Monday, March 31, 2008

Bookshelf Etiquette

Because I'm lazy and have no desire to trawl the internet for interesting articles, I pinch them from other blogs instead. I'm at least kind enough to give credit where it's due, so thanks to Chris from Book-a-Rama for the following entertaining links.

So, I've been reading some articles concerning 'bookshelf etiquette'. The original article was posted in a Time blog by Matt Selman and be found here. He raises some interesting points and rules that he has devised, such as: 'It is unacceptable to display any book in a public space of your home if you have not read it.'

Thankfully I don't agree with this or I would have quite a lot of empty shelves and literally hundreds of books hidden away, never to be seen by the public or gazed upon with fondness by myself. I'm a compulsive book-buyer and buy books way faster than I can read them (so far this year I've read 16 books and bought 41 more - that means for every book I read, I add at least 2.5 more to my TBR pile).

I don't think there's any problem displaying books on your shelves that you've yet to read, although it would be a different story if the you had no intention of ever reading them (like if you're so stupid you buy books just to try to make yourself look smart/well-read, in which you'll be found out sooner or later).

I fully intend to read all of my books one day and I love sitting and looking at them all - thinking of the wondrous tales therein that I've yet to discover (yes I'm aware that I sound like a nutter). One day soon I'll be buying a place of my own and once I have a mortgage I won't be able to go out and buy as many books as I do now. So the way I see it is that I'm stockpiling reading material for future years. No reading drought for me!

There's a couple of other excellent blog entries regarding the original blog posting, which can be found here and here. The comments on both are very interesting as well.

It's nice to know I'm not the only person who has a problem with buying a lot of books :)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Recently Acquired Books

Cliver Barker: Weaveworld
Roald Dahl: The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
HV Evatt: Rum Rebellion
George Grossmith: Diary of a Nobody (I read an ebook version of this last year and found a lovely illustrated version)
Banjo Paterson: The Man from Snowy River

Friday, March 28, 2008

BTT: Playing Editor

(From 13 March 2008): How about a chance to play editor-in-chief? Fill in the blanks:____ would have been a much better book if ____.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho would have been a much better book if the writing style wasn't so plain and boring, and if the 'treasure' at the end of the story wasn't so damn obvious and inappropriate for the main character.

I could go on and on about that book, but I won't.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Fortunate Life by AB Facey

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1981
Number of pages: 326

Started: 22 March 2008
Finished: 26 March 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Bert Facey sees himself as an ordinary man, but his remarkable story reveals a winner against impossible odds. At eight, his 'childhood' ended and he went out to work - clearing, ploughing, fencing, droving, sinking dams, boxing with a travelling troupe. He survived Gallipoli to become a farmer, but was forced to leave the land during the Depression.

A Fortunate Life is the amazing true story of the life of Albert Facey, covering his life from his birth in 1894 to around 1976, six years before he died. Bert had little schooling and mostly taught himself to read and write. He began keeping notes about his life and eventually compiled them chronologically into this book at the urging of his family.

The writing is not at all flowery or lyrical - Facey tells the story straight up and betrays little emotion throughout, only occasionally mentioning his loneliness in the bush, his terror during the war, and his deep love for his wife and children. The story is so chock-full of events that, had overly descriptive language been used, the impact of his story would have been lessened.

A Fortunate Life moves along at a cracking pace and is a remarkable story of endurance and humbleness in the face of incredible hardship. The book gives a wonderful view of how life was lived in Australia during this time period. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Rating: 6/10

Published: 1966
Number of pages: 177

Started: 18 March 2008
Finished: 22 March 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Jean Rhys' late literary masterpiece, Wide Sargasso Sea, was inspired by Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and is set in the lush, beguiling landscape of Jamaica in the 1830s.

Born into an oppressive colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty. After their marriage disturbing rumours begin to circulate, poisoning her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is driven towards madness.

Nothing in this story particularly appealed to me. I found it very hard to identify with any of the characters or feel any sympathy for them. I don't think Rochester behaved or spoke in any way that was reminiscent of his character in Jane Eyre, so I struggled to make the connection between the two stories, although it improved slightly at the end, when the two books were overlapping.

However, I did find it interesting when taken in a historical context, having previously known nothing about colonial Jamaica or the Creoles and emancipated slaves who lived and suffered there. The descriptions of Coulibris and the surrounding countryside were evocative and quite beautiful, but that's about where my praise ends I'm afraid.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Rating: 8/10

Published: 2001
Number of pages: 373

Started: 11 March 2008
Finished: 18 March 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Meet Thursday Next, literary detective without equal, fear or boyfriend.

There is another 1985, where London's criminal gangs have moved into the lucrative literary market, and Thursday Next is on the trail of the new crime wave's Mr Big.

Acheron Hades has been kidnapping characters from works of fiction and holding them to ransom. Jane Eyre is gone. Missing.

Thursday sets out to find a way into the book to repair the damage. But solving crimes against literature isn't easy when you also have to find time to halt the Crimean War, persuade the man you love to marry you, and figure out who really wrote Shakespeare's plays.

Perhaps today just isn't going to be Thursday's day. Join her on a truly breathtaking adventure, and find out for yourself. Fiction will never be the same again...

An interesting concept and quite well done. I'm sure there are probably a lot of little jokes that I wasn't 'getting', but I think on re-reading it I'd probably pick up a bit more. The story was cliched (as it's meant to be, I'm sure), but it didn't bother me, which was strange, because I when the read the same sort of cliched detective story in David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (The Luisa Rey Mystery), I just found it highly irritating.

It's certainly a gem of a book for a literary buff and contains a lot of intriguing little ideas and a quirky vision of the future. Not being much of an English history buff, there were some parts of the alternative history that I didn't quite get because I didn't know how that history had played out in our own time. The good thing about my ignorance is that books like these spur me on to research these events on the internet and thus learn while I'm enjoying the story.

Thursday Next is a great heroine and I can see a bit of myself in her, which is always nice. Having owned this book for so long and after seeing so many great reviews about it, I was glad not to be disappointed by it (as can often be the case when you go into a book with high expectations). I'm looking forward to continuing on with the series.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

BTT: Heroes and Heroines

(From 28 February 2008): Who is your favourite female lead character? And why?
My favourite female lead character is Ellie Linton, who appears in John Marsden's Tomorrow... series and also in the follow-up series, The Ellie Chronicles. Ellie more or less becomes the leader of her group of friends when Australia is invaded by another country. She's tough, ballsy and doesn't take crap from anyone. Her friends look to her for ideas and she often gets them out of life-threatening situations (she sometimes gets them into life-threatening situations as well, but part of why she's so great is because she's human and has faults). She's brave and doesn't shy away from doing the tough jobs. She's quite a role model for young women.

(From 6 March 2008): Who is your favourite male lead character? And why?
Mr Darcy . What a gorgeous guy (and I'm picturing Colin Firth as I say that, of course). Need I say more? The perfect man. I also quite like the bumbling Charles Pooter of George Grossmith's The Diary of a Nobody, one of the funniest stories I've ever read. He is a classic character of literature.

Woohoo! I'm only 2 BTTs behind! There's hope for me yet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Vale Arthur C Clarke

Arthur C Clarke, one of the greatest science fiction writers the world will ever see, has passed away. Details of his life and works can be found at Wikipedia.

He has given the world a body of terrific work that will be valued forever. I have quite a few of them myself, including an absolutely wonderful collection of his short stories. I'm halfway through the Rama series and hoping to continue on with it this year. I also love the Space Odyssey series, and The City and the Stars has always been a personal favourite.

Clarke's works have always been very quotable. Here are some pearls of wisdom:

"Sometimes I think we're alone in the universe, and sometimes I think we're not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering. "

"Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living."

"It may be that the old astrologers had the truth exactly reversed, when they believed that the stars controlled the destinies of men. The time may come when men control the destinies of stars."

"And because, in all the galaxy, they had found nothing more precious than Mind, they encouraged its dawning everywhere. They became farmers in the fields of stars. They sowed and sometimes they reaped. And sometimes, dispassionately, they had to weed."

And here are Clarke's three laws of prediction:

  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
RIP Arthur C Clarke.

Monday, March 17, 2008

BTT: Two for the Price of One

With only a few more BTTs to go before I finally catch up, I've decided to step up the pace and provide two in one (particularly because I don't have much to say on the first one!)

(From 14 February 2008): Have you ever fallen out of love with a favorite author? Was the last book you read by the author so bad, you broke up with them and haven’t read their work since? Could they ever lure you back?
No, I can't say that I've ever given up on an author. I've certainly given up on authors after just one book (Paulo Coelho, I'm looking at you), but I've never given up on a favourite author. They've never let me down!

(From 21 February 2008): All other things (like price and storage space) being equal, given a choice in a perfect world, would you rather have paperbacks in your library? Or hardcovers? And why?
Hmm, both have their advantage and disadvantages. Hardbacks would probably last longer but are also heavier and more awkward to hold when reading. Paperbacks are more disposable (although I tend to look after mine pretty well) but they are also lighter and easier to hold.

Hardbacks are probably more likely to come in one size (height-wise) than paperbacks. Or are they? I'm not that familiar with them. But if so, they'd certainly look nicer on the shelves than a hodge-podge collection of different-sized paperbacks. I guess looks aren't that important though...I guess the answer is paperback!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Recently Acquired Books and Books Added to Wish List

I bought the following books on Friday. There's a bookshop near my train station that sells new books very cheaply. It's a very addictive shop - every time I go in there lately I've come out with at least half a dozen books.

John Banville: The Sea
Alex Garland: The Beach
Henry James: What Maisie Knew
John Steinbeck: The Red Pony
Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited
Thornton Wilder: The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Unfortunately none of these books were on my mile-long wish list, but they've been in the back of mind for a while so it doesn't matter. I've also added a few more books to my wish list.

Kyril Bonfiglioli: The Mortdecai Trilogy
Aldous Huxley: Brave New World Revisited
Dorothy Parker: The Portable Dorothy Parker
David Sedaris: Naked

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1847
Number of pages: 592

Started: 28 February 2008
Finished: 10 March 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Jane comes from nothing but is hungry for everything that life can offer her. She manages to survive her tragic childhood through sheer spirit and strength of character. And when she finds work as a governess in a mysterious mansion, it seems she has finally met her match in the darkly fascinating Mr Rochester.

But Thornfield Hall contains a shameful secret - one that could keep Jane and Rochester apart for ever. Can she choose between what is right, and her one chance of happiness?

I had been looking forward to reading Jane Eyre for quite a long time, and I wasn't disappointed. It's a beautifully written novel with great characterisation. I loved all of the chapters regarding Jane's early childhood. I thought it did a great job of setting up her personality and background.

I loved the character of Jane and could identify with her quite a bit, which isn't something that happens to me very often. She's smart, headstrong and passionate, and her dialogue with Mr Rochester, in particular, makes for some enjoyable reading. I started getting a little bored when she went on her excursion to Morton, but once it got back on track at the end it was truly wonderful.

I'm fairly certain I saw a movie version of this many years ago at school but fortunately I didn't remember a thing about it. So as far as I was concerned I knew nothing of the story. I would love to see those closing scenes being played out, and I'd really like to track down the Orson Welles version of the film, seeing as he's one of my favourite actors.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Another Reading Meme

I found this reading meme and thought I'd give it a go, seeing as it'll be a few more days before I can get through Jane Eyre and post my review.

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?
Usually chick-lit books such as those by Janet Evanovich, Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (although I have to admit that I've given in on Fielding and bought Bridget Jones' Diary).

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event (afternoon tea, a night of clubbing, perhaps a world cruise), who would they be and what would the event be?
I'd have a few lads around to my place for dinner: Alex from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson, and Dean Moriarty from On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Let chaos reign! It would certainly be an interesting night!

(Borrowing shamelessly from the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde): you are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realise it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?
The Bible? Although from what I remember reading of it during my childhood days, there were some interesting parts in it. I really can't think of anything too boring. I'm sure there are plenty out there but as I don't make a habit of reading boring books, it's a bit difficult to know really...

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?
I can't recall ever pretending to have read a book.

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realise when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?
I don't think that's happened either :) I certainly buy doubles of books occasionally, because I can't remember what I've already got!

You’re interviewing for the post of Official Book Advisor to some VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why? (If you feel like you’d have to know the person, go ahead of personalise the VIP.)
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. One of the greatest books ever written and, of my personal favourites, the most likely that is to appeal to the broadest audience (and therefore have a greater chance of pleasing the VIP).

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?
Ooh, tough choice. On the one hand, I'd like to be able to read Russian so I can enjoy Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as they were meant to be enjoyed. However, there's also a lot of French literature that I'm looking forward to reading one day, by the likes of Emile Zola and Marcel Proust. Ultimately there's probably more French literature I'm interested in reading, so I'd have to go with that.

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will re-read once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?
It's a close call between To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Hmm, I'll go with To Kill a Mockingbird.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging (maybe a new genre, or author, or new appreciation for cover art-anything)?
I've discovered the wonder of reading challenges. They're quite addictive: I'm doing 9 this year, although I haven't officially signed up for any on the various blogs. I'm just doing them on my own terms. Every time I read about a new one I want to take it up. They all sound so good! There are challenges celebrating author's birthdays, dead authors, 19th century women, etc.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead - let your imagination run free.
A good-sized room with high ceilings, but not so large that it becomes impersonal. It needs to be cosy, with a fireplace and lounges, armchairs, chaises etc - plenty of different seating to suit my different moods (all matching, of course). Large windows to allow plenty of natural light but also big enough to watch thunderstorms from - it will have a window seat, of course. And there'll be plenty of reading lamps on tables for atmosphere. The bookcases will stretch from the floor to the ceiling, and cover all the walls (except where the windows are!), with a ladder on tracks to get to the higher books.

As for the books themselves, I don't need anything fancy. Just my usual paperbacks, with the odd hardback thrown in. A mixture of new and second-hand books, with maybe a few autographed copies as well.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

BTT: But, Enough About Books

(From 7 February 2008): What else do you do with your leisure to pass the time?
I'm generally a homebody and don't like to go out much. I love staying home and watching DVDs and reading. I occasionally get stuck into doing mosaics. I usually have a specific project in mind, such as a table, and they end up taking months to do so I don't do them too often (plus the materials are expensive).

When I do venture outdoors I love bushwalking. Nothing beats spending a beautiful day in the Australian bush. I also love going for drives to small country towns or just driving for the sake of driving (in rural areas, never cities). And tracking down secondhand bookshops that I've never been to before.

I'm also in the SES (State Emergency Service). I joined about 6 months ago and I love it. It generally takes up 2-3 hours per week for training and I've spent quite a lot of time out at operations already (storm damage mostly). I've been learning heaps and met a great bunch of people. So despite being a homebody and not generally very sociable, the SES has turned that around for me a bit :)

Monday, March 3, 2008

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Rating: 10/10

Published: 1945
Number of pages: 120

Started: 26 February 2008
Finished: 27 February 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

First published in 1945, Animal Farm has become the classic political fable of the twentieth century. Adding his own brand of poignancy and wit, George Orwell tells the story of a revolution among animals of a farm, and how idealism was betrayed by power, corruption and lies.

This is probably the most technically brilliant novel I have ever read. It's not exactly a page-turner, but it is perfection (or as near it as you're going to get). The story is neither too long nor too short; there is not a single superfluous sentence in the entire novel.

Animal Farm is a political satire of Soviet socialism - the Rebellion of the farm animals against the humans represents (as far as I can understand it) the revolution of the Bolsheviks against the Russian government. The human owners are driven off the farm and the animals finally have their freedom. They determine to create a society in which all animals are equal and must work together in order to survive, but, of course, things start to fall apart and we learn that some animals are more equal than others. This story works on so many levels and really does a wonderful job in exploring the concepts of power and corruption. Very highly recommended.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1999
Number of pages: 372

Started: 20 February 2008
Finished: 25 February 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):
Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: neverwhere.

A very light and enjoyable read, full of vivid and unique characters. The world underneath London is nicely portrayed and bears striking similarities to London Above. It loses points for the way in which Gaiman describes the characters in the exact same way time after time (for example, Door's eyes). For the life of me I cannot think of anything else to write, except to repeat that it was very enjoyable, and that I'll be seeking out more Neil Gaiman in the future.