books made of human skin

Books made of human skin, Da Vinci’s Codex Leicester selling for US$30,802,500, and Fran Lebowitz being outraged at someone putting a cup down on a book …

The Booksellers, a charming documentary about the endearingly whacko people who trade in rare and iconic books.

We watched it the other night and it was lovely to just wander through these people’s lives, through their enthusiasm for hunting and protecting these books for posterity.

If you’re looking for a light documentary about the simple cultural pleasure of physical books, check out The Booksellers by D W Young.*

*That’s an affiliate link, so if you buy something through that link I’ll get some money for a coffee, at no extra cost to you.

my review of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar

I’ve published my review of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar.

I’m a huge fan of this book and I recommend it to anyone looking for a literary novel that’s easy to read, but illuminating and enjoyable. It is one of those rare books that yields high value and meaning without being too much like hard work.

The reader can expect a magic-realist dirge about injustice, grief, repressed spirituality, the futility of revenge, and the importance of survivors’ struggle to move forward into life, after death – an engaging contribution to the humanisation of the victims of
large-scale fundamentalist violence.

update: meditation and employment

I’ve restarted my formal meditation practice today. It was nice to sit still on the cushion and give some time to just enjoying the breath and allowing thought to fall away before it takes hold.

I’ve been taking a break from maintaining all such habits since I quit my job a while back. I let myself go a bit because I just wanted to relax and go easy on myself with the routine and discipline. I’d been planning to get back to a more regular practice a few weeks ago, but then things blew up with our housemate and that destabilised us for a while.

That’s okay.

It’s all okay.

It has to be, or else despair sets in and there’s nothing more paralysing for me than despair. It’s worse than fear for me, which at least has a kind of energising power.

The work I’m doing now, since I quit my complicity in traditional exploitative employment, is here on this blog and internal, intrapersonal, work. I’m fortunate to live in a country that has welfare benefits, and I’m choosing to redirect that benefit to the investigation of our culture and the internal environment that creates that culture. I consider it a form of tithing.

What better service can I offer the community than investigating the true nature of reality? By sharing any insights I come across I hope to contribute to the work of changing the narrative around what we consider valuable at the heart of our culture: the acquisition and hoarding of material wealth, which divides us into haves and havenots, creates discord and harms the habitat of our planet; or the realisation of wisdom that unites us in the common journey toward equality, harmony and sustainability.

Of course we all need a degree of material wealth to survive long enough to conduct these investigations, and we can’t all depend on the welfare system forever. To that end, I am beginning to monetise this blog a bit, with affiliate links to things like books I can wholeheartedly recommend. Here’s one, in the spirit of trying this on for size — a fiction-ish memoir account of the ancient search for what the author calls Quality: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.

I’ve always felt a bit suss about marketing and advertising, but I’ll try to make sure the way I do it here is not grubby. All recommendations will be as much on theme as possible, and nothing I wouldn’t buy myself. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is a classic of philosophical ficto-memoir that has inspired my own metaphysical adventures endlessly, and is one of the few books I’ve read more than once.

I’ve got other income streams in mind, such as meme-coasters and other “merch”, as well as social enterprise ideas that will take a bit more time to materialise. I also want to produce a little chapbook of my published and unpublished writing, so stay tuned.

If this sounds like something you’d like to follow and get involved with and support, there are some links below.

Meanwhile, may your psychospiritual wellness be complete and your contribution valued. I’m looking forward to a bright future, and I’m excited and happy to be stepping into my purpose of compassionate communication about metaphysical adventure.

Nikki put this on the stereo as I was finishing the draft of this post (it’s Ben Harper’s “With My Own Two Hands”, in case the embed doesn’t work):

Very appropriate, and from an album I can highly recommend: Diamonds on the Inside by Ben Harper [link].

~ ~ ~

If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to comment here or wherever you found the link, and share if you think others will be interested. I write here for love and sanity (and coffee money!), any engagement from readers such as your fine self is immensely encouraging.

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performing “Prank Me” at QUT Literary Salon

I am very pleased to announce that I will be performing a short story called “Prank Me” at next week’s QUT Literary Salon at The Bearded Lady. This story was shortlisted for the Allen & Unwin Undergraduate Writers Prize, and it’s a fun story to read, so I’m really looking forward to it.

If you’re in Brisbane and you’re interested in local spoken word, you can find out more about the event here.

recent and not-so-recent publications and not-so-publications

I’ve just added a Study page to this portfolio site, where I’ve uploaded an exegetical essay I wrote for a uni subject called Swords & Spaceships: Writing Genre. I also included the chapter I wrote for that exegesis. I like saying the word ‘exegesis’.

I’ve also added a page to the Other section of the Writing page, where I’ve published a rumination called “How To Eat Cereal“, which was published in Glass, the QUT student magazine, earlier the year.

And I’ve added a review of Dave Eggers’ What is the What, which was broadcast on ABC Radio National’s The Book Show, yonks ago.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

wherein Bodhi does not write a
review ~ just a blogspurt

In my current search for books in the new-weird genre, I came across Going Bovine by Libba Bray, which depicts a wild, hallucinatory road trip across America in search of a mad-cow-disease cure for high-school-stoner Cameron Smith. It was okay ~ I’m glad I read it, and I’m doing my best to appreciate it for what it is ~ but these events-driven narratives are just not really my bag.

I say ‘events-driven’ narrative because I can’t really say the book was plot-driven, and it definitely wasn’t character-driven: the plot is deliberately implausible, and the characters are a bit two-dimensional, except for Cameron, although his surname is the bog-standard Smith, which suggests that Bray didn’t think too much into whether this character would have any nuances to distinguish him from any other high-school-stoner stereotype. He’s a smart kid, but a lot of the time his elaborate reflections on the nature of life, love and the universe make him feel more like a vehicle for Bray’s ideas than a character in his own right. The events he has to go through to arrive at places where such reflections might feel plausible are the driving force in this story, and if you’re okay with that, you’ll enjoy it.

I recently read China Miéville’s novel Un Lun Dun, which employs a similar approach to narrative, and these types of books continue a long and esteemed tradition including Hitch-hiker’s Guide (which is referenced in blurb quotes on the edition I read) and the Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett. I’m sure we could include the Arabian Nights in this tradition as well, and even the Bible in all of its radical implausibility. Going Bovine also fits into what I would characterise as the ‘ideas novel’, where ideas are more important than plot or character. But unfortunately this novel just doesn’t live up to the standards of these traditions.

It’s too long, for starters. I love a good long novel, but I don’t go in for length resulting from sloppy plotting, and at almost 500 pages, it wasn’t until around chapter ten that the first real premise of the story was mentioned: Cameron has mad cow disease, and is informed by a punk-angel called Dulcie that he must find Dr X, the parallel-dimension-hopping physicist who accidentally created a wormhole and released the prions that are causing the disease and jeopardising the fabric of reality. (Yep, he’s called Dr X, and this is just one of the many instances where Bray seems to have used placeholder names in a novel-writing template, then forgot to come back and edit the fields with something more unique. Drs A, T, O, and M are pretty cool though.)

Cameron then convinces Gonzo, a Little Person of Mexican descent, to come with him for the journey ~ Gonzo repeatedly complains that it’s a stupid idea, but goes along anyway, threatening to phone his mum and call the whole thing off, but then never actually doing it, to the point where I began to understand that this was just a flawed device for creating character tension, which immediately dissipated once I realised that no amount of complaining was actually going to be met with follow-through: if the character acted on his feelings, Bray wouldn’t have a sidekick for Cameron.

And the prion-actions that are causing Cameron’s debilitating disease, which would otherwise prevent him from going to the toilet on his own, let alone trek across America … these are held at bay by a too-convenient wristband. So the book starts (after too many preliminary chapters) with a deus ex machina, which was a red flag I chose to ignore because I was hoping the shonky plotting and characterisation would be worth it for the ideas.

Alas, the hijinks they go through are funny (they rescue a kidnapped garden gnome who believes he is the Norse god Balder, destroy a chain restaurant trying to escape the fire giants who got through the wormhole and are trying to kill them, and sabotage a happiness cult by unwittingly causing a ‘reality revolution’), but I just didn’t care because the characters are templates and their story is nothing more than a vehicle for Bray’s surface-level ruminations on the many-world’s interpretation of quantum physics, which I so desperately wanted to enjoy because it’s one of my favourite subjects, and something I’d like to … *ahem* … enfold in the novel manuscript I’m working on. So I was bummed that I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as I was hoping I would.

So yeah, I read this as research as much as for leisure, and it’s going on the inspiration pile because it’s New Weird (part quantum-sci-fi, part urban-mythological-fantasy, part bildungsroman, part tragi-comedy, part YA, all roadtrip), but it’s going on the how-not-to-write pile, simply because this is just not my kind of book. It’s not the sort of book I want to write, because it’s not the sort of book I enjoy reading very much. I enjoyed it, on some levels, but not on enough levels that I would aspire to even read it again, let alone write something like it. I don’t mean to sound harsh ~ it’s just not for me. It’s not a terrible book, but it’s not a great book either.

That said, the conclusion is surprisingly well-constructed and effective. The ending is described on All the Tropes as being a ‘gainax ending’, meaning an ending that doesn’t make sense, but it does make sense in the context of Cameron’s/Bray’s appropriately-half-formed ideas about life after death. So I enjoyed the ending a lot, because it’s not neatly resolved and it’s not exactly a happy ending. The book didn’t need to spend 500 pages getting there, but I’m glad it go there in the end. If you’re into easy-reading pan-genre New Weird strangeness and you like watching high-school stoners do implausible things and learn a few basic insights along the way, check it out.