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 #5

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Welcome to the fifth edition of Book to the Future Bookmarks, a series of fortnightly posts in which I bombard you with just a few of the many links I’ve bookmarked during the week.

Being edition number five, it seems only fitting to include five links this time around.

(This is also because I’m working on a huge, complicated review at the moment, and these days, it seems as though I’m only able to concentrate on one thing at a time. Thanks, brain!)

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Number five is aliiiive!

1. Shelf Denial

My lovely Ikea Expedit bookshelf looks fairly neat in this photo, taken last year for a guest post on Michelle5The Incredible Rambling Elimy’s blog (here’s the post, if you’re interested). But since then, more and more books have found their way into my home, and my once-organised shelves are now double-stacked. Triple-stacked in places. There are piles of books forming on the floor in my study again.

It’s chaos. Admittedly, chaos of the best kind, but chaos nonetheless.

Sadly, I’m lacking the space for another big bookshelf. Which is a problem, because, much to the dismay of bookish types and vinyl lovers, Ikea will soon be discontinuing their classic Expedit range.

According to Gizmodo, it’s an environmental move. I appreciate that. And the Expedit is being replaced with a range that’s very similar; available in the same range of colours. But, at the same time, this means I’ll never be able to find another bookshelf that’s quite the same as my much-loved, much overloaded Expedit bookcase.

Oh, Ikea. For the love of meatballs, nøøøøøø.

2. Far from the reading crowd: literature from a distance

This article in The New Yorker on Franco Moretti’s work on Distant Reading – for which he recently received America’s National Book Critics Circle award – makes for interesting reading.

Moretti argues that literary criticism should be considered as a science rather than an art. Using software, Moretti examines the changed in literary trends over time. Joshua Rothmann, author of the New Yorker article, is sceptical, but fascinated.

I’m not really sure that Moretti’s work can be construed as “literary criticism”, per se. Perhaps it’s something else entirely. I’m definitely intrigued….

3. Draw About Love

I (um) might have blogged about this before (in fact, I know I have) but I’m kind of obsessed with Belle and Sebastian – arguably the most bookish of bands. If you love B&S too, chances are you’ll want to bookmark Draw About Love. It’s the Tumblr of an artist dedicated to translating some of Belle and Sebastian’s best songs and lyrics into art. There are a few misses here and there, and updates are few and unfortunately far between, but I really like the fun, quirky aesthetic of these images.

4. Have you heard the one about the two existentialists at a shooting gallery?

It sounds like the setup to a joke, but it really happened.

Turns out that the very first photo taken of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre together shows the pair at a Paris shooting range; de Beauvoir, smiling, with her eyes closed and a gun in her hands, while Sartre, a pipe in his mouth, rests a hand on her shoulder.

I guess that’s one way to deal with that existential angst. This article over at Open Culture explains everything.

5. The new normal – Zadie Smith on climate change

I read Zadie Smith’s essay on climate change on the New York Review of Books website last night as a huge electrical storm overhead turned the night into oddly-lit day. It seemed appropriate. Thoughts clattered into place. Here’s a little extract:

[..] The climate was one of those facts. We did not think it could change. That is, we always knew we could do a great deal of damage to this planet, but even the most hubristic among us had not imagined we would ever be able to fundamentally change its rhythms and character, just as a child who has screamed all day at her father still does not expect to see him lie down on the kitchen floor and weep.

This is a staggering piece of writing. I won’t say another word about it – I’ll just leave the link right here and let you take a look for yourself. Totally worth it.

Bonus round…

Great news: the Stella Prize shortlist is out!

Bad news: Sydney institution, Shearer’s Books, will be closing down. They’ll still be around online, so it’s not all doom and gloom. Announced this morning, the news has left this Western Sydney reader with a heavy heart. It makes me sad to see good bookshops close.

Finally, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Blogs competition is on again this year, and if you’re a blogger, you really should enter. You’ve got until this Thursday. Click here to take a look. Good luck!

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What I’m reading looking forward to reading… 

I’m skipping my usual What I’m Reading update this week because I haven’t had as much reading time over the past two weeks as I’d like. That, and I’m still reading pretty much the same stuff I was reading two weeks ago.

Instead, I thought I’d mention a book that I’m looking forward to reading.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed (and enjoyed) Jessie Cole’s 2012 novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town. Because I’m nosy, I couldn’t resist getting in touch with Jessie to find out what she’s up to next.

As it turns out, my timing was spot on – Jessie’s new novel, Deeper Water, will be out later this year. Here’s an early look at the blurb:

“The secret things I knew about my mum, and the things that everyone knew, had played in my mind for some time, since I was real little, I guess. When I was small, all around me seemed to flow, gentle and sweet like the quiet edge of the creek. Then my brothers grew too large to be hemmed in, and Sophie met a bloke, moved out and had babies, and things became harder. The older I got the louder those secret things inside me became, all those knowns and unknowns, until – apart from Anja – I’d rather talk to animals than people.”

 

Innocent and unworldly, Mema is still living at home with her mother on a remote, lush hinterland property. It is a small, confined, simple sort of life, and Mema is content with it. One day, during a heavy downpour, Mema saves a stranger from a flooded creek. She takes him into her family home, where, marooned by floods, he has to stay until the waters recede. And without even realising it, he opens the door to a new world of possibilities that threaten to sweep Mema into the deep.

I can’t wait to dip into Deeper Water. Is there a book coming out soon that’s got you excited? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll have another post online tomorrow night. Something special…!

book to the future bookmarks #3

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Welcome to the third instalment of Book to the Future Bookmarks, the fortnightly megapost in which I ramble about what I’ve been reading, and share a few of the many, many websites I’ve added to my Bookmarks folder over the past two weeks.

Maybe you might find yourself adding a few of these links to your Bookmarks list too?

(Ahem. This post might be a few days late, but I’m hoping no-one’s noticed. Let’s get on with it.)

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 It’s hard out here (for a critic)

One positive aspect of this post being delayed is that it gives me the opportunity to link to this article by Carody Culver, published in Kill Your Darlings yesterday, about The Saturday Paper’s pseudonymous book review policy.

I really like Culver’s discussion of the issues surrounding TSP’s choice to publish pseudonymous book reviews. In fact, it’s helped me to articulate something that’s been bugging me for a long time.

Editor of The Saturday Paper, Erik Jensen, is quoted in the Kill Your Darlings article as saying:

‘Books pages are full of authors reviewing authors, almost always in the uncomfortable position of writing about someone they know and in many cases someone they like’.

Every time I read or hear someone bemoaning the insular nature of the Australian literary reviewing scene, I can’t help but feel a little frustrated. A statement like this assumes so much about the professionalism – or rather, the perceived lack thereof – of Australian critics. And though I’m hardly a critic, I’m a reader of criticism, and I challenge this assumption.

As an outsider, I’m clueless as to why we’re so often encouraged to view our litcrit scene in such a relentlessly harsh light. I’m pretty sure it was Stephen Romei who mentioned exasperatedly at last year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, on a panel called “The State of Reviews”, that every writers’ festival he’s ever attended has included a panel on the “state” of Australian criticism.

Ben Etherington, in his first Critic Watch piece (“Critic Watch” – even the name implies that critics are a shifty bunch, in need of constant surveillance…) for the Sydney Review of Books, writing about critical response to Anna Funder’s All That I Am, makes the astounding claim that:

Given [Anna Funder’s] profile, I would guess that many of the reviewers have met Funder in one capacity or another: at interviews or, perhaps, dinner parties. There aren’t that many writers and critics in Australia, and we cannot expect that reviewers will not encounter their subjects, particularly when so many are themselves authors.

And here’s what I’m really getting at – if there’s really such a concern that Australia’s literary culture is getting too insular, maybe it’s time to consider new critical voices?

While all this handwringing over criticism is going on, there’s a whole heap of amazing literary bloggers out there, casually doing their thing. People who, I can only assume, haven’t yet been invited over to Anna Funder’s place for dinner.

It’s time for something new. Not just new critics, but new forms of criticism, too.

Look, for all I know, I’m making a complete fool of myself – it wouldn’t be the first time – and all the reviews in The Saturday Paper are written by emerging critics. After all, they’re pseudonymous, so I have no way of knowing. However, to me, Jensen’s comment above suggests otherwise. His motivation in publishing pseudonymous reviews doesn’t seem to be because he wants new critics to sit alongside the big names – it’s to allow established writers to feel more comfortable about being completely honest. This from Crikey’s Daily Review:

[Jensen] says The Saturday Paper’s guarantee of anonymity will allow his critics to write what they really think about a work that otherwise they might be loath to express in the small world of Australian publishing.

So, Erik Jensen – if you’re oh-so-bored with the literary pages of other papers, why not do something exciting with your own? Be brave. Engage emerging critics and take an active role in nurturing and developing and expanding Australia’s critical culture rather than bleating about its supposed narrowness.

Will publishing anonymous reviews really do anything to alter the status quo? Somehow, I doubt it.

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And, while I’m being all demanding – writers’ festival curators, how about a different type of criticism panel this year? Something different to the usual doom-and-gloom? Yes, I know literary pages are shrinking, but just for once, couldn’t we celebrate Australian critical culture rather decry than its supposed weaknesses? Wouldn’t that be lovely?

(Finally, I don’t think literary criticism should be above criticism, and despite my disdain above, I find the Critic Watch model of comparing responses to a novel interesting. Keeping an eye on criticism is important to make sure that a range of diverse voices are being heard – something that, of course, isn’t possible with pseudonymous reviews.)

A life lived in books

At the start of the year, I came across this rather lovely blog post by Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites, in which she discusses the notebook she’s used since 2008 to keep track of every book she’s read. I found the way she writes about recording her reading incredibly touching, and it made me reflect on the completely soulless way in which I’ve come to document my own reading history.burialrites

I use Goodreads to take note of the books I read, setting myself a reading challenge at the start of the year, then feeling miserable when, at the end of the year, I’ve invariably failed to reach my target. But Goodreads, while a useful site, has its limitations. It only allows you to enter a book once, which doesn’t account for books you read for a second (or third, or fourth) time. And, of course, I haven’t entered every book I’ve read since I opened a Goodreads account. When I first joined Goodreads, I used it only to catalogue the books I was reviewing for this blog.

After reading Kent’s article, I found a lovely, unused red notebook on my desk and I’ve started my own list of the books and journals I’ve read so far this year. Next year, I’ll post a progress report.

Art Garfunkel has famously kept a list of every book he’s read since 1968. His list of 157 favourite books makes for interesting reading. It’s probably the only list you’ll find Carrie Fisher and Marcel Proust next to each other, for instance. I can’t help but notice that, at number 157, he lists Fifty Shades of Grey. Oh, Art…really?

Fifty Shades of Grey? I’d much rather Hazy Shade of Winter, thanks.

On Book to the Future lately…

Finally, something to report! In case you missed it, this week, I reviewed Jessie Cole’s 2012 debut novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Which reminds me of something that’s been sitting in my Bookmarks folder for a long time. Towards the end of last year, Cole published an absolutely stunning memoir piece in Meanjin. I read it I was on a crowded bus, firmly lodged in an inner-city traffic jam, and had to stop reading at least three times because I was in serious danger of getting teary.

This is definitely a must-read, but save it for when you’re feeling strong. Trust me.

One last thing…

Kirsten Krauth’s first Friday Night Fictions post for the year is online! Friday Night Fictions, published every three months, introduces readers to the work of Australian debut authors. Make sure you head over to Wild Colonial Girl and take a look.

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I’ve ranted for much longer than usual (whoops!) and this post is late enough as it is, so I’ll save my usual What I’m Reading ramble for my next Bookmarks post.

2012 – darkness on the edge of town ~ jessie cole

Before I can finally settle into my writing groove for this year (I know it’s nearly March) there’s one review that’s been on my mind lately. It’s been sitting half-finished, on my computer’s desktop for longer than I care to admit. It’s about time I finished what I started – which I can see becoming a theme for the year.

Darkness on the Edge of Town

Jessie Cole // Published in 2012

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Bruce Springsteen’s best songs celebrate the eternal outcast, still hoping to somehow make things right again.

It’s a thematic preoccupation he shares in common with Australian author, Jessie Cole. Her debut novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town, features a Springsteen-inspired title and a small cast of outsiders that would surely make The Boss proud.

Vincent lives out of town in a rundown shack hidden in bushland on the side of a mountain. He’s nearly forty, with a long string of ex-girlfriends and a physically demanding, dead-end job. His spare time is spent at the pub or coaching the local junior footy team.

The one success of Vincent’s life is his kind-hearted, introspective daughter, Gemma. She’s sixteen, and looks after her father as she would a child, making sure he has lunch to take to work and a meal ready for him when he gets home.

Coming home down the winding mountain road late one night, Vincent finds an upturned car, its engine still running, just outside the entrance to his house. He finds the driver, a young woman, crouching in the gravel by the side of the road, precariously close to the steep drop down the mountainside. One arm hangs limp by her side. In the other, she’s holding a badly injured baby.

Vincent helps the woman and her child inside, and does his best to make them comfortable as they wait for the ambulance to make its way up the mountain.

Days later, the woman, Rachel, unexpectedly returns to Vincent’s house. Bruised and weak, alone, her arm in plaster, she says little. When it’s clear that Rachel has nowhere else to go, Vincent reluctantly asks her to stay. Caring for Rachel’s injuries, both physical and psychological, forces an awkward intimacy between the two.

Gemma is initially suspicious of the beautiful, broken woman her father has brought into their house, as well as his reasons for letting her stay. She’s not the only one. It’s not too long before ugly rumours about Vincent and the woman he’s hiding in his house make their way into town.

When a middle-aged man from the city turns up in town, asking questions about Rachel and her baby, Vincent and Gemma begin to understand what Rachel was running from.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is relentless. Right from the opening scene, Cole manages to strike the right level of intensity and maintains that pace throughout. She writes about characters on the edge – not only literally on the edge of town, but also on the edge of adulthood, the edge of poverty, the edge of language. It’s the precariousness of this balance, this strange, liminal space in which this novel takes place that lends it such an incredible sense of tension.

The novel is narrated by both Vincent and Gemma, in simple, unadorned language that lends an air of authenticity to Cole’s characters. Though the story focuses on Vincent and Rachel, Cole takes great care to ensure that Gemma’s story isn’t lost, and it’s in Gemma’s sections that some of Cole’s most insightful observations take shape. Gemma’s simultaneous longing for her first sexual experience and her dread of it is particularly well-expressed:

I felt my cheeks go hot and I took another sip of the Jim Beam, hoping Dave wouldn’t see me blush. Even though I’d never been in this situation before – two boys, two girls and a bottle of Jim Beam and Coke – there was something familiar about it. Something sad and sick-feeling. I liked Dave, and I wanted him to like me, but I felt like walking into Mel’s bedroom would be following a sort of script. Some path that had been laid down years before, maybe forever. Like I was part of an old bad movie, and I didn’t want to be.

In the gaps between Vincent and Gemma’s narratives, we see a third thread emerge; the story of the relationship between father and daughter. While Vincent is a caring father, he fails to see what’s right in front of him:

She’s sixteen, my girl, and she’s only just reached that girly stage. Nail polish and lip gloss. She came home from school the other day all dolled up. It was photo day and her friends had taken her aside and done her makeup. I reckon she expected me to hit the roof, to tell her to ‘get that shit off’, but I just looked and didn’t say nothing. She washed it off anyway, soon as she got home.

Misunderstandings are rife in Darkness on the Edge of Town, as is silence. After her accident, Rachel takes a while to begin speaking again, relieving her trauma in ways that Vincent and Gemma struggle to understand. As she begins to heal, Rachel begins to express herself through art, attaching fallen leaves to the trunks of trees and preserving red autumn leaves in jars.

Other lapses in communication in the novel are more insidious. As Vincent begins to develop feelings for Rachel, he doesn’t ask her how old she is, secretly worrying that she might not be much older than his own daughter.

Vincent makes a difficult hero. At one point in the novel, as he comforts Rachel, he reflects that although he knows nothing lasts forever, he’s “sort of hoping that it could”. Later, when Gemma confronts him about his relationship with Rachel, Vincent can’t put into words the way he feels about her.

Vincent’s protective nature has its moments of tenderness…but it’s also worryingly posessive. When he meets the father of Rachel’s baby, he becomes livid with jealous anger:

Watching him, I began thinking of how easy it would be to crack him over the head from behind. To take him out, one whack to that creased old neck.

Masculine aggression begins as an unspoken, insidious presence in Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s a lingering threat eventually, perhaps inevitably, makes its way to the foreground – with devastating consequences.

This is a novel with a lot to say. And although her characters often find themselves lost for words, Jessie Cole speaks with perfect clarity and restraint.

Ultimately, Darkness on the Edge of Town is as fierce as it is fearless. It crackles with the same kind of anxious intensity that heralds an electrical storm, gathering energy before it bursts in a memorable final sequence that will leave you trembling.

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This is my first review for 2014’s Australian Women Writers Challenge. You can find more about the project here. Or, click here to read the opening passage of Darkness on the Edge of Town over at Jessie Cole’s blog. Once you’ve finished, you should probably head over to Booktopia, where you can buy a copy of your own.

And finally, because I can’t resist, here’s Bruce: