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 Bone Clocks

A good book leaves you thinking about it between reading sessions. A great book leaves you thinking about it after you’ve finished. A freaking spectacular book not only leaves you thinking about it, but colours everything that you try to read afterwards, and leaves you feeling slightly hollow, because the experience is over.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell falls into the ‘freaking spectacular’ category. As the page numbers started growing ever larger, I felt enormous internal conflict – on one hand, the compulsive desire to find out what happens, but on the other hand, the need to draw things out slowly, to savour every page and thought. I suspect the fact that the last book that really had that effect on me was The Luminaries is a very good sign for The Bone Clocks’ chances on the award circuit.bone clocks

Even now, days after I finished it, I think about the feeling of closing that heavy pink hardback after reading… and then opening it again, to re-read the final page – knowing that it was going to be a hard act to follow. Perhaps intentionally I have limited much of my reading since then to easily-packaged pop YA fiction (even when I have responsibilities to other books) – I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to fall into another story so deeply.

The Bone Clocks is mysterious. It contains fantasy, but you wouldn’t dream of shelving it in an SF/Fantasy section. It’s epic and complex without being incomprehensible. It visits the past and the present, the real and then unbelievable. David Mitchell is a wizard. I have heard mixed things from others about his earlier books, so I’m a little wary of dipping my toe into those waters – after all, I would hate to taint the admiration that I currently have for the man.

I’m loath to go into too much detail, because however I try to describe it, I won’t do it justice. Good and evil are more black and white than they are in some tales, and yet it takes quite some time to figure out precisely which is which. It’s about survival at any cost and in the worst circumstances. It’s about examining the way in which we treat our world. It’s about one person, and so many people at once.

It is not a book to jump into lightly. You need to treat it carefully, give it the time that it deserves. If you peck at it bit by bit, you might not be captured by it as much as it deserves. Get yourself somewhere comfortable, allow yourself a decent chunk of time, make yourself a pot of tea or a plunger of coffee. Appreciate the beautiful design, both aesthetically, and conceptually. Be prepared to have people comment on how pink it is. Laugh gently, knowing that they have no idea what this pink tome holds. Then, when you’ve finished, pass it on to someone else to read, so it can inhabit them next. It’s what Marius would do.

This is the first of (hopefully) several reviews of books longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Last year I only managed to sort out The Luminaries and We Need New Names – this year, I will hopefully manage to do the whole shortlist (all the better if this magical title makes it through to the next round – my hopes are certainly high).

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!

‘the fall of light’ and other things by sarah laing

As per my earlier The Luminaries review, this review was catalysed by my writing a review for our work website. It’s still in the works (I’m not so good at the concise two paragraph type set-up that our space constraints require) so here is my more verbose, more ‘just keep typing, it’ll make sense in the end’ review of Sarah Laing’s fantastic The Fall of Light.

the fall of light

I can’t decide if it’s a fantastic or tough year to be a New Zealand writer. I suspect it’s a bit of both, for many – the Eleanor Catton effect has to be a tricky beast. There’s got to be an afterglow on the entire book industry locally – but it also has to be a bit daunting, being shelved alongside the newly christened Booker winner.

That being said, as a book industry person and writer of words myself, I feel very much compelled to call attention to other fantastic kiwi releases of the last few months. Sarah Laing’s The Fall of Light is among my favourite reads of the year, and generally I like to think that’s fairly high praise coming from a bookseller. Laing initially entered the spotlight the same way that Eleanor Catton did – winning the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition (one of the two biggest short story competitions in the country, certainly the one with the highest circulation of the winning stories).

Laing won in 2006, and at the 2007 award ceremony (where Catton took away top honours and yours truly came second in the secondary schools division), everyone took home a copy of her debut publication, Coming up Roses, a short story collection full of delicious tidbits. I won’t say too much on that title, since it’s been a while since I’ve read it and I don’t want to do it a disservice by being unable to pinpoint the exact bits of magic, but it’s an excellent collection, that much I can say confidently.

2009, and her first novel was released. Dead People’s Music was my favourite book of 2009, I think, and that’s some stiff competition – The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood came out that year too, but the pages of Dead People’s Music are far more well-thumbed. The book is the story of Rebecca, a Wellingtonian avant-garde cellist and her exploits as a newly arrived New Yorker – along with two other parallel storylines of Rebecca’s earlier teenage years, and the Germany-to-New York-to-the Wairarapa saga of her late grandmother, fellow cellist Klara. I adore the book. Coloured perhaps by timing – I’d only recently returned from my North American adventures when it came out, capped off by nearly three months in New York – but even upon re-reads, when the experience and parallels aren’t so fresh in my mind, it’s a wonderful read, beautifully written and constantly engaging, with the changes between main characters and temporal periods keeping things fresh chapter to chapter.

But I’m getting off topic here. Earlier in the year, I discovered that Laing had a new novel coming out. Regular blog readers may recall that I’ve mentioned it on my ‘Magnificent Winter of Books’ posts – it was the last one I discovered, and the first one that I had the pleasure of reading, with the Random House reps being particularly wonderful with the AR copies for booksellers. So it was with great delight that I read The Fall of Light over Queens Birthday weekend (this review is SO overdue), AKA Briar’s birthday weekend – and what a wonderful present it was.

Rudy is the protagonist, and I have to say always impressed when an author gets in the head of the other gender in a convincing fashion. Obviously I’m speaking with feminine bias here, but I thought that his portrayal was top-notch. According to Laing herself, she did get her husband to consult on occasion, with him confirmed that yep, this sounds like a male voice, so evidently the approval comes from across the board. With the setting being Auckland, there was even more familiarity in the settings than in Dead People’s Music – quite jarring at times, when you read about someone going for coffee at Dizengoff, when you’re sitting just down the road! Not to mention the family home itself, location never explicitly specified, but I always sort of superimposed my dad’s house over the top (big, somewhat architectural, immersed in Waitakere bush), and with Sarah herself telling the gathered fans (yours truly included) at an authorly interaction/wine/nibbles evening last week that she’d based the location on Huia, I felt somewhat justified in my imaginings. Apologies to all non-Aucklanders, the past couple of sentences probably meant absolutely nothing. Suffice it to say, there are shades of home all over the book.

As with all of her writing, the conjuring of people and places is wonderful, and she is one of those wonderful authors who makes the somewhat ordinary (in this case, in the vein of suburban tragedy, a man nearing middle age losing his job, with his wife having left him, taking their daughters with her) – which is one of my favourite writerly talents. Don’t get me wrong, I love a well-executed plot-driven masterwork as much as the next person (haven’t I waxed lyrical about The Luminaries and Margaret Atwood enough?) but I also love stories that come to me relatively simple and perfectly formed, like a continuation of what makes a good short story. Some authors make the transition with varying degrees of success – I have many feelings about certain authors’ novels as versus their short stories, but that’s another post for another occasion – but she does it perfectly.

image originally at http://booknotes-unbound.org.nz/sarah-laings-the-fall-of-light/
image originally at http://booknotes-unbound.org.nz/sarah-laings-the-fall-of-light/

One particularly magical thing about Sarah Laing is that in addition to being a fabulous writer, she is also a graphic artist, and is behind the design of all three of her books’ covers (don’t quote me on that, but I believe that it’s true?). But TFoL is even more special – the book also contains gorgeous black and white ink-wash illustrations throughout, which add a whole other layer to the story and the reading experience, portraying Rudy’s near-death-experience influenced dream sequences. When I first read the book, I was so plot-hungry that I did somewhat skim over the images, apart from appreciating their gorgeous execution – but having had a more in-depth explanation from Sarah herself the aforementioned writer evening thing, I feel compelled to go back and examine the pictures more thoroughly in the context of both the book and what she’s described

I’ll probably post a link to my ‘official’ review when it goes up, but in the meantime, I urge all you folk to go get your hands on a copy now – it’s a lurverly trade/C format (unlike her earlier two which were released straight to B format but beautifully designed nonetheless), with pretty foldy bits and all that jazz. I generally far prefer a nice TPB to a HB, and this is no exception (can you see my book nerd showing?) – get it! And more than any other novel I’ve read recently, I seriously do beseech you to get a real copy rather than the ebook, because your Kindle/Kobo/Sony/whatever just won’t do the illustrations justice.

I also feel the need to mention her comics – I thoroughly recommend checking out her Let Me Be Frank quartet, which you can (I think) find out more about over at her wordpress blog – also entitled Let Me Be Frank. I picked up #3 and #4 at the soiree thing last week, and they are both fantastic. Enough to make me seriously think about buying Metro magazine a lot more often, in part just for the comics… hop to it, and investigate it yourselves. Her next publication is, all going to plan, a graphic novel about Katherine Mansfield and herself, and having seen a few initial sketches and draft panels, I’m very excited. I mean, it’s basically a law to be a Mansfield fan as a Kiwi writer, so I’m just living up to my expectations, right? Right?