Posts Tagged ‘scribe publications’

I have been quite annoying lately, telling everyone little factoids I picked up from this book. Did you know alcohol is a carcinogen? Did you know the recommended average number of standard drinks you should have per day is two? And no more than four in any one sitting? I’m great company. But I was very impressed by this book: it’s Age journalist Jill Stark’s account of a year spent sober, after one toxic hangover too many. And it wasn’t just hangovers she was suffering; the panic attacks and memory gaps Stark experienced were increasing in their frequency and severity. So she decided it was time for three months off the booze, an experiment that morphed into the full year’s experience.

Stark is articulate and curious, which is to be expected from a journalist – a journalist, no less, whose expertise is, ironically, reporting on Australia’s booze-soaked culture. This book is readable and interesting, with Stark’s personal journey making the necessary facts and figures digestible, but it’s also savvy publishing. At a time when Australians are drinking a lot, and starting early in their lives, this book ticks the feature-writer’s ‘interesting to everyone’ box. When discussing High Sobriety with friends, I’d mention the trouble Stark had fending off well-meaning friends’ insistence that she have a drink at celebrations, or the discomfort others would have around her when they were drinking, and everyone would nod in recognition. Though abstaining from alcohol for a year is a social and psychological feat that many wouldn’t consider possible in their own lives, the Australian cultural bias towards drinking would be recognisable for most. How you take a bottle of wine to dinner, without fail. How you have a beer after knocking off work any night of the week. How you have a glass of champers when a friend turns 29. A friend’s book launch. A bad fight with your brother. How anything, and everything, is an excuse to have a glass or four.

The book is split into chapters reflecting each month of Stark’s sober year, but each chapter also takes a different focus, whether it’s the similarities between the drinking cultures of Scotland and Australia (Stark is Scottish), the medical issues facing heavy drinkers, Stark’s search for love while sober, and the interesting role of drinking in the blokey world of journalism (for one thing, Stark describes a drinking game called ‘ottering’ that is enough to keep you off the sauce for a while). The honest and well-researched account makes it easy – even imperative – for a reader to consider her own drinking life.

For example, here’s an account of my drinking in the week after I finished reading High Sobriety.

Sunday: Share a longneck of alcoholic ginger beer that I bought a food and wine expo the week before. Though my share’s less than a standard drink, I have it before dinner and, before long, my head is spinning. I am writing, and when I look over my work the next day, it seems I temporarily forgot how to use full stops or, indeed, any punctuation at all.

Monday: It’s a public holiday, but no drinking. I’m determined not to have had a drink every day of the long weekend.

Tuesday: A board meeting. It’s going to be my final one, so I have one-and-a-half glasses of wine. Usually I’d have two, but – High Sobriety. It’s hard not to keep going, but I am proud of my restraint. It’s the first time I’ve put a hand over my glass in a long while. But then I end up having dinner with a friend who’s also on the board, instead of the bachelorette dinner at home I’d planned. Dinner is a friend’s birthday celebration, so I have another glass of wine.

Wednesday: I catch up with a writer I know. I am having dinner with my boyfriend’s boss and his family later, so I intend not to drink anything. But she offers to buy me a drink and I hesitate, unsure whether she will accept my refusal. Instead, I go to the bar and buy myself a vodka with soda water. At dinner, I have two glasses of very delicious Shiraz. I don’t intend to have any more than that, but when there is a glass and a half left in each of the two bottles remaining on the table at the end of the night, Sam’s boss asks me if I can ‘help out’ so the wine won’t go to waste. I say yes – another half glass.

Thursday: A glass of red at a pub with colleagues. Our plans to have Korean for dinner are set aside when we realise trivia’s on in the next room (and it’s raining). Two more bottles of wine are purchased, but I only have one more glass.

Friday: No more fucking drinking, thanks. My housemate offers me some pinot noir, but I say no, a halo appearing above my head. My only evening plans are to go to the gym and read my book. I don’t go to the gym. I succeed in reading about forty pages of my book, but not before pouring myself a half nip of Lagavulin. I don’t drink it, though – I fall asleep at 8:30pm.

Saturday: Movie night at our house. I plan to have no more than one mixed drink and one beer. We’re watching The BIg Lebowski so my housemate is making White Russians. I ask for a tiny one – I don’t like milk – and he obliges. I have a couple of sips and leave it – it’s gross. The dude doesn’t abide. I have one beer during the movie.

According to the new national guidelines for alcohol consumption, I’ve probably had just on the recommended amount throughout the week, and I don’t think I’ve had more than four standard drinks in any sitting. I’ve had two alcohol-free days, also recommended, but only because a) I really thought about it and wanted to achieve it, and b) I fell asleep. The thing that surprises me about this little journal is how much I had to advert to my alcohol consumption to get anywhere close to adhering to the guidelines. Although this is probably a more social week than most, I know I could easily have had three or four more drinks on top of what I did have.

High Sobriety is a book so thought-provoking that it may well do for drinking what Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals did for eating meat. (Lots of people I know have already said they don’t want to read it for that reason.) I’m not yet going booze free, and I doubt I ever will, but it’s good to know that I’m armed with the knowledge to drink as healthfully as I can.

Bonus points: Also good is Steph Van Schilt’s review of the book at Liticism.


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.

February 28, 2011

Hi all. Just another one of those cursory ‘direct-you-elsewhere’ posts, sorry. Hey, at least I am not stealing your money or anything like that. (Although, for all you know, I could be.)

Anyhow, I read Sherman Alexie’s War Dances for Killings and I blogged for The Book Show here about … this blog, actually. And how it’s helped me become a better reader.

Happy week!

When it comes to genre, I’m usually more True Blood than true crime. But it’s a wrench to resist Jake Adelstein’s story, as told in his book Tokyo Vice: Jewish-American kid applies for a job at a Japanese newspaper (and not just any newspaper; it’s the Yomiuri Shimbun, which has the highest circulation of any newspaper in the world) and despite his Japanese language score being in the bottom ten, he’s called in for an interview and he gets the job, only to end up sitting opposite a member of the biggest organised crime group in Japan, who is relaying a death threat from his boss. Just another day in the life, really.

Adelstein’s first posting is in half-rural, half-suburban Urawa, a ‘place considered so uncool by urban Japanese that it had spawned its own adjective, dasai, meaning “not hip, boring, unfashionable”’. But, as unfashionable as it is, Urawa is where he cuts his teeth as a police reporter. Navigating the complex spatial politics of the Yomiuri’s office (“Who the hell told you could sit down here!”) and getting up to speed with the house style (“I’ll expect you to know it within a week.”) are small tasks compared to learning how to update the office scrapbooks.

Starting out in any profession is a big ask in any case, but being an American who works for a Japanese newspaper has its own challenges. Adelstein’s first kikikomi (interviews related to a crime) are comedic adventures, with potential interviewees mistaking him for a salesman. The cultural differences serve him well, too, sometimes; “dumb gaijins” can get quite handily behind police tape.

Adelstein is a chummy and deft translator of Japanese culture: from the Japanese reverence for language, as exemplified by the concept of kotodama – the spirit of language that resides in every word; to the underbelly of Japanese culture, which makes our Underbelly look like Play School. Eventually, Adelstein scores a post at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Press Club, where he begins to cover the extraordinary crime syndicates of Japan – the legendary yakuza.

As Adelstein explained in an interview on WNYC, the yakuza are more Wal-Mart than West Side Story. On one end of the spectrum, there are the members who ‘own’ the illegal immigrants peddling counterfeit wares on the street. On the other end, you have the supremos who launder money through their innumerable – and legitimate – loan businesses and hostess bars.

It would be hard not to admire the seemingly unassailable extent of the various yakuza enterprises, except that, unavoidably, regular people get hurt or disappear. Adelstein’s career path takes a turn when he becomes involved in the story of Lucie Blackman, a British girl who went missing while working as a hostess in Tokyo’s infamous Roppongi district. In this quest, Adelstein straddles the line between impartial observer and passionate truth seeker. And it wasn’t to be the only time he came face to face with the ugly side of Tokyo.

(Cross-posted from mwfblog.)

Picture title: ‘My Love Affair with Detritus: Part II: The Desk.’

Anyhow, Julian Burnside — what a funny bastard. For those of you not in the know about the Antipodes’ Atticus Finch, he is a QC and AO, the latter having been bestowed ‘for service as a human rights advocate, particularly for refugees and asylum seekers, to the arts as a patron and fundraiser, and to the law’. You might have noticed him around town in his natty tortoiseshell glasses. Also, he likes words quite a lot, enough to have written a very engaging book about them.

If you’re going to ask me why on earth you should read anything written by someone whom even Lisa Simpson might find an irritating polymath, then you should probably go away and think very hard about your attitude. Then come back and read the rest of what I’ve written about Wordwatching, because you’ll be missing out otherwise. Wordwatching is a blissfully accessible collection of ‘essays’ (I think of them more as ‘riffs’) about words, their meanings, and their histories. What makes it such an agreeable companion is its combination of nerdy humour (one chapter is called ‘All’s Well That Ends -al‘), industrious research, and a love of language which shines through the simple prose.

I’ve already excerpted a couple of choice bits from the innards of the beast, but suffice it to say that Burnside has a wide-ranging pen, and many of his observations in Wordwatching give rise to ‘ohhhhhhhh’ moments. There’s plenty of trivia about words, from the familiar origin of the word furphy (the last name of the Shepparton man who made water carts used in Gallipoli), to the more obscure origins of the word poppycock (from the Dutch pappekak, which means soft shit). One chapter, ‘Deadly Sins’, simply takes a look at the origins of words such as lust, vainglory and gluttony.

Observations on the coming and going of words show that Burnside sits in a mindful spot between the philologist poles of conservatism-at-all-costs and let’s-go-with-the-flow. It’s a stance that I share, and he makes it a very sympathetic one, displaying a clear distaste for the misuse of existing words, and enthusiasm for neologisms that fill the many voids of the English language. Some of the usual suspects are investigated, such as that pet peeve of many English language enthusiasts, ending a sentence with a preposition. That long-lived nuisance is put to bed without dinner, with the aid of examples from Shakespeare and Charlotte Bronte.

It’s no surprise, given his work with refugees, that Burnside has included an essay titled ‘Doublespeak’, in which he discusses the troubling Orwellian propensities of the Howard Government’s neoteric, whitewashing terminologies. He also ends the book on a similar note:

The essays in this book are mostly intended as harmless play in the richness of our language. But all play has a larger purpose, and taking pleasure in the language should at least make us concerned to protect it: not from change, but from wilful misuse. When innocent victims of oppression become ‘illegals’; when immigration policy becomes ‘border protection’; when ‘global warming’ becomes ‘climate change’, it is time to be alert and also alarmed.

What a good man. Wordwatching is like a hug for word nerds. As my friend Kelvin would say, ‘get in there’.

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I like short stories, and I like that short stories are garnering (in my humble, based-on-anecdote opinion) a wider audience; I talk about Nam Le and Miranda July lately as much as I talk about Haruki Murakami and Ernest Hemingway. New Australian Stories is on Scribe’s ‘latest bestsellers’ list, so that’s heartening. The short story’s a great narrative form, and I’m not going to insultingly qualify that statement by saying ‘for our time’ or ‘for my postmodern, YouTube-inhaling generation’, because I’m not sure that those kinds of things are relevant except for as PR pap.

My love for short stories explained: I like the way short stories seem like biopsies, sampling as if for your edification and entertainment lumpy segments of life. My love for short story collections explained: I really like eating at restaurants partly because I love menus — if you read about everything on offer it’s like sampling each one, if only in your head. In the case of short story collections, reading/sampling is consuming. For me, a person who finds picking and choosing hard, that’s great. A local focus is good too; I like seeing what lots of Australian writers are up to, from the ones I’m familiar with from collections, literary magazines, newspapers and small press, through to the ones I’ve never heard of (no fault of theirs, I’m sure, as the authors all have extensive biographies). It’s also great for the writers, because it puts them in touch with a wider audience. So I guess what I’m saying is that I love the idea of an Australian short story anthology, especially considering that short stories (for whatever reason) are still considered black holes for the publishing dollar.

Scribe’s New Australian Stories, most of whose constituent stories are previously unpublished, gives us stories from the likes of Cate Kennedy, Louise Swinn and Paddy O’Reilly as well as lots of writers I’ve never read (my fault, not theirs — most of the authors have extensive biographies). Stories spanning the spectrum of experience, from the beginning of life to the guilt, agony and mystery of death, can be found in this diverse collection. Re: birth, see Max Barry’s anti-couvade experience in How I Met My Daughter: ‘They dragged this bloody, howling thing from my wife’s abdomen, its limbs twitching and clawing, its face like an angry pumpkin, and asked me, “Do you want to take a photo?”‘ Re: death, see Ryan O’Neill’s ‘Last Words’: ‘Most last words, he had discovered, were banal.’

If short stories are biopsies, then the writers of New Australian Stories are skilled surgeons. The best short stories can conjure a past and a future out of a segment of present. Lots of the stories in this collection do this well. Highlights for me included Abigail Ulman’s Chagall’s Wife, whose tale of a high-school student angling for the attentions of a teacher easily evokes the nonchalance and unexamined alertness of burgeoning sexuality. It also stands out for its lean, direct prose; most of the other stories have a tendency towards fleshier prose which can sometimes be less effective. Another stand-out was Vivienne Kelly’s The Third Child. In this story, Frances writes yearly letters about her unchanging life to an aunt who lives abroad. Kelly’s restraint is admirable and pays off in an unexpected way; it’s a breathtaking story.

In relation to the talk of eliminating the territorial copyright provisions, there has been some fear that if it were to go ahead, uniquely Australian voices and stories would be lost. I get the feeling that the production of this kind of book will be negatively affected by major changes to the Australian parallel importation laws; I’d guess that the risk to independent Australian presses of putting out works by new (to books) Australian authors put is offset by their domestic sales of big-ticket overseas titles and books by established local heroes. The way the Productivity Commission is going (i.e. arbitrarily hedging their bets), if you love short stories, you should buy books like these and make them bestsellers in their own right.

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