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.