Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Goodbye for now

Well, things have just gotten too hectic which means my storytime blog must go on hold. So it's goodbye for now!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

My Secret Confession

I confess- I am not the bookworm I claim to be. I just checked out the shortlisted novels for the Man booker. There might be a record broken with JM Coetzee up for a third win. Very exciting! Although, I feel guilty that I haven’t read any of the books shortlisted so can make no claim whatsoever on who I think should win. I also confess that I spend way too much time reading ‘pulp’ like Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer rather than ‘proper’ books. I try and balance it out but there is not enough hours in the day to read it all which makes me think every book I pick up should be chosen wisely. For every Twilight book I devour there is a Pulitzer prize-winning work of literature waiting to be read. How incredibly stressful!

To make my guilt worse, there was a facebook email going around with a list of 100 books. You were supposed to write down how many you had read and pass it on to your other ‘bookwormy’ friends. My friend got over half. I was so embarrassed that I got a third (well 38) that I couldn’t bring myself to forward it on. I’m supposed to be a bookworm after all right? So why the heck am I on 38? Maybe because they don’t have books by wonderful writers such as Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis and Jeffrey Eugenides. Okay, now I’m making excuses for myself. I’ll just admit I’ve got a bit of a way to go before being ‘well-read’. And what better way to confess my reading shortcomings than on my quasi-secret blog.

Here’s the list.

1. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen) – Yes
2. The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien) – Yes
3. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte) – Yes
4. Harry Potter series (JK Rowling) – Yes
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) – Yes, one of my favourites.
6. The Bible – No
7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) – Yes
8. Nineteen Eighty Four (George Orwell) – Yes, another favourite
9. His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman) – Yes
10. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) – No
11. Little Women (Louisa M Alcott) – No
12. Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy) – No
13. Catch 22 (Joseph Heller) – No
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare – About half
15. Rebecca (Daphne Du Maurier) – No
16. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien) – Yes
17. Birdsong (Sebastian Faulks) – No
18. Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger) – Yes
19. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrey Niffenegger) – No
20. Middlemarch (George Eliot) – No, but dying to as George is a ‘she’ and that makes me excited
21. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell) – No
22. The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald) – Yes
23. Bleak House (Charles Dickens) – No
24. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy) – No
25. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) – Yes
26. Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh) – No
27. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky) – No
28. Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck) – No
29. Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) – Yes, love it. Have it permanently on my ipod too
30. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame) – No, although keen too as I want to learn about badgers
31. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy) – No
32. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) – No
33. Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis) –Yes
34. Emma (Jane Austen) – No, feel double guilty as it’s what I’m named after
35. Persuasion (Jane Austen) – No
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (CS Lewis) – Yes
37. The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini) –Yes
38. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis De Berniere) – Yes
39. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden) – Yes
40. Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne) – Yes
41. Animal Farm (George Orwell) –Yes – I love you George!
42. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) – Yes
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) – No
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney (John Irving) – No
45. The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins) – No
46. Anne of Green Gables (LM Montgomery) – No
47. Far From The Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy) – No
48. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood) – No
49. Lord of the Flies (William Golding) – Yes
50. Atonement (Ian McEwan) – Yes
51. Life of Pi (Yann Martel) – Yes, fabulous book
52. Dune (Frank Herbert) – No
53. Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons) -No
54. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen) – No
55. A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth) – No.
56. The Shadow of the Wind (Carlos Ruiz Zafon) – No
57. A Tale Of Two Cities (Charles Dickens) – No
58. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley) – No
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Mark Haddon) – Yes, a unique and fascinating read. Great voice.
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) – Yes
61. Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck) – No
62. Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov) – Yes
63. The Secret History (Donna Tartt) – No.
64. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold) – Yes, so sad and beautiful at the same time
65. Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas) – No
66. On The Road (Jack Kerouac) – No
67. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy) – No
68. Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding) –Yes
69. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie) – No
70. Moby Dick (Herman Melville) – No
71. Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) – No
72. Dracula (Bram Stoker) – Yes
73. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett) – No
74. Notes From A Small Island (Bill Bryson) – Half, plan to reread
75. Ulysses (James Joyce) – No
76. The Bell Jar (Sylvia Plath) – No
77. Swallows and Amazons (Arthur Ransome) – No.
78. Germinal (Emile Zola) – No
79. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray) – No
80. Possession (AS Byatt) – No.
81. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) – No
82. Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) – No.
83. The Color Purple (Alice Walker) – No
84. The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro) – No.
85. Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert) – Yes (I’m glad I wasn’t named after this ‘Emma’)
86. A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) – No.
87. Charlotte’s Web (EB White) – Yes
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) – No.
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) – No.
90. The Faraway Tree Collection (Enid Blyton) – Yes, Dick and Fanny never fail to amuse
91. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) – Yes
92. The Little Prince (Antoine De Saint-ExupĂ©ry) – No
93. The Wasp Factory (Iain Banks) – No
94. Watership Down (Richard Adams) – Yes
95. A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole) – No
96. A Town Like Alice (Nevil Shute) – No.
97. The Three Musketeers (Alexandre Dumas) – Yes
98. Hamlet (William Shakespeare) – No, seen the play though
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl) – Yes
100. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo) – No.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Playing the Victim

‘Victims are very powerful,’ a woman once said to me in a creative writing workshop.

I didn’t think about it too much at the time, but I was reminded of it recently when a friend was talking about her relative. She said he victimises himself to get what he wants. The middle-aged man is unreliable, disrespectful, and always has people loaning him money. The reason he gets away with it is because he never fails to mention his unhappy childhood

'Everyone knows someone like this,’ my friend said. And after a little think I realised that I did. At university I knew two girls, Donna and Tracey. Both went through similar problems in their childhood yet as adults behaved in very different ways. They had both gone through the divorce of their parents, both had a dysfunctional relationship with their father and both had suffered an eating disorder. Tracey did lots of volunteering for young people and would organise arts workshops and festivals. She also volunteers in East Timor and South America. Tracey confided her past to me after years of developing a close friendship. Donna, on the other hand, told a group of us she had only known for two weeks in a university tutorial about her eating disorder. Instantly we felt sorry for her and gave her sympathy. She also used the divorce as an excuse for her commitment problems and to explain why she treated men badly. Again we pitied her and hoped she would one day feel better. She began to push boundaries even further and would be friendly to people only to say nasty and untrue things behind their backs. She was unkind to most women, and especially women she felt threatened by. The thing is that we all let her behave this way, and allowed her to treat people badly because she had been a victim of an unhappy childhood. This girl continues to play the card of, ‘Poor me, I have issues being friendly and social with people and I was anorexic ten years ago.’ When she publicly writes about her social anxiety in her blog, readers and friends always describe her as brave even though she has hurt more people, burnt more bridges and has more ex friends than she’s had hot dinners. Yes it’s true. Victims are very powerful.

What manipulating ‘victims’ are there in literature? If society is full of people like this, then where are they in the books we read? I think of film characters such as Aaron in Primal Fear and Roger ‘Vebal’ Kint in The Usual Suspects. For me, what made these films great was the twist. That moment when it hit us that we had all been duped and manipulated by these ‘victims’ who in actual fact were cold-blooded killers. The characters all had a kind of handicap such as a stutter or a limp which was something to make us feel sorry for them. For Donna her handicap is her self-claimed social awkwardness due to an unstable past. I think for a powerful and manipulating victim, the handicap is a strong and vital device as it makes us feel sorry for them and for us to view them as vulnerable.

So there are some interesting examples of characters who play the victim in film but what about in books? What are some memorable and strong book character victims? Perhaps Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in the book Perfume, although I never felt pity for him or duped by him. The only other interesting book ‘victims’ I can think of are both in Capote books. Holly Golightly is a fascinating character, a young woman who left her loving husband to run away to New York. Her way of paying rent mainly was to get money of rich men. Still, I felt sympathetic towards her at times and also found her playful and lively personality appealing, maybe even enough to excuse the way she used and manipulated men. Audrey Hepburn may have dealt with her commitment issues by the end of the film adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffanys but that wasn’t what happened in Truman’s novella. The other interesting victims were the killers in In Cold Blood. As a reader we felt sorry for them, especially Perry Smith. Sometimes even forgetting that they brutally murdered a family of four for a quick buck

I do think victims are powerful, and that we allow them to get away with more than they should. And, if everyone really does know someone who plays the victim for power and to manipulate others, then perhaps it is an avenue which can be more explored in writing.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Lord Byron

This month has been insanely busy. I'm even too busy too describe how insane it has been.

So, here's the first part of a mini bio I want to write on Lord Byron. More to come (on my return from France).

“A celebrity is one who is known to many persons he is glad he doesn't know.” - Lord Byron, (1788 – 1824), the first ‘famous’ person of England.

There are many talented and wonderful writers to come out of England, including the poet Lord Byron. However, it would seem that with great talent comes great eccentricities and boy, did Byron have a few of those.

Let me start from the beginning. His father, 'Mad Jack' was a drinking, gambling brute who had the occasional romp with his sister Frances. Prison also ran in the family with 'Mad Jack' being sentenced for debts and also Byron's Grand-Uncle, John Byron did his stint for murder. John Byron, also known as the Wicked Lord had a penchant for affairs with the servants and casting off illegitimate kids. He was loaded (financially and otherwise), however, Byron's father was not.

Byron spent most his childhood alone with his mother. She was not a gambler, nor was she an adulterer nor had she committed any crimes of incest or murder. She was just plain looking and fat and suffered from crazy mood swings where one minute would be spent nurturing and mothering her son to the next moment brandishing him with burning hot tongs. Byron would retaliate by pricking her arms with safety pins whilst in church. Nice family eh?

The Wicked Lord’s son eloped with his cousin, making the uncle so miffed that he burnt down every oak tree on his property and killed over 2000 of his roaming deer to make sure the son would draw the short end of the stick when it came to his inheritance. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. But it didn't matter in the end because by the time the uncle died so had his son - and whammo - Byron was made a Lord and had his own estate.

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Bloodlust – why teens adore vampires

At fourteen I developed a fascination with vampires. My friend Beth had loaned me Monster a book about high school vampires which I gobbled up within a day. The author, Christopher Pike, writes teen horror stories, and he is bloody good. Pardon the pun. His series The Last Vampire, with the uber-sexy vampire heroine Alisa/Sita, was also an obsession of mine. Since my Pike fetish I’ve devoured a stream of other vampire-related novels and I don’t think I’m alone in these reading habits. So, what makes readers, especially teenagers, so intrigued by the day-to-day events of the undead?

Before I discovered my penchant for bloodsuckers, I enjoyed fairy tales and fantasy books about pixies, wizards and elves. So, I guess when I hit puberty it would make sense that I would want to read something which was a bit more “grown up” yet not boring, adult stuff.

Could desiring vampire stories be a healthy way for teenagers to rebel? The books are a transformation from fairies and superheroes to super-sophisticated and powerful creatures who do what they want and when they want. These protagonists go against all the morals and values that parental or authority figures cram down pubescent throats. Hey, reading Pike or Meyer, and feeling as though you’re a part of something racy and rebellious is a better way for teens to vicariously live out such desires than dabbling in unprotected sex or recreational drug use.

But if my theory is correct, why do I still enjoy Vampire books even though I’ve passed my angst-ridden teens? In my early twenties I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Le Stat. The latter was what broke ten years of not touching red meat and resulted in me wolfing down a medium cooked steak at my local university pub, (all that talk of blood must have excited me). Now I’m in my late twenties and I’ve read the Twilight series and I’ve now sunk my teeth into (again, pardon the pun) the Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse Vampire mystery series. The latter is 100 per cent pure fun and I highly recommend it if you need a vampy, racy page turner.

In conclusion, my ongoing penchant for vampire tales must be a way to be nostalgic, and rebellious, because when you read about vampires you’re a part of something very, very naughty and forbidden. How delightful indeed!

For interesting links on Vampires, check out:

Follow this link to Ask men’s10 reasons why women love vampires: http://uk.askmen.com/top_10/dating/top-10-reasons-women-love-vampires.html

“Why are vampire movies always big in America”

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The dos and donts of Audio books

Two years ago I bought my first ever ipod and it changed my way of reading. I’d changed jobs and my new place of employment had no direct bus route from my flat which meant I used to walk to and from work every day. So I got an ipod and after a few weeks of listening to the same old music I realised how much I missed my morning and afternoon read on the commute. The answer to my dilemma came in the form of a shiny cd from the Circular Quay library. And so began my love affair with audio books.

I’ve devoured everything from Shakespeare to the epic biography of Wild Swans to chick lit (and yes, I get a kick out of saying this fast in my head so it sounds like clit). Here’s a list of dos and donts for happy ipod listening.


Enjoy the accents because it is one of the best things about audio books. I don’t know if this is the same for everyone but when I read a book the accents in my head are from where my country of origin, Australia. Because for me, reading is sort of like I’m speaking to myself (is that schitzophrenia?) However, when it comes to audiobooks, chances are the reader will do a variety of wonderful voices from the area or time the book is set in. When I listened to one of my favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, I was pleasantly surprised to be melted in to all those deep Southern Accents. Even if I had read the book putting on my own Southern accent in my mind, it would not have come close to the authenticity and appealing voice the reader used.

Try to get an audio book with the author as narrator. Even though professionals do the narration so well, there is something quite enchanting about an author reading their own work. It may be a little more stilted or the accents a bit forced and clunky, but it’s the ideal way to hear a story the way the author intended it to be heard. I’ve listened to Stephen King read Dark Tower and William Golding’s read Lord of the Flies. He gave an introduction about why he didn’t include little girls on the island. Apparently he didn’t want to get sex mixed up with the plot.


Forget about the traffic. This is the most important thing I could say. If you’re listening to your ipod while walking – please, PLEASE – keep an eye out for traffic – because you’re ears can do f*** all for you if you’re a million miles away with the latest Harlan Coben thriller or Jackie Collins bonk buster. I had a close encounter when I had been listening to Orwell’s Animal Farm and I was at that traumatising part when Boxer is taken off to a factory to become the next bottle of Klag. An incoming Volvo came so close to swiping me that I almost joined the dear horse.

Worry about looking silly. Listening to audio books could mean a random outburst of emotion in a public place. It won’t matter if you’re on a London tube because everyone will pretend you don’t exist anyway. But there will be times when the strangers around you won’t know that you’re listening to a book and will think it odd that your wiping the tears of laughter out of your eyes whilst listening to Bill Bryson (I’ve been there). You’ve got to be prepared for this and just not give a hoot. Just remember you’re having a good time.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Does incest sell?

The best book I’ve read this year has been Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. It has also been the most taboo. Since inhaling it (a very addictive read), I’ve also read the books: Byron in Love, Shadows of the Workhouse, Kafka on the Shore and The Other Boelyn Girl. One thing they all have in common is … they involve some sort of incest. Now I must assure you I don’t have an incest fetish and this run of books I’ve been reading must be a bizarre coincidence. Or is it? Have authors and publishing houses worked out something quite intriguing. Does incest sell? My guess would be, yes it does.

Take a look at some of the major headlines in the past year or so. They’ve included the horrific Fritzl scandal and the Sheffield case. These crimes are utterly deplorable, evoking revulsion in your average media-consuming citizen. Anything written on Fritzl will make the ten most viewed articles on news websites and the case took up a lot of online and broadcasted news, not to mention dinner conversations. In the way we watch a horror film or become sticky beaks at the sight of an ambulance or passing by a car wreck, we will still want to know about these stories before turning away in disgust. The cases I’ve mentioned are evil but still there is a strong desire for the reader to know more and to condemn it.

Of course, the incest covered in the five books I’ve mentioned haven’t involved rape, or torture (besides a dream scene in Kafka on the Shore). In fact both parties wilfully consented to these illegal acts. And while I look upon sibling fornication with disgust and horror, something quite extraordinary happened when I read Middlesex. I thought, ‘how unfortunate that he fell in love with his sister and what bad luck that their son then married his cousin and this resulted in their child being a hermaphrodite’. My nonchalance may appear odd and I never imagined that I could be so empathetic to something so … well … gross. It’s quite remarkable and it’s why I am a voracious reader, constantly looking for my next fix. As soon as I've finished a book, I'm on to the next, barely stopping for air. Through various books my opinions continue to change and develop. For me, that’s the sign of a brilliant book. It makes you view something in a way you could never imagine you would. Having said that, I do need a break from books with incest. I’m going to start reading something a bit lighter and less sexual. Perhaps one of the classics, like a Jane Austen novel. I've always wanted to read Emma. Oh wait …

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Evil Protagonist

I'm in the middle of reading Patrick Suskind's novel, Perfume. I borrowed the novel from my sister. 'You're brave,' she said. 'I read that book and had to throw it against the corner of my room, unable to touch it for weeks.' That's a pretty strong reaction to a piece of writing. Which makes me wonder, what makes the novel evoke such strong emotions in people? I think it all comes down to the evil protagonist.

By writing from the point of view of a monster, is Suskind a literary genius or a big creep? Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, protagonist of Perfume, is a murderer with no remorse. And what makes him even more terrifying is he is clever and powerful. As a reader, it completely throws you from your comfort zone and goes against all sensibilities of the literary formula. Showing us the inner thoughts and emotions of someone so inherently evil makes us feel tainted and evil ourselves. Readers love and admire their protagonist. Yes, they may have faults but that's what makes them even more human and acceptable.

Following Grenouille means I'm thrust in to his motives and relating to his point of view, even if his sole desire is to hunt down and kill adolescent virgins. Am I emphathising with a child murderer? YUCK … am I as immoral as my protagonist? Is the only solution to my sick fascination with Grenouille, to chuck the book in the corner of my room and never touch it again? Well, I'm seventy pages from the end and unlike my sister, I can't bear for such a unique and enchanting book to collect dust.

For more evil protagonists try Frankenstein, American Psycho and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The Sexy Mr Darcy

Women tend to fall in love with celebrity men and pronounce a sort of claim on them. Ben Affleck belongs to my best friend, Jude Law to my sister and Benicio Del Toro to my Aunt. Ever since I saw Cry Baby when I was nine, I had dibs on Johnny Depp. Until I picked up a Jane Austen book and then everything changed.

Up until a month ago I was an Austen virgin. I've now come to realise two things. Jane Austen is an engaging writer and her books were probably how the term 'sexual tension' was coined. Secondly, nothing is more attractive than a sexy character in a novel. I'm sorry Johnny but I have fallen for Mr Darcy and here's why:

Mr Darcy is rich, well-dressed, good looking and a loyal friend. But there's a catch. He is so arrogant that on his first meeting with our heroine, Elizabeth, he calls her plain and refuses to dance with her. However, throughout the novel he falls desperately in love with her.

There are so many delectable things about Mr Darcy. He communicates via mail. How romantic would it be to receive a three-page letter from a potential lover? And he accepts Elizabeth and her dysfunctional family even though it goes against his upbringing and social standing. And what is sexier than a man who is willing to change for their woman and risk their fortunes for love? Maybe it is soppy but it's obviously a timeless desire for many women readers. And if you read Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones, you will definitely see parallels between the two Darcys.

Mr Darcy is a character who should continue to be reinvented, many times over, for all our reading pleasures.