“He is off his head. He has episodes when he zones out. It is not unpleasant. From time to time, he tries to reason with himself: he cannot stay here indefinitely, it has been a cold summer, he will catch another bout of flu, he needs to take care of himself, he needs to go back down into the city, find some clean clothes, do something [ . . .] Painfully, he climbs over the railings separating the communal garden from the property where he has taken to sleeping. He grips the branches and hoists his body up almost falling flat on his face on the other side. He ends up kneeling on the ground. He wishes he could feel sorry for himself, or disgust. Anything. But no, nothing. Nothing but this absurd calm.”
Look who’s back . . . and sleeping rough now that sofa surfing is a thing of the past: Vernon, Mr. Superstar D.J. and former owner of cult record shop ‘Revolver’. At the end of Vernon Subutex 1 he was beaten up by a gang of neo-Nazis – along with his TV screenwriter friend, Xavier, who was trying to rescue him but ended up comatose in hospital instead.Continue reading Review | Vernon Subutex 2, Virginie Despentes | Maclehose Press
“A room without books is like a body without a soul,” Cicero.
Little 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
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
“Some said it was karma, the industry had grown at an extraordinary upturn in the era of C.D.s – selling their clients their whole discography on a medium that cost half the price to make and was sold for twice the price in shops . . . with no real benefit to music fans, since no one had ever complained about vinyl records . . .” Age twenty, Vernon Subutex started work as an assistant at the record shop Revolver, and took over when the owner moved to Australia. File sharing on the internet thanks to the likes of Napster and Limewire heralded the beginning of the end of the party. In 2006 he shut up shop.
Live for today, who cares about tomorrow?
Easy-going Vernon had drifted through Parisian night life, lost in music and high on sex and drugs, oblivious to time passing and how people change. “He didn’t do monogamy . . . Vernon understands women, he has made an extensive study of them. The city is full of lost souls ready to do his cleaning and get down on all fours to lavish him with lingering blow jobs designed to cheer him up.”Continue reading Review | Virginie Despentes, Vernon Subutex 1 | Maclehose Press
As subdivisions or departments of bigger publishers, imprints break up monolithic companies, give space to individual editors to stamp their list with a defining character and originality, and reassure authors that they are not disappearing into the corporate ether. What defines a Picador book is the author’s voice since the way the story is told is just as important as the story itself. Picador publishes fiction, non-fiction and poetry from all over the world.
“None of us have dads – not Johann or Steve or Ashley or me. None of us have dads and all of us are looking for something. Was there a connection? There had to be. It was Steve who gave me On the Road, and what are Sal and Dean searching for after all if not for their fathers – absent in death and life? If you didn’t have a dad who loved you, or who beat you when he came home drunk, I’m not stupid, then you were always looking for him, or something else . . .” writes Howard Cunnell in Fathers & Sons.
BookBlast® reviews Peirene No. 23 The Orange Grove.
UNICEF estimates that child soldiers are currently employed in thirty conflicts around the world. How are they swept up into a life of violence and used as instruments of war? 
“Ahmed and Aziz found their grandparents in the ruins of their house. Their grandmother’s skull had been smashed in by a beam. Their grandfather was lying in his bedroom, his body ripped apart by the bomb that had come from the side of the mountain where every evening the sun disappeared.”
BookBlast® reviews Writers, Lovers, Soldiers, Spies: A History of the Authors’ Club of London 1891-2016.
“The history of the Authors’ Club is studded with famous names: Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Rider Haggard, Ford Madox Ford, Graham Greene. Yet in the course of writing this history, I have learned that life, the culture, and often the very survival of the club have depended on others who are not so well remembered today. A healthy literary culture is not sustained by a handful of greats alone; it requires a significant number of dedicated, skilful practitioners who may not achieve critical accolade or vast commercial success yet persist in writing worthwhile, interesting books.” C J Schüler
Founded in July 1891, the aim being to “advance the cause of Letters”, the Authors’ Club was originally the social arm of the Society of Authors; admitting journalists, editors, men of science, dramatists and academics, and not only the writers of books. “While many clubs, including the Athenaeum and the Savile, had a number of literary figures among their numbers, none was specifically aimed at them. For an example of what he was trying to achieve, Walter Besant had to look across the Atlantic to New York, where an Authors’ Club had been founded in 1882, and included Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Andrew Carnegie among its members.” The Copyright act had just been passed, allowing British authors to receive royalties on American sales of their work. At the club’s inaugural dinner, Oscar Wilde raged at the Lord Chamberlain’s inspector censoring his new play, Salomé, with Sarah Bernhardt in the lead role.
“‘What a strange world this is,’ he said to me suddenly when the bus turned into Pulaski Street. ‘Before I’ve even had time to blink, they’re already calling me old, when inside I’m like an unripe fruit’.” – Wioletta Greg, Swallowing Mercury
Invasion, occupation, partition: Poland’s strategic location between Germany and Russia has made it a target throughout history. In 1990, after the fall of Communism, Lech Walesa became Poland’s first popularly-elected president. In 2004, Poland was one of ten new states to join the EU. Britain’s nationalist-minded tabloids make Poles the enemy, taking away jobs and homes. Post-truth politics thrive on ignorance, breeding fear and hate. We have much to thank Poland for – not least Chopin, Copernicus, Marie Curie, Joseph Conrad, Helena Rubinstein … and Häagen-Dazs ice cream!
Roberto Bolaño called novelist Alan Pauls from Argentina “one of the best living Latin American writers.” The Past, first published in the UK in Nick Caistor’s English translation, is about obsessive love, addiction and self-destruction, played out against a bewitching backdrop: Buenos Aires. It is a strange, unsettling read.
Protagonist Rimini is good looking and easy going; his partner Sofia is eccentric and strong. Their relationship seems inviolable and eternal to their friends, but “occasionally Rimini faltered. He wavered, ran away from Sofia, and then was enraged at his own weakness.” They split up after twelve years, but Sofia refuses to accept that they are no longer a couple, “two people like us cannot separate”. She writes letters and leaves messages on Rimini’s answering machine, obsessing about the importance of sorting through the hundreds of photos of their time together, but he is scared to look at them, “for fear of being sucked into an emotional whirlpool and drowning in it.” Sofia’s presence becomes ominous like that of a stalker. She clings on as he struggles to let go and make a new life.
“Style is not an end in itself: it is a result,” René Magritte.
A thinker, Magritte was in permanent revolution against banality and crass assumptions. He communicated his ideas through paintings, which he called “visible thoughts,” upending society’s conventions. He united the familiar in unexpected ways to create what is unfamiliar and often disturbing. Famous for playing with words and image, millions of people know his iconic painting of a pipe with the words beneath it, Ceci n’est pas une pipe (“this is not a pipe“) — point being the image may be of a pipe, but the pipe is not representative of the image.
In this brave new world of twenty-first century “post-truth politics” in which image matters to an alarming degree, and words no longer need bear any relation to reality, how everyday language disguises thought; the vagueness and ambiguity of words; and the gap between words and seeing, are hot topics. Déjà vu? Magritte captured the essence of the relationship between words and image over half a century ago. The first-ever publication of his Selected Writings in English by Alma Books is long overdue, and timely.