Sunday, December 16, 2007

On Dessaix and books for xmas

Reading Robert Dessaix turns on the neurons in my brain. It was cerebral indulgence as he considered topics from pornography to creative genius in his collection of short works,And so forth. The book was one of those pageturners where I felt a need to remember something on each page, making mental notes to reread or write down as I went along.

You know that feeling when an author so envelops you, reviving your perspective and mood? If you want an author with intellectual verve and a capacity to walk and wander through many stimulating paths, consider giving this Australian intellectual a go.

In other reading news, I was stoked to receive an early xmas present which entailed some seriously cool reading matter. I’ve noticed that as a booklover, people often hesitate to buy me books, thinking a) that I’ve probably read it already or (mistakenly) b) that I have too many books and wouldn’t want any more. As you would know, any booklover secretly desires another addition to the bookshelf.

My boyfriend, sadly, is working away on an oil rig this Christmas. So, he got me to unwrap my presents early. He got me the perfect combination – a picnic blanket and a copy of Nabokov’s Pnin so I can sit and read one of the novels I love. A great gift indeed!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Our Reading Escapade! Oh the urgency!

Reading Robert Dessaix's collection of short works And So Forth is an intellectually titillating and indulgent experience for me. Browsing the shelves of a bookshop that I often come out of empty-handed, I was surprised to discover a beautiful hardcover edition of this Dessaix gem. Deliberating due to dollar dramas, I bought it anyway because I suspect it may now be out of print.

Turns out, on the train ride home from work today, that it was a judicious purchase. One of his essays 'The Love List' resonated with me - as he urges the reader (us crazy bibliophiles) not to lust after a year of reading bliss. He talks about ever bibliophile's fantasy - time out where we can retire to say Patmos or our own reading haven to tear through those to-be-read stacks.

Dessaix is an exquisite Australian author and essayist. How true is his encouragment to pursue our own reading impetus and intensity:

'to acknowledge that you're doing this out of love -- don't be put off, don't be made anxious by people who press their own loves on you, amazed that you're not instantly seduced. What! they'll exclaim, you've never read Margaret Mead or Roland Barthes or Janet Frame or Dante? No you haven't, and possibly never will and in the grand scheme of things it simply doesn't matter'

As a guilty blogger who laments her lapse in posting, this validates the ebb and flow of my reading and reflecting. Recently, I've read some wonderful books that I'll have to share. I'm bad. I haven't blogged books. I'll never read 'the best book of your life' that I told a customer I'd sink my teeth into it. But really, does it matter?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Rock around the clock tonight

Doesn't this clock rock? Arriving back from my adventure early, I've been forced to find a new sharehouse and make it home, sweet home. So, in a bid to freshen it up I purchased this cute little clock.

My premature return involves mixed experiences. Lesson one involved learning it was difficult to travel with my mum. There was also some romance - a boy I met prior to my trip followed me over to Greece.

Not having read as much as I expected on my trip but keen to get back into books, I'm looking forward to catching up with fellow bookbloggers. Currently, I'm on the last few pages and laughs of A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke.

Sunday, June 24, 2007


Apologies abound - retrospective and for the future. I'm such a slack lady - but I've been busy with the boredom of essays and the excitement of trip planning. I'm writing from Auckland, New Zealand, but tomorrow it's off to Germany. Oh the excitement! If anyone is interested, email me at and I'll hit you up with my new travel blog address. Sorry guys, I am still reading on the run, but announcing a hiatus. Keep up the blibliophilic blogging work!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Book bashers

Moving house is always great fun. After half a day of packing and stacking, my room looks messier than before we started. I’m going to stay in my mum’s shoebox of a unit before we head off for our trip.

Housing stack-loads of books is an endless comfort to my bibliomania – but presents hassles when moving. Kindly though, two of my brothers offered to help store and move my stuff. It’s a work in process; we move a bit here and there. Eldest brother came today to move two large bookcases, a dryer and other assorted junk. Some straggling books still remained on the bookcases so we decided to place them on the master bookcase.

I entered the room to find my brother and mum throwing the books onto the shelves. Frantically scrabbling to rescue and rearrange, I screeched: ‘Nooooooooooo, what are you doing to my boooooks?”

My beautiful Collected Short Stories of Saki is now besmirched – the cover’s all bent and manky. My David Copperfield will never be the same. Later, my housemates said the whole world heard me yell. I was distraught.

But a happy ending is only a page away. Early intervention meant the majority of the books are snugly packed and living underneath my mother’s bed. I know some of you are proud-owners of even more books than moi. How do you go about transporting them when you are on the move?

Monday, June 4, 2007

Tell King Tut I want my mummy

I miss my mum. When she last got in touch she was going to a sinfully sunny island in Greece. She’s on a cruise – complete with movie cinemas, swimming pools and restaurants - where dinner is served promptly at ‘whatever o’clock.’ When some folks in her social group decided to book a cruise, she jumped high and far at the chance to travel.

She asked me to come but alas the trip coincided with exams and assignment madness. With the gotcha gremlin of hindsight I now think I’m crazy for passing on this one! She gets back tomorrow and in amongst doing my essays (1 down, 2 to go!) I look forward to seeing her.

My plane reading is sorted, thanks to recommendations from fellow bibliophiles. I'll be cruising the clouds with my head stuck in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas , thanks to Matt. Satisfying two of my passions, wanderlust and bibliomania, is Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs, a travel narrative by Jeremy Mercer about his stay at an English-language bookstore in Paris - Shakespeare and Co (cheers tanabata!). Overexcitement bubbles at the thought of reading the YA book Holes . I will leave it behind owing to Bybee's input about its lack of page-number meatiness. Not ideal for plane material, but I hope to consume it quickly the week before I leave.

I must offer up a little confession at the risk of being maligned. I’ve never read Harry Potter. Horrified now? I'm willing to correct my backward ways and the trip would be a good excuse. So, if I get hold of a copy of the first book, I might make a substitution… I'm not sure about the Los Angeles aiport, but since we have a six-hour stopover there I could possibly acquire it there.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Curiosity took over the comments

My backpacking trip is going to involve a lot of spontaneity owing to the little planning time I've allowed myself. Fed up with my impending essays, today I began to plan our adventures in Germany, Austria and Poland. Enthused is an understatement in regards to my anticipation about visiting Auschwitz. This will be the first leg of my trip. Which reminds me, I must begin a travel blog for these posts. There seems to be an overwhelming number of vehicles for this. Does anyone know whether I should stick with blogger or try something different?

It was probably unfair of me not to share the source of my reading revulsion in the last post. I've mentioned my reasons for not identifying the text, but I've worked out a way to get around it. So here's the answer:

Yup, it's a two-word title. I'm sure you'll all work it out.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reading revulsion: sorry to rant!

The only thing that unsettles my stomach more than reading my own writing is reading published work that should not have been published. Unfortunately, this dilemma faces me as I write an essay on a book I dislike. Scholars have not touched the novel. Did the pallid prose send them searching for more sexy material? One girl in my tutorial cheerfully announced that we could do our honours theses on it. Reader, I shuddered. Owing to the dearth of critical material I will not name the text for fear of bringing fellow students (googling googlies?) here.

The premise of the book has merit. Events unfolding in an ancient Chinese text are mirrored with a contemporary love story between a Chinese antique dealer and an Australian girl. I have an aversion to the author’s clumsy and uninventive style. Lines such as, ‘He made love and become another person who was also himself’ frustrate me with their hackneyed expression. This is disappointing, because the novel aims at sensory immersion. The girl who I co-presented with adored it, but I am left grimacing as I take in each page.

Why would I write my essay on a book that I hated? I did my tutorial presentation on it, and in lazy uni-student fashion I’m drawing upon those ideas to save time. Does it sound like I'm being unfair on this book? I have a hard time saying I don’t like something. To me, books are like people, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings. Generally, most books I review are the ones I enjoyed. Yes, I tend to cruise the comfort-zone when reading for pleasure.

With three major essays approaching I’m feeling pressure, pressure, pressure. Arggggh! Ending on a more cheerful thought, I don't have to cook tonight because we are going out to dinner to celebrate the birthday of one of our houseguests from England.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hey chicky babe: championing chicklit

Yesterday’s meme reminded me of Jess’s post at this delicious solitude about her unexpected discovery of the Jane Austen Book Club. To the disappointment of her book-purist heart, she found herself enjoying it. Her problem was that the novel may be considered ‘chicklit’. Evaluative and enlightening, her post and the comments received provide an interesting take on our assumptions as readers.

Stigma surrounds chicklit. But if content counts, then shouldn’t we as readers be open to new reading adventures? Sure, chick lit books are marketed with bubble-gum covers that scream cultural commodification. This sucks for authors who mix the frivolity of the fashion world with astute observation. Intelligent chick lit, like La’Brooy, can appeal on different levels. I do wonder though, if I wasn’t young and female would I still find La’Brooy equally amusing and enjoyable?

One day, a customer came in to work looking for a book. She was afflicted with a common customer ailment; details had fled her brain. Not even a title or author to go on. She lingered in front of the Alphabet Sisters . She was searching for a book ‘kind of like that.’ I ascertained she meant something with that candy-pink, girly appeal. She wavered at classifying this mysterious book as chick lit. We couldn’t work out what it was.

Alternatively, I recommended the book I was shelving - La’Brooy’s love struck . I raved about its intellectual merit, Salinger allusions, quality prose. Realizing these things mighn’t appeal, I talked up its humourous plot. She looked dubiously for a moment at the garish cover, until recognition hit: ‘that’s it! That’s the author I read!’. Turns out, she had read La’Brooy’s new novel Serendipity, but almost didn’t recognize the author owing to the different nature of the covers adorning her first two books. She happily bought La’Brooy's other books. We were both spun out.

The wish list was truly a riotous read. Particularly amusing was a scene involving an intellectual rendezvous at a bookstore gone awry. Intellectual pretensions are satirized as they create misunderstanding and embarrassment. The incident ends with the accidental theft of some Marquis de Sade. I’ll zip it with the rave review, but the humour definitely gave me an ab workout.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Not in earnest: more meme madness

All-too-quickly I was tagged again for a meme! This one is not very involved. My meme task, set by Dewey over at the hidden side of a leaf, led me to re-examine another ‘chick lit’ novel. Grabbing the first book next to me, The Importance of Being Earnest I discover Wilde’s play is short and sweet; too brief a candidate for this meme. Next in line was La’Brooy’s wishlist .

Here are the rules:
“You simply have to grab the book nearest to you (no cheating here), turn to page 161, and post the text of the fifth full sentence on the page along with the body of the instruction on your blog. Then you tag 3 people.”

As we’ve established the wish list was the closest fit. And now for the sentence:

"He turned on the overhead torch to reveal the sight of Lucy trying to stuff socks in her ears"

The absurdity of this sentence makes me chuckle all-over again at the candid representation and self-dissection the characters engage in. Quirky, embarrassing and self-critical, the main character Lucy and her friends are an interesting bunch. So, after a simple meme turned book promotion, I’ll tag:

Bybee at Naked Without Books.
Meli at The Little Bookroom
Tanabata at In Spring it is the Dawn

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bookcrossing find

After ending a semester’s work at the uni pub, I wandered into the city to pass time before I met a friend for dinner. I visited a few bookstores – found a copy of The Colossus of Maroussi at my bookstore’s competition. Regrettably, I passed it up in the hope it will come my way on the trip. If not, I’ll buy it in Greece. Book-buying is constrained at the moment owing to the impending trip. Nevertheless, a book found me.

My bookish friend manages a bag store in the city so I popped in to bring her a coffee fix and say hi. Funky and alternative, her store is a cool place to hang out. Beanbags and bright displays coupled with her delightful conversation make it a must. In the corner she has a suitcase filled with bookcrossing books. She’d brought them in from home – free to willing readers. So, I picked up a copy of Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I read a few pages and it looks to be an accelerated read. Of course I’ll have to register my bookcrossing find and sign up while I’m at it.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Vicariously French

If you’re a foreigner attending a function or dinner in Paris, don’t expect to be the life of the party. Instead, make like a chair. Apparently, pretending you’re a chair is the best way to quell your insecurities and keep your composure at stuffy Parisian events. Sarah Turnbull’s experience in Almost French deals with the dilemma that it is to belong to two places, two cultures. Traveling in Greece, Sarah encounters an old Greek on Samos island who warns her:

It’s a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures, he’d said. ‘It’s a curse to love two countries.’ Well I certainly don’t think of living abroad as a curse - I don’t think the Greek believed it either. He was just dramatizing his dilemma, the feeling of being torn between two places. And this is I something I now understand.

Sarah comes to know this ‘bitter-sweet’ dilemma as an expatriate in France. Uncharacteristically, she accepts an invitation to stay with Frederic, a Frenchman, at his place in Levallois. The decision is couched in uncertainty as she had only briefly met this quirky, self-professed ‘maniac’ (a term she puzzles over at first but which eventually endears her). The travel narrative explores the process of adjustment and cultural negotiation that occurs when Sarah moves to Paris. Cultural clashes emerge as she realizes she’s more Australian than she’d care to admit. But despite the frustrations of Paris, she discovers its enchantment – from the hypnotic world of haute-couture to the tolerant regard Parisians show to the homeless.

With the exception of Bill Bryson, my experience with travel narratives has been limited until recent weeks. I must say Almost French was surprisingly funny and self-aware in both its participation in and interrogation of cultural clashes and stereotypes. Authenticity is an issue for travel narratives, as the reader may sometimes be sceptical about whether they really get to the meat of cultural difference or instead perpetuate stereotypes. Nevertheless I appreciated Turnbull’s honesty. Travel narratives as a genre provide an excellent vehicle for the representation of an individual’s intercultural understanding.

One month until I leave for my trip! At the moment with travel narratives I do feel a bit like I’m popping Pringles – I can’t get enough. I’m wondering, in your experience does the need to live adventures vicariously through travel narratives come and go?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

LA and Eight Things

Well, I thought I could sit on the sidelines. But Brad, CoversGirl, and Meli have triple-tagged me for the ‘eight things about me’ meme.

1: Each player starts with 8 random facts/habits about themselves.
2: People who are tagged, write a blog post about their own 8 random things, and post these rules.
3: At the end of your post you need to tag 8 people and include their names.
4: Don't forget to leave them a comment and tell them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

1) I live with three girls. H is an opera singer and concert/events manager at my university’s school of music. C and A are law/arts students.

2) When I first moved in with the girls, I couldn’t cook. At home I was a fussy eater and subsisted on bland fare. Day one in the house, they sent me to the herb garden to get coriander. I came back with handfuls of garden weed. Since then, my culinary skills have improved. I have a few dishes in my repertoire and the confidence to approach simple cookbooks without fear of disaster.

3) I’m a clothes horse. I’m far from obsessive about daily dress habits but I do own lots of clothes. Wardrobe and cupboards spill over. In my early days, photos reveal a passion for dress-ups as I feature in the guise of a sailor girl, a clown, a fairy, a pirate and even a ringmaster.

4) I have an inordinate amount of siblings. More specifically: seven half-brothers, a half sister-in-law and a stepsister.

5) My hair is so big it’s a shame I wasn’t old enough to enjoy it in the 80s. I have crazily curly auburn hair. Everyday maintenance keeps it controlled but it can easily be teased into a serious afro.

6) Last year I studied a double-degree in Law/Arts. Sitting in my criminal law exam, I thought geez, I really don’t want to be a lawyer. It wasn’t wasted because I loved studying law and would have always wondered ‘what if’. Now I’m studying teaching and it’s something I can see myself enjoying.

7) My best mate is Greek. Her mum took me on as a daughter and since then we’ve been like sisters. Friendship turned into a cultural journey introducing me to the language (learning slowly at greek school), the music, and the food. Her mother’s pastitsio is unparalleled.

8) Ending on a bookish note, I love Pnin . So does Zadie Smith. Seriously though, Pnin , a novel by Nabokov, rocks my world. I have an incredibly old edition – brown pages dislodged from the original binding. The cover has a cute black-and-white sketch of the main character Pnin, a Russian professor. I would like to own a t-shirt with him on it.

As I am perhaps the last person in the blogworld to do this meme, has anyone not been tagged? If so, feel free to step up to the meme. I will try and search for some prospective posters nonetheless. So far, I'm tagging I Buy Books., Poodlerat at But What These Unobservant Birds, Jess at This Delicious Solitude.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

A reader’s dialogic

Recommendations, debates, laughs. Who do you talk books with? Lately my thoughts have been percolating over reading relationships. Who do you consider to have an impact on your reading habits? With the surprising number of people who don’t read it’s always heartening to show up early at the annual charity book-sale to discover that fellow booklovers have camped out for hours. It always strikes me with a sense of kindred bibliomania despite the feelings of envy I experience on realising they’ll get first dibs. Nevertheless – fellow booklovers should unite – so here’s a list of my reading relations:

Me. I try not to talk to myself, but alas. Seriously though, in terms of selecting books, I think my reading rides the tangent of being in the moment. I should hang my head – because I don’t think I’m a successful list-maker or challenge girl. If you were to map my selections, you’d notice multiple and intersecting interests complicated by my many reading moods. Often I’ll remember a book in association with what I was doing at the time or what stage of life I was at. With the reading process, half the fun is that immersion in another world, relating it back to yourself and making interconnections between the fictional world and your own. As Walter Savage Landor says: “What is reading but silent conversation?.”

Uni is a mixed bag in terms of book discussions. Surprisingly, not everyone who is majoring in English likes to read. Yes, I was shocked too. It really depends on the dynamic of the tutorial group. Textual analysis is the most sexy focus for me – more so than secondary readings – the most exciting part of studying literature at uni. Quality of discussion plummets when people haven’t read the book. It is disconcerting when you are doing an interactive presentation in class and ask, ‘so what did everyone think of the ending in Jude the Obscure?’ when people haven't read the book. If the majority of the class hasn’t got past page ten, silence and aversion of the eyes is the response. Generally, tutorials proceed well. At the moment, I’m juggling a few English units so excluding critical theory, I often have a few books/films/plays/poems set as required reading each week

Customers. Working in a bookstore, the opportunity to discuss books is a daily affair. I love book-club ladies. Yes, I’m being gender exclusive in specifying ladies, because I’ve never had a man approach me for book-club recommendations. Usually book-club ladies have ploughed through a number of well-acclaimed and known books and will happily talk books. Making recommendations, I have the tricky task of finding something 1) that’s good 2) they haven’t already read and 3) that we have multiple copies of.

Sometimes customers will recommend something for me to read in return. This has led to a few rewarding discoveries, and is part responsible for turning me into a Murakami maniac. Other times, I’ll flash the customer a self-enforced smile-and-nod combo but inwardly shudder. If I get told to read The Secret one more time I’ll go crazzzzy!

Mates. Or Friends. My aussie nationality betrays me. I have a mix of bibliophilic (more, more, more!) and bibliophobic (ain’t read any a book in me life) friends. One or two of my friends in the bookstore are readers. My best mate has really divergent reading tastes – hardcore fantasy and the like - so we don’t often talk books, with the exception of philosophy texts in first year. Miss Chevalier and have ongoing textual updates about our current reads. Yesterday she sent me a text, reproduced here in SMS form:

“Started reading Jerzy Kosinki’s the painted bird last night. Can’t do it. Too sadistic and creepy. Supposed to be a comment on ww2 etc but ick … Have you heard of him?”

Each week we keep each other up-to-date via text messages. Miss C once said that before she met me she had thought she was alone with her book obsession, but I make her feel less guilty about her insatiable desire for quality books.

Internet: Lit blogs. Thanks guys! You make me feel justified in my obsessive quest for reading material. I started this blog to help me keep track of my reading bildungsroman but also because I was a serial lurker on lit blogs. My list of desired books, based on reviews from my fave blogs is growing exponentially. As soon as exams finish I’m going to draft a list of Great Books I Must Read Because Fellow Bloggers Have Intrigued Me. Of course, I’ll post when completed. Literary Blogs are about the extent of my online reading interactions. Facebook, I thought, would rock my world. I joined a few groups like Reading is Sexy and a Steinbeck Fan Club but nothing really eventuated from it.

Anyway, that’s my list of literary companions. Does your list differ from mine? I’m off to read some more of Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French, as I avoid the three major essays that await me…

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Bookstore Backpacking

How does one master the art of travel? Even more importantly how does one stay replete with reading material? I’ll be jet-setting around the world soon and getting hold of books may become difficult. Seven months traveling time will make for lots of reading – to entertain myself on the train or when stuck in a hostel at night. Great books will be needed to suit my wanderlust mood.

Initially, I’ll leave home with three choices – one for the plane, one for the stopover in LA and one for ‘emergency purposes’. Excessive, maybe, but I don’t think it differs from my everyday stuff-the-handbag-with-books routine. Let me confess, in the guise of ‘travel entertainment I’ve splurged on books recently – including a YA book by Sacher called Holes and Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy. I hate, hate, hate parting with books and now I don’t want to take them with me knowing I have to abandon them on the road. What to do? But anyway, any reader tips on satisfying bibliophilic needs when traveling?

I’ve managed to track down some must-see international bookshops. Two on the top of my list are English language bookstores, Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece and Shakespeare and Co. in Paris. Of course I will be coasting in to these havens to replenish my supplies and will let you know what exciting things I find!



Friday, May 11, 2007

You spin me right round baby, right round

Absence characterizes acquisitionist land at the moment, on the blog scene and mentally as my mind drifts off…

I’m distracted by Big Exciting Things. Disillusioned with work/study/work/study I impulsively decided to take time off uni. On June 22nd, I’m heading off on a round-the world trip with mother dearest. Three months in Europe – with a rough country plan and a Eurail pass for spontaneity and convenience. I’m wildly excited about Greece because I’ve been learning Modern Greek for the last two years. We’ve allowed a month in Morocco so there should be some serious exploration and dining there. From there we head on to India and Nepal for six weeks. Lastly, we finish up with Thailand and Vietnam. Reading ramifications entail immersion in a plethora of travel narratives and guide books as I ease into the art of travel with mental meandering.

Holy Cow by Australian author Sarah MacDonald is a crazy crash course in the madness that is India. As a student backpacker Sarah had gone to India, and left disillusioned and loathsome. Before leaving, a man prophesised she would return, but giving him the finger, Sarah returned to Australia. As it would work out, she later goes back to India for love. Following her husband there, a journalist, Sarah befriends some locals and sets up a life in India. Sarah embarks upon a humorous and alarming spiritual quest as she investigates a number of different faiths in a place where people do not understand her agnosticism.

Particularly amusing is Sarah’s attempt at mastering Hindi. Frustrated by her outsider status Sarah learns Hindi to converse with the locals and circumvent extortionate ‘special’ prices for foreigners. Practicing Hindi on the streets she meets with surprised reactions. Unfortunately, Sarah was taught the overly formal language which according to her teacher befitted her station. Try questioning a taxi driver about his ‘automobile of gold’ or buying some time with a ‘let me twirl my moustache whilst I cogitate’ and you’ll have an idea about the utility value of this mode of expression.

Rule No 5: No Sex on the Bus by Brian Thacker confirms the reasons I wouldn’t want to do a tour but is nevertheless full of amusing, frightening and amorous anecdotes. As a tour guide on bus trips throughout Europe Brian was responsible for enforcing - and on the odd occasion breaking - the rules set out for tour guides and trippers. Keeping a bunch of wildly oversexed, energetic and mixed tourists would be a testing experience but it’s evident Thacker’s easygoing attitude and sense of humour got him through it.

Today, I finished off a sumptuous course in the form of The Summer of My Greek Taverna by Tom Stone. Again with the travel narratives sorry, but this one dovetails nicely with my fascination with all things Greek. Tom Stone, an American man, goes to Greece one summer in the hope of writing a novel. He finds love with a French painter in Greece and stays for twenty-two years. Buying into a partnership running The Beautiful Eleni, a taverna in Greece, he goes into business on the Patmian island. He comes to know and work the taverna intimately and discovers that the romanticised retreat he had only experienced as a visitor is a stress-mine. Despite this, word of Tom's cooking and hospitality spreads, and the taverna experiences unprecedented success. Referred to throughout the book and featured at the back are the tried-and-tested recipes from the taverna. I’m particularly excited about trying out the Youvarlakia Avgolemono (Meatballs in Egg-Lemon Sauce) on my housemates.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Generic chick

love struck , La’Brooy, Melanie

Chick lit always received a sideways glance of fluffy-content contempt from the acquisitionist. My disdain for candy-pink covers and frangipani bath bliss was unsettled when a friend convinced me to pick up Melanie La’Brooy’s love struck. Deliciously saccharine, the ‘busy’ cover belies the adroit humour and sassy intellect of the main character, Isabelle Beckett, and her romantic adventures.

Isabelle Beckett, as her namesake suggests, continues a tradition of chivalric romance, lusting for an ideal. Similarly, her best friends Fran and Zoe (think Salinger and the Glass legacy of intellectual ennui and analytical astuteness) are romantic wrecks. Combine 19th century romantic expectations with the cynicism of Salinger, and the reader is set for a trip of courtship chaos.

With a penchant for literary types, Isabelle is constantly disappointed. Musing on her ideal she wonders:

‘It’s odd what we’re attracted to, isn’t it? I mused. ‘I mean all a boy has to do to impress me is to be well-read or have stories to tell- and I mean proper stories – and I’ll instantly attribute all these wonderful qualities to him that don’t necessarily have anything to do with him. He could be a lying, cheating, tofu-eating freak for all that I know but I’ll fall for him just because he’s read Anna Karenina.

Defending this ideal, her singledom, her job at an art auction house, and her tutu-wearing tendencies becomes Isabelle’s challenge. Isabelle deals with the craziness of her life as she confronts Sydneysiders, taxi drivers, spiders, the world and importantly herself in order to regain control. If you are after something highly funny, pick up a copy of love struck but don’t be surprised if you embarrass yourself with snorts of laughter on your daily commute.

I am surprised at how preconceptions are dispelled, dismantled and left on the verge when I actually begin to read a book. Intimidating classics, like Eliot’s Mill On the Floss which I recently read for my Victorian lit course are surprisingly enjoyable. Has anyone else been pleasantly surprised when venturing outside of their typical material?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Meet the author

A woman attired in a flamboyant zebra-striped flowing top came up to the counter at work this evening. With directed zeal, she inquired whether we had Robert’s book Shantaram in stock. I replied with a “no”. She was the 5th customer who had asked me that question during the day. Only a few minutes later, a gentleman purchased a card. He asked me why we didn’t have his book in store. Indeed, it was the author himself. He seemed an interesting character, so I must check it out when it comes in.

Recently at uni we met Kim Scott, the author of Benang. Laborious but rewarding is how I would describe Benang. Enjoyment wasn’t easily derived from this fragmented novel about the ‘first white man born’. The novel, which transcends linear narrative and chronological time, is told from the perspective of Harley, a product of Aboriginal assimilation. Harley struggles to unearth the past and explore his Nyoongar heritage. The novel makes for particularly interesting reading due to the interspersion of material from historical archives. Factual moeties work to challenge the grain of ideological progress. Dealing with the “possibilities of place” this Miles Franklin winner is a challenging read, but interesting if you can suspend your reader expectations. Scott’s lecture – although abstract – was engaging and definitely helped me to appreciate the sense in which one should approach and interpret a novel so resistant to traditional narrative structure.

In the vein of ‘meet the author’ I thought I’d introduce you to a fantastic Queensland poet, Samuel Wagan Watson. I discovered him at Bookslam, the literary nightclub I attended earlier this year. Although many of his books are out of print, L and I ordered a copy of his anthology smoke encrypted whispers. His writing buzzes with urbane imagery. His poems draw on a thematic reservoir of restlessness, contemporary dreamtime, liaisons revisited, and foment of childhood wonder. Here is “white stucco dreaming”, one of the poems that Watson read aloud. If you get a chance to hear him read his work, go along, because his strong and passionate vocalization will shape the way you read his work.

White stucco dreaming

sprinkled in the happy dark of my mind
is early childhood and black humour
white stucco dreaming
and a black Labrador
an orange and blck panel-van
called the ‘black banana’
with twenty blackfellas hanging out the back
blasting through the white stucco umbilical
of a working class tribe
front yards studded with old black tyres
that became mutant swans overnight
attacked with a cane knife and a bad white paint job

white stucco dreaming
and snakes that morphed into nylon hoses at the terror
of Mum’s scorn
snakes whose cool venom we sprayed onto the white stucco,
temporarily blushing it pink
amid an atmosphere of Satuday morning grass cuttings
and flirtatious melodies of ice-cream trucks
that echoed through little black minds
and sent the Labrador insane

chocolate hand prints like dreamtime fraud
laid across white stucco
and mud cakes on the camp stove
that just made Dad see black
no tree safe from treehouse sprawl
and the police cars that crawled up and down the back streets,
peering into out white stucco cocoon
wishing they were with us.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Random acts of Korean kindness

Aristotle’s Golden Mean delineates two extremes: stinginess and prodigality. Although prodigality can border on luxuriating waste, one can never exceed output of kindness. Bybee, being the beautiful and generous bibliophile that she is, introduced me to Korean literature in the form of Lee Kyun-Young’s prize-winning novel, The Other Side of Dark Remembrance, which traveled from South Korea to my letterbox. A slim volume which unfolds at an accelerated and frantic pace, I devoured it on the way to work and back!

The novel jolts to a start, in media res, as the protagonist jumps out of bed. Unsettled by the lack of normalcy in his surroundings he contemplates his usual routine. Everyday he relishes morning ritual; a conscious resistance of up-and-go dedication:

“He considered this darkness he enjoyed with his eyes closed during this blank waking hour a perfect ritual of peace for him. That’s why he made a point to relish this darkness during the morning hours when he was supposed to hurry, and eventually he would sometimes be late to the office or fail to keep an appointment’.

This sketches the weariness and drudgery of the life of a ‘metropolitan salaried man’ married to work and efficiency. Immediacy looms, with the urbanized world polarized between the demand for productivity within the public realm and the individual’s need for creative space. He has awoken to find himself in foreign surroundings. Memory swallowed up by one drink too many. Sense of place gone.

After his inebriation has dissipated, various people recount his uncharacteristic behaviour. Inexplicable is his excursion to Imun-dong, and the mysterious woman assisting him in his desire to go there. With self-cussing regret he discovers he has lost his satchel. The repossession of the satchel becomes his aim, as he seeks to find the contents integral to a lucrative company deal.

The novel ends with rumination upon the insignificance of social ascendancy and the importance of childhood as a formative experience. He vacillates between tenacity and an emotionally corrosive feeling of loss because of his orphaned past. I wish my reading was informed by Korean history though. There’s obviously a lot that my culturally ignorant self wouldn’t have noticed.

The title has multilayered resonance. A scene of literal awakening in the beginning introduces the protagonist's realization of the unusual events. The Other Side of Dark Remembrance plays on the idea of chiaroscuro, with light/dark oppositions used to explore his search for his satchel and solutions. His past as an orphaned child is examined as he comes to value the potential of human connections to overcome adversity and enrich human experience.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Jam-packed full of well-dressed bibliophiles, the literary nightclub wasn’t what we had expected. Patrick Neate hosted the event, introducing a series of readers like Sam Wagan-Watson (Aboriginal poet) and Anthony Swofford (Jarhead etc). In between, people were supposed to take advantage of the bar and mingle. There was an older crowd. At about 10pm, and mid-way through a live singer’s performance (how rude!) the people started to head home. L and I have ordered a copy of Watson’s book and I will post up some of his clever work soon.

Uni is back. Procrastination is the temptress once again. This semester I’m doing a Victorian Lit course, Ecotexts/Nature and Technology in Writing, an Education unit and a random history unit. In terms of new faces, I sat next to a girl in education, who asked me what indoctrination meant. She also admitted that she doesn’t want to be a teacher. Come again? Surely an arts degree, and then possibly a dip-ed on top would a better pathway if you couldn’t yet envisage yourself teaching.

Reading. Bumping along on the public transport system, I devoured a gorgeous little Korean novel sent my way by Bybee. It deserves its own pocket of cyberspace (a term coined in Gibson’s Neuromancer , so I learnt in Ecotexts). I will blog it tomorrow. Yes I will. This week I must finish All The Pretty Horses . Also, I’m going to sink myself into the acerbic Edwardian wit of Hector Hugo Munro.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Acquisitionist awakes

Irregularity is the key to a student’s sleeping patterns on holidays. The luxuriating laziness fostered in me has been shattered. Today, I awoke early for an education faculty welcome. The realities of classroom teaching were brought to our attention in our instructor’s anecdotes about a troublesome student.

One ringleader of a particular naughty bunch had brought the class into waves of giggles. He had put on a show of impersonating impertinence while she had left the class on an errand. Peering through the door, she caught the student trouncing the classroom, imitating her manner. Battling with the instinctual drive to yell at the student, she commanded him to stand up and stick out his hand. After shaking his hand and commending his dramatic ability, she asked him what else was in his repertoire. He imitated the deputy principal's peculiarities splendidly. Because of the offbeat manner in which she handled the situation, he began to improve his behaviour, pulling his cohort with him. As an aside, this little boy reminded me of the irreverent Trapp of Great Expectations fame.

We had a brief tour of the education building, which is off the main campus. It’s an intimate campus with a cosy library. We also have access to 24-hour computer labs, which are under safe surveillance. This ensures that students who find themselves homeless do not move in to the labs and drown their sorrows with bottle after bottle of gin. Well, that’s another story. So, the rest of the day is ahead of me. Tonight, I’m attending a literary nightclub- supposedly cocktails, funky tunes and bookish entertainment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Night out at the theatre------ The Lady Aoi by Mishima.

(Picture courtesy of The Sunday Times)

Yesterday evening, L and I enjoyed an exquisite dinner at an Indian restaurant, MM. The lamb dishes were delectable, and the pistachio ice-cream we finished off with was worth being late to the theatre for. We arrived just after 8pm to be told it had already started. Luckily, the show did not actually commence until 30 seconds after we were ushered to our seats.

Rather than crackling with passion as promised, The Lady Aoi fizzled with lacklustre dramatic tension. Playwright Mishima, who I adore for his fusion of the macabre with sensuality, endeavoured to explore the psychological and philosophical domain of dreams. Dialogue was sparse; the philosophical pretensions of the play superficially spread. The actors’ attempts to compensate with overblown performances did not improve the entertainment value. Aoi, hospitalized on her death-bed, is a live and tortured presence played by the convulsive embodiment of Claudia Alessi. Her pervasive pain links the past and present in the realms of memory. Rivaling the audience in her ability to sit silently through the hour-long performance, I sympathised with her plight. Somebody give the poor girl a blanket before she catches pneumonia.

Some small gripes deserve mention- unfortunately the acquisitionist is oh-so cantankerous for one so young. The voices of some of the actors were nauseatingly articulated, either as they tried to project or eschew their Australian accents. However, the costuming was meticulously crafted. Hikaru’s ornamental and oriental-style garb was eye-catching. The dark hooded figure of Madame Rokujo entering the hospital to visit Hikaru, her past lover, was also disarming. The triangular stage design provided a physical map of the love conflict that was to unfold. Special effects did give a scintillating edge to the drama at times.

The chemistry between Hikaru and Madame Rokujo was lacking. The play culminated in a foofaraw of action. Failing to command my attention earlier, all the fuss seemed to demand it. Unfortunately, the phone call revelation at the end which aims to shatter the illusory and real boundaries was about as hackneyed as the flashback boating-days scene. However, the final image of efficiency that the nurse presented was striking as she slowly scrubbed the bloodied stage clean.

Self left feeling hollow, the audience also did not appear to be enamoured with The Lady Aoi. A few snickers escaped at the ostentatiously ‘erotic’ moments in the play, and several old dears in the audience covered their ears as the loud music threatened to damage the tympanic membrane. Although not a memorable performance, I’m glad I went because I would’ve been disappointed not to have seen a Mishima offering. It was a visual feast with a nutrionally- deficient main course.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Spring Snow

My introduction to Mishima came in the tautly composed The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, a novel of nihilism and violence which unsettles the reader. On finishing the book of an evening, sleeplessness ensued. The bitterness of humanity glimpsed in the last pages left the stomach riddled with unease. Coming across Spring Snow in a bookstore I took it up to the counter, not knowing much about it. The young man at the counter had read it, and recommended it highly. Interestingly, he said it did not have the violent elements I expected. Violence is superseded by the piquancy of desire in the first book of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy.

Passion unfolds in a sensual frisson as the entanglement between aristocratic lovers Kiyoaki and Satoko engages the reader with its impossibility. Kiyoaki is a young man of delicate constitution. Spoilt by his family’s ascendancy and the misfortune of personal beauty he is characterized by capriciousness of feeling and action. His affection for Satoko paralyses him, and he treats her selfishly. Satoko, a beauty from an old and disempowered family receives advances of marriage from a royal suitor. Receiving no objection from Kiyoaki she pursues the elopement. Unfortunately, Kiyoaki’s lack of foresight lands the lovers in a compromising and doomed affair.

The novel left me with a desire to read more Mishima. Fortunately, I’m attending a Mishima play next week. I also plan to see a production of Pride and Prejudice. This week of theatre will be refreshing considering my lack of theatric entertainment of late.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Lackadaisical Lady

The last week has been one of reading paralysis. Like the inevitable dilemma of the ice-cream store, I have the problem of Too Much Choice. The days are dissolving as the university semester fast approaches. The lovely blogger Bybee has sent me a Korean delight, The Other Side of Dark Remembrance by Lee Kyun-Young. I look forward to dipping into the ‘mundane yet confused life of a metropolitan salaried man.’ I also *have* to read McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses because someone gave it to me in my philosophy class last semester. And my bookish expectations tell me that I’ll be galloping through the rest of the Border trilogy after reading the first offering.

I’m reading Jay Rubin’s biography of Murakami entitled Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words. The title notes the musical metaphors that infuse Murakami’s works. Having a keen interest in music, Murakami managed a jazz bar, where he indulged his penchant for Western literature, reading voraciously when he could. The biography captures the banality of Murakami’s career changing moment of epiphany. Beer-in-hand at a baseball game, the sun shining down, he decided he could write a novel at the age of 29. Murakami’s upbeat novels reflect the tempo of modernity. Indeed Murakami’s plots have fluidity, taking different courses of action, in rifts and fugues of improvised drama. Murakami actively disliked Yukio Mishima (p15). It’s interesting that although Murakami highlights his desire to avoid the Japanese condition, his novels have nuances and ideas that aren’t inherent in Western literature. Notably in Norwegian Wood, there seems to be a consciousness of a debt for happiness, and the sense of death as a live and pervasive presence.

In regards to my reading regime, I need a solid plan of attack. The three books I’ve just mentioned I will knock down. I also hope to review Mishima’s Spring Snow, which I finished recently. Has anyone else read this gorgeous book, or the others in the Sea of Fertility tetralogy? Tomorrow, I’ll head into uni to check out the course book offerings. One of my units is Victorian Literature, which will inevitably feature chunksters. I’m doing another course on nature and writing, which looks intriguing. Looks like a fun semester!

Sunday, January 28, 2007

International bookclub initiative

IDEA: Reading Across Borders Book Group.
GENESIS: F for international reading savvy.

I took the Guardian World Book Day Quiz and have discovered that despite appearances, I’m internationally inept. Yeah, results so embarrassing that there will be no sharing of scores. With a remedy in order, I fired off an SOS in SMS form to some of my bookish friends.

I didn’t join the Reading Across Borders challenge. Flexibility wise, I don’t want my reading to be too encumbered. Genius for planning, the ironic feature ascribed to me in my name analysis, is but an illusion. Even my haphazard grocery manner is ridiculed by my housemate as ‘stream-of-consciousness shopping’.

Instead, I’m initiating a book group with some close friends of stellar literary caliber. All have worked at bookstores before or are current booksellers. (Not a prerequisite though, interested parties!) So, forget Nabokov’s jibe at the ‘deadly conventionality’ of bookclubs.

Books will be chosen in advance, with each member getting a turn at choosing a letter and a book. Choose a letter, and commence a country or regional exploration. Select an author’s work from that place which is not too difficult to obtain in translation. C- Canada (Oondatje) China (Xingjian), Calcutta (Singha), Carnavon (ahem). Monthly meetings will be over coffee with the possibility of national themed cuisine to mix it up occasionally.

Does anyone have any ideas or experience with organizing book club gatherings? If so, feel free to comment with any suggestions.

The current list of bookish babes is as follows:
E--> E is my character crush; the forest girl featured in my previous post. Impossible to get a date with, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk her into coming along. A real treasure. She once imparted a distilled gem of alternative health wisdom, namely, that one must avoid drifting into delusion.

L-->Ever the discerning reader, L has superior aptitude for making recommendations. Her book selections will be delightful. A seriously serial bibliophile, she always has several books on the bookstand. Currently reading The Girl who Played Go. She is sharp and informative. Just when you thought you were the only one, she’s guaranteed to know something about a given topic.

C-->The crazily talented vacillator, C is equally old/young, erudite/puerile, spatial/verbal. My witty wingman and a creative genius. My mind would have been even more culturally deficient if I hadn’t met her.

Acquisitionist- me. self-indulgent bloggerette.

Oh my, I’m an excited acquisitionist!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Illusionist: Character study (Paul Auster, Book of Illusions)

Paul Auster may be the absent author in your local bookstore. Auster, with his compelling prose, is a nonpareil with the kleptomaniacs. In a discussion between bookstore manager Tom Cushman and Paul Auster, Cushman notes that Auster’s books are frequently stolen:

“we had like 7 authors that we had the most popular stolen books, and out of the 7, Paul Auster was actually the only living author. He had the distinction of being the only living author who was most stolen.”

Auster’s novels have an urbane, worldly feel. Unfolding with the accelerated pace of everyday life, coincidences and diversions provide entertainment. Like in De Lillo’s works, Auster’s novels are suffused with engaging yet aloof prose. Caustic and intelligent characters create an intriguing fictional world.

The Book of Illusions is a fascinating study of grief and obsession. Tragedy, with its heavy permeation, weighs down on the protagonist. Carefully etched-out life plans are shattered; predictability a past attraction. Nine to Five. Annual Leave. House and Kids. These vestiges of normalcy are replaced by the unregimented expanse of free time.

Living-room mourning and day-time despair. The protagonist, hermit-like, vegetates on the couch, watching TV and old movie reruns. Unexpectedly, laughter is triggered. The protagonist’s interest is captured by a lesser-known comic, Hector Mann. The human element is reconnected, and he decides to pursue the comic’s works further. Spurned on by a desire to travel and write, the protagonist embarks upon a study of Mann’s films, penning his biography.

Considering I’m only a few chapters into The Book of Illusions, a comprehensive review is impossible. So turning it over to the reader- who captures your interest? If you were a writer, who would you like to conduct a character study of? It could be someone you know, a stranger, or the man who sells you fruit. If I could write, a fictional fleshing out of the eccentric E would be in order. A nervous wreck, she’s Croatian-Ukrainian with a gorgeous smile. She’s a writer who came back to civilization from “the forest”, a hideaway where she spent six months alone, trying to write her novel.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Quiet American review, Graham Greene.

Inspired by Sara’s review, I decided to pick up Graham Greene's The Quiet American for myself. As she noted, although the novel is a political picture of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, these details enrich rather than encumber the reading experience. An older journalist, Fowler, revisits the love entanglement involving his mistress Phuong and Pyle, a zealous and idealistic journalist. Fowler’s role as a correspondent aids the first-person narration as he recounts without taking sides. His point of view is a springboard to show how personal responsibility overlaps with global considerations.

Pyle, described as a ‘quiet American’ is a symbol of America’s insidious impact upon Vietnam’s history. He orchestrates a Third Force to battle Ho Chi Minh’s forces and the French and her allies. In the early stages of the novel, Pyle’s innocence is described with a sense of foreboding:

‘Go in and find a table. I had better look after Pyle.’ That was my first instinct-to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.’ 36

The unreality of war--the emotional distance between military and civilian is captured by this theme of innocence. Actions performed without regard to effect show the lack of understanding. Chilling imagery is conjured by Greene’s sparse writing style. A metaphoric depiction of bodies strewn in a ditch as an irish stew haunts the reader. It represents a hodgepodge cross-section of society who have unwittingly become part of bloodshed. The love relationship between Phuong and the two journalists highlights the impact of French colonialism and the reality that no matter how impartial Fowler seeks to be, neutrality is unattainable where human emotion is involved.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Countdown of a bibliomaniac: TBR

Bibliomania is a lifelong, crippling, bank-emptying disease. Symptoms include paroxysms of excitement on entering a bookstore, choice of handbag according to book crammability, and piles of books encroaching on the limited surface area in your abode. Piles like forts, comforted by their permanence in the booklover’s heart. Jumbled insights into bibliophilic madness. Unhealthy side-effects include book binges and dust. Lots of dust.

The uninitiated, on entering a bibliophile’s house will often inquire, “Have you read them all?” Impossible, since the rate of acquisition often exceeds the consumption of the bookworm. I discovered this gem in V.S Naipaul’s The Mystic Masseur, in which books are ostentatious, their mere presence revered as purveyors of intellectual fortitude:

Beharry nibbled. ‘I was just showing the pundit the books I does read.’
‘Read!’ Her tired face quickened with scorn. ‘Read! You want to know what he does read?’
Ganesh didn’t know where to look.
‘He does close up the shop if I don’t keep a eye on him and he does jump into bed with the books. I ain’t know him read one book to the end yet, and he ain’t happy unless he reading four give book at the same time. It have some people it dangerous learning them how to read.’ 70.

On my fiction shelves, I have 232 fiction TBR. Not formidable enough to discourage more book buying. Why? Some books on my shelves are non-identities. They’ve lost all appeal to me. I don’t know what possessed me to accumulate seven Atwood titles because desire to read her has dissipated. Whilst doing the count I did discover some neglected reads such as Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled and Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, which have been surpassed by neoteric purchases. So, how is everyone else going with their TBR collection? Any interesting must reads that you have come across?

Monday, January 15, 2007


I sell books for bucks part-time. Our staff is a thoroughly attractive bunch. One girl, the lovely J, a fresh-faced, green-eyed, luminescent beauty, often finds herself approached by hopeful suitors. One day, a Jasper Fforde signing sci-fired up readers, the bookstore abuzz with the chattering commotion of fans. J stood sentinel, directing them into lines. She was approached by a man who asked her if Fforde would sign a book by a different author. Unfortunately, he had left his Fforde collection at home, he stated, with a strange conviction in the normalcy of this explanation. Odd request, but she had encountered it before. Advising him that Fforde would probably sign it, J told him to line up and check with the author. The man did not move on but instead, looking at her expectantly, asked her to sign the book for him.

“I don’t quite understand you” J replied, thinking he was one of the mild weirdoes that bookstores inevitably attract.

“I was wondering if you could sign my book” he repeated, “and…just underneath add your phone number” he said self-assuredly.

She chuckled gently, replying, “A for originality, but I have a boyfriend”.

“You can’t help but try” he said, walking away, his pride consoled, having elicited a giggle from a pretty girl.

The bookstore. A place for a bibliophile’s solo discovery. A pick-up joint. Most that enter enjoy reading. But is a love connection based on literary preference a risk worth taking? Journalist Marieke Hardy investigates this question in the Age article Left on the Shelf. She recalls her past bookish liaisons:

“Joel insisted I bone up on Bulgakov; Matty read Bukowski and then wrote countless pages in a similarly liquored-up style; Simon swore by the dusty prose of Tim Winton.”

In search of a literary lover, she attends a literary speed dating event in the hope of meeting, perhaps, an absolutely edible Vonnegut reader. Painstakingly, she chooses her book, Confederacy of Dunces, with awareness that reading taste speaks volumes about a person. The timer ticks, and the bibliophiles circulate:

"Men come and go; pages whirring. The music stops and starts. One by one, I am presented with a variety of male courters holding a variety of novels. David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species. In Cold Blood. The Michael Palin Diaries.

"Oh, lovely," I say when I see the Palin. "What's it like?".

He glances down at the shiny hardback. Picks absently at an Angus and Roberston price sticker.

"I don't know, I haven't read it. To be honest I just thought it looked OK so I picked it up on my way here and ..." he trails off, shrugging.
There is an awkward pause.

"So what do you do?" he asks eventually, trying to surreptitiously look down my top before our five minutes is up."

Loveless, Marieke Hardy emerges despondent. She muses that “an adoration of fine scribes can be such a random gift”. Consolation affords itself in the form of empty pages of possibility. Random moments on the train line, dinner parties and future novels offer opportunity for literary entanglement. Indeed, although most would not choose their nearest and dearest based on reading matter, it thrills the booklover’s heart to have a ‘you too?’ moment with another reader.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Norwegian Wood , Murakami

Don’t be alarmed, those who see me daily, if I only wear green next month. Or red. Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, published in 1987, brought Murakami sensational recognition in Japan. Released in two parts, one with a red cover, and the other green, fans demonstrated their attachment to a particular part by donning a colored shirt. Such was the power of the book; capturing the generational pulse of young fans throughout the country. Norwegian Wood was enthralling in its entirety. I’m sharing my appreciation with the reader to circumvent a Christmas-tree appearance.

Intensity appears to be innate in the Japanese cultural psyche and Murakami taps into this national trait. This beautiful novel of ‘love with complications’ explores the experience of the main character Watanabe as a young man. Watanabe is drawn into a triangular relationship with a charismatic boy Kizuki, and the striking young woman Naoko. The relationship benefits the three, giving them beatitude. However, with the reminder that ‘death is living’ a debt for this happiness must be paid. Watanabe is forced to deal with his own issues, whilst offering the support to the psychologically unsettled Naoko. The obstacles inherent in their situation test their love and understanding. Watanabe is forced to deal with the pain of loneliness, the vulnerability in bringing himself to love someone, and the pain of letting go.

Watanabe, a self-professed ordinary guy, is endearing because of his understated originality, which is tempered by moderation. A drama student, who enters the world of theatre and Euripides on a whim, draws people in with his charisma and self-possession. Meeting with the quirky, the detached and the needy, Watanabe is led to have both profound experiences and erotic encounters. Unlike many of Murakami's works, this novel does not have undercurrents of the surreal. The streak of passion that riddles Norwegian Wood will reverberate in the recesses of the reader’s memory long after the book is finished.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Logodaedaly: A novel vocabulary

Re-reading Nabokov's Lolita last week I tried to pay more attention to the quips, allusions and wordplay that Humbert Humbert indulges in. The quality of his writing is what tones down the risque contentiousness of the book. I love the gripping opening lines of Lolita:

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

Nabokov believed every reader should be in possession of a memory, imagination, a dictionary and artistic sense. Have you, dictionary at hand, discovered any great new words during your recent reading? Whilst revelling in the verbal feast that Nabokov offers up, here are some new (to me) words I stumbled across:

Nacreous- resembling nacre; lustrous; pearly.
Ancilla- a female slave.
Undinist- a man aroused by water.
Beatitude- supreme blessedness; exalted happiness.
Logodaedaly- verbal legerdemain; a playing with words; capricious coinage of words.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A good, long constitutional: Dessaix, Robert, Corfu

Travel, for many, is a voyage of discovery, finding out jigsaw-style, where you fit in the world. Should it be so? Dessaix’s characters, expatriates, flit from place to place, consumed by wanderlust. This restlessness is a by-product of the uncertainty of belonging. Corfu explores the wanderings of a young Australian actor, drawn to a village on Corfu after abandoning his travel companion and lover in Rome. Responding to a newspaper ad: ‘House in Gastouri for rent for 2 mths. Occupant traveling. Reasonable rent,’ he becomes immersed in the life that the occupant Kester Berwick has left behind.

Friendship and its value is a recurrent concern. The young man becomes enamored with Emerson’s description of friends as “beautiful enemies”, an apt view of relationships in Corfu. Kester Berwick’s friends adopt the Australian actor into their coterie. Whilst staying in Kester’s house, the young man discovers a link between his lover and Kester. Jealousy is engendered by this, aswell as understanding. In the final pages, the farewell of the Australian and return of Kester are juxtaposed, cementing their parallel lives as “beautiful enemies”.

Despite the loneliness of our lives, we choose the role our friends play. Greta, Kester’s friend tells Kester that ‘roots’ are transportable:

“If you want to go home, go and buy yourself a ticket, Otherwise for God’s sake, shut up about it.” If you’re small, you’re small-Adelaide, Abu Dhabi, Timbuktu-it makes no difference.”

The protagonist ruminates that words like ‘big’ and ‘small’ miss the mark. Everyone must confront the ordinariness that marks their lives. Chekhovian influences in this novel challenge self-aggrandizement.

Dessaix, an Australian author, is not accessible to all readers because of the dense literary landscapes his prose conjures. However, Russian literature enthusiasts will be indulged by the allusions integrated by this Russian professor. Whilst it took me most of the novel to settle into the plot, Corfu is worth a read for quality ideas and Dessaix’s conception of travel. Travel is depicted as how it should be, commodified package tours rejected in favour of the art of slow. Like a long walk allowing for endless thought trains, Dessaix leaves open the possibility of tangents and the creation of new paths.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Dozen Dusty Books: Book Blogs and Art of Reading

MizB has initiated a wonderful To Be Read (TBR) challenge 2007.
2007 for me is about consistency, enjoyment and refining the art of reading. When I consider the endless, sexy titles that need to be read, I get swept up by the exhilarating rush of speed reading. However, it frustrates me that sometimes with my favorite books I forget important details. I know that’s an excuse to reread and rediscover, but I’d like to be conversant enough to share what I loved about it with someone else. Working in a bookstore, recommendations are constantly in order, but sometimes I hestitate to read something for fear of the question, ‘What’s it about?’. Helen Garner in The Feel of Steel elucidates her personal struggle with the gap between reading and memory. Do other people have this frustration, or do the scenes of the books you love stay with you long after the book is finished?

I began this blog out of voyeurism to peer over the reading shoulders of other book bloggers and to share my reading passion. Nominating my 2007 TBR dozen in advance is a chance to dust off old acquisitions which have been surpassed by fresh reads:

Murakami, Norwegian Wood
Ozeki, My Year of Meat
McCarthy, Cormac, All the Pretty Horses (given to me by a student in my philosophy class last year I want to read it before first semester begins)
Endo, Shusaka, Wonderful Fool (part of my foray into Japanese literature, must be read soon to circumvent library fees).
Astley, Thea, It’s Raining in Mango
Greene, Graham, The Quiet American (thanks to Sara)
Mitchell, David, Cloud Atlas
Auster, Paul, Book of Illusions
McEwan, Saturday
Hector Hugo Munro, Short Stories of Saki
Bulgakov, The Master and the Margharita (from my Banned Books collection)
Xinran, Good Women of China

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Big Books: Chunkster Challenge

Bookfool has launched a reading challenge which looks to overcome the dauntingness of approaching large, chunky volumes. Unfortunately, these weightier works tend to stay on my exponential TBR list longer than their slimline counterparts. Sidelined for a time when I have holidays or oodles of time to savour their contents, they have been neglected. What a fun and motivational idea! So, it looks like I'll (finally) be knocking down Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and DeLillo's Underworld. Arrggh! Having realised BookFool is no longer accepting participants, this will have to be an unofficial, personal goal.

Japanese read: The Sailor who Fell From Grace with the Sea

Following a spin-off from my Murakami obsession, I resolved to delve into more Japanese literature. This led me to Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, which grapples with the uneasy inhumanity of violence. Quiet, restless prose underscores the anarchic tone of the novel. A group of young boys train themselves in intellectual detachment. Misanthropy, the product of their angst, is focused on the family. They perceive the patriarch as a tyrannical force. Everyday living manifests the simple-minded platitudes of the adult world, scorned by this group of self-professed ‘geniuses’.

The opening scene introduces the teenaged Noboru. Locked in his room at night to prevent night-time adventures, self-containment reinforces Noboru’s isolation from his mother and the world. This world is disrupted by his mother’s affair with Ryuji, a naval officer. Abandoning his intangible yet profound love of the sea for the constancy provided by Fusoka, Noboru’s mother, Ryuji reconciles his desire for glory with a different kind of happiness. ‘Glory, as anyone knows, is bitter stuff’ reads the final line of the novel, and indeed, Ryuji’s unsuspecting involvement in Noboru’s world has sinister repercussions.

Violence is wedded with the macabre to produce an unsettling after-taste in the reader. Midway, a scene of protracted, animal cruelty appears. The closure works on the power of suggestion; violence does not need depiction to sear the imagination. Noboru’s flawed objectivity demonstrates that the human condition stems the cultivation of pure impartiality. Rich in metaphor, this brief and composed novel should be embraced by those who are prepared for the confrontational and shocking power of art.