Thursday, July 31, 2014

Playing catch-up

Hello strangers.

This is a taste of the music I listened to in June:

And this is what I’ve been reading over the last two months:

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (novel, audiobook)

The Left Hand of Darkness: Book in the Hainish SeriesI enjoyed this. Had never read Le Guin before and it was much more sociology-thought-experiment than the straight-up-and-down sci-fi I was expecting. Myth-making, on multiple levels, of the highest order.

Neuromancer by William Gibson (novel, audiobook)

NeuromancerI started listening to this before all the articles about it being 30 years since the novel was first published. So, partway through, just as I was getting a little lost, the novel’s importance became a big consideration, and I got a little more lost.

I think the biggest thing I’ll take away from Neuromancer was this: tough geeks make killer writers. Here was a Bill Gates brain with a Raymond Chandler hard-on, sitting alone in a room, plugging away at a manual typewriter, creating this namechecking biojacking future and it fucking worked (for the most part).

I’m working on a Building by Pip Adam (novel or short stories - your call, NZ)

Let me list all the ways I was predisposed to like this book:
I'm Working on a Building
·         It’s about buildings. I spend my day job thinking about buildings, specifically how they can support quality teaching and learning (and making sure they don’t leak, or fall down in a stiff breeze). I’m not an architect or an engineer or a teacher or an educationalist – I’m the bridge between those worlds (and between schools and the politicians who ultimately write the cheques). So I was really interested to see how Pip Adam, a writer who shadowed a bunch of building-types to get under the hood of the language of built forms, would go...

·         I’d read ‘Featherston Street’ a couple of years ago as a short story on Turbine, and it features as the fulcrum chapter in Adam’s novel.

·         It’s a bold book. By a New Zealander. Those two things combined are too rare. I want more!

And then I started reading and that first chapter, about building a replica of the Burj al Khalifa in the Southern Alps… woh! What a string of pages.

The boldness I mentioned earlier is most evident structurally, with chapters ordered in reverse chronology. The main (human) character, Catherine, isn’t present in every chapter, and when she is, we’re never that close to her. We slowly unpick her past, from earthquakes to failed relationships, but the book, like Catherine, seems more focussed on buildings. Structure trumps character, quite deliberately.

At one point a minor character admires the Rankin Brown building at Victoria University, a boxy, concrete, characterless thing, but an amazing structure if you know what to look for. Same goes for I’m working on a building, I think. It’s not for everyone. Or: not every chapter/story will ring your bells. But it rang enough of mine to leave my head spinning.


Discover Byron BayI also read a draft of Sue Orr’s next book (which was great, and will be ever greater thanks to my own genius suggestions… pfft), and re-read The Forrests as I’m about to head to the Byron Bay Writers Festival and will be doing a session with Emily Perkins about our latest books on Saturday. I also finished and re-read a couple essay in the NZ-themed Griffith Review, as I’m on a panel discussion about this on Sunday.

It's a bit of a struggle to think of myself as a writer at the moment, let alone project that image in front of a crowd. Should be interesting (for me at least).

And here’s what I was listening to in July: