BookBlast® presents our curated monthly top 10 reads, a little late because of taking time out in New York and Rhode Island.
Sex, Drugs, Rock’n’Roll
Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacementsby 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.
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.”
“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
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.
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.
Lucien d’Azay is a novelist, essayist and translator whose work has been published by Éditions Climats, Éditions Les Belles Lettres, Éditions Sortilèges and La Table Ronde. He divides his time between Paris and Venice.
Once upon a time in the West, marriage was a strategic alliance between families, and it was often between first and second cousins. Polygamy was common until the Church prevailed and monogamy became the status quo, although men enjoyed extramarital affairs. Only in the 19th century did love get a look in; and in the 20th the idea of marriage being a partnership of equals took hold.
Divorce rates around the world have rocketed over the last few decades and in the UK more than a third of people are single, or have never married. Yet the happily married couple is still idealised. It is the domestic holy grail; the stuff of fantasy. ‘Brangelina’, ‘Kimye’, and ‘Billary’ are regular red-top fodder on to which we can transfer our dreams and desires, envy and self-righteous outrage, all depending . . . Image, image, image – but what really lies behind?
A happy marriage is a mirage, a miracle, or, according to Lucien d’Azay, a masterpiece. Two very different perspectives of marriage, desire and fantasy are offered to us, in his beautifully-written narratives, Sonia Stock and Ashley & Gilda. I just hope a canny British publisher picks them up and translates them into English, so that they can be savoured by readers on this side of the Channel.