Untroubled Times: David Stubbs in conversation with James Cook

by James Cook

I talked to journalist and author David Stubbs about his recent book, 1996 & the End of History, an examination of the year as it unfolded in the UK in politics, music, light entertainment and sport. We also discuss Memory Songs, my alternative history of the Brit-Pop moment, told through analysis of the music that informed the era, and recollections of my time as a songwriter during the 1990s. [read full interview]

We’re All Basically Fiction

Chris Kraus, After Kathy Acker: A Biography

reviewed by Lucie Elliott

‘Acker’s life was a fable’ says Chris Kraus, author of what 'may or may not be a biography’ of Kathy Acker. After Kathy Acker chronicles the life and work of the punk writer and countercultural icon of the late 70s and 80s. It is an exhaustive but porous account of Acker’s life: her childhood, the fractures within her family, her turbulent sex life, her writing career, through to her untimely death from cancer, in 1997. Kathy Acker was born in New York in 1944 to middle class... [read more]

The Obscenity of Poetry

Hera Lindsay Bird , Hera Lindsay Bird

reviewed by Erin Cunningham

I, along with many others, first became aware of New Zealand poet Hera Lindsay Bird when ‘Monica’, a witty, irreverent, and unexpectedly moving poem about the sitcom Friends, was published on The Spinoff in May 2016 and started doing the rounds on Twitter. The poem, which transforms a biting indictment of ‘one of the worst characters in the history of television’ into a meditation on the limitations of happiness and ‘the transitory nature of romantic love’, was as funny as it was... [read more]

Art for Art's Sake

Sam Thorne, School: A Recent History of Self-Organized Art Education

reviewed by Bernard Hay

On 9 December 2010, the British Government narrowly passed a bill to treble higher education tuition fees to £9,000 a year, while simultaneously cutting funding for universities under the broader regime of austerity. Only a month previously, tens of thousands of students had marched on Westminster against the proposal, arguing that it would prevent many people from being able to attend university, and further intensify socio-economic inequalities. Passing Downing Street and the Houses of... [read more]

The Deep Fuck We Found Ourselves In

Russell Persson, The Way of Florida

reviewed by Andrew Gallix

Neil Armstrong hoped that someone, some day, would erase the footprints he had left on the moon. It is in this spirit that American author Russell Persson revisits the ill-fated Narváez expedition, covering the explorers’ tracks before loosing his characters into lostness. The Way of Florida, his outlandish debut, begins in medias res like an epic poem: ‘And waiting another day to enter port, a south wind took us and drove us away from land.’ The colonial enterprise – blown off course... [read more]

Laughter in the Dark

Tommy Hazard, Takeway

reviewed by Anna Vaught

This is a tiny book. A tiny red book. It’s described as a novella, but feels pleasingly like a monologue, or something in an oral tradition. As an object, I liked the book’s attention to detail: ‘Cover design and layout dedicated to Reclam, Universal Bibliothek’. Something ‘fuck you’ and something of the scholar. And there’s a playful comment by Stewart Home on the back, calling Takeaway 'a cynical low-life cocktail that will make you retch.’ Home is an artist, filmmaker,... [read more]

A Grief Archived

Darcie Wilder, literally show me a healthy person

reviewed by Fintan Calpin

'In grief, nothing stays put. One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats.' Equal parts essay and memoir, CS Lewis's A Grief Observed (1961) is an experiment in expression. How does the writer find a voice in the face of personal, private grief? Can narrative be an act of healing? The answer for Lewis came in the form of curation. Compiled from the notebooks he kept after the loss of his wife, poet Joy Davidman, A Grief Observed sees Lewis... [read more]

Ornery Brilliance

Marilynne Robinson, What Are We Doing Here? Essays

reviewed by Neil Griffiths

Marilynne Robinson’s great gift to the novel is characters of goodness, kindness, grace. Her gift to the essay is moral rigour, mental toughness, self-reliance; she seldom relies on the words of other writers, and you will look in vain for a footnote. In the end, she is just too damned serious to resort to quoting Wittgenstein at the first opportunity. There is also something austere in her sentence-making, her argumentation. As King James’ Bible might say, it is sufficient unto itself.... [read more]

'This Is Life'

Georgia Blain, The Museum of Words: a Memoir of Language, Writing and Mortality

reviewed by Gareth Carrol

Georgia Blain was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2015. Just 13 months later, at the age of 51, she died. The foreword, written by Georgia’s partner, Andrew, lays out the bare facts of this. From the start there is no illusion that this is a tale with a happy ending, but Blain’s illness does more than just take her life. She has a tumour located in the left frontal lobe of her brain – an area that plays a vital role in how we produce language. The tumour, before it has even proved fatal,... [read more]

To See Through Appearances

JM Coetzee, Late Essays: 2006-2017

reviewed by Marc Farrant

It is still a commonplace that major prize-winning novelists are writers who, broadly speaking, work within the conventions of realism. Their novels win prizes when this realism is animated by formal or stylistic embellishments whereby the storytelling artifice becomes either passively incorporated, via ‘literary’ language, or actively incorporated, via the techniques of metafiction, such as staging the writing process in the work itself. It is through the deployment of such techniques that... [read more]

The Line That Lies Unspoken

Eli Davies & Rhian E. Jones (eds.), Under My Thumb: Songs That Hate Women and the Women That Love Them

reviewed by Thom Cuell

We all have our guilty pleasures – the songs that we can’t help singing along to, even when we’re trying not to think too hard about what the words are actually saying. There comes a time, though, when we are forced to make decisions about the art we consume, and what it says about us as individuals. In many ways, the dilemma facing the consumer of culture is the same as that of the high street shopper: do we boycott artists who contravene our personal ethics and attempt to patronise... [read more]