Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2003 Books of the Year

The 19th Annual Warrick ‘Book of the Year’ Awards 2003

It must be nearly Christmas! Welcome to the 2003 Book of the Year, the only award with absolutely no prize! It was another big year for non-fiction, particularly in the field of landscape and nature/travel/landscape writing*, some of which I found from a list put together by Outside magazine of the ‘Twenty-Five (Essential) Books for the Well-Read Traveller, and if you can get over the inherent contradiction of OUTSIDE ONLINE (and I think last year’s book of the year winner ‘The Art of Travel’ would help with that), it’s a good list.

Now: here’s the winners!!!

Non-Fiction Winner: Peter Matthiessen – The Snow Leopard

Part travelogue, part adventure, part Buddhist primer, Matthiessen’s quirky idiosyncratic journey into the Himalayas in search of the legendary snow leopard ends up in less tangible discoveries. The Snow Leopard is an utterly memorable book and a modern classic. You can read about more of his work at http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/matsnsa.html

I also loved Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Wind, Sand and Stars which is part philosophy and part adventure drama of the early days of aviation, flying the mail route over hostile deserts. More famous for his fable The Little Prince, this is a beautiful little book. Read a potted biography of this fascinating life at http://littleprince.8m.com/exupery.html

Also strongly recommended, John Elder’s Reading the Mountains of Home, which takes a Robert Frost poem and explores its meaning in relation to the meaning of the land he walks.

More locally, Nicholas Rothwell’s strange journey into the Australian interior and early explorers in Wings of the Kitehawk is also very good; kind of mystical, kind of grittier than that.

I also found another of Robert Gibbing’s olde world evocative travel books. Written in the1940s and 1950s they create a strong sense of a vanishing (maybe vanished) Europe. This one, Sweet Cork of Thee chronicles his journeys around County Cork and the people and personalities that he meets. The Gibbings books are still readily available in second hand stores. I found this one in Christchurch, which is about as far away from County Cork as you can get.

I also liked Peter Robb’s ‘A Death in Brazil’, a big rollicking, rambling historical journey into past and present Brazil, a place that sounds like hell at times, and heaven at others.

And for something completely different, I enjoyed Put Me Back on My Bike by William Fotheringham, a somewhat uncritical account of champion English cyclist Tom Simpson, who died during the 1967 Tour de France on top of the heat-baked Mt Ventoux and supposedly uttered the last words of the title. Since I made a special trip many years ago to the small shrine near the top of the mountain in Provence, I found it more interesting than Lance Armstrong’s more modern cycling stories.

Fiction Winner: Gunter Grass: Crabwalk

Gunter Grass’s novel is a fantastic exploration of post-war Germany, what its left with, and part of an emerging series of voices that depict some of the terrible destruction of Germany that have not been heard till now. Along with W. G. Sebald’s The Natural History of Destruction which criticises the silence of post-war German literature on German suffering during World War II, this is part of an emerging German perspective about the war. I suppose the attitude was something like, well, they caused, they deserve it, but Sebald and Grass here open up these questions in new ways. Grass’s Crabwalk tells the story of the sinking of the German refugee ship the Wilhelm Gustloff by a Russian submarine near the end of the war, the greatest maritime disaster in history (read more about it at http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/wwii/articles/wilhelmgustloff.aspx) but the novel moves back and forth (crab-like) between that fateful night, the child born that night, and the present day youth of Germany, both fascinated and appalled by their own past.

The book I almost chose as fiction winner this year was Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, a collection of short fiction? based on his experiences in Vietnam. He subtitles it as a work of fiction, but there’s an authenticity and a telling recurring detail that says something different. Not that it matters; these are the best Vietnam stories I’ve read, and some of the best writing about war, which is a big statement. Oddly enough, I also read O’Brien’s high school reunion, novel, July, July, class of 1972 ‘where are they now’ kind of novel, which was readable but ultimately disappointing. Read more about Tim O’Brien at http://www.illyria.com/tobhp.html

I also enjoyed really Alice Munro’s short stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship; a shocking title but good stories in the small town lonely mode she does so well. She is such a good writer, the stories are almost Chekhovian in their intact-ness. Read more about Alice Munro at http://members.aol.com/MunroAlice/

And, it took me a while to get to Christopher Koch’s Highways to a War, but I enjoyed this a lot, and it fits nicely with his earlier work The Year of Living Dangerously in lots of ways and has certain parallels with Greene’s The Quiet American, which I also re-read this year.

Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake which, with its mixture of poetry and myth, the Ern Mally hoax and all that jazz, promised a lot but was ultimately disappointing for me. It lost the poetry, and the plot eventually. Complete-reviews.com gives it a B+, which is about right at http://www.complete-review.com/reviews/careyp/mlaafake.htm

Different again, and better, is Akira Yoshimura’s small novel about medieval Japan called Shipwrecks though I don’t know quite why I like this, since it had a plot less interesting than the 1962 Disney movie The Mooncussers which is also about small town ‘pirates’ who draw hapless ships to their shores with fake lighthouses.

I read a couple of pieces of an emerging genre called ‘surf-fiction’ this year; the best was Thad Ziolkowski’s memoir about coming of age called unimaginatively On A Wave, which the New Yorker described as a ‘sharp self-conscious portrait of the artist as a young grommet’

Oh, and for an enjoyable shocker, try Joseph Heller’s ‘Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man’, I paid $2 for it in a book bin, and got ripped off! It’s the writer writing about writing, supremely dangerous territory! So disappointing an end to a fine writer.

Poetry Winner: August Kleinzahler – Green See Things in Waves

I’d read the great titled ‘Cities and Storms in the early 1990s but didn’t know much about this American poet until I read a long piece he wrote about his troubled brother in the New York Review of Books which serendipitously was given to me by Penny’s mother, and then serendipitously my brother brought me a signed copy of this book for my birthday, all the way from San Francisco. It had to become my favourite book of poetry this year even though the book itself is four years old. I liked the strange city voices, the nervy narratives, the names, always those evocative American names and landscapes like the poem that opens:

Snow is falling along the Boulevard
and its little cemeteries hugged by transmission shops
and on the stone bear in the park
and the WWI monument, making a crust
on the soldier with his chin strap and bayonet…

I also liked Irish poet’s John O’Donahue’s Conamara Blues and more local poets like Alex Skovron’s beautiful and delicate, The Man and the Map, Geoff Page’s Darker and Lighter and Garth Madsen’s Portraits of Rust.

Warrick Wynne



Handy Christmas Shopping List – Cut out this list and take it to your nearest bookshop!

The Snow Leopard – Peter Matthiessen (NF)
Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Exupery (NF)
Reading the Mountains of Home – John Elder (NF)
Wings of the KiteHawk – Nicholas Rothwell (NF)
Sweet Cork of Thee – Robert Gibbings (NF)
A Death in Brazil – Peter Robb (NF)
Put Me Back on My Bike – William Fotheringham (Yellow Jersey Press) (NF)
Crabwalk – Gunter Grass (F)
The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien (F)
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship – Alice Munro (F)
Highway to A War – Christopher Koch (F)
The Quiet American – Graham Greene (F)
My LIfe as a Fake – Petery Carey (F)
Shipwrecks – Akira Yoshimura (F)
On a Wave – Thad Ziolskowski (F)
Green See Things in Waves – August Kleinzahler (P)
Conamara Blues – John O’Donohue (P)
The Man and the Map – Alex Skovron (P)
Darker and Lighter – Geoff Page (P)
Portraits of Rust – Garth Madsen (P


Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm

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