Winding Up the Week #153

An end of week recap

The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”
Albert Camus

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. 


* Read Indies in February * 

Karen Langley at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Lizzy Siddal of Lizzy’s Literary Life have come up with a fresh reading challenge to keep bookish minds occupied through February. Their literary events have previously focussed attention on individual publishers, such as Seagull Books or Fitzcarraldo Editions, but this time they have “decided to highlight and support as many independent publishers” as possible. The ladies intend to spend “a whole month reading from their lists” and have thus declared February 2021 #ReadIndies month. Everyone is invited to participate, and your views are solicited on the project. For further details please see Announcing Reading Independent Publishers Month #ReadIndies (February 2021). 

* The Nicholas Nickleby Readalong * 

Another reading challenge you may enjoy tackling is Fanda Kutubuku’s Nicholas Nickleby Readalong. “February is the birth month of Charles Dickens,” says Fanda, and she likes to observe this date by reading one of the author’s works – this year choosing The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, his third novel, written in 1838. You are invited to join her from 1st February to 13th March as she embarks on her 769-page Wordsworth Classics edition. She intends to read “leisurely, without pressure”, posting regular updates on her blog in which she will summarise the chapters and perhaps discuss various topics with participants. Please look out for a “kick-off post” signalling the start of the event and, in the meantime, head over to Announcing: Nicholas Nickleby Readalong 2021 at Fanda Classiclit for all the gen on taking part. 

* 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:

Ode to the Unpraised: Stories and Lessons from Women I Know – Abena Beloved Green – “The women in this collection are inspirational, funny, and generous with their reflections and advice”, says The Miramichi Reader’s Ian Colford. Furthermore, Green’s Ode to the Unpraised, is a “deeply personal” work that is “full of striking lines of poetry”. He “thoroughly enjoyed it.”

The Art of Creativity by Susie Pearl – a book to help explore our creative personality in everyday life – This “well presented little book”, which “seeks to help [readers examine] their lives and discover time, space and impetus” to be creative, “encourages playfulness” and “exploration”, says Joules Barham from Northern Reader. While it is in some ways “unusual”, Julie found Pearl’s guide helpful and was “pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.”

The Forgotten Daughter by Joanna Goodman – Nirmala of Red Lips and Bibliomaniacs declares this “wonderfully written” French-Canadian historical novel set in Quebec, “heavy on history” but “never boring”. On the contrary, it is “deeply moving” and “well worth the 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: 


The New Yorker: A Lifetime of Lessons in “Mrs. Dalloway” – In an essay drawn from the introduction to a new edition of Mrs. Dalloway, Jenny Offill looks back at a lifetime of rereading Virginia Woolf’s portrait of a day in one woman’s life. 

The Guardian: George Saunders: ‘These trenches we’re in are so deep’ – “The Booker-winning author on what Russian short stories can teach us, late-life realisations and why he doesn’t like social media”. 

Wales Arts Review: Walking Slowly by Cole Hersey – Writer Cole Hersey “reflects on ecological thinking, social media and the importance of place through his daily walks during the coronavirus lockdown.” 

The Irish Times: Seosamh Mac Grianna’s long road to publication in English – “Mícheál Ó hAodha, translator of This Road of Mine (Mo Bhealach Féin), on a neglected great”. 

The Point: Inexhaustible Precision – This essay appears in Karl Ove Knausgård’s new collection, In the Land of the Cyclops, translated from Norwegian by Martin Aitken. 

Guernica: The Grief Artist – “In the wake of a loss comes the urge to create”, says poet Traci Brimhall. 

Spine: The Joy of Illusion – Vyki Hendy invites you to “see if you can spot the hidden visual delights in the following examples of great optical illusions” on these book covers. 

The Paris Review: My Gender Is Masha Gessen – “Masha Gessen is hot”, says Jen Silverman of the Russian-American journalist, author, translator and activist. 

BookPage: Celebrating the mutable, rebellious nature of language – Eley Williams’ The Liar’s Dictionary is “a literary whodunit, a comedy of intentional errors and a paean to romance and rebellion”, writes Linda M. Castellitto. 

Cultured Vultures: Dune (The Graphic Novel): Lessons In Adapting A Classic – “Does the graphic novel format work for Frank Herbert’s seminal tale?” wonders Nat Wassell. 

Electric Literature: 27 Debuts to Look Forward To in the First Half of 2021 – Adam Vitcavage suggests you “start off the new year by pre-ordering books from new and emerging authors”. 

Publishers Weekly: First Lady Jill Biden to Speak at the 2021 ALA Virtual Midwinter Meeting – “The January 25 appearance, in what will be among Dr. Biden’s first appearances as First Lady of the United States, is a major show of support for the library community”, says Andrew Albanese. Where Fantasy Meets Reality: The Magic of Libraries– “Depictions of libraries within the fantasy genre have [long] embraced [a] magical feeling”, says Rachel Ayers. 

Public Books: Leïla Slimani’s Taboos – Franco-Moroccan writer Leïla Slimani reveals the dirty underside of bourgeois domesticity – but Annabel L. Kim wonders if her taboo breaking is worthy of praise. 

The New York Times: Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Towering Figure in Urdu Literature, Dies at 85 – “A poet, scholar, historian, critic and novelist, he was credited with the revival of Urdu literature, especially from the 18th and 19th centuries. He died of Covid-19.” 

Outside: Remembering My Friend Barry Lopez – Bob Shacochis on “one of the great environmental writers of our time” whom he says, “explored how we live justly with each other and with the earth”.

Literary Hub: What Really Goes On in a Writer’s Notebook? – Danielle McLaughlin shares with us the process of writing her latest novel, The Art of Falling

Book Marks: The Most Anticipated Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books of 2021 – “Featuring a new Andy Weir space thriller, the latest in Martha Wells’ Murderbot series, an epic West African fantasy, and more”. 

Brittle Paper: SprinNG Women Authors Prize Announces 2020 Semi-finalists – Chukwuebuka Ibeh reveals the semi-finalists for the inaugural SprinNG Women Authors Prize. 

Evening Standard: The best upcoming book-to-screen adaptations, from The Pursuit of Love to The Vanishing Half – “Read these now and you can feel like a smug smartypants when they hit the screen”. 

PEN America: Announcing the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards Longlists – PEN America reveals the longlists for the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards. 

The New York Times: A Year of Scandals and Self-Questioning for France’s Top Publishers – “The release of Consent put France’s literary establishment under a harsh spotlight. The publishing industry is grappling with a nation that it resembles less and less.” 

ABC News: From Michael Connelly to Heather Rose, the world’s best writers reveal the books that shaped them – Hannah Reich reveals the books that made writers including Jennifer Egan, Michael Connelly and Heather Rose into Pulitzer Prize-winners and best-sellers. 

TVNZ: New Zealand enjoys resurgence of the humble bookstore – “Despite the rise of e-books and online shopping, the humble bookshop is thriving in New Zealand.” 

Justin E.H. Smith’s Hinternet: Who Is René Girard? – “And Why Does Silicon Valley Care?” 

The Bookseller: Lockdown made our library better – “It was a difficult year for everybody”, but librarian Marion Tessier “learnt and enjoyed a great deal from delivering services and engaging with the community in 2020”. 

Essence: Author Eric Jerome Dickey Has Died At 59 – The US author, best known for his novels about contemporary African-American life, “passed away on January 3 after a lengthy illness”. 

The Chronicle of Higher Education: Against Academic Book Reviews – The capsule format leads to painfully dull work”, says Paul Musgrave. He thinks it’s “time to try something new.” 

The Calvert Journal: Memory, migrants, magic: 11 books to look forward to in 2021 – Matt Janney names the Eastern European and Central Asian books he is most looking forward to reading this year. 

Middle East Eye: The French bookstore that celebrates immigrant history – “El Ghorba Mon Amour sits in a working class suburb of Paris, selling books to communities ‘in exile’”. 

The Daily Wire: Scottish Librarian’s Fiery Thread Describing Why She Defied COVID Restrictions To Help Desperate People Get Benefits – Hank Berrien on a Scottish librarian who “spoke out about getting caught defying coronavirus restrictions that had prevented her from helping people who had lost everything”. 

Los Angeles Review of Books: African Literature and Digital Culture – Bhakti Shringarpure believes the digital impulses of African creativity have fundamentally altered literary culture. 

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.” 

Vulture: Blurbed to Death: The Implosion of American DirtLila Shapiro discusses how “one of publishing’s most hyped books became its biggest horror story — and still ended up a best seller.” 

iNews: How to ‘read’ a novel in 10 minutes using summarising apps like Instaread – “Are summarising apps the solution or does the mere thought of them send a shiver down your (well-thumbed paperback) spine?” asks Amelia Tait. 

Vanity Fair: Duchess Camilla Is Starting Her Own Book Club – Erin Vanderhoof reveals: “After her heartfelt pandemic reading lists got a big response, her new Reading Room Instagram account has already debuted with an author interview.” 

VOA News: Iran Hands Writer 5-Year Prison Term for Translating Book Praising Syrian Kurdish Rebels After Trial Criticized as Unjust – “An Iranian writer who produced a Farsi translation of a book praising Syrian Kurdish militias has been sentenced in Iran to an effective five-year prison term”. 

The Guardian: Pioneering Observer columnist Katharine Whitehorn dies aged 92 – “The first woman to have her own column in the Observer, Whitehorn was a celebrated writer and author”. 

The Conversation: Five tips to get reading again if you’ve struggled during the pandemic – Do you want to read more but feel overwhelmed or struggle to find the time? Here are five tips to help you on your way. 

Russia Beyond: What Truman Capote saw behind the Iron Curtain – “Truman Capote’s epic trip to the USSR inspired the future author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s to write a biting account of his experiences during the days of the Cold War.” 



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 is an excellent description on Urban Dictionary.

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28 replies

  1. The George Saunders article is interesting and thought-provoking. Thanks!

  2. It’s been a bit of a week, hasn’t it Paula! Thanks for sharing #ReadIndies – so many wonderful books to choose from and I do hope it helps support indie publishers. And as I have a Saunders to read I will nip over and check out the link – thank you!

  3. “Summarising apps”? Instaread?! Why, why, why?

      • I confess there have been times when I have read a book (looking for information) and it was so poorly written, repetitive and long-winded that I would have welcomed a pithy summary. But in general books that are worth reading at all are worth reading cover to cover. This is a service for people who don’t want to read.

      • Very true, Lory. There would be no enjoyment for a literature lover in reading only the summary of a good book – I expect these apps are intended for those who like to show-off in front of friends around the dinner table (or would have been in the days when we were still permitted to sit around a dinner table with other people). However, like you I can recall certain books that would have benefitted greatly from being-summary only titles! 🤣

  4. I will be popping back in again, Paula, but this time I was stopped by, and in awe of, Cole Hersey’s reflections on his daily walks during the coronavirus lockdown. So relatable…

    • Yes, I can see why you would find Hersey’s piece so relateable. I believe Brisbane has recently gone into lockdown, so I hope you are still able to take a stroll in your neighbourhood. We are permitted to exercise outdoors once a day but we must ‘stay local’. Luckily, our immediate area is the ideal place in which to walk, but others aren’t so fortunate. Anyhow, stay safe, Gretchen. 🤗

      • You’ve got your finger on the pulse, Paula! Yes, things have gone very quiet in Brisbane. Face masks are now compulsory and fines for those who flout the rules. You stay safe also ♥

  5. Happy 2021, Paula! Thank you for including my review among all this amazing links. I’m particularly interested in reading George Saunders’s interview.

  6. The perfect quote for a deeply frightening week here. I loved Bob Shacochis’ tribute to his dear friend. Summarizing apps? What fresh hell are those?

  7. So many wonderful books.

  8. The Nicholas Nickelby readalong sounds such fun–this was one of the first Dickens books I read and it really had me enthralled (around the time that I had just started reading ‘unabridged’ classics)–the various characters, storylines, everything was such fun. And that edition didn’t even have the original illustrations!

  9. I’m astounded at the idea you can ‘read’ a book in 10 minutes, I know there have been summaries of business and management books doing the rounds for years (some of them contain so little of substance that the summary is actually all you need). But a novel in summary form! What a horrifying idea

    • I agree, Karen, it’s ludicrous. Moreover, I’m quite sure that people relying on these summary apps in the hope of appearing well-read would very quickly be found out if they fell into conversation with someone who knew the book well.

  10. So sad to have heard about both Barry Lopez’s and Eric Jerome Dickey’s deaths. So many good stories lost there, although of course they’ve left many behind on the shelves too.

    Is it too soon to ask if you are planning to host another Dewithon this year, or whether the COVID and moving house situation has proved to be too much of a complication? I’m only trying to deduce whether I should be placing a request through the library, as we’ve just entered a second State of Emergency here and travel times for requested materials between library branches that are open (and possibly their opening at all, which is only for curb-side pickup anyhow) requires an unusual amount of advance planning. 🙂

  11. Great to see a wave of new bookshop openings in New Zealand, a reversal of the trend and welcome news!

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