Author: Sarah LEstrange
On The Book Show today, Sally Warhaft and Jeff Sparrow look at what’s making book news. Listen here.
In an earlier interview on The Book Show, Eva Hornung said her novel Dog Boy was probably her most stinkiest book. Dog Boy is about what happens to humans when they are removed from civilization. In this story, children are brought up by dogs.
Dog Boy won the fiction prize for the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary awards. The shortlists were announced in July this year and the federal election delayed the announcement of the winners until yesterday, Tuesday 9 November. They were set up by Kevin Rudd in 2007.
The other winners are:
Children’s fiction winner: Star Jumps by Lorraine Marwood
Young adult fiction winner: Confessions of a Liar, Thief and Failed Sex God by Bill Condon
Non-fiction winner: The Colony: A History of Early Sydney by Grace Karskens
In The Age, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she’ll try to read some of the winning books over summer. Although Sally Warhaft wishes the prize really was the PM’s award and was based on what the PM had actually read. For Jeff Sparrow, the value of the award is that it generates more conversation about literature.
A new literary prize has been set up in India called the South Asia Prize. It’s being funded by a construction company. The Guardian reports that it’s worth $50,000. ‘The international prize has been set up to raise awareness of south Asian culture around the world, and is unusual in being open to authors of any nationality so long as the work is based on the region and its people.’
Given Indian writers have been well represented in the Man Booker Prize, it makes sense for this award to be established; the Indian diaspora is so vast. One winner of the Booker prize, in fact, the Booker of Bookers, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is to be made into a film. Some have said that it was unfilmable because of its magical realism, but both Warhaft and Sparrow dispute that anything is unfilmable anymore – CGI means the cast of thousands can be down economically now. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs and Alan Moore’s Watchmen were said to be unfilmable although both have since been made into movies. Salman Rushdie himself has made a start on the screenplay and it’s to be filmed by the director Deepa Mehta. Some of the commentary on un-filmable books is actually more about people’s fears that the movies won’t be as good as the books. See here and here.
Another major literary happening lately is the publication of political memoirs by recent leaders. Tony Blair kicked off the season with his memoir A Journey in September and it was a sales sensation. Next week in the US, George W Bush releases his memoir called Decision Points. Deluxe editions are worth $350 dollars and the print run for the standard hardbacks are expected to exceed one million copies.
In Australia, John Howard’s memoir Lazarus Rising was published 2 weeks ago. The print run is around 75000. Sally Warhaft has read the book and interviewed John Howard about it on ABC Local Melbourne radio.
Her assessment is that it sits within the tradition of other former Prime Minister’s writing about their time in office. Warhaft prefers it when a memoir is written 10 years after the politician was in office, when it’s more likely that they’ll be able to reflect objectively on their involvement of the political machinations of the times.
However, in The Australian John Howard said ‘This is a good time to have launched a political book. There is an above-average interest in politics, due no doubt to the desperately close federal election outcome and the aftermath as Labor scrambled to put together a minority government’.
Peter Reith has reviewed Lazarus Rising: ‘Don’t be surprised: I reckon it is a good read’.
In terms of what makes for a good political memoir Jeff Sparrow says the author needs to show a degree of honesty and self awareness. ‘Australian political memoirs generally show that Australian politicians don’t know how to behave after politics’.
Sally Warhaft wants less of what we know and more of what we don’t know, ‘it needs to be well written of course, candid, not Lathamesque malicious, written in such a way that in the reading you can’t sense the need to sell their own record, they need to tell a bigger story, have something to say about the broader political culture’.
Finally, it wasn’t a good year for non-fiction, Warhaft said. And Sparrow feels the promise of ebooks has not yet been fulfilled.
Sally Warhaft is an anthropologist and the former editor of The Monthly. Jeff Sparrow is the editor of Overland literary magazine.