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2007 in review: #1 — Best reads of 2007: fiction

There’s a tag for that so if you hit it you’ll find them all duly noted. Just as well, as I would never have remembered them all.

However, cutting out a couple of eccentric entries, I have pared the list down to a First Fifteen.

 

Author Title Post
Janette Turner Hospital Orpheus Lost

Welcome to our nightmare

Elmore Leonard La Brava

Contrasts in my recent reading and viewing

Andrew McGahan Underground

The novel Andrew Bolt hates and Zadie Smith’s 21st century classic

Zadie Smith On Beauty

Easily the best novel I have read so far this year*

Dai Sijie 戴思杰 Mr Muo’s Travelling Couch

Sino-Gallic firecrackers

Kate Grenville The Secret River

May have been, very possibly…

Anne Holt What Is Mine

Promised review catch-up

Reginald Hill The Death of Dalziel

More reviews of good stuff from Surry Hills Library

Alexander McCall Smith Blue Shoes and Happiness

Two very different works of crime fiction

Robert Drewe Grace

Robert Drewe Grace (2005)

Michael Nava Rag and Bone

Book and DVD backlog

Andrew O’Hagan Be Near Me

Negotiating dangerous ground

Salman Rushdie Shalimar the Clown as above
Milan Kundera Ignorance

Milan Kundera Ignorance (2002)

Karin Fossum When the Devil Holds the Candle

Two crime fiction novels

 
The top five? Ignorance, The Secret River, On Beauty, Orpheus Lost, The Death of Dalziel.

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Posted by on December 9, 2007 in 2007 in review, Reading

 

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Welcome to our nightmare

 Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital (Australia May 2007; USA Canada October 2007):   orpheus_covers

I’ve always been intensely interested in examining ordinary human beings, people without political agendas, who are suddenly caught up in the fist of history and crisis. If someone happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, what happens to their lives from that point onwards? How do they negotiate life, history, politics thereafter?

I suppose I can trace the birth of this intense interest to something that happened to me when we were living in a village in South India in 1977. I was with my two young children in an exceedingly ramshackle taxi heading from the village to the city market in Trivandrum. It was a time of political upheaval in India. Riots broke out, and suddenly our taxi was surrounded by a mob waving the banners of the Communist Party of South India. The taxi could not move forward. Our taxi driver was very frightened and was trembling violently. The rioters were drumming on the taxi roof and windows. The children and I were in the back seat and I felt that weird and absolute calm which is actually shock. I had an arm around each child and can still vividly remember the two dominant thoughts in my head: 1) I must make the children feel safe with me and 2) No one will ever know what happened to us. In fact, the tense situation only lasted a few minutes and then the crowd let the taxi move slowly forward. Since then, I’ve been aware of how suddenly and how randomly political events of which one is only dimly aware can disrupt a life.

This has to be in my top three best reads of 2007! Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2007 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, Current affairs, Faith and philosophy, Multiculturalism and diversity, OzLit, Reading, Religion

 

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Against certainty

Julie Galambush interview. (If that doesn’t work… or here.)

Allow me to recommend a book as a Top Read of 2007 even if only three people in Australia have read it. 😉 The Reluctant Parting by Julie Galambush (Harper Collins 2006) is one of the clearer and more authoritative accounts of the context and origins of the New Testament that I have read. It does not venture too much into the speculative and fanciful, as some in this area do. Galambush has good judgement as an historian. An even greater blessing is that she is readable!

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Posted by on November 1, 2007 in Cultural and other, Faith and philosophy, Reading, Religion

 

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Contrasts in my recent reading and viewing

I’m a sucker for film noir. Play “spot the movie” with this.

So I have enjoyed Elmore Leonard’s La Brava: wickedly good. The novel is a riff on the idea of film and celluloid, what is and what isn’t simulacrum… Makes it sound quite pomo, doesn’t it?

“He’s been taking pictures three years, look at the work,” Maurice said. “Here, this guy. Look at the pose, the expression. Who’s he remind you of?”

“He looks like a hustler,” the woman said.

“He is a hustler, the guy’s a pimp. But that’s not what I’m talking about. Here, this one. Exotic dancer backstage. Remind you of anyone?”

“The girl?”

“Come on, Evelyn, the shot. The feeling he gets. The girl trying to look lovely, showing you her treasures, and they’re not bad. But look at the dressing room, all the glitzy crap, the tinfoil cheapness.”

“You want me to say Diane Arbus?”

“I want you to say Diane Arbus, that would be nice. I want you to say Duane Michaels, Danny Lyon. I want you to say Winogrand, Lee Friedlander. You want to go back a few years? I’d like very much for you to say Walker Evans, too.”

“Your old pal.”

“Long, long time ago. Even before your time.”

A best read of 2007, even if the book is almost 25 years old!
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Posted by on October 30, 2007 in Cultural and other, Films, DVDs, TV, Reading

 

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How Downer, Howard, Nelson and company are out of the debate…

I wonder if the gentlemen above ever read the magazine on the right, or if they have taken note of such recent books as After the Neocons: America at the Crossroadsv3n2thumb (Profile Books 2006 — $6.95 at your friendly remainder shop!) It appears a substantial portion of the Right have been embracing reality while we were looking the other way. Just what the implications of this are for the American elections remains to be seen; there are implications for our elections, because there is no doubt that what I am reading in After the Neocons and in the magazine on the right is far more Kevin Rudd friendly than the current Australian government’s ongoing love affair with the failing but horribly dangerous policies of the current US regime. This is not to say all these people are born-again liberals now: far from it. But there is more of reason in what they say and publish.

Fukuyama, for his sins, had been one of the signatories of the Project for a New American Century back in the Clinton era, and we know what that led to. There is a profile of Fukuyama here, and I commend the entire IRC Right Web Program from which that comes.

From the current American Interest: After Bush leads with an article by Barry R Posen.

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Posted by on October 29, 2007 in Aussie interest, Brendan Nelson, Cultural and other, Current affairs, Kevin Rudd, News and Current Affairs, Politics, Reading

 

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Bright and shining lies?

Domestic

Andrew Charlton* (right) Ozonomics (Sydney, Random House, 2007) promises to enable me to penetrate past the Australian government’s carefully crafted self-image as “a safe pair of hands”. He is certainly better looking than John Howard… 😉 Now I have read a bit of this eminently readable book I am impressed. To be honest, I am not sure if it is because Charlton tells me what I have long suspected — that the “safe pair of hands” is a deception, perhaps a self-deception if you wish to be charitable, a chimera, a myth — or because he is right. Whatever the reason, I am sucked in, impressed, convinced even. I will leave you to make up your own mind, commending the book to your attention. It is a BEST READ 2007 as far as I am concerned.

You may read Charlton in shorter form in the current issue of <a href=”http://www.themonthly.com.au/tm/node/680&#8243; target=”_blan THE NATION REVIEWED

“Interest rates were not only central to the 2004 election. They have been a recurring theme of the past 11 years of Coalition government. Even more importantly, it is almost certain that interest rates will be a major theme, perhaps the major theme, of the next federal election campaign. The story Howard and Costello will tell the Australian people will go, roughly speaking, like this. Under Labor interest rates are always unacceptably high. Under the Coalition they have been and will remain low. They will suggest to the Australian people that interest rates are controlled by governments and directly linked to federal budget deficits and surpluses. As no part of this story is actually true, the next election campaign will be conducted on the basis of a series of seriously misleading or straightforwardly false Howard-Costello claims.”

In the Monthly Comment, Andrew Charlton identifies the myth fundamental to the government’s assertion that only it can keep interest rates low by delivering a budget in surplus. Not only do countries such as the US run enormous budget deficits while maintaining low interest rates; because Australia is a small part of a global economy and prey to its fluctuations, the budgetary actions of its government – its borrowing – can only have a small effect on the nation’s interest rates. By unravelling the central economic claim of John Howard and Peter Costello – that interest rates would necessarily be higher under a Labor government, a claim wrongly given credibility by Labor under Mark Latham during the 2004 election campaign – Charlton points to a far greater concern than interest rates alone. Australians, encouraged by the current government, have accrued record personal debt, leaving them vulnerable to even minor rate rises, and consequently to the economic spin of the Coalition.

“Economic policy has been one of the Coalition’s key electoral strengths. The great triumph of Howard and Costello has been to convince Australians of a spurious link between his government’s fiscal conservatism and low interest rates. It is a story that may play well in the marginal electorates, but is also one that doesn’t make economic sense. Interest rates have been flat since 1996, when Howard and Costello came to power. Interest rates have enjoyed consistently low inflation, and the nation has enjoyed a benign economic climate and a new monetary policy which has been implemented competently by the Reserve Bank.”

*You may download an MP3 of Andrew Charlton (and Will Elliot) from Richard Fidler’s program on ABC Queensland. There are reviews of the book here, here, and here: “Andrew Charlton is 28 years old and has one of those CVs that makes you jealous. He was a Rhodes Scholar, has worked at the OECD and United Nations, and has spent the last couple of years at the London School of Economics. He has co-written several academic papers and a book with Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz.” His LSE home page is here.

Foreign policy

Go to the American magazine of that name and study The Terrorism Index.

Americans are thinking more about the war on terror than ever before. But that doesn’t mean they’ve come to see this issue in the black-and-white terms preferred by many elected leaders. The combination of bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continued terrorist attacks from Britain to Somalia, and a presidential election in which candidates are defining themselves based on how they would stare down the threats has many seeing shades of gray. Six years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, just 29 percent of Americans believe the United States is winning the war on terror—the lowest percentage at any point since 9/11. But Americans also consider themselves safe. Six in 10 say that they do not believe another terrorist attack is imminent. Likewise, more than 60 percent of Americans now say that the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake. Yet around half report that they would support similar military action to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Such seemingly incompatible points of view may stem in part from the fact that we are increasingly asked to reconcile a bewildering array of threats—and a nebulous enemy that defies convention. In Iraq, for instance, the same surge in U.S. forces that is meant to help pacify Baghdad only escalates violence elsewhere in the country. In the broader Middle East and South Asia, some of the same countries that are now the United States’ most crucial allies have also been guilty of cultivating the very terrorists we look to bring to justice. Deciphering priorities from such difficult paradoxes can be hard. So, how can one determine whether the war on terror is making America safer or more dangerous?

To find out, FOREIGN POLICY and the Center for American Progress once again turned to the very people who have run the United States’ national security apparatus during the past half century. Surveying more than 100 of America’s top foreign-policy experts—Republicans and Democrats alike—the FOREIGN POLICY/Center for American Progress Terrorism Index is the only comprehensive, nonpartisan effort to mine the highest echelons of the nation’s foreign-policy establishment for its assessment of how the United States is fighting the war on terror. First released in July 2006, and again last February, the index attempts to draw definitive conclusions about the war’s priorities, policies, and progress. Its participants include people who have served as secretary of state, national security advisor, senior White House aides, top commanders in the U.S. military, seasoned intelligence professionals, and distinguished academics. Eighty percent of the experts have served in the U.S. government—including more than half in the Executive Branch, 32 percent in the military, and 21 percent in the intelligence community…

No effort of the U.S. government was more harshly criticized, however, than the war in Iraq. In fact, that conflict appears to be the root cause of the experts’ pessimism about the state of national security. Nearly all—92 percent—of the index’s experts said the war in Iraq negatively affects U.S. national security, an increase of 5 percentage points from a year ago. Negative perceptions of the war in Iraq are shared across the political spectrum, with 84 percent of those who describe themselves as conservative taking a dim view of the war’s impact. More than half of the experts now oppose the White House’s decision to “surge” additional troops into Baghdad, a remarkable 22 percentage-point increase from just six months ago. Almost 7 in 10 now support a drawdown and redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq…

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And that is just a taste! Go and read it all very carefully and remember it whenever Howard, Nelson or Downer are “explaining” our foreign policy. Our policy???



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Posted by on October 10, 2007 in Aussie interest, Brendan Nelson, Current affairs, News and Current Affairs, Politics, Reading

 

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The novel Andrew Bolt hates and Zadie Smith’s 21st century classic

 Underground by Andrew McGahan (2006): Andrew Bolt hated it! Now there’s a literary critic to take notice of, eh! It must be a good book… 😉 Andrew Bolt concludes:

It is said that a mark of the great artists is to see us as we really are. If McGahan is a winner of our top literary prize we must conclude this country has no great novelists at all. Truly, ideology does not just blind a writer but strangles his art. How many more examples must Australia endure?

In all honesty I have to say that Underground is not nearly as good as the same author’s The White Earth, but even that novel did not impress me as much as some others:

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Posted by on September 26, 2007 in Aussie interest, Cultural and other, Marcel, OzLit, Reading

 

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