Tag Archives: classics

A Mad Hatter Tea Party

For my 30th birthday, I decided to go down the rabbit hole.

Oh, what a Wonderland I found!

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Dear Virginia Woolf,

Virigina Woolf

 

Dear Virginia Woolf,

Greetings and salutations from the warm summer months of the year 2013. I am writing to discuss with you a rather personal matter – that of my 2012 Reading Goals, in which I did you a terrible disservice, dear Virginia.

Having been deceased these past 72 years, you are most likely unaware of
my resolution to read five of your works throughout the year of 2012. An honourable, realistic challenge, one would surmise. I had other reading goals, of course which I won’t discuss here, but am pleased to have achieved them – more or less .

As I reflect on my reading year gone by, I am filled with a sadness. And, something else, perhaps it is regret. You see, Virginia, my real failure, my greatest reading mistake was to leave my Woolf goal too late. I spent most of the year assuring myself that Time, devious as she is, was on my side. I was wrong, of course, as one often is in a head-to-head against Time. October appeared out of nowhere, tearing her way through my front door and into my life, underdressed, uninvited and without apology before I had read any of your novels.

All I could do was begin. I chose to read Mrs. Dalloway – and what a wonderful choice it was.

I had previously thought that streams-of-consciousness writing was not really my style, finding it a tad uncomfortable to read. However, the day of Clarissa Dalloway’s party was, what is the word? Entrancing. At times I was lost, wondering who or what was being described and how I’d arrived there. At other moments, I found myself swimming in the text, drinking in the way each word, considered with care and lyricism, knitted into narrative. I enjoyed drifting in and out of the minds of several characters, all preparing for the party at Clarissa’s house, all submerged in their own private worlds, with private thoughts and longings. It was a sadly-beautiful experience, if you understand what I mean. I was most confronted by the storyline of a man mid-battle for the remaining shreds of his sanity. In fact, I wonder how it came to be that you should have such an understanding of mental health issues? What had your experience of it been?

Dear Virginia, I found your writing excquisite, delicate yet robust, honest and unapologetic. I loved it, I adored it. But, it was not something I could so easily submerge myself in again so quickly.

I realised that to rush through another four of your novels would:
a/ probably not be possible given the late hour at which I had started my task; and
b/ would be disrespectful. Your novels require something, don’t they? Not just the usual sacrifice of time, laid willingly at the altar of Art by any lover of books. No, your writing requires an investment of another kind. Emotional safety, perhaps. You burrow deep, and deep you must burrow. Into the depths of humanity, into the soul, into what it means to exist and co-exist with others, relating, feeling, experiencing life in the shades granted by context and time.

So, given the above reasoning, I chose not to burl through four more Virginia Woolf works. Thus, I did not complete my reading goal and more importantly, I underestimated you, I underestimated what your writing would cost me – and what it was worth.

For that, I am deeply sorry.

I am so very grateful to have been acquainted with you through your writing, Virginia Woolf. I will read more of your works in future. I will not declare a number, nor will I vow to a timeline, but I need not do so – it’s not within my power to resist the gentle call of your prose. I look forward to where it will take me, and who I will encounter along the way.

Until our next meeting.

Your Reader,

Shan

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2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge

awwbadge_2013In 2012, I endeavoured to become more acquainted with Australian literature. This year, I have taken one step further and signed up for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013.

Born from the outcry against the gender bias that sees male Australian authors more likely to be read and reviewed than female, the challenge was established to “support and promote books by Australian Women”. Fair play.

So, my challenge is this: I have entered in at the Stella stage. I will read four books  written by Australian women and will review three. 

This is a great challenge, as it will not only broaden my literary education, but will force me to stretch my reviewer legs, which is a challenge I could do with.

So, where will I find these elusive women writers, you ask? Good question. The AWW do have a couple of pages on writers from diverse backgrounds, such as Indigenous and Asian-Australian. As good a place to start as any, I reckon.

Anyone want to join me?

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Off The Shelf: 3 books I want to read

Three books

1. I once fell in love with a B-grade coming-of-age movie about a young girl who retraces her sister’s steps through Europe in an effort to discover the truth of why she died. When I recently learnt that this film was based on Jennifer Egan’s debut novel of same title “The Invisible Circus” it seemed quite obvious that I was meant to have that book. So, I bought it 🙂 Hopefully I’ll get a chance to read it soon.

2. Haruki Murukami’s ‘IQ84’ has been floating around in the back of my mind ever since I heard it reviewed on Triple R last year. I finally caved and bought it a few days ago for a steal ($12.95 from Big W). I can’t wait to submerge myself in the 1300 pages of parallel worlds and intertwining story lines.

3. I was supposed to read Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ in June for bookclub but before I could finish it I was hit with a sudden case of ‘Must-Re-Read-The-Harry-Potter-Series-Immediately’. A worthwhile diversion, but I would like to finish the supposed American classic.

I think these books will keep me busy for a little while… I also have a horde of books that people have generously lent me waiting for some attention. I guess the question is, which one first?

What are you reading? Anyone got any book recommendations?

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A refuge for the discarded

I seem to have become something of a ‘Literature Rescuer’ providing a refuge for the once-loveds that no longer line the shelves of friends’ bookcases. Much to H’s annoyance, I have been delighted to stack my already overflowing shelves with books, more books. Here is a photo of my latest acquisitions.

Piles of books by Stephen King, Dostoyevski and Dean Koontz

Ah, books, I welcome you.

I’ve even managed to find happy homes or creative uses for duplicates!

I look forward to sharing more of my reading endeavours over the next few weeks (specifically, Stephen King, Tim Winton and Suzanne Collins), but for now I must study for an upcoming exam.

Until then.

Your Constant Reader.

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A Word on Audiobooks…

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz!

I’ve been flirting with the idea of jumping on the audiobook train. Until recently, my one and only experience with aural books occurred 12 years ago in Seattle where I stumbled across a CD version of “The Mist”, a novella from Skeleton Crew. I was mystified and somewhat suspicious of the format. Of course I couldn’t just leave it there, it was unexplored terrain – but I needed to justify the expense. What if I didn’t like it? So, in typical teenage fashion, I bought it as a gift for my mum – problem solved. I’m not sure if she’ll feel complimented by that, hehe. I recall sitting down to listen to it on our uber trendy, now antique sound system. Did I enjoy it? I wish I could remember, but I never listened to it again.

Over a decade later, my son O helped open my eyes, or more precisely, my ears to the joys of audiobooks through a set he acquired of the Disney / Pixar variety. His collection includes Cars, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid and a few more. These are particularly handy for long car trips, but we also listen to them during the weekly rigmarole of shopping, daycare, play-dates, appointments, oops-forgot-that-key-ingredient-let’s-go-back-to-the-shops, etc., you know the drill.  These 15 minute audio summaries are easy to enjoy, particularly as the voices and dialogue remain consistent with the films. They’re a hoot! They’ve inspired me give audiobooks another crack, so I’ve been on the prowl, scouting out some options.

The problem I’ve encountered is that audiobooks are priced much higher than their written counterparts, so at first glance seem fairly inaccessible. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind paying for books – they are a passion of mine and I want to support the industry. But I don’t always buy brand new books, knowing that you can always find a treasure or two from op-shops, markets, and websites like Better World Books that appeal not only to the purse strings, but also to the conscience. I imagine audiobooks are priced higher due to production costs, but they’re still not in my budget at $50-$80Au a pop.

A few months ago, knowing that our trio would be spending significant portions of time in the car over the summer, I decided to bite the bullet – I needed a book I could listen to. I chose a classic and one of my favourites – “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: a wonderful collection of short stories on the crime-solving escapades of cocaine addict, Sherlock Holmes – a most intriguing bag of bones. I found a couple of versions of Sherlock on iTunes, both of which let you sample before purchase. I chose the $4.95au version that has been a delight to listen to. The narration is clear, flowing naturally and the characters are distinct. There are no distracting breaths or spaces edited out where a natural pause should be. I figure these things are important.

My rendez-vous with Sherlock encouraged me to step up to a more committed level – I signed up to an Amazon audiobook service, Audible. For a small monthly fee, I accrue credit points, which allow me to download audiobooks – much more affordable than buying them outright. My first credit point went to Bag of Bones,  a book of yours I haven’t read before, Stephen King. I’ve listened to most of the 22 hours, and so far it’s been an interesting experience! The story ticks the boxes so far – gothic and all the more freaky being read by the author himself. It’s like having someone else take the wheel for a while – not a bad thing, but uncomfortable at times. The pros are that I can now read during long walks, car trips and the odd moment of domesticity. Yes, I think I like it.

There are other, free options of course- if you’re a fan of literature greats then Librivox is probaby your flavour, boasting an extensive catalogue of classics narrated by volunteers. The website is basically the audio version of The Gutenberg Project, ensuring books that have fallen into the “public domain” are free and accessible with a click.

Of course, there is always the library too – let’s not dismiss these wonderful services. My problem with this option is that a/ the local one hasn’t had any audiobooks that have tickled my fancy, and b/ I happen to have a talent for amassing penalty fines for late returns. It’s a shame, really.

I’m sure there are more audiobook websites or deals out there, I will keep you posted as I discover them!
Your Constant Reader,

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On Books, Beer and Blogs: A Chat with Brian from ‘Melbourne Pub Culture’

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I had a little chit-chat with Brian from Melbourne Pub Culture on things that should be chatted about: books, beer and blogs! ‘Melbourne Pub Culture’ is a blog dedicated to the pub-scene in Melbourne. The site boasts venue reviews, great photos, interviews, historical background on some of the city’s oldest establishments and of course – the lowdown on what’s hot on tap! If you are interested in Melbourne, pubs, architecture, history or finding a nice beer garden to spend the remaining summer days, check out www.melbournepubculture.com.

Hi Brian, thanks for taking a moment to chat about some of your favourite things: blogs, beer and books. Tell me, what inspired you to start your blog ‘Melbourne Pub Culture’?

I guess there were three things:

1. Firstly, I think that a good session at one of Melbourne’s amazing, historic pubs with a bunch of friends is pretty much the best way to spend some free time. I’m a really social person and pubs just seem to promote socialising. They’ve been meeting places for the people of Melbourne for over 160 years. I find that history really fascinating.

2. I may have a slight blog addiction. I really don’t want to know how many hours a week I spend on Google Reader (this is a Google service that brings together all your blog subscriptions in the one place). I read blogs on all kinds of topics from health and fitness to architecture and design, even street art. After spending so much time reading other people’s blogs I started to think it would be really cool to have my own. I haven’t really had a creative outlet in years and I think I’ve really missed that. Thus my blog was born.

3. My partner Brooke’s encouragement. She helped me get started, edits my posts and she’s good at talking to people she doesn’t know, which has come in really useful when talking to pub owners.

You are passionate about beer and pubs, I happen to know you are also an avid reader – what is your favourite place to sit with a brew and a book?

Brian sits with a beer in one hand and book in the other

Brian from melbournepubculture.com at home with brew and book in hand.

Oh, good question! Some pubs are quite good for reading in that you can find a cosy corner that isn’t too loud and park yourself there for hours on end. Others are a bit more rowdy, making it difficult to focus on the pages in front of you. The first place that comes to mind for reading is The North Fitzroy Star in the back streets of Fitzroy. Or else if it’s a warm and sunny day the beer garden at The Standard, also in Fitzroy. However, I’m still looking for that perfect pub to read during winter. A pub with a couch by an open fireplace.. that would be perfect.

A bookish birdie told me that you read the short list for the Man Booker Prize each year. Where did that tradition begin and what’s been your most memorable read?

I’d say about seven or maybe eight years ago? I’d noticed that a lot of books I’d been getting into were short-listed for the Booker. I mentioned this to a mate of mine and he ran with it and organised a whole bunch of us to try and read the short list (six books). We then got together the night before the winner was announced and each voted for our favourite. We’ve been doing it ever since.

As for my most memorable Booker read, I can’t name just one! I really liked Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and Arthur and George by Julian Barnes. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood were amazing too.

In your opinion, which beveridge would best compliment the following authors:

Jane Austen: Hmmm. Something ye olde. Something English, something a little bit formal and posh…maybe an Abbot Ale or Old Speckled Hen?

Ernest Hemingway: Hemingway used to drink. A lot. I’ve heard that as a young reporter he used to drink cheap beer and even cheaper wine. So I’d probably match Hemingway with a cheap domestic beer. Perhaps something I used to drink as a broke student, such as Carlton Draught.

David Mitchell: He started out writing edgy, quirky, postmodern, dreamy novels, but his style has developed over time and he now writes more traditional, but nonetheless engaging, novels. I’d maybe go with Taxi pilsner from 2 Brothers Brewing. They have quirky beer labels and tap heads and their Taxi is one of my favourite beers. It would go perfectly with Dave, one of my favourite authors.

Charles Dickens: Dickens’ novels tend to deal with quite dark subject matters. I’m thinking you would want to read him with an equally dark beer. There is hope in his writing though, so maybe something with a sweet edge. How about a Chimay Blue… brewed by Trappist monks.

Oscar Wilde: I’m thinking something a little bit fruity, I’m thinking something a little bit different, I’m thinking a brilliant beer that you just can’t put down. Matso’s Mango beer from Broome WA would be perfect.

OK, the inevitable question: You find yourself alone, trapped in a deserted brewery. You can take one book – what would it be and why?

I’d struggle with the whole “one book” thing. Can I take my Kindle and call that one book? I guess I would have to go with…no, no, I can’t leave out…oh, but I must…if forced to take only one book it would have to be To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. It’s a little cliché to say that it’s my favourite book, but it just had such an impact on me when I first read it… and every time I’ve read it since for that matter.

Brian, thanks for chatting with me about books, beer and blogging! I look forward to what Melbourne Pub Culture has in store in 2012.

Prost!

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Death of a Wasp

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz,

Yesterday our trio were run out of town by a pail of wasps.

It began as a pleasant morning: I, sitting with my coffee, listening to the general hubbub of life bubbling around me, when a wasp casually flew passed my nose and landed on the kitchen table. Somehow, the little bugger had managed to find a weakness in our fortified canvas home and was buzzing around like he belonged there.

Being nothing less than a lady, I offered our uninvited winged guest a spot of tea to which he politely accepted. The creature, approximately 3cm long, introduced himself as Scout, self-named after his favourite character from the famous “To Kill a Mockingbird” (wasps name themselves you see). Having read and adored the Harper Lee classic, I falsely assumed a bond had been forged between us as our literature chatter continued. We agreed on many things – the role of ‘environment’ as a character in literature, the wonderful Lewis Carroll, how “The Finkler Question” sucks, and we both found “Anna Karenina” a beautiful, disturbing piece of art. It was lovely.

The conversation took a turn when Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” was raised. I argued that just because Kate Bush thinks it a romance, doesn’t make it so. A fan of both Kate Bush’s interpretation and Wuthering Heights as a romance, Scout took offense. Things continued to deteriorate: Scout declared with a rather pompous tone, the Harry Potter series a sham- a jigsaw puzzle compiled of plots and characters of the great classics. He may have won points with husband H. but I was dismayed, and somewhat murderous at the slander of the world and characters I hold dear. Then he had the nerve to blatantly dismiss Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and labeled Virginia Woolf’s work as too “floaty” or “airy” -I would have thought that for an airborne creature, ‘floaty’ and ‘airy’ would be desirous?!! (Scout did not agree, saying I had made a sweeping generalisation about his species and should be more open minded). I am now, more than ever, convinced that I will love Virginia Woolf.

Scout was foe, not friend. He turned on me, gearing up to use his sting once I mentioned my love for the espionage-thriller genre. Fortunately for me, H. ever the faithful protector, stepped in and without remorse, whacked the parasite with an effectively lethal shoe. In his last writhing moments, Scout turned, spat a few words of contempt as I lowered my head and whispered ever so gently, ever so soothingly, that Sherlock Holmes is one of the greatest and most fascinating characters ever written, and, by the way, did he realise that he named himself ‘Scout’ after a girl? My triumph secured, Scout’s eyes widened with fear and recognition of the humiliating error! The creature’s body jolted, stiffened and finally slumped, dead. Dead on our kitchen table.

My maddened (and frightening, no doubt) shrieks of victory were dampened by the ominous buzz of a hundred vengeful wasps heading our way. Our trio packed up, left Scout’s body for his comrades, and hauled ass out of our sanctuary, on to another.

So, the moral of this story, Stephen King, is this: wasps are not to be trusted, even if they are named after renowned literary characters.

Your Reader,

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Today’s Top 10

Greetings, Salutations and All That Jazz,

What are your Top 10 favourite books?

I’ve been considering what my Top 10 might be. This is harder than I imagined. For starters, what’s my definition of “favourite”? If it’s books that I can’t put down, then a significant proportion of my Top Ten would be Tom Clancy, Patricia Cornwell, or hell – even the Stephanie Meyers books (Team Edward, FYI). But being easy to turn the page isn’t enough justification for “favourite” status in my book. So, I think a working definition of “Top 10 Favourite books” needs to incorporate not necessarily books that I enjoy, but ones I respect – writing styles that inspired me or themes that really do tug at the ol’ heartstrings. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is an example of this – I couldn’t stand the characters and just wanted to get to The End, but once finished, I loved it as a complete piece (we’ll discuss that book soon Mr StephenKing, I have so many thinks brewing in my thinker, I’m bursting to get it all out!).

So anyway, today because who knows what reading delights tomorrow will bring, my top 10 are:

  1. The Talisman, Stephen King & Peter Straub
  2. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  3. Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen
  4. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  5. It, Stephen King
  6. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R Tolkien
  7. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  8. The Stand, Stephen King
  9. Sir Gawain and The Green Knight, The Gawain Poet
  10. The Adventures Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I particularly like “The Speckled Band”

Hmm, anyone notice a particular theme?

That was harder than I anticipated. I really wanted to throw in some Australian authors such as Helen Hodgman, Helen Garner, Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, etc, but perhaps they’ll make the cut tomorrow 🙂

So.. what are yours?

Your Reader,

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