An end of week recap
“The language itself, whether you speak it or not, whether you love it or hate it, is like some bewitchment or seduction from the past, drifting across the country down the centuries, subtly affecting the nations sensibilities even when its meaning is forgotten.”
– Jan Morris, Wales: The First Place
We learned yesterday that Wales would start a phased easing of lockdown restrictions over the coming weeks and this morning we cautiously moved from ‘Stay Home’ to ‘Stay Local’. As of today, four people from two different households can meet in parks and gardens, outdoor sports facilities are reopening and, care home residents are permitted one designated visitor.
For so many people winter has felt interminable, especially as we have been in this third state of isolation since 20th December. Nevertheless, there is a wary sense of optimism in the air, which has been heightened by the Welsh Government announcing it may open outdoor hospitality areas and grant more mixing of households next month.
In my old-fashioned desk-diary, I have highlighted the 12th April 2021 with a riot of lurid marker pens, since this is the day Welsh bookshops are set to reopen. I await this date with gleeful enthusiasm, tempered by pragmatism, because as we know, both hope and trepidation are implied by the sight of an unread book.
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.
* Week Two of Wales Readathon *
You can now read the first in a series of light-hearted Dewithon posts concerning literary goings-on from the land of poetry and song. In Part One we look at an obscure literary connection between the Welsh town of Montgomery and a small village in Hungary. >> DEWITHON 21: Llyfrbabble (Bookbabble) One >>
There is a dedicated page on which to display your Dewithon-related posts. Here we share your reviews, features, interviews etc. with the book blogging community. >> Wales Readathon 2021 >>
Should you post any content relating to Dewithon on your blogs (or elsewhere), please be sure to let me know.
* Zoladdiction 2021 *
Fanda Kutubuku is looking ahead to April and her eighth Zoladdiction, a month-long “reading event” to “celebrate the birthday of Émile Zola.” She hopes to encourage “more people to appreciate his works” by posting and talking about this Nobel-winning French novelist, journalist and playwright – probably the best-known practitioner of the literary school of naturalism. This year she urges you to “go beyond reading” and also “share/post/tweet/talk about just any thing that is related to Zola.” Please head over to Fanda Classiclit to check out Zoladdiction 2021: Announcement – #Zoladdiction2021 and while there, share your plans with fellow participants.
* 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 Soul of a Woman by Isabelle Allende – The Soul of a Woman is a “provocative” and “insightful” reflection on what it means to be a woman, finds Claire McAlpine from Word by Word. While the “commentary [is at times] superficial” and Allende is inclined to generalise “about women, men, feminism [and] the patriarchy,” her novel invites the reader “to join the conversation” about the “empowerment of women on their own terms”.
From Brexit to “BrexLit”: Representing Brexit in Literature – Over at Pages and Papers, fellow European Linda explores “so-called Brexit literature” and the way authors “have begun to use stories to reflect on the divided nature of the UK and the consequences of the referendum.” She finds BrexLit “takes all sorts of shapes” and spotlights “a few examples”. In conclusion, Linda says she fully expects to “see more and more Brexit literature emerging in the coming years.”
A Playful Melancholy – Georgi Gospodinov is “a marvelously inventive writer” and “a virtuoso of wordplay”, says Gallimaufry Book Studio’s JD Cunningham of the award-winning Bulgarian author. His 2015 novel, The Physics of Sorrow, which draws on the myth of the Minotaur, “is imbued with melancholy,” yet “incredibly playful with an awful lot of humor”. There is, she feels, “so much for a reader to discover and appreciate” in this book.
* 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:
Ploughshares: The Power of Documenting Your Own Story – Patricia Engel’s new novel, Infinite Country, demonstrates the importance of taking back your narrative, of learning and documenting your own story for nobody but yourself.
Prospect: Brief encounter: Val McDermid – “People might be surprised to know I’ve busked in the Paris Metro to earn money for food and wine”, the Scottish crime writer, Val McDermid tells the Prospect Team.
The Rumpus: What to Read When You Want to Celebrate Women’s History – A “list of books written exclusively by women and genderqueer authors” in recognition of Women’s History Month.
The Hedgehog Review: Paul Valéry and the Mechanisms of Modern Tyranny – “All modern forms of government presume an objectification of their citizens.”
Granta: Laundry Bills and Manifestos: Francesca Wade – “The great pleasure of archive work lies in searching for these secrets known and unknown.”
Passa Porta Festival: Antimatter – In her comic novel The Palimpsests, the writer Aleksandra Lun tells the story of a Polish writer who ends up in a Belgian mental institution, where he is forced to undergo therapy because he wants to write, not in his mother tongue, but in ‘Antarctican’. In the text she wrote for the festival, Lun also reflects on the meaning and function of ‘foreign languages’ and their relationship to the mother tongue.
Loop Cayman: Books & Books rebrands to Next Chapter – Books & Books in Camana Bay, Grand Cayman, is celebrating 10 years of “its deep-rooted connection to books” with an image rebrand.
The Sydney Morning Herald: Adelaide Writers’ Week builds an ‘armour of story’ against ravages of COVID-19 – “They may have been stuck thousands of miles away and speaking to us through screens, but we didn’t miss a heartbeat,” says Jane Sullivan.
Independent: 11 best poetry books to celebrate World Poetry Day – Escape with Emma Lee-Potter to “a different world with some lyrical verse”.
DW: How COVID influenced author Maja Lunde’s work – “The bestselling author of The History of Bees knows a few things about crisis stories. Here’s how she reacted when the coronavirus reached Norway a year ago.”
Penguin: The book covers that almost were – “Book jackets can have many iterations before they make it to your bookshelf. What about the covers that get discarded along the way?” asks Kezia Newson. “Here Penguin designers share some of their favourites from recent years.”
iNews: Romance novels have a diversity problem – if love is blind, why are Black women like me left out? – “To redress the lack of inclusivity in the genre, Sareeta Domingo has published an anthology of short stories by British women of colour”.
The Nation: In the Vicinity of Genius – “How a friendship with Glenn Gould created an unlikely cultural critic.”
Evening Standard: Seven And A Half Lessons About The Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett review – “Katie Law enjoys a new book about the brain that is small in size but big on ideas”.
Bookforum: Positive Obsession – Gabrielle Bellot on “Octavia E. Butler’s visionary science fiction”.
Nieman Reports: Arundhati Roy: “We Live in an Age of Mini-Massacres” – “The Man Booker Prize-winning author of The God of Small Things on the state of India’s democracy, violence against women and minorities, the role of the media, and more”.
The Local France: Paris Latin Quarter booksellers feel the squeeze – The Gibert Jeune flagship store in Paris’s Place Saint Michel is set to close after struggling to survive during the pandemic.
Literary Hub: Metaliterary Worlds: On Fictional Books Within Books – “Elizabeth Knox recommends George Elliot, Mikhail Bulgakov, and more”.
Smithsonian Magazine: Eight of Literature’s Most Powerful Inventions—and the Neuroscience Behind How They Work – Angus Fletcher discovers recurring “story elements have proven effects on our imagination, our emotions and other parts of our psyche”.
Russian Art + Culture: Joseph Brodsky’s Travels Through Life – Explore the ‘Continuation of Space’ exhibition at the Anna Akhmatova Museum in Saint Petersburg with Peter Lowe.
Humanities: Black Poetry Anthologized – An interview with Kevin Young, “the savvy editor” who put together African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle & Song.
BBC Culture: Why we are living in ‘Gothic times’ – “There is a surge in goth-lit that channels our fears and anxieties. Hephzibah Anderson explores how the genre’s past and new stories delve deep into disorder and darkness.”
The Guardian: War brides, spies and burning bookshops: Marina Warner on writing her memoir – “Famous for her study of fairytales, what happened when Warner decided to tell her own story? She talks about the remarkable family legends behind her ‘unreliable’ memoir”.
Jacobin: We Need to Rescue Rosa Luxemburg From the Soap Opera Treatment – Daniel Finn argues that “too much writing about Rosa Luxemburg nowadays focuses on her personal letters and relationships at the expense of her ideas.”
The Cut: How My Life Changed (and Didn’t) After Writing a Book – You can have all the second acts you want, but you’ll always be yourself.
The New York Jewish Week: A Jewish Librarian Spied on New York Nazis in the 1930s – “Florence Mendheim’s story recalls another era when many refused to take far-right domestic extremism seriously”, finds Andrew Silow-Carroll.
The Baffler: The Short Story Priesthood – “George Saunders and the religion of literary craft”.
Global Times: Beijing to further develop bookstores in 2021 – “A conference focusing on the development schemes of bookstores in Beijing was held by the Publicity Department of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Communist Party of China”.
Ursula – Hauser & Wirth: The Artist’s Library: Anj Smith on Vladimir Nabokov’s ‘Speak Memory’ – “Blakley-Cartwright and artist Anj Smith dive into Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, parsing the synesthetic and linguistic pleasures of the writer’s prose.”
Wasafiri: The Fight in Us by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara – The author of The Adventures of China Iron “reflects on climate change, how nature has no borders, and the fight for our collective futures in an essay” celebrating Wasafiri’s special issue on Human Rights Cultures.
The Hindu: Laxman Rao, novelist and playwright, sold chai from his stall in Delhi until the lockdown – “The author of 25 Hindi books, he’s received awards from NGOs and literary associations and been covered more than 100 times in print, broadcast and digital media”, writes Nehal Ahmed.
ASAP: Books in Conversation / Heather Houser and Richard Jean So – A conversation between Heather Houser, author of Infowhelm: Environmental Art and Literature in an Age of Data and Richard Jean So, author of Redlining Culture: A Data History of Racial Inequality and Postwar Fiction.
Publishing Perspectives: UK: Jellybooks Pilots Bookshop ‘Peek Inside’ Capacity at Blackwell’s – “The familiar Amazonian preview called ‘Look Inside’ gets a storefront cousin from Jellybooks Discovery, using QR codes to offer samples.”
Quill & Quire: 2021 Spring Preview: Fiction – “Escape from the real world with the season’s most provocative novels, short stories, and poetry”.
Guardian Australia: A love letter to Sydney – the dazzling, uncaring lover I cheat on but always return to – “I was shaped by a literary canon set in New York, London, Paris – cities that felt more formative than my own. But then I started writing”, says Kavita Bedford.
Women’s Prize for Fiction: Revealing the 2021 Women’s Prize longlist – The longlist has been announced for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Public Books: Precarity and Struggle: Kafka, Roth, Kraus – Ari Linden finds that in their writings, Kafka, Roth and Kraus rejected the ideology of rootedness that was rapidly encroaching upon early 20th-century European consciousness.
The New Yorker: Véra Nabokov Was the First and Greatest Champion of “Lolita” – Long before most of her husband’s readers, she understood the novel’s title character not as a nymph but as a tragic heroine.
Electric Literature: How to Arrange a Poetry Collection Using Mix Tape Rules – “I was at a loss for how to order my collection until I turned to an older, more instinctive art form: the music mix”, writes Rachelle Toarmino.
Times of India: Women AutHer Awards 2021 Shortlist Announced – The AutHer Awards 2021 Shortlist for best women authors in Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s Literature and Debut has been announced.
The Yale Review: The Dolphin Letters – Dan Chiasson revisits “Robert Lowell’s infamous book”.
Deadline: George C. Wolfe In Talks To Adapt Toni Morrison’s ‘Song Of Solomon’ As Limited Series For Fremantle & Playground Entertainment – Peter White reports that Toni Morrison’s novel, Song of Solomon, is getting the TV treatment with a limited series adaptation in the works”.
The Critic: Grand old warrior – “Nigel Jones recalls the time he spent in the home of the legendary German writer Ernst Jünger”.
InsideHook: Gay Talese’s 40-Year-Old Treatise on Sex in America Is Still Just as Scandalous as Ever – “Thy Neighbor’s Wife was supposed to help ignite a revolution. We’re still waiting for it”, says Jason Diamond.
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.
Categories: Winding Up the Week