Friday, 28 January 2011


The Bookseller, chief organ of the book trade in the UK, has launched a campaign to support libraries in their struggle to survive the current round of budgetary cutbacks.

As they explain on the Facebook page for this campaign:

We are fighting for public libraries because they form an essential seed-bed for the wider reading culture of the nation, a culture from which the whole of society benefits.

Libraries seed communities with books and ideas in a way which is irreplaceable. They provide books to people who wouldn’t otherwise see or afford them, the youngest in society, the oldest, and people on low incomes. They also provide free internet access to the 27% of the population who still aren’t online at home.

Libraries are also a forum where authors and readers can come together in a neutral, unbiased space - free from commercial pressures.

Most importantly they are curated by professional librarians who provide expert guidance for readers, helping people find the books and information they need, again free from commercial considerations.

Readers, reading and the values imparted are essential to any civilised society – indeed it seems impossible to conceive a civilisation without libraries.

Many high profile authors have raised a similar clamour recently, including Philip Pullman, and it will be interesting to observe what results their efforts produce.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011


The Guardian Books blog this Monday carried a well-considered and thought-provoking piece by Robert McCrum, called 'Books that change your world but no-one else's'. Acknowledging that certain books have had a pivotal effect on the world (Rachel Carson's Silent Spring and Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, for example), McCrum goes on to examine

those books that speak to, and move, us as individual readers, become part of our imaginative landscape, and remain a secret, private pleasure

but which may drift out of the awareness of publishing and reading communities.

Mr. McCrum is then kind enough to mention Capuchin Classics as a publisher who seeks out and revivifies such books, mentioning in particular Craig Nova's superb novel, Incandescence, (which we published in the summer of 2009) as an example of a modern classic that was previously unknown to him.

This Guardian blog is a constant source of interesting news and observation, and it is heartening to see the numerous and lively responses that are being posted as responses to Monday's contribution.


Tuesday, 25 January 2011


Our sister imprint, Stacey International, occasionally publishes poetry and fiction and an interesting new title in the former category has just been announced for May 2011.

Treading the Dance is a beautiful, bilingual, illustrated collection of medieval Danish folk ballads, in which the English reader will discover many ideas, images and themes familiar from British folk song and literature, including desperate lovers, magical animals and bloodthirsty nobles. The Danish ballads are important because they show us key aspects of the Northern European sensibility in a vernacular style and were the first European ballads to be collected and written down.

Over the centuries, the ballads have inspired songwriters, poets and playwrights, served the needs of World War II resistance fighters and even formed the basis for a radio jingle.

For the Romantic poets in both Denmark and England, the revived interest in the ballads sprang from their ability in both style and content to produce a powerful narrative drama that taps into fundamental aspects of human experience.

Here's a snippet:

From The Maiden in Birdskin

He cut the flesh out of his chest
And hung it on the tree,
She spread her wings and down she flew
Great was her grief to see.

But when the little nightingale
Pecked at the bloody meat,
She changed into the fairest maid
That you could ever greet.


Monday, 24 January 2011


Suzie Feay, who has for many years been a regular commentator on the books world for the FT, Time Out and the Independent on Sunday, among others, has launched a new blog. Suzi Feay's Book Bag is a lively, intelligent and attractively presented offering, which so far has included a perceptive overview of David Mitchell's work and an absorbing discussion of the alleged distinctions between 'literary' and 'commercial' fiction.

The latter theme brought back memories of my days as an English Lit. student (at the beautifully environed Aberystwyth university) involved in frequent earnest discussions over how (and whether) literary merit should be assigned and whether 'the literary canon' is an oppressive bourgeois concept, designed to suppress the voices of diversity and unfairly foreground a narrow cadre of writers deemed acceptable by the establishment. We also went out and drank beer sometimes.

Ms Feay's blog is a destination well worth adding to your virtual roadmap.


Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The verbal pun is often held in low esteem by those who aspire to be thought of as intellectual, or possessing advanced sensibilities, but notable writers have been irresistibly drawn towards this form, and have celebrated it in and through their work. The inner child in Mervyn Peake, for example, was delighted by the simple:
Mary Rose sat on a pin, Mary rose.
and he also created a book comprising visual depictions of well-known phrases, which relied on visual puns, called Figures of Speech.

I've been reading The Best of Myles, the selected journalism of Flann O'Brien, who was such a supreme champion and exponent of puns that he often constructed them in two or three languages at once. O'Brien's column in The Irish Times, penned under the name of Myles na gCopaleen, took on a number of forms, each of which demonstrated his facility with and love for language, and in particular what could happen when registers, vocabularies and styles from different worlds were combined (this approach was given further and brilliant rein in his novels, especially At Swim Two Birds). There is an incredible series of articles, for example, lamenting the decline of knowledge about steam technology among railwaymen, and another in which the writer is the unwilling victim of a man who unleashes a series of incredible, rambling stories about 'the brother', a practically superhuman individual who can single-handedly resolve any problem or nullify any perceived danger to himself and his household.

In probably the best-known series of articles, O'Brien takes the characters of Keats and Chapman (of 'Chapman's Homer' fame) and places them in various absurd scenarios, simply in order to deliver an excruciating pun at the end of an unfeasible story. Here's an example:
Keats was presented with an Irish terrier, which he humorously named Byrne. One day the beast strayed from the house and failed to return at night. Everyone was distressed, save Keats himself. He reached reflectively for his violin, a fairly passable timber of the Stradivarius feciture, and was soon at work with chin and jaw.

Chapman, looking in for an after-supper pipe, was astonished at the poet's composure, and did not hesitate to say so. Keats smiled (in a way that was rather lovely).

"And why should I not fiddle," he asked, "while Byrne roams?"

I love the use of the word 'feciture'. There are many more.


Friday, 14 January 2011


To round off Poetry Week at the blog with something of an amuse-bouche, here are a few of my favourite limericks. Although usually a vehicle for reasonably crass, lowbrow humour of a sexual nature, this form can also yield surprisingly witty and intelligent examples, and there is something about the combination of rhyme and metre that produces a strong impact, even in the humblest of manifestations.

From, respectively: Anon; Wendy Cope (stanza III from her limerick version of 'The Wasteland') and Maurice E. Hare.

There once was a man from Peru,
Whose limericks stopped at line two.


The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep--
A typist is laid,
A record is played--
Wei la la. After this it gets deep.


There was a young man who said "Damn!
I perceive with regret that I am
But a creature that moves
In predestinate grooves
I'm not even a bus, I'm a tram.

Please feel free to inundate me with your own limerick efforts as comments.


Wednesday, 12 January 2011


I'm reading - with great pleasure and not a little pleasant perplexity - Leonard Cohen's first poetry collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies. This has been recently reissued as an attractive facsimile of the original 1956 publication.

Those who are familiar only with his songs will already be aware that he is a densely allusive writer, who sometimes uses and combines systems of symbolism and reference in ways that demand a thoughtful response from his audience. His poems, even those he produced at the age of 22, offer the same challenge, but also many rewards in terms of the power they carry through imagery, metre, theme and vocabulary.

Occasionally, an apparently more straightforward example appears, and consequently has the impact of a ballad (a word Cohen uses in some titles), lullaby or chant. One of my favourite such is:


My lover Peterson
He named me Goldenmouth
I changed him to a bird
And he migrated south

My lover Frederick
Wrote sonnets to my breast
I changed him to a horse
And he galloped west

My lover Levite
He named me Bitterfeast
I changed him to a serpent
And he wriggled east

My lover I forget
He named me Death
I changed him to a catfish
And he swam north

My lover I imagine
He cannot form a name
I'll nestle in his fur
And never be to blame.

For an astonishingly erudite and intelligent discussion of Cohen's (and other artists') poetry and lyrics, as well as interesting explorations of many other related themes, The Leonard Cohen Forum is to be recommended. See especially the sections at the bottom.


Tuesday, 11 January 2011


The e-bulletin from The Bookseller, as well as reporting the main events and news items from the publishing domain, is also sprinkled with signposts to interesting and often unusual book-related themes and sites. My attention was drawn in this way yesterday to a website called Globalwriters. This is an online community for all members of the species to post work, exchange ideas and particpate in events. They've also - continuing the theme for this week - just launched a poetry competition, with free entry, once you've signed up to the site (also free). There is a modest cash prize and, I think uniquely, you can view all the other entries, as they're displayed in the manner of comments in a discussion thread.

The competition runs until April 2011.


Monday, 10 January 2011


I've been renewing my interest in poetry recently. My Christmas reading was graced by a lovely new collection called Songs of the Darkness, by Lawrence Sail. Sail often uses ideas and themes which relate more obliquely to the traditional festive concepts and objects, and cleverly weaves these into the overarching themes of hope, death and rebirth. At his best, he builds layers of imagery, sound and theme to create subtle and beautiful poems, and is particularly good on celebrating natural history. All royalties from sales of Songs of the Darkness will be given to Trusts for African Schools, a registered charity which acts as a conduit for money raised in the UK to be sent out to some of the poorest schools in Africa

Also noted is a new initiative from The Poetry Book Society, namely a virtual reading group, based around a selection of books they suggest, which can also be purchased at discounted rates.

More on writing which doesn't make it to the right hand side of the page in the next blog.


Wednesday, 5 January 2011


Firstly, a happy new year to all our blogees (I'm hoping this word will make it into the next OED, if it isn't in already).

I learnt (soon after returning to my desk and taking a virtual machete to the forest of e-mails that awaited me) that the redoubtable Barry Humphries had, while in conversation with the husky siren of English letters, Mariella Frostrup, on BBC Radio 4's Open Book show, chosen South Wind as one of his five favourite books.

You can hear the programme, and discover his other choices, here.