The shortlist: 'My Father's Thesaurus' by A. Frances Johnson; 'Precision Signs' by Lachlan Brown; 'Constellation of Bees' by Julie Manning; 'That Wadjela Tongue' by Claire G. Coleman; 'South Coast Sonnets' by Ross Gillett.
Life: Selected writings by Tim Flannery
One of the pleasures of reviewing a book is reading it slowly, paying attention to the rhythms and its author’s intentions, impulses, and indulgences. Reading is always a conversation between writer and reader. A major collection like Life: Selected writings takes this experience to a new level. This is not just a conversation between a writer now and a reader now, but a writer then, his choices now, the sum of those choices as arrayed in a substantial blue volume, and the reader with a ‘long now’ to luxuriate in the exchange.
To complement our ‘Books of the Year’ feature, which appeared in the December 2019 issue, we invited some senior publishers to nominate their favourite books of 2018 – all published by other companies.
The Topeka School by Ben Lerner
Modern US culture has a peculiar love of the extracurricular world of teenagers, valorising the spelling bees, debating competitions, and varsity-level football games of its youth. In Ben Lerner’s new novel, The Topeka School, the interscholastic debating trophy is so sought after that tournaments resemble verbal combat, in which high-school competitors rely on sly technique rather than substance. Witness the use of what our teenage protagonist, Adam Gordon, aptly refers to as ‘the spread’: a rapid-fire, near-hysterical diatribe designed to deliver so many arguments in such a short amount of time that the opposing team will be unable to address each point.
From the Issue
The Surprise Party: How the Coalition went from chaos to comeback by Aaron Patrick
A Spanner in the Works: The extraordinary story of Alice Anderson and Australia’s first all-girl garage by Loretta Smith
Love is Strong as Death: Poems chosen by Paul Kelly edited by Paul Kelly
The assertion that ‘love is strong as death’ comes from the Song of Solomon, a swooning paean to sexual love that those unfamiliar with the Old Testament might be startled to find there. Songwriter and musician Paul Kelly has included it in this hefty, eclectic, and beautifully produced anthology of poetry, which has ‘meaningful gift’ written all over it.
The suggestion that any single retelling of the story of the Kelly Gang might come close to ‘true’ is laughable, but by drawing attention to this fact at the outset, Carey gives himself unfettered creative licence to embellish the tale however he pleases. And while the aural-visual medium of filmmaking could never hope to recreate the unique interiority of Carey’s Kelly or the breathtaking poetry of his loquacious, first-person prose, Kurzel’s film nevertheless succeeds, positioning itself less as a direct adaptation and more of an invocation. It summons the same restless spirit as the novel, and permits itself those same grand liberties with the so-called ‘truth’.
On The Plain Of Snakes: A Mexican road trip by Paul Theroux
At seventy-six, Paul Theroux drove from his home in Cape Cod to Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state. On the Plain of Snakes: A Mexican road trip is his account of this adventure, at times misinformed, on occasions tedious, with moments of entertaining, well-researched discussions about the scintillating complexity of Mexico.
There is something fundamentally irritating about Adam Sandler. Whether it’s his two-dimensional characters, mousey face, or nasally voice, he reminds you of that obnoxious guy whose loud voice dominates a party. He is the poster boy of puerile comedy, the SNL-alum visionary of some of the most blasphemously bad films of all time. The sheer offensiveness of his work is unignorable: the homophobia of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (2007), the racism of Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008), the sexism of … pretty much all of it. Each film generally comprises a character arc of Sandler urinating freely, shouting petulantly, fucking wildly, and then maybe punching someone: The end.