Tag Archives: writing

Reading Review: The Trial and On the Art of Reading

I have read Metamorphosis, and didn’t really get it. The same goes, now, for The Trial.

Kafka has an amazing style, and conjures wonderfully dreary environments for his characters, but the underlying message — the novel doesn’t really go anywhere — eludes me. At first I thought it was about his take on writing, and how he feels trapped, judged by those around him. Then I thought it was about a girl, a commitment to marriage that he wanted to escape, and everything that happened was a horrible dream. The scene where he makes love with the administrator’s mistress is particularly reminiscent of a dream or fantasy.

Where did these ideas come from? The little introduction, the few pages that a lot of classic books have that talk about the author and the book. From reading this one can then judge what the book is about. From pinpointing exactly when in the writer’s life a certain text was written the reader can discern what the hell they are talking about. Rather than Cliff’s notes, read the author’s biography.

This is one of the pieces of great advice that I took from the book On the Art of Reading, a transcription of lectures given by one Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch from around the First World War. Example chapters include Children’s REading, On Reading the Bible, and Of Selection. He restates such virtues as writing every day, and inspires some new thoughts, such as waiting to read Paradise Lost until the age of 30, and using the Book of Job (yes, from the Bible) in literature classes. Not much has changed, and in fact the body of written work has expanded, making judicial choice much more important, and that importance is a matter of subjectivity. To quote Sir Arthur, “Considering for a moment how personal a thing is Literature, you will promptly assure yourselves that there is —there can be — no such thing as the Hundred Best Books.” Read widely, but wisely.

So back to The Trial. Has reading it imparted anything on me? I can’t say, except for perhaps the unique style, that is has. Certainly knowing more of the man may help, but as it is, The Trial is a bleak story and that’s about it.

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Reads of the Day: Writing and Working

There have been a bunch of articles the last few days that I’ve been waiting to read, but due to other commitments haven’t got round to. Finally I have caught up and I see a trend. The following are links that lead to musings on writing, so if you’re not that way inclined, tough luck.

“It’s because it’s hard work a lot of the time, and when it gets hard it’s never more important to stick with it, and good writers know this.” — This speaks right to me, seeing as I am, generally, a very grumpy kind of guy.

“And the shorter format, writers say, is a good fit for the small screens that people are increasingly using to read.” — Just when I start to make serious headway on short form, too.

“So even if short story collections were enjoying a boom in sales at the moment, there’s no reason — or at least no reason the Times’ piece presents — to conclude that digital publishing has played any role in that (nonexistent) phenomenon.” — Oh, a response.

“And yes, we can put a lot of the blame on the skewed priorities of publishers and ask why they don’t hold the written word as sacred.” — Freelancing is the reality; make it a living.

“Unfortunately, my mind is neither slow nor steady; it is erratic, sometimes bursting, sometimes dormant.” — I am SO this way inclined.

“‘Well, I’ll tell you a story,’ the fisherman said. And then he proceeded to do quite the opposite.” — On injecting story into non-fiction.


And finally, a little news piece on working in the CREATIVE arts in Australia.

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Shifting Strands

I go through phases, as I’m sure most people do (but particularly creative types). This blog seems to suffer the most from these phases. Whenever I hatch on to a good idea life steps in and complicates the issues.

So it goes.

As I struggle to work out what to put on this blog, so it is that I struggle to work out what to do with time. Should  I write, or read? Should I take notes, or take it in? Should I become an editor, or fall into academia?

There’s always a lot to do, and so much information out there to persuade you either way. Perhaps making decisions is the hardest part, as the book Willpower (which I recently read) purports. Thinking about whether to follow Option A or Option B is far more stress-inducing than doing either of them. If this is the case then it is understandably easier to just float into some activity, and go with the flow.

Making decisions is decidedly human. Because we have a measure of self-control, discerning whether to eat a cheeseburger or a healthy sandwich constantly vexes us. The easier, tastier option will win out almost every time unless we have built up an immunity to temptation. The best way to do so is to remove that temptation in the first place. It’s hard to do in a foodcourt, but easier in the personal domain. Setting individual “bright lines”, a term used in Willpower, presents a clear indicator of where to stop oneself. For example:

No alcohol, ever.

Zero sugar diets.

Programs that shut off the internet.

Whatever your vice there is a way to block it entirely. However, unless the decadence has caused huge amounts of strife you are not likely to stick to your goals.

I digress, but not too far I hope. Writing is what I want to do, and I’m doing whatever I can do to aid that. To start this year I am studying a Masters, working as a sub-editor for the university paper, doing an internship (two whole days a week) for The Conversation, working in an ever-maddening hospitality job, and planning various writing projects. Plus maintaining human relationships, naturally. It’s overwhelming, but I will manage and succeed. My main fret is what to do with my, ahem, “free time”. Write, or read? Read, or write? Both, but in what percentages?

You become a writer—as I see it, gleaned from  numerous sources—by reading, thinking, learning, and then practising. Learn and steal. I honestly don’t think that I am capable, not yet—and I won’t be capable for at least five years. Plus, there are so many other skills to learn (HTML, Python, InDesign, editing, etc.) and paid employment to hunt down. My goals and desires swirl around my mind, bringing on bouts of elation and desperation in equal measure.

I hope to write more posts here, book reviews (old and new) and general musings. There’s a time and place for structure, and I’m beginning to think writing isn’t conducive to organisation—at least, not for me.

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Friday Fiction: Afraid of Flying

The prompt I used for this piece insisted on my first flying experience. I, however, decided to explore another angle of the flying experience: One’s first fall:

We were over the Northern Territory when it happened. Almost over the water. It had been such a peaceful flight—no children, and plenty of spare seats to stretch out over. I think I was drinking my third or fourth scotch and dry. All I remember is taking a sip and choking as the cabin blew apart.

I suppose it’s lucky there were so few people on the flight. A red eye trip to Singapore to pick up more passengers before heading onwards to Europe. I’d done it dozens of times before. Going overseas was nothing. I know so many people who never leave Australia, except maybe to go to New Zealand or Tasmania, and they don’t count. It had become such a droll experience.

I remember standing in the line to board and feeling entirely nonchalant and seeing the nervous chattiness of the people around me. Families and lovers all moving closer together as if they could see their impending doom, or at least feel it. Humans are instinctive like that.

It’s a good thing we are or I wouldn’t have survived and I’d be just another body under mounds of fuselage and the search crews wouldn’t find me for days and my family would be holding on to hope only to be even more disappointed. As it is it’s like I’m the second coming of Jesus, a miracle. I just grabbed on to whatever was closest at the time and didn’t let go.

It’s isn’t true, that whole time-slowing, or life-flashing. No, everything happens very quickly and you barely have time to take notice of anything before it’s all over. One minute we’re all quite happy, the next there is the howling of the wind and I’m flying. Truly flying, no strings attached. I must have blacked out at some stage, but for the briefest of moments I can recall falling. Like Icarus, I had too much confidence in the contraption that carried me.

No one can explain the exact physics of how I survived. The best anyone can come up with is that the shock of impact was nullified by whatever plane materials were between me and the building I hit. The family that lived in said building was killed so that I may survive. I really don’t think it was worth it.

Now I’m in hospital, with a couple of broken bones and a collapsed lung, but altogether rather fine. The only survivor. It’s times like this you want to believe in a God, or that you lived for a higher purpose. But I’m not so easily fooled.

I went for a flight, it crashed, and I survived. That’s it, there isn’t any more.

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Saturday Review: A Quick Catch-up

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, I’ve been rather busy. But not too busy to read, never too busy to read. In fact, my project of 52 books in a year feels as if it has prompted even more reading. I’m currently splitting my time between three books: Finishing off A Farewell to Arms, enjoying the lightness of The Consolations of Philosophy (Alain de Botton), and being pounded by History of Madness (Foucault).

I have remained on track though, and here is what I’ve read in the last few weeks:

The Great Gatsby: Apparently this wasn’t very popular when it first came out, though of course now there’s a movie about to be released, with good ol’ Leo as Gatsby. While I was reading it I certainly felt a contemporay correlation. The affluent lifestyle of the Jazz Age is redolent of our current situation (most definitely in America, though perhaps more and more so in Australia) of opulence and overindulgence.
Issues of privilege and wealth disparity are rife, mixed in among the damned love story and doomed redemption tale. From the Writer’s Devotional, Amy Peters says of The Great Gatsby, “Using a deft hand with language, Fitzgerald creates an allegorical reflection of an America on the verge of descent.” I’d say that’s close to what we face now.
On the subject of language, Fitzgerald does paint a very pretty and precise picture. He uses many adjectives and adverbs, but it isn’t superfluous–it is always purposeful prose. I really enjoyed it, even if the ending seemed to fall flat and wither out, and I’m looking forward to reading The Beautiful and the Damned now that the ebook seems to be working properly.

…it occurred to me that there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well.

The transition from libertine to prig was so complete.

The Kite Runner: At first I thought this book was a sort of memoir, fact folding into fiction. But as it went on it became more and more lurid, more unbelievable, and less and less likely. That said, it is definitely a book worth reading, particularly for writers.
Unlike The Great Gatsby, the use of adjectives and adverbs often feels overwrought, cliched at times. The themes are played too strongly, and quite often, letting melodrama slip in between the lines. But the heart of the book is true, and the messages worth nothing.
The Kite Runner gives a glimpse of Afghan life, and perhaps reasons as to why it was/is necessary to have our troops in Afghanistan. It is a story of redemption (at last) and of the stretch between cultures, the gap between rich and poor, and how we should all just get along already.
It is also a book for writers in that it is about the passion of writing. Our protagonist is a story teller from a young age, and of course this becomes his career. I do wonder if it’s necessary to have your characters be writers–that is, after all, what a writer knows best. Of course, our hero’s first book gets published straight away, which is, as we all know, virtually impossible. A big plot hole, that one.

Like so much else in Kabul, my father’s house was the picture of fallen splendor.

A Farewell to Arms: My first Hemingway. I once got told, many years ago, that my writing was “Hemingway-esque”. I think they were just being polite, or confusing my simple grasp of language with Ernest’s mastery of English.
Not a word goes out of place. It isn’t fancy, it isn’t particularly complex, but it is all meant to be there, all meant to be read and savoured.
Now, A Farewell to Arms is based on real events. It’s a very compelling look at war, even if there isn’t an ounce of fighting in it. Our protagonist is shelled before an offensive, sending him away to mend. He travels around in Italy, enjoying a newfound love. He heads back to the front where the Allies promptly retreat. He shoots one of his own sergeants, and his own side kills a friend.
Despite never touching on what you think a war is about–two sides attacking each other–it is a powerful commentary on the fruitlessness of war. It’s luminary in its images, particularly in the opening chapter, about the fall of nature and the destruction of the land by troops. Nothing good comes of war, nothing but idleness and waste.
If I were to choose a writer to be like, it would be Hemingway. His choice of language is delectable in its simplicity. And despite a sparsity of words, he is endlessly quotable.

That is why the peasant has wisdom, because he is defeated from the start. Put him in power and see how wise he is.

Still nobody was whipping any one on the Western front. Perhaps wars weren’t won any more. Maybe they went on forever.

What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.

Doctors did things to you and then it was not your body any more.

I also finished up How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One, which is a book I would recommend for writers. The first half (the writing part) is definitely more informative and interesting, whereas the latter part about reading sentences rambles away. If you see it and want to know about the construction of sentences I’d definitely recommend picking it up.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. Until next week!

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