Saturday 26 March 2022


BOOKS@VOLUME #271 (25.3.22)

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 What are the links between political engagement and our engagement with the natural world? In our Book of the Week, Orwell's Roses, Rebecca Solnit takes a rose garden planted by George Orwell as the starting point for a meandering journey through his life, writings and motivations, and through much else besides, arriving at a more nuanced and somehow hopeful assessment of what it means to care about the state of the world in our own century. 
>>Read Stella's review
>>Rebecca Solnit and Margaret Atwood!
>>A new perspective
>>Pleasure and flowers
>>The written political project
>>The Orwell Foundation. 
>>Your copy is ready for you
>>Other books by Rebecca Solnit
>>Some books by and about George Orwell. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit     {Reviewed by STELLA}
I’ve been dipping into this book for several weeks, savouring the writing and meandering the country tracks of England with Solnit and her revelations of Orwell the writer and the lover of nature. Solnit’s collections of essays are usually directly political, even her more nuanced observations which are often drawn from personal experiences or wry commentary are to a greater or lesser extent ‘serious’. In Orwell’s Roses, one could be forgiven for thinking at the outset, this biography (of a sort) has a different purpose. It meanders. As we walk with Rebecca Solnit on English country paths she talks to us as if we were wandering beside her — it is a conversation about her discoveries, filled with curiosity and at times, surprise, as she reveals a side of George Orwell not usually found in his books (most famously Animal Farm and 1984) and essays, nor in literary references. The roses which inspire Solnit were planted by Orwell in the late 1930s in his garden — a constant source of pleasure — at his Hertfordshire cottage. Knocking on the door of the cottage, the present-day owners take her into the garden and point out what they believe to be those same rose bushes, and so starts a connection to the past and Orwell’s ideas — ideas that resonate just as vividly right now. His passionate defence of freedom and his fight against totalitarianism — both in written word and deed (as a soldier in the Spanish Civil War) — and advocacy for greater equality, in particular for workers' rights, are all relevant in our present world order and are also concerns at the heart of Solnit’s own work. Like Orwell, Solnit is hard-hitting and does not easily succumb to telling what is wanted to be heard. She reveals in many of her essays historical facts and political analysis that may be difficult to confront, and Orwell similarly was going his own way as he felt necessary. While in Spain, Orwell became increasingly uncomfortable with some of his fellow freedom fighters, who continued to follow Stalin even when it was obvious that the communist ideal was failing and falling under the boot of dictatorship. In expressing his love of flowers and gardens, he was accused of having bourgeois interests — an indulgence that seemed frivolous to some — not a serious political left-wing stance. However, he exhorted that workers needed beauty as well as bread. In thinking about Solnit’s own writing, this element of beauty or (more particularly in reference to her) hope, is never far from the political imperative. Orwell’s Roses is a book of many parts: biography, a potted history of Orwell’s time through a particular and precise lens (coal mines, the civil war, his own family’s rise and fall through the class system), his love of nature, roses — their beauty expressed in literature, art and as themselves as flowers — and a comparative history (in one chapter is an overview of Orwell’s writing about the coal-miners and later in the book, Solnit visits a ‘rose factory’ in Columbia where workers are exploited and roses are grown en masse for the American market). It is a wander, but an extremely well-written and a thought-proving one, packed with intriguing anecdotes and considered analysis. Much like a rose coming into bloom it holds your fascination. Solnit cleverly draws together all these aspects and reminds us that through a desire for beauty over hatred, and through language and words, we too, like Orwell, can raise our voices against repression. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Grove: A field novel by Esther Kinsky (translated by Caroline Schmidt)   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Absence is inconceivable, as long as there is presence. For the bereaved, the world is defined by absence,” she wrote. She went to Olevano, some distance from Rome, in the hills, in the winter, two months after her partner died, the bereavement was taking hold, she no longer fitted into her life. It was winter, as I said, she stayed alone in Olevano, she looked out of the window, she went for walks, she took photographs, she wrote. The whole place, and the text she wrote, was cold, damp, dim, filled with mist, vagueness, echoes, mishearings. Well, of course. This is not to say that her observations were not precise, preternaturally precise, and the sentences she wrote to describe them, they too were preternaturally precise, whatever that means. “In the unfamiliar landscape I learned to read the spatial shifts that come along with changes to the incidence of light.” She is unable to think of the one who is lost, rather, the one she has lost, she is unable to face an absence that at this time is an overwhelming absence, instead she observes in minute detail, with great subtlety, as if subtlety could be anything but great, the particulars of the day and the season, the fall of light, those things that only she could notice, or only a bereaved person could notice, the weight of noticing shifted by her bereavement, death pulling at everything and changing its shape, changing the fall of light, even, or making her aware of changes in the fall of light, and in the shape of everything, so to call it, that are inaccessible to the non-bereaved. There are other worlds, but they are all in this one, wrote Paul Éluard, apropos of something, if it was him who wrote it, and if that was what he wrote, if these are different things, but as we can cope with the world only by suppressing almost everything that comes at us, even at best, we notice only as our circumstances allow, our mental circumstances, our emotional circumstances perhaps most significantly, and we are somehow sharing space but seeing everything differently from others and some more differently than others. We live in different worlds in the same world. She was bereaved, she saw what she saw, observed what she observed, with great precision and intensity as I have said, out of the mist, among the fallen leaves. There is a cemetery in every town, or vice-versa, she visits them all, acquaints herself with the faces of the dead, but not her dead, not the one of whom she is bereaved. She writes of herself in a continuous past, “I would.” she writes, “Each morning I went,” she writes, as if also all that is observed also continues in this continuous and unbordered way, which might be so. Death, first of all, is an aberration of time, bereavement acts on time like a point of infinite gravity that cannot be observed but which bends all else. Memories are the property of death, there can be no memories if she is to face each day, though the memories pluck at her in her dreams. She observes, she wanders, she acts on nothing, she changes nothing, the season moves slowly through darkness and chill. She travels to the nearby towns and into the hills, the mists. She recognises herself more in those displaced like her to Italy, the migrants and the refugees, those for whom no easy place welcomes them, those who have lost something, recently, that the others around there have perhaps not recently lost. “We sized each other up as actors on a stage of foreignness,” she writes, “Each concerned with his own fragmented role, whose significance for the entire play, directed from an unknown place, might never come to light.” She is aware, everywhere, of the loss that outlines and gives shape to that which goes on, and the mechanisms of loss that are built into the function of a whole town, or a whole human life. She sees the junkyard by the bus station, “an intermediate space for the partially discarded, whose time for final absence has nevertheless not yet arrived.” She visits the Etruscan tombs and sees the reliefs there as a membrane separating the living from the dead, their loss is one of space as well as of time, what is shared between her and them is two dimensional only, “as if the dead would know how to reach through the cool thickness of the masonry to touch the object’s or animal’s other side, invisible to us, and hold it in their life-averted hands.” The membrane is infinitely thin. It is only two dimensions. It is everywhere. She asks, “Will it wither away, the hand I pull back from the morti?” Time passes. Something unobserved is changing beneath the changes she observes, “the Spring air a different shade of blue-gray.” She leaves Olevano and leaves the first section of the book. Because she, we, you, I perceive only a fraction of what we could call the external, the fraction to which we are at a moment attuned, it is easy to fall out of tune with others. For her, whom bereavement has differently attuned, or untuned, her reattunement must be achieved by words, she who lives by words must recalibrate her world through words, descriptions, care, precision, nuance, it is wrong to think of nuance as somehow imprecise, it, all this, is an exercise in slowness, and we who read must also change our speed to the speed of her noticing if we are to experience the text, if we are to experience, through the wonder of her text, somehow, her experience, or something thereof. The external reveals itself only to those moving at the precise right speed of perception, so she shows us, and so too her text reveals itself only to those moving at the precise right speed, those who read the text at the speed the text requires. In the second section she remembers, memory being the province of death, or vice-versa, her father, of whom she has also been bereaved, a little longer ago, and the holidays in Italy of her childhood, with him, and, presumably, with her mother, though this section deals specifically with memories of her father, perhaps because her mother is still alive, if she is still alive. This section is the section of the father, of the memories of the father more particularly, the only way her father now exists, he has finished contributing to memories that might be had of him and fairly soon these memories become the memories of memories, the parts magnified becoming still more magnified, the other parts abraded, becoming lost. Each memory contains a necropolis, it seems. With nothing, she begins the third and final section. She rents a cottage, so to call it, in the delta of the Po. Marshes, salt pans, mists again, fogs, rains. Birds. It is winter. “Everything had been repeatedly disturbed, was forever suspended between traces and effacement.” All that is human, and all of nature is abraded. “It was even hot when I arrived, the air similarly gray and viscous, and the landscape lay motionless, disintegrating under its weight; on hillcrests and in the occasionally visible strips of riverbank clung fragments of memory that had been torn away from a larger picture and settled there.” Time moves differently, again, here, she lets it, broken things stand about, the past is forgotten but is everywhere, is in the dust and mud, more often mud, the rain, the fog. “It was a place that could only be found in its absence, by recalling what was lost, therein lay its reality.” But here in this slow nowhere something almost unperceived begins to change, the emptiness provides a space, the past gets somehow out of her, death begins not to completely overwhelm her, memory relinquishes something of its choke. She even gets a ride to town with the owner of the cottage, in his car. Perhaps she comes to think that history is the proper province of the past. “Among the places of the living are the places of the dead,” she says, and not vice-versa nor one inside the other. She visits Ravenna and in Ravenna the two mosaics spoken of to her by her father not long before his death, actually the last time she saw him before his death. The mosaics are now outside her, sensed, and no longer trapped inside, her father’s experience of the two blue mosaics likewise no longer trapped, the experience of her father, something of a connoisseur of blue, no longer confined inside the one who is bereaved, the bearer of his memory, but somehow shared with her. These two mosaics, I wonder, for her, also a connoisseur of blue, are, perhaps, the mosaic of life and the mosaic of death. “These two mosaics — the dark-blue, bordered harbour with its still unsteady boats; and the light-blue expanse with no obstruction, nothing nameable, not even a horizon.”

Friday 25 March 2022


Pure Colour by Sheila Heti               $46
Here we are, just living in the first draft of creation, which was made by some great artist, who is now getting ready to tear it apart. In this first draft, a woman named Mira leaves home for school. There, she meets Annie, whose tremendous power opens Mira's chest like a portal--to what, she doesn't know. When Mira is older, her beloved father dies, and she enters the strange and dizzying dimension that true loss opens up.
"Pure Colour tells the story of a life, from beginning to end. It is a galaxy of a novel: explosive, celestially bright, huge, and streaked with beauty. It is an atlas of feeling, and a shape-shifting epic. Sheila Heti is a philosopher of modern experience, and she has reimagined what a book can hold." 
Toi Tū Toi Ora: Contemporary Māori art edited by Nigel Borell          $65
The art book that everyone has been waiting for! The story of contemporary Maori art from the 1950s to the present day, with more than 200 artworks by 110 Maori artists. Maori art is unique among all art movements, and to Aotearoa New Zealand. Drawing on centuries of indigenous knowledge and skill, it reflects a Maori world view, life in this land and the debates that continue to shape it. 
Harrow by Joy Williams             $33
Williams's powerful, dark and strangely enjoyable novel addresses the roots and impact of climate apocalypse in and on the workings of both human consciousness and the unconscious. Khristen is a teenager who, her mother believes, was marked for greatness as a baby when she died for a moment, then came back to life. After Khristen's boarding school for gifted teens closes its doors, and her mother disappears, she ranges across the dead landscape and finds a 'resort' on the shores of a mysterious, putrid lake the elderly residents there call 'Big Girl'. In a rotting honeycomb of rooms, these old ones plot actions to punish corporations and people they consider culpable in the destruction of the final scraps of nature's beauty. Rivetingly strange and delivered with Williams' searing, deadpan wit, Harrow is a tale of paradise lost and the reasons to try and recover something of it.
"A brilliant portrayal of collapsing reality. Williams peels back the visible and known, revealing death and chaos beneath. Part of what makes Williams’s work so destabilising is that agency has almost no significance. Navigating a world that makes no sense, her characters are lost and baffled, their actions and ideas stripped of meaning. Harrow reminds us that, as a consequence of climate collapse, trauma and grief are the condition of our collective existence. As our world disintegrates, it will take what we think of as reality with it. Addressing this in fiction will be the job, partly, of a certain kind of modern mystic. Williams – great virtuoso of the unreal – is one of them." —Guardian
>>"Joy Williams does not write for humanity."
The Doloriad by Missouri Williams              $35
In the wake of a mysterious environmental cataclysm that has wiped out the rest of humankind, the Matriarch, her brother, and the family descended from their incest cling to existence on the edges of a ruined city. The Matriarch, ruling with fear and force, dreams of starting humanity over. Her children and the children they have with one another aren't so sure. Surrounded by the silent forest and the dead suburbs, they feel closer to the ruined world than to their parents. Nevertheless, they scavenge supplies, collect fuel, plant seeds, and attempt to cultivate the poisoned earth, brutalizing and caring for one another in equal measure. For entertainment, they watch old VHS tapes of a TV show called Get Aquinas in Here, in which a problem-solving medieval saint faces down a sequence of logical and ethical dilemmas. But one day the Matriarch dreams of another group of survivors, and sends away one of her daughters, the legless Dolores, as a marriage offering. When Dolores returns a few days later, her reappearance triggers the breakdown of Matriarch's fragile order and the control she wields over their sprawling family begins to weaken. As the children seize their chance to escape, the world of the television saint Aquinas and that of the family begin to melt together with terrible consequences. Told in extraordinary, intricate prose that moves with a life of its own, at times striking with the power of physical force, Missouri* Williams's novel is a blazingly original document of depravity and salvation. 
Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (translated by Anton Hur)             $38
A genre-defying collection of short stories from this superb Korean author. Blurring the lines between magical realism, horror, and science-fiction, Chung uses elements of the fantastic and surreal to address the very real horrors and cruelties of patriarchy and capitalism in modern society.
>>Long-listed for the 2022 International Booker Prize. 

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan          $33
In 1985, in an Irish town, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church.
"Keegan creates luminous effects with spare material, so every line seems to be a lesson in the perfect deployment of both style and emotion." —Hilary Mantel
"Astonishing. Claire Keegan makes her moments real - and then she makes them matter." —Colm Toibin
"A true gift of a book. a sublime Chekhovian shock." —Andrew O'Hagan
"A haunting, hopeful masterpiece." —Sinead Gleeson
Phenotypes by Paulo Scott (translated by Daniel Hahn)          $36
A smart and stylish account of the bigotry lurking in hearts and institutions alike. In this complex tale, two very different brothers of mixed black and white heritage are divided by the colour of their skin, as racial tension rises in society and a guilty secret resurfaces from their shared past. Paulo Scott here probes the old wounds of race in Brazil, and in particular the loss of a black identity independent from the history of slavery. Exploratory rather than didactic, a story of crime, street-life and regret as much as a satirical novel of ideas, Phenotypes is a seething novel of rage and reconciliation.
The Sea Is Not Made of Water: Life between the tides by Adam Nicolson             $40
Few places are as familiar as the shore – and few as full of mystery and surprise. How do sandhoppers inherit an inbuilt compass from their parents? How do crabs understand the tides? How can the death of one winkle guarantee the lives of its companions? What does a prawn know? Nicolson explores the natural wonders of the intertidal and our long human relationship with it. The physics of the seas, the biology of anemone and limpet, the long history of the earth, and the stories we tell of those who have lived here: all interconnect in this zone where the philosopher, scientist and poet can meet and find meaning. The intertidal has been the scene for all kinds of scientific discovery – from the process of evolution to the inner workings of biological networks. But its story is as much human as natural history: how far should our lives be understood within the vast landscape of ecology? What do our buried beliefs about the tidal sea reflect of our relationship to nature? And is it the shifting condition of the tidal world, its pervasive uncertainty, its fierce interfolding of opportunity and threat, that makes it one of the most revelatory and beguiling habitats on earth?
Sybil & Cyril: Cutting through time by Jenny Uglow             $45
In 1922, Cyril Power, a fifty-year old architect, left his family to work with the twenty-four year old Sybil Andrews. They would be together for twenty years. Both became famous for their dynamic, modernist linocuts, streamlined, full of movement and brilliant colour, summing up the hectic interwar years. Yet at the same time they looked back, to medieval myths and early music, to country ways disappearing from sight. Sybil & Cyril traces their struggles and triumphs, conflicts and dreams, following them from Suffolk to London, from the New Forest to Vancouver Island. This is a world of Futurists, Surrealists and pioneering abstraction, but also of the buzz of the new, of machines and speed, shops and sport and dance, shining against the threat of depression and looming shadows of war. Uglow's enjoyable books always convey their subjects as both exemplars of their time and somehow standing in distinction from it. 
Fabric: The hidden history of the material world by Victoria Finlay            $55
Finlay investigates how and why people have made and used cloth. A century ago in Wales, women would sew their own funeral clothes over tea with friends. In Papua New Guinea, bark is stripped from trees and beaten into cloth. Harris Tweed has a particular smell, while Guatemalan weavers use dazzling colours. Uncovering the stories of the fabrics people wear and use from sacking to silk, Fabric combines science, history, tradition and art in a captivating exploration of how we live, work, craft and care.

A New Name (Septology VI—VII) by Jon Fosse (translated by Damian Searls)         $38
The third and final volume of the Norwegian writer's wonderful 'slow prose' project dealing with the life or lives of two aging painters, each called Asle but one lonely and alcoholic and the other comfortable and successful. Fosse's prose is subtle and hypnotic, and the books deal with existential questions of agency, morality and culpability. 

Burning Questions by Margaret Atwood           $48
Essays written between 2004 and 2021, covering a vast range of important (and some less-important but still instructive) issues, with Atwood's characteristic incisiveness, depth of both knowledge and passion, agile wit, and exemplary phrasing. Climate change, authoritarianism, storytelling, zombies and ethics, literature, and granola are all part of Atwood's literary landscape.
The Book of Mother by Violaine Huisman (translated by Leslie Camhi)         $48
Beautiful and charismatic, Catherine, aka ‘Maman’, smokes too much, drives too fast, laughs too hard and loves too extravagantly. During a joyful and chaotic childhood in Paris, her daughter Violaine wouldn’t have it any other way. But when Maman is hospitalised after a third divorce and breakdown, everything changes. As the story of Catherine’s own traumatic childhood and coming of age unfolds, the pieces come together to form an indelible portrait of a mother as irresistible as she is impossible, as triumphant as she is transgressive.
Long-listed for the 2022 International Booker Prize. 
The War of Nerves: Inside the Cold War mind by Martin Sixsmith             $55
More than any other conflict, the Cold War was fought on the battlefield of the human mind. And, nearly thirty years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, its legacy still endures — not only in our politics and distressing current affairs, but in our own thoughts, and fears. Drawing on untapped archives and hitherto unseen sources, Martin Sixsmith recreates the tensions and paranoia of the Cold War, framing it for the first time from a psychological perspective. Revisiting towering personalities like Khrushchev, Kennedy and Nixon, as well as the lives of the unknown millions who were caught up in the conflict, this is a gripping account of fear itself — and in today's alarming and uncertain times, it is more resonant than ever.
Five Straight Lines: A history of music by Andrew Grant           $70
Ranging across time and space, this book takes us on a grand musical tour from music's origins in prehistory to the twenty-first century. Charting the leaps in technology, thought and practice that led to extraordinary revolutions of music in each age, the book takes us through medieval Europe, Renaissance Italy and Jazz era America to reveal the rich history of music we still listen to today. Gant brings to life the people who made the music, their techniques and instruments, as well as the places their music was played, from sombre churches to rowdy taverns, stately courts to our very own homes.

Wanderers: A history of women walking by Kerri Andrews         $28
A book about ten women over the past three hundred years who have found walking essential to their sense of themselves, as people and as writers. Wanderers traces their footsteps, from eighteenth-century parson's daughter Elizabeth Carter—o desired nothing more than to be taken for a vagabond in the wilds of southern England—to modern walker-writers such as Nan Shepherd and Cheryl Strayed. For each, walking was integral, whether it was rambling for miles across the Highlands, like Sarah Stoddart Hazlitt, or pacing novels into being, as Virginia Woolf did around Bloomsbury.
In Kiltumper: A year in an Irish garden by Niall Williams and Christine Breen           $43
Thirty-four years ago, when they were in their twenties, Niall Williams (author of This Is Happiness and History of the Rain) and Christine Breen made the impulsive decision to leave their lives in New York City and move to Christine's ancestral home in the town of Kiltumper in rural Ireland. In the decades that followed, the pair dedicated themselves to writing, gardening and living a life that followed the rhythms of the earth. In 2019, with Christine in the final stages of recovery from cancer and the land itself threatened by the arrival of turbines just one farm over, Niall and Christine decided to document a year of living in their garden and in their small corner of a rapidly changing world.
Elephant Island by Leo Timmers               $30
A shipwrecked elephant makes his tiny island a home for the many friends who come to the rescue, building increasingly intricate constructions that turn Elephant Island into a fun park city.

The Language Lover's Puzzle Book: Lexical perplexities and cracking conundrums from across the globe by Alex Bellos         $28
Can you decipher the code of a long-lost civilisation? Or solve riddles in runes? Or will you get lost in translation? Crossing continents and borders, puzzle expert Alex Bellos has gathered more than one hundred of the world's best conundrums that celebrate the diversity of human language and culture, all while testing your deduction and intuition. Fun.

* (Pronounced "Misery")

Saturday 19 March 2022


BOOKS @ VOLUME #270 (18.3.22)

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>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Things Remembered and Things Forgotten by Kyoko Nakajima (translated by Ginny Takemori and Ian MacDonald)   {Reviewed by STELLA}
What is memory and how does it behave? Or, more accurately, how do we behave when confronted with memories? What we remember could be genuine or fabricated. What we forgot may be purposeful or accidental. Sometimes a happening is just outside our grasp; a thing familiar, hinted at, but not reachable; while at other times what we know has been plainly staring at us, but we have refused to see it. In Kyoko Nakajima’s collection of short stories, memory stands at the centre of her themes. Whether it is a widower getting to know his wife again through her notebooks —  stuffed with recipes, notes-to-self, complaints or pleasures; or a wife navigating her life with her increasingly forgetful husband as he succumbs to dementia; or a niece realising that her taciturn aunt had a secret and pleasurable life, Nakajima’s stories are taut, charming and tantalisingly deceptive, each laced with humour and subtle commentary on Japanese history and culture — societal and familial. What could be taken as quotidian events are surprisingly nuanced. Her concerns with the impact (and what she hints at as a forgetting or pulling away) of the second world war, particularly in the post-war period, are brought to light in several stories, most obviously in the title story, which follows the hardship and decisions made by family during these difficult times, through the eyes of two brothers, and how this has far-reaching consequences well into their future. In 'The Life Story of  Sewing Machine', we follow the glory and fall of an object, the hands which sew upon it and the homes it passes through, ruined, fixed and altered and eventually abandoned or, as it says, left in the dark, to see the light of day again finally at the top of a pile junk at the back of an antique shop. Like many of Nakajima’s stories, she uses a starting point in the present and without warning switches perspective and voice giving a liveliness to the writing as we travel back in time. In 'Kirara’s Paper Plane', a young girl, semi-abandoned as she waits for her mother who is in some sort of trouble, is visited by an older boy who takes her under his wing for a day. A day, because this is all he has. He’s a ghost, one who intermittently finds himself back in his old stomping ground where, after losing his parents in the war, he has struggled to survive on the streets. Ghosts appear in several of the stories, taking in a common element of traditional Japanese fiction, along with reimaginings of traditional folk tales, most markedly in 'The Pet Civet', which folds into its telling the tale of two lovers, one who may have been from the animal spirit realm, as two strangers recount their memories of an aunt. 'When My Wife Was a Shiitake' is charming and thought-provoking, gently touching on prescribed gender roles and fondness that grows through understanding. Kyoko Nakajima’s collection of ten stories, Things Remembered and Things Forgotten is a treat — deceptively sharp, laced with wit, capturing the joy and sadness of remembering and the sometimes necessary desire to forget.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 



Book of Mutter by Kate Zambreno   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“Writing is a way not to remember but to forget,” suggests Kate Zembrano in this book concerning both her grieving for her mother and her struggle to be free of her mother, who in some ways became more dominating after her death than she was when alive. “Or if not to forget, to attempt to leave behind,” continues Zembrano. The past dominates the present, not so much in the way in which the present is disposed as in the disposition of our minds towards it: that which we are foolish enough to think of as ourself is dependent utterly upon memory, upon the power of what is not us in the past. This dominance by the lost and unreachable (we cannot assail its moment of power for it lies against the flow of time) is most oppressive when we are unaware of it. Paradoxically, we need to remember in order to escape the past and exist more freely (if existing freely is our predilection). But merely to open ourselves to the past through memory is insufficient to free ourselves of it. To gain control it is necessary to assume authorship, not to change what we cannot reach against time, but to create a simulacrum that is experienced in the place of the experience of the past, a replacement that alters the grammar of our servitude, simultaneously a remembering and a forgetting. “In order to liberate myself from the past I have to reconstruct it. I have been a prisoner of my memories and my aim is to get rid of them,” said Louise Bourgeois. Since her mother’s death, Zembrano’s thoughts have been increasingly focussed on her loving but dominating mother, to the extent that her mother is taking over her life (“Sometimes my mouth opens up and my mother’s laugh jumps out. A parlour trick”). Very possibly, this influence was operative when her mother was alive, but it was at least concentrated in a person who could be interacted with and reacted against. Now “she is everywhere by being unable to be located.” Zambreno’s perceptive book is a study, through self-scrutiny, of the ambivalences of grief and of memory, and also of a path beyond grief: “If writing is a way of hoarding memories - what does it also mean to write to disown?” Not that either remembering or forgetting does any favours to the departed. Without an actual person upon whom an identity, a history, a character may be postulated, and without the generation of new information, however minor, that is possible only by living, the definition of that person belongs to anyone and no-one. Identity becomes contested in the absence of the arbiter. What remains but the impress, somewhere in the past, the shape of which must henceforth suffice as a stand-in for the departed? For better or for worse the pull is to the past, towards the unalterable occurrences that have what could almost be considered as a will to persist through whatever has received their impress. And the struggle for authorship is complicated by the persistence of objects. Death instantaneously transforms the everyday into an archive. Zembrano’s visits to her parents’ house in the years after the death of her mother brings her into contact with objects that have lost their ordinariness, the possessions of her mother’s that her father wishes to enshrine, objects that have stultified, that have not been permitted to either lose or accrete meaning. Both comfort and trap, the archive preserves the dominance of the pastper se, preserves the fact of loss more than that which has been lost. Advances in medical science have meant that more of our lives, and more of the end period of our lives, has come to be defined by illness. Increasingly few of us reach our end without being overwritten by the story of its approach. Zembrano captures well her mother’s struggle with the disease that killed her, not so much over her survival or otherwise as over how she would be remembered, over whether the idea others had of her would be replaced by the story of a disease. All memory proceeds as a scuffle between selection and denial, between nostalgia and resentment, between freedom and attachment, between the conflicting needs of actuality and representation. Memory is the first requirement of forgetting. 

Friday 18 March 2022

Our Book of the Week is the delightful Notes from an Island by Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä (translated by Thomas Teal). In 1963, Tove Jansson and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä (with the help of Brunström, a local fisherman) built a cabin on Klovharun, a barren skerry in the Gulf of Finland. Here, for the next 26 summers, they found solitude, creative inspiration, and a closeness with nature. This beautiful book conveys their experience of the island, combining Jansson's memories, memorable observations and journal entries, intercut with Brunström's terse and lively diary entries and illustrated with 24 evocative copperplate etchings and wash drawings of the island by Pietilä. The whole book intimates something central to Jansson's world.
>>Stella reviews the book on the radio
>>Some notes.
>>Visit Klovharun.
>>Tove and Tooti in Europe (shot on Klovharun by Pietilä) 
>>Tove and Tuulikki.         
>>Tove Jansson falls in love
>>Much of Jansson's experience of Klovharun is captured in Moominpappa at Sea.
>>Tuulikki appears as Too-Ticky in Moominland Midwinter
>>Books by and about Tove Jansson
>>Your copy of Notes from an Island. 

Just click on the books to have them delivered to your door. 

Notes from an Island by Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä (translated by Thomas Teal)       $35
In 1963, Tove Jansson and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä (with the help of Brunström, a local fisherman) built a cabin on Klovharun, a barren skerry in the Gulf of Finland. Here, for the next 26 summers, they found solitude, creative inspiration, and a closeness with nature. This beautiful book conveys their experience of the island, evocatively combining Jansson's memories, observations and journal entries, intercut with Brunström's terse and lively diary entries and illustrated with 24 copperplate etchings and wash drawings of the island by Pietilä. The whole intimates something central to Jansson's world. 
>>Some notes.
>>Visit Klovharun
>>Tove and Tuulikki.          
Allegorizings by Jan Morris             $33
Feeling intimations of mortality, Jan Morris embarked on a series of high-minded letters to her late daughter, but these quickly transformed themselves into a potpourri of mini-essays and vibrant reminiscences, organised around experiences both majestic and mundane, from traveling the world with her lifelong partner, Elizabeth, to sneezing and kissing and simply growing old. Featuring essays largely written in the early twenty-first century, Allegorizings reflects, above all, Morris's steadfast conviction that nothing is only what it seems. In fact, she observes, everything is allegory. 

Free Love by Tessa Hadley             $38
"A woman turns her life upside down and feels the allure of swinging 1960s London in this poignant tale of mid-life desire. Hadley’s drawing together of a situation that’s ‘as fatally twisted as a Greek drama’ shows a writer with boundless compassion. She offers insightful and sensitive understanding of the quiet compromises people make to survive in a deeply compromised world. Almost every page struck me anew with some elegant phrasing, feline irony or shrewdly sympathetic insight." —Guardian
Iris Murdoch, Philippa Foot, Mary Midgley and Elizabeth Anscombe were great friends and comrades in the intellectual trenches, rethinking the possibilities of moral philosophy during the Second World War and taking on the establishment, ultimately embodied by President Truman.
Oppositions: Selected essays by Mary Gaitskill                $40
Gaitskill takes on a broad range of topics from Nabokov to horse-riding with her unique ability to tease out unexpected truths and cast aside received wisdom. Written with startling grace and linguistic flair, and delving into the complicated nature of love and the responsibility we owe to the people we encounter, the work collected here inspires the reader to think beyond their first responses to life and art. 
Confronting Leviathan: A history of ideas by David Runciman             $45
While explaining the most important and often-cited ideas of thinkers such as Constant, De Tocqueville, Marx and Engels, Hayek, MacKinnon and Fukuyama, David Runciman shows how crises — revolutions, wars, depressions, pandemics — generated these new ways of political thinking. What new ideas, practices and social forms will arise from the crises facing us today? 
Frantumaglia: A writer's journey by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)          $33
Consisting of over twenty years of letters, essays, reflections, and interviews, this volume is a unique depiction of the author whose 'true' identity is unknown. In these pages, Ferrante answers many of her readers' questions. She addresses her choice to stand aside and let her books live autonomous lives. She discusses her thoughts and concerns as her novels are being adapted into films. She talks about the challenge of finding concise answers to interview questions. She explains the joys and the struggles of writing, the anguish of composing a story only to discover that that story isn't good enough. She contemplates her relationship with psychoanalysis, with the cities she has lived in, with motherhood, with feminism, and with her childhood as a storehouse for memories, impressions, and fantasies.
In the Margins: Essays on reading and writing by Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein)                $28
"Four essays illuminate the mind of Ferrante in this dazzling new collection. The collection's strength comes from Ferrante's beautiful prose, as well as the fascinating look at where she finds inspiration. The author's legions of fans are in for a treat." —Publishers Weekly
Song of Less by Joan Fleming               $25
"The crisis is upon us, but abstraction is a bulwark. Deafness, everywhere. We have come to an edge. I want to find a way of taking the truth into my body, and then putting it down into the ground. From somewhere offstage, a misery of voices begins to murmur in the scrounge. What starts up is a grief work."
A dystopian verse novel from a New Zealand poet, exploring ritual and the limits of language in the ruins of ecological collapse.
Beats of the Pa'u by Maria Samuela           $30
The pa‘u is the pulse of the Cook Islands, a rhythm carrying narratives of a culture to its people. But beyond the reach of its sound, on another shore, a community is working over the course of decades to build a new life. Kura lands in the footsteps of his father, whose twenty-year estrangement has come to a head. Katerina starts planning for a future, but must bend to the whim of another. Ana is received into a sacred sisterhood. And an Island Mama sets out the rules for love. Beats of the Pa‘u is a collection of stories about first- and second-generation Cook Islands New Zealanders living in 1950s to modern-day New Zealand. 
Bauhaus Postcards (Invitations to the first exhibition, Weimar, 1923)          $45
In 1923, Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius commissioned 20 postcards from artists such as Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky to use as promotional flyers for the school's first exhibition. Issued here for the first time in their original format, these postcards perfectly express the spirit of the early Bauhaus. The box contains 60 cards (3 of each of the 20).
Looking for Trouble by Virginia Cowles           $40
Madrid in the Spanish Civil War Prague during the Munich crisis, Berlin the day Germany invaded Poland, Helsinki as the Russians attacked Moscow betrayed by the Nazis, Paris as it fell to the Germans, London on the first day of the Blitz— Virginia Cowles saw it all. As a pioneering female correspondent, she reported from Europe from the 1930s into the Second World War, watching 'the lights in the death-chamber go out one by one' from the frontline.

An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Georges Perec (translated by Marc Lowenthal)           $30
One overcast weekend in October 1974, Georges Perec set out in quest of the 'infraordinary': the humdrum, the non-event, the everyday—"what happens," as he put it, "when nothing happens." His choice of locale was Place Saint-Sulpice, where, ensconced behind first one cafe window, then another, he spent three days recording everything to pass through his field of vision: the people walking by; the buses and driving-school cars caught in their routes; the pigeons moving suddenly en masse; a wedding (and then a funeral) at the church in the center of the square; the signs, symbols and slogans littering everything; and the darkness that finally absorbs it all. In An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, Perec compiled a melancholic, slightly eerie and oddly touching document in which existence boils down to rhythm, writing turns into time and the line between the empirical and the surreal grows surprisingly thin. 
Everyday Play: A campaign against boredom edited by Julian Rothenstein           $48
Are you bored by daily routine? Learn how to restore play to the everyday, with games and life tips from artists, writers and thinkers from Louise Bourgeois and Hunter S. Thompson to Lydia Davis and Karl Lagerfeld. "Life must be lived as play," said Plato, and this book will help you rediscover the wonder in the weekly grind, and the extraordinary in the ordinary. Learn how to be someone else for a day; explore how to draw a poem, paint a book and reorient your library; enjoy writers using constraints or languages they don't understand; play the Edible Book Game or become a living sculpture; become a writer and play word games to find new ways of saying what you mean. Everyday Play is the essential compendium of artists' games, philosophers' inquiries and manifestos against the banal. They will challenge our perceptions of work, rest and play, with contributions from, among others, Joan Acocella, Luis Buñuel, Lewis Carroll, Robert Creeley, Adam Dant, Lydia Davis, Jeremy Deller, Dashiell Hammett, Will Hobson, Nina Katchadourian, Andrei Monastyrski, Francis Ponge, Erik Satie and Marc Wahlberg.
The Wolf Age: The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons, and the battle for the North Sea empire by Tore Skeie (translated by Alison McCullough)               $55
In the eleventh century, the rulers of the lands surrounding the North Sea were all hungry for power. To get power they needed soldiers, to get soldiers they needed silver, and to get silver there was no better way than war and plunder. This vicious cycle drew all the lands of the north into a brutal struggle for supremacy and survival that shattered kingdoms and forged an empire. The Wolf Age takes the reader on a thrilling journey through the bloody shared history of England and Scandinavia, and on across early medieval Europe, from the wild Norwegian fjords to the wealthy cities of Muslim Andalusia.
From Manchester with Love: The life and opinions of Tony Wilson (a.k.a. Anthony H. Wilson) by Paul Morley           $45
To write about Tony Wilson, a.k.a. Anthony H. Wilson, is to write about a number of public and private characters and personalities, a clique of unreliable narrators, constantly changing shape and form. At the helm of Factory Records and The Hacienda, Wilson unleashed landmark acts such as Joy Division, THe Durutti Column and OMD  into the world as he pursued myriad other creative endeavours, appointing himself a custodian of Manchester's legacy of innovation and change. To Paul Morley he was this and much more: bullshitting hustler, flashy showman, aesthetic adventurer, mean factory boss, self-deprecating chancer, intellectual celebrity, loyal friend, shrewd mentor, insatiable publicity seeker. 
Baron Wenckheim's Homecoming by László Krasznahorkai (translated by Ottilie Mulzet)            $28
Nearing the end of his life, Baron Bela Wenckheim decides to return to the provincial Hungarian town of his birth. Having escaped from his many casino debts in Buenos Aires, where he was living in exile, he wishes to be reunited with his high-school sweetheart Marika. What follows is an endless storm of gossip, con men and local politicians, vividly evoking the small town's alternately drab and absurd existence. Spectacular actions are staged, death and the abyss loom, until finally doom is brought down on the unsuspecting residents of the town.
"Baron Wenkcheim's Homecoming is a fitting capstone to Krasznahorkai's tetralogy, one of the supreme achievements of contemporary literature. Now seems as good a time as any to name him among our greatest living novelists." —Paris Review
The Greeks: A global history by Roderick Beaton           $55
The way we think, the way we learn; the forms of entertainment we seek and the systems by which we allow ourselves to be ruled - all of this finds its roots in a small group of people who first emerged in Mycenae over 3,000 years ago. The story of the Greeks is a story that covers the entire globe and four millennia, from the mythical 'Age of the Heroes' to the complex European state of today. For all the fame of the Greek Byzantine Empire and the glorifications of the ancient culture during the Renaissance, this is not a simple, victorious history of a single enduring culture. It is littered with peril and disasters, with oppression and near obliteration.
Granta 157: Should we have styed at home? edited by William Atkins          $28
In 1984, Granta published its first issue devoted to travel writing. Nearly forty years after that genre-defining volume, a new generation of writers from around the globe offers a new vision of what travel writing can be. From Antarctica and the deserts of the US-Mexico border, to a Siberian whale-killing station and the alleyways of Taipei, these dispatches describe a world in perpetual motion (even when it is 'locked-down'). To travel, we are reminded, is to embrace the experience of being a stranger — to acknowledge that one person's frontier is another's home. In this issue: Jason Allen-Paisant remembers the trees of his childhood Jamaica from his home in Leeds; Carlos Manuel Alvarez navigates Cuba's customs system, translated by Frank Wynne; Eliane Brum travels from her home in the Brazilian Amazon to Antarctica in the era of climate crisis, translated by Diane Grosklaus Whitty; Francisco Cantu and Javier Zamora: a former border guard travels to the US-Mexico border with a former undocumented migrant who crossed the border as a child; Jennifer Croft's richly illustrated essay on postcards and graffiti, inspired by Los Angeles; Bathsheba Demuth visits a whale-hunting station on the Bering Strait, Russia; Sinead Gleeson visits Brazil with Clarice Lispector; Kate Harris with the Tinglit people of the Taku River basin, Alaska; Artist Roni Horn on Iceland; Emmanuel Iduma returns to Lagos in his late father's footsteps, Nigeria; Kapka Kassabova among the gatherers of the ancient Mesta River, Bulgaria; Taran Khan with Afghan migrants in Germany and Kabul; Jessica J. Lee in the alleyways of Taipei, Taiwan, in search of her mother's home; Ben Mauk among the volcanoes of Duterte's Philippines; Pascale Petit tracks tigers in Paris and India; Photographer James Tylor on the legacy of whaling in Indigenous South Australia, introduced by Dominic Guerrera.
A Bad Business, Essential stories by Fyodor Dostoevsky (translated by Nicolas Slater Pasternak and Maya Slater)             $28
The stories in this collection range from impossible fantasy to scorching satire. A civil servant finds a new passion for his work when he's swallowed alive by a crocodile. A struggling writer stumbles on a cemetery where the dead still talk to each other. An arrogant but well-intentioned gentleman provokes an uproar at an aide's wedding, and in the marital bed. And a young boy finds unexpected salvation on a cold and desolate Christmas Eve.
Each of the 150 cheeses on Palmer's cheeseboard is accompanied by a morsel of history or a dash of folklore, a description of its flavours, and an illustration.

I Would Prefer Not To, Essential stories by Herman Melville          $28
A lawyer hires a new copyist, only to be met with stubborn, confounding resistance. A cynical lightning rod salesman plies his trade by exploiting fears in stormy weather. After boarding a beleaguered Spanish slave ship, an American trader's cheerful outlook is repeatedly shadowed by paralyzing unease.
"Some of the most brilliant stories of his or any other century. From proto-existentialist Bartleby-whose dry, ironic voice of resistance chimes with our own times-to the dark ocean gothic of Benito Cereno, he surpasses any expectation'." —Philip Hoare