Ex-libris, an evanescent and nuclear charisma

My most cherished possession as a child was a garbage can. garbage box was the parental term for it; if I had the vocabulary, I would have called the object my “treasure tomb” or “valuables chest”. It was a cardboard cigar box containing rubber bands, a $2 bill, candy, a plate of plastic “prank vomit”, etc. You may have had a similar receptacle when you were young. The instinct to hoard loot starts young.

Since my box was off-limits to other people, it provided my first encounter with the concept of private property, as well as my first experience of curating, if you can call it that. The elements have been added and subtracted with the utmost care.

After learning to read, I dumped the trash can for a bigger plan of conquest. In each of my books, I stuck a card with the title, author and owner (me), then I instructed my brothers to follow library protocol if they wanted to borrow a book. Fearing reprisals, they complied. And that was my first taste of tyranny.

I no longer run a fear-based library, but I’m still tempted to mark my territory with bookplates. A friend recently sent in some wonderful examples she found at a paper store in Venice. (When I die, please reincarnate me as a Venetian Paper Shop.) The internet is full of plate collections to enjoy. What do you think – are we going to start a trend?


To open a new book by Lawrence Osborne is to enter a labyrinth of thrills from which there is no other way out than to finish the book in one sitting. Adrian is an English journalist. Jimmy is the scion of a wealthy Hong Kong family. The two met in Cambridge and bonded through Li Bai’s poetry. Now they both live in Hong Kong, where Jimmy gets involved with a young protester who later disappears, and Adrian – having developed a competing crush on the protester – can’t help but stick his nose in places where it does not belong.

Osborne’s novels have a material sensuality that leads to strong cravings. After reading his previous book “The Forgiven”, I necessary Moroccan coffee served with a saucer of cardamom seeds. “The Glass Kingdom” initiated a temporary mania for skeleton flowers, whose petals turn transparent when touched by rain. I have an unfortunate history with cigars, and when a character from “On Java Road” retrieved a Cohiba from a walnut box, it took all my wits not to fire up Google Maps and search cigar lounge near me. This is certainly not what people mean when they refer to the “power of literature”. And yet it is a power of literature.

Read if you like: Graham Greene, solo dining, romantic misdeeds, Paul Bowles, sinister undercurrents, “The Third Man”
Available from: Random penguin house

Fiction, 2022

It has finally arrived: the Quebec erotic novel about labor disputes that we have all been waiting for. The setting is a lakeside town at the northern end of the province. The characters are workers at a sawmill who perform the function of turning logs into planks, which allows the factory to convert trees more profitably into money.

Querelle is the factory’s new recruit. He’s an intruder from Montreal who should be an outcast according to the xenophobic laws that govern small towns. (With no disrespect; I grew up in what must be one of the Top 10 xenophobic small towns in America.) In addition to its oddly cosmopolitan origins, Querelle is gay, which is locally classified as a form of deviance. . But he has a secret weapon in the form of a nuclear force charisma that wipes out the reserves of his new neighbors.

The book is written in a chilling style. Try to come up with a surplus adjective – I dare you. It’s not for the faint-hearted but (or rather, and) is easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year.

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