Posts tagged 'humour'

9780307977618 For a book-loving kid growing up in the 1970s and 80s, no trip to the supermarket was complete without angling for a foil-spined special treat, in the form of a Little Golden Book.

Diane Muldrow, editorial director at Golden Books, has put together a nostalgia-inducing gift book of the collective wisdom she’s taken from the books over the decades, illustrated with images from the Golden Book archives.

It’s probably a good idea not to take the traditional-flavoured ‘wisdom’ in Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Golden Book too seriously (the advice ‘be romantic’ is illustrated with a princess being carried off on a horse by her prince, for example). But as a novelty item designed to transport grown-ups down memory lane, it works.









19 March 2014


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The Fifty Shades of Grey wine range has just been launched. ‘Wine plays an important role in Fifty Shades of Grey, reflecting the sensuality that pervades every encounter between Anastasia and Christian,’ says E.L. James, explaining why branded wine seemed like ‘a natural extension of the Fifty Shades trilogy’.

The wine comes in two varieties: red and white. Or, more precisely, Red Satin and White Silk.


This follows the Fifty Shades lingerie line, stocked at Target, which was ‘styled on the elegant pieces Anastasia receives from Christian’, according to James.

As it becomes harder to make a buck by selling books, book-related merchandise seems to be a growing industry.

Twilight fans can shower with Edward every day, with their very own Edward Cullen shower curtain.


Fans who are more into the idea of Edward as stalker boyfriend who watches over them while they sleep than as a sex object can make that dream come true, with a life-sized silhouette that can be applied to your bedroom wall.


Or bring the Twilight magic all the way into the bedroom with a branded condom.


Readers with more vintage tastes might prefer to curl up on the couch with an ‘I Heart Ginsberg’ throw pillow.


Or wear a Pride and Prejudice Classic Thong, emblazoned with the motto ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife’. What man would not melt at the revelation of such a garment – and an intention? You go, gold-digger!


P&P fans who are looking for a good time rather than a rich husband might prefer a Lydia Bennett YOLO throw blanket, for comfort and inspiration when you’re feeling a bit worse for wear.


Hipsters can shower in bookish style too – Dave Eggers has created a shower curtain that’s been designed to be read: an imagining of a monologue told to him by his shower curtain. Eggers' creation is actually Issue 16 of The Thing, a US quarterly that comes in the form of an object.


Or for the truly adventurous, there’s the Hunter S. Thompson Fear and Loathing board game: ‘A scientifically-accurate, organic chemistry board game based around Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’. The dosage scale and glass pipe are not included, due to legal issues. And dosages are calculated to be physically safe to ingest. ‘Most’ of the substances are fake.




14 November 2013


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If you’re preparing a Melbourne Cup feast for tomorrow’s festivities, why not give a thought to including some favourite food from classic literature?

Quirk Books has gathered recipes for everything from Turkish Delight (the taste of betrayal in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) to the crab casserole prepared by Clarissa Dalloway in Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and the infamous green eggs and ham of Dr Seuss’s read-aloud favourite. Surely green eggs are perfect for lining the stomach tomorrow morning?


Or what about Amy March’s pickled limes, the in-crowd’s ‘must have’ food item of Little Women?

‘Why, you see, the girls are always buying them, and unless you want to be thought mean, you must do it too. It’s nothing but limes now, for everyone is sucking them in their desks in schooltime, and trading them off for pencils, bead rings, paper dolls, or something else, at recess. If one girl likes another, she gives her a lime. If she’s mad with her, she eats one before her face, and doesn’t offer even a suck.’



Or, of course, you could skip straight to cake. (A slice goes well with champagne.)

Shelf Life have found some of the best book cakes on the internet, including a lifelike Cat in the Hat book cake, a stylish Hunger Games layer cake, and some suitably bloody Game of Thrones cakes – including a gory series of cake pops.







04 November 2013


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5 People Respect This

Much has been said about internet abuse by trolls and nasty commenters, but on the web’s most popular sites, it’s a trend that’s gone largely unchecked.

Now, as Google attempts to improve YouTube’s infamously vitriolic comments by requiring a Google+ account to post a response – while others are simply closing comments altogether – the Engaging News Project’s Talia Stroud has uncovered some fascinating insights through her research. Stroud argues that the quality of open discussions could be improved with a simple linguistic tweak: replacing the ‘like’ button with ‘respect’.

The Voice of God

Last month, the critic-hosts of Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast talked about ‘uptalk’ and ‘vocal fry’ in their review of In A World. The romantic comedy, directed by Lake Bell, follows its star as she ‘tries to break the glass ceiling in the voice-over world – a world dominated by low-pitch, high-testosterone male voices.’


Lake Bell: director and star of In A World

The gender trend in voice-over is one that also applies to broadcast radio – and more recently to podcasting, as American public radio hero Julie Shapiro (Third Coast International Audio Festival) pointed out earlier this year. In a guest post for, Shapiro queried the ‘egregious imbalance’ amongst the most popular podcasts – and offered a long list of women-hosted shows, too.

Everyone’s a winner

In a New York Times op-ed this week, Ashley Merryman argues against a culture which teaches kids to be rewarded for simply participating, and explains why losing is good for you.

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal. If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

But if losing’s good, is winning too much bad? Perhaps so, if you take your lessons from the case of Tyler Weaver.

The 9-year-old – who has won the Hudson Falls Public Library’s summer reading contest for five consecutive years – prompted the library’s director to cancel the competition. Lita Casey, a librarian who defended Weaver’s winning streak, was fired.

Reviewed: nothing

Is Ted Wilson really a retired accountant and widower who plays tuba and harpsichord in the Ryan Montbleau Band, as The Rumpus would have you believe? Incredibly not. Are his Ted Wilson Reviews The World pieces amongst the funnier weekly columns on the internet? A safer bet.


Recently, Wilson has turned his finely-tuned critical faculties to yawning, Canada and quicksand. This week, the subject of his attention is… nothing.

Walking back from the hospital the next day I overheard a police officer say, “there is nothing to see here,” so I immediately rushed over to see what nothing looked like. It turned out to be a corpse.

Bird’s eye

As far as uplifting thoughts go, nothing quite compares to visions of flying like an eagle. Well, now you can – almost – thanks to this YouTube video, in which a GoPro camera is strapped to the back of an eagle.

The bonus? This particular eagle is flying through Chamonix – the region of France which hosted the first ever Winter Olympics in 1924, around the Mer de Glace glacier.

If the sight still isn’t giddying enough for you, MultiTube it. We dare you.



27 September 2013


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We share our perfect antidote for Mondayitis: five fab bookish videos to tickle your fancy – from a book trailer so bad that it just might be genius, to an exclusive video of Lloyd Jones reading from his latest book, the memoir A History of Silence. And of course, there’s the obligatory cat.

The Bad Book Trailer

Is there such a thing as ‘so bad it’s good’ when it comes to book trailers? Mr and Mrs Consumer, the choice is yours. Watch Stuart Ross’s book trailer and decide for yourself.

Book Fetishism and Dominoes: What Ebooks Can’t Do

This cute little hipster video – complete with cheery music – demonstrates one important thing you can’t do with ebooks. Because book dominoes are an important part of every reader’s repertoire.

Cats, Books and the Internet: Kitten Reads Book on Head

It’s not the internet without a cat joke … And so we present: a kitten reading a book from the vantage point of its owner’s head. If this video was any sweeter, you’d need a dentist.

Mister Pip, the movie

Hugh Laurie is starring in the film adaptation of Lloyd Jones’s much-loved story of Great Expectations in Bougainville, Mister Pip. You can watch the trailer now.

Lloyd Jones reads from his new memoir

Lloyd Jones was in town for the Melbourne Writers Festival recently – and he popped in to the Wheeler Centre to film a live reading from his new memoir, A History of Silence. The exclusive video is below.



02 September 2013


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We share our favourite finds from the internet this week.

Twelve-foot statue of wet-shirted Darcy installed in lake

The scene in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth, as Mr Darcy, emerges from a lake, his shirt dripping, has been voted by UK viewers as their favourite moment in a drama. A 12-foot fibreglass statue of Darcy is touring UK lakes in a stunt to promote a new television channel, Drama. It’s currently in Serpentine Lake (Hyde Park, London).

‘I suppose it is inevitable that Pride and Prejudice be best known for a scene that Austen never wrote,’ critic and Austen expert John Mullan told the Guardian. ‘This is an installation that celebrates the imagination of Andrew Davies rather than that of Jane Austen.’

New releases to look out for in second half of 2013

We’ve hit the halfway mark for 2013 – and The Millions has published a comprehensive look at some of the most exciting literary releases of the second half of the year, as chosen by their editors and contributors. There are new books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Attwood, Stephen King, Jonathan Lethem, Julian Barnes and more.

Poor Haitians in Obnoxious American T-Shirts

Two Haitian photojournalists have been documenting a bizarre result of global capitalism: the phenomenon of poor, non-English-speaking Haitians wearing recycled American t-shirts bearing obnoxious or just plain incongruous slogans. An artists’s statement explains: ‘The worst T-shirts, those that would barely be sold in the cheap gift shops of Times Square, those with the dumbest slogans, reappear, thanks to a free-market miracle, in remote provinces of Haiti where nobody has taken the effort of translating such poetry into Creole.’


‘When donated clothing ends up dumped in developing nations — like all aid — it can have unforeseen negative effects on the local economy,’ writes Jezebel. ‘You can’t compete with free. The foreign “Pepe” [used clothes] has put thousands of Haitian tailors out of work. The solution to the guilt that comes with our over-reliance on cheap, unsustainable clothing isn’t to donate it once we tire of a garment, but to consume less and own less in the first place.’

Cycling infrastructure

Cycling is eco-friendly and promotes exercise – it’s an increasingly popular way of getting around. Two-wheeled devotees will be interested in The Atlantic’s inspirational round-up of ten brilliant pieces of bike infrastructure from around the world. From a river-floor bike tunnel in Rotterdam to Denmark’s bicycle superhighways and eye-catching pink bike parks (pictured below), these examples show how the right infrastructure can make cycling an easy option.


Why Children’s Books Matter: An Exhibition

The New York Public Library is putting on an exhibition to celebrate children’s literature. It’s too far away to visit – but you can flick through some of the exhibits online. The New York Times is featuring a visual slideshow of some of the best exhibits, celebrating classics like A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.





12 July 2013


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Our favourite finds from around the internet this week.

Asteroid named after Iain Banks

When Scottish author Iain Banks died earlier this month, he left behind countless grieving fans around the world. One of those fans has come up with a novel way to pay tribute to the great writer: he successfully applied to have an asteroid named after him. Asteroid 5099 is now officially known as Iainbanks.


Iain Banks

Dr Jose Luis Galache of the Minor Planets Centre (MPC), part of the International Astronomical Union said: ‘When I heard of his sickness I immediately asked myself what I could do for Mr Banks, and the answer was obvious: Give him an asteroid!’

What if Star Wars was written by Shakespeare?

What happens when you combine what’s widely agreed on as among Hollywood’s worst scripts and the English language’s finest writer? Harrison Ford famously told George Lucas of his dialogue, ‘You can type this shit George, but you sure as hell can’t say it.’ In this book trailer, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, find out if tweaking by The Bard makes it any more sayable.

Amazon’s robot workers

What’s it like to work for Amazon, the world’s largest bookseller? According to this Co.Design report, not so great. ‘An Amazon fulfillment associate might have to walk as far as 15 miles in a single shift, endlessly looping back and forth between shelves in a warehouse the size of nine soccer fields. They do this in complete silence, except for the sound of their feet. The atmosphere is so quiet that workers can be fired for even talking to one another.’


‘And all the while, cardboard cutouts of happy Amazon workers look on, cartoon speech bubbles frozen above their heads: “This is the best job I ever had!’


10 Nerdiest Jokes of All Time

Salon has gathered what they’ve dubbed the 10 nerdiest jokes of all time. Here’s one, ‘a zinger for when drunken bar banter inevitably turns to talk over film/TV roles for women’:

‘Two women walk into a bar, and talk about the Bechdel test.’

Amish Gadget Culture

Contrary to popular opinion, the Amish aren’t total Luddites – they’ve developed a tech culture all their own, ‘hacking’ technology to fit their needs. ‘Amish are all about the loopholes,’ Chris Weber, who works with Amish youth, told Buzzfeed. ‘The best way to create an exception is to have it be dependent on business.’


An Amish lamp, powered by propane rather than electricity.



05 July 2013


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We bring you our favourite findings from around the internet this week.

Lizzie Bennett: Looking good at 200 years old

It was the two-hundredth birthday of Pride and Prejudice this week – and the New Yorker and the Guardian were among those who celebrated with retrospective appreciations of Jane Austen’s much-loved (and lauded) first novel.


Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett

Our favourite, though, is still Helen Garner’s earthy, witty commentary on reading Pride and Prejudice on a hot summer’s day (between cool alcoholic drinks) – told with style and relish. (From the Age a few weekends ago.)

God bless Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, and the current of deep, warm, erotic attraction that flows between them. And long live the Lydias of this world, the slack molls who provide the grit in the engine of the marriage plot.

Buying canned fresh air in China

Chinese millionaire Chen Guangbio is selling cans of fresh air to make a point about the toxic smog that is routinely choking North China. ‘If we don’t start caring for the environment then after 20 or 30 years our children and grandchildren might be wearing gas masks and carry oxygen tanks,’ he said. Already, manufacturers can’t keep up with the demand for air purifying machines and pollution masks.


(Not that Chen is the first to think of it – remember ‘Perri-Air’ in Mel Brooks' sci-fi spoof Spaceballs?)

Louis C.K. on censorship and Huckleberry Finn

Thanks to Bookslut, we’ve just stumbled on this video of comedian Louis C.K. talking about censorship and Huckleberry Finn. (In 2011, a publisher removed the ‘n’ word from Mark Twain’s classic.) Louis talks about the role of that word in the book, and the way that Twain portrayed racism in order to criticise it. Of course, he also says he didn’t want to read the book to his young daughters, because he didn’t want to be reading them the ‘n’ word over and over again …

Sydney Review of Books and the question of book reviewing

There’s a new Australian literary publication in town – and it’s pretty impressive so far. The Sydney Review of Books is edited by respected critic James Ley, and board members include David Malouf, Kerryn Goldsworthy and Gail Jones.

Its first issue includes a fascinating essay on the question of book reviewing, the ‘epidemic of niceness’ especially prevalent in the online world, and the way thin criticism ‘turns reviewing into infomercial, allows established writers merely to churn out material, reinforces industry nepotism, and denies new authors the reception they need to flourish’. Ben Etherington sets the scene, then samples local reviews of Anna Funder’s All That I Am as a case study to illustrate his point.


GPs to prescribe books in UK

In the UK, GPs will prescribe self-help books, to be borrowed from local libraries, to patients with ‘mild to moderate’ mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression and panic attacks. The project has been developed over the past year by the Reading Agency charity, whose chief executive says, ‘There is a growing evidence base that shows that self-help reading can help people with certain mental health conditions to get better.’



01 February 2013


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We bring you our favourite findings from around the internet this week.

Men’s magazine culture and the worst celebrity profile ever

The internet has been aflame this week over what’s been described as ‘the worst celebrity profile ever’. Stephen Marche (who also writes for the New York Times) interviewed Megan Fox for Esquire, where he has a monthly column, and waxed lyrical in cringeworthy terms about her ‘perfectly symmetrical’ features, repeatedly, making weird metaphorical references to Aztec sacrifice rituals (comparisons to celebrity) and Noah’s Ark (because Fox’s son is named Noah).

In Crikey, former editor of FHM stands up for Marche (but not the article), with an inside look at writing for a lad’s mag and the way that writing fawning articles on celebrity babes is a payoff for more interesting writing elsewhere.


The Real Jerry Seinfeld Stands Up

This New York Times profile takes Jerry Seinfeld seriously – and provides a fascinating insight into him as a consummate comedy craftsman. He may have created a show famously ‘about nothing’, but this article makes it clear that all that ‘nothing’ was very, very carefully constructed … and that behind his easygoing alter-ego Jerry Seinfeld is a steely perfectionist.

Seinfeld will nurse a single joke for years, amending, abridging and reworking it incrementally, to get the thing just so. ‘It’s similar to calligraphy or samurai,’ he says. ‘I want to make cricket cages. You know those Japanese cricket cages? Tiny, with the doors? That’s it for me: solitude and precision, refining a tiny thing for the sake of it.’


It’s All About the Lance

The whole (western) world’s talking about Lance Armstrong and his Oprah confession – and what his admission of doping means for the sport of cycling. Wired looks at the talk-show ritual of rehabilitation, and why it won’t work this time. Bethanie Blanchard looks at the similarities between Armstrong and his fellow Oprah’s-couch-confessor James Frey. A Manly library unexpectedly made world headlines with a (jokey) sign stating that Lance Armstrong’s books would be moved from the non-fiction to the fiction section; there were similar debates about the classification of Frey’s book.

And The Atlantic looks at the ‘real’ need to protect athletes from themselves, and why widespread doping affects kids mounting the first rungs of the elite sport ladder. (If everyone dopes, then it stands to reason that if you want to compete at an elite level, you do too.)

In surveys administered between 1982 and 1995, half of elite athletes said they would take an undetectable PED if doing so meant they would win an Olympic gold medal, even if the drug were guaranteed to kill them within five years. When that hypothetical was posed to 250 normal Australians, less than one percent said they would take the gold-then-death drug.


Alec Baldwin interviews Lena Dunham

Did you know Alec Baldwin has a radio series? We’ve discovered it this week, via his recent interviews with Girls‘ Lena Dunham. ‘You are nothing like I imagined you would be,’ Baldwin tells her, saying that though her character, Hannah Horvath, is ‘a beat behind everyone else’, she looks like she could be ‘a senator or the head of a corporation’. Dunham says that Hannah is ‘the version of myself if I’d had less understanding parents and less drive to get things done’.


The Climate Change Endgame

The New York Times has a sobering (okay, seriously depressing) piece on the effects of climate change that describes the ‘massive extinctions and widespread ecosystem collapse’ that will occur even in the event – looking unlikely – that we can limit climate change to a global warming of two degrees.

At current global warming of 0.8-0.9 degrees, the fingerprints of climate change can be seen virtually everywhere in nature. The coniferous forests of western North America are currently experiencing massive tree mortality because climate change has tipped the balance in favor of native bark beetles. The Amazon seems to be edging close to dieback in the southern and southeastern portions of the great forest.



25 January 2013


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David Sedaris has long been opposed to seeing his work adapted for the screen. He told the New York Times that a decade ago, he began work on a movie adaptation of his essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day – but stopped after his sister Lisa ‘worried that someone fat would portray her’.

‘It just became an automatic no’ after that, he said.

Enter Kyle Patrick Alvarez, a 29-year-old director with a small budget and just one (small) film on his CV. A passionate fan of Sedaris, he’d wanted to film his essay ‘C.O.G.’ since he was 14 years old.


Jonathan Groff in C.O.G., a film based on David Sedaris’s essay.

The essay is based on Sedaris’s experiences in his late twenties as an apple picker in the orchards of Oregon, where he found himself at odds with the locals and the religious right.

‘I saw it as dark and funny and a chance to hopefully make something special,’ says Alvarez. ‘It’s also not about his family, which made me think I had a shot at getting him to say yes.’

After being knocked back by Sedaris’s agents, he took a chance by turning up to a book reading and pitching his idea for filming C.O.G. in person. He left Sedaris (who was ‘polite’) a DVD of his movie, Easier with Practice.

A few months later, home with nothing to do, Sedaris decided to watch Alavarez’s movie – and liked it it a lot. ‘I guess I just really liked Kyle,’ he told the New York Times.

C.O.G., which stars Jonathan Groff (Glee), Corey Stoll (Hemingway in Midnight in Paris) and Denis O'Hare, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week. It was made in 18 days, on a budget of less than $1 million.



21 January 2013


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Comic literary novelist Gary Shteyngart is almost as well known for his prolific blurbing of his fellow authors' work as he is for his critically acclaimed books, Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story.

In fact, his blurbing – while done sincerely – has now become an enormous literary in-joke, spawning a Tumblr, The Collected Blurbs of Gary Shteyngart, and now a documentary, Shteyngart Blurbs, narrated by Jonathan Ames. It features interviews with authors who have been the recipients of his generosity, from Molly Ringwald and Karen Russell (Swamplandia) to fellow ‘blurb whore’ A.J. Jacobs.

The documentary Shteyngart Blurbs, by Ed Champion. Narrated by Jonathan Ames.

‘He is the Balzac of blurbs,’ says Jacobs. ‘He has very strict requirements about what he will and won’t blurb. It must have 1/ two covers, 2/ a spine, 3/ an ISBN number. And then he will blurb and he will blurb hard.’

‘I’m trying to get people to read good, serious literary fiction, or good, funny literary fiction,’ explains Shteyngart himself. ‘And no hyperbole can be hyperbolic enough, because very few people want to read this stuff.’

‘I have to say, I am pretty proud of my blurbs. I think some of them are really, really good.’


Gary Shteyngart: ‘No hyperbole can be hyperbolic enough.’

He says his favourite was for Etgar Keret’s Missing Kissinger:

‘The best work of literature to come out of Israel in the last five thousand years—better than Leviticus and nearly as funny. Each page is a cut and polished gem. Do yourself a favor: walk over to the counter and buy this book now.’ — Gary Shteyngart

‘It’s the worst,’ says actress-turned-author Molly Ringwald on the business of trawling for blurbs. ‘It’s worse than auditioning for a movie. There’s something I find so incredibly humiliating about it.’

‘He was my first,’ she says of Shteyngart. ‘And your first is always special.’

‘Molly Ringwald understands how families work and uses her considerable talents to make them come alive on the page.’ — Gary Shteyngart

Her Pretty in Pink co-star Andrew McCarthy, who released his first book, a travel memoir, in the same year as Ringwald, also benefited from a Shteyngart blurb. Coincidence? (And is it just us, or does this one seem very carefully worded?)

‘It’s hard to write books that are both adventurous and touching, but Andrew McCarthy manages to pull it off and more! A smart, valuable book.’ — Gary Shteyngart

Karen Russell, whose book Swamplandia was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction last year, remains eternally grateful for the blurb she received for her first book, St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

‘There’s a way he’s capable of writing a sincere blurb while also poking fun at the whole idea of a blurb. It’s kind of a swami magic. I don’t know how he’s doing that.’

Here’s a perfect example, on A.M. Homes' May We Be Forgiven:

‘I started this book in the A.M., finished in the P.M., and couldn’t sleep all night. Ms. Homes just gets better and better.’ — Gary Shteyngart



15 January 2013


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When we think twenty-first-century Christmas, we also think shopping. And if you think Christmas shopping is its own special squashy, noisy hell for you, just imagine (or remember) what it’s like when you’re the one behind the counter. In honour of the Shopping Season, we’ve gathered some weird retail stories – some Christmassy, some not – to make you laugh, wince and sympathise. Enjoy!


A merry (bookselling) Christmas

One thing that sticks out in my mind is that we used to take bets on who would cry first once we hit the Christmas rush. Because by the end of it, we all were weeping.

I remember one motherfucker of a customer who bought about a billion shitty little toys and crappy $5 things, and then demanded I wrap each one individually. This is what you get working for an indie bookshop offering free gift wrap.

Benjamin Law, Avid Reader, Brisbane

My favourite recent customers? Brothers Michael and Jackson. When Michael passed on my news that we had no Nathan Buckley biography in stock, Jackson could be heard in the background, yelling: What? Noooooo! Oh my god, NOOOOO! They were in their thirties … and then they wanted a John Farnham book.

Leanne Hall, bookseller, Carlton

Clerks and the Egg Man

A man used to come into the convenience store where I worked, inspect the shelves for any damaged packaging, then write to the relevant companies reporting the offence of a dented tin, or whatever. We only figured this out because once a company sent the store owner a letter. Well, that and the fact that he used to pace the aisles with pen and notebook in hand. We called him the egg man due to his resemblance to an egg, but also after a similar customer in the movie Clerks.

Kirsty Leishman, Brisbane

One scary customer…

There was a hobo guy who came into my bookshop with a massive hunting knife and showed me what he was going to do to his brother-in-law first thing on a Sunday morning when no one was around. EEP!

Paula Thompson, Adelaide

I’d been working at a bookstore in Albert Park for a couple of months, when an older man came in looking for a book on murderers. He seemed nice enough, but as he began proudly telling me he wanted it because ‘I’m in it’, my blood chilled. I was terrified as I served him, and as he left, whispered my fear to a colleague, who laughed hysterically and said, ‘That’s Father Bob!’ It didn’t occur to me that he might be in the book in some capacity other than starring as a murderer.

Jo Case, Melbourne

When I worked at a certain city bookstore, there was a situation where the manager kept finding human poo in the lift …

Simmone Howell, Melbourne

Dedication to (unkind) customers

Me: Wow, that’s quite a collection you have here.
Woman: I’m going to volunteer in Kenya*
Me: Wow, it’ll be an interesting time over there.
Woman: Silence.
Me: (Fairly timidly) You know … Because of the elections?
Woman: Yeah, I know that, I just didn’t think somebody working in a place like this would.
Me: (Very quietly) Bitch.
Woman: What?
Me: Jambo. It means ‘hello’ in Swahili.

The next week, I won ‘Star of the Week’ in the internal/store newsletter for my ‘dedication to customers’.

*WHY is someone volunteering in Kenya spending $1000+ on poor quality, overpriced women’s clothing? Spoiler alert: It was probably made by underpaid factory workers in Kenya. Ever think about that, lady? And yes. I’m aware that I was working for the company for that sells the aforementioned overpriced clothing but I was a uni student and a gal’s gotta hustle, you know?

Tamara Zimet, Melbourne

Best lay-by customer ever

There is this guy with an intellectual disability that we call Milkshake Mark because he always orders a milkshake. He is homeless. He came in once and put a Klutz kit on layby using 20c. We were a bit dubious about taking his money but he insisted. He spent the day walking up and down the street scabbing change. He came back in every ten or 15 minutes putting 50c, $1, $2 on it. By the end of the day he had paid off $24.95 and picked up his layby laughing manically. We declared him our best layby customer ever.

Krissy Kneen, Avid Reader, Brisbane

Celebrity encounters

There was some complete wanker in the back of my shop carrying a brolly, wearing tweed and sporting a pork pie hat … looking crumpled and messy.. I thought he was a shoplifter. I turned to my colleague and said we should keep an eye on them or kick them out. They leaned forward and whispered to me: Mal… that’s Beck.

Malcolm Neil, Melbourne

From behind the bookshop counter one early December, I served a certain comedic actor who had a book out at the time. It was stacked on the counter, actually. When he realised (or thought he realised) I didn’t know who he was, he picked up the book and asked, ‘is this any good’? ‘Sure,’ I said, but didn’t elaborate.
‘Selling many?’ he asked, using all his actorly skills to remain casual and off-hand. ‘It’s doing pretty well,’ I said.
He smiled. ‘I heard it was good.’
‘Do you want one?’ I couldn’t help myself.
‘Er, no,’ he said. ‘Maybe next time.’

Lou Clausen, Melbourne

Just plain rude

What’s annoying? People (usually well-dressed women) who leave all the clothes they’ve been trying on in a crumpled mess on the fitting room floor and treat you like the hired help.

Anna Brasier, Melbourne

The worst are customers who don’t think you’re worthy of a full sentence and come up to you and just say words like ‘Stockings?’ and ‘Toilets?’

Bethanie Blanchard, Melbourne

Customers who shouldn’t even be there

One balmy summer afternoon, a sweaty man wearing a woollen vest came through the shop doors. He looked around at this and that, calmly taking his time despite the sweltering heat, like a lizard waiting on a rock by the clear waters of a waterhole.

‘May I try a few things on?’ he asked.
‘No worries mate, the change rooms are just over there,’ I replied, without much thought.

The man came out of the changing room and brought in some more items to try; this happened a number of times. In and out he went, trying to find the best item to suit his motorcycling needs.

Then, from out of the blue, a quite irate young man entered the store, stormed up to my customer and yelled, ‘WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING MATE?’

‘Just doing a bit of shopping. I don’t get the chance too often.’

An argument broke out, with the young man beginning to swear and yell, when something dawned on me.

I looked out the window to see a bus (packed full of paying commuters) parked outside on the road. Our sweaty woollen-vest-wearing customer was a bus driver – the young man was his passenger.

The driver slowly walked out of the store, followed by the young man. When he got to the bus, there was a loud cheer and yells of random abuse as he got back on the bus – which he had stopped by the side of the road, mid-route, so he could ‘pop in to the shops, just for a minute’!!

The poor slaving bus driver explained on his way out that he ‘never gets to come into the shop but drives past every day’, while I tried not to laugh. Seeing the hilarity in it all, I watched him leave – and can only imagine how much grief he would have copped all the way home, until the last traveller had finally gone.

Just another day in the life of a retail motorcycle store assistant!!!

Nick Case, Adelaide

Feel free to tell us your own weird retail experiences (from either side of the counter). It’s that time of year when we could all do with a good laugh …



19 December 2012


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We share five of our favourite links, videos and articles from around the internet this week.

No, Actually: Debunking a Christmas film favourite

Love, Actually, Richard Curtis’s celebrity-packed ensemble film that launched a thousand holiday season copycats (Valentine’s Day, anyone?) was on television again last night. Karen Pickering watched it and wrote down all the reasons it’s ‘offensive garbage’ – from a savvy analysis of the way the women characters are all mere vehicles for the men, to locating it as the cause of a truly awful movie trend.

FYI, telling your best friend’s new wife that you’re in love with her (using twee flashcards) is about the most selfish, creepy, dick move imaginable and if she doesn’t tell her husband then I fear for their embryonic marriage.


It’s always a lovely gesture to tell your best friend’s new wife that you love her. While he’s in the next room.

Writing for free

The subject of whether writers should write for free – and if so, under what circumstances and how often – has been one of our hottest in this year’s Dailies. We’ve hosted discussions by Karen Pickering on why you shouldn’t write for free and Helen Razer on why writing for free can pay off.

This week, the conversation exploded all over Twitter when Marieke Hardy asked Mia Freedman why her commercially successful website Mama Mia doesn’t pay its writers (you can read Freedman’s response here). Elmo Keep has written about the subject this week too, saying the argument is ‘so old it needs cassettes’ – but questioning online publications whose business models don’t plan for paying their contributors.

And here’s writer Harlan Ellison getting pretty fired up over the whole issue of not paying writers (and of the free work given by amateurs affecting his own bottom line). ‘I sell my soul but at the highest rate,’ he says.

Watch the world’s largest iceberg break-up ever filmed

We’ve shared images from Chasing Ice, James Balog’s mission to document the Arctic ice being melted by climate change, in a past Friday High Five. Now, we can share a video from the forthcoming film, showing the largest iceberg calving ever filmed. ‘It’s like Manhattan breaking up in front of your eyes.’ Breathtaking and terrifying.

Storyboards for classic films

Flavorwire has uncovered the original storyboards for a whole host of classic films, from Spartacus to Sound of Music. It’s pretty cool to see the seeds of some of the most popular and ingrained images of popular film culture.


The original storyboards for The Sound of Music.

NASA explains why the world will not end in 2012

Are you spooked that the Mayans knew something we don’t? Are you ticking off the items on your bucket list, expecting it all to be over in a matter of days or weeks? Well, NASA is here to tell you that the world will not end in 2012 after all. And to explain how to accurately interpret the end of the Mayan calendar. Sit back, relax and figure out how you’re going to live the rest of your life, after all.



14 December 2012


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It’s December – and the holiday season has kicked into full gear, tinsel decorations and all. Any day now, we’ll be hearing carols broadcast in the shopping centres. Holiday decorations are festive – they remind us that a block of holidays is on the horizon. But some decorations are horribly misguided, and others are downright ugly. Here are five of the most horrifying holiday decorations, courtesy of Flavorwire.


What does Santa do in his down time? A spot of deer shooting, it seems. Wonder what Rudolph and co think of that.


The Tampon Nativity. From the website Tampon Crafts, which offers decorating ideas ‘for any time of the month’.


Imagine if the witch in Hansel and Gretel made her gingerbread house out of meat and roofed it with bacon?! What a tasty lure that would be. Actually, probably not – as this attempt shows.


Shotgun shells as Christmas lights. Aww, how very … creepy.


You know what’s really Christmassy and deserves pride of place on your tree? A merman, of course! This Bling Merman ‘is all about showing off the bling to the mermaids’.



07 December 2012


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By Catherine Deveny

catherine_deveny_inpress_1Catherine Deveny decries helicopter parents, attachment parenting, yummy mummies, kids in cafes and trampolines with fences around them – in favour of 1970s-style ‘blimp parenting’. (Benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference.) And she looks back on a childhood where kids were sent out to buy smokes for the grown-ups, advised to ‘get some colour on you’ (no sunscreen required) and given the independence to ride bikes, climb roofs and run barefoot down at the creek.

Yesterday I tweeted this.

‘Home with a 9 year old who has severe breathing and speaking difficulties. Closed in throat, assuming asthma/hayfever induced croup. My question is – do I get him to unpack the dishwasher or put washing on the line?’

Suddenly I was inundated by all these well-meaning do gooder busy bodies suggesting I take him to a hospital. A HOSPITAL!

I tweeted back:

‘I’m not taking a kid who’s wheezing a bit to the doctor. He’s the third of three boys. I only had him for spare parts. I’m spending the day teaching him how to blow smoke rings. After he’s finished mowing the lawn.’

Video: Catherine Deveny on Pernickety Parents

I’m not a helicopter parent. I’m a 1970s parent. Benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference.

You’ve heard of helicopter parents haven’t you? They hover. I’m more a blimp parent. You don’t see me much and when you do, I just float around a bit and occasionally I catch fire.

Let’s get this into perspective…

In 1975 I swallowed a coin. Mum took it out of my pocket money.

In 2012 my nephew Harry swallowed a coin. My sister-in-law calls an ambulance.

In 1979 my brother chased a ball onto a road. The driver whacked him, then the neighbor whacked him. Then mum had a crack.

In 2012 my friend Fiona became estranged from her brother for telling her six-year-old niece off for swearing at her. Apparently it hurt the little girl’s feelings.

1974: My sister was playing in the back yard and my brother shot her in the leg with a BB gun. She told Mum. Mum’s response? Play in the front yard.

2012: Trampolines have fences around them.

What is going on? I mean seriously…are you all insane?


Lenore Skenazy’s nine-year-old son Izzy hit headlines when she let him ride the subway by himself, sparking the Free Range Parenting movement.

These days parents can’t leave the house with a kid to visit the neighbor without water, juice, crudités, humus, pawpaw cream, rice crackers, spare shoes, a Baby Gym iPad app, and organic yogurt without permeates.

(By the way, I don’t even know what permeates are, but I want them back.)

And what’s with the BABYCINO? Why do kids have to pretend to drink coffee? Here’s the thing, if it’s attempt to make them European, here’s a flash for you. In Europe kids would have coffee WITH Marsala in it.

And what are they doing in cafes anyway? Thugs, grubs, louts and yobbos. The lot of them.

In the 70s, dummies were being dipped in a range of substances (from beer to honey) and popped back into baby’s mouth. And went to sleep in the back of the station wagon with their five siblings, wearing no seatbelts, winding around the winery district while their parents got progressively pissed. And chain-smoked. With the windows up. While swearing.

My five siblings and I have ten kids between us. We were talking about growing up in the 70s. It came up that my brother and sister both ate cat food. My brother defended himself ‘I just ate the dry stuff, she ate the wet stuff.’ Mum told the story of our six-year-old cousin in Prep who was told to ‘take a can of drink for her lunch’. She did. A UDL. And drank it.

There was the story of my best friend’s brother who cut off his little finger ‘playing’ with the circular saw. She found the digit two days later.

Jenny, our neighbour, had ice cream with topping every night after school. The topping? Bailey’s Irish Cream.


‘What’s with the BABYCINO? Why do kids have to pretend to drink coffee?’

My brothers talked of the lighters-plus-hairspray-equals-blowtorch science experiments they did when mum was out and we were latch-key kids.

And the cousins who tied their youngest to a pole and lit a fire under him playing cowboys and Indians. My aunt only found out because she found the melted shoes.

Froot Loops with Tang for breakfast. Our uncle saying ‘If you go to the shop & get me a pack of B&H extra mild you can get yourself a Sunnyboy.’ Teacher smoked. Doctors smoked. Parents smoked. They let us light their cigarettes! In our own mouths.

Those were the days.

Being told to get out of the house and don’t come back until dark. ‘Unless you’re bleeding.’ ‘Get some colour on you.’ Sunscreen? Forget it. We’d be down the creek, climbing the roofs to collect our tennis balls, riding our bikes, no helmets, no shoes down the creek, through building sites and occasionally TO THE TIP. Fast forward to 2012. ‘Where you going? Have you got your mobile – I’ll drive you. Don’t forget your hand sanitiser. LOVE YOU LOVE YOU!!! LOVE ME BACK!!!! I’m needy!!!!’


Helicopter parents. From Time magazine, 2009.

We had detention. My kids have reflection.

We were in a class. My kids are in a learning community. We had disruptive kids. They have interactive learners.

We had dickheads. They have friends with issues …

They don’t do subjects. They have areas of inquiry.

They don’t ask questions. They conference.

Kids aren’t told to behave. They are told to hold themselves accountable.

We were told we were being naughty. They are asked ‘are you making the right choices?’

Kids were bad then. Now they are ‘over-energised’.

There are no punishments. Just consequences.

Refusal to participate is called negative self-selection and being an arsehole is now oppositional defiance disorder.

I was away with a few families a few months back and we were talking about holidaying when we were young in the 70s: camp pie, sunburn, nylon sleeping bags and snakes and ladders. From inside the holiday house we heard one of the mum’s sing-song voices: ‘Arlo, Huxley, hop off the iPads and come down and eat your sushi.’


To be honest, I reckon parents have disappeared up their own arseholes.

The ‘because I said so‘ argument for parents doesn’t work nowadays. My girlfriend Ruth works in childcare. She recently had a new little girl in her room. The parent’s instructions? ‘No one says no to Freya.’

Recently I watched a toddler wander across a road with the mother pleading from the curb. I thought to myself: ‘I get that there are times for reasoning but that’s not one of them. And you’re an idiot. A pleaser who had to have kids so you had friends.’

The antivaxers, the clipboard-holding school shopping parents, the Four Wheel Drive Pram pushers – and don’t start me on the Steiner and Montessori parents. Or as I think of them, the ‘I’m not in a band but have friends in a band’ people.

Just get over yourselves. Why do some parents feel the need to create this perfect trajectory for their perfect child to ensure they have some perfect life they feel they themselves missed out on? How did they think it’s even possible? Why do they think it’s a good idea? I want my kids to be brave, resilient, optimistic and independent.

I love the Jung quote: ‘The heaviest burden a child carries is the unlived life of their parents.’

For many children these days, their burden will be that their parents had no life.

are_you_mom_enough There has never been more time, energy and thought spent on the raising of babies, toddlers and children, and it’s detrimental, counterproductive and narcissistic. It’s suffocating our children and oppressing parents, particularly women.

The ‘Are you Mom Enough?' Time magazine cover story about attachment parenting really summed the whole thing up. Remember the picture of the yummy mummy breast-feeding the five-year-old?

Attachment parenting is the epitome of this competitive parenting as an extreme sport. The parenting cult where you wear your baby everywhere, never let them cry and all sleep in a big bed together. It leads to dysfunctional co-dependence and is simply set up by needy parents to enable their own abandonment issues.

And coincidently I have never ever heard a father initiate the idea of attachment parenting. I have seen some strap on a fake smile and go along with it.

It’s a crock so big not even Steve Irwin would dangle a baby in front of it.

The narcissism that parents are the only people able to care for their children and that their kids want to be with them all the time is breathtaking.

I’m sorry super mum and super dad. Not only are you not that great – you are annoying.

You know what I practice? Detachment parenting.

I’m a 1970s parent: benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference. Total 1970s, just with the seatbelts, sunscreen, pool fences and without the smacking and smoking with the windows up.

Love them, cuddle them, play with them and tend to their needs? Sure. Smother them, micromanage them, pander to them and enable some creepy co-dependent relationship with them to fertilise abandonment issues and a total absence of resilience? Forget it.

This is an edited version of a Lunchbox/Soapbox address given at the Wheeler Centre last month.

Related reading: ‘Why Is It (Still) the Mother’s Fault?: A Response to Catherine Deveny’ by Jessie Cole.



05 December 2012


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It’s been a weird year for publishing, with bad news about plummeting advances, disappearing bookshops and dwindling sales everywhere you turn.

But there’s been the occasional good news too. A couple of Australian authors – Hannah Kent and Graeme Simsion – set for international success (and five figure paydays) with their debut novels in 2013. The potential for small publishers to thrive in a future where adaptability is prized.

And there’s been the phenomenal, world-bestselling success of one author whose sales figures have defied the trends, despite widespread agreement that her books are terrible: E.L. James.

el_james_w_book The Fifty Shades of Grey author has been named Publisher’s Weekly’s Publishing Person of the Year 2012 for showing that people will still buy printed books – she’s sold 35 million copies of her trilogy in the US alone.

The decision has sparked derision in many quarters – with reasons ranging from the fact that the books began as Twilight fan fiction, that the prose is bad, and that their success began outside traditional publishing channels, with a tiny e-book publisher.

The best thing about the announcement? It’s sparked another video review from the hilarious Totally Hip Book Reviewer Ron Charles, fiction editor of the Washington Post, with a BDSM flavour and lashings of satire.




04 December 2012


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We share five of our favourite links and articles from around the internet this week.

Why your passwords don’t protect you

Wired senior writer Mat Horan was famously targeted by cyberhackers earlier this year, who managed to crack the password for one of his (linked) Apple, Gmail and Twitter accounts – and then had access to all three. The hackers wiped his iPad, iPhone and Macbook – including all his messages, documents and photos. Since then, he’s been looking into the world of online security. His conclusion? Our passwords are essentially useless.


Wired senior writer Mat Horan: Hackers erased his whole digital life.

Ann Patchett helps the bookstore strike back

Just as the end of bookshops was being declared (this was right before they declared the end of book publishing itself), author Ann Patchett decided to put her time and money where her mouth was … and opened her own bookshop in Nashville, where both local bookshops had closed down. She writes about Parnassus Books in the Atlantic.


Ann Patchett at Parnassus Books

Is irony over?

The New York Times published a dig at irony and the hipster generation last week, taking an Attenborough-style approach of identifying the characteristics of a species: ‘the hipster haunts every city street and university town’. Gabrielle Carey (aka ‘the serious one’ from Puberty Blues, also an acclaimed author of essays and memoir) has taken a more philosophical approach to the same subject on Meanjin’s blog this week, where she asks whether irony has gone too far – and whether its co-opting by advertising and corporations has rendered it meaningless.


Image from New York Times. The hipster ‘is merely a symptom and the most extreme manifestation of ironic living’.

Oslo Davis on Melbhattan

Oslo Davis is one of Melbourne’s most recognisable and loved illustrators. This year, he’s been hard at work on Melbhattan, a short film that mimics the opening sequence of images at the start of Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan – both an homage to and a pastiche of our beloved City of Literature. Melbhattan is screening before each feature at the Rooftop Cinema this summer. You can read more about Melbhattan at The Design Files.


Best books 2012: From New York to London, and back to Melbourne again

It’s that time of year when publications start gathering their choices for the best books of 2012. The New York Times has a hefty list of 100 books – worth checking out to see if there’s something obscure worth adding to your ‘to read’ pile. Publisher’s Weekly has put together a snappy top 10. Slate staffers have chosen their favourite books of the year. Justine Jordan of the Guardian has compiled her favourite novels, short stories and graphic fiction. And coming back from the US and UK to Australia, Melbourne bookseller Readings has posted a fistful of top 10s (and a couple of top fives) in a range of categories, chosen by their staff, including the stalwarts of fiction and non-fiction.



30 November 2012


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Michael Leunig is an undisputed national treasure. His particular blend of whimsy and wit, provocation and pure magic, has been bewitching Melburnians since his first cartoon in 1965.

He’ll be joining us at the Capitol Theatre on Wednesday to look back on his brilliant career – and draw live – in conversation with Michael Williams.

To get you into the mood, here are five of his iconic cartoons, drawn from over the decades. They’re all included (along with roughly 400 others) in The Essential Leunig, a gorgeous hardcover celebration of this beloved artist’s life work.






Michael Leunig will be in conversation with Michael Williams at the Capitol Theatre on Wednesday 28 November at 7.30pm. Tickets include a copy of his beautiful hardcover book The Essential Leunig and the chance to get it signed. The event is run in partnership with Readings Books Music and Film.



26 November 2012


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We collect five of our favourite links and articles from around the internet this week.

Carver’s OK Cupid profile, edited by Gordon Lish

What if Raymond Carver wanted to hook up, and turned to the internet for help? And what if he asked his infamous editor, Gordon ‘Scissorhands’ Lish to help with the ad? It might look a little like this.


Dumb ways to die: A viral sensation

What do you think of when you think of Metro? Many would say late trains, cancellations, or botched Myki touch-ons. But thanks to a clever little campaign that’s gone viral, ‘Dumb Ways to Die’, we think of catchy tunes and cute little dead pod people instead. Way to distract us!

On Mumbrella, one of the brains behind the campaign tells the story of its inception.

And on Crikey this week, First Dog on the Moon used the campaign as a springboard for what many would argue is a far more urgent awareness-raising message.


By First Dog on the Moon

Real-life invisibility cloaks

Do you get nervous or uncomfortable when people look at you on the street? Or would you simply like to hide from people you know, when forced to venture out on an unsociable day? Well, there are a couple of handy devices that enable you to hide in full view. (Albeit in a very obvious and kinda odd fashion.)

The Covert Collar has a camera stitched into its breast that scans the environment for ‘unwanted attention’ (ie. people looking at you). ‘When it locates a persistent starer, it activates a sort of turtleneck that flies over your face like an expanding accordion. Left with nothing but a black cloth to look at, the ogler turns away.’


Or you might prefer the fog-emitting Cloud Cloak?

Science and the search for a ‘healthy’ soft drink

Coca Cola was first invented as a health drink – hard as that concept may be to swallow. And though over-consumption of sugar-heaped soda is a major contributor to the western world’s obesity epidemic, the manufacturers haven’t quite given up on finding health benefits for it. Wired looks at the vitamins being added to Coke and Pepsi.

In Japan, you can now get Pepsi Special, which is touted as a weight-loss elixir. That’s because it has added fiber, which supposedly inhibits fat absorption. Cola with fiber! Even for a nation known for making all foods available in cuttlefish flavor, that’s pretty gross.


Bad Sex Awards 2012 Snub 50 Shades

The shortlist for the Bad Sex Awards 2012 has been announced – and there’s no 50 Shades of Grey in sight. Can all those women reading on trains be right, and the critics be wrong? Is the sex sexy, after all? Nah. At least, not according to the Literary Review, who run the award. It’s because erotic fiction is not eligible.

The shortlist is: Tom Wolfe, nominated for the second time for Back to Blood, The Yips by Nicola Barker, The Adventuress by Nicholas Coleridge, Infrared by Nancy Huston, Rare Earth by Paul Mason, Noughties by Ben Masters, The Quiddity of Will Self by Sam Mills and The Divine Comedy by Craig Raine.

Here’s a sample, from Tom Wolfe:

‘Now his big generative jockey was inside her pelvic saddle, riding, riding, riding, and she was eagerly swallowing it swallowing it swallowing it with the saddle’s own lips and maw — all this without a word.’



23 November 2012


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This week’s selection of articles and links from around the internet is animal-themed. Just because!

How a Hitchcock heroine lived, filmed and slept with lions

A recent New York Times Q&A with Tippi Hedren, the star of The Birds revealed her love of big cats.


Tippi Hedren and her live-in lion, Neil.


Tippi Hedren and family, including a teenage Melanie Griffith, at home with Neil.

After being discovered, made a star and then sexually stalked by Alfred Hitchcock, Hedren decided to make Roar, a film about lions, and so bought a large piece of land in California and stocked it with big cats, which she and her family wrangled themselves. In the process, a lion scratched her daughter Melanie Griffiths, who needed plastic surgery, scalped a cinematographer and mauled Hedren’s husband.


Melanie having a snooze with the family pet.

The Awl, in a long article on Hedren and her lions, mused on the psychology of the idea that that a woman terrorised by a man who trapped her with killer birds then decided to surround herself with enormous killer cats …


Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith on the set of Roar.

Hedren is now an activist who argues against exotic animals being kept as pets. These days, she and her family like to reflect on the Roar days: ‘Thank God we made it. Thank God nobody was killed. We all say that.’

Hemingway’s cats

391_Hemingway_s_Cats_Book_Cover_Photo Did you know that Papa, the famously macho literary lion, was a cat lover? In fact, if he was a woman he’d be called a cat lady … in his Key West Florida home, where he lived with wife Pauline, he kept over 50 cats. That house is now the Hemingway Home and Museum Museum, and the cats (or, their descendants) remain, roaming the grounds as part of the Hemingway experience. ‘Every corner you take on this acre of land, you’ll find a couple of cats either snoozing or eating, or lapping from a cat fountain.’

See Hemingway’s cats roaming his former home.

Delia Falconer on animals in Australian fiction

In a blast from the Wheeler Centre’s own past, here’s a terrific essay (from our Long View series) by one Delia Falconer, on animals in Australian fiction and what they represent. ‘An animal lover, I’m always on the alert for animal characters in novels – and alive, as a writer, to the tricks authors play with them,’ she says.


Raised by animals

Talk about an extraordinary topic for a memoir … Marina Chapman’s autobiography The GIrl With no Name: The Incredible True Story of Being Raised by Monkeys is more than a fairytale she tells her children at bedtime. Kidnapped aged five, she was then abandoned in the Colombian jungle and left for dead. She survived with the help of a tribe of capuchin monkeys, who taught her to catch birds and rabbits. When she rejoined the human world, she was captured by hunters, who sold her to a brothel, exchanging her for a parrot. Here are five more true tales of children raised by animals.


Helen Garner dog-sits

Earlier this year, Helen Garner wrote about dog-sitting her family’s red heeler while they were on holiday – and what happened when she swapped their established routine for a spontaneous, leash-free walk through her suburb’s streets. ‘One morning, after a night of rain, it struck me that our routine had become rigid. Was there nothing in a dog’s life but work?’

In a special event next month, you can hear from the recipients of our Wheeler Centre Zoo Fellowships about the work they’re creating and what it’s like to do a writer’s residency at Melbourne Zoo.

A Night at the Zoo, held at the Wheeler Centre, features Cate Kennedy, Judy Horacek, Sally Rippin and Estelle Tang. 6.15pm, Wednesday 21 November. Free, but please book.



26 October 2012


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During this week’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney answered an audience question about creating opportunities for women in an unfortunate way.

‘We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, “Can you help us find folks?” and they brought us whole binders full of women.’

The nonpartisan group who assembled the ‘binders full of women’ (Massachusetts Women’s Political Caucus) are now saying that they presented the binders to Romney on their own initiative.

The moment in the debate where Romney unwittingly created an internet meme.

According to the Washington Post, his awkward phrasing is now ‘the hottest topic in the land’, flooding the internet with memes based on the phrase.

Ironically, while Democrats have jumped on the phrasing to highlight Romney’s ‘woman problem’, it should have been a strong point for Romney. He initially filled 42 percent of senior-level appointments with women, which was the highest number in the country. Just 25% of President Obama’s initial cabinet appointees were women.

Here are five of our favourite ‘binder’ memes.






Our next Fifth Estate will focus on the circus of the presidential campaign, and how it reflects American culture. Don Watson, George Negus and the ABC’s Eleanor Hall (just back from covering the first presidential debate) will be talking to Sally Warhaft.

This free event will be held at the Wheeler Centre on Tuesday 30 October at 6.15pm. Bookings are open now.



19 October 2012


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We share some of our favourite links and articles found on the internet this week.

Mitt Romney versus Big Bird versus Obama

The US presidential campaign has taken another bizarre pop culture twist in the past week. First, there was Clint Eastwood and the chair. Now, Sesame Street’s Big Bird has reluctantly taken the stage. In the first presidential debate (which Obama thoroughly lost), Mitt Romney stated that he would cut subsidies to PBS. ‘I love Big Bird,’ Romney said. ‘But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.’


The Obama campaign responded with a funny (though dubiously useful) ad that jumped on the Big Bird statement. ‘Big. Yellow. A menace to our economy. Mitt Romney knows it’s not Wall Street you have to worry about, it’s Sesame Street.’

‘You have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,’ Romney told an Iowa crowd this week. And most media commentators (including The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart) think he has a point. On his show last night, Stewart showed a clip of addressing a university crowd with Obama, grinning and playing the Sesame Street song. The Children’s Television Workshop, the makers of Sesame Street, have asked the Obama campaign to remove the ad.

The Atlantic has a slideshow of images created by the internet to mark this pop cultural moment.


Banned Book Trading Cards

It was Banned Book Week recently in the US, and to commemorate the occasion, Lawrence Public Library commissioned a set of seven Banned Book trading cards, with artwork submitted by local artists and facts about why the books were banned, and how they affected the artists' lives. The titles chosen included Charles Darwin’s On the Origins of Species (banned in Tennesee from 1925 to 1967) and George Orwell’s Animal Farm (banned in Soviet Russia for its political theories, banned in the US for its political theories, banned in the United Arab Emirates for imagery contradicting Islamic values).


The 1984 trading card

Why food is the new drugs, religion and sex

As western culture becomes ever more food-obsessed, elevating chefs like Jamie Oliver and critics like Matt Preston to the status of artists or rock stars, a discomfort with our culinary worship is starting to creep in for many. Steven Poole’s new book, You Aren’t What You Eat is a clever and often funny skewering (pun intended) of the cult of foodism. A lengthy and fascinating extract in the Guardian will give you a taste.

It should be obvious that a steak is not like a symphony, a pie not like a passaglia, foie gras not like a fugue; that the “composition” of a menu is not like the composition of a requiem; that the cook heating things in the kitchen and arranging them on a plate is not the artistic equal of Charlie Parker.


Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan bond over expensive food in The Trip

First world problems aren’t problems

If you’ve ever ironically tweeted or complained about ‘first world problems’ (and how many of us haven’t?), this ingenious ad campaign will make you feel a little ashamed and a lot lucky. Created by relief organisation Water For Life, this one-minute video feature Haitians standing in front of their houses, in ruins or among pigs and chickens, reading ‘complaints’ like ‘I hate it when my neighbors block their wifi’ and ‘I hate it when I tell them no pickles and they give me pickles’. Moving and thought-provoking.

The afterlife of books

In a beautiful and inspiring essay, Maria Tumarkin considers the afterlife of books – how they touch readers' lives and what they can mean for the individuals who connect with them. Some of the books she looks at are Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation, Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man, Anthony Macris’s When Horse Became Saw and Maggie Mackellar’s When it Rains. She asks the question:

What books can sustain you, hold the pieces of you together, remind you of who you are and what matters to you, not ever lie to you no matter what?



12 October 2012


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We bring you our favourite links and articles we’ve found around the internet this week.

Mad spoof of Apple maps

Apple maps has to be the most embarrassing product launch in Apple history (and a landmark in the history of products, generally). The ‘most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever’ is so seriously defective that Apple CEO Tim Cook has issued a public apology and Apple has taken the extraordinary step of instructing users how they can use other mapping products while Apple maps is fixed.


What’s a disaster for the most successful company in the world is a gift for satirists, though. Check out the latest cover of Mad magazine: a spoof of an iconic New Yorker cover, with a map of the city wildly distorted (‘now using Apple maps’). 10th Avenue has become the Champs Elysees, the Hudson River has become the Sea of Galilee and Canada has become Chad.

Whatever Happened to Movies for Grown-Ups?

The New Yorker’s David Denby is the latest in a line of film critics to write about the dearth of movies for grown-ups these days, in amidst all the Judd Apatow gross-out comedies and chick flicks about shopping and weddings (the only things girls care about, don’t you know?). He is depressed about the way that opening weekend grosses get more and more important, meaning that the the types of viewers drawn to see movies straight away are the ones who increasingly determine what gets made.

Since grownups tend to wait for reviews or word from friends, they don’t go the first few days the movie is playing. That means, as it has for years, that people from, say, fifteen to twenty-five years of age exercise an influence on what gets made by the studios way out of proportion to their numbers in the population. My friends under about forty-five accept this as normal: They don’t know that movies, for the first eighty years of their existence, were essentially made for adults.


Ted, the movie about Mark Wahlberg as a kidult whose best friend is a talking teddy bear, was one of the most popular movies of the past year.

Five Stages of Grief After Publishing Your First Book

The Awl has a nifty little humorous piece on the stages of grief after publishing your first book, from denial (‘If they want to low-ball me on the film rights, that’s fine, but in that case I will need a piece of the back end and final say on casting’) to acceptance (‘Remaindered? You mean I can buy my own hardbacks for a buck twenty a piece? Oh. Hell. Yes.’)


Marlon Brando, typing. He could have been writing his first book, but okay, we just like the picture.

And on the ‘thinky’ side of the same subject, Australian writer Rachel Hills has written about the challenge of book writing – and the serious hunkering down in a quiet room, alone – it involves, particularly to the fragile writerly ego of a long-time freelance writer, addicted to the rush of being regularly published. ‘It is countless hours spent alone, perfecting ideas that are too complex to explain to strangers you meet at cocktail parties. It is enforced humbleness (or at least enforced daily stomping on that ego and desire for affirmation).’

Polaroid and old-school sexting

Hardly a day goes by without another article about the plague of sexting (particularly teen sexting) and the perils of mobile and internet technology when it comes to privacy. But, as an Atlantic article points out, before there were mobile phone ‘selfies’, there was the Polaroid camera, which also lent itself to the kind of pictures you wouldn’t want your photo lab technician to see. Mia Farrow sprung Woody Allen for his affair with her adopted daughter Soon Yi after she found some naked Polaroids. And Robert Mapplethorpe experimented with Polaroids when he was just starting to play with photography, much of it homoerotic.


Woody and Mia in happier days, before Polaroid pics of a naked Soon Yi signalled the end.

Penguin sues authors for no-show books

It’s tough times in the publishing world. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that Penguin are suing several authors for failing to deliver contracted books for which they’d already received an advance. Among them are Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel, darling of the grungey nineties, for a book to help teenagers deal with depression that never materialised (the contract was for $100,000 and she was paid $33,300 in advance) and New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead, for a collection of her journalism (which seems odd – had she lost her press clippings or her laptop since she signed the contract?), who owes $20,000; Penguin also wants $2000 in interest.


Elizabeth Wurtzel: being sued by Penguin.



05 October 2012


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It’s the fiftieth anniversary of Lego being sold in Australia – and to celebrate, Lego has commissioned British photographer Mike Stimpson to put together scenes of ten great Australian moments, in Lego bricks.

As voted by an online poll, the scenes range from Cathy Freeman’s gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, to Steve Irwin feeding a crocodile with one hand while holding his baby son in another, to Mel Gibson as Mad Max.

You can see the full gallery online. Here’s a taste of what Lego fans thought were our country’s most memorable moments and iconic figures.


Cathy Freeman’s gold medal win in the 400 metres at the Sydney 2000 Olympics.


The cast of the 1997 film, The Castle. It’s the vibe of the thing.


Mel Gibson in the 1979 apocalyptic classic film, Mad Max.


Steve Irwin and baby Bob, feeding a crocodile.


Nikki Webster in the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Our forthcoming events series, A Question of Identity, asks which iconic images and cultural notions most influence the art we produce and promote. And are they relevant to the Australia we live in?

The first event in the series is The Australian Moment: What Does it Mean to Be Aussie Right Now?, with broadcaster Phil Kafcaloudes, Aamer Rahman, Marylou Jelbart and Hannie Rayson.



02 October 2012


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Hey Girl, it’s Paul Ryan

In the tradition of the Ryan Gosling ‘Hey Girl’ meme, lovestruck conservative ladies have started a tribute Tumblr dedicated to blue-eyed Catholic boy Paul Ryan, aka the Republican vice-presidential candidate. No matter which side of the political divide you fall on, you have to admit it’s pretty funny.



Sarah Silverman: On ‘voter fraud’ and why Nana needs a gun

In last night’s event, we asked, Has America Finally Gone Mad? Here’s some evidence that it has – and that we’re actually pretty lucky to have our compulsory voting system, which makes it tough to edge anyone out of the process, with suspicious loopholes like the one Sarah Silverman points out (in typically hilarious style) in the below video. (Language warning applies.)

It seems that laws in some states require voter ID with a photograph and an address (like a driver’s license) before someone can vote. Student IDs, veteran cards and senior cards are often ineligible – though gun licenses are perfectly valid. (Hence, the argument for getting Nana a gun.)

Zadie Smith’s Ten Rules of Writing

To mark the release of Zadie Smith’s new novel, NW, Brainpickings has republished her ten rules of writing. There are some gems in there, including this one:

Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page


Street Library in Manila

The Philippines has a population of 92 million people but fewer than 700 public libraries. And despite a 1994 act pledging ‘reading centres around the country’, books are a luxury few can afford. Enter 60-year-old Guanlao, who operates a ‘no rules’ library out of his Manila home. Eager readers can borrow or keep the books from his collection of thousands, which ranges from crime paperbacks to technical manuals and fashion magazines. Guanlao takes books into other neighbourhoods on a specially adapted bike and has helped friends set up similar schemes in ten other neighbourhoods.


Wuthering Heights Trailer

The new film adaptation of Wuthering Heights, by UK filmmaker Andrea Arnold, has cast black actor James Howson in the role of ultimate romantic hero Heathcliff, described in the book as ‘a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect’. This is clearly not a departure from the 1847 novel, though the casting is a departure from previous film versions, where Heathcliff has been played by actors like Ralph Fiennes and Laurence Olivier. Arnold says, ‘I think it’s very clear that he wasn’t white. I think his difference was certainly very important in my story and very important in the book.’



28 September 2012


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This month, our AMERICA series features a whole host of great events focusing on the US, just as the world watches the ailing superpower as it heads into a presidential election. This week, we collect some of our favourite links and articles from around the internet on America.

Michael Lewis interviews Obama in Vanity Fair

Michael Lewis, author of Boomerang and Moneyball, is one of the most compulsively readable non-fiction writers working today; he writes with a blend of intelligence, reflection and sheer style. In the current issue of Vanity Fair (where he is contributing editor), he has published a profile of Obama based on months of interviews and intimate access.


President Obama and Michael Lewis break from playing basketball; a photo from the Vanity Fair article.

‘Starting in January (and continuing through mid-August), he was allowed to sit up front with the president on Air Force One and ride with him in the presidential limousine. Lewis joined Obama on visits to foreign countries and several states, toured the White House residence with him, and even played basketball with him in one of his regular, highly competitive pickup games.’ Here’s a taste.

Best of American Television: Breaking Bad

This month, we’re excited to be hosting an event where our guests will be geeking out on their love of American TV. One of the best TV programmes of recent years is Breaking Bad, a series that is coming to a definitive close next year. The last episode of this year’s run aired in the US last week, prompting a slew of interviews with creator Vince Gilligan.


Don’t read those interviews if you haven’t watched recent episodes (major spoiler alert), but if you know nothing about the series and are curious to know more, this Guardian profile is a great introduction to this series about an ordinary high school teacher who starts cooking meth after being diagnosed with cancer, then transforms, in the words of Vince Gilligan, ‘from Mr Chips into Scarface’. And if you’re interested in the science of the show, take a look at this interview with chemistry professor Donna Nelson, the show’s leading ‘meth consultant’.

A Six Year Old Gives 10 Reasons Not to Vote for Obama

An organisation called Patriot Update has created an anti-Obama You Tube video starring a six-year-old. The young boy gives ten reasons not to vote for Obama, including that he ‘wants to take guns away from good guys’, ‘doesn’t want Americans to drill for oil or mine for coal’, and ‘takes money from people who work hard and gives it to people who don’t work at all’.

James Fallows and Political Coverage in the ‘Post Truth’ Age

Political junkies will want to book tickets fast to hear James Fallows, the Atlantic’s national correspondent (and former speechwriter for Jimmy Carter when he was president) give his take on the US election. He’s currently in the thick of covering it for the Atlantic, with many of his pieces appearing online.

Recently, he’s written about how the mainstream press is adjusting to ‘the realities of post-truth politics’. This includes calling out political parties for deliberately misrepresenting what their opponents have said – taking comments out of context – in order to discredit them. He’s also welcomed the way Paul Ryan’s factually shaky convention speech was reported. ‘They’re not simply quoting “critics” about things Ryan made up. They are outright saying that he is telling lies.’

Gay Rights Take the Stage at Democratic Convention

Slate reports that for the first time, the Democrats are seeing gay rights as a potential political vote winner during a presidential election. More than a dozen speakers mentioned LGBT equality during the Democratic National Convention, including Michelle Obama, who said, ‘If proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love, then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.’


Meanwhile, here in Australia, commentators like Michelle Grattan are saying that Julia Gillard did the right thing in boycotting the national conference of the Australian Christian Lobby, where she was to be a guest speaker, following Jim Wallace’s comparisons of the ‘health risks’ of a ‘gay lifestyle’ to smoking.

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By Catherine Deveny

highlight The public/private schooling debate hit the news again last week, sparking debate over government funding of those schools – and how the Australian government will respond to the Gonski report.

Catherine Deveny, an outspoken advocate of public education, tells us why she’s so passionate on the topic – and where she believes Abbott and Gillard are going wrong.

‘There is no question of injustice to public schools here,’ Tony Abbott told an independent education forum this week. ‘If anything, the injustice is the other way.‘’ Spoken like a true private school boy.

‘Overall, the 66 per cent of Australian school students who attend public schools get 79 per cent of government funding,’ he said. ‘The 34 per cent of Australians who attend independent schools get just 21 per cent of government funding.’

Bless you Tony Abbott. You are the gift that keeps on giving. Only statements like this might stimulate national discussion to a level that might restore some overdue equity in our education system.

Some call Abbott’s comment fudging the facts. I call it bullshit.

‘It’s important to note that Abbott’s statement was made in the context of the imbalance of federal and state funding on education, with the Commonwealth contributing more to private schools and the states stumping up for government schools,’ said Shaun Carney in the Age.

Abbott’s statement reveals the sense of entitlement and lack of insight private schools can fertilise in their students. It also highlights the limited experience (and absence of understanding of inherited privilege and disadvantage) that construct the filters through which right-wing politicians like Tony Abbott see life, develop their policies, and construct truth and values.

People like Abbott assume everyone is rich, white, literate, middle class, straight, fully abled and fully functional, belonging to families with a wife/mother who nurtures and a father/husband who provides. They take for granted the head start provided by those solid foundations, which are not available to all students.

And they assume that those who do benefit from that head start somehow orchestrated the luck of which parents they were born to (and what circumstances they landed in), making them deserving of special treatment, in the form of government subsidies to support a private school education better than the one freely available to everyone.

Anyone who drives past schools occasionally (let alone visits them frequently) would agree with Shaun Carney that the ‘education facilities and learning opportunities at government schools are substandard compared with the elite private schools’.

Two reader comments on this article sum it up.

‘Tony Abbott needs to learn what injustice is. Injustice is families in Frankston North who can’t afford to send their children to school with lunch, who can’t afford uniforms, who can’t afford rent in what is already supposedly a low cost housing area where houses are often shared by multiple families, who can’t afford books, who can’t afford petrol, who suffer from family breakdowns, mental illness and who don’t have networks that middle class people take for granted. His words are some of the most ridiculous and insulting ever to come from a politician’s mouth. There is no injustice in funding public schools properly. Public schools service the most disadvantaged people in our community. Abbott needs a dose of reality.’

‘It will cost the country much more in welfare and health cost than it would to ensure that every single child that moves through any education system has the necessary literacy and numeracy levels and job ready skills. This investment would ensure more people were employed putting back money into the system rather than taking it away.’

Part of Abbott’s damage control is denying state schools will be worse off if he becomes PM. So how does that work? He is adamant the funding is unjust, but he’s not going to do anything about it? (WTF?)

As a representative of the people, wouldn’t you think it would be his job to fix injustice when he sees it?

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was no better at Monday’s ‘Suck Up To Independent Schools So We Get More Votes’ conference. Here’s her two cents:

‘I’ve never looked at a big independent school in an established suburb and thought, That’s not fair’, she said. ‘’I look at a big independent school in an established suburb and think, That’s a great example.’

Yes, Julia. It’s a great example of discrimination, inequality, of a business model that relies on inciting fear. It’s a great example of why I choose public education; a great example of sexism, attempted social engineering, homophobia and intolerance. It’s a great example of how so many are being sucked in and ripped off.


‘It’s not fair for some students to run a marathon in state-of-the art Nike running shoes and others in Target sneakers – even if they are getting the same results.’

The educational negatives and positives of all education models are highly overestimated. The best predictors of a child’s academic outcome are the education level and income of their parents. The achievement gaps are bigger within schools than between schools.

Our government schools are doing great work and getting excellent results, despite huge challenges. So, you may argue: if the government schools are doing so well, why do they need more funding? Because it’s not fair for some students to run a marathon in state-of-the art Nike running shoes and others in Target sneakers – even if they are getting the same results.

This is what you need to know: Two out of three children attend government schools. It’s the job of government schools to provide the best education for all children with all ability levels and needs.

Let’s have a look at who educates the students in lowest socioeconomic brackets. 91.7% attend government schools, 6.3% attend Catholic schools and only 1.9% attend private schools. Government schools educate 83% of indigenous students, 78% of students with disabilities, 72% of English as a second language students and 80% of refugees.

Based on the 2007 NAPLAN results, 64% of students with parents who worked in low-skilled jobs or were unemployed received the lowest-ranked results. The stratification is clear and unfair. Students from those backgrounds, through no fault of their own, need more resources earlier to get the best outcomes. When they are not available, the residue effects are huge and the gaps start to grow.
Perhaps we should grow up, man up and take a leaf out of educational superpower Finland’s book. Finland has one of the best education systems in the world. Finland also has no private schools.

Max Wallace says, ‘Some years ago [Finland was] concerned that it was falling behind in the world educational tables (just like Australia is now). They embarked on major reform. Finland now ranks in the top five countries on just about all standardised international measures.’

  1. The classes are not streamed.
  2. 30% of children receive extra help in their first nine years of school.
  3. All teachers have a Masters degree and their study for that is fully subsidised.
  4. There are 10 applications for each available place and only the top 10% get into teacher training.
  5. The school system is 100% state funded.

Among the results of this system are that 93% of students graduate from high school and 66% go on to tertiary education.

‘The information is known in Australia as to how we can achieve these sorts of results. What is lacking is the political will to overcome the deadening influence of the vested interests and actually implement policies that work.’

What is most astonishing about this? When Finland overhauled its system, its aim was equality. The result was excellence.

I spent three weeks with Peter Reith recently. (I’m not proud of it; it was for work.) Peter has two modes of communication with women. Speaking down to them or shouting at them. This was a typical opening to a conversation (insert frequent snorts and scoffs and interruptions for full effect): ‘So Catherine, I suppose you don’t believe private schools should get government funding.’

‘Yes that’s right,’ I replied.

He then went on (in what I can only assume was an attempt to impress me) to tell me he set up his own private school in Philip Island, ‘nominally Christian’. ‘Why nominally? Why not fundamental?’ I asked, ‘If Christianity is so great, why not the whole hog?’ Reith then went on to infer he really cared about the little people, by bragging that quite a few of the parents were single mums. (Love that working class cred.)

‘Really?’ I said. ‘If you cared at all for those single mums, you would be championing equity – and therefore government schools. Instead of sucking them into thinking that putting themselves under financial pressure and paying for a school with a blazer is the way to get what they are conned to believe is the best education.’

Private schools (no, I will not call them ‘independent’ – they are not independent – if they were, they would not receive funding from the government) should not receive a cent of taxpayer’s money. If you want them, pay for them yourself. Every single cent. We have a police force. If you want private security or a bodyguard, you pay for it. Same thing.

Education is the responsibility of society, because the outcome affects us all.

Catherine Deveny appears in Go Back To Where You Came From, which begins on SBS 8.30pm tomorrow night (Tuesday August 28). Her first novel The Happiness Show will be released by Black Inc. in November. Check out her website



27 August 2012


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In this week’s Friday High Five, we celebrate what would have been Dickens' 200th year with a look at five pieces from around the web that look at Dickens' legacy, or use it as a springboard for their own work (or comic creations).

The New Yorker Goes to Dickens Camp

New Yorker feature writer Jill Lepore explores the cult of Dickens by attending an annual, week-long Dickens Camp, in California, where participants sleep in dormitories, eat together in a cafeteria and all commit to reading and discussing one Dickens classic during that time. The pick for her visit? Great Expectations.

When I wrote [the camp organiser] that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it, being reluctant to leave a houseful of pips, she wrote back, ‘What could be more Dickensian than abandoning your children?’ She had me there.


Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham in Mike Newell’s forthcoming film of Great Expectations.

Dickens writes Javascript

Ever wondered how Dickens would adapt to the technological age? Well, wonder no more – at least, not about how he would write Javascript. In this witty piece by a self-confessed literature nerd who is also a whiz at Javascript, Angus Croll wonders how Hemingway, Dickens and others would tackle the programming code.

function mrFibbowicksNumbers(enormity) { var assortment = [0,1,1], tally = 3, artfulRatio = 1.61803;

while(tally++ < enormity) {

//here is an exceedingly clever device
assortment.push(Math.round(assortment[tally-2] * artfulRatio));


//should there be an overabundance of elements, a remedy need be applied return assortment.slice(0, enormity); }

A letter to Dickens on his 200th birthday, from his biographer

Dickens biographer Claire Tomalin writes a letter to Dickens, wondering what he would make of the 21st century. She notes that he would be pleased by birth control (allowing him to stop at three children, as he’d wanted to), air travel (which would allow him to visit Australia, which he’d always wanted to do) and be daunted by the huge increase in prisons and prisoners, and saddened by the continuing gap between rich and poor.


Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life

Dickens and The Wire

Cult hit television series The Wire has been almost obsessively compared with Dickens – it’s called ‘Dickensian’ almost as often as, say, Great Expectations is. This is not entirely uncalled for, with its chronicling of society’s ills through a cast of absorbing characters and gripping plots, that squarely lays the blame at the feet of our institutions rather than the individuals caught up in them. A very funny online project – now to be a book – has had some fun with the comparison, writing mock-literary-criticism about the ‘forgotten Victorian masterpiece’, The Wire, with illustrations.


Dickens and real life

A researcher has found that many of the characters from Dickens' novels were probably drawn directly from the streets around him – or, at least, their names were. ‘The thug from Oliver Twist, the miser in A Christmas Carol and the ghost of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley, among others, have been linked to people who lived or worked near Dickens’s first London home.’


Dickens at his desk

We’ve partnered with MIFF to present a series of Illustrated Film Talks on Dickens this weekend, presented by Adrian Wootton, co-director of Dickens 2012, a worldwide project to celebrate the life, work and enduring legacy of Dickens. Adrian is a former director of the London Film Festival, British Film Institute and the UK’s National Film Theatre, and is presently Film London’s chief executive.

Today’s talk is The Life of Dickens, which is accompanied by a screening of The First Fagin. Tomorrow, it’s Dickens on Film (with a screening of the eponymous documentary), and on Sunday, the series concludes with Dickens and Crime (with a screening of the documentary Dickens in London).



17 August 2012


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Most people know that children’s author Dr Seuss used a pseudonym: his real name was Theodor Geisel. But did you know that his day job was in advertising?

In this week’s Friday High Five, we share five examples of Dr Seuss’s advertising work. If you took out the captions, it could easily be ripped from the pages of one of his iconic books.






All images via



10 August 2012


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Catherine Deveny explains why 50 Shades of Grey is one of the worst books she’s ever read, with terrible writing and sexual politics alike – but she’s still really glad that people are reading, talking about and being turned on by it.

A few hours after I finished 50 Shades, I found myself at Costco.

I’m not proud of it, I was there for research. (Okay I was there for toilet paper. WHATEVER. I don’t judge your happy place.)

Catherine_Deveny_PIC_EFF_Size41 As soon as I walked into Costco, I was faced with 200 copies of 50 Shades Of Grey, plus similar amounts of other two – 50 Shades Darker and 50 Shades Freed – all at the mass-produced price of $9.97 each. A wall of porn.

Finding porn in between caterer packs of Cling Film and one kilo buckets of Vegemite in a warehouse can only be a good thing … (even if it is a badly-written book, being sold at a cathedral of corporate maggotry, environmental vandalism and competition consumerism).

Things you need to know before I flesh out my 50 Shades Of Grey experience.

  1. I don’t read much. I am profoundly dyslexic and I’m a very slow reader. It’s faster for me to write a book than read one.

  2. I do buy heaps of books. Because they are beautiful and I intend to read them and I want to support the writers, publishers and the industry.

  3. I do not ‘Hate Read’ like some people do. You know what I mean, when people say, ‘I’m reading this book at the moment and I just hate it.’ ‘Why don’t you just bail and read something else?’ ‘Oh I can’t do that! I have to finish a book when I start it.’ That’s a Hate Read. Dev doesn’t Hate Read and neither should you. Life is too short to Hate Read. I’m happy to bail.

I went away to a beach house over the school holidays and brought All That I Am. (I was rapt when Anna Funder won the Miles Franklin Award. Melbourne girl, brilliant woman. I LOVED Stasiland.) So, I’m 100 pages in, and I just can’t get into it. It’s brilliantly written, every sentence is a masterpiece; I’m just not smart enough to keep up. So I reluctantly bail after giving it a red-hot go.

Next book: 50 Shades of Grey. As I’ve illustrated, I’m VERY happy to pull the plug on a book if I’m not getting into it. But I don’t. Despite it being the worst written book I have ever read, I could not put it down.

I hated Christian, I hated Ana, I particularly hated Katherine Kavanagh. The sex was contrived; the writing was clunky and ‘trying to sound grown up’. The naive virgin good girl being flowered by the troubled stud made my hair stand on end. There is nothing believable about Christian’s attraction to Anastasia. She’s just a boring, colorless nothing. A narrative service provider. (We do NOT need any more female characters like this. Literature, theatre, film, television and history are full of them.) Plus, the book romanticises dysfunctional relationships and the traditional male–female hetero power dynamic and portrays clichéd BDSM.

Reading the book was like stinky cheese. ‘Oh my GOD! (smells and repels) this cheese is so stinky (smells and repels) you gotta smell it (smells and repels cheese and then forces companion to smell). Isn’t it disgusting?’


Catherine Deveny on 50 Shades: ‘As clichéd, badly written, problematic and at times cringeworthy 50 Shades Of Grey is, it’s positive.’

The story is about a dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship between a wide-eyed, inexperienced virgin and a wealthy narcissistic creep. The relationship is not dysfunctional because of the BDSM. The BDSM and the diverse sex-play and pleasure described are the only positives in the book. (The relationship is dysfunctional because the emotional transaction is hollow, unsatisfying and way out of whack, and the characters are caricatures.)

The cringey mentions of him ‘stroking his impressive length’, ‘breath hitching’, her ‘inner goddess dancing’ – and particularly all the ‘Stop biting your lip Anastasia’. I could go on … ARGGGH! I was sharing with all. ‘Stinky cheese. You gotta smell. Is sooo stinky.’

When I got to the end, I felt like I should be running through a crepe paper banner.

But I’m very happy this book is out there – and I think everyone should read it, or at least get across the sexual content. I’m constantly appalled by the media-approved, clichéd assertions of what people find attractive and what they are turned on by. (See Packed To The Rafters, Underbelly or The Footy Show for more information.)

If you read most women’s mags or blogs, it’s all ‘Biggest turn on? A man. Turning on the vacuum.’ Sorry, but I’m NOT aroused by a man cleaning, cooking or looking after the kids. I am turned on by a man flirting/charming/seducing or fucking me or vice-versa. And I am not alone. GROW UP! Stop infantilising women and telling them this is what turns them on. (I’m talking to you, Bettina Arndt.)

What about ‘women are too classy to watch porn, but they’ll read the bejesus out of it’? Current figures suggest one in three Australian women regularly consume pornographic images. We do both. Read and watch.

The truth, is my happy place is not Costco. It’s having sex with my boyfriend. Or shagging. Or fucking. Or rooting. Or making love. This was not how I was raised. I was raised to be encouraged to get my pleasure from being a mum, cooking meals, going to church and making other people happy. And to fine desire in food, new curtains and a ‘smart outfit’ that I had whipped up myself that did not make me look cheap.

I was never once encouraged to ask myself what I like, what I wanted, what turned me on.


If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Perhaps, even more importantly, if you have never come across it, how do you know how to imagine it or desire it?'

So as clichéd, badly written, problematic and at times cringeworthy 50 Shades Of Grey is, it’s positive. Particularly for the less liberated among us. As much as people should feel fine about erotica, porn, toys, and any other kind of pleasure that is safe and consensual, most people feel some level of shame and guilt. Pleasure is demonised and desire is enemy number one.

Now, all those people are not only buying 50 Shades Of Grey, but also reading it, talking about it and suggesting it to friends. It’s loosened the knot a little on what people consider acceptable. Spanking, anal, fisting, toys and role-play are now becoming a mainstream option for those interested. (If only in conversation. The popular interest in this book suggests to people who are turned on by the descriptions of these practices that they’re not alone. It makes them feel okay where they once may have not. Safety in numbers.

And as far as the literary snobbery is concerned, I’m not sure what’s worse. The sexual snobbery about what is ‘respectable’ for people to be turned on by or what is ‘respectable for people to read. (The whole ‘I cannot believe that adults are reading Harry Potter! It’s a children’s book!’ brigade. Remember them?) Get over yourselves wowsers, haters and bores. Who died and made you chalk monitor?

50 Shades Of Grey may be a steaming pile of dog food. But there is a pill in that dog food, a supplement, that has led to conversations that may result in more and deeper pleasure and authenticity in people’s sex lives – and that makes my heart sing.

If you can’t see it, you can’t be it. Perhaps, even more importantly, if you have never come across it, how do you know how to imagine it or desire it?

I never ordered humus until I knew what it was and saw it on the menu.

I watched a fantastic SBS Insight with Jenny Brockie a few months ago about teens and porn. The audience was filled with their parents, who lamented that the accessibility of porn and erotica is robbing their children of a ‘normal sexual awakening.’ Some said, ‘You don’t need porn, just ask your partner what they want.’ But I learn new stuff from my interest in porn, pleasure, sex, happiness and erotica all the time.

‘Normal sexual awakening’? Are you serious? Normal according to who? Women having fertility control is relatively new. So is legal abortions, and not throwing promiscuous women into asylums, or gay men into jail. No-fault divorce is still an amoeba in the scheme of things.

A healthy sex life expands the mind, the heart, the intellect and people’s creativity and acceptance of others. And who knows, 50 Shades may even lead to some better-written saucy books to unleash the inner god and goddess in us all. Keep your eye out at Costco.

Catherine Deveny is a writer, comedian and social commentator. Her seventh book and first novel, The Happiness Show, will be published in November by Black Inc. Check out her website.



25 July 2012


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