A Good Book Shook The Cuckoo's Nestlé

What makes a good book? Is it the one with a page-turning narrative that has you on the edge of your chair like you're sitting on on one of those tiny Jetstar seats? Is it the one with near-perfect and prim prose? The ones with "Tim Winton" on the cover? The ones with fantastic descriptions and where to find them? The book that aptly displays all the senses through only the most significant details? The experimental novel with no plot and overly-clever writing that has you visualising the author giving you the sly wink of an ex-prime minister as he makes a joke? Is it the difficult-to-read novel that's praised for its ability to grip the reader and stir their emotions into a bibbling-bubbling stew?

Enough with the rhetorical questions, I'd definitely argue it's not that last one. If you're my friend on Facebook then you'd probably know what book I'm taking about. For those of you who don't know, it's Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Frankly, 28 pages in, I decided this was one road I couldn't walk down.

This was one road I couldn't walk down.

This is despite the book being a Pulitzer-prize winning novel and having five and a half pages of praise before a flattering paragraph on the 'best-selling' author.

Perhaps if I were to make it to the end I would agree that it is a masterpiece, possibly to convince myself I didn't waste my time rereading every sentence McCarthy writes, but there's too many good books to read and I don't want to waste my time on one that's not easy to read. Or moreover, a book that doesn't make sense. That could be because I'm not American and so the minimally described places that are, and I quote, "dark beyond darkness" and "grey", "grey", "grey", "grey". You get the idea. It could also be because I'm not smart enough to concentrate on prose that doesn't seem to flow or give any insight to the world or the characters, except that they are as "grey" as each other.

"Dark beyond darkness" and "grey", "grey", "grey", "grey".

One thing that I've learnt in my three years studying creative writing is that writing that flows is hard work. I believe McCarthy's "masterpiece", The Road, didn't take much work and is much, much worse for it. But as for the author (us writers are fragile things anyway), I'll reserve judgement until I read some of his other works — several of which have already been recommended to me.

What makes a good book is difficult to pin down, but the first step should be to make it easy to read. Hemingway is easy to read. Winton is simple enough to hint at its complexity. Even Italo Calvino is easy enough to understand (and he's one of those experimental writers). For me, The Road isn't easy reading and I'm afraid that makes it a bad book rather than: "A work of such terrible beauty that you will struggle to look away" (The Times).

I struggled to look at it.

JR

p.s apologies for the title of this post. It's pure nonsense. Points if you see the connection between "The Cuckoo's" and "Nestlé".




Photo of my Week

Where I post a photo that sums up an aspect of my week.

(I've been meaning to keep this down to one photo a week, but I've decided to include two because I've been taking so many recently)

From my journal, 29th October:
"I spent 20+ minutes before devotions/bed shooting my reflection in the study window. Odd. And kind of 'reflective' (pardon the pun) of my day. Seemingly unproductive (getting up at 10am doesn't help) but some interesting progress made. For example, during my daydreaming I had the idea for 777 Words, an off shoot or replacement for Proving Sunshine, whereas the photos I print/post should be backed up by 700-800 word 'rationales'. (TBC)."


The past few weeks I've had the opportunity to shoot behind-the-scenes photos for a film a friend is directing Focus. You can click that link to check them out and the images on their page, a portion of which I made. It was great to observe how the crew and the actors work (in a very professional manner I might add), and meet some new people. I also learnt a bunch, both about how film crews function on set and in terms of my photography (especially in shooting people which my family tells me I tend to avoid). Look out for the premier of Focus later this year!

Joel Gibson

Read more posts by this author.

Perth, Western Australia

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