Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Listening to while reading

I'm reading a book by one of my favourite authors at the moment (will comment on this in my next post), which features quite a few references to jazz.  In fact, the narrator runs a jazz bar, as did the author at one time, and while I'm not a massive fan of jazz - leaning more towards blues - it's put me in the mood.

This particular song doesn't feature in the book (unlike Duke Ellington's The Star-Crossed Lovers), but is one of my favourites, so grab a whiskey, sit back and relax... Duke Ellington and John Coltrane playing In A Sentimental Mood.

By the by, anyone want to take a punt on the title of the novel and/or the author?

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Two-line poem

Was sent an email recently about a two-line rhyme competition run by the Washington Post.  Thought I'd check it out, but it seems these 11 poems have been posted online at various sites for quite a while.  All the same, they made me laugh.

The rules are simple, if you want to have a go: a romantic first line followed by a contrastingly unromantic second line.
My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you has screwed up my life.

My love, you take my breath away.
What have you stepped in to smell this way?

Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
This describes everything you are not.  

Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
But I only slept with you 'cause I was pissed.

I thought that I could love no other
- that is until I met your brother.

Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you.
But the roses are wilting, the violets are dead, the sugar bowl's
empty and so is your head.

I want to feel your sweet embrace;
But don't take that paper bag off your face.

I love your smile, your face, and your eyes
Damn, I'm good at telling lies!

I see your face when I am dreaming.
That's why I always wake up screaming.

My feelings for you no words can tell,
Except for maybe 'Go to hell.'

What inspired this amorous rhyme?
Two parts vodka, one part lime. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Inside a Dog relaunched

I gave a shout to the State Library of Victoria's dynamic website Inside a Dog last year, which was out of commission over the (Australian) summer period while it was being rebuilt.  Well, the final touches have been touched and it's just been relaunched.

Designed specifically for readers of Young Adult fiction, and in its own words:
The Dog is a place  to find great reads and share your thoughts via reviews, blogs and book clubs.  Read about an author’s process with a new guest Writer in Residence each month, create your own reader profile or discuss the latest news in youth literature.
You can find it here: www.insideadog.com.au

Monday, 21 March 2011

Out of the Ashes

Nup, this post has got nothing to do with cricket ... *yawn*  

More to do with the phoenix - the mythical bird that, at the end of its life, builds a fire for a nest, from which a new bird rises.

I mentioned in my last post about the demise of some chain-bookstores and my hope that this might enable small, independent High Street bookstores to start up again.  Well, a good friend of mine pointed out that this is certainly the case in Portland, Victoria, where The Little Bookshop has recently started trading.  I visited it a couple of times in January and bought a Haruki Murakami title on one visit and a Carson McCullers on the other - as well as some wonderful gift cards.  The owners are planning on running workshops and literary activities in the shop too, so it's got a lot going for it.  Even copies of my books!

Good luck to it and go visit it often if you happen to be near Portland, Victoria.

You can also visit its website and browse its gallery of photos - to see what a good bookshop looks like here.  Maybe it'll inspire other bookshops to rise up out of the ashes.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

The breaking of chains

I'm not sure whether the American and British bookstore-chains that have recently closed or slimmed down have so much been defeated by external market forces or whether they've opted to shut up shop simply because their profit margins are not growing as rapidly as they'd have liked.  I've heard arguments that suggest either of these reasons might be the case for the sudden demise/reduction of some of the Big Name high street outlets.

In Australia during recent weeks, both Angus & Robertson and Borders have joined this international trend, but I can't help wondering if it's all that bad and whether in the long term it might not even be good news.  (At this point, I should  say that I'm considering this solely from a book-selling point of view and completely aside from the stress these closures cause if you happen to be an employee of such a company.) 

It seems to me that it wasn't long ago that we were lamenting the rise of the bookstore-chains and the manner in which they were squeezing out a number of independent booksellers.  At the time, I believe it was argued that the likes of Borders and Waterstones had arrived at too great a cost to the livelihoods and existence of traditional, family-owned bookshops.  As the independents were forced into liquidation, so too disappeared a level of personal service and knowledge that couldn't always be found in the multinationals, along with an equally-defining attitude that books were somehow more than just a commodity to be dumped in the three-for-two box.

Ever the optimist, I'm hoping that with the demise of the big chains might come the resurrection of the small independent book shop.  There's certainly an opening for them, regardless of the rise of the online store: small shops where the customer can browse and touch books, discussing a title or two with the owner/assistant, and perhaps buy a decent greeting card or two at the same time.  There'd be no reason why authors couldn't launch, sign and promote their books here anymore than in Borders or Waterstones, I guess, and the special promotions would be at the discretion of the local owner rather than the marketing department in a distant city.  Ah utopia!  Am I dreaming?

Monday, 14 March 2011

Recent reads: Fire & Song by Anna Lanyon

Had fun launching Anna Lanyon's third book - Fire & Song, The Story of Luis de Carvajal and the Mexican Inquisition - at Blarney Books & Art in Port Fairy last Thursday evening. The hardest part of the evening was getting half-way close to the pronunciation of that Carvajal family name.

This is Anna's third book (all published by Allen & Unwin) and, like Malinche's Conquest and The New World of Martin Cortes, explores events that occurred in Mexico during the sixteenth century.  I'm not going to say too much about Fire & Song here because I'll be interviewing Anna soon for The View From Here, and no doubt will get my two bob's worth in then.  However, it's a fascinating story - told often through the translated words of Luis de Carvajal and the transcripts of Holy Office records (which are remarkably detailed), but held together by Anna's wonderful gift to recognise and tell a darn good story.

I listed the blurb in an earlier post last week.

Friday, 11 March 2011

A Shout-out for Corporate Cannibal

My friend and fellow author Dmetri Kakmi has recently launched his blog: Corporate Cannibal.  Dmetri is, amongst other things, an internationally published essayist, and will be  posting on films, books, fashion and the like - about all of which he is very knowledgeable and enviably articulate. Dmetri is also the author of the excellent memoir Mother Land (Giramondo, 2008) which I've raved about both here and at The View From Here in the past.

Go visit Corporate Cannibal here.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Recent reads: The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson

I really enjoyed the first in Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  While it was a fast-paced thriller and an easy read, the characters (and their relationships) were intriguingly quirky, and it was this element that won me over.  I gave it a couple of months before re-entering the world of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the computer-hacking, much-put-upon, 'social misfit' Lisbeth Salander, because, although I like Stieg Larsson's style of writing and enjoy sprinting along with an action-driven plot on occasion, I like to engage a little more fully with characters than this genre of writing sometimes allows.

Although The Girl Who Played with Fire was certainly a fast-paced thriller, it didn't win me over in quite the same way that Dragon Tattoo did.  Maybe with the first book behind him, Larsson didn't feel the need to draw the characters quite so strongly, but, while we're provided with a good deal more of Salander's back-story, Blomkvist and Salander both come across as being a little less substantial and substantially less intriguing.  What made them so interestingly unlikely first time around comes across as being a tad predictable or formulaic during this second slab of 569 pages.

I'll certainly pick up the third in the trilogy - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest - in the next couple of months, and I'll happily run along with these two characters one more time.  However, I'll be hoping that, when I do, a little of their magic returns and that they come to life again for me.

Friday, 4 March 2011

An invitation to the launch of Fire & Song by Anna Lanyon

Here's an open invitation to attend the Port Fairy launch of Anna Lanyon's third book: FIRE & SONG The Story of Luis de Carvajal and the Mexican Inquisition, published by Allen & Unwin.

I'll be introducing Annie, who's an old friend, and doing a bit of spruiking on behalf of her and this wonderful book.

The evening will kick off at Blarney Books & Art (37 James Street, Port Fairy) next Thursday (10th March, 2011) at 6.00 pm.
It is1596 and in Mexico the Inquisition is at its most efficient. A young man trembles in his cell as he prays for salvation, torn between the Christianity he was schooled in and his ancestral faith. What heresies will the Holy Office uncover? Can he protect his mother and sisters?
He is Luis de Carvajal. His forbears had fled the Inquisition in Spain to Portugal and then from there to the New World. But the lives they try to rebuild as conversos in Mexico are just as perilous, for the Inquisition is determined to root out heretics throughout its realms. Luis's quest for true faith unfolds a tense and moving narrative, as he and his family's spirit and ingenuity are tested again and again.
Anna Lanyon's Malinche's Conquest was awarded and widely translated, and was followed by The New World of Martin Cortes. Fire and Song also shows her as the historian whose chronicles from contemporary testimonies are so vivid that readers feel witness to the dramatic events and intimate moments of individual lives, woven deftly into the fabric of their times to illuminate the bigger historical picture. Fire and Song presents a world without the human rights and tolerance we take for granted today; yet the insights remain all too pertinent - into the power of faith, the tangled knot of religious and political interests, and human yearning for identity, belonging and spirituality.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Chinatown and The Ghost Writer

Recently Ive been watching and re-watching Roman Polanski's 1974 (neo) film noir classic Chinatown.  Although it's one of those films I've come to late, I've made up for that by watching it 3 times, and have enjoyed it more with each viewing.  Excellent.  It's certainly one of those layered films that provides considerably more when viewed more than once - all the little hints and clues, and the over-riding relevance of Chinatown.  A fine movie in every sense.

Can't say I feel the same way about Polanski's latest film: The Ghost Writer (2010).  I enjoyed the first two thirds well enough, but then it seemed to fizz out.  As for the ending, I can only imagine it was intended to be film noir-ish, but it struck me as film lame-ish instead.  Not very convincing and rather disappointing.  Oh well, you can't win 'em all.