Saturday 28 January 2023


BOOKS @ VOLUME #314 (27.1.23)

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


Our Book of the Week, All Sorts of Lives by Clare Harman, re-examines the life of Katherine Mansfield through the lenses of ten of her stories, written at different stages in her trajectory, and reveals a writer and a person driven to remake both literature and the ways in which she might exist in the world. Harman shows us a woman confronting a very modern set of difficulties, trying to find ways forward into uncertain territory. Mansfield feels again hugely relevant one hundred years after her death. 


SUMMER READING. Choose any of these 100 books and fill the rest of your summer with experiences that will make this reading season a memorable one. >>Click through to browse and make your choices


>> Read all Stella's reviews.

The Ape Star by Frida Nilsson   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Would you like a gorilla to adopt you? Would you like to live in a junkyard in the middle of an abandoned industrial area? And how does a hammock slung up behind a wall suit you for a new bedroom? If you answered yes to all three questions maybe you would like to change places with Jonna.
There are 51 children at the orphanage and the inspector is due. He’ll be counting heads and there better be 50 of them. (The inspector, Tord Fjordmark, is also on the local Council and he’s  keen to get his hands on the junkyard for a money-making venture (more on this later!) and Gorilla is holding them up.) The manager, Gerd, is in a flap. The drive is raked, the sheets are spotless, the gardens perfect and the floor shiny, but she’s one too many. Just as she’s berating Jonna, again, for her dirty hands, a solution arrives in the nick of time. Luckily a car (if you could call it that) speeds in. Unluckily it undoes the meticulous gravel work. Luckily the driver wishes to adopt. Unluckily for Jonna, she’s Gorilla’s choice. Everyone is gobsmacked, and poor Jonna, despite her desire to leave Renfanan and her belief that no one would ever choose her, wishes she wasn’t now rushing headlong down the road in a vehicle pieced together out of scrap, driven outrageously by a Gorilla in baggy pants and big boots. She has the uncomfortable feeling that she might be eaten. (Warning: don’t always believe your  fellow orphans.)
In fact, the only dinner on the table when they get home is fried egg sandwiches and they are pretty good. Gorilla is odd though, and Jonna makes a move as soon as she can to run away. It fails, and then she’s under Gorilla’s watchful eye and has to work out in the yard. After a few weeks, Jonna starts to like the scrap yard, the customers that come by for a bargain, and grows accustomed to Gorilla’s ways, although going to town isn’t high on Jonna’s list — it's embarrassing! She’s not surprised that Gorilla attracts stares and dismay. How could she not? There’s a silver lining though — the second-hand bookshop. Gorilla loves her books, and Jonna will learn to enjoy them too. Jonna’s getting into the groove of Gorilla’s lifestyle and coming up with ideas to make the scrap yards more profitable - some of them not exactly honest. As she gets to know Gorilla, she realises that this is the best kind of family one can have: inventive, imaginative, and caring. Yet life isn’t fair. Tord wants his land and will play dirty to get it. How will Gorilla keep the land and keep Jonna too? And are there better dreams to come if you can find the Ape Star? Read this and you might just find out. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

The Water Statues by Fleur Jaeggy (translated by Gini Alhadeff)  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“It feels as if all that is yet to happen is already in the past.” He had been reading Fleur Jaeggy's novella The Water Statues, first published in 1980 and at last beautifully translated by Gini Alhadeff into English, a work, he thought, in which grief and loss are inescapable properties of time, both resisted and enshrined by memory, in which the past is an unstable and unresponsive fantasy that is shedding its certainty grain by grain. Dedicated to Jaeggy’s then recently dead friend Ingeborg Bachmann, this is a book, he thought, in which the inevitability of loss through death or parting suffuses every meeting, both enriching it and reinforcing its evanescence. Relationships are snags to the tendencies of time, he thought, snags inevitably torn away, and longing and memory—especially the retrospective longing of nostalgia—make it unclear whether our lives are populated with statues or with living beings. If I said, he thought, that Beeklam, the protagonist, if that is the right word, is “born into a house filled with boulders”, loses his mother, suffers from the distance of his father, goes to live in a decaying mansion in Amsterdam, fills the flooded basement with a collection of statues which both represent and replace the living, disposes of his collection, and sets out into the world, I would be misrepresenting the book by literalising its tendencies into a plot. It’s not like that. All instants are inanimate, he thought, and memory is, after all, a flooded basement filled with statues (just like a book). This was getting closer. In Jaeggy’s world, the animate and the inanimate have no clear demarcation, they are interchangeable, they cannot be distinguished from each other. Beeklam is both child and adult, an old man even, somehow all at once. Beeklam and his servant at the same time both are Beeklam’s father Reginald and his servant, and their complement or inverse. Friendship is described as “mutual slavery”: the condition of master and servant makes them both an single entity and beings separated by an unbridgeable gap. The contents of this world lack sufficient differentiation to enable points of true contact, and the longing for friendship connects people but the passage of moments, the ceaseless suck of the past, means that true connection is not possible. In a text that is presented in a variety of different forms and registers (as is Bachmann’s Malina), Beeklam speaks of himself sometimes in the first person and sometimes in the third, as does the most elusive of his narrators. “BEEKLAM: A little boy used to live here, he said he wanted to live as someone who’d drowned.” Who speaks and who is spoken of only sometimes coalesce, he thought, nothing is fixed; everything is undercut, the novella is elusive, but full of the most delightful, troublesome and surprising sentences, sentences that each becomes more remarkable when more deeply considered or reread. “By his calm devoid of sweetness he had bypassed every disorder,” writes Jaeggy, as if to illustrate this point, or, “On his face had been spread as though with a spatula, an expression of peace, a sermon painted over a pale complexion.” Jaeggy’s style is at once both austere and excessive, both direct and elusive, both parsimonious and fantastically indulgent. "Aside from rotting, there’s little flowers can do, and in this they are not unlike human beings,” writes Jaeggy. 

Friday 27 January 2023


Restless outsider, masher-up of form and convention, Katherine Mansfield's short but dazzling career was characterised by struggle, insecurity and sacrifice, alongside a glorious, relentless creative drive and openness. She was the only writer Virginia Woolf admitted being jealous of, yet by the 1950s was, outside New Zealand, almost forgotten. Now, looking back over the hundred years since her death, it is evident how vital Mansfield was to the Modernist movement and how strikingly relevant she is today, helping us to see differently, to savour and to notice things. In this perceptive study, Claire Harman takes a fresh look at Mansfield's life and achievements side by side, through the form she did so much to revolutionise — the short story. Exploring ten pivotal works, we watch how Mansfield's desire to grow as a writer pushed her art into unknown territory, and how illness sharpened her extraordinary vitality. 
"All Sorts of Lives is a beautiful, fastidiously researched and fascinating exploration of Mansfield's life and work. This is great as an introduction to an unjustly neglected author and a joy for those of us who already love her writing." —A.L. Kennedy

Aorere Gold: The history of the Golden Bay goldfields, 1856—1863 by Mike Johnston             $100
Much anticipated and overwhelmingly good, Johnston's unsurpassable history fills a gap not only in the history of goldmining in Aotearoa but in the social history of Golden Bay. Full of meticulously researched detail (both historical and geological) but never losing sight of the overall picture, this well-illustrated 480-page book gives the best possible idea of the Aorere goldrush, which drew gold-seekers from the previous rushes in California and Victoria, local settlers and Māori, and from further afield, and served as a de facto first act to the rushes in Otago and the West Coast that followed. 

A Writer's Diary by Toby Litt             $38
At first, A Writer's Diary appears to be exactly what it claims to be. It is a daily summary of the events in a person called Toby Litt's life: his thoughts on creating literature, his concerns for his family and the people he teaches, his musings on the various things that catch his attention around his desk and his immediate surroundings. But as it progresses, questions start to arise. Is this fact? Or is it fiction? (And if it's both, which is which?) Is this a book about quotidian daily routines - one person's days as they unspool — or is something more going on? Is there something even larger taking shape? And so, seemingly by magic, an increasingly urgent narrative starts to build — and A Writer's Diary becomes  a compulsive page-turner, full of stories, full of characters we have grown to love – and full of questions we need answered. Will Toby find the perfect pencil sharpener? Will everyone he loves make it through the year? And will he be the same person at the end of it?
Fierce Hope: Youth activism in Aotearoa by Karen Nairn, Judith Siglo, Carisa R. Showden, Kyle R. Matthews, and Joanna Kidman      $40
Youth activism has been a defining feature of Aotearoa's recent political landscape. Amidst these unsettling political times haunted by climate change, colonisation, ongoing inequality and the upheaval of the pandemic, the political actions of young New Zealanders are a source of inspiration, challenge and renewal. Fierce Hope opens the doors on six influential activist groups: ActionStation, Generation Zero (Auckland), InsideOUT, JustSpeak, Protect Ihumatao, and Thursdays in Black (Auckland). Participants from these groups, through interviews, explain vividly what future they want for our country and how we can get there. They address an array of urgent issues, from indigenous rights to the justice system and imprisonment; from climate change to gender and sexual inequalities. In their voices we hear hope, anger, despair and anxiety - emotions which inform and galvanise activism. A connecting thread is how people within these different groups collectively negotiate their visions and strategies to achieve change. Their stories provide important insights into the immense demands of activism and help inform radical new ways of living and being together in Aotearoa.
"My generation has seen the stories of Parihaka and Bastion Point, and has witnessed women’s movements, and has seen Donald Trump get elected and has seen Christchurch terrorism – you know, all of these things, we’ve seen them, plus we have a Western education. Most of us have gone to university and we’re [also] entrenched in our tikanga; we’ve got all of these things that then make us, the people, to go "No!"' – Qiane Matata-Sipu, Protect Ihumātao
Slime: A natural history by Susanne Wedlich               $25
Slime is an ambiguous thing. It exists somewhere between a solid and liquid. It inspires revulsion even while it compels our fascination. It is a both a vehicle for pathogens and the strongest weapon in our immune system. Most of us know little about it and yet it is the substance on which our world turns. Slime exists at the interfaces of all things: between the different organs and layers in our bodies, and between the earth, water, and air in the environment. It is often produced in the fatal encounter between predator and prey, and it is a vital presence in the reproductive embrace between female and male. In this ground-breaking and fascinating book, Susanne Wedlich leads us on a scientific journey through the 3 billion year history of slime, from the part it played in the evolution of life on this planet to the way it might feature in the post-human future. She also explores the cultural and emotional significance of slime, from its starring role in the horror genre to its subtle influence on Art Nouveau. Slime is what connects Patricia Highsmith's fondness for snails, John Steinbeck's aversion to hagfish, and Emperor Hirohito's passion for jellyfish, as well as the curious mating practices of underwater gastropods and the miraculous functioning of the human gut. Written with authority, wit and eloquence, Slime brings this most nebulous and neglected of substances to life.
You Don't Know What War Is: The diary of a young girl from Ukraine by Yeva Skalietska          $28
Everyone knows the word "war". But very few understand what it truly means - when you find you have to face it, you feel totally lost, walled in by fright and despair. All of your plans are suddenly interrupted — Until you've been there, you don't know what war is. This is the diary of young Ukrainian refugee Yeva Skalietska. It follows twelve days in Ukraine that changed 12-year-old Yeva's life forever. She was woken in the early hours to the terrifying sounds of shelling. Russia had invaded Ukraine, and her beloved Kharkiv home was no longer the safe haven it should have been. It was while she and her Granny were forced to seek shelter in a damp, cramped basement that Yeva decided to write down her story. 
Where Is Everybody? by Remy Charlip            $33
Charlip's deceptively simple illustrations (the first page is blank, bearing only the words 'Here is an empty sky'), slowly building a scene piece by piece, and eventually, a surreal narrative sure to delight readers and expand children's ideas of what a picture book can be.

Cwen by Alice Albinia          $23
On an unnamed archipelago off the east coast of Britain, the impossible has come to pass. Women control the civic institutions. Decide how the islands' money is spent. Run the businesses. Tend to their families. Teach the children hope for a better world. They say that this gynotopia is Eva Levi's life's work, and that now she has disappeared, it will be destroyed. But they don't know about Cwen. Cwen has been here longer than the civilisation she has returned to haunt. The clouds are her children, and the waves. Her name has ancient roots, reaching down into the earth and halfway around the world. The islands she inhabits have always belonged to women. And she will do anything she can to protect them. Now in paperback.
"A clever, strange and wonderful book, which brims with mystery. A group of women recount their past and present stories, revealing their visions of the future." —Xiaolu Guo
"A wild, original, sure-footed feminist reimagining of the present and the past that brushes up against the mythical. Beautiful work." —Neel Mukherjee

Nine Musings on Time: Science fiction, science fact, and the truth about time travel by John Gribbin               $28
Surprisingly, time travel is not forbidden by the laws of physics -— Gribbin argues that if it is not impossible then it must be possible. Gribbin illustrates the possibilities of time travel by comparing familiar themes from science fiction with their real-world scientific counterparts, including Einstein's theories of relativity, black holes, quantum physics, and the multiverse, illuminated by examples from the fictional tales of Robert Heinlein, Larry Niven, Carl Sagan and others. The result is an entertaining guide to some deep mysteries of the Universe which may leave you wondering whether time actually passes at all, and if it does, whether we are moving forwards or backwards.
Architecture: From prehistory to climate emergency by Barnabas Calder            $26
A groundbreaking history of architecture told through the relationship between buildings and energy. Reducing energy use is the single biggest challenge facing architecture today. From the humblest prehistoric hut to the imposing monuments of Rome or Egypt to super-connected modern airports, buildings in every era and place have been shaped by the energy available for their construction and running. This compelling survey tells the story of our buildings from our hunter-gatherer origins to the age of fossil-fuel dependence, and shows how architecture has been influenced by designers, builders and societies adapting to changing energy contexts.
A History of Delusions: The glass king, a substitute husband, and a walking corpse by Victoria Shepherd            $43
King Charles VI of France — thinking he was made of glass — was terrified he might shatter. After the Emperor met his end at Waterloo, an epidemic of Napoleons piled into France's asylums. Throughout the nineteenth century, dozens of middle-aged women tried to convince their physicians that they were, in fact, dead. For centuries we've dismissed delusions as something for doctors to sort out behind locked doors. But delusions are more than just bizarre quirks — they hold the key to collective anxieties and traumas.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe and Salva Rubio (translated by Lilit Žekulin Thwaites), drawn by Loreto Aroca             $35
The graphic novel version of Iturbe's account of the true story of fourteen-year-old Dita, one of the many imprisoned by the Nazis at Auschwitz. Taken, along with her mother and father, from the Terezín ghetto in Prague, Dita is adjusting to the constant terror that is life in the camp. When Jewish leader Freddy Hirsch asks Dita to take charge of the eight precious books the prisoners have managed to smuggle past the guards, she agrees. And so Dita becomes the secret librarian of Auschwitz, responsible for the safekeeping of the small collection of titles, as well as the 'living books' — prisoners of Auschwitz who know certain books so well, they too can be 'borrowed' to educate the children in the camp. But books are extremely dangerous. They make people think. And nowhere are they more dangerous than in Block 31 of Auschwitz, the children's block, where the slightest transgression can result in execution, no matter how young the transgressor

The Book of Feeling Blue: Understand and manage depression by Gwendoline Smith          $28
How do you know if you're just feeling a bit sad or if you are depressed? What level of sadness is 'normal'? How do you work out what's going on when you feel down? What kinds of treatment are available? How do you help a family member or friend who is depressed? Psychologist Gwendoline Smith answers these questions and many more. In addition she specifically explains post-natal blues and depression; depression in children, teens and older people; depression in relation to gender and sexuality; and Covid blues.
Joan Didion: The Last Interview, And other conversations by Joan Didion with Sheila Heti, Hilton Als, Hari Kunzru, Dave Eggers et al            $37
Didion rose to prominence with her nonfiction collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and she quickly became the writer who captured the zeitgeist of the washed-out, acid hangover of the 60s.  But as a bicoastal writer of fiction and nonfiction whose writing ranged from personal essays and raw, intimate memoirs to reportage on international affairs and social justice, Didion is much harder to pin down than her reputation might suggest. This collection encompasses it all, in conversations that delve into her underappreciated mid-career works, her influences, the loss of her husband and daughter, and her most infamous essays.

Around the World in 80 Books by David Damrosch             $30
Inspired by Jules Verne's hero Phileas Fogg, David Damrosch, chair of Harvard's department of Comparative Literature and founder of Harvard's Institute for World Literature, set out to counter a pandemic's restrictions on travel by exploring eighty exceptional books from around the globe. Following a literary itinerary from London to Venice, Tehran, and points beyond, and via authors from Woolf and Dante to Nobel prizewinners Orhan Pamuk, Wole Soyinka, Mo Yan, and Olga Tokarczuk, he explores how these works have shaped our idea of the world, and the ways the world bleeds into literature. To chart the expansive landscape of world literature today, Damrosch explores how writers live in two very different worlds- the world of their personal experience, and the world of books that have enabled writers to give shape and meaning to their lives.


A selection of books from our shelves.

Silence in the Age of Noise

Saturday 21 January 2023


BOOKS @ VOLUME #313 (20.1.23)

Read our latest newsletter and find out what we've been reading and recommending!


Our Book of the Week is Making Space: A history of New Zealand women in architecture, edited by Elizabeth Cox. Diligently compiled, thoughtfully written and beautifully presented, this book presents the remarkable and remarkably diverse contributions of women to architectural practice in Aotearoa, contributions to the built environment all the more notable in the face of the social mores and professional exclusion that often opposed achievements and then caused them to be overlooked. 
>>Have a look inside!
>>We see their work but do we know their names? 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Annual 3: A miscellany from Aotearoa New Zealand edited by Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Wrap your eyes around this! The third Annual is a treasure trove of hilarious tales, heartfelt memories, captivating comic strips, and fascinating facts. Not to mention evocations to play scrabble or knit yourself a brain hat, foraging instructions complete with recipes, and how to be a young environmentalist. So it’s still the holidays and the book stack has been depleted. The favourites have been read several times and it’s too hot outside. Maybe, you’re off to spend a few days with your grandparents — they will enjoy dipping into this with you. For me, Kate De Goldi's and Susan Price’s Annuals remind me of school holidays at my Nana and Grandad’s, sifting through the not-so-interesting Bibles to find the Girl’s Own Annuals and the old National Geographics. While these were quaint when even I was a child, they are doubly so now. Annual 3 is anything but quaint. It’s adventurous and thoughtful — a great mix of stuff from some of our best authors and illustrators. Gregory O’Brien and Eve Armstrong discuss art, Art Sang makes a comic strip of Maurice Gee’s 'The Champion', and there’s a diary entry for the campaign (ambition) to be class rep. There are doll stories of very different natures, one about belonging by Henrietta Bollinger, and the other rather more sinister from Airini Beautrais. Austin Milne introduces us to a girl, Holly, who would rather (can’t help but) draw ornate ‘plus’ signs than do equations; dotted throughout is Old Dingus — the ‘uptight’ dad (parents read this as exasperated); and if you are hanging out with friends or siblings you could try out the play, read poetry or board game away with Camp Kuku or practice your te reo with Ben Brown’s crossword puzzle. Aimed at 9—14-year-olds, there is plenty of food here for a hungry mind. If you’re lucky you might rustle up a lunch of kawakawa frittata and maybe Grisela Clarkson’s lovingly illustrated 'Big Spread'. You choose! Daily delights abound in this wonderful miscellany. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


Panthers and the Museum of Fire by Jen Craig  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
For a long time I have wanted to write a review of Jen Craig’s Panthers and the Museum of Fire and yet I have not yet done so, I thought as I set off, thinking also the afternoon was really too hot to write properly, not that that was what I was doing, or not exactly, and certainly too hot to be walking home over asphalt spread in this continuous strip right to my front gate, presumably to capture and radiate and compound as much of the sun’s heat as possible. It would seem fitting if I wrote my review as I walked, though, I thought, considering that Panthers and the Museum of Fire takes place, and certainly it is on one level very oriented to place, in the head of the narrator, a narrator who has assumed not only the name but presumably selected characteristics of the book’s author, not that that matters, as she walks through Sydney to return a manuscript to the sister of the childhood friend who wrote it, a manuscript titled Panthers and the Museum of Fire, to be returned to the childhood friend's sister as the childhood friend has recently died. It was during her reading of this manuscript after the childhood friend’s sister had asked the narrator not to read it after all but to return it as soon as possible that the narrator has had the writing epiphany that she has for so long sought, though whether the writing epiphany was related to the manuscript catalytically or cannibalistically is unclear, especially to the narrator herself. “I had been so taken in by the manuscript, not so much unable to put it down as unable to leave it alone, that at the end of the reading, and all the writing that proceeded from the reading, I had — and continue to have — no sense at all of what the manuscript is about,” she writes, though how I am able to quote this so precisely when I am ostensibly walking home is unclear to me, just as how this text appears when I am ostensibly walking home is also unclear albeit somehow easier to believe, I thought. Walking in itself is a genre, I thought, as I started to climb the hill, thankful for the small amount of shade provided by the trees overhanging the footpath, though thankful to whom for this detail is uncertain. Walking is in any case a genre of action, obviously, but it seems to me that walking is also a literary genre, I thought, or possibly the Ur-genre that underlies all text. In walking as in text you set out, you move along, and you come to the end of the journey, time has passed, you have covered some ground, you have got to where you intended or you have not, you have been surprised by what you have seen or you have not, you have cast your mind backwards or forwards in time while all the time moving steadily or not-so-steadily through time, depending on the length of your stride and the grammar of your journey, perhaps writing and walking are one and the same, I thought. Should I then be writing here that I step off the curb by the Examiner Street roundabout or am I in fact stepping off the curb, is writing about walking home the same as actually walking home, I think as I walk home, these seem somehow different but for a person reading about it, if I can postulate such a person even when it is unlikely that there will ever be such a person, I thought, there really is no difference. And likewise for Jen Craig, whose looping, digressive, fugue-like and frequently hilarious thoughts cast about wherever they will as the narrator walks her steady way to meet the childhood friend’s sister at a café to return the manuscript of Panthers and the Museum of Fire. These thoughts, or the writing that stands in for these thoughts, include some of the best writing I have read on anorexia even though I cannot remember what Jen Craig had to say on anorexia so I will have to reread that part of the book, something I cannot do when ostensibly walking home on this narrative pavement without breaking the fiction that I am actually walking home on this narrative pavement, I thought. The excellent writing on the narrator’s anorexia includes the coincidence of names between the author and the Jenny Craig of the famous weight loss programme, which is very funny if that is the sort of thing that you find very funny, which I do, I thought. The tragic is not fully tragic unless it is funny too, I thought. Is that wrong? I have been, as I said, for a long time intending to write a review of Jen Craig’s Panthers and the Museum of Fire, which was perhaps my favourite of all the books I read in 2022, I thought, but time has gone by and the more I have thought about Panthers and the Museum of Fire the more my experience of reading Panthers and the Museum of Fire has been replaced by my memory of the experience of reading Panthers and the Museum of Fire, which is not the same thing but something now almost wholly mine, I thought, and really, I had been so taken in by the the book that, even at the end of the reading, I had — and continue to have — no sense at all of what the book is about. Haha. I walk but I do not write, I thought, when I don’t write there is nothing to show for my walking, not even the review of Panthers and the Museum of Fire that I have long wanted to write, I thought as I turned into Bronte Street by the college and started at last to head downhill, I could list several things that prevent my writing, several things that could be briefly categorised, much as I resist categorising things I must admit that categories are an instinctive mental function, at least for me, as the state of my body, the state of my mind, the state of my circumstances, and the state of the world, if indeed distinctions may be made between these states, these several things are antagonistic to writing, they oppose writing, I thought, at least for me. But so, I thought, does writing oppose them. Suppose wrote anyway, could I by writing oppose and overcome these several things arranged against writing, and against me more generally, could I even change the state of my body, the state of my mind, the state of my circumstances, and the state of the world, so to call them, could I overcome these several things by writing, and make the world or my life or at least something somehow better by writing? No, I thought, as I crossed a Collingwood Street unseasonally devoid of traffic, perhaps everyone’s sick, writing could not make anything better, though I am not certain that it could not make all those several things worse. No,  I will not be able to write a review of this book, I thought, I will never review Panthers and the Museum of Fire, I thought, even though I would like everyone to read Panthers and the Museum of Fire, I will be incapable of writing a review of this book or of writing anything else, perhaps because of the obstacles I categorised back there up the hill, perhaps for some still vaguer reason such as the fact that something that does not exist hardly needs a reason not to exist or to justify its nonexistence. Does it? Is the default state of the world everything or nothing, I wondered as I paused on the Bronte Street bridge and let the breeze coursing down the Brook rise and cool my face for a moment though it was not very cool, I will be home soon, I will not write my review, a review than nobody would in any case read even if I wrote it, I will open the gate and walk past the trees and unlock the door and go to the kitchen and bring this narrative at last to an end by the refrigerator, a narrative that in fact precludes, for reasons I have outlined several hundred metres ago, writing a review of Panthers and the Museum of Fire, even though I would have liked to write a review of this book, or at least to have written one. Velleity perhaps is enough. 

Saturday 14 January 2023

New books and book news!

Read our latest NEWSLETTER: 

BOOKS @ VOLUME #312 (13.1.23)


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


Little by Edward Carey
If you are after an absorbing, inventive, quirky and absolutely charming novel, read Edward Carey’s Little. Set predominantly in France, meet its history and its most famous Parisians, not to forget the Court of Versailles, through the wax heads cast by Doctor Curtius and the young Marie Grosholtz. Marie, nicknamed Little due to her diminutive size and the young age at which she is apprenticed to Curtius after her mother’s untimely death, is an unlikely employee at the age of six to the reclusive anatomist, but she proves to be exactly the right person for the development of his wax work. Obsessed with producing perfect heads, he needs someone who not only understands his passion but someone who has the skills to draw, assist, mix plaster, pour moulds and thread in hair — a time-consuming and precise job. Marie Grosholz is the perfect assistant. With Carey’s excellent illustrations, wonderful and crazy characters (the frightening Widow Picot, the nervous tick of a young man, her son Edmond, the pious, yet rather foolish Princess Elisabeth, a fanciful portrayal of Loius XVI, and the brutal dog-boy-man of the elaborate name, Jacques Beauvisage), and delicious writing in the voice of our plucky heroine Little, you will be delighted. It’s France, gutter and luxury, charm and chaos, from the celebrity status of Curtius’s Cabinet of Curiosities (murderers rubbing shoulders with wealthier rogues) at The Monkey House, to the macabre fascination for the royal court. From poverty to riches to revolution and disaster, Marie Grosholtz will dance a daring zigzag of ill wind, good luck and careful advantage, not to mention some chance, to survive (if sleeping in a windowless room or a largish cupboard passes for living) and eventually prosper. She will find love, and lose it; she will be a favourite and then dismissed; she will overcome only to be pushed down in the muck, imprisoned and then released. Her talent for waxwork saves her in the end. Wonderful.


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 




Essays: One by Lydia Davis  {Reviewed by THOMAS}
An essay is a literary form but a collection of essays is not a literary form, or, rather, a collection of essays, unless written specifically as a cohesive set, which is unusual for collections of essays, and in which case they are not usually considered a collection of essays but something else, only becomes a literary form, and only if we stretch our concept of what constitutes a literary form, at the point at which the essays are assembled, selected and ordered by someone, plausibly not even the author of the essays, some time, perhaps some considerable time, after they were written, at various times perhaps over a considerable period of time, during which the author may or may not have changed her approach to whatever and however she writes and may or may not have written and had published any number of other literary forms, if she happens to be an author who also writes other literary forms. ‘Selected works’ is not a literary form, and essay collections often tend to be selected works, these works often having appeared in various periodicals or other platforms over the years preceding their collection, or, generally more accurately, selection. Reviewing a collection of essays, as an instance of a literary non-form, presents certain difficulties as the reviewer is denied the various familiar analytic tools that are dependent on form, usually ending up making some generalised statements about the author, her qualities and importance, and then garnishing these comments with snippets pulled from various of the works in the collection, each work of which could be analysed as a literary form but none of which tend to be so treated, except perhaps cursorily, due to lack of space and time, space and time being a single entity in writing as they are in physics. If a reviewer does not quite know how to approach the literary non-form of a collection of essays this is because a reader, of which a reviewer is merely a pitiful example, does not know how to approach a non-form. A reader has no obligations towards the collectedness of pieces towards which, severally, he may have obligations, but also, at least, thankfully, tools dependent upon the form of the several pieces, but what obligations does a reviewer have towards the collectedness of the pieces? It is hard to review something that you do not recognise as a thing. Lydia Davis is best known for the devastating precision of the sentences that comprise some of the shortest, sharpest stories you are likely to read, and for her subtle and precise translations of Proust, Flaubert, Blanchot, Foucault, Leiris and others. Her economy of expression astounds, whether that economy is displayed in a single-sentence fiction, indefinitely extended in a translation, or in such various essays as are collected in this book. The essays, which are of various forms, all concern the relationship between language and lucidity; they all concern writing: either writers or the practice of writing; they are all about reading (of which the practice of writing is a peculiarly freighted subset). The essays all both demonstrate and concern what we could call ‘the mechanics of form’, the way in which language, well used, creates, sharpens or transfigures meaning in literature. Davis shows us how to narrow our linguistic aperture in order to maximise our literary depth of field. She is full of good advice, suggestions for new reading, exemplary sentences and memorable observations: “If we catch only a little of the subject, or only badly, clumsily, incoherently, perhaps we have not destroyed it.” Because a collection is not a literary form, you have no obligation as a reader towards the totality of the volume, but there is much here to enjoy and discover, much that will sharpen your writing and your reading of the writing of others, much to return to and re-read. Most likely you will read it all. 

Friday 13 January 2023


Our Book of the Week correlates the lives and works of three fiercely unconventional creative women: electronic music pioneer Delia Derbeyshire, medieval mystic Margery Kempe, and the book's author, sonic artist Cosey Fanni Tutti. RE-SISTERS explores the wellsprings and consequences of artistic passion in a world of unforgiving conventional forces. 
>>Take three outsider women
>>Delia Derbyshire feature Trailer. Cosey Fanni Tutti wrote this book after being commissioned to write a soundtrack for the film about Derbeyshire's life. 
>>The Delian Mode
>>A nice tune by DD
>>Margery Kempe online. 
>>A playlist for Margery Kempe
>>A playlist for the book. 
>>'Cowboys in Cuba'.


The Visitors by Jessi Jezewska Stevens         $45
On the eve of the Occupy Wall Street protests, C is flat broke. Once a renowned textile artist, she's now the sole proprietor of an arts supply store in Lower Manhattan. Divorced, alone, at loose ends, C is stuck with a struggling business, a stack of bills, a new erotic interest in her oldest girlfriend, and a persistent hallucination in the form of a rogue garden gnome with a pointed interest in systems collapse. C needs to put her medical debt and her sex life in order, but how to make concrete plans with this little visitor haunting her apartment, sporting a three-piece suit and delivering impromptu lectures on the vulnerability of the national grid? Moreover, what's all this computer code doing in the story of her life? And do the answers to all of C's questions lie with an eco-hacktivist cabal threatening to end modern life as we know it? Replaying recent history through a distorting glass, The Visitors is a mordantly funny tour through through a world where not only civic infrastructure but our darkest desires (not to mention our novels) are vulnerable to malware; where mythical creatures talk like Don DeLillo; where love is little more than a blip in our metadata. 
"The Visitors is conceptually bold. Stevens threads through needles of political theory so deftly you barely feel them piercing the brain. Her work calmly suggests this: the apocalypse is coming for us all, baby - so, what are you doing about it?" —Annie Hayter
>>Welcome to the new world
Bold Ventures: Thirteen tales of architectural tragedy by Charlotte van den Broeck         $40
In thirteen chapters, van den Broeck goes in search of buildings that were fatal for their architects — architects who either killed themselves or are rumoured to have done so. They range across time and space from a church with a twisted spire built in seventeenth-century France to a theatre that collapsed mid-performance in 1920s Washington, DC, and an eerily sinking swimming pool in her hometown of Turnhout. Drawing on a vast range of material, from Hegel and Charles Darwin to art history, stories from her own life and popular culture, patterns gradually come into focus, as van den Broeck asks- what is that strange life-or-death connection between a creation and its creator? Threaded through each story, and in prose of great essayistic subtlety, van den Broeck meditates on the question of suicide — what Albert Camus called the 'one truly serious philosophical problem' — in relation to creativity and public disgrace. 
"Everyone fails every day, but an architect's failure is inescapably visible, a public humiliation, even when it doesn't occasion loss of life. That the relationship between creator and creation can become so deleterious is a source of obsession for Charlotte van den Broeck. Bold Ventures resembles a pop version of Iain Sinclair's psychogeography or Out of Sheer Rage, Geoff Dyer's anti-biography of DH Lawrence." —Olivia Laing, Guardian 
I Fear My Pain Interests You by Stephanie LaCava            $28
An absurdist novel about fame, culture and connections, bodies and breakdowns. Margot’s on her way to Montana, with blood on her face and a jeweled cigarette case full of pills. She’s fresh from a bad break-up and fleeing the cold comforts of her famous family – legendary punk parents and an overbearing show business scion of a grandmother.  But while the eyes of the world are elsewhere for the first time in Margot's life, a graveyard encounter with a disgraced doctor and the discovery of a dozen old film reels leads to a troubling new subjecthood, as her congenital inability to feel pain puts her center stage for one man’s desire and ambition. A jarringly sensual book about the peculiarities of our bodies and the impossibilities of our families, and a young woman trying to find a way forward with both.
"A sharp critical vision lurches into focus: of culture as commodity, of suffering as currency, and of the female body as this agon's generalized battleground." — Tom McCarthy
"I Fear My Pain Interests You is meticulously constructed, with each part supporting and supported by the others. Controlled self-awareness like this in novels makes me pay close attention, enriching my experience." —Tao Lin, The New York Times 
"LaCava's book animates its story with something of Patricia Highsmith's sociopathology and Clarice Lispector's macabre glamor." —JC Holburn 
Desert Soul by Isabelle Eberhardt            $28
"I am merely an eccentric, a dreamer who wishes to live far from the civilised world, as a free nomad." Isabelle Eberhardt's writing chronicles, in passionate prose, her travels in French colonial North Africa at the turn of the 20th century. Often dressed in male clothing and assuming a man's name, she worked as a war correspondent, married a Muslim non-commissioned officer, converted to Islam, and survived an assassination attempt, all before dying in a flash flood at the age of 27.

The History of the World in 100 Plants by Simon Barnes         $60
But we still consume the energy of the sun in the form of food. The sun is available for consumption because of plants. Plants make food from the sun by the process of photosynthesis; nothing else in the world can do this. We eat plants, or we do so at second hand, by eating the eaters of plants.
Plants give us food. Plants take in carbon dioxide and push out oxygen: they give us the air we breathe, direct the rain that falls and moderate the climate. Plants also give us shelter, beauty, comfort, meaning, buildings, boats, containers, musical instruments, medicines and religious symbols. We use flowers for love, we use flowers for death. The fossils of plants power our industries and our transport. Across history we have used plants to store knowledge, to kill, to fuel wars, to change our state of consciousness, to indicate our status. The first gun was a plant, we got fire from plants, we have enslaved people for the sake of plants. We humans like to see ourselves as a species that has risen above the animal kingdom, doing what we will with the world. But we couldn't live for a day without plants. Our past is all about plants, our present is all tied up with plants; and without plants there is no future. Nicely written and presented. 
Swamp Songs: Journeys through marsh, meadow and other wetlands by Tom Blass          $42
Oozing with bad airs, boggarts and other spirits, the world's marshes and swamps are often seen as sinister, permanently twilit - and only partly of this earth. For centuries, they - and their inhabitants - have been the object of our distrust. We have tried to drain away their demons and tame them, destroying their fragile beauty, botany and birdlife, along with the carefully calibrated lives of those who have come to understand and thrive in them. Blass journeys through a series of such watery landscapes, from Romney Marsh to North Carolina, from Lapland to the Danube Delta and on to the Bay of Bengal, encountering those whose very existence has been shaped by wetlands, their myths and hidden histories. Here are tales of shepherds, smugglers and salt-gatherers; of mangroves and machismo, frogs and fishermen. And of carp soup, tiger gods, flamingos and floods.A dazzling exploration of lives lived on the fringes of civilisation, Swamp Songs is a reappraisal and celebration of people and environments closely intertwined.
Swann in Love by Marcel Proust (translated by Lucy Raitz)          $36
A new translation of this novella extracted from In Search of Lost Time. A good place to start with Proust. When Charles Swann first lays eyes on Odette de Crécy, her beauty leaves him indifferent. Their paths continue to cross in the drawing rooms and theatres of Parisian high society, and the seeds of desire in Swann begin to flourish. What follows is a journey through self-delusion, jealousy and delirious fantasy, which will take Swann far from the sedate comfort of his society life.

The Girl Who Talked to Trees by Natasha Farrant and Lydia Correy         $23
Olive's best friend is a four-hundred-year-old oak tree, and it is in danger. As she tumbles into its magic world, she makes it a promise. From deep roots to high branches, a Persian garden to an underwater forest, from tulip trees to wild apple to vengeful box, she listens to the trees telling stories for all time. And she keeps her promise. Nicely illustrated and presented. 

How to Stand Up to a Dictator by Maria Ressa           $35
Maria Ressa's work tracking disinformation networks seeded by her own government, spreading lies to its own citizens laced with anger and hate, landed her in trouble with the most powerful man in the Philippines — President Duterte. How to Stand Up to a Dictator tells how democracy dies by a thousand cuts, and how an invisible atom bomb has exploded online that is killing our freedoms. It maps a network of disinformation that has netted the globe, from Duterte's drug wars, to America's Capitol Hill, to Britain's Brexit, to Russian and Chinese cyber-warfare, to Facebook and Silicon Valley, to our own clicks and our own votes. Ressa was awarded the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her work. 
"Absolutely sublime and transformational. Maria Ressa lays out the moral paradigm for our time and the consequences of ignoring it and the thrill and reward of embracing it." —Shoshana Zuboff
Monumental Lies: Culture wars and the truth about the past by Robert Bevan            $45
Bevan argues that monuments, architecture and cities are material evidence of history. They are the physical trace of past events, of previous ways of thinking and of politics, economics and values that percolate through to today. When our cities are reshaped as fantasies about the past, when monuments tell lies about who deserves honour or are destroyed and the struggle for justice forgotten, the historical record is being manipulated. When decisions are based on misinformed assumptions about how the built environment influences our behaviour or we are told, falsely, that certain architectural styles are alien to our cities, or when space pretends to be public but is private, or that physical separation is natural, we are being manipulated. There is a growing threat to the material evidence of the truth about history.
“Robert Bevan's passionate, timely polemic is a much-needed antidote to all the horror stories about 'woke' protesters tearing down monuments. The true threat to our built-up environment, he argues, comes not from the Left, but from governments who employ all the powers of the state to re-write history in their image. It is at times a truly terrifying read.” – Keith Lowe
“Bevan astutely argues that those who manipulate our cultural past are shaping our future, making the case that historic buildings have become battlegrounds for right-wing and nationalist political arguments.” – The Art Newspaper
“This close reading of the city is a potent response to the culture wars because it deals in precisely the historical honesty that culture warriors have no stomach for. Righteous but always nuanced, Bevan is the perfect guide to the way urban iconography distorts history and entrenches power.” – Justin McGuirk
Scenes from Prehistoric Life by Francis Pryor          $25
Archaeology is transforming our knowledge of what it would have been like to live in Britain and Ireland in the time before the Romans. By revealing how prehistoric forebears coped with both simple practical problems and more existential challenges, Francis Pryor offers remarkable insights into the long and unrecorded centuries of our early history, and a convincing, well-attested and movingly human portrait of prehistoric life as it was really lived. Pryor paints a vivid picture of British and Irish prehistory, from the Old Stone Age (about one million years ago) to the arrival of the Romans in AD 43, in a sequence of fifteen chronologically arranged profiles of specific ancient landscapes. Whether writing about the early human family who trod the estuarine muds of Happisburgh in Norfolk c.900,000 BC, the craftsmen who built a wooden trackway in the Somerset Levels early in the fourth millennium BC, or the Iron Age denizens of Britain's first towns, Pryor uses excavations and surveys to uncover the daily routines of ancient ancestors.
Glowrushes by Roberto Piumini (translated by Leah Janeczko)           $23
Madurer is the son of a great lord, with untold wealth, but he is also the victim of a mysterious disease that means he cannot be exposed to sunlight or fresh air. He is confined to three windowless rooms inside a palace, but his doting father summons a famous artist to cover the walls of the rooms with paintings showing the world his son cannot truly experience. As the painter works on his murals, his relationship with the boy begins to deepen until they forge a firm friendship. How can he show this child the beauty of the world with only his paintbrush to work with? Glowrushes is a classic of Italian children's literature, published in English for the first time.
The Tattoo Murder by Akimitsu Takagi           $25
A classic Japanese murder mystery set in post-war Tokyo and steeped in the illicit subculture of Yakuza tattoos. Kinue Nomura survived World War II only to be murdered in Tokyo, her severed limbs discovered in a room locked from the inside. Gone is the part of her that bore one of the most beautiful full-body tattoos ever rendered. Kenzo Matsushita, a young doctor who was first to discover the crime scene, feels compelled to assist his detective brother, who is in charge of the case. But Kenzo has a secret: he was Kinue's lover, and soon his involvement in the investigation becomes as twisted and complex as the writhing snakes that once adorned Kinue's torso.

The Magic of Mushrooms: Fungi in folklore, science and traditional medicine by Sandra Lawrence          $33
Featuring images of over 100 species, this book explains the folklore, science and occult of fungi, showing that from saving lives to expanding the mind, the potential of these fascinating organisms is immense.
The Lonely Stories: 22 celebrated writers on the joys and struggles of being alone edited by Natalie Eve Garrett          $35
Includes Megan Giddings, Claire Dederer, Imani Perry, Jeffery Renard Allen, Maggie Shipstead, Emily Raboteau, Lev Grossman, Lena Dunham, Yiyun Li, Anthony Doerr, Helena Fitzgerald, Maile Meloy, Aja Gabel, Jean Kwok, Amy Shearn, Peter Ho Davies, Maya Shanbhag Lang, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jesmyn Ward, Lidia Yuknavitch, Dina Nayeri, Melissa Febos.

Children of the Flying City by Jason Sheehan            $21
Brought to the flying city of Highgate when he was only five years old, orphan Milo Quick has never known another home. Now almost thirteen, Milo survives one daredevil grift at a time, relying only on his wit, speed, and best friends Jules and Dagda. A massive armada has surrounded Highgate's crumbling armaments. Because behind locked doors—in opulent parlours and pneumatic forests and a master toymaker's workshop—the once-great flying city protects a powerful secret, hidden away for centuries. A secret that's about to ignite a war. One small airship, the Halcyon, has slipped through the ominous blockade on a mission to collect Milo—and the rich bounty on his head—before the fighting begins. But the members of the Halcyon's misfit crew aren't the only ones chasing Milo Quick. An exciting new series.