Sydney Writers Festival 2018, Live-streaming (Session 2)

Annabel Crabb, 2014 By Mosman Library [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

I only managed one session a day at the SWF’s live-streaming program at the National Library of Australia, and on day 2, I picked a doozy! It was such fun, I forgot to take a pic!

Annabel Crabb’s BooKwiz, Saturday 5 May, 4.30pm

Panel: Leigh Sales, Richard Fidler, Julia Zemiro, Tim MinchinAnnabel Crabb (MC)

Of the three sessions I attended, this was the best attended (at my venue), and probably the least “worthy” but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t worthwhile. It was engaging, witty, and even informative every now and then – how could it not be with this panel! The topic was all things bookish, all those things readers like to ask each other, such as:

Which section do you gravitate to in a bookshop?

What would you answer? Our panel said:

  • Zemiro: Self-help, none of that Scandi-noir for her, she said. (She may or may not have been serious about this!)
  • Minchin: Self-help and Diet, because he likes to see what scam-artists are selling this time.
  • Crabb: The Sale Bin because she has a special talent for finding gold in sales bins!
  • Sales: New Release Fiction. She thinks about death, and the decreasing time left, so has decided to let go of all those past books she hasn’t read, and try to keep up with the new stuff! (Love it. I once calculated how many books I was likely to read in the rest of my life – and it was very depressing, even though I gave myself a reasonably long life!)

Does there come a point where you decide there are some authors/books you’ll just never read? Are you guilty about them?

(Yes, I would have said if she’d asked me! In fact, coincidentally, a few hours before the session, I “decluttered” some unread books to donate to Lifeline. They included William Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom.)

  • Fidler has tried many times to read Conrad’s Heart of darkness, but just can’t get into his style. This and other worthy books, such as Herodotus, glare at him he said from his bookshelves.
  • Minchin says he aims to read 50:50 Fiction-Nonfiction, but he’s learnt that he just needs to read the first third of nonfiction to get the thesis because the “rest is just firming up the argument”. (I’m thinking of following this theory in future!) His guilty book is Hawking’s A brief history of time. He’d like a briefer history of time! Also, he’s managed 70 years of 100 years of solitude two or three times!
  • Zemiro thinks she should read the Bible. She can’t read Lolita or Elena Ferrante’s novels. She, in fact, had brought these books with her, and set up her own street library on the stage.
  • Crabb said she didn’t love Lincoln in the Bardo (which led to a brief discussion about reading prize-winners.)

Do you have favourite books that are guilty pleasures, that you feel secretly ashamed about?

From the guilt of what they haven’t read, we moved to guilt about what they do read!

  • Sales: spy thrillers, because she wants to be a spy and/or write a spy thriller!
  • Minchin: Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, which are formulaic though every now and then you think “wow, this is proper”. He commented that he reads more non-fiction as gets older “because you panic you don’t know enough.” (Hmmm … I commented to my friend that, then again, the older you get maybe the less you need to know!)
  • Fidler: reads way more nonfiction, but the most memorable books he’s read are the novels. Oh, and he’s never read a good active politician’s memoir. (Crabb rejoined that the Alan Clark diaries are excellent).
  • Zemiro: any book about wanting to live in France because they are fake. (The only good one is Sarah Turnbull’s because it’s honest). Fidler rejoined here that he avoids these books too, but out of envy because he’s always wanted to live there.
  • Fidler: superhero comics.

How do you treat and shelve books?

At this point, Crabb said she has some ethical questions too. Good, I thought – and then had to laugh at myself because the question was “is it ever 0k to fold down the corner of a page”. Fidler, a self-confessed book-fetishist, said no, while Michin said yes, because used-looking books are the best. He proceeded to start Fidler’s therapy there and then by forcing him to fold a page corner in one of Zemiro’s street library books!

Sales admitted to not being sentimental about books, either.

As for shelving, Fidler carefully classifies his – the Penguin classics he said look particularly nice – while Crabb shelved hers in the order that she read and acquired them (until a friend kindly tidied up her books for her. She said that where she is when she reads a book affects her reading/appreciation of a book.)

What (if anything) do you reread?

You all know my answer to this question, but what did the panel say:

  • Zemiro: The handmaid’s tale. Atwood is a genius, particularly because of the final chapter which explores how we report on history.
  • Fidler: Wuthering Heights, because it is such a “perfectly strange masterpiece” about twisted humanity; and Anna Karenina, because he reads it differently every time he comes to it again.  (The mark of a great book I think is one that engenders different readings depending on our stage in/experience of life.) Minchin said that Anna Karenina is on his guilty unread list. Fidler commented that Tolstoy had planned to write about an immoral woman, but ended up writing something sympathetic.
  • Minchin finds it hard to reread books because of all those he hasn’t read. He has, though, read Vonnegut’s Cat’s cradle and Lee’s To kill a mockingbird more than once. However, he returned to his anxiety about increasing his knowledge and that his most recent favourite book is Sapiens.
  • Sales reminded me of Daughter Gums when she said she was a bigger re-reader when she was a child. Favourites were Anne of Geen Gables (which caused her to make a pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island) and Enid Blyton. This engendered a big discussion about Enid Blyton. Minchin talked about reading The Famous Five to his children, and about all the “teachable moments” in it.

Are there any adaptations you love?

  • Sales: a television adaptation of, yes, Anne of Green Gables, the one with Megan Follows, and Minchin’s adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda
  • Zemiro: the play adaptation of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet
  • Fidler: the BBC TV series of Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy, starring Alec Guinness

I know this hasn’t captured the fun, quick-witted, good-natured repartee of the session, but hopefully you’ve got some sense of it? It was all a bit of light-hearted fun from serious booklovers. And we can do with a bit of that every now and then.

I’d love you to answer some of these questions in the comments – if you’d like to!

31 thoughts on “Sydney Writers Festival 2018, Live-streaming (Session 2)

  1. Great account for those who weren’t there! I’ll have to think about some of those questions …

  2. Oh but you DID capture the fun, quick wit and good nature of the event. I delighted in reading your account, and marvelled at how you could recall all that detail. Genius.

  3. I think you already know some of my answers:)
    1. Literary fiction/Australian fiction if there’s a separate section for it.
    2. Yes, the bestsellers, overhyped books that I succumbed to. Eventually (when I’ve forgotten what I paid for them) out they go.
    3. Guilty pleasures: recipe books:) Food porn ones.
    4. With love and respect and no mutilating them!
    5. Rereads: all the Austens, George Eliot, and the Brontes. Some of the Russians that I read when I was too young to really appreciate them, and any book I need to be really familiar with for a festival session I’m chairing.
    PS Fidler should try the Robert Strassler translation of The Complete Herodotus. I loved it. See

    • Haha, Lisa – yes, you’re right, I could have answered most of those for you (though you fleshed in more details).

      I loved no. 3 because Daughter Gums and I don’t mutilate books and like Fidler, we hate even breaking the spines. (I hate those paperbacks that don’t fall open easily) BUT as you know, I do write in them – with pencil so I can erase it. My Mum sometimes grumbles that it’s so pale that she can’t read my marginalia. Good, I say, because they are usually ridiculous – often markers to come back too rather than comments.

  4. Important point of literary interest. Jack Reacher doesn’t carry any clothes with him – he’s always on the move and buys what he needs as he goes. The point is he goes a very long time without a change of underpants.

  5. I gravitate to travel writing and classics in bookstore. I’ll probably never read all the English classics I want to as I prefer American classics more. I’m never guilty about anything I read. My mood and energy level dictate it more. When I’m tired I read rubbish, when not I read really good stuff. I shelf books alphabetically by title (deleting words The,, an, A) So I can find them and I forget author’s names. I don’t often reread books but I have a couple that have good memories. Black Beauty every 5 years, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn x 3, Comfort reads- Helene Hanff. Non fiction books I end up reading the first half and then usually quit as it becomes too repetitive quite often. I agree with Minchin on this one. I love the Pride and Prejudice mini series with Colin Firth- watched it several times. Love 84 Charing Cross Road film and loved Cloudstreet mini series. What a fun session to sit through and what a brilliant panel.

    • Love your answers Pam … but no, no, no, you should NEVER forget the author’s name! I get so cross when people tell me titles and can’t tell me who wrote the book! Poor author! That’s why I always title my review posts with author’s name first, but I know a lot of people do it the other way. I so want the authors to be recognised. (You can see I’m really passionate about this).

      Oops, meant to say more. I love that you agree with Minchin on the non-fiction. I take your point though I find it hard not to finish a book once I’ve started. I might miss something exciting at the end (even in a non fiction book – though I suppose I could just read the last chapter!)

  6. Hi Sue, thanks for your descriptions’, all sound very good and fun. I gravitate to the non fiction; I will never read Jeffrey Archer again; guilty pleasures – a chic book; I shelve Australian section alphabetically, and then in subject matter – all with care and I never write in my books!; I reread Jolley, Garner, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and some classics and poetry. I think the only film adaptation I really appreciated was the English Patient. ,

    • It was a hoot Meg, though I suppose non-readers would be bemused by the things that make us laugh.Thanks for answering the questions. I like that your reread all those Aussie writers (and females too!) I’ve reread both Jolley and Garner too. I find it hard to answer the question about adaptations. I seem to remember thinking The remains of the day film doing a great job.

  7. This event sounds like so much fun, you’ve done a great service to those of us who couldn’t go. I always gravitate to sci fi and fantasy, but I do check the new releases on my way there. I will never finish HHHH or read anything by that author, and I’m with Zemiro on Elena Ferrante. My guilty pleasure is Georgette Heyer romances – for the frocks and the humour.

    I’m very careful with my books, but as to shelving – it’s complicated. Tim Minchin would have a field day with me! I regularly re-read Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, especially those involving the witches. I also occasionally re-read a book I haven’t read for decades, which is always an interesting experience – I loved rediscovering Ben Okri’s The Famished Road after 30 years and I’m sure I’ll go back to it again, it’s such a rich book – as are the sequels.

    And finally, I was pretty happy with the Lord of the Rings movies.

    • Thanks maamej for have a go at the questions. I love it. I have to say that I haven’t tried Elena Ferrante though there is one on my TBR, and I’m sorry but I just can’t get into Heyer. When my friends were reading her, I was reading Nevil Shute. It took me a long time to read historical fiction. My friends loved it but I always sought more contemporary reading. I think that started when I was quite young. I loved school stories when other people loved fantasy and adventure. I haven’t read HHHH, but why do you say you won’t read anything by that author?

      I haven’t read The famished road, which I feel is a guilty gap. My reading group did it while I was away and I have never managed to catch up. Sounds like I should give it a go.

      • Don’t apologise for not getting into Georgette Heyer – I did say she was a guilty pleasure 🙂 I read all kinds of things as a young person but I guess I was most drawn to stories outside of my reality, and I still am – which means I read quite diversely, really.
        I feel a bit scarred by the HHHH experience, I felt bullied into reading it at my reading group and was told the entire story before I’d even picked it up, so perhaps I shouldn’t write off the author. Under other circumstances I may have raved about it. Good luck with the Famished Road. I’ve spent time in West Africa and have Ghanaian family so it was very easy for me to visualise and relate to the story, but I know it’s not everyones’s cup of tea. Do you know what our reading group thought of it?

        • Yes, you did so I withdraw any apology!! Unfortunately I don’t know. We do have a group blog but the person who was to write that up never did, I’m afraid. The blog is great for keeping up when you miss a meeting. I know they found it hard, but I don’t know whether they also thought it was worthwhile.

          That’s a shame re HHHH (not because I like it as I know nothing about it except it was getting quite a bit of buzz when it came out) but to have it spoilt like that. Did you not what to read it because it’s a Holocaust novel? (I don’t think you should ever be bullied into reading something you don’t want to, btw.)

        • It was more about the nazis than the holocaust, but there wasn’t a lot of hope in it. May have been the style as well – it’s a few years ago now.

  8. I’m off to see Jennifer Egan tonight in Melbourne. Loved A Visit From the Goon Squad

    As for the questions:

    In bookstores I always gravitate towards the fiction shelves first, particularly the new releases.

    Thomas Pynchon is one author I will never read and I don’t feel in the least guilty about it. I did try reading his Gravity’s Rainbow many years ago and gave up on it a short way through, which put me off ever trying to read his novels again.

    I am currently indulging what could be termed a guilty pleasure in that I recently downloaded to my Kindle six Joan Aiken adult novels that have only recently become available as eBooks. These are her historical romances – regency and gothic – and are tremendous fun to read.

    I treat my books with care, covering my hard cover first editions dust jackets with archival plastic. I tend to shelve them by genre – crime, science fiction, fantasy, poetry, classics, non fiction etc.

    I often reread books when I run out of new books to read, particularly old favourites.

    • Lovely to hear from you again Anne. She’s going to be here later but I think the date clashed with something I had on so I haven’t recorded it. I have still to read her.

      Yes, I gravitate to Fiction New Releases too. And yes, I think Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis, have done me in too. I won’t exactly say never, but it probably will be! I tried JR and have just found it on my Unfinished shelf (which had about 15 books, of which I’m going to move about 10 on to Lifeline, including JR).

      I haven’t read Joan Aiken, but I hear you.

      I never have not new books to read … my unread shelves are packed so re-reading has to be for very special reasons. I wish I could give it more time.

  9. JR?

    As I don’t buy many new books as a physical article I don’t have a TBR pile, much as I would like to. I’m fussy about new books and only purchase new stuff from my favourite living authors, trying out others on my Kindle.

    I had read A Visit From The Goon Squad on my Kindle when it first came out, but acquired a paperback copy at Book Grocery last week for $7.00 so I could get it signed by Jennifer Egan.

    She was quite wonderful – articulate and charming. I might write a post about her appearance in Melbourne.

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