The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





Books are what I do : Write (very slowly), Read (rapidly or at leisure), Re-read (for pleasure or reference), Buy and Sell (my livelihood), Catalogue and Describe (ditto), Edit, Publish, Review (for The New York Review of Science Fiction and others), Recommend or Give away, Receive, and — unavoidably and repeatedly  — Lift (whether singly or in boxes). I concede a fondness for private eye novels, equalled by my interest in the quirky, erudite, or obscure, and surpassed only by my love of the literature of the fantastic.

— Henry Wessells

Buchnarr, 1494. Ware! Ware! Ware the Book-Fool!


7 September 2014




critical fiction

Best Book 2013

Best Books
2012 2011
2010 2009




turkey city

making light

recent reading 

—Walter E. Rogers. Tree Flowers of Forest, Park, and Street. [Duotone plates from photographs by the Author]. The Drawings from Nature by Olga A. Smith. Appleton, Wisconsin : Published by the Author, 1935. A beautiful and fascinating book. “ That tree flowers are not well known is due primarily to the fact that they are seldom of large size and so do not attract attention to themselves as do the showier blossoms of the herbs found in our gardens, conservatories, and woodlands. ” (Above, the fruit of the willow.)

—William Plomer. Turbott Wolfe (1926). Edited by Stephen Gray. Johannesburg : A.D. Donker, [1980]. With essays and appreciations by Nadine Gordimer, Laurens van der Post, and others. Truly remarkable novel, a narrative of south African attitudes and people. Anti-apartheid before the emergence of apartheid. Wish I had read this when I was nineteen years old (the age at which the author wrote it).

“ Native question, indeed ! My good man, there is no native question. It isn’t a question. It’s an answer. ”

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—Adam Roberts. Adam Robots. Short Stories. [Gollancz, 2013]. Tricky stories, lots of fun (just started reading, picked this up at the Gollancz table at the World Science Fiction Convention).

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The Private Life of Books : publication day is 15 September, details here :

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Mailbag Roulette : A Cumulation

Mailbag Roulette was invented at Readercon 2012 by your correspondent [HWW], together with [EK] and [MF], who are blameless. We each pulled a forthcoming book from the Temporary Culture mailbag and read an opening line. Your correspondent claimed the privilege of reading this one:

Reader, I am delivered of a son.

There was no turning back. Each wave of the publishing cycle brought new terrors ; and also patterns to be discerned. Readers will pardon the notes of exasperation, even desperation, that are sometimes to be seen in the captions : count yourself lucky that you did not have to experience these books at first-hand. The all-time winner remains Gluten for Punishment (mid-April 2013).

mailbag roulette (early summer) : 1 crow, 3 dogs, 5 cats ; If Catfish Had Nine Lives

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mailbag roulette, late spring : 7 cats, 4 dogs, “A Bookmobile Cat Mystery” [niched to death]

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mailbox roulette (late Feb.) : cats 5, dogs 2 ; horses 6 receding [too much sugar …]

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No, just no : the wrathful shade of Harriet Vane will walk

mailbag roulette (November 2013) : 4 dogs, 5 cats, A Bookmobile Cat Mystery [runs screaming into the forest]

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autumn mailbag roulette : cats, dog, bunny, pancakes, orchards, & Chili con Carnage

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end of summer mailbag roulette : cakes and bran ; includes delicious recipes

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mailbag roulette mid-August : Murder of a Stacked Librarian

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mailbag roulette (mid-June) : lace, lingerie, yarn, tulle, cats, dogs, goat (!), & Woof at the Door

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mailbag roulette : mid-April 2013 [N.B. : Cats 6, Dogs 1 ; Gluten for Punishment]

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mailbag roulette, late Feb. : “by the author of Pies and Prejudice” (oh dear ; also note cats & dogs)

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mailbag roulette, Jan. 2013 : cats, dogs, & Brie

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end of year mailbag roulette

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(mail bag) : WTF ! Who reads these books ? Who writes these books ? Why send them to me ?

The imminent disappearance of the Twitpic platform has prompted your correspondent to assemble the several posts headed Mailbag Roulette into a single chronology. And to declare an end to it.

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— Pierre Benoit. L’Atlantide. Roman. Albin Michel, [1919]. Re-read together with the 1920 translation by Mary C. Tongue and Mary Ross, for an essay, “ Fire-Flies in Atlantis, or, The Country of Fear ”, to appear in the autumn issue of Wormwood.

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20 & 31 August 2014

Arabic Science Fiction at the Worldcon

On Sunday afternoon 17 August, Yasmin Khan’s panel convened to discuss Arabic Science Fiction : the first time such a group has met in the seventy-five-year history of the convention.

The panelists included London-based curator Yasmin Khan (organizer and moderator) ; Noura al-Nouman, Sharjah-based author of two novels in Arabic, Ajwan and Mandan (2014) ; Amal El-Mohtar, author of The Honey Month (2010) ; Ibrahim Abbas, author of two novels in Arabic, HWJN and Hunaak ; Yasser Bahjatt, Jedda-based publisher and author of the English edition of HWJN. The audience of slightly more than a hundred people included readers (of Arabic and English), scholars, librarians, and fans. The tradition of the fantastic in Arabic culture can be traced to Lucian of Samosata and the Arabian Nights, and much of the survival of Greek science is due to Damascus and Baghdad. It is far older than the English language or the modern field of science fiction but until now there have been many appropriations from Arabic literature and few dialogues between the traditions. This panel had the feel of opening doors.

Questions of the definition of Arabic science fiction arose immediately. Amal El-Mohtar spoke succinctly of the imperative for “  the most inclusive definition possible ”. Ibrahim Abbas argued that the chief criteria are that the works display “ significant cultural or linguistic influence of Arabic ”. And then the discussion moved on. Noura al-Noman, educated in both English and Arabic, said “ there was a need for science fiction in Arabic, so I wrote it. ” Amal El-Mohtar spoke of a wish, both as reader and as writer, to see Arab characters who were not mere caricatures of western stereotypes. Her story “ To Follow the Waves ” looks at Damascus within a steampunk world.

From a publishing perspective, there are complications arising from the geographical and political diversity of the Arabic speaking world (350 million people in more than 22 countries, plus a sgnificant mahjar or diaspora, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia the two most significant markets). It was exciting to learn that science fiction has already upended some of the received truths of Arabic publishing, defying sales expectations and overcoming issues of censorship. Now that is a tightrope to walk : and no net.

Your correspondent has a long-standing interest in this subject as a reader and also as translator of Gamal al-Ghitani’s What Happened to the Lands of the Valley . It was a delight to see a large and varied audience joining this conversation, which will continue.

N.B.: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a useful entry, here ; it can, however, only be considered preliminary, for there are no citations after 1988.

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— John Clute. Stay. Beccon Publications, 2014. Cover by Judith Clute. The introduction can be found here.

John Clute was guest of honor at LonCon3 and was celebrated in many events, talks and interviews. Stay, the newest collection of his writings on fantastika — a term that demonstrates its resilience each time Clute considers it and articulates potential objections — was published at the convention. The Beccon launch party for Stay (which reprints the text of The Darkening Garden, 2006) and Call and Response by Paul Kincaid was held in a pleasant setting overlooking the reach of the Docklands where the vast convention center sits opposite a disused sugar mill.

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recent reading :

— Jakob Hein, Jacinta Nandi. Fish ’n’ Chips & Spreewald-Gurken. Warum Ossis öfter Sex und Engländer mehr Spaß hatten. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, [2013].

— Paul Kincaid. Call and Response. Beccon Publications, 2014. Kincaid is consistently a perceptive reader, e.g., his essays on Crowley's Ægypt novels, and reviews of Gene Wolfe (even lesser works) . The chapter on Keith Roberts and Pavane is brilliant and exemplary. Read this book.

— Pierre Benoit. L’Atlantide. Roman. Albin Michel, [1919]. First edition of a novel widely translated throughout the 1920s.
— Pierre Benoit. Atlantida (L’Atlantide). Translated by Mary C. Tongue and Mary Ross. Duffield, 1920. Atlantis in the Sahara, for an essay.

— Disobedient Objects. Edited by Catherine Flood and Gavin Grindon. V&A Publishing, [2014]. Illustrated. 144 pp. Catalogue of the intense, interactive, multisensory exhibition, Disobedient Objects. At the Victoria & Albert Museum through 1 February 2015.

— T.S. Eliot. The Waste Land. A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts inlcuding the Annotations of Ezra Pound. Edited by Valerie Eliot. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, [1971].

— Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages. Wakulla Springs. Illustration by Gary Kelley., 2 October 2013. I printed this out and read with great pleasure ; and will send the pages to a friend who does not use a computer.

— David Shafer. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Mulholland Books, [2014]. Delightful paranoid concatenation of plot, pseudo-science-fictional MacGuffins, creepy captains of industry, minimal explanation, and : a fine ending. The main arc is how Mark Deveraux, who starts out rather loathsome, becomes human.

— Infra Noir. Edited by Dan Ghetu. Zagava and Ex Occidente Press, 2014. Anthology of writings by Mark Valentine, Thomas Strømsholt, John Howard, DanWatt and Andrzej Welminski, Damien Murphy, and Colin Insole, a beautiful production with striking illustrations. Stories that compels reading and a format that demands engagement with the book itself. The dust jacket prints a poem by Mark Valentin, Un Vis Pierdut in Leoparda, in black on black. The story by Howard, “ The Unfolding Map ”, is a superb tale of the wartime partition of Transylvania and a rare wine from the cellars of an old hotel.

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great slow oxen words


[from verses found in the back of a pamphlet on Charles M. Doughty]

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O my grey hairs !
You are truly white as plum blossoms.

William Carlos Williams, from Sour Grapes, 1921

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Your correspondent has only just returned from LonCon3, the World Science Fiction Convention. This post will be amplified and illustrated during the coming week, including a note about the splendid R.A. Lafferty panel.

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The Private Life of Books : In the Bindery

“ beautiful in every way : the words, the images, and the production ” — Fine Books magazine

The Private Life of Books has been printed and is in the bindery. A glimpse of the first, advance, and review copies :

Publication day is 15 September. Details of the book, here.

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Wander in the Archives

The Archives of the Endless Bookshelf have been swept and tidied and a guide has been prepared to assist wanderers. Index would be too strong a term : the headwords tend to be suggestive rather than directive. Start here. Have fun.

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This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : some entries are brief mentions, others take the form of more elaborate essays and reviews. Someday, not soon, comments or interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HWW]

electronym : wessells at aol dot com

Copyright © 2007-2014 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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