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#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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