Sunday 26 June 2016

Are polka dots acceptable for over-25s?

I do like to read the weekend papers. I like all the supplements.  The book reviews. The art reviews. The recipes. Often these aren't easily available online, and it's nice to read the magazines, much like I prefer to read real books over ebooks. And yes, I even like the fashion pages. Most often they make me laugh or shake my head. "Really, $3000 for that. I don't know who buys this stuff."

Last week I read the Weekend Australian Magazine from June 11 2016 and I can't tell you how often I've thought about this silly little article in the last week. I'm not fully sure why but I was more than moderately incensed by the proposed age limit on polka dots. Do fashion people really think like that? Is it something anyone needs to think about? No wonder that the model looks downcast. I have a polka dot scarf that I enjoy wearing at the moment, and I'm a little past 25. Although it is true that you do need a certain je ne sais quoi to be able to pull off top to toe polka dots.

Glynis Traill-Nash appears to have recovered from her mistake at removing polka dots from her wardrobe and perhaps it was all a little bit of fun. I was then astonished at her suggestions for how we might include some polka dots in our mundane lives.

Like this Marco De Vincenzo dress. On sale for a mere $4, 359 (but now the price has dropped even further to $2,490)- I simply can't ever imagine spending $2,490 on a dress. Never mind that the full original price was $6, 228. And is it irony that she's picked a dress that wouldn't suit anyone over 25?

Who then needs to carry a copy of Alice in Wonderland?

Similarly while it is super cute and dotty, are we average newspaper readers meant to aspire to a handbag that is $1518 (on sale)? Perhaps we are because I can't find it on the website anymore. I do really like Mary Katrantzou's use of print and colour though.

Or an $1787 ring?

I could have written this post about pretty much any fashion article, but the polka dot comment pushed me over the edge. It's been a while since I had a bit of a rant. It was time. There, I feel better now.

Thursday 23 June 2016

11 Children's Books That Pass the Bechdel Test

No, I'd never heard of the Bechdel Test before either. But it's a great concept. Two named female characters in a book have to have a discussion about something other than a man. Not every conversation of course, but some conversation along the way that doesn't mention a man. Originally a description of gender bias in film, this fun list applies it to kids books.

1. Matilda - Roald Dahl

2. The Chronicles of Narnia - C.S. Lewis (well 2 and a bit of 7)

3. Beezus & Ramona - Beverly Cleary

4. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

5. Anne of Green Gables - L.M. Montgomery

6. The Witches - Roald Dahl (see my review)

7.  Number the Stars - Lois Lowry

8. Because of Winn-Dixie - Kate Di Camillo

9. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants - Ann Brashares

10. The Baby-Sitters Club Series - Ann M. Martin

11. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White


Actually I've just realised that I did hear of Alison Bechdel very recently when The Book Club read her graphic novel/memoir Fun Home (Series 10 episode 3), and now I've seen it pop up in a book vlog this week too.

Saturday 18 June 2016

Zoella Book Club Summer 2016

So I'm not really up with Zoella, but last week she partnered with WH Smith in the UK to launch a book club. It seems to be a YA summer reading list- apparently it's summer some places. The launch video of reading suggestions had 600, 000 views in two days- and that has to be a good thing. All the books are selling like hot cakes.

There's a little bit too much hair flicking throughout for my taste. But in case you want to cut to the chase and know what the books are- here they are.

All The Bright Places - Jennifer Nixon
We Were Liars - E. Lockhart
Everything Everything - Nicola Yoon
The Potion Diaries - Amy Alward
Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
Billy and Me - Giovanna Fletcher
The Sky is Everywhere - Jandy Nelson
Beautiful Broken Things - Sara Barnard

They're quite a reasonable selection of books actually, and it does appear that she's read and loved them all. A few of them are sitting in my house in my literal TBR, others have been in the wishlist for some time. As always there's a couple of titles I've never heard of.

If you can't get enough of celebrity book recommendations, here are 10 celebs that love themselves a book too, never mind that I haven't heard of some of these celebrities...

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Gus & Me

I was rather interested in Keith Richard's Life when it came out a few years ago. But I do know that the opportunity to read a 576 page autobiography of a Rolling Stone is not going to happen anytime soon in this lifetime for me. So what happy circumstance to find a picture book from Keith, although I suspect it doesn't cover quite the same material as Life. Ahh, through the wonders of the internet someone has bestowed the adult version of Gus & Me (an extract from Life about Gus). Others are amused by the concept of Keith Richards writing a picture book too.

Gus & Me is the story of a young Keith and his grandad Gus, Theodore Augustus Dupree. Keith spent many pleasurable days walking all over London. They had many adventures,

and Gus passed on his musicality and love of music to Keith. Now Keith is a grandfather too, and passing his love of music on to his own grandchildren.

Even today, all these years later, I think of Gus.
Every time I walk onstage, every time I write a song,
every time I reach for a guitar and play
a few dinka-plinks for my own grandchildren,
I say to myself,
Thanks Granddad, Thanks Gus!

I hope that Gus lived long enough to have some idea of Keith's ability and future life. Gus & Me comes with a CD which features Keith reading the story and also Keith playing one of the first songs that he learnt with Gus, Malagueña. Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised but on the CD Keith says before his reading that "Books are one of the greatest loves of my life", maybe I will try to read Life one of these days... The family talent continues as Keith's daughter Theodora Dupree Richards has illustrated the book.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing: From Book To Film

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing the remarkable exhibition Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing: From Book to Film. This exhibition was commissioned by ACMI in Melbourne several years ago and is currently about half way through its national tour. I caught up with it at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery in April.

Walking into the exhibition felt a bit like walking into the book. 

There were lots of cool video stations to help explain the transition from book to film. Fun to have old phone handsets in use again. 

Clearly I have no idea how books, or films are made. The attention to detail throughout was astonishing. Shaun made a library of hand painted textures for the surface of every object, set and character in the film. Most were paint on paper, but he also used cloth and collage. The images were then scanned into computers and wrapped around 3D wireframe models! The boys skin texture was inspired by painted wooden puppets. 

This is a first sketch for the Utopia of the film. The images for the book are portrait, whereas the film frame is landscape, and so lots of images had to be reworked to fit the different orientation. 

Learning about the sound effects was interesting too. Here they are making the rattling noise of the trams. 

Even the way that the characters moved and walked was thought out in meticulous detail. 

Creature movement notes

I learnt about some of Shaun's work on the book too. About the now iconic cover.

"There are a few artists who visually influenced the world of the book... painters who dealt with the urban environment as potentially quite a desolate place. Edward Hopper is very good at portraying that kind of universe; Jeffrey Smart, an Australian painter who captures disquiet in the urban landscape; John Brack of course with his paintings of wooden, stiff figures in a flat, almost oxygen-less world of buildings and rectilinear shapes. That group of artists was a touchstone for me in initially comps up with the idea of the world of The Lost Thing." Shaun Tan
Ah, it's so obvious now! I've read The Lost Thing a few times over the years, I think it's definitely time for a reread. My review on The Lost Thing is my post popular post by far, and has been for 5 years. Another reason that The Lost Thing a sentimental favourite for me I guess. 

Each page of the book has a border which I now know is a collage made of Shaun's father's old engineering textbooks. He made collage tests to see if the paper would buckle or warp. I love learning this sort of stuff. I wish the books could include these sort of details. An extraordinary level of thought goes into Shaun's work, at all stages, and it really shows in the end product. Or perhaps it's all this hard work that makes it look, not easy, but seamless. 

I've only just recently learnt that illustrators create a colour palette for the colours that they will use in a book. I saw this in a fabulous Freya Blackwood exhibition that I haven't told you about yet. I presume that they use these to keep track of the colours that they use and so the book has a cohesive theme. I guess they add colours along the way, and use it as a reference to colours they've already used. 

There was a fun room of sculptures. Some were things that looked like they belonged in The Lost Thing world, others made me think of Shaun's latest book, The Singing Bones, and the exhibition did refer to "another project" which I presume was The Singing Bones.

Father and Child

Passion and Reason

I just don't know how you think of doing this with an old lamp head. 


Naturally there was a room at the end that was playing the movie on loop, but I ran out of time to be able to watch it. Thankfully we can all watch it on youtube.

I was a bit overstimulated by the end, there was so much to see, so much to take in. Glad I didn't miss Fetch Boy in the gallery grounds though.

Fetch Boy 2010
Gillie and Marc Schattner

Want more?
ACMI have made an exceptionally detailed teacher resource for the exhibition.
There are also many fascinating ACMI video interviews of Shaun Tan. 
A great SMH article about the exhibition. 
My 2011 review of The Lost Thing

Saturday Snapshot is a wonderful weekly meme
 now hosted by 

Thursday 9 June 2016

The 10 Must Read YA Books

I saw John Boyne speak recently, and he was very, very impressive. Here John Boyne and Jenny Valentine pick 9 of the 10 Must Read YA books, the Hay Festival audience rounded it out to 10. Check out the original article for fabulous endorsements of each book.

Bog Child - Siobhan Dowd

Holes - Louis Sachar (see my review)

The Bunker Diary - Kevin Brooks

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (see my review)

Trash - Andy Mulligan (see my review)

Life: An Exploded Diagram - Mal Peet

Looking for Alaska - John Green

Brilliant - Roddy Doyle

How I Live Now - Meg Rosoff (see my review)

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time - Mark Haddon

5/10 - not bad.

The Bunker Diary has gone straight to the TBR. I've been thinking about Bog Child for some time too. Brilliant- depression and the Irish written for kids.

There was a further long list for inclusion by the Hay audience.

Noughts and Crosses - Malorie Blackman

Pack of Lies - Geraldine McCaughrean

Junk - Melvin Burgess

Red Shift - Alan Garner

When Mr Dog Bites - Brian Conaghan

Wednesday 8 June 2016

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry wasn't a well known book for me. I came across it in my 1001 quest, and have seen it in a few lists about the place since then. I'm so glad I got to read it, it's such an amazing book. I'm just sorry that it took me too long to read- 3 weeks for really quite a short book, but I just haven't had the time for reading these past few weeks. It's a mark of a great book that it can still shine even when the reader is forced to neglect reading as much I have been recently.

A story of a black family living in rural Mississippi in the early 1930s, which was a tough time of course. Our narrator is 9 year old Cassie the only daughter of the Logan family. Cassie lives with her three brothers,  her mother and grandmother in a small house on land bought by her grandfather after the abolition of slavery. The family grow cotton on their farm, Cassie's father is forced to leave the family home to work on the railway, while her mother teaches at the local school.

The writing is splendid, and there is a lot of tension and suspense, with a constant threat of nocturnal violence.

The lead car swung into the muddy driveway and a shadowy figure outlined by headlights of the car behind him stepped out. The man walked slowly up the drive. 
I stopped breathing. 

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is an incredible account of the systemic racism of that era. Black children went to segregated schools. Their schools were only open from October to March as the children were needed to work in the fields by their poor sharecropping families during the growing season. While the white children started school in August. The white children are driven to school in a school bus, while the black children are left to walk 1 to 3 1/2 hours to school each way. All things designed to repress the black kids before they even got any sort of start at an education.

Author Mildred D. Taylor used the oral history told to her by her father to create a series of nine books about the Logan family. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a powerful exploration of ingrained, systemic racism, no mere casual racism here, but a deep hatred and sanctioned contempt at a time when violent criminal acts were condoned and ignored. Sadly these feelings have echoes today as we still need social campaigns such as BlackLivesMatter.

There are things you can't back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it's up to you to decide what them things are. 

Tuesday 7 June 2016

the anti cool girl

I'm not much of a cool girl and so I'd never heard of Rosie Waterland before I heard about this book. Happily though I saw her speak with Richard Glover at an event at Newcastle Writers Festial last month. I'm very glad I went to that session, and now very glad to have read my signed copy of Rosie's book.

I don't watch all that much tv, and when I do I don't watch The Bachelor, so would hardly have had any need for satirical recaps of it, which is coincidentally apparently how Rosie shot to internet stardom on Mamamia in 2014.

Stories like Rosie's don't get told all that often, not in memoirs at least. Movies maybe. But not in original, authentic first person voices. And it's a shame. Hers is an incredible story of survival against the odds, well told. Rosie grabs our attention from the get go- before she is even born.

Oh Rosie. Not even born yet, and already on the run. How exhausting. At a time when you should be concentrating on not growing an extra thumb, you're being tossed around in your mum's belly while she tries to jump-start an overheated hatchback by pushing it down a hill. 

Of course that hill start is at 3am as her parents try to evade some "violent bikie drug dealers". Such is the chaos that Rosie is born into. Both her parents have mental illness and addictions to drugs and/or alcohol. Both of course have their own demons. Demons that often took up all of their energies, leaving next to nothing for their kids. Rosie and her sisters are often abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

Despite this Rosie is writing plays and Oscar acceptance speeches from a very young age. She endures despite living in rehab and with abusive foster parents. Eventually circumstance rescues her from her life only to give her an even worse life at the hands of rich kids at a boarding school. Rosie never faced bullying until she attend a posh, expensive boarding school on Sydney's North Shore. 

Most chapters start with a killer hook to keep you reading. Both the chapter titles:

Your friends will find a dead body in the bush, and it will be your dad.

Your mum will be a sex worker, and you'll have no idea. 

And then the first lines.

 It's hard to keep up appearances when your mum hasn't been home in four days. 
When a guy wearing nothing but a bedsheets as a toga pushes in front of you in the dinner line so he can get better dibs on the custard, you know you've hit rock bottom. 

It is amazing how Rosie can make family dysfunction, drug addiction and unrelenting heartache funny, but she does. The Anti Cool Girl will not be for everyone. It is confronting at times (well on pretty much every page). It deals with addictions, mental illness, eating disorders and is particularly frank and sexually explicit. And there's quite a lot of poo. But it is an incredibly engaging journey to self acceptance, and if Rosie can accept, own and be proud of her story, then maybe we all can too.

I'm on a roll with great Aussie memoirs this year. Although this is the first one that I've actually read as a book. The others I have listened to as audiobooks. First the spectacular Reckoning (see my review). And then the fabulous Flesh Wounds (review coming soon-ish).