The week in writing – October 11

Robert Manne analyses the response to his essay ‘Bad News: Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation‘ in The Australian.

The Occupy Wall Street has a library.

Every day, Varuna, The Writers House is publishing recordings made of authors reading from their own works in a series called ‘Writer-a-Day’. Eventually the contents will go toward an ‘app’.

NPR take a look at The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

In a Guardian interview with author Maurice Sendak he reveals some blunt opinions about eBooks (“I hate them. It’s like making believe there’s another kind of sex.”), Rupert Murdoch (“His name should be what everything is called now.”), Schubert (“a darling boy”), Salman Rushdie (“That flaccid fuckhead. He was detestable. I called up the Ayatollah, nobody knows that.”), Roald Dahl (“He’s dead, that’s what’s nice about him.”), Stephen King (“Bullshit”), Gwyneth Paltrow (“I can’t stand her”). Although he admits: “I’m not kind all of the time, I’m not nice all the time.”

Photographs of Marilyn Monroe reading

Alright, it’s Friday, so here are a bunch of photos of Marilyn Monroe reading.

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Some Friday afternoon reading

‘The Pact’ by John Kinsella

He stares hard in through the flyscreen, heavy red face glowering with thousands of midday suns. It’s hot, and he looks hot. His eyes, deeply recessed, tell her nothing except that it’s flaming hot. They are lakes of sweat threatening to burst their banks. The eyeballs are reflections of strange parallel suns. He pulls them back down further into the molten realm of his head, breaks the stare, then turns back to his vehicle, giving both kelpies a rub on the head before he gets in and drives off.


‘Song’ by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Another visitor to Koolunga is a lone kookaburra. The locals in the pub say there has never been a kookaburra known here, in living memory. He is heard most mornings, sometimes in the tree outside my store. But his call is never complete. Without a partner for back up, the verse remains unfinished. I heard one of the retirees followed the bird along the river, imitating the call, trying to teach him the song. But one cannot sing true with love. Nature teaches us that.

A more serious kind of reader


The best reader, is one who is most open to human possibility, to understanding the great range of plausibility in human actions. It’s not true that modern life is too fantastic to be written about successfully. It’s that the most successful work is so demanding…. the novel’s vitality requires risks not only by them [writers] but by readers as well. Maybe it’s not writers alone who keep the novel alive but a more serious kind of reader.

– Don DeLillo, ‘A Talk with Don DeLillo’, The New York Times

The future of the book

Sam Harris talks about the pressure facing the (print) publishing industry.

If your book is 600-pages-long, you are demanding more of my time than I feel free to give. And if I could accomplish the same change in my view of the world by reading a 60-page version of your argument, why didn’t you just publish a book this length instead?


The honest answer to this last question should disappoint everyone: Publishers can’t charge enough money for 60-page books to survive; thus, writers can’t make a living by writing them. But readers are beginning to feel that this shouldn’t be their problem. Worse, many readers believe that they can just jump on YouTube and watch the author speak at a conference, or skim his blog, and they will have absorbed most of what he has to say on a given subject. In some cases this is true and suggests an enduring problem for the business of publishing. In other cases it clearly isn’t true and suggests an enduring problem for our intellectual life.

Interestingly Harris goes on to discuss his success in publishing a $1.99 ebook. For an established author it may actually be easier to independently publish work in digital format. Of course this doesn’t address the problems of physical publishing and the work involved in marketing, editing and distributing both physical and digital content by publishers. There are lots of arguments about the future of the book with most arguments settling on the side of digital. A few pundits argue that there will be a mixed model which seems most likely at least in the short term.

What is most unclear, and of most interest to Mycroft Books, is the future of literature.

The penny dreadful was a type of sensationalist fiction printed on cheap pulp and are in many respects analogous to the straight to video film market. Books of a certain quality, books that seem destined for the airport lounge or bus stop, will perhaps be consigned straight to ebook. Similarly, but for different reasons, manuals, non-fiction works – I’m thinking specifically of text books – might also be best served in digital format allowing readers to take advantage of the quality of hypertext and the ability to easily search indices.

Of course literature* will also be published in digital format but also, hopefully, as a traditional book. And the reason for this desire is not simply a conservatism and fondness for the object. Nicholas Carr in his excellent book The Shallows examines the way reading on the screen is in fact shaping the way we think. The plasticity of the human brain means that we are starting to adapt to shallow reading, the constant interruption of email and other notifications, the lure of hypertext and the skimming of ‘posts’ online.

The book as an object is well suited to deep reading. It offers no distraction just linear, page-by-page advancement. And so the book is perhaps the best place to publish and write complex ideas so that they can be read and understood. It would seem a shame to lose complex, rich prose, and possibly our capacity to read and understand it, because there isn’t a suitable economic model for the book.

The business of presence


This business of presence is essential to all live performance, whether the players are musicians vigorously bowing and putting their arm and shoulder into it, or banging or blowing, or dancers leaping or holding themselves precariously balanced and still, or actors, or acrobats, or singers using their breath to create sounds that are almost miraculously the shape of emotions. Because all these performers are using the body – a body just like our own – at its highest pitch of possibility and skill, we too, as we identify with their effort, are made aware, and in a unique way, of what the body actually is, and this is essential to the sense we get of our own body, the exhilarations we feel, the rush of energy we get as the soprano reaches for her high note or the acrobat goes flying across space and catches the bar.

– David Malouf, ‘Shared response to our humanity

David Malouf attended a recent meeting of major performing arts artistic directors to discuss the proposed national cultural policy. This essay is his response to that discussion.

Auction: The Library of an English Bibliophile, Part II

Later this month Sotheby’s will be auctioning the second highlights from “the library of an English bibliophile”. Included in the mix are rare editions, in dust-jackets, of Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, The Sound and the Fury, Tarzan of the Apes and The Maltese Falcon.

I’ve always been partial to the cover of Tender Is The Night but Booktryst has an excellent post on why The Great Gatsby dust-jacket is so rare that the expected sale price of the book in the upcoming auction is between $160,000 and $180,000.

The painting on the cover was originally titled Celestial Eyes by Francis Cugat.

Celestial Eyes - Francis Cugat, 1924. Gouache on paper.

Charles Scribner II (of the publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons) has an excellent lecture on the Gatsby cover: Celestial Eyes – from metamorphosis to masterpiece.

And for those of you who don’t have a lazy $190,000 laying around you can always pick up a t-shirt from Out of Print Clothing.

The week in writing – October 4

As the announcement for the Nobel Prize for Literature is due, The Wheeler Centre takes a look at the seasonal speculation on the Nobel Winner and the attempts and arguments for the prize, valued at over $1,000,000, to go to American novelist Phillip Roth.

PORT magazine interview Sylvia Whitman who now runs Shakespeare and Company, the Paris book shop made famous by George Whitman, her father, who describes the shop as “a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore”.

Meanjin interview five Australian writers (Kerryn Goldsworthy, Mathew Condon, Peter Timms, Delia Falconer, and Sophie Cunningham) about their work writing about Australian cities for the UNSW Press series.

Baker Street Irregular Michael Dirda writes about his first encounter with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his creation Sherlock Holmes in The Paris Review.

The Slap, an 8 part ABC television series premieres this week. Based on the novel by Christos Tsiolkas there are interviews from The First Tuesday Book Club, The Book Show, and a Q&A.

Katie Beaton takes on Wuthering Heights at Hark! A Vagrant. Also, NPR speak with her about her new book.

Some published letters:

  • from T.S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf: “Forgive the unconscionable delay in answering your charming letter and invitation. I have been boiled in a hell-broth…”
  • from Ernest Hemingway to Ursula Hemingway: “You must be having a whangleberry of a time with that sledding, I’m glad you’re such a good sport about getting hurt and I’m sure that the boys appreciate it too.”
  • the letters of Ezra Pound written every few days, sometimes every day, to his parents have been published: “You have my hearty sympathy for having possibility of genius in the family but I suppose it cant be helped…”

David Malouf on Jeffery Smart: A Conversation

We have a new Events page on the site which will list upcoming literary events. You can subscribe to the calendar for this but every now and then we feel compelled to draw your attention to something we are looking forward to.

This Friday David Malouf will be speaking with artist Jeffrey Smart. Malouf will talk of his friendship with the artist and discuss the artist’s work in conversation with Mark Ledbury, Power Professor of Art History and Visual Culture, Director of the Power Institute and curator of the new exhibition Jeffrey Smart: Unspoken.

In 1980 Jeffrey Smart painted a portrait of Malouf. There is also a study that was made in this process. Both paintings feature the word OVIDIO which is a reference to the poet Ovid whose exile inspired An Imaginary Life, Malouf’s 1978 novella.

Smart also painted Germaine Greer, Margaret Olley, and Clive James.

The exhibition Jeffrey Smart: Unspoken runs from October 2nd to November 27, 2011.