Welcome to the first Killings Recommended Reading post. Recommended Reading is literary voyeurism at its most gratuitous, a reader’s stickybeak. We investigate into the reading habits of writers we admire. Our first subject, Joel Deane, is a poet and journalist. His first novel, The Norseman’s Song, is being launched tomorrow night at the Treasury Theatre. The Norseman’s Song follows in the great traditions of gothic mystery and crime noir. But what’s on Joel’s bookshelves?
I read everything from graphic novels to poetry to literary fiction to, yes, gothic and crime fiction. I’m not interested in labels. What I’m after as a reader is a novel that’s trying to be novel and tell a story that’s never been told before in a way that’s never been told before. The works that stay with me are the ones that define or redefine the rules – or simply ignore them. I’m talking about crime and gothic stories like Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe. Come to think of it, just about anything by Poe. A number of related works also come to mind – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Sagas of Icelanders, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Deliverance by James Dickey, Ice and Who Are You? by Anna Kavan, Captivity Captive by Rodney Hall, just about anything by Graham Greene, the poetry of Emily Dickinson and William Blake and, graphic novel-wise, Frank Miller’s magnificent The Dark Knight Returns. I’m also partial to Garry Disher’s Wyatt novels and Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore. Didn’t mind the concept behind Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads album, either.
The writers that I admire are mostly poets – people like Dickinson, Blake, Dickey, William Shakespeare, Ted Hughes, Sylivia Plath, Robert Frost, W.B. Yeats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Emily Dickinson, Frank Bidart, Frederick Seidel, Craig Sherborne, Chris Wallace-Crabbe, William Carlos Williams, James Merrill, and Homer. The two that have a formative impact on my work were Frost and Dickinson. I started reading Frost and Dickinson when I was fifteen and just starting writing seriously.
Frost taught me the importance of what he called sentence sounds – being awake to the rhythm, structure and sound of each and every sentence. Writing, at its most basic level, is all about the sounds words make when you bang them together.
Dickinson taught me about the need to write what needs to be said in the way that it needs to be said. Compromise is not an option. Dickinson created a body of work that is unambiguously hers – no-one else could have written those poems. That’s the ultimate achievement, I reckon, to produce something that achieves that level of originality and authenticity.
I’m reading Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and enjoying it immensely – it’s epic and funny and literary – as well as Frederick Seidel’s savage Poems 1959-2009. Before that the most recent novels I’ve finished and liked were Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (so good I couldn’t bare to read at times) and Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam (a post-apocalypse novel that isn’t overshadowed by The Road). As a reader I’m after novels that are trying to be novel in the true sense of the word.