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?

review : great

It was pretty Great.

I only got around to reading The Great Gatsby earlier this year (or late last year, either way), after starting it many a time and always finding it too dull. In the end, I think it was only Tom Hiddleston’s Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris that for whatever reason persuaded me to really attempt to read the a actual F Scott’s work. 

This did mean that the storyline was still fairly fresh in my head when I read Great, which was both good and bad, I suppose – when something is based in some way on a book that you have read, it is hard not to constantly be pulling comparisons between the two – not in terms of quality, necessarily, but in terms of ‘so when is THIS part going to happen?’.

book and wine
the combination of moscato & YA lit – perfection.

Full disclosure – my strange time spent in NYC in 2009 intersected with Sara’s world a couple of times, so I can admit slight bias and excitement about the release of this title. However, this intersection was mostly limited to seeing her stand up (comedy, not the action of standing up) and having tequila brunch at her apartment with many other folks. 

So, onwards with the reviewishness, then.

I actually did really enjoy it (as my super witty first line would have you believe). It reads as Gossip Girl but smarter. There is a little more time dedicated to intricate descriptions of characters’ appearances, which seems a little at odds with the personality that the protagonist, Naomi, otherwise portrays. At times, I really blanched at her ‘hey, this Marc Jacobs Dress #33208 actually is pretty okay. My mother isn’t the worst person in the world, okay, I admit it’ act – but in saying that, she’s a teenage girl. When I was seventeen, I may have revered The White Stripes (and The Cure, actually, so Naomi and I had that in common), but I also had moments where I was guilty of flicking through glossy magazines lusting over the latest fancy outfit of the week. In that sense, perhaps the sentiments would ring more true with the teen audience that this is aimed at than my ever-so-slightly more mature twenty-something self.

I know some people have been quick to go ‘ugh, LGBT gimmick’, but I appreciated it – and here goes full confession time – having lived and experienced the mutual obsessive girl-on-girl relationship that Jacinta and Delilah experience. 

Does that count as a spoiler? For the book, not my life, I mean. Even before I read Gatsby, I knew the gist of what happened. Anyway.

I appreciated that one of the few voices of reason was Naomi’s Chicagoan best mate Skags, described by Naomi as butch but evidently having a self-described ‘boi’ style. I kind of love that she calls herself Skags – and let’s be honest, if your name was Tiffani, wouldn’t you ditch that name as soon as you started discovering your badass boi self? I’m going to go out on a assumptive limb here and say that the most widely read YA author of the moment with explicitly queer main characters is probably David Levithan (of Will Grayson, Will Grayson co-authorship fame as well as his own titles including Boy Meets Boy) – it’s nice to have female queer characters in the spotlight, even if Naomi herself is an ally rather than gay herself (as she makes explicitly clear on a few occasions… we get it, okay?).

dat quarter case, tho.
dat quarter case, tho.

The whole plot arc of the book does actually seem better fitted to teens than the adults of the original. The shenanigans and devil-may-care attitudes of Fitzgerald’s characters are noteworthy for their excess and awfulness – but in when put in the perspective of teenagers, you suddenly have a group of young people still learning the ways of the world, forcing (some) of the actions into a slightly more ambiguous moral area. Because we all do stupid things as teenagers. 

Overall? From a bookseller perspective, I would definitely recommend it to kids and/or parents. It’s Gatsby but palatable, and somewhat socially aware, in some ways, anyway. It’s not necessarily a must-read for older fans of YA among us, but it’s a quick and easy read, so definitely worth the time put into it (time perspective – it had arrived during the day yesterday, I read a fair bit last night and then finished it this morning). And from a publishing geek perspective, it is a BEAUTIFUL hardback, which I’m not used to as an antipodean (NZ/AU releases are often in trade paperback, not hardback) – I imagine that if it does get a release beyond North America, that we will probably get a TP or PB, so I’m glad that I got in early and grabbed a hardback. For a first novel, it is a valiant effort. I’m Team Benincasa for life.

So go hit up your local indie bookseller and buy it, okay?