Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the fifth day of Christmas

... my true love gave to me:
The Idiot and the Odyssey by Joel Stratte-McClure
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
The Unusual Life of Edna Walling by Sara Hardy.

One of my lovely colleagues also gave me Barack Obama's Audacity of Hope and, while I remain a little sceptical - he simply can't be that pure of heart, he's a politician - most of me is just as sucked in as Oprah. So I look forward to reading his story.

Nice haul, and it isn't even Christmas yet.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Falling apart

...when I hear of people taking a year off to write, I worry that a year might not be enough. You must fail as a writer for much longer than that, I think, before you know what failure is and what use you might make of it. I didn't realise, when that first book fell apart, that every book falls apart. That this is the gig. You sit there and watch your word-count drop, and you hold your nerve. I have survived this process now many times.

~ Anne Enright being encouraging (I think) in The Guardian

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh no!

"Australian poet Dorothy Porter died in Melbourne this morning from complications due to cancer. She was 54.

The writer is best known for The Monkey's Mask, a crime thriller in verse about a lesbian detective that was published in 1994 and won The Age Poetry Book of the Year in the same year."
(The Age)

Best reader of her own work I ever heard - and one of the best poets.

Too dreadful.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The forgotten heroes

Note to book publicists, feature writers and documentary makers: just because something happened a while ago, that doesn't make it "forgotten".
In the past couple of months, I've seen that description applied to the Anzacs of World War 2, naval veterans of both World Wars, HMAS Sydney, RAF crews, and in the week of Remembrance Day, not just John Monash but the entire Western Front.
Monash. One of our most famous and revered military minds. I find this astonishing.
Yes, the Howard Government obsessed over Gallipoli on Anzac Day and failed to organise Remembrance Day celebrations in Fromelles (mind you, I doubt John Howard, for all his failings, forgot the Western Front, either).
It’s perfectly reasonable to question both the Gallipoli campaign itself and its glorification. But to claim, as Jonathan King did in The Age last month, "it has taken the Commonwealth 90 years to realise the significance of the Western Front" is stretching the point beyond breaking.
The Western Front was the Great War in everyone’s mind, for its duration and for generations afterwards. It is so utterly seared into our collective memory, the photographs and poems absorbed on an almost visceral level, the diaries and letters amongst the literary canon, even though so many who came back who never discuss it.
But who exactly has forgotten?
Not me. Not anyone I know. Not anyone who has ever read one of the trench poets or seen a Frank Hurley photograph or read a war diary.
I grant you, the First World War campaigns in Serbia, say, are unfamiliar to many and don't feature largely in the collective imagination.
But the Western Front?
What nonsense.
I can't count the number of books on the Western Front sitting on my bookshelf: some may be obscure but many are certified best-sellers. Some of those are written for young readers. Not everyone has a precious copy of CEW Bean but countless people have copies of Carlyon or Adam-Smith – or indeed Sassoon and Graves or even Hemingway. Who do you think reads all these books and watches the movies, documentaries and TV series? Millions of people, of all ages. And they all remember.
A monumental national effort went into commemorating the dead in Europe after both World Wars; both here, in the form of the Shrine and the War memorial in Canberra, but also in the places where the bodies lay. Do you imagine the hundreds of thousands of people who remember our dead or fractured grandfathers and fathers and uncles (and grandmothers and aunts), don’t actually realise they served in the mud of Flanders and France and Italy?
You can’t really think we’re that stupid.
Next it'll be "Weary Dunlop, the forgotten doctor of the Burma railroad".
Or "Tobruk, the forgotten battle that turned the tide of war".
There are myriad ways to remember and commemorate. Turning a cemetery into a tourist hotspot like Gallipoli in April is not the only possible form of acknowledgement. Turning life and precious ritual into a History Channel voiceover is absurd and alienates those who have not forgotten – and will never forget.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Recent reading

My inner life - such as it is - has returned to normal now that the US election is over and I don't have to spend every spare moment worrying about Sarah Palin.
So I've been catching up on some reading:

Lighthousekeeping - Jeanette Winterson has climbed down from her self-conscious now-watch-while-I-do-some-amazing-writing thing and is back in fine form. Perhaps she just has to do that voice. Perhaps she's a one-voice wonder. Who knows? When she gets it right, there's nothing like it.

The Collector of Worlds - The new translation of Ilya Troyanov's novel based on the life of that famously enigmatic explorer, Richard Burton. I hoped, from the first few pages, for insights into Burton but in the last pages was forced yet again to accept enigma as a fact of life. It's compelling, suitably exotic and Orientalist, slightly frustrating and as fabulous as Burton's life demands - and beautifully written.

Olive: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit - Mort Rosenblum. Unlike all those stupid pop history knock-offs (Dust, Flea, and for all I know Belch or Sandpaper) this is utterly fascinating, as indeed you would expect, because the story of the olive is the story of the Mediterranean region and the future of the trees and their precious produce critical to everything from the EU subsidy program to peace in the area around Jerusalem. And I'm a bit olive obsessed at present.

That said, I might now catch up on some writing.