Good Reading : February 2010
8 goodreading ı FEBRUARY 2010 me my shelf i julian burnside Julian Burnside, QC, is an Australian barrister who specialises in commercial litigation and is also deeply involved in human rights work. He is a former president of Liberty Victoria. He has published a children’s book, Matilda and the Dragon, was the editor of From Nothing to Zero, a compilation of letters written by asylum seekers held in Australia’s detention camps, and Watching Brief: reflections on human rights, law, and justice. ● What are you reading now, and why? Diary of a Bad Year, J M Coetzee. I started reading it early this year, but was inter rupted by two big trials in quick succession. One of the few things I don't like about life at the Bar is that we do so much reading, and work under so much pressure, that reading for pleasure becomes difficult. I wish I had more time for reading. ● What are some of your favourite books and authors? Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It was first published when I was at university. I did not read it then, because I was too busy reading law books. I should have read it instead: on balance I think I would have lear ned more. [When] I read it, it set off fireworks in my head in a way which is truly rare. Strange to see how delusional thinking can reveal profound truth. Also, Pictures at an Exhibition by D M Thomas. A holocaust novel in which the holocaust is in the background: it gains remarkable power because it is often just out of frame. Louis -- A Normal Novel by Kathleen Stewart. Suburban surrealism. A really ter rific book. Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson. Incredible writing. I think I like seeing reality distorted out of shape to see what happens next. I don't understand much about the world as it is, and I live in hope of understanding it better by seeing how it responds when it is defor med, then reshaped. ● Which books have had the most influence on your lifestyle or philosophy? None specifically, although reading A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright was like swallowing a hand grenade. There is no doubt reading has shaped my life and my philosophy, but it is a cumulative progress, each book adding a bit to what has gone before. James Thurber's Fables for Our Time and his Further Fables for Our Time. Dictionaries (especially the Oxford English Dictionary and Johnson's Dictionary) have been a major influence, as have various reference books including Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. ● Which author would you most like to meet and why? Ian McEwan. He has a remarkable mind and is a great writer. He covers a lot of intellectual ground in his books and is convincingly well researched. ● What is a book that has made you laugh out loud? The Unexpurgated Code: A complete manual of survival and manners by J P Donleavy. ● When you were a child what did you enjoy reading? I loved Blinky Bill by Dorothy Wall when I was quite young and bedridden with asthma; I often browsed through the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; I enjoyed reading Popular Mechanics and Popular Science. I was very taken by Charles Dickens and Rolf Boldrewood. ● Do you have a favourite film of a book? I generally do not like films of books, and always leave a few years between reading the book and seeing the film. I am usually disappointed. But the film version of Atonement was superb. It adapted the metaphorical elements of the book and conveyed them in a way which was faithful to the original idea but worked cinematically. A masterpiece. ● Where are most of the books in your home? I have many hundreds of books in my study, but hundreds more in each of four other rooms. ● Looking at the books on your shelves, is there any one category that dominates? The largest single category is books giving accounts of famous trials; but it is closely followed by three other categories: biographies of famous lawyers, books about the English language, and literature. ● How are your books organised -- or aren't they? They are ar ranged by major theme, language, etc) and within those themes alphabetically by trial name famous trials); by subject (famous lawyers) or by author (language, literature). ● Where is your favourite place to read? Where there is a book. ● Do you have a favourite bookshop? Readings in Glenfer rie Road, Hawthor n. I like its selection of books, and the fact that it also has music and a small café attached. It is comprehensive without sacrificing intimacy, and the staff know about books. Also Readings in Lygon Street Carlton: a great range and the staff are brilliant. Wordwatching: Field notes from an amateur philologist by Julian Burnside is published by Scribe, rrp $29.95.
December January 2010