In high school, our English assessments were called ‘polished pieces’. I’ve thought about that term a lot since starting this blog; I've decided that polishing is my favourite part of writing, and writing is my favourite form of therapy. In order to polish, though, I first need to write, and after having not written for some time now I have sentences flying around in my head like sugar-fuelled children trapped in a giant cage. Figuring out how to tame these unruly words so that I can lead them free, marching in an orderly manner, is a daunting but necessary challenge; if I don’t do it now I’ll soon have to move my brain elsewhere in order to think clearly. That could get quite weird, not to mention bloody. So, to start the rescue, below are mini-reviews for three of the books I’ve read over the last few weeks.
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
This book is certainly thought-provoking, though I can think of few other positive adjectives to describe it. Most of the 8 stories in the book aren’t actually about the slap. According to the blurb and many rave reviews (and this is what scared me most about the book), The Slap is about things like parenting and commitment and everyday life. I really hope that’s not actually true; to quote Disey, who commented on a review of the first TV episode, “If this is an example of ’today's Melbourne’, then all I can say is ‘yuk!’” It’s full of ugly language, ugly sex and ugly, angry and selfish characters who are utterly unlikeable. DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. (The ABC series may be a different matter, as the language and sex in particular will have to be toned down drastically for its timeslot... You're allowed to watch that, if you want to.)
Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
I enjoyed The Five People You Meet in Heaven by the same author, which is what made me search this book out. I like the length of Albom’s books; this one, like ‘Five People’, was nice and short. Unlike ‘Five People’, however, this one left me thinking, Whatever! And that’s never a good sign. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m Australian or I'm not dying or I was just in the wrong mood, but I very quickly tired of Morrie’s guru-ey, I’m-dying-therefore-everything-I-say-is-quotable-material aphorisms and Albom’s unabashed worship of his old professor. Yay for their relationship, yay for the fact that the book covered Morrie’s medical expenses, yay for Albom’s writing. But, overall? Meh. Read it if you like, it won't take up too much of your time. But keep a bucket handy.
Things the Grandchildren Should Know by Mark Oliver Everett
Okay. This review will be harder to write because I really, really liked this book. Like, wow. Everett, aka E, is the genius behind Eels, a band responsible for two of my favourite songs of all time. I’m obviously a terrible fan, though - I had no idea Everett had written his autobiography. It’s taken me 3 years to discover it.
Everett’s life has been crazily tragic, yet he tells his story in a way that celebrates life rather than begs pity (without making you gag with its positivity, unlike Tuesdays with Morrie). It’s simply but powerfully written; in no way is it emotionally manipulative, but I laughed, cheered, cried, grumbled and, ultimately, celebrated along with him. A quote that made me smile (from page 185):
Kids know what's going on. They always respond to The Beatles, for instance. Doesn't matter when they were born, they always seem to respond. Show me a kid who innately doesn't like The Beatles, and I'll show you a bad seed.Understanding the inspiration behind Everett’s lyrics has made me adore his songs all the more (Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living) is one perfect example), and understanding how much work goes into arranging the song order on an album has made me repent of often picking out my favourite songs rather than listening through from start to finish. Unlike The Slap, this book left me feeling happy. If you haven't yet met Eels, open up grooveshark.com and introduce yourself immediately. And then read this book.