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This, then, is a balm for my own maladies. What a gorgeous little book of amazing writing and characters. I don’t usually like short stories but this came highly recommended. I only started it two nights ago, after putting down The Lowland 30 or so pages in (finding I just really didn’t want to be reading more about independence and partition, and a story about brothers – not just now – maybe later) and I realise now this challenge will mean that I skip around a bit, pick things up and put them down if they aren’t grabbing me quickly enough.

For the first time for ages I went to bed last night looking forward to reading. It is not a good situation if I am not looking forward to reading. It is my biggest pleasure in life.

So, a big exhalation and onwards…

interpreter of maladies jhumpa lahiri

In other news, I have had a gander at the Sydney Writers Festival headline people and was tempted to just go go go, BUT am not going to, at this stage anyway. if I htink about the money I spend I would rather spend it on Ubud sometime (I’ve already had a tempting voice in my ear from someone I met there last year: Come, she said. Argggh, I replied.) but also, next year I’m going to be at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre in Perth for 2 weeks, just before the Perth Writers Festival, and after that will go to the festival, so I need to spread them out. But I do want to go and see the Franzen talking to Jonathan Green in Melbourne, because last time J-Franz was here, I had a ticket and didn’t go, because it was a rainy Friday night and I was sick. And I regretted not making myself go. So this time, I will, I will.

*

I confess I’m getting a little over festivals? (Blasphemous to even say.) For me, there isn’t enough literature, not enough writers of high calibre and reputation talking about their work. I’m not interested in journalists, celebrities and their memoirs, international digital media types (although I really liked seeing Maria Popova when she was out here at the MWF.) I get why festivals have been opened up more, to appeal to a wider group of people, and to try to add glossy people to the grey-heads who have traditionally been ticket buyers.

But. There’s not enough about literature, and serious stuff: the so-called highbrow stuff. There, I’ve said it.

There was recently (I  mean over a few months) an interesting daisy-chain of articles that kind of started with publisher Ivor Indyk voicing the idea, that literary prizes (and festivals by implication) have moved towards the ‘middle-brow’ a concept that lots of people have different responses to and definitions for. It seems that middle-brow somehow equates to popular appeal and authors do take it as an insult.

Ivor started the slow-burning kerfuffle (or maybe just continued it, who knows?) with his Sydney Review of Books article in September last year:

The Cult of the Middlebrow

It was followed (not necessarily followed-up) by Beth Driscoll writing about middle-brow fiction in another SRB article in October:

Could Not Put it Down

After that, the authors of the three novels mentioned in Driscoll’s article got together for a lengthy, articulate and forceful reply, which SRB (no doubt gleefully) published later the same month:

As One in Rejecting the Label ‘Middlebrow’

Everybody seemed to draw breath for a month or so, and then it was Jonno Revanche* in Kill Your Darlings writing about the ‘Melbourne voice’ and how he feels shut out of things:

Right Place, Right Time: How the Melbourne Voice shuts writers out

So. It was all interesting reading, and I read along as things unfurled. Things settled, maybe, people licked their wounds (sorry) but then, something else came into the mix, described somewhere as an ‘essay-bomb’: an article by Luke Carman in Meanjin, accusing arts administrators of being zombie-like, vampyric, and – even worse – ‘anti-artists’. The response this provoked is reflected (kind of) in a Googling of ‘Luke Carman’ and you get ‘shitfight’ as the second result. Here is the essay. It’s a long read and is styled in a peculiar, deliberate way. I had to read it three times to drill down :

Getting Square in a Jerking Circle

After that, there were a few responses online, with most people reacting negatively to Carman’s piece but Emmett Stinson’s response in Overland was one of the better ones:

Vulgar Rhetoric

I also really liked Boiling the Pot by Ellena Savage printed in the Lifted Brow, and of course it spilled into the MSM, with articles in The Guardian and The Australian.

I’m not putting all these links here to generate argument, or even discussion really, because I don’t know that my readers will be that interested in this. It’s more for me collating the stream into one place and to record the stoush which I think will be ongoing.

Ivor Indyk (whose company Giramondo publishes non-mainstream – read probably non-‘popular’ or ‘middlebrow’ fiction) has written a series of interesting articles for Sydney Review of Books.

On the Stella Prize

On Novelists and Poets 

On colouring books for adults

 

*I’m not implying Jonno’s article was part of the daisy-chain in any other way that timing. But he was picked up and carried along because Carman referenced him (along with everyone else).

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