Monday, 29 June 2009


I know I'm not the first blogger to respond enthusiastically to the BBC's superb series of programmes on poets and poetry, but could not resist adding my voice to the chorus of approval.

Thanks to modern technology, I recorded several of these broadcasts and have been watching them when time has permitted. The T.S. Eliot programme was unimpeachable in its detail, scope and balance, including a frank and fair investigation of the poet's attitude to Jews and Judaism. Among the sections I found particularly enjoyable, however, were those depicting Ezra Pound, who radiated intelligence and an eccentricity bordering on personality disorder with every word and gesture. I hadn't realised how indebted we are to Pound for the version of The Wasteland with which we are familiar. Still waiting in an electronic pigeonhole is the Louis MacNeice programme, which I am eagerly anticipating. For me MacNeice is a prime example of an under-celebrated writer, and it is largely thanks to his being set on my A-Level English Literature paper that I came to his work when I did. MacNeice wrote one of my favourite poems, The Sunlight on the Garden, a poignant, elegant and beautifully crafted celebration of the limitations and potential of human existence.

I was very glad to read in the trade press that the series had translated into enhanced -in some cases massively so - sales of poetry through bookshops, which is heartening in an age when poetry sections in bookshops are shrinking dramatically and are dominated by a miserly and unimaginative offering of bland anthologies and set texts.


Monday, 22 June 2009


Our thanks to Ivan Wise at the TLS for an intelligent and complimentary review of Cashel Byron's Profession. Bernard Shaw's fourth novel is, says Wise heart a political novel, an expression of deep discontentment with with the running of society. Shaw, who had become involved with the Fabian Society during the period of the book's publication, briefly features an African King, who cannot understand in a visit to London why "such a prodigiously rich nation should be composed chiefly of poor and uncomfortable persons toiling incessantly to create riches."

Other themes featured in the book are the New Woman and the status of boxing and those who practice it.

We're just waiting now for a review from The Boxing Times which says "A knockout read from a writer who knows the ropes...packs a real punch."


Friday, 19 June 2009


Reading one of next month's books - "Shirley's Guild", by David Pryce-Jones, has induced further nostalgia, this time for Wales. I was lucky enough to study English Literature at Aberystwyth, and the references in this book to Welsh place names, people and history strongly reawakened memories of those vastly enjoyable three years.

The book is set in a fictional Welsh Marches village, and describes the chain of events which unfolds when it is perceived that mysterious and possibly miraculous forces are called into play following the death of a young girl. We are introduced to the community through the eyes of Francis Williams, a wonderfully well-drawn figure representing faded aristocracy, whose struggle against ever-mounting household debts is set in the context of a cherished, predictable daily routine that acts as an insulation against the chaos and threat of the wider world.

A letter may arrive from Williams, Probart, once the family partnership for which he had neither inclination nor aptitude but which continues to handle his affairs. Old Barry Probart, his father's closes friend, refuses to charge, or at any rate to send in an account. When Francis's parents had been killed, he had shed tears, which nobody would have credited looking at his leathery face. The firm's envelopes marked Private and Confidential have been so many stepping stones to impoverishment and carry the kind of dread incompatible with peace of mind.
I look forward to seeing how the community - described so well in the novel - of the gentile, the nouveau-riche and the labouring villagers respond to the alleged miraculous phenomenon at the heart of the book.


Wednesday, 17 June 2009


A relaunched, very attractive website and blog from West End Lane Bookshop today plunged me benignly into a soft cloud of nostalgia. A couple of jobs ago, I was a sales rep. for a company called Troika that represented several interesting, independent publishers. My patch included London, and it was always with great pleasure that I would visit this bookshop and so beguile them with my sales patter and almost hypnotic powers of persuasion that they would occasionally order a book or two.

This shop is an attractive, well-stocked literary haven, with excellent links to local authors, around whom interesting readings are often organised, and friendly and knowledgeable staff. Add to all this the proximity of top-notch charity emporia, several chic cafes and an independent bicycle shop, and you have an irresistible scenario.

Why not check them out virtually and physically.


Friday, 12 June 2009


The recent hiatus in my blogging activity is largely due to my attendance at the Library Show in Birmingham and the preparations attendant thereto.  This was a fascinating event, the emphasis on which was very much on non-book products and services.  Of the stands visible from ours, by far the busiest was that of a company manufacturing ecologically sensitive tote bags, which can be customised with the identity of individual libraries or other organisations.   Successive waves of librarians descended gleefully upon this place, fondling and admiring the products with an excitement which was explained to me as the opportunity to generate an extra income stream, but which I strongly suspect has more to do with a widespread and deep-seated bag fetish.

I had several conversations with people about the Capuchin Classics and the books belonging to our other publishing half, Stacey International.  One of the most potentially fruitful encounters was - ironically - with a very nice woman from Kensington and Chelsea libraries, who works a (fairly hefty) stone's throw away from our office.

Being a keen observer of cultural and sartorial phenomena, I observed that the majority of visitors were female, and that a popular clothing style among this majority was to combine a short, bright printed dress with tights and boots.  Almost none of the males was dressed this way.

Take care, and use your local library.


Saturday, 6 June 2009


Spousal literary recommendation can be a sensitive area. My wife's less than positive reaction to Kurt Vonnegut has left deep psychic scars, and on the whole we don't share enthusiasm for a wide range of literature. She did, however, recently recommend a book which I'm enjoying, and which continues the theme (see a previous blog, on Jose Saramago's book Death at Intervals) of the misbehaving dead.

Set in Sweden, and written from the perspective of several characters, Handling the Undead describes what happens when the recently deceased come back to life, in terms of the effects on people, society and (amusingly) the bureaucracy of the area in Stockholm in which this phenomenon occurs. The author - John Ajvide Linqvist - also wrote Let the Right one in, in which he brings a similarly quirky, somewhat philosophical approach to a classic horror trope, namely the vampire. This is, as the culturally attuned readers of this blog will know, now a major film.

After this, I'll have to embrace something less grave-oriented, and take the literary equivalent of a cleansing shower. Suggestions welcome.

Be careful out there.