An end of week recap
“At no other time does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
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.
* The Coming of Witch Week 2021 *
Hold on to your pointy black hats because Witch Week is almost upon us – a time when co-thaumaturges Chris Lovegrove and Lizzie Ross customarily lure us into their orbits with tales of magical worlds, maleficent mortals and occult happenings. Taking place from 31st October to 6th November, the hosts have planned a Treason and Plot themed event for 2021, which, says Lizzie, “takes its cue from Guy Fawkes’ Day, the last day of Witch Week, the 5th of November.” This “annual celebration of fantasy and witchy deeds” (with a substantial dollop of Diana Wynne Jones added to the literary cauldron) will also include a read-along of The Tempest. You are therefore advised to “dust off your Collected Works of Shakespeare” in preparation for “what promises to be a fantastical exploration of wicked doings among the goblins, spirits and humans on an isolated island somewhere off the coast of Italy.” If you are tempted to take part, please grab the nearest broomstick and point it in the direction of Which Week Witch Week.
* Lit Crit Blogflash *
I am going to share with you a couple 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 two – both published over the last week or so:
The Island of Missing Trees – Reading Elif Shafak’s recently published historical novel, The Island of Missing Trees, Amalia Gkavea of The Opinionated Reader found herself captivated by the “scent of gardenia, cyclamen, lavender [and] honeysuckle”, which pervades its magical realism narrative about an island where “people coexist in peace until the Devil is let loose.” The place is Cyprus and the history of its tragic north-south divide well documented, but in this book the “bitter conflict is approached with sensitivity”, says Amalia. “The bond between a father and a daughter. The love between two young people” and the Mediterranean “symbolism of the fig tree” are at the heart of this story. She describes the characters as “rich personalities, marvellously portrayed” and Shafak’s writing as beautiful. The book, she affirms, is: “Exquisite!”
Book of the month: Patrícia Melo – Ann Morgan of A Year of Reading the World is set to be “the inaugural Literary Explorer in Residence at Cheltenham Literature Festival”, which takes place from 8th to 17th October 2021. In preparation for “chairing a discussion about ‘Crime Fiction Around the World’”, she has used “the summer holiday to catch up on some of the world’s most intriguing who/how/whydunnits”, including The Body Snatcher by Brazilian author Patrícia Melo. Translated into English by Clifford Landers, this tale of drug dealing and police corruption with an “outlandish” premise, “sweeps us over bumps in the road with an engaging, witty and beguiling narrative voice that can’t help but fascinate.” The “spare” writing “bristles with beautifully succinct descriptions and observations”, which she compares to “watching a high-wire act”, since part of her reading enjoyment derived from knowing “the performer could tumble” at any moment. It would be fair to conclude that Ann has been greatly impressed with this 2015 novel from Bitter Lemon Press, describing it as a “product both of its characters and of the world in which it takes place.”
* 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 selection of interesting snippets:
Ploughshares: The Creation of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – Despite the memoir’s rigorous production method, Yardenne Greenspan finds Jean-Dominique Bauby’s mind wanders throughout The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, resulting in the vivid connection between his present and his past.
Prospect: The radical power of the book index – “Only through overcoming fierce resistance”, says Michael Delgado in his review of Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of the, “did indexes develop into the indispensable tools we know today”.
Book Riot: The Golden Library of the Moscow Tsars That No One Can Find – Did the lost library of Ivan the Terrible ever actually exist or is it merely a myth? Aisling Twomey investigates.
The Irish Times: Donald Clarke: The B&B paperback is dead – “Up to the 1980s, every Irish B&B had bookshelves stuffed with books left by guests”, recalls Donald Clarke.
Orion: The Mystery of the Falls – Sumanth Prabhaker writes: “Perhaps the most obvious example is Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay’s Gothic pastoral about a group of girls who venture to the top of a mountain and fall into a kind of metaphysical sleep.”
Bomb: Reimagining the State: Jonas Eika Interviewed by Sarah Neilson – After the Sun is a collection of short stories by the Danish author “addressing global class crisis and inequality.”
LA Review of Books: The Publishing Ecosystem in the Digital Era: On John B. Thompson’s “Book Wars” – Jennifer Howard on Book Wars, a new book that maps the ways in which the publishing ecosystem has persisted and morphed in the digital environment.
The New York Times: Dread, War and Ambivalence: Literature Since the Towers Fell – “The Times’s book critics reflect on how 9/11 has influenced writers and readers.”
The Guardian: Hilary Mantel: I am ashamed to live in a nation that elected this government – “Double Booker prize winner tells La Repubblica she may take Irish citizenship to feel European again”.
The Paris Review: The Madame Bovary of North-East London – Lucy Scholes discovers F. Tennyson Jesse’s A Pin to See the Peepshow takes inspiration from a scandalous murder case that gripped the British public in 1922.
Words Without Borders: The Watchlist: August 2021 – Tobias Carroll shares “a handful of recently released or forthcoming titles in translation that he’s especially excited about.” This special end-of-August #WITMonth selection “includes books by women translated from Hindi, French, Finnish, Arabic, and Spanish.”
Time Out: The completely true and absolutely bonkers story of Cole’s Book Arcade – “Did you know Melbourne was once home to the biggest bookstore in the world?” And apparently, “there were monkeys…”
PopMatters: Oscar Wilde Envisions Our Post-Pandemic Socialist Future – “Millennials and GenZ had time to contemplate the real harms wrought by capitalism during the pandemic shutdown. Perhaps they might read Oscar Wilde” now, suggests JT Thompson.
Fine Books & Collections: Bright Young Collectors: Gabriel Duckels – FB&C’s Bright Young Collectors series continues with Gabriel Duckels, winner of the 2021 Rose Book Collecting Prize at Cambridge University.
Art in America: Teju Cole on Creative Precision – The Nigerian-American writer, whose essay collection Black Paper is out this year, discusses precision in the humanities, along with related interests.
Tor.com: My Le Guin Year: Craft Lessons From a Master – Matt Bell follows the example of Ursula K. Le Guin by “writing and rewriting and revisioning [his] way toward a reality larger than the one [he] can see today”.
The New York Review: Hemingway’s Consolations – Elaine Blair believes it is “preposterous to think of Hemingway, with his best sellers and personal celebrity, as a writer’s writer. But is it possible that this might be the best description of his status today?” she wonders.
Bright Wall/Dark Room: “What Shall We Do About Claudius?” – “The richness with which I, Claudius renders the character of its underdog—the good and the bad, the inconsistent and the inexplicable—leads us to the deepest, thorniest questions about our place in history, and how things happen (or don’t) in turbulent times”, writes Julia Sirmons.
The Washington Post: Saleem Kidwai, scholar who unearthed long-buried literature on gay love in India, dies at 70 – His volume Same-Sex Love in India was regarded as a foundational text for queer studies in India and in recent years was cited in petitions to the country’s supreme court to end the criminalization of homosexuality.
Virago: Support Women in Afghanistan – The people at Virago have compiled a list of the ways in which you might be able to support the women of Afghanistan.
Review 31: A Different Kind of Pleasure – “The story of the showman who comes to town is as old as escapism, and just as double-edged”, writes Stuart Walton in his review of Richard Smyth’s historical novel, The Woodcock.
The Calvert Journal: The literary-musical clubs that sparked Moldova’s national liberation movement 30 years ago – A small group of people came together in 1988 to celebrate the birth of 19th century Romanian poet, Mihai Eminescu. Paula Erizanu recalls the Alexei Mateevici Literary-Musical Club, which eventually attracted large crowds to its fortnightly sessions.
Creative Review: Penguin goes green with ethereal covers by Tom Etherington – “Etherington provides the covers for a new Penguin Classics series, Green Ideas, which focuses on questions around environmentalism and nature”.
What is Emerging: Sylvia Plath’s Plight – Josie Glausiusz discusses “Sylvia Plath’s battle against post-war sexism and her attempt to juggle writing and motherhood” – something, she says, resonates “uncannily with our own age of unresolved structural gender inequalities, brought into sharp relief by the COVID pandemic.”
Atlas Obscura: The Only Bookstore on Najafi Street – “Four years after the Iraqi city of Mosul was liberated from ISIS, Daud Salim is the first—and the only—bookseller to return to the storied street.”
BBC Scotland: Rankin ‘honoured’ to complete McIlvanney novel – “Crime writer Ian Rankin has said it was an “incredible honour” to be asked to finish writing the last novel by William McIlvanney.”
The American Scholar: Lessons in Abstraction – Andrea Scrima reviews Clairvoyant of the Small: The Life of Robert Walser – in which Susan Bernofsk examines the “strange life of Europe’s most overlooked modernist”.
Kirkus: Salman Rushdie To Serialize a Novella on Substack – Author Sir Salman Rushdie will serialise a new novella, The Seventh Wave, on publishing platform Substack.
The Walrus: Why William Gibson Is a Literary Genius – “Forty years after his breakout story, Johnny Mnemonic, the father of cyberpunk remains one of the best writers around”, says Jason Guriel.
The Sydney Morning Herald: A tonic for nature lovers in lockdown and other books to read this week – Kerryn Goldsworthy and Fiona Capp look at a batch of recent fiction and non-fiction books. Here are their verdicts.
Publishing Perspectives: Ahead of COP26: Elsevier Joins the 2040 Climate Pledge – “The signing of the Climate Pledge this summer by Amsterdam-based Elsevier sets it on course to ‘accelerate the action needed to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.’”
Medievalists.net: Celebrating and Remembering Sharon Kay Penman – The 13th August marked “the birthday anniversary of one of the greatest authors of historical fiction of all time.” She would have been 76 but sadly, “passed away this past January, leaving the world deprived of all the books she still could have written”, writes Katarzyna Ogrodnik-Fujcik.
Independent: Hilary Mantel and William Boyd warn of book industry collapse if ‘disgraceful’ post-Brexit change goes ahead – Britain’s former poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy says the “prospect of new rules makes her ‘blood run cold’”, reports Andrew Woodcock.
Justin E.H. Smith’s Hinternet: Proust’s Panmnemonicon – Smith has concluded that “the multiple crises of the contemporary world have led [him] to find nothing so worthy of [his] attention as Proust.”
Talking Influence: How Social Media is Reinventing the Book Club – Alex Bryson would like to know: “What comes to mind when you think of book clubs? Emerging from a weighty tome with a pithy comment, perhaps, sharpened during an inert middle section. Or get togethers over wine, where the book chat is somewhat incidental.”
Post 45: Punchline Aesthetics: Recuperated Failure in the Novels of Ben Lerner and Sheila Heti – “Literary critics have competing ideas about what so conspicuously unites the novels of Sheila Heti and Ben Lerne”. Dena Fehrenbacher looks at why their shared and “widely noted” categorizations are “so hard to precisely and unanimously pin down”.
CBC: BookTok’s novel approach to books is helping Canadian authors, retailers attract new audiences – “With more than 18 billion views, #BookTok reigniting interest in young adult fiction”, says Jessica Singer.
Public Books: When Poetry Summons the Dead – The dead, the disappeared, and the forgotten—these Iberian poems make clear—can never be safely put away.
My Modern Met: 15 Unique Bookshelf Designs to Showcase Your Reading Collection – “Is your reading collection feeling a bit drab or in need of a visual boost?” asks Samantha Pires. She has selected a few of her favourite “bookshelves and bookcases to tie your whole room together while giving you all of the storage you need.”
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