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ReadySteadyBook: All

a literary site


Being in Lieu on Stephen Mitchelmore's writing

Fri, 22 Jan 2016 13:24:47 GMT

I first came across Stephen Mitchelmore's blog This Space on one of those long, anxious evenings, when the only thing that was going to settle me was to read something new about one of my favourite writers. This was also around the time when I had become tired of being the only one I knew who liked the books that I liked. As soon as I tried to explain to my good friends that a particular book didn't interest me at all, no matter that it was 'profoundly moving' or 'fascinating', it would always seem, in contrast to what they had just said, that I was also admitting to my own pathetic diminution as a person, and I started to think that the little corner of my room where I stacked my favourite books (which were mostly written by dead people -- even I could see that) was a kind of morbid, crusted-over lair...

It's become clear to me that any very patient, generous and creatively intelligent attempt to write about any of this, in the way that Stephen Mitchelmore has done in his blog and now in his recently published book This Space of Writing, enlivens the world that we live in so much more brilliantly and immediately than many of these apparently 'moving' or 'hard-hitting' or 'fascinating' novels. But how can that be? Perhaps it's the work of the writing that does it: the very process and experience of writing that demands that we stay attentive -- not only to the words themselves (which are so often at the point of escaping us) but, as with so many inexplicable aspects of our existence (our dreams, impressions, fleeting thoughts), also to exactly how the writing has affected us.

Read more of this lovely review piece over at Jen Craig's beinginlieu blog.

The Sleep of the Righteous

Thu, 21 Jan 2016 12:54:57 GMT


Right, time to get down to some proper reading, and Wolfgang Hilbig's The Sleep of the Righteous (out from Scott Esposito's Two Lines Press) sits atop the TBR-pile. (His novel "I", described as the "perfect book for paranoid times", out from Seagull Books, is waiting in the wings too.)

László Krasznahorkai tells us "Hilbig is an artist of immense stature" and LARB suggests he writes as "Edgar Allan Poe could have written if he had been born in Communist East Germany."

Enough to intrigue, for sure...

Breathless: Over and over

Tue, 18 Aug 2015 21:48:02 GMT

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This Space of Writing

Mon, 03 Aug 2015 10:44:26 GMT

Well, I've waited around a long time for this, and I couldn't be more thrilled... Zero Books have announced the forthcoming publication of my wonderfully talented friend Stephen Mitchelmore's This Space of Writing:

What does 'literature' mean in our time? While names like Proust, Kafka and Woolf still stand for something, what that something actually is has become obscured by the claims of commerce and journalism. Perhaps a new form of attention is required. Stephen Mitchelmore began writing online in 1996 and became Britain's first book blogger soon after, developing the form so that it can respond in kind to the singular space opened by writing. Across 44 essays, he discusses among many others the novels of Richard Ford, Jeanette Winterson and Karl Ove Knausgaard, the significance for modern writers of cave paintings and the moai of Easter Island, and the enduring fallacy of 'Reality Hunger', all the while maintaining a focus on the strange nature of literary space. By listening to the echoes and resonances of writing, this book enables a unique encounter with literature that many critics habitually ignore. With an introduction by the acclaimed novelist Lars Iyer, This Space of Writing offers a renewed appreciation of the mystery and promise of writing.

Ben Harper: Fade into you

Sun, 02 Aug 2015 21:50:56 GMT

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Wakeful sleeping

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 15:09:06 GMT

Those of you who notice these things will have noticed that ReadySteadyBook has been very quiet for a very long time now. Recently, Stephen Mitchelmore wrote: "The main reason I still write this blog is to maintain a contact with the need or condition that drove me to read and write in the first place; a need often misdirected in pursuit of what the industry is talking about. Long silences here report stout resistance to the temptations of disinterested reception. But what is this need?"

My "resistance" is fully compromised, as I work in the industry to which Steve refers; my "long silences" report only that I'm busy elsewhere (currently at Foyles) doing my best to champion the kind of books I first started writing about here thirteen or so years ago. I'm loath to close RSB down, however, as I'm sure I'll soon have the time and energy to report again on what really matters. That horizon keeps receding, but those books that feel vital, axes for the frozen sea inside, remain the reason to maintain this space, and will be the only reason to return back to it.

PEN seeks linguists

Mon, 29 Jun 2015 10:59:16 GMT

PEN Translates "seeks expert linguists with good knowledge of the publishing field to help us assess books submitted for a grant. Assessors are paid £140 per assessment. For the current round, we are urgently seeking assessors in the following languages: Occitan (Gascon), Portuguese (Brazil) and Danish."

Please write to

Stop Here

Sat, 28 Feb 2015 03:10:20 GMT

In the September 1874 Atlantic Monthly George Parsons Lathrop wrote in his essay, The Novel and its Future: Realism sets itself at work to consider characters and events which are apparently the most ordinary and uninteresting, in order to extract from these their full value and true meaning. It would apprehend in all particulars the connection between the familiar and the extraordinary, and the seen and unseen of human nature. Beneath the deceptive cloak of outwardly uneventful days, it detects and endeavors to trace the outlines of the spirits that are hidden there; to measure the changes in their growth, to watch the symptoms of moral decay or regeneration, to fathom their histories of passionate or intellectual problems. In short, realism reveals. Where we thought nothing worth of notice, it shows everything to be rife with significance. Beverly Gologorsky’s Stop Here is a poignant novel of contemporary realism. Her primary emotional themes are loneliness, a yearning to change the past, small town ennui, and resignation that this is the irrevocable life one has to sort out and put to rest. What is masterful in this work is how she weaves characters lives through a desolate and lonely atmospheric Long Island town. Gologorsky’s prose is much like an Edward Hopper painting. She stays true to the stark nature of her themes and characters without a “drop of color… yet they shimmer”. (A quote from a painter on the beach in the novel describing his own painting.) The narration is told with simple words and the intense emotions underneath the narrative are not played up stylistically but left there on the page for the reader to read without linguistic trimmings. The power of the narration is an achievement that enters the reader’s consciousness slowly, like a cautious guest who has been invited into a place, which is, in part, forbidding. She takes on the ordinary and removes the “deceptive cloak, showing what is trembling below It.” as Lathrop wrote of realism. Though we might otherwise not actually notice these characters because they are so familiar to us, and the dialogue is so real, they could be sitting at the same lunch counter with us. The novel illuminates the lives of a handful of characters, but one feels that the Gulf War is also a haunting lurking character. The lives of the characters are all connected to a Long Island Diner called Murray’s a twenty-four hour dive and the perfect frame for the telling of their difficult lives. For example there’s Sylvie, the new wife of the successful diner-owner Murray, who is a Neoconservative, bullish man. There’s Sylvia, a former actress, getting on in age and worried about a future without stability, she gives up a lot of who she is to gain the same. Left at home, as her husband goes to run his diner, she is bored, restless, and empty. Sylvie discovers an elderly artist appearing to be on the verge of death, living in a seaside lean-to on the beach. Their conversations, though sounding at first a bit meandering and strange, give us one of the most moving examples of Gologorsky’s realism, and how she, as an unobtrusive narrator pulls off what Laphor had said was ”the deceptive cloak of outwardly uneventful days, trace[ing] the outlines of the spirits that are hidden there.” From a section of the novel we find the character, Sylvie, meeting up with the elderly painter on the beach: He hands [Sylvie] a bunch of paintings as easily as if they were sandwiches at a picnic. Winter beach scenes. White, gray, silver without a drop of color, yet they shimmer. Could these be the landscape she finds so forbidding, cold, and untouchable?She catches him staring at her. “Too bleak for you?” he asks. “No. The opposite. Is that how you really see what you see out there?” “There’s no metaphor for the ocean, only how I feel when I try to [...]

An interview with TJ Clark: Picasso and Truth

Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:22:28 GMT

Timothy James Clark, often known as TJ Clark, is an art historian and writer, born in Bristol in 1943. He has taught art history in a number of universities in England and the United States, including Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. He has been influential in developing the field of art history, examining modern paintings as an articulation of the social and political conditions of modern life. His orientation is distinctly leftist, and he has often referred to himself as a Marxist (this cribbed from wikipedia, of course.) Clark is George C. and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Art History Emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of The Painting of Modern Life (Princeton), The Sight of Death, and Farewell to an Idea, and the coauthor of (with Retort) Afflicted Powers. Daniel Fraser is a writer and critic based in London.   Daniel Fraser: I wanted to ask you about Picasso’s relationship to blue, a colour whose application certainly seems to shift in his post-Cubist paintings. What and how do you think blue functioned for Picasso throughout his painting, and how did it change? TJ Clark: I would still consider the question on blue worth asking as the book does, particularly in the sections relating to The Blue Room and Three Dancers, discuss how Picasso's use of blue is important to what he is trying to express, but I thought it would be good to expand on the marked difference between its use in these paintings and those of 'the blue period' and his more overtly Cubist works. I can’t remember which theorist of colour it was who talked about blue as the least ‘organic’ colour on the spectrum: the least associated with living things, with growth. Whether or not we agree with the idea in general, I think that blue is a colour whose ‘strangeness’ – its coldness, its ‘emptiness’, its distance from the world of persons and things – seems to have fascinated Picasso, and been a pole towards which his painting was constantly drawn. In the Blue Period it is exploited, clearly, for its emotional potential: it is the colour of emotional bleakness, melancholy, poverty, ‘bare life’. During the years of high Cubism, blue doesn’t play a central role. Colour is vital, but the Cubist ‘monochrome’ works essentially within a range of browns and greys: its coolness and ‘detachment’ isn’t meant to carry (I feel) an emotional weight. Blue returns with a vengeance in the 1920s. The Three Dancers, or Figure by the Edge of the Sea (and many other canvases from the period), lean heavily on blue’s uncanny force and distance. But it isn’t, I think, a distance meant to carry ‘emotion’, exactly: blue seems more the sign of an invading or pervasive Otherness: a non-humanness, a dis-placement, a world robbed of familiarity or closeness. In the book I argue that the best overall term for this may be Untruth. Maybe – but at least I’m sure that it no longer stands for a state of mind or feeling, or even for an ‘analytic’ detachment. Daniel Fraser: In terms of Picasso’s monstrosity, I always found in the post-Cubist ‘studio’ works (though had not seen the Tehran one previously) with their wire frame painters an almost mocking tone, a challenge to cubism and the space of the artist’s studio, like Manet’s deformed foot on the Dead Christ: but also as a withering of Cubism. I was wondering whether not you saw anything in this and furthermore if there was a difference for you in Picasso’s paintings between ‘room space’ and ‘studio space’? TJ Clark: Two questions here. Yes, the monster paintings are often sardonic and cartoonish, seemingly trying for a kind of comedy; and certainly making fun of high Cubist seriousness. (This must have been more pointed a move in the context of the [...]

Larmousse: Static Phase

Fri, 09 Jan 2015 15:02:32 GMT

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