Edited by Bruce Gillespie
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
brg is a fanzine compiled by Bruce Gillespie, a longstanding member of the Australian, and specifically Victorian, fan community. It can be found here.
Gillespie is a big fan of Lists, and Best Ofs. This issue of brg reflects that, and I cannot comment on the first half (it’s only 16 pages), because it deals with his favourite popular and classical CDs either bought or heard for the first time in 2011 – and most of them I haven’t heard of, let alone actually heard (I am pretty excited to find out about the Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones collaboration celebrating Ray Charles, though…). The second half looks at Gillespie’s favourite novels and books first read in 2011, and films likewise. The novels and books are separated out because the latter includes a couple of short story collections, and some non-fiction and poetry as well. They’re an eclectic bunch of books: some speculative, some not; some recent (from 2011 – The Islanders, by Christopher Priest, and Mistification, by Kaaron Warren), others not (The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens, 1839).
As well as listing the titles, Gillespie provides a potted review/discussion/reflection on those titles that make it to his top 14/22/20 however many he decided to include (I really like this idiosyncratic aspect. No sense in insisting on a top 20 if there weren’t that many good ones). His top-ranked novel and book is the 1997 novel Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier – which I haven’t read, so I have no idea whether his assessment is accurate, but it certainly sounds intriguing. I have read The Islanders, though, which he places at number 6 of Best Books, and I do agree with his assessment there, which makes me think that our tastes probably line up at least to some degree! It is reassuring to know that someone who has been reading in the scene for such a long time still enjoys work coming out from old and new hands alike; Gillespie’s glowing praise for Angela Slatter (The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales) and Kaaron Warren is a good sign, I think, that Australian writers are producing work that stands up well in comparison with what has come before.
Again, I cannot comment on the accuracy of Gillespie’s appraisal of films watched in 2011. Again, his lists are eclectic: from the Akira Kurosawa Red Beard (1965) to True Grit and The Lincoln Lawyer (2011). It’s definitely an interesting way of getting suggestions of what to watch next!
Paper fanzines sometimes feel like they have had their time. However, the fact that Gillespie produces a hard copy and a pdf means that it can still feel “old school” while being easily, and instantly, accessible. And what he’s done here is essentially distilled what might have appeared on, say, a blog over a whole year, and made it easily digestible (…perhaps blogs are the expanded, messier, less coherent version of this, instead). Readers are unlikely to agree with everything Gillespie says, but that’s one of the joys of the fanzine: to have horizons broadened, be introduced to new literature (music, film), and to be in dialogue with someone whose tastes at least sometimes coincide with your own. It’s worth checking out.