Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What I've been reading lately...Wedding Season

Sarah Stratford is a wedding planner hiding a rather inconvenient truth - she doesn't believe in love.  Or not for herself, anyway.  But as the confetti flutters away on the June breeze of yet another successful wedding she somehow finds herself agreeing to organise two more, on the same day and only two months away.  And whilst her celebrity bride is all sweetness and light, her own sister soon starts driving her mad with her high expectations but very limited budget.  
 Luckily Sarah has two tried and tested friends on hand to help her.  Elsa, an accomplished dress designer who likes to keep a very low profile and Bron, a multi-talented hairdresser who lives with her unreconstructed boyfriend and who'd like to go solo in more ways than one.  They may be very good at their work but romance doesn't feature very highly in any of their lives.
 As the big day draws near all three women find that patience is definitely a virtue in the marriage game.  And as all their working hours are spent preparing for the wedding of the year plus one, they certainly haven't got any time to even think about love.  Or have they?
Taken from book jacket

I wanted to like this book so much more than what I did.  I'm a big fan of Katie Fforde's other books, but this one seemed a little lacklustre.  I couldn't get solid images in my mind in regards to the characters and I think this was what made it harder for me to enjoy.  Also, I may be wrong here, but I think this is the first time she's written a book with three main protagonists, alternating them through the chapters.  The books I've read previously usually feature one character and maybe this allows the characters to be explored fully?  Each girl seemed to have their fair share of self doubt and zaniness and maybe having three of them this way was too much?  I feel so disloyal!

What I do want to say however, is if you're a Katie Fforde fan than by all means read it.  You don't want a hole in your read list of an author you like.  If you haven't read Katie Fforde, and you enjoy chicklit, particularly Marion Keyes or Lisa Jewell then I would recommend starting with a different title, such as Thyme out or Practically perfect.  In fact looking at the page that lists her other novels I can see that really I've enjoyed all of them immensely.  She's the type of writer that is akin to draping a really cosy blanket or doona over you.

Sarah stood by the lych-gate and surveyed the perfection of the summer morning.  It was June and the sun was shining with the promise of a perfect day.  The church was an early English gem, surrounded by closely mown, dew spangled grass, ancient lichen-covered gravestones and clipped yews.  She'd already seen Sukie, the florist, who'd been there since dawn, and now some of her anxiety left her.  Two years of work had come to fruition.  It was all going to be all right.  Then she screamed as someone appeared from behind a tombstone.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Writing Formula

I've always been organised (in a very messy way - you should see my home! - but in my defence it's full of newspapers and books) and I like to have my diary engagements written out neatly with the correct time beside events.  I think in a logical manner, or it is to me, and try to be systematic with the way I do things.  I love routine.  Having children has allowed my love for routine to be de riguer.  I'm not considered anal, rather it's a routine for children.

This is especially evident when at this time of year many may be embarking on brand new routines particularly as the new school year is starting.  Well in Australia it is.  I love to sit down with my diary in front of me and nut out what's happening in the coming week, month, or even months ahead.  I love to say that on Monday we'll be dong this, Tuesday we shall be participating in that and so on.  With the advent of kinder this has made it especially so.

I think this may now give you some sense of the orderly (but messy) life I lead.  A few posts ago I wrote about storyboarding to aid in writing my novel.  Well it seems to have worked!  No, I haven't done anything as marvelous as actually finishing my novel, but I have structure now.  After going through and writing a storyboard card for each 'scene' of my novel, I finally got to the end and had lots of ideas to pursue.  I could write this part at this point, I could have this character do this here, and most importantly I had a reference to remember the names I'd chosen of minor characters.

What I have begun doing now, is writing a story board card for the next scene I want to write.  And this has now become my writing formula.  Because I know what's ahead, the writing is flowing, that particular word I want just springs to mind and I'm typing ever so fast.  I don't think I've ever said this on my blog, but I've been blessed with fast touch typing skills.  I can even do it with my eyes closed.

Anyway, I've been so pleased by this turn of events with my book I thought I'd blog about it.  Especially as I have been writing I have neglected my blog.  So, have any of you writers come across a routine or way of writing that helps keep you inspired?

Friday, January 20, 2012

What I've been reading lately....The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I was not completely candid with you in my last letter.  In the interests of delicacy, I drew a veil on the true nature of that group and their founder, Elizabeth McKenna.  But now, I see that I must reveal all.

World War 2.  What do you think of when you read those words?  To be honest I feel a little removed from it all.  The only exposure I've ever had is through what I've read or watched.  At school and at work we have always acknowledged Remembrance Day, but I never really thought about its significance until I had children.  Holding a newborn baby in your arms and thinking about how precious that child is to you I was suddenly aware of the sacrafice; the toll it takes on any family who have to endure their loved ones going away to war.
Of all the things that happened during the war, sending children away to try to keep them safe was surely the most terrible.  I don't know how the parents endured it.  It defies the animal instinct to protect your young.  I see myself becoming bearlike around Kit.  Even when I'm not actually watching her I'm watching her.  I f she's in any sort of danger (which she often is, given her taste in climbing), my hackles rise - I didn't even know I had hackles before - and I run to rescue her.  When her enemy, the Vicar's nephew, threw plums at her, I roared at him.  And through some queer sort of intuition I always know where she is.  Just as I know where my hands are - and if I didn't, I'd be ill with worry.  This is how the species survives, I suppose, but the war put a spanner in all that.  How did the mothers of Guernsey live, not knowing where their children were?  I can't imagine.
I think if you're a book blogger you will especially like this novel it as it reminded me of the sort of conversations or musings you would have and relate to others about what you read.  We get to know the characters in this book through letters and at times you have to remind yourself that it is a work of fiction, so real does the writing seem.  There is a real sense of the 1940's, evoked through the book's vernacular and imagery.

The author Mary Ann Shaffer was a seventy year old former Librarian and sadly she didn't get to see her book in print as she passed away in 2008.  Sadly for us readers this means there won't be any more beautiful works coming from this author.

I knew this book was a bestseller when I bought it (actually for my mum for christmas!) and I can see why.  However I will say that it did take me about a third way in to really get into it.  To properly work out who's who, and this may seem off putting to some.  However if you haven't read it then do so, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Theme Thursday

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event hosted by Reading between the pages that will be open from one thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:
  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
This week's theme: Come (came, arrive, coming etc).
On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I've learnt.  It has nothing to do with me.  At least, that's what I was thinking as the boat approached the pier.  I had a cowardly impulse to throw my red cape overboard and pretend I was someone else.
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Literary sexism

I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not.  I think it is unequal to me.
  V S Naipul

When I was working in libraries what was often commented upon by various staff is that men tend to only read men.  I find this very interesting.  Is this so?  If you are male and reading this, do you predominantly only read male authors? 

This post is piggy-backing off a recent article I read by journalist Jane Sullivan.  This is what she has to say about the above quote. 

He [Naipaul] talked about something called 'feminine tosh'.  He didn't mean it in an unkind way, he added.  He said this is because of women's "sentimentality, their narrow view of the world...And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing, too".  Who is this arrogant idiot, you might think?  This sexist, chauvinist loon?  Let's dismiss him at once.  It's not as easy as that.  The speaker is a man described as the greatest living writer of English prose.
I've had a quick look at the books waiting TBR sitting near my bed, fifteen in all.  Eight of them are written by men.  So I'm happy to say that what appears evident with me is that I'm about half-and-half. 

Jane Sullivan also provides some insight as to what texts are being taught in schools.  When I was in school we of course did read 'dead white men', but we did read lots of female writers too.  Off the top of my head I can remember reading Nene Gare's The fringe dwellers; Playing Beattie Bow, Ruth Park; Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen.  There were of course many male writers we studied, including Shakespeare, however it never was seemingly only male.

An assignment that I did last year looked at some adolescent texts we would include in a Secondary English curriculum.  I looked at Looking for Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta; Does my head look big in this?, Randa Abdel-Fattah; Callie, Ruth Park; Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden and Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer.  So out of five I had unconsciously chosen three female writers.  These were books I felt drawn to and felt comfortable and enthusiastic about teaching.  I also used Pride and prejudice as my main text.  These books were all chosen for hypothetical classes.

So I'll end this post with two things.  I promise to consciously try and be fair to both genders when I am teaching texts (and if I have the power to do the choosing).  That is 50% for both.  And I want to end with a final question.  Are you drawn more to male writers than female?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Book Beginnings

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

Mr Sidney Stark, Publisher
Stephens & Stark LTD
21 St James's Place
London SW1

8th January 1946

Dear Sidney,

Susan Scott is a wonder.  We sold over forty copies of the book, which was very pleasant, but much more thrilling from my standpoint was the food.  Susan managed to get hold of ration coupons for icing sugar and real eggs for the meringue.  If all her literary luncheons are going to achieve these heights, I won't mind touring the country.  Do you suppose that a lavish bonus could spur her on to butter?  Let's try it - you may deduct the money from my royalties.  Now for my grim news.
The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Upon reading these first few lines, I first noticed the date.  I was reading this on the exact same day!  For some reason this gave me a good feeling that boded well for my coming read.  The word rations (as well as the year 1946) immediately meant during the war.  All I know about this book is that it's meant to be about books.  Something I love.  I also know it was a best seller. 

In actual fact I gave this book to my mum the christmas before and she said she couldn't get into it.  Terrible feeling when you've taken the time to choose a book for someone.  Anyway, I took it to give it a try and it's been sitting there waiting for the best part of a year.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What I've been reading lately...The elegance of the hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

I was surprised when I first began reading this book because it wasn't what I expected.  For reasons unknown, I was expecting a book written in a similar vein to McCall's 44 Scotland street.  Or something like Candace Bushnell's book One fifth avenue .  This means I was expecting some intelligent chick lit, or a microscopic view of the daily lives of the inhabitants of 7 Rue de Grenelle, a grand parisian apartment.  This book however is about philosophy.  Or specifically phenomenology.  This is the study of the observation of consciousness.

Have you ever wondered why it is that you can observe your cat and know at the same time what he looks like from the front,behind, above and below - even though at the present moment you are perceiving him only from the front?  It must be that your consciousness, without your even realising it, has been synthesising multiple perceptions of your cat from every possible angle, and has ended up creating this integral image of the cat that your sight, at that moment, could never give you.
Renee who is the concierge of the apartment building seems to apply her observations of the apartment's inhabitants.  The book begins with Marx, and Marx of course is a wonderful way to begin as Renee scathingly points out the abyss between herself and the very rich bourgeois who live there.  I don't think you can have a book about philosophy and not include Marx and indeed the juxtaposition of concierge Renee, Cleaning lady Manuela and the Parisian bourgeois residents works very well. 

Whether you are a determinist or existentialist doesn't matter but what struck me is you would have to have some sort of knowledge of philosophy of these different ideologies to read this book.  So I ask, can you read this book without knowing the work of Marx, Kant, Descartes or Husserl?  Is this the extreme irony of the book, where the reader themselves must not be one of the masses to be able to get it?  Is it a book written only for the intelligentsia that Renee appears to rail against?

Nevertheless the novel is filled with exquisite insight and writing.  One of my favourite parts is Renee's description of drinking tea.  Now I have blogged here before about the importance of coffee in my life.  In our household coffee is taken very seriously.  I've tried to describe its importance and the word I came up with was ritual.  That is, I sit down once each day, usually around mid-morning, and this becomes my time.  The following quote describes this sentiment aptly - and dare I say elegantly!  When I read it I thought to myself, yes!  That's exactly how it is.  The author is talking about tea, but yet it translates to any beverage or brew you may partake of with enjoyment.

The tea ritual: such a precise repetition of the same gestures and the same tastes; accession to simple, authentic and refined sensations, a licence granted to all, at little cost, to become aristocrats of taste, because tea is the beverage of the wealthy and of the poor; the tea ritual, therefore, has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony.  Yes, the world may aspire to vacuousness, lost souls mourn beauty, insignificance surrounds us.  Then let us drink a cup of tea.  Silence descends, one hears the wind outside, the autumn leaves rustle and take flight, the cat sleeps in a warm pool of light.  And with each swallow, time is sublimed.
One of the things that struck me is Renee's perception of class.  They say that Australia is a classless society (personally I don't believe that as I think we do apply class in some ways) and I think that this made it difficult for me to comprehend why Renee adheres to class so much.  But for this novel to work the distinction between class needs to examined.  Indeed this novel is a philosophical examination of life.  It is a beautiful book.

The book isn't only about the philosophy of the mundane.  I promise there are characters and there is a plot.  Aside from Renee there is twelve year old Paloma Josse, a privileged young girl living upstairs.  Her thirteenth birthday is approaching and she plans to commit suicide.  It appears she cannot abide the mundane of her wealthy family.  A gifted child, she has hidden away her intelligence.  When one of the neighbours dies, things change for both Renee and Paloma.  How?  You'll just have to read it to find out.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Literary Blog Hop

Welcome to the Literary Blog Hop hosted by The Blue Bookcase!

This monthly blog hop is open to blogs that primarily feature book reviews of literary fiction, classic literature, and general literary discussion.

Here's our question this week:

Do you like to supplement your reading with outside sources, like Sparknotes, academic articles, or other bloggers' reviews? Why or why not?

I supplement my reading by our Melbourne newspaper The Age, by reading any relevant articles to any novels I may be reading.  I also get a monthly newsletter from a bookshop that could be described as more literary.  So this is a good way to gain reviews through that. 

I also check out websites like Book and Reader, Library Thing and Good Reads.  I certainly check out a bloggers review on a book I'm interested if I come across it.

I don't seek out academic articles unless I'm researching an essay for a novel.  I've never used sparknotes before.

This question is really interesting to me as I've been thinking of posting something along these lines.  I believe that what's been described here is a more metafictional way of reading.  Or I call that the how of reading.  What I mean by this, is that we all make our own meaning by what we read and with so many more online tools or other references around we get to supplment this all the more.  It encourages more reflexivity and we bring to the table what we already know as well. 

As an aspiring secondary school teacher, I'm noticing more and more, that the younger generations are doing this.  The author's bio, other works, related works or suggested books similar to what they're reading are literally at their fingertips. 

Anyway, after writing all this I'm inspired all the more to go away and write the post I was sounding out in my head.  :)

Studying Computer Games - The Narratology/Ludology debate

This is following up on my post is the novel dead?  As promised here is more on computer games in a classroom. Firstly definitions:

  • Ludology – argues that narrative or the story or plot is not the central structure of games.

  • Apologists believe that games have the potential to become great, just the right people aren’t making them.

  • Narratology – regards computers and games as merely a new medium of narrative or story potential.

  • Trivialists believe that computer games cannot be taken seriously by literary studies and therefore should not be taught in a classroom.

I am firmly on the side of Narratology and Apologists. I believe that games can sit alongside other texts, printed or not, and they can be consumed and learnt from and theorised about. I do think there are some great games out there, and I've played some great games, but I think that in a curriculum setting we could do more in devising games or ICT that can connect with students much much more. I'll be posting more about what sort of games I believe would be beneficial in a class in another post.

Espen Aarseth devised the terms apologists and trivialists and is a vocal Ludologist in the debate. What you are also reading about in this post is what's known as game theory.

However it could be argued that even the most orthodox ludologist must acknowledge that games do try to tell stories, or at least give the players the raw materials to construct the story themselves. Aarseth acknowledges this by dividing narrative into two levels: ‘description’ and ‘narration’. Games are rich in ‘description’, they show us visually and aurally the material the player requires in order to construct stories while they are poor at providing an over reaching narrative voice
 (Apperley, 2010).

So, this brings me to the question, which side of the debate do you feel supports your own thinking regarding computer games being taught in school?

The final point I want to raise, is have all you readers out there think about what it is you read? Or perhaps a better term, what do you consume? This can be anything from books (of course!), to newspaper, blogs (again, of course!), movies, and all manner of things. Once you have done your mental list, take another moment to think about how you read.

I'm asking this of you because as readers we are always interpreting texts to make our own meaning. This is called decoding and Stuart Hall made this distinction in 1973. Therefore, when you are reading you are constructing meaning in an authored environment (Cavallari, Hedbury, Harper, (1992). I wholeheartedly believe in this sentiment and this is why I think that games do belong in a classroom. What do you think?

Images taken from some of my favourite adventure games found at Adventuregamers.com.

Apperley, T., (2010), What games studies can teach us about video games in the English and Literacy classroom, Australian journal of language and literacy, 33, 1. pp 12-23, Education Research Complete, Ebscohost.

Cavallari, B., Hedbury, J.G., & Harper, B., (1992), Adventure games in education: a review, Australian journal of educational technology, 8 (2), 172-184

Follow my book blog friday

If you are new to the #FF fun, Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that expands your blog following by a joint effort between bloggers. Feature & Follow Friday is now hosted by TWO hosts, Rachel of Parajunkee and Alison of Alison Can Read. Each host will have their own Feature Blog and this way it'll allow us to show off more new blogs!

Question of the Week: Go count the number of unread books sitting on your shelf. How many?

I have twelve books sitting on my bedside table at home waiting for me to read.  On my TBR list on Libary thing - not so tangible - there are 156.  So many books and so little time!  As we are building at the moment I've got heaps of books that I've packed away.  Saved for my wall of books.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Theme Thursday

Theme Thursdays is a fun weekly event hosted by Reading between the pages that will be open from one thursday to the next. Anyone can participate in it. The rules are simple:

  • A theme will be posted each week (on Thursday’s)
  • Select a conversation/snippet/sentence from the current book you are reading
  • Mention the author and the title of the book along with your post
  • It is important that the theme is conveyed in the sentence (you don’t necessarily need to have the word)
This week's theme is NEW (fresh, newest, latest etc)

Just as teardrops, when they are large and round and compassionate, can leave a long strand washed clean of discord, the summer rain as it washes away the motionless dust can bring to a person's soul something like endless breathing.  That is the way a summer rain can take hold in you - like a new heart, beating in time with another's.
The elegance of the hedgehog, Muriel Barbery

Thursday, January 05, 2012

New Look

Well Scribeswindow has a new look.  I wasn't intending on it, but unfortunately the beautiful Header on my old look shrunk and I couldn't get it back to how it was. 

So off I went to the fantastic designs by Itkupilli and as usual I wasn't disappointed.  Anyway this is a Happy New Year post.  Hope you all had a good one.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Book Beginnings

How to participate: Share the first line (or two) of the book you are currently reading on your blog or in the comments. Include the title and the author so we know what you're reading. Then, if you would like, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line, and let us know if you liked or did not like the sentence. The link-up will be at A Few More Pages every Friday and will be open for the entire week.

"Marx has completely changed the way I view the world," declared the Pallieres boy this morning, although ordinarily he says nary a word to me.

I'm half way through this book, and I've already written a review of it.  It's been one of those novels that just make you sit up and take notice, and it was a complete surprise as it wasn't what I was expecting.  I will be posting a review soon, so stay tuned......
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