Bray’s Blog of Books (Jan-Mar, ’17)

errol-bray

 

This blog is sort of an apology to the group for the fact that – maybe you haven’t noticed – I hardly ever read the set books. Maybe this list will let you know why though time is my main problem. There are 4 broad types of books that I read – 1. Research for my own novels & plays (e.g., the book below on oracles);  2. Novels that might help me develop my writing style & structure (e.g., Paul Auster’s novel);  3. Gay-themed books that have come to my attention & interest, often through the QR meetings, but also for personal reasons (e.g., the McNab book about the Bondi murders which happened when I was living in Sydney & going to one of the beats mentioned in the book);  4. Books that add to particular collections in my library (e.g., the book on Dickens; the Prado book; even the Turing book is there partly because I have many books & a play about him).

These books are not presented in order of being read but I have put the 5 gay-interest books first. Three of them are “graphic books” – I don’t know why. I do like the graphic format but only if words and illustrations are of equally high standard. These 3 fit that description.

 

Queer: a graphic history by Meg-John Barker & Julia Scheele.  (Icon Books, London; 2016)

Graphic history.  This is an excellent book and the graphics help enormously in explaining complex queer issues, showing time-lines and in presenting varied points of view and definitions. It is not at all a dumbing-down book. The range of issues discussed and the range of theorists referenced is extensive. Barker has a PhD and the language does not avoid intellectual analysis or academic terms but at all stages the text and illustrations are clear and concise. Highly recommended.

 

Forever Young: the story of Troye Sivan by Alana Wulff.  (Nero, Carlton, Vic.; 2016)

Biography with numerous photos & illustrations. There have been other fanzine type biogs of course but this one is a gay coming out success story. He came out to loving parents and siblings at 13 and came out to his adoring 4 million fans on Facebook at 18 – he is now 21- with no negative reactions in either case. He has done some serious arts/performance stuff as well as music/songs success, e.g., starring in a movie with John Cleese; live-on-stage with Ian McKellen & Patrick Stewart in “Waiting for Godot”; played the young Logan in an X-Men movie; etc. The book also devotes 7 pages to interviewing our own favourite gay cutie (Ben Law) about his experience in interviewing Troye. We are told that Ben has a PhD in creative writing “but he’s kinda got a PhD in awesome as well.” Yes, that’s the sort of writing it is. But it’s kinda fun & the life is impressive.

 

Getting Away With Murder by Duncan McNab.  (Vintage Books, Australia; 2017)

Gay history; a few photos. This is an excellent narration of an especially nasty period in gay history in Sydney. It’s about the many murders of gays at well-known beats, particularly focussing on Bondi, from the early 70s to early 90s. Almost all of the murders went unsolved, mostly due to lack of interest by the police. The author was a policeman for 10 years of this time and he is scathing in his criticism of slack police investigations into these crimes which in most cases were treated as suicides – partly because many murdered men were thrown off the cliffs of Bondi – and obvious clues that murder had occurred were dismissed. He points out also how the poor relationship between gays and police meant that few gays reported being bashed and/or robbed due to fear of police.

The book is written in a rather dull, plodding police-procedural style but this entirely suits the subject matter. I kept feeling that this ex-cop was covering all the bases and was being thorough. He shows a clear compassion for the gay victims and their families. I think this is a must-read for all gay men to remind us of the awful times and warn us that even now in the good times there are still monsters out there who hate and kill what they hate.

 

The Case of Alan Turing: the extraordinary and tragic story of the legendary codebreaker by Eric Liberge & Arnaud Delalande.  (Arsenal Pulp Press, Vancouver; 2016)  Graphic Biography. I have a number of books about Turing – a gay icon nowadays. My interest was sparked by seeing a play about him in London in 1986, with Derek Jacobi as Turing (“Breaking the Code” by Hugh Whitemore. The “code” being not only Enigma but also Turing’s homosexuality.) This comic-book is very interesting in the way it structures and fractures the two stories of his scientific life and his homosexual life. If readers didn’t know the story already they might find it hard to follow. But it’s very well drawn and the information seems pretty accurate to me. The authors are French. At the end of the story there are 6 pages of written history with photos about cryptography and Turing and Bletchley Park. I like this type of thing as another way into Turing’s story.

 

Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas.  (Atlantic Books, London; 2015)   Short stories by the gay writer of “The Slap” and “Barracuda”. As with both those books I am in two minds about the stories. Haven’t read them all yet but a SMH review said the first story was “worth the price of the book alone.” I don’t think it is although, yes, it’s good. He does the Hemingway thing of quick blunt statements and then the opposite of putting in lots of incidental details that do not seem to add anything to the story or the tone. But he keeps you reading and that’s always a good sign. The story “Jessica Lange in Frances” is quite intriguing. The few stories I’ve read so far have gay themes and I am interested enough to keep reading.

 

The Ancient Oracles: making the gods speak by Richard Stoneman.  (Yale Uni Press, New Haven; 2011)  History; with numerous b&w illustrations. O ye gods, the ones in this very academic book are pretty boring. The detail is immense and I guess that’s why I got it – yes, research for my latest novel effort called “Oracle: 2121”. I did find out that lots of oracles were not prophesies but warnings and some were no more enlightening than present day fortune cookies or newspaper astrology columns. Many were broad predictions, not fixed fate, as in if you do such and such then these other things will follow. One of the most famous – Oedipus killing his father and marrying his mother – was totally avoidable if Oedipus had been moderately sensible.

 

City of Glass by Paul Auster.  (Folio Society, London; 2008 – 1st novel in “The New York Trilogy”)  Fiction; novel. This is something of an American classic. It reads like a detective story but with deep ruminations on identity and commitment. Some of it is as confusing as a Samuel Beckett novel which it sometimes reminded me of. Auster switches backwards and forwards between reality and high “unrealism” smoothly. Quinn is a detective who writes, but when he answers his phone to take up a new case the voice asks for Paul Auster, a writer of detective stories. The fact that Auster wrote the book – in the third person – and that the detective takes on Auster’s name is interesting but at times confusing. Quinn/Auster is so committed to the case that even when the client stops paying him he continues with it. Eventually he gives up his apartment and possessions so he can sit in an alley on perpetual surveillance, only eating and taking toilet breaks at 4am. Weird but strangely compelling.

 

The Folio Science Fiction Anthology Ed by Brian Aldiss. (Folio Society, London; 2016)

Historical selection of science fiction stories by 12 authors including Voltaire; H. G. Wells; Isaac Asimov; Jules Verne; and Philip K. Dick. I enjoyed the stories but my main purpose was research, to get more of a handle on writing sci-fi as my latest novel is set in 2121. Of course as most people will already realise, the range of styles in sci-fi is just as diversified – and as brilliant – as in any other fiction writing.

 

Dickens and the Artists Ed by Mark Bills.  (Yale Uni Press, New Haven; 2012)  Based on an exhibition at Watts Gallery, Compton, UK. Survey of paintings & illustrations associated with Dickens’s novels. There are two main sections of this book: “Dickens as art critic” and “The influence of Dickens on the artists” and there are hundreds of images. I got this book because years ago I bought a fascinating book called “Paintings in Proust: A visual companion to ‘In Search of Lost Time’.” by Eric Karpeles. (Thames & Hudson, London; 2008; 206 illustrations.) In that book every painting mentioned in Proust’s 7 volume novel is shown and analysed. The Dickens book isn’t as extensive but is still pretty interesting.

 

Literary Wonderlands: a journey through the greatest fictional worlds ever created  Ed by Laura Miller with over 40 contributors; copiously illustrated; most “worlds” are given 2 pages only (which will make me buy more books that specialise in my favourites) but some of the biggies get more (Alice gets 6 pages; Tolkein gets 4; Peter Pan gets 6; Narnia gets 6; “Brave New World” gets 6 pages but “1984” only 4) the book is split into 5 historical periods  & deals with 98 “worlds”, from Gilgamesh, Utopia, Camelot, Don Quixote through to Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Inkheart, Game of Thrones with all the obvious ones there along the way, Wonderland, Oz, Peter Pan, Kafka, The Little Prince, Tolkein, Clockwork Orange, etc, etc.

This is an encyclopaedic tribute to the amazing range of literary imagination. Tightly written; brilliantly illustrated and fascinating of course. I will be reading and referring to this book for years to come.

 

ADDING TO MY ART BOOK COLLECTION –  I usually hold off to buy the big, expensive art books until they’re on sale which is true of the following 2 and the third one was okay in price (and I’ve hardly ever come across books on Watteau!).

The Prado Masterpieces (Thames & Hudson, London; 2016.)  This is a back-breaker of 490 pages in largish format (33cm x 28cm) with hundreds of brilliantly reproduced pictures of the Prado’s paintings and sculptures. Lots of the usual suspects and many from El Greco, Goya, Velazquez, Titian etc (including Picasso’s Guernica). Naturally I enjoy looking at the pictures – I have been to the gallery a couple of times but long ago. And, over time, I will read the detailed commentary about some of the artists who specially interest me (El Greco; Velazquez – partly because he had such an impact on Francis Bacon – and Goya though I’ve read several books on him already).

A History of Pictures: from the cave to the computer screen by David Hockney & Martin Gayford.  (Thames & Hudson, London; 2016)  A conversation – 360pp & 310 illustrations; brilliant quality!! – between (gay) artist Hockney and art critic Gayford. The juxtaposition of images is fascinating with cinema stills, cave drawings, old & modern masters all on the same page dealing with how “pictures” affect people and how artists use their various mediums and styles to represent a 3-D world most often on flat 2-D surfaces. (They don’t discuss 3-D cinema, most of which I think looks incredibly phoney.) This is another book that I am dipping in and out of and it reads very easily. Hockney’s knowledge is extensive and clever. He puts forward his idea – been around for a while – that some master painters used camera obscura for their greatest pictures. I also like Hockney’s final comments about how many billions of pictures there are nowadays with phone-cameras. He concludes that, instead of everyone being famous for 15 minutes (as Warhol said), no-one will be famous except in their own small circle of Facebook friends.

Antoine Watteau: 1684-1721 by Helmut Borsch-Supan.  (Ullmann Publishing, Germany; 2013)  Biography of the French artist with copious reproductions of his paintings and numerous illustrations. Although the book is only 140pp, the biography print is so small that it is a substantial treatment of his life and art. I “discovered” Watteau a few years back when I (somehow) got a small print of his painting “L’indifferent” & thought “here’s an early 18th century guy who’s outrageously camp”. I’d never heard of Watteau. But in 2015 when I was in Paris I found a room in the Louvre full of Watteau paintings and was very impressed. I have been looking for a book about him for a while and … found this in the bookshop at QUAGOMA, right here in Briz, a couple of weeks ago. His biog early on has the “code words”(??) “never married”. He apparently was “dissatisfied with himself to the point of bitterness” – ahh, I know that one. “The mystery of the artist as a man is also evident in the few portraits of him.” Well, here I am making mountains of assumptions out of molehills of inference. Anyway, great paintings, great material about the period too.

 

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