The Girl Booker

The Girl Booker

Friday, December 28, 2012


Georges Perec's The Art And Craft Of Approaching Your Head Of Department To Submit A Request For A Raise is exactly the type of book I would have chosen to write an essay about at uni. The main reason I would have chosen it is because the title is so long that reaching the required word count would be an absolute doddle. A secondary fact in the book's favour is that it is only 84 pages long. Added to which, the whole book is one entire, absurdly long sentence with no commas or colons. I cannot think of more perfect undergraduate study fodder.

To be completely honest, it did feel at times a little like I was reading it because I had to. If it had been very much longer I might not have persevered. The gimmick of no full stops is cute, but it certainly makes one appreciate them. Reading a sentence that goes on and on becomes a tad irritating after a while. There were just about enough glimmers of humour to save it, but having read it once I wouldn't bother again. The device is useful as a way of making the reader feel as full of frustration and ennui and soul-deadened as the central character ('you'), but on the downside, it made me feel somewhat frustrated, soul-deadened and full of ennui.

The Art And Craft Of Approaching Your Head Of Department To Submit A Request For A Raise is successful inasmuch as it proves Perec's cleverness and originality as a writer. It is less successful as an enjoyable read. So count yourselves lucky that I went to the trouble to read it and blog about it; you can now discuss the book at dinner parties and thoroughly impress you friends, without having to go through the tedious business of actually reading the thing.

Whatever you think of his hairstyling choices, you certainly can't fault the man's literary inventiveness. I also read Things, A Story Of The Sixties this week, which is a completely different sort of book from The Art and Craft.... It is one of the few re-reads on my Classics Club list.

I first read Things about 15 years ago and loved it. Something about it utterly seduced me, even though I was aware that I was supposed to find the central characters vapid, silly, flakey and somewhat pathetic. In my second reading of the book, I was bowled over by how obviously I had missed the point the first time around but I eventually figured out why. I had read the book as a teenager who was longing for life to happen. Even though the things and events and objects of Things are shown to be meaningless and empty, they were still more colourful and exiting than my life was at that time.

Perec absolutely nails that lust for experience, for stuff and for status, and I think I responded to the feeling of longing for fulfillment as much as anything else. I'm glad I took the time to re-read Things because the experience was so much richer the second time around. It made me think about life and society and experiences and relationships. Read this book: if you feel ponderous, and if you want to feel refreshed.

Perec is most famous for having written an entire novel without using the letter E (A Void). What I think is even more of a head-fuck is that the English translation I have has also been written entirely without the letter E. I am looking forward to reading it sometime in the next few months, after a break from my bout of Perec-a-palooza.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Food, Glorious Food

Last night I ate dinner at Red Chili, one of the best Chinese Sichuan restaurants in Sydney. It is slightly tucked away, so doesn't have the headline factor and queues out the door, but it is always packed. All I have been able to think about since we left is how delicious it was.

I've been thinking a lot about Chinese food lately, in large part due to my new cookbook, Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop. I've been pouring over this book even more than I normally would with a new cookbook; it seems to hold the answers to secrets and riddles that I feel will change my life if I can just figure them out. I have had so much fun choosing a recipe, heading off to Chinatown and sourcing strange new ingredients. Upon returning home with the loot, the process of cooking is super-easy and sizzlingly fast and exciting, and the result has been Food Heaven every single time.

Dunlop's name on the cover of a magazine in a bookshop window thus caught my eye, and I am mighty glad it did. Lucky Peach; The China Town Issue is a great read. It is published by McSweeneys and other contributors include Harold McGee and Anthony Bourdain. It's just lovely to read about people's food memories, recipes, experiments and musings in such a fresh and smug-less way.

I am slowly chipping away at a few other things, most of which are food related. Increasingly, reading about food makes me happy and content with life. Perhaps it's the interactive potential, perhaps it's my greedy appetite, or perhaps it's linked to how food is a soother and comforter in times of uncertainty and distress.

I have just made myself quite hungry looking at google images of "Red Chili Haymarket" to add to this post, but nothing quite fits the bill. Instead, here are some words with which you may create your own image of what we ate last night: Pumpkin deep fried in duck yolk and salt, sizzling chicken stirfry with mixed mushrooms and vegetables, pork ribbons and leek in chili oil.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp

A few years ago, I read a purely delightful book called The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. It floated about in the back of my mind from time to time after I had read it, until one day I decided that I really, really wanted to read it again. I almost never re-read books, but I loved it just as much the second time. Any possible consideration of reading it a third time was indefinitely put on hold when I discovered that the author, Eva Rice, has written a new book: The Misinterpretation Of Tara Jupp. I am not ashamed to tell you that I squealed when I found this out!

This is not a book that anyone would expect to win great literary prizes, it doesn't set out to teach you things about life or the world or human nature, and you won't swoon at any beautiful turns of phrase, but I loved pretty much every page. If I were to be picky I'd say Rice's first book has a slice more magic to it, but that could well be because it is set in the 1950s which I'm a bit of a sucker for. ... Tara Jupp is the kind of book I wish there was more of: intelligently written, interesting and non-formulaic yet easy reading and fun. It's a very difficult balance to strike so I am always pleased when I find a book that does the job. It's the perfect holiday read when you don't want your brain to turn to complete mush, and you want to read a plot line than is complex and unexpected while still being an utter confection of a book.

Read this: If you want to take a break from predictable chit lit where the characters' shoe brands are mentioned on every second page OR if you want to take a break from heavy-going mid twentieth century French philosophy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Quite A Good Book

A Visit From The Goon Squad was a book I quite enjoyed reading, but I'm afraid I can't get excited about it. When something wins a prize it's difficult, if not impossible, not to place a heavy weight of expectation on what it will deliver. I suppose it is inevitable that sometimes that expectation leads to disappointment. A Visit From The Goon Squad won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2011, and the 2010 winner (Tinkers)was a book so shivery and delicate and poignant that I still sigh dreamily when I think about it. Another past Pulitzer winner, The Namesake, is one of my favourite books of all time so I was expecting nothing less than to be astounded by The Goon Squad. I was disappointed.

I liked the writing style, the characters, the observations, and most of all the twist that was the final chapter. I am glad that I read A Visit From The Goon Squad but if I am perfectly honest I was hoping for a transcendent reading experience and I got an enjoyable one instead.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bon Apetit

My first ever post on one of the 52 books I have pledged to read as part of The Classics Club is a bit of a cheat. I couldn't resist; ever since I baked a cake and handed it in to my tutor instead of writing an essay, I have delighted in breaking rules. So the first book is not exactly what I would consider a classic, but I have a really good reason for letting it slip through the Classic Definer Net of Criteria, which I will explain. But first: what is the book?

My Life in France by Julia Child. The book is a memoir of a time in Child's life when she was creating what I do consider a classic: Mastering The Art of French Cooking, and that is why I have let it slip through. I have dipped into Mastering while reading My Life in France and quite enjoyed the added context the biography gives the cookbook.

What I have loved so much about My Life in France is that it is a joyful, inspiring and exciting read. Child's enthusiasm for her discoveries is palpable and invigorating. My Life in France is a story about a mind awakening, horizons expanding, and passions and direction in life being discovered. It is utterly heartwarming and reassuring to know that it really can happen to a person at any age.

It ramped up my own enthusiasim for food, cooking and eating (always fairly high to begin with). I have slowed my reading pace in order to peruse more deeply than normal several books on my groaning recipe book shelves, including Jamie's Great Britain (Jamie Oliver) and Four Seasons Cookery Book (Margaret Costa). This has been a wonderfully pleasurable and informative experience, and I wouldn't have thought to do it if I hadn't been reading My Life in France.

So, if one chooses to define a classic as a book that can make you think deeply about a topic, and open you mind to new ideas and possibilities then My Life in France most assuredly counts as a classic. And if if one chooses to see a classic as a book that has been engaged with multiple times and in multiple ways, you could equally use this definition to include My Life in France in a list of classics. I whole heartedly give this book five sticks of butter out of five.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Let's Play 52 Pick Up

I humbly submit my application to join The Classics Club

Like the time I moved to Hobart in Tasmania because it was as close to wilderness as I could bear, I have taken up a mildly difficult and hugely exciting and fun challenge that in no way impares my access to tea or chocolate: I have taken up the challenge to read 52 classics in five years. They are my own selection, and the method I used to choose which classics would make the cut was mixed, but was heavily influenced by several walks around my apartment peering at the bookshelves. Fans of useless trivia will be delighted to discover that I already own 36 of the books on this list.

Here is my list, with a few things marked out for those of you who like added detail:

* = re-reads, because I want to see if an older version of me has a different take on the book in question.
@ = As most of the people taking part in this blog challenge seem to be American, I have marked out all the Australian classics.
# = non fiction

I have chosen to read some short stories, but they are all in published collections. Since I plan to read the whole volume I have listed the volumes in question as one single book. I also feel compelled to point out that, according to the rules, The Significance of the Frontier in American History might be considered too short to count as one book. But I beg you to allow me to take a couple of hundred pages off my Anna Karenina entry and tack them on to The Frontier essay quota. I'll only do it the once, I promise!

1. Lolita - Vladimi Nabokov *
2. Eleven Kinds of Lonliness - Richard Yates
3. Disturbing the Peace - Richard Yates
4. The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins
5. Bleak House - Charles Dickens
6. Great Expectaions - Charles Dickens
7. Hard Times - Charles Dickens
8. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorn
9. The Muddle Headed Wombat - Ruth Park * @
10. Missus - Ruth Park @
11. Harp in the South - Ruth Park @
12. Poor Man's Orange - Ruth Park @
13. My Life in France - Julia Child
14. The Australian Ugliness - Robin Boyd @#
15. Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackery
16. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
17. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
18. Mansfield Park - Jane Austen
19. Persuasion - Jane Austen
20. Voltaire in Love - Nancy Mitford #
21. Madame du Pompadour - Nancy Mitford #
22. The French Lieutenant's Woman - John Fowles
23. Portrait of a Lady - Henry James
24. Careful, He Might Hear You -Sumner Locke Elliot @
25. The Glass Canoe - David Ireland @
26. Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
27. Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
28. The Glass Bead Game - Herman Hesse
29. I Capture The Castle - Dodie Smith
30. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Six Other Stories - F Scott Fitzgerald
31. Tender is the Night - F Scott Fitzgerald
32. The Beautiful and the Damned - F Scott Fitzgerald
33. The Significance of the Frontier in American History - Frederick Jackson Turner #
34. Friday's Child - Georgette Heyer *
35. The Art and Craft of Approaching Your Head of Department to Submit a Request for a Raise - Georges Perec
36. A Void - Georges Perec
37. Things: A Story of the Sixties with A Man Asleep - Georges Perec *
38. The End of the Affair - Graham Greene
39. Twilight Sleep - Edith Wharton
40. The Glimpses of the Moon - Edith Wharton
41. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett *
42. The George's Wife - Elizabeth Jolley
43. The Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde
44. 1984 Orwell - George Orwell
45. Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell #
46. Short Stories - Somerset Maugham
47. Theatre - Somerset Maugham
48. Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll *
49. Through The Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll *
50. Dracula - Bram Stoker
51. The Wizard of Oz - Frank L Baum
52. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy

Expected finish date: 12th September 2017

All reviews I post of books from this list can be found by searching for the label Classics Club

Edit: below is the list-in-progress of any classic I read not from the original list:

1. Starlight - Stella Gibbons

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Stuck in the Middle With Me

I am in the middle of two things at the moment: a book and a list.

The book is Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld. I reckon that if Jay Mcinerney ever decided to write one of the Tales of the City books by Amistad Maupin, this is what you would get. The chilled, artistic, hip neighbourhood of Tribeca is populated by faintly hopeless almost-failed artists and irritating pricks. When I was a popular music wannabe-academic snob, I was surrounded by faintly hopeless almost-failed artists and irritating pricks, so perhaps that is why these characters feel so lifelike to me.

Each chapter is narrated by a different character, and Taro Greenfeld is so good at giving each one a distinct voice that I initially thought it was a disparate collection of short stories. Although I am yet to finish the book, I am loving the way the plot is developing almost by stealth; tiny drips of clues from previous chapters are scattered through subsequent ones. The bigger picture is emerging inch by inch.

I have read some pleasant things in the last few weeks, but this is the first book in a while that I have been able to really sink my teeth into. The characters and the plot are, as the back cover says, "darkly funny". The social commentary is sharp and biting. The book is readable as hell and I can't wait to finish it.

The List I am compiling is for something these guys have scared/dared/cheered/willed me into doing. I am going to attempt at least fifty Classics in five years or less. Five years sounds like a long time, but ten classics a year sounds hard, especially since some of my (so far half baked) list are - like Anna Karenina - thicker than a body builder's torso.

I have realised that I love making lists about as much as I love reading, so when I am done with this one I might make a list of Lists I Should Compile. When I have finished my classics list I will be duly posting it here, and fulfilling all other requirements that membership of The Classics Club entails. These include (but are not limited to) drinking sherry from a stemmed glass while discussing pre-post-modern plot development styles, and pledging to use at least one of the following words once a day: scullery, ratafia, furbelow, bosky.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Ceci n'est pas un livre

This is a post about a book that is not yet a book; something I have just read that I can't really tell you anything about. But it is set in Iceland.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I have swapped the bookshop for the publishing house, and that I wasn't sure if, or how, this would change my blog. Well yesterday I finished reading a truly amazing manuscript. It has only belonged to the company I work for since Thursday. It happens to have been at the centre of the most hotly contested bidding war seen in publishing for many months, and it started in a office on the other side of the lift bank from my desk.

I feel especially lucky to have come onboard at a time when I was able to see the excruciating anticipation, followed by champagne-y elation that marked the bidding war to acquire Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I get all shivery and goosebumpy when I think about it, especially after having read the manuscript which was so incredible and assured and moving in a wonderfully human, un-schmaltzy way. If this book were food it would probably be fennel fried in black pepper and sugar, served with soft goats cheese and pine nuts.

What I want to do is talk about my emotional journey with the book, but I think that would give away too many details of the story's structure. Damn! I also want to quote some heartbreakingly beautiful sentences from it, but I am sure that is utterly verboten at this stage. Double damn! As you can see, I am utterly bursting with the knowledge of this work and I have to keep mum for months to come.

As a bookseller, I am used to seeing reading copies of books that have the publishers gushing for a page or two about the wonderousness that is the book within. To be honest, that gets a little tired after a while, and you tend to ignore it. This will be a book beyond all that, and I desperately hope that the people who will love it and be enriched for having read it will allow themselves the privilege of letting it into their lives. The more I think about it, the more excited I am that Kent will be writing more books in the future that I will be able to read. In a mere three days, I have become a huge fan. And I can't wait until others have the chance to become fans too.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Nighty Night

I won't lie: I feel disappointed by the diet book I've been reading. It is called The Sleep Diet (Dr Carmel Harrington), and I was seriously hoping that it meant that if I wanted to lose weight then all I would need to do would be to go and have a nice lie down. Sadly, this is far from the case. You actually have to do shit as well, like, exercise and eat healthily and stuff. What a drag!

This is really a good thing, however, because it means that the book actually makes sense. From what I've seen of most diet books, this is nothing short of a miracle. In a nutshell, the book's basic thesis is that if you are trying to lose weight by eating less and exercising more, this will only work if you are also getting adequate sleep. I could go into the reasons why this is the case but I won't becasue someone else has already done that, and published the book. It's called The Sleep Diet!

It isn't really a conventional diet book at all. It is more of a general study about sleep and how our bodies are affected by lack of it, with a particular focus on weight loss and weight gain. There is also interesting stuff about sleep disorders and a whole chapter on 'Good Sleep Practices'. Zzzzzzzz.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Did I mention that I am in a bookclub? I am in a bookclub. Our latest book was one about introverts called Quiet by Susan Cain. It was fascinating, as was the subsequent discussion at the meeting. A few of us changed our views of where on the introvert/extrovert scale we are, and others of us found deeper understanding of the more introverted people around us.

I love book club because: we talk about stuff, Nick makes really yummy guacamole, and (depending on which household hosts the meeting) there are usually two little poodles who like to fall asleep in a floppy bundle of curls on your lap. What's not to love??!?!

There was so much info packed into the book which made me rethink myself and the people I know many times over. It is one of the most thought provoking books I have ever come across and my fellow bookclubbers seemed to agree. The other great experience that came from reading the book was how many conversations I had with family and friends as a result of telling them I was reading a book about introverts. So many stories and ideas and shared experiences. I give it 4 out of 5 for style an structure, and a whopping 5 out of 5 of content.

Boring But Important

Hello there, dear Bookerlytes! I like this blog to be all about books and am not keen on wasting too much time discussing other matters on it. However I have some news which could very well affect the way this blog is administered and received so I hope you'll be happy to bear with me and read this post. I'll try to fit in a fart joke somewhere so it isn't too boring for you. The thing is, I have a new job working for a publishing house.

Girl Booker has always been about me documenting and sharing my reading delights, but it invariably helped me along as a bookseller too. I started the blog to address the problem of my day job being quite fun but far too easy. I now have a job that is (at least in the learning stages) filling those gaps of mental laziness for me. This makes Girl Booker feel like a delicious indulgence rather than a (self imposed) requirement. So at this stage I am not sure how regular my posting will become, or if my posts will perhaps turn into wafting jumbles of adjectives and emotions with little structure or thoughtful discussion. Or, indeed, if I will stop writing altogether and instead post photos of puppies and kittens. We shall have to wait and see.

The other issue this raises is that of bias or conflict of interest. I wanted to be clear about what this blog means to me, and that I do not intend to become a spokesperson for my employer on this site. I do nevertheless feel compelled to point out that I will inevitably read a lot of books published by my employer, simply because I am cheap and lazy and their books will be cheap or free and very easy for me to access. How many people would NOT read a book that looks interesting if someone dropped it on their desk? As it happens, I read many a free promotional book when I was a bookseller, but because they came from many publishers it didn't feel like favouritism. So I am still a Girl Booker, but I will Girl Book in a slightly different way from now on. And I just farted.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Old and New

I've recently finished a couple of books that could not have been more different. I love the fact that I loved them both. A few days ago saw me complete The Mystery Of A Hansom Cab, written by Fergus Hume and first published in 1886. I think I learnt from my experience with Wilkie Collins, and only picked it up when I had lots of time and inclination for a ponderous and meandering reading experience. As a consequence, it took about three weeks for me to finish but I was happy to read it slowly. It is like a BBC Sunday night historical mystery in a book. And the cover is yellow which made me very happy.

In contrast, Shadowfell by Juliet Marillier hasn't been published at all yet, and I read it in five days. Not only is this a teen novel, it is teen fantasy. I don't tend to go in for fantasy these days but perhaps this reminded me of the times when I happily read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe over and over again. Despite the book being a composite of two genres I rarely read, I was gripped. I put tasks aside to read, I squeezed in a paragraph or two while on the train station escalators, I thought about the story when I had to put the book down.

I love the fact that my reading experiences can be so different in terms of genre, content and my responses to the texts. What makes this even cooler is that both these books are Australian; it's nice to know such diversity can come from one place.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Love Hunger Love

Every now and again, a book comes along that is extra special. A book that you want to both keep and share. A book that makes you feel good about life. I had a inkling that Charlotte Wood's Love and Hunger might be just such a book merely from what I'd heard said by others who had read it, and performed the bookseller equivalent of a 7 day overland trek to obtain it (I ran out into the street when the rep beeped her horn, and took it from the car window).

My inklings proved correct. I have a conviction that pretty much every person in the whole entire universe should have this book. It is about food and home cooking, something about which I am passionate. While I know rationally that there are people for whom this topic is uninteresting, I find it difficult to fathom. If anything could change such a person's mind then I reckon Love and Hunger is the book to do it. Why, it has made Tallboy rather keen on lentils! And it has made me want to cook more things, eat more things, and try my hand at sending food through the post.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

From Sex Bomb To Sex Drive

I just finished reading Sex Drive by Bella Ellwood-Clayton. I have been reading it on and off for a few weeks. Some parts were utterly fascinating but other sections were too full of facts and figures, which made it a bit of a hard slog at times. I think that if a few more tough decisions had been made in the editing process then it would have been a stronger book. All the information is important, but after 5 or 6 pages of results from different studies it is hard to remember any of it at all.

Despite this, I am super glad I read the book and think it is an important piece of writing in the field Ellwood-Clayton is seeking to address. It is an accessible book about the ways in which perceptions of female sexuality have been manipulated by advertisers and pharmaceutical conglomerates to their own ends. Parts of the book surprised, others horrified.

A "sexual anthropologist", Ellwood-Clayton is able to discuss Science-y stuff without getting too technical, and, even better from my perspective, analyse the role culture plays in the mix. Not really being a numbers person myself, I found the sections where people were quoted from interviews really fascinating. Quite often these segments painted a far more vivid illustration of the point being made.

My overall score: Three point eight not-tonight-darling-I-have-a-headaches out of five.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Secret Favourite

Before launching a description of the book I finished off last week, I would like to explain the concept of the Secret Favourite Song. It's song you adore, but are too embarrassed to admit to liking even a tiny bit because it is so cheesy and poppy and obvious but it totally gets under your skin and makes you want to indulge in protracted booty shaking fun. My Secret Favourite Song is Sex Bomb by Tom Jones. In the name of all that is funky, press on the link. You know you want to.

Overseas, Beatriz William's debut novel is the Sex Bomb of my book world. I am embarrassed to admit that I LOVED it! A love story that transcend the barriers of time is not normally the sort of thing I go in for but I got so caught up with the story that I didn't really care, except when I had to attempt an explanation to someone about what I was reading.

To be serious for a bit, apart from the far-fetched premise, there is nothing to be embarrassed about where Overseas is concerned. It is well written, well paced and I applaud the author who is able to make me intrigued rather than dismissive by the time travel element. Well played Ms Williams!

There Was A Little Girl, Who Had A Little Curl...

When I am good, I am very, very good... but I have been bad. I have neglected my blog for no good reason other than a number of suddenly and inexplicably intense interests that are unrelated to books. I became short term obsessed with winter clothing, stick insects and German cheese (in that order). I have neglected my writing about my reading to these (some might say odd) ends. Thanks to my near-namesake Book Girl I owe the internet a specific blog post, and this is yet to materialise. So I feel extra behind.

Furthermore on the subject of being naughty, I have been reading a book that I really can't claim as work related. It was joyous! I discovered an Edith Wharton I hadn't read: her final (incomplete) novel The Buccaneers. It was - predictably yet satisfyingly - sad and beautiful. I absolutely relished every bit of it, and loved the gentle twist at the end even though (guess what?) it made me sad. It was on the less grim end of the Wharton Scale of Misery, but nevertheless it ended, as always, with a woman doomed to dissatisfaction and misery. I could go on and on and on about the wonders of Wharton but since she is dead there is no chance that she will google herself and stumble upon my blog so I might just leave it here. My next blog post will be all about guilty pleasure.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Science Fiction is Stranger Than Fiction

It's a funny thing, but when I read A Discovery of Witches (Deborah Harkness) last year I didn't rant and rave about it's amazingness nearly enough. I have felt a longing for the second installment of the trilogy so strong that at times it has presented as a physical ache. I know that sounds insanely over the top but I swear it's true. I mean, the ache didn't really hurt but it was rather annoying...

As you may have guessed (you clever little bunnies), I have finally put the ache to rest by reading Shadow of Night, Harkness' second volume. The book is half as thick as it is wide but I read it in four days. Just between you, me and the world wide internet, I spent nearly a whole day reading in bed. It was delicious!

There is a very, very narrow ledge between fantastical and ridiculous, and even though these books are about a witch who marries a vampire and travels through time chasing a magical manuscript, I am here to tell you that Harkness never, ever tips over the edge. I have often said "I don't do boring, and I don't do stupid". Well, I don't do ridiculous either and I bloody love these books. For anyone who wants to read something escapist but feels a bit wary of anything too silly then these are the books for you. Seriously awesome.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad

Hands up who has a list of "Books That Will One Day Cut Through New And Shiny Distractions And Finally Get Read"? I hear that in some corners of the interwebs this list is referred to as a TBR (To Be Read) pile. I had been meaning to read An Instance Of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears for a while, and I am afraid to say that I was disappointed. It was so overly detailed and whiney that I had to give up well before halfway. I was persuaded to try Stone's Fall (also by Pears) instead and was thankfully hooked from page two. Admittedly, there are several passages where Pears indulges his desire for unnecessary detail but not nearly as many as can be found in the first 100 pages of An Instance.... Pears' propensity for detail (most of which is pertinent to the complex, multi-layered plot) is the reason I switched to something different for a spell. I could see myself becoming frustrated with a book I should have been enjoying so decided to put it on hold. I did finish it later and quite enjoyed it. It's not in my top five, but it's something I could happily recommend to others.

The perfect antidote (aka A New And Shiny Distraction) to Pears bog of detail came along in the form of The Innocents, Francesca Segal's debut novel which is due to be published in Australia this June. Segal is an experienced journalist and her writing style is much lighter than Pears, but her content far more emotionally real. It reminded me how fiction can be an excellent tool for examining truths in the world. I found myself reflecting on questions and situations from my own life, and seeing some things in a new light. The characters felt like real people and I believed their dilemmas and wanted to know how their lives would unfold. What was especially refreshing was that there was not a whiff of the turgid "I have never written fiction before and if I just pepper my sentences with words like 'delicious' and 'lovely' nobody will notice" stench that can drive me to tears of boredom in a first novel. It was well crafted, it flowed, it had depth. Hooray!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Love Story

Huzzah! I have a new favourite book! I read it yesterday and it has got EVERYTHING: melancholy, love, food, discovery, adventure and a wonderful narrative structure that builds in perfect momentum. It has also got pictures. And flaps to lift and little holes so you can see through to a bit of the next page. See? It really does have everything you could possibly want in a book. It is called Jonathan and Martha and is the latest treasure from Petr Horacek. I believe the target audience is 5 years and under and I am just a bit older than that but I don't care; I love it! I may very well have to buy it for my stealthy collection of "Books That As-Yet-Unidentified Visiting Children May Want To Look At When In My Apartment For A So-Far-Non-Existent Event".

Honestly, the bit where I mentioned the momentum is what impressed me the most. It was pitch perfect which much be difficult when you are limited to only one sentence per page. It's the sort of book an adult can appreciate on a different level from the child they are reading it to. While told in an unbelievably simple way it is a beautiful story.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Anti Book Review

I try to read outside my areas of interest and comfort from time to time, so the other day I thought I'd give trash romance a go. People, I tried to give it a go, I swear! However, the fact of the matter is that I stopped fairly abruptly. I feel rather mean splashing the name of the book and author all over the internettle when I have nothing good to say about either, so all I will tell you as a warning is to watch out for a book that has the world "Island" in the title, and to check for the quotes I mention below:

I found the bottom of page 16 questionable, and it certainly made me flinch a little, but in the spirit of open mindedness I decided to continue. So it wasn't the following exchange that put me off:

'Get me a girl,' he instructed as soon as she came on the line. 'And make it quick.'
There was only one thing he needed right now: a fucking blow job.

Charming, no? Nevertheless, I persevered. Or attempted to. The absolute deal breaker was only on page 19, the drama-filled opening of chapter 1:
Loriana Garcia Torres was reading a novel. It was a good one.

Blow jobs and swearing I can handle, stupidly bad writing I cannot.

Monday, April 2, 2012

When Whimsical Is Bad

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy of a really excellent book called The Bellwether Revivials by Benjamin Wood. It was creepy and compelling, whimsical and wistful and I wrote a review in longhand because the whole experience made me feel so dreamy that I couldn't bear to use a computer. I never quite got around to copying it out onto this blog and now I have misplaced it. It was an amazingly awesome book; more than just something enjoyable to pass the time. If I had not lost my original review you'd all be able to hear more of my (wonderful, scintillating, enticing) adjectives on the book, but hopefully you get the general idea: Read it!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

As I Was Saying...

Here is the second installment in my tagging post, where I answer some of the 10 questions posed by Brona.

3. What do you think of e book sand e readers?

I am happy to admit that I love actual books; to hold, to crack the spine, to display on overflowing shelves in my apartment. Mostly, however, I love to read in any format. With an actual book, you don't need a contraption to host your reading experience, you just pick up the book and go for it. So the initial outlay of a reader doesn't seem worth it to me because (for now at least) a book is an easier, more enjoyable and cheaper* solution.

I am not opposed to e readers for other people, or even for my future self but I am thus far disinterested. In my opinion there are too many negatives to ereaders and not enough positives. Also, the Australian market for ebooks is not really mature enough yet - I like to wait for the kinks to be ironed out of something by the other schmucks before I jump onboard. Ask me again in six months!

*My bookshop staff discount has something to do with this.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

This lovely book arrived in my life like a gently spinning and falling snowflake.

Ha! That is NOT TRUE! It’s the kind of book one feels should arrive in such a manner, because it would be just dandy if the simple, quiet poetry of the pages seeped into your real, non-reading life. In actual fact, the book was a bit of a wrangle to procure. I was in a dip with nothing to read, and asked someone (whose previous recommendations sprinkle this blog) to suggest something. This was on her short list but I had to ask someone else if I could borrow it. Not especially difficult, but a whole lot more mundane than that lovely dancing snowflake.

The Snow Child reminded me a little of A. S. Byatt’s writing, in the sense that it reads like a fable or fairytale, although it wasn’t densely packed with information and allusions and ideas. Ivey tells the story with strong, clean, simple lines, like a piece of Shaker furniture. It was a pleasure to read.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wherein I Judge A Book By Its Readers

I have never read any Lionel Shriver books before, so about a month ago I took the opportunity to have a crack at The New Republic, a book she wrote about a decade ago but which is only now being published. I guess the fact that I have started this blog post about three or four times in the last few weeks says something about my level of enthusiasm for the book, especially since I only ever get about two lines in before abandoning it for drinking tea, cleaning the bath, or mentally arranging furniture in my non-existent two-bedroom Melbourne apartment with the lovely floor to ceiling windows*.

Now all this might sound as though I didn’t enjoy the book. I did enjoy it, but not enough to rave enthusiastically about it. It was a very clever book in many ways; perceptive, full of puns and black humour. Nevertheless, I felt that it lacked soul. It was Ikea, which is fine, but I generally prefer Chippendale if given the choice. Above all, it confirmed my suspicions about Shriver as an authour who writes “Bookclub Books”.

What on earth do I mean when I say Bookclub Books? Well, I have noticed over the years that there are certain types of book that get chosen over and over again for people to read in their local bookclubs. They appear at first glance to be diverse but on closer inspection are all stultifyingly identical. They are about an Issue. This is good for bookclubs because the issue can be Discussed at the meeting. There is a real dearth of layers and subtleties and sub-plots and quirks and good style; there is just a bit of a story and The Issue. These books are often marketed to look like literary fiction, and I very judgementally become less inclined to read them the more popular they become. They pose as “good books” but in reality sit between chick lit and literature. (Please don’t think I am saying chick lit is bad and literature is good because I genuinely think there is a place for all genres of fiction.) Indeed, some of these so-called bookclub books are rich and wonderful stories and I have loved many of them; I suppose my issue is with the posing; the pretence that something is “literature”** just because it is about a disabled child or a sticky moral dilemma or a woman with dementia. I am bothered by what I see as too much earnestness and hyperbole, and not enough honesty. If we could all just agree that they are passingly ok but not brilliant I would be a lot happier.

In summary: The New Republic is a great choice for a bookclub read, as long as you are in the sort of club that mostly uses the meeting as a chance to catch up on gossip. If you try to talk about the book for the whole meeting you will run out of things to talk about after ten minutes. Nobody will mind having read the book in preparation for the meeting, it’s rather a good story and quite funny, it just isn’t very deep.

*It is in Kew, or possibly Brunswick, and has polished floorboards and a balcony. The rent is also amazingly cheap!
** Whatever the hell “literature” means anyway; we’ll save that discussion for another blog post

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tag, I’m It

I have been tagged by the wonderful and lovely Brona of Brona’s Books. I must admit to having some qualms about this, along the lines of wondering if people really want to read my answers to ten whole questions. Ten! It is not in my nature to back down from a challenge or ignore an invitation (however you want to see it!) but it is also not in my nature to do things the way everybody else does them, so I am going to answer all ten questions, but will spread them out over a few blog posts.

Here are my responses to the first two questions:

1. What is your favourite book to movie adaptation?

Midnight in The Garden Of Good and Evil. The book is by John Berendt and the movie is directed by Clint Eastwood, starring John Cusack and Kevin Spacey. They are both wonderful, complete texts and I honestly couldn't say which I prefer. The movie enhances and improves upon some elements of the book, even though it leaves some things out or changes some things.

2.What is your favourite animal story?
My cheat answer would be Dogger (Shirley Hughes), about a favourite toy dog that is accidentally put in the jumble sale. It has been one of my favourites since I was about three.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

This Woman Wants A Working Internet Connection

I am beginning to realise how much I rely on the internet, even to talk about and think about books! I haven’t had proper access for about three weeks and found out yesterday it is going to be another two weeks before things get sorted. This means I have been a bad, bad, bad girlbooker. Naughty.

There are a couple of books I read weeks ago and have not posted on here. One of them is What Women Want by Nelly Thomas . I have certainly talked about this book a lot; it weaves its way into my conversations with family, friends and work colleagues on an almost daily basis. It’s a GREAT book – really interesting and insightful. In some ways it is an Australian version of the mega- amazingness that is Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman. I think in terms of content it is a little better. Perhaps this is because both books are products of their environment, and I responded to the Aussieness of Thomas’ work in the same way that I felt a touch put off (at times) by Moran’s Brit-o-centric content. In terms of style I would give the prize to Moran. It is a more polished book (DISCLAIMER: I read a proof copy of What Women Want so can’t provide a completely fair comparison on this point) and felt like a smoother read. I think both these books have a very important place in today’s world; they are frank, thoughtful yet also entertaining discussions about the experiences of women in our society today. Can someone please write another one? – We need more!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Not So Sweet Worlds

Tonight I am off to my first ever book club meeting! The first title on our reading list is: Revolutionary Road (Richard Yates).I love Yates but I'd left this near the bottom of my To Read list because I had already watched the film. I know I am pretty much alone in thinking "movie first" is the best order in which to proceed with a book/movie combo, but I just think it makes so much more sense. Most people agree that the book is usually better than the movie, so this way around it minimises the chance of disappointment.

I find Yates' ability to conjure visuals with his words so strong that having seen the film a couple of years before reading the book made almost no difference to my reading experience. The images from the film faded from my mind after the first couple of pages. His writing is beautiful, sharp and desolate.

The only reason I wasn't more upset by the book was (I think) because I had just finished the emotionally raw Sweet Old World by Deborah Robertson. I found it tender, moving, melancholy and heartbreaking; it reminded me of feelings I've had and people I know and made me feel desperately sad for everyone. Yet it was still touching and gentle despite being so unutterably sad. It's hard to shy away from a book that feels so true, even if it is not about easy truths.

Soft, Sad and Beautiful

Yesterday I finished reading Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.

Oh I loved this book. It was soft and sad and beautiful, like Bach’s cello music. By the end, I loved the book’s characters the way they loved each other.

It made me remember all the awkward, lonely, longing and uncomfortableness of being a teenager. Despite being about loved ones dying, and jealousies in relationships, it’s really quite a gentle book which is - let’s be honest – often what I like the best.

It won't be published until June (I think) so please look out for it when it does turn up. If you want to read a book that reminds you of cold Autumn days in a forest, afternoons drinking tea with special people, and moments of surprising and sharp beauty then this is the book for you.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Stuck In The Middle

Because it is such a long book, I was in the middle of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides for several days. A colleague of mine who I shall refer to as Tim Tam has concurrently been in the middle of Middlemarch. Things became good-naturedly confusing on several occasions but eventually we had it all sorted out. We discovered to our amusement that both of us had had conversations where the person we'd been talking to thought we were reading the other "middle" book. In case anyone is still confused, this conversation illustrates the difference between the two books:

Tim Tam: I'm quite enjoying Middlemarch, but I still have a fair bit to go.
Me: I'm still reading Middlesex.
Tim Tam: Oh, are you?
Me: Yes. She's just discovered she's a he and has run away from home.
Tim Tam: Oh. Um... I don't think that happens in mine.

But enough of comparisons and on to the meat of Middlesex itself. I enjoyed every one of it's 530 odd pages. It made me realise with great clarity how important fiction can be in illuminating truths. It tells the story of an intersex person with honesty and beautiful, awkward, realistic simplicity. There's no over the top razzle dazzle or even a whiff of this being an "Issue" book. It feels like the truth and that is a wonderful thing. I am very please to inform the eleventy-hundred people who have told me over the past decade that I will love this book that you were all right. I'm sorry it took so long but I am so glad I finally listened to your advice.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Further Adventures Of Girlbooker's Genre Fiction Reading

Reading Daniel O’Malley’s first book, The Rook was a novel experience for me; no pun intended (ok, I suppose if I’m honest I really did intend the pun). It is quite unlike the books I normally read, even taking into account the fact that I like to think I read quite a variety. It is pacey, boy’s-own-adventure-with-tentacles-and-mind-control, Science Fiction. The opening scene involves one amnesiac surrounded by numerous dead bodies all wearing latex gloves. I loved it!

I am a fairy typical squeamish girl who can’t bear to watch surgical procedures or people being beaten up on TV. The slime and blood and violent behaviour didn’t really worry me in The Rook, perhaps because it was in the realm of such fantasy. I loved the mystery behind the premise, as well as the kooky cleverness of the central character reading letters from her past self to her present (post memory loss) self in order to explain the various things she encounters. I also enjoyed the freshness of reading something unencumbered with poetic symbolism or metaphor.

I did reach a point somewhere around about page 250 where it felt like the middle of the book had gone on a bit long and I was ready for the end. Unfortunately, the book is just shy of 500 pages so I had a while to go but I decided to stop the bookish judgement and go along for the ride, after which I began to enjoy it again. I did begin to feel that there was a bit too much variety; I got tired of each new character being introduced with crazy new bodily appendages or abilities to manipulate metal. I personally felt that it could have lost 50 pages and been a better book, but I am not generally a scifi reader, and I do note that these books seem to be a lot thicker than average fiction so I presume that is what readers of the genre like.

If you loved Pride and Prejudice and after something similar, I recommend you stay the hell away from The Rook but if you are after something fun and escapist and don't mind a touch of purple slime in your reading material then get your hands on a copy. Seven slime covered men with retractable porcupine spikes out of ten.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Common Loss, A Cup Of Tea

Reading A Common Loss by Kirsten Tranter is like drinking a cup of Budddha's tears tea. I think I should explain: Buddha's tears are tiny little balls of jasmine tea curled up to look like browny green knots. You put a few of them in a cup and pour hot water over them, and they gradually unfurl into long seaweedy strands of tea, gently colouring and flavouring the hot water. Much about A Common Loss begins with hard, nuggety little facts and concepts but gradually and almost imperceptibly opens up into beautiful, large, sad and soft ideas.

On the surface it is about a male friendship group and a trip to Vegas but the book is not at all what that description makes it sound like. It is, among other things, about surfaces and appearances, and how these can be deceptive; about imagined realities, fabricated realities and multiple perceptions of supposedly identical realities; and authenticity versus falseness and falsehood. So yes, lots of big ideas but they are easily digestible.

The frame of the story mirrors the ideas that the story seeks to explore, and I like that very much. A very thin layer of yang covers a large womb of yin; both in the way the characters people a physically harsh, false environment while attempting to deal with their emotions and memories, and in the way these concepts of memory, longing and grief are the real meat of the book. Also, Tranter has popped in a character who is doing research for a PhD in notions of authenticity and inauthenticity, which is a nice touch.

I give this book four Buddha's tears out of five, dropped into a lovely porcelain teacup.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Back To Work

I am back from holidays having been on a delightful reading binge! I am therefore extremely pleased to report that I have actually managed to knock over a few books on my (ever expanding) list of Books I Will Get Around To Reading One Day. I also just washed the kitchen floor so am completely brimming with self-satisfaction at my achievements.

This pile of books sits beside my bed as a physical adjunct to The List which is written in a blue notebook

So what have I been reading? A Scandalous Life by Mary S. Lovell has been on that list of mine for about two years. I have packed it into a suitcase at least three times, thinking it would make a brilliant holiday read but never managed to go past the first dozen or so pages. It was worth the wait and held up to two whole years of sporadic anticipation. It's a biography of a nineteenth century British upper class rebel: Jane Digby. I found it interesting, well researched, sad, illuminating and thought-provoking. Tallboy and I are now partway through Lovell's latest book: The Churchills, and we are both fascinated with the multi-generational story. I am also reading Wild Mary, a biography of Mary Wesley written by Patrick Marnham and would chiefly describe it as inspiring. Each of these books crosses over similar territory at times so I am enjoying the picture of 19th and 20th century Britain that is building in my mind as a result.

I've also read some kids books and some rather fluffy books that were not on the list but were happily consumed just the same. This Is A Love Story by Jessica Thompson came recommended and although I am not generally a chick lit chick I found this book utterly endearing and thoroughly readable. It's best read either in bed or - if you're lucky enough - lying by the pool at a holiday resort. It's a more grown up version of a teen novel I recently read: The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight (Jennifer E. Smith) which I found rather sweet and with more depth than expected.

The Tunnels Of Tarcoola (Jennifer Walsh) and Song Of The Quarkbeast (Jasper Fforde) make up my efforts with young fiction. I liked them both although I preferred Song Of The Quarkbeast. It was like a junior version of a Terry Pratchett Novel, so was probably more in line with my reading tastes.

Next up I'll be posting about A Common Loss, Kirsten Tranter's second novel which I finished this morning. I need a little more time to let the experience of it swim about in my head before I write about it.