An end of week recap
I so much wanted to attend the Hay Festival this year having missed out last time due to my partner’s ill health – in fact, I booked my accommodation almost twelve months ago and purchased Early Bird tickets the moment they became available. Alas, it wasn’t to be as the COVID-19 lockdown put paid to my plans. However, due to vision and ingenuity on the part of the organisers, the 33rd festival went ahead digitally from 18th to 31st May.
Free to watch, Hay Festival Digital was beamed live into the homes of readers around the world. Its Director, Peter Florence, promised an innovative programme, which would be zinged “as if from a green field in Wales”. He was as good as his word, bringing together 100 award-winning writers and thinkers to celebrate the brilliance of the book. Happily, the online event proved enormously successful, with almost half a million people logging-in over the course of two weeks. What’s more, I was able to reserve virtual tickets to see Hilary Mantel, Ali Smith and numerous other literary notables I had originally hoped to catch in person.
The festival ended on a high last Sunday with the magnificent Sandi Toksvig chewing the fat with her friend Lennie Goodings, the Chair of Virago Press, on a myriad of subjects including the joys and pitfalls of fame, thinking in Danish and the possibility of grandmothers taking charge of the world. She was, as ever, erudite and amusing, but her final words on this unique festival bear repeating:
“These are dark times but Hay Festival represents the obverse. It’s the place of stimulating conversation, of soothing words, and reminding ourselves of the glory of the human imagination. And we really, really need that now.”
Should you be interested, all the programmes are now available on Hay Player.
As ever, this is a weekly post in which I summarise books read, reviewed and currently on my TBR shelf. In addition to a variety of literary titbits, I look ahead to forthcoming features, see what’s on the nightstand and keep readers abreast of various book-related happenings.
PAUSE FOR A POD >>
* Look and Listen*
Here I normally recommend engaging podcasts or other digital recordings I’ve come across recently, however, this week I share with you a Facebook livestream from Front Line Defenders on a subject close to my heart.
Remembering Berta: A new book, Who Killed Berta Cáceres? by Nina Lakhani, published by Verso Books to honour the legacy of Berta Cáceres, an environmental defender from Honduras, was launched on Tuesday. She was engaged with indigenous communities in water and land struggles before she was killed for her activism. The author was joined by Bill McKibben and her daughter in a livestream discussion. You can read more on Berta’s story in an excellent Guardian article and watch the broadcast here. >> Book Launch of “Who Killed Bertha Cáceres?” by Nina Lakhani >>
* Lit Crit Blogflash *
I’m going to share with you four of my favourite literary posts from around the blogosphere. There are so many talented writers posting high-quality book features and reviews, it’s difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:
Art History Detective Story Uncovers Snapshots from the Life of Dora Maar, the “Weeping Woman” – “The translation is excellent”, says Rennie Sweeney from What’s Nonfiction? of Finding Dora Maar: An Artist, an Address Book, a Life by Brigitte Benkemoun. “Maar is a compelling if problematic figure”, she concludes, and reading this book was “an intense and fascinating experience”.
Croeso i Gymru – Experiencing Literature Wales – “Isabella Kremer and Taylor Hebert, two of Gesa Stedman’s students at the Centre for British Studies, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, spent their cultural immersion experience at Literature Wales. For Literary Field Kaleidoscope they talk about their experience.”
‘Afirma Pereira’ (‘Pereira Maintains’) by Antonio Tabucchi – Susana Faria at A Bag Full of Stories finds “many striking and scenic descriptions of Lisbon” in this historical novel set in Portugal in 1938. She declares it “affecting and powerful”.
In the Beggarly Style of Imitation by Jean Marc Ah-Sen – The “characters stood out” for The Miramichi Reader’s Emma Rhodes in this “collection of short pieces”. The compilation provoked thought and “Ah-Sen successfully [made] the despicable likeable.”
* Irresistible Items *
Umpteen fascinating articles appeared on my bookdar last week. I generally make a point of tweeting my favourite finds (or adding them to my Facebook group page), but in case you missed anything, here are a handful of interesting snippets:
The Japan Times: ‘Peaceful Circumstances’: Negotiating relationships in a time of war – Roger Pulvers’ Peaceful Circumstances is a coming-of-age novel about a young woman at a time when the world is rapidly unravelling.
The Paris Review: Les Goddesses – Filled with paradoxes, the real story concerning the lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughters is more fantastic than any fiction.
Penguin: A bow and a curtsy: How Jane Austen’s age of social distancing reflects our own – Miss Austen author Gill Hornby on how fear of contagion informed the manners and mores of the Regency.
The Guardian: No pubs, no kissing, no flying: how Covid-19 is forcing authors to change their novels – “Never mind newly minted corona lockdown stories, authors are frantically rewriting existing projects to reflect a world turned upside down by the pandemic – or shelving them indefinitely”, writes Alison Flood.
Literary Hub: Why Didn’t “Brazil’s William Faulkner” Achieve the Same International Fame? – Translator Padma Viswanathan on the Brazilian modernist writer, politician and journalist, Graciliano Ramos.
The Hollywood Reporter: Newly Launched Literary Rights Group Acquires Estates of 12 Authors – “The estate of Brideshead Revisited author Evelyn Waugh is among those acquired by International Literary Properties in a deal brokered by the former CEO of the Agatha Christie estate”, says Alex Ritman.
The New Yorker: Rediscovering One of the Wittiest Books Ever Written – Dave Eggers suggests we read Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis’s The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas.
Al Jazeera: Open letter: African writers in solidarity with African Americans – “Authors voice support for US protesters seeking justice for George Floyd’s killing, urge more action by African Union.”
The Conversation: Know your place – poetry after the Black Death reflected fear of social change – “In the medieval period, imaginative literature was often seen as having an ethical function by teaching virtue, which was defined as fulfilling the expected tasks of their social order,” finds Stephen Rigby.
New Zealand Herald: Covid 19 coronavirus: $60 million funding boost for New Zealand’s libraries – Kurt Bayer reports that huge cash injection for New Zealand’s libraries “will help protect 170 librarian jobs”.
The Irish Times: Great reads: 20 books to unwind with this summer – “From established talent to rising stars, and whether you prefer fact or fiction, all of these books [selected by Anna Carey] deserve a place on your reading list in the months ahead”.
Brain Pickings: The Osbick Bird: Edward Gorey’s Tender and Surprising Vintage Illustrated Allegory About the Meaning of True Love – Maria Popova on a “subversive Victorian-tinted infusion of romantic realism.”
The Calvert Journal: Why Russian indie book publishers are fighting the conservative mainstream – “For Russian publishers, translated foreign titles rule the bestseller lists”, says Daria Kushnir. “Now publishing startups are giving space to local voices — including those from the margins of Russian society.”
The New Republic: Barbara Ehrenreich Still Wants to Be Surprised – The American author and activist tells Haley Mlotek: “My hope for all readers is that they will shut the book and run out and protest. That’s what I always expect people to do. They seldom do it.”
Tor.com: I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Duty of the Black Writer During Times of American Unrest – Tochi Onyebuchi discusses the responsibility of writers amid continued acts of violence against Black people.
BBC News: India’s Kolkata city rallies to help its booksellers – “Communities in the Indian city of Kolkata are rallying round to help its booksellers after images of thousands of books in flood water have gone viral on social media.”
CrimeReads: Martin Edwards on the Enduring Popularity of Traditional Mysteries – “With new re-issues and rediscovered authors, the world can’t seem to get enough classic mystery fiction”, writes Michael Barson.
Dublin Review of Books: The Hard Life – “When he agreed to allow her to be his biographer Samuel Beckett told Deirdre Bair that his friends would help her and his enemies would also surely seek her out”, says Kennedy Smith.
AP News: Review: Elisabeth Moss as Shirley Jackson in ‘Shirley’ – “Josephine Decker’s prickly, unnerving Shirley, is set mostly in the […] home of the reclusive writer Shirley Jackson”, but “also takes place in the gothic, heightened realm of one of [her] own stories”, writes Jake Coyle.
Princh: Galapagos’ Travelling Libraries – Edgado Civallero shares information on Galapagos’ Travelling Libraries.
Time: The Best Books of 2020 So Far – Annabel Gutterman reveals her favourite books of the year.
The New York Times: Dreaming of a Park Bench and a Book – Gal Beckerman and Erica Ackerberg share pictures of New Yorkers reading books outdoors.
TLS: Through the smudged pane – Elizabeth Winkler on “pandemic consciousness in Mrs. Dalloway”.
Axios: Ann Patchett: Bookstores are innovating to stay connected with customers – Best-selling author and co-owner of Nashville-based Parnassus Books, Ann Patchett, says bookstores are innovating to stay connected with readers.
The Critic: Emerging from Sri Lanka’s lockdown: a morning at Colombo’s booksheds – “A S H Smyth pays a visit to one of his favourite places in Colombo”.
Publishers Weekly: Bookstores Show Support for Protests – “Bookstores across the United States are showing support for the nationwide protests over police violence against African-Americans in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police office”, says Ed Nawotka.
Times of India: All black writers shortlisted for Desmond Elliott Prize 2020 – Three black writers have been shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020, an award given to the best debut fiction published in the previous year in the UK and Ireland.
Lambda Literary: Congratulations 2020 Lammy Winners – The winners of the 32nd Annual Lambda Literary Awards have been announced.
Australian Book Review: The Trials of Portnoy: How Penguin brought down Australia’s censorship system by Patrick Mullins – James Ley on the first full account of an audacious publishing decision that forced the end of literary censorship in Australia.
Apartment Therapy: Attention, Bookworms: Here’s How to Pack Your Books Properly for a Move – “Moving professionals share [with Jennifer Billock] their top five tips for properly packing books.”
The Walrus: How Not to Write a Book about a Minority Experience – “Publishers increasingly lean on outside experts to vet books for cultural insensitivity. Is it working?” asks Tajja Isen.
The Paris Review: More Than Just a Lesbian Love Story – “Shameless” and “unpublishable” the publishers called it when they first saw the manuscript in 1950. In her monthly column, Re-Covered, Lucy Scholes exhumes The Tree and the Vine by the Dutch writer Dola de Jong.
Bookforum: What’s Happening? – Elvia Wilk on dystopian fiction, “or: How to name a disaster”.
Bring Me The News: Moon Palace Books, with ‘abolish the police’ sign, is spared in protests – Melissa Turtinen reports that Moon Palace Books in south Minneapolis was one of few businesses spared by rioters during protests over the death of George Floyd.
BBC Culture: The man who wrote the most perfect sentences ever written – “In [BBC Culture’s] latest essay in which a critic reflects on a cultural work that brings them joy, Nicholas Barber pays tribute to the blissfully escapist comic novels of PG Wodehouse.”
CBC: These researchers want to hear how you discovered the literary world of L.M. Montgomery – “So many L.M. Montgomery fans have a story that they tell of how they became an L.M. Montgomery fan”.
NYC Tutoring: What Are the Most Checked-Out Books at the New York Public Library? – The New York Public Library (NYPL) is celebrating its 125th birthday with “a list of the 10 books that had been checked out most frequently” over the years.
The Bookseller: Serendipity will keep bookshops alive – Anne Welsh looks at “some of the lockdown actions that have kept shops afloat – and why they work on buyers.”
Harper’s Bazaar: Rachel Cargle Is Opening a Bookstore and Writing Center to Support Marginalized Voices – “She also shared her #Revolution Reading List, which is more necessary now than ever”, says Erica Gonzales.
DW: International Literature Award honours 6 books – Sabine Peschel reports: “This year, six books are recognized by the International Literature Award of Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. From queer avant-garde author Isabel Waidener to Nigerian Chigozie Obioma, the selection is diverse.”
Quill & Quire: RMB publisher Don Gorman creates new Google map tracking Black-owned bookstores – Canadian publisher Don Gorman of Rocky Mountain Books has created an interactive map of independent black-owned bookstores.
World Literature Today: In Mexico, One Bookstore per 120,000 Inhabitants – “Already precarious, the pandemic lockdown has made the plight of independent publishers and bookstores in Mexico in light of Covid-19 even more acute”, says Elena Poniatowska.
If there is something you would particularly like to see on Winding Up the Week or if you have any suggestions, questions or comments for Book Jotter in general, please drop me a line or comment below. I would be delighted to hear from you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you a week bountiful in books and rich in reading.
NB In this feature, ‘winding up’ refers to the act of concluding something and should not be confused with the British expression: ‘wind-up’ – an age-old pastime of ‘winding-up’ friends and family by teasing or playing pranks on them. If you would like to know more about this expression, there’s an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.
Categories: Winding Up the Week