What We’ve Been Reading: March 0 Comments

What We’ve Been Reading: March

Eric: When I read poetry I am always struck by work that tries to do something important, work that affects change. In Maxine Beneba Clarke’s collection Original Skin, she does exactly this.

Simple and authentic, Clarke redesigns the structure of the English language itself in order to speak truthfully and challenge the bias ingrained in our speech. Tackling exoticisation, hate crimes and oppression, her poems reframe Bible stories (Delilah as “A fierce black woman/beating her way forward/in a world made for mediocre white men”), act as a call-to-arms against “anti-aborevolutionary terra cronullians” and dispel racist caricatures of “dole-bludging five-baby-to-four-daddy mammas/hands outstretched to a welfare habit”. She writes with unrelenting candour and a grasp of these issues that, let’s be honest, is probably better than yours.

The themes of Clarke’s work are important. Intersecting race and feminism, she shares the voices we often disregard and challenges our disdain. It is what she is writing about that makes these poems required reading, it is her style, her skill and the beauty of her poems that make them a joy.

 

Kimberley: I recently picked up a battered copy of the The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh without knowing much about it. Waugh’s writing is nothing short of hilarious, in a gloriously 1940s sense. If the words ‘pet cemetery’, ‘Hollywood’ and ‘disgruntled englishmen’ tickle your readerly fancy, then this one’s for you.

I highly recommend all nonfiction writers read Oscar Schwartz’s winning essay in the inaugural Experimental Nonfiction Prize run by The Lifted Brow. The piece, ‘Humans Pretending to be Computers, Pretending to be Human’, looks at the cost of anonymous digital labour and is constructed in a near masterful way. And heck, while you’re at it, read the rest of the issue too, The Brow’s redesign just looks so damn delicious.

Something I must admit to having started but never finished is Karl Ove Knausgaard’s travel piece in The New York Times. The Norwegian novelist was commissioned by the magazine to travel across the US and cast his scrupulous Scandinavian eye over the place. The result comes in at a dizzying 10,500 words (just for part 1); although this sounds positively breezy for the writer of the six-volume tome, My Struggle. Really, it’s like he doesn’t want people to finish his work, but whatever, you should all try.

 

Rafael: In an attempt at writing better creative nonfiction, I decided to actually start reading it. And who better to write about the real than someone who’s made a living writing sci-fi. Distrust Particular Flavor is by one of my favourite sci-fi authors, (William Gibson), and although it isn’t as tech-heavy as you’d expect, it is obsessed with several things, and it is those that are the most useful. As a collection it doesn’t have quite as much worth, considering it is just a compendium of his (very scattered) nonfiction. This includes speeches, forewords, pieces that he’d written for some very specific commission and now sit as stilted as a mannequin that might at any moment blink. The chronological order also seems similarly artificial, in that there’s no binding theme besides him having written one several years after the other. As a means of getting inside his head though, these pieces are really valuable. You read each essay, and then immediately afterwards, are treated to a few paragraphs, sometimes longer, about the genesis of the work. Not simply ‘where did you get the idea’ but his own insecurities, outside life as a watch hustler on ebay, and where he stands looking at the piece now. The writing itself is pretty good too. At times it is clumsy or a little bit anachronistic, but there are some excellent moments too. ‘Disneyland with the Death Penalty’ is one such piece, where the world of Singapore is so perfectly rendered in all its strange intensity that it somehow still manages to feel genuine, even ten years later.

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