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by Nikki Tranter

11 Nov 2007

“He was by nature bound to a style of excess. There were times when you would be fed-up with him, but if you could conceive of American culture of the past 50 years without Norman Mailer, you would find it a lot drearier.”



So says EL Doctorow or Norman Mailer, who died this past weekend in New York City. The best of the obits can be found in the Los Angeles Times. Elaine Woo dissects Mailer’s varied images, from wunderkind to genius, giant to buffoon.

The Guardian positions Mailer as “the pugilist who wrote the story of America”, the Village Voice credits its co-founder, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution digs up a host of literary types to praise Mailer up, down, and sideways. John Mark Eberhart at the Kansas City Star remembers Mailer from the perspective of a fan rather than a colleague or simple observer.

I took [Ancient Evenings] home. The suffering began. This book was a photonegative of [The Executioner’s] Song, dull instead of fascinating, leaden instead of lively. Certainly the writing was good. Mailer just didn’t convince me to care about the story. Through the years, that would be my experience with Mailer; to read him was to be alternately vexed and dazzled.

It’s impossible, though, to know just what to think of Mailer, egocentric Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author who head-butted Gore Vidal and stabbed a lover at a party, based on these all-too-nice retrospectives. Check out the real Mailer for yourself over at Wired for Books. Don Swaim’s hour-long 1991 interview is most revealing.


by Nikki Tranter

4 Nov 2007

Cate Kennedy talks writing at LiteraryMinded:

I’ll try to have two things on the boil at the same time so I have something to switch to if I feel really stale with the first one. I’ll promise myself a coffee if I just do another 500 words. I trick and cajole myself into getting to the end of the crap draft, as if my unconscious is some sort of mutinous toddler who needs bribery just to stay on the task. Or perhaps a better analogy would be a big, undisciplined dog who hates the lead and never comes back when it’s called. You’ve got to try and train a dog like that, but generally it sees you with the leash in your hand and just runs off ...
And last of all, when I feel really uninspired, I think: what would you rather be doing? Nobody’s making me do it, after all, so I remember what Raymond Carver said: Don’t complain, don’t explain.

In my opinion, Cate Kennedy is living the Australian Dream. She gets to live and thrive in rural Victoria, where her kitchen window view reveals cows in paddocks, and see her worked reviewed (complete with special red star) in Publisher’s Weekly. A lucky woman, if ever there was one. She’s also warm, funny, and stupendously talented. Her book, Dark Roots is out in America in January, published by Grove/Atlantic.

Kennedy’s story, “Cold Snap”, also found in Dark Roots, was published in the New Yorker on 11 September 2006. Cate’s other works include the memoir Sing and Don’t Cry: A Mexican Journal and the poetry collections Joyflight and Signs of Other Fires.

Check out the LiteraryMinded interview, the Publisher’s Weekly report, and note the jackets on the US and Australian releases of Dark Roots. The American release features a woman’s head in need of fresh peroxide, while the Aussie cover is far grittier, a hand sort of mid-xray, with a vein-like tree sprouting from the wrist. Vastly different images, somehow they both represent themes key to Kennedy’s stories, themes of hidden warts, demons, and boiling points. If one were forced to make such a comparison, I’d make Anne Tyler hook up with Chuck Palahniuk in middle of nowhere Australia. The very thought entices, right?





by Chris Barsanti

3 Nov 2007

Having already cut his teeth as an illustrator for the ne-plus-ultra of American nonfiction comics, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Josh Neufeld would already be considered a dead-on solid choice for the right guy to do an epic graphic treatment of Hurricane Katrina. Add to that the fact that not long after the hurricane slammed through the Gulf Coast, Neufeld spent three weeks as a Red Cross volunteer in Biloxi, Mississippi, soaking up stories of the storm and its aftermath (which he blogged and then collected as a self-published book, Katrina Came Calling), and you have what seems to be a perfect match. A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is Neufeld’s webcomic, published by one of the more exacting online magazines, SMITH, lives up to its promise by being the exact kind of knowing and humane document the victims of Katrina well deserve—and the rest of us need. Parceled out in a dozen installments a month at a time (it’s now up to Chapter 7, “The Bowl Effect”), A.D. follows five real people, and their assorted relatives and friends, through the buildup to Katrina, and what they went through after.

While the webcomic format is an attractively democratic one, requiring hardly anywhere near the resources that physical printing does, there are some limitations here. SMITH‘s previous comic, the justly acclaimed Will Eisner-nominated war satire Shooting War, benefited from the jaggedly episodic structuring, packed as it was with dramatic close-ups and sharp angles. Neufeld’s more graceful construction may in fact look better on the printed page once some publisher wises up and puts it out there (Shooting War was picked up by Grand Central for publication this month). That being said, Neufeld makes good use of the expanded abilities offered by the web, embedding appropriate links, like to the National Hurricane Center’s archived site for a particular date, and even sticking in MP3s at critical junctures in the story. For all this new media construction, though, Neufeld never lets the format take over from his elegantly elegiac story; all of which is taken, by the way, word-for-word from accounts of the people it depicts. And somehow, even though there’s of course no question about how things will turn out, Neufeld keeps you coming back, month after month, to see not necessarily what happens but who it happens to.

by Nikki Tranter

30 Oct 2007

Ali Smith’s Girl Meets Boy, Yann Martel’s illustrated Life of Pi, Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad ... the list of anticipated reads from Australia’s independent Text Publishing house is never-ending. In looking for the Australian distributor of Girl Meets Boy, I was sent to the Text website, and reminded just how invaluable the company is to Aussie readers—especially lovers of foreign literature, and those with tastes left of centre.

Text Publishing is behind the Australian releases of I’m Not Scared and When I Was Five, I Killed Myself, David Denby’s work, works by Athol Fuard and Anna Funder. The company publishes authors as diverse as Gideon Haigh, Linda Jaivin, Patrick Suskind, Alexander McCall Smith, Arnold Zable, Jeanette Winterson, Garry Disher, Shane Moloney, Helen Garner, Tim Flannery, and Mary Roach. And, when visiting the company online, one notices a straightforward approach to self-advertising – no glossy pictures to capture the attention, no bells, few whistles, just an uncomplicated, readable list of what’s new. The books, it would appear, speak for themselves. 

Publisher Michael Heyward notes on the Text website Australia’s “slender and heartbreaking history of publishing independence.” Text, partnered with Canongate, has had a hugely successful year, and, according to The Book Standard, assisted Canongate in doubling profits in 2007. 

His success all well and good, Heyward is not focused on numbers, but “edit[ing], design[ing], and publish[ing] books that readers love.”

Text is online here.

by Nikki Tranter

28 Oct 2007

Five years ago, there I was, sitting alone, away from the crowds, hating The Lovely Bones all by my lonesome. I hated that book so much, I threw it away upon completion. My contention was that Alice Sebold had transplanted Ghost into a poorly-written, horribly sugary teen drama where life (and death) is just heavenly. Her notions of family and pain, especially of the magnitude hinted at in the book, were nothing short of pedestrian – naïve, even. Every word of the thing made me cringe – was I reading the latest literary bestseller full of grand themes and poetic sentences, or a hunk of godawful trash slapped together by someone trying to rip off R.L. Stine?

I was then and remain still flabbergasted at the worldwide response to the book as some kind of gift from above. Every somewhat competent book-judge from Oprah to Michiko caught the Lovely Bones disease—sugar-shock, probably – and the few of us who doubted Sebold’s ability were slammed for so many things, among them sympathising with rapists (I kid you not). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with a distaste for Bones, but damn if it didn’t seem like Sebold’s fans all chose me to rant at. Never have I received so much feedback on any single book review. Although, I guess they’re right—I should have used a **spoiler** warning. Sorry.

Still, vindication has come at last! My mum rang me this morning to read the Age review of Sebold’s new novel, The Almost Moon, published in the Saturday culture lift-out: “The Almost Moon is easily the worst second novel to follow a good first novel that I’ve read,” writes Michelle Griffin. “It’s almost baffling in its willful embrace of bad choices.” Ooh, wow.

Michelle is not alone. From USA Today to the Guardian and back around to the New York Times Sunday Book Review, most everyone is wondering what the hell happened to their favorite first-time novelist. And they’re doing it with vitriol. Lee Siegel at the Times musters up more grit than Griffin: “This novel is so morally, emotionally and intellectually incoherent that it’s bound to become a best seller.” And this, which I might just print out and peg to the wall:

Even the schlockiest popular novels of yore—By Love Possessed, Marjorie Morningstar, The Chosen—had accurate, if mundane, social and psychological perceptions. Danielle Steel has that. You and I have that! It’s beyond comprehension that Sebold can publish a novel pretending to reflect reality that’s so severed from reality.

Much the same could be said about The Lovely Bones. Man, what was it about that damn book that had the world so transfixed?

Anyway – time has revealed all, and Sebold appears to have much work to do to grab back her place in the book world as a name to watch. Meanwhile, can I say I told you so?


//Mixed media

Because Blood Is Drama: Considering Carnage in Video Games and Other Media

// Moving Pixels

"It's easy to dismiss blood and violence as salacious without considering why it is there, what its context is, and what it might communicate.

READ the article