Blog Roll

Anecdotal Evidence
AuthorStore
Biology of the Worst Kind
The Book Depository Editor's Corner
Book World
BOOKSURFER
Buzzwords Blog: 3AM Magazine
Castrovalva
CruelestMonth.com
Dialogic
Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant
The Elegant Variation
Fernham
John Baker's Blog
KR Blog
languagehat.com
the Literary Saloon
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard - Updates
The Midnight Bell
Mountain*7
Nomadics
pas au-delà
The Reading Experience
scarecrow
signandsight.com
splinters: books, authors, literature, travel, politics
Spurious
Tales from the Reading Room
This Space
University of Nebraska Press
Waggish
Weblog - A Don's Life - Times Online
Weblog - Peter Stothard - Times Online
Powered by Bloglines

ReadySteadyBlog

One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs: "Mark Thwaite ... has a maverick, independent mind"

Blog entries for 'April 2007'

Friday 27 April 2007

Booksellers Association Annual Conference

On Monday and Tuesday, I'll be over in Harrogate at The Booksellers Association Annual Conference 2007 (The Book Depository is up for a 2007 British Book Industry Award):


The Annual Conference is the most significant events in the book trade’s year, attracting around 500 delegates. It is a unique occasion when booksellers, publishers and authors all meet together to debate issues relevant to the trade.

If anyone fancies buying me a pint of Yorkshire bitter when I'm over that way, email me!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Friday 27 April 2007

Menard Press news


Christoper Middleton


Yesterday, I noted that "Anthony Rudolf's Menard Press has published its last ever book: two essays from Christopher Middleton entitled If From The Distance." Anthony has written to me saying:


Although Christopher Middleton's If From The Distance: Two Essays is Menard's last solo book, I am pleased to say that we have come to an arrangement with Shearsman Books whereby some out of print Menard books will be reprinted in association with them. It is possible there will even be one or two new books. But after 38 years and 160 books, the time has come to move on.

Just prior to publishing their "last solo book", Menard published a second and revised edition of Anthony Rudolf's book on Piotr Rawicz, Engraved in Flesh. (Rudolf's edition and revised translation of Rawicz's masterpiece Blood from the Sky was published by Elliott and Thompson in 2004.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 26 April 2007

Current reading and new releases

I've just finished reading Simon Critchley's Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance which I would very warmly recommend. I'll write about it further soon. Critchley combines Levinassian ethics with a neo-anarchist politics: it's clearly and persuasively argued; one of the best political books I've read in ages. And I've also just read Ethics and Infinity, a book of conversations (ten short transcribed radio interviews) between Philippe Nemo and Emmanuel Levinas, which acts as a wonderful introduction to the latter's thinking, even if some of the translation leaves much to be desired. If you don't know Levinas's work (and I'm no expert): start here.


And in the post this week there have been more than a few interesting looking titles:


  • Penguin Classics have a new translation of Henri Alain-Fournier The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) out on the 3rd May
  • Anthony Rudolf's Menard Press has published its last ever book: two essays from Christopher Middleton entitled If From The Distance
  • Anvil Press have just issued a new edition of Michael Hamburger's translations of The Poems of Paul Celan. They've also just issued a collection of The Poems of Georg Trakl
  • OUP have sent on Robert Macfarlane's Original Copy: Plagiarism and Originality in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Janet Gezari's Last Things: Emily Brontë's Poems

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Thursday 26 April 2007

Pound at Penn Sound


Photo: Franz Larese, Erker-Galerie, Easter 1971, Burano, Italy


Penn Sound have made available all of Ezra Pound's known recordings.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Sakhalin Island and Oneworld Classics

I have just written a longish post on copyright over on my Book Depository blog Editor's Corner. Basic thrust is that publishers who publish out of copyright books, like Penguin Classics and OUP’s World Classics, show that, in some ways, copyright might not be that big an issue after all. My focus in the piece was on Oneworld Classics (the folks who have just purchased Calder Publications).


Oneworld Classics have, very kindly, sent on to me a number of their new books. And they really are quite beautifully produced. Oddly, I got two copies of Chekhov's Sakhalin Island:


In 1890, the thirty-year-old Chekhov, already knowing that he was ill with tuberculosis, undertook an arduous eleven-week journey from Moscow across Siberia to the penal colony on the island of Sakhalin. Now collected here in one volume are the fully annotated translations of his impressions of his trip through Siberia, and the account of his three-month sojourn on Sakhalin Island, together with author's notes, extracts from Chekhov's letters to relatives and associates, and photographs.

Highly valuable both as a detailed depiction of the Tsarist system of penal servitude and as an insight into Chekhov's motivations and objectives for visiting the colony and writing the expose, Sakhalin Island is a haunting work of tremendous importance which had a huge impact both on Chekhov's subsequent work and on Russian society.

Sounds good. So, who (in the UK, please, so that it doesn't cost me a fortune to post it!) wants my spare copy? Email me, and I'll pop it straight in the post to you. First email gets it.


Update: Sakhalin Island has been claimed. Stop emailing already!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Jandek ... and me

Over at Spurious, Lars is listening to Jandek:


Sometimes I think there's nothing I want to hear except for Jandek and nothing I want to think about except for Jandek. Everything else is pointless, non-essential. I listen to Comets on Fire and Espers and Boris and all that sort of thing. It's good, all good, but not essential. I listen to Mark Kozelek, which is nearly essential, and Bill Callahan and Michael Head - all very good, close to essential, but not quite essential. But you have to be careful with the essential, not to come too close to it. You need distance. You need time and space set aside. Sit down on the sofa. Do nothing else. Listen to nothing. Just Jandek. Just that: Jandek.

Me? I'm listening to Jim Fox's beautiful the city the wind swept away (Cold Blue Music). Oh, and the latest Do Make Say Think album which is pretty special too.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Grace

A favour: do any readers know of a good theological/philosophical book on the (Christian) concept of grace? Any tip-offs? Thanks so much!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Sunday 22 April 2007

Alma buy Calder

As you may have heard (if not, there is a wee note in the Guardian with the essential details), Alma Books have bought the legendary Calder Publications (including their shop in London, which has a cute little theatre stage in the back room!) I'll post further about this tomorrow (probably over on Editor's Corner). In the meantime, a new blog, Amazing Adventures of Bookboy, has an anecdote to share about meeting the "curmudgeonly and charming" John Calder back in the day.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Friday 20 April 2007

Ellis on Shriver

The inimitable Ellis Sharp takes down "crap writer" Lionel Shriver:


These days I don’t need a bucket to throw up in – I need something at least the size of a horse trough.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Friday 20 April 2007

Against Establishment Literary Fiction

I suppose, in a sense, this post is a kind of manifesto or, more modestly, the beginnings of a statement of intent about where I see ReadySteadyBook heading over the next couple of years.


As many of you know, I wear two hats: I'm editor here at ReadySteadyBook and I'm also, in my day-job, lucky enough to edit The Book Depository (TBD) website. As editor of TBD my role is to make sure that the frontlist titles that I choose to review and feature on TBD's pages, and the authors and publishers I interview, reflect in some modest way the astonishing range of books that TBD customers buy every day. The breadth of their purchases is amazing; I want TBD's homepage to be, in a small way, similarly catholic.


Here on RSB I have a different role. Certainly, it is one that I'm making up as I go along. I started RSB thinking of the site as an online literary journal that would reflect many opinions, air many voices, and I still think that that aspect of the site is important and needs growing (if you want to contribute, email me), but principally RSB is -- like it or loathe it -- me and my musings. My thinking about literature and books over the last three or four years has developed and, I hope, deepened. RSB facilitates that ongoing learning by forcing me to attempt to articulate what it is I think I feel about literature, and engaging with others in the blogosphere about those ideas.


When I talk to folk, especially publishers, about what kinds of books I like to feature on RSB, I often reach for the phrase Literary Fiction ... and then I quickly backtrack. Literary Fiction is one of the genres of fiction that I'm happy to feature on TBD's homepage, alongside a host of other types of books. And Literary Fiction is, undoubtedly, the genre that many of the books that have been reviewed on RSB in the past have belonged to. But, editorially -- and by that I mean, via the blog, and from my heart -- I'd actually like RSB to be seen as being anti-Literary Fiction. Indeed, what I've taken to calling Establishment Literary Fiction is, to me, the very antithesis of literature: it is hubristic, formulaic and trite; it is non- essential.


Literary Fiction is genre fiction; literature, art, is writing that deconstructs the very idea of genre. Proust's In Search of Lost Time isn't literary fiction, but a novel that destroys the idea of the novel in its very realisation. Beckett's famous lines from Worstward Ho -- Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. -- are in themselves a manifesto for writers and writing. If Literary Fiction is defined by its proud masterpieces, its smug perfections, literature should be known as a failed art that in its failing helps us to understand our own feeble inadequacies and helps us to fail better.


Simon Critchley writes (in Infinitely Demanding): "When I pull myself out of the slumber of my inauthentic existence and learn to approve the demand of conscience, which for Heidegger is the demand of my finitude confronted in being-towards-death, then I become authentic, I become who I really am." This "I" -- as Simon recognises -- is conflicted, multiple, but it is the demand of which he writes -- of ethics, of art -- in the face of finitude, of silence, that I'm interested in here. This demand, taken up by art, by literature, is infinite. Literature can approach, help negotiate, begin to articulate, that demand; Literary Fiction withers in the face of it, never having heard its call, deaf to it.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Friday 20 April 2007

Richard Crary on Bernhard's Frost

Richard, over at The Existence Machine, tackles Thomas Bernhard's Frost:


For those of us who care about such things, the publication last year, for the first time in English (translated from the German by Michael Hoffmann), of Bernhard's first novel, Frost, was a major literary event -- of significantly more importance than most of what seems to set the book world atwitter. Frost was originally published in 1963, twelve years before Correction (which is the earliest of the other Bernhard novels I own). Flipping through the book, right away differences are apparent: actual paragraph breaks! Rarely a paragraph longer than two pages! And, at 342 pages, the book is considerably longer than his other fiction (100-150 pages longer than Correction and The Loser, more than twice as long as both Old Masters and Concrete). In other ways, however, it quickly becomes clear that Bernhard's concerns in this novel were of a piece with his later fiction, though he had not yet refined his methods.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Thursday 19 April 2007

McCarthy and Dickinson at the BFI

Tom McCarthy has dropped me a line to tell me about an event he is involved in at the London-based British Film Institute this evening (starting at the very specific time of twenty to seven!):


What is the cultural logic of repetition? Is repetition the same as re-enactment? What role does trauma play in all this? Are these questions, by their very nature, inherently political?

Writer Tom McCarthy, whose novel Remainder sees an obsessed Everyman re-enact increasingly violent situations in a bid for 'authenticity', and artist Rod Dickinson, known for his large-scale re-enactments of the sermons of cult leader Jim Jones and the Obedience to Authority experiment of psychologist Stanley Milgram, discuss these issues with each other at the BFI, London. (18:40, £5, £4 concs).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Leonora Carrington

Here are some Leonora Carrington web links via Victoria over at Eves Alexandria who calls Carrington "woefully undernoted". In the same post, Victoria brings my attention to "Susan Aberth's excellent book on her, Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art, which is well worth the cover price."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Glass notes

You can read "Daily Updates of latest news for the Philip Glass Community" (Philip Glass community?) at Glass Notes (via Robert Gable's excellent aworks).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 18 April 2007

Back from the LBF

I am now back in sunny Stockport having returned from the madness that is the London Book Fair at about 9 o'clock last night. At the Fair, I contributed rather amateurishly to the Promoting Books Online seminar run by the Publishers’ Publicity Circle. My excellent co-speakers, David Freeman (Meet the Author), Anna Rafferty (Online Marketing Director, Penguin) and Rose Wild (Books Editor, Times Online) more than compensated for my nonsense, however -- thanks to them for being such an excellent panel. And thanks to the PPC for inviting me along to speak. Apologies to those who turned up expecting to see Scott Pack for whom I filled in at the last minute!


To those readers finding ReadySteadyBook for the first time because of my Book Fair talk: welcome! I'd also encourage y'all to take a look at BritLitBlogs to get a fuller sense of what is going on in the British literary blogosphere...


I always find the LBF experience to be very contradictory: I'm both energised and enervated by it in almost equal measure. The whole corporate jamboree aspect is unpleasant, but you meet up with lots of old friends and, if you're lucky, make a few new friends along the way. I finally met Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians of Melville House Publishing which was a real thrill and I also met up with lots of the hard-working publicists and marketing people who keep me and RSB in books throughout the year: lovely to have met you all!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Friday 13 April 2007

New Critchley

Not due out until June 13th, but certainly one to watch out for, is RSB interviewee Simon Critchley's latest book Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (Verso). I'm a big fan of Critchley's writing, so I'm really looking forward to this, about which his publisher says:


Infinitely Demanding is the clearest, boldest and most systematic statement of Simon Critchley's influential views on philosophy, ethics, and politics. Part diagnosis of the times, part theoretical analysis of the impasses and possibilities of ethics and politics, part manifesto, Infinitely Demanding identifies a massive political disappointment at the heart of liberal democracy and argues that what is called for is an ethics of commitment that can inform a radical politics.

Exploring the problem of ethics in Kant, Levinas, Badiou, and Lacan that leads to a conception of subjectivity based on the infinite responsibility of an ethical demand, Critchley considers the possibility of political subjectivity and action after Marx and Marxism. Infinitely Demanding culminates in an argument for anarchism as an ethical practice and a remotivating means of political organization.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Friday 13 April 2007

Next week at the LBF

I doubt there'll be very much from me here until about Wednesday. On Monday and Tuesday of next week I'll be down in our great metropolis attending the London Book Fair ("one of the world’s leading forums for the business of publishing" so it says, but actually quite a ball-achingly dull, if seemingly necessary, trade jamboree). Principally, I'll be there with my Book Depository hat on, but if anyone wants to meet for a cuppa, drop me an email, and I'll see if we can't arrange something.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Friday 13 April 2007

Vonnegut resources

Worthy of lots of clicks: Edward Champion has got together a great list of web-based Vonnegut resources.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Thursday 12 April 2007

Adam Curtis and a liberal idea of history

Frustratingly, I missed Adam Curtis's documentary series The Trap which was recently aired on the BBC. In a recent blog, Jonathan Derbyshire points to a snipe at the programme -- he calls it a "dismantling" which substantially flatters both the power and the coherence of the paragraph he cites -- by Chris Dillow who "argued a few weeks ago that Adam Curtis's documentary series The Trap is intellectually vacuous and historically inaccurate. Not only did John Nash not intend game theory as a compehensive theory of human nature, Hobbes got there first, 300 years before the Cold War, with a vision of human beings as 'selfish and paranoid.'" (As I understood it, but I've not seen the programme so I may be way off here, Curtis's argument was that Game Theory was (mis-)used by many people to justify the notion of selfish individualism so propagandised from the Cold War onwards. In this regard, it matters very little what Nash or other mathematicians intended for their work; it's how it was taken up and used by others that should be our concern.)


Jonathan goes on to praise a further attack on the programme by Paul Myerscough writing in the LRB. Myerscough, we're told, "develops a formal critique of The Trap that's every bit as powerful as Dillow's dismantling of its substantive claims. Myerscough makes the point that Curtis has cultivated a documentary style and visual grammar perfectly suited to his essentially paranoid vision ('paranoid' is my word, not Myerscough's, by the way). To the paranoid mind, everything is connected."


I'll leave you to read and digest these attacks on Curtis and save any substantial arguments I have about his latest film until I've watched it (hopefully at the weekend, if Lola the Puppy lets me!) In the meantime, I just wanted to raise one point with regard to all this.


Couldn't it be argued that one version of the form of political thinking that we might call "liberal" could be characterised by precisely its inability to see such connections (connections that are here labelled "paranoid")? Indeed, that it is a mode of thinking that could be defined by its refusal to accept even the possibility of such connections? What liberalism labels paranoia might (sometimes) genuinely be connected. It is vital to a liberal's thinking that "reducing" history to e.g. class forces, or pinpointing what a ruling elite might have to gain from a particular course of action, is always ruled out of court. In that way, liberals are often blind to the forces that make history. For example, putting the War on Terror into its historic context, remembering that world history, including American history, didn't start with 9/11, seeing the links between policies that were created for particular reasons to achieve particular ends for particular groups is good history. The Iraq War, to give another example, is not simply an appalling humanitarian scandal, nor just a botched job, nor a "mistake", it is a policy and it was orchestrated and executed for a reason.


History is not accidental; human elements move it along; these elements are not always reducible to the individual.


Update: there is a useful, long debate about some of this over on Medialens. Thanks Steve!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Thursday 12 April 2007

The Best Words in their Best Order

As you may have noted, April is National Poetry Month over in the US. Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux have launched a National Poetry Month blog called The Best Words in their Best Order. They promise:


... a lot of great stuff planned for the month, including newly recorded audio from many of FSG's frontlist poets. Posts this week include Seamus Heaney, reading both his own poem and one by Ted Hughes; Thom Gunn (recorded in 1996) reading Elizabeth Bishop; and alternate cover art for Frederick Seidel's recent collection Ooga-Booga. Derek Walcott, Paul Muldoon, Yves Bonnefoy (reading in French!), Gjertrud Schnackenberg, and C.K. Williams are all to come.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: , ,

Thursday 12 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut RIP

The great, anti-war writer Kurt Vonnegut died this Tuesday, 10th April, in New York, at the age of 84, due to brain injuries from a recent fall. The defining moment of his life was the firebombing of Dresden, in Germany, by allied forces in 1945 -- an event he witnessed as a young prisoner of war. His experience was the basis of his best-known work, Slaughterhouse Five which was published at the time of the Vietnam War. More via the BBC.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags:

Friday 06 April 2007

Remarks sparked by A Voice From Elsewhere

What is literature? Blanchot's A Voice From Elsewhere can help us to think about how to begin to think about this question. Of course, writing is merely the sum of words chosen by an author and then written down. On one level writing is mere craft: do I chose this word or that, this metaphor or that one? And analogous to writing, in this sense, is painting. Painting is an ordered response to the world: colours, shapes and textures are chosen by the artist in an attempt best to "say" what that artist wishes to say in paint by painting. Perhaps saying more than this, about art or literature, risks essentialising or mystifying it. But a painting is not merely an agglomeration of paint, it is not just an expression, however accomplished, of what the artist wants to say. Further, it is not even a form of thinking via the medium of paint. It is unarguably more than this.


Because it communicates obliquely, tangentially, and not using language, visual art (and music) also communicates both more and less than language does. But beyond what the painting says, and technically does, there is something else, and it is this essential quality beyond the mere facts of an artifact's creation, above and beyond the history and context of the work, that draws us back and holds our interest. The ineffable quality which we can certainly attempt to approach, use commentary to talk about and begin to decipher, partially understand by understanding the means of the work's production, the context of its creation, something about the artist and their world, remains. What is great in great art can't quite be pinned down, can't be entirely, adequately articulated.


And so too literature.


It isn't mystification on the part of Blanchot to focus, throughout his oeuvre, on the mysterious qualities that define (or, rather, prevent the definition of) literature. Literature is what remains unsayable yet said in great writing. However, there is a negative blankness: there is a vapidity and sterility to the technical expertise of a writer like Ian McEwan. What is unsaid in his work is merely arch. It is witheld information which only confirms his paranoid control of the text.


Writing is what the words on the page do to the white space that surrounds them; else is mere plot. The gap between the artist and that art that they create is worthy of our attention because the silence that the words have shaped, the picture that the painter hasn't drawn, pulls us in to the work and simultaneously back to our own silences.


We have writers like Blanchot because of how inarticulate an artist is, how confounded they can be, in the face of the irreducible in their own work.


Maurice Blanchot is a writer's reader.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 04 April 2007

More (a)theism

This has the advantage of at least being quite comprehensive. Abbas Raza, over at 3Quarks, "found both sides to be remarkably honest, sincere, and free of glibness and antipathy for the other. Some of what Sullivan writes is surprisingly touching in a personal way ... It is worth reading in its entirety": "Best-selling atheist Sam Harris and pro-religion blogger Andrew Sullivan debate God, faith, and fundamentalism."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Wednesday 04 April 2007

New team member

There has been a new addition to the RSB team. Meet Lola, a 9-week-old German Spitz (Mittel). Lola has been brought in to deal with illiterate journalists, fools, and other riff-raff!


Lola

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Tuesday 03 April 2007

Mendacious or idiotic?

Over time, Stephen Mitchelmore has proved himself to be what I've called him before: the finest writer we have in the literary blogosphere. Those who read his This Space blog are regularly treated to the most thoughtful meditations on literature and its troubled meanings. On Saturday, in the Guardian's From the Blogs column, Richard Lea misrepresented Stephen quite outrageously. Lea quoted a post disparaging Ian McEwan, allying it with a positive comment about McEwan from Book Dwarf, thus reversing Steve's negative appraisal. Either this was mendacious or idiotic on the part of Richard Lea. And I'd like him to tell us which it was: can he not read properly or was he being dishonest? It is surely one of the two. I know his colleagues at the Guardian read this blog, and I've regularly corresponded with Sarah Crown who usually composes From the Blogs. So, if Lea doesn't read this, she can pass the message on to him. I await his response.


Update: Richard Lea is away on holiday, but his colleague Sarah Crown has replied both to me personally and in the comments (below).

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Monday 02 April 2007

Happy birthday yesterday!

Yesterday, the complete review celebrated eight years of being online. A magnificent milestone; a great website. Well done!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Submit News to RSB

Please let us know about any literary-related news -- or submit press releases to RSB -- using this form.

-- Mark Thwaite, Managing Editor

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)

-- View archive

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 …

-- Powered by Wordsmith.org

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

-- View archive