Wednesday, July 01, 2015

The Milk Carton Kids–Midwinter Magic

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The Milk Carton Kids at the Athenaeum 30/6/15

Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale aka The Milk Carton Kids last toured Australia in June 2013 and wowed those of us who saw them when they passed through then. We were charmed and amused by their minimalist but sublime performances, so it was a no brainer to buy tickets for their concert this time round.

Appearing this time at the beautiful old Athenaeum Theatre, one of the oldest Melbourne theatres still in use - established in 1839 – it is a small intimate venue that is perfect for the quiet, understated perfection of The Milk Carton Kids style of performance.

Opening for the main act was Wollongong born singer songwriter Timothy James Bowen who was an unknown quantity to me.

Joey Ryan took the time to introduce him to the audience, delivering in his dry way a back handed compliment, stating that Timothy James Bowen had a better voice than himself. Tongue in cheek, he added that normally The Milk Carton Kids would choose support acts with worse voices.

Joey wasn’t wrong, Timothy James Bowen has an expressive sweet tenor and performs with passion and conviction.

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Timothy James Bowen at the Athenaeum 30/6/15

Timothy sang a short set of six songs, all of his own composition (with a little help from family and friends). He started with the lovely Breathe Easy then moved on to his specially commissioned song that was featured on the Virgin Mobile Making Australia Better Campaign. It is appropriately entitled Answer The Call.

Another song The Dharawal addresses indigenous issues, relating as does to a little known historical event, that being the massacre of the Dharawal people in 1816.

After a short interval the star act took the stage. The Milk Carton Kids are a rare act. They perform unplugged and unamplified, with just one microphone between them. There are no flashy light shows, just a single spot and an unadorned setting.

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The Milk Carton Kids at the Athenaeum 30/6/15

They launched their show with the Haruki Murakami inspired Secrets of the Stars, the fourth track on their new record Monterey, which is an exquisite and quietly understated work of genius.

Three more songs from the album followed in quick succession, Asheville Skies, Getaway and The City of Our Lady, after which Joey Ryan paused for the first of his dry and amusing dissertations which had the audience in stitches. He remarked that with four songs played they were half way through the show, only kidding of course.

The title track of their previous CD The Ash & Clay was next to be performed, followed by the title track of Monterey. In their 13 song set the songs were mostly drawn from those two albums, with Michigan being the only song from an earlier recording, Prologue in fact.

Interspersed with the songs Joey & Kenneth entertained the crowd with gentle banter. Australia’s Prime Minister got a not very complimentary mention, the audience endorsing this view emphatically. Joey mused that perhaps people who came to their shows were of a leftist bent.

There was also a running joke about whether there were any children in the audience, which started when Joey apologised for the tone of language used at the time – a few rude words is all I recall hearing  - and wondered if there were children present. Some dag at the back with a deep male voice yelled “Yes!” which caused great hilarity and even broke down Joey’s deadpan cool.

During the musical moments a hushed quiet is de rigueur to appreciate the MCK’s act. They play their old 1950s guitars softly and harmonise in quiet voices, but the effect is mesmerising and enthralling - you can hear all the words and distinguish the two voices and the guitars. Kenneth Pattengale’s  playing is wonderfully ornate and complicated and he received much applause for his mastery of the instrument.

The Milk Carton Kids is a high quality act of unusual beauty and surprisingly hilarious. They combine sublime melodies with enchanting harmonised vocals and deep lyrics. They are up there with the likes of Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, Gillian Welch and the other giants of American folk music.

SET LISTS

Timothy James Bowen Set List

  1. Breathe Easy
  2. Answer The Call
  3. After Wintertime
  4. The Dharawal
  5. Whatever Makes You Happy
  6. Love Is Loving You

The Milk Carton Kids Set List

  1. Secrets of the Stars
  2. Asheville Skies
  3. Getaway
  4. City of Our Lady
  5. The Ash & Clay
  6. Monterey
  7. Honey. Honey
  8. Shooting Shadows
  9. Hope of a Lifetime
  10. I Still Want A Little More
  11. Snake Eyes
  12. Michigan
  13. Heaven

Encore

  1. New York
  2. Memphis

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Photo of MCK set list

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Old Friends & Grievous Angels–Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell at the Palais

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Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell with band – Palais Theatre 25/6/15

As rare pleasures go, the Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell concert at the Palais Theatre last Thursday night was up there with best.

We missed the support act, local singer-songwriter Harmony James, so I have no idea what she sounded like.

Emmylou and Rodney took the stage at about 8.50pm and played for two hours.

Harking back to the distant past they kicked off the set with two songs written by Emmylou’s early mentor Gram Parsons, Return of the Grievous Angel and Wheels then covered two Townes Van Zandt songs  Pancho and Lefty and If I Needed You

Emmylou Harris has excellent taste in the songs she chooses to cover, and her versions are simply wonderful. But as the pair are touring in support of their latest collaboration The Travelling Kind, where most of the songs are co-writes, they naturally performed several songs from the album – the title track, Memphis, Weight of the World, You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try and their cover of the Lucinda Williams song  Just Wanted To See You So Bad.

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Emmylou Harris live at the Palais Theatre 25/6/15

And of course Rodney Crowell treated the appreciative audience to several of his classic songs that included Till I Gain Control Again, Ain’t Living Long Like This and the superb Rock Of My Soul.

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Rodney Crowell live at the Palais Theatre 25/6/15

They played a total of 22 songs in the main set, and returned to perform three more in the encore. The set varied from slow burning ballads to rocking out numbers, with the band staging longish jams. Emmylou was witnessed modestly rocking along with the livelier songs, but Rodney was in his element, jamming with band.

The band, as you’d expect, were fantastically good and included Aussie born ace guitarist Jedd Hughes who hails from Quorn, a small town in South Australia. The other band members were pedal steel player Steve Fishell, keyboardist Micah Hulscher, drummer John McTeague and Mike Rinne on electric and  upright bass.

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Jedd Hughes

It was a great concert and a thrill to see Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell together. Both are legendary artists in their own right, but together they create something special, their long time friendship adding an extra dimension to the show. The audience certainly thought so. We gave them a standing ovation.

EMMYLOU HARRIS & RODNEY CROWELL SET LIST

  1. Return of the Grievous Angel (Gram Parsons)
  2. Wheels (Gram Parsons)
  3. Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)
  4. Till I Gain Control Again (Rodney Crowell)
  5. If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt)
  6. Invitation to the Blues (Roger Miller)
  7. Red Dirt Girl (Emmylou Harris)
  8. Rock of My Soul (Rodney Crowell)
  9. Love Hurts (Everly Bros, Gram Parsons)
  10. Luxury Liner (Gram Parsons)
  11. The Travelling Kind ((ELH & RC)
  12. Memphis (RC)
  13. You Can’t Say We Didn’t Try (ELH & RC)
  14. Weight of the World (ELH & RC)
  15. Just Wanted To See You So Bad (Lucinda Williams)
  16. Dreaming My Dreams (Allen Reynolds)
  17. Chase The Feeling (Kris Kristoffersen)
  18. Back When We Were Beautiful (Matraca Berg)
  19. Tulsa Queen (ELH & RC)
  20. Leavin’ Louisiana (Rodney Crowell)
  21. Ain’t Living Long Like This (Rodney Crowell)
  22. Old Yellow Moon (DeVito, Lynn Langham)

Encore

  1. Stars On The Water (Rodney Crowell)
  2. Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (Rodney Crowell)
  3. Boulder To Birmingham (Emmylou Harris)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Tatts Tiara–The Last Group 1 of the Racing Year

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Catkins – Derby Day – Flemington 2014

As one of my favourite racehorses, the sweet grey mare Catkins, is running in the final Group 1 of the Australian racing year, I thought I’d pen a post about the event.

Run this year on the Gold Coast when it is normally hosted by Eagle Farm, the Tatts Tiara (formerly run as the Winter Stakes) is a race over 1400 metres for mares and fillies.  I’m hoping that this year Catkins can finally win her first, well deserved, Group 1 race. She has contested quite a few and has always come up wanting, running second or third in most of those.

The Tiara has attracted a very nice field of classy mares and a few well regarded fillies, and Catkins main rivals are Srikandi who won the Stradbroke Handicap at her last start, Hazard  who beat Catkins in the Dane Ripper Stakes recently and Najoom, a spruiked filly trained by Gai Waterhouse, if she gains a start – she’s currently 2nd emergency. Others with a chance are Real Surreal, Solicit and Avoid Lightning. Naturally I’ll be barracking for the bonny grey mare –cross fingers, touch wood, she’ll win.

In the UK, the annual Royal Ascot meeting is in train. Several Australian horses are entered in various events. Two have already run – Criterion and Shamal Wind. They both finished unplaced, Criterion performing the better of the two finishing 5th in the Prince of Wales Stakes.

This weekend two more Aussie horses are to race in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes run over 6 furlongs (approx 1200 metres) on Sunday. Three Australian horses in the recent past have won this race – Choisir, Starspangledbanner and, most notably, Black Caviar.

This year’s great Australian hopes are the handsome Brazen Beau, who won the Group 1 Coolmore  Stud Stakes and Newmarket Handicap, and Australian Guineas winner Wandjina. Both are quality gallopers, who if they have acclimatised after travelling to the UK, could well do Australia proud.

Alas we will not see Brazen Beau in action in Australia again as he is to retire to stud after running in the UK. The same goes for Wandjina and quite a few of the Spring and Autumn stars over the 2014/2015 racing season, such as Dissident, Sweet Idea, Silent Achiever, Hallowed Crown, Adelaide, Earthquake and others who don’t spring to mind at the moment.

The racing scene in Melbourne doesn’t start to get interesting until late July in the build up to the Spring racing season’s early Group races.

Update Saturday

Speaking of Australian horses who have been successful at Ascot, the news came today that the “people’s champ” Takeover Target passed away this morning. euthanised after a paddock accident. He was 15 years old.  He cost his humble taxi driver trainer a mere $1400 and won over $6 million in prize money.  He won races everywhere, at Royal Ascot, Singapore, Japan and all over Australia. His record stands at 41 starts for 21 wins, 8 of which were at Group 1 level & 10 places. 

The archetypal “rags to riches” story, Takeover Target will live long in Australian racing memory – a very talented sprinter.

And the Tatts Tiara resulted in Catkins running unplaced, being forced back through the field early in the race.  Srikandi scored a rare double (Stradbroke/ Tiara) with a solid win, holding off Avoid Lightning and Lumosty who ran the minor placings.

Further Update Sunday

Brazen Beau just missed winning the Diamond Jubilee at Ascot early this morning.  He gets a second chance in the July Cup at Newmarket on July 11.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Winter Cheer–Cats, Books & Music

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Talya – the blue princess

It has been a while since I last posted about the cats and their political stance. Lucky for them they are unaware of the truly awful Government ruling Australia at present and the general state of the world. No doubt, if they knew, they would think it only their due, that cats are the most popular topic on the Internet.

In their cat world all they care about is keeping warm, filling their bellies and maintaining their cool in the presence of other cats.  This of course involves the services of their human slaves as providers of food and warming pads.

Since winter has drawn in, Willy has taken to spending more time inside and has insisted on using my lap as his resting place. He’s a real burden, a heavy, though warm encumbrance, that certainly limits a person’s movements.  If you have cats, you’ll know how they suck you in. You put up with incredible inconvenience so as not to hurt their feelings and even apologise if you have to inconvenience them.

Willy is a smart cat and has us trained to lift him off the fence when he can’t be bothered getting down by himself. He sits on the pergola outside the kitchen door and miaows. When we answer the “distress” call we have to walk out into the back yard and wait by the fence, while he clambers over the roof, onto the shed roof, then onto the water tank, then the fence, whereupon he stands in a handy lifting down position, so we can get purchase under his belly and remove him from the fence.

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Willy, looking for a lap to sit on.

I had the bright idea of buying him a cat bed as a substitute for my lap and found one that is self warming.  It has a space blanket layer that interacts with the cat’s body heat to create a snug nest, retaining the cat’s heat and warming the bed.  B thought I was mad to get it and doubted if the cats would take to it.

It arrived the other day and has been tried out by both cats, but Talya has now commandeered it for daytime use on the front verandah, and alas Willy still prefers my knee.

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Talya in the self warming cat bed

The political situation between the cats is much the same; they still don’t like each other much, but don’t fight. They engage in stand offs where one cat will sit in the doorway to impede the exit or entry of the other cat. “Ooh, I don’t want to walk too close, he/she might jump me” you see them think.

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Cat stand off – Talya is blocking Willy’s access to the door outside.

Monty the cat next door is always in our back garden, but the resident cats avoid him if possible. He’s super friendly, so it’s hard to shoo him away.

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Monty – he doesn’t look too friendly here, but it’s an interesting pose.

My last post was about the problem with posting from Windows Live Writer to Blogger. This had something to do with Google+ security settings, which had not been taken into account by Microsoft. There was an outpouring of protest on both the Blogger forum and the Microsoft Live forum to such an extent that Microsoft and Google cooperated in working out a fix.

Let’s hope Microsoft will continue to support Live Writer as it’s the best blogging software there is. Creating posts in Blogger is a real pain it’s so clunky and user unfriendly.

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781476746586_hrAs usual I’ve been reading a lot of books, and lately have read some really excellent novels, one of them being All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which recently won the Pulitzer Prize.  It’s an outstanding novel set in the second world war, about a German whiz kid boy Werner, and Marie Laure, a blind French girl. the narration alternating between the two as they grow up in those turbulent times and inexorably meet.  Everything written about this novel is true. Highly recommended!

A-God-in-RuinsI also really enjoyed Kate Atkinson’s latest novel A God In Ruins, a companion piece to her previous novel Life After Life.  It follows the life of Ursula Todd’s beloved younger brother Teddy as he grows up to become a bomber pilot in the second world war, and his life after the war.  Ursula Todd was the heroine of Life After Life and makes several appearances in A God In Ruins.  I also highly recommend this book. It’s moving and very funny at times.

sevenevesI’m currently reading Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, his latest, which happens to be a disaster novel. In the first paragraph Earth’s moon explodes and sets the scene for what happens next. I’m barely a quarter of the way through the 800+ pages, but am gripped in the drama of setting up an ark of human heritage in space as the total destruction of  planet Earth draws closer.

I ordered my copy of the book from Barnes & Noble and it’s signed by Neal Stephenson, which is a big thrill as I doubt he’ll ever come to Australia.

sistersConcurrently on my Kindle, when commuting,
I’m reading a collection of short stories called Sisters of the Revolution. I supported a Kickstarter for this collection of speculative feminist fiction by women writers, and received both a physical and digital copy of it.

The stories are all interesting and diverse in subject matter.

The edition has a forward by my friends Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Jeff won this year’s Nebula Award for his novel Annihilation, the first book in his Southern Reach trilogy. They are very strange novels, dark surrealist fiction. Annihilation is possibly going to be made into a film by Alex Garland (Ex Machina & Never Let Me Go). I have read the trilogy, but must admit found them a bit of a chore.  I’m so over weird fiction, hated all the characters and couldn’t care less what happened to them. I agree with David Mitchell, that characters have to be likeable to sustain the readers interest and sympathy – mine anyway.

On the music scene. I'm looking forward to seeing Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda in a week or so. I ordered their new CD The Travelling Kind from Nonesuch Records, mainly because they were offering a limited edition autographed print with the CD. Another thing to be thrilled about – Emmylou and Rodney autographs, something unattainable in person for me.

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Five days after the Emmylou & Rodney concert I’m going to see The Milk Carton Kids at the Athenaeum Theatre. I was really impressed with them when they toured here a couple of years ago, so look forward to their show. And in July my favourite singer-songwriter Ryan Adams is performing two shows at the Forum Theatre.

So despite winter’s chill, there are several reasons to be cheerful.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Testing

Windows Live Writer and Google have not been friends over the past week. I’m checking to see if it’s fixed

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It’s Fixed!

Monday, June 01, 2015

The Words & The Melody - Iris DeMent at Thornbury Theatre

Iris DeMent live at Thornbury Theatre 28/5/15
 

Iris DeMent last played at Thornbury Theatre in December 2013 to an enthralled sold out show. I didn’t really expect her to return so soon, considering that 15 years had passed since her previous tour in 1998.

Obviously Iris was impressed by the response to her music on her last tour. and appeared to be delighted to be back on these shores. And we who had tickets to her show this time were thrilled to welcome her back.

Concerts at Thornbury Theatre are normally seated at large tables and chairs, cabaret style, but this time it was arranged in concert mode with rows of chairs.  No doubt they could accommodate a larger audience in this mode.

I’d booked reserved seats early so was pleased to be seated in the fourth row, which turned out to be good for testing the G16 in the circumstances. Despite heads impeding my view, I managed to get much more glamorous photos of Iris DeMent this time.  And she was certainly dressed more colourfully this time in a dress she had just bought from a fashion house in Brisbane.

There were two support acts, the first being local duo Andy Wigglesworth and Laura Coates who perform as The Weeping Willows.

The Weeping Willows at Thornbury Theatre 28/5/15


They performed a short pleasant set of songs from their debut album Till The North Wind Blows. They’re into traditional old time music, influenced by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Emmylou Harris, etc.

The second support was Pieta Brown, daughter of Iris DeMent’s husband, singer songwriter Greg Brown. She grew up steeped in music, and follows in her father’s footsteps as a songwriter, musician and singer.

Pieta Brown live at Thornbury Theatre 28/5/15
 
Pieta’s musical taste extends beyond the folk and country spectrum into rock n roll and she is a brilliant guitarist. I have no idea what songs she played, but one was a tribute to Loretta Lynn.

Iris DeMent took the stage at about 9.00pm, and for most of the show played the piano as the accompaniment to her songs. It was only in the latter stages of her set that she took up her guitar and faced the audience directly.

Iris DeMent live at Thornbury Theatre 28/5/15
 
Iris was in a cheerful mood, despite her jet lag which she admitted she was treating with coffee, and gave a mesmerising and moving performance that lasted for well over an hour and a half and included 18 songs, including a two song encore.
 
Most of the songs she sang were drawn from her latest album Sing The Delta, and from a forthcoming record entitled The Trackless Woods, a collection of 18 songs that are poems of Anna Akhmatova,  Iris has set to music.

She explained that on discovering the poetry of Akhmatova, she felt compelled to create music for the words, stating that being used to expressing her own poetic vision in song, the words make more sense when set to music. “It’s like the melody is part of the language,” she added.

I was somewhat disappointed that she didn’t sing any of my favourites from her back catalogue, except “My Life” in the encore, but then again the Akhmatova poems sounded gorgeous.

Pieta Brown joined her on stage for the last two songs of the main set, where they sang a wonderful version Greg Brown’s “My Home In the Sky” and “Let The Mystery Be” from Iris’s second album Infamous Angel.

It was a low key night of beautiful soulful music and a rare pleasure to hear Iris DeMent sing again in her unique voice, her lovely melodies.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

More Literary Luminaries – David Mitchell & Jonathan Lethem at The Edge

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David Mitchell with Suzanne Donisthorpe – Deakin Edge 19/5/15

When David Mitchell last visited Melbourne in May 2011, a big crowd turned out to see him at the Athenaeum Theatre. The venue this time was Deakin Edge at Federation Square, a modern and edgy space – a startling contrast to the old fashioned charms of the Athenaeum -  but an equally large number of fans were present last night.

I managed to get a seat in the front row, as is my wont with music shows, i.e. my favourite spot to be. So my view was unimpeded.  I took along the Canon G16 this time and shot some decent photos.
David Mitchell bounced onto the stage greeting the audience with a friendly hello as he took his seat. The topic of discussion was of course his latest novel The Bone Clocks, a mind teaser of a novel that involves several different narratives like his earlier novel Cloud Atlas. The Bone Clocks however has a central character, Holly Sykes, who appears peripherally in the various other character’s stories. There is a supernatural thread running through the novel, and indeed there’s a terrific supernatural battle towards the end. The prose is dazzling and pleasurable to read.

It was an engrossing conversation and David Mitchell presents as charming and unaffected, funny as well.  It was thrilling to be present in person at the event, seeing one of my favourite writers in the flesh again.

There was some discussion about whether Mitchell is writing an “uber” novel as in each of his books characters from previous books reappear. There is a scholarly work entitled  A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell by Patrick O’Donnell, a study of all David Mitchell’s fiction up to The Bone Clocks which explores this idea. I have a copy of it, which I have yet to read in full. It’s somewhat abstruse and hard to read, I must admit, but I’ll persevere with it when I run out of more engaging reading matter.

The video of the interview with David Mitchell is now available on the Wheeler Centre website:

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David Mitchell reading from The Bone Clocks –note: the protrusion on David’s lip is the remote mike.

I had taken along a big bag of books – it weighed a ton –  with five Mitchell novels and some of my collection of Jonathan Lethem novels.

One of the disadvantages of sitting in the front row, is getting out of the venue quickly enough to get a forward spot in the book signing queue.  It was a long queue and moved fairly slowly, but after hanging on for at least half an hour, I was able to get the rest of my David Mitchell collection signed, and express my appreciation for the care he takes in creating beautiful sentences, which was something he talked about in the session.

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Jonathan Lethem & Chloe Hooper - Deakin Edge 19/5/15

It would have been a perfect occasion seeing just David Mitchell, but Jonathan Lethem was the icing on the cake.

His latest novel is Dissident Gardens, a “multigenerational saga of revolutionaries and activists, the civil rights movement and the counterculture, from the 1930s Communists to the 2010s Occupy movement, and is mostly set in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens and in Greenwich Village” from Wikipedia.

I recently read this novel and identified with the period and its leftist sympathies. It took me back to my revolutionary days in the 1960s and 70s.

The two leading characters are Rose Zimmer and her daughter Miriam and their strong personalities are portrayed vividly, Rose in particular.  Jonathan Lethem said in the discussion that Rose was based on his Communist grandmother and Miriam on his activist mother, who died when he was 13 years old.

His novel The Fortress of Solitude is semi autobiographical, set as it is in Brooklyn, where Jonathan Lethem lived as a child.

He had an unconventional bohemian childhood and originally wanted to be an artist like his father. However, from an early age he steeped himself in counterculture falling in love with books and music of all genres, and spent 12 years working in second hand bookstores whilst writing his early novels. He said he loved old battered second hand books and unfashionable writers of whom nobody, these days, has heard.  

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Jonathan Lethem reading an excerpt from Dissident Gardens

Not as many people attended the Jonathan Lethem event, so the signing queue was shorter. Jonathan was friendly and pleasant in person, and obligingly signed the six novels I’d brought along, remarking on my old paperback copies of his first two books. He’d be pleased to know that three of the novels I took along were second hand copies.

A video of Jonathan Lethem's interview is also available on the Wheeler Centre website.

The four literary events that I have attended in the last week, were all different and interesting, from the old school literati of Claire Tomalin and Michael Frayn, to the young bloods of the Internet age  in the persons of David Mitchell and Jonathan Lethem, they were more than worth the cost of entry.

I hope to attend more in the future.