June was a quiet month….

Well, it wasn’t really quiet at all. It was only quiet here on Shallowreader (apart from our sad Digger Dog post) as I was off blogging at Read It 2011 as part of #blogeverydayofJune (or more popularly known as #blogjune). Thankfully, the blogging was shared between 6 of us. It was challenging to make sure that a post went out everyday. A google doc schedule kept us all to task though there were some last minute fill in and swaps. All in all, it was fun and it has left me with a long list of blog ideas for Shallowreader.

On top of all this, I was also asked to write a guest blog for the lovely writers over at Down Under Divas.

On Bookshelfporn

Here is a list of my blog posts for Read It 2011:

The Book That Launched a Thousand Trips

From Elizabeth Enright to Adam Gopnik: Living a New City Reading Life 

Travelling Through the Sense of Home

Vale Patrick Leigh Fermor

Have eReader – Will Travel

Eighty Years of Tintin and Still Travelling

Armchair Romance Makes the World Go Round

Enjoy!

I’m dreaming of bookshelves

When I was 6, I went to the State Library of NSW for a school visit, returned home and told my father that when I grew up I was going to work and sleep there amongst the stack rows. Ten years later, I would study at the awe-inspiring Mitchell Library, back in the day when anyone could climb the stairs and access the books. My favourite, dream-like study spot was in front of the 938’s, from memory, it was up one flight of stairs on the right hand side.

Mitchell Library, Sydney (#24) / Christopher Chan

Now, I am a librarian but I have yet to sleep in a library let alone the State Library (though, funnily enough, I have managed to lock a borrower in the library overnight but that is another story). My own home is full of books and there isn’t a single room that doesn’t have bookshelves – including the bathroom and laundry. Which has brought me to dream of 1 bookshelf. 1 floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, 1 floor-to-ceiling, need-a-ladder-to-reach-the-top, kickass bookshelf.

 

Ten authors and their tenth book

My bookgroup celebrated its 10th anniversary this week. The topic for this month was 10. So I decided to look at my favourite ten fiction authors and their first and tenth fiction books. Five of the authors were amongst my favourite authors in 2001 and the other 5 are amongst my favourites in 2011. My aim was to see if each author improved with every book, whether they were they consistently good and whether or not they managed to sustain my interest. I am listing the authors in alphabetical order not in order of preference.

Isabelle Allende

1st title: The House of Spirits (loved it)  10th title: City of Beasts (I have not read this title)

I remember falling in love with the intricate lives that Allende wrote about. Her books were like a perfume that I could sense when I would sit and read but by the time Paula (let alone City of Beasts) was released I was no longer interested in reading more of Allende’s books.

Suzanne Brockmann

1st title: Future Perfect 10th title: The Kissing Game (I haven’t read either of these titles)

The first Brockmann book I recall reading was Prince Joe (her 8th book) and she quickly became an autobuy author. I discovered her Tall, Dark & Dangerous series (Silhouette) and then became completely taken by her Troubleshooters series which are full of action, shooting, nefarious terrorist plots and lurve. It’s like watching/reading Team America sans the crass humour. However, as much as I enjoy her books I have not felt compelled to buy any books since Into the Fire and I am now happy to wait to borrow a library copy.

Douglas Coupland

1st title: Generation X (loved it) 10th title: Eleanor Rigby (I have not read this title)

I read Generation X within months of its release and it was like a revelation. It was modern, it was disinterested, it was wry and I was in love with Coupland. Life After God, for years, was a favourite book yet my interest waned rapidly after reading Polaroids from the Dead (non-fiction) and I have not been tempted to read Eleanor Rigby.

Jennifer Crusie

1st title: Manhunting (I have not read this book) 10th title: Crazy for You (A great read)

I enjoyed this book, stalker, Quinn, Nick and all. The first Crusie title I read was Charlie All Night which I reread every few years (and still enjoy). Crusie’s sharp, biting dialogue is fun and her characters’ relationships and friendships make me want to be friends with them. My personal favourites are Welcome to Temptation (11th title), Bet Me (14th title) and Agnes and the Hitman – co-written with Bob Mayer (15th title). I feel that these 3 titles set the contemporary romance literature benchmark.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1st title: In Evil Hour (I have not read this book) 10th title: there is no 10th novel (I could cheat and count his novellas but I won’t)

I have a shameful secret. I know that in the early 90’s I read (and re-read) both 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. I recall waxing lyrical about them to a guy I was interested in and I saw it as a “sign” that he then read them and we went out and, over dinner, spent a night discussing them both. Both my copies are dog-eared and marked. Now here is the shameful part. I cannot for the life of me recall anything whatsoever about the books (except that I loved them at the time). I could have chosen a different fave author to include, one whose works I did remember. But I chose to include Marquez because I don’t think his books resonated with me the way I initially thought they had.

Rachel Gibson

1st title: Simply Irresistible (enjoyed it) 10th title: I’m in No Mood for Love (loved it)

I read I’m in No Mood for Love before Simply Irresistible. Having read, and loved, several of Gibson’s titles I tracked down her backlist and read through them all. I thoroughly enjoyed them. I’m in No Mood for Love also stands out for me because it was a rare romance that I recommended for my husband to read and he too enjoyed it. Simply Irresistible was good and fun but I didn’t recommend it to my husband….(which is telling in itself).

John Irving

1st title: Setting Free the Bears 10th title: The Fourth Hand (I have not read either of these books)

I remember watching the movie of The World According to Garp and my sister and I pooling our money together to buy the book. And we both loved it. We continued to read as many of Irving’s books as we could find. And I particularly recall thinking that A Prayer for Owen Meany was a powerful tale. However, by the time A Son of the Circus was released, once again, my interest had waned.

Milan Kundera

1st novel: The Joke (a great read) 10th title: there is no 10th novel (though there are a number of short stories)

This is another author adoration that I had due to needing to read the book of a movie that I loved. And as wonderful as The Unbearable Lightness of Being was on film, the book far surpasses it. Yet, it is The Farewell Party remains my favourite of all Kundera’s books.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips

1st title: The Copeland Bride (I have not read this book) 10th title: Nobody’s Baby But Mine (An enjoyable read)

I love that Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP) creates unlikeable characters whose actions are awful and yet by the end of the book you want them to have a happy outcome. This is particularly true in Nobody’s Baby but Mine in which the heroine tricks the (sports) hero into impregnating her for she decides that she wants to have a child that is not bright. Her stereotypes and deception grate yet I love the complex relationships SEP builds and reconciles. I feel that she is another benchmark romance author. I look at her list of published titles and though her earlier books were good, her Chicago Bears series are outstanding and it is her 17th title, Match Me If You Can, that is my favourite of all her books.

Julia Quinn

1st title: Splendid (I have not read this book) 10th title: An Offer from a Gentleman (A lovely, sad Cinderella story)

Up until a year ago, I had no interest in reading historical romances. I didn’t mind historical fiction or fiction that was contemporary when it was published but now is historical (ie, Jane Austen) but, I’ll admit, books where women swooned over dukes, earls, or barons left me cold. I decided to overcome my biases and started with a very early Julia Quinn novel that did not grab me at all. I then read When He Was Wicked and fell in love. By the time I read An Offer from a Gentleman I was hooked and just as I was tiring of the 8 book Bridgerton series, the last book On the Way to the Wedding had me on the edge of my seat anticipating how the relationship issues were going to be resolved. And this book was 5 after her 10th title! Simply gold!

The thing that stands out more than anything else is that my reading tastes have changed markedly over the last 20 years. 20 years ago I was reading predominately literary fiction or non-fiction smattered with some category romances and the occasional romance. I devoured classic literature and loved to read conceptual modern fiction too. By the late 1990’s I felt exhausted by the constant search for the meaning of life and (for the most part) stopped reading literary fiction. Time has yet to test whether I’ll feel the same way about my current favourites (though to be fair Jennifer Crusie and Suzanne Brockmann have been faves for over a decade already). But what I do find interesting is that most literary authors’ strongest novels are at the beginning of their writing life whereas it seems that the inverse is true for the romance authors I have listed above. Where I may have enjoyed their first few books, it is their subsequent publications that have drawn me in and hooked me as an avid fangirl.

Obviously, I am biased. I love reading romance novels so it is impossible for me to be objective. However, I was a fan of literary fiction for a lot longer and much earlier in my youth. And why do I think my reading preferences changed? I think I might leave that question for another blog post.

Reading avenues for the Shell-Shocked, Time-Strapped Reader: From First-time Parents to Corporate Workers

For many people, reading fiction means escaping into another world, losing yourself in the setting, becoming one of the characters in the book and feeling that you are there too. To do this, as a reader, you need uninterrupted time, seamless moments to relish the language, space and activity taking place but, unfortunately, when your workplace commands much of your waking time or a newborn enters your household, uninterrupted time may be only half an hour whether it is your commute or your rest time between chores and baby napping. And half an hour for most readers is not sufficient to immerse and lose yourself in a novel.

For those of you who need to see the written word at least once a day, who need that tactile sense of paper and no electronic devices and for those of you who miss reading but can’t seem to delve into characters lives like you did in those pre-work committment, pre-baby  times, here are a few reading alternatives that I have suggested to library borrowers who come enquiring. You may want to consider:

Short Stories:

Succicint, minimalist with an economy of words, the short story is a great place to start rediscovering reading. Short stories range from 2000 to 20 000 words making it a great entry point for many time strapped readers. Anthologies tend to have a thematic vein with a variety of authors. Some great examples are Girls Night Out, Zombies vs Unicorns, Steampunk. The other short story style is the one author with a variety of their own stories: Margo Lanagan’s Black Juice, Steven King’s Four Past Midnight, Tobsha Learner’s Yearn. Some of these stories stand alone and others are interlinked. Short stories are a great way to explore new genres, new author voices or just delve into a previously loved writing theme.

Literary Magazines:

There are many literary magazines all of which have short fiction, essays, poetry and the like. There is the New Yorker, Granta Magazine (thematic based approaches to compiling reading materials), McSweeney’s amongst others.

Observers:

Essayists, comedians, people who write about the funny, peculiar occurrences that they observe are often great reads for the busy person. Often a collection of their works can be dipped in and out of over a period of time. Some of my favourite observer/essayists are David Sedaris, Laurie Notaro, Adam Gopnik, Gervase Phinn.

Non-Fiction:

Non-fiction is a fabulous antidote to the reader who misses reading but not necessarily fiction. Dipping in and out of most non-fiction is a simpler task than with novels as they are fact driven. Wit the exception of biographies, most non-fiction doesn’t require the reader to emotionally attach themselves to character lives (though, that said, sometimes it is harder to let go of the real life people you read about in some history books). DK Books have great information design that facilitates dipping in and out of books, some arm chair travelling, dreaming of artists, reading about the military, atlases of history, unattainable homes in architecture books or science trivia books can be very rewarding reads.

Children’s Fiction:

In general, children’s novels are much shorter than adult novels and there is a plethora of enjoyable reading. From Dick King Smith’s The Waterhorse, Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell’s Far Flung Adventure Series to the darker Sisters Grimm series many of these stories often surprise adults with their themes and quality writing.

Mythology:

With the prospect of reading tales from around the world, reading mythology is a rediscovery of tales told either at the dinner table or in the classroom. From Aboriginal dreamtime, Homer’s Odyssey or Arthurian tales mythologies may be shorter reads but they have inspired many generations with their epic adventures.

Poetry and Lyrics:

Poetry and lyrics are the delivery of ideas in rhythm and cadence that stays in your mind long after you have re-shelved the book you read it in.

To add to all these, there are newspapers, comics, graphic novels and many other shorter writing options that can be suggested to readers. Websites, blogposts, zines and a number of online options are also available but for the purposes of this post I wanted to focus purely on the print reading options that are available.

For the busy worker, the lack of reading opportunities can sometimes go un-noted  for many years as it occurred incrementally but for the first-time parent this transition isn’t a slow one but one which seems like a severance of a body part. And though some of the above suggestions may seem overly obvious, when someone is overtired it is easy to overlook simple ideas until someone mentions them to you.

So whether you are a time-strapped executive who is working 12 hour days, a cleaner who physically is exhausted at the end of a long shift or a new-time parent struggling to find any time to themselves, hopefully the above avenues are helpful and bring lots of reading pleasure.

Australian Romance Readers Convention 2011 – Part 1

In my day to day life, I have a few acquaintances who read and enjoy romance novels but it is a rare occasion to be surrounded by romance novel enthusiasts and authors and attending the Australian Romance Readers Convention gives you a chance to talk talk talk about romance novels without the fear that you are getting tiresome.

Here is my twitter influenced take (that is: 140 words or less per session)

Friday Night Cocktails

Ditto!

The cocktail party was an intimate affair overlooking Bondi Beach with readers, bloggers, tweeps and authors mingling and schmoozing. The funny thing is that I didn’t look out at the view even once. The company was so engaging and enjoyable.

It was very exciting to meet up with friends from 2009 and even more so to meet friends whom I have met through Twitter and with whom I have shared many a twitversation. Some were instantly recognisable due to their twitter pictures and names but others who use a pseudonym or pseudophoto would sometimes be talking to you for a while before you realised who they were.

After the cocktails there was an impromptu meet-up in BookThingo’s room where we continued to talk books, romance fiction and bling.

Saturday

Keynote: Anna Campbell

Anna Campbell loves reading about intense relationships. Her first romance was by Joyce Dingwell, a Mills & Boon which she read at 8. Anna gave us a who’s who of Australian. Helen Bianchin, Margaret Way, Lindsay Armstrong, Valerie Parv, Emma Darcy. Up until this point, authors were published out of London by Mills & Boon. Then Harlequin published Bronwyn Jameson along with Annie West, Rachel Bailey, Amy Andrews, Michelle Douglas, Paula Roe, Sarah Mayberry and Melanie Milburne.

Australian single title authors are Stephanie Laurens, Anne Gracie, Mel Scott, Keri Arthur, Erica Hayes, Denise Rosetti, Helene Young, Bronwyn Parry, Anna Campbell and many more.

Anna ended her talk saying that Australia is a good place to be as a romance author because it is culturally aligned between the US & England therefore appealing to a very broad audience.

Book Launch – Helene Young’s Shattered Sky

Helene Young launched her new romantic suspense book Shattered Sky set in North Queensland.

This One Time – Panel discussion

Jess Dee (erotic), Anna Campbell (Historical), Shannon Curtis (Category), Helene Young (Romantic Suspense)

Moderator: Erica Hayes (Urban Fiction)

This one Time:

Discussion ranged from where authors get ideas. Both from their life experiences and their reading influences.

All the writers seemed to draw from their own experiences. Helene Young had the tragic misfortune of finding a dead body on the beach which years later acted as the foundation for her latest book Shattered Sky. Anna Campbell though has never met a Spanish duke in the 19th century and finds that she pulls a lot more out of her captive years at a Dickensian boarding school. For Shannon Curtis trying to get published was turned on its head when she took her blind father’s advice to sex up her writing though she w=ould prefer that he didn’t listen to audiobooks of her writing. Australian’s take blaspheming lightly but the American’s don’t. She gets a lot of complaints about the JC’s but not the fucks. This is a stand out in cultural differences.

This was a funny session with some lovely anecdotes from all the authors.

Romantic Suspense – panel discussion

Cindy Gerard, Helene young, Karlene Blakemore-Mowle, Shannon Curtis

Moderator: Bronwyn Parry

The authors talked about character development and the research they did so they can ensure their story was an entertaining escape and researched with sensitivity and authenticity. Keeping the romance story present in the romantic suspense can be difficult. There is an intensity that lends itself to adrenaline when lots of characters are dying that warrants hot sex quickly for others.

Cindy Gerard has a lot of military fans and her characters tend to be ex-soldiers. She’s vulnerable to her readers that have become friends and feels a responsibility in writing for them.

Research for all the authors plays a large role. Helene Young, also a pilot, needs to keep the flight information realistic without boring the layman yet not dumbing it down either. Cindy uses travel guidebooks and Bronwyn loves Google Earth to work out just how isolated can she make her settings.

Another interesting session.

Auction Booty

I bid on several items at the auction. I missed out on the retro Mills and Boon notebooks and Kathleen O’Reilly books. However I won the following

Kandy Shepherd:

Yay, for Kandy! Despite being an Australian author (and Sydney based) Kandy had been published in the US but not in Australia. I fell in lover with her book covers and she is a funny, scream of an author who was just as excited as I was when I got the winning bid *cheering*

Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses and An Affair Before Christmas because she’s one of the author’s I suggest for romance novel sceptics.

Sarah Mayberry’s Her Best Friend, Home for the Holidays and A Natural Father because I wanted to trial an author I hadn’t yet discovered.

 

 

 


The Rule of Five

1. Choose a book based on its author/title/cover design

2. Read the blurb

3. Read the last pages #afairydies (optional)

4. Read the first five pages

5. If you don’t feel compelled to read page six – move on to another book. If you have looked up and it’s page 36 – this one’s a reader!

Everyone has different approaches for how they will read a book.  Some people insist on reading everything they choose from cover to cover regardless of whether they like the book or not. Others will use Nancy Pearl’s Rule of 50 of which I am a major fan – how can I not be a fan. I was fortunate enough to meet Nancy Pearl a few years ago and while we were chatting discovered that we both wanted to be Miranda Melendy in The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright when we were kids (I digress). But I have lately found that I can’t even apply this rule. I have found that I am now applying my very own Rule of Five in which you judge a book by its cover, get hooked by its blurb, discover the outcome and let those first five pages lead you to a more permanent reading decision.

Of course, there is always an exception to the rule: if you have been told that a particular book is set reading for school/university/work – suck it up and read the bloody thing.

Now for all the bookgroups out there chanting “Exempt me! Exempt me!” – bookgroups are not exceptions to the rule. Life is too short even for bookgroup members. If page six is unbearable download the cribnotes, even if the book had been your choice. If your bookgroup members disparage your choice to not continue reading I would suggest that you find another bookgroup.

So what has led me to this Rule of Five? Late in February, I decided to read Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Kiss. Many people I know have praised her books to me. They love her and adore her writing but, as I am not a big fan of paranormal romance (I have previously read MaryJanice Davidson, JR Ward and Sherrilyn Kenyon), I have not pursued reading much in this sub-genre. In March, however, I was attending the NSW Readers Advisory Seminar on Fantasy and though I had read several fantasy titles in preparation I thought it would be best that I attempt a title that crossed over with my favourite genre – romance. I was quite enthusiastic in reading this book as I looked forward to discussing it with friends. It starts in a train station, there was some sort of gadget involved in the capture of an errant (was it) angel, there was narrative comparing her capturing tactics with her friend’s tactics etc etc. And then I vagued out and I can’t remember anything beyond that. I was on page five when I gave up and moved on to read a fab kids fantasy book called Urgum the Axeman by Kjartan Poskitt.

Once I gave up reading this book I tweeted the following:

Only one person objected. The other five who answered all agreed and felt that it was fine to give up and move on…and in one case, seemed to suggest that five pages were admirable.

A week later, I was struck again by the importance of a book engaging the reader in those first pages while I was listening to Brent Weeks at the NSW RA Seminar answering an audience question on how to make books appealing to reluctant readers. He spoke about how he consciously has action in the very first page of his books as he knows that this is a hook for many readers, himself included.

This led me to think of my favourite books and there isn’t a single one that I would say I struggled past the first pages. I remember reading Melina Marchetta’s Looking For Alibrandi in a single inhalation and I did the same with Jennifer Crusie’s Charlie All Night, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife, Matthew Rubinstein’s Solstice, Rachel Gibson’s See Jane Score, and the list goes on and on. I was not distracted after opening these books. I did not feel the need to put my book down and call a friend just to have a break and, in some reading cases, I wholly forgot to feed my children.

Another point I’d like to make is the attention given by the literary world to the first line of highly regarded books. There are books published on first lines, there are websites dedicated to them and there are infinite trivia quizzes on that all important first line. That first line is the hook and those first five pages are the bait that should draw you into the rest of the book.

I then think about the books that I have picked up, I have liked their covers, I have liked their premise based on a good blurb yet for some elusive reason, be it the writing style, unlikeable characters, too much violence or some vague intangible element, I have decided to move on to a greener reading pasture.

Giving up on a book in its opening pages does not mean that the book is not good. It may have some wonderful qualities and you may decide to revisit the book, or some other book by that author, at some later stage, as I plan to do eventually with Nalini Singh’s books. It just wasn’t the right book for you at this point of your life.

So I beseech you all to not slog through a whole book; don’t labour the first 50 pages. Let your senses take over and make a snap judgement on whether to read on in those introductory five pages.

On why more fairies will die

It is a well known fact that every time someone reads the ending of a book before they start – a fairy dies.  I am not making this up. It is true. If you want to know more about the origins of fairies dying you must read BookThingo’s Spoiling a Happy Ending where the whole idea is explained, in depth.

Readers, in general, fall into two categories – those that can’t bear to know the ending of a book, who enjoy a story unravelling around them and read in anticipation of the final moments, and then there are readere who like knowing how a book ends so that they can enjoy the journey without the page turning anxiety of needing to know if the hero and heroine will make it in the end. I am of the latter proclivity. I will read the ending, assure myself that ends in a way that satisfies me and then I will start the journey. It is particularly good for me to read reviews with *spoilers* so I don’t have to read the endings.

In the case of spoilers, a fairy is only maimed. Perhaps a missing limb.

But let me tell you why I am this way:

I started reading the end of books at about 12 years of age. Up until then, for the most part, I had grown up reading children’s fiction which was funny, positively conclusive, life affirming and, in general, a happy read. Then I started entering the world of tear jerkers. Books where you are torn apart with grief.

I remember sitting in Marrickville Children’s Library reading Lois Lowry’s A Summer To Die horrified that Meg’s sister Molly dies. Horrified! Firstly, I was reading and sobbing in a public space that I was not comfortable in. (That may sound odd but, in actual fact, my local library branch The Warren Library in South Marrickville had been closed down a year earlier. I no longer visited the library daily but could go only once a fortnight)…..so anyway….I’m sitting in the corner sobbing with red blotchy eyes but yet unable to stop reading a compelling, touching story.

I learnt my lesson that day. I never again read a book in the library. All books were to be consumed at home. Reading was no longer public.

By the time I read Katherine Paterson’s Jacob Have I Loved I became used to the idea that crying was just part of the story, as were dying people, manipulative relationships and finding your own way in life. To counter-balance these sadness filled novels I discovered the wonderful world of romance novels. And in particular, Mills and Boon.

Short and contemporary, they were easy to hide in your foolscap folder so that your father couldn’t see them when he was checking that you were doing your homework. And best of all they ended happily.

That is, until Anne Weale’s A Portrait for Bethany. In A Portrait for Bethany, Bethany ends up with the WRONG man. WRONG MAN! YES I AM SHOUTING! IT’S IS NEARLY 25 YEARS LATER AND I STILL HAVEN’T RECOVERED. After traumatic Bethany, I never trusted a book again.

So it would have been about…ummm…let say…..25 years ago that I started reading the back page of every novel I read. I read about 100 books a year so that comes to approximately 2500 dead fairies. Now, I did slip into complacency at one stage and stopped reading the last pages of any Harlequin Mills and Boon that I purchased. They were a given Happily Ever After. Guaranteed. The “formula” said so. I was safe! (let’s quickly re-calculate that number. Perhaps drop it to 1800 dead fairies).

Then disaster struck. Late last year, I purchased an auto-buy Harlequin Mills and Boon author, Lynne Graham. Now I adore Lynne Graham’s books. They have incredulous plots with engaging, emotional narratives leading the reader to be enthralled at how she manages to pull it all together. I was on the edge with The Pregnancy Shock but when it ended without closure I was horrified. I would have loved to have thrown the book at my wall but my wall has some lovely prints hanging off it so the floor had to do.

How could the author, editor, publisher, marketing group, janitor and building supervisor do this to Harlequin Mills and Boon readers. How could they do this to fairies? How could they misunderstand the reasons that any woman will tolerate those awful titles and mostly stupid covers is because the HEA is king. Forget Content is King. HEA is the absolute rule here. As romance readers, we will tolerate awful plots, shocking phrases (I’m looking at you Miss Paullina “she looked up at his face but it was as closed as a bank on a public holiday” Simons), ludicrous premises and sometimes Alpha-Brutes that you wouldn’t let approach you with a ten-foot barge pole. We readers will put up with all that for an HEA.

(Please Note: most romances are beautiful, brilliant, well constructed , wonderfully researched, emotionally charged and full of snappy dialogue that would make Al Jaffee proud).

The thing is that since The Pregnancy Shock I now distrust Harlequin Mills and Boon again. I now read their back pages just as I read the back pages of all novels. And sadly, I have come across several that end in an “…there’s more to come” way. And even more sadly, more fairies are dying than needs to be the case.

PS. Should you be a fairy killer and use twitter, remember to use #afairydies.

Room by Emma Donoghue (you will need to wear sunnies if reading in public)

1

Room

by Emma Donoghue

a shallow reader review

4

5

6

Please avert your eyes and ears if you can’t bear to see a grown woman sob…

I just finished this book after a number of starts (picked it up, put it down, picked it up, put it down) because I knew it would be a devastating read.

Emma Donoghue, wow wow wow!!

I read through the story with a constant dread, aware of the pain and horror both in the concept of Room and the freedom from Room.

She has created an exceptional  book with the construct of the story emotive and concise. The characters of Room are very real to me in the pacing and the voices of each. There is a liveliness and happiness despite the horror scenario.

Ms Donoghue’s characters inhabit a world where her characters  react and speak in a manner they have developed for themselves – their constructs of language; imagination; reality.

I am simply in awe of everyone inhabiting the novel:

Jack – a boy who knows nothing other than Ma, Room, television and Old Nick (shudder) but who is loving, joyful , smart and inquisitive, Jack is simply a delight

Ma – her depiction was delicate and respectful. The author didn’t make her a superhero, just someone who found strength to cope in a unbelievable nightmare scenario. For her to survive her ordeal but still have the capacity to love and nurture is beyond incredible, for real for real.

Extras – the rest of the characters seem to react in an honest way, unsure, awkward, ultimately normal.

I don’t want to reveal too much, for despite it’s emotional depth and complexity the story is written simply but I will say that the “ending” was very impressive – 3/4 of the way through the book I worried how she would finish (as we have all read books where the story seems to overwhelm the author) – and was really anxious but nope she kept it consistent and honest.

I simply loved this book and think it’s one of those stories that will resonate with me for a very long time.

The Ick Guide on when to discard books

I love reading books. I love reading new books, old books, used books and borrowed books. I love reading well thumbed books and spine unbroken books, big books, tiny books, paperback and hardback books, red books, blue books and dammit! I will even read green books!

However, there comes a time that you need to recognise that a book should be discarded. Yep, that’s right. Sent into that big paper recycling plant in the sky. Because, Dear reader, we all know that we have “ick” boundaries. I have met many people who refuse to use libraries because of “germs” or “but who knows what the previous person was doing with that book” and as a seasoned librarian I can understand that sentiment. Now, some of these ick boundaries will vary from person to person. I personally don’t mind a little bit of sand in my beach novel but it may cross your boundary of ick acceptance. So, here is a list that all book owners, lenders (yep – that’s you too Dear Libraries) and booksellers should pay heed.

Discard if your book has any of the following properties:

1. Odour Ick: You know that sand in my beach read that I don’t mind. 2 years later that sand will give off an eau de pisce…..which is not good at all. Any smell strong enough to make you reel your head back upon opening that first page is an indicator that the book must go – and I don’t care if the smell is your fave L’eau D’Issey.

2. Hair Ick: Hair of any sort should never be in or on a book. Unless  it’s a Princess touch and feel board book and even then – it will have cooties.

3. Tactile Ick: Unfortunately this comes in several forms.

3.1  Cover Ick. You pull a book off the shelf and immediately your fingers touch something other than paper or covering plastic. They touch a film…a film of something unidentifiable. It may be brown and grimy (very common amongst libraries whose staff persist on using sticky tape on the covers of books rather than securing notes/reservation notices with paper and elastic bands – not that it’s a bugbear of mine or anything like that – gee I was trained well by those Randwick librarians in the early 90’s), or it is wet. Wet when it is water isn’t particularly good but it is better than when wet that is not water.

3.2 Internal Ick: That’s right. This book is perfectly fine. You’re reading it and you’re totally engaged. Then, upon turning to page 230 just as it’s a cliff hanger, sex scene, gun at the temple, alien abduction showdown with a unicorn, you turn the page and there is something…something gracing the pages. It could be grimy (soil, sand), edible (banana, honey), movable (lice, cockroach) or it could just be pages that are stuck together. Now, you the reader, depending on where in the story these pages became stuck, will be able to ascertain as to the nature of what has stuck them together. But more on that in Point 4.

When you are faced with tactile ick – it’s time to discard the book.

4. Bodily fluid ick: From the less inocuous snot, ear wax or baby saliva to the gross levels of urine, faeces or semen, if you suspect that bodily fluid irk is present on the covers or between the pages of the book you are reading follow these instructions: drop the book; holler “ick”; don some industrial strength gloves. If the book is yours throw it away. If it is not your book place it in a plastic bag, seal it and report it to whoever you borrowed it from. And yes – that may mean your lovely librarians who will gag as they record the barcode, take it off your record and discard of the offending book ASAP.

5. Wet Ick: So you were reading in the bathtub again. Only this time the book fell in. Or you’re at the beach and you haven’t noticed the tide come in. You now own a sopping wet book. Of course, there are methods to salvage a wet book but unless it is an out of print, rare book (and if it is what the hell were you thinking reading it in the bath/at the beach you bloody idiot) don’t bother. The cost of replacing the book will be much less bother. Though, if you insist, here is a guide on how to dry wet books.

6. Mould Ick: This is directly related to 5. Wet Ick. If you have tried to salvage wet ick and left moisture mould ick ensues. And this is, let’s say, icky. Worst part is that mould spreads so even if the rest of your books weren’t wet – the mould will still get to them. Get rid of it!

7. Eaten Ick: I don’t like tomato sauce, mustard, jam, banana, coffee or steak with my books. I like my books without any condiments to be honest. And frankly, I do not like my books to have been eaten by rodents either. Another surefire discarding moment.

So when if comes down to it, when you are choosing a book to read, or if you work in a library and you are reshelving items, look at the tattered book in your hand and think to yourself; Would I read this in bed? Would I read this over a coffee (which may in fact be the reason that no-one will want to read it as the previous coffee drinker got a bit bloody excited while reading, slushed coffee and hid the evidence)? Would I give this book to my immuno-suppressed, living in a bubble neighbour? If the answer is No! Get rid of it. And if you are wailing “but it’s my favourite”, “it’s a first edition”, “the author personally signed it for me” or “but my granny gave me that book” I have several things to say:

1. Take better care of your things (of course, the exception to this rule is if the damage is due to fire, flood, plague and all other cataclysmic disasters).

2. Buy a new book. Booko.com.au will help you with a price comparison and suggested retailers.

3. Buy a second hand one abebooks.com

3. Cope. Live life without it.

I haven’t been exhaustive as I thought that I would avoid the whole age and use aspect of icks because it is done so well at Awful Library Books. I recommend you turn to them for guidance in this area.

So for the salvation of all readers, for the salvation of your own personal bookshelves and your own sanity (dammit! where is that fishy smell coming from!) use this Ick Guide, discard offending books and buy yourself some brand-spanking new copies.

Now some of you may ask about the falling apart from having been read so many times ick. This is not ick. This is love. This is deep, abiding love. And even the crooked book can be read.

 

PS Note to collection development librarians reading this – feel free to use this as part of your weeding guide. You’re welcome!

The BookGroup you’re having when you’re not having a bookgroup

or Why pubs make great venues for bookgroups

On the 2nd Wednesday of every month I walk down to my local pub to talk with other readers about thingys we have read. And yes, these get togethers are as vague as that first sentence. But let me start at the beginning.

Nearly 10 years ago, my local barista/friend/reading pal asked if I was interested in starting a bookgroup with her at the coffee shop she owned. She found that she was constantly chatting with her customers about books and this was affecting queues for coffee. The inaugural meeting was held with many of her customers, both male and female, turning up.

On that day there were several things that everyone agreed upon:

1. No-one wanted to feel like they were in a classroom. They did not want book notes, study notes, analysis or anything that might remind them of their school years. [My kind of people!]

2. The idea of 1 book that everyone had to read was distasteful. Choosing a single title that would appeal to the broad group would be too hard. Everyone agreed that a themed bookgroup was best. [Internal cheers]

3. Everyone had an equal voice. There was to be no scoffing, no derision, all reading and all choices were valid. [Yay! I could take romances with the knowledge that I didn’t have to roll my eyes and sneer at literary snobbery]

We eventually came to have a Number 4:

4. Cheers for most tenuous link between the subject and the reading choice. [This has become a highlight in our monthly meetings with the best ever tenuous link being someone who read a biography on Fidel Castro for the topic Infidelity and my own win with Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ Heaven, Texas for the topic of Church and State]

At first, we met up at Muse Cafe in Summer Hill. Once our friend, who owned the cafe,  sold up we chose to also move and after various unsuccessful venue choices we decided upon Summer Hill pub. I must point out that the then owners of Cafe Decolata (another of Summer Hill’s many cafes) were fabulously accommodating! Despite the fact they closed at 5pm they gave the group the keys to the cafe and we met there after hours for as long as we liked which we did for several sessions. But the eating & drinking options weren’t available to us so we had to move on.  The Pub provided us with a relaxed environment where no-one felt obliged to purchase a meal or a drink yet we had the ability to stay for as long as we liked. We have had the occasional clash with a rowdy football game but shouting across a table as to why you loved the latest romance or murder mystery you have read can be surprisingly cathartic.

Over the years, our themes have ranged from the sea, 3, music, blue, elections, feminism, blokes, beer, Russia, design and the list goes on. We also have had a variety of formats. Our reading extends beyond fiction and includes non-fiction, poetry, song lyrics (which on one occassion were sung and accompanied by guitar), plays, picture books, Hansard, essays, films and television scripts. Our members are a varied lot of people. With a good mix of males and females, we’ve had some very interesting people come and go. From teachers, baristas, ministers (well only 1 really but he was with us for a long time & we wish he hadn’t been transferred to Newcastle), librarians [moi!], academics, illustrators, marketers, teens, parents and even the occasional appearance from some of our kids presenting the book that they have read. Some of us have formed friendships over the years yet, for the most part, our strongest connection is meeting at the local to talk about our topic once a month.

In 2006, I saw the first write up of this type of book group in Library Journal as to the value [and in my opinion, a much more welcome model] of thematic book clubs. I was impressed. This article articulated the organic way our group operated. It also highlighted that by opening up to a theme based approach reading choices allowed diverse choices, less structure and suited to people who are not similar in their reading habits but just want an opportunity to share their reading experiences with others.

FAQs:

Do I think a library would be a better venue? No! Libraries close too early and they don’t serve beer.

How can you too have a group like the one I belong too? I don’t know. How does one meet an open-minded, reading friendly publican/coffee shop owner willing to provide the space and spread the word to their customers?

Does this type of bookgroup suit everyone? Not at all. We have had many people turn up for one meeting only to leave exasperated at our lack of focusing on one book and our tangential conversations.

And how does a laissez-faire group of people with no leader manage to keep meeting for 10 years? I’d say common courtesy and a desperation to share their reading experiences with anyone other than their immediate families who may or may not be readers.

Now, I must clarify, that the rest of the group are not Shallow Readers. They have depth……. and they will all happily acknowledged that I am the shallow one.