In the third instalment of our summer feature, Short Books authors Rose Boyt, Frances Welch and John Sutherland reveal their top summer picks. Find out what fiction and nonfiction is best savoured in deranging heat. Take a look here and stay tuned for more.
The De La Warr Gallery in Bexhill, Sussex is showing a selection of photographs from Short Books’ Fred’s War in its rooftop foyer space from 28th April – 29th June, 2014.
Also on display will be one of Fred Davidson’s original photo albums and a 1912 Kodak Vest Pocket camera. Signed copies of Fred’s War will be on sale in the De La Warr bookshop. Author Andrew Davidson will be giving a talk at the De La Warr about the book on Saturday 14 June at 2pm.
If ‘The 100yrs old man etc..’ became such bestseller, it’s all reason for ‘The Beggar & the Hare’
@shortbooksUK to be one too! Way better!
Reader, rarely has literary fiction been as easy to read as Tuomas Kyro’s compulsive ‘The Beggar and the Hare.’ From its opening paragraph to its closing song lyrics, the story pulls you through a multitude of asides, insights, and astounding events, so that the end feels like a sad return to the real world and not like escaping from a swamp. (For examples of the latter, see the average university reading list.) Story, of course, is the key word here. All of Kyro’s artistry and social commentary is firmly tethered to the events that befall Vatanescu, an impoverished Romanian smuggled into Finland by a Russian gangster to work as a beggar, all so he can save enough money to buy his young son a pair of football boots.
Vatanescu sat down on the edge of the bed where Miklos was sleeping in his grandmother’s folded arms. Vatanescu removed the sock from his son’s right foot and with a crayon traced the outline of the sole on a piece of paper.
You’ll get your football boots.
Dad is going to fix you up with football boots.
Here we have not only the source of a plot but a moment of great tenderness, and it is Kyro’s ability to render such tenderness into prose that perhaps more than anything gives the novel its ballast.
But in between these moments are also dashes of humour. Indeed, the novel’s tone could be best characterised by its comedy, which often comes in the form of leftfield observations. The opening chapter involves a scene on a ship that Vatanescu takes to Finland, his fellow passengers being described thus:
Two sorts of people shuffled or pranced across the wall-to-wall carpeting: there was the solemn group with short legs and flat noses, where the children looked like their parents. They were called Finns. Then there was the cheerful group with long legs and pointed noses, where the parents looked like their children. They were called Swedes.
When not like the above, the comedy takes form in an incongruous progression of events. Just take the beginning of the novel’s tenth chapter:
In which Vatanescu grills ready-made honey-marinated chicken and forms a government
Such a summary opens all of the chapters. (Yes, more could be quoted, but enough of the novel’s events have already been given away.)
Instead, we turn to another aspect of Kyro’s writing: his ability for social commentary, that aspect which can all too often make a novel feel like the aforementioned swamp. It’s not that explicit social commentary has no rightful place in a novel, it’s that when it rears its head it commonly reveals itself to be better suited to being a footnote in a philosophy book or a slogan shouted by an irate student. Kyro avoids these pitfalls, his prose flowing seamlessly from the main narrative to commentary. Take this from the second chapter: the camp in which Vatanescu stays with his fellow beggars has just been cleared by the Finnish authorities.
The police gave the residents five minutes to gather their belongings and then return to the land of their fathers. The women and children would be guaranteed a place in the warmth of a shelter for the night, and would be taken there locked up in a Black Maria.
As usual, the adult male simply had to manage. The adult male only has what he takes, and he invariably takes it from others. This produces accusations, demands for compensation and world wars. Because adult males are the cause of everything, they are sent off to the worst places, to hunt, to fight wars, to build playhouses for children, to take part in the Finlandia Ski Marathon – though they’d willingly rush to put on skis themselves.
Then it’s back to the story, something Kyro never forgets.
And herein lies the joy of The Beggar and the Hare: you can pull it apart – scanning through and taking from it the best moments of comedy, poetry, and insight – but it always feels like a cohesive whole and never like an assortment of Kyro’s musings on society, a collection of his better jokes. It is what sets it above so much fiction of its ilk, and what will stop you, the reader, from ever having to wade through the (by now infamous) swamp. This strange, compelling fable about Europe, capitalism and the human heart will be unlike anything else you’ve ever read before.
The seasons they are a-changing, bringing with them our latest release…
Once again, the time-honoured premise of parodying history books is employed with gusto in Sarah Burton’s The Complete and Utter History of the World According to Samuel Stewart Aged 9. Simon Schama this isn’t, nevertheless, the original historical puns and malapropisms (notably Nell Gywn being described as the “Royal Mattress”) compel you to laugh out loud at the turn of every page. Samuel Stewart, the precocious “author”, charmingly comments on key events with deadpan details from his own life e.g. likening Hitler’s unfortunate hairstyle to that of his father. A Nigel Molesworth for the 21st century, his self-assured “flair” for history is counterpointed by a comic weakness for accuracy – meaning that the more of a history buff you are, the funnier it is! All in all, if you’re looking for an up-to-date version of 1066 and All That or Horrible Histories with more mistakes and less gore; then this is the book for you!
So, this month we’re doing a slightly more interactive giveaway than previously. But, in the words of Douglas Adams, DON’T PANIC! It’s easy. Just send in a paragraph saying which historical era you think defines your book club OR send in a picture of any of your members in fancy dress as their favourite historical figure e.g. Shakespeare.
Send your entries to us at email@example.com to claim your free copy. Don’t forget to cite the name of your book club and your mailing address. The deadline for this is Friday 18th October. We look forward to hearing from you!
Sarah Burton is currently director of the Creative Writing MSt Programme and Tutor in Writing for Children and Short Story Writing at the University of Cambridge.
Her biography of Charles and Mary Lamb, shortlisted for the 2003 Mind Book of the Year, was published by Penguin Books, as was Impostors: A True Study of Deception.
The story behind our upcoming release The Explorer Gene continued beyond the pages last month when Bertrand Piccard landed in New York on 6th July, 11.09pm EDT, in a plane powered entirely by the sun.
As reported in The Guardian, The Times, and The Telegraph, Piccard carried on the family tradition of extraordinary feats as he navigated a grueling six-leg journey across the United States in the solar-powered plane. He battled against extreme winds, at one point causing a 2.5m tear in one of the wings, as well as his own bladder (what the plane made up for in innovation, it seemed to lack in terms of basic amenities).
Bertrand comes from a long line of dreamers and innovators. In his riveting The Explorer Gene, Tom Cheshire investigates and charts the journey of this extraordinary family; beginning with Auguste Piccard, the first human to enter the stratosphere in a balloon of his own design, and then following his son Jacques to the bottom of the earth, descending to the Mariana Trench in a submarine built by him and Auguste, and ultimately reaching the current day with the achievements of Bertrand.
It’s little surprise that this is the same family that inspired James Cameron to undertake his own deep-sea dive to the Mariana Trench in 2012. In his foreword for the book, he describes how the Piccards ‘inspired subsequent generations of explorers, myself included.’ Bertrand, whom he now considers a close friend, ‘is continuing the family tradition of representing that which is great within us all.’
Yet Bertrand’s ambitions stretch further than just a simple flight across a continent however – following up on his non-stop around the world balloon flight in 1999, adjustments are already being made to the plane in order circumnavigate the globe in 2015.
“This book is the story of three extraordinary men, representing three generations of a family whose name will resound through history as synonymous with exploration.”
–James Cameron, Foreword to The Explorer Gene
Well, since then we’ve seen Murray finally lift that Wimbledon trophy (I suppose we’ll begrudgingly say that the credit doesn’t go to George entirely, but, you know…), and now it appears Djokovich is taking heed and following George’s advice too.
In the Sunday Times Djokovich has detailed the nuances of his diet and declares that he doesn’t drink cold water because it “slows your digestion and diverts blood away from where I want it — in my muscles”, agreeing exactly with George’s assertion that cold drinks “diverts warm blood from the muscles and skin to heat up the stomach again”.
Perhaps Novak has been perusing the wonderful Short Books list and has found a gem in Be your Own Nutritionist…