Sunday, 24 June 2007

Rediscovering sanity

Img_4550It's been a crazy time at work recently---all jobs have their peaks and troughs, I guess---so we treated ourselves to a weekend in the Victorian Grampians (Gariwerd).  We figured a couple of days in a log cabin, surrounded by mountains and bush, reading books and Img_4573 watching movies in front of a wood fire, along with the chance to enjoy a few different walks, would help our sanity dribble back into place.  And I think it did.

Img_4578After a bushfire burnt 130,000 hectares of the Grampians eighteen months ago, it was fascinating to see how everything has regenerated.

Img_4627 Took quite a few photos, but will let these four tell their own story.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Here's a challenge

Desert_island_booksThere used to be a radio program called Desert Island Discs.  It might even still be running.  Anyway, thinking about favourite novels and short story anthologies recently put me in mind of a Desert Island Books format, and I got to wondering what 10 favourite books I'd take if I was planning on being stranded somewhere---especially if I knew I wouldn't have to use the pages to light fires, or eat, or write messages across and fold into origami boats to sail the ocean blue ...

And there's a dilemma in itself.  Because, given the choice, and with so many delicious-looking books around, I'd probably choose 10 shiny-new books and take a punt on discovering a gem or two rather than visiting an old favourite.  It does happen, but it's a rare thing to find the time to give a book a second read.  Isn't it?  It's a luxury, and a book like that has to have some exceptional qualities.

Which is of course the challenge: what books are such great reads that they're worth coming back to a second time ... and perhaps a third and a fourth?  And why?

I've spent longer thinking about this than I probably should've done---browsing the bookshelves, limiting the choice to novels and short story anthologies, wondering whether I could cheat and just select 10 books I wouldn't take---but I've made my list.

The_windup_bird_chronicleAnd I'd love to see what you'd put on your list, and you, and you.  I challenge you!  Let me know.  Post a comment, post a blog.  Hope it doesn't take you as long as it took me.

So here, in no particular order, are the books I'd be delighted to be stranded with (this month's list, at least):

The_tenant_of_wildfell_hall The Wind-up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami.  This is the first Murakami I read and it got me hooked on his writing. It 'hangs together' so well and I reckon I might enjoy this one even more second time around, but, in the absence of this, I'd be equally happy taking A Wild Sheep Chase. I love elements of the surreal in fiction, particularly when blended with a gritty reality ... that overlapping of the two ... love it!

The_bloody_chamberThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë.  I remember being surprised by this when I first read it years ago, wondering why it wasn't accorded the same status as Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre.  Over the last couple of years, I've been sampling more and more gothic lit.---The Castle of Otranto, The Mysteries of Udolpho (couldn't finish this one), The Dressmaker---and, well, I might easily spend a few hours with The Tenant again.

Will_you_please_be_quiet_pleaseThe Bloody Chamber - Angela Carter.  More of the gothic, and so rich and earthy and sexy.  The Company of Wolves has to be one of my favourite short stories of all time.  Eat your heart out, Mr Wolf; go girl!

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please - Raymond Carver.  Definitely up for a third run with If_nobody_speaks_of_remarkable_thinthis.  Every time I read Carver's stories I discover another layer, but particularly with this anthology.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things -Jon McGregor.  Haven't come across anybody who hasn't rated this novel as a great read.  A friend gave it me when I was in the UK last (thanks, Deb) and I liked it so much I couldn't leave it behind or pass it on to someone else.  A_christmas_cardI wanted to keep it!  At the end of the first read, I was ready to read it again, but moved onto another book instead.  Now's the time.

A Christmas Card - Paul Theroux.  I'm a big fan of children's books (Burglar Bill, Peace at Last, Postman Pat, Meal One, Raymond Briggs' Father Christmas, almost anything ...) but this is one of my favourites, and it has a touch of magic to it.  It's about Christmas wishes Slaughterhouse_5and family, and on the first occasion I read it I was thinking about snow ... and it snowed.  So, a couple of years later, I read it to a group of teenagers and told them it was a magic book and that it'd snow after I read it, and it did.  I must have used up the magic because on the third occasion ...  But it's been a few years since then (time to replenish) and I might feel in the need of a little snow on my desert island.

Dirt_musicSlaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut jr.  In tribute to the man I must re-read this.  So it goes.

Dirt Music - Tim Winton.  An Australian offering.  I had to flip between this and Winton's The Riders, but opted for this because The Riders is set in Europe and I'd need to hold onto a flavour of Australian life, and because I think Dirt Music is a stronger book.

The_catcher_in_the_ryeThe Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger.  It's definitely time to pick up this classic again.  It's a long time since I've heard Holden Caulfield's distinctive voice, and I'd be interested to see what effect it has on me after so many years.

Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll.  I'm ashamed to say that I don't think I've actually read Alice from beginning to end.  I've dipped into it so many times that it feels like I've read it Alices_adventures_in_wonderlandthrough and through, but I haven't.  Not as a cohesive whole.  And there's a sort of link with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Slaughterhouse 5. Besides, I reckon if I spent too long on a desert island I'd be chasing white rabbits of my own, so why not set the pace with this adventure?

Saturday, 9 June 2007

They've arrived!

A couple of months ago, when Keirsten first expressed an interest in adding The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore to the PaperBooks list, I thought it'd be a good thing to check out the other titles---kick back, have a read, enjoy, see what was happening at PaperBooks.  So I phoned one of the local bookshops I have a fair bit to do with (ordering House_with_books class sets, sample texts and the like) and asked them to get me a copy of The Angel Makers.  All was sweet and within a day I heard the supplier had shipped it out.

I thought 'shipped' was being used figuratively to describe that process of commerce which involves placing the product in a padded envelope, enclosing an invoice, and dropping the package at the local Post Office for speedy air mail delivery. Unfortunately, I guess the term was used literally on this occasion and I understand that the supplier must've despatched my copy to the docks, where it was loaded into a ship's hold by a press-ganged crew, a favourable wind awaited, the anchor raised, the sails lowered, trimmed ... and that somewhere along the Roaring Forties trade route the forties stopped roaring and the ship was becalmed.

Seven weeks later, it arrived.  And I was delighted.  But the experience left me feeling ... remote, distant, a century away.  And Siân took it straight out of my hands and started reading it.

What to do? I really prefer to support my local bookshops---I've always loved browsing---but even the staff were surprised by the slowness of the supplier. So I checked out Blackwell Online and Amazon and flipped a coin, and ordered Baber's Apple, A Blues for Shindig and Cry of the Justice Bird, and Amazon delivered in five working days (except for Justice Bird which is on back-order). Enough to restore my faith. And our cottage is happily crammed with books.

My computer monitor, I discovered, doesn't do justice to their covers.  I love the glossy highlights on the matt background, and ... It's a long weekend (Queen's birthday, no less), but between writing reports (yuk) and repairing a hole in my roof and splitting firewood, I'm gonna kick back, read, enjoy.

Friday, 1 June 2007

A blogging procrastinator

I don't mean to sound rude, but I've become a blogging procrastinator.

I know there's other stuff I should be doing right now (ironing, dishes, drafting and redrafting and putting words into the mouths of hungry characters, ironing the dishes) but I'm enjoying my blog encounters too much.  It gives 'networking' a whole new meaning.  As a result of blogging, I've had e-mail chats with Jon H (Cry of the Justice Bird) and Gary D (Fat Tuesday), and then, the other day, Chris Gooch posted a comment and I thought to myself, I thought : 'There's something familiar about that name', but didn't know why.  It was when I clicked on it---like this Chris Gooch---and followed the link through to the website http://www.bene-imprimatur.co.uk that I realised the big why: the day before, and after a seven week wait (which is another story involving several other titles and one that I won't go into now) I'd taken delivery of The Angel Makers, and there, on the imprint page I'd seen Chris' name ... because, as Creative Director at Bene Imprimatur he designed the cover.  Somewhere, into those not-so-dark corners of my brain, I'd digested this information and, with a little prompt was able to regurgitate it (amazing!), and so along to the Imprimatur website I went for a browse. Browse, browse, browse. (More interesting than chopping firewood or paying bills.)

Imprint_pageNow, I have to explain that not only do I get a buzz out of buying books, but that I've always been fascinated by the whole process that surrounds the publishing of them, and when I go through the ritual of turning a new book's pages and sniffing the paper and looking at the linen cover beneath the wrap (if it's a hardback) and looking for any dedication details and acknowledgements, I also spend time on the imprint page of all things (publication history, printer details, cover design---hell, I even check out the ISBN number ... so give me the number of a HELPLINE I can phone).  All this I do before getting into the story itself.  So that's the reason I recognised Chris' name, and was, in turn, even more delighted to discover, through a brief e-mail chat with him, that he'd not only designed the other PaperBooks covers but had also worked on the concepts for The Snowing and Greening of Thomas Passmore. Great stuff!  Love 'em! Thanks.

So here I am, sitting on the other side of the planet to most everyone involved in this process of getting a publisher's list of titles onto bookshelves, and yet everything is only a keyboard away.  The Luddite in me is shocked and awed, and I'm hooked.

Yeah, I'm hooked.  And a blogging procrastinator.

All the same, I better tear myself away now and get my cut lunch ready for tomorrow or I'll be a hungry procrastinator at that.  And then, back to the dishes and the ironing, and hopefully the feeding of words into some character's mouth.

"Once upon a time ..."