Friday, May 30, 2008

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Rating: 7/10

Published: 1927
Number of pages: 127

Started: 21 May 2008
Finished: 23 May 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

An ancient bridge collapses over a gorge in Peru, hurling five people into the abyss. It seems a meaningless human tragedy. But one witness, a Franciscan monk, believes the deaths might not be as random as they appear.

Convinced that the disaster is a punishment sent from Heaven, the monk sets out to discover all he can about the travellers. The five strangers were connected in some way, he thinks. There must be a purpose behind their deaths.

But are their lost lives the result of sin?...Or of love?

Comments (may include spoiler):
The story is a philosophical look at why bad things happen to people. I suppose we've all wondered at one time or another why bad things happen to other people while we escape unscathed. I like that the questions posed were never really answered. It was left up to the reader to put the pieces together and to decide what it all meant, if indeed it meant anything.

An interesting story. I didn't love it, but there's nothing I didn't like about it really. It was just a bit...meh. As in other reviews I've read, I think the book suffers a little from detachment. The characters are given thorough and interesting backstories but I never really felt close to them. That said, there were some lovely quotes on human nature and love, and I liked the interconnectedness of the characters and their lives. A good read, and nice and short. Recommended.

BTT: Books vs Movies

(From 22 May 2008): Books and films both tell stories, but what we want from a book can be different from what we want from a movie. Is this true for you? If so, what’s the difference between a book and a movie?
I far prefer reading a book before watching the movie adaptation. In fact, I go out of my way to avoid watching a movie if I ever plan on reading the book (it hasn't always been this way though).

The reason I prefer to read the book first is so I can form my own ideas and pictures of the characters. Of course, this can lead to problems when I eventually see the movie - the characters won't necessarily be as I imagined, and I can't help but be irritated by the way the movie gets changed from the book (or things get left out), but overall, I'm happier doing it this way. I understand that a movie must be adapted a little, but honestly, quite often the changes are completely unnecessary.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Rating: 9/10

Published: 1911
Number of pages: 253

Started: 15 May 2008
Finished: 20 May 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):
Poor Mary! She was a forlorn, unwanted, disagreeable child when, after cholera had carried off her nurse and both parents in one day, she was brought from India to live at the great lonely house (most of it shut up) on the bleak Yorkshire moors. Wandering in the gardens, she found one that was walled in. There seemed no way to get inside it - except as the robin flew, over the wall. How she got inside and what happened to her there is the sort of magic that can still happen.

The Secret Garden is a magical, charming story - the type that stays with you for life. The spoilt Mary and Colin, under the watchful, mature eye of Dickon, grow and become more healthy as the garden grows and becomes more healthy. They learn to love and open up their hearts to others. A wonderful story (and a lame review that does no justice to it ;) ).

BTT: Manual Labour (Redux)

(From 15 May 2008): Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not? Do you ever read manuals? How-to books? Self-help guides? Anything at all?
Depends on the gadget. If it's a digital camera I'll have a read through to figure out all the menus and options. If it's a TV or DVD player I'll use it to help program channels. I don't always read them cover to cover - I tend to just use the bits I need, but I always keep the instructions for future reference.

I have a few Complete Idiot's Guides - on Wicca & Witchcraft, Yoga and Astronomy. Despite the unfortunate titles and the seemingly formulaic set-up of the books, I've found them very useful and informative (well, I've only read W&W all the way through).

I think the only self-help book I have is probably Don't Sweat the Small Stuff...And it's All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. I've read it once and liked some of the ideas, but it seemed very repetitive in places. I think it did help me at the time. I was a more stressed driver than I wanted to be, and virtually on the first page there was info that helped me with that. I now don't give a stuff (usually) when other people are morons on the road :)

I know I have some other 'new-age' books, such as James Redfield's The Celestine Prophecy (and follow-ups) but I don't know that they come under the self-help banner.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

BTT: Manual Labour

(From 8 May 2008): Writing guides, grammar books, punctuation how-tos . . . do you read them? Not read them? How many writing books, grammar books, dictionaries–if any–do you have in your library?
Well, I don't read them straight through but I do love browsing through them from time to time (usually only when I'm looking up something specific).

At home I have a large 3rd edition Macquarie Dictionary with the accompanying Macquarie Thesaurus, and I have the Australian Government Publishing Services (AGPS) Style Manual. I bought all of them for a course I was doing in proofreading and editing, but we also have copies of the Style Manual at work. I also have the wonderful Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss. I've eyed off various other dictionaries (how I would love one of those huge etymological tomes!) and grammar books over time but haven't bought any more.

Also at work I have a couple of older grammar books that I rescued from certain destruction. I keep meaning to have a look at them to see whether they're actually relevant to my job, gets in the way. is called Choosing Your Mark: A Guide to Good Expression and Punctuation, and the other is called Using Grammar in Your Prose - both by Dr George Stern.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

Good article on the '1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die' by Peter Boxall.

I agree that the book is lacking in a lot of areas while overdoing others. Even I, massive Jane Austen fan that I am, don't really think it's necessary to include all of her novels.

Of course, these lists are completely arbitrary. No-one is ever going to be satisfied with such lists unless they've created them themselves (and possibly not even then). I still always enjoy looking at them though - maybe it'll introduce me to an author I would otherwise never have noticed.

So far I've read 52 books from the list (a measly 5.19%), with a further 104 books on my TBR pile (either hard copies or ebooks), and another 114 on my wishlist. That only adds up to about 27%, which is fine by me. Despite creating a 1001 Books Challenge for 2008, I have absolutely no intention of ever trying to complete this list. As with all of these lists, the interest for me is in the novelty of it. I like to count up my numbers and feel pride (or, more often, disgust) at the how many I've read.

Incidentally, Arukiyomi's website contains a spreadsheet that you can download containing a complete listing of the 1001 books. It's set up in such a way that you can keep count of what you've read (hence me being able to give a percentage). I've tweaked it a little to customise it for my own needs.

Arukiyomi also has great book reviews of the 1001 books, which I've been neglecting for about a year. Looks like I have a bit of catching up to do.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1814
Number of pages: 492

Started: 3 May 2008
Finished: 14 May 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):

Fanny Price has always felt like an outsider. She was adopted by her uncle as a child and now lives in luxury at Mansfield Park, but doesn't fit in somehow. Shyer and much sweeter than the glamorous cousins she has grown up with, she feels she can only stand by and watch from the sidelines, never living her own life.

Fanny won't admit - even to herself - who she really loves. Her uncle conducts the search for a husband as if it were a business deal, and when the time for Fanny to marry comes, will she be handed over on a handshake? Or will she have the strength to make her own mistakes - and finally find true happiness?

Another brilliant offering from Jane Austen, although I have to say that it's probably my least favourite of the four I have read so far. I found all of the characters hard to sympathise with, although I did like Fanny. I can understand why people would think she is a weak character and dislike her because of it, but she reminds me quite a lot of myself, and I don't necessarily see myself as weak - I can probably understand her motives and feelings a bit better.

As usual, Austen's writing is beautifully lyrical throughout the book, and interspersed with subtle humour and irony. Another thing I keep forgetting with her books is that everything gets resolved in the last few pages, and they're usually rapped up very quickly and with little dialogue. Sometimes it's a little disappointing and you wish she would give as much time and care to the end of the book as she did to the rest.

Nevertheless, a brilliant read and highly recommended.

Recently Acquired Book

I bought Wicked by Gregory Maguire the other. It's a gorgeous hardback book with green-edged pages. You don't see that every day!

The Broadway musical version is coming to Australia soon, so I'll probably bump this one up the list so I can read it before I see the show.

My, I've been very slack with my blogging this month, partly because I've been reading so slowly. A few book reviews to follow in the next couple of days.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Skydiving Rocks! (No Book Content)

I went skydiving today and it was FREAKING AWESOME!

I jumped on a train to Sydney at 5.40am where I met my friend and we got the bus to Wollongong just after 7am. We got there a bit late (partially my fault, partially not) and as we were in the first group to go, we put on our gear quick smart and got taken through what we would have to do.

The guys were absolutely lovely - very easygoing and reassuring. We took a 10 minute drive to the airport, climbed into a tiny plane and lined ourselves up. There we got strapped onto our instructors. My friend and I were at the front of the line as we were due to jump first.

We took a lovely 15 minute flight up and around Wollongong and climbed to 14,000 feet (over 4 kilometres!) Again, the guys were lovely. Mine kept asking me how I was going and giving me pointers for keeping calm. He even cleaned my goggles for me before I put them on.

Next thing I know, the door is open and my friend is perched in the doorway, only to be gone a split second later. Before I even knew what was happening, I was in the doorway as well and my instructor was reminding me to cross my arms in front of my chest. Next thing, we're out! It was a slightly cloudy day which I think made it all the more terrifying because we just fell into greyness for a few seconds. Then the landscape opened up and I uncrossed my arms and just hurtled towards earth. I got a bit teary because it was such an overwhelming experience.

After about a minute of freefall, he pulled the parachute and there was a jolt. Then we cruised down and took in the scenery, which was absolutely stunning - beaches, ocean, mountains, bush, cities etc. He asked me before we left if I wanted a wild ride or a tranquil one and I said 'tranquil', but he had other ideas. He kept spinning us around in circles, which was thrilling, but not so great afterwards because I was a bit crook for a couple of hours. I also got to 'steer' a little bit.

You seem to lose all strength when you're in the air; on the ground he showed me how to pull my legs up to keep them out of the way when we landed, but it's a very different story in the air - I could barely move my legs at all! Luckily, when it came to the crunch, I was able to keep 'em out of the way.

Now, I'm not a confident or brave person, but somehow I managed to escape the worst of the nerves and didn't actually get scared at all until after we'd jumped. All in all, a terrific day, and if you have ever wondered what it would be like to jump out of a plane, DO IT! I promise it's not as terrifying as you might think! (Well, not after the first few seconds...)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Recently Acquired Books and Books Added to Wish List

I recently bought Aldous Huxley's Brave New World Revisited. It's a collection of essays written almost 30 years after he published Brave New World. He looks at the predictions he made back in 1932 and compares how society has changed in the intervening years.

Also added more books to my wish list:

John Brunner: The Jagged Orbit
John Brunner: The Sheep Look Up
John Brunner: The Shockwave Rider
John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar
Harry Harrison: Make Room! Make Room!
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude
Tom Wolfe: The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Friday, May 2, 2008

Breath by Tim Winton

Rating: 8/10

Published: 2008
Number of pages: 216

Started: 29 April 2008
Finished: 1 May 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):
When paramedic Bruce Pike arrives too late to save a boy found hanged in his bedroom he senses immediately that this lonely death is an accident.

Pike knows the difference between suicide and misadventure. He understands only too well the forces that can propel a kid toward oblivion. Not just because he's an ambulance-man but because of the life he's lived, the boy he once was, addicted to extremes, flirting with death, pushing every boundary in the struggle to be extraordinary, barely knowing where or how to stop.

So begins a story about the damage you do to yourself when you're young and think you're immortal.

Breath is a coming-of-age story about the teenaged 'Pikelet', who befriends the reckless 'Loonie' and their surfing mentor 'Sando'. Pikelet and Loonie develop a friendly rivalry and push themselves and each other to their physical and mental limits. Under Sando's watchful eye, they gradually become more daring and take on bigger and more dangerous waves.

While I sometimes found myself getting a little impatient with all of the surfing descriptions, I also got more and more absorbed, to the point where I imagined that I felt a little short of breath at the same time that Pikelet was struggling for breath after getting dumped by a huge wave. The vivid descriptions really enabled me to be there, cresting the waves right alongside Pikelet.

As the story goes along, it gets more and more depressing as Pikelet gets in over his head. Ultimately it's a story of triumph, but there's always an underlying current of sadness that permeates throughout the entire book and doesn't make for a particularly happy read, albeit it's a very good read.

This isn't usually the type of book I would go for, but it's by one of Australia's most critically-acclaimed authors and I've been wanting to read his work for a while. I'm looking forward to more of it.

Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

Rating: 8/10

Published: 1981
Number of pages: 196

Started: 27 April 2008
Finished: 29 April 2008

Summary (taken from blurb):
The game is called Beatie Bow and the children play it for the thrill of scaring themselves. But when Abigail is drawn in, the game is quickly transformed into an extraordinary, sometimes horrifying, adventure as she finds herself transported to a place that is foreign yet strangely familiar.

Abigail is an insightful, although not always likeable, teenager who lives in The Rocks, an historic area located next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. While chasing a young girl through the maze and alleys of The Rocks, Abigail finds herself transported back in time over 100 years, to a time when poverty and illness were widespread, and lives were very different. She is taken in by a family and discovers that she must help them to preserve The Gift.

The story is well-written and Victorian-era Sydney is portrayed very realistically (presumably, I wouldn't actually know having never lived in that time myself!). What I mean to say is, The Rocks are really brought to life. I know the area a bit, which is always an asset when reading. It's a very interesting place and I'd love to go and retrace Abigail's steps through the labyrinth that is The Rocks.

I last read this book when I was in primary school, some 15 years ago at least, and I had very vague recollections of it. I think it's still a common text in most primary schools, and long may it remain that way!