Sunday, May 30, 2010

April/May Reading in Review

There are two types of holidays: reading holidays and non-reading holidays. My trip to the States over the first two weeks of May was definitely a non-reading one. I had the best intentions to plough through Love in the Time of Cholera, but only managed 50 pages. This despite a total of 26 hours delay on our homeward journey – there’s something about early mornings and airplane aircon that makes my eyes incapable of reading.

And somehow, in the rush of things to do upon my return (like filing a travel insurance claim, organising a book launch and writing a Cabinet paper), I haven’t got back in the reading flow. Grr. So my ten cents on Gabriel Garcia Marquez will have to wait till next month.


Penguin Book of Contemporary Canadian Short Stories (1987) - Edited by Wayne Grady
Like the Faber Book of Contemporary Australian Short Stories which I read in March, this was a book I picked up last year at the second hand book fair at the TSB Arena. I was sort of hoping to compare and contrast the two collections, but realised soon into the Canadian version that it'd only be a comparison of Murray Bail's tastes versus Wayne Grady’s. It was interesting how Grady put two stories each by Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant -- kinda sends strange signals about the other writers in the collection. The one place the Canadian version was clearly superior was the page-long intros for each of the writers before their stories. The Australian version had no bio information (much like Essential NZ Short Stories). For an international audience, bios really are a must.

Sport 38
An interesting read as always. Perhaps the most interesting para-literary aspect was the fact C.K. Stead had three poems/translations in there after the very public spat between Stead and Fergus Barrowman (amongst others) about Stead's story 'Last Season's Man', which won the inaugural Sunday Times short story competition. I don't want to get into that argument (you can read about it here and here to begin with), but it was interesting to note Stead's Sport bio mentioned his win… perhaps Barrowman had yet to read 'Last Season's Man' before putting this issue to bed… One wonders what may have happened had the timing been slightly different. Perhaps we'll see a C.K. Stead story about an editor who tears the pages of a divisive writer's work from every copy of his lit-mag before spending it out to shops…

May Update: Sport 38 appears to be selling well and getting more media coverage than any local lit-mag could rightly expect…

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz (audiobook)
I actually got a third of the way through reading this book last year before I had to take it back to the library (someone else had it on reserve), and I only recently got around to listening to the audiobook version on my iPod. (Aside: I haven't listened to nearly as many audiobooks recently as I have in the past as I'm not using public transport in my daily commute). Reading Diaz's novel took a bit of getting used to: it's written in a geeked-up, ghetto-Spanglish and there were times were I felt a little left in the dust. On the iPod, however, the language was the absolute highlight of the listening/reading experience. I also added plenty of words to my Spanish vocab (guapa, blanquito, cuero, culo…) though I'm not sure I'll ever be in the right situation to use such words.

A History of New Zealand (revised 1969 edition) – Keith Sinclair
The Story of New Zealand (1960) – W.H. Oliver

I found both these books on the shelf at my mother’s house on my last visit and brought them back down south with me. I’m particularly interested in the 1890-1914 period in NZ history at the moment (researching it is still too strong a term), but found my reading of these paperback histories was continually sidetracked. First it was things like referring to Maori as ‘Maoris’, then I started paying more attention to the pencil underlines and annotations than the actual passages. Which kind of inspired me to write something. Whether it becomes an essay or a short story, only time will tell.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

You go away for two weeks and suddenly:

  • Your flat smells faintly of damp socks, but your flatmate has purchased Fifa World Cup 2010 so you're willing to overlook this
  • You're on the (rather long) longlist for the Frank O'Connor Prize two months before the book even comes out
  • There is further evidence online that your book is not a figment of your imagination and one day soon  people will be able to buy it
  • Eight pm sounds like an acceptable bed-time
  • Your dreams no longer involve photocopiers or teleconferencing
  • It's still completely dark when you get up at 7am
  • Your desk at work has been moved from the penthouse to level 1
  • Your greatest earthly desire is a cup of tea
  • Your handwriting is shot
  • Your typing is shot
  • Your eyes go blurry after an hour in front of a computer screen
  • Your greatest earthly desire is a fourth cup of tea
  • Your attention span is shot
  • You cannot fathom working the long hours you did in April
  • You've lost the ability to use an umbrella without it prolapsing
  • You can't think of anything you actually want for tea, only a long list of things you don't want (chicken, chicken-fried steak, salmon, sushi, pizza, burgers, giant frozen margaritas…)
  • Eight-thirty pm sounds like an acceptable bed-time