02 November 2006

Listening to books on the ABC

Among the rarely acknowledged (by others) pleasures of ABC Radio National are the book readings: First Person (weekdays at 10.45 am as part of The Book Show) and the Book Reading (weekdays at 2pm, repeated at 11 pm). You can also listen to them via the internet.

Not every book chosen is to my taste, but the current ones have grabbed my attention. First Person is featuring Charmian Clift's Mermaid Singing and Peel Me A Lotus, which describe life with her family on a Greek island in the 1950s and 60s. In yesterday's episode she vividly depicted the life of the islanders, notably the backbone of their economic life: the annual sponge fishing expedition which took the men who sailed off in the boats to the limit of their endurance and, in the case of some of the divers, beyond it.

The Book Reading is presenting Strike, described on the program website as "
a previously unpublished novella by the Australian poet, David Campbell (1915-79) who served with distinction during World War Two." It depicts wartime service life at Batchelor airfield in the NT and points north. Adrian Mulraney's reading is first class: like all good readers he varies his tone to distinguish between characters (most of whom are male), while in the more descriptive passages evoking both the routines and boredom of service life and the gut-tightening apprehensions of action.

Campbell is better known as a poet. For more about him and to read some of his poetry, including "Men in Green" which reflects upon another incident in WW2, see here .

I wonder what those, eg Frank Devine, who are continually banging on about its lack of balance etc would make of the ABC doing what it has done to promote Campbell 's literary reputation. After all Campbell was hardly your typical latte leftie: he came from a prominent pastoral family, and for much of his life maintained a close connection with the land.

Well done, whoever at the ABC chooses the books. Enjoy your lattes.

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