Thursday 27 September 2018

Vulture's Best Books of the 21st Century ... So Far

A very interesting list appeared last week from New York Magazine and Vulture (and I just love the supercool graphic for the article). An attempt at establishing a 21st century cannon. An ambitious pursuit. This is not the first time I've seen a list trying to do this, but is the biggest list thus far. The list encompasses fiction, memoir, poetry and essays. 

Book of the Century (for Now)

The Last Samurai - Helen De Witt 2000

12 New Classics

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen 2001

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro 2005

How Should a Person Be? - Sheila Heti 2010

The Neapolitan Novels - Elena Ferante 2011-2015

The Argonauts - Maggie Nelson 2015

2666 - Roberto Bolaño 2008

The Sellout - Paul Beatty 2015

The Outline Trilogy - Rachel Cusk 2014-2018

Atonement - Ian McEwan 2001

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion 2005

Leaving the Atocha Station - Ben Lerner 2011

The Flame Throwers - Rachal Kushner 2013

The High Canon
Books endorsed by two panelists

Erasure - Percival Everett 2001

Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides 2002

Platform - Michel Houellebecq 2002

Do Everything in the Dark - Gary Indiana 2003

The Known World - Edward P. Jones 2003

The Plot Against America - Philip Roth 2004

The Line of Beauty - Alan Hollinghurst 2004

Veronica - Mary Gaitskill 2005

The Road - Cormac McCarthy 2006 (see my review)

Ooga-Booga - Frederick Seidel 2006

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Who - Junot Díaz 2007

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel 2009

The Possessed - Elif Batuman

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake - Aimee Bender 2010

Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi 2011

Lives Other Than My Own - Emmanuel Carrère 2011

Zone One - Colson Whitehead 2011

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn 2012

NW - Zadie Smith 2012

White Girls - Hilton Als 2013

My Struggle: A Man in Love - Karl Ove Knausgaard 2013

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt 2013

Dept. of Speculation - Jenny Offill 2014

All My Puny Sorrows - Miriam Toews 2014

Citizen: An American Lyric - Claudia Rankine 2014

Consent Not to Be a Single Being - Fred Moten 2017-2018

The Rest of the (Premature, Debatable, Arbitrary But Still Illuminating) Canon

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon 2000

The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman 2000

True History of the Kelly Gang - Peter Carey 2001

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos - Anne Carson 2001

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse - Louise Erdrich 2001

Austerlitz - W.G. Sebald 2001

Fingersmith - Sarah Waters 2002

The Time of Our Singing - Richard Powers 2002

The Book of Salt - Monique Truong 2003

Mortals - Norman Rush 2003

Home Land - Sam Lipsyte 2004

Oblivion - David Foster Wallace 2004

Honored Guest - Joy Williams 2004

Suite Française - Irène Némirovsky 2004

The Sluts - Dennis Cooper 2005

Voices From Chernobyl - Svetlana Alexievich 2005

Magic for Beginners - Kelly Link 2005

The Afterlife - Donald Antrim 2006

Winter's Bone - Daniel Woodrell 2006

Wizard of the Crow - Ngūgī wa Thiong'o 2006

American Genius, A Comedy - Lynne Tillman 2006

Eat the Document - Dana Spiotta 2006

The Harry Potter novels - J.K. Rowling 1997-2007 (read 1/7)

Sleeping It Off in Rapid City - August Kleinzahler 2008

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga 2008

The Lazarus Project - Aleksandar Hemon 2008

Home - Marilynne Robinson 2008

Fine Just the Way It Is - Annie Proulx 2008

Scenes From a Provincial Life: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime - J.M. Coetzee 1997-2009

Notes From No Man's Land - Eula Biss 2009

Spreadeagle - Kevin Killian 2010

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart 2010

Seven Years - Peter Stamm 2011

The Sense of an Ending - Julian Barnes 2011

1Q84 - Haruki Murakami 2011

The Gentrification of the Mind - Sarah Schulman 2012

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk - Ben Fountain 2012

Capital - John Lanchester 2012

The MaddAddam Trilogy (Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam) - Margaret Atwood 2003-2013 (read 1/3)

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena - Anthony Marra 2013

Taipei - Tao Lin 2013

Men We Reaped - Jesmyn Ward 2013

Family Life - Akhil Sharma 2014

How to Be Both - Ali Smith 2014

A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James 2014

Preparations for the Next Life - Atticus Lish 2014

The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen 2015

The Light of the World - Elizabeth Alexander 2015

The Broken Earth trilogy - N.K. Jemisin 2015-2017

What Belongs to You - Garth Greenwell 2016

Collected Essays & Memoirs - Albert Murray 2016

The Needle's Eye - Fanny Howe 2016

Ghachar Chochar - Vivek Shanbhag 2017

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas 2017 (see my review)

All Grown Up - Jami Attenberg 2017

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir - Thi Bui 2017

Tell Me How it Ends - Valeria Luiselli 2017

Priestdaddy - Patricia Lockwood 2017

Red Clocks - Leni Zumas 2018

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden - Denis Johnson 2018

Asymmetry - Lisa Halliday 2018

Read 9/100

DNF 1/100

I think probably the most remarkable thing about this list (apart from how few I've read) is how few of these books are books, and authors, that I've never even heard of. 49/100. Yes, just about half, including I think, the best book of the century so far. I feel like I might have heard of The Last Samurai, but I really think I'm just really remembering the 2003 Tom Cruise movie of the same name - which is not at all related to the book, and one that I've never actually seen, samurai action films not being my thing.

Sadly I do think that I don't actually want to read a fair proportion of the books that I hadn't already heard of. Many of the others are on my TBR. I have a few of them in the house. The list was collated from selections by 31 critics and authors. Only seven of them agreed on The Last Samurai. It is of course a very Amero-centric list. Peter Carey, an Australian who has lived in America for decades, is the only Australian to make the list. 

Thanks to Steve Donoghue for alerting me to this list. 

Sunday 23 September 2018

The Art of Taxidermy

I do love a verse novel, so I was very excited when I spied The Art of Taxidermy in the Text Catalogue earlier in the year. I eagerly awaited the publication date, and then ordered it from my local bookshop. I picked it up this week. I've really been in a bit of a reading slump for the past few months (and a blogging slump too), and I thought a verse novel would be good for what ails me. It was. 

The Art of Taxidermy tells the story of Charlotte, Lottie, living in South Australia with her father. Her mother has died and her Aunt Hilda hovers closely, helping look after both Charlotte and her father. Lottie is 11. She is a rather sad and lonely child. Alone at school. 

Back there with the kids
who didn't talk to me

was like being at a funeral
every day. 
Lottie becomes obsessed with death.
At the age of eleven
I fell in love
with death

She starts collecting dead things - frogs, skinks, lots of birds, even a red-bellied black snake. But of course all this creates a "fusty fug" in her bedroom and attracts the attention of Aunt Hilda, who is far from enthusiastic about Charlotte's new hobby. 

On a visit to the museum with her scientist father Charlotte sees taxidermied specimens for the first time.
They are perfect-
perfectly dead. 
Not shrinking?
Not disintegrating?
Lottie becomes even more interested in the dead, subsuming her grief for her mother. 
I pulled on layer after layer of her:underwear, stockings,shirts and skirts,coat and shoes.I wrapped myself in herfolded myself upuntil it feltlike a warm hug.
Besides the more obvious themes of grief and death, there are themes of friendship, loneliness, glimpses of Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal relations with white Australia, and the history of German immigrants to South Australia. The book is also full of appreciation for our Australian wildlife and in particular our wonderful birds. 

The Art of Taxidermy was shortlisted for the 2017 Text Prize. The gorgeous cover and illustrations are by Edith Rewa

Sharon Kernot is a South Australian author and poet. The Art of Taxidermy is her second novel. 

Teaching Notes

Thursday 13 September 2018

The Barefoot Investor

A separation and divorce makes you reconsider pretty much everything in your life and I've been doing quite a bit of reconsidering lately. Of course there are so very many changes over this time, some positive, some not so much, but there are also many new horizons, new opportunities, many new and different ways of looking at and doing things. One of the big ones is the way that you do things with money. It can take a while to realise that this doesn't need to be the same as when you were married. Especially if that way wasn't working particularly well for you anyway. It's important to do things your own way now.

I'd never paid all that much attention to our finances during the marriage. I earn a good wage and I thought that that would be enough and things would just happen. Well, they don't just happen, you still need to do things to make them happen. But I'm doing those things now.

I've come a long way in the past three years, and more particularly in the past year. I'm debt free (apart from the mortgage) but things can always be better. I've come to realise that just because things had been done a certain way for the past 20 years they may no longer feel right, that way may not fit me any more. I've already changed a lot of things that I do in my life. So, it was time to really look at matters financial.

I reserved The Barefoot Investor at my library and got cracking. The Barefoot Investor has been huge over the past few years, with over 850,000 copies sold! Clearly lots of people have found Scott Pape's methods helpful. It's a quick enjoyable read for a finance book, although I found his jocular, blokey banter a bit much at times.

A lot of the Barefoot message is about empowerment and control, control over your money and your life.
The goal of the Barefoot Investor can be summarised in one word: control

Scott has nine steps to financial freedom. 
Most are very sensible things. Consolidate and pay off your debts. Have a buffer for emergencies. Buy your house. Get your super in order. He has a specific way of doing this with multiple buckets (separate online accounts where you parcel off your money).

The bucket system doesn't appeal to me really. I don't want to do that, so I'm not going to. And I don't think I need to. I'm starting this process at Step 7.

I do like that he doesn't like budgets though. I really don't like budgets and don't work well within one.

For most people, budgets don't work. They're like surviving on a grapefruit diet. 
Budgets set you up to fail. You feel like a loser with no willpower. 

But Scott Pape is big on conscious spending. Which dovetails very nicely with the decluttering and minimalistic (lite, super extra lite minimalist) approach that I've been trying to adopt of late.

Environment Victoria says the vast majority of what we buy ends up in landfill within six weeks of purchase. 
Six weeks! Can that really be true? I don't see how. Food and consumables sure. But the rest of it? It's hard to imagine. 

Scott's sensible advice has helped me work out my priorities, and some strategies.

Become an investor, not a trader.
Make saving automatic. Increase your pre-tax super to 15% (or up to $25, 000 - the current annual maximum). 
Super should be the centrepiece of your long-term investment program.
The best place to invest your money for the long term, regardless of your age, is super.
Your greatest investment weapon is time. 
Great. Time isn't exactly on my side, but I can certainly make use of the time I have left as a worker. Speaking of which, Scott is a big advocate to "Never, Ever Retire"! What? I've just really started thinking about how to make retirement happen, and now he's telling me I shouldn't ever retire... Well we'll see about that I guess.

I wish I had made many of these decisions and changes years ago. But I didn't, and there's nothing I can do about that. But I'm making the right moves now. Scott likes to say "I've got this". I haven't got it yet, but every fortnight it's coming closer. And I might just get myself a new pillow. 

You can listen to Scott Pape on a podcast with Mia Freedman. 

Friday 7 September 2018

The Newcastle Reading List


I grew up in Newcastle. Well close enough. Much easier to say Newcastle, so people know where you mean. When I grew up the boys all went off to work at Comm Steel and BHP, major industries that don't exist anymore. Newcastle has been the inspiration for a number of songs. The Newcastle Song. We all grew up knowing "Don't you ever let a chance go by."

Newcastle famously rioted when a pub shut.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was catching up on a recent SMH article, and saw this written bold and large:
Newcastle is now ranked as one of the world's top five hipster cities
What? Really? Hipsters? Can a deconstructed vegemite toast really be the basis of all this acclaim?

I didn't have much of a problem with the second half of the sentence
and is welcoming a growing literary scene.
Sure. That bit is easy. I've loved attending the Newcastle Writers Festival three times over the past few years, and I'm aware of more and more writers and poets calling Newcastle home. The hipster claim appears to be old news. And I'd still agree that "you’ll see more hipsters in the first ten meters of Crown Street, Surry Hills than you will in a week in Newcastle".

One of the interesting things that the article did was include a list of Newcastle Novels, and even though the lists have been light on here for a while, I knew I couldn't let this chance go by...

Newcastle Novels

Lover's Knots: A Hundred Year Novel - Marion Halligan 1992

Paterson - William Carlos Williams 1963

Southern Steel - Dymphna Cusack 1953

The Last Thread - Michael Sala 2012

The Long Prospect - Elizabeth Harrower 1958

The Restorer - Michael Sala 2017

Sadly I haven't read any of these books. There's always so much reading to be done.