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

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Blog entries for 'November 2007'

Thursday 29 November 2007

Modernism remains a challenge

In this week's TLS there is an abridged version Gabriel Josipovici's lecture What Ever Happened to Modernism? (which I heard Gabriel give in London, back in March, as did Stephen Mitchelmore and Ellis Sharp).


The lecture, and now the essay (which I'm afraid isn't online), made me think again about Establishment Literary Fiction (ELF). It isn't that ELF is bad. Some ELF is good. And certainly much of it is very good indeed at being ELF! But since Modernism, and again since Modernism's questions were re-articulated by the writers of the nouveau roman — especially, then, for those who see the novel as a mode of enquiry or, better, a mode of discovery ELF seems to me to be the embodiment of Bad Faith. It manifests a willing refusal to acknowledge that the questions that Modernism posed even exist (or that the novel might be a place to inquire about their answers).


Therefore, ELF endlessly repeats the tropes and styles of the Victorian Novel, with its fingers in its ears, shouting its (sometimes very good) narrative, flaunting its (sometimes very finely drawn) characters, refusing to be interrogated and refusing to recognise its own structural ressentiment.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 26 November 2007

That's the best thing we've read all year

The Observer's Books of the Year list -- the first of the many to come -- is up online. Like Steve, I was really pleased and very surprised to see Toby Litt choose Pierre Joris's translations of Paul Celan (issued by Green Integer Books; Celan, it seems, would have been 87 last Friday had he not killed himself back in 1970) and intrigued by Peter Ho Davies' recommendation of the work of Charles Baxter. I'm a big fan of Pierre so it was a real thrill to see the Litt notice; the Baxter book, The Art of Subtext, arrived here a week or so ago -- I'll try to get around to it this coming weekend. The rest of the list didn't really bring anything exciting to light ... but, regardless of the almost inevitable disappointment, one always trawls such lists in the hope that they might turn up something good or surprising.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 26 November 2007

Dan Hind talk

Jonathan Derbyshire chaired a talk at the RSA by Dan Hind a couple of weeks back. Jonathan, normally a pretty solid reviewer, penned an incomprehensibly bad notice of Dan's book a few months back for the New Humanist magazine. Anyway, forget that, and go and listen to Dan's talk over on the RSA website.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 23 November 2007

Spuriouser and spuriouser

Been a wee while since I linked to the splendid Spurious:


Many of my admired authors have a small pallette of concerns, of moods, of characterisation, of plot. A small palette, painting dark grey on black - but that is enough, for it is in the wearing away of plot, of character, in the exacerbation of mood that I find I can discover that kind of non-reading, the inward waterfall that draws me to its edge.

Bergman complained Tarkovsky came to make Tarkovsky films - but then the same can be said of Bergman, whose characters often have the same surname and run uneasily into one another. Bernhard writes Bernhard books, and Duras, and Blanchot ... they may seem to concentrate themselves into an idiom, making themselves dense, but it is rather a wearing away that they accomplish and that is their accomplishment: idioms worn out, idioms stretched finely over nothing.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 23 November 2007

Quiet: an apology

It has been pretty quiet around here recently, I know. Sorry about that. I'm very busy over at The Book Depository gearing up both for Christmas and for some exciting new projects in the New Year.


Nonetheless, even if it goes unreported, the reading continues. The reading is endless: long live the reading!


One recent highlight has been Janet Malcolm's essay Two Lives: Gertrude and Alice which was splendid. The book:


... makes for a wonderfully fluent introduction to the Modernist writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) and her life partner Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967). As ever with Janet Malcolm's work – The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, The Journalist and the Murderer – her book is also an investigation into itself. Whilst this is a (brief) biography of Stein, it is also a (brief) meditation on the art – the duplicities, the impossibilities – of writing biography itself.

Malcolm is an incisive journalist and her book reads like a long New Yorker piece, a magazine for which she is a celebrated staffer. It makes the notoriously difficult Stein (whose books include The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas, Three Lives and The Making of Americans) seem almost worth the effort of reading, whilst at the same time making it clear that Stein's often silly ramblings won't be to everyone's taste. As they say the best literary journalism should do, this leads one back to the work under discussion newly invigorated for the difficult task ahead of reading such a singular (and singularly odd) writer as Gertrude Stein.

One thing I should get back into the habit of doing, is bringing your attention to those books I've chosen as Books of the Week and Books of the Month. These, as I've said before, are the books that have landed here at RSB HQ (last week, last month) that have most caught my eye.


This week, you may have noted, my two books of the week are The Lodger: Shakespeare on Silver Street by Charles Nicholl (Shakespeare, I'll admit, is an author I'm always happier to read about than actually read; any book that whisks me back to an atmospheric sixteenth and seventeenth century I'll cheerfully to submit to) and Administration of Torture by Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 23 November 2007

Dickens the humanist

Like Steve, I was somewhat shocked and utterly appalled at this revelation (from the always provocative Sharp Side blog) about Dickens:


...who was better at imagining a whole cast of characters than Charles Dickens? And what happened when the Indian mutiny broke out? Did Dickens use his prodigious imaginative gifts to understand why there was resistance to the British occupation of India? He certainly dreamed of being Commander in Chief of the British army of occupation. In this role, he assured his dear friend Baroness Angela Georgina Burdett-Coutts, he would “do my utmost to exterminate the [Indian] Race” and “with all convenient dispatch and merciful swiftness of execution…blot it out of mankind and raze it off the face of the Earth.”

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 20 November 2007

Beckett and van Velde

Mick Finch reviews Conversations with Samuel Beckett and Bram van Velde (via This Space):


Perhaps the most revealing aspect of their encounter is the degree of difference in each man's presentation of their world. Van Velde's nihilism weighs heavily upon the reader and this is not alleviated by his repeated claims that laughter is the only true response to the existential conundrum. Beckett, on the other hand, embodied such a response in both his life and his work and laughter is a product of his writing, not a subject.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 19 November 2007

Book 2.0?

Today, Amazon launch their e-book reader, the Amazon Kindle. There is a very chunky article in Newsweek (thanks Lee!) with the details:


This week Bezos is releasing the Amazon Kindle, an electronic device that he hopes will leapfrog over previous attempts at e-readers and become the turning point in a transformation toward Book 2.0. That's shorthand for a revolution (already in progress) that will change the way readers read, writers write and publishers publish. The Kindle represents a milestone in a time of transition, when a challenged publishing industry is competing with television, Guitar Hero and time burned on the BlackBerry; literary critics are bemoaning a possible demise of print culture, and Norman Mailer's recent death underlined the dearth of novelists who cast giant shadows.

Evan Schnittman, OUP's Vice President of Business Development and Rights for the Academic and USA Divisions, has a review of the Kindle Device up on the OUPblog.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 14 November 2007

More on Josipovici

I should have mentioned this a wee while ago (apologies to Richard that I didn't): some great stuff over on The Existence Machine about Gabriel Josipovici, including thoughtful posts on The Book of God and Goldberg: Variations.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 12 November 2007

On Everything Passes

Tales from the Reading Room on Gabriel Josipovici's stunning récit Everything Passes:


I began to read the first few words and felt myself slipping, slipping, as if down a polished chute, those aching blank spaces dragging me across to the next portion of dialogue as if across a dangerous precipice. I had to put it down for a while because it frightened me. And for the same reason I had to pick it up again. When it was finished, I was stunned. It was quite the most extraordinary piece of writing I had encountered in a long time.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 12 November 2007

Mike Davis wins Lannan Foundation Nonfiction Literary Award

Mike Davis, author of many excellent titles including Planet of Slums, Late Victorian Holocausts, City of Quartsz and most recently Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb, has won the Lannan Foundation Nonfiction Literary Award. (For a filmed interview with Mike Davis about Buda's Wagon take a look at the Verso website.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 12 November 2007

Edges rerelease

Edges: O Israel, O Palestine by Leora Skolkin-Smith is to be reissued after selling out of two successive print runs. The new edition will include the Leora's afterword and dedication to her mentor, Publisher and Editor of Glad Day Books, Grace Paley.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 09 November 2007

Ian Mortimer

I've just posted a fantastic (and huge!) interview with historian Ian Mortimer (most recently the author of The Fears of Henry IV) over on The Book Depository. It is a superb example, I think, of just how good e-mail based Q&As can be. Go read!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 08 November 2007

Reinteriorized plenitude

In his discussion of finitude leading to the bad infinite and finally to the true infinite, Hegel was interested in articulating the continuity of discourse in the move from, in the words of Blanchot, "undeveloped interiority to the exteriorization that alienates it, and from this alienation that exteriorizes up to an accomplished and reinteriorized plenitude." It is here where many have been concerned with the possibility of the other being reduced to the same.

If this kinda thing makes you thrill with excitement -- and it does me! -- then get more via Aufhebung.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 08 November 2007

The Boydell Music Blog

The excellent Boydell & Brewer, publishers of the wonderful Joseph Conrad: A Life, has decided to enter the blogosphere with a music related blog which will give some background information on the numerous music books that they publish. It is nicely called From Beyond the Stave (d'you see what they did there!?) Still early days, but it will certainly be worth keeping an eye on this.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 08 November 2007

17 Ways to Get Free Books

Via The Frugal Panda, a nice article entitled 17 Ways to Get Free Books: "You can never have too many books, so we are delighted to share with you some ways to get them for free. From children’s books to technical books, there are numerous resources that offer literature for free. Some of the following sites offer actual printed books, while others feature electronic books (aka “ebooks”)."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 01 November 2007

The Book Depository wins 2 awards

Yesterday, The Book Depository won two awards recognising our entrepreneurship (more via The Bookseller). We "scooped both the Online Business of the Year award and the Retailer of the Year award at the Startups Awards, part of the Startups.co.uk website."


As my boss Andrew Crawford said:


I think it ratifies us as the fastest growing bookseller in Europe ... It is also fantastic for our staff who have been working so hard for these last three years."

Yay! It is fantastic news. I'm thrilled. Well done all of the team at The Book Depository!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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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

Books of the Week

Montano's Malady Montano's Malady
Enrique Vila-Matas
New Directions

The narrator of Montano's Malady is a writer named Jose who is so obsessed with literature that he finds it impossible to distinguish between real life and fictional reality. Part picaresque novel, part intimate diary, part memoir and philosophical musings, Enrique Vila-Matas has created a labyrinth in which writers as various as Cervantes, Sterne, Kafka, Musil, Bolano, Coetzee, and Sebald cross endlessly surprising paths. Trying to piece together his life of loss and pain, Jose leads the reader on an unsettling journey from European cities such as Nantes, Barcelona, Lisbon, Prague and Budapest to the Azores and the Chilean port of Valparaiso. Exquisitely witty and erudite, it confirms the opinion of Bernardo Axtaga that Vila-Matas is "the most important living Spanish writer.

-- View archive

Castorp Castorp
Pawel Huelle
Serpent's Tail

Picking up on a throwaway line in The Magic Mountain, Castorp tells the story of Hans Castorp’s student years in Gdansk, long before the adventures in Davos described in Thomas Mann’s novel. Pawel Huelle skilfully creates a credible scenario for this influential period in Hans Castorp’s development, imagining what happened when the rational German student was exposed to the Slavonic eastern edge of the Prussian empire. He comes across people, events and ideas that anticipate some of the encounters he will experience in years to come, including an enigmatic Polish woman who becomes his obsession. Set at the dawn of the twentieth century, Castorp faithfully recreates the atmosphere of central Europe as the storm began that would lead to two world wars. Beautifully written, full of humour, mystery and eccentricity, this is a moving tribute to a masterpiece of European literature.

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Heidegger's Hut Heidegger's Hut
Adam Sharr
The MIT Press

Beginning in the summer of 1922, philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) occupied a small, three-room cabin in the Black Forest Mountains of southern Germany. He called it "die Hütte" ("the hut"). Over the years, Heidegger worked on many of his most famous writings in this cabin, from his early lectures to his last enigmatic texts. He claimed an intellectual and emotional intimacy with the building and its surroundings, and even suggested that the landscape expressed itself through him, almost without agency. Heidegger's mountain hut has been an object of fascination for many, including architects interested in his writings about "dwelling" and "place." Sharr's account -- the first substantive investigation of the building and Heidegger's life there -- reminds us that, in approaching Heidegger's writings, it is important to consider the circumstances in which the philosopher, as he himself said, felt "transported" into the work's "own rhythm." Indeed, Heidegger's apparent abdication of agency and tendency toward romanticism seem especially significant in light of his troubling involvement with the Nazi regime in the early 1930s. Sharr draws on original research, including interviews with Heidegger's relatives, as well as on written accounts of the hut by Heidegger and his visitors. The book's evocative photographs include scenic and architectural views taken by the author and many remarkable images of a septuagenarian Heidegger in the hut taken by the photojournalist Digne Meller-Markovicz.

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Poem of the Week

Sonnet (on the Death of Mr Richard West)

In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:
The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire:
These ears, alas! for other notes repine,
A different object do these eyes require.
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire.
Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
And new-born pleasure brings to happier men:
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
To warm their little loves the birds complain.
I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,
And weep the more because I weep in vain.

-- Thomas Gray
Selected Poems (Bloomsbury)

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Word of the Day

adultescent

An adult whose activities and interests are typically associated with youth culture. more …

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January's Books of the Month

Walter Benjamin's Archive Walter Benjamin's Archive
Walter Benjamin
Reading Joyce Reading Joyce
David Pierce

-- View archive