Relaxing with a coffee, a book, and a pile of cash
By Nury Vittachi
The opportunity to test this scientifically came when I was asked to judge a major book contest. I like books. I thought it would be easy. 1. Read a few books. 2. Strut around like an obnoxious know-it-all, and 3. Hand over the dosh to the lucky winner.
How hard could that be? I do the first two items on that list all the time anyway.
The prize turned out to be A$110,000. Forget the novels, I just wanted to sit there and lovingly leaf through the banknotes. The title was supersized, too: in fact, I wondered whether the initial award should go to the organizers of the Western Australian Premier’s Australia-Asia Literary Award for their novella-length name.
Day one: The books arrive. My heart sinks. The pile of boxes is taller than I am.
Day two: I pick up the first book. My heart soars. It starts so childishly I decide I can safely throw it out. One down, a zillion to go.
Day three: It occurs to me that the writer could have been writing in naïve style for literary effect. I put it back.
Day five: The next volume is a long poem, not a novel. I throw it out.
Day six: I discover that a book-length poem qualifies as a novel. I put it back.
Day seven: The next book turns out to be a collection of short stories. I throw it out.
Day eight: I learn that a string of short stories linked by a plot-thread qualifies as a novel. I put it back.
Day 13: The pile of books is now slightly shorter than I am. This is a huge psychological boost. I have defeated my literary K2!
Day 14: A box of additional books arrives. At this point I’m thinking you can have too much of a good thing.
Day 16: I start to enjoy the job. Having read three historical novels in a row, I find my speech patterns changing. Someone said: “Good morning,” to me today, and I replied: “Indeed, fair Sharon, but I sense a mysterious darkness at the heart of this seemingly perfect idyll.”
Day 18: Walking along a road reading a novel of a rural community deeply riven by dark secrets, I walk into a lamppost and end up with a forehead deeply riven by metal grooves.
Day 21: The bus is late. Everyone at the bus stop is seething and uttering imprecations under their breath. Except me. I am far away, having amazing adventures on an uncharted island.
Day 23: I realize just how important this prize is. Stories of the eastern hemisphere are way more interesting than those of the western one. My brain is on fire.
I was reminded of the time I judged a coffee competition and drank 24 espressos in one afternoon. I didn’t sleep for four days. I had so much energy I could have supplemented the national grid. I was so alert I had to tell my houseplants to grow less noisily.
I was so thrusting and dynamic that I was Not Suitable For Children, although my wife was rather pleased. In that instance, you couldn’t have too much of a good thing.