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Friday, 28 December 2012

The Dreadful Fluff - Aaron Blabey

As all my regular readers know, I collect children's literature. I also have a small collection of children's picture books - mostly chosen for the illustrators. DB is a great lover of well crafted picture books - both of us spent time at art school, both of us know illustrators, and a lovely children's picture book is a treat.

I bought this delightful gem for DB as a gift - much to the amusement of those watching him unwrap it. He was quite delighted, didn't think it an odd or ridiculous gift at all. My surprise has been that I found it in the bookshop down from work a few weeks ago, loved it for the mad illustrations and the seriously twisted storyline - and now I keep finding reviews of it all over the media. Apparently, it's one of THE buys in the picture book category at the moment.

The heroine is Serenity Strainer, who is perfect. Perfect in every way - perfectly groomed, perfectly organised, a perfect achiever, perfect big sister and daughter, etc, etc. And then comes the day when she discovers a small ball of belly-button fluff.  Suddenly, Serenity's life goes from being utterly perfect to chaotic and terrifying as The Fluff, once released from Serenity's perfect navel, goes on a rampage through Serenity's house consuming everything in its path to satisfy its insatiable hunger - growing bigger and bigger before her eyes. It is evil, rude, leaves behind a trail of stinky farts and spits up nasty green gloop. The cat, Serenity's mother and teenaged brother are consumed in rapid succession but when the baby becomes its next target, Serenity faces it down with the vacuum cleaner. Clutching the baby under one arm, and the vacuum hose with her other hand, she attacks, thrusting the vacuum deep into The Fluff.
And then, with a pop! And a splat!  And the plop of a cat. That was that.
The cat and Serenity's mother and brother land on the floor covered in green slime and The Fluff is vanquished.

The Awful Fluff doesn't quite have a perfectly happy ending. The cat maroons itself way up high on top of its scratching post. Serenity's mother hangs out the washing looking fearfully over her shoulder, and her brother is last seen in a sterile, bare room armed with spray cleaner and a scrubbing brush. And Serenity? Well, after The Fluff, those small inconveniences in life like belly-button fluff, earwax, and other sundry bodily byproducts will never again be allowed to disrupt what is, for her, an otherwise perfect life!

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Good Yule!

As my regular readers know, I'm Jewish. However, given that I'm being read all over the place (and seriously...the stats are amazing. Thanks to all of you who read me in all the corners of the world!) and I sent Chanukah greetings a little while back, it's only right to do the same for those of you who are celebrating Christmas. So, for all my book junkie brethren for whom this is your festival, the bestest book related Christmas image I could find. Enjoy. A peaceful and joyful season to you all, and the very best for 2013.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The End of Your Life Bookclub - Will Schwalbe

I honestly don't know where to start with this book. I picked it up the other day at the Book Co-op near my office while I was there indulging in some illicit book junkie shopping, drawn by the title. I was looking for books for my boys, but on reading the blurb, decided initially not to give it to either of them. Having read it, I'm not so sure. Perhaps I will at some point.

This is Will Schwalbe's elegy for his mother, Mary Anne Schwalbe, founding director of The Women's Refugee Commission and a respected educator. She was also a passionate reader and with Will, formed a 'book club' of two when diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They shared a vast and eclectic range of books over the almost two years between diagnosis and her death, reading together and discussing them during the hours of chemo and her increasing frailty.  Their activities and discussions were chronicled in part via a blog that she wrote, but in Will's voice, which he uploaded and maintained.

The initial thing that drew me to pick it up off the display was 'book club' in the title. There's something about books about books and reading that draws most book junkies to them...this is something Schwalbe talks about, and there are numerous books on the list of books covered in this one that fit that category. I was a little tentative about reading it on an emotional level, because my mother and I shared books in a very similar way. Next year will mark the tenth anniversary of her death, so I'm having all sorts of spooky moments that feel weirdly as if I'm living the year before she died all over again...which is bittersweet, because there were a great many very special things we did in that last year before she died but there was no indication that it was to be the last year we had. We did discuss, that year, collaborating on writing her story. I spent years working on her about this project. Typically, she dismissed her story as being ordinary and unimportant. It wasn't. In her way, she was as much a pioneer as Mary Anne Schwalbe, and the queen of reinventing herself long before Madonna or Kylie Minogue made it an ordinary part of being famous. My mother, unlike Mary Anne Schwalbe, wasn't famous, but in her quiet and stylish way, made a significant impact on so many people.

Schwalbe discussed writing this book with his mother - to share what they'd done, and I think, as a means of him putting into print just how important she was to him in a way she discouraged him telling her while she was alive. Her initial response was to tell him that he didn't need to do it, that he was far too busy - he was a publisher, editor, and set up http://www.cookstr.com/, an online recipe library. Later, she came around to the idea and would email him notes and reminders about their discussions, and things she thought he should include.

There are so many things I could include in a discussion about this book that it would take a whole series of posts to encompass them. What I'd like to encourage anyone reading this post is to go and get a copy for themselves and read it - I'd be more than delighted to hear from those of you who do about how you find the reading experience, because I do believe that this is a book that has something extraordinary and special to offer - for everyone, at whatever time they are in life, and whether they are compulsive or occasional readers. However, a few gems that had meaning for me... The choice of this first quote will be obvious to my regular readers:
One of the many things I love about bound books is their sheer physicality. Electronic books live out of sight and out of mind. But printed books have body, presence. Sure, sometimes they'll elude you by hiding in improbable places: in a box full of old picture frames, say, or in the laundry basket, wrapped in a sweatshirt. But at other times they'll confront you, and you'll literally stumble over some tomes you hadn't thought about in weeks or years. I often seek electronic books, but they never come after me. They may make me feel, but I can't feel them. They are all soul with no flesh, no texture, and no weight. They can get in your head but can't whack you upside it.
That made me laugh - Schwalbe captures absolutely all my feelings about eBooks. He and his mother had numerous conversations about electronic publishing. She never read an eBook. While she understood, as I do, the physical convenience of them, she wanted that physicality of the paper, weight and smell.

At the end of the book was one of the most moving passages of all that comes at a point where there is to be no more treatment, it is now just a matter of making what time is left as manageable as possible. They're discussing  their latest book.
When I looked at Mom in that moment, I saw not a sick person, but not quite the same Mom I'd known all my life. After reading so much together, and after so many hours together in doctor's offices, I felt I'd met a slightly different person, a new person, someone quirkier and funnier. I was going to miss my mother dreadfully but also miss this new person, too - miss getting to know her better.
The books, during the period of time the book club exists, become a catalyst for a different kind of relationship between this mother and son.They discuss topics within the context of particular books that they might not have otherwise discussed. Mary Anne was a committed, practicing Christian - Will was uneasy with religion. Yet, during that year, they discuss religion and faith in myriad different ways - which may never have happened without the books. Likewise, other difficult topics - sexuality, family, relationships and, of course, death and dying - all make the book club discussions.

He ends with:
Mom taught me not to look away from the worst but to believe that we can all do better. She never wavered in her conviction that books are the most powerful tool in the human arsenal, that reading all kinds of books, in whatever format you choose - electronic (even though that wasn't for her) or printed, or audio - is the grandest entertainment, and also is how you take part in the human conversation. Mom taught me that you can make a difference in the world and that books really do matter: they're how we know what we need to do in life, and how we tell others. Mom also showed me, over the course of two years and dozens of books and hundreds of hours in hospitals, that books can be how we get closer to each other, and stay close, even in the case of a mother and son who were very close to each other begin with, and even after one of them has died.
There is a very great truth in that paragraph, and all those who scoff at those of us who read are missing out on something special...

If you do one thing for yourself and others this year, read this book and share it with those you love. Start your own book clubs. Be part of the ongoing conversation.

From this - I will give this book to my boys. I will find a way to write my mother's story by myself.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Hobbit - J. R. R. Tolkien

If you're listing classic children's literature - or any classic literature, come to that - at some point Tolkien's The Hobbit has to be considered for inclusion - in my humble opinion anyway! The papers and other media here are starting to pile up with previews, reviews, interviews, opinion pieces, retrospectives about The Lord of the Rings, and more, all because the first installment of Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit is due for release on Boxing Day in Australia. It's just as well I first read the book when I was eight, because it's precisely the kind of hype that usually puts me off things! I did, however, realise that it was simply ages since I'd actually re-read it, so I went and pulled my lovely ancient paperback off the shelf and demolished it in short order!
A quick look through Google Images turned up the fact this is not such a common edition and features Tolkien's own pencil drawing The Death of Smaug as the cover illustration. That tickled me a bit - I like it when my books turn out to be a little bit special. It was - for the benefit of one of my readers in particular who drools over my vintage books - published in 1966, and mine is a 1971 impression, inscribed by the family friend who gave it to me in 1972. Given it's been read almost annually since then, it's in surprisingly good nick! It also has Tolkien's maps of Middle Earth as end papers at the front and back, and the title page carries a facsimile of his signature.  DB started reading it as well, and was going to take it with him on his recent OS trip, but realising how old it was, decided not to...he was terrified something might happen to it!

I loved re-reading this book. Despite knowing it so well, I do find that different parts of the story surface with more prominence each time I read it - although, the adventure with the spiders in Mirkwood never fails to send an identical horrified shiver down my spine...I seriously don't do spiders... This time, it was Bilbo and Co's time with Beorn. When a friend and I were chatting on Facebook about different characters in the story, I think I mixed him up with Elrond. I realised my mistake later. Beorn, for some reason, hadn't really figured largely in my memories of the characters Bilbo and the dwarves meet along the way - perhaps because they only stay a short time, and also because he's not, in himself, an overly comforting figure. I have a distinct memory through numerous readings of this book as a child of being aware of a certain quality of darkness and discomfort at various points, alleviated by periods of respite in various havens - chiefly Rivendell and The Last Friendly House with Elrond. And then I was plunged back into darkness, fear, suspense and the like... I think I identified very strongly with Bilbo's frequent unspoken wish that he was safely back in his hobbit hole in front of a roaring fire!

Interestingly, Gandalf, who used to feel so comforting to have around, has ceased to offer me that sense of comfort. Maybe it's because I've now also read The Lord of the Rings trilogy so many times - and in those, we discover that he's not all-powerful as he appears to be in The Hobbit. It's also such a light-hearted book in comparison to LOTR - obviously, the stakes are not so high, but it takes reading it in context to appreciate the difference. The logical part of me was always frustrated by the fact that Peter Jackson made films of LOTR first, when, narratively speaking, they're sequels to The Hobbit. Obviously, the block-buster potential of LOTR - fully realised - made that the more sound financial proposition. I'll be interested to see what he's made of The Hobbit, although part of me is a little wary, given what I've heard. There is a wonderful simplicity about the story telling in The Hobbit and I really hope that that doesn't get lost in the availability of clever effects and the effort to make a similarly epic production - because The Hobbit, as a book, isn't an epic... The fact that Jackson has split up the story to make three films does bother me a bit - I found myself, as I read, trying to figure out logical places to stop. Of course, I lack Tolkien's notes for expanding the book, which Jackson has used to enlarge the narrative...

We shall see. Meantime - if you've been under a rock all your life and haven't read this gem of literature, DO go out and get a copy to read before you see the film so you can appreciate it in all of its quirky simplicity.

Chanukah sameach!

I'm running late with this... I promised myself I'd be organised. Alas...it didn't happen. I found this image of a wonderful display of children's Chanukah books in a public library - I've no idea whether the libraries in my neck of the woods - which is one of Sydney's bigger Jewish neighbourhoods - have anything similar. The closest I've seen was the awesome display at Gold's World of Judaica at Bondi when I was there on Friday shopping for candles.
So, to all my Jewish readers - Happy Chanukah, or Hanukkah, or Hannukah - or however you want to transliterate it - SO much easier in Hebrew!! May your arteries not be clogged by all the latkes and sufganiot, and may you all enjoy a wonderfully peaceful, happy celebration with your loved ones this year.

Here's our chanukiah from second night - we were out last night, so enjoyed the ones we could see in other people's windows!
 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

The Ogre Downstairs - Dianna Wynne Jones

Thanks to eBay, I managed to get my hands on a delightful children's book that I've been hunting for donkey's ages. I first read Dianna Wynne Jones' The Ogre Downstairs on loan from a friend, and found it quite enchanting. On and off, ever since, I've kept an eye out for it in second hand book shops, but Wynne Jones' books don't seem to surface very often. Clearly, I need to go check out eBay more often as this is the second hard to find book I've managed to get very easily for a very good price!
The story opens with brothers Caspar and Johnny arriving home from school, Johnny with a mysterious parcel from his stepfather. He's not too pleased about it, saying that it's a bribe. The household is far from comfortable, their mother having not long married the man befriended by their little sister, Gwinny, one day when she was lost. After the marriage, they go to live in their stepfather's house, which is now very crowded as his sons, Douglas and Malcolm,  have to leave boarding school due to the costs of a family of seven.

All of the children struggle to adjust. Caspar, Johnny and Gwinny thought they were all managing very well living with their mother, Sally. They don't like their stepfather, whom they name 'The Ogre', and they don't like their stepbrothers, finding them distant, posh and hard to get along with. Douglas and Malcolm, have to adjust to being pulled out of boarding school and being sent to the local school with Caspar and Johnny. The Ogre himself, unused to having children around, finds the hurly burly of five children infuriating and is in a bad temper most of the time - seemingly always looking to find fault and mete out punishments. Sally - Caspar, Johnny and Gwinny's mother - seems always to look hurt and tired most of the time, which just makes them feel even more animosity towards both The Ogre and his sons.

Much to Caspar's disgust, it turns out that Johnny isn't the only one to receive a present from The Ogre - Malcolm has one too. When they open their parcels, they discover they have both been given large chemistry sets. And so the fun begins... Initially, both boys, as small boys do with chemistry sets, set out to create the worst possible stinks, and the upstairs of the house soon becomes quite unpleasant. Then, in a kerfuffle between all the boys in the disorganised mess of Caspar and Johnny's rooms, one test tube is broken and Gwinny's leg is splashed with the concoction Johnny was mixing. No one notices initially as Caspar and Johnny are occupied pushing Douglas and Malcolm out of the room. Having done that, they turn around to find Gwinny floating up against the ceiling. The bottom deck of the chemistry sets are magic...

In a series of increasingly hilarious and challenging disasters, they bring toffee bars, dust balls, Gwinny's doll's house people, Malcolm's pencils and one of The Ogre's pipes to life. The toffee bars eat wool, and the boys find themselves struggling to keep up with supplies - edges of the carpet, a succession of outgrown jumpers and their blankets start to disappear. The toffee bars also like heat, and keep escaping and melting over radiators. Malcolm shrinks himself, and later turns himself into an ever-changing rainbow. In a turning point experience, he and Caspar manage to swap into each other's bodies and have to manage a day at school experiencing each other's lives. A fierce competition develops between both sets of boys to top each other's exploits resulting, inevitably in clashes with The Ogre, who distributes punishments all around and the household steadily gets more and more chaotic and antagonistic until, with disaster piled on disaster the night of the special grown-up party thrown by the parents, there is a huge show down that results in Sally packing up and leaving.

It takes a week before they manage to track her down - not before they've had to wrangle Johnny, who in an agony of misery about his mother and life in general, cracks working out how to make himself invisible and decides to do away with The Ogre altogether. The others join forces to stop him, catastrophe is averted, numerous home truths are shared, apologies extended and general promises to try and do better in the future are made - just in time for Sally's return.

The chemistry set offers one last trick - but you'll have to go find a copy of this gorgeous romp if you want to know what it is! I read it in an afternoon when the weather suddenly closed in on Sydney and it cost me less than $10 on eBay - a good afternoon's work.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Mary Mary, quite contrary, how do your bookcases go?

There is often chat amongst book bloggers about how we all arrange our bookcases. After all, they take up a fair chunk of our walls, and they can be very decorative - but most book junkies aren't collecting books for the aesthetic effect!

Very few of the people I know with huge collections of books have the luxury of a dedicated room for their books - a library in their house...drool... I did briefly once, and I have to say that it was a wonderful thing. I plan in my  'house of dreams' (L.M. Montgomery fans will get the reference) to have a library again - floor to ceiling timber bookcases, with a ladder to reach the high ones, a cosy couch for stretching out on and a couple of cosy armchairs for curling up, a fireplace for the chilly days and French doors out onto a wide verandah for when it's warmer...

Meantime, I have the four matching dark melamine woodgrain, VERY cheap bookcases that I acquired when DB and I moved in together. They've changed configuration a few times with house moves, which has necessitated some rethinking about book arranging to make them work, because my books are fairly strictly organised, and always have been. I tends to drive other people bonkers - I have no idea why. However, with eyes shut, I can head to a bookcase and pull the book I want off the shelf...and that's the aim of the exercise.

The fiction is divided into adult's and kid's. All the fiction is in alphabetical order by author. Then there are separate spots for art and design, poetry, biography, food, religion, and then a bottom shelf that has a collection of the really big books that can only be piles sideways because they're too tall to stand up!
These are some of the kid's books - they go across twice this width. The little wooden creatures were all gifts from my mother at various times, and this is their spot.
The biogs - this is one shelf of two - are separated from the tail end of the kid's collection by the book bears - Gus and Wilbur. Wilbur is dark grey and hand knitted, so you can't really see him behind Gus, but rather than have them languishing in a box somewhere, they live with the books. DB just came back from an overseas business trip and brought me Mr Bean's bear, Teddy... I have to decide whether to find him a spot in the bookcases, or to take him to work - there is a row of books on my desk that may need some company!
The right hand bookcase of the pair that house the adult fiction - the tail end of that is in the top couple of shelves, and on the second, where the pile is stacked, begins the poetry. The lovely ceramic piece on the right hand end of that shelf is a tea bowl by Milton Moon - one of my great treasures and a lovely gift from a group of friends. It gets used to drink from, but it's safer living on the bookcase in between rather than being in the cupboard in the kitchen. The other ceramic piece acting as a bookend is a piece of porcelain by a South Australian potter, Kirsten Coelho, given to me by my closest girlfriend. It comes out when I can get my hands on tiny white daisies, because it looks just gorgeous holding a handful of those. The green ball on the wooden stand was my mother's, and the soccer ball-style one is one of a pair that belong to DB - they're those oriental ones that chime gently when they're rolled.
This is just some of the art and design collection - a goodly number of which were part of the kilos posted home from Florence years ago! That big one - History of Art, on the bottom shelf - is, seriously, is the heaviest book I've ever owned and was the core text for my MA in art history.
And this is what's happening in selected places all over the house.... I have run out of room in the bookshelves. Of course. They have finite space. The collecting isn't finite... The shelves on the TV stand were empty, so this one on the end began to be a good place to keep knitting projects that were in progress so they were safely out of the way of traffic on the coffee table, but still within reach. So, when I acquired those lovely knitting books I posted about a little while ago, this seemed to be the logical place to put them. There are other spots with stacks - the bedside table, the end of my worktable, there's a growing pile on the floor at one end of one of the bookcases too...

I'm not sure how long I have before there are words. But, methinks just arriving home with a fifth bookcase might be a little overt at this point! However, I'm measuring up walls while I sit in the living room and considering the options because it is starting to be a bit of a problem.

And, don't forget, there are the same number of books in boxes in storage...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bryce Courtenay 1933-2012

Rest in peace, Bryce Courtenay. May your memory be for a blessing.

I remember when The Power of One was published. My mother bought it and read it. She loaned it to her best friend. He passed it on, and before too much time had passed Mum's entire circle of friends were reading and talking about this book. She gave it to me to read but, typically, I didn't just then - reacting to what felt like hype, and being told I 'should' read something... I came to it later, and while I could see why they'd all loved it, and I enjoyed the great saga of the story telling, it didn't consume me in the way I felt it had the grown ups around me. Perhaps I was just too young at the time to appreciate the journey of young Peekay the way they could. The sequel left me for dead. I read Tandia, enjoyed that more, but after that I didn't read any of his books until I was given a copy of April Fool's Day, Courtenay's exquisite book about his middle son, Damon, who was one of the earliest Australians to contract medically acquired AIDS, via a tainted blood transfusion.

April Fool's Day, in my humble opinion, is Courtenay's greatest work as a writer. In telling Damon's story - and there are chapters in the book written by Damon himself as well as chapters where Courtenay recounts Damon's instructions as to what the book should be - he comes back to something simpler and more elemental than his other work. What characterises much of his writing, for me, is the highly successful formula he applied to crafting his tales. He was a great storyteller, yes. Not all great storytellers are successful authors, however. To be a successful author - a commercially successful author - one has to be able to analyse the market and create a product that that market wants and will buy consistently. Courtenay's background in advertising gave him that ability, and he crafted his stories accordingly. I have no issue with that at all. I have immense respect for someone who can identify a niche and work to fill it as he did. I just didn't enjoy the product as much as other people evidently did.

In April Fool's Day, there is no formula. There is the simultaneously joyful and tragic story of a bright and engaging young man who was a haemophiliac, and in the early days of AIDS, before the medical profession knew what it knows now about the disease, caught it from, ironically, a life-saving transfusion after a bleed. Courtenay documents the struggle Damon and the whole family had dealing with not only the disease, but also the fear and prejudice that existed for AIDS sufferers and their families. It is a book that I re-read annually. I laugh often, because there is much humour in it, and I weep too, because there is great poignancy and, ultimately, tragedy when Damon dies.

It is a raw and honest book. I suspect that Damon kept Courtenay accountable, and there is none of the exaggeration as there is in the autobiographical The Power of One. April Fool's Day made me like Courtenay much more than I had after reading what I had of his other books, and it is the courage shown by all the family in making the story public that means it lives on my shelves.

Courtenay faced death, if his interviews are anything to go by, with the same courage and matter of factness as Damon did. He said it was time. Hopefully he and Damon are catching up on many years of missed conversations.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Reading in bed

A colleague at work - I'll call him The Benedictine - tagged me in a post on Facebook yesterday that was a link to a blog post that puts a whole new spin on reading in bed. Here's the pic:
And you can go HERE to read the whole post.... I have to say, while I love the finished effect, there's one pic in the line up on the post that did make me cringe - secondhand books chosen for shape and size rather than content or not!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Bookcase porn...

Yes I did. I did put 'porn' in the heading of my post. Because....book junkies have one great thing in common... There is never enough room in the bookcases for all the books we have/want. That should really be one word, methinks. Havewant. Wanthave. Don't know which way around is better, but in book terms, I do believe they're almost one and the same.

So, anyway, the reason for the dodgy title is that, while surfing the net - as you do - looking for a particular image, I found all sorts of mad things that weren't precisely what I was hunting. However, they were excellent fodder to feed the craving for the perfect bookcase set up - whatever that may be.

Enjoy:
Are they not just awesome??? I particularly love the first one. A bookcase door hiding a secret place with MORE bookcases.... Excellent!

If all else fails, it appear there may be a solution. This, from The Librarian's Facebook post. It appears that there are many means of building a bookcase, and this one comes complete with a librarian...
Is there anything that Lego doesn't do any more?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Gertrude and Alice Cafe Bookstore

This post is inspired by Peter's post today over at Kyusireader. It's a very typically Peter-type post that asks a question that many book junkies I know have probably thought, but possibly haven't voiced - why do restaurants not have bookcases and books as part of their decor? Go read the post - he raises some very good reasons as to why this lack should be rectified.

I'm being a wee bit deliberately provocative with this post...there have been a number of posts I've written that have generated comments from Peter about getting on a plane and making his way to Sydney - to steal my vintage Wyndhams, or stock up on the new Penguin release of Aussie celebrity cookbooks in vintage orange bindings, and the like. So, when you read this, my bibliophile blogger friend, you might just have all the confirmation you need to go book that ticket...

Aaah...reading carefully now?

One of my favourite haunts in Bondi is Gertrude and Alice Cafe Bookstore. This is a bookstore - secondhand - and cafe combined. Everything from excellent coffee, lovely scented teas and cold drinks, to a glass of wine if you're so disposed. And if you're hungry; salads, cakes, cookies and all sorts of other goodies. And...books. Oodles and oodles of books. I've found some marvelous treasures there over the time I've been back in town.

The place is a bit mad - it's a regular shopfront on a busy street leading to one of the country's most iconic beaches. Inside, it's crammed with bookcases - the cafe staff have a small but efficient corner right at the front. When you place your order, you're given a table number, and then it's a matter of wending your way around the spaces created by the bookcases to find a share table surrounded by an eclectic mix of benches and chairs, or perhaps a cosy couch with a coffee table. Shopping/dining solo? Hunt out one of the many armchairs tucked away in corners with little side tables...

Clicking on the name of the shop a couple of paragraphs up will take you to their website, but here are a few photos to whet the appetite for all they have to offer, culinarily and literarily!



Just let me know when I can expect you Peter...seems like a good place to meet face to face, nu? Any other book junkies coming to Sydney or living here already, please take that as an extended invitation!

Places to read

As any card-carrying book junkie will tell you, you don't need special, designated reading spaces. You can read anywhere. On the bus, on the train, in the bath, in bed, at a cafe, and the list goes on...

However, having said that, I have to say that the idea of specially created spaces just for reading are one of those concepts that my book junkie friends and I lust after. DB must be catching on, because we've been browsing properties - it's part of the motivational plan for keeping on keeping on at what we're doing so that, ultimately, we can actually go and buy one of them! We saw a simply gorgeous, perfect property the other night. Not least among its many attractions was the nook off the kitchen area - it was about three-quarters the size of a double bed, it popped out from the main wall line so it had windows with deep sills on three sides (wide enough for a mug of tea or glass of wine) and was piled with cushions. DB's first comment on seeing it was that he knew where he'd find me... And, it wasn't the only space like that in the house.

And then, serendipitously, I realised I had a little collection of images I've found since I've been blogging of different reading spaces. It's also, sort of, a follow on from my previous post...


What do you think? Any favourites from these? I do rather like the idea of the wander through the garden to that rather choice separate building... The ultimate book junkie folly - a library at the bottom of the garden - it tickles! I don't think the one at the top is terribly practical, but I was reminded of the Mitford books with all the girls retreating to the airing cupboard. Tucking away into the bookcase itself isn't unappealing!

I will get back to specifically book-related posts - right now, the books that are dominating my life are the liturgical books for Advent and Christmas, and the January Orchestral Masses at St James'. Not something that will appear here on the blog - but, time consuming and draining, requiring much screen time so that when I get home with time to blog, the last thing I want to do is look at another computer screen.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Monday, 29 October 2012

Penguin Books do food

One of the very lovely things about books is the way that they can cover nearly every other area of interest in our lives. I posted after my annual visit to the Sydney Craft Fair with Knitting Buddy, having succumbed to the book stall (there are three garments currently under construction from two of the books). I don't have lots of knitting, sewing or craft books, per se - although I do have oodles of art, craft and design books - but I have to say it's more due to keeping my hands behind my back than because I didn't want them at the time...

Anyway, purpose of this post was a discovery in a local department store the other day in the cookbook section - those I do have in quantity... A foodie of many years, I cannot resist a good cookbook, and have just indulged in the purchase of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem - and this, for those with a taste for Middle Eastern food, is an absolute must. The photo below is the mixed bean salad (absolutely stupendous vegetable section) I made to go with our trout for last Friday night's dinner. DB came into the house salivating - he said he could smell the roasted whole spices in the warm dressing as soon as he came out of the lift!
I digressed. Food - and books - will do that to you! The department store discovery may be of particular interest to Peter over at Kyusireader...who is a mad Penguin book fan. He's just been collecting the new Penguin editions of all the John Wyndhams - while lusting after my vintage Penguin copies. And if you check out his blog, you'll find many posts that go back to his love of Penguin books, which he buys in batches when he finds them... So Peter, this is for you - as I seem to recall several enthusiastic notes about various edibles as well - Penguin Australia, in their trademark classic orange covers, have brought out a range of cookbooks by Aussie chefs...you're going to want these....!

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Bookshop browsing

You know that feeling you get when you go someplace and see something and think, "Darn...that was my idea and she beat me to it!" I got that in spades this morning. Needing to do a brief errand, I got ready to head out, and then the brief errand got a bit more substantial when DB said, "If you're going to the bank, could you maybe go to the bank in Double Bay and take my shirts to the cleaners at the same time?" So, instead of walking up to the local shops, I got in the car and drove to Double Bay... Bonus was, the bookshop was open early for some reason, so of course I had to go have a browse - with my hands firmly behind my back! And in amongst all the new goodies was a new book - gorgeous little hardcover, too, with a silky dust jacket (drool...) - by Ramona Korval, By the Book: A reader's guide to life. A book about reading, about books she's read that have been important, and about how books can read us. I have been playing with an idea like this for quite some time - hence this blog... The lesson, of course, is to get beyond thinking about doing these things, and get down to actually doing them!

And, to go back to the bookshop when my next writing pay cheque comes in, and buy Korval's book...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Never enough room for books!

As my regular readers will remember, I have had three house moves in the last year, and as always, the books are a major job all on their own. DB was once memorably quoted as saying too me, "You have too many books." To which I replied it was impossible to have too many books. He qualified it by saying you can never have too many art books, but you can have too many books...!

When my mother died, I inherited her poetry collection. You can read about that a little bit in a previous post here. At the time I went to collect the books, I realised I'd need to take the bookcase as well because I knew I wouldn't have enough room for the collection on my shelves, and my father's comment was, "You're as bad as your mother."

The History Teacher posted this on Facebook yesterday, and it just sums the whole situation up perfectly...


Friday, 21 September 2012

Swallows and Amazons forever!

I have not had the week that was planned - which was to be compiling and editing copy for the work magazine to get it off to my graphic designer to assemble for final proofing next week. Instead, I've been languishing in bed with a very nasty flu virus, complicated by a number of secondary infections, and further complicated by a reaction to the antibiotics, so I have had to stop taking them and recovery is going frustratingly slowly.

The first few days are a bit blurry. The virus came with the headache from hell, so there was very little reading. As I surfaced a bit, I reached for something comforting and simple, and have been working my way through Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons books in a very disorganised fashion, having picked up Swallowdale first. I followed that with Peter Duck, then Pigeon Post and have just now finished Winter Holiday.
These are among the creme de la creme of children's classics. If you haven't ever read them, you've missed out on a rare treasure. Those of a certain generation may well find them echoes of their own childhoods - they certainly are for me. I did grow up messing about in boats once we moved to the country, living on a gulf where everyone sailed. But even before that, as a hybrid city/country child - my godmother owned a small acreage - we built rafts, that mostly sank, to navigate our way across the house dam. We had camps in the patch of rough bush in the bottom paddock where we cooked sausages to a burned crisp over smokey fires, and generally ran wild with minimal parental supervision. Later, in that small country town, we all had bikes and on weekends and holidays they took us everywhere and, again, we were out and about til all hours, getting up to goodness knows what. We built camps on the beaches in amongst the salt bush, tunneled into the bigger salt bushes to make cubby houses, waged wars against each other, and generally had similarly independent and adventurous times as Ramsome's crew of would be pirates and sailors.

The books begin with four children coming to the Lakes District in Britain with their mother and baby sister for the summer to stay at a local farm on the shores of a lake. They are given permission to sail the farm's dinghy, the Swallow, and on an early venture out into the lake, discover and land on a small island. They are surprised by two pirates, Nancy and Peggy, local children and captain and mate of the Amazon. After an initial territorial skirmish, they join forces and get permission to camp on the island for the holiday, and so begin the adventures. Nancy and Peggy are independent misses, and much less inclined to think of consequences, which leads to scrapes and some more hair-raising adventures than are comfortable for the Swallows, particularly Mate Susan, who is a young lady with a serious sense of responsibility. The addition of Captain Flint - uncle to the Amazons - who lives aboard his houseboat, gives rise to further mischief when he refuses initially to join in with their escapades as he is trying to write his book. Many adventures later, his book has been rescued in the dead of night by the Swallows, and he has be brought to realise that his proper place is in the middle of the general activity and goodwill is restored.

The books continue on in similar fashion with adventures on land, when for various reasons they can't sail, or are away from the Lakes altogether. They are true gems, and for sickbed reading, absolutely ideal!! There is also a lovely movie that I stumbled across once and have as a fairly low quality recording - which must be rectified. It is one of those rare times when the book comes to life exactly as imagined - the children have been wonderfully cast and it offers a couple of hours of pure escapism.

Very few of our children these days have holidays like these and I think we've lost something very important. Take away their ipods, mobile phones, computers and play stations, and too many of them no longer have the slightest idea of how to entertain themselves. We don't necessarily have lakes at our doorsteps, and the world has changed, but there's a lesson to be learned from these lovely books about what kids can do when provided with a certain amount of freedom to make their own fun.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Proud to be retro

Hiya! I'm back... Sadly, I've not been drowning under the weight of my books. I've been up to my eyes with work, including the annual conference of the Australasian Religious Press Association where, I'm very chuffed to say, the magazine I edit at work - Parish Connections - picked up an award in the category 'Best Review of Another Medium' for my review of The Blake Prize for Religious Art in last October's issue. So, I'm more than a little bit chuffed.

Having a work/catch up day at home as I have an assignment to get done and submitted by this afternoon, and all the usual just-back-from-being-away confusion to sort out. However, having traveled - the conference was in New Zealand - I was made aware again of peoples' reading habits and the growth of various electronic reading devices. Me, I had my books and knitting, but I was surrounded by iPads and Kindles. And this morning, posted by the History Teacher on Facebook, I found this and had to laugh...and yes, if reading actual books means I'm retro, then what the heck, I'm retro and proud!!

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Book geek poster

Penguin Books Australia posted this on Facebook the other day - would make a fabulous t-shirt, methinks!

Thursday, 30 August 2012

On NOT reading Fifty Shades of Grey

As part of my preliminary thoughts on reading The Hunger Games, I made the point that I am somewhat allergic to lots of hype (see here) - whether it's about a book, a movie, whatever... One of my regular followers, The Novelist, posted a query on my Facebook wall some time back asking if I was going to read Fifty Shades of Grey, and before I could respond, another of my blog groupies, The Teacher, bounced in with the comment that it would make so much 'fodder' for my blog. At that point, and don't ask me how I managed this because I couldn't tell you, I hadn't even heard of the book. A quick dive into a bit of Internet research and I emerged to reply to them both that it was most unlikely, with my limited time to read and write about my reading, that I would add this book to the TBR pile.

However, it didn't end there... DB and Sixteen do tend to get caught up by hype about certain things - witness the ongoing viewing of the numerous television singing contests at our house... So, I suppose it was inevitable that at some point, the subject of Fifty Shades of Grey should surface. The trigger wasn't the book itself, as DB hasn't read it, although I just found out Sixteen has (more about that in a minute) and I would assume that there could be a number of Sixteen's girlfriend's cronies who've smuggled it into their current reading matter - that, based on a recent blog post I read by someone going to buy it who had to reach through the crowd of blushing, giggling adolescent girls to get her hands on a copy...yet another example of my one of my previous soapboxes - do you know what your children are reading/watching/playing?

Anyway, the conversation with DB and Sixteen started when something flashed past on the TV about it, I think, and DB, always impressed by a big monetary success, waxed lyrical about how many copies had been sold and what that meant for the author, etc, in terms of it being a literary success. Interestingly, Sixteen unexpectedly agreed with me when I said that just because a book had sold millions of copies, it wasn't necessarily a literary success. It's certainly a commercial success, and E.L. James will never have to write any more than this trilogy (and from some of the reviews and commentaries I've read, I'd have to say it's to be hoped that she won't) in order to bolster her financial security.

DB says Sixteen read it because he "wanted to see what all the hype was about"... Sixteen also said I'd be horrified because it was so very badly written. But, it bolsters my case for the marketing and Internet sensation these books have become. The Novelist says she's going to read it to check out the sex scenes because she's writing a novel and wants to see how someone else writes a sex scene. The Teacher read the whole trilogy and said she couldn't put them down but wanted to... And then today, another friend on Facebook, lets call her Young Writer, put up a post saying, 'Hi my name is ... and I have a problem with 50 Shades of Grey/bullshit and the people who read it. Don't hate me. You don't need a "sexy book" to feel good...' A fellow blogger - you know who you are - read and blogged about this book recently and was hugely amused at my comments after his initial post.

And then - which is why I caved to write this blog post - I came across a review of the book in Southern Cross, the monthly magazine of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. It never ceases to amaze me, the books and films that get reviewed in this mag - although, there's a certain logic in a deeply conservative diocese pushing particular views of elements of popular culture. The writer of the review acknowledged the hype at the beginning of her piece, and then said it became obvious that it had to be the airport book, as she was heading off on a longish flight - the mind boggles at the thought of a planeload of people all reading this book at the same time... Again, I read a commentary on the quality, or lack thereof, of the writing. Given the forum, there was also a significant portion of the review that spoke to Christian values and the overt subversion of anything healthy and realistic about the relationship between the main protagonists. 

Have I read this book yet? No. Am I going to? No. Why not? Because, beyond the hype, enough commentary that I respect - including the blogger I mentioned, who spoke also of the poor writing - has reinforced the fact that I don't want to spend money on trash. I don't have time to read badly written books. And I also don't need this sort of shallow, gratuitous over-developed fan fiction on my bookshelves. When I think how many really good writers are struggling to get their work out there, I don't want to support bad work. 

And, an end note to my Hunger Games experience... My regular readers will recall that I made a similarly vehement statement about not wanting to see the movie after my reading of all three books in the trilogy. Just recently, DB downloaded it to watch at home, coming to let me know it was about to start so I could join he and Sixteen. He was somewhat taken aback by my instant refusal and I was equally taken aback by both of them clearly not having taken me seriously when I said I didn't want to see it...many times. About halfway through they took a break, and I went out to make more tea... DB was clearly quite shaken and his quote, which says it all was: "I don't know how you read these books, this is really messed up."

At the end of the day...do we have to read stuff, or go to see movies, just because 'everyone else is?' My grown up self says, of course not. I do remember the pressures of a younger age when doing what everyone else does was what kept you in a group, and that felt more important than suffering through whatever the current thing was. However, these days, given the level of so many of the hyped up things that are having so much collective power, I'm becoming an advocate of rugged individualism! Wouldn't it be a great thing to see the growth of a cult of eccentricity among our young people that allowed for them to follow whatever interests they had and for their peers to celebrate that individuality? Just a thought...

Monday, 27 August 2012

National Literacy and Numeracy week

It's National Literacy and Numeracy Week in Australia this week.

I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the events - which can be found on this website: http://www.literacyandnumeracy.gov.au/

However, I'd also like to point out that the URL indicates this is an Australian Government site. The same government that is currently discussing cuts to Arts subjects in mainstream curriculum. This is in the face of the many studies that indicate greater literacy and numeracy skills in students who have regular access to music, visual arts, dance and drama in their regular class time - not just as extra-curricular classes outside school. There's an excellent paper that can be read if you follow this link:
www.acer.edu.au/documents/AER-58.pdf

The paper touches on the integrated exposure to the arts that is a part of life for less 'civilised' cultures; where dance and music for religious observance is a normal part of life, painting for decorative purposes ditto... It looks at practices in other parts of the Western world at different times. It looks at practices in Australia, and the implications for our education system, and more importantly, for our children.

There appears to me to be a great push to increase the technological capabilities of our school system, and offer our children the possibility of a laptop each in the classroom. But, should this be done at the cost of offering them music, paint and clay, creative movement and drama?

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Books for free!


I was just surfing the Internet, and came across this amazing photo of a bookstore sign... It brought to mind the other night, when DB and I were driving around a nearby suburb after being out for dinner and saw, outside a group of shops, a line of bookcases out on the footpath. There was a small group of people there, clearly fitting books into the bookcases, and apparently the books are all there for whoever wants to swap or borrow them. How cool is that?!

Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina

Re-reading books after a long time since the first reading is something I always find interesting, particularly with classics. My memories of reading Anna Karenina as a teenager are that it was a huge read, and sometimes tough going. Reading it now, I can see why that was the case. There is a certain amount of patience required to deal with Tolstoy's presentation of various political and social ideals via several of the characters which can sometimes feel as if the narrative has been suspended. Also, much of the emotional drama is played out within the interior landscape of the central characters, rather than by directly engaging with each other.

That was heightened for me back then due, in part, to my initial encounter with the book via the 1977 BBC TV adaptation, starring Nicola Pagett as Anna. I found a clip on You Tube from the third episode, depicting the horse race where Vronsky falls and his horse is fatally injured. (You can watch it by clicking HERE) Although the liaison between them is known tacitly, there is much that has gone unsaid. When Vronsky falls, Anna, who is at the races with her friend, Princess Betsy, is unable to contain herself, becoming visibly distressed - to the point that her husband, who is present, demands she leave at once with him lest there be a scandal. In the ensuing discussion, much is said by both Anna and Karenin. However, the same scenes in the book have the same information being communicated as part of the narrative, as internal dialogue. Anna doesn't tell Karenin outright that she despises him and his pride. He is unable to tell her how he fears for the disgrace that she could bring upon them, much less how hurt he is...

The contrast in storytelling is a result of what is possible with the different mediums, and there is certainly much more subtlety in the internal emotional turmoil than there is in Anna's quite shrewish spit in the TV series. As a teen, that subtlety was lost on me - particularly having watched the series first. As an adult, I'm much struck by how true to life so many of Tolstoy's characters are. How often do we, in times of emotional difficulties, run over the things in our heads that we wish we could say out loud...and never actually say them? In the case of Anna and Karenin, their lack of sympathy with each other is an insurmountable barrier to any kind of resolution. They have their internal pictures of each other, and are unable to say anything to each other to either clarify or alter that view or understanding of each other - although, in some ways, Anna's sense of Karenin is more accurate than his of her.

I also remember Vronsky in the light of the dashing hero, and that it is entirely understandable that Anna should fall for him. Perhaps I've become too cynical as I've aged (!) but, my overwhelming felling about him is what a cad the man is!! While he is aware that Kitty loves him, he is completely cavalier in his treatment of her because it doesn't suit him to abandon his free and easy lifestyle. Women, particularly young, pretty women, are just social playthings, and Kitty's feelings for him just add an extra frisson to his contact with her, since he enjoys her adoring attention. When he meets Anna, and runs full tilt into an infatuation of his own, Kitty might never have existed, and is discarded without any further thought. Anna, recognising that she too is drawn to Vronsky resists at first, conscious of her status as a married woman, and the wife of a prominent man.

However, as with Kitty, Anna's concerns are meaningless in Vronsky's pursuit of happiness for himself. This is the tragedy for Karenin, I think. Had he been more in tune with his wife, and able to be someone more approachable than he is - there is certainly no doubt that, early in the book, there is a mutual regard and respect in their marriage, but he is a distant man... - perhaps there might have been an avenue for Anna to evade Vronky's pursuit while she was still able to. At the beginning, having met Vronksy when he collects Anna from the Moscow train, Karenin is aware that Anna is disturbed. As time goes on, his suspicions grow, but rather than speak to her on a personal level, he couches his reproaches to her within formal parameters. All that does is reinforce her sense of him as distant and uncaring. Additionally, the largely separate lives of married couples of the Karenins' class ensures that they move within their respective social circles alone. Vronksy is persistent, charismatic, and much loved for his easy good manners and love of fun. Contrast that with Karenin's commitment to his professional life, his conservative and repressed character, and stern moral code, and it becomes easy to see why Anna eventually succumbs, and succumbs fast.

I find myself not liking Vronksy much at all, and Anna less than I did - although, as before, I am intrigued by her inner struggle. Karenin I have a sneaking sympathy for this time around, but I'm impatient with his inability to acknowledge that he has contributed to Anna's lack of fulfilment in their marriage.

Much to my surprise, I am also finding that there are parts of both narrative and dialogue that amuse me mightily. Poor Levin, with his bumbling, awkward proposal to Kitty while she is in the throes of her anguished love for Vronsky, is an object of pity. Conversely, he is also one of the few characters in this early part of the novel who, despite wrestling with how to achieve the finer details of the life he wants, has the bigger picture pretty much sorted. He doesn't like society life in the city, so he stays in the country on his estate. He doesn't enjoy the trappings of gentry-hood, so he lives simply and works with his peasants on the land. He is upfront and clear on his position if anyone asks, and appears not to feel the same pressures that others in his class feel to conform to societal mores. The times he does get tied up in a mess about various issues is when he's trying to stay in tune with whoever he's talking to -  and prevaricates for fear of creating offence. He then flays himself for not sticking to his guns!

I've read Parts 1 and 2, and am well into Part 3 now. You can also read Rachel's post on the first quarter of the novel at BookSnob, along with the comments her fellow readers have posted. She has a group reading along with her, as I have some friends reading with me. Feel free to drop in and leave your comments about Anna Karenina here. I'll be emailing Rachel with a link to this post so we can share the conversation. And keep watching - I'll post again when I get to the end of Part 4.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Coming of age

In one of those odd coincidences, my 100th post (wow!) happens just after acquiring my 21st follower. As I've crept through the 90s, I've been contemplating the possible contents for this post in advance, because it felt as if I needed to do something significant. I toyed with the idea of a list of books with '100' in the title - but could only think of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I've not yet read. Googling just results in lots of entries for top 100 book lists. So, I thought I could maybe make one of those myself...but I didn't really have time. And of course, time marches on, the posts happened through the 90s and I got no further with my cogitations... As life would have it, something did pop up, which amused me for both its timing and the gently ironic synchronicity:
Those of you who have been following this blog from the beginning, might remember my very first post - Book Junkies in the Age of the eBook - where I opened this mad journey into writing about what I read with a discussion on my love for actual books, compared with all the electronic forms of reading now available. It's still one of my most popular posts, which surprises me, but then, there have been many random and unexpected things that have happened with various posts since I started blogging. This little cartoon comes via Facebook from a friend who is an avid eBook reader, and we've had many a discussion about that...

I'm having a great time with this blog. I would like to thank those of you who read me, and who make comments. There have been some great discussions over the months, and I've met some very interesting folk. My reading patterns haven't changed significantly, although, I do find that I read with the knowledge that I may well write about the book - although, I've not actually written about every book I've read since starting the blog... I am finding that I have more incentive to get to those neglected classics, because they're being discussed - here and on other blogs that I follow. It's partly what spurred me on to re-read Anna Karenina (first post coming on that very soon, for those who are reading with me), which I'm enjoying much more than I did as a teenager - maybe I have more reading muscle these days. Months of reading craft theory, as I did for my Master's thesis, was kind of like reading boot camp!

What I have become more aware of is how other people read - both those who are fellow book-bloggers and friends with whom I discuss reading. Books crop up more in conversations with friends now too. 

I've also been constantly surprised by where my audience is located. Currently, my top three - in order - are Americans, Australians and Russians. The Americans and the Aussies jostle for top spot, and the Russians have been sitting solidly in third for months now. Why Russia? As far as I know, none of them have signed up to follow, or make comments, so I have no means of knowing what it is that appeals enough in my posts to attract such a loyal following. Most intriguing. The contingent from the Phillipines come via another blogger's site I suspect. And then, after that, there is an amazing shifting mix - currently the really interesting additions are Peru and Panama! DB says of the former, possibly some lama farmers with a good Internet connection! Whoever you are - welcome! 

Thank you everyone who has been a regular here, and those who drop in from time to time. If I could invite you all over, I'd make something like this and there'd be pieces all around and champagne! 

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Penelope Farmer: Charlotte Sometimes

I made a discovery just recently - one of those serendipitous moments, generated this time on Facebook. It's scary really, how many random facts come via this site, although, not really unexpected. Anyway, a friend of mine uploaded a YouTube video of The Cure singing Charlotte Sometimes, which, up until that point, I only knew as the children's book I'd loved in primary school and then hunted for relentlessly as an adult until I found me a copy in Puffin - exactly the same as the school library copy!

I just listened to the video clip. Apparently, the members of The Cure were very literary types and this isn't their only song based on a book. However, listening hard, I found it difficult, as I'd said in the chat that followed my friend's post, to marry the book and the song...
I wrote just recently about my children's literature shelves not containing much in the way of fantasy. They do, however, carry a number of books based on time slip themes - does that count as fantasy? I love the idea of slipping through whatever gateways or portals there may or may not be to inhabit, however briefly, a different time. Penelope Farmer's Charlotte Sometimes is a delicately crafted story. It centres around Charlotte Makepeace, newly come to boarding school, who goes to sleep in her old, iron bed in a five bed dormitory, exhausted after the confusion of First Day, and wakes up in the same bed, but nothing is the same - not the people, the clothes, the food, the subjects, nothing... 

Her confusion is, of course, enormous. Her 'little sister' Emily thinks she - 'Clare' - is having an unusually slow day. She muddles through, allowing the extroverted Emily answer all the 'new girls' questions that are fired at them from all directions and collapses into bed, only to wake up the next morning back in her own time. The next night, the same thing happens, and to clarify for herself what's going on, she opens the book by her bed - 'Clare Moby PRIVATE' - clearly a diary, a diary dated 1918. A day later, in her own time, she finds another notebook - Clare has written to her, having worked out that there's clearly something very odd about the bed they share, suggesting that they keep each other up to date via the books - Charlotte is to write in Clare's diary - and that Emily not be told. That's all very well, except that Emily, a sharp child, has woken up to the fact that there's something odd going on, and challenges Charlotte who, without Clare actually there to back her up, tells.

The night and night about continues. Charlotte suffers no matter where she is - in her own time there are subjects she's good at and others she's not, but she and Clare aren't the same, so she's constantly in trouble for work not done, and in her own time her piano teacher can't understand why one day she struggles with her scales (Charlotte) and the next, she can play her pieces easily (Clare). However, it is soon to come to an end. The room Clare and Emily occupy in the school in 1918 is in the hospital wing, and they're there because there is no room for more boarders, and they are soon to move to lodgings. The girls work out that the nights will fall out all right, and they will end up in their own time. Charlotte though, has been haunted by the experience, wondering how it is no one has noticed. She quizzes Emily, who tells her that she and Clare aren't so alike really, but that, in the end, she wonders if it's because she's never really looked at either Clare or Charlotte properly. 
Perhaps we never look at people properly, Charlotte thought. ... And, she thought uncomfortably, what would happen if people did not recognize you? Would you know who you were yourself? If tomorrow they started to call her Vanessa or Janet or Elisabeth, would she know how to be, how to feel like, Charlotte? Were you some particular person only because people recognized you as that?
I think this is one of the passages that haunted me all those years, and it's one that always comes up off the page and smacks me between the eyes when I re-read the book. This is a children's book, written in an era when children were still children...

To continue... Disaster strikes. Charlotte goes to bed on her last night in 1918, very sad that she won't see Emily again. She wakes in her own time and realises she'll have to come to grips properly with things because she won't be travelling any more. After a normally bewildering day, she goes to bed, comforted to some degree by knowing that the confusion will now lessen. And wakes up. And it's 1918. And Emily tells her ...'in a small, flat voice, "We didn't go into lodgings yesterday after all. We're going today."' Charlotte is stuck in 1918 and Clare is on her own forty years in the future.

They are moved to the house of the Chisel Browns...Mr and Mrs, and Miss Agnes Chisel Brown. The hope of the family, Arthur, was killed in France, where the girls' father is currently serving in the War. This is where the daily horrors of WWI really come home in the book. At school, there is a certain level of buffering, but living as day girls, the girls see the victory gardens, experience the food shortages differently, live with a family in mourning for their only son, and see the wounded soldiers returning at the railway station.

Charlotte becomes increasingly lost in being Clare, reminded eventually by Emily that something has to be done, sometime, to make the swap back. They have an eerie night adventure, making their way to the school after everyone in the house has gone to sleep to see if Charlotte can get in to sleep in the bed. She does, but the influenza epidemic has begun and there is someone in the bed. Eventually, when the Chisel Browns decide to hold a seance, and the girls are discovered hiding in the window when Clare puts in an appearance, the girls are banished back to school. Emily catches flu and ends up in the hospital wing, and sends a note to Charlotte to tell her the bed is empty and to 'come.' Charlotte, after lights out, makes her way there, crawls into the bed, still in Clare's dressing gown, falls asleep eventually, and wakes up, finally, back in her own time.

This is an exquisite little book. There is much, much more than I can include in a review here. I don't know how easy it might be to get your hands on, but if your interest is piqued, have a go. It is beautifully crafted. The writing is excellent. The complexities of the emotional journey Charlotte travels are delicately handled, but realistically so. Her sense of loss in both times is clearly voiced, as are the difficulties she has with various relationships in both times. Her sense of who she is, and the struggle she has to hold onto that, is beautifully realised. If you like time slip stories, you can't not read this one, because it is class all the way.

Friday, 10 August 2012

National Bookshop Day

Well, I know what all my fellow Aussie book junkies will be doing today - it's National Bookshop Day today, so we are obligated to visit our local bookshops... That means that, although I have a full day of work ahead of me, I will have to use one of my break times to duck down to Double Bay to join in the fun at Oscars and Friends.

Other news - a couple of friends have joined me in reading Anna Karenina. I also read a post this morning by the English blogger who is doing this, which prompted me to extend the invitation here. She's coming up to 250 pages, and is going to do her first post shortly, so I'll post a link to that so we can read it and the discussion. I think, because we're all reading different editions, I'll wait until I get to the end of Part II - which I've just started - before I do my first post.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Read with me: Tolstoy's Anna Karenina

Best Friend and I talked last night - she lives interstate - and compared notes about our current reading. I'm posting my new copy of Antonia Forest's Autumn Term to her, because she's not read them. What happens for the rest of the series after she reads it, I'm not sure... However, one thing we did talk about was a number of big classics that we'd either read so long ago that it'd be almost like reading them new again, or that we'd never quite managed at all.

Remember a while ago after one of my falls from grace in the bookstore near my office, I mentioned buying a copy of Anna Karenina because a blogger I follow is reading it and invited people to join her and read along? Well, BF and I are starting now. So, I'm issuing an invitation to any of my followers to join us. Who hasn't read it but has always meant to? Who, like BF and I, haven't read it since high school? Who would like to join us and p'raps contribute to a chat along the way? Then, at the end, I can direct the other blogger to our chats, and see if we can't get some cross blog stuff going on!!

This post, by the way, is also a means of putting myself in a position of having to start reading now, because BF has already done so, and said to me last night she doesn't want to read this by herself just now...so, knowing she'll read this (and will probably laugh), I'm saying, for the record, that it's tonight's reading when I've finished the assignment I'm working on - and, what's more, has displaced the last of the Marlow books! Greater love etc, etc...

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Book Olympics

Librarian posted this pic on Facebook overnight. In the light of current events, I thought it appropriate to share it here:
So what would the events be, I wonder? Single short story sprint? Chapter by chapter relays? The War and Peace marathon? Any other ideas?

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Book junkie cubby house

Did you build cubby houses when you were a kid? I did - everywhere I could... Rainy days, we were allowed to have sheets and blankets to drape over the kitchen table and make something more substantial. My kids did that too. And, remember the gorgeous tent the little girls have in their bedroom in that lovely, lovely film, The Holiday, with Jude Law, Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jack Black?

However, my teacher/librarian friend posted this pic on Facebook just now - it has to be the ultimate cubby house for a book junkie!
It comes from the Facebook page of Ellison Hawker Bookshop in Hobart, Tasmania - somewhere to add to my list of places to check out on a Tasmanian holiday. They have this paragraph on their homepage:
Our dedicated, knowledgeable staff are always keen to help you find that book about that guy who did that thing that you can't remember the title of or who wrote it but the cover is blue with white bits. 
They sound cool!

Who says reading's boring??

A little while back I posted a photo I'd scavenged from a Facebook post of a bookcase built to look like Dr Who's tardis. You can have a look at it HERE. I didn't mention, at the time, the chat that happened on Facebook in relation to the image. It wasn't relevant to my post, but a couple of things have happened since, and it's niggling me now. One bright spark - who protested after he'd been slammed by a number of others that he was only having a go... - said something along the lines of it being such a shame it was filled with 'boring books' instead of windows to other worlds and times. I will leave the various responses that prompted to your imaginations...

It comes to mind because I'm struggling at the moment with one of my students. I am blessed (!) with a bunch of sixteen year old boys who are all doing year 11 English, and are poised to transition into their final year of school. It means that they're in the throes of discovering that there are some very different expectations when it comes to dealing with texts. For starters, the books they're reading have a lot more substance than previously experienced. They're getting more than one book simultaneously for the purpose of comparative analysis. They're being required to annotate what they're reading. Soon, they will be given the text for their first major topic - 'Belonging' and the text is Romulus, My Father by Raimond Gaita - and they're going to have source their own related texts - at least two, and one must be a medium other than a novel.

The student in question, so his mother tells me, used to be a bookworm. Everywhere she went, she had a small boy attached with his nose in a book. So far, in my time with him, he hasn't completed reading a single book he's been given for English. He's scraping through, using other people's notes, cheats obtained on line, and an attitude that says as long as he passes it doesn't matter how well he does. It's frustrating, because he's a bright boy. It's not even, so far, as if the books themselves have been particularly onerous - most recently, they had George Orwell's Animal Farm. I suggested, to try and pique his interest and give him a fairly straightforward bit of comparative literature, that he have a look at William Golding's Lord of the Flies. This was just prior to three weeks of holidays. Both are short books. He had to read Animal Farm. He didn't have to read the other one. He didn't even bother to get the copy of Lord of the Flies out of the family bookcase. And he still hasn't finished the Orwell, and won't now, because the topic is over.

He says it's boring. All of it. I asked him - reasonably enough, I thought - what happened to turn such an avid bookworm into this apathetic can't be bothered creature. He grinned - he has great charm, the ratbag - and said, "Gym, and girls."

DB says I should give him up, that I'm not doing him any favours nursing him through. I'm not doing his work for him - that isn't going to happen, regardless of what he thinks are clever strategies to trap me into it... The part of me that is stretched too far as it is agrees with DB. Why waste my time, which is in short supply, in a situation that is so frustrating, where I'm not being met even close to halfway? It doesn't pay well enough to make it worth sticking it out just for the money and, in any case, I can't take his parents' money if there's no progress being made. On the other hand, I look at him, like so many of the current generation - being dubbed, in a variety of media, 'The I Generation', or as one witty type wrote it, iGeneration... - waiting for it all to just drop out of the sky and happen for him. He had an exam recently on Animal Farm. He was so affronted by the prep sheet he was given, which reminded them of the need to have read the text carefully and to have made comprehensive notes. There was a second text, a doco on a rock star, Strummer, the topic for the exam was 'Rebellion' and the brief said to prep for the possibility of either an essay, an opinion piece, a conversation or an interview as the genre with which to respond to a question on issues of rebellion in both texts.

Needless to say, with typical Gen I why should I attitude, he kept asking why it had to be like this. Why couldn't they just ask a straightforward question? Why couldn't they say what the exam was going to be? Why was it so hard? As I pointed out, his teachers were doing something very helpful by offering them, before it really mattered for the HSC, a taste of how HSC exams worked, so they could see for themselves that being asked to read a certain way, annotate and absorb more than just the words in a text, was for a reason. It isn't because the teachers just want to make them do work they don't want to do, it's because if they don't learn to do it this way, come the real exams, they'll have no idea what's hit them.

At bottom, I think that one of the issues for him is that it takes time to read, whether it's for pleasure of study purposes. It's not that he doesn't have time - his timetable is geared to allow for necessary reading. It's more that he, along with so many of his peers, doesn't consider it a worthy use of his valuable time... But, you have to wonder what's going to happen when they hit the real world where their time is no longer their own...