September Book Buys, Another Author Signing and Cultural Appropriation

September started with the end of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival. I had already been to see Yann Martel and AC Grayling, but I also got tickets to the closing address by Lionel Shriver. I managed to get both my copy of We Need to Talk About Kevin and her new book The Mandibles, signed.

The topic of her address was gender issues in literature (and elsewhere). Unsurprisingly she did not hesitate to share her opinions which appeared to be well received. The same cannot be said for another speech she gave at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival which resulted in one audience member, Yasmin Abdel-Magied, storming out and writing a scathing article which appeared in The Guardian. Abdel-Magied tries to argue that authors have no right to write fiction from the perspective of someone from another gender or ethnicity and to do so makes them bigoted.

[Sigh] Such a response is hardly surprising these days and I have no energy right now to write a comprehensive rebuttal of Abdel-Magied’s argument, fortunately others have done that. Shockingly, the Brisbane Writer’s Festival caved to pressure and disavowed Shriver’s speech despite pre-approving it! If you would like to decide for yourself, you can read Abdel-Magied’s article here, a transcript of Shriver’s speech here and a response from Shriver in the New York Times appropriately titled “Will the Left Survive the Millennials?”, here. Nick Cohen, always there to defend the Left from itself, has written his take on the controversy, called “The Dead End of Identity Politics“, here.

Just before I was due to publish this post, another case came up. This one involves Elena Ferrante and her series of acclaimed Neapolitan novels centred around two poor girls from Naples. Ferrante is a nom de plume and has recently been outed as Anita Raja. With her outing came the inevitable charge of appropriation since she is neither from Naples nor is she poor herself. Fortunately, again, there are better considered counter-arguments. In Ferrante’s case you can read Adam Kirsh’s article in the New York Times, titled “Elena Farrante and the Power of Appropriation“, here.

Moving on, school holidays arrived in September and that gave my wife and I a chance to do something we have not done since our daughter was born – make a trip out to Mornington. It is a drive of about an hour but it has one of the better second-hand bookstores I know of – Chapterhouse Books – and one of the better independent book stores around here – Farrell’s Bookshop.

I picked up four second-hand books from Chapterhouse. To be fair, I did not walk away with any great finds like previous visits, but I did pick up a few books I have been interested in.

First up is Stardust by Neil Gaiman. I saw the film a long time ago and remember it fondly. It looks like a short and easy read so I may read it soon and watch the movie again as well.

Another with a movie tie-in is The Ghost by Robert Harris. I mentioned wanting to read Harris last month when I picked up a copy of Fatherland. The Ghost also looks like a quick and easy read so I may also tackle it soon and watch the movie as well.

I also bought a copy of As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner and Home by Marilynne Robinson which won the Women’s Prize (currently the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction) in 2009.

Farrell’s had a number of books I would like but, restricting myself to just one, I bought Life’s Greatest Secret: The Race to Crack the Genetic Code by Matthew Cobb, who I have also written about wanting to read previously.

September is also the month of my birthday and I got a nice leather-bound edition of HG Wells’ major works from my parents. It includes The Time Machine, The Island of Dr Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Men in the Moon and The Food of the Gods.

To celebrate my birthday, my wife bought us tickets to Matilda; the Tim Minchin musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book. When we arrived in the city, the second-hand book stalls in Federation Square were still up and I picked out another Neil Gaiman book – The Graveyard Book. It was the first book to win both the British Carnegie Medal and the American Newbery Medal for best children’s book. It looks like I picked out a first edition, with illustrations by Chris Riddell, as well. Not bad for $15!

My wife was also keen to check out a new bookshop opening in a nearby suburb that was offering 20% off. It was a good looking store that had a lot of good books, though their classic fiction was a bit light. I decided to go with Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant. It is a book I have had on my mind a lot recently since I am eager to learn more about the Enlightenment from the source material.

That was a lot of book shopping for one month. I swear I am trying to cut down. It is difficult though when so many opportunities come along and my wife acts as a willing enabler!


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