Monday, June 7, 2010

The Aussies are Coming

The best thing about being from Australia or New Zealand is that one can use the word antipodean.

We've started watching LOST. Mostly late at night, three to a couch, crouching over P's computer. It's a guilty, lush pleasure that is accompanied with the kind of ongoing verbal abuse and dialogue that accompanies most of our DVD experiences. I love Claire's flashbacks because she is surrounded by that unassuming but estranging accent, the one we made fun of in high school for being ugly. Ironic, now, as it seems so congenial.

Momentarily post-Frame, I realize that I am surrounded by Antipodeans, those with their feet opposite mine.

After Book-Expo America (BEA) in New York City two weeks ago, my managers returned to the store with a well-chosen select group of Advanced Readers Copies (ARCs) that they had intended for certain staff members. (Apparently the number of ARCs offered by publishers was much reduced this year; usually there is a glut of ARCs sitting on a cart in our back office.)

E, the night manager, a fantastic traveler and cognoscente, brought The Sugar Mother over to me, a novel I had passed on, thinking it was another motherhood memoir, and said that he was surprised I hadn’t grabbed it. I looked at the blurb on the back and realized my mistake. Elizabeth Jolley is a well-known English/Australian author who I had wanted to read earlier when I saw a copy of her Vera Wright Trilogy come into the store. I am endlessly grateful to E. Also must admit that – despite the impending doom and required disassembling of my library - I immediately special-ordered a pristine copy of the Vera Wright Trilogy, which has a thumbs-up from J.M. Coetzee on the front. Both books are from Persea, who is publishing more of Jolley’s work later this year. Jolley lived in Western Australia, where my dear friends Catherine & Cale and their baby Maye live; the one part of Australia I have visited. Those Western Australians are fiercely proud of their province, and surprisingly contemptuous of Sydney-ans and other East-Siders. I can only assume Jolley is a point of provincial – and national – pride.

In the New York Times Book Review this Sunday, I read an excellent review by Jonathan Franzen about the Australian Christina Stead’s underrated novel The Man Who Loved Children. Though Franzen’s first paragraph is testy and reminds me of a teenager’s posturing spiky challenges, the essay converted me and I special-ordered a copy. The Man Who Loved Children is (just barely) available, but Capuchin, a publisher I like, is bringing it out in September. Read the essay; you’ll be sold.

And last week I picked up a copy of Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia, a cultural compendium that contains twentieth-century figures (and a few anomalies) James believes we must not forget. Ranging from Louis Armstrong to Borges, and Tacitus to Stefan Zweig, James presents a passionate advocacy for humanism and writes what Elizabeth Gilbert called in this week’s NYT Book Review a portable Master of Arts. One of James’ first sentences sold me:

“Several times, in my early days, I had to sell my best books to buy food, so I never underlined anything…”

Ah, so familiar.

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