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Blog entries for 'December 2006'

Wednesday 27 December 2006

Back from Paris

Well, I trust you are all having a good winter break? Mrs Book and I are just back from Paris and I won't be doing much here for a few days: there is booze to be drunk and chocolates to be consumed! I have, however, updated the Books of the Year 2006 symposium a tiny bit (make sure you check out the newly added entries from Julián Ríos and Anthony Rudolf) and I will be working on some site housekeeping


There are plenty of useful, year-end round-ups about all over the place, but one you might have missed is Chandrahas's Books of the Year over at The Middle Stage.


Right, see you in a day or two.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 22 December 2006

Books of the Year 2006 symposium

The RSB Books of the Year 2006 symposium is now online. Enjoy!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 20 December 2006

Onfray watch

I first came across Michel Onfray back last December. Then, in September, I noted that Serpent's Tail will be publishing Atheist Manifesto, his first book to be translated into English, early next year (Traité d'Athéologie, Grasset).


And I've just noticed that, in the Toronto Star last Sunday, Brad Spurgeon ran a piece about "France's best-selling philosopher". I remain intrigued.


He is a self-described hedonist, atheist, libertarian, and left-wing anarchist ... in Atheist Manifesto he dismantles and condemns as dangerous and archaic not only Islam, but Christianity and Judaism as well ... And after more than 30 books, he is finally seeing his ideas spread far beyond his native Normandy. His 2005 book, Traité d'Athéologie, became a best-seller not only in France, where it has sold 230,000 copies, but also in Italy and Spain, and has sold well in other Latin countries, and even in Germany and Asia ... he says that believing in religion's "children's stories for comfort" deflects from the real problems of existence and thus exacerbates them, he does not despise the believers. As a rebel against all manner of authority, he aims his ire at those who impose and organize religion and its ethics, morals and customs.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 20 December 2006

Underrated Writers 2006

The guys over at Syntax of Things have just posted their Underrated Writers 2006 list:


We asked ... readers to name writers they feel aren't getting the attention they deserve, those writers they feel are "underrated" — however they choose to define it ... The results, as with last year, are delightful, in the most literal sense of the word. We have writers from almost every continent, poets from the past, essayists who are concerned for the future, and novelists desperate to understand the now. Only two writers were nominated only twice, which tells us we asked the right group of people to give us as broad a list as possible.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 19 December 2006

Dumas in March

You may recall that, last June, a newly discovered novel by Alexandre Dumas went on sale in France. Le Chevalier de Sainte-Hermine was found in the Bibliothèque nationale de France by Dumas expert Claude Schopp after being forgotten about for more than a hundred years. Well, it is out in English translation next March, entitled The Last Cavalier, from Pegasus Books who puff it thus:


Rousing, big, spirited, its action sweeping across oceans and continents, the last novel of Alexandre Dumas—lost for 125 years in the archives of the National Library in Paris—completes the oeuvre that Dumas imagined at the outset of his literary career. Now, dynamically, in a tale of family honor and undying vengeance, of high adventure and heroic derring-do, The Last Cavalier fills that gap.

The last cavalier is also Count Hector de Sainte-Hermine, who for three years has been languishing in prison when, in 1804, on the eve of Napoleon’s coronation as emperor of France, he learns what’s to be his due. Stripped of his title and denied the hand of the woman he loves, he is freed by Napoleon on the condition that he serve as a common foot soldier in the imperial army. So it is in profound despair that Hector embarks on a succession of daring escapades. Again and again he wins glory—against brigands, bandits, the British; boa constrictors, sharks, croco-diles. And at the battle of Trafalgar it’s his marksman’s bullet that fells the famed English admiral Lord Nelson.

Yet however far his adventures may take him—from Burma’s jungles to the wilds of Ireland—his destiny lies always in Paris, with his father’s enemy, Napoleon.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 19 December 2006

Mitchelmore on Ford

The matchless Stephen Mitchelmore has just written a wonderful piece on Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe Trilogy for our edification: The sea closes up, and so does the land. Do take the time to read it, it is, as you'd expect from Mr Mitchelmore, a brilliant essay.


I must admit that Richard Ford has never really appealed to me, but John Banville's recent admission, in Salon magazine, of his fondness for the writer, coupled with Steve's tremendous article, has made me think I should, perhaps, reconsider. Banville said:


I'm becoming a little embarrassed at my enthusiasm for Richard Ford's novel The Lay of the Land, but it does seem to me the finest piece of fiction out of America in a long time. Its two predecessors in the Frank Bascombe trilogy, The Sportswriter and Independence Day, are marvelous works, but this new volume is remarkably fluid and accommodating in an almost Proustian way -- and it's laugh-out-loud funny, too.

And a taster of what Steve has to say:


The reviews take it for granted that this is a novel like any other, only much better than most. Yet right from the start Bascombe consigns his literary career to the past. He won’t be writing a novel again. This will be something much less than that. It will be enough for his to speak in “a voice that is really mine” as he says. The manuscript of his first novel got lost in the post. Soon after he wrote a collection of stories which weren’t. Indeed they got published and were well-received. The film rights were then sold for a lot of money. Using that foundation, he settled down to write another novel. Half way through his son died, and so did the novel. “I don’t expect to retrieve it unless something I cannot now imagine happens.” That ambiguity of that unimaginable something resonates throughout The Sportswriter. It suggests that the novel must find a connection to life that it now apparently lacks.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 18 December 2006

ReadySteadyBook in 2007

Expect things to be pretty quiet around here over the next few weeks. The usual Christmas madness, coupled with a trip to Paris, plus some technical stuff Lee and I need to get on with means that there'll be precious little new content on the site for the next week or so. However, the ReadySteadyBook Books of the Year 2006 symposium will be up at the end of this week and, if I get the time, I'll also publish an astonishing essay, by Steve, on Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land. In the New Year, the RSB minisites will be relaunched along with one or two other improvements to the site and its functionality. Additionally in 2007, I'll be taking on web-editor duties over at The Book Depository full time.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 14 December 2006

John Clare: The Shepherd's Calendar and a celebration

Tomorrow, Carcanet will host a lunchtime event to celebrate the publication of The Shepherd's Calendar by John Clare, from 1-2pm at Manchester Central Library:


For the first time in nearly 180 years, this is a book that presents, side by side, two major versions of one of John Clare's most celebrated poems, The Shepherd's Calendar. The final manuscripts of the poem that Clare composed are placed against the published version in a parallel text; and some fascinating poetic differences, as well as similarities, between the two versions emerge. These changes and continuities are examined in a challenging introduction that charts the development of the poem, and that explores the imaginative strengths of both versions, as well as their limitations. The presentation of this material is enhanced by a series of beautiful woodcuts by Carry Akroyd, evoking the natural and human landscapes about which Clare wrote.

The event will include a talk by the book's editor, Tim Chilcott, a renowned Clare expert, readings of Clare's poems and a display of artwork by Carry Akroyd, who illustrated the book. Carry will also discuss her artistic interpretations of Clare's poetry.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 13 December 2006

Books of the Year lists

Last year's ReadySteadyBook Books of the Year symposium 2005 was a great success. So, I'll be doing similar this year, and the symposium should be up on the site over Xmas. No doubt, I'm as ambivalent as many of you are about these lists, but they do sometimes remind one of forgotten titles or, better still, introduce you to books that somehow have passed you by.


Prospect magazine have a fine Books of the Year list up online already, actually:


Books of the year features can seem pretty pointless, ladling hype on books that have already been fulsomely praised. In order to elicit livelier responses, Prospect asked a range of contributors to nominate their "most overrated and underrated books of 2006."

David Cox, broadcaster (nope, I don't know him either), is amusingly cross with regard to these overrated titles:


The Night Watch, Sarah Waters (Virago). An imitation Catherine Cookson for dim but pretentious lesbians.
The Inheritance of Loss, Kiran Desai (Hamish Hamilton). A typically box-ticking, offence-avoiding Booker winner whose supposedly innovative structure is more sensibly viewed as narrative incompetence.
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (Bantam). Dreary rant by anti-religious fanatic lacking any grasp of all but a minor aspect of the subject he purports to address.

David Herman, writer, has the good sense to choose my year-favourite:


The Singer on the Shore: Essays, 1991-2004 by Gabriel Josipovici (Carcanet). Superb collection of essays by one of the greatest critics of the last 30 years. Worth it just for the first essay on the Bible.

Finally, Sandra, over at Book World, is "struggling to decide on [her] five favourite books of the year":


Depressingly, there are at least twelve books (which will remain nameless) which with hindsight I wish I'd given up on. But one always reads in hope. And even to the last page I worry in case a tedious book might suddenly pull itself together and turn out to be amazing and that I'll miss something if I give up. So far I have finished 69 books this year (and given up on half a dozen along the way) and I'm seriously tempted to say that it was too many.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 13 December 2006

Keith Fullerton Whitman

Robert Gable's excellent blog aworks :: "new" american classical music -- "why listening to this music is interesting, important, and maybe even fun" -- reminds me about the music of Keith Fullerton Whitman (which is, in itself, a good enough excuse to bring Robert's blog to your kind attention) whom I discoved a couple of years ago and have unfathomably neglected since:


I know next to nothing about Keith Fullerton Whitman but I am starting to think he is the long lost son of Terry Riley, in his pure keyboard pieces anyway, starting with Stereo Music for Farfisa Compact Duo Deluxe, Drum Kit.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 12 December 2006

December Words without Borders

The December issue of Words without Borders is online, with a focus on NewHebrew Writing from Israel (via the literary saloon).


Also included in this issue is Words without Borders Celebrates New Translations in 2006. Esther Allen has the following to say about a book that will certainly be in my Books of the Year list, César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Language Painter (translated by Chris Andrews):


The most extraordinary book in translation of 2006 was César Aira's An Episode in the Life of a Language Painter, brilliantly translated by Chris Andrews (and published by New Directions). Aira is a rather unusual writer who composes his short books (more than thirty of them so far) in uninterrupted bursts of inspiration and without looking back or correcting, or so I'm told. As you might expect, such a methodology leads to a highly varied and uneven though always fascinating body of work. In this brief, incandescent book, about an actual incident in the life of the German artist Johann Moritz Rugendas who traveled in Argentina in the early nineteenth century, lightning strikes.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 12 December 2006

Jörg Friedrich's The Fire

Jörg Friedrich's The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945 is just out from Columbia University Press. The author will be in the UK, speaking at the London Review bookshop, on Thursday, February 1st (in discussion with Joanna Bourke, author of Fear: A Cultural History; chaired by Peter Furtado, editor of History Today). On the Columbia site there is a podcast interview with Friedrich, an excerpt from the book and there are more links to reviews and the like.


Steve recently wrote about The Fire noting the irony that Friedrich actually supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Back in April 2003, Steve wrote a letter to the TLS in response to a review in their pages, by Daniel Johnson, of three books about the WWII air raids on Germany. That letter begins:


Daniel Johnson is right to dismiss the "moral equivalence" between the air war on Nazi Germany and the "Shock and Awe" campaign against Saddam's Iraq. One was an attack on a nation with the highest military spending in the world, bent on global expansion and threatening to succeed. The other is an attack by the most expensive military force in world history on an impoverished country with no apparent means of defence. How on Earth can they be the same?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 12 December 2006

Mullan on How Novels Work

I've recently been enjoying John Mullan's How Novels Work (indeed, it was one of my Books of the Week last week). I failed to mention, however, that back on the 5th December, over on the OUP USA blog, John Mullan gave his fine book a nice puff:


Listen to most of the talk about fiction in the media and you will find it mostly concerns what novels are about. Yet novels grip us (or fail to grip us) not because of their subject matter but because of how they are written. And leading novelists of the last decade have carried experiments with form and structure into the mainstream of fiction. To take an American example, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a book with three narrative strands set in different times, intricately alluding to Virginia Woolf’s modernist novel Mrs Dalloway, managed to be a bestseller. In Britain in 2004 the bestseller list was for a while headed by David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – a novel of six narratives in different times and genres, nested in a ‘Russian doll structure’, and a knowing variation of a technique developed by Italo Calvino in his supposedly avant-garde If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller…

When is this imaginative innovation, and when is it just trickiness? What terms and ideas is it useful to have in discussing contemporary novels? Thanks to reading groups, these novels are often subject to the analysis and argument that used to be reserved for the classics. The features that we most want to describe (plot, dialogue, character) are not mysterious, but emerge much more clearly if we understand what the words mean, and can compare different examples. Even the stranger-sounding novelistic techniques (metanarrative, prolepsis, amplification) are easily explained and easy to recognize.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 12 December 2006

New Appelfeld

Something else to watch for in the New Year: a new novel by Aharon Appelfeld, All Whom I Have Loved, is due out from Schocken at the end of February. (For more on Appelfeld, don't forget Lars Iyer's wonderful RSB essay Experience IV - Silence: Aharon Appelfeld’s The Story of a Life and Tzili: The Story of a Life.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 12 December 2006

Coming Kafka

Due to the happy circumstance of soon giving up my current day-job to begin, in the New Year, to work full-time as the web editor of The Book Depository (and, yes, one of my first jobs will be to sort out the look and feel!), I am now a subscriber to The Bookseller magazine. Hopefully, what this will mean going forward for RSB readers, is that I'll be able to keep a better eye on what is about to land in our bookshops.


Most of what The Bookseller reports is of little interest, but some publishing news is noteworthy. I was happy to see, for example, that in January, Penguin are releasing newly repackaged Kafka titles, including new translations, by Michael Hofmann I understand, of Metamorphosis and Other Stories (this volume incorporates "a fascinating occasional piece and The Aeroplanes at Brescia, Kafka's eyewitness account of an air display in 1909").

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 08 December 2006

Marcus Fjellstöm

As I'm thinking musical thoughts, I should probably let you know that Marcus Fjellstöm's second full-length recording, following the sublime Exercises in Estrangement, is just out. Entitled Gebrauchsmusik, his record label Lampse pimp the new recording thusly:


Taking influence from John Cage, Morton Feldman and David Lynch’s right hand man Angelo Badalamenti, Fjellström has developed a style which manages to transcend the current classical/electronic explosion. It is clear from the offset that the young musician has a deep understanding of what has come before as he blends elements of musique concrete, avant-classical and early electronic experimentations into his compositions.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 08 December 2006

William Basinski

Very busy here, as you'd expect. So please don't expect too much posting from me over the next week or so. Today is my Dad's 60th birthday -- happy birthday Dad. On Monday, it is my Gran's funeral. Ironically, I'm working on a large essay about death and literature (due to appear in a Time Out guide to books sometime next year). And I'm listening to the wonderful work of William Basinski: melancholy tape loops of minor piano chords. Sad, of course, but very affecting and quite lovely.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 06 December 2006

Coetzee and Szymborska

A couple of weeks ago, a reader wrote asking me where JM Coetzee took the quote "little enough, less than little" from in his novel Disgrace. It sounded like a corruption of Beckett to me, but I didn't know. Well, I'm informed today that the Coetzee line is taken from (inspired by) 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Wislawa Szymborska's The End and the Beginning. Her lines read:


Those who knew
what was going on here
must make way for
those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing.

As for Wislawa Szymborska, I'm afraid I got nothing! Shamefully, I'd never heard of her until my correspondent suggested to me that she was probably the source of Coetzee's quote. Faber have a Poems - New and Collected, 1957-97, Norton have Miracle Fair: Selected Poems of Wislawa Szymborska, so one of these will no doubt be my next stop. If anyone reading can tell me more, shoot.


UPDATE: Dave Lull (thanks Dave!) has just brought my attention to a blog Patrick wrote over at Anecdotal Evidence, back in August, about Szymborska's selection of prose pieces Nonrequired Reading:


Nonrequired Reading is unlike conventional collections of reviews in that the books she chooses, with few exceptions, are unabashedly unliterary. For decades Szymborska has written about books for newspapers in her native Poland, but she chooses her subjects from the sad stacks of rejects that accumulate in a book editor’s office – popular science and how-to books, celebrity biographies and volumes with titles such as The Encyclopedia of Assassinations, Wallpapering Your Home and The Private Lives of Three Tenors. Szymborska says she tried writing conventional reviews: “…that is, in each case I’d describe the nature of the book at hand, place it in some larger context, then give the reader to understand that it was better than some and worse than others.” Then, happy woman, she realized she had little interest in or gift for such writing.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 06 December 2006

Winter Quarterly Conversation

Should have mentioned this earlier: Scott Esposito's estimable Quarterly Conversation is now online with the Winter 2006 edition.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 06 December 2006

Best translated book of 2006

The Words Without Borders folks are asking you to Cast Your Vote: Best Books in Translation 2006.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 05 December 2006

Josipovici on Hawkins' Dante: A Brief History

At school, if another child encouraged me to do something stupid, doubtless a teacher would upbraid me by saying something like, "Well, if Charlie told you to put your hand in the fire would you do it?" Of course, one was supposed to be chastened: no, certainly one wouldn't place one's hand in a fire on Charlie's behest. And, yes, I'll admit, what I've just done was probably almost as stupid: I'll consider myself rebuked. Sorry, Miss.


As I've got older, however, there are one or two people whose judgement I trust so implicitly that, yes, if they told me to put my hand in the fire, I just might.


So, if Gabriel Josipovici says something is good, it is. Full stop. Here he is blurbing RSB's Book of the Month, Peter Hawkins' Dante: A Brief History:


Peter Hawkins' knowledge of and passion for Dante shines through every page of this elegantly written book. He writes, moreover, with passion and precision. This is not only a superb introduction to Dante, but a work which will move and enlighten those thoroughly steeped in a poet who remains, seven centuries after his death, still very much our contemporary.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 05 December 2006

Angier on Jelinek

Carole Angier on Elfriede Jelinek's Greed at the Literary Review (via 3 Quarks):


If you have read Elfriede Jelinek's most famous novel, The Piano Teacher, you'll know what to expect from Greed. First of all, pathological characters, rendered with glassy fury: traditional Austrian self-hatred, like that of Kraus, Canetti and Bernhard, but - I know it's hard to imagine - even more hateful. Second, something you don't find even in them: a great deal of violent, sado-masochistic, four-letter sex. In sum, a horrifying vision of human nature ('friends, that is, greedy beasts') and nature itself ('fundamentally evil'), in which human beings are objects, and objects are human - days stretch their limbs, valleys grin, handkerchiefs 'are quite stiff from everything they've had to swallow in their lives'.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 05 December 2006

Robert Walser

Patrick Kurp (and Dave) bring my attention to Golden Rule Jones' work on Robert Walser (1878-1956), the Swiss-German writer who "led a life of obscurity but whose admirers included Kafka, Hesse, Musil and Walter Benjamin":


In memory of Robert Walser, who died 50 years ago on Christmas Day, Golden Rule Jones has undertaken a shamefully belated act of homage on behalf of the English-speaking world by translating from the German, with a friend, Carl Seelig’s Wanderungen mit Robert Walser. Walser spent more than 20 years of his life in mental hospitals. Seelig was an admirer and eventually the guardian of the great Swiss writer, and visited him once or twice a year from 1936 until Walser’s death. Seelig accompanied Walser on long walks in the mountains surrounding his sanitarium at Herisau. By 1936, Walser had stopped writing but Seelig worked to keep his friend’s work in print. Seelig’s book, published the year after Walser’s death, chronicles his visits, but so far as I can tell this intriguing and valuable sounding book has never been translated into English.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 04 December 2006

New look for This Space

Steve has revamped This Space. His new blog template is called Beckett. Nice.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 04 December 2006

Meet the authors, meet the poets

Next year's Thursday evening reading events at MMU (Meet the authors, meet the poets) has been announced. All the events are hosted by the Writing School and are open to the public. A selection of books will be available to buy from our special Blackwell’s stall before each event begins. Admission is £5.00 (£3.00 concessions; free to students and staff of MMU). The evenings are held in Lecture Theatre 6, Geoffrey Manton Building (opposite the Commonwealth Aquatics Centre on Oxford Road, Manchester city centre) at 6.30 pm.


14th December:  Sarah Hall
11th January:      Owen Sheers
25th January:      Jean Sprackland
1st February:      Trevor Hoyle
8th February:      Simon Armitage
15th February:    Rosie Bailey and U.A. Fanthorpe
22nd February:   Matthew Hollis
1st March:          Carol Rumens
8th March:          Livi Michael
15th March:        Martyn Bedford
22nd March:       Jackie Roy and Jeffrey Wainwright

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 04 December 2006

Poetry Foundation permalink

Well, last week was a good one. A real challenge to write those long pieces each day for the Poetry Foundation (the permalink to my pieces is, as yet, only to Monday's article and it seems to have killed the warm comments I got too! Hopefully, the PF folks can get this remedied asap). I think, in the New Year, I'll try to do the same here on RSB. Not on a daily basis, mind, I couldn't keep that up, but I'll at least try to get in a weekly essay of about 1000 words. What would make most sense is tying the essay together with one of my Books of the Week, but, seriously, I'm just not that organised.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Sunday 03 December 2006

Marjorie Eleanor Shaw RIP

My beloved grandmother died yesterday evening at about 10pm. Today would have been her 97th birthday.


Sleep well, Gran.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 01 December 2006

Fathers and Sons: WG Sebald

Mark M Anderson has a piece in the new Bookforum entitled Fathers and Sons: WG Sebald (thanks Dave) and Rob Spillman has a piece on Cormac McCarthy called Book of Revelation. I'm off to put the kettle on, make a nice cuppa, and then read them both!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 01 December 2006

Philosophy Now: The "Wittgenstein" Issue

The November/December issue of Philosophy Now is out (via wood s lot) and the latest issue is devoted to Ludwig Wittgenstein. Not much is freely available online, but you can read Tim Madigan's Wittgenstein: A Wonderful Life and Mark Jago's Pictures and Nonsense.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Serendipoetry

Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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