Book sculptures

3D book artist Alexander Korzer-Robinson works on a creation in his studio in Bristol

Every now and then I stumble and obsess over something new: a concept, a publisher or a product of some sort. Most of these discoveries come about by pure chance – a newspaper article perhaps, a tweet or word of mouth.

My latest obsession is book art, or book sculptures to be precise. It started with this page recounting how mysterious paper sculptures were left around Edinburgh literary institutions. The sculptures are beautiful. My obessions was born but it wasn’t until I chanced upon this Telegraph article that I decided that I must have one.

Not only was the article about book sculptures, the artist in question also happened to be Bristol based. Having left the publishing hub of London some time ago I in no way suffer from small-city syndrome, but whenever anything original and book related is happening in Bristol I get extremely excited.

The artist, Alexander Korzer-Robinson, creates his sculptures by working through a book page by page, deliberately cutting out and discarding some of the illustrations. He then brings the book to life through these illustrations. “Thus, an encyclopedia can become a window into an alternate world, much like lived reality becomes its alternate in remembered experience. These books, having been stripped of their utilitarian value by the passage of time, regain new purpose. They are no longer tools to learn about the world, but rather a means to gain insight about oneself.” As a book a lover – not just a lover of words within a book, but an actual lover of the physical object – this is a brilliant concept.

There is something haunting and Victorian about Korzer-Robinson’s work: a strong element of the grotesque summed up perfectly, in my opinion, in some of his earlier work based on Alice in Wonderland. His choice of books and arrangement of illustrations make his work extremely desirable and slightly despicable. It’s weird but I know I will have one hanging on my wall soon. Check out some of his work here.

Do you know of any cool UK based ‘book artist’ doing something similar? I have also come across Su Blackwell who recreates scenes of books and they look superb, and I might decide to invest in one of her pieces eventually. Any further recommendations gratefully received.


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Great British Authors

As a tribute to the London 2012 Olympics and its slogan of ‘Inspire a Generation’, I thought it would be appropriate to list a new generation of ‘up-and-coming’ British authors.

In 2010, The Telegraph ran a story on Britain’s 20 best writers under the age of 40 and more recently the BBC Culture Show focused on 12 of the best new novelists (John Mullan, who chaired the program wrote an interesting article on this for The Guardian). I’m not overly enamoured with either of these lists and have been meaning to do my own for quite some time now. With the British flag flying high these days I thought now would probably be as a good a time as any to actually write that list.

The criteria was simple: the writer must be a first time author with his/her book having been published in the last 5 years. I struggled to get to 10 and have to admit that I only made it by adding some authors/books I had only ever hear about in passing and have no real intention of reading (Harvey, The Wilderness; Wyld, After the Fire and Addonia, Consequences of Love).

I’m also not sure if Alexandra Harris should count as she is not a novelist and has been publishing as an academic for some time. Moshin Hamid also published a book in 2000 but is only really known for his Booker winner listed below.

Who would be on your list? Have you read or are you planning on reading any of the below?

Ned Beauman – Boxer Beetle (Sceptre, 2010) and The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre, 2012)

Rebecca Hunt – Mr Chartwell (Penguin, 2011)

Stephen Kelman – Pigeon English (Bloomsbury, 2011)

Mohsin Hamid – The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Penguin, 2007)

Nadifa Mohamed – Black Mamba Boy (Harper Collins, 2009)

Lee Rourke – The Canal (Melville House Publishing, 2010)

Evie Wyld – After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (Bolinda Publishing, 2009)

Sulaiman Addonia – The Consequences of Love (Chatto & Windus, 2008)

Alexandra Harris – Romantic Moderns: English Writers, Artists and the Imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper (Thames & Hudson, 2010)

Samantha Harvey – The Wilderness (Vintage, 2009)


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The 2012 Man Booker Prize longlist


It’s been too long since I last posted and, for various personal reasons, this probably isn’t the best time to start again. Who knows, maybe it is. My plan moving forward is to have more, shorter posts, which should be easier to read and quicker to write. So, without further ado…here we go.

The 2012 Man Booker prize longlist was announced last week and there has been much talk about debut novelists being preferred to the ‘old guard’. Zadie Smith, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan were all given the cold shoulder in favour of Sam Thompson, Alison Moore and Jeet Thayil (who? exactly!).

The other major talking point is a continuation of last year’s brouhaha about the books being chosen for their ‘readability’. Apparently this year it’s about books that are of high quality and that you will want to read again and again.

The two favourites are, of course, very well-known – Will Self and Hilary Mantel – but all in all it’s a fairly unfamiliar list in terms of authors. I think this is great – I’m tired of ‘heavyweight’ authors being assumed to be the best. What I am particularly pleased about, though, is the strong presence of indie publishers.

And Other Stories only started up last year if I am not mistaken and had great success with Juan Pablo Villalobos’ ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’, which was shortlisted for the Guardian first book award.

I had only really known of Salt as a poetry publisher but they actually publish across a very wide range of genres. They describe themselves as ‘a trade publishing business, proudly independent, committed to producing important, beautiful, readable, literary works’. From what I have seen, I would agree. (Check out this beautifully written and insightful blog post they published about being longisted, well worth a read!)

I first came Mymidon Books when I was researching independent publishers located outside of London and these guys just happen to be right on my doorstep in Wales. Their books ‘are written to an exceptionally high standard: crisp and engaging prose; captivating and imaginative story-telling’. Big-up Welsh publishing!

Everybody knows Bloomsbury, and Faber and Faber.

Not sure if I’ll get round to reading many of these books as I’ll be quite busy in the coming months but ‘Nacropolis’, ‘Communion Town’ and ‘Umbrella’ sound very interesting to me.

Anybody planning on reading the entire longlist or will you wait for the shortlist? Anyone tempted by a flutter on who will win it this year?

The 2012 Man Booker prize longlist – indie publishers:

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books / @myrmidonbooks)

Skios by Michael Frayn (Faber & Faber / @faberbooks)

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories / @andothertweets)

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt / @saltpublishing)

Umbrella by Will Self (Bloomsbury / @bloomsburybooks)

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber / @faberbooks)

The rest:

The Yips by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (Sceptre)

Philida by André Brink (Harvill Secker)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)

CommunionTown by Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate)

Also worth checking out: The Man Booker prize 2012 in pictures courtesy of the Guardian.


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Publishing this week: 1

Who said the book industry is on the brink? OK, I did as did countless others, but ask Pippa Middleton and she would probably beg to differ. How about a £500,000 advance for writing a book on party planning and promoting good old-fashioned British values (whatever that means!). Yep, Pip will put pen to paper for Penguin. Something about this makes me really sad. I don’t know if it’s the fact that a publisher would fork out 500k for a book like this or if it’s the fact that people will actually buy it. You decide.

In other news, there is the compulsory column about digital killing something or other, in this case libraries. Penguin has withdrawn ebooks from libraries and Amazon’s book lending service in the US, probably due to piracy concerns. First digital books kill libraries by stopping people going to libraries and now ebooks are killing libraries by not being offered by them anymore. All very confusing. Piracy, though, is undoubtedly the elephant in the room when it comes to digitisation of books and one can only hope that the book industry has learned something from the music industry. (Click on this link it is an absolute must read if you are interested in music, books, digitisation or all of the above!)

With my advent calendar poised and ready, tinsel making a decorative comeback and first advent duly celebrated, you don’t need me to tell you that Christmas is just around the corner. Christmas, of course, means lists. Lots and lots of lists. There’s Santa’s list, shopping lists, Christmas card lists, lists of lists and so on. But there is also my favourite: book of the year lists! If you can’t be bothered to trawl through them, my book of the year is the compelling, tender, edifying, beautiful and inspiring The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Do yourself a favour and buy it! If you’re looking for book gifts for book geeks you should check out Self Made Hero. Not only do they publish fantastic original graphic novels (for grown ups – harrumph!) they also have ace adaptations of classics such as Don Quixote, Heart of Darkness, The Master and Margarita, and many more. I have written Santa a sweet letter asking for all of them! If, on the other hand, sports books are your thing then you could do worse than picking up the winner of this year’s William Hill Sports Book of the Year, Ronald Reng’s A Life Too Short – The Tragedy of Robert Enke.

Finally, then, I trust that everybody shares my enthusiasm for the customary Christmas trip to the bookies. No? Oh. Well, in case you’re still reading, what could be more fun than predicting who will top the bestsellers list when drunken and grumpy people all over the UK are ripping open disappointing presents? Last year, lardy Jamie Oliver was the runaway winner and his latest book which ties in with his Channel 4 series Jamie’s Great Britain is a pretty safe bet again this time round. Guinness World Records is always near the top but it might be worth taking a punt on any of Paul Scholes, Steve Jobs, Joanna Lumley or Alan Partridge’s biographies. The real challenge, however, will be finding this year’s A Simples Life, the autobiography of the meerkat Aleksandr Orlov, which was a real dark horse last year. My guess is the Where’s Wally inspired, wait for it, Where’s the Meerkat? Feel free to share your winnings with me.

First posted on The Ran$om Note which covers everything from cutting edge music reviews to dog walking blogs, art, culture and new world musings.


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The writing is on the wall

“Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” or “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here”. The opening line of American Psycho, taken from Dante’s Inferno when he passes through the gates of hell, “scrawled in red blood lettering” on the wall of a bank in NYC. This is the first thing that came to my mind when I looked at Gavin James Bower’s Made in Britain, a novel depicting the dark underbelly of British society: the addiction, greed, bullying, hopelessness, injustice and suffering that underpin much of contemporary culture.

Made in Britain is set in a town “that might as well be called Every Town”. A town where “half the houses … are boarded up, the Asians are taking over and the only shop isn’t even a shop; it’s a Co-op Funeral Care”. It is told from the point of view of three teenagers all of whom dream of escaping their current plight but who are led to believe, for different reasons, that nothing good will ever come of their lives; that they will forever be the dregs of society. There is Russell, “the weird boy” who “is in love with the idea of being in love”; Charlie, the popular, hard as nails and “brooding type”; and Hayley, who is “pretty because she is different” but also “so thick … it’s not even funny”.

Made in Britain plays with stereotypes throughout and it is this which to a great extent drives the novel along. The book is brimming with racial tensions that constantly surface without dominating the story, instead bubbling along nicely in the background, always on the reader’s mind. Other stereotypes, though, such as working-class references are touched upon slightly less successfully, sometimes feeling a bit clichéd.  I felt that the name dropping of British “institutions” such as Asda, Poundland and The Sun were superfluous. Whilst I appreciate that Mr Bower obviously wanted to make the issues distinctively British, it feels as though simply describing them as some sort of archetype would have been more powerful and would have had more of an impact, perhaps giving the book more universal meaning.

Having said that, Made in Britain is very clever in how it manages to challenge readers’ perceptions and expectations of stereotypes. Its different narratives show how easily we can be influenced by the opinion of others as all the characters have skewed perceptions of each other that rub off on the reader. Thus Hayley, who is in awe of Charlie, makes us think that he is more mature and intelligent than the other boys, portraying him as the reluctant hero who can do no wrong. Mr Bower’s characters are a real strength and focal point of the storyline. What’s more, the characters are believable and the colloquialism adds an air of authenticity to Made in Britain.

The strongest aspect of Made in Britain is how utterly readable it is. The short chapters divided into brief narratives make it a real page-turner, full of unexpected twists and turns that keep the reader guessing what the next development will be. The novel is captivating, heartbreaking and inspiring in equal measures. It is clever, haunting and beguiling. It plays with readers’ expectations brilliantly and makes you question what you know or thought you knew. It suggests that things aren’t always what they seem, but sometimes they simply are, no matter how much of a spin you try to put on them. Sometimes, the writing is on wall.

Special thanks to the kind folks at Quartet Books for agreeing to send us a copy of Made in Britain. If I were you I would buy a copy right now. Go! There aren’t too many better things you could be spending your money on.

First posted on The Ran$om Note which covers everything from cutting edge music reviews to dog walking blogs, art, culture and new world musings.


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