I finished re-reading Dune recently. When I first read it the first time, I was a teenager. Setting out now, I realized that most of what I thought I remembered came not from the book but the film directed by David Lynch—no monstrous Guild Navigator in a Baroque fishtank, or festering Baron Harkonnen here. Some great scenes in this one, and the story moves at a good pace, if a bit abruptly in places. I love this retro cover designed and illustrated by Jim Tierney.
But now, when I tried to see the whole affair from the point of view of the self interest of each of the parties involved, the anomaly came to me suddenly.The Quincunx, Charles Palliser
I spent most of the Christmas break reading The Quincunx, which somehow I’d managed to put off since it was recommended to me sometime in the 1980s. At 781 pages, it it the longest novel I’ve read in a while. It also weighs a ton. I think it left a permanent groove in my chest. It’s dense, immersive and in places harrowing. For this image, I paired it with Philip Davies’ Lost London, 1870-1945, which is filled with beautiful archival images of London. Both books are highly recommended.
I write down what I observe in my notebooks. I do this for two reasons. The first is that Writing inculcates habits of precision and carefulness. The second is to preserve whatever knowledge I possess for you, the Sixteenth Person.Piranesi, by Susanna Clarke
So many books are inextricably connected with friendships. I still remember the moment in the 1970s when a friend insisted I read Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis while we were waiting for his Greyhound in a snowstorm. He nearly missed his bus when we made a mad dash for a nearby bookstore. On another occasion I was leaving a friend’s house in Toronto when she handed me a copy of John Crowley’s Little, Big, a book that remains a favorite to this day. A few years ago, my friend Tim passed away. Our friendship was based on words – we never met in the real world, just online. Tim, a writer and instructor of writing during his life, was well read and often recommended authors to me. Here are few, which include some old friends and some yet to meet.
Adolpho Biyo Carares
Robert W. Chambers
Gerard de Nerval
Hugh Walpole: The Best Supernatural
One of the great joys of venturing out as things gradually reopened from the Covid-19 lockdown was the discovery that the nearby used bookstore hadn’t packed it in. I drove there fully expecting to find the windows dark and some kind of sad goodbye in Sharpie block letters taped to the window. Not at all. Sure, there was a sheet of Plex hanging over the cluttered desk, and there was a limit to how many people could be in the store at any given time (surely a gesture of great optimism), but it was open for business, and within 60 seconds I’d found a trade sized copy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke (lots of luck finding that in a big box book store. All they have is the horribly inadequate mass market edition – trust me, I looked) and this beautiful book of Eugene Atget’s photographs.
I’ve known about Atget for years. I used one of his photographs as a reference for my drawing called Coincidental Misfortune. But this was a happy reunion. The photos of old Paris are sure to inspire my current writing, which is a second world novel that takes place in a crumbling old city – of course it does. The crumbling textures and mysterious windows will surely find their way into my drawings.
In another life, I would have loved to own a second hand bookstore. Maybe once and a while I would even have opened the door to share the treasure.
I am very fortunate to be able to offer all three of my books to date in audiobook format. Late this summer, my collection, Magpie’s Ladder was produced as an audiobook by Encyclopocalypse Publications. It joins The Lost Machine and Necessary Monsters on Audible. If you go to Audible, you can hear a sample of Jake Ruddle’s excellent narration.
I hope you enjoy this look at the endpaper illustration from the print edition from PS Publishing. This particular illustration was reserved for the signed edition.
Everything is made through images. They enter us through all the other senses, as through the eye. An echo (they say) is an image of the voice. All our affections are produced by images of touching. Our whole body is a mirror.The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert, translated by Paul Auster
Last night I was looking around for a place to stream Alex Garland’s new(ish) series Devs in Canada, a strangely difficult thing unless I wanted to signed up for yet another streaming service. I don’t. Casting around for something else to watch, I came across High-Rise, a 2016 film by director Ben Wheatley based on the novel by J. G. Ballard. I have no intention of reviewing the film. If you are interested, Will Self has a good piece on it.
I started reading Ballard in the 1980s when I chanced across a collection called Terminal Beach. Terminal Beach remains my favorite Ballard short story. After that initial discovery, I snapped up all the Ballard I could find, usually editions with beautiful James Marsh covers. It was nice to be reminded of this author last night.
The typescript below is the first page of High-Rise with that frightening first line. I’m always fascinated by pages with an author’s marks. You can see more if you follow the link in the caption. Funnily enough, I read most of High-Rise on the sun-baked roof of a high rise in Toronto overlooking the airport. I am sure J.G would have approved.
I am enjoying Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald. It seems the perfect book for this moment. These essays vary in length and it’s the longer pieces I like best. My favorites so far are Tekels Park and In Her Orbit. Tekels Park reminded me of my own childhood explorations and In Her Orbit, introduced me to Nathalie Cabrol and her fascinating research.
Macdonald’s observations are always interesting and filled with unexpected pieces of information. Did I mention she writes beautifully? The thing I like best about this book is that despite the frequent acknowledgement about the sorry state of our natural world, there is an underlying curiosity and sense that there is still so much to see and learn about. I haven’t read H is for Hawk, but I will soon.