I’m currently working on a few long-ish form book reviews for a couple of places – and when those are complete, I will link to them here – but in the meantime, here is a link I meant to post a few weeks back. My first radio review – simultaneously nerve-wracking and fun. These will be cropping up every six-ish weeks, as Tilly and I swap from session to session. Since I’ve previously reviewed The Bone Season here, it only made sense to make sure my review for its sequel ended up on here too, regardless of the different format!
And I’m finally writing things again.
So you, wee blog, will hopefully have some proper words of your own very soon. Sorry about the whole emergency surgery and subsequent recovery thing.
It began in an unassuming fashion. He who I have called Batman here once or twice thought it would be a good idea to go through the Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 of All Time list and see what we (read: mostly I) hadn’t seen. And this selection would become a list of films to watch over the coming months.
Batman studied theatre and film at university and is a playwright and general writerly person on things theatrical. Let me just clear that up. I have an English degree and my entire adult life has been spent in bookshops. (This is me illustrating a clear difference in our backgrounds that will come back to bite me as this post goes on.)
Mercifully, I had seen #1 on the list – The Wizard of Oz. “Citizen Kane?”
“You haven’t seen Citizen Kane?”
“I’ve seen most of it.”
“The Third Man?”
“…I haven’t seen any Orson Welles.”
“You know he didn’t direct it, right?”
Grimly, we continued. We got to The Gold Rush. “You haven’t seen it?!”
“I haven’t heard of it.”
“It’s Charlie Chaplin!”
“I’ve never seen anything with Charlie Chaplin.”
Shocked and appalled would be the right descriptor, I think.
“You’ve never seen anything with Charlie Chaplin. Or Buster Keaton?”
“That’s like… not having read any Dickens.”
…I haven’t read any Dickens, either.”
Yes. It’s true. I have an English degree, coming up on eight years working in bookshops and I just spent the last year studying publishing. And I have never read anything by Charles Dickens.
Or Jane Austen.
Or Herman Melville.
Or Ernest Hemingway.
Or Kurt Vonnegut.
Or countless other ‘classic’ authors who, depending on your personal tastes and views, would horrify you, my literary readers.
And I’m torn between being totally okay with that and wanting to mend my ways.
I can understand Batman’s surprise that I hadn’t read any Dickens at my (admittedly very privileged and posh) school – but we actually read very little in terms of ‘classics’, except for Shakespeare (and Katherine Mansfield) – most of what I read was written post-70s. I was vocal in my view, in conversation with Batman, that Katherine Mansfield was far more important to the NZ high school English programme than Dickens or his ilk (Batman himself never did Mansfield at school). Pioneer of the modern short story? Kickass female author who came from Wellington?
Yeah. Mansfield. No contest.
The argument for wanting to ‘mend my ways’ that I wish to immediately tear down is one of a sort of cultural or literary obligation. There are too many books in the world that are Good and On My To-Do List for me to feel shame for not having covered them all. And too many of those ‘classic’ books are by white men. We all know that, by now. The modern literary canon is evolving beautifully, but when one stomps back through the puddles of the classics, it is SO drenched in privileged Y chromosomes that you just want to give up. Obviously there are exceptions – the Austens of the world, and such – but that’s a whole other BBC-dramatized kettle of fish to deal with.
The ‘mending my ways’ comes more out of the genuine recommendations that I get from people. Batman is a big fan of Vonnegut, and is keen for me to read some, not from a “so you’ll have read some Vonnegut” perspective, but rather a “because it’s actually really very good, and I think you’ll like it” perspective. If someone will personally recommend a classic to me, I’m not going to jerk away just because it’s older than The Luminaries. I just don’t feel as if every single book on those Top However Many Books Of All Time* lists are necessarily going to be up my alley. 99% of people I interact with seem to love Breaking Bad – I just don’t get it. Sometimes, there will be books that I just don’t get. So feel free to tell me that Middlemarch is amazing, or that nothing will every compare to Wuthering Heights. If I trust your opinion, I’ll roll with it.
As for the being totally okay with it end of things, that seems pretty clear, right? I’m a young woman living in a city brimming with new literature – AND I work in a bookshop (one that hosts a tonne of launches, to boot). I am constantly inundated with new suggestions of what to read – from co-workers, from reps, from customers. I am tantalised by covers of new releases on a daily basis. And new release books tend to sit higher up on the Eternal To-Do List than older titles, because of the whole bookseller business. New books mean publicity mean people are asking about THOSE books more often. So it pays to be up-to-date.
Which does lead to an interesting segue, though… but one for another time. Recommending books (as a bookseller) when you haven’t read them. Lord know I know more about the average book than most people, but that certainly does not mean that I’m more likely to have read it. I’m professionally good at rehashing other people’s opinions, I guess, and reading reviews and blurbs like a champion. But I’ll elaborate on that later. Another time. New year, more posts, and all that.
As you were, readers.
*Despite my supposed disdain for such lists, there is still obviously a place and time for them on occasion – and with movie lists, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, it seems a little more doable since you aren’t committing as much time. Just so that I don’t seem like a total hypocrite in one post, you know?
I trim the stems of
hospital tulips with my
My plans to blog on the daily were slightly messed around by ill health. After several days in a row of leaving work early due to feeling rather deathly, I finally relented and went into ED on Friday night, thinking that they would give me some fluids and maybe some codeine and send me on my way. But now it’s Monday afternoon and I only just got home a few hours ago.
So to make up for the days lost to a phone-only internet void (and, you know, being hospital-level unwell), here is a selection of random, occasionally drug addled, haiku/short poetry from those lost days.
I trim the stems of
hospital tulips with my
His fingers fly
Writing; counting syllables
Of five, seven, five
The nurse’s glove broke
Latex gave way to warm flesh
Precious skin contact
Mail, Facebook, Twitter
Words to keep afloat
Tonight at midnight
Lost in an internet blur
I may read Buzzfeed
Arms take turns itching
Fingers one-by-one on fire
Then last are the shins
Pillows that whistle
Every time you try to
Gently rest your head
White blankets and sheets
Lightly patterned white/blue gowns
Pale ghosts at night
I would try to sleep
But I have already and
The steroids say no.
Now waiting, waiting
Free me to the outside world
It’s almost sunny
Orange juice is a
Generous term for this stuff.
the curious circumstances
where the cool kids across the way
play music from their
and the appropriateness
(for the unwilling listener)
that the closing track of the evening
is ‘suicidal girls’
because of the way that
i would do truly anything
to get that racket gone
their speakers and voices both
Batman wants me to write about him.
“What do you want me to say?” I ask.
“Just anything,” he replies.
And then he looks over my shoulder and says “Oh, don’t write that!”
But I tell him he deserves it. And he does, really, for the previous transgression of captioning photos “You should take a photo and put it on Twitter.” and the like.
He is currently playing on his DS, swearing angrily at Yoshi and Mario. He wants me to clarify that it’s actually “Yoshi as Mario.”
I remember now – he did mention earlier that Yoshi was wearing a Mario hat. His beeps and boops are interposed by “YEAH!” “GET THE FUCK AWAY, YOU FUCKING SHITHEAD! THAT’S MY FUCKING SILVER STAR! I NEED THAT!”
Then he made me read all of this back to him, after complaining, “but I’M the one who puts real people in my writing!”
“I do need it, though! I need five of them! I’ve only got three, and I don’t know where one is, it’s tormenting me.”
“I just don’t know how this fits into your personal brand. No, make sure that you write that, because I feel like it fits well into this character that you’re creating.”
So, things about Batman, this character I’m creating.
He’s a real swell writer. A published poet, as he likes to point out. He’s hilarious, mostly. Except when he’s driving me round the twist. His favourite hobby is convincing me that he doesn’t understand pop culture references that I make. Straight-up lying. The frequency has died down, but that just means I’m less likely to see it happening.
He has a great beard. And some questionable rapping abilities. He’s pretty good at Mario, too – or dedicated, anyway. His car has a broken window and he has several Fringe awards. He owns more Popular Penguins than I do, and also has a copy of Sarah Laing’s The Fall of Light, which impressed me.
Despite his Mario commentary (“oh MAN, it’s LITERALLY raining bombs on me. I don’t know what that means, but it’s probably a really potent metaphor”), he’s really very eloquent. When he wants to be. But you probably knew that. He loves Doctor Who. You also probably knew that. I felt as though I’d passed an important test (spoiler alert – I probably did) when I managed to successfully name the actors of all of the (TV) doctors of days gone by.
He says “hey, Merf” (but spells it “Murf”) whenever I mention my sister. He just looked at the screen and did it then. Like his words are automatically eaten up by my computer screen or phone and end up relaying a message out to Waterview.
Now he is pointedly saying things that are beyond dreadful, grinning (I can see him in the glow from our screens (and following up with “I’m just saying these things so that you won’t write them.”
He knows how to play this game. (And Mario. He found all the stars.)
It has been a while!
Eventually, I will finish the follow-up to the last entry (AKA the Amanda Palmer/Emilyn Brodsky experience), but for now, here is a brief life update.
I have been busy. I have been unwell. I am still both those things. Hopefully the unwell one will abate sooner rather than later, but it’s hard to know with twisted insides like mine.
I have moved house since last I spoke, and now I officially live in a little cottage that I rather love in Mt Cook – which I also love, because the name will perplex all non-Wellingtonians kiwifolk. But I am finding myself spending more and more time at the apartment of a certain theatre-making someone who we will refer to herewith as Batman.
Batman’s really great.
So that’s been part of the distraction too. Being sick, finishing up coursework, ramping up work hours, stressing about overdue reviews, writing articles on genderqueer rappers (SO RAD – will link when it’s up) and living in a sudden and altogether unexpected state of early unfurling relationship joy.
Today is the first day of December. The first day of summer, and yet the temperature outside is reading at 6°C right now, when the wonderful Wellingtonian windchill is taken into account. That’s 42.8°F, for strangers from strange lands. I know that people in the US seem to start their seasonal dating from the solstices and equinoxes, regardless of anything, the beginning of December shouldn’t be that cold. A small temperate regret with regard to moving to this more southerly clime.
But that’s one of few regrets, these days. Wellington is a melting pot of wonders, and even though I know that there is suburban life beyond the Aro Valley and Newtown, it always feels so much more magical and creative and full of possibility. So I have no excuse not to be writing, with the whole coursework-finished-up and hypothetical-better-health-on-the-horizon things lingering. And particularly the spending significant amounts of time with another writerly type thing.
Since part of why Batman decided that he liked me was reading my words on this here blog (I’m as confused as you are, dear readers, but I’m not complaining), and we both managed to accidentally muck up doing NaNo, I’ve decided that I’m going to get back to my blogging roots and post something here every day for December. No guarantees as to what it will be – poetry, health venting, prose, reviews – but it’ll be something. And I’ll try not to cheat by only linking to pieces that have been published elsewhere.
So say The Writer.
how 2009 began. part i.
In honour of the release of Emilyn Brodsky’s new album, here is a bit of a recollection of the first time I saw her/heard of her. Which was also the first time I ever went to New York. And the first time that I saw Amanda Palmer.
It’s one of those nights that isn’t easily forgotten. This is the lead-up.
On the first night that I ever spent in New York, I went to a show.
It was January – only just. Patti Smith wrapped up her Bowery Ballroom gig to see in the new year, and then, at 2am, or thereabouts, Amanda Palmer was to perform.
I’d been in Montreal all of four days, but more than a month in advance, this show had been announced, and with the reckless abandon of an eighteen year old on their first adventure, I decided that I was going to take the train from Montreal to New York City to see this gig.
It could be the only chance I get to see Amanda while I’m in North America, I reasoned. It’ll be completely worth it.
It’s ten hours on the Amtrak Adirondack line between Montreal and NYC. I was a fresh-faced wee gal, fed on police procedurals and gritty dramas. Convinced that carrying a bag through New York at night was unsafe, I decided that my best bet was to wear my tiny daypack underneath my coat. Which meant minimal items could be packed. I brought a map, my wallet and my phone, along with a Gossip Girl novel that I bought at a second-hand bookstore in Le Village.
It was probably an attempt at NYC wannabe-hipster irony. I read the whole thing before we got to Albany. I hadn’t thought to bring food, or to organise food, for that matter – apart from a Red Bull for the morning I left. I was terrified that I would miss my train. Anna gave me some sesame snaps with Polish writing on the label, which were the only thing I ate between the morning of the 31st and 8am at Penn Station the next morning.
But that’s getting ahead of myself.
It’s a tricky thing, an ultra-late gig away from home. It seemed pointless to organise a hostel room, I told myself – I would only be there for an hour or two after the concert wrapped up. I had twelve hours in New York, all of them dark, and my only place to go was the Bowery Ballroom.
Manhattan can be overwhelming to the first time observer. While the streets may be numbered in places, there are pockets where they get more creative and criss-crossed and generally turn into a bit of a mystery. I had looked into tips regarding travel around New York (given my stance on bag-wearing, it will not surprise you to know that I was terrified of catching the subway). I knew that I was supposed to state the cross-streets, not the specific address. Bowery and Delancey, Bowery and Delancey. It was my mantra, a ballpoint scrawl on my hand.
My plan was as follows: Arrive in New York. Go to Times Square, because that’s where people go for midnight at New Years, right? Loiter around, watch the ball drop, then catch a cab down to the Bowery Ballroom and wait in anticipation.
Despite my taxi-etiquette research, I hadn’t thought to look into the whole Times Square situation. So I didn’t know that people queue up from three-ish to get into the square proper. And everyone else just crowds around barricades, hoping to catch a flash of pixelated fireworks on an electronic billboard.
So I found myself walking up and down Avenue of the Americas, trying to pass the time. I got caught in one of the peering crowds more than once, but wriggled my way out of them once moderate claustrophobia started to set in. I worried that the bare ground was going to wear away the soles on my new snow boots. When 0000h EST hit, I saw fake sparkles and heard the roar of the crowd around me. As the square started to clear, I wandered into it, to get a feel for what was going on, and saw my first Broadway signpost. The ground was covered with confetti and crushed cups, and police were trying to usher people out.
Satisfied that I had survived to tell the tale, I headed back to the streets that were still open to vehicle traffic. All cabs seemed to be occupied, but finally I could see one that was waiting for a desperate patron. His window was down. ‘Bowery and Delancey?’ I asked. I shouldn’t have phrased it as a question. He shook his head, and drove off.
Slightly shocked and shaken, I stepped back. Another cab was pulled up further along the road. ‘I’m going to Bowery and Delancey.’
‘Only do numbered streets.’ He wound up his window. I bit my lip, and started to have an internal meltdown. Cabs were out of the question here, clearly. Maybe if I headed towards the venue, got myself a little closer, I would be able to successfully convince one to take me the rest of the way.
I had in my head some sort of strange inverted perception of Manhattan. Maybe it was too much Ancient History, and the whole Lower Egypt in the North, Upper Egypt in the South thing, but I had convinced myself that the higher the street numbers went, the closer I was to downtown. Remember that my map was in my backpack, which was underneath my coat.
Given this lapse in geographical ability, it’s a goddamn miracle that I started walking the right way. I popped into a dairy (a corner store, really – what a few months later I would know was locally really a bodega) and asked if they had a map. I was told no. I willed myself not to cry as I went back out into the street, and kept walking in the direction that I hoped was the right way.
A few blocks later – and a few leering interactions with celebrating New Yorkers later – I went into another shop, this time planning to buy a drink in a glass bottle. So that I could rehydrate myself (after my sesame snap diet of the day) and have a potential weapon if I felt threatened. Fortunately, I never had to use my Orangina bottle of doom.
Up to this point, I hadn’t been replying to anyone who spoke to me or wished me Happy New Year! as they passed me on the street. But this store was well-lit and there was a man behind the counter, so when another customer said ‘Happy new year!’ to me, I echoed it.
‘You heading home? We’re just going home from a party.’
‘I’m going to a gig, actually.’
‘Oh yeah? Where?’
‘The Bowery Ballroom?’
He nodded approvingly. ‘Have you got a ride outside waiting?’
I shrugged. ‘Uh, I’m walking.’
He waved a hand. ‘No way! Me and my boys’ll give you a lift! Just wait here – what was your name?’
‘Elizabeth,’ I told him, my go to alias in stressful situations.
‘I’ll just go check, man.’
He left the store and crossed the road, disappearing into the dark towards wherever his ‘boys’ were parked. I was pretty sure that this was not a situation I was game to get myself into. So I left, and saw a cab across the road. It looked as though the Hassidic Jewish man crossing the road was heading for it, so I dashed out quickly, telling myself that I was less safe than he was. ‘Bowery and Delancey?’
He nodded, though grumbled ‘but we’ll have to turn around,’ as I got in. ‘And my meter’s broken, so it’ll just have to be twenty bucks.’
That seemed like a fair sum in exchange for my getting to the gig without anything terrible happening to me. I agreed. He dropped me on The Bowery, right by Delancey, and I thanked him profusely as I handed over the required bill.
It took a moment to get my bearings, especially as a bunch of high-heeled girls tottered into the cab that I’d just vacated. But running down past one of the seedy-looking corners of the intersection was a queue. For something. And a beautiful hunch told me that that was where my people were.
‘Is this the queue for Amanda Palmer?’ I asked, shy and foreign. There was a guy and a girl at the back of the line.
I nodded, comprehension and relief.
…and I’m sick. Naturally! Evil vile lurgy winding its way through the bookish types of Wellington. Hoping that tomorrow dawns a little healthier. It’s really an inopportune moment for this to be happening.
That being said, while being attached to my bed and/or couch (bed yesterday – forced self to couch today) I have been productive – I’ve written a book review for Booksellers NZ, I’ve made a ‘Briar Does Books’ video for reasons not altogether known (watch it below), I’ve interviewed a musician for one of two NZ Musician articles I’m currently working on (busy busy bee!). I’ve also ‘finalised’ the Sargasso Press website (as much as a website is ever finalised) and am quite satisfied with how it has turned out.
I’ve also been Making Plans of various sorts. Big publish-y projects – more on that as it develops. And it will. I’m determined to make it happen. Fitness/fun-time plans, like finally learning to skate properly. I’ve had the derby skates for about five or six years now, about time I actually used them.
It’s going to be grrrreat.
Now, back to Doctor Who and healing vibes and tannin-tummy-regret.
CURRENT THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING
READING: Wake by Elizabeth Knox (among other things)
WATCHING: Season 1 of Doctor Who / Season 4 of Torchwood
LISTENING: Eb & Sparrow (self-titled LP)
DRINKING: Harney & Sons Vanilla Comoro black tea. YUM.
A good book leaves you thinking about it between reading sessions. A great book leaves you thinking about it after you’ve finished. A freaking spectacular book not only leaves you thinking about it, but colours everything that you try to read afterwards, and leaves you feeling slightly hollow, because the experience is over.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell falls into the ‘freaking spectacular’ category. As the page numbers started growing ever larger, I felt enormous internal conflict – on one hand, the compulsive desire to find out what happens, but on the other hand, the need to draw things out slowly, to savour every page and thought. I suspect the fact that the last book that really had that effect on me was The Luminaries is a very good sign for The Bone Clocks’ chances on the award circuit.
Even now, days after I finished it, I think about the feeling of closing that heavy pink hardback after reading… and then opening it again, to re-read the final page – knowing that it was going to be a hard act to follow. Perhaps intentionally I have limited much of my reading since then to easily-packaged pop YA fiction (even when I have responsibilities to other books) – I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to fall into another story so deeply.
The Bone Clocks is mysterious. It contains fantasy, but you wouldn’t dream of shelving it in an SF/Fantasy section. It’s epic and complex without being incomprehensible. It visits the past and the present, the real and then unbelievable. David Mitchell is a wizard. I have heard mixed things from others about his earlier books, so I’m a little wary of dipping my toe into those waters – after all, I would hate to taint the admiration that I currently have for the man.
I’m loath to go into too much detail, because however I try to describe it, I won’t do it justice. Good and evil are more black and white than they are in some tales, and yet it takes quite some time to figure out precisely which is which. It’s about survival at any cost and in the worst circumstances. It’s about examining the way in which we treat our world. It’s about one person, and so many people at once.
It is not a book to jump into lightly. You need to treat it carefully, give it the time that it deserves. If you peck at it bit by bit, you might not be captured by it as much as it deserves. Get yourself somewhere comfortable, allow yourself a decent chunk of time, make yourself a pot of tea or a plunger of coffee. Appreciate the beautiful design, both aesthetically, and conceptually. Be prepared to have people comment on how pink it is. Laugh gently, knowing that they have no idea what this pink tome holds. Then, when you’ve finished, pass it on to someone else to read, so it can inhabit them next. It’s what Marius would do.
This is the first of (hopefully) several reviews of books longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Last year I only managed to sort out The Luminaries and We Need New Names – this year, I will hopefully manage to do the whole shortlist (all the better if this magical title makes it through to the next round – my hopes are certainly high).