news & notes

New look, new irregularity

It has been a long time, I know. I have been reading, working, walking in the woods, and even sometimes playing that game of finding a deadline to make things happen. I wrote an essay for The Book Collector, and have a couple other things on slow simmer. One of the procrastination devices was to embark on a relaunch of the Endless Bookshelf website, thanks to the efforts of Michael J. Deluca (publisher of Reckoning, author of Night Roll, etc.), and look! It worked. It is now much easier to produce updates.

Your correspondent pledges to update the ’shelf with greater frequency if still on an irregular basis. The archives (2007-2021) will likely remain in static form, but I will certainly draw from or link to them. The newsletter will appear monthly at its most frequent, more realistically quarterly. Please remember that the mailing list is not automated or shared; if you no longer wish to receive mailings from the Endless Bookshelf or Temporary Culture, simply tell me.

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a policy statement

Back in the fall of 2016, when I produced the burning marshmallow, Donald Trump The Magazine of Poetry, it became clear to me that I did not want to use any third-party crowd-funding platform. This is contrarian but I still feel the same way.

Similarly, right at the founding of the ’shelf, I made an arbitrary but necessary decision that I will link to author and small press and individual websites, but not to big corporate sales sites. This is the presumption that anyone reading can choose how to obtain current commercially published books. I tend to buy new books through my local.

The micropublishing activities of Temporary Culture — the books published and sold by Temporary Culture — make possible the Endless Bookshelf website (and the Avram Davidson website). The Private Life of Books or A Conversation larger than the Universe are a good place to start.

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various

As a longtime fan of The Secret Service (1992), I am delighted to report that a new edition of Wendy Walker’s novel will be published by Tough Poets Press. I will report as further information becomes available.

The Best of R. A. Lafferty, edited by Jonathan Strahan, (published by Gollancz in 2019) is now available as a Tor Essentials paperback, and well worth looking for.

The Book Collector 70:1 for Spring 2021 prints The Private Life of Books II, How books are made, and a short notice of the new edition. The other poem in the issue (also by a New Jersey poet) accorded a full page is a reproduction of a manuscript fair copy of “This is Just to Say”, inscribed by William Carlos Williams to a small press publisher.

The Booksellers, the documentary about the New York antiquarian book trade directed by D.W. Young, which had its theatrical release just as the pandemic was beginning, has now been released for viewing in many countries. Your correspondent has a speaking role, and there is a walk in the woods; a reading of the title pome of The Private Life of Books can be heard as the closing voiceover. Information at: https://booksellersdocumentary.com.

I had been thinking about Charles F. Heartman many times during the past several weeks when I was using some of his books on my reference shelves: his books on The New England Primer and on Non-New England Primers are still essential works. He was one of the first to attempt a systematic bibliography of Phillis Wheatley (1915); it has been superseded but the facsimile plates are of great interest (for more on Wheatley: Why one looks at every book in the box, 2011). I wrote briefly of Heartman in the first weeks of the Endless Bookshelf, and the Buchnarr device in the title banner above, a woodcut from the German edition of The Ship of Fools (1494), was reproduced in The Book-fool. Bibliophily in caricature (1934), a supplement to The American Book Collector magazine edited by Heartman.

 

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a walk in the woods

. . . out early for a walk before the rains come, and had an hour in the woods to myself, a thick spring mist everywhere, changing the light and colors. After an absence of a few weeks, even the familiar can be seen anew. The fallen trunks have been there beside the path for years, but now is the time that transitions are visible: from fallen tree to decaying log, then barkless and skeletal (almost pure structure), and then suddenly a flattened line of reddish dust, only the two-dimensional shape remains.
I was thinking about other transitions on my walk, as the air got heavier, and the mist changed during the ascent of a hill, almost rain but not quite, the irregular percussion of raindrops on dry leaves, randomly and yet never landing on me: walking between the raindrops. Along the top of the hill, the sound of more raindrops, but always elsewhere, diminishing as I walked down the other side. The next hill was slightly lower and the transitions, the shifts in audible precipitation seemed even more subtle as the path dipped and rose, and still not a drop on my shoulders or hands. [11 April]

 

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in the FT for 8 April, an article by Tom Robbins about the Chatley Heath octagonal semaphore tower, the only surviving example (before the Landmark Trust renovation, it might have provoked a Mark Valentine story):

Wandering among the chestnuts, oaks and Scots pines on Chatley Heath in Surrey, you arrive without warning at a place where the branches part and you find yourself looking up at a slender octagonal tower.
The Chatley Heath tower was completed in 1822 and by 1824, the entire line was up and running. Each station had a roof-mounted mast with two moving arms, the positions of which indicated letters, numbers and a few frequently used words. In clear weather, a message could be transmitted from London to Portsmouth in as little as 15 minutes, rather than the eight hours it might take on horseback.
Many of the stations were simply one- or two-storey houses with a mast on the flat roof, but at Chatley Heath the surrounding topography required a five-storey tower with a 40ft-mast on top. The system worked so effectively that the Admiralty commissioned a second line, branching off at Chatley Heath and continuing west to the naval base at Plymouth.
Now a holiday rental (sigh):
Just outside London, a time-capsule tower you can rent for the weekend
https://on.ft.com/3s8RXC6

I think that Keith Roberts must have known of this place or others like it, for there is a section on signal towers in Pavane.

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recent reading : january to june 2021

— A. J. Liebling. The Honest Rainmaker. The Life and Times of Colonel John R. Stingo. Doubleday, 1953.

— A. J. Liebling. Chicago: The Second City. Drawings by Steinberg. Knopf, 1952.

Liebling sparkles, and writes so engagingly that my utter lack of interest in horse racing becomes an irrelevancy; and every page contains an aphorism, a charming turn of phrase, or something memorable. The temptation to quote . . . .

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— Mark Valentine. Sphinxes & Obelisks. Tartarus, [2021].
Essays and discoveries in books.

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— Elizabeth Hand. The Best of Elizabeth Hand. Edited by Bill Sheehan. Subterranean Press, 2021.

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— Nevil Shute. Lonely Road [1932]. Heinemann, [1953].
Smuggling and political intrigue, and the prison of class.

— Eric Partridge. A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English [etc.]. Edited by Paul Beale. [Eighth edition]. Routledge & Kegan Paul, [1984].

— A Bibliophilic Tribute to Joel Silver. Compiled and edited by Richard Ring.  Providence, Rhode Island, 2021.

— Letters from Rupert Brooke to his publisher, 1911-1914. [Introduction by Geoffrey Keynes. Edited by Edith Scott Lynch]. Octagon Books, 1975.

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— Robert Sheckley. Is That What People Do? Short Stories. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, [1984].
A perennial favorite.

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— Arthur Machen. The Hill of Dreams. Tartarus Press, [1998]. With plates by Sidney H. Sime, introduction by Mark Valentine, plus introductions by Machen and Dunsany.

— Rex Stout. The Second Confession. A Nero Wolfe Novel [1949]. Bantam Books, [May 1961].

— Arkady Martine [AnnaLinden Weller]. A Memory Called Empire [2019]. Tor pbk, 4th ptg.

— The Sorceress in Stained Glass and other Ghost Stories. Edited by Richard Dalby. Tom Stacey, [1971].
An excellent anthology of uncommon supernatural tales, from Le Fanu to ‘A Vignette’ by M. R. James. Dalby’s first book.

— L. T. C. Rolt. Sleep No More. Twelve Stories of the Supernatural. Ash-Tree Press, 1996. With an introduction by Christopher Roden, afterword by Hugh Lamb.

— Richard William Pfaff. Montague Rhodes James. Scolar Press,  1980.

— The Legacy of M.R. James. Papers from the 1995 Cambridge Symposium. Edited by Lynda Dennison. Shaun Tyas, 2001.

— Thomas Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow. Viking, [1973].

— Ramachandra Guha. The Commonwealth of Cricket. A Lifelong Love Affair with the Most Sophisticated Game Known to Humankind. William Collins, [2020].

— Robert Shearman. We All Hear Stories in the Dark. [Illustrated by Reggie Oliver]. [Volume I]. [Introduction by Angela Slatter]. DIP, [2020].

— A. N. L. Munby. The Alabaster Hand and Other Ghost Stories [1949]. Ash-Tree Press, 1995.

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— Michael Swanwick. The Book of Blarney. [Dragonstairs, 2021]. Edition of 50.
—— ——. The Postutopian Adventures of Darger and Surplus. Subterranean, 2020.

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— Jon A. Jackson. Go by Go. A Novel. Dennis McMillan, 1998.
Labor unrest and murder in Butte: “just a way of talking about something that maybe can’t be talked about otherwise”.

— Gene Wolfe. Interlibrary Loan. Tor, [2020].

— Lou Dischler. My Only Sunshine. A Novel. Hub City Press, 2010.
Red Church, La., 1962, sugar and salt, bank robberies, Tijuana Bibles, and an alligator : and the gonzo narrative voice of nine-year-old Charlie Boone [signed copy, gift of DD].

— Thomas Pynchon. Bleeding Edge. Penguin Press, 2013

— Walter Klinefelter. The Fortsas Bibliohoax. Revised and Newly Annotated by the Author with Bibliographical Notes and Comments including a Reprint of the Fortsas Catalogue. Press of Ward Schori, 1986.

— Sinclair Lewis. It Can’t Happen Here. A Novel. Doubleday, Doran, 1935.

— David Rapp. Tinker to Evers to Chance. The Chicago Cubs and the Dawn of Modern America. University of Chicago Press, [2018].

— Jon A. Jackson. Grootka. A Detective Sgt. “Fang” Mulheisen Novel. Foul Play Press | Countryman Press, [1990].

— Samuel L. Clemens. The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins by Mark Twain [1894]. Introduction by Sherley Anne Williams. Afterword by David Lionel Smith. Oxford University Press, 1996.
Clemens is brilliant about fraud and race, which is, fundamentally, the Matter of America.

 

commonplace book : june 2021

 

“reaching many temporally, sequentially, many over time, into the future, but in some profound way these readers always come singly, one by one”
—Louise Glück, The Poet and the Reader: Nobel Lecture 2020

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‘exactly the same things I myself have piled up in countless boxes’

an interview with the charming & cosmopolitan Adrian Dannatt :
https://shopbookshop.com/blogs/the-book-shop-journal/one-great-reader-series-3-no-15-adrian-dannatt

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whispering messages of transience
— Thomas Pynchon. Bleeding Edge

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The Esoteric in Britain, 1921
a centennial reading list from Mark Valentine
https://wormwoodiana.blogspot.com/2020/12/the-esoteric-in-britain-1921.html

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Sir Gregor MacGregor, Cazique of Poyais, and an imaginary country in central America
https://www.crouchrarebooks.com/discover/featured-items/sir-gregor-macgregor-the-cazique-of-poyais

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Rhododendron Day 2021

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in their true light

Diane Di Prima, Dream Poem Avt Reagan & Co.

the best book of the year – 2020

 

‘slipping in between’

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

— Susanna Clarke. Piranesi. Bloomsbury, [2020]. The best book of the year (though I came late to the party). A compelling and richly visual labyrinth, a world entire created within this beautiful story, and then there is a plot : the apparent madness of the central character (dubbed Piranesi with the knowing, exquisite cruelty of his enchanter) is resolved partly through the persistence of an investigating officer but chiefly though the prodigious remembering of Piranesi.
Piranesi made this reader think, ah, here is the tale of the subjective experience of one of those characters who are nothing but roadkill in The Secret History or The Magicians. And in charting this terrain, Clarke challenges the assumptions of the heedless, privileged seekers who in other novels inflict suffering upon others without consequence.
This book is like no other, and yet the succession of detailed tableaux, and the trajectory of healing in Piranesi both made me think of The Secret Service by Wendy Walker, in particular Chapter Nine, the account of Polly’s travels while she is a broken goblet, which almost forms a novel within the novel. Piranesi’s engravings of ruins and prisons are nowhere explicitly cited in this novel, but in the early pages I did have a feeling of now I know, the residents of The Library of Babel are all mad, and Piranesi’s landscapes of the imagination are plates to Borges’ story (file under : Borges and his predecessors). Three other tales of madness and movement through strange landscapes sprang to mind, the ascent in Lovecraft’s “The Outsider”, Gene Wolfe’s variations on Doctor Island, and Doris Lessing’s Briefing for a Descent into Hell. Piranesi is almost entirely unlike any of them.
The unconditional goodness of the central character shines everywhere in this book (John Clute called my attention to this in conversation, and he has written of the “radiantly good ‘Piranesi’” here ). The book has been widely praised and reviewed, as I said, I came late to the book, but it was the best book of 2020.
[I am deeply grateful to GS who alerted me to this book.]

Some good things in this strange year

Dear friends and readers,

here is the third update of the Endless Bookshelf during the pandemic year 2020, when time has seemed at once to dilate and to compress. It has sometimes been difficult for me to write new work in a sustained manner. Blurred lines, or the deadline of no deadline. Others may enjoy virtual conferences but these have not attracted me or prompted me to finish a story the way that a scheduled reading slot at Readercon always used to. It has, however, been a year of many good books old and new.

— Elizabeth Hand. The Book of Lamps and Banners. A Novel. Mulholland Books, [2020]. I am the dedicatee of this book, and perhaps more. It is a signal honor to be part of the latest in Liz Hand’s chronicle of the adventures of Cass Neary. I had read some early versions of the novel in typescript, but when I got my copy on publication day in September, I was compelled afresh. As Cass says, ‘I couldn’t rest.’ I read it straight through into the early hours of the morning. A pretty intense philosophical object is at the heart of the novel (see below under recent reading). Disqualified from reviewing the book and constrained by my own conscience from naming it the best book of the year (or declaring a tie with The Private Life of Books), I am free to urge you all to read the novel. I am pleased to present

A Singular Interview* with Elizabeth Hand

Henry Wessells The London of the Cass Neary novels always seems rooted in lived experience. How did you come to the house of Harold the bookseller?

Elizabeth Hand You’re absolutely correct that nearly everything in the Cass novels is drawn from my own experience (with a few exceptions — murders, fatal overdoses, ritual sacrifices, etc.). Harold Vertigan’s rare bookshop-cum-home is no exception, though as you well know, Harold actually lives and works in the NYC metro area.

For the book, however, I transplanted him to North London, to a particular minuscule enclave, Vale of Health, a hamlet in Hampstead. I came across it some years ago while wandering on the Heath, one of my very favorite things to do in London. Vale of Health is a tiny village hidden toward the upper part of the Heath, with a very few very narrow winding roads and mostly small old houses, some linked by cobblestoned alleys lit by old-fashioned lamps — they resemble some lost corner of Narnia.

The whole place appears utterly charming and otherworldly (not excepting the parking area filled with caravans, trailers, and retired food and ice cream trucks). So of course I knew I would have to use this lovely setting as the scene of an awful murder: the fictional Harold, with his wide-eyed delight at all things, his mild eccentricities (bare feet, seersucker in winter), impeccable taste (fine champagne), and deep knowledge of the book trade, could only live (and die) in a place like the Vale of Health. His real -life counterpart, on the other hand, will be discovering rare books and edible mushrooms for decades to come on this side of the great grey water.

* I thank my friend Michael Swanwick for this useful conceit.

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— Ng Yi-Sheng. Black Waters, Pink Sands. Math Paper Press, [2020]. This newest book from the author of Lion City presents two recent performances written by Ng Yi-Sheng: Ayer Hitam: a Black History of Singapore, and Desert Blooms: the Dawn of Queer Singapore Theatre. Ayer Hitam is a remarkable history of the world through an examination of the history of Black people in Singapore.

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The weekly Field Notes of Chris Brown, a newsletter of ‘ecological fact as applied science fiction’: https://edgelands.substack.com

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The Avram Davidson Universe

During this year, Seth Davis has brought many stories by Avram Davidson into audio book format, and initiated a monthly podcast The Avram Davidson Universe. I was happy to be a guest: it was a fun conversation with Seth Davis and a chance to consider “O Brave Old World!”, one of the stories from The Other Nineteenth Century. https://www.buzzsprout.com/1310005/6138964-the-avram-davidson-universe-henry-wessells-o-brave-old-world

Other guests have included Ethan Davidson, Eileen Gunn, and Michael Swanwick, who named Avram Davidson as “the best American short fiction writer of the twentieth century’.

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The release of The Booksellers documentary to a worldwide audience. https://booksellersdocumentary.com

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Tom La Farge

Tom La Farge (1947-2020) died on 22 October. Tom was author of The Crimson Bears (2 vols., 1993-95), a modern classic worthy of a wider audience. Harvard class of 1969 (and former president of the Harvard Lampoon), with a doctorate from Princeton, he was the most literary man I have ever known. Quietly and without heeding fashion or compromising his vision, he wrote his books. He taught a generation of students in the English department at Horace Mann School. I knew Tom since 1993, and wrote about the early phase of his literary career in an essay for the New York Review of Science Fiction, now available here:

https://endlessbookshelf.net/bargeton.html.

Tom’s interest in writing with constraints, approached ‘dialogically and not ideologically’, led him to form the Writhing Society, some fruits of which can be found on its blog, http://writhingsociety.blogspot.com. He had recently completed The Enchantments, a series of three novels published 2015-18. Tom is survived by Wendy Walker and his son Paul La Farge.

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In Memoriam ‘Dirleddy’: Jan Morris (1926-2020)

My review of the remarkable fantasy of historiography and ultimate travel book, Hav (2006), originally published in the New York Review of Science Fiction for April 2007:

https://endlessbookshelf.net/hav.html

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Back to Basics

current reading:

— Isabel Yap. Never Have I Ever. Stories. Small Beer Press, [forthcoming, February 2021]. Fantastical stories, published 2012-2018, by Manila-born author Isabel Yap, with three stories original to this collection. This arrived in today’s mail, and I am eager to read it!

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— Samuel L. Clemens. The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson and the Comedy Those Extraordinary Twins by Mark Twain. Introduction by Sherley Anne Williams. Afterword by David Lionel Smith. Oxford University Press, 1996.

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— Herman Melville. The Confidence Man His Masquerade [1857]. Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library, 1984. Edited by Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, G. Thomas Tanselle. Northwestern Newberry Edition, volume ten. ‘As among Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims’, all along the river shore and on the planks of the Mississippi steamboat Fidèle, a work that cries out for performance. To read it is rewarding work.

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re-reading:

I am re-reading Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) in small bites, in the Penguin Classics edition (I have read it in first edition and in the 1892 Bentley edition); and over the past months have read several of the Travis McGee novels of John D. McDonald. I have been reading or re-reading at Samuel L. Clemens in the Oxford Mark Twain, a hybrid uniform edition: photofacsimile texts in standardized format with great new essays (Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay for The Diaries of Adam and Eve is outstanding; and Toni Morrison on Huck Finn).

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— Joanna Russ. How to Suppress Women’s Writing. University of Texas Press, [1983]. Always a delight and a provocation to read: ‘growth occurs only at the edges of something’. See also below, in the Commonplace book.

— Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. Illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1925. A favorite book: foxed, shaken, the same copy I first read at age eleven.

recent reading:

— Tom Mole. The Secret Life of Books. Why They Mean More than Words. Elliott & Thompson, [2019]. This was fun. Clearly the author and I share some interests and predilections beyond the chance similarity of titles.

— Michael Swanwick. Rainbow Clause. Dragonstairs, 2020. Eight short short stories in his ongoing investigation of the taxonomy of American myth.

— [Donald E. Westlake] Richard Stark. Dirty Money [2008]. A Parker Novel. With a New Foreword by Laura Lippman. University of Chicago Press, [2017].

— —  Deadly Edge. Random House, [1971].

— — Slayground. Random House, [1971].

— — Plunder Squad. Random House, [1972].

— P. D. James. A Taste for Death. Knopf, [1986].

— — The Skull beneath the Skin. Scribner’s, [1982].

— — Devices and Desires. Knopf, [1990].

— Feux Follets. Revue de création littéraire. Départment des Langues Modernes à UL Lafayette, [2020]. L’imaginaire louisianais in a nice rich anthology.

— Big Echo Interviews 2017-2020. Edited by Robert G. Penner. Big Echo, [POD: 6 November 2020].

— Lester Del Rey. The World of Science Fiction 1926-1976. The History of a Subculture. Garland, [1980].

— David Rothkopf. Traitor. A History of Betrayal from Benedict Arnold to Donald Trump. Thomas Dunne Books, [2020].

— Philip K. Dick. The Slave Race. With a Preface by Adam Newell and a frontispiece by Sharon Newell. Sangrail Press, 2020. Edition of 250 numbered copies. First 25 copies issued with an original blockprint initialled & numbered by the artist. A nice production.

— Michael J. DeLuca. Night Roll. Hamilton, Ontario: Stelliform Press, [2020]. A very good supernatural story of a new Detroit.

— Megan Rosenbloom. Dark Archives. A Librarian’s Investigations into the Science and History of Books Bound in Human Skin. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, [2020]. This is an advanced philosophical subject. The prose does not rise to the level of the topic. Far more interesting and informative is Jennifer Kerner’s interesting study, Anthropodermic Bibliopegy, (2019). See also the archives for November & December 2009.

— Mark Valentine. The Blue Coronation Bench. Photography by Julian Hyde. Voices in a Lane, 2020. Edition of 40. The hidden mystery of the everyday.

— Michael Swanwick. Blue as the Moon. Dragonstairs, 31 October 2020. Stories for Hallowe’en. ‘White as a Sheet’ is brilliant: swift and utterly devastating in the spiral of its change in tone.

— John Howard and Mark Valentine. Powers and Presences. Dust-Jacket & Title Page Art by Paul Lowe. [Neuilly-le-Vendin]: Sarob Press, 2020. Three new novellas and two short essays in appreciation of Inkling novelist Charles Williams (1886-1945).

— Strange Tales. Tartarus Press at 30. Edited by Rosalie Parker. Tartarus, [2020]. New stories from Reggie Oliver, Rebecca Lloyd, Mark Valentine, D. P. Watt, N. A. Sulway, and others.

— Mike Ashley. Starlight Man. The Extraordinary Life of Algernon Blackwood. Constable, [2001].

— Mike Ashley. Algernon Blackwood A Bio-Bibliography. Greenwood Press, 1987.

— M. John Harrison. Light. Bantam Books, [2004].

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— Maria Dahvana Headley. Beowulf. A New Translation. MCD x FSG Originals, [2020]. Making it new: ‘stories that haven’t yet been reckoned with’ (from her introduction, dated on a distant day, 3 March 2020)

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Commonplace book

‘To begin at the beginning: The United States has always been a corrupt society.’ — Gore Vidal

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‘Could it be that all these authors were not — as I had unthinkingly assumed — in subsidiary
traditions, but parallel ones? And that the only thing unique, superior to all others, and especially
important in my tradition — was that I was in it? Was centrality really a relative matter?’
— Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing

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a beautiful rain from Ireland in the mail (on the current issue of The Green Book)

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The America that never existed is always more powerful in our imagination than that which was there and now isn’t.
This American sentence is far more frightening than its English source:
‘The England that never existed is always more powerful in our imagination
than that which was there and now isn’t.’
— David Southwell (who is not responsible for my détournement)
http://folklorethursday.com/?p=970

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‘If, as a Black, Southern woman reader, I can find a way to connect to so many stories by other writers whose works don’t center me, then I know others can do the same when they encounter works that place them on the margins’ — Sheree Renée Thomas, in Locus

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Sailing, Creeping, Boring — William S. Reese

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There is an exhibition of early ownership marks and other aspects of the physical evidence of reading, at the RAI Library in Barcelona La vida privada dels llibres del CRAI Biblioteca de Reserva, Barcelona https://crai.ub.edu/sites/default/files/biblioteques/Reserva/expo/index.php

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The Temporary Culture website is fully functional and allows readers to purchase all current books of the press — including the new edition of The Private Life of Books — and a selection of other books and material of interest. https://temporary-culture.com

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Thank you for reading. Happy New Year!

Henry Wessells