Tuesday, January 31, 2006

More More Fake Reviews

“Zadie Smith writes like a woman who, having accidentally ingested a dictionary, takes five doses of Metamucil, crouches down and peers between her legs, and snatches out half-digested scraps of paper totally at random.”

“Cory Doctorow, having deen denied sexual interference by creepy relatives as a young boy, nevertheless has escapist regressions into a wonderful fairy-tale universe where the grizzled male members that were never slapped roughly against his cheek in the woodshed are turned into smiling marshmallow turtles who playfully squirt water in his face.”

“Reading Germaine Greer is like peering up your senile grandmother's dress at Christmas dinner and finding that she isn't wearing any knickers, and then she winks at you and you start to wonder if she's really senile after all.”

“Enjoying David Foster Wallace is like having an orgasm in a nightmare. You know you should probably call somebody but you're not sure how to explain yourself.”

“Irvine Welsh is like being a kid in school and telling the other kids that your dad's in the army, and getting bashed up anyway.”

An Exercise in Comparative Literature



For decades, the debate has been raging amongst literary scholars: "Which is better? James Joyce, or a train timetable?"

On the one hand, there are the scholars who argue that we live in an everchanging, metatextual world, and that we should be prepared to let in all types of literature to the canon. On the other hand, there are the classical scholars who think we should just stick with the train timetable.

So what's so good about James Joyce, anyway? Can it do something useful, like tell us when and where to catch a train?

In this essay, I propose to help settle this crucial philosophical debate once and for all by performing a comparative study.

ULYSSES vs THE BROADMEADOWS AND UPFIELD TRAIN TIMETABLE
A Study In Literary Quality

***

Let us consider the table. I have listed a number of criteria by which we may judge our two texts:



CriteriaTrain TimetableUlysses
What does it do?Helps you get from A to BHelps get you from A to L by way of Z, and making a slight detour through G and U before considering the Freudian and Jungian qualities of the letter S
What does it describe?Trains departing from and arriving at various train stationsA day in the life of various Dubliners.
Best Line"Challenges lie ahead, but we believe we have the experience, knowledge and vision to consolidate the network.""Thou has done a doughty deed! Thou art the remarkablest progenitor barring none in this chaffering allincluding farraginous chronicle. Astounding!"
Worst Line"Challenges lie ahead, but we believe we have the experience, knowledge and vision to consolidate the network.""Poor Dignam!"
Difficulty levelEasy to read, and you don't have to read all of it to get the general idea. It is a bit boring.Diufficult to read, and once you get through it all, you realise you have no idea what the fuck it was all about. It is a bit boring, even if you do read it.

Clearly, our two texts are very closely matched.

***

Let us next consider some of the pros and cons of each text ...

TimetableUlysses
Pro: Can tell you when trains arrive

Con: Trains are often late.

Pro: The letters and numbers are printed in a variety of pretty colours and shapes, making for a pleasing aesthetic experience.

Con: The literary quality is execrable.

Pro: Can be used as a bookmark, thus making it even more useful.

Con: Can be used as a bookmark in Ulysses.

Pro: Can tell you everything you need to know about the 8.27pm train from Kensington.

Con: You don't want to know. No, really, you don't.
Pro: Can't tell you when the trains arrive, but they'll be late anyway.

Con: A late train is better than no train at all.

Pro: Learned literary scholars tell us that it is quite well written.

Con: But alas, it is nothing without the pretty colours. :(

Con: Huge book. Can not be used as a bookmark, ever.

Pro: Can not be used as a bookmark in another copy of Ulysses.

Con: Cannot tell you all about the 8.27pm train from Kensington.

Pro: What if you want to catch that train?


***

In this final section, I will consider the opinions of various literary scholars, and attempt to draw a conclusion.

According to Fotheroy, Joyce was a "luminous beacon of twentieth century literature, an inspiration to all humanity. In these troubled times, we should all read some more James Joyce." But in the considered opinion of Jervinski, Fotheroy was a dirty old man who liked to invite young men to his office and fondle their lily-white bottoms. Arthurs-Ramfellough is on record as saying, "I do like to sit down with a nice cup of tea and a copy of the latest train timetable." On the other hand, we must give equal weight to the arguments of Jeeves, Blubinski, and Wuggles, who have stated that Ramfellough enjoyed writhing around naked in a bathtub of hot spam, singing all of Elton John's lesser-known hits.

In Conclusion:
I think I need a drink. Thank you for your time.

Tim Train

In next week's Exercise in Comparitive Literature, Tim asks the question: "Is it appropriate to read the Bible naked? If so, in what circumstances?"




Cross posted on Will Type For Food.

Sub Mission

Fabien Cousteau, grandson of ocean explorer Jacques, is tracking sharks using a submarine based on Professor Calculus's Shark Submarine in the 1944 Tintin book Red Rackham's Treasure.


Later in the year, Cousteau intends to swim with the sharks, fortified by a magic potion brewed by his personal druid, Getafix.

To the Manner Born

NSW judge Jim Spigelman reckons Australian society is too rude. His "scathing attack" checks all the boxes of your classic geriatric whinge: popular culture, parents, mobile phones. Speaking of mobile phones, check out the picture ninemsn has used to illustrate the judge's argument:

Wow, she looks really rude. Either that or she's about to throw up.

Clearly Spigelman has been reading too much Lynne Truss. (Indeed, reading any Lynne Truss is arguably too much.) Spigelman's thesis is the same as Truss's (decline of politeness leads to decline in morals leads to the end of civilisation as we know it!) and he offers the same supporting evidence: none. It's simply a matter of waving a hand at the ills of "society" and complaining about how much better everything used to be.

But were things better in the past, and if so when, where and how was it so? I don't know, and I'll bet the likes of Spigelman and Truss don't either. Is politeness a relative or constant value? It's sometimes hard to know whether the pro-politeness brigade is calling for common courtesy, or a return to lower class servility. Having worked in retail for over a decade, I agree that politeness is to be preferred, but I can't help but feel that the likes of Spigelman and Truss are simply peddling a combination of prejudice and nostalgia in order to get their names in print.

Anyway, this post has been pretty meaningless. I don't actually care about manners or "society", I just wanted to post that picture. It looks like she's struggling to expel an enormous turd. And in a public place, too. Now that is rude!

Monday, January 30, 2006

More Fake Reviews

"Peter Carey writes in a manner that, were his books children, you would beat them mercilessly, for you can tell just by looking at their little faces that they've shat on something important and hope you never find out."

"Reading China Mieville is much akin to being brutally gang-raped at knifepoint, yet being so detached from the experience that you still feel a nagging sensation that somewhere, at some point in your life, you've left the oven on."

"Being caught reading Houellebecq is like getting drunk, being forcibly given a coffee enema, and then filmed as you walk stark naked through Bourke Street Mall, stopping only long enough to vomit onto your feet: you wish none of it had ever happened, but now that it has, you can at least experience some satisfaction in knowing that a Japanese businessman will later be masturbating to the shaky, pixelated video footage."

An Old Codger Speaks...

Contrary to the author of this piece, I would love to watch Sepultura perform their entire back catalogue a capella, especially the first three songs from Chaos A.D., which would sound great with a few barber-shop harmonies. In every other respect, however, I am in complete agreement. The Big Day Out is indeed a load of cobblers, and I'm glad that I once again managed not to talk myself into going.

In my day (it was a Tuesday), I went to my share of festivals. Well, three of them. I have only been to one BDO, and it was so shit I can't even remember who was playing, or even which year it was, although it might have been 1997. (Yes, I am that old.) I spent the whole day in front of the Triple R stage, starving and thirsty after smoking a rather sorry excuse for a joint upon arrival, watching bands I could have seen any time at the Corner Hotel or the Espy for about ten bucks a throw. I ventured over to the main stages a couple of times, but was so freaked out by the pulsating mass of sweaty teenagers and drunken wankers, not to mention the crap sound quality, that I quickly retreated to the laid-back banality of the minor stages. I left early, missing the headlining act. I think it was Soundgarden. Remember them?

Since then, every year I say to myself - yeah, BDO, I should go to that, I like music and drinking and sunshine and stuff. And every year I end up giving it a miss because in the nick of time I remember how crap it was when I actually went, and how crap subsequent years have apparently been according to the the reports of friends and various other people who don't know me but whose phones I have tapped. The BDO is hot, smelly, and full of tossers, young and old. The sound quality is terrible, and many bands don't play full sets. Then there's the problem of schedule clashes. But leaving all that aside, the BDO sucks because although it may have once been a humble rock festival, bringing big-name bands together for the convenience of the masses, it is now just another element of the "alternative culture" machine that has pretty much ruined music in this country. It's basically the Triple J live show, and frankly Triple J these days has nothing to contribute that is not as safe and unthreatening as a Seeker's best-of. Check out the top ten of this year's Hottest 100 - you'll find more attitude and innovation on an episode of Video Hits. Or Australian Idol.

Kids these days (and don't all the best sentences begin with those words?) seem as happy/morose/ugly as kids in my day, indeed probably kids in any day. I don't blame them for the BDO or Triple J or Ben Lee, because teenagers are natural, not to mention willing, victims of herd-thinking and marketing. It just seems that all popular music these days, not just actual pop music, has largely been tamed and brought into the fold of the marketing men and the promoters. Why bother sticking your middle finger up when the only way to get anywhere is by going with the flow? There are plenty of interesting, even great, bands around, but music in general kind of sucks right now. But then, maybe it always has.

(I know: this has absolutely nothing to do with books. Sorry.)

Thus Quoth The Maven

Quotations on book covers tend to be stale strings of adjectives: "powerful", or "thrilling", or my favourite, "unputdownable". Sometimes, however, a reviewer will go that extra yard and come up with a sentence that puts the other quotations to shame. Ladies and gentlemen, from the fly leaf of the paperback edition of Tim Willock's Bad City Blues, I give you the following recommendation:
"Willocks writes like the Archangel Gabriel using a pen that's been dipped in the devil's semen." - Loaded
Brilliant. I not only want to read the book, but I'd like to see all reviewers adopt this mode.
"John Banville writes like a savage who, having learned a rudimentary alphabet from tinned spaghetti labels, runs a missionary through with his spear and uses the blood to scrawl his darkest imaginings on the body of a fallen zebra." - Lord Melvyn Bragg, The Times
Or:
"Tim Winton writes with such extraordinary flair and passion that he simply must be one of the undead, risen from the grave, pen dripping with gore, desperate to show us how to understand ourselves, or at least how to cook a decent brain stew." - Peter Craven, The Age

Bin Laden Recommends

In his latest recorded address to the infidel, Osama Bin Laden told Americans about a book they should read. Result? Rogue State by William Blum got to #32 in Amazon’s ‘Top Sellers’ list and, as expected, whackos from both ends of the much-vaunted “political spectrum” came out to leave their reviews. For example the one by Alan Rockman:

So Neo-Fats, do go out in droves and buy it. After all, you do hate America so - even those of you who live here and have the freedoms you'd never have under Binnie.

William Blum is a coward who has written a work of sheer propaganda, endorsed by who else? The Holocaust denier and self-loather Noam Chomsky
.”

This reviewer’s problem is that he believes people who live in America should also love it. This sort of mindset (“Ask not what your country can do for you…” etc.) is precisely what allows fascist-lite governments like the Bush Administration to flourish: the good of the country above the good of the people (translation: the good of the thousand or so people in government above the good of those tens of millions of people who elected the government). Imagine buying a bullet-proof vest only to be told that you shouldn’t wear it or it might get damaged.

As for the second part, a little research seems to erase the assertion that the book is “propaganda”. Instead, it appears to be exhaustively referenced, attributed and footnoted, and those with a little self-acquired history will be familiar with many of the reported scenarios. I haven’t read it, of course, so am only going on the measured perspectives of others.

Finally, the argument that Chomsky is a “Holocaust denier” was long ago refuted. The so-called “Faurisson affair” came about when Chomsky was approached by Serge Thion, an alleged “French scholar”, to sign a petition defending Faurisson’s right to freedom of speech/freedom of expression. Chomsky then penned an essay, which he says was “banal”, called ‘Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression’, gave it to Thion, and told him he could do whatever he wanted with it. Thion used it as an introduction – in fact, he called it a “warning” – to French academic Robert Faurisson’s book Memoire En Defense. Academic circles being what they are (ie. cesspools of hysteria), the whole thing blew up from there, and Chomsky’s defense of freedom of speech became “Holocaust denial”.

As for Rogue State itself? As I say, I’ve not read it, but frankly I’m sufficiently intrigued to want to go out and pick it up later today. I have no real problem with America – all my favourite TV shows are from there, after all – but what I do have a problem with are rabid hegemonies, which is what America has become. And if Bin Laden’s hatred of the west in general and America in particular has been formed in part by the work of one American researcher, is it not then prudent for all right-minded democratic individuals to a least examine the source material and evolve hypothesis of their own?

Story from here.

Crossposted here.

Booze On Books



















The book bar.

(Via somebody, I forget who.)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Muscat Etiquette





Is it kosher to slug fine muscat right from the bottle?
Of course
Never!




Free polls from Pollhost.com

Bordering on the Ridiculous

Readings or Borders?






Readings or Borders?
Readings
Borders




Free polls from Pollhost.com


In your answers, please consider the relative hotness of the staff, the customers at each of the stores, as well as the range and quality of their stock.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Late Night Linkage

From the latest edition of Arts & Letters Daily, a link to a New York Sun piece on Clive James’ website, which may be found here. I’m always happy to make time in my day for Clive James, and it’s important that you do too. It’s better than you deserve.

Drama!

The always amusing Jay Pinkerton has a good report on this year’s most pointless literary controversy, that involving James Frey and his Million Little Pieces. As I recall, people were screaming “bullshit!” at this guy like two years ago, and it’s still not quite up there with Ern Malley or Shakespeare (it was Francis Bacon!), but whatever. Read the thing.

Books & Booze

Australian authors? I haven’t the time for them. Sure, I like Morris Lurie’s punchy, addictive short stories as much as anybody has a right to, and consider his ‘Africa Wall’ one of the very best of the medium I have ever had the good fortune to read, but his novels drag ideas out much longer than they deserve to be dragged, and his fondness for repetition starts to grate over any more than a dozen or so pages (Seven Books For Grossman, while marketed as a novel, is really just a collection of short stories, thematically linked, and is still excellent because of this. Oh, and Welcome To Tangier is pretty good also).


So who are we left with, then? These days it’s kind of a toss-up between Peter Carey, Tim Winton and Frank Moorhouse. All three are good enough writers, but authors? I think not. They have no concept of story, and succeed merely by virtue of being incessantly thrust between the eyes and ears of the Australian reading public. Which is fair enough, I guess, as they’re the closest we’re ever going to get to a holy trinity of superstar local authors. They always seem to be on the bestseller charts, but with the exception of that Ned Kelly book, I never saw anybody buying ‘em.


Bryce Courtenay? Bryce Courtenay is like Stephen King’s goody two-shoes twin brother. Anybody who can churn out a massive housebrick of a novel every six months is doing something wrong, as The Blue News was wont to amusingly point out every other issue. Stephen King’s problem was that he ran out of ideas. Courtenay’s problem is that he’s boring.


I’m sure there are plenty of others, but as far as I’m concerned, once we’ve swept that lot out of the way, we’re left with only two possibilities: John Birmingham, and Andrew McGahan.


John Birmingham has gone the way of Matthew Reilly, with his wank-schlock Axis Of Time novels (the first novel, Weapons Of Choice, named, I’ll wager, after the Fatboy Slim song, because Christopher Walken was flying and Birmingham was stoned), wherein modern military forces are magically transported back in time to World War II, and become involved in various lightweight existential dramas. I flicked through the more recent one at Border’s the other day, and it was like an Iron Maiden song come horribly to life and then surgically removed from its awesome. Besides, anybody who has even the slightest bit of time travel science, picked up from Terminator movies, knows that you can’t transport anything that isn’t organic.


It’s kind of a shame, because the ubiquitous He Died With A Felafel In His Hand was a pretty fun yarn, and even The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, which was the same book, was enjoyable enough.


Finally, we come to Andrew McGahan. I had seen the movie Praise years and years ago, and then came across the novel at a Salvation Army store in my hometown of Townsville. I grabbed it because it was like three dollars and read a lot like Charles Bukowski, and I liked the idea of a dude from Queensland getting his book published, because nothing like that had ever happened before. I read it and enjoyed it thoroughly, and still do, but could never bring myself to pick up 1988, which was written after but acted as a prequel to Praise.


Until, as it happens, I hooked up with a mate who was buddies with McGahan, and we were in St. Kilda at some ridiculous street festival, and it was hot and I was extremely drunk, and McGahan materialised and was introduced to me only as “Andrew”. I was like “Yeah, cool” and lit a cigarette or whatever, until my friend told me that I should read this Andrew’s Last Drinks, and it clicked in my mind. My transformation from nonchalant drunk to gibbering dickhead was almost miraculous in its velocity. I was like: “Oh, that Andrew…I’d better shake your hand again!” and I did and told him how much I dug Praise and then, I am told, stood there smiling creepily at him for about five minutes, swaying gently from side to side. Happily he was drunk too and didn’t notice, and we went our separate ways.


But the seed of an idea had been planted in my mind, and, as I was soon to be away to the Gold Coast for my wedding and subsequent honeymoon, I figured I would need some reading material, so the next day I went out and picked up 1988 and Last Drinks. I read both sitting by the pool as my lovely wife and I honeymooned at the Palazzo Versace – my first, last, and only foray into pointless extravagance – and was enthralled. 1988 was far more excellent than it had any right to be, superior to Praise in every respect, and it made me very thirsty: I was ordering up $8 plastic pints of VB like nobody’s business. I read 1988 the first day and started up on Last Drinks the next day.


Let me tell you now, that if you, in your lifetime, read only one book by Andrew McGahan, make it Last Drinks. What a sublime and brilliant effort, one of those rare books that, almost literally, you simply cannot put down. It flows like a fascinating conversation and, as an added bonus, is probably the best representation of Bjelkie-era Queensland that will ever be committed to paper. It is, plainly, a history lesson wrapped up in a mystery wrapped up in a timeless tale of a man’s struggle with the demons of drink. Sure, I might make it sound rubbish, because I’m not a book reviewer, thank Christ, but please, I implore you: read it.


But what to do after Last Drinks? McGahan’s next novel, naturally: The White Earth. Winner of numerous awards and recipient of numerous accolades. I grabbed it and got thirty pages in, before setting it aside in something bordering on disgust, sort of straddling the line between disgust and profound disappointment. I tried it twice more subsequently and just couldn’t understand it. Legend has it that McGahan, who can consume a whole slab of Melbourne Bitter at a single barbeque and still walk in a straight line, had cut down significantly on his drinking during his time on The White Earth and, while in some ways that is indeed a noble and, whatsmore, incredibly difficult enterprise, his writing has suffered for it. The White Earth is like a thick molasses of nothingness, a story of a child on a farm and all that that involves, and if it helped the author exorcise some things, then good, fantastic, but, for me, McGahan’s writing is like a rambling yet entirely coherent tale told over jug after jug in a cool, smoky pub.


Beer makes the perfect accompaniment to Praise, 1988 or Last Drinks, but The White Earth is like meeting a good drinking buddy for a dry work lunch. His essence is still there, but his spirit is not. I can only hope that McGahan cracks a few before starting in on his next opus, because there’s something pornographic about reading the back of a bottle of bourbon without sampling what’s inside.


Update: Speaking of Stephen King, didn't he announce his retirement from writing a few years ago? Apparently he lied.

Attack of the Tims

Hi. I'm Tim T, not to be confused with Tim S, the proprietor of this blog, or fellow poster James P. Wall.* James, meet Tim. Tim, meet James. Tim, meet Tim. Tim, meet Tim. Tim, meet James. James, meet Tim. All clear? Excellent.

Tim has just sent me an invite to join this little corner of blogdom, but not before I pre-emptively accepted his invitation in this post.

So, now that I'm here - what are we going to talk about? This site is about books, right?

*Pretty confusing name if you ask me. Personally, I think he should change it to something simpler - I'm thinking a word that starts with T and ends with M.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Sci-Fi Waffle

For my inaugural post, I shall hereby furnish you, dear readers, with some links recently discovered, as many links are, via a tangled journey of clicking and scrolling. My literary proclivities are, during certain seasons, far more geeky than is probably healthy, and this being the case, I was in Border’s yesterday at the Jam Factory (prior to a cinema screening of Munich, which I heartily recommend unless you have a bladder less voluminous than my own), staggering about uselessly in an attempt to orient myself, as they have recently changed the store’s layout, and I perused the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section, picking up a copy of The Tank Lords by David Drake, but not before noticing a new Battlestar Galactica book by one Jeffrey A. Carver.

Carver’s book is a novelization of the story of the premiere mini-series of the “reimagined” Galactica, which is superior in all respects to any other spaceship show that has ever been on television. I had a look on Amazon to see what people had to say about this novelization, although I had already decided not to buy it, and was of course amused to find the author himself giving his effort five stars, and then linking to his blog. Naturally I went to the blog and didn’t read any of it except for something about his pet beagle and this post, wherein the author directs us to the Book A Minute SF/F website.

Unscrupulous readers will find this latter link a very useful resource for getting the gist of such unwieldy speculative works as Robert Jordan’s execrable Wheel of Time series, presently at just over 13,000 pages and still going, this being longer than the collected works of Proust or, indeed, the entire history of our very planet. Many of the précis are quite amusing and it’s a good waste of a few hours. For those a little more high-minded, there are also Book-a-Minutes of many classics, which have hardly any laser fights in them, and also “bedtime stories”, which aren’t very arousing at all.

If you’re looking for some decent sci-fi or fantasy, incidentally, Inchoatus is a good resource.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Time being in short supply, I have decided to call it quits. Thanks to the three people who turned up regularly to read my obnoxious drivel. May the literary gods smile upon you always.

Monday, January 23, 2006

I'm very disappointed with Tom McCarthy's Remainder. After all the hype - underground hype, mind you, which is obviously to be preferred - I was all geared up to be let down by this supposed shining beacon of literary light. But what happens? The damn thing turns out to be bloody excellent! How can I be expected to run a cynical, snooty litblog when books like this actually live up to their criticial reputations? It's simply not fair, and I have a good mind to return the book to the publisher and ask them to replace it with something tedious and inadequate.

Seriously, though (he says with a cough and a straightening of his tie - yes, I wear a tie while blogging, what of it?) - seriously, though, I'm about halfway through Remainder and I am enjoying it immensely. If you would like to know more, I recommend these two reviews. I may knock out a review of my own when I'm done, or I may not. In any event, if you are interested in some stimulating modern fiction, why not order a copy of Remainder from Metronome Press? It'll cost you about AU$22, including air-freight - less than the price of a new book down at your local corporate bookstore. Plus you get to feel pretty cool when the parcel lobs in with its Paris postmark.

I realise this blog is turning into an Ellis Sharp referral service, but his latest post is too good not to link.

Some interesting facts about everybody's favourite late-medieval Frenchman, Michel de Montaigne. And no, he never had sex with his wife while being interviewed by the popular press.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Murray Bail's notebooks are now available for you, ordinary human, to read. Cost: $34.95. You can, however, enjoy these excerpts from my notebooks for nothing:

Men have a moral obligation not to wear shorts.

*

Hymn/Him: A Poem

Jesus loves me, yes it's true
And if you sin I'll tell on you
And He will come and smite you through
'Cause nobody likes a sinner, be-atch!

*

Idea for novel:

Minor Italian aristocrat (c. 1875), suffers injury to the skull that, while leaving his existing memories intact, prevents him from retaining any new memories for longer than twenty-four hours. His family are embarrassed by his incapacities, and keep him locked in his villa, where he begins writing what is intended to be a somewhat Gothic tale of revenge. He writes from sunrise to sunset, handing over his work to his private nurse, who is also his lover. She takes his writing home with her, there to keep it safe from the aristocrat's family. The problem is that as he goes about his day's work, the aristocrat's mind is busy forgetting what he has written the previous day, and what he has written the day before that is long gone. So each day's writing had only the most tenuous connection with what had come before. Can't think of anything more. Accentuate the "Proustian" and the "Borgesian".

*

Idea for novel:

Divorced P.I. solves crimes. Obligatory personality quirk: he eats peanut butter from the jar with a dessert spoon.

*

Why are there bugs on me? Why? Get them off!

*

Portrait of a lady:

She was honey blonde (just above strawberry blonde on the Monroe-Birkin Scale), about five feet tall, with legs that went all the way to her high heel shoes, where I assume her feet began. The usual mammalian protuberances were present, as was a backside that reminded me of some kind of stone fruit, most likely a peach. Her face was beautiful, but aside from that I do not know how to describe it. "Angular"? "Cherubic"? "Sensual"? Pick an adjective, any adjective, and wrap it around the adolescent fantasy of your choice.

*

Why don't they sell the brand of hemmerrhoid pillow I like anymore?

*

Baking Maybes

Making babies is fun
Making babies is fun
You can do it at home
With your loved one

Making babies is great
But never on a first date
It's done by everyone
(Even your mum!)

Fairfax's Good Weekend magazine features a profile of Michel Houellebecq that covers much the same ground as all the other slightly puzzled profiles of Michel Houellebecq that have appeared in the past couple of years. I did learn, however, that Houellebecq and his wife once had sex during an interview. And it wasn't a phone interview.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Advice from an "inspirational romance author":
If you are an author asking whether you should set up a website or start a blog, I am going to tell you no. Don't do it unless you want to, because this stuff takes a great deal of time and emotional energy.
I know what she means. I weep every time I post to this blog.

Oh, by the way, I saw Narnia last weekend. It's shit.

The Decemberist's Colin Meloy is a fan of George MacDonald Fraser. Look out for his stirring-yet-literate indie pop version of Flashman at the Charge.

(via Bookslut)

When Ellis Sharp is good, he is very, very good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Scarecrow 39 is up, and features a picture of Tom McCarthy whose novel, Remainder, I am just about to read. Other than that, there is bugger all going on worth blogging about. James Frey? Fuck off! I'd rather sit here and contemplate the enormous pile of books I have culled from my shelves. Anybody want about eighty assorted paperbacks, various subjects, mostly modern lit? Hmm, thought not.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

These excerpts from submissions to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine will hurt your brain with their badness. For example:
"Ejaculations aside, that's one hell of a package to swallow!"
Indeed. No context is given, but whatever it is cannot possibly make that sentence read any better. Same goes for:
They were human in every way but they owned the necks, heads, facial expressions were that of a chicken.
My favourite is the almost Joycean (as in my Great Aunt "Crazy" Joyce, not James) prose poetry of:
The afternoon was very calm but consolidated. The birds were singing but were not blithesome.

Now that certain people I've never heard of have been exposed as frauds, it is time for me to roll out the skeletons I have been hoarding all these years. Sure, careers will suffer, even end, and there may be suicides, but the truth will out! All the gory details will appear in my forthcoming tell-all book, but for now here are some brief, shocking, revelations:
  • Dame Edna Everage is really...a man!
  • Ali G is really...a comedian named Sacha Baron Cohen!
  • k.d. lang is really...a woman!
  • Helen Demidenko is really...Bryce Courtney!
  • Gene Simmons is really...fairly lukewarm about women.

Brown University's library features an anatomy text book that is bound in human skin.

Those who attended Victorian state schools in the 1980s will be interested to learn that the ubiquitous "Betty and Jim" maths books were not only bound in human skin, but were also written in blood, and stapled together with the teeth of orphaned kittens.

(via Bookslut)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Fantasy and Science Fiction has a bunch of Nebula-nominated stories up for perusal.

(via Shaken & Stirred)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

I don't want anybody's spine to melt with excitement, but the first picture from the upcoming adaptation of The Da Vinci Code has been released. It's basically Tom Hanks and some woman running down the street, but this is The Da Vinci Code after all, and anything to do with it is inherently interesting to the book's inexplicably large fanbase.

Note also the title of the Herald Sun story: "Da Vinci decoded". Fucking brilliant, isn't it? "Decoded". How do they come up with this stuff, like, every day?

Malcolm Knox discusses Second Novel Syndrome, pointing to DBC Pierre as a likely sufferer.
This year, the highest-profile second novel anywhere in the world will be DBC Pierre's Ludmila's Broken English.
"Highest-profile second novel"? DBC Pierre? Really? I guess the world really is fucked, just like the kids in those whiny emo bands keep saying.

Ronan Bennett's new novel, Zugzwang, will appear in weekly installments in the Observer Review. Chapter one is up now. Bennett writes a better-than-decent historical thriller, so this could be an interesting project to follow.

Book buying as an ironic exercise? Today's purchases: Nabokov's Collected Stories and On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored by essayist, critic, and member of the "Viennese delegation" Adam Phillips.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Haven't read enough about Ian McEwan's Saturday? Douglas Kennedy rereads 2005's most-discussed work of fiction and comes away claiming that "it is a first-rate example of serious popular fiction; one of those rare novels that still says more about the way we live now than many an arid dispatch from that dubious summit called High Art."

I read Saturday as part of my trawl through the Booker longlist, and at the time I thought it was a decent read, but nothing spesh. While my contention that it was something "bold and different" can probably be put down to Booker fatigue, there were certainly worse books on the longlist.

Since October, I have skimmed through it again one quiet afternoon at the library, thought about it some more, and concluded that Saturday is, if not a harbinger of the end of Western civilisation, then at least a remarkably over-rated book. Frankly, I'm starting to come around to John Banville's way of thinking:
Saturday is a dismayingly bad book. Are we in the West so shaken in our sense of ourselves and our culture, are we so disablingly terrified in the face of the various fanaticisms which threaten us, that we can allow ourselves to be persuaded and comforted by such a self-satisfied and, in many ways, ridiculous novel as this?”

Novelist Louise Doughty is going to teach newspaper readers how to write a novel. She will be setting "exercises". That sounds like fun.

Friday, January 06, 2006

You may have heard about this contrived piece of nonsense in which journalists mocked up a couple of Booker winning novels as manuscripts and sent them to literary agents and publishers. The agents and publishers duly rejected them, thereby "proving" that the "industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent". While perfectly willing to accept that the publishing industry does suck, I can't help but agree with those who point out that the chosen authors (V.S. Naipaul and Stanley Middleton - whoever he is) hardly lend great credibility to the experiment.
V. S. Naipaul is a boring author and I have never, ever, ever heard a real person speak with excitement about one of his books. I've cracked a couple open myself, and the stuff is instant sleep.
About as spot-on an assessment of Sir Vidia as I've ever read. His brother Shiva, who died aged forty in 1985, was however a very real talent, a kind of Trinidadian Evelyn Waugh whose work is pretty much unknown these days.

Still, the "establishment" response has been predictably, well, snarky. In a counter-counter-attack, The Reading Experience busts a cap in the industry's ass:
Your bad faith is conspicuous. If your allegiance to capitalism supersedes your allegiance to literary values, just admit it.
Fight, fight fight!

James draws attention to some rather interesting Amazon reviews.
Irshad Manji pretends to know that she knows a lot about Islam but I have heard that she is a lesbian. If she knows so much about Islam then she must know that being a lesbian is against Islam. When we believe in a religion, we have to adhere to the principals laid out by that religion. I very much like lesbians too in porno movies but my religion tells me that I should dislike Irshad Manji.

Terrorists, terrorists, terrorists. In the Middle East, in the entire Muslim world, this word would become a plague, a meaningless punctuation mark in all our lives, a full stop erected to finish all discussion of injustice, constructed as a wall by Russians, Americans, Israelis, British, Pakistanis, Saudis, Turks, to shut us up. Who would ever say a word in favour of terrorists? What cause could justify terror? So our enemies are always "terrorists". In the seventeenth century, governments used "heretic" in much the same way, to end all dialogue, to prescribe obedience. Karmal's [Moscow-backed ruler of Afghanistan during Soviet invasion] policy was simple: you are with us or against us. For decades, I have listened to this dangerous equation, uttered by capitalist and communist, presidents and prime ministers, generals and intelligence officers and, of course, newspaper editors.
Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Zzzzzzzz...

Books I never want to see, hear or read about again:
  • The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  • Saturday, Ian McEwan
  • Snow, Orhan Pamuk
  • Daisy-Head Mayzie, Dr Seuss
Books that are all right by me:
  • Lunar Park, Bret Easton Ellis
  • A Man of Mystery & Other Stories, Shiva Naipaul
  • Confessions of an English Opium Eater, Thomas De Quincey
  • The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Martin Amis and Stephen King slug it out on stage.

The article begins: "No writers could be more different than Martin Amis and Stephen King." Ooh, are you scenting a brawl? A clash of aesthetics? You're obviously supposed to, but the conversation turns out to be rather polite and routine. The journalist responsible must have been so disappointed. She did, however, get the chance to use the words "prescient" and "trenchant", which would have been a minor thrill.

Can't wait for the next David Mitchell or DBC Pierre?

Well, I know a lot of people are hanging out for the new David Mitchell, but...DBC who?

50 books in a year? Ha! Stephen King joins me in spitting in your collective face, losers!

Johnny Depp is looking to buy the film rights to James Meek's Booker-longlisted The People's Act of Love. (Or, James Meek's "Siberian classic", as the Scotsman article has it. Can a book be considered a classic only five months after publication?) In a poorly-edited quotation, somebody named Brian Pendreigh reckons:
"There are two main roles one is Samarin, the Russian soldier, I presume that is the role that Johnny Depp would play. The other is Matula which could be played by Russell Crowe or perhaps Christopher Walken. The female character Anna Petrovna would be ideal for Keira Knightley."
I'd probably buy Depp as Samarin, but Crowe and Walken are way too old for Matula. The guy's supposed to be young, dashing and psychotic, not old, withered and psychotic. There is a difference.

(via Bookslut)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Read (or, rather, don't) an extract from Mary, Crown Princess of Denmark, a new book detailing the romance of "our" Mary and that Dutch bloke. My favourite sentence is "It was the Crown Prince's first visit 'Down Under'", which unfortunately doesn't continue with "but it wasn't to be his last, as Mary insisted on vigorous cunnilingus from the outset."

Reading plans are not really my style, nor are short stories, but the idea of reading 365 short stories in 365 days intrigues me for some reason. Think I might give it a shot. (Likelihood of me actually completing this reading plan: zero.)

Crowley and Aziraphale (demon and angel, respectively, and stars of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's Good Omens) offer their New Year's resolutions.

(via bookish)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Read this "review" and tell me:

1) What in the name of fuck is that first paragraph about?

2) Was Michael McGirr paid to write such a shitty, uninformative review, or did he do it pro bono because he has something against Diana Gabaldon?

3) Why would anybody want to read a book with the front cover tag line: "Their love had survived the test of time - but can it survive fate?"

So Stephen King read eighty books in 2005. Big deal - in his prime, he was writing that many books in a year. King's 2005 top ten can be found here. It is nothing you haven't already seen elsewhere.

My 2005 tally was seventy-two books, not including the ones I didn't finish. So not only has King written two more novels than me this year, he has also read eight more books. Also, he has shitloads of money and millions of fans. But then, I don't have to go around looking like this:


I'd call it even, wouldn't you?

Christmas brought the usual familial frustrations, but also some excellent presents, including Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilisation. At 1300 pages in large paperback format, it's not exactly light reading, and I mean that literally: I got 200 pages in and had to put it aside while I underwent physiotherapy on my upper arms. Still, it's worth the effort, being a satisfying read on a number of levels. I was expecting a fairly dry run through recent Middle Eastern history. What Fisk actually delivers is an engaging, unapologetically subjective account of the region's many ups and downs (mostly downs), by a skilled foreign correspondent who writes better than many novelists, let alone reporters. The history and politics are there, but so too is passionate polemic and the occasional spot of boy-own adventure, which is a nice touch. I'll post a review once I'm done with it, most likely some time in July. (It is a big, big book.)

Surely this is the best ever Amazon list title?