My Literary Top 10:
Best short stories I’ve ever read
Sylvia Brownrigg, Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, Carson McCullers, Janet Frame, Janette Turner Hospital and Carmel Bird all produce stunning short stories. Richard Brautigan, Sam Shepard and Douglas Coupland write exquisite breath-holding short short stories. When teaching I use the O Henry story The Gift of the Magi as a perfect example of that particular type of story, and for nostalgia purposes I love The Drover’s Wife by Henry Lawson (has each generation of Australian school kids looking for snakes under the carpet) and the re-write of the same story by Murray Bail. AlsoTo Room 19 by Doris Lessing, The Fishing Boat Picture by Alan Sillitoe, and of course quite a lot of the stories written by The King, Mr Raymond Carver.
Book I finished reading but wanted my time back afterwards
Recently I have come across the ‘inviolable rights’ of the reader outlined by Daniel Pennac which I think are quite liberating. If I’m finding a book laborious I will skim and skip chunks, which I did most recently with The Golden Notebooks by Doris Lessing and No Good Deed by Manda Scott. (However I was captivated by every word of Scott’s epic volume Boudica.) I’m a member of a book group, so that basically forces you to read books which you wouldn’t naturally read — and pay attention to what you read. If the book’s given you a hard time, you get the opportunity to vent (and sometimes have your mind changed!)
Items I won't read: magazines
I gave up on magazines a long time ago, although I’ve recently discovered Word and Vanity Fair, which are OK for the odd dip. I can’t cope with many magazines, and even find myself limiting my newspaper reading. I’ve come to the point where too much information is bad for my health, especially mindless guff; it’s all become a little New York Telephone Conversations for me.
Best ‘films of the book’ I’ve seen
The film of SE Hinton’s The Outsiders put end to the eternal schoolgirl question : Who was better – Sodapop or Ponyboy. (Answer: it was Dally.) It took me a long time to recover when I realised SE Hinton was a woman. I also read Pretty in Pink before I saw the movie. In the book Molly ‘where is she now’ Ringwald’s friend doesn’t change to suit a man and Molly ends up with Duckie Boy – exactly the way it should be. I’m not ashamed to admit that I read all of Colin MacInnes’ novels before the film of Absolute Beginners came out, and that I can still vividly recall scenes from Love Is A Crazy Dog From Hell. The greatest thing about film adaptations is you can have a soundtrack (and on that point I also read Grease as a novel before I saw the movie.)
Most overlooked/underrated novels
Many Australian books are overlooked over in the UK. There is still a real snobbishness about ‘literature’ in England, which frustrates me deeply. Work by any one other than the English has a tendency to get ignored, especially in taught courses. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail is excellent, as is Joan Makes History by Kate Grenville. The Prince by Tim Richards (about the annual festival of killing that takes place in a Melbourne suburb) is superb, as are his short stories. The Dorothys Hewett and Porter produce innovative stuff… and I haven’t even touched on any Canadian or Indian authors.
Most out of date or misleading author photo I’ve seen
I see the lovely Louis de Bernières has recently updated his picture, so I can’t nominate him. A colleague was in the same year at school as a popular Guardian columnist, and let’s just say that whilst the columnist is eminently attractive, her mugshot looks 20 years younger.
Most famous author I’ve met who acted like a prat
Most authors, famous or otherwise, tend to be fine. It’s the boy-poets you need to beware of! I blame Kerouac/Bukowski and their ilk.
My favourite bookshop: Book Cave in St. Kilda, Melbourne
Long gone now, but it was the first manifestation of how I wanted a bookshop to be. Its shelf categories had labels like ‘Cool stuff’ and you always found something cheap and esoteric in there. Also Collected Works in Melbourne, which is hopefully still there. You could get all the Australian indie stuff, hand made chapbooks as well as luscious small-press American stuff. In Norwich, where I live now, Abstract Sprocket is a premier comic book store with rather charitable staff who tolerate my geek-girlness. I also like Oxfam’s eclectic selection. To be honest though, due to a combination of Zen-ness and lack of funds, I tend to use my brilliant local library for my new book needs.
Authors I’d like to see presented with all kinds of awards
Women like Catherine Cookson; although I haven’t actually read any of her books she is still extremely popular and managed to write despite an appalling early life (and she had impeccable taste in cardigans.) I tend to gravitate emotionally towards women who have managed to write despite the odds.
Local authors such as Sue Welfare, Julia Bell, Ali Smith, Lynne Bryan, Sandy Brownjohn, Louis de Bernières and Kate Hardy who are all very generous with their support and advice. Cookbook writer Molly Katzen who re-awakened my creativity, and Natalie Goldberg who– love her or hate her– does a very good job of demystifying the process and inspiring a love of writing for writing’s sake. Lastly (it’s getting a bit Academy Awards!) all those actively involved in literature and reader development; the shaker upperers behind the scenes.
Writing connected things I need to get off my chest
10.1: I know of people who will borrow books online because they’re too embarrassed to use a library counter in case their choices get judged. It’s very sad. The fact that people choose to read, when there are so many other things to do, should be celebrated regardless of their reading preferences.
10.2: People who get a kick out of correcting other people’s pronunciation. Enough already. Language is constantly evolving, and believe it or not other countries have every right to their own versions. On the flip-side those who dismiss other’s names as ‘too difficult’ to spell, and imply that you are letting the side down by not having Green as a surname. (Obviously I personally identify with this one!)
10.3: A big shake of head to those who moan about the state of publishing/poetry etc. We need more poetry activists, more live literature promoters, more writing groups, more reading groups, more openness and non-competitiveness. The knowledge and even funding is out there – use people like myself as resources and go and make a noise!
10.4: And another to those who regard performance poetry as non-poetry, and those who see community arts as the Cinderella of the arts world.