Posts Tagged ‘books’
The single biggest influence in my life to date has been, without a doubt, reading.
Books – the Chalet School, Famous Five, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew – make up some of my earliest childhood memories. In summer, when I would be sent to bed when it was still light outside, I’d pull out a book once my door was shut and devour as many chapters as I could before dark set in.
I can honestly say I’ve learned almost everything in life through reading, starting with books, then moving on to magazines and blogs.
I learned about friendships, and romantic relationships, and what I should expect from them. Most of it was poor, and inaccurate, but there were certainly nuggets of wisdom among the chaff.
I learned about work, and careers, and formed my own opinions on what’s right for me and what most of us can realistically expect from adult life.
I’ve learned about writing, reporting, and later blogging, and if it weren’t for reading, I don’t see how I could ever have decided I wanted to become a writer myself.
I’ve learned about location independence, long term travel, solopreneurship and alternatives to the traditional life trajectory.
It makes me sad when people tell me they don’t like to read. I love the written word more passionately than almost anything in the world, so I take this almost as a personal insult. Books have opened up so many worlds to me, and that joy is something I wish for everyone else.
Literacy is a wonderful thing.
(Last year’s Valentine’s post // And one from the year before)
Tags: books, reflections
I am a freak of the 2.0 genereation.
I despise the notion of e-books and refuse to read books on a screen (the exception being a few classics I loaded onto my iPad for free before leaving for our South Island trip. I only finished one while we were away and I’m slowly making my way through the rest of them now. I do enjoy being able to look up the definition of a word right there and then on the page, but physical books and I shall not be parted.) I already spend at least 8 hours a day staring intently into a computer screen, and have no desire to increase that time.
Yet I am not a book buyer. I am an unapologetic library slut. Somehow, though, I’ve managed to accumulate a small pile of novels by my bed, and it’s making me antsy. Books are bulky and annoying (I like to borrow them, read them, and hustle them back out of my house).
Aside from books on loan from the public library, these books are:
- Freebies from work – some I reviewed, some I did not
- Gifts (one, to be precise)
I need to clean these out.
Seeing as we’re getting close to the end of 2012, I thought I might recap some of my more memorable reads of the year.
I read quite a bit of non fiction. Among this category, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother squeaks in as the most impactful of them all. Later I found out that Sophia, the older daughter (beautiful! accomplished! younger than me!), has a blog, which I promptly subscribed to. And as you do, I did a spot of Googling and was dumbfounded by some of the vitriol aimed at this family – the girls, too – unbelievable. This was an unsolicited review copy (woop!) and I actually want to keep this book around, that much did I enjoy it. I can only hope to blend the best of Chinese and western parenting with my kids – the discipline, the drive, with individualism and creativity. That may be a tall ask.
I also loved Caitlin Moran’s memoir How to Be a Woman on so many levels (Moranthology, a collection of her published work, also rocked it for me), and Mindy Kaling’s (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?) for sheer likeability and entertainment. See this post.
As memoirs go, The Glass Castle stirred up a maelstrom of emotions; hope for the human spirit and despair at the very worst of humanity. Heartbreak for the Walls children and the countless others like them out there. Jeannette’s tale is beautifully, blamelessly and unflinchingly told. You must, must read it.
Other non-fiction included Gilmore Girls and the Politics of Identity. Meh. I had high hopes for insightful analysis into one of my all-time favourite TV shows, and there were a few essays worth a read, but overall it was pretty weak.
Moving into fiction territory…
O (a presidential novel) may have received bad reviews, but I rated it four stars on Goodreads. I am neither a political buff nor a hardcore news buff, but I guess we media types like to read about ourselves and our industry. O was published back in 2011, a projection of what the 2012 battle could look like, but I read it in September 2012 – an interesting time, obviously, with campaigning actually underway. (And immediately after finishing it, I came across this Vanity Fair profile of the real Obama. All very synchronous.) Obviously the author couldn’t have anticipated Romney, exactly; his Republican nominee is Tom Morrison, a military type with an innate understanding of human psychology, who doesn’t want to play dirty, and is a formidable opponent. Sadly, there is no definitive end; this is a novel about the process, but the narrative is the really interesting part for the junkies – the subtle power plays, the inner workings of campaigns and government and the news media.
Its faults? Look, the wee ears around the O on the cover were cute, but the references to the president as only O got ridonkulous real fast, particularly in the news stories toward the end. The fictional liberties taken to humanise the president were hardly worth blinking at, and overall the characterisation is dreadful (weak, or in fact, non-existent). The thinly veiled characters based on real people occasionally were genuinely amusing (Palin, Huffington) but the treatment of women was unspeakably medieval. Of course both the beautiful, tough journalist and the sexy young volunteer would both sleep with the top O campaign staffer. Of course. At least he gets his just deserts in the end, and to the author’s credit, Regan also gets shot down very sharply by an actress at a political dinner, though I’m not sure who she was modelled on – Angelina Jolie?
A Woman in Berlin trod a similar line as an anonymous diary of a journalist in WWII, as did Night by Elie Wiesel. Both are stark in their simplicity, but a simply told tale was probably the best way to try and convey firsthand the atrocities of war. In the former, the women who were able to struck up alliances with Russian soldiers, who acted in part as their patrons, protecting them from rape by soldiers and bringing them essentials. In the latter, they experienced the horror of the Holocaust first hand, shipped into a concentration camp, mined for gold fillings, forced to turn upon one another.
Novel-wise, carrying on in the same vein, Fatherland offered a peek into a parallel universe, one in which Hitler triumphed and continued to hold Germany in his grip and keep the Holocaust under wraps from the rest of the world (see earlier review).
Life of Pi was a slightly frustrating read. Yes, gripping. Yes, fantastical. But the reason academic analysis doesn’t push my buttons is I’m really just a literary dilettante. I don’t like to thrash out symbolism and themes to death. This is one of those books. You can read it at its surface or accept the underlying tale it hints at, which is too terrible to accept. So while I loved this as a story, I didn’t love the work that goes into interpreting it. Absolutely a must read, however.
Love in the Time of Cholera reminded me of a Woody Allen film. Hateful characters I didn’t give a shit about. A spot of casual rape and pedophilia tossed in right at the end. Yes, it left that much of a nasty impression on me that I’m mentioning it. Would love to hear your take.
And last of all, I finally clued into Jane Austen with Emma and Pride and Prejudice – which I loved! Where have you been all my life? (I know, I know – I was too cool for the classics and looked down my nose at them. How wrong I was on this count.)
What books stood out to you this year?
Regular readers may well recall my professed love for Caitlin Moran. Incredibly hilarious, with a too-extreme-to-be-true life story, with a Tumblr devoted to her utterings… she is funnier, sharper, sassier and all around awesomer than I could ever wish to be. I would be the sidekick best friend to her wild-haired heroine, if that.
When I realised there was a copy of her new book, Moranthology, in the office, I was prepared to arm wrestle my editor for first rights. Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. I called second dibs, and shortly after – just as I was about to tweet about the whole saga – she came up behind me and placed the hallowed tome on my desk. MY BOSS > YOUR BOSS.
Moranthology (see the wordplay there?) is a collection of her published writing. To date, I’ve read very few of Moran’s columns, essays and interviews. This is because most of them (if not all?) are for The Times, which does NOT put its content online for free, and this fact warrants an entire column, which is included within Moranthology. However, I think it’s safe to say hers is writing I would pay to read. Moranthology well and truly cemented my inkling that I can only hope to one day be as witty and insightful as this lady.
Her interviews with celebrities are both amusing and touching (Gaga, Keith Richards, and a guy I’d never heard of before who deep down thinks if he does well enough, his dead mother will come back). Her TV and pop culture columns are delightfully snarky, without resorting to outright bitchery. And she’s also surprisingly deft at tackling serious issues with compassion. Mental illness. Poverty. (Both of which she has first hand experience of.)
I loved this passage from Frozen Planet: A world of fatal ice cream (a review of David Attenborough’s show):
“[Frozen Planet] shows us what we will lose in terms of the awe and beauty of these places – the magic of being on a planet topped and tailed with these outrageous landscapes; white like teeth and cloud and pearl; wild like ecstasy, or the Moon. Heaped, blown, billowing snow: a world of fatal ice cream, punctuated by volcanoes and aqua melt-lakes, and penguins leaping out of wave-foam like girls out of a cake.”
But I’d argue that Moran is at her best when tackling what you’d call pink issues. (Female issues, obvs. Women’s talk [said in stiff-lipped British male voice].) Burqas and abortion get the Moran treatment with the usual dose of levity, but she also manages to genuinely argue her point at the same time. Making light of something in a light-hearted manner while simultaneously getting across a serious message is MUCH easier said than done, I can tell you. I especially appreciate her brand of what I’d call working-class feminism. It is accessible and sensible. Academic feminism is wonderful – but let’s face it, very few of us care for it.
And just when you think she can’t get any better, she busts out something like MTV Hoes:
“When I was a teenager, all my pop heroes were Britpop, and grunge – unisex jeans and sneakers for all. I was raised with the expectation that, if I wanted to, I could sell twenty million albums with my upper arms covered at all times.
My daughters, on the other hand, are being raised inthe Era of the Pop Ho. This is a time where the lower slopes of Britney Spears’ leotard-clad pubis mons are more recognisable than – although oddly redolent of – David Cameron’s face, and pop videos for female artists have become so predictable, I can run you through what will happen in 90 per cent of them…”
She proceeds to describe the generic pop video outline:
- Self-groping which begins with a lascivious sweep across the collarbone, and devolves into breast, belly and booty rubbing (“I know up to nine women, and none of them has ever had to excuse themselves from the table, saying “Sorry – just going to feel myself up in the coat cupboard.”)
- Sex with an invisible ghost (“Sooner or later, every modern popstress is going to have to vibrate in a squatting position, in order to pleasure the Ghost of Christmas Horny.”)
- Making your booty touch the ground (“You never see the boys doing it – despite them having legs that are anatomically identical to women’s, and rocking the considerable advantage of not being in six-inch heels.”)
- Having some manner of liquid land on your face, then licking it off lasciviously (“In no other field of human experience does someone busily engaged in their work – in this case, miming to their latest single – have something land on their face, and react with anything other than a cry of ‘WHAT? WHAT IS GOING ON?’”)
/ I die.
And of course, the usual Random House press release comes tucked into the book cover, sticking out and annoying the hell out of me. Upon skimming the release date and RRP and all that other guff, however, I spy the line that proclaims Caitlin is available for interviews.
I could interview Caitlin Moran! If only I actually had a legit reason to do so … and any clue what I could possibly say to her.
By Robert Harris
I picked this up randomly off the ‘recently returned’ bookshelf at my local library. Turns out this book made the author, a humble journalist, famous – and this was the 20th anniversary edition.
If you have a thing for dystopic novels or an interest in WWII, Fatherland will probably ring all your bells. History buffs will probably appreciate Harris’ efforts to stay as close to the truth as possible, with characters, events, documents and places often based in fact. This is a world where, in the 1960s, there is a nervous standoff between Germany and the rest of the world. The Nazis managed to cow Europe into submission and starve out the Brits (Churchill and the Queen have fled to Canada) and a cold war ensued between Germany and the US. The Holocaust is suspected, but not proven – and nobody dares to ask the hard questions about where all the Jews went.
Xavier March is a member of the Kriminalpolizei force. It is 20 years on from Nazi Germany’s victory in World War II and the entire country is gearing up for the grand celebration of the Führer’s birthday and a peacemaking visit from President Kennedy. March, however, finds himself at the centre of a rapidly unfolding drama, beginning with a corpse found in a lake one morning who turns out to be a VIP Nazi official. The Gestapo orders March off the case, but our hardboiled detective refuses to back off, uncovering something much more sinister – a trail of mysterious deaths dating back many years.
A young American journalist about to be booted from the scene handily gets involved, and together they set about tracking down the truth. Why are these men dead? Who gave the orders? What were they covering up? And once they get to the bottom of the conspiracy, can either of them make it out of the country alive to expose the true nature of the Third Reich?
Fatherland’s characters are not new: the principled hero, a police officer struggling with a corrupt regime, who has given up his family for the job and believes he’s doing the right thing. The bumbling sidekick, steady but not brilliant, more concerned about his family than about principles. The foreign journalist, young, beautiful and with a thing for older men.
But the premise is so compelling that the blockbuster personalities can be forgiven. We’re not here for the writing; we’re here for the dark, twisted world the author has imagined and brought to terrifying life.
Today marked the start of NZ Money Week! I thought it was timely to review this book.
The Perfect Balance: How to get ahead financially and still have a life
By Hannah McQueen, Allen & Unwin,
First things first: I like Hannah McQueen’s approach. Early in her book, the chartered accountant/financial trainer gets straight down to it: you are never doing as well as you think you are, but it’s never too late to change your ways. I’m also totally behind her argument that to be money smart is to be socially responsible – let’s face it, everything comes back to money in this world.
But for anyone up with the basics of personal finance, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. Establish an emergency fund. Spend less than you earn. Avoid lifestyle creep. Consolidate debt at lower rates. Brownie points, however, for taking time to discuss the psychological aspect, because in reality finances are just as much rooted in emotion as they are about logic. Think money personality types and triggers for spending and saving. (You may well get a bit uppity, fellow 99 percenters, at the mention of some of her uber-earner clients who can’t seem to get ahead despite pulling down low to mid six-figure incomes.)
When it comes to talking property, she gives negative gearing a bit of a slap. Many investment properties have a shortfall between rent and the actual mortgage (what does that say – that as ridiculous as our rents are, house prices are even more insanely high?) For every dollar you top up (covering the shortfall between rent and mortgage/other property costs) you get up to 33 percent back in tax. In what universe is this actually a good thing? Sounds about as logical as buying 5 cans of tomatoes just to get a free one, when you know you’re not actually going to use them all up (something I nearly did this week). Relying solely on the property value to go up is risky, especially as we don’t have 30-year fixed rates (the longest term is five, to this renter’s knowledge). And as McQueen writes, over a 30-year mortgage you could well be facing double-digit interest rates at some point.
(I recall, as an intern, being tasked with compiling a piece comparing mortgage rates around the world a few years ago. It was difficult to pin down true apple-to-apple comparisons, particularly in the US, what with balloon loans and their fixed rates being higher than floating rates, the opposite of here. Nonetheless, our interest rates are always going to be higher than those in many other countries, and as a saver without a mortgage, I am grateful for this right now.)
The most interesting part of the book comes toward the end, when McQueen finally addresses what is apparently her patented super-mortgage-paydown formula (the catalyst for her starting her own financial advisory business, EnableMe). When she got her first mortgage, she was horrified at how little principal was actually being paid down for the first two decades. So, as you do, she rung up a calculus lecturer at the University of Auckland. The outcome of that was an eight-page equation that apparently will get you out of debt ASAP based on structuring your mortgage on an optimal mix of rates and timeframes, assuming of course that you have spare cash to make extra payments. I’d be interested to know more about how that works, but I guess that’s what her clients cough up $200-plus an hour for.
Tags: books, money, personal finance
What is that thing for you? The thing you love most, never tire of, that is is never a chore or a drag for you?
Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For me, it’s reading. I take books anywhere (I’m old-school, don’t believe in e-books, although I’m the biggest smartphone addict ever). I will read on public transport. In the toilet. During the ads, if I’m watching TV in real time. While stirring the pot for dinner. Even while walking, sometimes.
Reading requires nothing of me, just the energy to focus my eyes, hold a book up, turn the pages.
I never DON’T want to read, although sometimes I may not have the time for it, or am just too tired.
T can’t fall asleep without having the TV on. I like to doze off with my nose in a book.
Books are my first love.
What about you?
Tags: books, life, reflections
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I like the idea of the slow food movement. I’ve always loved to eat. But for a long time, I revelled in my inability to cook. I think I had a twisted notion that it enhanced my uniqueness somehow, along with the fact I played electric and listened to grunge (a girl who can’t cook! And in a post-feminist world, that’s okay!).
Then I decided I loved food too much to hold back. I’ve a long way to go to catch T, who’s been watching Food TV forever and has that instinct about pairing flavours and textures and ingredients. But I’m gettin’ there.
And deliberate, conscious choices in food consumption, I think, should be celebrated and applauded. I’m still very much price-conscious, but quality is incredibly important to me, and really, who doesn’t love to spend a lazy Saturday morning at the farmer’s market?
But I digress. What I wanted to talk about was this: a slow-books manifesto.
Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.
(What does that sound like? Michael Pollan, you say? You’d be right. “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”)
That’s a big call, I say. I reckon my literary split is about 50/50. Of course, the classics take me alot longer to plough through, so it feels more like 90/10.
Classics are hard work. I do enjoy them, most of the time. They’re demanding, yes, but often proportionately more rewarding.
But I need to break them up with lighter material that’s less taxing. There’s also the fact that the heavier material is usually more, erm, depressing. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reading fluffier stuff at all. I didn’t personally feel any need to branch out from YA and blockbusters until a couple of years ago. Whatever your taste is, I just think it’s awesome that you are an adult reader, because too many people give up books after school.
Reading should be celebrated and encouraged (though I think the memoirs of reality stars are about as bookish as those foul fruit rollups are foodish).
How would you describe your literary tastes?
Tags: books, food, reflections
There are three parts to The Complete Stories.
The two openers, Before the Law and The Imperial Message, which I *think* are about patience and perseverance and I especially liked.
The main body, including his seminal The Metamorphosis and other stories. Kafka’s gothic dark humour really shines through. He seems to have a thing about imperial rule/animals/death/imprisonment and of course, the human condition. Prime example: the true-to-life, packed with allusions, The Hunger Artist.
Some were deathly dull. The Burrow, I didn’t even read. Some are just bewildering: Description of a Struggle (WTF was going on there? Please enlighten me if you’ve read it), Wedding Preparations in the Country.
His most famous work was, of course, The Metamorphosis – very Greek tragic, beautifully haunting.
But my favourite was a very, very dark one, In the Penal Colony, featuring an unthinkable machine of torture. Simultaneously absurd and horrifying, you have to wonder what was going through his mind.
And then the shorter vignettes of the final section, some just a couple of paragraphs long. A few shiners, but overall more unpolished diamonds than gems, in my view.
No doubt these are stories that get better with multiple readings – I just don’t want to put in the time.
I recently had the chance to interview Monica Leonelle, a Chicago-based writer, and review her latest e-book, Socialpunk (the first in a trilogy). Read on for some of her insights, and scroll down for my book review!
Many authors find writing a creative outlet from an otherwise uncreative job. Can you talk about balancing writing a novel (a creative pursuit) with a marketing career (also a rather creative pursuit) and keeping those juices constantly fresh?
I would go crazy if I just did one or the other. I like that marketing is all about strategy, and that I’m able to provide a ton of value to would-be writers. For example, I have free email consultations that are killer—they are getting really popular, actually. One allows you to ask three questions about writing, publishing, and/or marketing a book. I send back detailed answers. The other is for writers with a manuscript—they can upload their first 1000 words and received detailed feedback on how to make their book more hooking.
Novel writing is what I do for fun, but it also ties into my business nicely, I suppose. I am working on a better balance between the two at the moment, and considering doing more serialized fiction so I can get my fiction out and into the world faster. I spend a lot more of my time on my writing consults and editing services, at this time.
Tell me about the differences between writing a novel and business/nonfiction – the process, how you approach it?
They aren’t that different for me. I use Scrivener to do detailed outlines, regardless of what I’m writing. And in both, I try to create lots of tension. Though, I guess with non-fiction I really try to give detailed information, which isn’t always tension-based.
What was the inspiration for Socialpunk and what message do you hope to deliver through it?
I don’t do messages, really. I can’t honestly understand authors who try to give a message. I prefer to present the world through my viewpoint and let people decide what they believe for themselves. As for inspiration, the book is inspired by Chicago winters, technology and digital media, and the Terminator series. James Cameron continues to be a huge inspiration for me as a writer.
The book publishing industry is going through some massive upheaval and very fundamental changes – what are your thoughts on the future of publishing?
I don’t know that books will really be around, to be honest (in the far future). In the Socialpunk universe, people don’t have books anymore. All media is interactive and visual. Text isn’t needed as much because thoughts are communicated without words.
Tell me about your book marketing strategy – did you start blogging first to build a fan base? Are other authors adopting a similar strategy?
I don’t believe in blogging to build an audience, at least not in its typical form. I’m still building a fan base for my novels, but one of the ways I do so is via an email list. I have about 500 people who are willing to hear about my new releases… of course, the more the better. I haven’t launched a campaign to increase this number, but I’m definitely thinking about how to do so.
Your one piece of advice for would-be authors?
Patience! It’s not just for would-be authors, but also for authors. And also for myself . I want to speed things along whenever I can, but books are a slow business.
Socialpunk – Monica Leonelle O’Brien
A little bit YA, a little bit sci-fi, Socialpunk follows a teenaged Ima living in a post-apocalyptic America. The novel opens as she, along with her best friend/something more Dash, sneaks out under her abusive father’s nose to a rave in the city. Her night begins to unravel as Dash abandons her to hook up with beautiful, catty Lia (urk. Granted, sci-fi isn’t always strong on characterisation), and takes a definite turn for the worse when the entire club blows up.
And thus, she learns her entire universe – The Dome – is a lie. Along with the mysterious Nahum and VR “tester” Vaughn – who’s just as surprised to discover that real people exist in this dimension as Ima is to realise that her Chicago isn’t all it seems to be – she travels beyond the boundaries of her train line to a place where the line between human and machine is blurred; the currency of choice is Clout (does anybody else now find it strange to see the word spelled correctly?); and art and creatives rule. I particularly liked that.
As Ima plunges into the real Chicago, she must piece together a puzzle much larger than she could ever have imagined. It’s a world where, in order to survive, she has to undergo a Terminator-style makeover to fit in, emerging bigger, faster, stronger (it’s a bit Bella in Breaking Dawn post turning – and yes, I read all those books). On the plus side, in this new phase of her life, she has not one but two guys vying for her affection – every awkward teenage girl’s dream.
While slow to start, the author does eventually pick up the pace and from then on it’s all action action action. Admittedly, some parts are clunky and unpolished, and from about halfway through small grammatical errors and typos start creeping in. And personally, I think it would have been stronger without the very last chapter. But I think the key question is: would I read the sequels? The answer is yes.
Want to win stuff? There’re giveaways going on around Socialpunk’s release – click here for more details.
Are you much of a sci-fi fan? An aspiring novelist? (I bet a fair few of you are – I used to want to write a YA novel, but now I think I’d be more likely to write something non-fiction. Can non-famous people write memoirs?)
Tags: books, writing
Don’t Breathe a Word – Jennifer McMahon
This was my first brush with McMahon; I picked this book up off the library’s ‘recently returned’ shelf on a whim.
The cover is creepy – one bug-eyed child with the edges of her face blurred – and let me assure you, the text is equally creepy.
The story is based on a simple and not particularly original premise: that of a lost little girl. Little Lisa went missing in the woods, possibly into the world of fairies, and her family has never quite been the same since. Fast forward to today, and Phoebe is dating Sam, Lisa’s younger brother, when mysterious overtures are made to them from someone claiming to be Lisa returned to the human world.
The narrative is linear, but divided between two timelines – that of the present, in which Phoebe and Sam race to uncover just what the hell is going on – and that of the summer leading up to Lisa’s disappearance. Both storylines gallop along. McMahon’s pacing is perfect and masterful. I dare you to try and put this book down. In the past, secrets are hinted at, as we learn that Sam and Lisa’s apparently lovely rural childhood was perhaps not so serene as it appeared to outsiders. In the current, Sam and Phoebe are tormented by somebody playing games with them – could it really be Teilo, the king of the fairies? Or is there a more reasonable, sane explanation for the mindf***s that are happening…the mysterious characters showing up, the break-ins, the notes?
A particularly interesting aspect, I thought, was the fact protagonist Phoebe was in a relationship with a dude 10 years younger, from a different social and intellectual class. I kind of thought that was going somewhere, and it could – but McMahon, despite making more than a few references to this, chose not to explore that path any further.
Toward the third section of the book, it starts to unravel a little. Not just in terms of the mystery, but in terms of McMahon’s writing. It’s a little rushed (thankfully, it wasn’t quite The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake) and while the ending itself, I think, was a more than valid way to go, it certainly felt that the author ran out of steam and bashed out the final chapters without much thought.
Nonetheless, a full four stars from me. Don’t Breathe a Word is truly haunting, and best of all, while it deals with the fantastic it’s very much grounded in reality.