THE BOOK OF FORM & EMPTINESS
Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
The latest novel from acclaimed, Booker-shortlisted author Ruth Ozeki is an inspired tale which delves deep into an imagined world. Teenager Benny is dealing with the death of his father when he begins to hear voices of the physical objects around him. As his mother Annabelle attempts to deal with her grief, she develops a hoarding habit which exacerbates her son’s condition, leading him to seek solace at the library where he is introduced to a cast of interesting characters that provide a different outlook on life. Providing a creative twist, the story is narrated in turn by the protagonist Benny and the book itself, which proves to be an interesting insight into the imagined thoughts and feelings of the book.
Despite covering a wealth of different themes and topics, The Book Of Form & Emptiness’ inventive style enables you to get lost in the pages and the formidable characters provide a sense of hope. The unique narration style provided a fresh addition and enabled me to explore different ways of thinking. A magnificent, moving tale, raising many questions about our relationships with people and objects and questioning the way we think about the world around us.
Price: £18.99. Info: here
words RHIANON HOLLEY
ELECTRIC WIZARDS: A TAPESTRY OF HEAVY MUSIC, 1968 TO THE PRESENT
JR Moores (Reaktion)
You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but Electric Wizards is a magnificently handsome tome – and an appropriately hefty one too.
Aware of the need to establish some parameters from the outset, JR Moores defines “heavy” as “a combination of sonic power and sincere emotion, of all kinds and within various genres, performed by those who value texture and density of sound above conventional technical prowess”. The Quietus and Record Collector columnist makes no claim to have written a comprehensive, encyclopaedic guide, acknowledging that Electric Wizards is a subjective attempt to survey, make sense of and celebrate the heavy music landscape of the last five decades. Hence the perhaps contentious decision to take the Beatles’ Helter Skelter as a starting point, and the existence of whole chapters devoted to Steve Albini, Tad and Melvins’ Gluey Porch Treatments LP.
Over the course of its 400-plus pages, this volume that speaks volumes about volume serves up a tasty and easily digestible smorgasbord of delights, nicely flavoured with personal insight, anecdote and wit. If you were to draw a Venn diagram featuring Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, Simon Reynolds’ Rip It Up And Start Again and Harry Sword’s recent Monolithic Undertow, then Moores’ book would be the circle right at the centre overlapping with them all. Be warned, though: it’s likely to cost you a small fortune in record purchases.
Price: £20. Info: here
words BEN WOOLHEAD
Annie Ernaux (Fitzcarraldo)
A concentration of personal experiences, Annie Ernaux’sExteriors reads like Polaroid pictures of life. Almost as vignettes, she describes with alarming alacrity a cross section of around seven years of her life. In a crossover of narrative style and life writing, it details Parisian living in the periphery of how you take in strange information when your life feels uncomfortable and you want to fully comprehend a situation.
I have read many unreliable narrators but Ernaux, in particular, feels unparalleled in its harnessing of memories. An acclaimed writer in her native country, her descriptions of human life are concise and they mediate our own opinions on these encounters with our own prejudices of the world.
Exteriors, though relatively short, provides a birds-eye view of another person’s thoughts, dreams and conflicting feelings; a shift towards streams of consciousness could be partly attributable to the process of translation from French to English. Regardless, it owes its power to the means of its randomness and allows for this thread of meaning to be found in the most ridiculous and miraculous of places.
Price: £8.99/£4.99 eBook. Info: here
words BILLIE INGRAM SOFOKLEOUS
NO CURE FOR BEING HUMAN
(AND OTHER TRUTHS I NEED TO HEAR)
Kate Bowler (Ebury)
In this moving book, Kate Bowler shares her experience of living with stage IV colon cancer and its profound impact on her once organised life. A professor of history in a Christian environment, Bowler accepts life is not forever, and this development makes this even more real. She begins to live as if every minute counts, and discovers that how we spend those minutes really matters.
In a world punctuated by a carpe diem mentality, she wrestles with the idea of doing everything she can, fulfilling everything on that bucket list before it’s too late. Live it up, life is short, a voice persuades her, yet Bowler is keen to avoid hedonistic traps and get to the root of what matters to her. At times becoming overwhelmed by self-help books, with their credo that nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, reminders prevail that the author is limited – and with an awareness that, even in her darkest times, she feels most alive.
No Cure For Being Humanis a well-written, open and honest search for truth during some of our darkest times, and offers readers the opportunity to take stock and think, in a world where control is removed further from us and meaning and truth have never felt more poignant.
Price: £14.99. Info: here
words EMILY EDWARDS
THE SONG OF YOUTH
Montserrat Roig [trans. Tiago Miller] (Fum D’Estampa)
Tiago Miller has done a masterful job here, translating Montserrat Roig’s original words for non-Catalan speakers. Each of the eight stories has a unique character and perspective; it’s easy to complete reading the novel quickly, without feeling bogged down.
Despite initially being published 33 years ago in a different language entirely, there is a sharp satirical tone to Roig’s writing, that ensures all the stories continue to remain relevant and engaging for a reader, even in 2021. Roig was a known leftist activist who protested Franco’s period of rule in Spain, was tied to the Unified Socialist Party of Catalonia, and spent much of her life advocating for women’s rights.
Indeed, within these pages, her feminist perspective is strong and present throughout, even without being explicitly stated. Seven of the eight stories are told from a woman’s perspective, which I believe also goes a long way in adding to the continued relevance of The Song Of Youth.
Roig’s writing (and Miller’s translation) has a rhythm and engagement to each story, with character’s feeling vividly realised and fully formed. Stories that take 10 pages are just as engaging as stories that take two: it’s an incredibly interesting book.
Price: £10.99, Info: here
words SEREN MCKEEVER