Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Generation $

Here's one of the latest ads from Bankwest, where - as you can see - you can get a 10 per cent return on children's savings. In the TV version, a dad goes looking for his daughter in the backyard, but when she doesn't answer his calls, he ascends to her treehouse, where he finds... a flat screen TV, Bang & Olufsen stereo and reverse-cycle airconditioning. Then the elevator door opens and the daughter enters, carrying a panoply of shopping bags.

This obviously says more about the current generation's preoccupations than the next's, but you do wonder what impact it has on the little ones. There is that theory that your children will grow up in opposition what you try to teach them. Raise your kid to be an atheist and he'll run away and join the seminary, right? If that's the case, I guess we should expect a boom in socialist communes in 15 years or so. Perhaps we should invest now- oops, sorry, there I go again.

Appropriately, the Bankwest ads are plastered all over the bus station at Bondi Junction - a mecca of capitalism if ever I saw one. Right now it's going off too, as everyone gets in there, elbows first, to buy their Christmas presents. Well this year I'm over it. If all goes according to plan, we'll be spending Christmas Eve in the swimming pool.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Books again...

So yeah, I did have a bit of a moment the bookstore the other day, but I can't stay mad for long. Words are a big part of my life.

Take this typical day. First there's the usual selection of writing to check out on the bus. I love looking over people's shoulders and reading a couple of paragraphs. Is that rude? Who cares. This morning one person is sitting there with a book of humorous quotes. (Could there be anything less humorous?) Then there was a novel about a woman trying to organise an attempt on Everest. Quite readable, at least up to where the person's thumb covered it up. "Excuse me love, could you just move your hand a little bit?"

Next I'm in at the office where they sometimes give away advance reader copies. I'm chuffed when I get my hands on The Children by Charlotte Wood.

It's on the First Tuesday Book Club this month on the ABC, and having read it now, I can tell you it's excellent stuff. Wrenching story and very tight prose. Although, sometimes I do question today's ideal of efficient language. Will people look back in a century or so and wonder at the brevity of our writing in much the same way that we look back on Victorian literature and wonder at its verbosity? Dickens got paid by the word, is what we're always told. For us, the reader's time is money.

And then, at lunch, I sit down for a fish laksa (God bless working in the city) and pull out Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes.

Here's one that I was supposed to study at university but skipped. It's sat on a shelf or in a box since then, and it never appealed to me. Maybe it's the cover. Anwyay, just as the chilli buzz was kicking in, I came upon this passage which I liked a lot:

"I feel sorry for novelists when they have to mention women's eyes: there's so little choice, and whatever colouring is decided upon inevitably carries banal implications. Her eyes are blue: innocence and honesty. Her eyes are black: passion and depth. Her eyes are green: wildness and jealousy. Her eyes are brown: reliability and common sense. Her eyes are violet: the novel is by Raymond Chandler. How can you escape all this without some haversack of a parenthesis about the lady's character? Her eyes are mud-coloured; her eyes changed hue according to the contact lenses she wore; he never looked her in the eye. Well, you take you pick. My wife's eyes were greeny-blue, which makes her story a long one. And so I suspect that in the writer's moments of private candour, he probably admits the pointlessness of describing eyes. He slowly imagines the character, moulds her into shape, and then - probably the last thing of all - pops a pair of glass eyes into those empty sockets. Eyes? Oh yes, she'd better have eyes, he reflects, with a weary courtesy."

The book is so postmodern, with all the self-consciousness and reflexivity that that implies, but it's not stultifying. Barnes really has fun with it, and tells a human story in an original way. Hats off.

Incidentally, I did use my book voucher. I was very happy to buy Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, which (tread carefully: rickety segue) recently popped up on a list of Hidden Gems, along with Playing With The Moon by Eliza Graham.

Cool or what? A huge congratulations to Eliza and if anyone wants to vote for her book, you can check out the full list here.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Book, book, book, book

I have book vouchers, burning a hole in my pocket. They're for Kinokuniya, probably the best bookshop in the CBD. This is the kind of situation I intended to savour - mooching through the aisles, mulling over what I could spend my money on; not actually spending it, of course, just flicking the corners of the vouchers, or nonchalantly fanning myself with them.

But when I got there, something strange happened. Instead of feeling like a book devourer prowling for a top title, the piles began to push in on me. Consumption anxiety? So many books. So many attractive covers. So many blurbs that make me reach behind me for the comfy chair to start reading. And yet, and yet...

The other day my writing group met for a barbecue and partners were invited. One of the husbands arrived early, and someone inquired whether he did any writing. "No," he replied. "I read."

I'm pretty sure we all took half a step back to look at him, this endangered specimen. Sometimes it seems like everyone is producing something, demanding one small piece of our attention. To filter it I subscribe to those emails that provide lists of the hottest of the hot. There's one (Very Short List) that even selects only one thing each time. It's still too much. Sometimes I feel that before I try and write any more I should learn to just enjoy reading again.