Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Worksheet #88, or 'One more for the pool room'

The last last New Zealand review?

I finally have my hands on a copy of the latest New Zealand Books (I know, I know: it's time I subscribed, but it's taken me two years in the one place to get accustomed to the idea that I can subscribe to things and not have to change the address or pay international postage).

There's a triple-down review of A Man Melting and Pip Adam's Everything We Hoped For and Tina Makereti's Once Upon a Time in Aotearoa (aka the three surfers on New Zealand's New Wave) by Nicholas Reid.

The review leads off with a quote from my story, 'Manawatu'. It's always nice when reviews have the luxury of a chunk of text (and it's nice when your book gets to supply that chunk).

And the review of AMM itself? Well, the pull-quote used is a pretty good indication:
"A Man Melting is simply the best new collection of short stories I've read in an age."
Here's a wedge of text for some more flavour:
"Possibly this all makes Cliff sound a heavy-handed person gazing at his navel. Not a bit of it. Among the chief delights of this collection are Cliff's deft way with narrative and his keen wit. Sometimes the stories are postmodern enough to be self-referential, with the narrator directly drawing our attention to the story's form. But Cliff can also come up with an honest-to-God old-fashioned sting-in-the-tail ('Facing Galapagos'), and with goofy surreal humour ('The Spirit of Rainbow Gorge'). The intentions are always serious, but the author is never dire about it."
In all, Reid references 11 of the 18 stories by name in the review, and a couple more are referred to but not named. That's an impressive strike rate and it was pleasing (in my perverse way) to read the following:
"My only gripe is with the longest story in the collection, 'Fat Camp', which somehow seems to lose its focus. That, however, is the limit of my negatives."
As I've said before, I'm always curious which stories people don't take to.  With 18 stories that cover a range of modes, it's bound to happen that one or two fall short. And I'm at the stage now where have liked and not liked most of the stories, so I know there are people out there who dug 'Fat Camp' - but I can also see how it might be perceived as going of the boil in at a certain point.

So yeah, another good'n.

Alternative Bio
New Zealand writer author Craig Cliff High cliff won received the the actual Commonwealth Earth Best Finest Greatest Very best First Initial Very first 1st Book Guide prize reward for with regard to his their short brief story tale collection assortment "A Man Guy Gentleman Melting Burning".
Here's the source for that bio.  Warning: it's a spam blog trying to sell Birkenstocks.

Stick to the covers, guys

Several months ago I linked to Mumford & Sons doing a combo-cover of The Kinks' 'Days/This Time Tomorrow' with Ray Davies himself. That song was awesome. Pity the rest of the cover/collaborations on Davies' See My Friends ranged from car crashes to bad karaoke.

But I did buy Mumford & Sons' own album, Sigh No More, which ranges from catchy nowtro to less catchy bandwagoning. Okay, so they swear in a song with banjos. I get it. I guess I just want more.

Anyway, I saw Mumford & Sons had covered 'England' by The National (now there's a band I can get behind) recently.  And you know what? I loved it.

So what do you like? #1

I resisted listening to Band of Horses for the last two years because they just seemed so meh.  Like a weak-tea My Morning Jacket or something. I'm not sure how I drew this conclusion without listening to their music, but last week I got their 2010 album, Infinite Arms, out of the library.

And yeah, on first listen, it was very My Morning Jacket (especially album opener 'Factory').  But on second and third and forth listen I found myself singing along ('NW Apartment' in particular).  Turns out, Infinite Arms is the only album in the last 12 months that I've listened to ten times in the first week.

I'm tough enough to admit when I was wrong, and Band of Horses: I was wrong. I do like you.

So what do you like? #2

'Tamping Down'  by James Norcliffe from Sport 10 (Autumn 1993).  A short story (or an autobiographical vignette).

Chinese Twitters

For those of you too lazy to get your own copy of New Zealand Books  (shame) and curious how the other two short story collections faired in my shared review, well, there's a bit of a story there.

Subscribers received their copies last week and on Tuesday I noticed this tweet from Kiwi poet Emma Barnes:

Now, I'd seen the website for NZ Books, so I knew Nicholas Reid (a dude) had reviewed books by me (a dude) and Pip and Tina (2 ladies). But the day before I'd also seen this tweet from Modern Letters, which suggested there wasn't any gender-based poopooing:

So I wrote it off as yet another Twitter in-joke of which I was on the outer.  But then, on the 15th, there was a confirmation (of sorts) that this (mostly tongue-in-cheek) comment did refer to Reid's review:

Some context is needed for those of you who may be reading this blog in a couple of months' time (Q: what Google search brought you here? Was it "How to fix a broken antler"? Ha!): Emma's tweet came on the same day that Keri Hulme's retort to V.S. Naipaul's massively sexist and retarded comments about how he didn't not consider any female writer his equal. So I read said tweet as a tongue-in-cheek comment in reference to the Naipul stuff being batted about the internet.

Reid says some positive stuff about Everything We Hoped For, and while he does bemoan the unrelenting bleakness, he's not alone in this view. If Louise O'Brien's slightly stink review from The Listener is good for anything, it's proving that this too serious/bleak view is not the exclusive domain of male readers/writers. 

And while Reid does start out sounding like he hated Once Upon A Time (he uses words like commonplace, tweeness, queasy) he actually says, "I have to admit I really enjoyed this collection, " and, "My nit-picking retires before the pleasure of reading these things."  It's also worth nothing that Reid seems to have a thing about stories based on other stories/models (see his way off-base review of Sue Orr's killer From Under The Overcoat in The Listener... if you're looking for perceived sexism, here's where you might want to waste your energy).

I'm verging on territory I've tried to blog about before and abandoned (perceived gender bias on the NZ book scene), and I'm going to pull back from the precipice once more.

I guess I just wanted to capture this moment in time because I know stuff gets lost on Twitter and I enjoy being my own archivist.

One of these days I'll gnash my teeth and get involved in a proper literary feud. And it'll probably be about misconceptions about gender bias. Or the fact that short stories get pissed on by publishers because 'they don't sell'.  Or the fact the Dom Post insists on writing "education ministry" rather than "Ministry of Education", even in my own columns, making me look like I don't actually work there.

Come to think of it, I'm spoiling for a fight...

Fun with the dictionary

poopoo (third-person singular simple present poopoospresent participle poopooingsimple past and past participle poopooed)

The boss

They ran another story about me on the Ministry of Education's intranet on Friday. This one specifically about the Commonwealth Writers Prize.  I wasn't consulted (heck, I wasn't even at work the preceding three days), but my manager supplied a quotation:
“We knew from the various reports Craig writes that he was incredibly creative and able to turn his hand to a wide range of subjects."
Classic. (If your image of public service managers is still walk shorts, sandals and no sense of humour, you might have missed the jab my boss just took at me. Though mostly it was a jab at some of the stuff we have to write.)

So what do you like #3

Sweet dreams 

And finally today, the ultimate sin. I'm going to tell you about a dream I had the other night!! (Multiple exclamation points is the penultimate sin (and brackets within brackets the hemi-demi-penultimate sin)).

Okay, so it was less of a dream than a full blown, megabucks JJ Abrams-style movie, with twists and turns. In the tres dramatic ending we see one of those hardback annuals from the 1950s with the femme fatale (who tried to seduce both father and son earlier in the movie/dream) on cover, looking the same age as she does in 2011 (just with 1950s haircut and bathing suit), then we get a quick succession of other fashion shoots and ads from the past, then cut to her with two men (another father and son) dressed in Mad Men-era clothes, and she's telling them not to worry and to have another [convincing but fake brand name] cigarette. Wham!

And then the movie does that thing that dreams do and you're able to revisit something that you saw earlier (but most likely you haven't dreamed yet and your subconscious is working hard and fast with the logic of your dream) and we see the son from 2011 who's obsessed with flying saucers. And the dream/movie plays a UFO sighting from earlier in movie "again" but this time in slow motion, zooming in and in, getting clearer and clearer, but "it" is always just a blue light, no mater how close and how clear it gets.  Wham!

Then (I've clearly slept too long and should have woken up at the second Wham!) there are workers in green overalls pulling apart the movie set and one of them has Guy Smiley's head (you know, from Sesame Street), and one of the other workers who has a normal human head someone says Dick Clark's name (you know, the guy from TV Bloopers and Practical Jokes) and Guy Smiley says, "I can't believe you said his name," and the "his" is this terrible, serpentine hiss, and it's clear that Dick Clark is behind it all: the immortal femme fatales, the tabacco companies, Area 51 and the indivisible blue lights. AND IT ALL MAKES SO MUCH SENSE!!

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