Art Kavanagh


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Talk about books

A new newsletter

This site has just passed its second birthday: a few months ago I renewed the domain name registration for a third year. I started the site in December 2018 as somewhere to put the kind of writing that I had previously been posting on Medium.

And now I’ve just started a fortnightly newsletter on Substack. It’s called Talk about books. In it, I’m aiming at a discussion of books, stories and other writing (mainly fiction) that goes into a bit more depth than the average book review. Ideally, the works I’ll be discussing will be ones that the reader, too, has read, so there’ll be no avoidance of so-called spoilers. If you’d like an idea of the kind of thing I intend to include, take a look at the book discussion that I’ve previously posted on this site.

I’ve now sent out 12 issues of the newsletter, dealing with such topics as William Empson’s insightful errors, Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday (2005) complicated plotting (in more than one sense) in Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith and Wilkie Collins’s Armadale and Tana French’s first two novels.

Substack recently added the ability to include a “blogroll” on a newsletter’s archive page. Unfortunately, I don’t think this feature is (yet) working very well, so instead here’s a list of the Substack newsletters that I read (the ones I would have included in a blogroll).

Blog and feeds

I have a Micro.blog, which I mainly use for short (tweet-like, micro) posts

And these are the available feeds:

My posts about aphantasia

Apart from fiction and criticism, I’ve written an accidental series on the subject of aphantasia, since recognizing in March or April 2018 that I have that condition. (I’m using “condition” in the a wide sense, as equivalent to “state”, and not to imply that aphantasia is a medical condition or impairment.) Up to January 2019, I published those posts on Medium, More recent posts are on this site. Here is the list of posts so far — I'll update it if and when I add more.

Fiction by me

I’ve made a list of my own stories. These were all previously posted on Medium but with one remaining exception can now be read on this site. The list includes several short stories, a novella and a novel, all of which are free to read. As a bonus, here is the shortest story I've written so far, “Closure”. It comes in at about 750 words. I originally posted it on Medium but deleted it last year and now I've reposted it here.

Former Mix collections

There were two Mix collections that I was quite sorry to leave behind when I deactivated my Mix account, so I decided to recreate them here, in so far as I could. I’ll update them as the mood takes me and/or I find more short stories online, or posts about writing by writers.

Writers on writing
A list of pieces available to read on the web in which writers discuss aspects of the craft, process or experience of writing.

Short stories on the web
A list of short stories that you can read online. I previously maintained the list as Pinterest board as well as as a Mix collection. It should work just as well as a regular web page.

Recent posts

Literal.club is an interesting app/site, but it’s not for me
Why I decided to stop using Literal.club: I don’t need an alternative to Goodreads. I’m happier when I’m not keeping track of my reading.

Three book reviews that I posted on Literal.club
I tried out Literal.club for two months but concluded it wasn’t for me. Here are three reviews I posted there of books I haven’t written about elsewhere.

Talk about books — print edition
My newsletter, Talk about books, is a year old now. I think it’s time that it existed in print as well as in the form of bytes and data.

A year of “Talk about books” (already)
It’s hard to believe, but my newsletter, “Talk about books”, has been running for a year already. The first issue of year 2 is due on 24 November.

I’m again thinking of leaving Medium
Last May, I was planning to delete my Medium account when it struck me that it would be easier to point a custom domain at it. Four months later, I’m reverting to the previous plan.

Paul Graham and the online essay
The cofounder of Y Combinator sees his main activity as writing “essays” online. When I read his account of what he’s worked on, I suddenly understood why I’d started a Substack newsletter 3½ months ago.

Printed books and ebooks: another small reason to prefer the former
Here’s another small way in which ebooks offer an inferior experience to that provided by printed books.

Citing book and journal titles when posting on Medium and Substack
Substack and Medium treat all inline italic text as emphasis. So, how are you to cite a book or periodical title?

Older posts  |  Miscellaneous posts previously on Medium

Criticism and book discussion

This section is for links to my writing about other writing — in particular fiction, poetry and (conceivably, eventually) drama. At the moment, I’m for the most part alternating between two projects. The first is to turn my doctoral thesis (“Andrew Marvell’s ambivalence about justice”) into something more widely accessible; the second to examine how some authors have been able to maintain interest in the same or connected characters over a series of crime fiction novels.

Rereading Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum
Kate Atkinson’s first novel has a narrator who falls into three different types, each pulling in different directions. This results in a “teeming”, overstuffed tale whose profusion of detail tends to compensate for or distract from a glaring gap in the narrator’s memory. It’s a novel that requires to be reread.

Who really killed The General’s Daughter?
A discussion of the resolution of the plot of Nelson DeMille’s 1992 novel The General’s Daughter.

Finite though unbounded: the abolition of infinity in the poetry of William Empson
A long essay (originally 5,000 words, but it seems to have stretched a bit over the years) about a theme in the early poetry of William Empson, which I wrote in 1996 and now think is worth resurrecting in a very slightly revised form.

Gillian Flynn's plotting in Dark Places: The deceptive attraction of overkill
My discussion of the plot of Gillian Flynn's second novel, Dark Places (2009).

Robert Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike books
This post deals with tropes and subgenres in the first three Cormoran Strike books. For Lethal White, see above.

Robert Galbraith, Lethal White
Nearly 18 months ago, I wrote a post on Medium in which I argued that each of the first three Cormoran Strike novels explores a different trope or sub-genre of crime fiction. Now, at long last, I’ve added my thoughts on the fourth novel in Robert Galbraith’s series.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Restrained and understated it may be. but when you look closely Kazuo Ishiguro’s sixth novel is a horror story.

‘What is conceivable can happen too’: Philip Kerr, A Philosophical Investigation (1992)
Philip Kerr’s early novel, A Philosophical Investigation, is nearly as much a mystery to me now as it was almost 30 years ago. That’s fine: it’s meant to be a mystery.

“Still to be plagued in hell”: Christopher Ricks and William Empson on Doctor Faustus
Empson’s question — how could an intelligent thinker like Faustus make an obviously stupid bargain? — prompted an enlightening answer from Christopher Ricks.

“Prelate of the grove”: A note on ambition and preferment in Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House”
The treatment of ambition and preferment in Andrew Marvell’s “Upon Appleton House” indicates the need to develop an acutely discriminating conscience.

“What course and opinion he thinks the safest”: Religion and divine justice in the work of Andrew Marvell
A by-product of my thesis, which was about justice as a theme in Marvell’s works. That topic was suggested to me by a book about his treatment of divine justice but I found that Marvell’s writings about divine justice engaged with theodicy only incidentally.

The paradoxical ambition of Andrew Marvell’s Third Advice to a Painter
This is an argument (another by-product of my thesis) about one of Marvell’s satires.

Brian Moore, Catholics
Brian Moore’s 1972 novel is concerned with the clash between personal faith and institutional loyalty, or between conscience and the duty to obey. It ends on what I found to be an unconvincing paradox but I enjoyed the journey to get there.

Liz Nugent, Skin Deep
I previously wrote a mini-review of Liz Nugent’s Lying in Wait which you can find on the book reviews page. Here‘s a slightly more substantial discussion of her more recent novel.

“Oh my god, shut up”: Sally Rooney, short story writer
Before she was an acclaimed novelist, Sally Rooney was already a very impressive short story writer. Here, I discuss three of her stories which can be read on the web.

Book reviews

Most of the book reviews from Goodreads that I think are worth keeping have now been moved to this site.

Micro.blog

I use Micro.blog mainly as an alternative to Twitter but from time to time I post longer pieces there. Here is a list of some of my longer posts which I don’t necessarily want to see buried in the timeline.