what i’m reading
After finishing the most brilliant Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, I have thoughts – I know, doesn't happen often but it does happen. 1. Love her voice. More and more I want to be TOLD a story, rather than being SHOWN everything – opposite of what we're told to do on the writing front but I don't care. 2. This book could easily be classified as Young Adult. It spans years, but there's an immediacy to the experience (*not my test – I read my agent Catherine Drayton talking about this in an interview once). 3. As a lead in to the next book in the trilogy, the ending is perfect. 4. I was pissed off at the New Yorker as I read it, because as it turned out James Wood managed to spoiler most of the major plot points. Photo above is from a Vogue article – much better as an intro because it doesn't give everything away. 5. Everyone keeps saying it's about female friendship. It's equally about AMBITION. Really interested in what you guys think – so hit me! #greatladymonday #elenaferrante #mybrilliantfriend #amreading #igreads #greatbooks #greatauthors #bibliophile #bookworm #literaryfiction #textpublishing #bookclub #bookclubreads
A photo posted by Kirsty Eagar (@kirstyeagar) on
Yes, I know, I know, I am still keeping up the conceit of having a reading alter ego. I can’t believe me either. But it’s the visuals, you see. I love those photos.
Anyway, this will be fast and furious and filled with bad grammar (writer, I am) but I am solidly of the opinion, sometimes, that it’s better just to post than to wait until I have more time. Basically, better to have posted and sounded inarticulate than never to have posted at all.
Here is a smidgen of the books I’ve been reading lately. If they have anything in common, they all offer the reader multi-faceted perspectives. I am going to deliver this in a style that I’m calling stream-of-consciousness response (see points made in previous para):
Del, the main character, is so beautifully drawn, and even when she’s in the wrong you’ve already forgiven her, because who hasn’t said awful things to their friends sometimes when everything is arse about. The conversations between Del and her good friend Charlie are so funny and ring so true – ah, the luxury of lying around with your best friend talking shite! And there is such a sense of fun – after economics I never wanted to see another graph again for as long as I lived, but I really enjoyed their addition to this narrative. What I love, too, is the way sexuality and exploration are dealt with as integral to life. Del is figuring everything else out, but as far as her own sexuality is concerned, she knows firmly who she is, which is a nice counterpoint to some of the other characters and where they’re at with things. Anyway, go read it. It’s warm, funny, and will make you feel good.
I rushed out and bought this, and then, when I held it for the first time, thought, What a shame we don’t get to have more hardcovers in Oz. This one is especially well designed, with special little bits of play in terms of what’s behind those cut outs. But I digress! Ooh, shiny. Okay. I can still run with the perspectives thing on this one, because for the first half of this book you see the same events play out from the perspective of different characters as they enter into a mind fuqqing version of a haunted house. That’s all I can really say without giving too much away. Of course David is brilliant, blah blah, but it struck me reading this book that where he’s brilliant is in vertically integrating his stories. I’m not sure that even makes sense but I’m running with it. What also struck me, though – and this applies to everybody’s gothic and horror novels, including my own (Night Beach), is that the set up and scary stuff is always more fun before it’s explained. What I want to try one day is writing something where you just don’t bother to explain it (yes, critics, I know; I’ll say it for you: You already have! :))
Okay, I read this as an ARC (advanced reading copy). Guess what? It’s the first official ARC I have ever read, or even held for that matter (apart from my own, which I didn’t read). So, you know, things are looking up! But that’s more digression. This. Book. I badly want to talk to someone about this book. SOOOOO many talking points. Which should tell you that Justine has been hugely ambitious with this story, and she has NAILED IT. Rosa is a ten-year-old psychopath. Che, the main character, has to deal with that, daily, because he’s her seventeen-year-old brother. But it’s also about many, many other things – religion, race, ambition, to name a few. I want to say so much more but I can’t because I also don’t want to commit the cardinal sin of spoilering. Put it this way – you’ll be thinking about it for a long time after you put it down.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming. I thought I should mention this because it’s quite unusual for me to read many thrillers, but I have been on a Robotham rampage these last few months. I think I’ve now read all of his work. I read somewhere recently that he’d discovered that JK Rowling was a fan (just before he met her face to face, I think) and I wasn’t at all surprised that she was a fan of his. They share similarities in their ability to plot an incredibly good story. Anyway, that sounds under baked. If you’ve read her, and you’ve read him, you’ll know what I mean.
This has nothing to do with perspectives. I put it in here because some of you who are writing as well will find it interesting. Or, more to the point, interesting in that I bought it because I was completely and utterly stuck on my current work in progress, hoping for something that would unstick me. (Also, I have loved E Gilbert’s podcasts and TED talks on creativity, so I knew at the very least it wouldn’t hurt). I’m actually only up to the third chapter. BUT! I am happy to say I am no longer stuck. What worked for me was 10 minutes (daily) of sitting on the floor of my office, with no music going, keeping my eyes closed, concentrating on my breathing and not following the thoughts that arose. If you think that sounds like meditating, you would be right. I’m not sure I can call it that, though, because I’m not that great at it, and, as evidenced above, easily distracted (who knew there were soooo many thoughts?). But it has helped tremendously for some reason. PS The meditating has absolutely nothing to do with me buying BIG MAGIC other than me trying to become unstuck. Either might work for you.
Okay! Over and out.
I’ve been wanting to write about this book for a while now. But every time I went to do it, I felt like I hadn’t articulated my response strongly enough. So what I’m going to do instead is offer you an edited version of the email I sent to Vikki:
Yes, I know it’s a conceit to have an alter ego just to talk about what you’ve been reading but I can’t seem to stop and I have such great pictures of Reading Guy. They make me love him a little bit more every time I look at them. So he is here to stay, or at least until I run out of pictures.
DAZED and CONFUSED does not refer to the books themselves. It refers to my reading choices, which, as you are going to discover, are a bit all over the shop.
The Swiss Family Robinson
Bet you didn’t see that coming. I read this because I have an insatiable appetite for Survivor Lit, and Survivor Viewing – including Survivor the TV show, The Walking Dead, and Bear Gryll’s islands. I stayed with this story up until the halfway point, when I felt it had become completely absurd. I think it was when they were using their pet monkeys to harvest pineapples out of trees. That made me question everything I knew about life, because where I’m from, pineapples are harvested out of the GROUND by pet monkeys. So this book … unintentionally really, really funny. And lest I’m giving you the wrong impression – I did love things about it. I just got a bit tired.
Quick side note: if you are of the writing persuasion and you have been seeking good examples of information drops, this book is full of them. Dad knows EVERYTHING:
‘Indiarubber,’ I replied, ‘or, more properly, caoutchouc, is a milky resinous juice which flows from certain trees in considerable quantities when the stem is purposely tapped. Caoutchouc can be put to many usees, and I am delighted to have it here, as we shall, I hope, be able to make it into different forms; first and foremost, I shall try to manufacture boots and shoes.’
The Princessa: Machiavelli for Women
Yeah, Holy-Shit-Whoa is right. Things are getting serious around here! I read this because I want to take over the world, AND because I wanted to see what all the fuss is about. Not sure I can actually say anything sensible so I won’t try. Parts seemed to resonate with me, but I have no recall on them now, so they obviously didn’t stick. Also, this book made me want to write a Business/Self-Help book that is chock full of parables that make NO SENSE WHATSOEVER. Or maybe that’s just my problem. I don’t speak Parable.
Quick side note: as far as self help goes, if you be needing some, listen to these fantastic podcasts featuring Cheryl Strayed, which I only know about because I have a fantastic editor called Jen Dougherty who tells me such things.
This is the fourth book in the Rephaim series, and the last, so if you haven’t already, GET ON THE TRAIN. Woo woo! What Paula Weston has achieved with this series, in terms of scope and rigour of world building and story, is mind blowing. But the characters are the beating heart of it all. They are so real, and I love, bow down and say thank you to Paula for what she does with female sexuality. I ate this book up so fast it didn’t stand a chance.
Another book with tremendous scope and world building. This time, a mix of the historical and the supernatural. I was drawn to this story because it revisits a place and time that haunts the the Australian literary mind thanks to Ruth Park and a kind of urban mythology existing around the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. But what I loved were the women in this story, their desperation and determination. And their power. Complex, layered, impeccably rendered – stretches YA in all the GOOD ways.
Another side note: I lived for a time in Surry Hills, so Justine has enriched that place for me. I did a video once with Melina Marchetta for Chachic’s Book Nook where we visited and checked out old haunts:
Again supernatural, but this time in a contemporary setting. I love Rebecca Lim‘s writing: what she does is utterly unique, with a very Australian sensibility. (For some reason pubs loom large in the national fabric, or maybe that’s just in my mind, because regional Queensland is full of them, operating or otherwise. I was thrilled that part of this story is set within a pub.) The main character, Sophie, is smart and resourceful and real – and has to deal with some truly gritty situations. I’m hoping a series or sequel is planned, but I can’t say more than that without blundering and giving something away. So surprising, so different, so compelling.
Yes, we’re back to left field. I read this as a kid, and I was recently back at Mum’s so I pulled it out again. AND THEN REVERTED TO CHILDHOOD COMPLETELY by largely skimming it for the dirty bits. One thing struck me though – I love the ground Alther covers here: a person’s ability to shed skins. Either prompted by their life choices, or via their lovers.
The Girls from Corona Del Mar
I bought this novel on the strength of this beautiful, funny essay by Rufi Thorpe that made me want to pass it on to every writer I know, published or yet to be, first time around or otherwise. She is such a GOOD WRITER. The first few chapters of her novel crackle with the same electricity. I love the fact she is exploring female friendship, but in a real way, allowing us to see the teeth and schadenfreude. (If you ever read it, then check back in and tell me what you thought.) This mightn’t make sense without the context, but:
‘Lorrie Ann’s a rock star,’ I said, once Franklin had gotten himself a beer and settled down to watch football.
‘Oh dear,’ he said.
Pretty much sums it up. I also applaud Thorpe for writing about birth. I often think that it’s surprising we don’t have more birth stories in our literature, given it’s a pretty major event for those who go through it, whether a good or bad experience.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
I’m not going to compare this one to We Were Liars because I think they’re completely different animals. This is a terrific book. Solid and satisfying and truthful. Brilliant narrative voice. I learned things. My heart ached in recognition. I used to be that girl who wanted to compete with and stick it to the boys.
Okay. I’ve been reading more than that, but my fingers are sore. More later!
Reading Guy being the imaginary person I discuss books with when I’ve read them. I’m sharing him with you because a. the pics of him are just too good to waste, and b. if you need proof I spend too much time in a room by myself making things up, here it be. He last made an appearance back in March, and I’ve read truckloads since then. Can’t remember them all, but here are the highlights:
Now, before you get all, That’s one of your friends, why should I trust you? I have to say that one of the reasons I like Gab so much is because she is LIKE her writing. Funny, witty, smart, and big HEARTED. Loved these characters, even the naughty ones. Also, for the writers out there – Gab does amazing things with structure. Like Station 11 (look back at March) I couldn’t see the threads, and from memory, Gab’s first YA novel, Beatle Meets Destiny was incredible in this sense, as well. The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and his Ex has a sequel coming, too. Here’s Reading Guy waiting for it:
I didn’t want to leave the eighties when I finished this, which brought me to (SEGUE):
I had to buy this one secondhand and get it shipped because it’s out of print. Damn shame, I think. Anyway, I read it years ago, and I’ve never ever forgotten it. And then I talked to Gabrielle Williams, who I just knew would have read it, too, and she hasn’t forgotten it either.
A quick précis: fashion-obsessed girl living in New York works as a door whore for a club, gets sacked, and then starts what turns out to be Manhattan’s most exclusive night club in her tiny flat. Also, she names her clothes. That’s pretty much what I remembered, but what I hadn’t realised is how many things in this book later popped up in screen culture (which is a polite way of dancing around the term ‘appropriated’ because it must be coincidence I’m sure). For example: that hair gel scene in Something About Mary, and quite a few things in Sex and the City. For the record, Reality Nirvana Tuttle kicks Carrie Bradshaw’s arse, and she’d be kicking it in Manolo Blahniks because Reality wears them too.
Then I went back in time to Henry the Eighth and Thomas Cromwell and Anne of Boleyn:
Which once again confirmed for me that I have absolutely no interest in power and the people who seek it. As far as dealing with power mongers is concerned, I prefer the Robert Downey Jr. approach:
But all that’s a digression, and certainly didn’t stop me from enjoying Bring up the Bodies. I wish I’d let more time go by before tackling it, because I read Wolf Hall what seemed like not that long ago (a year maybe) and this, to me, was very much a continuation of that story, in terms of style etc. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, though, and Mantel’s one of my favourite authors. Out of all her works, the one that really took my breath away was: Eight Months on Ghazzah Street.
Then I ended up in the nineties:
Because sometimes you need a little grunge in your life. I was in Brisbane in the nineties, so that was all the Roxy, the Zoo, the Beat, going to bands, playing pool … SKUNKHOUR! (I shouted that for Vikki Wakefield, in case she visits). One of the guys in our circle ended up in Powderfinger, but even as we were enjoying having our names down on the door, we were all saying he should finish his science degree :) What tools. What surprised me about this book was how much I enjoyed reading it for its diary format! Weird, but true. There was something so soothing and non-demanding (in a good way) about reading a day-to-day account like this. I thought the author was really fair, which matters, especially when it comes to things like the wider representation/misrepresentation of Courtney.
Okay, I’m tired. I read a lot of other things, but I can’t remember them now. To leave you, this is what I’m reading now. It’s very, very good company :) I know I promised Trin’s Where the Magic Happens post tomorrow, but we’ll have to get to it some other time, because she’s got a book to bring into the world, and I’ve got to get to Newcastle to be there for it.
Please be brave and share what you’re reading, too, would love some recommendations.
Okay, you can see why I just had to use that photo. Isn’t he beautiful? I hereby name him Reading Guy.
I read all the time, but only occasionally remember what I’ve read, which usually means the books were either really good, or really bad. Being a little dandelion of positivity, I shall only mention the good ones, because that’s just how I roll, I do not eat my own kind, etc etc.
If we wanted a loose grouping, some kind of theme, I’d call it: City vs No City.
First, the city books:
This is a book born of Melbourne. It’s also one of the most original and best crime novels I have ever read. I don’t even want to use that tag – Crime Novel – because after I read this, I read something by an author who has sold a million billion crime novels (*figures are exact) and it took me two weeks to finish the thing, which is the longest time I have ever spent reading a single book (*reading statistics also exact). It wasn’t even bad, it just wasn’t alive.
What Truth did was remind me that good books should make you work. It is so very intelligent. It is also a very masculine book in that the story is primarily about the relationships between men and the significant figures in their lives – mentors, fathers, role models, underlings, brothers. And these men show very little feminine side.
Incidentally, Peter Temple won the Victorian Premier’s Award the same year that Raw Blue did. He gave the best speech at the ceremony. Took the piss out of everybody.
I know David Murray; he came to my wedding. Luckily my marriage hasn’t in any way resembled the Baden-Clays’. This is the first true crime I have ever read. Actually, that’s not true, I’ve also read In Cold Blood. What I was astounded by with The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay is how much it’s also a story about Brisbane. And I really loved that about it, having spent a chunk of my life there. Murray also paints Gerard Baden-Clay’s particularly narcissistic character incredibly well, and gives context for it in the form of his family, and his family’s history. This book details an unforgivable crime. But it also details how others cope in the face of that. Compelling reading.
Okay, now onto the No City books:
Get this: Fiona Wood was actually with me when I bought this. So of course I said, ‘What about this one? Any good?’ (Kidding. She was there, though. Simmone Howell was too. Fiona and I hid all of Simmone’s books in the Business & Politics section when she wasn’t looking.)
Going out on a limb here, I’ll hazard a guess that if you are a regular YA reader you have already read this one. There’s little to say that hasn’t already been said about what is a beautifully balanced story. But it was Sybilla’s character who really got me. I could see this girl, right down to the way she moved. And also Holly’s character – I had so much sympathy for her as villain. And when Lou shares at the end – perfect.
I can’t even remember where I heard about this book, but I bought it simply because I am a huge glutton for anything survival-based or post-apocalyptic. I don’t know what I expected (maybe something like The Walking Dead does Theatre?) but this book definitely wasn’t it. And that was a good thing. Look, I keep reading comparisons between this and David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and I’m not sure why people feel the need to compare. There is a basis for comparison only in that they are both superb examples of mind blowing structure. Station 11, though, is different entirely, with the story extending out in a seamless web from a central figure – Arthur Leander – someone connected to the main characters by varying degrees of separation. Also, I loved the reverence shown to objects, and how their value changes when they represent a world lost. I couldn’t think of any other fiction that looked at objects, but then I remembered Michelle de Kretser’s The Lost Dog.
The theme of what’s been lost is beautifully explored in Station 11, and one part that particularly resonated with me was when one of the characters remembers looking down on city lights from a plane window at night, and realises it’s something that will never be seen again.
Incidentally, I posted this book to Ellie Marney, so if you’re intrigued by it, but wary of my opinion (rightly so, I’d say) give her a gentle prod and ask her what she thought of it.
Finally, something that doesn’t fit either category really:
I’m just going to share two quotes. From The Devoted Friend:
‘Then you are quite behind the age,’ said the Water-rat. ‘Every good story-teller nowadays starts with the end, and then goes on to the beginning, and concludes with the middle. That is the new method. I heard all about it the other day from a critic who was walking around the pond with a young man. He spoke of the matter at great length, and I am sure he must have been right, for he had blue spectacles and a bald head, and whenever the young man made any remark, he always answered “Pooh!”
And from The Young King:
Upon these journeys of discovery … he would often be accompanied … but more often he would be alone, feeling through a certain quick wisdom, which was almost a divination, that the secrets of art are best learned in secret, and that Beauty, like Wisdom, loves the lonely worshipper.
I am now over and OUT, but feel free to share reading rec’s or responses to any of the above.
1. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex
The new book by Gab Williams. Gab had me at art theft, but she could write about anything and I’d be excited. I love the title. It’s very Gabbish. I am basing this on the fact that before she wrote her other Young Adult novels (more on them in a second) she wrote a book called Two Canadian Clubs And Dry At The Martini Den.
If you haven’t read Gab before you could warm up with Beatle Meets Destiny or The Reluctant Hallelujah. Reading one of her stories is like sitting in a tyre tube, sipping on a cocktail, floating down a warm river of charm. She’s got that effortless thing going on, where it seems organic and easy, but underneath it all she’s a BOSS of the craft. Her third person feels just as intimate as her first person, if you know what I mean. And her stories are from, and for, the characters.
The book comes out on 1 April. I don’t know why but that just tickled me pink.
2. Faith No More
Are releasing a new album, after splitting up because they didn’t like each other anymore. Enough mansplaining, I’m sure you probably already know.
I don’t even think I’m excited about new songs (heard Motherfuqqer, but …) I just want to hear FNM around more. Is that retro? Would Mike Patton approve? Probably not.
I saw them live at the Hordern Pavillion once, and it didn’t change my life, but I did develop a major thing for M.P. – I suspect it was part of a more general weakness for men wearing suits and open collared shirts. This is what he looked like that night:
I don’t have a thing for him anymore, btw. I transferred my suit and open-collared shirt fetish to the Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
But back to FNM. The reason I still love them, fetishes aside, is because I still play their music. ESPECIALLY when I’m meditating or doing yoga (jokes, they are good running songs). These are my top three:
1. Be Aggressive
2. Midlife Crisis
3. And the pre M.P. – We Care A Lot
I’m out. Have a smazin’ weekend. That’s like smashing and amazing mixed together. Use it in a scrabble game soon and insist it’s legit.