TEXT review

Myself, my shelf

review by Helen Gildfind




Nigel Krauth and Tess Brady (eds)
The Clunes Little Book of the Book:
Five Leading Authors Reflect on Their Relationship with the Book
Creative Clunes 2010 (limited edition www.booktown.clunes.org)
Hb 64pp AUD95


This book is the first literary product of the Clunes’ annual Back to Booktown Festival. It is a limited edition, made up of five established male writers’ reflections upon their private and professional relationship to The Book.

The collection begins with Edgar Allan Poe helping a twelve-year-old Frank Moorhouse befriend a girl he thought was a Naiad, a water-spirit. Soon, Hemingway’s short stories transform him into ‘the last Full-Time Short Story Writer in Australia’ (if not ‘the Universe’). By his late thirties, strangled by this commitment to form, a friend pronounces Moorhouse ‘a Writer.’ Most writers will identify with this moment in Moorhouse’s career, where the status of ‘writer’ occupies such a self-conscious and uneasy position between private and public identification. Later, Boguslavsky’s copyright theory shows Moorhouse how published writing is always political. Moorhouse ends his piece with a lament, wishing he’d readHazlitt’s Liber Amoris before his ‘similar agony’ of obsessive, unrequited love. Moorhouse’s often self-deprecating reflections engage readers in the idea of The Book as an instrument of magic, a cementer of friendships, a political tool, and a teacher on both the craft of writing and the craft of living.

Arnold Zable’s piece focuses on books as a means of navigating cultural landscapes. Zable describes the battered Yiddish literature which his father brought to Australia from Poland, texts that allowed Zable to meet the ghosts of annihilated peoples. At his Yiddish language school and the Kadimah library, Zable entered a world of oppositional extremes (epitomised by the title of his first book, Jewels and Ashes). Zable describes how Yiddish books guided him through the ‘ancestral dreaming’ of his family’s homeland. Intuitively, he established his own ‘triumvirate’ practice of writing that involved travelling, reading books about places whilst in those places, and journaling. Books are Zable’s mentors, ‘manuals’ on the art of observation and the art of ‘painting with words.’

Nigel Krauth recalls how childhood stories taught him that fiction ‘deals with the real.’ Whilst his parents found Christianity, Krauth found the sexed-up world of the Moulin Rouge. Dreaming of Paris, he wandered Manly in a raincoat built for discrete masturbation and shop lifting. He nicked Playgirl and Carter Brown’s sexy detective novels. Krauth describes how, today, his bookshelf is himself with each book mapping past and future identities. His is a ‘harem of books,’ each one a bride that he can ‘enjoy’ anywhere, each offering a tactile experience that no digital e-reader will ever replicate. He ends by describing the diaspora of his books: books stored elsewhere, forgotten, archived; the ‘pre-books’ of manuscripts; the ‘ultrasounds’ of books in progress and the ‘abortions’ of books never completed. Whilst Krauth’s gentle and teasing approach to his younger self is evocative and often funny, his later use of bridal/natal imagery and metaphor doesn’t quite gel, getting in the way of, rather than enabling, his exploration of the deeply intimate nature of reading.

Anthony Lawrence reflects on his difficult childhood in a rural boarding school where the library and the classroom offered him both physical and mental escape. Leonard Cohen and Richard Brautigan became his first paper-mentors, teaching him to live for his imagination. Back in the city, his concerned mother sought ‘help’ from a writers’ centre and he entered the ‘lion’s den of Australian poetry.’ Studying form allowed Lawrence to find the ‘loose thread’ of his own voice, a thread to which he ‘held on tight’ and followed to poetry readings and other poets. Finally, that thread became something he could ‘wear’ and he stepped out into the ‘glorious wreckage’ of his own voice. Like Zable, Lawrence’s books are sources of inspiration and active teachers on the craft of writing.

Stefan Laszczuk’s vibrant, conversational voice describes how his youthful addiction to books transformed into an addiction to drugs, drink, masturbation and writing. He confesses that he doesn’t read as much as or as well as people assume a writer should. He then describes the books that his mother left him, and his reflections effectively become an ode to her: he loves her books because he loves her. Like Krauth, Laszczuk enjoys books as tactile things, objects that can be smelt and touched and that, in his case, conjure his mother back to life. Like all of the writers in this collection, Laszczuk shows how a book is so much more than text: books are relics, places we go to and things we fill our places with; books are teachers, translators and friends; books are parts of our bodies and the bodies of those whom we love. 

It would have been useful if the editors of the collection elaborated upon the limits placed on its production. Was there a reason, for example, for focussing on one gender? Whilst there will be an equivalent women’s edition next year, I wonder if thematising by gender risks limiting such books’ audiences, and I wonder if each writer’s distinct voice and experiences would have been positively emphasised by a more diverse context. Also, whilst the book certainly offers its promised ‘broad scope’ of insights, I was left wanting a deeper engagement with each writer’s world and ideas. I especially wanted to know more about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of each authors’ evolving writing practice. Zable and Lawrence touch on this, but it would be interesting, for instance, to know how The Book helped Moorhouse develop from a short story zealot to a writer of epic-sized novels. Perhaps wanting more is a simply a compliment to what is there, and, questions aside, The Clunes Little Book of the Book is an elegantly produced collection of thoughtful and distinct voices.


Helen Gildfind has had essays, short stories and poetry published in Island (upcoming), Hecate, Antipodes, Poetrix, Idiom, Veranda, Voiceworks, Westerly, Southerly, and antiTHESIS. She is currently studying literature and creative writing at the University of Melbourne.


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Vol 14 No 2 October 2010
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Jen Webb