Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Nearly every single picture book I read holds meaningful moments for me, some sliver of specialness or hug-full of hope that can empower and illuminate. These next few examples exhibit strong messages using memorable characters in ways young children can easily interpret and appreciate. A few words about each hardly do them justice, so please look these ones up to enjoy them for yourself.

Reena’s Rainbow by Dee White and Tracie Grimwood

Subtle, sweet and oozing with that sort of sophisticated simplicity that makes you love a story when you are not even sure why. Reena and Brown Dog feel a little outside of normal, not quite the same as everyone else. Reena is deaf but not oblivious to the world around her. Brown Dog is homeless but not without a need to love and protect. Together they find their true worth and meaning and along the way, lasting friendship. Gracefully told and delicately illustrated, Reena’s Rainbow will fill your heart with colour. Highly recommended.

EK Books September 2017

La La La A Story of Hope by Kate DiCamillo and Jamie Kim

An eloquently told, almost wordless symphony of colour, light and sound reverberating the liberating quality of hope. It’s about making a call, daring to speak out, and enduring the quiet moments in between waiting for a response with grace and patience. As Kate proclaims, ‘it is a story about singing your song and the world answering you back…a story that needs intimate reflection’. I encourage you to do so.

Walker Books Australia October 2017

Continue reading Meaningful Moments in Picture Books

Do you read more in winter or in summer?

Winter is a popular time for book lovers, the season where many of us enjoy staying in, rugging up and delving into a good book. But do we read more in the winter months or in summer?

Summer brings to mind images of sunny days, cool drinks and reading a book on the deck or under the shade of a tree. Many of us take our holidays in summer, reading in airports, on buses and at caravan parks. In summer we seem to be out and about more, enjoying the sunshine and daylight savings, BBQs and day trips, festivals and markets; but do we have more time for reading?

The only time I read during the day is when I’m stuck waiting. It might be waiting at the Doctor’s office, waiting at a cafe for a friend or waiting for a plane. None of these daytime waiting and reading opportunities are at all weather dependent. In fact, when it’s terribly hot and I’m heading out and about, I’m more likely to slip a bottle of water into my handbag in place of a book. For me, summer is a time for travelling light and keeping out of the sun.

I don’t know about you, but I do most of my reading at night and in bed. I find reading before sleep is the best way for me to unwind from the day, tell my body it’s time for rest, and occupy my mind on a single task to minimise the internal chatter.

It’s a fact that in winter we sleep for longer, and when it’s time to get up in the morning we find ourselves reluctant to venture out into the frosty morning. There’s actually a scientific reason for this. In winter there is less daylight, and as a result the pineal gland produces more melatonin, which makes us feel sleepy. When we wake up it’s still dark outside and the pineal gland has yet to shut down, hence our reluctance to get up in the morning.

I’m a city dweller, and in the summertime, hot nights are often filled with the sounds of music, BBQs and parties finishing long into the night. In winter, people are keen to get home and don’t seem to venture much outside (except to get from A to B), meaning the city is much quieter. Quiet time is a great time for reading.

Taking all of this into consideration, I think I’ve decided that I do read more in winter than in summer. There are less social gatherings to attend, and it’s nice and cosy in bed with the electric blanket on and a good book in my hands.

What about you? What are your reading habits and do you read more in winter or in summer?

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of Incourage

Around The World With YA Books

One of my favourite things about reading is that you can literally see the world…and yet not move from your comfy reading nook. Well, okay, it doesn’t replace the “real thing”, but if one doesn’t have the ability to jet over the world trying Hungarian Goulash and Sushi, then reading books is a good replacement.

 

If you’re suppressing a secret wanderlust, like me, and want to read books that’ll take you to different countries? BE CALM. I have a list of books for you.

** Note: I won’t list every country here! Because that’d be mildly ridiculous. So some countries I’ll go into more detail, and others just have a brief overview. **

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FRANCE

  

  • ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS: Boarding school in Paris? YES PLEASE. I totally love this one! [PURCHASE]
  • JUST ONE DAY: A gallivant around Europe after high school ends. [PURCHASE]
  • DIE FOR ME: This is apparently about death and Paris. [PURCHASE]

UNITED KINGDOM

  9781408853061 9781447222521

  • HEIST SOCIETY: They totally traipse all over Europe in this one, but the main heist is in London. [PURCHASE]
  • MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN: Grab your raincoat, we’re heading to Wales. [PURCHASE]
  • APPLE AND RAIN: Features wet and foggy London. Also copious amounts of hot chips. [PURCHASE]
  • BEFORE THE FIRE: I’m not this book’s biggest fan, but it’s set in 2011 about the London fire and riots. [PURCHASE]

 

IRELAND

  

  • SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT: One of the best urban fantasy series ever, also Irish. I mean, what is not to love? [PURCHASE]
  • SHIVER THE WHOLE NIGHT THROUGH: It’s a mildly lousy story, but at least it’s set in Ireland and all the names are gorgeous and unpronounceable. [PURCHASE]
  • CARRIER OF THE MARK: An American moves to Ireland. I assume she gets caught up in blue smoke. [PURCHASE]

 

CZECH REPUBLIC

 9781444722659

  • AS WHITE AS SNOW: This is only a whippet of a teeny tiny book, but it’s set in summer in Prague. Apparently it’s hot there. [PURCHASE]
  • DAUGHTER OF SMOKE AND BONE: And for a little variety, this is winter in Prague. Apparently it’s freaking freezing. [PURCHASE]

 

ITALY

    

  • WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN: I haven’t read this one but I get a strong vibe it is, in fact, Italian. [PURCHASE]
  • FLIRTING IN ITALIAN: Apparently scooters are popular in Italy? [PURCHASE]
  • ARE WE THERE YET: The famous author, David Leviathan, takes us on a brotherly Italian roadtrip. [PURCHASE]
  • LOVE LUCY: Omg, what is it with the moped/scooters?!! Anyway. American teen, holidaying in Italy, you know the drill. [PURCHASE]

 

SPAIN

 

  • NOBODY’S GIRL: I think her father is French, but she ends up in Spain because WHY NOT? [PURCHASE]
  • SMALL DAMAGES: I believe she got shipped off to Spain after getting pregnant. It’s also possible that oranges feature as a healthy snack. [PURCHASE]

 

GERMANY

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  • ROSE UNDER FIRE: This is one of the most feels-destroying books in the history of the universe. Set in WWII in a Nazi concentration camp. [PURCHASE]
  • I AM DAVID: I love this book! (The movie is also wonderful.) And he runs around all over Europe, so I don’t even know, peoples. I’ll stick him in Germany but I think it’s Denmark or Poland? [PURCHASE]
  • BECAUSE YOU’LL NEVER MEET ME: This is a book about letters from two boys, o ne in America and one in Germany! [PRE-ORDER]

 

RUSSIA

  9780064470278 

  • SEKRET: I haven’t read this one, but it promises spies and Communist Russia. [PURCHASE]
  • EGG AND SPOON: Tsarist Russia, with a sprinkling of witches and talking cats. [PURCHASE]
  • THE ENDLESS STEPPE: It’s set in Siberia, in WWII. It’s awesome. [PURCHASE]
  • ANGEL ON THE SQUARE: Set in the early 1900s, where the main character is a friend of Princess Anastasia, until, you know, SHE TRAGICALLY DIES. Not a spoiler: This is history we’re talking about! [PURCHASE]

 

AUSTRALIA

  9781742839660

  • EVERY BREATH: This has all the Australian slang of the ‘burbs, peoples. Also it’s perfect. [PURCHASE]
  •  STOLEN: Desert life? We gotcha covered. [PURCHASE]
  • THIRST: Two foster kids? Alone in the Aussie desert? Living off bush tucker and skewering lizards? What could possibly go wrong? [PURCHASE]

 

MIDDLE EAST

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  • THE TYRANT’S DAUGHTER: I believe it’s partially set in an “unidentified” Middle Eastern country. Or else I have a sucky memory. Either is possible. [PURCHASE]
  • BROKEN BRIDGE: This book is amazing and also set in Israel and gives a bit insight to culture. [PURCHASE]
  • THE ALEX CROW: This book is partially set in the middle east and then merges into America. [PURCHASE]

 

ASIA

9780141304878 9781402292187 9780440407591

  • CHINESE CINDERELLA: This is a heartbreaking memoir of what it was like to be an unwanted daughter in China. Totally will puncture your feels. [PURCHASE]
  • THE GIRL FROM THE WELL: While it starts off in America, they merge into Japan and ghosts eat them. Well KIND OF. It’s excellent and creepy, though. [PURCHASE]
  • THE YEAR OF IMPOSSIBLE GOODBYES: This is a heartbreaking historical-fiction set in Korea. Be prepared for tears. [PURCHASE]

 

AFRICA

9781405271363 9780007263509

  • BLACK DOVE WHITE RAVEN: Bestselling author, Elizabeth Wein, can basically do no wrong. [PURCHASE]
  • JOURNEY TO JO’BURG: A pretty heart moving (and teeny tiny) book set in South Africa. Totally appropriate for younger audiences too. [PURCHASE]

 

Have fun travelling, bookworms!

 

Book Diets (Not Diet Books)

2832-popular_diet_booksThere has been a lot of controversy recently about different diet books out on the market and while eating healthy is very important we also mustn’t forget to feed out minds. So I’ve come up with a few Book Diets based on popular fad diet books:

  • The Fast Diet (aka The 5:2 Diet)

Now you can do this one two ways. Try and make time for reading 5 days a week and have 2 days off or try and make reading time 2 days a week and have 5 days off. I know what my preference would be.

  • The Paleo Diet

This diet is about getting back to basics. The pure form would be to read only books written on stone tablets but I’ve modified it to be a digital-free reading diet. Read only paper, no ereaders and no modern day tablet reading. Surprisingly this is suitable for children unlike it’s food counterpart.

  • The Atkins Diet

This diet is about lowering book carbs. So only short books in this one. Short stories are recommended otherwise stick to books under 250 pages.

  • The Dukan Diet

This diet is about increasing book protein. So only big tomes in this one. No books under 600 pages. This is about building your book reading muscles (and your arms too).

  • The Read Right for your Blood Type Diet

This diet (like many out there) has absolutely no scientific merit when it comes to reading.

– Type O readers – intense books. Keep your reading on the edge of your seat

– Type A readers – keep it fresh. New releases only. If a book is more than a month old it is off your reading list.

– Type B readers – high tolerance. Any book you start you must finish. No putting down after a couple of chapters. It is all or nothing for you.

– Type AB readers – this is a combination diet. New release only and not putting down after starting.

  • The 20/20 Diet

This diet is about making sure you read at least 20 different genres throughout the year. Try some fantasy or science fiction. Get some non-fiction into your reading diet with a biography or travel memoir. And of course don’t forget poetry.

  • No Sugar Diet

This is about getting rid of all things sweet from your reading. No romance, no happy endings. This is all about reading the real dark, depressing stuff.

  • GI Diet

This one is about reading some real slow burners. Be wary of those roller coaster rides focus on those books that slowly build the tension all the way to the end.

  • Balanced Diet

Of course the best reading diet is getting a good balance of the 5 book groups; Literary, Mystery, Biography, History and Children’s. And make sure you have your gender balance of authors right too otherwise it won’t be healthy reading.

 

What other book diets should there be?

Review: What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

9780804171632I read this after listening the fabulous Bookrageous Podcast which read and discussed the book for their book club and then interviewed the author. It is a fascinating look at what is happening inside our minds when we read. The author, Peter Mendelsund, is a book designer for Knopf in the US but also has a background in music. He uses his knowledge of design, music and books to explore and to try and make sense of what happens when we read books.

The book itself is intricately designed. There is no way an ebook or other digital edition could do the way the book is presented justice and I highly recommend completely avoiding this book in any other form than print. The text is interspersed with illustrated examples and cues and the form and use of text is also important in conveying the processes reading has on our minds.

I never do this but I found myself marking numerous pages as I ploughed through this book and ended up reading the book in a day. We all have a sense of what we think happens when we read. For many people they describe it as like seeing the movie in their head and most of this book debunks this “myth”. Much of what prompts our imaginations when we read are not visual descriptions but instead other signifiers and traits that stimulate memories of familiar places, people and experiences. More often than not we fill in gaps that aren’t given to us on the page. However I did wonder if your life has had fewer experiences does this limit or diminish the effect a book can have on your imagination? Or is it the opposite? Are our imaginations more free if they are not limited by experience?

The book shows that reading provokes our minds and senses unlike any other medium. Different books (fiction, non-fiction) and different genres (mystery, literary) do this in many different ways. Peter Mendelsund likened this to travelling down a road. Some roads we fly down in our cars while others we walk down more slowly. Some roads (and therefore books) are designed to be travelled slowly and allow closer inspection and reflection. Some roads/books are designed to be quick and driven through at speed. Things rush past because the destination is more important than the surrounds. And some roads/books are both.

One of the things I began thinking about while reading this book was that it would form the basis of an interesting study on the differences between print books and ebooks and how readers interact with them. A lot has been made regarding the impact reading on tablets has on our eyes and brains but there is nothing I’m aware of that looks at whether there are any different mechanics in how we read print versus digital. Two examples Mendelsund uses in the book look at how our eyes and minds actually read ahead. I have occasionally caught myself doing this and have found myself unable to do this with an ebook because of single page layout and lag when “turning” a page. The other example is daydreaming while reading. I find I also do this while reading certain books but much more rarely if I am reading an ebook.

This book made me think a lot about my own reading and I can’t wait to look out for examples when I read my next novel. One of the great mysteries for me as a reader is what makes a book grab me and what makes me put a book down. The processes Mendelsund outlines in this book have given me a greater understanding of what is happening in my head when a book magically grabs me and what is not happening when I just can’t get into a book. I think this book would also give writers a fascinating insight into their craft and the reactions and mechanics words on a page stir up inside readers’ heads. The what and how a character or setting is described is just as important as how each is not described. That balance between the two is the magic, readers and writers alike, endlessly pursue.

Buy the book here…

New Year’s Reading Resolutions

Love & Terror on the Howling Plains to NowhereI’m pretty dismissive of new year-related resolutions—they’re too superficial and too fleetingly discarded. I’m more of the mind that you should set your goals and refresh yourself on them daily. That’s what I do. And yes, I understand if you want to slap me. What a prattish, self-congratulatory thing to say.

But I will admit I am using the impending new year to add a two-part goal to the list—one I’m a bit annoyed and ashamed I even have to add.

And no, it’s not lose a bajillion kilograms and get fit and toned. That’s a perennial. It’s that I need to make time to read (see below for the books I’m thinking I should start with and please feel free to suggest any).

I’ve read very few books for pleasure this past 18 months, which is entirely out of character for me—I’ll hands down always choose a night in with a book over any party.

I’ve been excusing away the not reading by saying I’m swamped with reading for study. That’s partly true. And yet it’s not. These days I spend an inordinate time reading, perusing, generally going into the black hole that is the internet and social media.

The Paying GuestsEven that is for work and study—when I’m not trying to eke out a living as a writer, I work as a social media strategist.

Meanwhile my thesis is exploring how author–activists may use tools such as social media to better tell such issues as climate change. So yes, I need to spend time wading through the quagmire of hyperlinked-to-the-hilt social media.

But I spend too much time doing so. I’m on there even when there’s nothing to read. I’m reading things I really, really don’t need to.

And my attention span has been whittled to a time so short I’m guess it’s around the minute mark, if that. This from someone who used to lose herself to reading without raising her eyes or shifting about for what was probably hours.

I can’t even count how many times I scurried off to check social media in the time it’s taken me to write this article. It was—no exaggeration—probably each time I finished writing a sentence. And that isn’t counting the times I hit the Facebook icon to refresh the feed even when there wasn’t anything to refresh.

I’m not going to say the internet and social media are ruining the world—quite the contrary if they’re used well. I’m just saying I’m not using them well and have instead allowed them to overtake and eat away at me.

I’m particularly worried about what this means for my concentration span in the short term (Think how much of my silly thesis I could have written by now if my attention span wasn’t these days my enemy!), but also my reading long term.

Animal LiberationI used to read at every available opportunity: in a quiet moment, on public transport, and to send myself to sleep—although when it was a particularly gripping book, it often did the opposite of helping me drift off.

But I digress.

Now, I not only don’t carry books with me—not physical ones and not even electronic ones on an iPad, despite the fact that both are readily available—I rarely read them at home. Every ‘spare’ moment is possessed with using social media. I even, I’m ashamed to admit, Pinterest myself to sleep.

While I’m a huge advocate for social media—it offers author–activists, in particular, some fantastic boons in terms of connecting with audiences and getting our socially and environmentally minded messages out—I’m also aware I’m these days not using social media to best effect.

So, my resolution is to spend less—a lot less—time on social media specifically and the internet more broadly this coming year. I don’t mean go away from it altogether. I simply mean being savvy about my usage.

This Changes EverythingWhether that means limiting it to a couple of times a day or only on my phone or using block-out tools such as Freedom or removing the social media apps from my phone or simply turning off the internet at the wall in my home…I don’t yet know.

Either way, I’m putting it in writing so I can be called on it this time next year: I through that in 2015 aim both read more books and to wrestle my attention span back.

Books I’m thinking I should start with including (any suggestions welcome):

Does anyone actually read on the beach?

With summer well on the way in Australia, I’ve noticed our thoughts have begun to shift away from snuggling down or curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. Instead we start talking and thinking about lying on the grass with our favourite book, reclining in the sunshine and enjoying a good ‘beach read’.

What is a beach book anyway? I always understood it to be an easy breezy read that didn’t require any brain power in a ‘check your brain at the door’ kind of way. The more I think about it though, the more I disagree. If you’re on holiday and your everyday stresses are out of your mind, wouldn’t this be the best time to tackle a more challenging read? Wouldn’t it be easier to tackle War and Peace while on holiday than during a busy work week?

I recently voted in the Classic Beach Books competition currently featured on The ABC’s Book Club website and found myself wondering if anyone actually reads their book on the beach. I don’t go to the beach much these days, but when I do I love to watch the rhythmic rolling of the waves, the slow movement of the tide, swimmers and surfers frolicking in the water, distant ships and the calming effect of the horizon. I enjoy all of this too much to think of ignoring the scene in front of me and whipping my book out for a sneaky chapter.Beach Read

Even if I could ignore the scene before me, the idea of sunscreen-smeared fingers, squealing kids, squinting in the sunshine, and sand between the pages just doesn’t inspire a relaxing reading environment for me. What about you? Do you read at the beach? Do you enjoy a ‘beach read’ in the summer or any time of the year?

I found this quote from Anne Morrow Lindbergh from Gift From The Sea: “The beach is not a place to work; to read, write or to think.”

I think I agree with her that the beach isn’t a place to read or work, but I think it’s the perfect place to think. There’s nothing better than taking a long walk along the beach and analysing a problem, turning a question over in your mind, or calming down after an argument. The sea and salt water are often cathartic and healing, although I can never still my mind enough to read my book there.

I’d love to know where you enjoy reading over summer and if anyone actually reads on the beach or if this is just a bookish myth.

 

On My Bedside Table – # 2

Bedside table 2Does your bedside table feature nothing more than a sedate, sleek bedside lamp and the latest eReader? Or is an outrageous collection of self-help, kids’ lit, how-to, YA, book club, must-review-reads piled unceremoniously on top of each like mine?

I tried reading one book at a time. Found it just wasn’t for me. I now prefer the heady experience of flitting from one world to another. It’s a little chaotic and bewildering at times I admit. But the crazy excitement of reading so many varying titles simultaneously keeps me entertained and enlightened beyond words. It’s a bit like heading down Edgware Road, atop a London double-decker bus, at night. Boisterous, sublime, sensory saturation. You really should try it sometime.

Here are a few more our brightest and best Aussie authors who have and are…

Angela Sunde ~ Gold Coast based children’s author and illustrator of picture books, short stories and Pond Magic, with a strong penchant for apples.

A Small Free Kiss in the DarkI’m currently reading A Small Free Kiss in the Dark, by Glenda Millard. A beautiful evocative voice which reminds me of Morris Gleitzman’s ‘Then’ series. It could possibly be one of my favourite books.

I am re-reading the Puzzle Ring, by Kate Forsyth, looking carefully at structure this time.

I’m also reading Pen on Fire, by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett – a busy woman’s guide to igniting the writer within.

At the top of my teetering ‘to be read’ pile are: Citadel by Kate Mosse and The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth.

On my coffee table you will find Advanced Style by Ari Seth Cohen. This is a photo book based on Cohen’s blog, Advanced Style. The images portray fabulous women and men of New York who are all silver-haired individualists. I find it inspiring and also a useful reference for characters.

Also on the coffee table is Australian Voices, edited by Ariana Klepac and John Thompson. It is a collection of extracts from diaries, letters, photos and recollections, ranging from the First Fleet to the Great War. There is a story waiting to be written on every page.

And there are many more….

Kate Forsyth ~ internationally best-selling, award-winning author of adult fiction and children’s literature from picture books to fantasy novels, with a strong penchant for fairy tales.

WonderstruckI’m reading ‘Enchanted April’ by Elisabeth von Arnim at present, and then I have on my bedside table to read:

‘Scarlet in the Snow‘ by Sophie Masson

‘The Ashford Affair’ by Lauren Willig

‘Chalice’ by Robin McKinley

‘The Fault in Our Stars‘ by John Green

Dark Road to Darjeeling‘ by Deanna Raybourne

‘Wonder Struck’ by Brian Selznick

I may not read them in this order.

Tania McCartney ~ acclaimed children’s author, editor, publisher and reviewer, with a strong penchant for photography and raspberries.

Eric Vale, Epic Fail: Super Male by Michael Gerard Bauer (Scholastic). I want to review this . . . if I can prise it out of my son’s monkey grip.

Warp: The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer (Puffin). I am most embarrassed to admit I’ve never read any of Colfer’s books; am desperate to read Artemis Fowl but I would need another week in my day in order to do this right now. So, until then, I am determined to read and review this first book in the WARP series for Kids’ Book Review.

Riley and the Jumpy Kangaroo: A journey around Canberra by Tania McCartney (Ford Street). My first advance copy. I literally haven’t had time to go through it yet!

1599: A year in the life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro (Faber + Faber). It’s a very patient book. It’s been sitting on my bedside table unopened for about six months.

Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock (Harper Press). Andy Griffiths recommended this to me but don’t tell him I haven’t even started it yet. It’s calling to me . . ..

What's Wrong With the Wobbegong What’s Wrong with the Wobbegong? by Phillip Gwynne, illustrated by Gregory Rogers. It’s not out till June so I can’t review it yet, but I just need to keep Gregory Rogers close right now

 

On My Bedside Table

Bedside read listWant to know who I like to curl up in bed with after a long day behind the flat screen? Curious to know how I spend the midnight hours? Well I can reveal that at least three of those listed below are amongst the many who keep me occupied into the wee hours of the night. But enough about the books weighing down my bedside table.

As a solution to my incurable curiosity about what  makes a good read and what is good to read, I will be featuring who and what some of Australia’s most popular authors and illustrators like to go to sleep with, or bathe with or dine with…you get the picture.

And so to kick off our inaugural On My Bedside Table post we begin with a clutch of very clever children’s authors and illustrators. Look carefully and you may just pick up an idea or two for your own reading list. Enjoy!

Susanne Gervay ~ Children’s and YA award winning author and patron, director and co-ordinator of numerous societies associated with Kids’ Lit.

Conspiracy 365 (series) by Gabrielle Lord

Hey Baby! Corinne Fenton (picture book)

Trust Me Too edited by Paul Collins (anthology of stories)

Jandamarra by Mark Greenwood illustrated by Terry Denton

Lighthorse Boy by Dianne Wolfer illustrated by Brian Simmonds

Ten Tiny Things by Meg mcKinlay illustrated by Kyle Hughes-Odgers

Gracie and Josh• I have a pile of picture books and illustrated stories at the moment. Maybe because I’m into picture books – of course there’s my Gracie and Josh illustrated by Serena Geddes there too.

Anil Tortop ~ Illustrator, designer and sometimes animator

• The second book of A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (via Kindle)

• SCBWI bulletin

• Nonstop Nonsense by Margaret Mahy

• Downloaded picture books (on my iPad to have a look at very often. But I don’t read all of them. Just look at the pictures…)

Maggot MoonMichael Gerard Bauer ~ Children and YA multi CBCA award winning author

Just last night I finished reading Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner. A powerful, moving book that I really liked. It’s set in what appears to be England but the country is under a vicious totalitarian rule as if it had lost WW2. The story centres around a young boy called Standish Treadwell and the horror of his life, and eventually his attempt to expose a fake moon landing which is about to be broadcast by the government as an example of their power.

I’m also at present re-reading Barry Heard’s book Well Done Those Men about his Vietnam experience and the terrible effect it had on his life. A great read and soon to be a movie.

Anna Branford ~ Writer for children, maker of things and bath tub reader

There is a funny selection on my bedside table just now! Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows is there because I’ve been recovering from a cold and it is always my best companion when I’m not feeling well.

The AntidoteOn top of that is a book by the hilarious and wise Oliver Burkeman called The Antidote, which is a wonderful critique of the practice of positive thinking.

And right at the top of the pile is Sue Whiting’s new book, Portraits of Celina, which is spooky and beautiful all in the same moment.

On my Bedside table Anna BranfordFeeling inspired yet? I am. Time to grab whatever is on the top of your pile and curl up together.

 

 

Reading Resolutions

Book stackToday I realised I can no longer see my alarm clock over the stacks of books on my bedside table; from any angle, from any height.

It never used to be this way. I was always a monogamous, one book at a time reader from the age of six. Novel series might have come out in less lavish quantities than they do today but when they did flaunt themselves at me, I was firm, steadfastly wading through each new world one chapter, one cast of characters, and one story at a time. When the book ended, it was held and admired for a while, then placed reverently back on the bookshelf, before another was selected after sweet deliberation.

Not so anymore. I am a feckless and fickle reader nowadays. I acquire an unrelated selection of titles, pile them indiscriminately on top of one another, ignoring fine cover art and first release styling. I’m ashamed to say, some nights I hop from plot to plot, sometimes switching loyalties and resuming different relationships up to three times a night. Some titles stay pinned mercilessly under genres alien and repulsive to them for months on end, never seeing the light of the bed lamp or making it back onto the book shelf. For as capricious a reader as I am now, I am sadly not a fast one.

It’s not my fault I’m this way, not really. When reading anything and everything from school newsletters, body corporate minutes, seminar notes, bloggers’ posts, manuscripts (my own included), shopping lists (hardest to do because my hand writing is illegible), emails, and let’s face it, a few hours of essential Face Book updating consumes most of my working reading time, then I must be equally varied and adaptable when it comes to my leisure reading time; especially when leisure reading time often ends with a slap on the face by the offended title after I’ve nodded off.

Alas I wish it were not so. George Ivanoff’s recent pre-Christmas post on one’s holiday reading list, prompted me to examine that indignant stack of books. It made me realise that although I may have fine-tuned the art of reading more than one book at a time, miraculously not losing the plot, (so to speak), perhaps what I am reading deserves a little more respect.  Respect in the form of dedicated time to enjoy its individuality. Improbable but not impossible.

I have made no formal resolutions this year, apart from: write more, relax more, finish writing more, eat less, and cook more…you know how it goes. However my reading resolutions have now far exceeded any list I’d ever be allowed to take to a deserted island. I want to read more with my child, explore another foreign language, consume even more pictures books which for me is like walking through an art gallery, review more titles, and read at least half of the shelf of ‘keepers’ I’ve acquired and am saving for that ‘rainy day’. I’ve resolutely set a higher personal reading goal this year to accommodate book club must reads; I’m dreaming big. Plus I have made the odd commitment to myself to read at least one title of every author in the kids’ section of the library from A to Z; before I move onto to YA.

Deserted islandAs with a deserted island and being surrounded by water with nothing to drink, having too many want-to-reads and not enough time to read them is not the best equation for good health and well-being.  My lifestyle and career choice imply that I can no longer be an exclusive reader, committed to just one title at a time. Those languid, lazy days under a palm tree with book in hand (yes that was me once upon a time, ironically on an island) are long past.  But George, you’ll be pleased to know, I’m almost through the holiday-list!

What are your 2013 reading resolutions? Whatever they are, resolve to make time to enjoy them. The most shocking and silly FB post in the world simply cannot rival the escapism and beauty to be found in a good read.

 

Book in for the 2013 Women Writers Challenge!

Australian Women Writers ChallengeWhich of the many books on your to-read list will you pick up (or click on) next? If you’re as indecisive as me, it’s a struggle each time.

In 2013, I will have a mission to guide me. I’m signing up for the second annual Australian Women Writers Challenge, with a plan to read 27 books by Australian women writers, many of which have been gathering dust on my real and virtual bookshelves for years (the full list to come in a future post).

I found out about the event too late in 2012, but tracked the progress of other bloggers who joined in via Twitter and GoodReads with interest. So what exactly is this giant digital book club, how did it come to be, and how can you get involved? Founder ELIZABETH LHUEDE explains all …

1. What is the Australian Women Writers Challenge all about, and what inspired you to launch the campaign?



The Australian Women Writers Challenge is a reading and reviewing challenge organised by book bloggers. It asks people to sign up and read, or read and review, a number of books by Australian women throughout the year, and to discuss them on book blogs and social media. Through the challenge, we hope to draw attention to and overcome the problem of gender bias in the reviewing of books in Australia’s literary journals, and to support and promote books by Australian women.

Indirectly, the challenge was inspired by the VIDA count, an analysis of major book reviewing publications in North America and Europe. This count revealed that male authors were far more likely to have their books reviewed in influential international newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors.

An analysis of Australian literary pages by Bookseller + Publisher showed a similar bias (reprinted in Crikey in March 2012). 

From my own experience I know the problem isn’t just with male readers not reading books by women; it’s more entrenched than that: women, too, are guilty of gender bias in their reading. This is part of a much larger problem of devaluing work labelled as being by a woman. A 2012 study quoted recently by Tara Moss demonstrates that this bias exists independent of the actual quality and content of the work (see excerpt here).

To help solve this problem, the Australian Women Writers Challenge calls on readers to examine their reading habits and, if a bias against female authors exists, work to change it by reading – and reviewing – more books by Australian women. The quality of the work is there: it’s up to us to discover and celebrate it.


2. Is it just a coincidence that the challenge arrived on the scene around the same time as the Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing?



The challenge owes a lot to the people who created the Stella Prize. Kirsten Tranter, one of the Stella panelists, wrote about the VIDA statistics in early 2011, as did many others in the early part of that year. Without the Stella Prize, the challenge wouldn’t have been the success it is.

3. How highly would you rate the influence of Miles Franklin on all of this, and why do you think she has become such a symbol for women writers in this country?

The Stella panelists chose Miles Franklin as a symbol, I believe, because no women were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009 and 2011, despite the prize having been established at the bequest of a woman – one who, incidentally, chose to publish under a male pseudonym.

I can see the strategic reasons for adopting Franklin as a symbol, but I also think it’s a symptom of the problem. There are far more talented Australian female authors. There are also other literary prizes that have been going for years that don’t get anywhere near the publicity of the Miles Franklin Award, such as the Barbara Jefferis Award and The Kibble and Dobbie prizes. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of these awards before I started researching books to read for the challenge. Why is that, unless it has something to do with the fact that they, in varied ways, celebrate women?

4. A year on, do you feel the campaign has been a success?

The challenge has been a huge success. The Huffington Post Books blog published a wrap-up of recent releases of books by Australian women, Overland blog announced 2012 as The Year of Australian Women Writers, it has been mentioned on Radio National, and the Sydney Morning Herald’s Daily Life blog counted it among the 20 Greatest Moments for Women in 2012. I couldn’t have hoped for more.



5. How important has social media been to its reach?

Twitter especially has a major force in getting word out about the challenge, and has helped publicise the many reviews now linked to the blog (well over 1300). Recommendations via book bloggers and, to a lesser extent, Facebook have also been important. The real spikes in terms of hits on the blog, however, have come after mentions in traditional media.



6. You’ve done some survey research into AWW’s impact. Have you seen the results of that research yet?

A brief look at the results has revealed that the majority of respondents didn’t sign up for the challenge, but had heard about it; a majority of these also happened to read more books by Australian women this year. There are many other factors beside the challenge which have raised the profile of books by Australian women in 2012, so the challenge can’t take credit for this result, but it is a very encouraging trend.

Of the people who did sign up for the challenge, a majority read more books by Australian women than in previous years, and most reviewed more and read more broadly. A majority of respondents credited the challenge for their having a greater awareness of authors’ names, book titles and a sense of the breadth and diversity of genres being written by Australian women.

7. Do you have anything different planned for AWW in 2013?

In 2013, the challenge will remain basically the same, with the aim to read and review more books by Australian women. One change is that there will now be a ‘read only’ option for people who are reluctant (or too time poor) to review. This is a gamble – as it could easily diffuse the challenge’s goal. But it is my hope that people who sign up for this option will actively participate in the challenge.

How can they do that? By discussing books they’re reading on social media, using #aww2013 on Twitter, posting comments on the AWW Facebook page, discussing the books in the AWW GoodReads group, and – especially – by commenting on book bloggers’ reviews. Book bloggers have made a huge effort to read and review these books and I’m sure they appreciate people commenting.

8. Are the goals for the campaign the same, or have they grown with the movement?



The goal for the challenge remains to help overcome gender bias in reviewing, and also more generally to support and promote books by Australian women.

9. How can readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, the media and bloggers get involved?



The best way to get involved is to sign up to the challenge, to pledge to read and review books by Australian women in 2013, and to encourage others – friends, co-workers, family members, book group members, local librarians, school teachers and bookshop owners – to join as well. You can sign up here.

10. Can men participate (of course I know they can, but you never know, some might be too shy unless you extend them a really warm invitation!)?

Men are very welcome to participate – as they were in 2012. One male participant in the 2012 challenge was David Golding who recently wrote a wrap-up post on his participation which included a call for more men to sign up.

Another participant from 2012 is Sean Wright from Adventures of a Bookonaut blog. Sean has joined the AWW team and will be looking for ways to help get more male readers engaged in the challenge. (If you have any ideas, let him know!)



11. Who is/are your favourite Australian woman writer/s?


This is a tough question. I can honestly say my knowledge of books by Australian women is still too limited for me to have a favourite or favourites. This year I have discovered a wealth of genuine talent  – world-class authors I didn’t know existed this time last year – and I’m convinced there are many more to discover. My favourite genre is crime, particularly psychological suspense, and in those genres I’ve enjoyed the work of Wendy James, Rebecca James, Sylvia Johnson, Sara Foster, Caroline Overington, Angela Savage, Sulari Gentill, Nicole Watson, PM Newton and my friend Jaye Ford. But one of my goals this year was to read widely, which means I’ve read a lot of single books (46 so far) by different authors. The only authors I’ve repeated have been Gail Jones, Charlotte Wood and Margo Lanagan (two each). It’s not enough to go on to develop a favourite.

12. What were your top three reads by Australian women writers this year?



Only three? Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy, Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts tie for first, and a shared tie second includes Emily Maguire’s Fishing for Tigers and PM Newton’s The Old School, while Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper comes in third. These are all very different books but, in my view, compelling reading. (Sorry, that’s five, isn’t it?)

13. What are you planning to read next?

I’ve just finished Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, an emotionally devastating and imaginative speculative fiction novel, and before that was Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, a very readable literary book about sibling rivalry. I have a huge stack books by Australian women to read, both recent releases and older titles, but I’m also keen to get back to my own writing which I’ve neglected this year while working on the challenge. Creating the new websites has required fulltime work for the past few months, and I need to get back to my own writing.

13. Could you tell us a little about your own writing? Has your work on the challenge pushed your own literary career along?

I started writing novels after I finished my PhD (in 1995) and I’ve had success in competitions with several romantic suspense novels and a fantasy title, but so far no acceptances from publishers. My latest story is a page-turning psychological suspense novel which draws on some hair-raising encounters I had working as an intern counsellor at a private hospital, as well my experience growing up with a schizophrenic father.

Earlier this year I attracted the attention of literary agent, author and former editor, Virginia Lloyd, who loved the story and agreed to represent me. With a great team now supporting the AWW challenge, I hope to get on with writing my second psychological suspense novel in 2013.

Have I been inspired by what I’ve read? Without a doubt. It has also been intimidating to see the depth, breadth and quality of the work that is out there – work that clearly doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It’s scary, in a way, to go back to my own writing now with this new ‘anxiety of influence’. I would love to write with the richly textured imaginative flair of Margo Lanagan, or the terrible emotion of Eva Hornung, or the compassionate humanity of Charlotte Wood. I would love to write crime with the sense of history and stylistic precision of PM Newton, or have the exquisite appreciation of nature and human heartbreak of Favel Parrett, or the contemporary feel and nuanced characters of Emily Maguire. I’d love to write suspense, mystery and history with the scope and readability of Kate Morton – and to have my books be half as popular with readers. I doubt I can do any of those things and I feel grief about that. I know the next step in such thinking would be “Why even try?” But what I can do is what I’ve always – sometimes hesitantly – tried to do: to write as skilfully and honestly as I’m able, informed by who I am and my unique experience of the world. If one day I get published and find readers who enjoy reading the stories I’ve created, great: that will be a dream come true. If not, at least I can be an active and appreciative reader of those writers who have a great deal more talent than me.

 

Come Back Soon

Henrietta LacksThe adage that you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone rings incredibly true. But I’m not sure what the apt adage is for knowing and appreciating what you’ve got when you’ve got it and then knowing and appreciating it even more when it’s gone. Whatever it is, it should be applied to Richard Fidler, the former Doug Anthony All Star and current ABC Radio host.

He’s only gone temporarily—I feel I should get that in early lest I freak anyone out—but even temporarily is too interminably long. It appears Fidler’s taking a research sabbatical courtesy of a hallowed Churchill Fellowship and is visiting some of the top radio shows in London and New York. Melodramatic as it sounds, his absence is, for me at least, a giant, gaping, nothing-comes-near-to-replacing-him hole.

Conversations with Richard Fidler is, hands down, the highlight of my day. Five days a week (I’d like to make it seven), he interviews a guest for an hour and manages to draw out some of the most fascinating, compelling tales I’ve ever heard. The show’s motto is ‘things you’re interested in and things you don’t know you’re interested in’, and his guests are incredibly varied. Some are famous, but many more are not. It makes them no less interesting. Sometimes their ‘ordinariness’ and the fact that we’d otherwise not hear their tale makes them more so.

Fidler has a lot to do with this, of course, and the show in anyone else’s hands wouldn’t work as well. We see this with the Conversation Hour in Melbourne, which sells itself as being a similar product, but is actually an unstructured hour of nothing much that drives me batty.

The Good SoldiersFidler (ably supported by his behind-the-scenes team, of course) is effectively the radio version of Andrew Denton. His interviewing skills have reduced me to tears on more than one occasion—in a good way, of course.

There’s a real and nuanced skill to interviewing that I’m coming to increasingly appreciate. Fidler manages to get people to open up and tell the stories without getting in the way. He’s incredibly clever and well read, but never comes across as a know-it-all. It’s something that I think neither Ramona Koval, host of ABC Radio National’s The Book Show, nor Jennifer Byrne, host of the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club, manage to do. They too, I’m afraid, drive me batty.

For me, they get in the way of the interview, imposing their thoughts and opinions on it. I say that not as someone being hypercritical, but as someone who hasn’t anywhere near yet mastered Fidler’s interviewing skills, but who hopes and dreams of one day doing so. I also can’t help but think that Koval and Byrne wish that they were the ones being interviewed.

ConfessionsAnd yes, I couldn’t help but note the irony that Koval, held up as an authority on the area, released a book about interviewing techniques and then had a mega interview debacle with Bret Easton ‘Delta Goodrem’ Ellis at the 2010 Byron Bay Writers Festival.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write that I can barely wait for Fidler to return. No really. My weeks without him just haven’t been the same. He’s also a magnificent book recommenderer (that’s a technical term). Through him, I’ve discovered some truly incredible books and/or authors. Say, for example:

You’d think his absence would have given me some time to tackle the tower of unread books teetering precariously on my bedside table, but sadly no. That pile just seems to continue to lean and grow. Fidler should be back in early November and there should be a new stack of books for me to salivate over and acquire. I cannae wait!

How to Use Google Reader Pt 2

In my previous post, I introduced the wonders of Google Reader, a fast and easy way to keep up with your internet reading – be it blogs, newspapers, long form journalism or any content that updates regularly. In this post I’ll cover off how to save and share your posts, and a couple of extra tips that makes using Google Reader a bit easier.

 

Saving and sharing posts

If you come across a post that you’d like to save to read later the easiest way to save it is to use stars.

 

 

 

You can access your starred items at any time by finding it in the left-hand sidebar. Your starred items will remain here until you unstar them.

 

 

Sharing posts works in much the same way. You can choose to follow other people who use Google Reader, or allow other people to follow your shared items by clicking on ‘People you follow’ —> ‘Sharing Settings’. When you first sign up to Google Reader, you’ll be prompted to add people to share with (and to share from). You can import friends from your Google address book if you’re on Gmail, or using their email address if they’re not. Shared items on Google Reader also sync directly with Google Buzz, Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter.

 

Advanced Hints and Tips

 

Keyboard Shortcuts

Like all Google apps, Google Reader has a full suite of keyboard shortcuts, which you can check out by clicking here. However, if you’re just looking for the basics, the basics are full screen (hit F), scroll down (hit the spacebar), next item (hit J) or previous item (hit K). You can also star items by hitting S, and share an item by hitting shift+S.

 

Forcing a feed to be full text

Use FullTextRSSFeed.com or WizardRSS.com. Simply copy and paste the URL of the feed you want to get in full text, hit enter and either of these two sites will produce a new URL. Plug that into Google Reader’s ‘Add Subscription’ box and you can read that blog’s full text without having to open a new window.

 

If you’ve got no idea what the feed URL is – click on the feed you want to expand in the left-hand sidebar on Google Reader. Click ‘Show Details’ in the top right-hand corner of the feed, and the Feed URL will be at the top of the page.

 

Sharing with other social networks

Go to Reader Settings (top right corner) —> Send To to set up other social networks. All the big sharing sites are already set up, just tick the boxes and authorise Google to access the site and you can share directly from Google Reader with one click.

 

That about covers the basics, and a bit more to get you on your way. If you have any further questions about feeds or Google Reader, please let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

How to Use Google Reader Pt 1

Virtually every site on the web nowadays that serves up content has a feed. That feed is a way for people to keep up to date with their favourite blogs and news sites without having to visit twenty different websites a day. There are basically two kinds of feeds – RSS (Really Simple Syndication) and Atom. For the purposes of the general (non web-developer) reader, they’re pretty much the same, and Google Reader can use either one.

Google Reader is probably the best known feed reader, but there are lots of others, including some that live on your computer desktop.

 

Logging in for the first time

For the purposes of this tutorial, I’ll assume that you’ve already got a Google login. If you don’t, you can sign up to get a Google account by clicking here.

Once you’ve got your email login and password handy, visit http://reader.google.com to go to Google Reader.

 

 

This is the screen you’ll see when you first log in. Feel free to scroll through the first few introductory posts and have a read.

 

Adding a Feed to Google Reader

There are two ways to add feeds to Google Reader. The easiest way is to click ‘add a subscription’ in the top-left hand corner of your Google Reader account.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes for whatever reason, Google Reader can’t find the blog you want to subscribe to. In this case, you can click on the feed icon It’s a little different on each website, but the key is to look for the icon below or the words ‘Feed’, ‘RSS’ or ‘Atom’. They can usually be found at the top, bottom or on the sidebar of most blogs and news sites.

 

 

 

Here are a few examples.

The Guardian’s webfeed:

 

The Sydney Morning Herald feed can be found at the very bottom of the main page.

 

 

As can the feeds for ABC News:

 

Many bigger sites provide multiple feeds depending on the kind of content you’re looking for. Once you’ve found the feed you’re after, click it and you’ll usually get a jumble of code that looks a bit like this:

 

 

To get it into Google Reader, just copy and paste the URL into the ‘Add Subscription’ window on Google Reader and click ‘Add’.

 

Some websites are a bit more clever, and give you options to subscribe using a particular reader. In these cases, just click on Google.

 

 

Viewing and sorting subscriptions

Once you’ve subscribed to a few of your favourite blogs, you’ll probably want to start reading them.

 

I’d recommend using the All Items view to see all your subscriptions together. You can scroll through each new post using your mouse, or by hitting the spacebar to move a bit more quickly.

 

As each new item is viewed a blue box will surround it. This indicates that you have read the item, and after you’ve done so it won’t appear in Google Reader again.

 

 

 

You can also view each website by its source by clicking on the individual feed in the left-hand sidebar.

Once you add a few feeds to Google Reader, especially if you go on holidays or don’t have time to check it for a few days, you’ll learn that your unread feeds can skyrocket very quickly. The last thing you want a piece of technology to do is to make it more difficult to keep up with the news you visit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neat freaks

There are plenty of ways to keep your feeds organised – you can use folders and tags. To access these settings just click on the small blue down arrow in the sidebar and navigate to ‘Manage Subscriptions’.

 

Full text vs Brief

You’ll notice that depending on the source, you won’t get the full news story in Google Reader. This is a way big news companies have of forcing you to go to their website to view their advertising. Some sites only show the headline. There are a couple of ways around this, in my next post I’ll cover a quick way of getting around this. Most blogs, however, will have the full text of every post up in their feed.

 

Alternatively, if you like viewing your feeds as headlines only, you can remove the briefs by clicking ‘List’ in the top right of Reader.

 

 

 

 

Don’t You Ever Interrupt Me While I’m Reading A Book

There are a lot of thoughts that race through your head watching the following video, not least:

  • Who is this guy?
  • What inspired this video?
  • This is really random.
  • Is he serious or seriously taking the p&ss (I vote the latter)?
  • He looks a bit like the guy from Buffy/Angel.
  • He’s kind of cute.
  • My, his nose crinkling is kind of fascinating.
  • So are his eyebrow movements.
  • Which shows/film clips is he spoofing?
  • This is actually clever and hilarious.
  • The song is actually pretty good.
  • It makes me want to dance.
  • It could almost be a dance-party hit.
  • I can’t get this song out of my head.
  • I’m borrowing some of those moves.

Those occur in a varying and sometimes looping order, while you can’t help but smile, jiggle you leg, and palm-pump your hands toward the computer screen to mirror Julian Smith’s efforts. Seriously, this video is infectious. And funny. Especially given that we can assume it was inspired by the can’t-you-see-I’m-reading frustration one feels when interrupted by others about mundane things.

They say the truth is often said in jest, and I suspect this video was inspired by some very real frustration at having reading interrupted. I can’t claim that this happens all that much to me, as I live on my own and my dog and she, well, doesn’t do a lot of interrupting unless it’s a meal time and she’s ravenously hungry.

But I do know the feeling of having to wrap up your reading at the climax or even just a really, really gripping part because your train has arrived or your lunch break is over and you must return to the real world—even if your heart and a large part of your brain remain behind in the book.

I’ve never been allowed to read at the table while other people are present for a meal, so it’s my guilty, living-on-my-own pleasure to now accompany every mouthful of food with lines of prose. Moreover, I’ve often thought that the day we develop the capacity or the technology to be able to read while driving while maintaining complete concentration on the road will be a very, very good one. In the meantime, I’m down with this video (and its dance moves).

Do Ebook Readers Read More Books?

There’s a persistent nugget of common sense that keeps floating around the web indicating that people who read ebooks read more books than those who read paper books.  It’s reared its adorable little head again on the WSJ this week, and I think it’s worth analysing it a bit deeper. Snip:

A study of 1,200 e-reader owners by Marketing and Research Resources Inc. found that 40% said they now read more than they did with print books. Of those surveyed, 58% said they read about the same as before while 2% said they read less than before. And 55% of the respondents in the May study, paid for by e-reader maker Sony Corp., thought they’d use the device to read even more books in the future.

You can see why people want it to be true (people other than Sony, that is). Ebooks are a bit of a boogeyman for publishers and booksellers – some of them like to pretend that ebooks spell (variously) the end of the book, the end of reading and the end of the bookstore. However, if it turns out that ebook readers read more books than paper book readers (and more importantly, buy more ebooks than paper book readers) then the amount of money that books make for everyone will increase, which will reverse a worrying downward trend in both reading and book buying over the past decade.

But the questions is – is it true? It’s obviously a very difficult thing to prove at this point. As the WSJ points out itself, it’s a bit too early to tell if the increase in reading will continue after the lure of the new gadgetry wears off. Nonetheless, let us indulge ourselves in some idle speculation.

It’s true that the early adopters of ereaders are likely to be both gadget-fiends and fairly big readers already. However, it’s very likely that the penetration of ereaders and ebooks into the ordinary book buying public will occur for a few key reasons, each of which, I believe, is directly related to why ebook readers read more books than paper book readers.

Firstly, there’s what’s called interstitial, or cereal-box reading. That is, ereaders and ebook technology lends itself towards the type of reading you do from the back of a cereal box while scoffing down your breakfast. And, let’s face it, the average person spends three years of their life on the toilet – what better time to finally finish Ulysses? (Especially if it’s already sitting on the iPhone you have in your pocket).

There’s also the ease of purchase. Despite the teething problems readers are experiencing at the moment in regards to book availability, pricing and territorial copyright, the digitisation of other industries has proven that these things eventually settle down. Not only are we already in a position to quite easily read The Passage while lining up in the pub or waiting for a YouTube video to load (two of the most distasteful waiting times in a modern human’s life), we can also buy, download and begin reading Mockingjay when we finish it without leaving our spot.

Tied in to the ease of purchase, of course, is the availability. How often have you gone into a bookshop looking for a book and left without it because it wasn’t in stock? How often do you end up tracking that book down elsewhere? If you’re lazy like me – almost never. When the ebook teething problems are sorted out, that will be a problem of the past.

So, to sum up: when it’s easier, faster and cheaper to get books, and you convert more interstitial time into time to read books – you will probably read and buy more books, irrespective of whether you’re a gadget freak or a book lover. What do you think? Are you convinced by my tenuous argument, or do you think the ebook is the end of civilisation? Sound off in the comments.

The ‘Just Right’ Festival

Fatima BhuttoIt’s held annually less than three hours’ drive from my doorstep, but for some reason I hadn’t made a pilgrimage to the Byron Bay Writers Festival. Until this year, when I bit the bullet and signed on for a three-day pass. Admittedly the carrots of Fatima ‘I don’t believe in birthright politics. I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, that my name qualifies me for anything’ Bhutto, whose writing, familial, and political connections intrigue me, and Bret Easton Ellis, he of Less Than Zero, Glamorama, and American Psycho fame had a lot to do with it. But, just one day into the fest, I’m so incredibly glad that I finally made it down and so incredibly mad at myself for not making it before.

Writers’ festivals both soothe and inspire me. I feel at home surrounded by like-minded people and love that I have an excuse to discuss nothing but books, reading, and writing for hours or days on end. Sometimes, though, I can find the crowd sizes, crush, and sheer logistics of getting from tent to tent overwhelming.

Less Than ZeroBut like Goldilocks trying on writers’ festivals for size, I think I’ve found the one for me. With four main tents and a smattering of food venues within a contained area and distance that enables you to duck between them as you try to catch sessions running concurrently, I think the Byron Bay Writers Festival size is just right. The location and set-up is quaint and intimate, the crowds not too large, and the food, which includes spinach and ricotta ‘snake’ pastries and eggplant and feta balls with parsley mayonnaise, is heavenly.

There’s also writing-related artwork in the form of a kind of tower of books and a chair made from letters, both of which I officially want for my house. And even though I’ve come down by myself with little planning and no broadcasting of the fact, I’ve run into and caught up with lots of people I know. Couple that with some random conversations struck up with strangers over a shared interest in an author or session and plans to get to the lighthouse and the beach tomorrow and I’m wondering what’s to date kept me away.

GlamoramaOf course, topping the list of perks is that I’ve caught one of my favourite ever authors (Bret Easton Ellis) and discovered two whom I think might quickly become one (Susan Maushart and one whose name I didn’t catch but who replaced the last-minute drop-out Bhutto)—both of which I’ll be blogging about in coming days. If you’re in Byron, near Byron, or can get to Byron at short notice, there are two days left of the festival. I wholly recommend coming on down and trying it on for size.

Clutter, clutter and more clutter

My little blog bio proudly proclaims: “Bookish bloggings from the cluttered mind and bookshelf of Melbourne author, George Ivanoff.” I feel the need to explain.

My mind, my bookshelf (actually, that should be bookshelves, plural) and, indeed, my life, are cluttered. I work in a clutter. I share an office with my wife (a graphic artist). The office is divided down the middle by desks and shelving. Her side is neat and organised, as indeed, is her mind and approach to work. My side is … well … cluttered. (Am I overusing the ‘c’ word?) My shelves are piled with random collections of books, magazines, papers, DVDs, video tapes (Eeek! Old technology!) toys, cinema cups and unclassifiable paraphernalia. Every inch of my desk is taken up with something … anything. I submit, for your appraisal, Exhibit A:

My mind and my approach to writing approximate the look and feel of my workspace. My mind is rarely devoted to just one thing at any given moment. For instance — what am I reading? I am currently part way through the following:

  • John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy
    I’ve finished the first two books, The White Mountains and The City of Gold and Lead. Just the final book, The Pool of Fire, to go. Oh, and I’ll then read the prequel as well — When the Tripods Came.
  • One Step Ahead: Raising 3–12 Year Olds by Michael Grose
    I’m Dad to a 1-year-old and an almost-7-year-old, so I need to occasionally dip in to these sort of books in order to maintain my sanity. Or, at least, attempt to maintain my sanity. (Somewhere down the track I’ll have to do a post about finding the time to write while looking after kids.)
  • Issue 42 of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
    I’m not a regular reader of this magazine. I got this issue because there’s a full-colour ad for Gamers’ Quest on the back cover. But, so far, I’m really enjoying the mag and even contemplating a subscription. Highly recommended if you’re into science fiction and fantasy, short stories.
  • The February issue of Oz Kids in Print
    This mag is published by the Australian Children’s Literary Board. Again, I’m not a regular reader. I’ve got this issue because it contains one of my articles.
  • The April issue of Victorian Writer
    This is one of my regular reads, as I’m a member of the Victorian Writers’ Centre.

Okay, that takes care of reading. What about writing? Here’s a round up of what I’m currently working on.

  • I’m just finishing up the second book in a series of kids’ reference books about nutrition. This book is about fibre but I’m not allowed to use the word ‘poo’, even though the book is aimed at second grade level. What do I use? Faeces? Digested waste material excreted from the bowels? Number twos? Doo-doo? My mind is spinning with euphemisms.
  • Tornado Riders
    This is a teen novel that I’m working on. At the moment it’s still very much in the planning stages as I scribble ideas, character outlines and scene snippets in my notebook. Whether it is ever completed, and then whether it is ever published, remains to be seen. After all, I have a draw full of unpublished (probably unpublishable) stuff that I feel to urge to add to occasionally.
  • Answers to two sets of interview questions for two different websites about the writing of Gamers’ Quest. One day I’ll write a post about what it’s like promoting a book.
  • And then, of course, there’s this little blog, which I’m planning as a twice-weekly endeavour.

So there you have it — a little insight into the workings of my cluttered little mind. But what about all of you out there in the blogosphere? Are you cluttered? Are you uncluttered? Have you ever de-cluttered? Leave a comment and share your experiences.

Now, as a final note (and simply because I feel the need to use that word one more time), may I say — embrace your CLUTTER!

Tune in next time, when you’ll hear me say: “Enough about me! Time to talk about a book!” And that book shall be The Star by Felicity Marshal.

Catch ya later,  George