book to the future bookmarks #2

bookmarksiiiWelcome to edition number two of Book to the Future Bookmarks, a new series of fortnightly posts in which I share some of the many, many links I’ve saved to my bookmarks folder.

I started my first Bookmarks post with a huge picture of current crush, Benedingle Cumberwhatsit Benedict Cumberbatch. But in the grand scheme of things, what’s a mere crush compared to true literary lurve? Nothing! It seems only fitting that I begin the second edition of Bookmarks with…

Original image source here
Original image source here.

…Zadie Smith, of course. If you haven’t already read Zadie’s latest short story, Moonlit Landscape with Bridge, over on the New Yorker’s website, you’re missing out. Here’s a little sample:

“…But he remembered two young men bent over one battered paperback, under a tree in the cleared center of a village. Books had been important back then—they were always quoting from them. Long-haired boys, big ideas. These days, all the Prime Minister read was his bank statements.”

I enjoyed Smith’s novella, The Embassy of Cambodia, released late last year…but it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I’m not sure whether this was because Smith left the story at a point where I desperately wanted to know what happened next, or whether I was just eager for something longer. Possibly both. Personally, I have my fingers crossed that Zadie (we’re on first name basis) is working on a collection of short fiction…

Anyway. Enough wishful thinking. You can read more about Moonlit Landscape here.

The 2014 Stella Prize longlist is out! The Stella is Australia’s most exciting literary award (and they got it so, so right last year, with Carrie Tiffany’s brilliant Mateship with Birds taking out the inaugural prize). Given the number of Big Novels released by Australian men towards the end of last year (think Alex Miller, Tim Winton, Christos Tsiolkas…), it’s great that the Stella Prize is on the case, making sure that writing by Australian women doesn’t go unrecognised.

…However, I’m yet to read any of the longlisted novels, so I’d better get a wriggle on! Luckily, there’s a review roundup over at the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog.

If you’ve ever wanted to flash Melbourne’s Federation Square, here’s your chance. The wonderful people at Spineless Wonders are looking for flash fiction to grace the big screen at Fed Square during the Melbourne Writers’ Festival this year…why, what did you think I meant? Writers can find out more about the project here.

Look, I know I mentioned Ryan O’Neill in my first Bookmarks post…and the post before that…and I’m beginning to sound like some kind of crazed stalker (sorry) but I’m really enjoying The Drover’s Wives project over at Seizure. O’Neill has taken Henry Lawson’s classic short story, The Drover’s Wife and is re-working it in sixty different ways. So far, The Drover’s Wife has become a self-published book cover, an absurdist play, a horoscope and more. Sadly, not all of the pieces are free to read, but here’s a link to the project so far.

underground

I’m kind of obsessed with these stunning 1920s posters advertising the London Underground. I love them almost as much as I love this collection of sarcastic, witty, puerile – and, ultimately fake Underground signs. Genius. Get me to London, pronto.

I’ve mentioned my longstanding adoration for Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince on this blog an embarrassing number of times. When I spotted this article at Brain Pickings about Saint-Exupéry’s manuscript for the book, including the author’s original watercolour illustrations, I was, naturally, all over it. Whether you’re a fan of The Little Prince or not, these illustrations are beautiful. And this, from the accompanying article:

“In April of 1943, shortly after the book came out, 43-year-old Saint-Exupéry shoved his Little Prince manuscripts and drawings in a brown paper bag, handing it to his friend Silvia Hamilton — “I’d like to give you something splendid,” he told her, “but this is all I have.” — and departed for Algiers as a military pilot with the Free French Air Force.”

Just reading this short piece on Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex made me feel like picking de Beauvoir’s masterwork up again.  I read The Second Sex for for the first time at around the same age as the author of this article, greedily devouring the entire thing over the course of a single weekend.

From France back to Melbourne: Readings has announced a duo of new literary awards. Can we ever have too many literary awards? Somehow, I don’t think so.

And finally, my favourite discovery of the past fortnight is Poet Deploriate.

Other Things I’ve Been Reading…

the-line-of-beautyI’ve been kind of wrapped up with work the past week or so, and haven’t had as much time for reading as I’d have liked…

In my first Bookmarks post, I mentioned I was reading Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. I drew my reading out as long as I possibly could because I really didn’t want the book to be over. I think it’s kind of appropriate that I read this novel immediately after The Swimming-Pool Library. They work well together.

An odd coincidence: The Paris Review just happened to tweet their Art of Fiction interview with Alan Hollinghurst from 2011 the other day.

Unfortunately, I’ve got no time left to explore more of Hollinghurst’s writing. I’ve got a huge pile of books that has accumulated next to my keyboard, waiting to be read. Also, my ereader is full of unread things, all jostling for my attention.

But the good news? I’ve managed to get a heap of time off work, and I’ve got little else to do but catch up on my (many) unwritten reviews and work my way through the pile of books accumulating on my desk.

My next Bookmarks post is going to be huge. Meanwhile, thanks for reading!

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stellaaaaa!!! and other awards

notebookSo. Once again, I find myself struggling to find the time to keep up with blogging, reading, writing and my full-time job. Blah blah blah, the usual. It’s becoming abundantly clear that I’m going to have to take a step back from something. A little hint – it’s not going to be blogging, reading or writing…

Anyway. I wanted to write a very quick update to my previous review.

When I really love a book, it makes me very happy to see that book receive the recognition it so deserves. Hence, I was very pleased to see that Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds was named on the longlist for the inaugural Stella Prize. The shortlist will be announced at midday this Wednesday, and I’ll be online for the announcement, holding my breath.

(Edited to add: and here’s the Stella shortlistMateship with Birds made it! Brilliant!)

In the meantime, I’m reading a few other books from the longlist. I’m completely, utterly mesmerised by Amy Espeseth’s Sufficient Grace right now, and Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts is next on my Australian Women Writers reading list. After that, I’m reading Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire.

As pleased as I was to see Mateship with Birds on the Stella longlist, I was overjoyed when it made the longlist for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction. And another of my favourite books of last year, Zadie Smith’s NW is also nominated. Many of the titles on the longlist are new to me but it’s such an exciting list. If only the pile of books I want to read wasn’t already so large it requires its own postcode, I’d read them all.

As a quick aside, I’m completely thrilled that my review of Mateship with Birds was selected as one of three winners of the Scribe Books Giveaway over on the Australian Women Writers Challenge blog. Thank you so much to the judge Annabel Smith, to Danielle, who was kind enough to nominate my review, to Elizabeth Lhuede – and huge congratulations to the other two winning reviewers.

Also on the subject of awards, Jessie Cole’s amazing debut novel Darkness on the Edge of Town made it to the shortlist of the ALS Gold Medal today, Brilliant news! I’ll be reviewing Darkness as soon as I can find the time – err, see the first sentence of this post.

And finally – the Miles Franklin Award longlist will be announced next week and it looks like exciting things are gearing up over at the Miles Franklin website.

Okay. Back to writing…

sunset

the books of 2012 ~ part two

In case you missed yesterday’s post, here’s a quick recap.

Due to my complete failure to read and review a reasonable number of books this year, I emailed a few of my favourite bloggers, tweeters and people I admire and asked them to contribute a couple of their most memorable books for the past twelve months.

With that out of the way, allow me to introduce part two of the Books of 2012. Enjoy!

anotherpileofbooks

I’m a huge fan of Read in a Single Sitting. Stephanie writes witty, discerning reviews of novels she can read – as the name of her blog implies – in a single sitting. She’s also a freelance writer, as well as a YA and middle grade author. I don’t know how she finds time! Go and take a look at some of Stephanie’s other favourite reads for 2012 here – and make sure you click on the links below to read Stephanie’s reviews!

theglamourI’ve had Christopher Priest’s The Prestige on my shelves for years now, but for some reason I haven’t yet got around to reading it. One of the dangers of watching the film adaptation first, perhaps. But although The Prestige has languished on my shelves for ages, when I picked up a copy of The Glamour on sale a few months back I started reading it right away.

There are books that entirely change the way that you think, and which also influence the way that you read. The Glamour is one of them. It’s a strange narrative focusing on a man recovering from an accident and his interactions with a woman called Susan, who professes to be his girlfriend—even though he has no recollection of her. Slowly the man begins to recall various aspects of the events leading up to his present state, and yet, when Susan relates the same, the stories differ in many, many ways.

The Glamour is a novel that takes the unreliable narrator idea to a devastating extreme, and it’s a chilling, frankly terrifying book that has had me questioning the truth of any fictional character’s experiences. It’s a book whose strange half-truths and fancies see it re-write itself as the story progresses, and there’s a twist at the end that does the same again. Perhaps fittingly, Priest himself rewrote the ending to the book some years after it was first published, giving the book yet another layer of possible subterfuge. Just what is real and true, and how can we possibly tell? This is a question that has tapped me on the shoulder during my reading many times this year.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which I read not long after The Glamour, looks remainsofthedaysimilarly at the strange beast of truth and how readily anything can be twisted to ring true to ears that want it to be so. This is a novel that’s very much an embodiment of that old saw of history being an argument rather than a series of facts, and which eerily examines the idea of where culpability should rest.

Our protagonist Stevens is an ageing butler who is becoming increasingly irrelevant both personally and in terms of his career. He clings desperately to ideas of dignity and service, desperately averring how a true butler must always go along with their employer’s wishes, no matter how odd or transgressive. And yet, as the narrative begins to unfold and Stevens reflects on his past service, we begin to see the astonishing degree of self-deception that is on display here. Stevens’ employer turns out to be a man whose political sympathies are abhorrent, and although Stevens is aware of the issue, does nothing, telling himself that it is not his place to do so.

It’s a beautifully written and extremely quiet book, and yet under its thick veneer of dignity and respectability is something truly eerie: the denial of personal responsibility in a terrible situation. It’s a book that will leave you thinking about all of those times when you’ve avoided speaking out, or when you’ve been removed enough from whoever’s making the decisions that you feel safe and without guilt. Like The Glamour, it’s a book that lingers and haunts, and any book that does that is well worth the read.

My second guest today is Jeremy Earl. He’s a Perth-based librarian who blogs about books over at Excelsior, and his love of records at Closed Groove. Here are his choices – click the titles and go and read his reviews!

Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is one of the most fully realised novels I lonelyhunterhave ever read. The writing is economical but engaging and the ensemble of characters are perfectly drawn and psychologically nuanced. The novel tackles big issues, but is subtle in the rendering of its underlying subtext.

Ostensibly the tale of a lonely mute called John Singer, the novel expands to cover racism, isolation, sexuality, alcoholism, politics and small town prejudice. The book has hardly dated, despite being set during the mid 1940s. Its themes are universal and its humanity is profound. I thought about this book for weeks after finishing it and recommend it to anyone who is yearning for a novel that is both technically perfect and emotionally engaging. Definitely the book of the year!

The Magus by John Fowles is one of those books that can polarize readers. Some regard it as pretentious and indulgent, others, like myself, regard it as fascinating, adventurous themagusand beautiful. I did not merely read this book; it took a hold of me and I became drawn into it and had difficulty putting it down. I don’t regret one moment I spent with this intense novel and although it didn’t provide me with any answers, it made it clearer as to what questions to ask.

The Magus is the tale of an Englishman called Nicholas Urfe who takes up a teaching post on a remote Greek island post-WWII and becomes involved with master manipulator Maurice Conchis. The Magus takes you on a journey to who knows where and doesn’t let go till the very end. Mystifying and existentially expansive, it’s a novel best read across hot afternoons when you can give it the attention it deserves. It took Fowles ten years to write and I can tell you that it was worth the effort. Only the perfection of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter beats The Magus as the book of the year.

Rose Powell has excellent taste in books, as evidenced by her eloquent guest appearances on Channel Ten’s Breakfast Show this year. Rose is the driving force behind the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Australian Blogs competition, which will be returning for its third year next year. With a new job and her studies, Rose is super-busy, but managed to find time to send me the titles of two of her favourite reads for the year. Click on the images below to find out more about each title:

theusesofenchantment theyellowbirds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next up is James Tierney. James writes about books and art and more at A Long, Slow Goodbye. His reviews are breathtaking…and, to my delight, they’re beginning to pop up all over the place, including the Wheeler Centre, as well as the Newtown Review of Books. I’m looking forward to discovering what treats James has in store for us in 2013!

There’s a half-serious argument that I try and rationalize to myself in quiet moments. It goes a little something like this: as an art form, the character-driven literary novel is almost uniquely suited to the introverted experience.

OK, yep – you got me. A glass of good red wine is likely to be my co-theorist in these moments, but just go with me here –

What other art form so precisely takes the intelligences of life, under-tussled by conversation, and pins them to a truthful, effecting narrative?AnimalPeople

Two of my favourite reads during 2012 each looked at an introverted man and woman

Charlotte Wood’s Animal People (published in 2011 but a book I returned to again in 2012) is a tactile and beautifully paced novel focusing on Stephen, a man whose first strategy is the mistaken simplicity of withdrawal. Animal People is a portrait of masculinity that plays one of the best tricks of fiction: netting those many, oscillating thoughts about ourselves and others into a tightly inflected story, bringing a wisdom hazily at the back of our minds into a sharp, present focus.

Chris Ware’s Building Stories is a complete contrast in form. A graphic novel that comes in a Monopoly-sized box, it contains 7 separate pieces: an SMH-sized broadsheet, two hardbacks, a large board-game fold-out and smaller booklets. They are in no determined buildingstoriesorder. The stories within spiral out of the inhabitants of a three-story apartment building in Chicago, with most focus on an unnamed woman struggling with a life of quiet disconnection. Pieces of hers and other character’s narratives throw different contrasts depending on the path the reader picks amongst the fragments. In this, Building Stories replicates the approximate way of memory, in that events otherwise insignificant and perhaps years apart, may be drawn together by a creative remembering.

Writing is a social act, one that reaches out, but exactly how it is experienced varies slightly with every set of eyes. Whether shy or showgirl, every type of reader matters – whatever my glass of red says.

They call Booktopia’s John Purcell the Book Guru for a very, very good reason. As the voice behind @booktopia, John’s one of my favourite people on Twitter, He’s also a stellar blogger. His book recommendations are like a treasure map: when John recommends a book, I add it to my collection, no questions necessary. In fact, I was so curious about John’s favourite books for the year that I pestered him constantly and unashamedly until he agreed to write this for me (sorry!). Click on the titles to find out more. 

My Hundred Lovers. I recommend it to anyone who feels a little pale and dusty. It is a great tragedy this gorgeous book was published in our year of fifty shames.NW

NW. I read this twice in a year when I seldom found time to read the books I was meant to read once. Why? Because it seemed to say on its first page – fuck off if you’re too lazy to think. Sadly this included the entire reading public. NW sold very few copies. Which is a testament to its quality.

Love and Hunger. Puts food back in its place as the means and not the end for people coming together.

The Hanging Garden is a story of adolescent love, with all of its latent complications, its beauty and its disquiet. There is a startlingly raw truth to this story which conjured up in me long forgotten memories. This is great writing for our time.

The Conversation. This is a book for lovers of ideas, of good conversation, of impossible loves and for those intellectuals who still enjoy having heated arguments in cafes.

My final guest is novelist Charlotte Wood. She’s the author of The Submerged Cathedral, The Children, Animal People and more. This year, she published part-memoir, part-cookbook Love and Hunger, and Animal People made the shortlist for the Kibble Award, as well as the Miles Franklin longlist. She blogs about food at How to Shuck An Oyster. Earlier this year, I saw her deliver a brilliant speech on writing, which I now have stuck to the wall next to my desk.

Damon Young’s Distraction: A Philosopher’s Guide to Being Free was a real find for me at philosophyinthegardenthe start of this year, so when I heard about his new one, Philosophy in the Garden, I was excited. Part philosophy lesson, part literary companion, it’s a contemplative stroll through writers’ relationships with their gardens. It might sound beautiful and it is, but it’s also more challenging than that – there’s as much war and decay in a garden as fruit and flowers, and Young doesn’t shy from the darker aspects of philosophy’s relationship with nature.

A writer friend, Tegan Bennett Daylight, led me this year to the bitingly sharp, intimate works of the late Alice Thomas Ellis. I have devoured four of them now – The Birds of the Air and Unexplained Laughter first; then The 27th Kingdom, my favourite so far, and the strange beast of The Sin Eater. Thomas Ellis is weird, very funny, acutely observant and black as black. They’re mostly out of print but I ordered a second-hand stash from the UK and am eking them out for the rest of my life.

thewatchtowerSpeaking of black, Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower is my other favourite from this year. Re-released after more than 40 years, it’s an incredible piece of work. She sure does know how to harrow – and how to write.

The most satisfying re-read of the year was the brilliant Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, which I read for the third time and, I am enormously proud to say, led a sales revival for this book by choosing it for the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC TV. Every single panellist adored it, and it’s been going gangbusters since, I am told. I have even had booksellers hug me in the street because of it. So my work on earth is done.

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Now that my guests have all discussed their favourite books of the year, that means it must be my turn. I love writing about books, but I hate having to choose between them!

While I readily admit 2012 has been a slow year, I’ve never claimed it was dull. I’ve had the fortune to read some stunning novels over the past twelve months.

As I’m allowing myself only two choices, I’m justifying my decision by selecting two very different novels. One is a classic from the Sixties; the other was released earlier this year.

mateshipwithbirdsMy first choice is Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds. I have to confess – I’ve read it three times this year.

Mateship with Birds is like its own perfect, self-contained little bubble. It’s set in the Fifties, on the outskirts of Cohuna, a small town in the north of Victoria. Harry, a middle-aged farmer and birdwatching enthusiast observes a family of kookaburras that’s taken up residence in a gumtree by the dairy…but his binoculars also seek out Betty, a single mother with two children who rents the house next door.  As the seasons change, the fledgling attraction between Harry and Betty cautiously begins to take wing.

I loved the pace of this novel, its slow, subtle – but unmistakably relentless – seduction. From the hypnotic opening passage to the final sentence, Tiffany’s writing is sure-footed and perfectly understated.

revolutionaryroadFor my second choice, I’ve selected Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates’ first novel, published in 1961. There’s nothing subtle or shy about Revolutionary Road – it’s brash and bold and gets straight to the point – and that’s precisely what I loved about it.

Revolutionary Road is the story of a marriage held together only by the vaguest promise of happiness that always remains conveniently out of reach, Revolutionary Road is more than three hundred pages of constant discomfort. There’s an unforgettable scene towards the beginning of the novel in which Frank and April Wheeler, Yates’ main characters, abandon their car during a night drive and argue by the side of the road – a scene that tore me to shreds to read. This visceral novel left me stunned in its wake. Its a good thing I’ve always had a soft spot for the books that leave me with scars.

I can’t resist a few honourable mentions. Charlotte Wood’s Animal People – though I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have read this in the final days of 2011. I devoured Zadie Smith’s NW over the course of a single weekend, unable to do anything else until I’d turned the final page. NW is clever and devastating and I uttely adored it. I’m adding my voice to the chorus who read and adored Wallace Stegner’s sublime Crossing to Safety this year. And I can’t forget Patricia Highsmith’s amazing The Talented Mr. Ripley – or Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread, which struck me like lightning and ‘m afraid I haven’t been quite the same since.

ornamentFinally, I’d like to express my thanks to all the talented writers who have helped me put this post together. An odd thing happens to time around Christmas – it disappears at a staggering rate, slipping between fingers and pouring through the cracks between hours. You’ve all taken a moment out of your hectic schedules to help me, and I’m grateful to you all.

I write because I love to read – it’s that simple. The fact that other readers have joined me along the way never ceases to amaze me. To everyone who’s read one of my reviews, written a comment, connected with me via Twitter, sent me an email, my heartfelt thanks.

Have yourselves a bookish little Christmas!

Michelle

PS. Which books made an impression on you this year? Let me know in the comments below!

2005 – on beauty ~ zadie smith

Have you ever read a novel that makes you feel absolutely certain it was written with you in mind? As if the author somehow possessed the ability to reach majestically across time and space to squeeze you gently on the shoulder to say this is for you.

That’s the way I felt this week, when I read Zadie Smith’s On Beauty.

Continue reading “2005 – on beauty ~ zadie smith”