Book Events

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!

The Year So Far…

I had lost my reading mojo but I think I may have quietly found it again. The past few months have been rather chaotic in my life and, to my utter dismay, I no longer found myself interested in books. What would I do with my life if I didn’t like books anymore? Happily, I’ve been reading again.

It would have been a bad time to lose my reading mojo as this year in Australia is the National Year of Reading! That’s right – 2012 is the year where all those who work in any way with books or are simply lovers of books are pushing it onto the national agenda. As a (still newish!) librarian and lover of books, this is an important year where hopefully the love and importance of a reading culture is instilled once more into society. The movement kicks off on February 14th which is also Library Lovers Day (and also Valentine’s Day!).

As part of the NYOR, I’ve given myself the small challenges of:

  1. Reading all those books I’ve been meaning to read for ages. E.g. Anna Karenina, The Female Eunuch, those Hardys, etc.
  2. Read as much as I can from my TBR pile.
  3. Read more widely and include more non-fiction.
  4. Try and read at least two books each week and for two hours each day.

I’ve read quite a variety of books this year including classics, non-fiction and a contemporary thriller. I’ve just finished Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages and the story has just blown me away. Whipple’s writing is simply amazing. Such simplicity but so vivid. Her characters are so well drawn particularly her female protagonists. This was my third Whipple and I think I like this latest one even more than the last!

Finally, I found this great and endearing post: A Girl You Should Date. Read it and I guarantee you’ll love it! 🙂


World Book Night 2012 Longlist

The book titles for World Book Night 2012 longlist are out and there aren’t many surprises on the list. Many of it are stock-standard but I was so pleased some classics made it too. I was a bit surprised Middlemarch made it over The Mill on the Floss though since I have always had the impression that that was the more popular and accessible title. Great Expectations rather than Oliver Twist or A Tale of Two Cities is the only Dickens but I’m glad Wilkie Collins made the list with The Woman in White. I’m quite ecstatic Jasper Fforde made it too! I’m a bit muffled as to the double listing of Harry Potter – once as the box set and the other as only the Philosopher’s Stone – while only the the first Stieg Larsson book is included.

I’m not quite sure why I’m analysing this list anyway. I don’t live in the U.K. where this event is held! Having ‘world’ in the event name is quite misleading but who can go past a booklist?

Those in bold are the ones I’ve read and it equate to forty out of the hundred!

1 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

2 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

3 The Book Thief Markus Zusak

4 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

5 The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger

6 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien

7 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams

8 Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte

9 Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier

10 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini

11 American Gods Neil Gaiman

12 A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini

13 Harry Potter Adult Hardback Boxed Set J. K. Rowling

14 The Shadow of the Wind Carlos Ruiz Zafon

15 The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien

16 One Day David Nicholls

17 Birdsong Sebastian Faulks

18 The Help Kathryn Stockett

19 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell

20 Good Omens Terry Pratchett

21 The Notebook Nicholas Sparks

22 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Stieg Larsson

23 The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood

24 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald

25 Little Women Louisa M. Alcott

26 Memoirs of a Geisha Arthur Golden

27 The Lovely Bones Alice Sebold

28 Atonement Ian McEwan

29 Room Emma Donoghue

30 Catch-22 Joseph Heller

31 We Need to Talk About Kevin Lionel Shriver

32 His Dark Materials Philip Pullman

33 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Louis De Bernieres

34 The Island Victoria Hislop

35 Neverwhere Neil Gaiman

36 The Poisonwood Bible Barbara Kingsolver

37 The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger

38 Chocolat Joanne Harris

39 Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro

40 The Five People You Meet in Heaven Mitch Albom

41 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez

42 Animal Farm George Orwell

43 The Pillars of the Earth Ken Follett

44 The Eyre Affair Jasper Fforde

45 Tess of the D’Urbervilles Thomas Hardy

46 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl

47 I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith

48 The Wasp Factory Iain Banks

49 Life of Pi Yann Martel

50 The Road Cormac McCarthy

51 Great Expectations Charles Dickens

52 Dracula Bram Stoker

53 The Secret History Donna Tartt

54 Small Island Andrea Levy

55 The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett

56 Lord of the Flies William Golding

57 Persuasion Jane Austen

58 A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving

59 Notes from a Small Island Bill Bryson

60 Watership Down Richard Adams

61 Night Watch Terry Pratchett

62 Brave New World Aldous Huxley

63 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon

64 Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell Susanna Clarke

65 The Color Purple Alice Walker

66 My Sister’s Keeper Jodi Picoult

67 The Stand Stephen King

68 Cloud Atlas David Mitchell

69 The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov

70 Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy

71 Cold Comfort Farm Stella Gibbons

72 Frankenstein Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

73 The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society Mary Ann Shaffer

74 The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde

75 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell

76 The Graveyard Book Neil Gaiman

77 The Woman in White Wilkie Collins

78 The Princess Bride William Goldman

79 A Suitable Boy Vikram Seth

80 Perfume Patrick Suskind

81 The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas

82 The God of Small Things Arundhati Roy

83 Middlemarch George Eliot

84 Dune Frank Herbert

85 Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel

86 Stardust Neil Gaiman

87 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

88 Midnight’s Children Salman Rushdie

89 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone J. K. Rowling

90 Shantaram Gregory David Roberts

91 The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro

92 Possession: A Romance A. S. Byatt

93 Tales of the City Armistead Maupin

94 Kafka on the Shore Haruki Murakami

95 The Magus John Fowles

96 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas John Boyne

97 A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry

98 Alias Grace Margaret Atwood

99 Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami

100 The Wind-up Bird Chronicle Haruki Murakami

A Book Town Adventure

Today, I finally got to go along to and explore the annual Book Town event at Clunes, Victoria. A friend and I have been trying to get ourselves there for probably the last two or three years and we finally made it! After a brief detour where we got onto the wrong freeway and were actually heading towards the opposite direction, we found our way towards the sleepy town of Clunes for some book gorging. We just hoped it wouldn’t rain.

We finally arrived in Book Town after an almost two-hour drive and not without some anxiety that we would get lost. We arrived bright and early because we had to leave in the early afternoon to head back to the city. Friends couldn’t believe that I would actually get up so early on a Sunday, drive two-hours just to buy old books. As we made our way to the town centre we passed a little Shetland (at least I think it is) pony in somebody’s front yard!

Since we  were so early, people were still setting up. We were expecting more stalls but I guess the threat of rain pushed stallholders inside as a precaution.

What I found most impressive were these little sign holders decorated around the area. We wanted to snatch some and take them home with us but we resisted.

It’s a bit scandalous what they’ve done to the books but I suppose, at the very least, they’re being put to good use now and where people can admire them in a new light. From the moment we parked the car, we spent a solid four hours browsing through all the stalls that were there without getting tired or bored. We only stopped for lunch because we were famished and tired from our heavy packs. There were plenty of great stalls with a great selection but not as much literary fiction as I had expected. I did manage to pick up some great buys and bargains. It was lucky that we bought along backpacks to carry our purchases but they were very quickly weighed down. It was pretty funny seeing others in the morning also carrying empty backpacks around and then seeing them lugging it back to the car in the afternoon. There was a great atmosphere and it was quite fun to be surrounded by other bookish people who had travelled to Clunes for the sole purpose of pouring over books.

Here is my haul:

  • Iron in the Soul – Jean-Paul Sartre
  • The Marvellous Land of Oz – L. Frank Baum
  • The Rape of Venice – Dennis Wheatley
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
  • Paddington Abroad – Michael Bond
  • Agatha Christie Crime Collection: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, They Do It with Mirrors, Mrs. McGinty’s Dead – Agatha Christie
  • The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
  • Thank You, Jeeves – P.G. Wodehouse
  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  • The Wedding Group – Elizabeth Taylor
  • Full House – M.J. Farrell
  • The Chequer Board – Nevil Shute
  • No Highway – Nevil Shute
  • On the Beach – Nevil Shute

All were fantastic bargains. The last three Nevil Shute books were only $2 each so how could I resist? He is the author who wrote A Town Like Alice which is on my TBR pile. I was pretty excited to find some Virago in great condition. They were so clean and pristine. My most favourite finds were retro-ish editions of Western Front, Paddington and, of course, Land of Oz.

Some of the books are quite old and as much as I love brand new, pristine books I also love the history behind a old, well-loved book. I especially love those that ‘feel’ well thumbed through. Little markings like inscriptions, dates and even name plates adds that little something to the books.

Wheeler Centre Highlights: Helen Garner

This post is called ‘highlights’ because I have a ridiculous short term memory, especially when I’m giddy from being in close proximity to my writing idols who are rock stars in my geeky world, and because I don’t like taking notes at events.

This evening, I tripped along to the newly open Wheeler Centre for a session called ‘In Conversation with Jennifer Byrne: Helen Garner‘. The title suggests that it is part of a series and I certainly hope so although Jennifer already hosts a similarly titled series on the ABC to complement the First Tuesday Book Club she also hosts.

The session started off with microphone issues. I was somewhere in the middle of a quite small (and sterile looking, I must say) auditorium and there was difficulty hearing Jennifer’s questions. I felt sorry for the little old ladies sitting in front of me who were a little distressed at not being able to hear. I’ve never heard Helen’s voice and it was a very nice, soft lilt. She comes across quite harsh in her photos but her voice was very warm and kind. I never tire at being surprised by authors’ voices.


  • I couldn’t hear the question but Helen began to talk about coercion. She read out a paragraph by Philip Roth from the latest Paris Review so you can check it out if you’re interested. I think it was the last paragraph. She adores Philip Roth’s work.
  • Helen spoke a bit about her writing. She writes everyday, either in her journals or whatever she is working on. She’s always kept journals but, rather sadly, the ones before 1980 have been destroyed.
  • She loves going to court proceedings and wonders why more writers aren’t as interested, particularly for cases which concerns human morality (not the run-of-the-mill drugs and gangs). She’s gotten me all interested in going to court cases but I’m too afraid to simply show up to watch.
  • Currently, Helen’s in the middle of writing a non-fiction book on the Robert Farquharson case but it has been put on hold. Farquharson was found guilty in 2007 of murdering his three sons by driving the family car into a dam on Father’s Day in 2005. However, Farquharson was granted a re-trial which is starts in April 2010.
  • What Helen had to say about this case has really stayed with me. She recounts the 2009 summer where Melbourne went through a long heat wave and a devastating bush fire. She noted, in a wonderful expression that, unfortunately, I can’t remember, that the heat made people go mad and do crazy things. Helen recalls the day in January when four-year-old Darcy Freeman was thrown off the West Gate Bridge by her father. That day, Helen was driving her three grandchildren to the beach in the same area and consequently had to drive under the bridge during the time the girl was being resuscitated (although Helen didn’t know what was going on at the moment). With the three grandchildren acting up in the back of the car and the oppressing and stifling heat, what made that father snap, and what didn’t in Helen, was something very small indeed. It could have easily been anybody else.
  • What makes some people ‘snap’ and what holds others back is what fascinates Helen. Paraphrasing her words, ‘there are only 30 steps of difference between them and us’.

Helen then briefly talked about her other books – The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, and The Spare Room. She wryly quotes Simone de Beauvoir “I write so I will be loved” in response to the backlash she received when The First Stone was released.

It was a great evening. I started off writing this review in the formal manner and referred to both Jennifer and Helen by their last names but it felt so cold so I switched to their first names and now I sound like their best friend. Oh well. I’m still pulling my hair out at not being able to stay behind to get a book signed. Hopefully, there will be a next time. I always get incredibly nervous at book signings though – what do you say to them besides “I really, really, really liked your book/s/writing”? My alternative is to stand there and smile eagerly. 🙂

A Gala Night of Storytelling

Last night, I attended the opening session of the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne, of which I blogged about recently (ok, it was more like I boasted 🙂 ). The inaugural event was a good old storytelling session by a lovely mix of leading Australian writers, a comedian and a musician. I knew the event was sold out but I had absolutely no idea how many people or popular it was going to be. My friend and I were late but it didn’t matter since the line sneaked right around the corner and around 500 metres up the next block. Ironically, I ended up standing outside the antiquarian book store. I wished I had taken a photo of the line because it was pretty exciting to know how many book geeks were out there last night.

The theatre was a lovely room with bygone decor and architecture. Here are some photos I sneaked while waiting for the show to begin:

The mixture of stories told were marvelous and they were all equally captivating. Some were sad and wistful, as were the stories told by David Malouf about his mother and the simplicity and beauty of family love by Tara June Winch, who read out her piece in a most lovely sing-song and gentle voice.

There were funny stories by Cate Kennedy, who regaled the audience with funny anecdotes of her eccentric but lovable grandfather, Judith Lucy, whose family was not big on storytelling but, in turn, provided her with stories to tell, and John Safran, who told us that it was his father who first urged him to test the boundaries and to always …err…poke at things.

There were also stories with morals. John Marsden spoke about a recent incident which caused him to muse over consequences where the youth of today are not part of a community and are never, informally or formally, initiated into society as an ‘adult’. Christos Tsiolkas spoke about the alienation of migration, where grandchildren and grandparents become worlds apart and, in many instances, are no longer even able to speak the same language.

These were just some of the stories told and I was enraptured from the beginning. The finale song by Paul Kelly was both uplifting and sad, teaching, or warning, us about the importance of distinguishing between chance, fate and destiny.

It was a great night and a great welcome and introduction to the Wheeler Centre and christening of Melbourne as a City of Literature. Hurrah! For those who are interested in seeing the event, the session was filmed and it should be available to watch online soon.

It was also great to meet Elena, from With Extra Pulp, after some slight confusion, phone troubles (on my part) and chasing each other around the city on a Saturday night. We enjoyed a Booty Call and weird tasting vodka while talking about books and writing. 🙂

The Wheeler Centre

Already, I think this is going to be one of my most favourite places in the city and it hasn’t even opened yet. The Wheeler Centre (named after Tony and Maureen Wheeler of Lonely Planet) has been under development for the last two years ever since Melbourne was announced as the second City of Literature by UNESCO in 2008 (the first being Edinburgh).

The crux of the centre is to provide a melting pot of ‘books, writing and ideas’ and it is situated beside the State Library of Victoria (also a most lovely place). Everything literary is going to housed under the same roof such as the various writing organisations. What I am most excited about are the ongoing events that are to run from the centre. I think the events are innovative, fun and most importantly of all, allows people from all walks of life and background to enjoy, and be introduced to, quality literature and discover new writers as the majority of events are free.

The three month programme is out and I’ve already booked myself in for around six events, including the opening Story Telling Gala night and ‘In Conversation with Helen Garner’, and marked out many others that I want to go to. I’m most excited about the Lunchbox/Soapbox event with Kate Holden, who is one of my most favourite writers and columnists. The beauty of many of these events is that you can simply wander in and find yourself a place where your mind can be stimulated. With all the writing centres situated under one roof, debuting and established writers, artists, thinkers now have a centralised headquarter. Bibliophiles can also now indulge in literary delights throughout the year rather than the few major events.

(And no, I don’t work for the centre.)

MWF: ‘Outsiders’ with M.J. Hyland, Nikki Gemmell & Catherine Therese

I attended the Outsiders event at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this evening and it was simply, simply marvellous. The panel was made up of M.J. Hyland, Nikki Gemmell and debut writer Catherine Therese and they discussed what it meant to be an outsider and how outsiders feature in their work. All three panellists were incredibly engaging and wonderful readers when they read aloud a section of their work. I’m not usually a fan of being read to but all were spirited and articulate.

The discussion began with Nikki who detailed her life as an ex-pat, moving from Australia and living the better part of the last decade in London, and moving back to Australia again, frustrated by her inability to finish her book (Book of Rapture). She fled London with her three young children and rented a one bedroom shack in the country where they intended to stay for three weeks. They stayed for three months and her experience reawakened her longing for home: Australia and for her children to know their roots.

Next was Catherine who discussed her dysfunctional childhood and family who are sadly still very dysfunctional today. She recounted her teenage pregnancy with a boy who had half a thumb, who, upon discovering she was pregnant, gave her $20 to go have an abortion (which she didn’t). Catherine’s family was not one for talking and, rather than tell her parents, she let the pregnancy carry on, she herself also denying the situation. Her parents were only told when Catherine felt the baby kick for the first time during dinner. When Catherine notified her parents that her book/memoir was imminent, they packed up the car and drove from Sydney to North Queensland and called her book ‘filth’. Catherine made a memorable comment when she said (and I’m paraphrasing) “your life begins when you first realise you are you”.

Finally, it was M.J, or Maria’s, turn. Her voice was the first surprise. It’s deep and full with a strong British accent tinted with a faint Irish note.  I had assumed she would have an Australian accent since she spent her teenage and young adult life here. The second surprise was how funny she was. There were numerous times when she had the audience in stitches. When introducing her, the chairman (in the first of some several major slip ups!) butchered the pronunciation of her main character’s surname. Her latest book is This is How and the main character epitomises an outsider. M.J (the other panellists called her Maria but I have her as M.J in my head) read the first few paragraphs from her book before throwing it aside, exclaiming how she hated doing this because all it does is make her want to edit the entire thing. 🙂

In discussing her inspiration for the book, M.J drew on several other works that helped mould her story. Albert Camus’ The Outsider, Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and another book that I didn’t catch and that I was stupid enough not to remember to ask her later when she signed my book! I’m still kicking myself. It is a companion or a response to Camus’ The Outsider.

The hour went very fast and there were some light hearted moments towards the end. M.J even took a photo of the entire audience with her camera which I find endearing. She also broke some tension when the chairman accidentally called an older woman in the audience “that gentleman” during question time!

The three authors did book signings after the event so I had to quickly go purchase a copy of This is How from the numerous book stores downstairs (bliss!). However, due to my silly nerves about speaking to M.J, my mind went blank and as I handed her my book, clutched in my sweaty hands, all I could stupidly squeak out was “I really enjoyed your talk”. Ugh!

Edit: I have since found out from another M.J. Hyland interview that the companion book the Camus’ The Outsider is The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick by Peter Handke.

MWF – M.J Hyland & Nikki Gemmell

Well, I’m FINALLY off to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival for the first time. I’m so excited and I can’t wait. I got a doozy of a session too for my first time – both M.J. Hyland and Nikki Gemmell will be discussing how it is to write about trauma and isolation.

The MWF has grown so much in the past few years that I feel it’s a travesty that I’m not participating. Such great authors are simply streaming out the nose and ears a few streets down from my uni.  I feel very privileged to live here, with all the bookish happenings. Melbourne is also the second city to be declared ‘The city of literature’ by UNESCO in case I haven’t trumpeted this enough. Not a bad place for a bookworm.