Top Ten Significant Books of 2015

Now’s about the time you need to stock up on summer reading materials for the long January beach days and afternoons under a tree. In a year of busy literariness, with Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Tom McCarthy and Salman Rushdie all releasing new books, you’d be forgiven for not keeping on top of the truly noteworthy developments that have slid past us in the year that was. Here are ten works significant to 2015 in one way or another that are sure to entertain, or at least keep you in good stead for dinner party conversations.

 

Marlon James-A Brief History of Seven KillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James
Having won an impressive amount of awards, not least of all the Man Booker Prize, if you haven’t heard about this book it’s time to come out from under your rock. A fictional musing on the fallout of the 1976 Bob Marley assassination attempt, the novels spans decades and continents to form a dramatic and exuberant picture of Jamaica’s coming-of-age.

 

Garth-Risk-Hallberg-BOOKCity on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg
A two-million-dollar bidding war is nothing to sneeze at, neither is a 900+ page debut novel. A multi-perspective, intricately woven story of New York City leading up to the famous 1977 summer blackout, examining the city’s richest and poorest and everything in between.

 

US_cover_of_Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set a Watchman, Harper Lee
Find me one person in the Western hemisphere who hasn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird. It won the 1961 Pulitzer and the subsequent movie adaptation cemented Atticus Finch as one of the all-time greatest characters in literature. For a long time this was to be the only book Harper Lee, now 89, was to ever publish. So in terms of making history the release of her second, and probably final, novel this year is kind of a big deal.

 

HawkH is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald
In order to make sense of the devastating grief of losing her father, Macdonald embarks on a journey to train her own goshawk, the wildest and most brutal of raptors. Part memoir, part nature manual, part literary history, this enchanting book has generated a surprising amount of popular and critical acclaim.

 

inherent viceInherent Vice, Thomas Pynchon
A 60s noir escapade story from one of the most influential contemporary novelists (but if you haven’t yet read Pynchon, start with dystopian The Crying of Lot 49). Inherent Vice is several years old now but this year became the first Pynchon novel to be adapted for the screen. Don’t see the movie, but do read the book.

 

jon ronsonSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Jon Ronson
A man who’s made a career out of researching the bizarrities of modern social cultures, Ronson is the British answer to Malcolm Gladwell. In his latest release Ronson examines the strange obsession we seem to have with mass shamings, and the role social media has played in the expansion of this global pastime.

 

south-of-darknessSouth of Darkness, John Marsden
Marsden is a national treasure displaying an impressive range of narrative tone throughout his long career, from the psychological dramas of his earlier works to the addictive war action of his highly acclaimed Tomorrow series. After a writing hiatus he has returned with this colonial high-seas narrative of a young convict boy destined for Botany Bay.

 

buried giantThe Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
It’s been ten years since Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so this was one of the more highly anticipated releases of 2015. In post-Arthurian England a couple set off across the misted landscape to find their son of whom they have almost no memory. A novel of slow-reveal like his other works The Buried Giant was met with the same bemused reception. Reviewers seem unsure as to whether it is exceedingly ordinary or another triumph of symbolic and revelatory genius.

 

martianThe Martian, Andy Weir
A few years old this novel makes the 2015 list because it was also adapted for the screen this year, and unlike Inherent Vice it is a movie worth seeing. Not the most literary of options, it has nevertheless been met with positive reviews all round, named a ‘Robinson Crusoe for the modern age’. Entertaining and readable, it’s a perfect summer novel.

 

waiting_for_the_past_print_0Waiting for the Past, Les Murray
Named as one of Australia’s Living Treasures Les Murray has an OA to his name and is widely considered one of the best living English-language poets worldwide. His new collection has already won a slew of awards and you’d be crazy to miss it.

 

Elise Janes

 

TV Shows in 2015 (or, Not Quite a Top Ten List)

We live in an age of lists. The 10 best authors, 10 best films, 10 best songs about love and loss and war and hope. Almost by definition, a list presupposes a kind of expertise, that the maker of the list is in a position to weed out the dross and provide a subjective but nonetheless informed short-cut to quality. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but, for me, thinking about a ‘10 best of for 2015’ is complicated by the birth of my son. I don’t have a pool of anything that isn’t newborn related from which to draw and measure my 10 best of. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, and I didn’t expect to eat as much fiction or music or cinema, or whatever it was I did before I became a father, in 2015, but 10 isn’t a big number. It’s less than one of something a month. But all I could afford were glimpses of things, their place in a list, and sometimes, in the background, the TV. So, without further ado and in no particular order, a glimpse of my top 10 TV shows for 2015.

UNREAL  

UnReal exposes the sick, twisted heart of shows like The Bachelor.

UnReal is a dark and satirical look at the making of a reality dating show, Everlasting, loosely based on The Bachelor. It’s produced and co-written by Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, and based on her film Sequin Raze. Shapiro is a writer, filmmaker, artist and musician, and spent nine seasons working on The Bachelor in the US which provided her with the meat for UnReal. UnReal begins at the beginning, with Everlasting’s executive producer, Quinn, conducting the opening sequence from the master control suite. The season’s first contestant arrives in a horse-drawn carriage, and alights carrying a violin, which she proceeds to play. The bachelor gives the show’s host a kind of WTF nod as the contestant introduces herself as Shamiqua. Cut! Quinn yells. They can’t have a black contestant opening the show, she’s not ‘wifey’ enough. When Quinn’s accused of being racist she replies it’s not her, it’s America. Meanwhile, Rachel, one of the producers under Quinn’s wing, is en route to the Everlasting villa with some of the other contestants. She’s wearing a T-shirt that reads THIS IS WHAT A FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE, and lies on the floor of the limo amidst a forest of clean white legs and heels in a tightly framed shot that gives her a kind of claustrophobic, interred look, like she’s in a coffin. Which in many respects she is. They all are. The bachelor, the contestants, the crew. For this is a nasty world full of savagery and conflict where the only governing constant is the drug of the show, to which everybody’s bound but from which no-one can completely escape. And the Network looms large, fucking and corrupting and violating everything it touches to ramp the tension and secure its slot in its time. There is nothing else. And although UnReal isn’t as overtly vicious as Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, it’s on the same spectrum. SBS has acquired the rights to season two and will probably air in 2016.

HAPPYISH

aHAPPYish

Happysish is about happiness, and unhappiness, and the overpopulated terrain that lies between. It was originally called Pigs In Shit, with Philip Seymour Hoffman slated for the lead until his death in 2014. The role eventually went to Steve Coogan, and the program survived one 10-episode season before the axe. It rated poorly, received mixed reviews from critics, with many calling it smug and self-satisfied rubbish, and was perhaps one of the finest comedies to come out of the US since Community. Coogan plays Thom Payne, an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive advertising executive struggling with the 21st century. He lives in Woodstock, New York, with his partner, an intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive artist, and their young son. The ad agency where Thom works is being taken over by a couple of German wunderkinds who represent the most abject and perishable aspects of creativity, and are vaguely reminiscent of the Bond villains Mr Wint and Mr Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever; smiling, genial, and lethal. But not all the action takes place at the office or revolves around work. Thom’s real passion is literature, and writing, and thinking – the writers and thinkers mentioned in each episode are given acting credits, like STARRING SIGMUND FRUED, CHARLES BUKOWSKI, AND SEVEN BILLION  ARSEHOLES. Or the final episode which starred CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, PHILLIP LARKIN, AND JOSEF STALIN. Which go a long way to painting the melodies of the show. May it rest in peace. Five stars.

MR ROBOT

aMr RobotMr Robot begins with the protagonist, Elliot, a young man dressed in a black hoodie with a handsome, intense face, sitting in Ron’s Coffee Shop watching the door. The owner, Ron, comes in and takes a table. Elliot joins him, and by way of introduction tells Ron that Ron isn’t his real name, he changed it from Rohit Mehta on buying Ron’s Coffee Shop six years ago. Rohit (Ron) looks alarmed. Who are you? he says. Elliot continues, saying he likes Ron’s Coffee Shop because the Wi-Fi’s fast. So impressed was he by the speed, he explains, he hacked the network, and discovered Rohit runs a website called Plato’s Boys, and that onion protocoling isn’t as anonymous as Rohit might like to think. Rohit demands to know what Elliot wants. Money? Elliot doesn’t give a shit about money. Elliot says that although he doesn’t jerk off to little boys, he understands where Rohit’s coming from. He knows what it’s like to be different. He’s been different his whole life, and as he gets up to leave, sirens can be heard in the distance. They’re coming for Ron, with Elliot’s anonymous tip timed to prevent Ron from contacting his systems administrator and wiping all the incriminating data. Elliot leaves. Because this is what he does. He hacks into people’s lives finding injustices to fix, inadequacies to help, and lies to out. His awkward and misplaced heroics finally lead him to an anarchist group called fSociety, and so begins their journey to bring down corporate America. Apart from Christian Slater, who plays the enigmatic figurehead of this ragtag collection of misfits, the cast, along with its maker, Sam Esmail, are unknowns. Which is massive, given it was picked up and distributed in the US by NBC. Mr Robot’s billed as a cyber-punk thriller, and owes as much to David Lynch as it does to Fight Club, Taxi Driver, and Stanley Kubrick, and proved a canny broadcasting move as it now has a cult following moving into its second season.

THE LEFTOVERS

aThe Leftovers 1The premise is simple: one day, 140 million people disappear from the planet without trace, cause, or any obvious connection. This is the bedrock upon which the series is based: what if something truly inexplicable happened in our lifetime, something without precedent, like the big bang, and without inherent logic or reason? What then? How do we live with such an event, and the overwhelming unknowing of what happened, and whether what happened might one day happen again? How do we tame this wild ignorance into something we can manage and discuss over dinner? The Leftovers is one of the most important television programs on air. It asks, when faced with something so beyond our abilities to rationalise or understand, why do we turn to belief? Why do we need to believe it must be this, or that? And once determined, why the need to bunker down in camps of believers and non-believers? This is the religious imperative. And The Leftovers wonders what it is that religion fills, but like UnReal and Mr Robot, The Leftovers is a drama, not a polemic, and it doesn’t assume to know the answers. It’s about the people, the leftovers, the ones who stayed behind, and what’s possible in a world where tomorrow may in all likelihood never come.

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE

aThe Man in the High Castle

Another show that carries a dangerous premise is The Man in the High Castle. Taken from a novel by Phillip K Dick , it’s a revisionist take on World War II, with the Axis powers winning and dividing the US into three parts: The Pacific States of America governed by Imperial Japan, the Greater Nazi Reich which runs the length of the east coast and west as far as Texas, and a neutral band between the two called the Rocky Mountain States. There’s a resistance, and the pilot wastes no time setting up the violent tensions of occupation. Then a spanner. One of the protagonists finds some newsreel footage of Japan’s surrender aboard the USS Missouri in 1945. Like The Leftovers, you’d be hard pressed to find a more dramatic rapture event than this. If the footage is to be believed, then everything is a lie, and somewhere, in some not too distant space-time continuum, there’s an alternative reality where the Allies won the war. It’s a bit like Winston’s paperweight in 1984. Where once ye abandoned all hope, now there is a window. Needless to say, when the occupying forces discover this footage exists, the chase is on. Which is as far as I got, so no spoiler for this little nugget.

GOTHAM

aGothamGotham is a noir prequel to the Batman story that revolves around the day-to-days of the Gotham City Police Department, in particular Detective James Gordon. Unlike the Leftovers, or The Man in the High Castle, Gotham doesn’t break any ground. But to its credit, it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. The production is lavishly operatic, with all the tropes, stereotypes and social idioms of the comic book given a bang crash pow course in moral complexity, and the acting highwires between the histrionic and the ridiculous without ever losing its grip. Which is no small feat. However, what struck me about Gotham was the music. In the first episode, a singer auditions for a nightclub spot with Echo and the Bunnymen’s Ocean Rain. Next episode the New York Dolls pop up. Iggy Pop, The Stooges. Then in episode 04 another singer auditions for the same nightclub with a pared back version of Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshess. Now, Souixie and the Banshees don’t get out much these days, and given what had preceded it, I checked out the credits for SOUND. Turns out to be Graeme Revell, frontman for the 1980’s punk industrial electronic group SPK. Revell’s been composing for TV and film for over two decades, with all sorts of titles to his name, from Dead Calm in 1989, to The Crow, Bride of Chucky, The Matrix and its sequels, Pitch Black and its sequels, Lara Croft, Sin City, Dennis the Menace Strikes Again, and the list goes on. I was reminded of Lisa Gerrard from Dead Can Dance who wrote the score for Balibo, won a Golden Globe with her score for Whale Rider, and is perhaps best known for her work with Ridley Scott on Black Hawk Down, The Insider, and Gladiator. Or the French electronica duo Air who scored Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides. Or Clint Mansell, formerly with Pop Will Eat Itself, who scored The Fountain with Kronos Quartet. Or Trent Reznor’s score for The Social Network. Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood. These are more than bands or musicians providing a song to top or tail a movie or soundtrack a car chase, but an industry shift away from traditional composers like Morricone and Williams to the Billboard alternative music charts.

I’m not sure what it all means, if anything, these swings in cinema and TV, with the recent crop of movie stars appearing in shows like Hannibal, True Detective, House of Cards, Fargo, the trend some say began with The Sopranos and The Wire towards a more literary narrative arc, programs that can’t be dipped into like tracks on an album but have to be watched from the beginning to the end, episode by episode. Maybe we’ve become more demanding, as an audience. Who knows? What’s good to know – even though I didn’t make it to 10 – is that quality television is starting to become more fashionable than it has for some time. Which makes parenthood just that little bit easier. Or not. Who knows?

 

Sean Macgillicuddy

 

Because of Marty McFly

If you were born in or around the 80s chances are Marty McFly featured large in your childhood. Something about the combination of his wide-eyed wonder and teenage recklessness made Marty the kind of guy you’d want to hang around. The many harrowing experiences he endured simply endeared him to us further, as he saved himself from oblivion several times and repeatedly outwit the many iterations of Biff Tannen via the assistance of a handy hoverboard or some mad guitar skills, or the inevitable pile of manure.

In fact many of you would still count the Back to the Future trilogy among the best movies ever made. I know I do, not simply for the sheer entertainment value, which is significant even thirty years on, but because the films spoke intimately and intelligently to the sense of adventure and personal triumph that we all crave, making them truly timeless in their appeal and also their relevance.

Back-to-the-Future-2

The movies had a vast impact on popular culture, with the crazy inventiveness of the narrative spawning references wide and varied from hiphop tunes, to presidential addresses, to the emergence of 80s skateboard culture. And the mild DeLorean was never the same again.

In honour of this very great of days, 21 October 2015, I’d like to acknowledge the linguistic contribution of Back to the Future to our modern vernacular. Here are fifteen things you now say because of Dr. Emmett Brown and his silver DeLorean.

Great Scott!

Manure! I hate manure!

Nobody calls me chicken.

Whoa. This is heavy.

Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads

If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits 88 mph…you’re gonna see some serious shit.

Why don’t you make like a tree and get out of here?

The time-travelling is just too dangerous. Better that I devote myself to study the other great mystery of the universe: women.

You’re the doc, Doc.

What happens to us in the future? Do we become assholes or something?

I foresee two possibilities. One, coming face to face with herself 30 years older would put her into shock and she’d simply pass out. Or two, the encounter could create a time paradox, the results of which could cause a chain reaction that would unravel the very fabric of the space time continuum, and destroy the entire universe!

I’m your density.

Well, that is your name, isn’t it? Calvin Klein? It’s written all over your underwear.

It means your future hasn’t been written yet. No one’s has. Your future is whatever you make it. So make it a good one, both of you.

If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.

Happy Back to the Future Day, everyone.

Elise Janes

2015 Guide to Australian Literary Festivals

 

Australia boasts some of the world’s largest and most diverse literary festivals, offering everything from general interest to genre-specific favourites such as Swancon and Supanova. Get your diary out, the literary year starts here.

 

Byron Bay Writers Festival 2014, courtesy of bangalowguesthouse.com.au

 

General Interest

Perth Writers Festival
Perth, WA
February 20-23
What to expect: A program paying ‘homage to the vintage objects of print culture such as books, maps and letters, and [embracing] the new storytelling media’.

Adelaide Writers Week
Adelaide, SA
February 28 – March 5
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest and oldest literary festival, offering both writers and readers a unique opportunity to spend time sharing ideas and literary explorations’.

Festival of Golden Words
Beaconsfield, TAS
March TBA
What to expect: ‘Covering literary fiction, popular fiction, biography, comedy, current affairs, history, military, sport, poetry, wine and food, stage and screen, and self-publishing, with a strong concurrent children’s and young adults programme.’

Eye of the Storm
Alice Springs, NT
April 23-26
What to expect: ‘[T]he 2015 Eye of the Storm writers festival is shaping up to be an extraordinary event that touches on universal themes that are close to the heart of Central Australian communities.’

Sydney Writers Festival
Sydney, NSW
May 18-24
What to expect: ‘Australia’s largest annual celebration of literature and ideas…the third largest event of its kind in the world’.

Margaret River Readers & Writers Festival
Margaret River, WA
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘Celebrating literature and promoting Margaret River and surrounds as destinations.’ This year’s theme is Seasons.

Yamba Writers Festival
Yamba, NSW
May 29-31
What to expect: ‘The Clarence region has an abundance of writers, poets and thinkers and some, along with the featured writers at the Festival, have published works over many years in both Australia as well as internationally.’

Noosa Long Weekend
Noosa, QLD
July 14-26
What to expect: ‘An arts festival with a strong strand of literature – in a beautiful environment’.

Byron Bay Writers Festival
Byron Bay, NSW
August 7-9
What to expect: ‘Australian writing, with recognition of Australia’s geographical location through the inclusion of Indonesian and Asian authors.’

Melbourne Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
August 20-30
What to expect: Celebrating 30 years in 2015, the festival ‘will take audiences on a literary tour of Australia and all corners of the globe’.

Brisbane Writers Festival
Brisbane, QLD
September 2-6
What to expect: ‘Energy and “casual intellect”’ bringing together ‘readers, writers, innovators and provocateurs’.

 

Tailored

Digital Writers Festival
Online
February 11-22
What to expect: Run by the team behind Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival, expect some similar faces from young local authors and online journals.

Australian Romance Readers Convention
Canberra, ACT
March 6-8
What to expect: The festival ‘will bring together romance readers, authors and publishers and provide an opportunity to talk about all things related to romance fiction.’

Somerset Celebration of Literature
Gold Coast, QLD
March 18-20
What to expect: ‘Over 30 acclaimed authors from around Australia hold interactive sessions and workshops for both children and adults.’ YA and schools focus.

Historical Novel Society of Australia
Sydney, NSW
March 20-22
What to expect: ‘Both the imagination and dedication of historical novelists present an authentic world which can enrich a reader’s understanding of real historical personages, eras and events.’

Swancon
Perth, WA
April 2-6
What to expect: ‘A speculative fiction convention that is invested in all kinds of media’ with ‘panels and discussion about games, film, literature, and graphic novels.’

Write Edit Index
Canberra, ACT
May 6-9
What to expect: ‘Australian conference for editors, indexers and publishing professionals.’

Emerging Writers Festival
Melbourne, VIC
May 26 – June 5
What to expect: ‘[A] place where creativity and innovation are celebrated, where new talent is nurtured and where diverse voices from across Australia are represented.’

Continuum
Melbourne, VIC
June 6-8
What to expect: ‘[S]peculative fiction and pop culture fan convention celebrating creativity across genre and media. From hard-edge science fiction to high-flown fantasy, comic books to film noir, high culture to sub-culture.’

Voices on the Coast
Sunshine Coast, QLD
July 16-17
What to expect: ‘Leading Australian and International authors, illustrators, poets and performers’ talking and workshopping with students and adults.

National Play Festival
Adelaide, SA
July 22-25
What to expect: ‘[F]our days of new Australian plays, artist talks, masterclasses and industry discussions’ as well as a partnership with State Theatre Company SA.

Romance Writers of Australia Conference
Melbourne, VIC
August 21-23
What to expect: ‘[P]rovides unique networking opportunities for writers, editors, agents and other publishing industry professionals with a keen focus on romance publishing.’

Book Week
National
August 22-28
What to expect: National school-based events hosted by Children’s Book Council of Australia. This year’s theme: Books Light Up Our World.

National Young Writers Festival
Newcastle, NSW
October 1-4
What to expect: ‘[T]he country’s largest gathering of young and innovative writers working in both new and traditional forms’.

GenreCon
Brisbane, QLD
October 30 – November 1
What to expect: ‘GenreCon provides an opportunity for writers, editors, agents and other genre fiction professionals to come together for three days of networking, seminars, workshops, and more.’

Crime and Justice Festival
Melbourne, VIC
November 13-15
What to expect: ‘There is no other festival that combines the crime fiction genre with discussions on the law, social justice, human rights and general social commentary.’

Supanova
Melbourne: April 10-12
Gold Coast: April 17-19
Sydney: June 19-21
Perth: June 26-28
Adelaide: November 20-22
Brisbane: November 27-29
What to expect: ‘[C]omic books, animation/cartoons, science-fiction, pulp TV/movies, toys, console gaming, trading cards, fantasy, entertainment technology, books, internet sites and fan-clubs’ and the Madman National Cosplay Championship.

Oz Comic-Con
Perth: April 11-12
Adelaide: April 18-19
Melbourne: June 27-28
Brisbane: September 19-20
Sydney: September 26-27
What to expect: ‘Oz Comic-Con boasts a show floor packed with exhibitors, autograph and photograph sessions with the hottest celebrities and one-of-a-kind panel events’.

 

More Information

The above list represents only a snapshot of the many literary festivals held throughout Australia, with some major centres still yet to release dates. Keep checking festival websites for the most current details, and find further information at the following sites.

A comprehensive and up-to-date list on author Jason Nahrung’s website:
jasonnahrung.com/2015-australian-literary-festival-calendar/

An extensive searchable inventory on the Literary Festivals site:
www.literaryfestivals.com.au/index.html

A narrower list but more specific detail on the Australian Government site:
www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/writers-festivals

Elise Janes