Melbourne Writers Festival: W.H Chong's top 10 picks

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Catastrophic! Exotic! Or Graphic! Book something, anything. (But especially No. 5!) Plus, the Festival Director’s picks.
Going to a Festival is like entering a bookstore: the huge number of choice overwhelms.
How to do it
The trick is the same as for going into a vast collection, like, say the national galleries in London or Vienna. Be prepared, or be lost — make a short list (ya, homework), then allow for serendipity. (Download the Festival program.)
Here’re my top 10 MWF picks, in random order, clustered around climate, art and design, and literary thought.
And remember the famous Festival Law, as I rediscovered at the Melbourne International Film Festival: The ones you think you want will sell out fastest!
1. Naomi Klein: Capitalism & The Climate
30 Sunday 4pm
Why: A friend wanted to choose Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate for her new bookgroup. At 580 pages, that’s a big ask! But it’s important and at this late date “this” well may change everything. (Klein is also doing an ‘Audience with’ on Saturday.)
2. Media Makers: Fair & Balanced?
21 August 1pm
Why: Yay, Fox News slogan as ironic session title. Here we have feisty (award-winning etc) Gay Alcorn of the Guardian Australia talking with the wildly accomplished journalist/author Christine Keneally about disproportionate media representations of “Minorites We Don’t Agree With”.
The program cites: climate change, vaccination, and migration. (But not long ago it would have been the other foot: feminist, Indigenous and gay concerns etc.) A knotty dilemma, but given the speakers, there’ll be no bullshit. Bring difficult questions!
3. Jonathan Galassi: Muse
29 Saturday 2.30pm
Why: Galassi is the president and publisher of New York’s fabled FSG: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He is also a celebrated translator and poet, and now the author of an insider novel of NY publishing: Muse — I’m a fan. He appears on two other publishing panels, if you’re into that, but here he is talking to novelist Kevin Rabalais all about the novel and his life in the most rarified of publishing worlds.
4. David Malouf: Being There
29 Saturday 11.30am
Why: Fantastic: he gets to riff. (My drawing of Malouf, below.)
5. David Pearson: Contemporary Cover Design
29 Saturday 7pm
Why: David Pearson is one of THE great book designers in the world today, his work helping to sell literally millions of copies for Penguin while reinvigorating its design brand this century. Beauty and Sales, wow! To invert a cliche, I could say ‘Daniel Day-Lewis is the David Pearson of acting’. Speaking of Hollywood, Pearson was recently the design consultant on Wes Anderson’s wonderful, artful The Grand Budapest Hotel. If you have any interest in book design this is THE event of the calendar. (BTW his Sunday workshop has sold out, just so you know.)
6. Tim Flannery & Clive Hamilton: Engineering the Climate
29 August 10am
Why: Two public intellectuals (so French!) consider how extreme we may have to get to adapt to the impending OMG-I-can’t-even-say-it-ugh. A hot hot topic that’s NIMBY for everyone, alas. A non-fiction version of No. 8.
7. Eka Kurniawan in Conversation
28 August 1pm
Why: Eka is (i) obscure (to us), (ii) young, and (iii) Indonesian. His new novel, Beauty is a Wound has been compared to Marquez, Rushdie and Hamsun — poor fellow. A friend of mine who has read it says it’s a knockout: excitingly fresh. Anyway, I’d really like to hear from a writer from Indonesia — the northern neighbour with whom we have such complicated relations and more often than not is neglected in our meeja.
Being in Jogja earlier this year reminded me what a fascinating gulf lies between our two countries. And the session is free! Talking to Sian Prior. (A neat piece on translating the book by Annie Tucker, who calls it ‘astounding’.) PS: Eka is also on ‘Reading Indonesia‘, a panel discussing Indonesian writing, 29 Sat 5.30pm.
8. Fiction: Is Climate Change the New Apocalypse?
28 Friday 11am
Why: I’d like to see forward-thinking novelists James Bradley and Jane Rawson discuss how to make climate change into fiction. (I’ve just read a sensational novel, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife, in this emerging genre of climate dystopia.) A topic that’s utterly salient — a fiction version of No. 6.
9. Kitty Crowther & Shaun Tan: International Illustrators
22 Saturday 5.30pm
Why: Two of the world’s greatest children’s book illustrators talking about their (gorgeous) work. Both winners of the ultimate Astrid Lindgren Award — Crowther is visiting from Belgium, while Oscar-winner Tan, I imagine, will merely be taking a tram.
10. The Politics and Pleasures of Walking
29 Saturday 2pm
Why: I’m very curious. The intimidating Will Self will be talking to Sophie Cunningham. They will ‘meditate on what walking means’, according to the blurb! (Cunningham’s MWF walking tour of Melbourne is sold out.) Argh, I’ve been informed that this session is also Sold Out! Right, don’t say I didn’t warn you!
I asked the MWF folk for their picks:
Lisa Dempster, Festival Director
‘My absolute number 1 must-not-miss Top Pick of the Festival is already sold out: Will Self & Sophie Cunningham in the Politics and pleasures of walking.’ (No, she said even she can’t get me in there.)
Lisa also picked the following as ‘really special’:
Voicing Race
A Room of One’s Own: Women & Money
Gideon Raff: Homeland
Drawing the Outback
A Puzzling Crime
Jo Case, Program Manager
Her five picks are here.
(Holding the Man; Climate Change: Action through Stories; The Boat: 40 Years of Vietnamese Culture; Media Makers: Fair and Balanced?; Rob Thomas: Veronica Mars to iZombie.)
As I remarked to Jo: Perfectly diverse — Queer, Climate, Multiculture, Media and Pop. She said she hadn’t planned it that way! She also suggested the very interesting sounding ‘Capital: Valuing What Matters‘. I love the nerdy, geeky sessions.

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