We first came across Tom Jeffreys' brilliant White Birch when it was panned by the eedjits at the Spectator - seemed a better reason than most to look into an unusual study of Russia - an exploration of the place and its people, through the prism of the birch tree.
As Tom explains: 'It has been hand-planted by Tsarinas and felled by foresters. It has been celebrated by peasants, worshipped by pagans and painted by artists. It has self-seeded across mountains and rivers and train tracks and steppe and right through the ruined modernity of a nuclear fall-out site. And like all symbols, the story of the birch has its share of horrors (white, straight, native, pure: how could it not?). But, maybe in the end, what I'm really in search of is a birch that means nothing: stripped of symbolism, bereft of use-value . . . A birch that is simply a tree in a land that couldn't give a shit.'
The book is a unique collection of reflections that blur the line between nature & politics, it's warm, funny, contemplative - history meets travelogue whith much in between. All that to say, the Spectator are predictably full of shit, and this is a wonderful book and if you have the faintest interest in Russia you'll find this fascinating. Actually, even if you're not interested in Russia, this is superb nonfiction.
Anyway, here's why we're here, and what this wee list of books is (also Buy Tom's Book):
Tom- another shitty review of my book. this one says too serious & academic; the previous one said too glib & ignorant - cheers lads! so to cheer me up here's a wee snapshot of new-ish books I've read recently-ish & loved:
THE COMING BAD DAYS by Sarah Bernstein – bleak & beautiful. Definite Henry James (even Ivan Bunin) vibes in those delicately balanced sentences. Misty vagueness arises from such precision; overwhelming dread predominates.
BORDER & RULE by Harsha Walia - a devastating torrent of research into the absolute shitstorm of contemporary & historic nationalism/racism/borders, navigated with righteous clarity
BORDER NATION by Leah Cowan - similar energy to Harsha Walia, but tighter focus on the UK. Both are vital reading imo
THE WOODCOCK by Richard Smyth - I bloody loved this. Warm, a bit weird, full of vivid life (human + non-human). Reads like an instant classic. The bit on "the wildness of keeping one's gardner idle" is woah.
THINKING WITH TREES by Jason Allen-Paisant - thinking nature & landscape together with histories of slavery & experiences of racism through formally familiar, powerfully precise poetry ( + you can currently read an extract on The Learned Pig.
THIS IS YESTERDAY by Rose Ruane - an endless hot summer of desire/regret. also absolutely skewers the morally bankrupt, patriarchal art world almost just as a fleeting aside.
FAMISHED by Anna Vaught - absolutely brilliant collection of dark, unpredictable, lingeringly delicious/disgusting stories
STRANGE BEASTS OF CHINA by Yan Ge (translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang) - a whirling, boozy detective-bestiary of dystopian megapolis non-human brilliance. So good.
CRAZY by Jane Feaver - emotionally relentless, packed with unthinking casual callousness but also completely profound & beautiful in its pared-back precision
CAN THE MONSTER SPEAK? by Paul B. Preciado - absolute, searing brilliance on the treatment meted out to trans people by psychoanalysis - righteous, rupturing fury channelled through bristling intellect