I've been reading "The Best Australian Stories 2010" edited by Cate Kennedy. There is more variety than in the Scribe collections that I read previously, but very few that I enjoyed. Louise Darcy, yes. Meg Mundell, yes. Maybe some others.
No doubt this is a reflection on me: the stories were deft, polished, and I certainly couldn't write anything like them.
One example: "I Forgot My Programme So I Went to Get It Back or 101 Reasons", by Joshua Lobb. This was in fact 101 reasons in numbered one sentence statements, and by about reason 57 I was truly tired and bored and turned to the end and found that it had been published previously in The Bridport Prize - a distinguished endorsement. I could see that it was clever, but it had no interest for me.
I also read Jane Gardam's "The People on Privilege Hill", because of Relative Retiring's suggestion. As soon as I started it I remembered it. I must have read it 4 or 5 years ago, but each story sprang to life when I read the first words. Oh, Pangbourn. Oh, Mr Jones.
His dogs. "Their tails curled briskly over their backs and their eyes were optimistic." With 12 words, I know those dogs. Brilliant.
Rather like Joyce Carol Oates teenage girl, who is mute when asked how old an older man is. JCO says something like: ""old" was to her like "dead": you were or you weren't". I had forgotten that young perception, but remember it now. So few words: says so much.
What does make good writing? I read in "The Guardian" of Philip Roth awarded an International Booker prize, and the journalist praising the "raw sexuality and raw anger ..in his books". I've only read Portnoy, and although I'm not uninterested in raw this or that, they are not great preoccupations of mine, and I've chosen to read other writers.
Obviously being popular and readable are not good criteria for literary merit - otherwise Danielle Steele or Dan whathisname might be at the top of the pantheon -but I'm rather at a loss as to what are. I wish I knew.