An end of week recap
I have become hopelessly behind in responding to comments in recent weeks – for which I apologise profusely. I plan to catch-up with everyone over the festive period, so please don’t think I am ignoring your messages. On the contrary, I am eager to receive your input and extremely grateful for your continued interest in my unwieldy wind up.
I have been preoccupied in recent weeks with the sale of our house. It seems we may have finally found a buyer – though nothing is certain until contracts have been exchanged, so I hope I’m not putting the mozz on proceedings. However, after three years of the sale being put off by issues ranging from my partner’s ill health to lengthy lockdowns, it will be with a mixture of sadness and immense relief that we let the old place go.
All good intentions of posting regularly to Book Jotter, not to mention setting in motion Project Pen Poised for Action, have been postponed but not abandoned. I aim to make good on my commitments in the coming year.
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 >>
* 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.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Vintage Books Podcast, the programme has partnered with media platform Black Ballad to create a special Christmas episode starring author Diana Evans. Diana and Black Ballad’s Head of Editorial, Jendella Benson, delve into the topic of ‘Home’, touching on Black Lives Matter, the literary canon and Diana’s writing career. >> Special episode: ‘Home’ ᛫ Black Ballad & Diana Evans >>
* The Japanese Literature Challenge 2021 *
Meredith Smith’s Japanese Literature Challenge, which is now in its 14th year, will commence on 1st January 2021 and run until the end of March. As usual, participants are asked to “read books in translation (unless you are able to read Japanese)” and post reviews to blogs. You are requested to “leave a comment” if you are taking part, so that you can be added to the review site. Should you post anything related to the challenge on Twitter, please use the hashtag #JapaneseLitChallenge14. Head over to Dolce Bellezza for all the gen plus suggested reading. >> The Japanese Literature Challenge 14 (Coming January 2021) >>
* Lit Crit Blogflash *
I am going to share with you three 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:
The Bell in the Lake by Lars Mytting – “This beautifully written novel” is “wonderfully atmospheric”, says Helen from She Reads Novels, of the tale of a young Norwegian woman and her village’s mystical church bells – “the first in a planned trilogy based around the legend of the Sister Bells.” She particularly enjoyed “the conflict between old ways of life and new” and is “looking forward” to the next book in the series.
The Dickens Museum at Christmas | Literary Destinations – Over at Madison’s Inkwell, we are escorted through fascinating exhibitions at the Charles Dickens Museum in London. The author’s “former home” at 48 Doughty Street “offers the public a uniquely personal glimpse” into his life and will this year host (virtually, of course) several “enchantingly festive A Christmas Carol events” – a tale Madison describes as “warming the hearts of readers and reminding everyone of the true spirit of Christmas for over 175 years.”
‘I went chasing eclipses’ [book review] – Sharing her thoughts on Brian Dillon’s “ode to the craft of writing”, Suppose a Sentence, Eleanor Updegraff of The Monthly Booking declares this “inspirational volume of essays” devoted to the sentence to be “skilfully sculpted” and “inspirational”. It is, she says, “one of those books that need simply to be read.”
* 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:
Literary Hub: Mary Gaitskill on Love, Violence, and Submission in Agaat– Marlene van Niekerk’s Agaat is a “novel of apartheid-era South Africa.”
Boundless: My many years of reading dangerously – whether Twitter likes it or not – “Andy Miller reads a LOT of books. Not because he’s showing off – he reads because he likes it, and because he can”.
Pledge Times: The extraordinary life of Guastavino, the rogue architect from New York, now assails literature – Rafael Guastavino’s “life was like a movie and his work, too”, making him “an object of literary interest”, writes Bhavi Mandalia.
The Age: Marvellous Melbourne: The books that capture our city and its life – Jason Steger finds Melbourne has always inspired writers, from a 19th-century mystery to contemporary dramas about its people and places.
Los Angeles Review of Books: Fulfilling the Mission: A Conversation with Olga Tokarczuk’s Translators – Jennifer Croft recently chatted with fellow translators of the Polish Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk about languages, processes, philosophies and their shared love of the novelist’s work.
The Guardian: Elizabeth Barrett Browning letter describing lonely quarantine up for sale – “Auctioneers say 1839 letter to her cousin bemoaning isolation in Torquay, with visitors ‘a thing forbidden’, is very apt reading this year”.
Tribune: How Sci-Fi Shaped Socialism – Nick Hubble suggests: “From William Morris to Ursula K. Le Guin and Iain M. Banks, science fiction has provided an outlet for socialist thinkers – offering a break from a bleak political reality and allowing them to imagine a vastly different world.”
Arrowsmith: Reflections on Editing – “While my editorial intention is simple to articulate, it was easier to practice in the seventies and eighties”, says Askold Melnyczuk.
Wales Arts Review: The Joy of Books with Aneirin Karadog – The award-winning poet and writer Aneirin Karadog tells WAR of “his love for Welsh-language horror and sci-fi novels” in the latest ‘Joy of Books’ Q&A series.
Glasgow Times: Shuggie Bain publisher donates hundreds of copies to homeless reading project – “An initiative which provides free books to people experiencing homelessness plans to give 300 copies of the 2020 Booker Prize-winning novel Shuggie Bain.”
The Hindu: Amit Ahuja, Jairam Ramesh joint winners of Kamaladevi NIF Book Prize 2020 – “The two winners were selected from a shortlist of six books covering a century of modern Indian history and encompassing a number of genres”.
Beyond Russia: Russian kids illustrate J.K.Rowling’s new book – “The famous creator of the Harry Potter universe has published another children’s book, The Ickabog. According to the author’s idea, the illustrations for the book should be made by kids. Here’s what children from Russia drew.”
Al-Fanar Media: Sudanese Writer in Exile Knows Life’s ‘Violent Reality,’ and Its Flashes of Joy – Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin fled Sudan to escape persecution. His 2009 novel The Jungo, once banned, has won praise and prizes—in Arabic and in French translation.
Ploughshares: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s Scary Fairy Tales – In Petrushevskaya’s stories, mothers often struggle to protect their children against the malice and indifference of a harsh reality. Only sometimes are they successful, finds Kat Solomon.
Quill & Quire: Revisiting the legacy of Austin Clarke – “When Austin Clarke died in 2016, the bulk of his backlist was out of print”, says Steven W. Beattie, which is a “strange legacy for one of the foundational writers of CanLit’s first wave.”
Hyperallergic: A Poet Who Wrote the Way Abstract Expressionists Painted – “Barbara Guest stands apart as a radical traditionalist, committed to poetry’s clairvoyant, mythical potentials”, says Tim Keane.
Chicago Review of Books: 10 Small Press Story Collections You Might Have Missed – Sara Batkie with a selection of “small press story collections you may have missed this year.”
History Extra: 34 best books for history lovers: BBC History Magazine’s Books of the Year 2020 – Historians reveal which history books they have enjoyed the most in 2020.
Prospect Magazine: Like a human thunderbolt: why Sylvia Plath’s art transcends her tragic story – “Sylvia Plath’s extraordinary poetic gifts have been overshadowed by her death. A new biography sets that right”, says Freya Johnston.
The Paris Review: Re-Covered: A Danish Genius of Madness – “It was the Danish writer Dorthe Nors who first introduced me to the work of her countrywoman, the poet, novelist, and memoirist Tove Ditlevsen”, writes Lucy Scholes.
iNews: Megan Hunter on The Harpy: ‘a male crime writer wouldn’t have people wondering whether he was a serial killer’ – Megan Hunter talks to Nick Duerden about The Harpy, “her dark tale of domestic revenge — and readers who mistake it for a confession”.
NPR: In Michel Faber’s Latest, The Disappearance (Isappearance?) Of The Letter ‘D’ – In D: A Tale of Two Worlds, Faber has created a society in which the letter d is starting to fade, imperilling things like dogs, doctors, dentists — and a girl named Dhikilo, who travels to a different world to solve the mystery.
The Calvert Journal: Feminist poetry, migration tales and satire: the 10 best Eastern European books of 2020 – “From mythical family epics and absurdist short stories to feminist poems, [TCJ’s] selection of the Eastern European literature from 2020, available in English, captures the variety and intensity of an historic year.”
Electric Literature: Why Was Jack London’s Wife Written Out of His Legend? – “Charmian Kittredge London accompanied her husband on his adventures and helped with his work—but like so many literary wives, she rarely gets her due”.
Litro: Landscape Literature: Reclaiming the wilderness of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden – “Walden is far from a philosophical masterpiece”, says Dr. Hannah Parkes Smith, “but it stokes us to passion.”
Parade: Your Ultimate Reading Guide: These Are the 40 Best Books of 2020 – Megan O’Neill Melle spotlights books that “helped us get through a tumultuous 2020.”
National Review: Our Literary Drought – “Novelists, poets, and critics seek a higher truth”, says Joseph Epstein, but he fears that “today’s pickings are slim”.
Literary Hub: What Drew German Novelist Uwe Johnson to a Tiny English Island Off the Coast of Kent? – “Patrick Wright on the final years of a wandering writer”.
The Undefeated: Our 25 can’t-miss books of 2020 – Soraya Nadia McDonald shares a list of books that grabbed her and allowed her “to disappear into worlds and ideas that [pinged] with more resonance and stickiness than [her] nonstop phone notifications.”
Library and Archives of Canada: LAC-Ottawa Public Library Joint Facility: Government of Canada provides net zero carbon funding – “In its Economic Update […], the Government of Canada announced that it will support sustainability enhancements for a net zero carbon joint facility that will house Library and Archives Canada and the Ottawa Public Library.
Penguin: The book I re-read every Christmas – “Caleb Azumah Nelson, Robin Stevens, Amir Khan and more Penguin authors on the books they return to during the festive season.”
Scroll.in: Amidst the pandemic, a school dropout in Kashmir waits for the library he started to reopen – “The shutdown on August 5, 2019, followed by the lockdown in 2020, has forced Muhammad Latif Oata, who cannot read, to close his labour of love”, reports Majid Maqbool.
BookPage: Paul Koudounaris and Baba the Cat – A Cat’s Tale: A Journey Through Feline History is a “one-of-a-kind history” which “traces the partnership between humans and cats back to the foundation of civilization”, says Anna Spydell in her interview with Paul Koudounaris.
Evening Standard: The Fall of a Sparrow: Vivien Eliot’s Life and Writings by Ann Pasternak Slater review – “Virginia Woolf called her malodorous, she had an affair with Bertrand Russell and she died in a mental asylum in Haringey. Ian Thomson applauds this superb new biography of TS Eliot’s first wife”.
Dissent: All Shook Up: The Politics of Cultural Appropriation – “In the era of global capitalism, imagining the lives of others is a crucial form of solidarity”, says Brian Morton.
African Arguments: The top 20 African books of 2020 – Samira Sawlani shares her “picks of the best from the year.”
Kirkus: Books That Deserved More Buzz in 2020 – Tom Beer looks back at 2020 and gives “a shoutout” to the books he feels “deserved more buzz”.
New Left Review: By Their Epithets Shall Ye Know Them – Michael Marr shares “an ancient piece of classroom wisdom” – “steer clear of adjectives!”
The Markaz Review: Find the Others: on Becoming an Arab Writer in English– Rewa Zeinati discusses becoming an Anglophone writer.
The Guardian: ‘If she was a bloke, she’d still be in print’: the lost novels of Gertrude Trevelyan – “Her debut about a woman who raises an orangutan as a human was widely praised in 1932, but her work has slipped from sight. Is it time for a revival?” asks Alison Flood.
Book Riot: The Pandemic Tanked My Reading Habits – Matt Grant, like so many of us, had plenty of reading goals for 2020 that didn’t come to fruition.
The Paris Review: Clarice Lispector: Madame of the Void – In honour of the centennial of Lispector’s birth, Katrina Dodson translates the tale of a young journalist’s awkward encounters with the famous writer in the seventies.
Metro: Bad Sex In Fiction Award cancelled as public faced ‘too many bad things’ in 2020 – “The annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award has been cancelled with organisers saying people have suffered enough in 2020.”
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