Head in a book

Am I in trouble?

I hate to sound cliched, but I really can’t believe that it’s school holidays again already – time flies I guess. Fortunately I really like holidays and very much enjoy having Evan at home for a bit. The slower pace is greatly appreciated, and Evan and Oscar really benefit from having some well-earned down-time.

But as the weather starts to crack up a bit, it does get a little bit tricker to avoid the lure of computer games and TV for hours on end.  It’s great to be able to break up the screen time with a good book, so it was very good timing when a couple of weeks ago we got hold of a free sneak peek (courtesy of Kidna Books) of a new kid’s series called Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.

Evan’s had a bit of a read of the teaser, and has kindly given me his thoughts on this new adventure series.

Troubletwisters, by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Troubletwisters is about twins called Jade and Jack Shield.  The story starts simply, when their Dad comes home late, and while they are waiting for him they get a mysterious letter.  When the twin’s Mum sees this letter she gets very angry and takes it from them.

When their Dad finally gets back, late as usual, they help him take his bag upstairs.  While helping, the bag breaks and something very frightening falls out of his suitcase…when they touch the odd item, they get very dizzy and the room starts twisting and shaking. Jade and Jack hear a very mysterious voice and all kinds of trouble starts.

I think this is a very mysterious and interesting book and it reminds me of another series called 39 Clues which has a quite similar storyline.  I can’t wait to see the next book in this series.  I think it would be good for kids my age (10 years old) and a little bit older or younger.  I also think it would be fun for both boys and girls to read. Reviewed by Evan J

Sounds good to me.  I had a little read of the first chapter myself and it seems well written and I’d agree with Evan that it looks like it would appeal to both boys and girls.  Worth a look once the full novel is released in May 2011.

Do you or the kids have any suggestions for kid’s reading over the holidays?

Take your pick

I’m a slow reader…

I take my time when I’m reading, taking small blocks of time-out to read and allowing for moments to pause. I flick backwards and forwards through the story reminding myself of character details or refreshing on a sub-plot or backstory. I’ve always read like this and it’s a deliberate preference, my process.

It is nonetheless a bit of an impediment – it caused me no end of frustration when I was studying Lit at Uni, where I was asked to get through a couple of books a week.  I could manage it, but never happily.

My slow-coach reading style still causes me consternation, when the amount of reading material available out there is copious, to say the least. There is so much to choose from. When I pick a book to read, I choose carefully – I’m going to be carrying that book around with me for a while.

So…how best to choose the next read?

My current undertaking, Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was a recommendation by my friend Tim, facilitated by a long-term loan of a copy. It’s a perfect pick.

Also, on rare occasions my interest is sparked by a review. Currently, I’m pretty curious to look at the latest work by Joyce Carol Oates, Give me Your Heart.  It got a write-up in this weekend’s ‘M’ magazine (The Age) and although it’s a very different genre to that which I’d usually read, I’m intrigued.  I’m surprisingly nervy about starting with a new author.  This makes me think that maybe I need to take a few more reading risks – let’s face it, little harm could come of this…at worst a few bucks down the drain and a wasted afternoon.

But mostly I just follow my nose…one title leads to another, and I work through my collection.  Sometimes the references are obvious. Reading Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, he mentions Oscar Wilde a couple of times which puts me in the mood to revisit Dorian Gray. Sometimes though, the links are more obscure. Recently I was reading Chandler’s  The Big Sleep, and for some reason it got me thinking about The Great Gatsby so that was next on my list.  Don’t ask me why or where the connection was, it was just there and so that was the direction I headed in.

Looking at my current list of wanna-be-reads, it made me wonder how other people go about picking what they’re going to read – there are so many options and such limited time.

How do you choose what to read next?  What are you reading now and how did it get to the top of the pile?

Way back when?

Oh, the hoops you have to jump through just to get five minutes writing time. Work on this, project that, pick up this, clean up that. Lordy me…

Is it any wonder then that from time to time a gal retrospects on simpler (?), happier (?) times?

Hence my delving back into the pre-kid, pre-career, pre-thirty something days of 90s share-housing, with all its wild characters and foul odours.  And how better to get there than via John Birmingham’s He Died with a Felafel in his Hand. For those who’ve not picked this one up (or who have forgotten reading it, in a bucket-bong haze) John’s novel recalls a range of houses, housemates and various misadventures when sharing-housing in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. It is darkly funny and very entertaining.

I’ve got to admit I’d forgotten a lot my own stories about hairy house-matery (my own and others) and this collection of tales is a hilarious reminder.  If like me, you’ve let those trainee pharmacists, gamers, market-researchers, English-language students, and guitarists slip your mind – this will bring it all flooding back.

One of the most intriguing things about this book is that although the various characters; the goths, the junkies, the writers – are of course fascinating, it’s the accessories to the tales that resonate the most with me; the pets, the food and the furniture.  Share-house cats bring to mind my first time out of home, living in a house full of kittens and everything covered in fur and cat poo (i.e. not so keen on the kitty now). The repeated ‘theme’ of fish fingers and meat pies seems fitting, as let’s face it, we’d have all starved without the ready availability of this kind of fare. I myself survived on scrambled eggs for six months. Even the title of the book reminds me of many a night spent wandering (weaving?) up and down Chapel Street deliberately passing by the felafal store a few extra times to cop the free samples being handed out by some poor minimum-wager.

And who’d think mention of the old brown couch would bring back such a cascade of memories?  My own couch was brown, and was ingeniously held up with milk-crates and phonebooks.  This was only topped by my on-floor mattress, hand-me-down fridge with no freezer door, and my op-shop cooking pot (yes, singular).

So, John, thanks…Felafel gave me cause to remember all those crazy chicks, dirty boys, kitty-cats and crappy food. Fondly. It also highlighted quite nicely just how much more comfortable my new corner lounge suite is, and how nice my current housemates are (a husband, two boy-kids and a dog)… even if they do still leave dirty socks pretty much everywhere.

Look what I got!

Another nice second-hand book find – I’m on a roll. This time I came across some lovely things at a local garage sale, a very big fluke as I tend not to go near garage sales and the like, they’re not so good for my home de-clutter projects.

At least today I was a little sensible and left another half a dozen titles behind me, casual books that I would have quite happily taken home with me.

I’ve not read any of these Roald Dahl books, so I’m very pleased to have them in the collection.  And, I’m thrilled by the editions, the covers are classic.

Also picked up The Great Shark Hunt, by Hunter S. Thompson for a song, not to mention a near-new copy of The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, by John Birmingham…a nice coincidence given that I finished my re-read of Falafel just a couple of days ago.  Nice how things go sometimes.

The beat of my heart

Romance stories can be about love, about imagination, and about washed-up rock stars.

I had an echocardiogram a couple of days ago, just to make sure that my heart was still beating…rest assured it is, a relief to be sure.

The scan, along with the fact that Valentines Day is being flogged a bit at the moment, got me thinking about the more romantic titles I’ve read over the years.

It’s actually been a while since I’ve read anything very concerned with matters of the heart, but here are a couple of favourites that found their way off my bookshelf most recently.

Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby

Hornby is really good at this kind of story.  He’s stories are essentially about relationships, but the contexts that he sets them in are unique and engaging, making his novels about much more than just romance.  I’m thinking particularly of High Fidelity and About a Boy…it’s really easy to engage with the characters and identify with the situations (particularly for us X-Gens) and the search for romance is only part of the appeal.  Hunting for love tends to link closely to hunting for a better understanding of themselves. Juliet Naked is no exception, and I found it even easier to get hooked into this story, thanks to its female protagonist – Annie.  It’s a story of a romance, but it’s so very innocent and conservative, very much like Annie herself.

This novel seems to me to be more about imagined relationships than actual ones. Duncan’s obsession with Tucker, Tuckers’ fabled love-triangle with Julie Beatty, and finally Annie’s crush on Tucker.  It’s when these relationships become real that they loose some of their appeal.  A very nice ditty, this one.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence
Oo-ah, bit naughty!  A little snobby I know, but I really have to admit to this being one of my favourites.  It’s an absolute classic, and a blueprint for so many romances hereafter.  And it’s more than a little bit naughty as far as classic literature goes.

The most obvious observations would be around the themes of discontent, passion, so on and so forth.  I think though the element that I like the most is the fact that Connie is so inclined to throw caution to the wind.

It is perhaps a little bit of a shame that the tale itself has been a little over simplified in screen adaptations (just Google-search images for Lady Chatterley’s Lover and you’ll see what I mean).  Nonetheless, it’s a beautifully written novel, and a compelling tale from start to end.

Nice Work
, by David Lodge
Now,  some might argue that it’s not really a romance, but at the end of the day that’s the part of the story that stood out for me so I’m going to list it.

At first I didn’t want to read this book.  I had to read it for Uni and I found the description not at all tempting.  So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story of academic Robyn Penrose, and engineer Vic Wilcox was quite fascinating.  Even now, I’m surprised by how often this book comes to mind.  Perhaps it’s because the unlikely affair between Robyn and Vic is somewhat synonymous with the unlikely balance we all have to find day-to-day…often we work outside our interests, we do chores well outside our passions, and we have to get along with people who are well and truly of a different ilk to us.  As unfamiliar as Robyn and Vic’s worlds are to each other, I’d think that this type of scenario is familiar to many readers.  At the end of the day this unsettled, unsettling and short-lived union between two different worlds works very nicely as a romance story.  Lovely.

If you’re interested, David Lodge spoke to BBC World Service about his novel – quite interesting actually.  Check it out here if you’re keen… David Lodge Podcast

Read any lovely love stories?

Junk-food for the mind

Commuting is a great chance to zone out for a while, and maybe get a bit of reading done.  Perfect time for a little junk-food for the mind.

In the last two days, I’ve had a quick jet-set up and back to Sydney for work.  The organisation that I work for, PIEF turned 5 years old this year (no small feat for an education foundation) and we celebrated over dinner with the team, the Board and some faithful supporters.

A glass of bubbly and some fine food at L’Aqua in Darling Harbour was, in my opinion a wonderful way to mark the occasion.

On the flights there and back I had a bit of a look around at what people where reading and wasn’t entirely surprised to see that a lot of it was pretty light.  As for myself, I was reading He Died with a Felafel in his Hand which is lots of fun, but not exactly profound. I guess at the end of the day there is no need to try and read a Russian classic or some Shakespearean drama when surrounded by public on mass and loudspeaker announcements.

In saying that, I’ve never been really good with pulp fiction – I’m not very good at picking it or reading it, so now I’m curious.

HELP US OUT?  What was the last light/pulpy/junky read that you had?  Can you give me some suggestions, and let me know if you’d recommend them as worth a look?

You just don’t get it Mum!

Last day of school holidays, and Evan (my ten year old) is a little on the sad side. And who can blame him…late nights, Playstation, sleep-overs and plenty of time lounging around reading.  So, to ease the pain, we made a little stop at Kidna Books to buy a couple of new books for the last week of the break.

Now, these titles have most certainly not been written for my demographic – these are definitely pre-teen reading, and I think I can be forgiven for not quite getting what Captain Underpants is really all about.  So, I’ll let Evan describe them himself…

Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilet, by Dav Pilkey

“This is the second book in a series of stories about two boys who create a comic book about a hero called ‘Captain Underpants’ and accidentally hypnotise their Principal into thinking he is Captain Underpants.

In this book, George and Harold get detention for mucking up the entries in the the all important Inventions Contest. During detention they make a new Captain Underpants comic, put it in one of the new inventions (a new type of scanner-copier type thing) and from there the story takes off.

I think this book is very funny and creative.  It is a story like no other, as Captain Underpants is one of a kind!”

And from undies to zombies…

Zombieson’s Time Machine, by Knife and Packer

“This story is about a very freaky street, with four crazy families…the Humansons, the Wizardsons, the Aliensons, and of course the Zombiesons.

The Zombiesons are looking after King Tut’s treasured cat.  Trouble starts when the Zombiesons’ pet Zobbla (their three-headed dog) bites the sacred cats’ tale and gets zapped a thousand years into the past, to ancient Egypt.  The Zombiesons need to try and get their pet dog back from the evil Pharaoh Gruesomekamun.

I think this book is a great read and it’s very colourful and the pictures are really funny.”

It would seem that they’re a pretty quick read, but suitable for re-reading.  I tend to judge how good a book is based on how hard it is to get Evan’s attention while he’s got his head in it – these are both a ‘three repeat’ title (i.e. Evan, hey Evan, EVAN!)

Seems like a pretty good way to finish off the break.  Thanks for the reviews Ev.

Grown-up reading…

As well as continuing to read Murakami, I’ve set myself a little homework before next week’s Gala.  I’m hoping tonight to take a look at Sonya Hartnett’s Of A Boy before I hear her speak next week. I heard her talk about this book at the Popular Penguins Launch a couple of years ago and have been meaning to get to it ever since – I think now’s the time to at least have a quick look-see.

Has anyone read any of Sonya’s stuff?  Which titles would you recommend?

Just one more reason

Not that I needed another reason for wanting to be in New York City, but here’s one anyway.

I recently noticed an article about an exhibition currently on at The Morgan Library and Museum,  and it caught my eye as a most fascinating collection of insights.  On now, “The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives” is a showing of the private diaries of an amazing range of people, John Steinbeck, Bob Dylan, and Queen Victoria to name but a few.  There is even the diary of a true-life pirate; I don’t know why, but I’d love to get my hands on that one.

The thing that really got me thinking was the question of the degree to which these journals were written for general consumption.  I’m not a big fan of the autobiography, so it would be the secrets, the private, the unscripted revelations of these books of all shapes and sizes that would appeal to me.  Do you think anyone really writes a diary thinking that it will never be discovered, never read by anyone?  Beyond secret encryptions and codes (which some of the diary writers in the exhibition did in fact use), surely a diary-keeper must assume that even the most private of diaries might one day be read, especially if written by someone of public interest.  How does this influence what they include and how engineered the entries are?

It’s been many years since I’ve kept a diary, and I’ve lost count of the number of notebooks entitled ‘My Journal’ that have the first couple of  pages completed, have then been put on a shelf or in a cupboard only to be later discovered and greeted with a rye little giggle at myself for trying yet again to document my day-to-days.

But, alas, of late my days have indeed been documented.  Although it lacks the secrecy and the careful consideration that sometimes comes with diary-keeping, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have quite nicely recorded (and reported) the dot-points of my days over the last couple of years.  Although I have to say that it lacks the intimacy of a lock-and-key journal, and the therapeutic value of hand-writing thoughts on hard, white paper under hand, it has nonetheless been of great value to myself and to those interested in my comings and goings.  And as with flipping back through the pages of a paper diary, it is extremely interesting to press the ‘Older Post’ button at the bottom of the page, and go back through the days, months and years to track your own path.

I guess at the end of the day, whether it be for our own sake, or for the interest of others, self-documentation must hold a great appeal.  Although the vehicle seems to have changed somewhat, the compulsion remains the same…

Do you keep a diary?  Do you think Facebook, Twitter etc., are the same as diary-keeping?

Who’s diary would you most like to read?

Reading about bears

I spent some time today reading with Oscar, my 3 year old son.  Being a child who knows his own mind, he chose the books from his very eclectic collection of books. We started off by reading one of those movie picture books, horribly abridged and terribly written.  It struck me how hard it was to read out loud, it had no rhythm. It also had horrible big gaps in storyline, particularly obvious if you’ve seen the film a few times (which as it happens, I have…more than a few, try hundreds).  The illustrations grabbed Oscar’s attention, because they’re so familiar, but that was pretty much the extent of its appeal.

What it did do though, was illustrate really well how delightful a well written kids book can be.  The second book chosen for story-time was The Bear’s Lunch, by Pamela Allen.  I love Allen’s work, and both the kids have always been pretty keen on them, and now I understand better why.

It was easy to read, a lot like a poem.  I’d even go so far as to say it was a pleasure to read out loud, almost soothing.  Oscar stopped wiggling (which is rare), and he stopped trying to turn the pages more quickly than I could read – because he was interested, but also because there was just enough going on on each page to hold his attention.

The story itself is really short, very few words and at times quite reliant on illustrations.  I particularly liked the fact that a couple of pages in when the kids get settled for their lunch, you can just see a small black bear in the background – nice tension builder, great for playing ‘spot the bear’ and a lovely little detail.  I’ve often heard children’s book authors talk about how hard it is to tell a whole story in such a small amount of words, and I can see the art in it in this case.

In short, I might be digging around the book bin tonight to find the other Pamela Allen books, and they might get put on high rotation for a few weeks.  Might even have to get a few more…www.pamelaallenbooks.com

Do you guys have a favourite Pamela Allen book?  Any other kids books that are particularly lovely or well received by the kiddlies?

Telling stories

I’m feeling quite pleased with myself, as I’ve just booked my tickets to get along to A Gala Night of Storytelling 2011:Voices, at the Wheeler Centre…


They had an amazing program last year of presentations by local and international writers, and other generally interesting people.  To my disappointment, I didn’t manage to get to any of them – I just looked longingly at the Facebook posts as they came through.

Not so this year, as my schedule is now a little less medical and a little more literary.  Ticket is purchased so I can go and join in on 11 Feb for the centre’s first event of the year.  I’m particularly looking forward to hearing from John Birmingham, Mem Fox and Sonya Hartnett, but the international guests look amazing too – an absolute treat!

A quick reading update…

I’m report writing right now, but I can’t wait to finish up so I can get back to reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Japanese author Haruki Murakami.  It’s been a while since I’ve been quite so intrigued…I really don’t know where it’s going to end up, wonderful!

If you’re into a bit of fancy, a touch of the surreal, and want to share in a quiet, calm tale of a painful journey, give this book a look I’d say.

I’m half-way through, and as as I said before I really can’t pick how it’s going to resolve, so stay tuned.

But for now, back to the grindstone to get this report finished off and then for a little weekend reading time.

Cheers, Mandi J