September 2022 Short Story Reading Post

Photo of open notebook with handwritten notes on stories (transcribed and expanded below)

This post is a roughly tidied version of my September 2022 tweets about short stories. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post. Also, as usual, this post is long, so the rest is below the cut…

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Keeping thoughts on books

Having reading groups postponed after I’ve read the book sometimes means forgetting all the compelling and witty thoughts I had. What helps is keeping quick notes made at the time.

I use the following mashup of approaches from Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative and Austen Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist (consult both for far more details and justification!).

This keeps the notes contained while also teasing out ample thoughts and opinions, and jolting the memory adequately. I’ve posted about this before, because it’s a useful framework for creating conversations and opinions in class discussions. But I use it a lot myself.

I aim to make at least three notes for each of these points:

  • Patterns (between this and anything else, and go wide — after any obvious connections, I try to force links with the last things I watched/read)
  • What surprised you? (and why)
  • What did you like? (and why)
  • What didn’t work for you? (and why? how could it have been done differently, and how would that have changed things?)
  • What would you like to steal or try, or (rephrased for serious groups) what did you find particularly interesting?
  • [Sometimes, for narrowly subject-specific groups: how does it relate to established key themes]

I don’t do this for everything I read or watch. Ephemerality is nice too, and days are brief. For short stories, this framework can be overkill, and I have the whole three-moods reading project for them anyway. In the observation journal, I often just list “Five Things To Steal” (here’s the tag), or look for larger patterns as a separate exercise.

But I do keep a running collection of general notes this way — especially for reading groups and for books I plan or hope to discuss with someone! The full suite of questions is excellent for having things to say, and remembering what they were. I’ve used notes from 5 years ago without anyone realising I had not reread the book (and without losing any debates)

2020-02-24---Bookmarks
Bookmarks for a class (this is the Terribly Earnest phrasing)

August 2022 Short Story Reading Post

Photo of handwritten notes — key sections extracted below

This post is a roughly tidied version of my August 2022 tweets about short stories. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post. Also, as usual, this post is long, so the rest is below the cut…

Continue reading

July 2022 Short Story Reading Post

Photo of handwritten notes — key sections extracted below

This post is a roughly tidied version of my July 2022 tweets about short stories. It was curtailed by travel, but is still quite long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.

Also a warning: I was either in transit or badly jetlagged for a lot of this. Coherency may vary.

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June 2022 short story reading thread

Photo of handwritten short story notes

This post is a roughly tidied version of my June 2022 tweets about short stories. It’s quite long, so I’m putting the rest of it below the cut. There’s a list of all stories at the very end of the post.

Continue reading

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.

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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.

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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.