A break in the shallows

Some of you may have noticed that there was no shallows to be shared last week. It was going to be my last post and, my goodness! It was a special one. Instead, Chaos decided to reside in his wicked guise of illness and hospitalisation (not me – but my husband) and the shallows took a back seat.

But now, I am signing off until mid-August. I’m off on holidays to Canada and the US. This is my first holiday away with my husband without our sons since 1996!!! Two (albeit older) teens on their own for a fortnight – yikes!!!! My family - me, my husband and my sons

And yes, I am going to the Montreal Romance Meet Up. I am so incredibly excited that I will be meeting USian and Canadian friends in person. I am also heading to New York for my first ever visit (excitement!) and I am meeting cousins in Boston (the excitement never ends!).

So, this Shallowreader is signing off. A planned hiatus! Adieu and I will write soon! Mwah!


DrScrabblette and DrFriendless are Sharing the Shallows – He Reads/She Reads Special Edition!

DrScrabblette is such a phenomenal woman. She is the first academic I taught for at university and she has since become a dear, dear friend. We talk about everything from reading and culture and information and life and il/literacies and her dog whispering skills and just her incredible ability to connect with every one she meets. Her students love her, and I have to say that this love is highly deserved as she knocks herself out for them. Through DrScrabblette, I have met DrFriendless a few times, and he too is an open and giving person who, despite his chosen pseudonym, is very friendly and always interesting.

DrScrabblette and DrFriendless

University academic and computer wizard, sharing a celebrity dog named Samantha.

Dog leaning on paper and pen

Can you describe yourself?

We started sharing bookshelves in 2006. She didn’t know how to read at all until she was ten. Homeschooled until ten on her Indian grandmother’s fantastic stories, myths, and legends, she has a lifelong obsession with fairytales and retellings. Once she learned to read, she consumed a lot of beautifully illustrated Russian Fairy Tales from Soviet bookstores, Tinkle magazine, Archie comics, Amar Chitra Katha stories, and Mad magazine, alongside tons of pulp fiction and cartoons in Tamil magazines. After completely skipping several phases of reading “chapter books” and YA fiction etc., she read Future Shock at fifteen, and has never stopped reading since.

He misspent his youth reading Enid Blyton, then heroic fantasy, then classics and literary fiction. Then he learnt French and read French classics and “polars” – noir detective stories. He read “The Hobbit” and the first couple of volumes of Harry Potter to his son when he was young, and the son grew up to read Chuck Palahniuk. These days he just reads computer texts, but has aspirations to write when he grows up.

She introduced him to Robert Coover, Indian mythology, and Luigi Cavalli-Sforza, and the son to Ryu Murakami. Both are avid players of tabletop board games, and he loves reading the rules diligently whereas she just likes breaking them.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

DrFriendless: Well, it’s the web of course, for as long as I can keep my eyes open. Lots of computer code, the StackExchange help forums, cloud service documentation, programming language documentation, email, news, and so on. Sometimes I rebel against the machines and pick up a book instead, but usually I fall asleep very shortly thereafter. I do buy some computer books in hard copy because I can leave them lying around where they remind me that I should be reading them. My Kindles tend to get lost for months at a time, and the books on them only get read if I’m on holidays.

DrScrabblette: I reckon I spend every waking minute reading something: email, blogs, social media, online newspapers and magazines, academic articles, books, and a lot of student work. I also read a lot of book reviews from Publishers’ Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, LRB, and NYRB, a habit from decades spent as a bookseller before I became an editor, publisher, librarian, and then academic. I can only sleep six hours a night, so my poor eyes are a bit tired at the end of the day. Since the movies I watch are mostly subtitled from languages other than English, I end up ‘reading’ movies too. Being a very text-oriented person, I turn on subtitles even for languages I’m fluent in. I even prefer reading a play before watching it on the stage. I listen to a lot of public radio and podcasts, although it’s been awhile since I ‘read’ an audiobook. There was a time when I did a lot of that, while I did a lot more driving than I do now. I always dread the day when I might lose my eyesight, so I try to keep an eye on audiobook technologies, and still prefer devices with a tactile QWERTY keyboard to touchscreen. I have a lot of books and audiobooks on my Kindle, but when I pick it up, I end up just obsessively playing Scrabble against the computer.

Two people from Castle

What or who is your joyful reading (guilty or otherwise) pleasure?

DrFriendless: Since I taught myself to read French, I really love reading French novels or history. I tried “Swann’s Way” (the first volume of “A la Recherche de Temps Perdu”) but that was too hard for me at the time. “Le Comte de Monte Cristo” was great. Sadly it takes concentration to read French, and a Leo Malet novel has been sitting untouched by my bed for months. If the Malaussene Saga by Daniel Pennac ever makes into English, everyone should read it, that was truly a joyful read.

DrScrabblette: When I really need some cheering up, I pick up a trusty Wodehouse and read about the adventures of Jeeves and Wooster. My other guilty pleasure is a book of poetry, Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, that I received from my high-school English teacher when I was fifteen — I can always read a quick poem whilst waiting for a bus or in a doctor’s waiting room. I now have a digital version of it for convenience. My all-time favourites are Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and also the Romantics. My guilty pleasure is that I love reading magazines, sometimes cover to cover: the New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Monthly, Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, Harper’s, Esquire, GQ, Sports Illustrated, and even the gardening, home decorating, and cooking magazines at the hairdresser’s or doctor’s offices. Where else can you read the philosopher Ortega y Gasset on the mania for sports, Dr. Karen Hitchcock’s writings on the medical profession, or the creative nonfiction of John McPhee, Joan Didion, or Tom Wolfe? I don’t subscribe to physical newspapers anymore, but I still do subscribe to several hardcopy magazines with longform stories.

Do you have a favourite storyline or plot? And do you have one you will not read?

DrFriendless: I think the Belgariad (David Eddings, 1982) was the beginning of the end of fantasy for me. Once I realised that the world existed solely so that the characters could visit all of it in an epic fashion, I lost interest in the genre. That was unlike Tolkien, say, whose world’s existence was independent of the stories he told in it. So I moved onto “true stories”, where the motivations of the characters and the world they live in were real. Like, for example, “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, which is a wonderfully true-to-life story. So I won’t read epic fantasy, particularly if there’s a map in the front, and omigod never if it’s the first of 5 volumes. By the way, given my opinions on the genre, believe me when I tell you that “A Game of Thrones” is wonderful stuff.

DrScrabblette: Anything goes, so long as it is fresh or weird. I am also a big fan of short stories (Aimee Bender and Maile Meloy are current obsessions). I’ve been through a lot of literary fiction with no discernable plot at all, lots of works in translation from across the world (contemporary Italian writers like Marta Morazzoni, Paola Capriolo, and Alessandro Baricco are my favourite)  and also a lot of genre fiction over the years: Cold War thrillers, Spy novels, Legal thrillers, Science Fiction, Horror, Westerns, Detective fiction, Magic Realism etc., but my favourite category is Metafiction. I love retellings of Shakespeare (Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike), Odyssey (Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood), Arabian Nights (Arabian Nights and Days by Nagouib Mahfouz, When Dreams Travel by Githa Hariharan, Chimera by John Barth), and the Mahabharata (The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni), one of my perpetual obsessions.  Whilst I like books with ancient supernatural creatures, I’m not a big fan of the modern fantasy genre, especially those with swords and sorcery, and witches, wizards, and mages etc.

Why do you/don’t you use a public library?

DrFriendless: I don’t need one. Our house is full of unread books. When I got into manga a few years ago I would go to the library and read Usagi Yojimbo, but generally I can survive on years of accumulated Amazon purchases. Buying a book from Amazon can be cheaper than the bus fare to the library.

DrScrabblette: I am a library academic with a bit of library anxiety for physical libraries, an after-effect of too many unpleasant encounters with librarians at the British Council Libraries in India, but I force myself to hang out in libraries and use them as much as possible. My current local library is the Balmain Public Library and I have a stack of books and videos I need to return this weekend! My favourite public libraries are mostly in the U.S. though.

Do you RUI? If so, what?

DrFriendless: Of course, but only the same stuff as always. A much bigger determinant of what I read is whether I’m relaxed or not. If I don’t have work to do or errands to run, I’m much more likely to pick up a book and have some fun. I guess I tend to become under the influence if I’m watching TV of an evening (damn you David Attenborough, you’re ruining my liver!) so reading is not practical at the time.

DrScrabblette: I am a bit of a teetotaller these days, but even when I could drink alcohol, I preferred to drink tea while reading. When under the influence, I’d rather dance to loud music. That said, I have a friend who reads books whilst driving. A bit scary, but not as dangerous as texting while driving.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

DrFriendless: Yes, on the bus going to work. As I no longer have a long bus trip to work, I don’t get much reading done. It’s a sad state of affairs.

DrScrabblette: Bed, recliner, dining chair, computer chair or anything that is not moving. Not on the beach. I’m too busy watching people. I simply cannot read on planes, trains, automobiles, or ferries either.

Toilet reading?

DrFriendless: Yep. What else would I do there? Ideally I can find a Kindle. Most recently it has been a beginner’s guide to REST API design, which was cheap on Amazon, and poorly written, but has taught me a surprising amount which previous research did not.

DrScrabblette: Never. Unless it’s the graffiti in a public bathroom. Growing up in a family with one toilet, this is not something I even understand. I’m in and out in no time. Sometimes, I get a bit of shut eye and rest my tired eyes.

Toilet stall covered with grafitti

Ladies’ restroom at The Elephant Room, Edinburgh

Romance fiction of the Happily Ever After (not the love tragedy) kind – are you a Lover or a Hater and why?

DrFriendless: I’m pretty much a hater. I enjoy novels which contain insights into human behaviour – for example, “The Time Traveller’s Wife” was a beautiful love story which put very real people into an unreal world and described the consequences. My life experience has been more akin to that story than any form of Happily Ever After. If I can’t trust the characters to behave realistically, I can’t trust the story at all.

DrScrabblette: I don’t have a strong opinion on this as far as books, and it really depends on the story. I recently read some romance fiction by Kavita Kane as the characters were based on The Mahabharata. When I was a teenager, I was really into the love tragedy kind actually, and wanted to grow up and be like Miss Havisham from The Great Expectations, but now I’d rather be the storytelling  Sheherazade, living happily ever after ‘until there came to them the One who Destroys all Happiness.’








.Can a romance/crime/super/etc hero be the driver of a hatchback?

DrFriendless: Absolutely! In fact I despise James Bond and all of his Aston Martinis and nonsense. I want an engaging story to be set in a realistic world, and Bond tends towards “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, which bores me senseless. Shamini Flint’s Inspector Singh, or Alexander McCall Smith’s Mma Ramotswe, or Maigret, or Miss Marple, are much better heroes.

Having said that though, I don’t think I’d be focusing on the heroic romantic aspects of the hatchback, as there really aren’t any. I’d be going for product placement kickbacks, to be honest. And I would recommend to the driver of the hatchback to stay well away from the village of St Mary Mead, it’s a dangerous place.

DrScrabblette: Of course! That’s the best way to travel with man’s best friend. Also, I would like a hero who drives a pickup truck with a motorcycle in it and is prepared for an off-road adventure at short notice. And another one who has a scooter with a sidecar like my father did. And another with a Jeep, like my uncle did. And yet another with an aircraft. After all, my ideal heroine is Draupadi who had five husbands all at once, for no one man could match her talents and intelligence, or meet all her demands. And they rode the chariots of the gods  :-).

 Relief from the DashAvatar Temple (500 CE)  in Deogarh, India. Draupadi (far right) with her five husbands, from the Mahābhārata.

Relief from the DashAvatar Temple (500 CE)  in Deogarh, India. Draupadi (far right) with her five husbands, from the Mahābhārata.


Fiona from Bookgroup is Sharing the Shallows

As it is the second Saturday of the month, a member of my bookgroup is sharing today’s shallows. Fiona and I met at bookgroup, and at first, that was our only contact – she was this lovely woman who would talk about women in politics in her reading choices. This kinda intimidated me as she seemed so über intelligent to me as politics is not my forté but I also learnt that she did English Folk dancing, with all those flowers and bells so at the same time, I was not intimidated but just thrilled that someone I knew personally could do the steps I read about in E.J. Oxenham’s Abbey books. Then, several years into knowing each other, Fiona invited me to join her to see a show at the Sydney Opera House. This was the first time we did anything at all together outside of bookgroup. I don’t remember what or who we went to see – but I do recall our dinner conversation beforehand and I always think that it cemented our friendship. Our theme for today’s bookgroup was Friends and I love that Fiona brought a friend along, rather than a bringing along a book that she had read. An excellent contribution!

Fifiramous lying on her side with her bookcase in the backgroup piled horizontally and vertically

Fiona from Bookgroup

Tweets @fifiramous

Can you describe yourself?

Fiona is a bit of a wannabe girly swot, who has a healthy capacity to be distracted by conversation (doesn’t need to be deep, but meaningful is good), food and singing – all improved with good company.

She works in higher ed management, and has a study addiction that she is hoping to kick in the next 12/18 months.

She is pictured here with one of her bookshelves at home. When she was a librarian at school, she managed to keep shelves more tidy. Continue reading

Keira Soleore is Sharing the Shallows

In my continuing saga of guilting fellow readers into answering my questions, wonderful Keira Soleore took time out of her holidays to send me her answers. Keira and I have been in the same Romancelandia circles for many years. We have often ended up in tweep deep twitter threads discussing romance fiction, our respective weathers and our cities. But the two of us have always had another little side reading thing going on –  in years past, we often discussed reading recommendations for younger kids, especially those (darned) learner readers. I love that Keira lists her picture book and kids book reviews alongside her romance reviews on her blog – I wish that more bloggers did this! 

Keira with a gorgeous smile, wearing a lovely white and pink dress with long white gloves.Keira Soleore

My Twitter @KeiraSoleore

My blog http://keirasoleore.blogspot.com

My site http://www.keirasoleore.com

Can you describe yourself?

I’m an amateur student of medieval books and manuscripts, taking online classes from universities, such as Stanford, Cambridge, and Harvard. I review books for All About Romance, and I’m a book editor. In addition, I’m also a writer, reader, singer, sun saluter, beach-lay-abouter, a lapsed engineer, a Midwesterner turned West Coaster, a fledgling political activist — basically an all-around good egg. If I had the choice, I’d love to be found visiting England in the summer and Hawaii the rest of the year. Alas, I’m stuck in rainy, cold, gray (but green!) Seattle year round. If I were to be reborn as an animal, I hope to be an elephant or a mountain gorilla. Continue reading

azteclady is Sharing the Shallows

Mea Culpa! Not only am I late with today’s shallows, but  having dilly-dallied sending off my latest lots of Shallow Sharing requests, I found myself without a sharer. Quelle horrors! So I ended up shamefully (for me, not her) guilting azteclady into sending her post in today! I don’t even know how long I have known azteclady. Since my own involvement in online communities, she has always been in and around Romancelandia blogs, commenting in her deeply thoughtful ways. She has recently joined Twitter, and there too, she is thoughtful, informative, astutely political, and ever so readerly. I am so glad that I get to chat with her on these various platforms, and I am so glad that she saved the shallows from a shallowless Saturday.

azteclady with a book in hand called Serenityazteclady @herhandsmyhands

Can you describe yourself?

azteclady married young, had two offspring, moved three countries in a decade. After the marriage ended, she and her children moved to the USoA, where she has managed to live in the same house for twenty years. Reading, particularly romance, has kept her (mostly) sane through all of the usual and unusual upheavals of her life. She reads, crafts, rabblerouses and rants all over the intratubes. 

We are all laying in the gutter, but some of us are looking up at the stars — Oscar Wilde

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

For the past two years or so, I’ve read almost equally online (blogs and news), and actual books. I prefer the latter, but I’ve been struggling with the granddaddy of all (fiction) reading slumps, so here we are. Continue reading

Gabby is Sharing the Shallows

I first met Gabby at the Australian Romance Readers Convention in Sydney in 2011. She was in a group of young university students who were attending and I clearly remember sitting around the hotel foyer laughing with this bright, young woman. And this pretty much cpatures my every meeting with Gabby. Whether we would bump into each other at uni, chatting on Twitter, when we would go out for drinks with friends or whether we were at an author or romance fiction event, Gabby makes me laugh with her funny stories, her chaos life and her all round fab presence.

Gabby sitting holding her coffee. Her face is obscured as she is incognito Gabby @penneclearwater

Incognito: Possible Spy

Can you describe yourself?

Gabby is a mess of human who experiences way too many emotions and can’t seem to moderate the volume of her voice. She loves friends to lovers tropes and has a complicated relationship with a lot of authors that she finds problematic but can’t stop reading. Because of that, she complains a lot but usually does so with a good heart. Gabby used to work in publishing but switched to a job that she can’t talk about because she may or may not be a spy. Shhhhhhh.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

BOOKS BOOK BOOKS. I used to spend on average 2 hours a day reading which was mainly on public transport. But then people kept laughing at me for not being able to drive so I got my license and it ruined my life. Now I barely scrape in 2 hours a WEEK. Save me. Continue reading

Kevin is Sharing the Shallows

Kevin from my bookgroup is sharing the shallows today. Kevin has been in my bookgroup for the best part of the past two decades. Kevin keeps track of all our topics, he emails us to remind us that our second Saturday is upon us and in general, is our most organised member. Kevin also is our music guy. Occasionally, if one of our topics really inspires him, Kevin will bring along his guitar and he sings music that he has either written or that he thinks suits the bookgroup vibe.

A photograph of Kevin smilingKevin

Can you describe yourself:

A Canadian who has lived in Sydney for over 25 years, I’m a former marketing executive/consultant but now retired with music as a serious hobby which leaves some time to hang out with friends at my local cafe. I have always loved reading – my parents and my siblings have all been avid readers. Most of my friends read. My partner reads. It’s in the genes I think.

What is your main reading medium (books, blogs, games, news, etc) and how much time do you spend reading a week?

I’d say the weekend papers (SMH and AFR), some online news sites, emails and books. I used to read quite a few magazines but when the pile of unread magazines became fortress like, I had to stop the subscriptions. I probably spend 10-15 hours a week reading, maybe more. I think we need “readbit” glasses that capture how often we read and what we read – imagine getting graphs at the end of the week!

Life by Keith RichardsWhat or who is your joyful reading (guilty or otherwise) pleasure? 

I have a growing collection of music related books and magazines: biographies/autobiographies/memoirs, essays and analysis, lyrics and music, a rhyming dictionary and music magazines (ranging from fan like to music production). But definitely not guilty. Currently reading Life by Keith Richards. I managed, in our theme based book club, to have music as part of my contribution each month over one year and still usually weave it in quite regularly. It’s in the blood.

Do you have a favourite storyline or plot? And do you have one you will not read?

In fiction, I like quirky (think Italo Calvino) and great use of language. Not so big on romance. But when I look at my various book shelves (and I have a few), my books cover quite a range of fiction and non fiction such as art and photographic books, cookbooks, Canadian, literary fiction, Australian, mysteries, almost a full shelf of humour (including The Far Side), philosophy, personal development, a shelf of financial/investment/trading and much more – I like variety.

Far SideWhy do you/don’t you use a public library?

Used to but not so much now. I have also slowed down in buying books so I can get through those that I have. But I do love books shops.

Do you RUI*. If so, what?

Don’t think so. Never woke up with a headache and a book in hand. Though Charles Bukowski has some great poems about drinking and writing poetry.

Do you have a favourite reading spot?

Newspapers at the kitchen table and books in bed.

Toilet reading:

Never have, never will!

Romance fiction of the Happily Ever After (not the love tragedy) kind – are you a Lover or a Hater and why?

Well, I have read some – I was helping to sell them when I worked in marketing for Harlequin Mills and Boon. I never really got into them though I have read some that Vassiliki has passed on and I did enjoy them.

What would you give up reading for**?

I can’t imagine giving up reading unless my eyesight gave way…and then I would take up audio books.

Can a romance/crime/super/etc hero be the driver of a hatchback?

I’m not sure the new super hero series, Hatchbackman, is going to really take off but sure, detectives, romance or other heroes can drive them – why not?

Note: The irony of  post is that neither Kevin nor I are attending Bookgroup today. This will do in absentia 🙂