Saturday, 31 December 2011
These are the best books I've read in 2011. I tried to keep it to a 'top 10', I really did, but I've read so many good books this year...
Forcing myself to leave Five Leaves books out of the mix helped. We publish so many fantastic books (I am proud to be able to say 'we'), it would be impossible to select a top 10 from those I've read this year. I will mention though one book that's due out in the New Year – This Bed Thy Centre by Pamela Hansford Johnson. First published in 1935 and out of print for years, it's a biting social commentary, an acutely observed depiction of normal people dealing with a rapidly-changing world, and above all, a rip-roaring yarn. When it comes out, buy it and read it!
So. Here is my top 16 (which includes two trilogies and one book I've read before, so it's really a top 11).
I read The Planiverse by AK Dewdney decades ago. It's inspired by Edwin Abbott's Flatland, published in 1884, and tells the story of A Square. Square lives in Flatland, a two-dimensional universe, and is blind to the social repression and discrimination of his land until he discovers Lineland, Spaceland and Pointland. I've been meaning to read Flatland for ages, and I'm so glad I finally got round to it this year – it's social satire at its best. The Planiverse takes a geeky angle on the story, examining the implications of life in two dimensions in exhaustive detail while describing Yendred's great journey across the Planiverse. Both are brilliant, and should be read one after the other.
Letter Fountain by Joep Pohlen is a beautiful book, and speaks to the typography geek in me. Originally published in Dutch (in several editions), Taschen published an English language edition this year, and although it's quite expensive I couldn't resist. Its design is exactly what a book should be – clear and restful – and the attention to detail makes it a joy to behold and hold. The contents are a geek's delight, divided into three sections which tell you all you need to know about how type works, display specimen types in exhaustive detail, and tell the history of typography. I want to make books like this.
Another book which is a beautiful object in itself is Nox by Anne Carson. This is a printed version of an elegy she created for her brother. Originally put together in a notebook, the book is printed on one long strip of paper which is concertinaed into folds and presented in a sturdy and gorgeous box. Nox takes Catullus's "poem 101" (an elegy for his brother) as its starting point, and gradually translates it through the document. At the same time she remembers her brother, questions why she needs to memorialise him, and tries to work out how to do it. The words, the pictures, the presentation, everything about this book is stunning.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is yet another desirable object. This book caught my attention because of the associated online game (http://www.nightcircus.co.uk/) – a great publicity stunt. I wouldn't have noticed or bought the book if I hadn't been following Alison Hennessey from Random House on twitter (@vintagebooks)... just goes to show, this social networking thingy does work sometimes. The story is told out of chronological order, and to my mind that's the only downside. It's fantastical and strange and gripping and uplifting all at the same time, and the book itself is an example of how innovative design can lift a story from the very good to the extraordinary.
Conversely, the 1Q84 trilogy by Haruki Murakami shows how design is totally irrelevant when the words are extraordinary in themselves. I read it on a Kindle and was completely drawn in right from the start. This is a perfect example of speculative fiction – what would happen if there were a parallel universe where past events had happened slightly differently, and two people were somehow transferred there, after which everything becomes gradually more complex and surreal. The main characters are totally engaging and it's a beautiful story beautifully told. I've ordered the real books, as I will definitely be reading these again and I want to do it properly next time.
I'll read anything Neal Stephenson writes – he's so clever, and his novels are BIG in size and scope. Reamde is a departure from his usual speculative fiction in that it's a thriller, but it is still satisfyingly BIG. It's based on the possibilities for fraud and extortion presented by online gaming, rapidly descending from geek-talk into seemingly endless violence and mayhem. Somehow Stephenson manages to maintain an element of fun amongst all the destruction, and although it's over 900 pages it rattles along right to the end.
Adam Roberts is another speculative fiction author I read obsessively. He's not as well-known as Stephenson, which I think is unfair. Both have BIG ideas... Anyway, Yellow Blue Tibia is delightfully bonkers. In 1945 Stalin corrals a group of science fiction writers and orders them to develop an alien invasion scenario which will provide him with a 'common enemy' to replace the weakening USA and unite the USSR. He changes his mind after a while and orders the writers to forget about the project on pain of death. Things aren't that simple though...
The Night of the Mi'raj by Zoe Ferraris was recommended to me by a friend as an interesting study of women's life in Saudi Arabia. I knew the Saudi society is repressive but I find it hard to understand how women can accept living that way. It's also a well-written mystery thriller with fascinating characters and a twisting plot that kept me guessing.
I've been meaning to read The Killing Jar by Nicola Monaghan for a while (Niki is the course leader for the degree I'm doing, and occasional Five Leaves' author). As well as being a shocking yet strangely endearing story, it too describes a life I find it difficult to comprehend – this time that of a girl growing up on one of Nottingham's roughest estates.
Peter F Hamilton's Void trilogy (The Dreaming Void, The Temporal Void and The Evolutionary Void) is grand space opera at its very best. Hamilton is one of the best SF authors around; he's capable of building entire universes in his head and putting them down on paper in a completely believable way. The scope of this trilogy is not just BIG, it's ENORMOUS. I listened to it as an audiobook (in the car and while cooking) at the same time as reading Reamde then 1Q84, which almost resulted in a mental implosion as I tried to keep two bundles of storylines straight in my head. I'm not even going to try and summarise the stories of the Void – just go and read the books.
Finally, one of my fondest memories of 2011 is the Nottingham Stanza reading of TS Eliot's Four Quartets from start to finish in one go at Southwell Poetry Festival. I hadn't read the Quartets before this, which was a shocking omission on my part... but taking part in that reading was an almost spiritual experience, and in a way I'm glad that was my first real experience of the whole group of poems. I have read the book since, and will do again many times, I'm sure.
Sunday, 25 December 2011
The last two of the top ten, which is, by the way, in random order, includes that "travel writing" classic Naples '44 by Norman Lewis (Eland), which I'll re-read soon. It reminds me very much of Alexander Baron's writing on the British occupation of Italy. Finally, one large photographic book, Ida Kar: bohemian photographer (National Portrait Gallery) - the only book here with a Five Leaves' connection, as her subjects included our writers Laura Del-Rivo, Bernard Kops and Terry Taylor. Their images also appeared in a terrific Kar retrospective at the NPG.
I'd also like to give an honourable mention to Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs by DD Johnson (AK Press), a rollicking novel of life in the international anarchist direct action movement.
Seven of this year's top ten, plus the runner up, were from independent presses (hurrah!) but only one by a woman (shame). Most, but not all, were published this year.
Saturday, 17 December 2011
Monday, 12 December 2011
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUcUlu_6oeE&feature=share. A challenge then to our other writers... just skip any ballet, please. I was particularly pleased with Rod making this short film as his book first came out in 2007. It did pretty well at the time, being shortlisted for the ITV 3 Crime and Thriller Awards, but like most five year old fiction, there is a tendency to slumber. This is a nice piece of work.
Sunday, 11 December 2011
Saturday, 10 December 2011
Monday, 5 December 2011
It was a good opportunity to thank - and to repeat that thanks here - to those who keep Five Leaves going. The gathering included writers, editors, those from the technical side, other publishers, UNISON stewards, local press, librarians and a small group of people (you know who you are) to whom Pippa and I turn for advice, or, in my case, to moan about trade matters. There'll be a more formal annual report later.
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
Tuesday, 15 November 2011
Sunday, 13 November 2011
Friday, 11 November 2011
A fuller obituary appears on LeftLion: http://www.leftlion.co.uk/articles.cfm/title/nigel-pickard-rip/id/4072
Monday, 7 November 2011
Sunday, 6 November 2011
In the afternoon I went to a session with Alison Hennessey from Random House and one of their authors about 'The Future of Publishing'. Fascinating stuff, lots of discussion and debate. The answer is, of course, 'nobody knows'. If you ask me, there is a future for both books and e-books, but they have different futures. At the moment there isn't much to tell between them - effectively they're both containers for words. I think printed books will become 'beautiful objects' in their own right, and e-books will make much more use of the possibilities of the technology... whatever those might be. Watch this space.
Apart from that, we listened to David Lodge and a trio of historical fiction authors, talked to lots of lovely people and even sold quite a few books. We sold TWO copies of Rose Fyleman's Fairy Book (hoorah!) and two of Swimmers in the Secret Sea by William Kotzwinkle - a sadly-neglected but absolutely beautiful novella which is currently our worst-selling book. It is my mission to change that status - buy it! you won't regret it!
Many thanks to the indomitable Sheelagh Gallagher and the invincible Jane Brierley, and the folks at Vintage, for a fantastic day.
Meanwhile, up in Fife, our J. David Simons was on the frontline at another Readers' Day.
Friday, 28 October 2011
Sunday, 23 October 2011
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Peter was a good friend to Five Leaves. He was particularly keen on our New London Editions series - in fact he liked our emphases on London, on Jewish literature, and on Nottingham - all of which were important to him, representing his upbringing and his home the last few decades. Our condolences to Barbara and the family.
There will be a celebration of Peter's life at the Derek Randall suite at Trent Bridge at 3.00pm on Friday November 4th, which is open to all those who knew him.
Monday, 17 October 2011
But that is to perhaps miss the point. Why should the Arts Council fund those of our books that are not what you might call creative non-fiction or fiction, and have a left-wing stance? Any reader of this blog will have realised that Five Leaves is hardly a contributor to the Adam Werrity Travel Fund.
The Arts Council currently funds Five Leaves through its Grants for the Arts scheme, a competitive scheme, where we submit a programme of activity for, in our case, three years. We receive a modest annual grant towards that modest programme ("Year One - bring down the Tory Government; Year Two - elect a Labour Government; Year Three - oversee the withering away of the state"??) but it can be rather difficult to ascertain how many square feet of our office are devoted to, say, social history, and how many to introducing new young adult fiction writers, or organising States of Independence, so rather than applying title by title, event by event, we apply for the press as a whole. The irony is of course that our social history titles in general do better than the "creative" stuff, so rather than the Arts Council subsidising social history, it is the other way round as our successful social history books enable us to put in smaller bids than would otherwise be the case. This is also a hedge against the day the Arts Council can no longer fund us, or does not wish to fund us. We intend to survive, which would be less possible if our backlist comprised poetry, young adult fiction and other slower selling items. We can see how an Arts Council logo on a book of clearly left-wing provenance might be a red rag to a right wing bull. But wouldn't taking the logo off such books indicate subterfuge on our part?
Finally - a reasonable test of our "objectivity" - would Five Leaves publish writers from the right? Yes, I am sure we do already. In general I would not ask someone's politics before publishing them, but I know that, for example, Colin Wilson, whose second novel we republish next month is hardly a foaming lefty. Would we publish, say, some pastoral poems about the deserts of Dubai by Liam Fox (who will now have some time on his hands to write a sonnet or two). Probably not, but if Ken Clarke ever offers us a book of his writing about jazz (an area we are moving further into next year)? Now you're talking.
Saturday, 15 October 2011
I'm not sure if there is a moral in this rounded tale other than we are connected to history by very small steps. Which we all know.
Friday, 14 October 2011
Wednesday, 12 October 2011
You don’t have to admire them, but you might as well;
they receive so little attention. They are causing a ruckus
at The Oblivion Tea-Rooms. They are steadfast
in their uncertainty. They believe they are following
an ancient set of instructions found in a cave.
The instructions are badly translated and partially eaten
by sheep. They have seen the darkness. Their desires
are works in progress. They have no sense of sin.
They bathe in metaphorical waterfalls.
They meet in private and read each other to sleep.
Like everyone else, they stand at the edge of the water
and watch for a sail. They make a noise like an animal
trapped in a sack. They make a noise like a library
in the very early morning. They look like lanterns
swung in an underground cavern. They sit on benches,
saying the light is quite like beaten gold.
They try but they can’t help being slightly annoying.
They are not terrorists or Apollos or aircraft carriers.
They are frequently humbled by the need to earn a living.
They will make a fuss over nothing. They join hands and dance
like ceiling-fans. They love rivers and hares and hatstands.
They climb ladders of grammar to find the perfect view.
Their exaggerations are indistinguishable
from the truth. They feast on thoughts and air
left over from the previous century.
They harvest thunder. They wander. They smell of tarpaulins
and adhesive corners. They know how to pull the wool.
They luxuriate in epigraphs. They miss the point.
They dream about wolf-whistling the Furies.
They have no idea what they’re doing. This is their secret.
CJ Allen, 2010
Poets was first published in Assent 64/3 and will appear in Clive Allen's next collection, At the Oblivion Tea-Rooms from Nine Arches Press in summer of 2012.
Monday, 10 October 2011
But they have done pretty well with e-books... Later a writer announced that it is perfectly easy to crack the encryption in e-books that prevents the equivalent of file sharing. He said that as an experiment, he downloaded the complete text of the Booker prize longlist in half an minute, for free. So... soon all e-books will be free. Can't make money by printing books, can't make money by making e-books. There's not a lot left. But still, it was not such a bad day, the number of book sales was slightly higher than the number of manuscripts offered to us.... I rather fear that when the last publisher in the UK closes, attending the closing sale of the last bookshop, those attending the party will be mostly made up of people waving an unpublished manuscript, quite oblivious to everything else. Happy Monday.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
The event is free, on October 13. Full details on:
Tuesday, 4 October 2011
I was a little surprised by one of the other speakers (and I don't mean our Andy Croft) who wondered whether there would have been so much interest had it been the "Norwegian Civil War" because of the romantic nature of Spain and the Spanish people. Would 2,500 British people have travelled to fight in Norway? Yes, actually, had the situation and times been the same. Anti-fascism is not determined by the number of fjords a country has.
International Brigade... Cable Street... There are a number of good reports and photos on line. A good place to start is http://stevesilver.org.uk/blog/battle-of-cable-street-75-anniversary/. And then back home in time to pack for a Leicester Trades Council event celebrating the Dirty Thirty, with David Bell speaking to the Five Leaves' book of the same name and Alan Parry singing, including the song he has written about the group. Eight or so of the Dirty Thirty were present including Malcolm Pinnegar and Darren Moore who spoke, and Johnny Gamble, who got his own special cheer for being the only man in his pit to have gone on strike. Jane Bruton, a nurse, who used to be involved in the women's support group also spoke, reading out old minutes and letters from back in the day. This was the second evening in a row that ended with the Internationale - though in this case not the Billy Bragg version, but the full strength original version, standing, with clenched fists aloft.
Finally, today I attended a meeting of local UNISON members who were taking up the Six Book Challenge as part of their Union Learning. It became a Seven Book Challenge as they were presented with copies of the Five Leaves' Nottingham anthology Sunday Night and Monday Morning. A printer we had dealings with found 400 copies of the book in their warehouse which we had not accounted for and we have been steadily finding ways of giving them away to good homes. Why is reading so important to trade unionists? Apart from its intrinsic value, and the value of building a reading culture in the workplace, as the number of veterans of the Spanish Civil War and Cable Street - and even the 84/85 NUM pass on - we can find out what they thought at the time, what they believed in, find their stories, their tall tales, and find what they can teach us through books. Reading allows us to meet remarkable people doing remarkable things. UNISON is doing a great job working with the Reading Agency to promote reading in the workplace.
Sunday, 2 October 2011
Among the first people to visit our stall was a man with a photo of his father treating one of the injured at Cable Street. Crikey - all the publications about the day recycle the same images. This was completely new to me. He was one of many people sharing family memories of the day, though the number of actual Cable Street veterans able to attend is now limited. At our later book launch I was pleased to see Max Levitas (who spoke at the rally), Beatty Orwell and our own Bill Fishman. There were many stalls including from our friends at Brick Lane Bookshop, Housmans and Freedom and we were well entertained by street theatre and music, including by strolling actors in period costumes rallying the crowds "to Aldgate".
The march - initiated late - passed by. It was led by a number of Bangladeshi groups and our friends from the Jewish Socialists' Group. The Indian Workers Association was strongly represented, as were local trade union branches, the Woodcraft Folk with a brilliant hand made Cable Street banner, and the Connelly Association contingent was a reminder that so many of those at Cable Street were London Irish dockers, who used their work tools to prize up paving slabs to make barricades in 1936. The stall was too busy to leave to see the young musicians of the very multicultural Grand Union Youth Orchestra though I'd sneaked in for their rehearsals.
The next event was the book launch of our five Cable Street books. Maggie Pinhorn of Alternative Arts, the main organiser of the day, had said it would be busy and perhaps 300 people attended. Jil Cove of the Cable Street Group spoke first, followed by Andy Croft who had written the introduction to the late Frank Griffin's October Day. He was followed by Frank's daughter, Josephine Clark, who read from the book. David Rosenberg, who is doing more events based on his book Battle for the East End than anyone thought possible, read next. Alan Gibbons was unable to attend because of family reasons, so I read a little from his young adult fiction book Street of Tall People. Fittingly, Roger Mills ended the launch by reading from his Everything Happens in Cable Street. By now our piles of books - over two stalls - was going down fast. This was the best day of bookselling we have had. Period (as Americans say).
Astonishingly, about 125 people came to our panel discussion on rebel writers from the 1930s, to hear Mary Joannou, Andy Croft and Ken Worpole have a friendly disagreement of the impact of the literature of the 1930s. There was no time for audience participation, though Stephen Watts managed to chip in. Stephen was one of those reading (from our AN Stencl book All My Young Years at the previous night's Cable Street party organised by Jewdas. Leon Rosselson had the next set - I was on stall duty but I got his latest four CD collection and agreed to put on a Rosselson gig sometime in Nottingham. We used to talk about publishing a Leon Rosselson songbook, but somehow that never happened. My fault, not Leon's.
At six we turned into pumpkins and the stall was packed away, or what remained of it. It was time to be civilians, and attend the evening gig. The excellent compere was Ivor Dembina followed by Michael Rosen (one of whose poems had its first book outing many years ago in a Five Leaves/Jewish Socialists' Group book). I can't list the whole cast of those appearing on the magical old music hall stage at Wilton's but the people who stood out for me were the comedian Shappi Khorsandi, the band The Men They Could Not Hang and, finally, on great form, in front of a packed and appreciative hall, Billy Bragg. All of the artists performed gratis, all events were free, and the bucket collection will be used to shore up Wilton's and to pay for all the publicity and other costs. Anything left over will be used to further honour those who fought to defend their area on that extraordinary day on 4th October 1936 under the slogan of No Pasaran! They shall not pass! Five Leaves was thrilled to be part of such an extraordinary day, marking the 75th anniversary of such an extraordinary event.
Map by John Wallett
Monday, 26 September 2011
"I am not one accepted in your parish. / Bleistein is my relative..." and, after describing the horrors of "walking with Cohen" at Treblinka he finishes one stanza "I thought what an angry poem / you would have made of it, given the pity."
Just as Litvinoff was about to begin, in walked TS Eliot with his entourage. Litvinoff said "I nearly died", but he read the poem "and it absolutely stunned everybody". There was uproar. To his credit - reported by another Jewish poet, Dannie Abse, sitting close, Eliot put his head down and muttered "It's a good poem; it's a very good poem."
One poem in the anthology "Earth and Eden", includes the lines "When time and memory intersect the sun / there is happiness..." I hope there will be a memorial gathering and reading from Emanuel Litvinoff's work.
Friday, 23 September 2011
Thursday, 22 September 2011
Thursday, 15 September 2011
The journal brings together many of our concerns under the one cover - social history, Romans, London fiction, Nottingham, poetry, travel writing. Maps is 150 pages, including some illustrations (some being maps...), some being colour. The book sells at £7.99 and can be ordered here: http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/maps_ross_bradshaw_i022678.aspx
Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Mark Perryman, the leftie who runs Philosophy Football, will certainly not be attending one Cable Street event - the one organised by the Stalin Society. It would be nice to think nobody would attend, but there is such a group: "The aim of the Stalin Society is to defend Stalin and his work..." and it has a meeting on Cable Street. I'm not going to say where or when it is, but google will tell you if need be. The Society only costs a fiver to join, £2.50 for the unemployed. A great bargain if you are an unemployed Stalinist.
As far as I know Stalin was not at Cable Street, but 1936 was a busy year for him, what with the first Moscow Show Trial (which resulted in the execution of Zinoviev and Kamenev and others) and the start of the Great Purge. It is hard to see what such a Society could offer us.