A pair of
WHEN asked about my favourite book from childhood, I name without hesitation Elisabeth Beresford’s 1964 novel Awkward Magic, which I read at eight or so. This book about a boy, Joe, who adopts a stray dog that turns out to be a griffin, is part of a series of nine ‘‘magic’’ novels, but I don’t recall reading any of the others. Beresford, who died in 2010, is best known for the Wombles books, but I don’t think I read them at all. I also say Awkward Magic is one of only two books to make me cry, the other being the Ivan Smith (words) and Clifton Pugh (artwork) bushfire parable The Death of a Wombat (1972). Yet while I have read Wombat many times as an adult, and always find it just as moving, Awkward Magic has been left to gather dust, partly because I fretted about the risk of marring a precious memory. That changed recently when I decided to read it to my six-year-old son, Syd, who has graduated from picture books to chapter books and who, touch wood, appears to be an enthusiastic reader. As I write we are 60 or so pages in. What do I think of it, almost 40 years on? (Dear god!) Well, it’s a lovely little book. But here’s the important thing: Syd is into it. He’s fascinated by the imperious griffin, as was I as a child, and impressed by Joe’s combination of modesty and pluck. So, far from puncturing precious memories, reading this book is creating new ones. Will it make me cry at the end? I’ll have to report back on that. AS you read this the Perth Writers Festival will be wrapping up and many of the participants will be trying to work out ways of saying the same thing differently at Adelaide Writers Week, which runs from March 3 to 8. However, there will be some fresh faces in Adelaide, among them Booker Prize winner Alan Hollinghurst, who will be much in demand. Other visitors include Ron Rash (we review his new novel on page 20), Israeli short story writer Etgar Keret, Spanish novelist Javier Cercas, British writer Caryl Phillips and the American author of In the Cut, Susanna Moore. The strong Australian contingent includes Frank Moorhouse, Elliot Perlman, Brenda Walker, Nicki Greenberg, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Alice Pung, Margot Lanagan, Gail Jones, Les Murray and Sonya Hartnett. Details at www.adelaidefestival.com.au
‘‘I wish I wrote enthusiastic reviews more often, but that’s just another way of saying I wish more books deserved a rave.’’ English novelist and critic Adam Mars-jones after winning the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Award for his review of Michael Cunningham’s novel By Nightfall.