Category Archives: review of everything in the world

100+ books a year 2017: the good

This year I – along with the rest of the known universe – have been feeling increasingly disenfranchised with the state of modern journalism. The 24-hour-news cycle, Russian fake news farms, real news being called fake news, fake news passing as real news, fake juice being called real juice and then placed into $400 dispensers, it’s a quagmire of questionable quantity over all too rare quality. Good  journalism still exists but – much like Ryan Gosling visiting a wax museum exhibit of ‘Ryan Gosling through the ages’ – it’s difficult to find the genuine and actual amongst a forest of false facsimiles feigning the factual.

I’ve been spending less time reading the news and more time reading books. This is not to say I wish to be less informed. It’s just that when the news cycle starts to include responses to op-eds of something someone may have possibly said according to sources who cannot be named because they are imaginary best friends and/or drug-induced hallucinations, I start to develop a craving for long-form, in-depth writing that can’t be sated by listicles, tweets, or articles. In confusion: here’s a list of some of my favourite books this year.

 

RUNNING THE BOOKS by Avi Steinberg

I’ve been doing a lot of research on prisons lately, including the brilliant Ear Hustle podcast and Ted Conover’s revelatory Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing, but I particularly enjoyed this book. Steinberg shares anecdotes ranging from the bittersweet to the brutal. My favourite part: learning that male and female prisoners shared the same library at this facility, but on alternating days, never being allowed to meet in person. They would write each other love letters (known as ‘kites’) and leave them in the books in the library. I’m a sucker for stories of human connection in the face of adversity, and throwing a library in the mix just sweetens the deal.

 

 

THE ANIMATORS by Kayla Rae Whitaker

I’m grateful to the relentlessly fabulous Avid reader bookclub for pointing me in the direction of this book (along with a few others on this list.) If you enjoy reading and aren’t part of a book club, not to put too fine a point on it, but what the fuck is wrong with you? Just kidding. Mostly.

What I loved about this book was the way it explored the friendship of the two lead characters and took them to places that were unexpected and thoroughly genuine in their presentation. Although it deals with some extremely dark content, there’s a verve that resonates throughout the novel that makes it feel ultimately uplifting in spite – or perhaps because of – what the characters go through. I got to see Whitaker speak earlier this year and she was charming and engrossing and also was a fellow fan of the Maxx, so she can chalk me up as a lifelong fan.

 

TIME TRAVEL: A HISTORY by James Gleick

Before I read this book I had an idea of myself placed on a continuum in which I was aware of a future self who would eventually read this book. Eventually I became that self looking back at a past self who was yet to experience having read this book, but who would eventually become the self that I now was, who was formerly the person who had not read this book but intended to become the person in the future who would have read this book after having been someone who intended to read this book, and further back still someone who was unaware of this book but upon becoming aware of its existence would desire to be a future self who had read it.

 

THE SELLOUT by Paul Beatty

Beatty writes like the world is on fire and he is yelling commands to put it out in some places and pour gasoline on others. His writing is vivacious, lyrical, insightful, clever, and angry. There are plenty of writers who can pen a great story and construct engaging characters, but so few where you can read a paragraph and instantly match their particular flavour and style to the writer. By way of example, this masterful snippet:

“I’m so fucking tired of black women always being described by their skin tones! Honey-colored this! Dark-chocolate that! My paternal grandmother was mocha-tinged, café-au-lait, graham-fucking-cracker brown! How come they never describe the white characters in relation to foodstuffs and hot liquids?

Why aren’t there any yogurt-colored, egg-shell-toned, string-cheese-skinned, low-fat-milk white protagonists in these racist, no-third-act-having books?” 

 

FEVER DREAM by Samantha Schweblin

It’s been far too long since I read something so brazenly surreal. I know that Twin Peaks comparisons are woefully overused, but I think in this case it’s warranted. This a short, fascinating K-hole of a novel. Concise, hallucinatory story and scenes that whir and eddy around the page. I’ll definitely read this again.

 

 

 

 

 

AN UNCERTAIN GRACE by Krissy Kneen

Another Avid recommendation, penned by fellow Brisvakistanian Krissy Kneen, this was a bizarre and beautiful book. It shifted times, perspectives and characters to examine human relationships, sexuality and consciousness. An Uncertain Grace made me feel at turns uncomfortable, intrigued, enthralled, and appalled. Much like the human experience that novels are supposed to reflect, it was complex and surprising.

 

 

 

THE GOOD FATHER by Noah Hawley

In the arts (as in most facets of life) jealousy can be debilitating and insidious. However, it is REALLY hard not to be jealous of Noah Hawley. Not only is he an incredible author, but also the showrunner of the brilliant Fargo and the incredible Legion. The latter is, for my money, the best show on TV right now.

In any case, what I love about this book is its perspective. It examines a man, Paul Allen, who has recently discovered that his son has been accused of assassinating a presidential candidate. The way Hawley explores Allen’s denial, fear, confusion and endless questioning of his own possible failings as a father who may be ultimately responsible for this violent act is a far more fascinating approach than simply examining the shooter himself.

In an age of violence (largely perpetrated by men) works that analyse the origins and causes of extreme acts are essential. I’ve thought about this book almost every day since I read it six months ago.

 

HERA LINDSAY BIRD by Hera Lindsay Bird

My best friend Alex brought this collection back from NZ for me and sweet jelly Jesus on graham crackers it is good! Filthy, hilarious, insightful, Bird is everything I love in a poet. I was lucky enough to tell her how much I admired her work when I met her at the Queensland Poetry Festival this year but she looked at me like I was a weirdo (which, to be fair, I am) and I slunk away awkwardly. You might’ve seen her poem Monica flitting about the internet, every one of these pieces is just as entertaining.

PS: the aforementioned Alex is currently raising money for the National Resources Defence Council  by riding across the entire mainland USA. A lot of us like to complain about politics (like me) but it’s people like Alex who actually roll up their sleeves (or bikepants, as the case may be) and get the work done. Flip him some money if you feel like donating to a worthy cause and making the world a slightly less shitty place.

 

DYING: A MEMOIR by Cory Taylor

This year I lost two wonderful friends and as a result I’ve been obsessing over death and mortality. I thought that reading this book might help. It didn’t. At all. But it was a brilliant book, so there is that. Taylor has a enrapturing candour to her writing that makes this short but fascinating book an absolute must read.

Death is one of the few things that truly unites all of us, and it’s rare to see it examined so honestly and thoughtfully. I also recommend checking out the interview she did with Richard Fidler.

 

 

WITHOUT YOU, THERE IS NO US by Suki Kim

Given the current (appalling) state of journalism I have more respect than ever before for writers like Kim who engage in long-form investigative journalism. For this book, she undertook great personal risk by posing as a christian English teacher in order to gain access to one of the most closed nations on earth. She writes about experiences such as her students asking her things like ‘Is it true everyone in the world speaks Korean?’ A fascinating and terrifying reminder of what can happen when you allow propaganda and dictatorial thinking to subdue information (Australia and America, I’m looking at you.)

 

 

 

I’ll write up another entry with the bad and the weird picks for the year soon.* Also, if you like books, maybe you’d like to check out one of mine? My last novel, Killing Adonis, received a Kirkus Star, which is sort of like a Mario star in that it grants temporary invincibility and superspeed.

*denotes a length of time ranging from ‘tomorrow’ to ‘the heat death of the universe.’

 

100 books a year part 2: the bad and the weird

 

THE BAD

TheWaterKnife-PaoloBacigalupiTHE WATER KNIFE

First off, I have to say the concept here was admittedly great. A criminal underclass emerging to illegally distribute water is sadly a very believable near future and this aspect was well executed. There’s a scene where the pricing gauge on a commercial water pump breaks and the characters desperately try to siphon as much as they can that is incredibly tense and terrifying on a very primal level. Unfortunately, the characters and dialogue in this book are so unbearably awful that a fantastic backdrop is completely ruined by the actors maladroitly prancing around in front of it. Climate fiction (cli-fi) is a fascinating new genre, but this is not its best exponent.

 diversclotheslieempty

THE DIVER’S CLOTHES LIE EMPTY

Second person narratives like this are hard to get right, which is why they are so rarely used (particularly in novel-length stories). I think Tom Robbins pulled it off in Half Asleep in Frog Pyjamas but that was a rare feat. There’s some interesting character study here, but the character also makes a bunch of decisions that are just implausible and irrational. Also, I found it problematic that a book set in Morocco depicts just about all of the Moroccan characters as deceitful and untrustworthy. One bonus: the cover was designed by the graphic novelist Adrian Tomine, who I absolutely adore.

throne of glass

THRONE OF GLASS

This year at Supanova I had a catchup with my publicist and we stopped to talk to some of the other Pantera authors who were appearing there. Seated next to them was Sarah J. Maas, facing a legion of zealous fans queuing for her signature. I wasn’t familiar with her work, but I picked up a copy to see what the fuss was about. I have to say, it really didn’t speak to me. I know this series has a devout, passionate following (and I love seeing readers so invested in stories) but to me it read like sub-par fan fiction. The characters were one-dimensional and the dialogue was bland. I hear Sarah is a really nice person though so I feel guilty for not enjoying her work more.

elantris

ELANTRIS

I first heard about this series in a Tor.com article examining Sanderson’s vast multiverse known as the cosmere. The concept sounded fascinating and a quick search revealed a vast legion of fans avidly discussing his works and their interweaving narratives. I was also impressed with how prolific he was. However, while I loved the setting itself and the central concept, the execution was really disappointing. I have no doubt it would make a fantastic film, but the clunky writing made it a slog to get through. Plus, it’s over 600 pages and the story felt like it needed 400 at most.

Eleanor and Park(2)

ELEANOR & PARK

I’m realising as I type that this is the third universally adored book in a row that I hated this year. I swear I’m not trying to be a contrarian! I will admit that I like to read widely outside of my own immediate interests and sometimes this means that I don’t really connect with the subject matter. Obviously, I am way outside the target audience for this book (a YA romance). I have to admit I thought Eleanor was a great, complex, interesting character. I also really enjoyed all the musical references. However, the classic YA trope of ‘characters create problems for no obvious reason other than to shape narrative drama’ was chronically over-employed in this one. There was plenty to work with in terms of drama without Eleanor & Park trying to out-angst one another. All that said, Rowell’s twitter feed is pretty great.

Night-Vale-Final-UK-cover

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE

Like an estimated 99.99995684% of people who have read this book, I am a fan of the deliciously outré podcast. The humour is outlandish and brilliant, and each episode manages to be funny and entertaining in new and surprising ways, which precisely why this book was so disappointing. Although some of the trademark humour was there, eg.

“The search for truth takes us to dangerous places,” said Old Woman Josie. “Often it takes us to that most dangerous place: the library. You know who said that? No? George Washington did. Minutes before librarians ate him.”

Sadly, the plot was meandering and meaningless and the writers inexplicably chose to focus on uninteresting sideline characters rather than those from the podcast, which makes little/no sense. I found this boring and pointless.

THE WEIRD

The_People_in_the_Trees

THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES

A Little Life was one of my favourite books last year, I found it hard to believe it was even written by a human rather than some sort of consortium of divine superintelligent interdimensional species. Obviously I was keen to immediately check out Yanagihara’s other work. This book was…very different. It’s a sort of anthropological sci-fi about a researcher who travels to a secret island and studies a lost tribe who have gained immortality through ingesting the flesh of a rare turtle. It’s also about sex. And violence. And guilt. And responsibility. It’s a weird book, and not so earth-shatteringly brilliant as A Little Life, but definitely worth checking out.

201606-omag-don-delillo-zero-k-949x1356

ZERO K

I’m currently drafting a novel about a cult that’s obsessed with cryonic technology. When I found out that Don Delillo was releasing a novel focused on similar subject matter I was equal parts proud (I’ve tapped into the zeitgeist! I think on similar lines to one of the greatest writers of the modern era!) and terrified (I’m too late! This story has already been written by one of the greatest writers of the modern era!) Luckily, this book is nothing like my own, so after my fear of lawsuits subsided I was able to enjoy this bizarre and brilliant story. Delillo’s recent work lacks the dry wit of his earlier writing but his strange, sparse prose is as brilliant as ever. He has this knack for writing dialogue that is completely unrealistic but somehow seems to sit perfectly within the framework of his narrative. I recently read Pynchon’s latest book, Bleeding Edge, and there were a lot of similarities in terms of style and execution between these two luminary post-modernists.

rapture_UK cover

THE RAPTURE OF THE NERDS

Rather than writing any kind of reflection, I’m just going to offer up some sample text:

I’m not my polygons. Physical coercion is a dead letter here. If you want to get something out of me, you’re going to have to try harder than that. For example, you could try for a quorum of administrative accounts to decompile me and examine my state and logfiles. Though, I have to tell you, the admins aren’t kindly disposed to noobs who go supergenius and multiplicitous without regard for the overall system performance, so you’ve got a lot of digging to do just to get up to zero credibility. 

See what I mean?

 

Vegetarian-by-Han-Kang-on-BookDragon-via-Library-Journal-527x800

THE VEGETARIAN

You know, I was all finished with this post and was about to hit ‘publish’ on Friday when I got called away and never got around to it. Then over the weekend I read the Vegetarian. I’m not sure what to say about it other than it was both one of the strangest and best books I’ve read this year. Extremely dark, unflinchingly bizarre and yet so poetically, hypnotically beautiful. Someone else hurry up and read this so we can talk about it please.

PS If you want to add my books to your list, you can grab them here. Killing Adonis is on sale for just TEN BUCKS HOLY WHAT?!?

PPS People always say to me: “How do you read 100+ books a year? That’s IMPOSSIBLE!” It’s really not. Here’s a few tips.

100 books a year

For the last five years I’ve read a minimum of 100 books each lap around the sun. Here’s a quick rundown of my most rated, most hated, most celebrated and most complicated from the first half of 2015.

kazuo ishiguro buried giant

Have you ever wished that a renowned author would tackle Arthurian legend in the form of an insufferably dull quasi-fable that employs scenes where two knights spend multiple pages discussing sword etiquette? Me neither, which is probably why I hated this so much.

I adored Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (even if the movie was a huge disappointment) and I have a huge amount of respect for authors who aren’t afraid to switch up styles and genres. However, this book is terrible.

The central themes of love and memory and revenge are all great starting places, but it reads like a cast of senile army vets trying to remember where they left their keys. Also, one of the main characters, Axl, refers to his wife as ‘princess’ after every goddamn sentence, which is just as annoying as it sounds, princess. See, it’s annoying after even one sentence, isn’t it princess? Let alone two, or even three, am I right princess? Princess, why are you unsheathing a broadsword princess? Did you want to spend several hours discussing sword etiquette princess?

 

great jones stI remember when I read DeLillo’s Underground some years ago, it was one of those books that makes you want to give up writing forever because you know you’ll never be that good whilst simultaneously wanting to pour your heart and soul into just attempting to capture a sliver of that genius. In any case, this is one of DeLillo’s ‘lesser’ works, which means it’s a million times better than most people’s greatest novels. The premise is weird; a rockstar named Bucky Wunderlick – who is a vaguely Cobain/Morrison style cult leader of the world’s most popular rock band retires mid-tour and resolves to sit around and do nothing. Obviously this sounds this the worst premise ever imagined, but because this is DeLillo we’re talking about he scribes an incredible study of excess, madness, isolation, a study of the human condition etc. It’s weird and it’s beautiful and now I have to go back and read everything he’s ever written.

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A beguilingly beautiful collection of the personal and the political. Words that weave like limbs on trees. Simultaneously melancholy and uplifting. Make sure you grab at the opportunity to see her perform if she’s ever in the same corner of the world as you.

 

 

 

we-all-looked-up-book-cover

I just started writing the first volume of the YA sci-fi trilogy I’m working on (Jennifer Cellardoor, it’ll be in stores…whenever I get it finished) which means I’ve been reading all kinds of stuff in the same ballpark. I was interested in this because it was billed as ‘literary YA science fiction’ which is one of those literary terms that makes no sense at all, much like ‘indie’ in the music realm. In any case; the plot has a comet rapidly approaching earth with a 66% per cent chance of catastrophic impact. Everyone goes crazy, anarchy ensues and we watch it through the eyes of five teenage protagonists. To be honest I found the character development quite shallow and I’m still not sure about the ending, but it was entertaining enough. The author does get massive points for also recording a companion album though, nice skills.

 

ben-lerner-10-04

Reading this novel felt like trying to run through molasses whilst having dictionaries thrown at my head. It is reads like literary math rock; appallingly weighty prose coupled with sentences constructed in much the same way as the Winchester Mystery house. I assume there was some kind of plot in much the same way that I assume Greenland has cafes, although I am unable to provide personal evidence of either.

By way of demonstration, here is an honest to god authentic actual excerpt:

 

So this is how it works, I said to myself, as if I’d caught an ideological mechanism in flagrante delicto: you let a young man committed to anticapitalist struggle shower in the overpriced apartment that you rent and, while making a meal you prepare to eat in common, your thoughts lead you inexorably to the desire to reproduce your own genetic material within some version of a bourgeois household, that almost caricatural transvaluation of values lubricated by wine and song. 

If you got to the end of that sentence without screaming at your screen, congratulations and also could you please tell me what is it like being a Zen master?

 

oliver sacks hallucinations

 

I read this after hearing a hilarious an insightful interview where Sacks described using hallucinogens as an inspirational tool as employing a ‘chemical launchpad’. In this book he explores the nature of hallucinations – drug-induced and otherwise – in his famously entertaining and engaging prose. I’m still haunted by the stories of musicians who lose a portion of their sight and then start hallucinating sheet music in that section of their vision.

 

 

Feed MT Anderson

 

Over the last couple of months I’ve read dozens of books targeted at teenagers; some good, some bad, some that actually seemed like they shouldn’t so much be sold in bookstores as preserved in museums as examples of the appalling literary atrocities committed in the early 21st century. What makes Feed stand out is that Anderson treats his audience with respect rather than thinking of them as a ‘target market’. He uses actual swear words rather than having characters say ‘and then I swore at her’, and he tackles difficult and complex philosophical questions using inventive and believable slang. If you’re one of the many people who is worried about how a constantly connected digital world is affecting our human interactions, I urge you to check this out.

 

 

sum forty tales from the afterlives david eagleman

 

One of my favourite things to ask someone I’ve just met is: “What’s your all time favourite book?” If they reply “I don’t really read” then I know they probably aren’t worth talking to and they must hate life and spend their weekends punching puppies. If they answer anything else then I have a new book to check out. This one was recommended to me by director Nathan Sibthorpe, and I’m incredibly grateful for the tipoff. These forty vignettes describe various imaginings of potential afterlives, and they are all impossibly beautiful and captivating. In style and concept it also reminds me of one of my all time favourite books Einstein’s Dreams. An absolute wonder of a book.

 

miranda july the first bad manIn my experience, if you ask someone “What do you think of Miranda July?” they’re either going to say “Who the hell is that?” or “OH MY GOD are you kidding me she’s the best and most amazing and I want to have ice cream and cake with her and can we please spend three hours talking about everything she’s ever done? Okay great I’ll start…”

I would definitely place myself in the latter category. This is a strange, beguiling and wonderful novel that draws you in and wraps you up and spits you out a slightly better person. The plot (such as it is) explores the relationship between a shy, confused introvert and a young girl named Clee. What makes this novel such a joy is they way the July unmasks the wonder, anxiety and beauty of the everyday.

If you can’t relate to this novel, you are probably some kind of sentient killer machine and if so hello how are you please don’t kill me.

PS If you feel like reading/reviewing my latest novel, Killing Adonis, I would be very grateful. Unless you hate it, in which case SHUT UP! 

xoxo

100 Books A Year 2014 part II.

 

here come the dogs

Here Come the Dogs by Omar Musa

There’s a reason why this book is appearing in a myriad ‘best of’ lists this year – well more than one actually – in short; it’s really fucking good. It’s a bleak, unflinching and sometimes hallucinatory piece of work that flips between poetry and pose with disconcerting ease. Omar’s finely honed skills as a poet and lyricist are well manifested in his debut novel. I had the pleasure of featuring on a panel with Omar at the National Young Writers’ Festival earlier this year and he is a fiercely intelligent and yet incredibly good natured and friendly soul. His music is also highly engaging and arresting, well worth a listen.

 

blindness

Blindness by Jose Saramago

Okay, I’ll be honest. I’m only halfway through this one, but it’s nevertheless one of my favourites I’ve read this year. I saw the film some years ago and it was passably entertaining and featured a great cast, but the book is exponentially more interesting. Saramago uses the allegory of a strange infectious blindness to examine complex themes such as morality, governance, greed and politics. There are elements of scifi thriller here, but it’s a primarily a work that examines humans at their best and worst and basically exemplifies all the strengths of the novel as an artistic format. No wonder he managed to bag himself one of those peskily elusive Nobel prizes. I spent some time in Lisbon last year and in Portugal Saramago is revered as a national icon, it’s easy to see why.

 

five wounds

Five Wounds by Johnathan Walker & Dan Hallett

This was a profoundly fascinating piece of work, but not an easy read by any means. Visually it is inventive and captivating, simultaneously old and new. The story content is interesting but quite hard to follow and incredibly dark. I tend to enjoy fairly morbid territory in literature but this was a little to grim even for my tastes. However, if you enjoy particularly macabre writing then this might become one of your favourites.

Definitely worth the cover price just to see what the creators have done in terms of aesthetic and layout, but if you’re into conventional structures or are looking for an easy read you’re probably better off searching elsewhere.

 

tainted trialThe Tainted Trial of Farah Jama by Julie Szego  

I’m not usually a fan of true crime, but I was invited to interview Julie about the book at the Reader’s Feast Crime & Justice Festival earlier this year and it ended up becoming one of my favourites of 2014. The book follows the trial of Jama; a young Somalian refugee who has been falsely accused of rape via inexplicable DNA evidence. The way that Szego unpacks the multitudinous issues surrounding the case including race, religion, rape culture, assimilation vs integration and the limitations of the justice system is relentlessly beguiling. I also recommend Anna Krien’s Night Games, which covered some similar territory and was equally brilliant.

 

adulthood

Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis book 2) by Octavia E. Butler

While not quite as fascinating as the first book in the trilogy, the second book of the Xenogenesis series is nevertheless essential reading. Butler remains one of the (unfortunately) few African-American authors to be really successful in the scifi genre, and her work is a fascinating study on human nature and behaviour. The story follows a group of humans who have been interbred with an alien species and their return to a ruined earth. The complications in the narrative come from the various groups attempting to eek out an existence and warring over various genetic modifications they have undergone during their time away from earth. Recently there has been a push for Butler to be used in place of H. P. Lovecraft as the World Fantasy Award Statuette. More on that here.

                                       Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel 

StationelevenUKHCThis book was recommended to me by Black Cat Books, one of my favourite book stores in the world which is sadly about to close its doors. If you live in Brisbane, you have a couple of weeks left to check them out before they are gone forever. Lately I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated with the commonly held attitude in the Australian literary scene that ‘scifi is not a high literary art form.’ Despite the fact that the Booker of Bookers was awarded to Rushdie’s novel about kids with superpowers, there remains a prevailing attitude that if a novel isn’t literary realism, it’s just pulp fiction. This work is one of many (see also the Bone Clocks) that happily and successfully blends genres. The story follows an acting troupe that roams across a post-apocalyptic world where 99% of the population has been wiped out by disease. It flips between characters and eras in a manner that is spellbinding and highly satisfying.

the-special

The Special by David Stavanger

Despite having appeared on countless stages in Brisbane and all over the country both as himself and alter ego Ghostboy, this is Stavanger’s first published volume. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him perform a number of times and he is always wildly unpredictable and incredibly entertaining, and this collection lives up to Stavanger’s live performances. Dark, philosophical and funny, this is by far one of my favourite modern poetry collections. Stavanger has just been named as one of the cohosts of the Queensland Poetry Festival, so we’ll certainly be seeing plenty more of him in the very near future.

 

anthony A Difficult Place To Be Human by Anthony Anaxagorou

I met Anthony at the December edition of Brisbane’s infamous Ruckus Slam (where I managed to take home 2nd prize and win a woodford ticket yessssss). I was completely astonished by the way he weaved words together, a very honest and passionate performer. Poets are often admonished for putting on airs, and I personally am very fond of poets like Anaxagorou who are more concerned with speaking from the heart than trying to sound like the reincarnation of Wordsworth. I was particularly impressed by his piece The Master’s Revenge, which features in this collection. Check out the video here:

 

 

 

thirst

Thirst by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi

Lately I’m trying to read more Middle Eastern novels (feel free to send me recommendations!) and I found this slim little piece of genius in the Kinokuniya bookstore in Kuala Lumpur when I was on tour there earlier this year. Apparently Dowlatabadi was arrested by the Iranian regime, not for any specific infringement but because so many dissidents were found to be in possession of his work that the secret police just assumed he was up to no good. What an absolute superhero. This dream-like allegorical story within a story looks at war, humanity and propaganda. His writing is lyrical and captivating and I will certainly be seeking out more of his work.

 

Rat_Queens_Issue_1_cover Rat Queens by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch

There’s a hell of a lot to love about this series. It’s subversive, action-packed, beautifully illustrated and so fucking funny it should be illegal. It also manages to subvert a lot of classic comic book tropes. Thanks to Scott Wings for the tipoff.

rat_queens_vday__violet_by_johnnyrocwell-d76hu96

saga chapter one

 

Saga by Brian K Vaughn and Fiona Staples.

IT’S JUST SO FUCKING GOOD. A beautiful, complex story about war and family and destiny filled with humour and fantastic, insane characters. The art is the best in the business right now. Just read it, for the love of all that’s holy.

 

That’s my favourites for the second half of 2014! The full list of books I read this year is here. What did you love (or hate) in 2014?

PS I released my latest novel Killing Adonis in October. Let me know if it made it onto any of your lists (favourite books, least favourite books, books I used to fend off Mormons, books I used to prop up creaky coffee tables etc.)

 

 

 

Killing Adonis by J.M. Donellan reviewed by J.M. Donellan

KA review

First of all, I was highly disappointed that this novel was not written by Tim Winton. As every reviewer knows, the only good novels in Australia are those that are either written by Tim Winton or try very extremely hard to sound like his work with the addition of a mild idiosyncratic twist. Perhaps a giraffe with OCD and a drinking problem or a sexually confused parking inspector with a penchant for Scandinavian taxidermy.

This book has received a slew of favourable reviews. Books + Publishing said ‘This is a writer with a deft handle on his craft’, Book’d Out called it a ‘surprising page turner‘ and Glamadelaide went so far as to comment that Killing Adonis is ‘great, inventive storytelling from an exciting new Australian author.’ Frankly I don’t see what all the fuss is about. As a post-modern western space opera it leaves a lot to be desired, as an erotic kung fu saga it is (almost) completely lacking in either sex scenes or kung fu sequences and as a technical manual for the Atari 800 it is beyond useless. After reading all 450 pages of this book I am still have no idea how to reboot my mainframe in the event of a lightning strike or zombie apocalypse.

 Killing Adonis is incompatible with:  

Inflatable pool 01       xbox one       Matrix_007

Killing Adonis is completely lacking in digital features. I tried a vast range of swiping and voice commands and it was obstinately unresponsive. The novel is not compatible with OSX , Xbox, Linux or the Matrix and all attempts to connect to WiFi or Bluetooth met with disaster. Furthermore, it proved entirely inadequate as a floatation device in even the most rudimentary inflatable pool testing and when I tried to use it to assemble my newly purchased Ikea wardrobe it was nothing short of unusable.

walther P99

Under ballistics testing, the book did prove somewhat more capable. Its 450 pages and pleasingly tactile faux leather cover do serve to reduce the velocity of a Walther P99 at a distance of 300 feet. However, at closer proximity the bullet will penetrate all the way through, so use with caution.

Overall I’d give this book 5 stars (out of 100) and unreservedly recommend it as a bullet resistant accessory but strongly encourage anyone who is looking for a Tim Winton penned futureproof Bluetooth enabled erotic space opera to look elsewhere. Available from all good bookstores (and some of the bad ones).

 

100 books a year

For the last three years I’ve set myself a goal of reading 100 books a year. I’m often asked how I ‘manage’ to do this and the answer is simply that people make time for the things they value. Some people lift weights 7-9 hours a week, some people watch entire seasons of a TV show in a weekend, some people like to dress up as furry animals and pleasure each other in seedy hotel rooms for hours at a time. I like to read. This year I reached my reading goal slightly early, and I thought I’d share some of the best (and worst) things I read.

 

reasonsiwont

Elliott Perlman is an amazing novelist and also a barrister. HOW IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? IS HE BATMAN AS WELL? I once left a copy of his fantastic book Three Dollars on the bed of a hotel in Cartagena, and three days later I found the exact same copy sitting on the bookshelf in my hostel in Bogota. This story has nothing to do with this excellent collection, but it was pretty weird.

 

A_Visit_From_the_Goon_Squad

This is one of those novels where you feel like the characters are friends that you want to call up and invite out for drinks. The chapter told from the perspective of an autistic child written entirely in flowcharts and graphs was particularly astounding. As someone who works with autistic kids, I was thrilled by how well Egan was able to capture the feelings and frustrations of a child with this condition.

Think-Before-its-Too-Late_Edward-de-Bono

I’ve never been so transformed by the ideas contained within a book whilst also wanting to punch its author in the face. Think! has some revolutionary ideas on the application of thinking as a skill to areas like education, business and art. Unfortunately, approximately 25-35% of the book’s content is just extensive brag lists where De Bono rambles on about places that have used his systems and awards he’s received. Maybe he should Think! about letting the ideas speak for themselves, rather than trying to be some sort of erudite Kanye.

 

Both_Flesh_and_Not

Not quite as amazing as Consider the Lobster (which, if you have not read, you need to acquire and insert into your eyeballs IMMEDIATELY)  but there are some incredible observations on language, consumerism, sport and just about every other subject under the sun. Wallace is the very definition of genius.

 

mobydick

MOBY DICK

Herman Melville

I’m not going to lie, this was something of a struggle. Luckily I was tipped off onto the Moby Dick big read project. Hearing chapters read by Tilda Swinton and Carys Matthews from Catatonia made some of the weightier chapters a little more bearable. “FROM HELL’S HEART I STAB AT THEE!”

 

PhysicsOfTheImpossible

For his high school science experiment, Kaku made a fucking atom smasher. AN ATOM SMASHER! And yes, that does exactly what you think it does. You think rockstars are cool because they smash the odd hotel TV? Kaku is exponentially cooler (and, unlike most rockstars, he can also rapidly calculate exponential figures). In this book he examines the likelihood of all the inventions we see in science fiction novels and movies becoming reality. This is important if, like me, you constantly argue about the plausibility of teleportation and time travel.

 

The-Ask-and-the-Answer

Let me tell you a secret. The category ‘Young Adult’ is a term used for marketing purposes and it doesn’t mean anything. People who say ‘I don’t read YA fiction’ might as well say ‘I don’t read books where the protagonist has a distant relative who eats jam sandwiches on Tuesdays.’ One of my other favourite books this year, The Midnight Dress, is classified as literary fiction in Australia and YA overseas, (much to the bewilderment of its author). The Ask and the Answer is one of the single greatest examinations of the complexities of war, colonisation and patriarchy I have ever read. Intelligently tackling themes like this whilst maintaining a breakneck pace is an incredible feat. The first of the Chaos Walking movies is currently in development and IT HAD BETTER BE GOOD, HOLLYWOOD.

 

unlimiteddreamcompany

I’m not sure if Ballard typed this or just turned on a dictation program before dropping a tab of acid and languorously masturbating. There are SO MANY references to semen in this book it doesn’t even make sense. It’s a hallucinatory, surrealist work that has one or two good ideas buried amongst 200 pages of slavering, self-indulgent grandiosity.

 

IT CHOOSES YOU and NO ONE BELONGS HERE MORE THAN YOU

Miranda July

July’s films, books and music will break your heart then mend it with super glue and lullabies and then put it out on a boat out to the ocean where it gets stranded on a desert island and then rescued via helicopter and shot in a rocket to the moon until it finally comes home in time for tea. Her short stories are just perfect, and her sort of memoir/behind the scenes of making a movie It Chooses You is weird and illuminating.

aconfederacyofdunces

Recommended to me by a good friend while sharing some very long car rides in Spain, this is a fantastic novel on every level. There’s a reason why this book scored a Pulitzer, they don’t just throw those things around you know. I’ve certainly never gotten one, although I’m hoping one will turn up on ebay sooner or later. 

city_people_notebook___page_1

People who think that comics are just for kids make me sad and angry and confused and slightly itchy. Would you say that chocolate is only for kids? Or going to the beach? Or tequila? No, wait that one’s just for adults. In any case, this graphic novel is a beautiful study of the human condition that peeks into the lives of various New Yorkers. Trivia: The Eisner award was named after Will Eisner and he won it a bunch of times. Imagine if he’d lost every time he got nominated. Can you imagine watching some jerk’s grubby hands clutching an award that literally had your name on it? Irony on steroids.

Full list here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5344604-joshua-donellan?read_at=2013&view=covers

Love Letter To Brisbane pt 1: Books & Bars

Listen, here’s the thing; I love this city, and feel like a lot of people overlook the good things in their own cities and spend too much time complaining about the traffic and such. So I’m going to put together a couple of posts celebrating some of my favourite things about Brisbane, starting with this one about bookstores and bars. Some of them will be obvious and well known, others a little more hidden away. I hope you enjoy this little list, and maybe try and check out a few new places. Or contact me with other suggestions!

BOOKS

 ATAVIST

ATAVIST                                                                                                   Fortitude Valley

Located at the end of a little lane behind one of my favourite venues, the Zoo, the design of this ultra-compact bookstore is so adorable it almost defies the laws of physics. Also conveniently located near the fabulous Flamingo Cafe, so you can enjoy delicious coffee with your newly acquired and equally delicious books.

Avid-Reader-2

AVID READER                                                                                                        West End

Famous for supporting local and Australian authors with events in its charming courtyard. Their selection is incredible and as an added bonus some of Brisbane’s best authors can often be find smiling at you from behind the cash register.

  black cat books

BLACK CAT BOOKS                                                                                 Paddington

These guys have been very good to me over the years. I had the launch for Zeb and the Great Ruckus there last year and I’ve been part of some of their other author events as well. Also I just joined their book club, which is a great little group (people who talk about books, that’s my kind of people). The cafe, hidden down a little set of stairs behind the many bookshelves, has an amazing garden and the staff here know all of the things. Excellent selection of children’s books as well.

boswell's books

BOSWELL’S  

Ashgrove     

I love this place. I used to live up the road and I knew any day of the week I could stroll in there with a few gold coins and walk out with a work of genius. The store itself is small but you can request just about anything and they’ll order it in from their mammoth warehouse collection. Also, the mural on the side of the wall is magnificent.

riverbend-books-teahouse-photo-by-www1riverbendbookscomau11

RIVERBEND                                                                                                  Bulimba

I don’t get here nearly as often as I should, because it’s on the other side of town, but the staff here have an encyclopaedic knowledge of literature and they host a lot of wonderful author events. The cafe is marvellous and has a great street view of the bustling streets of Bulimba.

 Further reading: Bent Books, Archives, Mary Ryan’s, Pulp Fiction, Coaldrake’s, Folio, Comics Etc.

 BARS

Brisbane is pretty big on venues that are equal parts bar/restaurant/cafe/performance venue, especially around West End, so some of these may fall slightly more into one of the aforementioned categories. It’s not unusual to find a place that’s great for a quiet coffee at 9am hosting a twelve piece Soul revival band at 9pm.

black-bear-lodge-482x298

BLACK BEAR LODGE                                                                               Fortitude Valley

The venue formerly known as the Troubador had an extensive renovation a couple of years back and is now larger and even more amazing. Lots of soft lighting and vintage design, extensive cocktail list and a consistently excellent selection of bands lighting up the stage. The last gig I saw here was New Orleans street jazz band Tuba Skinny, and it was one of my favourite gigs of the year so far.


Hideaway-A1

THE HIDEAWAY                                                                                           Fortitude Valley

A gorgeous small venue that offers a usually quieter alternative to the Valley’s sometimes overwhelming nightlife scene, although they do also host some great rock acts on the weekend. The house ale is superb, and the staff are all very friendly. One of the best bars in town for people like to actually enjoy a conversation with their evening beverage. “WHAT?

“I SAID: IT’S ONE OF THE BEST -”

“WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR YOU OVER THIS MASHUP OF DAVID BOWIE AND MILEY CYRUS BEING PLAYED AT EARSPLITTING VOLUME”

“I SAID: IT’S ONE OF THE BEST-”

“STILL CAN’T HEAR YOU. WANT TO GET OUT OF THIS SHITTY SUPERCLUB AND TO THE HIDEAWAY INSTEAD?”


junk bar

JUNK BAR  

 Ashgrove

I’ve been on a lot of dates here, and even when the date in question is disappointed by me they’re always impressed by the bar, so, you know… Junk bar is damn near impossible to beat in terms of both ambience and service and the cocktail menu is inventive and original. Plus the owners love music with all of their hearts and most of their kidneys. Great vinyl selection.


Southside Tea Room Opening Night!

SOUTHSIDE TEA ROOM                                                                          Morningside

Run by old housemate (perhaps slightly better known as Patience of the Grates) and her partner John, Southside is eclectic and eccentric. They host everything from Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart tournaments (way more fun than watching a boxing match, so much more YELLING!) to gigs, craft nights, pop up shops, clothes swaps and trivia. Well worth checking the calendar to see what’s on, or maybe just roll the dice and show up to find out what crazy shenanigans are taking place.

waiting-lights

THE WAITING ROOM                                                                                    West End

I have a special fondness for the Waiting Room, as it more or less exemplifies the DIY spirit of the Brissie music scene. The venue (and recording studio) is quite literally the living room of someone’s house that runs as a BYO (!) performance space and recording studio. The selection of bands is always sensational and encompasses a broad range of styles and genres. One of my favourite local bands Ghost Notes recorded their spectacular live album here last year. Being broke is no excuse for not seeing great live music! Many of the gigs here are as little as $10, and when you can bring your own beer and leave the mess for someone else to clean up, well, that’s a lot smarter than sitting at home and drinking on the couch. Also, for those looking to record or rehearse, Cam is something of a local wizard and has produced a slew of great local acts.

 Further drinking: The Zoo, Rumpus Room, The End, The Box, Supermetro, Brew, The Scratch

NEXT WEEK (OR WHENEVER I GET AROUND TO IT): Cafes and Theatres

R.I.P. Rave

Rave Magazine 2

As a teenage music nerd, my bedroom walls were perennially populated by posters featuring various scowling dudes with guitars looking down on me lying on my bed losing myself in my headphones whilst devouring Rave magazine. Growing up I always thought that being a music writer would be the most inconceivably, unbelievably, incontrovertibly cool job imaginable. Years later, I moved into my first Brisbane sharehouse with two wonderful girls, one of whom was just starting to pick up speed as the lead singer of now superstar act the Grates. Her then boyfriend wrote for another local music mag, and it occurred to me for the first time that music writers were actual people who existed in the real world and breathed and ate and drew on the fridge and used the bathroom when you really, really needed it. 

Ive-used-objetive-criteria-to-conclude-that-this-band-sucks

It wasn't until late last year, when I'd accomplished the infinitely more arduous task of having my first novel published that I got around to signing up with Rave. In the short time since then I've reviewed countless gigs and albums and squeezed in just a handful of interviews. As a writer, it's been a fun challenge to pump out tiny bite sized non-fiction pieces at a high rate of frequency, as opposed to my primary concern of churning out massive 80 – 100k word fictional behemoths every few years (if that.)

RaveMagCover    Rave-Mag


I was devastated when I received news that Rave was shutting down, and not only because of the fact that I will now have to start PAYING for gigs like a total loser. Rave provided valuable exposure for local bands and artists, great opportunities for local writers and photographers and, perhaps most importantly, was an entirely independent operation. Independent media is important; the beauty of working for Rave was that we didn't have to serve anyone's agenda. My editors would occasionally ask me to change a few things here and there, but this was more for content quality than because we were beholden to some corporate giant with vested interests (just look at the whole Rinehart/fairfax debacle at present). Clearly music journalism is nowhere near as important as political journalism, but journalistic integrity is of fundamental importance in terms of filtering what and how information reaching the masses and and we are currently seeing a dangerous erosion of its values which the loss of important independent media sources will only exacerbate. Thank Christ operations like New Matilda and The Conversation are still afloat.

Rave3 Rave4  Rave5 

Here are a few highlights from my time with Rave; bands I would never have otherwise heard of, concerts I might never have gone to, interviews with amazing people I would otherwise have never met. Thanks to all the wonderful writers, editors and photographs and bands that I've worked with. This city is filled to the absolute bursting point with obscenely gifted artists and it's been an absolute blast working with a team dedicated to celebrating this this talent. See you at a gig sometime!

INTERVIEW with Jo Nesbo

GIGS 

Cut chemist

Bright Eyes

2011 Poetry Slam

Ball Park Music

ALBUMS

WILLIS EARL BEAL – acousmatic sorcery

 

BIG DEAL – Lights Out

 

STEVE SMYTH – self-titled

 

People often ask me: “What is the worst album you’ve ever reviewed?” Here is the answer.

 

Fenix

Amazingly, appallingly, astoundingly terrible

The cover of Tenacious D’s Rize Of The Fenix (and yes, that is how it’s spelt) features a picture of a penis stylized into the form of a phoenix with flaming wings. If you’re thinking ‘well, that sure as heck doesn’t bode well…’ then you can tell where I’m going with this. It’s honestly almost impressive how terrible this album is. And yes, it’s supposed to be a comedy album, but that’s the other problem. It just isn’t funny. There’s toilet humour galore, which would be fine if the jokes landed once every 20 minutes or so, but the truth is that the whole thing’s about as funny as the Armenian genocide. Even the dialogue interludes are appalling. They sound like a couple of stoned middle-aged men trying to re-enact scenes from Saturday Night Live. The whole shtick of having Tenacious D almost exclusively write songs about what it’s like to be in Tenacious D was entertaining enough on the first album, but on album #3 they are really just flogging a dead horse. And then kicking it. And then piling beer cans on top of its rotting corpse. To top it all off, album closer 39, which basically spends 317 seconds mocking women for being beholden to the passage of time, sounds as though it’s been written with the specific intent of pissing off feminist groups. This album gets one star for the sole fact that it features Dave Grohl on drums.

*

orginal Rave article here 

Cut Chemist @ BNE Hi Fi reviewed for Rave magazine

Cutchemist


After the debacle surrounding D12’s non-appearances at the disastrous Heatwave festival it would seem that American hip hop acts are starting to garner a reputation as being unreliable. Continuing this trend, tonight’s opening time has been shifted back an hour and there seems to be a great deal of confusion as to what time the performers are actually hitting the stage. Nevertheless, once local wunderkind Sampology starts warming up the crowd everyone seems indifferent to the confusion and ready to shake that which their matriarchal progenitors gave them and raise their hands in an upwardly fashion like they just don’t have a particular preference on the issue.

After a brief intermission, Cut Chemist strides onto stage along with accompanying VJ and launches into a rap mash-up intercut with bizarre psychedelic visuals. All of this occurs behind a slew of turntables, loop pedals and MPCs that has gearheads drooling in awe. The crowd tonight is lively and enthusiastic, but surprisingly sparse for such a renowned international act. The benefit of this is that the dance floor actually has some space to move, meaning no one has to resort to the all too familiar arms-up-head-nod-shuffle-dance that has to be regularly employed at packed hip hop shows.

Cut Chemist’s set tonight mixes classic hip hop joints like Sound Of The Police with music from Colombia and Brazil interspersed with classic J5 tracks and of course selections from his forthcoming album. During all of this he uses a variety of cameras to zoom in on his various feats of technical wizardry ranging from his trademark virtuoso cutting to mixing whilst operating loops via foot pedal to his fingers dancing over the MPC. Chemist is clearly a man who loves what he does and does it better than almost anyone else. Between samples he air guitars, pantomimes and lip-syncs in a manner that manages to be both adorably goofy and, when interspersed with prodigiously expert scratching, pretty damn incredible.