ReadySteadyBlog

Actually, I've not gone fishin' at all, but we are freezing the data (!) here on ReadySteadyBook whilst we do a major upgrade of the site (especially in the "back end")...


On Friday, I finished working for The Book Depository after a wonderful four years with them. In July, I start a new adventure (in trade publishing with Quercus; on Twitter: @quercusbooks) which I'm very excited about. But, for once, for now, I'm going to put my feet up for a few weeks, unplug from the matrix, and read some big books...


See you back here in September.

Finally, after lots and lots of work -- much of which accounts for the relative silence around here of late -- we've launched BookDepository.com, the American sister website to BookDepository.co.uk.


It has been a tough and very busy year already, so I'm going to put ReadySteadyBook on ice for the next few weeks. I need a break and, in addition, I'll soon be moving house: very exciting for me, I'm heading to Big London. When I get there, and get settled, then I need to focus on making ReadySteadyBook a lot more vibrant than it has been over the last few months.


Have a great summer!

I interview novelist, critic and Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Birmingham University, David Lodge, over on The Book Depository:


Mark Thwaite: Is Deaf Sentence based on your own experiences David?

David Lodge: The portrayal of the central character's deafness is closely based on my own experience, and it is exceedingly unlikely that I would have thought of writing a novel about this condition if it I hadn't I suffered from it myself. From my late forties I was afflicted with gradually worsening high-frequency deafness, the most common form of hearing impairment, which makes it difficult to distinguish consonants, especially when there is a lot of background noise. The character of Desmond's father is also closely based on my own father who died in 1999. He was also deaf, as a result of old age, but wouldn't wear a hearing aid, so communication between us was often difficult. (More.)

Building on Stephen Mitchelmore's excellent review of Hugo Wilcken's Colony, last week John Self, on his Asylum blog, wrote a very positive piece on Hugo's novel which he says his readers should regard "as a recommendation as strong as any I've given this year."


Over on Twitter, John has set up the #wilckenwatch tag (which simply means that all Tweets about Colony tagged with #wilckenwatch get organised together so that they can easily be browsed). Over on The Book Depository I popped Colony onto the homepage and made it my Something for the Weekend selection last Friday. I've also made Colony one of my June Books of the Month here on ReadySteadyBook.


All this, as John has said, is because Colony is "an exceptional achievement whose overlooked status is little short of scandalous." Hopefully, this wee blog-based campaign can get Colony more of the readers that it undoubtedly deserves.

This Bank Holiday weekend (you've got until Tuesday 26th May), we're running a Friends and Family discount over on The Book Depository.


Just use my personal promotional code (MTRSCP) and you'll save an additional 10% on our already really rather fab prices (free delivery to over 90 countries around the world too, don't forget!)


You need to go via this link on The Book Depository, enter my code, and you'll be away!

Over at The Book Depository, we are having a charity auction with all the proceeds going to Downsed International ("Down Syndrome Education International works around the world to improve education for young people with Down syndrome"):


To celebrate our new website launch we asked our favourite authors and illustrators to design an exclusive bookmark to be sent out to our customers to thank you for your support, whilst raising money for a worthwhile cause.

We were absolutely thrilled with the results, with fantastic bookmarks from people as diverse as cartoonist Matt from The Daily Telegraph to Noel and Dave from the Mighty Boosh - take a look for yourself, you can see the full list of bookmarks at the bottom of this page.

From the 18th April we will be enclosing one of these exclusive, limited edition, Book Depository bookmarks with all orders from the site (whilst stocks last of course). There are 18 bookmarks to collect. If you have a favourite, or indeed want to collect all 18, you will need to get your orders in quick, as they are in limited supply.

And what's more, you also have the chance to own the original artwork! Starting on Thursday 23rd April we will be auctioning off the signed originals on eBay, with all the monies raised being donated to Downsed International. (More.)

My mini-review of Marina Hyde's Celebrity: How Entertainers Took Over the World and Why We Need an Exit Strategy over on The Book Depository:


It is hardly original suggesting that celebrity -- and our obsession with it -- is absurd, but Marina Hyde's excellent book also fully debunks the idea that it is harmless. Hanging our collective hopes on the do-gooding activities of entertainers is not only childish and ridiculous it is, Hyde argues, dangerous.

For sure, celebrity-worship has been around for a long time, but in our media-saturated age the easiest copy to write and publish normally involves Someone Famous doing Something (anything!). Look at any tabloid "news"paper -- news is now simply what A. N. Actor has recently got up to, however dull or tawdry. Tragically, what now passes for more substantive copy is when Someone Famous does Something for Charity. But obscenely overpaid mannequins lecturing us to cough-up our hard-earned on their personal hobby-horse is no way to solve the world's problems.

Is there anything more senseless then Sharon Stone attending the World Economic Forum or Jude Law lecturing us about the Taliban? Hyde doesn't think so. Ginger Spice may well be a goodwill ambassador, but all that shows is that even the UN has bought into our collective inanity and fawning in the face of fame.

So, what is the solution? Hyde doesn't really offer one, but the first step might be simply to laugh at the pomposity of the performing monkeys we've insanely begun to worship. Hyde's book is as good a place as any to start our much-needed celebrity detox!

I review William D. Cohan's House of Cards: How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism over on The Book Depository:


In normal economic times the fall of Bear Stearns, founded as an equity trading house in 1923 and one of the largest global investment banks prior to its sudden collapse in March 2008, would be a major story. But, then, Lehman Brothers disintegrated, Merrill Lynch was sold for a pittance, and the world's banking system suddenly realised that virtual assets were worth virtually nothing and all but came to a standstill. After all that Bear Stearns's story didn't seem quite so exceptional or noteworthy. However, the story of this 85-year-old bank, securities trader and brokerage firm is worth hearing and is grippingly told by William D. Cohan who concentrates his attention on three wild and whacky bank bosses: Cy Lewis, Ace Greenberg and Jimmy Cayne. The latter, Cayne, is described as having "world-champion-level bridge skills". His machismo and his gambling are emblematic of a system that from the outside seems impenetrably complicated but is, in truth, run by men of limited intelligence and unlimited avarice.

Cohan's book is subtitled How Wall Street's Gamblers Broke Capitalism, but it is precisely that global, historically-situated, man-made, overturnable social system -- capitalism -- that he never defines or critiques. This is a thrilling narrative in parts but, like so many books about the credit crunch it is curiously incurious about the system that requires bankers to get up to their creative accounting in the first place. Certainly, the world financial meltdown came about because of perverse and ridiculous derivatives, collateralized debt, unrestrained mortgages and also because -- as Cohan shows clearly -- of the negligence, greed and criminality of individual bankers, but behind all of that is a social system that has always been blind to human need and based on the extraction and circulation of value. Wall Street's gamblers haven't broken that system, but they have broken the real economy where real people live and work. And when real people realise that Wall Street gamblers are merely an epiphenomenon of a system that is intrinsically inimical to their needs then it might be them and not a bunch of greedy, overpaid, blue-eyed white men who really break capitalism. For good.

The Book Depository website has a a lovely new look and feel: go see...


Lots of new features -- like pre-release orders, excellent advanced and deep search, browse category landing pages, carousels, tabs etc. -- so, hopefully, you'll like it!

Thanks to Nigel Beale and D.G. Myers for responding to my question concerning what should be on a history of the novel reading list with long reading lists of their own. Both Nigel's and D.G.'s lists are very useful (and this bibliography from the University of Warwick has some good pointers too), but I'll compile one of my own here soon which is specifically just about the history of the novel itself. (For starters, my current Book of the Week, The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume 2, 1100 - 1400, would certainly be on it, as would Robert Mayer's excellent History and the Early English Novel and Nancy Armstrong's flawed engagement with Ian Watt, How Novels Think: The Limits Of Individualism From 1719-1900.)


Really, though, the last thing I should be doing is starting a new project! I'm run off my feet at the moment: we got over 120 submissions for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, (so lots and lots and lots of reading, but nothing I can talk about until after we've longlisted some of them); and I'm also working on getting all sorts of content together for the new look Book Depository website which will land some time in the next couple of weeks.


Whilst all that should be enough for anyone, I'm rather beside myself with excitement as The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 (CUP) has just landed. A bottle of whisky and a few nights without sleep seem in order!


Finally, you'll have all no doubt noticed that Twitter has become all the rage -- despite having been around for quite a while, it suddenly seems to have really taken off. RSB has had a Twitter page for ages (and so has The Book Depository and BritLitBlogs), but I've relied on RSB's RSS feed to do all the tweeting for me and have not actually done much active tweeting myself. Well, expect that to change soon!

Each Tuesday over on Editor's Corner I do a Tuesday Top Ten. Normally, a chosen author picks their top ten favourite books (in any category or none), but today I've taken the opporutunity to list ten of my own favourite books of 2008.

FYI, the last twenty interviews I've carried out for The Book Depository have been with: Alison Goodman, Richard Napier, Fflur Dafydd, David Ellis, Steve Toltz, Nick Edwards, Carol Topolski, Peter Ackroyd, Mark Garnett, Toby Barlow, Lyn Smith, Alan Ziegler, Sadie Jones, Clare Wigfall, Mike Marqusee, Helen Fitzgerald, Damon Galgut, Linwood Barclay, James Bradley and Julia Gregson.

The shortlisted titles that are in the running for this year's Costa Book Awards have just been announced. The winner of each category will be announced on January 6th next year, and the overall winner will be announced on January 27th -- all the details should you need to know them (it's not a thrilling list) over on Editor's Corner.

I've just posted a nice interview with Professor David Ellis, D.H. Lawrence expert and author of Death and the Author, over on The Book Depository:


I think the story of Lawrence’s death, and what happened after it, is peculiarly dramatic and poignant (as well as on occasions grotesque), but I wanted to make its arresting details an occasion for reflection on a number of issues which matter to us all: what it feels like to suffer from a disease for which there is no cure, for example, what we feel about hospitals, the allure of alternative medicine or the powerlessness of the dead to affect how they are remembered. My aim was to write a different kind of biographical study, one which was something more than "one damned thing after another" (more...)

The Guardian has picked up on a TBD press release I sent out last week:


Online book retailer The Book Depository estimates that of the 350 US election books it has sold lately, 96% have been Obama titles. "According to The Book Depository's global book-buyers: Democrats read, Republicans don't; Palin isn't popular, Biden is invisible. If The Book Depository's customers were voting it would be an Obama landslide," said Mark Thwaite, managing editor of the site (more...)

Don't forget, if it is quiet here on ReadySteadyBook you will find me blogging (posting a couple of times a day sometimes) over on The Book Depository blog Editor's Corner (RSS).


Recent highlights over at The Book Depository include:


I've just posted a nice chunky interview with Paul Verhaeghen (2008 IFFP winner with Omega Minor) over on The Book Depository.

Posts up on my Editor's Corner blog today about the: Inaugural Desmond Elliott prize shortlist; Charles Leadbeater's We Think and the Hay Festival's 21 of the best up and coming writers.

Paul Verhaeghen, who recently won the 2008 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize with Omega Minor (which I'll be reviewing for The Liberal soonish), has a Tuesday Top Ten list up on my Editor's Corner blog over at The Book Depository.


Also up on Editor's Corner today: 50 Open Source Resources for Online Writers and some info about the National Year of Reading.

I interviewed the excellent Clay Shirky the other week over on the The Book Depository. And I heartily recommend Clay's book Here Comes Everybody to anyone interested in web-culture. Indeed, go and see how impressive he is by watching the video I've just posted over on Editor's Corner (which I sourced from LibrarianInBlack) where Clay talks about gin, sit-coms and "cognitive surplus".

I've just been working out all the places where The Book Depository delivers book for free and it really is worldwide.


Y'all probably know that we -- The Book Depository that is -- deliver to the UK, US and Canada for nothing, zero, zilch, zip. But shipping to "Western Europe" (which includes: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Vatican City and Liechtenstein) is also free.


Other free delivery destinations include: Australia, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, South Korea, Singapore, the Bahamas, Barbados, Antigua & Barbuda and Trinidad & Tobago.

Earlier, I mentioned my Editor's Corner Tuesday Top Ten feature (today featuring Two Ravens Press publisher Sharon Blackie). Well, I'm going to go ahead and steal my own idea (hardly original, for sure) and have a Tuesday Top Ten here on ReadySteadyBook ...


Below is a list -- how exciting is this! -- of Gabriel Josipovici's "top ten novellas – or short novels, or long short stories – books of about 100 pages that ask to be read in one go. I give the English title of standard translations for all except the Perec, which, so far as I know, has not been translated:"



Anyone have a copy of Adalbert Stifter's Ice Mountain they want to swap for ... a pile of new books? I can't find a copy anywhere! Actually, I do have a copy (of the Pushkin Press version): I best read it!

I've just posted an interview with web-superstar Clay Shirky over on The Book Depository site (Shirky is the author of Here Comes Everybody, the book-puff of which runs thusly: "Our age’s new technologies of social networking are evolving, and evolving us. New groups are doing new things in new ways, and we’re doing the old things better and more easily. Business models are being transformed at dizzying speeds, and the larger social impact is in a way so profound that it’s under-appreciated. In Here Comes Everybody, one of the culture’s wisest observers give us his lucid and penetrating analysis on what this means for what we do and who we are.")


Perhaps a bit more ReadySteadyBook-ish, my Tuesday Top Ten over on Editor's Corner today is with Sharon Blackie:


Sharon Blackie is the author of The Long Delirious Burning Blue, translator of Raymond Federman's memoir of Samuel Beckett, The Sam Book, and editor of the forthcoming Cleave: New Writing by Women in Scotland and Riptide: New Writing from the Highlands and Islands. She has a croft in the north-west Highlands of Scotland and in her spare time runs Two Ravens Press with her husband, David Knowles (publishers of recent RSB Book of the Week Auschwitz by Angela Morgan Cutler).

I'm very busy with Book Depository stuff today. So, whilst I have my work hat on, I'll take the opportunity to remind you of the last twenty author interviews that I've done over on The Book Depository site.


The interviews have been with: Steven Pressfield; Nicholas Murray; R.J. Ellory; Jacqueline Wilson; Paul Torday; Danny Scheinmann; Mark Slouka; Robert Rankin; Jane Brocket; Caroline Smailes; Gillian Darley; Toril Moi; Edward Docx; Esther Leslie; Ken Worpole; Marcus Chown; Markus Zusak; Leora Skolkin-Smith; Lee Rourke; and Michael Redhill.

They've announced this year's Reading the World list over on Three Percent. And I've listed out all the titles on Editor's Corner for y'all too. Many of these look like pretty decent books. I'm particular keen to read Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano (translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews), The Assistant by Robert Walser (translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky) and The Unforgiving Years by Victor Serge (translated from the French by Richard Greeman)


And it won't surprise the keen ones amongst you that today is Valentine's Day. Origins explained over on The Book Depository February newsletter.

A longish post from me, entitled Blogging and the "common reader", can be found over on Editor's Corner.

I've just posted a nice, chunky interview with Professor Esther Leslie over on The Book Depository. Professor Leslie is the author of of Hollywood Flatlands: Animation, Critical Theory and the Avant Garde and Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry and two books on Walter Benjamin: of Walter Benjamin: Overpowering Conformism and the recent, excellent mini-biography cunningly entitled Walter Benjamin.

Well, the blogging will begin again in earnest on Wednesday. Probably. Depends on how drunk I get tonight. Sadly, Mrs Book is rather unwell, so I doubt I'll be getting too damaged! 


In the meantime, I have just posted my interview with Lee Rourke (RSB contributor, of course, and author of Everyday) up on The Book Depository.

I'm giving away free books on my Editor's Corner blog over at The Book Depository (and will be doing so throughout December). Go claim!

I've just posted a fantastic (and huge!) interview with historian Ian Mortimer (most recently the author of The Fears of Henry IV) over on The Book Depository. It is a superb example, I think, of just how good e-mail based Q&As can be. Go read!

Yesterday, The Book Depository won two awards recognising our entrepreneurship (more via The Bookseller). We "scooped both the Online Business of the Year award and the Retailer of the Year award at the Startups Awards, part of the Startups.co.uk website."


As my boss Andrew Crawford said:


I think it ratifies us as the fastest growing bookseller in Europe ... It is also fantastic for our staff who have been working so hard for these last three years."

Yay! It is fantastic news. I'm thrilled. Well done all of the team at The Book Depository!

Over on my Book Depository blog, Editor's Corner, I'm giving away a free and unabridged downloadable audiobook of Jane Austen's Persuasion read by Greta Scacchi -- all you need to do is register at Audible and you will get the book for free (after following the registration instructions).

This week's Tuesday Top Ten over on Editor's Corner at The Book Depository is from our pal Stephen Mitchelmore of This Space.


Steve chooses "ten books that defy simple classification" and they are as below -- but the full annotated list is over on Editor's Corner:


I'm giving free books away again -- over on The Book Depository. Go claim!!


Update: they've all gone!

I've just written a wee review of Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year over on The Book Depository:


In J.M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year an ageing writer, J.C., who strongly resembles Coetzee himself, finds himself inappropriately drawn to his young amanuensis Anya. Her partner, Alan, is none too happy about Anya's working relationship with J.C.. Anya is untroubled by what she knows to be going through J.C.'s head, but is somewhat perturbed by some of the things that he has written and that she has to type up for him.

With Elizabeth Costello, and with Slow Man, Coetzee, one of the most brilliant novelists writing today, has shown himself to have a profound interest in the novel's form. Elizabeth Costello is a collection of philosophical essays just about holding together as a novel, as the essays we read are, nominally, Costello's own writings. In Slow Man, Costello arrives on the scene again to tell the principal protagonist, Paul Rayment, that she has invented him: a third of the way through what seems a (wonderfully written) conventional novel and Coetzee gets up to all sorts of destabilizing, metafictional tricks.

In Diary of a Bad Year, the tricks aren't as disturbing, but the interest in playing with form is still highly evident. Most of the pages of Diary of a Bad Year are split into three horizontally demarcated sections: we read J.C.'s non-fictional essays; Anya's take on their relationship; and then J.C.s take on his deepening involvement with Anya and Alan.

This clever structure, however, doesn't stop the novel being unsatisfying in a number of ways: J.C.'s essays aren't fully developed enough entirely to convince; and the accompanying story of the bizarre love triangle is too thin a fare fully ever to engage the reader. Coetzee's brilliance is never in doubt and this is, certainly, a must-read book (it should be read to see what Coetzee, a world-class practitioner, is trying to do with the novel), but it is, at times, an infuriating and frustrating read.

A very busy day here. To cap it -- exciting stuff -- the new Coetzee (Diary of a Bad Year) arrived: yay! I've read about 75 pages so far ... and, actually, I'm not that bothered as yet. There is a plainess to Coetzee's writing that is so austere that it is almost rudely unpolished. I'm not sure I'm always convinced by this.


I did manage to write a longish blog about the Sony Reader over on Editor's Corner, so that's good.


Oh: Benjamin Kunkel on Roberto Bolaño over at the LRB.


Now, back to Coetzee.


Update: This wee post was originally entitled Bolaño and Sebald. That was a mistake! An interesting Freudian slip, though. Nothing here, to be said about Sebald: it was Coetzee I wanted to mention. But I'm intrigued I made the mistake -- both writers do, I think, have a deep connection which I want to ponder on. For now, sorry about my foolishness!

I mentioned on Monday that, on Tuesday, I was going to "post an article (by my pal Sophie from the Dalkey Archive Press) about the intriguing Stefan Themerson."


Well, it's been that kind of week, so I've only just posted Sophie's great article, Just Two Doorways to a Hall of many Doors. Sorry it took so long, Sophie. Everyone else: go read!


Also, sometime this afternoon I believe, there should be an article by yours truly up on the Bookseller blog about the new look and feel over at The Book Depository.

Over on The Book Depository, I'm giving ten books away for free to the first ten bloggers who get in touch. Go claim!

I'm understandably very busy with stuff over at The Book Depository (do you like the new look? do you!?) but, if I get a second, tomorrow I'll post an article (by my pal Sophie from the Dalkey Archive Press) about the intriguing Stefan Themerson.

The Book Depository website has a fab new look and feel -- go see!

I've just reviewed Kressmann Taylor's 1938 classic Address Unknown over on The Book Depository:


Address Unknown is a highly moving and deeply troubling epistolary novella. It is an account of a friendship warped and destroyed in the years of Hitler's rise to power in the early 1930s. Martin Schulse has returned to Germany to pursue his business interests as an art dealer, his close (Jewish) friend, Max Eisenstein, remains in San Francisco running the Shulse-Eisenstein Gallery from the Californian end. After a couple of warm letters expressing their deep affection for one another, Max asks Martin to comment on the stories he has been hearing in the USA from Jews returning from the Continent: "I am in distress at the press reports that come pouring in to us from the Fatherland ... Write me, my friend, and set my mind at ease." Shockingly, Martin responds to Max neither with consolation nor affection, but with a request that their correspondence cease. Martin tries to explain himself, but it is clear he is in sympathy with what is going on in Germany. Worse comes: when Max's sister Griselle, an old flame of Martin's, is badly in need of help a shocking betrayal occurs. Martin has moved from being equivocal through being approving to becoming a Nazi zealot.

Profound and desperately moving, this tiny book (just 50 pages) packs a massive emotional punch. Kressmann Taylor (the pen name of Kathrine Kressmann) manages to explore the death of friendship consequent on the birth of a vicious ideology without ever becoming sentimental. Indeed, her book has very hard edges. This 1938 classic, which helped explain to America what was happening in the Germany of the day, is still an essential read.

I'm not feeling very well! I'll get over it, but it means I've been rather slack here at RSB. Forgive me!? (I have, however, written a piece about the Booker prize over on TBD.)


So, as I have nothing to offer you today, please go and read Richard Crary's Smoothness of Surface where he discusses Henry James via Gass and Josipovici.


I'll be blogging again here on Monday. And over the weekend I'll be reading Claudia Koonz's The Nazi Conscience (recently discussed, with the usual aplomb, over on Lenin's Tomb).

You must forgive the dearth of blogging: I'm in Alexandria, in Egypt, working with The Book Depository team that we have out here. My first time in Egypt; my first time in the Middle East; my first time in Africa! Culture-wise: these dudes never sleep! And they drive like crazy, mad, crazy people! Work-wise, I'm just adding some finishing touches to the new Book Depository website redesign which, hopefully, we can push live in the next couple of weeks. Then we'll get working on adding some new functionality to the site too. (And whilst I'm doing this Lee is working on some new functionality for ReadySteadyBook too.) All being well, I should be back home with Mrs Book and Lola some time on Tuesday evening. Blummin' hot here!

Thanks to Nigel Beale and D.G. Myers for responding to my question concerning what should be on a history of the novel reading list with long reading lists of their own. Both Nigel's and D.G.'s lists are very useful (and this bibliography from the University of Warwick has some good pointers too), but I'll compile one of my own here soon which is specifically just about the history of the novel itself. (For starters, my current Book of the Week, The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume 2, 1100 - 1400, would certainly be on it, as would Robert Mayer's excellent History and the Early English Novel and Nancy Armstrong's flawed engagement with Ian Watt, How Novels Think: The Limits Of Individualism From 1719-1900.)


Really, though, the last thing I should be doing is starting a new project! I'm run off my feet at the moment: we got over 120 submissions for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, (so lots and lots and lots of reading, but nothing I can talk about until after we've longlisted some of them); and I'm also working on getting all sorts of content together for the new look Book Depository website which will land some time in the next couple of weeks.


Whilst all that should be enough for anyone, I'm rather beside myself with excitement as The Letters of Samuel Beckett: Volume 1, 1929-1940 (CUP) has just landed. A bottle of whisky and a few nights without sleep seem in order!


Finally, you'll have all no doubt noticed that Twitter has become all the rage -- despite having been around for quite a while now, it suddenly seems to have really taken off. RSB has had a Twitter page for ages now (and so has The Book Depository and BritLitBlogs), but I've relied on RSB's RSS feed to do all the tweeting for me and have not actually done much active tweeting myself. Well, expect that to change soon!