Archive for February, 2009

Cate had these on her blog and I got a total loser boner. They’re by M.S. Corley.
Went to the Death Mook launch last night but had to step out after only one reading to go to the Pompey/Inquiet/ii/Hirasakana Oyogu show. Fun!

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February 26, 2009

Definitely not a new issue, but there’s a new website dedicated to preventing ‘the surrendering of Australian copyright’ that could be effected by Productivity Commission’s upcoming review of Australia’s territorial copyright. It contains some info, including what you can do now that submissions to the Commission have closed.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with someone about the effects of changing the law on the publishing industry. I agree with the majority of Australian publishers, authors and printers, who think that relinquishing Australian copyright would be extremely detrimental to the local industry in exchange for only an illusory benefit (it’s unlikely that the change would make books substantially cheaper). However, my companion mentioned that a virtually identical law was passed in regards to the music industry. I did a bit of research and came up with a fairly technical article about the Copyright Amendment Act (No 2) 1998 which I’m going to try and read over the weekend.

I’m not sure that the analysis will be directly applicable to the publishing industry, seeing as 60% of books bought by Australians are Australian books, compared with a paltry 10% of music. I have yet to do my big read-up on this stuff, but there are plenty of submissions at the Productivity Commission website to keep you going, if you’re interested. Some big hefty ones from publishers and lots of heartfelt, personal ones from authors.

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On another note, the Nestlé Lifesavers icypole is a disappointing ice confection item. Partly the fault of the vendor (too cold and hard) but also contains the least compelling flavours I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing in an icypole. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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February 25, 2009

Not all my recent acquisitions, but about half:

The Bridge of San Luis Rey / Thornton Wilder
Adverbs / Daniel Handler
The End of Mr Y / Scarlett Thomas
Something to Tell You / Hanif Kureishi
Bonjour Tristesse / Françoise Sagan (okay, this photo is old)
Beware of Pity / Stefan Zweig
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy / Tao Lin
Herzog / Saul Bellow
Mister Pip / Lloyd Jones

Note the unspeakably ugly spines of the Scarlett Thomas, Hanif Kureishi and Lloyd Jones trade paperbacks, all bought in London. Mister Pip looks like a less-good version of something you’d buy at kikki.k.

Ha! It’s O-Week for new students at RMIT and the monster sound system on Bowen St is playing this song. Big nostalgia. I hated that song.


So my first attempt to characterise this book didn’t go so well. A conversation between me and my boyfriend about this book:

Me: It’s so French.
Him: What do you mean?
Me: Oh, I am zo in love, zis woman ‘as come along and iz ruining my life, she wants to marry my fazzer…
Him: The only thing French about that description is your accent.

So, again. Seventeen year old Cécile has just failed her exams, but it doesn’t bother her or her father, Raymond. Instead, they spend the summer confiding in each other about their lovers, dining and drinking together on the coast with their friends. However, Anne Larsen, an old friend of Cécile’s deceased mother, comes to visit them and exerts her calm, productive influence on their lives. Cécile is by turns grateful and resentful, and develops a plan to rid her and her father of Anne, who has designs on Raymond.

It’s a really enchanting little book (only 113 pages) mostly due to how Sagan portrays her heroine. Cécile should be distasteful; she is self-centred, cowardly, fulminant, crafty, changeable. Yet she is also contemplative, passionate and has been given an opportunity to benefit from her natural ability to understand human nature. When Cécile is chided for a giddy comment about her father’s love life, her emotions flare up, but the thoughtfulness of Anne has given her pause:

I suddenly felt angry…All the same I felt she was right: that I was governed by my instincts like an animal, swayed this way and that by other people, that I was shallow and weak. I despised myself, and it was a horribly painful sensation, all the more since I was not used to self-criticism. I went up to my room in a daze.

Yet her habits of self-possession and waywardness leads her to take a 26 year old lover, Cyril, and she co-opts him and Elsa, a pretty ex-lover of her father’s, into a scheme that will allow her and her father to live as before. However, she constantly suffers crises of confidence about whether she really does want Anne to depart, and spends as much energy desiring for her plan to fail as to succeed. The tragedy of the novel stems from Cécile’s inability to take her childish plan seriously:

And that is how I set the whole comedy in motion, against my better judgment…still it was amusing to try the plan out, and see whether my psychological judgement proved right or wrong.

Sagan pulls off a great trick by making a kept daughter a charming protagonist. Cécile has no illusions as to her ambitions or personality: ‘I realized that I was more gifted for kissing a young man in the sunshine than for taking a degree.’ There is something about her nonchalance that is quite lovely. In and amongst Cécile’s chatty, intimate disclosures, Sagan also allows her heroine moments of hyperbolic poetry:

We were of the same race; sometimes I thought we belonged to the pure and
beautiful race of nomads, and at others to the poor withered breed of hedonists.

Despite these self-evaluatory interludes, the novel crumpled into a bathetic end that reminded me of an execrable French film I attempted to watch on the plane once. (If you’re interested, La Fille de Monaco, IMDB user comments: ‘A comedy that turns serious for no very good reason’.) Still, considering Sagan was herself around Cécile’s age when she wrote the book, Bonjour Tristesse is a diverting novel with plenty of vitality and grace.

February 20, 2009

I’m becoming increasingly tragic for this book:

TEV: We normally don’t waste a question on something as banal as “tell us about your book,” but The Way Through Doors defies easy description, (though we can tell our readers that it is smart, witty and moving, and rewards attentive reading) so we decided to punt that task and ask you to tell our readers something about this Russian doll of a novel.

JB: It is a book of delight — a love song of the imagination sung by a young man for a young woman who has lost her memory.

(from The Elegant Variation)

There’s something captivating about the way Ball expresses himself. It’s utterly poetic and considered, and for me that’s the most compelling behaviour an author can exhibit. It’s exactly why I was all in a rage for Nam Le’s The Boat for a long time before I read it. But I am under a book-buying embargo. I have literally a hundred books to read. Okay, maybe it’s more like fifty. So, not literally at all.

February 19, 2009

(Picture from the Writers at the Convent)

Rosé and whisky on Friday night made it difficult for me to wake up in time for the 9 am start on Saturday. But I did make it, and with time to spare — I picked up 7 books and a pretty gold and black dress from a garage sale on the way.

The Abbotsford Convent, for those unfamiliar with it, is an incredibly beautiful and atmospheric location. It had plenty of venues for the sessions and lots of open spaces for attendees to lounge around in between sessions. Large enough to accommodate bucketloads of people, but cohesive enough to foster a sense of community, it’s an ideal location for a writers festival. I loved spending the day there, and I think everyone else felt the same.

My volunteer shift was short and painless. Actually, it was frighteningly enjoyable. Even though historical fiction is not my usual literary fare, I was entertained by Jenny Pattrick, Claire Thomas and Anthony Neill’s discussion entitled Plundering the Past. The way Thomas described the evolution of a single fact — the crushed form of lapis lazuli was used in Renaissance-era Venice to create ultramarine pigment — into her novel, Fugitive Blue, put me in mind of a bloodhound’s singular focus. Her delight in the ‘perverse integrity’ of deliberate, minute research was palpable in her and the other authors’ stories. I was beginning to see how easy it would be to get sucked into chasing history around.

Jenny Pattrick’s first book, The Denniston Rose, was published when Pattrick was 60. No mean feat. It’s now a bestseller with sequels, etc, etc. The origins of her novel were quite similar to those of Thomas’, and she described the ‘accidental’ stumbling on something that fascinated her. In her case, it was a deserted coal mining town upon a plateau on the west coast of New Zealand. For Pattrick, research came first before narrative and characters could develop. That makes sense to me. I don’t think I would want to begin fantasising about potential plot points only to be cut off by cold hard facts. (Not that it stops some people. I won’t offer any examples but I’m sure we’re all thinking of the same person.)

Anthony O’Neill is a fingers-in-lots-of-historical-pies guy, who has written books set in Edinburgh in the 1860s and 9th century Baghdad, just for starters. A self-proclaimed neurotic researcher who worrited and worrited about a reader finding a flaw, O’Neill’s chat reminded me of a story Ian McEwan once told about his novel Saturday, in which he describes characters looking up at a particular constellation at a particular geographical location at a particular time of year. Well, he received a letter from a reader telling him that it was impossible for that event to have happened. Tell that one to the people at the New Yorker, McEwan.

I was stoked to be able to attend the Peter Singer on Poverty session. His new book, The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty is an exhortatory text that frames global poverty as a problem which can be tackled effectively through individual action. This conclusion arises from the simple premise that there is a lot of suffering in the world which doesn’t have to exist. Singer used a parable of sorts to illustrate the circumstances of generosity as the usually stand: Imagine a baby drowning in a pond. You are wearing expensive new shoes. Do you rescue the baby and forego the cost of the shoes? If so, why is visibility/immediacy so influential on our willingness to make monetary sacrifices? The talk is available to see at SlowTV.

After Peter Singer, I was off the hook volunteer-wise, so I took myself off to the Convent Bakery for a complimentary (but roof-of-the-mouth-chafing) salami and pesto baguette and pineapple juice. Mmm. Next!

Charmaine O’Brien is a name I’m familiar with, as a bit of a food tragic in food-tragic Melbourne. In her Culinary Capital session, I discovered that she is also in charge of the Red Cross’ commercial food donation distribution so I suspect she has been very busy. Her new book, Flavours of Melbourne, is a food-centric book discussing Melbourne and its changing citizens, from Melbourne’s first brewer John Mills, possibly responsible for the death of 16 people (he used water from the Yarra River, which was both the main source of water for the city but also the resting place for sewage), to African migrants bringing cuisine from that continent. Loved hearing about the “Fat for England” campaign run in Australia, in which Australians were encouraged to save the fat from their meals, convey it to depots in town from where it was aggregated and sent to England. That was probably responsible for some bad stomachs too. Lovely session, though I always feel talking about food should be accompanied by the consumption of food.

Finally, and I was admittedly nodding off in the heat by this stage, Stephan Faris’ Foreign Correspondent session at 4pm. Some technical problems and Faris’ propensity for facing away from the microphone made it a little difficult to follow. But reading Eric Campbell’s Absurdistan in 2007 and Ryszard Kapuscinski’s In the Shadow of the Sun this summer made me fascinated with the chanceful profession of the foreign correspondent. He told of receiving bribes from government officials after Ministry of Information press meetings about journalistic standards in Nigeria, reporting on the depopulation of Sudan in 2003 and the lack of support by traditional healers for antiretrovirals in Uganda. I liked his observation that he is always struck by the similarities between different countries, but that it is part of his job to draw out the differences. Faris also featured in a session about global warming.

And that’s it! Oh, and I bought a copy of Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind at the Reader’s Feast festival bookshop, because I love evolutionary psychology books. I didn’t attend anything on Sunday, because my schedule took me to Barwon Heads, which was wonderful. But where was Diver Dan?

February 18, 2009

I will be getting my computer back tonight! Therefore, tonight or thereafter: single-malt whisky all around, and a rundown of the weekend’s Writers at the Convent festival.

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