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It’s a bookish meme

A book meme, via Laura, Pavlov’s Cat and Sterne. My post will be far less impressive and humorous than any of those but there you go.

What was the last book you bought?
The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll. It was the day the Booker was announced and I had originally gone to the only-half-decent-bookshop-in-town to buy the winner but couldn’t bring myself to pay $35 for a paperback. Call me tight. All the books on the shortlist were a good $5-$10 more expensive than the average PB price. It was a rort. Anyway, I am happy with my investment so far.

Name a book you have read MORE than once
All my books are still packed in boxes AND LibraryThing is down so I don’t have the shelves to peruse to jog my memory. So, The Secret History, The Thin Man, The Children’s Bach, Monkey’s Mask, The Reader, Fredy Neptune, the Deidre Bair biog of Simone de Beauvoir…

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?
I agree with Tim, it’s hard to point to a book changing one’s life immediately but there is a great feeling of things changing over time. Some things are whittled away, other things become more complex. It’s why I read books and why I can not live without them.

How do you choose a book? e.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?

Usually a recommendation, or a review, or an award, or some controversy. In other words: I have no idea.

Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
It depends. I honestly tend to sway between the two. I usually will be reading a bit of both. As I get older, and realise how much time I spend in front of a screen, I am tending towards fiction. I don’t know how those two facts are related. I think I feel in need of a total escape from the laptop sometimes. I work on computers, I build websites, I critique websites, I write about them (sometimes). I still consider myself a book person at heart and fiction seems, to me,  to be the antithesis of my experience of the web.

What’s more important in a novel – beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
Neither. I’ll read something and appreciate its writing and have often forced myself to read something because it is wonderfully written but will, like Laura, put up with crap writing if the story has sucked me in. The reason why a book works, or it doesn’t, isn’t as easy to isolate as ‘beautiful writing’ or ‘gripping plot’.

Most loved/memorable character?
I’ve always had a penchant for Ripley and as far as I am concerned he looks nothing like Matt Damon (he’s not blonde for a start).

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
The aforementioned Gift of Speed, Parklife by Nick Varley, and the incredibly-hard-to-get-hold-of Rosalie Gascoigne by Vici McDonald. I’m going to have to return it to the library soon. I am sure my mother must have renewed it more than once by now…

What was the last book you read?
Alice Garner’s The Student Chronicles. I was picking up my son from my parents’ place and saw it on the shelf so I grabbed it.

Have you ever given up on a book halfway in?
Many, many times. As a young child I remember giving up on a book because it ‘depressed’ me. I can’t remember the name or the author but it was the first time I could not continue with a book. I was 10 and I have never forgotten that moment when I put it down and thought, I’m not going to read that.


Reading blitz

A photo all readers and book buyers can understand.

Not even the Blitz can stop the browsing for a good book:
London Library after Blitz

Credit: an email my mother sent me. Ideas about original source most welcome.

UPDATE: I found the image in: Under Siege: Literary Life in London 1939-45 by Robert Hewison. It has the photo on the cover and also inside. It is apparently the Holland House library in 1941.

The little dog

Little dogI went back to thinking about identity today, via thoughts on audiences, what they are and what they do to your work. I was following up on a post on BoingBoing that I had seen a day or so ago: “A blog written by a stripper who is also a fine writer“. Of course being BoingBoinged, the blog was hammered. The blogger seems to have freaked somewhat:

Who are all of you people? What are you doing here? Why are you yelling at me? Last thing I knew I was in here in the dark talking to Tara and Diopter and maybe Sixty, if he’s still around, and now all you guys are here and you’re scaring me.

Now, one would imagine that the thought of suddenly garnering yourself thousands of readers, when you thought you were talking to a few friends, would be enough to get any blogger going. This blogger seemed so put off by it, at first, that she deleted archives. And she admits she is a little crippled by all the attention:

So, this is what I was about to publish when all the crazy people from the Internet showed up and I got paralyzed by self-consciousness. Oh, well. Here goes nothing.

I found it refreshing. I don’t know if it’s genuine and I don’t really care. A lot of bloggers are link whores. Or soon become so when they get a taste of the lovely sweet rush of a link. Attention! Someone can see me! Someone is reading me! I want more! ‘Grace’ will no doubt get there but for the time being, it’s enjoyable to see someone who is writing. She’s going to have a lot to say, and very knowledgeably no doubt, about how a blog’s audience affects your writing. I dunno if she’ll go there so I’ll just imagine it.

Anyway, after looking at this blog and thinking about this I got to thinking about Lynn Freed and her book about writing and her discussion on family and how difficult it can be to write the way you want to write, about what you want to write, when you have family, real or imagined, reading over your shoulder.

How do we allow this ‘audience’ to inhibit us or our writing? Obviously if you’re not published, you don’t blog and no one is reading your stuff you don’t have an audience as such but there is stil an audience somewhere that is affecting the way you write, or don’t, as the case may be.

As Freed points out, the fact that you have a family that you sense may not like what you have written, or you want to write about them, forces you to create a censorious audience for yourself. You are aware of Gertrude Stein’s ‘little dog’ and you write as that person, that the dog knows, that identity. Most people seem to blog in this identity, and for good reason. They get hammered when they don’t. (Anonymity and the immediacy of the internet put family grievances in the shade when it comes to the fallout caused by your writing. Of course, internet snark doesn’t mean nearly as much personally as family snark but the savagery is enough to stop you working). Grace seems to have been writing in what Stein conceived of as the other identity, the one that doesn’t require the little dog to acknowledge to come into being and was thus not limited by expectations or projected expectations.

Although her audience has expanded greatly I do hope she can keep writing while ignoring the little dog (as much as I love them).

So, lots of questions and no real answers. I’m just thinking. And watching the footy.

David James on gay footballers

People often wonder why I love sport so much, especially football of all codes. My one true love though is football of the round-ball variety and it’s not just because I love the game. It seems to have the ability through it’s sheer popularity and deep history, among other things, to offer up moments that just make me smile, like when Barcelona PAID UNICEF for the honour of wearing their name on the Barca shirt. (Barca had never had a shirt sponsor previously).

Today there’s a little item in The Guardian written by David James, currently a keeper for Portsmouth. Even though he used to drive me crazy with his ‘Calamity James’ antics when he played for Liverpool, he has always struck me as someone with half a brain, which sometimes seems like a rare commodity for a footballer. In his item he addresses the last great taboo of English football – the gay player. He points to the hypocrisy of some of the players, the nastiness of gossip and the media and wonders when and in what environment will a player finally be able to come out and be allowed to continue to play football, not suffer the same fate as the only player to have come out, Justin Fashanu.

Go read it.

Markus Zusak at Inside a dog

Lili has kindly let Stack know that Inside a dog, the website dedicated to youth literature, is turning 1. As well as competitions and other good things to celebrate, Markus Zusak will be the writer in residence for April.

The Solid Mandala

A plug for the new Patrick White Readers Group book: The Solid Mandala. Read it now.

Not resolutions

Well, now all that Christmas business has died down and my parent’s house is now empty but for the four of us who have been here for the last couple of months, I can think about writing something for my blogs again.

Yesterday was the first day when I felt like the season was winding down. Or maybe that was just the last Test finishing. Whatever. It’s a little quieter now, we’re not hosting dinners for 16 every second night and the tourists around town are not as thick on the ground. This year I smugly counted myself as a local even though that assumption was not completely true. Very annoyed when I had to wait for a park at the beach. Life has obviously been hard.

I hate new year’s resolutions but I came across Conversational Reading’s reading resolutions and thought it might be a nice exercise to go through: make a list of stuff I would like to get through this year. No doubt I will look back on this post in December and wonder what planet I was on but here goes:

More Australian stuff
During my trip away from Sydney I have been trying to read more Australia lit and I have been reasonably successful in this. I want to start with White’s The Solid Mandala, if that is what the PWRG is indeed reading. I also have David Malouf‘s latest sitting here waiting to be read. Aside from those two I have no real plans. I thought I would fly by the seat of my pants after visiting the Sars underrated writers’ project for suggestions…

What I got for Christmas
I’m halfway through Shirin Ebadi’s Iran Awakening so I should have that kocked off soon enough. Mum gave me the Nobel Lectures from the Lit laureates so I imagine I will be dipping in and out of that one. I will also look forward every month to The Monthly tunring up in the mailbox courtesy of my sister’s gift of a subscription.

Been meaning to read for ages
Since reading Jonathan Franzen’s How to be alone a couple of years ago I have been trying to get my hands on a copy of Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters with no luck. I read Borrowed Finery last year.

I have been lusting over the Lee Miller biog by Carolyn Burke and dammit, this year I will have it.

Also, two I want to read more of: Gunter Grass and Philip Roth. Don’t ask me why because I don’t know.

And that other thing
There’s also the small matter of an unfinished Masters

Happy reading to all.