Wednesday 22 December 2021

Yammering Again

I darken Shawn's doorstep once again, this time discussing a Polish classic:

Click through for a nice full-screen version!

The book is The Romance of Teresa Hennert by the great Zofia Nałkowska.

Tuesday 2 November 2021

The Neglected, Resurrected

Anyone who has read much of what I blather about here or on Twitter will know my passion for neglected, rediscovered books. As an attempt to justify this, I'd say that with nearly forgotten books from the past, as with translated literature, they need real champions to get them into print. They're not chasing the latest trend, so they don't fit easily into modern publishing's line-ups. Someone, or even multiple someones, has to really fight for them, and this sort of passion is only likely to be aroused by the really good stuff.

This leads me to the website of Brad Bigelow, Neglected Books, a massive archive of undeservedly forgotten literature, deftly researched and enthusiastically championed. I have genuinely lost count of the number of wonderful books I have chased down because of Bigelow's work, and have not regretted any of them (except, perhaps, for the financial pain).

Splendidly, Neglected Books is now working with Boiler House Press at the University of East Anglia to establish the imprint Recovered Books, focusing on republishing some of the best and most hard-to-find books the blog has championed. The first book in the series has just been published, and as both a standard-bearer for the project and a work in its own right, it's wonderful.

Gentleman Overboard was the first novel by Herbert Clyde Lewis, first published in 1937. The article about his life at Neglected Books outdoes any summary I can produce here, but he went on to write several more novels, and became a bankrupt, a Hollywood writer, and a victim of the HUAC anti-Red witchhunts, before dying, possibly by suicide, alone in a hotel room in 1950.

It's hard not to read Gentleman Overboard without keeping this sad end in mind, because the novel itself, with barely a wasted word, tells the story of the last hours of a man who accidentally falls off a passenger ship into the middle of the ocean. Despite the sadness of the story, though, it's a witty and surprising novel--Lewis's style here reminded me of the funny/quite-desperation captured in the Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge novels of Evan S. Connell, which is tremendously high praise. It's a pitiless but  strangely not a cruel book.

I have to mention the excellent cover by designer Louise Aspinall, which subtly updates the design of the original hardcover. This referencing to earlier editions is surprisingly rare on the world of republishing, but when done as well as it is here it is very effective. 

The 1937 Viking hardcover

I am very keen to see what Recovered Books does next. It's hard for me to be objective about this, as it's the sort of publishing project that seems tailor-made for my tastes and obsessions. If you're anything like me, and in this if nothing else you should be, then please get hold of a copy of this book.

Wednesday 8 September 2021


I haven't had a chance to watch this yet, but I'm sure I am as silvertongued as ever as I discuss a book featuring a woman and her potato on the cover. Also features people who know what they're talking about:

Click through for a nice full-screen version!

Sunday 29 August 2021

All the books

Some people have unwisely asked to see all my books. Have at it:

All the books? All the books. from Flyin Pasties on Vimeo.

Canadian Bear Sex

For all your Canadian bear sex novella needs:

Click through for a nice full-screen version!

Thursday 5 August 2021

XX and Black Locomotives

 Looking back, apparently the longest book I've read this year so far is designer, artist and typographer Rian Hughes' wonderful XX.

US edition from Overlook

UK edition from Picador

It's a 1000-page novel about AI and First Contact and consciousness and memes and art and typography and a centuries-old conspiracy involving Hugh Walpole. It also has a reversible dustjacket...

..and various interpolated (fictional) documents like Wikipedia pages and album reviews and email exchanges and magazine extracts and an entire pulp SF novella...

..and lots of fun with typography: this is the output of an AI character reared on Futurism and Marinetti-style philosophy:

It's grand. Mine is the US edition--I don't _think_ the UK edition has the reversible jacket, but I may be wrong.

Hughes has a new novel out today, which I haven't got yet but have ordered: The Black Locomotive. I need it.

Friday 30 July 2021

Gentle, Fierce, Self-Promotion, Dogs

 I am back on Shawn the Book Maniac's Youtube channel as the least of five people talking about recent readings. You can watch it here or over there. It features my dogs videobombing the talk...

..which in my case is about artist and writer Vanessa Berry's essay collection, Gentle and Fierce, for which she provided her own cover artwork.

Monday 21 June 2021


(Going to attempt some semi-regular capsule reviews: let's see how it goes!)


Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness: Alexandros Plasatis, 2021

A novel in stories that shifts and darts between voices and viewpoints, all centred at the Café Papaya on the Grecian coast, where Egyptian fisherman fight and argue with testosterone-crazed locals. In fact, unrestrained masculine foolishness is a recurring theme in the vivid tumbling parade of tall stories, misunderstandings, brief lusts and sweaty evenings. Unusual and worthwhile.

Detransition, Baby: Torrey Peters, 2021

Witty and clever and ultimately depressing, but also suffering from the bane of too many first novels in that it desperately needs pruning. Minutely detailed abusive relationships make up rather more of the book needs be, given their actual relevance to the plot (in which a trans woman is contacted by her detransitioned ex, now living as a man, because he has got someone pregnant and has an elaborate and ludicrous scheme whereby the two of them, plus the pregnant woman, will somehow form a family for the baby).

Warm Worlds and Otherwise: James Tiptree Jr, 1975

I have thoroughly enjoyed several other collections of Tiptree's (real name Alice Sheldon) genre-revivifying science-fiction, but I don't remember it being this datedly '70s to such an extent. Maybe one of those writers I shouldn't have revisited.

The Brainstorm: Jenny Turner, 2007

A weird one. A perfectly serviceable and enjoyable satire on working at a British newspaper in the 1990s, but with the title-giving conceit (a "brainstorm" that means the main character comes to at their desk at the opening of the book with no idea who they are or what they're meant to be doing) so half-arsed that it makes no internal sense and seems to be forgotten about for great stretches of the book. I would never suggest that the heaped praise from various British newspapers quoted on the front and back covers was a case of calling in the favours.

The Monkey and Other Stories: Miklós Bánffy (translated by Thomas Sneddon), 2021

The second of two Bánffy (1873-1950) short fiction collections published in a matter of months (after Len Rix's Enchanted Night selection), though luckily there are only around 50 pages of overlap. Widely varied in tone and setting, Bánffy's humanism and unusual worldview show through, as does his clear-eyed love for the Transylvanian countryside and history his life was steeped in. 

Wednesday 12 May 2021

After the Ball

'After the Ball' or 'Jove Decadent', by Ramon Casas:

Popular on many, many book covers:

Sunday 14 March 2021

Australian Literature Recommendations... LIVE

I invaded Shawn the Book Maniac's Youtube channel and really ruined the place, talking about Australian literature. You can watch a tiny windowed version of it here, or click through:

Books discussed:

Sunday 10 January 2021

Radio Caustic

If you'd like to hear my dulcet tones blathering on about book design and recommending obscure books on the Australian national broadcaster, have at it

Or listen here:

(NB: To my knowledge I don't usually sound as though I'm 4 feet tall and trapped in a metal bucket)

For anyone looking for the awful, awful book covers (like that above) referenced in the interview, start here.

For 70 more obscure book recommendations, try here.