all good things, march ’18

What? Where did March go? All of a sudden, it’s the day after Easter and I’m winding back my watch again.

As I mentioned in my first All Good Things post, 2018 is shaping up to be A Year…and March has been no different. On one hand, I’ve settled into a new job and its rhythms – waking up with the birds, watching through the train window as hot air balloons hover over the inner north. I’m loving it. Even the commute. Even the early starts.

On the other hand, the house I’m renting is being sold in April, so I’ve had to adjust to randomly scheduled open-for-inspections, mopping floors at weird hours…and, of course, worrying about whether or not I’ll have to move. Fingers crossed whoever buys this place wants to keep me riiiight where I am. I’m not too keen on the prospect of having to pack all my books into boxes.

So anyway, March has been almost comically all over the place, which seems to be the norm for this year. Looks like I’d better get used to it…

For anyone new here, All Good Things is a monthly post where I have a bit of a chat about some of the things I’ve enjoyed during the past month. It’s a chance for me to write a little about some of the books I’ve been reading that I haven’t had time to review in full, as well as movies I’ve enjoyed, what I’m watching on the small screen, games I’ve been playing – anything goes. It’s mainly about the things I’ve loved. Good things. Hence the name.

Books

An Uncertain Grace

I’ve been meaning to read one of Krissy Kneen’s novels for the longest time – but last week, I picked up her sixth novel, An Uncertain Grace knowing next to nothing about it – and I’m wondering what’s taken me so long.

An Uncertain Grace is told in five parts, tied together by the presence of Liv, who uses technology to tell stories. In the background of each narrative, we glimpse a world turning to water as the ocean rises, claiming front lawns and apartment blocks as its own. Nearly all sea life has died out, leaving only a particularly hardy species of jellyfish. Meanwhile, on land, some things haven’t changed.

Everything is shifting, boundaries are moving, and through it all, there’s Liv, growing slowly older. An Uncertain Grace is a dark and elegiac look at a future world – it’s strange and compelling and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t look away.

The Sparsholt Affair

Strictly speaking, All Good Things is meant to be about the things I’ve really enjoyed. But while I wasn’t entirely convinced by Alan Hollinghurst’s latest, The Sparsholt Affair, there’s still something about this novel I can’t shake.

It’s a series of episodes in the lives of two men – in the first part of the novel, we meet David Sparsholt, while the remainder of the novel centres on his son, Johnny, who bears the weight of his father’s very public disgrace on his shoulders.

The novel’s first part, set in Oxford in the 1940s is simply enchanting. But it sets a tone and an atmosphere that the rest of the novel simply can’t live up to. Sure, Hollinghurst’s writing is typically elegant, but I found the novel’s second half tough going. If only the whole novel had been set in that glorious first section…

The Lucky Galah

Finally, I know it was the subject of my most recent post, but I can’t stop squawking about Tracy Sorensen’s The Lucky Galah, which I reviewed for Newtown Review of Books towards the start of the month.

The thing is, there’s so much I couldn’t find space in my review to discuss – I wanted to write a lot more about the novel’s humour in particular. Plus, there’s a certain political figure in the novel who readers might find rather familiar. Anyway – no spoilers from me. Read the book – I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Other obsessions…

I always feel a little worried when one of my favourite novels is adapted for the screen. However, trepidation aside, I couldn’t resist watching the new four-part BBC adaptation of Howards End, which aired on the ABC recently.

I was pleasantly surprised. Much of the dialogue was taken directly from Forster’s novel. Margaret and Helen Schlegel’s costumes were just stunning (that red beret! The incredible coat with all the buttons! The scarves!). But more than that, this adaptation attempts to restore a little dignity to Leonard and Jacky Bast, as well as to the working classes, who are more visible in this adaptation than they are in the novel. While the novel begins with a letter, here we see the postman who delivers it.

I enjoyed the miniseries version of Howards End, but with that in mind, I have to confess, I’ve never actually seen the 1992 Merchant Ivory version. I’ll have to try and rectify this very soon.

What’s next?

Right now, I’m in the middle of Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13, and can’t wait to get back to it! I have The Reservoir Tapes ready to go as soon as I’ve finished.

Also, now I have a longer commute, I’m determined to try out a few literary podcasts. I’m also on the lookout for new music to enjoy, because I’m tired of listening to the same few songs

I’ll let you know what I’ve found in next month’s edition of All Good Things. More soon!

book to the future bookmarks #1

bookmarksiiibookmarksimageone

It’s a new year, so it seems only fitting to try something new and – hopefully – interesting..

This is the first of a new series of fortnightly posts I’m calling Book to the Future Bookmarks. Every second Monday morning, I’ll post a list of things I’ve found around the internet that have attracted my attention, like shiny things to a magpie.

It’s also a chance for me to ramble a little about some of the things I’m reading that I’m enjoying. The books between books.

I think the best way to begin my inaugural Bookmarks post is with a whacking great big picture of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes. Obviously….

helloooosherlock
Helloooo, Sherlock. Source here.

I mentioned briefly in my previous post that I was planning to spend New Year’s Eve watching Sherlock for the first time. I did…and now, I’m really quite hooked. I confess, I have a bit of a crush on that Bumblebee Cuckooclock — err, Benedict Cumberbatch fellow. Despite the odd name.

Caitlin Moran once referred to Benadryl Grannyflat Benedict Cumberbatch as ‘the first actor in history to play Sherlock Holmes who has a name more ridiculous than “Sherlock Holmes”‘. So even though it’s got next to nothing to do with books, I couldn’t resist including this article (originally tweeted by @Skiourophile) describing the rules of summoning Benedict Cumberbatch. Linguistically, at least.

In 1964, John Updike’s The Centaur won the National Book Award. Other books published in 1963 that would have been (in theory?) eligible for the award include Plath’s The Bell Jar, Pynchon’s V, Muriel Spark’s Girls of Slender Means, John le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and more. Bookslut founder, Jenna Crispin, is out to “right the wrongs” of the past, and is setting up the Daphne Awards to celebrate the best books of fifty years ago that didn’t win awards.

From the original post on the Bookslut blog:

“If you look back at the books that won the Pulitzer or the National Book Award, it is always the wrong book. Book awards, for the most part, celebrate mediocrity. It takes decades for the reader to catch up to a genius book, it takes years away from hype, publicity teams, and favoritism to see that some books just aren’t that good…”

But if literary awards are so flawed, what makes this one any different? After all, the books that we recognise as worthy of attention today are perhaps as influenced by hype and favouritism as the books that won awards fifty years ago. Every award has an agenda. Even the Daphnes. Time doesn’t equal truth, nor is longevity necessarily evidence of worth.

Okay, wrong Daphne.
Perhaps not that Daphne…

(This is a post for another occasion, but this  is one of the reasons why deciding which books to read for this blog has become so difficult)

It sounds like I’m being negative, but really, I’m very interested in this project. I love the idea of hacking literary awards. Why should (so-called) classic literature rest on its laurels? Despite my reservations – or perhaps even because of them – I’ll be watching the Daphnes closely.

Ahem. While on the subject of nostalgia and looking back, over at Meanjin, Mel Campbell, author of Out of Shape wrote this brilliant, personal reflection on museum catalogues. And because I’m always a little slow to catch on to things, I’ve only just read her piece for Overland on The Writer as Performer.

My husband is an avid gamer, and I’ve become kind of entranced by Minecraft. This article in The New Yorker that was floating around Twitter about a man who decided to use YouTube to document his journey to the edge of a randomly-generated Minecraft world – a journey that could take as long as twenty-two years, if it’s even possible – is actually quite poetic.

This might be from last year, but its not to be missed. The Lists is a work of short fiction by Ryan O’Neill.

Also on the subject of short fiction, the Review of Australian Fiction published an absolutely cracking editorial the other week. This year, the RAF is celebrating its third birthday. I’ve just subscribed, and the latest edition, featuring Nigel Featherstone and Andrew Croome is waiting for me in my inbox right now. With a little luck, I’ll be able to find a few spare hours to spend some quality time with my ereader this week.

Regrets? J K Rowling has a few. Namely that Hermione ended up with Ron rather than Harry. Funny how she doesn’t regret that self-indulgent epilogue she tacked on to the end of the series. Fun fact: “Rowling” rhymes with “trolling”.

In other, rapid fire news, the cool cats over at Seizure have released their list of finalists for their second Viva la Novella competition and Hologram has announced they’ll be releasing two novellas written by authors under thirty later this year. The program for the first ever Digital Writers’ Festival is out and I’m daydreaming about a roadtrip to Western Australia for the Perth Writers’ Festival. The winners of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards have just been announced this week. And finally, the Australian Women Writers Challenge is going from strength to strength – huge congratulations to Elizabeth and the AWW team!

Other Things I’ve Been Reading…

summerbookSometimes, it’s almost like books pick you up, and not the other way around. The deep blue spine of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book jumped out at me from the shelves – and I’d pretty much fallen in love by the third page.

The Summer Book is set on an island in the gulf of Finland, inhabited only by a young girl, her father and her grandmother. Over a summer or a series of summers (it’s unclear, as Jansson’s characters often seem like exiles from time as well as from the mainland) young Sophia and her grandmother explore their island, and the space between each other.

A series of complete, self-contained scenes, The Summer Book is simple, yet every sentence gestures towards something else; some other truth that sits beneath the book’s surface. This isn’t a sentimental novel. It is, however, a thing of beauty.

swimmingpool

I also really enjoyed Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library – another random
selection from my bookshelf. I’m now reading The Line of Beauty, which won the Booker Prize in 2004. I’m really quite besotted with Hollinghurst’s writing. It’s filled with a rich sensuality and humour that I find pretty much irresistible.

And finally, The Letters Page is a new literary journal from England, edited by Jon McGregor, who I’ve raved about here before. It’s something a little bit different – a literary journal made up entirely of letters, submitted by writers (emerging and otherwise) from all over the world. Published three times a year, The Letters Page is available as a downloadable pdf, an it’s now in its second edition. It’s also free!

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Thanks for reading! I’ll have a new review online soon, as well as a more general update on what I’m up to – and my next edition of Book to the Future Bookmarks will be online in two weeks.

five favourites for 2013

Okay. Look. Yes, I know I said in my previous post that I wasn’t going to do this…but I couldn’t help myself.

I might not have read or written much this year – but that doesn’t alter the fact that some great books came my way in 2013. So, with nothing to do on New Year’s Eve other than ordering takeaway and watching Sherlock on DVD, I thought I’d put together a last-minute post and ramble a little about five of my favourite books for the year. Grab a seat!

(Due to my…ahem…near complete lack of reviews for the books I’m about to mention, I’ll post a link with each book where you can find out more. Then, ideally, purchase a copy to add to your 2014 reading list!)

Ready? Let’s get started.

seaheartsSea Hearts ~ Margo Lanagan

This book. It’s a bad influence. It made me want to run to the ocean and throw myself into the waves; feel the squelch of sand between my toes and take sanctuary from the biting cold of the wind in the warm, salty water – but all that would have meant I’d have had to stop reading Sea Hearts. And there was absolutely no chance of that happening. I wasn’t putting this book down for anyone.

Sea Hearts enchanted me completely. And I’m not the only one. Take a look at this year’s Meanjin Tournament of Books!

Click here to find out more about Sea Hearts

if_nobody_speaks_of_remarkable_things If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things ~ Jon McGregor

Completely irresistible. From the first sentence to the last, I was utterly hooked. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of stuffing your face with chocolate mud cake. It’s dense and lavish and delicious. But at the same time, there’s a rawness about Remarkable Things that will catch you unaware; it will overwhelm you. It’s sad and sweet and almost impossibly intricate. It burns with an intensity that hurts – but in the best possible way.

Click here to find out more about If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

rosieThe Rosie Project ~ Graeme Simsion

Yes, The Rosie Project. I know – it was everywhere this year.

You know what? This book is everywhere because it’s actually really good. Popularity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Rosie Project is simply delightful. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to love Don.

Sequel, please.

Click here to find out more about The Rosie Project

darknessDarkness on the Edge of Town ~ Jessie Cole

From a book that was everywhere, to a book that’s slipped by with little fanfare (as Elizabeth Lhuede has already pointed out). Which is a shame, because it’s such a tense, thrilling read. And that ending! I still haven’t recovered.

My first New Year’s Resolution is to review this book. I will I will I will. But the thing with writing reviews is that sometimes, the books you desperately want to tell the world about aren’t always the books that are easy to write about, for whatever reason.

Click here to find out more about Darkness on the Edge of Town

girl just_a_girl ~ Kirsten Krauth – reviewed here

I was nothing like Krauth’s Layla when I was fourteen. I read lots of books – usually ones about dragons and wizards and spent most of my time listening to unbelievably awful pop music. I was still a child. Layla and I have nothing in common. But still, there’s a connection. Or is it just that I’ve become one of those sad thirty-somethings who thinks they still have what it takes to get Kids These Days? Who knows.

After reading just_a_girl, I’m unable to forget Layla. She’s left a piece of herself behind. I commute from Western Sydney to the city every day and I see echoes of her. The closing image of just_a_girl left me with a chill that’s settled into my bones. I find myself wondering about Layla all the time – and wishing her a little warmth.

Click here to find out more about just_a_girl

Honourable mentions? Don’t mind if I do! I loved all the short story collections I’ve read this year. Ryan O’Neill’s Weight of a Human Heart, Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire, White Light by Mark O’Flynn (reviewed here!) – all brilliant.

Another exciting collection of short stories – The Great Unknown – is next on my reading list, and I’m really looking forward to getting into it.

In fact, my To Read pile is getting seriously out of control. I’d better get on to that tomorrow.

That’s it for me for this year. Another year of literary adventure beckons.

Happy new year – and even happier reading!

Michelle