A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

THE ‘‘pub­lish­ing event of the year’’ varies de­pend­ing on which pub­lisher you are talk­ing to, but few would ar­gue the loom­ing re­lease of Hi­lary Man­tel’s se­quel to Wolf Hall, Bring­ing up the Bod­ies, is not a very big deal in­deed. Wolf Hall, which charts Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power in the Tu­dor court, won the 2009 Booker Prize and has sold in the hun­dreds of thou­sands. Bring­ing Up the Bod­ies has at its cen­tre a sen­sa­tional sub­ject: the life and death of Anne Bo­leyn, sec­ond wife of Henry VIII. Harpercollins will pub­lish the novel on May 19, the an­niver­sary of Bo­leyn’s be­head­ing on Tower Green. RE­CENT stud­ies in Bri­tain have re­vealed dis­turbingly poor lit­er­arcy lev­els among school­child­ren, par­tic­u­larly boys, and un­sur­pris­ingly the prob­lem is worst in the poor­est ar­eas. In­deed, when Charles Dick­ens turned 200 this month, Schools Min­is­ter Nick Gibb ad­mit­ted there were ‘‘still shad­ows of Dick­ens’ world in our own’’. Now pub­lisher Ran­dom House has re­leased Stop What You’re Do­ing and Read This!, in which 11 well-known writ­ers ex­pound on the plea­sures of read­ing, and its power. The book is a ‘‘man­i­festo’’ that aims to con­vince peo­ple to make read­ing part of their daily lives, and es­pe­cially of their chil­dren’s lives. Sev­eral of the con­trib­u­tors urge us to read more slowly and deeply, a chal­lenge in­deed when time is so Tweet­ing. (And be­fore I for­get, ‘‘Mrs Stephen Fry’s’’ bi­cen­ten­nary tweet that Twit­ter is like a Dick­ens’ novel — ‘‘140 char­ac­ters, lots of silly names and it goes on for­ever’’ — was a gem.) But back to the book. I like this from Tim Parks: ‘‘How­ever fast you like to read a book over­all, make sure you read the open­ing page or two with the ut­most care, savour­ing ev­ery word, think­ing about where this writer is com­ing from’’. Jeanette Win­ter­son rec­om­mends read­ing to ‘‘pro­tect your soul’’, Zadie Smith is elo­quent in praise of li­braries and Car­men Callil of­fers a coun­ter­in­tu­itive take on claims we’re too busy to read. And in read­ing Mark Had­don on the writ­ers who, when he was 14, ‘‘lit up the in­side of my head’’, it is lovely to see the Aus­tralian poet Peter Porter men­tioned. Stop What You’re Do­ing and Read This! (Vin­tage, 181pp) is good value at $12.95.

‘‘Writ­ing is hard work: frus­tra­tion, dead ends and above all fail­ure, fail­ure and more fail­ure, un­til you ar­rive at the final form and none of this changes with genre’’. Syd­ney novelist De­bra Ade­laide in an ex­cel­lent piece on the dif­fer­ences — and im­por­tant sim­i­lar­i­ties — be­tween fic­tion and non­fic­tion in Newswrite, the jour­nal of the NSW Writ­ers Cen­tre. I should add that she con­cludes by not­ing that when writ­ers get it right it ‘‘makes the re­sult seem fluid and ef­fort­less, as if the story is warm honey the au­thor has poured out in a sin­gle act, but also makes us feel the work is writ­ten for us alone’’.


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