book to the future bookmarks 11 – the spring cleaning edition

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No, I can’t really believe it’s been close to two months since I last wrote anything either, but that’s how it goes.

Things are, of course, still piling up around me – the garden needs weeding, the house needs cleaning, books need reading and words need writing, but I’m getting there, one task at a time. Which is the only way to approach these things, really.

After a short, unintentional winter hibernation, I’m back, and it’s spring and I’m feeling better for the much-needed rest. I’ve even given Book to the Future a bit of a facelift. I hope you like it!

I know it’s not much of a Book to the Future Bookmarks post without a heap of links, but in the spirit of spring cleaning, I deleted my unread bookmarks. All five hundred and seventy two of them.

So, I’ll leave you with one link only this time around. But I promise, it’s a good’un.

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Zadie Smith. Image source here.

Very slowly a pair of profoundly blue eyes rose to meet Miss Adele’s own green contacts. The blue was unexpected, like the inner markings of some otherwise unremarkable butterfly, and the black lashes were wet and long and trembling. His voice, too, was the opposite of his wife’s, slow and deliberate, as if each word had been weighed against eternity before being chosen for use.

“You are speaking to me?”

“Yes, I’m speaking to you. I’m talking about customer service. Customer service. Ever hear of it? I am your customer. And I don’t appreciate being treated like something you picked up on your shoe!”

The husband sighed and rubbed at his left eye.

“I don’t understand – I say something to you? My wife, she says something to you?”

Miss Adele shifted her weight to her other hip and very briefly considered a retreat. It did sometimes happen, after all – she knew from experience – that is, when you spent a good amount of time alone – it did sometimes come to pass – when trying to decipher the signals of others – that sometimes you mistook–

Zadie Smith’s latest short story, Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets, has been shortlisted for the BBC’s National Short Story Award. It’s also, of course, amazing. It’s published in full right here. Make sure you put aside some time to read it – it’s a treat.

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I might not have been writing, but I’ve been reading constantly over the last couple of months. Last week, I finished Cracking the Spine, a collection of short stories accompanied by essays written by their authors, and I’ll be writing a review soon. I’m also slowly making my way through The Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition, as well as catching up with my Review of Australian Fiction subscription (one of the smartest things I’ve done this year was subscribe to RAF). And, as if that’s not enough short stories, Australian Love Stories is right near the top my pile of books to read. I’ve been swimming in short stories, and I couldn’t be happier.

There are novels on my pile of books to review soon, too – like, for instance, Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water. Cole is the kind of writer who makes me forget I’m actually meant to be a reviewer; she pulls you into her world everything else just sort of falls away. But the novel you can expect to see reviewed next on Book to the Future…isn’t actually a novel at all. It’s a novella – Julie Proudfoot’s The Neighbour. I won’t say too much about The Neighbour. I’m saving it up for my review.

Anyway, this is all just a long, roundabout way of saying that life can be overwhelming, but stories, long and short, are the best way of escaping from it all.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but it’s good to be back.

(One other thing: I’ve just added a heap of new blogs to my Required Reading list over in my sidebar. If you’re looking for links, that’s the ideal place to start!)

book to the future bookmarks #10 – the time edition

bookmarksiiiTime’s been on my mind lately, but not on my side. Isn’t it ironic (in the Alanis Morissette sense) that I’m preoccupied with time travel and yet I always seem to be behind, desperately trying to catch up on everything?

For the uninitiated, Book to the Future Bookmarks is a fortnightly post that’s loaded with literary links – and it seemed appropriate that this fortnight’s links should all have something to do with time. As I’m short on time, I’ve taken a peek into my bookmarks folder and selected four of my favourite time-related links to share.

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Nostromo Nostalgia

I read Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo for the first time when I started blogging. I was secretly hoping it’d nostromobe another Heart of Darkness – but, as much as I love Heart of Darkness, I’m glad I was wrong. Nostromo was something else entirely. I think it’s safe to say Conrad’s Nostromo has to be one of the most perfectly-constructed narratives I’ve encountered. The way Conrad structures his story is nothing short of exquisite – but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I’m talking (rambling, really) about Nostromo because one of the things that piqued my interest was the way Conrad writes about globalisation – in 1904.

Harvard history professor, Maya Jasanoff, is writing a book about Conrad and his major works, taking a look at the way in which the Polish-born author managed to write about so many of the issues that would later come to dominate the twentieth century. Here’s an article describing Jasanoff’s work in progress, which looks really promising. The article also mentions Jasanoff’s blog, where she documents the month she spent as a paid passenger aboard a container ship, researching the role cargo shipping still plays in modern globalisation.

Bloggers’ prerogative: on changing one’s mind

tender is the nightMoving right along, this blog post on new-to-me blog, Entomology of a Bookworm caught
my attention when I saw it pop up on Twitter: it’s about changing your mind. Which has been a subject I’ve been considering writing about for quite some time, but I haven’t been able to express it quite this well.

Sometimes it takes time, years even, to truly appreciate what a book was trying to tell you – however, when you write book reviews, your opinion is captured at one particular point in time. Eventually you can come to regret the opinion you expressed in your review. Time changes your mind.

I liked this post so much because there’s one particular book that I know I got completely wrong – F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

However, that’s a post for another day.

Sense and Sensibility and Semicolons 

Something for the statistically-minded: statistician Tyler Vigen has selected seven popular English novels, published between the early 1800s and the early 2000s, and examined the length of their sentences, the frequency of commas and question marks – that kind of thing – and compared the results in a series of graphs.

While you’ll find an average of 13.1 semicolons per 1000 words in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, the first of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books contains only 1.7 semicolons per 1000 words. A fair comparison? Well, not really – but these statistics are still worth a look. Here’s Vigen’s original series of graphs, and here’s an analysis and interview on Business Insider Australia.

Rock Around the Literary Clock 

Since 2011, the Guardian has been trying to find a literary quotation for every hour and every minute on the clock. It’s a project that echoes Christian Marclay’s film project, The Clock. Take a look at the times missing from the Guardian’s literary clock – maybe you’ve spotted a time that’s missing from the database?

I know I’ll be keeping an eye out for the times mentioned in books now I know about the Guardian’s project…

One more thing…

I forgot to share this in my last Bookmarks post. Mountain/Animal is a story/quiz written by Australia’s digital writer in residence for June, Jennifer Mills, and it’s just brilliant. It’s playful and clever and poetic, all at once. If you haven’t already, go and take the quiz at once.

Mills also posted an essay on Twitter yesterday on the subject of…time. I started writing this post on Sunday, so how’s that for synchronicity? Here it is, preserved in chronological order via Storify.

That’s all the time we have left for today’s session, I’m afraid. Bookmarks will be back in two weeks. Thanks for reading.

Note to subscribers: You’re not imagining things – I edited this post shortly after putting it online, completely removing one link and my discussion of it from this post. Turns out I hadn’t realised the article I was referring to was actually from 2011.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph – time really isn’t on my side at the moment…

book to the future bookmarks #8 – the pre-sydney writers’ festival excitement edition!

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This is the eighth edition of Book to the Future Bookmarks, the fortnightly post in which I share a few of the links – sometimes literary, sometimes not so literary – that I’ve been hoarding in my bookmarks folder.

The thing is, life’s getting in the way this week. Case in point: you might notice this post is a day late. I’ve been working the past few weekends, I’ve got a book review I’m meant to be writing, I spent today chatting with bloggers and publishing types at Penguin Random House’s first Book Bloggers Forum, and later this week, I’ll be attending this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival – which has me ridiculously excited. But, at the same time, totally flat out.

So, for this edition of Bookmarks, I’m limiting myself to just five links…

1 – Book covers, improved with the addition of googly eyes. (Look, obviously, this is very highbrow stuff here…)

2 – The Novelist, The Game. Yep, a bunch of game developers decided to make a game based on the writerly life. Myself and a few others on Twitter kinda went to town on the idea...

3 – Also on the subject of games – have you ever wondered what your Sims have been doing since you abandoned them way back in 2003…? Perhaps it’s about time you found out

The Sims are angry that you abandoned us, Madame Leader, and they are coming for you. Our new government has created a vast army of Sims controlled by other Sims. We’re strong, and we cannot be killed.

4 – I’ll let you in on a little secret – I have a particular fascination with stories about life (and love) online. I have the vaguest idea of writing a longform piece about the internet in fiction and memoir. So naturally, I really enjoyed this eight-part micro-non-fiction series about the convergence of online and “real” life, by Patrick Lenton over at Seizure.

5 – Little girls are better at designing superheroes than you. And pretty much anyone else, for that matter. Enough said, really. Go take a look.

With a little luck, I’ll be back this time next week with a huge post about the Sydney Writers’ Festival. And there’s also next Monday’s Past, Present and Future post to look forward to!

Until then, happy reading…

book to the future bookmarks #7 – the music edition

bookmarksiiiAfter a bit of a break, it’s finally time to return to Book to the Future Bookmarks – the fortnightly megapost in which I share some (hopefully) interesting links I’ve had squirrelled away in my bookmarks folder. I also ramble on a little about the books I’ve been reading lately, what I’m up to – that kind of thing.

I hope you’ve got those vocal cords all warmed up and ready, because for the seventh edition Book to the Future Bookmarks, I’ve collected a heap of links that have something to do with music. I’ll tell you why at the end of the post…

With Eurovision just around the corner, let’s get started with a little ABBA! I dare you not to sing along…

So what if it’s a little old – I think this article listing the top 25 karaoke songs of all time is still pretty accurate. And it has the word “official” in the headline, so it must be authoritative. Number one on the list is above. Take a look at the rest of the list here.

Have you ever wondered what ABBA’s costumes have to do with tax evasion? Because I know I have. Here’s the answer.

Australian rapper, Iggy Azalea, wasn’t particularly pleased when a music mag printed a negative review of her album after featuring an interview with her and her picture on the cover. This article by Bernard Zuel, courtesy of Charlotte Wood (who has recently returned to Twitter!) manages to make a heap of brilliant points that apply not only to music writing, but to criticism in general. Just like this article from a few months ago discussing the giant stink The Jezabels kicked up after their second album received a heap of negative reviews. It contains this particularly insightful line:

If you don’t want people to comment on what you’re doing, do it without letting anyone know.

That applies to making music, doing plays, cooking food, masturbating: literally everything.

There’s a guy in England who had his stereo confiscated by police for playing Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On over and over again. Which is totally fair enough, I say. Lock that mother up and throw away the key. That link’s courtesy of Bothersome Words via Twitter, and – be warned – contains a YouTube link to Celine Dion performing My Heart Will Go On. Shudder.

Turns out that Katy Perry is actually little-known Archie Comics character, Katy Keene, the Fashion Queen. Also, talking of rip-offs, Let It Go, from Disney’s Frozen, was apparently inspired by Prince. It’s so cute how they’re trying to pretend it’s not the same song as Wicked’s Defying Gravity (there are some YouTube mashups, but sadly, they’re all performed by singers with voices even more irritatingly nasal than Idina Menzel).

“There’s no other time in history like right now”. The grandmother of punk, Patti Smith, dishes out advice to young artists that will make you feel like you can do ANYTHING…and yes, I know I’m thirty-something, but it’s still applicable, damnit.

Coldplay's Chris Martin, rehearsing
Coldplay’s Chris Martin, rehearsing

As if libraries worldwide haven’t suffered enough from budget cuts, Kindles and the like, Coldplay are promoting their new album by hiding lyric sheets in the pages of books in libraries all over the world.

Coldplay songs actually have lyrics? Who’d have known…? I suspect they’re written in crayon with half the letters backwards

(Apologies, Coldplay fans. I can’t help myself…)

And finally, on the subject of lyrics, how would it feel to own the original lyrics to Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone? They lyrics are hand-written, with drafts and scribbles in the margin…and they’ll set you back a million pounds when they’re auctioned off later this year. Which strikes me as somewhat contrary to the spirit of the original song – but anyway, sing it, Bob…

What I’m reading…

The reason why this fortnight’s Book to the Future Bookmarks are all about music? Because over the Easter break, I read two fantastic books – and they’re both about music. And love.

I saw Scottish poet and novelist, Jackie Kay, very briefly at last year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival and kind of fell in love. It’s taken me this long to get around to reading Trumpet, her first novel, published in 1998.

Joss Moody, famous jazz trumpet player, has died, and his wife, Millie, is leaving the city for the couple’s cabintrumpet hideaway in Scotland. She’s trying to escape the paparazzi gathered outside her door, eager for her to speak about the scandal surrounding her husband’s death. In the freezing Scottish silence, Millie plays her husband’s old records for the first time in years, and begins to work through her grief.

Meanwhile, Colman Moody, the adult son of Millie and Joss, is coping with his father’s death in his own way. Or, rather, failing to cope. His relationship with his father has always been difficult, and when he’s approached by a journalist to sell the story of his father’s scandal, he quickly accepts.

That’s all I’ll tell you about Trumpet. Don’t look up this book online. Don’t even read the blurb. Just open the book to the first page and begin reading. It’s a book about devotion and redemption, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever read.

Here’s a little piece about the power of music:

The music is in his blood. His cells. But the odd bit is that down at the bottom, the blood doesn’t matter after all. None of the particulars count for much. True, they are instrumental in getting him down therein the first place, but after that, they become incidental. All his self collapses – his idiosyncrasies, his personality, his ego […] even, finally, his memory. All of it falls away like layers of skin unwrapping. He unwraps himself with his trumpet. Down at the bottom, face to face with the fact that he is nobody. […] The horn ruthlessly strips him bare till he ends up with no body, no past, nothing.

I didn’t intentionally set out to read two books about music in a row, but somehow, I did. Hermann Hesse’s Gertrude is a tale of doomed love – and music. Kuhn, a sensitive young gertiecomposer and violinist, is badly injured as a teenager, trying to impress a girl with an act of bravado. His leg never fully recovers.

Later, Kuhn befriends egotistical opera singer, Muoth, who helps establish Kuhn’s musical career. Gradually, Kuhn comes to realise that the troubled singer has a crippling problem of his own.

When Kuhn meets Gertrude, a beautiful young soprano, he falls in love with her immediately. The two work together on Kuhn’s first opera and though Kuhn never tells her how he feels about her, it seems that Gertrude not only understands, but feels the same way. Everything’s going smoothly…until Kuhn makes the mistake of introducing his beloved Gertrude to Muoth.

Hesse’s writing is always sharp, but in Gertrude, he’s particularly luminous. Here’s a little taste, also on the subject of music:

In the depths of my soul, where my mother could not penetrate, there was sweet music. Whether or not I should now have any luck with the violin, I could again hear the world resound as if it were a work of art and I knew that outside music there was no salvation for me. […] It was not, as I had said to my mother, the thought of my violin that made me happy, but the intense desire to make music, to create. I again often felt the clear vibrations of a rarefied atmosphere, the concentration of ideas, as I had previously in my best hours, and I also felt that the misfortune of a crippled leg was of little importance beside it.

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Other non-musical things I recommend you read? There’s been a really popular article about the 25 articles every writer should read floating around Facebook and Twitter lately, but I like this response from Alison Croggon much better.

Also, this week’s Verity La made me happy and sad at the same time. Hashtag YOLO.

Look, I’m sure I’m forgetting heaps of important bookish stuff I wanted to mention, but it’ll all have to wait. That’s all the time I’ve got for this fortnight. Next Monday, I’ll have another edition of Past, Present and Future online for you to read. In case you missed it, you can take a peek at the first ever Past, Present and Future post, starring special guest Kirsten Krauth right here.

Thanks for reading!