The Endless Bookshelf : simply messing about in books





last three

September - October 2011

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


June-July 11

Apr.-May 11

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

18-19 October 2011

The Endless Bookshelf : At Sea

The view from the porthole

Your correspondent is at sea, en route for the port of . . .  Brooklyn. Please make a note of the date of the Critical Fiction Symposium (Tuesday 25 October) and come along for an evening of literary conversation (RSVP).

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Current reading :

— Joseph Conrad. Victory. An Island Tale [1915 ; Everyman’s Library, 1998]. Conrad excels at forcing complex characters into collision and conflict : no art without incident producing change. Axel Heyst has just given refuge to Martin Ricardo, “ Mr. Jones ”, and their slave Pedro in one of the abandoned bungalows of the Tropical Belt Coal Company.

— Eamonn Gearon. The Sahara. A Cultural History. Signal Books, 2011. [Series title : Landscapes of the Imagination]. Wide-ranging and engaging overview of the lands of the Sahara from prehistory and the vanished Garamantes to Alexander the Great, from the quest for Timbuktu to literature and cinema, and from European exploration and land grab to contemporary political uncertainty and adventure tourism.

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Recent reading :

— Valerio Varesi. River of Shadows . Translated from the Italian by Joseph Farrell. [Il fiume delle nebbie , 2003] ; MacLehose Press. Quercus, [2010]. Deeply atmospheric detective novel set on the River Po in autumn flood, new murders with old roots in the struggle between Fascists and Communist partisans at the end of the second world war. The narrative voice of the protagonist, police commissario Soneri, is compelling, and deftly calls forth landscape and daily life and local food and drink.

— William Dalrymple. White Mughals. Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India. [2002] ; Flamingo/HarperCollins paperback, [2003]. Multi-generation story of James Achilles Kirkpatrick, British Resident in Hyderabad 1798-1805, who mastered Indian languages and adopted local dress and custom, and his Indo-Persian wife Khair an-Nissa, and their children. The sensational subtitle distracts from the substantial argument Dalrymple makes about the change in British attitudes and comportment towards the Hindu and Muslim populations of Hindustan (and of mixed race children) following upon the appointment of Lord Wellesley as Governor General. Wellesley (whose younger brother Arthur also served in India before the Napoleonic campaigns that earned his dukedom) initiated a series of policies that ended the philo-Hindustani arrangements evolved in the course of dealing with Indian principalities as independent states. The racism of Victorian England and beyond was a learned construct and a calculated mode of behavior ; the ties between Hindustan and England are far more entangled and far older than one might suspect.

— J. Meade Falkner. Moonfleet . [1898], Penguin Books, [1964] (Puffin paperback). A good story of mid-eighteenth-century smuggling and adventure, excellent atmosphere and the Dorset setting beautifully invoked. A classic novel of the sea by a most unusual writer, an international arms merchant whose entry in the Dictionary of National Biography records the following, “ Despite finding that all women looked as alike as shelled peas, on 18 October 1899 he married [. . .] Bachelordom was his natural vocation : in his own phrase he regarded women at Oxford University with the repugnance he otherwise reserved for black beetles. He and his wife had no children. ” I look forward to reading  The Nebuly Coat (1903) and The Lost Stradivarius  (1895) “ a Gothic romance about the haunting of a Victorian violin-playing baronet by an eighteenth-century rake with occult tastes ”.

— Henry James. The Aspern Papers . Penguin paperback.

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— Reggie Oliver. Mrs Midnight and other stories . With illustrations by the author. Tartarus Press, [2011]. This is a superb collection, tremendously ambitious in range and voice, and simply brilliant in execution. Oliver plays with the form and conventions of the ghost story to excellent effect. ‘ Mrs Midnight ’ of the title is a mad transvestite vaudevile performer and a strong candidate for Jack the Ripper ; it is a nice gruesome tale of survival across the centuries with fine antiquarian roots in late-Victorian theater. In ‘ The Giacometti Crucifixion ’ Oliver creates the historic figure of A.C. Lincoln, “ described by some, rather dismissively, as ‘ a sort of Oxford M.R. James ’ ” and makes a dramatic reading of “ the title story from what is generally though to be Lincoln’s most accomplished collection, Quieta Non Movere ”, the essential core of a story of sleazy academic politics, bogus charity, and art fraud. The story by “ A.C. Lincoln ” is in itself a remarkable creation ; all the more notable, then, that Oliver has woven Quieta Non Movere into a contemporary Oxford ghost story.
‘ The Mortlake Manuscript ’ invents an imaginary book of the highest antiquity and mystery and releases it upon a suitably naïve academic, with lovely consequences. ‘ The Philosophy of the Damned ’ is a lost chapter of the history of the Crimean theater in the time of the struggle between the Bolsheviks and the White Russian forces ; it is rich in colorful minor characters and has something of the feel of Bulgakov. ‘ A Piece of Elsewhere ’ is a dark and unsettling episode, a deft narration in the voice of a man recalling an incident in his childhood, with some charming passages :

. . . fitful sunshine, a cold wind and the odd spit of rain. This was the weather which I remember prevailing during my entire stay at ‘ Dovercotes ’, but I could be mistaken. Memory has a way of being true to the mood rather than the fact.

I first learned of the work of Reggie Oliver last year, when he read ‘ Minos or Rhadamanthus ’ at the Halifax Ghost Story Festival to a small and captivated audience. It is a beautiful, deeply twisted ghost story of minor public school education, cricket, and the Great War. It is truly moving and rewards reading, and re-reading. Mrs Midnight and other stories  is one of the best books I have read this year.

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8-9 October 2011

Westbourne, Tyburn, Fleet, Wallbrook, Peck/Earl’s Sluice, Neckinger, Effra, Wandle

— Tom Bolton. London’s Lost Rivers. A Walker’s Guide . With photography by SF Said. [Strange Attractor Press, 2011].
A detailed geographical history of London in dispersed narrative, with keen eye for irony and change. And then there is this lovely sentence : “ Tracing the Wallbrook is an act of faith and resurrection. It is a river walk without a river, offering only tantalising hints that there was once water here. ” A tiny, stylish book with dreamy, exotic illustrations in black and white throughout, eight color plates, and route maps for the river walks.

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The Man with Many Names :  Brian O’Nolan / Flann O’Brien

Excellent, hilarious BBC retrospective on the occasion of the centenary of Brian O’Nolan.

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Temporary Culture and Henry Wessells are pleased to announce a Critical Fiction Symposium on Tuesday 25 October 2011 to celebrate the publication of a new book by Wendy Walker.

MY MAN & OTHER CRITICAL FICTION is an original collection of 8 critical fictions on Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo , King Lear, Olaudah Equiano, Harry Mathews, and other writers and texts. The critical fiction is a literary mode that takes as its subject another literary work and treats of that work’s construction, obsessions, and sources in narrative and poetic, rather than expository/critical terms. Wendy Walker is one of the chief proponents of the critical fiction today; some of her predecessors include Jean Rhys, Jorge Luis Borges, Angela Carter, and Guy Davenport. Participants will include WENDY WALKER, RON JANSSEN, JENNIFER NELSON, JOHN CROWLEY, and HENRY WESSELLS. Join us for an evening of wide-ranging literary conversation.

WENDY WALKER is author of a modern masterpiece, The Secret Service (1992), and the formally innovative Blue Fire, A Poetic Nonfiction (Proteotypes, 2009), and several collections of short fiction. With her husband, author Tom LaFarge, Walker directs the publishing side of the Proteus Gowanus Gallery/Reading Room in Brooklyn. She is at work on Sexual Stealing , an inquiry into the origins of British Gothic fiction in eighteenth-century Jamaica and Haiti.
RON JANSSEN is co-translator of three volumes of short stories by Chinese author Can Xue and teaches courses in exploratory writing and comparative rhetoric at Hofstra University.
JENNIFER NELSON recently completed her M.F.A. in poetry at New York University and is a doctoral candidate in the history of art at Yale University. She currently serves as poetry editor of Epiphany magazine ( ).
JOHN CROWLEY is the author of Little, Big  and the acclaimed Ægypt  quartet. He teaches creative writing at Yale University.
HENRY WESSELLS is author of Another green world  and publisher of Temporary Culture and the Endless Bookshelf. He is an antiquarian bookseller with James Cummins Bookseller in New York City.

Date : Tuesday 25 October 2011, 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Location : The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York, NY 10022.
RSVP to : Tom La Farge, tel. 917-400-2187 ; or Henry Wessells, electronym

Copies of MY MAN & OTHER CRITICAL FICTION will be available for purchase at the Symposium. The author will be pleased to sign copies afterwards.

Further details at : .

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In Today’s Post

— Reggie Oliver. Mrs Midnight and other stories . With illustrations by the author. Tartarus Press, [2011]. He read “ Minos or Rhadamanthus ” at the Halifax Ghost Story Festival last year. Published 30 September, now out of print.

The Brighton Redemption by Reggie Oliver

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Recent reading :

— Mario Vichi. Death in August. The First Inspector Bordelli Mystery . Translated by Stephen Sartarelli. Hodder, [2011]. A very satisfying detective novel with regional character and charm, a voyage to Florence in the early 1960s.

— Joe Haldeman. Guardian. Ace Books. [2002]. Dedication copy, decorated and inscribed by the author and lent to me by the dedicatee. Interesting tale of voyaging through the universes, drawing upon the Raven in Pacific Northwest Indian cultures, with an astonishing vision at the core. The framing of the narrative is deft, and its concision is exemplary.

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— Boris Akunin. The Diamond Chariot. The Further Adventures of Erast Fandorin. Translated from the original Russian by Andrew Bromfield. Weidenfeld & Nicolson (Orion), 2011. historical thriller conflating exotic japonoiserie with the proto-history of the Russian revolution, almost steampunk in its sensibility, in the end too irritating in its narrative techniques and tones (and too violent). Not sure if the failings in tone (bad Edwardian clichés, racism, and inferior snippets of Japanese verse) are to be assigned to the translator or to the original.

— Ruth Rendell. The Vault . Hutchinson, [2011]. Nicely braided plot across decades, though a few aspects seemed excessively topical & contrived.

— Victor Gray. Bookmen : London. 250 Years of Sotheran Bookselling . Henry Sotheran Ltd., [2011]. Solid, well documented history of a great book shop, with attention to the wider context of the London book trade and developments in the world of antiquarian. Two aspects are especially interesting: on the one hand the great bibliographical finds and triumphs ; and on the other the accounts of the life of a book shop (apprentices, managers, bookselling during wartime, etc.) and of the process of change.

— Jonathan Lethem. Chronic City . Doubleday, 2009. Crazy funny novel of New York City and friendship.

— Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Was Huck Black ? Mark Twain and African-American Voices . Oxford University Press, 1993. Distracting title, interesting chain of ideas, well argued. “ Twain helped his fellow writers learn, in very practical ways, how to write books that ‘ talked ’  ”.

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— Erin Morgenstern. The Night Circus. A Novel . Doubleday, [2011]. Splendid visuals, some peculiarly passive language ; my reading was colored with questions of how the tale is told : the narrative is ultimately resolved as a Club Story.

— Henning Mankell. The Fifth Woman . Translated from the Swedish by Steven T. Murray. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, [2011]. Your correspondent found this heavy going, a little too flat. Steven T. Murray also translated Helene Tursten, Detective Inspector Huss  (noted in July), which was much more closely focused and rewarding.

— Mary Beard. The Invention of Jane Harrison . Harvard University Press, [2000]. Harrison “ changed the way we think about the ancient Greeks ”. As a book about the impossibility of biography, Beard tells (& documents) pretty good stories.

— Russell H. Greenan. The Secret Life of Algernon Pendleton . Random House, [1973]. Existential horror, with passages that fly.

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Having re-read Bleak House, I find myself reflecting upon Inspector Bucket’s Twitter-feed : a dark, fully anonymous cackle of rumor & truth. While Bucket might know his dark cackle sources, they might not know him : a delicate balance of truth and lies ; how anonymous is anonymity ?

Cackle of ravens, crows, starlings, grackles, & other dun birds ; I suppose I had been musing on this since I saw a tattoo of a large raven upon a broken branch on a woman’s back one summer day in Brooklyn. Of course some carrion-bird has parked the cackle domain ; this one is for someone else to untangle.

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Seen in Brooklyn : [And Comic Booklets]

Desert Island, 540 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn

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“ There is no Irish word for ‘ no ’ . . . ”

“ There is no Irish word for ‘ no ’ . . . ” — from the essay “ Reinventions of the Gaelic : A Primer ” by Greg Londe, in the Princeton University Library catalogue The Cracked Lookingglass. Highlights from the Leonard L. Milberg Collection of Irish Prose Writers [2011]

[Discuss …]

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1 September 2011

My Man and other Critical Fictions by Wendy Walker

Temporary Culture is pleased to report that My Man and other Critical Fictions by Wendy Walker is in press and will be available at the end of October as announced. Click on the image above or here for more details. It will be a beautiful book.

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Current reading :

— Joseph Conrad. Almayer’s Folly. A Story of an Eastern River (1895).

— Charles Dickens. Bleak House . [Re-read] I could not help myself, I picked it up again, and am thoroughly involved. What a book !

— Matt Beynon Rees. The Fourth Assassin. An Omar Yussef Mystery . Soho paperback, 2010.

Next up :

— Peter Straub. Lost Boy Lost Girl. A Novel . Random House, 2003

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Found in the Attic ; or, Hiding in Plain Sight
“  A Day Like Any Other ” by James Tiptree, Jr., in Foundation 3 (1973)

Another reason why one keeps back issues and books on shelves : I just happened to be looking through my run of Foundation  and came across this fascinating page, which I had never seen before. The piece reads almost like a gloss on Pamela Zoline’s “ The Heat Death of the Universe ” (1967), with which it is almost exactly contemporary : James Tiptree, Jr., first sent the story to Harry Harrison in 1968 (as reported in the notes to Meet Me at Infinity [2000], where it was collected). “ A Day Like Any Other ” does seem to contain in miniature and in plain sight all the concerns of its author, Alice Sheldon. The piece (and its publication in Foundation ) are not noted in Julie Phillips’ exemplary biography.

The six garbled extracts are from a variety of sources : Sir Charles Sherrington, from the preface to the 1951 edition of Man on His Nature ; Oliver Goldsmith, “ The Deserted Village ” ; W.B. Yeats, “ On a Picture of a Black Centaur by Edmund Dulac ” ; Edwin Markham, “ The Man with the Hoe ” ; Tom Lehrer, “ Song for World War III ” ; and Hart Crane, “ Voyages ”.

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Ragged Edges

“ Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges ”

— Herman Melville

(quoted by Cornel West in his New York Times essay, “ Dr. King Weeps From His Grave ” (aka “ I Had a Dream, But . . . ”)

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Recent reading :

— Joseph Conrad. Works . . .  Vol. Three, The Nigger of the “Narcissus” & Typhoon .

— Rex Stout. And Be a Villain (1948 ; Bantam paperback, [199], 23rd printing).

— Ian Rankin. The Complaints.  (2009 ; Little, Brown, [2011]).

— Joseph Conrad. The Secret Agent. A Simple Tale  (1907).

“ The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket. ”

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“ . . . because I wanted to get it right ”

The lovely Brian Aldiss, in his TLS review of Out of This World, the science fiction exhibition at the British Library, observes “ I was never commissioned to write my history of SF, Billion Year Spree . . .  I did it off the cuff, out of love, because I wanted to get it right ”.

I want to read this book : the Bodleian Library’s selection of his essays : Brian Aldiss, An Exile on Planet Earth (“ to be published this autumn ”).

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Out of This World (at the British Library through 25 September).

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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

Copyright © 2007-2011 Henry Wessells and individual contributors.

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