Literary links

Having recently changed jobs, I happily have much more time to read so have decided to resume blogging here. My immediate reading plans include plenty of  Chinese fiction and non-fiction in preparation for my trip there in October; the Miles Franklin shortlist and the next two volumes of Trollope’s Palliser novels, namely Phineas Finn and The Eustace Diamonds.

As I’m only halfway through Peter Hessler’s River town: two years on the Yangtze, I thought I’d share the best literary links I’ve found this week in the hope you find them as interesting as I do:

  •  Haaretz has a fascinating article about the lives and work of authors whose work was banned and burnt by the Nazis.
  • Continuing with the theme of moral courage, Sheila O’Malley reviews Booker’s Place. I’ll be looking out for this documentary about African-American waiter Booker Wright, who simply told the truth about his life in the Jim Crow South and suffered for it.
  • Xujun Eberlein’s joint review of Mao’s Great Famine : The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962 and Tombstone in the Los Angeles Review of Books is a masterly look at two accounts of the Great Famine. Grim but essential reading.
  • The New York Times explains the US Justice Department vs. Apple, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster case and why it’s important.
  • Sticking with e-books, the Review of Australian Fiction is a new online venture enabling you to read a story from one established and one up-and-coming Aussie author a fortnight for a bargain price. I find this is a good way to expand my reading horizons and a lifesaver when, book finished, I need something to read on the train home. Geordie Williamson shares his thoughts on it here.
  • I’m also loving the Library of America’s free weekly short story. Some favourites: classic Dashiell Hammett; Bettye Rice Hughes’ tour of the South shortly after bus segregation is banned and Henry James’ account of visiting an English workhouse.
  • Speaking of the Great Man- Selling Henry James by Joseph Epstein is pure pleasure.
  • The Atlantic recommends Aussie crime fiction- here here!
  • A new review by James Wood is a must read, doubly so when it’s of Hilary Mantel.
  • Lastly, this bookworm’s paradise is now on my must visit list.

Happy browsing!

Authors’ Ghosts by Muriel Spark

I think that authors’ ghosts creep back
Nightly to haunt the sleeping shelves
And find the books they wrote.
Those authors put final, semi-final touches,
Sometimes whole paragraphs.

Whole pages are added, re-written, revised,
So deeply by night those authors employ
Themselves with those old books of theirs.

How otherwise
Explain the fact that maybe after years
have passed, the reader
Picks up the book – But was it like that?
I don’t remember this . . . Where
Did this ending come from?
I recall quite another.

Oh yes, it has been tampered with
No doubt about it -
The author’s very touch is here, there and there,
Where it wasn’t before, and
What’s more, something’s missing -
I could have sworn . . .

-  From All the Poems by Muriel Spark, 2004; inspired by the recent (wonderful!) Muriel Spark Week

In memory of Wisława Szymborska, 1923-2012

A Contribution to Statistics by Wislawa Szymborska, translated by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh

Out of a hundred people

those who always know better
— fifty-two

doubting every step
— nearly all the rest,

glad to lend a hand
if it doesn’t take too long
— as high as forty-nine,

always good
because they can’t be otherwise
— four, well maybe five,

able to admire without envy
— eighteen,

suffering illusions
induced by fleeting youth
— sixty, give or take a few,

not to be taken lightly
— forty and four,

living in constant fear
of someone or something
— seventy-seven,

capable of happiness
— twenty-something tops,

harmless singly, savage in crowds
— half at least,

when forced by circumstances
— better not to know
even ballpark figures,

wise after the fact
— just a couple more
than wise before it,

taking only things from life
— thirty
(I wish I were wrong),

hunched in pain,
no flashlight in the dark
— eighty-three
sooner or later,

— thirty-five, which is a lot,

and understanding
— three,

worthy of compassion
— ninety-nine,

— a hundred out of a hundred.
Thus far this figure still remains unchanged.

Miles Franklin Longlist 2010

Yes, I’m still breathing although unfortunately work and study have sadly cut down my reading and blogging. Just saw the Miles Franklin longlist for 2010 has been announced and thought I’d share it.

I’m delighted to see two favourites, Sonya Hartnett and Peter Temple on the list (the former for her painfully accurate study of female adolescence Butterfly, the later for his bloody brilliant crime novel Truth) and  sorry to see Kalinda Ashton’s The Danger Game and Cate Kennedy’s The World Beneath omitted. Must get cracking on the other titles so I have a more informed opinion, in the meantime has anyone read any of the others and what did you think?

Updated 23.6.10: I’m happy to find that Peter Temple was announced as the winner last night! From the official release: 

Temple’s winning novel is the much anticipated sequel to The Broken Shore and comprehends murder, corruption, family, friends, honour, honesty, deceit, love, betrayal – and truth. A stunning story about contemporary Australian life, Truth is written with great moral sophistication.

Book Blogger Holiday Swap: Thank you Vasilly!

I’m back home after celebrating Christmas with family, and before I go out to watch the fireworks, I just need to say a quick thank you to Vasilly, whose book blogger holiday swap gift has been patiently awaiting me in the letterbox.

Vasilly gave me two books I’m looking forward to reading: Shiver which she wrote she really enjoyed, and The Wednesday Sisters which is literary fiction which has done well in the States.

Lest we forget

To mark Remembrance Day, I’ve just finished re-reading and being put through the wringer by All quiet on the Western Front.

It’s hard to do justice to it in words-  Remarque’s brevity, brutal honesty and black humour make the novel hard to read but even harder to put aside.  I’m quite simply overwhelmed all over again by how monstrous the first world war was.

Remarque’s own words say it best I think:

“This book is intended neither as an accusation nor as a confession, but simply as an attempt to give an account of a generation that was destroyed by the war- even those of it who survived the shelling.”