BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads January, 2018

New year, new in from France: here is our list of top 5 reads in French creating a buzz across the Channel for all of you Francophiles out there . . . Special thanks to our friends in Paris for their recommendations.
The books reviewed are listed alphabetically by author surname. @EditionsGrasset @beigbedersays @robert_laffont #francoisjonquet @olivierguez @jschnerf
@robert_laffont @EditionsduSeuil @EditionsZulma

I, Self, Me: social media and the human condition in the digital age

A Life Without End (Une Vie Sans Fin) Frédéric Beigbeder (Grasset)

59 million people die every year. But Beigbeder refuses to submit to such a fate, and sets off instead to discover the secret to eternal life. His journalistic investigation morphs into a work of literature – “a book of ‘non-fiction science’; a novel in which all the scientific developments have been published in Science or Nature.”
Beigbeder is as irreverent and rebellious and original as he was twenty-three years ago when I first read him. He has lost none of his self-deprecating humour and mischievous attitude underpinned by an eclectic body of knowledge; quite the contrary, he has matured and honed his skills. Twenty years ago he despaired of making love last – today he despairs of making life last.
frederic beigbeder bookblast diary
To publish your photo is now more important than your signature on a cheque, or on a marriage contract.” A radio-TV host celebrity in France, Beigbeder’s relationship with image and selfies is paradoxical: he is delighted when fans ask to pose with him, yet is intensely irritated by the one-upmanship involved. When Robert Pattinson a.k.a. Harry Potter is promoting his new film Maps to the Stars at Cannes, he signs a photo for Romy, one of Beigbeder’s two daughters. She is disappointed not to have snapped a selfie with her hero to post online for all her friends to see. Her father is hurt that his daughter has never asked him for a selfie (while other kids do, as he’s on TV).

Continue reading BookBlast® France | Top 5 French Reads January, 2018

Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 2 (1965)

The extreme good looks and elegance of the Royal Family bestow a festive air on the good works which they promote. Princess Ashraf, the Shah’s twin sister, is passionately involved in the question of women’s emancipation which is still a very revolutionary measure. Princess Shams, as passionately, leans more toward promoting the arts, and is herself a fine musician. Her husband, Dr. Pahleboud, as Director of Fine Arts, exercise a galvanic influence on every aspect of cultural development, while the entire Royal Family is passionate in its love of animals and determination to obtain better conditions for them everywhere, in happy contrast to so much of the East, where the animals lot is usually terrible.

When Roloff Beny photographed the Imperial couple and their children, I asked his majesty that the sitting, which was to be entirely informal, should not be in the Summer Palace, nor in the fabled frame of the Golestan, nor even in their private palace in Teheran, but in the Diamond Room of the Marble Palace, generally used for more stately occasions. Here eyneh-khari decoration reaches its apogee, and it was like placing them in the very heart of the diamond kingdom. But not formally. The little Crown Prince Reza, feting his fourth birthday, and his sister, the baby Princess Farahnaz, saw to that. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 2 (1965)

Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 1 (1965)

Iran — the land of the Aryans — the Persia of legend, stands at the crossroads of the world, where the winds blowing across the wastes still carry echoes of Darius the Great and Tamerlane. Here all is extreme, fiery, icy, brilliant, obscure, sumptuous, dilapidated . . .

From greatness to decay, by lassitude and violence, the pendulum of Persian history has swung through three thousand years. But now, led by one man, it swings forward — the Emperor, Mohammed Reza, Shahanshah of Iran, is that man. Beside him stands the young Empress, the Shabanou, Farah, a fitting queen for this land which has always spelled beauty to the rest of the world and now sounds another more urgent note.

Women’s enfranchisement, agrarian reforms, dam-building, find new hospitals — that of Shiraz is held to outstanding in the Middle East — the pioneer work of the Shah’s own Illiteracy Corps, child welfare centres and veterinary clinics, too, are all, like supermarkets, drive-in cinemas, Coca-Cola signs, or double-decker London buses, a part of the new spirit of Iran. Yet, its legendary past, its abiding loveliness, are still its strongest lure; and we marvel more at a minaret than at a television tower. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | The Magic of Iran 1 (1965)

Lesley Blanch Archive | Arabian Aromas (1989)

Everywhere in Arab lands from Jordan to the Saudi-Arabian ports along the Red Sea and the lavish Gulf Emirates, food is very highly spiced — but it is a quite different gamut of spices to those of India — or so it has always seemed to me. In each town, or village souk, the spice booths are fascinating and magnetic — my first port of call. Mysterious powdered substances overflow big sacks and are scooped out by the pound, unlike the midget-stoppered jars of this and that to which we are accustomed. Nor do these great open landslides of spices, dusty brown, violet, yellow, green or orange, seem to lose their potency, thus exposed. In Oman, along the enchanting waterfront of Muscat, the lacy white-fretted balconies of the old houses and all the alleyways swim in heady odours wafted from the nearby spice bazaar. In the blue bay, sheltered by a sharp-cragged coastline, amongst all the turmoil of a modern port there are still some of those curiously formed high-pooped wooden craft such as the baghala or gangha, age-old pride of the Omani shipbuilders at Sohar. Such craft will have returned from Zanzibar — the spice island o f legend — with an entire cargo of cloves. Such is the demand, hereabouts. Continue reading Lesley Blanch Archive | Arabian Aromas (1989)

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

December: a time of merry abandon, or seasonal reflection? Our round up of eclectic reads to delight and inspire you takes in both . . . Happy Christmas! Georgia @bookblast

Titles are in alphabetical order according to publisher @bitterlemonpub @darfpublishers @commapress @belgraviab @hoperoadpublish @hauspublishing @ibtauris @maclehosepress @pointedleaf @pushkinpress

Life without friends is like life on a desert island

friendships mark girouard bookblastFriendships by Mark Girouard (Bitter Lemon Press) buy here

Mark Girouard, the architectural writer, and authority on the country house, gathers together thirty letters of note and other communications from friends, alongside his writing about them. A few are or were famous, some are grand, and others not at all. The point of the book is that friendship has nothing to do with fame or success, but all to do with that sudden click of reciprocity, and pleasure in companionship that helps make life worth living. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Top 10 Reads for Independent Minds | December 2017

Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in indie publishing & The Republic of Consciousness Prize

Indie Publishing vs. Self Publishing vs. Traditional Publishing

With commissioning editors at mainstream publishers increasingly under the corporate cosh, any literary submissions calculated to sell less than 5000 copies are turned down regardless, which leaves the field open for independent publishers to come in and have a go at the roulette table imagining winners that might come their way.

An experienced commissioning editor may be able to spot high-quality writing and know their target readership, but s/he is no less a gambler than anyone else playing the publishing game. Their gut instinct counts for little in the corporate boardroom nowadays, even though the way in which advances are calculated is an inexact science, and tales of legendary rejections make for juicy water-cooler chat. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected 12 times before being picked up; Gone with the Wind got the thumbs down 32 times; Under the Frog 22 times; Dune 20 times; and The Tale of Peter Rabbit was rejected so many times it was self-published.

Smaller publishers generally avoid formulaic writing for the genre market, provide greater personalised support, and as opposed to a vanity press do not ask the author for money. Added to which crowdfunding has become a more than viable option, not only to raise funds, but to develop a community of readers ahead of publication (Peirene Now! No. 3, Shatila Stories was recently successfully funded with 327 backers pledging £13,350 via Kickstarter). Best not confuse authors self-publishing their own books only generally via a digital platform such as Amazon or Kobo with indie publishers; the term indie authors would be more accurate.

According to a recent report in The Guardian, “Independent publishers have unleashed a boom in sales,” and “turnover across the Arts Council England-funded portfolio surged above its budget by almost £100,000 this year, reaching £277,930.”

Continue reading Spotlight | The seemingly unstoppable boom in indie publishing & The Republic of Consciousness Prize

Review | Tinderbox, Megan Dunn | Book of the Week

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-Five have all been reimagined and transformed – unsurprisingly, Harry Potter comes out on top with over 778670 stories. Continue reading Review | Tinderbox, Megan Dunn | Book of the Week

Interview | Sam Jordison, co-founder, Galley Beggar Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Are (were) your parents great readers? Tell us a bit about yourself.
Yes, my parents were very encouraging. Always recommending books and passing things on to me, reading to me as a child, finding new things for me to read, feeding my Roald Dahl habit . . . My Mum was a librarian too.  

Did you want to work in the publishing industry from the start?
Depends how you define start!  I started out writing books and working as a journalist (mainly writing about books) – and those experiences led me into publishing. But I’ve wanted to be around books ever since I realised I couldn’t sing and would never be Mick Jagger.

Has your vision from when you started Galley Beggar five years ago changed?
Not really. Our hope has always just been to publish the very best quality books we can. I guess the thing that has changed is that we now hope to really be able to nurture our writers and keep publishing them, and keep doing the best editorial and production jobs we can for them . . . So we’re looking at careers as well as individual books. But that was something we aspired to quite early on. I suppose the change is that we have a track record now, so don’t have that element of surprise or coming from nowhere. But I still feel and hope we offer something different. Continue reading Interview | Sam Jordison, co-founder, Galley Beggar Press | Indie Publisher of the Week

Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Invercargill, a small city at the bottom of the South Island in New Zealand. But my formative years (if they ever ended) were spent in Rotorua, a tourist town in the centre of the North Island. Rotorua – “Rotovegas” to the locals – is stepped in Maori history and is a geothermal wonderland known for strong wafts of sulphur, hokey motels and hotels, putt-putt golf. The McDonalds in Rotorua has Maori carvings on the walls.

What sorts of books were in your family home? Who were early formative influences?
I grew up in a flat above an old peoples home with my single parent Mum, who was a night nurse for the elderly residents downstairs. The sign at the top of our drive read: “Residence for the Elderly,” I walked past it to school every day. Books: loads. From Men and their Mothers, and other pop psychology, to Sweet Valley High. At fourteen, I read Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer on the back porch, while the elderly residents ate shortbread and drank tea in the lounge below me. They read Mills and Boons in large print, when they weren’t listening to the TV. Continue reading Interview | Megan Dunn | Author of the Week

Review | So the Doves, Heidi James | Book of the Week

Why was he so curious? Perhaps it was partly because of her mystique, her hold over him, and partly because her world was not his. Were they really so different? Maybe they were and maybe he believed that if he could only figure her out, emulate her – her gestures, her attitude – then maybe he could be invincible, extraordinary, like her.”

The novel tells the story of Marcus Murray, “forty-ish with a small paunch and a few grey hairs,” and his fascination with gorgeous free-spirit, Melanie, who had disappeared when he was seventeen. “It’s as if she was a figment of my imagination . . .” Not only is there a dead body virtually on the first page, but also a missing person, presumed dead.

A stylish psychological thriller, So the Doves is concerned with the moral legacy of Thatcherism; truth and lies and the death of idealism; what is real and what is imagined; small town decay; violence and intolerance in their various ugly forms. Continue reading Review | So the Doves, Heidi James | Book of the Week