“In the wake of Amazon’s Kindle it seemed unlikely that books would ever be banned: instead books are commodified, turned into movies and TV series, rated and recommended in Goodreads, their individual sales histories quantified on Nielsen Bookdata and in the fathomless depths of the Amazon Sales Ranking system. Even the Kindle was named by a branding consultant who suggested the word to Amazon because it means to light a fire. The branding consultant thought that ‘kindle’ was an apt metaphor for reading and intellectual excitement . . .” [p.6 Tinderbox]
The recent Arts Council England report into literary fiction which shows sales, advances and retail prices slumping over the last fifteen years, and the average writer scraping by on £11,000 a year, does not make for seasonal cheer. Clever novels like Megan Dunn’s Tinderbox could possibly offer literary heavyweights hope for the future.
The literary canon as fandom is booming, as the greats of literature are ideologised and hybridised as part of our shifting 21st Century cultural ecology. The symbiosis between cinema, television, computer games, popular music and comics is giving rise to all manner of new creations, blurring the lines between what is real, what is imagined, and interpretations thereof. The blinkered, bookish view that popular culture fans take no interest in literary classics is a false one. Amateur writers are inspired by a whole range of classic texts, from Homer and Shakespeare, to Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and Victor Hugo. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Fivehave all been reimagined and transformed – unsurprisingly, Harry Pottercomes out on top with over 778670 stories.Continue reading Review | Tinderbox, Megan Dunn | Book of the Week
Our eclectic November top ten reads rejoice in strong women and have a radical, cosmopolitan flavour. We continue our celebration of 15 years of the Childrens’ Bookshow, highlighting two more books featured in this year’s tour. Happy reading! Georgia @bookblast
Rasputin and Other Ironies by Teffi (Pushkin Press) buy here Translated by Robert Chandler, Elizabeth Chandler, Rose France, Anne Marie Jackson
“A semi-literate peasant and a counsellor to the Tsar, a hardened sinner and a man of prayer, a shape-shifter with the name of God on his lips. They called him cunning. Was there really nothing to him but cunning? I shall tell you about my two brief encounters with him . . .” Teffi’s portrait of Rasputin, and her description of his unwanted advances, is a disturbing reminder of how sex-pests using positions of power to get their dirty way are not a new phenomenon. All of the women saying #MeToo on Twitter are standing on the shoulders of the women who came before them.
Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaya – who wrote under the pseudonym Teffi – was born in 1872 into a family prominent in Saint Petersburg society. An essayist, poet and playwright, she became so popular that there were Teffi sweets and a Teffi perfume. She supported socialism and the 1905 revolution, and worked for the first Bolshevik paper, New Life, which was later shut down by the Leninist authorities. She left Russia in 1919 and settled in France, where she died in 1952. Her engaging, witty and empathic writing belies a bleak undertow of loss and nostalgia for lost worlds as she writes about life before the revolution, fellow writers, emigration, and life in Paris.
Oriana Fallaci by Cristina de Stefano (Other Press) buy here Translated from the Italian by Marina Harss
Our monthly round up of deliciously eclectic, mind-altering reads to see us into the Autumn now that summer is over.
Uncovering a Parisian Life
The Madeleine Project by Clara Beaudoux, translated by Alison Anderson (New Vessel Press) buy here
A young woman moves into a Paris apartment and discovers a storage room filled with the belongings of the previous owner, a certain Madeleine who died in her late nineties, and whose treasured possessions nobody seems to want. In an audacious act of journalism driven by personal curiosity and humane tenderness, Clara Beaudoux embarks on The Madeleine Project, documenting what she finds on Twitter with text and photographs, introducing the world to an unsung 20th century figure. Along the way, she uncovers a Parisian life indelibly marked by European history. This is a graphic novel for the Twitter age, a true story that encapsulates one woman’s attempt to live a life of love and meaning together with a contemporary quest to prevent that existence from slipping into oblivion. Through it all, The Madeleine Project movingly chronicles, and allows us to reconstruct, intimate memories of a bygone era.
The BookBlast® Diary will be running a review and an exclusive interview with the Author at the end of the month.
“The Children’s Bookshow takes children’s authors to meet tens of thousands of children, introducing children to how and why writers write, illustrators illustrate. They give children insights into how they too can transform thoughts and feelings into words and pictures. This is not simply a matter of it being enjoyable, it’s a necessary part of what we understand by the word ‘education’.” Michael Rosen
The much loved and hugely popular national tour of writers and illustrators of children’s literature brings the joy of books and reading to children across the UK each autumn. The series of free workshops runs alongside the performances in the theatres. Past participants have included Quentin Blake, Michael Rosen and Judith Kerr from the UK, and from abroad, Tomi Ungerer, Fabio Geda, Satoshi Kitamura and many more.
The Call of the Wild When the Siberian and Chinese tectonic plates pushed up against each other, Mongolia was formed: a great landlocked highland plateau − sandwiched between Russia and China. No wonder the fierce warriors of the 13th and 14th century Mongol Empire who were masters at the art of war are still the stuff of legend.
I was told that sections of the Great Wall of China were built to keep the Mongolians out. This toughness, combined with an equally powerful shamanic spirituality dating back to Chinggis Khan and the Mongol Hordes – intertwined later with Buddhism from Tibet – and a continued adherence to centuries-old customs and traditions, are a seductive combination.
Mongolians live in two worlds: that of the senses, the observable, the scientific; and on a metaphysical and spiritual level − the unseen world of spirits and magic.
Ways With Words Festival of Words and Ideas in Devon has been held annually for about two decades. It is extremely well run by friendly staff and the surroundings are idyllic. I stayed in a comfortable double room to one side of Dartington Hall, overlooking glorious trees and the garden, away from the central, medieval, listed courtyard. My well-attended talk about Lesley Blanch, ‘a bohemian abroad’, was held in the 14th century Barn Cinema.
On the evening I arrived, news reader and war reporter, Michael Buerk, talked about Reality TV. He was engaging, funny and ultimately pretty depressing about the future of ‘quality’ TV. Budgets for ‘traditional’ drama, documentaries and investigative current affairs programmes − Panorama and Dispatches are all we have left − are derisory, whereas around 750 producers were out in the Australian jungle for the particular show in which he featured of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! Thousands of hours of filming end up on the cutting room floor. Reality TV is more ‘fixed’ now than when it first began and is not as ‘real’ or cutting edge as you might imagine. Watched by 16 to 30 year olds it offers a modern twist on people being tested and mocked as in a morality play, or freak show. People are pushed to their limits in increasingly humiliating ways for fast shock results. Instead of being pelted with rotten eggs and vegetables in the stocks, nowadays contestants grapple with their phobias of creepy crawlies, rodents and serpents. He was honest about the lure of the sum of money he was paid for taking part, (naturally he did not divulge the amount!). Bad behaviour is rewarded and ignorance is cool. Celebrity is a goal in itself, without achievements or virtue being involved in any way. The ultimate punchline from the younger members of his own family was lighten up granddad it’s only a TV show.
The BookBlast® Diary is the offspring of BookBlast® writing agency which was founded in 1997. Georgia de Chamberet was dubbed “L’enfant terrible of British publishing” by Le Figaro newspaper. BookBlast® has always been cosmopolitan in spirit, and gravitates towards the best independent-spirited and diverse writing.
A brand is your personality, so the saying goes. In the same vein as Flaubert’s statement that “Madame Bovary c’est moi“, I often say that “BookBlast® c’est moi“. As a blasty kind of person, I am an active idealist when it comes to cross-pollinating ideas, connecting the dots and contributing to making major writing projects happen, by whatever means possible.
The agency’s early successes include Empire Windrush: Fifty Years of Writing About Black Britain ed. Onyekachi Wambu; and XCiTés: the Flamingo Book of New French Writing which showcased a new generation of French writers unpublished and unknown in English at the time — Frédéric Beigbeder, Tonino Benacquista, Virginie Despentes, Michel Houellebecq, Abdourahman Waberi among them. I have moved from a background in print anthologies to curate an ever-expanding online anthology showcasing the best of independent publishing.
BookBlast® Celebrates Independent Publishing
Books and writing and ideas are to be savoured as slow reads: an antidote to the demands of the hectic world around us. Independence matters in this increasingly corporate age.
Mavericks from a ‘traditional’ book publishing background, alongside newcomers, have embraced the new digital opportunities on offer. Indie publishers like Peirene Press, Comma Press, Darf Publishers and Bitter Lemon Press are showcasing writers from around the world. And Other Stories, Unbound and The Pigeonhole are successfully applying new business models to their ventures. Many of the new breed of indie booksellers are releasing their own books thanks to the digital revolution. Book buyers who choose to support indie bookshops know they will get great service and stumble upon titles they have never heard of − with the added bonus that to support your local economy feels good. The Hive Network and Wordery offer readers a combination of high street and 24-hour online retailing. Whether reading printed books, on an e-reader or a tablet, we are lucky to have such choice. Independence matters! Continue reading Viva BookBlast! | est. 1997