Overheard at Jen's family bash the other week, and entirely forgotten about until now (beer might have been involved):

“What did you think of those Shades of Grey books I loaned you, Nanna?”
“Very good!”

The Reckoning

For a birthday present, Stense recently bought me a year's membership to the Random Book Club. The idea is, each month, this bookshop in Scotland sends you a random book to read.

Stense had a word with them as she was buying my year's subscription, explaining that I'm a total Darwin groupie. So you can imagine my delight when my first so-called ‘random’ book was a novel about the Voyage of the Beagle. I'm saving that one for my holidays.

The Reckoning

‘The Reckoning’ by Alma Katsu this morning.

My second random book arrived this morning: The Reckoning by Alma Katsu.

To be honest, I'm not entirely convinced the bookshop put quite as much thought into this selection. For a start, The Reckoning is the second book of a trilogy. What are the odds that someone who is given this book at random will have already read part 1? Not very likely, if you ask me. And, even if they had, and even if they enjoyed it, part 3 hasn't actually been published yet, as far as I can tell. Talk about cliff-hangers!

Still, the book was described as ‘Dark and super sexy’ by no less an authority than Cosmopolitan, and it seems to involve an immoral woman with a sword, which can't be a bad thing. Oh, scrap that, my mistake—apparently, she's immortal.

Here's a sentence plucked at random from my random book (from p.190):

I turned, smiling despite my anxiety about seeing him again. “Alejandro!”

Gripping stuff! And here's another (from p.221):

“She had decided in advance how she would put me in her service, and…”

…oh, no, I can't print that on Gruts. This is supposed to be a family website!

Stense, I am frankly shocked! (But I'll let you know if there are any other good bits!)

The Wild Boys

Compare and contrast the final sentence of my review of Dan Brown's 'The da Vinci Code':

"Shit, basically."

… with the final sentence of Simon Le Bon from out of Duran Duran's review of Dan Brown's 'The da Vinci Code':

"Complete bollocks, don't waste your money on it."

It's not often that you will find the driving forces behind Gruts and Duran Duran in such close agreement.

Mark our words.

Notes for editors:

  • Dan Brown's The da Vinci Code is available on Amazon uk|.com
  • Simon Le Bon is an international pop star whose hits include Rio, Hungry Like a Wolf and A View to a Kill;
  • Richard Carter likes Brussels sprouts.

W.G. Sebald ten years on

The German writer W.G. Sebald died in a car crash near his home in Norfolk ten years ago today. I had only recently heard of him, having a short while previously read a review in the London Review of Books of what proved to be his final work of Sebaldiana, Austerlitz. I use the word Sebaldiana, because I do not know how else to describe the genre in which Sebald wrote: a haunting, inextricable amalgam of fact and fiction, interspersed with enigmatic, captionless photographs, paragraphs (and occasionally sentences) which run on for several pages, narrative nested several narrators deep, unlikely coincidences, dream sequences, panic attacks, curiously empty landscapes, and occasional dry humour. The books are, I think, about the unreliable nature of memory, with the holocaust nagging away, understated, in the background (overstatement being impossible). Or so I believe. But that, it seems to me, might be the whole point: I think you are supposed to work out what it all means to you. Or perhaps I am mistaken.

This year, I re-read three of Sebald's four works of Sebaldiana: The Rings of Saturn, Vertigo, and The Emigrants, and I am as perplexed as ever. Which I think must count as a ringing endorsement. If a ringing endorsement from me isn't enough to put you off, then it seems to me that you could do far worse than to pick up a copy of The Rings of Saturn—perhaps my favourite of Sebald's books—and read it twice: the first time to find it strange, haunting, and unclassifiable; the second time just to reassure yourself that your unreliable memory did not deceive you, and that the book really was as strange, haunting, and unclassifiable as you seem to think you might remember.

Or you could just listen to these five, fifteen-minute programmes about Sebald, which were aired on BBC Radio 3 last week. Or this half-hour American radio interview with Sebald made shortly before his untimely death.

Recommended reading

The Guardian bookshop has a special offer on (for today only): Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Veg Every Day! for just £15. This is a real bargain, considering the book is currently a whopping £11.99 on Amazon.

But look at which other books the Guardian thinks you may [sic] also like, if you're the sort of person who is likely to buy a vegetarian cookbook:

Cropped screenshot

Guardian screenshot (cropped).

(Serves you right.)

Out of print

The entire print-run of the first edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species sold out on its very first day. If you are lucky enough to own an original, it's worth an awful lot of money.

But imagine how much more valuable your original copy of On the Origin of Species would be if the print-run had been not of 1,250 books, but of just two? Priceless is the word you're looking for. Utterly priceless!

Which got me thinking. There's money to be made here, if one can lay one's hands on the entire print-run of a future classic book on the day that it first comes out.

But how? How does one purchase an entire print-run?

And then it dawned on me! You disintermediate and publish the book yourself:

The Little Book of Stense

Happy birthday, Stense! Look after your present: it's one of only two copies in existence.

(We'll both be able to retire on this, mark my words.)

Withering review

After ten years living a few miles over the moors from the place that supposedly inspired Wuthering Heights, I thought it was about time that I read it.

Virginia Woolf said:

It is as if Emily Brontë could tear up all that we know human beings by, and fill these unrecognizable transparencies with such a gust of life that they transcend reality.

Kate Bush said:

Sylvia Plath (buried just across the valley from here) said:

There is no life higher than the grasstops
Or the hearts of sheep, and the wind
Pours by like destiny, bending
Everything in one direction.
I can feel it trying
To funnel my heat away.
If I pay the roots of the heather
Too close attention, they will invite me
To whiten my bones among them.

I say:

Heathcliff: what a total arsehole!