Tag Archives: Literature

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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On Writing, Living & Legitimising Expletives

At age 12 I swore I would be a writer.

I would pen the next great novel sitting at my desk by the window, fireplace crackling nearby, bookshelves inquiring over me. Teacups and teapots would be scattered across my workspace like a legion of colonial ships, preparing the rape of a newfound, ancient land. I would write, and if the ghosts of literature’s past weren’t too heavy and intimidating, I would write well. I would write and I would say “fuck” a lot, because it was an artistic right not often afforded to 12 year olds. I would be a writer.

teapot

After a few attempts at quasi crime/ supernatural thriller in which the protagonist says “fuck” a lot, I thought, at the valiant age of 12, perhaps what I needed was some life experience. Then I could be a writer, then I would have something to say, then I would have earned my artistic credentials to say “fuck” a lot. Yes, I would have some life experiences. I would wait to write.

So I waited. And I waited. Time went by. I managed to finish high school (if you knew me at the time & my proclivity for self-destruction, you will understand the wonderment associated with me completing VCE). I had one or two dramatic religious conversions. I fell in and out of love, though in hindsight, it could have been “daddy-issues inspired co-dependence”, or a heavy mixture of both. An alleged sister popped up out of the wind like an episode of The O.C., sticking around just long enough to ensure the maximum emotional damage was achieved before disappearing into genetic mis-matched oblivion. I lived in China. I lived in China. I gave myself time to scoop up as many pieces of my shattered heart and dreams before carrying them home to Oz. I found myself pregnant. I found myself pregnant, alone, with a new sense of purpose and zeal for life. I entered the world of single mum-dom: a sacred, difficult, sorely misunderstood place. I almost died. My son was almost orphaned only minutes after he entered the world. My knight in shining armour did come along, riding an unfinished EH to carry me over the threshold of the warrantee-free contractual relationship that is marriage, with a bonus 30 year mortgage. Together, we are building a life. Together, we are learning about the rabbit hole that is IVF. Together, we laugh. Together, we negotiate the emotional terrain that comes with marriage, with friendship, with life. I have experienced deep shades of community and support that have forever impacted my perception of faith, humanity and community. I’m completing post-grad studies. I read. I read a lot, and then I read some more.

I wait. Almost 30, I wait to write.

I wish I could go back and tell the valiant 12 year old not to wait for life to happen. To just write. Write, write, write. Write quasi preternatural- thrillers with no real plot & weak characters whose only contribution to the narrative is the creative use of profanities. Write badly, write bloody. Just write.

Now, 18 years later, I start all over again. I no longer aspire to pen the next great novel, but the bookshelves inquire, the fireplace exists, teacups are scattered and teapots are ready to conquer the new creative space. The backlog of pent up emotion and experience is ready to be exploited in the name of art. Now, I just need to find the balls and make the time to write. Write, write, write. Write badly, write bloody, but for fuck’s sake, just write.

colonising teapot

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Bookclub: Australian Literature

bookclub

The classic Australian story is a different kind of beast from your average novel. My limited exposure to Australian literature has shown me that sense of place and the lives of ordinary people far outweigh a strong plot. Would you agree?

This year one of my reading goals was to read more Australian lit, so I dabbled in the likes of Tim Winton, Ruth Park and Helen Garner.  A good start to Aussie literature, I reckon!

I’ll share my reflections on Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South, though some of my thoughts could probably be applied to my experience of Australian novels more broadly.

The cover of The Harp In The South, Ruth Park. Read by Kate Hood

Earlier this year I read The Harp in the South via audiobook. Have you read it? Published in 1948, The Harp in the South is the second within a trilogy that follows the Darcys, a Catholic-Irish Aussie family who live in Sydney’s suburban slums. If you can get your hands on the audio version read by Kate Hood, do it! She’s a fantastic narrator.

Here are some things that struck me about The Harp in the South:

  • The story is a snapshot of Australian history wrapped in fiction. By zooming in on one family and their daily lives in the slums, it tells a larger narative about post-war life in Australia.
  • It reminded me of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I imagine Ruth Park’s literature was a significant influence on Tim Winton and other Aussie authors.
  • The descriptions of characters and surrounding environment are vibrant, detailed and quite funny.
  • It felt like the whole world existed within the small hub that contained the Darcy’s life: school, pub, the prostitute-lined street, the market and the fish and chip shop.
  • The struggles each family member faced were raw and honest. From gambling and alcohol problems; finding love in a time where marriage was still a survival strategy; finding a sense of identity; facing illness and soul-scarring grief, all lathered with the Aussie-battler aversion to dwelling on the things you just can’t change.
  • The Harp in the South is beautiful, sometimes uncomfortable and definitely a must read.

So, dear Bookclubbers, what are your thoughts? Have you read any Ruth Park? Are there any particular Aussie novels you’d recommend? Any characters or authors that tickle your fancy? I’d love to hear your thoughts, just pop them in ‘Comments’ section below.

I look forward to chatting with you further in bookclub!

Cheers

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Melbourne Gothic

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November 19, 2012 · 1:26 pm

11.22.63

Do you ever find there’s this cynical part of you that just doesn’t believe your favourite author can possibly have it in them to blow your mind again?

I think I had this experience with 11.22.63. I wasn’t expecting to be rendered completely unable to eat, sleep, work, have a conversation, go for a walk, hang out with my husband or basically function without this book in my hands.

If I was oblivious to it at the time, I knew I’d been book-whipped at the end when I found myself re-reading the final paragraph on the last page a few times… flicking through and skim-reading some earlier narrative I’d forgotten about as I drank in the story as a whole, complete entity… stroking the spine and feeling that completely disorienting realisation that it’s over… (how would I spend my time now?)… missing the characters already, the colours of the world they lived in… feeling a little too light without the narration of a man with a mission so heavy you could feel it in each page…

Yep, I was whipped by 11.22.63.

And let’s face it.. I can be extreme. I get obsessive with some books, there’s no doubt about it. If you’ve read any of my posts you may have realised that my relationship with literature is a passionate, zealous, all consuming love affair worthy of the Bronte sisters. Yet, I think I’ve retained enough sense of mind to say that this was quite simply, a great story.

If you’re not sure whether to give Stephen King a go – read this book!

Here’s some more reasons why this should be on your list of soon-to-be-reads (I’ll try not to spoil it!)

  • It’s a surprising love story, on a number of levels.
  • The 1950’s America that SK paints is a vivid, sensory experience.
  • If you’re a fan of SK’s “IT”, you’ll appreciate a brief little encounter with 1950’s Derry. In fact, I think I may have shed a tear during those precious pages.
  • The characters are wonderfully King-esque (ie., believable)
  • The age-old question ‘what if we really could change history?’ is explored, sprinkled with a dose of SK flare.
  • The motif of cause-effect, choice-consequence and questions of what it means to “have it all” in life are a great challenge in this post-post-modern era.
  • If you’re not a fan of evil sewer clowns, incestuous cat-people and haunted hotels, then you’ll like this book.
  • If you are a fan of evil sewer clowns, incestuous cat-people, haunted hotels and more – you’ll like this book!

It’s just damn good.

Buy it. Borrow it. Try it on, wriggle around in it and let me know what you think.

Avid Reader,

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Tea & Sluggish Company

I seem to have a knack for ending up in literary dialogues with insects and inanimate objects.

Oh it starts off awkward and uncomfortable – conversations with insects and inanimate objects don’t come that naturally to me. But a pot of Earl Grey and the topic of books will nail it – every time. After two cups of tea time, location and apparently species are forgotten as we explore the colours and shades of the literary world.

This evening, my cohort was Mugg, a pink slug who lives in my garden. I happened across her as she was trekking the long journey towards the book-lined walls of our study.

Mugg

She wore a small pair of glasses perched on the edge of what might have been her nose, though I’m not too familiar with slug anatomy. Bags lined her preoccupied eyes and she carried a small purse. I had a moment to wonder whether it was filled with the same kind of non-essentials I walked out of the house with: my son’s racing cars, orchards of apples, used tissues and a book, of course, always a book. I thought it would be impolite to ask.

She wore the determined look of a woman on a mission – I recognised the look immediately as I’m sure its an expression H has seen cross my face many times: a ferocity that said The only damn thing I’m doing tonight is reading my book! I liked her.

Ordinarily, I might have ignored a bright pink slug wearing blue glasses on the wall and gone about the business of reading my book. But i’d just finished reading 11.22.63 and needed desperately to debrief! So I offered her assistance in getting to the study, to which she was grateful (at her rate it seemed she’d take a few days). Mugg directed me to place her on the shelf that housed my ‘classics’ collection. She’s got good taste, I thought. When I learned she’d never read Jane Austen, I almost knocked her off the shelf. “What?! Every woman needs to read an Austen!” I handed her Sense and Sensibility. She accepted, laughing.

Our conversations led us back to the kitchen where a brew of Earl Grey awaited. We enjoyed a delightful little chatter about our latest reads. Obviously I chewed her ear off about 11.22.63 – she’s never read any Stephen King, but I think I had her convinced to give him a try:) (I’ll share some reflections on 11.22.63 shortly). I’d never heard of the slug authors Mugg mentioned, in fact I was embarressed to say that I didn’t know slugs were authors! Apparently there are many. Mugg’s favourites are Begg Mulosc, who wrote a series about a young slug who befriended a butterfly, much to the chagrin of her slug community, and Ligg Millow, apparently a great feminist slug who opened my new friend’s eyes to gender inequality in the slug home. Fascinating! I was very interested to know more about this slug world I’d never considered before. Mugg promised to return with some books that she would translate for me, as long as I provided a nice hot cuppa. I could definitely do that.

It’s not always the case that I enjoy book banter with insects – my previous encounter with Scout the wasp was horrific, but Mugg was pleasant, a good listener and fascinating to chat with.

‘Twas nice to make a new friend.

Your Reader,

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From Alice to Art: Down the Rabbit Hole

“Begin at the beginning… and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice in Wonderland is one of my most beloved stories.

It recently inspired a piece of art I completed during ‘Motherhood Unmasked‘ workshops. As I reflected on the journey of being a mother, I likened it to falling down the rabbit hole – a whimsical adventure that is dark at times yet full of colour.

Down the Rabbit Hole. Acrylic on canvas with quotes and image from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Lewis Carroll. Copyright.

Alice in Wonderland is such an accessible work of literature. I come across Alice quotes, motifs and imagery regularly within a variety of mediums – tattoos, academia, novels, movies, the list goes on. To think that a simple bed-time story once told to a sleepless girl can have such a huge impact on children, adults and the arts.

What would the world be  without Alice in Wonderland?

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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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