Sunday, December 25, 2011

a very happy christmas to you all

in the tradition of fabulous, large and delightful families in fiction - here i'm thinking of natalie standiford's sullivan family, or the casson family by hilary mckay or even the radlett family from the fabulous nancy mitford - here is the most very best christmas video by the gorgeous and hilarious gladstone family. may all your christmases be as madcap as this!

go to charlie and caroline's blog here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm a small town girl, get me out of here! (part one)

Saving June, Hannah Harrington (Harlequin Teen)

In Saving June (which really ought to be called Saving Harper or Saving Jake, because poor old June is beyond saving) Harper isn't necessarily looking to expand her world view or escape her town - but rather she is trying to escape or assuage her grief after her seemingly perfect older sister kills herself for a reason that nobody can decipher.

Her divorced parents cope with their grief in their own ways – her dad and his new girlfriend don’t call and her mother drinks a lot. Harper's christian aunt is making it really difficult for her to grieve her own way.

Harper is a self-confessed bad/rebellious girl - though if she really were a bad girl the reader potentially wouldn't like her very much, so really we know from the start that she's just a bit sad and angry.

Scruffy rock music lover Jake, who turns up is the potential love interest, though we aren't sure what the relationship between Jake and June had been. An interest in music is a nice touch to any book, like Sarah Dessen's ace Just Listen, and it's just gorgeous (warning, condescension ahead) when young people "discover" old music and think it's revolutionary.*

To prevent her parents from dividing her sister’s ashes into his and hers urns, and to grant June’s wish to move to California, Harper and her friend Laney (of the vintage clothes , straight-talking and slightly odd plot arc**) and the aforementioned Jake (who, of course, has a secret) steal the ashes and roadtrip in Jake’s van to the West Coast, which is where the story really starts. Crazy antics, kooky sights to see, encounters in mosh pits, fights and some sexytimes.

A lot happens. And I think because so much is going on, so many different places and conversations there's a funny pacing and I lost momentum a little towards the end. The scene in which they farewell June somehow felt too short, or anti-climactic, though it was raw, physical, and original.

There were lot of issues crammed in, but Saving June was a very enjoyable read overall. This review on goodreads says all I wanted to say but better. And read the comments too.

Click here to read more reviews of books with dead people in them about grief.

*yes, i am a bitter old lady and i totally listened to that band before you. any band. all bands!
**which (spoiler) goes something along the lines of date rape, unwanted pregnancy, no talk of pressing charges or STDs and with one wholly unsatisfying conclusion.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

some books i read

Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet is a brave and intelligent coming-of-age story in the Cold War Era. Clem is a council flat boy. Frankie is the wild(ish) daughter of a wealthy local landowner. They shouldn't be together but can't keep apart. But meanwhile the shadow of nuclear warfare and the Cold War looms and threatens. Indeed, we spend chapters with JFK as he botches the Bay of Pigs and tries to decide what the heck to do about Russian nukes in Cuba. It might take you time to get into it, you may at times think come on come on, get back to Clem and Frankie, but by the explosive end you'll be left reeling and want to start again immediately. The aftershocks will continue for days.

The Montmaray books by Michelle Cooper, A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes In Exile. Oh joy! What a wonderful discovery, even if I wasn't the first to land upon these rocky, historical fictiony shores. Sophie lives on the island of Montmaray, a tiny sovereign nation not too far from the coast of Spain with her eccentric family - frighteningly intelligent cousin Veronica, uncle King John who has become increasingly loopy, cheeky tomboy sister Henry and a smattering of villagers. Her brother Tom is in England, being educated, and their Aunt Charlotte has summoned Sophie and Veronica to be debuted. But it is 1936 and the world is a-rumbling with changes: Spain is having a civil war and in Germany a man called Hitler is threatening to invade Poland and Czechoslovakia and both of these things will impact on Montmaray. This book is told through Sophie's journal entries, in her engaging, amusing, intelligent voice and with wonderful observation, humour and humanity. It's full of literary, historical and political references, and just a little bit of talk about frocks and froufrou. You must, must read both.

And Jasper Fforde's Song of the Quarkbeast - The magical, adventure-filled and hilarious sequel to The Last Dragonslayer. Kazam is being challenged by iMagic, their magic company competition and whoever wins will be favoured by the King and have the monopoly on magic. They might even be able to get the mobile phone network back up. Our non-magic, foundling heroine Jennifer Strange just knows there is something more devious going on with the Amazing Blix, the king of the unUnited Kingdom...and just where and when will Kazam's missing manager the Great Zambini appear next to give them all some much-needed advice? Plus, should she go on a date with Youthful Perkins? Surges of magic that can send oak trees flying. Trolls out to rid their homes of human vermin ("here person person person"). A sneaky Quarkbeast looking for its other half. Big Magic, small magic, flying carpets, old grudges, new possibilities. It's explosive. Literally. Just read it - your sides will split with laughter and magic.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

here comes the sun

'Kate!' I hear you saying. 'What are you doing? Why no blog?' And here's me, just a-shruggin' and mumbling, 'I dunno, stuff, work, reading, summer, I dunno whatevs. Anyway, you're not my real mum!'

Here are some of the things I've been reading and watching and listening to and being generally inspired by lately:

Forever YA posted a list of the top ten british shows you could be watching, which made me laugh and reminisce. And I pop Misfits on there as the eleventh show for being hilarious and badass...and in a large part due to this scene (warning: bad swears! and spoilers!) and also the brilliantly anachronistic Ashes to Ashes for DCI Gene Hunt and all the blue eyeshadow and amazing music.

Also, one of my favourite anonymous and inspiring bloggers - The Intern - has outed herself and, extra-excitingly, has a YA book on the way.

And I still can't stop looking at the ANIMALS TALKING IN ALL CAPS.

I've been secondhand book shopping at Lost and Found in Brunswick:

Read as much as you can, and write. Keep notebooks. Be open to everything in the world. Don't give up. Tenacity is the most valuable asset for a writer.
This is a quote from an interview with Joanne Horniman here. I keep it on the wall next to Kerouac's Rules for Spontaneous Prose. I may be failing NaNoWriMo but am practicing tenacity.

The George Harrison documentary Living in the Material World by Martin Scorsese was a four hour cinema experience (including interval) that I hope you didn't miss (though I think you have, but just get the DVD). It is a fabulous look into his life, the contradictions in his personality and his relationship to death and dying. The music, the drugs, the religion. His beautiful son...

Then watch this scene from A Hard Day's Night. It is a hilarious and curious little jibe...maybe even relevant to today's hipsters, hmm? I challenge you not to laugh at lines like "the new thing is to care passionately and be right-wing".

I am also trying to read Haruki Murakami's new book 1Q84. But I'm worried I will drop it on my face while I'm reading in bed and it will kill me with its weighty tome-ness.

Last, but not least, our favorite Witty Waiter down at A Minor Place recorded this song, Against the Grain, and a guy called Dropbear has made this incredible stopmotion video to go along with it. Pencils! What a mad dog. Enjoy.

Hudson - Against The Grain from Dropbear on Vimeo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

early harvest

New from the kooky and brilliant brains behind the Pigeons Project (the very talented and good looking Jenna and Lachlann) comes early harvest. It's a literary magazine written and edited by kids. Kids! With the help of harvest's Davina Bell and community development worker Emma Hewitt, as well as Jenna and Lachlann, these kids spent the last few months learning all about calling for submissions, editing, publishing, marketing...and just look at what they've done!

I went in to have a chat with the editorial board fairly early on and we discussed things from a broad bookselling point of view: what makes a book look good (ie. how to judge a book by its cover), the process of getting a book from publisher to store, starting to think about the blurb and a good sales pitch - and pricing. I think the pricing might have been the most exciting part of our session...

The final product is in stores now and it looks a.m.a.z.i.n.g. And it reads e.x.c.e.l.l.e.n.t.l.y. I am so impressed and pleased and excited!

Come along to the launch tomorrow at the Sun Bookshop in Yarraville. It's all on at 11am in the foyer of the Sun Theatre. Come and meet the gang and hear some reading from the mag. It's going to be a gas - launched by Sally Rippin!

Visit the Pigeons Project website.

Monday, November 7, 2011

graffiti luna

cath crowley's graffiti moon is now available in italy, all translated into the italian for italian YAs to read as they're eating pizza and gelato, riding on vespas and drinking caffe latte.

<-- here be the cover! (i love it)

and the blurb:

Cinque minuti¿ anche stasera l'ha mancato per soli cinque minuti. Da mesi Lucy insegue Shadow, il più originale, inventivo e misterioso writer di Melbourne. Nessuno lo ha mai visto, ma tutti parlano di lui. Nessuno sa chi sia, tranne Poet, l'amico che dà i titoli ai suoi murales. Lucy sa che Shadow è il ragazzo giusto: geniale, creativo e appassionato di arte come lei, ed è decisa a incontrarlo. Solo Ed sa dove si trova e, anche se è l'ultimo ragazzo con cui vorrebbe passare il suo tempo, Lucy accetta di seguirlo in una folle notte di scorribande, confidenze e rivelazioni sotto i cieli azzurri che ricoprono i muri della città.

i don't speak so much of the italian, and i'm procrastinating, so i put it through an online translator:

Five minutes ¿even tonight he missed just five minutes. For months, Lucy chases Shadow, the most original, inventive and mysterious writer in Melbourne. No one has ever seen, but everyone talks about him. No one knows who he is, except for Poet, the friend who gives the titles to his murals. Lucy knows that Shadow is the right guy: brilliant, creative and passionate about art as you, and is determined to meet him. And only he knows where he is and, even if it's the last guy you would want to spend his time, Lucy agrees to follow him into a crazy night of raids, secrets and revelations in the blue skies that cover the walls of the city.

if you want to buy an italian version you can do so here.
if you don't own the australian version then head on down to your local independent bookshop. preferably this one.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

chapter by chapter

The Mask of Destiny, Richard Newsome (Text) - The Billionaire's Curse Trilogy winds up in this third installment that hurls Gerald (and trusty sidekicks Sam and Ruby) from London to France, to Italy and Greece. Gerald's on the lam because that nefarious Sir Mason Greene DIES during his court case and our man Gerald is BLAMED. Ye gads! He can't access his billions! There's danger and action galore - including an excellent bike chase through Paris - and a lot of mayhem and mysteries and myths. The final showdown is set in the most remarkable place and I wish I could give it away to you all. Feast for the imagination. I loved this whole series to bits.

Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees, Odo Hirsch (A&U) - the sequel to the CBCA-Book-of-the-Year-winning Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool is a ripper. Are you as worried as I am about all the bees dying? I actually think about it a lot. Oh my, oh my. But in Darius' world the bees dying brings problems closer to home - if the plants in the kitchen garden are not pollinated then the gardener, Mr Fisher, and his family won't have any plants to garden and will have to leave. Also, there will be no honey! The Mayor doesn't give two hoots, but Darius just may be able to concoct a plan - so long as there's a great swarm of helper-outers at the ready. This is beautiful and fun and community minded. Top stuff for 9+.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

coffee : truman

on a leafy albert park street corner sits truman. i ate there once, a wee while ago now, but it was delicious and unexpected and i have since returned twice for coffee. the southside is growing on me, though for visiting only of course.

I had The Truman, which was delicious: potato and leek hash with avocado, relish and some scrambled eggs on delicious grainy bread. the old timey plate was a nice touch. and the hash brown was my nom...

coffee, very good. nice and strong. fancy red glass saucer. i would recommend it.

i think my newfound affinity for the art deco south perhaps has something to do with the copious amount of inter-war period books i have been reading: nancy mitford, evelyn waugh, george orwell - as well as modern books that take place during this time: michelle cooper's montmaray books, amor towles' the rules of civility...

broadsheet reviewed it.
and so did the age.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

a novel experience

One Day, David Nicholls (Hodder)

This review is twofold.

First, the story itself. "The international bestseller" One Day by David Nicholls. I did not care for this novel. But I read it through to its end and below there will be spoilers.

Second, I read this book as a Flipback. Tiny book and an amusing, novel amusing novel experience? Oh for the love of a comma!

Now for the second, first. Printed on 'bible paper' it's pretty much necessary to employ the lick-your-thumb-to-turn-page method and, until your eyes adjust, sometimes being able to see the print on the other side so clearly is distracting.

Flipbacks are so delightfully tiny they fit in most small bags and are perfect for the tram. I think the idea is to just use one hand to hold the book, like an e-reader, but I persisted mostly with the two-handed approach.

Somehow I felt betrayed by this book. I feel like it was marketed as literary fiction, though to be honest and fair I don't believe it was. Somehow I had that perception though. Then all the "celebrities" were reading it in my trashy magazines. I thought - wonderful! Literary fiction to the masses! Then they made a film and I thought I had better read it before seeing the movie. It's definitely well written*, engaging and a good novel. I just think that if it'd had Maeve Binchy's name on the cover I might have gone into it with the appropriate expectations.**

Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew (get used to hearing their full names, Nicholls refers to them thus all the time) meet at college. She's young and idealistic, he's charismatic and arrogantly entitled. They've just graduated from Edinburgh university and drunkenly hook up one night, though they don't sleep together, and eventually decide to be best mates. The book then checks in with each of them on the same date each year, spanning the next twenty years. It's a great concept.

Emma is smart and enigmatic, but she sneers at Dexter's wish to travel the world and then she's relegated to failing regional theatre and a dead end job in a shitty London Mexican restaurant.*** Meanwhile Dexter travels, is charming, and then gets work in television. This apparently entitles him to be condescending to Emma whenever they meet because Emma is a dowdy, writing girl who "wonders why sex, even when so enjoyable, leaves her so ill-tempered."**** The reader's sympathy is nearly always with Dexter as he struggles with the rise of fame, the loss of fame, relationships, family and aging.

The characters are self-centred and on the clichéd (ok, ok "everyman") side. Their problems are annoying. Is this kind of novel designed to make me get myself out of a rut? Am I supposed to identify with the characters and their haplessness? Maybe this is why I enjoy young adult literature so much. Even when the characters wallow it isn't the same; there's the future to look forward to - there tends to be some kind of hope.

And what about the ending of One Day, I hear you ask. SPOILERS: So Dexter the cad finally gets the girl (fortunately Emma has become less dowdy in the intervening years) and, because of Emma's love and all, he gets back on track: becomes a better boyfriend, a better son, a better father, a better human being. So, her job done, David Nicholls kills the girl.

I know.

Let's not talk about it anymore.

At least I could imagine this as I read:

Go and watch him sing I've Just Seen A Face.

*Though, occasionally boring. On page 343 "Emma felt the hot tears of humiliation prick her eyes".
**This is not mean to sound disparaging. Yes, I am a MB fan. You knew that already.
***Don't get me started. This didn't make sense!
****Seriously, I don't want get started. Emma was "so very British" while Dexter was allowed to enjoy love and sex and it made me SO MAD.

Monday, October 17, 2011

give your son a thousand dollars a year for five years and tell him to go to the devil

Go forth and listen to W. Somerset Maugham speak about writing. Here. This is a recording from 1951 and is just wonderful. The title of this post, as you will hear, is Maugham's advice to a well-to-do lady in Boston whose son is desirous of a career in literature and who wanted some advice from this esteemed gentleman. Maugham is amusing, honest, and deliciously cutting. But honestly! You must take a little part of your day to listen. You could even click here.

or here.

But I have included some of my choice favourite snippits to lure you to click here and listen:

It is in an author’s power to mould his personality. Of course life will to some extent mould it for him. We are all creatures of circumstance and we should none of us be what we are but for our environment and the happy accidents, chance encounters, trials, pains and pleasures which have befallen us.

Personality is the writer’s stock and trade.

All experience – even the most ordinary and insignificant – is grist to his mill.

Life is the novelist’s business and he can only know about it and write about it with truth and significance if he participates in it.

Without a great deal more than a nodding acquaintance to art and literature, science and philosophy his personality will remain incomplete

The only valid and sensible reason I know for adopting the profession of literature is that you have so strong and urgent a desire to write that you simply cannot resist it.

~W. Somerset Maugham

Saturday, October 1, 2011

coffee : dr jekyll

while southside i had a coffee at dr jekyll, on grey st in st kilda. the courtyard out the back was shadowy and cool and nicely atmospheric. it had a very good crema and though the coffee had a slightly thin taste and was teensy bit bitter, it was nice. very drinkable and a good strength - i had two. menu looked quite delicious and i think would make a really great breakfast-brunch destination.

bravo southside.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

a weekend adventure southside

Anchors away!
Granted one last summer's day
We watched the sunset silhouette
The western suburbs across the bay
And when the sky was monochrome
We drained our drinks and headed home
Past bright-eyed boys in business suits
Tourists, where once were prostitutes

And you proposed a promenade
Neither of us knows
Follow the yellow brick apartment blocks
The Californian bungalows

But remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side
Remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side

I confess it's been a year, or little less
Since last I sallied forth
From the friendly confines of the north
But a single seagull's cry hangs in the quiet suburban sky
And for a moment I'm amazed
I ever claimed to hate this place

But remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side
Just remember when you're wandering alongside
The river has a right side and a wrong side

~ Transpontine, The Lucksmiths

Monday, September 26, 2011

review : beautiful days

Beautiful Days, Anna Godbersen (Razorbill)

This sequel to Godbersen's Bright Young Things continues the story of Cordelia, Letty and Astrid. It's summer in Long Island and the three girls have been spending their days lazing about the pool and attending lovely parties. And wearing wonderful clothes!

Cordelia is still feeling guilty and sad about the death of her new-found father and starting to get used to living the life of a high-profile bootlegger's daughter and sister. When her brother Charlie asks her to open a family speakeasy she jumps at the chance. But what about the mysterious pilot Max, who doesn't approve of her lifestyle? And why does what he think matter so much to her? Excellent twist around this plot point.

Astrid might be engaged to Charlie but without a ring can she really trust that her arrangements will go ahead as planned? Especially when her fiance is always away... Is she just chasing a pipe dream? I worry about the relationship dynamics between Charlie and Astrid and hope that the next book might address the imbalance.

Letty is still trying to make her name on the stage. Cordelia is helping, but Letty still feels like she could make it on her own. There's a bit of a romance blossoming with scruffy writer Grady, but there's a chance Letty might mess it all up. Can this songbird create a glittering future for herself? I love Letty, she's such an underdog, just a little bit wet, but has a lot to gain.

Though this series is not as detailed or evocative as The Luxe - almost seems a bit dashed off somehow? - it is lovely and diverting. Tip top summer reading.

My review of Bright Young Things.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"i prefer stories about squalor"

THERE WERE ninety-seven New York advertising men in the hotel, and, the way they were monopolizing the long-distance lines, the girl in 507 had to wait from noon till almost two-thirty to get her call through. She used the time, though. She read an article in a women's pocket-size magazine, called "Sex Is Fun - or Hell." She washed her comb and brush. She took the spot out of the skirt of her beige suit. She moved the button on her Saks blouse. She tweezed out two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole. When the operator finally rang her room, she was sitting on the window seat and had almost finished putting lacquer on the nails of her left hand.

She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.

With her little lacquer brush, while the phone was ringing, she went over the nail of her little finger, accentuating the line of the moon. She then replaced the cap on the bottle of lacquer and, standing up, passed her left - the wet - hand back and forth through the air. With her dry hand, she picked up a congested ashtray from the window seat and carried it with her over to the night table, on which the phone stood. She sat down on one of the made-up twin beds and - it was the fifth or sixth ring - picked up the phone.

~A Perfect Day for Bananafish, JD Salinger

At the risk of being a total cliché hipster doofus*, I hereby proclaim my love and awe and adoration for the short stories of Mr Salinger. He can create atmosphere and character like nobody's business, like in the piece above. He can write dialogue that leaps sprightly from the page, at once being mere banter while also ringing with subtext.

Salinger often wrote about young people, about teenagers and innocence and experience. His story For Esmé - With Love and Squalor breaks my heart every time. Like Sybil in Bananafish Esmé and her small brother Charles** are beautiful foils to the damaged adult to whom they speak and with whom they interact. Perhaps they can't save them, but sometimes they can.
You take a really sleepy man, Esmé, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac - with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.
I think I prefer his short stories to The Catcher in the Rye (eek! the Catcher cult will be after me!), possibly because there are more of them, and I adore the Glass family. Also because, taken as a whole, they give the reader such a fascinating peek at America in the 50s and the middle and upper classes as they existed post-war. He can make you laugh and break your heart all in the space of twelve or so pages. How's that for inspiration? And emotional squalor.

*See the film (500) Days of Summer - "just because someone likes the same bizarro crap you do doesn't mean you're soulmates." (This line even delivered by the film's own version of Holden Caulfield's kid sister Phoebe)

**The evil sister and I often recite to one another, with great amusement: HELLO HELLO HELLO HELLO LOVE AND KISSES CHALES.

Friday, September 16, 2011

she's got sad machine gun eyes

Simone Felice wooed the Northcote Social Club this Wednesday with his folksy, countryish, acoustic singer-songwriter-poet songs performed with all his heart* and a lot of dry humour and the glimmer of mischievous evil in his eyes. He's a showman, for sure, sitting up on stage on his stool in his motorcycle boots, interrupting himself mid-song to explain things (and even though I think these asides have just become part of the show he's so endearing you don't even care) and he's a little bit Dylan, a little bit Springsteen and makes the audience feel pretty darn special. He played all my faves: Don't Wake the Scarecrow, If You Ever Get Famous (prefaced by a little "fame, i'm gonna live forever" spoken word jibe), One More American Song, Radio Song...and more, and more, then finished with the best Springsteen/Dylan/Neil Young/Amazing Grace singalong bonanza.

Well, the man cries,
"Who gives a damn when a tramp dies?"
But I loved you there in the lamp light
With your bare thighs
And the halo of your hair alive

And all my lifelong
I'll never shake off your siren song
And all of your talk about dying young
With an iron lung and that crazy way

You said, "Simon,
I think I might stay here with Scarecrow tonight
Simon, I think I'm gonna stay here with Scarecrow tonight."

Simone's book Black Jesus is out now. It's the story of a young American marine returned, blinded, from the war in Iraq. Answering only to the nickname Black Jesus (because he was so white, or maybe because his surname was White) he's back home in his shitty upstate New York town with his mother, who has moved into the closed-down Dairy Queen after their trailer home burned up. Then there are chapters from a young woman riding across the country on her moped with pretty much only a broken leg and the last of her stripping money to get her anywhere. Am only a few chapters in and, like Simone's songs, this book is written with spare but loaded prose that evokes the sad tragedy of a strange new broken America. "Amazing I can even read," he said before performing an excerpt, "considering the third world country I come from."

Have a squiz at Shaky, a song he recorded with his band the Duke and the King. It's what he called a "put down your grenade launcher and shake your ass song". This film clip is just ace.

Simone's website.

I saw his bros in action earlier this year. I love them too. Remember?.

*the same wonky heart that prevented him visiting us last year.

Monday, September 12, 2011

coffee : 1000 £ bend

I was late to this party. All the cool kids know about this place already.

I walked into 1000 £ Bend and felt instantly at home. Either that, or transported. It's like the Tardis version of that old gem St Jerome's - all the same stuff but bigger space. Is it owned by the same people? I don't know. I do know that all the kitch "art" from St Jerome's is on the walls and the squeezy bench seats are back (and now with more space!) and that I like it quite a lot.

It's a warehouse with a huge space out the back for all kinds of events, launches, exhibitions and an underground cinema.

The coffee is tasty but very milky (only full cream or soy on offer) and I would prefer a stronger coffee - shall order a double shot next time.

With lots of couches, chairs and tables (some communal), the affordable and tasty-looking food, great music, nice people and good beer on tap (they have their own St Jerome's Caledonian lager, I liked it) and longnecks too - plus free wifi...both times I've been here I've stayed for hours.

361 Little Lonsdale Street.
They have a website here.

Friday, September 9, 2011


My very good friend Arthur drew this picture on the weekend:

He's in Prep and did the drawing and writing all by himself. Last time I saw him he couldn't read or write. Now he can, and it is like a whole new world has opened up for him. He even had a crack at spelling hipop hipoppot hip - oh nevermind.

Quite incredible, the power that comes from being able to read and write, isn't it?

Yesterday was Indigenous Literacy Day. But you can still support the Indigenous Literacy Foundation today, and tomorrow, and next year. Go here to read all about it, and maybe donate so kids in remote communities can have access to books and words.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

review : clara in washington

Clara in Washington, Penny Tangey (UQP)

When Loving Richard Feynman was released in 2009 it was really exciting to discover a new, vibrant YA voice. LRF, shortlisted in the CBC older readers category, is about family, friendship and disillusionment. The protagonist Catherine was smart and set herself apart from the gang - she's aloof, kooky and hilariously, humanly flawed.

Clara in Washington is a fabulous follow-up. Clara has decided to spend the summer holidays after finishing Year 12 in wintery Washington DC with her mum - by way of escaping a certain someone back home and trying to avoid thinking and talking about her exam results and university choices.

Clara is terrified to leave the apartment at first, imagining muggings and terrorist attacks, people not understanding her. But faced with looking like she's not having a good time to friends back home, Clara soon finds herself volunteering with a number of organisations and charities (so she can post "put my name down to volunteer at a homeless women's shelter" on her facebook and feel a little bit superior) and visiting monuments and museums galore, as well as falling in with a group of anarchists. She's not a Rah-Rah-Rah do-gooder, but doing some good might do her good.

Clara is very smart, but she's book smart. Not savvy, not confident and not even very nice sometimes. She cuts herself off from her friends, stops replying to emails and, when results come out, refuses to look up her score. But in spite of her defences the reader can tell she wants to make connections. In discussions with friends about Clara it's been suggested she's "passive", that she just lets things happen to her. She's on the lazy size, with crippling anxiety about getting things wrong (to the extent that it is a little annoying) and a bit of a know-it-all. But! It didn't take me long to feel for Clara, or to sympathise with her and I think she comes across as a very realistic character - and, within her own parametres, pretty brave.

As well as being a personal journey, and something of a romance, Clara in Washington also explores politics, government and social justice. Learning to think for oneself, while also listening to what others have to say - is this the very definition of coming-of-age?

Penny Tangey has peopled her novel with a cast of interesting characters - the slightly crazy ladies at the shelter are just gorgous - and it was great to watch (read?) Clara interact with all the different people she meets and gets to know, and see how they help her settle into Washington, how they help her make the most of this opportunity. If you'd like to, you can imagine the anarchists Campbell and Eric like this:

Clara in Washington is laugh out loud funny. Clara's dry sense of humour and almost manic paranoia amused one greatly.

Read My Girl Friday's review.
Read the Fancy Goods review here.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

review : black painted fingernails

black painted fingernails, steven herrick (allen&unwin)

in steven herrick's newest book, published a couple of months ago now, student teacher james is heading to a country town for his very first teaching experience. ostensibly, james is ready - he's got the job, somewhere to stay (and all paid up), he's got the keys to a bmw and a healthy cut lunch for the drive.

luckily for the reader, who might be despairing at this point for james' lack of imagination and sense of adventure, he stops to fill up with petrol and is somehow conned into giving sophie a lift on his way.

sophie is older. she's hair, legs and black painted fingernails. and she's got james pegged immediately and she goes out of her way to encourage, entice and embarrass him out of his shell.

she brings out a tube of lipstick and elaborately applies it to her full lips , then kisses the hankie, leaving a big red pout above my name. she hands it back to me. 'don't wash it. leave it for your mum.'

it soon becomes clear that james is far from ready, and far from willing to enter into the teaching life. and sophie - so cocky and apparently self-assured - is hiding, or has masked, some painful secrets and sadness. the characters are all big-hearted, very real people. they talk, they're awkward.

sophie's third-person narrated chapters deal almost exclusively with her back story and the reader learns how she developed her tough exterior. the scenes with cardigan madrigal, the gentle hippie boy - the only boy in town who didn't like football - of sophie's teen years in her rough country hometown are such a highlight.

and in an unusual move, a number of the chapters are narrated from james' parents point of view. ok, so you don't really want to read about (spoiler) parents having sex, but at the same time it's kind of special to be privvy to angela and michael's experience of being left behind by their only son - coping with his absence and torn between trying to protect him from the world while also wanting him to discover it. complete pic of family and when the time comes, at the end of the novel, we are able to understand the parents' motivations and responses.

on one hand you think you have this story figured out: road trip, coming of age, boy meets a quirky girl and is bewitched. on the other hand...this is steven herrick and it's beautifully written and a truly lovely story.

Monday, August 29, 2011

allez viens je t'emmene au vent

Feeling awfully lazy. I blame the blue skies and sunshine.

Went along to the Melbourne Writers Festy today and wandered in and out of a couple of sessions, slightly vaguely. Nick Earls is just great, funny and friendly and everything he says makes such sense and I really felt like writing a novel was achievable for about fifteen minutes there. Maggie Stiefvater was extremely energetic and spoke so fast sometimes I missed what she was saying but then she explained that she just wanted to write books that made people so emotional that they cried - the big snotty sobbing kind of crying - and this amused me. I was really impressed with the questions the audience asked.

I’ve been reading the blog Hyperbole and a Half quite obsessively because Allie is hilarious and self-deprecating and likes grammar and dogs. I like this blog alot.

In reading news, Kate Constable's Crow Country is amazing. I wrote a little thing about it on the Younger Sun blog. You can read Kate's blog here.

Rereading Mahalia and feeling a funny old feeling now that I have heard Jo Horniman pronounce it ma-HAY-lia when i’ve been pronouncing it ma-HAH-lia this whole time. It's a feeling sort of like an existential crisis plus foolishness.

A friend came home from Africa and brought back the DVD of Spud for us to watch. This is v exciting because this is one of the funniest books I have ever read. The funniest three books I've ever read.

And then I looked at some baby elephants thanks to my Marvellous friend's twitter link.

All these things made me feel better about the Chelsea Hotel closing down without me ever getting to stay there and how BHP is going to make ooh a roughly TWENTY BILLION DOLLAR profit this year and how the newspapers hardly ever publish any articles about young adult literature.

But anyway. Here you can watch and listen to Louise Attaque's song Je t'emmene au vent. It is a supremely daggy film clip but a top song.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

review : yellowcake

yellowcake, margo lanagan (allen & unwin)

forgive me.

i read this a long time ago and meant to write about it straight away, but the stories cased within this beautiful cover are not simple tales to read and flippantly comment on. they are convoluted and mysterious, beautiful and twistedly grotesque.

heads remains looming in my mind, the story in which a golden haired boy portrays innocence and busyness and a sense of purpose in a horrible world where something awful has happened and he's not sure why.

also ferryman, which broke my heart with its light and loving banter between father and daughter ("scowling sarah") combined with the grief and "the ragged crying all around us in the hole, that is me; these two are silent in their cleaving. i lean and howl against them and at last they take me in, lock me in with them."

a honest day's work is truly a stand-out as well, in which a townful of labourers working to butcher and make use of a beast washed up in their harbour, as told from the perspective of a young boy with a crippled foot participating in his first day of work. watching for the 'sizable' 'incoming' and the careful work they do, slicing here and oh watch out, a nerve has made the arm jolt. no - the beast awakens. when it stands, tries to put its skull back on - at once revolting and most certainly fascinating. and the guilt and the shame is evident, at the way they carry out their work, hardly considering the life form that once was. "it could be mistaken for a person, this one." fracks. i have shivers, and a sinking feeling in my stomach, even now.

and if i may borrow from my friend clare, whose review in bookseller+publisher was just...just so.

she wrote: each piece in this collection is truly elegant, and each possesses a haunting, often unnerving quality that leaves the innards of the story lingering long after the last page is turned...lanagan's masterful use of language continues to astonish, with turns of phrase so perfect that you want to roll them around in your mouth until all the goodness is sucked from them and her ability to create powerful stories that demand serious contemplation is unrivalled. the often dark subject matter varies greatly, as each story is wildly different, but the skill with which it is handled is never compromised. yellowcake should eked out over time, each story to be savoured.

what is truly impressive - and is evident in all of margo's work - is the way she can create a world, a community in her stories, no matter how short. she breathes life into her characters and her settings, using language in such a wonderful and inventive way. she explores the physical in a way not many writers do and every story will just blow you away. mindfuck, yes. comfortable, not always.

inspiring and overwhelming? yes, always.

read this review by raych of books i done read.

go and read margo's other books: white time, black juice, red spikes, tender morsels and the upcoming "selkie novel" now officially named sea hearts.
you can also read her blog: among amid while.
many thanks to margo for sending me a copy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

national bookshop day

tomorrow you go to a bookshop. go directly to a bookshop.* do not pass go, do not collect $200.
national bookshop day. it's all part of making sure people remember how incredibly wonderful bookshops are and the job they do within the community. it's about sticking it to the man. you know that scene at the end of empire records? it's going to be pretty much exactly like that.**

the sun bookshop and the younger sun are having a 10am story time with our favourite local (man) william mcinnes for the kidlets and their swooning mums (and dads) and then at 1pm we are launching the rerelease of our favourite local (woman) kerry greenwood's novel medea.

we we we so excited, we so excited.***
and hannah's been making the shop all clean for you.

*though if you detour or deviate in the direction of coffee you will most likely be forgiven. especially if you bring me one. a skinny latte, thanks.
**it will probably be absolutely nothing like that. but awesome nonetheless.
***forgive me for THAT!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saturday, August 13, 2011

expression is the need of my soul

talking about archies the other week put me in the mind to re-read the wonderfully hilarious poems of archy and mehitabel by don marquis. archy is the reincarnated spirit of a free verse poet, now a cockroach living in a new york newspaper office. at night he scurries out and types poems by jumping and slamming his wee cockroach head onto the typewriter keys - hence lack of capitalisation and most punctuation. the idea is that the newspaper men happen upon the poems in the morning and start printing them as a column.

and here's a piece, a selection, from right near the start:

"expression is the need of my soul
i was once a vers libre bard
but i died and my soul went into the body of a cockroach
it has given me a new outlook upon life
i see things from the under side now
thank you for the apple peelings in the wastepaper basket
but your paste is getting so stale i cant eat it
there is a cat here called mehitabel i wish you would have
removed she nearly ate me the other night why dont she
catch rats that is what she is supposed to be fore
there is a rat here she should get without delay"

archy's poems give a beautifully satirical view of life in nyc in the twenties and thirties, the excesses and toughness of those decades. the poem "certain maxims of archy" is particularly memorable and includes stanzas like this:

"don t cuss the climate
it probably doesn t like you
any better
than you like it"


"prohibition makes you
want to cry
into your beer and
denies you the beer
to cry into"


"boss the other day
i heard an
ant conversing
with a flea
small talk i said
and went away
from there"


"the bees got their
governmental system settled
millions of years ago
but the human race is still

alley cat mehitabel, in her many previous lives, once lived much more grandly than she does now (once she was cleopatra). but she's toujours gai, darlinks, toujours gai even when she's down on her luck and or burdened with kittens. mehitabel never intended a life of matrimony or motherhood:

"the life of a female
artist is continually
hampered what in hell
have i done to deserve
all these kittens"

archy interviews pharaohs in the museum, has a radio interview with mars and one time finds the shift lock (caps lock) key and experiences the JOY OF CAPITAL LETTERS. hilariously funny yet sometimes tragic and cynical, you must get a copy without delay. and what's more, the best of archy and mehitabel is going to be published in october! go, demand your local bookshop order it in! i am placing an order for at least twenty-three as i type this.

go to the don marquis website for more on archy.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Amy and Roger's Epic Detour

started amy and roger's epic detour (by morgan matson published by simon and schuster) today and so far it's quite good. but the most exciting thing is the quote that opens chapter two:

yes! that's the luckies' song california in popular song from the final (amazing) album first frost.
read a review of first frost here. buy it here.
visit morgan matson's website here.