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“… a kind of catch or halt or temporary immobilization in the run of culture.” #fitzcarraldofortnight #katebriggs #thislittleart @FitzcarraldoEds

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My final read for the #fitzcarraldofortnight is a book I was very excited to read; I picked it up in one of the publisher’s flash sales a while back, and I don’t really know why it took me so long to get to it – thank goodness our reading event gave me the necessary nudge!

The book in question is “This Little Art” by Kate Briggs and I know enough about it to know how highly regarded it is. Briggs is a an author, teacher and translator (hence one of my favourite kind of people), and most notably has translated two volumes of notes for Roland Barthes’ final lectures into English. (There really *is* a thread running through all of my current reading, isn’t there??) “This Little Art” is, then, in simple terms a book about translation – but, goodness, *what* a book!

The point seems to be this: left to its own devices, the path of reading is very rarely chronologically ordered, thematically coherent, limited by language or respectful of borders. Books open out onto, they cross with and follow haphazardly on from one another. Left to its own devices, the path of reading strays all over the place.

The art of translation often seems to me some kind of arcane mystery, practiced by brilliant people who have not only the ability to read in two languages, but also to convert one to the other bringing all the nuances of the original language with it – I think it involves fairies…. “This Little Art”, however, rather brilliantly lets the reader get inside the whole process as Briggs meditates on the art of the title, her own particular experience and method, and the complex relationship between the translator and their specific author.

That relationship is a vital one, and Briggs illustrates this with the experience of two women translators – Helen Lowe-Porter, who was Thomas Mann’s original translator to English, and Dorothy Bussy who not only rendered Gide into English, but also had a long and loving friendship with him. Lowe-Porter coined the phrase “this little art” and her story is fascinating; an intelligent woman, married with a family, her work could almost be regarded as a hobby, yet she took it extremely seriously, committing large portions of her life to it. Bussy, however, was somewhat in love with Gide (although she was obviously not his type) and they maintained a close and emotional relationship over many years, with Gide choosing her as his preferred translator. The connection between them was particularly charged and potent, as Briggs reveals in quotes from their letters which she features.

Interestingly, Lowe-Porter has been much criticised in recent years for the decisions she made and the methods she used when translating; which reminded me again of Constance Garnett’s pioneering versions of the Russian classics. “Square Haunting” nudged my memory of how the Bloomsberries were so responsible for bringing Tolstoy, Dostoevsky et all to the English speaking public, and I know that Garnett’s work is nowadays considered flawed. Yet, as Briggs makes clear, it’s easy to be dismissive of the work of the past, taking an all too arrogant academic outlook on pioneers and discounting the connection they had with the works and the authors. Tastes and fashions and approved methods in translation change. Can we dismiss for example the Maudes, who were actually Tolstoy’s translators of choice, and instead go for a modernised prose translation? It’s a knotty problem, and I digress a little.

Typically, though, the relation you form is with the writer – your sense of the writer – who wrote the book first. If my friend feels the way he does about Calvino (about Calvino and not Weaver), it is because translation makes this possible: it is precisely this chance of forming a reading relationship with a writer writing in another language that a translation, making no official claim to original authorship, also produces.

However, as I read on, it became obvious why Briggs had chosen them as examples of the close association between author and translator; as much of Briggs’ narrative explores her translation of the Barthes lectures and her attachment to ‘her’ author is striking. I mentioned in my review of “Essayism” that much of Dillon’s book was informed by his relationship with Barthes, and I use the term advisedly. In an intense reading experience, I’ve realised, you *do* feel as if you have a personal connection with the author, and it’s something which has happened to me on a regular basis (I have regular intellectual crushes on writers). Briggs also pinpoints this element of the writer-reader relationship, and of course this is enhanced even more when the reader is also the translator of the work into another language. They become not only a reader, but in fact partly the writer of the book. This latter element is something which vexes Briggs throughout the narrative: is the translator also the author? How much fidelity *should* you have to the original text? Should you go for a literal (and potential flat and awkward) version (my view of the P/V renderings…)? Or should you, like Lowe-Porter, point to the overall feel of the translated work and whether this is in keeping with the original? Is perfect translation *ever* possible? And so on.

Reading the same books as someone else is a way of being together. This is the premise of seminars, book-clubs, of so many friendships and conversations. What it is to discover that you’re currently reading the same book as someone else – especially someone you don’t know all that well. The startling, sometimes discomforting, effect of accelerated intimacy, as if that person had gone from standing across the room to all of a sudden holding your hand.

One particular episode which stuck with me and highlighted the complexity of translations was in the section of Brigg’s books where she considered part of Barthes’ last lectures which was concerned with Haiku. It’s not a form of writing I would particularly have connected with the French theorist, but he apparently personaly translated, from English to French, many of those which featured in his last lectures. This leads to a fascinating section where Briggs, instead of trying to translate back, searches instead for the original English versions. But her understanding of what the English should be, based on Barthes’ French renderings, brings no success initially until after a moment of clarity she looks for alternative English words to the ones she initially thinks he means. This really emphasised for me how complex an art translation is, where the choice of a single word matters (and in fact Briggs reveals how she would now change one particular word choice she made in her Barthes’ lecture translations!)

Festooned with post-its – always the sign of a good book! 😀

It does seem to me, from reading this wonderfully discursive, always fascinating and incredibly thought-provoking work, that translation must be one of the most complex and under-appreciated arts going. Which word to choose? What is the background context to the work you’re translating? Should you leave bits out? This latter is a particularly emotive issue, and a charge levelled at many early translators; though it’s preferable to the experience I had when reading a collection called “The Stray Dog Cafe” and discovering that the translator had seen fit to *add* bits to a Mayakovsky poem….. =:o

Do translations, for the simple reason that we need them. We need translations, urgently: it is through translation that we are able to reach the literatures written in the languages we don’t or can’t read, from the places where we don’t or can’t live, offering us the chance of understanding as well as the necessary and instructive experience of failing to understand them, of being confused and challenged by them.

Anyway – I could ramble on forever about “This Little Art” but I won’t. I shall just say that it is a magnificent, immersive and marvellous book, full of so many insights into not only translating but literature itself and how and why we read. All of the books I’ve read for our #fitzcarraldofortnight have been excellent, but “This Little Art” is really something special (as you can no doubt tell from the amount of post-its…). Even if you’re not particularly interested in translation I think you should read it, because it’s so good; but if you are, oh boy, are you in for a treat! 😀

(For other posts on this book, Lizzy has written about This Little Art here and Simon shared his thoughts here)

A sublime account of some pioneering womens’ lives over @ShinyNewBooks #squarehaunting @francescawade @FaberBooks

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In between reading some absolutely marvellous books for our #fitzcarraldofortnight, I spent many happy hours this month reading a fantastic new books from Faber and Faber – “Square Haunting”, by Francesca Wade.

The book is a look at the lives of five inspirational and pioneering women at a point where they intersect; all five spent time living in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury and all had varied and wonderful lives. The book was highly anticipated, and didn’t let me down – it will be one of my books of the year, for sure, and it’s hard not to just turn into a gushing idiot when writing about it! 😀

The women concerned are H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf; and the book is a triumph. You can read my full review here!

“I want obliquity…” #fitzcarraldofortnight @FitzcarraldoEds @briangdillon

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Essayism by Brian Dillon

As can be seen by the pictures I’ve shared of my Fitzcarraldos, I had a number of choices for our fortnight of reading; and I thought I had settled on the ones I would tackle during the event. However, despite being thoroughly involved in “This Little Art” (as well as polyreading “Fandango” alongside it), for some reason I was suddenly hit by the urge to pick up another of my pending Fitzcarraldos. The book in question is “Essayism” by Brian Dillon, and not only did I start dipping, I actually finished it in record time… 😀

Born in Dublin in 1969, Dillon is currently UK editor of Cabinet magazine as well as teaching at the Royal College of Art, London. “Essayism” was his first Fitzcarraldo, but he’s written a number of books, myriad articles and curated exhibitions; and rather excitingly has a new book out this year. However, on to “Essayism” itself.

The book is, obviously, about essays, and the latter is a form of writing of which I’m becoming increasingly fond. I have all manner of essay collections lying about in Mount TBR and I’m often drawn to them as opposed to fiction. Maybe it’s the shorter form – manageable in the shorter chunks of reading time I often have nowadays. Whatever it is, the older I get, the more I want to read them! And Brian Dillon seems to be inordinately fond of the form too; he’s a regular practitioner, and his book is something of an extended meditation on the essay format, as well as a celebration of some of its best practitioners.

Oddly, though, it seems that the essay is hard to define, perhaps because it can encompass so much. Is there a set length? A set style? A preferred range of subjects? It seems not, as many of the examples covered by Dillon demonstrate. The authors he cites are wide-ranging, from Sir Thomas Browne through Montaigne, Woolf, Benjamin, Perec and up to more modern practitioners like Joan Didion and Susan Sontag. All of these writers have a very individual style and take on the essay form, yet all produce stimulating and fascinating pieces of writing which change the way you think about the world around you.

The essay, which in essence wants to wander, may pursue its adventure by the paradoxical means of an ordered stasis: all its elements arranged as if in a cabinet of curiosities, an elaborate microcosm that freezes in an image some version of the world outside the collection.

However, the book is not simply a contemplation of the essay in its multifarious forms; woven into Dillon’s narrative is a moving autobiographical strand, where he relates the effect that writers and writing have had on him at pivotal points in his life, as well as while negotiating a breakdown. Dillon lost both of his parents at a fairly young age, and close together; and much of his life seems to have been marked by depression, an afflication with which his mother also suffered. As someone who always turns to the written word as a necessary coping mechanism at times of deep stress, this element of the book particularly resonated.

And actually there were *so* many aspects of “Essayism” which resonated; the eye-opening effect of Paul Morley and Ian Penman’s writing in the NME of the 1980s; the soaring beauty of Virginia Woolf’s prose; and yes, that man again – Roland Barthes is a regular thread in the book, an author to whom Dillon keeps returning and one who seems to be constantly turning up in *my* line of sight.

I think what I wanted from writing – from Barthes in particular but others too – was a passage out of the dismal place in which I found myself in my mid-teens, but also some assurance that the world could not only be recast in words but had been made of language in the first place.

The unread white cover Fitzcarraldos at the start of this reading event….

One of the most interesting elements of Dillon’s dissection of the essay was the concept of these as fragments – anything from the works of Adorno to the idea of the list-as-essay (exemplified perhaps by Perec’s very wonderful “An Attempt at Exhausting a Space in Paris”). But what struck me most, I think, whilst reading this excellent book was how the essay reflects so much the personality of the author; and I realised I’m often looking for some kind of connection with an author when I read, a tendency which is more pronounced in the shorter form of the essay.

Essays, ancient and modern, can seem precious in their self-presentation, like things too well made ever to be handled. Touch them however they are likely to come alive with the sedimented evidence of years; a constellation of glittering motes surrounds the supposedly solid thing, and the essay reveals itself to have been less compact and smooth than thought, but instead unbounded and mobile, a form with ambitions to be unformed.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I read “Essayism” in the middle of also reading “This Little Art” by Kate Briggs; and interestingly, my response to each of these books was enhanced by reading the other. There are threads that connect them both, which I hope will become clear when I get to “Art”; however, I suspect I’ll only scratch the surface of this pair of remarkable works.

Anyway; “Essayism” turned out to be a quite marvellous and involving read; thought-provoking, moving, absorbing and, very dangerously, with a reading list in the back! (I *have* fortunately read quite of a few of the books suggested). I was reminded occasionally of Simon Critchley’s writings, with a similar mix of personal and meditative as featured here, though Dillon’s voice is very individual and his exploration of the essay quite fascinating. I’m very glad some kind of force impelled me to pick this one up for the #Fitzcarraldofortnight, and I suspect I may have to track down his other title from the publisher… ;D

“….the shadows moved, and nothing fitted together any more…” #fitzcarraldofortnight @FitzcarraldoEds

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Dark Satellites by Clemens Meyers
Translated by Katy Derbyshire

On to my second new read for our Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight and it’s back to blue cover fiction; this time in the form of a rather wonderful translated collection of short works by Clemens Meyers. Meyers is an author new to me; born in Germany, he held a variety of jobs before turning to writing, and his most recent novel “Bricks and Mortar” has been longlisted, shortlisted and won a number of prizes. I’ve seen that novel described as “hallucinatory” and “modernist” and I think those are words that could definitely be applied to “Dark Satellites”.

Set in contemporary Germany, Meyers’ stories are loosely gathered into three sections, each with a short, fragmentary opening piece. His works tell the tales of maginalised characters; from a lonely train cleaner making friends with a hairdresser, through a man unable to cope with his house being burgled to the casual friendship between a retired jockey and a railway company clerk, these are people who live on the margins. This is a Germany reunited after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but there are echoes of the past on both sides of the Wall, and the new world which has been built is not necessarily a good place for all. The settings are often a kind of edgeland, peripheral to any new centre, and many of the protagonists are struggling to make sense of the changes which have taken place around them and our modern multi-cultural world.

They came from a realm of shadows that had formed over decades in the rear yards of the Coal Quarter, small factories with round, soot-blackened chimneys where pigeons perched when no smoke rose from the outlets, workshops, coal merchants, dilapidated buildings with small birch forests growing on their roofs, empty, decaying factories, passageways to the road and to the light, but the light outside was murky too; shadows lay over these yards where I’d met them many years ago, and as I returned to them now the sun was shining, and nothing fitted together any more.

The writing in these stories is extraordinary; Meyers favours long sinuous sentences, sometimes a paragraph in length, which are often quite beautiful and almost have a hypnotic effect while you’re reading. Time is a fluid concept in Meyers’ stories and the narratives slip back and forth between past and present, different settings and varying points of the lives of his protagonists. This fluidity adds to the sense of dislocation his characters are experiencing and the collection title is apt; these characters are satellites of the modern world, rather than direct participants.

Clemens Meyers by Enno Seifried via Wikimedia Commons

I can see why the description “hallucinatory” was used for Meyers’ writing, as you *do* have to pay attention while the narrative regularly shifts time and place, blurring any chronological continuity. Nevertheless, that attention will bring great rewards as these are stories that most definitely deserve the word haunting – the moving characters and their lives stay with you, and the world which Meyers conjures is at times like dream-like and always vivid.

So “Dark Satellites” is another wonderful release from Fitzcarraldo which really does live up to their ethos of focusing on “ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing”. Meyers’ book is all of those things, peopled with memorable characters, and I highly recommend it!

#fitzcarraldofortnight – a look back at some previous reads during my Fitzcarraldo journey! @FitzcarraldoEds

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As we make our way through #fitzcarraldofortnight, I thought it might be nice to take a look back at the books I’ve read from the publisher. As I shared earlier, this is my collection of their books:

There are of course two ways of looking at my collection; firstly, in terms of subject matter, blue cover are fiction, and white covers are non-fiction! However, with Fitzcarraldo that divide is often blurred, which is fine by me!

So here are my blue covers:

And here are my white:

They all look and sound delicious, as far as I’m concerned!

The other split is, of course, read, and unread! Here is my ‘read’ pile:

Fortunately (phew!) it’s the majority of the books and there are some really wonderful titles there.

The first Fitzcarraldo I read, back in 2018, was “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk, which is probably the book which is most responsible for bringing the publisher to a wider audience (for obvious reasons…) I said at the time that it was “an extraordinary work, a real tour de force with soaring prose and unforgettable stories. Tokarczuk weaves a wonderful tapestry of travellers’ tales whilst all the while digging down into the human psyche to see what it is that motivates us and what it means to be human. Reading “Flights” is like taking a wide-ranging and thought-provoking journey.” I still stand by that – fabulous book….

My next Fitzcarraldo, somewhat inevitably, was Tokarczuk’s “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” which was very different to “Flights”, but just as powerful and affecting. I concluded that ““Plow” is another deeply moving, completely involving and thoroughly original book by Olga Tokarczuk, and I could have pulled out so many more quotes than I actually have… I reckon that this one will also end up in my books of the year round up in December. Tokarczuk is an author of originality and stature, and “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” is a masterly work.” I really do want to read more Tokarczuk!

Next up on my Fitzcarraldo journey was another blue cover, “Ash Before Oak” by Jeremy Cooper. Taking the format of a diary or journal, it follows the life of an unnamed male narrator, who may or may not be the author. The book takes in his life in the country, the world around him and his fragile emotional state. It’s an immersive read, covering big topics including breakdown and suicide attempts, as well as the effect of the natural world on humans. Despite the potential blurring of the lines between fiction and fact, I concluded that that element really didn’t matter; “It’s a book I found myself reading compulsively, drawn in by the imagery of the natural world around the narrator and the wish to follow his journey to whatever end it reached. In many ways, the book reads as an act of catharsis, of writing out of one’s pain, and the result is really stunning.”

By the time I got to my next Fitzcarraldo, I had really developed a taste for these lovely, thought-provoking books. As part of #WITmonth I read “Vivian” by Christina Hesselholdt, a fictionalised life of the iconic photographer Vivian Maier. This was a brilliantly written work, blurring the lines again and even allowing the narrator a snarky voice of their own, letting them insert themself into the narrative! I opined ““Vivian” … with its clever structure, wonderful writing, playful yet thought-provoking narrative, and all-round fascinating story, is a real winner. It’s such a deep, complex and provocative book that I could say a lot more about it.. “Vivian” is … a wonderful read, highly recommended.”

So far, I had only read Fitzcarraldo blue covers, but the release of a new collection of writing from Ian Penman, an author I’ve read since my teens, drew me towards reading a white cover – the marvellous anthology “It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track”. Penman is one of those authors who can make any topic he writes about fascinating and enlightening, and this book did not let me down! This is writing about music which draws in all manner of erudite references, as well as social commentary, and makes you look at things in a new light. As I said at the time, “Even if you think you don’t like the artists covered or writings about music, I would recommend you read this marvellous selection of pieces; Ian Penman was one of the first writers I read who made me realise that you could push the cultural boundaries and that it was a good thing to do so – and he’s still doing it!”

Emboldened by my first successful white cover Fitzcarraldo, I invested in several more non-fiction works when they had an amazing sale on. The first I read from this selection was a slim, intriguing and though-provoking work from philosopher Simon Critchley – “Notes on Suicide”. Critchley’s book takes on an emotive and difficult subject to discuss; and his measured look at why some might choose to end their lives is an important contribution to that dialogue. I said at the time, “However, I feel that what Critchley brings to his essay on the subject is a calm and rational look at why we might choose to end our lives, a kind of history of the subject, as well as a personal viewpoint of how the subject affects him. His philosophical training gives him the necessary expertise to discuss suicide as a concept and I feel his book is definitely adds much to our understanding of the human condition.” That’s a judgement I stand by and I’ve gone on to read another book of his, which featured on the blog earlier this week.

That book was “Memory Theatre”, a different kind of book from “Notes” and yet one which was just as absorbing and thought-provoking. Critchley explores the ancient concepts of the memory palace and memory theatre, creating in the mind a structure filled with visual mnemonics to aid memory and knowledge. It was a fascinating book which most definitely blurred the lines between genres – most interesting and you can read my thoughts here!

Well – that’s my Fitzcarraldo journey so far. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed there’s one book on the ‘read’ pile I haven’t mentioned – “Dark Satellites” by Clemens Meyer. My thoughts on that will appear on the Ramblings next week – but suffice to say it’s another thought-provoking read!

So, after going through the Fitzcarraldos I’ve read, I’m left with my unread pile which looks like this:

Interestingly, they’re all white cover non fiction! And all sound wonderful and all need to be read as soon as I can get to them. Will I read any before the end of our fortnight? That will be revealed later… ;D

A new translation of a prescient dystopian book – over @ShinyNewBooks #kallocain @classicpenguins @DavidWMcDuff

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I have a new review up at Shiny New Books today which I wanted to share with you; and it’s of a fascinating, scary and prescient book which could perhaps be described as the missing link between “Brave New World” and “Nineteen Eighty Four”!

That’s a little flippant perhaps; but the book in question *does* fall chronologically between the two and creates a terrifying world of the future where individuality and human emotion has been stamped out, to be replaced with a tightly controlled World State.

The book is “Kallocain” by Karin Boye, here in a lovely Penguin Classics edition, rendered into a wonderful new English version by veteran translator David McDuff. It’s a fascinating read, and you can find my full review here at Shiny!

“… the unity of the human and the divine” #fitzcarraldofortnight @FitzcarraldoEds

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Memory Theatre by Simon Critchley

I have been wrestling with some very complex works recently on the Ramblings (cough, cough, “Mythologies”…); and this slim but dense book from Fitzcarraldo is no exception. When I was looking through my pile of unreads to choose what to read for our #fitzcarraldofortnight, “Memory Theatre” jumped out at me because it sounded intriguing, and because I’d found Critchley’s other Fitzcarraldo title to be very stimulating. So “Memory Theatre” it was, then…

Ok. First up, what’s a memory theatre? Welll, an online definition states that it’s “An imaginary building thought of as comprising various rooms and areas, each containing mnemonic objects and features that symbolize particular ideas, which can be visualized mentally as a systematic method of remembering those ideas.” So, a way of helping us remember, fix memories and ideas, by rooting them in a specific space that acts as a visual trigger to bringing back the memory. It’s a clever idea, with a long history: the concept has its roots in the 16th century when an Italian philosopher Guilio Camillo wrote a book on the subject. The memory palace existed inside the mind, where a person could visualise a structure with symbols in it to act as those triggers, a sort of visual mnemonic – what Wikipedia calls “a spatial representation of chronology”. The theatre takes this a step further, arranging ideas according to importance, with the ultimate end of understanding the past and everything in it as well as being able to predict the future. At least, that’s how I interpret it – correct me anyone if you think I’m wrong…

Poetry lets us see things as they are. It lets us see particulars being various.… The poet sings a song that is beyond us and yet it is ourselves that it sings. Things change when the poet sings them, but they are still our things: recognizable, common, near, low. We hear the poet sing and press back against the pressure of reality.

Critchley’s starting point for his exploration of the topic is the discovery of a collection of boxes which appear in his office one day. They originate from a colleague, a French philosopher called Michel Haar who has been something of a mentor, and who has died in a savage summer heatwave. The boxes contain all manner of unpublished papers by Haar, and delving into them Critchley discovers a brilliant text on the ancient art of memory as well as a collection of astrological charts drawn by Haar which preduct the deaths of various philosophers (some know to both Haar and Critchley).

Through techniques of memory, the human being can achieve absolute knowledge and become divine.

Alarmingly, one chart predicts the course of Critchley’s own life and death; and somewhat inevitably Critchley becomes obsessed by this, as well as by a model memory theatre and the whole concept of the memory theatre itself. Needless to say, his mental state disintegrates somewhat at this point…

A representation of the memory theatre

“Memory Theatre” is a book which defies classificiation, and blurs the lines between genres much more than did “Notes on Suicide”. Fairly obviously, despite the astrological chart, Critchley does not die as predicted as he’s still amongst us now, working and writing. But the book shows how an idea can take hold of a person to such a degree that it affects their life dramatically; and how we humans have been searching for meaning for pretty much all of our existence, and haven’t necessarily found it. Critchley’s experiments in constructing his own memory theatre fail, and in fact he comes to the conclusion that it isn’t really possible to make something so fixed and static that contains all memory, all knowledge and the future. Instead he envisages something which is “an endlessly recreating, re-enacting memory mechanism.” Hmm – perhaps he thinks the Internet might be the answer then… ;D

Might not the space of a town or city be seen as a memory theatre? One walks or moves in the city, most Bloom-like, and somehow the entirety of the past is silently whispering through locations – ghostly and sepulchral. Like a huge question mark. And implicitly that story becomes one about the future as well. The city is a spatial network of memory traces, but also a vast predictive machine.

As I’ve said, this is a work which certainly stretches the boundaries of what kind of book it is. Part philosophy, part memoir and yes, part fiction, it really is a fascinating read. I say fiction, because in the glossary at the back of the book Critchley says of his friend Michel Haar that some of what appears about him in the book is not true… In addition, several characters are invented, and this all adds up to a heady and stimulating book about which it’s worth remembering that just because a work is branded non-fiction doesn’t necessarily make it fact…

Anyway. At the end of the day, I’m not a philosopher, but that’s my take on “Memory Theatre”. I’m not sure how many of the memoir elements were true, but certainly if they have any basis in fact Critchley has had a complex life! The book was a fascinating read which sent me off in all sorts of different directions, exploring concepts and philosophies and historical figures – ironically, none of which I would have been able to do without the memory theatre of the internet…. 😀 Another intriguing book from Fitzcarraldo, and I’m glad our #fitzcarraldofortnight provoked me into reading it right now.

Launching Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight – let the reading begin! @FitzcarraldoEds #fitzcarraldofortnight

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Well, I hope you’re all prepared to get reading and discussing some wonderful books; because today is launch day for Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight, a reading event co-hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life and myself here on the Ramblings! As mentioned in our original announcement, we both have plenty of beautiful Fitzcarraldos on our TBR piles, and so a dedicated fortnight seems the ideal way to get reading some of them, as well as exploring the beautiful and intriguing titles Fitzcarraldo publish.

Based in London, this independent publisher was founded in 2014 and has released a steady stream of rather marvellous books. Their paperback editions, designed by Ray O’Meara with French flaps and colour coded covers, are readily identifiable in shops (which is always a good thing!) and look striking when shelved or piled together – for example, here is *my* Fitzcarraldo collection!

The publisher states that its intention is to “focus on ambitious, imaginative and innovative writing, both in translation and in the English language” and it’s certainly been my experience that the books I’ve read from them fulfil that criteria.

I’m sure many of you have read or are reading Fitzcarraldos, so please share any comments and links below, on this opening post. Lizzy will be featuring some posts on translators, and I will be mostly sharing thoughts on books I’ve read. We look forward to as many of  you as possible joining in with us and sharing the love of Fitzcarraldo Editions – a really exciting and innovative publisher! 😀

 

On My Book Table…5 – too many books!!

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Oh dear. If you follow me at all on social media, you might well have gained the impression that there have been a  *lot* of books coming into the Ramblings lately from a variety of sources. There have been review books, lovely finds in charity shops and kind fellow bloggers contributing to Mount TBR. When you add in the fact that I have had a book token plus money off on my Waterstones loyalty card, it’s clear things have got a little out of control… The book table was looking *very* crowded, so much so that Mr. Kaggsy was starting to get a wee bit concerned that it might collapse under the weight of all the volumes on it. And I have to admit that seeing a huge great mound of books lurking there glaring at me and demanding to be read was making me feel very pressured. So I took drastic action at the weekend and took them all off the table, had a shuffle and an organise and – well, you’ll see at the end of this post how I left the table…

But I thought I would share some of the books which are currently vying for attention, posing nicely on the table before being moved – there really are some tantalising titles waiting in the wings!

First up is the three volumes of Robert Musil’s “The Man Without Qualities”. There is a readalong going on on Twitter, and this is a book I’ve wanted to read for ages. Have I picked it up and started it? No… I do want to, and it’s a year long challenge. So let’s hope I can at least *start* reading them this year.

Ah Proust… Reading “A La Recherce…” is also trending all over Twitter. I’ve read the first two novels in the sequence, and invested in some reasonably priced hardback copies in the hope this would have the effect of getting me reading Proust again. Plus I have some beautiful shorter works and peripheral works lurking. Again, hopefully I will get going with this soon.

To complicate things further, I have some *very* large Oulipo related books just screaming for attention. There’s Calvino. There’s Perec. I adore them both… And some incredible anthologies. Looking at them I just want to shut myself away and do nothing but read for weeks.

This not-so-little pile contains various heavier works. “Ulysses” of course – I’ve read the first chapter and again long to sink into the book. There is Montaigne and French Existentialists and all manner of dippable philosophical work. *Sigh*. All so tempting…

Speaking of French existentialists and like… I’ve always loved French authors of the 19th and 20th century and their books were some of the favourites of my twenties. This rather wobbly and imposing pile is full of things like Sartre and Gide and Barthes and Camus and Huysman and Radiguet and books about French authors. Although the first translated books I read were by Russians (in my early teens), France has a special place in my heart too…

I have been blessed with some beautiful review books by lovely publishers and just look at the variety: Virago, Russians, Bulgakov!, golden age crime, Frankenstein, Capek… Well, what choices.

There there are random recent arrivals from various sources, many of which might be familiar from my Instagram feed. “Party Fun with Kant” came from Lizzy (thank you Lizzy!) and looks fab! “Left Bank” should perhaps have been in the French pile above, and was an impulse buy with my book token from Waterstones at the weekend (well, not quite impulse – I’d looked at it the previous weekend, walked away and of course went back for it a week later!)

Of course, Lizzy and I will be hosting the Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight starting on Sunday, and this pile of their lovely books contains some titles I haven’t read yet. I love Fitzcarraldos – always so interesting and off-centre!

So as you can see, I’m suffering from too many choices at the moment. A good number of these were on the book table, and moving *everything* off it has helped to clarify my mind a little bit, as well as stopping me feeling quite so overwhelmed. I think things are not being helped by my current speed of reading. I did really well in January, getting through some marvellous works quite quickly. However, work is fairly horrendous right now, meaning I’m fairly exhausted when I get home and don’t always have the mental energy to engage with reading for any length of time. To take the pressure off, I’ve reduced the book table to hosting one single book, the one I’m currently reading:

“This Little Art” is one of the Fitzcarraldos I hadn’t read yet, but it’s quite perfect for me at the moment. It’s about translation, lots of Barthes! and is absolutely fab so far. I’ll hope to get it finished in time to review during our #fitzcarraldofortnight, but it’s not a book to rush, rather one to savour.

Am I the only one who struggles with too many choices? Which would you choose from the above piles to tackle next?? ;D

 

“The borders of reality had reconfigured…” #yearofthemonkey #pattismith

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The Year of the Monkey by Patti Smith

As I’ve said before on the Ramblings, one of my lifelong inspirations has been the creative force that is Patti Smith; ever since I first encountered her music in 1975 I’ve been hooked, and her writings over the years have become just as important as her music. I featured my original Patti book collection some years back when I read her bestselling “M-Train”; I found it a wonderful read and an essential addition to my Patti shelves. Her most recent book, “Year of the Monkey” came out in the autumn of last year and I don’t quite know why it’s taken me so long to pick it up. Nevertheless, I did so during January, and it was a wild and fascinating read.

The recent Chinese Year of the Monkey ran from 8th February, 2016 until 27th January, 2017 and Smith’s book covers that period in her life, a period where many changes were taking place. As I mentioned in my review of “M-Train”, Smith’s life has been scattered with tragedy; the early loss of her husband and brother, the death of her long-time associate Robert Mapplethorpe; and this year saw significant changes too. The book opens with Smith visiting old friend Sandy Pearlman in hospital, where he’s in a coma following a brain haemorrhage; old friend Lenny Kaye is on hand. This sets off a chain of wanderings across the country (and indeed the globe) as Smith negotiates a world undertaking catastrophic changes. Another old friend and former partner, San Shepard, is bedbound and nearing his life’s end; Smith spends time with him acting as an amanuensis. She contemplates the horrors of American politics, encounters (or hallucinates) a fellow Bolano-obsessive called Ernest; and converses with a snarky Dream Motel sign on the West Coast. It’s pure Smith.

‘Hallucinatory’ is probably the crucial word here, as the book (much more so than her more recent works) is a heady blend of the real and the imagined, actual experience and perceived experience. Smith has always been prone to sensing signs,symbols and portents, and that tendency is very prevalent here. It adds up to a beautiful and absorbing piece of work that not only lets you have a peep into Smith’s real world (the leaky skylight of her New York flat, the scrubby garden of her Rockaway Beach retreat) but also the world of her imagination; the visions, the obsessions, the fantasies and the journeys of the mind.

Marcus Aurelius asks us to note the passing of time with open eyes. Ten thousand years or ten thousand days, nothing can stop time, or change the fact that I would be turning seventy in the year of the monkey. Seventy. Merely a number but one indicating the passing of a significant percentage of the allotted sand in an egg timer, with oneself the darn egg. The grains pour and I find myself missing the dead more than usual. I noticed that I cry more when watching television, triggered by romance, a retiring detective shot in the back while staring into the sea, a weary father lifting his infant from the crib. I notice that my own tears burn my eyes, that I am no longer a fast runner and that my sense of time seems to be accelerating.

Again, as with “M-Train”, there is an attempt to reckon with mortality, and also with ageing. As she writes, Smith is approaching her 70th birthday and taking stock of herself. Although I’m a way off that myself, I empathised with her awareness of time running out and the strong need to grasp every moment. But despite her moments of doubt, she is in the end optimistic; and able to hope that despite the horrors of the way her country is headed, the world will sort itself out.

Lenny and I ate our congee and drank oolong tea in silent gratitude, still alive; born three days apart, seventy and silver haired, bowing to fate.

“Year…” is illustrated with Smith’s signature polaroid images which add to the beauty of the whole experience of reading it. And of course, whenever I read Smith there are always striking resonances; she references authors and artists I love (Gogol, Bruno Schulz, Cocteau et al), and I’m reminded that there are people out there who still love the creators that I love too.

Some of my Patti books…

Needless to say, I devoured “Year of the Monkey” in huge gulps, revelling in Smith’s prose, which veers from the factual to the fanciful, often breathlessly. She’s a wonderful writer, with a singular voice which is recognisable whichever medium she’s working in. “Year…” is a poetic, absorbing, entertaining and beautiful book which reminded me just how much I love Patti Smith – as well as sending me off to dig out her music, and drive Mr. Kaggsy crazy! Highly recommended! (The book, that is – not driving poor Mr. Kaggsy crazy! 😀 )

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