A loose collection of thoughts on other people’s appreciation of things

A drawing of a compass, sample borders, a scroll with "elsewhere" and an arrow, and a comment saying "good coffee here!"

I’m taking delight, lately, in appreciations of things.

Continue reading

January 2022 Big Giant Three-Mood Story Reading Thread

Photo of handwritten notes — key sections extracted below

This post is a roughly tidied/slightly edited version of a Twitter thread I kept, tracking my January 2022 (and late December 2021) short story reading. It is extremely long, and I plan to extract sections of it into more concise posts in the future.

However, for posterity, here it is. Story notes are in regular text, my thoughts are in bold, in case that makes it easier to skip around. Feel free to ask for more detail/clarity. And I’ll edit this with links to related posts from time to time. [Note: I’ve started to drop in some very brief story descriptions to jog my own memory, but it might take a while to complete those, due to the aforementioned memory] [Further note: there is now a full list of stories read at the very end of this post]

It’s based on previous three-moods posts. See Story Shapes — Three-Mood Stories for background. The short version:

  • I like breaking short stories into progressions of three moods (rather than beginning-middle-end, etc). I find it more revelatory, intuitive and useful, both for reading stories and for writing them.
  • I use “mood” very broadly.
  • Each dot point is one shape — one way of reading the shape of the story.

Also now up:

Read on if you dare.

Continue reading

Books read, things seen — October, November, December 2021

I know, I know.

October books

  • The Monkey’s Mask — Dorothy Porter. I’m still not sure how I feel about this classic verse novel of murder and sex and the Sydney arts scene, except that (a) poets writing about horrible poets amuses me a great deal, (b) it gave me a lot to think about re how little a book can get away with saying, and (c) I ended up drafting an outline of a project partly in verse as a result. It might not have been a better outline, but it was certainly a faster one.
  • Death on the Agenda — Patricia Moyes (1962). Shared some interesting tropes with other mysteries I’ve read about this time, especially re beautiful tragic women. I loved the setting of a murder around an international police conference, and also scenes where people unexpectedly end up at too-fancy parties.
  • Murder Against the Grain — Emma Lathen (1967). In my experience, Cold War novels written in the ’60s tend to be either far closer to WW2 or far more human and lighthearted than one might expect. This is the latter. Trained otters! Forged grain lading bills! Spies and embassy staff and bank managers and limousine drivers capering around New York.
  • After the Funeral — Agatha Christie (1953). A very small-feeling book, but the feeling behind the crime lingered.
  • Green Grow the Dollars — Emma Lathen (1982). I described this to someone as Michael Crichton with tomatoes, and for a mystery set mostly at a horticultural conference and turning on industrial espionage, I loved that. Also, a fabulous background character who is changed by their fame exactly as much as suits their purposes, and who thoroughly enjoys the fact.
  • Going for the Gold — Emma Lathen (1981). Banking systems vs the Winter Olympic Village. I just love novels about logistics and systems?
  • Summer Spirit — Elizabeth Holleville. Dreamy, and a reminder (especially read in the same month as The Monkey’s Mask) that graphic novels can feel closer to verse novels than either are to novels or verse.
  • Saint Death’s Daughter — CSE Cooney (out April 2022 and available for preorder). What I wrote about it: “A luminous, chiming, bone-belled, ludicrous, austere, flamboyant, rhyming, reckless, affectionate novel, that — for all its mortality and cruelty — is less about decay than it is about love in its most expansive, gilded, world-shaping forms. A giddy libation to a sly and shifting pantheon, a glittering ossuary-mosaic of incautious hope and over-generous loves, of gambling and falling and flying.”

November Books

  • LickKylie Scott. Caveat: these are very steamy rockstar romance novels (my first foray into reading that subgenre). I’m caught between actually preferring no sex in novels and enjoying the situations and vibrant characters (and Kylie) enormously. Also a gratifyingly uncomfortable stranger-at-the-party sequence. Something I love about Kylie’s novels is the range of vivid personalities, and how many of her protagonists come out swinging, and generally give as good as they get.
  • Play — Kylie Scott
  • Lead — Kylie Scott
  • Corpse at the Carnival — George Bellairs (1958). Perhaps a little heavy on the poetry, but it does make the Isle of Man sound wonderful, and definitely creates a pocket-sized physical world, an enclosed landscape with its own personalities and zones.
  • The Art of Broken ThingsJoanne Anderton (out in 2022). This is what I wrote about it: “
  • The Art of Broken Things embodies a cycle, deteriorating but never entirely decaying, of hope and death. It is peopled by delicate, opportunistic constructs of equal parts life and tragedy shot through, held together and torn apart by grief and gold. Anderton wires together little lives out of the appeal and the dangers of life-grubbied enchantment, fabricated from the humanity of letting go too soon and also holding on too tightly (which might sometimes be just tightly enough).”
  • Deep — Kylie Scott
  • A Girl Like Her — Talia Hibbert. Again, Talia Hibbert’s novels are FAR steamier than is my preference. But she writes a range of characters who are variously atypical (or perceived to be atypical), and something about that presentation of a character as they are, operating within the world, and integrating that into the story and what good relationships and friends mean, and people figuring that out, feels more… human, perhaps, than some books that subscribe too lightly to perceived defaults?
  • Untouchable — Talia Hibbert
  • That Kind of Guy — Talia Hibbert
  • Damaged Goods — Talia Hibbert
  • [secret — bird book]

December Book

October Other

  • Nil. One day I should consider adding things I watch at home to these lists, but if I haven’t managed that in the last two years…

November Other

  • No Time to Die. This contains a lot of homages but there was a bit that gave me an incredibly vivid flashback to lying on a bed in college, chin propped up on one hand, watching a friend sitting at their computer playing GoldenEye.
  • Last Night in Soho. I’m still thinking about the use of mirrors, the timeslip elements, the good faces, the sense of the smallness of a good creepy UK story. I’d watched Ghost Stories shortly before this, and they belonged to the same tradition.
  • Red Notice

December Other

  • Ghost tour of Wolston House (things I overheard/learned: it’s bad design when manufacturers put non-slip patches on the planchette)
  • Don’t Look Up
  • The French Dispatch. I’m a sucker for staginess, unreality, mannered presentation, the signage, the commitment to an aesthetic.

Books read, things seen: June 2021

Drawing of mermaid sitting in water reading.
From the February 2021 calendar/print

Books

  • Blue — Pat Grant. (Comic) Striking style, and belongs to a particular Australian style weird-wonderful take on the bleakly awful parts of the country. Interesting history of local surf comics.
  • Tempting the Bride — Sherry Thomas
  • Slippery Creatures — KJ Parker
  • Burger Force volume 1 — Jackie Ryan. (Comic) SO MUCH FUN. And with a very particular (and stylish) style — and approached more as film than comic, when it comes to its creation as sequential art. And odd. And mod.
  • The Bone Lantern — Angela Slatter. Not published yet but as lovely as all her Sourdough-world tales, with interfolded enchantments and interleaved tales, and cruel and kind and pragmatic travellers with tangled histories, so keep an eye out for it!
  • Cousin Kate — Georgette Heyer. An occasionally almost anti-Gothic Gothic, with a stately pace common to this era of Gothic novels and a resistance to melodrama, which makes it an interesting read after the heartily Gothic aspects of The Quiet Gentleman (which somehow feels less Gothic). Some splendid people, though.
  • Gaudy Night — Dorothy Sayers. A reread for bookclub — I just love the Wimsey/Vane books so much, and it’s honestly SO indulgent, mimicking restraint and then having her characters essentially write fanfiction of scenes, but by this point authorial indulgence is all to the reader’s benefit.
  • Busman’s Honeymoon — Dorothy Sayers. A reread — see above — also I was getting very strong Diana Wynne Jones resonances from these two books (especially Deep Secret and Howl’s Moving Castle, but others as well). The milieus from which they emerge, a generation apart, are very obviously the same, and there are the John Donne quotes and so on, but there’s more there, and a deep delight.
  • Dungeon Critters — Natalie Riess & Sara Goetter. (Comic) This had been well-reviewed, but I was resisting it unfairly on the basis that it is cute and it is D&D-derived (nothing against D&D, I just stumble over some of books more obviously based on it). But this comic was having so much honest fun with the adventures of the critters, and the bad puns, and the melodramatic body language, and the little text jokes of e.g. certain names having to be pronounced (and therefore lettered) OMINOUSLY, or always being covered up by an interrupting word balloon.

Not books

  • CHESS (QPAC). The best of musicals, the worst of musicals.
  • The Broken Machine (by Liz Duffy Adams, reading by Magic Theatre online). Delight.
  • The Sleeping Beauty (Queensland Ballet). Cotton candy, in the best way.

2020 reading

KJennings-JanuaryBookSketches
Sketches from January

I finished approximately 79 books, not including manuscripts for illustration (or at least, the ones I couldn’t talk about yet). You’ll see I got through a lot of 2020 on midcentury murder and Regency and adjacent romance. 15 books were rereads, and many of those were Heyers. It doesn’t include a lot of art books, although I do want to sit down and read them more traditionally more often.

I wrote about some of the patterns in what I was reading — particularly the “romance (and tragedy) of the navigable world” over on Meanjin: What I’m Reading — Kathleen Jennings.

I was trying to do sketches or fanart for each book, but that thinned to a single broadly thematic image over the year. I still like the idea of doing it, but we shall see.

Here’s the list, including links to the individual “Read and Seen” posts, some of which include fanart and occasionally some thoughts on the books (they also show up in Observation Journal posts from time to time).

The *asterisks are for books which did something (style or trope or idea) I’m still thinking about.

Read and Seen — August to November 2020

I fell behind on my book posts, because I kept meaning to draw art to go with them. But here they are (excluding many partial books, some shorter illustrated ones I forgot to write down, and several manuscripts for illustration). Thoughts are abbreviated, but see also my post on Meanjin: What I’m Reading.

Also here is a wolf in a well.

Wolf in a well — illustration for a Patreon story

August

Books:

Thoughts: There were several books in this group with… variably likeable characters from privileged backgrounds, which makes for both odd characters and tricky class intersections. The Carlyle/Heyer/Marsh sequence was a bit of a trip. The Lucy Parker London Celebrity romances continue to be stacks of fun, however. My favourite is The Austen Playbook, for some apparently very small decisions, like having the heroine get cast as Lydia Bennet instead of one of the more obvious roles, and because it makes the author feel like someone you’d like to hang out with.

September

Books:

Movies:

  • Bill & Ted Face the Music
  • Porco Rosso

Thoughts: I love how Kate Milford writes colour and light, and I keep laughing at something ridiculous Gladys Mitchell in Winking at the Brim. Also, along with The Happiest Season, it has a very minor finely observed sequence about maintaining personal space, which I liked.

Bill & Ted Face the Music was the most delightful way to return to the cinemas post-lockdown (I’m in Queensland), and so very much about what making art isn’t and is. Porco Rosso does such wonderful things with time and learning.

October

Books:

Thoughts: Holly Black always mixes grim reality and enchantment enviably. Huzzah for Robin Stevens’ Wells & Wong detective society (I’m currently reading First Class Murder to my dad) — I’d love to read more traditional English subgenres from a slightly (or even extremely) outside perspective. One of the enormous frustrations of Michael Innes’ Hamlet, Revenge! is a glancing acknowledgement of how a country house murder must look to someone not-from-England and then ripping that story away from the reader.

I mentioned a bit over on the Meanjin blog about why I was tormenting myself with self-help and business-development books. Also I like to dip into them occasionally because it overlaps with some things I’d been teaching this year. The ones I usually find most useful, personally, were written for other purposes, but I did get a few good points/reminders/reassurances from The Organised Writer in particular (and there’s always something useful) and I rather liked the approach Ferris took in putting together Tools of Titans, which it shares with Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals and Maira Kalman’s My Favourite Things — essentially a collection of things he found interesting and applicable, and which the reader can take or leave.

November

Books

Movies/theatre/other

  • Baby Done
  • The Happiest Season
  • Born With Teeth — Liz Duffy Adams, table reading with Emily Carding and Margo MacDonald

Thoughts: GOODNESS I enjoyed The Eye of Love (thanks go to Jenny Clements for that). Gentle and focussed, with characters who would be ridiculous if they did not take themselves and their lives so seriously. The table reading of Liz Duffy Adams was a delight — and really interesting to see a certain shift in acting-for-Zoom from what it had been earlier this year, with so much moving into the head and hands. Also the way specificity (of, for example, job) in Baby Done made the story both smaller and expanded it beyond the superficial.

What I’m reading: a post for Meanjin

I wrote a blog post for Meanjin on what I’ve been reading, and the ways I’m trying to make those books fit each other, and the romance of the navigable world. The link to it is here:

What I’m Reading: Kathleen Jennings

It features aviation and romance and Ladybird books and murder (and a few other things — although, thanks to the moderating influence of Alex Adsett, not as many other things as it might have).

“The treasure islands were his desired landfall”

A little sketch for a little project of mine I hope will be coming out later this year (in the end, not illustrated).

2020-04-29-KJennings-ShoppingCart

It is in several ways (more than are visible here) an example of the overlap between sketching and writing. But it’s also illustrative of the dangers of reading poetry (in this case, Judith Wright’s “The Idler”), which tends to then seep back out into everything else.

Suitable Careers for Readers

2020-02-25-Reading

with my older sister

If you want to read, don’t be a writer.*

2020-03-08-bookends

offcuts from a work in progress

I mean, if you’re going to be a writer, then obviously read.

But they tell kids who read a lot that they should be writers, and it’s a trap! Writers spend such a lot of good reading time re-re-re-re-reading their own work.

17KJennings - The Origin Story

as then, so now

But if you want to read a lot for your job, illustrating is where it’s at. That’s where you get the books before almost everyone else, and where dedicated development of reading comprehension and the desire to comment on everything other people has written pays off.

2020-03-08-bookmarks

I’m 95% sure I did use that packing strip (top right) to break into my second-last car

It even usefully diverts the desire to analyse themes, or to wax academic without suddenly having the Chicago Manual of Style thrown at you.

And sometimes, at last, your favourite books*** come back around and need new art.

*I am, of course, doing both, so interpret this accordingly.

**Unless, of course, it’s to illustrate it.

***Not generally style manuals, but who knows? There is, after all, the delightful Maira-Kalman-illustrated Strunk & White.

Read and Seen — February 2020

2020-03-05-Book-sketches-Feb

Responses to Keep Going and Hilda and the Troll (left) and False Colours (right)

Books:

  • Keep Going Austin Kleon (good, but personally I found Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work less diffuse and more resonant).
  • False Colours — Georgette Heyer (so utterly gentle, and my favourite combination of high-stakes-for-characters/low-stakes-for-readers — see also Arabella and those productions of Twelfth Night where Orsino works out Viola’s deal pretty early on). The hero’s mother, Lady Amabel, irritates some of my friends but I love her, which might be partly attributable to Phyllida Nash’s beautiful narration: False Colours on Audible).
  • Hilda and the Troll — Luke Pearson (so charming — I already loved the series, and the clean distinct style, which is coming into focus here)
  • Hilda and the Midnight Giant — Luke Pearson (see above, and they started me thinking more about visuals and stylisation — and trolls and giants and, of course, trollish giants)
  • The Creeps — Fran Krause (perfect bite-size frights, alarms, and nervous laughs: excellent sequel to the equally excellent Deep Dark Fears, and together with Lynda Barry’s Syllabus refined the Pearson thoughts into smaller, four-panel formats — see also the Deep Dark Fears tumblr)
  • British Prints from the Machine Age — Stephanie Lussier (I’m trying to actually sit down and read through art books occasionally)
  • His Countess for a Week — Sarah Mallory
  • Certain Manuscripts for Secret Illustration Purposes

2020-03-02-FebruaryBooks2

Some individual panels

I did some little comic responses to various books and films, but they got out of hand and cross-pollinated. These are a few individual panels. They’re all a bit Luke Pearson/Fran Krause inflected, with some distant False Colours DNA (top left), a dash of Emma (top right), some Machine Age (bottom left), and some sort of Birds of Prey/Sarah Mallory mash-up (bottom right).

Movies:

  • Birds of Prey (fun and bright, and just a slightly different eye on things)
  • Emma. (fun and bright, but not quite enough of a different eye on things for what I wanted from it; great music, excellent supporting Nighy; also there’s an image that is shown in the first lecture of a subject I tutor, and I burst out laughing when I saw it (partially!) repeated in the film — Luxury or The Comforts of a Rumpford, a deliberate reference, h/t Peter for the link).

Other:

  • David Suchet, Poirot and More: A Retrospective (fascinating explanations, particularly of character notes, finding the right voice, the speed at which Freud would have walked, and rituals of exit)
  • The New Pornographers, at The Triffid (I know, Mother, I know!) (a lovely show, and they feel a lot more rock when heard live; also, for reasons, I was playing a listening game and am now convinced that while it would be tricky, it would be possible to make a rock opera of Emma).

(Some links are affiliate links, which just means I get a teeny commission if you buy something through them, but for preference, support good local bookstores!)