Saturday, May 21, 2011

More Short Stories

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 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.

It's Autumn Here

I do need to get this maple off my house, don't you think?
(it enlarges when clicked - but, I'm sure that you knew that).

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Where's Bigggles when you need him?

"What did you think of the death of Bin Laden?" I asked Zac, 15. His face clouded. "Terrible," he said. "We should have tortured him."
"What did you think of the death of Bin Laden?" I asked Ryan, aged 11. He clenched his fists. "We should have tortured him," he said, in a rage.
"Why?" I asked. "He tortured us," he said.
"Who tortured you?" his mother asked, with a smile. "Well, not me, but...."

Once war was all about the fact that the others were bad, but we were good. Decent. With high standards of courage, morals and fair play that always won out in the end. Fine, brave chaps like Biggles endorsed such. Torture? That was the action of the low, evil enemy.
Of course that was probably tosh, but it wasn't a bad idea to put some kind of standards of behaviour into the little barbarians' minds.
Of course Biggles was unacceptably racist, but one would think that judicious editing might clean that up, and make him acceptable again as a kind of role model. The only adult role model for boys these days seem to be, Heaven help us all, footballers.

But Biggles has gone, along with Grace Darling, Father Damien the Lepers' Friend, Oates, Scott, Florence Nightingale et al.
One consequence in Australia of the Vietnam war was the lowering of the age of majority from 21 to 18. This was because of the protests about 18 year olds, unfranchised, being conscripted. It's odd to recall that rather pleasant interlude between leaving school and reaching 21: privileges without responsibility. It's odd to think that that stage of life no longer exists, and I wonder what the ramifications have been. Certainly I find it absurd to read in court reports that "an 18 year old man was charged with...". I don't believe that there is such a thing in our society as an 18 year old man.
I wonder how the ghastly news and images that they have seen from Iraq and Afghanistan will shape these modern kids?