lizabelle: (Book and sea)
I have more to post (David Mitchell! Fatima Bhutto! Michael Cunningham!), but I wanted to post a bit of a round-up while everything's still fresh in my mind. Take all of this with a pinch of salt. :)

Number of events attended: 16 (out of 330)

Number of events I queued for and failed to get into: 2 (The Fascinator - Delia Falconer, Ashley Hay and Gail Jones sharing their fascination with Sydney and Desert Flowers - Indigenous writers talking about and reading from their poetry)

Number of bookloving friends and acquaintances bumped into: 8 (seriously, how does this happen among so many thousands of people?)

Number of David Mitchell events attended: 2

Number of David Mitchell events that the boyfriend attended on my behalf: 1

Most mind-blowing moment: Fatima Bhutto, Ingrid Betancourt and Aminatta Forna talking about power, politics and personal responsibility. Their standing ovation was much-deserved.

Number of books bought: 6* (1 as a gift)

Number of books added to to-read list: 34 (I wish I was joking)

Favourite new discovery: Kei Miller - self-deprecating, quietly intelligent, hilarious and lovely.

Biggest fangirl moment: The Big Reading - Kei Miller reading from his first novel (he's a wonderful reader - if there are any audiobooks of his work, he needs to read them, please); David Mitchell reading from his work-in-progress; Téa Obreht reading from The Tiger's Wife; Kader Abdolah telling a heartfelt story of giving up the language of his birth (at least for writing purposes); and Michael Cunningham reading from his work-in-progress. Five wonderful writers, and I came out completely starry-eyed.

Number of awesome women spotted on various panels: Too many to count, but a few that spring to mind are Fatima Bhutto, Ingrid Betancourt, Aminatta Forna, Amanda McKenzie, Kirsten Tranter, Sophie Cunningham, Sonya Hartnett, Anna Perera, Kelly-lee Hickey, Mardi McConnochie, Mandy Sayer and Elizabeth Stead.

Favourite evening event: Spoken Four - inspiring performers telling it like it is.

Panellist with most enthusiastic, delighted audience: David Mitchell (although Kei Miller comes a close second).

Favourite random panellist: Steven Gale, who offered a lovely foil to Kei Miller in the first session I attended, and whom I lated spotted on several occasions browsing the books and looking like any other festival-goer.

Number of worlds ended: None

Number of glasses of red wine drunk: 4 (pretty restrained, I feel).

Number of hours spent queueing: About four.

Saddest moment: Ingrid Betancourt talking about learning of her father's death while she was in captivity.

Most inspiring moment: Amanda McKenzie explaining clearly and calmly how we can help to save the environment.

Funniest moment: Pretty much anything Shamini Flint said.

Sweetest moment: David Mitchell telling the "small person" in the audience to make as much noise as he liked.

Happiest moment: The general realisation that there are many people out there (in Sydney, even) who think the way I do about many things, and who, when they do not agree, are willing to enter into thoughtful, respectful discussions.

Most memorable moment: Aminatta Forna, Fatima Bhutto and Ingrid Betancourt in one room talking about power, politics and our personal responsibility to stand up to oppression. Unforgettable and important.

* The Last Warner Woman by Kei Miller, The Diamond Anchor by Jennifer Mills, The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna, The Old School by PM Newton, Family Album by Penelope Lively and A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley.

I'd love to hear from others: what were your memorable festival moments?
lizabelle: (Default)
Friday at the Writers' Festival started with Markus Zusak and Sonya Hartnett, two precocious Australian writers who also have a considerable international following. Jill Eddington began by asking them how they came to writing, at which point it transpired that Hartnett wrote her first novel aged thirteen, and got it published. When asked how, she basically thanked the arrogance of youth; she "didn't know she couldn't".

Zusak also began writing young (age sixteen), but it wasn't until his fourth novel that he achieved publication. He said he felt lucky not to have been published earlier, and that he rather pitied some writers who achieve instant success at a young age, because some of them then feel no need to keep growing and improving, whereas he had to constantly push himself to get better.

When asked about why his books are so successful, Read more... )

*If you want to know which character this was, comment and I'll tell you. I just didn't want to spoil anyone.
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
In The Count, Kirsten Tranter, Sophie Cunningham and Stephen Romei discussed why articles by and about men dominate our book pages, when so many women write and buy books and work in the publishing industry.

Kirsten started us off with some figures, including the fact that the Times Literary Supplement reviewed works by 330 women in 2010, as compared with 1036 men. The Paris Review published interviews with one woman author and seven men. The New York Review of Books reviewed works by 59 women and 462 men. The figures vary, but they are consistent in one respect: women writers are under-represented in these pages, in terms of both the reviews that are written and the books that are reviewed.

More under here. )

So what to do about all of this? Part of the task is simply to raise awareness of the problem, which events such as The Count are doing. It does seem that people are increasingly conscious of the issues, particularly since VIDA's figures made such a splash earlier this year - and yet, that almost makes the Miles Franklin all-male shortlist feel more like a slap in the face than ever.

Work is also underway on the development of a literary prize for women writers in Australia, along the lines of the Orange Prize in the UK. Tentatively named the Stella Prize (Miles Franklin's real name was Stella), its stated goal is the recognition and representation of writing by women. You can keep track of developments by "liking" the prize's facebook page.

Further links for the curious:

New Australian fiction prize for women - Meanjin interview with Sophie Cunningham.
The Miles Franklin: another "Sausagefest" - Stephen Romei's reaction to the recent shortlist announcement, plus some pithy comments.
Is it a man's world, literally? - Alison Croggon on the implications of the shortlist.
A prize of one's own: the case for an Aussie Orange - Benjamin Law.
The Stella Prize on facebook.
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
I ended up taking quite a few notes today, so I thought I might as well blog about them!

The first session I attended this morning was The Last Warner Woman with Kei Miller. This is one of the few sessions where I knew nothing about the writer or his work beforehand - I picked it because the subject matter sounded interesting, and I'm very glad I did. Miller was charming, thoughtful and an excellent (and hilarious) reader, and I'd be surprised if he didn't sell quite a few books based on his performance.

Stephen Gale kicked off the session by asking Miller about the genesis of the novel, and Miller immediately disarmed his audience by warning them that he was about to lie, because like all writers, he gets carried away by a good story, and like all books, The Last Warner Woman has various origins.

The one he chose to share with us was a vivid account of a Jamaican woman in Manchester who reminded him of the warner women he'd seen in Jamaica - a warner woman being a kind of prophetess of doom.

Next, he read two excerpts from the novel which, with their different narrators, expressed a similar duality: the "writer man" providing a writerly description, and then the "warner woman", who spends the novel critiquing the writer man's words. In the section Miller read, the warner woman was also critiquing her own storytelling, as if realising that the truth perhaps lies somewhere between the two accounts.

The point of the novel seems (caveat: I haven't read it yet) to be to move beyond "the facts" to "the truth". Miller seems to see dualities in many things: he talked about how Jamaica can be both beautiful and ugly at the same time, and also about the nature of the warner woman herself - the fact that as a traditional figure in Jamaican culture she is accepted as normal, but that when taken out of this context she can seem very odd. Again, what is real; what is true?

Perhaps reading The Last Warner Woman will give me some clues.
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
I picked up this book on a whim after seeing it recommended by James Bradley on twitter. Well, I say "on a whim", but it was a bit more than, really, since James is also the person upon whose recommendation I read Justin Cronin's The Passage, aka my latest obsession.

In The Magicians, we meet Quentin, a geeky, unhappy teenager who is bounced out of his normal existence (finishing high school, going to Princeton) when he discovers that magic exists - and he can do it. Enrolled at Brakebills, the only college for magicians in North America, he falls in with the cool set - languid Eliot, drama-queen Janet, good-natured-yet-tortured Josh and clever Alice. At this point, I wondered if I was going to read The Secret History with added wizards, but Grossman has more up his sleeve than that.

Quentin has never quite let go of his favourite childhood books - a trait that many fannish people will recognise - in which a family of children are sent to live with an eccentric aunt and discover another, magical world. In this world, called Fillory, the children have various adventures and excitements, until (usually at the end of the school holidays) they are ejected by the godlike figures of Umber and Ember. If you're getting Narnia vibes now, you'd be right.

So magic, for Quentin, is almost like discovering that Fillory exists - like fulfilling his childhood dream of escape into this magical world where he can be a hero, and where he doesn't have to deal with the real world. Except that the real world refuses to go away, however hard he tries to forget his former life and however hard he works at magic. And when his time at Brakebills is up, he has to face the real world for, er, real.

The Magicians is what happens when you take the set-up of Harry Potter and stuff it, kicking and screaming, into our world. Don't get me wrong - I love the Harry Potter books, and part of their allure is the magical world that exists alongside our own. But Harry Potter approaches difficult moral questions with a battering ram rather than, say, a fountain pen. Harry has had a difficult - horrible - life, but he never struggles with his own self-worth; never really has to deal with anything beyond his willingness to risk his life for the forces of good. Which of course is a huge issue in itself, and part of what makes the Harry Potter books such a compelling and (for me) emotionally satisfying read.

Grossman's approach is different. For me, The Magicians is about happiness and where we can find it. The book is chock full of life lessons in a manner that sometimes threatens to become heavy-handed but never quite does so because the story is so damn enjoyable. It's wrapped up in tight but evocative writing and, if I didn't like everything about the way events played out, I can forgive that for the sheer pleasure that reading it gave me. Highly recommended for anyone who can take even a smidgeon of fantasy with their reading.
lizabelle: (Lizabelle blue)
I spent Saturday at Skepticamp Sydney, an "unconference" in which participants could speak on any subject for fifteen minutes. There were some great topics, including skepticism and the Middle East, the importance of words, why Dr Google is a bad idea, and how to make skepticism entertaining. I came away feeling inspired and happy to have met so many people who are passionate about improving the world we live in.

The most interesting topic for me personally was an open discussion on how to attract more women into the skeptical movement. It was a great improvement in several ways from the panel discussed by PZ Myers in this post. Firstly, it was instigated and hosted by a woman (thank you, Lauren!). Secondly, it was an open debate, which allowed everyone to contribute. Thirdly, while there was plenty of discussion from both men and women, all the men in the room appeared willing to listen to what the women present had to say.

One topic that was raised was the lack of high-profile women in the skeptical movement, and tangentially the conflict between the need to have the "best" speakers at an event and the need to ensure that women are well represented.

Firstly, let me stress here that I am not an expert (in, well, anything except being a woman), and don't pretend to know what it takes to put on an event. I am also pretty new to activism in general, and to the skeptical movement in particular; this is my personal viewpoint, and I am not trying to tell anyone else what they should and shouldn't do.

With that out of the way, of course I don't expect event organisers to have a 50/50 spread if that means putting on substandard events. But there are plenty of women out there who are experts in their field and also good speakers. If they are never given a chance to speak because organisers don't know who they are, how can we expect their profiles, and the profile of women in the skeptical movement in general, to be raised?

No Chicks No Excuses, an initiative by Leslie Cannold, Jane Caro and Catherine Deveny, is a resource listing inspirational women "to enliven your next conference, panel, board, think tank, article, broadcast, programme or lecture". It is not an exhaustive list of experts (listing is at the discretion of the owners), but it is certainly an excellent starting point for anyone looking for speakers and participants in events. A quick scan of the people on there brought up several familiar names, including Kylie Sturgess and Chrys Stevenson. Deveny herself is a high-profile atheist.

Since one list obviously cannot be exhaustive, I'd love to hear suggestions for other places to look for female speakers! My own suggestion would be podcasts - there are loads of skeptic-related podcasts out there, many of which are hosted by or feature interviews with women.

If you are reading this and think you belong on No Chicks No Excuses, please consider following this link and applying to be listed.

If you are reading this and organising an event, please consider looking through that list as you plan the event. :)

Finally, I'm not sure of the breakdown of male/female attendees at Skepticamp, but to my unscientific eye there was a good proportion of women there, which was encouraging to see! Many thanks to Jason and all the other unorganisers and speakers for putting on such a fab event, and a special thank you to Esther for ensuring that vegan food was available! Roll on Skepticamp Melbourne. :)
lizabelle: Vegan (Vegan)
I've just returned from the UK (where I celebrated a fantastic Christmas and New Year with many much-missed friends and family), and was once again astounded by the failure of the airline to provide me with food in line with my prebooked request.

Before I go into details, let me say that although I'm talking here about Etihad, I have had similar experiences with Emirates, British Airways, Qantas and Virgin over the past few years. Never once have I travelled between the UK and Australia without being served something that contravened my request for a vegan meal, although this is almost invariably offered as an option.

So yes, this time we flew with Etihad. As always, I was careful to request a special meal with my booking, in this case the "VGML - VEGETARIAN MEAL". Etihad states that this option Does not contain any meat, fish or animal by-products e.g. animal fat in biscuits etc.

My experiences eating Etihad's 'vegan' food, cut for length )

On the way home, I didn't say anything because by this time I was convinced I must have somehow made a mistake and the VGML meal (I carefully checked the label each time I was handed a meal tray) wasn't intended to be vegan. On the way out, I did ask the flight attendants a couple of times about whether something was vegan or whether they had any soy creamer (I was given some once, so surely they had more somewhere, right?), and they were very nice, but clueless. They seemed to have no idea what the VGML description signified or what a vegan meal involved.

All of this was annoying and frustrating, but ultimately not fatal. But what about people with food allergies? If an attendant makes a mistake and hands me some yoghurt (and I'm stupid enough to eat it, which I wasn't), then there's no real harm done. If they do the same to someone with a nut or dairy allergy, the results could be very different.

Conclusion: airlines are increasingly offering a range of special meal options for people with a variety of dietary requirements based on health, ethics and lifestyle choices. If they are going to do this efficiently, they need to do their research and train their staff properly, so that passengers can feel assured that they are actually being fed in accordance with their requirements.

I will be contacting Etihad to let them know how disappointed I was with their service in this respect. Does anyone have any suggestions as to what else I could do to counteract this widespread problem?

ETA May 2012: This post has been hit by spammers, so I am now disabling comments. If you have anything to say to me about the post, please feel free to do so using the contact info listed in my user info.


Nov. 6th, 2010 11:30 am
lizabelle: (Default)
In case anyone wondered what I thought of Stephen Fry's latest ramble, in which he gently scolds all those silly people who believed something they read on the internet, and explains that he avoids giving print interviews the way most people avoid being raped (because those two situations are totally comparable):

Pickled Think has said it all for me.

Additional links:

Queen of Thorns: Nothing says I don't care like 2,872 words

Helen: Why I'm not sorry for Stephen Fry
lizabelle: (Default)
This Stephen Fry situation seems to have hit a few of my buttons.

Let's get some labels out of the way. I'm a heterosexual woman. Stephen Fry is a gay man, whom I mostly adore. He's erudite and funny and makes being a slightly geeky would-be writer feel just a tiny bit more fun.

I'm not going to go into what he said. Published in Attitude Magazine, the quotes made their way via Pink News and thence to the internet and news sites in general. Who knows how accurate or out of context the quotes are? Only Stephen Fry and Paul Flynn, the person who interviewed him.

Clearly, Stephen Fry is as entitled to an opinion about anything he likes. But if those opinions seem rather...odd or offensive, aren't people who find them odd or offensive entitled to question them?

When a twitter user linked him to what he was quoted as saying and asked if it was true, he merely passed on the link. There are many reasons why he could have done that - perhaps it was late; perhaps he didn't read the link and just thought he'd pass it on to his fans; perhaps he read it and saw nothing wrong with it. Nobody knows. But Fry's action was unfortunate, especially given his later assertion that he was misquoted.

While Britain (and presumably Fry) slept, people in other parts of the world started questioning what he'd said. By the time the British media woke up to it, there were various blog posts and the ball was already rolling. Next came an Observer article, and off we went.

Stephen Fry's only public reaction so far has been one tweet: So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up., followed by a flounce: Bye bye. His twitter account is now marked "No longer in service".

Again, let me stress that Fry is entitled to react in any way he wishes. That's his prerogative. But my prerogative, and that of anyone else, is to question things that I disagree with. I can do this by talking with friends, by blogging, by reading and commenting on other social media sites and, thanks to the magic of twitter, by asking @stephenfry directly (although I haven't and don't intend to do that last).

Except that apparently I can't and mustn't do these things. Stephen Fry, according to the #welovestephenfry twitter hashtag, must not be questioned or upset. Anyone who says his views are wrong without waiting for confirmation of them is silly/a bra-burning feminist/secretly hates sex. Women who take issue with his remarks are just spoiling the fun/taking offence too easily/silencing him because he's gay. The Stephen Fry situation is "as upsetting" as the fact that Danny Baker has cancer, apparently. People are calling for apologies from The Observer, Paul Flynn, BoganetteNZ and anyone else who might have upset Fry.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I mostly love Stephen Fry. But being popular and funny and loved and a spokesperson for mental health issues and rich and witty and clever and gay and kind and loving and a wonderful writer and speaker does not mean that he is infallible or should never be questioned. He's not a saint. Part of his appeal - part of anyone's appeal - is that he is not perfect.

Treating him like a special snowflake who must be carefully tended and wooed back to twitter is disrespectful to him, as well as to all the people who have taken issue with his remarks. Stephen Fry may be gay and bipolar, but he also has a hell of a lot of privelege to fall back on - much more, we can assume, than many of the people who are taking heat for questioning what he said. He can look after himself...and if he can't, it is not twitter's responsibility to do it for him.
lizabelle: (Book and sea)
Sydney's coolest bookshop has opened another outlet in the Inner West, and this weekend the city's literati turned out to celebrate. Booker winner Thomas Keneally was among the authors appearing at Gleebooks in Dulwich Hill on Saturday. He was joined by Miles Franklin-shortlisted (and local) Charlotte Wood, Commonwealth Writers' Prize-shortlisted Michelle de Kretser and young adult author Georgia Blain, before the day was wrapped up with a serving of poetry.


Party time on Marrickville Road

More under the cut: Garth Nix, Irfan Yusuf and PM Newton... )
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
There's so much on in Sydney at the moment, I'm finding it hard to keep track. Hence, a non-exhaustive list of upcoming literary and writing-related events: July only so far, but I'll update with August dates in the next week. Please follow the links for details, prices and so on.

15-16 July - The Wired Scribe: Telling Digital Stories. Two-day introduction to the benefits of digital media and the power of social networking. Location: Media Alliance Training Centre, Redfern. Cost: $350/$500. More information:

16 July - [sold out] Giant Steps: Pitching, Negotiation and Promotion with Sophie Hamley, Angelo Loukakis and Charlotte Wood. More information:

16 July - New Creative Writing Stage 1 course starts at the Sydney Writers' Centre (five-week course). Cost: $395. See for details and to enrol.

17-18 July - Gleebooks are having a mini writers' fest to celebrate the opening of their new store in Dulwich Hill. Authors include Garth Nix, Michelle de Kretser, Thomas Keneally, Charlotte Wood, David Marr, Irfan Yusuf and Emily Maguire. All events are free (bookings not required, standing room only); see for specifics.

Lots more under here. )

Am I missing anything? Let me know!
lizabelle: (Default)
Brothers and Sisters is an anthology of Australian short stories on the theme of siblings. It was my first purchase at the Sydney Writers' Festival, and perfect for reading in short bursts while waiting for a session to begin or to calm down at the end of each day.

I have two sisters, and anyone who has siblings will tell you that whether you're the eldest, youngest or middle matters. These stories made me think a lot about my relationships with my own sisters: the way we used to compete for attention and/or approval, but also the way our bonds could never be broken. The way we support (and sometimes fail to support) one another in adulthood, and the ways in which, perhaps, competition still lurks under the surface. The power to hurt: rarely used, even in childhood, but when it was employed, oh, how effective it was. As Charlotte Wood says in her introduction, "Your brother or sister, it might be said, is your other self - your grander, sadder, braver, shrewder, uglier, slenderer self."

The twelve stories in this anthology explore many facets of the sibling relationship. In Robert Drewe's "Paleface and the Panther", a man reflects rather patronisingly on his wayward young step-brother - who, it turns out, knows plenty that he doesn't. In Cate Kennedy's "Beads and Shells and Teeth", two little girls compete for their absent father's approval. Charlotte Wood's "The Cricket Palace" takes a different approach when two elderly sisters discover that the dynamics of their relationship have changed yet again.

I enjoyed Ashley Hay's exploration of being an only child (probably because I'm not) in "The Singular Animal: on Being and Having". Nam Le's "The Yarra" depicts two brothers, one a jailbird, one who has "made good" - but the author deftly overtuns any assumptions that the reader might like to make about their relationship. And in Christos Tsolkias's "The Disco at the End of Communism", a man finally makes a kind of peace with his dead brother.

I highly recommend this anthology, both for anyone interested in the subject of siblings (which probably includes anyone with brothers or sisters, right?), and for those looking for an introduction to contemporary Australian writing.
lizabelle: (Old coat new book)
For the past few days, I've been at the Sydney Writers' Festival, which is based in one of the most beautiful areas of the city, with extra events all over town and further afield as far as the Blue Mountains.

The tag line this year was Read, Rethink, Respond, and there were plenty of topics up for discussion, including freedom of speech at home and abroad, how to save the world, whether we can actually save the world, political intervention in the Northern Territory, as well as lots and lots of talk about literature in its myriad forms.

My personal highlights were: Lydia Cacho and Eric Lax talking about journalism on the front line and how PEN can help; Raj Patel completely living up to his wonderful writing; slam poets Sarah Taylor, Charlie Dark and Emily Zoey Baker at Spoken Four; and Emily Maguire being so fantastically articulate in No Country for Young Women.

I spent Thursday morning volunteering. I enjoyed the experience, but also found it quite stressful: no matter how often you are told that as a volunteer you have no responsibility and you are to contact a member of the festival staff if there are any problems, it's difficult to remain calm in the face of a demanding publisher or a member of the public giving you a sob story about why they need to get into a session that's already full. I have so much more respect now for the amount of organisation that goes into the festival. I only saw the very end of it, but people work really hard to make sure that everything goes smoothly.

I do wonder about venues, though. In many cases, punters had to queue half an hour in advance to be sure of getting into the free events. I know the organisers will say that if people are willing to queue for that long, then of course it's fair...but perhaps bigger venues or more listening/broadcast opportunities might be called for in some cases?

Once I'd finished my volunteer shift, I swapped my bright yellow t-shirt for incognito (it was a real relief to feel invisible again) and immediately found myself at the wrong end of a queue, so failed to get into The Lost Father.

Undaunted, I hung around for What Pen Means To Me: Stories from the Frontline. Lydia Cacho's bravery astounds me; I have no conception of how it must feel to stand up to the very highest levels of power knowing that you are putting your life in danger. Eric Lax gave the other side of the story, ie the work that International Pen does to raise the profile of writers imprisoned for their work. Like many people, I have signed petitions like those put out by PEN, and it's great to know that campaigns like these really do have an impact.

The PEN/human rights theme continued on Friday with the excellent PEN gives voice. Introduced by John Ralston Saul, Colm Tóibín, Eric Lax, Yiyun Li, Thomas Keneally, Frank Moorhouse, Larissa Behrendt and Peter Carey (what a line-up!) read from the work of imprisoned writers in China, Tibet and Burma. Ralston Saul's dryly witty commentary glued everything together, and it was sobering to hear how minor some of the "offences" committed were. One blogger was imprisoned for posting a cartoon on his blog; his very affecting poem was read beautifully by Yiyun Li.

While I'm on the subject of human rights, I was a little surprised that so few panellists and moderators acknowledged that they were on Aboriginal land. My memory may be deceiving me, but I thought that was standard practice for the past few years, and I missed it this year.

Similarly, while I liked the fact that we were given more details than previously about the writers represented by the empty chair at each of the free events, I was sorry to see this feature missing from so many events.

This is getting long, so I'm going to take a break here, and will try to post part 2 of my recap tomorrow.
lizabelle: (Default)
No book reviews, because my mind has not been in the kind of place to take much in while reading recently, due to work and other complications. I have some breathing space now, so hopefully that should change soon.

I have been eyeing my upcoming to read pile*, and offer it here for your perusal in lieu of reviews:

The Angel House - Kerstin Ekman
Lustrum - Robert Harris (sequel to the excellent Imperium)
The Hamilton Case - Michelle de Kretser
Let Me Sing You Gentle Songs - Linda Olsson
Ice - Louis Nowra
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms - NK Jemisin
Night - Elie Wiesel
Looking for Alibrandi - Melina Marchetta
Reunion - Andrea Goldsmith
The Northern Clemency - Philip Hensher

Anyone read any of these?

At some point I am also going to have to find time to reread Love in the Time of Cholera for book club. This isn't entirely a bad thing, as sometimes I feel like I'm the only person in the world who hates that book. Maybe this time I'll discover what everyone else loves about it. Assuming it's not the creepy old man sleeping with his teenage protégé, because if so, that's a lost cause.

Anyway, I have a free evening ahead, so am going to get caught up on Doctor Who, make veggie chilli and write a book review. About a book I love, which is much harder than reviewing books that I hate.

*This is not the entirety of my to read pile, merely the top ten that I skimmed off the wall of books along our hallway.
lizabelle: (Gollum bah)
I'm about five-eights of the way through AS Byatt's The Children's Book, which I am finding nuanced and extremely engrossing. However, I just need to get the following out of my system.

Spoilers below the cut )

Oof. Points to anyone who can guess the bit I've just read. :P
lizabelle: (Sparkly flowers)
1. This is the first in a series of five fascinating posts about one of my favourite books, David Mitchell's Cloudstreet Cloud Atlas*. All the posts are up now, and I urge anyone who's read the book to check them out.

1b. I am getting increasingly impatient for David Mitchell's new book.

2. Doctor Who! The eleventh doctor debuted on Saturday, and wasn't he lovely? I felt all my adoration for early Ten (pre-angst) being rekindled, although I admit that I spent most of the episode thinking thinky thoughts like "Hi, Eleven! Hi, Amy! You're really cool!" V. much looking forward to the rest of this series.

3. I am volunteering for the Sydney Writers' Festival this year - at least, I've volunteered my services, so will be volunteering if all goes to plan. The programme comes out this weekend, and I can't wait to see who this year's guests are.

4.Vegaroo is a new website set up by a friend of mine over here to act as a resource/hub for vegans in Australia. So far, there are restaurant reviews, events, a "get involved" section (this is my favourite part), and a blog that's just getting off the ground, but which already has some excellent posts up (this post, in particular, spawned an interesting discussion about the whys and wheretofores of using the word "vegan" in marketing). They need contributors, particularly from parts of Australia that aren't Sydney, if you're that way inclined.

5. Files are DONE! And so am I. G'night, all.

*Q: When do you know you've been in Australia too long? When any book with "cloud" in the title automatically becomes Cloudstreet.
lizabelle: (So many books)
The Gathering - Anne Enwright

I was underwhelmed by the blurb for this book, even when it won the Booker. "Family gathers together and the cracks start showing" - I seem to have read this kind of book so often. Nevertheless, Enwright very much achieves what she seems to have set out to do here, in a way that's moving and very readable. I thought it was brilliant, but the subject matter is too sad to make it enjoyable. Four stars.

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

This was longlisted for the Booker last year, and I do wonder how much damage that did it. Any association with the Booker Prize inevitably raises expectations, and mine were thoroughly squashed after a few chapters of this. Which isn't to say that it's a terrible book - it was very readable, the setting (the end of the Stalinist era in the Soviet Union) was fascinating and the writer has a lovely turn of phrase. But the execution felt sloppy (sometimes literally in regard to punctuation), the characters a little too one-dimensional, and in the end, I just couldn't get enthusiastic about the story. Two stars.

The Women in Black - Madeleine St John

Fun! This is simply a perfectly poised novel - very light reading, and in some ways I suspect an exercise in wish-fulfilment, but (as a reviewer on the back cover mentions) like the perfect little black dress. Set in 1960s Sydney, it unfolds the lives of several "women in black" (working in a David Jones-like department store, who change into their regulation black dresses on arrival at work each morning) as they intersect during one busy Christmas. Four stars, and I'll be reading more Madeleine St John.

Blackout - Connie Willis

I have been trying very hard not to buy new books recently (you can see a pic of the overflow from our creaking bookshelves here), but when I noticed a new novel by Connie Willis, in her time-travel Oxford universe, how was I supposed to resist? Besides, it's set during the Blitz, and I have a bit of a thing for war stories. So I dug out my Dymocks voucher, which I'd been hoarding for emergencies, and two days (and five hundred pages) later, I'm now desperately awaiting the sequel.

Read more... )

Finally, have a link to The Morning News Tournament of Books, because it makes me gleeful.
lizabelle: (Default)
Ah, my poor little neglected blog, how badly I've treated you! Apologies for the extended absence.

I have several very brief book reviews:

When We Were Bad - Charlotte Mendelson. The son of a feted female rabbi running off with the wife of another rabbi moments before his wedding marks the first in a series of cracks that open up in an apparently perfect family. This is close to being a perfect book. Seriously, if you have access to this one, read it. It's brilliant. Five stars

One Foot Wrong - Sofie Laguna. Hester's reclusive religious parents have their own ideas about how their daughter should be brought up. A fascinating, fresh take on a horrifying subject. Four stars.

Stuffed and Starved - Raj Patel. Clever and very well-written, as well as being packed full of information about the problem with the way today's food society operates and ideas as to what we can do about it. Patel's a great writer, and this book made me an instant fan. Five stars.

Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie. An very apposite one in the current climate, this book examines cultural conflicts and their links and roots from Nagasaki to 911, wrapping around this a narrative that is moving and hopeful in the face of despair. Four and a half stars.

The Wilderness - Samantha Harvey. A beautifully written, convincing imagining of a man's descent (or flight?) into alzheimers. Four stars.

With that out of the way, I want to concentrate on two excellent young adult books I've read recently, which go together very nicely because they're both based on alternate histories. Jenny Davidson's The Explosionist is set in 1930s Edinburgh, but history diverges from our own in 1815 when Napoleon defeats Wellington's army at the Battle of Waterloo. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld, is set in a world in which Darwin's discoveries led him to DNA, and thence to the creation of new species that are used by humans very much in the way that we use machines in our world.

Both books offer fascinating insights into the twists and turns of what-ifs. More under the cut. )

This got me thinking: are there any other alternate histories that people can recommend? One I loved as a teenager is Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and sequels, but there must be loads more that I've missed out on.
lizabelle: (Default)
A couple of weeks ago, a storm erupted in the blogosphere over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's upcoming book, Liar. Justine posted about it here, and her post includes links to other posts if you're interested in following the conversation further.

From Justine Larbalestier's post: "Micah [the main character] is black with nappy hair which she wears natural and short. As you can see that description does not match the US cover." She also included a photograph of the US basketball player whom she pictured Micah as resembling (Alana Beard, if you want to google her).

The US cover features a white girl, despite objections from the author.

There's a lot more information in Justine's post, but the basic problem is this: publishers believe that putting a picture of a black person on the cover of a book will put off potential buyers.

I'm just one person. But I'm a passionate reader and have been all my life. I blog, I post on facebook and twitter about what I'm reading, I'm a member of a book club, I talk to friends (many of whom are also passionate readers) about books all the time.

As a white, middle-class, heterosexual British woman, I am interested in stories that reflect other experiences. I want to know how it feels to be black or Asian, or First Nations, or Australian Aboriginal. I want to know what it's like to live in Japan, or Vietnam, or the Congo. I want to know how a gay man or woman experiences the world through which I slip so easily with all my privilege.

It's easy to write about me, and it's boring to read about me.

So that's why I seek out books that do not reflect my own experience. Another reason, one that I think is far more important, is that everyone needs someone to identify with. Here is an essay by Pam Noles on the lack of minorities in science fiction and fantasy and how this affects people of colour.

Justine Larbalestier has a passionate post entitled Why My Protags Aren't White. The entire post is well worth reading, but I'm going to quote just a small part of it:

Because a young Hispanic girl I met at a signing thanked me for writing an Hispanic character. Because when I did an appearance in Queens the entirely black and Hispanic teenage audience responded so warmly to my book with two non-white main characters. Because teens, both here and in Australia, have written thanking me for writing characters they could relate to. “Most books are so white,” one girl wrote me.

Dorothy Koomson is a bestselling author whose covers feature black people - that doesn't appear to have put off readers.

A quick glance through my most recent fiction reads brings up the following:

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell, in which Carribbean culture is transplanted to a sci-fi setting.
Jazz and Beloved by Toni Morrison, about whom I hope little needs to be said.
Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill, in which the main character is a gay policeman.
Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave, a memoir by a man who was caught up in the first wave of HIV cases in Australia.
Disobedience by Naomi Alderman, about a lesbian Jewish woman coming to terms with her past.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, a painful but beautiful book chronicling the struggles of a Spokane Indian teenager.
The Whole Day Through by Patrick Gale. The main story centres around a heterosexual couple who have a second chance, but the novel's true success story is a gay man with Down's Syndrome, pretty much the only character who emerges happy and well-adjusted.
Song for the Night by Chris Abani, about a child soldier in an unnamed African army.

(It would be interesting to see how many of those books featuring people of colour actually reflect that on the covers.)

I...don't quite know how to wrap this up. I just feel it's important to get the message out to publishers that readers are interested in books about minorities.


lizabelle: (BSG Starbuck and Roslin)
I'm not sure how, by roasting peppers, blending them with passata, and adding to sautéd shallots, chilli, garlic, slivered almonds and chickpeas, you end up with something that tastes suspiciously liked Heinz baked beans, but that seems to be what I've achieved.

It's very nice, anyway.

I've finally caught James's flu, which means I'm having a lazy, nerdy week. I have a ticket to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at the imax cinema tomorrow evening, and I'm also working my way through Battlestar Galactica. I've almost finished series 3, and will then probably power on into series 4, because damn, this is brilliant tv, and I'm desperate to talk about it, but terrified of being spoiled at the moment.

I've been thinking about why I'm enjoying it so much, because I really don't watch much television at all. It bores me mostly, and feels like a waste of time. The reasons I've come up with so far as to why I'm loving BSG are:

A large cast of multi-dimensional characters - the good characters aren't perfect, and the bad characters aren't evil. Some of the "good" characters turn out to be pretty damn bad, and vice versa. There are a lot of characters to empathise with.

Strong female characters who play pivotal parts in the plot and don't exist merely as love interests or mothers. My two favourite characters (see icon) are awesome.

Mostly excellent pacing - some storylines carry through several episodes, while individual episodes wrap up with either a strong emotional ending or a cliffhanger.

Consistent characterisation.

Questionable moral issues and a lot of messing with people's minds.

Oh, and a dystopian setting in which the future for humankind looks very bleak. :)

Anything else? And does anything else on television fulfil many of these criteria? I'd love to hear a few suggestions, because if so, I've been missing out!


lizabelle: (Default)

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