Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Paddy O'Reilly discusses Peripheral Vision

Paddy O'Reilly's short stories in her latest collection, Peripheral Vision left me breathless again and again. You can listen to the full interview here. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Mistakes Were Made by Liam Pieper, review

Mistakes Were Made is a short collection of essays by Liam Pieper. It is a small paperback, a gorgeously designed Penguin Special, teal and cream, featuring the death card of the tarot on the cover. It is a collection of essays on diverse subjects –the perfect paperback to roll into your pocket.
Liam Pieper, whose first book was a memoir Feel-Good Hit of the Year. This was deeply personal, raw, and mildly scandalous recount of his young life, which included the overdose of his brother and his own, extensive experiences with many aspects of his life with drugs.
Mistakes Were Made and the essays included are life after the Feel-Good Hit, they make both light and dark of some of the ensuing ‘adventures’ of the author experiencing himself as “…famous, for a week and a half, in the middle of my thirtieth winter,” as he describes himself in one of the essays.
He interrogates his own racism in a strangely cohesive yet rambling essay called ‘The Unbearable Whiteness of Being.’ A self proclaimed “white, lefty Australian, who’s fit to burst with his own sense of egalitarianism,” he recounts the experience though describing a promotional tour he is on for his book, in the United States. In the concise dissection of racism, this essay takes you, the reader, from the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, to a school camp at Uluru, to the rough, ready racism in Australia and the visible and entrenched one Pieper observes in the States.
In David Niven’s 1974 autobiography The Moon’s A Balloon there is a scene, where Niven and his army mate, Trubshawe, are drunk and dressed as a goat at a regiment party, where the others are mainly Bo Peep or Mini Mouses. It is WW2. The formal dance is moving in a circle, Trubshawe and Niven wheel off into the centre of the large circle and drop some small olives behind them and move off. Re-reading this scene makes me laugh and laugh. The out loud laughter that can arise from silent reading is a true pleasure to experience – and Pieper made me do it. In the essay and there is a scene in the essay ‘Fame! (I’m gonna live forever)’ where he describes a ludicrous and true moment in his local bookshop, which he visits on the advice of “another friend, this one a media personality turned bestselling author” who urged him visit bookshops and sign copies of his own book. “They love it, the shiny, popular celebrity assured me.”
What follows at his local bookshop, while possibly mortifying for him at the time, makes for an extremely funny – and perfectly retold vignette which made me laugh. I laughed and laughed, then I read it out loud to friends and laughed more.  

Do yourselves a favour – essays are a wonderful invitation to consider our world in a different manner, with a different voice. They can bring short, sharp insight into our world, generally less than 5000 words (a bus trip into town) Pieper has a sharp wit, perspicacious mind and he brings clarity to varied subjects.

I interviewed Liam for The Book Show on Edge Radio. You can listen to the interview here.

A version of this review was first published in Warp.

Mistakes Were Made
by Liam Pieper

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Van Diemen's Land, an Aboriginal History by Murray Johnson and Ian McFarlane

Van Diemen's Land, an Aboriginal History, is actually another white man's history of Aboriginal Tasmania, but in this case it is written by two men, who are extremely knowledgeable in the area of Aboriginal Tasmania, both of them having lectured in the area for many years.
 The book would make a wonderful text book, covering history as well as the current situation for aboriginal groups in the state, offering some new research on historically contentious opinions such as the consumption of fish, the making of fire and the use of fish traps for example.
  While discussion and criticism are crucial for healthy debate, it is unfortunate that, some of the criticisms of the authors' peers are strident and a bit petty,
  I interviewed Ian McFarlane when the book was released, for The Book Show on Edge Radio. You can hear the full interview here.

Van Diemen's Land, an Aboriginal Historyby Murray Johnson and Ian McFarlane9781742234212 .
UNSW Press

The Black War, fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania by Nicholas Clements

The Black War, fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania is one of the rich and growing library of books on Tasmanian aboriginal history, following colonisation. It is more fascinating, confronting reading about Tasmania's recent past. Nicholas Clements has adapted his PhD on the broad subject of war, to create a strongly considered case on many aspects of warfare in Tasmania.
 Each chapter. covering subjects such as The Black Line, the sea-frontier and the north-west frontier, contains separate accounts of the experiences of both black and white.
  I interviewed Nick for The Book Show on Edge Radio, when the book was released - and I had a terrible cold, so I sounds a little strange.
   Please be aware that the interview, like the book, discusses some subjects such as murder and genocide, subjects which are as troubling to discuss and to listen to, as they should be.
You can hear the full interview here.

The Black War, fear, sex and resistance in Tasmania<
by Nicholas Clements,
978 0 7022 5006 4


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Review of A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey

Richard Kline is a seemingly mundane, rational, white man who pursues what  one would expect a mundane, white man to enjoy; a career, a wife, a family, material comforts, some vague intellectual challenges. Through the short period of his life that Lohrey reveals to us with subtlety, warmth and an incisive eye for the human condition, we know that what he appears to yearn for will never be enough for the eponymous Richard.
  The reader is briefly taken back to the childhood of Rick, as he is referred to. A suburban Sydney childhood, late 20th century, middle class, educated. This highlights how he differs from his siblings, how his parents experience him and of his alienation, which is almost a disdain for the world. It is often through the juxtaposition of characters that Richard is further revealed. This is a technique that Lohrey uses in a lot of her work, it is the minor or supporting characters who bring the main protagonists into sharper relief.
  The adult life of Rick, also traverses a terrain of normalcy; study, love, job, ambition, travel yet, it is all suffused with a yearning, an emptiness that he is at first not aware of, and then he does not know how to have an emotional or spiritual vocabulary to describe, let alone shift.
  A significant change occurs when he is on a team building exercise in the Blue Mountains,  abseiling in a place that ‘should’ imbue him with fear, that, ‘should’ allow him to increase his trust in his colleagues and ‘should’ allow them to return to the office as a tighter, more productive, more profitable unit. Instead, as he hangs off a cliff, on a skinny rope, his life in the hands of those he works in an office with, he is overwhelmed by boredom.
“But no, here I was, a young man, reasonably fit, with a mild hangover and a shocking indifference.”
  This is a pivotal moment and Richard’s life, subtly at first, begins a profound change. He then warily enrols in a corporate meditation practice, very much designed and pitched to improve productivity, concentration and reduce stress, this is done with a great deal of rationalising; his inner scepticism provides the perfect foil to the reader’s bewilderment about the spiritual progression he then begins to experience. This is enhanced by Lohrey’s decision to have a chaper in his voice, then a chapter from an unknown narrator throughout the book.
  The second pivotal point in the novel, is when he follows a colleague into the Chatswood Community Centre and, following a gentle fracas with the person on the door about whether he has to leave his pair of “almost new Italian leather slip-ons in a place where they could easily be stolen,” he is confronted with a crowd of devotees of a diminutive, dark skinned woman “draped in the gentle folds of a white cotton sari”.
  He is overcome by something he does not recognise and  with darshan, a beautiful Sanskrit word that denotes a spiritual recognition, a homecoming to an unknown home.
And, Richard, the heretofore rational, achieving, prosaic white male, is metaphorically touched by god in this suburban hall, he weeps and weeps and weeps. He cries for the first time he can remember and he doesn’t know why.
  One of the central premises of this finely crafted novel is the question of how a man who has had no time for spriritual ‘claptrap’ his entire life resolves to live with a deeply touching experience - and what happens to the relationships around him as this resolution sets in.
  Amanda Lohrey is an author of exquisite sublety and wry humour. Her ability to draw out the quieter nuances of the human condition is evidenced again in A Short History of Richard Kline. Again, she has crafted a male character of great depth, bought into high relief by the characters around him.
Lohrey was awarded the Patrick White prize in , 2012. This prize, a legacy of one of Australia’s greatest writers is given to authors who the judges consider to deserve more attention. While Lohrey felt that she was receiving enough attention to her work, it is a deserving accolade and one that should serve to highlight her solid, yet singing and pulsating oeuvre.
  A Short History of Richard Kline is a story split in two, of a man almost split in two – but who manages to reconcile this division ultimately for his greater fulfilment.

Variations of this review first appeared in Warp and The Mercury.
Amanda Lohrey will be in conversation with James Boyce about this book at Fullers Bookshop in June

A Short History of Richard Kline
Amanda Lohrey
Black Inc Books 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Talking Smack, honest conversations about drugs by Andrew McMillen

I interviewed Andrew about this excellent series of converations he had with prominent Australian musicians for Edge Radio. You can listen to the interview here

Talking Smack, honest conversations about drugs  is a collection of interviews with prominent Australian musicians about drugs and drug taking. Covering a wide range of experiences and a diverse selection of drugs, this is a non-judgemental, informative and entertaining book.
Steve Kilbey of The Church is first up, with his eleven year heroin habit and his lifelong use of hallucinogens and marijuana. He is brash and seemingly invincible. His stories include being arrested in New York and missing a show.  Kilbey contrasts sharply with Wally de Backer, better known as Gotye, who has barely touched drugs in his life, he feels little interest or desire – and nor is he judgemental of those who dabble or consume drugs more regularly.
Tina Arena is a bizarre inclusion, her interview features an unrelated rant, with bemused comments from the author throughout. She has little apparent experience with drugs – and some contradictory opinions on them and their use.
While Macmillan the journalist puts himself into the text, he is careful to provide honest and true portraits of drug use. The use of heroin, ectasty, DMT, LSD, marijuana, ice and cocaine is described in many aspects of use of these wildly varying drugs. The call for decriminalisation comes through as a theme from many of these high profile drug users.
Another interesting consideration from many of these musicians is their different responses to different drugs and how they affect the creative process. It seems agreed that a small amount of marijuana is conducive to listening to music, while heroin provides a sensation of invincibility, ice with its heady, empty power surge of a rush makes an interesting cameo as Grinspoon singer Ian Haug recounts his difficult rehab in the public eye.
Haug also says of drugs “(b)ut creatively, when it comes to music, you can enhance things, and hear things differently, when you wath a movie, you see it differently.”
Paul Kelly’s honest and unromanticised take on heroin, a drug he danced with for a long time, Is lucid and fascinating. Kelly was one of very few of his peers to have avoided a full blown habit.

The book ends with an excellent graphic essay drawn and written by the author’s brother, that recounts the history of the war on drugs in the twentieth century in the United States, which has more or less informed Australian drug policy. This is a well researched book that provides a fascinating and balanced report of drug use in the music industry.

(this review was first published in the December issue of Warp.

 Talking Smack, honest conversations about drugs
by Andrew McMillen

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Very Special Place

I had a chat with Jessica Burdon, illustrator of the lovely children's book A Very Special Place the other morning. The book is written by Tania Morgan and the Hobart launch is next weekend at the Avalon Market in Hobart (6-7 December), Some of the proceeds from sales are being donated to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.      You can hear the interview here, and find out more about the book here.
   Jessica has a solo exhibition coming up at the fabulous Stable gallery at the back of Cooleys in Moonah in the new year.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

A presentation on reading groups

When I worked at Fullers, I hosted five discussion groups on a single book, every month for four years.  This is a presentation about reading groups and community a I did at a conference looking at creativity and health a while ago.

Reading Groups

It is a great pleasure to be involved with a conference that revolves around such a crucial and inspiring issue – that of creativity and health. All of us, by very dint of us being in this room probably know about the magic that art and being creative can make to our lives – and I just love living in a time where this is discussed – and people like Jacquie Maginnis seek to get the message out there further. We may say ‘der, of course arts and creativity are good for us’ – but because this can’t be quantified, bottom lined, explained in a functioning spreadsheet, as a whole, it is not recognised widely in our society – even though we know it in our bones. I just wish that we could all attend every session of today’s program.

Reading groups are a gentle way to access the creative in our communities, an easy and fairly conservative way to get people into a creative space that also has the potential to offer a sense of inclusion, worth, participation as well as getting our hearts and minds functioning in a wider, more generous manner. They may not provide the breathy exhileration of singing in a choir, or the gentle satisfaction of finishing a water colour, nor the pumped magic of having a good dance in your living room – but what they can offer is a small key to healing our communities (dare I assume that our communities need healing? – yes, they do, because in so many instances, there is no community in our communities).

    I have worked as a professional facilitator of reading groups for four years – hosting between 4-5 groups each month, discussing one book. Groups averaging in size 6-7 people – often 10 or 11 and in two cases, 2 people.
These groups were set up 15 years ago, and had been run for ten years by one erudite woman. The hosts for the year before me were two young men, one of whom has just had a book about philosophy published, the other is just compelting hist Phd about travel writing and the author Robert Dessaix. Me? I just like reading – and I like people, connection, community and debate.
Reading groups provide this space – for connection, community building and discussion –and simply because it is an artificially created situation it therefore has the added bonus of being a safer space for these connections to be established, for sharing and for the airing of diverse opinions.
In so far as a reading group will generally discuss one book, it is also the most wonderful space to practice the sharing of diverse and often conflicting opinions in a mature and generous manner.
Now, I think that the general sense of a reading group is best done as a cliché –
Let’s just say – ladies of a certain age, perhaps with a tipple in their hands, perhaps taking time ‘of their own’ to socialise in a sanctioned space of the intellect – and I imagine that is dominant demographic of reading groups around the Western world.

So, what is a reading group or a book club?
Is it the 200 funky Sydney kids who meet at a cool night spot to dance to the music of a cult classic novel? A Kurt Vonnegut, Bukowski or even the soundtrack to the new movie of On the Road by Kerouac? Is it a group of dear friends who meet every three months to pick over a chapter of Nietsche? Is it a mothers group that meets hurredly over coffee discussing the latest romance? Is it a structured study group? A group of mates tittering over scenes in Fifty Shades of Grey or two women yarning over TV week – or twenty strangers in a room metaphorically ripping a graphic novel to shreds? All of the above and more. We live in an age where the book as we know it is being fundamentally reinvented and our reading habits are changing as well. Of course it presumes a literate society – and we know that taking the time to be with art or story can sometimes be seen as a luxury – but we also know the power of story in our worlds – written or not. I have a friend who argues strongly that Australia has more of an oral culture- and that books are a mere artefact of this.
Broadly speaking – our reading habits are changing – we no longer rely on the book in the traditional style of cover and pages, generally read from cover to cover – we, generally, are reading as much as we ‘ever’ has but from more disparate sources. The internet affords us this – access to our own libraries, personally curated daily. Articles or short stories sourced from people we from twitter, the latest entertainment news, ABC just in Hobart through to blogs we either check into regularly or stumble across in a seeming random manner. It is all reading – reading wider and not necessarily deeper.
In that context, what is considered the ‘traditional’ (and still most practised form of a book group) seems staid. This model is, of course, the stereotype I described above.
*What are some other forms of discussions about books that you would like to see/participate in?
I can speak most to this style of reading group – it is these that I have worked with closely – in fact intimately over the last four years. These groups, despite the fact that they existed for a very small demographic, exhibit all of the lovely symptoms that a book discussion can cause to erupt.
But how to establish a group? I’m sure that you all participate in little guerrilla book clubs all through your waking lives – small discussions about text – What is it most that you enjoying discussing here – I like literature, I like powerful, stylish, moving literature. Not necessarily story driven, but it has to be what I consider ‘well written’: queue: question number one:
What do you mean by well written?
And why would you even consider starting your own book club? Generally, this is because you have desire to discuss books –and accordingly you have probably attracted some friends of the same ilk. Ask them – find a place and a time and a date about a month away, choose the book and read like crazy.
It’s a good idea if you’ve chosen the book to read around it – inevitably the lead in some of the discussion will fall to you – what is it that drew you to this book. Talk about personal connection and resonance but go easy on the personal stories – the group will be carthartic without you seeking a talking cure.
Send around some links to articles or reviews that you find relevant to the book. Some people will read them, some not, and often on the grounds that to read around spoils the text. Sometimes I agree.
At the meeting I often think wine would be lovely –the groups at Fullers have always been dry.
Some feedback I’ve received, is that the time for personal catch up at the beginning of the group is really important – a number of the Saturday group now meet up an hour or so earlier and have lunch before the discussion starts. “It’s always nice to have a bit of a social side for a few minutes to get to know the people as well as the facilitator as more than simply attendees at a book group, It is good tohavea bit of social time and then get the book”
There are also wise suggestions for a changing facilitator, which often happens with groups of friends – who ever is hosting, often has chosen the book, most often the person looked to if the conversation is flagging.
In terms of maintaining the group – there are one million trillion book discussion groups in the world – that is an official figure – and each of these groups ebbs and flows, has nuances of course. It will of course generate similar amounts of energy to that which is put in.
Rachel Cusk, author of a number of novels and memoir wrote a depressing article that was published in the Guardian some months ago – headlined “Novelist Rachel Cusk joined a book group to discuss beauty and truth. Instead she found herself defending Chekhov, and perplexed as to why the English resist stories of everyday life” of course tells of a very small coterie of book club attendees – of course there are places for dense literary discussions (to which I am quite partial) but generally the discussion of books ranging from Grapes of Wrath, The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels, Don Quixote – yes, it is true – I picked the 914 page translation as the Summer read – no discussion in December or January – a good two plus months,
Cusk arrived in a small town in England and joined the local, long established book group. It was her turn to choose and she chose Chekhov, a Russian master of short stories – seriously! Do yourselves a favour, a quick yet slow dip into beautifully sculpted stories, moments of the characters’ lives.
“The ladies filed in despondently, holding their grim copies of Chekhov as people hold unsavoury things when they can't find anywhere to dispose of them. There were nuts and crisps and chilly little glasses of red wine, which people sampled erratically, undecidedly, as though, now the solace of reading had been contaminated, their generalised need for consolation had itself become strange and unfamiliar. So, someone said. So. There was a great sighing, a great wearied exhalation. “  and I had to read that in all its cutting intensity. I know that feeling actually – I met with it severely a couple of times – the choices? Everything from Lolita through to Yoko Ogawa’s Hotel Iris – the story I chose as it had a translator as a protagonist and i was reading a lot about translation. It also had a sado masochistic relationship between a teenager and a geriatric.

But let’s forget all of that and consider some other and varied styles of reading groups/book discussion groups that can exist – and then look, in a bit more detail at why this space can be creative, freeing, beautiful and, in a broader, community sense, therapeutic.