Winding Up the Week #134

An end of week recap

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.


* Lie Back and Listen * 

Here I recommend engaging podcasts and other digital recordings I’ve come across during the week. Hopefully, you too will enjoy them.

This week I bring you news of radio drama from Wales in the form of an adaption of Myfanwy Alexander’s best-selling novel, Bloody Eisteddfod. This series of BBC Sounds broadcasts provide “lively insight into contemporary rural life as well as culture” and features a “stellar cast of the finest actors in Wales, headed by Steffan Rhodri and Rhian Morgan”. Described on its official page as “engaging [and] packed with incident and vivid characters,” this new satirical whodunnit follows Inspector Daf Dafis of Dyfed Powys Police as he anticipates the challenge of hosting “Wales’ greatest cultural festival [on] his patch”. The event, which turns out to be filled with “as much crime as culture”, leads to mayhem in the Maes. >> Bloody Eisteddfod >>


* Lit Crit Blogflash * 

I am 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 is difficult to limit the list to only these few – all of them published over the last week or two:

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird – Kate W from booksaremyfavouriteandbest needed little convincing of “the importance of […] wonder and awe” described in Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and things that sustain you when the world goes dark – especially as “a big rain event” occurred in Melbourne when she was reading the book. Baird’s “part-memoir-part-essay-collection” may not be perfect but its “theme of mindfulness” and “fascinating research” encourage her to “revisit” its pages in future.” 

Tragedy or farce: Natural History by Carlos Fonseca – “The human connections” in this ambitious novel “are real and affecting”, says Joseph Schreiber at roughghosts. Indeed, it is “a daring and intelligent spectacle peopled by a wide and vividly drawn cast, both historical and imagined”, from “a writer who loves to play with ideas”. 

Appointment in Arezzo by Alan Taylor – This “curious memoir” of Taylor’s friendship with Muriel Spark is, according to Simon Thomas from Stuck in a Book, “affectionate” if “disconcerting”, and as “satisfying as it is odd.” 

Book of the month: Narine Abgaryan – A “striking and heartwarming read” is the way Ann Morgan of A Year of Reading the World describes Three Apples Fell from the Sky by the “Moscow-based Armenian writer” Narine Abgaryan. This “powerful debut” may sound depressing, says Ann, “yet it isn’t” – because there are “moments of joy” and real humour “stemming from bleak events”. 

* 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:


Evening Standard: How Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers became the word-of-mouth hit book of the summer – “Readers have fallen for Clare Chambers’s tale of a virgin birth in Fifties London suburbia. Jessie Thompson meets her”. 

49th Shelf: Shelf Talkers – “Find your next great Canadian read” – Robert J Wiersema with a selection of booksellers’ picks.

ArabLit Quarterly: Three to Read: Maghrebi Women Writing in Dutch – For Women in Translation Month (#WiTMonth), ArabLit Quarterly focuses on three Maghrebi women writing in Dutch.

B&N Reads: The Best New Science Fiction & Fantasy Books Coming this Fall (And What to Read Now to Get Ready) – “It’s been a crazy big year for Science Fiction & Fantasy”, says Kat Sarfas. She suggests several “otherworldly tales” for the “perfect escape.”

Boston Review: The Literature of White Liberalism – Melissa Phruksachart finds the “popular new genre of antiracist nonfiction seeks to educate white readers about race, but it does not center more powerful critiques from the Black radical tradition.”

Avidly: Moby Dick and Breastfeeding – “Moby Dick, that magnum opus of American literature, famously contains no women”, says Jessica Pressman. “But it does have breastfeeding.”

Greek Reporter: Greece to Restore Historic Home of National Poet Kostis Palamas – “After many years of neglect and dilapidation, the historic home of poet Kostis Palamas in Athens is given a lifeline by the Greek Ministry of Culture”, finds Anna Wichmann.

Literary Hub: She Said She Would Write the Essay Herself: Reading Virginia Woolf in Middle Age – “Heather O’Neill discovers many ways to see the self in Mrs Dalloway”.

Elle: Black Women Are Topping Bestseller Lists. What Took So Long? – “Roxanne Fequiere on The Vanishing Half, Luster, Transcendent Kingdom and the writers denied their deserved recognition”.

The Guardian: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld wins International Booker for The Discomfort of Evening – “The 29-year-old Dutch author becomes youngest winner of £50,000 prize, for ‘virtuosic’ debut with translator Michele Hutchison”.

ilovelibraries: What It’s Like to Be a Library Cat During the Pandemic – lsimon wonders what the pandemic has meant for library cats across America.

Australian Book Review: Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery – “Laura Elvery’s second short story collection, Ordinary Matters, shows the same talent for precise observation, pathos, and humour”, says Susan Midalia.

Al-Fanar Media: Beirut’s Damaged Libraries Try to Continue Fulfilling Their Civic Mission – “Despite the damage they suffered in the August 4 explosion, Beirut’s libraries are striving to continue providing community support”, says M. Lynx Qualey.

The Washington Post: Mermaid mania is real, and it’s seeping into the realm of nonfiction books – “Mermaids are having a moment that has lasted roughly a decade”, says Sadie Dingfelder, but she doesn’t think these “mythical beings [make particularly] good role models.”

Texas Monthly: Vivian Stephens Helped Turn Romance Writing Into a Billion-Dollar Industry. Then She Got Pushed Out. – “Now, as the Romance Writers of America reckons with its history of racism, will she finally get her due?” asks Mimi Swartz.

The New Republic: The Everyday Inspiration for Anna Karenina – Jennifer Wilson asks: “Did distractions, disruptions, and gossip shape Tolstoy’s novel as much as long-simmering ideas about morality and desire?”

Vox: The legacy of Toni Morrison looms large in The Vanishing Half – “An expert on Black literature explains why The Vanishing Half works like a call and response.”

Lapham’s Quarterly: The Art of Upsetting People – According to Chris R. Morgan, “Jonathan Swift and the Marquis de Sade [are] patron saints of extremism.”

The New Yorker: Can Gore Vidal Find Rest in His Final Resting Place? – Kitty Kelley discovers the “contentious writer, who liked to say that, after fifty, litigation replaces sex, had very specific plans for his burial.”

Alta: Alta Readers Help Define California Canon – The editors at Alta asked readers “what titles they’d include in John Freeman’s The New California Curriculum, an essay describing how recent literature reflects the real Golden State.”

Five Books: The Best Conservation Books: The Wainwright Prize 2020 – Cal Flyn speaks to the BBC presenter and judge for the 2020 Wainwright Prize Charlotte Smith about the six shortlisted titles.

Boing Boing: Since the pandemic, an Australian library called 8,000 elderly patrons just to check in – “Melbourne’s Yarra Plenty regional libraries may have closed to the public in March, but the staff continued their public outreach by reviewing their patron database for anyone over age 70 and calling them.”

Humanities: Citizen Readers – Parrish Peede conducts an interview with Louise Dubé and Maryanne Wolf about civics and the reading brain.

Literary Hub: How Fiction Allows Us to Inhabit Animal Consciousness – “Kathleen Rooney on some of her favourite non-human narrators”.

Smithsonian Magazine: Why a Campaign to ‘Reclaim’ Women Writers’ Names Is So Controversial – Nora McGreevy finds some critics are saying the Reclaim Her Name initiative is failing “to reflect the array of reasons authors chose to publish under male pseudonyms”.

Publishing Perspectives: Belarus Crisis Prompts Alarm from European Writers’ Council, PEN International – Porter Anderson reports: “The unrest in Belarus has alarmed humanitarian activists and the European authors’ association, as political pressure mounts on the Lukashenko government in Minsk.”

Slate: The New Book From the Author of H Is for Hawk Shows No One Describes Nature More Beautifully – Laura Miller discovers Helen Macdonald’s new collection of essays, Vesper Flights, reveals “wonders around you, wherever you’re quarantined.”

3: AM Magazine: Spoken in Jest: On the Lasting Importance of Georges Perec – Darran Anderson on connecting with the writing of the French novelist and essayist, Georges Perec, during a difficult time in his life.

The Guardian: Lucy Ellmann lands James Tait Black prize, 38 years after her father’s win – “The mostly single-sentence novel Ducks, Newburyport scoops £10,000 award for its piercing portrait of Trump’s America”.

New Statesman: How Chekhov invented the modern short story – “The Russian writer’s tales of stasis, uncertainty and irresolution determined the path of 20th-century fiction.”

Esquire: Fact Checking Is the Core of Nonfiction Writing. Why Do So Many Publishers Refuse to Do It? – “Emma Copley Eisenberg discusses the dangers of authors being forced to hire their own fact-checker out of pocket. If they do so at all.”

History Today: Frankenstein: Between Two Worlds – According to David Wootton, “Mary Shelley’s great novel is not a commentary on the Industrial Revolution, nor is it a simple retelling of the myth of Prometheus. It is far more original than that.”

Tehran Times: Majlis Library showcases rare manuscripts on Ashura in virtual exhibit – “The Majlis Library, Museum and Documentation Center in Tehran has showcased a selection of rare manuscripts on Ashura in a virtual exhibit.”

The Paris Review: Leaving It All Behind: A Conversation with Makenna Goodman – Alexander Chee speaks to author of The Shame about leaving New York publishing behind for the farms of Vermont, and why publishing her first novel was traumatic.

The Polish Book Institute: Bedside table #46. Maciej Świerkocki: I use every interstice to replenish my reading deficit – “The translator and writer Maciej Świerkocki talks about his work on the translation of James Joyce’s Ulysses” and much more.

The Rumpus: What to Read When You Want a Good Short Book – Kim Adrian shares a reading list to celebrate Dear Knausgaard.

Russia Beyond: From Tolstoy to Brodsky: What happened to the descendants of great Russian writers? – “From tram driver to billionaire”, Alexandra Guzeva wonders “which ‘apple’ fell far from the tree, and which one would have made their famous father proud?”

Santa Fe New Mexican: The future of post-pandemic fiction – Chris Bohjalian on the future of post-pandemic fiction.

Wales Arts Review: Sassoon’s Ape: In Search of Corporal O’Brien – “Michael Poole explores the life of Corporal Richard O’Brien, a prominent figure in the work of first world war poet and writer, Siegfried Sassoon, and finds a poignant figure of Welsh History.”

The New Publishing Standard: Spotify’s move into audiobooks is a seismic shift in the publishing landscape, but the ripples will take time to be felt – Mark Williams wonders if Spotify will dominate the audiobook scene in the same way it has music?

Culture Trip: Harry Potter Fans to Celebrate Back to Hogwarts Day Virtually – On 1st September Harry Potter fans make their annual pilgrimage to London’s King’s Cross station, where they gather below the digital timetables to celebrate Hogwarts Day – this year they will be doing so virtually.

Literary Hub: Learning to Appreciate the Small Things From a 500-Year-Old Japanese Writer – Eric Weiner is seduced by the boldness of Sei Shōnagon. Systemic erasure: Why writing from North-East India doesn’t make it to lists of ‘Indian’ books – “The absence is not one of individual choice, but of structural exclusion”, says Sneha Khaund.

The Sydney Morning Herald: Two writers navigate the problems they have in becoming Australian – “Emigration is a strange business,” says Anne Susskind, “and these memoirs are testament to life’s old chestnut: you take yourself with you wherever you go.” 



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.

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12 replies

  1. Well, I was not expecting to read an article on Moby Dick and breastfeeding today, but I just never know where your WUTW is going to take me Paula!

  2. A lovely varied selection, Paula – I know how long it must take to gather all these together, so thank you!

  3. Darren Anderson’s piece on Georges Perec is wonderful, thanks for the link, Paula. I’ve only read Life: A User’s Manual by Perec, but want to read more now. I also have Anderson’s Imaginary Cities on my To Read pile and on my 20 Books of Summer list. I’d better get to it!

  4. The Melissa Phruksachart piece was really interesting, thanks for sharing!

  5. As usual, a great collection of links. I’m particularly interested in the idea of how challenging it is to find literature which represents California as a state. I can see where it would be harder than it sounds! (Speaking as someone viewing from across a geographic border!)

    Given what we’re reading in the news these days, discussion of “post-pandemic” reading seems a little premature, doesn’t it? *wry laugh* But I know I’m superstitious when it comes to things like that. As if the virus is watching over literary articles by American writers and murmuring to itself “hmmm, guess we’d better step up the game”.

    • Many apologies, Marcie, I completely missed your message. How are things with you? I hope you are remaining healthy and happy.

      Yes, I agree, all this post-pandemic reading chatter does appear a tad overhasty. I seem to recall the same thing happening with 9/11. The fallen towers were still smoking when the literary press started talking about the future direction of fiction following the event. I tend to think they are so desperate for fresh content that they treat human disasters as little more than fodder for their next opinion piece. Your comment did make me chuckle, though – I had a surreal vision of a Covid virus reading The New York Times, pince-nez balanced on its peplomer-shaped nose! 😂

      • Mostly feeling well and fortunate, thank you–spending more time than usual nurturing habits and routines that boost immunity and keep the household moving in a healthy direction.

        You raise a good point, that the pressure to respond in the media might rush that kind of terminology, perhaps even when the creators of that content are not convinced themselves. And maybe some find it reassuring or comforting to speed ahead and think of it as being a done-deal.

        Yes, we are peering into the same window! Look how its adjusting its eyepiece to accommodate its chortle of satisfaction! 😀


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