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).

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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

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with my older sister

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

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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.

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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

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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

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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!)

Read and Seen — January 2020

KJennings-JanuaryBookSketches

I’ve been trying to do a bit more fan-art/loosely-inspired sketches this year. Mostly (but not entirely) of books. These are based on January’s reading.

Books (not including manuscripts for illustration)

  • The Nightjar — Deborah Hewitt (this made me look up nightjars, which are kind of amazing)
  • Silver in the Wood — Emily Tesh (bolshie dryads!)
  • I See, I See — R. Henderson (delightful turn-about picture book by a Brisbane author: recommended, and everyone I’ve shown it to so far has bought it)
  • Domestic Life in England — Norah Lofts (flawed yet captures the acceleration of history)
  • Show Your Work — Austin Kleon (… great, actually — I tend to resist small square books)
  • Through the Woods — Emily Carroll (creepy-beautiful!)

(I have longer ramblier thoughts on Patreon).

Movies

  • Little Women (Amy!)
  • JoJo Rabbit (feels in some respects (for narrative reasons I think are deliberate) like a movie about East Berlin)

Other

 

July Calendar – Reading

Readers

I’m off to Readercon in July, which prompted this month’s calendar (although it’s a pattern I started sketching at World Fantasy last year).

Reading tree

You can print it in colour or to colour. Clicking on the images below will take you to a larger version of the image.

July Calendar - Colour July Calendar - Lines

Read and seen: January 2014

Books

There is a remarkable dignity and gentleness to Carolyn Morwood’s Eleanor Jones mysteries. Her Melbourne of the ’20s, and the characters in it, are much closer to the thoughtful, measured world of Dorothy Sayers’ post-WWI London than to (say) the madcap adventures of Kerry Greenwood’s Phrynne Fisher. The sort of books which move quickly and yet leave you feeling as if you’ve been immersed in them for much longer.

Movies

  • The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug
  • American Hustle
  • The Book Thief
  • 47 Ronin
  • Saving Mr Banks

I’m confused by 47 Ronin. It feels like someone said, “But you can’t make that story into a movie – look at the ending!”. And someone else said, “Then we’ll put in monsters! and Keanu! and remarkably tattooed Dutch pirates who will look awesome on the poster!” but didn’t actually change the hero or the plot of the earlier script. So the movie wasn’t about Saving The World From Ultimate Evil, but did a good job of looking like it ought to be. It did do two things I liked, and which oddly paralleled Monsters University (make of that what you will). It showed actions which had Consequences, and also that a predominantly male cast can still have colourful costume design.

Special events

The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art is currently showing a remarkable program of fairytale films. In January I went to:

  • The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the oldest surviving animated feature film, with live accompaniment
  • Jabberwocky
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (the Gilliam one), which did many things very well – most Gilliam films fall short of what I wish they were, yet no-one else would have even tried to get that close. In this, I loved the Baron (the most appropriate ageing makeup I’ve seen), the opening titles (The eighteenth century… the Age of Reason… Wednesday), the importance of illogic and of course, “Everyone lived happily ever after, at least those who had a talent for it.”

Honourable Mentions

My housemate and I were doing 20/10s – 20 minutes art or cleaning, 10 minutes watching a show. Quite a bit of our productivity may be credited to these Barbara Cartland historical melodramas on YouTube:

  • The Lady and the Highwayman (with Hugh Grant!)
  • A Ghost in Monte Carlo

I wish there were more unashamed (I won’t say shameless, as it would give the wrong impression of what are pretty chaste stories) melodramas around. They are so much fun! No-one ever stops for introspection, shocking disclosures are followed by prompt action, quiet interludes interrupted by runaway carriages, cliffs and treasonous plots lurk around every corner…