Archive for 2010

December 31, 2010

Here is a list of the books and journals I’ve read this year, in vaguely chronological order:

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo / Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Played with Fire / Stieg Larsson
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest / Stieg Larsson
Readings and Writings: Forty Years in Books / ed. Jason Cotter and Michael Williams
Dead until Dark / Charlaine Harris
Living Dead in Dallas / Charlaine Harris
Kill Your Darlings Issue 1
Pippi Longstocking / Astrid Lindgren
Under Stones / Bob Franklin
Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking / Malcolm Gladwell
I Will Surprise My Friend / Mo Willems
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus / Mo Willems
When You Reach Me / Rebecca Stead
The Knife of Never Letting Go / Patrick Ness
The Theory of Light and Matter / Andrew Porter
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders / Daniyal Mueenuddin
Will Grayson, Will Grayson / John Green and David Levithan
The Road / Cormac McCarthy
Kill Your Darlings Issue 2
Known Unknowns / Emmett Stinson
Miscellaneous Voices / ed. Karen Andrews
Kissing Frogs / Andee Jones
Possum Tale / Lucienne Noontil
Exposure / Joel Magarey
My Pilgrim’s Heart / Stephanie Dale
The Nine Flaws of Affection / Peter Farrar
Ondine / Ebony McKenna
Offset Journal
Thirty Something and Over It / Kasey Edwards
Palimpsest / Kathryn Koromilas
Crackpot / Fiona Trembath
Love Machine / Clinton Caward
Cottonmouth
In Lonnie’s Shadow / Chrissie Michaels
Putting Pen to Paper / Caroline Webber
harvest magazine issue 5
This is Shyness / Leanne Hall
The Family Law / Benjamin Law
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ / Philip Pullman
Speak to Me / Sarah Hopkins
Growing up Asian in Australia / ed. Alice Pung
Unpolished Gem / Alice Pung
Little Paradise / Gabrielle Wang
The Wildkin’s Curse / Kate Forsyth
The Brain that Changes Itself / Norman Doidge
Tokyo Vice / Jake Adelstein
The Byron Journals / Daniel Ducrou
Lunatic in My Head / Anjum Hasan
Torpedo 5 / ed. Chris Flynn
How a Moth Becomes a Boat / Josephine Rowe
Kill Your Darlings Issue 3
Sleepers Almanac 6 / ed. Zoe Dattner and Louise Swinn
Light Boxes / Shane Jones
Having Cried Wolf / Gretchen Shirm
Tamara Drewe / Posy Simmonds
Catching Fire / Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay / Suzanne Collins
The Dead Fish Museum / Charles D’Ambrosio
The Dirt / Mötley Crüe with Neil Strauss
Once upon a Time in the North / Philip Pullman
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis / Lydia Davis
India Dark / Kirsty Murray
The Beautiful and Damned / F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Penguin Book of the Ocean / ed. James Bradley
Beloved / Toni Morrison
Freedom / Jonathan Franzen
The Easter Parade / Richard Yates
A Curse Dark as Gold / Elizabeth C. Bunce
Half a Life / Darin Strauss
Into the Woods / Anna Krien
Land’s Edge / Tim Winton

(Re-read:
Persuasion / Jane Austen
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows / JK Rowling)

For a total of 72 73 books, two of them re-reads. Which is by no means a boast; three of the books listed above are children’s books, sixteen of them are young adult books, and there’s a sprinkling of page-turners in there for good measure. I did not post about about all these books, but if you click on the ’2010′ tab to the right, you can find out which ones I did write about. Pop over to Killings, too, for interviews and reviews with some of these authors.

The main thing that strikes me about this list is how many new titles it contains. That’s not a surprise: this year I’ve done some book reviews and author interviews (although this list doesn’t count books I’ve edited or proofread), which means I’ve read many more new books than I usually would. Forty-two of the 72 73 books here had a work output, such as an interview or a review, which means that my reading this year was predominantly governed by new publishing.

The other thing that strikes me about this list is the absences: no poetry, and few journals apart from Kill Your Darlings. That’s mostly because this list doesn’t include partially read books; if I did add those, I would be obliged to mention the excellent Torpedo 4, for example, which is a tribute to Richard Brautigan, some issues of Overland, Meanjin and McSweeney’s, and The Lifted Brow 6. On the poetry side, I’m troubled not to have had more time with the Oxford Book of Sixteenth-Century Verse, which is infinitely more fun than it sounds, and Nathan Curnow’s The Ghost Poetry Project. There are no magazines on this list, either, so thanks to The New Yorker for being my constant breakfast companion.

Further, there are plenty of books I didn’t get a crack at this year, which I will verily attempt to rectify in the early parts of 2011. (Read: Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World, Sloane Crosley’s essay collections, John Cheever’s short stories, Black Inc.’s end-of-year collections, Russell Brand’s My Booky Wook, Lili Wilkinson’s Pink, etc. ad infinitum.)

On the one hand, these lists seem to do nothing but instil in me a sense of panic, as they’re a reminder not only of what I’ve read but of what I haven’t. Yet, on the other hand, it’s a great way to look back on a year of outstanding books, including many I’ve not been able to post about here. I loved John Green and David Levithan’s Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and the larger-than-life, heart-of-gold character Tiny Cooper, who warrants any hyphenated clichés I attach to his name. Anna Krien’s excellent Into the Woods is alone responsible for my resolution to read more non-fiction next year, and Tim Winton’s Land’s Edge, recently re-released, cemented him in my mind as Australia’s best communicator of our oceans’ crashing surfaces and mesmeric depths.

Happy new year to you – and here’s to a giant ol’ 2011.

I think I should rename this blog – 12 BOOKS. One book a month. That seems to be the going rate right now. Not exactly a bargain. Sorry guys!

I read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned for the Kill Your Darlings Culture Club podcast. I was joined by Lorelei Vashti, who writes a weekly column in The Age‘s Green Guide (which used to be my bible in the days of Seaquest DSV) and Anna Krien, author of Into the Woods (one of my favourite books this year). I quite like podcasts, and I hope you like this one. Good company for any drives to the beach you might be taking this Christmas, any holiday baking times, leisurely walks in the park, and also good as a precursor to a nap.

This is the third Fitzgerald book I’ve read, which hardly makes me an expert – I think there are five novels, eight short story collections, some essays, some letters…a veritable font of words. I certainly think that anyone with an interest in Fitzgerald would enjoy reading this – it’s so uneven as to be intimate, and many of his famous themes get a wringing out here. As expected, Fitzgerald writes beautifully about his lovers and society, but there are a couple of surprises here, particularly in form.

Not sure if I will get in another post before Christmas. If not, happy holidays! And if you’re still present hunting, Kill Your Darlings has a nifty $50 subscription, which comes with a free book (your pick of a rather good bunch: Scribe’s New Australian Stories 2, Black Inc.’s Best Australian Essays or Andrew Mueller’s Rock and Hard Places).

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November 30, 2010

Just a little peep from me: a review of Kirsty Murray’s India Dark on Radio National’s The Book Show.

Also, something a bit novel. If you’d like to read a book with me, and hear me discuss it with some special guests (very special guests!), get cracking on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned. I’ll be reading it for the Kill Your Darlings Culture Club podcast. Believe me, you want to read this book. It was Fitzgerald’s sophomore book, and it actually features a scene in which one of the characters refers to his first, extremely successful, novel, This Side of Paradise. It’s just like staring into a tortured soul. Seriously. The podcast airs on Tuesday December 14. Get thee ready!

She had a beautiful voice but was a depressed or possibly bipolar person and spent massive amounts of time alone in her Lower East Side apartment, doing freelance copyediting at night and sleeping away her days.

from Freedom

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November 1, 2010

Good people, I have been sick as a dog. So I present to you my Convalescence Culture Diary:

Monday to Thursday: Read Sleepers Almanac #6 for interview with Zoe Dattner (coming soon at Killings).

Friday: Don’t read anything, because for some reason everything seems to be shimmering before my eyes.

Saturday: Watch three episodes of Mad Men Season 1. Eat baked eggs. Watch three episodes of Spooks Season 6. Eat pork and carrot congee. Watch seven episodes of Mad Men Season 2. Blink a hundred times to moisten my papery eyes. Eat four-day-old Japanese curry.

Sunday: Wake up from a tax return-related dream. Watch six episodes of Mad Men Season 2. Watch two episodes of True Blood Season 1. Watch one episode of Spooks Season 6.

Happy Cup day, Melbournites.

October 26, 2010

I became aware of Shane Jones’ Light Boxes back in February 2009 when I blogged meagrely about how much I admired Jesse Ball’s The Way Through Doors. Jones informed me that Ball had blurbed his book, and diffidently suggested, ‘Check it out if you want’. I did want, and I emailed him to find out a little bit more about Light Boxes. My e-epistle to him was embarrassingly stupid. I said, verbatim: ‘What is the likelihood that I would like your book?’ Seriously.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, I did eventually get around to reading Light Boxes – almost two years later – and I interviewed Jones for Killings. Read the interview here.

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One of my favourite childhood narrative arcs was that of the desirable man falling in love with the heroine in very unlikely circumstances. Examples:

  • Jane Eyre: rich man with a predilection for society beauties loves poor governess with no connections
  • Pride and Prejudice: rich man who doesn’t like anyone loves poorish woman with sharp wit and paradigmatically irritating mother
  • Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series: prince falls in love with girl who previously was pretending to be a boy
  • Never Been Kissed (starring Drew Barrymore and that guy from Alias): handsome, kind high school teacher falls in love with talented student (errrrr) which turns out to be okay because she is actually an adult investigative journalist masquerading as a high school student (yes, a bit weird, I grant you)

This is of course because I had no idea about how to go about recommending myself as a love-object to anyone, and was therefore tragically beholden to the idea that no matter how much society or fate or the weather had it in for you, ‘the right one’ would see through your ugly clothes/lack of personal hygiene/dearth of interesting conversation/ability to converse with animals in your head/coarse curtain of hair to THE TRUE YOU, the one which he would clasp to his bosom going forward. The great-grandfather/mother of these plots is, of course, Bill Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, at the end of which Duke Orsino is willing to give it a go with Viola, even though she has hitherto been in disguise as Cesario, his eunuch. His on-the-spot reasoning for this is fairly weird:

Your master quits you; for your service done him,
So much against the mettle of your sex,
So far beneath your soft and tender breeding,
And since you call’d me master for so long
Here is my hand: you shall from this time be
Your master’s mistress.

Basically, thank you for being a friend, and since I suppose I quite liked you anyway, let’s get married. What’s not said here is that the service done Orsino is a mélange of friendship, loyalty and love – ‘I have unclasped to thee the book even of my secret soul’ – the extent of which is so immeasurable that Orsino is willing to overlook Viola’s lie of identity. It’s a great love story. This is why Twelfth Night was one of my favourite Shakespeare plays when I was growing up, and it still is.

Bell Shakespeare is currently touring its Twelfth Night, which I saw about a month ago in Melbourne (it’s currently on in Canberra, and Sydney will follow). I’m not a regular theatre-goer by any means, but this was a temptation I couldn’t pass up. I would have been happy even to see a historical, word-for-word version of the play – complete with boring renderings of Feste’s songs – and, wonderfully, this production was anything but.

The striking set held a huge mountain of clothes in the centre of the stage and detritus littered the perimeter. People dressed in smoke-stained clothing and firefighting gear wandered the wrack and ruin. A flickering TV screen told the firefighters, and us, that bushfires had been raging, that people were lost in the wilderness. One woman began crying; other people continued their wandering. One man picked up a book – a copy of Twelfth Night, and began to read. Someone strummed a guitar. Individuals hesitatingly read parts and then took them; the play was a way to pass the time and to defy the tragedy of their forsaken meeting.

This introduction was awkward and heavily played – which I’m assuming was deliberate, given that all the performers were excellent. But the wordless, mechanical opening foregrounded that heavy feeling of awaiting a performance of Shakespeare. No one sits in such an audience lightly, and I presume that no one stands on that stage lightly. Everyone knows what to expect; or do they? This opening signalled something different, and radically so. As the actors warmed to the well-loved words and the parts, my expectations fell swiftly away.

Lee Lewis’s Twelfth Night is an athletic, shape-shifting production. The set is a playground: parts get picked up and thrown around, and the mountain of clothing is both change room and platform. But even more affecting than the wise and wide-ranging use of space is the actors’ capacity to embody both the mourning firefighters and the long-beloved comedic characters. Andrea Demetriades is an earnestly slapsticking Viola; as always, I simultaneously rejoiced and mourned the moment when her pretence ceases and Cesario is no more. Ben Wood’s is easily the most sympathetic Malvolio I’ve ever seen (not that I’ve seen many) – his steward’s love of propriety comes from a taste for order rather than merely pride, and the bogan slant to his fastidiousness created some memorably comic moments. Easy, fussy, hammy Brent Hill is a magnificent Maria (he also plays Antonio and Valentine) – truly the fun-loving wench of the original play.

The grace and presence of the production is such that you waver between absorption in the story and wonder at the sparkling, new telling, despite the shabby clothes and dirty faces of its performers. Kit Brookman is a perfect Olivia; his crafty delight and comic haste shine beneath Olivia’s raggedy black slip dress. Elan Zavelsky’s interpretation of Orsino is a classic one; he’s handsome and well-voiced, and his restraint pays off in a noble, if distant, Count. But the real genius of Zavelsky’s smooth Orsino is its juxtaposition with Sir Andrew, whom Zavelsky also plays, sometimes within two beats of the other. A simple costuming change – a suit jacket is discarded – and Sir Andrew appears, a well-meaning, slick-looking lumphead recognisable to anyone who’s watched Big Brother or gone to the races. It’s such a well observed performance that you can almost hear Sir Andrew’s two brain cells knocking against each other.

One major sticking point in any production of Twelfth Night is the music. You can only hear Feste’s ditties (seriously) so many times, really, before you start wishing for one of Tolkien’s Ent poems. Lewis has bravely and affectingly updated the songs, with the wonderful Max Cullen singing blues or Hunters and Collectors’ ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ in place of the original verses. And the spectacle of Sir Toby (Adam Booth) and Sir Andrew singing Chumbawamba’s ‘Tubthumping’ is exactly the right update for the drunken scenes I usually skip through in any re-read (and which fall flat on screen). Trust me, it’s much better (and funnier) than it sounds. Only one of the contemporary tunes didn’t hold up for me – the cast’s saccharine rendition of ‘Walking on Sunshine’ made me feel like I was at a high school choral.

But that’s a tiny quibble about one of the most enjoyable nights I’ve had in ages. I haven’t laughed so much all year, nor been so inspired to revisit Shakespeare (apart from Hamlet). And it’s not every day you get to think about eunuchs.