Tag Archives: reading

Of spectral moonscapes, ochre dusks and many other things

Dear Richard

It’s us. The Slow Reading Appreciation Collective. Perhaps you thought we had forgotten you, popped you on the bedside table and not picked you up again, such has been our silence over the last 6 weeks or so? We apologise if you were worried about our reading, slow, fast or some pace in-between. Never fear. Not for you the remaindered piles of unread books that sit gathering dust in our respective houses (while mine anyway….I shall not speak for fellow Slow Reader and Thought Terrainer). We have been greedily consuming your fabulous book over the past weeks. We’ve just been on holidays so we haven’t been much bothered with doing things like fulfilling a self-imposed commitment to write to you about it.

You probably don’t recall that last time we wrote we had arrived at p. 81. Kif was just completing his deal with the publishers to write Heidl’s book because money. Collectively we have now read up to p. 197. Individually we both have finished, but we shall keep reading collectively because that is when the gorgeousness of your prose comes to life and makes us laugh, gasp in horror, giggle and, frequently, sigh in dismayed recognition.

Now we know you’re a busy fellow so we won’t bore you with a detailed reading of our 100 or so pages. We’ll just look at some of our FAVOURITE parts. Some of the bits that made us “stop, collaborate and listen” (with apologies to Vanilla Ice). And by that I mean, we stopped, we chatted, we re-read just so we could hear some of these phrases again for their stunning beauty, unexpected, perfect metaphors and often times the need to unravel exactly what was happening.

Question: on p. 87 when you write “Like madmen walking backwards” are you slyly referencing Yann Martel? Only one of us has read the latest book and it will probably stay that way.

p. 98. Here’s something we marked at the time and didn’t really realise it’s significance. Should you have written in “spoiler alert” in the footnotes here Richard when Kif is musing on the colour and quality of Heidl’s eyes? “They had the depthless calm of black water in fatal rivers. Later I noticed that on some days his eyes were like those of a wild dog, the pupils preternaturally dilated. At such times, he seemed to circle his prey like a wolf. Mostly though, his eyes had the glaze of road kill. Without hope, they both terrified and mesmerised me.” Looking back I had underlined “fatal” in pencil as well as “glaze of road kill”. Having read the end that is coming back to haunt me. Powerful much Richard! Especially when we really had no idea what was coming in the end.

Wait up! Here’s the wombat reference on p. 102 when you’re talking about Ray. “His eyes momentarily had the same dying wombat look as Heidl’s”. That wombat comes back. Clever. Didn’t realise that then either. How clever you are now we see, because Kif is writing this is in present tense but also in retrospect. So it allows you to drop these hints and clues into the text without us, the readers, realising what’s happening. We are the colour of impressed.

p. 105. core vs non-core. We haw-hawed in recognition of this. #politics

p. 113 “scried”. What a lovely verb. Looking for signs/future/predictions.

We continued to enjoy your writing about writing. Here’s a bit that got the underlining pencil treatment as you describe Heidl speaking “At such times, he talked simply, in the way the best writers write simply; his words nothing, the undertow of them everything,” (p. 123). Oh, but we could all write like that.

And then again on p, 124, Heidl and “his corpse eyes”. Foreshadowing again which we manage to underline but clever you, we perhaps did not see the full implications of these evocative descriptions. Blow us down if we don’t see that again on the very next page where you liken finishing a novel to murder. whoa.

I”ll tell you what made us laugh out loud was on p. 138 where Kif put together his writing schedule. This was the laugh out loud/sigh with recognition situation that we adored throughout the book. And here’s the best description of anything I’ve ever seen perhaps (overstatement obviously but you know) “panting cursor”! That’s what it does!!!

Other words caught our eyes and our imaginations “arabesques of nonsense” (p. 140). We were stopped in a tracks by this one on p. 155 of the west of Tasmania

“dying mining towns, spectral ruins in a moonscape of desolation, wounded blues and greens and bright bronze rock glistening in the forever rain and lonely yellow headlight trails, turning north past the last of the rusting, ripple iron shanties, seven stubbies down, maybe more, gunning it up the green-walled mountain passes”.

Blimmin Heck.

I for one would love to listen to someone sing a “song cycle of demand” (p. 161) or be able to see the “ochre cataclysm of dusk” (p. 185).

What about this though on p.188 “But the truth is that if I stopped for even a moment and thought about the things I’d done I’d have to kill myself. And maybe that was Heidl’s fear too”. Sheesh. Missed the true significance first time round but it’s even more fantastic on second reading.

So we have slowly made it to p. 197. Reading. Definitely Appreciating. Collectively. And now also, we both know what’s coming, just like your narrator Kif, so when we next meet to read again together we will have the inside knowledge on how it ends, and how reliable or otherwise Kif might be in his/your depiction of himself and of Heidl.

Thanks for the deliciousness Richard.

Sincerely

Us.

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The Faustian deal

Hello Richard

We meet again. All of us. You, Kif, Us – the Slow Reading Appreciation Collective. Well we met again. On Monday evening. You might not have realised because you weren’t there in actual real time but I’ll tell you what. You certainly provoked some of the old discussion there. In fact I think it’s fairly safe to say that we discussed more than we read. Because of you. And Kif.

This fortnight we started at p. 63 and got up to p. 78 for anyone who might happen to be following along at home. You certainly placed Kif in a creative and ethical pickle. Should he take the ghost-writing offer or should he plug away at his novel. Can he do both? Certainly, it seems like the novel is hard yakka what with his awful Council job. He needs money. We understand. Money is a problem for those who seek a creative life. We felt for Kif as he worried he would ‘somehow be tainted, not simply publicly, but in my heart, having abandoned some sacred trust for a Faustian deal involving money’. (p. 63). Gosh how giggled (one of us a little forlornly in sad recognition) at Kif’s publication history up to this point. His book on Tasmanian modernism, his short stories. His commitment to “literature”, his desire to stay a “real writer…who had not really written anything real” (p. 64).

As always, Richard you delight us with your wordsmithery “gobbets of work”. Gobbets! Perfect.

And poor Kif. You really have emphasised his family dilemma with the twins on the way, and Suzy, his long suffering partner. How Kif manages be so confused about her unconditional love for him that is not based on his success or failure as writer is all too poignant. He was so determined to stuff things up. Amazing really. So angry, so self-pitying, and so frightening. Kif is a writer in the middle of a personal and professional crisis.

And then he loses his job – his only reliable source of income – at the Council, where the garish Jen Birmingham finally gives him the sack.

And then, only then, when Kif is at his lowest, he gets the call. The offer from Gene Paley to write Heidl’s memoir. Before he knows it, the deal is on. He proves himself to be hopeless at bargaining for expenses and yet here he is now on a six week deadline.

So while we didn’t read very much in terms of pages, Kif’s artistic dilemma – of principles, achievement or lack thereof, of self-belief or lack thereof, of money or lack thereof certainly got us thinking….about our own principles, achievements, self-belief, financial situations, work-life balances, successes and failures, life, the universe and our places in it. It was a welcome and reflective parallel discussion to Kif’s story. We saw ourselves in Kif’s struggle to see himself as a writer who really hasn’t written anything much yet. Is it self-indulgent to live a life marked by creative interests and pursuits? Is it selfish? Is it necessary? Perhaps it is all of those things….more or less. What happens when creativity in any form goes missing in our lives. What happens to our equilibriums? Is this why we can feel out of whack? How much pursuit of creativity can one fit into a life while also paying the bills and buying the groceries? Is it possible to do both? How? Should we?

Perhaps there are not concrete answers to any of these questions. Perhaps a creative life is a continual questioning? And that’s okay?

Richard?

Are you there?

See you in two weeks.

Slow Reading Appreciation Collective.

all about the book

Dear Richard

Here at Thought Terrain, we’ve started reading your latest book, First Person.

So far, so great and wonderful. However, before I start gushing about the actual book, I think I’ll just make a few things clear. We’re not a book club. We don’t drink wine, waste time talking about our days, our work gripes, our families, the hilarious exploits of our children, the latest bargains at Aldi (ok maybe we did have a brief chat about the latest catalogue but it didn’t go on for very long and it was essential). We don’t prepare a gourmet meal to show off to our fellow club members what domestic goddesses we are. We are real people who like reading, We wanted to talk to another person about the actual book. Yes. I know. As far as we can tell, most book clubs are less about the book and more about the socialising.

We are all about the book.

Anyhoo on with the show. We thought it might be an idea to keep you updated with our reading adventures, our thoughts, our ideas, our sometimes confusion, and our questions. It will also help keep us updated with how we are going. You know. With the book.

So far, so many pages. We got up to p. 31. Why, you might wonder did we not get any further? Happy to tell you Richard. We read the book out loud. That’s right. Every word up until then. How was it, you ask? Fan-Bloody-tastic. That’s right. We’ve decided it’s the only way to read this book. It’s the best way. It made us giggle and laugh at the funny parts, exclaim over the beautiful parts and ponder at length the poignant, sad, profound bits.

Ok. Here’s how it unfolded. We ate a quick dinner. Instant Aldi pasta with some broccoli, tomato and parmesan. Then a cuppa was made, accompanied by dark chocolate and some raspberries. Then, we started.

We liked the prologue quote thing that you popped in first. It set the scene noicely. Immediately, we cottoned on to the fact that this was a book about books, writing, novels and the attraction of crimes, misdemeanours and those that are involved in that kind of palaver. Indeed, we’re picking up on the notion that the publishing industry might be filled with crooks and cranks  – a sort “history of highwaymen” (Flanagan). Robbing the rich to make themselves richer perhaps? Perhaps I’m reading too much into that. Maybe once we get past p. 31 I’ll know more.

Then you got cracking for reals. You didn’t muck around. Straight to the point with your first person narrator (who we think swings between being a character and being YOU). “Of course”, you write, “he didn’t want a memoir written….But I only realised this later, much later, when I came to fear that the beginning of that book was also the end of me” (p. 1).  Dramatic much? We thought so. And that was just the end of the first paragraph.

We laughed as we read your description of “literature”. Too often have we ourselves been baffled by books that feature “the tropes of time dancing” (p. 1). Perhaps we haven’t described it so eloquently, but we were happy that you did. And oh, those sentences that are longer than two lines. Ha. We hear you loud and clear. Such concentration is needed to read and inwardly digest.

By the end of our first 31 pages we had a pretty good sense of publisher Gene Paley. Yep. That’s right. Already. And Siegfried Heidl. Characters both. We can’t wait to see how they unfold further.

We read on. We lingered on this for a while “It may be someone else’s blood soaking into the dust, he wrote, but I am that dust”. (p. 5). Memories, pasts, inventing the self, renewing, fiction, non-fiction, unreliability of the authorial voice. Something. We returned to this and read it out loud a few more times, letting it soak into our brains, making an impression that was lasting.

And then we revelled in your depiction of the publishing office and the industry and its gradual decline, reminding ourselves that you were writing about the early 1990s in Australia. The recession we had to have. “Granular analytics” (p. 6). We writhed inwardly, having each sat through one too many meetings, in various sectors, where such phrases were bandied about as if that had some actual meaning. You repeated phrases like “the trade” and “the numbers” and in doing so showed us how empty they are/were, yet how they are wielded as a way of holding on to power.

“Hokey teak veneer” (p. 7). That made me smile. We’ve all seen that. And Jez Dempster. Firstly, great name for a blockbuster airport novelist. Secondly, his “cinder block tomes blinged” with his name are all too real and a little bit scary. I mean really, who wants their name in giant gold lettering on the cover of a book? Jez Dempster that’s who.

It just got more delicious the more we read. The “shoddy bombast” of the publishing company with its “faux Edwardian Laminex desk”. (p. 8). We were seeing it in our minds’ eyes as we read it aloud.

Is there a reason you don’t indicate direct and indirect speech with punctuation Richard? We found it a little bit confusing at first. What was being said and what was being thought? Perhaps though we decided, this was part of the joy of what you were doing. Confusing while building the confusion of your characters? Maybe I’m making that up. Reading too much into it. Just like Kif might have to do to understand and write about Ziggy Heidl. Wait, is that Ziggy infecting us now –  with his obsession with the toxo?

“the torso of a daschund topped with the head of a cockatiel”. This delighted us and helped us see Gene Paley just that little bit more clearly. Thanks!

And then there was the line. My favourite line so far.

“The day smelled of damp stone”. (p. 16). Now, as far as I can remember, I’ve never knowingly sniffed damp stone, but immediately I knew what the day smelled like. You’re very good Richard. No wonder you won that Booker Prize.

We’re wondering who Ray is by now too. When are you going to give us a little bit more. We’re guessing he’s important because you casually drop into the conversation on p. 19 that he’s dead. At least we think that’s what you mean. We can’t wait to find out. But just a minute, we had to pick up our phones to Google the Melville quote from Moby Dick. “The unbodied air, wrote Melville” (p. 19). What is unbodied air? Is it empty of people? Just space? We haven’t got time to read all of Moby Dick. Thanks for assuming that we might have read it already. We’re flattered.

And that was the end of section 1. With glee we kept going, even though it was a school night and we probably should have stopped. But WE COULDN’T because in the telling of the story we found ourselves wanting more. Your bloody beautiful prose and your kicking characters had in 19 pages, got us hooked. It was beaut to read it and hear it come alive – out of thin air!

So we powered on and suddenly you’re bloody well quoting Othello and Heidl is Iago, the manipulator and we’re all over it now. Because we’ve just seen Othello on a recent trip to Melbourne and isn’t that a huge coincidence. Or serendipity. Or something. Clearly, your book was meant to be.

“I am not what I am, I said”. Indeed you are not Ziggy Heidl. And can the same be said for Kif, your narrator? We will see what happens to him.

Who is Papa Doc we wondered (p. 30). We’re aware of Pinochet and Walt Disney. This seemed profound “The achievement invents the life it needs in way of explanation”. (p. 31). Suddenly that seemed very true.

We meet again in a fortnight Richard so we’ll catch you then and let you know how we’re going.

Cheers

Wendy and Adrienne (not a book club).

All the books I have not read

I seem to have lost the ability to read.

Don’t freak out. I mean I can read words just like normal.

The problem arises when they are placed sequentially in a fancy, literary-type book.

I’ve noticed this little issue for a while and it’s been growing and growing. I can’t be bothered reading award winning literary fiction any more. It does my head in. I have no patience for it. It’s slow. It ponderous. It makes me fall asleep. Is the problem with me or the books?

Most recently I’ve failed to get past the opening pages of The Poisonwood Bible even though I’ve had it on loan from a patient friend for over a year. Meanwhile I’ve re-read all of LM Montgomery (Anne, Emily and the like), every autobiography or memoir of a writer, comedian or actor that’s been release in the last couple of years (Tina Fey, Rob Lowe (x2), Amy Poehler, all of Caitlin Moran’s books, Graham Norton, basically any British comedy with a half-arsed idea for a book – Rob Brydon, David Mitchell, Russell Brand and the like). In the past year or so, I’ve also read all of Freya North’s chick-lit, and everything by Alexander McCall Smith set in Edinburgh. I’ve managed the latest Ian Rankin’s bar two.

So I guess it’s not that I can’t read. I just can’t get my brain to focus on certain kinds of reading. Why?

Well I’ve done a lot of staring into space over the last few days and I’ve come up with the following reasons.

My attention span is short. I do blame social media even though I like it and think it serves a useful purpose most of the time. (a topic for another post)
My attention span for anything more complicated than Frankie magazine or the latest Buzzfeed listicle is also kaput. I blame completing a PhD. My brain had to work very hard for a long time. It got tired.
Some books are really thick and big and look boring. I would rather watch the film/TV series/read the Wikipedia summary. It’s quicker.
Books that win prizes (Booker, Pulitzer, Miles Franklin etc etc) are often more about writing than reading. Just a rash, unsupported statement there. Do with it what you will. See points 1 and 2 for why I’m not expanding on it here.
So this non-reading thing has been coming on for a while. And it’s concerning me because now that I’m bona-fide librarian surely I should be reading “worthy, proper books”. Well we all realise that is a snobby sentence of the highest order and that the high-low culture dichotomy collapsed some decades ago (see cultural studies 101 for further details). But still, surely some of these books I don’t seem to be able to read are lovely?

So with that in mind I’ve set myself a reading challenge. It’s called All the Light We Cannot See. I’ve got the rest of the holidays to read it. I’ve deleted FB from my phone to avoid the endless, mindless scrolling and liking. Twitter will be next. At the moment I’m allowed to keep Instagram.

I’ve read the first few pages. I’d tell you what they were about but I can’t remember so I’m going to have to read them over. To succeed I am going to have to read in the morning, sitting up in a chair with a cup of tea. I may have to take notes.

Wish me luck.

14.04.17 Update

I did it. I finished the book. I read the whole thing. It was great. Sometimes I fell asleep, but not immediately. I read it in the morning, the afternoon and the evening. I even got to the point where I couldn’t wait to get home so I could keep reading! Success. Achievement unlocked. Hurrah for me. etc.

FB is still absent from my phone. Not that I haven’t replaced that mindless scrolling with mindless scrolling through twitter and instagram but I guess it’s one less app to mindlessly scroll through which has to be something right? My current rule is that I can use FB when I am sitting at my computer which is less than 6000 times a day so I think I’m cracking the FB habit.

I”m also on the lookout for my next book that isn’t on my Kindle.

Reading.