review — i am a human being

Jackson is a great human and a stellar poet, and so I decided to review their new collection I Am A Human for the Unity Books Auckland website (oh yeah, by the way, we have one of those now, look at all those titles and think about the fact that aaaaall those titles were loaded manually, with at least 600 loaded by yours truly).

Continue reading review — i am a human being

Shouts from the void…

I’ve been so dreadful at maintaining this lately. Life is busy, and it’s winter. Combine those two things with an eternally uncooperative immune system and chronic blah-blah-blah and I’ve been pretty exhausted when I’ve been in a position to write things. Which is a pain, both for my disposable income and my general creative juices.

So, an update:

In curly health news! I have written a thing for the Crohn’s & Colitis NZ website about my experience living with IBD. I also spoke last week at a meeting of Inner Wheel (a women’s branch of Rotary), along with Brian Poole, the chairman of CCNZ, about my experiences with Crohn’s and associated shenanigans. It was rather lovely, actually – and I won the raffle, which was a bonus.

In book news! I have been reading SO MUCH GOOD STUFF. The Man Booker Longlist has some excellent heft to it this year. I adored The Chimes, by very lovely kiwi Anna Smaill , and hope like hell that it wins – but at the same time, A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is astounding. I haven’t felt that torn apart by a book in a long time – possibly ever. Part of me thinks that Yanagihara might be the first person to take the Booker, Pulitzer and the Bailey’s (formerly Orange) prizes. It’s only the second year that a person could really be eligible for all three. Maybe we should have a draw for the Booker and Bailey’s? Could we do that?

Of the ‘Booker dozen’ I have also read Lila by Marilynne Robinson, which was also excellent. I’ve also got Anne Enright’s The Green Road on my bedside stack, but after I’ve wrangled that one, I might wait until the shortlist is announced, just to pare down my list a little.

I’ve been continuing my radio reviews, still primarily on Newstalk ZB, but I’ve nipped over to Radio NZ once, and will hopefully do so again. So far, I’ve talked about The Mime Order (as previously mentioned), Aquarium by David Vann, The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, The Villa at the Edge of the Empire by Fiona Farrell, The Age of Earthquakes by Douglas Coupland and, most recently, Mislaid by Nell Zink. All have been excellent, and have provoked interesting discussion in the studio. I’ll try to do some written bits and pieces on at least some of them at some point.

I’m also trying to stay on top of NZ books, naturally, and am about to get back into The Pale North by Hamish Clayton, after putting it on a brief hiatus while getting on top of things needing review or other immediate attention. I’ve also recently gotten through New Hokkaido by James McNaughton and The Predictions by Bianca Zander – and the previously mentioned The Chimes and The Villa at the Edge of the Empire are both NZ books too.

The second Rat Queens trade is out, and I’m verrrry slowly working my way through it, so as to make it last as long as possible.

And, most recently, I’ve just finished Margaret Atwood’s forthcoming novel The Heart Goes Last. Which I have mixed feelings on. I enjoyed it – I just didn’t adore it as much as I’d hoped I would. Again, I’ll try to write something of more substance soon. I think I was – we all were – spoiled with the expansive world and characters created in the Maddaddam trilogy – but The Heart Goes Last is standalone and tops out at just over 300 pages, and is accordingly much more limited in its scope.

My to-do list is full of exciting things. The Enright, I’ve already mentioned. I also have an ARC of the new Jonathan Franzen, which will be interesting as I’ve never actually done any Franzen before. But I’ve been hearing immensely good things. I still need to get around to reading my work-birthday-present book, Between You & Me by Mary Norris, which promises to be delightful. I also still need to bash through The Art of Asking out of a sense of curiosity and nostalgia. And there are a million other things on my to-do pile, but to try to note them all would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suffice it to say that I’ll get there, one day.

Also, in book/writing news, I wrote the content for the latest Unity newsletter, which was deeply satisfying to see come to fruition (I’d managed to forget the joys of the print production process already, but it was good to be reminded of how things operate). It’s all online in PDF form now, but you can also grab a print copy if you’re in Wellington or Auckland.

That ‘update’ turned much more in-depth than I’d intended. Ah, well. Consider yourselves informed.

Review: The Mime Order

Briar Lawry reviews The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon on Newstalk ZB with Tim Fookesthe mime order

I’m currently working on a few long-ish form book reviews for a couple of places – and when those are complete, I will link to them here – but in the meantime, here is a link I meant to post a few weeks back. My first radio review – simultaneously nerve-wracking and fun. These will be cropping up every six-ish weeks, as Tilly and I swap from session to session. Since I’ve previously reviewed The Bone Season here, it only made sense to make sure my review for its sequel ended up on here too, regardless of the different format!

What I haven’t read. A confessional. Of sorts.

It began in an unassuming fashion. He who I have called Batman here once or twice thought it would be a good idea to go through the Rotten Tomatoes Top 100 of All Time list and see what we (read: mostly I) hadn’t seen. And this selection would become a list of films to watch over the coming months.

Batman studied theatre and film at university and is a playwright and general writerly person on things theatrical. Let me just clear that up. I have an English degree and my entire adult life has been spent in bookshops. (This is me illustrating a clear difference in our backgrounds that will come back to bite me as this post goes on.)

Mercifully, I had seen #1 on the list – The Wizard of Oz. “Citizen Kane?”
“Er, no.”
“You haven’t seen Citizen Kane?”
“No.”
The Godfather?”
“I’ve seen most of it.”
The Third Man?”
“…I haven’t seen any Orson Welles.”
“You know he didn’t direct it, right?”
“…Yes.”
Grimly, we continued. We got to The Gold Rush. “You haven’t seen it?!”
“I haven’t heard of it.”
“It’s Charlie Chaplin!”
“I’ve never seen anything with Charlie Chaplin.”

Shocked and appalled would be the right descriptor, I think.

“You’ve never seen anything with Charlie Chaplin. Or Buster Keaton?”
“Nope.”
“That’s like… not having read any Dickens.”
“…

…I haven’t read any Dickens, either.”

Yes. It’s true. I have an English degree, coming up on eight years working in bookshops and I just spent the last year studying publishing. And I have never read anything by Charles Dickens.

Or Jane Austen.

Or Herman Melville.

Or Ernest Hemingway.

Or Kurt Vonnegut.

Or countless other ‘classic’ authors who, depending on your personal tastes and views, would horrify you, my literary readers.

And I’m torn between being totally okay with that and wanting to mend my ways.

***

I can understand Batman’s surprise that I hadn’t read any Dickens at my (admittedly very privileged and posh) school – but we actually read very little in terms of ‘classics’, except for Shakespeare (and Katherine Mansfield) – most of what I read was written post-70s. I was vocal in my view, in conversation with Batman, that Katherine Mansfield was far more important to the NZ high school English programme than Dickens or his ilk (Batman himself never did Mansfield at school). Pioneer of the modern short story? Kickass female author who came from Wellington?

Yeah. Mansfield. No contest.

***

The argument for wanting to ‘mend my ways’ that I wish to immediately tear down is one of a sort of cultural or literary obligation. There are too many books in the world that are Good and On My To-Do List for me to feel shame for not having covered them all. And too many of those ‘classic’ books are by white men. We all know that, by now. The modern literary canon is evolving beautifully, but when one stomps back through the puddles of the classics, it is SO drenched in privileged Y chromosomes that you just want to give up. Obviously there are exceptions – the Austens of the world, and such – but that’s a whole other BBC-dramatized kettle of fish to deal with.

The ‘mending my ways’ comes more out of the genuine recommendations that I get from people. Batman is a big fan of Vonnegut, and is keen for me to read some, not from a “so you’ll have read some Vonnegut” perspective, but rather a “because it’s actually really very good, and I think you’ll like it” perspective. If someone will personally recommend a classic to me, I’m not going to jerk away just because it’s older than The Luminaries. I just don’t feel as if every single book on those Top However Many Books Of All Time* lists are necessarily going to be up my alley. 99% of people I interact with seem to love Breaking Bad – I just don’t get it. Sometimes, there will be books that I just don’t get. So feel free to tell me that Middlemarch is amazing, or that nothing will every compare to Wuthering Heights. If I trust your opinion, I’ll roll with it.

As for the being totally okay with it end of things, that seems pretty clear, right? I’m a young woman living in a city brimming with new literature – AND I work in a bookshop (one that hosts a tonne of launches, to boot). I am constantly inundated with new suggestions of what to read – from co-workers, from reps, from customers. I am tantalised by covers of new releases on a daily basis. And new release books tend to sit higher up on the Eternal To-Do List than older titles, because of the whole bookseller business. New books mean publicity mean people are asking about THOSE books more often. So it pays to be up-to-date.

Which does lead to an interesting segue, though… but one for another time. Recommending books (as a bookseller) when you haven’t read them. Lord know I know more about the average book than most people, but that certainly does not mean that I’m more likely to have read it. I’m professionally good at rehashing other people’s opinions, I guess, and reading reviews and blurbs like a champion. But I’ll elaborate on that later. Another time. New year, more posts, and all that.

As you were, readers.

*Despite my supposed disdain for such lists, there is still obviously a place and time for them on occasion – and with movie lists, as mentioned at the beginning of the post, it seems a little more doable since you aren’t committing as much time. Just so that I don’t seem like a total hypocrite in one post, you know?

Unitarianism Update

omar musa
Author & rapper Omar Musa reading to the crowd at Unity Books Wellington

Working on various reviews at the moment (bit overworked and overwrought to pour enough energy into any single title at a time right now) but if you’d like to have a glance at things that I’ve been up to at the moment in The Real World, here links to (and snippets from) my last couple of event write-ups for Unity Books.

Omar Musa visited us for his first event outside of Australia. Review and photos by yours truly. We cranked (shop-appropriate) rap tracks and made stupid/hilarious “here comes the dog!” jokes with regard to Tilly’s naughty but loved (or at least tolerated, by some) pup Rhon.

His language was colourful (‘Sorry for swearing so much – actually, I’m not sorry at all.’) and hilarious (‘I think I should get a writer’s residency at Queanbeyan McDonalds.’) while the passages he read from Here Come The Dogs varied from beautiful to brutal. He did not shy away from any of the questions asked by the crowd, recounting various tales of his past and the writing experience, including his shenanigans while spending time with Irvine Welsh.

And a couple of days later, it was National Poetry Day! Cue excitement across the city (and country)! Apparently there were poets doing poetic things on buses – sadly my route was not one of them, but still! Bringing magic to the people. Nice stuff, Wellington. We had seven VUP poets performing, and the turnout was INSANE. I love Wellingtonians. I trekked around the crowd and listened and loved and am really excited about working the launch for one of them (Frances Samuel) in the next couple of weeks.

Obligatory snippet:

In our books, there is perhaps no finer day of celebration than National Poetry Day. And this year, we were thrilled to mark the day with a lunchtime event in association with Victoria University Press. Seven VUP poets performed for crowd that grew and grew as the readings went on – across the store, people could be seen turning their attention from cookbooks and photography collections to the writers at the mic.

There’s a reason why my current Twitter bio is ‘I go to a lot of book launches’.

I love it, though.

Book Awards write-up coming. Internal conflicts regarding future bookish plans stewing.

This has been your captain speaking, we hope you have enjoyed this flight of fancy.

twenty-four and maybe falling

Arriving home in tears, clutching an absurdly large pizza box (full), after sitting on the bus (full) next to various Wellingtonians who all would have appreciated more elbow space than my pizza permitted. Some foodstuffs just aren’t destined for public transport. It was dark (of course, June, poorly laid plans) and the buying of this ridiculously large pizza seemed like a kind of self-flagellating binge – go buy this giant pizza, and then cry about the fact that you have to eat it buy yourself, because there is nobody to share it with. The judgement and raised eyebrow of another person would have helped, perhaps, then voluntary consumption of a slice on their behalf – save you from yourself (god knows that needs doing). But no lights and no faces, a hollow house, again.

I wrote myself out of it, almost. An evening in front of a screen, closed eyes and recollections. It’s alarming to think that the way to escape is in vegetative television or in reliving memories from the mid-nineties. My imagination runs away, building itself into towers before I can catch up, and I am no match for its solid foundations. Susceptibility to words and numbers – names making me miss things, rather than people. Having someone to cuddle as winter sets in (fiendishly strong), having nieces and nephews to snuggle and read to and fulfil of those impulses that I really ought to not be having for a few years yet. Having someone to just exist with, another presence even when silent.

Now, listening to The Magnetic Fields. Love is Like a Bottle of Gin – sure is. The night of my birthday, I had one gin and tonic, nothing special, my usual concoction / an ex persuaded me to stop drinking them for a while, claiming that gin brought me down / but in combination with life/twenty four years/food it broke me down overnight, on what felt like a cellular level. I tried to get up to get painkillers, but it was half an hour or so before I could sit up and move enough to get to the water and pills. I nearly called an ambulance on several occasions, crying. I didn’t know if I counted as an emergency or not. I have kept tramadol and ondansetron beside my pillow every night since.

So there’s something gin-love-sick related in there. The bottle of gin in my ownership at present is Gordon’s, which was cheap option exchanged for delicate memories. My grandfather’s name was Gordon, and there were Gordon’s Gin boxes used for storage in their basement, which I always giggled at, even though I didn’t really know what gin was. I don’t know who lives in that house now; I wonder what happened to the pool table. Next time I’ll try to pony up the dollars for Bombay Sapphire. Yellow flowers sit so perfectly when it has been emptied.

Back to ‘school’ tomorrow. Missing real-life publishy-stuff already, and the fact that I’m pre-emptively stressing about being stressed it not a good sign in the least.  I’m disconcerted by the fact that basically every day I find myself thinking ‘I really just wish I was at work full-time, instead of mere afternoons and Saturdays’. I keep trying to find the energy to write, but it is buried deep, which doesn’t help any of the mood situations. Maybe it will get better. Maybe it won’t. I just know that there is a sense of relief and safety and welcomeness on Willis Street that there isn’t on Dixon. I love publishers, I love wielding the red pen, I just don’t like how much trying to get there is dragging me down.

I reconfigured my room today, so now from my bed I see books rather than my desk – enjoyment rather than work. Maybe this will represent some sort of cosmic mental shift, but I fear that that’s overly optimistic.

It’s hard.

life between the pages

Readers, I apologise for my lack of updates. It has not been intentional – as previously mentioned, This Wellingtonian Life™ has been a little bit entirely hectic, and my wordy wherewithal has been pointed in other directions.

But I’d better update you as to said directions, hadn’t I? Well.

1) I wrote an article for xoJane! That was pretty crazy.
2) I had my first full page article in NZ Musician
3) I am about to launch into Writers Week, both for work and for reviewing.

And that’s on top of all of my regular bookstore work and starting my publishing course and, you know, life in general! It’s crazy, but it’s great. I will have an update of more substance when everything settles down – and by then, I should have a few more links of published work to send your way. In the meantime, I’m also interested to know whether any of you have any particular pieces from my 365 pieces project that you liked more than the others – I am contemplating putting together a chapbook or ebook (or both) of some pieces, but would love feedback with regard to what pieces you’d think would be best suited and/or whether or not you’d possibly be interesting in purchasing such a book? It would give me a chance to try out my fledgling publishing skills!

Now, I must disappear and lock myself in my room until I finish my current piece – deadline’s tomorrow! Watch this space, my lovelies.

2014 in review. prematurely. sort of.

books gotta get read…

Well, it’s the first day in a year that I don’t have to post on here, and yet here I am! You haven’t gotten rid of me yet, internet.

I will at some stage compile a bit of a collection of my favourite picks from the 365 pieces project – though if any of you have any particular favourites from them, do let me know! I’m definitely interested to know what readers have to say, rather than just my highfalutin feelings.

On the subject of readers, though, that leads me onto my new ‘project’, though less official than my previous one, since I’m planning on giving myself a little more creative flexibility this year, in terms of specific output. However, I’m still a reader, a listener, a consumer of art and media and entertainment. And I feel like I have not paid proper attention to these areas on this blog, especially considering that was what I originally intended this to be.

So each week, for the most part, there will be at least one review posted here. The emphasis will be on books, but if I am in the middle of something and don’t wish to distract myself – or if something amazing comes into my ears and/or eyes , it may well be interposed with music and film and even TV reviews, because why limit myself, am I right?

As a bookseller/buyer/soon-to-be-publisher-in-training/writer/generally bibliophile, I always have a ridiculous number of books either on the go, or on my to-do list. One only need check out my GoodReads account for that – and that doesn’t even contain all of the madness, since I don’t keep it totally up-to-date with my Kobo readings too. And most of my books are still boxed up from my move, so the only ones I have around are more recent acquisitions/ones that were shelved in strange places.

But here’s a cursory list of what I’m in the middle of, or have at least started (excluding re-reads… Suzanne Collins and Tamora Pierce are like comfort food, okay?)

The Great Gatsby – F. S. Fitzgerald (I know, I know, most people read this when they’re 15 in high school, but we didn’t, sorry ’bout it).
Allegiant – Veronica Roth (already finished Divergent and Insurgent, but will review them all together)
The Casual Vacancy – J.K. Rowling (way overdue)
Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood (I have started this book SO MANY times. I don’t know what it is about it. But I’m determined to persevere)
The Sandman – Preludes and Nocturnes – Neil Gaiman (also way overdue. I feel like a fake Gaiman-fiend, but I’m remedying it!)
The Gift Lewis Hyde (the only NF title on this list – Eleanor Catton referred to it in her Booker acceptance speech, and then I saw that Margaret Atwood wrote the introduction… sold!)
Snake Ropes – Jess Richards (a publisher rep or a review or something recommended this book as excellent for people who like Margaret Atwood. So I bought it, obviously.)
The Twelve – Justin Cronin (so far taking longer for me to power through than The Passage did, but still proving worthwhile, bit by bit)
Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley – Danyl McLauchlan (NZ author, really good so far, just need to push distractions aside!

And here’s the vague to-read list, as it stands (see the photo at the top for appearances of a fair few of these…) The links are becoming a bit draining, so I will leave you to do your own searches on them, should you wish to investigate further.
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (actually, I should really review The Secret History, since I read that recently, hmm)
The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (I was a 18 y.o. semi-hipster lit student working in a chain bookstore when this was at peak popularity, so naturally I avoided it at all costs. Having enjoyed both adaptations, I’m going to give it a go)
Speaker for the Dead – Orson Scott Card (even though OSC’s a pretty awful person, I did really enjoy Ender’s Game, so I kind of want to pursue the series further)
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (just because)
– Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (sounds a bit trippy and fairly good)
On The Road – Jack Kerouac (left my original Popular Penguin somewhere in Brooklyn, I think, so am starting from square one, only, err, four and a half years later?)
Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems – Allen Ginsberg (been on my to-do list for ages, thanks Book Depository sale!)
The Flood – Maggie Gee (#2 book acquired via the Book Depository 25 hour sale – looks cool, will expand later, naturally)
The Best of H.P. Lovecraft – um, H.P. Lovecraft (lucky last book purchased in the Book Depository sale. Never read any Lovecraft, thought I should fix it. This fairly weighty tome should do the trick!)
The String Diaries – Stephen Lloyd Jones (advanced reading copy from work that our gen. buyer thought I might like, and still haven’t gotten around to it, but it does sound interesting, so on the list before the move!)
Persuasion – Jane Austen (because I’m the worst English major ever and have never read any Austen. Several people have told be Persuasion is her best work, so I bought a lovely leather bound copy and hope that aesthetic allure will encourage me.)
The Murders in the Rue Morgue and Other Tales – Edgar Allan Poe (ridiculously, I’ve never really read any Poe, despite taking a ‘Theory and the Gothic’ course in my final undergrad semester – but then, I was pretty much in max-sickness situation then, so my reading list had more than a few holes in it.
– 1984 – George Orwell (another classic lit hole to fill)

Yeah. I’m a bit all over the place. Any recommendations are more than welcome – I love love love making new discoveries, so bring a little joy to my life!