30 July 2007

The plot-driven beetle

The first thing I noticed, as I went lazily along through an open place in the wood, was a large Beetle lying struggling on its back
Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll

Have you ever known a beetle to struggle on its back? This one, for instance,
not only refused that pose, but flipped quick as a finger-snap and ran off faster than a certain white rabbit – and though I heard, of course, no curses, was it my imagination that there was a distinct squeak?

I don't know how Harry Furniss got his model to pose long enough for this delightful portrait

(did the shoes pinch?) but I hope Furniss pinned him only with fascinating conversation and a great pat at the end.

29 July 2007

Killing what we stand for to save what we stand for

Last week a beautiful and venerable line of roadside trees was cut down on order of our state roads department because some years ago a drunk drove into a tree, and trees are 'unforgiving'.

The tree-cut made headlines because it occurred where people with high profiles (and high property prices) live. Only a few months ago close to where I live the same thing happened, though it made no news at all.

Mohammed Haneef is lucky. Australians in numbers have been vociferously revolted by the sliminess of the government's actions - but we knew something about what was going on, even if we got served many wild stories about him. But for our society's openness, Haneef might have been how many people locked up for how many suss reasons in how many places today?

There is much written now about Australia's 'Keystone Cops', but they are under tremendous pressure to pull terrorists out of hats. Not in the headlines are:
  • The role of the media in crying Terrorist!
  • The craven lack of criticism by the Opposition due to their fear of being seen as 'soft'
  • The increase of powers that has happened - abacadabra! - during this episode
The fear of being seen as 'soft' is what got the Iraq mess started.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
Maintaining our Perspective by High Court (Australia) Justice Michael Kirby

The tricky problem of defining terrorism by Ben Golder and George Williams, University of New South Wales Law Journal

Go to Vanessa Ruiz's Street Anatomy

Vanessa Ruiz's Street Anatomy: Medicine + Art + Design blog is so good and packed with surprises (except, ahem, for the respect given to the man {and his backers} who is to art what GWB {and his ditto} is to democracy) that I urge you to:

Just go there. You will be awed.

Great and beautiful science photography: The 2007 Eureka Science Photography finalists

Often prizes are awarded to the spectacularly vacuous.

But the 2007 New Scientist Eureka Science Photography finalists deserve their comfits, every one. Their pictures are not only visually fantastical must-sees, but the range of their 'magic' gives the lie to twits with magic wands.

25 July 2007

Finding gems in the crush of books

In the fractured world of fiction, where every book is genrified, many readers smash the booksellers' genres to make their own. A friend who seems to have taken a vow of poverty in his job choices escapes into fiction he classifies as 'medium depressing'.

Another friend escapes her daytime job of courtroom murders, with romance; but not any love-clutch. Her genre is: but since her life is based on mysteries, I'll leave you to solve this.

Then there are the people (mere acquaintances– I wouldn't call them friends) who won't admit it because they're afraid of being classified, but they only read fiction by long-dead people. They have a hard time finding it in an honest-to-god book – that thing you can take to bed, crack the back of, and stain with abandon.

The crush
In the search for a good read, the job of genre crushing and then picking through the rubble to find gems is exhausting. There is so much to crush.

In Dust and literature, Chloë Schama writes: (The New Republic, 05.08.07)

For some time, Latin American writers have bristled at the literary characteristics fixed not only to their homelands but also to the entire region of Latin America. For these writers, the legacy of the "Boom" generation--the Latin American writers who introduced Spanish-language literature to a mass market in the 1960s and 1970s--was both a blessing and a curse. Gabriel García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and others paved the way to an English-speaking audience, but the path was narrow, and largely dependent on the writer's facility with the formulas of magical realism. In 1996, a group of writers led by the Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet published a collection of short stories titled McOndo . . .

A new publisher, Norilana Books, has tapped a rich vein of irreverence in: YA Angst An imprint that pokes fun at its own name.

Norilana's slogan is imagination on wings, and that is probably as good a label as any to put to its fast-growing range of classics and moderns, reprints and new works. Vera Nazarian is the name behind the name; and though she uses an almost conventional genre classification (including that horror, Women's Fiction), she is amassing a wonderfully accommodating range for readers of many tastes, especially those who like their reads to be ripping.

My murder-by-day friend would love Modean Moon; and because it's easy to be a Moon addict, she'll like the fact that Evermore is only the first title, with more coming.

And who couldn't crave Norilana's Curiosities?

Recently I almost vanity published here a bile-filled essay (till I came to my senses, knowing that you don't come here to slurp bile) expressing my revulsion for a certain publisher of long-dead writers. This unnamed firm scans books (and has the gall to say they own the copyright) and unfortunately, thinks the covers should bear some sort of graphics. One serious should-be classic of 1874 (by a woman who never signed her work, though her writing helped to support her husband's publishing habit) sports a cover in chick-lit pink with a (19)60s dippy-doo haircurl.

My personal favourite for the deceptively simple, but absolutely brilliant in book design is Persephone Books (I particularly love this almost unknown classic: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson). But Persephone only publishes reprints.

A slogan used by Norilana is Books in Beautiful Packages, and that is part of their appeal. I could fault Norilana for a sometimes less than sophisticated use of cover fonts, but there is thought put into the graphics on the covers, and inside the books. Take, for instance, Norilana's Villette by Charlotte Brontë. But that's old stuff. Works by modern authors and anthologies of new work are as thoughtfully produced, sometimes with such irreverence to genre covers that they're excommunicable.

New fiction
In the long run, the strength of Norilana Books will be in new works. I'm no reviewer of fiction and only looked up what 'trope' means a few months ago, so I don't plan to review any books as such. However, I will say that I have seen some pre-publication works and they (and Norilana's plans for the future) should be of great interest to many readers. I love the verve and irreverence, not to mention the fun that's in store with one anthology in particular. I am sorry to say, though: if you're looking for Medium Depressing, you will be unsatisfied.

04 July 2007

Developments in technolust

"A new spectre is haunting the planet - technolust," writes John Naughton in The Observer.

And while I disagree with him on the "new", his portrayal of the primary victims of this disease is unflinchingly Zolaic.

"They were queuing to be the first to get this mythical device, possession of which would, they believed, increase their potency, enhance their street cred and lead to increased levels of sexual arousal in impressionable females."

Read his whole article to see what happens to their lust, but
what of that arousal in impressionable females?

For the proof of it, do read Cat Sparks.

03 July 2007

Bev Wigney's "Incredible beauty" choices

Bev Wigney's always fascinating Burning Silo is the host this time for the

Circus of the Spineless, edition #22
and her choices are just incredible.
This edition is one of my favourites, of my very favourite circus.

By the way, there's nothing spineless in the observations. Go to the circus. Have fun, be awed and inspired.

A deformed she-oak by the highway

Regular slashing keeps the bank uninteresting, unless you're walking.

This detail from a Casuarina , commonly called a she-oak (though she-oaks look like pines), was so startling, I thought at first glance that a snake had shed its skin in the scrawny 1.5 metre sapling.

"We measure our works against . . ."

From a letter I just received, quoted here with the writer's permission:

"We are stuck with a western frame of reference, with the notion all things west are desirable, such that even in our schools, we are fed this kind of thinking. Sure, there are nationalist movements and such, but our literature still has a long way to go. We measure our works against America, we long for the American Dream. Our literature will never be 'free' or truly 'ours' until we recognize our own values, our own merits."