Tuesday, March 10, 2020

February Consumption Diary



Image result for lanny coverLanny by Max Porter (novel, audiobook)

I started listening to this while camping last month, when I couldn't sleep because of the logging trucks, but I started from scratch again this month and yeah, I'm glad I did.

Porter has a subversive streak, evident both in how he puts a page together and use of narrative... For the longest time, the 'disappeared boy' arc felt fresh and new. That it doesn't hold that line to the very end is a bit disappointing, but it's still fantastic overall.

Image result for teleportation incidentThe Teleportation Incident by Ned Beauman (novel, audiobook)

A colleague said my latest novel reminded him of Beauman's work, so of course I checked him out.

On reflection, this is not the way to attack a new author. It's like being shown a photo of a celebrity and being told you look like them. You'll only see how old they look, or how far short of them your own appearance falls.

For me, The Teleportation Incident held up a mirror to my own hangup about soggy middle sections...

Image result for madame bovary audiobookMadame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (novel, audiobook)

One of the gazillion 'great' novels I've never read but knew enough about not to skip the Introduction for fear of spoilers.

I enjoyed it, but the fact I moved onto Middlemarch next, in which the characters seem much fuller and there's a sense of humour and brio, means Bovary has already slumped in my estimations. Sorry Gus!


And then these books, which for different reasons (some of it is laziness!), I won't comment on here:

Drongo by Ian Richards (novel)
This is Pleasure by Mary Gaitskill (novella)
Mother Nut by John Jeremiah Sullivan (novella)
Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur (poetry)
The Book of Traps and Lessons by Kate Tempest (poetry)


My Neighbour Totoro
Pokemon: Mewtwo Strikes Back
Logan Lucky
Uncut Gems
Succession - 2nd half of season 1 and all of season 2
Rick and Morty - Season 4
Brooklyn 99 - Season 1
Better Call Saul - first 2 eps of Season 5 (i.e. as soon as new eps drop, we're on em in the Cliff household)

Monday, February 3, 2020

January Consumption Diary



Image result for medallion status john hodgmanMedallion Status by John Hodgman (non-fiction, audiobook)

I really enjoyed Hodgman's previous book, Vacationland, when I read it in January 2018, and his follow up didn't disappoint. This was the first book this year that I found myself making time for, rather than it just being the thing that played when I had time to listen.

It's all about voice and tone. Hodgman is self-effacing, funny and just honest enough not to stiffle that humour.

Death Is Hard WorkDeath is Hard Work by Khaled Khalifa (novel, audiobook)

Tonally, this comes across as a comedy in a tragic setting (contemporary Syria). It lets you slip into this world, and follow Bolbol and his siblings as they try and transport their father's corpse across the war zone, bear its frustrations and absurdities, and experience something of what it is like the have civil war take root in your country.

Image result for On Earth We're Briefly GorgeousOn Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (novel, audiobook)

It's very interesting to hear Vuong talk about the use of biographical fact for this novel and the power derived from this.

As a standalone work, it is powerful. It doesn't have a traditional narrative drive, which is probably what I was looking for at this time of year / in my mental state.

Doggerland by Ben Smith (novel, audiobook)

Image result for doggerland bookSmith tells his tale of the near future (probably a couple of decades hence) in simple prose. The protagonist is referred to as the boy. The business that he and his grandfather work for, maintaining an offshore windfarm, is The Corporation. But at a certain point this simplicity becomes vagueness - the social / economic / environmental breakdown that has occurred isn't ever really explained. And so the lasting memory of this book is one of vagueness.


The Leftovers Season 2 - so gooood. The best description I've read about season 2 is that it's Damon Lindelof doing fan fiction based on Tom Perrota's novel (which season 1 was based on), just as he used the Watchmen graphic novel as a base to riff away and come up with the single season of goodness that was "his" Watchmen.

Silicon Valley Season 6
The Favourite
Avengers: Age of Ultron
Ghostbusters (original)*
Toy Story 3*
And a bunch of other forgettable movies watched at other people's homes during the summer break :)

Friday, January 3, 2020

Best Albums (& Song) of 2019

Previous editions: 2018 albums and songs,  2017 albums and songs, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012.

As for 2019, here goes...

Best albums #20-#11

20. Julia Jacklin - Crushing
19. Matthew Logan Vasquez - Light'n Up
18. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
17. Lana Del Rey - Norman Fucking Rockwell!
16. Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind - CollectiV
15. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
14. Jim James, Teddy Abrams & the Louisville Orchestra - The Order of Nature
13. Jenny Lewis - On The Line
12. Better Oblivion Community Center - Better Oblivion Community Center
11. FONTAINES D.C. - Dogrel

And a little slower for the top ten...

10. Death Machine - Orbit
Image result for death machine orbit"

This album came out in November and I only seriously listened to it in December. When I was playing with the order of my top 20, it cropped up and I had to drop something off, then it kept climbing when I compared it with albums higher up the list.

Maybe it's recency bias, but I just couldn't keep this Danish downbeat gem out of my top 10.

Perfect music for writing, or the arrival of a climate apocalypse.

9. The Murder Capital - When I Have Fears
Image result for murder capital when i have fears"

Ireland produced the two great rock debuts of 2019. Where FONTAINES D.C. is more straight-ahead punk, The Murder Capital is post-punk - less angry, more articulate, but prone to the odd art-school-dropout overreach.

I'm excited to see where both these bands go next.

8. Big Thief - Two Hands
Image result for big thief two hands album cover"

Big Thief put out their third album, UFOF, in May 2019, and it has some good songs and one great track ('Cattails'). But the band wasn't quite done after recording UFOF and went back into the studio to record its "Earth twin", Two Hands, which is the stronger, more cohesive, more urgent album.

Looking forward to seeing them in Wellington in May 2020!!

7. Orville Peck - Pony
Image result for orville peck pony"

Roy Orbison eat your heart out, cover your face in leather fringe and confess your love for a fellow cowboy!

I'm not averse to gimmicks and alter-egos in music (see the way Lana Del Rey always seems to squeak onto my best of the year lists), but the music has to stand on its own feet - and Pony certainly does that.

6. Angie McMahon - Salt
Image result for angie mcmahon album cover"

There are a lot of female singer-songwriters on this list. McMahon's sounds is probably the most rock-adjacent. There's echoes of fellow Australian Courtney Barnett in the self-deprecating humour (see 'Pasta'), but McMahon is a more traditional singer, which means she's good company in most any situation.

5. The Rails - Cancel the Sun
Image result for the rails cancel the sun"

On first listen I thought, "This sounds like an updated version of Richard and Linda Thompson", and then I found out that the lead female vocalist, Kami Thompson, is their daughter. This is another husband and wife duo (the dude is James Walbourne) but it's not just a carbon copy of the previous generation.

It sounds fresh and timeless. Great stuff.

4. Marika Hackman - Any Human Friend
Image result for marika hackman any human friend"

If Angie McMahon is rock-adjacent, Hackman is the pop-adjacent singer-songwriter on this list, with more electronic blips and beats and the kind of melodies you find yourself humming when hanging out the washing.

But it's when you focus on the lyrics, which are dark and mordantly funny, that these songs take on their full power.

I loved her debut in 2017, and she's taken it to another level here.

3. Allie Crow Buckley - So Romantic
Image result for allie crow buckley so romantic"

'So Romatic' only has six songs, so it's better described as an EP than a full album. And the final track, a cover of Black Sabbath's 'Changes' I can take or leave. But the other five songs are so great, each a world unto themselves, that this feels like a major event.

I've listened to these songs so much over the last 11 months, and have no reservation putting So Romantic this high.

2. Pedro the Lion - Phoenix
Image result for pedro the lion phoenix"

I've praised Dave Bazan before on this blog (see: 2018's song of the year). I was excited about his return to the Pedro the Lion moniker, if only that it meant new material in early 2019. But Phoenix exceeded my expectations.

'Yellow Bike' is the greatest song about childhood and the melancholy of nostalgia. (Bonus points for my son, who got his first pedal-bike this year, liking the song, too.)

'Quietest Friend' might be the best song Bazan has ever written. 'Model Homes' is surely in his top 10.

Just a great fucking album from a new hero of mine.

1. Aldous Harding - Designer
Image result for aldous harding designer"

I appreciated Harding's previous album, 2017's Party, without properly loving it. But in Designer, it felt like the weirdness and idiosyncrasy fully fused with the music and I couldn't help fall madly for this album.

My kids love 'The Barrel' (though the blue alien mask in the video freaks them out) and 'Fixture Picture' - a sure barometer of Harding's pop-hit chops. 'Zoo Eyes', 'Designer', and 'Pilot' compete for the best song on the album from an 'adult contemporary' perspective, if that category was applied to grown ups who enjoy being challenged (rather than the opposite).

These songs are great live - or maybe it's better to say that Harding is great live: no song is ever sung quite the same way. It's so powerful to see someone sit inside their oddness, to be their oddness, and make art you know will hold its power as the years pass.

There's no artist, from NZ or otherwise, I'm more excited about seeing where they go next than Aldous Harding.

Song of the Year

As with previous years, if an artist has an album on the list above they're automatically disqualified from this category.

In researching this year's winner, I grew to love the album on which this one song appears, but I figure it's better to have the number 1 song than an album somewhere in the 8-16 range. 

Before I get to the winner, some highly commended ribbons:
  • 'Scare Easy' - T Hardy Morris
  • 'Exit Stations' - NE-HI
  • 'Monster Moon' - Sun June

But the champ this year is 'I Get No Joy' by Jade Bird

Image result for jade bird"
Catchy, angry, ironically joy-inducing, in and out in two and a half minutes... what a single!

Jade Bird has such a great voice. Despite the song hurtling forward at 90 miles an hour, her phrasing is immaculate. The fast-twitch version of Phoebe Bridgers. 

Check out her self-titled debut album, too, please and thank you. I certainly will be listening to it a lot in January.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The best books I read in 2019

Yesterday I crunched the numbers for the 61 books I read in 2019 and how I did with my reading targets.

Today, it's time to look at the books I enjoyed the most.

You can find similar lists for previous years here: 2018, 2017, (let's not speak of 2015 or 2016), 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010.

Boom - there's your best of the decade list right there.

In scanning through those best reads posts just now, some books have stuck with me more than others and I'd rejig there orders, but there's a lot of books I love on there.

Here's to another decade of great books!

Okay, here's my list for 2019:

#1 How to be Both by Ali Smith

What I said about it in November:
Loved it... even more than I liked Autumn, which was in my top ten a couple of years back. It pushed a lot of buttons for me: it's about (partly) art and artists; narrative invention; a sense of whimsy without being flippant... Stuff it in my veins!

#2 The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

What I said about it in December:
The combination of David Attenborough's narration, Baker's en pointe nature writing and the avian subject matter... och!

#3 Feeld by Jos Charles

This was my favourite poetry collection I read in 2019. I stick to 6-word reviews for poetry collections, coz I'm a bastard, and this is what I wrote in December:
Brain re-wiring, trans Chaucer nature writing.

#4 There There by Tommy Orange

What I said about it in May:
Wow. I loved this.
...I was still like: How's he gonna land this plane?
And he fucking does!
There's so much heart in here it's easy to overlook the head required to corral so many moving parts.

#5 A Death in the Family (My Struggle Book 1) by Karl Ove Knausgaard

This is my annual multi-book fudge, as I read Books 1 and 2 this year and loved them both. Book 1 edges Book 2 because it felt more radical. I enjoyed Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet in 2017, but My Struggle is just extra. 

Here's what I said about Book 1 in February:
So I've finally got around to reading Knausgaard. I resisted because did I really need to read the inner workings of another white male writer? But golly, is it good. It had me thinking about life (and Life) and writing almost constantly.

And here's what I said about Book 2 in April:
Book 1 hooked me with its obsession with death, particularly the death of a father, and the brutal honesty (or the convincing facsimile of brutal honesty) of being a writer.
Book 2, as the title suggests, is more concerned with romance and what comes on its heels (in Knausgaard's eyes: the emasculating labour of the modern father), and the challenges of balancing family and writing, doled out with equal depth and brutality. So, again, it spoke to me...

#6 Normal People by Sally Rooney

What I said about it in February:

Yeah, so, this deserves the hype. And the fact Will Self can't see it? Even better.
...despite the fact Rooney's characters are a decade younger, there was a lot that cut close to the bone.

#7 The Angel's Cut by Elizabeth Knox

What I said about it in June:
It only took me ten years to get around to reading the sequel to The Vintner's Luck but boy howdee this was good.
It sent me scrambling for reasons for how a sequel could be this good. Like, it helps when the main character doesn't age, so the sequel can take place at any time or place that takes your fancy up until the present day... but it still takes a massive amount of  skill to pull off!

#8 Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter

What I said about it in December:
I was partway through this book when I did a wee "fave books" thing for the NZ Women's Weekly. I said: "I’m also loving my current read: Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known, which struts and sneers and sulks like a great rock memoir should."
I meted out the remaining chapters, in part because it was such good fun, but also because there's a lot of darkness and loss in the book.

#9 An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter by Cesar Aira

What I said about it in May:
There's a particular kind of story that suits the level of compression and focus required to make it feel bigger than a short story but not leave you wanting more. The title of Aira's 2000 novel, translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions in 2006, tells you a lot about how this one works.

#10 Basketball & Other Things by Shea Serrano

What I said about it in July:
Like the slow food revolution for NBA-heads. A wormhole back to the not-too-distant-past when you had to take some of these feats on faith, until the VHS arrived with the proof.
It helped reduce my screen time and open windows into a more creative application of my own NBA addiction.

#11 Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

What I said about it in December:
...Would I have got more out of any of these stories if they were blown up to four-times their length so I could spend more time with the characters? No.
Give me the bare essentials rather than bloat.
Give me four high concepts for the price of one.
Give me the hack to ensure my toaster can brown whatever the fuck I want.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 reading in review

I set myself some reading targets for 2019. I checked my progress at the end of August. And here's how I did overall:

1. Read great books

41% of the books I read this year I rated 85/100 or higher (up from 38% in my August review). My ratings are unscientific - mostly just a way to help me choose my top ten - and I didn't say what percentage would justify a pass... but I reckon it's:


2. Read at least 52 books

Actual: 61 (16 physical; 45 audiobooks)


3. Read at least 10 poetry collections

Actual: 6


The remainder of the 61 were made up of 26 novels, 6 story collections, 1 graphic novel & 22 non-fiction books.

4. Read more than 40% female authors

Actual: 48%


5. Read at least a third non-white authors

Actual: 25%


This was interesting, as I read 27% non-white authors in 2018 without a target, but I only hit at 6% the year before that, so hovering around a quarter isn't that bad, though it's not that great, either.

6. Read less than 40% US authors

Actual: 31%


7. Read from at least 10 different countries

Actual: 14


8. Read at least 5 works in translation



9. Target median age of books read: 2009

Actual: 2018


By decade:
  • 2010s: 55 (25 just from 2019)
  • 2000s: 3
  • 1970s: 1
  • 1960s: 2
The allure of the new and shiny is hard to resist, eh?


6 of 9 targets met. I think the first two are the big ones: quantity and quality. The rest were prompts for me to read diversely. And while I read a number of highly enjoyable books this year, something about these targets made reading feel a bit like box ticking. I'm interested to see how I go without explicit targets or mid-point reviews. So I only have one target for this year:

2020 target: read 70 books

But I will look at how I went against these other metrics at the very end of the year and do some trend analysis over the last 5 or so years.

Up next, my top 11 reads of the year...

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

December Consumption Diary

So we made it. Forget about the end of the decade, I'm grateful for just making it through to the end of 2019. It was a rough one for me. Things need to change, and I'm taking a longish summer break to figure out which things, and how, but here's hoping 2020 is more fulfilling and creative.

I've got a few days before I take the family camping, so I'll knock out my best of lists for books and music this week.

But for now, here's what I listened to, read and watched in December...


Image result for dead people i have known"
Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter (non-fiction, NZ)

I was partway through this book when I did a wee "fave books" thing for the NZ Women's Weekly. I said: "I’m also loving my current read: Shayne Carter’s Dead People I Have Known, which struts and sneers and sulks like a great rock memoir should."

I meted out the remaining chapters, in part because it was such good fun, but also because there's a lot of darkness and loss in the book.

This is not a drill: an Extinction Rebellion handbook (non-fiction, audiobook)

I read this tweet the other day:

Image result for this is not a drill"I was interested in climate change, and long before that, apocalyptic thinking and doomsday preppers, before 2019 (Nailing Down the Saint features a group of eco-terrorists, Second Wave, whose methods are wrong but their message should be harder to dismiss).

I've become more pessimistic the more I've read on this topic. There's no way our political and economic systems can be dismantled and rebuilt fast enough to achieve the emissions turnaround required to meet IPCC recommendations - because the general public are too insulated from the effects. Look at the unchecked consumerism this Christmas. Or talk to your Boomer relatives. Nothing has changed. We only have another protagonist (Thurnberg) to fill our news bulletins with.

Extinction Rebellion talk a good talk about learning from indigenous peoples in "the majority world", but it still feels very Anglo, very middle class.

I think back to Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now, which I read at the start of the year, and struggle to square these two perspectives:

  • the world, as a whole, is a better place to live that its ever been
  • the world is fucked.
The Boomer view is people have been preaching the end of the world since day dot. They've lived through the nuclear crisis. They've seen the hole in the ozone shrink after we stopped putting CFCs in our air fresheners. Surely this latest bout of catastrophic thinking will all come to naught as well.

I hope they're right. I doubt it.

Image result for the widow fiona barton"The Widow by Fiona Barton (novel, audiobook)

A pretty decent thriller, centering on the wife of the accused, though Barton includes other narrative perspectives (a journalist, a cop, and, briefly, the husband). I felt the first quarter was different, structurally and tonally to what followed, and wonder what it would have been like if we stuck with the first person narration of the widow throughout...?

Movies & Other Things by Shea Serrano (illustrated non-fiction)
Image result for movies and other things shea serrano"
I loved Basketball & Other Things earlier this year. The movie-based follow-up falls short of its predecessor because it's one thing to ask and answer oddball questions about sport, it's another to take that approach with the entirety of film (or even films from the 80's onwards to stick within Serrano's cultural wheelhouse). Where BAOT expanded the universe of basketball, MAOT contracts it, not just by limiting itself to essentially Hollywood films of the last 40 years, but by taking elements of those films and leaving the rest on the cutting room floor. It felt reductive rather than expansive.

That said, I still enjoyed it. I laughed. It's a beautiful object.

I'm just a curmudgeon.

Image result for 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world"10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world by Elif Shafak (novel, audiobook)

How to describe this book? It's as if Rushdie took a Faulkner premise and a Pamuk setting... It's telling these three touchstones are male... but is a female-centred version of this kind of narrative (which we've seen over and over) enough?

Radicalised by Corey Doctorow (fiction, audiobook)

Firstly, is this a collection of four long short stories or four short novellas? I dunno. Some felt longer and more capacious than others, but all of them felt urgent and timely.

Image result for radicalized"
What sets these narratives apart from a handful of Black Mirror episodes? Well, firstly, until the most recent season, being compared to Black Mirror would be a compliment. But it's the depth you can provide in text.

I take issue with what Annette Lapointe said in the New York Journal of Books: "The stories themselves are simple, and the characters thinly fleshed: no relief there. When we tear ourselves free, we find that we’ve found nothing substantial. Doctorow would have been better served to render his ideas as essays, so that he could give them the complexity they deserve, and release his barely realized characters from their political pantomime."

Um, yeah, there's a big difference between an essay about the creep of Intellectual Property into everyday freedoms, like which bread you can put in your toaster, and how this unduly impinges upon the most vulnerable in society, and actually depicting this in narrative form.

Would I have got more out of any of these stories if they were blown up to four-times their length so I could spend more time with the characters? No.

Give me the bare essentials rather than bloat.

Give me four high concepts for the price of one.

Give me the hack to ensure my toaster can brown whatever the fuck I want.

Image result for jos charles feeld"Image result for under glass gregory kan"Image result for are friends electric heath"

Feeld by Jos Charles (poetry)

Brain re-wiring, trans Chaucer nature writing.

Are Friends Electric by Helen Heath (poetry, NZ)

Source scrambling, story-telling, science-y goodness.

Under Glass by Gregory Kan (poetry, NZ)

Jeff VanderMeer's teen angst lyrical diary.

The Peregrine by JA Baker (non-fiction, audiobook)
The Peregrine cover art
Okay, so it took 61 books, but I finally found my favourite read of the year. The combination of David Attenborough's narration, Baker's en pointe nature writing and the avian subject matter... och!

When I was researching Nailing Down the Saint I did Werner Herzog's Masterclass(TM) on filmmaking and he says at one point if you want to become a filmmaker, all you need to do is read The Peregrine (maybe he says read it once a year).

So maybe now I am finally ready to jump media?


Watchmen – Season 1
The Leftovers – Season 1
The Movies that Made Us - Season 1
The Mandalorian – Season 1
Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse
Knives Out
Frozen II
The Hitman's Bodyguard
6 Underground

Sunday, December 1, 2019

November consumption diary

My only public outing in November was for LitCrawl's "Lie Down and Listen" session at the Design Library. It was cool to take part in LitCrawl for the first time, after attending many events over the last six years.

I read the pornography section from near the start of Nailing Down the Saint and only found out there was a kid (maybe 11) in the audience afterwards.

Parents these days! :)

Lawrence Patchett reading from The Burning River
 to a very comfortable and relaxed audience at the Design Library


I saw Gang of Four live at San Fran. It took me a long time to decide if I was watching a good cover band that just happened to have the original guitarist or if this incarnation of Gang of Four was simply good. 

Like, the smashing up a microwave bit was something I'd read about the original lineup doing. And to see the new frontman doing that bit, when he wasn't born first time around... it was weird.

All the fifty-something white dudes in the crowd seemed to be into it. Songs like 'Damaged Goods' were stadium-level singalongs. Maybe it was the older crowd's energy that finally won me over.

One thing's for sure: forty years on, Entertainment is a great album.


November was a weird month. I felt like I didn't get much reading time, what with all the reading I had to do (like judging the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition and being the external assessor for a creative writing student's manuscript).

But then I started listing books and it wasn't as meagre as I'd supposed. (Some I'm only partway through and will include in December's tally.)

Image result for how to be both cover"How to be Both by Ali Smith (novel, audiobook)

Loved it. I'm slowly working my way through Smith's books in a random way, and each one makes me think: why am I being so haphazard? Why don't I just devote myself to reading Ali Smith and only Ali Smith until there's nothing left?

The Coddling of the American Mind cover artHow to be both - I liked it even more than I liked Autumn, which was in my top ten a couple of years back. It pushed a lot of buttons for me: it's about (partly) art and artists; narrative invention; a sense of whimsy without being flippant... Stuff it in my veins!

The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff (non-fiction, audiobook)

I had to hit pause on this book about halfway through in May. I finally returned in late October and made it to the end in November.

It was interesting to recognise its language (like "anti-fragile") being used in tweets by Jordan Petersen wannabes on Twitter. One of the overarching points of the book is that an "us versus them" mentality is a cognitive distortion... but it seems so far past its tipping point, can we ever "undistort" this way of thinking?

Image result for sisters mctiernan"The Sisters by Dervla McTiernan (novel, audiobook)

A crime novel in four hours? How might this work? 

Well, turns out you do everything you'd do in a book two or three times the length, but when you get to the first suspect who looks dead-to-rights like they're guilty you don't provide a twist, you just make them... guilty. 

Case closed. 

Book done. 

Image result for mary macpherson social media"

Social Media by Mary MacPherson (poetry, NZ)

Arch Kiwi poet of modern minutae.

No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani (non-fiction, audiobook)

I finished this book just before it was announced Boochani had been allowed to travel to NZ thanks to the mahi of folks like Amnesty International and Word Christchurch. Then it was announced Boochani would also do an event in Wellington -- and I was like, "I gotta be there," only I had parenting commitments that night.

NFBtM is the kinda book that enrages and frustrates by virtue of its written intent and lived experience (though I did find the translator's long sections before and after the main text tiresome) and makes you wanna write fifth form essays about Man's Inhumanity to Man.

It demonstrates the power of literature to pierce through the veneer of "I know about that from the news" to actually confronting what has happened, and is happening, in Australia's offshore detention centres (and other Western border enforcement industrial complexes) and inside the rotten heart of "The Lucky Country" itself.


The Irishman
I am not an Easy Man
Living with Yourself - Season 1

Saturday, November 2, 2019

September & October publicity and consumption diary

It's been a busy two months. Manic, at times.

Sometimes everything wants to get through the eye of the needle at once.

A second burst of activity in support of Nailing Down the Saint (more on this below)the most challenging period of my professional (ie not writing books) career, a week in Melbourne for work, and in general the lowest ebb for my mental health in maybe fifteen years...

But anyway...


Back in early September it was Going West Festival, in Titirangi. It was my second time at the festival (the first was in 2011), and it still has the cosy, kindly curious vibe. I did a session with Rosetta Allen about our latest novels, ably chaired by Caroline Barron.

Elizabeth Knox giving her address on opening night at Going West 2019
Then it was down to Dunedin with the family for a trip down memory lane (two years was two much for my son, for whom half a life has elapsed since my Burns year) and a solo session on the top floor of the city library. Afterwards, I had a chat with a Catholic priest who remembers St Joseph of Copertino being struck off the list of saints and was going to slip a little of the Joseph's life into the prayer group he was hosting that weekend.

St Clair
At the end of September, Elizabeth Knox and I shared the stage for a Writers on Mondays session at Te Papa, chaired by fellow novelist Kate Duignan. We got cartooned, which was cool (second time in my "second" career).

Reviews? Well, there's not a lot of bandwidth for any writing these days, but I did have positive reviews in North & South and The NZ Herald. ("Satisfactions abound" is a pretty pleasing headline for a review (even if the headline was probably the work of a sub-editor who hasn't read the book.)

Image result for ghost wall moss"

Ghost Wall by Sara Moss (novel, audiobook)

A short novel told in the first person, I was gripped throughout but the payoff for the ever-growing sense of dread felt a little meagre.

Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry (novel, audiobook)

Image result for night boat to tangier by kevin barry"Another shorter book (though not as short or tight as Ghost Wall). This time it was the language that gripped me. The amazing, theatrical banter between the aging Irish gangsters, waiting at a North African port for the daughter of one of them. A blend of Shakespearean asides, Beckettian logic and Irish pub craic, it was so intoxicating the sections that lept back in time and away from the port flagged in comparison.

And another landing that felt less substantial that the waiting promised.

(I'm beginning to think I like the idea of short novels more than I do the reality.)

Image result for you know you want this kristen"You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian (short stories, audiobook)

I wanted to find fault with this book. I wanted to look down my nose at the stories in this book whose blurb touts the face "Cat Person" was "the first short story to go viral". (I listened to "Cat Person" in 2017 and thought it was a decent story published at the perfect moment but two years later could remember very few details).

And yet my bias was defeated. This is a very good collection. Very very good.

Image result for the absolute book by elizabeth knox"Brave but not just for the sake of bravery. Bold but modulated in tone and intensity.

The Absolute Book by Elizabeth Knox (novel, NZ)

I don't read many books with faeries in them, but this is safely the best.

The Way Home by Mark Boyle (non-fiction, audiobook)

Image result for way back home boyle"So weird to listen to this as an audiobook, pumped into my ears via my cellphone, when Boyle has turned his back on modern technology (he writes toward the end of the book about considering if there was a way to avoid typesetting the printed version of the book).

I originally put this book on my reading list as I thought it might provide some sparks for a post-apocalyptic story, but as life got shitty I could see the contemporary appeal of unplugging, tuning out and dropping off the map. Total middle class yt ppl masochistic fantasy on my part, but still.

Underland cover art
Underland by Robert MacFarlane (non-fiction, audiobook)

There was a good book here, but it's buried (*rim-shot*) beneath an excess of description and, just, too much content.

Image result for neacuase internert gretchen"Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch (non-fiction, audiobook)

The two biggest challenges of writing about language on the internet in book form:

1) Managing tone - how do you pay due attention to interesting linguistic features and developments without disappearing up your own @#%?

2) Managing time - the internet moves fast - how do you talk about language, memes, platforms with a half-life of months?

McCulloch pulls it off in both respects.

Image result for sula toni morrison"Sula by Toni Morrison (fiction, audiobook)

When Morrison died in August, I knew it was long past due some of her books on my to-read list got taken off the shelf. Sula, her second published novel, opens up a world in its first few pages and adds so much depth to it, so deftly, that it's a little scary.

RIP Toni!

book cover of Flying LessonsFlying Lessons and other stories, by various, edited by Ellen Oh (short stories, audiobook)

A mixed bag, as most anthologies are, but some standout stories from Kwame Alxander and Sunil Malhotra.

Minotaur by Peter Goldsworthy (novel, audiobook)

Image result for minotaur peter goldsworthy"A blinded cop, two years into his convalescence. For most of the book, the tensions are between the reader and their expectations. Will this become a true hard-boiled detective story (early on, Detective Zadow is offered a new job on the force, a kind of human lie detector to weed out crooked cops)? Or is it a story of revenge... or depression... or medical misadventure... or madness? Is it a love story, comedy (the buddy cop chemistry between Zadow and Siri... yes, that Siri... is real) or a tragedy? Modern myth or missed opportunity?

There are a few cringy parts (okay, so maybe I'm supposed to cringe at the description of Zadow's Asian ex's "almond" eyes... every time they're mentioned and exoticised), but for the most part this is an interesting, absorbing psychological thriller in hardboiled garb.



Image result for rookie historian goo hae ryung"
Rookie Historian Goo Hae-Ryung - 20 hour-long episodes, really got sucked in after getting used to the variety of tones (it's a bit like Shakespeare... or anime). Has totally thrown a cat among the pigeons of my Netlflix recommendations

El Camino - made me more eager for the next season of Better Call Saul rather than nostalgic for Breaking Bad

John Wick 3 (in-flight viewing - abandoned due to excessive violence in a constrained space)

Detective Pikachu (in-flight viewing - abandoned due to boredom)

Fleabag Season 1 (in-flight viewing - devoured)

The Chills: the triumph and tragedy of Martin Phillipps (in-flight viewing coming back from Melbourne... I also watched another movie... some recent release from Hollywood, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was, which tells you all you need to know)

Crashing Season 1

Rugby World Cup - my quadrennial descent back into caring about rugby

NBA - every Sacramento loss (ie every Sacramento game) so far this season (it's fair to say sport has done nothing for my depression...)