An end of week recap
“Some places speak distinctly. Certain dark gardens cry aloud for a murder; certain old houses demand to be haunted; certain coasts are set apart for shipwreck.”
– Robert Louis Stevenson
Secreted amongst the usual mix of literary links and general bookish blather this week you will find sinister doorways leading to frightful features – some with recommendations to the perfect All Hallows’ read. Should you be plotting other dire deeds over the weekend, I wish you much grisly gratification. See you on the other side.
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.
If you are planning a reading event, challenge, competition or anything else likely to be of interest to the book blogging community, please let me know. I will happily share your news here with the fabulous array of bibliowonks who read this weekly wind up.
* SciFiMonth 2021 *
As “the days shorten and the mercury drops” in the Northern Hemisphere, Imyril of There’s Always Room For One More prepares to launch SciFiMonth 2021 – a yearly celebration of “all things science fictional”. She invites you to sign up and “geek out” with fellow lovers of the genre as they extol “the joys and horrors of but what if?” Running from 1st to 30th November, “the crew” will be reading, watching, listening, and playing as they navigate their way through “blog posts, Booktubes, Bookstagrams, Litsy posts, Booktok, Twitch streams and above all a great deal of chatter on Twitter.” Anyone can join, whether “looking to dip [a] toe for the first time, revisit the classics, or explore the outer reaches of indie titles”. Please brace yourselves for landing at Announcing SciFiMonth 2021, where you will find everything you need to know about this exciting voyage into speculative fiction.
* 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:
RIP XVI – The Spirit Engineer by A J West – Annabel Gaskell, the blog host at Annabookbel, isn’t the “biggest reader of historical fiction”, but she finds A.J. West’s haunting novel set in Northern Ireland in the early 20th century “captures the narrative style of the times really well”. A “fictional account based on real events, in which science meets spiritualism head on”, it “reads as if written in [the] times in which it is set”, adding, she says, “to the increasingly febrile atmosphere” created by the “highly strung” Crawford family. The book becomes steadily “darker and darker, more and more Gothic” as the narrator, William, has his sceptical, scientific mind tested “to the limits.” A “macabre” mystery, Annabel deems The Spirit Engineer both “thrilling” and “enjoyable”.
‘The Witches: Salem, 1692’ by Stacy Schiff – Kirsty of The Literary Sisters rather appropriately chose the Hallowe’en period to read The Witches: Salem, 1692, a book she describes as a “thorough and far-reaching work of non-fiction”. Devouring it “from cover to cover” in the “space of a week,” she declares it “an excellent introduction” to the notorious Salem Witch Trials (a series of hearings and prosecutions of people accused of witchcraft in colonial Massachusetts in the early 1690s), in which the author “writes wonderfully about the culture of fear that was created [by] denunciations”. Indeed, “different figures [are] followed throughout, from the accusers to the accused.” Schiff’s writing style she hails as “fresh and original”, her prose “suitably beguiling” and the book itself as “accessible to the general reader”. In essence, this “meticulous” retelling is a “fascinating and involved” slice of American history, and one she was “pleased” to have 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 selection of interesting snippets:
Tor.com: Read a Selection From Kim Fu’s Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century – A selection from Kim Fu’s debut story collection, Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century.
iNews: Notes from an Island, by Tove Jansson, review: inspiration for living – “The creator of the Moomins spent 26 summers on the tiny island of Klovharun with only seabirds, a pet cat and her partner for company”, says Susie Mesure in her piece on the recently republished Notes from an Island.
Medievalist.net: Ghosts in Medieval Literature – “Looking to get into the Halloween spirit?” asks Kathryn Walton. She suggests you “check out a few of the ghosts that the medieval literary world has to offer”, ranging from “the handsome reincarnation of Sir Gawain, to the skeletal, dirt-encrusted, toad-covered ghost of Guinevere’s mother”. It would seem “medieval literature has it all!”
Now Toronto: Shawn Hitchins: Nobody likes an angry gay man – “As a queer storyteller, covering up grief, pain and anger with humour came naturally” to Shawn Hitchins, Canadian comedian and author of The Light Streamed Beneath It.
Prospect: The insatiable human appetite for exorcism – Newly published, The Penguin Book of Exorcisms “explores terrifying possessions from centuries past. Yet spirits still haunt our collective imagination”, says Jay Elwes.
Forward: How Paul Auster writes doorstopper novels without touching a computer – Paul Auster spoke to Irene Katz Connelly about his daily routine, his favourite typewriter and his fascination with Stephen Crane.
El Mundo: Frankfurt Book Fair: The first novels about the pandemic arrive, with Margaret Atwood at the forefront – “The Canadian author collaborates in a collective work on the confinement of 2020.”
The New York Times Magazine: How to Recommend a Book – Malia Wolla’s tip: “Engage with the reader. Tell them why you think they’ll like a book. And never suggest just one.”
NPR: It’s been 42 years since ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide’ answered the ultimate question – It is 42 years since Douglas Adams gave us The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the answer to the great question of Life, the Universe and Everything. Fans look back at how the series has endured in popularity and why it’s still relevant.
Asymptote: Omnipresent Music: Carl de Souza and Laurel Taylor Discuss Kaya Days – “My project was about my own feeling of being absolutely disturbed after the events and how I had lived the days” reveals Carl de Souza, twenty years after his novel Kaya Days was first published.
CrimeReads: Horror Fiction in the Age of Covid: A Roundtable Discussion – According to Alma Katsu, “Horror is not a genre but a feeling”.
University of Warwick: Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Longlist 2021 announced – Seventeen titles have been longlisted for the fifth annual award of the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation.
BuzzFeed News: 21 Deliciously Dark Horror Novels You’ll Love – “Vampires, ghosts, witches, devils, and more grace the pages of these new horror novels”, writes Margaret Kingsbury.
Evening Standard: Karaoke, zombies and vlogs: why we can’t let go of Jane Austen – “Jane Austen adaptations will never go out of fashion – why? And how do you make a good one?” wonders Jessie Thompson.
KCRW: Jackie Kay: “Bessie Smith: A Poet’s Biography of a Blues Legend” – “Jackie Kay’s Bessie Smith: A Poet’s Biography of a Blues Legend is a terrific mixture of memoir and biography.”
Yorkshire Times: ‘Writer, Maverick, Iconoclast, Visionary’: The Young H.G Wells, Changing The World By Claire Tomalin – Paul Spalding-Mulcock shares his forthright opinions on Claire Tomalin’s latest biographical outing, The Young H.G. Wells: Changing the World.
Publishers Weekly: Books on Witchcraft Cluster Around Halloween – Timed to arrive with Hallowe’en, dozens of books on witchcraft are flooding the market this year. Ann Byle selects a few of her favourites.
China.org.cn: ’Crossing Saturn’s Rings’ wins China’s top sci-fi award – “Chinese writer Xie Yunning has scooped the top award for his novel Crossing Saturn’s Rings at the 12th Chinese Nebula Awards”.
The Scotfree: Are Céline’s long-lost manuscripts “the greatest literary discovery ever” — or an antisemitic bomb waiting to go off? – “A legal battle is raging over manuscripts written by the antisemitic writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline that disappeared almost eight decades ago.”
History Today: Paranormal Politics – William Gibson discovers a “polarising poltergeist sowed division in 18th-century England.”
Middle East Eye: Mohammed El-Kurd: Palestinian poet distils lessons from injustice – “Despite his young age, Kurd speaks as a mature poet who has absorbed the brutality of occupation and lived to tell the story”, says Rebecca Ruth Gould.
The Baffler: Edith Wharton’s Hauntology – Ghosts has been newly reissued by NYRB Classics. Jack Hanson talks about “[k]nowing and unknowing in Wharton’s ‘tales of the uncanny’”.
Nippon.com: Edogawa Ranpo’s World of Mystery and Terror – “Japanese mystery fiction would not be the same without Edogawa Ranpo, whose stories continue to be hugely influential in the world of books, as well as being adapted to film, television, manga, and anime. Literary specialist Ishikawa Takumi examines the achievements and works of this unconventional writer.”
Goldsmiths: Diversifying bookshelves with an alternative literary canon – A new book (This is the Canon: Decolonise Your Bookshelves in 50 Books) “celebrating great novels from around the world is challenging fiction lovers to expand their ideas about what should be considered the ‘classics’ of literature.”
The Hindu: Malayalam literature translates into success stories – “Translations of novels by Malayalam authors M Mukundan and VJ James figure in the shortlist of the JCB Prize for Literature 2021.” Saraswathy Nagarajan meets “the translators taking Malayalam literature to a wider audience.”
Electric Literature: What Book Should You Read This Halloween? – “Looking for haunted houses? Dark fairytales? Ghost stories? [EL has] your next read covered!”
Literary Hub: The Pleasure(s) of Pen(s) on Paper – “Danielle Taschereau Mamers on the intimate act of mark-making”.
Essence: Tananarive Due’s Classic Horror Novel Re-releases Just in Time for Spooky Season – “The author and horror historian shares her thoughts on the modern Black horror landscape as her genre classic [The Between] hits stands and streams once again”.
National Review: How to Handle a Phoenix in Your Fireplace – Sarah Schutte discovers why “Edith Nesbit is considered to have ‘single-handedly invented the modern magic adventure story for children,’ and her literary impact is still felt today.
Church Life Journal: America When Will You Be Angelic? – Cynthia L. Haven on Czesław Miłosz’s Californian life.
Nation Cymru: Review: Take a Bite is a collection of strong tales that celebrate the short story form – Take a Bite is a collection of new, contemporary short stories by Welsh writers, comprising twelve diverse stories about human relationships between people and places, representing winners of the 2021 Rhys Davies Short Story Competition.
Mental Floss: The Strange History of the Worst Sentence in English Literature – If “you want to start a novel badly,” says April Snellings, “any cartoon beagle can tell you that there’s only one choice: ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’”
Jeanette Winterson: Mind Over Matter: The Night-Side of the River – Jeanette Winterson welcomes readers to “a ghostly month of Otherworldly Encounters” in her first Substack post.
Sydney Review of Books: Can’t Complain – “Sara Ahmed’s Complaint! is an antidote to apathy”, finds Eda Gunaydin in her review of “a full and feminist account” of those who complain about abuses of power.
BBC Scotland: Tom Hanks hails Edinburgh bookshop owner as his hero – “An Edinburgh bookshop owner has been hailed a hero by Hollywood actor Tom Hanks for keeping typewriters alive’.”
Public Books: Poe: America’s “Artificer” – Many view Edgar Allen Poe as a uniquely gloomy, mad writer. But what if Poe was normal, simply representative of a gloomy, mad era?
Publishers Weekly: ‘How Do You Live?’: The YA Novel That Inspired Hayao Miyazaki Gets a U.S. Translation – Antonia Saxon spoke with editor Elise Howard and translator Bruno Navasky about bringing Yoshino Genzaburō’s 1937 book, How Do You Live? to English readers for the first time.
The Week: The scariest line in the English language – Five word from The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson’s classic 1959 gothic horror novel, keep Jeva Lange awake at 3 a.m.
The American Scholar: Back to School – Seth Lerer on “a return to reading as a private and a public act”.
Catapult: Every House Is a Haunted House – According to Sandra Newman, author of The Men: “Everything present is made of the past—the cities we inhabit and the language we use and the clothes we wear and what they make us feel.”
ABC: The Bookshelf: The Booker Prize 2021 shortlist: a reading guide – “Books about a real-life miscarriage of justice and a fictional aviatrix are among those vying for one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes” – an Aussie take on this year’s Booker shortlist.
Harper’s Bazaar: John Updike, His Stories, and Me – “When the famed novelist wrote a short story about her father, poet Molly Fisk was forced to confront the secret truths that lie in fiction”.
The Rumpus: What to Read When You Want to Be Haunted – Allison Ellis shares a reading list for when you want to be haunted.
The Post: Welcome to Team TERF, Margaret Atwood – “The writer seems to have accepted the implications of her worldview”, writes Mary Harrington.
Mashable: Fictional detective Olympics: The oldest, the best, the most murder – Chris Taylor finds that “[r]anking the Sherlocks of the world, in multiple categories, produces winners you might not expect.”
Vice: Remembering the Thrill of Reading ‘True Philippine Ghost Stories’ – Romano Santos looks back at an “iconic book series”, described as “the perfect mix of nostalgia and spook.”
AFAR: Driving the South—and Remembering the Legacy of “The Green Book” – “One writer on the importance of the historical travel guide and feeling freedom behind the wheel.”
Chicago Review of Books: The Deadliest Hearts are the Lonely Ones in Cassandra Khaw’s “Nothing But Blackened Teeth” – Devi Bhaduri reviews Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Malaysian author Cassandra Khaw.
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
Thanks Paula. As a scientist and sceptic myself, I love to read novels in which that is challenged! Bizarre, maybe, but great fun – and this one was based on real events, making it doubly interesting.
Thank you, Annabel. The Spirit Engineer sounds like the perfect brew for Hallowe’en! 👻
A suitably scary feast of delights, Paula! 🎃
Thank you, Sandra. Have you carved a pumpkin for Hallowe’en? Mine were such an abomination that I gave up trying years ago! 🤣🎃
I found the “welcome to team TERF” article interesting in light of a situation on my campus, where a trans person who is our associate director of “diversity, equity and inclusion” disliked the sign “mother’s room” in the new library, demanded that it be changed to “chest-pumping room,” and then took out a “no-contact” order against the (female) librarian who gave the tour.
This situation is becoming worryingly volatile – there have been similar problems in the UK. I really don’t see how things can be resolved without upsetting someone.
Is a “no contact” order like a “restraining order”? Is the implication being that they had been harmed by the person who gave directions to the room?
Thanks Paula – happy Halloween!
A very happy Halloween to you too, Kaggsy! 👻🎃🧹
What an interesting lot of scary reads to pick from🎃 witches, Philippine ghost stories!
How do you live is piquing my interest as well.
Thank you so much, Mallika. It is good to know you have found plenty of interesting links this week. 🧛♂️🎃👻
Another wonderful and particularly seasonal haul, Paula, thanks again!
Thank you, Chris. May your Witch Week be spellbinding! 🎆
Wonderful seasonal selection Paula 🙂
Thank you so much, MB. 👻🎃
This was a fun selection to get spooked by this weekend, especially those medieval ghosts!👻
Thank you, Julé. I hope you found the perfect read for Hallowe’en. 🎃
Kim Fu’s short stories sound fascinating. I really enjoyed I Am a Boy, a debut novel in a streamlined and cleareyed style.
Ohhh, Jackie Kay as a biographer? That sounds delightful indeed!
Thank you so much for your comments, Marcie. It’s always useful to know which links appeal the most. 😊