Winding Up the Week #181

An end of week recap

Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
Henry David Thoreau

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.


* 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:

Desert of the Heart – Jane Rule (1964) – Ali Hope of Heavenali recently came across this “wonderful novel” – “described by Sarah Waters as ‘an undisputed lesbian classic’ – when “Virago selected it as their book club read for July.” She was “immediately drawn in by Rule’s warm and witty tone,” not to mention “her intelligence” and “brilliantly drawn characters”. Set against the backdrop of 1950s Reno, Nevada, the story chronicles a love affair between two women at a time when such a liaison was still illegal. Nevertheless, their relationship is “positive” if “complex” and “no real labels [are] applied”. On the contrary, it is a “beautifully understated” tale of “two women coming together”, which Ali identifies as an ideal book group choice.

Tolkien’s Tale of Brittany – In another intriguing post from Bon Repos Gites at Bonjour From Brittany, we are introduced to a long poem penned by JRR Tolkien in about 1930, which was “written in octosyllabic rhyming verse in the style of a medieval Breton lay, entitled The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun.” An important non Middle-earth work, it first “appeared in the literary journal, The Welsh Review” in December 1945 and it is suggested here that the author’s source was “a collection of traditional Breton ballads set down from the oral tradition by Théodore Hersart de la Villemarqué in his book, Barzaz Breiz (1839)”. A thoroughly well-researched piece – it has much to say about this lesser-known gem from Tolkien’s “rich body of work”.

Catch the Rabbit by Lana Bastašić – Over at Stuck in a Book, Simon Thomas has been focusing his attention on past winners of the European Union Prize for Literature. One of the more recent recipients of the award, Catch the Rabbit by Bosnian author Lana Bastašić, is the story of a “volatile and unpredictable friendship” between two women, which morphs into a journey through the past. It is a novel in which factual history is merely “a backdrop”, and though it “is set in the real world”, the narrative teeters “on the precipice of magical realism”. Indeed, Simon “starts to feel more and more unhinged” as the ending nears. Nevertheless, there is, he finds, “a richness and beauty to Bastašić’s writing that doesn’t ever let the reader settle”, and he declares it a “tour de force” that will remain with him.

* 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:


Mail Online: Author Patricia Nicol reveals a selection of the best books on: Japan – “Patricia Nicole reveals a selection of the best books on Japan, as she admits to feeling sorry for the residents in Tokyo who won’t get to experience their Olympics as spectators.”

Guardian Australia: ‘Unprecedented’: the fight for Sydney independent bookstore Better Read Than Dead – Walter Marsh on the “‘historic’ agreement reached between staff and management after industrial action sent shockwaves across Australia’s literary community”.

The Bookseller: Avon x Mushens Entertainment Prize longlist announced – Avon and Mushens Entertainment announced, “a 12-strong longlist of the inaugural Avon x Mushens Entertainment Prize for writers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who are writing a commercial novel.”

Aeon: Typos, tricks and misprints – “Why is English spelling so weird and unpredictable? Don’t blame the mix of languages; look to quirks of timing and technology” says linguist, Arika Okrent.

Shondaland: How Francine Prose Turned the Cold War Into a Comedy – Prose talks to Nylah Burton about her new book, The Vixen.

Interview Magazine: Omar El Akkad on “the Privilege of Instantaneous Forgetting” – The Egyptian-Canadian author joins Christopher Bollen for a conversation about his second novel, What Strange Paradise.

BBC News: Booker Prize 2021: Former winner Kazuo Ishiguro makes longlist – “Sir Kazuo Ishiguro could win his second Booker Prize for fiction with his eighth novel, Klara And The Sun.”

LARB: Octavia Butler and the Pimply, Pompous Publisher – How, in 1979, at the age of 14, Miguel Esteban commissioned sci-fi writer Octavia Butler to write an essay that still resonates today: “Lost Races of Science Fiction.”

Russian Art + Culture: Barking Up the Right Tree? – Simon Hewitt “doubts that lovers of Russian culture will come across a more unusual book this year than The White Birch” by Tom Jeffreys.

The Walrus: What Is the Point of Literary Translation? – “Translators may alter the composition of a line, a paragraph, or a stanza. But when do their choices overstep, and where do the changes stop?” asks Katia Grubisic.

3:AM Magazine: A Serge of Interest – Ben Granger recalls the life and legacy of the Belgian-Russian revolutionary writer, Victor Serge.

The Guardian: Jeanette Winterson: ‘The male push is to discard the planet: all the boys are going off into space’ – “The writer’s new essay collection [12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next] covers 200 years of women and science, from Mary Shelley to AI. She discusses burning books and the ensuing Twitter storm, the end of her marriage, and why a move into politics could be next”.

The Believer: A Read of One’s Own – Nikki Darling on the importance of reading.

The New York Review: Heine’s Heartmobile – “The liveliness and invention of Heinrich Heine’s writing changed the nature of German literature and of the whole nineteenth century”, writes Michael Hofmann.

Publishing Perspectives: The ‘Earthshot’ Prize Moves a Book Into Climate Crisis Channels – “The 10-year Earthshot Prize for climate-crisis response efforts will see its companion book published in September in the United Kingdom.” ‘Rajmohan’s Wife’: Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s English novel was a true potboiler – Oindrila Mukherjee continues the “series on near-forgotten books from the past that are worth reading in the 21st Century” with Rajmohan’s Wife by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay.

Black The Many Shades of Gatekeeping: How “Emerging Author” Hurts More Than Helps – “Most indie authors would benefit greatly from the opportunity to have their stories appear alongside those of authors with greater name recognition.”

BBC Culture: The scandalous memoir of the ‘lost generation’ – “On the 75th anniversary of Gertrude Stein’s death, Cath Pound looks back at the author’s bestselling book, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, which shocked and insulted the most famous writers and artists of the 20th Century.”

iNews: We found a hoard of essays by schoolgirls in 1937 about their lives – they are beautiful and brilliant – “Pupils at Pikes Lane Elementary School were among the people who wrote about topics as diverse as money, life goals, work, and heaven and hell, in essays discovered decades later by historians Hester Barron and Claire Langhamer”.

The Smart Set: Revisiting Dante’s Florence – Author Sarah Odishoo experiences Dante’s ‘circles of hell’ while visiting Florence to take a class in visual journal writing.

World Literature Today: As Popular as a Soccer Star – “In Colombia, the popularity of Gabriel García Márquez rivals that of the country’s most famous soccer players. Could one imagine a better tribute to the value of literature itself?” wonders Peter LaSalle. 

Nation Cymru: New indie publisher to use books sales to help restore a Welsh woodland – “A new Welsh independent publisher wants to provide ‘books that give back’ with an innovative partnership project with a woodlands trust.”

The Conversation: 4 Haitian novels that beautifully blend history, memory and reality – Confronted with centuries of exploitation by their country’s ruling class and foreign powers, Haitian writers warn against the impulse to seek solace in outside intervention or cynical humour.

Al-Fanar Media: Bila Hudood, an Online Arabic Literature Festival, Transcends Borders – Petra Ayar Jahchan reports: “The Bila Hudood festival invited people to join online discussions of contemporary Arabic literature in genres such as food writing, memoir and poetry.”

BookTrust: A different sort of normal (and proud): What it’s like to get an autism diagnosis at 33 – “Author and illustrator Abigail Balfe has written A Different Sort of Normal, a true story of ‘growing-up-autistic-and-not-knowing-I-was-autistic’. Here’s why she feels she can finally accept herself – and she wants every child out there to feel the same.”

The Atlantic: How to Write a Kaleidoscopic Character – “To the author Robert McGill, fiction’s job is to unsettle.” 

Book Riot: An Introduction to Literary Nonfiction – Senjuti Patra discusses several popular subgenres of literary non-fiction and provides accompanying reading recommendations.

BBC Africa: AKO Caine Prize: Meron Hadero named first Ethiopian winner – “Meron Hadero has become the first Ethiopian author to win the prestigious AKO Caine Prize for African Writing.”

The Irish News: Celebrating Ireland’s working-class writers in The 32 – “The 32: An Anthology of Irish Working Class Voices is a new book that celebrates working-class voices from across Ireland. Jenny Lee finds out more from Belfast novelist Paul McVeigh, who edits the collection”.

Japan Forward: Tokyo, Books, and You: Curl up in these Three Green Study Spaces – “Whether you’re a long-term student or just passing through on your vacation, these study cafes are sure to hit the spot.”

Sydney Review of Books: Acts of Avoidance – The Australian writer and artist, Fiona Kelly McGregor, pens an essay out of frustration “that few people understand the daily working lives of artists and writers and persist in dreamily thinking that our jobs are all dreamy thinking.”

JSTOR Daily: Emily Brontë’s Lost Second Novel – “The author of the English literary classic Wuthering Heights died tragically young, leaving her second novel unfinished.”

Zócalo Public Square: Where I Go: The Poet Sits in the Dentist’s Chair – “Did you know there’s a rich and under-loved canon of periodontic literature?” asks poet and critic Derek Mong. He discovers “what happens when ‘two mutually oral professions’ meet”.

Penguin: The 20 must-read classics in translation – “From Arabic masterpieces to Japanese novellas, these books will transport you to places – and eras – you’ve never been to before. How many have you read?” asks John Self.

Wasafiri: Wasafiri at Large: Reinventing the Book in Malaysia – William Tham Wai Liang, Wasafiri’s Editor at Large based in Malaysia, reflects on Malaysia’s multilingual literary scene, where numerous languages intersect against a backdrop of complex colonial history.

Library Journal: Growing Practice: Library Gardens – Erica Freudenberger discovers that library gardens “help address food insecurity, ease environmental impact, provide stress relief, and serve as pandemic-safe space for community connection.” 

Humanist UK: Ofsted blasts faith school for book saying gay people should be put to death – “A private Muslim school has received a damning report from Ofsted after a book saying gay and lesbian people should be ‘put to death’ was found in the school library.”

The Calvert Journal: Russia bans book covers with Nazi symbols – “Booksellers in Russia are being forced to pull history books from the shelves following new legislation banning Nazi symbols from front covers”, reports Paula Erizanu.

El País: The Spanish hospital laundry worker who keeps winning poetry prizes – “Begoña M. Rueda has just added the prestigious Hiperión to her collection of literary awards for lyrical reflections based on her experience at Punta de Europa hospital in Algeciras”.

Wales Online: The people who decided to open a book shop during the pandemic and end up with a thriving business – “Storyville Books opened its doors in Pontypridd town centre in June and books are flying off the shelves”.

The Markaz Review: Summer of ‘21 Reading—Notes from the Editors – TMR editors reveal their diverse literary interests, with more than a dozen recommendations for summer reading.

Bustle: Asexual Romance Readers Are Finally Getting Their Happily Ever Afters – “Contrary to popular belief, ace people read romance novels — and there are a growing number of books that reflect our experiences”, says Lily Herman.

The Economist: Intellectual magazines are flourishing in Africa – “The internet has made cultural and political commentary easier—and freer”. 

Soft Punk: “I want reading to save people” — Anthony Veasna So – Charlie Lee with a “previously unreleased interview with the late Anthony Veasna So.”



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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35 replies

  1. So many interesting items as always; the Haitian novels in particular piqued my interested since I’ve never read anything either set there or written by a Haitian author. This year I am making an effort to pick up books in settings I’ve never read about before.

    The article about Rajmohan’s wife is also interesting; I’ve read a couple of other books by the author (translated) but that his first book in English was always something that made me all the more curious about it.

    The Cat in the City is another great candidate for Keli Cat’s Book Corner.

  2. Such a great selection as always Paula! I’ve already clicked a few – thank you for sending me on such interesting diversions 🙂

  3. Read the best blog posts first too because we can’t read them all! Yours is always such a treasure trove, Paula.

  4. Especially enjoyed the article about Gertrude Stein. That time and those lives hold great intrigue for me!

  5. thanks as always, Paula!

  6. Another brilliantly curated selection, Paula! Did not know where to start this week but I enjoyed each link especially the Welsh snippets, and Aeon’s Typos Tricks and Misprints which echoed my confusion as a child learning to read 🙂

    • Thank you so much, as always, Gretchen. Incidentally, many congrats to Brisbane on winning the 2032 Olympics. I hope it brings lots of good things to the city. 😀

      • Aw, thanks Paula, I am chuffed that you know about this! It is a huge coup for Brisbane and the Sunshine State generally. We have hosted Commonwealth Games but naturally the Olympics will be on a much grander scale. At the moment, I feel 2032 is never-never-land due to coronavirus. Maybe one of the good things to come to Brisbane will be you and D for a tropical holiday?!

      • Hey, now there’s a thought! 🤔💡

  7. Loved the story about Storyville Books and its auspicious start and the piece on Victor Serge which brought back memories of reading several of his books and being amazed at his strength of character to survive what he did. A wonderful collection of links as usual!

  8. Thank you, Paula, another wonderful selection to enjoy. I found the article on the history of English spelling fascinating.

    • Thank you, Anne. 😊

      I loved your recent ‘…rainbows, waiting and hugs’ post, and was particularly taken by the cover showing a hugging hedgehog and tortoise. If only I knew a suitable child, I would have the perfect excuse to purchase a copy, but alas, all my nieces, nephews and friends’ children are now in their 20s and 30s. They are already inclined to think me completely bonkers – a gift of this sort would merely confirm their suspicions!

      • It’s a gorgeous book and I’m lucky to have my sister’s little granddaughter to borrow for these occasions. She’s growing up far too fast so I’m going to have to find another excuse soon! 😊

  9. There is so much here that I find myself returning to follow yet more of your fascinating links! Do they call that a virtual rabbit warren? 😉

  10. I especially loved discovering the story behind the Octavia Butler essay!

  11. You’ve outdone yourself. So. Much. Here. I particularly loved the Better Read Than Dead story. I hadn’t known about that, but good on those workers. It must have been hard for them. I have printed out the article on translation to read at my leisure, and have bookmarked the one on literary fiction. The Penguin Classics in translation link, though, seems broken?

    Anyhow, thanks as always for this, Paula. Hope you are keeping well and safe.

  12. I want reading to save people, too!

    It’s funny there should be an article about books featuring asexual characters… I have just recently been gathering some from the library for my daughter. The YA section has really exploded with almost anything you might want!

    Also, thanks for the link to El Akkad’s interview. I’ve just brought the book home from the library – the interview was a good appetizer!

  13. Thank you for yet again adding to my TBR.

  14. Like Naomi, I’ve recently brought home the new Omar El Akkad novel so was super keen to see that in your list. Along with the Kazuo Ishiguro (in the same library stack, actually). And the Octavia Butler article–woot, LARB has such good stuff. Also that Jane Rule book in Ali’s review is a longtime favourite of mine…she’s classic and deserves to be more widely read!

    Enjoy your summer, Paula!

    • I know the Jane Rule title well but I actually saw the 1980s film adaption (Desert Hearts) long before reading the story. I had no idea it existed in book-form before then. The movie was excellent – not to mention brave in the way it presented the subject matter (there was nothing else like it at the time) – but it differed from the text in many ways. Nevertheless, I enjoyed both novel and film for different reasons. It was such a pleasure to read Ali’s thoughts after all these years.

      I hope you too enjoy your summer, Marcie! 😎

      • Yes! I loved the movie too. It somehow managed to capture the feel of the book beautifully while still being its own story. I can’t remember the details, but I think I ultimately preferred the *story* in the movie because of one change in particular (could have been the other way ’round) but obvs they are tightly intertwined.

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