Why read? Why write? Why bother? On reclaiming our language and our lives and having a laugh

September 13, 2020 at 12:46 am | Posted in capitalism, Comedy writing, Democracy, humour as medicine, Living creatively, social capital, value of the arts | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Because I’ve been writing a new novel (working title: Tumult) I’ve postponed writing a new blog post. Immersed in the world of the novel, it’s only when I feel super strongly about a book I’ve read that I’m desperate to tell people about it. Two small books stand out. Carlo M. Cipolla’s The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity and John Freeman’s Dictionary of the Undoing.

Even though The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (Penguin, 2019) was first published in 1976, with its chapters such as ‘Stupidity and Power’, it has direct relevance to the Trump phenomenon. This international best-seller explains that ‘stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals’. Lest this sound like a depressing read, it is actually a very funny one, and Nassim Taleb in his Foreword to the latest edition writes that it’s not cynical or defeatist – no more than a book on microbiology is. Instead, it’s ‘a constructive effort to detect, know and thus possibly neutralize one of the most powerful, dark forces which hinder the growth of human welfare and happiness.’

‘Something is very wrong with the world.’

And when I began reading Dictionary of the Undoing (Corsair, 2019), I thought that John Freeman is our William Blake (see here) Dictionary of the Undoing is an arresting and profound book, simply and succinctly analysing how we arrived at our current mess. Continue Reading Why read? Why write? Why bother? On reclaiming our language and our lives and having a laugh…

Drinking the days: biographies and oysters

January 28, 2020 at 10:36 am | Posted in Australian memoir, Christina Stead, Democracy, Dennis Glover, Kay Schubach, Living creatively, mental illness, optimism, value of the arts | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , ,

‘Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.’ American writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote that. I love it and would often think of it after opening the curtains first thing.

But her words took on a tragic tone in the mornings after the bushfires began. We could no longer open windows. Canberra’s air quality suddenly became literally the worst city in the world.

Actually it wasn’t as sudden as it seemed. Canberra’s air quality has been gradually worsening in the past few years, along with the rest of the country’s, thanks to our Government doing less than nothing about vehicle and other emissions responsible for raising CO2 levels.[1]

But I was aiming at an uplifting, positive post, damn it! I normally slant towards the upbeat, the whacky, the whimsical, but before veering in that direction, a serious point needs to be acknowledged. Continue Reading Drinking the days: biographies and oysters…

Thinking women, hope and regeneration

June 12, 2019 at 6:56 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Australia behind, Australian novels, Democracy, Living creatively, Movies, optimism, Toni Jordan | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 Am I advocating escapism?

It’s been hard to find anything uplifting to say in the last few weeks. The last time I read John Milton (1608-1674) was in English (Hons) many years ago. But I just came across a quotation from Paradise Lost that seems like a sanity-saver in the world we’re enduring now.

‘The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.’

I can imagine a certain homeless lad I see often, camping endlessly outside Dickson Woolworths, waiting for a Government flat to come up – or any of those poor, skinny, desperate blokes on Manus Island or Nauru who find themselves simultaneously in Hell and in Limbo – saying, ‘Yeah, that’s easy for him to say!’

And yes, Milton had his books and his house, music and writing, and his wife (a succession of three) and children.

But everyone has his own trials and Milton was blind when he wrote Paradise Lost, and of course when writing poignant poems like ‘When I consider how my light is spent’. His first two wives died, he also lost a son and a daughter, and he had a strained relationship with his remaining daughters.

Continue Reading Thinking women, hope and regeneration…

Summer books and summer heat

January 21, 2019 at 2:21 am | Posted in capitalism, Common Good, Democracy, libraries, social capital | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The cover of ‘Mistakes Were Made, But Not by Me!’

After finishing the rewrites of my novel just before Christmas it’s been an orgy of reading. Among recent books that have impressed me are Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean; Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson; and D.B.C. Pierre’s Release the Bats. There’s also beautiful, strong writing in another of Elizabeth Harrower’s trenchant, insightful and bleak novels about relationships, In Certain Circles. But I’ll focus on the three non-fiction books here.

Democracy in Chains

Democracy in Chains: The deep history of the radical right’s stealth plan for America (Viking, 2018) tells the story behind the subversion of democracy in the United States, a story of dark money and radical right-wing politics, and how ‘liberty’ came to mean liberty for the rich few to concentrate vast wealth and deny basic fairness and rights to the majority. And it all started with racism, back in the 1950s. I can’t hope to summarise it adequately in such a short space but it’s a mesmerising book, understated in tone and jaw-dropping in its implications.

Continue Reading Summer books and summer heat…

Lamplight on the darkened path

May 7, 2017 at 4:04 am | Posted in capitalism, creativity, Democracy, Living creatively, media negativity, public squalour | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , ,

A Bigger Prize and The Short Goodbye

In Sickness, in Health and in Jail by Mel Jacobs

‘The world breaks everyone, and afterwards some are stronger in the broken places.’ Hemingway said that, and Mel Jacobs quotes him in the front of her poignant memoir, In Sickness, in Health and in Jail (Allen & Unwin, 2016). The author describes the shock, social stigma and logistical nightmares involved when her husband went to jail for two years after breaching the rules concerning his online hunting weapons business.

It was being uncharacteristically slack with a couple of technicalities (which were, granted, against the law, but seemed so minor in the scheme of things) that landed a decent, normally highly moral, small business guy in jail. A pity that the justice system doesn’t use such finely honed powers of legal scrutiny on anyone in finance or banking, I thought, since at the same time I was reading Elisabeth Wynhausen’s riveting The Short Goodbye (Melbourne University Press, 2011) about the global financial crisis.

Almost no one in finance or banking – no matter how illegal, unethical or immoral, no matter how many millions of lives they’ve ruined – will have to endure the appalling conditions of Australian prisons described in Jacobs’ book, and it’s exactly the same in the UK and Europe and the US. As Wynhausen states:

‘Even as unemployment around the globe soared, the financial institutions responsible sped from the wreckage they had left in their wake, to grab whatever they could get their hands on. After nine big Wall Street banks … were bailed out with US$175 billion from American taxpayers under the program President Bush signed into being, though President Obama would cop the flak for it, they handed out nearly US$33 billion in bonuses. (p. 189)

Continue Reading Lamplight on the darkened path…

Brave books about love

October 20, 2016 at 7:01 pm | Posted in Australian memoir, Australian novels, Democracy, English journalism, Father/son memoirs, Writing | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

unexpectedelementsI’m back after an orgy of reading. I was still putting piles of library books in the basket of my Trek bicycle and racing home to devour them when I suddenly got another writing job. Before that, one of the many authors I read was the person everyone’s talking about: Liane Moriaty and her recent Truly, Madly, Guilty.

I was a bit annoyed at that title, derived as it is from a favourite Anthony Minghella film, Truly Madly, Deeply (1991; you can watch it on You Tube though of course you’ll get more out of it on a big screen). It’s a film I loved and which could be categorised as Blithe Spirit meets Night of the Living Dead, in other words, a bereavement film told in a truly original voice. Continue Reading Brave books about love…

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.