Thursday, 2 April 2015


I like the sound of #TBR20 - a reading challenge in which one makes a pledge to read 20 books you already own before buying any more. I'm industrious when it comes to buying books and much less systematic when it comes to sitting and reading them. This doesn't bother me too much. I am in fanatical disagreement with the idea that there is something embarrassing or dishonest about having large numbers of books on your shelves that you have not read. What on earth is the point of having lots of books if you have already read them all? It's wonderful to have plenty of untouched reading matter on hand.

But like I say I'm rarely very organised about reading, and that leads to a lot of distortions - for instance I tend to neglect novels for nonfiction. So my TBR20 selection is skewed very heavily towards fiction, as an attempt to catch up with the novel-reading - 14 f to 6 nf.

A few other notes. I've cheated very slightly and included Richard Adams's SHARDIK, a book I was already reading - and what's worse, one I've read before, in my teen years. In my defence I haven't finished it yet and I remember precious little about it (which is why I started rereading it in the first place). The Shirley Jackson volume in the pile contains more than one novel, but I'll be reading WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE, so it counts as one. The alert among you might realise that this means only 19 books are pictured - because I'm including Nina Allan's highly acclaimed THE RACE, which I have on the Kindle.

I fear the main result of this process will be to reveal how slow I am to finish books and how ready I am to discard them halfway. I will do my best to update with progress.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Malign Interiors 2: Bigger on the Inside

In September I'm running a reprise of Malign Interiors, a book club that's part of the Architectural Association's excellent Night School. The first series was a real pleasure, with three fascinating discussions of architecture and literature over three successive Tuesdays - you can get a taste of what it was like from this precis at the RIBA Journal blog.

Here are the details for the second series - again, it runs over three successive Tuesday evenings:

2 September: Vathek by William Beckford (1786)
A gothic classic, Vathek is a sprawling orientalist fantasy set in the court of the depraved Caliph Vathek, whose quest to unlock the high mysteries ultimately leads him to the underground city of Hell. I'm aware there's only a week to read it but it's pretty slim for an 18th century gothic novel: only 90 paperback pages in the edition I have. Out of copyright and widely available.

Further reading for the keen: Notes on the Underground by Rosalind Williams

9 September: Report on an Unidentified Space Station by J.G. Ballard (1982)
Explorers in an abandoned structure in space find much more than they expect. A short story, available in volume 2 of The Collected Short Stories (Harper Perennial) or elsewhere. Only five pages, so for this one at least the suggested further reading is strongly suggested: The Enormous Space and The Concentration City, another two J.G. Ballard short stories.

16 September: The Way Inn by Will Wiles (2014)
An anonymous motorway hotel is transfigured into a literal hell in this paranoid satire. The Shining as reimagined by J.G. Ballard. My second novel - 300 pages, but you've got three weeks and it's a real page-turner, obviously.

Further reading for the keen: Junkspace by Rem Koolhaas

You don't have to have read the texts to attend, and I'm sure the discussions - which were very wide-ranging last time - have much to offer all the same; also it's all in the AA's Bedford Square Bookshop, so the books are available to buy. Each session starts at 7pm and costs £5. Last time they provided wine.


Monday, 27 January 2014

Book Club: Malign Interiors

At the invitation of Prof Sam Jacob, next month I'll be presiding over three sessions of the Architectural Association's Book Club. The three texts are joined by the theme "Malign Interiors" - rooms that derange, abduct and kill. So plenty of interest for architects, but the sessions are open to all. Here are the details:

18 February: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Confined to bed by illness, a woman is tormented by the hideous wallpaper in her sickroom.

25 February: The Dreams in the Witch House by HP Lovecraft
A student of advanced maths and quantum theory is haunted by the irregular geometry of his room in an ancient house in New England.

4 March: Care of Wooden Floors by me.
Looking after a friend's flat in a foreign city, a man expects its beautiful minimalist interior to make him a better person - but it leads to chaos and humiliation.

Starts 7pm each time in the AA's Bookshop. The first two stories are out of copyright and free online (here and here, for instance), but I recommend buying them in anthology so you can explore more by their authors. The third is reasonably priced in all good bookstores. A man's got to eat.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Where You Are - pre-order now!

You can now pre-order Where You Are, Visual Editions' stunning book of maps & writing about maps. It's out for real on 14 November, handily before Christmas. And here are some more images to whet your appetite.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Where You Are is (almost) here

Where You Are, Visual Editions' beautiful anthology of authors writing about maps, will very soon be available for pre-order. In time for Christmas! It's an exciting project: In a boxed edition there are 16 pieces by writers including Sheila Heti, Tao Lin, Geoff Dyer, Leanne Shapton, Joe Dunthorne and myself. Take a look. You'll want one.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Ink stuff

It's been a while. Sorry about that.

There are a fair few pieces by me on newsstands at the moment, although I'm afraid not many of them are available online. One prominent exception is my second piece for the New York Times, published on 23 March, probing the idea that a perfect home is the key to happiness, and tracing it back to modernist ideas about housing, health and hygiene. You might, if you have been kind enough to read it, of course recognise this as being an underlying preoccupation of Care of Wooden Floors.

Speaking of COWF, the German edition - Die nachhaltige Pflege von Holzböden, published by Carl's Books - is now on sale. Buy buy buy!

"The Anxiety of Influence" in Frame magazine issue 91, looks at copying and plagiarism in contemporary design and asks if too much emphasis is placed on novelty. Has fear of plagiarism led to "amnesiac design" that denies its own history and is disingenuous about its influences?

In Disegno issue 4 (S/S 2013) there's an essay by me examining press trips, a fundamental but little-remarked aspect of architecture and design discourse. Do they warp the way we see architecture and design? Are they, in fact, fundamentally corrupt?

I can be found in two places in Icon 119 (May 2013) - in the News section I talk to Sou Fujimoto about his plans for the Serpentine Pavilion, and the role of landscape in his architecture, and in Review there are my very positive thoughts about David E Nye's fascinating history of the assembly line.

A labour of love in the current issue of Art Review (#66, March 2013): reviewing the superb Extreme Metaphors: Interviews with JG Ballard 1967-2008.

In the spring edition of Audi magazine I mark the 40th anniversary of the first mobile phone call by talk to the man who made it, Martin Cooper.

Also now on sale is Metahaven's excellent essay Can Jokes Bring Down Governments? (Strelka Press), which is did not write but helped edit. It looks at the potential for anarchic viral online humour to overturn the present neoliberal austerity consensus, and the role of design and designers can play. Also it's witty and provocative, so please do take a look. 

Monday, 10 December 2012

Five Things I Didn't Know Until I Was Published

Thoughts after a year's adventures as a debut author, presented as a warning to other authors approaching publication.

1. Be careful what you write about your book. Long before publication, I had written a few short descriptions of my book - on this blog, in emails to my publisher, as a starting point for publicity materials, that sort of thing. I then spent a year watching those phrases getting spliced together, chopped apart and endlessly repeated. Stray bits of your phrasing end up on press releases, on the Amazon description of your book and elsewhere, and then get repeated back to you by bloggers and reviewers. That's the way of the world. But there was one turn of phrase I had used - it was my words describing my book - that I found trite and in-apt, and I kept seeing it everywhere, rebuking me for my own laziness for just tossing it off when I should have been more careful. So when writing a sentence describing your book, even in an ostensibly private email, consider how you'd feel having it read back to you as part of your introduction on stage at a literary festival.

2. Write your acknowledgments as late as possible. I wrote and filed mine really early, with the text of the book, and consequently neglected to include all sorts of people who should have been there. I later revised them but by then it was obvious what I was doing. Leave the acknowledgement to the last possible moment to minimise the risk of leaving people out.

3. Make yourself available. I have had nothing but good experiences with publicists. But all these lovely people seem to be haunted by previous bad experiences with authors. When I was asked to come and talk to a room full of booksellers about why they might be interested in reading and then prominently displaying my book, my answer was of course: "Why yes, naturally, what an amazing opportunity, thank you for setting it up, refusing would be tantamount to self-harm, I accept the invitation with frank gratitude!" However the invitation was proffered with a degree of trepidation, as if the answer is often: "What a monstrous waste of my time! Away with you!" And apparently there are authors who refuse all such opportunities. Which, as I say, strikes me as being tantamount to self-harm, and also a bit of a bum deal for the publisher who has taken you on. So I say, agree to whatever you can.

4. Appearances are harder than they look. I've been to see a lot of authors sitting on a stage in twos and threes, and I've often thought "that looks pretty easy". You sit there, a kindly moderator asks you helpful questions, everyone has a lovely time. I have a fairly pronounced fear of public speaking (although it has ebbed this year), so a chitchat panel or friendly interview always looked pretty good as a format. Well, I was wrong. First, they involve homework. If you're next to another author, it's only polite to read their books, for the audience's sake as much as for social nicety. So, depending on the number of authors you're appearing with and how many books they have written, you can have quite a large reading list and not very much time to cover it. It never occurred to me that literary festivals would involve so much reading. I thought they were what authors did instead of reading. Not that this is a bad thing, at all - it has exposed me to several good books I might never have otherwise picked up, for instance Francesca Kay's The Translation of the Bones and Iosi Havilio's Open Door. It was simply surprising, and I'm unused to having my fiction reading decided for me. Second - bloody hell, it's improvised. It might not be Paxman but you're still expected to come up with something reasonably cogent and, with any luck, interesting or entertaining to an audience at very short notice. Sometimes the mind just goes blank on the most basic things. This happened in the first radio interview I gave, and it was horrible. I was asked to explain how the narrator in Care of Wooden Floors gets from situation A to situation B and I just couldn't. I had forgotten the plot of my own book.

5. People have designs on your reading time. You get asked to read a lot of books, for comment or blurbing. And of course you can hardly say no, because only months before it was you or your editor out there tugging on the sleeve of other writers, who generously gave of their time. And now the wheel has turned, the bill is due. Free books, how awful, I know. Don't get me wrong - as with the literary festivals, this doesn't even qualify as work, especially when whatever you've been asked to read is incredibly good, as is the case with the novel I'm reading at present. However it does mean that your leisure reading time rapidly gets programmed - an injection of a modicum of duty into a private and intimate realm that can feel like quite a violation.

There are, of course, a lot more than five things I know now that I didn't know this time last year, but that's all for now. If I think of another five I'll post them.