Category Archives: Endless Reads 2012

Endless Reads Review at PANK: Fast Machine by Elizabeth Ellen

My review is up at PANK!

Some books have a colour palette. Certain colours tinge the prose, or give the impression of appearing in the furniture, scenery, shadow, across the spread of tales. This occupies a bleed zone between poor remembrance of detail and a synesthetic approach to these details.

I know, for example, that not every story in Fast Machine features a rusty, 70s orange colour. And yet, it’s there carpeting my head. And, too, I see pinkish blood stains. I see the particular shade of brown which occupy themselves with breeding in dingy motel rooms.

This feeling, this back-of-the-mind consciousness, in response to Ellen’s work, is I think a tribute to the unity that exists therein.

 

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Endless Reads Review at PANK: Domestication Handbook by Kristen Stone

My review of this book, a hybrid of poetry and prose, is up at PANK:

Domestication Handbook, not appearing, by its thickness (slender) or its cover (of bloodied and pounded meat arranged in symmetry) to be really a handbook on some aspect of farming, is in fact a book of finest pins. I took my time with it, and still it works into me, and I must pause, look up from the sentences, and pull them back out one by one to examine.

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Endless Reads Review The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, over at Subtle Melodrama

I have written a review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, as part of the Scottish Writers on Scottish Writers series running on Subtle Melodrama – a lovely blog of book reviews, mostly focusing on the generally underrepresented (in the online world at any rate) contemporary Scottish Fiction.

Here’s a snippet:

I wanted to write about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark, for the Scottish Fiction Challenge because it’s a totty wee thin book that slips quietly into your pocket (if your pockets are big enough) but also because I read it recently with a student I’m teaching English as a Second Language, and so had to spend a good long time with the book despite how quick a read it could have been. When you spend a long time with something so good, going line by line, it grants a special sort of love, flavoured by the voice of the uncertain reader for whom the story is gradually unfolding, by the rain pattering on the flat roof next to the school room.

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August like a sharp intake of breath in a field of bright yellows and something like wheat

 

 

It is already August, it’s never August in Edinburgh until suddenly the streets are full of revelers for the festival, for the comedy, the book, the music, the children’s festivals and the populations swells and butts up against one another in the street, or else wanders drunkenly about, or else begs or juggles and we get a tiny break in the clouds, once or twice a day, that shows a scorching blue.

 

I have been having great fun reading the submissions for the Thresholds Project. Stories of imminence, of tension, of waiting at the doorway of life or simply a window, looking out. I really would love to read more. If you’d like to send me a poem or a flash piece, please do!

 

This, along with my Share Your Spaces project, are tentative attempts at something bigger. I might not be able to create a literary journal just yet, but I can wobbly step in the direction, here on the blog. I can look at the spaces within which you write, and be inspired. If you want to inspire me, and the readers of my blog further, and you have work that fits the criteria of ‘thresholds’ (a wide, and welcoming criteria of simply, a point of boundary, or a breaking of boundary, or traversing), please email me your work, or questions if you have them to: wheresthebread[@]hotmail.com

 

It all really began this year with the Endless Reads project, which lead to me reading some amazing, challenging works, to expansive and though-provoking connections with their authors via various social media, and to my becoming a reviewer on the online arm of a really fabulous magazine, which was something I had for a long time dreamed of doing.

 

The year is still young, even if the sun is setting earlier and earlier. Now at nine, it’s growing darker. Now the gloaming is thinning, and the nettles in my neighbour’s garden are dusty. New flowers grow all the time. Big-eyed daisies, bright orange things I cannot name. The reek of honeysuckle. I am hopeful.

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Endless Reads Review at PANK: Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles

My new writing garret: Queen Mary's Bathhouse, where Mary, Queen of Scots was said to bathe in sweet white wine to keep her young (more likely a summer house for the Scottish royals)

My next review is up on PANK. This is all very new and exciting still:

 

Imagine you come into a room all wooden and light, say it’s a bar, or an old converted church. You’ve come in out of the NYC street (LES or East or West Village) into this space; there’s Eileen Myles, sitting at the head of the great oak table. She’s reading from her book to a crowd you cannot see, but know are there. Only, she isn’t just reading; she’s pulling a thread, a thick gleaming wet copper strand of the parallel New York you have never seen and never will. She’s pulling this from out of her solar plexus, her navel, her heart, her –

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This Reader’s Manifesto

Today my first book review for PANK is up.  Please go and have a peek, if you like, and if you have opinions, let me know what you think.

 

In a moment of furious over-reaching I have decided to come up with a manifesto of what I want to achieve as a reviewer. Yes, I know this is only the first review, and I am getting a little ahead of myself. I want to come at this from a good angle. I want to sort of dive in and be a bit brave. There will be bullet points to make this official. So before I start apologising in advance, here we go.

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There are many ways to be a reader. As a reader I have always read with my eyes half-closed, listening and running my finger along the words, stopping, letting the air rush in and out. Because I am not as much an intellectual, systematic reader as one who seeks out the textures of the book, the images, the scents of grass and sickness, the cobblestone and cold high room. How this is achieved in chains of sentences one after the other until the end.

 

I read not just in sympathy with the character but seeing how they are fitted and made distinct from their world. How they shape and want and touch and shake. With an eye to the layering of time like paint and philosophy and weather and landscape and hurt and thresholds and liminal states and other constructions of instability and evolution.

 

My aims and wishes as a reviewer:

 

  • I wish, then, to read well, critically, but must do so with an awareness of what my constraints are in seeing, and therefore with acknowledgement that the tackling of the text is necessarily subjective, perhaps overly colourful. Purple even. I will try not to go overboard with metaphor. Oops, isn’t ‘going overboard’ a metaphor too? Can’t win.

 

  • And now that I am going to review seriously – not much more seriously, since I am terribly earnest about words – it is important (for me) to set out what, exactly, I’m going to review. In also the hope that I might receive books to read to feed into my churning readerly writerly brain.

 

  • I will try to read new and newly translated books that are essential, exciting, fierce (my favourite word for books), haunting, nihilistic, loving, cunning, humane, clear-eyed.

TELL ME THAT I MAY READ THEM.

 

  • I will try to read well and write my understanding out. I want to make clear this hazy appreciation of the text, so that others will be intrigued. I want to be kind in the manner of a surgeon. Maybe a little sloppier.

 

  • I want to read the fine boned literary works. Dense tissue books. Books ribbed in scars. The slim sucker punches, the weird hybrid prose-poem-memoir novels combing their hair with their fingers, the hissing mess, the elegant bombs. I am aware of another Reader’s Manifesto, that struck out against the literary, the ‘plotless’. Well, I love the unabashedly literary. Something that is trying so hard to play to test to cut up to expand and blow apart cannot be elitist. The elite run the tory party, and giant corporations and banks with casual disdain.  Literary writing is effort made to look effortless (sometimes) and made for the people.

Sometimes, yes, there is writing that creates a clique and does little else, but these are not what I read nor wish to here. I also believe there are more than a handful of literary styles out there, and that it is important to seek out both the well made traditionally written works and the experimental.

 

  • I want to read books mostly written by women. Sorry, though I know white, middle class men of certain milleux receive hardly any attention these days in the press. I know! Terrible shame. But I’d like to be a little biased. I spent a lot of time at university, undergraduate anyway, thinking that women just didn’t seem to have written anything. I have years of the sin of omission to make up for. I will make exceptions for the exceptional. Two exceptions I can think of right now: Patrick Somerville and Steve Himmer.

 

  • I wish for dazzling fiction, of a type that does not always scream at you from the shelves. I want to read the strange and lyrical and yes a thousand other terms of superlatives from not just British and American authors but Australian, New Zealander, South African, Trinidadian, Irish, Indian, works in translation – a commonwealth of letters.

 

  • I ask, also, where are the low-lying Scottish female writers of literary fiction of the up-coming generation? Are you hiding in the shadow of all that crime-procedural stuff? Down a close somewhere, picking over the usual murder weapons, shaking your head at the voyeurism, the usualness of it all? Has Alexander McCall Smith cornered you, kindly, for tea and biscuits in 44 Scotland St? Or are you further North, typing away in the village coffee shop while you should be sending out CVs?

I know of prolific Kirsty Logan, who has written some grand fiction, and hope to pick up a collection of hers for review. I just went to a reading given by Catriona Child. But more! I need guidance. Step forward, young lady writers! I’m a reader and I’d like to read you!

Just in case you think me limited, young is also ’emerging’ is also ‘new’ so age is not the key thing here.

 

  • Books and authors I have loved of late: Green Girl, The Summer Book, The Hour of the Star, most of what I have read of Virginia Woolf, of Jean Rhys, of Toni Morrison, of Anne Carson, The Way Through Doors, Season of Migration to the NorthThe Sound and the Fury, Nabokov of Pale Fire, Pnin, Lolita of course, lots of the 19th-20th century Russians (inc. Bulgakov, excluding Dostoevsky), the Odyssey, the Aethiopika (An Ethiopian Tale), The Golden Ass.

 

  • Authors for consideration so far: Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, Catherynne M. Valente, Zoë Wicomb, Lauren Beukes, and Herta Müller and Elizabeth Ellen (with thanks to StuckInABucket and Nouvellist).

 

  • In my reading pile, to be reviewed if they haven’t been on PANK already: Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) by Eileen Myles, Zazen by Vanessa Veselka.

 

I would love your suggestions. Please add to this list with titles you think might fit, and I will try to acquire them (not sure how, at this point) and try to do them justice in review.

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Endless Reads Review: Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

A delight, this book. A tiny delight, a beautifully-made thing, that breathes, has a life to it. Instantly endearing to me –

Isabel is a woman in her late twenties living in Portland, Oregon. She works as a librarian, restoring old books, and is similarly interested in reclaiming other old and neglected objects she finds- postcards, vintage dresses, salt shakers, plates. Her life is one of awed, almost devotional remembrance, of attempting to create a narrative out of these stabilising objects and out of the memories she has from her Alaskan childhood.

As you might be able to tell, this book is not heavy on plot: it has been compared to Mrs Dalloway in terms of its limited timeline bolstered by the past, and by the intrusion of war. In fact, I wouldn’t myself compare it to Mrs Dalloway – I think it is a finer-boned thing. It doesn’t have lengthy digressions. It is spare, and precise. A slim novel, a novella perhaps (where does the line fall? Is it a matter of word count or of scope?) but it is the perfect length for itself.

Isabel often thinks of Amsterdam, though she has never been there, and will probably never go.

As a child in a small town on Cook Inlet in Alaska, she saw volcanoes erupting, whales migrating, and icebergs looming at see before she ever saw a skyscraper or what could properly be called architecture. She was nine years old, on a trip to her aunt’s with her mother and sister, the first time she visited a real metropolis: Seattle. She took it all in – the towering buildings and industrial warehouses, the train tracks and bridges, the sidewalk cafes and neighborhood shops, and the skyline along Highway 99, the way the city seemed to rise right up out of Elliot Bay, mirroring the Olympic Mountains across the sound. The breadth and the details overwhelmed her, but soon she loved the city in the same way she loved the landscape of the north. Old churches were grand and solemn, just like glaciers, and dilapidated houses filled her with the same sense of sadness as a stand of leafless winter trees.

– Opening paragraph of Glaciers

This was one of those books that entranced me in the reading of it. The idea of memory lapping at the present. The absence of direct quoted speech leaving the text with a feel of hushed voices. The childhood spent in the north of the country, moving to the south and to cities, the poignancy I understood through my own experiences of that particular kind of transfer.

And I had to take little pauses to absorb some of the beautiful sentences, because I was so awed by them. Because I was collecting them, to shore them for some later time. It was a book of sensual details, instances, looks, touch. Touch of ice, of worn wood, of an old, dust-sighing book. It seemed made to be read this way, taking the time over it. Though other reviews I read called it ‘a fast read’, it did not seem so to me. It was deceptively long. A book for reading in a garden. A book for the sunshine, for hearing the buzz of bees ruckling about in the daisies and sipping on tea. Or for the indoors, looking out on a snowy field.

The nearest thing I can compare it to is the experience I had reading The Summer Book, when I wanted to be on an North Sea island in good weather, reading it – it’s the same. Glaciers is not a collection of words but bridges (wee narrow, cobbled, lichened bridges) that hie you over into the sensual world.

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