Jesse Ball just keeps getting better and his latest novel, Silence Once Begun , was the first, and remains the best, thing I have had the joy of reading in That's not to say there weren't some pretty close contenders. And the fact that David Grossman was the only other familiar name in my list makes it all the more exciting. Then there's An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alammedine which bowled me over with its humour, wisdom and litnerd appeal.
Jenny Offill renewed my belief in the beauty of ordinary love with her masterpiece in miniature, The Dept. Michel Laub 's multi-layered meditation on memory, Diary of the Fall was another highlight, as was the best prison novel I've read in years, The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. And mad props to the batshit crazy Look Who's Back , in which German daredevil Timur Vermes imagine Hitler's return to modern Germany with hilarious and rather frightening results. Books of Previous Years Five months after reading it, I'm still haunted by Hubert Mingarelli 's fantastic little book A Meal In Winter , in which a couple of Nazi soldiers sent from their remote outpost to hunt Jews in the forest are faced with an impossible moral choice.
Equally complex and powerful was Jenny Erpenbeck 's Visitation which could well have been written by one of the European greats in the middle of the twentieth century. And, in my ever growing attempt to expand my literary horizons, graphic fiction has had a strong showing with Rutu Modan 's The Property and Jeff Lamire 's Underwater Welder both ending high on my list of favourites.
A Brief Message From My Speakers I don't usually include music in my mid-year reports but I can't in good conscience ignore the album that has single-handedly got me excited about music again.
Canadian abrasive melodic punkers PUP 's self-titled album is about as incredible as a debut could ever hope to be. In fact I loved it so much that I didn't download a free torrent but actually dragged my lazy arse to the record store and bought a physical copy. That's crazy talk! Well, I can't say I know what the rest of this year will bring. Ah, who am I kidding? I'll be reading just as much. I just won't be sleeping. Three days on and I'm finally emerging from the wonderful afterglow of the Melbourne Jewish Writers' Festival.
Over a year in the planning, the two days and one night turned out to be everything we'd hoped for and, to lean on a crappy cliche, more. Eighty writers from Melbourne, interstate and overseas, sixty volunteers and over two thousand tickets sold to sessions. Holy gefilte fish I know, humility isn't my strong point.
I could babble on about this for days but I've managed to whittle it down to a few highlights: Favourite Sessions In Which I Did Not Participate I went to plenty of really great sessions but three really stood out. Rachael Kohn 's live video discussion with living legend Irvin Yalom was a scintillating exchange of ideas between two people of towering intellect, passion and talent.
It really kicked the first day off with a bang.
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Peter and Renata Singer 's session on the moral lessons a reader can learn from great literature was also a true delight to behold. Finally, Dara Horn in conversation with Tali Lavi was not only great fun but also gave the audience fantastic insight to the work and workings of one of American literature's young guns. Extra credit to Dara who took a punt on coming out to an inaugural festival that might just as well have tanked but, thanks in part to her, did exactly the opposite. I also would have loved to have seen the session on Trauma with personal fave Arnold Zable , who has worked with refugee communities and bushfire survivors, and Zeruya Shalev who survived a suicide bombing.
Personal Highlight 1 Who doesn't love crapping on about their favourite books? Heck, I've made an entire blog of it. Theodore Mundstock by Ladislav Fuks. The audience really got into it too, with everyone jumping up to share their favourite 'forgotten' books. Great fun all round. Personal Highlight 2 The Festival Hub. Whoever came up with the idea of combining the signing area, book store, coffee shop and general mingling space into one large marquee was a genius.
There was a constant buzz as authors, volunteers, punters, booksellers and random strangers who happened to be passing by mingled and soaked up the incredible atmosphere. Also, being behind the scenes, I got a lot of interesting insights into what it means to organise and participate in one of these beasts.
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- Book review: To the End of the Land, by David Grossman.
The best part of MJWF was how wonderfully collegial most of the writers were. They hung out, watched one another's sessions, were happy to talk with eager attendees; basically, did everything to give the fest a great vibe. Of course there were a couple who - despite their relative insignificance when held next to some of the other participants - thought themselves above it all.
Reverse kudos to one spectacular douche who ruined his session with boring hagiographical arse-licking then had the audacity to castigate the organisers for failing to give him the respect he and his subject deserved. Add to that his disgusting rant against one of his fellow panellists who he wrongly accused of undermining him before the session. Bad form from a thoroughly average human.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar was selected from 126 titles by a panel of judges.
Ok, we get it. You're smart.
You know a lot about the subject. But this is a fun gathering of like minded book lovers, not some stuffy university snorefest. By all means engage in a deep, intelligent, robust discussion with your fellow panellists, but don't open with a twenty minute exegesis of the minutiae of your area of interest. Wrong place, wrong time. You wrote a book? It's just come out? So it was for Dov, the author said.
He wanted that act of freedom, too. Taking questions from JHFE Chair for Judaic Studies Ranen Omer-Sherman, who moderated the program, Grossman spent an hour reflecting on how he researches his work, what motivates him, and what influences his writing. For instance, he loves to get out and do first-hand research for his books, whether that takes him to the West Bank or the Israel Trail, which runs the length of the country.
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I spend much of my, life in one room. There can be rewarding moments during this resaerch, such as the time on the Israel Trail — scene of the novel To the End of the Land — when a hiker he met broke open his backpack to show Grossman a worn copy of one of his books. A secular Israeli and a self-described atheist, Grossman nevertheless loves Hebrew, the language in which he writes.
If Abraham could come back to life and join him at his dinner table, he said, the patriarch could probably understand much of the conversation.