a pair of ragged claws

WOW, this is the first time I’ve been over on the left. It feels quite nat­u­ral, I must say.

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - www.theaus­tralian.com.au/thearts Stephen Romei

REG­U­LAR read­ers will know I was one of the judges for the NSW Pre­mier’s Lit­er­ary Awards, an­nounced on Fri­day night. It was a re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and the high­light for me was the judges as a group propos­ing Clive James for the $20,000 Spe­cial Award and the Pre­mier’s Of­fice agree­ing to that sug­ges­tion. The award recog­nises a writer’s life­time achieve­ment and is not handed out lightly. Pre­vi­ous re­cip­i­ents in­clude AD Hope, Ju­dith Wright, Ruth Park, Rose­mary Dob­son and Tom Ke­neally. James, bat­tling leukaemia and un­able to travel, wrote an ele­gant ac­cep­tance speech that was read on his be­half. He said he wished he could have re­ceived the award in per­son but was ‘‘chained’’ to the Lon­don hospi­tal su­per­vis­ing his treat­ment, from where he viewed NSW as ‘‘a dis­tant, lost haven’’. ‘‘But it is al­ways with me in my imag­i­na­tion.’’ James grew up in the Syd­ney sub­urb of Kog­a­rah, as im­mor­talised in Un­re­li­able Mem­oirs. He con­tin­ued: ‘‘To leave a para­graph or a poem in the na­tional me­mory: it’s the best, the very best, thing a writer can hope for. This won­der­ful award val­i­dates the ef­fort I put into my writ­ing, even when I was too young to strike a mod­er­ate tone. In fact none of us, in my gen­er­a­tion, were mod­er­ate. We wanted the world. But we were right to think NSW was a good place to start want­ing it.’’ MEL­BOURNE think tank the Grat­tan In­sti­tute has pub­lished its an­nual sum­mer read­ing sug­ges­tions for the Prime Min­is­ter. The books are: the Robert Manne and Chris Feik-edited The Words that Made Aus­tralia; Laura Tingle’s Quar­terly Es­say, Great Ex­pec­ta­tions: Government, En­ti­tle­ment and an An­gry Na­tion; Adrian Hyland’s Kinglake-350; Emma Mar­ris’s Ram­bunc­tious Garden; En­rico Moretti’s The New Ge­og­ra­phy of Jobs; and Daniel Kah­ne­man’s Think­ing, Fast and Slow. De­tails: grat­tan.edu.au. All wor­thy reads, to be sure, but I reckon Ju­lia Gil­lard should find time for Fifty Shades of Grey, not least be­cause Tony Ab­bott has. Af­ter all, 20 mil­lion women can’t be wrong. I WAS chat­ting to Ge­ordie Wil­liamson the other day about the books we read as teenagers that were a bridge to the world of grown-up lit­er­a­ture. Un­sur­pris­ingly we both loved Fred­er­ick Forsyth. I still think of The Odessa File as hav­ing the great­est sur­prise end­ing in lit­er­a­ture (a view I doubt would sur­vive a reread­ing). Jef­frey Archer, too, was a favourite. And I was de­lighted to learn we both thrilled to Ge­of­frey House­hold’s Rogue Male, a book I have re-read in re­cent years and lost no ad­mi­ra­tion for. How­ever, there is one dif­fer­ence and I’m glad to report that for once it’s due to a gap in Ge­ordie’s read­ing, not mine: the ad­ven­ture nov­els of the south­ern African writer Wil­bur Smith. I vividly re­call de­vour­ing th­ese, bor­rowed from the lo­cal li­brary, so this month’s My Favourite Novel col­umn, pub­lished to my right, brings back happy mem­o­ries.

Quote of the week: ‘‘My use-by date has fi­nally come up. I don’t mind that, I’ve had a won­der­ful life. Part of that won­der­ful life has been those peo­ple kind enough to pick up a Bryce Courte­nay book and read it and en­joy it and buy the next one and be with me on what has been an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney. And all I’d like to say, as sim­ply as I pos­si­bly can, is thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.’’ Best­selling au­thor Bryce Courte­nay, who died on Novem­ber 22 aged 79, in a mov­ing farewell video mes­sage to his read­ers.

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