BBC World Book Club

For those interested, I  have just participated in the next session of the BBC World Book Club featuring Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. I got to ask him a few questions about the novel via phone. It was a very exciting moment for me although very, very nerve wracking!

Hello 2014

Yes, I may be a little  late for this post but I’ve always been a little slow so it’s better late than never! I’ve been lurking around the blogs again and see that may have done little wrap up and resolutions for the year ahead and thought I’ll  get in on that too. As you guys will have probably noticed (or not), I don’t regularly update this blog anymore. Instead, I have returned to lurking. I enjoyed blogging, and still do, but I suppose the field got a little too full and I felt a little competitive. It also got quite overwhelming with all these great books being recommended and the TBR grew ever higher with no hope of it ever being read. Along with the TBR, I really enjoy simply picking books at random and reading whatever I fancy. So,  in a few words, everything in the blogging world got too much and I stopped. But I have missed it, particularly the good community feel.

Reading wise, without the constant recommendations, I found I read far and wide last year. I read a lot of non-fiction, got far too interested in the Tudor history (always a late comer) and Anne Boleyn, read a lot of popular ‘hot’ fiction, became less picky and snobby about reads and generally enjoyed reading on the whim. While I did try to read more classics and my own books, I found I borrowed far too much from the library (working there doesn’t help the cause) and I became overloaded with library books. You would too if you saw the book sitting on the shelve looking all beautiful and fascinating and just screaming at you to borrow them.

My reading resolutions for this year:

  • Read more classics. I still want to get through Thomas Hardy’s collection and the rest of Jane Austen.
  • Read largely from my own collection.
  • Continue reading far and wide.

Review: “Crazy Rich Asians” by Kevin Kwan [2013]

crazy-rich-asiansI suppose the title says it all really, as well as the cover art which is sparkly gold. The debut novel from Singaporean native Kevin Kwan is a funny, light and enjoying read. Set largely in Singapore, the novel follows the rich and famous as they descend into the small island country for the wedding of the year – the son of one of the richest families marrying a famous model whose family comes from ‘new’ money. We follow Nicholas Young who, having been educated overseas and is now an up-and-coming professor at Stanford University, invites his ABC (American Bord Chinese) girlfriend Rachael to Singapore for the wedding and to meet his family. Away from the craziness of his insanely wealthy family and extended family, Nick innocently lures Rachel into a minefield of cattiness and snobbery of the highest kind (coming from Mainland China is the biggest sin of all). The novel is filled with couture clothing totalling over millions, lots of private jets and first class flying, penny pinching, penthouses, royal Thai-maids, Gurkhas and other expensive frivolities that makes you hope that excesses such as these are not actually real.

What I also loved about the novel is also the excellent introduction to Singapore. While the book is a story of the insanely rich upper crust of Singaporean society, it is also a love story to the country especially to its food. As a lover of Malay and Singaporean food (especially Hawker food), this book had me salivating all the way through. Kwan also integrates Singaporean colloquialisms into his character’s speech and adds interesting little footnotes to explain them.

A fun read and perhaps one of the first books to parody the rise (or shine the spotlight) on the insanely wealthy Asians and the new generation of ‘new money’ coming from China.

Recent Reads in a Nutshell

I’ve been reading quite a bit again which I am loving. I’m finding that I am racing through books but I’m still typically reading a book a week. I have noticed that I am reading more popular  fiction these days rather than my usual feast of moody classics or obscure authors. I have been reading titles that are on all the best selling tables in bookstores (although even that is becoming a rarity these days). So here is a round up and a little summary of what I’ve read lately:

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (2013). A story of the last days of Agnes who was the last woman to be executed in Iceland. Interesting and certainly vivid but I’m not sure if it lived up to the hype. It is certainly different to the sort of ‘Australian’ novels but…I wasn’t left amazed.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher (2007). A Young Adult novel about a girl who commits suicide. Before she died, she made thirteen tapes detailing the steps and people who lead her to take her last steps and she mails them to each of the thirteen people on the list. The people on the list must listen to all the tapes and past them on to the next person otherwise the tapes would be made public. A pretty insightful novel on the teenage world and a cautionary tale about bullying.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (2013). I love Kate Atkinson. I think she is one of the best writers today and I always love her Brody novels. Case Histories is an amazing book and I remember wanting to stay in and read it while I was travelling in Vienna! Atkinson has this unique talent for structuring overarching storylines and have them interlace together beautifully before bringing it to a close. The best way I can think to describe her stories is that her chapters are like a series of little dots in a painting and by the end, if you step back, you’ll have an amazing masterpiece. Life After Life was no exception although I did find that it lagged a little towards the end.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (2013). A ‘love’ story about the marriage between Nick and Amy. Both get to tell their side of the story and it’s a clever psychological read (although I did guess the first part). Both characters became increasingly unlikeable though but a very well written. If you’re in a reading slump, read this!

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (2013). Galbraith is also known as J.K. Rowling. I never read The Casual Vacancy. I did read a chapter or two but found it hard going and then I had to return it to the library because it had around thirty-five reserves on it and then never felt the desire to continue with it. But this, this is a most wonderful crime fiction. Fantastic character development, very atmospheric and by chapter two, you have forgotten that this is J.K. Rowling writing as Robert Galbraith. By that time, you’re simply engrossed in the story. I did find the story evolved quite similarly to Harry Potter plotlines but that isn’t a criticism. Another fantastic and clever read. And Rowling seems to have a knack for creating plots that makes you double take at the end and wanting to flip through to the beginning again to see if you spot the clues again. I always love that.

Pride and Prejudice  by Jane Austen (1813). I think after reading so many contemporary crime fiction, I had a strong urge to re-read this old familiar. A quicker read than I remember but not any less enjoyable. I read my high school copy of this book and I wished I didn’t write so many notes in it. It was quite distracting! But re-reading Jane Austen is always such a pleasure. I spent the most enjoyable afternoons reading on the couch with a lovely cup of tea and biscuits. After reading it, I had the urge to re-watch the BBC version of this and it still proves to be a delight! :-)

Murder in Mississippi: The True Story of How I Met a White Supremacist, Befriended His Black Killer and Wrote this Book (2013). John Safran’s first book. He is more well known for his documentaries that pushes social (and his own) boundaries. While filming his last documentary, Race Relations, he had shot some film with a white supremacist in Mississippi that never went to air due to consent being withdrawn. That man was later murdered and when hearing this, Safran thought this would be his Truman Capote moment. It’s an interesting book and Safran is as funny and witty in his writing as he is in his documentaries. The way the story panned out was not what I had imagined though but that isn’t a bad thing. Very interesting book but perhaps not Safran’s Capote moment yet. 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (1962). For some reason, I picked up this book and decided to borrow it from the library. Perhaps I wanted a little breather after Safran’s book. This is a fantastic play. So short but so powerful. There are four main characters who are two couples. Middle- age couple Martha and George end up inviting a young couple who is new to town, Nick and Honey, to their place for a night cap at 2am after a faculty party Martha’s father had thrown. The first two acts show Martha and George as such grotesque people who are so horrible to each other. As Martha and George both play their games and draw Nick and Honey into their arguments, cracks begin to show in their own new marriage. But the third act, the final act, is so brilliant at explaining everything in such a subtle way that you realise why their horrible games were necessary. 

How to be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman (2013). Set in an undisclosed Scandinavian town, Marta and Hector have been married for a very long time. Their only son, Kylan, have flown the coop and now lives in the city. Marta has been trained to be the perfect housewife with the much older controlling husband and overbearing mother in law. As Marta goes through her days, she recites rules from the Good Wife handbook. But Marta finds herself having flashbacks and a life she can’t remember. She has stopped taking her pills that Hector makes her take everyday, physically putting them into her mouth that Marta mocks swallows. She has taken them for as long as she can remember, with both Kylan and Hector reminding her about the last time she decided to stop taking them and the disaster that unfolded. Marta soon decides that something is terribly wrong with her memory and that Hector is hiding something.

A very thrilling, easy and quick read. Marta is an unstable narrator and as things unfold, you aren’t sure what to believe (although I did tend to side with Marta). There is no definite answer at the end but it does provide a thrilling crescendo that will make you want to stay up and finish the book.

 

Review: “Unfinished Business: Sex, Freedom and Misogyny” by Anna Goldsworthy [2013]

unfinished-business-sex-freedom-and-misogynyThere has been a notable surge in narrative non-fiction on the idea of misogyny in Australia (the excellent Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport by Anna Krien and The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers). It has become quite topical due to several high profile events within the last year, most notably the rape and murder of Jill Meagher and the axing of our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.

This essay begins with one of the more memorable speeches Julia Gillard made during her term. The speech is not one on politics but rather, an accusation against the male members of the opposition party (namely, the opposition leader Tony Abbott) for constantly viewing the Prime Minister of Australia as a woman first and foremost. The constant gender jibes and insults that Gillard has had to put up with during her term that, arguably, a male PM would have not had to endure. Gillard’s personal life was particularly under scrutiny as she is also unmarried,  in a defacto relationship and has never had children (“deliberately barren”, as a shock jock elegantly phrased it).

Aside from that, Goldsworthy leads into a lively discussion of what feminism is in today’s society when many in the younger generation have eschewed that term. Have we really come as far as we had hoped as a society where there is gender equality?

The essay also briefly explores the perception of the female as a writer as Goldsworthy wonders about

… the suggestion that women – by writing about ‘smaller’ topics such as friendship, motherhood and domesticity – ghettorise themselves from a male readership. Similar criticisms have rarely been made of the male writer, lovingly documenting his midlife crisis. The assumption is that women, as the accommodating sex, are better prepared to read across gender. – p. 32

I think that is an excellent point. I think awhile ago, there was a discussion on the idea of ‘gender’ writing. Is there really such a thing? Can you really tell if an author is female/male/ungendered exclusively by their writing? From authorship Goldsworthy moves across to the image of the woman and how she constructs herself. No matter what she does, she will always have preconceived expectations on her simply because she is female. The way she does or does not do her hair, make-up and the amount of clothing she wears. She will be under scrutiny no matter what she does despite the progress society has seemingly made:

As clothing continues to disappear, the body itself becomes more stylized. The gowns of our forebears may have been restrictive, but they concealed any number of modern-day female sins – cellulite, varicose veins, leg hair, armpit hair, pubic hair. The more we were liberated from these garments, the fiercer the scrutiny we stepped into. – p. 41

We may be out of the corsets but are we even now more restricted by the invisible cage built around us? The cage we build around ourselves to fit into society?

A very interesting essay and it’s also a reminder that despite the progress in society, we still have a way to go to achieve gender equality.

Here is the video of that speech by Julia Gillard that made such an impact:

National Bookshop Day

On Saturday 10th August, it was National Bookshop Day here in Australia. Admittedly, my visits to bricks and mortar bookstores have decreased these past few years – not because my interest has waned or my purchases have moved online but because I simply no longer buy as many books. One of the perks (or curse) of working in a library is the amount of books, magazines and DVDs you mange to accumulate on your account and before you know it, you have reached your limit. It may also be the fact that I no longer have as much room to store the books at home – for now.

As a belated celebration, I thought I’ll highlight my two favourite bookstores in Melbourne. The first is the Brunswick St Bookstore. It’s a great little store filled with a great selection of books. There are comfy chairs towards the back for you to sit and flick through books. The second is Readings, an independent chain in Melbourne. My favourite store is its original location on Lygon St. It’s a big space, filled with a large range including books, CDs and DVDs. I always find something new and interesting here. I especially love the dark wooden shelves and the attached ladders to reach those higher shelves. Readings also produce the cutest little bookmarks featuring a cartoon-style portrait of well known authors that you can take with you. Most of all, I think the reason why I love these two bookstores the most is because they both stay open until 10-11pm which makes them a great destination after you’ve finished dinner and dessert!

Where are your favourite bookshops?