Book Rage

Everyone knows about Road Rage – where all other drivers are idiots, your blood pressure soars, you discover swear words you weren’t aware you knew and, when you glance in the rear view mirror to glare at another driver, you don’t recognise the face looking back at you.

But you may be less familiar with Book Rage. Some of the symptoms are similar, but it usually happens at a book club, surrounded by friends, eating delicious nibbly things, sipping wine and doing what you love best – talking about books. And then WHAM, out of the blue, Book Rage flares up.

I’ve belonged to reading groups most of my adult life and here are four of the books that nearly tore those groups asunder:

  • Cover of The SlapThe Slap (Christos Tsiolkas). You don’t know who you are as a parent until someone else slaps your child. At a barbie. The discussion might start out civilised, but child rearing practices can divide even loving couples, never mind a group of ladies only loosely linked by their love of books. Be warned, it could turn ugly.
  • Water for Elephants (Sara Gruen). No one saw this coming, but in retrospect, books about animals do run the risk of degenerating into  emotionally charged “cruelty to animals” accusations. These are always taken personally. You may not get offered a second glass of wine.
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (E. L. James). This was a particularly tricky one for me as I had already taken a vow not to even touch the book. So this book was already causing me significant stress in the workplace. When it showed up at my book group, I launched into a vitriolic attack on it – even though I had not read it, and never ever would. This stance neatly divides people  into those who believe you can’t have an opinion on something you haven’t tried, and the rest of the thinking world.
  • Cover of The Grass Is SingingThe Grass is Singing (Doris Lessing). Most Book Rage starts like this. One person (in this case me) puts a book she loves into the club. Someone in the group responds with comments like: “I never knew any Rhodesians like that” or: “This book is rubbish“.  Next thing I hear myself saying: “Well, you’re wrong” and recklessly amping it up to – “You’re all wrong“. Then I stomped out of the room to the toilet where I tearfully felt I would have to leave any book group that did not appreciate a Nobel Prize winning author. When I looked in the mirror, I saw staring back at me a person I barely recognised. A horrible book snob. I returned to the group. They gave me a cupcake and a coffee. I took Doris Lessing out of the club. We never spoke of it again.

How about you? Do you have any books that have have caused harsh words to be said, that have cut deep beneath the veneer of  civilised behaviour, that have lost you friends?

A book that maybe made you learn something about yourself?

Just can’t get enough: The Bad Sex Awards 2010

CoverI love, love, love  The Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award.  Every year, since 1993, the English broadsheets roll out their uniquely tame  brand of innuendo and double entendre, as they attempt to get down and dirty covering  the award’s short-list and winner. Hurrah for November silly season!

This year, added interest was aroused with speculation that  Tony Blair’s mea non culpa The Journey would make it onto the  previously fiction only short-list.  The judges finally decided that while Blair’s sexual recollections were revoltingly memorable, they were not of sufficient length to merit inclusion. Ha.

The proud winner, who collected his award in person on Monday night, was Rowan Somerville with his novel The shape of her. Not content to just write icky sex scenes he managed to insult the entire English race by declaring “There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation I would like to thank you”.  No, thank you Mr Somerville. To sample his goods read The shape of her, or try one from the shortlist:

The Slap: A full-blown Aussie stoush

CoverThe Slap by Christos Tsiolkas has been embroiled in some smokin’ hot controversy since it’s July inclusion in the 2010 Man Booker long list.

The titular slap, delivered by a nasty man called Harry and received by a nasty child called Hugo during a suburban barbecue in Melbourne, is at the heart of this gritty novel exploring the morality and values of modern, multicultural Australia.

But what has got the British literati so stirred up? UK writer India Knight hated it, calling it misogynistic and saying it had “no joy, no love, no hope, no beauty…just hideous people beating each other up, either physically or emotionally.” Others such as Observer books editor William Skidelsky credits it with “zeitgeist-capturing qualities” adding it exposes “the shallowness of contemporary liberalism”. Oooh, fancy that!

Our reviewer Jane overcame initial reluctance and loved it, plus ….

  • Intrepid library editor Richard Liddicoat interviewed Christos during the first wave of Slap strife, and got Christos’s take on middle-class Australia, writing and libraries. And…
  • Christchurch City Libraries was also on the spot when Christos scooped the SE Asian and Pacific categories and best overall winner at the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ prize!

To find out what all the beef is about read The slap.

Christos Tsiolkas and our editor Richard

The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas.

I couldn’t sleep last night.  I had stayed up desperately wanting to finish The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, and am now paying the price.  It is hard to believe that a book that had so appalled me in the first few chapters had managed to pull me into its grasp.  I lay awake thinking about the characters, wondering what would happen to them all, and marvelling at the way I had become engrossed in their lives.

Set in Melbourne the book opens with a barbecue for family and friends.  People and food arrive, along with personal baggage, fraught relationships and a healthy mix of race and age.  Things are going surprisingly well however, until one particularly unpleasant child, Hugo, gets slapped by Harry, and equally unpleasant adult, for attempting to bash his son over the head with a cricket bat. All hell breaks loose, and how eight  individuals present present at the barbecue react to this event becomes the backbone of the book. 

You certainly could not describe this book as pleasant, and I just wish that I had come up with the description of  a “Satanic version of Neighbours” as this  blog described it.  The first few chapters are indeed hard going,  but having read the posts from the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival about Tsiolkas, and the fact that he won a Commonwealth Writers prize encouraged me to persevere, and I’m pleased that I did. 

Tsiolkas has a voice that is very multicultural Australia, and what struck me was the racism from every quarter.  Greeks are described as “wogs”, Aborigines are feared by everyone, all Arabs are potential terrorists, the Greeks have no time for the “Australeza”, and the wife of one of the Greek sons is described as “that Indian woman”.   So much for the great Multicultural melting pot.

A surprising bonus in the book for me was that Tsiolkas  has a remarkable ability to get inside the teenage head, and I thought the chapters of two teenagers, Connie and Richie were by the far the best in the book.

The Slap probably isn’t  for everyone, (and it nearly wasn’t for me). Definitely worth a read, it’s big, bold, brassy and unashamedly Australian.  I loved it.

Tsiolkas: Libraries saved my life

Christos Tsiolkas moments after winning best book, Commonwealth Writers' Prize
Christos Tsiolkas moments after winning best book, Commonwealth Writers' Prize

We’re asking all writers we interview At the Auckland festival about libraries and what they mean to them. When I put the question to Commonwealth Writers’ Prize best book winner Christos Tsiolkas, he said that wandering the shelves at libraries saved his life.

“In the sense that, it was through the public libraries that …

His eyes look down as the sentence trails away, but he opens up his life to explain:

“In my early adolescence I was not a very happy young man, dealing with issues of sexuality, dislocation – I’d gone from a heavily migrant school to a quite Anglo, what we call skip in Australia, school. I felt quite displaced.

“I used to escape both to the library at school, but also to the public library near my home and just wander the shelves. I picked up everything. I spent hours in the film section and got introduced to the writings of Pauline Kael, the writings of Jim Agee – and then I would go and discover literature.

“That’s one of the things about the space of a library. You can go and do that wandering. There’s something about the solidity of the space and the communality of the space is really important to me.

Tsiolkas also sees the value of libraries as a place for community.

“I love that you see the young students – a lot of them are Muslims, because it’s a heavily Arab area where I live, but they may be Vietnamese, the may be Anglo, they may be Greek . They’re using the computers and you realise not every home has that access that a lot of us take for granted.

“You see old men reading the newspapers in their community language, you see young kids wandering the shelves like I did and picking up ideas and picking up new discoveries – that’s exciting.”

Even in the digital age, libraries have an important role, he says.

“You can do that kind of searching on the internet, but you can’t do it in that communal way that the public library represents. In an incredibly globalised, rationalised world it’s a kind of a small miracle that we hold on to them. It’s important that we do.”

A full interview with Christos Tsiolkas will be published in the near future. In the meantime, tell us if libraries have saved your life, and how, by posting a comment :-))

Saturday’s Festival wrap-up

We recorded this wrap-up at the Aotea Centre where the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize was announced.

We had two very special guests, Vanda Symon, a Dunedin crime writer, and Christos Tsiolkas, who had just been named winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. After sterling work blogging all day, Robyn was kicking her heels up at The Pussy Cat Dolls and Lady Gaga concert.

Understandably this post is a little longer, approximately 17 minutes, but we think you’ll find its worthwhile hearing our guests, who take us on quite a wide-ranging discussion.

We also hope to have some more images on flickr soon – and please keep your comments coming in.

And while we had an absolute blast last night, the coverage continuees today with a full day of sessions:

  • Stevan Eldred-Grigg makes his appearance and Moata will be there
  • Mohammad Hanif – who won best first book at the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize last night – will read
  • Other international guests Monica Ali and Judith Thurman are on stage
  • Joanne Drayton will talk about Ngaio Marsh
  • A panel will gaze into the next 100 years
  • Poetry readings, songwriting and more!

Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winners are:

Best First Book: Mohammad Hanif – A case of exploding mangoes.

Hanif paid thanks to Jill Rawnsley, festival director. Hanif said his son even stopped playing PSP for a minute!

Dedicated award to Dept of Immigration and Customs – he was delayed by them for two hours. Apparently they wouldn’t let his son (or someone in the group) go to the toilet.

He ended his speech by saying: Thank you very much I’ll now go and pee!

Best Book: Christos Tsiolkas The Slap.

He said: Great pride to be in the company of other fantastic and brilliant writers and comrades and generous people. There is no competition in art. I can’t believe I’m gonna meet the Queen and my mum said I have to ask for the Parthenon marbles back.

Vanda Symon is our guest on the wrap up tonight – to be recorded at the Aotea Centre.