Wednesday, August 23, 2006

If I added sex to this post, it would be titled My Three Favourite Things

"In tribal societies in which gift giving is economically important, there may be exchange of gift giving of identical (or useless) gifts which serve to maintain the relationship between donors. In Australia, the ritual of the round, known virtually to all adult members of society has some parallel functions. It symbolise entry to a group (and, for that matter, makes pointed an exclusion). It binds a group together." National Times January 1978

Buying a round of drinks is safe here, for now, but Scotland is trying to ban the tradition..

I don’t tend to take part in round buying, but that’s mostly because I spend my time with other wine-drinkers, so it’s easier to just buy a bottle and plonk it down between us (and by us, I of course mean a group of people larger than two, and when I say a bottle, I mean a bottle, and not several bottles, because that would be irresponsible behaviour on my part. Moving on now) and the other people present will get the next one, whether then or the next time we catch up. But the tradition of the round is not something to be messed with. As the quote indicates, it’s about something deeper than a desire to get as drunk as possible as fast as possible. It’s a symbol of hospitality, of inclusion, of egalitarianism.

I don’t know. It’s not that I don’t understand the problem of excess alcohol consumption. But could the Scottish…people who are in charge of these sorts of things…have chosen a worse way to go about this? Don’t attack the problem, attack a time-honoured tradition that appeals to a sense of national identity and is, at best, adjacent to the problem. Not smart.

Wednesday Book Review

Talking of traditions, I’m going to stick with this one (not least because it means that I have a post ready to go on a slow news day). Today, though, I’m boring myself writing these reviews, which means you’re too bored to read them, so I’m keeping it brief. Please imply deep literary insights as liberally as you wish.

Running With Scissors: a Memoir – Augusten Burroughs

Augusten’s mother, a bipolar wannabe poet, gives him into the care of her shrink when he is twelve. Augusten, who is obsessed with neatness and order, grows up in a household where nothing is ever cleaned, the Christmas tree stays up until May and the psychiatrist examines his turds for divine messages. None of the adults condemn 13-year-old Augusten’s ‘affair’ with a 33-year-old man, let alone his smoking, drinking and total failure to attend school.

Burroughs writes with an astounding lack of self-pity, leaving room for the reader to be outraged at his dreadful childhood. It’s funny. It’s smart. Read it.

Henderson the Rain King – Saul Bellow (List book 207)

Henderson is a clownish multi-millionaire with an unhappy second marriage, a drinking problem and a total lack of social graces. In an attempt to find himself he heads to Africa. The book details, in seriocomic fashion, his often farcical and self-parodying attempts at heroism and self-knowledge, eagerly embracing what he sees as the mystical wisdom of the tribes he encounters.
I’m told this is Bellow’s most popular book. Personally, I was bored stupid by the long conversations and internal monologues that lead Henderson to his enlightenment. Blah.

A Far Cry from Kensington – Muriel Spark

The tale of a young war widow in the nineteen-fifties and the Kensington boarding house she lived in. Spark has a sparse, wry style which I enjoy, and the narrator’s liberally-dispensed advice on how to live one’s life makes her a memorable character. A pleasant read, although it’s not on my list of books to buy*.

*I read far too much to be able to buy all the books I want to read. I also reread my favourite books over and over. The theory is that I borrow everything from the library and then buy copies of those that I want to re-read. In reality, I tend to borrow from the library, think to myself that I should really buy that book, go to the bookstore and get tempted by something entirely different which my library doesn’t stock. I can’t help it. I love new books. I love the way they smell, and the way they feel, and the hours of bliss that they promise. And much as I adore and am grateful for my library, borrowed books are not the same**.

**I was forcibly reminded of this today, reading Kensington over lunch. An unknown member at my library likes to make grammatical corrections in self-satisfied capitals. A line that reads “she continued to speak, think and act as if I was motherly” will have ‘was’ crossed out and WERE written in the margin in blue ink. I’m something of a grammar pedant myself, and I grumbled just last night because a headline on the prime-time news read “Rate rise effects*** housing prices” – but the idea of defacing literature, second-guessing the choice of words by people who use words to make art, blows me away.

***I don’t know what it is about this one specifically. I have at least two regular correspondents who misuse this word. In most cases, I leave them alone about it because it’s not like it’s harming my world. In the case of the prime-time news, however, I think I’m justified in getting cross. Do you know how many people would love to work in television journalism? Do you know how many of them are literate? Come on, people.


Anonymous Michelle said...

re: Rounds

Problem is that the person wanting to sit one out or who is drinking slower ends up under a lot of pressure to accept a drink they wouldn't necessarily get themselves. The culture here is massively different to Australia in terms of drinking, to an extent I didn't realise until I actually lived here. (I thought Australians drank a lot. I was greatly mistaken.)

And I have had a few nights where you find yourself somewhat egged on by the other person to drink way more than intended. I say it was all his fault, he blames me.

While it is a nice custom, it's not one that fits in to the idea of responsible drinking.

23 August, 2006  
Anonymous Sarah said...

(and by us, I of course mean a group of people larger than two, and when I say a bottle, I mean a bottle, and not several bottles, because that would be irresponsible behaviour on my part. Moving on now)

Of course you do, dear.

24 August, 2006  

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