Event: The Reading Hour 2013.

booksIt’s that time of year again—National Reading Hour—and last year for the event I chronicled the books I’d read and what I thought of them and thought I’d do something similar this year.

Without further ado, here’s an incomplete list (I threw out my day planner from last year in which I’d pencilled in time for reading certain publications so some of this is from memory) of the books I’ve read since then.

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Outrageous Acts & Everyday Rebellions by Gloria Steinem.

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristin Chenoweth.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns by Mindy Kaling.

The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog & of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andre O’Hagan.

Marilyn: The Passion & the Paradox by Lois Banner.

Vagina: A New Biography by Naomi Wolf.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

After the Fall by Arthur Miller.

Sweet Valley Confidential: 10 Years Later by Francine Pascal.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank.

Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander.

The Summer Before by Ann M. Martin.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare.

The Amber Amulet by Craig Silvey.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Undisputed by Chris Jericho.

Night Games by Anna Krien.

Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan.

The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers.

Under the Dome by Stephen King.

Feminism & Pop Culture by Andi Zeisler.

What books have you been reading in the past year?

Related: The Reading Hour.

Image via The Design Files.

My Week in Pictures.

The writers festival.

The month of August is chock full of writers festivals (okay, two, but I’m going to a lot of sessions!), so much so that I’ve taken time off paid work to further my currently unpaid writing career.

Over the weekend I ventured to Bendigo for their writers festival, which boasted big names like Ita Buttrose. I decided to give her talk a miss as it coincided with another talk I wanted to go to about blogging and writing online which is more relevant to me, and frankly, some of the things Ita’s said recently have really rubbed me the wrong way. I think I like her better as portrayed by Asher Keddie than in real life!

While Megan Burke (my new idol) and ABC Open’s Jane Curtis were great speakers (and great bloggers), I felt the audience were all middle aged aspiring mummy bloggers and the content was relevant to them, who are interested in starting a blog, not me. Maybe three years ago, but not now.

The second talk I went to on Saturday was “Are We There Yet?”, featuring Indigenous writer Alexis Wright, astrophysicist turned lawyer turned writer Sulari Gentill, Muslim writer Hanifa Deen, and author Arnold Zable, and facilitated by Shannon Kerrigan, was promising in theory but failed to live up to the hype in practice. I thought all the writers were great and had valuable things to say about how writing contributes to social change but the format of the session was all wrong: I’m not a fan of each speaker telling a story about their take on the subject for a third or a quarter of the time and then it’s over. I much prefer pre-determined questions being posed to the panel and then opening them up for discussion. Suggestion for further panels: use social media to tally up the questions and thought threads attendees want to hear about and incorporate those into the talk, instead of stuffing them into a ten minute question and answer session at the end.

Speaking of, the last talk I went to on Sunday afternoon was about “His & Hers” writing, which had the potential to really delve into the notion that women write about shopping and sex and men write about serious things. When the facilitator, Sofia Ahlberg, asked if women can write a “great Australian novel” and insinuated that they can’t (not because that’s her personal view, I don’t think, but because our society just doesn’t allow for that with, perhaps, the exception of Kate Grenville), a man from the audience and his wife audibly retorted and rudely told Ahlberg to open the discussion up to questions from the audience.

What I got out of the session was an interest in 50 Shades of Grey that I didn’t have before, thanks to John Flaus’ comments that he didn’t think it was written by a woman due to its “clinical”, “outsider” perspective on sex. Either that, or an incredibly narcissistic woman. Interesting.

Also on Sunday was the “What Makes a Hero” session, with Janine Bourke, sports writer Gideon Haigh (sportspeople as heroes is one of my pet topics), Ned Kelly biographer Ian Jones and Hanifa Deen, who asked where minorities get their heroes from if they’re a primarily “conservative construct”, as Haigh asserted. Deen also talked about “cultural amnesia” which I found interesting as we so often put people on a pedestal after—and sometimes despite—committing indiscretions (Ned Kelly, Chopper Reid, and countless football players, to name some Australian “heroes”): “we remember and admire the things we want to”.

Finally, there was a horror panel featuring horror writers Brett McBean and Cameron Oliver, reviewer Lucy Sussex and president of the Australian Horror Writers Association, Geoff Brown. This was probably the best panel in terms of actually addressing the topic and opening the discussion up to questions and comments about “what scares us”. Interestingly, Bendigo is one of the most haunted cities in the world, with more ghosts per person than anywhere else! They talked about the canonical horror films of the late ’70s and ’80s like Carrie, The Shining and The Exorcist and how filmmakers are “scared to scare people” now and that the current zombie, vampire and werewolf trend reflects our xenophobia and fear of the “other”; more so, that they will “turn us into them”. If that doesn’t some up what we’re scared of, I don’t know what does.    

The stack.

I don’t support the Herald Sun, but a friend handed me a copy of Mia Freedman’s profile in Saturday’s issue, which was really good and revealed some aspects of her life that I didn’t know before. (Having read all of her books and being a religious follower of MamaMia, that’s no mean feat.)

Zoe Foster’s relationship column in this month’s Cosmo I found to be a little sexist, but I’m waiting to address it til I see (hear?) her speak at the Melbourne Writers Festival next week. Have you read it? What do you think?

Trivia.

On Tuesday night I had my annual work trivia tournament, in which my team—“Pretentious Latin Name”—came 11th out of 20. Hey, last year we came last, so we’re moving on up.

Special thanks to Sam who bought a giant-sized pizza from Costco for the festivities, and to myself, who made a bitchin’ batch of red velvet cupcakes, if I do say so myself.

New Secondhand Books.

I’ve been looking for Joyce Carol Oates’ Blonde for yonks, and I finally found it in Book Now in Bendigo over the weekend. I also got Timothy Conigraves’ Holding the Man after reading about it in a Benjamin Law article recently. Inspired by Stephen King’s acknowledgements in 11.22.63, I picked up Oswald’s Tale by Norman Mailer, a fictionalised account of Lee Harvey Oswald’s life, too.

Related: Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo Review.

In Defence of Mia Freedman.

The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

My Week in Pictures 18th August 2011.

My Week in Pictures 28th June 2012. 

Book Now, Bendigo.

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Was “Girls on Show” Slut-Shaming?

[Benjamin Law] Holding the Man & AIDS in Australia.

Book Review: My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates.

My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike had me at hello its first two sentences:

“Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto ‘survivors.’

“Me, I’m the ‘surviving’ child of an infamous American family…”

My favourite book being a fictional account of the O.J. Simpson murder trial, Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne, I’m a sucker for true crime and conspiracy theories.

My Sister, My Love is the fictionalised account of the JonBenet Ramsey murder of Christmas 1996, a story that has captivated me since it hit the newsstands some fifteen years ago.

It is written by the awesome Joyce Carol Oates, whom I’ve never read in novel form before, but whose articles I have come across online. Since its publication in 2008, I’ve longed to read it, and serendipitously came across it in a secondhand bookstore earlier this year. It has taken me since then to read it!

But coming in at 562 pages, it’s not exactly light reading, both in size and subject matter.

The book focuses on the life of Skyler Rampike, brother to child ice-skating prodigy, Bliss Rampike (nee Edna Louise Rampike), and he and his parents’ struggle to come to terms with her murder.

The book is somewhat longwinded, but thoroughly enjoyable. Some parts before and after the murder could have been spared, but it’s all part of Oates’ effort to build the story and the characters within it.

The story is written from Skyler’s perspective, but switches rapidly from first- to second- to third-person narration, which can be jarring at first but ultimately lends itself to the insight we get into the twisted and troubled mind of Skyler.

Oates also borrows from other high-profile pop cultureisms, like the Simpson murder (Skyler’s boarding school for troubled/famous children girlfriend is most definitely supposed to be Simpson’s daughter), Wicked (“Popular! In America, what else matters?” [p. 152]), and The Catcher in the Rye, with Skyler calling faux snow “phony-looking” (p. 319). In fact, I think Oates’ key inspiration was probably J.D. Salinger’s most famous fictional outing.

It’s hard to separate the fictional Rampike family Oates has so expertly crafted from the real Ramsey family, which has fallen to pieces since JonBenet’s murder. As in real life, mother Betsey died, and father Bix remarried. But what do we know of Burke Ramsey, whom Skyler was based on? Nothing much.

And that’s where Oates saw an opening: to tell one of America’s most fascinating unsolved murders from the perspective of the person who, by a lot of peoples’ accounts, is the prime suspect.

 

 

 

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Book Now, Bendigo.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 14th July 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Stacked.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] It’s All About Pop-U-Lar.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Books: Stacked.

The other day a friend asked me how I “prioritise my stack” of books, and I thought it might make an interesting blog post, if only so I can navel-gaze at the books, magazines and articles piling up on my bedside table and bookshelf as opposed to offering any valuable insight into how I get through them.

’Cause the answer is, there is no system to getting through them. If anything, more books, magazines and articles are added to the piles than what is taken away from them and filed neatly in the bookshelf or recycling bin.

My friends often tease me ’cause it usually takes me several months to get through a book. The book I’m currently on, My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike by Joyce Carol Oates, I started over two months ago! I try to put away a few chapters each night, but this is in addition to the probably 500 other pages of content I read per week. Blogs, magazines, articles. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good effort. I wonder how many of the haters get through a 500 page book per week :P.

My love of taking in anything and everything in the feminist blogosphere is both a blessing and a curse. I love that there’s always new content and I’m always being informed, but at the same time, it would be so easy to just curl up in bed with a good book and turn my brain off for a few hours. Then again, if I really wanted to turn my brain off, I’d carve out a nook in the couch and flick through channels all night. And who has time for that?

Currently in my book stack, I have three books that were gifts from my birthday last year, and winning a worst dressed contest (Fables comic book, The Big Book of Small Business and Self-Publishing for Dummies); three that are borrowed (Walt Disney’s biography by Neal Gabler, Russell Brand’s second memoir and Kristin Chenoweth’s autobiography); two I bought from Amazon in January (Marilyn Monroe’s Fragments and Sloane Crosley’s second book of essays, How Did You Get This Number?); and the rest (The Night Listener and Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin, Brock Lesnar’s Death Clutch, Less Than Zero and Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis, Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile) I’ve bought in recent months, mostly secondhand.

And the magazines and article stack, which is a complete eyesore on my bedside table, consists of several Vanity Fair’s, some Monthly’s and… to be honest, I don’t actually know what’s in there! When I go on holidays next week, I aim to get through that stack, and it will be a veritable treasure trove! Like Christmas morning!

Seeing as I can offer absolutely no substance to “how do I prioritise my stack”, I’m handing it over to you. Does anyone have any tried and true methods? Here’s one, at the suggestion of my friend Clare: stop buying books til I’ve finished the ones I already have. But they’re too good!

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 14th July 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Bad Taste Foxymorons.

New Weekly Post: My Week in Pictures.

The morning hot air balloons.

You know it’s early when the hot air balloons are still up and about. This is the view from my street…

… while this is the actual view from my apartment window.

A few weeks ago I posted the view from my street, but this is the view from the corner of my loungeroom window.

The birthday girl.

You might remember Zoe from her George Michael paper dolls, or the new artwork for this here blog. Last Friday was her birthday and we celebrated by going out for drinks and dinner.

The bath.

Almost every second Saturday I come home after a hard day of interacting with the moronic general public and collapse into the bath. It’s starting to become a ritual…

Rock of Ages.

On Tuesday night, myself, my friends Eddie and Clare, and Clare’s family, went to see Rock of Ages at the Comedy Theatre. It was very funny, self-aware and had some great tunes. Review to come next week.

The stack.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 14th July 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 7th July 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 1st July 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] George Michael Paper Dolls in Independent Zine ZINm.

New Weekly Post: My Week in Pictures.

It’s week three of “My Week in Pictures”. Still not much feedback on if it’s something you’d like to keep seeing at The Early Bird Catches the Worm, so let me know in the comments.

 

The soft sand jog.

I’ve been wanting to go for a soft sand jog for months now, and I finally made it out to Brighton Beach on Sunday morning with a friend. It was freezing, windy and I got a headache, but it was worth it to do two laps of a tiny little stretch of sand and then collapse. Also, to perve on all the posh puppies with perfect posture. Now say that with a Prue & Trude-esque accent!

The book.

I’ve been stuck on this book for a close to two months now, not because it’s not good (it’s excellent! But it’s Joyce Carol Oates; how could it not be?!), but because I’ve just had so much other reading material to plow through (to not much avail). Plus, it’s 562 pages long. 260 down, 302 to go!

The Wheeler Centre.

On Tuesday night I went to a Meanland collaborative talk on “The Blogging Economy” and how to make money from this thing we call the blogosphere. Notes to come next week.

The stack.

Hopefully the fact that I didn’t buy any substantive monthly mags this week will give me a chance to get through the copious amounts of blog posts and articles I have waiting for me…

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 7th July 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 1st July 2011.

Event: Clunes Back to Booktown.

Last weekend I went to Clunes for their annual Back to Booktown event, encompassing more than 60 booksellers in almost every store on the main street, plus churches, historical buildings and marquees erected especially for the weekend.

As I’ve blogged about here and here, I’d been wanting to attend for the past two years, but the lack of public transportation and friends willing to drive there (as I don’t have a car nor a license) meant this was the first year I could go.

My friend Andrew and I trekked the two hours from Melbourne to the country town located somewhere between Ballarat, Creswick and Maryborough; a town so small it defaults to Ballarat when looking it up on a weather website. (It was sunny and 11° on Saturday. Brrr!)

Honestly, I was surprised by the sheer amount of booksellers. I was expecting a couple of old buildings and trestle tables and that was it. Granted, the town is small, but there’s a reason people flock from far and wide to Clunes for a weekend in May.

I managed to unearth a couple of Bret Easton Ellis books for under $10 each, a copy of The Catcher in the Rye for $12.50 (steep for a secondhand copy, but c’mon, it’s J.D. Salinger!), and Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile. I also saw a copy of Perfect Murder, Perfect Town by Lawrence Schiller on the JonBenet Ramsay murder, but I wasn’t sure I could commit to a book that thick on a subject I already know a lot about. Plus, I already have Joyce Carol Oates’ My Sister, My Love ready to go after I finish The Great Gatsby, which is a fictional account of the crime. Alas, when I decided to go back for it it had already been sold. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

There were also some fabulous food stalls at Clunes, with baked potatoes and Dixie cups, but I was most impressed by Widow Twankey’s Lolly Shop & Ice Cream Parlour, which sold the cheapest lollies and cakes in town (or most towns, for that matter!). Of course we stocked up on Red Skins (the racist lolly of the masses), Fantails, boiled candy and Toffee Apples. Yum!

While I was planning on picking up a few more titles than I did, I will definitely be making an appearance again next year, and I urge you to, too. Book lovers will feel like they’ve died and gone to heaven.

Elsewhere: [Back to Booktown 2011] Homepage.

[Widow Twankey's] Homepage.

Related: Go Back to Booktown This Weekend (2011).

Go Back to Booktown This Weekend (2010).

Book Shop: Book Now, Bendigo.

So this review was originally going to be about Bendigo’s Book Mark, which still remains the best secondhand book store I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

Such gems I’ve managed to find there are Mick Foley’s rare first novel, Tietam Brown, and a $7 copy of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk. I scoured the shelves for over an hour looking for that one. When I took it to the counter, the man who served me marveled at it being left on the shelves; he’d put all Jackson-related literature on their website to be sold at an elevated price after his sudden death.

But perhaps my friend Hannah and I left it too late on a Saturday afternoon to visit the shop: they close at 4pm and we got there at 4:05!

So we decided instead to venture over to Book Now, located at 1 Farmers Lane, opposite Rosiland Park. There’s no denying I’ve gotten some good titles there before—a first edition of The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving springs to mind—but I find it a bit stuffy and overpriced for a secondhand book store.

However, this weekend’s trip yielded some fantastic finds for both me and Hannah. Hannah is studying to be a doctor in Russian history and social sciences, so she took home a book on Nicholas II of Russia, and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, parents of Anastasia of Russia, and Atonement by Ian McEwan.

I knew Book Now has a large collection of Joyce Carol Oates books, so I rummaged through them in the vain hope of finding My Sister, My Love, a recent novel based on the JonBenet Ramsey murder. And low and behold, I did find it resting on a shelf right up the back of the shop.

My Book Now trip was pretty much complete after that, however I did spot some Armistead Maupin titles, and picked up a few of those. (To be honest, I own so many of his books I wasn’t 100% sure that I don’t already own The Night Listener and Maybe the Moon. But at $6 a pop, who am I to complain if I do?!) Finally, I stumbled across Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth and decided to add that to my ever-growing pile.

So what began as a somewhat disappointing afternoon when Book Mark wasn’t open, ended as a surprisingly great one, with four new additions to my bookshelf.

Bendigo only has a few really good bookstores, so if you’re ever up in Central Victoria, visiting the Bendigo Art Gallery (stay tuned for more this afternoon) or the Golden Dragon Chinese Museum, pop on over to Book Now or Book Mark.

I know I will on my next visit.

Elsewhere: [Book Now] Homepage.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.

Related: Evolution of the Bookshop at the Wheeler Centre.

In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving Review.

Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

Armistead Maupin in Conversation with Noni Hazlehurst.

Image via Book Now.

Books: The Ten Books I Wanted to Read This Year But Didn’t.

Again, I don’t do New Years resolutions, but hopefully in listing the books I didn’t get around to reading in 2010 in a public forum where reviews are commonplace (um, this blog, for those of you not keeping track), I’ll be forced to devour in 2011.

1. Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley. I’ve been very vocal about my love for Mick Foley in recent months, and I was lucky enough to receive his latest memoir (number four, but who’s counting?) for my birthday, two months ago. I’ve been eagerly anticipating having enough time to dive into it headfirst, and I’m hoping it’ll be the first I check off my list this coming year.

2. Fragments by Marilyn Monroe, Bernard Comment & Stanley Buchthal. I love Marilyn Monroe, both as an icon (though I wouldn’t go as far as to have her image tattooed on me, à la Megan Fox), and as a fascinating person who had many layers, some of which are peeled away with the release of this book. This is a high priority read.

3. Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring and The Lady & the Unicorn, so something tells me I’m going to love Remarkable Creatures, about two female fossil hunters in 19th century England. The subject matter is a bit left-of-centre for historical fiction, but it appeals to me nonetheless. I know I couple of friends who own copies of this book, so maybe I can bum a lend…?

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I have a tendency to build classics up in my mind before I’ve read them, and I’m then sorely disappointed. I have a feeling a similar effect will occur with The Great Gatsby, which I became interested in reading when I heard that it will be subjected to a movie remake at the hands of Baz Lurhmann. So bogan-esque, I know!

5. I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. Crosley’s books have done the review rounds in some of my favourite and trusted mags, like Yen and Cleo, with nothing but good vibrations about her collection of essays.

6. How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley. Yes, this is Crosley’s second appearance on the list, but all the buzz surrounding her books and her clever, witty and sometimes snarky tone means I can’t wait to gobble them up!

7. The Genius & the Goddess: Arthur Miller & Marilyn Monroe by Jeffrey Meyer. I read a review of this tome earlier in the year, and it has stayed with me since. Most intriguingly, the book “houses an appendix detailing the illnesses and operations” Monroe had throughout her life.

8. The Way We Lived Then: Recollections of a Well-Known Name Dropper by Dominick Dunne. I can’t get me enough of Dominick Dunne, so it’s a surpriseeven to methat I haven’t read all of his books yet. This one is somewhat of an official memoir, as a lot of his fictional works blur the line between reality and fiction, Another City, Not My Own especially.

9. The Life & Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan. In case you were wondering, I plan to do a lot of Monroe-related reading in 2011. This is one of the more imaginative books about her life.

10. The Prince, The Showgirl & Me and My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clarke. Both are the basis for the new Michelle Williams effort, My Week with Marilyn. Just while we’re on that, I’d like to sneak in another Monroe-inspired fiction: Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates, which another biopic starring Naomi Watts as Monroe is based on. Perhaps if I had picked up the copy I always see at my favourite second-hand bookstore, Bendigo Book Mark, it would have given me more incentive to read it. No, wait, that doesn’t work for the numerous other books I’ve got sitting there, just begging to be read…

Related: In Appreciation of Mick Foley.

The Witching Hour: Halloween/My Birthday at Witches in Britches Cabaret.

All Eyes on Marilyn.

Things Bogans Like.

Another City, Not My Own by Dominick Dunne Review.

Elsewhere: [Bookslut] Genius, Goddess: Reading Theatre.

[Bendigo Book Mark] Homepage.