Covers: Laura Bannister

Words: Bianca Healey
Images: VAMFF, ASOS, Hayley Morgan

Laura strikes me as the kind of person that people are constantly turning their heads to look back at whilst walking down the street. It’s not the model effect (although she gives great face), but she has an energy about her- the kind that draws you to certain circles at parties; the hand that reaches out to pull you into a pulsating dance floor at 3am. You get a sense of this in her writing too- it’s precise, sophisticated and metaphor-driven. Her writing succeeds in creating images that manage to infuse a sentence with something more than the sum of its parts- you can taste, smell and hear as well as see (akin to novelists like Donna Tartt, who can’t help but infuse even abstract ideas with a character, a sense of place).

And it’s that ability to project a sense of the fantastic and exotic onto the everyday that best reflects her startling prolific career as an editor and writer.

Laura has founded two magazines before the age of twenty-six; BRACE, a collaboration between Laura and a friend in New York, and now MUSEUM, which she edits biannually, along with her brother, who serves as Art Director. You can also find her work in print, and across the internet in the likes of The Last Magazine, Two Thousand and Broadsheet. Like all of us, Laura juggles her reading with the demands of a busy life, but is lucky to have determined a career in which the pleasures of personal reading consistently inform and complement her roles as writer and editor. Reading Laura’s responses, I could trace threads of ideas, influences and straight-out subjects of her work in her magazines, from punk and underground drug subcultures, to the very academic grounding that informs her work.

Over email, Laura half-apologised for the serious tone of her responses to my many questions (‘Please see my answers, hopefully they're OK and not too wank-y’). Of course, her written answers to my many questions were perfect, and continually reiterated what is obvious in each word of this interview- a total devotion to the written word, built in as if a character trait, but of course, deliberately honed over years of seeking out texts, to become as natural as an athlete’s muscle memory.  Her final lines as we sign off on our correspondence seem to capture her sentiments on reading best;

‘Not sure if I got it across, but I love books, and I've always surrounded myself with them- I spend a lot of time in public libraries and bookstores. I find it a really pleasurable experience, and a total indulgence.’

….

Influences

BH: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?
LB: I lapped up very wholesome British adventure books. There was a lot of Enid Blyton – moving from Adventures of The Wishing Chair to The Faraway Tree series and stories about deviant school children (I believe ‘naughty’ featured in the title), to The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and The Five Find-Outers.

Roald Dahl was obviously a big one, as was C.S. Lewis – and in the very early days I listened to a lot of Beatrix Potter on audio CD. I was a very keen writer myself and determined to be an author, so I would pick up interesting words and write them down in my many notebooks. I remember I liked the sound of ‘soporific’ when I first heard it in 'The Tale of The Flopsy Bunnies.'

BH: What most influenced you as a young reader? Did you have an adult figure in your life that influenced your reading choices?
LB: At the beginning, it was always my mother. She is a boisterous reader; she consumes a book per week. She moves at a rapid pace and she always understood the importance of imagination. Instead of holiday sports, she enrolled me – upon my request – in creative writing classes with Duncan Ball and Morris Gleitzman. Whenever a new Harry Potter book was released, we would line up as a family and purchase three copies. That ensured my brother, my mum and myself could all read it at the same time. We’d sit in silence, slumped across various cushioned surfaces, eyes darting across fresh pages.

BH: Is there a childhood book that you still return to? What value does it still hold for you?
LB: I’m racking my brains and I cannot think of any! My apologies.

BH: Are there any books that made you think of writing in a different way? Not only wanting to be a reader but also maybe wanting to be a writer?
LB: I had always wanted to be a novelist, as far back as I can remember. I can’t really pinpoint a book that did it for me, if you know what I mean.

BH: Is there a book, or books you can think of that profoundly affected the way you approach the world? Is there a book that affected the direction your career took?
LB: See the final question. Authors like Nabokov really demonstrated what language can do.

Habits

BH: What are your reading habits? Do you read every day? Do you only read on the weekend? Do you enjoy reading more than one book at once?
LB: Who enjoys reading several books at once?! I’ve never been partial to it, though I am a serial offender, I misplace them, I forget them somewhere, I need something to read and begin a new novel. I read at night or on the weekend. I wish there was more time.

BH: Do you choose books based on the cover? Have you ever sought out a vintage or first edition cover?
LB: When I was in high school I trawled antique shops for hardback copies of Alice in Wonderland. I found, very quickly, that I should have been more original and sought out an author with a less cultish fan-base. Copies were few and far between. But I liked the word play and literary nonsense of Charles Dodgson, and I was intrigued by his slightly disturbing biography – particularly the loss of volumes from his personal diaries around the time of his friendship with the Liddell family.

BH: Do you read magazines or journals? What are your favorite titles and why? What do you look for in magazines that you can’t find in novels?
LB: Of course. Most frequently, I read Document, POP and Arena Homme +, Art Review, ArtForum, etc. I have a lot of Acne Paper and I always buy Mono Kultur, an interview magazine based in Berlin. The Paris Review interview archive is fantastic, and I try to read a couple per week. I also have a nice collection of old BUTT magazines on loan from a friend, Ivan Cheng.

BH: What is your most favoured form? Non-fiction, novels, short stories, poetry, journals, magazines?
LB: Fictional novels and magazines.

BH: What do you gain from reading that you cannot find elsewhere?
LB: Respite.

BH: Are you protective of your books? Do you lend them to people? Are you strict?
LB: I’m not protective. I always lend books, however I do make mental notes against those who mistreat them. They’re usually a little dog-eared anyway.

BH: Have you read a book on a kindle? Do you have a stance, or preference either way? LB: I have not! I read the paper on my iPad (The Guardian, The New York Times, etc) but I still buy physical books and magazines. I usually have some form of hard reading material in my bag.

Tastes

BH: What kinds of books do you seek out? Do you read to escape, challenge yourself, learn…?
LB: At the moment I am mainly reading philosophical fiction. And I read it to achieve all of the above.

BH: Do you read books that you know won’t be pleasurable? Do you ever read ‘difficult’ books?
LB: It’s hard to push through when it isn’t enjoyable. I’ve always associated reading with pleasure, so I usually give up if I’m not feeling it. It’s less because a book is too ‘hard’ and more because it’s not engaging.

BH: Where do you look for recommendations?
LB: I usually find that one writer naturally leads me to another.

BH: What kind of reading material have you been seeking out recently? What have you read recently and really loved?
LB: Right now I’m reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsy and A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemmingway. Before that, I read Malouf’s The Writing Life and Sartre’s Nausea. I always enjoy Murakami, plenty of space and lightness in his novels.

My brother is a designer and I’ve been considering purchasing The Secret Sense of Japanese Magazine Design from Published Art for him, but really for me to borrow.

BH: Are there books that you’re sentimental about? Do you re-read any books?
LB: I rarely re-read books but I do take notes in them as I read them, or write out particular passages that hold some salience for me at the time. That said, I re-read poetry a lot. It’s easy to come back to. I have a nice little book by Pasolini, a collection titled Roman Poems, that I dive in and out of, and I’ve always liked Patti Smith’s The Coral Sea and Bukowski’s The Continual Condition.

BH: What are your most beloved books? What value do they hold for you?
LB: I think humans are self-involved even in moments of escapism, so sentimentality comes easily when a book reflects something of ourselves, or aligns with personal experience. For me, it’s literature that kick-started a new reading direction or way of thinking. The Picture of Dorian Gray was seminal. It pointed me to Rimbaud and the symbolists and Taoism and the aestheticism and decadence movements. From there, you can also make a tour through once-banned literature. I have a soft spot for Raymond Chandler, though Playback felt clunky. The Trial by Kafka was important for me, as was Lolita and in university there was a lot of basic socialist literature. Predictably, I had a big Beat period too, with Burroughs and Kerouac and Ginsberg. And then The Unbearable Lightness of Being – there was always something about that book. Trainspotting, Skagboys, Porno, Filth, Marabou Stork Nightmares – all the Welsh stuff put me on the trail of heroin literature, and it ended really nicely with Candy, which is a truly beautiful novel. A Brief History of Curating by Hans Ulrich Obrist. Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse.

Respite, escape and recent reads… care of Laura Bannister

Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

David Malouf, The Writing Life

Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

 Haruki Murakami

The Secret Sense of Japanese Magazine Design , by Published Art

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Franz Kafka, The Trial

Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 

Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting

Luke Davies, Candy

Hans Ulrich Obrist, A Brief History of Curating

Herman Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

Poetry

Pier Paolo Pasolini,  Roman Poems

Patti Smith, The Coral Sea

Charles Bukowski, The Continual Condition

 

Covers: Georgia TK

 

 

When Georgia was twenty and I was twenty-four, we worked together at an Australian skincare shop. Georgia’s previous job had been working as the personal assistant to an Australian fashion designer who never paid anyone. The one upside was that she had some amazing clothes- and some amazing stories. On Thursday nights when the store was open late, we would listen to the same Frank Ocean song over and over, eat M&Ms and tell each other all our secrets. I really think that for the both of us, the job was a safe place to exist in- a calm cocoon protected from the elements of the outside world of lives in tumult; uncertain and shifting. Being able to escape, and just be among the geranium leaf body wash for hours was a relief. We would talk about books, sex, relationships all night (in between hours of recommending superlative skincare for the face and body, of course) in a space specially designed to make people feel magical. It felt to us both safe and thrilling. 

Georgia now works for the Greens. She’s taken the impulse that’s always been inherent in her personality- and made it her work. Her political worldview can also clearly be mapped on her reading habits. Several months ago, I visited her home in Alexandria and asked her about the books that have shaped the way she sees the world. She was also at somewhat of a crossroad when I recorded this conversation. Torn between the feeling of obligation to finish her law degree and strong desire to continue exploring politics as a career. Below, you can draw distinct lines from her recently read texts to her current path. As a young woman dealing with the trauma of existing with and expressing a sexual identity outside of the sanctioned boundaries of her conservative family. As a political person exploring ways to take action. And as a passionate reader; looking for more, finding herself. 

 

Georgia Tkachuk

BH: Tell me about the books that have most influenced you. 

GT: I saw Roxanne Gay speak at the 'All About Women' Festival and that was amazing- Bad Feminist was one of the most incredible, influential books I’ve ever read. I love her. I love her because that was a book that really shaped my understanding of privilege and really opened up my understanding of feminism.

I’ve always identified as a feminist somehow, but reading that book made me acknowledge my privilege and also start to think really critically about race and think critically about my place in Sydney 2015, the daughter of a father who migrated out and the daughter of a woman who’s first generation Australian. And how that also interacts with my identity as a woman and my identity as a bisexual woman. And how there are so many different levels of privilege and oppression. I’m not doing gender studies at university. I wish I were doing gender studies at university, that would be amazing. But I’m doing law for some unknown reason. So I’m not really exposed to that kind of thinking or texts on a daily basis. So I think it really has to come through fiction and non-fiction that I can somehow fit in. 

BH: So it’s self-directed? 

GT: Yes. So we’ve had the first wave and the second wave (of feminism). First wave being that really radical feminist, second wave really being about the essence of being female. Which is great to a degree. But it also ignores trans women. Now we have this third wave of feminism, which is really empowering and critical. From what I see, not being heavily involved in university groups and so having this independent study of it. It’s like, Beyonce getting up on stage and saying ‘I am a feminist.’ Or Lena Dunham writing Not That Kind of Girl. And I remember you and I having this discussion when it came out. I really enjoyed the first few chapters. I read it. I felt a little bit uncomfortable about a few of the things that were discussed in this book. I was like, this is from quite a privileged perspective. And then I read Roxanne’s book and it gave me a new lens to view that. And how this third wave of feminism we’re in is really dominated by thinking about class and privilege. And how we all sit around talking about how exciting it is that Hillary Clinton might be the next President of America, but we ignore the way she has treated workers, and particularly workers in retail and hospitality industries, and how these industries that are disproportionately filled with women. I suppose it’s all about the interaction between gender identity and capitalism, basically.

BH: What kind of books did you read when you were young? 

GT: I read so much when I was young, and I really miss it. I can’t remember the last time I sat down with a book and was up until 1 in the morning reading it, with my little lamp light on next to my bed getting yelled at by my parents. I didn’t have a lot of friends when I was younger. I wasn’t really close to my parents. So I read heaps. A Series of Unfortunate Events- it was an exposure to a new language. Judy Moody…Lemony Snickett was my primary school experience, but I just remember reading those books thousands of times. The Princess Diaries, Harry Potter, I loved series. Anything that would just never end. 

BH: Did you have anyone who influenced you as a young reader? How did you come to find the books that you read?

GT: Not really. I spent a lot of time in the library. And especially in high school I started reading a lot of non fiction, and forming ideas about different things. Like I started reading Michael Moore’s books. Germaine Greer. And just kind of sticking to a category and working my way through it. Looking back at ‘high school Georgia,’ I went through really big phases, and I’m sure that this is a huge part of finding your identity. Like there was this whole phase where I was interested in the French Revolution. And like, really really interested in climate change for a couple of years. And then really interested in government corruption. Now, a lot of this makes sense. Like why do I think this way today? I was reading a lot of these books when I was in high school. And because I don’t really have progressive parents, I never had someone putting a framework around it- it was just like I read all these books and now I can see that it shaped me. 

BH: Are there any books that you have read that have made you think about writing in a different way? 

GT: As I said, I read a lot more non-fiction than fiction. The last amazing, influential fiction book that I read was Juno Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her. She wrote a whole lot of short stories and novellas, and it’s detailing this one man’s look back on his past relationships and how they changed him as a person. And like being a crazy Pisces and being obsessed with emotions… Yes it was about race and yes it was about class and all these really interesting topics, but when I read that book I really realised how interesting it can be to focus on something really, really intimate. It was really beautiful. It made me re-assess relationships. It made me re-assess previous motivations. It was also about how universal heartbreak is. I read it after a breakup. It was really powerful writing.

BH: You said that these days you read more non-fiction than fiction. 

GT: There’s a guilt associated with that.

BH: Really? Why? 

GT: Because I have a torts textbook that I should have read through by now, but I haven’t. And even during the holidays I have this whole list of canon texts to read that I haven’t yet. To be ‘well read’ I need to have read them. It’s a lot of pressure! And not even to be well read. To be a ‘good feminist.’ A good feminist should have read The Second Sex. It’s sitting on my floor upstairs. And then I get anxious because I should be reading my law text book, and then every second week there’s a government report I should have read. So then I don’t read my textbook, and then I don’t read the book I should be reading, and I end up in a cycle. 

One thing I think helps is having a really good reading spot. So I’ve just re-arranged my room so that I have a lamp next to my bed to read. And the other thing I’ve done is- so I’ve got a work thing up in Byron and I’ve booked my flight two days in advance so that I can just spend two days alone reading beforehand. 

BH: Have you ever chosen a book based on its cover? Or sought out a first edition cover? Are these things important to you? 

GT: It is important to me. You know Ariel books, don’t you? I always have the thing of ‘should I just save some money and go online to Book Depository, or do I go to Ariel? I love hardcover books. If I can buy the hardcover version I will, because it’s so much more beautiful. I have this beautiful hardcover copy of Silvia Plath’s The Bell Jar- it’s this black hardcover with this gold motif on it. I’m really vain, I judge a book by its cover! 

BH: Have you ever read a book on a kindle? 

GT: No I haven’t read a book on a kindle or an iPad, I have no interest in that. My dad is a printer- my physical paper is important to me. I have my paper delivered to me on a Saturday, I don’t read it on the web. Same with my books. So much so that I can’t throw out my newspapers. I’m a hoarder. Like, The Saturday Paper is beautiful. Sick paper, beautiful layout. When I moved out of my house in Clovelly, I had all the wrapping paper in the world, because I had about 20 copies of the Saturday paper. And at that point I didn’t even have a subscription. I can’t throw out magazines either. I don’t know in what situation in my life I’ll go ‘I really need that issue of The Saturday Paper from six months ago, or that issue of Russh from 2011…’

BH: Do you read any magazines or journals? 

GT: I used to read magazines- I used to read Russh. But I don’t anymore. I think it’s the whole tumblr thing- like tumblr has all the cool fashion images now. Maybe it’s my subscription to the Saturday paper because I’m like ‘fuck I’ve got to read last week’s edition before I read this week’s edition.’ 

BH: What’s your favourite form? 

GT: Short stories. All the books I’ve recently read have been short personal essays, I find. There are also some Australian journals I find really interesting. There’s Archer magazine, which is all about sex and personal identity. Filmme Fatales, which comes out of Melbourne.

BH: Do you ever read books that you know won’t be pleasurable? Do you ever read difficult books?

GT: I used to. I used to read difficult books because I thought I should. Now I don’t. It’s totally a waste of time, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to just waste your time reading something just for your ego. 

BH: Where do you look to find new reading material? 

GT: I look in online. I know what I like so I know where to look online. But I do love a good book recommendation. 

BH: What kind of reading material have you been seeking out recently?

GT: Actually the Socialist Alliance have a really good book section, and Better Read Than Dead up on King Street have a good one too, particularly in their politics, and gender section. I know where to go when I next have the time. I’m the kind of person who prefers to give a book to someone else. I think that all my cousins must hate me because for their birthdays they always get a book about feminism. 

BH: To shape their little minds! 

GT: I feel like I wish that when I was their age that people… that there were adults giving me books and stuff like that. Like I remember being given The Little Prince when I was their age and thinking, ‘ugh, what a dumb gift.’ I just kinda wish that when I were their age someone had given me these books, and I wish that when I was 15 someone had told me that these 16 year old boys were being idiots and I knew that… well I just feel that the sex education we were given in school was really inadequate and we should get really angry and question it. 

I wish when I were their age I had read these texts because then I would have known what this was all about. 

BH: Are there any books that you feel sentimental about? 

GT: Oh my gosh Looking for Alibrandi, like I’ve said a million times before! 

BH: Of course. It’s like a seminal text for teenage girls in Australia. 

GT: For second generation wog girls, it’s like our anthem. My mother told me that she was in the year above Melina Marchetta in high school and one day she punched a girl who called her a wog, so she’s convinced that that scene is about her. It’s a really easy read and it’s really fun and I love it. 

BH: I feel like it was the first book I read where I was like, ‘oh my god Bondi Junction is featured in this book!’ Like ‘I can relate to this!’ She’s doing the HSC and I’m doing the HSC. 

GT: Really, we’re all Josie. 

I don’t want to say Anais Nin's short stories was special because a shitty ex- boyfriend gave it to me. It was actually a really good recommendation, because being 21 and thinking about sexuality, and where I fit. And the whole idea of slut shaming. And her ideas about gender and sexuality and fluidity and taboo and all of that. I really enjoyed reading them. 

That should be on the year 10 english compulsory reading lists! Imagine that. 

I actually started reading her book A Spy in the House of Love, which is less sexual and more of her psychoanalytical work. But I think I enjoyed her short, smutty stories more. 

BH: She’s so fearless. 

GT: Reading her work was really important to me because I identify as bisexual and how much sex I have with a partner has in the past really confused me because I’ve felt this sense of ‘oh I have to either be gay or be straight.’ 

I was having this discussion with my friends over brunch- because I know a lot of girls who are queer, or bisexual, and who currently have boyfriends. And I’ve definitely had more boyfriends than I have had girlfriends. That’s fine. And I think there’s this anger and resentment for these cool girls who wear POMs. Like I feel like it was unjust that I had to go through this really traumatic coming out, going through this really intense period of my life with my parents and struggling with that. Um, and me being with a woman when I was 17 and 18 had to be this really big thing and define my identity and has completely defined where I am at 21. And I have this real jealousy of girls who had it so easy. It’s totally easy (for them). It’s just like, ‘hop on tinder!.’ But that’s my own thing.

In summation, I think that’s why being bisexual… there’s this whole thing of ‘you’re too young to know.’ And the other thing is slut-shaming, and that whole idea of ‘oh well you’re just really sexual and you want to sleep with everyone.’ And so reading Anais Nin, for me it was that whole idea of, you can be a sexually liberated person, and it actually has no impact on your integrity. 

And for a long time, that was a really big thing for me. 

 

GT’s Picks: Australian journals & short form fiction 

The Saturday Paper

Archer Magazine

Filmmes Fatale

Looking for Alibrandi

Anais Nin

Need to Know: Nora Ephron

the-essentials-5-key-nora-ephron-films.jpg

I’ve always been a little bit jealous that Lena Dunham was lucky enough to share a friendship with Nora in the last years of her life. That she was able to have her as a mentor; to take burnt brownies to her Thanksgiving dinner and to have Nora tell her that one day they would make a good story. That she invited her out for lunch and gave her perfect Nora advice, the kind of no-nonsense, illuminating and generous tips that she dispensed to anyone who wishes to read her decades of published writing. A tiny bit (just the tiniest bit!) I resent Dunham because what she sometimes seems to express publically of the worst of her character (her petulant leading characters, the self-indulgent narcissism that has made her famous) seems so completely at odds with the practical, unflappable Nora I have come to know and love over the years. But at the heart of her personal essays, about a life of journalism, filmmaking, novel-writing, New York and the experience of being a modern woman, it’s clear that above all things she loved to spend her time with people of motivation and talent, and that she adored helping others live the kind of enchanted, effortless life that she determinedly created for herself. 

Off the top of my head, here are the things that I have learnt from Nora Ephron: 

1.    Don’t waffle. What stays with people are gems of expressive brilliance, delivered with wit and brevity
2.    There is nothing more valuable than having an apt recommendation for a restaurant, café, show or book.
3.    The rule of four. This relates to entertaining. You should always serve three dishes: a meat, a starch, some kind of vegetable, and then something completely unexpected. 
4.    Everything is copy
5.    Your luck will always change
6.    You can order more than one dessert

I’m one of the very unlucky people who has reached their mid-twenties without having been to New York, but thanks to Nora Ephron, I feel like I lived there for years, and only recently moved back. That’s the effect she has- her New York (much like Woody Allen’s New York), feels like a giant film set, filled with bagel-stores and delightful delicatessens that stock the cheese you love, and dinner parties filled with other writers who work for Vogue and New York Magazine. I am absolutely certain that Nora’s New York doesn’t exist in quite the same way as it does in her writing, but I’m fairly sure that any future trip will involve an itinerary of Ephron touchstones (the Amherst building, Zabar’s) as I seek to inhabit in some small way the very one-sided, imagined and eternally fulfilling friendship I have nurtured with Nora Ephron. 

Nora Ephron’s life can be mapped through her vast body of work. Though not one of her books is an autobiography in the strictest sense, one can piece together a life in letters through snippets in her personal essays, her fiction and her films.

Born in 1941 in New York to screenwriter parents, and transplanted to LA for her formative years, Ephron’s parents exposed their children to a rarefied world of Hollywood actors, writers and directors. They would host elaborate parties, and Ephron recalls in her essay collection I Remember Nothing the butter whipped high in bowls on the dining table, as famous directors swanned and her mother served expertly prepared dishes, whilst drinking and talking business- something that would become the basis for Nora’s unique blend of feminism, both irreverent and determined- but most of all inclusive. She decided that she wanted to become a journalist when a high school teacher explained to her that the opening line to a story about a class trip to a conference should read ‘there will be no school today. And her recollections of being a female reporter in New York in the ‘60s read like a romance novel about a journalism that now no longer exists in quite the same way. A world where you would sleep with an up and coming novelist and he’d offer you a copy of his most recent book on the way out the door of your one night stand (ok this probably still happens!) Where the old guard were very much still the centre of New York newspapers, and women were just beginning to break through a glass ceiling that had barely seen so much as a crack in its veneer. 

Though she attended the prestigious east coast women’s college Wellesley, she retained little affection for her time there- when women were trained to be ladies, to direct their ambition towards marrying ambitious men. Instead, as you can discover in almost every Nora Ephron novel, book of essays, or film set in her home city, New York became her great educator. It was a city that provided her with the opportunities to reach for multiple careers during her decades there. Over the course of her life she worked as a journalist, an essayist, a novelist, a playwright, an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, a movie director and a blogger (in her later years when most aging writers might have given up and stuck to what they knew, Ephron continued to lust for new experiences- she wrote an article about an addiction to online scrabble in the last years of her life).

It was in New York where a satire she wrote lampooning the New York Post caught the editor's eye, and landed her a job there. It was New York where she penned an article about having small breasts for Esquire magazine and became a writer. And it was New York that she returned, divorced, with a newborn baby, to pen Heartburn, a thinly veiled recount of the breakup of her marriage to Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. In my opinion, this book is one of the greatest breakup stories ever told, and it you think about it, it maps the DNA for all Ephron’s future work. It’s hilarious, yet very droll and honest about the realities of life. Snippy, sharp and filled with Ephron’s unique ability to capture people’s ridiculousness in a sentence, yet also enduringly optimistic about the possibilities for the future. Also, food is central. The protagonist is a cookbook writer and the story is peppered with stories about food, and recipes that tie into the story. (It is my great wish to one day produce a blog in the style of The Julie and Julia Project chronicling the cooking of each of these recipes). And finally, it was in New York that she wrote her first film script, and persuaded a man to let her direct her first movie. 

Kneaded into her devotion to New York was a deep affection for food. As many wrote at the time of her death, she was a foodie before the concept even existed, much less the word. Not only was she friends with the most influential food critics, cookbook writers and chefs in New York, she delighted in domesticity- executing chic dinner parties and producing elaborate meals straight out of the pages of Julia Child’s cookbooks. It’s so interesting to me that to Ephron’s generation, cooking was woven inextricably into the complexities and contradictions of the women’s liberation movement in the ‘60s, whereas to mine, it almost feels like a status symbol (like wearing expensive gym clothes and constantly exercising). Ephron writes in I Feel Bad About My Neck: ‘we all began to cook in a wildly neurotic and competitive way. We were looking for applause, we were constantly performing, we were desperate to be all things to all people.’ To me this sounds strangely familiar to the self-conscious millennial approach to the domestic. We may be posting buckwheat pancakes on our blogs and acai bowls on our instagrams, but doesn’t it have that same sense of competitive energy- and a complex desire to align the new ideals of womanhood with traditional ones, and even just to brag to our friends about having it all? Finally, to the day she died, she gave perfect recommendations for everything from the best pastrami sandwich to the best new restaurant with glee. She delighted in discussing food and visiting new places first, but even when criticizing, she was never mean spirited. 

Nora Ephron could produce copy out of anything. In Ephron’s work, food becomes characterization, metaphor, plot. Food is a way of being in the world, interacting with others, expressing one’s self. She once told Maureen Dowd that the head of 20th Century Fox let her direct her first movie because she expertly ordered him the cabbage borscht at the Russian Tea Room in New York. She also found her way into the boys club of the new journalism movement through food, covering the Pillsbury bakeoff for Esquire and everything from feminism to the deliciousness of butter in her essays and columns.  

That was another thing about her. Everything she ever did felt inclusive. Whether she was writing about her own life (which despite its dramas, was for the most part glamorous and populated with New York intellectuals, cultural tastemakers and literati), or writing about others, you always feel that she is on your side. She’s the whip-smart friend whose opinion you consider above all others, your confidant, your mentor. In her address at Wellesley, she instructed the graduating class to ‘be the heroines’ of their own lives, not the victims. She sharply reminds them that they don’t have the excuse that the women of her generation had- that they weren’t told that they had other options. She was a woman with a canny gift for making lemonade from lemons- her  husband left her when she was seven months pregnant! But in living a life in which every dark day becomes copy, she tells us all that living a successful life is essentially a case of putting in the effort, and good PR. Take control of your story and make it yours.  

I came to know Nora Ephron first through her most famous (and quoted) movie When Harry Met Sally. Raised on a diet of teen wish-fulfillment scripts (10 Things I Hate About You, She’s All That), it felt very grown up and completely different to the dramas I had consumed at that point of teenage-hood. The character’s problems were at their heart, themselves, not others around them, and this was the first introduction to me (although I couldn’t have put it into words) of the subject of female self-actualisation. Sally seemed to me to be a dame  from the ‘golden age of Hollywood’ transplanted into the ‘90s. Though the prudish aspect of her character can appear clichéd… at the end of the day she was a modern, successful woman with gumption who was equally as neurotic and flawed and wining as the male lead- and she didn’t apologise for any of it. I loved her for it. After that, a friend lent me her essays, and I worked my way through Wallflower at the Orgy, and Crazy Salad, and Heartburn, and I Feel Bad About My Neck, and I Remember Nothing. I rented Silkwood, and re-watched Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, both films I have hazy childhood memories of watching with my mum on Saturday night as a kid, and found new appreciation for their totally authentic and witty brand of romantic comedy.  Finally, I completely fell in love with Julie & Julia, which I don’t think did spectacularly at the box office, but provides, if nothing else, the most heartfelt and beautiful rendering of Julia Child, by one home cook to another. 

I go to Nora for advice when I feel like I’ve forgotten how to be the kind of woman I want to be. I have a cutout of her New York Times obituary, sent to me by a friend who was in the city that day. I keep it in the top drawer of my desk. On twitter following her death, someone wrote that Ephron proved you could “care about feminism, food and fashion with the same eye.” It’s so nice to remember that. We’re so lucky that she left us so many opportunities to be reminded of it. 

Covers: Anna

Words: Bianca Healey
Images: Bianca Healey

I first met Anna when she the came into the showroom of the fashion PR agency I was working at. She had on light blue Levis jeans and a ribbed cotton boob tube. No makeup. A lot of people come in and out of the doors of a fashion showroom; magazine girls in stompy heeled boots and flawless makeup, hairy fashion queers in Nikes and shorts. A British stylist in a pink crop top who threw samples to her entourage of giggling boys uniformed in short shorts and capes worthy of Leon Talley, and who later that night sent me a series of drunken texts mistakenly. Anna made me remember why I actually do care about fashion.

Something you notice very quickly when you are working in an industry where consideration of people’s outfits is not secondary to their actual job, but an integral part of it, is that it’s easy to spot a fake. I don’t mean labels. I suppose it’s true of any sphere where subjectivity comes into play (it’s all about perspective), but I think what I slowly came to realize about fashion people from that job is that it isn’t so much about having a look, or the right sneakers, or knowing exactly how to put clothes together so that it looks like you didn’t give it a second thought. It sounds, to borrow one of Anna’s expressions, ‘cheeseball’ to say, but it really is all about knowing exactly who you are.

Anna has 'it' in the sense that you can look at her styling work, listen to her speak, watch her move about a room and she seems absolutely sincere- there isn’t a hint of inauthenticity, nothing doesn’t ring truthfully.

Talking to Anna reminded me of a line from Lena Dunham’s book Not That Kind of Girl. ‘She is ambling along. She is looking for it.’ The story of herself that she told me was one of forthright self-belief and that youthful sense of possibility that is so easily lost. Not, of course, without pitfalls and moments of doubt, but one in which the central protagonist remained firmly and steadfastly herself. Her approach doesn’t separate life from career- a thread that seems to have run through several of my recent conversations, and it feels reminiscent of advice I have read in interviews with girls like Tavi Gevinson and Petra Collins- the once nascent and now culturally established movement of the amateur creative- of mastery developed through personal discovery rather than at the hands of the establishment. I love that Anna totally embodies that philosophy, and that she has done so well in her field by sticking to it.

I can’t help also thinking of Nora Ephron’s essay about The Fountainhead, in her 1970 collection of essays Wallflower at the Orgy. In it, she describes her own experience with the captivating, polemical novel. Though as an eighteen year-old she was entirely entranced with the book’s potent blend of romantic passion and strident individualism, she surmises: ‘while I still have a great affection for it and recommend it to anyone taking a plane trip, I am forced to conclude that it is better read when one is young enough to miss the point.’ Many people, I would suggest, find great value and are very moved by art that leaves others completely unfazed. I feel that this is the definition of ‘cult.’ And the reason for this reference is not to shrug off Anna’s reading of The Fountainhead, but to point out the value of literature that rouses us, and spurs us to live deliberately.  It’s such a wonderful argument in itself- for personal reading that speaks to lingering thoughts and unspoken desires- rather than constantly referencing the rhetoric within the grid.

‘it was just this really amazing story that just kind of wove all of these philosophies, in a non-cheeseball way about you know, doing things because you believe in them and not really caring about what other people think.’

AS: I used to read a lot of fiction when I was younger. I used to read a lot of history, I used to be really obsessed about history. I was really obsessed with war.

I mean, I grew up in California, I grew up in The States, I was really obsessed with Little House on the Prairie.

BH: Me too

AS: I don’t know, I guess it was that sense of how people lived in that time and how they survived.

BH: And wearing calico dresses.

AS: Yes! And I feel like we had the Oregon trail and I was like, ‘yes!’

Umm, and then I feel like I went through this phase where I wasn’t reading as much. It’s hard to make time. But, like, my boyfriend always reads and I’m like, ‘shit, ok, I should read something.’ He makes it seem so easy and he’s so busy.

I feel like I buy a lot more magazines now, and I’ll read those cover to cover. And those will be magazines that I choose to spend money on, that I definitely want to have and I won’t throw out. In terms of my favourite magazines to buy, I’ll buy POP, I’ll buy Purple, I’ll buy Gentlewoman because that always has a really beautiful tone. Another’s amazing as well.

I feel like I have to choose though, because you can get so caught up buying magazines and it’s so much money! To have as a regular habit. I’ve got to be, like “I can’t do this!’

I used to read Apartamento a lot, I like to read about people’s… I’m very voyeuristic about people’s interiors.

Recently, I’ve been more about buying art books. More photography like Walter Pfeiffer and Collier Schorr. I’ve been really interested in their practices, and the way that they work. I’ve bought a few Juergen Teller books.

B: Do you buy photography books and magazines because you use them in a serious way as research, or is it more for leisure?

AS: I think a little bit of both. I think that they’re all, in a way linked together, whether or not you’re directly going ‘I’m doing this for my job.’ More so out of a general interest and then that links back to what you’re thinking about at the time. Cause I know I’ll get really focused on one artist or one photographer, one stylist and be like ‘I’m really obsessed with what they’re doing right now and how they think about things or their mode of practice,’ and then I just want to be a part of that world. So you kind of buy into that when you buy a book of their work, or whatever. I’m very much about the space, and the things around me to be in a way that’s inspiring, quite calming.

BH: Who’s your stylist or artist at the moment? Do you go through phases?

AS: I kind of have people who I’ve always, always been obsessed with. And then there are people I’m rediscovering, or I’ve just recently been introduced to as well. Stylist-wise, I’ve always been really obsessed with Joe McKenna, who’s like a fashion icon from the ‘90s, a really eccentric guy from Scotland. If you think about any sort of old images from Vogue Italia or The Face, i-D- so many iconic images. Not sexy, quite minimal actually. Using amazing archival pieces. And just quite beautiful. He works for T Magazine in New York now, which is a style magazine in The New York Times. He’s an old fashion legend. He used to have his own magazine called Joe’s Magazine, and there were always two issues: it was just Joe’s Magazine 1 and Joe’s Magazine 2. He’s done some really cool stuff.

One book that has been quite poignant in the way that I’ve thought about the way that I work, and the way that I practice…have you read The Fountainhead before? It’s actually one of the books that I sat down, and like, was obsessed with reading. I feel like I’ve gotten in arguments with people about her before, because people are like ‘Ayn Rand, no way!’ Like people get really passionate about the reasons why they hate her.

I don’t know why, but I think that The Fountainhead in particular spoke to me. It’s a fictional take on Frank Lloyd Wright the architect. It was loosely based on a story about a fictional character that was meant to be Frank Lloyd Wright. And he was really amazing in that he was really progressive in his ideas of architecture and what he believed. People at the time, it was all about this decadence and indulgent way of creating architecture with things that had no kind of functionality. Kind of looking back to Grecian and Roman times. With like Corinthian columns and all the stuff that he though was just like so, not relevant. And he was doing all of this minimal, but totally functional stuff. At the time people just thought he was a heretic, people thought he was crazy. Um. And it was just this really amazing story that just kind of wove all of these philosophies, in a non-cheeseball way about you know, doing things because you believe in them and not really caring about what other people think.

It was just kind of this really powerful story. She calls them…She says there are people who are at the forefront, that are doing their own thing. Then there are people called “second-handers” who are doing things because they’re validated by other people’s you know, judgement and their thoughts are like ‘oh, is that good enough? Well someone said that that was good, so it must be good,’ you know?

BH: Like living within the grid?

AS: Yeah, more like not having your own real, true opinion, but having that validated by what other people say. And at the time, I had just started out styling, and that idea was really speaking to me. I’ve always remembered that book, and I can read it and be like, ok, cool and feel really strong and confident about what I’m doing. I think people take away really gnarly things away from it. I do feel like it can go to that extreme. And I don’t feel like I’m a super selfish person. But I think at times it is really important to have a sense of self and a sense of ego and be selfish for yourself. Because you know…

BH: Because no one else is going to champion you if you don’t champion yourself?

AS: Exactly. For that, it was a really amazing read. I’m glad I though of that!

BH: When you were starting out styling, was there a design book, or body of work that you would refer to, or did you try to find your own vision?

AS: I mean, I’ve always been one to love to look at things and be inspired. But I also think it’s very important to know the difference between being inspired, and referencing things too heavily. I’ve never been super aware of trends, or anything like that. Um, maybe looking at things in a much more reactionary way. I like taking something that’s not fashion-related and bringing that back in. I try not to get too stuck into things. It can be a bit of a trap to spend too much time looking at other people’s work.

BH: Did growing up in California affect how you approach your work?

AS: Well, you know, I didn’t come from a fashion background, but I do think that somehow everything filters through.

I studied at Sydney Uni and I did a science degree with a major in Anatomy. So like, I come from a very rational side. And I grew up in California, in a country town with like, one street going through the town. I grew up on a big property, with animals and it was like, ‘go outside, you’re not allowed to watch tv.’ I don’t know how that connects to how I work in fashion now. My dad’s a Marine Biologist, very serious, scientific guy. I know that affects the way that I style in the sense that I’m quite, I don’t know, I love scientific references, I Iove looking at stuff that’s much more disciplined.

BH: How did you go from science to fashion?

AS: I have no idea. It’s such a weird thing. I’ve had a lot of people ask me that. So like, I finished my science degree and was like ‘yep, cool, it’s going to take me a lot longer in school to actually do what I want’- I was going to do physiotherapy. And I was like ‘no I can’t do any more school, I’m going a bit insane,’ because I finished high school and went to uni straight away- I got really burnt out. And then I went away travelling for six months by myself and came back, and worked and had a boyfriend at the time who had worked in the fashion industry, and I don’t know if that sparked any ideas… but literally one day woke up and was…you know when you’re going through your formative years in your twenties? Some people do this, some people don’t. But I was sort of floundering and figuring out what I want to do. And I was like, ‘maybe, I want to do this, maybe I want to do that.’ And you, like, think about fifty million courses you want to apply for, and your parents are like, ‘yeah, yeah sure whatever, what are you doing now?’ And I was like, applying for marketing things… I was so out of my depth. And then, I don’t know why, a friend of mine, Zac Handley, who’s now with The Artist Group, we did our first shoot together, with my sister. We were working together at this restaurant at Palm Beach and we must have had similar thoughts or ideas.

It was someone’s backyard in Warriewood, and we got all our clothes and put them together and we did our first shoot. Then we kind of started making all these little projects happen. I don’t even know. Like I started emailing PRs, and they would have been like ‘who is this girl?’ I’d be like “how many pieces do you need for it to be published?” Just like really abstract type questions that didn’t even make sense because I didn’t even know how the process worked. I was like- I didn’t even understand what a PR was- ‘what do you mean you have to have clothing credits?’ I don’t know. I was so used to being like, I’ll just go to Vinnies and then I’ll pull clothes from my wardrobe- I didn’t really get the process. It as very much a trial and error process, you know, I was just learning as I went along.

BH: Being innocent can be helpful sometimes

AS: Yeah! It can be a good thing. Because I was going in so blind and so like ‘hey what’s going on? Teach me things!’ Um, I guess it maybe worked out. It’s been good and it’s been bad. I haven’t ever really had a mentor along the way, you know. No one that has really pointed me in the right direction. So it’s been very ‘figuring it out as I go,’ which has been really cool, but also really full on as well. I kind of always said to myself that as long as I feel that I’m still progressing, I would stick with it. And if I felt like ‘I don’t really know what I’m doing with this, ‘ I’d kind of put styling aside. But I feel like I’ve been really lucky with all the people that I’ve met, and kind of felt like I’ve always been making forward, progressive steps, so…I’ve stuck with it.

 

Anna’s List of Fashion Inspiration

Ayn Rand

The Fountainhead

Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Little House on the Prairie.

POP

Purple

The Gentlewoman

Another

Apartamento

Juergen Teller

You can follow Anna’s work at annasantangelo.com

Covers: Amelia

I find it hugely flattering and beautiful when somebody can come up with an apt recommendation for me. If somebody knows me well enough to know what I will enjoy, I find it incredible.

 

Words: Bianca Healey
Images: Sam Riles 

There is something about Amelia Marshall that is wonderfully contradictory. She looks like a Frankie girl; all florals and Heidi braids and pink lip stain. But engage her in a topic of conversation that stokes her passions, and her provocative tendencies come to the fore. There is something of a Kathleen Hanna vein of ‘Riot Grrrl’ brashness that comes across when we speak; this is a girl who knows exactly where she stands.

Amelia is a presenter and newsreader on ‘The Matt and Alex Show’ on Triple J, and it’s interesting that we touch upon dealing with outsized male egos in our conversation, given her line of work and the types of writers she seeks out. Only one male author comes up in the course of our discussion (Ben Lerner), and Amelia makes a point of noting that what she likes best in his work is the search for self-realisation and introspection that she often finds in the work of contemporary female writers.

We know each other through mutual friends and as I knew she has also published poetry and prose in literary journals, I was fascinated to ask her about her reading habits. Our discussion was as much a revelation to me as an interviewer as I’m sure it will be as a reader; I find I am constantly experiencing whiplash in the process of attempting to uncover what matters most to different readers, of probing areas I hope might yield anecdotes of formative significance, and finding myself skidding off the highway when they appear, unscheduled, down the road.

I found this especially true of my conversation with Amelia. In contrast to other female readers I know whose literary tastes find many commonalities with hers, Amelia has no desire to ascribe sentimentality to the physical books that she reads; she doesn’t care about covers, or first editions. She reads large chunks of writing on a kindle. But I was struck by how much emotional stock she puts in to how well those close to her know her personal shortlist. For some readers, our most loved books are closely guarded secrets, texts that connect us to the most secret and essential parts of ourselves. What means most to us in them seems so singularly a part of our own experience with them that it feels like no one else could engage with that essence as uniquely as we did. I love that for Amelia, this is a process most significant in reverse. To ‘get’ her is to recommend the perfect read.

Amelia’s living room is home to an expansive bookcase (really a collection of boxes layed horizontally), which have been filled with a quarter century’s worth of books. It’s a hefty collection, which makes even more of an impression because the various novels, books of poetry and short stories, culture books and memoirs are colour coded, so that each individual nook is a wash of colour- from greys and muted greens to shouty tones of red, pink and ‘Penguin Classic’ orange. It’s here that Amelia and I sit on a humid Summer afternoon to talk.

amelia1

A: It seems apt that we’re sitting so close to the bookcase.

B: How long has it been this way?  

A: Oh, about four years now. Since I lived in Annandale. It actually works really well!

Friends are always asking me: ‘How do you ever find anything?!’ I tend to remember the cover of a book, so you know, you just use your visual memory and pin point what colour it is.

B: Do you choose books based on the cover? Have you ever sought out a vintage cover of something?

A: No, never. That’s just incidental to the actual contents, I think. Not to be all ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ Because every so often you’re like oh, that’s beautiful and so that draws you in, but it’s always the content that really seal the deal.

B: What kinds of books did you read when you were young?

I think I was an overly ambitious reader when I was a teenager. I remember reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was thirteen years old. And being like, ‘yeah this is the best book ever!’

Then, I did things like trying to read Ulysses at fifteen, and that was just like way too much.

B: So you were a precocious reader at a young age?

A: Well, like I said, I was an overly ambitious reader because some things were lost on me, but I was never into young adult fiction. I didn’t go through the Harry Potter phase, and am still yet to read Harry Potter much to the chagrin of many people I know.

B: Did you have an adult figure in your life that read ‘grown up books’ and made you want to jump straight into that?

A: Not necessarily. I think that the way we were given set texts in high school that were classics and of the canon actually made me feel like I could engage with things that weren’t necessarily pitched at my age group. But I obviously had some kind of understanding of it. So I remember just going to the literary fiction section of my local chain bookstore and spending ages just browsing and looking for new things to read when I was a teenager. Every weekend I’d go shopping with my mum and she’d get the groceries, and as a treat we’d go to the bookstore, and I’d find all these things that really opened my mind. I remember reading Lolita when I was fifteen or sixteen and that was just mind-blowing. Not because of the content, not because it was racy: it was just so lyrically written, and the style was just unlike anything I’d encountered before. And things like The Great Gatsby.

B: Did you happen upon Lolita? Did someone tell you about it?

A: I’m not sure. I think I had some understanding of what its history was, that it had been banned. But I also knew that the accepted thinking nowadays was that it was such a conservative move to ban it in the first place. I think I was probably being a little bit provocative in reading it, but I don’t feel like it was a bad move by any means, because I found it really inspiring, more because of the style of writing.

B: Was it a book that made you think of writing in a different way? Not only wanting to be a reader but also maybe wanting to be a writer?

A: I think I’ve always known that I wanted to be a writer, and there have been books along the way that have opened my mind to different possibilities of writing. And that was definitely one of them. Because of the way that…I’ve always loved poetry as well as prose, and it managed to combine that in a way that I hadn’t seen before.

B: What others?

A: Well, in my recent adult life, How Should a Person Be by Sheila Heti was, like, a revelation to me, because it seemed to deal with a lot of the preoccupations of being a young adult and it was written in a style that’s deceptively simple. And that made me think, oh, we don’t need to have this smoke and mirrors approach to writing all the time, of trying to impress and to really show off your intelligence, you know?

It was just so new to me when I read it. So much about it felt really fresh and contemporary.

B: Do you read books that you know won’t be pleasurable? Do you ever read ‘difficult’ books?

A: Less and less. I am less and less inclined to waste my time on things that aren’t pleasurable. Sometimes I do find books difficult, but also enjoyable. However, if something is just a slog it means that I get turned off reading, and reading is one of the great pleasures of my day-to-day life. And if I come home, and I look at the book that I’m reading and I think, ‘I don’t have any energy for that,’ I can’t engage with the material, or the writing is too dense, then my reading grinds to a halt, and that’s not what I want, so I’d much prefer to just pick up something else.

That’s not to say that I don’t like to challenge myself intellectually, but when it comes to really wanky doorstopper books written by intellectual men who come from the academic literary world- I just don’t have time for that.

 B: Do you think that that’s something that’s has changed as you’ve gotten older?

A: Definitely. I think when I was a kid, I really wanted to grapple with the canon and feel like I was worthy and I felt like my brain can be expanded beyond limit. And now I realize that it can’t, and there are certain things that I will never like or enjoy and that’s ok, because there are so many books to read out there, and life is short. Why not enjoy it.

Also, as a writer, the reading that I do does sort of stimulate the part of my brain that goes on to create content. So I don’t want to get writing that I consider bad stuck in my head.

B: Have you ever read a book just so that you could say that you’d read it?

A: Yeah, I definitely have, when I was younger. I remember hating Wuthering Heights, for instance. But you get half way through and you’re like, ‘well I’m here. I may as well finish it.’

B: Do you enjoy having books recommended to you? Or do you like to seek things out yourself? Do you look for different kinds of recommendations from different places?

A: I find it hugely flattering and beautiful when somebody can come up with an apt recommendation for me. If somebody knows me well enough to know what I will enjoy, I find it incredible. I have very specific tastes. And people often assume that because I love reading, I love reading anything, and that’s just patently wrong. There are a bunch of blogs that I read regularly that talk about reading and writing and they tend to have the same tastes as me. And also from twitter- other people who write often have recommendations that I like.

amelia2

B: Were there any books when you were at uni that affected what you wanted for your career, or what you wanted to spend your life doing?

A: I think it’s a constant push-pull. It’s my bank balance more than any book that’s determined the way I live my life at the moment. But, um, I love advice columns. And I read a lot of advice columns- it’s like a guilty pleasure of mine. And Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed is one of the core places that I go for advice. And the way that she treats career, is, I think, one of the wisest approaches. She says, ‘you don’t have a career, you have a life.’ And I think that that’s a pretty wise approach.

B: I haven’t read the book. But that ‘Dear Sugar’ column where Elissa Bassist is talking about how she can’t write, and about how it feels so much easier for male writers, and Cheryl’s response is just like ‘fucking get over yourself and write something. Anything.’ I love that. And that Wild is like the anti-transformation story. Like it’s about the fact that you can never become the perfect version of yourself, and the acceptance of that is the transformation.

A: I think that’s the perfect way to describe it. I think that she’s a sage of our times.

B: What kind of books have you been seeking out recently? What have you read recently and really loved?

A: I really loved 10:04 by Ben Lerner, have you read that? It’s so good.

B: Do you love it because you can tell he’s a poet?

A: Not necessarily. He writes about things that I often return to in the books I enjoy. My best friend says that I have such specific tastes that if books were boys, I’d be dating twins all the time.

B: What?

A: The books that I like are almost exactly the same, you know? Which is not entirely true. But…

B: You have a type?

A: I have a type. I have a very precise type.

So I like first-person confessional fiction, written by females. Concerning art, feminism, self-actualisation. Generally set in New York as well, but I think that’s a bit of a coincidence, because it happens the be the centre of the literary world and people who are kind of self-involved, they tend to gravitate to New York and then write about themselves. I think that Ben Lerner deals with quite a few of those subjects despite not being a woman, and not necessarily talking about feminism in an overt way. I thought that the way he wrote that book, structurally is really interesting. Switching around perspective and the idea of ‘what is fact, what is fiction?’

B: Are you protective of your books? Do you lend them to people? Are you strict?

A: I do. The thing is, when I really love a book, and I know that someone I love will enjoy it, I really want them to read it. And I think that makes me careless with them. I don’t force it on them. If someone doesn’t seem as enthusiastic as I am about it, that’s fine, but I will be upset if in six months time, I wonder where that book is, and it’s with a particular friend, and I ask them about it- and they say they haven’t read it. Because, you know, I curated a recommendation for them!

So there are books of mine that are lost forever, but I’ve actually learned to get several copies of my absolute favourite books. So, I have two copies of Bluets, by Maggie Nelson, which is my favourite book of all time, at present. And, I have a couple of copies of How Should A Person Be; one which is signed and one that is my ‘lending one.’ But now I don’t know where that one’s gone. So now I have to give my signed one out, which makes me a lot more careful.

B: Are there books that you’re sentimental about? Do you read, and re-read any books?

A: I often reread Lorrie Moore’s short stories, and Amy Hempel’s because they’re great. I think they both really speak to me on a number of levels. Amy Hempel’s story ‘In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried’ is a short story I tend to read every six months. And it makes me cry every single time. And I also discover new things in it every single time because she writes so perfectly on a sentence level that it’s so rich; there’s so much to be found in it. So rereading that is not a chore. And rereading Lorrie Moore’s short stories as well. It’s kind of like, because I’m not taking on a whole novel, where, perhaps plot is more of a concern, I can enjoy just a holiday in words.

I re-read Bluets by Maggie Nelson often as well. But once again, that one is… she’s a poet and it’s written in this fragmented style. And it’s got a lot of philosophy and non-fiction in it as well. So you learn from it. And each time I read it I take away new things. In terms of novels that I reread…I’m less of a novel re-reader.

B: So female writers in New York. Do you like Girls?

A: Yeahh. I think she’s incredibly hard-working and I think she has to deal with…

B: I’ve just realized that’s a really dumb question. A really redundant question. I’m sorry! I think that any young woman who is interested in feminism and that kind of perspective is interested in what Lena Dunham has to say, but also struggles with what to think about her.

A: I totally respect her, and I think that’s she’s inspiring a lot of people. I think she’s way too scrutinized and that I’m not even entitled to an opinion on her, because she’s just a young woman out there trying to create things and the way that we have now made it a necessity that every young woman has an opinion on her- like she’s this cultural currency, I think that’s far too much pressure for any young person, under any circumstances. Especially under creative ones.

B: Have you read a book on a kindle?

A: I have! In fact, it’s just over there. I love my kindle. I think it’s the ideal way to read when travelling because it’s so light. And you can carry around doorstopper books and it’s only 300 grams or whatever. And you also never run out of reading material. I’m also not one of those people who has an allegiance either way to physical books or kindle books, I think they both have a place. I’m certainly not one of those aesthetes that believes that books are king and there are no other options.

B: I have this friend who went on a pilgrimage once to find a first edition cover of Atonement. She spent hours searching bookshops, and online to find a cover that didn’t have Keira Knightley’s face on it.

A: God, that just sounds exhausting. I’m spending so much time as it is looking for books that I might love, trying to find a nice cover seems beside the point to me, and I beat my books up as well. They always end up dog-eared with spills on every page, so it doesn’t really matter what they look like.

B: What author do you most admire, or would you most want to meet?

A: The great thing about The Sydney Writer’s Festival is that it has brought out writers who I got to meet, like Sheila Heti and Cheryl Strayed. And that was incredible- they were both writers who I admired in print and they were lovely people in person. It feels really clichéd to say that I would love to meet Joan Didion, but it’s true. I think that she’s a giant of literature and a compelling person. I imagine she’d be quite difficult, but I don’t ask for writers to be friendly and charming, and, you know, like, Miss Congeniality. I just think she’d be a great person to interview.

A: There is potentially no male writer that I would care to meet.

B: Really?

A: Yep.

B: Really?

A: Yep.

It all has to do with having met men who write and a lot of them being, uh, really gigantic egos, and having very little time for that. I mean, it’s kind if the same with the music world as well. Egos galore.

B: What about someone who’s dead?

A: Not really. I prefer to engage with contemporary authors anyway, as a reader. I find that the things that are coming out now are so radical and interesting and there’s fantastic stuff happening, and why not be of the time?

And I’ve always been really unmoved by that question of ‘who, dead or alive would you want to have dinner with,’ because I’ve never really thought ‘gee, I’d really love to have dinner with that person, but they’re dead.’ In fact, I would rather not have dinner with most writers. I think that would just end up being really awkward.

 

 

 

Amelia’s list of Beloved American writers:

1. Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things  (2013)

2. Ben Lerner

10:04 (2014)

3. Maggie Nelson

Bluets (2009)

4. Sheila Heti

How Should A Person Be (2013)

5. Lorrie Moore’s short stories

Including:

Self Help (1985)

Like Life (1990)

Birds of America (1998)

The Collected Stories (2008)

Bark: Stories (2014)

6. Amy Hempel

‘In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.’ Reasons to Live (1985)

 

Covers: Wilfred

“Wait, we haven’t talked about BUTT yet”

Words: Bianca Healey
Images: Prudence Blain

 

Wilfred has a cold. As I listen back to my recording, our conversation is interrupted by his intermittent coughing. On tape, I hear myself repeating how bad I feel, and him insisting that we go on; he has too many books to get through. I ask all of my subjects to think about one or two books that have moved them deeply, that change the way they want to be, or the way they look at the world. I always knew that Wilfred would be the first one I would call- when I was young and impressionistic and fresh out of uni, he worked at the first website I interned at. He was the Lester Bangs to my William Miller, only he was actually very cool (but then really, so was Lester) and encapsulated for me the thrills of working in the cultural media. He approached every day of his job as though it was his first week- a wonderful weirdo who bought socks from SUPPLY store in his lunch breaks and subsisted on takeaway cups of espresso. More than once during the time I was there, he claimed to have coined the word “three-peat.”

At Wilfred’s place the books and magazines are stacked high. It’s clear that he has prepared in advance (there is a sizeable pile splayed across his desk), but I hadn’t realised he intended to speak about all of them.

A thing you notice about Wilfred: he has an irrepressible hunger for the eccentric; subcultures that resist easy marketing into popular culture, or at least the essential parts of them that are left behind in translation. Highbrow comics, countercultural genre fiction, underground teen culture, queer literature. The kinds of texts that mothers raise their eyebrows at when found in school bags. He knows a million things about topics you’ve never even heard of. A conversation with Wilfred is like reading a specialist cultural journal that spans everything from skateboard culture to experimental fiction. Or listening to Bill Cunningham talk about fashion. It’s that earnestness and very serious fascination that compels you to take the same view.

His place is a mess of kitsch and cartoons: that excellent combination of teen fanboy and discerning bibliophile. As we speak, a playlist of downbeat pop and hazy rock hangs a little below the frequency of our speech. Now, thinking back, all I can remember are a couple of Wild Nothing tracks. Sweet teen vocals reverbing and fading out.

~

WB: One night recently I couldn’t sleep because they (my neighbours) were playing The Smiths, and I was like ‘damn it!’ (because I couldn’t complain). It’s not like when I lived in Redfern and they were playing, like, shitty house music or something.

So which book do you want to hear about?

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1. Dennis Cooper, The George Miles Cycle

WB: It’s so weird to talk instead of write. Dennis Cooper got me really excited about reading fiction. I didn’t read a lot of fiction. I’ve realized too that if I don’t trust or like the voice that’s in my head when I’m reading fiction I can get…I have a short patience for it. I get fed up with it. Like if I think that something’s tryjng to be clever, or too manipulative or whatever.  

BH: Do you often not finish books?

WB: Yeah I often don’t. That’s why, I mean as far as fiction’s concerned, it was really easy for me to pick.

This book, I found really relatable. A lot of his subject matter is really confronting and intense. And I know that that salaciousness has something to do with me getting excited about reading it, but it’s the thing that people tend to focus on more, and I think people might think I’m like, a serial killer, or a pedophile for liking Dennis Cooper… but I’m not.

We have very different taste in men, Dennis Cooper and I. But his books are fascinating. This is part of a five-book cycle called The George Miles Cycle. He had a friend in high school that he was obsessed with, a straight guy that he had a slight relationship with, but more than that they had a really intense friendship. And he was like, this very smart, very creative, very fucked up teenager. And so, he lost touch with him, he was obsessed with being a writer and he worked… I think each of these books would take like two or three years to write, and they’re really elaborately constructed and they’re fascinating, and they’re all relating to themes about, sort of fucked up teenagers, and relationships, and both, like violence but also intense tenderness.

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2. Tao Lin, Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007), and Richard Yates (2010)

WB: Did you see me interview him last year?

Yeah. I mean Tao Lin is really exciting and interesting. I hadn’t read any of his books. And then the director of the 'National Young Writer’s Festival' asked if I wanted to interview him. And I read a little bit because I know he’s really divisive, and I kind of don’t understand the huge backlash against him. Maybe you’ve heard other people say things?

BH: I just know someone told me not to read him, and then told me about a book he wrote where one of the characters was named Haley Joel Osmond, but he wasn’t Haley Joel Osmond, and the other one was another celebrity and I thought it sounded stupid so I never really looked into it. Maybe I should.

WB: (laughs) A lot of what’s… I don’t know. If you’ve read any of the interviews with him, or encountered the way he presents himself on social media and things like that, I find it really fascinating and I think that’s what pisses people off. Because… well, this book is called “Eeeee Eee Eeee,” and that’s very hard to write about, or even talk about, and this book is called Richard Yates- but it has nothing to do with Richard Yates. The characters in it love Richard Yates and they mention him maybe twice, and then the characters in it are named Haley Joel Osmond and Dakota Fanning.

BH: Yes that’s the book!

WB: But I read this interview where he was saying, ‘these characters have these names and the only reason I could think to not do it was because The New York Times would take it more seriously. And then I thought, well that’s stupid and that would be a compromise, so I’m not going to compromise,’ which I think is really, completely logical. A lot of the way he works, there’s like a weird logic behind it, and even when I interviewed him he said that almost every book he’ll have sets of rules. And I kind of noticed that, after reading Richard Yates, I think every time he refers to the characters he calls them by their full name, like ‘Haley Joel Osmond’ or ‘Dakota Fanning,’ so he’ll say “Dakota Fanning checks her gmail,” or something and I think it’s fair enough. Like for some people it pushed their buttons. I feel like it’s a very, I don’t know if this is off-putting to some people, but it’s the definition of the word experimental: like I’m going to do this experiment, where this book is going to be all this, and this book is going to be all that, and then, kind of see how people react to it, what they think of it.

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3. Daniel Clowes, Ghost World (1997)

BH: You have heaps of books here. You have heaps. I don’t mind if you don’t talk about all of them.

WB: No I won’t talk about all of them. I’m trying to think… I want to talk about… Daniel Clowes.

BH: Ok

WB: So, Daniel Clowes. I mean I grew up reading comic books, and then, without sounding like a wanker, from around eighteen on, I read sort of alternative comic books, like Fantagraphics comic books, Drawn and Quarterly comic books; Peter Bags’ comic book Hate, things that were really funny and interesting.

But Daniel Clowes, all of his stuff is really amazing. When I lived in Chicago I started reading his comics, and he lived in Chicago, there’s kind of a history there. I had a friend and we were kind of both obsessed with this comic book Eightball, which would come out once a year, or maybe twice a year, and each issue we would get and slowly pore over the pages. He does an incredible job of creating a really film noir kind of tone, and he’s just really…. kind of like Dennis Cooper, you can just tell that he has put so much work into each page and each story- and the stories are fascinating, they’re really complex. Like, Caricature, is a compilation of a bunch of his. It’s probably my favourite. When I would teach at the Art School, I would make my students read Caricature. We did a week on Postmodernism and I would make them read it and they’d get really bummed out because it’s really depressing and I like a lot of really depressing things.

Tao Lin used to do a blog called ‘Reader of Depressing Books,’ and that was his thing, he’s like ‘I love depressing books.’ But with Caricature, I would have my students read it, talking about Postmodernism and they would notice things that I hadn’t noticed in it. And with a lot of his stories, you can go back. And he did Ghost World, which was made into a movie. I like the comic better. I feel the movie comes across a little more mean-spirited.

Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron is another of his. They’re all different and they’re all really fascinating. He creates really interesting characters and everything’s really complex. There’s a lot of ambiguity- I think I like that in Dennis Cooper’s writing as well. And when I interviewed Dennis Cooper I was like ‘is this like a satire of your life, is it things that you fantasize about, is it things you want to happen or is it things you’re scared of happening?’ And he was like ‘it’s all of those things, mixed up.’ And I feel like Daniel Clowes does a lot of similar things.

BH: Did you have a book, or a comic when you were younger that made you want to write?

WB: Finding Dennis Cooper made me really excited about reading. Daniel Clowes made me excited about reading. Growing up, it’s kinda funny, but people always told me I was a good writer- like, in school. And I really loved movies and, I liked TV. And so I went to film school and I studied screenwriting. I studied screenwriting and criticism. I started off in Ohio, and then by the time I got to Chicago, I went to Columbia College in Chicago. People often get it mixed up with Columbia University in New York. It’s like an Art School.

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4. Big Brother Magazine (1992- 2004)

WB: A friend of mine had a zine in New York, partly just to get free records and to get in to see bands. And I started writing for him. I don’t think you could even email. You had to call Matador Records or whoever and be like, ‘can I get on the guest list to go see, uh, Smog, or whatever’ and just go to shows and that’s how I started writing. That writing was really influenced by Big Brother, do you know Big Brother?

BH: I have no idea what that is. I had really hoped you’d have some cool skate stuff that I would have absolutely no references for.

WB: So the guys who wrote for this ended up doing Jackass. When Big Brother started it was like Spike Jonze wrote for them, and Dave Carnie did a lot of writing for them. They would do…each issue was a different format. I mean that didn’t really appeal to me until later when I realized how ambitious that was. Some of it would be like, inside jokes and they weren’t afraid to be really silly, so they would have reviews of Beverley Hills 90210, and then they would have like poetry and interviews with a homeless person and ads that I don’t even think were real ads- like, they just photocopied a Doc Martins ad.

And, this was what got them a lot of attention. An article on how to kill yourself, you know. And it was very ‘90s: super dark humour, very ironic.

I think Tavi Gevinson was saying, I read the other day, ‘I feel like the ‘90s wasn’t ironic.’ And I was like ‘some of it was really ironic.’ Like Big Brother was really ironic, but I guess she was saying like grunge bands were really earnest. But like this magazine (picks up another magazine) was coming out of Detroit. It was these guys who used to be in hardcore punk bands. And then they formed this funk band that was called Big Chief, and it as kind of informed by punk, but it was really heavy, so it was like, a much better Primus, or something. This magazine was just comics or music, and you can see the work that went into this, and also the fact that they self-published.

BH: Was it easier to self-publish back then?

WB: Back then it was almost more prestigious to. Nowadays anyone can self publish. It might just not sell well. Whereas, with this, it’s like, these guys sold ads, they got it published. Oh, here’s another article: ‘100 Worst Albums of the 20th Century.’ With the Beach Boys at number one, and Pink Floyd at number two. These are so funny, the cartoons, the art in here.

They didn’t make me want to write, but when I did start to write, they really influenced me.

 

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5. Jon Leon, The Malady of the Century (2012)

WB: I kind of bought this on a whim. And I don’t read a lot of poetry. This is was one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve had, because he writes poetry that’s just really complex, and interesting, and relates to the way that I talk, and the things that I’m excited about in life in general. It’s like alternately funny and sincere and ironic and, like, overly romantic. From one sentence to the next, the tone changes.

It made me want to discover other contemporary poets, who are doing interesting stuff. John Leone’s only done a few things and most of them are hard to find and this is easily my favourite. I’ve read it over and over again, and I almost have parts of it, almost memorized.

6. Harmony Korine, A Crack Up at the Race Riots (1998)

B: have you interviewed Harmony Korine?

WB: Yeah, I did. For Two Thousand, when Spring Breakers came out. It was really good. He was very straightforward. He only gave me a couple of answers that were a little bit cheeky, and it was clear that he was goofing around. He was a little bit more straightforward than I wished he was.

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7. Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School (1989)

WB: Kathy Acker started out as a poet, and I came across her writing. I borrowed a book called Cult Fiction which is out of print, which is like an encyclopedia of really interesting authors who have a cult following, and I read about her in there and then I bought this at Surry Hills markets. And there’s passages in it that I find unreadable. Like twenty pages that are really tedious but they’re meant to be really tedious. But there are other parts that are beautiful, and incredibly well written. She has this really interesting background. She did poetry and she as also really into punk rock. And you can really feel that in her writing. It’s some of the most visceral prose I’ve ever read. A lot of it reads as poetry. She was also a really outspoken feminist. She’s like a really incredibly talented person. Produced a lot of work. Did a lot of work too where she would appropriate some text from classic works like Great Expectations or Don Quixote and then write around them. And her thing was she was like, trying to understand her relationship to the text, and so she had a lot of heavy theory stuff going on. But also had a big influence on people like Kathleen Hanna from Bikini Kill, and reading interviews with her and watching interviews with her is fascinating.

And this book, Blood and Guts in High School has such a great name. I feel like her cult following group would probably be people who are more super heavy theory, like post-structuralist, de-constructionist people. She was all ‘the death of the author/ there is no originality,’ it’s all just ‘we’re suffering things that already exist.’ But she was also friends with Dennis Cooper, and William Burroughs and Poppy Z. Brite and she was very much connected to the whole transgressive literary tradition. I guess I end up reading a lot of transgressive literature. I don’t really think about that. But a lot of the stuff I read ends up being, like, Brett Easton Ellis.

8. BUTT Magazine (2001-)

WB: The only other one I really wanted to make sure I got to was the BUTT book.

I discovered the BUTT book, (laughs), I discovered BUTT. I discovered BUTT magazine through a friend of mine who was doing a zine called They Shoot Homos, Don’t They out of Melbourne, which is a really great zine. He now lives in New York and works for Printed Matter. But, uh, being a gay man, I’ve never related to gay culture, and felt really alienated. And finding BUTT magazine… not only did they interview interesting people, like John Waters and Marc Jacobs, Karl Lagerfeld, and asked them interesting questions- they would ask them stuff about like drugs, or sex, or, like dance music. But they would also ask them about art and literature. And it was so great to realise that there were other people that didn’t fit the ‘gay’ stereotype and also didn’t subscribe to the snobbery of mainstream gay culture.

Mainstream gay publications are all about like, conventional male beauty and materialism and here they would interview like, a janitor, or like a guy who hadn’t showered in eight months, or whatever. Or they would interview, I mean, someone interviewed someone they met in the park and had sex with. They do all sorts of interesting things.

And sort of…not deny that mainstream gay culture existed, but explore other facets that were super exciting. It started a wave of all these small magazines. And it also exposed me to all these interesting publications, like Honcho and Straight to Hell- not just new stuff that was coming out. Even gay figures from the past that I didn’t know about, like Peter Berlin and Quentin Crisp. And stuff like that made me realise there was another side to gay culture that was awesome. Rather than mainstream gay culture, which is pretty shit.

I liked- I’m sure other people can relate to this, I liked BUTT magazine so much that, we went out of town and asked our neighbour to check the mail. And I saw him the other day and he was like ‘I’ve got some mail for you,’ and he made this funny expression and I was like, ‘oh, did BUTT magazine arrive,’ and he went ‘Oh!’ and I went ‘Ohhh,’ and I realized he must think… Like BUTT’s risqué, but it’s not risqué porno, so I was like ‘he’s gonna think that I subscribe to a gay porno magazine.’ But, like a lot of other people, I liked BUTT Magazine so much that it was like, I almost felt a sense of ownership over it. Like people who love The Simpsons or whatever, people get really personally upset when it’s bad. And I was the same way. And after a while it did get more cliché, a little bit more like every guy in there had like a beard, and they’d talk about hot guys more and stuff. And I think it’s interesting when people get, like personally upset by a publication.

BH: Did you write letters to them?

WB: Yeah. Not a ton, but a couple.

 

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Wilfred’s Reading List:

1. Dennis Cooper,The George Miles Cycle

Comprising of:

Closer (1989)

Frisk (1991)

Try (1994)

Guide (1997)

Period (2000)

2. Tao Lin

Eeeee Eee Eeee (2007)

Richard Yates (2010)

3. Daniel Clowes

Ghost World (1997)

4. Big Brother Magazine (1992- 2004)

5. Jon Leon

The Malady of the Century (2012)

6. Harmony Korine

A Crack Up at the Race Riots (1998)

7. Kathy Acker

Blood and Guts in High School (1989)

8. BUTT Magazine (2001- )