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Sam van Zweden

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Review: Best Australian Stories 2010

The Best Australian Stories 2010, edited by Cate Kennedy
Black Inc
Publication Date: November 2010
ISBN: 9781863954952
RRP: $29.95

One of the chief advantages of The Best Australian Stories 2010 is that it shows that Australian writing is as varied as Australia’s population, as changeable as its weather and landscape.  This collection shows that Australian literature remains as enigmatic and indefinable as ever. Its content suggests that the cosmopolitanism that in the past has had amazing writers like Christina Stead shunned from the Australian fold, is now well and truly embraced along-side more colonial visions of cattle stations and bushfires, and that any effort to define “Australian writing” would necessarily involve all of these things.

The Best Australian Stories 2010 is comprised of twenty-nine short stories, both previously published and not before printed, from authors both well-established and emerging. Kennedy has struck an admirable balance between male and female authors without it feeling like a political exercise, and much thought has obviously gone into pacing the collection. While reading it’s hard not to say, “Just one more!” because of this attention to detail.

It’s also hard not to connect the stories to one another, as Kennedy’s ability to bring well-suited stories into a collection means that they gesture far beyond themselves into the other stories in the collection, but also into Australian writing as a whole.

While there are stories in here, such as Joanne Riccioni’s ‘Can’t Take the Country Out of the Boy’, and Fiona McFarlane’s ‘The Movie People’ that are concerned with more traditional Australian landscape and colonial values, other stories like Nam Le’s ‘The Yarra’ and Sherryl Clark’s ‘To The Other Side of the World’ speak to a very modern, very high-pressure metropolitan side of Australia. All the stories in this book carry notes of a haunting and tense Australia; its inhabitants torn between yearning to belong and to run. And while the stories in this collection can be broadly connected via themes, it is refreshing to see just how diverse the concerns of these stories are.

Chris Womersley’s ‘The Age of Terror’ actually made me yell. Nam Le’s ‘The Yarra’ made me yell and want to throw the book at something because it was so true, down to his depiction of a Melbourne which I could recognize down to the river bend. Ryan O’Neill’s ‘The Eunuch in the Harem’ is impressive and original and hilarious. Paddy O’Reilley’s story is one that stood out to me as hauntingly Australian. Marcus Clarke once typified Australian landscape as “weird melancholy” and many of the stories truly had that feel – Paddy O’Reilley brings it to suburbia.

By the end of The Best Australian Stories 2010, you feel like you know what Australian writing is about, and get an idea of some of what’s happening in our literary journals, but the collection is by no means tiresome – the diversity between these covers is more than admirable.

The Best Australian Stories 2010 is a collection that we can be proud of, and one whose attention to fine form and original ideas will leave you well and truly sated.

 

 

 

This review appeared in the first 2011 edition of RMIT’s magazine Catalyst.

An Emergency In The Form of a Bright Blue Box Set

There’s many book shop loyalty programs. They all basically work on the idea that as you buy books, you get “rewards” (points of some sort which can be redeemed at that book store for more books).

A quick scan through my wallet shows the following book-store loyalty cards:
BORDERS: One stamp for every book you buy over $20. When you get to a certain amount (I think it’s 7), you get a free book of a value under $20. It’s pretty rare for Borders to charge under $20 for anything decent, plus this is only valid if you earn those rewards within a three-month time frame. No thanks.
ANGUS & ROBERTSON REWARDS: One point for every dollar you spend. Good deal, no? No. It takes 100 points (that’s $100, kids) to earn your “reward” – a $5 A&R voucher. That’s a lot of money for little payoff. Really.
DYMOCKS BOOKLOVER: I’ve been a member of is for such a long time, and it’s still not such a bad deal. Dymocks give you 5 points for every $1 you spend. Every 100 points equates to $1 credit on your card. As I said, not such a bad deal.
VWC MEMBERSHIP: This is an inappropriate plug for how great it is being a member of the Victorian Writer’s Centre. For those of us on concession cards, it’s only $45 a year, and that pays itself off SO quickly. Not only do you get sent special publications all about the writing industry, and get cheaper tickets to workshops etc AND access to the kick-ass library they’ve got up at the Wheeler Centre, but you also get 10% off at Paperback Books on Bourke Street. The Paperback is one of my favourite book shops in Melbourne, and this 10% off makes it so much better shopping there. Rant Fin.

My favourite rewards card though? Easily
READER’S FEAST PRIVILEGED READER: You know those book guides that Reader’s Feast put out each season? That gets sent to you in the mail. Along with invites to special events, such as discount shopping evenings and writers’ appearances. On top of this, every dollar that you spend at Reader’s Feast gets tracked on your card, and twice a year 10% of the amount you’ve spent gets reimbursed as a Reader’s Feast book voucher. If that amount is under $5, they send you a $5 voucher anyway. Forgot to bring your card? No worries, they’ll look you up on the computer.

So, all that being said, I know my top two choices for Christmas shopping!

Last week in the mail I received the above mentioned seasonal book catalogue. In the same envelope were two invitations. One to a special evening where you partook in “Christmas cheer”, “light refreshments”, shopped, and received a $5 voucher just for coming. Unfortunately, I was working that night and missed it. However, the other invitation was for “End of Year Bonus Time”. Between the 21st of November and the 5th of December, Readers Feast are boosting the Privileged Reader’s rewards to 20% credit, rather than the usual 10%.

Today I headed in. I’ve been eagerly awaiting having enough cash to buy the whole Black Inc. “Best Australian…” box set, containing the collected essays, short stories and poetry. I’ve been unreasonably excited about this – when I received this “20%!” invite, I had to have in. I had the cash, I had the time, I went and got my box set. The box set, worth $70, is now sitting next to me on my couch waiting to be cracked open. Not only do I own this box set, but $14 of the purchase price will soon come back to me in the form of a Reader’s Feast book voucher. $14! That’s SO MUCH!

I’m proud of myself, folks. And I’m giving you a kind heads-up. Things you should take from this post:
– Join Reader’s Feast Privileged Readers reward program. It’s free, and so very awesome.
– Join VWC. They’re so plain awesome that they snuck into this post uninvited!
– Buy the “Best Australian…”  collection. In a box-set this year! It’s so pretty. So very, very pretty.

SO pretty, in fact, that I’m settling down with a coffee to get stuck into them right now. Boss, if you’re reading this, I may not be in to work tonight, I might have “an emergency”…in the form of a bright blue box set.

Some Solid Advice

I’m a fan of Cate Kennedy. She’s a great writer, a wonderful editor (hey, Christmas is coming up! “The Best Australian…”? Anyone?), and I especially enjoy reading her columns and journal articles.

Having read some of her work before, I know that Cate Kennedy is a major proponent of turning the damn internet off when you’re working. She tells some harsh truths, she honestly gets to the crux of the problem, whether it’s time-wasting, or lying to yourself about what your work really is or wants to be…

Yesterday on The Inc. Blot (the Black Inc blog), Cate wrote her top ten tips for writers. Usually these lists are pretty gimmicky, or they take the piss. Mark Twain’s advice, “Use good grammar” and a very helpful BBC article telling me to “Get an agent!” are two such articles.

Cate’s list, however, is true to her usual form. She cuts through the crap, and gives real advice which talks to the real problems most writers face. Thinking about fame when what you need to do first is find somewhere to sit and write. Mucking around on Youtube. Self-editing before anything even reaches that page. Most importantly, just get the job done. Cate gives advice that helps you do that.

So head on over to The Inc. Blot and give her article a read.

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