Good Reading : August 2011
GOOD READING AUGUST 2011 13 ME MY SHELF I a bright, ambitious young man driven to murder over an inconvenient pregnancy (some may remember the movie made of it, A Place in the Sun). I also pay special tr ibute to young Australian writer Markus Zusak for his beautifully written The Book Thief, which in parts is almost too much to bear. ■ When you were a child what did you enjoy reading? I was very lucky in getting an early introduction to literature. I had an English teacher who took the trouble to tailor-make reading lists to suit each student’s capacity.That went beyond the classroom to include books to read over the three-month summer vacation that we had in the United States. Because I showed keen interest, I ended up doing a great deal of reading outside the nor mal school curr iculum, including a sizeable swag of the great classics – Madame Bovary and The Brothers Karamazov were among the most memorable. ■ Did your parents read to you as a child? My parents came to America as children of Russian Jewish refugees fleeing from persecution – my father had hardly any education, and my mother had only basic schooling. Rather than reading to me, they enjoyed my reading to them – nothing too heavy, mainly magazine articles. When I was growing up in the 1930s, magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post were filled with brilliant wr iting and that early phase of my life was really the start of my love for words and storytelling. ■ Did you read aloud to your children? If so, what did you enjoy most about that? My ‘children’ – two daughters – are now nearing middle age. They were just three years old and six months old when we migrated to Australia. They liked me reading stor ies to them – Dr Seuss was very hot back then. But more than anything, they loved my making up stor ies to tell them. Later on, as their friends came to the house for birthday parties, I told them all stor ies as well, ad-libbing the plot lines in response to the look of surprise, delight or horror in their eyes. If nothing else, it kept them from wrecking the house before their parents came to pick them up. ■ Looking at the books on your shelves, what genre dominates? I have a separate room set up as my study at our home on Sydney’s lower North Shore. It’s filled mainly with non-fiction books – biographies, histories and academic treatises – that I became especially fond of during my research for books like 1932 and Beautiful Bodies, dealing with the convict era. ■ Do you write in the margins of your books or turn down the pages to mark your place? I try not to mutilate them too cruelly in the course of the research, so I mark them with coloured tabs. In a panic, though, and not wanting to lose sight of a valuable quote, I admit to the sin of occasionally turning down the corner of a page. My wife, Irene, studies ancient history at Sydney University and her library puts mine to shame in ter ms of both neatness and accessibility. ■ Where is your favourite place to write? Can you describe this place for us? We are fortunate to live on a hill and have extensive views across the western harbour. It’s a true pleasure to be able to lift my eyes from my computer after an intense period of concentration and gaze down onto the water glittering with sunlight. It always brings a moment of Crocodile Dundeean perspective, comparing whatever I’ve just wr itten to the magnificent view. You call this a creation? That’s a creation! ■ Do you have a favourite bookshop? Why do you like it so much? I love being in any book store where you can be sure the people working there share that same emotion and really know what they’re talking about. Peter Kirby from Constant Reader in Crow’s Nest is as passionate and knowledgeable as anyone I’ve ever met. ■ Do you read books using an e-reader? Why/why not? I’m of an age where I really can’t be interested in switching to an e-book.The touch of fingers on print-filled paper is one of the most sensual things I know, filled with anticipation and desire. ■ Do you think the paper book will become obsolete? Why/why not? Sure, more and more people may start to prefer e-books. But from what I know of human nature, there will always be someone hiding away behind closed doors with a book in their hands and a satisfied smile on their faces. ■ What do you think will happen to printed newspapers? Will they become extinct? How do you see them evolving? As for newspapers, I can see a genuine case for cutting down on the vast waste of turning forests into paper, processing it into bundles of infor mation largely left unread and transporting it through crowded urban streets in pollution-spewing motor vehicles. Eventually, perhaps only community newsletters will survive. That doesn’t really disturb me. I started my journalistic career working for an international press agency, handing my copy to an elderly gentlemen in g reen eye shades who then pumped it down the wires on a teletype machine at the incredible rate of 60 words a minute. That was state of the art communications in the early 1960s. You have to live with a simple fact: times change. Say it with Feeling by Gerald Stone is published by Macmillan, rrp $49.99 .