In the middle of last year, I began hunting down second-hand copies of The Complete Works of George Orwell. I use the word copies advisedly, because the complete Orwell consists of twenty tomes: nine novels and eleven volumes of collected letters, essays, journalism and fascinatingly varied jottings.
Twenty volumes. Over eight thousand, five hundred pages in total. And the fruit of seventeen years of hard graft by its editor, Peter Davison. Continue reading
Posted in Great Books
Tagged Bibliomania, Clive James, Essays, George Orwell, Journalism, Martin Amis, Novels, Peter Davison, Politics, Salman Rushdie, The Complete Works of George Orwell
Determining the literary vitality of a country like Australia is a difficult task. This difficulty, it seems to me, is closely linked to the impossibility of defining ‘Australian Culture’, or ‘Australian Values’. Inevitably such discussions get bogged down in witless abstractions like mateship, and from there it’s not a long time before meat pies, Steve Irwin, Crocodile Dundee and beer work their way into the conversation. We’re a nation on the make, and we still don’t know quite what we’re making.
In 2002, Clive James delivered the inaugural David Scott Mitchell Memorial Lecture. The lecture is well worth reading, and well worth listening to, as are nearly all the things that James has written and said in his long and bewilderingly varied career. Clive James is important to my point. James is the Kid from Kogarah – he’s one of ours: an Australian product. Continue reading
Posted in Bibliophilia
Tagged Australian Culture, Australian Values, Bookish, Books Alive, Clive James, Crocodile Dundee, Cultural Cringe, David Scott Mitchell Memorial Lecture, George Orwell, Get Reading!, Kid from Kogarah, Literacy, Neophilia, Peter Garrett, Reading, Shakespeare, Sociology, Steve Irwin, The Fidgets, The Lion and the Unicorn, Timon of Athens
I love hearing about how writers write. Hemingway wrote standing up – by some accounts with a carpenter’s pencil (macho: very, very macho). Terry Jones insists that he wrote Starship Titanic in the nude. Proust wrote in bed, in a cork-lined room. Hunter S Thompson loaded up on anything from bourbon to Benzedrine, put a Dunhill in a cigarette holder, lit up and let rip. Kerouac wrote on rolls of paper because he believed that individual pages imposed artificial boundaries on his prose. Martin Amis hand-writes his fiction, but used a computer for Experience. Clive James sometimes writes in cafes and takes a nap every afternoon. When writing a book Stephen Fry gets up progressively earlier each day to work on it and eschews shaving. Salman Rushdie starts writing at 10:30am and doesn’t eat lunch.
I love this kind of information because it’s essentially gossip. The last thing I’d ever do is think that any of these snippets represented the secret to successful scribbling. They just give my impressions about writers a local habitation and a name.
It’s puzzling, therefore, to be confronted with advice relating to writing. And when I’m confronted with rules for becoming a writer purporting to be a signpost reading ‘Fountain of the Hippocrene: 500m’, I start to twitch a bit and bite things. Continue reading
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Clive James, Experience, Fiction, Hemingway, Hunter S Thompson, Kerouac, Martin Amis, Proust, Salman Rushdie, Stephen Fry, Terry Jones, Will Self, Writing
I despise bad language, but I love bad language.
But do let me rephrase that – I realise it wasn’t exactly clear.
I abhor bad grammar and the employment of the English language in such ways as render it ugly or even plain, but I love swearing. Continue reading
Salman Rushdie is still probably most famous for having had a price on his head larger than the vast majority of book advances.
The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, attracted the ire of the Ayatollah Khomeini who (with charming timing) called for Rushdie’s death on Valentines Day 1989. It would be nine years before Rushdie could again walk the streets without a team of minders in reasonable confidence that his imminent death by violence was unlikely. Reading The Satanic Verses today, it’s rather hard to see what all the fuss was about – granted, it does describe a brothel in which the gals take on the names and personalities of the wives of the Prophet Mahound (no prizes for guessing who he’s based on), and yes, it does unpick the legend that early Surahs (subsequently expunged) of the Qur’an were dictated by Satan rather than the Angel Gabriel and it must be conceded that it points out that texts twice dictated are unlikely to be inerrant… but it’s hardly the sort of thing you’d imagine people plotting murder over. But then again, nor were the Jyllands Posten cartoons.
Rushdie’s work as a fiction writer has rarely been short of spectacular: Midnight’s Children, Fury, The Moor’s Last Sigh, Shalimar the Clown, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and The Enchantress of Florence (in addition to The Satanic Verses) are all books that I recommended wholeheartedly – so it seems almost unfair that he’s brilliant at non-fiction too. Continue reading
The Lot in Words finds Michael Leunig out of his element, and only occasionally in full possession of a reasoning mind. As a study of how debased a person’s opinions can become when cultural and ethical relativism run rampant it has significant value, but as a collection of prose writings it has no value at all.
There must have been a time in my life when I didn’t know who Michael Leunig was, but I can’t remember it. In The Age and in Penguin collections of his cartoons owned by my parents I learned first to love and then gradually, oh so gradually to understand the world of Mr Curly and his duck, Goatperson and the myriad confused and lost figures wandering through a world of sublime madness and absurdity.
Before the Howard years, before September the 11th, before the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Leunig looked on the world with a puzzled but essentially forgiving eye. He doesn’t do that anymore. Puzzlement has given way to perilous certainties, and forgiveness to fatuous cant. Continue reading
As an incitement to wholesale reading and indiscriminate humanism, Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia stands alone.
Of course, having picked up the book, the first wholesale reading you’re going to do is of Cultural Amnesia itself. It consists of over 100 essays on culturally or politically significant figures in both the Eastern and Western parts of our globe over the span of – oh – call it two millennia; it weighs in at 850 pages, or just shy of a kilo. So if you’re reading with care, the reading will take you a while.
I bought my copy just about a year ago, and it’s now heavily underlined; the margins are dotted with exclamation marks and notes and the spine is just starting to give way (I’m looking for a hard-back edition, by the way – if anyone out there is fool enough to part with one, I feel sure we could do business).
Having had a year to browse and cogitate, to scribble notes and to google, I feel just about ready to write about it. But only just. Continue reading