Books read, things seen: March 2016

Books

March Books

  • How to Edit a Novel – Charlotte Nash: (full disclosure, I was given a review copy and am friends with Charlotte) A very plain, step-by-step, mechanical approach to editing which is VERY USEFUL as it is easy to get caught up in high-concept flights of editorial lyricism. I’ve been editing a manuscript and used a lot of her pointers, which successfully calmed me down and got the new draft quickly finished.
  • Hellboy: The Chained Coffin, and others – Mike Mignola: I loved this so much. How have I managed not to actually read Hellboy before? It is laconic and wry and yet with a kindness, for all the bloody myths and tales. And the art which is so simple and weighty and full-mouthed.
  • The Rabbits – John Marsden and Shaun Tan (illustrator): This book! The art is so rich. It glows, it looks flat as a mosaic and then the shapes resolve into sails and landscapes, the regimented patterns move with meaning, there are more stories in the tiny details. It has less than 250 words, and they are the high, clear bells chiming out a fine melody over Tan’s orchestral compositions.
  • Edward Grey, Witchfinder, Vol. 1: In the Service of Angels – Mike Mignola and Ben Stenbeck (illustrator): I enjoyed it, and would read more, but it suffered by following immediately on the heels of Hellboy and being so earnest.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay: This is such a good book, still, and I don’t know how? I thought it got away with not solving the mystery by not being about the mystery but about the people left behind, and yet on a reread she keeps pulling it back to the investigation as well? It’s a book about the ripples caused by an unsolved mystery, and about the little things that change lives as well as the big things, the weight of something vast and inexplicable on the world. It’s also a reimagining of The Little Princess and The Secret Garden, and beautiful and dreadful. It’s also made me think that the very end of The Lovely Bones weakened that book’s impact.
Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

Picnic at Hanging Rock sketches

  • The Elusive Pimpernel – Baroness Orczy: C.S. Pacat and I stumbled upon a bookstore which was full of sequels we’d never heard of to very famous books. Now, the Pimpernel sequels are certainly generally known to exist, but this was the first I’ve read. It was a much smaller story than the first, really a battle between two wills, which is something I appreciate in sequels (instead of just making the antagonising forces bigger and badder). Also my personal theory is that Marguerite is the opposite of the cleverest woman in Europe, and in her Paris days people only called her that as a joke BUT Chauvelin, who was in love with her then, thought they were serious, and because he keeps so drastically overestimating her, the Blakeneys continue to triumph.

Seen

March Movies

  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (movie): Twice. We had so much fun. It was silly, but smartly so (new lines frequently taken from other Austen writing), and the production values were solid. I want to watch the outtakes just for more Bennett sisters as a team. I love Pride and Prejudice and many of its revisions, and a couple of these castings and scenes were extremely gratifying additions to the mythology.
  • From Dusk till Dawn (movie): Rooftop cinema. I still don’t know how this movie manages to form a coherent whole.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (play: Malthouse Theature): For such a visual book, it was fascinating to watch it staged with familiar descriptions but a minimalist, slate-grey set and almost none of the familiar imagery. The night-on-the-rock sequence was fabulously suspenseful, and Amber McMahon’s turn as Michael Fitzhubert was mesmerising.
Amber McMahon

My rough sketch from memory, and Amber McMahon (photo by Pia Johnson from ECU Daily).

  • The Rabbits (opera: QPAC): Affecting and gloriously textured interpretation of the book (see above).
  • London has Fallen (movie): Exactly what I expected, having seen Olympus has Fallen.
  • Zootopia (movie): Another fun movie, surprising, endearing, quotable and honestly the most convincing integration of mobile phones I’ve seen.
  • Hail Caesar (movie): Odd, though frequently gratifyingly so, and less a story than a ‘day in the life of’. I wanted more but also more of this. Peter M. Ball wrote up his thoughts: Would that it were so simple?

 

Leftovers from the week that was

This week's pictures from Twitter etc

This week’s pictures from Twitter etc

  • I spent the weekend (at fairly short notice) in Sydney for a family function, but also caught up with several good friends to talk about podcasts, art, Dorothy Dunnett, comics, freelancing, illustration and stories. It was extremely pleasant, and also I got to hold a real live pet rabbit (it looks just like a rabbit!).
  • As you may be able to see above, the pineapple and raven fabrics arrived from Spoonflower and turned out beautifully – the watercolours on the pineapples printed particularly well. One of my cousins also ordered the pineapple skirt from Redbubble and it is very cute! (Since it’s white knit, you’ll probably wantto wear tights or something under it, as is true for all white skirts).

Pineapple Pencil Skirt

  • Congratulations to all the Ditmar nominees! I’m particularly thrilled to have a story nominated this year – “A Hedge of Yellow Roses” from Ticonderoga Publications’ anthology Hear Me Roar, but since I have interests in so many publications (whether as illustrator, fan or friend) mostly it’s just fun to see some of the many great works of 2015 celebrated.
  • Want to buy (relatively) affordable original art by established and rising stars of illustration? Check out Every Day Original!
  • The opera(!) of Shaun Tan and John Marsden’s remarkable picture book The Rabbits is coming to Brisbane next month!

    • I have finally (thanks to Kate Eltham) started listening to the podcast You Must Remember This, which is indeed epic and fascinating.
    • I want to learn to animate just so I can make book trailers like this gorgeous Isabella Mazzanti Carmilla:

Black-Winged Angels

  • Happy Valentines!

Roses

 

Stories that lingered

Prompted by a question on Facebook, this is a list of short stories which have lingered, i.e. which occur to me off the top of my head. They aren’t value judgements, in fact I am certain there are stories that don’t occur to me because they fit so perfectly into the whole of their collection or anthology. But they’ve stuck, and that probably says more about me than them.

  • Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners” (in the book of the same title, but also online here) because it was wonderfully strange and folded and caught something true and should have been real.
  • Dirk Flinthart’s “The Ballad of Farther-on-Jones” (in Striking Fire), because it was lyrical and hopeful and contained all it needed to.
  • Shaun Tan’s “No Other Country” (in Tales from Outer Suburbia), because it, like the whole book, is achingly gorgeous. The serious undertones of some of its neighbouring stories enhance the jewel-like quality of this one and its art.
  • Karen Joy Fowler’s “The Dark” (in What I Didn’t See – the paperback has a really nice cover;), because it keeps inserting itself into my memory of other collections, and because terrible things happen but people do good things too.
  • M R James’ “The Diary of Mr Poynter” because of one particular moment of the mundane becoming unsettled. Almost all his ghost stories do this but this one was particularly low-key. And I like the design element in the plot.
  • Dorothy Sayers’ “The Haunted Policeman” (in Striding Folly, but I read it first in the Folio Society’s Crime Stories from the Strand) because it is a miniature painting, and a lovely little puzzle. It was also my first introduction to Peter and Harriet.
  • Henry Lawson’s “The Loaded Dog” (warning for some animal deaths) and/or “We Called Him “Allie” for Short, because of Lawson’s laid-back, tongue-in-cheek tone and, in the case of “The Loaded Dog”, the rolling, rollicking, dangerous inevitability of the plot.
  • Angela Slatter’s “The Badger Bride” (in The Bitterwood Bible – and by the way, the limited edition hardbacks of this are nearly sold out) because it is a small, perfectly formed legend curled into an angle of the interlocked stories of the collection.
  • E Nesbit’s “Melisande, or: Long and Short Division“, because of the knock-on effect of the plot, and the charm, and there being no real villain as such except for consequences (not unusual in E Nesbit’s stories), and because the silliness is played out soberly. Also maths.

Time is running out! (Auction update)

The artscaresyou auctions end tomorrow night (local time). If there is anything you want, take action! (Bidding info here – you don’t have to be a livejournal member).

A list of all items is here . Notable items include a steampunk necklace, original Shaun Tan artwork, an autographed Good Omens, a Pendlerook Mary Shelly doll and some marzipan noses.

There is also my original framed pocket villain paperdoll (currently at $30, and postage included).

The fundraising effort is 90% of the way to its goal – Bid now! Bid often!

Pocket villain to scale - Auction

Villain, with another paper doll for scale.

Buy a Villain!

Pocket Villain - Auction

Paul Haines, Australian horror author, having been diagnosed with bowel cancer, had sections of his bowel removed and enduring six months worth of chemotherapy, has recently discovered he has spots on his liver. Paul has met this news by reloading his guns and is going to fight it with two other forms of chemotherapy for cancers like his, combined with a monoclonal antibody called Avastin. Avastin, however is not part of Medicare or the private health system’s funding at this stage. It costs $20,000 to do it. Money that he doesn’t have.

So the Aus Spec Fic community is raising money through donations and the ART THAT SCARES YOU auction, live at [info]artscaresyou from 14-28 August. There are Jane Yolen poems, anthologies, early Shaun Tan originals, signed books and anthologies and more being added over the two weeks.

You even have the opportunity to get a Kathleen original! A very small villain, with villainous disguises (vampire, ninja, invisible man). Original pen and ink on 5.5x9cm card.

Pocket villain to scale - Auction

(The superhero paperdoll in the background (not part of the auction :) is from a printout of the self-portrait paperdoll from my first moleskine exchange contribution).

Bidding information is here.

WARNING: Some of the contributions and posts are dark, horrific (in the sense of genre) and/or visceral (in the sense of, well, viscera), so if you aren’t into that but want to help and get some art, read the post headers before you click through to particular offerings.

17/08/08 ETA:

Newsflash: Artscaresyou has now added an index of auction items, which should make the process of choosing (and bidding!) much easier.

June and July Short Movie Reviews

Obligatory Vanuatu reference: We did go to a series of increasingly bad movies at Namawan Cafe’s free moonlight cinema, but I did not review those here (everyone agreed Total Recall was better the first time). Still, for being away for three weeks, I still managed to see a fair few shows. And if you do have any questions about Vanuatu, or things you want me to talk about, feel free to let me know!

The Painted Veil: Should have been called “Love in the time of Cholera”, and did a very good job of making me lose all sympathy for Norton’s character over the course of the movie. Good acting, nice touching on some issues of colonialism, gorgeous opening credits.

Sex and the City: Actually a very good movie-of-a-show. But I dislike the show.

Turner to Monet – exhibition at the National Gallery: Landscape art exhibition. I did not know Monet painted snowscapes. Forget the waterlillies – the snowscapes are where it’s happening!

Prince Caspian: Way better than TLtW&tW, and though not perfect, I really liked that they didn’t need to resort to flashbacks and that they showed the children having some difficulties with having been grown up and powerful and now being children again, and especially the effect on Susan. Caspian was great, although I kept wanting him to say “You killed my father, prepare to die”, but I think Edmund was the best character.

Hulk: Better than the last rendition, in that the Hulk fit a bit better into his world. Still problematic, especially the end (but the showdown scene in Superhero movies usually is) but I think those problems are in the nature of the story, and Norton does damaged well. I loved the beginning – science from scratch, first principles, making do, what I probably erroneously think of as a steampunk aesthetic (or at least what attracts me to steampunk, do-it-yourself, Antarctic exploration and self-sufficiency handbooks).

Meet Dave: Ow. Um – not the worst Eddie Murphy has made?

Red Tree – Australian Chamber Orchestra: The first half was Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No. 15” with images from Shaun Tan’s The Arrival, the second Yezerski and Tognetti’s “Red Tree” with Gondwana Voices and images from The Red Tree. The first half was alright. I wasn’t particularly stirred by the music and the images chosen were disjointed and statically presented. The second half, however, was brilliant – soaring voices, incredible close-ups of paint strokes and images so that I felt like falling into paintings and going home to read The Red Tree with a magnifying glass.

Dark Knight: I feel I was expected to like this more than I did. It was very good, and I can’t fault too many things (those I picked up on the first time bore out the second). Ledger and Oldman were both brilliant and I admired how the story kept rolling relentlessly forward. But the ethical dilemmas and mature philosophical questions occasionally tilted a little too far into angst for my taste. I’m more a fan of Commissioner Gordon (the true hero of Gotham) and of other characters who just get the job done.

Hancock: First half: brilliant riff on superhero genre. Second half: okay superhero movie.

Mamma Mia: My parents and Aimee and I saw this (my dad’s choice) and it was just fun. No, the story isn’t blindingly brilliant, no the singing isn’t mindboggling. But it’s all about roaming over Greek islands singing “Dancing Queen” and having a good and carefree time, and we did. My dad sang along. My mother and I cried. I found Shapely Prose’s review very lively and entertaining and it points out many of the reasons the movie does work (but I must include a language warning).

Scheherezade: A Middle Eastern cultural day as part of the festival of Brisbane. Small but colourful and with good food and Balkan dancing, and I sketched and Aimee danced and I sat on a carpet which was wet from the grass beneath and spent the rest of the day wearing my jacket around my waist instead of my arms which were cold.

X-Files – I want to believe: that this could have been a good movie. But it was a very B movie and unrelieved by almost everything that endeared me to the series, and even Skinner’s appearance didn’t help (much). Pretending it bears no relation to the show, it was an alright B movie, if you like groaning every time your predictions are correct.

June and July Short Book Reviews

Obligatory Vanuatu connection… the Rivers, Trudgill and Sayers were all read in Vanuatu, in my little guest room/storeroom/library overflow at the top of the flats looking out over the Coral Motel to the port. If you want more specific information about Vanuatu, feel free to leave some suggestions in the comments ;)

Tales from Outer Suburbia – Shaun Tan. I was so looking forward to this book. And then I went and bought it and had it signed (and he drew a picture in my sketchbook as well) and as I flipped through it I thought, “Hmm, maybe my hopes were too high” because it looked wordier than his others. I WAS WRONG! I read it and cried on the bus home and read it out loud to my mother when I got home, and to my nephew in Canberra. The stories and pictures (and they breathe into and rely on each other) are beautiful and eerie and haunting – suggestive but not allusive (I do like allusion); elusive and original and funny and sad and just the way things should be or ought to be or are in Australian suburbia. Of course a sad home might be helped by an abrupt dugong. Of course there should be an inner garden between the rooms of a house (only in this country). I want to celebrate the ‘Nameless Holiday’ on the basis of a single scratchboard illustration (that and the gingerbread crows and pomegranate juice). ‘The Night of the Great Turtle Rescue’ went for one page, had no context and is the most suspenseful story I’ve read. ‘Stick Figures’ freaked me out more than Picnic at Hanging Rock. The story about what happens to unread poetry came true the very next day when I went to the busstop and found a bin of shredded paper had been tipped over in the rain. I now want a backyard missile (for entirely aesthetic reasons) and thanks to the answer of what is at the edge of a street map, my mother has been writing down her stories. There are so many styles of illustration: collage and oil and pencil and scratchboard – thin whispy figures, juicy colours, complicated text, faded salt-whitened suburban scenes. A beautiful and amazing book.

Little Brother – Cory Doctorow. I’m a Fahrenheit 451 girl: I don’t like the horrible inevitability of 1984 and I had a bad reaction to Brave New World. I like a touch of hope with my dystopias. And so I thoroughly enjoyed Little Brother, which was a combat-boot-first, high-speed, technobabble, name-dropping, near-future rollercoaster of a book. I read it in one day, a day on which I flew back from interstate, went to work and out to the movies after. It made me want to go out and do things, good and big and independent things, and to think about what governments and security are and do and are for. It’s available for free download and it’s fast and I don’t mean that (in this case) as faint praise.

The Yiddish Policeman’s Union – Michael Chabon. I enjoyed this very much, more than Kavalier and Clay (reviewed here). Literary genre fiction is a category I can definitely live with. This is a noir detective/alternate history set in the decaying city of Sitka, Alaska in the last days before the Federal District – created for Jewish refugees after Israel collapsed soon after World War II – dissolves and returns to American rule. It is perfectly noir (I do like hardboiled detectives) and odd and more real than some books I’ve read about real cities. It has seedy hotels and daredevil bush pilots and conspiracies and chess tournaments and was dark and funny and just an enjoyable book.

Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers. I’ve given a few answers I shouldn’t have, and I feel that telling the person who pressed this upon me that it was like The Da Vinci Code (I had problems with the theology, but it was very quick) was one of those answers. A resetting of the story of Hosea’s in  mid 18thc America, I found it – ugh. I had problems with the theology (especially that of guidance) and the representation of the author’s theology (ask me about Christian fiction sometime), the sex scenes (coy but more numerous than any other book I have read and I once spent a week with a bad back and nothing to read but Mills & Boon), the characters, their motivation, and the cover art. The best part was when Angel went off on her own rescuing people, and even that got a stop put to it. I found it unbelievable, ridiculous and often offensive and yes, I did read it all the night I got it. Like The Da Vinci Code, it moved at a cracking pace.

Sociolinguistics – Peter Trudgill. (My room in Vanuatu was part of the SIL library). Recommended. I don’t know how it compares with current theories, but it made me think about all the currents and debates and factors which go into language: culture, class, gender, ethnicity, geography, nationalism, politics. Also, it produced plenty of interesting facts with which to startle people at the dinner table. Everyone should read some linguistics, but I am starting to consider sociolinguistics a very useful area of study for authors.

Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy Sayers. The first Sayers novel I have read, and it was like Agatha Christie with a touch of Wodehouse. Or Midsomer Murders with a hint of Fawlty Towers. Remarkable observation of what happens in a workplace, numerous puns only excusable because it is set in an advertising firm between the wars, and kept me reading through the description of a cricket match which ran for an entire chapter. I will not object to reading more.

Also, James, 1 Peter and then I lost track.

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