A pair of
STRANGE days indeed. A fellow goes overseas for a few weeks and look what happens: one prime minister is binned so another can be recycled, JK Rowling turns her literary wizardry to crime fiction and a woman wins the Miles Franklin. Only joking about the last of course: huge congratulations to Michelle de Kretser on winning our most important book prize for her wonderful novel Questions of Travel. It couldn’t happen to a nicer writer. WHEN Kevin Rudd challenged Julia Gillard on June 26, it was mid-morning in Rome and I’d just cracked the spine of one of the best books I read during my break, Sarah Dunant’s novel of the Borgias, Blood & Beauty (reviewed on page 22). The novel opens with the papal conclave of 1492 that eventually elected Rodrigo Borgia as head of the Catholic Church. He became Pope Alexander VI. Three pages in and with one eye on events in Canberra, I was struck by a passage describing the cardinals’ backroom deliberations: ‘‘. . . even in the latrines the work continues: negotiation and persuasion over the trickle of ageing men’s urine’’. Dunant, who divides her time between London and Florence (lucky her), is heading to our shores for the Melbourne Writers Festival, which runs from August 22 to September 1. The program is online at mwf.com.au. ANOTHER epic and impressive book I read while on leave sprang from the other side of the Atlantic: The Son, by Wall Street trader turned writer Philipp Meyer. This novel follows three generations of a pioneering American family made rich first by cattle and then by oil. Think George Stevens’s 1956 film Giant, except with more bloodshed, as Meyer spares no one in its brutal depiction of how the west was won. The author is another heading our way, for the Brisbane Writers Festival from September 4 to 8. The program was due to go online this weekend at bwf.org.au. ONE of the treats of being overseas is reading the International Herald Tribune, not least because you never know what you might find in it. The July 1 edition carried a fascinating piece about actors cashing in on a boom in audio books, which are experiencing double-digit sales growth in the US. Audio books are in demand because the delivery method has become so easy: you download to your mobile device, meaning there’s no need for bulky CDs or tapes (remember them?) and the clunky hardware that goes with them. This has ‘‘created a burgeoning employment opportunities for actors pursuing stardom on stage and screen, allowing them to pay their bills by doing something other than waiting on tables’’. Indeed the boss of audio book giant Audible, Donald Katz, reckons his company is the largest employer of actors in the New York area, with 2000 on the payroll. Actors interviewed for the article said they counted on narrating two books a month, earning $1000 to $3000 a pop. So I decided to give it a go, although I went down the prehistoric path and borrowed a book on CDs from my local library and listened to them on what may or may not still be called a boom box. I wanted something short and familiar so went for Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, read by English actor Martin Jarvis on the Naxos label. Once I got used to the English voices in my mental eastern European setting I settled in and enjoyed this sad and fantastic story. Even so, I’m glad my first experience with it, many years ago, was just between me and the printed page.