After my jetlag was compounded by searing days of 40+ degrees in Melbourne, leaving me and everyone else tired and mentally foggy, I took advantage of the last few days of holiday to tidy up the house, to the sounds of cool jazz and essential books/arts podcasts. My spring – or rather summer – clean was a great way to kick off the new year and I can’t tell you how cleansed I feel after de-cluttering, ruthlessly binning outdated files, and “I should keep this it might come in useful” oddities (anyone fancy a Duck Clock, complete with quacking alarm? Who gave me this? And, more importantly, why?), bundling up clothes for the Salvos and moving read books into boxes, to make room for this year’s crop.
It’s going to be a great year, with new work from amongst others David Malouf, Sonya Hartnett, John Scott, Janet Turner Hospital and Favel Parrott; internationally, expect new books from Hanif Kureishi, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwen. Martin Amis and, a personal favourite, Lorrie Moore. And of course, I’m still working out how much – if any – of the First War commemoration I should cover. A pile of freshly-minted books is eying me accusingly as I write this, but I have copy to write for the Australian Book Review, a grant application, and the second draft of my play to finish off first, so they will just have to wait.
One of the pleasures of holiday reading is that you have time to cover books you wouldn’t normally have time to savour, so I was genuinely pleased to chortle over Richard Glover’s George Clooney’s Haircut (ABC Books, $24.99). Glover is a humourist who writes for The Sydney Morning Herald. Although his work is sometimes syndicated in the Melbourne Age, we don’t have the pleasure of reading his columns weekly, which is a great pity.
Glover has a talent for exploring the minutiae of everyday life. Whether it’s acknowledging the passing of time and accepting his mullet needs drastic, overdue attention – hence the “Clooneyesque” haircut of the title – pondering on the best way to fill out the census, or despairing over his never-ending home renovations, he cracks witty one-liners as easily as shelling nuts. He writes with an enviable ease and fluidity, an empathy for his readers that makes reading him both a joy and a feeling that you’re conversing with an old friend. I caught myself deliberately slowing myself down not to finish the book too fast, making myself wait for one more delicious chapter.
We can all identify with his list of faux-pas and declining standards of etiquette. They include Phone abandonment (leaving your mobile on your office desk, where it will ring constantly with a sickeningly cloying ringtone); Elevator Blindness (deliberately closing the door on someone you can see running to catch the lift); Eyejacking (some Philistine reading the newspaper you’ve bought over your shoulder on public transport) and Surprise Veganism (slaving over a hot stove cooking a meal for 10 only to find none of your guests can eat anything on the menu).
His survey of writers’ festivals wickedly partitions authors into purveyors of Quick Lit (news-related books published 24 hours after a cataclysmic event), Clit-Lit (erotic fiction aimed at the female market), Sick Lit (crime novels often with a Scandinavian setting featuring ghastly murders), Shtick-Lit (memoirs by comedians featuring their best one-liners), Flick-Lit (picture-filled coffee table fare), Sit-Lit (any book to be read in the loo) and so on.
This is all highly amusing, but Glover delves deeper. He has an uncanny ability to point out home truths, so you reflect on changing social mores, with a smirk on your face. Take his views on today’s increasingly complex menus in fancy restaurants. “Restaurant chefs claim to be obsessed with ‘fresh ingredients simply prepared’, but… everything is presented in little towers, as if the plate were valuable real estate. It’s then splashed with a melange of butter, cream and salt in a way designed to cause a heart attack. The only place you get with ‘fresh ingredients simply prepared’, is at home”.
Yes, yes, Richard, bring it on, carry on exposing the comedy in our ridiculous posturings and pretentions. Can’t wait for your next book.