Saturday 29 April 2017

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon The Second

I really enjoyed participating in my first Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon last October. Even though I didn't get all that much read in the end. 150 pages and 6 picture books. I'm sure I'll be able to top that this time round. For one thing the timezones are a bit kinder because it's not Daylight Savings here, so the Readathon starts at 10pm AEST, not 11pm like it did last time. And I'm not working this weekend. 

Last time it was all a bit of a last minute thing. This time round I've had over a week to prepare my TBR list. Short stories may work well. And some short books. Picture books. And there's still some books I haven't read from my last Dewey TBR.

Clearly, I'm not going to read all those books this weekend. But it's a great stack to dip into. And of course I may end up reading books not in this stack, but I figured this was a good place to start. I've got

Kids books

Adult books
Short stories
Verse novels
Graphic novels
Books I've had for ages
Books I bought this week
Books that were in the stack last time
Books that were gifts
Library books

I'm excited for the possibilities. 

I'll be joining Brona and #TeamANZ2017. Last year was the first time I've represented Australia on the International Stage and I'm very happy to be doing it again. 

It's not to late to join in. You can sign up at


Hourly Updates to come

I was too excited to start reading, so I snuck in two short stories from The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O'Neill, whilst having a bath to prepare myself.

Hour One 10pm

Opening Survey

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm reading from country NSW Australia

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

Probably Joe Queenan's One For the Books

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

I have some very special French Salted Caramel Lollipops.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

This is my second readathon. I'm more prepared, and more excited than I was last time. 

And we're off!

I'm going to read another story from The Weight of a Human Heart, and then pick a novel. I'm not sure which one just yet. 

The problem with starting a readathon in the late evening is that sometimes you fall asleep, even though you don't mean to.

So my totals before I fell asleep during the first hour was

The Weight of a Human Heart - Ryan O'Neill 6 pages

After - Nikki Gemmell 6 pages

Yep. 12 pages all up. 

Hour Two 11pm

Sleeping. Oops! Guess I got myself too comfy.... That's a very early night for me. 

Hours Three to Twelve Midnight - 9am

Oh dear there was a whole lot of sleeping, not reading, going on. 

I did wake up around 2am and read 15 pages of After before falling back to sleep again. 

27 pages in total by 9am. Well that can only improve today. I need some quick reads to get that page count up.

Hours Twelve - Fifteen  9am - 12pm

Sleeping Beauty awoke. And got reading. 

37 pages of After

120 pages of The Weight of Water - Sarah Crossan (cheating with a verse novel)

184 pages in total 

Hours Fifteen to Eighteen 12pm -3pm

108 pages of The Weight of Water - finished. 

39 pages of After

331 pages in total. And 7 hours to go!

Hours Eighteen to Twenty One 3pm- 6pm

On a roll now....

40 pages of After

15 pages of The Weight of a Human Heart

141 pages of My Name is Book - John Agard - finished

527 pages in total. 

Hours Twenty One to Twenty Four 6pm-10pm

A sprint to the end. 

116 pages of After

32 pages of Don't Call Me Bear - Aaron Blabey - finished

32 pages of The Fabulous Friend Machine - Nick Bland - finished

25 pages of The Weight of a Human Heart (see my review)

732 pages all up. After a slow start wherein I pretty much slept the first twelve hours I'm pretty happy with that. It's been great. 
4 Books Finished

The Weight of Water - Sarah Crossan
My Name is Book - John Agard
Don't Call Me Bear - Aaron Blabey
The Fabulous Friend Machine - Nick Bland

Hmmm. I didn't get to finish After which I optimistically hoped that I would when I picked it up last night. But I got 260 of 300 pages read. That's pretty good for me, I am a ludicrously slow reader.

I've completed two readathons now, and realise that both times I didn't even start the book that I said at the start was the one I was most looking forward to. And I didn't even have one French Salted Caramel Lollipop. But I did have some rather delicious Dulce de Leche chocolate so it's not all bad. 

Will the French Salted Caramel Lollipops last till October? I'd say that would be a no. 

Thursday 20 April 2017

Reading Well Mood Boosting Books

There's a few lists like this. This list was chosen by young people in the UK. Seems we all need to find some inspiration and solace in books sometimes. 

See also 31 Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

We Should All Be Feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
A Bear Called Paddington - Michael Bond  (see my review)
Am I Normal Yet? - Holly Bourne

Bodyguard series - Chris Bradford
Finding Cherokee Brown - Siobhan Durham
Matilda - Roald Dahl
Milk and Honey - Rupi Kaur
More Than This - Patrick Ness
The Rest of Us Just Live Here - Patrick Ness
Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)
Eleanor & Park - Rainbow Rowell
Harry Potter series - J.K Rowling 1/7
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Saenz
I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith
This One Summer - Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Crongton Knights - Alex Wheatle
The Art of Being Normal - Lisa Williamson

3 1/7 of 27 (although I'm not really sure how many books make up the Harry Potter franchise these days, is it just the seven original novels? Or does the newer stuff count too?)

It's always amazing to see more books that I've never heard of. And a bit depressing really. But it should be mood boosting shouldn't it? Look at all these extra great books I've never heard of, but I'm sure I'm already well into the realm that I won't ever finish the books I want to read before I die.

Wednesday 19 April 2017

The Helen 100

I was young once and I used to listen to JJJ back in the day and remember Helen Razer and her wit and humour from that time. But I'd kind of lost track of her for some years. It turns out she's written quite a few books now. Recently I saw this new release sitting on the shelves at my bookshop and I just had to buy it. I do suspect that if I hadn't been through my own rather recent breakup I may not have snatched it off the shelf quite so quickly, or read it so very soon. I can see a pattern emerging of reading books about misery and despair. 

The Helen 100 recounts the year or so after the end of Helen's fifteen year relationship. Helen's ex left her reasonably suddenly one afternoon with an 'I need to grow' speech. Helen falls to the floor with her cat, Eleven, and a home delivered chicken. I'm pretty sure I've lived in a small town for too long as I was most astonished by the concept of the home delivered roast chicken in this particular scenario. 

Helen felt burdened by the expectation that her same sex relationship should not fail. 
That my particular desertion happened to be of a homosexual flavour intensified my shame and my impatience with view on sexuality generally. 'Lesbians' are really not supposed to break up, these days. They are supposed to stay together forever and provide an inspiring liberal example to others. And, this, notwithstanding my actual intention to stay together forever, was an attitude that really ticked me off.
At least I didn't have to feel representative for my own particular subculture. Just one of the 40% or so of heterosexual marriages (the only sort allowed in Australia) that ends in divorce. 
At some point, gay became the new beige and we are today the class doomed to revive the discarded dream of marriage. We are the people charged with conspicuous carriage of rainbow babies in expensive baby slings. 
Helen launches herself into the world of XXX dating apps to achieve her waxer's advice to go on 100 dates in a year. It is a world of which I was blissfully unaware, and which sounds particularly awful. She then baulks at the punctuation, spelling and grammar of her online contacts which isn't too successful a strategy for obtaining dates electronically.

I don't particularly like to think of myself as too much of a prude but I was often quite uncomfortable reading The Helen 100. Too much of the book was way over beyond the wrong side of Too Much Information. I kept reading because a) well I'd started and b) I really did still like Helen's voice. She has a vast vocabulary and powerful wit. There just aren't enough books using words like jejune, badinage or tonsure these days. 

And well, she did warn us, right there on the cover - Helen took her waxer's advice. And Bam, there she is on page one at the waxer's, having her lady parts waxed by the same waxer who also waxed her recently departed partner's intimate places. Oh what a complex world we live in.

I think I can take some of Helen's advice though (well actually her grandmother's advice):

Public Service Announcement: Have a bath
It has taken me decades of more everyday conflict to see that a nice bath can make life easier. It doesn't fix everything but it can fix a fuck of a lot. 
I haven't had a bath in some years, I think it's time. 

Listen to Richard Fidler's recent Conversation with Helen Razer which finally does explain why the cat is called Eleven. It's rather obvious actually.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

Lenny Henry: Finding Shakespeare

I'm pretty terrible at taping things and then not watching them, filling up my hard drive recorder. I always mean to watch them soon. But sometimes I eventually get to watching things while working through the ironing pile. Today I watched Lenny Henry: Finding Shakespeare. I didn't really know anything about this documentary and I think it was at least a year ago that I taped it. 

Lenny Henry is famous to me for being a comedian and previously married to Dawn French. I hadn't realised that in more recent times he had become a Shakespearian actor. This was somewhat surprising to Lenny himself too. 
It's incredible that I'm doing this play because for most of my life I've kept well away from Shakespeare. Like many of us I thought I wasn't clever enough to understand it. 
Finding Shakespeare was filmed in the leadup to a worldwide broadcast of The Comedy of Errors with Lenny in the lead role. Lenny shows us his childhood home and talks about his Jamaican working class roots.
"Shakespeare's nothing to do with us is it?"
Which is a very familiar feeling for many of us I think. He describes his school experience of reading Romeo and Juliet  as "a whole class of disinterested kids reading from this old, tattered book". Which is very much like my remembrance of Henry IV Part One. 
But where does this mental block about Shakespeare come from? And what are missing out on if we don't get past it?
I was shocked to hear Barrie Rutter of the Northern Broadsides Theatre say
the iambic pentameter, although it's poetry, is based on the heartbeat 
Wow. Really? There's just so much I don't know about poetry.
But today his 400 year old language stops most of us being able to relate to his work. 
Lenny later visits rapper Akala who "believes we can still connect with Shakespeare if we can just get over the fear of the language." Akala has even founded the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Theatre Company. He plays a great game of quotes called "Hip Hop or Shakespeare?"

I still don't feel clever enough to understand Shakespeare most of the time. I'm still working on it though. I do try and go to a Bell Shakespeare production each year. I saw Othello last year, and was completely shocked by it. Angered. And saddened. It's still very relevant. Jackie French has a new series that she's doing with Shakespeare retellings. I read I am Juliet back in 2015 (see my review) and have more sitting in the TBR. 

You can watch Lenny Henry: Finding Shakespeare on Vimeo if you need to get your ironing done too.

Saturday 15 April 2017

Newcastle Writers Festival 2017

Last weekend I enjoyed my third trip to Newcastle Writers Festival. It's such a fabulous festival. So well organised. A vast range of great sessions. And so many free sessions. This year half the 170 sessions were free! Four of the eleven sessions I went to over two days were free.

The program was so good this year that I had real difficulty with picking the sessions I wanted to attend, because it meant I was missing out on so may other great sessions. It took me weeks to sort out my sessions as I tried to maximise the number and range of authors that I would hear. 

Nikki Gemmell

Clementine Ford, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Jane Caro, Ruby Hamad

I got to see so much Australian talent-

Peggy Frew
Alice Pung
Holly Throsby
Magdalena Ball
Wendy James
Michael Sala
Andy Muir
Jackie French
Sarah Armstrong
Emily Maguire
Randa Abdel- Fattah
Jane Caro
Clementine Ford
Belinda Alexandra
Fiona Higgins
Tara Moss
David Hunt
Steven Amsterdam
Nikki Gemmell
Leah Kaminsky
Kirsty Eager
Jacklyn Moriarty

So much of it overwhelmingly female. But in doing so I missed sessions with

Richard Roxburgh (I think he had the biggest signing line of the weekend, definite rock star status and his was the only book to sell out in the bookshop)
Sarah Wilson
Elspeth Muir
Nick Earls
Julia Baird

and so many others, and other great sessions that included some of the writers that I did see.

All the sessions I saw were fabulous. Inspiring. Thought provoking. Covering such a vast range of topics-everything imaginable really. Feminism. Racism. Sexual assault. Death and dying. Family violence. Australian history. Balinese ritual vaginal cleansing. Yes, it's a thing.

NWF is five years old this year. There have been developments and improvements each of the three years I've attended and there were some changes again this year. While the sessions I attended were all in the Town Hall and Civic Theatre there was a new marquee in Wheeler place was a fabulous space and well used. 

And they paid attention to the details too. There were things to read everywhere.

An old phone loaded with short stories!

I do love writers festivals. Where else do you get to see grown men in Moomin t-shirts? And young women with cool Eric Carle ribbons?

There's something so intoxicating about stacks of books. The potential. The possibilities. 

Naturally I came away with a (relatively) small of a stack of books. It's important to support the authors, the festival and the festival bookseller.

My sister leant me Something for Nothing,
and I've already leant her An Isolated Incident
I might have managed to acquire some other books whilst away at various bookshops I sought out. New and used.

And obviously I want to read work from everyone I saw. And a few I didn't get the chance to see...

NWF 2016
NWF 2015

I know that I'll be back next year. Somehow I need to work on getting to a new festival soon(ish) to work on my quest to attend all the writers festivals in Australia. So far I've been to Melbourne, Mudgee, Newcastle and Sydney and keep going back to those because they are the easiest to attend geographically. Plus I really like them, especially Melbourne and Newcastle. 

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Thursday 13 April 2017

30 of the Best Books to Teach Children Empathy

I'm not sure about a list for teaching empathy, or reading with that expressly in mind. But this is a great list regardless of your reading intentions. So many intriguing books, and as always some are new to me.

El Deafo - Cece Bell (see my review)

Wonder - R.J Palacio (see my review)

Fish in a Tree - Lynda Mullaly Hunt

365 Days of Wonder: Mr Browne's Precepts - R.J. Palacio

The One and Only Ivan - Katherine Applegate

Same Sun Here - Silas House and Neela Vaswani

Inside Out and Back Again - Thanhha Lai (see my review)

Sunburn Rising: Beneath the Fall - Aaron Safronoff

The Family Under the Bridge - Natalie Savage Carlson (see my review)

Hannah Coulter - Wendell Berry

Brown Girl Dreaming - Jacqueline Woodson (see my review)

Island of the Blue Dreams - Scott O'Dell (see my review)

Jayber Crow - Wendell Berry

Paperboy - Vince Vawter

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the Impossible Became Possible - Leon Leyson

Night - Elie Wiesel

One Came Home - Amy Timberlake

Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood - Ibtisam Baraka

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi

Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls

My Side of the Mountain - Jean Craighead George (see my review)

I Hadn't Meant to Tell You This - Jacqueline Woodson

The Breadwinner - Deborah Ellis

Out of My Mind - Sharon M. Draper

Moon Over Manifest - Clare Vanderpool

A Long Walk to Water - Linda Sue Park

They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky: The True Story of Three Lost Boys from Sudan - Alephonsion Deng, Benson Deng, Benjamin Ajak

The Wall - Eve Bunting, Ronald Himler (illustrator)

Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson 

Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 


May 2017 10/30

Wednesday 12 April 2017

Squishy Taylor and the First Three Adventures

I'd never heard of Squishy Taylor or any of her Adventures until the first story, Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters, was nominated for the Readings Prize this year. Then Squishy and her Bonus Sisters turned up as a Notable Book for the CBCA Book of the Year Younger Readers list. Squishy definitely needed to be checked out.

Squishy Taylor is a new(ish) series from Melbourne writer and acrobat Ailsa Wild. There are six books in the series now I think. I read a volume that combines the first three books. Each book is about 120 pages, and involves Squishy and her sisters solving a mystery. 

Squishy is an 11 year old girl who lives with her blended family in a rather crowded Melbourne apartment. Her mum lives works for the UN in Geneva, and she lives with her dad, her stepmother Alice, her two bonus (twin) stepsisters, and her half brother Baby. That's some complicated family logistics right there. Squishy is of course a nickname, her real name is Sita which is her In Trouble name. Squishy is mixed race, her mum is Indian and her father caucasian, while her step mother and step-sisters are Asian.

In Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters Squishy finds a boy living in the basement car park of her building. In Squishy Taylor and a Question of Trust there are diamond thieves about in Melbourne, and in Squishy Taylor and the Vase that Wasn't a valuable Chinese vase disappears from the apartment building and it seems a Chinese-Warrior ghost took it. 

All three stories are very fun, and a breeze to read. The text is broken up by words or phrases in a bigger different font (I've tried to find what that is called- it must be called something?), and there are fabulous illustrations throughout by Ben Wood. Ben shares how he designed Squishy here

The Melbourne setting is great. The girls travel about on the tram quite freely. In the first book Squishy hasn't really settled in with her step family yet since she moved in seven and a half weeks ago. She doesn't get along with her twin stepsisters, because "they are about 95% annoying and 5% really, really annoying" which is awkward when all three share the same room, and indeed a triple bunk bed. The girls do come together over their first adventure, and then share the exploits in the following books. It's a great idea to have Squishy live in a large apartment building, there's always a lot going on, and kids always notice the comings and goings of other resident, and know who's who in their surroundings. 

The Squishy Taylor series is a fabulous new series for young readers. I guess the covers will appeal to girls more as there is quite a bit of pink but there is plenty to appeal to boys too, with regular rock climbing, ninja tricks in and out of bed and plenty of action and often quite daring stunts required to solve the mysteries.

Monday 10 April 2017

My (Part-Time) Paris Life

I'm such a sucker for the I Moved to Paris memoir genre. I have been since Sarah Turnbull kicked it all off back in 2004 with Almost French. I routinely buy them on first sighting. I don't always get to reading them right away, although sometimes I do. I knew as soon as I saw that beautiful blue cover last year that I would be buying My (Part-Time) Paris Life as soon as I found it in a shop. And so I did. Then last month I even got to reading it.

Lisa Anselmo lived a life as an Exective Creative Director in Publishing in New York. Now I don't know what that might entail on a daily basis, but it was well paid. She enjoyed twice annual trips to Paris. You can do that from New York I guess. It's much harder to imagine twice annual trips to Paris from Australia- not that I wouldn't love to do that, but the logistics and the expense is astronomical. I have made four trips to Paris since I fell under her spell in 1998- people here think that's a lot! I made back to back trips in 2013 and 2014 and people thought I was going to Paris "all the time". If only that were true.

My (Part-Time) Paris Life is really two stories weaved into one. There is Lisa's backstory- her relationship with her mother and her sister as she was growing up, and her relationship with her sister after her mother died. Lisa's mother was a major force in her life, and she feels her absence particularly strongly. The other story is Lisa's relationship with Paris, from her first trip in the early 80s as a 16 year old schoolgirl, to an impromptu trip in 2002 (Australians can only dream of return tickets to Europe for $335) when she really fell in love with Paris, after which she took more frequent trips, living a "revolving door life", and eventually a decade or so later came to buy an apartment in Paris after her mother's death and move there.
Paris realigned me.
Lisa ponders for some time about whether to make the move. Understandable really- moving continents is a bit of a big deal. I think my breath actually stopped with her crabs in a bucket analogy on the first page. 

Maybe it's finally leaving that dead-end job, extracting yourself from a bad marriage, starting your own business- whatever it is, there's a point when you realise you can't keep living this way: your head spins all day, you don't sleep anymore, you can't shake an overwhelming sense of dread. The only thing that keeps you going is the dream of something better, something more. 

What a luxury to have a transportable job, whatever it is that her job entails. Lisa was a bit too coy on the details of buying her apartment- how much was it? Readers of this book likely have their own moving to Paris dream, let us feel how realistic or not that may be. The apartment she bought was $150, 000 cheaper than others she was looking at, but she was able to pay cash for it, some "hundreds of thousands of dollars". I'm not sure if I'm ever going to have that kind of buying power.
This apartment was proving to be more than a place to live; it was teaching me how to live. 
Readers of any Look-at-me-I-Moved-to-France memoir will know that there are always plumbing problems. And Lisa had major plumbing problems. Plumbing problems so major that they involved lawyers and years of her life. Sadly we are left hanging about the resolution of the plumbing woes and I had to go to Lisa Anselmo's blog to find out what happened with the plumbing.

But could I walk away from everything I knew, even when it wasn't making me happy anymore?

I did get a bit tired with Lisa's constant questioning about whether she deserved a life in Paris. Repeatedly asking "Who do you think you are?" Most of us would love this opportunity. Please just get on with it. I like to imagine that people who live in Paris all have wonderful lives. I know that isn't true. But I still remember my shock on my first visit to Paris when I saw depressed commuters on the Metro looking glum about their daily lives. Bored even. Bored. In Paris. I can't even imagine.

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