on we shall go

Here’s a little book related denouement, to follow up the emotionally-fraught time that was last night. Since we all know that books are what I do best.

What am I reading at the moment, you may wonder? Well, it’s never as simple as answering with a one-title response. I am in the process of working my way through :

  • Unspeakable Secrets of the Aro Valley by Danyl McLauchlan*
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green**
  • The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec Vol. 2 by Jacques Tardi
  • Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card***

There are also a fair few books on my shelves/piles that have bookmarks at a partway point, but that I am not currently actively engaging in, so to speak. They are the next tier to work my way through.

*Ought to finish it before I start my work placement at VUP. Really good, just a little slow going.
** Re-reading. Because, you know, movie. And also I just need a little John Green in my life every now and then.
*** I have a lot of feelings about OSC & his books, and I will write a post about them at some point.

I’m on a real graphic novel kick at the moment, after finishing reading the first Sandman bind-up… but I decided to branch out from pure Gaiman, and test the waters of other areas. Since I thoroughly enjoyed the Adele Blanc-Sec movie, I figured that the graphic novels would be a fine choice – and so far, so good. I have been meaning to re-read Scott Pilgrim, but since that has a very specific connection to That Which I Am Moving On From In All Ways, I’m not sure if that would be sensible to do right now. The last thing I need is good books/movies/memories being ruined by my current feelings regarding the person in question. So maybe the Bryan Lee O’Malley material is off the cards for a while.

Per the John Green mention, you can probably gather that I’m not entirely removed from my YA phase of late – and after spending a fair while today trotting around the kids and teen sections at work, shelving and book-lookin’,  it seems unlikely to change any time soon – there’s always something new that I notice and leaf through and want to devour. Relating back to yesterday’s post somewhat, I really do wish that I had a bit of Olive-style company for many reasons, but one of which is certainly to be able to have someone to read gorgeous beautiful books with.

That’s probably a combination of specific child missing, and general mid-20s cluckiness.

Anyway.

I hope you are all reading wonderful things as well. If you aren’t, rectify this immediately. Go to your local indie bookshop and get a recommendation.  Buy a book. Make the publishing world turn.

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?

review : mermaid in chelsea creek

ON MICHELLE TEA.

Part I– Where I Get Sad.

I think I first heard of Michelle Tea via Becca Rosenthal – probably her Twitter, or her blog. We only ever had a few conversations, she and I – I think at least two of them revolved around my changing hair colour, too – but even that was enough to lodge her permanently in mind, especially when she was a fixture in the lives of some of my friends. Becca was the arbiter of hip – not my words, possibly her own, possibly someone else’s – so I felt that I was doing something right when the first time I met her wound up being at a St Vincent show. To my eighteen year old self, she was everything I wanted to be, clove cigarettes on a Brooklyn stoop and a bandana around her boot.

But Becca’s story ended before it should have – when she died at 27, in late 2012. Friends who loved her dearly were in shock, and I, for whom she was just a brief flash in my strange brief NYC life, felt like I had no right to mourn, not really. But every loss is tragic, and it did leave me a little numb.

Jessica Allyn, my beautiful friend who counted Becca as one of her closest friends, wrote a song for her after her death, and subsequently donated all of her musical takings for a month to Sister Spit. Michelle Tea pops up again.

Part II – Where I Get A Bit Proud.

A momentary internal monologue.

Hey, she’s a contributor on xoJane.com too! And we both write on health-related topics! Sure, she has an ongoing series (‘Getting Pregnant With Michelle Tea’) and I have one piece on my munted guts, but still! We both have author pages, we’re totally alike in some nonsensical way!

ON THE BOOK.

Part III – Discovery & Aesthetics

Shelving books, as one does at a bookstore, can prove most fruitful. I had heard of Mermaid in Chelsea Creek in passing, as a theoretical future release, at some point last year, and neglected to follow it up. But last week, among other treasures in a stack of new children’s and young adult books destined for the shelves, I picked up a couple of beautiful hardbacks (fairly unusual, for novels distributed in the Australasia reason) and examined them closely.

mermaid in chelsea creek

It was Michelle Tea’s book, in all its glory – and I had completely forgotten about it. But now, here it was – exquisite and present and mine for the reading. I took it home, and opened it up. I had a momentary pang of disappointment – stark white paper is never my favourite, I prefer the more ‘standard’ creamy beigey colour. I think it’s a sort of perceived accessibility of white paper – like pages could have been churned through on a home printer, rather than in some mysterious book bindery. In reality, it’s a ridiculous differentiation to make, but so be it. I like the allure of tradition.

But the cover made up for my interior colour misgivings.

Part IV – First Impressions

My initial feeling was one of familiarity. It became clear very quickly that the book felt, to me, at least, like a more gritty or grungey version of Francesca Lia Block’s writing – the same urban fantasy, but with less sparkle. And by sparkle, I mean literal sparkle, of course, as anyone who has read FLB would realise – but in Tea’s work, the glitz and glam of bizarro Los Angeles is replaced by the down-and-out streets of Chelsea, Massachusetts. The extensive tracts of description are there, though, and elements of fairy tale escapism.

I have a fondness for FLB’s Weetzie Bat books, so all of this was a good sign. I went on eagerly.

Part V – In Progress, And A Screeching Halt

I had some serious excitement when I found, not too far into the book, not one but TWO interrobangs. INTERROBANGS! I have a fascination with unusual punctuation, and I’ve never actually seen one used in real life. If you aren’t familiar with the term, an interrobang is a combined exclamation mark and question mark – like this ‽. So unusual, and so exciting.

So I continued muddling along happily, typographically content for a brief time. And then, the mistakes started popping up in my vision. It started with “the birds’ stomach”, and my fledgling editor alarm bells went off. The pigeons don’t share a stomach, yo. Unfortunately, it was one of many issues that weren’t picked up anywhere along the editing/typesetting/proofreading process. Plurals where there shouldn’t have been, inconsistencies with the italicising of foreign language words, even misspelling “poison” as “poison” at one point. Not good form. A couple of errors I could perhaps let slip, but there was a significant enough number that they really did jump out enough to pull me out of the story on several occasions.

Part VI – The Good Stuff

But proofreading issues aside, there was much good to be said about the book. Michelle Tea’s writing is lyrical and lovely, and her memoirs are certainly on my to-do list. In a world where the trends are for post-apocalyptic worlds and hospital wards, a story set in the mean streets of the greater Boston area (I have to admit, until I read the afterword, I assumed that the city of Chelsea was invented for the story – turns out it’s completely real) was refreshing, in many ways. It was also rather fascinating reading about a mythology I previously knew nothing about – the mermaids and witches of Polish tradition – and to learn a few new words too, even if I couldn’t pronounce them or spell them to save my life.

Part VII – The Not So Great Stuff

I’ve already gone over the editorial issues – and they were the thing that really burned in my brain – but at the same time, I wasn’t 100% sold on the story as a whole. Some of the characters were painted as far too black or white, rather than any kind of in-between in terms of motives and actions. Aren’t we all generally more interested in people who fall somewhat between the gaps of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ these days, rather than people who are purely one of the other? Maybe I’ve just read too much George R.R. Martin. The plot was a bit loopy as well – not in concept, I’m all for a bit of fantastical madness – but it just seemed like it could have unfolded better – I may need to re-read in order to establish exactly why I feel that way, but judging from other reviews on Goodreads, I wasn’t alone in my feeling.

Part VIII – Conclusion?

It’s beautiful on the surface – gorgeous cover, gorgeous writing – but at a deeper level, with closer inspection, it leaves a little to be desired. If McSweeney’s run a more thorough check before they go to paperback, and the proofreading issues are fixed, I would bump my current 3/5 to a 4/5. And who knows – there is a sequel in the works, perhaps the pacing will work better across the two books. Regardless of my mixed feelings, I will be picking it up, and I would still recommend people who like the sound of the book to give it a go. Take a chance – and may your eyes not be as critical as mine.

the teenage dream?

Eventually, in this article/mess, I will talk about Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts. But you have been warned, it seems that it took me a LONG time to get there. Ah well. Enjoy my brand of literary ranting and raving.

In early 2010, I went to Wellington for an Amanda Palmer concert. As was tradition.* Part of my excuse for trekking down country for a musician I had seen more than a couple of times was a) I had a free ticket and b) Neil Gaiman was also in town, hurrah! I had finally actually read some Gaiman by this point, having shamefully not actually touched any of his work when I met him eight-ish months earlier.**

So I dutifully purchased a ticket to the ‘An Evening With…’ type event that was going on at the Town Hall the day after the Amanda show (if memory serves), but I still had time to burn before the gig, and discovered that Neil was doing a session with Australian author Margo Lanagan on YA fiction, chaired by Kate de Goldi. What’s not to like? I bought a ticket, and headed to The Embassy***. And it was thoroughly illuminating.****

There was a sense of agreement among the authors that kids are really good at self-censoring – that’s to say, even when reading things above their intended age, oftentimes the things that are ‘inappropriate’ will just go over their heads. I thoroughly agree with this – I can’t come up with an book-related examples off-hand, but when I look back at all the dirty jokes and suggestive lyrics in films and songs that I watched and listened to without a care in the world as a kid, it does make me think that there’s something to it.

Related to this, both authors seemed to say that despite writing for a range of ages, they don’t go into a story thinking ‘this is something that I’m writing for teenagers’  – rather it is something that is the product of publisher and editorial decisions made on something that has grown of its own accord, without working to fill some sort of age-genre niche. It makes me wonder how things would work if other authors worked in a similar system, how it would (or wouldn’t) affect the way that trends work.

Because that’s what this is basically meant to be about, before that introductory tangent happened. Young adult genre trends, and how strange they are. Really. It really does open your eyes as to just how swayed by current interests the teenage/young person mindset is when you see just how overwhelmingly trend-driven YA fiction is. There are obviously ebbs and flows in terms of what is most popular in the world of regular adult fiction, with occasional strange outliers like Fifty Shades of Grey, but as a whole, people can have specific interests in any genre, and there’s going to be new stuff being churned out on a regular basis, be it thriller, sci-fi, ‘literary fiction’ (borrowing Ellie Catton’s quote marks there), or what-have-you.

But teenagers! My goodness. At this moment, it’s perhaps not so mad as it has been at some points in recent years – it seems to be a bit of a transitional period at present – but having worked in a kids’ department in the height of Meyer-mania, the proliferation of vampire (and later Insert-Paranormal-Creature-of-the-Month – did anyone else read Switched by Amanda Hocking? Or as my former workmate Rosie and I referred to it “that troll book”?) fiction was INSANE. I mean, everyone knows that. If it’s not Twilight, it’s Vampire Academy or Vampire Diaries, or Blue Bloods, or The Mortal Instruments. Money spinners, every one – and I won’t claim to judge them for quality, because I haven’t read most of them. I did read all four Twilight books (and the companion novella The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner) and the first book of The Mortal Instruments, but, in case you’re interested, here are my excuses/reasons.
1. Twilight – I found an abandoned copy at O’Hare Airport on my way to Montreal. Made for good plane reading.
2. New Moon – I forgot to bring a book with my on the plane to Florida, and it was the cheapest English language book in the Montreal airport bookstore.3. Eclipse – I had confessed that I’d read them to a friend, and when she came to visit me she brought a copy of Eclipse with her that she’d found while cleaning out a flat or some such.
4. Breaking Dawn – By this stage, I have to admit, I did actively borrow it from a friend (thanks, Mel!), just so that I could say I’d seen it through to the end.
5. The Short Second Life Of Bree Tanner – Off-site sale store, just myself and much less-than-riveting stock for company. So over the course of a few shifts I stealthily worked by way through the book (as well as a re-read of The Bad Beginning. Miss you, Botany Town Centre (not).
6. City of Bones. I don’t know if Cassandra Clare is quite in the same ‘really?!’ league as Stephenie Meyer, but still. I read this because it was on my Kobo when I was in hospital after my op last year, and it managed to make more sense than Atwood or Asimov in my morphine haze.

I’m just all about the tangents today, aren’t I? It has been a long day.

Anyway. We were talking about trends! So, as most people will be aware, the next major Young Adult Fiction Trend after paranormal romance was/is Dystopia. Which is very much more up my alley. You all of know my Atwood obsession – and more specifically my Atwood speculative fiction obsession. A good dystopia is just brilliant, and I can’t quite put my finger on why. The cautionary tale element, perhaps, or maybe I just have no faith in the future of the human race? Depends on the day. Regardless, The Handmaid’s Tale and the Maddaddam trilogy are some of my favourite books of all time. And suddenly, there were going to be new dystopic books written in such a way as to be consumed swiftly and easily. Frabjous day!

The Hunger Games was excellent, to a point. I’m not unique in my opinion that the second two books suffered because of the assumed timing/publisher pressure following the huge popularity of the first. Divergent had a similar fate, as did the Uglies books (though neither were quite on the same level as The Hunger Games) – great first book to hook you, but everything rather gets a little too big too fast, and the writing quality drops as a consequence. I tend to think that the ideas are better than the execution in some of these YA dystopias, which isn’t the end of the world, I suppose – I’m sure it fuels the imagination of fledgling writers finding their feet through fanfic.

But even the day of Dystopic Dominance seems to be drawing to an end, and John Green is perhaps the main man behind this transition. Real life is cool again – and in particular, the brand of ‘sick lit’ as it is sometimes uncomfortably known, that he seems to have kicked off with The Fault in Our Stars (correct me if I’m wrong – and obviously I know that books in this vein have existed forever, but none have had quite the same following). I really loved the book, when I read it last year while in the throes of being desperately unwell. One of his other books was one of my other post-op reads (Paper Towns, I think?) along with the aforementioned Cassandra Clare title. Now, kids with cancer are having their stories shared more passionately than ever. I just finished reading Zac & Mia by A.J. Betts, and I thoroughly enjoyed it – but at the same time, it felt a little like I was reading the Aussie version of TFiOS, with less pretentious protagonists and a shuffle of specific cancer-locations. Love on the oncology ward, the new Love in Post-Apocalyptic Appalachia, or Love & Fangs in the Pacific Northwest.

It seems like such a strange niche to have such prominence. Is it the sparkly strands of hope beyond all odds? Is it the fact that many a child will have seen a classmate or relative suffer through the pain of cancer (or another serious illness, though these genre books don’t seem to have stepped out of that box yet)? I’m not a cancer patient, obviously, but my health background meant that there were a fair few moments while reading Zac & Mia that I felt uncomfortable with how familiar these things sounded – the bruises and scars on arms from needles, that constant whir/drip of IVs, the way in which such intensive drugs just sap your life force entirely. I’ve sat in haemotology, with my IV attached, surrounded by patients undergoing chemo. I’ve been put under, not knowing exactly what’s going to happen when I wake up, I’ve had a puffy steroid face, I’ve had slight fond reminisces of a catheter.

Basically, I can relate to some of the goings on of these characters more than I’d like to. I suppose it’s not helped by the fact that I’m currently in a bit of a flap about my health going forward, but I felt constantly on edge while reading hospital scenes in Zac & Mia, even as I felt compelled to read on, felt compassion, empathy. What does a healthy reader take from these stories? Do they zone in on the love stories, with the cancer simply part of the love story? Do they read on, knowing that one of the bright young things could relapse and deteriorate at any moment, so that they the reader can then cry along with the protagonist left alive? Is it glamourising illness, despite painting a pretty damn unhappy and unpleasant image of it?

I don’t know. I’m probably overthinking it.

Trends are strange things, guys.

Perhaps there will be a part two tomorrow when I’ve had more time to digest the book, and I’m less exhausted (funny, right? because when am I ever not exhausted?). All this being said, I would still recommend it.

*The tradition being that I had a compulsion to travel far and wide in pursuit of as many AFP concerts as possible. Last tally was fifteen, I think, including one Coachella slot, one Dresden Dolls show, one performance/reading with her and Neil at a bookstore and one performance of “Delilah” in her lounge. But I digress.

** This was the time that AFP and Neil were performing together at the Housingworks Bookstore, when I came in early with the gang, as it was in those NY-y days, and I was sitting pretty in a corner keeping out of the way when Neil walked past, then stopped and came towards me, saying “You must be the other barely legal lesbian (cf. @thebarelylegals, an on-going Twitter joke circa May 2009), from New Zealand! I’m Neil.” And he stuck his hand out to shake, and apologised for having forgotten my actual name. He had met Kayla, the other part of the boisterous Bed-Stuy  duo the day before, hence the ‘otherness’. It was possibly the most surreal moment of my life. Gods bless my bright pink hair.

***Where, in hindsight, I probably interacted with some of my now-colleagues at the Unity satellite store.

****Keep in mind that everything is being jotted down by memory, now, and this was four years ago, and those four years have been full of illness and drugs and surgery and depression and many other things which may have slightly tinkered with my memory.

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!

on book releases, colds, and surgery

I was extraordinarily excited for The Luminaries to be released. Eleanor Catton is among my favourite NZ authors around at the moment – I love love loved The Rehearsal (pretty sure that I’ve waxed lyrical about it at some point on here), and the thought of not only a new release from her, but a veritable tome of a new release… well, I can’t quite come up with the words, which is part of the problem.

My head (and general person) is a snuffly, almost-flu-y mess right now, and concentrating on beautiful and expansive prose is unfortunately not really meshing well with this undesired state of being. I got about 150 pages in by Saturday evening, and since then, I’ve been in a sad state of nose-blowing, whimpering and spluttering affairs. Still at work, of course – we’re all plague-ish at the moment, so for any particular one of us to actually go home sick, we’d have to pull out some pretty spectacular malady-related action.

So instead of absorbing the splendor of my fourth (or third, depending on your reckoning – third technical release, but fourth one I’ve read – thanks advance reading copies!) book of ‘the winter of magnificent book releases‘, I have been furthering my YA book ‘research’ with my third John Green book in two/three months (who’s counting?), which are enjoyable without requiring as much in-depth attention as The Luminaries is demanding.

So it sits beside my bed in all of its hardback-beautiful-end-paper-beribboned glory, while I knock back Codral (occasionally with Tramadol, when UC symptoms require it – my, what a combination) and tap at my Kobo screen, unravelling the mysteries of many Katherines and Alabaman boarding schools and teenagers with cancer. My bedside (well, within reaching distance of my bed) bookshelf bears many treasures which I need to get around to reading, as well as a couple of additions which I have read but hadn’t owned until recently (The Forrests, by Emily Perkins (for which I should really write a post about, in terms of the not entirely pleasant feelings I always manage to get from her books lately – not a bad thing, just unsettling) – and The Fall of Light, by Sarah Laing (one of the other three Magnificent Winter Releases (TM) (not actually TM). I have a squillion books around me that I need to read (curse of the bookseller-come-writer-come-English graduate), and yet here I am, on the e-reader, reading books that, whilst enjoyable, aren’t the ones that have been sitting on my to-do list for 5+ years (hint: I still haven’t read any Jane Austen).

I’m not quite sure where I’m going with all this. Maybe it’s still the codeine/paracetamol/tramadol cocktail coursing through some of my various veins.

Anyway.

I think the moral of that story was that, if you aren’t wracked with illness like I am, you should poke your nose into The Luminaries, for I recommend it wholeheartedly, or as much as one can recommend a book one is only 18% of the way through. I can also more thoroughly recommend The Fall Of Light, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Maddaddam, now that I have actually read all of them.

The other thing is that surgery is creeping closer, and I now have two possible dates of These Will Probably Be Your Options But It Is MoH Policy To Not Book Surgery Until All Outstanding Tests Are Completed nature. So after my MRI next Friday, hopefully things can be more properly booked. By which stage it will be less than a month til either of those dates. Yikes.

Hopefully I’ll be sufficiently snuffle-free over the coming weeks to finish the damn book. If I can’t manage it now, I can’t imagine that post-surgery-brain-fog me will be up to the task either.

novel concepts

It’s both a good sign – in many, many ways – and also very frustrating that I’m actually in a ‘let’s get working on this story’ frame of mind right now, when, for all practical intents and purposes, it ought to be my bedtime right now. And experimenting with caffeinated beverages again over the past couple of days has produced mixed results.

But I’m actually getting excited about how this ‘novel’ – I hesitate to call it that, because it’s still very fragmentary, and has a long, long way to go yet before it’s anywhere near pre-editing completion, but that’s what it ultimately is – is progressing. I have many documents full of bits to tie in, I actually have a reasonably workable storyboard to get my way through. And I, as of today have a ‘first draft’ document that is tying all of these bits and pieces – varying from a couple of hundred words through to several thousand – together, bit by bit.

I have no idea how marketable this story would be. But it’s important to me, and I think it could prove important to other people too. Whilst in some ways it will be a floaty frivolous hippie Brigid Lowry esque (who is pretty much my favourite YA author) tale, it’s also got the key component of a pretty damn sick teenage girl at the heart of it. Sound familiar? Given how rife things like IBS are these days, and the fact that I’ve never seen mention of Crohn’s or colitis in a novel, let alone one for teens who may well feel they are some kind of super-freak (thank god mine didn’t come along until post-adolescence), I’d like to think that there’s potential readership. Groovy reading for everyone but particularly relatable and necessary for the sixteen year old riot grrrl who’s just been told her colon’s pretty much eating itself. There’s got to be a few of them out there.

Plus, the working title makes me giggle and groan in equal measure. cool-itis. Yeah.

On your local bookstore’s shelves…. one day!

the graveyard mission

I’m calling myself queen of the double-entendre for this moment, even though the secondary element of this was only an afterthought once I’d typed ‘the graveyard mission’ as my title. The first plan was to write something moderately interesting (theoretically) about my finally having finished reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – and the protracted period of time it took for me to do so. Hence ‘mission’.

But then my mind started a-workin’, as it does every so often, and I recalled my own graveyard mission of yesteryear, or more of an adventure, I suppose, and decided that its tale deserves telling in some way shape or form. I’ll get to that later. Probably.

Back to the Gaiman. I really do enjoy what he writes, but for whatever reason I seem to take forever to read his books. And normally I read pretty damn quickly – refer back to my day of As The Earth Turns Silver reading splendour. ButAmerican Gods, as much as I love it, took me weeks to get through. I still haven’t finished Smoke and Mirrors, and I’m a self-described short story devotee. And The Graveyard Book followed that trend. I’d heard an excerpt read by Mr Gaiman himself at the NZ International Arts Festival back in March, and this further cemented the feeling that I Had To Get Around To Reading This Book. Since it was also winning stuff left, right and centre. I got it out from the library. I read the first two or three chapters. And then I got distracted. And the return today suddenly popped up out of nowhere, and back to the library it went.

I somewhat forgot about it. I felt guilty when I saw it on the shelf at work, knowing that I had yet to actually devour this book. But eventually, I did get it out from the library again. And again, I let it loiter, instead choosing to get the other books on my plate read. Every time I picked it up, something would distract me, and so it seemed to take an obscenely long time to read – it’s a children’s book, after all (I will say here that being partially geared towards children does not an exclusively child-appropriate book make, and it’s more than recommended for kids and adults alike, particularly as the NZ Arts Fest session where Neil read from TGB was all about YA fiction and what it does or doesn’t mean). But I powered through, and finished it, and loved it. The whole coming-of-age, following-Bod-as-he-grows thing was part of the reason I enjoyed it more and more as it went along – it’s only natural to form something of a bond with a character who grows before your reading eyes, I guess.

Anyway. That is the story of The (Literary) Graveyard Mission.

And so, a telling of The (Real Life) Graveyard Mission. In part. Since this blog isn’t ALL about the book review-ish-ness.

There’s a gigantic cemetery in Brooklyn by the name of Green-Wood, and this one time I went exploring there with two friends, let us call them K and M. It was late afternoon, and we were told as we walked through the gates that we only had half an hour before closing, to which we nodded. We went to find the Angel of Grief statue (which K and I had found once before – it’s a beautiful piece of sculpture and also happens to be on the cover of records by both Nightwish and Evanescence) and went on wandering for quite some time, whilst I wrung my hands and worried about getting locked in. The others weren’t concerned. We walked and talked (M and I collaboratively bemoaned Jodi Picoult, and talked about the merits of short story writing and the like – I’d only actually met Ms M earlier that day) and took in the beautiful surrounds and the generations marked in stone. Iced cookies from a Puerto Rican bakery were produced from K’s bag and eaten. Our phones spent the whole time switched off, disconnect being crucial to this experience. It got later, and when we saw cars heading the drive we made sure we were well away from road-sight, since it was definitely after hours by now. And we continued to wander. Just wander. Contemplative, appreciative, you know. But eventually, we were noticed by a security gentleman patrolling, who told us we had to leave, after we pleaded having gotten lost (not entirely a lie – navigating that place sans map is a mission and a half – like I already said, it’s huge, and our wandering had taken us across the whole cemetery) and proceeded to slowly follow us in his car after having told us in brusque terms which way to go.

At the gate, before unlocking it for us, we had a lecture – I guess my pink hair and K’s tattoos didn’t really endear us to him – and after saying that no, we didn’t have any relatives buried there, he told us, in all his khakied security officer glory not to come back. Does that make us kind of BAMFs? Three slightly alternative looking girlies wandering a cemetery because it was peaceful and gorgeous and we all had a lot of stuff on our minds at that point in time, I think… and we got BANNED by Mr Security Guard.

No names or anything were taken, obviously. We were in stunned silence as we walked away, before laughing our way to the subway. And that was only the tip of the iceberg for the weird excellence that was that night, since it went on to involve vegan pizza in Williamsburg, after dark Rock Band playing, and a spontaneous walk from Sunset Park to the Verazanno Bridge (some 50 blocks, shuffling down a grassy slope and running across a multilane highway – with concrete divider) to sit beside the river-turning-sea, dangling feet over the edge (this was M & I, we were more foolhardy than K and decided to climb over the fence so we could sit right over the rocks.)

One day that story will be told in more detail and more carefully chosen words. In the meantime, here’s a poem I wrote back in July last year, if you’d like to read it, inspired in part by that evening. I don’t do poetry often, but this is one that I rather like.

east and hudson

We get on well with bridges,
you and I.
We need them in our lives.
Our constant search for lights dancing between dark below
and dark above and
glowing overwhelming civilisation on either side.

We are the bridge between
two sides pulling apart, the bridge
gets a little longer every day
like a glacier slowly encroaching upon a valley.

We are the bridge across a harbour mouth
the beginning of ocean
We are land meeting sea
and man conquering the boundaries
of both.

I am standing on a bridge
but there is no water to cross, only sky
I am a shadow on the ground and
a silver speck in the sky
the bridge was not strong enough
it broke away, I was dragged by steel wings

I would build a bridge
across the water
so we  can walk when we’re too poor to fly,
too weary to paddle
in boats constructed from flax and old clothes
and I would meet you in the middle
and we would toss pennies into the sea

reading more-ah tamora. no, wait…

So… I’ve been continuing my Tamora Pierce bender, having read First Test, the first Protector of the Small book, over the last couple of days, and am now powering through Page. And because I’m a Generation Whatever who is Constantly Plugged In, I did a bit of Wikipedia-ing and Googling, as you do, and wound up at Pierce’s website. And what do you know, as I flicked through her bio, I read ‘Tamora, pronounced like camera’.

Oh dear. You see, I pride myself on correct pronunciation of names, constantly flinching at mispronunciation of ‘Rowling’.  That’s perhaps my biggest pet hate, since I’m of the age that grew up alongside Harry Potter, always very close in age and stage to the H-Pot trio when a new book was released. And am therefore possibly able to be classed as a ‘fangirl’. I’ve done the release day line-up thing, all that jazz. I live, therefore, by the maxim, ‘JK Rowling – rhymes with bowling, not with howling’. If you didn’t know this, now you do. Hence the creation by some sniggering Harry-fan of a Facebook group along the lines of ‘Harry Potter is sliding down a hill… LOL JK ROWLING!’ to fit in with all those terribly ‘blah-de-blah – LOL JK (‘just kidding’, if you are not a frequent user of the travesty that is netspeak) – blah-de-blah’ groups that everyone was hell-bent on joining a few months ago. This was the only one I decided was worth joining. Puntasticness is sometimes appreciated.

I also cannot abide ‘Jodi Pick-olt‘. (her website suggests pronouncing it ‘pekoe – like the tea’ – I’d always said it as such because there was a somebody ‘Picot’, pronounced the same way as Picoult, at school with me, and I just assumed it was the same pronunciation. French background FTW). Actually, I can’t abide Jodi Picoult, pronounced correctly, or her books, either. Edgy chick lit masquerading as ‘literary’ makes me want to punch people in the book-club-attending teeth.

And like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a bookstore dudette in my part-time working hours, and therefore am familiar with and use published names. Hachette, for one. I don’t use my French awesomeness and inflict a fully fledged ‘aSHETTE’ upon everyone, but pronounce the ‘h’ – though I still maintain the ‘sh’ over ‘ch’ sound because otherwise it just feels heinous. I swear I’m going somewhere with this. Multiple staff members realise that it’s French derived – I mean, the parent company is ‘Hachette Livre’ – but are clueless as to the details of linguistic nuances. Thus, my ears are cursed with references to ‘ha-shay’. Oh my lord. This is particularly irksome at present only because we had our Hachette roadshow recently, so the name’s been tossed around by all and sundry. My inner Francophile weeps.

BACK to the point at hand though.  My pronunciation policing, and Tamora-rhymes-with-camera.

Yeah… I’ve been pronouncing it ‘ta-MORE-ah’ for the last… nearly ten years? Whoops. I will go forth and speak only Camera-Tamora syllables from now on.

Now, to return the exploits of Keladry and friends, I think.

wild magic

Over the last week or so, I’ve been rereading Tamora Pierce’s The Immortals quartet. They make for great bus-reading, which I do rather a lot of – given that on a day I have university, I spend close to (sometimes more than) 2 hours on buses. Which is partial excuse for the fact that I’ve nearly finished the fourth book already. I loved Pierce’s various fantastical novels in my tween/early-teen years, particularly her Tortall books (for some reason I never really bonded with any of the Circle of Magic books or characters, despite the fact that one of the characters was called Briar. Or perhaps because of that fact, since the Briar in their world was a boy. What gives?). I revisited them a couple of years back, borrowing a bevy of them from a coworker, but I only really got through the Alanna books and made myself properly read the Circle of Magic books (I did enjoy those ones more at upon my 18 year old reading rather than at 13/14, for whatever reason). I own Wild Magic, the first of the Daine books, somewhere. Magical word, somewhere. Probably it’s boxed up in the garage somewhere, bundled up with Animorphs books and a few craptastic Sabrina the Teenage Witch novelisations.

Anyway. I borrowed all four of The Immortals titles from the lovely Lola Mulot (fellow writer, book-slut and tautologist) and have devoured them. It’s been glorious. Not that my reading log of late hasn’t been enjoyable, on the contrary, but the occasional easy read, particularly of a fantastical nature, is wonderful. Not only is it basically like dragon-flavoured crack, it’s also a reminder of a genre that I’ve been tempted to write myself for quite some time. Before I ever started writing ‘legitimately’ (aka. when my creative writing flame was well and truly ignited by the esteemed Mrs Rosalind Ali of high school creative writing fame circa 2006) I was writing pages and pages of scribble, drawing maps and anatomically questionable pictures of characters from all kinds of ridiculous lands. I had drawers brimming with loose leaf paper and exercise books full of the stuff – mostly terrible Tamora Pierce inspired fantasy lands and people, but the occasional more sci-fi world, too, just to mix it up. Nobody really knew about my weird creative visions, which was perhaps for the best, but it did kind of explain why suddenly writing words that went well together seemed to fit like a glove.

Everyone knows that fantasy is always in vogue for children’s and YA fiction – or at least it has been for the last decade or so. Harry Potter, Twilight, Eragon… it’s all about finding the current creature or trait that’s going to strike a chord with voracious young readers. Although I suppose the average consumer of Stephenie Meyer’s words doesn’t necessarily come under the ‘voracious young reader’ label. Nor would they know what ‘voracious’ means. No matter. I used to prefer – as a teen fantasy creator – the thoroughly immersive foreign fantasy worlds that Pierce uses – as does Christopher Paolini in the Inheritance Cycle – though it seems that the fad of the day, at least in fantasy designed for teen consumers, is fantasy threads running through real life – à la finding that vampires live in the rainiest corners of Washington State, or that there’s a school for wizardry up somewhere in Scotland. It’s a shame, in some ways, but maybe I’ll just have to work with the trends. That, or write for a younger audience, who seem to be more willing to put faith in a hand-drawn, mentally-created map. Either way, a foray into fantasy seems only appropriate.

In the meantime, I’ll get back to Daine and Numair and the Divine Realms. And contemplate the fact that my derby-appropriate roller skates have been shipped and hopefully will be here soon. Très exciting stuff.