Posts Tagged ‘2011’

Steve Hely is a very funny and nice man who writes for The Office. I met and interviewed him last year at MWF, and he showed great gentlemanship in not pointedly walking away from me when I later that day proceeded to tell him an extremely inchoate and not narratively satisfying story from my drunken past, all while I was firmly entrenched in my drunken present.

All this is to say that I still have a good opinion of him, even though the main character in his book, How I Became A Famous Novelist:

  • is offered $15,000 for his first novel. I feel that This Is Not Realistic
  • is in a scene where his friend in the publishing industry says, ‘And blogs! Jesus! Blogs! If I hear the word blog one more time I’m gonna put my neck on the subway tracks.’ (For one thing, that would not be hygienic.)
  • thinks, at one point, ‘Book reviewers are the most despicable, loathsome order of swine that ever rooted about the earth. They are sniveling, revolting creatures who feed their own appetites for bile by gnawing apart other people’s work. They are human garbage. They all deserve to be struck down by awful diseases described in the most obscure dermatology journals.’ (Come on, man.)
  • thinks, at one point, ‘Worst of all, Polly’s wedding would be filled with Australians.’ (Fair enough.)

Screw you too, Steve!

Still! The pros for this book include:

  • a scene featuring Vincent D’Onofrio (this one’s for you, Elmo Keep)
  • the line ‘He looked like an elf who’s gone through a bad divorce.’
  • something called Nepalese Nut Soda, the hilarity of which I can never quite explain.
  • a press release for a (sadly) fictional book called How to Stop Being a Ho … and Why
  • excellent satire on the world of literary fiction.
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That sound you can hear is the rusty gate of this blog creaking open. Is that a mixed metaphor? I don’t even know anymore. Where am I? Who are you? Who am I?

Just kidding, you guys. My brain is totally intact and I can construct sentences (well, we’ll see). I have also been reading books, contrary to what my silence here might indicate. I have been pretty busy, what with everything – and let’s be honest, no one’s life has been in danger due to my non-updates – but there’s been a development in my life that made me keen to come back here and get to documentin’.

Late last year I got an iPad 2. Since then, I’d estimate that I’ve had a conversation about it with 70% of the people I know. That’s a big percentage. And despite the fact that this is the first post in a series about said device, I’m not really an Extoller of the Pleasures of the Tablet or anything; people are just very interested in them and the future of the book and what have you. Usually other people ask me whether I have an e-reader yet and whether I like it, and why I chose the iPad over other e-readers, etc.

Briefly, I decided on the iPad because I wanted to be able to test all the major reading platforms. I wanted to be able to read on the Kindle, Kobo, Booki.sh and Google Books platforms, to see what they were like. I also wanted the best opportunity to get any book I wanted as an e-book, so I wanted to be able to access e-books in just about any format.

Also, it was an aesthetic thing. I don’t like the look of a lot of the ink readers, even though my initial wish was to get an ink technology reader. They’re just too plasticky and the screens are too small. And finally, I’ve been burnt by non-Apple computer products before. Samsung, I hate you. Sony, I do not like you (mostly, actually, due to this ad). Asus, I really just do not like you very much. My MacBook has lasted six years, which is longer than any other computer I have ever had. I love it, and I trust it. I did not buy the Steve Jobs biography, but I would buy his products.

I have the wi-fi model, not the 3G. I am almost superstitiously weird about not wanting to have internet access at all times. I don’t have a smartphone, either. I bought this tablet pretty much for reading only, so I won’t be commenting on the iPad qua secondary computer or life-organiser or anything like that. (Yes, I realise this is somewhat akin to, I don’t know, buying a ladder so I can sit on the third rung when I’m out of chairs, but I don’t mind.) It’ll pretty much be just about whether I liked reading the book in the X app or on the Y platform. Sorry if this bores you.

Since I acquired my new friend, about 50% of the books I’ve read have been e-books, which has surprised me. I suspect the figure would be higher still if I hadn’t been reading so many review copies that are print books. It’s been an interesting and net positive experience so far. I’m interested to see if my print/electronic book ratio rises much or steadies around the 50% mark.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Since I’ve had it for a few months now, I’ll just do a quick rundown of the beginning of our beautiful relationship.

***

Zero hour: WOW! I love this box. I love Apple. Even with the gorillas and the … everything. I’m not proud of this. But it’s so shiny. I love it. I just want to get, like, ten iPads and rub them all together. They’re so nice. Look at it all pretty when I turn it on. Ooooooh.

Hour one: What do you mean I need to create a new account for every reading platform I want to use? What do you mean I need to come up with new passwords for all of them? What do you mean the passwords need to include upper case letters, lower case letters, numerals and punctuation marks. Are you kidding me? I can’t even remember my own name sometimes. This sucks. I hate this. Okay, my password is going to be Ih8uiPad:(.

Hour two: Okay, I have passwords. I have apps. I have fingers. I have a credit card. I want to buy a book. Kindle app, you get to go first. What do I want to read…oh, you can get so many free books! Pride and Prejudice! Who cares if I already own three copies? I guess I know how that happened because I’m going to download it onto my iPad right now, I’m going to have four copies, I’m so excited!!! Yayayayayayayayayayay!! Jane Austen is the best!!! I love her so much! Northanger Abbey! That’s the only one I haven’t read. Yayayayayayayayayayay!!! I’m going to read it tonight! I’m going to read it now! Yayayay! Downloading… this is so great. I’m going to get it straight away. What an ugly cover. Oh well, it’s not going on my shelf, who cares.

Hour three: Okay, all downloaded, I’m so excited, I’m going to read this book so bad. Wait…where is it? I just bought it at Amazon and it said it had been sent to my iPad, so where is it? Go back to Amazon and check what it says to do. Yep, I downloaded it. Should be available on my iPad. Back to the Kindle app. Not there. Where is it? This is so annoying. Where is it? Can you refresh this thing? What the hell. What the hell?? I hate this. This doesn’t happen with REAL books. WTF. Where is it. Go back to Amazon. Check what it says to do. Yes, I definitely downloaded it. I hate this iPad. Maybe if I turn it off. That always works. Okay, turn it off. Turn it on. Is it there? … I HATE IPADS.

What? You think I should reinstall the Kindle app? Maybe. Okay.

Hour four: Yayayayayayayay!!! I am going to read Northanger Abbey so bad. Oooooo, changing the fonts is fun. Ooooooo, look at all the ways you can change the page-turning visualisation. Oooooo. Oooo. I love this. I am going to read it in white text on black.

Hour three point five: Ow, my eyes. Change it back to the normal way.

Two days later: I love Jane Austen! I love romantic comedies! I hate Isabella Thorpe! You could just tell she was bad from the beginning! And her brother! I love my iPad! I love Henry Tilney! I love farms! I love my iPad!! I really love my iPad!!!!!

FIN

So, hope you’re going okay. The end of 2011 was just a haze of activity, so excuse the absence. As a prize for sticking around/being good at Google/being a spambot, here’s a post to illustrate my mental declivities during the final months of 2011.

Running commentary on my reading of Madame Bovary:

Page 5: God, I can’t wait until Vronsky shows up.

Page 19: Where’s Vronsky?

Page 45: Where’s Vronsky?

Page 116: Okay, there’s a big party. I bet this is where Vronsky comes in.

Page 125: Where’s Vronsky?

Page 140: I just don’t know how someone with a name like Vronsky is going to show up in this tiny French town. It doesn’t make any sense.

Page 210: This book is practically over, and no Vronsky.

Page 267: OH MY GOD, TOTALLY WRONG BOOK. IT’S LIKE I HAVE NO BRAIN CELLS OR SOMETHING.

End: Pretty good book though.

Some day I shall regret being so open with all of you.

Hope you’ve all had a great year of reading. Looking forward to another.

I’ve only read five short story collections this year so far. It’s been a big-book year; I’ve schlepped my way through two Game of Thrones books, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, an advance copy of Isobelle Carmody’s The Sending (!!!) and am currently engaging in the bicep tussle that is Don Quixote. And I also suspect I have a little bit of short-story fatigue. Reading bad short fiction is exhausting in a way that needs no explanation, and reading good short fiction can be draining too. I always need a bit of a temporal or psychological break between even each short story in any one collection, whether single-authored or multi-authored: if the writer is doing their job right, you need some time to absorb and then recalibrate for the new world each story brings.

But I had no hesitations in buying Wayne Macauley’s Other Stories ahead of his MWF session (which I didn’t end up attending in the end). This 2010 collection has been much lauded, and I’m impatient to read his new novel The Cook, which I think is spectacularly well-timed: the collective fever-dream of MasterChef is beginning to fade slightly, but notifications from every publishing corner, including the meteoric rise and power of food blogs and the success of McSweeney’s Lucky Peach point to the middle-class obsession with food and kitchens being a stayer.

To return to Other Stories. It’s a collection that should breed excitement in short fiction aficionados. Macauley’s fiction is clean, the tales made almost ridiculously accessible by his use of simple prose. In some stories, chummy, confessional first-person establishes character with the naturalism, attention to vernacular and easy representation of foible that made Cervantes’ Sancho Panza the most memorable simpleton in literary history.

In ‘A Short Report from Happy Valley’, the (unnamed) narrator, a pathologist, is dashing off an epistle to a colleague about ‘strange goings-on’ he recently observed (‘My invoice will follow shortly, by the way’). The serene people of Happy Valley display a tendency towards sleep; one man has been asleep for thirty years, waking only for meal-times or other necessaries, while others ‘hover precariously between sleep and wakefulness’. The business-like diagnostician can’t put his finger on the cause, but while possible theories range from the pathogenic to the philosophical, he’s laissez-faire about the odd phenomenon: ‘Leave them alone! Let them rest in peace!’ – his mind’s already on his next case, a sick cow in Brisbane.

Macaulay does this oblique and unperturbed chronicling of curiosities very well. ‘One Night’ contains the simplest and most charming form of this signature; the vignette describes the summer night when ‘Michael Ebeling, the panel beater’ took his mattress down into the street and was gradually joined by all his Boxstead Court neighbours. And when Macaulay refracts these anomalies through his satiric filter, which he does often, the result tickles the fancy while disturbing the civic sense. ‘Bohemians’ seems like a fun example, at first; an agent assures a client that he can lease some ‘bohemians in their purely decorative role’ so as to create some character and ambience in a community. But the bohemians, so prized for their louche inertia, can’t afford to live in the area, where ratepayers have ‘bought up all the bohemians’ houses and taken over the bohemians’ cafés’.

If this seems like a slightly dated complaint (vale affordable North Fitzroy, Brunswick and Northcote living), note too that the collection comprises stories that have been written over almost twenty years. But when Macaulay aims his sights at the prickly end of the rectitude scale in ‘The Farmer’s New Machine’, the lengths to which a farmer is prepared to go to attain bucolic bliss are chilling because very little about the story – the proud farmer, the advances in industry – places it far outside of contemporary experience.

It’s not only groups that become bewildered, slipping into interstices that protect them from the onslaught of increasing complications. One of the collection’s best, and longest, stories, ‘The Bridge’, tells of a lone soldier who attempts to maintain his loyalty while defending a post that has been cut off from all communication. In ‘So Who’s the Wrecker Then?’, the Premier – ‘a man with a wicked sense of humour and a great flair for the dramatic’ decides during an appearance at a building site in outer suburbia to use his new-found bulldozer skills to chase dignitaries and photographers around ‘like sheep’.

With his restraint and talent for observation, Macauley clads what might usually be thought of as dystopian themes in the familiarity of realist garb, and this lends real frisson to his work. He has also written two earlier novels, which I haven’t read, but what with the sharp execution and imaginative premises, Other Stories is an excellent way to introduce yourself to Macauley’s gimlet pen.

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Laura Miller’s New Yorker piece on George R. R. Martin and his fans (who are legion) was great, and left me dying to read Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I like fantasy, I like complexity, I like HBO tv shows: done deal, right? I borrowed the first two books, A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings from my friend James, who has read them several times since childhood (Game of Thrones was written fifteen years ago).

By way of brief description, the books describe the power struggles of various high-born families in the Seven Kingdoms, and take their plot and setting cues from something approximating English medieval history (I think Martin has said that the plot is loosely based on the War of the Roses). They are huge books – both volumes run to over 700 pages – giving other sprawling fantasy worlds reason to reconsider their level of commitment.

Game of Thrones is a much easier sell than Clash of Kings: it is laden with surprises and ends with a fist-pumper of a scene. Clash of Kings suffers from the lugubriousness of an already expansive universe that Martin only continues to complicate, edge outwards and fill in, introducing more and more characters, locations and intrigues. Of course, that’s no problem in itself, but I found the second volume a bit tedious in places, and while I occasionally skipped over pages of description in the first book, I skimmed whole sections of Clash of Kings without regret. So while it was no great difficulty to continue on to the second book after the first, I’m in no hurry to go on to the third any time soon. (Dana Jennings’ NYT review of the fifth book in the famously long-incomplete series has swayed me slightly.)

Obviously, a lot happens in the 1500+ pages I read. (If anyone is giving out prizes for understatement of the year, I’ll take one.) But a few general areas of note. (Note that because there are so many significant plot changes, there’ll inevitably be SPOILERS. And note that I’m in no way trying to convert non-fantasy readers to these books. If the words ‘meat and mead’ anger you, you shouldn’t read this at all – click here now.)

I Sex and women

When an early description of a family’s bloodline contains the words ‘for centuries they had wed brother to sister’, you know you’re in for a hard-to-defend-to-your-friends kind of read. And no bloody joke. In Game of Thrones alone, you get twincest and a very closely written scene between an adult man and a thirteen-year-old girl. It’s enough to make you realise how grateful you are for age-of-consent laws.

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Thanks to Favel Parrett for making me actually start weeping uncontrollably on public transport.

Another week, another upbraiding from a friend for only posting links to external content. Too bad!

Here’s my podcast interview with Meg Mundell, whose novel Black Glass envisions a future Melbourne where people without official documentation are forced to the fringes of society. At the same time, it’s a tale of two sisters’ search for each other in a city increasingly moulded by opportunistic shysters and government spin doctors.

Meg has been published widely in Australian newspapers, journals and magazines, including The Age, The Monthly, Meanjin, The Best Australian Stories 2010, The Sleepers Almanac, harvest and The Big Issue. Have a listen.