The Latest Book Q & A…

Amanda Curtin tagged me in this questionnaire about my bookish behavior. Some of the questions were easy (we all know that b0ok recommended by a friend which ended up secreted in the recycle bin via over-arm bowl).  But choosing favourites from favourites and all the time feeling I have betrayed those who don’t make my paltry lists? – I needed to drink to get through this.  Please feel free to join in.  You can read Amanda Curtin’s responses here.  Mine are below (no heckling please)…
 
What are you reading right now?
The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Lombardo
(Several people from my past make cameos appearances in this one…)
 
Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
 Mad In America – Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill by Robert Whitaker
(I have a cameo in this…)
 
What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?
Room by Emma Donoghue
New York by Edward Rutherford
Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill
Herzog by Saul Bellow
(Not necessarily in that order, but they are all here and accusing me every time I pick up something else).
 
What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
None.  And why do people have magazines (and books) in their toilets?  I really want to know.  When you visit a friend’s loo and it’s decked out like a second hand book shop, do you automatically pick something up and start browsing?  No!  And do you know why?  Because you’d get cholera!  I’d rather drive to a gas station than pee amongst literature…
 
What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.  It may have found its feet further in *whispers* – I didn’t finish it…
 
What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
 
What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
(Yes, I know that’s two but it’s my Blog, get over it)
 
What are your three favourite poems?
The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams
The Difference Between Despair by Emily Dickinson
Child by Sylvia Plath
 
Where do you usually get your books?
Almost exclusively online, both hard copies and downloads.
 
Where do you usually read your books?
In bed or lying on the couch.  I prefer to read supine.  When the book becomes too heavy I turn on my side until my glasses are skewiff.  Then I roll onto my back again and prop my book up on the dog.
 
When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
If I could find a book then I would read it.
 
What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
I don’t like to read into the night, especially if I am loving something – I want it to last.  I have only every done this once.  I pulled an all-nighter many years ago with Possession by A.S Byatt.  (Damn you, Byatt!)  I then re-read it, tasting every word.
 
Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?
I “fake-read” Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews when I was in high school.  All I had to do was read the two pages my borrowed copy fell open to (the sex scene) and I was in with everyone else!  I hear she’s publishing from beyond the grave now…
 
Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Yes – a couple of cook books.  And cook books tend to use that paper that smells so beautiful, and feels so smooth.  I was not disappointed.
 
What book changed your life?
My life is changing constantly so I am changed by books constantly.  This is an awful question and I had to think about it long and hard.  I came up with Amelia Bedelia  by Peggy Parish.  This was the first book ever read aloud to me.  I was 6.  It was read to me by my primary school librarian, Ethel Watson.  I discovered books that day.
 
What is your favourite passage from a book?
“You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.” Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
Who are your top five favourite authors?
Five?!  You want five.  Jane Austen.  Lionel Shriver.  Graham Greene.  Isaac Bashevis Singer.  John Wyndham.  Colleen McCullough.  John Le Carre.  Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  (I could go on…)
 
What book has no one heard about but should read?
Killing Time: One Man’s Race To Stop an Execution by David R. Dow.  Personal memoir that reads like thriller.  Intimate yet universal.  One man fighting against a corrupt and ineffective legal system.
 
What 3 books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?
Mothers of the Novel  by Dale Spender (and you all thought we were adjusting our bustles and getting the vapours)
We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver 
The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
 
What are your favourite books by a first-time author?
The Good Wife by Emma Chapman
(Yes, I know that’s one but it’s my Blog, get over it)
 
What is your favourite classic book?
There are so many.  Everything by Jane Austen and The Midwich Cuckoosby John Wyndham.
 
Five other notable mentions?
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Happy As Larry by Scot Gardner
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
The Magus by John Fowles
 
THE RULES
1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover (see mine below)

3. Answer the questions above
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!
 
 
 
 

Bats In The Belfry

“We can’t stop here, this is bat country!”   – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

It’s the only thing that keeps me going sometimes, the realization that I’m in bat country.  I can’t stop here.  It’s the threat of them, you see.  Those sleek, fat-gutted, kitten-faced, leather-and-vein-seraphim that can shit all over you if you stand still for too long.  They come out of the dark, deliberately, honing in on the breathing of the ones who stop, screaming their echolocation aria into the bones until the whole body is mapped, string-bagged, and strung-up.  You daren’t stop just in case, when you do decide to move on, it’s too late and you just…can’t.
Those of you who have been in bat country will know exactly what I’m talking about.  The memory of tiny teeth gnawing on your brainstem and the comfort of fetid air turned over like a fog on the tip of cold wing will stir in you just as you read this.  The temptation to stand still long enough for bat shit to harden around you until you are nothing but an unrecognizable remnant, like a Pompeian blitzed by the pyroclastic  surge, is powerful.  They can chip out the hollow that used to be me in some future archaeological dig and say: “This one stood still too long.”
For those of you who have been fortunate enough to avoid bat country, I suppose a definition may be in order.  Bat country is that dark, dark place where you become hot-dry and cold-damp at the same time; where limbs are nightmare heavy and strangely disobedient; where things that would frighten children nestle like loved ones in the nook of your sadness; where you dream of sleeping long and deep enough to dream again.  It’s the place re-visitors grow to fear and expect; the place distortion rivals reality; the place decisions scatter like froth; the place pharmacological fortunes have been made.
But we’re not supposed to talk about bat country.  We’re supposed to wade through it, even as our strength precludes the ducking and weaving we are renowned for and bats torpedo us like June Bugs.  Wipe away their greasy innards and move, move, move.  Don’t stop.  Never stop in bat country.
It’s the only thing that keeps me going sometimes, the realization that I’m in bat country.
 

Avoiding Being Eaten By Wolves

A good friend of mine told me that his word of the week is “context”.  He wrote it on a post-it and stuck it to his computer screen.  He’s a paramedic.  He told me the story of a middle aged alcoholic indigenous woman whom he has treated many times, usually after she has been beaten or is in custody.  He told me this woman can “see” him; that she sees beyond the official accoutrements of his uniform and treatment, beyond the efficiency of his ministering and comforting, and in the simple act of holding his hand when she’s really busted up they seem to me to be healing each other.  My friend told me that when he finds himself judging people, he thinks of her.
I haven’t been able to get this story out of my head.  It struck me that we are all, always, relating to each other out of context.  It’s become routine to collide with people throughout the day furiously hiding our own context for fear of judgment, whilst simultaneously judging others as if their circumstances were completely self-created and blame-worthy.  Christ knows I’m guilty of it.  Is it an evolutionary thing, whereby our self-interest is hard-wired from the days we had to step on each other’s backs to get back to the cave before we were eaten by wolves? Or is this a more contemporary development, a symptom of a culture so obsessed with externals that we have been conned into believing: “No one bleeds the same way I do so I’m not sharing my band-aids.”? 
I wonder how things would be different if we recognized that the human being standing in front of us is the product of lots and lots of stories, some they wrote themselves and some they were cast in against their will.

John Cheever’s Y-Fronts

John Cheever wrote in his underwear.  You can’t argue with the results.
For millennia writers and artists have been resorting to interesting and sometimes bizarre ways to contact their imaginary friends.  You can’t tell me some Neanderthal somewhere didn’t draw a stick man on the wall of his mammoth bone house, stare at it for hours, before throwing a tantrum and running out to club a wildebeest instead.  Those wildebeest are a terrible distraction, and yet I hear their siren song every time I sit down at this keyboard lately.  Even a deadline isn’t helping me.  Ever wonder why it’s called a deadline?
So in a further effort to avoid actually achieving anything today I decided to read up on how other writers managed their empty heads.  Of course none of these geniuses would have written a word if they had access to You Tube (I must disable that somehow…)
asdlg;yhy’[kl;;;;;;;;gsigak   (Cat walking across keyboard…better than anything I’ve written today so it bloody stays).  Here are my top picks for getting in the mood…
Truman Capote wrote supine.  He reclined on a sofa and wrote with a martini in one hand.  As the day wore on so did the strength of the drinks.  I tried this.  Lost an olive down my cleavage, dropped my laptop on my face and almost chipped a tooth.
Victor Hugo wrote naked.  He even had his valet hide his clothes so he couldn’t go out and couldn’t receive visitors.  Well, I don’t live alone and clearly don’t have the same relationship with my house mate as Victor had with his valet.
Dan Brown writes for an hour then drops to the floor for a round of pushups, only proving he’s as annoying in the process as he is in the finished product.
Hemingway wrote his 500 words a day standing up at his typewriter, as if trying to squeeze out something worthwhile isn’t punishing enough.  I don’t even like standing up in the shower.  I’ve been looking into those rubber footed shower chairs for old people with vertigo.
Hunter S. Thompson got up at 3.00pm.  He did four lines of cocaine, ate lunch, drank whiskey, did some acid, and got his best work done after midnight.  And I’m looking into rubber footed shower chairs…
So here I sit, sit, with a glass of red, fully dressed with no underwear on, and a fat black cat making more sense than I am.  And they wonder why Amy Lowell switched to cigars…

Are We There Yet?

“Never go on trips with anyone you do not love” – Ernest Hemingway
We’ve all been on those road trips, both as children and adults.  I remember sitting in the back seat of my parent’s old green Holden driving to Bunbury to visit my father’s cousin’s dairy farm when I was little, struggling for space with two equally bored sisters who came up with the game of let’s-annoy-each-other-for-fun at precisely the same time I did, motivating a bitch-slapping counterpoint of “Knock it off!” from front seat parents who were probably thinking they should have left us in the back yard with a bowl of water, like they did the dog.
Then you’re a parent yourself and travelling with small children who never shut the fuck up, fart in the car without warning, constantly complain of being bored despite your fanatical faith in the Game Boy you thrust at them as soon as the ignition key is turned, and they always need to pee precisely five minutes after you have pulled out of the gas station but refuse to use a bush on the side of road because it’s not private.  You drag them back to the car and make them sit on a towel because you just know, and seriously think about dosing them up with Nyquil and filling their mouth with peanut butter.
Finishing a first draft, especially the first draft of that bugbear of literature – The Second Book – is a lot like the road trip.  It’s exhausting, exhilarating, satisfying, terrifying, and there is always that god awful smell from the back seat and the niggling misgivings about the sanity of getting in the car with the thing in the first place.  Then there is that awful question that sends a cold chill and homicidal impulse through every parent: Are we there yet?
I’ve finished this first draft of the second book and yet…have I?  When do we actually stop?  Like the road trip we get out and admire a view feeling all “this-was-so-worth-it”, but then we get back in the car and keep driving until we find another view.  Eventually we have to decide when we can share the view, knowing full well that while you believe you’re looking at the Grand Canyon, the person sharing the view with you might be seeing a pot hole.
Ok.  I think I’ve beaten that road trip metaphor into a coma.

 

I’m going to give myself a couple of days to read and re-read.  I’m going to criticize myself mercilessly, because that’s what I do to prepare for another’s criticism.  Then I’m going to send it on its way.  I’ll be sitting on a towel waiting on the verdict.

Hand on the Stove

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes…” – Neil Gaiman
Done, Neil.  In fact I predict I’ll make at least three new mistakes tomorrow.  I made a big one yesterday which only proves that I’m living my life fully right up to the end of the old year.  Let’s celebrate mistakes for a couple of hundred words, and look at the fallout a bit more closely.
We’re a mistake prone species.  And we don’t like them.  There’s great judgment awaiting anyone who makes mistakes.  We don’t like them in others and we don’t like them in ourselves.  Some mistakes are so glaringly obvious we might as well print up the sandwich board for ourselves and wear it with pride.  If everyone knows about your mistake then no amount of self-effacing humility and best effort to move on as quickly as possible can diminish the consequences: a public mistake can hang in the air like a fart in a lift for years.  Then there’s the private mistake, the one only you know about.  The one that you can distract yourself from for as long as it takes to follow a dress pattern or build a bridge, some activity that engages enough of your analytical brain to muffle recent memory.  But eventually mortification sneaks up and plants a wet nose in your crotch and then it’s only a matter of time before your mistake is barking at you incessantly enough to wake the neighbours.
Of course mistakes come in all shapes and sizes, so defining the mistake on the fallout scale is probably useful.  There’s the mistake that doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme (“I really shouldn’t have gotten this hair cut”) verses the mistake that is definable by law (“I really shouldn’t have set fire to the neighbours car”).  I’m talking about something in between, obviously: something really, really bad that can hurt you or others like a bastard, but won’t get you arrested (“I really shouldn’t have voted for Tony Abbott”).  And if we’re on this road of classification then surely the real test of any mistake is how we feel about it afterwards, and how other people make us feel.
Mistakes are certainly motivating and sometimes the best response to them is to own them.  (I caused this, I set this up, and it’s going to hurt me, and you.  Now buggar off and enjoy the show).  And we should be hurt by our mistakes, shouldn’t we?  People run around all-consumed with a self-preservation inspired avoidance of any sort of pain when pain is the great teacher, isn’t it?  Bollocks.  When we put our hand on the stove and learn never to do so again through the pain caused, we don’t then put our hand on the stove again the following week just to make sure.  But some mistakes we make over and over and oftentimes because of our irrational belief in our right to be happy (is that a right?) and our desire to be understood and validated.
Are we, therefore, actually defined by our mistakes?  And would that be so bad?  Here’s to another twelve months of fucking things up.  Happy New Year.