Wednesday 30 May 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 30/5/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

I found my words all over the place this week. This first word comes from my recent listening to Cleaving, a memoir by Julie Powell of Julie/Julia fame. 

1. Contrapuntal (Adjective)

A musical term meaning of, relating to, or incorporating counterpoint. The Free Dictionary

It was somewhat sobering as I entered this word into my iphone to keep note of it to find that my iphone's predictive text knew contrapuntal when I didn't. 

My second word comes from reading the winning story of the inaugural Sydney Morning Herald Young Writer Award

2. Cosplay

And having an unusual name in Ken Livingstone Comprehensive made him as much a target as the four-eyed kids, or the stuttering kids or even the cosplay kids. 

Cosplay is a contracture of Costume play. Wiki tells me it is popular with young people who like anime and manga, and big on the internet and in Japan. 

Picture source
The third word this week comes from blog reading. I came across a book on poop (or poo depending on where you live).

3. Frass

Frass is a form of insect poo. It is the fine powdery material that plant eating insects pass. Wiki

Picture source

Saturday 26 May 2012

Adelaide by night

This time last week I was in Adelaide soaking up the atmosphere at the Children's Book Council of Australia 2012 Conference. It was grand. Also grand was being back in Adelaide. I hadn't been there since the 1980s! I didn't have much free time, but did enjoy my all too brief visit.

I arrived after dark one evening, so went out for a stroll to sort out where I was and where I would be going the next day for the conference. I was staying on North Terrace so walked about there for an hour or so. It's one of the major streets in the city, lots of old buildings (old for Australia) and universities, the State Library and Art Gallery, Parliament, the Convention Centre. All in easy walking distance.

I know this is next one is out of focus but I think it looks cool. The purple building changed colour.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday 23 May 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 23/5/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

I've been reading this series out loud to my 11 year old son. He loves them, me, not so much. I think he got a bit bored with this one, it took quite a while to get through. The Sorceress is Book 3 of Michael Scott's The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, and moves the main action from Paris to London. Once again we are dropped right into a good versus battle with new monsters. Too many monsters I think. Still it gave me lots of new words.

1. Parvis (Noun)

Standing on the parvis in front of the cathedral in Paris, feeling the raw power flow through his body, watching the animated stone gargoyles shatter to dust, he had realized just how powerful he and his sister were.

i) An enclosed courtyard or space at the entrance to a building, especially a cathedral, that is sometimes surrounded by porticoes or colonnades.
ii) One of the porticoes or colonnades surrounding such a space. The Free Dictionary.

The faithful filling the parvis of Notre Dame

2. Mottes (Noun)

3. Barbican (Noun)

There are mottes and baileys, outer wards and an inner ward, a barbican, towers and keeps.


i) (Historical term) A natural or man-made mound on which a castle was erected.
ii) (Texas) A copse or small stand of trees on a prairie
iii) (Upper Southern US) A tuft of human or animal hair standing up on the head or body. The Free Dictionary.

I love how all three usages are quite similar. Windsor Castle is a motte and bailey castle.

Picture credit

A tower or other fortification on the approach to a castle or town, especially one at a gate or drawbridge

Picture credit

4. Buckram (Noun)

Leather bindings stood beside dusty buckram and yellowed vellum were shelved side by side.

A coarse cotton fabric heavily sized with glue, used for stiffening garments and in bookbinding.

5. Sepulchre (Noun)

Although he'd known about its location for decades, he'd never had a reason to venture down to face the Sleeping God before, and everything had happened so quickly yesterday that he hadn't had a change to examine the sepulchre.

A burial vault, tomb or grave.

I know I've seen this word before, but it's not one that sticks.

6. Triune (Adjective)

Others changed with phases of the moon or the seasons, while still other triune goddesses were simply different aspects of the same person.

Being three in one. Used especially of the Christian Trinity.

This one was reasonably obvious from context, but I still thought it was an interesting word.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

The Book of Everything

A few months ago I hadn't heard of this book, or the author, Dutch writer Guus Kuijer. Then he won the Astrid Lindgren Award. Naturally I sought him out. Sadly there is little that has been translated into English. Apparently he feels that The Book of Everything is his best work, and this has been translated, and is readily available. Hopefully even more of his work will now be translated after winning such a major award. 

The Book of Everything is an amazing book. Although I'm not really sure that I really understand it. A slim volume, a mere 123 pages. The story begins with a short prologue explaining that the author, an old man, wanted to write a different book, a book about his happy childhood. Instead he had a visit from Mr Klopper, who showed him a book that he had written when he was nine. Mr Klopper had not had a happy childhood.

Nine year old Thomas Klopper lives with his parents, and older sister Margot, who "went to high school and was as dumb as an ox." Thomas's father is rather a fire and brimstone man, who rules the roost in his small family, with force if needs be. He reads the bible every evening, and likes the wooden spoon and his fist to guide his family. It is Amsterdam, the summer of 1951.

Thomas is no ordinary boy as we learn from the very outset. 

Thomas saw things noone else could see. He didn't know why, but it had always been like that. He could remember a violent hail storm one day. Thomas leapt into a doorway and watched the leaves being ripped from the trees. He ran home. 

Thomas sees tropical fish swimming in the canals. He writes his thoughts and visions in a book, The Book of Everything. And he has a simple wish- to be happy when he grows up.

There are many biblical passages sprinkled throughout the book. The imagery is biblical too, the plagues of Egypt are invoked - rivers turning to blood, masses of frogs and swarms of gnats. This strange world of postwar Amsterdam makes for an intriguing read peopled as it is by Thomas and his family, their neighbour Mrs Amersfoort who all the local children believe to be a witch, and Eliza, a friend of Margot's who has a squeaky prosthetic leather leg, and is missing most of the fingers on one hand.

Mrs Amersfoort introduces Thomas to two classic children's novels- Emil and the Detectives, and Alone in the World (variably known as Nobody's Boy, or Sans Famille in the original French). I wish that I had read these two European classics to know more of what Guus Kuijer is telling me. I know that there's layers of meaning and symbolism that I'm too Australian to understand. A quick google tells me that Kamp Amersfoort was a Nazi concentration camp in Holland. I'm sure that this is no coincidence.

I know The Book of Everything would pay huge dividends to those that reread it. I hope I get the chance. I was thinking that I needed to reread it before I even finished it. Which isn't to say that it's a bad book, far from it, just a clever one that bears proper consideration.

I see in a happy coincidence that Guus Kuijer is in Sweden this week to celebrate his win, there are multiple events over the week leading up to the Award Ceremony on May 28 when HRH Crown Princess Victoria will present the award at Stockholm Concert Hall. 

Monday 21 May 2012

I had a Favorite Dress

I came across this book a few months ago. It was a finalist for the 2011 Cybils awards, for whom my lovely friend Deb Nance at Readerbuzz is a judge. When she announced the finalists after having read 260 nominated picture books I was naturally intrigued. Sadly only a few of them were available to me in Australia at that time, but I sought them out. Happily my library had a copy of this book. 

And it's a fabulous book. 

A little girl has a favourite dress that she wears every Tuesday, because that's her favourite day of the week. 

One day the inevitable happens and her dress is becoming too short, so her mother tells her 

"Don't make mountains out of molehills. Make molehills out of mountains. "

And the girls favourite dress becomes her favourite shirt.  Until the sleeves rip...

If only we could all be as stylish as these kids

Fashion isn't my thing, but I love the lessons in creativity, adaptability and not sweating the small stuff that this book achieves with ease. It's like New Dress a Day for the picture book set. 

The illustrations are fab too. A mix of crayon I think, and water colour, collage and what looks like wool sewn through. 

Sunday 20 May 2012

CBCA 2012

I was very privileged to attend the Children's Book Council of Australia 2012 Conference in Adelaide this week. It was such an amazing experience. I hadn't been to Adelaide since the 80s, and I can't say I remember all that much, so it was nice to get back.

I really wasn't sure what to expect of the conference, or who would attend. Most of the 400 attendees were librarians or teachers, booksellers, authors and illustrators. Quite a female crowd, although there were a respectable number of men too. I didn't get to meet any other interested parties like me but I hope they were there too.

For me it was very much like a two day intensive writers festival. Normally at writers festivals, I have brunch, go to a session or two, lounge around a bit, then need to go out for a drink before dinner. Here we had two full on days, the second of which started at a 7.30 breakfast function. It was a cracking pace. Half way through the second day my brain was becoming quite full, but like a trooper I stuck it out to the end. Every session was enjoyable in it's own way, and I got many unexpected insights, and learned so many things.

I got to see authors who were familiar, some very big names, and authors who I had never heard of before, but probably should have and am now desperate to read. Yes, the TBR just got even bigger.

Some highlights:

Oliver Jeffers, the Johnny Depp of picture books. He mumbled a bit but all the ladies swooned at his Irish brogue anyway.

His tour blog

Eoin Colfer.  Such a funny, funny man. Yes he's kissed the blarney stone, but we all loved his delightful Irish brogue too. It was more a comedy performance than an authorly talk. Fabulous. I'm glad he had to finish when he did as I was about to slide under the chair in front due to overwhelming, fulminant mirth.

Davide Cali. An intriguing, clever, talented Swiss picture book writer, newly translated into English. 

Isobelle Carmody. Articulate, intellectual, amazing.

The glorious black swans of the Torrens

The lovely ladies from Tasmania.

There will be more about all of them.

Saturday 19 May 2012

Who Says Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice?

A few months ago I won the monthly subscribers prize from Good Reading Magazine. Naturally I was thrilled. I'd been subscribing since the magazine started. Early on I'd hoped to win, but as the years passed and I never did win and I forgot about it. Then 10 years of subscribing paid off, and I won the subscribers draw in November and got a wonderful box of books from Fremantle Press.

You can't imagine how surprised I was to receive a SECOND letter a mere 3 months later to say that I'd won the subscribers prize AGAIN! Nothing for 10 years then twice in 3 months! I have even more Good Reading stacking up ahead of me.

Women of Note by Rosalind Appleby
Equator by Wayne Ashton
Spider Lies by Jen Banyard
Spinner by Ron Elliott
The Moving World by Michael Heald
A Sausage Went for a Walk by Ellisha Majid and Peter Kendall
Not Drowning, Reading by Andrew Relph
Dress Rehearsal by Zoe Thurner

I'm not expecting a third, but would be more than happy to be proven wrong.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Monday 14 May 2012


After the huge international success of Julie/Julia project/blog/book/movie/all round phenomenon, Julie Powell makes the somewhat surprising decision to become an unpaid apprentice butcher for 6 months. I guess her new found financial status allowed her certain freedoms, and she can chase her dreams. This still seems an odd dream to chase.

Julie Powell is definitely a card carrying carnivore. She revels in eating meat, and doesn't shy away from the more confronting aspects of her newly chosen career. She begins working at Fleisher's, a wonderful butchers in upstate New York 2 hours from her home. She learns many skills in her time there, and describes them in minute, rather gory detail at times. While I do eat meat, I am becoming more squeamish as I get older. I don't like recognising anatomy in meat, I have trouble dismembering a chicken now, and lamb neck chops look too much like CT slices for comfort. Julie relishes in the anatomy in front of her. Whilst I'm not quite the squeamish, near vegetarian who will only eat skinless, boneless chicken breasts of her disdain, I can understand how someone can get there. 

After her 6 months of hard work, and after her left wrist has caused quite a bit of trouble- an author's carpal tunnel doesn't always take to 6 months of constant physical work, she decides to take up a butcher's tour of sorts. Not quite the world tour I would undertake, but a very interesting travelogue all the same. Buenos Aires to eat steak. The Ukraine to eat sausages. A Masai village in Tanzania to drink cow blood. Apparently cow blood and goat blood taste different. Goat blood is sweet, I expect that to be a knowledge I will never fully grasp myself.  

Cleaving though is about much more than meat. It is about love, marriage and infidelity. Julie has been having a long running affair. I became irritated by her constant ramblings and thoughts about her lover, D. He didn't sound all that nice to be honest, and her obsession with him, to the detriment of her decent, loving husband Eric was sad, and pitiful at times. It is only at the start of disc 5 that she wonders out loud why she isn't thinking or talking of Eric. Still, it's an amazingly frank and honest account of her life.

Julie is also obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. There are many quotes and references. Too many, I think. Perhaps that is just an overly curmudgeonly view because I totally missed the whole Buffy thing. I have friends who who similarly enraptured, although they don't insist on continuously referencing Buffy 10 years later, mercifully. Her family have a wonderful Christmas tradition of doing a giant jigsaw puzzle wherever they gather, that sounds such a clever, slightly old-fashioned idea for an indoor activity in cold weather that brings people together. It makes me wish that our Christmas was in winter so I could adopt it with my family, but the Australian Christmas has too many summer distractions to make it feasible.

I won this intriguing audio CD from the wonderful Margot for participating in the Foodies Reading Challenge last year. I'm so pleased and grateful that she sent it all the way to Australia for me to enjoy. I would never have come across it otherwise. Cleaving is well written, and the audiobook well read by Julie herself. I slipped the first disc into the player in the car as I left home for an unexpected solo trip. I'd never used an audiobook on a trip before, it was a wonderful driving companion. I don't plan to completely give up my collection of tragic 70s CDs for driving, but an audiobook makes a great change once in a while. I feel somewhat at a loss now that these 9 CDs are finished. 

Saturday 12 May 2012

Black Swans

The Black Swan (Cygnus atratus) is a well known, and even iconic Australian bird. It is rather common here, depending on where you live. Sadly, I don't see them at home, but frequently do on visits to Canberra (and Newcastle). It's always a thrill to see them.

They're common in Tasmania too, which is where I took these next two shots. 

Our black swans have a call and so I was surprised to learn that the European white swan was mute when I went to Ireland in 2010. Interesting to learn on wiki that New Zealand had a subspecies of black swan, but that it was sadly hunted to extinction.

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Wednesday 9 May 2012

Wondrous Words 9/5/12

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

Both my words this week come from my perusings of the Sydney Morning Herald Saturday edition- usually many weeks after it was published. This first word comes from an interesting profile of writer and potter Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes. 

1. Adamantine.

The kind of adamantine, hard icy core to the creative life is that the work matters.

i) Made of or resembling adamant
ii) Having the hardness or luster of a diamond
iii) Unyielding; inflexible

I thought it was going to be an actual substance, but it appears it's not so. I'm just old enough that I can't get this image out of my head though. 

Picture credit

The second word comes from an fascinating review of a book called Alexander Macleay: From Scotland to Sydney. Macleay was an early figure in Sydney society, although more on the margins than I previously believed it seems. The Macleay Museum at Sydney University (which I walked past pretty much every day for a decade or so, but never entered!) is named after him, and he built Elizabeth Bay House. Fascinating to learn that he loved wisteria and introduced it into Australia, and that his daughter Rosa Onslow probably gave us lantana- now a noxious weed. 

2. Termagant

Relatively little was known of him before he arrived in Sydney, but before long he was being ridiculed: his daughters were said to be well educated but neither pretty nor wealthy, and his wife a termagant. 

A quarrelsome, scolding woman; a shrew. The Free Dictionary

I'm not sure Alexander had all that good a time of it actually. 

Saturday 5 May 2012

Bone China

During the week I noticed a cool reflection on the splash back in the kitchen. It took me a while to work out where it came from. It was from a plate on the bench!

Saturday Snapshot, is a wonderful weekly meme from at home with books

Friday 4 May 2012

The Naming of Tishkin Silk

I finished The Naming of Tishkin Silk last week. And then I reread it today, on a sick day, spent mostly lounging about in bed. It's a gentle little book. With a great big knot of sadness at it's core. 

The setup is quirky, Griffin, an uncommon boy, born on the 29th of February and his Rainbow sisters- Scarlet, Indigo, Violet, Amber and Saffron have been homeschooled by their mother. Now his mother and baby sister are away, and Griffin is forced to attend to the local school for the first time. 

From the very beginning of the story we are aware that Griffin holds himself responsible for why his mother and sister aren't at home. 

If he were an ordinary boy then maybe Mama wouldn't have gone away. Maybe his secret thoughts wouldn't have changed everything.

It is obvious to the adult reader that whatever Griffin's secret thoughts had been they aren't going to be the reason that his mother and sister aren't there. 

Griffin lives with his Rainbow sisters, his father,grandmother Nell and dog, Blue in the family house, the Kingdom of Silk, up the Silk Road (I love that, it's too funny). The Silk family are hippies I suppose, with their rainbow names, pet crow, and daisy chain making habits. Griffin befriends Princess Layla, a girl from school who also wears daisy chain crowns. 

He understood right away, that a person who believed in the magic of daisies, a person skilled in the art of crown-making was likely to be an uncommon kind of person.
There's some beautiful writing especially in the latter parts of the book:

He felt himself falling, down, down, and then something warm. He opened his eyes. Layla was beside him, still holding his hand. Inside, he felt something swell, like the tiny flare of a match in the darkness. Layla smiled and squeezed his hand and the feeling grew stronger. And though Griffin, didn't realise it, the feeling had a name. It was courage. 

Griffin, named after the mythical beast, finds his courage, and we find the answer to the whereabouts of his mother and sister in a bittersweet ending.

The Naming of Tishkin Silk was published in 2003, and was an Honour Book in the 2004 Childrens Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Younger Readers.  It became the first of six books in the Kingdom of Silk series. I've got #2 Layla, Queen of Hearts on reserve at my library. I'm looking forward to it. 

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Wondrous Words Wednesday 2/5/12- and a bit of a rant

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a fabulous weekly meme hosted by Bermuda Onion, where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our weekly reading.  

I love that new words can turn up anywhere. Often when you least expect them. This week's word came from following a link on Facebook and reading an article about The 15 Grossest Things You're Eating. I could cope with paint chemicals in salad dressing and cloned cows stomach. But was completely stopped in my tracks by Beaver Anal Gland Juice. It's known as Castoreum. 

Castoreum (Noun)

A peculiar bitter orange-brown substance, with strong, penetrating odour, found in two sacs between the anus and the external genitals of the beaver; castor; used in medicine as an antispsamodic, and by perfumers. The Free Dictionary. 

Castoreum is indeed the secretion from beaver anal glands. Beavers combine it with urine and use it to mark their territories. Humans use it as vanilla or raspberry flavouring in foods! And rather incredibly in perfumes. It can even be labelled as "natural flavouring"in foods as it is a natural product- for beavers. 
There are so many questions! How did anyone ever think of using it for any use? There is apparently a reasonably long history of use such that the FDA classes it as Generally Recognised as Safe, and there have not been any reports of human adverse reactions. 

Still, I've seen what comes out when my vet treats my dog's blocked anal glands. Definitely not appetising. I don't want to spread it on toast, or drink it. 

Jamie Oliver isn't a fan either.

I can only hope that as we don't have beavers in Australia that I'm not at much risk of accidentally ingesting some beaver anal products. I wonder if I ever have? It really doesn't bear thinking about. I think I would be happy if castoreum was banned. 

Tuesday 1 May 2012

The Messenger

Like every reader in the English speaking world I too have read The Book Thief. It is certainly an amazing experience. So, I was very interested to check out an earlier work from Markus Zusak, The Messenger. You know you're in for an interesting read when the story starts with an armed robbery. And the first sentence is

The gunman, is useless. 

The premise is fabulous. Ed Kennedy, is our somewhat nerdy, underconfident 19 year old hero and narrator.

My full name's Ed Kennedy. I'm nineteen. I'm an under-age cab driver. I'm typical of many of the young men you see in this suburban outpost of the city- not a whole lot of prospects or possibility. That aside, I read more books than I should, and I'm decidedly crap at sex and doing my taxes. 

But he does have a wonderful, smelly old dog, called the Doorman. I think that's just about the most fabulous name for a dog that I've come across. Well perhaps apart from Taxi.

Not long after the bank robbery Ed starts receiving a series of intriguing playing cards, the first being the ace of diamonds, with 3 addresses and 3 times written on it. This card starts Ed's mysterious quest. What is going on in these houses? Something different in each one as it turns out. Ed needs to bring something to each situation. Particularly moving is his interaction with an old lady, Milla, who lives alone having been widowed many years ago.

I was really interested in, and impressed by the premise of the story, but never fully engaged in the actual reading. I enjoyed the book, but was never fully immersed in the story. And if truth be told, I think I'm still just a bit mystified by the ending.