Thursday 29 March 2012

You don’t have to read all of this

I’ve mentioned before my habit, when browsing, of turning not to the first but to the last page. Not, you understand, every time – this isn’t a principle – but it’s something I do, and sometimes I get odd looks, as if I’d shouted aloud a rude word, as if I was a man in a Bateman cartoon.

And I’ve mentioned the man I know who reads fiction like this: he dips in, sometimes at random, and reads as many or as few pages as he’s inclined to, and if he comes back to the book he’ll dip in elsewhere.

Now here’s an excellent piece by Tim Parks arguing against the ‘tyranny of our thrall to endings’, suggesting it’s perfectly OK to put aside a book – even a good book, even a book we enjoy and admire – before reaching the end. (‘I don’t doubt I would have a lower opinion of many of the novels I haven’t finished if I had.’)

(And here is another piece by Parks arguing against the notion that ‘the world needs stories’.)

Sometimes even the author doesn’t feel a need to get to the end. The photo above shows cat on desk this sunny morning and behind it the last page of Stendhal’s Memoirs of an Egotist: ‘Half past one – it’s become too hot to think,’ he wrote, and laid down his pen.

Monday 26 March 2012

Cardiff: Fiction Fiesta

A notion floating into a head – ‘What if . . .?’ – was what got the Free Verse poetry book fair of last September up and going (and there’ll be another this year). And, I guess, Peirene Press, which specialises in translating European novellas, and Any Other Stories, also strong on translation. These damn notions. (That seagull, above, at my hotel bedroom window on Saturday: out of the sky, found a foothold, and every time I shooed it off it came back.) Another one floated into the head of the Welsh writer Richard Gwyn, and the result was Fiction Fiesta, held this past weekend in Cardiff. What if you have a couple of Argentine writers over, mix in some writing colleagues and friends, add in Christopher MacLehouse and Boyd Tonkin, who have (I was going to write arguably, but scratch that) done more than anyone for literature in translation in the UK over the past decades, and gather them together? In a bar?

Andrés Neuman, whose most recent novel (Traveller of the Century, Pushkin Press, 584 pages) won Spain’s two top literary awards, is unstoppable (he’s also published three other novels, three books of short stories, several poetry collections, a book of aphorisms and a travel book, and he’s still only 35). Jorge Fondebrider: poet, editor, translator, and books on such matters as Argentines in Paris and werewolves in Western culture. Tiffany Atkinson’s reading of her poetry was, for me, electric; Philip Gross, Desmond Barry, Tristan Hughes and Zoë Skoulding also read. Amy Wack of Seren ran a mini-bookshop. Translation is an abstract noun and a vast, open-ended topic; on Sunday there was just the right number of individual experiences and angles to keep it, while suggestive of larger worlds, within bounds.

In the discussion of possible ways forward for next year, there was both a keenness to develop new events and anxiety about the festival becoming too large. Part of the joy of Sunday was that there was no clear distinction between speakers and audiences, between voices from the front and voices from the back. Even though many of us had never previously met, by the end of the day it felt like a class reunion.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Books, the future of

Next Saturday, the 17th, CBe will have a table at States of Independence, a book fair for independent presses in Leicester (Clephan Building, De Montfort University, Oxford Street, Leicester LE1 5XY; 10.30 to 4.30, free entry), and at 1 o’clock I’ll be on a panel discussing, you’ve guessed it, ‘the future of the book and the book industry’. The above cartoon – copyright Nick Wadley (who has a book of drawings coming from Dalkey Archive later this year) – suggests one scenario. I shall be more cheerful, and especially so if you come along and buy a book or two.

A new blog review of Days and Nights in W12 this week is here. Buy the book, with free p&p, here.

Monday 12 March 2012


If you happen to be in Boston this month – Boston, MA, not Boston, Lincs. – and have an interest in art and/or Francis Ponge, call by the French Cultural Center, where’s an exhibition by Susan Cantrick entitled ponge.pebble.paint. From the artist’s statement: ‘The project evolved from my introduction to Ponge’s work in 2008, when CB Editions (London) published Unfinished Ode to Mud, Beverley Bie Brahic’s translation of a number of Francis Ponge’s poems, over half of which had never before appeared in English.’ That book is available here.

Friday 9 March 2012

Little love affairs

The lives they’ve led, these books in the second-hand stores. There was, last year, a book by a writer I know and in it the writer had handwritten a fulsome dedication to a certain other writer, full of gratitude and praise for that other writer’s help and inspiration, taking up a whole page – and the book was clearly unread and here it was, abandoned.

Also last year, in another shop, a book with a handwritten dedication to a local creative writing teacher by one of the young writers that person had taught – more generous praise, more abandonment.

(As for printed dedications, when a selected or collected poems comes out it can be interesting, in a gossipy kind of way, to compare the individual poem dedications in the original collections with those in the later book.)

Last week someone bought one of my own poetry books in a second-hand store, and he’s forwarded the letter and postcard he found inside it – written in 1996 by me to the person I was sending this and two other books to. Dear Y – I’ve no idea where you now are, I haven’t seen or heard of you for years, but next time you offload a few books, maybe check what’s inside them first. Maybe even dispose of those things in an environmentally friendly way, as these days we get told to do. It’s a small world.

Oh, I think I’ve found a new (to me) writer Who Could Be Important – one of those who seems to be interested in the same kind of material as myself but who shows that I don’t have to write in the kind of way I seem stuck with, there are other ways. This is liberating. But I’m not going to name names. It could all go wrong.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Catching up

Some things, I realise, I haven’t read/watched precisely because they are classics. They’ve been around for so long that I assume I’ve ingested them by osmosis; or, so many other people have attended to these things, they don’t need me; an element of laziness too. Renoir’s La règle du jeu, for example, watched for the first time this week. Why have I waited 60 years to enjoy this wonderful, funny, sharp, generous, astounding film?

Meanwhile, my local Tube station has grown an inside forest of scaffolding. Why? Because, the helpful LT man explained, there are holes in the suspended ceiling, put up only a couple of years ago at most, which need repairing. Then: ‘No, not repairing,’ he said, and pointed me to a sign: they are ‘upgrading’ the ceiling. ‘For increased energy efficiency and customer ambience.’