Category: books

Wk19: Wrapped Up in eBooks – the Australian side.

Apple's iPad with iBooks

This column is all about trying to write about new ideas. So much writing about digital online, and trying to say something that no one else has said is tough. But this week is an easy one. One big gaping hole that I have seen under-reported, and for Australia, unreported.

Why is the Apple iBookstore so utterly devoid of books? And in Australia, it is even worse?

I’ve covered the idea of “paperless” before, but what about the nuts and bolts of the ebook market as it stands today? And in Australia?

iPads are expensive, but the cost can be better justified if you were going to put a couple of hundred towards an ebook reader. And despite a lovely reading experience – the is NOTHING to read.

Well, not nothing. But pretty close.

For the last few months, I have had dozens of books I’ve been looking to read. And absolutely none are available on iBooks. We are not talking obscure ones either.

The new Tina Fey memoir (although it seems to be up now)
Street Gang – the new book about Sesame Street
That last Woody Allen book.
The Sondheim biography.
That Tom Waits bio….
…and so on.

Not particularly obscure books. But the point is this –

I’m WANTING to buy my first ebook, and so far I haven’t been able to. I am waving my credit card at you, begging for you to take it. Why don’t you want my money?

Let’s do a quick compare – iBooks Top 10 vs Dymocks Top 10. Only one – Charlaine Harris’s Dead Reckoning – appears in both lists. The rest of it is filled up by 99c books. Repurposed classics like 1984. Not to mention a huge collection of Free books.

iBooks are developing a different audience than a bookshop. The demographics are vastly different. The e-reader base in Australia is miniscule.

But they don’t come close to replicating a bookshop experience. Where I would say iTunes covers off 90% of what you can find in a regular Sanity store – what would you say for books? 20%? 10%?

But there is a bigger story here – which is some types of books have not become digital. Specifically – anything designed for a coffee table. How is an iPad supposed to replicate that? Of those cute little novelty books at the counter.

Other types are better suited to apps. Cookbooks, travel guides and dictionaries can be bought in the App Store, not iBooks.

So iBookstore is little more than a store for novels. And there is a gap for it to expand. Magazines. Comics. Newspapers. An e-reader can handle any text. Why restrict it to one type – novels?

But even for novels, iBookstore is shockingly lacking. No Harry Potter! No JD Salinger. No “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Genre stuff like Star Wars novels. Not even Da Vinci Code. Surely if any ebook will sell, it would be evergreen sellers like the ones above?

So where the bloody hell are they?

I don’t know – but my guess is they are crippled by the same fears we saw in the music industry a decade ago.

– Cost

Digitising, en masse, costs time and money.

– Red tape

New formats come new rights, royalties and deals. Some bigger authors could be squeezing more money. Some publishers may not be able to report digital sales. There are contracts to consider.

– Fear of supporting a format that makes less money

An odd one, but big at the time for music. Why support digital, when the money is in CDs? (The reason is CDs are dying and to not be left behind, and to make more money out of fewer people)

– Artistic stand offs

Like AC/DC and Metallica, some authors might be making a stand.

– Territory rights

A big one for Australia. A book could be cleared for e-sale in the US, but they haven’t investigated Australian rights (or anyone else outside of the US), so to play it safe they don’t allow AU sales.

All this is very frustrating for the people who pay for the people making these decisions – the readers. We don’t care about that stuff. I want to buy a book for my iPad. LET ME.

Why can’t I see the iBookstore on the web? You can only access it via an iOS device. What is the point of that? Kindle’s store is online and easy.

Why is it not just part of the bigger iTunes store? Why not attract those 50 million customers you have?

And why are ebooks not much cheaper? Most new releases seem to be $20, more than an iTunes album. Looking at Fifth Witness – $23 on Dymocks, $20 at iBookstore. Bossypants – $25/$20. Seems as though it should be cheaper no? At least around the same as an album.

I’m not usually cynical, but this time, I think perhaps Apple doesn’t want people to be able to see just how awful iBookstore is. How expensive it all is. And how bad the range is.

I did finish my first ever eBook the other day. I found a digital, pirated copy of the Tina Fey memoir. I couldn’t buy it anywhere (although it’s out now).

And it was great. I got over the fear of taking out the iPad on the train. I read the end of it in a park. Readability and navigation was all fine.

One thing that did annoy me was I couldn’t do anything else with the iBooks app. Searching for new books, looking at other books, would take me out of Tina’s. Closing the program meant I needed to actually search for the Tina Fey book just to pick up where I left off.

The other problem is, once again, I have nothing to read. I am now carrying a Charlie Brooker hardcover with me everywhere I go. Didn’t I get an iPad to prevent this?

I can be forgiving. The ebook market, especially is Australia, is just terrible for everyone – not just Apple. There are so many challenges ahead.

– Sorting out rights to international books.

– Sorting out a format that can hold all kinds of book content

– Think harder about the pricing

– Building excellent stores with good selections

– Building a reader base that uses e-readers

Because right now it is horrid. To the point where there kind of is no ebook market in Australia.

And it was very, very easy for me to find a pirated copy of Tina Fey’s book. I’m sure I could find more. And once again, industry will be racing against piracy.

And if it’s anything like music, it’s the Australian book industry has to wake up fast and embrace ebooks.

(thanks to Jess for the title)

Wk15: Rip It Up – Time to become paperless

Books are pretty, but aren't the only paper...

Most people I know are generally caring for the environment. They don’t litter, they make some effort to recycle, they care about the planet (Liberal voters aside). But we are nibbling away at the edges when we should have swallowed the problem whole in some areas. The biggest one is paper – and what is stopping us from becoming a paperless society.

I love the term paperless. And I love the idea of it. God knows how many trees die for printing every day.

Digital ink should be the perfect solution to the paper problem. The computing tablets and e-book readers makes that solution even perfect-er. There will always be those who long for a physical book. But many wont care.

For my mind, e-book readers now are ready for the mainstream. They are mostly pretty good. Simple and powerful enough for prime time. A lot of people have them, of course, but they are far from ubiquitous. And even though the technology is there, there are many things still lacking in the e-books world.

Worst of all is the lack of actual e-books. Apple’s revolutionary iPad is great, except for the almost non existence of books on their store. And then there is the pricing. Physical books have been bargain basement fodder for years. But now they are back at full price in the digital world. When a book is not on an e-store, or it’s more expensive than the physical, then we are moving away from our goal of the paperless society.

When people get their backs up about e-books, and missing a physical copy, they think of well loved stories in beautiful editions. But not all books are beautifully bound volumes of Hamlet.

Magazines. Comic books. Instruction manuals. ANYTHING. Like I said, e-books are ready for all this content, but for many reasons, print companies of all sorts are slow to get their act together.

But they face a growing piracy scene. Magazines, comics, and even computing manuals are all online if you can dig around illegal download sites. Which shows people are using them. And once that genie is out of the bottle, it’s tough to put him back in.

It’s the same old red tape that has crippled music – royalties, contracts, pricing, rights. And if they don’t get their act together, piracy will.

Books, magazines et al are well and good. But at least there is some thought and some movement towards going paperless there. But Look around at your life and see how much paper is around you. And ask why that needed to be printed out.

The worse for me is receipts. And it is yet another area that Apple is innovating. Go into an Apple store and they can email you your receipt. No need to print it out and stick it in your wallet for easy losing later. And no trees lost. Some people claim we need physical receipts or else they are not valid. But again, I get my iTunes receipts by email and don’t print them out.

It brings up the people problem in the paperless mission. Some people still want paper because they think it’s more ‘real’. This of course, makes no sense. If I was going to doctor a receipt, I could doctor it then print it out anyway. Some perceive paper as something that is solid and forever, when I think the opposite is true. Files are backed up so many times now. And you can’t destroy a word doc in the washing machine.

Then there are people who still need to get faxes. FAXES! It’s 2011! The main reason being the need for a signature. Digital signatures are slowly becoming accepted. But even then, you need to scan in your own signature and attach it to badly set-up word docs (something I’ve done a lot of). I always try to email when I can. In fact, I made a hard line in my old department to not send faxes and not do business with people who need faxes.

One UK venue were particularly insistent on a fax, and we did not pay them for six months, with full support of my old management. I understand some people still use faxes, and that you have to cater to the stupid. But if fax is the ONLY way you do business, you don’t deserve to do business. Frankly, fuck you.

Receipts might seem like a small thing, but similar issues arise with business cards, train tickets and other small bits of paper.

Business cards are utterly redundant these days. They are used once, to enter contacts into an email for the first time. Once that email is set and the connection is made, the card is never needed again. Yet, we still make them. Because it is easier to hand someone a card.

How do we get around it? Sure, I can text my details but that’s cumbersome also. But at the end of the day, I just want to get people’s details into my smartphone’s contact list. Perhaps there is a bluetooth solution. At the end of a meeting, you can scan for what digital “cards” are available nearby (i.e. Everyone in the board room), and select the ones you want.

Maybe there can we a web solution. The way bands could, for a while, say, check out our MySpace. We are called Some Band. And you would know to go to to find them. That might be too much effort for the receiver, and maybe the card-giver wants more privacy. But those issues could be worked out. If we tried.

What is clear is there is a need to transfer “Small Documents” between people. Perhaps email is not even the way to go. I am really leaning towards a net work solution.

“I am going to send your my reciept/my card to the cloud. What is your Small Docs pin so I can send it to you”. I use an app on my phone that finds it in a click or two and downloads it for later use.

That technology all exists today.

The one that really bugs me is train and bus tickets. I have, in only a few short months in Sydney, clocked up hundreds of these. Some cities in the world have excellent scanner card systems instead, and that’s what we want.

But the ticket system brings up the most important hurdle of paperless. The initial cost. How much would it be to get rid of all those paper machines at train stations in favour of a scanner card system? Millions if not billions I assume.

But what is the cost to not do that? I think of the rolls and rolls of ticket machine cards delivered a day, and how that seems hopelessly outdated, even today.

Big companies do not care about making their services paperless (Apple is an exception). Because there is no reason to.

Do even people really care about Paperless?

Maybe not, but they should. We are really being too careless about paper. And with a bit of thinking, we can solve it. What do those bits of paper do anyway? Sure, keep Hamlet on the shelf, but everything else? It’s the everything else that is the problem.

I think there are really simple ways to start. For me, when I see people printing out a large receipt – say at an electronics store – I ask for them to email me instead. Of course they will usually say no. But I ask anyway. Second, I don’t accept business cards anymore. I actually find myself sometimes telling people to find me on twitter. But I usually take people’s numbers and give them a missed call.

The environment and technology sometimes seem naturally at odds. But with a bit of thought and a change in thinking, we can walk towards a world where we enjoy the benefits of both. And those steps can be very, very small.

30 for 30: Douglas Adams

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Douglas Adams

I adore the works of Douglas Adams, and the man himself.

This 30 for 30 thing would not exist if not for Douglas Adams.

It was a thoroughly Douglas Adams moment in my life too. I was at my parents house, ready to leave for Paris for the first time. I was thinking, I need to buy The Salmon of Doubt, the posthumous collection of Adams’ writings found on his computer.

I had yet to read it, even though I was a huge fan (it was, after all, promoted as an unfinished novel. Who wants that?). So I decided I would rummage another book out of the boxes I had in my parents garage.

And there it was – a copy of The Salmon Of Doubt.

A perfect, unread, 1st edition paperback.


I’m not the kind of person who buys something and doesn’t know it. No price tag marks of any sort to suggest it’s origin. No one else in my family would have bought it. It wasn’t even amongst the other books in “A”. It was in a completely random box – the first one I looked at. And I was just thinking about it.

The only Adams-esque explanation is this – The Salmon of Doubt has become a very important book in my life. It started on that day. And some time in the future, I will come across a pristine paperback 1st edition. And a wormhole. And I will know to throw the book into the wormhole, leading back to my parents garage circa 1996, ready for my 25 year old self to discover.

(Slightly odder still is I have no idea where the book is. I’m even less inclined to lose things)

As far as I’m concerned with things related to Douglas Adams, the most extraordinary explanation must be the one.

The Salmon of Doubt is not usually considered the most inspiring work by Adams. But, along with half a novel, there are a series of random writings. Wonderfully written, long rambling essays about certain subjects.

I remember reading these articles and thinking – this is exactly what blogs should be. Long, meaty, well written, point driven pieces. Adams jumps around and goes on tangents, always circling the same points. He usually write about technology too – something I love.

So since that time, I have been trying to write blog posts like Adams’ writings in The Salmon Of Doubt. If you are interested in reading a really great essay (Hooray! Essays!) you can find some on his site, and I would start with Frank the Vandal (

I discovered Adams through the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, much like everybody else. I’m guessing this was around age 11, and I was already discovering Monty Python, Red Dwarf and various absurd British comedies. I found it at Campsie Library, when I was devouring so many books. Then I found all it’s sequels – and loved them too.

Those books were, of course, and marvellously, surrounded by Adams’ other works. First was the Dirk Gently books, which I also loved – and the BBC have just announced they will finally make TV adaptations of the two novels. The Meaning Of Liff and the Deeper Meaning Of Liff – a dictionary for things that needed names.

Then there’s the one non-fiction book – Last Chance To See.

I absorbed it all. And I am not the only one. Every time I see the phrase ‘Don’t Panic’, I think of Adams. And ‘42’, yet another Adamsism that has broken through to the mainstream. The glorious Babel Fish. His popularity has never waned.

Hitchhiker’s is, of course, awesome. It is such a deep reflection on the interests of Douglas Adams as well.

I read and re-read the first four books many times. I waited patiently on the library waiting list to read the fifth book – Mostly Harmless. I bought a collection of the first four books, and I eventually found first edition paperback copies of all of them – going for almost £40 each now.

Around that time, the ABC screened the 1981 BBC TV version. Even better was the South Bank show special – a very absurdist take on Adams’ life story, intercut with recreated scenes from his novel. It’s the only time I’m aware that Dirk Gently has been portrayed onscreen.

It was easy to keep track of Adams’ works, because he was almost always first in the sci-fi books section. New stuff stood out. The ridiculous Illustrated Version to the weird and underwhelming Starship Titanic.

I kind of lost track of Adams’ by the time he died in 2001. Although I was really sad – I guess I was at an emotional age about my heroes.

One of the last things Adams worked on was to make the Hitchhiker’s movie. After mulling over a film version for decades, it finally happened in 2005.

I remember seeing it at the cinemas, and loving it. Even with the 1981 TV version, it felt like they mostly got what I imagined the book would look like.

The movie had some major flaws – it’s rambling plotline is just almost impossible to shoehorn into a movie. The wit in Adams’ narrative is missing. It seems they spent all the special effects money went to the last 30 minutes of the film.

But there were lots to love. The cast was mostly perfect. Martin Freeman – the man was made to play this role. Zooey Deschanel is great as usual. Sam Rockwell made a great Zaphod, except no-one’s managed to get the two heads thing right.

And it looked great. The Vogons were perfect. The showroom of planets is honestly breathtaking. In the end, they just nailed the strange humour, and lost none of the heart in the characters. And just that big screen feel. After 15 years and seeing that – it was amazing.

No one’s discussed a sequel, even though the movie made plenty of money. I would love to see it. A hundred scenes I would love to see. Milliways. The krikkitmen at Lords. And most importantly, Arthur and Fenchurch flying over London.

Maybe someone will reboot them again one day. It seems to be the trend. Special effects just get cheaper, and maybe we can get something that looks like the Harry Potter films, and a commitment to make all of them.

More than his work, I love Douglas Adams the person. It’s a side I first got to see when I read Last Chance To See. It’s a non fiction book, an account of Adams’ adventures with zoologist Mark Carwardine, searching for the planets most endangered and rare species. I didn’t finish it the first time, but years later returned to it and loved it.

Adams’ fell in love with these bizarre animals. In fact, they didn’t seem that far from Babel Fish and other weird creatures that came out of Adams’ imagination. In the book, he describes them like he would a Vogon. And he never loss his passion for protecting life on the planet.

In 2009, his good friend Stephen Fry recreated his journey with Carwardine for BBC2. The sequel, also called Last Chance To See, finally showed me a moving Kakapo. And great that this side of Adams’ legacy is getting it’s day in the sun. If he had lived, maybe he could have been a animal lover version of Michael Palin.

For me, it showed me that the amazing things I found in books were equal if not less than the amazing things you can see in life.

Adams had many other passions too. He was a big Beatles fanatic. He hung out with rock stars like Dave Gilmour and was one of the few outsiders in the Monty Python inner circle. He was an outspoken atheist before it became fashionable. He made a short but significant impact on Doctor Who.

He was also a Mac enthusiast, and a technology nut. He understood programming language, energy technology and computer science. According to Stephen Fry, Adams was the first person in the UK to own an Apple computer.

Adams loved technology. He loved the internet. He dabbled in video games in the mid 80s, and supported the advancement for technology. And for technology’s sake. He didn’t just love typing, or games, or graphics. He loved that these devices and how they can fit into our lives.

Imagine what Adams would make of the world today. He loved the internet, and prophesised we would live our lives on there. A comment that mirrors a line in the 2010 movie the Social Network. Imagine what Adams would make of Facebook.

Best still is the iPad. Let’s face it. It’s essentially the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy come to life.

Adams has a theory about progress, that works in three parts.

1) Everything that exists before you’re born is “normal”.

2) Anything created between ages 0-30 is very exciting, and hopefully you can make a living out of it.

3) Anything created after 30 is abnormal, abhorrent and against nature.

So it’s only an age thing that makes us scared of progress of technology (or movies, or music etc). And when new things occur in technology, I think of Adams, always pushing ahead to the front of the line to see what was happening. I hope I can be there too.

May 25th of every year is now Towel Day. It’s a celebration of Adams, of Hitchhiker’s and his other works. It takes his name and inspiration from, in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy world, the single most useful device ever – a towel. I’m aware of it every year, but I’ve not been brave enough to carry a towel with me in public.

But its’ something that is growing. A UK thing that is spreading out slowly to dozens of countries around the world, according to It’s yet another sign of how important and ahead of his time Adams was.

If you only know Adams for his sci fi humour, here is a great introduction to his activism.

30 for 30: Mojo Magazine

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Mojo Magazine - I won all these ones

Mojo Magazine (The Music Magazine) celebrates it’s 200th issue this month (Tom Waits cover). It is the only magazine that I collect. That is, I buy them AND I keep them. I’ve been buying them for almost 13 years now.

I am not going to write about music in this 30 for 30 column specifically. But I am going to touch on some related issues, like this one. It’s more about collecting a magazine for years on end.

I still see, all the time, people with the National Geographic in their living rooms. Dozens if not hundreds of them, with that yellow spine. What is with that magazine? Were subscriptions super cheap? And people keep them – how often do they re-read them?

I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read one article in National Geographic in my entire life.

But there is something I really love about seeing magazines on a shelf. Metres of shelf space. The matching spines. The OCD part of me goes wild about it.

I think it’s a dying culture – the magazine you keep. The National Geographic. The New Yorker. Mojo. Major, timeless journalism vs contemporary events. I really think that people of my age will be the last generation to do this.

First Mojo I ever bought was issue 46. Funnily enough, Radiohead were on the cover. It was Campsie Centre, and in Australia we get Mojo Magazine about two months later than the UK, so it would have been November 1997.

I was buying anything and everything to do with music. And I remember seeing this magazine with Achtung Baby written across it, and a photo of four weird looking guys. Now, I know Achtung Baby is a U2 album, but those guys on the cover were not U2. What the hell? What is this Mojo?

So that cover stuck with me (it was issue 41). Years later I discovered it was Kraftwerk. The next month the newsagent had another weird one. John Lennon – looking uncool and almost dead. It was so different from Rolling Stone, Juice, Recovery Magazine and all that.

So finally by 46, I caved and bought the issue. Everyone was talking about Radiohead. It was a way into this magazine. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand half of it. I knew  very little of the bands discussed. But as usual, I saw it as a challenge.

I bought the occasional Mojo from then on, but didn’t get it month to month until around 65. By then I was all across the Nick Drakes and the Zombies of the world.

You can see the covers discussed here

Doug Thomas was the first person I ever met with a complete collection of Mojo Magazines. Doug is a legend in the Australian indie records scene, having worked behind the counter at some of the best record shops Adelaide and Perth had to offer.

I was friends with his daughter, the talented Stina Thomas (now a solo artist in Perth). Anyway, that first trip to Perth, visiting friends, was great and not relevant to this other than seeing Doug’s complete set of Mojos. I don’t know what about me sees stuff like that and decides I want it too. Something about conspicuous consumption speaks to my heart. I can still see it now – the bottom row of this shelf in the Thomas household.

So that’s always been the aim. The complete set. I have managed to find old Mojo magazines in various thrift stores, second book shops, Oxfams and dusty record shops. I am still a fair way off a complete set.

The oldest Mojo I have is 9. The Clash are on the cover.

Is it odd that I hunt down old magazines? Maybe. I do have a problem with stuff like this. Collecting weird stuff.  I do read them though. And hey, people collect stamps. So I can do this.

Why Mojo? Why not National Geographic?

The obvious answer is music. Mojo was the music magazine and nothing else. But there is something timeless about it. Or maybe more accurately – the consistently dated quality.

It just set the scene for me, regardless of what trends were going on. Take for example, issue 75. The lead article (really, like the LEAD ARTICLE and COVER) was a profile on four bands.

1) The Velvet Underground in their least popular period

2) The then-unknown Big Star

3) Fred Neil. I mean do you, even today, know who Fred Neil is?

4) The La’s. Yes, the weird one hit wonders that were the La’s.

Before the internet, Wikipedia, Allmusic and all that, this was my education into weird, old music.

That issue was over ten years ago and I still know what I learnt from that issue. If that gives you an indication of how good the writing is.

I guess it was around this time Michael Lock, a great music journalist, introduced me to Lester Bangs and other great rock writers. I started to appreciate Rock Journalism as a thing of it’s own. Michael never wrote album reviews, but he wrote profiles on bands. I know writers who do the reverse. The art of music writing was studied here, by me.

But everyone cool I know bought Mojo. Musicians. Record shop people. Scenesters. It was our bible. I remember Michael telling me about a t-shirt that Evan Dando had, that Gram Parsons wore once. And he just went to my shelf, picked out the right Mojo issue (56, Massive Attack) and showed it to me.

So Mojo was my ticket into that old man rock world. In my life, I’ve never had a problem meeting older men who can tell me about unreleased David Bowie tracks.

I buy Mojo anywhere and everywhere. Mostly I bought them for an extra $5 in record shops, to get them around the same time as the UK. For many years, the ritual was to buy it at Egg Records in Newtown, then walk over to café for a big breakfast, or dinner at Happy Chef.

Pretty much every Mojo I have has a few oil splatters, or tomato sauce specks. My memories of reading Mojo Magazine is tied to food, and eating out and by myself.

With this week’s, 200th issue, I did what I normally do. Instead of heading home, I deliberately stopped for food (a cheap and excellent laksa from Tuk Tuk, Baywater). Just on my own, read the magazine as I ate.

In fact, I clearly remember eating at the Happy Chef for the 100th issue. It was one of the few issues where the cover wrapped around, so I was being extra careful. But usually my copies are a bit battered around.

The second hand old ones I buy almost always has a blank crossword. Who is leaving these blank? I always do the crosswords and usually underline and write all over other bits as well.

I buy Mojo anywhere I am. I’ve bought one in Copenhagen (157). And recently in Oxford (199). I have never missed an issue this decade, no matter where I am and what I’m doing.

I have 70 or so issues here in London, and 100 or so in Australia. I can’t wait to unite the collection.

Other magazines have come and gone. No Depression ceased publication in 2008, calling an end to a 7 year relationship. I loved Chunklet magazine, but they put out an issue every two years – if you’re lucky.

Magazines like Q, Empire and Rolling Stone got too bogged down in current trends for me. I liked them for years, but they are more for current news than to keep for the ages. I’ve flirted with Record Collector. Dated Classic Rock. Performing Songwriter. Word. But I keep coming back to Mojo. I don’t even question the quality of it anymore. It’s become part of my life.

I would LOVE to find a film magazine that has the quality of journalism like Mojo.

So the aim in life now is to be a writer. And that could well mean writing about music.

I wrote about music in a Sydney street press column for years. I produced radio. I love talking about music. And Mojo definitely fueled that fire. It would be amazing to write for Mojo. It’s like when I played in a band and hosting Rage was the goal. Or maybe just have a letter published.

But that will probably never happen and it doesn’t matter. I will still be reading it. Hopefully the decline of magazines will be kind to Mojo, and I will be having a laksa, sitting down with the 300th issue in September 2018.

30 for 30: JD Salinger

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


One of the very few photos of JD Salinger

I love the works of JD Salinger. He is best known for writing The Catcher In the Rye, but also a series of short stories, many of which used the same characters. He died earlier this year, prompting me to revisit his work. It hasn’t lost any of it’s power on me.

I can’t remember her name.

But I can remember what happened. Clearly, like it was yesterday.

It was in the last years of high school, and I attended an all-boy’s school. But, thanks to lack of funding in the public school system, the music class for our school was merged with the music class from the local all-girl’s school.

It was cancelled entirely in my year (I mean, schools cancelling music. No wonder I’m such a left winger)…but the year below me was the first to take this new merged class. And Tristan, the bass player in our first band, was in that class. So thanks to rock ‘n’ roll, we got to visit the girl’s school.

O, that weird place known as the girl’s school! Such wonders. Such promise. Such mystery. We would exit those gates, watched by other jealous boys. And be greeted by suspicious looks of other girls, wondering what we were doing there.

Girls with guitars are so sexy, and there was one really excellent band from the girl’s school. They played late 90s radio rock – Hole, Blur etc. They’d play at, you know, school fetes and stuff. As would our band. But, we never really hung out with them. Thanks to Trist, there was another bunch of girls we hung out with. But those girls – they were the BAND.

Being in a band in a school in Nowhere, Sydney wasn’t actually very cool. And it didn’t help break down the gender boundary. Seeing a girl from the BAND at the train platform – they would be surrounded by their friends anyway. Even though we shared this bond of both playing in bands, I was not making it easier to go up to them and chat.

So one afternoon, I was visiting mum at her work, which was close to school. I got distracted and so it was about 5pm that I finally got to that train platform, to head home. The platform that is usually full of teenagers in uniforms mucking about – that exact thing that I can’t stand now.

Of course at 5pm, there was no one there. Regular life had set it, and those trains that are full of students had well and truly passed. In fact, the platform was pretty much abandoned, except for one girl.

The singer from the BAND.

It was the one and only time we ever spoke, alone. She was cute as a button and, of course, I had a massive crush on her. She was the singer and guitar player – just like me. I always figured we’d get along. In my mind, there was no one cooler than us two. Maybe if we got together, we’d be like the Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann of our schools. That was the thought anyway.

She was reading a book when I got there – The Catcher In the Rye.

I’m not sure if we have ever been properly introduced but we knew who eachother were. And we talked; we talked about mutual friends. Some guitar stuff (like reaching those troublesome 14th and over frets). And we talked about Catcher In the Rye.

My clearest memory is saying how I thought it was such a boy’s book. It’s about a teenage boy, and all those silly boy-feelings of being a teenager. I asked her what she got out of it, and she said it was good to see how boys think.

By all this, our train had come and we reached my stop. I said goodbye, and saw eachother around, but we never really spoke again. I have no idea what happened to that girl. She was smart, confident, musical and cute. I still remember her, and I remember what she said about The Catcher In the Rye.

And I can’t even remember her name.

The Catcher In the Rye was given to us to read in high school. It takes the honour of being the only book I ever finished in high school. And English was my best subject.

So how did I get through school without finishing a book? It was easy. And once I figured out the trick, I never looked back.

You see, they don’t TEST you on the ending. They test you on the themes, the characters, etc. And any book worth studying, well the characters make themselves known at the start and the middle. As for what happens at the end – the teacher will always tell you about it in class. Or someone else will.

Take Great Expectations. I still don’t like that book, and I’ve never finished it. But I know about the rich vs. poor thing, how Ms Haversham’s wedding dress is a symbol, blah blah blah. Pull out a few quotes, that were probably discussed in class anyway, and you are off.

And Great Expectations sux in the exact way that The Catcher In the Rye doesn’t. It isn’t obvious. The author isn’t trying to say “look at how smart I am”.

I was pretty hooked from the beginning and finished the thing easily. So it was kind of crap that the mark for my Catcher essay was worse than my Great Expectations one.

Guess you can’t explain love.

One last story about Catcher from my teenage years. There was another girl – a girl I deliberately wont name. I knew her from around.

It was a different sort of crush. And she was a very different sort of girl. She was my age but she wasn’t in school. Problems in her family meant she was living with some guy. But she slept around, did drugs, and got through life a day at a time.

She loved music though. She loved Oasis. She loved Supergrass. And like all girls that age, she loved Ash. She dreamt of moving to London, as most music fans did in 1997. And I was that music guy in her life. I would make her tapes, lend her NMEs and Q mags, and we would listen to records and smoke. Sometimes, we would kiss, but it was mainly me trying, and her forgetting to not let me.

It occurred to me, even then, that her dreams were so unrealistic. I wanted to probably draw comic books or play in a band – and I had plans on how to do both. Impossible plans, but plans none the less. But her – she just sat there, in this guy’s apartment, occasionally having sex with him, smoking her years away.

I thought she was beautiful. I can still see her face. I can still see it as it was sad, and then I’d tell her something like I have the new Blur single in my bag, and her whole face would smile. Not just her mouth, but her face – eyes lit up, eyebrows stretched high. Maybe those smile muscles had been waiting for a reason to come to life for a while.

My copy of The Catcher In the Rye at this time was stolen from the local library. It was a nice old, almost pocket sized hardcover. Battered to bits. Light blue cover with only writing on the spine. It looked so cool I had to have it.

She had never read a proper fiction book, and I guess I was raving about it. I figured it was the perfect book for a beautiful, broken teenager. So that copy of Catcher I had, I lent it to her. I’d ask her if she’d read it every time we saw eachother, but she never did.

She disappeared sometimes for weeks on end, but she vanished altogether shortly after that. What mutual friends we had never saw her again either. I was too scared to go to her place on my own, and by the time I thought I should, months had passed. I figured she’d moved on to a new life, and to leave her too it.

She took that copy of The Catcher In the Rye with her, and I wonder where it is. Is it in a police lock up somewhere? Or a bin? Or did she finally meet some guy, one who took her to London?

Maybe she read it on the plane there, and loved every word.

So I haven’t even talked about Salinger yet – but girls is one of the many things I love about JD Salinger. He wrote some of the best female characters.

There is kind of a stock female character that Salinger writes about, and it’s the pollyanna. The bright, sunshiney, curious gal. And so many of his stories are about what happens when someone who hates life meets someone who loves it.

In ‘For Esme, In Love And Squalor’, it’s a young soldier who meets a girl, before he goes into war. He promises to write to her. Then, in the second part, he writes to her, after having been through the most terrible experience in his life. The contrast between the two shows us what war has done to this young man.

But there is also women as a destructive force. It’s most powerful in the “The Laughing Man”. The Laughing Man is a fictional some superhero type, and his story is being told to some kids by Chief, the head of this boy scouts kind of thing. The boys love the story, and they love Chief. Chief meets a woman and the stories get more exciting. Chief’s girl comes and meets the boys – but one day she isn’t there. Laughing Man’s adventures dwindle, and Chief…Chief is never the same again.

That’s just two of many stories he wrote. And these amazing stories and characters I still know by heart.

I wish they would finally publish all his short stories properly.

The reason they don’t is because Salinger – the man – was a recluse. Most biographies conjecture that he was also a racist, a health freak, a Mormon and god knows what else. We don’t know what’s true and what’s lies – but we do know that shortly after The Catcher In the Rye came out, his first and only novel, he moved his family out of New York and was barely seen or heard from again.

He did make himself known in the control over his work. He had strict rules for everything – from book jackets to people wanting write books about him. A lot of the work he had done for journals like New Yorker, have never been collected.

I found all this out and did some hunting around. I discovered the wonderful Bananafish website. And all those unreleased or under-published works were all online anyway. I printed out several hundred pages on A4 and started to make my way through this hidden stuff. I got a nice folder for it and I still have these print outs.

It’s a bit like hearing a band’s demos actually.

He’s probably the most famous recluse in the world – up to his death earlier this year. There is something about recluses that fascinates me, and adds to my Salinger fandom. There are almost no photos of him. In this world of over information, a mystery is so seductive.

But now that he’s dead, I figure the flood will come. All the stuff that was around but trapped from before Catcher, to almost 50 years of writing since. I’m excited but scared at the same time. I hope it’s good.

So what does The Catcher In the Rye mean to me?

If I ever fell in love with language, it was here. Holden’s voice was so engaging – “all that David Copperfield crap”, “phonies”, “swear to god” etc. It wasn’t a story being told AT you. It was a kid telling you his story, and sounding like he doesn’t want to be there at all.

It’s the doom and gloom too. Holden feels trapped. He sees the worse in everything, but people around him are actually awful. The teacher who tells him he has to conform. The prostitutes, the phoney jazz musician, and people clapping at all the wrong times.

It helped define how I saw the world. How I treated people. Made me realise that adults can be idiots and to look out for that. And if people can be idiots, then maybe I’m not wrong about the world, and screw everyone else. I’ll be me then, not them.

But the most important lesson for me is the one that Mr Antolini tells Holden. To write things down. Because someday someone might find it, and it might help them. Part of the reason this bit of writing exists is because of that advice.

Although my fandom has died down, it still simmers lightly all the time. I bought yet another copy of Nine Stories when in France (because “For Esme” is set in France). I am always delighted to meet someone named Zooey because it’s likely from Franny And Zooey. My first stop in New York was Central Park – I wanted to see where the ducks go.

I made Karen see Finding Forrester, a kind of terrible film but was a homage to Salinger. She hated it. (Next time, on her choice, we saw Jurassic Park 3). Karen’s favourite Old 97’s song was Roller-Skate Skinny – a term that comes from Catcher.

I finally found a nice edition – a hardcover reprint with a replica of the original dust jacket – a few years back. When I saw it, I knew it was the way I wanted to own that book. Problem solved.

I’m still excited to meet people who love his work. And I still meet people who I think could be helped by reading Catcher. I haven’t read it in years but maybe it’s time again.

If you’ve never read one of those ‘classic’ novels, this is the place to start. If you have and don’t know anything else, I recommend Nine Stories. You’ll love it. I swear to god.