A halo of warmth in the darkness of the year: what are you reading spring 2023?

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With apologies to Sophie Mackintosh for the title.

I am way behind on my reading as ever, I’m almost finished Ball Four which I wrote a bit about on the Baseball books thread. Yes, I’m cheating on you guys with the other ILB and I’m not remotely sorry.

I have several other baseball books to read, but I want to read some fiction next. Reading all this nonfiction is unnatural to me and I spend a lot of time reading up on real events or watching YouTube clips of stuff depicted. Top of my list is Sophie Mackintosh’s Cursed Bread, which I now have a signed copy of, and Nicole Flattery’s debut novel is out this month as well. I’ve also got about six Ali Smith books and I need to finish Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour as I started it and remember liking it a lot. And the Elena Ferrante books have been calling my name a while now.

And you?

limb tins & cum (gyac), Friday, 24 March 2023 10:42 (one year ago) link

I have started properly reading RADIO BENJAMIN: a very extensive Verso collection of Walter Benjamin's writings for radio, from the late 1920s and early 1930s.

the pinefox, Friday, 24 March 2023 11:38 (one year ago) link

Courtesy link to prior WAYR thread: Please use the receptacle provided: What are you reading as 2023 begins?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Friday, 24 March 2023 16:05 (one year ago) link

Currently reading:

Nikolai Gogol - Dead Souls
I always thought that this would be darker since I associate it with the Joy Division song, or let's be real, the NIN cover, but it's really more of a hilarious romp.

Mezz Mezzrow - Really the Blues
Absolutely fantastic memoir about early jazz and occasional crimes, starting in the '20s. Almost every sentence has some wild turn of phrase or slang. I think it's out of print, it was a birthday gift.

Adrian Tchaikovsky - Children of Memory
My trashy sci-fi indulgence, third in the trilogy. I actually think he's improved as a writer, but at this point it's so wrapped up in the worldbuilding (literally, lol) of the first two books that some of it would be hilariously impenetrable if you hadn't read them. But that's unsurprising for a third act. I don't know if I could honestly recommend it as "good" but I sure am enjoying it.

change display name (Jordan), Friday, 24 March 2023 16:49 (one year ago) link

Previously read this year:

Mat Johnson - Pym (decent & fun, good concept, ok writing & execution)
Stanislaw Lem - The Futurological Congress (just delightful)
Jonathan Lethem - The Arrest (decent, flawed but also probably his best in awhile?)
Hernan Diaz - In the Distance (really enjoyed this on NA's recommendation, sort of a good-hearted and more conventional take on Blood Meridian)
Katie Kitamura - Intimacies (sorry but thought this was pretty bad)
George Saunders - A Swim in the Pond in the Rain (really enjoyed it, especially 'The Nose' which is what sent me on to Dead Souls)

change display name (Jordan), Friday, 24 March 2023 16:52 (one year ago) link

just finished Bono - SURRENDER. liked the first half but the second half is less about the music and the band and more about activism and Steve Jobs this and Condi Rice that and kinda bored me, tho I did find it funny that he recalls cillian murphy ,by all accounts a close friend, telling him earnestly about how big a fan he was of their earlier records up until joshua tree which murphy loves but that they have since lost him.

about to start
Natsou Kirino - OUT which is about 4 women factory workers in Tokyo ,one of whom kills her husband and the others help her dispose of the body

gyacs review of ball four in the baseball thread is great and made me want to read it.
also someone asked if we had the nicole flatterly book today. we didn't and I've never heard of her. should I have?

oscar bravo, Friday, 24 March 2023 21:57 (one year ago) link

I reviewed her short story collection here: Lilacs Out of the Dead Land, What Are You Reading? Spring 2022

Her novel has had a few writeups in the Guardian, FT, etc, I hadn’t seen them till now cos I just preordered the book and it went onto my huge to-read pile. I personally liked her short story collection. You can read one of her stories here and see what you think.

limb tins & cum (gyac), Friday, 24 March 2023 22:25 (one year ago) link

Reading Tracey Thorn's memoir *Bedsit Disco Queen*. Thorn's like Hatfield Rock: despite her self-deprecation, humility, her desire for a kind of present invisibility, she's like her EBTG lyrics: quietly wise and herself right to the bone - even as she's constantly admitting that self is a product of middle-England banality.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Friday, 24 March 2023 22:31 (one year ago) link

Whoa. Just read ' track' , thx for the link. Found it really funny but then felt bad for finding it funny. Very horrible and off-putting but in a compelling way. Will try to track down her collection from the library.

oscar bravo, Friday, 24 March 2023 23:02 (one year ago) link

civilization of the Middle Ages, Norman cantor

brimstead, Friday, 24 March 2023 23:03 (one year ago) link

I'm glad that someone else has been reading SURRENDER.

the pinefox, Saturday, 25 March 2023 09:21 (one year ago) link

also someone asked if we had the nicole flatterly book today. we didn't and I've never heard of her. should I have?

I really enjoyed her short story collection Show Them a Good Time - very good contemporary Irish fiction. RIYL Colin Barrett. Her new one is a novel that sounds like it might be interesting:


bain4z, Saturday, 25 March 2023 09:56 (one year ago) link

I'm reading The Garden of the Gods, the third book in Gerald Durrell's series about his family's stay in Corfu. Which is to say I'm reading warmed over table scraps.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Saturday, 25 March 2023 16:23 (one year ago) link

Nadis and Yau, A History in Sum
Wilson, The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison
Meier, The Lost Spy

alimosina, Sunday, 26 March 2023 00:55 (one year ago) link

Currently: Harry Crews, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place (omg)

dow, Monday, 27 March 2023 00:57 (one year ago) link

finished trollope's barchester towers the first novel of his i've read: had not expected his fiction to exhibit such a level of irony & occasional outright satire as this did... almost farcical in places

started on a reread of the moonstone and now somewhat tempted to explore some of wilkie collins' less known/regarded novels

no lime tangier, Monday, 27 March 2023 05:06 (one year ago) link

Moonstone is a lot of fun.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 27 March 2023 09:35 (one year ago) link

i changed ereader half-way through and lost my place. haven't picked it up again.

koogs, Monday, 27 March 2023 11:26 (one year ago) link

I finished Volume 1 of Principles of Psychology by William James (please clap). Unfortunately it was good enough that I will probably also need to read Volume 2. Introspection is an indispensable tool for thinking about how the mind works, which makes it worthwhile to pursue, despite the innate difficulties - e.g. the lack of well-defined consensual terms for mental phenomena, difficulties of observing oneself "in media res" since the act of observing by necessity takes one out of the activity that one sought to observe, etc.

o. nate, Monday, 27 March 2023 16:02 (one year ago) link

Finished a little chap by Iain Sinclair, as well as one by Fred Spoliar and Maria Sledmere, as well as Ed Steck’s Sleep as Information/ The Fountain is a Water Feature, a strange book of poems dwelling in insomniac preoccupations.

Goose Bigelow, Fowl Gigolo (the table is the table), Monday, 27 March 2023 16:08 (one year ago) link

I am now reading Andrew Crisell, AN INTRODUCTORY HISTORY OF BRITISH BROADCASTING (1997). It shows a very fine analytical understanding, modestly and clearly expressed. I have never seen the basic relations between diverse media so succinctly defined.

the pinefox, Monday, 27 March 2023 17:54 (one year ago) link

Today I started An Inventory Of Losses by Judith Schalansky

touche pas ma planète (flamboyant goon tie included), Monday, 27 March 2023 21:07 (one year ago) link

I read REFUGEES: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION as a bit of swotting before a related job interview. The author is Gil Loescher, who had his legs blown off doing NGO work in Baghdad, the same bombing that killed De Mello. It's very useful, informed summary of the history and issues, cleanly written.

All of the VSIs I've read have been excellent - would gladly hear recommendations.

Also, as a bit of relief during a stressful month, I'm reading a 2003 kids' adventure book, BARTIMAEUS: THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, which rules.

Chuck_Tatum, Monday, 27 March 2023 21:11 (one year ago) link

I considered buying THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION today. Maybe I wanted to learn the things that John Lanchester won't tell me.

the pinefox, Monday, 27 March 2023 21:25 (one year ago) link

New York Review Books, in more evidence of their impeccable taste, published Ernst Jünger's On the Marble Cliffs, which I've picked up.

the very juice and sperm of kindness. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 27 March 2023 21:32 (one year ago) link

I'm reading a 2003 kids' adventure book, BARTIMAEUS: THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND, which rules.

I have read this! And the sequel. With my 9-yo (at the time). It's true it's very well done (if you like that kind of thing)

Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 28 March 2023 09:10 (one year ago) link

I v much enjoyed doing the voice of Bartimaeus fwiw

Tracer Hand, Tuesday, 28 March 2023 09:14 (one year ago) link

Antonio Vieira - Six Sermons. I have wondered what might be a satisfying equivalent in Portuguese to Cervantes (Spanish), Rabelais (French), Boccaccio (Italian), Browne, maybe Grimmelshausen (German) and these Baroque sermons from the Portuguese priest might be it. They are full of eventful proserly flights that take in references from antiquity to a bunch of theologian medieval scribes to (of course) the Old Testament to deliver sermons that are meant to, in turns, cheerlead the troops in the fight against the Dutch, pacify slaves, to moralise left right and centre, to talk up Portuguese priests that should be Saints, etc. You sort of don't care what its in service of because it looks so good on the page.

xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 28 March 2023 20:43 (one year ago) link


Good to know! Mine's only 3 years old so lots of time to practice the voice. Right now all my voices sound like Bernard Bresslaw for some reason.

Chuck_Tatum, Tuesday, 28 March 2023 22:04 (one year ago) link

Wow, Cervantes and Rabelais?? That's a tall order for some sermons. I'll have to reread.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 29 March 2023 09:09 (one year ago) link

It has also set me on the direction of compiling Sermons to read. Donne for sure, don't know who else.

xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 29 March 2023 09:33 (one year ago) link

I've begun to read The Leopard, Di Lampedusa. I've noticed that ILB admires this book fairly unanimously and the ilx film mavens love the film extravagantly. Also, I seem to be past my bout of "light reading" and capable of something with a bit more fiber to it.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Friday, 31 March 2023 16:47 (one year ago) link

although it's pretty light, i must say

the very juice and sperm of kindness. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 31 March 2023 16:49 (one year ago) link

compared to Bill Bryson it's bound to look like Melville

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Friday, 31 March 2023 17:57 (one year ago) link

Camilo Jose Cela - The Hive. The just released new translation from NYRB is a must. It's set just after the fascists have won the civil war in Spain and it's composed of a series of 1-2 page character sketches and conversations -- much of it in various bars and cafes in Madrid. Some characters and their fates are followed up on, others are not. Over and over again there are these grotesqueries laid out in a superb style. The pessimism is of the highest order.

Celine and Malaparte are cited at the back and you can see why. As all were either collaborators or kept working to the order of the day. But they all wrote some amazing pages and are dead so I'll read them.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 1 April 2023 11:02 (one year ago) link

i feel like i've been reading diana wynne jones's novel dark lord of derkholm for my whole life but probably a couple of weeks, i'm just slow.
poetry-wise it's been dipping into some elizabeth-jane burnett (her book of sea) and the collected poems of r.f. langley & w.s. graham

tambourine, Saturday, 1 April 2023 22:10 (one year ago) link

Camilo Jose Cela spoke at my commencement! He won an honorary degree. I remember his fierce Sam the Eagle profile and his denouncement of "las vicisitudes de la juventud."

the very juice and sperm of kindness. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 April 2023 22:42 (one year ago) link

Sorry -- I just consulted my notes. It's worse lol. He denounced "las tonterías de la juventud." His address went down like a kick in the belly.

the very juice and sperm of kindness. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 April 2023 22:47 (one year ago) link

lol bill bradley spoke at my commencement . . . about the horrors of the national deficit

everyone was like fuck you talk about basketball

mookieproof, Sunday, 2 April 2023 00:45 (one year ago) link

I'm going to discuss The World and Everything That It Holds by Aleksander Hemon tomorrow morning with my book club. I'm predicting most of them won't have liked it. It is difficult but is pretty amazing. It is a tale of being a lifelong refugee, starting in 1914 with the assassination of archduke Ferdinand in Bosnia, and continuing from there into a prisoner of war camp in Galicia in western Ukraine, and eventually to Tashkent in Uzbekistan, Turkistan in Kazakhstan, and across the Gobi desert to Shanghai.

It is written in English, but with a lot of Bosnian and Spanjol (the diasporic Spanish sephardic equivalent of yiddish)

Dan S, Sunday, 2 April 2023 01:05 (one year ago) link

I did finish Ball Four earlier this week and wrote about it here.

Anyway, back to fiction! I started and finished Sophie Mackintosh’s new novel, Cursed Bread, within 24 hours. It’s short, but I could have done it faster: I kept going back to reread particular sentences that I loved.

In the room he looked at the rose of damp on my ceiling, took off his brown raincoat.

The book uses this event as a highly fictionalised backdrop: Mackintosh is not theorising on the real life event but draws from the mass hysteria and mystery. The narrator is Elodie, the baker’s wife. In common with some of Mackintosh’s short stories, some characters are named (Elodie, Violet, various Mmes) but mainly others are referred to by their roles (the ambassador, the grocer’s wife). This has the effect of giving it a fable-like feel, and also underlines the small-town setting of everyone. Every day Elodie sells bread to the townspeople and barely hears their secrets, is it a surprise that the names begin to blur and fade after a while?

Mme F had launched into another complaint about Josette, how she would stop talking for days at a time, like an anchoress taking a vow of silence.

Of course the antagonist of this book is Violet, who sometimes feels she should have her name in all caps: VIOLET. She is enigmatic and both desired and despised by the people of the town. There is a scene where the ordinary women are doing their washing at the lavoir, where Violet outsources this labour to older women,
where they exclaim over the luxe and sexual items Violet has stained with her life, until they start trying them on and end up damaging some of the garments in a frenzy. It reminded me a bit of Malèna.

They gather around me with wet cloth in their hands, drowned cloth, marked with blood that won’t wash out.

Sex and longing for it permeates this book like the scent of bread baking weaves its way through a house. It’s there in Elodie’s constant yearning to be touched by her husband, who denies her both calmly and coldly until she is almost screaming. It’s there in Elodie and her husband watching outside the bedroom door. It’s there in Elodie‘s fantasies about Violet and the ambassador both, where it’s never quite clear if she desires them for themselves, or to be them, or both.

I have read other people say that they don’t like the epistolary aspects of this book but I liked the way they are spliced through the present day narrative, so you are plunged from cloudiness and increased confusion into clarity and back again.

I enjoyed this a lot, but it’s not for everyone.

limb tins & cum (gyac), Sunday, 2 April 2023 13:08 (one year ago) link

Camilo Jose Cela - The Hive. The just released new translation from NYRB is a must. It's set just after the fascists have won the civil war in Spain and it's composed of a series of 1-2 page character sketches and conversations -- much of it in various bars and cafes in Madrid. Some characters and their fates are followed up on, others are not. Over and over again there are these grotesqueries laid out in a superb style. The pessimism is of the highest order.

Haha yeah I bailed on this a few pages from the ending because the oppressive, sordid misery just came to be too much. Def creates a mood though, and makes me think Franco's Spain was much like Salazar's Portugal - just grey miserable days in cafes nursing petty grievances because expanding your horizons is prohibited so this is all that there is.

Daniel_Rf, Sunday, 2 April 2023 15:00 (one year ago) link

In A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, the earliest memory of Harry Crews is of waking up under a tree with his excellent dog Sam, both of them in early morning sunlight: he's a sleepwalker who's hit it lucky, in and out of place. The place, into which he now centered by tobacco farming, is late 30s Bacon County, Georgia, sometimes extending across the St. Mary's River into Jacksonville, Florida's Springfield Section of tiny shotgun row houses and cigar factories, with the youngest children, like himself, left to their own devices.
In Bacon and the Section, he's the mostly the audience, including that of the glossy people in the Sears Roebuck catalog, so fantastically intact, unlike almost every one else he sees, that they must have wounds under their clothes: he and his friend Willalee and Willalee's grandmother, Auntie.a self-proclaimed conjure woman and ex-slave, tell each other stories about the Sears people: the audience continuing through the creative process.
Little Crews also responds and is responded and susceptible to an increasing number of people, becoming "a parade" of vistors to his bedroom, when he's confined with "infantile paralysis" (nice work, Dr. Colombo). Many of these are people he knows or recognizes---though not the faith healer from the next county---in a new context, with him more an audience than ever, but for their attentions. Scary, especially when Auntie
s dropping knowledge, though things were already disturbing enough, hence the sleepwalking, and now he feels in place (for one thing, he can't wake up in a dark field, because he can't get there).
The second session is even better: almost boiled alive, he now qualifies for actual treatment, by drying light and soothing spray (which becomes a protective coating) while he's under a protective shell, which he compares to the top of a carriage, with his Sears Roebuck Catalog and a tablet for his detective novel, about a boy detective who carries fireworks for protection. He's also allowed to keep an attentive baby goat in there---all things for the twice-struck child---
Before, in between, and after these confinements, he can disappear like a tiny Ishmael, one whose reappearances become more self-revealing, traced in and out of place, for keeps---spoiler of sorts: a mind-fuck evangelist appears, an alibi of sorts, but a plausible one, as far as he goes, which is pretty far, in a professional way. Even I, Boomer suburbanite, was singed by one during a brief middle achool encounter, while preschool Crews and his crew get the extended treatment, as isolation's captive audience.
There are what I take to be fictional outcroppings, but not much to stumble over. He learns from the stories of men (character-driven, funny) and women (action, cutting the surface)--the former told while taking a break, the latter not so much.

dow, Monday, 3 April 2023 04:48 (one year ago) link

"Spoiler of sorts" because this kind of person is always likely to turn up/be drawn to this kind of setting (and of course is still very much with us in the Deep-Ass South: on radio, basic cable, antenna TV, the Internet, or otherwise as close as they, usually he, though always with an entourage, can get).

dow, Monday, 3 April 2023 04:56 (one year ago) link

Sorry -- I just consulted my notes. It's worse lol. He denounced "las tonterías de la juventud." His address went down like a kick in the belly.

― the very juice and sperm of kindness. (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 April 2023 bookmarkflaglink

The man was a bastard. Utterly unpleasant by the sounds of it.

Haha yeah I bailed on this a few pages from the ending because the oppressive, sordid misery just came to be too much. Def creates a mood though, and makes me think Franco's Spain was much like Salazar's Portugal - just grey miserable days in cafes nursing petty grievances because expanding your horizons is prohibited so this is all that there is.

― Daniel_Rf, Sunday, 2 April 2023 bookmarkflaglink

I think a lot of that is to do with the poor/working class characters he is sketching. But yes it's striking how there is nothing like a hope for better, like there could be in a more communist novel of the period where even a character in jail is yearning for something bigger and better.

xyzzzz__, Monday, 3 April 2023 09:09 (one year ago) link

I continue with Crisell's excellent, lucid, prim INTRODUCTORY HISTORY OF BRITISH BROADCASTING.

the pinefox, Monday, 3 April 2023 09:51 (one year ago) link

What A Plant Knows Daniel Chamovitz
book on the sense experience of plants. Pretty interesting and a quite fast read.
Looks at a lot of stimulus reactions witnessed and experimented on plants.
Looked like it could be interesting when I was walking around the library a couple of weeks ago.
Glad I read it anyway.

Not A Nation of Immigrants Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz
her book on the US and settler colonialism which came out last year. Been wanting to read it since it was released. Got it a few weeks ago.

Racism ed Martin Bulmer
book of excerpts and essays from a lot of writers work on various aspects of the subject. Read some very good bits , have been cherrypicking so maybe should try reading it from start to finish or something.
Book turned up in a library iin the next town over as I popped over there last week.

Stevo, Monday, 3 April 2023 18:53 (one year ago) link

I finished DAMASCUS by Christos Tsiolkas over the weekend. It's the story of Saul (aka Saint Paul), told from multiple perspectives and set in a nasty, violent world. A lot of bodily fluids, a lot of raping, torturing and killing of children (a recurring theme is of parents leaving their unwanted newborns on the side of a mountain where they are eaten by wild animals).
Tsiolkas is not a subtle writer, and keeps hammering in his themes and contrasts. But the book gives a good insight in the different early christian factions competing for dominion.

ArchCarrier, Monday, 3 April 2023 19:25 (one year ago) link

I finished Tracey Thorn's *Bedsit Disco Queen*. It traces (yes) her life in suburban north London, the time with the Marine Girls and then the years through EBTG and, eventually, her leaving behind songwriting for motherhood. It might be odd to call it comforting, given her (and Watts') profiles, but it was absolutely that. She's great and wise company.
The one thing I can't shake since finishing it is how relatively *easy* everything came to them. Thorn's style is quiet, understated and ironic and she uses understatement as a kind of corrective against smugness, I think; but what gets left out, what never gets examined, is the *talent* - that ineffable thing at the heart of her, that thing without which none of the *life* happens. There are various points in the book where the default line is 'so Ben and I wrote a bunch of songs', as if it was painting a bedroom. Maybe that process is as ineffable to her as to the rest of us and should remain off-stage, as it were, but I would have liked some discussion or acknowledgement of it.

Anyway, that sounds like a moan and it isn't. To speak of the ineffable, my other big takeaway from the book, and from having listened to a few interviews with her since, is that Thorn is *happy*.

I'm reading a Reacher book at the minute, which is as close to not-reading as reading gets and just about bloody perfect, thank you.

Shard-borne Beatles with their drowsy hums (Chinaski), Tuesday, 4 April 2023 07:31 (one year ago) link

I think that with things like a year zero anybody can do it level paradigm shift era like punk which I think the Marine Girls came out of, or certainly came out of teh aftermath of the idea of talent is still deeply present. Like you find that people did not think their talents lay in that direction trying things out and finding they do, but you also find a lot of people who realise it's just not for them. Subsequently not advancing further because they can't really do anything along those lines and their talents do lie elsewhere.
So you will find that people either can actually do something inventive with a lack of technique which will reveal areas of further investigation. Can do something coherent with words and melody or other structure that is worthy of further investigation and will also reveal something worthwhile. & you also get incoherent noise, cliche and lack of rhythm from others. THough conceivably one could do something semi interesting with that if one had talent to do so.
Also you can have over educated players without an iota of creativity making identikit copies of current taste and not finding out what they do and do not actually like or feel really turned onto investigate in a creative way.
So yeah would think talent was relevant even there , it's not as egalitarian as one would really like possibly.
I just think punk and a couple of other scenes did turn things over so one didn't need to be completely schooled in how things 'should' be and allowed a lot more self expression and some of that stands the test of time and some of it was pretty self indulgent.

Stevo, Tuesday, 4 April 2023 10:13 (one year ago) link

it's really good. i should read it again. i never read war and peace. my mother raves about it. as others do, i've heard

Tracer Hand, Sunday, 11 June 2023 22:15 (eleven months ago) link

I’ve gotten about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way through War and Peace. The war scenes in Schöngrabern and Austerlitz so far are somewhat interesting. Pierre Bezukhov, who I guess is the protagonist, seems like a drip to me. I've been liking the story of Nikolai Rostov. He is a hussar and the beloved eldest son on the Rostov family. He comes home from war and his 15 year old cousin Sonya Rostova is in love with him, and Fyodor Ivanovich Dolokhov, who is his "friend" - and who is cold and psychopathic - ruins Rostov by luring him into an outrageous debt in a card game that is fixed, in revenge after Dolokhov is rejected by Sonya in a proposal of marriage

Dan S, Monday, 12 June 2023 01:52 (eleven months ago) link

you are completely wrong

mookieproof, Monday, 12 June 2023 02:39 (eleven months ago) link

always good to know

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 12 June 2023 02:40 (eleven months ago) link

This is embarrassing. I just realized I've been thinking Michael Wood and James Wood are the same person. Who'd have thought there would be 2 English literary critics with such similar names.

In other news, I just finished "Triumph of Christianity" by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman is balanced and humble, which is a good trait in a historian dealing with controversial topics for which the historical record is limited. He seems to provide a good overview of where the scholarship is, although perhaps for a topic like this, a dash of unrestrained speculation would not always be unwelcome. I think it would perhaps take a different and more speculative book, and one more focused on human psychology, to provide a satisfying answer to the question of how Christianity grew so quickly and so steadily for so many years.

Now I'm reading a biography of William James by Robert Richardson.

o. nate, Monday, 12 June 2023 02:42 (eleven months ago) link

Reading The Mirage Men by Mark Pilkington, about UFOs. So far pretty much a potted history of the subject and the major sightings, pushing the idea that most or all of the more extraordinary ones were deliberate fakes by the cia or the nsa or the air force or the navy, either to confuse and misdirect the soviets, or one of the other rival agencies, or the american public - the motivations or purposes aren't entirely clear and it seems a little weird that these agencies would spend so much time and money on what seems like, basically, a lot of dicking around - but probably less weird than the other explanation: not so much that we've been visited, but that the visitors themselves enjoy a good deal of dicking around.

ledge, Monday, 12 June 2023 08:37 (eleven months ago) link

o.nate: MW was born 1936, I think 1965. A similarity is that they both migrated to the US and became rather transatlantic figures.

They are both talented and knowledgeable, but MW has greater range including film and more philosophy. MW is much funnier and defter than JW, who has a more moralising or solemn aspect.

the pinefox, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:06 (eleven months ago) link

* should have said: JW 1965.

the pinefox, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:06 (eleven months ago) link

That is interesting about UFOs.

I finish Sean O'Casey's RED ROSES FOR ME (1942). I like it more than WITHIN THE GATES. It describes the build-up to a strike ('sthrike') and battle with police. I had thought maybe this was about the 1913 lockout, but it doesn't really seem to be. At one point it seems like it might be about the 1916 Rising, but it can't be. I think rather it's a more generalised idea of insurrection. Some of this is labour-based, as you would expect from O'Casey, but the rhetoric also becomes very nationalist and republican. Ultimately it's oddly like an inversion of eg THE PLOUGH & THE STARS where insurrection is criticised. Here it's heroic, the one thing you don't expect from O'Casey!

A good deal of the play also involves infighting and / or cooperation between Catholics and Protestants. There is also a quite appealing scene by the Liffey where the colours of sunset transfigure people and Dublin becomes a momentary utopia dreaming of a better future.

the pinefox, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:10 (eleven months ago) link

War and Peace was one of my first projects when the pandemic started -- took a week to finish. Tolstoy's one of the few writers who can switch from the cosmic in one paragraph to capturing a human nuance in another.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 12 June 2023 09:16 (eleven months ago) link

one other thing about the mirage men, i hope i'm not losing it but i find the multitude of names near impossible to follow. e.g. we hear about a sighting by pilot kenneth arnold, who gets employed by sf magazine editor ray palmer to investigate more sightings, in particular one by harold dahl, who tells his story to fred crisman, arnold then gets visited by two air force agents, frank brown and william davidson, decides to call in the help of another pilot e.j. smith... after a few pages of this, when they're all reduced to surnames only, i'm reeling. plus all the acronyms of security agencies and ufo groups, as well as the usual there's atic, apro, csi, afosi, dia...

ledge, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:27 (eleven months ago) link

it seems a little weird that these agencies would spend so much time and money on what seems like, basically, a lot of dicking around

I dunno, much of the history of the CIA in the 20th century seemed to be dicking around - financing abstract art, trying to off Castro with an exploding cigar, etc.

Daniel_Rf, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:46 (eleven months ago) link

yes coppola's heart of darkness quote springs to mind, adding in 'too few morals' for good measure.

ledge, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:52 (eleven months ago) link

heart of darkness lol, apocalypse now ofc

ledge, Monday, 12 June 2023 09:57 (eleven months ago) link

Mailer's Harlot's Ghost, like your average Le Carré novel, shows 40 years of dicking around.

the dreaded dependent claus (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 12 June 2023 10:08 (eleven months ago) link

what if a mole but outer space

mark s, Monday, 12 June 2023 11:17 (eleven months ago) link

I Am Not Ashamed, the lurid, ghostwritten tell-all by troubled 50s actress Barbara Payton. Accidentally reads like a rare mid-century noir written from a female POV.

Chris L, Monday, 12 June 2023 17:31 (eleven months ago) link

I Am Not Ashamed, the lurid, ghostwritten tell-all by troubled 50s actress Barbara Payton. Accidentally reads like a rare mid-century noir written from a female POV.

that sounds great.

Fizzles, Monday, 12 June 2023 17:38 (eleven months ago) link

Who was the ghost?

dow, Monday, 12 June 2023 18:26 (eleven months ago) link

Maybe it wasn't accidental, to have that kind of pulp appeal.

dow, Monday, 12 June 2023 18:27 (eleven months ago) link

time to catch up on my recent and no not-so-recent reading:

Into the Woods and The Likeness – Tana French

The first two volumes in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Although, as French says in the acknowledgments to the second novel, 'In some places, where the story seemed to require it, I’ve taken liberties with facts (Ireland doesn’t, for example, have a Murder squad)'. Yes, yes, i think it's fair to say that's taking a bit of a liberty, Tana.

These are enjoyable, in fact compelling, to an extent that slightly surprised me. There is in both, but especially the latter, a central near-supernatural element that unravels the minds of the individual detectives, so that they are doing battle not just with a crime and its causes but with their perception of the crime and its scene, of their place in it, of their potential contribution to its causes. They are *implicated*. Their heads get fucked. It puts you on edge as a reader. It's effective.

French manages dialogue and scene building very well indeed. It was a touch and go thing with the initial introductory paragraphs of both, which are quite mannered, but that's got past almost immediately. Apart from a truly dreadful concluding 'action' scene in *The Likeness*, the writing is very accomplished and impressive.

I haven't read the others in the series, apparently not as good, but I might give at least one of them a go.

Fizzles, Monday, 12 June 2023 18:30 (eleven months ago) link

xxp gossip columnist/pulp writer Leo Guild. I meant "accidental" more as a tell-all so vivid that it crosses over into the world of pulp/noir.

Chris L, Monday, 12 June 2023 18:45 (eleven months ago) link


The Frontiers of Meaning, Three Informal Lectures on Music – Charles Rosen
Almost magical essay construction and writing. Compare it to the broken footed english civil war history i quote above itt - the quality of the writing is connected to the quality of the thought, or its expression anyway. Poor style cripples difficult or complicated expression and thinking. Charles Rosen's essays are almost delicate in the selection of their elements, the examples, the points of argument, but retain throughout a good humour, resilient and appropriate to talking about art and the attendant arguments and difficulties over differences in taste and performance. As I'm not a musicologist (although can read music), the light but very clear deployment of musical analysis and reading of scores was much appreciated.

The second of these for instance, How to Become Immortal, describe the process by which reputation is constructed from the initial cultural experience of eg Beethoven, and turned over time to Immortality. Rosen's central contention is that 'canonic status is accorded to works not by posterity, or at least not by a posterity as distant in time as is sometimes thought'. He shows why he thinks that and the mechanisms and cultural processes by which immortality is constructed.

The first, The Frontiers of Nonsense, describes the process of initially resisting that which we do not understand, that friction ultimately driving us to try and understand and ultimately love - what are the boundaries of this process.

These are sophisticated essays, light and substantial at the same time, with clear musicological examples and full of anecdote, historical knowledge, and insight. They're also amusing, with pithy aperçus (a phrase that i want to spoonerise immediately now i've written it) and anecdotes:

...Charles Lamb, who in 1821, six years before Beethoven's death, wrote an essay against the appreciation of music entitled "A Chapter on Ears." He has, he says, no ear for music: ".. *sentimentally* I am disposed to harmony. But *organically* I am incapable of a tune." Operas and oratorios are bad enough, he remarks, but even worse are "those insufferable concertos, and pieces of music, as they are called..." Listening to pure instrumental music for Lamb ("empty instrumental music," as he terms it) was like reading a book that was all punctuation...

or the wise

... we have trouble enough revising our own standards of criticism without having to pretend to reform everyone else's.

Second, the essay Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative Perspective, collected in the book of the same name, by Clifford Geertz. Not the first time I've read this, it's an extraordinary essay on how the management of the 'place of fact in a world of judgment' in western jurisprudence is constituted with regard to قّ / ḥaqq, dharma, and adat in other cultures. I think what I admire most about Geertz is the flexibility of his intelligence to manage questions of relation in a framework that allows comparison. To recognise that sometimes you are going to have to manage matters pragmatically, but that you have to retain an ability to distinguish and to relate. As with Rosen, his deep, deep knowledge allows firmness of opinion where it is due, and a relaxed approach to differences of opinion where any such dogma is unhelpful or inappropriate to assert.

It's an essay that would be in my own personal canonical reading list, and perhaps i ought to try and do better justice to it elsewhere. but as with many geertz essays - and i'm no anthropologist and i'm sure he's been superseded or contradicted by mightier authorities - but you feel like you're getting the literary equivalent of that intelligence chip musk wants to put in people's branes (i might be summarising frivolously ofc). Free intelligence, right here, anyway. And again, the quality of the thought, and its expression, is invigorating to read.

Fizzles, Monday, 12 June 2023 18:57 (eleven months ago) link

Vehicle – Jen Calleja. I really liked her collection of short stories, I'm afraid that's all we've got time for. Man, I struggled with this. I am delighted that it exists though, and I love the fact that prototype publishing is putting this sort of thing out.

It is not, as the subtitle states, a verse novel. It is, I guess a work of metafiction. And again, the theory is quite enticing, a wandering set of islands, colonised by our european nations, suffer a schism from the Mainland colonisers. A group of academics and writers are paid to recover the history of the schism and its aftermath from the fragments of texts and recordings that remain, only to find this is a political attempt at erasure of history. the substance of the texts are centred around the people and events that orbit around the punk/post-punk group Vehicle. Translation, xenophobia, immigration are the themes.

By fuck it's heavy going. I feel bad because I was going through a period of struggling to read and it's more than possible that i just didn't have the energy or mental sharpness to tackle this book – if any ilxor can rescue it for me I'd be delighted because I really wanted it to work. Didn't finish, I'm afraid.

Fizzles, Monday, 12 June 2023 19:04 (eleven months ago) link

more tomorrow to avoid DoS-ing the books thread.

Fizzles, Monday, 12 June 2023 19:07 (eleven months ago) link

one more

Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession – Janet Malcolm.

Sharp, well written, but her tame psychoanalyst is frequently quite annoying... "At our next meeting, I confessed to Aaron that I sometimes got tired of hearing him talk..." No. shit. is what i have to say to that. The book describes the jealousies and organisational politics – and disputes over theories of transference – of New York/US psychoanalysis of the period through the eyes and mouth of a self-pitying, somewhat pooterish psychoanalyst. the focus is very narrow and although that should be its great weakness it's actually probably its strength, as a documentary of the subject and period. It's like a short film or feature piece, unsurprisingly maybe. Malcolm is a very sharp writer. odd little book though.

Fizzles, Monday, 12 June 2023 20:49 (eleven months ago) link

I commence rereading Sean O'Casey's early play JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK (1924). It's shorter and feels more vivid and immediate than the later plays I've mentioned above. Some of the broad humour also comes through OK on the page.

the pinefox, Monday, 12 June 2023 22:09 (eleven months ago) link

I've been reading in Some Trick, a book of short stories by Helen DeWitt, presumably early work of hers that was published after Last Samurai in order to take advantage of the surge in interest. It has that feel to it. They're pretty interesting and her talent is obvious, but they're not mature work.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 12 June 2023 22:30 (eleven months ago) link

Just finished Geoff Dyer's The Last Days of Roger Federer which was a fun early summer read - hits all the usual Dyer notes (Tennis, Burning Man, jazz, living in Brixton in the mid-80s etc) in a way that worked for me.

Picked up Knausgaard's The Morning Star for £1.50 in a charity shop yesterday. Tempted to dive in (I read, and enjoyed, the first six and a half volumes of My Struggle but just wondered if anyone on ILB had actually read it.

bain4z, Tuesday, 13 June 2023 07:53 (eleven months ago) link

i think some trick is a mixture tbh. imo a few of the stories are up there with her best - brutto for instance or entourage and the french style of mlle matsumoto. these have the recent v laconic style, and sit well with the sexual codes of the europeans and the english understand wool.

the earlier ones are less successful (especially the one set in oxford - famous last words?, as are the rock music ones, which are just slightly off though still have key hdw elements.

Fizzles, Tuesday, 13 June 2023 07:59 (eleven months ago) link

JUNO & THE PAYCOCK is perhaps O'Casey's most famous play. I read it long ago. I never thought I liked it that much but returning to it, I do find that it has a directness and comic effect that's better than the later work. Broad comedy in eg: the way that Boyle says he'll do one thing then immediately does another. Odd English middle-class character who's a Theosophist. The Civil War context perhaps doesn't come through so well - a character is shot, but there is never any sense of what people are fighting for.

I then started O'Casey's play COCK-A-DOODLE DANDY (1949). This is odd. It starts with an actor dressed as a cockerel walking across the stage. It seems to concern, in part, misogyny and distrust of women (that is, it seems to be critical of these things) - but I'm not far in yet.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 13 June 2023 14:06 (eleven months ago) link

Hitchcock did an adaptation of Juno & The Paycock during the silent era.

Daniel_Rf, Wednesday, 14 June 2023 09:29 (eleven months ago) link

True. I should see that. I'm surprised John Ford never filmed it.

I pause the COCK play to read Flann O'Brien's short TV play THE BOY FROM BALLYTEARIM. Its historical setting (Boer War and WWI) is of interest, but the play is very slight. Oddly there's no real twist or action.

I then start rereading Flann O'Brien's early play FAUSTUS KELLY (1943), set in a regional council. Critics have always dismissed this play. But all the dialogue so far holds up well, including long speeches from Kelly that are hilarious pastiches of political discourse. I think it's been underrated.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 14 June 2023 09:54 (eleven months ago) link

I go on to Flann's other substantial play RHAPSODY IN STEPHEN'S GREEN (1943). Three acts set in the park, in which insects and other animals talk. Social and political allegory. It's all quite entertaining and has some striking elements - such as the bees whose desire to sting, which will kill them, brings sex and death together in a way unusual in this writer. On the whole I think these plays have been underrated because his other work shortly before them had been so outstanding. They're better than his late work.

the pinefox, Thursday, 15 June 2023 07:44 (eleven months ago) link

Silvia Federici Caliban And The Witch
very interesting book looking at the develo9pment of capitalism and how it effected the working class and especially women who were seriously disenfranchised by the process It looks back at how feudalism was not the idyll it seems to be painted as in school history lessons and that there were actual means of protest at inequality and injustice etc. It also looks ta the rise of the witch hunt and who exactly got vilified.
One problem I had with the text was the constant ping pong one had to play between the text's narrative flow and turning to the end of the chapter where the endnotes are. These are often pretty substantial, which while showing a great deal of research also seriously disturbs the narrative flow. So it takes a bit longer to read than a book with less notes or where all the reference numbers are to citations not actual significant background information. Very good book anyway.
I think I have been meaning to read this for years. Have now been listening to a load of podcasts and archived talks and interviews with the author and other people talking about the book and related subjects.
I think I will try to get hold of the updates on the subjects covered since they do seem to be in the library system.

Ed Yong An Immense World
Science journalist looks at the Umwelt the world created by the senses and how this differs in various animals.. He makes the point that since these create the understanding that an animal lives in it would be very difficult to fully understand what it is like to exist as that animal. He references Thomas Nagel's essay What is it Like to Be A Bat which i had a similar take on in University 20 years ago which I think differed from how the lecturer was framing things. But I think this is very central to an understanding here , the basic understanding is down to one's experience of the world and since the filters of how one experiences the world are down to these senses it will be different without that being your basic experience. You can't visit temporarily and have the same experience and so on.
Good book, have been enjoying podcasts and talks with the author too.I think I will need to read his book on microbes too.

Lydia Edwards How To Read A Suit
great book on the development of men's clothing over about 400 years. This mainly concentrates on the suit as the title suggests. It wasa follow up to a book called How To Read A Dress by the same author. I need to read that one too. I heard about these books a few years ago on teh Dressed podcast. Glad i have read this now and now I have done i found out that I have a bit more time with it. I thought I was having to rush through to get i back for the next person in the library system queue. Not sure what happened there cos it was definitely reading as one copy in the system and one reserve.
Anyway did give me a couple of things i want to adopt and utilise in things I'm making. & would love a further book on other aspects of the male wardrobe showing development over time.

Song of The Outcasts Robin Totton
book on Flamenco that I've had out for too long without reading. Seems to have a lot of interesting info but I'm not 100% taken by the author's attitude to his subjects seems very very white gaze and quite patronising in places..
But may be turning me onto some decent new stuff.

Stevo, Thursday, 15 June 2023 11:22 (eleven months ago) link

Having finished Caliban and The Witch this morning and got within a couple of chapters of An Immense World I thought I might just give Theodore Allen The iNvention of The White Race another batch.
Sp I picked up from where i put it down last time I was trying to read it then went back to the beginning of the section. I've just read the beginning of the section on the colonisation of Ireland and the restructuring of the power structure and land ownership.
It is already peppered with reference numbers and i watched a tv appearance or heard a podcast referring to the amount of endnotes. It said 35% but it occurred to me earlier that I wasn't sure what that statistic referred to . I have the first of 2 sections which have more recently been omnibused together by Verso. I couldn't wait another few months to get hold of it when I bought it then left it unread for 2 or 3 years. Have meant to get back to it but it has been a couple of years where I have had several books on the go at almost all times. Hoping I will get through this this time and then read the 2nd Volume when I get a chance to. Not sure if 35% was across the 2 volumes. Seem to be a number of citations but also a couple of things that have been half a page long.
Anyway seems to be a good book that I hope i am going to fully ingest. Have heard quite a bit about it and probably have done a lot of reading that touches on this and will help- flesh out understandings better since I started trying to read it.

Stevo, Thursday, 15 June 2023 19:47 (eleven months ago) link

I finished RHAPSODY IN STEPHEN'S GREEN. It contains a lot of interesting material, and the voice of the human Tramp is very amusing. The satire of Loyalists and war in the third Act is bold, if crude.

I returned to O'Casey's play COCK-A-DOODLE DANDY. This is truly strange. It has almost no continuity of character, motivation or causality. People keep acting normally, then bonkers things happen, including a massive cock rampaging around the countryside causing havoc. It's played by an actor dressed up in a big cockerel outfit. Characters suddenly grow horns. Drink changes colour. You can't tell what's really going on or why. The most coherent thing to say about the play is that it's a critique of puritanism and misogyny, with a certain logic in all the women leaving at the end for a better life. But the play is mostly less coherent than this sounds.

the pinefox, Friday, 16 June 2023 07:34 (eleven months ago) link

I then read three TV plays by Flann O'Brien, I think all from 1962: THE TIME FREDDIE RETIRED, FLIGHT and THE MAN WITH FOUR LEGS. To be frank none of them are special. FLIGHT feels unusual in being a comedy about air travel from that long-ago date. I'm not sure how often Flann O'Brien was on an aeroplane.

the pinefox, Friday, 16 June 2023 08:31 (eleven months ago) link

Monica Heisey's "Really Good Actually", a Toronto romcom thing. It's no Heartburn (the obvious influence) but it's very enjoyable.

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 17 June 2023 00:12 (eleven months ago) link

Also I picked up the complete Lorrie Moore collection for £1, which I'm quite pleased about.

Chuck_Tatum, Saturday, 17 June 2023 00:13 (eleven months ago) link

I would be also!

Her new novel is published on Tuesday. Probably not for £1.

the pinefox, Saturday, 17 June 2023 09:48 (eleven months ago) link

Listening to Phoebe Judge reading Turn of the Screw. I had blessedly forgotten James's turgidity.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Saturday, 17 June 2023 17:27 (eleven months ago) link

After some weeks of hectic goings-on and lack of focus, I’m back in the swing. Finished Comitta’s The Nature Book and highly recommend it, especially to fans of Oulipo strategies.

Also read Coolidge’s Mesh, which was not very interesting to me, perhaps because it consists of rather abstract poems that seem to be referencing traditional cis-hetero coitus, which frankly is just not my cuppa. Finished a Coolidge/Mayer collaboration, The Cave, which began interestingly enough but then sort of departed from its subject— a failed caving expedition— and became increasingly dull, even on Mayer’s end, which surprised me.

Finished a chap by my mentor Kevin Killian on the fourth anniversary of his death, which was a nice way to mark the occasion.

Finally, just completed the short novel SALMON by Sebastian Castillo, a very funny yet affecting fabulist bildungsroman.

Now I’m on to Ignazio Silone’s Bread and Wine before heading to the bar for my shift. I’ve read Fontamara previously and loved it, excited to dive back into the poverty and socialist rancor of the Italian countryside.

butt dumb tight my boners got boners (the table is the table), Saturday, 17 June 2023 18:40 (eleven months ago) link

Martin Hayes Shared NOtes
fiddle virtuoso from Clare's memoir. Pretty good read, not sure if this is the style he arrives at absolutely naturally or not. Seems to be a pretty great read and if this is the first thing he's really written it has a nice tone to it.
At the point I've reached he's gone through a few things that have messed him up pretty badly, drinking messing up his academic career, business investments that weren't as thoroughly researched as should have been and wound up backfiring meaning he is in considerable debt, a stupid physical competition backfiring on him badly. He has relocated to Chicago where some things are going right and some others are continuing to go awry which is having a deleterious effect on his state of mind. He has just formed a band with the player he's best known for playing with but the style isn't working as yet.
Anyway pretty good read from an artist I really enjoy. His Peggy's Dream album is really worth hearing

Stevo, Sunday, 18 June 2023 10:31 (eleven months ago) link

I've started Sean O'Casey's play THE SILVER TASSIE.

the pinefox, Sunday, 18 June 2023 11:04 (eleven months ago) link

A few short books to end Spring:

Dario Fo - Francis, the Holy Jester
Anne Serre - The Fool & Other Moral Tales
Pierre Michon - The Eleven

xyzzzz__, Sunday, 18 June 2023 20:36 (eleven months ago) link

I remember Dario Fo's plays as turning up a lot in channel 4s early days

Stevo, Monday, 19 June 2023 00:02 (eleven months ago) link

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard

youn, Monday, 19 June 2023 14:51 (eleven months ago) link

COMING SOON: An All-New & Improved WAYR thread for Summer 2023! Watch this space for details.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Monday, 19 June 2023 16:51 (eleven months ago) link

Announcing a new WAYR thread two decades in the making!

Everything is Whirling and Twirling! What Are You Reading this Summer 2023?

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Wednesday, 21 June 2023 22:46 (eleven months ago) link

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