Our authors are the heart of Ventura - without them we wouldn’t have the books we do! But what makes them tick? What lies behind their passion for literature? To answer these sought after questions, we’re bringing you the Five Questions With series to give you a little more insight into who lies behind the words you’re reading.
June’s release was Split, an anthology of work from author, editor, essayist and Ventura alumni Lee Kofman. Split features candid essays from prominent Australian writers, including Lee herself, on leaving, loss and new beginnings.
What do you love about writing and literature?
There are many things I love about both, but if I have to sum it up succinctly, the best that the experiences of reading and writing offer me is a kind of transcendence – a delicious way to escape myself. At the same time, paradoxically, they also offer me ways to forge a better self – a more relaxed, slowed-down, thoughtful and reflective self. In fact, these two activities serve for me the same functions that religion serves for many, helping me to understand the world and myself better. I particularly need reading, the way one needs meditation – to ground myself and improve my mental health. I cannot imagine a day go by without reading.
2. Tell us a little about the inspiration behind your latest work.
My latest work, Split, is a collection of personal essays by known Australian writers which I curated and edited. My own essay, Bruised, is a story of how in my mid-twenties I struggled to end two passionate yet damaging relationships at once: with a man and with a city I lived in. I wanted to unpick that experience of lasting indecision, both to reconcile myself with my younger self and also in the hope that some readers can recognise something of their lives in my story and possibly feel less alone. When I was trapped in those relationships, shame and loneliness were my dominant emotions. I thought then that it was just I who couldn’t summon enough courage to leave what I needed to leave, that everyone else had it all together. Only years later did I realise how wrong I was and how non-exceptional my story is. Perhaps if I knew it earlier, I’d have left what I needed to leave quicker. But then, this might be just wishful thinking…
3. What are you currently reading?
I’m reading the final instalment of My Struggle, the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-book opus. My Struggle is an autobiographical novel depicting Knausgaard’s life from childhood until his early 40s, but it is much more. Proustian in flavour, and genre-defying, Knausgaard’s life story is punctuated by essayistic prose that can go for dozens, and even hundreds, of pages. At 1153 pages, the last book is the longest and dryly named The End. Here, Knausgaard examines the aftermath of his literary success, and the personal costs of writing about his life he’s paid, as well as reflecting on dystopia, Paul Celan’s poetry, familial intimacy, and Hitler’s Mein Kampf no less. Its formidable size notwithstanding, I’ve been reading The End quickly, greedily, possibly because deep in me lurks the foolish hope that some tiny percentage of Knausgaard’s brilliance might trickle into my own future pages...
4. Tell us about the book that has impacted you the most.
It is Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. The novel’s hilarious premise is that during the Easter week Satan and his entourage arrive in Stalin’s Moscow of the 1930s, to wreak havoc in this God-less city. I read this novel several times and in three languages (the first time when I was ten years old). I believe its humanist bent helped shape my personality and my worldview. The book taught me about the redeeming power of laughter in the face of the despicable, how irony rather than righteousness is our best friend. This novel has been also partially responsible for my quasi-metaphysical approach to writing where I often use my work to try finding some hidden order in the chaos of life.
5. What is the value of books in the fast-paced, digital world that we live in?
Today we need them even more than ever! Books are our salvations in the midst of the storm of instant views and loud opinions. They create oases in our lives, and support and nourish whatever is still left of our inner lives.
Read more about Lee, and her latest book Split.