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“I felt a warm rasping at my throat..” @RenardPress #DraculasGuest

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I’m slipping this post in out of order – I usually like to cover books in order of reading them! – as I wanted to flag up this lovely little book which recently arrived from Renard Press. It’s appropriate reading for the increasingly darker nights, and makes a wonderful adjuct to a much-loved classic. The book is “Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker, and it has an interesting history!

This short work was first published in 1914 after Stoker’s death in 1912. His widow, Florence, collected together a number of short works which she published as “Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories”, stating in her preface that the title work was a “hitherto unpublished episode from Dracula … originally excised owing to the length of the book”. Here, the story is presented as a standalone work, with the usual excellent supporting material from Renard, and it makes fascinating reading.

“Dracula” itself opens with entries from Jonathan Harker’s journal as he makes his way to meet the mysterious Count. However, “Dracula’s Guest” is posited as a possible pre-opening, and features an unnamed narrator (presumably Harker) making an unexpected stop in a graveyard on Walpurgis Night and having some rather unnerving encounters… More than this I cannot say, but the story ends with a hint as to what will follow…

“Guest…” itself is quite a chilling little work which definitely captures the spooky and menacing surrounds in which Harker finds himself. It would have made an interesting opening to the main work and might perhaps have changed a reader’s perception as to what was to come. The Renard edition also reproduces the published opening of “Dracula” so that you can compare the two and consider the effect that “Guest” would have had on your reading of the book had it been inserted.

As usual with Renard, there’s supporting material in the form of information about Stoker himself, and all of this adds up to a nice little volume which certainly enhances a reading of “Dracula” and also makes a shivery short work in its own right. I’m a huge fan of Stoker’s masterpiece, and I do believe that the various films etc which have come after it really don’t do it justice. “Dracula’s Guest” is a fascinating addition to that work and definitely worth tracking down if you’re a fan too. Now I just have to decide whether I’m going to shelve it with my Renard collection or next to my edition of Dracula… 🙄🙄

 

“There’s nothing like a dead language when you’re dealing with a live volcano.” @renardpress #Saki #WestminsterAlice

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It seems somewhat apt that this book should arrive, and I should read it so promptly, during a time when the shenanigans going on in the Halls of Westminster become more and more outrageous and depressing. “The Westminster Alice“, a satire by the wonderful author Saki, is the latest instalment in my subscription with the lovely Renard Press, purveyors of books and pamphlets which are definitely useful as well as beautiful! Their Orwell pamphlets, which I covered here, certainly focus the mind on the madness of nations and governments; and “Westminster…” proves that nothing has changed in politics, and those in charge are not getting any wiser…

Saki, who I’ve read and love and written about before, was born Hector Hugh Munro; his life was a short one, as he died during the First World War. Although 43 at the time, and therefore too old to be called up, he volunteered; Saki was killed in action during the Battle of the Ancre, a tragic loss (like all the millions of that war). The work he left behind is a wonderful legacy, though, and I was really pleased that Renard were publishing this as I hadn’t yet read it.

“The Westminster Alice” is a series of vignettes which were originally published in the Westminster Gazette in 1902. They are, of course, parodies of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” books and this lovely edition reproduces the wonderul illustrations which accompanied them by F. Carruthers Gould. I have to single these out for special mention, as they capture the spirit of Tenniel’s original drawings quite marvellously!

‘Well, of all the gubernatorial…’ said Alice to herself when she got outside. She did not quite know what it meant, but it was immense relief to be able to come out with a word of six syllables.

So Alice wanders amongst the denizens of Westminster at the start of the twentieth century with the Cheshire Cat as her guide (I love the Cheshire Cat – possibly my favourite Alice character!). They encounter an Ineptitude (the Conservative Prime Minister – hmmm, sounds familiar, that….); Humpty Dumpty (the Commander in Chief of the British Forces at the Boer War, who seems incapable of stringing a sentence together); The Duchess, who is actually the Archbishop of Canterbury, and who certainly shouldn’t be left in charge of a child; and the Caterpillar, who is the Speaker of the House of Commons, and seems unwilling to let anyone get a word in. These are just a few of the characters Alice meets, and even though the politicians and luminaries are not familiar by name nowadays, their behaviour certainly is! Usefully, this edition comes with helpful supporting notes explaining who is being parodied and giving a little background.

‘It seems to be a kind of poetry,’ said Alice doubtfully. ‘At least,’ she added, ‘some of the words rhyme and none of them appear to have any particular meaning.’

However, even if you don’t know who the people are, you know the types and Saki’s writing is as witty and cutting as ever. I found myself alternately laughing and groaning as I read; the shenanigans now and then *are* laughable (some of our current politicans are quite unbelievable) but the groans come when you realise that then, as now, the people we have in charge are quite unfit for purpose. The Liberal Party of the time are presented as ineffectual, constantly getting in each other’s way and falling over each other; the ruling party is parodied as The Hotel Cecil, as so many of the top jobs have gone to family members. Plus ça change, as they say… 😦

“The Westminster Alice” is such a great read; clever, funny, spot on with the satire, and beautifully illustrated, what’s not to love? Saki is always worth reading, and I love the way Renard have produced an edition which brings together the original text and illustrations plus the excellent notation as well as a little biog of Saki at the end. Good satire and good writing are timeless and Saki certainly produced both here – highly recommended, especially if you want to be focused on just how awful our politicians are and just how little has changed in the last century or so…

“Our being for the moment is centred…” #virginiawoolf @RenardPress

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Well, I said yesterday on this very blog that I would spend some time dipping into the words of the wonderful Virginia Woolf – and indeed I did. As I shared on social media, I felt that the lovely little pamphlet of her essay “How Should One Read a Book?”, which arrived recently as part of my Renard Press subscription, would be the ideal choice. And it was – proof, if it ever was needed, that Woolf was a stunning essayist.

Woolf’s essay dates from 1925, and as a note at the front explains, was based on a paper read at a school. It was originally published in “The Common Reader: Second Series” and Renard issued it as a World Book Day Special, which I think is a brilliant idea. What’s equally brilliant, of course, is Woolf’s writing; whenever I return to it, I find it takes my breath away and I can’t believe how her prose soars.

The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.

In the essay, Woolf explores how best to be a reader, advocating following your own path and loving whatever you happen to love, despite the pressure to only read works of which others approve. It’s a credo with which I can wholeheartedly agree – and the essay ends with a much-quoted paragraph that gets my emotions every time (and no, I’m not going to quote it here – you really do need to read this essay yourself if you’re a booklover!

I shan’t go on any more about how brilliant the essay is, because it’s Woolf which in my mind equal genius. Instead, I shall share a couple more sentences and urge you to track down a copy of this (and indeed anything by her). Virginia Woolf left an incredible legacy, and we readers are all the more fortunate because of it.

To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all that the novelist – the great artist – gives you.

…merely by going from friend to friend, from garden to garden, from house to house, we have passed from one end of English literature to another and wake to find ourselves here again in the present, if we can so differentiate this moment from all that have gone before. This, then, is one of the ways in which we can read these lives and letters; we can make them light up the many windows of the past; we can watch the famous dead in their familiar habits and fancy sometimes that we are very close and can surprise their secrets, and sometimes we may pull out a play or a poem that they have written and see whether it reads differently in the presence of the author.

(on reading biographies)

“…one has to think fearlessly…” @renardpress #ReadIndies #GeorgeOrwell

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Today’s indie press needs no introduction on the Ramblings, as I’ve featured them many times; in fact, I even interviewed Will, the man behind the imprint, for Shiny New Books! They are, of course, Renard Press, purveyors of lovely handbound editions of a really fascinating range of works; and today I want to talk about their recent release of some essays from one of my favourite authors of all time – George Orwell!

Renard have recently issued a lovely set of Orwellian pamphlets, each featuring one of the great man’s essays; and as well as being beautiful objects, they’re a timely reminder of how relevant his writing still is. Renard’s pamphlets are hand bound, each with its own bookmark and with a removeable dustjacket; this is a lovely format, and as well as having decent sized type on quality paper (making it easy to read…), they look rather lovely on the shelves! Onto the essays themselves!

Up first is “Why I Write”, the most fundamental thing an author considers, I suppose. After providing a kind of mini summary of biography, telling of his early attempts at poetry and short stories, Orwell explores the theme of constantly telling a story in his head and covers his development as a writer. He discusses the main motivations for writing, and spells out the importance of the political and the personal meeting in his own works. His politics are as clearly laid out as his writing, and it’s obvious that he feels his best writing is that which has a political as well as artistic purpose.

Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, AGAINST totalitarianism and FOR democratic socialism, as I understand it.

Pamphlet 2 of the Essays features “Politics and the English Language”. This is a fascinating essay, which I’ve read before though possibly haven’t written about; and in it Orwell explores the kind of political language which is, as he says, “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted that from an anthology of his writing before, and he’s spot on. In this world of spin and fake news and the media feeding us constant lies, Orwell’s commentary on the distortion of political language is an essential counterpoint to the nonsense being flung at us from every angle. Quite brilliant.

In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.

The third essay is “The Prevention of Literature”, which I’ve read before in one of my Penguin Great Ideas volumes. It’s a deep and thoughtful discussion of how political regimes affect the literature of their authors, and Orwell is so clear eyed about the effect of totalitarianism on writing, on what can survive during a dictatorship and about the pressures on authors. Interestingly, he thinks poetry has the best chance in a country under tight control, and he may well be right. Lots of food for thought here.

…in England the immediate enemies of truthfulness, and hence of freedom of thought, are the press lords, the film magnates and the bureaucrats…

Pamphlet 4 contains “Politics vs. Literature”, the longest of the four essays, and a really fascinating one. It’s subtitled “An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels”, and in it Orwell takes a close look not only Swift’s great work but also his politics and viewpoints. Despite loving Swift and his book, Orwell is critical of the thinking expressed in the book, even equating Swift with Tolstoy when it comes to both men’s intolerance. Nevertheless, he does feel that despite his disagreement with Swift politically he loves the book, considering it a great work of art; and feels that even if a book expresses a viewpoint with which he disagrees, it can still be good!

Orwell is always a wonderful essayist to read, expressing his arguments so clearly and in such seemingly plain yet actually quite sophisticated language. I have numerous collections of his writings, but somehow reading them in pamphlet form worked quite brilliantly. Not only was I not pressured or overwhelmed by the vast amount of his wisdom waiting to be discovered, the format is a pleasure to read physically, and there is time to pause after finishing each pamphlet to reflect. I don’t know if Renard are planning to issue more Orwell essays like this, but I do hope they do. It’s a wonderful initiative, a great way to visit (or revisit) the great man’s works, and they really *are* going to look pretty on my Orwell shelf… [ You *do* all have an Orwell shelf, don’t you? 😉 ]

#ReadIndies – some independent publishers from my shelves!

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As you might have noticed, we’re edging ever closer to February and Reading Independent Publishers Month! Hopefully you’ve all been trawling your TBRs to find suitable reads, or even purchasing the odd book or three to help support our smaller presses. However, I thought it might be nice to share a few images of some of my indie books – let’s face it, gratuitous pictures of books are always fun, and this also might give you a few ideas for interesting reads, should you need them. So here goes!

First up, let’s take a look at Fitzcarraldo Editions, the subject of Lizzy and my Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight last year:

These are books from the publisher I’ve read – quite a few of them actually! And all were marvellous, whether blue fiction or white non-fiction titles. However, I still have some unread:

All of these look wonderful, and there are also some ARCs hanging about the house too. There will definitely be Fitzcarraldo titles read during February – watch this space to see which ones! 😀

Next up let’s have some Versos:

Verso are a left-wing publisher with a wide range of publications from politics and philosophy to fiction and biography (and they do a diary and a notebook…) I signed up for their book club last year and haven’t regretted it – some fascinating physical books (and shedloads of ebooks) have come my way and I am also certain there will be Verso books appearing in Febuary’s posts. I mean, look! A Saramago I haven’t read yet!!

A more recent discovery for me has been Little Toller:

A smaller collection of these so far – but both were recent successes (the Skelton is here and the Thorpe here). I have another Little Toller lurking which promises to be just as good!

One of my all time favourite indie presses is Notting Hill Editions, and I have a larger collection of these:

NHE produced beautiful books, often essay collections or anthologies, but also works which are unclassifiable – but all are wonderful, and since they published my beloved Perec and Barthes they’re always welcome on my shelves. Plus, they *also* do notebooks… ;D

Let’s see what else I can track down – well, here’s a few things from another lockdown discovery, Sublunary Editions:

Based in the USA, they publish all manner of fascinating texts in different formats and I’ve loved what I’ve read from them so far. Like many of the indies, they push the boundaries in terms of both form and content, which is wonderful.

Based ‘oop North’ in Manchester, Comma Press produced some amazing books; as well as two wonderful collections of M. John Harrison’s shorter works, I loved their Book of Newcastle.

Here are the MJH books; Comma is definitely an imprint worth exploring!

A publisher I’ve been reading for a bit longer is Pushkin Press and here’s some of my collection (probably not all of them, as I they’re not all shelved together):

Not shown here are my Russian author Pushkins which are on my Russian shelves. But you can see a few other interesting publishers like Peter Owen, Calder, Granta and Melville House Press (assuming they’re all indies…)

Some poetry next, in the form of Bloodaxe Books:

Again, this is not all my Bloodaxes – I have several on the poetry shelves and also the TBR. The great Basil Bunting features here and plenty of stuff which hails from Newcastle. Really, I should consider doing a month of reading only poetry…

Back to US publishers, and here we have some works from NYRB Classics – again, I’m presuming they count as an indie press. I’ve read a *lot* of their books and have many TBR – always fascinating, and lovely to see them reissuing so many lost works.

And last, a couple of more recent finds, in the form of Fum d’Estampa and Renard Press:

Here you can see a few of my Fum d’Estampa titles – beautiful translations from the Catalan, and in such lovely covers. At least one of their books will be featuring in #ReadIndies month! And next to them is the beautiful shiny edition of Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” from Renard Press – here is another image:

Both of these indies are presses I’ve subscribed to, and haven’t regretted it; a regular supply of interesting and beautiful new reading material has been helping keep me sane in these pandemic times.

So there you go – just a few of the indie books on my shelves. There are so many other publishers I could have mentioned or featured, had I more time and space (and been able to find them – where *is* my small collection of Peirene Press books???) But hopefully this might give you some ideas of what to read during February – there are riches to be found from independent publishers! 😀

2020 in Books – in which I once again fail to pick an outright winner…. ;D

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As is traditional on the Ramblings, I’m going to take a look back over my year of reading to pick out some highlights. It certainly has been a very strange and unpleasant year, unlike any I’ve known – I hope 2021 will be better, but who knows what’s to come. Books have, as always, been a comfort and my coping mechanism; and I *have* read a little more than usual, despite the strains of coping with a pandemic world. As usual, I’m not going to do any kind of countdown or top ten – let’s just look at the bookish things which have kept me going!

Comfort reading

A favourite from this year’s BLCC’s releases!

2020 has most definitely been year when there’s been a need for comfort reading. My go-to books are Golden Age crime and once again the British Library Crime Classics have been a source of great joy. I’ve read a good number, and not a dud amongst them! I’ve also felt the urge to do a sudden bit of re-reading – for example, at one point needing pick up Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and revisit the wonderfully perfect ending. Longing for less complex times, I guess.

Indie Presses and Subscriptions

Some of the treats from my Renard Press sub.

If this year has been anything for me, it’s been the year of indie presses and subscriptions! Despite the lockdowns and restrictions, it’s been a joy to see independent publishers flourishing, supported by the love of serious readers and booklovers. I have spent happy hours with many wonderful indie imprints, authors and books, including Notting Hill Editions, Little Toller, Fum d’Estampa, Salt, Galley Beggar, Sublunary Editions and Renard Press; in fact, I did a nice little Q&A with Will Dady, the man behind the latter, for Shiny New Books. And of course it’s been lovely to keep up with Fizcarraldo Editions, who’ve released some quite marvellous volumes this year.

Which leads me on to…

Challenges/Events

I tend to steer away from most of these nowadays, as I find I get all enthusiastic about joining in then instantly want to go off in another direction! However, I did get involved in a Twitter-based readalong of the marvellous Malicroix (published by NYRB Classics), thanks to the influence of Dorian Stuber! A wonderful book and a great joy to take part in this! I’ve managed to reboot some of my personal reading projects, and even expand their scope – let’s see how that works out then…

Fitzcarraldos – I love Fitzcarraldos…

I also ended up co-hosting a two week celebration of the aforementioned Fitzcarraldo with Lizzy – Fitzcarraldo Editions Fortnight. Not only was this great fun, but it also got me reading quite a bit of my TBR – result! 😀

Which leads me on to…

Reading Weeks

As usual, Simon and I co-hosted two Reading Club Weeks this year, focused on 1920 and 1956. These are always such fun – if you haven’t encountered them, we basically read whatever we want from the year in question, review, post on blogs and other social media and share ideas of great books from the year. We’ll be hosting another in April 2021 so do join in! 😀

Social Media

Social media of all kinds has become pretty much a lifeline over 2020 and it’s been great to be able to keep in touch over the various platforms. Book Twitter is particularly lovely and I have been lucky enough to interact with some wonderful people on there. There have been postcards going around the world and moral support offered to our online friends who have suffered losses over the year. It is a lovely place to visit. Of course, there are always so many reading events to tempt me there, but mostly I manage to hold back because I know I will fail… I didn’t with Malicroix though, so result!

A little pile of my Harvill Leopards!

Twitter was also responsible for the Harvill Leopard Hunt, as it shall be titled, where a number of interested bookish people contributed to a wonderful master list of books issued in that imprint by Tim at Half Print Press. It was huge fun being involved in the detective work, and the resulting checklist is a thing of great beauty and use – you can check it out here! (Do take a look at Half Pint Press too – they produce some gorgeous things!)

Roland Barthes, a documentary and another interview!

Although I was often looking for comfort reads, it hasn’t all been lightweight this year. In particular, I seem to have been haunted by the spirit of Roland Barthes! I first read his Mythologies back at the end of 2019, reviewing it in January this year, and have revisited his work at various points over the year. He’s not always an easy read, but certainly fascinating, stimulating and thought-provoking!

Professor Richard Clay with Dr. Lonnie Bunch (c. Clearstory/BBC)

This also tied in with my Documentary of Year (and Decade!) 21st Century Mythologies with Richard Clay – it was quite superb, and I was delighted to welcome Richard back onto the Ramblings for a return interview. He’s always such an interesting interviewee, brimming with ideas! No doubt I shall continue to return to Barthes – there are several titles I have lurking on the TBR…

Shiny New Books

I continued to provide some reviews for Shiny New Books, the wonderful independent recommendations website. I always enjoy reading other people’s contributions and SNB covers such a wide range of books. Always worth checking out if you’re not sure what to read next, or want to find out what’s come out recently and is worth reading!

Trends in my reading

A translated work I enjoyed very much this year, which led on to many other reading ideas…

I’ve continued to read a lot in translation, from the Russian of course but also from French, German, Portuguese, Polish…. I’ve enjoyed poetry, and also a lot of non-fiction this year. There have been times when I’ve felt that I couldn’t engage properly with fiction, and so essays, philosophy, history, nature writing, travel writing and books which don’t actually fit into any category have been there for me to turn to in times of need. I plan to continue to follow no path but my own and read what I *need* to read!

Outstanding books

I’m not going to pick a best of the year, because I can’t. The kind of books I read are so disparate that it seems unfair to measure them against each other. However, I *shall* highlight some particularly special reads from 2020.

First up, I have ended the year reading Robert Macfarlane’s Underland and it’s a stunning book. Mesmerising writing and brimming with ideas and visions, it certainly lives up to its hype and it was the perfect book with which to finish off the year.

I’m a huge fan of Paul Morley’s writing, and so was delighted to be able to review his latest book, A Sound Mind, for Shiny New Books. A wonderfully Morley-esque exploration of classic music in all its shapes and forms, I absolutely loved it.

Another author whose work I’ve loved for a long time is M. John Harrison. He’s hit the public eye a bit more than usual recently, and this year saw the release of a new novel The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again. It’s another stunning read, proof that Harrison’s powers only increase with the years, and I was so pleased to see it win the Goldsmiths Prize! Lovely Comma Press also released a collection of his stories, Settling the World, which was another outstanding read.

A newer discovery for me is Andrew Lees; I read his wonderful book Mentored by a Madman last year, in a lovely paperback from Notting Hill Editions; it was a marvellous read, and Lees is such a good writer – in this book proving that literature and science go together. NHE published a new book by Lees this year, Brazil That Never Was, and I absolutely loved it. I described it in my review as a “wonderful blend of travelogue, memoir and reflection”, and Lees’ storytelling skills produced an atmospheric and memorable read. I can’t wait for his next book!

I can’t finish this section without mention of Square Haunting, which I covered in February for Shiny New Books. A quite brilliant book covering the lives of five inspirational women living in the same square in London, although at different times, it was an unforgettable read as well as an amazing work of scholarship – and it deserves all the praise it’s had!

*****

Frankly, that’s probably enough for one post – if I go on any longer I shall end up reliving the whole year and with 2020, that’s not something I necessarily want to do. The books I’ve read this year have been 99.9% pure joy (with the very occasional dud…) Whatever 2021 chucks our way I shall hang onto books as a way of maintaining some kind of sanity. Here’s to a better year for us all!

Advice from a Russian sage…. @renardpress #tolstoy #gandhi

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A Letter to a Hindu by Leo Tolstoy
(translator unknown)

A slightly unusual item here on the Ramblings today, in the form of a little hand-bound pamphlet released by the lovely Renard Press. It’s entitled “A Letter to a Hindu” and is by none other than Leo Tolstoy; and it comes with an introduction by Mahatma Gandhi! I confess it’s not a work of Tolstoy’s that I’d come across before, and so it was a real treat to get this as part of my Renard subscription (I know they like to bring out more neglected works by great authors) – and it did indeed make fascinating reading.

As the excellent supporting material explains, Tolstoy’s letter was written in 1908 to Tarak Nath Das, a Bengali scholar and revolutionary who was campaiging to free India from British Colonial rule and approached Tolstoy for support. However, that towering figure of Russian literature provided a response that perhaps was not what was wanted; although if you know anything about Tolstoy you might not be surprised…

At the point of writing the letter, the Russian author had less than two years left to live; and by then had become an intense Christian activist and pacificist. Therefore, his response to was to counsel against violence, instead suggesting that the Indian people should undertake peaceful protests and strikes. His teaching had a profound effect on Ghandi, who would go on to follow this advice to great effect. As I mentioned in my review of “A Philosophy of Walking“, learning of the vile behaviour of the British colonialists was a real shock, and so it was fascinating to see the chain of influence back to Tolstoy and to think that the latter had had a part in ending the British Empire (thank goodness…)

Tolstoy’s strong moral and religious beliefs shine through in his letter; and interestingly he is of the opinion that the Indian people (and indeed all enslaved peoples) almost collude in their condition by fighting violence with violence. If you respond in this way you are no better than those oppressing you, and therefore the pacifist approach is one he espouses. Does this work in real terms? I’m not enough of a historian (or even a psychologist!) to know; but certainly history is littered with examples of passive, non-violent resistance. I think, however, that if the oppressor is evil enough, pacifism will not really be effective. One element that did fascinate me here, though, was that in 1908 Tolstoy was referring to various indigenous peoples struggling against subjection and refers to “a Negro defending himself against the North Americans” – which seems to place him remarkably ahead of his time…

As you might have guessed, this little booklet really does provide a lot of food for thought. It’s a beautifully produced item in its own right, printed on quality paper and hand-bound; and as I said, it has excellent notes and extra material to support the main text. I *have* had occasional issues with Tolstoy and his views over recent years, but there’s no denying his power as a writer; and this is an excellent addition to your Russian classics shelf (you *do* all have one of those, don’t you???) 😀

Finding out more about a new indie press – @renardpress over @shinynewbooks!

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Something a little different to share with you today! You may well have noticed me blethering on about the lovely books and pamphlets produced by Renard Press, a new indie publisher on the block who are producing some quite beautiful editions at the moment. I have taken out a subscription to their items and just look how lovely these are!

It turns out that the man behind Renard is the multi-talented Will Dady; and I first encountered Will a while back when he was working for another indie publisher and was very kind when it came to supplying review copies! Will’s set out on his own with Renard, and I thought it might be interesting to find out more about his background, plans for the press and the kind of book he intends to print and publish. Will kindly agreed to be quizzed and you can read the results here over at Shiny New Books! Renard’s website is here, and I do feel they’re an indie to watch. I’m looking forward to seeing what they release next, and look out for my thoughts on one of their recent publications soon…. ;D

“Hunger is a powerful incentive to introspection.” @renardpress #willacather

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If you encounter me at all on social media, you may well have seen me singing the praises of a new indie publishing imprint, Renard Press. Run by Will Dady, Renard has an ambitious publishing programme lined up and has already produced some intriguing titles. Pleasingly, they offer subscriptions and having had lovely experiences with other bookish subs this year, I just couldn’t resist… The first book I received was a beautiful edition of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (as well as a gorgeous tote bag); the second package contained two beautiful hand-bound booklets – Tolstoy’s “A Letter to a Hindu” and Willa Cather’s short story “The Burglar’s Christmas”.

Now, Cather is an author I’m familiar with in that I own a number of her books; yet I have actually read very few of them which is silly really, because what I have read I’ve loved. And my BFF J. adores her… So as I was in a vague kind of reading slump, I decided to pick this one up now and I raced through it!

“Burglar’s..” is a simple seasonal tale, first published in 1896. We are in wintry Chicago and as it opens we encounter two men who are on their beam ends. With no money, no food and nowhere to go, Christmas doesn’t seem to hold much promise for the men and as they go their separate ways, we follow the younger one. As his life and character are gradually revealed, it seems he’s struck out on his own away from a comfortable background, yet has failed at every juncture. He decides to hit rock bottom and go for a seasonal burglary in an attempt to stave off starvation, with little hope of carrying on his life much further. However fate, and perhaps the spirit of Christmas, have something else in store for him…

I’m not going to say any more about the story as I don’t want to spoil it; all I will say is that the resolution is unexpected and did bring a bit of a glow to my heart! Cather writes beautifully and evocatively, really bringing her setting to life in such a short work; and I loved the writing so much I went back and read the story again! It’s a tale which would make perfect Christmas reading…

I also have to say something about the loveliness of the little hand-bound booklet. It has a plain blue cover with title band and a patterned lining paper and is just gorgeous. As someone who enjoys making their own hand-bound journals, I really appreciate a lovely object like this which so enhances the reading experience. Renard Press obviously have many strings to their bow, and I do love the fact that they’re releasing such a range of formats.

So encountering this Willa Cather short work was a real joy (and hopefully will impel me to pick up one of the books on my shelves by her sooner rather than later). Kudos to Renard for releasing such a lovely edition; and NB – anyone who knows me and would be likely to want to read this and who’s likely to get a Christmas card from me – don’t rush out and buy it… More than this I cannot say! ;D

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