Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Closing Down

In case you haven't guessed, I'm closing this particular blog down. I set myself an interesting challenge but it got a bit too much for me! I will continue blogging at and

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Interlude: More excuses, but no more!

Well here I am, still behind. My excuse this time is that my husband has been working very hard on a film and therefore it has been very hard to get to the computer. But no more - I am writing from a very shiny new laptop that is ALL MINE! Hurrah!

So where am I up to? I went on a big Dresden Files kick and knocked over 5,6 and 7 -
Death Masks
Blood Rites
Dead Beat

Jim Butcher is an awesome writer, he has the hard-boiled detective genre nailed and is endlessly inventive with his supernatural plotlines. I find the Dresden books really hard to put down.

I only got partway through A History of the Beanbag and Other Writings by Susan Midalia. I read the first couple of stories and really liked the gentle style - she writes little vignettes linked by a character or an object (eg the beanbag). Unfortunately I find it hard to stay involved in short story collections and have run out of time to finish it before returning it to the library. Oh well.

I'm currently reading Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. Hubby and I are both big fans of space opera so I went out of my way to find a new author. I'm having a little bit of trouble getting into it (not sure I relate to the characters yet) but will push on.

I'm also reading (and loving) Everything Is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger. It is FANTASTIC. If you have any kind of interest in organising or finding anything, from your cd collection to the files on your computer to the state library to, this book is a fantastic read. Will write more on it later!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Interlude: The Sniffles

I'm sick.

I hate being sick. Just a common cold, but I have no energy, a throat that feels like someone took a nailfile to it, and more mucus than seems possible compared to the size of my sinuses.

Being sick is a good time for reading books. It is not, however, a good time for reviewing them. Writing reviews takes energy, a resource in which I am sorely lacking at the current time.

So here's a quick list of the books which I have recently read but still need to review:

Fables: The Good Prince (MUST read graphic novel series)
The Friday Night Knitting Club (actually much better than I expected)
Captain's Fury (Fourth book in the Codex Alera which I wrote about a couple of months ago)
The Boleyn Inheritance (follow-on from The Other Boleyn Girl)
Pay the Piper: A rock-n-roll Fairytale (you guessed it, more fairy tale revisions)

That puts me at 25 books, which is pretty much right on track for my target of 52 this year.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to crawl back into my sniffly hole.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Book 19 - Princesses & Pornstars

Here's something a little left of my usual reading centre. Princesses and Pornstars: Sex, Power, Identity by Emily Maguire is a fascinating and frank analysis of the roles and images of women as defined by our modern, supposedly "post-feminist" society. Maguire draws on the messages of everything from raunch culture to the modesty movement, sex education in schools to porn, marriage to same-sex relationships, plastic surgery to dieting and tabloids. She uses personal anecdotes, interviews, media and scholarly studies to point out how women's roles are still very much defined by their relationship to the male, and not necessarily in a positive way.

This book is absolutely packed with insight. It's told in a conversational style and is therefore thoroughly readable without compromising on the issues it is discussing. Here are just a few of the key messages that stood out for me:

- School sex education usually covers the mechanics of getting pregnant and how to avoid it (protection, abstinence). It rarely covers the reality of teen sex - how to comfortably say no (even in the middle of things), how to actually initiate sex (it's not always the boys!), other "forms" of sex and whether they're safe, how to make it pleasurable for both parties (and this doesn't always mean boy-girl either). Alternative sources of education are very male-centric - porn, raunchy music videos etc. I was vaguely alarmed by her interview with three teenage girls who knew and would talk about every way of pleasing a boy but clammed up completely when it came to their own pleasure.

- Girls are constantly told how to stay "safe" and avoid being raped. Maguire asks: why not direct the rape prevention message at boys? As she points out: "Of course not many boys will grow up to become rapists, but that's no reason not to direct the message at them. Not a single woman has caused her own rape, and yet girls are bombarded with advice that can do nothing except cause our would-be rapist to find a different victim" (p79).

- When it comes to career and motherhood, societal pressure and government policy push women into an either-or situation about staying home. Maguire also points out the idea that women "naturally" know how to look after babies and children is a load of guff. With the exception of breastfeeding, a person of any sex can change a nappy or supervise a child. The difference is that an expectant mother tends to read books, seek out advice and support from others and generally learn parenting on-the-job. There is no reason a man couldn't do any of this - if the incentive to existed. And in our current society (with the exception of single dads) it rarely does.

These are just a few of the ideas at play in this book. While I wouldn't ascribe to everything in it blindly, it did help to clarify my concerns with certain trends I've noticed in our current society, and open my eyes to a whole bunch of others. And I wholeheartedly agree that we need continue pushing for the ultimate goal of Maguire's style of feminisim - that each woman be seen as an individual member of society with various choices, beliefs and lifestyles first, rather than simply as a "woman".

Book 19 - Anne's House of Dreams

When I chose something to read, I am usually following one of two inclinations. The first is to try something new, to read about a different life or culture or concept. The second is to engage with the familiar - to reconnect with an old story or friend (and many of the characters in books I read as a teenager did indeed become my friends).

This particular read very much falls into the latter category. I came to the Anne of Green Gables series a little late (age 15 or so), and while I enjoyed the rapscallion adventures of young Anne, it was the books where she was a growing young woman in love that I truly enjoyed - Anne of the Island and of course Anne's House of Dreams.

A little background on the Anne of Green Gables series. Set around the start of the 20th century in Prince Edward Island, Canada, it is the story of a young orphan who well and truly surprises her new family and turns the small town of Avonlea on its head. There are around 7 books in the series, following Anne from childhood through to seeing her own children grow up.

Anne's House of Dreams opens with Anne and her childhood enemy-turned-sweetheart Gilbert arriving at a tiny cottage in Four Winds Harbour to start their married life. The childhood relationships of Avonlea recede with distance and new friendships are forged - with Captain Jim the lighthouse keeper, the unique man-hating Miss Cornelia and haughty Leslie. It is the unfolding history and hidden hurts of these characters that make this a magical read. Captain Jim may have had the most adventurous life, but his heart is with a sweetheart long ago lost at sea. Leslie's pride masks a deep bitterness at the harsh hand dealt to her - forced into a loveless marriage with a man who later suffered a severe brain injury. Anne responds to the people around her in a very Anne-ish way - with great empathy and a hint of creativity. Meanwhile she and Gilbert suffer their own pain, which helps to draw her closer to Leslie and the others around her.

While it has some pretty unbelievable plot twists, the charm of Anne's House of Dreams is in its characterisation. The interaction between the newlyweds and their friends and neighbours makes this a light but pleasant read.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book 18 - Crescent: A Novel

Crescent: A Novel by Diana Abu-Jaber is one of those exquisite, magical reads that makes me ache with its beauty. Often these books don't have a great deal happening in the plot - it's the descriptive writing and fluid imagery of such works that draws me in and creates a sense of rapture.

"No one ever wants to be the Arab - it's too old and too tragic and too mysterious and too exasperating and too lonely for anyone but an actual Arab to put up with for very long."
Crescent, p. 38

Crescent is a story of Iraqis in exile. Sirine, orphaned daughter of an Iraqi and an American, lives with her uncle, an academic, and works at Nadia's Cafe. Despite never having visited the Middle East, sensually authentic food flows from her fingers. Exiled Arabs from all over Los Angeles and particularly the university where her Uncle works are drawn to the cafe. Regulars include Hanif, a lecturer in Middle Eastern literature, and a slow, almost reluctant love affair commences between the two. No hot-headed teenage love affair, this romance draws on the sensuous maturity of the older pair. Passion is tempered by the mystery and not-knowing of what happened in the magical Iraq of Hanif's past and the war-torn version of today.

Food and storytelling pervade this text like a fabulous banquet and create its magic. Luxurious descriptions of food create a longing for the lost Iraq and a pleasure in Sirine's present world. Even the every-day city of Los Angeles takes on a feeling of mythical wonder, peopled with lonely young photographers, sensual and scheming professors and the love-struck couple.

The storytelling of Sirine's uncle's draws on the magic of Arabia's 1001 nights as well as gently mocking American stereotypes of the legendary Arab. It also creates a reflexive kind of intertextuality, reminding the reader that Sirine and Hanif's story is also a fiction even if the characters have more complexity and authenticity than the Arabs of Hollywood movies. I am inadequate to the task of describing this work's amazing imagery so I will leave you with a final description of the lost Iraq of legend from the storytelling of Sirine's Uncle.

"The streets of Aqaba are shell spirals and, on summer nights, crowded and complicated as women's hearts. Boys sit on the curb and wonder about love, women run their hands through their hair, locks dense with sea salt, men unfurl velvet prayer rugs, hands on their knees, the bow, rise, rock into the sea-waves of prayer."
Crescent, p?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Interlude: Book Indecision

Sometimes I just don't know what I'm in the mood to read. Or there's a book I feel I "should" be reading, but I just can't get into it. And I actually really dislike this feeling - it's the proverbial "I'm booored" as it relates to the reading world. A gazillion books out there, but still "I'm bored".

So what is it that I'm "supposed" to be reading? No. 1 on the "should" list is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers. "That's a strange choice", I hear you say, especially as my 10 year high school reunion is on this year. Believe it or not, my doctor recommended it and I don't want to go back to her until I've finished it! I'm not a big fan of self-help plus reading it at work during lunch would be a bit embarrasing, so it's been lounging around at home for far too long. I've started it though, and once you get past the high school examples the principles behind it are quite good and the conversational style makes it quite readable.

Next is Baudolino by Umberto Eco. I bought this on sale a year ago because I love Eco. Only problem is he's challenging reading, and since I'm a deadline-oriented girl I tend to ignore my purchased books and work through the library pile before they're due to be returned. So anyway, I've started Baudolino which is set in Constantinople in the 1100's. Good reading but it's an enormous hardcover which rules out taking it on the bus. Yet another book floating around at home.

Princesses and Pornstars is a much more portable work, so I carted it along on the bus yesterday. It's a feminist critique on the modern perceptions of women which has been getting some media lately, and it's highly readable. Baudolino and 7 Habits are in danger of being shunted for this one I'm afraid.

Honourable mention goes to Micah. Yes, that would be from the biblical Old Testament. I am trying to get back into the habit of reading the bible on a regular if not daily basis. The whole theory is to find a daily time when you can dedicate your attention to it and to praying. I have difficulty with that because my day doesn't have enough of a structure to include a set space for that. I shall have to work on it.

I'm also two reviews behind folks - Crescent and Anne's House of Dreams. I hope to get to them tomorrow. Until then!