May 28, 2017

"Must Not Reads" at AWF17

Amber from Parnell Library also went to hear the "Must Not Reads" session at the Writers Festival, where a panel of writers presented their choices of writing you should never read. Here's the post she wrote for us about it  -- definitely not a "Must not read"!

As someone who loves – LOVES – to complain, I was pretty amped for "Must Not Reads". What I imagined was four writers griping for an hour, unstructured, just bitching. I wanted to hear what they hated and who was a total waste of time and just a terrible writer and really sexist, derivative, totally phoned in etc.

It wasn’t really like that at all, but it was still pretty good. Chaired by Rosemary Tan, the four panel members were: Brannavan Gnanalingam, Roseanne Liang, Bill Manhire and Stephanie Johnson.

Stephanie began with a truly retro passage from a Harold Robbins book (forgive me for forgetting particulars) that featured all of the elements of your standard vintage popular fiction love scene: breathiness, women begging to be hurt and saying things like “you’re so strong!” to their dour male suitors. It was gross and I’m glad I mostly read Goosebumps and Horrible Histories as an adolescent – although, her story about a cousin who used to charge other kids money for finding and reciting the dirtiest bits in these kinds of books was very impressive.

Stephanie Johnson
This was followed by a fairly predictable but quite understandable pick: Fifty shades of Grey– Roseanne Liang’s choice. Bill Manhire was invited to read out an appropriately carnal passage which naturally is scorched into my memory and will resurface periodically until I die – thanks for that, Bill.

Roseanne Liang

Brannavan Gnanalingam chose V.S Naipaul’s A bend in the riverdrawing comparisons to Heart of darkness and reasoning that if it were written by a white man it might have been seen a little differently – ie it might have been assessed as racist in its depiction of Africa as a fundamentally violent and ill-fated expanse. And that it probably wouldn’t have been nominated for the Booker Prize either – apparently Paul Theroux had a hand in ensuring A bend in the river didn't win (due to its lazily racist slant), which I found confusing because in my very minimal experience with Theroux I found him to be scornfully racist?

Gnanalingam also cast aspersions on one Ian McEwan book in particular which again I cannot remember – stating that that if you like McEwan you will not like his books. Gnanalingam got as close to the kind of popping off I was hoping for, so I’ve decided I have to read his books – he seems like a great guy, and I always found McEwan a bit boring.

B. Gnanalingam (photo Candy Capoco)
Bill Manhire complained mostly about small annoyances like poems being butchered for garden advertisements and newsletters – rearranged to look all nice and properly “poem” like, totally obliterating any of the original structure. I can definitely get behind this kind of grievance. He also mentioned The Three Christs of Ypsilanti: A Psychological Study by Milton Rokeach which no longer feels quite right to him morally. I on the other hand added it to my “Must Read” list (yes it does seem rather cruel to stick together three psychiatric patients who all think they’re Jesus, but it also sounds like a great read!).

Bill Manhire (photo Grant Maiden)

Stephanie’s second choice was Zealot: the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan, which apparently ruined the last fragments of long abandoned Christianity she was clinging to. She talked a lot about it, but really all I could think was: “Boohoo?”

Roseanne’s second choice was Lena Dunham’s Not that kind of girl, which felt like “fair enough” until she admitted that it was over the molestation controversy, which the other panel members judged as seeming very far-fetched and willfully dense (an opinion to which I generally adhere, although in the the context of the book it’s endlessly debatable) and to which she sort of went “Yeah, like I liked it and I used to like her but then that happened so… idk?”. If I was looking for something to classify as phoned in, it would be that choice of  “must not read”.

There were some classic arguments raised throughout the evening – the death of the author, whether or not we need to care that our literary and cinematic heroes might be pedophiles or racists, whether “trigger warnings” are ridiculous (Hi Stephanie – they’re not! Love from a delicate millennial).

All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable evening, but I’d have appreciated some teeth – so it’s lucky that I love to complain!

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 18:50
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