The silver set and the beautiful people

(Yes, I’ve changed the format of my titles, it’s not a boo-boo).

I attended the Summer Read Awards at the State Library yesterday afternoon (winner I am Melba, Ann Blainey), and was still surprised (but shouldn’t be) to hear that most of the voters were of the silver set – and voted by snail mail *gasp*. Seriously – how come book-related things atill aren’t getting to so many youngsters? I know a great part of my audience here on the blog are young (going by Facebook fan page, Twitter, emails etc.) Are we generally just too busy to send in voting forms? That may be all it is. Retired folks have more time to read, participate in public book discussion, and attend writers’ festivals.

The most gorgeous part of the ceremony (besides Alan Brough’s funnies) was a moving Greek performance/reading by Arnold Zable (from his book The Sea of Many Returns) and two musicians. In Greek culture, Zable told us, music is intertwined with language, and with life in general. What a beautiful thing.

sdrGot to re-meet Toni Jordan after having finally bought Addition (added to the pile). She is such a lovely, warm person. And also got to meet Zable and Steven Conte. I have such admiration for Arnold Zable – I have heard him speak quite a few times. He’s a passionate storyteller and the president of the Melbourne chapter of PEN. Steven Conte, as you may know, is last year’s winner of the 2008 PM’s Award for Fiction with The Zookeeper’s Wife. He was also lovely but I’d drank too much champagne too quickly and told him I felt inadequate because I hadn’t read his book yet. I suppose I should stop apologising for just being one person with one set of eyes! Anyway, you should buy all these books from Mary Dalmau at Reader’s Feast because she’s a legend.

After the awards I had a fantastic catch-up chat with Genevieve, whose blog is one of the most intelligent, well-written litblogs you’ll come across. I loved learning that she is able to read in French. What a wonderful skill to have. Besides lots of individual book title-talk, we also discussed the challenges of reviewing poetry, and our place in Australia’s cultural sphere as recognised litbloggers. Genevieve holds an interesting place, as a freelance writer for print and web arenas, and a very strong advocate for well-written cultural blogs. She was on the selection panel for the Summer Read program (introduced at the opening as a blogger, and at the awards as a freelance library journalist).

I then attended the launch for another new journal Stop Drop and Roll. The design is tres modern and I’m looking forward to a peek inside. Chris Currie and Josephine Rowe are among the contributors. There were many beautiful hipster-looking folks at the launch and I enjoyed the people-watch. There were two girls who looked like Diane Keaton and Shelley Duvall circa 1977. There was a smiley, glasses-clad, very tall skinny pale lad with a torn white T-shirt showing his ribs. There was a very attractive girl in leather jeans, a scarf on her neck, a plastered down fringe and long eyelashes. There was a broad-shouldered guy in a white skirt. I don’t know where they all come from or what they do in the daytime. The Lifted Brow launch had a similar sort of crowd. Will these lovely wide-eyed oft-broken-edged kind of beauties (or is it surface/fashion only?) come to the Emerging Writers’ Festival? Do they read anything that isn’t designed chicly?

To some round-up stuff. There’s a lot today but perhaps bookmark some links that interest you for later (and come back and comment!):

* Writerly friends! The guidelines and nomination form for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards have arrived. There are many categories for published writers. And of course there is the prize for an unpublished manuscript for an emerging Victorian writer. Wait… that’s me! I’ll have to scrub something up for entry. All you talented folks should enter also.

* Professor Eric Williamson — a card-carrying liberal in full tweed glory — argues that ‘the entire culture has become narcotized.’ An English teacher at the University of Texas-Pan American, he places the blame for students’ dim reading squarely on the unfettered expansion of capitalism. ‘I have stood before classes,’ he tells me, ‘and seen the students snicker when I said that Melville died poor because he couldn’t sell books. ‘Then why are we reading him if he wasn’t popular?”

Oh, isn’t it SO depressing? Is it happening in Australian universities too? I know that during my BAHons through CQU I was actually exposed to a large, wonderful variety of literature – from the classic to the modern and the postmodern. I think it still depends on the university, the lecturers, and the students themselves – but the article does paint a bleak picture. The above quote just makes me want to vomit in horror.

* The Castlemaine Festival is taking place very soon – from March 27 to April 5. See the full literature program featuring such lovely talented folks like Alex Miller, Cate Kennedy, Nathan Curnow, Alex Skovron and more. Unfortunately I can’t make this one!

* The Queensland Writers Centre is holding an event next Friday, the 27th called Wordpool: The Future of the Book. QWC says ‘Join Bob Stein, Founder and Co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, and Founder of The Voyager Company for a lively discussion on the impacts of the digital revolution. He’ll be joined by QWC CEO Kate Eltham, fresh from her participation in the O’Reilly: Tools of Change for Publishing Conference in New York.’

* April Bookseller+Publisheris out! It has Ray Martin’s face (repeated) on the cover. After seeing the cover I couldn’t get Eric Bana’s Full Frontal version of Ray Marting out of my head. Remember naughty Neville and Beulah? ‘Hello Raaaaay’. But seriously – in this issue I round up titles coming out for Mother’s Day, and review David Malouf’s Ransom. Did I love it? Yes. Particularly the middle section. Here’s an extract of my review:

‘In some places, descriptions of Priam are reminiscent of King Lear, in his reversions to childlike innocence, and his rash instinctual decisions. The centre of the book is philosophical, moving, and hard to shake from the senses. Recurring Malouf themes of masculine roles and ways of relating between classes are present – including an obseration of intimate versus reserved fatherhoods. There is also the notion of chance versus the divine hand, and related to this, death’s inevitability, along with birth and other renewals. In Priam’s recognition of small things, like the trickling stream around his feet, or the curiosity sparked in him by the common man’s description of his daughter-in-law, we recognise our smallness and common ground with others, even our enemies.’

The book is slim, but dense and descriptive (as suits the classic narrative) but once you get through the first chapter you slip into a rhythm with it and are opened up to the both earthly and fantastical story.

There are also interviews with Richard Harland and Garry Disher (so eloquent and a great crime writer, I’ve read one of his previous novels). There are articles on the growth of online bookselling; my trialing of online book networking sites (see how I ended up with Shelfari!); and the goss from the Tapei Book Fair from Text’s Anne Beilby – pus a gazillion other reviews.

* Speaking of Malouf – he’ll be appearing at Reader’s Feast Bookstore in Melbourne on March 31 to talk about the novel. I’ll be there – it’s $6 and you can RSVP to

* The Emerging Writers’ Festival has done a callout for its Living Library. This means you get to ‘borrow’ and expert for 15 minutes during the fest in May – get in quick!

* If you’re in Hobart, I’m very jealous, because you can go see this theatre version of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, complete with music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. It sounds unbearably awesome. Damn you!

* I’m a new Alan Moore fan. The Watchmen Read & Seen is forthcoming, and I’ve just gotten a copy of Promethea Vol. 1 to see how the bleakmaster does female heroines. Beattie led me also to this interesting article about the Lost Girls pornographic comic he has made with his wife. I’m very, very intrigued. There’s also a fair bit about him, Watchmen and how he feels in general about his film adaptations. Worth your time if you’re getting into graphic novels as I am.

* Speaking of which, I’m very disappointed with the lack of complex female characters in graphic novels in my search thus far. Here’s a great (and worrying) essay I found on the topic. And seriously, for some reason not many people understand what I mean when I say complex. I don’t just want some feisty leather-clad busty babe (read: still objectified and one-dimensional). I want someone as complex as Rorschach. Someone angry and controlling like Margo in Margot at the Wedding with maybe a few superhero stunts on the side. I want to be challenged by her. I haven’t even come across any relatable Peter Parker types yet. *sigh* I know they’re out there and I’m new to this but it’s been very frustrating. I know a lot of people will say the predominant audience for GN is men and boys, but don’t men get bored by all the flat boring women as well (once they’re done imagining them tying them up?) And I’m not being a boring prude either – we all like a bit of fantasy, fun, complete escapism, chest shots – but it would be nice to see more choice and variety, not a complete perpetuation of glossy, surface-based capitalist, women-as-objects culture. BUT, I have found this site, which will assist my future endeavours I’m sure. And I know, I will have to write my own anti-consumerist appeal-to-both-sexes complex, dramatically compelling, still sexy comic one day… Oh, and PS, I do love the film of Persepolis, I’m sure I’d like the GN too.

* New Cordire Poetry Review is up! Haikunaut…

* Contribute a postcard to A Book About Death.

* You know when you’re watching a movie and you’re like ‘hey, that’s that guy, from whatsit!’ Well, here’s something fun for you.

MONDAY – Steven Amsterdam ‘responsive’ interview. You know you’ll love it.

15 thoughts on “The silver set and the beautiful people

  1. From the Washington Post article:
    [For the Twitter generation, the new slogan seems to be “Don’t trust anyone over 140 characters.”]

    I’m gettin’ old. 🙂

    No doubt someone out there is doing a twitter verison of the great books…

  2. Given the mid-nineties feel of the State Library’s various websites, I don’t think it’s a surprise that postal votes carried the day. And I have felt this whole “summer read” award business to be uninspiring thematically. What is it trying to say?

    Are you thinking of Graphic Novels as a genre or a medium? You won’t find much published by DC or Marvel that inspires these days. “From Hell” by Moore is excellent (there was a bloggy bru-ha-ha recently about it being misogynist, but that stemmed from mistaking one character’s (Gull) rantings as being the author’s opinions. I think the female characters in that work are very strong indeed, given their circumstances.

    Sandman by Gaiman has a rough start, but if you haven’t read it I think you’ll love most of the female characters on show – Death and Thessaly in particular fit your criteria.

    Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan is wonderful.

    Nicki Greenberg’s Great Gatsby is fantastic…

    I could go on…

  3. Thank you, Angela, for your very kind remarks – we both know the respect is mutual, yess!!

    Incisive and very useful feedback on SLV, too – I agree there is much to learn about reader development across all ages, I’m sure they would agree too.
    We certainly want some of the beautiful set down there – maybe Aleks and the Ramps should play at the library, or at RMIT in the yard, then progressing across Swanston St and into Experimedia on a small truck 🙂
    Web issues should definitely be on the radar, yes! and thanks for the tips about GNs. I can particularly recommend Persepolis, which my daughter lent me recently.

    Hey what a great roundup! whew. I haz found two great things to read already, and would like to go to Castlemaine myself.

  4. Grog – one of my Twitter Feeds (I believe it’s ‘TwitterLit’) just posts the opening lines of great novels. There are a lot of good bookish things going on there.

    Greg – not sure what it’s trying to say – just getting people reading and buying Victorian literature I guess. But it will die out if it’s not engaging the ‘yoofs’, yes. I think there is probably room for improvement (and Genevieve’s suggestions sound great!)

    Thinking of GN as a medium, which I know is as broad as any other. And I’m seriously very new to it. But THANKS for those suggestions. I’m very grateful. I think Sandman is somewhere on my to-read list already, but I’ll make certain of it. And very interested in Moore’s ideas and writing so will enjoy tracking down more of his stuff. The Great Gatsby is in fact one that Genevieve and I were discussing yesterday!

    Genevieve, make sure you tell me all about Castlemaine if you get there!

  5. Greg, I followed the Summer Read this year and I agree with your comments regarding the look and feel of the site and associated blog. In fact, I mentioned to Genevieve on Friday that the blog was very clunky to use and that it might dissuade people from posting; I think the formality of the blog is also a turnoff.

    As far as engaging yoof, well, I was engaged and I consider myself *just* young enough to still be in that category, at least for a little while more. But I saw little promo aimed at the non-silver-set demographic; apart from an inset in The Age, the only marketing I saw was in libraries. Not that young people don’t go to libraries (I do), but I think the marketing could be extended to more youthful demographics (and by that I mean people of all ages, from the silver set down…). Having a good blog that looks great and works well would be a good step in this direction…

  6. Lisa, you’re certainly ‘yoof-ful’ 😉 And I go into libraries also. But besides your blog, really, I saw absolutely no promotion for the program. Hum. I’m sure the newspaper insert reached quite a lot of people, but an exploration of different avenues might do well next year. And I agree about the blog – the font was rather small too. But the content was great!

  7. I think one of the issues with the blog is that it was so embedded in the SLV site, and didn’t really look very bloggy. Also, the comment system was clunky and the moderating slow.

    I think there is a lot of scope to do more social networking with the blog and a bit more promo in online arenas. I got the impression that most of the readers leaving comments on the blog weren’t bloggers, and if there had been a few more people comfortable with blogging responding to posts it might have been a bit better. Of course, that would need a blog with normal blog functionality and that looks and is accessible. It’s a shame, because as you noted the content on the blog is amazing.

    Anyway, hopefully Genevieve is taking notes and will pass this all on next year!

  8. “I suppose I should stop apologising for just being one person with one set of eyes!”


    my muse has only two eyes
    she laughs and winks with one
    and stares
    into my liver with
    the other

    my feet are yours
    as are my knees
    crumpled and alone
    until the dawn’s torment
    and drags me away

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