Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 bests

lots of people are making their lists of 2012 best reads and if i made a list it would go on forever, so i've decided to go with just two: a YA best and one grown-up one. as it happens, one is the first book i read this year, the other is the last. this is a kind of symmetry i like. one was first published in australia in 2012, the other is from a couple of years ago, but which i only just got around to reading.

there were many amazing YA titles this year (and A LOT of australian ones), but i'm going with daniel handler's why we broke up, illustrated by maira kalman. i love these guys; loved their collaboration on the picture book 13 words. when i read this i was just about to start work at hardie grant egmont and it made me feel so chuffed that my new workplace had chosen to be the australian home for this book. it made me feel confident that we would get along.

why we broke up

min green and ed slaterton are breaking up, so min is writing ed a letter and giving him a box. inside the box is why they broke up. two bottle caps, a movie ticket, a folded note, a box of matches, a protractor, books, a toy truck, a pair of ugly earrings, a comb from a motel room, and every other item collected over the course of a giddy, intimate, heartbreaking relationship. item after item is illustrated and accounted for, and then the box, like a girlfriend, will be dumped.

beginning to end, all the angst and heartbreak included, this was a delight. all the (made-up) films and movie stars, the references that min made and which baffled ed. the conversations that went around and around, the tangents and segues. why we broke up is a brilliantly written and smart book - plus, so perfectly teenage. min is hyperbolic, feels things so deeply. she's over-dramatic (some might say) and i know there were many adult YA readers who didn't like this one at all. and this, above all, is why i love this book so: a teenager's life should often exclude or baffle an adult and i felt that min and ed and al all had the space to exist as teenagers and as people. they felt real, they spoke their thoughts and got things wrong. they were unlikable, precocious and whimiscal (angsty). and i loved them for it.


i don't read a lot of books for grown ups, and even more rarely do i read non-fiction. but i've been coveting patti smith's memoir just kids for a month or so now, drawing it out and savouring it. i finished it this morning; i loved it.

just kids

just kids begins as a love story and ends as an elegy. It serves as a salute to new york city during the late sixties and seventies and to its rich and poor, its hustlers and hellions. a true fable, it is a portrait of two young artists' ascent, a prelude to fame.

smith's prose is dreamy and yet straightforward, it's intimate but not self-exploitative. i knew so little about her life, and littler still about her relationship with robert mapplethorpe. this was such a special book. i loved the way she spoke about all those crazy cats who inhabited manhattan and brooklyn and paris in the 60s and 70s - it was just life, it never felt like she was name-dropping or big-noting. i appreciated the solemn, serious and dedicated way she approached her art. i think this is one i will read again and again.
yet you could feel a vibration in the air, a sense of hastening. it had started with the moon, inaccessible poem that it was. now men had walked upon it, rubber treads on a pearl of the gods. perhaps it was an awereness of time passing, the last summer of the decade. sometimes i just wanted to raise my hands and stop. but stop what? maybe just growing up. (p.104)
happy new year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

i really like christmas

puppies, a game of croquet, a trip down the great ocean road, a surf lesson, a swim with australian fur seals and much delicious food and drink - this christmas holiday has been one hundred per cent fantastic. the family i worked for in france six years ago came to my parents' place to spend five days with us during their three week holiday in australia. the kids are older, but just as brilliant, curious and hilarious. and though it has been four years since we were last together, it felt like no time had passed at all. we introduced them to paper christmas hats, fish and chips, the hole in the ozone layer and homebrewed beer.

this is actually the evil sister, not a frenchie. she should know better...

i was also having a nosey through my grandmother's recipe collection and discovered this little bit of delightfulness:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the quiet

Writers are told not to write down to young adult readers, but I can’t help but feel that this is constantly happening today—it simply doesn’t take the form that we might imagine it to. By giving readers books that are all about taking down the state or fighting werewolves we’re implying that it’s only these problems that are of any value, that the everyday teenage experience is otherwise something that should be easily navigable. I can’t think of any worse way than putting down a reader than by suggesting that their lives do not merit reading about.

In addition, by excising all of the quiet space that exists in these classic books in order to make room, make room! for more attention-grabbing plot, we’re denying readers the thinking room to be able to truly experience all of the wonders of reading. We’re assuming that they want their reading experience to be as little like a reading experience as possible, and the result is books with narratives that stream by like tickertape. I can’t help but wonder whether they’ll be forgettable, these books that disallow readers the space that we need to reflect on a story, to engage with it, and to draw our own conclusions.

Not all readers read to escape, nor do they necessarily read in order to live vicariously as action heroes. Sometimes readers read to identify, to make a friend who’ll remain with them forever, and to be charmed. Sometimes they want to be able to read a book that gives them the space that they need to think about the questions posed by the book, and to answer them themselves.

Surprisingly often, too, it’s the quiet books that are the ones that change lives.

from Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting

I love the quiet books, they're my favourite. And Anne, above all. I think Stephanie is so right when she says that there are readers who want this kind of book. It's really important that there are slow reads, tales that meander, language that dips and peaks and swirls, the characters who (like Anne) just grow up, and be.

It's good for our brains to read these kinds of books. Life is so hectic and noisy and barrelling along, surely we don't always need our books to push us through their plots helter-skelter. It makes me exhausted! Even now I'm struggling to think of the quiet stories, to give examples. I constantly feel busy (which is total bollocks, I'm not so busy really). When I sit back and try to think about the quiet things I end up just getting distracted...I don't know when my attention span shrank so.

Here is what I did this evening:

Had dinner with a friend.
Wandered homeward.
Read through twenty pages of the story I'm working on. It's awfully rough. Found many lines that made me cringe, found other that made me happy to keep working on this. Found a nice quiet moment that I had written. Who knows if it will end up even in the first draft, but it's here for now:

Neither of us had eaten olives before, except accidentally on pizza. They were salty and fleshy and when I licked at my lips it felt like I'd been swimming in the ocean and, when I said so, J said he felt the same.
  I said, 'If you ever give me a book as a present you have to write in the front of it.'
  'Ok,' he said.
  We guzzled water from the garden hose because it was closer than the house and we were so warm, there on the slope. The pony grazed by us, huffing when a grass seed went up his nose. We smelled all the smells. At least I did, I couldn't speak for J.
  'I reckon spring's around the corner,' he said. 'Smell that?'
  I read a book once about a girl who jumped into a river just because she wanted to see what it felt like.
  I couldn't help jumping.

Then I read some blogs.
I started writing this post.
I made some sodastream with elderflower cordial.
Pulled Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island and The Story Girl out of my bookshelf and just put them on the floor for later.
I put on some washing.
Tried to write some more of this post.
I tried to call my parents - they didn't answer.
I've been writing this post for hours. I just kept getting distracted.

This past weekend I was in Tasmania for the wedding of a great friend. I travelled down with my uni gang. We are a very noisy bunch, loud and sometimes crass, always talking and arguing and gossiping; all of us celebrating almost eleven years of friendship.

On the Sunday night, after the wedding was over and the weekend coming to an end, we walked up the beach at dusk to watch the penguins come in. We sat on a big rock and got colder and colder, but we waited. And when the first lot of penguins rode in on a turquoise wave we became quiet, pointing at first, whispering - over there! and there are some more! - and then watched for an hour in absolute silence as they came out of the water and over the sand and the rocks and up into the scrub to find and feed their babies.

The penguins were spectacular, but the quiet was the best.

May there always be quiet times. May there always be quiet, life-changing books.