Scorning the bourgeois mores and conventionality of their small town, she withdraws him from school and the two embark on ever more antisocial and dangerous behavior. Harwicz is at her best here, building an interior world so robust, and so grotesque, that it eclipses our shared reality. 
The Book of Nonexistent Words by Stefano Massini (translated by Richard Dixon)                        $43
Words are meant to be invented. In this fascinating illustrated book, Massini traces the 'origin stories' of words he himself has invented back to real people and events. Recommended. 
"Massini is the real thing. His writing is smart, electric, light on its feet." —New York Times
Twelve Caesars: Images of power from the Ancient world to the modern by Mary Beard              $55
This well-illustrated book examines how images of Roman autocrats have influenced art, culture, and the representation of power for more than 2,000 years   What does the face of power look like? Who gets commemorated in art and why? And how do we react to statues of politicians we deplore? In this book—against a background of today's "sculpture wars"—Mary Beard tells the story of how for more than two millennia portraits of the rich, powerful, and famous in the western world have been shaped by the image of Roman emperors, especially the "Twelve Caesars," from the ruthless Julius Caesar to the fly-torturing Domitian. 
Index, A history of the by Dennis Duncan               $50
Most of us give little thought to the back of the book - it's just where you go to look things up. But here, hiding in plain sight, is an unlikely realm of ambition and obsession, sparring and politicking, pleasure and play. Here we might find Butchers, to be avoided, or Cows that sh-te Fire, or even catch Calvin in his chamber with a Nonne. This is the secret world of the index- an unsung but extraordinary everyday tool, with an illustrious but little-known past. Here, for the first time, its story is told. Charting its curious path from the monasteries and universities of thirteenth-century Europe to Silicon Valley in the twenty-first, Dennis Duncan reveals how the index has saved heretics from the stake, kept politicians from high office and made us all into the readers we are today. We follow it through German print shops and Enlightenment coffee houses, novelists' living rooms and university laboratories, encountering emperors and popes, philosophers and prime ministers, poets, librarians and - of course - indexers along the way. Revealing its vast role in our evolving literary and intellectual culture, Duncan shows that, for all our anxieties about the Age of Search, we are all index-rakers at heart, and we have been for eight hundred years.
The Labyrinth by Simon Stålenhag           $60
Stålenhag's lush painterly visual storytelling make his books memorably —and hauntingly — immersive. A world covered by ruins and ash, the remnants of an otherworldly phenomenon that has ravaged the earth's atmosphere and forced the few survivors deep underground. Matt, Sigrid and Charlie leave the safe harbour of the enclave for an expedition onto the wastelands of the surface world. During their journey they are forced to confront dark secrets from the time before civilisation's fall.
>>Something like this
>>The world according to Simon Stalenhag
Books: Art, craft and community by Simon Goode and Ira Yonemura      $65
A survey of papermakers, printers, bookbinders, artists, designers, and publishers from around the world, who use traditional skills, art and experimentation to make books. With over 30 profiles, spanning traditional craftspeople to modern makers reimagining the book for new audiences, and contributions from experts, we are given an insight into the history and contemporary context of the processes behind the books. Nicely presented. 

The Free World: Art and ideas in the Cold War by Louis Menand            $70

Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind. How did elitism and an anti-totalitarian skepticism of passion and ideology give way to a new sensibility defined by freewheeling experimentation and loving the Beatles? How was the ideal of "freedom" applied to causes that ranged from anti-communism and civil rights to radical acts of self-creation via art and even crime? Menand takes us inside Hannah Arendt's Manhattan, the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Merce Cunningham and John Cage's residencies at North Carolina's Black Mountain College, and the Memphis studio where Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created a new music for the American teenager. He examines the post war vogue for French existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism, the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art, Allen Ginsberg's friendship with Lionel Trilling, James Baldwin's transformation into a Civil Rights spokesman, Susan Sontag's challenges to the New York Intellectuals, the defeat of obscenity laws, and the rise of the New Hollywood.

For the Good of the World: Is global agreement on global challenges possible? by A.C. Grayling             $37
Can we human beings agree on a set of values which will allow us to confront the numerous threats that we and our planet face? Or will we continue our disagreements, rivalries and antipathies, even as we collectively approach what, in the not impossible extreme, might be extinction? To answer these questions, A. C. Grayling considers the three most pressing challenges facing the world- climate change, technology and justice, acknowledging that there is no worldwide set of values that can be invoked to underwrite agreements about what to do and not do in the interests of humanity and the planet in all these respects. If there is to be a chance of finding ways to generate universal agreement on how the world's various problems are to be confronted at least managed, if not solved the underlying question of values (together with the problem of relativism) has to be addressed. One part of the answer may lie in toleration and convivencia — the basis of coexistence among Muslims, Jews and Christians in the Iberian peninsula between the ninth and fifteenth centuries CE.

The Struggle for India's Soul: Nationalism and the fate of democracy by Shashi Tharoor             $35
Tharoor, the author of Inglorious Empire, explores hotly contested notions of nationalism, patriotism, citizenship and belonging. Two opposing ideas of India have emerged: ethno-religious nationalism, versus civic nationalism. This struggle for India's soul now threatens to hollow out and destroy the remarkable concepts bestowed upon the nation at Independence: pluralism, secularism, inclusive nationhood. The Constitution is under siege; institutions are being undermined; mythical pasts propagated; universities assailed; minorities demonised, and worse.
>>In the news today. 
Major Labels: A history of popular music in seven genres — Rock, R&B, Country, Punk, Hip-Hop, Dance, Pop by Kelefa Sanneh            $45
From his own adolescence, when his allegiance was to punk rock, to his work as one of the essential voices of our time on music and culture at the New York Times and the New Yorker, Kelefa Sanneh has made a deep study of how our popular music unites and divides us, the tribes it forms, and how its genres, shape-shifting across the years, give us a way to track larger forces and concerns. Sanneh debunks cherished myths, reappraises beloved heroes, and upends familiar ideas of musical greatness, arguing that sometimes, the best popular music isn't transcendent: it expresses our grudges as well as our hopes, and it is motivated by greed as well as inspiration. Throughout, race is a powerful touchstone: just as there's always been a 'Black' audience and a 'white' audience, with more or less overlap depending on the moment, there is Black music and white music (and some very white music), and a whole lot of confusing of the issue, if not to say expropriation.
The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers          35
A novel exploring the history of an African-American family in the American South, from the time before the Civil War and slavery, through the Civil Rights movement, to the present. 
"This sweeping, brilliant and beautiful narrative is at once a love song to Black girlhood, family, history, joy, pain, and so much more. In Jeffers's deft hands, the story of race and love in America becomes the great American novel." —Jacqueline Woodson
Gathering Moss: A natural and cultural history of mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer            $26
Drawing on her experiences as a scientist, a mother, and a Native American, Kimmerer explains the stories of mosses in scientific terms as well as in the framework of indigenous ways of knowing. In her book, the natural history and cultural relationships of mosses become a powerful metaphor for ways of living in the world. From the author of Braiding Sweetgrass
In 2013 Kate Greene moved to Mars. On NASA's first HI-SEAS simulated Mars mission in Hawaii, she lived for four months in an isolated geodesic dome with her crewmates, gaining incredible insight into human behaviour in tight quarters, as well as the nature of boredom, dreams and isolation that arise amidst the promise of scientific progress and glory. Greene draws on her experience to contemplate what makes an astronaut, the challenges of freeze-dried eggs and time-lagged correspondence, the cost of shooting for a Planet B. The result is a story of space and life, of the slippage between dreams and reality, of bodies in space, and of humanity's incredible impulse to explore. From trying out life on Mars, Greene examines what it is to live on Earth.
Sweat: A history of exercise by Bill Hayes           $33
Hayes runs, jogs, swims, spins, walks, bikes, boxes, lifts, sweats, and downward-dogs his way through the origins of different forms of exercise, chronicling how they have evolved over time, dissecting the dynamics of human movement.   Hippocrates, Plato, Galen, Susan B. Anthony, Jack LaLanne, and Jane Fonda, among many others, make appearances in Sweat, but chief among the historical figures is Girolamo Mercuriale, a Renaissance-era Italian physician who aimed singlehandedly to revive the ancient Greek "art of exercising" through his 1569 book De arte gymnastica. Though largely forgotten over the past five centuries, Mercuriale and his illustrated treatise were pioneering, and are brought back to life in the pages of Sweat. Hayes ties his own personal experience to the cultural and scientific history of exercise, from ancient times to the present day, giving us a new way to understand its place in our lives in the 21st century.
The Best American Poetry, 2021 edited by Tracy K. Smith and David Lehman         $38
Since 1988, 'The Best American Poetry' series has been "one of the mainstays of the poetry publication world" (Academy of American Poets).

Saturday 12 February 2022


BOOKS@VOLUME #266 (11.2.22)

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>> Read all Stella's reviews.


A Good Winter by Gigi Fenster     {Reviewed by STELLA}
Olga’s helping Lara. They are both looking after the baby because Sophie needs them. Lara and Olga are neighbours. They live in the same building. Sophie, Lara’s daughter, is having a tough time with the new baby. Her husband died six months before their child’s birth. Lara puts her life on hold so she can step in to care for her daughter and new grandchild. Thankfully, there is Olga, so sensible and dependable. Olga, who can come at a moment's notice and is a wonderful support for them all, especially Lara. Gigi Fenster, in A Good Winter, convincingly, and without pause, keeps us in the grips of Olga’s mind and perspective. The novel is Olga’s story — her telling. Through her actions and encounters alone we ‘know’ Lara and her family. As the winter progresses, the two women build their routine, a routine that Olga makes happen, making small adjustments in her previous daily structure, unbeknown to Lara. Olga sees her relationship with Lara as special, unlike the other friends, and her obsession with Lara builds as Winter progresses into Spring. They have their special films, their cafe and funny shared phrases. Olga is enamoured with Lara: she’s the only one who understands. As Sophie improves and her depression ebbs, Olga’s behaviour becomes more erratic and her jealousies simmer just under the edge of her reasonable veneer. Being in Olga’s head is never an easy place, but Fenster keeps us engaged in this discomfort, taking us to parts of Olga’s childhood that are almost out of bounds, that Olga attempts to repress; keeping the monologue tight, and striking an almost humorous note with Olga’s judgemental observations. This is a story of an unsettled mind, of tragedy and abandon, one which is riveting and thrilling, one which doesn’t shy from a building sense of alarm while also gently taking us along, allowing us glimpses into Olga’s past, her desires and sadness. The pace is pitch-perfect, the language, with its cleverly constructed conversations and staccato memory snippets, successfully reflects a troubled mind. As these images, Olga’s memories, some true; others constructed, coalesce on the page and build in the reader’s mind, it becomes increasingly likely that this woman’s obsession with Lara and her deep-seated delusions won't be repressed indefinitely. Olga’s betrayals that she carries deep in the pit of herself are screaming to be released. But what will be the trigger that unpicks the carefully constructed blanket? The new young female tenant who doesn’t know the ‘rules’? Sophie’s terribly selfish trashy friend? The new boyfriend? Or something or someone closer to home?  Fenster manages to bring a lightness and freshness to a fraught topic and Olga is completely convincing. A Good Winter was awarded the 2020 Gifkin Prize and is longlisted for this year's Acorn Prize. Highly accomplished, this is a sensational piece of writing about betrayal, the harm of a childhood misunderstood, a life desiring purpose and acknowledgement, and ultimately, the story of a woman undone.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Aug 9—Fog by Kathryn Scanlan   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
At what point does literature begin, he wondered, if there is such a thing as literature and if it does at some point begin. Is it not after all the case, he wondered, that we are assailed at all times and in all circumstances by an unbearable infinitude of details that we must somehow resist or ignore or numb ourselves to almost entirely if we are to bear them, we can only be aware of anything the smallest proportion of things and stay alive or stay sane or stay functioning, he thought, we must tell ourselves a very simple story indeed if we are to have any chance of functioning, we must shut out everything else, we must only notice what we look for, what our story lets us look for, he thought, the froth now frothing in his brain, or rather in his mind, our stories blot stuff out so that we can live, at least a little longer. We are so easily overwhelmed and in the end we are all overwhelmed, the details get us in the end, but until then we cling to our limitations, to the limitations that make the unbearable very slightly bearable, if we are lucky. All thought is deletion. The stories that we think with, he thought, are not possible without an ongoing act of swingeing exclusion, thought is an act of exclusion. What would we put in a diary? What would we put in an essay? What would we put in a novel? If we boil it all down how far can we boil it all down? We find ourselves alive, the details of our life assail us, eventually overwhelm us and destroy us. That’s our story. We die of one detail too many, but if it wasn’t that detail that finished us off it would be another, they are lining up, pressing in, abrading us. Can we resist what we understand, he wondered, to the extent that we even understand it? Is art just this form of resistance? At what point does literature begin, if there is such a thing as literature and if it does at some point begin? Is there something in our life that resists exclusion, something that when the boiling down is done is not boiled completely down? Can we move beyond simplification to a countersimplification, he wondered, and what could this even mean? If Kathryn Scanlan found a stranger’s diary at an auction and she read this diary so often that she felt she almost was its eighty-six-year-old author, if a diary’s keeper is an author, she too became the dairy’s keeper, certainly, at least in some sense, and then if she further edited this dead woman’s year, this dead woman’s words, though the woman was not yet dead, obviously, in the year that she kept the diary, when she was the diary’s keeper, not quite yet dead, whose work do we have in Aug 9—Fog, the boiled down boiled down again, this rendering, this literature, we could call it, rendered from life, here in a two-step rendering process? That is no place for a question mark, he thought. The story of the year is a story of death plucking at an old woman’s life, she loses her husband, her health, her spirits, so to call them, a strange term. The details of her life are the ways in which what she loves is torn away but also these details, often even the same details, are the ways in which this tearing away is resisted, he thought, these details are the ways in which what is loved may be clutched, in which what is loved is saved even while it is borne away. “Turning cooler in eve. We had smoked sausages, fried potatoes & onions. Dr. says it’s a general breaking up of his body. I am bringing in some flowers.” Every very ordinary life, and this is nothing but a very ordinary life, he thought, no life, after all, is anything but a very ordinary life, every very ordinary life is caught in the blast of details that will destroy it but or and these are the very details that enable a resistance to this blast, through literature perhaps, so to call it, resistance is poetry, he thought, an offence against time, a plot against unavoidable loss. We resist time and succeed only when we fail. “Every where glare of ice. We didn’t sleep too good. My pep has left me.”

Friday 11 February 2022


Book of the Week. Opium? Caffeine? Mescaline? Michael Pollan explores the ways in which humans use the psychoactive potentials of plants — and these plants' historically formative effect on human culture — in This Is Your Mind on Plants
>>Changing the way we see the world
>>The intoxicating garden
>>Psychedelics and mental issues
>>Ego, death and plants.


Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josphine Giles             $28
At last: a science fiction novel written in Orkney dialect verse! (there are translations at the foot of the pages but you soon won't need them). 
Astrid is returning home from art school on Mars, looking for inspiration. Darling is fleeing a life that never fit, searching for somewhere to hide. They meet on Deep Wheel Orcadia, a distant space station struggling for survival as the pace of change threatens to leave the community behind. The first full-length book published in the Orkney language for half a century.
The Tale of the Tiny Man by Barbro Lindgren and Eva Eriksson            $30
There was once a tiny man. One day, at the first sign of spring, he decided to pin a note to a tree that said FRIEND WANTED. Then he sat down on the step to wait. After ten days, he woke to find a cold nose in his hand. Beside him was a big dog with a beautiful curve in its tail. The tiny man had made a friend at last. They play and walk and laugh every day. But then the girl in the polka dot dress comes to the step. The little man watches as the dog put his soft muzzle into the girl's hand and worries that he has lost his only friend. The Tale of the Tiny Man is a touching picture book about loneliness that has a very happy ending. It is possible after all to have more than one friend!
The Life of the Mind by Christine Smallwood            $33
A novel about endings: of youth, of professional aspiration, of possibility, of the illusion that our minds can ever free us from the tyranny of our bodies. Smallwood's novel inhabits the abyss between what we think about and what we actually do.
"Christine Smallwood’s novel inhabits the abyss between what we think about and what we actually do. Smallwood’s casually agonized and abundantly satisfying novel, provides the exact sort of thrill that can be found only through obsessive overthinking. Why live in the moment when you can dissect it like this?" —The New Yorker
"Smallwood’s novel reminds us is that the body is the only thing tethering us to the world," —Bookforum
The Wild Fox of Yemen by Threa Almontaser         $25
Almontaser's asks how mistranslation can be a form of self-knowledge and survival. A love letter to the country and people of Yemen, a portrait of young Muslim womanhood in New York after 9/11, and an extraordinarily composed examination of what it means to carry in the body the echoes of what came before, Almontaser sneaks artefacts to and from worlds, repurposing language and adapting to the space between cultures. Speakers move with the force of what cannot be contained by the limits of the Western imagination; instead, they invest in troublemaking and trickery, navigate imperial violence across multiple accents and anthems, and apply gang signs in henna, utilising any means necessary to form a semblance of home.
Burntcoat by Sarah Hall               $33
In the bedroom above her immense studio at Burntcoat, the celebrated sculptor Edith Harkness is making her final preparations. The symptoms are well known: her life will draw to an end in the coming days. Downstairs, the studio is a crucible glowing with memories and desire. It was here, when the first lockdown came, that she brought Halit. The lover she barely knew. A presence from another culture. A doorway into a new and feverish world.
"Finely wrought, intellecutally brave and emotionally honest." —The Scotsman
"Sarah Hall makes language shimmer and burn. One of the finest writers at work today." —Damon Galgut
"I can think of no other British writer whose talent so consistently thrills, surprises and staggers. With Burntcoat she has solidified her status as the literary shining light we lesser souls aspire to." —Benjamin Myers
Things I Didn't Throw Out by Marcin Wicca           $25
Lamps, penknives, paperbacks, mechanical pencils, inflatable headrests. Marcin Wicha's mother Joanna was a collector of everyday objects. She found intrinsic — and often idiosyncratic — value in each item. When she dies and leaves her apartment intact, Wicha is left to sort through her things. The objects are the seemingly ordinary possessions of an ordinary life. But through them, Wicha begins to construct an image of Joanna as a Jewish woman, a mother, and a citizen. As Poland emerged from the Second World War into the material meanness of the Communist regime, shortages of every kind shaped its people in deep and profound ways. What they chose to buy, keep — and, arguably, hoard — tells the story of contemporary Poland.
Plagues Upon the Earth: Disease and the course of human history by Kyle Harper               $58
Harper explains why humanity's uniquely dangerous disease pool is rooted deep in our evolutionary past, and why its growth is accelerated by technological progress. He shows that the story of disease is entangled with the history of slavery, colonialism, and capitalism, and reveals the enduring effects of historical plagues in patterns of wealth, health, power, and inequality. He also tells the story of humanity's escape from infectious disease—a triumph that makes life as we know it possible, yet destabilises the environment and fosters new diseases.

Slime: A natural history by Susanne Wedlich           $45
Slime is an ambiguous thing. It exists somewhere between a solid and liquid. It inspires revulsion even while it compels our fascination. It is a both a vehicle for pathogens and the strongest weapon in our immune system. Most of us know little about it and yet it is the substance on which our world turns. Slime exists at the interfaces of all things: between the different organs and layers in our bodies, and between the earth, water, and air in the environment. It is often produced in the fatal encounter between predator and prey, and it is a vital presence in the reproductive embrace between female and male. Wedlich leads us on a scientific journey through the 3 billion year history of slime, from the part it played in the evolution of life on this planet to the way it might feature in the post-human future. She also explores the cultural and emotional significance of slime, from its starring role in the horror genre to its subtle influence on Art Nouveau. Slime is what connects Patricia Highsmith's fondness for snails, John Steinbeck's aversion to hagfish, and Emperor Hirohito's passion for jellyfish, as well as the curious mating practices of underwater gastropods and the miraculous functioning of the human gut.
The Dead Girls' Class Trip by Anna Seghers             $35
Best known for her anti-fascist novels such as The Seventh Cross and the existential thriller Transit, Anna Seghers also wrote short stoies throughout her life, portraying her social and mythic vision, and these constitute an important and fascinating element of her work. This selection of Seghers's stories, written between 1925 and 1965, reflects the range of her creativity. 
What does political agency mean for those who don't know what to do or can't be bothered to do it? This book develops a novel account of collective emancipation in which freedom is achieved not through knowledge and action but via doubt and inertia. In essays that range from ancient Greece to the end of the Anthropocene, Bull addresses questions central to contemporary political theory in novel readings of texts by Aristotle, Machiavelli, Marx, and Arendt, and shows how classic philosophical problems have a bearing on issues like political protest and climate change. The result is an original account of political agency for the twenty-first century in which uncertainty and idleness are limned with utopian promise.
God: An anatomy by Francesca Stavrakopoulou      $40
Three thousand years ago, in the Southwest Asian lands we now call Israel and Palestine, a group of people worshipped a complex pantheon of deities, led by a father god called El. El had seventy children, who were gods in their own right. One of them was a minor storm deity, known as Yahweh. Yahweh had a body, a wife, offspring and colleagues. He fought monsters and mortals. He gorged on food and wine, wrote books, and took walks and naps. But he would become something far larger and far more abstract: the God of the great monotheistic religions. But as Stavrakopoulou reveals, God’s cultural DNA stretches back centuries before the Bible was written, and persists in the tics and twitches of our own society, whether we are believers or not. The Bible has shaped our ideas about God and religion, but also our cultural preferences about human existence and experience; our concept of life and death; our attitude to sex and gender; our habits of eating and drinking; our understanding of history. Examining God’s body, from his head to his hands, feet and genitals, she shows how the Western idea of God developed. She explores the places and artefacts that shaped our view of this singular God and the ancient religions and societies of the biblical world. And in doing so she analyses not only the origins of our oldest monotheistic religions, but also the origins of Western culture.
Aesop's Animals: The science behind the fables by Jo Wimpenny            $37
Despite originating over than two-and-a-half thousand years ago, Aesop's Fables are still passed on from parent to child, and are embedded in our collective consciousness. The morals we have learned from these tales continue to inform our judgements, but have the stories also informed how we regard their animal protagonists? If so, is there any truth behind the stereotypes? Are wolves deceptive villains? Are crows insightful geniuses? And could a tortoise really beat a hare in a race?In Aesop's Animals, zoologist Jo Wimpenny turns a critical eye to the fables to discover whether there is any scientific truth to Aesop's portrayal of animals.

Planet of Clay by Samar Yazbek (translated by Leri Price)             $33
Rima, a young girl from Damascus, longs to walk, to be free to follow the will of her feet, but instead is perpetually constrained. Rima finds refuge in a fantasy world full of colored crayons, secret planets, and The Little Prince, reciting passages of the Qur'an like a mantra as everything and everyone around her is blown to bits. Since Rima hardly ever speaks, people think she's crazy, but she is no fool—the madness is in the battered city around her. One day while taking a bus through Damascus, a soldier opens fire and her mother is killed. Rima, wounded, is taken to a military hospital before her brother leads her to the besieged area of Ghouta—where, between bombings, she writes her story.
The Black Locomotive by Rian Hughes            $38
"A brilliantly original novel of literary SF from the acclaimed author of XX, The Black Locomotive weaves steam trains, the history and architecture of London, and a mysterious alien artefact below the city into a work of stunning inventiveness and originality." —Telegraph
Chewing the Fat: Tasting notes from a greedy life by Jay Raynor              $17
Why are gravy stains on your shirt at the dinner table to be admired? Does bacon improve everything? Is gin really the devil's work?
Burning Boy: The life and work of Stephen Crane by Paul Auster            $45
This lively reassessment of the American writer, whom Auster posits as the first of the Moderns, is also a vivid picture of fin-de-siecle cultural life in the United States.

The Passenger: Paris               $33
The glare of the city lights can be blinding, as the Paris celebrated in books and films clashes with reality. And all the time the shadows are growing: the Bataclan terror attack, the violent protests of the gilet jaunes, rioting in the banlieues, Notre Dame in flames, record heatwaves, and the pandemic. Not just a series of unfortunate events, they are phenomena which all of the world's metropolis will have to face. But in Paris today there is also an air of renewal: from planning and environmental revolution to a generation of chefs rebelling against the classist traditions of haute cuisine; from second generation immigrants reclaiming their rights to women's rejection of the stereotypes high fashion created for them.
"Half-magazine, half-book, 'The Passenger' series began last year: think of it as an erudite and literary travel equivalent to National Geographic, with stunning photography and illustration and fascinating writing about place." —Independent
>>Other books in the series. 
I Hold a Wolf by the Ears by Lauren van der Berg            $40
A collection of short stories of of women on the verge, trying to grasp what's left of life: grieving, divorced, and hyperaware, searching, vulnerable, and unhinged, they exist in a world that deviates from our own only when you look too closely.
Eight Improbable Possibilities: The mystery of the Moon, and other implausible scientific truths by John Gribbin              $25
Echoing Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, John Gribbin tells us: 'Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is certainly possible, in the light of present scientific knowledge.' With that in mind, in his sequel to the hugely popular Six Impossible Things and Seven Pillars of Science, Gribbin turns his attention to some of the mind-bendingly improbable truths of science. For example: We know that the Universe had a beginning, and when it was — and also that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. We can detect ripples in space that are one ten-thousandth the width of a proton, made by colliding black holes billions of light years from Earth. And, most importantly from our perspective, all complex life on Earth today is descended from a single cell - but without the stabilising influence of the Moon, life forms like us could never have evolved.
Wolf Girl by Jo Loring-Fisher        $17
Sophy doesn't know how to fit in. She tries to talk at school but the words get stuck in her throat and everyone laughs and whispers behind her back. Upset and alone, Sophy hides away in her room. But then an extraordinary thing happens... Sophy is whisked away to a magical snowy land where she meets a wolf and her cub. The unlikely trio roll, run and howl together, playing happily in the snow. Sophy has found friends and nothing can ruin her day... until a big, angry bear appears. But Sophy finally finds her voice and finds the courage she's been looking for all along.