The Collapse of The World Banks (or Why I'm Giving Up On Love)

on Thursday, January 26, 2012
At what point is it okay to give up on your once favourite authors?

So I was catching up on my backlog of book podcasts yesterday afternoon when I heard that Iain Banks has a new novel called Stonemouth coming out in April. I should, in theory, be very excited. Back in my early university days a friend gave me a copy of The Bridge, promising that it would provide the adult version of the mindfuck experience I had felt with I Am The Cheese. Same sense of discomfort, he said. Same paranoia. Same need to question everything. He was right and to this day The Bridge remains one of my favorutie books. As soon as I had finished it I hunted down every other Banks novel I could find. The Wasp Factory, Walking On Glass, The Crow Road, Complicity. Loved them all. I even dabbled in his hard science fiction stuff, with particular props to the awesome Feersum Endjinn. That's not to say there weren't the odd misses too. Espedair Street is embarrassingly bad. Canal Dreams is only average.

Once I had ploughed through them all, I began to anticipate his next release. Which is about when he began to lose it. Whit was quirky but hardly satisfying. Song of Stone promised something of a return to form but didn't quite deliver. Ditto The Business. Then came the book that had to go down as his worst so far - Dead Air - but I forgave him because any number of great novelists were publishing confused crap, trying to grapple with the September 11 attacks. Like any good fanboy, I wrote off the loss and waited once again with baited breath. Five years later The Steep Approach To Garbadale appeared and proved not only unworthy of the wait, but even worse than its predecessor. Wow that book was awful. Transition, released fairly soon afterwards, was slightly better but, after three bad books in a row, I had to concede that Banks might finally have fallen off my DEAR list.

I'm not sure how to feel about Stonemouth. The conditioned response in me is to get excited. The rational reaction is indifference. Perhaps even annoyance. But then I think of Andrew Miller. Having loved his debut Ingenious Pain, I suffered through the next four books and was ready to give up on him when he pulled out last year's magnificent novel Pure. Maybe Banks will work a similar miracle. If Stonemouth turns out to be as awful as I'm expecting I think I will finally have to give up on him altogether. Until the next book, that is. Pavlov's dog folks. Pavlov's dog.

Free Books For All!

on Thursday, January 19, 2012
Seems everyone is hopping on the World Book Night bandwagon! Everyone, that is, except Australia. The idea behind WBN, according to its website is "to give books to new readers, to encourage reading, to share your passion for a great book. The entire publishing, bookstore, library, author, printing, and paper community is behind this effort with donated services and time." Brilliant! In America alone, one million books will be given away on April 23.

Even on a micro level, I love the idea of giving away good books to complete strangers. Indeed, it would solve my current dilemma of what to do with my mirror library. Having finally constructed a room to house my collection, thereby giving me cause to actually do a stock take, I've realised that I have multiple copies of a fair few of my favourite books. For now they're housed at my parents' place. They too were forced to build a room's worth of shelving just to store the overflow. But wouldn't it be great to whittle down the collection with a Book Crossing-style mass-giveaway?

I hope Australia gets on board with the whole World Book Night movement. I know the publishing industry is struggling but the joint investment by them and the government (who ought to heavily subsidise it) is worth it in terms of having people fall in love with books again (by which I mean those old-fashioned paper things, not the ones that fly through space and land on a piece of chip-filled plastic). I also hope individuals start sharing the books they love but don't feel the need to keep. I, for one, am going to start leaving books on park benches or tram stops or anywhere else that someone might happen upon them. Free books to good homes, I say. Much better than having them cloistered away, gathering dust, without ever being looked at (let alone read).

Big Fuss About Small Crumbs: The Age Short Story Award

on Saturday, January 7, 2012
For once I won't do the talking.

Read the article about my story Crumbs here.

Read Crumbs, the winner of The Age Short Story Award for 2011, here.

Hope you all enjoy it!

I'm open to discussing it here or by email at and will post a few thoughts further down the track.

The Uncertain Precipice: Awaiting the Likely Publication of Crumbs

on Friday, January 6, 2012
Right now I feel like I've been stripped naked, shoved into a giant, curtain-covered glass box, wheeled into the city centre and left to sit there overnight, awaiting some great unveiling. Tomorrow, my story Crumbs, which won The Age Short Story Award, will (I am led to believe) be published in the Summer Reading Supplement of The Saturday Age, and will also be put online for hapless litnerds to stumble across forever more. It may well be something that every writer dreams will happen, but right now I'm a pathetic bundle of neuroses.

I've read over Crumbs several times and am certainly happy with it (notwithstanding the one annoying typo that I found and am really hoping the editors did too). But it's still a weird feeling, to think something you have made is going out into the world to be picked apart and judged by all manner of people you're never likely to meet. I had the same feeling whenever a Yidcore album was about to drop, but this has a much heavier weight of expectation. People will read it expecting it to prove itself worthy of having won.

If these nerves weren't enough, there's also an odd sense of uncertainty because, while I do recall the Books editor of the paper telling me it will be published on the first Saturday of January, I have yet to hear anything since and, the more I think about it, the more I suspect I could be wrong. I was pretty pepped up on adrenalin when I received the call. Yep, I have a sleepless night ahead of me (which will be ably assisted by little Louie), and tomorrow I'll either be posting a link to the story or returning here, tail between my legs, to sulk. Either way you're in for some high-end entertainment. See you tomorrow!

Hoorah For The Horizon: Five Books To Get Excited About in 2012

on Thursday, January 5, 2012
Brace yourselves litnerds. 2012 is going to be big! It's a year that will bring us newies from heavy hitters like Toni Morrison, Peter Carey, Mario Vargas Llosa, Hillary Mantel and John Banville. Slightly lower down in the pecking order, you can expect books from Aleksander Hemon, Hari Kunzru, William Boyd, Jess Walter, Shalom Auslander and Ben Marcus. Plus there are essay collections from William H. Gass, Geoff Dyer, Marilynne Robinson and Roberto Bolano. No announcements have been made but I'd be willing to bet there's also a new Phillip Roth on the horizon. Ditto Paul Auster. So all in all it's shaping up to be a good one.

Of all the books that have been announced thus far, five really stand out.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon. You might be waiting a while for this one, but hey, what's another few months in the interminable drag of time that is the space between Chabon novels. He has promised that it will be a departure from the speculative awesomeness that was The Yiddish Policeman's Union and the early guff has it as a straightforward novel of place (that place being San Francisco's Bay Area). But c'mon, it's Chabon which means it will most likely be spectacular!

Satantango by Laszlo Krasznahorkai. Granted Krasznahorkai is almost as difficult to read as his name is to pronounce, but I'm still absolutely gagging for this. The Melancholy of Resistance was probably the most dense, nigh impenetrable intellectual challenge I have ever found myself embarking upon (which is pretty cool for a novel about a circus) and I imagine Satantango won't be too different. In his native Hungary they made a seven hour film of the thing!

Lionel Asbo: The State of England by Martin Amis. He's been off his game for a while now, but I'm holding out hope that this will be a return for the once enfant terrible of English literature. The story of a skinhead who wins the big lotto jackpot while in jail, it promises to be funny, scathing and cynical. In other words, vintage Amis.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Ann Frank by Nathan Englander. Hands down the best title for a book we are likely to encounter all year, this one sees Englander return to the short form after his rather mediocre debut novel The Ministry of Special Cases. Given that his first story collection, For The Relief of Unbearable Urges rates as amongst my favourites, and contains what I consider to be the greatest short story of the modern era, I'm super excited to see what he does with this one.

Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu. One sentence. How To live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe. That books was incredible. Hilarious. Tragic. Thought-provoking. Absurd. The moment I put it down I tracked down Yu's first collection, Third Class Superhero, and was quite disappointed; he hadn't yet properly synthesised his comic, literary and scientific sides. But after How To Live... I think he ought to be in top form and I'm willing to forgive him that first collection if this one is as good as I'm guessing it will be.

Plus special mention to the Prix Goncourt winning HHhH by Laurent Binet which is being billed as a cross between Jonathan Littel's The Kindly Ones and William H. Gass's The Tunnel, two profoundly disturbing books about how art engages with the catastrophe of the Holocaust.

Here's to a very happy new year!

Another Missive From The (Maybe) Future

on Sunday, January 1, 2012
Greetings again fellow travellers (for the Aussies) and Cro-Magnan humanoids (for most of the rest of the world).

I write to you from the land of 2012, which thus far is proving blissfully uneventful. Here's hoping it continues that way!

As is now customary on B4BW, I shall pander to the populist lunacy of jotting down a bunch of things I intend but am unlikely to accomplish this coming year. For 2012, they include:

Write More Than I Read: The one positive to come out of the awful year that was 2011 was having my own writing published. I would have been content to have just seen my story The Prisoner of Babel printed in The Sleepers Almanac. It's a damn good compendium that I have been reading for years and I felt honoured to be included. However, to then have Crumbs go on to win The Age Short Story Award was beyond anything I could have wished for. It was also the kick in the arse I needed to really knuckle down and finish the novel I've been tinkering with for the past four years. It's currently 82,000 words (about 300 pages), halfway done and getting ridiculous. As such, I've decided to pull back from all the distractions in my life - music, friends, eating out, work, community involvement and, yes, reading to just focus on writing. Every day. I'll be happy to get to 50 books this year, so long as I finish the damned thing. To make things a little bit more tricky I also want to get a good deal of the other book I'm working on done. At least that one is a little easier, being a pure imaginative work of speculative fiction, rather than forcing me to run to the history books or primary sources every five seconds like the big one does. Either way, I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I feel that 2012 is the year it will happen!

Stop Being Such A Lit-Wanker: I have always fancied myself quite the highbrow reader, snubbing my nose at those lesser mortals who read what I deemed to be 'trash'. Fuck that! I'm going to start reading the sorts of books I have long mocked. Writing is a difficult, mentally-taxing endeavour, so this year I want my reading to be more of an escape. Seeing that I've always enjoyed the odd bit of genre fiction whenever I've deigned to 'lower' myself to its level, and almost all the books I wished I'd read last year seem to be genre books, I think I'll spend the better part of the year reading the stuff. And feeling good about it. And probably realising that anyone who considers themselves at lofty literary heights just because they read the most obscure highbrow lit they can find is, when stripped of the force field of arrogance, just a massive douche! Bring on the crime/sci-fi/fantasy/horror/graphic fiction.

Smell The Roses: Contrary to the way I have conducted myself over the past few years, it has occurred to me that reading is not a competitive sport. Given that I will probably be reading far fewer books than usual, I figure that when I do open one up I ought to be sitting back and enjoying the ride, extracting as much pleasure as possible from each book. Sure, I might get swept up in the thrill of some of the genre reads, or bogged down in some of the research-related books, but whatever the case I won't be racing to some outlandish finish line.

Some Tangible Reading Aspirations: Tolstoy's War and Peace. Sartre's Road To Freedom trilogy (plus the recently published fourth instalment). The first two instalments of Lev Grossman's Magicians Trilogy. Neil Gaiman's American Gods.

The Obligatory Aspiration: The Immutable Law of New Year stipulates that we all must choose one of two stock resolutions. One involves quitting smoking. The other is losing weight. I've never touched a cigarette in my life (other than the one my great grandmother gave me in Prague when I was six) so that's kind of moot. Luckily I'm a little pudgy around the edges and could do with some trimming so I'm going to take Option B. But I don't intend to do it in half measures. This year, I'm resolving to lose more than my entire body weight so that I can know what it means to live in a vacuum (without trying to fold myself into ridiculous contortions to fit in my Hoover). So there you have it. Final New Year's Aspiration - lose more than 95 kilos. If only Oprah was still on air. I'd have been a shoe-in!

And in case you're wondering, the year is off to a good start. The first book of 2012 is Roseanna by Maj Sjowell and Per Wahloo. Classic Scandinavian crime fiction from the 1960s.