Monday Musings

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Melbourne

Yes I know it’s Tuesday already (here at Melbourne Airport anyway), but I’m not running late, Sue at Whispering Gums was kind enough to ask me to do a guest post on the subject of men writing biographies of Australian women writers and she put it up yesterday as this week’s Monday Musing. So here it is.

And as a bonus, Grab the Lapels recently reviewed Sarah Anderson’s book Big Mushy Happy Lump and included a link to Sarah’s Scribbles – here‘s one we can all identify with.

I’ve been on holidays (again!) spending a week in Melbourne with my son, who stayed behind when the rest of us moved to Perth, and my old mum. Had some great meals, caught up with old girlfriends, blogging friends and rellos, saw a photography exhibition in Monash – Under the sun, Reimagining Max Dupain’s Sunbaker – and joined the crowds for van Gogh at the NGV.

Friday’s post is already ‘in the can’, just as well, as I’m told my truck is loaded and I have three trailers to take up north as soon as the plane lands. Wouldn’t have it any other way!

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Van Gogh, NGV

Housekeeping

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The author when young

Laws governing truck driving in Western Australia allow us to work 17 hours per day – 15 hours driving, 2 hours breaks – up to 12 days a fortnight, and when we’re busy that’s what we work. I’m not complaining, I’m 66 now and seven hours mandated sleep per night suits me fine. The problem is, last year we weren’t busy and I got in the habit of writing and posting a couple of thousand words every week.

Since I got back from holidays I have been busy and today, for the first time in a while, I found myself with nothing ready to publish. I think that is going to happen more often. At the moment I have the last Brent of Bin Bin novel, Back to Bool Bool read, with lots of notes and ready in my mind to write up. I’ll probably get it done today for posting next Tuesday, and the way things go, I could easily get tomorrow off as well and another post knocked up, and be temporarily back on track for two posts a week. As x-Mrs Legend texted recently “It’s always a flood or a droubt with you” (she uses the same spell “checker” as Sue Whispering Gums).

I’m not just getting behind with my writing, I’m getting behind with my reading. In Seasons Greeting 2016 I listed half a dozen new books I had on my shelves waiting to be reviewed. They’re still there. I mostly carry old books around with me and my next review will be Gerald Murnane’s Landscape with Landscape, I’m about half way through and so far I’m loving it.

While I’m working, my best reading time is if I’m stuck in a queue waiting to load, and while I’m unloading (I’m a tanker driver and the unloading largely does itself) but  my first priority – since I ditched newspapers – is emails and news, generally Crikey, then books, though the last two ABRs are also sitting in the truck unread.

Luckily I get to spend a lot of that 15 hours a day driving time listening to audio books. And I’ve joined a new library, Vic Park. So this week I’ve listened to Mr Darcy’s Daughters (a romp, though I don’t believe Elizabeth would have let her daughters get that wild), Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, Jo Nesbo’s The Son (a Norwegian thriller), and I’m currently a few chapters into Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother, which I plan to review.

Over the rest of the year I’ll get to those six books at the head of the ‘new book’ TBR and to which I have added The Museum of Modern Love and Bloodlines; I’ll press on with Miles Franklin – there’s Old Blastus, All That Swagger and Joseph Furphy to go (and I’ve never directly reviewed My Brilliant Career); there’s new and secondhand books which will leap out and bite me – I bought half a dozen oldish Australians from Save the Children this morning; and there’s libraries full of audio books.

So, I’m sorry to let you down today, I’m sorry to let me down, I enjoy what I’m doing here but unfortunately not driving is not an option. Not yet anyhow.

 

Triple Choice Tuesday (and other stuff)

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My 85 yo mum is finally moving from the family home to a retirement village a couple of suburbs away in eastern suburbs Melbourne, so I spent last week over there helping her to come to grips with moving – it’s her 12th or 13th move but the first one without dad – and packing up dad’s books. I now have a (physical) TBR which I will never finish, an astonishing number of books about Australia in WWI, a lot of books in average condition which my grandfathers had been given in their schooldays, and a small number of books dating back to the C18th.

Other online friends have been doing it hard in similar situations recently, but my father had a ‘welcome’ death a couple of years ago after being almost completely paralyzed by a stroke 18 months earlier, following 25 years of active retirement on a good income and surrounded by grandchildren. He was very protective of his books and this was the first time I had set hands on all but a few of them. I will probably post more when the boxes arrive here and I start opening them, but for instance I am now the proud owner of a very early (1930s) Mickey Mouse which he had as a child and which I had never seen before. And in case you’re worrying on her behalf, mum has three other sons nearer-by to help on moving day and, to the extent their wives allow, to rescue other family treasures which might else be lost through this necessary downsizing.

Being in Melbourne meant I also got to catch up with Michelle from Adventures in Biography whose (first) book is nearly done, and with Lisa (ANZLL) and spouse, for the first time, for a pleasant lunch and to exchange books. We may have set each other a challenge as she is expecting me to find the good in David Ireland’s recent The World Repair Video Game and I have presented her with Joseph Furphy’s Rigby’s Romance which was excised from the more famous Such is Life.

All this activity – and of course I had a son and plenty of friends to lunch with as well – meant that I got behind in my writing. And work didn’t help by expecting me to run up to Kalgoorlie almost as soon as my plane landed back in Perth. However, I have done the reading for my next couple of posts – a Kim Scott, and a really obscure Catherine Helen Spence I came across in Yarra Cottage Books, Warrandyte – and I thought today I would use up the ‘offcuts’ of a post which I did for Reading Matters after Kim, a London-based Australian who has been blogging forever, wrote asking me to contribute to her on-going series, Triple Choice Tuesday.

Her letter asked for a short personal history plus “three books under the following categories, and explain why you’ve chosen them”:  

A favourite book
A book that changed your world
A book that deserves a wider audience.

I thought that would all be pretty easy and knocked out an answer on the evening of the day she wrote. In fact, my only problem was that I was spoiled for choice. From when I was little, I had my own bookcase, and every book had its place on the shelves. I could lie in bed and recognise each book and recall the story it told. So I had lots of favourite books, and I have continued adding to them in the fifty years since, so that they threaten to overwhelm my whole apartment, not just my bedroom.

Even now, revising this before pressing Publish, I realise I completely failed to consider another long time favourite – one which my father had as a boy also, though I didn’t know it – Kenneth Grahame’s 1895 evocation of a childhood summer, The Golden Age. Anyway, I hung on to my answers for a while and of course ended up rewriting them. Here then are two which ended up on the cutting room floor.

A favourite book: Beau Ideal by PC Wren

Beau Ideal was the first of the Beau Geste trilogy I owned, though I subsequently accumulated a whole shelf of PC Wren novels with their grey cloth covers from second-hand bookshops in the sixties and seventies. Wren’s old fashioned mix of honourable behaviour, British stiff upper lip, militarism and class consciousness obviously had something to say even to me – a draft resister and an anarchist/socialist – but what got me, what gets me every time, is that Beau Ideal is a love story, the story of the hopeless love of a ‘nice American boy’ for Isobel, who is pledged to John Geste, and who for Isobel’s sake must go back into the Sahara to find John who is a prisoner of the French Foreign Legion.

A book that changed my world: The Iron Heel by Jack London.

I was introduced to Fabian socialism by my librarian at Blackburn South High in fourth form (year 10) but a year or so later Nana, my father’s very prim and proper mother, gave me The Iron Heel, thinking no doubt it was another harmless adventure story like London’s White Fang. It is in fact both the first great dystopian novel and a communist analysis of the inevitable end of Capitalist democracy through the rise of the Oligarchy, the Iron Heel, overseeing the destruction of the middle classes and the splitting of the working class into a small, privileged caste of tame-cat unionists and a large underclass of impoverished under-employed (sound familiar!), and so I was converted to revolutionary socialism, which for a while during those Vietnam War years seemed not only logical but achievable.

The novel takes the form of an autobiography written by the wife of the leader of the revolutionaries, recovered and annotated centuries later when the Revolution has finally succeeded and ushered in the Brotherhood of Man. London makes a very unconvincing woman but it’s still an important novel and a “truer prophecy of the future than Brave New World” according to George Orwell.

A book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley

I was always going to choose The Pea Pickers which will one day be acknowledged as one of Australia’s four or five great novels.

To see what I did write for Kim, go to Reading Matters (here).

PC Wren, Beau Ideal, John Murray, London, 1928
Jack London, The Iron Heel, Penguin Classics, 2006, first published 1908
Eve Langley, The Pea Pickers, Imprint Classics, 1991, first published 1942 (Review)
Miles Franklin, My Career Goes Bung, 1946 (Review)
Catherine Martin, An Australian Girl, 1890 (Review)

Seasons Greeting 2016

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Yes, we’ll miss the Obamas. But it raises the question: Can you be a politician without an attractive family?

This is proving to be a more difficult opening sentence than I imagined on first putting finger to keyboard – we are not all Christians, I certainly am not, and possibly we don’t all have families, I do but even the immediate members are a bit spread out this year. So … I hope those of you who gather with family and friends on Sunday, or who will gather shortly thereafter, have a pleasant time and receive lots of exciting pressies, and I wish you all a prosperous New Year.

As I’ve already indicated (here), I don’t read widely enough among new releases to opine on the Best Book of 2016 but probably the best I read was Sylvia Martin’s biography of Aileen Palmer, Ink in Her Veins (review). Even amongst all your reviews I did not see any fiction to rival Patric’s Black Rock White City or Woods’ The Natural Way of Things from the previous year, though many of you found more to like than I did in Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident (my reviews here, here and here). Next year I am looking forward to Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck which will be out in March, she is an amazing, quirky, talent.

Once again I have had a wonderful blog-following year. I know you’ve all been waiting, so for Best Blog Post for 2016 (as read by wadholloway), the winner is:

The Resident Judge of Port Phillip for the series This Week in the Port Phillip District 1841 (here) which I have been following rapt all year.

Somewhat unfairly Lisa at ANZLitLovers has to make do with first runner up for her post Yevgeny Onegin, by Alexander Pushkin, translated by Anthony Briggs, February 20, 2016 (here), an excellent exposition on both the text and the problems of translation.

Thankyou also, Lisa, for Indigenous Writers’ Week (here) and Christina Stead Week (here), both of which I enjoyed reading and participating in.

My other runner up is Michelle at Adventures in Biography for Georgette Heyer and Genre, 17 Oct 2016 (here).  “Why did no-one tell me what I was missing?” I’m sure we did but maybe someone wasn’t listening. Anyway, welcome to the club!

My favourite among my own posts for the year is The Young Cosima, Henry Handel Richardson, 11 Nov 2016 (here), partly because of the considerable research it required for me put the story into its correct historical context within ‘classical’ music, not an area with which I am familiar. For some reason I do not understand at all the one post of mine that is looked at week after week is The Rainbow-Bird, Vance Palmer (here) – an odd choice you would think to be included in a literature syllabus in 2016.

As always I tried following some new blogs. Two in particular I have found interesting. They are The Logical Place which will flood you with pieces on logic, philosophy and science, and less to my taste, anti-political correctness; and Grab the Lapels where Melanie, a Literature professor in a US mid-west university, concentrates on women writers from independent presses.

My favourite on-line writer remains Helen Razer, our last remaining marxist-feminist, at Daily Review and Crikey. As an example here is How Hillary Clinton uses feminism to advance her neoliberal, hawkish agenda, Daily Review, 13 June 2016.

This year I gave up reading the daily newspaper after half a century when if I was broke, and I often was, I’d buy the newspaper before I bought food. Breaking point was the introduction of Andrew Bolt as a correspondent in my local paper the West Australian, though I miss Shane Wright on economics. I subscribe to Crikey and the Age online, but the Age like the ABC has had an unsympathetic board for too long and next year I think I’ll give the Age money to the Guardian.

The books I bought my family for xmas represent my tastes more than theirs probably, though I do try and compromise. If there’s less science fiction than usual it’s because two of my kids needed presents other than books.

Clementine Ford, Fight Like a Girl (2016)

Elise McCune, Castle of Dreams (2016)

S Pirotta & B Barrager, Ballet Stories for Young Children (2016)

Nik Cohn, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom (1969)

Ursula Le Guin, The Word for World is Forest (1976)

Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)

V Parker, Myths & Legends (2006)

J Berry & L McNeilly, Map Art (2014)

 

For review next year I have already sitting on my shelves –

Tom Griffiths, The Art of Time Travel (2016)

Larissa Behrendt, Finding Eliza (2016)

Kate Chopin, The Awakening (1899)

Bernice Barry, Georgiana Molloy: The mind that shines (2015)

Brain Dibble, Doing Life: A biography of Elizabeth Jolley (2008)

Catherine Helen Spence, Mr Hogarth’s Will (1865)

– and many more besides. Enjoy the break! I might be working now but I’m off to Europe for a month in April.

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Daphne (2001-2016) x-Mrs Legend’s whippet cross (we think!)

Season’s Greetings

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WA Christmas tree, Nuytsia Floribunda

Yes, it’s clearly that time of year, and nearly the end of my first calendar year as a blogger. The Christian Right would have it is political correctness to eschew “Merry Christmas” but, even if I a) accepted that political correctness was an insult rather than a laudable attempt to address injustice; and b) was inclined to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, I’m not sure pagan celebrations of the northern winter solstice is the way or the time I would choose to do it. Out of interest I thought I would compare Jesus’s “birthday” with the timing of the census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem but according to Wikipedia the census was 10 years after his most likely year of birth, and in spring rather than winter, so more disappointing historical fiction apparently.

As a newby I must thank Michelle (Adventures in Biography) for introducing me to this space, she probably regrets it! and Sue (Whispering Gums), Lisa (ANZ Lit Lovers) and Nathan (A Biographer in Perth) as well for their ongoing support and comments. And of course thankyou everyone who has sought me out, or more likely, accidentally run into me, and read my pieces. My initial interest was a place to discuss and expand my masters dissertation but the greater pleasure has been the new reading and discussion that I have been introduced to and become part of.

Thankyou also, Sue and Lisa who have shared their sorrows with us and Nathan who has shared his joy (first child!).

Sue (here) and Lisa (here) have been discussing lists of best reads for 2015 – I initially wrote ‘1915’ which shows where my head’s at and might provide an interesting topic for another day. With Jane Rawson’s Formaldehyde, Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light and AS Patric’s Black Rock White City all still unread on my coffee table, I can only offer Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (1862), surely the archetypal historical novel and the great Doris Lessing’s Mara and Dann (1999). Of the 120 or so audio books I listened to the most notable were probably G. Eliot, Middlemarch and Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending. I really must start taking notes. My pulp fiction favourite for the year was JD Robb’s In Death detective novels set in the 2060s starring Lt Eve Dallas. No Sookie Stackhouse or Phryne Fisher this year sadly. Though I regularly read on-line columnists Helen Razer, Guy Rundle and Clementine Ford, my best column for the year must be Jane Rawson‘s Anzac Day piece in Overland (here).

But, given where we are, we need a new category. So without further ado, let me announce Best Blog Post for 2015 (as read by wadholloway). And the winner is:

Whispering Gums Jane Austen, Emma Vol 3

I’m sure Sue will say she knew that would be my favourite. Runners up, in no particular order:

A Biographer in Perth KSP … in the Shadow of The Great War

Alysha Kaye Marfa, Texas!

Historians are past Caring In-Laws and Out-Laws (also wins prize for best name for a blog).

And if I may name my favourite of my own posts, it was Wilde Eve.

So, Happy Getting-Family-Together-and-Opening-lots-of-Presents Day. Ex-Mrs Legend has organized me to shout those few family members in Perth on the 25th to dinner at the pub, and she’ll be preparing her usual multi-course feast in January when we and all our children, grandchildren, cousins, nieces and sisters manage to be in town at the same time.

 

Text and Place

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I have been thinking over for a while the relation between literary texts and the places where they are set, an idea which I will call Intertextual Geography. My Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms defines Intertextuality as “a term coined by Julia Kristeva to designate the various relationships that a given text may have with other texts”.

What I think is that not only do places influence what is in texts, indeed many stories, James Joyce’s Ulysses is of course the prime example, are as much about place as they are about people, but that what we have read influences how we see places and, further, influences how those places are later written about, and more importantly, the places we have experienced influence how we read about those places.

So, intertextuality says that as we read we bring in to the reading allusions to other texts, sometimes in line with the author’s intentions and sometimes not, and so, likewise it is not possible for an author to describe a ‘real’ place or to describe events in a ‘real’ place without our superimposing our own knowledge of that place. And now I am saying that is also not possible for us to be in a place, or to see a place portrayed, without us superimposing on that place our readings about it.

The clearest recent example might be Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, a near-future dystopia, which is set in the inner western suburbs of Melbourne. I have worked in Footscray, in the warehouses along the Maribyrnong, (map here) and Lou, my non-driving son, lives nearby and walks and trains through the setting of the novel (although not yet via dodgy maps to San Francisco!). So it was easy to picture in my head the action of the novel as I read it, and then to re-think about the novel when I recently visited Lou and we walked and trained around some of those locations again (and discussed the novel). (Jane’s blog here)

As a long distance truck driver my life is all about place. These days, running north from Perth I am in a space occupied, in my mind at least, by Daisy Bates, Ernestine Hill, the Rabbit-Proof Fence girls, Coonardoo and Robyn Davidson as I have written previously. And there are others, Neville Schute’s Beyond the Black Stump (1956) is set on a sheep station in the desert country between Geraldton and Meekatharra and I used to work with a driver who grew up there.

A dozen years ago, when I first started thinking about this idea, I was a road train driver running out of Melbourne to North Queensland. The road goes up from Echuca, to Hay, Cobar, Bourke, Charleville, Roma, Emerald, Charters Towers and Townsville. The Murray River and the Hay plains are Tom Collins (Such is Life) country, and as we rounded the corner at North Bourke, onto the road to Cunnumulla, it was impossible not to think of Henry Lawson drinking beer on the balcony of the pub (in 1892, I think) overlooking the Darling, nor of Captain Starlight’s crew setting out on their great cattle drive south to Adelaide (Robbery Under Arms).

For a final example, the Alpine region of southern NSW and north eastern Victoria, the ‘High Country’, seems particularly well-served by our national literature and while this is country I have not travelled through very often, it is difficult to read the more recent books without thinking of the earlier ones. In time of writing, first is Henry Kingsley’s The Recollections of Geoffry Hamlyn (1859). Set at a similar time, at least in their beginning, are the novels Miles Franklin wrote based on the stories of her mother’s and father’s families, Up the Country (1928), Ten Creeks Run (1930), All That Swagger (1936) and so on. Then we have of course Banjo Paterson’s The Man From Snowy River (1890). More recently, Patrick White, who was for a while a jackaroo on his uncle’s property in the Monaro, used this experience in The Twyburn Affair (1979) and Thomas Keneally set part of Bettany’s Book in the same area, based partly he says, on WA Brodribb’s Recollections of an Australian Squatter (1883).

TBR Blowout!

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My apartment floweth over with books. I’m not at the same stage as Lisa at ANZLL, of needing a separate room for my TBR, but I’m getting there. I said in an early post that my local second hand book shop was having a closing down sale, well 6 months later it finally is (closing down) and the owner has accepted my offer for all his remaining Australian books, 360 when we boxed and counted them.

When ex-Mrs Legend and I retire, in a few years though I’m eligible rather sooner, we plan to open a tea shop/bookshop, somewhere in the suburbs south of Fremantle probably, to eke out our meagre superannuations. Hopefully in a 1950s corner shop with residence attached, and a flat in the ‘Eyrie’ building where we can periodically escape from each other, as we have off and on for the past 20 years.

So when I saw an opportunity to begin accumulating stock I took it. But there’s so many amongst them I have to read! I am starting with Lucy Frost’s Wilde Eve, a memoir of Eve Langley reconstructed from her unpublished mss, another inclusion for Whispering Gums’ list of literary autobiographies. Then I have Colin Roderick’s Miles Franklin, Penne Hackforth-Jones’ Barbara Baynton, John Macarthur by M.H. Ellis, Henry Reynolds’ account of the Tasmanian Wars Fate of a Free People, a history of the Noongar claim over south west Western Australia and so much else, novels, biographies, Australiana, poetry even.

I have a daughter living with me for a short while, the psych student one, and her final English unit is Australian Literature and History 1890 – 1929. “In this unit you read a selection of poetry and short stories and a short novel as a basis for reflecting upon themes of nationality and gender in Australian literature and history. Texts include … Franklin’s My Brilliant Career …”. Very much the same area as my M.Litt dissertation so there has been much raiding of my bookshelves and of the new trove.

We were debating Lawson and Paterson by sms while I was away working and I suggested she look at City Bushman. Turns out the author Christopher Lee is course convenor, judicious quoting should be good for a couple of brownie points.

My next project now will be to establish a website for the shop. In a past life I was self-employed as a database programmer. Hopefully I have enough skills, and brain cells, left to set up a searchable online catalogue. I have retained the bookshop’s retail prices and once I have a site I will begin offering books for sale. My biggest problem then will be buyers wanting books I haven’t read yet!

Not a Review

I listened to Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North in the truck and will take MST’s advice – “life’s too short to review a book you don’t like”. I was predisposed not to like it and I didn’t. I grew up surrounded by WWII books (my favourite by a long way is Stand Easy, an anthology of stories written by soldiers waiting for demobilisation) and Flanagan on the POW experience adds nothing to The Bridge on the River Kwai (1952) by Pierre Boulle; if I want to know about Japanese contrition I will look out a Japanese author; love interest? I think not, maybe self interest; and the bushfire escape – positively Matthew Rielly-esque in its unlikelihood and B-gradedness.

(Not yet) Book Council of Australia

If you are interested in more of Minister for Arts he likes, Brandis’ bastardry in raiding the Arts Council you might want to read about the non-establishment of the Book Council of Australia in a recent Crikey (here).

Not Winter

I know there are colder places than WA but we, like you, have had a miserable winter and, despite lashings of rain last night, I think it is over. The wildflowers are out and Spring has sprung. I wouldn’t be anywhere else for quids.

Nifty Road Sept '13 (5)