The best thing about getting older is realising that others are getting older at the same rate, especially your favourite writers. They’ve been writing for years and years, and you’ve been reading away alongside. In traditional publishing it means that they write and you read at different moments of the Zeitgeist, so you experience them in different ways according to where you both are. Helen’s recent book of essays Everywhere I Look felt both familiar and dazzlingly fresh. Preoccupied with my current volume of memoirs, this and the publication of Bernadette Brennan’s study of Helen’s work (more on which in another post), sent me scurrying off to rediscover her work in the present moment, 2017.
A lot is now available on Kindle. I had purchased her print books over many years but most had gone off into the mysterious places books go when you move your stuff around a lot. Now I could repurchase and reread all at once. Yes, it is a Kindle binge. A wonderful short novella about a trip to the Antarctic was the first surprise: I had never heard of it before. I reread The First Stone and This House of Grief and The Spare Room and then I came to Joe Cinque’s Consolation, which I had never read before..
What can I say? Absolutely riveting, so moving, so saturated with a personal truth which is at the same time a collective experience of being “us”, people in Australia, experiencing things in different ways, and it is these differences which Helen tries to clarify and explore but in the end the mysteries of human behaviour defeat explanation or even understanding.It is great that Helen is getting the praise she deserves in the US at last. Reading some of the reviews on Kindle is sobering, though. They are not negative, rather, puzzled, a bit confused. Why is it that some writing travels seamlessly through English-language markets while other books falter? Why was The Dry such a hit in the US? Why does Liane Moriarty work everywhere?
I hope a lot of people discover and rediscover Helen Garner now. Nobody could have guessed back in Monkey Grip days what she would become. If you could give a medal to an Australian writer, Helen should be first on the dais.
Well it took six long days but I finally unpacked my new Kindle Fire HD 2016 8 inch and after the usual struggles with passwords and buttons and chargers it lit up, and what a pretty ***** it is. Actually I am not sure what it is – a thing? a device? a machine? Just another object? Yes, it is an object, but an object which reaches into the very depths of a writer’s being – this one’s, anyway.
Ridiculous, I know, but the whole time I didn’t have a Kindle I couldn’t seem to write a word. I carried around the print-out of latest version of Suburban Gigolo wherever I went, thinking I could start the next round of edits, but there was just something wrong. Didn’t even take it out of its brown paper bag. Night after night I re-tilted my bedside lamp and focussed my eyes on the printed pages of Emmanuel Carrere’s Liminov. I am really enjoying this book, in a strange abstract way, but the process of reading doesn’t feel the same. And if I can’t read, it seems I can’t write.
While I was recently in hospital I couldn’t read either, not because I didn’t have my Kindle – I did, it goes everywhere with me – but because I was so knocked out by the drugs and the pain and the numbing routine and the astonishing reality of having a metal knee now embedded and growing in my bones and flesh there seemed no mind-space left over for reading books.
However I became addicted to that enlightening TV show “Diagnosis Murder” about how a doctor (a spritely white-haired Dick van Dyke) helps his detective son (played by Dick van Dyke’s own real-life son Barry) solve strange criminal cases which embrace medical issues.
This was on every afternoon and I lay on my back gazing at the TV screen up on the wall and felt both cheered and reassured by the ability of doctors and detectives to solve all human problems, as they were still able to do in the early 1990s, unlike today where the crimes are so much more hideous and the main role for the medical specialists is scraping up samples from torn fingernails and cutting cadavers open with wryly humorous remarks.
But TV in the end is no substitute for reading, and now I have a Kindle again I can read all the books I recently downloaded just before it finally died. These include the only book by Carrere which I can find on Kindle, The Kingdom, yet another excursus into the world of the first Christians, a theme which seems to have been trending recently, no doubt due to the near universal perception of imminent apocalypse. I even started watching A.D. the Bible Continues (2015) on Stan but that otherworldly gleam in Peter’s eyes is really getting me down. Actually I thought the first three episodes were excellent, but it became a bit repetitive after that.
The thing is, you live with stories, and it matters how they reach you. TV has become a wonderful medium now that you can watch series the same way you read a book … you don’t have to wait until next week’s broadcast, you can just keep on and on and on until you absolutely have to get up and go to Aldi or clean up the cat vomit. Then the clever TV knows exactly where you got up to, and takes you directly back there. Just like the Kindle does.
I can feel myself falling in love with my new Kindle, even though I’ve hardly even turned it on yet. What creates this powerful attraction? A lot of people have it with their mobile phones, almost unable to be diverted from them even by great moments in the Real World such as picking up your children from school. The recent campaign in Britain to get parents to actually look at their child when they pick the poor little thing up at the school gate marks just one moment in the process of human alienation we are in the midst of.
How to think about these object-obsessions? To cut a long psychoanalytic story short, it is a kind of transitional object. You know, the blanket the child carries around until it decays, the beaten up teddy bear, the Thing your little one just can’t be without. Some clever evil genius worked out that we never grow up, we humans, we go on looking for the comforts of childhood, and these days they’ve given us an electronic item instead of Blanky. I’m not the first to think of this, although I did feel disappointed when I found this quote:
The thing about electronic objects though is that they just don’t feel the same . How about making Kindle or phone cases out of woven feathers? I had a kind of feathered scarf when I was a small child and yes, obviously it came from my mother, and I needed it in the same way I seem to need my Kindle now. I just can’t go to bed without it, and if that happens then I can’t seem to write anything the next day. What The ????
Regarding Kindle, I was a very early adopter. In spite of the endless anti-e-book raves from all sides in Australia when the first Kindles came on the market I couldn’t wait to get one. Even those old clunky grey things with weird counter-intuitive buttons here and there were just great. I could take big chunks of my library anywhere. I was never without a book. I could buy something at 3.00 am in a steamy Bangkok hotel-room where the reading light was 30 watts or didn’t exist at all. I could read on a plane or in a restaurant. So what if every new and important “real” book didn’t exist on Kindle. It meant I would read things I otherwise would never even know about.
And so it has been. Kindle #4 died and Kindle #5 has just arrived. All I have to do is set it up. I was really p****d off at the death of #4. It was still relatively new and in perfect condition but that stupid battery thing happened and after all kinds of different recommendations it was clear that the battery just wasn’t taking any new charges thank you very much. It had had it. Everything else is perfect, there isn’t a mark on it, and I just don’t know what to do with it – such a waste to just throw it away. Maybe there is a Kindle Re-Purposing program somewhere.
I dithered about what to replace it with. There are so many choices now and the latest and best seems to be incredibly expensive and it is a read-only device, it doesn’t operate as a tablet, which the Fire HD did perfectly well. What to do? The 2016 Fire model seems to be pretty much exactly the same as the old one which no doubt means it too will have the dead battery problem in no time. But if you get the read-only device you have to go to bed with an I-pad or use your I-phone to connect to the internet every time you want to find out what year some book by the same author was written, or whether or not some historical detail in your tartan romance is in fact true or even vaguely so. This is the kind of thing I do at 3.00 am most days.
And in my indecision I didn’t order anything and next thing I was ordering real actual books. In my Kindle Interruptus phase I bought a collector’s edition hardback of Marilla North’s Yarn Spinners (gorgeous, but big and fat and so heavy) and two paperbacks from new darling French literary figure, creative nonfiction writer Emmanuel Carrere. Had to order these from Book Depository, they got here in no time. Of course none of these books are available on Kindle. I probably would have ordered Carrere’s books anyway since he is said to be a pareil with Michel Houellebecq, supposedly a fiction writer, although the line between them is pretty fine. Started reading Limonov by the pale and feeble bed lamp and then I couldn’t put it down and finished up with a big headache and not enough sleep. This reminded me why I can’t stand “real” books. They are so hard to manage in bed and that is where I do all my reading. But I’m glad I found Carrere. I’ll write something about his stuff shortly.
Meanwhile I ordered a 2016 Kindle Fire HD. Am about to set it up. It’s like the start of a whole new intimate relationship, and I feel quite scared about it. Not just because I hate setting up electronic gizmos anyway but mainly because I fear this might be my last Fire and soon ahead of me lies an even more bizarre tangle of chargers and wires as I go to bed each night with a read-only Kindle, a mobile phone and some kind of I-Pad device. Just as well I have a large bed!