Begin The Booker Beguine

on Saturday, July 30, 2011
Is it just me or does Booker season begin earlier every year? Pretty soon they will be announcing the longlist before they've even awarded the previous year's prize. (Cue the sound of me stepping off my soapbox...)

Anyway, the nominees (for nomination) for the 2011 prize have just come out and it's a rather intriguing affair. Some safe choices are there, as are a handful of debuts. And, of course, there are a couple of glaring omissions. For the most part, however, mediocrity reigns.

In case you have yet to see it, this year's Booker Dozen is:

The Sense of an Ending 
by Julian Barnes
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards
The Stranger's Child 
by Alan Hollinghurst
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Far to Go 
by Alison Pick
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

Having only read three of them (Birch, Miller, Edwards), and given that I intend on following my usual tradition of reading them all before the prize is awarded in October, I'll only make a few cursory comments for now. Firstly, Snowdrops is awful. Perhaps when they were bandying about potential nominees they meant to include Andrew Miller (whose wonderful new book Pure seems to have missed out) but got confused and put the wrong Andrew Miller on the list (an easy mistake to make, as I learnt when I read Andrew D. Miller's Earl Of Petticoat Lane believing it was by the author of Ingenious Pain). Secondly, Jamrach's Menagerie is pretty good, but it is hardly worthy of the most prestigious prize in Commonwealth literature. And anyway, as I've noted in an earlier post, they've already given it to a story about a boy who plays with a tiger and ends up in a shipwreck. Lazy!

Speaking of lazy, while I don't doubt that both Hollinghurst and Barnes have produced fine novels, they were very safe picks in a list that seems to be reaching for something a little more interesting. Hollinghurst has already won, and Barnes should have won for England, England. Perhaps there's another Consolation Booker in the offing. The Sense of An Ending is a slim affair, only 160 pages, which worked wonders for Ian McEwan when he won his after missing out for Enduring Love.

Bitching aside, it is nice to see Sebastian Barry back on the list. He is consistently great, although rather understated and so unlikely to throw down a serious gauntlet. For what it's worth, I'd like to see him win; I have On Canaan's Side sitting on my bedside table and have my fingers crossed that it's good enough to get him over the line.

As always I like to put up my pick for Booker Underdog and this year it goes to Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. It's also sitting on my bedside table (above the Barry actually), and looks like a joyous romp of a noir, if there is such a thing. No Country For Old Men meets True Grit meets some sort of absurdist Marx Brothers creation. I'll report back soon.

For those who care about the details, the Booker Shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 6 September but you'll have to wait until Tuesday 18 October to find out who wins.

The Library Diaries Vol. 1: Random Stacks

Of the various dilemmas I have faced throughout my life, this has got to be the most bourgeoise: How will I organise my amazing new library? In my last place - a small apartment in Port Melbourne - I took a rather lassaiz faire approach to book storage, just stuffing them wherever there was space. In cupboards, drawers, on shelves, tables, the floor. See that doorstop? That's Tolstoy! Or David Foster Wallace. This propensity for obsessive, chaotic book hoarding was a hangover from my childhood home, where Mum used to joke that she lived with a husband, two sons, cats, snakes, ferrets and a veritable menagerie of books that, she maintained, reproduced faster than rabbits. When my parents finally moved out (they gave up on waiting for me to) and left me as caretaker, it only got worse. There wasn't a room that I didn't turn into a literary wasteland.

Last week, standing at the front door of the new house, I watched with glee as the removalists lugged box after box after box of books inside. Knowing that I don't have the room to store them all, I now need to work out a way to choose the books I most want on my library shelves and then decide how best to organise them. Do I group my favourites and keep them nearest to where I will be sitting? Do I just order my entire collection alphabetically? Or perhaps subdivide them geographically? Or by genre? Do I mix hardcover and paperback?

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For now I have to simply sort through them all and decide which are the keepers and which are to be sent into exile at Mum and Dad's, to line their bare shelves. And so it begins. Several thousand books. God knows how many days. Don't expect to see me round the traps for a while.

Day 1: The Sorting Begins

The Final Word on E-Reading

on Thursday, July 28, 2011
The most exciting thing about moving into my new digs is the library I had custom built in the middle of the place. Sixty-four shelves of dark oak, complete with rails and ladder will completely surround me from here on in and I couldn't be more chuffed. Naturally I'm struggling to work out how best to organise all my books, but I thought in the meantime I might take the chance to imagine a world without physical books. Turns out I now have a final, definitive argument against the KindlePad... Need I say more?

Microviews Vol. 12: Saramago, Birch, Antunes

on Saturday, July 23, 2011
Cain by Jose Saramago

So remember how, a couple of years before he died, Saramago managed to right royally piss everyone off one last time while being interviewed about his most recent book? The epithets flew thick and fast: heretic, anti-semite, nasty pastie (ok, so I sort of made that last one up, but it was one of my favourites from my schoolyard days). Anyway, two years on and Cain is finally available in English so we who partook of the mudslinging can get a better feel for what all the fuss was about. And damnit if I don't find myself kind of regretting having said the things I did.

There is a beautifully poetic symmetry in the fact that the last book Portugal's great curmudgeon (and Nobel Laureate) wrote was a 'revised' take on the first book ever written - The Old Testament. And in true Saramago form, he didn't exactly use the exercise to make peace with his maker so much as pick a fight in advance of meeting him. Cain is a peculiar little book; playful, excoriating and chekily blasphemous. We all know the story of Cain and Abel, but Saramago uses the first murderer's subsequent immortality as a device to explore the nature of God's working throughout the remainder of the bible. Destined to wander from place to place, Cain becomes a minor character in all the important biblical episodes. Whether stopping Abraham from sacrificing Isaac (Cain has to step in because the angel God had sent had a mechanical wing malfunction), shacking up with and impregnating Lilith, ploughing Job's fields as his boss is subjected to ever more horrible tortures, standing beneath Mount Sinai when God unleashes his fury against the Golden Calf idolators or just helping Lot and his family out of Sodom and Gemorah, Cain bears witness to a Lord who is anything but benevolent and forgiving. Saramago makes no apologies for forcing his message down your throat - God is brutal, has no conscience and quite willingly destroys lives (even of those who show him absolute devotion). Perhaps the most interesting thing about this book, however, is not the argument but what lies beneath. Saramago seems not to question God's existence. He exists, the author suggests, but he is unworthy of your devotion.

To my mind, Saramago was one of the few laureates not to suffer a post-Nobel slump. Stylistically, this is him at his very best, playing with time and space such that the flashes between episodes seem natural (they occur in what amounts to parallel universes), allowing the book to come full circle and end with one of Genesis's earliest stories, that of Noah and the ark. As the water subsides, Saramago has Cain, the immortal wandering Jew, finally get his showdown with God. It is an incredible scene, one that justifies the Quantum Leap stylings, and containing a punchline so perfectly ingenious that you can't help but feel that, in the lifelong battle Saramago waged with God, when all was said and done, it was the writer who had the last laugh.

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

Last time a boy mucked around with a tiger and got caught up in a shipwreck, it landed Yann Martel a Booker, so it is little surprise that the punters are buzzing about Carol Birch's latest offering. Dig a little deeper and the similarities don't exactly fade into the background. The shipwreck itself (which involves a bunch of sailors and a couple of pigs, but no unlikely furry friends) is supposedly based on the sinking of the Essex but bears a much more striking resemblance to the facts in the classic British case of Dudley and Stephens, itself the inspiration for the naming of the tiger in Life of Pi. Richard Parker, the lawyers amongst you may recall, was the boy who was eaten by his mates, and for whose murder the defendants pleaded necessity. A hundred and fifty years on and the precedent still stands (though, in the actual case, they failed and were hanged).

But don't get too sucked in by the spin. Birch's book isn't a philosophical slice of dreamy magical realism but, rather, a harsh adventure-cum-survival tale on the high seas. It takes a while to get moving, as little Jaffy Brown falls under the sway of Jamrach, a Faginesque trader of exotic animals, and is sent on a ship in search of some mythical dragon (which I gather is a komodo). He and his expedition mates do manage to snare one in the jungles of who-knows-where, but the token crazy guy releases it mid-way through the voyage home, the thing goes beserk and, voila, the ship sinks. Up to there it is a pretty stock standard seafaring adventure. However, once the ship is down and the survivors are left to float aimlessly for months on two lifeboats, the novel takes a deeper, darker turn.

Birch's depiction of starvation, elemental batterings, interpersonal conflict and just sheer desperation are brilliantly evocative and spectacularly painful to behold. It is sad and hopeless, increasingly debased and ultimately apocalyptic. Fantastic! Unfortunately, however, it is not enough to lift Jamrach's Menagerie above the first one hundred pages' narrative slump. But at least it redeemed my obsessive compulsive need to finish the thing. A decent book, but don't go slapping down your hard earned bucks at the local betting agency just yet.

The Land At The End Of The World by Antonio Lobo Antunes

Call me a cynic, but I find it difficult to view the republication of this Portuguese master's second novel as anything but cheap opportunism by a publisher keen to cash in on the rekindled fear of colonialism stirred up by the the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At the very least it is a small act of political publishing protest aimed squarely in America's direction. Thankfully, The Land At The End Of The World is a staggering work of documentary fiction which well deserves to be introduced to a whole new generation of readers.

Based on the author's own experience as an army medic in Angola it is one of the bleakest anti-colonialism novels you are ever likely to encounter. Think Celine minus the virulent anti-Semitism, add an extra dollop of De Sade and you get the picture. Presented as an ongoing confession to a lover (or, quite possibly, a prostitute), it slides seamlessly between near pornographic fantasy and brutal descriptions of what the narrator has seen while on duty in "the arsehole of the world". Antunes stays on point throughout, keen to ram home his disdain for those anonymous politicians and generals who send young men off to die in the name of imperial expansion. The visceral descriptions of rotting corpses, war crimes and other indignities are unrelenting, as is the portrayal a man suffering the trauma of having witnessed (and perhaps perpetrated) these atrocities. The rationale behind publishing this of all Antunes's novels might be suspect, but its ongoing prescience and unadulterated power are most certainly not. Deeply disturbing, but a must read.

The Great Bard-stardisation: The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips

on Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Hold back ye swords and spill not my blood for I speak only truth: I don't really care for Shakespeare (and can't simulate his style for shit). Having been forced to read every English teacher's favourite instrument of torture in high school, I never warmed to his purported mastery, despite the florid brilliance inherent in his wordplay. To be fair I've only read about four or five of the plays but I figure, as with any author, if I haven't liked him up to now, I ain't ever going to like him. Personal biases aside, however, I can appreciate the excitement that the discovery of any new play by the Bard might whip up. It has happened a few times in recent history, always leading to massive debate as to whether he actually wrote the darn thing. Now Arthur Phillips throws his hat in the ring, claiming to have discovered a hitherto unknown play, probably written in 1597, called The Tragedy of Arthur. Or at least that is the central conceit of his latest novel and superb act of literary ventriloquism of the same name.

The book is a hoax par excellence, structured in three equally beguiling parts. The first is simply a note from the publisher, a brilliant concoction that I suspect might actually fool some readers. It is but one of several small masterstrokes, such as the inclusion of both Phillips's and Shakespeare's previous works on the authorial bibliography page at the start of the book and a short biography of both writers at the end, that give the entire project an air of authenticity. Indeed, the whole thing is structured and presented in much the same way as any other Shakespeare play you might buy these days and, in that sense, is perfectly pitched to suck in the unsuspecting reader.

The second part of the book is Phillips's introduction, which the publisher has supposedly asked (well, forced) him to write. It is long, tortured and mostly compelling; the tale of how Phillips's father, a master forger, gave him this new play just before he died, swearing to the son that just this one time he was not pulling a swifty. It was, the father says, his way of making up for his absenteeism during Phillips's sad childhood. The introduction is the longest part of the novel, a two hundred and fifty page family memoir of disappointment and doubt, building to a crescendo of denial. As a stand-alone book, this would have been a touching read. In particular, the relationship between Phillips and his twin sister is beautifully told, making it all the more heartbreaking when they fall out over a mutual love (Phillips essentially steals and impregnates his sister's girlfriend). But it is the use to which Phillips puts this section that really makes it hit the mark. In a twist of pure genius, Phillips says that he does not believe the play is real, despite what all the Shakespeare scholars have said. Phillips claims he didn't want the thing published, and threatened to expose the hoax. But the folk at Random House shot back with threats to sue for loss of potential profit (and never publish any of his work again). They nut out a compromise - the publisher allows Phillips to mount his case against it but the play is going to be published as if it were genuine. It is a sly device on the part of Phillips. Spruiking its bona fides might have been funny, but it would also have made the joke more obvious. Here he gets to write a moving (albeit fictional) family memoir that invests the reader in the lie. It is far more convincing knowing that this highly-intelligent, well-regarded novelist does not believe in the product he is being forced to sell.

After almost three hundred pages comes Part Three, the piece de resistance: A complete five act play called The Tragedy of Arthur. Now I certainly do not lay claim to any sort of Shakespearean scholarship, but I bought it. The Tragedy of Arthur, stripped of the romanticism usually associated with the most-likely mythical king, is vintage Shakespearean tragedy. There is no round table. No Lancelot. And no Knights Who Say Ni. It is a bloody, treacherous tale of kings battling for the throne of a united England. Arthur (king of Britain) versus Mordred (king of the Picts), duking it out for a title, some land and the hand of Guenhera (who popular culture knows as Guinevere). Given my inability to grasp many of the allusions, or draw parallels between what was going on in the play and what had happened in Phillips's childhood, I was a little bored while reading the thing (sorry, Shakespeare does my head in), and believed myself not to have in any sense been captivated by the story. But then Act V came around with its litany of awful occurrences and I found myself shocked and emotionally drained. I'm not sure when it happened, but I was completely in its thrall. Heck, it may be homage and pastiche, but The Tragedy of Arthur is a damn good play. I'm hardly alone in thinking this. True Shakespeare aficionados have given this play the thumbs up and, apparently, there are moves to stage it. I, for one, would probably buy a ticket.

In keeping with the 'authentic style' of the book, Part Three comes complete with copious footnotes in which Phillips and a 'Shakespearean scholar' argue over various lines, the former to bolster his claim of its fraudulent character and the latter to dismiss Phillips and add his own typically earnest explanations. Recalling such notes in the plays I studied at school, I found it all quite hilarious yet tremendously effective.

Everything about this book, and the play contained within, is executed with style, flair and tongue firmly planted in cheek. It is a wonderful read, despite dragging a little in Part Two, and offers an experience we are otherwise denied: coming upon a Shakespeare play completely afresh, without the academic and theatrical baggage that inevitably attach to years of over-analysis. It is, I imagine, quite how the plays were experienced in the late 1500s.

Finally, A Worthy Winner!

on Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Whenever I mount the blogospherical soapbox to kvetch about literary prizes, I can't help but let my more cynical side shine through. However, one prize was just handed out to a very deserving recipient and it would be remiss of me to let it pass without some sort of fanfare. Well done to The Avenue Bookstore in Albert Park, my home away from home, which was just named the Australian Book Industry Awards' Victorian Bookseller of the Year. It really is Melbourne's best; I always find something new and interesting on its shelves, the staff are true book lovers (and lovely people to boot), and it has a wonderful community vibe. Why are you still even reading this? Get off you stupid computer now and head to The Avenue before it wins the national title and fills up with Borders refugees.

Books of Revelation

on Monday, July 11, 2011
There are some books that I wish I could discover anew. I'm not necessarily talking about my all-time favourites here, but there are a few books that had such a profound impact on me when I first read them that I just want to experience that rush of pure exhilaration again. Unfortunately, recent attempts to revisit these books have only gone to show that that there is no joy in rediscovery. I can still enjoy them, sure, but that magical moment is gone forever. And so I've taken to giving them as gifts, in the hope of living vicariously through my friends. Maybe I can hold out til my eighties when dementia sets in. At that point you, dear readers, might repay the favour and bring me the following novels:

Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller
The Knowledge of Angels by Jill Paton Walsh
Montano's Malady by Enrique Vila-Matas
Binu And The Great Wall by Su Tong
Contempt by Alberto Moravia
A Dry White Season by Andre Brink
The Postman by Antonio Skarmeta
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany
Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour
Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal

I'll thank you in advance, seeing as I probably won't remember who you are when the time comes.

Microviews Vol. 11 (The Debut Edition): Brous, Kay, Abbott

on Saturday, July 9, 2011
I Am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous
I should probably start with a disclaimer. Not only do I know Raphael Brous but I read the novel in manuscript form, offered a few thoughts and even scored a thanks in the acknowledgements for my efforts. Make of that what you will. It isn't going to change the fact that I'm still enough of an arsehole to view this exciting but flawed debut with some semblance of objectivity. So here goes. Max Lamm is the collected neuroses and failings of two thousand years of Jewish manhood (think Alex Portnoy with a bit more flair and a little less refrigerated liver). A once promising tennis prodigy, his career flies off the rails in spectacular fashion when his dalliance with a South American hooker goes viral on the internet. Escaping to London, he basks in anonymity until he kills a Pakistani teenager who tries to mug him, thereby starting the biggest race riot in a generation and forcing him to go into hiding under a barbeque in Hyde Park. And that's just the first couple of chapters. It only takes a few lines to realise that Brous is an important new voice on the literary scene. The writing is unrelentingly obsessive, with grand, sweeping riffs that shoot skywards only to do several backflips before soaring back down to where they started. It is an act of lyrical acrobatics that is just incredible to behold, but might have simply been a case of style over substance had Brous not backed it up with an encyclopaedic knowledge of culture (high and pop), current affairs, science and ridiculously obscure trivia. It doesn't always work - sometimes the riffs seem repetitive and there are a few mistaken 'facts' that an editor should have picked up (the one about the Jamie Bulger case really bugged me) - but for the most part it is easy to forgive Brous his stumbles because reading I Am Max Lamm is just so invigorating an experience. As the novel progresses and the hysteria mounts, Max finds himself taken in by Kelly Wesson, his goyishe mirror image, the spoilt rich American daughter of Republican royalty, also on a quest to escape her past. Luckily (or unluckily) for him, she does so through sex, although for her it seems more of an act of abasement and rebellion than anything remotely romantic. The sex scenes, in Brous's manic style, are quite tawdry and over the top though they never quite tick over to cheap porn territory. There are moments that might contend for the Literary Review's Bad Sex Awards but even they are so tongue in cheek (amongst other places) that it's hard not to read them as intended parody. It is just another example of Brous navigating his way through a pretty tricky narrative quagmire of his own making. Sometimes he does get bogged down - he could do with exorcising the ghost of Phillip Roth (c'mon, the guy ain't dead yet!) for risk of descending into pastiche and the ending is not quite convincing - but you have to keep reminding yourself that I Am Max Lamm is his first novel. Sure, it might not be the best book you're likely to read this year, but it is undoubtedly one of the most exciting. What more could you want from a debut?

Micka by Frances Kay
The 'evil child' has a serious pedigree in literary fiction and any book that explores the topic will inevitably draw comparisons with the two classics: The Bad Seed by William March and The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing. Frances Kay dips in from a new angle, inspired methinks by the Jamie Bulger case (what is it with Bulger and debuts?). Rather than focusing on one evil kid, she conjures two and sets about exploring the genesis of each individually and the destructive interaction between them as a pair. Micka is the textbook psycho case - from a severely broken home, he is completely neglected by his drunken, inept mother and receives regular, vicious beatings from his brother Lee (probably one of the most repulsive characters I've ever read). Laurie is from the other side of the tracks, a spoilt semi-rich kid who is under-parented by two people more interested in one-upping the other as their marriage falls apart than looking out for their child's welfare. With their lives spiralling out of control, Micka and Laurie form a fast bond at school. And so the horror begins. The boys' story is told in their alternating voices, which makes for interesting insight into how each of them actually sees the other. Micka's sections are harrowing and make for incredibly difficult reading. At one stage he is savagely raped by Lee, a scene I have been unable to get out of my head since reading it. Laurie's parts are more mundane, though one gets the feeling that he is the more manipulative and unhinged one of the pair. Kay charts their descent into mutually dependant psychopathy quite convincingly, leaving the reader to feel like they are strapped onto a Scalextric track car careening towards a predictable end. Except the end is anything but predictable. Despite the parallels with the Bulger case, Kay wisely avoids the obvious and rounds the book out with an interesting, if slightly twee, twist. Micka is an engaging novel, well-worth a Sunday afternoon read, but highly unlikely to knock Nobel laureate Lessing off her perch.

The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott
Critics have been quick to liken David Abbott's debut to Ian McEwan and, to be fair, there are definite similarities. It certainly has the typical McEwan set-up: ordinary guy has life turned upside down by sudden, shocking incident. In this instance, retired advertising guru, Henry Cage is out on Westminster Bridge to welcome in the Millennium when he is pushed into the back of ex-con (and all-round psycho) Colin. The latter reacts violently, headbutting Cage in the face, and then follows it up with a campaign of low-level, but extremely creepy stalking. To this end, The Upright Piano Player is the novel Saturday should have been. But there is a lot more to the book than some hokey act of homage. Beneath the familiar facade is a surprisingly tender meditation on growing old, with a focus on the fractured connections within modern families. Discovering that his cheating ex-wife is dying of cancer, Henry tries to piece their relationship back together. The pair's gentle courtship dance is rendered beautifully, often drawing the reader to the edge of tears. He also reconnects with his estranged son (who sided with the mother) and begins to find new meaning in a grandson he never knew existed. The family drama is a perfect counterbalance to the constant threat of violence that permeates the story. The novel is not without its failings - there are some structural issues, especially with the death of the grandson at the outset wrong-footing the reader - but it is a powerful, assured and ultimately highly accomplished first effort. I'd like to say I can't wait to see what Abbott does next, but given he didn't write his debut until well into his seventies it might be wiser not to hold my breath.

2011: The Mid-Year Report

on Friday, July 1, 2011
Well, we've reached the halfway mark. The winter solstice has flitted by, parting the clouds on the horizon to reveal the glowing spectre of the taxman, flaming head in one hand, rusty scythe in the other, set to pounce. Yep, it's that time of year.

Unfortunately, 2011 is turning out to be a bit of a slow one for me when it comes to reading. Between law work, lecturing, renovating a house and a bunch of personal crap with which I shan't bore you, I only managed to get through seventy five books so far. At least it's a round number. And thankfully, there have been a few really great reads amongst them. But I'm getting ahead of myself.


You may recall that, at the end of last year, I made a few New Years Aspirations (a coward's non-committal version of resolutions). So let's see how I've fared:

Read One Great Classic Per Month. I started off well with The Brothers Ashkenazi, Anna Karenina and Joseph Roth's Rebellion but fell off the wagon pretty quickly. That is unless you count lesser known 'classics' like Roland Topor's The Tenant or short works by classic writers like Georges Perec's An Attempt At Exhausting A Place in Paris or Herman Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener. Oh, and I did read the collected fiction of Jorge Luis Borges (all eight or so books). And The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato. Not to mention The President by Miguel Angel Asturias. Come to think of it, I might have eschewed the great, capital "C" classics, but I've done pretty will on this one. Go me!

Read One Debut Novel Per Month. Seems I've stumbled across the finish line on this one, more by chance than design. I've read five debuts of varying quality in the past six months. Of particular note were Hannah Pittard's The Fates Will Find Their Way as well as Arnold Zable's 1991 debut, Jewels and Ashes. As for the debut everyone is buzzing about, Tea Obrecht's The Tiger's Wife... Well, I guess it was pretty good but in my humble opinion it wasn't deserving of the gushes (or The Orange Prize, though by now you'd know what I think of the Orange Prize in general).

Read Outside My Comfort Zone. While I didn't take the plunge into non-fictional waters, I did dabble in a bit of genre fiction (turns out crappy crime fiction can be a wonderful way to pass the hours) and finally had a go at reading graphic fiction. I'm not a total convert but the ones I read I enjoyed. Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa even made it to my Favourite Books So Far list (see below).

Read More, Buy Less. Technically a failure but I plead the defence of Sudden And Extraordinary Emergency (even if there have yet to be any superior court cases on the topic, it can be found in s. 9AI of the Crimes Act 1958 and I'm pegging my literary freedom on it... Just try to stop me!). Here's the thing, your Honour. I hadn't factored in the possibility of the Australian dollar surpassing parity. If I had let the opportunity pass me by I wouldn't have been able to survive. And so I bought. And bought. And bought. Until I could build a cubby house out of Amazon boxes.

Read One Series In its Entirety. Win. Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy. In January. So there! (I do want to knock over another series or two, perhaps Sartre's trilogy or Javier Marias's Your Face Tomorrow series. Watch this space for a touch of over-achievement come the end of the year.)

All in all I'm pretty happy when it comes to fulfilling my aspirations. At least I haven't embarrassed myself too badly. Sure, I might have to up the Classics quotient in the next six months, but otherwise I think I'm on the right track.

Now to the inevitable lists:

Although not all of these were published this year, here are the standouts (2011 books marked with asterisk):
The Brothers Ashkenazi by I.J. Singer
The Tenant by Roland Topor
The Curfew by Jesse Ball*
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa
I Hate Martin Amis Et Al by Peter Barry*
Rebellion by Joseph Roth
Pure by Andrew Miller *
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard*
The President by Miguel Angel Asturias

So here's what I plan to be reading over the next couple of weeks:
Florence and Giles by John Harding
I Am Max Lamm by Raphael Brous (Which I've already read and enjoyed in manuscript form but I'm looking forward to see how it turned out post-editing etc)
The Land At The End Of The World by Antonio Lobo Antunes
The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
The Leg Of Lamb: Its Life And Works by Benjamin Peret

Of the books I know are being released, I'm most excited by Evilio Rosero's Good Offices, Cain by Jose Saramago, Roberto Bolano's supposed 'other masterpiece' The Third Reich and Juan Jose Saer's The Sixty Five Years of Washington. I've fallen a bit behind on future releases so I'm sure there are others that I would have included had I known about them. Projecting way into the future, I can't wait for the impenetrable Laszlo Krasznahorkai's newie Satantango which comes out in February 2012. But, well, that's eight months away so wait I must!

I know it came out in 2010, but I've just gotten onto The Arrivals' awesome album Volatile Molotov. Imagine Elvis Costello mating with a literature professor and fronting a gruff Midwestern punk band and you get the idea. Killer album. Something to listen to on your way to the nearest indie bookstore.