SPRING HAS SPRUNG

…and I’m sick. Naturally! Evil vile lurgy winding its way through the bookish types of Wellington. Hoping that tomorrow dawns a little healthier. It’s really an inopportune moment for this to be happening.

That being said, while being attached to my bed and/or couch (bed yesterday – forced self to couch today) I have been productive – I’ve written a book review for Booksellers NZ, I’ve made a ‘Briar Does Books’ video for reasons not altogether known (watch it below), I’ve interviewed a musician for one of two NZ Musician articles I’m currently working on (busy busy bee!). I’ve also ‘finalised’ the Sargasso Press website (as much as a website is ever finalised) and am quite satisfied with how it has turned out.

I’ve also been Making Plans of various sorts. Big publish-y projects – more on that as it develops. And it will. I’m determined to make it happen. Fitness/fun-time plans, like finally learning to skate properly. I’ve had the derby skates for about five or six years now, about time I actually used them.

It’s going to be grrrreat.

Now, back to Doctor Who and healing vibes and tannin-tummy-regret.

CURRENT THINGS THAT ARE HAPPENING

READING: Wake by Elizabeth Knox (among other things)
WATCHING: Season 1 of Doctor Who / Season 4 of Torchwood
LISTENING: Eb & Sparrow (self-titled LP)
DRINKING: Harney & Sons Vanilla Comoro black tea. YUM.

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Review : The Bone Clocks

A good book leaves you thinking about it between reading sessions. A great book leaves you thinking about it after you’ve finished. A freaking spectacular book not only leaves you thinking about it, but colours everything that you try to read afterwards, and leaves you feeling slightly hollow, because the experience is over.

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell falls into the ‘freaking spectacular’ category. As the page numbers started growing ever larger, I felt enormous internal conflict – on one hand, the compulsive desire to find out what happens, but on the other hand, the need to draw things out slowly, to savour every page and thought. I suspect the fact that the last book that really had that effect on me was The Luminaries is a very good sign for The Bone Clocks’ chances on the award circuit.bone clocks

Even now, days after I finished it, I think about the feeling of closing that heavy pink hardback after reading… and then opening it again, to re-read the final page – knowing that it was going to be a hard act to follow. Perhaps intentionally I have limited much of my reading since then to easily-packaged pop YA fiction (even when I have responsibilities to other books) – I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to fall into another story so deeply.

The Bone Clocks is mysterious. It contains fantasy, but you wouldn’t dream of shelving it in an SF/Fantasy section. It’s epic and complex without being incomprehensible. It visits the past and the present, the real and then unbelievable. David Mitchell is a wizard. I have heard mixed things from others about his earlier books, so I’m a little wary of dipping my toe into those waters – after all, I would hate to taint the admiration that I currently have for the man.

I’m loath to go into too much detail, because however I try to describe it, I won’t do it justice. Good and evil are more black and white than they are in some tales, and yet it takes quite some time to figure out precisely which is which. It’s about survival at any cost and in the worst circumstances. It’s about examining the way in which we treat our world. It’s about one person, and so many people at once.

It is not a book to jump into lightly. You need to treat it carefully, give it the time that it deserves. If you peck at it bit by bit, you might not be captured by it as much as it deserves. Get yourself somewhere comfortable, allow yourself a decent chunk of time, make yourself a pot of tea or a plunger of coffee. Appreciate the beautiful design, both aesthetically, and conceptually. Be prepared to have people comment on how pink it is. Laugh gently, knowing that they have no idea what this pink tome holds. Then, when you’ve finished, pass it on to someone else to read, so it can inhabit them next. It’s what Marius would do.

This is the first of (hopefully) several reviews of books longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Last year I only managed to sort out The Luminaries and We Need New Names – this year, I will hopefully manage to do the whole shortlist (all the better if this magical title makes it through to the next round – my hopes are certainly high).

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Unitarianism Update

omar musa

Author & rapper Omar Musa reading to the crowd at Unity Books Wellington

Working on various reviews at the moment (bit overworked and overwrought to pour enough energy into any single title at a time right now) but if you’d like to have a glance at things that I’ve been up to at the moment in The Real World, here links to (and snippets from) my last couple of event write-ups for Unity Books.

Omar Musa visited us for his first event outside of Australia. Review and photos by yours truly. We cranked (shop-appropriate) rap tracks and made stupid/hilarious “here comes the dog!” jokes with regard to Tilly’s naughty but loved (or at least tolerated, by some) pup Rhon.

His language was colourful (‘Sorry for swearing so much – actually, I’m not sorry at all.’) and hilarious (‘I think I should get a writer’s residency at Queanbeyan McDonalds.’) while the passages he read from Here Come The Dogs varied from beautiful to brutal. He did not shy away from any of the questions asked by the crowd, recounting various tales of his past and the writing experience, including his shenanigans while spending time with Irvine Welsh.

And a couple of days later, it was National Poetry Day! Cue excitement across the city (and country)! Apparently there were poets doing poetic things on buses – sadly my route was not one of them, but still! Bringing magic to the people. Nice stuff, Wellington. We had seven VUP poets performing, and the turnout was INSANE. I love Wellingtonians. I trekked around the crowd and listened and loved and am really excited about working the launch for one of them (Frances Samuel) in the next couple of weeks.

Obligatory snippet:

In our books, there is perhaps no finer day of celebration than National Poetry Day. And this year, we were thrilled to mark the day with a lunchtime event in association with Victoria University Press. Seven VUP poets performed for crowd that grew and grew as the readings went on – across the store, people could be seen turning their attention from cookbooks and photography collections to the writers at the mic.

There’s a reason why my current Twitter bio is ‘I go to a lot of book launches’.

I love it, though.

Book Awards write-up coming. Internal conflicts regarding future bookish plans stewing.

This has been your captain speaking, we hope you have enjoyed this flight of fancy.

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the karaka tree

the karaka tree was full of berries
we couldn’t eat them / orange and hard
tiny cherries of another time
crushed them between our fingers
and rubbed into the grass
I scared myself into scalding
hot water / the only way to be sure
that I would bite my nails
chew a knuckle bored in the boughs
die a death of karaka-stained teeth
a small blonde body in the jonquils

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Review : The Bone Season

I wrote this up over the last couple of evenings, and just as I went to post it, I saw that Samantha Shannon posted on Twitter that it’s a year to the day since The Bone Season was released. Most fortuitous timing to be nattering about it here then, hm?

The Bone Season hovered on the edge of my reader consciousness for a while before I took the plunge. As I’ve probably mentioned here, the life of a bookseller is a wonderful one in many ways, but difficult in others – particularly when it comes to prioritising books to read. But months of noticing a staff pick card stuck to one of the computers at work (thanks, Ness!) eventually piled up and I decided it was time.

Nice work, self. The Bone Season

The basic genre concept of The Bone Season combines supernatural fantasy (love – when well executed) with dystopia (double love). I’m sure there are other examples of this combo out there, but I can’t recall having encountered one. Clairvoyance, alternate history, bit steampunky, dystopic future… it’s a helluva combo.

The main character, Paige, is well crafted in a way that many ‘genre’ characters tend not to be. She’s not superwoman, despite having rather unusual abilities – and at the same time, she’s not one to swoon wildly in the presence of preternaturally-beautiful god-like beings. Which is refreshing.

I’m looking at you, paranormal romance.

It’s such a fascinating world that Samantha Shannon has created. Dystopia always seems to exist in the terrifyingly plausible and familiar world, whereas fantasy is, well, fantasy. Combining the two is a satisfyingly eerie combination – some of the standard ‘oh GOD this could HAPPEN’ of dystopia is worn down because of the fantastical elements – but the characters are no less accessible because of it – the amaurotic vs. voyant divide may be an imaginary rift but it echoes many such historical instances of persecution.

It breathes life into a realm of fantasy that dances closely to real life – obviously there are people in the world who do place a lot of faith in psychics and tarot readers. What they would make of Shannon’s world, I don’t know, but it (almost) makes me want to believe.

We have many more to look forward to in this series, with Shannon being signed for three titles from the get go, and recently having this extended to all seven intended instalments.

As a reader? Bloody loved it. Read it swiftly. Finished it and looked up exactly when book two is due out.

As a writer? The usual sense of ‘what am I doing with my life?’ that one feels when encountering authors who get signed while still in undergrad. Admiration and frustration.

As a bookseller? DREAM. It’s adult fiction, but eminently readable but most of the young adult crowd. Written well – in such a way that non-‘genre’ readers might be willing to give it a go, but not so ‘literary’ (ugh, these labels) that those who generally stick with fantasy and/or SF (often high-concept/poor-execution)


The Bone Season is out now from the clever folks at Bloomsbury.

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The dark and the difficulty

On operations and depression and musical talent wasted.

Sorry, more angst before I get back into reviewing. It happens.

There is a Banksy poster on my wall – The Girl With The Balloon’. There is always hope. I bought it in a lighter time. Now, even though it is opposite it my bed, I rarely notice that it is there. Unconsciously ignoring the message?

Overworked and overwrought; life is catching up on me. Study and work and never saying no to requests for extra hours; trying to create my own things on the side. And on top of all of that, chronic illness and depression, and exhaustion.

It’s no wonder I’ve spent the last three mornings in bed, even if they have been tinged with guilt and a sense of irresponsibility. Like I haven’t earned the right to feel incapable of scooping myself out of bed in one piece without every fibre of my body – both physical and mental – screaming in protest. You need to REST.

Sleep is for the week, they say, and it may be true. Lately, sleep takes a long time to come and in the morning I can’t muster up anything that could be called energy. Yawning on nine hours of sleep. Waking up before alarms go off, but incapable of going back to sleep because the brain is laden down with feelings of guilt and fear and frustration.

I was going through some old word files recently, and found a bunch of ‘what I want to do with my life’ type documents from when I was sixteen/seventeen. Apart from using lyrics from ‘Girl Anachronism’ as my angsty version of Lorem Ipsum when I got off track, it’s so… hopeful. So upward gazing.

“what do i want with my life? what sort of a career do i want? i have no idea. i like the idea of too many things, i don’t love the idea of doing anything, right now. except for crazy impossible things, like tv presenter, radio presenter, scriptwriter, full-time author, actress, musician. artist of all trades. bette-type art gallery person. i don’t know. i will wind up being a teacher, probably. i don’t know what possibilities i have. i just know that i want creativity and recognition.”

I wrote the word ‘skinny’ six times in one document. Sorry, seventeen-year-old self, still not there. I wrote a hypothetical future in which I studied jazz at Victoria and modeled my wardrobe on Vita from The Tiggie Tompson Show and planned piercings at the top of my ear (well, that part I fulfilled).

“Going to be a French speaking, Classical and Artistic jazz musician who also writes. A writer who also plays jazz. I might even be in a rock band. I will have long black hair, with a Karen O fringe, then I will cut it short and dye it bright blue.”

I’ve never been in a band, and I’ve never really played jazz. It seems like my brief fascination with pursuing it was a sort of school leaver midlife crisis. My music has fallen through my fingers and the only instrument in this city is my ukulele. And in stress I chew my fingernails, making strumming more difficult. My flute and my voice have fallen on hard times, and they probably can never be revived to the standard that they were previously held to. Such standards that I held myself to.

That I still hold myself to – but now giving up is the option. If you can’t do it properly, don’t do it at all – and so with school behind me and the only musical options either community based or semi-professional I let it slide away through formerly nimble fingers. Not dedicated enough to my craft for the AYO or equivalent, but too proud to play for a non-auditioned ensemble. And now, so out of practice that one wonders who would have me anyway?

What a tangent.

I nearly ran out of anti-depressants. Yesterday I had one pill left, and I finally worked up the will power to call the GP’s office to ask for a new prescription. It cost me $16 for the piece of paper. I’m nearly at the end of my second bottle of mercaptopruine; I’ve done my fourth Humira injection at home. To think that I spent a couple of months of last year free of all medication (apart from industrial strength painkillers) – how strange and fancy-free.

Soon it will be a year since my surgery, and thinking about that makes break down even more. I was supposed to be fixed. I was supposed to have had the reversal operation by now – I wasn’t supposed to still be smiling and strong and telling people how totally great and normal life with an ostomy can be. Because it’s horrible. It’s better than constant Crohn’s-type hell-pain, but it’s horrendous none the less. Something as simple as wondering where the hell to stash your boxes of supplies – or the fact that going out without a handbag or backpack is out of the question because one needs to always be prepared for an emergency situation. Or the constant gurgles.

I may write positively about it at times, but that’s only because I want to be seen as normal and capable. I don’t want to be this broken girl who fell so low because her body and her mind let her down.

 

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Review : Max Gate (video for Booksellers NZ)

You’d all but forgotten me, hadn’t you, internet?

No reviews since April?! Shameful. But don’t worry. I’m working on it. I’ve been reading up a storm lately (throwing back a YA novel a night, at times) so there are words to come. In the meantime, here is a VIDEO review (exciting, right?) that I concocted for Booksellers NZ (with the help of Sarah from Booksellers) after our manager at Unity, the ever-wonderful Tilly, suggested that I might be an appropriate person to represent the clan in video form.

You can be the judge as to whether I help up my workplace’s reputation. I’m going to be doing some more written reviews for Booksellers – and possibly videos, who knows? This one was specifically for the New Zealand Post Book Awards finalists, though. Along with The Luminaries (heard of that one, huh?) by Ellie Catton, The Last Days of the National Costume by Anne Kennedy and The Bright Side of My Condition by Charlotte Randall, Max Gate by Damien Wilkins is a finalist in the fiction category. How exciting!

 

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