You get to go to Sydney to check out an APA seminar on the future of e-content, and then visit Ligare, your publisher’s sometime printer. It’s pretty special seeing books being spat magically out of machines that are so complex as to seem intuitive. The older machines were more visually striking, including one which had different stations for the standard black, magenta, cyan and yellow inks, but the newer machines were purringly efficient, feeding undulating paper through the stages of becoming a book. Most excellently, Ligare has a sustainability program, and a huge recycling facility which cost about $500 million. Vegans beware, particularly vegan lawyers – animal glue is still used for certain bound books, because apparently it sticks like no other.
Archive for June, 2009
Converse to my experience when reading Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything (people would look at the sepia-toned cover and think I was a learned nerd; notwithstanding the accuracy of the nerd part, it was galling, etc), reading Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots and Leaves was conducive to some fairly different interactions with other members of society. Nothing to do with the gung-ho ‘punctuation warrior’ approach Truss espouses in the book, but it did bring on an unexpected encounter with a stranger on a tram. The fellow, older than I (and I suspect, quite inebriated), pointed at the cover and commented that his nickname at university had been ‘Wombat’, because he ‘eats, roots and leaves’. Pretty good. Amused by this anecdote, I humoured his desire for conversation. I was in the middle of telling him that he should encourage his son to learn languages from as young an age as possible when he fell asleep. Literally, actually, does-this-actually-happen fell asleep. Oh well. A friendship bites the dust.
“Comfort ye my people” (please go out and comfort my people)and“Comfort ye, my people” (just cheer up, you lot; it might never happen)
The supreme peculiarity of this peculiar publishing phenomenon is that the British are less rigid about punctuation and related matters, such as footnote and bibliographic form, than Americans are. An Englishwoman lecturing Americans on semicolons is a little like an American lecturing the French on sauces. Some of Truss’s departures from punctuation norms are just British laxness. In a book that pretends to be all about firmness, though, this is not a good excuse. The main rule in grammatical form is to stick to whatever rules you start out with, and the most objectionable thing about Truss’s writing is its inconsistency. Either Truss needed a copy editor or her copy editor needed a copy editor. Still, the book has been a No. 1 best-seller in both England and the United States.
Oh, thank god. There’s someone else who hasn’t read Virginia Woolf yet. This year, I promise. And then Tolstoy and Foster Wallace and Iris Murdoch and Flaubert and Barthelme and Updike and Musil and O’Connor and Munro. You too, Salinger. Literary guilt: just how different is it to Catholic guilt? I have, however, bought a Woolf book this week, a Vintage two-hander: A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas.
Damned Rushdie and Murakami. I wasted my youth on you.
Although the book appeared to wide acclaim, Rhys held a grudge against editor Diana Athill for, she believed, publishing it prematurely. “‘It was not finished,’ she said coldly. She then pointed out the existence in the book of two unnecessary words. One was ‘then,’ the other ‘quite.’”
My first introduction to Georges Simenon was a Paris Review interview; I usually avoid these long, intimate and revealing pieces, as they’re guaranteed to make me chase the works of the profiled author, and my bookshelf requests respite, sometimes. But who wouldn’t be intrigued by a man who wrote 60-80 pages a day? This copy of The Blue Room was a lucky find at one of the City Library’s biannual book sales, where most everything is one dollar. Scoop-ups a-plenty. It’s in rather nasty condition, clearly having been the victim of a spill, but c’est la vie. I don’t generally read crime fiction, but I do like the occasional television crime show. So I’m not averse to the genre per se; I’m just usually much more focused on literary fiction. I like crime shows because they’re ‘hard fluff’ – you get your easy-to-pigeonhole characters, your souped-up logic and of course your predictable cathartic denouement, which is what a girl sometimes needs after a long day of shoe shopping.
The Blue Room didn’t quite adhere to these expectations. A little more interesting than your local cop show, it’s set in Saint-Justin-du-Loup, one of the many hamlets and villages of rural France where residents often have known no other home in all their lives. It opens with a conversation between two lovers:
‘Have I hurt you?’
‘Are you angry with me?’
These memories are rendered as replay in Tony Falcone’s mind, endless undertow troubling him while he is being questioned by psychiatrists and court officials. We only find out slowly what the crime is, and though it’s a slow-burning question, the crime itself is not the prime target of Simenon’s gaze. The reader is given front-row seats to the spectacle of the suspect’s torment – after a nicety sought by the judge during questioning: ‘This endless wrangling over words!’ In response to a line of questioning that would be thrown out even in the laissez-faire world of the American crime television franchises, we have ‘Tony, staring blindly into the Judge’s face…trying desperately to understand, to explain.’
In France, the criminal justice system is inquisitorial (rather than adversarial, as in Australia or the UK), and the judge’s wide-ranging, erosive questioning is compounded by the condemnation of the townspeople, whose propinquity explains their quickness to judge. Simenon maintains the pressure of these comparisons, describing the judge as a man not unlike Tony, a man who even likes Tony for who he is. It’s a quiet book which easily evokes the burden of trial by small town, as mild as it is utterly bewildering.
The Blue Room defied my baseless expectations of crime novels, though, granted, I don’t read many of those. It wasn’t a dense read, and did quench my thirst for lighter fare. But rather than just focus on gore or extreme personalities, though the latter certainly feature in the book, Simenon invites us to interrogate our opinions on culpability and traces the relationship between thoughtlessness and expectation: can we be guilty for the passions of others?