I am testing like the devil himself

This quickpress post is to determine how WP’s Publicize development works…

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Hands off!

Apologies for the extended radio silence. I shan’t bore you with details, that way you can imagine me sent suddenly on a supersecret spy mission/pulled briefly into another dimension/otherwise engaged with being fabulous.

Now. The book I want to share with you is very difficult to write about. For a start, it was published in 1983. The past is a different country, as they say. It’s a serious book on a serious subject – self-defense against rape. But it is impossible to take seriously. It has a number of positive aspects (not least of which are the rockin’ fashions on display). The author – a guy named Bob Jones – wants to empower women and assist them in escaping dangerous situations. OK. He acknowledges the fact of rape, and the threat of rape, and that women are the majority of victims. Fine. He offers a system of exercises to practise so that they’ll be automatic when they need to be. Cool. But – and it all adds up to a pretty large qualification – his near-hysterical insistence on the inevitability of needing his system, because rapists are everywhere, is disturbing. I don’t know, maybe the man is just trying to be a salesman. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for using caution and being prepared, but it enrages me that the emphasis is always on how women need to modify their behaviour to try and remain safe. To quote a recent commenter on a Jezebel post about Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear (a book I found to be not entirely dissimilar to Hands Off! in its use of celebrity endorsement alongside terrifying anecdotes of violent stalking): 

“Too often, we take the lazy route and invest our confidence without ever evaluating if it is earned.” [this quote from The Gift of Fear is in regards to trusting that police, security guards and the like will be able to protect us]

Sorry, but I think the “lazy route” is constantly asking women to change their behavior without asking for a massive, cultural examination of masculine entitlement.

 Hear fucking hear, commenter Pantra! And as someone else further up says, taking precautions is sensible but to insist that a woman could avoid assault altogether by changing her own behaviour skirts awfully close to victim-blaming. Plus, she points out:

That said, having been assaulted in broad daylight, wearing jeans, with an unhelpful look on my face and a confident stride, I can say with certainty that sometimes, shit just happens and there’s nothing you can do to avoid it (without clairvoyance, anyway).

Reading Hands Off!, you get the sense that if you’re just enlightened enough to use Bob’s technique’s properly, then you’ll always be fine. If you’re not fine, well, clearly you weren’t in touch with your inner woman warrior chakras and you let yourself get raped.

And then there’s the naked guy.

Tonight my friends, inspired by this awesome site (found via Jezebel), I present to you one of my own Awful Books. I have a few, but this little number manages to pack into 98 pages what few other books three times its length can offer: self-defence tips for girls in chunky high-heeled suede boots & rollerskates, homespun wisdom that points to some truly terrifying notions about gender relations, a fully integrated ‘philosophy of winning’ using mnemonic exercises, photo endorsements from famous friends/clients AND full-frontal male nudity!

I present to you Hands Off! A unique new system of self defence against assault for the women of today, by Bob Jones (1983, Bay Books).

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That’s Mr Jones on the cover. With Stevie Nicks.

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What a vista! Surely that platform is dangerous in those heels. Particularly when you have hair so large that a gust of wind could just pick you up and waft you over the edge. This is a time that knew nothing of ceramic hair straighteners, a time when people took pride in sheer volume. Also, is he wearing a karate suit with an Australian flag on it??

And then there’s the BACK cover:

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Well, could you?

The full text reads:

COULD YOU AVOID BEING RAPED? INSTEAD OF BEING PARALYSED WITH FEAR YOU WILL BE READY AND BRACED IN ANY RAPE SITUATION AFTER READING THIS BOOK – NO OTHER BOOK HAS EVER BEEN WRITTEN LIKE THIS… IT USES THE TECHNIQUES OF MNEMONICS (MEMORY FIXERS) SO YOU WILL AUTOMATICALLY REACH BACK INTO ITS PAGES WHEN FIGHTING FOR YOUR LIFE

I think I could probably write an entire post on the book’s cover design (I use the term loosely here), which has lost none of its potency and is the visual equivalent of suddenly being wrestled to the ground by a giant deranged toddler. Then there’s the fantastic blurb with its tone of a desperate sideshow vendor, signposting the author’s obsession with the idea that if women just fought back once in a while, rapists would get all discouraged and go home. In fact ladies , Bob asks inside, what if that “first ever rape victim” had just had the chutzpah – and Bob’s system to help her – to fight back? Why, the entire history of the subjugation of women would be different. Men wouldn’t have learned from women that they could rape them. Oh yes. He goes there.

Before you get into the book though, there’s a disclaimer:

PUBLISHER’S NOTE
The laws relating to assault permit one to legally defend oneself against attack from another person, using only the minimum amount of necessary force. Use of excessive force may lead to charges against the defender. Some of the techniques in this book may cause serious injury and even death if applied with undue force. No responsibility can be taken by the publishers or author for injuries resulting from employment of these techniques.

I find this hilarious in light of the fact that one of the demonstrations of techniques later on appears to show a woman breaking the fingers of a man who has groped her breast.

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I love the expression on her face in the first three photos. Plus, the caption mentions that “he will readily sign over his house and car in your name.” This confuses me. I think it means he will be at your mercy. If only he’d just let her be in charge of the TV remote…

So what is Bob’s system? He calls it EDA – environmental defence awareness. It involves a ‘psychology approach’ and the physical aspect of the mnemonic movements, and a ‘traffic light system’ of danger assessment and appropriate response. An illustration of the traffic light system provided by Bob also offers a glimpse into his strange, strange mind: the ‘yellow light’ means you want to physically deter a rapist (red is when you want to stop one. Call me crazy, but don’t you always want to STOP one?) but not necessarily cripple him. He suggests this might occur in, say, a situation when the victim knows the would-be rapist – like date rape, but also if you’re the type of girl who “still wishes to keep your mate at bay for that special occasion.” What? That special occasion when I finally let him rape me?

And then this: “Also, you would want to use Yellow rather than Red technique against your oversexed brother, or even your father.”

I have no words.

The craziness begins in the Introduction, right after the Preface in which Bob name drops like mad and refers to various ‘R&R ladies’ and ‘the scene’. He opens with a rundown of ‘the proverbial, notorious attitudes of many men‘ which are, apparently, that no woman can be raped against her will. He quotes them as saying “You must have wanted sex, otherwise you wouldn’t have just lain there. After all, it is impossible to thread a moving needle.” Yeah, because so many guys love to compare their penises to needles.

Anyway, he goes on to acknowledge how difficult the justice system can be for victims who choose to report their attacker, which is very true. So what can you do, Bob wonders? Well, apparently the solution is “not society’s tolerant view – let it happen and report him. The answer is in your hands. Read this book, and read it again and again as the simple explanation of Environmental Defence Awareness will fill you, a woman, with a sense of pride, dignity and self respect.” 

Firstly – ‘society’s tolerant view’ – what? Of women who choose not to aggressively resist in the hope that she’ll live longer? Second – ‘simple explanation’? You mean, that even a chick can get? And of course, the real reason anyone gets raped is because they don’t have enough self respect not to let it happen – they just don’t believe in themselves!

Can I just point out we’ve made it to page 5.

On page 6 we thankfully leave Bob behind for a while for the ‘Personal Profiles’ section!

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Christine McVie: “From touring and talking with the author I felt he had a real message; since reading his book I am pleased that now all women can share his knowledge.”

Yeah. She looks pleased.

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Here’s Frieda from Abba, who apparently “found the Mnemonic movements of Hands Off an exciting way to keep fit.”

But my absolute favourite celebrity endorser is Ms Stevie Nicks:

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 Hi-yaaah! If Miss Piggy had functioning legs, this would be her go-to move rather than the karate chop.

But Bob’s not just about the razzle-dazzle and becoming the sensei of female music stars. No, he ponders the big questions. You can imagine him lounging on a white shag rug after a day at the martial arts academy followed by a Tantric sex session as he wonders: “This act of violence that we know of as rape, where did it all begin?”

Long, long ago… and as Bob reflects on “the first woman ever to deny her hunter/warrior counterpart the liberty of his sexual freedom“, he “can’t help but wonder how different the course of history may have been had that first ever rape victim denied that hunter/warrior an outlet for his sexual lust by simply finding a bigger club than his and hitting that bigger stronger animal as hard as she possibly could right between the eyes!

Wow. Ladies, not only are we to blame for being too scared to fight back, but this mythical “first ever rape victim” is to blame for, well, everything I guess. Can I also note the emphasis on the man as “hunter/warrior”, which just reminds me of those three-wolf t-shirts.

Anyway, Bob has a message for us girls. “Don’t be that original prehistoric rape victim forever.”

Fuck you, Bob.

Let’s begin with ‘Psychologically deterring a rapist’ – what Bob likes to call a ‘Green Light situation’. Rapists are like con men, apparently, in that they select their victims the same way (if you substitute ‘someone who will fall for his sales pitch’ to ‘someone who will accept his abuse’ [sic! SIC!!]). “So half the battle is won if you can display an air of self-confidence.” Really? Even a battle with someone twice your size?

Well, Bob’s got some ideas for us! Here are some of his suggestions:

Let’s imagine you are out on a blind date with a placid, nice type of guy who you feel respects you, but he’s just spent forty dollars and he wants more than a goodnight kiss. [Is it just me, or is there an oxymoron in that sentence? And I’m not referring to the ‘placid guy’. ‘Respect’ that is compromised by a sense of entitlement is not respect.] This kind of ‘rapist’ may be contained with a line like ‘Please don’t rape me, I’m a virgin’, followed by lines about his sister, or even his mother who used to be a young virgin.

Note the ‘quotation marks’ around the word rapist. You see, he’s just a potential rapist at this point. According to Bob, it’s what his victim does that determines if he becomes an actual rapist. And am I the only one who thinks a line like that might make the situation a whole lot worse? That it implies the guy has all the power? That her bodily integrity is contingent only on his goodwill? If you’ve already gone past ‘No’ and ‘Stop’ then there is physical pressure coming to bear, so if you think you’ve got an even chance, fuck ‘psychological deterrents’. Go straight to kneeing him in the balls.

This next situation must be treated a little more seriously. It’s the guy you have dated on half a dozen occasions and you finally invite him in for coffee. In the privacy of your flat late at night this ‘rapist’ poses more of a problem than the previous one, because of the half dozen or so dates and the fact that familiarity breeds contempt. [!!!] He needs a stronger line, like ‘I’m sorry, not tonight, I’ve got my period’, or even as far as ‘I’ve just had a hysterectomy and if you rape me I will bleed to death’.

I could not make this stuff up.

The third scenario is a stranger hassling you on public transport or on the street. Keep cool, says Bob.

Almost to the point of laughing at him, tell him, ‘Go for it, only problem is, I’ve got venereal disease!’ For even more impact use a slang equivalent.

Do you think ‘cooties’ would do the trick?

In a serious Green Light situation, a more relevant psychological deterrent may be to give him the impression you are ill, even to the extent of inducing vomiting by placing your fingers down your throat.

A splendid idea – weaken yourself voluntarily.

Anyway, if these approaches don’t work and you don’t manage to ‘banter’ your way out of danger, it may escalate to a ‘Yellow Light‘ situation.  You will need to call upon all your mnemonic skills to put some of these attacks together:

handsoff_exercise1

I wouldn’t mind knowing how to break a guy’s arm, but I keep getting distracted by this:

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Whose arms are doing what where now?

You can get hassled anywhere, even the roller skating rink:

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She is awesome. Get that greaser!

In case you wondering about the anatomical aspects of your moves, Bob helpfully provides some illustrations to demonstrate which organs to target:

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That lower groin strike illo makes me want to cross my legs, and I’m female. ‘Crushed and ruptured testicles’…

The Red Light section is essentially more of the same. Apparently men have natural physical strength, but ladies, never fear – we have natural hysterical strength. Aristotle would be turning in his grave! Who knew that our ‘wandering wombs’ gave us femmes power? Bob stresses that ‘Now is the time to show you really do mean “hands off”‘. Well, actually I meant it when I said ‘No’, and when I said ‘no’ again, and also when I kneed him in the balls.

For someone who doesn’t want women to be ‘paralysed with fear’, he sure has a funny way of showing it:

The physical act of rape, sometimes only lasting a matter of seconds, is not the end product of an assault on a woman – it is merely the beginning. Months later the court proceedings will take the form of emotional rape, day after day of continual cross-examination, being forced to relive every terrifying second. The degradation of having to tell and retell every detail of the degrading assault has driven many women to the thought and act of suicide. Body scars can be repaired; asylums are full of mental scars that will never repair. Look out if you go to court and have to say you didn’t fight back. If you are really lucky your parents might understand. Some husbands and boyfriends tend to see you as having had sex with another man even if you do convince them that you were raped.

All that emphasis on how you’ll go mad and kill yourself is remarkably reminiscent of anti-abortion discourse. Fuck that noise.

Bob implies – no, he outright states – that all men are potential rapists. This may be true, though I prefer to believe there are men who would never rape. But the conclusion he seems to draw from that is that it’s women’s responsibility to ensure that rape doesn’t happen — that if only we weren’t such passive, domestic creatures and we stood for ourselves and said ‘Hands off!’, the incidence of rape would magically fall. On the other hand, and suffering no apparent cognitive dissonance, he lectures us with the tale of a liberated female who ‘sees herself as a hunter’, gets raped and then is bizarrely labelled ‘miss cock-teaser of the eighties’. (Is there a sash that goes with that title?) 

OK, we’ve made it to THE BLACK SECTION.

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The text reads:

During the chapter on the Traffic Light System you gained a complex knowledge of defence in almost any situation via the use of three colours, GREEN, YELLOW, and RED. Now for the answer to defending yourself in the most violent rape situation imaginable. Read and study: EDA Black Section.

WARNING: A message to minors and anyone who may be offended by male nudity. DO NOT READ THE BLACK SECTION (the following pages)

Like anyone wouldn’t after an intro like that!

What I find interesting about the black section is that it seems to imply that in ‘the most violent rape situation imaginable’, your attacker will be completely naked:

handsoff_howtoattacknudeman

Even the most violent rape situation imaginable is simply countered by the use of EDA weapons. These simple weapons which every woman carries are best utilised against exposed parts of the body. Therefore, the naked male is the most vulnerable.

Firstly, I don’t carry a hat pin in my bag. Secondly, isn’t it cheating to depict three different types of combs? Rolled up newspaper and rolled magazine is cheating, too.

Anyway, by now you’ll be so confident and ‘tuned into your own EDA’ that ‘there won’t even be a reason for you to resist, for rapists can spot an EDA woman… they’ll leave you alone…’

And if they don’t, implies Bob, well, clearly you’re still being passive and just letting it happen.

In conlusion…

handsoff_conclusion_full

Let me draw your attention to the final  paragraph, which I present without comment. I think Bob says it all, really.

It is possible that someone reading the ugly facts about rape for the first time in this book may experience a feeling of rejection towards the opposite sex, perhaps even of the thought of intercourse itself. So I would like to finish off by reassuring every one of you that there are many males out here that also hate what a rapist stands for. I leave you with my one last word; my description for a normal, beautiful, consenting act of sextual intercourse between a man and a woman… “ENCLOSURE”

Actually, I have one last word too. “BARF”.

Possession

I know that given the subject of this blog and the nature of my profession, I should be writing about the recommendations handed down by the Productivity Commission this week.

But you know what? I’m too sad and angry and conflicted and it’s all mixed up with anxiety over how reading is going to evolve in the digital age… And my realization that I am one of those Luddites who could probably never have the same relationship with reading without the presence of the reassuring, printed, paper book. I am a dinosaur, people – a t-rex in specs, curled up in my cave with a block of sliced paper and dreaming she is not extinct.

If you would like to read about the Productivity Commission’s report, you can’t do better than here– Tim Coronel (former editor of the Weekly Book News) has rounded up every last link he can find, and it’s an illuminating read (also exhausting , especially if you can’t help reacting emotionally to Don Grover and Bob Carr’s weasel words). I’m not sure I could anything of import to all these articulate people’s words, other than maybe: “what she said.”

Instead I am going to think about how and when the physical object of a book became integral to my experience of reading. Not type, or words, mind you (don’t forget the storytelling & world-building capabilities of images or other graphic elements – see Zoe for more on this) but the book itself in my hands, the weight & smell of it. New books with full-colour covers smell like damp oil paint, old books like the dust lining your favourite grandparent’s spare room.

I was an early reader and cannot remember not knowing how; I do remember reading ‘adult’ books from about the age of seven. I don’t mean Dostoevsky or Joseph Conrad; more like Raymond E. Feist, Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl, historical romance novels.

I say this not as proof of some kind of genius or special affinity with language. It is proof, however, that I was hugely advantaged by having an older brother (4 1/2 years) who brought his homework home and showed it to me. According to the mythos of my family, he had more trouble than I picking up reading/writing and for years afterwards seemed convinced that he wasn’t very smart. I sailed on through school without effort and always coming top of the class. Of course this had its effect on our respective characters; he is focused and hard-working, won the university medal, and is a highly paid something in Canberra. I am capricious, easily bored, put off by things I’m not good at straightaway, and took several attempts to finish my degree. I have indulged myself in working in the book trade all my adult life so that I can feed my addiction. (Nor am I highly-paid, of course. It’s books, people!)

Another key element to my progression from reader to book fetishist is the fact that my family lived on a boat for three formative years of my life: from the age of seven to ten. During that time, space was obviously limited and we became great patrons of that hallowed hall, the Book Exchange. Up and down the Queensland coast we’d cruise into port and go ashore; once I found one I had to enter, and the agony when my mother made we wait until we went back to the boat to get the books we were going to exchange was piercing. Don’t get me started on the agony of choosing which ones to sacrifice to the sacred transaction of the Exchange. I had to read series books out of order, or so far after reading an earlier one that you couldn’t recall clearly what had actually gone on. I had to give up books I knew I loved for books that I might not like as much. Annoyingly, sometimes I had to let my brother take part in the decisions; and even more agonisingly for me, my mother would occasionally buy books by accident that we ALREADY HAD. (She is easily fooled by a different cover and/or title and clearly one of the reasons we ‘rejacket’ books). In what I like to think was a foreshadowing of my later role as bookshop manager, I demanded to be shown all books she was thinking of buying, and I would pronounce on whether we’d read it before. God, what an officious little nerd I was.

However, all this transitional book ownership did instil in me an unshakeable sense of thrill when I took home a new book, and the sense that it was precious. The pleasure of having books on hand, by my side. That thrill has never left me, whether I was buying new fiction, rediscovering a forgotten favourite, purchasing textbooks for university (history, comparative religion, communications), even, truth be told, blank stationery journals. Once we moved ashore and I could indulge – and bear in mind that I am weak-willed in the extreme when it comes to this – the collection of my own books began to grow.

I just love having books. The ones I have read are like photo albums of journeys I have taken, tokens I have brought back to remind me. The as-yet-unreads are the great seductresses, the sirens singing to me of the satisfying immersion into another reality that I can find between thair covers, a reality so much better edited (generally) than my own. I like to maintain a fairly constant 70/30 ratio of read to unread, because the idea of being stuck without something just right to read is frightful. I have also been known to keep books I don’t particularly like purely for the sake of ‘range’ – it’s one of those books everyone has read, or it’s the one book by an author you usually love that you didn’t enjoy. I realise that this is insane. I guess I just like playing bookseller in my own home; one of my great joys in my boyfriend is him asking me for something to read and I get to go to the shelves and pull out possibilities for him. I did work as a bookseller for some years and I have to say, were it not for the terrible money, I would be doing so still. I found it fulfilling on many weird emotional levels. It’s like putting on a little show every day, and the scenery is made of books. You get good customers (some), inoffensive customers (mostly), the odd bastard and an occasional loon, and even though I generally find other people exhausting it was as if having my role to play, and having books all around, gave me strength. Every time I was able to tell the customer what book it was they wanted after the vaguest of descriptions, and then lay my hand on it unerringly, was a shot in the arm; it was a bonus when the customer was someone like Barry Humphries or Hugo Weaving.

In my fantasies, my collection looks like this:

Strahov Philosophical Hall

Though the lack of comfortable chairs concerns me. Anyway, since I live in a house in the suburbs of Sydney, rather than in a stunning old building in Europe, it looks more like this:

This is one wall of my study... about 1/3 of my total books

This is one wall of my study... about 1/3 of my total books

The old Ikea ‘Billy’ bookcase doesn’t have quite the same effect, does it?

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that I am addicted to books, printed books – they are like a drug to me and I have to admit I don’t always use them in entirely healthy ways. People say to me ‘you read so fast!’ and all I can think is ‘yes, but I also neglect my life‘ – because books, after all, are safer. Francis Spufford had a tragic family situation that led to his emotional bargain with books – see The Child That Books Built– but what has led to my choice to invest so much in the imagino-transference device of text into my brain? I guess it’s the same old story: sensitive, introspective, socially awkward, freakishly tall. 

More on this to come, no doubt. For now I must seize the day and take my dog for a walk, and try not to think of Productivity Commissions, uranium mines controlled by US weapons manufacturers and mysterious billionaires, bombings in Indonesia and ethnic violence in China. This will not be hard when Miss Crazypants is gambolling with joy and/or trying to nom on my feet.

Hello, world

Hello world. We’ve got wild dreams for this blog, but modest ambition — no one knows better than me how many words are floating around out there, unread, unknown, lost in the seething morass that is the interweb. I do my best to appreciate them all but even I get blog fatigue and so why I have to go and add to the clamour… well. I blame CM. Let’s say her initials stand for ‘Colleague Machine’, which makes her sound like some kind of Japanese workplace mecha-monster (Godzilla with a briefcase?) She’s got me all fired up! I feel the need to express myself! I’m standing on the mezzanine of the public library and I’m shouting at the top of my voice!

And here’s what I might say, were I in that situation and they brought in a police negotiator to try and talk me down:

What author do you own the most books by?

I think we all know that I’m a heinous book slut. I’m just putting it out there. And just to clarify – does owning the 6 books in one series outweigh owning 5 stand-alone books if those 5 books represent an author’s entire oeuvre and the series is, say, just one of 4 from the first author?

Anyway. The above question is rendered moot since I seem to possess every single Agatha Christie book. (60-something titles, not yet added to my Goodreads account due to pre-emptive exhaustion). So she’s the winner. Or am I?

What book do you own the most copies of?

Randomly, Lolita by Nabokov (3 copies – a cool 60s film-tie-in paperback, a Penguin modern classic, and a Norton annotated edition). But I also have a hard cover and a trade pb of Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell (and am considering getting one of the sexy new pbs coming out later this year), and both pb and hc editions of all the Harrys. And two entire sets of Narnia.

Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

Being a member of generation X, I’m not even completely sure what a preposition is.

What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

So, so many… Edgar from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. Eric the viking vampire from the Sookie Stackhouse books. Micah’s boyfriend Zac from the new Justine Larbalestier book Liar. Jeffrey Lu from Jasper Jones. They’re the recent ones.

What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?

Probably the Narnia series.

What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?

Probably the Narnia series.

What is the worst book you’ve read in the past year?

Probably the Twilight series. I found myself skimming whole chapters, especially in the middle books. But I like to be down with popular culture, so I forced myself onwards.

What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. Yes, still!

If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

Leviathan by John Birmingham. Still my favourite history of Sydney.

 

Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

No doubt someone I have never heard of.

What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

Sabriel by Garth Nix.

What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

Other people’s dreams are so hellishly uninteresting! Also I can’t think of anything right now. I did dream about Helen Clark, NZ prime minister, recently (she turned out to be the murderer!)

What is the most lowbrow book you’ve read as an adult?

Oooh, this is tricky. I read lowbrow books all the time! Probably the greatest (and most recent, so I can actually remember it) was Rivals by Jilly Cooper. She writes horsey blockbusters. Giddy up!

What is the most difficult book you’ve ever read?

Philip K. Dick’s later works… I never did manage to finish Valis.

What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you’ve seen?

I’ve only ever seen 3 Shakespeare plays live, none of them obscure. Does the film ‘Titus’ (based on Titus Andronicus) count? It involves cannibalism!

Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

I am the United Nations of Literature. However if forced to choose, probably I have read a few more Russian classics (Dostoevsky, Gogol) than French.

Roth or Updike?

Neither, really.

David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?

Sedaris all the way!

Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

Chaucer is fun (so much farting!) but definitely old Will S.

Austen or Eliot?

Austen. Today it’s Austen.

What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

Australian classics…

What is your favourite novel?

Why even ask this? It’s impossible to answer definitively. Depending on mood: The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford, Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell by Suzanne Clarke, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski are all relatively recently read favourites.

Play?

Theatre frightens me. Equus was a pretty cracking read, though.

Poem?

I really couldn’t say. The Owl & the Pussycat?

Essay?

Oh, come on. Who has a favourite essay?

Short story?

‘The Tiger’s Bride’ by Angela Carter (from The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories) OR ‘A Good Man is Hard’ to Find by Flannery O’Connor (from the collection of the same name) OR ‘A Good Day for Bananafish’ by J.D. Salinger (from Nine Stories). I like short stories.

Work of nonfiction?

Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body by Armand Le Roi. If science writing met poetry and had a six-limbed child, this would be it.

Who is your favourite writer?

TOO HARD. OK, fine. Today its…

Alive: Margaret Atwood

Australian: Andrew McGahan

Dead: Nancy Mitford

Who is the most overrated writer alive today?

It’s too easy to hate on Stephenie Meyer, but I don’t know that she’s actually ‘rated’ anyway. Oh, I know: Michel Houellebecq! Bleugh.

What is your desert island book?

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter. There’s a tale for every mood.

And… what are you reading right now?

Just finished the new Margaret Atwood (she’s just so good at dystopia, I always find myself considering hoarding canned food and bottled water and becoming a crazy separatist out in the woods after I’ve been reading her). And I’m stuck two-thirds of the way through The Philosopher & the Wolf by Mark Rowlands (which is amazing but not jiving with my mood right now), plus re-reading the Jasper Ffordes since I finally got round to reading Jane Eyre! (In the most adorable 50s hardback edition, too — thanks Ferndale School Fete!) And I have the new A.S. Byatt ready to go.