The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





last three

April - May 2011

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


Jan.-Mar. 11

december 10

november 10

october 10

september 10

July-Aug. 10

may-june 10

april 10

march 10

february 10

january 10

Nov.-Dec. 09

12 May 2011

Critical Fiction

It is with great pleasure that Temporary Culture announces the launch of a new interactive website « » dedicated to the discussion of the critical fiction as a literary form. Recent posts to the CF Forum include definitions of the form and considerations of Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys and Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn. There is a reading list and lots of interest, and the CF Forum has an interactive Comments function. The next update of the Endless Bookshelf will be on 27 May.

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Current Reading

— Rebecca Solnit. Wanderlust. A History of Walking . (Viking Penguin, 2000  ; Penguin paperback).

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27-29 April 2011

Why one looks at every book in the box

Especially an old sheep binding tumbled in a box of worn leatherbound books :

That was the morning when I pulled the major work of eighteenth century African American literature in fine original condition from a box of worn odd volumes.

— Phillis Wheatley. Poems on Various Subjects . . . London : Printed for A. Bell, Bookseller, Aldgate ; and Sold by Messrs Cox and Berry, King Street, Boston, 1773.

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Your correspondent has an essay on “ The Green Book ” in the inaugural issue of Average  magazine, edited by Kate Pocrass (author of Mundane Journeys. Field Guide to Color ). The magazine also features a stunning Sky Chart (a series of paintings by R. Bernhard), and reflections on Sheet Cake, Trees, and Freezers.
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Recent reading :

— Nat Segnit. Pub Walks in Underhill Country . Fig Tree / Penguin, 2011. A fine comic novel, with a digressive and highly unreliable narrator who just gets crazier and funnier, and the narrative meanders more startling, all delivered in bland deadpan non-sequitur.

— Andrew Drummond. A Hand-Book of Volapük … from the Gathered Papers of G.H.I. Justice . Polygon, 2006. A fine madcap Scottish book ; as in Elephantina , the narrator, an itinerant organ repairman and enthusiast of the universal language Volapük, is wildly unreliable but in the end he speaks a version of the truth.

— Tove Jansson. The Summer Book (1972). Translated by Thomas Teal. NYRB paperback.


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— Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts. Edgelands. Journeys into England’s True Wildness . Jonathan Cape, 2011.

A fascinating exploration of the post-industrial margins of the north of England : a taxonomy that encompasses both neglected landscapes of artifice where nature has returned and newly emerging land uses at the shifting boundary between urban and rural. Readers of the Endless Bookshelf will know that your correspondent is alert to this sort of terrain, and it is a delight to reflect upon Paths, Landfill, Water, Sewage, Wastelands, Woodlands, and Ruins. These are only some of the classes of Edgelands : it is the other categories that demonstrate the considerable energy of their walks and inquiries, for to read about Pallets, Wire, Cars, Dens, Venues, Airports, Weather, and Hotels is to gain a new insight into what persists in the between spaces.

The authors have adopted a first person plural voice that works, most of the time, and acknowledge Richard Mabey, The Unofficial Countryside  (1973), as a milestone. I could not help thinking of Gene Wolfe’s story “ Three Million Square Miles ” from Ruins of Earth, edited by Thomas M. Disch (1971), or “ Surface Tension ” by James Blish as they discussed Ponds and standing water, or, everywhere, J.G. Ballard ( Concrete Island, etc., etc.). What is truly remarkable is the range of allusion and citation in this deliberate prose written by poets : not only suitable references to Baudrillard’s hyperreality (“ the simulation of something which never really existed ”) or Tim Edensor’s Industrial Ruins or Keith Arnett, photographer specializing in landfill, or ecologist and lichenologist O.L. Gilbert, but the varieties of poetry rooted throughout their text: Edward Thomas, Norman Nicholson, Jack Clemo, Roy Fisher, Wordsworth, Auden, Eliot. I was also intrigued to read about Brendon Chase  by “ BB ” (Denys Watkyns Pitchford), a 1944 novel about renegade schoolboys surviving in a patch of woodland ; it seems an English forebear of Jean Craighead George’s My Side of the Mountain  (1959), and I will have to find a copy. But the joy of reading prose by poets is in the sudden emergence of list poems to catalogue the opportunistic vegetation in the edgelands of various towns and cities ; or a sentence such as this :

If a romantic landscape is a place so atmospheric that it offers deracinated human beings a glimpse of the sublime, then edgelands ruins should be tourist magnets.

The meadowlands, near Secaucus, New Jersey


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This brilliant image from the dust jacket for A Woman of Genius by Mary Austin, 1912 via the Beinecke Library website, Room 26 :

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“ What’s lost today is not just the accidental masterpiece but also that sense of art not as a remote commodity but as something we all make ” — from an interview with Michael Kimmelman, author of The Accidental Masterpiece  (2005), cited in Picpus  3.
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Joanna Russ

“ Joanna Russ is the rainy night sky when the whole box of fireworks goes up at once, a blazing angel saying, Look ! ”

I have posted my review essay on The Country You Have Never Seen by Joanna Russ, originally published in The New York Review of Science Fiction, here.

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This month’s updates will be coming one or two at a time over the next two days. Please be patient, and come back to see what’s new. Other topics still to come include thoughts on Wide Sargasso Sea  by Jean Rhys and the provenance of imaginary books ; Edgelands ; a powerful anti-elegy for a tyrant ; The Cracked Lookingglass ; the New York Book Fair ; and The Idea of Galicia. History and Fantasy in Habsburg Political Culture by Larry Wolff. As well as news of the secret project.
Please send in your lists of the Last Three books or other news to wessells [at] aol [dot] com .
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This creaking and constantly evolving website of the endless bookshelf : I expect that some entries will be brief, others will take the form of more elaborate essays, and eventually I will become adept at incorporating comments or interactivity. Right now you’ll have to send links to me, dear readers. [HWW]

electronym : wessells at aol dot com

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