Keret Kancels

on Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Having spent the past couple of days immersing myself in Etgar Keret's wacky universe, I was saddened to hear that he has had to cancel his Australian trip because his father has taken seriously ill. I was really looking forward to doing my In Coversation event in Sydney and hope it will be rescheduled for sometime later this year. But in the meantime, I wish Etgar and his father all the best for a speedy and complete recovery.

Return Fire (Excoriation Blues Part 2)

on Sunday, February 19, 2012
Further to my rant about hatchet jobs, I came across a few examples of return fire from aggrieved authors while reading The Independent and figured I had to pilfer them for your entertainment.

Check these out for some pucker-up, cats-arse sour grapes:

Noam Chomsky responding to John Gray's poor review of his latest book: "The stunning irrationality of [Gray's] inferences renders comment superfluous".

Alain de Botton on Caleb Crain's review of The Pleasures And Sorrows Of Work in The New York Times: "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make."

Martin Amis slagging off Tibor Fischer over the latter's review of his unquestionably appalling piece of shit, Yellow Dog: "Tibor Fischer is a creep and a wretch. Oh yeah: and a fat-arse."

Niall Ferguson on Pankaj Mishra's review of his book Civilization: "If he won't apologise for calling me a racist, I will persecute him until he does... it seems to be becoming de rigueur for mediocrities to build their fame on attacking those more successful than them."

Amongst her 27 angry tweets following a bad review in The Boston Globe, was this hilarious stab from Alice Hoffman:"Roberta Silman in the Boston Globe is a moron. How do some people get to review books?... Now any idiot can be a critic."

Ayelet Waldman lets out a primal scream in 140 or less characters, following bad reviews for her husband's book The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man: "To the fucking MORON Amazon reviewers giving Awesome Man 1 star [because] 'It would be good for, like, a 2 year old' IT WAS WRITTEN FOR LITTLE KIDS"

Nothing like seeing great authors turn all 13-year-old kid in a playground! I'll just sit back now and wait for Mr. Perlman's response to Mr. Gates. Fire away!

Screen to Stage: I'm Steppin' Out!

on Thursday, February 16, 2012
Ok folks. A quick heads up for some forthcoming lit-type things at which I'll be appearing.

On March 8 I will be in conversation with the wonderful Etgar Keret at the Waverly Library in Bondi Junction, Sydney. Check out the flyer below*

On March 18 I will speaking at the opening of the new Lamm Jewish Library of Australia (304 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South, Melbourne) at 2pm. I haven't got a concrete topic yet, but I think it will be Voicing The Silences: The Role of the 3rd Generation and Beyond in Writing The Holocaust.

Finally, way off in the distant future (well, August) I will be speaking in some way, shape or form at the Sydney Jewish Writers' Festival. I went as an attendee two years ago and it was amazing so I'm really looking forward to experiencing it from 'the other side' so to speak.

Hope to see some of you at one of these!

* I should probably disclaim that the raves from Rushdie and the New York Times are for Keret, not me. But hey, a boy can dream!

Feeling Like a Dickens-head!

on Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Unless you've been living under a rock in a cave in a vast ocean on one of the minor planets of a distant solar system from a hitherto unknown galaxy, you will certainly have heard that this year is the bicentenary of the man often considered to be the greatest English novelist of all time, Charles Dickens. Caught up as I have been in all the hoopla, it dawned on me yesterday that despite seeing several stage and film versions of Oliver Twist (plus having "Where Is Love" on repeat on my iPod), suffering through numerous other adaptations of his works, acquiring a first edition of Our Mutual friend, and even moving into a house in Dickens Street, I have never actually read a Charles Dickens novel.

So I guess I'd better add one last aspiration to my New Year's list. The only question, which one?

Over to you fellow litnerds. Tell me which of the great man's books I'm most likely to love. Don't let me continue to live as a disgrace to my own address!

Excoriation Blues (Or The Happy Hatchet)

on Monday, February 13, 2012
Those of you who, like me, keep tabs on the wackier margins of the litworld may have heard that the first ever Hatchet Job of The Year was recently awarded to Adam Mars-Jones for his nuclear pounding of After Nightfall by Michael Cunningham. Granted, I've not read the book but the review, originally published in The Observer, certainly was a lot of fun. Check it out here!

We faceless minions who like to crap on about books do relish the odd opportunity to really sharpen our knives. I'll never forget when Andrew O'Hagan flew an ink plane into the tower of Don Delillo's awful post-911 novel, Falling Man. Few people would have cojones to waltz up to God's throne and take a dump on His shoes, so full credit to O'Hagan on that one. (If your memory doesn't stretch back to 2007 click here for a refresher). If only Dellilo had been given the opportunity to repay the favour when it came to O'Hagan's equally embarrassing effort from last year, Maf The Dog. Remember that? Didn't think so. It was the 'memoir' of Marilyn Monroe's dog, and resembled something that might have slipped out of Maf's backside after a particularly disagreeable meal. Either way, it was thrown over the fence of literary attention and promptly forgotten about. Alack alack, God (i.e. Dellilo) was no doubt too busy creating some other great masterwork to bother re-igniting long-snuffed fires.

There is, of course, a particular art to the hatchet job, one that some reviewers ought try to learn. Complete excoriations seem mean spirited if the bile is not tempered with the sharpest of wit. One that has recently raised my ire was David Gates's review of The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman in The New York Times Sunday Book Review. Talk about claws-out nasty. Gates doesn't so much review it as demolish every leg on which the book seeks to stand, including ones that I actually think are rather commendable. Am I the only one who finds it weird to slam a book for a possessing a fierce moral conscience, even if that conscience sometimes taints the narrative? And surely convenient contrivances in plot are commonplace even in the best works of fiction?

Weirdly, Gates seems to be waving the flag alone in his detestation. I haven't read the book (I have a moratorium on Holocaust books until mine is finished), but by all accounts it is, at the very least decent and, according to many, very good. Popular consensus amongst readers and bloggers (as opposed to the denizens of literary palaces) swings strongly in Perlman's favour. I'll wait to read it myself before forming an opinion. But for now, suffice to say, Gates falls into the very trap he thinks has slammed shut on Perlman's foot. Wit is the essence of the effective hatchet job. Gates takes Perlman to task for the 'humourlessness' of The Street Sweeper (I'd hate to see him review Cormac McCarthy or David Vann!). And yet, as opposed to when I was reading Mars-Jones or O'Hagan, during both of which I laughed heartily, I didn't so much as smirk with Gates. If it hand't been published in so venerable a paper I'm sure the review would have disappeared without a trace. I suspect now it will be the highlight of Gates's otherwise unremarkable career. Here's hoping good hearts prevail over mean spirits.

Shantaram Shitfight (And Now For Something Completely Different)

on Thursday, February 9, 2012
A lovely weekend in the Victorian countryside was almost ruined before it started thanks to the heady combination of a know-it-all house manager and my fat mouth. In a most unusual turn of events, my lit nerd bro-in-law and I arrived at our destination ahead of the others, which meant we were given the grand tour/orientation spiel which we were then supposed to pass on to the rest of the family when they arrived. All was going well until we reached the entertainment collection - a long shelf of DVDs, Playstation 3 games and books. The house is Indian themed so it's not too hard to guess what was on the shelves.

As I scanned the collection, the very Aussie house manager started to get rather excited. "I don't know if either of you are readers," he said (at which I died a bit inside), "but there's one book you have to read while you're here." And, as I guessed he would, he reached straight for Shantaram. Yes, bloody Shantaram. The wanky bible of every ashram-invading, pot-smoking, hygiene-averse backpacker ever to disgrace the subcontinent. Alas, Mr. I-Prosletyse-About-The-One-Book-I've-Ever-Read was only getting started. "It's a modern classic," he raved. "It won the Booker Prize".

Oh No He Deeee-n't.

The red rag had been waved and this bull was primed. "Um," I interrupted in my friendliest of tones, "no it didn't." He was adamant. "I can assure you it did." Here we go. Bro-in-law rolled his eyes and tried to look busy in the corner. "And I can quite definitely assure you it didn't. It wasn't even nominated." He stood his ground. I didn't want to sound like too much of a knob but, well, I'm a lot of a knob. "I can name the last twenty winners and Shantaram is not amongst them." He must have sensed then that either I was right or I was such a massively arrogant arse that it wasn't worth arguing with me (to be fair, the truth is a combination of those two things). "I take it that's your area," he said.

My fragile book nerd ego was placated, but not before fate added a little kicker for my amusement. Sitting right next to Shantaram was a copy of Arundhati Roy's Booker winner, The God Of Small Things. Touche, litgods. Touche.

Unearthing The Bookworm: "In Conversation" with Etgar Keret

on Tuesday, February 7, 2012
As Futurama's Professor Farnsowrth is wont to say, "Good news everybody!"

After hiding behind a computer screen for the past couple of years, I'm finally making like Jeff Daniels in Purple Rose of Cairo and appearing in the real world as the host of my first ever "In Conversation". The super extra exciting bit is that it will be with Israeli literary/cinematic superstar and fellow lover of the absurd, Etgar Keret. I've been a fan of his for years and was chuffed the first time I got to meet him in my former incarnation as a Hebrew punk rocker, but this is a step above. Nothing like chatting with someone you admire in a room full of serious readers!

It's all going down at 7pm on the 8th of March at the Waverly Library in Bondi Junction, Sydney. I'll be posting the proper flier in the next couple of days but for now you can check out event details and even book your tickets here. It's going to be a blast - Keret is a fantastic guy, his stories are mind-blowingly fun and thought provoking, and he is at the forefront of contemporary world literature. Put simply, if you're in Sydney and you like books, you'd be a schmuck to miss it! I'll even be throwing it open to the floor so you'll have the chance to ask him all your burning questions. In the meantime, check out his wonderful new collection, Suddenly, A Knock On The Door, available whoever good books are sold (and quite a few places that sell crap too).

See you in March!