Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks

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Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks

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Buy Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Entertainment
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A warming look at books and the people who make, review, translate and read them – but one that never really grabs you as essential.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781784701796

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Books, eh? – who here doesn't just love them? (And if you don't, please exercise greater mouse control as you click away.) Some of us love books about books – and that includes a lot of us here at the Bookbag. And who better to turn to regarding books than Mr Tim Parks, who writes them, writes about them, educates about them, translates them, teaches the translation thereof, blogs professionally about them… He tells us he has a split personality in that different worldly territories know him for different things, whether that be essays, travel writing, seriously serio-comic fiction, or just for being 'that bloke who never exactly set the world on fire but does do a definitely reliable turn every time I've tried him'. This, being the pick of four years' web posts for the New York Review of Books, is his clearest statement in book form about books, and yes, it is yet again a pretty reliable turn.

The first section seems to be the more diverse, touching as it does on many things, including e-books, and how they make many a book useless for the professional, as no academic marginalia can be added, or reference given when with the touch of a button the font size can make the page number defunct. He gives us the idea that some books are best left unfinished – something we here at the Bookbag certainly don't approve of. Here, too, he states his claim that a bad thing is happening in the world's literature, in that it is aiming solely to be just that – a fiction common to the entire world, that can be translated ad infinitum with no problem, that speaks to everyone but ultimately speaks of no-one, being concerned with a major public audience and losing sight of the very people from which it comes.

One of the issues to be had with the book is that this idea, as accurate and sterling as it is, is repeated often. I don't know if any of these essays – four to eight pages long – have been edited, but the thesis here becomes repetitive. There's also quite a paucity in references – so often Parks reverts to talking about Lawrence, Hardy, or a handful of other people. Over four years you would have thought he would branch out into more people and examples. When he talks of such and such being translated (or not), and uses the same instance time and time again you wonder where is Bolano, who sold shed-loads over this time frame; where is the translator's greatest (solved) challenge, Perec; where, given the essay about authors bringing their private life to the page or otherwise, is Knausgaard?

Still, there is variety, even if some things do recur time and time again. There's a question of the need to publish, there's a look at the public Q&A, there's him debating his own translation works-in-progress, and watching a TV version of one of his more recent novels. But as I suggest a lot of this is a one-sided conversation (unlike when originally he seems to have been open to comments on the NYRB website), and if I can use a clumsy metaphor, things are spread too thinly.

If books are the bread, the addition of this volume is too little marmalade – and this from an author who complains rightly of the editor too eager to take the pith out. You don't get enough spread of content, you don't get enough depth and flavour of Parks, and when things do bulk up and concentrate on translation, which is the focus of the fourth quarter, you hit the crust of repeated ideas and make a U-turn to where you've already been spreading. Like I say, a clumsy metaphor. Parks, for sure, is a greater user of words than I am, and he knows his stuff. I know just enough to think this didn't fully deliver, for various reasons. I didn't dislike it at all, and I did go against his suggestion of stopping when I'd had my fill, but as reliable an effort as it was from beginning to end it wasn't quite as substantial as I had expected.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

This is Not the End of the Book; by Umberto Eco and Jean-Claude Carriere is a great look at all things paperback, hardback and cyber to read.

Buy Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Where I'm Reading From: The Changing World of Books by Tim Parks at Amazon.com.

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