Planned Engineering Works

We interrupt this blog to bring you a personal announcement

Due to circumstances not entirely beyond my control, Asylum will be operating a reduced service for the foreseeable future.  This is because I expect to become a father in the next couple of weeks.  While some bloggers have been able to maintain a healthy posting schedule with a new baby on hand, I am not so confident, and tend to heed those who greet the news of impending fatherhood with phrases such as “no more reading for you, then,” “say goodbye to your old life,” and “ha ha ha ha”.

books do furnish a room

Presently I don’t know how adjustment to my new life will affect this blog.  It may continue as normal, with less frequent posts, or shorter posts (if I have time to make them shorter).  It may stop altogether.  In the meantime, I am planning ahead and have scheduled some content for the coming months, including early (or at least punctual) reviews of new novels from Geoff Dyer and Colm Tóibín, reissues from Penguin Modern Classics of books by John Christopher and Eric Ambler, and one or two interviews with authors I’ve praised here recently.

Thank you for listening.  I now have to go and laminate my paperbacks.


  1. Oh no! And I just discovered your blog!

    Anyway, congratulations. The good thing is that I can catch up on your archives if you go on hiatus or stop 🙂 I think I will enjoy that.

  2. Wishing you both all the best John. It’s going to be a hell of a ride I guarantee. As for laminating your books, I wouldn’t bother, mine likes to take them from the shelf and rip pages out. My advice is keep the ones you like out of reach and leave some decoys on the lower shelves (some of last year’s Booker list perhaps).

    Good Luck!

  3. Congratulations! Your blog is my favorite lit blog: more books, less gossip. But, the joys of fatherhood should always take precedence. I’m a little bummed, but I understand. Sniff.

    First there was crying in the middle of the night, then there was homework. Or maybe I have the order wrong……


  4. ooh congratulations! I imagine you were teasing about the lamination but do expect your books to be in disarray for while as mine loved pulling them off at random and sticking them back at random. It lasted for over a year during which time I couldn’t ever find any book I wanted. Luckily mine did not rip out pages. 🙂

  5. Thanks everyone.

    First there was crying in the middle of the night…

    Are you talking about the baby, Kerry…?

    Thanks for the warning, William and Yen (that’s a beautiful website you have, by the way, Yen). I took the above photograph as a Before picture.

  6. Congratulations John! It’s exciting news, and I know when we had our second you mentioned you were excited for fatherhood.

    My best wishes for you! And Yen, mine did rip out a page or two!

    On the plus side for your reading, you might get some in while rocking the baby to sleep at night! That’s how I got through 2666 over the holiday.

  7. Congratulations!

    I should say, I am blessed/cursed with a lengthy commute to a job that currently does not require a lot of me. The vast, vast majority of my reading happens during this commute, and I am able to spend some of my work time composing. Otherwise, my posting schedule would have changed drastically.

    Good luck!

  8. My best wishes and congratulations as well.

    The strength of this blog is its quality — so don’t worry about the quantity. And there are lots of posts that are well worth a revisit.

    All the best.

  9. Gosh, doesn’t time fly! Doesn’t seem like five minutes since I heard the news, wishing you and Mrs A a safe delivery John and look at me, living proof you can get them to their twenties and still be reading as much as ever.

  10. Oooh, congratulations, that’s great news (about the impending fatherhood) and not-so great news (for us fans of your blog!) Who knows, as Trevor points out, you might be able to sneak in some reading while rocking the baby to sleep. I know someone who claims she read more books when she became a mother than she ever did before she had children!

    Oooh, and that picture you posted, I’m drooling over the keyboard. All those lovely delicious spines lined up like that just look stunning. Unfortunately, I don’t have space to display any books, so they get distributed to other homes as soon as I’ve read them, but my god, after seeing that bookshelf I might have to reconsider my “redistribution policy”!

  11. Congratulations on the baby to be! May Little Johnny or Little Johanna be a happy one.

    Here’s a present for you: an article by John Updike:

    May your little Johnny or Johanna be like me. When I was a kid, I would sit quietly and turn the pages of a book or magazine and not tear out the pages. However, I spent most of my day running around and making my mom so tired that she and I went to sleep at 5 p.m.

    My sibling, however, sat quietly most of the day, but when given a magazine, my sibling would tear out the pages and tried to eat them.

  12. Good luck there, John.

    Me too in a few short months, so any advice would be more than welcome! I am already terrified after reading the posts above! About my books being destroyed, not fatherhood! Hope it all goes well…

  13. Well Lee, now you know why I’ll be reviewing less frequently this year! And congratulations and good luck to you too. You can watch my progress to gauge your own prospects.

    Thanks for all the kind words, everyone – I see Trevor, Richard and William still have time to surf the blogs anyway *phew*! Especially nice to hear from people who don’t normally comment on my blog – welcome! And bob, believe me, Mrs Self has already suggested I do a children’s book blog instead…

    Nico, we do know the sex and have a name, but as my parents don’t know yet, I think it would be inappropriate to publicise the details here!

  14. It does occur to me that there is a way that all of us who know, love and respect John, Mrs. Self and the new arrival could help out here.

    The archives of Asylum are a wonderful resource. If each of us every now and then goes back in, pulls one up and comments, it will pop to the top of the comment sidebar — and the rest of us can visit (or revisit) John’s thoughts and the discussion, and, of course, reopen that discussion.

  15. I’m in Kevin. I peruse here quite often, and think it’s a great idea to get some of the earlier stuff out for discussion. I remember posting on The Quiet American a few months ago, and John said, “Well, Trevor, here’s a blast from the past – I had forgotten that in the early months of my blog, I hardly ever got comments! Nice to see some activity on it at last.”

    Now . . . where to start!

  16. I agree, Trevor. A fine review, like a fine wine, gets better with age. It’s not like John reviews a lot of books that go out of print, although he does review more than a few that have just found their way back into print.

  17. Thanks for letting us know John, and good luck to you all!

    Hopefully the child will grow to love books as much as you, and in a few years time you might even get some peace and quiet back!

  18. Received wisdom seems to have it that books and children are somewhat incompatible. For writers especially: all that pram-in-the-hall business; and I remember reading once a comment by Candia McWilliam that she lost a book for each child she had. For careerist writers, maybe. Myself, I think that though the column inches may slow down, the mix of children and books is very rich and wholly good. Congratulations, John, and have a wonderful time.

  19. Now may be the time to invest in the back catalogue of Paulo Coelho, John. Not for reading, of course, but for the bottom shelf, in case of rippage.


  20. 😆 Or for toilet training?

    Thanks once more for everyone’s encouraging and warm words. As I write I am working on some interviews and reviews to put up in case of lack of blogging caused by long sleepless nights (though, that might also be a good opportunity for reading in itself…).

  21. Well, you produce so many reviews and get through so many books, I’m sure a slight slowdown is no cause for concern. As Kevin said, quality is more important than quantity. I’m ashamed to say I read far fewer books than you and I’m childless, so even with the brakes on your output should still impress. Whenever you’re woken in the small hours by baby, you’ll probably get through a few chapters while you nod off again….

    Anyway, hope the birth goes well and fatherhood is everything you hope for!

  22. Yes, I was given the same advice when my daughter was born three years ago. What’s it going to be, I was asked? Gym memebership or golf. Out on the drink once a month and anything else, you can forget about it. And SLEEP – thing of the past. Well, in reality, yeah you don’t have much free time, Dave, but one thing that didn’t suffer was my reading – you’ve loads of time, sitting up watching your bundle of joy, making sure they’re still breathing and doing a feed every couple of hours. Fingertips on their little chest, book in other hand. Best of luck!

  23. I can’t remember much about my first year as a father – probably due to a combination of sleep deprivation and an unvarying routine of nappies, shopping and visiting grandparents. I recall being sorry for other parents, as their babies weren’t as beautiful as mine. It was only years later that the mist cleared and I could see that he was quite an ugly bugger as a baby (he’s a fine-looking lad now).

    I don’t remember reading many books for the first few months.

    I hope that your blogging activities won’t be curtailed.

    Good luck!

  24. Ah, what a good husband you must be. My husband didn’t anticipate sleepless nights with babies, and I don’t recall he had any either. 🙂

  25. Ah, the pram in the hall. I’m just coming out the other end, so to speak, and have raised three serious readers. Enjoy!

  26. As I remember it, for the first few months, it WAS possible to feed the baby whilst holding a book, or even typing… That gave the illusion that I’d have time for myself after all. Then slowly, creeping from the babygrows, a little person emerged who wanted to eat boardbooks, then read Dr Seuss and everything by Julia Donaldson. And there was a whole new delight in reading aloud, in simplicity, and in repetition to the point of dementia, not to mention that unheralded art of making up tunes on the spot for nursery rhymes I had never seen before.
    With a child, reading occurs in a different dimension. Now our tot has taught herself to read, already some of the wonder of that stage is ebbing away. Live in it, and love it. It won’t last long!!! Best wishes.

  27. Congratulations and good luck! First child is a real learning experience. However, I thought I would be blogging less after my son was born. I actually found out that I had more to blog about. (Though much less reading time.)

    No matter, hopefully you will find fatherhood wonderful. Sure, it is tough at times, don’t let anyone fool you. But there have been times when I am playing with my son and I just can’t imagine life without him, and wouldn’t want to have life again without him.

  28. John, sincere congratulations to you and your wife on your impending arrival. I’ll spare you the superlatives about parenthood, but 99% of them are positive!

    I have two babies under two, so can understand your trepidation about being time poor. My tip is to either be picky about new stuff you read, or stick with old favourites – I’m expecting the arrival of these lovely Virago editions ( any day now and can’t wait to get stuck into them.

    Best regards,

  29. Congratulations John, I’m sorry if you’re posting less often, but I’m happy it’s for such a tremendous reason.

    And Kevin’s right, the archives are there for a reason and there’s a ton of interesting stuff in them.

    But that’s for later, for now, congratulations again!

  30. I saw this passage in my current read, and thought it apt to post here:

    He had left [The Thousand And One Nights] at home and he was in a state about that too, worrying that his brothers would tear it up or dirty it. At home he couldn’t protect anything, because his second youngest brother Béla might open all the drawers and take out the book. Béla would promise to play with it very carefully, but for certain when Misi went home for vacation the book would be dirty and all the beautiful pictures would be torn out, because his fourth brother was just a baby, he couldn’t read anything, all he could do was tear things up.

  31. Thank you Stewart, and thank you yet again once more to everyone for all the kind and thoughtful comments, and of course the words of reassurance! (And congrats and good luck too, James; I’ll let you know what it’s like!) This, incidentally, is why I have been looking for books about fatherhood as I mentioned back when I wrote about Roth’s Patrimony. I have since picked up John Burnside’s A Lie About My Father (not much reassurance in that, I gather) and Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude. Whether I get enough solitude ever to read them of course is another matter.

    Trevor – love the Bookie Woogie blog! And Sinéad, those Virago editions are lovely, aren’t they? They stocked them in Waterstone’s and I resisted them only with the greatest effort.

  32. Congratulations John and I wish your wife a speedy and painless labor. Having raised two children I think you are overpreparing. You will be surprised how quickly your life will resume its new patterns. And you will be experiencing the most wonderful event anyone has.

  33. Congratulations, John. As the father of two young ‘uns myself, I suspect your reading will be somewhat curtailed, but who knows? I wish you and Mrs Self all the best with the imminent arrival.

  34. Congratulations and best wishes, John, to you all.
    KevinfromCanada’s idea, about us all helping out by going through your archives and constantly adding new posts, is excellent. I might actually get a chance to go back and read some of the unmissable books you have persuaded me to put on my imaginary tbr file – might even give ‘Port Mungo’ another go.

  35. Very exciting – congratulations! I am hopeful that we’ll continue to see you around and read your take on Goodnight Moon and The Little Bear.

  36. Congratulations and best wishes to you and your family.
    I always loved when my parents or older siblings read aloud to me whether I understood it or not. Maybe this will get you reading some shorter books, too.
    Good luck!

  37. Hey, I missed this! I mean, I knew about your good news, but I didn’t know that your blog was in danger. Stupid babies! They ruin everything.

    Don’t stop the site altogether, John, I beg you. Yours is the best literature blog I know, and there’s few enough of them, of any quality, as it is.

  38. John, I keep meaning to ask you, where is a good place to start with Wodehouse. I notice in the picture above that you have several on your shelf. But you have no reviews here. I have never read any of his work, but it keeps popping up. When I look online, there are simply too many for me to just jump right in with no starting point.

    Any suggestions? I could sure use some!

  39. Right Ho, Jeeves and Thank You, Jeeves are old favourites; hilarious, joyful, exquisite, both wonderful places to start. I’m sure John can elaborate much further on old Peregrine, though!

  40. For me it’s Leave it to Psmith. Just wonderful. Sorry I don’t have time to elaborate for now, Trevor, but things have become rather hectic in the last 24 hours…

  41. To my shame, I’ve never read any Wodehouse, and suspect I only get quarter-marks for having J&W on DVD. Of course, the series may be the only thing John will have time for nowadays…

  42. Hope all is going well with you, your wife and baby Selflet(te). Since I’m gnawing my fingernails, you must be down to your knuckles by now 🙂 Congratulations, and all the best for the future.

  43. Thanks folks. Yes, we – and he – made it. I’ve written one blog review and finished reading another book since the birth on Monday, so perhaps my pessimistic assessment in the body of the post above will not be borne out.

    As to Lee’s recommendations in the Jeeves books, I’ll defer to him on that, as I’ve never been a big fan of them for some reason, even though they’re Wodehouse’s most famous series. Perhaps it’s because I am too fond of his omniscient author’s voice – the Jeeves books are first person narratives by Bertie Wooster. Plus, in common with the Blandings books, they really are all interchangeable. (Then again, you could say that of all Wodehouse’s books. Perm four from foppish chaps, stolen manuscripts, cow creamers, daunting aunts, gentlemen’s clubs, prize-winning pigs, star-cross’d lovers and the Drones Club, and you pretty much have it.)

    It’s also struck me that I really enjoyed the Mr Mulliner books of stories: Meet Mr Mulliner, Mr Mulliner Speaking and Mulliner Nights, all narrated from the bar-parlour of the Angler’s Rest. A particular favourite of mine is ‘The Truth About George’, the first story in Meet Mr Mulliner: a masterclass in comic writing in 20 pages. You could, if you wish, read it (entirely lawlessly I suspect) here.

  44. Heart-felt congratulations to you, John, Mrs Self, and the little boy! I wouldn’t give up the late nights for anything.

    And thanks for revisiting the question about Wodehouse. I think I’ll take your suggestion and begin with Psmith, but, oh where to insert it into the busy schedule!

  45. Congrats, John and Mrs Self, on the arrival of the wee chap. I’m in the midst of 2666 but my appetite for delving further into Wodehouse has surely been whetted. Although, I confess – I read the Damon Galgut over the weekend, which was very much one of those occasions where I could not leave it alone until it was done. I need to have a think about it, but I’m pretty sure it at least gets close to masterpiece status.

  46. I’m very late to notice (seeing the baby photo when checking The Moore the Merrier was my clue!)


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