Reviewed by Antonella Townsend
The cover of Robert Skinner’s memoir depicts a Siamang Gibbon with a face more human than ape and giving the impression he had recently evolved from a Praying Mantis. This might account for the somewhat bemused expression – there was probably an identity crisis in progress. Together with the title, I’d Rather Not, the book was not projecting an inviting vibe for this reader. The ape was altogether too challenging, too sad, and identity crises are tiresome. So, agreeing with Skinner, I too decided, I’d rather not, until … well here we are. All of which supports the old adage, ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’.
Robert Skinner’s hapless existence is very amusing. A wonderful light read of unconnected articles giving readers a glimpse into Skinner’s take on his Bohemian life-style. And he isn’t having an identity crisis. He knows exactly who he is. It’s our culture that has the problem, artists should not be made to wash dishes. But try telling that to Centrelink. Well, he did, as explained in Part One “War and Peace”, which sets the tone for the proceeding essays, one of wry amusement.
Apart from dialoguing with Centrelink, there were parties and his friend, Manoli, throws some humdingers. Skinner is quite the philosopher on the process and purpose of the party. There’s the first gear where: The host’s role is to provide a gentle heat, so that people in the room, like particles in a beaker, become energised enough to start reacting. Second gear is the sweet spot: everyone becomes charming at the same time … A good party feels like a rich life … But then the dreaded third gear, social conventions become meaningless: the armpit licking, the couch racing, the String Cheese Incident.
Skinner’s take on his collection of menial jobs – dishwasher, out-back tour guide, bus driver – are all equally amusing, although tinged with a world-weariness that tends to invade a reader’s belief in a productive life-style. Perhaps agreeing with him when he suggested to Centrelink that given that there is a five per cent unemployment rate, why could he not be allowed to be a member of that group?
However, when it comes to fishing, Skinner waxes lyrical, although from a rather unusual perspective: I didn’t want to catch them, I wanted to join them.
In the main, Skinner is resigned to his poverty, refusing to compromise his literary ambitions for a comfortable life. From a position of weakness, he managed to gather a team around him to start up The Canary Press, a short story magazine. Not easy when you’re living in a ditch, or on lawns in the grounds of a cricket club, or couch surfing, or a myriad of other unsuitable living conditions.
Sadly, attempts at writing a book led him to admit that it was a lot harder than reading one. So, readers can only wait and see what will become of our lacklustre hero.
by Robert Skinner
ISBN: 978 176064 035 4