The joy of books… and ebooks.

After a long and very enjoyable holiday break spent devouring both ebooks and paper books, I’m coming into 2012 refreshed and well-read. I’m finding demolishing books even easier than normal, as now I can take a stack of them with me wherever I go on my tiny red (well, pink) Sony Ereader.

I’ve had the e-reader for over a month now and I still love it, although I will admit the gloss has come off and I’m now comparing the pro’s and con’s of the two reading formats. While I’m enjoying reading from a screen I don’t see myself giving up on printed books completely.

It’s not all virtual hearts and eflowers. For example, buying ebooks while overseas is often difficult due to DRM issues and taking the ereader out with me on a pool, beach or boat trip is an impossibility due to the combination of water, sand and my own ham-handedness.

That said, the joy of carrying 12 – 12! – books with me in a tiny light package no bigger than a novella is undiminished, as is my partner’s happiness at not being harassed every time I run out of reading material on long plane flights. Thanks to the ease of picking up where I left off without needing to carry a big book, I’m defaulting to catching up on reading instead of picking at my phone while out and about and there is no doubt I am getting a lot more read.

It’s a trade off either way, and I can see uses for both. I don’t see a situation coming soon where I will definitively choose one or the other as I can see too many advantages for both formats. I love my ereader, it’s true, but I’m not giving up on paperbacks just yet. Curling up on shaded deckchair with the latest Marian Keyes, unworried about  sand, splashes or spilling my cocktail, is a holiday luxury that I’m completely unwilling to give up.

While the paper versus e-books debate is long from over, here is a bookish adventure in stop motion film that will make even the most ardent ebook lover admire the paperback format once again. Earlier in the year, a husband and wife team decided to re-organise their bookshelf and – in their own words – it got a bit out of hand, leading to a wonderfully playful video. After making that short film, they decided to take it to the next level and came up with this amazing piece.

Filmed after hours in a Toronto bookstore, this video is the product of over 25 volunteers who spent many nights moving, stacking, and animating the books. Whatever your thoughts on ebooks versus dead tree books, there’s no denying that this is a truly beautiful tribute to books and to the book stores that sell them.

Here’s hoping this year brings plenty of books worthy of this level of devotion to you, whether you are reading on a screen or off the page. Happy new year to you all, and I look forward to sharing my finds and about yours in 2012.

A second chance for Janie (+ this book)

The book's original cover.

When did you last read a book you knew nothing about by an author you’d never heard of?

If you’re anything like me, recommendations, reviews and revisits to favourite authors past play a big role in your reading choices.

So when a colleague who reads a book a week told me back in April 2007 that she thought I’d really enjoy Growing Up Again by Catriona McCloud, I took it home and put it on the to-read bookshelf. I’ve moved house five times since, adding the very purple-covered book to a box, lugging it from one house to the next, and placing it back on the shelf each time.

It survived My Great Big Book Cull (last time we moved I vowed to buy only ebooks from then on and sorted my printed books into those I can’t live without – 20 cartons – and those I can bear to part with – 20 cartons).

Last week, I had to do a further cull to make room for all those self-improvement books I mentioned here recently, so I picked up Growing Up Again to toss it in an out-box, thinking that if I hadn’t read it yet, I probably never would.

I decided to have one last read of the blurb on the back cover. If my aforementioned colleague thought there was something in it for me, she must’ve had a reason.

“Janie Lawson’s life hasn’t turned out quite the way she’d hoped. Nearly forty, she’s in a marriage that’s frozen over with a mother-in-law she despises …”

Ah ha! That was the problem first time around. In 2007, I was years from 40, co-habiting but not yet engaged, and thought I’d end up being great friends with my future mother-in-law. I’ve grown into this book.
I read on.

“Before Janie can make the final step toward divorce, though, her fate is taken out of her hands. Janie wakes up in her old bedroom and finds it just as it was in her teens …”

Swept back in time, and into her 15-year-old body, Janie sets out to right some of the serious wrongs of the 1980s – starting with saving Lady Diana Spencer from the clutches of the Camilla Parker Bowles-loving Prince of Wales. She tries to prevent the Tiananmen massacre and warn authorities about serial killers, nuclear disasters and terrorist attacks.

It was the Lady Diana reference that made me open the book and start reading rather than sending the book to the departure lounge. I remember the engagement of Charles and Diana vividly. I was one romantic little girl. If I’d known then what we know now, I would’ve been devastated for Diana, and tried to save her from heartache too.
Janie is a sweet character, and the maturity and charm with which she steers her parents and friends towards better lives is fairy godmother-like.

The cover (whether the original as pictured on this page or current as seen here) leads you to believe you’re picking up a work of chick lit, but there is no time travel in Bridget Jones. I daren’t compare Growing Up Again to The Time Traveller’s Wife because I made the mistake of seeing the film before I read the book. The film was so awful, I’m not sure I can be bothered to read the book now.

If you’re looking for a light summer read for the beach bag, you could do worse than McCloud’s book. It’ll demand your attention from start to finish, and make you giggle as well as frown at times. It addresses some serious issues, from gambling and alcoholism to Down Syndrome and dyslexia, amid the froth and frivolity.

I’m glad I gave it a second chance, and am now pondering what I’d do differently if I had my time again.

Read more books? Definitely!

Growing Up Again is on sale here at Booku.com for less than $9.

Traveling with style

Breaking out the travel guide  is a great way to pass the time plotting and planning your dream vacation until you’re actually there. But many guidebooks either assume that readers are either wealthy beyond belief or willing to walk ten miles to save 20 cents on dinner; it’s all 5 star hotels at one end and sleeping on mud floors at the other. Where are the guides for those of us who like the middle road of boutique hotels and local style secrets and a little luxury at a reasonable price?

That’s where the Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, New York, London and Rome comes in – if you are visiting one of those cities, obviously enough. This compact guide contains the combined wisdom of a whole group of holiday goddesses who have been there, done that and  found the 75% off sale while they were there. It started life as the diary of editor Jessica Adams who passed it around to pick up advice from those who make traveling with style their business; Vogue contributors, Lonely Planet writers, novelists and more.

After a year of traveling through handbags in Melbourne, London and Paris, the Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to Paris, New York, London and Rome was filled with hard-won tips and secrets; where to stay chicly but cheaply in some of the world’s most expensive cities, how to find the best cocktails, the vintage markets, the best local brands. As being full of information it’s a visual treat; packaged in red linen and filled with gorgeous and iconic illustrations. That cute cover has a practical side too; the guide can take a beating in your bag and still look good when you pull it out later.

I caught up with Jessica to ask her a few questions about the book, the cities in it and, of course, handbags.

Q. What was the most surprising tip you received? And the most useful?

A. The most surprising tip we received about travel, was to volunteer at an animal charity (like the RSPCA) because the best house-sitting opportunities involve animal care, and owners feel reassured if their pets are in the hands of women who can prove they’re experienced with cats and dogs. The most useful tip we received about Paris, London, New York and Rome was this – always go in winter – cheap seats, often two-three seats to yourself on the plane and far smaller queues at major attractions.)

Q. The Holiday Goddess reviews Paris, London, New York and Rome – if there were to be Southern Hemisphere edition, what cities do you think would be in the running?

A. I’d personally like to cover every Australian capital city, and also some female traveller favourites, like Byron Bay and the Blue Mountains. I’m sure the other editors would have some fascinating ideas, though, as many of them live from Perth through to Melbourne.

Q. I’m going to have to ask – what sort of handbag do you yearn to put your copy of the guide in, and what other items are indispensable to holiday goddesses?

A. My favourite handbag of all time is a vintage Hermes Kelly. If I find that at a charity shop in London any time soon, I’ll let you know! Holiday Goddess editors find their notepads (paper not computer) indispensable, and illustrator Anna Johnson and I have a lot of them. Scribbling and sketching is the new black!

Q. The book itself is packaged in red linen and contains some amazing illustrations – in this age of the iPad, what made you decide on old world chic and a book?

A. After three years of being exclusively electronic and online, Holiday Goddess editors longed for paper and linen! But we are exploring apps for the iPad too. Holiday Goddess is three years old on November 28th and as so many of the people involved were authors or book editors, we had always secretly hoped it would turn into a book.

The book also has an online aspect at holidaygoddess.com where you can find things to smooth your own travels, from podcasts to printable guides and (my favourite) customisable luggage tags. Jessica Adams is the managing editor of the site which recently celebrated its third birthday. It’s an evolving site that depends on its readers for all its secrets and tips. If you’d like to take a peak through their top picks, or even send in a few suggestions of your own, you can catch the goddesses online at holidaygoddess.com or on Twitter.

 

A Life in Words – on co-writing Chanel Sweethearts with half of Cate Kendall

While writing is often seen as a lonely profession, some writers buck the trend and team up. I caught up with half of Cate Kendall to ask her a few questions about co-writing, creating psuedonyms and lampooning yummy mummies.

Cate Kendall is actually a pseudonym for the writing team Lisa Blundell and Michelle Hamer. Michelle, this is your third book co-written with Lisa so it’s obviously working out well for you both. What makes writing as a team so enjoyable for you?

I have written three books on my own and worked as a journalist for more than 20 years – most recently as a freelancer, which is a pretty solitary existence. For me one of the best things about working in a team is knowing that there is someone to pick up the slack if you are having a bad week and someone who loves the book as much as I do. When we get good reviews, or sell overseas it’s great to have each other to celebrate with. It’s also a really interesting working experience; being able to bounce off each other and being open to doing things someone else’s way. It’s good for the ego!

So, why Cate Kendall as a name, and have you an image of what Cate would look like if she were a real person?

We chose Cate Kendall randomly, after trying out dozens of other names. In the end, this was the one that clicked with both of us. I imagine Cate to be petite, with curly black hair, funky little glasses and vintage fashion – nothing like either of us!

What do you both bring to the book?

Lisa is excellent at creating the big picture structure of the book. She is brilliant at the fashion details and in creating gorgeous interior design. I read her descriptions of some of the houses our characters live in, and I just want to move in!

I focus more on the interior lives of the characters, the emotional stuff and their motivations. Because I’ve been a journo for so long I am also brutal when it comes to the editing, so I tend to slash and burn words with greater ease. But neither of us is precious about our work, in the end writing a great book is the main aim.

Do you often disagree, and what’s the biggest bone of contention?

We rarely disagree. When we do it will probably be about something quite small. We have learnt that if one of us cares enough to fight for a scene or a character then the other will accept that is important to them and let it go. After writing three books together (and our fourth is just about finished) we seem to have got it down to a fine art, so personalities don’t come into it.

Your books lampoon the yummy mummy culture, and take a satiric swipe at lots of elements of the social scene. Do you ever take a friendly swipe at each other in your novels, or use yourselves as a reference?

We have a lot of respect for each other as people and writers. We would never make fun of the other in the books or anywhere else. We both use experiences from our lives in the books; but only as snippets here and there. We borrow moments from real life to create fiction.

If you were advising writers on looking for a writing partner, what would you tell them?

I’m not really sure. Neither of us set out to find a writing partner or even to write a book together. It was just one of those things that happened. I’d say that you would have to be clear how you were going to make the process happen and be sure that neither of you was hoping for glory, just to create a great book and have some fun along the way. I think that was the secret for us – we just set out to have a bit of fun.