Thursday, 22 August 2013

Can there ever be such a thing as reading too much?

Imagine my outrage upon hearing about the above story as I was driving to work this morning.  A nine year old boy (that's right, he's NINE) has been told not to participate in his school's read-a-thon because he reads too much.

Is there even such a thing as reading too much?

The mere idea fills me with militant rage.
I thought as much.

Working as a bookseller full time this year has taught me two things about kids and reading.

1) Kids are either readers or they are not.  And it's really hard to get the non-readers into the reader camp- it takes a special kind of book, so thank God for Andy Griffiths.

2) There are boys out there who love to read and they should be encouraged.

I believe that the spirit of competition means that the person who works the hardest wins.  I used to love read-a-thons, or at least the idea of them because I don't think my school ever actually did one.  What we did have were swimming carnivals, sports carnivals, run-a-thons, cross country, interschool carnivals etc etc... you get the picture.  In other words, winning at sports was encouraged.  The 'coolest' people in my year were the ones who were known for being athletically gifted.  I was not, but I also didn't enjoy sports that much.  I gave it a go, and that's important, because if everyone gives it a go, it makes the experience that much more special for the kids who do win.  What fun is winning against no one?

But what if one day the sports teacher came along and said to the fastest boy in our year, "Josh, you win every year and it's time for someone else to have a go."  Number one, this is going to crush Josh who probably defines himself as being good at running and athletics.  And number two, this encourages other kids to not be determined, resilient and hardworking.  In other words, it makes them lazier and more precious because even if they do nothing, they are still going to be rewarded.  This is also why I think participation ribbons are a little bit bullshit.  I certainly never got one, so that one time I came fourth out of five people in the lowest division short distance run?  That felt great.

Returning to the issue of the read-a-thon: for some kids, being a bookworm is the best thing about them.  People who don't like to read simply don't get it.  We don't do it because we're boring or nerdy or because we don't have any friends to see instead.  Reading is our passion, like running or swimming or basketball is for someone else.  And if Tyler Weaver chooses to work hard at reading the most books over summer again this year, then give him the cheap prize you've lined up.  If someone else wants that prize, they're just going to have to work harder to win it, aren't they?

For Pete's sake, lady, you're a librarian.  If "two kids come in every week to take books out" then you're doing your job.  And if you did it a little better, maybe there would be more than two.  Reading should be a joy and not a chore.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Book Review: The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

I have a confession to make.  I was really only drawn to this book because of it's BEAUTIFUL cover.  I know.  Bad form, Miss Em.

But seriously, look at it.  It's gorgeous!

Interesting factoid: The River of No Return is also the name of a Marilyn Munroe film, as I discovered on searching for this image!
Embosses with gold, this large book jumps out at a person from a shelf or display, and I think it's going to be a runaway hit for the second half of the year.  And deservedly so!

From the Blurb

"'Time is like a river.  It always flows in one direction.'

Nicholas Davenant lives a lie.  Single, handsome and wealthy, his perfect life is a facade constructed to hide the incredible truth- he was born two hundred years ago.  Somehow, in the face of certain death, Nicholas inexplicable jumped forward in time and awoke to find himself in the care of a mysterious society.

The Guild, a secretive fraternity of time travellers, helped him make a new life in the modern world.  They told him that there is no return.  But Nicholas yearns for home and for one beautiful woman in particular, now lost to history.

Back in 1815, that very woman, Julia Percy, finds herself the guardian of a family secret: a strange talent inherited from her enigmatic grandfather.  But there are those who seek to possess Julia's power, and she begins to realize she is in the gravest peril.

The Guild, breaking its own rules, sends Nicholas back to the nineteenth century and his ancestral home.  Fate and the fraying fabric of time draw him and Julia together once again.... and soon enough they are caught up in an adventure that puts the future of the world in their hands.'

And now, the Review

Put very simply, I think The River of No Return is what an episode of Doctor Who might turn out like if Georgette Heyer were to write the script.  The strength of this book lies not in it's description of a man 200 years away from his home, but in what happens once he is returned to his own time.  Ridgway has constructed a rich re-enactment of Georgian England that has the style, the history, and the proprieties to make it hum with life.  

When Nicholas Davenant is forced to once more become Nicholas Falcott, the Marquess of Blackdown, he finds it difficult to unlearn the ways of the future.  In particular, the freedoms pertaining to women.  He is accused of being a Benthamite, among other things.  This becomes very relevant when the issue of the Corn Bill is thrust before him.  Will Nicholas vote as Blackdown, for the interests of the landed gentry, or will he vote against his class knowing what the Bill will do to his people?  What makes this book a truly great historical fantasy is its basis in fact, and the emphasis which is placed on turning points in history- things which at the time seemed like a matter of business, but over time come to change the world as it is known- in this case, causing the end of the landed classes altogether and giving rise to the merchant farming class.  

Others begin to notice Nick's progressiveness too. And it is not just in his past life.  The Guild, an all encompassing secret society who span the breadth of time, recruit Nick for their own ends.  They are fighting an organisation called the Ofan, with whom they once co-existed.  Why, and over what?  As Nick learns more, the more he realises that the viewpoint of the Guild is just as outdated as his own original gentrified one.  But will he join the Ofan, and what will happen if he does?  The contrast of the Ofan and Guild show that in life, and throughout history, there exist shades of grey in the pursuit of freedom that do not necessarily boil down to good and evil.  

But at the end of the day, The River of No Return is about love and love's timeless qualities.  All Nick really wants is to be left alone to live and love with Julia Percy.  And it is the nature of his strife that he cannot.  He must deal with his conflicting loyalties, learn the truth, and most importantly protect them both from a mysterious, badly dressed man with the ability to manipulate emotions before he can even think about returning to normal...

Nothing will ever be the same again, but is this a good or a bad thing?

Five stars.

The Best Tips on Writing I Have Read for a Long Time

I'm currently most of the way through Bee Ridgway's The River of No Return, and I am absolutely loving it.  I don't want it to end, but I have to know what happens!  So when I saw the link to Ridgway's Top 5 Writing Tips on someone's Twitter, I clicked right on that link.  I'm going to share it for you all now, because honestly these are the best, most helpful, and least cliched tips on writing that I have seen in a very long time- and I studied creative writing, which is basically just "How to Write" lists week after week.  Enjoy!  Write!

I particularly liked tip #4, as I often have trouble getting what I want out of critiquing partners.  What do you think?

Review of The River of No Return to come!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Annual Save the Children Book Sale- The Haul

The Save the Children charity book sale is one of my favourite bookish events of the year.  It's on right now at UWA, in the undercroft area of Winthrop Hall, and let me tell you that this is one sale not to be missed!

It begins with a line that snakes around the back of the building.  If you've got a great friend to chat with, the time passes like nothing, but bring an umbrella, because part of the wait will be out of the shelter of the veranda.  There is a Scout's group peddling sausage sizzle to those of you in line.  People walk past with boxes of books, trolleys even.  An older gentleman saunters past with a stack of dictionaries.  Each is bigger than my head.  The one on the bottom is Russian.  Some has a Gabriel Garcia Marquez, someone else a Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  You get excited.  Clearly there are good books to be had within.

When you make it within sight of the doors, there is a pile of boxes.  You take one, knowing you will need it.  There doesn't even appear to be much room to move inside, but they are staggering entrances so that no one gets trampled.  Hipsters and school children are everywhere.  Little kids run about amusing themselves.  You chat with your friend, then you make it to the front, and are let loose into Valhalla.

No really, you are let loose.

You've only brought one hundred dollars, thinking this will curb your mania somewhat, but there are so many titles you've been thinking about reading, ones you've been told you'll love and even a few that you just like the look of.

Reading in the Moonlight by Brenda Walker
Last Summer by Kylie Ladd
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbach
Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Happiness Show by Catherine Deveney
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

Author, Author by David Lodge
The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean
Transition by Iain Banks
Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
The Outcast by Sadie Jones

All these, a feel good bargain for a fantastic cause.  And then you leave the warmth and hubbub of the sale to wait in the night for your friend, and this is your view.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Winter Beach Musings

"I am sitting on the beach at sunset after work, watching the kite surfers emerge from the sea.  They guide their airborne wings towards the ground incrementally, then wait for them to either crash into the sand, or be plucked from the updraught by someone waiting.  The red ones are the brightest against the sunset, and there are many of them.  I could almost forget that these are tools, that there are people below them, using them.  But I can hear the people over the gushing of the waves, talking, their dogs barking, laughing, The wind is a scream in my ears.  It gets down my clothes.  I am cold, but don't want to admit it.  I always do that, go to do something whimsical and then abandon the idea once I get there.  Even if there's a logical reason on the surface, the real reason is usually that I hate not to share it.  What good is being whimsical and artistic if there is no one to witness it?  Thank goodness for Instagram."

(Copyright E. Paull 2013)

Friday, 2 August 2013

Eyrie by Tim Winton

Tim Winton
Penguin/ Hamish Hamilton

From the Blurb

Tom Keely's reputation is in ruins.  And that's the upside.

Divorced and unemployed, he's lost faith in everything precious to him.  Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfoundisolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he has retired hurt and angry.  He's done fighting the good fight and past caring.

But even in his seedy flat, ducking the neighbours, he's not safe from entanglement.  All it takes is an awkward encounter in the lobby.  A woman from his past, a boy the likes of which he's never met before.  Two strangers leading a life beyond his experience and into whose orbit he falls despite himself.

What follows is a heart-stopping, groundbreaking novel for our times- funny, confronting, exhilarating and haunting.  Inhabited by unforgettable characters, Eyrie asks how, in an impossibly compromised world, we can ever hope to do the right thing.


How exactly does one review a Tim Winton novel?  I've grown up reading them, from Bugalugs Bum Theif and Blueback through to Cloudstreet and Dirt Music.  He's won the Miles Franklin three times.  He is the first name that springs to mind when people talk about the best of the West.  And I'm pleased to tell you that with Eyrie he's done it again.

Eyrie is suitably Wintonian, despondent about the state of society and peopled with characters from the school of hard knocks.  This is a novel set in a place close to my heart- Fremantle- but it is a more grizzled and pessimistic view, although not without humour to the portrayal.  Winton writes about him character Tom fighting his way through buskers just to get a decent cup of coffee, the drunks and the deros, the fish and chips in Fisherman's Harbour, the esplanade, it's all there.  And while I don't necessarily share his bleak view, I recognise it and it moves me.

The story itself is understated but complex.  Words are not wasted, and every action is well motivated.  Characters are consistent and real.  In particular, I am drawn to the figure of Kai, the little boy whose library going and reading habits are all too familiar.  His grandmother, Gemma, is once again not a dazzling heroine but a cigarette sucking former beauty down on her luck, almost reminiscent of Dirt Music's Georgie Jutland.  I've heard Winton called misogynistic before, and perhaps if this is how he sees his female leads I can see why.  Gemma's former prettiness has been her downfall, and she is stuck in a dead end life of visiting her drug addict daughter, battling her drug dealing son in law, looking after Kai, and stacking shelves at Woolworths.  I struggle to think of a Winton heroine who ever finds much success in her goals, but I am sure there is one.  No, not misogynistic then, just observing, giving a voice to these women who shrink quietly into their dead ends.  And focussing on the man's point of view, rather than presuming he knows how these women think.

Tom's back story is teasingly underplayed.  Winton follows the golden rule- a back story should never overshadow the present.  He leaves us the facts, shows us the effect and moves on with this new story, leaving us with the sense that life, and strife, goes on.  Tom is the classic flawed hero- grizzled and possibly no longer good looking, hairy, drunk, depressed, and achingly human.  When Gemma and Kai come into his life, he makes them the family he was denied by his cheating ex-wife, and uses them to plug the gaps and stem the pain of still loving her.

Eyrie is a wonderful book but it is also confronting and somewhat sad.  I think it will win the Miles Franklin in 2014, but that's just this blogger's opinion.

It is published in October 14 and is available to pre-order at all good bookstores.