Tuesday, December 23, 2014

In praise of: David Cohen

If the quality of a book can be measured by the number of turned-down page corners in my copy marking quotable quotes, David Cohen’s Greatest Hits (Makaro Press) is a very good book indeed.

He interviews novelist Paul Auster for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Auster says of creative writing programmes:
“I don’t know if sitting in a class with other writers is the healthiest thing.”

He interviews photographer Marti Friedlander for Jerusalem Report. She explains why there are so few portraits of her:
“I don’t want to be photographed by someone lacking my ability,” she says, dragging thoughtfully on a cigarette. “I want to be in control.”
He remembers David Lange for the National Business Review. They met on Waiheke:
He squinted back at me. “We haven’t met before?” I told him we hadn’t and it was true. Still, our professional paths had certainly crossed: in the winter of 1990, while he was still the country’s attorney-general and I was fairly new to journalism, Mr Lange had taken a defamation action against me.

That defamation action was for $650,000, which is nothing: when I was at Metro, about the same time, an art dealer sued me for $1 million.

He describes the climate of Canterbury for the New York Times:
They call it the nor’wester, whose first warm breath quickly turns into a hot dry wind that sweeps through the mountains, moving across the level land, finally losing itself in the billowing fog that sometimes rises to meet it above the Pacific Ocean. It starts in the northern sky, bending the heavens into a vast arch, creating little clouds that hover above like so many fuzzy white marbles. Visibility becomes crystalline; the colours of the earth appear to change. Then the clouds begin to bounce, flickering their way east.

He reports on what it is like to be at home with an autistic child when an earthquake strikes for Family Care:
In the ensuing chaos it became apparent that only one of us was coping at all well. It wasn’t the boy’s gibbering lunatic of a father. Eliot, for his part, remained as serene as a picnic. If anything, as the long, ghostly minutes began, and the first of the evening’s aftershocks rattled the windows, that nonverbal serenity only seemed to intensify. [. . .] Peace finally reigned. And this: an unencumbered interlude of mutuality, a free-flowing time between father and son – between the supposed carer and the one being cared for – a lesson in life’s goodness made all the sharper for the inversion of the usual roles amid a natural crisis. Talk about a surprise.
He interviews record reviewer Robert Christgau for the Guardian:
Lou Reed once had this to say about the man often held to be America’s most intellectually rigorous rock writer: “How do you think it feels,” barked the singer in the middle of a particularly rowdy 1978 New York performance, “working for a fucking year, and you get a B-plus from an asshole in the Village Voice?” [. . . ] “Creating and criticising are different things,’ says Christgau with a shrug. ‘It’s never been my experience that artists of any sort understand what criticism is about. [. . .] Hey, if you put a price on it, I can put a grade on it. If you’re out in public, so am I. And if you do not accept that then you’re in the wrong business.”  
He interviews singer John Rowles for North & South and reviews a performance at Hamilton’s Founders Theatre:
To be sure, there’s sexiness in his style, but only in the most harmless kind of way. Rowles on stage is no more dangerous than Bambi with testosterone, a bass-baritone virginally fluted.

He interviews Waikato University’s vice-chancellor Bryan Gould for the Independent on Sunday:
Were these bizarre daily turns motivated by exhibitionism or by an admirable indifference to notions of political propriety? Perhaps, one idly speculates, he did it to make room for a glittering brain that has been celebrated by many commentators, not least himself.

He reviews Holmes by Paul Homes for NBR:
“All my life,” Holmes admits in his eponymous offering, “I rebelled against the repressed, grey-suited, public servant New Zealand. I rebelled against a New Zealand of restraint, of fear of colour and openness and flourish.” It is good this paragraph appears early on in this distinctly stodgy load of tripe, for it should save any unwary readers the trouble of chewing any further to taste the writer’s general literary flavour: semi-gothic solemnity, spurious authority, facile observation, and sentences that twitch and quiver like mating cockroaches.

Mating cockroaches! I have never seen this event, and hope I never will, but Cohen must have seen it and been deeply impressed because 10 or so pages later, in a review for Idealog of Paul Henry’s Outraged, after a passing reference to constipated stoats, we get this:
The work brims with insecure diction and spurious dignity as the author belabours his prejudices, and his sentences bump and grind like mating cockroaches.

I’ll take his word for that.

It’s a good book. 

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