Sam van Zweden




Coming home and The End Point

That’s it. Semester over! This semester was big. Really big. Fourteen novels for just two of my subjects and that’s only the stuff with covers. At least two reams of paper, lots of ink, hours and hours of reading off my screen because I couldn’t afford to print any more. Twelve weeks of sacrificing the reading I actually wanted to do, to make room for things that were mostly worth reading, but not always what I wanted to do.

But that’s over now! It’s holidays! It’s lovely weather! The real reading can begin. I can cross billions of things off my “to-do” list, and work through the huge stacks of books that I’ve been buying but not had space or time to read. I can make sense of my writing desk, make some narratives happen, rather than torturous essays comparing texts which should never, ever be compared (Camus’ The Outsider and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea being the most recent hideousness).

So here I am, back at home in the blogosphere. I can blog whenever I like, I can dedicate that section of my brain to planning posts as I live. I can work my way through my poor, neglected Google Reader feed! Oh poor Google Reader…

Today I read a piece that really got my attention, which was re-tweeted by Angela Meyer. The article, “Where Did The Web Go?“, talks about a lot of things that got my attention.

First point of interest: A quote from Stephen Mitchelmore: “Finding a way to talk about the reading experience is, I’ve realised, the greatest pleasure of writing; where it ends is of no importance.” I love this quote. Stephen’s talking about how it doesn’t matter if your online literary efforts never really take off, because that’s not the point. The point is to find a way to talk about your “reading experience”. Reading is a strange thing in a similar way to writing – it’s a necessarily lonely activity, but there’s a definite pleasure in finding ways to share that loneliness. For me, LGWABP is a major way that I do that. I’m not sure that I always (…ever) provide insightful contributions, but I enjoy doing what I do. Stephen’s right – it is “the greatest pleasure”.

Second point of interest: “Choose what you want your site to be, and then do it” – I like this. Sometimes I feel like my blog misses the mark because I’m not sure what I’m doing with it. Successful blogs have something that is specifically theirs, whether that’s a layout, a tone, a bunch of memes, whatever. They own it.

Other than these two superficial things that caught my eye, the article itself is actually a great contribution to the discussion of the role of online media, in particular online literary criticism. Check it out.

Fare Thee Well, But Be Back Soon!

Today is the last day of City Basement Books’ $1 closing down sale.

I did figure out what the deal is, they are only moving, not closing down entirely, but the move is quite vague. They’re going “somewhere” … “eventually”. So it might be a while before we see these lovely bookish people’s smiling faces.

On Wednesday I went down to the Basement and came out with five books. I wasn’t in a particularly search-y mood, so I picked up a few books that jumped out at me without too much searching.

“Alexander Solzhenitsyn” by Steven Allaback
“Papa Hemingway” by A.E Hotchner
“The Woodpecker Toy Fact” by Carmel Bird
“Collected Stories” by Janette Turner Hospital
“Cherry Ripe” by Carmel Bird

After this, I ran into other people who had been down there after me. And they’d come out with better stuff.

Truly jealous, I decided to go in for a second round. This proved more lucrative:

“Illywhacker” by Peter Carey
“Johnno” by David Malouf
“Automatic Teller” by Carmel Bird
“Seams of Light (Best Antipodean Essays)” by Morag Fraser (ed)
“Summer at Mount Hope” by Rosalie Ham
“Visible Ink 6: Anthology of New Writing”
“Talking Dirty”  by Susan Chenery

…much better!

Really happy with some of the collections of essays I picked up, a few good biographies, some Australian staples that I’ve never got around to, some new work from old favourites… and all that for $12! It’s just too good!

The Book Thief

For the last two weeks, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief has stolen my undivided attention.


This novel captured my imagination and my empathy, being written in a way that is both imaginative and ruthlessly real – surprising, given that the author’s inspiration comes from stories, and not any personal experience of war or persecution.

The book’s author, Markus Zusak is a 34 year-old Sydney man (bless the occurrance of Aussie bestsellers that don’t belong to Bryce Courtney!), whose parents grew up in WWII Germany. Having heard their horrific stories of what went on during that time, Zusak set out to write an original novel on a much written-about topic, which showed “the other side of Nazi Germany” – that side which was very human, and very heartbreaking.

We all know about Nazi Germany, we’ve all read a book, or seen a film, or been in a history class or two. What The Book Thief does is take us to this place but look at it from a completely different angle – this book is narrated by Death. Death, in Zusak’s imagining, views humanity in a curious way, trying to prove to himself that we’re not so bad.

The novel explores the power of words in that turbulent time in history – both the words of Hitler, and the words that the story’s main character builds a relationship with. This character, Liesel, comes to live with a foster family on a poor street in Munich. She is a generally kind-heated girl, but feels a strong pull toward a life of crime – more specifically, the stealing of books. Her relationship with words grows to be a strong one, and an astounding image in juxtaposition to the power of Hitler’s words at that time.

As the war continues and German citizens feel the pinch, believing they are in the worst state of hardship, Liesel words and her ability to keep secrets help her understand that the hardship felt by German citizens is nothing compared to the Jewish plight.

Throughout the book, Zusak’s language struck me as incredibly tight, with fantastic attention to the narrator’s point-of-view. Zusak’s Death has an  interest in colours, and uses them as a distraction from the horror that humans can create:
“…The town that afternoon was covered in a yellow mist, which stroked the rooftops as if they were pets, and filled up the streets like a bath”

Tiny simple moments and actions are created fully and beautifully through Zusak’s language:
“…Rudy’s voice reached over and handed Liesel the truth. For a while, it sat on her shoulder, but a few thoughts later in made its way to her ear”

While plenty of people have written about Nazi Germany in many a novel, play, and screenplay, Markus Zusak brings something truly original and touching to the subject. He treads a fine line between the magical suspension of reality and the crushing realities of the time.

With the exception of the cliche’d use of dictionary definitions to punctuate one chapter of the novel, Zusak handles mood and tone wonderfully, remembering to pace the depressing episodes nicely so that the book doesn’t ever become tiring. Characters are full and convincing, and all strands in this novel come together in a very satisfying way.

This is the only novel of Zusak’s that I have read, but his artful use of words leaves me keen to read more of his work.

As a book on a tired topic, The Book Thief hits all the right notes – convincing, poignant, consistent and tightly written. One of the best novels I’ve read in a while.

The Death of Nick Cave’s Narrative

the-death-of-bunny-munro1I have to say it – disappointment.
Nick Cave’s writing here falls way behind “The Ass Saw The Angel.”
This is the story of Bunny Munro, whose wife hangs herself, prompting Bunny to take to the road with his young son. He claims to be “teaching him the business” of peddling beauty products door-to-door, while in reality Bunny has no idea where he’s going as his life falls apart around him. He loses his wife, his charisma, his raging boner, and finally his life.
Cave writes supreme characters. Bunny and Bunny Junior give us internal dialogues which seem so real in their gory detail. Even minor characters who appear and disappear have convincing details that make them as real as someone you’d just seen on the street.
Cave also gives up a myriad of fantastic one-liners. Pretty things, hilarious things, things that are real.
The problem in this novel is that it goes nowhere for 90% of the narrative. Bunny and Bunny Junior seem to play out the same scene over and over, and then finally when they do something it’s entirely obscure and doesn’t fit with the rest of the novel.
While Cave’s characters are very much 3D, and his writing is quite lovely, I didn’t feel satisfied by this book at all, especially after reading some great work by Cave previously and being a big fan of his music.
Perhaps he’s losing his touch.

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