Latest Blog Posts

by Nikki Tranter

21 Oct 2007


Welcome back, Re:Print!

Three weeks later, and we’re back online. But, you know, amid the confusion surrounding my recent house-move, lack of co-operation from both my Internet provider and my apparently exhausted motherboard, and fear that Re:Print would never again see the light of day, there was an upside. I got to read—a lot. Instead of waking up each morning and heading straight for the office, I made myself a cup of hot Milo, grabbed my new blanket (thanks Trish!), plonked on the couch, and read. Book after book after book. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to struggle to find reading time. It’s been sensational. And I’ve decided to stick to the pattern—emails to be checked the night before; mornings to be spent in my blanket and the company of a book. It helps that my surroundings now include paintings on the wall, clean carpets, and the open air of a big, beautiful new house—decidedly different from the three-room-flat-with-ant-problem-behind-the-busy-restaurant I used to try and read in. 

Fulci is overwhelmed.

Fulci is overwhelmed.

The other cool thing about the move has been about re-acquaintance. My lack of living space has meant that my ever-growing library has been kept in stacks around the house, stuffed into bookcases three-deep, and buried away in my parents’ garage in tubs meant for clothing and laundry. Now, because I’m the proud owner of my own office, I’ve got room to house the lot. I loathed packing the heavy monsters, but unpacking them has been an unexpected dream. I found books read and filed away, books bought and never properly organised, books acquired and promptly forgotten. Here they all were—from an old copy of Tom Sawyer, to The First Wives Club, novelisations of Gremlins and The Eyes of Laura Mars, weirdo horror books like Crawlspace and The Last of the Crazy People. I found my collection of Outsiders paperbacks, my dog-eared copy of That Night, and even my grandfather’s Bible with an inscription in front dated 25-12-1927. Pouring through the stacks, I found myself remembering little stories connected with those books—when I got them, where, and why. I remembered the days when I could read endlessly, when there were no emails. It’s been a re-acquaintance as much with myself as my library.

Now, for the fun part—the organising. And to purchase shelves, to finally catalogue the collection as it rightfully should be. My books, like me, deserve some room to move.

 

by Deanne Sole

2 Oct 2007


Bruno Schulz was shot dead in the street by a Nazi, not an unusual fate for a Polish Jew in 1942. A hundred nameless people shot dead in the street by Nazis (vaguely, historically, without anything to connect us to them any more than we were intimately connected to the Chinese miners suffocating underground or the limbless torsos of Rwanda years ago) is a statistic, but the author of Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass shot dead in the street by a Nazi is a literary outrage, mentally palpable, a cut that time will never mend; there will not be another Schulz. Never again that particular, melting, ecstatic prose, that combination of Kafka and backwards-looking sorrow, a yearning after childhood so vivid, so intense, that he had to resort to Symbolism to explain it. Rubbing salt in the wound come rumours of one final manuscript, The Messiah, which seems to have vanished completely, drafts and all.

Donne can ask us not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee, but in Schulz it tolled for this one world, this capsule of beauty that was Bruno Schulz, tucked away in his backwater village of Drohobych, a bachelor whose self-portraits show him with a slightly bowed head, peering sideways (a requirement of self-portraits you might think, the artist having to look sideways at the mirror, but witness old Rembrandt calmly gazing forward or Mervyn Peake with his globular eyes and stallion hair), alert, even wary, as if he spent his life waiting for that bullet. Here he was at 50, only just starting to have his stories published, the beginning of a new career, really, before this thug put a bullet in him, not knowing that this man had a history, not knowing about the father, Schulz Senior, who turned into a horsefly, a cockroach, and a crustacean, who dried up and was swept away, who collected birds, did deals with a black-bearded man who might have been the devil, and preached the genesis of creation around the figure of a tailor’s dummy—not knowing about Adela the housemaid of unusual and suggestive powers, or the other housemaid Genya who made white sauce out of invoices—not knowing Nimrod the puppy or Dodo and his brain disease—not knowing the mysteriously Proustian and metamorphic Book, “a large, rustling Codex, a mysterious Bible … an enormous petal-shedding rose”—oh this foul dumb goon, whose only claim on our attention is that he shot Bruno Schulz.

Some writers die of old age, some of sickness or cancer, some of suicide or drinking, and some die like this, stupidly, but leaving great beauty behind: “enclosed in a glass capsule, bathed in fluorescent light, already adjudged, erased, filed away, another record card in the immense archives of the sky.”

(The quotes in this post come from Celina Wieniewska’s translations of Schulz’s Sklepy Cynamonowe and Sanatorium pod Klepsydra.)

Further Reading:
A Schulz website in Polish.
A Schulz website in English.

by Chris Barsanti

28 Sep 2007


When preachers preach about the deadly sins (gluttony and whatnot), it’s difficult for them to do so without getting into at least some description. The impact of a sermon fulminating about the depraved sins of the flesh would lose some of its oomph if the preacher in question—eyes bulging and lips flecked with righteous spittle, of course—left out the juicy details. The flock must understand what exactly is so wrong about whoring and debauching, and where and how these luscious sins are being enacted, if they’re to properly avoid them.

We who consider ourselves part of (or at least neighbors to) the intelligentsia tend not to go in for such déclassé spectacles, but we have our own ways of finding out about what happens in the dark crevices of society. There’s well-meaning documentaries, of course, not to mention HBO Undercover, and, least we forget, National Public Radio. Peter Sagal, the host of NPR’s Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me! takes a page—well, whole chapters, really—from Dan Savage’s blueprint for Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America for his guide to the nation’s seamy under(and over)belly: The Book of Vice: Very Naughty Things (And How to Do Them).

Pretty much just like in Savage’s book, Sagal takes readers on a humorous tour through all manner of activities traditionally considered sinful, from lust (swinging) to gluttony (insanely high-end dining). Like Savage, Sagal is a quick wit, and he has no illusions about his own ability to fit into the various subcultures he comes across (at a swingers party: “In a lifetime in which I’ve been to all kinds of sexual marketplaces—bars, parties—this was the first time that I was going to get ignored because I wouldn’t put out”). But whereas Savage is an alt-media journalist and stiff-spined defender of personal freedoms and liberties who brings an acid touch to his writing, Sagal doesn’t really have that much of an agenda here, he’s just the public radio smartass who wants to have a good time and make a book out of it.

Sagal is certainly an intrepid enough guide to his (not so) lowly endeavors, whether it’s the soulless “fun” of strip clubs or that time he won $157 playing blackjack in one of Vegas’ lesser casinos. Being a radio host who needs to keep his own amidst all those college types listening to NPR, he’s quick with the quips, and even tosses off some borderline insightful cultural commentary along the way (as well as some helpful and well-learned advice: when going to strip clubs, “bring along some female Ph.D.‘s in sociology”). But the pleasures here are relatively thin and fleeting, made all the more so by a self-satisfied tone that veers too often into smugness. It’s one thing for Sagal to have the commendable honesty to point out that many of our society’s commonly accepted vices are, in fact, not that fun at all (like the $750 dinner at Chicago’s food-fantasy headquarters, Alinea), and quite another for him to have traveled to the dark side and come back with little to report.

by Jason B. Jones

25 Sep 2007


Janice Harayda, proprietor of One-Minute Book Reviews, former books editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle , does NOT like Lloyd Jones’s Booker Prize-front-runner, Mister Pip.  The nub of her complaint: Jones writes for third-grade readers.  Here’s her evidence:

How do I know? I once edited books for a test-prep company and, after finishing Mister Pip, realized that its reading level was much lower that of many books I had edited for elementary-school students. So I entered a page of Jones’s text into my computer, ran the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word, and got a grade level of 4.4 for it. To see if the passage was typical, I entered two later pages and got even lower grade levels, 3.1 and 3.5, an average of 3.6 for the novel. I also entered text from another finalist, On Chesil Beach (grade 8.6), and the past winners listed below with their reading levels.

Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip

Lloyd Jones’s Mister Pip

I have to say that I wonder about this methodology.  Reviewers have usually noted that Jones’s simplicity is deceptive, that, like Conrad, he’s achieving a variety of effects with tone (here’s one of many who make this claim).  Such effects would, necessarily, not show up on the Flesch-Kincaid stats. 

For example: if you reproduce the experiment with May Sinclair’s masterpiece, The Life and Death of Harriet Frean,  you’ll also get odd numbers.  For example, chapter 2 is apparently written at a 2nd-grade reading level.  Now, no second grader on this earth could make heads or tails of Sinclair. 

Later on, Harayda claims that:

  He can’t be trying to imitate Great Expectations, because a page from Charles Dickens’s novel registered a grade level of 10.7

But this really does compare apples with limes.  Victorian expectations of prose were so different from modern ones.  The idea that one needed the equivalent of a modern 10th-grade education to grasp Dickens just doesn’t mesh with the reality of 19th literacy practices.

Mister Pip may well not be the best choice for the Booker Prize—I’ve not read all the finalists, and so can’t say anything with confidence—but this is a remarkably thin objection (especially since Harayda ties Lloyd Jones’s stylistic choices to racial assumptions!).  Plus, it makes my head hurt to think that Microsoft Word’s grammar checker—the bane of English professors everywhere—could play any role in literary judgment.

 

by Deanne Sole

24 Sep 2007


A reviewer once wrote of Les Murray that he had published no juvenilia. The same can be said of Christina Stead. Her first books, Seven Poor Men of Sydney and The Salzburg Tales, both published in 1934, were massy, thick with the same ferocious, perceptive, satirical personality she showed in her stories until the day she died nearly five decades later. Born in Sydney, she left Australia at 26 and spent the next 45 years travelling between Europe and the United States. Her husband William Blake, or Blech (was the latter, preferred the former), was Marxist and American; she met him during her first week in London. The last part of For Love Alone is a fictionalised account of their courtship.

Stead was inimitable. She had her own way of taking a theme and growing scenes around it, an organic process in which each incident rises up into a suggestive monument, not a punchline but a cumulative climax, as waves surge and die. Stead’s voice is always moving. It’s a difficult voice to categorise—she’s both a fabulist, inventing stories that are something like folk tales (easiest to see this in Salzburg Tales), and a social realist wallowing in the dirt. There is a fairytale ritual quality to the exchange near the end of The Man Who Loved Children when Henny’s son discovers that she has burgled his money box, but the scene itself seems true to life. “Mother will put the money back.” “Will you, will you?” “Yes dear: yes dear.” Henny is described in other parts of the book as a witch, her room a cave of magic. 

Referring to her own writing, Stead, whose father was a naturalist, said that she saw it as a naturalist’s process, examining the behaviour of people instead of animals or fish. In her books, the weak and poor do not inherit the earth. Instead they get dominated by stronger characters in the way that a large animal shoves a smaller one out of the herd or eats it. She is censorious, however, as good naturalists are not supposed to be. There is something of Flannery O’Connor in the pitiless, godlike view that opens her characters out for us to see, exposing them as hypocrites or ninnies. But no matter how scornful she becomes, her prose is always vivacious, never meanly stingy; her monsters are properly monstrous—there is something of D.H. Lawrence in her as well, something of The Virgin and the Gypsy‘s terrible, toadlike grandmother in her characterisations. You could even mention Rabelais and point to her love of lists, fat accumulations of objects or impressions.

Here she is in The People with the Dogs:

“Here, Third Avenue up to 18th Street is still the Old Bowery, with small rented bedrooms and apartments like ratholes, cheap overnight hotels, flophouses, ginmills, fish places, bowling alleys, instant shoe repairers, moneylenders, secondhand clothing stores, struggling cleaning and tailors’ places, barber schools, cellars where some old man or woman sells flowers and ice in summer, coal in winter, dance academies up crumbling stairs, accordion and saxophone schools, and such businesses as are carried on for very poor people by very poor people and so occupy a very small space in a very old building.”

Her lists can bloom into a kind of mythic impressionism. From the same book:

“The storms of rain passed on the other side, escalading the farther bluff. Scarcely had they passed but vapours rising in the heat, from hollows and clefts, tall, slowly forming and moving, spirits, savage men, with weapons, daggers, things habited like the Rabbi, question marks especially, and puffs of smoke, rose out of the new wet earth and shaggy heads of trees and clots of water, rags of steam, began to tear themselves out of the woods and vacillating, tried to get up again in the moving air.”

This is language that writhes and breathes, expands, and also stifles; it creates a world and stuffs it full. (The reviewer at Time missed the mark when they wrote that “Stead’s prose is as hard and cold as a cake of ice.” It was the author’s lack of obvious sympathy for her characters they were responding to, not the prose itself.) She can sound like one of her own huge characters, making universes, issuing nicknames, invoking legends. In real life she was a flirt but also shy, shyer than her husband, a banker and writer whose books have not survived. By the time she died she had a reputation for cantankerous pronouncements, the most notorious ones stating her dislike of feminism, startling in a woman whose books fumed so furiously over women trapped by the social mores of marriage and peer expectation. But not so startling in a person who likes to flirt.

She was in a trap of her own. Travelling with Blake from country to country, she set her books on three different continents, remarked on the society of each, and consequently became famous in none of them. “To open a book, any book, by Christina Stead and read a few pages is to be at once aware that one is in the presence of greatness,” wrote Angela Carter, but Stead can never be entirely claimed. She was not a Great Australian Writer because most of her books weren’t set in Australia, not a Great English Writer (although Carter called Cotter’s England a great novel about England), not a Great American Writer (yet American overviews of her career are always likely to tell us how evident it is from her books that she loved New York), not a Great Marxist Writer (she sympathised openly with the movement and commerce is a constant theme, yet neither the noble worker nor the Marxist character is immune to her criticism), not a Great Feminist Writer (although the majority of critical assessments of her work have probably been written by feminists). In the end she is nothing but a Great: expansive, world-gobbling, oceanlike.

Further Reading:

Nine essays in the 2003 Christina Stead centenary issue of the Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature.

Hazel Rowley, who wrote a well-regarded biography of Stead, is interviewed on New York Public Radio.

A Real Inferno: the life of Christina Stead, an article from The New Criterion, written by Brooke Allen.

The night of which no one speaks: Christina Stead’s art as struggle, an essay by Susan Lever.

 

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Double Take: The African Queen (1951)

// Short Ends and Leader

"What a time they had, Charlie and Rosie. They'll never lack for stories to tell their grandchildren. And what a time we had at Double Take discussing the spiritual and romantic journey of the African Queen.

READ the article