Recently in Personal Category
Stay well, stay safe.
See you in the New Year.
The first poem, Ode for Commonwealth Day by George Essex Evans, was posted today and a new poem will follow each day.
Maybe now I can get back to concentrating a bit more on poor old Matilda. She has been negelected shamefully of late.
This second weblog, Rhymes Rudely Strung, will consist of reprints of Australian poems, from the early 1800s to the early 1950s, where each poem will be published on the anniversary of its first appearance. It's a strange little idea that I've had kicking around for a while, and as I've lately found myself with a bit of spare time on my hands I thought I'd have a shot at it.
The process of identifying the right poems has taken a fair bit of work and I'm indebted to the material available on Austlit (the Australian Literature Resource out of The University of Queensland) and Trove, run by the National Library of Australia. Without both of these I could never have even contemplated getting this thing off the ground. With them it has still been difficult, but achievable.
The initial aim is to print one poem per day for the whole of 2011. I've so far been able to create entries for each day in January, most of February and some of March. Keeping myself about 2 months ahead of publication might just make this work and give me a bit of leeway if enthusiasm starts to lag at any time.
I'm fully aware that this is really a vanity piece, probably only of interest to me and a few stray visitors. That doesn't bother me. The good thing about the internet is that it allows you to demonstrate your hobbies in public without the requirement for any form of feedback or approval.
The first real entry in this new weblog will be posted on January 1st 2011, but I'm hoping to add an introduction to the project on December 31 2010. I'll publish a link to the new site here on Matilda on that day.
...postings has been pretty lightweight around here of late. For months probably.
You can basically put this down to the work I'm doing helping to organise Aussiecon 4 which is currently occupying my thoughts for just about every spare waking hour, and quite a number of the sleeping ones as well. In three weeks' time I'll be onto the last day of the convention and staring at the rest of my life when I never do this again; which is something to look forward to.
The activity hasn't been overly unpleasant, just time-consuming to an extent that I had hoped wouldn't occur. But we make our choices, and we take our chances etc etc.
Don't expect much here for the next three to four weeks. I'll be back in better shape later in the year. Just for now, I'm simply trying to hang in there.
Just a quick note to let you know that I will be away on holidays with the family for the next two weeks. Postings will resume in the first week of July.
For the past couple of weeks I've been attempting to get this weblog back into shape and, while it's not fully there yet, it is slowly coming back to life. New entries are being posted, comments are now available and the look and feel of the blog are not too bad.
Of course, there are problems: a lot of old entries are still not available and old comments are going to remain unavailable for some time. I was also worried for a while that Bloglines (the RSS reader) wasn't picking up the correct feeds but even that seems to have sorted itself out today. I still have to somehow send a message to the 47 or so subscribers I had to my old weblog to move their subscriptions over to this one. Just another item on the to-do list.
Other than that, the new software has the added advantage of better control of screen size and allows "tagging", which will hopefully allow me to track my entry subjects better.
I have no idea how long it will take to re-instate all the old entries, but it certainly is a good advertisement for ensuring my back-ups are up to date.
After all the problems encountered last week we seem to be back up and running again. A lot of the historical entries are missing and I will attempt to re-instate them over the coming weeks (it may well take a lot longer than that) and the look and feel of the weblog isn't as I would like it.
Comments are a problem and are not working as I'd like. Until I can get that part of the weblog's back-office administration together old comments will also be missing. Hopefully that shouldn't be too long.
I'm off on holidays with the family. See you back here in a bit over a week.
Sometime in the mid-day hours of 17th March, this weblog received its 350,000th visitor
since I started collecting statistics on October 19, 2005. This note is here for housekeeping purposes only.
In many ways 2008 was a year to forget for me and my family. Too many health issues - wife, father, mother-in-law, and brother-in-law - dominated the whole of last year, and some of this, and produced a sense of lethargy that left little energy for much beyond the day to day stuff.
This lack of drive was rather evident in a few areas directly concerning this weblog: I didn't get much reading done in the second half of the year, and blog posts became perfunctory at best. I fell way behind in some reviews I intended to write - and I'm still behind on them (sorry Sophie). But just lately things have begun to settle down a bit and I can start to see my way through the haze.
I feel particularly embarrassed/annoyed that I didn't continue on with the "A Classic Year" reading program I set myself in 2008. I suppose, in my heart of hearts, I realised right from the outset that I was doomed not to finish the schedule in a single year but I did have the feeling that I would make a better fist of it than I did.
I blame Martin Boyd.
Well, not entirely. I struggled through Lucinda Brayford and didn't enjoy it very much. It is well-written and certainly a classic of Australian literature, but it was just the wrong book at the wrong time for me - much like The Tree of Man when I was 16. Anyway, I'm a little more hopeful for the year ahead: recognising the problem and the need for change is certainly a start in the right direction. Maybe the discussion about reviewing that is currently running on this weblog, or the questions I've been answering from a new weblogger looking for advice have been the final spur. I don't know. I just think things have started to turn around a little. So I'll be getting back into the reviewing business, restarting the Classic Year reading, and beginning a series of small pieces on classic Australian poems based on a book I've started dipping into.
You might notice that some regular features of this weblog will appear less often. The "Blast from the Past" series of reprints was taking up a lot of time to identify and type up each week, so they will be reduced this year. The "Reviews of Australian Books" feature is probably about dead by now. Again it was taking a lot of time to research and write up and has been superseded now by the more regular "Combined Reviews". The Saturday poem has been running pretty much since this weblog began in late 2004 and I can see that staying on, especially as last Saturday's Words by Charles Harpur was the 200th such entry. The rest of it will appear as and when it seems appropriate. If anything becomes too tedious then I'll drop it. I don't know how long I intended this weblog to run when I first started it. I've got a rather poor record when it comes to sticking to a particular task over a long period, so this one is probably hitting a turning
point of some sort. I'm not looking at this as a complete change of direction, more as a sort of streamlining and getting back to basics.
[Note: this is about the third version of this I've started. All the previous drafts came across as having a "woe-is-me" tone, and I'm not sure I've overcome that here. I haven't written this looking for comments of any sort, rather as a means of crystalising my own thoughts on this weblog's direction.]
Well, that's just about it for another year. I'll be back just before the New Year to round things off, and to celebrate the fourth anniversary of Matilda. In the meantime, enjoy the upcoming Festive season - whatever your inclination - and I hope the gifts you receive include a lot of books - Australian, of course. Stay well.
Sometime in the early hours of 3rd November, this weblog received its 300,000th visitor
since I started collecting statistics on October 19, 2005. This note is here for
housekeeping purposes only.
This is just a brief note to let you know that Matilda will go off for a brief rest as of Friday 24th October, returning on or about November 4th, Melbourne Cup Day. Frankly, I think this will be a good idea for all concerned. Life has been a little hectic over the past two
months - basically since I got back from the USA in early August - and I've come to realise that I'm not, currently, as enthusiastic about this weblog as I have been in the past. As a result the entries here have been terse and pretty mediocre. So a holiday in the sun will hopefully rejuvenate me, and allow me to catch up on my reading which has been sadly neglected of late. Where I'm off to has a TV - but only in a TV lounge, which means I can ignore it entirely; no internet as far as I'm aware, but I'm leaving the laptop home in any event; and probably no compatible mobile phone connection. Just what I need. See you in a couple of weeks.
In my capacity as co-chair of Aussiecon 4 - the World Science Fiction Convention we are holding here in Melbourne in 2010 - I was interviewed on the radio (774 ABC) this morning by Rhys Muldoon.
Here are a few observations in near chronological order:
1. ABC radio rings and I'm in the bedroom, with the family down the far end of the house - which is strangely quiet for a morning. I decide that I have to remember I am only talking to only one person, not an invisible audience of thousands.
2. The first voice I hear is one of the radio people who refers to the worldcon as a "sci-fi" convention, a term that is guaranteed to get my hackles up. Second decision: don't correct them, unless you can turn it into a joke. Third decision: don't try to be funny.
3. Next is the show's producer who wants to know how I should be introduced, ie what's my position. They take this "co-chair" business in their stride. Don't even question it.
4. No matter how much you convince yourself you won't do it (no, no don't even think about it) you end up saying, "Morning Rhys, how are you?" Damn, should have stopped at Rhys.
5. Don't know if I am thankful that Red Symons is on holidays or not.
6. As expected, Rhys (well, we're BFFs now aren't we?) concentrates on sf media. He
brings up "Battlestar Galactica" - the new version - which I say is one of the most political shows currently on television, and good space opera - lots of big things being blown up. Much later I mention Dr Who... Hang on, isn't this supposed to be a literary convention?
7. When's the crazy costume question going to come up?
8. Rhys asks: "What sort of organising do you have to do over the next two years?" And you think: he reckons we're dragging the chain; how much organisation do you need for 3,000 geeks? The nerves are bringing out the paranoia. So I attempt to get back to safe ground and pull the conversation back to the literary side of the convention, and the program: five days of 5 or 6 program streams, running from 9am to 6pm, with extra major events in the evenings. "There's a lot of work to be done," I point out. By this time I think I'm starting to sound rather needy.
9. He actually hasn't mentioned geeks yet. I think I have an answer for that. And I'm still waiting for the costume question.
10. He asks about what I was interested in when I was younger, and Dr Who pops into my head. Hadn't meant to, but we seem to be stuck on television. Mentioning Dr Who I say that my son (once and future BFF) started watching the new Dr Who at about the age I started watching the original. Not sure if Rhys rapidly figures out that makes me rather ancient. But he runs with it okay, and we discuss the Stephen Moffat episode "Blink", which won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form. I mention the Hugos more in hope than expectation.
11. Of course, there's no chance to get any more information out about what the convention's all about, as even I can tell through the nerves that the end is nigh.
12. And that question arrives at last: "So are you going to be dressed up?" "No", I reply, "I think wearing a suit and tie is too much dressing up for me." "Good man," he says. And it's over.
13. In retrospect it's probably lasted about 10 minutes. Felt like two.
14. The family thinks I did well - as they would - and my son is particularly chuffed that he got mentioned on the radio. (It's rather sad that someone my age has to suck up to
his own kids for approval.)
15. I'm exhausted. 16. No mention of geeks, for which I am grateful. Some of my rehearsed lines don't get a run. Maybe next time. And I didn't get to remind Rhys that he'd appeared in the sf television series Farscape. A missed opportunity. One of many.
As we used to say when playing marbles back when we were kids: "Slips!" (Means I made a mistake but I can take it back 'cos I said "slips" before you noticed; or some such explanation.) Seems I logged onto the old weblog this morning, updated a few entries only to find they had been posted by "larrikin" instead of this guy. Must fix that.
Some time back on this weblog I attempted to explain the reason why I persisted with a pseudonym. Basically, the argument ran, I started this weblog and didn't know where it would take me, nor what sort of response I would get; a pseudonym seemed like a minimum form of protection and, I figured, it would be pretty easy to find out who I was for
real - my name was up there on the "About Me" page. But the argument was a pretty thin one and I always thought I might get around to scrapping the mask and stepping out firmly into the light. I just never got round to it. Then, earlier today, I read a note on a weblog that implied that people using pseudonyms on weblogs have "something to hide". And that got me to thinking about the whole thing again. So, this is the first post under a new name. Meet the new blogger; same as the old blogger.
I'm back on deck, so posting will recommence over the next few days. Some of the standard weekly features might take a while to restart, however.
I'm off to the US for a week and a bit, attending the World Science Fiction Convention in Denver, Colorado. Hopefully, I'll have some good news when I get back regarding the 2010 convention which we're bidding to have return to Australia. Posting will be sporadic at best and most probably non-existent. Stay well and keep reading.
Some time earlier today this weblog received its 250,000th visitor since I introduced the site counter on October 19th 2005. This is just here for housekeeping and record purposes.
I've been tagged with another meme. Don't get any for years and then two turn up in a week. Given that this is a literary weblog I'll try to keep it on track.
1. I grew up in Laura, South Australia, the same small country town as C.J. Dennis. As far as I'm aware no-one else came from there, other than a schoolmate of mine who stood for the Senate in the election before last. Unfortunately, he represented the Family First Party.
2. I went to the same high school as current deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, although I think she started there the year after I left. Oddly enough, Ms Gillard worked for a few years at Slater and Gordon solicitors in Melbourne, and the woman who would later become my wife supervised her when she did her articles there. (Non-literary, sorry.)
3. My literary studies in high school were, all in all, pretty pathetic. The only Australian works I can remember are Sun on the Stubble by Colin Thiele, and "My Country" by Dorothea McKellar. We always seemed to be fixated on war poetry. Shakespeare was okay, but only when we got to Richard III which remains a favourite - though why was it necessary to teach this purely from the text, rather than putting the work into social and literary context? I don't remember being taught any actual history regarding
this work, and was certainly never introduced to The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. In year 12 (or Matriculation as it was called then) I refused to study A School for Scandal. It was my argument that the slapstick was done better by Chaplin and Keaton, and nothing else about the play interested me in the slightest. Needless to say this didn't go down well and I only scrapped through English in the final exams.
4. I was Chairman of the World Science Fiction Convention held in Melbourne in 1999. This was the third Australian Worldcon and I think I was probably chosen mainly because I continued the trend of the previous chairs - Robin Johnson and David Grigg - in being a middle-aged, balding, bespectacled and bearded male. See here for proof.
5. I'm not a big fan of choosing a favourite book, but if I was pushed I'd chose The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. I get back to it every ten years or so and always find something new in it. Nothing else of Fowles's comes close to this book. I was never much taken with The Magus by the same author - thought it a bit too pretentious and forced.
6. In December last year I was interviewed by Lyn Gallacher of ABC Radio National's "Book Show" program about C.J. Dennis's verse novel The Glugs of Gosh. That program goes to air on Wednesday 14 May. It will be available as a downloadable podcast for a few weeks after the 14th. I just hope Lyn saw the light and edited out the bulk of my waffle.
[Update: got the date of the radio broadcast totally wrong. Sorry about that. I put this down to a subconcious attempt to deny the whole thing.]
Katherine Howell has tagged me for the 123 meme. I'm not usually a big meme fan but as this one is literary so I'll see what I come up with.
1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.
1. Oddly enough the book is The Well Dressed Explorer by Thea Astley. I haven't read this yet, but should do so by the end of next year - and that's too long a story to
explain just yet. The reason why this book in particular happens to be sitting on my desk relates to Wikipedia. One of the editors there, who is also interested in Australia literature, was convinced that the title was actually The Well-Dressed Explorer (you have to look closely). So I got the book off the shelf to check. You'll be pleased to know, or maybe you just don't give a rats, that Wikipedia is now back on track in this regard. Ah yes, the small things that amuse us.
2. Page 123, yes, got that.
3. Fifth sentence: if the first line starts in the middle of a sentence does this count as one? I'll say yes. 4. "...I'd like to include it, but I think it's a bit precious. Have a look, will you, George? And there's a two-part essay on the language problem for the Missionary that seems over-technical.." I have no idea what this relates to.
5. Just about everyone in the litblog world has been tagged with this one. If you want it it's yours.
Time for a break. I'm off interstate for a week and will probably not have any web access for that period. I will, following my normal tradition, post a C.J. Dennis Anzac poem tomorrow morning. After that it'll be a week or so before I'm back on deck. Play well.
By my calculations, the previous post - Combined Reviews: Landscape of Farewell by Alex Miller - was the 2000th post on this weblog. This is just here for housekeeping purposes.
It's Easter and I'm off interstate. See you back here on Monday March 24th. Have a good one.
You know you're getting bored at work when you start putting literary jokes into the documents you're writing, with the complete knowledge that practically no-one will get the reference.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that any customer focussed database management system must be in need of adequate Address Management procedures.
Some time later today this weblog will receive its 200,000th visitor since I introduced the site counter on October 19th 2005. This is just here for housekeeping and record purposes.
I'm off interstate with the family later today and won't be back on deck till Monday 28th January. Postings will be non-existent till then or Tuesday 29th. Avagoodweegend!
I'm making some minor changes to the look of the weblog. Some parts will look a little dodgy for a while - especially the page banner - until I figure out the technical details. Bear with me. We'll get there. Hopefully.
As you might expect, blog posts will be a little infrequent over the next week or so: there's the big family lunch tomorrow (I'm hoping the weather will be kinder this year so I can actually stand outside next to the BBQ), then a recovery session on Boxing Day (did I really have to open that second bottle of sparkling shiraz?), then the cricket on the 27th, The Golden Compass with the kids on the 28th, and snoozes in front of the cricket on TV for the rest of the week.
I'll be back, just not so sure when. I have a major reading plan lined up for next year which will mean I have to get started Day One 2008, and I'm working with another Australian weblogger on a genre-based project that will need some detailed attention over the next few weeks, so that might give you some sort of indication.
I hope you and yours have a good, safe festive season and that you get all the books you wanted. Lots of Aussie ones too.
I fly interstate with the family tomorrow for a week's holiday, so there will be no postings on
this weblog until November 11 or 12. See you then.
Over the weekend I received a comment on this weblog requesting contact details for a certain author who has been featured on Matilda in recent times. I have a policy about this and thought it best to re-state it here on the main site rather than burying it in a comment somewhere.
I don't supply contact addresses - either snail-mail or email - for authors, publishers, agents or anyone else in the publishing industry. Mostly I get asked about particular authors, and I always point people to either the writer's publisher or to The Australian Society of Authors. This is the tried and true method for readers to contact authors and I think it still the best.
It's now two years since I added a visitor counter to this weblog, and this entry is purely here for housekeeping purposes. October 2007 numbers: Visitors - 173,085 Page views - 236,563 October 2006 numbers: Visitors - 72,957 Page views - 103,739
You may have noticed a drop off in the number of postings on this weblog over the past
week or so. There's nothing really to worry about, I'm not unwell, I'm not bored, I'm just tired. The new job I started in July has really started to kick in and by the end of the day I'm pretty much exhausted. The prospect of sitting in front of a PC at home, after spending 8 or so hours of doing exactly that during the day, feels me with something approaching dread.
Actually, I am a bit bored with this weblog at the moment. A number of my continuing series - such as Literary Monuments - have come to a halt due to lack of material, and I have a bit of a gap in ideas about what to head towards next. I have no doubt I'll come up with something, I generally do. I just need a bit of breathing space.
Anyway, the publishing industry isn't exactly burning the house down at present. Where
are the scandals? The new books everyone is talking about? I reckon they're just around the corner. When they turn up I'll let you know.
About 10 days back my home laptop finally gave up the ghost. I'd been thinking about replacing it for a while but its demise hastened my purchase. I now have a new all-singing, all-dancing laptop in the house - unfortunately Mr Gates is still controlling the play-sheet - but am having trouble getting my old email files back into accessible shape.
So, if you've written to me in the past month and wonder why I'm being so rude as to not reply, there's your reason.
Rest assured I'm working on it, but I'm not holding out much hope.
The number of visitors to this weblog has just clocked over 150,000 since October 19 2005, when I installed the statistics counter. I ticked over 100,000 visitors on February 15 2007. This entry is for archive purposes only.
HP 7 was duly purchased on Saturday morning and delivered into the waiting hands of C, 14 and desperate to get started on the book. As I reported last week, she had a birthday party to attend on Saturday afternoon, but, other than that, each waking hour was spent hunched over Rowling's pages. The other parents at eight-year-old W's basketball match on Saturday morning hadn't picked up a copy by eleven, and a few had even forgotten it was being released that day. Strange, hermit-like creatures they be.
C woke with a cold on Sunday: I'm not sure if it was the late night on Saturday that brought it on or the trauma of being back at school for a week. She was only about a third through the book at this stage.
Yum Cha lunch with my sister, and her husband, who told me she'd had to wait in line for an hour to pick up a copy at Border's in Chadstone and about another hour to pay for it. C continues to read at the table. One waitress tells us she finished it at 4 a.m., while Herself asks what happens at the end, and the table howls her down. W is unimpressed with the whole thing and appears to be coming down with the same lurgy as C.
Sunday night and Herself is falling alseep on the couch in front of the ABC, I'm in another room trying to do some paperwork and C, next door, is squealing out "Oh no", and "Oh my God" at about 15 minute intervals. Sounds impressive anyway.
Monday morning and C is too sick for school - W isn't much better and is also at home - so she might just finish it after all.
In the end I got to pick it up just once after delivering it home. It's big. Herself is home looking after the children and may be a few hundred pages into it by the time I get home tonight.
The blogosphere seems to be consumed with the problem of what kids will read next. Given that this is the biggest run of hits in children's literature that I can remember, I tend to think something will crop up. Maybe not as big as this, but something. Children's literature will never be the same again. And a good thing too.
Like, it seems, half the rest of the Western world, I will be visiting my dealer on Saturday to purchase a copy of the latest and last Harry Potter novel. I'll get round to reading it soon but I'll probably be third in line in my household. First, of course, will be my 14-year old daughter, C, followed closely by Herself. Your obedient servant has, in years past, come to believe this is some sort of indication of his standing in life. The eight-year-old son will be playing basketball and getting stuck into his Lego Star Wars game on the PlayStation to worry too much about the whole thing. (Which reminds me that I should hunt out the first volume in the series and see if he wants to read it. He's about the right age. And he told me yesterday he was out of Zac Power books.)
Sitting on the couch last night, C was checking her email and announced that she had been invited to a Saturday afternoon birthday party.
"What time?" Herself asked - ever the practical one.
"One till four", C said.
I turned to look at her. "But that's no good," I said.
"Why? What are we doing?" It's winter, it's wet and it's cold. What could we possibly be doing?
"Saturday's Harry Potter Day," I said.
"Oh my god," C said. Fourteen-year-olds say this all the time. I just think of Charlton Heston at the end of "The Omega Man", and "The Planet of the Apes." "I'll have to cancel."
"No, I think you can probably finish it before bedtime." When the previous HP novel arrived she took it to bed and didn't leave until she'd finished. A bladder to die for.
"I'm going to reply and say I can't make it." She was already typing furiously.
"You can't do that," Herself said, "she's your best friend...You are going, aren't you?"
Somewhere in the past year she's started to pick up a sense of humour. I'm not sure who I should thank for that, but I would like to find them and shake them by the hand. Life is so much more bearable with a 14-year-old who knows how to play a joke on her friends.
Margo asks for snippets. So, here goes:
The traffic wasn't too foul. There were a few hold-ups in Northcote when I got stuck behind a slow-moving tram but other than that it moved pretty well. Bell Street was its usual self so I was grateful to swing down onto the Tulla, put on a bit of speed and head north towards Bendigo.
I dug around in the open compartment under the radio and found a cassette to play. There was a faint hiss as the tape hit the heads which was followed by a lone piano and mouth organ. After that Springsteen started to sing about screen doors and cars and roads. And Mary. It always seemed to be Mary with him. Or Wendy. The tape sound was getting a bit ratty and I decided I had to trade up to a CD player some time soon. But I had other, more pressing financial matters to deal with first.
I'd sort of introduced the Boss to Susan way back when, back when we were a couple. She'd heard of him, everyone had, but had always thought of him as being a bloke's singer. He always sings about cars and death, she'd said at first. Maybe my playing him every day changed her mind. Maybe she was just trying to be nice. In any event she started to listen to the albums, and we went to see him when he toured in 1985. That was about the last time I saw her for over six months. She told me that night she had to go away for a while. She wouldn't say why. She didn't say how long. Next time I saw her she was with Corby, giving him the goo-goo eye, and avoiding mine completely. They were married a year later.
Of course, no correspondence will be entered into
Yes, I am still here, just not posting much. I'm at home, between contracts, looking after the kids and catching up on various business and tax paperwork. So let's just say I'm "resting", and enjoying the break.
Not sure how next week will go as I'm starting a new job and have no idea how much mental energy it is going to use up. Expect posting to be slow to start with.
Just a brief note to let you know that I'll be away from the editorial desk for the next three days. I'll be back on Monday.
It's Easter and I have to go wine and dine the relatives for a few days. Play safe and I'll
see you next week.
I'm away for the weekend, travelling into the wilds of eastern Victoria, so I won't have any net access. Postings should return on Tuesday 27th February.
The number of visitors to this weblog has just clocked over 100,000 since October 19 2005, when I installed the statistics counter. This entry is for archive purposes only.
I'm off on a four-day visit to Sydney so postings on this blog will cease and return sometime
on Tuesday 30th January.
My reading didn't progress as well in 2006 as in 2005. I fell about 6 books short of my 60 book goal. I suspect this occurred mainly in the last quarter of the year, after I came back from an extended holiday and discovered the joys of West Wing on DVD. Watching the first six seasons - 22 episodes a season, and 40-odd minutes an episode - chewed into my available reading time. Added to that, I had my daily commute to work curtailed and lost about 20 minutes or so reading on the train each day. It all adds up in the end.
The big plus for the year was the amount of Australian fiction I read - some 27 novels of all genres, about half the overall total - and not a dud one among the lot. Some were a little so-so but none I'd actively warn people against.
So, like last year, I'll give you the "benefit" of my reading experiences.
A big year in Australian fiction for me, and even then I didn't read M.J. Hyland's latest (which was shortlisted for the Booker), nor the MacDonald, which won the Miles Franklin Award. I tossed up between the first two listed here but finally came down the side of the Bradley, on the basis of the overall emotional response I felt to the book. I have a feeling people are going to love it or hate it. I put the James novel here - even though it won a Ned Kelly crime fiction award during the year - because I read it as a piece of literary fiction in the first instance. Interesting to note that it fits into either category.
The Resurrectionist by James Bradley
The Wing of Night by Brenda Walker
Out of the Silence by Wendy James
Soundings by Liam Davison
Australian Speculative Fiction
A number of people might argue with me that McGahan's novel is speculative fiction but it fits all of my criteria for the genre. Similarly for the Harwood. It won a major Horror award a few years back and if we use the term "speculative" to cover sf, fantasy and horror, then I feel comfortable about including it here. D.M. Cornish gets my nod, however, for producing a wonderful work of world construction, peopled by humans and monsters in such a way that it sometimes difficult to tell them apart. I'm looking forward to the others in the series.
Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D.M. Cornish
Underground by Andrew McGahan
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
Australian Crime Fiction
A big year for Garry Disher (5 novels) and Shane Maloney (4 novels), and I was tempted to include all nine but thought I'd better show some sort of restraint. There are another couple of Maloney's to read before a new Murray Whelan novel is published in 2007, and I have a number of Jack Irish novels by Peter Temple to catch up with. Bodes well for another good year.
Snapshot by Garry Disher
Bad Debts by Peter Temple
Stiff by Shane Maloney
The Dragon Man by Garry Disher
Hard to go past the Flannery as the most "important" book I read this year. Whether it will make a basic difference to the way Australia deals with the climate change crisis remains to be seen, yet it is possible to see attitudes changing, and this book might have had more than a little to do with it.
The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery
I was getting guilty about being behind in my reading of the Booker winners when I picked this one up late in the year - the word was that it was pretty boring. And what a misjudgement that was. The style is reminiscent of Sebald's work, though no-one I've spoken to about it agrees with me. So what do they know?
The Sea by John Banville
Non-Australian Speculative Fiction
I've read Martin's work on and off for almost 30 years, since "A Song for Lya", but not for some time. He's been working on this epic fantasy series for about 10 years and I was reluctant to tackle it - I've met the author and big fantasy epics are not my usual reading matter. Now that I've started I have to stop myself from ordering the next four and reading them back-to-back.
A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
Non-Australian Crime Fiction
A quick count reveals that I read 10 non-Australian crime novels during 2006 - more than I had originally thought. Ian Rankin has produced one of his best ever. The realisation that there are probably only one or two left in his Rebus series is rather bittersweet. You know the next novels are going to be terrific, you just don't want it all to end. Macbride makes a re-appearance in this category after his debut last year. He tells a good story: bloody and gruesome, personable and humorous. He would have been the pick if Rankin hadn't popped up. The Goldberg was just very funny and had the added bonus of being read in Hawaii where the bulk of the book was set.
The Naming of the Dead by Ian Rankin
Dying Light by Stuart Macbride
Mr Monk Goes to Hawaii by Lee Goldberg
Dawkins is the man of the moment with his latest non-fiction work attacking religion and the concept of God. This book was written thirty years ago and yet still seems so fresh. If I ever had any ambitions of being a chef they would be blown out of the water by Bourdain.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
I spent yesterday at the cricket - about 10 seats to the east of where Andrew Symonds landed his century-making six, if you're interested in that sort of thing - and had a bit of a look around at the crowd to see what they were reading during the slow parts. As you might expect there were a number of readers of newspapers and magazines, but only two reading books that I noted: The Firm by John Grisham and Every Move you Make by David Malouf. I would say the second was a Christmas present, but the first? Hardly seems the book you'd want to read a second time, if, as I suspect, the film version with Tom Cruise gave away all the major plot points. Not that I can see myself reading it to find out.
I took along the Christmas issue of the "New York Review of Books" and didn't open it: the game was just too interesting. Now, if England had been batting...
I'll be the first person to admit that I'm a hard reader to buy books for. There are so many in the house that you could be easily forgiven for buying something for me that I'd just finished or had stacked into the "to be read" pile by the side of the bed.
Even my immediate family doesn't bother trying to guess, so it is left to me to make a list. As a consequence I don't often get books at Christmas that I'm not expecting. Which isn't to say I won't enjoy them anyway.
This year I received:
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins - the irony of receiving a book at Christmas by the world's foremost atheist does not escape me.
The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford - the hard question here is whether I should go back and read the two previous books in the sequence first.
North Face of Soho by Clive James - probably the funniest set of memoirs written by an Australian, one that needs no introduction at all given the amount of coverage it has been getting lately.
The Planets by Dava Sobel - back to an old love of astronomy.
On the giving front, I steered away from cookbooks for Herself this year - that bookshelf is full, very full - and nothing stood out for me anyway. She received the latest Rumpole novel by John Mortimer and Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann, featuring the world's first sheep detective. She also got the latest Alexander McCall Smith, but he's putting out so many these days I can't, for the life of me, remember which one it was. The kids got too many to mention separately. I gave two copies of Kiran Desai's Man Booker Prize winning novel The Inheritance of Loss, (the Miles Franklin winner goes out for upcoming birthdays); and Peter Temple's The Broken Shore - giving my father a chance to find another Australian crime writer he might enjoy. Most of my nieces and nephews are either too old - we don't give presents to adults at Christmas, or, we're not supposed to - or too young for chapter-books.
Kerryn Goldsworthy has mentioned books she received this year, and I suspect she'd be even harder to buy for than me. What did the rest of you get, or give?
All of us here at Matilda - well, me anyway - wish you all the best for the Christmas and New Year season. Postings will be infrequent over the next few days: there's turkey and sparkling shiraz to consume, presents to open and cricket to watch. Then there's the cleaning up, the sweeping out of relatives, etc etc. All good clean fun. Keep reading, and I hope you get some good books as presents. You have been dropping the right hints, haven't you?
I don't often write about non-Australian books I'm reading but feel that I have to say that I'm mightily impressed by John Banville's The Sea, now that I have finally started.
As soon as I began, though, I had this feeling that the book reminded me of something. Not that I'm accusing the author of anything you understand, just that there was a certain sense of recognition of a story about an old codger returning to a sea-side location at which he had holidayed as a child.
It took me a while but then I remembered a novel I read maybe 15 years ago which also happened to win the Booker prize, way back in 1974. I refer to Stanley Middleton's novel Holiday. I assumed someone else must have seen the similarities but a Google search does not reveal any document containing the two terms "John Banville" and "Stanley Middleton" that is not either a sales catalogue or a list of Booker prize winners.
You might remember Middleton's novel received some unwanted press late last year, and early this, when sample chapters from it, and from V.S Naipaul's In a Free State, were submitted to a number of publishers undercover as new works. Both books were roundly rejected.
As I recall Holiday is not too bad. Of course, our sense of a book changes over time, though I certainly don't remember running from it yelling and screaming. I therefore have to assume it wasn't all bad.
It's at times like this that you have to question your reading perspectives - more than normal I mean. I can't be the only person who has read both books, can I?
This is the 1,000th posting to this weblog since I started in December 2004. Just putting
this here as a milestone pointer.
If you're a reader of the comments on this weblog, you will have noticed a comment recently appeared which responded to my posting about Chris Masters and his new book, Jonestown - an unauthorised biography of Sydney talk-back radio host Alan Jones. The comment was written by someone signing themselves "roobok" and was quite scathing of both Masters and his book. In situations like this I'd prefer people to sign such comments with their real name but as long as they fill in some of the details, such as email address or webpage, I'm willing to let it go.
I'm not in a great position to complain about this approach as I sign all postings on this weblog as being by "larrikin" rather than my real name. That came about in the early days when I didn't really know what I was doing here and didn't know if I should use a pen-name or not. I set up a login and the name stuck. Changing it is probably more trouble than it's worth. Anyway, if you go to "About Me" section at the very top of the right-hand column you can figure out who I am in real life.
But getting back to the comment under discussion: I like robust debate, and will approve comments even if I don't agree with the statements being expressed. We can't close our ears and eyes to opinions just because they don't fit our world-view. You might as well crawl into a hole and pull the lid down after you if that's the way you feel. So I'm happy about roobok's comment, and also about the responses that have followed. If it gets people thinking about the book and the situation then so much the better.
But...and yes, there's always a "but"...I won't accept anonymous comments as I've mentioned before, and I won't approve comments which I consider racist, sexist or libellous. And so, for the first time in nearly two years, I'm going to delete a comment I've received on these grounds. I've deleted lots of spam, and I've deleted comments which aren't directed to either me or a topic under discussion - these are mostly requests for access to a particular person mentioned here - yet this is the first time I've felt compelled to take this action.
Approving a comment for publication doesn't mean I agree with the sentiments expressed. On the other hand, deleting one indicates that the comment isn't acceptable in any form.
We've been having a few administration problems here at Matilda Central over the past couple of days. So, if you attempted to access this weblog and got nothing, my apologies. We didn't go away, we just couldn't access the system due to some hard drive problems at our ISP. Looks like we're back up again now.
Although I started this weblog in December 2004, it wasn't until this day (October 19) last year that I added a feature that allowed me to track the number of visitors. It's been interesting seeing who has turned up and what they've been looking for. As much a place-marker as anything else, the relevant total figures are: Visitors - 72,957 Page views - 103,739 I wonder how many of those are mine?
Things are going to get a little slow around here over the next few weeks. On Monday I'm off to the US to attend this year's World Science Fiction Convention, LACon IV, and will then be spending 2½ weeks on holiday with the family. I've set up a few postings that I can publish over that time, I'll keep an eye out for the various book awards that are due to be announced over the coming weeks, and I'll approve comments as they appear. But news items and detailed commentary is going to be thin on the ground. I'll be back on deck around September 14. Play nice till then.
Don't forget that the 2006 Hugo Awards will be announced at LACon, and among the nominees is Margo Lanagan for "Singing My Sister Down" in the Short Story category, while K.J. Bishop is nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Good luck to both of them. I'll be watching.
I must apologise if you have been experiencing any difficulty accessing this weblog over the past few days. It appears my ISP has been having some troubles in maintaining a viable connection. A power failure in Sydney downed the service on Sunday night for approximately 5 hours and another outage splatted it today for about 10 hours. This is known in the trade as "not very good". Hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly.
Posts have been a tad scarce over the past few days. I'm finishing up one job and moving on. This has meant a lot of cleaning up at work and no time for anything else. Hopefully service will be resumed within the next few days.
Given a couple of comments made on this weblog over the past couple of days, I think now is as good a time as any to state a few house rules.
1. All comments are "approved" by me before they are posted to the weblog. This isn't an attempt to censor any discussion, merely a way of keeping comment spam in order. I haven't deleted any comments so far, unless they were obviously spam, or if they fit one of the categories below.
2. I don't accept anonymous comments. I have one sitting in the comment "in-tray" at present waiting to be approved. It's obviously not spam so I won't delete it for that reason, but I do think people should put a name on their postings. If you look at the comments posting section you'll see that it asks for a name, an email address and a URL. None of them are compulsory. I like to see email addresses and URLs (which don't make their way onto the published comments) as it gives me a chance to follow up off-line if I feel like it - and this has happened a few times. It also publicises your weblog if you have one, which prompts me to visit and then add it to my weblog list if I think it fits in with the literature theme here. But I have to draw the line somewhere and I've decided that, at a minimum, a name is required.
So, if the person who commented last night on "J.M. Coetzee and Universities" would like to get in touch I'll amend the comment and approve it.
3. I've had a couple of comments over the past year or so which are directed to specific people that are mentioned on this weblog. If I have that person's email address I'll pass along the comment and the relevant email address. But I'm not in the business of exchanging private email addresses without permission. If you're desperate to get in touch with an author then I'd suggest using the old tried and true method of contacting the author's publisher. And their address is in each volume they print.
Posting have been a little less regular over the past few days for a couple of reasons: a bad cold laid me low, and I've been fighting off an attack of the spammers.
The cold I can get over but the spammers give me the total pip. Luckily enough the only way they can post to weblogs such as this is via the comment pages. MovableType allows for comments to be approved before posting so the weblog readers don't get to see the unwanted variety. Unfortunately just deleting them doesn't do much good. They keep coming back, time after time. So I have to ban the IP address used by the spammer in the first instance and then close off the comments on older postings. This latter course is what takes the time. The weblog software doesn't seem to allow for closing comments on mass postings, which means I have to treat each post separately.
Boring as all this is, it has the implication that older postings (initially in the first half of 2005 and later to the rest of 2005) will no longer accept comments. For most readers this shouldn't cause a big problem but some newer visitors might be a bit peeved. Not much I can do about it. It's the lesser of two evils.
My home laptop screen died last night so updates will be a little curtailed over the coming week or so as I attempt to get that fixed. The bloke in the repair shop said it could be anything from a loose connection between the motherboard and the screen to a blown video-card on the motherboard. I'm hoping for the former and expecting the latter.
I'm also away for the next three days, out of internet contact and probably barely in mobile phone range. I'm shepherding some English friends round some wineries in Northern Victoria. Probably wouldn't be able to post here even if I wanted to.
I'm hopeful of being back in business sometime next week. In the meantime some regulars, like the Saturday poem, will appear off-schedule.
Here's a problem that I've been finding with MovableType from time to time: previewing entries in the weblog doesn't show exactly how the entry will appear when it's published. This especially occurs with special characters such as é and ü. But it also happens when I cut and paste quotes from other web pages directly into these weblog entries. In those cases such simple punctuation marks as single and double quotes and dashes come out looking decidely dodgy in the final published version, after looking perfectly acceptable during the entry preview process.
For most of the readers of this weblog this won't be problem, I'll notice the error in the entry and fix it so it comes out properly on the weblog. However, those readers who read this weblog via such sites as Bloglines or MetaxuCafe are going to receive double entries: one for the first publication and another for any subsequent edit. To them I send my apologies. I'll have to get my ISP to upgrade to a later version or MovableType and see if the problem is fixed.
For the first time I've received a comment from someone who hasn't left either a name or an email address. I'm not too fussed about the email address side of things as I know some people are worried about spam etc, but a name would be good. I can't reply if I think I'm talking to a brick wall.
So if you left a comment for me in the past day could you either fix the comment or email me ( perry at middlemiss dot org) and I'll fix it for you.
I'm not big on making New Year's resolutions. It strikes me as the wrong time of year for those things. There's too much pressure on you to follow through and the resultant failure can be disheartening. So "life-changing" resolutions are out, but plans and adjustments are okay. Just don't put too much store on them.
I like to make reading lists at the start of each year even though I rarely achieve all my goals. The way I look at it, I'm going to be reading anyway so it's a good idea of setting targets. If, at any time during the year, I'm stuck for what to read next, I can just return to this list to get me back on track.
The standard reading aim is one book a week. That's the minimum, and I do tend to hit that target year on year. In 2005 I got to 61 books which averages out at just over five a month. That'll do.
Another of my 2005 plans was to read more Australian fiction, which I also achieved. Most of what I read were new works so I need to keep that up and to add in some classic Australian novels - Patrick White comes to mind here. I've stated previously that White is a problem for me in that I have read part of The Tree of Man and nothing else by him. So he's on the list. And so is Henry Handel Richardson's trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney; generally considered to be one of the greatest Australian works ever. And then there's Christina Stead and Shirley Hazzard, both of whom I have to tackle some time soon.
Of the newer Australian works I intend to read the Miles Franklin Award shortlist between the announcements of the novels and of the award. Luckily enough the organisers of the award give us two months for this. These will be works published in 2005 that I missed. Add the new books (such as the new Carey) that I'd like to get to as well.
I've been a bit tardy in my reading of Australian speculative fiction of late so I'll aim to remedy that by getting to some of the works on the Aurealis and Ditmar Award shortlists. Similarly for Australian crime fiction: catch up with Shane Maloney and Garry Disher, and read the Ned Kelly Award shortlists.
On the Australian non-fiction front there's the new Best Essays of the Year 2005, and a back edition as well; some Australian history - I've got biographies of Matthew Flinders and George Bass that I'm looking forward to, as well as Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves; and the new book by Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers.
Overseas I need to catch up with recent winners of the Booker prize and US Pulitzer and National Book Awards, and I need to increase my reading of books in translation.
Crime-wise there is bound to be a new Rankin out as he missed 2005, Stuart McBride has his second book out, I'm a couple of Mankell's behind and my wife keeps telling me to read Boris Akunin's Russian detective novels. On the classic crime side I've started re-reading Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels and have about another 20 or so of them to finish, and I have 5 more to go in Adam Hall's Quiller series. I won't finish either of these series this year, they're both long term projects.
Neil Gaiman, George RR Martin and Neal Stephenson have been producing some outstanding speculative fiction of late and I would like to dip back into that field a bit more. And to re-read some classics as well. I'm a long way off finishing my re-reading of Le Guin's works and she has a new book out this year.
Added to this gargantuan list are requirements for a biography or two, Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos, and some travel writing by Jonathan Raban.
I haven't a hope. The list is way too big. If I get through half of it I'll be lucky (or out of work). But just thinking about it gives me something to look forward to.
I don't claim to read everything I'd like to get to in any one year. I just don't have the time. And sometimes I don't have the inspiration.
Books read during any one year are those bought by me, gifts (rare), and stuff I get from the library. I work full-time, though not in the literary field, am married with two kids and run this weblog. So time is a tad limited. I generally aim for 1 book a week; not a high number but it's the best I can do.
With that in mind I offer the best books of what I read during the year.
The White Earth by Andrew McGahan - I was very pleased to see this pick up the 2005 Miles Franklin Award. It's a book for the ages that will be read for many years to come. As I think I said at the time, it moves McGahan into the top rank of Australian authors.
Surrender by Sonya Hartnett - some might want to call this Hartnett's break-out novel, but I think she's been working at a high level for some years. This continues her progression towards work of great depth. She just needs to move to a new subject and theme.
The Tyrant's Novel by Tom Keneally - Keneally back to his best form, which is really world-class. Can't understand why this didn't get more recognition at the time.
Australian Speculative Fiction
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan - I didn't read much speculative fiction this year (either Australian or not) but it wouldn't have made any difference: this was the best collection of short fiction I've read since I don't know when. Given the accolades it's receiving around the world I'm not the only one who thinks that.
Australian Crime Fiction
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple - there are problems with the plotting in this book (it seems to head in one direction and then heads off somewhere else, leaving a major plot incident behind and unresolved) it's still streets ahead of a lot of novels in the genre.
"The Wyatt Novels" by Garry Disher - I've only read four of the six books in this series but they read as if they were slices from one long novel. Taut, suspenseful and, above all, well written crime novels told from the criminal's perspective.
Lost by Michael Robotham - a police procedural set in London with the main character haunted by a girl who has been missing for three years. The opening quarter is particularly good.
Australian Speculative Fiction
The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter - what is it about Australian writers and verse novels? This one uses the crime genre to great effect. Truly excellent stuff.
Best Australian Essays 2004 - stand-out collection of essays that highlight the best of Australian short non-fiction writing during 2004. I can see this will become an annual treat for me - perfect summer reading.
Didn't read enough of great interest. This was a great year for me with Australian fiction, and that tended to overwhelm anything else.
Non-Australian Speculative Fiction
Wasp by Eric Frank Russell - funny and perceptive by turns this short novel dates from the 1950s yet the way it deals with terrorism and insurgency makes you think it's fresh and new.
Gifts by Ursula Le Guin - Le Guin is one of the best writers working in the US regardless of genre. The start of a new series.
Non-Australian Crime Fiction
The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips - short, very sharp and funny with it. The only thing I can think of remotely like this book is the Coen Brothers' film "Fargo".
Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride - a police procedural set in Aberdeen. MacBride's first and an excellent read. His sense of place is quite wonderful. Like Rankin's Edinburgh, Aberdeen becomes a main character in the book.
Collapse by Jared Diamond - his follow-up to Guns, Germs and Steel. Not as convincing as his previous book but certainly thought-provoking.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell - It's the little things that make the difference. I'm not completely persuaded by some of his arguments but he makes some excellent points.
Back in early November "The Guardian" ran a poll of readers to determine the top 20 geek books written in English since 1932. This list has been doing the rounds of the litblogs lately, with the bloggers indicating which of the books they had read by "emboldening" the titles. The results and my entries are given below.
1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert
7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett
10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks
15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein
16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick
17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman
18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham
Which says more about my lifetime's reading patterns than anything else probably.
Of the unread books, Stephenson's books were published as follows: Snow Crash 1992, The Diamond Age 1995, and Cryptonomicon 1999; the Gaiman dates from 2001, the Coupland from 1995, with the oldest being The Illuminatus trilogy from 1975.
There are reasons for this. Until the early 1980s I basically read all the sf I could get my hands on. After that time (my mid-20s) my literary tastes started to change and I moved away from sf to other things. I still go back to visit every now and then, but I drank too deeply from that well in my youth and it takes a lot to drag me back.
By the way, the Illuminatus trilogy was around when I was reading a lot of sf and I was aware of it. At the time it looked like a load of crap, and let me tell you, I read a lot of crappy books back then. I reckon if I went and checked it out now I'd have the same opinion.
1. Read every day.
2. Always use a bookmark.
3. Remove dustjackets from hardbacks before reading.
4. Always take a book with you.
5. Keep a list of the books you read.
6. Set yourself goals: number in a year, types (fiction, non-fiction, biography), nationality of author, classics, first-time authors.
7. Don't stick to one genre for too long - no more than 2 or 3 in a row.
8. Don't feel guilty about reading, or about not reading.
9. Talk about books to everyone, but not all the time.
10. Listen to suggestions, and give them freely.
11. Give books as presents.
12. Visit the library, often.
13. Browse in bookshops new and used, but don't feel compelled to buy.
14. Keep a list of books you want - pass this along to nearest and dearest as birthdays and Christmas approach.
15. Just enjoy it - if it isn't working move on.
I've made some major changes to my Man Booker prize webpages in an attempt to make them accessible to all web browsers, not just Microsoft's Internet Explorer.
I've also added in the details of this year's award, though the details of the individual books will have to wait for a while. I've also noticed that I have not, as yet, completed the details for the 2004 books - which is just a tad slack. I'll get to that.
There is still some tweaking of the webpages required to get them to "sit" on the page properly but that's just a matter of fixing the HTML code which just takes a little time and effort rather than a compete reworking.
So far the menus appear to work, and the pages look okay, under both Firefox and Mozilla, but if you're using another browser and run into problems drop me a line.
There won't be any postings on this weblog until 10th October. I'm off on holiday with the family. See ya later.
I've decided I'm going to have to abandon Light by M. John Harrison. I'm just not getting anywhere with it. It's clogging up my reading time and I've decided I'm just going to have to let it go.
I'm not dropping Light because I think it a "bad" book: I have no idea one way or the other. I just haven't got into it enough to tell.
This is the first one for the year. Hopefully it will be the last.
I've been thinking about why I've got to this position for the past few days and have come to the conclusion that it relates solely to the way I started to read the book. My usual practice is to attempt to read fifty or sixty pages of a book at the first sitting. After that I've either decided the book isn't for me or I'm right into it. And if I am into it, then subsequent sessions of twenty or even ten pages won't make me lose the thread. But it's the first batch that's all important.
If the book flows in a single plotline, following one character in nearly real-time, then the previous "first-sitting" requirement isn't such a big necessity - I'm thinking that The Closers by Michael Connelly fits into this category - I just have to ensure that the second sitting follows the first one pretty closely. Light, on the other hand, jumps about between modern-day Britain and a far-future deep-space location. For a while there I was thinking that there might have been another thread involved as well but changed my mind, and then changed it back again a day or so later.
So I got lost. And now I've left it so long any re-start is going to be a complete waste of time, and I won't be able to give the book the attention it deserves.
Sorry, Mr Harrison. I will attempt to read it again sometime soon. Honest.
One of the weblogs which I check in with every day or so is Michael Allen's Grumpy Old Bookman. Allen is a booklover who seems to have been involved in the book publishing business for the past forty years or so. I'm not sure exactly what he has done in that time, though he does state somewhere on the weblog that he has been writing books for that long. His inside knowledge of the industry leads me to think he's done a lot else besides.
Just recently he wrote and published a review of Christopher Booker's The Seven Basic Plots which was not terribly complimentary. His view of the book seemed to gell with other reviews I had read of it, saying such things as: "It seems to me to be entirely pointless"; and "Booker's book seems to me to be gloriously beside the point. The point is not that the number of plots is limited: it is that the number of possible emotional effects that can be created in the reader/audience is limited. The number of ways in which those emotions can be aroused, however, is infinite, and depends largely (but not entirely) on the skill of the writer."
I think you get the idea.
Anyway, a few of GOB's readers decided to pitch in and add their own thoughts. Me among them.
Now, I can say that I have not read Booker's book. (I had it on an Amazon wish-list for a while as it sounded interesting. I deleted it when I started to read the reviews.) But that, of course, has never stopped me from making a comment when I feel like it. So I did: "And here I was thinking that Joseph Campbell had nailed it in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I seem to remember Campbell putting the contention that there was really only one plot, you just took out the bits and variations you wanted."
I can tell you that I have read Campbell's book a couple of times and think it pretty damn good - even if George Lucas is a big fan. So I was trying to be a bit cute - I probably wrote the comment after a couple of reds - and didn't think much more of it. I mean, I didn't slag off the author or anything, just had a bit of a shot at his basic premise, is all.
All of this happened a couple of weeks back, and today, as I read through the GOB weblog entries, I came across a note from Allen that Christopher Booker himself had read the exchanges and had posted a comment. Allen suggested we read what he had to say and make up our own minds.
The interesting part? Oh, that's where Booker says: "...I am afraid these postings give the impression of various grouchy old bores sitting round in a pub, cantankerously banging on about something they know nothing whatever about."
And there we have it: I'm officially a "grouchy old bore". Makes one feel all warm inside.
Now, if you'll just excuse me: I'm off to the pub. Might just stop off at the bookshop for a copy of The Seven Basic Plots on the way.
I've hit a reading flat spot. It happens about every three to six months with me. Nothing I read seems to hold any interest. Books are picked up, skimmed, discarded. Newspapers are flipped, ignored, and turned to the sports pages. The piles of books next to the bed and on the chest of drawers in the bedroom lie there getting dusty. I move them around from pile to pile, but it doesn't do any good. I've even taken to starting a pile for the books I'm going to take on holiday in six weeks.
I'm only deluding myself.
I don't know how this one started but I strongly suspect it might be due to the combination of the current books, a major birthday, and various other distractions such as the Ashes cricket. Just one of these might not have been enough to topple me over the edge of ennui; three are too much to resist.
So I sit and work, and watch Australia playing badly, waiting for the inspiration to strike again. It'll come. I know it will. I just don't know when.
I thought all my Christmases had come at once tonight when I found an extra 100 comments had been added to the weblog during the day. But, sadly, they were all spam.
MoveableType isn't too bad at handling spam as it allows the banning of specific IP addresses, so, theoretically, spam from these people won't turn up again. This has happened from time to time where I've had one or two spam comments during any one particular day. But 100 seems like a concerted attack. I've worked my way through them now and deleted all the comments I can. I'm just not sure if this is as far as it goes. Therefore I would suggest, if you intend to leave a comment, don't leave an email address. I don't think the spam robots are smart enough to pick them up but it is better to be safe rather than sorry.
I've been tinkering with the original weblog template over the past month or so and finally decided that the main body text was just way too small. I'll keep the sidebar text size the same but having the main content larger will help to differentiate it a bit. Even I was struggling to read it. If it's no good let me know.
My apologies for the lack of posts this week. My son brought home a lovely little virus from school last week and proceeded to pass it along to yours truly. I've only had the flu once or twice in my life so I know what that's like - this was pretty close without the shivering and the feeling that I'd been hit by a truck. The fever was a good one though.
So I've been soldiering along without getting too much done. Work and sleep is about all I
As expected my twelve-year-old daughter finished the latest book by the Scottish woman last night. Not too impressed by it either. "So, is it any good?" was the query. "No," was the tired reply. Most interest seemed to revolve around the character who dies and the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. And, no, I'm not going to tell you who they are.
Any book-reader worth his or her salt will have lots of books lying around the house waiting to be read. Sandra, over on her Book World litbog has actually gone to the trouble of listing them. And, what's more, keeps the list up to date. At present the number of books she has waiting for her has hit 200, and an interesting list it is as well; though it does tend to the literary end of the scale with Milton and Faulkner rubbing shoulders with Robertson Davies and Michael Moorcock (Mother London rather than any of the Elric novels). I was pleased to see that she had at least one Australian novel on her list in Peter Carey's Jack Maggs.
The problem she has now, of course, is what to read. Which of the 200 hundred do you choose first? The most recent? The oldest? Pot-luck? Should there be a system at all?
C. Max Magee over at The Millions only has 40 books on his to-be-read list and still feels it necessary to have a system, of sorts. He utilises a random number generator. A strange way to choose but he seems happy with it.
For my part, I don't keep a list of unread books in the house. And there are a couple of reasons for that: a) if my wife ever found it I'd be banned from buying anything new until the current list was down to manageable proportions; and b) I might actually come to the conclusion that a book purge was in order. And we can't have that now, can we?
A few years back I started to make lists each Christmas of the books I wanted to read in the coming year. There'd generally be one or two authors whose entire back catalogue was included (I tried to make this one literary author and one genre - either crime or sf); a travel book; the shortlisted novels from one year's Booker prize; two European novels in translation, from different countries; two prize-winning Australian novels; a biography and a popular science book. All very challenging and very commendable.
It certainly made me feel better, especially after I typed it up and downloaded it to my Palm Pilot. Rather like a good New Year's resolution. Which was also the way it tended to be treated. Everything would run along swimmingly for the first couple of weeks and then I'd read a review of an interesting book that just cried out to be read NOW, and the whole thing would fall in a screaming heap. I'd come back to the list from time to time over the year and see how I was going. The response was "pathetic", generally. So I've given that up now.
Now I just follow where the will takes me. I read the five novels shortlisted for this year's Miles Franklin award, but I'm about 3 or 4 years behind on the Booker prize-winners. I've cleaned up a couple of books I half-finished last year with a couple more still to go. And I'm trying to keep my internet book orders down to four a year - two from the US and two from the UK, two each around my birthday and Christmas.
So I'm trying to be good, trying to do the right thing and clear up the back-log. If only I could get up the enthusiasm to read all those American sf paperbacks I bought 30 years ago I might just start making some headway.
If Rankin brings out a new book this year I'm dead in the water.
[I've been waiting to use that heading for months.} I'm out of town for the weekend and won't be able to post the usual poem tomorrow - so you get it today instead. You poor unfortunates. I'm also leaving work early so there won't be anything else today. My sympathies and condolences go out to those killed and injured in the London bombings overnight (Australian time). I used to travel through Edgeware Road tube station each
working day when I lived there in the early 1990s, so it tends to hit home a bit.
One of the first web pages I ever developed, back in the mid-90s, was my site devoted to the Man Booker Prize. I started it as a means of keeping track of books that won the prize, and the others which had been shortlisted, so I had a handy list - this was before PDAs.
I kept on adding to the pages over the years, with lists of authors and nominated titles and then struck on the idea of adding a page which highlighted novels which might make the shortlist. This was just a bit of pot-luck really. There was no way I was going to be able to read everything that might be nominated, so I had to rely on word-of-mouth and the various book reviews I read over the web from British newspapers.
I've just created a new page for the 2005 Booker Prize Shortlist Possibles which will be gradually added to over the coming few months, leading up to the announcement of the longlist for the prize. This is a bit later in the year than usual, due, in part, to the work I'm doing here but I hope it is of interest to some people.
All the usual suspects are listed (Ishiguro, Rushdie, McEwan and Barnes) but there are always some whose work might or might not be entered due to publication problems. The British authors have no difficulties here because as soon as a major writer submits a work it is scheduled for a publication date that makes it eligible for the award. The hard ones are those from the "colonies", eg Australia and South Africa. If the novel has a British publication date in the year leading up to the start of September then there's no basic difficulty. But what about a novel like Andrew McGahan's The White Earth? After winning the Miles Franklin Award following its publication in Australia in May 2004, it is not scheduled for UK release until January 2006. So what does this mean for its eligibility? I've got a feeling it's missed the boat. But I might well be wrong.
I don't know how I did it: I've read the reviews, bought and read the book, and still I spelt his first name wrong. So I'm very sorry about that. I've done the best I can to get back through all the web pages and weblog entries and fix them up. Hope I didn't miss any.
This has been sitting around for over a week and I've been more than a little slack about getting back to it. I plead the fifth - otherwise known as work-pressure, which also explains the thin and sparse postings of late.
1. The person who passed the baton to you.
2. Total volume of music files on your computer.
If you'd asked me six months ago I would have said none but I've discovered the joys of storing tracks on the hard drive and listening in when I'm working. This is especially useful in libraries which seem to be getting noiser and noiser. Oh yes, just a touch over 3 Gb. All of this is copied from CDs I have around the house. Haven't got into downloading as yet. As I won't let my daughter download without paying I'd be on very shakey moral grounds if I ventured there.
3. The title and artist of the last CD you bought.
This is where my dinosaur side comes to the fore - Devils & Dust by Bruce Springsteen. This one ranks with Nebraska and The Ghost of Tom Joad. It's bleak, basic and bloody good. I've been a fan since 1975 and reckon he keeps on maturing as a songwriter and artist.
4. Song playing at the moment of writing.
"Searching for a Heart" by Warren Zevon, from his live Learning to Flinch album. I only got to see Zevon once, in Melbourne in 1992 when he was on the tour that produced this album. It's hard to think that I won't be able to buy any more of his records. I found it a big shock when he died about 18 months ago: I'd been following him since Excitable Boy. The tribute album, Enjoy Every Sandwich, which was released last year was pretty damn good as well.
5. Five songs you have been listening to of late (or all-time favorites, or particularly personally meaningful songs)
I've got a fair chunk of my music collection stored on the hard drive now so I just set the play selection to random and let it run wherever it wants - kinda like the iPod shuffle function. You get some very strange juxtapositions that way. So we'll talk about favourites rather than what's on high rotation.
"Thunder Road" from Born to Run by Springsteen - I'm with Nick Hornby here in thinking I've heard this song more than any other I can name. One of the all-time great rock songs. "The screen door slams, Mary's dress waves, Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays, Roy Orbison singing for the lonely, Hey, that's me and I want you only..." Fantastic stuff. I was 21 when I first heard this. Actually, the best age to hear music that stays with you for the rest of your life is probably 16. The age when you know all the words to all the songs.
"Hard on Me" from Mock Tudor by Richard Thompson. Not his greatest album but hell, even a medium-level Thompson album is better than just about anything else going around. Thompson stated in an interview once that this song was about the troubled relationship he had with his father; I always heard it as the next-to-last cry of a failing love affair.
"The Power and the Passion" from 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 by Midnight Oil. This album helped me get through one failed relationship - played really, really loud. One of the great live bands. The title of the track might just as well have been their live performance motto.
"Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner" from Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon. I was a slow starter on the music scene, so my 22 was probably everyone else's 16 (see above). I discovered Zevon around the same time as I found Springsteen, Tom Petty and Jackson Browne. I'll admit to being more than a tad West Coast fixated at the time. That's okay. All four of these guys made it out the other side and, with the exception of Zevon now, are still putting out good stuff.
"Losing my Religion" from Out of Time by R.E.M. During the early to mid-nineties I was probably as interested in R.E.M. as anyone else. I had to choose one song and this is one that got me interested. "...that was just a dream..."
So that's five, but what about Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Jackson Browne, Tom Petty, Cold Chisel, Steely Dan, Crowded House/Neil Finn, Neil Young, and John Martyn? Just no room for them all.
There doesn't seem to have been a lot happening in the Australian literary world this past week. Hence the small number of postings on the blog.
Next week the NSW Premier's Literary Awards are announced so we might have a bit more to discuss then.
A few times on this weblog I have mentioned my interest in C.J. Dennis, though I probably haven't gone into any major detail about "why" I have that interest or "what" that interest entails. The "why" can wait for another day, but I've made a bit of headway with Dennis lately so a bit of the "what" follows.
C.J. Dennis spent the later part of his life working as a resident columnist for Melbourne's Herald newspaper, between the years 1922 and 1938. During this period he basically averaged four or five pieces of work published in the paper per week. These were mainly poems but also included short stories, "colour" pieces and polemics. The vast bulk of this work has never been reprinted and it's been an aim of mine to transcribe the work and make it available once more. And today I finished one full year of Dennis's Herald work. In 1934 he published 223 pieces in the paper, 98 of which were prose pieces, along with 125 poems. It's a large body of work, and it has now all been transcribed. It's only taken bits and pieces of my spare time for the past three years or so, and at this rate I might just get it all typed up by the time I hit 105. If nothing else it keeps me off the streets.
Sam, at "Golden Rule Jones", passed this on to me over a week ago so I'd best pull my finger out and get to it. And all I did was send him a photo of a Douglas Mawson statue in Adelaide.
You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451. Which book do you want to be saved?
The Complete Works of Shakespeare. It's a cliché, I know, but he's really got it all- passion, suspense, blood, guts, death, familial intrigue and murder, and more than a dash of humour. So there isn't a lot of choice. The world would be a poorer place without it. I don't have to memorise it do I?
Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?
Given I am married to a lawyer my first thought was to "plead the fifth", but what the hell ... Sarah Woodruff from Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman. I was going through a Pre-Raphaelite stage when I first read it.
The last book you bought was...?
Hardcover: 44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith, as a gift for my wife.
Softcover: White Earth by Andrew McGahan, shortlisted for the 2005 Miles Franklin award.
Used: How M'Dougall Topped the Score by Thomas E. Spencer, only to find out I already owned a copy. Looks like Dad will have something in his birthday box this year.
The last book you read was...?
Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman.
What are you currently reading?
Collapse by Jared Diamond, and struggling to get through it.
Wild Surmise by Dorothy Porter.
Taming the Beast by Emily Maguire, recommended by Sarah Weinman.
The Best Australian Essays 2004 edited by Robert Dessaix.
Five books you would take to a desert island...
Well, it has to be something I can keep dipping into. Something that will continue to to provide enjoyment over the years:
Illywhacker by Peter Carey, my favourite of Carey's works.
The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke by C.J. Dennis, my favourite book by my major literary obession.
The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles, I re-read it every few years and get more out of it every time.
Poor Fellow My Country by Xavier Herbert, I may well need the isolation of a desert island to get through what is considered by many to be The Great Australian Novel.
The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, see above.
Posts will be a little scarce over the next few days, until Monday at least, as I am heading off interstate - as foreshadowed last week.
If I can get some web access over the weekend I'll post a new poem and there might be a bit here and there, just don't count on it.
Stay well, and read more books.
I really don't have anything to write about today so you'll just have to put up with me. Sorry about that. I didn't get to the Watson/Burnside discussion last week, I got caught up at work and couldn't get out in time. Pity. I was looking forward to it.
I think I've just cracked up 100 entries in this weblog since the end of last year so it's probably a good time to think about what's coming up, other than the usual that is. I've started an email interview with a Melbourne-based author, who's also a friend, and that seems to be progressing well. I'd expect the first part of that to be posted in a week or so. Hopefully, this will be the start of a semi-regular feature here at Matilda.
I thought I might also have started a series on local bookshops but haven't seemed to find the time or material just yet. It will be something I aim for in the next few months. Other than this weblog I really have to get my act together and fix the Miles Franklin Award and Australian/Vogel Award pages which are in dire need of a complete makeover. Then there's the Edward Dyson pages which need completing, the new page on the Booker Prize pages for Shortlist Possibles for this year, and, most importantly, I need to fix the ile transfer facility which allows me to load images from my home PC to the relevant file directories on my ISP's server. That's the reason why bookcovers haven't been appearing with the regularity they should. This should be up and running in the next few days. It seems that a recent Windows Operating Systems update may have corrupted the connections, allegedly.
Coming up, I'll be taking a weekend off in ten days or so as I travel back to Adelaide to catch up with my father and step-mother, and drop into the South Australian State Library to continue my C.J. Dennis research. I'm now down to the slog part where I have to eyeball individual issues of an Adelaide evening newspaper from the 1890s. Let me tell you, it's not the most fun in the universe. If I could figure out another method of getting the data I would. Just can't at present. Anyway, thanks for reading: it's been fun so far.