Thursday, 3 February 2005

Funny Australian habits

Listening to:

Schubert, Octet in F, D.803.

Aussie parents are no better than Fagin...

In the warmth of a December summer, just before Christmas, it seems as if Australians make a habit of putting their children out onto the streets to beg. Well, the children are out there busking anyway. Maybe the parents feel that they should see if they can’t get a return out of the expense of instrument hire and lesson costs. Or maybe the parents just want to get the children out of the house while they’re on holiday.

I have observed this on both sides of the continent, and over three years or more.

Monday, 7 February 2005

American long stories

Listening to:

Part, Cantus in memory of Benjamin Britten.

Just read:

The Granta book of the American long story, edited by Richard Ford.

This volume is an impressive collection of 11 “long stories”. In an entertaining introduction, the editor, Richard Ford, explains why he chose this term rather than novella, which is what one might otherwise call this sort of story. The introduction then closes:

And so enough. More than enough, I’m sure. You have the book in hand now. It’s finally got quiet. You can read.

And there’s lots of good stuff to read. All but one of the stories is excellent, and the one that isn’t excellent is simply weird. This odd story, The making of Ashenden by Stanley Elkin, features a self-centred dandy looking for his true love (a love who must meet all sorts of exacting criteria), but who ends up having wild sex with a bear. Yes, it must be a spoof of something; in fact, it’s probably a spoof of a few things, but it makes for a strange reading experience.

On the simply excellent front, I particularly enjoyed June recital by Eudora Welty, The long march by William Styron (which felt a little like a MASH-precursor or influence; it has the right sort of dates), A long day in November by Ernest J. Gaines, The old forest by Peter Taylor, Rosa by Cynthia Ozick, The age of grief by Jane Smiley, and Caroline’s wedding by Edwidge Danticat.

One interesting aspect of many of these stories is that they feature realistic children. In the stories by Welty and Gaines, the children are central, appealing and believable. In The age of grief, Smiley tells a story about a middle-aged couple who happen to have three children, and the children do come across as real, albeit minor, characters. Getting a story to read about well-adjusted adults, in a modern setting that seems fairly normal, is interesting in itself.

The other stories are good too; the whole collection is definitely one I recommend.

To review next:

Simon Winchester, The meaning of everything.