Thursday, May 13, 2010

Meet Karl.

This package arrived in my mailbox today. Cardboard and brown paper were lovingly cut and cellophaned to cushion CK Stead's hot-off-the-press memoir against bumps and scratches. I dig such reverent handling of books.

CK Stead lives in Auckland, where I now live. How wonderful it is to share the same city as one's favourite author; to recognize the street names and landmarks of one's neighbourhood in works of fiction, and to read about fictional characters sipping coffee at one's own regular haunts.

Great fiction is powerfully transformative and makes us think twice about the familiar. A typical Auckland downpour has me recalling an evocative passage about rain in Stead's Death Of The Body, which includes these lines:

The air seems filled with water. Or as if, through the water, float pockets of air.

Even now, as New Zealand approaches autumn, I look outside the window and think of how Stead perfectly describes what I am seeing in All Visitors Ashore:

Autumn - early autumn - can offer the best Auckland weather, with that windowpane brightness and clearness of air and light that belong to Wellington and the South Island, but with the mildness that belongs to the North. It is, for that season only, mildness without a blurring of edges. The blade is sharp, the water sparkles, the far hills have precise lines and don't melt into one another, and the mind is fresh and alert.

Another reason I like Stead is that he is not afraid to speak his mind. This is brave, considering how small the literary scene is in New Zealand. Actually, this country has a dearth of top quality writers, but the scene is small in the sense that the market is small and there are few literary reviews -  if one review gives a new novel the thumbs down, rarely is there a second review to hopefully balance it out. 

Fresh from winning a couple of major awards overseas this year, Stead has now found himself in the middle of controversy again: something you can read about here. The article certainly tries to make a mountain out of a molehill and I for one am glad that Stead is paying no attention to the hot air:

“New Zealand isn’t grown up enough to celebrate its own successes without envy.” (Stead)

I applaud Stead's comment. We need more public intellectuals like him, and less pettiness. [I have read about the other 'controversial' views he has held in the past (his unflattering portrayal of feminists in Death Of The Body and Villa Vittoria, for example, was something I delighted in, even though I am a feminist myself) and yet I remain unoffended. This man usually talks a lot of sense.]

I now have a "CK Stead Omnibus" at the left column to keep track of his podcast appearances. Check it out!

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