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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 'August 2007'

Friday 24 August 2007

Themerson and me

I mentioned on Monday that, on Tuesday, I was going to "post an article (by my pal Sophie from the Dalkey Archive Press) about the intriguing Stefan Themerson."

Well, it's been that kind of week, so I've only just posted Sophie's great article, Just Two Doorways to a Hall of many Doors. Sorry it took so long, Sophie. Everyone else: go read!

Also, sometime this afternoon I believe, there should be an article by yours truly up on the Bookseller blog about the new look and feel over at The Book Depository.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 24 August 2007

Weekend reading

Later today, we're off to North Wales for four days of walking, reading, drinking and sleeping. Lola the Puppy shall accompany us, of course.

I'm not sure what I'll be reading, but it won't be Herman Abert's absolutely massive Mozart biography which landed here yesterday. It looks stunning, mind, and I'm thrilled to have received a copy, but it is jaw-droppingly huge. Almost as big as Lola, and certainly heavier! I think its 1600 pages are going to have to wait for a much quieter time in my life than now.

I reckon that Philip Davis's new Bernard Malamud: A Writer's Life will come along with me, however, as it looks like a fine work. Malamud seems to have seriously missed out on the recognition and critical acclaim that Roth and Bellow achieved, yet he ranks along them both (surely better than the former, isn't he?)

My novel of choice is set to be Bruno Arpaia's The Angel of History, an "award-winning reimagining of Walter Benjamin's final days during World War II" which I don't remember noticing when it came out in trade paperback last year. Joe Sacco's Safe Area Gorazde will probably be shoved in my case too.

Have a lovely weekend, y'all.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 23 August 2007

Free books

Over on The Book Depository, I'm giving ten books away for free to the first ten bloggers who get in touch. Go claim!

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Thursday 23 August 2007

Grace Paley RIP

Such sad news: the American short story writer, poet, and political activist, Grace Paley, died yesterday. As soon as I know more, I'll add to this. (Maud Newton has a nice, personal piece on Grace over on her blog.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Wednesday 22 August 2007

The Welsh Girl

I'm not really that excited by the Booker longlist -- I never am, really -- although it is good to see two small publishers getting a look in, with Tindal Street's What Was Lost (written by Book Depository interviewee Catherine O'Flynn) and Myrmidon's The Gift Of Rain (by Tan Twan Eng) both on the longlist.

BritLitBlogger Dovegreyreader is reading them all: what prodigious energy! Remember, though, we do have a great review here on RSB, written by Soniah Kamal, of Peter Ho Davies' The Welsh Girl.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 22 August 2007

Blogging Woolf

Look what I found (well, via Anne at Fernham): Blogging Woolf: Focusing on Virginia Woolf and her circle, past and present.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Wednesday 22 August 2007

John Barth

Ed makes The Case for John Barth:

If literary blogs exist to dredge up the underrated authors of our time, I must ask why the litblogosphere, so capable of unearthing the neglected, has remained so silent concerning the great novelist John Barth. If Gilbert Sorrentino, William Gaddis, and David Markson cut the mustard with their postmodernist innovations, then Barth likewise deserves a spot in the This Guy is the Real Deal pantheon.

I've never read Barth, but I'm intrigued. You guys know him?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 22 August 2007

T.S. Eliot vs Portishead: mashup!

Oh yes! The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock as you've never heard it before: T.S. Eliot vs Portishead! (Via 3 Quarks.)

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Monday 20 August 2007

Stefan Themerson

I'm understandably very busy with stuff over at The Book Depository (do you like the new look? do you!?) but, if I get a second, tomorrow I'll post an article (by my pal Sophie from the Dalkey Archive Press) about the intriguing Stefan Themerson.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 20 August 2007

A Sebald blog and a Sebald book

Ooh look: a Sebald blog!

Thanks to Michael, from the fab Boydell & Brewer, for bringing this to my attention. And this is probably a good time to bring to your attention, dear readers, the fact that Boydell will be publishing Deane Blackler's Reading W. G. Sebald: Adventure and Disobedience any day now:

W.G. Sebald was born in 1944 in Germany. He found his way as a young academic to England and a career as professor of German. Only between the late 1980s and his untimely death in 2001 did he concentrate on nonacademic writing, crafting a new kind of prose work that shares features with but remains distinct from the novel, essay, travel writing, and memoir forms and gaining elevation to the first rank of writers internationally. No less a critic than Susan Sontag was moved to ask "Is literary greatness still possible?," implying that it was and that she had found it embodied in his writing. Deane Blackler explores Sebald's biography before analyzing the reading practice his texts call forth: that of a "disobedient reader," a proactive reader challenged to question the text by Sebald's peculiar use of poetic language, the pseudoautobiographical voice of his narrators, the seemingly documentary photographs he inserted into his books, and by his exquisite representations of place. Blackler reads Sebald's fiction as adventurous and disobedient in its formulation, an imaginative revitalization of literary fiction for the third millennium.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 20 August 2007

New look and feel for The Book Depository

The Book Depository website has a fab new look and feel -- go see!

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Thursday 16 August 2007

Tu and vous

Great debate over at Languagehat on how best to translate tu and vous:

In Orlanda, by Belgian author Jacqueline Harpman, one of the characters suddenly switches from the formal “vous” to the informal “tu.” This is a crucial moment in the narrative. The speaker is a prissy, bourgeois woman of thirty-five. She is addressing a young man with whom she entertains a somewhat ambiguous relationship. For the Francophone reader, this unwitting switch from “vous” to “tu” signals an important shift in the woman’s feelings. The problem for the translator is how to convey this to the English-speaking reader ...

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 15 August 2007

Kressmann Taylor's Address Unknown

I've just reviewed Kressmann Taylor's 1938 classic Address Unknown over on The Book Depository:

Address Unknown is a highly moving and deeply troubling epistolary novella. It is an account of a friendship warped and destroyed in the years of Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930s. Martin Schulse has returned to Germany to pursue his business interests as an art dealer, his close (Jewish) friend, Max Eisenstein, remains in San Francisco running the Shulse-Eisenstein Gallery from the Californian end. After a couple of warm letters expressing their deep affection for one another, Max asks Martin to comment on the stories he has been hearing in the USA from Jews returning from the Continent: "I am in distress at the press reports that come pouring in to us from the Fatherland ... Write me, my friend, and set my mind at ease." Shockingly, Martin responds to Max neither with consolation nor affection, but with a request that their correspondence cease. Martin tries to explain himself, but it is clear he is in sympathy with what is going on in Germany. Worse comes: when Max's sister Griselle, an old flame of Martin's, is badly in need of help a shocking betrayal occurs. Martin has moved from being equivocal through being approving to becoming a Nazi zealot.

Profound and desperately moving, this tiny book (just 50 pages) packs a massive emotional punch. Kressmann Taylor (the pen name of Kathrine Kressmann) manages to explore the death of friendship consequent on the birth of a vicious ideology without ever becoming sentimental. Indeed, her book has very hard edges. This 1938 classic, which helped explain to America what was happening in the Germany of the day, is still an essential read.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 14 August 2007

The Mole

The Mole -- Official Blog of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society: tunnelling, mining and undermining since 2007.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 14 August 2007

Handke in a nutshell

Mr Stephen Mitchelmore, over on This Space, gives us a perfect thumbnail sketch of Peter Handke:

That's Peter Handke folks, author of Repetition about a 20-year-old Austrian man's journey from his home village to cross the border into a foreign land and "search" for his dead brother using his dictionary of Slovenian terms. And the author of On a Dark Night I Left My Silent House, about a pharmacist who abandons his apoteke to travel across Europe. And author of My Year in the No-Man's Bay in which a writer imagines the adventures of his friends in foreign lands. And the author of Crossing the Sierra de Gredos about a German woman who travels to somewhere probably not-German. All internal worlds avoiding the entirely foreign, apparently.

In his piece, Steve correctly suggests that the title of Handke's book of poems, The Innerworld of the Outerworld of the Innerworld, fairly much sums up his "deep awareness of the paradox of reading and writing" and its relationship to the Real.

Posted by Mark Thwaite

Tuesday 14 August 2007


There is a new CONTEXT up online which includes:

  • Reading Aidan Higgins, Robert Pinget, and Witold Gombrowicz.
  • Letters from Macedonia and Poland.
  • Interviews with Dumitru Tsepeneag, Louis Paul Boon, and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko.
  • Commentaries by Roger Boylan, John Taylor, Michael Pinker, Lindsay Waters, Ros Schwartz, and Jim Knipfel.
  • Contributors include Céline Bourhis, Joos Florquin, Shushan Avagyan, Evgeny Pavlov, Goce Smilevski, and Przemyslaw Czaplinski.
  • Posted by Mark Thwaite

    Monday 13 August 2007

    Booker prize: the very best book of the year?

    I'm running out of time (again), so I doubt I'll post anything new here today: apologies for that. On Friday, though, over on Editor's Corner, I did write a longish blog about the Booker prize which might prove to be of interest:

    The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is an odd phenomenon. Each year, the Booker longlist (just 13-strong this year, previously a list of 20 titles), shortlist and winner casts a long shadow over the UK literary fiction scene, and defines what literary titles get pushed in the country's bookshops.

    Gaining the prize is guaranteed exposure for the novel concerned and can fully establish the career of the writer who wins. This isn't always the case, of course: when controversial Scottish writer James Kelman won with his (astonishing and quite superb) How Late it Was, How Was he and his publisher simply provided an awful lot of books for the remainder shops! The book sold in its hundreds, not the usual tens of thousands that a Booker winner can expect these days. And Kelman's book seemed to be a turning point for the prize, for a few years after the committee steered clear of "difficult" titles and picked a crop of more populist winners in the subsequent years.

    The Man Booker committee says the prize "promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year," but its rules (not least its stricture that any publisher must agree "to contribute £5,000 towards general publicity if the book reaches the shortlist") mean that very many fine books fall through the baggy Booker net. It is an oft-repeated figure that about 10,000 books are published in the UK each month. Many of those books are non-fiction and so immediately rule themselves out of consideration for the Booker, but very many are not. The prize, however, faced with this deluge of writing only considers a tiny handful of books. This year, just 120 were read by the judges.

    As the Literary Saloon points out this ensures that even some very, very big hitters were left out of this year's longlist. No room was found for: Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru, The Song Before It Is Sung by Justin Cartwright, and The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe. And goodness knows how many gems by obscure writers have been missed. Disappointingly, the committee did find room to include journeyman dullard Ian McEwan with his mediocre and underwhelming On Chesil Beach. The scandalous omission of Rosalind Belben's wonderful Our Horses in Egypt damns this year's judges still further.

    The Booker Prize is good fun. It gets books -- and often some very decent books -- onto the news and into the bookshops. And the longlist isn't a bad overview of some of the year's best books. But it is not a definitive filtering mechanism and, objectively, the prize often fails to fine the very best book of the year. It fails because, quite simply, it just doesn't look hard enough. Considering just 100-odd titles is something of a disgrace.

    If you really want to know the best book of the year, ask the bloggers. They cast their net much wider and bring far more insight and passion to their reading than the Booker judges ever can.

    Posted by Mark Thwaite
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    Friday 10 August 2007

    Smoothness of Surface

    I'm not feeling very well! I'll get over it, but it means I've been rather slack here at RSB. Forgive me!? (I have, however, written a piece about the Booker prize over on TBD.)

    So, as I have nothing to offer you today, please go and read Richard Crary's Smoothness of Surface where he discusses Henry James via Gass and Josipovici.

    I'll be blogging again here on Monday. And over the weekend I'll be reading Claudia Koonz's The Nazi Conscience (recently discussed, with the usual aplomb, over on Lenin's Tomb).

    Posted by Mark Thwaite
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    Sunday 05 August 2007


    You must forgive the dearth of blogging: I'm in Alexandria, in Egypt, working with The Book Depository team that we have out here. My first time in Egypt; my first time in the Middle East; my first time in Africa! Culture-wise: these dudes never sleep! And they drive like crazy, mad, crazy people! Work-wise, I'm just adding some finishing touches to the new Book Depository website redesign which, hopefully, we can push live in the next couple of weeks. Then we'll get working on adding some new functionality to the site too. (And whilst I'm doing this Lee is working on some new functionality for ReadySteadyBook too.) All being well, I should be back home with Mrs Book and Lola some time on Tuesday evening. Blummin' hot here!

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

    -- Mark Thwaite, Managing Editor


    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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    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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