Monday, 20 June 2011

Fin

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Some non-fiction books

I wish a prominent newspaper would compile a boring, predictable list of "great" non-fiction books. Oh, wait.

In a more idiosyncratic spirit, and more or less off the top of my head, here are some of my own non-fic favourites.

The Ongoing Moment, Geoff Dyer
The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein
The Kingdom by the Sea, Paul Theroux
Landscape and Memory, Simon Schama
Horror: 100 Best Books, Stephen Jones and Kim Newman (eds)
Imperium, Ryszard Kapuściński
Abroad, Paul Fussell
The Total Library, Jorge Luis Borges
We Did Nothing, Linda Polman
Reading the Holocaust, Inga Clendinnen
A Chance Meeting, Rachel Cohen
Like a Fiery Elephant, Jonathan Coe
U and I: A True Story, Nicholson Baker
Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut
The Forever War, Dexter Filkins
The Banquet Years, Roger Shattuck

Thursday, 19 May 2011

New song

Phonkee Philip by timsterne

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Juvenilia

For a long time I wanted to write a novel about a pianist. The pianist was going to be a jazz pianist and the novel was going to be called 88 Tuned Drums, which is how someone once described Cecil Taylor's aesthetic. At first it was going to be a Bernhardian monologue by the pianist's obnoxious brother or best friend. Then I decided it would consist of eighty-eight short sections that could be read in any sequence, with different sequences having particular harmonious or discordant effects. What a great idea! I thought, patting myself on the bottom like I was my own teammate in a ruggedly masculine and not-at-all-homosexual sporting team. Form and content: together at last! But the novel never came together because a) I realised I would have to learn a lot of stuff about music and life as a musician if I was going to make it work, and I was too lazy to get into all that; b) I became obsessed with my ingenious structural conceit to the point that I had no interest in developing characters and incident and story; and c) I realised there were already a gajillion novels about pianists and nobody was clamoring for another. Seriously, a gajillion. Just off the top of my head there's Bernhard's The Loser, Vikram Seth's An Equal Music, Wladvslaw Szpilman The Pianist, which was adapted into the movie by Roman Polanski. (There are lots of movies about pianists, too.) I'm sure you can think of your own examples, and if not, just make some up. (The Middle C by Christos Tsiolkas, say, or Pianofortress by Matthew Reilly.) If a novel or movie is about a classically trained musician you can bet they'll be a pianist, violinist or cellist, unless they're a principal opera singer or composer. Why aren't there (as far as I know) any novels about glockenspiel or trombone virtuosos? (The Tromboner's Wife has a lovely ring to it.) Are you telling me a novel about a French hornist - maybe even a horny French French hornist - wouldn't totally rock? It's time for literature and cinema to give equal consideration to the non-"sexy" instruments, like those anti-rockist rock bands who set up the drums at the front of the stage so as not to privilege the guitars or whatever. Thank god I didn't finish my piano novel. I would only have become part of the problem.

Other novels I have started, and in some cases written quite substantial portions of, include: a blatant Terry Pratchett/Robert Rankin rip-off about two young men who spoke using an absurdly rich and pompous vocabulary (I was sixteen and had recently discovered the thesaurus) and had wacky fantasy-based adventures of some sort; a Tarantino-esque lovers-on-the-lam pulp fiction in which an oversexed, wise-cracking couple went on a road trip/crime spree and inexplicably (I distinctly remember this part) shot up the toilet block of a Merimbula caravan park; The Critic, an alleged satire about a sharp-tongued tv critic and his entanglement with a Sam Newman-esque ex-footballer/media sensation. (I was in thrall to Martin Amis when I wrote this, which is funny because nowadays I'd be more inclined to write a satire about MA than emulate him); City, a grim fantasy set in an isolated city called City, because what could be more imaginative? These putative novels were all produced in my late teens/early twenties, so I probably shouldn't be too harsh on my callow self-of-old, nor should I make my self-of-now feel miserable by pointing out what, say, Keats had accomplished by the age I was drafting chapter one ("Bright Tights, Big City") of my city-based fantasy novel City, featuring John "City" City, a city guardsman whom the city has pushed too far...

Futurism

One of my friends is always going on about how future generations will laugh at our often hesitant, hand-wringing approach towards revolutionary technology.

Of course, future generations will be swimming in our shit, so they'll have to find humour where they can.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

There Is No Year, Blake Butler (2011)

My flippant twitter review of this book went something like:

A family moves into a house, weird shit happens to them for 400 pages. Some of these pages are grey for no apparent reason.

Yes yes, and Moby Dick is a book about a whale, as the joke goes. Yet the sort of reductionism being mocked in the line about Moby Dick depends on the book in question having more going for it than can be so readily condensed. I'm not sure There Is No Year falls into that category. A family moves into a house, weird shit happens to them for 400 pages. Some of these pages are grey for no apparent reason. That's the book.

I admit I may not have understood There Is No Year. If it is "about" something, then whatever it is passed me by. The weird shit that happens to the family could I suppose be read as an allegory of suburban malaise, in which case zzzzzzzzzz, or the modern condition, or whatever, but it doesn't seem to have any symbolic or metaphoric consistency. Weird shit happens, then some other weird shit happens, then some more, then (you'll never guess) the weird shit keeps on coming. I'll grant that some of the weird shit is distractingly, even frighteningly, weird. The why of it remains a mystery, however.

And look, I don't expect novels to conform to some weekend liftout standard of plot and theme and structure. Butler's earlier Scorch Atlas, a collection of short stories and prose poems loosely depicting an apocalyptic cataclysm, is one of my favourite books of the past few years. Everything in it - even the bits that were too obscure or dense to be fully understood, or too pretentious to be taken seriously - felt vital. The pages of that book are designed to look stained and forgotten, the book itself a relic of the end days it describes. There is very little vitality, conceptual or otherwise, in There Is No Year. Instead there are repetitive, tedious descriptions of weird shit, and some of the pages are grey for no apparent reason.

I wonder how I would feel about the book if it were 200 pages, or 100. I've tried opening it and reading portions at random, and it's amazing how much better they work in isolation. You get these bursts of weirdness, of odd juxtapositions, of Butler's unusual syntax and vocabulary. Over the long haul the good stuff starts looking less good, the tics and tricks start to grate. You get the feeling Butler could keep going, keep churning out this book until the end of time. Good for him, I suppose, but frankly it's a drag to read.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Monday, 28 March 2011

Funny how

New song.

Handsome boy

Kevin was a sensation in the world of juvenile modeling. To his poses in toy catalogues and generic brand clothing advertisements he brought a roguish charm and, when he was really on, an aura of existentialist despair. Camus with a Chupachup. Women wanted to mother him; men wanted to be him so they could be mothered by their women. Grandmothers carried in their handbags pictures of Kevin clipped from Target and Toys R Us catalogues. They gathered on rainy afternoons to compare their collections over canasta and tea. This profoundly creepy phenomenon had the whole country gripped. No wonder the government had Kevin rubbed out.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Touchy

There used to be a beauty shop up the road called A Touch of Glass. At least, that's what I thought it was called, but Mum said, "Now Jeffrey, don't be a silly billy. It's A Touch of Class. The C looks like a G because the sign is written all fancy-like." We shared a laugh at my simple error. A week later Mum went to get a facial and came home with her nose cut off, an eyed gouged out and her cheeks slashed open. "You were right," she said.

Dad cooked dinner that night.

The amazing spider-trees

Heavy flooding in Pakistan's Sindh province has caused millions of spiders to nest in the area's trees. New Scientist says that locals hope that the spiders' temporary living arrangement will result in a decrease in malaria, as disease-spreading mosquitoes are caught in the giant webs.

"Yeah," said a local man (pictured). "It's great. Less malaria. Fantastic. The only thing is, ALL OUR FUCKING TREES ARE FULL OF FUCKING SPIDERS. And eventually the trees will die and fall over and then where will the spiders go? It had better not be my house, let me tell you."

Visitors to Sindh province are advised to pass quickly through and pretend like they haven't noticed anything weird going on.

Emerge this

I dislike the term "emerging writer". I know it's used in a technical sense for the purposes of grant applications - an emerging writer is one who has published x number of stories, or kissed y number of bumholes - but its use as a general descriptor is nauseating. "As an emerging writer..." people say, like that means something other than "As a writer nobody has heard of...". I have nothing against writers nobody has heard of - I am a writer nobody has heard of - but giving the condition a fancy name does nothing to elevate it. Also, it sounds like you're a bug or something, emerging from a chrysalis. I don't want to imagine you as a bug or something emerging from a chrysalis. You're probably covered in sticky chrysalis-muck and smell like the inside of a chrysalis. If you weren't so high up on that branch I'd probably step on you. As we all know, crushing an emerging writer beneath one's boot is the sincerest form of flattery.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The office

I started a new job last week. It's in an office in the city, next to a strip club and across the road from another strip club. My office provides administrative support and instant coffee-making facilities for the strip clubs. (Not really. We don't have a kettle.)

Having worked in retail since I was purchased by Franklins Big Fresh in 1994, adjusting to working in an office has been interesting. One thing about retail is that you have a lot of contact with the general public, which has its obvious drawbacks, but does give you something to talk about and club together over. Although in my office we are constantly on the phone to various people, it's not quite the same, and in some ways I miss the random human contact retail provides. But then I think about all the things I hated about retail - including the random human contact - and that feeling soon fades.

So, the new job is not too bad, as jobs go. Different. Challenging. Next to a strip club. I'm sure I'll come to loathe it in time, but for now it's too new and scary to inspire anything as comfortable as loathing.

Friday, 4 March 2011

I will follow me

For the time being at least I'll be posting over here.

UPDATE: You know what? Tumblr is shit.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Feel good hit of the summer

My new song, "Boob Racist", is up on twaud.io here or grab it from Last.fm here.