Review | Yours Sincerely, Giraffe & The Fire Horse by Megumi Iwasa & Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, Kharms

A room without books is like a body without a soul,” Cicero.

borka the goose john burningham bookblast marketingLittle children do what grown-ups do. So when mother and father read aloud to them at bedtime and enjoy doing it, a positive precedent is set. As books and ideas become a staple of home life, the pleasures of discussion and debate continue into adulthood. Reading also alleviates boredom and loneliness, which I remember from my own childhood: books were my first friends.

Home learning is one thing, school learning another. As the curriculum gets more and more intense, packed with demanding schedules, the fun of learning dissipates. In her exclusive interview with BookBlast®, Siân Williams, the founder of The Children’s Bookshow says that a core aim of the tour is “to bring the children joy”. Writers and illustrators who go to schools to do workshops and work with the children on their own creative writing are bringing with them the gift of storytelling. Once learned it is never forgotten – a bit like riding a bike – even though exams, and then life, take over. After all, as adults, we are surrounded by every imaginable kind of storytelling, in myriad forms. Continue reading Review | Yours Sincerely, Giraffe & The Fire Horse by Megumi Iwasa & Mayakovsky, Mandelstam, Kharms

Interview | Cathy Hirano | Translator of the Week

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Canada and came to Japan when I was 20 without knowing any Japanese. After a year of studying the Japanese language in Kyoto, I entered a university in Tokyo where I majored in Cultural Anthropology. My first job after graduating was translating project reports from Japanese into English for a Japanese-based consulting engineering firm. I worked there for 3 years, learning how to translate on the job. During that period, I got married to a Japanese architect and, just after our first child was born, we moved to the island of Shikoku. I began translating freelance while raising two children and have continued translating in a variety of fields ever since.

When you were growing up, what books had an impact on you?
From a fairly young age, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, which in our house was a lot as my grandmother was once a children’s librarian. Books were my escape from the reality of school life, which I found quite unkind at times, so I read a lot of fantasy, adventure stories and historical fiction. Books I particularly remember and that I kept going back to include The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, The Earthsea Cycle, Alice in Wonderland, especially all the crazy poetry, The Last Unicorn and The Once and Future King. I also loved things like Ann of Green Gables, Emil and the Detectives, Heidi, Paddington, Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell, and Russian Fairy Tales, as well as such authors as Margaret Lawrence, Farley Mowat, Gerald Durrell, Rosemary Sutcliffe, Madeleine L’Engle, and Patricia McKillip. I could go on and on so I will stop here!! Continue reading Interview | Cathy Hirano | Translator of the Week

Review | Emma, Other Ways of Seeing | Massot Éditions

Summer is the time for comics and graphic novels. They are an easier read when hanging out by the pool, or on the beach, than that 624 page whopper you finally have some time for, now that it’s the holidays.

Comic Books & Graphic Novels

From  Mad Magazine, The Beano, Billy Bunter and Asterix while growing up . . . to Charles Adams, Robert Crumb’s Kafka, Maus and Persepolis as an adult . . . comic books, and more recently, longer more complex graphic novels, are a delight. As culture has moved from being a print to a visual one, great novels like The Three Musketeers or Proust’s In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way are now available in comic book versions. The trend is growing and business is booming. Those literati who turn their noses up at them are missing out!   Continue reading Review | Emma, Other Ways of Seeing | Massot Éditions

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | August 2017

BookBlast® presents our curated monthly top 10 reads, a little late because of taking time out in New York and Rhode Island.

bob mehr bookblastSex, Drugs, Rock’n’Roll

Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements by Bob Mehr (Da Capo, Boston) buy here

The definitive biography of one of the last great rock ‘n’ roll bands of the twentieth century. Though they hated punk bands that is how they were on and off stage.
Reclusive singer-songwriter Paul Westerberg, bassist Tommy Stinson, and the family of late guitarist Bob Stinson opened up to Bob Mehr. Described by Alfred Soto in The Chicago Reader as being “A roaring rock ‘n’ roll adventure, a heartrending family drama, and a cautionary showbiz tale,” the book features new interview material and 72 rare photos.

Teen Rebellion 

How To Set A Fire And Why by Jesse Ball (Text Publishing Company, Melbourne) buy here

Sixteen-year-old Lucia Stanton’s father is dead, her mother is catatonic in a mental institute, and she lives in an unheated garage with her elderly impoverished aunt. She’s all in black and angry at our materialistic, capitalist society. Expelled from school for pencil-stabbing a boy who invaded her space, she is intelligent, interesting and impossible to be with, which comes clear as she relates the events of her life in a series of diary entries. To Lucia, arson is a form of class warfare. “I . . . thought about the fire. I know it was just an abandoned building but I felt like something had happened, a real thing for once. My aunt’s stroke had felt pretty real too. I guess real things happen all at once, and then you go back to the false parade of garbage that characterizes modern life.”

These first two books are recommended by a bookseller&lover working at one of the best  bookstores in NYC: The Strand, 828 Broadway (& 12th Street), NY 10003. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | August 2017

Review | A Man of Genius, Janet Todd | Book of the Week

She knew her love was flecked with revulsion, both from him and from herself – for what she was becoming under the influence, not of his personality exactly, but of her dependence on it. She wouldn’t look too closely: for she couldn’t combat the deadly longing, the sweet need for him.

London 1816

gothic horror bookblastAnn St Clair, writer of gothic horrors “created for yearning women,” is an independent and self-sufficient woman until she meets Irishman Robert James, the successful author of Attila. He is “another kind of being” compared to other men. “He loved an audience, a discipleship. Men were drawn to him.” A scholarly force of nature, he makes sweeping intellectual statements at Mr Hughes’ dinner, and also proves to be a great entertainer as a mimic and a ventriloquist. “Politics didn’t matter. Only poetry of philosophy, philosophy of poetry – purity of language which is its beauty.” Ann is mesmerised. They meet again, and soon they are living together in her lodgings.
Continue reading Review | A Man of Genius, Janet Todd | Book of the Week

Interview | Janet Todd | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
Born in mid Wales. Grew up in Wales, England, Scotland, Bermuda, Sri Lanka — we moved around a lot! Boarding school in Dolgellau.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
Early years were spent abroad in houses with just a few books already there, usually popular novels by authors like Marguerite Steen, Somerset Maugham and Nevil Shute. I loved the children’s classics especially Alice in Wonderland and often read adult books I couldn’t possibly understand — just for the words. My bent was towards adventure stories like Kidnapped and The Flight of the Heron — that is once I’d passed through Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five. In my teens, being an outsider in each new school I fancied myself as an intellectual and started quite early on reading existentialists like Sartre — understanding very little! Continue reading Interview | Janet Todd | Author of the Week

BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

BookBlast® @bookblast presents the first of its monthly Top 10 reads, showcasing the internationalist diversity of indie publishers. There’s something for everyone – enjoy!

FANTASY & SHAMANISM

Lin Man-Chiu | The Ventriloquist’s Daughter (trs. Helen Wang) | Young adult fiction, Balestier Press ISBN 1911221050 buy here | Review, Global Literature in Libraries Initiative | @BalestierPress @HelenWangLondon

Move over Hollywood and all those creepy doll horror movies! This sours-weet story is compellingly weird and shamanic. When Luir’s mother dies, her father, a thwarted artist working as a doctor in the family hospital, is overcome with grief. He goes abroad to study and promises he will bring home a doll for his six-year-old daughter, Luir, who is left in the care of her grandparents. But the doll brought home from Peru by daddy is a menacing presence in the house, causing strife within the family.

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter was longlisted for the 2014 Found in Translation Award.

TARANTINO ON THE PAGE

Quentin Mouron | Three Drops of Blood and a Cloud of Cocaine (trs. Donald Wilson) | Crime fiction, Bitter Lemon Press ISBN 1908524836 buy here | Review, Crime Time | @bitterlemonpub @QuentinMouron1

This fast-paced and entertaining thriller is cocaine-fuelled Tarantino on the page. “Gomez lifts the top of the sheet. McCarthy is dumbfounded. He has seen dead bodies in Watertown before – the tragic residue of drunken brawls outside bars or nightclubs, victims of muggings committed by drug-starved addicts or illegals awaiting deportation; he has also had to deal with the settling of scores between motorcycle gangs; he even saw the lifeless corpse of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber, before the Feds took it away. Bodies with their throats cut like Jimmy’s aren’t rare. Yet this is the first time he has been confronted with a corpse with the eyes slashed, the tongue cut out, and the cheeks gashed up to the ears.”

Swiss poet, novelist and journalist, Quentin Mouron won the prix Alpes-Jura for his novel Au point d’effusion des égouts in 2011.

Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | July 2017

Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Absolutely, both of them. My parents hoarded books, and they read to us every night as kids. My mother is a voracious reader of novels (although she never allows herself enough time to read them). My dad came from that great working-class tradition of self-betterment, investing in his own education throughout his life. He stock-piled political and historical texts, was a huge fan of EP Thomson and Eric Hobsbawm in particular, and loved Strachey’s Eminent Victorians so much he named one of my brothers ‘Lytton’. He left behind a library of books about Nasser and Middle East history that none of really know what to do with. Dad was more of a history and non-fiction reader, Mum more fiction. There were some writers they both agreed on though: Lawrence, Hardy, Orwell.
Also, I have to say, in the context of our new release Protest, that this book is effectively my ‘thank you’ to my parents for the extraordinary political education I got from them. I was privileged to grow up in the eye of a whole cluster of political storms. As kids we stood on pickets lines outside coalfields in North Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, took day trips to Greenham, were greatly involved in the 1984 Chesterfield by-election that returned Tony Benn to parliament, marched with the country-long anti-Apartheid march that culminated in the two Free South Africa concerts; and saw a newly freed Mandela address the world at second of these. We were beyond lucky.
As well as being a thank you to them, this book is also a potted journey of protests that Mum, Dad and two grandfathers I never knew were involved in, as well as much earlier ones that I heard mentioned in hushed reverence. Mum and Dad got to know each other on an Aldermaston march; both were linked with the Hornsey sit-in, both were at the anti-Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square, 1968 – where Dad was wrongly arrested and defended himself in court. My grandfather also marched with Jarrow marchers as they entered London in 1936, and fought against the blackshirts on Cable Street the same year. That’s the thing about this book, it’s not just me, scratch the surface and everybody has a connection to not one, but multitudes of these stories – because it’s our history, not theirs. To quote my friend, Dinesh Allirajah: “It’s political, but it’s always been personal.”

Continue reading Interview | Ra Page, Comma Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in a small market town in the North West of England. Its principal claim to fame is selling the town bible to pay for a bear to use for bearbaiting during its annual wakes. This claim is, however, not true: the townsmen decided to use the money they’d been saving to buy a bible (16 shillings) to purchase the bear.  I have a wary relationship with the town; I spent my teens desperate to escape, and most of my thirties writing about it.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
We had few books in our house: a dictionary of British history, in which I would look up Nelson and Scott (I had a thing for noble deaths); a book on the hunt for Tutankhamun’s Tomb; a family health bible, probably written by Miriam Stoppard; a dictionary used almost exclusively to settle Scrabble arguments; an incomplete set of Young Person’s Encyclopedias from the 1950s. We got all our books from the library. Its musty stacks and silence were probably the most formative influences on my life and my writing.

Continue reading Interview | Stuart Evers | Author of the Week

Interview | Meike Ziervogel | Author of the Week

Novelist and publisher, Meike Ziervogel, came to London in 1986 to study Arabic language and literature, and received a BA and MA from SOAS. She speaks German, English, Arabic and French. She is married and has two children.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up? 
I was born in Kiel in the north of Germany, and I grew up near there, in a small town called Heide on the North Sea coast.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
My mother used to read us the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from a book with beautiful old paintings. I wanted to have hair like Rapunzel.

Why do you write?
Because I enjoy it. Creating stories also allows me to explore and emotionally understand topics and issues I might otherwise find difficult to comprehend.

Continue reading Interview | Meike Ziervogel | Author of the Week