Warrick Wynne’s Poetry Pages

reading, writing and the connections

2010 Books of the Year

NON-FICTION – Peeling the Onion by Gunter Grass

What is it about autobiography that’s so hard to get right? And yet is so powerful when it is? Possibly the ego, and what must be an almost overwhelming temptation to paint yourself in a better light than you actually were at the time. And that can be transparent. But good autobiography is compelling and this is the best I’ve read since I read Nabokov’s remarkable Speak Memory, a few years ago now. This is the story of the emergig artist/writer, of accidental encounters and escapes, living through and participating in World War II on the German side, and emerging as a writer at the end. This generated some controversy in Germany as Grass recounts his involvement in the Hitler Youth, but it’s beautifully told and a compelling narrative too.

OTHER NON-FICTION

I also liked Gary Snyder’s environmental poetry essays, The Practice of the Wild and that particularly Californian brand of West Coast Buddhism that emerges. More in the natural world realm was Leviathan, the remarkable story of man’s encounters with the biggest creature in the sea: the whale, and all the tragedy (literary and otherwise) of those encounters. A nice surprise too was ex Talking Heads frontman David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries, an example of that very modern phenonomenon of a blog becoming a book and chronicling his close encounters with various cities of the world on his folding bicycle. Part travel diary, part musical exploration, it’s very readable. Did the fact that I saw this book first in the Strand Bookshop in NY influence my affection for this book and maybe even influence it’s inclusion here? Perhaps!

FICTION – The Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane

I was struggling where to place Gerald Murnane’s first book in years: fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, memoir, fantasy? All of the above. And none of course. Murnan is a unique voice in Australian literature, a previous winner of my book of the year with A Lifetime on Clouds. He’s one of those ‘love him or hate him’ kind of distinctive voices that you’re either going to throw down at the end of Chapter 1 or be in raptures as this suburban Calvino. I’m obviously in the latter camp. Murnane is obsessed and obsessive. Nothing much happens. I don’t even know if this is fiction, and that’s what half the book is about. The other half is what’s in that grove of trees just beyond the fence line, beyond the wheat field at the edge of the imagination.

OTHER FICTION

I thought the anti-narrative Paul Auster made a pretty good comeback with Invisible I often often think that Auster’s work seems so effortless somehow, he’s a kind of natural story-teller, would have been better living in the time of Dickens or Trollope but he’s a bit too immersed in the post-modern for any of it to somehow … matter? Sometimes he does pull it off. This isn’t as good as his book Brooklyn Follies, but hey, that doesn’t come around every year! I accidentally read Spies by Michael Frayn this year too, as part of my reading for the Year 12 English course. It’s a kid of poor man’s L.P. Hartley (the past is a foreign country…) but surprisingly enjoyable in that English novelist kind of way like I find Ian McEwan is. Finally, if you like good atmospheric southern gothic crime writing it’s hard to go pass James Lee Burke’s latest The Glass Rainbow. What began ages ago as a kind of guilty pleasure on holidays, the Robicheaux series about a New Orleans detective working and living in the faded Southern landscape of grand old houses, slave cottages, Civil War remnants, a Nazi submarine sunk during World War II that drifts up and down the coast under the water and repressed and ancient racism and violence, became a new kind of landscape writing for me.

POETRY: A History of Clouds by Hans Enzensberger

What is this new European thing with two German writers winning my Book of the Year after the dominance of American writers. But Enzensberger is no sudden surprise. I’ve liked his poetry ever since I read his early book The Sinking of the Titanic. The image of the grand piano falling down the slanting floor of the grand ball room as the great ship lists to its fate, is one that’s so embedded in my psyche that I can’t remember whether he invented it or me but this book is just as good and may bring new images that will last. The subtitle of this new collection is revealing, ’99 meditations’ and these are much more inward looking and private poems than the grand metaphor of hubris. The book is summed up as a celebration of the ‘tenacity of normality in everyday life’.

Other Poetry.

Ron Pretty is an Australian poet who has been writing poetry for more than forty years and his latest book Postcards from the Centre, is just as good as anything he’s written. These are lovely, thoughtful, crafted poems and, continuing the theme of the cloud, there’s plenty of weather here too. But the greatest compliment I can pay this book is the one where I know a book has touched me: it made me want to write. Finally, I didn’t entirely ignore the American connection this year. Once again in NY I found a book that’s been on my Amazon wish list forever, Raymond Carver’s A New Path to the Waterfall. It was good to revisit one of my favourite American poets again.

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Your Handy Christmas Shopping List (all these books are great! – print this out and get down to Readings or Collected Works)

Non-Fiction
Peeling the Onion by Gunter Grass (Winner)
Leviathan by Philip Hoare
Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne
The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke
Poetry
A History of Clouds by Hans Magnus Enzensberger (Winner)
Postcards from the Centre by Ron Pretty
A New Path to the Waterfall by Raymond Carver
Fiction
The Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane (Winner)
Spies by Michael Frayne
Invisible by Paul Auster
The Glass Rainbow by James Lee Burke

*this list IMHO – Warrick Wynne – 23/11/2010

Written by warrick

July 11, 2011 at 4:42 pm

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