Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris

Between You & Me is an index of things editors dwell on so that readers don't have to: word gender, the dangling participle, commas, hyphenation. Author Mary Norris is a copy editor at the New Yorker. After an introduction that is easeful even by her employer's standards she introduces the magazine's dictionary of choice, Webster's, which she employs as a prelude to American English, and here the book comes alive ("The best thing ever written about hyphens is..."). Far from "a mean person who enjoys pointing put other people's errors" Norris is tickled pink by her subject. The book is nostalgic in places – New York, mostly ("... her desk facing a wall James Thurber had drawn on in pencil") but her outlook is modern ("I would never disable spell check. That would be hubris"). Grammatical examples are presented as witty mnemonics: it's fun, and you'll learn something.



So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Documentary maker Jon Ronson has assembled an excellent chronicle of individuals who have wreaked real-world damage via social media: Adria, who tweeted a developer's remark at a tech conference, which led to the developer being fired; Justine, who tweeted a joke before getting on a plane and found herself professionally destroyed by the time it landed. Ronson digs up details: the developer was rehired; Adria assailed. Justine, a PR worker, had been targeted by Gawker: "The fact that she was a PR chief made it delicious," said Gawker's Sam Biddle. Another "victim", Max Mosley, survived his public shaming by refusing to be cowed -- and hiring a QC. The meddling facts of each case undermine easy comparison and propel the author in circles. Ronson concludes that social media dehumanises us, but also that society was cruel all along. By book's end his outrage has dimmed, leaving only juicy anecdotes. It would make compelling TV -- his subjects were right to trust print.

-- Sunday Star Times, May 2015


Girl In A Band by Kim Gordon

Girl In A Band's opening chapter detailing Kim Gordon's breakup with Thurston Moore has been chewed over by an online audience that might not normally discuss a woman in terms of her relationship but the memoir in total is judicious and single-minded: a personal narrative of laterally-mobile ambition signposted with appearances by the fashionable and infamous. The author presents herself as a ‏60s art school child who jumped almost directly to the New York 80s gallery scene, bypassing disco and rock. As per the title she has much to say about gender but it's Gordon's adult quality that sets her apart from her morose peers: even while professing fears of inadequacy the narrative focus is intelligent and self-possessed. The chapters on her favourite Sonic Youth tracks make a fine 20 minutes on YouTube and her memories of New York are a paean to an urban culture now priced out of existence.
-- Sunday Star Times, 2015



The dialogue in Furious 7 is epic to the point of non-sequitur. The rap video T&A is equal opportunity: Rodriguez kicks ass; the Rock wears a singlet in the office. Fights are Hong Kong phooey and the laws of physics pushed out as far as a rocket-propelled coyote on a granite ledge. But the series works because at its heart – and it has a lot of heart – it's about chivalry. The central theme is family – not military. Furious 7 never winks at the audience. For all its stunts, the filmmakers play fair with the viewer: the movie believes in itself, and the audience believes back.


The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Murakami's The Strange Library appears designed for younger readers but few of them would recognise a library as it's depicted: borrowing cards, inked date stamps, stacks of books teetering over the door. The book is designed by Suzanne Dean, whose credit is tucked at the foot of the credits. An endpaper note explains that many of the illustrations have been sourced from The London Library and visually the enterprise has the charm of an English storybook but the story, translated by Ted Goossen, is less attractive. A boy researching the Ottoman Empire becomes imprisoned by a extremely threatening old man; his fellow inmates are a girl who speaks with her hands, and a sheep man – a recurring Murakami character who appears in Dance Dance Dance. The combination of inventive design and lurching narrative renders the experience either more frustrating or engaging, depending on your tastes. The final effect is subversive: looks like a children's book, freaks you out.
-- Sunday Star Times, 2014


Good reading

This is being passed around: Salon's Anne Bauer on why it's a problem that writers don't talk about where their money comes from:
... When an audience member — young, wide-eyed, clearly not clued in — rose to ask [an unnamed author] how he’d managed to spend 10 years writing his current masterpiece — What had he done to sustain himself and his family during that time? — he told her in a serious tone that it had been tough but he’d written a number of magazine articles to get by. I heard a titter pass through the half of the audience that knew the truth. But the author, impassive, moved on and left this woman thinking he’d supported his Manhattan life for a decade with a handful of pieces in the Nation and Salon.
Also being passed around: Vulture's David Marchese talks to Jon Ronson about how we use social media to shame others. Says Ronson:
... We still see ourselves on social media as the hitherto-silenced underdog, yet we have huge power. We are more powerful en masse than NBC... We like to see ourselves as righteous people, but we’re behaving as unforgiving and cold. We’ve sort of tricked ourselves into believing that we’re something online that we’re not, or that we haven’t turned into something that we have.
And Jon Ronson again, on the New York Times, about destroying lives with Twitter:
... In those early days, the collective fury felt righteous, powerful and effective. It felt as if hierarchies were being dismantled, as if justice were being democratized. As time passed, though, I watched these shame campaigns multiply, to the point that they targeted not just powerful institutions and public figures but really anyone perceived to have done something offensive. I also began to marvel at the disconnect between the severity of the crime and the gleeful savagery of the punishment. It almost felt as if shamings were now happening for their own sake, as if they were following a script.