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Monday musings on Australian literature: Guest authors at the Sydney Writers’ Festival

May 9, 2011

Regular readers of Monday musings will remember that a recent post in the series was inspired by the Qantas flight magazine, The Australian way. Well, I’ve been in the air again … this time for a longer trip, as Mr Gums and I have again left daughter and dog in charge at home, and are holidaying in Japan. Of course I read The Australian way again, and in the May 2011 issue found an article about guest authors who will be attending this month’s Sydney Writers’ Festival. Now this, I thought, could make for an interesting Monday musings post. It’s not really about Australian literature but it is about some writers who’ll be attending an Australian literary event. The premise of the article is that its author, Paul Robinson, asked the authors to share their “literary discoveries”, and so I thought I could share them with you. I’ll say straight off though that I’m not familiar with all the authors mentioned. Would love to hear if you are, and what you think of them.

  •  Ingrid Betancourt, author of Even silence has an end: Mario Vargas Llosa’s The feast of the goat. Having read this one recently, I can concur with this discovery!
  • Fatima Bhutto, author of Songs of blood and sword: Colombian author Hector Abad’s Oblivion.
  • Philippa Fioretti, author of The fragment of dreams: Gay Talese’s The sons (1992).
  • Emma Forrest, author of Your voice in my head: Tom Rachman‘s The imperfectionists. I’ve seen this one reviewed around the blogs and have my eye on it for my TBR.
  • A A Gill, author of Here & there: Collected travel writing: Simon Sebag Montefiore‘s Jerusalem: A biography, and the complete works of H L Mencken.
  • A C Grayling, author of The good book: Dale Peterson’s The moral life of animals, and Michael Shirmer’s The believing brain.
  • Howard Jacobson, author of last year’s Booker Prize winner, The Finkler question: Milan Kundera‘s essay “The curtain”, and Ian Mackillop’s F R Leavis: A life in criticism.
  • David Mitchell, author of The thousand autumns of Jacob de Zoet: Simon Lelic’s The facility.
  • Favel Parrett, author of Past the shallows: Chris Wolmersley’s Bereft. (Ah, someone has nominated an Australian book.)

There you have it. Not much about Australian literature, but these are the people who’ll be speaking about books and writing to Australians this month – and that has to be interesting, hasn’t it?

POSTSCRIPT: This was supposed to have been published on Monday, but I made a mistake in the scheduling, so it is now Monday musings on Wednesday. Traveller’s brain!

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 11, 2011 08:59

    I have heard of the Mario Vargas Llosa book but have not read it, same with Bereft. I often read books that authors I admire and enjoy say that they enjoy and do you know what… more often than not I don’t actually enjoy the books that they do. Weird. I am really looking forward to the festival though. I am going to an event at Haberfield Library where ex-lawyers talk about their new careers as crime fcition writers that I am quite excited about.

    • May 11, 2011 14:54

      I’ve read two by Vargas Llosa Becky and have enjoyed them a lot. Love your point about not liking what authors you like read … I don’t think I’ve taken enough notice of what authors that I like like. I must try to do that in future.

      As for SWF, I had thought of going this year but of course I’m not given, but maybe next year. If I do we’ll aim for a meet up, eh?

  2. May 11, 2011 14:14

    “Daughter AND dog IN CHARGE”? Excuse me? I think you mean daughter in charge… although, come to think of it, I do have to plan my movements with Her Royal Canine Highness in mind…

  3. May 13, 2011 01:50

    I am currently reading Peterson’s Moral Lives of Animals. So far so good. Gay Talese is one of those writers I keep meaning to read but haven’t yet. You know how that goes.

    • May 25, 2011 20:48

      You’re ahead of me. I hadn’t heard of her at all. I’ll look forward to your review.

  4. May 30, 2011 12:48

    It’s always interesting to see what people are reading, particularly other writers. And it’s interesting too to get a glimpse of the publicity machines working at full pelt behind these festivals. As a writer who had a minor part in the SWF (I gave two workshops on the business of getting published) I was asked to write 150 words on the book I was reading at that moment. No one asked me for any literary discovery! And I don’t think I’ve ever made one of those in a long reading life because I usually come to books long after their initial release date. I wrote about Unto the Son’s because I was reading it as research for a novel I was drafting.

    Basically I’m with Becky on this. I hunt down my own reading material and would probably not use an author’s recommendation as a basis for buying a book. But when you are asked this sort of question as an author you wonder if you should be truthful and say what you are REALLY reading, or say what would look incredibly intelligent and sophisticated, or say something about another book in your genre/thematic area. Tricky, because it’s publicity, not a cosy talk in front of a fire with one other bookophile.

    Nice blog, Mr Gum.

    • May 30, 2011 13:08

      Ms Gums here! But thanks muchly for sharing your experiences. I did wonder about the “truth” of the responses as you say. Do people feel they “must” not only come up with something suitably worthy but also something little-known that we all (if we are interested) must contort ourselves to track down!

  5. May 30, 2011 14:45

    My apologies for incorrectly adressing you, Ms Gum!

    I don’t know about other authors, I guess we all handle this publicity side of the job differently. When I started out I would give a ‘truthful’ and probably naive answer to most questions. This time around I think a little more carefully. For example I was asked to provide a list of my five most influential books for a newspaper – I have no idea if they published it or not. As far as I’m concerned some of the most influential books for me have been non-fiction and possibly a little obscure.
    I knew I couldn’t list them, this was a regional newspaper whose readers would label me a right wanker if I told the truth. So I chose five mainstream fiction books that I’ve loved and re read several times. So through re reading them, they have influenced me, but truthfully, not as much as the others. I learned to give the paper what their readers may want, and in return, they give me publicity. It’s a murky exchange, but I’ve also learned to toughen up and not get too precious over the whole thing!

    • May 30, 2011 16:22

      Apologies accepted, of course! As for your exchange, murky perhaps but not dishonest. There’s nothing wrong with tailoring to an audience is there … as long as the tailoring is a version of one’s truth. (I’m fascinated by the fact that your most influential books are non-fiction. Care to share here what and why … we won’t think you a “right wanker”!)

  6. May 30, 2011 18:58

    Well … now I’m getting all enthusiastic, thank you for asking!
    Despite writing ‘commercial women’s fiction’ my true loves are archaeology, art, prehistory and history of social and cultural phenomena like food production, cooking, religious observances and social mores. So bearing that in mind, my five most influential non-fiction books are (in no particular order) …
    The Mind in the Cave by David Lewis Williams. He takes a close look at the Palaeolithic art of the caves of South Western France and what these images can tell us about the Palaeolithic mind. He’s putting forth a whole theory on the origins of image making based on current neurological understandings of the brain. I found this book riveting.
    The Earth Shall Weep by James Wilson. A history of the European/Native American debacle and one of the most sobering and depressing histories I have ever read. Some chapters made me cry and I can’t re-read it, too harrowing.
    Alone of All her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary –by Marina Warner. A beautiful deconstruction of one of the most powerful mythic figures in Western history. Warner writes with elegance and her love of all the beautiful poems, songs, hymns and paintings produced through love of Mary is infectious. I am an atheist but I find so many religiously inspired paintings and music profoundly moving and she writes about them so beautifully.
    Future Shock by Robert Hughes, whatever you think of the man he can write. He was out of fashion when I was an art student but his books helped me understand modernism more than anything else. I’d read anything written by Hughes.
    Women’s Work, The first 20,000 years: Women Cloth and Society in Early times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. Brilliant and fascinating account of women’s work, so often overlooked, but quite literally early women wove the fabric of society. I love any sort of domestic history where the women’s world is brought into focus, and this woman is so readable and enthusiastic.
    They all sound as dry as dust, but these books have influenced me by helping me understand what it is to be human and how we arrived at where we are and how we really haven’t come very far at all.

    I guess novels illuminate the same things, only in a different way. But I’ve never put down a novel, (except Patrick White) and just felt that piece of the puzzle click in to place. Or maybe I have but I just don’t remember them, so they CAN’T have been that influential!

    • May 31, 2011 01:15

      Oh it’s a pleasure to ask. I love hearing what books inspire people. I think I have read novels that have resonated strongly with me – which is, I think, my “click into place”. I haven’t heard of any of those – as you would have expected – except of course the Hughes. I have that book – at least I think you probably mean The shock of the new? Have dipped into it but haven’t read it from beginning to end. He can write though.

      Re your last one … this book is very different I think, but have you ever come across Generations by Diane Bell. It was published around 1988 (for the bicentenary) and is about the things women pass on to each other. Her premise was the inheritance of money/land has traditionally tended to go through the male line, but there are things women pass on to each other such as jewellery, embroidery, pianos, furniture, china. It’s a wonderful read. A domestic history book I’ve enjoyed was Spaces in her day, by Katie Holmes. It came out of her PhD thesis into women’s diaries of, as I recollect, around the 1920s. It’s definitely a book that has “clicked” for me about women’s work and the roles expected of them.

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