For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net Championing Books by Women Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:20:41 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 For Books' Sake: Championing Writing by Women since 2010. Your regular monthly dose of brilliant books, fierce feminism, music and more. Presented by Zoe Grisedale-Sherry. For Books' Sake no For Books' Sake jane@forbookssake.net jane@forbookssake.net (For Books' Sake) Books, Feminism, Music and More For Books’ Sake http://forbookssake.net/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/Podcast_Logo.jpg http://forbookssake.net For Books’ Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/29/for-books-sake-talks-to-claudia-rankine/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/29/for-books-sake-talks-to-claudia-rankine/#comments Wed, 29 Jul 2015 13:00:50 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28923 Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is an eloquent, yet sprawling piece of literature, exploring race relations and the racialised body, on a domestic and global scale. Our Features Editor, Nikki Hall spoke to Rankine, Jamaican-born, New York-bred poet and professor, discussing the black female body, Rachel Dolezal, Serena Williams, and the policing of race.

For Books' Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine
Nikki Hall talks to award winning poet and author of Citizen, Claudia Rankine.

The post For Books’ Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine appeared first on For Books’ Sake.

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Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric is an eloquent, yet sprawling piece of literature, exploring race relations and the racialised body, on a domestic and global scale. Our Features Editor, Nikki Hall spoke to Rankine, Jamaican-born, New York-bred poet and professor, discussing the black female body, Rachel Dolezal, Serena Williams, and the policing of race.

For Books' Sake talks to: Claudia Rankine

 

As a Londoner of Afro-Caribbean descent, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric resonated with me more than any book I have read in recent years. Why? Because Rankine manages to explore what it means to be a black person in a predominately white society, world, and history, using an eclectic mix of art, mediation, verse and social commentary. Citizen is a global text; an organic work of art. It will be read for many years to come, thanks to Rankine’s accessible, yet intellectual discussion about race in the 21st century.

I had been excited of its UK release since winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry. I remember seeing a photo of Rankine for the first time, and how she reminded me of my own elegant, Jamaican-born mother – who was also born in 1963. I finally got to interview Rankine in early July. Extremely nervous, I met Rankine at her London hotel. I wanted to rhapsodise about Citizen, praise its originality and how much I felt kinship with her. I did, and she embraced it…

Nikki Hall: As alluded in the organic nature of Citizen – that the racial discrimination is just history repeating itself, over and over again – do you ever think that America will become post-racial?

Claudia Rankine: Well, I don’t think that being post-racial should be the destination. I mean, I think we will always, ALWAYS, be raced. The question is at what point, will whiteness recognise its own prejudice. Because right now, part of the problem is that the white imagination does not understand the ways in which historical, systemic racism determines what they think and how they act. So when will that happen? We will never not be black. So the idea that wanting to get to a post-racial moment is the desire but I do not think so. I want to be seen for who I am. And I want to understand the history I came out of. Do I want to be projected on as a criminal by an imagination that has no recognition that it’s doing that? No. So that’s a change I’m waiting for.

NH: Perhaps by changing the negative signifier of what blackness means? However this would probably take many generations?

CR: Despite the change in laws, despite centuries passing, white American imagination has held on to its racist beliefs. Maybe because the culture has supported that. So it’s in the advertisements, so people believe they’re not racist and then they say racist things and the question is why, often people would say “oh the race is a generational thing, racists will die out”.

NH : Exactly, and as long as the media projects this. It is the same thing that happens in Scandinavian countries – everything, their perceptions of race has always been from Hollywood. Even though they haven’t had any contact with cultures, or experienced what America is really like or producing.

CR: And what they’re producing are black people are drug addicts, criminals, deserved to be shot and the authorities deserve to be in the street, unattended.

NH: What are thoughts on The Wire?

CR: It portrayed a segment of the society that is a product of the racist. The disenfranchisement of those black men on The Wire has to do with education, and I think that was part of The Wire’s message, that it wasn’t unconnected that the drug crime wasn’t unconnected from the educational system, the media, all of that. That when you have a society that refuses to educate, that ghettoises certain people then they have no option and they have no belief in their own possibility. And they have no way to enter into mainstream culture. Is that all blacks in the United States know?

NH: Although black people – particularly black women – are the most successful in the entertainment industry, is that a spectacle or a facade to what is truly going on underneath? The multi layering of multimedia used in Citizen are in contrast to the mundane mediations of – autobiographical blacks moving in certain upper class circles, and still having to deal with slips of the tongue.

CR: Well, what I wanted, I mean, one of the things I wanted to show in Citizen is that I’m not talking about communities like The Wire, I’m talking about communities that are populated by people who are educated, people who are supposed to know better. People are partaking in quote on quote “the good life” and who feel themselves aware, sympathetic, good intentioned. And yet, still hold these racist disbeliefs and they way it comes out. It comes out through language. And then you get the “I’m sorry”, ” I didn’t intend that”, “That’s not what I mean” – “I say it but that’s not what I mean”. But it’s still arriving in the body, that’s what it means, because you say what you mean.

 

[pull] NH: As a black person moving in those circles, there’s always a silence. Is the silence partaking in black oppression?

CR: One of the ways that black people are silenced is that you criminalise expression. You say that black women are angry, and if they speak up they are out of control – like Serena Williams, like Michelle Obama. You’re not allowed to express disdain or distress, if you do, then the problem is not in source of the white gaze or the white mouth that might be soliciting, the problem is inherent in you. And that’s a mechanism of silencing people. and i think one of things that, I myself, has had to be ok with is speaking up and not caring. What that means in terms of servility, if you say something to me and it’s unacceptable, I’m going to say it’s unacceptable and you can then say that I’m classless whatever because that’s your language for silencing me.

NH: Silencing can also be found in the manipulation of the N-word, however taking it back into our culture does support a certain performance of blackness.

CR: One of things about the N-word is, it’s become a point of scandal that is less interesting than its subject. Let’s talk about the N-word and not talk about the N-word! Let’s not talk about Michael Brown’s body in the street or let’s not talk about the fact that Dylann Roof just shot nine people. Because even this week (recently) I saw something about how Obama mentioning the N-word. (laughter) The man was talking about a massacre of nine people and all you can talk about the fact that he had mentioned the N-word. I think it’s become one of those points of scandal, that is a distraction from the realities that are actually affecting lives, and extinguishing lives.

NH: Double consciousness, and you do mention in Citizen about  The conflict between being hyper visible and invisible simultaneously. How do you feel about that?
CR: The hyper-visibility has to do with that way the media deals with black athletes and black celebrity so there everywhere. So it makes it look like there is a level playing field but one as we see in the case of Serena it doesn’t immunise them from the same kind of racism that you and I encounter on a day to day level. I also think that when you think about white privilege, what you’re really thinking about is both white mobility and white ownership of space. And so when whiteness enters a space and sees blackness the fact that blackness is within the space makes blackness hyper-visible because they feel that they own the space. And if it’s not, if the blackness cannot be made invisible by turning it into staff or turning it into some mechanism that is in the role of service or property then it seems hyper-visible and then its not just another body, it becomes this huge body inside their space. Even though, clearly the space is just space.  But that perception that we own the space so if you step in, you take over that space, in their imagination, which is why they need to shoot you or get you out of the space, because you’re taking it over.

NH: Which is exactly what Dylann Roof said.

CR: Exactly, what Dylann Roof said.

NH: Do you think Roof’s comment subconsciously explain a shift to black and white equality?

CR: First of all, it’s not black. It’s brown bodies, it’s the hispanics that are evening out the numbers. So black and brown bodies will overtake whiteness. But I don;t think we have to bring a logic to a logic, you know, this is just the power dynamic inherent in whiteness that “we automatically own this space” and so anxiety around having  the space taken away from them has nothing to do with reality. It’s been that way forever, that’s part of white supremacist thinking. So to say that numbers say this and the numbers say that means nothing.

NH: Even though you are an America, being born in Jamaica, you are still part of the British Empire and has that influenced bringing the race discussion to London and to Algeria. Because I feel that an African American born in America could not have written Citizen for some reason. I mean, when you talk about Mark Duggan and conversations I’ve been in, in London you know art-filled houses in Hampstead when you’re talking about race. I don’t think an African – American could have had that insight – or am I wrong?

CR: I would beg to differ. Only because I think that we are at a point where we are such global citizens. I think the ability to understand that these dynamics are postcolonial dynamics and not actually really locked down nationally.That all of these countries are engaged in a relationship to balck bodies that began with ownership of those bodies and that the level of racism in the United States might seem greater only because of the militarised nature of their culture, where the police pulling out tanks in the face of protest. And willing to use those tanks, at that level of armour against their own citizens which that I think is unique.

NH: But the history is slightly different.

CR: It’s different but it still comes from the same place. I really think that because we are global citizens now, it’s easier to understand how a dynamic in France or a dynamic in Britain, in London,  or in the United States might actually move similarly, relative to the white imagination. Relative to hegemonic culture, whoever’s in power, relative to who’s not in power, the histoy what got us heremight play out less violently here and that might have to do with the role of guns.

NH: It probably all boils down to gun control.

CR: Yes, in a sense. I think even Americans were surprised when the protests in Ferguson was answered by tanks in the street. I don’t think we realise that these small towns police forces owned that material, that equipment. You know, they weren’t the only ones that own that equipment across the country! The local police!

NH: It’s the policing of black bodies.

CR: Yeah. You wouldn’t pull out that equipment in Springfield, Mass. You know, in some white community. That would not be allowed. That would not be tolerated. They would take those armed vehicles away from those people.

NH: Did you follow the riots? I was out in the riots and was barracaded in New Cross – was studying at Goldsmiths at the time – but I did not feel any racial tension. What are your thoughts on this?

CR: I do think that even though the postcolonial history is similar in some ways, the United States has a very vehement and explosive relationship to blackness, even more so. And nothing seems to alter it. Laws don’t seem to alter it. A black president doesn’t seem to alter it. Even the people that voted for the black president, when they feel their own position being threatened, are capable of the same thoughts of a Dylann. They might not pick up a gun, reload it five times and shoot nine people but if they feel  threatened in the same way those thoughts are very available to them. I mean, we did not make him so, he is a product of the country, and so every thought available to him is available to everyone.

NH: When massacres happen in recent times, they were usually in schools. I wonder why at this moment in time there has been a large scale church massacre?

CR: In the black community, it’s often in churches. Or white supremacists predominantly attacked churches in the black community throughout the 20th and 21st century and they do that because the church is a safe place. The one place that blackness owns as a safe place. In ’63, that’s when the church was bombed and those 4 girls were killed. When Obama was elected a black church in Springfield was burnt down to the ground. So there is a kind of history that Dylann Roof was stepping into consciously. He researched that church because of its historical significance in the black liberation movement. So it wasn’t a random moment, he wanted that church because of its historical significance and he is able to do that kind of research, he is obviously able to understand how black churches have functioned in the black community up till now.

NH: It was particularly eerie that he sat with them, and that they welcomed him into the church. How do you feel about that?

CR: I’m not surprised it was a church. They were at church, they were in the environment where one is one’s best self. So you expect everyone to be their best selves. It was not like they were in a bar. I think given the location, he could depend on the generosity of the people’s around him.

NH: On art – Citizen closes with Turner’s The Slave Ship, were you conscious of using it as a representation of blackness being submerged and bleached by whiteness?

CR: If you want to take on the classification that is being to constructed for you. I don’t see myself determined by the white imagination. I see myself as in conversation with the constructions made by white imagination. But you and I are black women, with different histories and different lives and different ages and experiences, and all of that contributes to who we are. but we both also understand history in ways that can be in conversation with and in dialogue with. And we understand that that history might inform other people’s reading of us and our bodies but that’s not us.

NH: What are your thoughts on the black female body today?

CR: (On Rachel Dolezal) That situation, that has nothing to do with race! That has to with a woman who is traumatised. That racial thing is about trauma, that is about a woman who is traumatised within the dynamics of a family that had apparently sexual trauma. There was trauma, there was sibling rivalry between the black adopted children and the white biological children. To me that has nothing to do with race. Race  is just being used in this but the woman needs psychological help and I think one of things about race in the United States is because it’s such a volatile category, things that don’t belong in it get put it in and then that discussion trumps the actual reality of the thing itself. And in her case, people should talking about what it means for a woman to be traumatised to the point of wanting to escape into another culture, another identity. This is disassociation at its extreme and i think that’s the conversation people should be having relative to that woman.

CR: Because they’re using the situation to talk about other things, but they don’t need to be talked about through her traumatised body.

NH: Why did you chose Serena Williams as the female subject in Citizen?

CR: Because Serena to me is the example of what it means to work hard,to strive, to do everything that you’re think you’re supposed to do, and still you are subject to the most hateful, and unrelenting racism. The woman has won everything. There is nothing left for her to win, except break obscure tennis records. And yet, she has been attacked and attacked and attacked and you know, I went to the US Open a few years ago and she was playing in the final against Victoria Azarenka and the white Americans standing around me were cheering for the woman from Belarus. And I said to the people, standing near me I said, “you’re Americans, why aren’t you cheering for the American player?”

NH: What was the answer?

CR: “Oh, we just wanted to be competitve!” And then when it got close why aren’t you cheering for  American player and then they moved away because nobody wants to turn to me and say “we hate her because she’s black.” But it’s the reality.

NH: So what’s next for you?

CR: I am working on a play. But I don’t like launching into another writing project immediately after finishing one, because I think then you end up just writing the same thing again. So I love sort of, just doing something different and then coming back to it.

NH: Were you surprised at the success and embrace of Citizen?

CR:No I was surprised! I didn’t think when you’re working on something  you can never anticipate what the reaction is going to be, so I was just doing the book I was doing. I had no idea that it would have been embraced in the way that it has done. I am grateful. Partly because it means that the subject is being engaged.


Claudia Rankine is a Jamaican poet and playwright. At present, Rankine is the Henry G. Lee Professor of Poetry at Pomona College and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Rankine’s work, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely (2004), an experimental project, has been acclaimed for its unique blend of poetry, essay, lyric and television imagery.

Citizen: An American Lyric (Penguin, 2015, £9.99)  won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry. It has been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection.  It is available to buy here.

Nikki Hall is a writer and the Features Editor of For Books’ Sake.

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10 Reasons to Love: Joanne Harris http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/17/10-reasons-to-love-joanne-harris/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/17/10-reasons-to-love-joanne-harris/#comments Fri, 17 Jul 2015 14:46:07 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28898 The bestselling author of the Chocolat series—Joanne Harris—has addressed the elephant in the room with her honest Twitter discussion. It is hard to believe that sexism is still rampant in the literary world and kudos to Harris for blowing off the lid. Here’s why we love her by Dhanya Nair.

10 Reasons to Love:  Joanne Harris
The bestselling author of the Chocolat series—Joanne Harris—has addressed the elephant in the room with her honest Twitter discussion. Here’s why we love her by Dhanya Nair

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The bestselling author of the Chocolat series—Joanne Harris—has addressed the elephant in the room with her honest Twitter discussion. It is hard to believe that sexism is still rampant in the literary world and kudos to Harris for blowing off the lid. Here’s why we love her by Dhanya Nair.

10 Reasons to Love:  Joanne Harris

1) She took the Twitter trolls by the horns:

The Internet is a dangerous place for women with an opinion. Her #TenTweets series on Twitter showcased the ingrained sexism in the publishing industry. From being rejected for lack of visual appealearly on her career to being asked if she was afraid of getting fat, Harriss Twitter discussion laid bare that even in 2015 female authors are rarely given the credit they deserve.

2) Her uninhibited candour proves that she is badass:

She is baffled that despite her Cambridge degree and academic background, she is regularly referred to as Yorkshire lass Joanne Harris;and that even today men at academic parties proudly claim that they never read books by women,or why female authors are always asked how they juggle motherhood with writing.

3) Chocolat (1999):

This award winning novel tells the story of Vianne Rocher a young single mother, who arrives in a French village at the beginning of Lent with her six-year-old daughter. Vianne opens a chocolate shop right opposite the village church, and throughout the traditional season of fasting, proceeds to gently change the lives of the villagers who visit her chocolaterie with a combination of sympathy, subversion and magic.

Although the book was later adapted into a movie, the novel is much darker with characters who are more emotionally damaged and morally unsure. While magicis the predominant themeit is about finding magic in simple pleasures. It also explores the internal politics in small communities and how interaction between there inhabitants shapes the society.

4) And her other books prove that she is a laid-back intellectual and a versatile writer:

Joanne Harris has effortlessly written on a variety of genres from fantasy, horror to psychological thrillers. Harris also explores complex subjects like identity, mother-child relationship, the emotional resonance of food, the magic and horror of everyday things, the outsider in the community, faith and superstition and the joy of small pleasures in her work. 

5) The Twitter discussion was not the first time she has spoken against sexism in the literary world:

Joanne Harris has even weaved a critique of sexist attitudes into her fiction. In an interview she has stated:

“For too long, women have been judged primarily on their looks rather than their abilities, and,even now – in a world in which we can hardly move for political correctness – men and women are still viewed slightly differently in the world of music, literature and the creative arts. There is a patronising smirk from the world of literature when a woman writes a romantic novel; but when a man does the same thing, he is being sensitive and insightful, making a valuable statement on the nature of relationships. In Runemarks, the same thing happens; a boy who reads is intelligent and will go a long way; a girl who reads is “clever,” which is useless in a girl – even potentially dangerous.”

6) Her literary childhood rebellion shaped her as writer:

Joanne Harris grew up in a household where her parents told her stories long before she could read. However, by her own admission her mother told her cautionary tales and her father told her adventure stories. Horror, fantasy science fiction, comics and graphic novelsanything potentially frightening or disturbing were declared unsuitable. Joanne Harris started her own literary rebellion and read these books in secret. She decided to become a writer and write the kind of books that made mothers blanch and children cry.

7) Despite her constant battle with sexism in the industry, her love for her craft remains undeterred:

Her latest book, The Gospel of Loki, is her first Norse gods novel for adults. This shows she is constantly pushing her limits and exploring various areas as a writer. She is thus inspirational.

8) Joanne Harris brings alive the sense of taste and smell:

Harris has a form of synaethesiaa neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experience in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. In other words, she experiences colours as scents. Her synaethesia is well captured in Chocolat.

9) Her advice for aspiringwriters is spot on the best:

Drop the word aspiring. Write. Then, write some more.

10) Despite all her success she remains grounded:

Which is a pretty great thing considering success can easily go to ones head.

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The Parrots by Alexandra Shulman http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/15/the-parrots-by-alexandra-shulman/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/15/the-parrots-by-alexandra-shulman/#comments Wed, 15 Jul 2015 09:00:34 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28875 Editor-in-chief of British Vogue since 1992, and sartorial contributor to a slew of other publications, Alexandra Shulman has so far veered away from staging her fiction in the fashion world, but still retains an immaculate knack for describing her characters’ garb in mouth-watering detail.

The Parrots
Editor-in-chief of British Vogue since 1992, and sartorial contributor to…

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Editor-in-chief of British Vogue since 1992, and sartorial contributor to a slew of other publications, Alexandra Shulman has so far veered away from staging her fiction in the fashion world, but still retains an immaculate knack for describing her characters’ garb in mouth-watering detail.

The Parrots

The Parrots, Shulman’s second novel, is a story of brightly-feathered exotic birds, both literal and otherwise, and the whirlwind effect of their arrival in the lives of the well-heeled, well-bred Tennison family. In spring a small group of parrots begin to roost in the cherry tree branches of the family’s back garden, charming with their vivid beauty even as they chase out the meeker birds, wilfully destroying the eggs from their nests, turning dull order to chaos. By summer the Tennisons, one by one, are similarly bedazzled by a small group of glamorous, moneyed Europeans, soon tempted into a series of dangerous – or at the very least woefully ill-considered – liaisons.

Set in early 1980’s London, Shulman’s debut Can We Still Be Friends was an immersive period piece: a veritable neon shoulder-padded costume drama played out under the shadow of high Thatcherism, its plot driven by eighties aspiration, the last gasp of Fleet Street, and the insidious spread of big business. Now in The Parrots, not content to sketch out a general backdrop of London in the 2010’s, Shulman litters her narrative with references to barely wrapped-up television shows and specific smartphone models, date-stamping the novel to within an inch of its life. At points this isn’t quite successful. Nineteen year old Josh’s litany of websites visited and links clicked fails to capture that internet-quicksand feeling familiar to anyone who has come of age in the social media era (and his slang, or sometimes lack thereof, doesn’t quite ring true). But the book’s triumph is in highlighting the repercussions of all this new technology: how it has infiltrated the way we experience the world and ourselves, and how we conduct our personal relationships. In stark contrast to Josh’s electronic savvy, it is the technological naivety of Shulman’s adult characters that shapes the fallout of this thoroughly modern affair – a story that couldn’t possibly be told in any other historical context.

Occupying a middle ground between chick-lit and lit-fic, Shulman approaches the high stakes drama of her characters’ tangled lives with a measured detachment; the slow, perceptive eye of her prose reminiscent of  Esther Freud or, in glinting moments, Zadie Smith. Though following in the now well-worn footsteps of Donna Tartt’s cult ‘whydunit’ The Secret History – something very bad has happened, let’s go right back to the start to find out why – story-wise The Parrots is far more obviously influenced by Edith Wharton’s New York society novels; its acutely upper class characters similarly preoccupied with the unwritten social rules of their specific role in twenty-first century London. With her avian motif, Shulman also evokes the peacocks and poorly pigeons of Henry Green’s critically acclaimed “bird trilogy”, displaying a similar elegance in shifting between the perspectives of her many characters – though perhaps mercifully not echoing his unique(ly frustrating) narrative style.

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The Artificial Anatomy of Parks by Kat Gordon http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/13/the-artificial-anatomy-of-parks-by-kat-gordon/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/13/the-artificial-anatomy-of-parks-by-kat-gordon/#comments Mon, 13 Jul 2015 09:00:35 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28867 With masterful, understated prose, first time novelist Kat Gordon gradually unpins the inner workings of the mysterious Park family.

The Artificial Anatomy of Parks
With masterful, understated prose, first time novelist Kat Gordon gradually…

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With masterful, understated prose, first time novelist Kat Gordon gradually unpins the inner workings of the mysterious Park family.

The Artificial Anatomy of Parks

The Artificial Anatomy of Parks is Kat Gordon‘s debut novel, and is without anything remotely resembling a beginner’s mistake (if there is such a thing); her English degree from Oxford, and Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway oblige here.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this is a book about green parks, because the title omits the word “the”, which might have advised readers that it is about a family with the surname Park. The equivocation is significant : parks in novels are traditionally charged with symbolism; for instance of the relationship between wild, unchecked growth, and the sharp scissors of social refinement cutting everything into neat shapes. Transposed to a psychological plane, this seems to be the main problem of the fictitious Park family. Part coming-of-age-story and part psychological drama, this novel delves into the heart of family relations and family tragedies, and denounces the curious secrecy that often surrounds them. It takes place in London in the 1990’s, and 2000’s, and the dialogues are so life-like, it often uncannily doesn’t seem like fiction at all.

Still with an eye on the title, the word “Anatomy” gives an inkling that the narrator has her family on the dissecting table, removing layer after layer of appearances in a reluctant quest to see what lies beneath. Tallulah “Tallie” Park is a young woman who would have liked to become a nurse, but these career dreams were aborted when, as a teenager, the surgeon’s daughter broke away from boarding school and fell out of touch with her family. Now living and working in London under less-than-glamorous circumstances, she is largely estranged from her relations. When she is suddenly called to her father’s sickbed in hospital, she far from ready to see him.

Expect a carousel of all the most scandalous things: fatal accidents, GBH, rape, infidelity, murder, prison, teen pregnancy, bereavements, heroin, hospital nightmares: no stone left unturned. An unplanned family reunion around surgeon Edward Park‘s sickbed becomes the site of Tallie’s gradual recollection, and long-avoided evaluation of her own childhood. In the process, she traces a clutch of family portraits of illustrious or notorious types: one over-zealously middle class aunt, and another who is aggressively bohemian; a mystery uncle who is only semi-welcome at family parties, a group of obnoxious cousins, and a strict yet browbeaten grandmother on a decaying country estate, all fringe the inner circles of Tallulah’s guarded relationship with her father; for this motley crew of relatives are all his.

Her mother, who died prematurely, had come into the family alone, prematurely orphaned herself, and Tallulah inherits a poignant sense of being orphaned, and alone in the world.

Not least, the sense of isolation comes from Tallulah’s feeling that something isn’t right with the explanations she received as a child, and her sense that an awful truth lurks hidden behind the prosperous family front. As the novel’s progress will show, she is right. Expect a carousel of all the most scandalous things: fatal accidents, GBH, rape, infidelity, murder, prison, teen pregnancy, bereavements, heroin, hospital nightmares: no stone left unturned. Through a dance of past, present, and belatedly connected dots in the story, a series of evocative understatements leaves the reader to work out for themselves what is concealed within these well-presented, yet inwardly decomposed Parks. Tallulah, as the living proof of the damaging effects of so much secrecy, finally finds out the whole truth: which is to be a surprise for everyone.

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Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/09/saint-mazie-by-jami-attenberg/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/09/saint-mazie-by-jami-attenberg/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 09:00:29 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28859 Jami Attenberg brings a historical figure to life in her semi-fictionalised story of a strong-willed woman making her way on the heady streets of Jazz Age New York.

Saint Mazie
Jami Attenberg brings a historical figure to life in her…

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Jami Attenberg brings a historical figure to life in her semi-fictionalised story of a strong-willed woman making her way on the heady streets of Jazz Age New York.

Saint Mazie

Jami Attenberg is the author of four novels, most notably the New York Times bestseller The Middlesteins. Saint Mazie is her most recent book, published this month, it’s a work of historical fiction which imagines the life of Mazie Phillips, a big-hearted character from the rundown Bowery district of New York City who spent her days working (and eventually owning) the Venice Theatre and who became renowned for her generosity towards the homeless inhabitants of the area she called home.

Mazie lived and worked through the First World War, Prohibition, the boom of the 1920’s and then the terrible depression of the 1930’s. Through diary entries, interviews with those who knew her and excerpts from an unpublished autobiography (all of which are fictionalised), Attenberg creates a convincing portrait of Mazie and the people who came and went from her life

Attenberg’s Mazie is a tough, independent woman, described by a neighbour as “beyond being a boy or a girl.” She’s a woman who shuns the conventions and expectations of her time, choosing her family, the city she loves and occasionally just the thrill of a good time over marriage, children and ‘respectability’. From her days as a carefree teen who only wanted to know where the next party was, to her times spent roaming the streets handing out soap and change to those who needed it most, Attenberg depicts a woman who was always going to do things a little differently. “She was unapologetic about who she was and haughty to those who questioned her, even if they didn’t say anything out loud.”

The dark, enticing, gin-soaked streets of New York leap off the page and Mazie whisks the reader into this exhilarating period, sweeping you along in the excitement and the forbidden pleasures of the era. Each voice that helps to tell Mazie’s story also tells the reader a little about themselves too, revealing titbits of their own lives, loves and heartbreaks. They help us better understand Mazie but they also help recount the greater story that is New York and its fascinating history over the last 100 years. The book is testament to the fact that the real fascination with history is the stories and the everyday people who inhabit these times and places. The book is as much a love letter to New York City, and all the millions of individuals who have ever called it home, as it is to the character at its centre.

That being said, Mazie is still the centre of the show and it’s her sharp, lovable, feisty character that is the beating heart of this novel. It’s very easy to fall in love with Mazie Phillips. The dark, enticing, gin-soaked streets of New York leap off the page and Mazie whisks the reader into this exhilarating period, sweeping you along in the excitement and the forbidden pleasures of the era. As times get tough for the city, however, times also get tough for Mazie and when another blow is dealt to this strong but vulnerable character, your heart will break.

What Attenberg has created is a full, albeit fictionalised, portrayal of one woman’s life that simultaneously provides a relatable account of a truly tumultuous time in history. Historical fiction may be awash with stories of Kings and Queens, battles and brilliant minds but the success of Saint Mazie is that is shines a light on an ordinary New York woman and the simple yet meaningful life she lived.

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In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/03/unlikely-eveny-judy-blume/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/03/unlikely-eveny-judy-blume/#comments Fri, 03 Jul 2015 09:00:57 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28715 'Life is a series of unlikely events, isn't it? Hers certainly is. One unlikely event after another, adding up to a rich, complicated whole. And who knows what's still to come.'

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
'Life is a series of unlikely events, isn't it? Hers…

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'Life is a series of unlikely events, isn't it? Hers certainly is. One unlikely event after another, adding up to a rich, complicated whole. And who knows what's still to come.'

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

In The Unlikely Event is Judy Blume‘s first adult novel in over 15 years. Rumours are abound that this will be her final novel, that she is heading for retirement. At For Books’ Sake we sincerely hope not, but we are revelling in the fact that Blume’s latest creation is certainly a novel to savour.

In The Unlikely Event has, at its core, a hugely catastrophic event that Blume herself witnessed. Over a short period of time, between the years of 1951 and 1952 the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey, situated within close proximity to Newark airport, bears witness to three terrible plane crashes. Whilst taking that as its central theme the novel brings forth a myriad of fictionalised characters from the town and beyond.

Blume’s approach in her novel is to use multiple narrative perspectives. Each chapter encompasses the viewpoint of a wide range of characters all interlinked in some way. It is a technique which takes a short amount of time to acclimatise to, encouraging the reader to slow down. To absorb.

Central to the story is the character of Miri Ammerman. An intriguing, intelligent character who will certainly appeal, and indeed feel a little familiar, to avid readers of Blume. Growing up in a close Jewish household with her single mother, junior high school student Miri is finding her way. She experiences her first love, Mason, negotiates the trials and tribulations of the relationship with her best friend Natalie Osner and tries to fathom the reappearance of her estranged father; all against the background of the catastrophic events that plague Elizabeth.

Natalie’s character is one of the first to be impacted, psychologically, by the deaths. The impact takes its toll as she becomes obsessed with a dancer who lost her life on the first flight. The ripple effect drifts through her family. Her father is Dr Osner, the highly respected ‘kind and generous’ small town dentist who ‘kept a row of white plaster-of-Paris figurines lined up on a shelf, each one a foot high’ that hit the floor at high speed whenever ‘his fury’ and ‘inner rage’ became too much. His wife, conversely, copes with shopping, and more shopping.

From every direction people were running toward the flames that were shooting up, toward the thing that had crashed and as burning in the frozen bed of the Elizabeth River.Elizabeth eventually becomes nicknamed ‘Plane Crash City’. Enveloped by an ‘umbrella of death’ predictably the tragedies take their toll. Rumours are rife as to the cause, one disaster was bad enough… but twice? Then a third time? Conspiracy theories abound of aliens and invasion.

‘From every direction people were running toward the flames that were shooting up, toward the thing that had crashed and as burning in the frozen bed of the Elizabeth River.’

The inhabitants of Elizabeth struggle to rationalise the tragedies. They suffer losses from within their own community, marriages crumble and others seek solace and comfort in more unusual corners.

Each chapter begins with a snippet from the newspaper. Using the actual papers from the time as her inspiration, Blume’s technique grounds the novel in the tragic reality of the plane crashes.

There is a quiet, almost understated, power to Blume’s writing. Its strength lies in its confidence. Whilst the majority of In The Unlikely Event is set in 1951-1952, Blume begins and concludes her novel in 1987. There is satisfying impact of such a decision from a reader’s perspective; the ‘what if?’ questions are all answered, bringing a sense of perspective.

‘My dad says unlikely events aren’t all bad. There are good ones too.’

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I Know How She Does It by Laura Vanderkam http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/02/i-know-how-she-does-it-by-laura-vanderkam/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/07/02/i-know-how-she-does-it-by-laura-vanderkam/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 09:00:01 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28811 Laura Vanderkam is a journalist, time management expert and author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. I Know How She Does It is her latest piece of productivity porn, a cheeky take on Alison Pearson's 2003 comedy of manners, I Don't Know How She Does It, about the gendered notion of 'having it all.'

I Know How She Does it
Laura Vanderkam is a journalist, time management expert and author…

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Laura Vanderkam is a journalist, time management expert and author of What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast. I Know How She Does It is her latest piece of productivity porn, a cheeky take on Alison Pearson's 2003 comedy of manners, I Don't Know How She Does It, about the gendered notion of 'having it all.'

I Know How She Does it

I Know How She Does It showcases ‘highly successful’ women’s methods for finding time for their careers, their families and themselves, and explains how their lower flying counterparts can adapt them for their own use. However Vanderkam’s definition of success is conventional and incredibly narrow. The inclusion criteria for the women she studied was: they had to have at least one child under 18 living at home, and earn a minimum of $100,000.

Her suggestions for avoiding ‘I Can’t Fit It All In Syndrome’ come from her analysis of 143, 7-day time logs in which her subjects recorded what they did in every half hour slot between waking up and going to sleep. The surprising findings were that they slept more than they thought, spent more time with their kids than they thought and spent less time at work.

According to Vanderkam we constantly tell ourselves that we never have enough time, which isn’t true. She believes that we buy into dominant narratives about the futility of trying to combine ambition with a good quality of life, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We also dwell on the occasions when everything’s gone spectacularly badly diary-wise. But for her this isn’t the whole story. In reality we make choices about how we use our time and, as well as the stressful, anecdote-worthy moments, there are life-affirming and fun ones too.

There’s some helpful and do-able advice: banish unnecessary, self-imposed expectations, use scraps of time productively, try to achieve balance over the 168 hours there are in a week (instead of over 24 hours), and be careful about saying yes.

A lot of Vanderkam's pointers [...] are based on the assumption that the majority of women have the option to work flexibly, and the resources to pay for high quality childcare and household help.But not one of the 3 sections (work, home and self) contain anything transformational. Vanderkam encourages us to fit in exercise wherever we can, make chores fun and develop basic competence in the kitchen. And her high earners decide what’s most important to them and slot everything else in around it. They set boundaries, plan, protect time for their goals, order stuff online, schedule romantic time and minimize the amount of TV they watch. Not exactly mind-blowing stuff.

A lot of Vanderkam’s pointers (don’t be cheap when it comes to childcare, if you’re going to outsource housekeeping, do it to a level that genuinely lightens your load and volunteer at your children’s outings), are based on the assumption that the majority of women have the option to work flexibly, and the resources to pay for high quality childcare and household help.

Vanderkam fails to take many things into account, including: rigid working patterns, the fact that not everyone’s wealthy and that, for huge swathes of women, some of whom are on decent salaries, not only is affordable childcare hard to find, it’s the equivalent of a second mortgage, and can be the difference between being economically active or not.

Although it claims to offer hints and tips for all, I Know How She Does It is largely a guide for well-heeled, professional women. Granted Vanderkam’s main recommendation is a change in mindset when it comes to building a satisfying life, and that costs zilch. But most women simply don’t have the opportunities, or means, to put her ideas into practice.

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JK Rowling Announces New Harry Potter Stage Play http://forbookssake.net/2015/06/26/jk-rowling-announces-new-harry-potter-stage-play/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/06/26/jk-rowling-announces-new-harry-potter-stage-play/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 11:00:13 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28802 Author confirms the boy wizard will hit the stage in 2016

Harry_Potter
Commence fangirling...

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Author confirms the boy wizard will hit the stage in 2016

Harry_Potter

It’s been at least five minutes since we we were excited by something JK Rowling said or did, so it was doubly thrilling to see her tweet early this morning that everyone’s favourite boy wizard will be back – in a new Harry Potter stage play in 2016.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will be a collaboration between Rowling, director John Tiffany and writer Jack Thorne.

Tiffany is best known for his award-winning work on the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch and the Broadway run of film-to-musical adaptation Once, while Thorne has previously adapted the novel and film of Let The Right One In for the West End stage to great critical acclaim.

Announcing the plans on the 18th anniversary of the UK release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Rowling was light on details, claiming she “[doesn’t] want to say too much more, because I don’t want to spoil what I know will be a real treat for fans.”

However she did confirm the Harry Potter stage play will be a new story, not a prequel and debut in London next year.

In answering questions on why the new tale will not be a novel, Rowling is confident fans will understand when they see the show, saying that “it [is] the only proper medium for the story”.

With a film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them also on the way in November, 2016 is set to be a truly magic year for fans of the fantastical.

We can’t wait!

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#RomanceFestivalLive http://forbookssake.net/2015/06/25/romancefestivallive/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/06/25/romancefestivallive/#comments Thu, 25 Jun 2015 10:00:39 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28792 On Saturday, London Bridge was overtaken by a deluge of book bloggers, reviewers and romance authors. With such a strong line-up of authors comes the inevitable growth of our TBR pile, so we've put together a run-down of the hottest new titles in romance so you can read along with us

#RomanceFestivalLive
The next big romance titles hot off the press...

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On Saturday, London Bridge was overtaken by a deluge of book bloggers, reviewers and romance authors. With such a strong line-up of authors comes the inevitable growth of our TBR pile, so we've put together a run-down of the hottest new titles in romance so you can read along with us

#RomanceFestivalLive

Over the last two years, HarperCollins and Mills & Boon have teamed up to run a virtual e-festival to celebrate romance, with live Twitter Q&A sessions, YouTube interviews and online workshops and discussions.

Last weekend, it was taken live as ten authors stepped into the spotlight and got to talk with their fans, and celebrate with plenty of pink fizz and cake.

It was also the perfect opportunity to talk about this summer’s new releases; especially as some of them are making the step from digital only to print…

Zara Stoneley’s new release, Country Affairs, is the sequel to the digital-bestseller Stable Mates, and is widely acknowledged to be Riders for the 21st century.  Think horses, scandal and Chesire men…

Laywer Erin Lawless’s second book, Somewhere Only We Know, is a love letter to London as Nadia tries to tick off everything on her “To Do in London” list before she gets deported back to Russia.

Romance Reader Award-winning Carmel Harrington’s strong romance heroine, Sarah Lawler has to deal with a missing husband, a mounting pile of unpaid bills, and the reappearance of a childhood friend that only she can see in The Life You Left.

Bella Osborne’s debut novel, It Started at Sunset Cottage, is a sweet romantic comedy, with a layered portrayal of female friendship and textured characters who aren’t all in their twenties.

What happens when classic Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn pitches up on your sofa to give you advice?  That’s exactly what A Night in with Audrey Hepburn, the debut novel from Lucy Holliday explores.  Funny and incredibly witty.

With all the Great British Bake-Off love that flies around each year, Alexandra Brown’s latest novel, The Great Village Show, taps into the trend for homely romances.  Capturing her village setting perfectly, it’s a book to fall in love with.

Jenny Oliver was an editor before she became a writer, and her polished, clever style balances wit with what happens when life starts going wrong in The Vintage Summer Wedding.

Award-winning Sarah Morgan’s Some Kind of Wonderful, the second book in the Puffin Island trilogy, takes a popular romance trope – the ex – and gives it a twist.  The depth to her characters’ past relationship can’t help but temper any signs of new romance.

Crime writer Claire McGowan takes a side-step as Eva Woods to write The Thirty List, a story about what to do when you realise that you haven’t quite achieved everything you wanted to by the time you turn thirty.

And Haley Hill, real-life matchmaker-turned-writer, has used her experiences as the owner of a matchmaking company to write the inspired and hilarious It’s Got to Be Perfect.

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Skin Paper Stone by Máire T. Robinson http://forbookssake.net/2015/06/22/skin-paper-stone-by-maire-t-robinson/ http://forbookssake.net/2015/06/22/skin-paper-stone-by-maire-t-robinson/#comments Mon, 22 Jun 2015 09:00:26 +0000 http://forbookssake.net/?p=28484 Máire T. Robinson's début novel sensitively and warmly charts the trials and tribulations of growing up in modern day Ireland.

Skin Paper Stone
Máire T. Robinson's début novel sensitively and warmly charts the…

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Máire T. Robinson's début novel sensitively and warmly charts the trials and tribulations of growing up in modern day Ireland.

Skin Paper Stone

Skin Paper Stone is a touching narrative which focuses on the lives of two main characters. Stevie and Kavanagh are both approaching a crossroads in their lives, where comparisons with those around them become inevitable as they struggle to carve their own identity and meaning.

Stevie has just moved to Galway and is struggling with motivation during the first year of her mediaeval history PhD. From the beginning we are aware of Stevie’s insecurities, “For the first two weeks, she had hardly slept. Unwanted thoughts invaded her mind.” Crucially Stevie is coming to terms with a relationship she has left behind, “she felt huge relief, like shrugging off a wool coat, like she had been holding her breath without realising it.” Stevie appears incredibly vulnerable. As the pressure of her PhD research begins to overwhelm her, hints are made at her past and it becomes clear she has demons of her own to overcome. Stevie is an absorbing character, quite different in many ways to that of Joe Kavanagh.

Her path crosses with that of Kavanagh at a house party. Desperate to impress with a dodgy method for opening a bottle of red wine, he lands himself in hospital with his arm in a sling. An aspiring tattoo artist who dreams of something else, something better, Kavanagh is a drifter. Moseying through life, almost as if he is waiting for it to happen to him.

“Kavanagh saw his life as a line graph: a steady segment across the x-axis of MEH-MEH-MEH”

Despite dreams of returning to Thailand where “he had glimpsed the possibility of something different, something else”, his oftentimes frustratingly lack lustre approach means he is still in “this bottomless hole” of Galway, drifting and dreaming. Meanwhile pressure is also building on Kavanagh from the direction of Pajo, a drug dealer who likes everyone to know who is in charge. Pajo holds a strong dislike for Kavanagh, and you get the sense he is just biding his time, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce on Kavanagh.

Engaging dialogue is punctuated by hypnotic descriptions of the landscape with Robinson's narrative gliding through the landscape of Ireland's Galway - the seemingly endless Galway rain, the churning river and the Atlantic breezes.Robinson pulls the reader in to the lives of Stevie and Kavanagh in a pleasingly effortless manner. Switching the narrative focus back and forth between her two main protagonists, with carefully placed snippets from the perspective of friends and families whose lives they touch; the gentle lilt to the flow of her sentences ensures the reader quickly becomes absorbed in to their lives. Underneath the easy flow of those sentences Robinson delves in to the psyche of her characters. The constant comparison with friends – those jetting off to far flung places, marrying, having kids – is a pressure constantly punctuating the consciousness of both Kavanagh and Stevie. Each of them, plus the minor characters of Alex and Jacqui, are struggling to carve their own way, their own direction in life.

“An Atlantic breeze whistled though the laneways, and the drizzly rain carried the smell of a lost day at the seaside.”

From here we are taken to drug-fuelled parties, historically-focused ventures & cosy pub evenings with long lost friends. Galway is presented as a town with many layers, many depths, a place easy to disappear into its folds.

Skin Paper Stone, populated with intriguing characters and set against the backdrop of the atmospheric Galway, is an engaging début from a promising new Irish voice.

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