Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Not To Read

Here's an interesting article from today's Daily Telegraph: a list of 25 books you don't have to read before you die. 

Now, mostly those lists of books to read and places to go and movies to see before you die are rubbish, aren't they? Read what you want, go where you want, and watch what you want. You're capable of developing your own likes and dislikes, and good for you. 

And who compiles these lists anyway? Is there a secret society that has set itself as the arbiter of culture and taste? If so, what are my chances of joining? (She asks as she types this in her pyjamas.) 


And while the list of 25 books you don't have to read is a fun twist on an old theme, it's just as pointless really. 

But, for the record, here are the ones that made the list that I don't agree with: 

Twilight. Yup, you heard me. I really didn't like Twilight, and I really didn't understand the fuss, but I'm glad I read it. Why? So I can have fun discussing it with the gazillion other people who read it. It's pop culture, not literature, but who cares? 

Catch 22. Are you kidding me? This book is one of my favourites. Ever. Fantastic book. 

To The Lighthouse. I wouldn't call myself a huge fan, but this is one of the rare books I studied at university that I enjoyed more because I studied it. Unlike anything by Joseph Conrad. 

Fifty Shades. I read a chapter. Couldn't even bring myself to get to the naughty bits. Had to see what the fuss was about. Still not sure I understand. And, for those who haven't seen it before, here is the best review of Fifty Shades of Grey ever, courtesy of Goodreads reviewer Katrina Passick Lumsden. It's probably not NSFW. But worth it, just for Bert's face. 

So, what books would you put on your personal list of books you don't have to read before you die? Apart from anything by Joseph Conrad. 

*Okay, so Conrad was a great writer and his books are classics. To me though, they will always be a classic example of what happens when you have to read them over and over again at school and university. Sweet mother of God, not Heart of Darkness again! 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

On Banning, Burning and Boycotting Books

What do you do when a book challenges your entire system of belief? Thank it? Sometimes. What if it's a bad book--just an absolute steaming pile of crap? Laugh at it? Probably. But what if it's something else entirely? Do you ban it, burn it, or boycott it? 

One one hand, I think that books, however badly written they might be, are an ideal, and that any attack of them is a symbolic attack on peoples' freedom to express themselves. On the other hand, a lot of writers are dickheads. 

I have a whole shelf of books that were banned, burned or boycotted at one time. The classics, you know, ranging from everything from Sade to Harry Potter. Now there are two books you don't often see sharing self space. And some of them I love (hello, Harry!) and some of them I feel squicky even looking at (really, Sade, really?). But here's the thing. I still believe that books have an intrinsic value outside of their controversy. In the case of Harry Potter, it's because they're awesome. And in the case of Sade, it's because once you can get past the didn't-have-a-word-for-how-sick-this-was-before-him stuff, the philosophy of it is fascinating. 

But there's one book I really wish I hadn't bought. And it's a great book, it really, really is, but I find the author's views on gay people and gay rights so personally repellent and hate-filled, that, had I known them at the time, I wouldn't have chosen to give him any of my money. 

And, like I said, this is a great book, and will probably be a great movie. 

Would I ban this book? No.
Would I burn this book? Hell no. 
But would I boycott it? Personally, yes. And in a heartbeat. 

The key word here is personally

Read what you want. Buy what you want. And draw the line in the sand where it needs to be for you. 


Are there any books you won't read because of an author's beliefs or behaviour?  

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Random List

A random list of things I saw on holidays in and around Melbourne: 

The Vegemite factory. 
Bakery Hill. 
Children in plastic balls. 

Meg, in pink, on the left. Tom, in the clear, on the front right. And on his bum. 

A lion. 

This is Johari. Be very afraid. 

Bass Strait. 
Too much cider. 
Gingerbread shaped like a gorilla. 

And it was very tasty. 

A lighthouse. 
The gallows where Ned Kelly was hanged. 
Death masks. 
A cathedral. 
And a very sad story: 

From the Old Melbourne Gaol

This is what it says: 

William Walker. 
Alias: William Perrin, Thomas Jones, and Thomas Walker. 

William Walker was criticised in the press for keeping notes on his hangings. The Weekly Times said he wrote "with a delight that was fiendish and terrible". In fact, Walker was calculating the distance a body needed to fall to get the best result. 

Walker was nineteen when he arrived in Melbourne in 1858. He served several terms for minor offences and was appointed executioner in 1884. He changed his name to avoid his profession being known. He hanged eighteen people in Melbourne and country gaols and developed a reputation as a fierce flagellator. 

Regulations required the hangman to spend at least a week in the same gaol as the condemned prisoner. This was to ensure he was there when needed, and sober. Walker would arrive at the gaol wearing a disguise and carrying his macabre equipment. 

In December 1893, Frances Knorr was condemned to death. No woman had been hanged in Victoria since Elizabeth Scott in 1863 and there was huge public interest in the case. Walker's wife threatened to leave him is he executed a woman. His Carlton neighbours also harassed him. For weeks, he drank heavily and could not sleep. Nine days before Knorr was due to hang, Walker was found dead in his prison quarters. He had cut his own throat. 

There's a story in that, right? 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Why do we write? 

It is, so often, a thankless pursuit. Thankless, if you're counting on getting your thanks in the usual ways, that is. 

Because sometimes that book you loved? Well, maybe an agent won't love it. If it even gets that far. Sometimes it'll flare bright for an instant and then burn out, like a shooting star you poured all your wishes into. 

And that's okay. 

Because that's not why we write, is it? 

If you're in this for fame and for money, that's not smart. Sure, fame and money would be nice. Well, money would be nicer than fame, but if those are the only things you want out of writing, it's probably not going to happen. 

What you need to get out of writing is this: personal satisfaction. 

Whatever else happens with your book -- whether it languishes in a bottom drawer somewhere, or whether it gets published and people tear it to shreds, or whether the only people who ever read it are your own friends and family -- you're the one that counts in this equation. 

Throw away all those fantasies of paying off the mortgage or attending the premiere of the movie based on your book, and remember why you wrote it in the first place. 

The story. 


Remember when that was just a germ of an idea. Remember how you nurtured it and watched it grow. Remember how you moulded it into shape and created something out of nothing. 

That's why you write. 

That's why we all write. 

Because there is something in us that needs to create. There is something in us that believes the imagination is the most precious thing of all. There is something in us that believes stories are treasures. 

All stories. 

There is something in us that wants to create and explore unknown and endless words and universes. There is something in us that needs that. Something that would wither and die if we didn't keep feeding it. Something wonderful. 

Remember that, and keep writing. 

Writing is its own reward. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How cold is it, Jen?

Melbourne. Brr. 

So, I saw these guys at the Melbourne Aquarium: 

And even they were complaining about the weather. 

But seriously, penguins. Penguins

Is there any more awesome animal on the planet? 

Well, meerkats maybe. And possibly otters. But penguins are definitely in the top three. 

See you all in a week or two, when I expect to be warmer, soberer, and actually have something to talk about other than the awesomeness of penguins. (Which are awesome.) 


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