Crawling from the abyss of hypocrisy: Liberate your inner literary critic

I haven’t any right to criticise books, and I don’t do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

Mark Twain

One of the most enjoyable things about learning the discipline of writing is studying those you admire; following the authors who inspire you and whose writing you would walk on fire to be able to emulate. Reading acquires a new dimension as you study their methods, their choice of language and themes, and begin to understand why you love their work.

You might also want to talk about it. Heaping praise on Australian author Tim Winton, at least for me, is easy. I identify with his settings and characters, and I think his prose is magic.

But when may a new writer stand up and level harsh criticism at an ‘acclaimed’ work of fiction with impunity? Which credentials are required? If Mark Twain says he has no right, then who am I to say that I loathed [insert book title from Man Booker prize nominee here]? Who am I to judge? Continue reading “Crawling from the abyss of hypocrisy: Liberate your inner literary critic”

Why aren’t more novels illustrated?

As I sit here on my unmade bed surrounded by a few years’ worth of books, I ask myself first, how I ever came to collect so many volumes of literature, and second, who the hell is going to clean up this mess?

Among the teetering towers of words are hardbacks from Dickens, collections of short stories, several Mediterranean countries’ worth of Lonely Planets, and a colossal mound of tattered and mostly unread second-hand paperbacks – tributes to my unquenchable thirst for reading. And proof of my inability to get any done.

I flick through the pages looking for stray bookmarks and loose banknotes, and something strikes me: not one of the works of fiction contains an illustration. Not a sketch. Not a squiggle. Not even a photograph. (Squashed mosquitoes and pasta sauce do not count). Continue reading “Why aren’t more novels illustrated?”

Reflections on Berlin

It’s 8:30 in the morning — a summer morning if you want to be all chipper about it.  I’m strolling up the main street in my neighbourhood, sunlight filters through the elms onto the newly laid cobblestones.

I notice a man in paint-splattered boots enjoying a breakfast beer on the park bench. His arms are covered with faded dragon tattoos — the kind that indicate age and lack of foresight. Around him, a flock of sparrows bounce to and fro like popcorn on a grill, suggesting that he or someone else occupying that bench before him had started the day with a flaky mound of dough from the bakery across the street.

Whether he has just finished work or is on his way isn’t clear, but when he rises to leave, he places his bottle neatly underneath the rubbish bin at the end of a row of empties. Someone will be along shortly to collect them for recycling money. Continue reading “Reflections on Berlin”

Memories of a large city

I’m in the vein of the city: the Tube. I’ve grown used to the faces. They stare and bore into your soul. The never-ending eyes that surround you, and judge you in the millisecond it takes for them to disappear.

Men with strange cranial growths and eastern European girls in fashionable sneakers line the tops of double-decker buses, fast-food wrappers and softdrink cans blend into the ghostly walls of a twilight city theatre like stubble on the giant face of old man London. Continue reading “Memories of a large city”

Short stories, not attention spans

When fans queue to see the movie Ender’s Game later this year, many of them will know that the movie is based on Orson Scott’s card 1985 novel of the same name.

It’s safe to assume that a great deal of them will have also read the book and the subsequent titles in the series too. But I would bet that only a handful would know (mostly the hardcore fans) that the idea and many of the characters in Ender’s Game had humble beginnings in a short story, published in Analog magazine in 1977.

Whenever I hear about short stories that have triggered the creation of a larger work, or when I read the works of Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, or the dozens of other short story writers whose ideas ‘made it’, not only am I comforted by the thought that I’m not wasting my time learning the craft, but also by the promise that a short story can lead to bigger things. In my case, I hope my journey into short fiction will lead to a novel.

Continue reading “Short stories, not attention spans”

Patriotism of the Penis

Dear Minister,

I know you hold the idea of instilling children with national pride close to your heart—indeed, the daily ritual of raising the flag and singing the national anthem is one way to inject some much needed patriotism into the youth of today. But there is another way.

I agree that children need to understand the history and values we as Australians all share, and you must be ecstatic you have the backing of your compatriot, the Prime Minister. Those toffee-nosed  hippies in the seventies destroyed the nationalism for which the hard-working folk of the fifties had fought so many years. However, this is the new millennium and I believe Australian patriotism needs a more palpable manifestation to reflect the society of today—Patriotism of the Penis.

During one my recent soirées at the Enmore theatre, I bore witness to the phallic contortions of that Australian duo, ‘Puppetry of the Penis’. I did not know precisely what it was, but watching two grown men in yellow and red satin capes galloping around and playing with their nobs before of hundreds of people, somehow made me proud to be Australian like never before.

My heart swelled as they took me on a genital journey of Australia’s great icons coupled with that famous down-to-earth Aussie humour. And as I admired their installation of that great symbol of Australia, Uluru, it suddenly dawned upon me—what better and more relevant way to communicate to the kiddies what it means to be Australian than through a couple of ‘loveable larrikins’ with a unique love of their country and its people?

The freedom with which the Puppeteers of the Penis flaunt their patriotism would teach our children not to be ashamed of themselves or their country. Our kids will grow up more socially aware and open to topics of sex and nationalism by understanding that it’s okay to say to the world, “I am Australian and proud of it”, and it’s normal for the boys to shave their testicles and for the girls to laugh at the size of a man’s willy.

It would also break the ice on those notoriously embarrassing biology lessons. A couple of months of this type of Australian patriotism, and they would soon stop giggling through sex education class, I can assure you.

Moreover, it doesn’t have to stop at schools.

With the object of God’s design, our Puppeteers would function perfectly as ambassadors and as an exhibition of the talent and beauty we have to offer ‘down under’.  The flapping of a scrotum in the wind, or the haunting silhouette of the Australian shield complete with kangaroo and emu, would beat the pants out of a few $50-a-kilo tiger prawns on the barbie and that ‘oh-so-popular’ brew Fosters lager.

Our two little boys would put France’s cock to shame. Such a liberating display of nationalistic flashing would have the Americans scrambling to ape us. This alone would generate an unprecedented sense of national unity comparable only to the occasions when we beat them in the pool or on the tennis court.

I dare go so far as to say that this approach might even contribute to world peace by utilising one of Australia’s greatest attributes—our frankness:

“Here you go boys, we’ve laid it on the table—we don’t need nuclear weapons to prove who’s got the biggest schlong.”

Furthermore, unlike our national anthem or flag, the Puppeteers pay tribute to the Indigenous peoples and cultures of our well-endowed land by conjuring up images of the red center, the didgeridoo and the boomerang. We would also bring multicultural Australia under a banner of phallic singularity by promoting one of the fundamental objects that makes and keeps us human.

I know what you’re thinking: but it’s so much more about resorting to sex to sell the idea of Australian patriotism. It worked for the Gold Coast, why not the whole country?

The only things missing from this ingenious idea are some true-blue Aussie girls performing renditions of the Olgas and Tasmania. I could hold the auditions at my place if that were easier.

So I think the solution is, my dear Minister, is to ‘get down and get naked’. Tell our toddlers the true meaning of what it means to be Australian and encourage public acceptance of nationalistic nudity. Perhaps we could get Mr Squiggle out of the closet while we’re at it too. I’m sure he would have a few ideas for the new flag.

Kind regards,

A Voting Taxpayer Student Republican