Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Internet Is Wasted

And then a baby starts crying so hard that it chokes.”

I was going to crosspost this entire entry here as well, but figured I’d spare you the agony. I don’t know why my writing has been so cranky lately, because psychologically I’m feeling quite cheerful.

Give It A Name

It is a fact of life that some people have silly names, and normally the polite thing to do is not draw attention to it. If somebody's name is, say, Carrington B. Felch, then they are doubtless all too aware of how ridiculous it sounds, and probably the only thing holding them back from suicide is that people are yet to discover that the "B" stands for "Buboe". To make fun of poor Carrington would be cruel and unnecessary. Unless, that is, Carrington is a published author, in which case it is your right to judge his appelation as harshly as you wish.

Authors are in the priveleged position of being able to rechristen themselves at will, whether because they dislike their actual name (e.g. Stephen King's real name is said to be Gulliver Wankstrom III), or because they are already famous for writing under their actual name and wish to fly under the radar with a pseudonymous work. So it makes you wonder what some writers are thinking when they, and indeed their publishers, allow books to go on sale bearing disastrously unappealing or inappropriate names. Note the following examples:

Joan Jonker - According to her website, Joan writes "hilarious and touching stories". She also has a hilarious and touching (well, hilarious, anyway) name. While I have never heard of her, apparently the Swedes are mad for Yoan Yonker.

Rosamunde Pilcher - Half love-interest-in-a-shite-fantasy-novel, half tinned cat food flavour, Ms Pilcher allegedly "delivers heartwarming stories set against the beautiful landscape of rural England".

Dean R. Koontz - Winner of the 2006 Author Surname That Sounds Most Like a Phonetic Profanity in an Irvine Welsh Novel Award (narrowly beating thriller writer Stephen Coonts), Koontz is apparently one of the big names in horror fiction, and something of a reactionary bigot as well. I'm adding him to my fantasy dinner party guest list as we speak.

Karin Slaughter - Not sure if she's related to the old action thriller man Frank G. Slaughter, but in any event Karin has made a (rather off-putting) name for herself writing Patricia Cornwell-esque forensic thrillers. Appropriately enough, her books are renowned for their graphic depictions of, well, slaughter, so I suppose this is one case where the author's name actually reflects their work.

Jonathan Gash - Another well-named crime author, Jonathan could probably have turned his hand to erotica with equal success.

Louise Bagshawe - Not such a bad name, perhaps, but easily misread as "bagshave", a compound that summons at least three unpleasant mental images.

For more unfortunately named authors, see this excellent Amazon list which features such authors as I. Metin Kunt, Leon Homo, and (my favourite) Mu-Chou Poo. Martin Wank is pretty good, too.

Anagram Fun

Intersecting Lines:

Silencing Interest - perhaps a new motto?

Testicles reign inn - ditch the last 'n' and this is also known as "spontaneous feminization".

Nieces renting slit - a Footscray uncle's fondest dream.

Elect tigers in inns - because where else do you elect a tiger? Go on, tell me.

Linens entice gits - an important lesson for those of you with loose morals and Egyptian cotton sheets.

Enticing lesser tin - otherwise known as "fool's tin".

Generic tinsel nits - a common Christmastime pest.

Genetic lint sirens - Ever wondered how you just knew there was some fluff in your bellybutton?

Incense lingers tit - Think you'll be up for another round come morning? Stop your one-night stand from taking a taxi home but lighting up a few sticks of Sunflower Daydream.

Sir Glint Sentience - the android kiddy-fiddler.

Remainders: "erect gents", "Leninist gin".

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Tipoff Time with Intersecting Lines!

Since Tim, TimT and myself are effectively raking ourselves over smouldering literary coals so that you don’t have to, I thought it would be a nice idea if we were to provide intelligence on good book resources in and around the fine city of Melbourne (and, once my wife and I have relocated, Brisbane). I don’t have many friends because frankly they’re too much hassle, but if I did, one thing I’d hate to hear from them is “Oh James, I found this great little bookshop in [insert location here] and picked up [a bunch of awesome books] for only [minuscule amount of currency]…pity it was the last week of their going-out-of-business sale!” Man, that kind of thing would really piss me off.

With this in mind, I (and possibly the others) will, whenever I (we?) am (are!) able, provide you with the delightful results of my (our!) frequent bibliophilic reconnoiters, wherein amazing bargains may be had. And so today, as I limped along Chapel Street in Windsor-Prahran, looking for the 2001: A Space Odyssey soundtrack, I came across one of those mushroom bookshops, usually Angus & Robertson remainder stores, that pop up from time to time in vacated premises, offer a startlingly uninspiring (can something be simultaneously startling and uninspiring?) selection of product, and then vanish before you can take your stuff back for a refund.

But I sensed, today, that this one was a little different. The clue was in the pile of Iron Council’s by China Mieville sitting in the front window, new editions at only five bucks a pop. Now, Mieville is a cock, but he’s a relatively popular, culty sort of author, and I figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to have a poke around. The front of the store was jammed with the usual array of gardening, feng shui, aromatherapy and Donna Hay cooking hardcovers, but, as the ancients used to say, stand on the side of a hill with your mouth open for long enough and eventually a roast duck will fly in, and I had no urgent bowel movements to attend to, so I ventured a little further, sifting through a varied assortment of rubbish in the hopes that I might eventually uncover something that, when the inevitable bowel movement came, I would have to read while attending to it.

I must say, I have never been quite so impressed by a pile of slightly dusty, remaindered books with a full accumulated inch of repricing stickers on them. Within minutes I had secured: City of Saints and Madmen and Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer; What Does a Martian Look Like?: The Science of Extraterrestrial Life by Jack Cohen and Ian Stewart; Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang; and, I am somewhat sheepish to admit, Funnelweb by Richard Ryan. With the exception of the final volume, which was too mindlessly entertaining to pass up, these were all books that I had seriously considered paying full price for on prior occasions, in other establishments, but just never got around to. The princely sum for this selection of delicacies? Twenty bucks.

Naturally there was a great deal of crap to be found as well, mostly a plethora of crime books and cheap-looking biographies of Hitler, plus the ubiquitous housebrick-thick World’s Blankiest Blanks, but whatever, this is some pretty good stuff and you’re certain to find a surprise (naturally, I accept no responsibility if you don’t).

How To Get There: This no-name place was directly across the road from the Prahran Town Hall on Chapel Street, if you’re on the right-hand side of the drag and heading towards Windsor Station, but before you get to the Chapel Street Bazaar. Standard-sized paperbacks are three for ten dollars and everything else seemed to be five bucks. Minimum EFTPOS transaction $15, but there’s an ANZ ATM just across the road. While you’re in the area, there’s a secondhand bookshop further along towards Dandenong Road which is also pretty decent – Syber’s Books.

Public Masturbation

This was originally to be a comment in response to Tim’s previous post, but I got carried away, as is sometimes my habit.

I abhor lists of that nature, and there are certainly many of them. Where do those cunts get off on telling us what they think we should read? Who are they that I should care for their opinions? 1001 books? Unless you wholly commit yourself to the pursuit, I think I'm not going too far by suggesting that that is more reading than can be profitably accomplished in an average lifetime. Three days to read the book from cover to cover, three more days of reflection and rereading (for, if the book is truly so great, then surely it is worth more than a single run?), and a day of rest.


Okay, so, not exactly a lifetime. Only 20 years, in fact. But, unless we rigidly abide by their curriculum, we are still going to be reading other books, for one of the great pleasures and benefits of books is that they inevitably lead you to other books, because a fine book always stirs the imagination and warms the spirit, sets you seeking further adventure and enlightenment. The mark of a truly great reader, in my humble opinion, is not that he has dulled his senses by drawing red lines chronologically through a prepared list of books, studiously absorbing every line, every paragraph until the final page. Rather, it is that he sometimes leaves books half-finished, desirous to move on to others, carried by his fancy, certainly returning to those uncompleted volumes but never so set on a single path that he has no room for the deviations of his imagination. In fact, such a person would seemed to be marked by a singular deficit of intellect, for he feels that it is his duty to complete a course of reading, and anything seen as a duty soon becomes a chore, and anything that is a chore soon grows to become something that is despised and resented. With a tired heart, he picks up Pens�es or The Symposium or even, god forbid, Beowulf, and silently mouths his way through it, the material seeping through his eyes only to be refracted by his mind.


I am not a great reader by any measure, but I am a satisfied one, an enthusiastic one, and dare I say it a confident one. Though I am not so vain as to never reach for a dictionary, and am certainly not ashamed to admit that sometimes I must read a page more than once in order to understand it, I am not troubled by or fearful of any book. Some simply evoke no passion in me, and others cause me to withdraw violently, because I know that they either have nothing to offer, or will serve to actively stupify me. Why pain myself so when there are piles of unread books in my own modest collection, further piles yet to be discovered, or old friends to be revisited?

One Blog Post You Must Read Before You Die

We at Intersecting Lines are not stand-offish elites, pontificating from atop our ivory towers or wherever it is stand-offish elites pontificate from now that you're not allowed to shoot elephants without a permit. No, we like to engage with our readers, to make them a part of the blog, as befits the democratic age in which we live. Enough of our waffle, we like to say: what do you think? Interacting with our audience not only stimulates debate, but provides a really easy way to conclude posts. Don't you think?

Anyway, one of the "buzz" books in the "blogosphere" at the moment is 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It sounds like meretricious crap to me, but it's got me thinking about my 1001 favourite books. I'd list them now if I had time, but sadly I have other things to do with my life than provide proper conclusions to blog posts. So, dear reader, the task once again falls to you. What are your top 1001 "must reads"? Annotated lists in the comments, please.

Sunday Night Cross-Promotion

Read my review of Stephen King's Cell here.
Now, at sentence level, King is not a very good writer. He improves at paragraph level, gets a bit shaky at chapter level, but at part-and/or-other-subdivision level he is not too shabby at all. By which nonsense I mean that for all the sloppiness of his prose (which admittedly is less distractingly energetic than it used to be; somebody has obviously had a word to him about all those ITALIC CAPS), King is very good at keeping you turning the pages. So although the story and characters are straight out of the manual, the dialogue terrible and the constant attempts at humour disastrous, Cell starts out exactly as I had hoped - fast, violent and engaging.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Age Reviews: Bullshit

Glancing back over the undulating seas of time, I can’t think of a single The Age book review that has ever given me the impetus to go out and buy whatever it is they happen to recommend. This being my thesis, I decided to take a little look at what The Age had on offer today, in order to categorically establish whether or not they know what the fuck they are doing..


The Cold War by John Lewis Gaddis


Approximately ninety-two thousand, three hundred and twenty-seven books have been written about the Cold War, and a great many are priced below the $50 that publishers are asking for this effort. The interesting thing about the Cold War is that it was history that never happened: all of it was conjecture and doublethink, but we’ve been jawing about it ever since. Baby boomers too young to have lived through WWII, and too old to have given Vietnam any critical analysis outside of “let’s get those gook bastards!”, like to dredge up the Cold War from time to time to remind all subsequent generations that, really, we’ve got it pretty easy, because we have no idea what it’s like to live in real fear. Perhaps if the Cold War had escalated into anything more than the diplomatic equivalent of two clowns smacking their erect cocks together in a circus tent I might feasibly be interested, but as it stands, the whole thing was rubbish. Rating: D-



Hatchet Jobs by Dale Peck


This book came out in the middle of 2004. I didn’t care about it then, and I don’t care about it now. The authors it allegedly attacks – David Foster Wallace, Philip Roth, Julian Barnes, Jim Crace, Don DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen, James Joyce, etc. – were irrelevant when people were reading them, and are well past irrelevance now, resembling no more than hunks of cheap cheese that have been grated to a point that, should you wish to grate them further, you will be shredding your fingers in the process. The review concludes: “While it would be deliciously satisfying to accuse Peck of being naked himself, his clothes look remarkably well cut, if somewhat showy.” I was writing shit like that in Year 9. Rating: D



The Murrimbidgee Kid by Peter Yeldham


Apparently a “pot-boiler set in NSW during the Great Depression of the 1930s”. I’m sure the Depression was rough, but using it as the cornerstone for your literary excreta is no longer original, and the fawning praise by Bryce Courtenay only seals the deal: three months from now, after nobody has borrowed it from the local library, you’ll find a pristine copy of The Murrimbidgee Kid on the shelf at the Salvation Army reject shop, tucked between a handful of Clive Cussler softbacks and a stack of those editions of Michael Chrichton’s Prey that they were giving away for free with the newspaper a while ago. Rating: D-



Lies I Told About A Girl by Anson Cameron


I’d never heard of Anson Cameron before right now but, judging from his picture, he probably wanted to be a jockey until Jockey School told him he was too tall. His fourth book sounds pretty boring: something about a kid at boarding school in rural Victoria. I know it’s a load of shit because in the review there’s a “rich student who misses urban life and so carries around a jar of Manhattan air that he opens every now and again to revisit civilization”, but the book is set in 1975, when flights between Australia and America had to be booked six years in advance, and only took off every eight weeks at an approximate cost of $78,000, adjusted to present-day dollars. The chances of some kid winding up in a boarding school in the middle of Victoria, and just happening to have a jar of Manhattan air with him, are very slim indeed, and point to one inescapable conclusion: Anson Cameron is a wanker. Rating: D



The Good Life by Jay McInerney


Jay McInerney is like the half-aborted lovechild of Bret Eaton Ellis and Martin Amis, with two important differences: the first is that nobody reads Jay McInerney, and the second is they don’t read him because he sucks. New Yorkers attending parties and coming to grips with the tragedy of September 11, replete with “references to brand names and celebrities” (echoes of DeLillo)? Put me on the “Do Not Call” list, thanks, Bloomsbury. Rating: D



The History Of The Times: The Murdoch Years by Graham Stewart


Possibly this is a fascinating book, as I’ve always had an interest in the biographies of prestigious, globally-renowned newspapers, but at $60, which is nearly two slabs of beer, I guess we’ll never know. Rating: C



Henri Cartier-Bresson by Pierre Assouline


Another $60 stocking-stuffer. Henri Cartier-Bresson is a photojournalist, now dead, who used to take pictures of people like Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri Matisse, William Faulkner, and, uh, Coco Chanel. Great. Props to the reviewer for using the word “belletrist” (“a writer of belles lettres”), however. The teaser to the review reads: “Cartier-Bresson's name is indisputably associated with photojournalism.” In other words, nobody gives a shit about this book and the editor didn’t bother to read my copy. Rating: C-



Collected Poems For Children by Ted Hughes


I’m sorry to keep going on about cover prices, I really am, but I can think of better ways for a child to spend $39.95 than on a book of poetry by Ted Hughes. Pokemon cards and Passion Pop, for example. Rating: C



From Under A Leaky Roof by Phil Sparrow


A book about Afghan refugees in Australia. Sounds halfway decent but I’ll never read it, and I’ll wager that neither will you. Actually, it doesn’t sound so much like a book that somebody would “read”, exactly. Rather, it sounds like a book that somebody would list as a secondary source in their university essay. Rating: B-



There are some other books reviewed on the The Age website but already I’m bored with the whole exercise, and so are you. Ave atque vale!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Borising Around Henley-on-Thames (Or, the Greatest Tory Ever Told)

My flatmate, who also happens to be my landlord, is something of a lefty. We've got into arguments about Whitlam, Howard, and the comparative merits of the Herald Sun and The Age. Plus, his sister once invited me to a Labor Party fundraiser in Brunswick. I figure, though, since I can't do much about it, I can at least try and take advantage of the situation. Next time he asks for the rent, maybe I can assert, 'Hey comrade! Property is theft!' or something. Then again, he's not from the extreme left, and would probably laugh at me. And I'm hardly Josef Stalin myself: he's got me there, the swine.
Still, in the meantime, I've been redistributing some of his wealth - ie, borrowing a book from him. It just so happens to be,


Boris Johnson.

And it's fucking good.

In case you were wondering, here's a quick Borisography. Child of upper-middle-class parents, he gained a scholarship to Eton and became middle-upper-class. Sometime after graduating, he became an apprentice journalist for the right-wing-leaning national paper, The Daily Telegraph, before going on to work for the even-more-right-leaning international magazine, The Spectator. During 1997, he stood as the Tory candidate for the Welsh electorate, Clwyd South (lost), and in 2001, for Henley-on-Thames (won). At the same time, he was also a columnist for The Telegraph, and writer and then editor of The Spectator.
As a politician, he was once labelled as 'The Worst Candidate In The World' by the Sunday Times. Despite this recommendation, he failed to lose a safe Tory seat in the following elections. As an editor, he is said to have had an affair with Petronella Wyatt, one of his columnists.
And as a writer, he is exceptional:

"That's it. The gun is fired. We're off. With a glint in his eye Stuart Reid, deputy editor, seizes the reins at the Spectator. My Telegraph column is prorogued. Chris Scott has drawn up a compendious battle plan, beginning with a walkabout in Henley high street."

The comic deflation in the last part of the last sentence is wonderful. But 'compendious'? Who the fuck uses the word 'compendious' nowadays? 'Big', 'Large', 'Jolly Huge', 'Gigantic', or even 'Comprehensive' all seem to be simpler options.
(Then again, I suspect that Boris sometimes doesn't like to be understood. He once described rumours of an affair between him and Spectator writer Petronella Wyatt as being an 'inverted pyramid of piffle'. Right, Boris. So, did you root or did you root?)

Apparently, the book 'makes no pretensions to being a work of political economy'. Perhaps not, but at one point he writes:

"... if I may be permitted a political side-swipe."

That's just plain weird. If you are trying to become a member of parliament, then aren't political side-swipes are expected of you? Anyway, it's obvious to anyone with the most basic knowledge that The Spectator, which Boris edits, is a Tory magazine. It is written mostly by Tories, published mostly by Tories, and read mostly by Tories and Labour Party hacks looking for something to laugh at. Once Boris meets a voter who tells him -

"... with a glassy stare that he is going to vote Lib Dem, because they are the only ones who are absolutely sure to keep the pound.
No they're not, you say. Yes they are, he says, robotically. Has he, perhaps, been hypnotised?"

I'm no expert in Australian politics, let alone British politics, but I don't think the Liberal Democrats ever endorsed hypnotism as an election strategy. At another point, Johnson confesses to a 'morbid fear' that the Liberal Democrats will beat him in the elections. At various times he says the Labour party are 'liars', and that their leader, Tony Blair, longs for popularity and public approval. He agonises over the polls for his own party: 'Unbelievably awful. The hostility to William is very depressing.' And he seems particularly depressed over his own nasty right-winger reputation:

"I once went on Question Time and said that if gay marriage was OK - and I was uncertain on the issue - then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog. Was that the remark that cheesed them off? Or was it the time when I said that among the factors responsible for the Paddington railway disaster - the fat cats, the Tories, Railtrack, etc. - you could not altogether ignore the role of the driver, who had gone through several red lights and ignored two warning buzzers in his cab? Was that what did it?
What had I done, I whimpered to myself, as I was overtaken on the running circuit by the sprightly grannies of Islington, to earn this obloquy?"

But he is often disarmingly honest. He often comes across arguments that he can't counter; and he admits to the failings of the Tory party - and his own failings - repeatedly. And sometimes, his arguments hit home. He is good on Britain's socialised National Health System - the notorious NHS - showing how it has consistently lower success rates with cancer and heart-attacks than the French and German health systems.
At several points, he offers sharp insights into the political and journalistic professions. He is visited by journalist, Jeremy Paxman, who is at that time writing a book:

"The thesis of the book, as it turns out, is that politics and politicians don't really matter that much these days. Politicians, Paxo will argue in his new book, are not worth a pitcher of warm spit, especially not compared with multinational tycoons and the Olympian journalist figures who nightly mould the mind of the country ... why am I doing it, Jeremy? I tell him: it's 30 per cent a desire to be of public service or use, or however you want to express that with minimal piety. It is 40 per cent sheer egomania; and it is 30 per cent attributable to the belief that the world ought not to be run by swankpot journalists, showing off and kicking politicians around, when they haven't tried to do any better themselves, hmmm, what, hmmmm?"

Towards the last quarter of the book, there is disappointment as the realisation sets in that public opinion is not turning in the Tories favour. One person Boris meets tells him that he is going to be the 'Socrates' of the Conservative Party. 'Needless to say, he is wearing a VOTE LABOUR sticker'.
But as engaging as Boris is, what really makes this book live are the people he meets. The pages overflow with thousands of people: spritely grannies; tired, middle aged mechanics wiping grease from their hands; embittered journalists spitting out insults veiled as questions, questions veiled as insults, or just plain insults; the workers and customers at a Viagra clinic; clannish university students enraged at something (they're never sure what); citizens, constituents, voters. And Boris faithfully records it all.

What other book is there like this, really? Nothing in Australia, certainly: Mark Latham wrote a diary while in politics, but only published afterwards; Lindsay Tanner publishes the occasional column in The Daily Telegraph. I suspect that if an aspiring politician wanted to publish a work similar to this here in Australia, the party would overrule him. Politicians over here are obsessed with things like 'conflict of interest' - maybe because they don't think politics should be conflicted with interest. Or maybe politicians are just interested in conflict. A pity, really. There's something fascinating about this book. Never has the transition from person to politician been made to seem - well, almost natural ...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

James and the Giant Preach

Over at Sterne, Jon reviews Clive James's recent essay collection, The Meaning of Recognition:
There are two Clive Jameses, and no, this isn’t leading into a fat joke. Reading through this latest selection of essays, speeches and general musings one is confronted by two authors: the first a man whose hand I would like to tremblingly shake, a critic of style and wit with a breadth of knowledge and depth of insight that can only instil admiration; the other a complacent, self-centred git at whom one can’t help yelling, “Shut up Clive James. Shut up!”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Quote, Punquote - The Lost Years

"Call me Fishmail."

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Bobbit."

"I am a sick man. I am an angry man. I am an unattractive man. I think there is something wrong with my fiver."

"In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. 'Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,' he told me, 'just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the arm bandages that you've had."

Brought to you by Intersecting Loins.

N.B. A Google image search for "loins" brings up only loins of the meat kind, or loins of the misspelled lions kinds. Hardly any genitals at all.

P.S. Yes I know this post wasn't very good.

Your Voice Sucks

I’m certain I am not the only person ever to have felt this way, but in case I am, I thought I would explain my condition. Sometimes, when I am listening to the beginning of a good rock ‘n’ roll song, or a little bit of Scandinavian death metal, or perhaps even something with synthesizers and a theremin, I think to myself (as opposed to thinking to somebody else, using my awesome powers of telepathy, or thinking out loud, which is known as shooting your mouth off): “Yeah, this is pretty cool. I’m totally into it.” I might even start nodding my head in approval, and, if it’s really good, I fancy myself as having orchestrated it, which leads me into imaginings of playing it before a crowd of the thousands of people who used to pick on me in school, and those who thought me useless, and they are in thrall as I violently manipulate their emotions using chord progressions and maybe some creative tuning.

And then, just at the precipice of sheer enjoyment, some asshole starts in with the singing. Their stupid, whiny, toneless, vacant gibberings completely obliterate my appreciation of the song, no matter how excellent the actual music may remain, and I feel a little part of me die as another fuckwit and his invented problems are introduced to the world via the medium of not being able to sing. I’m thinking this right now as I listen to bootleg MP3s of Tool, just as I think the same thing whenever I am listening to sturdy rock of any description. Pixies. Quite a bit of heavy metal would be great if only it wasn’t ruined by some disabled guy shouting through a throat full of curdled milk. There are probably other, better examples I could think of, but my heart’s not really in it.

Anyway, I hope I’m not alone. What are some songs (or albums, or bands) you think could be vastly improved by the simple excision of the singing?

N.B. I know this isn't technically about literature, but it's all just words, innit?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Peter Craven on Peter Craven

Hi. I'm Peter Craven, intellectual.

You might remember me from such articles as 'Peter Craven on Proust', 'Peter Craven explains what the dickens Dickens is about', 'Peter Craven gives the absolute, ultimate, and definitive explanation of Shakespeare', and 'Some guy you've never heard of who wrote a bunch of book reviews that you'll never read, and Peter Craven.'
But enough about all those other people. This time, I'm here to review a much more interesting subject. Myself.

Now the first thing about Peter Craven (that's me) that you (the reader) are going to have to remember is that I'm really smart. Like, phenomenally smart. I'm so smart that whole cities have to be evacuated when I have a thought, because of the movement of my stupendously large brain-cells. This means that from time to time, I throw in a few big words into my review. It's obvious, really: big words for big thoughts. So here's how my review starts.

"Taken as a whole, Peter Craven's work is truly, astonishingly, omnipotently pure."

See? How do you like that? Not bad for a beginning, is it? I'm not surprised if you're impressed by that. I'm an impressive guy who writes impressive things.
But that's not all there is to me. I'm also an astonishingly funny person. I'm a wit, you see? I'm here to say quirky or funny things about literature, in order to make you look at it in a different way. Which leads me to my next paragraph:

"The ouevre of Craven's genre is exemplary. His progressively avant garde criticism is a cri de couer from the heart of all belles lettres, a 'barbaric yawp' across the ages. And his bon mots are extremely tasty, too."

I hope you notice not only the ingenious way in which I win you (the reader) over to my (Peter Craven, the reviewer) position with my natural charm, but also the professional way in which I display my credentials. The perfectly-honed prose seems to say: "Here I Am, Peter Craven, Intellectual: At Your Service." Or at least it would say that if it didn't say something else (I'm still not sure what that something else is.) Anyway, the point is by now well and truly established. I'm a clever guy.

"The orotund complexities of his prose - the baroque magniloquence of his orotund complexities. The rolling grandeur of his apostrophes - and scintillating brilliance of his strophes: he is never more truly himself than in his obfuscations."

Isn't that a clever paragraph? I thought it was, too. You see the trick? I use big words which make myself sound important. And that's because I am important! See?
But there's another good bit here too. And the good bit is this: although I'm a world-class reviewer, I never actually MENTION the books I review in my articles. Not once! That might seem a bit deceptive of me, but I'll let you into a secret. A good reviewer never DOES mention the books he is reviewing. Oh, it might seem like he does; he says 'this' and 'that' and 'what have you' about the authors. But does he ever actually quote the book? Does he ever actually engage with the writing? Does he ever? Does he, FUCK!
No, the trick is to just make it look like he's engaging with the book. Because reading books is actually pretty boring. It's much more interesting to re-write the book EXACTLY THE WAY YOU (or me, in this case) would write it (if you were writing it in first place (and you shouldn't be (unless you're me (and I am)))).

Actually - I'll let you in on another secret. I'm thinking of writing reviews of all the classics as a way of rewriting the classics. Then I'll get myself published in Penguin books. I've got a whole series all planned out.

Great Expectations (fails to live up to the title)

Romeo and Juliet (Thank God the fuckers killed themselves)

Phallus in Chunderland (The significance of Lewis Carroll to Modern Australian Literature)

The Bible - Where God Went Wrong: Craven explains.

Craven's Epistle to the Philistines

'James Joyce's 'Ulysses'' - by Craven

The New New Testament

Once I've written all these incredibly insightful and complicated reviews, you'll never need to read 'literature' again. And once my reviews become the new 'literature', you'll never want to read it either! Isn't that nice of me?

Anyway, here's the concluding section of my review.

"Yes, truly, Peter Craven is most sagacious."

And it's true, isn't it? Go on. Don't hold back!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Quote, Punquote

"It was the best of tines, it was the worst of tines..."

"Take up the white man's bourbon... "

"Alas, poor Berwick!"

"I have always depended on the kindness of strainers. "

The preceding puns were proudly brought to you by Intersecting Lions.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Elmore Leonard School Of Authoring

For all you wannabe asshole “writers” out there, some lessons from a master:

Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing.

All are perfect common sense (something in short supply in modern literature), but I particularly like Number 8: “Avoid detailed descriptions of characters”. There’s nothing I hate more – except for smashing my balls caught in a car door, which has only happened once and anyway was something I did on purpose to impress a girl – than reading a nice little story and then having to suddenly usurp my own imagination by having some fuckwit author go on for seven paragraphs about how some bird has “golden hair” and “a voice like honey”, and some bloke has “deep blue eyes” and “a square jaw”.


Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Load of B.S.

What makes a man with a perfectly all right name like Bryan Stanley Johnson go and abbreviate it to B.S. Johnson? I suppose I will never know having failed to finish (indeed barely start) Jonathan Coe's biography of B.S. Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant. The answer is probably stuffed away in the back somewhere, but I can't be bothered searching it out. Coe's book is dull, dull, dull, which is a shame given a) how interesting a writer Johnson was, and b) how excellent the title Like a Fiery Elephant is.

Johnson, in case you don't know (oh, how I'm looking down my nose at you!) was British literature's "one-man avant-garde", to use one of Coe's few memorable lines, during the 60s and early 70s. Johnson started out by questioning the basic assumptions of the realist tradition, and ended up undermining just about all of them in a series of innovative novels that utilised every device from a constantly interupting omniscient author to holes cut in the pages so the reader could see ahead. Johnson himself was a fascinating figure: passionate, single-minded, and, well, fiery and elephantine. Good bio material, you might think. So what went wrong?

Coe's problem is that he thinks he is cleverer than his subject. His initial method is to provide a fragment of Johnson's writing (from a published work, or otherwise a letter, note, etc) then do the bio thing, then another fragment, then more bio. It's too much Coe, not enough Johnson. A couple of hundred pages in and I'd had enough. As much as I'd like to know more about Johnson's life and (more importantly) his thought and work, I just couldn't face any more of Coe's nonsense. I also started resenting the $30 I'd spent on Like a Fiery Elephant. It could have been put to better use buying a B.S. Johnson Omnibus from Abebooks. Or indeed a couple of six packs.

My question is, are there any good literary biographies? (Fair warning: if somebody says the words Life of Johnson I will have an attack of the beserkers.) Actually, I can answer my own question, as Richard Ellman's Yeats: The Man and the Masks is about as good a mix of biography and criticism as anybody could ask for, particularly with a poet as complex as Yeats. The same author's books on Joyce and Wilde are reported to be excellent, but surely there must be others. Any suggestions?

(And yes, I know this started out being a kind of review of Like a Fiery Elephant before trailing off into ask-the-reader rubbish, but in my defence I am really, really tired, and like whatever I don't care man.)

There Once Was This Photographer From New York ...

Nice piece published in The Australian today on Philip Roth. It heads the cover page of their 'Review' section with a wonderful title - 'The Gripes of Roth'.

Roth on: Smiling
"Why don't you smile?" I ask.
"There once was this photographer from New York. 'Smile,' she always said. 'Smile!' I couldn't stand her or the whole phenomenon. Why smile into a camera? It makes no human sense. So I got rid of both her and the smile."
"Do you ever smile at all?"
He looks at me. "Yes, when I'm hiding in a corner and no one sees it."

Roth on: Death
"The classic is called Everyman; it's from 1485, by an anonymous author. It was right in between the death of Chaucer and the birth of Shakespeare. The moral was always 'Work hard and get into heaven', 'Be a good Christian or go to hell'.
"Everyman is the main character and he gets a visit from Death. He thinks its some sort of messenger; but Death says, 'I am Death' and Everyman's answer is the first great line in English drama: 'Oh, Death, thou comest when I had thee least in miond.'
"When I thought of you least. My new book is about death and about dying. Well, what do you think?"

Roth on: Sex
"You know, passion doesn't change with age, but you change, you become older. The thirst for women becomes more poignant.
And there is a power in the pathos of sex that it didn't have before. The pathos of the female body becomes more insistent."

And finally:

Roth on: Literature
"I would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk. If you shut down all the literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics.
The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. "

He has such an optimistic, life-affirming philosophy, doesn't he?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


If you’re anything like me, you carry around with you a list of books that you’re interested in acquiring, whether to read or merely to possess. They may be books found via your comfortable, almost hypnotically meditative browsings of Amazon, or they may be books mentioned by other books (surely one of the great joys of the art of reading, wherein a fine book recommends other books of equal quality, sending you on an inexhaustible journey), or they may be books in which your interest has been piqued by friends or reviews.

In any event, the list. I carry mine around in the back of my Moleskine notebook – a chic accoutrement, I know, but eminently practical and generally delightful – and whenever I come across an unfamiliar bookstore, or a familiar bookstore I have not visited in a while, I enter and turn to the back of my Moleskine, browsing the shelves on the off chance that I will find something. About 70% of the time I will find the book and, having taken the opportunity to read a little, will find that it wasn’t worth all the fuss and bother, and thus it is angrily stricken from the list, never to be mentioned nor thought of again.

29% (these aren’t quantifiable figures, just a rough estimate) of the time I find the book and, after browsing it, decide that it is exactly as good as I predicted it would be, and it is snapped up in an instant, to be savoured at leisure. I have a great pile of just these sorts of books on my desk at home, covering a variety of subjects and styles and, when time and mood permits, I make my way through them gradually.

But that final percent? Those are magical times. Many of the books in which I am interested seem, inevitably, to be either out of print or just generally quite rare. They are difficult to find, and their titles and authors lurk in the back of my Moleskines for months, sometimes years at a time. You hardly find mention of them on the internet, you scour the depths of Amazon and eBay and every other site, to no avail. Scratching through every two-bit bookstore you find, in fact planning entire days of journeying to every corner of the city, into every secondhand bookstore the Yellow Pages makes mention of. Your desperation grows wilder, your enthusiasm morphs into infuriation, and inch by inch you begin to resent every book that is not the one you are seeking, throwing them aside in vile disgust, as though they were all written by Jonathan Franzen. Shopkeepers are harassed and verbally bludgeoned for their stupidity when they raise their eyes heavenwards, scratch at their stupid ears, and mumble that “Yes, that title does sound familiar…I’m sure I’ve seen it about!” Then they lead you to the shelf in question, muttering uselessly and pottering through the volumes before announcing that they were mistaken or, worse: “Ah, yes, now I remember. A young lady came in and bought it last week.” Oh, really? Cunt!

Until, one day, when aforementioned enthusiasm is barely at a smoulder, and, resigned, you grouse your way through those same tired shelves for the thousandth time, there it is. Your eyes, scanning the spines, pass it on the first run, but then a little shot goes off in the back of your head and your eyes snap back like a typewriter’s carriage return. I dare say you even emit a merry “Ding!” as it happens, as I do, constantly. And there stands the title in all its splendour, the pages orange-brown and filled with fossilized food matter decades old, the cover tattered and torn, and you snatch it down, flick through it to be sure it is real – yes, yes, yes! – and shove it furtively under your arm, glancing from side to side lest other searchers emerge wailing from the dark recesses of the store, raking their nails across your face and sinking their teeth into your poor balls.

These discoveries have been made by me precisely three times that I can remember. The first, some time ago, was the termination to my years-long search for The Maze Maker by a certain Michael Ayrton. And not just a ratty, gangrenous softcover, which I would have been more than happy with, but a pristine, hard cover first edition for a criminally low price. I took it home and, fearful, placed it on the shelf. It has not been read since and probably never will be, as I suffered a momentary loss of interest in the subject matter (classical mythology, specifically the Cretan myth of Asterion the minotaur, Daedalus, Icarus, etc.), but the find was just as joyous, and the excitement tangible.

The second was more recently. I had worked myself quickly into a froth over online reviews of The Purple Cloud by one M. P. Shiel. A reconnaissance of the more modern establishments informed me that it was “not on the system”, and so the hunt was on! I searched high, I searched low, having already decided that a certain bookshop opposite Flinders Street Station was “rubbish” and “they’ll never have it”, eventually, almost out of spite, entered said establishment and found the volume instantly, even shelved alphabetically and in the correct section. I about shat myself right there and paid only five dollars for the book, consuming it in a day and finding it better than I had imagined.

The third, today, in Carlton. I had been looking for The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner for a good while. Enter any secondhand bookstore and you’ll find loads of Brunner (The Dramaturges of Yan most commonly), but never this one. So I stepped today into the shop, moseyed up to the science fiction section, planted my hands firmly on my hips, thrust my crotch outwards tilted my torso backwards so as to more properly survey the top shelf where the “BR”s began, and there it was, the first, and, bizarrely, only John Brunner in the shop. I have it now safely ensconced in my bag, to be more properly appreciated at a later date.

Rest assured that my bibliorgasms are under no threat of eradication just yet, for already I am on the prowl for my next acquisition: Mockingbird by Walter Tevis.

But to you, dear readers of this wee 'umble blog, I submit the question: what are your greatest finds? Not necessarily great books, or beautiful editions, or even something that you will ever read, but the finds that put piss and vinegar into your step and plaster groin-tinglings of happiness across your face. Spill, or be forever damned to do all your book shopping at the local St. Vinnie's.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Writing A Book Review For The Age

I never read a book before previewing it. It prejudices a man so. - Sydney Smith

The best way to write your review is by not writing your review. Start off with a quote from someone else (preferably dead and/or famous), continue by fleshing out your review with several quotes from the book you are reviewing, and add one or two paragraphs of generic argument (use lots of big and impressive words such as 'sesquipadalia', 'quaquaversal', and 'stentorian', as a way of saying "This is a big and important book and I am using big and important words because I have read it. If you want to be a big and important person, you should read it to.") Finally, conclude your book review by quoting somebody else entirely. For instance, you could quote me: "This is a vital and necessary work for the bourgeoisse classes." Not a bad quote, isn't it? It'll certainly impress the editors.

Of course, you shouldn't just quote from other people. Use the dictionary, as well. The editor will be unlikely to publish your review unless it is fleshed out with several very exciting nouns and adjectives. These words will mark the key emotional points of your review. It doesn't matter what they mean, so much: they just have to have a lot of consonants and syllables in them.
Start your review 'rambunctiously'. Mention the 'vigour' and 'high-spiritedness' of the author's prose. Continue your review by 'stepping back through the looking glass' into the world of the author's childhood, to discover the 'subconscious' and 'cthonic forces' which compel the author. Relate the 'infernal torments' of their childhood (it won't be necessary to read a biography of the author to do this, just read a gossip column in Woman's Weekly, and substitute the author's name for the name of someone else who figures heavily in the column.)
Remember, it's hardly necessary to do 'research' about the author before writing the review, just as it isn't necessary to read the book. If you spent all your time reading books, how do you think you'd get any work done?
Continue in an 'eager' manner, looking 'wryly' back on the author's past achievements. (In other words, make them up).

At this point, your readers may be getting just a little bored. Stun them with a sudden series of references to academic writers who have written essays referring to other academic writers who have written essays referring to other academic writers who have written essays which may or may not have a bearing upon the book you are reviewing. Anyway, it makes you sound clever. If you like, do this at several other points during your review. If it made you look clever once, it will make you look twice as clever the second time. And looking clever is what writing book reviews is all about.

Conclude in a 'sublime manner', noting the author's 'newly-found religiosity', and their 'finely-honed, coruscating prose' . Perhaps throw in an impressive metaphor or two, about how 'reading so-and-so is like having the mindless corpse of Mata Hari rise from his grave and gorge on your brain', or some such nonsense. After all, writing reviews isn't about making sense.

Once you have done all this, run the spell check through it, and send it off to the editor. He's sure to publish you.

Cross posted on Will Type For Food.

Eldritch, Cyclopean Horrors

I make no apologies whatsoever for the following gratuitous link to one of the most creative and inventive Lego dioramas I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. I present to you: Cthulego Rising!

People like to poke fun at Lovecraft for overplaying the dramatic tension surrounding his stories, but so far as I am concerned, none have so far surpassed him for the development of atmosphere and, yes, “nameless, lurking dread”. Not only the greatest horror writer we have ever seen, but the most influential (Can you imagine Alien without Lovecraft’s obvious influence? It would probably look a lot like Alien: Resurrection or, y’know, Alien vs Predator, which is horror as interpreted by a cheerleading squad.), and one of the finest writers I have ever read.

The best editions of Lovecraft, for those unfamiliar with this sublime genius, may be found, unsurprisingly, in Penguin, who, having lost the plot around 1970, at least have the decency to keep quality classics in print: The Call of Cthulhu & Other Weird Stories and The Thing On The Doorstep & Other Weird Stories. Each furnished with wonderfully elaborate footnotes and annotations, and truly a delight for the senses, provided the scotch and cigarettes are to hand and something suitable is spinning on the old jukebox. I recommend Morals & Dogma by Deathprod, or Saurian Meditations by Karl Sanders.

Speaking of Penguin, their boxed edition of the first series of Great Ideas mini-books is available now in all good bookstores. I recommend you do as I did, and go buy it.

Big Gooey Blobs

I owe a big gooey blob of thanks to Chris Knutsen, who fearlessly and humourously edited these pieces.

... writes Steve Martin in the introduction to Pure Drivel, a collection of short pieces published in 1999. Good point. I'd like to offer Tim Sterne large steaming piles of gratitude for allowing me to post this, and John Howard long, pendulous oozings of indifference for being my Prime Minister. Rapid, globular wheezings of jocularity go to Martin for writing this book; a gaseous emission of apathy to Phoenix books for publishing him; and irregular emulsions of boredom to Michael Leunig for being Michael Leunig.

Thank you.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Quangle Wangle Quee to You Too

There's been a blog-fight recently over which is funnier, left-wing or right-wing humour. And it's unbelievably stupid - being based on the notion that humour is 'political'. Actually, only some humour is political, and most of the humour that is political isn't very humorous. Although I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're mutually contradictory, they're very nearly so.

So in light of this blog-fight, it's salutary to go back to one of the best humour writers and see the real stuff. Not that he thought of himself as a 'writer'; actually, he was first and foremost a painter. The man I'm thinking of is Edward Lear. He gave to the world the genre of 'nonsense', at least in its modern form; and also invented the terms 'bong-tree', 'Great Gromboolian Plain', 'Pobble', and 'Yonghy-Bonghy Bo', amongst other things.

It's striking how simple Lear's writing is. It's true that there were a lot of light-verse writers and comic writers at the time, but poems were full of classical allusions. Compare Lear's poetry to that of his more serious contemporary, Tennyson. Tennyson gave the world the long and complicated Idylls of the King. (These poems now moulder on the shelves of university libraries the world over; hell, my brains beginning to moulder over just thinking of them.) Lear, on the other hand, popularised the Limerick.

There was an Old Man in a boat
Who said, "I'm afloat! I'm afloat!"
When they said, "No, you ain't!"
He was ready to faint,
That unhappy Old Man in a boat.

That make seem to make no sense to you, and you're right. It's nonsense. Australian comedian John Clarke once wrote a whole book of poems satirising Lear and his Limericks:

There was an old person from Bong
And he hailed in the first place from Bong;
From Bong did he come,
With Bongolian rum:
That humorous old fellow from Bong.

But in fact parodies of Lear began much earlier than that. W.S. Gilbert - of Gilbert and Sullivan fame - once wrote this:

There was an Old Man in a Tree,
Who was stung in his arm by a Wasp:
When asked, 'Does it buzz?'
He replied, 'No it doesn't!
I'm so glad it wasn't a hornet!'

Isn't that wonderful? Well, I thought so.
Lear wrote simple lyrics very well; think of 'The Owl and the Pussycat' or 'The Quangle Wangle's Hat':

On the top o the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle-Wangle sat,
But his face you could not see,
On account of his Beaver Hat.
For his Hat was a hundred and two feet wide,
With ribbons and bibbons on every side,
And bells, and buttons, and loops, and lace,
So that nobody ever could see the face
Of the Quangle Wangle Quee.

This is the first stanza of 'The Quangle Wangle's Hat'. Lear sticks to this stanza form, quite strictly, for the rest of the poem (it's six stanzas long). Do you notice how the first four-lines of the poem are fairly short (containing only three stresses); and the second four lines are longer (containing four stresses to every line)? Doesn't that add a lovely, musical variety to the whole stanza? Hmmmn? You, up there, at the back of the class - sit up and pay attention!
Anyway, it's interesting that in some places, Lear's verse is in danger of slacking off, he is able to throw in a word like 'bibbons':

With ribbons and bibbons on every side ...

Now, Lear could just as easily have written 'with ribbons on every side', but this would not have fitted in with his metrical scheme. And at first, it might seem a bit pointless to you to through in a silly word like 'bibbons', but really! Lear couldn't help it if the Quangle Wangle wore bibbons on his hat, could he? And the poem is called 'The Quangle Wangle's Hat'. Do you think that Lear could write about what the Quangle Wangle wears on his head without mentioning the bibbons? Shame on you!
Even better, of course, is the way with which Lear terminates this first stanza (and every subsequent stanza) - 'Quangle Wangle Quee'! 'Quangle Wangle', of course is a given. But that 'Quee!' Does that not express the utmost in exuberance and high-spirits to you?
Ah, Quangle Wangle Quee to you to.

One striking aspect of Lear's nonsense poetry is how places and creatures appear again and again in different poems. Non-existent places and creatures they may be, but they are persistently non-existent. 'The Bong Tree' which the owl and the pussycat meet, for instance, is also seen by the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo. The Great Gromboolian Plain - over which roams the Dong with the Luminous Nose - is also visited by 'Mr Daddy Long-legs and Mr Floppy Fly'.

The final poems in my Edward Lear book are three nonsense alphabets. Poetic alphabets are always amusing to read; you never know what surprises the alphabet has in store for you. What is the author going to do with the letter L? Or Q, for instance - that always makes for some interesting responses. And 'X' is the true test of any writers ingenuity.
Which makes Lear's attempts a little dissapointing: 'U' twice becomes an 'Urn', and 'X' twice becomes 'King Xerxes'. 'E', however, becomes a little Eel:

Twirly, tweely,
Little eel.

Now I can hardly think of a better description of an eel than 'twirly tweely', can you? The syllables seem to mimic the action of the eel in water.
'N' is a 'needly/tweedly/threedly/needly/wisky-wheedly/Little Needle!', as well as a 'Nice little nut'. And Z becomes 'a piece of zinc', a 'pretty striped zebra', and again, 'a box of zinc.'

On the whole, I think Mr Lear's poetic ouevre is postively grobullacious.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Insert Apposite Line From Voltaire

France Soir, which, along with other European newspapers has this week published satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, asserts:
...no religious dogma can impose itself on a democratic and secular society.
But it can try:
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon's radical Shiite movement Hezbollah said that if Muslims had killed British writer Salman Rushdie in accordance with the 1989 religious edict from Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then "this rabble who insult our prophet Mohammed ... would not have dared to do so."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Ghost Writer

The Guardian occasionally runs online poetry "workshops", in which guest poets provide lessons for readers who fancy themselves of a bardic persuasion. It's quite silly in the way writing workshops tend to be - a lot of "imagine you are a seagull" or "imagine you have something better to do than writing poetry" - but whatever, live and let live and all that. Today's workshop is by Esther Morgan. Quoth Esther: "Imagine you are a ghost". Well, why not:

I am a ghost

Ok, so I am a ghost
The ghost from Ghostbusters
Who in one particularly raucous scene
"Slimes" Bill Murray before eating a lot of hotdogs
Or at least I think it was hotdogs, maybe it was cigars
You'd think I'd know having seen the film a thousand times
Anyway, so that's the ghost I am
In the later cartoon series, The Real Ghostbusters
(As distinct from the little-known Filmation's Ghostbusters series
Which had nothing to do with the movie,
And featured a talking ape named Tracy,
But which apparently predates the film by a decade,
And so is technically the original "real" Ghostbusters)
The ghost that I am was known as Slimer
And was a kind of mascot or pet for the "real" Ghostbusters
One of whom (Peter Venkman, whom Bill Murray played in the film)
Was voiced by Dave Coulier
Also know as "Uncle Joey"
From tv's Full House
On which no ghosts were evident
Although there was something uncanny about John Stamos's hair
Anyway, so that's the ghost I am
And by now you've probably noticed something about ghosts
And that is that they are really crap at poetry
Or at least this one is
And oh, I'm fading away
My sins (eating cigars, possibly) having been atoned
I am now dissipating in the air
Like Dan Ackroyd's post-Ghostbusters career
Although Grosse Point Blank was pretty good
Anyway, gooood-byeeeee cruel world!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Doing It For The Kids

The Royal Society of Literature asked a bunch of luminaries (I think that means hacks, Philip Pullman excepted) to come up with a recommended reading list for school children. The definition of "school children" seems to include everybody from kindergarten kids through to doctoral students, and when they are not completely unrealistic (Ulysses? Don Quixote?) the selections tend to be rather quaint and predictable, which I suppose is what you get when you ask a bunch of middle-aged white people anything.

The other problem is that, in this country at least, studying literature at any level is about as much fun as watching an eight-day chess tournament between a Commodore 64 and a dead sheep. I hated every book I was forced to read at school, and I continue to hate every book I am forced to read for university, despite spending most of my non-studying life thinking about books (when I am not thinking about music, sport, or sex of course). You can't just throw "classics" at kids and hope they'll stick. You have to show them how interesting and amusing and (damn it) entertaining literature can be, and if that means they'd rather read The Hobbit than Ulysses, then so be it. Allow a sense of possibility, that nothing is beyond their possible scope, and they may well get to Ulysses one day. Or they may find they prefer the Upfield/Broadmeadows timetable.

Anyway, if we must go around recommending books, I don't see why Andrew "Bowel" Motion and J.K. Whatever should have all the fun. What books do you recommend for the young 'uns? When selecting books for my own daughter I favour formulaic Saddleclub adventures and the early works of Irvine Welsh, but I am open to suggestions. As for myself, I grew up on a steady diet of Asterix, Biggles and James Bond, and I won't hear a word against these books because, to quote poet laureate Andrew "Newton's Three Laws Of" Motion, "that way cultural vandalism lies".