I enjoyed this article on 'Late Bloomers' in The New Yorker. Makes me feel less
I enjoyed this article on ‘Late Bloomers’ in The New Yorker. Makes me feel less rushed (for a little while).
Christmas is coming up. Books are great presents, especially for children. Literacy is incredibly important for our future leaders, teachers, doctors and whatnot. No one needs to be reminded (well, sometimes). Your local bookstore should have a handy catalogue, or peruse my reviews. Shelfari and other book networking sites are also great for ideas and recommendations. Another great gift idea is to give to a charity on behalf of your friends and family members. Some of my favourites are Amnesty International, Starlight Foundation, World Vision, Oxfam, Kidney Health Australia, Indigenous Literacy Project and Greenpeace. Of course, there are MANY more. Feel free to list some in the comments. Another idea is to support Australian literary culture by subscribing to a literary magazine such as Overland, Meanjin, or Southerly. Again, there are many more. But it’s a gift that will enlighten and stimulate all the way through the year.
On Thursday, December 4, the finals of the Australian poetry slam will be broadcast live from Sydney Opera House on the web and on ABC TV. See the website. And view the ‘online’ component winning entry. It’s really something.
This darling essay ‘On Bibliophilia and Biblioclasm’ is deserving of your lit-minded attention. Although the phrase ‘young people these days’ always distresses me. I have had many great conversations with other ‘young’ people about the deliciousness of browsing bookstores. Most of us already have too much to read yet we’re drawn in, always, by the pleasant smell of aged treasures, the invitation of faded imaginings. I LOVE second-hand bookstores. I am enthralled by them. And I understand Dalrymple’s particular interest in the inscriptions. For me, it’d be the notion of another story existing behind the written one on the pages, a mystery of sorts, and a deeply human, ephemeral one. I have bought a few books with very simple inscriptions – names, dates read, for such and such. They always add to the book for me. I also have books where people have written in the margins, over the pages, circled things. I feel an affinity with these mysterious readers as I am one who does this too. I take note of the words they underline heavily. The (!) or * in the margin. Sometimes I connect with them and the author simultaneously. Often they are completely different to me and I like getting to know a bit about them throughout my own reading. Sometimes I wish I could have a conversation with them. Or get them, the author and myself in a room, have a few brewskies and discuss Humbert Humbert’s journey of self or some such thing. This is what my dreams are made of.
The New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2008 has just gone up. Oh, how the to-read list grows!
Lisa Dempster, publisher of Vignette Press was kind enough to send me one of their ‘Mini Shots’ – little bite-sized books with funky illustrations on the front. She sent me ‘The Fast Lane’ because it’s set in 1994, just a coupla years short of when I’m setting my next novel ms – and as the story is vividly descriptive of the pop/Uni culture of the era. I definitely enjoyed this lit-morsel, easily swallowed on a lunchbreak. If you want to check out the other Vignette Mini Shots see their site. You can subscribe to have them delivered too.
And finally, tomorrow I am getting up at 6am to start writing said 90s novel. I haven’t quite finished all the research, timelining, character profiles, but I am needing to start nonetheless. It burns.
Above: 90s icon River Phoenix *sigh*. Pic nabbed from here.
Firmin is a sad, lonely, depressing book. An anthropomorphous rat, achingly empathetic, shares his hopeless, dreaming, doomed existence. The ‘chinless’ one was born in a bookstore and suffers from ‘lexical hypertrophy’ or, as he also refers to it, a kind of ‘biblio-bulimia’, where he at first literally devours books, before actually learning to read them.
Estranged from his common rat family and pondering how he might communicate with humans, Firmin consults a book on sign language. But his communicative efforts result only in the sign-language phrase ‘goodbye zipper’, which has little, if opposite, effect. He imagines a life for the bookstore owner, and regular customer and sci-fi writer Jerry Magoon, who lives his own lonely existence upstairs. Firmin also spends time at The Rialto, with his ‘lovelies’ – in the daylight hours Ginger Rogers, smoothing over into midnight naked ladies, rolling around on rugs.
The book contains a smattering of heartbreaking illustrations. Mostly, Firmin appears small, isolated, and overwhelmed. His rat-eyes are large and simmering. The book is intertextually woven with narratives in the shape of (useless) hopes and dreams that Firmin has, due to his reading of the recognisable classics in the bookstore, beginning with ‘the big one’ – Finnigans Wake, which ironically is never complete for him as he ate so much of it as a child-rat. The way Firmin views his world is sincerely literary, and tinged with self-loathing, and had such enormous appeal to me. Like the best sad books, it is also often warmly funny:
‘The combination of a heavy head and weak limbs forced me to adopt a ponderous gait, and while later in life I fancied that this lent me a methodical and dignified air, at the time it only made me seem all the more freakish. I could not help wagging my enormous head from side to side as I walked, or lumbered, which gave me a rather bovine appearance.’
The beginning of the novel didn’t get me in straight away, where Firmin ponders how to begin. After reading such great works himself, it is a daunting task for him (and oh-so-relatable). But as soon as the novel switches to an empathetic description of his mother seeking refuge in the bookstore to give birth, the tone took me over. While I will not ruin it, the ending at first disappointed. But as I pondered it in the days after reading, I couldn’t think of any other way it could have ended. It disappointed me, perhaps, because it was such a low note. I realised all the reasons for it in the days after – the rats swarming just like humans swarming over the earth. The definitions of vermin. Parallels between a rat-infested crumbling suburb and a human-infested crumbling world. The possible uselessness of intellect and passion. The loneliness of the impossibility of true understanding and communication. And in the end…
It makes it a deeply artistic, truthful and quite absurd book. I walk around with the feeling of it still, a little unshakable – it feels a lot like Midnight Cowboy, so if you love that movie and you generally are a reader, I think you will get something from this book. I think about Firmin still weeks afterwards and bring the book up in all sorts of conversations, and I know its effect, its character, its purpose, its lines, are turning it into a favourite. Yet a favourite that is quite personal – a favourite I wouldn’t recommend to everyone. A favourite I just want to gobble up myself, alone, in a dusty corner of a falling-apart bookstore at the end of the world…
2009 will bring many delightful literary goodies. I am privileged to know of them as I wrote an article for Bookseller+Publisher entitled ‘The Ones to Watch 2009’ – it’s in the Summer issue, which has just come out. One on children’s books will be in the March ‘Junior’ issue (which I’m currently working on).
I can’t reveal too much. I’ve already blown the whistle on Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Munro, but trust me, it is all over the publishing world. I’ve also, for some time now, been looking forward to Cate Kennedy’s debut novel. Some readers would know I’m a big fan of her wonderful collection of short stories Dark Roots, and I was luck enough to interview her about it.
Today, that interview came to me in the mail in the new issue of Australia’s oldest literary journal Southerly 68/2: Little Disturbances.Yes, it’s been a great month for me, in terms of publications! This whole issue is centred around the short story – it not only has stories by some of the finest writers in Australia (incl. Sunil Badami, Chris Brophy, Craig Cormick, Jeremy Fisher, Derek Motion, Michael Wilding, and another one of my faves Paddy O’Reilly), but it has essays and reviews on/of short fiction. Mine is the only interview. I’m grateful for Cate’s generous answers, and I do hope people enjoy it.
Back to 2009… there will also be a new novel by Paul Jennings (Yes, I said novel), and one by Morris Gleitzman – two authors who inspired me to be a little writer at the age of nine.
This is just a tiny glimmer of the literary goodness to come… Is there anything in particular you guys are looking forward to?
Other People's Words
Nov 24, 2008
Louisiana Alba is the author of Uncorrected Proof, which
Italians have a phrase: non mettere le mani avanti, don’t put your hands out in front (to prevent the fall you fear). Let the scholars sort out my fictions. I am trading here on memory and instinct alone, a dangerous line, I know, particularly as I was going to do a piece on Windschuttle and other historical fabrications. Do you know Windschuttle? Does anyone care? No? Then, I best leave him for another time.
Nam Le has just won the Dylan Thomas Prize. This is no small prize and no small feat, I said to myself, then realised I was staring at my own. My feet were the only feet in the room. I was intrigued though I confess I didn’t know Nam Le’s work before I went online and ordered the one copy of The Boat held by the British Library. The book of The Boat. The Boat in book form. It says a lot about the focus of readers in London that it hadn’t been snapped up already. After the Booker Prize shortlist was announced every copy of every book the BL had by every writer on the damn list was in use. Hell, what’s going on? I said at the time.
Nam Le, who is he? When no answers came I could interpret I webbed wider to find out more. I came upon: ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’, from The Boat itself. I read the screen-printed story. Even in the twenty-first century I still find it hard to read fiction this way. Yet Nam Le had me hooked with his first words. The Boat had cast me a line. ‘LHPPCS’ is a fine and good story, as Hemingway might have said. I saw echoes, or imagined I did. Thom Jones’s an-American-in-Vietnam stories, what was Nam Le doing here, a parody of memoir technique developed by a writer come writing-teacher in an Iowa writing school? Many stylistic lines from many American short story writers crossed my eye-line, Le skilfully self-addressing the author, wannabe, manqué throughout.
Thom Jones is still on that Iowa program I believe. I have long admired his work and parody him in Uncorrected Proof. Judging by ‘LHPPCS’, I feel no less strongly about Nam Le’s capacities, finding the comments of praise I saw this morning true and right down to the last syllable. Hemingway is an apt voice to mention as well, I suspect, for what happens at the end of ‘LHPPCS’ happens to the Hemingwayesque character in The Garden of Eden as well – the writing and story of both characters ending up…No, I can’t say it either.
Let me be frank or… Nam Le. This writing strikes more than one chord, literary and life chords. When I first left Australia, after university and film school, my first assignment abroad was to film a boat full of ex-Vietnamese hitting land in southern Thailand. Pure fate. It was only the second time I had professionally put an Eclair 16mm camera up on my shoulder, only the second time I had used one live full-stop. As I clambered about the decks of beached boats, sweat running in my eyes, the stench of summer in the Gulf of Thailand all around, somehow I kept the excitement of the waving forms motoring towards me in focus, somehow I maintained the other arrivees close-by in frame, somehow I didn’t end up in that murky Thai seaside drink all sides up. All along I had no idea I would revisit this plot and theme several times in my life.
I move on to Hong Kong filming and producing two more films on escapees from a hell on wheels inside Vietnam, to a fate far worse than the Thai camps, if my olfactory memory of the warehouses along Hong Kong’s Pearl Harbour serves me well. My fourth and last experience is back in Sydney six years later, making a film for Special Broadcasting Service on a need some Vietnamese children developed for writing up their experiences. In a Strange Land, one girl titled her poem, or was it tilted, living out a nightmarish late childhood horror that was Cabramatta, or as some Australians casually called it back then, Vietnamatta. Reading Nam Le brings it all back.
What is Nam Le’s ‘LHPPCS’ all about then? Writing in Iowa? Growing up in Australia? Relationships? Remembering Mum? Revisiting or leaving Vietnam behind? Getting onto livable terms with Dad? Memory in ‘Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice’ is a wonderfully cruel trick. We live and die by it along with his character in the same instant. Nam Le’s memoir, the memory of his life’s truths as laid out in fiction, is an examination of a fictionalised ‘ex-Boat person’ narrated in such an unadorned air of truth that if the other stories in the collection are even half as good, then I know in truth I am in for even more of this rare treat.
Can’t wait to see what she says after reading the rest! – LM
… for young adult novel Gone, by Michael Grant, who wrote the ‘Animorphs’ series.
This is the first good book trailer I’ve seen. A development in the literary world I’m keeping an eye on. Obviously, it has a budget. But the concept is still quite simple. It has definitely got me intrigued. I also read the chapter sampler and it hooked me right in.
Have a squiz.
If you’ve seen any others, email me or comment – and I’ll do a round-up sometime: literaryminded [at] gmail [dot] com. Email me too, if you want to tell LM readers about your favourite book!
I have a wee poem ‘Tinsel Dreams (Tram Moment 1)’ in the new Story To… zine, which is available in print and as a FREEBIE online. Click on Issue 2: Pod People here.
Note that I wrote this poem after going to Varuna. There is a bit of stream-of-consciousness thought ramblings about mentor Peter Bishop, and other things. As is the nature of stream-of-consciousness…
And this blog post will now run into a bit of stream-of-consciousness.
Last night was the launch of Overland 193 which I’m really looking forward to reading. Of course, I will review it for you also. I’m looking forward to Antony Loewenstein, Alexis Wright, Eva Sallis, Louise Swinn and David Prater, as well as the bunch of writers I don’t know as well. Steven Amsterdam’s piece from the last issue is still haunting me somewhat.
I got to catch up with Antony Loewenstein at the launch (revisit my interview with him here), and got to meet Christos Tsiolkas – finally buying a copy of The Slap to add to the (larger than ever) to-read stack (it no longer qualifies as a pile). They were in conversation about dissent, the internet, Judaism, identity, confronting literature, and many, many more interesting things. Someone was filming so perhaps I’ll be able to link you up at some stage. Antony is about to head to the US to talk about some of the issues raised in The Blogging Revolution.
We also had nice Chinese food.
Did you know Text Publishing are bringing out Nick Cave’s second novel (the first in 19 years) late in 2009? It’s called The Death of Bunny Munro. I’m very excited.
Tonight is the Sketch launch. I’m reading my short story ‘The Minimalist and the Lamp in Berlin’ and a short extract from my novel manuscript Smoke & Dancing. Shimmy on down.
Some forthcoming reviews on LM include Firmin by Sam Savage, Hamlet (John Marsden’s novel vs Kenneth Branagh’s film version), and The Comfort of Figs by Simon Cleary. I’ll also be having a guest post by Louisiana Alba, and a ‘responsive’ interview with Josephine Rowe. And hey – don’t forget to email me if you want to do ‘Other People’s Favourite Books’.
Other recent acquisitions – Parting with my Sex – Lucy Chesser, The Steele Diaries – Wendy James, Led Zeppelin: When Giants Walked the Earth – Mick Wall, Svetlana or Otherwise – Tiggy Johnson, Witchcraft – Sharanya Manivannan, Turner’s Paintbox – Paul Morgan, and both of Simmone Howell’s books.
I’ve been having strange dreams lately, with music in them. And Grug. And deflated sea animals. But such is the nature of dreams. Sometimes people you have been thinking about (and repressing) show up.
And on a much more serious note, did you know an Australian writer is currently detained in a Thai jail for writing a book that apparently insulted the Thai monarchy? Hear it from a Thai blogger. Melbourne PEN recently wrote a letter to the Thai government to request his release.
Also, support the Indigenous Literacy Project by bidding for an amazing array of signed books.
Reviews + Analyses
Nov 18, 2008
Picador, 2008, 9780330449175 (
In 1904, Sophie awaits her husband at the train station in Richmond. He is returning from the heart of the Brazilian jungle, seeking a mysterious, rumoured species of butterfly. When he arrives at the station Thomas is a shadow – scarred with insect bites, thin, and not speaking at all.
The narrative of The Sound of Butterflies involves Sophie’s frustration at her husband’s silence, as well as a slow-reveal of flashbacks to Thomas’ time in the jungle, with his scientific companions – all well-drawn, flawed, secondary characters.
The appeal of this book is in its tone, and themes of innocence and desire. At a sentence level it echoes literary classics – selective, elegant, artful prose – which heightens the bubbling of unspoken or drawn-out desires beneath the surface. Even Thomas’ passion for his butterflies is eroticised, as is the general pursuit of adventure, knowledge, the unknown. Temptation abounds for all the characters – quietly.
The narrative is a little frustrating at times in the actions of quiet Thomas. It seems necessary to draw out his silence, his awkward behaviours, as narrative drive. The reader does share their frustration with Sophie, who is a voice for it. The only thing is, at times it pulls the believability string just a little tight. Although the reader is slowly getting insight into Thomas’ condition, I wasn’t always 100% convinced that he would act that way for so long after. Nonetheless, it had a compelling effect as I waited to find out the why and the when as the story unfolds from its cocoon. And by the end has emerged a captivating butterfly.
The adventures in Brazil are the best part – described vividly through sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. New Zealand author King has obviously immersed herself in the era and the place in her research. The other scientists all suffer their own secrets, prejudices, moments of insight and anguish.
I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good old-fashioned adventure, heated by desire. The book embraces romance, discovery, and secrecy. This is a book to capture in your mental butterfly net before sleeping, causing rich, tropical dreams.
Rachael King has a fantastic blog, charting the writing life, which I have read very regularly ever since I put my name down for this book at work.
Come along and hear me read (possibly sexually explicit material!) Also reading will be Kirk AC Marshall and Amy Jackson, who you might remember from my ‘Best Unpublished Books’ posts. Sudeep Lingamneni‘s photography is also in the issue – and I’ll be posting some more of his photos soon that are from our manuscript (short story/photography project).
I won’t do another ‘week in the life’ post this week, but let me tell you, it was even busier than the last one! Got to meet some great literary delegates from Scotland and the north of England at various events during the week. Josephine performed for them and sold out of her books (‘responsive’ interview with Josephine coming soon). I attended the Summer Read launch at the State Library of Vic, The Lifted Brow listening party, and Simmone Howell‘s book launch for Everything Beautiful. My to-read pile grew again with lots of mail during the week. And of course, I worked and blogged throughout. Keen to get back into some novel research tomorrow!
This week, besides the Sketch launch, I’ll be catching up with Antony Loewenstein at the Overland 193 launch. He’ll be in conversation with novelist Christos Tsiolkas. Besides posting some more of Sudeep’s pics, I’ll post another review for you this week, and other yummy lit-stuff. And I’ll just take a quick sec to say thank you so much for reading. This week I have had the most unique visits I’ve ever had, over 1100! Be sure to become a fan on Facebook if you haven’t already. I only send an ‘update’ about once a month, and it’s lovely to see who some of you are.
By the way, I’m still obsessing over this song. ‘Jingle… jangle…’
Other People's Words
Nov 14, 2008
Hi. I’m Barry, and I run the writing group known as Nitewriters [in Miss LiteraryMinded’s home town Coffs Harbour]. We’ve been around for almost ten years and we aim to get our members published. Personally, I write speculative fiction in the ‘what if…’ vein, but have been known to try horror and action/adventure type stuff. My first major publication is in Next Stop Hollywood, a collection of short stories that are being pushed around Hollywood as fuel for the film and TV industry. I’ve nearly finished a collection of short stories tentatively titled Toss of the Coin which I am in the process of turning into a TV series. Here’s hoping anyway.
What is one of your favourite books?
I have many faves besides my own, but Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories Bound for the Screen is in the top three. Beyond that, Tunnel in the Sky by Robert Heinlein.
How do you describe this book when you recommend it to other people?
Good for young and old, with a few life lessons thrown in. Good adventure with a non-preachy message and a touch of inspiration for good measure.
How old were you and what was going on in your life when you first read it?
I was at school, having Shakespeare shoved down my throat. The books they gave us were ‘classics’, but I wanted something that was new generation classic.
How many times have you read it?
Probably a dozen or so. I come back to it every couple of years or so.
Who wouldn’t you recommend it to?
Wouldn’t? Someone who was into the Bronte sisters, or Mills and Boon. They’d hate it.
Do you have a crush on one of the characters, or the author? Or do you want to be one of them?
Not a crush, but it was the first book where I admired the characters, and wanted to be them. Even the bad guys were kind of cool.
Have you read other books by the author? If yes, what did you think of them? If no, why not?
Yes. Some I liked, some I didn’t. Heinlein wrote across a variety of styles under a sci-fi banner. Some like Number of the Beast took me years to get. Others like Red Planet I loved straight away.
What do you love most about it?
We have a dissolution of everything we as people hold dear. The characters are thrown into an untamed world and are forced to grow up and recreate some form of society from scratch, only to have it snatched away again at the end. Imagine – fighting for survival as junior adults, surviving and beginning to flourish, only to be forced to become more or less children again.
Think about the feeling it gave, or gives you. What could you most closely relate that to?
It contains most of human history condensed in about 250 pages, on a strange planet far, far away.
Can you share with us a favourite moment, passage, or line in the book?
No one line. The last bit, where (spoiler alert) the Gate is re-established and teenagers who have been living as adults just melt into kids again, all but the one who helped forge their way through. The character accepts he must return, albeit reluctantly, but uses the experience to become what he wanted all along.
Do any other books come close? Name a couple if so.
In terms of feelings generated in me – Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz and the ‘Riftwar’ saga by Raymond E Feist. Dozens more, but that’ll do for now. In many ways, they all inspired me to create my own worlds, and have active believable characters to run around in them.
Miss LiteraryMinded is interested in representing a range of reader voices in this new segment – people from all walks of life and different countries, not just writers. Email me if you’re interested in telling the world about your favourite book! literaryminded [at] gmail [dot] com.