24 September 2009

subjectivity - or why authors need good readers

Now that I have vast hordes of people following my blog - eight at last count! - it seems like a good idea to post more often. hello, people! *waves*

I'm reading My Favourite Poison by Anna Blundy - a rollicking crime/chick lit/dark comedy/spy story set in Egypt, featuring Faith Zanetti, a cynical English journalist who feels most at home in war zones and places where life is cheap and vodka is readily available. This is the fifth Faith novel, and they're all quite dark - suicides, wrongful imprisonment, the horrors of war, trafficking in children, mental illness, abandonment and grief - but have sufficient laugh lines scattered through the books to warrant being called 'rollicking' or 'darkly funny'. I've now bought four out of the five, having found the first (actually the fourth) in a dump-bin of discounted books, then the third, also on sale. apparently they don't sell well in Australia - we like wry or quirky humour, but maybe Blundy's plots are too grim and her jokes too Russian (see her novels for explanation if you are not familiar with the general tendency of Russian jokes to be really, really sad) for the average Australian reader. Blundy herself worked for many years as a journalist in Russia, the Middle East, Africa and America, and her father, also a journalist, was killed while working in El Salvador.

I've read all five (well, still reading the fifth) but have declined to buy the second because it's so unhappy; war orphans being sold into sex slavery is horrific, Faith's best friend committing suicide was devastating, but Faith herself having a nervous breakdown was just too much for me - maybe something to do with the first person narrative.

Anyways, I'd ordered My Favourite Poison and waited weeks for it, started it eagerly a couple of days ago, but was disgruntled because it just wasn't funny. Tonight, however, I'm chortling away at Faith's idea that she could disguise herself by wearing a red t-shirt instead of her usual white one (she's not entirely serious about that working).

So is the writing better at this point in the novel? I think it's pretty consistent, actually, and the reason I'm chuckling now is because I had a good talk this arvo with someone who asked me what I was so peeved about, and now that I've aired my grievances with sundry persons who have done Bad Things such as a) bill me more than they should have, b) be outrageously busy with other clients and not have time to fit me in for an appointment, and c) be cheerful when I'm feeling grumpy, I'm feeling quite relaxed and ready to enjoy Faith's travails.

Which confirms my theory (well, other people's too, but no way am I going to cite sources in this blog, unless I really feel like it, so for the purposes of this blog right now it's mine) that a novel is co-created by the reader, or at least, that an individual reader's experience is co-created by that reader - by the layers of cultural and literary knowledge they bring to it, their understanding of the genre, their understanding of individual words (or not), and, not least, their state of being and mood at the time.

my sister's fab new dolls' house

Rebecca's Collections: The Battlement House has arrived - now, where do I put it?

16 September 2009

bad science, great faces

possible SPOILERS if you watch Fringe

watching Fringe is such a pleasure. I could quite happily just gaze at Anna Torv's face for the whole hour, with the other characters simply being voices from off screen, so it's a bonus that she brings acting skill to the role of Agent Olivia Dunham, and that several of the other actors are also greatly gaze-worthy (and good actors).

John Noble's sweetly craggy features are perfect for his mad-scientist role, the lovely, loony Walter Bishop. I do hope, however, that the scriptwriters ease up on the running gag of Walter's 'important requests', which made me laugh the first few times: Do you need anything while you conduct this experiment, Walter? Yes, I must have some cotton candy; blue, not pink. At the crime scene (a diner) Fed: What do you need? Walter: Could I have a bowl of this onion soup? Oh, and bring these two bodies back to my lab. now that I'm expecting each appearance of the gag it's a little less amusing.

and there's Kirk Acevedo, with an awful haircut (excusable I suppose by his character being FBI) detracting only slightly from his watchability. he looks just fine, even without the dashing, self-inflicted scar that he had slashed across his cheek as Miguel Alvarez in Oz. I do wish he'd smile more, though.

Joshua Jackson is reassuringly 'normal' looking as Walter's son Peter, Lance Reddick does a great 'serious' look as Olivia's boss Agent Broyles, and Jasika Nicole is very cute as the hapless (but probably very competent when she's not being co-opted as assistant to a mad scientist) Asterisk - sorry, Astrid.

the stories are a nice mix of conspiracy theories, emotive rescues of helpless victims, and really nasty bad guys, with some weird and wonderful 'science' thrown in.

sometimes it's the little things that irk me the most, not the outrageously bizarre 'stuff' that is the flabotnum (sp? phlibotnem? that word that Joss Whedon & his writing team used when talking about Buffy and Angel, meaning the hi-tech gizmo, spell, or alien force that did whatever they needed it to do as a plot device, without needing any annoying exposition) of the episode.

tonight's episode featured women who'd been abducted (oh, what a surprise! occasionally it's a man, sometimes a child, but most often women who are abducted) and injected with some drug that would interact with medical treatment they were having to make them highly radioactive and turn their heads into killer microwave ovens that could slaughter a roomful of people. I'm happy to go with that - reading SF since I was a kid has given me a high tolerance for weird science, as long as it has internal consistency.

the bits that bugged me where when evil scientist #2 (a pretty Asian American woman who we first saw wearing full hazchem/radioactivity-proof suit, who then revealed her feminine beauty by taking off the ugly great protective helmet/mask/hood thingy and shaking out her lovely long hair) was about to inject the 'bad stuff' into a drip solution that was feeding into the poor abducted woman. evil scientist #2 held up the syringe and flicked it to get the air bubbles out before injecting it into the drip solution - but the 'bad stuff' was about a centimetre below the top of the syringe! there was no point flicking to get tiny air bubbles out when she hadn't yet pushed the plunger far enough to get the liquid up to the needle. silly evil scientist!
(it was probably so that we could see there was some brightly coloured bad stuff in the syringe, it wasn't just a groovy red syringe with nothing in it)

the other bit that bugged me (and I'm probably just being picky here) was when the 'good stuff' cooked up by our lovely mad scientist saved the second abducted woman by massively reducing the level of radioactivity in her body within a second or so. a bit unfair of me, really - it did make for a lovely dramatic denouement, and if I'm going to buy the delayed release radiotherapy nano-capsules the women were being treated with, and Walter's mad genius overall, then why not accept an anti-radioactivity drug that acts faster than Narcan?

I did feel sorry for the poor little bald rat who was used to test the second abducted woman's killer microwaves. at least they blew its head up while it was hiding under her medical gown - Fringe is tactful like that, we see exploding heads only indirectly, even when it's a rat's head.

10 September 2009

books that shaped me

Some people object to lists, but I looove lists of good books (that's why I bought Nancy Pearl's "Book Lust"). And this "shopping list" post certainly fits the theme of my blog - my life as a reader/audience.

These books are all ones that I love, by authors & illustrators that I admire; some were also childhood favourites. I decided to do a list of 100, which meant having to exclude lots, so when a book is part of a series, I have usually put just the first book, or my favourite, to represent them all (in most cases I love the whole series).

Mostly I've listed books that were published at least five years ago (except for Let the Right One In, which I made an exception for cos it's a) brilliant and b) such a good example of cross-genre writing), to give enough time to judge how much the books have stayed with me.

I've also aimed to avoid having more than one book by the same author in the same category (although some authors are included in more than one genre), cos otherwise my children's books could've been all Joan Aiken, for example, and I wanted to include as many authors as possible.

They're grouped by genre/audience/format cos I wanted to have a representative range of the books that I love and that have contributed to my world view. I started reading crime, SF and general adult fiction when I was a kid, and still read kids' books now.

Young Adult:
1. My Heartbeat, Garret Freymann-Weyr
2. Saving Francesca, Melina Marchetta
3. Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan
4. Sky Legs, Irini Savvides
5. Tomorrow, When the War Began, John Marsden
6. The Sterkarm Handshake, Susan Price
7. Lockie Leonard, Human Torpedo, Tim Winton
8. Tex, S.E. Hinton
9. Pagan's Vows, Catherine Jinks
10. Finding Cassie Crazy, Jaclyn Moriarty

11. Justice, Faye Kellerman
12. Shakespeare's Champion, Charlaine Harris
13. Cut to the Quick, Kate Ross
14. Seeing a Large Cat, Elizabeth Peters
15. The Embroidered Sunset, Joan Aiken
16. A Running Duck, Paula Gosling
17. The Franchise Affair, Josephine Tey
18. Peepshow, Leigh Redhead
19. Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers
20. For the Defense, Kate Wilhelm

21. Darwin's Radio, Greg Bear
22. The October Country, Ray Bradbury
23. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany, Jr
24. Welcome, Chaos, Kate Wilhelm
25. Insomnia, Stephen King
26. Hunting Party, Elizabeth Moon
27. Body of Glass, Marge Piercy
28. Beauty, Sheri S. Tepper
29. The Autumn Castle, Kim Wilkins
30. Always Coming Home, Ursula K. Le Guin

Picture books:
31. I Hate My Teddy Bear, David McKee
32. Eloise, Kay Thompson & Hilary Knight
33. Goodnight, Moon, Margaret Wise Brown & Clement Hurd
34. My Place, Nadia Wheatley & Donna Rawlins
35. Fungus the Bogeyman, Raymond Briggs
36. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
37. Just One Apple, Janosch
38. Tip-Tip, Marcelle Vérité
39. The Waterhole, Graeme Base
40. Grandpa, John Burningham

41. The Load of Unicorn, Cynthia Harnett
42. Black Hearts in Battersea, Joan Aiken
43. The Horse & His Boy, C.S. Lewis
44. The Wind on the Moon, Eric Linklater
45. The Borrowers, Mary Norton
46. Handles, Jan Mark
47. The Ice is Coming, Patricia Wrightson
48. The Children of Green Knowe, Lucy M. Boston
49. White Boots, Noel Streatfield
50. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norman Juster

General fiction:
51. A Spot of Bother, Mark Haddon
52. 26a, Diana Evans
53. The Spell, Alan Hollinghurst
54. Not That Sort of Girl, Mary Wesley
55. Dirt Music, Tim Winton
56. The Infernal Optimist, Linda Jaivin
57. God on the Rocks, Jane Gardam
58. Three Dog Night, Peter Goldsworthy
59. I for Isobel, Amy Witting
60. The Bat Tattoo, Russell Hoban

Historical novels:
61. Gone to Soldiers, Marge Piercy
62. The Vizard Mask, Diana Norman
63. The Gentleman's Garden, Catherine Jinks
64. An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer
65. Jane Fairfax, Joan Aiken
66. These Is My Words, Nancy Turner
67. Queen of the Lightning, Kathleen Herbert
68. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier
69. Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks
70. Small Gains, K.M. Peyton

Graphic novels:
71. Sandman, Neil Gaiman & Kieth/Dringenberg/Klein, et al.
72. Y: Last Man, Brian K. Vaughn & Pia Guerra
73. Tales of the Slayers: Presumption, Jane Espenson & Russell/Kindzierski/Showman
74. The Adventuress, Audrey Niffenegger
75. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel
76. Persepolis 1 & 2, Marjane Satrapi
77. Blankets, Craig Thompson
78. 99 Ways to Tell a Story, Matt Madden
79. Black Orchid, Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean
80. Buddha, Osamu Tezuka

Classics (and ones that should be):
81. Persuasion, Jane Austen
82. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
83. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
84. Vanity Fair, W.M. Thackeray
85. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
86. Maurice, E.M. Forster
87. Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
88. Living Alone, Stella Benson
89. At the Back of the North Wind, George MacDonald
90. Sing For Your Supper, Pamela Frankau

Cross-genre & other favourites:
91. Drums of Autumn, Diana Gabaldon
92. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris
93. Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman
94. The Underdog, Markus Zusak
95. The Puppy Sister, S.E. Hinton
96. How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff
97. Sabriel, Garth Nix
98. Emma Tupper's Diary, Peter Dickinson
99. Cold Tom, Sally Price
100. Let the Right One In, John Ajvide Lindqvist