The Internet Is Wasted
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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?
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.
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..
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
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
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-
I’d never heard of Anson Cameron before right now but, judging from his picture, he probably wanted to be a jockey until
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,
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
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-
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
A book about Afghan refugees in
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!
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!”
"Call me Fishmail."
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?
Hi. I'm Peter Craven, intellectual.
For all you wannabe asshole “writers” out there, some lessons from a master:
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”.
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.
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'.
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
I never read a book before previewing it. It prejudices a man so. - Sydney Smith
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.
I owe a big gooey blob of thanks to Chris Knutsen, who fearlessly and humourously edited these pieces.
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.
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."
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:
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.