The heroine of All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld does push-ups when she’s angry or confused, and as a result she looks big, broad-chested, muscular. Also, her name is Jake. Also, she shears sheep for a living, and if you’ve never wrestled a 300-pound beast while hacking at its skin with large scissors, this is more strenuous labor than you might expect. All of which means that Jake comes across as manly. She likes it that way. It tells certain kinds of men to keep their distance: rough men, who, like Jake, migrate among the sheep stations of Australia, looking for work; and, later, taciturn old men who toil the craggy farms next to hers, on an unnamed British island. Jake just wants to be left alone.
Why Jake flees Australia for Britain is the question at the heart of this book, and it’s also the book’s missing piece. Ingeniously, Wyld builds her novel around this caesura, telling the story in two separate timelines. In the odd-numbered chapters, Jake is isolated on her grim British farm, and something is gruesomely killing her sheep. It could be disaffected teenagers from a nearby town, or it could be a creature that nobody else believes exists. These chapters move forward in time, starting with Jake’s arrival on the island and culminating in a confrontation with the sheep-killer.
With The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson has ushered in a little Renaissance in the appreciation of Stefan Zweig. To get a sense of how much Anderson’s film is indebted to Zweig, watch this video of Tom Wilkinson, playing his character from the movie, as he reads verbatim from Zweig’s memoir.
Oops, I meant to say—this is a list of the 10 best ways to experience Stefan Zweig’s influence on The Grand Budapest Hotel, and that video was #1. Wilkinson is reading from a selection of Zweig’s writing that appears in The Society of the Crossed Keys, a book that Wes Anderson edited himself (although the title is a nod to one of Anderson’s inventions in the movie.) That book is only for sale in the UK. Fools! But I ordered it anyway, and you can too, if you pay a little extra to ship it from Britain. Score! The Society of the Crossed Keys is #2 on our list. If you don’t like the idea of purchasing a book online with pounds sterling, then start by reading this great little excerpt (#3) and the interview between Wes Anderson and George Prochnik that opens the book (#4). Continue reading
A boy reads “Jabberwocky” for the first time and is troubled. There are words in the poem he doesn’t know. Words that aren’t like other words he hasn’t known in poems or stories before. He goes to a dictionary or asks a parent and discovers, even more troubling, there are words in the poem that Lewis Carroll…just made up. Apparently, you can do that, just…make up new words for new things and maybe those words stick in the language like “chortle” and maybe they don’t like “manxome” but either way, it can be done. A boy reads “Jabberwocky” and learns something about words. A boy sees a Van Gogh self-portrait in a book and is troubled. The brushstrokes are viral and the colors are viral and though it looks like a face, it doesn’t look like any face he’s ever seen. But it’s in a book and if it’s in a book it must be OK. He realizes that paintings aren’t required to look like their subjects. Artists can paint things that are not visual. A boy looks at a Van Gogh self-portrait and learns something new about art.
White Girls by Hilton Als is not a pensive essay collection. It is not meditative and if it’s critical or scholarly, it’s critical and scholarly in ways critics and scholars rarely are. White Girls is full of ideas and themes, but they are not approached the way you expect ideas and themes to be approached. Hilton Als pit-fights the shit out of them. Ringed by prisoners who don’t know whether to stop cheering or keep cheering, and guards with their guns and sunglasses and smirks, Als beats those ideas like they were Cool Hand Luke. And beats them, and beats them, and beats them, because there is always more in Luke, in racism, in courage, in love, in cowardice, in hate, in hubris, in straight white American male privilege, in empathy, in music, in comedy, in commodity, in Luke both good and bad than you can ever beat out, but you’re a brave exhausted prison pit dog and eventually you hit your word limit and carry your limp but still swinging opponent away and you didn’t win the fight and Luke didn’t win the fight and the spectators didn’t win the fight either. Nobody wins. Except for the guards, who win every fight by being born people who don’t go to jail.
All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld comes out today!
It’s the story of an extremely standoffish girl who flees the rough-and-tumble sheep stations of Australia for a craggy farm in Britain. Why she fled, and how she plans to survive in a world of livestock, sex work, and lifelong guilt, are the questions that burns this story down to the nub, like a candle. Evie Wyld is one of Granta‘s 20 best young writers, and All the Birds, Singing is one of the most gripping books of the year.
We asked the author one question.
How are you celebrating the US publication of All the Birds, Singing?
Evie Wyld: During the day, I’ll be working in my bookshop–I’ve been negligent with the dusting lately and I need to do a stock take, so I’ll be keeping the shutters down and having a spring clean. Exciting times.
I’ve just started mentoring a young woman and we’ll have our first meeting at lunchtime–somewhere in Soho. I’m a bit nervous about it, so it’ll be nice to get the first one out of the way. Afterwards if there’s time, I might go and buy myself some publishing-day boots.
In the evening I’ll be reading at an event called Faber Social with Ben Marcus, Jon McGregor and Sarah Hall. I’m on pretty late so will have to abstain from drinking until afterwards because I can’t read after a drink. But after I’ve finished I’ll be aggressively demanding someone feeds me and gives me drink.
Read the first chapter of All the Birds, Singing here.
Get the book here.
- Brian Hurley
Me: You’ve been writing for Salon for nearly 20 years. In that time, book reviews have largely migrated from print publications to join you on the web. How do you think reviews have changed as a result of their migration?
Laura Miller: I think the public’s idea of what reviews mean has changed a lot, and that only some reviewers have caught up to it. This has to do with the authority — usually institutional — invested in any particular review. You still hear people say “The New York Times loved this book,” when really it’s just one of the staff critics there who loved it and probably no one else who works there has even read it. Nevertheless, I think the informality of web publishing and the proliferation of amateur reviewers on sites like Amazon and Goodreads have made many more people than ever before aware that any given review is not the last word on a book. Reviews are seen more as points in an ongoing argument, which to me is a welcome change.
Read the full exchange and see all the winners here.
- Brian Hurley
Barbara Ehrenreich’s memoir, Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything, came out recently, from the same publisher who brought us Christopher Hitchens’ memoir Hitch-22. And like the Hitchens book, Ehrenreich’s seems destined to become a classic of the enlightened atheist canon. There’s a good Q&A with Ehrenreich over at Harper’s, but I want to share my favorite quote from the book with you here.
When someone wanders so far from the flock, people, in their collective vanity, tend to blame the flock. Anyone who wanders off must have been actively pushed away—by family dysfunction, social disappointment, sexual rejection, whatever. Or maybe it was the wanderer’s fault, and, like one of Conrad’s characters, she lost her way because she failed to cultivate the appropriate intraspecies bonds; she forgot about love. Either way, the idea is that what happens to people is all about people; no other factors merit consideration. Try telling a therapist or other member of the helping professions that you are menaced by hazy sunlight or that the sumac trees growing like weeds along the railroad tracks fill you with dread, and he or she will want to hear accounts of childhood abuse. This is the conceit of psychiatry and unfortunately of so many novels, even some of the best and most riveting ones: that except for the occasional disease or disaster, the only forces shaping our lives are other humans, and that outside of our web of human interactions there is nothing worth looking into.
- Brian Hurley
The itch started in my leg, and then I felt it somewhere on my back. I was reading an essay about Morgellons disease, a malady in which people feel they are being infested by—what?—a virus, a parasite, something on their skin?—and I began to itch.
For a moment I might have mistaken my itching for empathy for the individuals in the essay, who describe the torments they experience to Leslie Jamison, author of The Empathy Exams. But my itch was simply an unconscious sensation, something about me,not about them. How easy it was for me to direct my attention to myself and away from those I was reading about.
To further complicate my feelings, Morgellons disease is, well, “made up.” Jamison never says so, but at one point she does say:
This isn’t an essay about whether or not Morgellons disease is real. That’s probably obvious by now. It’s an essay about what kinds of reality are considered prerequisites for compassion.
I didn’t play many video games as a kid, but when I did, I gravitated toward games with a level editor. Say you’ve beaten all 50 levels of an army-building strategy game; you’ve conquered all the known lands. What next? The best games would provide you with software to build your own levels. Starting with a blank field of grass, you’d drag a forest onto the screen, click a few rivers into action, and maybe carve a rocky canyon down the middle. To me this was more fun than the game itself—to shape and explore a brand new world, a place without names or history.
Two new books offer similar thrills. Continue reading