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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

September 21st

Book & Publishing News

* John and Rhia reported on exciting renovations to the Waurn Ponds campus DEAKIN LIBRARY; well worth a visit.

* Renowned author/illustrator GRAEME BASE will be at The Bookshop in Queenscliff at 2.30 pm September 30th to talk about and sign his new book ‘The Golden Snail”.

* SEBASTIAN JUNGER whose latest book “War” I reviewed very favourably earlier this year was a guest at the International GOOGLE Conference in Phoenix, Arizona [according to Harold Mitchell of ‘The Age’] where he attempted to explain the United States’ ‘culture of war’ – saying they are so hooked on it even though they can’t afford it!

* WILLIAM DALRYMPLE, author of “Nine Lives” [discussed last year on “The Blurb”], was on TV recently talking about the scheduled Commonwealth Games in his home town of Delhi: “Preparations are chaotic…The Games will be too. I love living in India ‘cause it IS chaotic”.

* A former Dean of Music at Melbourne University’s Conservatorium, pianist MAX COOKE, is now a regular visitor to Clifton Springs. Still performing on occasions, his autobiography “A Pedagogue On The Platform….” has just been released.

* Readers of our ‘big papers’ may have noticed reviews of “Matterhorn”, ”Bereft” and “The Vintage and the Gleaning” recently…AFTER they were discussed on our program. We are nothing if not up-to-date. [Thank you, publishers!]

* I didn’t manage to catch up with poet KATHERINE GALLAGHER during her visit to our region. Her new anthology was favourably reviewed in the latest “Australian Book Review”….which also includes a long poem by its editor Peter Rose [“Roddy Parr”.] Les A. Murray frequently has HIS poems in “Quadrant” - of which he is Poetry Editor. Is this a new sort of nepotism? Narcissism? What do you think?

This Weeks Review: ‘JD SALINGER- A Life Raised High’ by Kenneth Slavenski

Kenneth Slavenski: “J D SALINGER – A Life Raised High”,

We ‘Baby boomers’ grew into adulthood on the writings of JD Salinger, particularly the wondrous “The Catcher In The Rye”. [Some of us went on to teach it as a Year 12 English text; indeed I believe it re-appeared on the VCE Reading list again recently.] Its popularity has never waned. Is it Great Literature? It has certainly always been controversial – for its “obscene” language, “shallow” characters and “chaotic’ prose.
I found this new literary biography engrossing, entertaining and above all enlightening. I hadn’t realised how much there was to the character of “Jerry” Salinger in spite of having read all of his available offerings over the years, and anything else I could find about their author.

Salinger’s day-to-day life doesn’t look all that interesting at first. He was so often accused [inaccurately,I would now say] of re-writing his life into his fiction. From an early age he was determined on the vocation of writer and throughout his life he pursued his craft assiduously – some would say to the point of obsession about perfectionism. The most significant experience in his life was surely the four-year stint he had in the US army at the end of World War Two.
Central to this study, and it seems to his writing life is “Catcher In The Rye”. Obviously its publication and, eventually, massive reception world-wide accounts largely for his fame, and the unease that it caused him. Reading Slavenski’s book inevitably sent me back to the novel, to “Seymour-An Introduction/Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenter”, ”Franny And Zooey” and the eight stories published as “For Esme - With Love And Squalor”….which is all that is readily available because Salinger virtually locked away all other works years before his death early this year, at age ninety-one. Slavenski’s overall thesis is that all Salinger’s writings represent a lifelong search for spiritual fulfilment [ironic in view of the constant criticism from elements of the religious Right!]. The Christian is tempted to oversimplify the journey as trying to find meaning out of the dialectic between “the World/Flesh” and ‘the Spirit” a la The Aposle, Paul; I found the discussion rather daunting at times. Nevertheless it has only increased my admiration for the depth of Salinger’s thinking – and the continued relevance of his themes. Why should the professional atheists get all the good press?

It is hard to go past his wartime experiences to explain the inwardnesss and reclusiveness of most of Salinger’s life. He was among the first Americans to land on D-Day, he was part of the awfully brutal ‘Battle of the Bulge’ and above all, he was among the first Allied soldiers to walk in to the horror that was Dachau. As an Intelligence Officer, he saw much more than most and it left him scarred – Post-Traumatic Stress – for life. He lived daily with the question of how human existence could still have meaning? You need to read the whole book to follow Salinger’s path into Christian-Zen Buddhist mysticism in order to find how he achieved some sort of peace [though I would say he lived with chronic depression all his life.].….Then go back and read the books. If you have read the books and want to take a short-cut, the index can take you to the sizeable chunks where individual texts are discussed. I refer you especially to the short story/novella “For Esme – With Love and Squalor” for a glimpse of Salinger/’Sergeant X’ before and immediately after the war.

“Catcher In The Rye” was the only novel Salinger ever published. He developed over many years, however, a sequence of sorts of short stories and novellas about the brilliant and fragile Glass family which constitute something like a novel when we take the 100,000 or so words all together [Something like many of Tim Winton’s short stories – and “The Turning” though it was published under one title]. As I have said, with Slavenski’s guidance one can see how Salinger almost urges us towards the live of selfless detachment which he apparently saw as the way to enlightenment/’Christ-consciousness’. It is quite an intense study but a very well-balanced and rewarding one.
Clearly, reading this book has been an enjoyable experience for me. I allowed myself plenty of time, and had the Salinger books at hand – a luxury only the retired as I am [more or less] can muster.

RATING: ****+
UQP, 2010, pp 432, rrp $39-95.
[ Slavenski’s website is a treasure trove for Salingerphiles.]
Review by: Bernard P. Ryan. [Presenter, “The Blurb”.]

This Weeks Poem:

“The Lamb”- William Blake
“The Tyger”- William Blake

This week’s poems were classics from William Blake as Bernard reviewed a biography about JD Salinger. Salinger often made reference to these poems as keynotes for his discussion of innocence and its loss in our modern world.

John’s Review: On ‘The Essay’ as a Writing Genre

Following the release of the 2009/2010 edition of the ‘Best Australian Essays’, printed by Black Inc., John talked about the genre of essays.

The focus of his discussion was the fundamental question of ‘What is an Essay?’ This is what he had to say:

An essay is a careful consideration of a topic and an intimate piece of writing that is subjective rather than journalistic in nature.

The essay is about questioning, not necessarily about coming to a conclusion.

It is such an intimate and personal piece of writing because it is an exploration of a topic and an offering of an opinion, therefore, being honest is an important element.


This week we dug up some interesting covers. Two out of three were of some fairly recent songs, taken from their pop roots and given a makeover into a more jazzy sound.

-‘Wonderwall’, covered by Ryan Adams. Originally recorded by Oasis in 1995
-‘Black & Gold’, covered by Katy Perry. Originally recorded by Sam Sparro in 2008
-‘Don’t Stop the Music’, covered by Jamie Cullum. Originally recorded by Rhianna in 2007

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