The Hazards of Expectation Mismanagement

on Thursday, March 22, 2012
One of the fringe benefits of my recent presentation at the opening of the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia was perusing the shelves and finding two more novels by I. J. Singer, author of one of my all-time favourite books, The Brothers Ashkenazi. I had not heard of either book (admittedly I didn't exactly search them out with any particular fervour) and so stumbling across them pretty much made my day. It's been a long while since I've borrowed a book from a library and so I was immediately struck by a crushing sense of urgency - I would need to read them both before the return date lest I rack up the sort of fines I haven't seen since my teenage years. Thankfully, neither Yoshe Kalb nor The Family Carnovsky are Ashkenazi-length bricks. Also, quite fortuitously, I was heading off on a holiday to Tasmania the following day, so I figured I should pack one amongst my paper travel companions and knock it over straight away. I opted for the shorter of the two, Yoshe Kalb.

The novel tells of two rival rabbinic dynasties brought to the brink of civil war thanks to a rather odd character who might be Nahum, the learned but tortured youngster of Nyesheve, or Yoshe the loon of Bialogura, or both. Its recounting of the rising religious tumult set against the backdrop of imminent pogroms made for dense but compelling reading and the novel kept me company for the better part of a day, which happened to include a rather strenuous walk up The Hazards (a minor mountain formation on Coles Bay).

Much to my dismay, Yoshe Kalb was not The Brothers Ashkenazi. In fact it wasn't even a cousin Ashkenazi. Woe is me. Looking back, Yoshe Kalb could not have possibly lived up to the expectations I had built for it. After finishing Singer's larger masterpiece and resigning myself to never finding another word written by 'the better brother', I was so overjoyed at finding these two books that nothing short of a miracle could have caused me to read them objectively.

So now I am at a crossroads. Do I read The Family Carnovsky and risk having to eat the words I have long been spouting - including to The Age in my interview after winning the story award - that I. J. towers above his philandering sleazebag of a little brother? More tangentially, should I be as excited as I currently am at having just purchased Satantango, the new novel by Laszlo Krasznohorkai, author of the impossibly dense work of genius, The Melancholy of Resistance? Turns out Satantango's blurb reads almost exactly the same as the synopsis of a novel I had intended to write somewhere down the track, which makes me extremely excited to see it done well (and disappointed that I was beaten to it by someone I greatly admire).

Stuff it. I'm reading Thomas Pletzinger's Funeral For A Dog instead. At least I'm only basing my expectations on its wackily fun cover. And we all know that's the best way to judge any book!

Bookworms Turns 200!!

on Monday, March 19, 2012
One of my favourite scenes in modern literature has to be "The Most Photographed Barn In America" in Don Delillo's masterpiece White Noise (yes, I rate it above Underworld). I just love the idea of bussing in flocks of tourists so that they can take photos of some crappy shack in the middle of nowhere, and thereby make good on the moniker. It is with a similar dose of self-referential, self-fulfilling idiocy that I now mark the 200th entry in Bait For Bookworms with little more than this short musing to mark the 200th entry in Bait For Bookworms. Can't say I ever thought I'd get this far.

Regular programming will resume shortly.

Tis all...

The Monumental Month of March

on Thursday, March 15, 2012
You might have noticed a certain calming quietude on this here blog of late; it is the sound of me fulfilling one of my new year's aspirations. Yes, for the first time in my life I have actually managed to write more than I have read this month. Indeed, get this, my book tally for March thus far is... 4! That's how many books I usually get through in a slow week. Moreover, I've been focusing mostly on short stories - Babel, Malamud, any other crushingly bleak misanthrope I can get my hands on. You get the picture. I'm going on holiday next week so I will probably up the total to something a little more respectable then but still, I'm kind of proud of myself. I am finally getting the hang of shutting out the world and focusing on what I'm supposed to be doing (I'm conveniently not mentioning that I've also been treading the boards in what looks to be my last ever stage show). I've given myself until the end of August to finish draft one of the book. It's an optimistic target, but if I don't start setting my own deadlines I'm going to be kvetching about the stupid thing for years to come.

Meanwhile, if you're in Melbourne and have some spare time on Sunday, come down to the grand opening of the spanking new Lamm Jewish Library of Australia on Hawthorn Road near the corner of Glenhuntly in Caulfield. I'm running a session at 2pm on writing the Holocaust in the 21st Century. Sounds fun, right? Basically, it will be an opportunity for me to rant against crap like The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, Life Is Beautiful (which, despite myself, I sort of love) and any number of other awful camp romances (by which I mean Concentration Camp, not Armistead Maupin novels) that seem to be popping up all over the place. Apparently I'm funny when I rant. And my face goes weird shades of red. What more could you want?