Saturday 30 July 2022


BOOKS @ VOLUME #289 (29.7.22)

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


Full of provocative questions about the relationships between life and art,  neurology and computer programming, weaving and language, thinking and feeling, acting and observing, our Book of the Week very appropriately leaves these questions open and active in the reader's mind. Amalie Smith's intriguing double-stranded novel THREAD RIPPER (translated from the Danish by Jennifer Russell) reaches both backwards and forwards in time as a tapestry weaver works on a large commission and, drawing on everything from her personal life to her experiments in artificial intelligence, speculates on the possibilities of what Ada Lovelace called 'the calculus of the nervous system'.  
>>Read Thomas's review

>>On translating the novel.
>>Flora digitalica (working on the commission). 
>>Some sample pages are here (scroll down until you find them). 
>>Looking through a series of mirrors,
>>Get your copy now


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Thread Ripper by Amalie Smith (translated by Jennifer Russell)   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
Perhaps, he thought in a rare moment of self-reflection, or in a moment of rare self-reflection, he wasn’t sure which, I have become so accustomed to writing my so-called fictional reviews, to writing my so-called reviews in a fictional manner or even, more confusingly, in an autofictional manner so that they are not immediately recognised as the fictions they are, that I have proverbialised myself into a corner and am incapable of writing a straight review, if there is even such a thing, or a review just written as a review, there might be such a thing as that, he thought, without the novelistic trappings of my approach, my distancing and deflection tricks, my wriggling away from the task at hand and from the possibility that I am not up to the task at hand, he thought, perhaps all my trickeration, so to call it, is just a way of concealing my incapability, from myself at least for surely no-one else is fooled, he thought. None of this helped, he thought, this self-reflection, so to call it, makes me more incapable rather than less, makes anything that might pass for a review, or even for a meta-review, less possible, I have thought myself to a standstill, he thought, unless of course I create a fictional reviewer to write the reviews for me, a fictional reviewer who could write a straight review, a review written as a review, that elusive goal that for me is now unreachable, at least without some trickeration, I have got to the point at which only a fake reviewer can write a real review. Anyway, anyone but me. I wonder how my fictional reviewer will approach this book, Thread Ripper, he thought. Thread Ripper is written in two parallel sequences or threads on the facing pages of each opening, and each of those threads has its own approach to the matters that inform them both. My reviewer would probably find themselves obliged to begin or find it convenient to begin with a description of how the verso pages carry an account, if that is the right word, of the author’s researches and considerations of the history of weaving and computer programming, which turn out to be the same thing, at least in the author’s concurrent artistic practice, so to call it, here also described, and which turn out to be the same thing also as neurology and linguistics, or at least to have typological parallels to neurology and linguistics, if these even warrant separate terms, which the fictional reviewer may speculate on at some length, or not, these recto pages deal with matters outside the author’s head, matters of what could be termed fact, even though the term fact could be applied in this instance to some quite interesting philosophical speculations, speculations about things that may actually be the case, which, for the fictional reviewer, is as good a definition of the term as any. The recto pages are concerned with problems of knowing, the fictional reviewer may begin, or may conclude, whereas the verso pages are concerned with problems of feeling, so to call it, not that in either case should we assume the so-called problems to be necessarily problematic, although in many cases in both strands they are, the recto pages are concerned with what is going on inside the author’s head, with matters subject to temporal mutabilitiestemporal mutabilities being an example, or being examples, of the sort of words a fictional reviewer might use when writing a review as a review but not making a very good job of it, though it is unclear whose fault that might be, does he have a responsibility for the performance of this fictional reviewer he has devised to do his job, he supposed he did have some such responsibility but he couldn’t help starting to wonder if successfully creating a character who fails to write well might be more of a success than a failure, though it would be, he supposed, a failure at his stated aim of achieving by the employment of a fictional reviewer the sort of straight review that he found himself these days incapable of writing, he wanted the fictional reviewer to write a real review, after all, a fictional review, which would not need to be actually written and which in this instance he could easily refer to as being wholly positive about this interesting book Thread Ripper, which he has read and enjoyed and which started in his mind, if it warrants to be so called, some quite interesting speculations and chains of thought of his own, and which he could suppose, to make his task easier, his fictional reviewer has also read and enjoyed, they are not so different after all, he thought, such a fictional review would not realise his intention or fulfil the purpose of the reviewer, he had intended the fictional reviewer to review the book in a straightforward way, even though he, even if this intention was by some chance realised, looked as if he would in any case treat the whole exercise, to his shame, as so often, as something of a sentence gymnasium. He would like to write in a straightforward way, he thought, to say, in this instance, I like this book and what is more I think you should buy it because I think you would like it too, but he could not help making the whole exercise into a sentence gymnasium, I never can resist a sentence gymnasium, he thought, these days less than ever, show me a sentence gymnasium or some relatively straightforward task that I could treat as a sentence gymnasium, pretty much anything can be so treated, he realised, and I am lost, he thought, whatever I attempt I fail, I am lost in the fractals of my sentence gymnasiums, or sentence gymnasia, rather, he corrected himself, my plight is worse than I thought, he thought. In Thread Ripper the author on the verso dreams, the fictional reviewer might point out, he thought, or he hoped the fictional reviewer would point out or remember to point out even if they didn’t get so far as to actually point out, according to the verso pages the author dreams and longs, and the author on the recto pages, if we are not at fault for calling either personage the author, programmes her computer with an algorithm to weave tapestries but also with an algorithm to write poetry, the results of which are included on these recto pages, if the author of those pages is to be believed, he didn’t see why not and he thought it unlikely that his fictional reviewer would have any reservations in regard to the authenticity of these poems, so to call them, or rather to the artificial authorship of the poems and of the so-called ‘artificial’ intelligence behind them, any productive system, any arrangement of parts that can produce something beyond those parts, is a sort of intelligence, he thought, though he evidently hadn’t thought this very hard. All thought is done by something very like a machine, even if this is not very like what we commonly term machines, he reasoned, reducing the meaning of his statement almost to nothing while doing so, it is a good thing I am not writing this review myself, it is a good thing I have a fictional reviewer to write the review, a fictional reviewer whom I can make ridiculous without making myself ridiculous, he thought, unconvincingly he had to admit though he didn’t admit this of course to anyone but himself, the universe is full of mess, a mess we are in a constant struggle to reduce. “The digital has become a source not of order, as we had hoped, but of mess, an accumulation of images and signs that just keeps on growing,” writes the author of Thread Ripper. “For humans it’s a mess; a machine can see right through.” Perhaps there is a difference between machine intelligence, which compounds, and human intelligence, which reduces, he thought briefly and then abandoned this thought, perhaps my fictional reviewer will have this thought and perhaps my fictional reviewer will be able to think it through and make something of it, fictional characters often think better than the authors who invent them, fictional characters are themselves a kind of machine for thinking with, artificial characters with artificial thoughts, if there can be such things, perhaps intelligence is the only thing that can never be artificial, he thought, though we might have to change the meanings of several words to make this statement make sense. “I hear on the radio that the human brain at birth is a soup of connections, that language helps us reduce them,” writes the author in Thread Ripper. “The more we learn, the fewer the connections.” Does grammar, then, work as a kind of algorithm, he wondered, or he wondered if his fictional reviewer might be induced to wonder, is it grammar that forms our thoughts by reducing them to the extent that we may affect on occasion to make some sense, whether of not we are right, which is, really, unimportant, the grammar is what matters not the content, is this what Ada Lovelace, who died before she could describe it, referred to as the calculus of the nervous system, could he actually end his sentence with a question mark, he wondered, the question mark that belonged to this Ada Lovelace question, or was he too tangled in his sentence to find its end?


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


The Last Good Man by Thomas McMullan   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Be careful what you wish for. In The Last Good Man, Thomas McMullan delves into the slippery world of morality and judgement. We meet Duncan Peck on the road from a devastated and chaotic city. He’s travelling across land, it’s dark and bleak and a wrong step will mean a suffocating drowning in the bog. 'Watch your step' could be the catch cry for this dystopian debut. A dark mass rises from the bog nearby only to be quickly surrounded by a plastic-rain-coated group. A rescue team? Unlikely, with their metal pipes and mob mentality. Yet they draw the miserable man from the bog and head back to a village. Duncan Peck stays mum. There’s a familiar voice — the man he is looking for. Finding him is about to change his life. This last good man. If there was ever such a thing. Duncan arrives in the village and catches up with his brother-in-arms, James Hale. There are recriminations, but also joy at being in each other’s company again. Their past both binds and hangs over them. Each is edgy about looking back, especially Hale who has found his place in this community. A small community of structure, rules (seemingly ‘fair’) and justice as dispensed by all — a true community reckoning as needs demand. How did they get to this order from a world of ecological and economic chaos? The Wall. There it is — visible on the horizon from a great distance, looming over the community in size and psychology. Anyone can write on the wall. If a wrong has been done it will be announced. A mention or two may not warrant any punishment, aside from a wooden piece of furniture attached to a back for a few days. Various men and women go about their daily chores with a lamp, chair or table tied to their backs. Hale tells Duncan Peck early in the piece he better sort out his ropes — make sure he has a good one to ease the troublesomeness of such an imposition. Yet, get your name on the wall in repetition and for more troubling matters, then life might not be so easy, or even possible at all. Accusations have to be acted on — it’s natural justice. Gossip and petty jealousies raise their ugly heads. This is the twitter-sphere writ large in analogue. Technology is a thing of the distant past and, while life is simple, it’s definitely not without complexities and intricate dancing if you want to keep your name from the wall and the attention of the mob that will hunt you down when you make a run for it. You can know many secrets and truths but you would be foolish to voice those in this judgemental village. Thomas McMullan brings us a dark unsettling time, with echoes of Riddley Walker (without the language breakdown) and early Ian McEwan, where human behaviour is both attractive and frightening. Everybody wants to be loved. Everybody wants to be good, but somehow no one can quite pull it off without being bogged down in a sticky mire. Desire and survival are bedfellows Duncan Peck can not ignore if he wants to keep his head. 

Friday 29 July 2022


Grimmish by Michael Winkler            $35
Pain was Joe Grim's self-expression, his livelihood and reason for being. In 1908-09 the Italian-American boxer toured Australia, losing fights but amazing crowds with his showmanship and extraordinary physical resilience. On the east coast Grim played a supporting role in the Jack Johnson-Tommy Burns Fight of the Century; on the west coast he was committed to an insane asylum. In between he played with the concept and reality of pain in a shocking manner not witnessed before or since. Winkler braids the story of Grim in Australia and meditations on pain with thoughts on masculinity and vulnerability, plus questionable jokes, into a highly creative haymaker. 
Short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award. 
"The strangest book you are likely to read this year." —J.M. Coetzee
"Grimmish meets a need I didn't even know I had. I lurched between bursts of wild laughter, shudders of horror, and gasps of awe at Winkler's verbal command: the freshness and muscle of his verbs, the unstoppable flow of his images, the bizarre wit of the language of pugilism-and all the while, a moving subterranean glint of strange masculine tenderness." —Helen Garner
Regenesis: Feeding the world without devouring the planet by George Monbiot           $37
Campaigners, chefs and food writers rail against 'intensive farming'. But the problem isn't the adjective. It's the noun. Around the world, farming has been wiping out vast habitats, depleting freshwater, polluting oceans, and accelerating global heating, while leaving millions undernourished and unfed. Increasingly, there are signs that the system itself is beginning to flicker. But there is another way. Regenesis is an journey into a new possible future for food, people and the planet. Drawing on the rapidly advancing science of soil ecology, Monbiot shows how the hidden biological universe beneath our feet could transform what we eat and how we grow it. He travels to meet the people who are unlocking these methods, from the fruit and vegetable growers who cultivate pests as well as potatoes; through producers of perennial grains who are liberating their fields from ploughs; to the scientists pioneering new forms of protein. The tiniest life forms in the soil might help us save the living world, allowing us to produce abundant, cheap, healthy food while returning vast swathes of land to the wild. Interesting and hopeful.
Free Kid to a Good Home by Hiroshi Ito            $20
"When my squawking baby brother arrived, I realised I needed a new family. No one seemed to mind when I packed my bag. I took a box and used my best handwriting to write 'FREE KID', then waited for some new parents to take me home." Waiting in a box like an abandoned pet and encountering the passersby changes the child's perspective. At the end of the day, when her parents pretend they need an older sister for their new baby, she is ready to leave her box and go happily back home. A delightful book!

The Dawn of Everything: A new history of humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrove                 $30

This remarkable book challenges our received narratives of historical determinism and the myths of cultural ‘progress’ devised to justify the status quo. If we unshackle ourselves from these preconceptions and look more closely at the evidence, we find a wide array of ways in which humans have lived with each other, and with the natural world. Many of these could provide templates for new forms of social organisation, and lead us to rethink farming, property, cities, democracy, slavery, and civilisation itself. A fascinating and important book, now in paperback. 
>>All figured out.
>>Human history gets a rewrite.
>>Collective self-creation.
>>Inequality is not the price of civilisation.
>>American anarchist.
>>What other social systems have there been?
>>Lots of really good videos.
>>Articles by Graeber.
>>Graeber's playlist.
>>Also available as a very satisfying hardback
>>Other books by David Graeber

Around the Table by Julia Busuttil Nishimura               $50
We regularly use Julia Busuttil Nishimura's previous two cookbooks at home because they are full of sure-fire recipes that are a pleasure to make and even more of a pleasure to eat, so we are looking forward to adding this new book to our collection.  Julia Busuttil Nishimura always knows the right dish for the occasion, weather or time of day. She also understands the power food has to bring people together, whether that's to prepare a meal or enjoy the delicious results. With recipes ranging from quick, flavourful meals for busy weeknights to simple indulgences for summer feasts, Around the Table perfectly matches dishes to time and place. It includes Mediterranean classics from Italy and Malta, and Japanese dishes Julia has learned from her husband, Nori, that will soon become favourites around your table, too.  
The Notorious Scarlett and Browne, Being an account of the fearless outlaws and their infamous deeds ('Scarlett & Browne' #2) by Jonathan Stroud           $22
A fast-paced fantasy adventure set in a broken, future England, following the further exploits of the outlaws Scarlett and Browne. Scarlett McCain and Albert Browne have outwitted their pursuers and escaped into the wilderness once more, and it’s not long before they become famous for their audacious heists across the Seven Kingdoms. Yet neither is fully able to escape the shackles of the past – as they discover when a dangerous job turns sour. Soon old enemies and sinister new threats are pressing in on every side, and Scarlett and Browne must pull off an impossible mission and strike out against The Faith Houses and the Brothers of the Hand if they are to save the people they hold most dear.
>>Read Stella's review of The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne (#1)
>>Book trailer for Book #2
Wonderworks reveals that literature is among the mightiest technologies that humans have ever invented, precision-honed to give us what our brains most want and need. Wonderworks tells the story of the greatest literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to modern-day America. It draws on cutting-edge neuroscience to demonstrate that the inventions really work: they enrich our lives with joy, hope, courage and energy, and they help our brains heal from grief, loneliness and even trauma.

The Trouble with Happiness, And other stories by Tove Ditlevsen          $26
A newly married woman longs, irrationally, for a silk umbrella; a husband chases away his wife's beloved cat; a betrayed mother impulsively sacks her housekeeper. Underneath the surface of these precisely observed tales of love, marriage and family life in mid-century Copenhagen pulse currents of desire, violence and despair, as women and men dream of escaping their conventional roles and finding freedom and happiness — without ever truly understanding what that might mean.
"An intense reading experience. So clear is Ditlevsen's eye that it's impossible to tear yourself away from the fates of her characters, however grim." —John Self,  Guardian 

Speaking and Being: How language binds and frees us by Kübra Gümüşay        $33
Language opens up our world, and in the same instant, limits it. What does it mean to exist in a language that was never meant for you to speak? Why are we missing certain words? How can we talk about our communal problems without fuelling them? What does it actually mean to speak freely? As a writer and activist fighting for equality, Kübra Gümüşay has been thinking about these questions for many years. In this book she explores how language shapes our thinking and determines our politics. She shows how people become invisible as individuals when they are always seen as part of a group, and the way those in the minority often have to expend energy cleaning up the messy thinking of others. But she also points to how we might shape conversations to allow for greater ambiguity and individuality, how arguments might happen in a space of learning and vulnerability without sacrificing principles — how we might all be able to speak freely.
Reward System by Jem Calder             $40
Julia has landed a fresh start — at a 'pan-European' restaurant. 'Imagine that,' says her mother. 'I'm imagining.' Nick is flirting with sobriety and nobody else. Did you know: adults his age are now more likely to live with their parents than a romantic partner? Life should have started to take shape by now — but instead we're trying on new versions of ourselves, swiping left and right, and searching for a convincing answer to that question: 'What do you do?' Reward System is a set of ultra-contemporary and electrifyingly fresh fictions, of a generation of the cusp, meshed in Zooms and lockdowns, loneliness and love.
"Reward System is an exhilarating and beautiful book by an extraordinarily gifted writer. Reading these stories, I found myself thinking newly and differently about contemporary life." —Sally Rooney
The Disordered Cosmos: A journey into dark matter, spacetime, and dreams deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein         $30
Prescod-Weinstein shares her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter—along with a perspective informed by history, politics, and the wisdom of Star TrekOne of the leading physicists of her generation, Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is also one of fewer than one hundred Black American women to earn a PhD from a department of physics. Her vision of the cosmos is vibrant, buoyantly nontraditional, and grounded in Black and queer feminist lineages. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein urges us to recognize how science, like most fields, is rife with racism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression. She lays out a bold new approach to science and society, beginning with the belief that we all have a fundamental right to know and love the night sky. The Disordered Cosmos dreams into existence a world that allows everyone to experience and understand the wonders of the universe.
Finding the Raga: An improvisation on Indian music by Amit Chaudhuri         $25
By turns essay, memoir and cultural study, Finding the Raga is Amit Chaudhuri's singular account of his discovery of, and enduring passion for, North Indian music: an ancient, evolving tradition whose principles and practices will alter the reader's notion of what music might — and can — be. Tracing the music's development, Finding the Raga dwells on its most distinctive and mysterious characteristics: its extraordinary approach to time, language and silence; its embrace of confoundment, and its ethos of evocation over representation.
"Supple, intricate and uncompromising, full of delicate observation and insight, Amit Chaudhuri's Finding the Raga immerses us in the rigorous beauty and cosmology of Indian classical music. It is also a loving memoir about relationships and places, dedication and vocation." —Geoff Dyer
Between 1918 and 1921, over a hundred thousand Jews were murdered in Ukraine and Poland by peasants, townsmen, and soldiers who blamed the Jews for the turmoil of the Russian Revolution. In hundreds of separate incidents, ordinary people robbed their Jewish neighbors with impunity, burned down their houses, ripped apart their Torah scrolls, sexually assaulted them, and killed them. Largely forgotten today, these pogroms – ethnic riots – dominated headlines and international affairs in their time. Aid workers warned that six million Jews were in danger of complete extermination. Twenty years later, these dire predictions would come true. Drawing upon long-neglected archival materials, including thousands of newly discovered witness testimonies, trial records, and official orders, Veidlinger shows how this wave of genocidal violence created the conditions for the Holocaust. Through stories of survivors, perpetrators, aid workers, and governmental officials, he explains how so many different groups of people came to the same conclusion: that killing Jews was an acceptable response to their various problems.
In the closing third of the twentieth century, Wales experienced the simultaneous effects of deindustrialisation, the subsequent loss of employment and community cohesion, and the struggle for its language and identity. These changes were largely forced upon the country, whose own voice, rarely agreed upon within its borders, had to fight to be heard outside of Wales. Brittle with Relics is a history of the people of Wales undergoing some of the country's most seismic and traumatic events: the disasters of Aberfan and Tryweryn; the rise of the Welsh language movement; the Miners' Strike and its aftermath; and the narrow vote in favour of partial devolution. Featuring the voices of Neil Kinnock, Rowan Williams, Leanne Wood, Gruff Rhys, Michael Sheen, Nicky Wire, Sian James, Welsh language activists, members of former mining communities and many more, this is a vital history of a nation determined to survive, while maintaining the hope that Wales will one day thrive on its own terms.
"Richly humane, viscerally political, generously multi-voiced, Brittle with Relics is oral history at its revelatory best: containing multitudes and powerfully evoking that most remote but also resonant of times, the day before yesterday." —David Kynaston
"A testament to the brutal circumstances that bonded the communities of Wales into a new polity for the 21st century." —Gruff Rhys
Ko Wai e Huna ana? by Satoru Onishi (translated by Paora Tibble)        $20
Who's Hiding? by Satoru Onishi         $20
Board book editions in either te reo Maori or English of this deservedly popular and enjoyable book for infants. 18 colourful animals stand in a row. Something small changes on every double page: animals disappear, turn around, cry or sleep. Young children love spotting the changes and, at the same time, get to know animal names, colours, expressions, emotions and how to count.
Obsessive, Intrusive, Magical Thinking by Marianne Eloise        $33
"Obsessive was, still is, my natural state, and I never wondered why. I didn't mind, didn't know that other people could feel at peace. I always felt like a raw nerve, but then, I thought that everyone did." Writer and journalist Marianne Eloise was born obsessive. What that means changes day to day, depending on what her brain latches on to: fixations with certain topics, intrusive violent thoughts, looping phrases. Some obsessions have lasted a lifetime, while others will be intense but only last a week or two. Obsessive, Intrusive, Magical Thinking is a culmination of a life spent obsessing, offering a glimpse into Marianne's brain, but also an insight into the lives of others like her. From death to Medusa, to Disneyland to fire, to LA to her dog, the essays explore the intersection of neurodivergence, obsession and disorder, telling the story of one life underpinned and ultimately made whole by obsession.
"The mortifying ordeal of being known, minus the ordeal and sans mortification. I felt recognised on every page, learned so many new things, and laughed so hard I choked on my water. Read this!!!" —Naoise Dolan
Homesickness by Colin Barrett              $35
The much-anticipated second collection of stories from the author of Young Skins. In these eight stories, Barrett takes us back to the barren backwaters of Ireland's County Mayo, via Toronto, and illuminates the lives of outcasts, misfits and malcontents with an eye for the abrupt and absurd. A quiet night in the neighbourhood pub is shattered by the arrival of a sword wielding fugitive. A funeral party teeters on the edge of this world and the next, as ghosts won't simply lay in wake. A shooting sees an everyday call-out lead a policewoman to confront the banality of her own existence.
"The stories in Homesickness are crafted with skill and flair. Colin Barrett anchors the work with emotional accuracy and careful delineation of character, and then, using metaphors and beautifully made sentences, he lets his narrative soar." —Colm Toibin
"Superb. There is an utterness to his attention, a devotion to the lives of his characters, that shifts the work into some more lasting place. Barrett is already one of the leading writers of the Irish short story, which is to braggingly say, one of the leading writers of the short story anywhere. He means every word and regrets every word. He just kills it." —Guardian 
The Rack by A.E. Ellis           $24
'Consider yourself an experiment of the gods in what a man can endure.' Paul Davenant, has arrived at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps with hopes of a full cure and a normal life. But as the weeks and months pass interminably by, he undergoes endless tests and medical procedures, each more horrific and dehumanizing than the last, all the while facing the possibility that his case may be hopeless. Despite the pain, indignity, and tediousness, Davenant never loses sight of the outrageous, farcical side to his situation, the absurdity of it all. And when he falls in love with a fellow patient, he becomes determined to recover his health. Will he succeed, or will all the tortures he has endured have been for nothing? When The Rack was first published in 1958, the critical acclaim was universal — reviewers compared it with the works of Proust, Mann, and Camus and declared it a masterwork destined to take its place among the great novels of the 20th century. It was subsequently all but forgotten until this new edition. 
"There are certain books we call great for want of a better term, that rise like monuments above the cemeteries of literature — Clarissa, Great Expectations, Ulysses. The Rack to my mind is one of this company." —Graham Greene
Why Patti Smith Matters by Caryn Rose          $28
Through her poetry, her songs, her unapologetic vocal power, and her very presence as a woman fronting a rock band, Patti Smith kicked open a door that countless others walked through. Sha has done much that embodies the 'nothing-to-hide' rawness of punk, and has long nurtured a place in society for misfits of every stripe. Why Patti Smith Matters is the first book about the iconic artist written by a woman. The veteran music journalist Caryn Rose contextualises Smith's creative work, her influence, and her wide-ranging and still-evolving impact on rock and roll, visual art, and the written word. Rose goes deep into Smith's oeuvre, from her first album, Horses, to acclaimed memoirs operating at a surprising remove from her music.
Your Show by Ashley Hickson-Lovence            $37
A novelisation of the life of Uriah Rennie, the UK football Premier League's first and only Black referee. From Jamaica to Sheffield to the recently formed Premier League, Uri rises through the ranks as a referee, making it to the the highest level of our national game. But along the way he is confronted with tensions and prejudices, old and new, which emerge as his every move is watched, analysed and commented on.
"Freestyle poetry is teamed with kick-by-kick reports in this stirring, stylistically unorthodox novel. A bold and powerful narrative experiment." —Guardian

Bolla by Pajtim Statovci              $33
It is April, 1995. Kosovo is a country on the cusp of a dreadful war. Arsim is twenty-two, newly married, cautious - an Albanian trying to keep his head down and finish his studies in an atmosphere of creeping threat. Until he encounters Milos, a Serb, and begins a life in secret. Bolla is the story of what happens when passion and history collide - when a relationship, already forbidden and laced with danger, is ripped apart by war and migration, separated by nations and fate. What happens when you are forced to live a life that is not yours, so far from your desires? Can the human remain?

No Words by Maryam Master      $19
 Hero doesn't feel like a hero, but sometimes she feels as if the universe is asking her to be one. When Aria, a mysterious boy who never EVER speaks, starts at school and is picked on by His Royal Thug-ness Doofus (Rufus), Hero and her bestie Jaz feel compelled to help. But they're far too chicken to actually do anything heroic, so they befriend Aria and try to uncover the truth about him. What happened to his voice? Where did he come from? What are those three dents on his middle finger? This is the story of a 12-year-old refugee who's trying to establish a new life in a new country, grapple with his past and, most importantly, find his voice.

Wooolf! by Stephanie Blake          $19
Once there was a little rabbit who did only what he wanted. When his mother asked him to tidy his room he cried, “Wooolf! The wolf is coming!" and, when she ran away, he did whatever he wanted. One day he did a wee where he wanted, and the wolf came to get him. "Wooolf!" he cried, but his mother didn't fall for that. The wolf got him! It was just Simon's father in a wolf mask. Simon promised never to cry wolf again. But when his mother opened the cupboard in the morning, a wolf cried, "Awwoooo!"

Saturday 23 July 2022


New books and book news!

Read our latest newsletter: BOOKS @ VOLUME #288 (22.7.22)


Our Book of the Week is the beautiful and moving The Bird Within Me by Sara Lundberg. Lundberg uses paintings and words to tell the story of Swedish artist Berta Hansson's childhood on a provincial farm in the early twentieth century, her discovery of the vital importance to her of art, and her determination to live her own life regardless of others' expectations. 
>>Read Stella's review
>>Look inside the book. 
>>On making the illustrations
>>An interview with Lundberg.
>>"An artist begins their journey to maturity when they have to deal with loss." 
>>Berta Hansson. 
>>The book in published in English by Book Island. 
>>Your copy


>> Read all Stella's reviews.

The Bird Within Me by Sara Lundberg  {Reviewed by STELLA}
If you are a lover of illustration and wonderful children’s books, this should be in your collection. The Bird Within Me, from the excellent children’s book publisher Book Island, is a beautiful story — tender and thoughtful. Based on the life of Swedish artist Berta Hansson, it recalls her childhood growing up in a rural village, her love of nature, and her dream to be an artist. Berta feels different from her sisters, from others in the village (apart from her uncle, who she sees as a magician — others call him 'the theatrical farmer') and dreams of escape. “Well, if I was a bird, I could fly off. Away from our village. To something else. To a place where I could be myself. Where no one calls for me all the time or thinks I am ridiculous.” As we get to know Berta, Sara Lundberg's illustrations take us between reality and dream. Sometimes we are confronted with the rigours of school and family portrayed in detailed drawings or collaged paintings, while on the next spread we may be taken away into Berta’s world of trees, birds shaped out of blue clay, and internal perspectives beautifully expressed in a quiet and evocative style. 1920s farming life was hard, and harder still for Berta and her siblings with their mother suffering from tuberculosis. This disease lies under the fragile heart of Berta’s childhood. It causes suffering, fear and grief, and is a constant interloper in the family’s life. For Berta, her relationship with her mother is tender and sad — yet it is her mother’s appreciation of the small sculptures by her side and the drawings that hug her walls that keep this young girl’s talent alive. There are pivotal moments that change Berta’s fate of working on the farm and becoming a housewife: the doctor who recognises her talent; her uncle and his own paintings in the room that to Berta smells safe; and the pot of food deliberately left to burn — a small defiance, one which makes her father recognise the need to allow Berta to spread her wings. Or. at least, continue her education. Sara Lundberg has drawn on the paintings, letters and diaries of the artist to articulate this loving portrait of a twelve-year-old on the cusp of life and the passion for art that will shape her life. A tender and exquisitely illustrated book about following your dreams. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus, with illustrations by Catrin Morgan   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
This book is a sort of fictional encyclopedia of pretty much everything you don't understand about the world but were unable quite to pinpoint and about which you are unable even to find the right sort of words to express your confusion. Familiar things and their meanings have been separated and allowed to settle in new patterns of association, clotted together by the adhesive properties of language, giving rise to new science, new culture, new emotions. Marcus is set against the deadening effect of familiarity; really, his Age of Wire and String is no more savage, tender and surprising than the world we take for granted every day: the problems he describes are the very same ones that already throng the skin dividing our internal world from our external (a concept demonstrably arbitrary and invertible) but to which we have become numbed and unobservant. This book will certainly not help you to understand anything any better, but it will make your confusion immaculate and add to it dimensions of awe and beauty that you had hitherto not suspected. This edition pairs Marcus's text with Morgan's equally >>obtuse and intriguing illustrations.

Friday 22 July 2022


Yell, Sam, If You Still Can by Maylis Besserie (translated by Clíona Ní Ríordáin)        $42
In Maylis Besserie's novel, Samuel Beckett at the end of his life in 1989, living in Le Tiers-Temps retirement home. It is as if Beckett has come to live in one of his own stage productions, peopled with strange, unhinged individuals, waiting for the end of days. Yell, Sam, If You Still Can is filled with voices. From diary notes to clinical reports to daily menus, cool medical voices provide a counterpoint to Beckett himself, who reflects on his increasingly fragile existence. He remains playful, rueful, and aware of the dramatic irony that has brought him to live in the room next door to Winnie, surrounded by grotesques like Hamm or Lucky, abandoned by his wife Suzanne who died before him.
"To set out to portray a master stylist, the author of Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable, would daunt the most experienced writer. That this is Besserie’s debut is remarkable; that she carries it off so convincingly, with such elan and poetic force, is a wonder. Besserie does not mimic the style of Beckett’s threnodies, yet she evokes, subtly and with great skill, a fitting intensity, bleak lyricism and black humour." —John Banville, Guardian
"If the small detail can reveal the large life, and the tiny reveal the epic, then Maylis Besserie has uncovered the gem of an expansive life. This beautifully translated book is an evocation of Beckett’s last days, told from a variety of angles, all of which add up to a portrait of great humanity. Beckett goes on, even in spite of it all, with humour and grace and his own form of deep belief." —Colum McCann
An audacious act of the imagination." —Books Ireland
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz            $36
Told in a series of cascading vignettes, featuring a collective multitude of voices, After Sappho reimagines the lives of a brilliant group of feminists, sapphists, artists and writers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as they battle for liberation, justice and control over their own lives.
"This book is splendid: impish, irate, deep, courageous, moving, funny…and truly significant, I think." —Lucy Ellmann
"It’s brilliant, an unobtrusive, quietly mesmerising, imagined collocation of linked feminist lives that succeeds in delineating a movement bigger than all of them without diminishing any one of them." —Ian Patterson
"After Sappho is superb. Mesmerising. Such incredible writing. And thinking. Selby Wynn Schwartz tips everyone out of the water." —Deborah Levy
"A bold and original novel." —Guardian
Carnality by Lina Wolff (translated by Frank Perry)             $38
Awarded a three-month stipend to travel and work, a Swedish writer flies to Madrid, where in a bar she meets a man with an extraordinary story to tell. In exchange for somewhere to sleep and to hide out for a few days, he is willing to tell her the whole astonishing tale. What follows is an account of fantastic proportions and ingredients: the existence of a shadowy Internet TV show with a certain morality clause, a threat to the storyteller's life, a diabolical nun, and the story of a girl with a missing left thumb. The tale is also the precursor to a meeting between the writer and the infernal miracle worker, Lucia—a meeting that ultimately forces the writer to make a fateful decision about her own inner essence.
"Lina Wolff is a literary monster, she has a hundred eyes and senses things that the rest of us can't see. That's how she has been able to write this story that retells the twisted, horrible, funny, sometimes beautiful mysteries contained in the apparent sack of meat that we are." —Yuri Herrera
Ready, Steady, School! by Marianne Dubuc              $45
Next year, Pom will be starting school. But a year's too long to wait when you're excited. Today, Pom has decided to visit some friends by dropping in on different animal schools. At Little Leapers, the rabbits are learning how to read, write and count. At Bulrushes, the frogs are creating beautiful artwork. At F is for Foxtrot, the foxes are playing different sports. What if Pom's dream school was a little bit of all that? One thing's for sure : school is an amazing adventure! Marianne Dubuc, the creator of this book, has hidden lots of details in the illustrations. In every school Pom visits, you can find: an animal having a nap, an animal dropping something, an animal eating a snack, an animal who is reading, an animal visiting from another school. Completely delightful!
Bitter Orange Tree by Jokha Alharthi (translated by Marilyn Booth)             $35
The eagerly awaited new novel from the author of Celestial Bodies (winner of the 2019 International Booker Prize). Zuhur, an Omani student at a British university, is caught between the past and the present. As she attempts to form friendships and assimilate in Britain, she can’t help but ruminate on the relationships that have been central to her life. Most prominent is her strong emotional bond with Bint Amir, a woman she always thought of as her grandmother, who passed away just after Zuhur left the Arabian Peninsula. As the historical narrative of Bint Amir’s challenged circumstances unfurls in captivating fragments, so too does Zuhur’s isolated and unfulfilled present, one narrative segueing into another as time slips, and dreams mingle with memories.  
"A rich and powerful novel that showcases the interplay between memory and emigration and the precariousness of sisterhood in a world that encourages the domination of men, told in a sumptuous and incisive translation by Marilyn Booth."  —Jennifer Croft  
Wreck: Géricault's raft and the art of being lost at sea by Tom de Freston           $40
Artist Tom de Freston has long had an obsession with Gericault's painting 'The Raft of the Medusa', and the troubling story behind its creation. The monumental canvas, which hangs in the Louvre, depicts a 19th century tragedy in which 150 people were drowned at sea on a raft lost in a stormy sea, when the ship Medusa was wrecked on shallow ground. When de Freston began making an artwork with Ali, a Syrian writer blinded by a bombing, The Raft's depiction of pain and suffering resonated powerfully with him, as did Gericault's awful life story. It spoke not only to Ali's story but to Tom's family history of trauma and anguish, offering him a passage out of the dark waters in which he found himself.
"Gericault's Raft stands as a statement as much as painting, a history lesson, a nightmare, a gigantic perfidy, a visual shorthand for abuse and disaster rendered in exquisite oils. In pulses of literary reference and art history and Gericault's own radical life story, de Freston evokes a provocative new voyage for the rotting raft — seen through his own visceral experience of the vast painting, and its uproarious terrors and visions, which hold a mortal but undying resonance for our own times. A stupendous work." —Philip Hoare
"To read Wreck is to observe a mind as it delves into the pentimenti of the past, moving through complexities of horror, art, solidarity, and trauma. Unforgettable." —Doireann Ni Ghriofa
>>'The Raft of the Medusa'. 
A Fish in the Swim of the World by Ben Brown         $30
This classic memoir by one of Aotearoa's most prominent Maori writers is now updated with new material. "This is a book of memories. Some of them are my own. Some of them belong to others. They are as true and as fallible as any memories—distorted by time and distance and a writer's choice of words." In the memoir that kickstarted a writing career that has spawned more than 20 books, including many award-winners, Ben Brown writes of a quintessentially New Zealand way of living that may not change the world or even ripple its waters, but is replete with meaning. Gathered from the tobacco-green valleys of the Motueka River where he grew up during the 1960s and 1970s, Brown's memoir is rich with a sense of place, and of family. The strands of his parents' lives reach from Outback Australia and the hardship years of the Great Depression and World War II, to the Waikato heart of the Kingitanga and a re-emergent people, to a time and place where tobacco was 'king' and a small farm by a river was the sum of all ambition. 
The Absolute by Daniel Geubel (translated by Jessica Sequeira)          $40
The Absolute is a sprawling historical novel about the Deliuskin-Scriabin family, made up of six generations of geniuses and madmen. Beginning in the mid-18th century in Russia, across Europe and ending in late 20th-century Argentina, the characters' lives play out in different branches of art, politics and science in such radical ways that they transform the world and its reality. The narrator's ancestor, Frantisek Deliuskin, invents a new form of music in the 18th century; his son, Andrei Deliuskin, makes some marginal annotations to the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola that are later interpreted by Lenin as an instruction manual to carry out the Russian Revolution of 1917; Esau Deliuskin, following the course of his father, creates a socialist utopian society; and down through the generations to the narrator, whose creation takes him back in time and space to the moment of the Big Bang.
"The Absolute is an extraordinary novel, an exploration of memory and music, of social history, science and family ties. Guebel's remote ancestor is Richard Burton and his Anatomy of Melancholy; his contemporaries, Norman Manea and W.G. Sebald." —Alberto Manguel
Slave Empire: How slavery built modern Britain by Padraic X. Scanlan             $30
The British empire, in sentimental myth, was more free, more just and more fair than its rivals. But this claim that the British empire was 'free' and that, for all its flaws, it promised liberty to all its subjects was never true. The British empire was built on slavery. Slave Empire puts enslaved people at the centre the British empire in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In intimate, human detail, Padraic Scanlon shows how British imperial power and industrial capitalism were inextricable from plantation slavery. With vivid original research and careful synthesis of innovative historical scholarship, Slave Empire shows that British freedom and British slavery were made together.
"Slave Empire is lucid, elegant and forensic. It deals with appalling horrors in cool and convincing prose." —The Economist
Naming the Beasts by Elizabeth Morton          $25
A menagerie of poems about the gnarlier aspects of being a creature of this world. Within these pages wilderness and suburbia collide. The 'I' in these poems takes many forms: a wolf, a waterbuck, a bird 'stuck circling the carnage'. Whether soaring above or prowling through the neighbourhood, Morton's beasts bear witness to an unremitting vision of pain and ecological damage. As the flames climb higher, the beasts in this collection are left to wander and live out their lives. There is love and loneliness, passivity and rage. Yet there is always hope. Hoof and hide, fang and gut, these images and insights are those of an artist in a war zone intent on chronicling beauty in a world that's falling apart. Morton's poems take a bite out of the world around us, as they explore reality through the vitality and immersiveness of their imaginative powers.
Books Promiscuously Read: Reading as a way of life by Heather Cass White         $35
Heather Cass White's Books Promiscuously Read is about the pleasures of reading and its power in shaping our internal lives. It advocates for a life of constant, disorderly, time-consuming reading, and encourages readers to trust in the value of the exhilaration and fascination such reading entails. Rather than arguing for the moral value of reading or the preeminence of literature as an aesthetic form, Books Promiscuously Read illustrates the irreplaceable experience of the self that reading provides for those inclined to do it. 
"An elegantly constructed meditation on the vital relation between reading and the everyday self, Books Promiscuously Read animates the experience with wit, brilliance, and affection. A pleasure to read and pass on." —Vivian Gornick
The Joy of Science by Jim al-Khalili       $35
In this brief guide to leading a more rational life, acclaimed physicist Jim Al-Khalili invites readers to engage with the world as scientists have been trained to do. The scientific method has served humankind well in its quest to see things as they really are, and underpinning the scientific method are core principles that can help us all navigate modern life more confidently. Discussing the nature of truth and uncertainty, the role of doubt, the pros and cons of simplification, the value of guarding against bias, the importance of evidence-based thinking, and more, Al-Khalili shows how the powerful ideas at the heart of the scientific method are deeply relevant to the complicated times we live in and the difficult choices we make.
Roads to Berlin: Detours and riddles in the lands and history of Germany by Cees Nooteboom              $36
Roads to Berlin maps the changing landscape of Germany, from the period before the fall of the Wall to the present. Written and updated over the course of several decades, an eyewitness account of the pivotal events of 1989 gives way to a perceptive appreciation of its difficult passage to reunification. Nooteboom's writings on politics, people, architecture and culture are as digressive as they are eloquent; his innate curiosity takes him through the landscapes of Heine and Goethe, steeped in Romanticism and mythology, and to Germany's baroque cities. With an outsider's objectivity he has crafted an intimate portrait of the country to its present day.
"He writes in a voice that blends the acuity of Martha Gellhorn with the meditative grace of W.G. Sebald." —Economist
Words Fail Us: In defence of disfluency by Jonty Claypole             $28
In an age of polished TED talks and overconfident political oratory, success seems to depend upon charismatic public speaking. But what if hyper-fluency is not only unachievable but undesirable? Jonty Claypole spent fifteen years of his life in and out of extreme speech therapy. From sessions with child psychologists to lengthy stuttering boot camps and exposure therapies, he tried everything until finally being told the words he'd always feared: 'We can't cure your stutter.' Those words started him on a journey towards not only making peace with his stammer but learning to use it to his advantage. Here, Claypole argues that our obsession with fluency could be hindering, rather than helping, our creativity, authenticity and persuasiveness. Exploring other speech conditions, such as aphasia and Tourette's, and telling the stories of the 'creatively disfluent' — from Lewis Carroll to Kendrick Lamar — Claypole explains why it's time for us to stop making sense, get tongue tied and embrace the life-changing power of inarticulacy.
"Jonty Claypole's book is timely, thoughtful, rich in fact and personal anecdote, and looks to a more enlightened, speech-diverse future.'" —David Mitchell
"Comprehensive, open-minded, thoughtful and wise. A liberating book." —Colm Toibin
The Dawnhounds by Sascha Stronach               $35
A queer, Māori-inspired debut fantasy about a police officer who is murdered, brought back to life with a mysterious new power, and tasked with protecting her city from an insidious evil threatening to destroy it. The port city of Hainak is alive: its buildings, its fashion, even its weapons. But, after a devastating war and a sweeping biotech revolution, all its inhabitants want is peace, no one more so than Yat Jyn-Hok a reformed-thief-turned-cop who patrols the streets at night. Yat has recently been demoted on the force due to "lifestyle choices" after being caught at a gay club. She's barely holding it together, haunted by memories of a lover who vanished and voices that float in and out of her head like radio signals. When she stumbles across a dead body on her patrol, two fellow officers gruesomely murder her and dump her into the harbor. Unfortunately for them, she wakes up. Resurrected by an ancient power, she finds herself with the new ability to manipulate life force. Quickly falling in with the pirate crew who has found her, she must race against time to stop a plague from being unleashed by the evil that has taken root in Hainak.
"A wonderful queer noir fever dream." —Tamsyn Muir
"Fiercely queer. A strange and wondrous re-imagining of noir that takes its cues from biopunk and SE Asian mythos to create something wholly different. There's real imagination at work here—I loved it." —Rebecca Roanhorse
How I Came to Know Fish by Ota Pavel           $35
Fishing with his father and his Uncle Prosek — the two finest fishermen in the world — Ota Pavel as a child took a peaceful pleasure from the rivers and ponds of his Czechoslovakia. But when the Nazis invaded, his father and two older brothers were sent to concentration camps and Pavel had to steal their confiscated fish back from under the noses of the SS to feed his family. With tales of his father's battle to provide for his family both in wealthy freedom and in terrifying persecution, this is one boy's passionate and affecting tale of life, love and fishing.
How Do You Fight a Horse-Sized Duck? And other perplexing puzzles by William Poundstone              $25
Today is Tuesday. What day of the week will it be 10 years from now on this date? How would you empty a plane full of Skittles? How many times would you have to scoop the ocean with a bucket to cause sea levels to drop one foot? You have a broken calculator. The only number key that works is the 0. All the operator keys work. How can you get the number 24? How many dogs have the exact same number of hairs? This book reveals more than 70 outrageously perplexing riddles and puzzles and supplies both answers and general strategy for creative problem-solving.
Nina Simone's Gum by Warren Ellis              $45
In 1999, Nina Simone gave a rare performance as part of Nick Cave's Meltdown Festival. After the show, in a state of awe, Warren Ellis crept onto the stage, took Simone's piece of chewed gum from the piano, wrapped it in her stage towel and put it in a Tower Records bag. The gum remained with him for twenty years: a sacred totem, his creative muse, growing in significance with every passing year. In 2019, Cave, his collaborator and friend. asked Ellis if there was anything he could contribute to display in his Stranger Than Kindness exhibition. Ellis realised the time had come to release the gum. Together they agreed it should be housed in a glass case like a holy relic. Worrying the gum, which had become for him a metaphor for creativity, would be damaged or lost, Ellis decided to first have it cast in silver and gold, sparking a chain of events that no one could have predicted, one that would take him back to his childhood and his relationship to found objects.
"A beautiful, haunting quasi-memoir about the 57-year-old's early life growing up in southeastern Australia and his years spent busking across Europe in the 1980s, as well as one particular, transcendent night that changed the course of his life." —Vanity Fair
The book of the Stranger Than Kindness exhibition. 
Green Kitchen: Quick + Slow by David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl      $50
From the QUICK low-effort weekday dinner when you don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen but still want to eat something delicious, to the SLOW moments when cooking becomes the best part of the day, these recipes will teach you how to cook great tasting, modern vegetarian food and show you how to find joy in the process.