Form an orderly queue

A black and white slide that says "grown ups enjoy reading, also
Source: New York Public Library Visual Materials, Lantern Slides

I’ve been writing a lot lately.

For a person who likes words,  this is nothing short of lovely. For a person who loves reading words, it can start to feel a tad unbalanced.  And it is a balancing act. The balance of keeping this world separate from that one. Of making time for the putting down of words, instead of the picking up of new ones. Finding yourself spending hours researching, rather than just revelling. It’s okay though. It’s a balance I have to strike. And one that I’m enjoying finding my way through.

Yet, while I can sense the balance scales settling in one corner, I can feel something new growing in another. No, growing isn’t quite right. I can feel it lurking. It’s that great, lumbering collection of book-ish guilt: the reading pile.

My reading-for-leisure has gone well beyond being just a bit behind. Right now, I’d be relieved to find only one  ‘to-read’ pile in our house. I wouldn’t like to count, but there’s at least a baker’s dozen of them. And each of the stacks is building, higher and higher. I’m not sure if they’re held together with gravity or a far heavier sense of duty. A reading pile has a unique shape and feel. What you see is no ordinary stack of books. That, dear reader, is guilt and duty, neatly bound. It’s a duty to myself and a promise to every unread page.

But we’ll make it, my papery loves – one book at time. A little patience is all I ask. Come, sit. Take a number and wait. Thank you, kindly.

Next please.

Battle of the books

a woman smokes a cigarette while reading the paper
Longing for one story while reading another.

I am currently reading two books.

Actually, that’s not quite right. I’m currently obsessed with two particular books. And I’m cheating  on one.

I thought about disclosing what they are, but I wouldn’t like to bias your opinion for one combatant over the other. Both books have strangely connecting themes. Both are written by authors with the first name ‘Miranda’. (I may have already said too much.)

Both books are good reads. They’re both weird and both make me feel slightly uncomfortable, but in very different ways. When I wake up I think ‘I can’t wait to read that book by Miranda’. This thought is immediately followed by several minutes of guilt over who might win the competition for first read of the day.

How did all this happen? Why are these Mirandas in such fierce competition. What can I do to avoid it all again?

Not much. Not unless I can somehow remove deadlines from my existence, especially any to do with reading.

We’ve all experienced the battle of the books at one time or another. A book might need to be read in time for a book club discussion. Another could be an overdue library book, delicately nibbling at your conscience and your bank account in the form of overdue fees. Or maybe it’s a treasured loan from a good friend, and its continued presence in your house almost ensures an ending of coffee-stained proportions.

I’ve been through all of it. And more. The root cause of the problem is not that first, sweet, innocent book. It is always another book. One that is too damn good to put down. It’s suave. It’s appealing. It is the ‘other’ book.

It is the book that forces you to read at every opportunity. A minute in the lift? Read. Is that a red don’t walk signal flashing before you? Read. You read as you walk, as you eat and, yes, if you could, you’d do it in the shower. This unstoppable, delectable, almost-edible book is forcing you to cheat on your main read. And, time to admit it now, you’re loving it.

The terrible guilt-ridden shame of it all.

There’s no choice. You can never put down a ‘can’t put it down’ book. It has to be read. Fines, stains, guilt complexes and disapproving looks be damned. The ‘other’ book always wins.

In that sense, this current battle of the books is no different to any other. Except that usually, when the battle is on, one book is pulling ahead. Not this time. They are equally intriguing. I know I should just put down my-deadline free book and read what I’m meant to be reading. But, I’m not. It’s the same problem, no matter how I try to deny it.

I’ve tried keeping them at separate ends of the house. Making one a bedtime only book. Taking only the deadline-Miranda on the train with me. It doesn’t help. A good book calls to you. It must be read. There’s no logic to it. It’s why deadlines and reading for pleasure can never be friends.

Yes. I am, truly, reading two books. As and when I see fit. And loving it.

(Please don’t let either of them know, okay?)

House of film – The Black Rose

A personal note

This is not a review of Trent Parke’s magnificent and sombre work, but a gentle personal impression.

This last week found me once again in the beautiful halls of the Art Gallery of South Australia, seeing Trent Parke’s ‘The Black Rose’.

One series of images from the exhibition showed a defrosting snake next to a demolishing house – ‘The house of film’.

For me, the house of film was about decay and destruction. It was one of many series and images in the exhibition that flirted with the same theme.

I won’t say more than that. It’s early in the exhibition’s run and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for anyone else. I will say that if you go, take your time. And go more than once. There’s a lot to take in.

In the same week, I also went to hear Trent’s talk with exhibition curators Julie Robinson and Maria Zagala and guest speakers Alasdair Foster, freelance art writer and curator, and Bronwyn Rennex, Director of Stills Gallery.

The combination of this talk and Trent’s artwork is an incredibly generous gift.

In addition to the particular sombre beauty of the exhibition, it was heartening for me personally. I live, with a lovely man, in a house of film. The formats come in all manner of sizes, but mostly bear shades that fall between black and white. While I usually shoot 35mm, I’m just as happy with the digital format and am willing to try whatever works. To see and hear that an accomplished creative photographer like Trent is happy to mix media – 35mm, large format and digital – was wonderful. It provided a personal connection to an incredible artist.

It didn’t stop there.

Think of your favourite artist. Is it van Gogh? Van Dyck? Imagine visiting their hometown, seeing their work, understanding that you held the same sort of brush and . . . then there’s an image. An image of a place you’ve been. A place that perhaps you even tried to capture.

For me, that image was ‘Pirate Ship’ at St. Kilda.

I’ve stood there. Same stones. Same sky. But that guy stood there too. He came out of his house of film and captured my world. And then he turned it around and showed it to me.

A more vivid and unforgettable reaction to a piece of art I couldn’t imagine.

Art at its very, very best.

Trent Parke, once again, has found the extraordinary in the ordinary.


A note for educators: for those interested in seeing the exhibition with a study group or class I can heartily recommend Trent Parke, The Black Rose, Education Resource PDF, prepared by the Art Gallery of South Australia.

I REMEMBER

a book signed by terry pratchettI remember the day I met Sir Terry Pratchett.

He wasn’t a sir then, but he was already popular. I live on the wrong side of the turtle, so I’d been reading him for many years before I had the chance to meet him in the flesh.

I can still see his face, the room, the books.

Terry had been signing those books all day. He was short-tempered because his hand hurt. He should have been furious. We ask so much of authors like him. Terry looked at me suspiciously when I told him my name. He wrote it down, but seemed certain I’d made it up in some way. I’d been in an accident the night before, so I can imagine how I looked. The staff of the bookshop had kindly given me a chair to sit on as I waited in the queue and I was sleepy from the painkillers. I remember the eyebrow he raised as I approached. I remember it and I treasure it.

It wasn’t a very long wait as book-signings go, but it didn’t matter. I would have waited an eternity.

When I heard of his death this morning, I found I couldn’t move. It wasn’t a surprise, but it was devastating all the same.

I thought all day about when to write this post. I thought it might be better if I left it until I’m less angry. Less lost. And then I re-read Neil Gaiman’s article on the angry man that was Terry Pratchett.

‘I rage at the imminent loss of my friend. And I think, “What would Terry do with this anger?” Then I pick up my pen, and I start to write.’
Neil Gaiman

I also read Scott Lynch’s furious There is no Past Tense of Terry Pratchett. So, anger and sadness be damned – here I am.

I’m not angry that Terry has left the world so soon. If there was anyone that could fight Death, it was him. I doubt he left quietly.

I’m not angry that the Discworld has stopped at Raising Steam. What a gift it was. The finest of books in the finest of series. How can I be angry in the face of such of riches.

I could never be angry for the words he left behind. There are so damned many. And they can never be erased. If they burnt every book and tried to erase him from the libraries, the orangutangs and I would still hold his memory. Perhaps not every word – not exactly as it spilled across the page – but the way of his words, his way of seeing things, and the way he could shine a light upon an otherwise upside-down world.

His works don’t stop here. They can’t stop. His words and his worlds live on. His fans, to who he was so giving and so generous, will carry them always.

We will be forever grateful.

So, why am I angry? I’m angry for the way that we lost him. That we had to lose him at all. What I want to say here, falls apart. I stare at this paragraph and the screen blurs. It is futile and it is anger. It is loss.

Since my teenage years, Terry has been a constant thread in my life, from the first word to the last. When the internet came along, he was there with it. When The L-Space web and afp were built, if you lurked and were patient, you would find traces of his presence.

His constancy has been his words. His words and his vivid, insightful, incredible imagination.

I was asked recently about authors that have influenced me. Without notice, it’s an unfair question and, while I came up with some good authors at the time, Isaac Asimov included, I left out so many. Including Sir Terry. Because he wasn’t an influence. He was bigger and wilder than that. His words were everywhere. He was a flood. A constant, bright and shining wonder.

I have more than once taken the time to try and tell him what he meant to me. By email, in person, in dedications. And, if only the once and only briefly, I think that he heard. I still have his reply. What I told him wasn’t enough. It couldn’t be. How could I ever find words big enough to pay back the incredible debt of gratitude I owe him?

I was a stranger to him, but he resided deep in my heart and mind. And, although he is gone, it is there I will forever find him. There and in the pages of his books.

Farewell, Sir Terry.

In your words you live on.

‘Up on the mountains, as the blizzards closed in, there was a red glow in the snow. It was there all winter, and when the spring gales blew, the rubies glittered in the sunshine.

No one remembers the singer. The song remains.’

— Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero