Tuesday, April 22, 2014

What I’m reading #117

Vincent O’Sullivan, whose new collection of short stories, The Families, is out next month, blogs occasionally in his capacity as Poet Laureate. Part of the job is to promote NZ poetry and poets so this time his guest is Diana Bridges (if you haven’t read her, do – she is wonderful) who writes about Geoffrey Hill and gives a poem of her own in response to his difficult work, and also talks about Chinese poetry. Plus sound and vision of her reading.  

Amazingly, an interview with the 50s/60s satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer. Yes, still with us. If you don’t know “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “The Masochism Tango” or his withering variations on “Clementine” (about the horrors of folk music), they are all, or mostly, on YouTube. If you can imagine a maths lecturer Randy Newman, only even more acerbic, that’s him. Quote unquote:
“All of these songs were part of a huge scientific project to which I have devoted my entire life,” Lehrer said. “Namely, the attempt to prolong adolescence beyond all previous limits.”

Speaking of prolonging adolescence, the concept album is back, as is prog rock. Jethro Tull’s leader and chief flautist Ian Anderson has a new album that went straight in the UK Top Ten. It is a three-act musical history of Britain, apparently. Take that, Pharrell Williams.

Speaking of whom, you might have heard of the Happy British Muslims who made a vid of happy British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams’s song “Happy”, to show how inclusive and normal the Muslims of England are. It’s really nice. But not every Muslim in England was happy about it. So someone made a halal version of it, which is somewhat less inclusive. Guess what sort of person was, er, cut from the clip. Mick Hartley has the story and vids.

New York chef Amanda Cohen on chefs and PR. Quote unquote:
Snobbery is replacing knowledge. Bits of PR have been repeated, picked up, re-used, and recycled so many times that diners, chefs, and reporters are starting to think they’re true. I'm constantly being asked where I “source” my produce. What does that even mean? I get my vegetables from the exact same place almost every other chef in the city gets them: in a box, off a truck.

Ever alert to bovine threats, David Thompson warns us of dangerous cows:
The plane was flying over the Irish Sea when a fire alarm sounded from where the 390 cows were being kept, reports the Sunday People. After the plane landed, technicians inspected the plane, but found no evidence of any smoke. Instead, they concluded that the alarm was set off by the cows.

As David says, “If they learn how to make fire, we’re buggered.” And as always at his blog, the comments are smart and amusing.

NBR journalist Rob Hosking reviews a biography of Harold Macmillan and a collection of literary essays by James Wood. Quote unquote:
On Orwell, though, he rightly identifies the real terror at the heart of 1984: it is not the torture room or the rats, but the “abolition of interiority”. A society in which we have no interior world in and of ourselves – no privacy, in other words – is the truest and most subtle of tyrannies. This is true totalitarianism. Never was a sex scene so important to a novel than in 1984 – no, not even in D H Laurence’s florid offerings.The thought-provoking aspect of this insight for today's reader, though is this: the social media whirl now means many of us are in the process of voluntarily abandoning the sacredness of this interiority, and what does this mean for our own psychological and spiritual wellbeing? Wood doesn't explore this thought, but it is one which sent this reader, anyway, down a few mental byways I am yet to feel I can report back on.

A long and lavishly illustrated interview with author/illustrator Petr Horáček. He is Czech, lives in Worcester and is a very nice man – some years ago my wife wrote him a fan letter because our children (and we) loved his books so much, and he wrote a lovely letter back and enclosed a drawing. Quote unquote:
Board books are something I’m quite proud of. You hardly ever hear about authors who illustrate board books. In fact, you hardly see good board books in the shops. Board books are thought to be something too small to be taken seriously. People think that board books are for babies; therefore, it doesn’t matter what you show them, as long there are some pictures. It’s rubbish, of course, and it makes me very cross when I hear that bookshops don’t want to keep board books, because they take too much space on the shelves and make little profit.I take my board books seriously. A board book is often a child’s very first contact with visual art and literature.Children may not have as many experiences as adults, but it doesn’t mean that they are stupid. They definitely deserve more than just a squeaky washable book with an image of a flower and dolphin.

Peter Wells on being edited. When I am an author I enjoy the process, especially when it’s Jane Parkin. As an editor I’m OK – three Top Ten bestsellers last year, and several before – but she is awesome. Anyway, quote unquote:
The lovely simplicity of a finished book is a mask over the many decisions taken, as well as the false roads and dead-ends left behind. The writer’s style is the glue that holds it all together.
The writer’s style is the thing that makes it all seem ‘of a piece’.But behind any book is a kind of invisible architecture, or equation which the reader cunningly assembles in his or her own head. This equation has to add up. Yet it is made of many different things – it can’t be simply spelled out in a sentence – otherwise why bother writing a many-sentenced book?But a good editor has a key role. It is identifying and then clarifying this hidden equation, buried under a mountain of words, a highway of clauses, a continent of full stops, commas and dashes.At times this is relatively easy and clear.At other times, there is a lot of work involved.

More editing with Emma Donoghue who had two editors in different countries working on two different editions of her novel Frog Music. Quote unquote:
I often tell friends how different film is than the publishing world, because in film, these people have to invest so much money in every scene that it gives them the right to boss the writer around. In the publishing world, it seems as if what you want is my best book, and you want to have me get there, but you’re not going to tell me what to do. So I’ve never felt bullied within the editorial relationship.

This is how I work when editing a novel:

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