3 hours ago
Posted by Walter Mason on Friday, 29 October 2010
Well, the first book of my reading challenge, the book that has been Adyar Bookshop's bestseller this year, is The Vortex by Esther and Jerry Hicks.
I must admit that I approach this book with some resistance - I find the Hicks/Abraham (Abraham is the entity being channeled by Esther Hicks) books difficult to read, in the manner of most channeled material. It's not that I'm being snobbish about the books' content or the potentially bizarre method of collecting content (i.e. spirit channeling). It's just that channeled books are mostly just transcriptions of talks and trance sessions, and as such they can make for deathly prose. The spoken word is a very different medium of expression to the written, and this is made abundantly clear in most channeled books. They tend to be marked by their repetition, their dullness, their fabulous non-sequiturs and their lack of attention to logical progression. This is, of course, how we all speak, and there's nothing to be ashamed of in that. It's just that when reading the average mind demands a lot more rigour, and a lot less pointless rambling. To my mind these channeled books could be improved immensely with some rigorous editing to cut out some of the problems I've mentioned. Their message would then be much stronger, much more accessible and much less open to the attacks of nitpickers like me.
But there, I've had my say, and I'll try not to go on about this subject as I explore the book. I'm actually going to read it patiently for the purposes of content, rather than style.
The Hicks' are prolific producers of this material, and it seems that no utterance passes poor Esther's lips without it being recorded as an audio CD, a DVD or a book. Of course, the central claim is that these utterances aren't hers at all - they are the words of a collection of disembodied beings (plural) who call themselves Abraham. So the book takes the form of a dialogue between humans (mostly Jerry Hicks, Esther's energetic husband) and Abraham. This means the book is cut up into myriad different, frequently unrelated, passages, making it easier to read in bits and pieces.
The theme of the book is "relationship" - not so much romantic relationship as human relationship. Actually, in what I've read so far it seems to be more about one's relationship with oneself, a distinctly new-age preoccupation, and perhaps the reason the book has sold so well. It makes some pretty big claims for itself - that after reading this book you will be transformed, and your relationships changed forever. We shall see.
The central premise is that everything we do in life is the product of relationships of some kind - that the human state is one of relating. The ultimate experience is, in fact, a social one, and that the true key to happiness lies in our truly understanding such society. It's an interesting idea, and one which I'm sure has a parallel somewhere in classic philosophy or modern social science. I shall have to keep an eye out for it.
I'm not quite sure what the significance of the title - The Vortex - is, just yet, but I'm sure I'll find out in the course of things. I do like it though - I think it was the title of Noel Coward's first play, which was a scandalous success about drug addiction. I think I would find reading that more enjoyable than my current task, but I must stick to my resolutions.
Posted by Walter Mason on Thursday, 28 October 2010
I've always been a fan, on paper, of the organised reading project. There are many of them about on the internet: read the Penguin Classics, read Meiji-era literature for a month, read the Booker shortlist, finish Proust in a year...I've never joined any of them, simply because I know I wouldn't be able to keep my end up - I am just too easily distracted. Actually, I did join an on-line Proust reading group back in the dark days of the internet, circa 1999, but after the first book I kinda fell off. I'm hopeless. That's why I could never join a book group - after the first couple of months I would begin to resent the set books, and set about reading anything else but.
So I thought to myself, "Why not create my own reading project - something in line with my own interests, persuasions and area of academic research?" And so I conceived the Adyar Project.
Adyar Bookshop is Australia's oldest new-age bookstore, a fascinating place where I actually worked, on and off, for many years. So I contacted an old friend there and asked him to let me know what their top sellers for the past year have been. I would then set about reading the Top 5, blogging about them, and seeing if they have had any influence on my life (that is, after all, the major claim of all of these books: They will change your life). So this is my little project - I hope you'll find it interesting.
To let you know what I'll be reading (and I have no idea how long this will take - I plan to take it slow), here is Adyar's Top 5 Bestselling Books for the past year:
1. The Vortex - Esther & Jerry Hicks
2. The Body is the Barometer of the Soul - Annette Noontil
3. The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle
4. Journey of Souls - Michael Newton
5. A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
"Acknowledging your gift of life as sacred doesn't mean I have to like you, agree with you or support your views. It doesn't mean that I have to lie down like a dormat for your feet."
~ p.7, Stephanie Dowrick's "Seeking the Sacred"
I'm not very good about keeping up with events in people's lives. I invariably remember birthdays a week or so after the event, and I normally don't get around to buying my mother a Christmas present. A shameful confession, I know, but there you have it. That is why I am humbled by and made grateful for all of the lovely people who remembered my birthday (and it was a big one) yesterday. Yes, I know Facebook makes it all so much easier, but even that doesn't seem to work for me. So I'm impressed that people can be so sweet. Thank you.
- I know I need some sort of system to make my blog better and more interesting. This one looks like it could work.
- OMG! always has the best goss, and this time it's Jim Carrey playing gay in his newest movie. It's not the first time - does no-one remember Cable Guy?
- I'm on a diet, so a lemon cupcake with lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting is the stuff of fantasy for me.
- I'm always distracted by geeky stuff, and here is some great advice on using Youtube as a tool for developing your blog and your profile.
- Italo Calvino and the survival of literature.
I'm constantly surprised by how slowly I am writing my PhD thesis. I used to pride myself on writing quickly. I always used to say that once I actually started writing it just poured out of me. But that is not the case with this work, which lumbers along unbearably slowly. It really is taking around a fortnight to write a chapter. Exhausting stuff. Here's what has kept me sane:
- Pictures of fennecs. What can I say, I'm a simple man.
- Geishas were big in the 80s (can anyone else remember Boy George dressing like one?). I am always fascinated to read books about them, and this new one sounds a corker.
- I'll admit it, I love Twitter. Mashable seems to think it just might save the world.
- Social Media Examiner explains how to make our blogs outstanding.
- Ian Buruma is a fascinating writer, though I don't always agree with him. Here he reviews the new Bernhard Schlink novel.
David Leavitt has had an immense influence on me, as a reader, a writer and as a gay man. His incredible novel The Lost Language of Cranes was one of the books that helped me to come out as a young man. Released back when I was 16, for some reason it made its way into the collection of the local library in the small North Queensland town where I grew up, and it was discovered in there by one of my friends. "You have to read this book," she whispered to me one day at school. "It's got gays in it!" And so I dutifully checked it out as soon as she'd finished it, terrified in case the librarian knew about its content.
Leavitt's hyper-real style is frequently employed to describe bizarre situations, and as a result his books are quite compulsively readable. At university I was much taken with his book of short stories, Family Dancing, and his little book on Florence is one of the most unusual, and most fascinating, works of literary and cultural history I've encountered.
The Body of Jonah Boyd is a difficult novel to review because it hinges so much on particular plot developments, and I simply don't want to give those away. There is actually quite a pacy development in this story, one which keeps the reader guessing and turning the pages.
It is very much a book about writing and the creative process, and it examines the complexities of celebrity, ego and pretension in the literary world. Being a Leavitt novel, there is also a fascinating sub-plot surrounding sexuality, more specifically the sexual attraction of the seemingly unattractive. Leavitt is always deft at weaving in these kinds of potentially controversial elements, and it is part of the reason I love his work. Denny, the novel's narrator, is a plump, unfashionable and ungraceful woman who manages to attract men like crazy and lead a fulfilling, if unconventional, sex life. Indeed, it is her extraordinary libido (a quality counterpointed by her involvement with a Freudian analyst throughout most of the novel) that wins out even in the end, when the plain woman triumphs.
It is also an account of how the lonely and friendless navigate their way through a world filled with families, couples and good companions. Leavitt's loners are grasping, guileful and desperate for attention. They are also artists and writers, lonely sometimes despite their wives and lovers.
Ultimately, I think this novel is a kind of wandering love-letter to his own craft. The Body of Jonah Boyd is populated with writers of all types - from the profoundly gifted romantics like Jonah Boyd himself, to painfully precious teenage poets and inflatedly confident academics. Each of the writers seems to represent an element of every author, and describe moods and processes that we all encounter at one stage or another.
I liked The Body of Jonah Boyd very much, and read it quickly and easily. Leavitt is a consummate stylist, and a fascinating thinker. There is the occasional clumsiness, mostly because of the artificial narrative requirements of having a first-person author, but these are minimal and quickly forgotten. It is a book for writers, readers, and anyone who has felt the urge to re-invent themselves and leave their past behind.
Posted by Walter Mason on Friday, 15 October 2010
One of the great secrets of Cabramatta is U. E. Chinese restaurant.
Hidden away down a narrow alleyway, it is about as close in feel to a real Hong Kong noodle restaurant as you are ever going to get in Sydney, and its wonderfully obscure location make it the ultimate trick up every genuine foodie's sleeve. If you don't know about U. E., you're nobody in the food world.
The U. E. does multiple varieties of a single specialty dish: egg noodles. Today I had egg noodles with won ton, with delicious slices of pork on top and, of course, served with a dish of bean-sprouts, chrysanthemum leaves and a wedge of lemon.
It's a simple, filling meal, and the dark little restaurant is filled with Cabramatta shop-keepers.
While the staff speak English, the menu is kind of uncompromising, as you can see.
If you don't read Viet or Chinese I'm not at all sure what you're going to do - maybe rely on the recommendation of whoever is serving you. You can't go far wrong, because they are only going to recommend the five or six dishes which make up most of their orders.
So if you have friends coming to visit from another city, take them down the alleyway, past the toilets and kitchen entrances to other restaurants, and just as you're about to give up you will find the mysterious little U. E. And then watch your friends gaze at you in genuine admiration.
Details: U. E. Chinese Restaurant, 4A/117 John St (Note: not John St at all - when you get to Hill St, swing right and it's a few doors down - easy to miss!), Cabramatta. Open every day. Not at nights.
Posted by Walter Mason on Wednesday, 13 October 2010
I love kitsch.
This is not an unusual thing in a gay man - indeed, the love of kitsch is an essential element of camp, and camp is queer's greatest cultural achievement. The cultivation of interest in unfashionable and derided art forms has been a distinct part of the queer subculture since at least the victorian era, and I suspect long before. There is an element of the un-loved taking on as mascots all the un-loved elements of recently scorned culture. In Sontag's famous essay 'Notes on Camp' she quarrels with the instant association of kitsch with camp, claiming that camp is altogether a different quality. I think she is drawing too fine a point. Her argument, for example, that the novel Peyton Place is kitsch rather than camp is thoroughly erroneous. A camper novel you will never encounter (unless you pick up a copy of Querelle of Brest).
What makes something kitsch? I would suggest that it must be an object that is mass-produced and intended for a popular audience. It must be cheap, and as an object of beauty it must be in some way flawed, or have failed to reach its aims. That is why religious objects so frequently stray into the realm of kitsch.
They have been constructed to serious purpose as aids to worship, but their garishness, shodiness and over-willingness to tell a story renders them failures.
Indeed, it is in the realm of objets d'arts that kitsch is most easily demonstrated, and it is here that I am at my most comfortable as a collector. The gay man as collector of knick-knacks is of course an offensive cliche, but like most cliches it is thoroughly true. Every fifth gay man will be a collector of some sort, and will possess a china cabinet or ten filled with vintage Barbie dolls or porcelain parrots.
My passion for kitsch was cultivated under the guidance of my grandmother and her sisters, women born in the 1930s whose passion for collecting was a leftover from an earlier era. They were working-class women for whom a well-stocked china cupboard was the sure sign of a slightly more genteel sensibility. My own mother was a yoga-loving hippy who saw no value in the perfume bottles and ring boxes that cluttered every surface of the houses she'd grown up in. Our own house was austere in decoration, and she was a regular thrower-away of any objects to which a child might become attached.
I freely admit that the collection of objects may point to a certain neurosis - in my case probably a great desire to be surrounded by things I love and the security of the constancy and certainty they offer. They also, of course, remind me of the love and affection of my grandmother - indeed, a great many of the things that collect dust in my house belonged to her and to my great-grandmother.
With the advent of mass production the collection of kitsch has become much cheaper and easier, and I have had to curb my enthusiasm in recent years. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to walk past a $2 shop. But don't be surprised if, one day in the near future, you hear about the sad death of an elderly homosexual, his dried-out body crushed beneath a mountain of resin Buddha-statues and porcelain money-boxes in the shape of teddy-bears.
TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:
My 2 “Teaser” Sentences for today:
"Jules and Therese had a son, also Jules, whose wife, my maternal grandmother, was a gifted singer, and had briefly been a chorus girl on tour, until she ran away, she told me with characteristic candour, after an unwelcome advance of an amorous nature from one of the other girls. I was seven years old when I received this baffling piece of information."
~ page 1, "My Life in Pieces" by Simon Callow
I've promised myself that I won't buy so many books - not for any financial reasons, but simply because I live in a small house and there is just not room for them all. I'm still trying to work out the limits of my bibliomania, so stick with me while I try to set a dollar amount on my monthly book purchases. I'll let you know. Anyway, here is this month's quirky pile of booty (from the top):
- The Truth About Email Marketing - I'm always looking for an angle to advance my book sales, and I am yet to start a monthly newsletter for my interested readers. Hopefully this will help me get that going.
- I give several talks a month, and though I feel reasonably confident in presenting, I thought I could always improve, hence this book on Brilliant Presentations.
- Rather excitingly, I have been accepted to present a paper at a conference in China next year. The paper is on Eckhart Tolle, so I need to get familiar with all of his books.
- I presented at a booksellers' training conference, and the guest speaker that night was David Hill, talking about his new book Gold. The publisher was kind enough to give us all a copy.
- Gary Vaynerchuk's book Crush It was one of the most inspiring I've read this year. His big thing is establishing a presence on Youtube (after all, it made him rich and famous), so I've got this book, 15 Minutes of Fame: Becoming a Star in the Youtube Revolution to give me some ideas.
- I had to get an old copy of the collected writings of Sigmund Freud to help me out with my thesis.
- Etiquette for Men is naturally for the current chapter of my thesis.
- Choosing Civility is ostensibly for my thesis, but it is also something I happen to feel passionate about.
- My old friend Geesche Jacobsen published her first book this month, Abandoned - I bought an advance copy at the launch and had it signed!
- I have admitted previously to being a Mitford fanatic, and was very excited to get the memoirs of the Duchess of Devonshire, the only living Mitford sister.
- Stephen Fry writes beautifully, and the moment I heard about his memoir I grabbed it.
I heard Evan Wright, the author of Hella Nation, interviewed on the radio some time ago, and ever since then his book has been on my list to read. I'm so glad I finally did.
Hella Nation is a journey through America's underbelly, and Wright is the perfect tour guide. A louche figure, the amoral journalist is obviously fascinated with those who choose to live entirely outside the bounds of polite society. In this book we meet porn stars, eco-terrorists, taxi dancers (who knew they even still existed?) and sad, scary Russian wannabe gangsters. It is a pathetic, degenerate world that Wright delineates, and it is a world right on our doorsteps - maybe even inside our houses.
My favourite piece in the book is 'Portrait of a Con-Artist', in which we learn about the rise and fall of silicone valley wizz kid Seth Warshavsky. It stands as a kind of morality tale for geeky guys everywhere, and is made all the more intriguing through Wright's own involvement in the story.
The book is almost old-fashioned in its presentation. Wright is a kind of gonzo-journalist in a world in which no such thing exists anymore. The essays are about his own inability to fit in, and are working out an exploration of the author's own anxieties about the future of Western society - and his own convoluted career. There is definitely something of Tom Wolfe in the project, which is no bad thing in my book.
There is also something quite touching about most of the pieces. Wright is fascinated by decline, for in the decline of his subjects he sees someting redemptive - he admires their continued pluck in the face of failure, censure and complete rejection by society.
It is a fascinating book by a very skillful writer, and the journalism takes on an almost cinematic quality at times, rich in dialogue and filled with incredibly strong characters who, despite their extraordinary faults, you can't help but like. This is no surprise because the author has also been a scriptwriter.
A terrific, slightly macho, read.
Being a non-driver, I find I spend an inordinately large period of my life on the ever-unreliable Sydney trains. Alas, this does not mean that I get a lot of reading down. I find loud conversations distracting, and in retaliation I aggressively plonk in my earphones and listen to my iPod. Or I get absorbed in a magazine, and spend the entire trip reading nonsense. Or, dear readers, I doze off after a page or two. Sad but true. Here are some things that kept me awake this week:
- Lucindaville has been reading the Cecil Beaton Diaries, something I've been longing to do. I love diaries.
- V. S. Naipaul's new book The Masque of Africa sounds fascinating
- I've always envied Catholics their wonderful rosary
- As a boy I was a stamp-collecting dork, so I was fascinated by these Buddhist FDCs
- I've just bought the Simon Callow autobiography AND the Stephen Fry autobiography - and here are the two men combined
Someone gave me a USB stick in the shape of a piece of sushi, all part of the launch of SBS TV's Food website. It's pretty cool, and I can't wait to flaunt it in a public space. I felt ripped off some months ago when I missed out on a World Cup USB in the shape of a Lego footballer, which was sooo cute. But this might just compensate. Here are some of the pages I'm gonna save on my new sushi USB:
- A nice piece on finding joy in the everyday from Tiny Buddha
- Completely crass and politically incorrect, but quite possibly my favourite drag queen song EVER!
- Confessions of a Ci-Devant reviews one of my favourite documentaries, For the Bible Tells Me So
- At heart I'm a decadent, one of the last, so was intrigued that the Guardian Book Blog was wondering, like me, whatever happened to the decadent novel?
- I've always admired Alyson Books, a gay and lesbian publisher with an interesting and varied list. Now they've gone over to e-books exclusively, obviously banking on the fact that the gays are tech-savvy. I don't know if I entirely approve, but I'm sure it was an economic decision.
Posted by Walter Mason on Saturday, 2 October 2010
One of the wonderful things about the Cabramatta area is the quantity of small house Buddhist temples that serve the local community.
These places normally house one or two monks or nuns in a regular weatherboard house, and have a membership of 15 or so families who support the temple.
They are riots of colour - each room transformed into a different shrine or prayer hall.
Unfortunately they also tend to be magnets for the nasty bully-boy tactics of local government.
Thien Phuoc temple, a wonderful, quiet little place that backs on to a local reserve, is currently being threatened by Fairfield City Council, which seems intent on harassing these small community resources while large-scale clubs and developers are given carte blanche to wreak whatever havoc they can afford. It's a disgraceful situation.
I have watched these small temples being singled out for over fifteen years now, and I will never tire of defending them. The presence of gentle Buddhist monastics, the occasional sound of a bell drifting out from a meditation hall - these things are deemed dangerous to the community, while pokie-palaces are allowed to expand constantly, new extensions constantly opened, graced with the smiling faces of local politicians.
But for the time being places like Thien Phuoc temple struggle on, offering prayers for the neighbourhood grannies and solace and support for the various crises that arise in the ordinary people's lives.