Tag Archives: books

The Unsung Letter No.3

The latest tinyletter of book recommendations for the underpraised has now gone round. This week it’s poet and writer Claire Askew writing her love of a particular Edinburgh-based poet. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so >>>>>here<<<<<

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The Unsung Letter

At the behest of some twitter enablers, I have set up a tinyletter, which, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a bit like a blog that you can subscribe to and have it come to your inbox. A lot like a blog, then. But quite popular now.


The tinyletter in question is The Unsung Letter, a response to the lack of word-of-mouth that some books receive on publication. It seems that certain books are doomed to obscurity from the start, when they really should be read and sung about and passed around and bought, and the writer of the book given a brief clap on the back to let them know that yes, their words were heard, and connected to others. SO. The Unsung Letter will be a once-weekly post from a different writer/bookentity/nanotechnologist/lover of the newly obscure, recommending a book that they think people should read. And at the bottom of the post, there will be a link to buy that book, and a bio of the post writer.


A good few good people have already volunteered to write posts, so I expect this project will be a fun and fruitful one. Here’s to singing praise for the good books. The first missive is live, and to introduce things, it’s a recommendation from me. It can only improve (but I think you will like the book I recommend)


Sign up >>>>HERE<<<<


(It’s free and only takes an email address to do)

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The Great 2015 Indie Press Preview

On the Edges of Vision has been mentioned in this gloriously long list of the year’s anticipated titles on Electric Literature. I’ve been through the list and already seen some things I definitely have to check out (that I might otherwise not have heard of). It’s a great resource for those of you looking to support small presses and find something you’d like. Or something that will melt your brain or heart, if a stronger metaphor is needed.


If you want to get more of an idea of the collection (beyond the essay on monsters that Tobias Carroll kindly links to), you can read some published pieces here on my fiction page.


What on the list catches your eye?


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New Project: Novellarama

I’ve decided that for my Endless Reads project 2015 I am going to read as many novellas as I can. Slim little pieces, tender weird harrowing classic innovative bright calloused intriguing lyrical stark books under 150 pages long (though I’d prefer around the 100 page mark). I have read shamefully few novellas, and having just written one and hoping to write more, I really ought to know the territory a little better.


To that end, I’ve started a new shelf on my Goodreads called Novellarama – if you aren’t friends with me already and you are on Goodreads, please send a request! That way you can recommend books to me (which I shall try to buy from places other than Amazon, to mildly scupper its having snaffled up Goodreads recently).


I’d love as many recommendations as you have to offer – that way I can pick and choose for a whole year. Top of the list so far are:


Four Novels, by Marguerite Duras, The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa, Toni Morrison’s Home, Ordinary Love and Good Will by Jane Smiley, a collection of novellas by Deborah Levy, and Ottessa Moshfegh’s McGlue. There are many more on the list. Donations welcome, if you happen to have them lying around (or want to swap books with me).


Novellarama will start on the 1st of January and hopefully result in a spate of equally tiny reviews for you to enjoy. If anyone else is joining in I will link to your blog periodically and peer at what you’ve enjoyed.


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More Books on My Radar – Small Press Delights

I am not allowed to buy books at the moment

I am NOT allowed to buy books at the moment.

D and I are moving flat soon, and simply now is not a good time to buy more books.

So of course, I have been seeing books I want to read EVERYWHERE and none of them are library books, of course.

Check them out:


  • Chelsea Hodsons’ chapbook Pity the Animal – Goodreads reviews Glacially cool looking, and spoken of widely with great enthusiasm (Future Tense Books)


  • Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen’s The Rabbit Back Society – I’m looking for a wintery read, and this quote on the (urgh) Amazon page really sells it – ‘[The Rabbit Back Literature Society] Mixes the small-town surrealism of Twin Peaks with the clandestine-society theme of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History’ The List. (Pushkin Press)


  • Amina Cain’s Creature – from the excellent Dorothy Press ‘Amina Cain’s Creature brings together short fictions set in the space between action and reflection, edging at times toward the quiet and contemplative, at other times toward the grotesque or unsettling.’ (Dorothy)


  • Sara Woods’ Wolf Doctors – I think the cover is really cool, and Sara is too, from what I have seen of her on various social media platforms. Poetry, strangeness and heart. (Artifice Books)



Any I’m missing? All of them, I’m missing them all. Ach, well. For now.

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Slow readery

The last month has seen me finish reading a total of one (1!) book, and a novella-length one at that. But! I have been reading a book so slow and murky that there was no way for me to read anything else, or to skim (which I never do anyway), a book that reads like a prose poem, and is constructed in ‘episodes’ like a TV show. That book is Beyond This Point Are Monsters by Roxanne Carter, and I suspect I will struggle to finish it by the end of this new month of ours.


But is there anything wrong in reading slow? I keep a total of my ‘Endless Reads’, a remnant from a project I started in 2012 to encourage me to read more. I would often take long breaks between books, my imagination satisfied by its stint in a fictional world to the point where I did not feel the need to read, not when there were so many other distractions around. Then laziness, inevitably, or frustration because I didn’t know which book to turn to next, amid hype and the pressures to read those classics I have not yet turned my hand to. But I had become frustrated with my inaction. I love books, love reading, so what was I doing except standing empty handed, poorer for not pushing myself?


In that first year of Endless Reads, I read forty-four books, which may not sound a lot to some people (I have seen ferocious lists of well over a hundred and fifty for some reviewers) but to me, it was too many.  I was reviewing most of the titles, either here or on PANK, and feeling so tired out, unable to fully immerse myself in the music and texture of the words, in the explorations the authors were undertaking. The year after, I read twenty-one books, and felt ashamed. But why?


I will come out now and say it: I am a slow reader. I’m dedicated, and I like to savour what I’m reading, but I just can’t knock back a book a week and live well, and appreciate the text. Books read quickly become a net and the fish of my comprehension are all very small and swim through, panicked, while the rest of me struggles, getting an idea of what is going on but not really appreciating the knots and seaweedy accouterments.


I’m always going to feel that slight ruefulness. Asking myself if one book is too few and if the other book still being read, that prose-poem circling and circling itself, is ‘above my reading level’.  But there is no one to censure me. I am subject to no law regarding how many books read make me a good literary citizen. And if I am pushed to the limit and wear myself out going further, the pleasures and challenges of reading diminish. So I grant myself permission to read slowly. To read endlessly but at a glacier’s pace if the pressure of life demands I do so. Deep channels will cut just the same as if a torrent of reading came sweeping through. I won’t suggest the ‘slow readery’ movement for everyone. But for me, now, it’s the only way I can seem to thrive.


Metaphors, metaphors. But I wonder how it is for you, if you’ve ever kept numbers – or just titles, to remind yourself of times and locations you read such-and-such? Or if you’d never keep a list, or if you religiously do, and eye the totals of others with envy or respect?



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The trick is to keep reading

…about all I can manage right now.


I’ve been unwell since Hogmanay, knocked flat by a nasty cold, which keeps warping into new variations. Today I can hardly speak, my voice all withered, but do have the energy to cough weakly and sneeze, great chains of sneezes when they come.


But anyway, this is not to complain, just to explain my absence. My lack of reviews (I had resolved to write more, but then, this), my hazy words right now. While staying inside and drinking hot toddies with D (who is also ill with the same bug), I’ve had plenty of time to watch films and TV shows, and to read.  You’ll see in the Endless Reads tab I’m continuing on into the new year. Last year I managed only 21 books (22, including Steve Himmer’s lovely ms, FRAM).


This year I’d like to do a bit better, but the truth is I’m never going to be a monstrous devourer of books – I’m too slow, for one thing. Most books I read take me at least two weeks. I’ve read a collection of short stories which took me far longer than that, Joanna Walsh’s beautiful Fractals. I gave each story a day or two, for the most part, to dissolve slowly in my head. For a while I went without reading any, when I was off in Banff. I hope to write about the collection for The Female Gaze as soon as I’m sharp.


Before Christmas I did eat up Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente, and now feel the need to push it into the hands of every Angela Carter and dark fairytale loving friend. I’m not a fan of the word ‘masterful’ but that’s the right sort of word for it. Russian twentieth century life combined with folk tales and devilish forces, perfect for this time of the year, whether it is wind and rain raging outside, or soft, murderously thick snow.


And just the other day I finished The Falling Sky by Pippa Goldschmidt (which was fine) and The Trick is to Keep Breathing, by Janice Galloway, which was brilliant. Both grief-filled women, who can’t go on and will go on (to appropriate Beckett).  I’m sending the latter on to Emily Books in NYC, so see if they’d like it. Emily Gould is very kindly sending me Mary MacLane’s diary-novel-beast, I Await the Devil’s Coming, which I have been very keen to read since I heard of it. That’s definitely something I’d like to do more of in 2014 – book swaps.


I tried to think of a theme for this year – books only from small presses, or only from one country (I was going to cheat and go with Ireland, just for riches). Right now, I’m reading Matt Bell’s In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, so how about books with long titles? Or maybe, with my slowness, I should pick only novellas, so as to artificial boost my numbers. I don’t really mind how few I read, only, that sometimes I feel a bit bad when I see people who have read over fifty in a year. I think, well what did I do with my time? Over a hundred and I’m just struck with a mix of awe and suspicion. Superhumans, or skimmers, either way, why compete? Write my own titles down, if nothing else but memorial, to trigger the where and the when, to be able in the end to look back on a year’s worth of reading.


The real outcome for me is likely to be haphazard picks like 2013, and 2012. Whatever comes to hand. Whatever I’m given, or choose to read or reread before sharing. I know I’d like a classic or two in there. Our flat is near a library I’ve shamefully neglected so far. But other than that aim, which may or may not get fulfilled I’m going to be happy, as long as – slowly or not – I just keep reading, endlessly.


If you’ve any goals, I would like to hear them though. And as always, recommendations for books, either published or un-, yet.


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