What’s teetering on the bedside bookstack this May.
The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Kofman, Ventura, 2022
Yes, another writing book. No, you can’t have too many of them because they all serve different purposes. This one is practical and personal. It’s warm and honest and generous in its detailing of the various blocks and the emotional evolution she has been on with her writing, which she believes writers need to go through to a certain extent to reach emotional honesty in their writing.
It’s full of her own experiences as well as other writers untangling the knot of art and life – life and art. We’re all just muddling through.
There’s also an excellent bibliography, a 100 Books list and suggestions of more writers on writing to read. My best take-away was the writing teacher who asked about a piece of writing, “What’s it about?” Then, “What’s is really about?” And finally, “What’s it really, really, really about?” Sometimes we need extra digging to excavate our intentions.
The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2018
If you’ve been reading the bookstack you’ll know from last year that I went on a bit of a classics binge, particularly retellings like The Song of Achilles, Circe, The Silence of the Girls, and The Mere Wife. I thought it was time to give an original a go, one of the biggies. And thank you to whoever recommended the Emily Wilson translation.
It is beautiful, poetic and of course epic. What surprised me though was how we were washing hands and making up beds as often as we were fighting creatures or enemies. And in Book 6, teenage Nausicaa, gets scolded for leaving her dirty clothes lying around the room and not having anything clean to wear. Ha!
But I’ve had to put this one down for a bit. I get unstuck with the sexual violence, casual misogyny and general oppression of females in the myths. There’s a scene where Aphrodite is humiliated for having Ares as a lover. They get trapped in a spider’s web and held there entwined while all the gods come down to laugh and gawk. As a scene, it was just too similar to ‘the lads’ having a laugh at a sex tape.
But then there’s poetry and wisdom like how to smooth a slight “If something rude was said, let the winds take it. May the gods allow you to reach your home and see your wife again.” And the longing for home and loved ones which is eternal and universal.
Dreyer’s English – An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, Century, 2019
Obviously as a style guide this is a dip-in-and-out number but he’s so witty that I’ve been in more in than out. Benjamin Dreyer has been Copy Chief at Random House for over 20 years. He’s got plenty so say about punctuation and grammar (OMG, his suggestion for dealing with the clunkiness of past perfect has rocked my world p.110) but it’s what else arrives with it that is just as informative and entertaining like when he copyedited unpublished works by Shirley Jackson. I know, right?
Anyone who’s into language and its intricacies as well as a peep into the sausage making of books and publishing will love this.
Night Blue by Angela O’Keeffe, Transit Lounge, 2021
This one’s got a quiet contemplative feel to it. You get that when it’s narrated by a painting which spends time either in basement storage or on gallery walls. The painting is Jackson Pollack’s Blue Poles. From a technical angle, I wondered how an inanimate object could hold a novel-length narration but as a reader, if you have a narrator with enough consistency and authority, you stop thinking about it.
It is a love letter to art and how it matters in people’s lives moving from America with the artist and his wife Lee Krasner, to the wall of a New York family and then on to Australia where it sits in a basement but feels the reverberations of Whitlam’s dismissal before hanging in the National Gallery where its presence affects both staff and visitors.
all that’s left unsaid by Tracey Lien, HQ, 2022
Ky is called home by her father after her brother is brutally murdered while eating out with friends. Home is Cabramatta in the 90s, known as much for its pho as for its heroin. Ky can’t imagine any world where her straight-A brother could get mixed up in anything that would lead to this. But she moved to Melbourne two years ago to become a reporter, so what would she know about his life.
Intergenerational trauma, family, culture and identity play out on the streets of Cabramatta as Ky tries to piece together what actually happened that night.
The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki, Canongate, 2021
Skip this if you’re looking for a straight narrative because Ruth Ozeki is having a great time playing around with all kinds of stuff in this. Be prepared for a dual narration from the main character Benny Oh as well as books – the book you’re reading as well as books talking to books.
Not long after Benny’s Dad dies, he starts to hear voices, lots of them, everywhere. He can hear objects talking. He hears the contrition of a window that kills a bird, the sadness of the toys children cuddle at the psychologist’s office, the pain of glass being broken. He hears the natural world and made objects as a constant cacophony.
I’ve still got a while to go on this one and the objects are making Benny’s life a mess at the moment but Ruth Ozeki is also a Zen Buddhist priest, so I feel she’s going to get us through in one piece.
If you enjoyed reading this and want to hear about the next bookstack, subscribe to my bi-monthly newsletter below.