Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a weekend adventure southside

Anchors away!
Granted one last summer's day
We watched the sunset silhouette
The western suburbs across the bay
And when the sky was monochrome
We drained our drinks and headed home
Past bright-eyed boys in business suits
Tourists, where once were prostitutes

And you proposed a promenade
Neither of us knows
Follow the yellow brick apartment blocks
The Californian bungalows

But remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side
Remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side

I confess it's been a year, or little less
Since last I sallied forth
From the friendly confines of the north
But a single seagull's cry hangs in the quiet suburban sky
And for a moment I'm amazed
I ever claimed to hate this place

But remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side
Just remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side

~ Transpontine, The Lucksmiths

Monday, September 26, 2011

review : beautiful days

Beautiful Days, Anna Godbersen (Razorbill)

This sequel to Godbersen's Bright Young Things continues the story of Cordelia, Letty and Astrid. It's summer in Long Island and the three girls have been spending their days lazing about the pool and attending lovely parties. And wearing wonderful clothes!

Cordelia is still feeling guilty and sad about the death of her new-found father and starting to get used to living the life of a high-profile bootlegger's daughter and sister. When her brother Charlie asks her to open a family speakeasy she jumps at the chance. But what about the mysterious pilot Max, who doesn't approve of her lifestyle? And why does what he think matter so much to her? Excellent twist around this plot point.

Astrid might be engaged to Charlie but without a ring can she really trust that her arrangements will go ahead as planned? Especially when her fiance is always away... Is she just chasing a pipe dream? I worry about the relationship dynamics between Charlie and Astrid and hope that the next book might address the imbalance.

Letty is still trying to make her name on the stage. Cordelia is helping, but Letty still feels like she could make it on her own. There's a bit of a romance blossoming with scruffy writer Grady, but there's a chance Letty might mess it all up. Can this songbird create a glittering future for herself? I love Letty, she's such an underdog, just a little bit wet, but has a lot to gain.

Though this series is not as detailed or evocative as The Luxe - almost seems a bit dashed off somehow? - it is lovely and diverting. Tip top summer reading.

My review of Bright Young Things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"i prefer stories about squalor"

THERE WERE ninety-seven New York advertising men in the hotel, and, the way they were monopolizing the long-distance lines, the girl in 507 had to wait from noon till almost two-thirty to get her call through. She used the time, though. She read an article in a women's pocket-size magazine, called "Sex Is Fun - or Hell." She washed her comb and brush. She took the spot out of the skirt of her beige suit. She moved the button on her Saks blouse. She tweezed out two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole. When the operator finally rang her room, she was sitting on the window seat and had almost finished putting lacquer on the nails of her left hand.

She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.

With her little lacquer brush, while the phone was ringing, she went over the nail of her little finger, accentuating the line of the moon. She then replaced the cap on the bottle of lacquer and, standing up, passed her left - the wet - hand back and forth through the air. With her dry hand, she picked up a congested ashtray from the window seat and carried it with her over to the night table, on which the phone stood. She sat down on one of the made-up twin beds and - it was the fifth or sixth ring - picked up the phone.

~A Perfect Day for Bananafish, JD Salinger

At the risk of being a total cliché hipster doofus*, I hereby proclaim my love and awe and adoration for the short stories of Mr Salinger. He can create atmosphere and character like nobody's business, like in the piece above. He can write dialogue that leaps sprightly from the page, at once being mere banter while also ringing with subtext.

Salinger often wrote about young people, about teenagers and innocence and experience. His story For Esmé - With Love and Squalor breaks my heart every time. Like Sybil in Bananafish Esmé and her small brother Charles** are beautiful foils to the damaged adult to whom they speak and with whom they interact. Perhaps they can't save them, but sometimes they can.
You take a really sleepy man, Esmé, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac - with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.
I think I prefer his short stories to The Catcher in the Rye (eek! the Catcher cult will be after me!), possibly because there are more of them, and I adore the Glass family. Also because, taken as a whole, they give the reader such a fascinating peek at America in the 50s and the middle and upper classes as they existed post-war. He can make you laugh and break your heart all in the space of twelve or so pages. How's that for inspiration? And emotional squalor.

*See the film (500) Days of Summer - "just because someone likes the same bizarro crap you do doesn't mean you're soulmates." (This line even delivered by the film's own version of Holden Caulfield's kid sister Phoebe)

**The evil sister and I often recite to one another, with great amusement: HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO LOVE AND KISSES CHALES.

Friday, September 16, 2011

she's got sad machine gun eyes

Simone Felice wooed the Northcote Social Club this Wednesday with his folksy, countryish, acoustic singer-songwriter-poet songs performed with all his heart* and a lot of dry humour and the glimmer of mischievous evil in his eyes. He's a showman, for sure, sitting up on stage on his stool in his motorcycle boots, interrupting himself mid-song to explain things (and even though I think these asides have just become part of the show he's so endearing you don't even care) and he's a little bit Dylan, a little bit Springsteen and makes the audience feel pretty darn special. He played all my faves: Don't Wake the Scarecrow, If You Ever Get Famous (prefaced by a little "fame, i'm gonna live forever" spoken word jibe), One More American Song, Radio Song...and more, and more, then finished with the best Springsteen/Dylan/Neil Young/Amazing Grace singalong bonanza.

Well, the man cries,
"Who gives a damn when a tramp dies?"
But I loved you there in the lamp light
With your bare thighs
And the halo of your hair alive

And all my lifelong
I'll never shake off your siren song
And all of your talk about dying young
With an iron lung and that crazy way

You said, "Simon,
I think I might stay here with Scarecrow tonight
Simon, I think I'm gonna stay here with Scarecrow tonight."

Simone's book Black Jesus is out now. It's the story of a young American marine returned, blinded, from the war in Iraq. Answering only to the nickname Black Jesus (because he was so white, or maybe because his surname was White) he's back home in his shitty upstate New York town with his mother, who has moved into the closed-down Dairy Queen after their trailer home burned up. Then there are chapters from a young woman riding across the country on her moped with pretty much only a broken leg and the last of her stripping money to get her anywhere. Am only a few chapters in and, like Simone's songs, this book is written with spare but loaded prose that evokes the sad tragedy of a strange new broken America. "Amazing I can even read," he said before performing an excerpt, "considering the third world country I come from."

Have a squiz at Shaky, a song he recorded with his band the Duke and the King. It's what he called a "put down your grenade launcher and shake your ass song". This film clip is just ace.

Simone's website.

I saw his bros in action earlier this year. I love them too. Remember?.

*the same wonky heart that prevented him visiting us last year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

coffee : 1000 £ bend

I was late to this party. All the cool kids know about this place already.

I walked into 1000 £ Bend and felt instantly at home. Either that, or transported. It's like the Tardis version of that old gem St Jerome's - all the same stuff but bigger space. Is it owned by the same people? I don't know. I do know that all the kitch "art" from St Jerome's is on the walls and the squeezy bench seats are back (and now with more space!) and that I like it quite a lot.

It's a warehouse with a huge space out the back for all kinds of events, launches, exhibitions and an underground cinema.

The coffee is tasty but very milky (only full cream or soy on offer) and I would prefer a stronger coffee - shall order a double shot next time.

With lots of couches, chairs and tables (some communal), the affordable and tasty-looking food, great music, nice people and good beer on tap (they have their own St Jerome's Caledonian lager, I liked it) and longnecks too - plus free wifi...both times I've been here I've stayed for hours.

361 Little Lonsdale Street.
They have a website here.

Friday, September 9, 2011


My very good friend Arthur drew this picture on the weekend:

He's in Prep and did the drawing and writing all by himself. Last time I saw him he couldn't read or write. Now he can, and it is like a whole new world has opened up for him. He even had a crack at spelling hipop hipoppot hip - oh nevermind.

Quite incredible, the power that comes from being able to read and write, isn't it?

Yesterday was Indigenous Literacy Day. But you can still support the Indigenous Literacy Foundation today, and tomorrow, and next year. Go here to read all about it, and maybe donate so kids in remote communities can have access to books and words.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

review : clara in washington

Clara in Washington, Penny Tangey (UQP)

When Loving Richard Feynman was released in 2009 it was really exciting to discover a new, vibrant YA voice. LRF, shortlisted in the CBC older readers category, is about family, friendship and disillusionment. The protagonist Catherine was smart and set herself apart from the gang - she's aloof, kooky and hilariously, humanly flawed.

Clara in Washington is a fabulous follow-up. Clara has decided to spend the summer holidays after finishing Year 12 in wintery Washington DC with her mum - by way of escaping a certain someone back home and trying to avoid thinking and talking about her exam results and university choices.

Clara is terrified to leave the apartment at first, imagining muggings and terrorist attacks, people not understanding her. But faced with looking like she's not having a good time to friends back home, Clara soon finds herself volunteering with a number of organisations and charities (so she can post "put my name down to volunteer at a homeless women's shelter" on her facebook and feel a little bit superior) and visiting monuments and museums galore, as well as falling in with a group of anarchists. She's not a Rah-Rah-Rah do-gooder, but doing some good might do her good.

Clara is very smart, but she's book smart. Not savvy, not confident and not even very nice sometimes. She cuts herself off from her friends, stops replying to emails and, when results come out, refuses to look up her score. But in spite of her defences the reader can tell she wants to make connections. In discussions with friends about Clara it's been suggested she's "passive", that she just lets things happen to her. She's on the lazy size, with crippling anxiety about getting things wrong (to the extent that it is a little annoying) and a bit of a know-it-all. But! It didn't take me long to feel for Clara, or to sympathise with her and I think she comes across as a very realistic character - and, within her own parametres, pretty brave.

As well as being a personal journey, and something of a romance, Clara in Washington also explores politics, government and social justice. Learning to think for oneself, while also listening to what others have to say - is this the very definition of coming-of-age?

Penny Tangey has peopled her novel with a cast of interesting characters - the slightly crazy ladies at the shelter are just gorgous - and it was great to watch (read?) Clara interact with all the different people she meets and gets to know, and see how they help her settle into Washington, how they help her make the most of this opportunity. If you'd like to, you can imagine the anarchists Campbell and Eric like this:

Clara in Washington is laugh out loud funny. Clara's dry sense of humour and almost manic paranoia amused one greatly.

Read My Girl Friday's review.
Read the Fancy Goods review here.