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25 June 2010

Review: The Ivory and The Horn by Charles de Lint

When I was at university I took a sociology subject called Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Popular Culture. Half of the class were sociologists, the other half, like me were either nerds or nerdy sociologists! So the class was an absolute riot. We learnt a lot, and it is fascinating all the cultural motifs present in speculative fiction (Übermensch and superheroes, Neo is Christ, as well as concepts like Zero Worlds, The Other and The Abject etc). The main assignment was to take all we had learnt and to make a fanzine. That sounds like easy task to you, but the thought behind all aspects of it, as well as appealing to a fan base meant there was a whole semester's work put into it. I got a high distinction for mine, and my lecturer was genuinely interested in my project. I couldn’t choose to do simply "fantasy" or "science fiction", I had to find a niche market. That was about the time I was getting into urban fantasy, so I choose to focus on Alternate Realm Fantasy. I can't remember what I called it, but it was basically dealing with faerie, parallel worlds, heaven and hell dimensions etc. I hooked up with some artists from the World of Froud forum, and my friends contributed reviews, short stories and artwork. I bundled all together in an attractive parcel and made a website. I was just getting into web design back then, so it was built on geocities (in its heyday) and unfortunately when geocities died, I had to move it. I saved a copy of two of my reviews, and I though I would share them with you. Just be warned that these are from when I was 19, so they are fairly... obvious in their youth.

The Ivory and The Horn
A collection of short stories by Charles de Lint

This is the first book of Charles de Lint's that I read. There is a bit of a story to my discovery of his work, so please bear with me and I'll make it a short as I can. A couple of years ago, when I relocated to the city closest to our farm, I became a member of its library. That in itself doesn't sound remarkable but I love reading and had already read out three libraries. This new library was bigger and provided me with so much joy; being a voracious reader is quite difficult with limited resources. As well as having normal multi-genre shelving, there were also three rotating stands full of fantasy paperbacks. Before delving into the rows of packed shelves I would always check these, finding many books I hadn't previously discovered. This is where I met authors such as Elizabeth Moon, Rosemary Edghill, Janny Wurts, Gene Wolfe and Sean Williams. I kept coming back to The Ivory and the Horn but I always seemed to find something more tempting One day I decided to max out my card and I again happened to pick up The Ivory and the Horn, except this time I didn't put it back down. I started reading it on the hour-long drive home but I just couldn’t get into the first story (Waifs and Strays), and decided to read one of my favourite novels instead. As fate would have it, I mislaid the book and didn't return it with the others. A couple of weeks later I was having a book-drought so I picked The Ivory and the Horn again. I skipped the first story but returned to it after I had finished the book. Charles de Lint has a gift of making the every day take on mystical qualities, and reveal the secrets hidden within. This book had introduced me to Newford, a city somewhere in Canada or the northern United States, where there are people such as Bones, Jillly, Coyote, Sophie, Geordie and the Crow Girls. De Lint intertwines Celtic and Native American folklore into the fabric of reality and re-weaves it in such a way that the world becomes a strange new place, while still being the world we are all familiar with. I truly recommend any readers who have not yet discovered Charles de Lint to start their education with this book. It will initiate you in to a whole new world, and nothing will ever be the same again. I would secondly recommend that you skip the first story Waifs and Strays and read it last. It is a great story, but you need to get used to the writing style before attempting it. De Lint has written many stories - novella and novels as well as short stories - and they are all worth reading. He also writes under the pseudonym of Samuel M. Key, so don't forget to check for those books as well. I really recommend Mulengro and From A Whisper To A Scream!

Just FYI, this was written in 2003 when I was 19. God I feel old!

Review: Green Monkey Dreams by Isobelle Carmody

When I was at university I took a sociology subject called Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror in Popular Culture. Half of the class were sociologists, the other half, like me were either nerds or nerdy sociologists! So the class was an absolute riot. We learnt a lot, and it is fascinating all the cultural motifs present in speculative fiction (Übermensch and superheroes, Neo is Christ, as well as concepts like Zero Worlds, The Other and The Abject etc). The main assignment was to take all we had learnt and to make a fanzine. That sounds like easy task to you, but the thought behind all aspects of it, as well as appealing to a fan base meant there was a whole semester's work put into it. I got a high distinction for mine, and my lecturer was genuinely interested in my project. I couldn’t choose to do simply "fantasy" or "science fiction", I had to find a niche market. That was about the time I was getting into urban fantasy, so I choose to focus on Alternate Realm Fantasy. I can't remember what I called it, but it was basically dealing with faerie, parallel worlds, heaven and hell dimensions etc. I hooked up with some artists from the World of Froud forum, and my friends contributed reviews, short stories and artwork. I bundled all together in an attractive parcel and made a website. I was just getting into web design back then, so it was built on geocities (in its heyday) and unfortunately when geocities died, I had to move it. I saved a copy of two of my reviews, and I though I would share them with you. Just be warned that these are from when I was 19, so they are fairly... obvious in their youth.

Green Monkey Dreams
A Collection of Short Stories by Isobelle Carmody

This is a book of strange short stories. Carmody's writing style is beautiful and simple and she is the author of various series including the Obernewthyn Chronicles, the Legendsong saga and books such as Greylands and Scatterlings. Typically her novels can be found in the young adults fiction section, but I believes it limits her appeal. Her new series Legendsong: Darkfall, Darksong and Darkbane (yet to be published - I'm waiting with baited breath) can now be found in Adult Fiction. She has been one of my favourite authors since first reading Obernewthyn nearly fifteen years ago and I can truly recommend all to read her novels. Green Monkey Dreams is a collection of short stories, all are worth reading but for the purpose of this article I will just cover the relevant stories. The blurb on the back cover better invokes that which is stored within, so I will quote it here:

Within it you will roads of paradox on which an angel might be a torturer, or a princess reject a prince to save a rooster. These are paths travelled by seekers of the difficult deepest truths never found on straight road; here a boy searches for his truename, a group of pilgrims is led by a song on a ancient journey and a beast discovers hope.

Enter this world and you will never again be sure where reality ends and imagination begins, for sometimes the greatest truths can only be told through the imagination...
(Back cover of Green Monkey Dreams)

The Glory Days
This tale is truly magical! It is breathtaking and haunting, and anything I write will never capture that magic. This is a story you need to read for yourself - if it was legal I would type it up for you as it is a wonderful piece - but as it is not you will have to find the book and read it for yourself...

This is the story: a girl of the citystate called Freedom is sent to spy on Glory, the citystate which worships a figure called the Angel. She meets Angel who calls himself Sorrow while she is Anguish, for their love can only cause pain. The Angel cult of Glory is preparing for the Geddon, the days when the lives of humans will finally be extinguished - when the spirits will loosen their grasp on the flesh and rise to heaven.

It is the time after the worldwars, when the world killed itself. The people are now living in 20 or so citystates: Freedom is home to democracy and believes all have the right of choice, Serenity is where peace is the ultimate, and drug use is common place, Winter is the sister-city of Freedom and its walls are built of whitest stone, and Glory where the populace live for Glory, following the High Path of Harrowing.

They ask me to write down all I remember of the Glory days. A hard thing, because there is so much of Sorrow in the telling. My mind shies away from it, looping backwards and forwards in time.

Last night, I thought of a girl I grew up with in the sister-house who told me that minebirds sing a song just before the deadly gases kill them, to lift their souls to heaven.

Wakened this morning by the bells that toll the beginning of the solar day in Freedom, I tried to remember her name, and found I could not even recall her face.

Hearing the bells ring now, for dusk, I realise an entire day has passed like the blink of an eye, and it comes to me that if death is a kind of a song that lifts the soul out of the body, sorrow, too, can steal a soul and carry it away.

Perhaps that is what is wrong with me.

Yet the story must be told, and there is no other but me to tell it. I must make them understand that there are many Sorrows in heaven, waiting to be sent to us as Angels of death. I have told them of course, but they nod soothingly and their eyes glide away. They think I was too young, blaming themselves.

But if I learned on thing in Glory, it is that flesh is the greatest lie.
(page 3)

Seek No More
This is about a boy living in an orphanage. He is ostracized and teased because he is pale of skin and silver of hair. One day Buddha and his gang chase him into the cemetery. He starts to read the headstones to find his parents name, as he was abandoned on a doorstep. Noah has dreams where a man speaks to him a shining man of Faerie. This is when Noah knows he has Faerieblood and starts to search for his truename.

Noah is about to be adopted by a family and so his search becomes more important. His search is unexpectedly aided by Buddha and his bullies when he stops running and scares them (he looks anaemic and haunts a graveyard - would you be scared?)....

William hails Ragnar as princess and she gets dragged into a make-believe 'game' that she is a princess exiled from another world where she is a child of the gods. William is a soothsayer, a sage, here to help and guide her. All this is fine until they see Torvald her prince come to rescue her. But in this world he is a student at Ridhurst Grammar School, home to the bullies who mistreat Ragnar. As Tor and Ragnar are destined to marry all is well until Ragnar overhears Tor with his school mate.. then everything goes wrong and their worlds are shattered.

The Worldroad
This is a disorientating piece to do with dreams. Dream upon dream upon dream upon dream world upon world upon world; just when you get to think this is Reality you wake and realise it was a dream. All these worlds/dreams have three things in common. Jilia the Dreamer, Random the guy who is lost or becomes lost and green flying monkeys trying to get in. Every time you wake you question your last experience and every time there is something really weird about identities. It is a breath-taking read and you are thrown when the ride halts and you thought there was more -I had to reread it, just to relive it and try and make heads and tales, it sure was an experience - the fascination and revulsion you feel for the green monkey beasts is strong:

‘Why don’t you let them in?’ Jilia asks, starting at the face pressed at the window, small and wizened with greenish fur. The creature’s eyes are as white and soft as peeled grapes. Behind it, there is a milky blur that might be wings. (page 198)

Carmody, Isobelle. 1996. Green Monkey Dreams. Viking: Ringwood, Victoria.

You can find out more at Isobelle Carmody's homepage:

Just FYI, this was written in 2003 when I was 19. God I feel old!

21 June 2010

Book Survey V: What is your favourite?

1. Work of historical fiction
The Dancing Bear by Peter Dickinson, Caesar by Colleen McCullough, Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, and The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff.

2. Piece of comic writing
Terry Prachett's Discworld series, Piers Antony's Xanth series, and Michele Bardsley's Broken Heart series.

3. Work of poetry and/or book of poetry
Beowulf - it is an Anglo Saxon saga. My other choices would be Dream of the Rood (also Anglo Saxon), The Last of His Tribe (Henry Kendall), Bell-Birds (Henry Kendall), La Dame Sans Merci (John Keats), My Last Dutchess (Robert Browning), The Wasteland (T.S. Eliot) and quite a few others. Realistically, I have hundreds I would like to list here, but that isn't practical. I love poetry, I love the play of words, I love alliteration, I love poignant motifs, and I love poetry that invokes wonder or thought. I also love Haiku, but there were too many of those to even consider listing.

4. Essay
A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

5. Science fiction novel
Dune by Frank Herbert

6. Fantasy novel
This question is too difficult! Some favourite fantasy authors are: JRR Tolkien, Charles de Lint, Raymond E Fiest, David Gemmell, Mercedes Lackey, Patrica Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, Kylie Chan, Suzanne Collins, Isobelle Carmody, Peter V Brett, etc.

7. Romance novel
Anything by Nora Roberts. She is the only straight romance author I read. I normally read paranormal or gothic romances.

8. Travel guide, whether formal [like Frommer's] or a traveller's memoirs
I haven't read any travel guides. I mostly read blogs when I am planning my Mexico trip. If you can recommend any travel guides or memoirs for Mexico let me know. I am not buying the Lonely Planet Guide until closer to the date, and I want to know about places a million other people won't be swarming to!

9. Book about food [cookbook or other work]
Bab's Caaking Baak LOL This is an inside joke. It is the family cook book, I don't know what it was originally called, but it is dark green and VERY comprehensive. So many recipes to use for a variety of reasons. The best thing is it has a lot of very basic recipes as well. So if you want to cook a pie it will tell you all the various pastries, how to make them etc, and then have a number of different recipes with various fillings. It is also covered in graffiti. It was originally defaced with Bob's Cooking Book but someone changed the O's to A's and now it is Bab's Caaking Baak. I keep looking out for it in second hand stores, because Dad won't let me steal his! I also have a 70's edition of The Australian Woman's Day Cookbook that I love. My much evolved spaghetti bolognaise recipe was from that. It is unrecognisable now, because I first cooked it when I was nine and have changed it constantly.

10. Epistolary novel and/or novel in diary form
So Much To Tell You by John Marsden

11. Non-fiction work in epistolary or diary form
I can't think of any!

12. Non-fiction work
Anything to do with archaeology and culture, particularly prehistory, Asia, South America and continental Europe! I also love reading about the flora and fauna of the world.

13. Murder/crime novel
Anything by Dick Francis, Agatha Christie, Victoria Holt, Mary Higgins Clarke or Nora Roberts.

14. Work of classic fiction
Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (I consider it classic fiction and convinced my lecturer is was as well). There are more, but I will try to keep these lists down in size.

15. Horror novel
Dracula by Bram Stoker, Night Shift by Stephen King, The Darkest Part of the Woods by Ramsey Campbell, various books by Tanith Lee. Would Edgar Allen Poe's Complete Works fit in this category? If so, add it to the list!

Books that scared the shit out of me as a kid: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (read the book and pretend you are a nine year old!), The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, various Goosebumps books (it is why swamps still freak me out LOL), and some that creeped me out were by Gary Crew, David McRobbie and Isobelle Carmody's Greylands and Sonya Hart's Black Foxes.

16. Biography or autobiography
I don't read these.

17. Work of children's literature
Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton, CS Lewis, May Gibbs, Ann Martin, L.M. Montgomery, Jackie French, Paul Jennings, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, etc.

18. Piece of young adult fiction
Suzanne Collins, Kelley Armstrong, Tamora Pierce, Richelle Mead, John Marsden, Isobelle Carmody, Melina Marchetta, JK Rowlings, JRR Tolkien, Libby Hathorn, Gary Crew, David McRobbie, Victor Kellher, Gillian Rubenstien, Sonya Harnett, Catherine Jinks, Francine Pascal, Christopher Pike, Ann Martin, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, etc.

19. Short story
Jerusalem's Lot from the Night Shift collection by Stephen King, some from Isobelle Carmody's Green Monkey Dreams collection and any of Charles de Lint's short stories. These are just from the top of my head. I have read hundreds that I could list here. When I was at university I had to ban myself from reading books. However, that was agony for the bookwyrm that I am, so I was allowed to read short stories. It meant I used to read a lot of short stories! I particularly liked the The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror collections and, by the same editors (Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow), the reinterpreted fairytales series such as Silver Birch, Blood Moon and Black Thorn, White Rose etc.

20. 20th century novel
The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

10 June 2010

Book club, trade paperbacks and choosing what to read next...

I am not too sure what I am buying when I go to Galaxy's book club tonight. I have a number of books that I want to buy, but they are all trade paperbacks, and retailing for $30 at the moment. I technically have a budget of $30 a fortnight, I don't always stick to it, but I have my car rego due, as well as medical expenses and my phone bill (I am not even thinking of the electricity bill that arrived yesterday!). So I should probably be a good little girl and not go too far over my limit *sigh* So that just makes it harder for me! I can't by the new Sherrilyn Kenyon book about Nick, I can't buy Erica Hayes' Shadowglass, I can't buy Carrie Ryan’s Dead-Tossed Waves and so many more that I really really want! God I hate trades! I wish they were the same price as “A” format paperbacks… I can pick them up for between $12-$20 at Galaxy, plus my 10% discount on book club night.

Recent authors that have been recommended to me are Ilona Andrews – Dan Dan lent me her first book on the weekend – definitely a lot of fun! FangBooks on twitter recommended Gail Carriger, and I have been intrigued by the synopsis of that series before. I am obsessed with steampunk, and it is reputed to be steamy, so it has been on my To Buy list for some time. I would love to get some more Lora Leigh (suggested by Theresa), however Galaxy hardly ever stocks her books, and I may have to consider buying them elsewhere. I thought Lora Leigh only had 5 books in the Breed series – turns out she is up to 21! Pretty big lapse… I am starting to get antsy LOL I love that series! I think Maria had picked up a new Gena Showalter book last week as well, and if so I want it LOL I need to get Kylie Chan’s second book Dark Heavens novel, Red Phoenix (series also suggested by Dan Dan). It is crazy, most of the books I read these days are suggested to my by my friends at Galaxy’s book club! I just can’t get enough! I am already spending too much money there because of that book club LOL And I know the other girls are the same. Not all of them used to make regular visits to Galaxy, so they are spending so much more money there. I spend more money there and less at Abbeys, Dymocks, and I hardly ever go to second hand stores anymore. Galaxy is very bad for my budget!! ;D I kind of wish I could buy from book depository etc but as long as there is a book club I will be spending my book budget there – simply because the girls are always herding me towards new titles and I pick them up before I can even think about heading online to the Book Depository. Plus, there is also the instant gratification thing LOL

So I am stuck. I have NO idea what I am buying tonight! Although, I think I will definitely get the Kylie Chan book…. Unless something else comes up LOL

I also found a blog that links you to books that authors have offered for free. It is found here: and through it I found a Charles de Lint novel on the Tor site. I want to get some sort of ereader on my phone for when I am on the train and don't have enough room to hold up my novel. That and those occasions I finish my books during my lunch break at work LOL

Do you attend a book club? Or perhaps a book forum (I used to run one, same principles, I always found too many books I wanted to read LOL) or online book club? Or do you get recommendations tweeted to you on twitter? (If you are on twitter and I don't already follow you, can you leave me a link?) How do you choose what books to read? Is it marketing in the bookstore and online, or through word of mouth? I would be interested to hear how you deal with choosing your To Be Read list! :)

09 June 2010

Top 10 Difficult Literary Novels


Reading a good book or poem is one of life’s joys, and once in a rare while a good book can change your life forever. Great literature often demands we meet the authors’ ideas on their own terms, and the experience is not always comfortable. Growth seldom is. Submitted for your review are ten literary works that demand much of the reader. Some of you may scorn the choices here, but who among us hasn’t struggled with a book or poem that failed to capture our attention? If that’s you, then congratulations. I have a near-mint copy of “Great Expectations” you can read while the rest of us go through this list.

10. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

I have always wanted to read Tolstoy, but I think he is one of those authors I would leave for a rainy day. Maybe I should take it with me when I backpack around Mexico? I had planned to only take one book with me to last throughout those months LOL

In this corner, weighing in at 2.6 lbs and 1,296 printed pages, Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written, as well as the book most people lie about having read. In fact, many people have read it just to say they did. And that’s a shame, because Tolstoy can write beautifully, either as an omniscient narrator or when writing directly from the character’s point of view. However, the book’s very title is a (deserved) punch line for overly long tomes, and that remains the primary obstacle to reading it. Similarly daunting is that the story employs no central character or storyline to really latch onto. As a result, it wanders in and out of subplots that could have been full books in their own right, and that proves highly frustrating–the reader is left feeling he has traipsed through this novel rather than read it. So then, how do you read it? Fans say it’s best to read a few chapters at a time, keep notes, rent the film, and then be sure to “do something special” to celebrate after you’ve finished it. Really? Tolstoy deserves better.

9. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s magnum opus explores a dystopia where the productive class refuses to be exploited any further by society. As the government takes more and more control over industry (cough, General Motors, cough, AIG, cough, health care, cough), the most productive citizens simply retreat to follow a cult leader (John Galt). Their point is that any society will stop functioning if its most rational and productive are not free to pursue their own self interest. The book closely mirrored Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, which stressed primacy of reason, individual rights, and laissez-faire economics. Liberals hated the outright rejection of socialism, while conservatives deplored the implicit atheism, though, ironically, the book can be seen as a treatise favoring Aristotelean philosophy and the concept of the existence of a God figure. So both sides competed in dismissing her work as “for teenagers” (a bit harsh), and “strident without relief” (kinda have a point there). Worse, however, are the interminable character speeches. All but the most fanatic skim or skip those entirely, and devotees recommend taking on the 1,000 page book in small doses, over a long period of time.

8. Moby Dick - Herman Melville

I read this as a child. I loved it! It was one of the first "big books" I read. It was an effort, but I think it was worth it.

Some readers finished “Moby Dick” and joined Greenpeace, just to prevent this type of suffering from ever happening again. Not for the whales— for the readers. The prose is impossibly thick and the attention Melville lavishes on whaling techniques borders on obsessive compulsion. For a 600+ page work, the plot is graciously described as “minimal”. Some Melville fans even encourage first timers to listen to the audio book while reading. Others suggest smaller reading sessions, capped off with a Cliff Notes chaser to explain what just passed before your eyes. Privately, most readers will tell you this story could have been told with 200 fewer pages, and still be the important work it is today.

7. The Gulag Archipelago - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s hellish account of persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered dissidents in Stalin’s Kafkaesque forced labor camps, the Gulags, evokes my deepest sympathy. But that doesn’t forgive the pain he dishes out in “The Gulag Archipelago”. This not-quite-objective-history, not-quite-memoir, “literary investigation” weaves endless depressing narrative threads, using prose seemingly designed to punish. The palpable sense of despair and apathy comes less from the text, but from the reading thereof, and it forces most readers to abandon the fight (and that’s what it is – a fight), even when the cause is so noble. RIP, Aleksandr.

6. Foucault’s Pendulum - Umberto Eco
I read this as a teen. I went through a period of loving his books. The covers were pretty, which is why I picked one up during a dry patch at my local library.

I know people who have read this book cover-to-cover and remained completely baffled, just so they could say it didn’t beat them. Umberto Eco is a learned man, and he wants you to know that he’s put in the hours at the library. He also wants you to put in the hours, too. Eco admits to being intentionally difficult, and deliberately put 200 pages of history into the “The Name of the Rose” to discourage the merely curious. He repeats this trick in “Foucault’s Pendulum”, with no effort to advance the plot or develop characters. Fans read Eco with a dictionary at hand, raving that his books are “for the strong of spirit, people with perseverance, willing to struggle in order to reach the ultimate truth that only the very few have mastered.” But “Foucault’s Pendulum” goes out of its way to make you feel like a Luddite prole, ignorant of what passed for Italian science, philosophy, and necromancy in the Middle Ages. And yes, you WILL feel like a drooling, knuckle-scraping mouth-breather until the halfway point, where Eco believes you’ve suffered enough, and hastily adds a plot so you can “achieve ultimate truth through perseverance.” Armchair psychologists will note how Cognitive Consistency rears its ugly head here. This is literary EST. This book is significantly easier to read if you have a broad foreknowledge of esotericism. (Which luckily I do!)

5. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

I bought this book on Gail's recommendation, but I haven't read it yet.

The animosity some people have for this book is startling. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterwork unfolds in 17th-century Puritan Boston, where its heroine, Hester Prynne, has a child out of wedlock as a result of an adulterous affair. She is caught by church elders and forced to wear a large, scarlet “A” on her clothing, as a sign of her sin. Resolute, Hester soldiers on with dignity and repentance- something in short supply in modern days. Also in short supply is any modern love for this meandering melodrama. Even its fans admit you may need a dictionary, and that you can easily get lost in the multiple pages of descriptive digressions. Hawthorne himself admitted to adding a complete chapter (“The Custom House”) only because the book was otherwise too short to print.

4. The Waste Land - T.S. Eliot

I read this at university and loved it... A lot of it is obscure, and it is only through rereading it, and with a wide body of knowledge behind you (which luckily I do LOL) that you can make sense of it. I love it anyway! Luckily it had notes, because the only language aside from English that I could read was German (and I had to look up the translation for Lithuania). There was a section in Burial of the Dead that I fell in love with and it fired my imagination. I loved some of his other poems included in my copy, but the love song of Prufrock is not one of them.

Beware any literary work where the inscrutable Ezra Pound had a hand in editing. This tremendously dense modernist poem is told in five parts and abruptly shifts between characters, time, place, and languages (English, Latin, Greek, German, and Sanskrit) with nothing more than the reader’s own erudition to make the connection between passages. Eliot is extremely well-read but isn’t trying to confuse his audience— he simply won’t compromise (beyond the less-than-instructive footnotes) to convey his meaning as directly as possible. Often he makes his point using literary allusions to authors such as Homer, Sophocles, Petronius, Virgil, Ovid, Saint Augustine of Hippo, Dante Alighieri, William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, Gérard de Nerval, Thomas Kyd, Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas Middleton, John Webster, Joseph Conrad, John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Charles Baudelaire, Richard Wagner, Oliver Goldsmith, Hermann Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Paul Verlaine, Walt Whitman and even Bram Stoker. Eliot also makes extensive use of Scriptural writings including the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, the Hindu Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, as well as cultural and anthropological studies such as Sir James Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” and Jessie Weston’s “From Ritual to Romance”. This “summer reading list” approach is highly economical, but can be maddening for the reader. Countless books and an excellent hypertext website have been written trying to wring the full meaning out of the lines. They enlighten, but only partially succeed. I will one day meet Mr. Eliot, and between hymns to our Maker I will pester him about this poem until I finally understand it (“Lucy, you have some ‘splainin’ to do!”).

3. Naked Lunch - William Burroughs

The tale of how this book came to be is far more interesting that the book itself. Burroughs (a member of the so-called beat-generation) was living in Tangiers and addicted to heroin. During his highs he poured page after page from his typewriter. He took all of this work and cut it to pieces – then re-joined the papers in random order. The resulting text was sent to his friend Allen Ginsberg (of “Howl” fame) and it was published. An obscenity trial followed, as well as outright banning in various parts of the United States due to its depiction of pedophilia and child murder. The book itself is a difficult read, as sentences seem to just end without warning and new sentences begin half-way through. It is a book that needs to be read from beginning to end to finally get an overall picture – which is bizarre, ethereal, obscene, exciting, and horrifying. It will be one of the most difficult books you have ever read, but in the end it is actually worth it. Burroughs wrote a number of other books using the same original material of Naked Lunch which continue the vignettes in the first book.

2. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner

I am in two minds about this book. I had trouble reading it because I hate reading about racism, incest and rape. I loved some of the imagery. In particular, there is a section about time passing narrated by Quentin. I also detested the stream of conciousness style for this particular novel, despite appreciating it in other novels. It was effective, but hard to keep up with the thoughts when they took up most of the page. I had trouble dealing with a lot of the more unsavoury aspects of this novel - mostly to do with the inbred family. 

Imagine a librarian with Alzheimer’s reading Tennessee Williams and you’re on your way to understanding “The Sound and the Fury”, which examined whether Old South ideals could survive the American civil war. Following the post-bellum demise of an aristocratic Southern family, the book’s stream of consciousness technique produced countless (and lengthy) narrative digressions that were more sensations than plot events, and that occurred without punctuation to mimic the random thought patterns of the human mind. What critics don’t say is how this results in paragraph-long sentences that get completely wrapped around the axle. One fan comments ‘you’ll need all your resources of unflagging attention, tenacious memory, and orthographic competence with dialect just to grasp the central events of the story, but even then you may be frustrated by the realization that the story isn’t the centerpiece of the book.”

1. Finnegan’s Wake - James Joyce

I have read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I can see why James Joyce is hailed as a brilliant author, but he isn't to my taste.

Quote “Finnegan’s Wake” in public and you risk being committed to an asylum. Internet searches on “most difficult” and “hard to read” novels unfailingly recognize “Finnegan’s Wake” as the most difficult work of fiction in the “English” language. There’s a reason for those quotation marks— in most places Joyce just made stuff up, including the language he used to write the damn thing. Chock full of neologisms, puns using neologisms, ancient slang, and portmanteau words, “Wake” is profane, sublime (to some), and alas, totally unreadable. Some scholars believe it was written as an unsolvable hoax, even as others maintain websites to help readers parse the inscrutable text.

Have you read any of these, and did you find them so "difficult" to read as this list suggests? I didn't find the ones I had read as easy as reading a trashy paperback, but my eyes weren't bleeding either. Two of them I even read as a child or young teen... How about you?

02 June 2010

Science Fiction: what should I read next?

Conceptual art based on War of the Worlds by HG Wells
I have been meaning for a while to get back into science fiction and dystopian tales. I haven’t really read many in the last few years. I went off to university and enforced a total book ban for those years I was studying, and on vacations I would glut on my favourite novels. When I moved to Sydney in 2007, I was able to visit a bookstore in Sydney that specialises in Speculative Fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror, urban fantasy, paranormal romance and relevant nonfiction). It meant that I concentrated in buying out my favourite authors (David Gemmell, Raymond E Fiest, Chares de Lint, Kelley Armstrong, Sherrilyn Kenyon etc) as well as exploring urban fantasy and paranormal romance in more detail. When you rely on libraries for your reading material, your reading is so much more diverse - both because their stock in speculative fiction is so limited, and because you aren't paying money to explore a new author with no personal recommendations for their novels. It means that I became so focused on urban fantasy, paranormal romance and epic fantasy, that I am out of touch with the other genres I used to love. I have no idea what has been published in the last ten years that I should read, and I know that I missed a lot of science fiction masters when I borrowed from local libraries.

Conceptual art based on Dune by Frank Herbert
When I say I am a second generation nerd, I mean it! My mum grew up watching Doctor Who, and saw Star Wars as a teen and in her early twenties. She saw Return of the Jedi when she was pregnant with me. I grew up watching Doctor Who every night at 6pm on ABC and we constantly rented the Star Wars VCRs throughout my childhood. I grew up loving ewoks and Yoda and loathing sith. I no longer know how many times I have seen each of the original Star Wars movies - it is over a hundred for each film. Of the new ones the only one I have seen more than once is Revenge of the Sith, and that is only three times. I guess you can say I am a product of my times. I grew up in the 80s and 90s watching science fiction and fantasy films, reading fantasy, mysteries, classics and science fiction. A lot of the science fiction shows I love are classics. Doctor Who, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (I love vintage science fiction films) and a lot of the books I love are the same (Dune, War of the Worlds etc). And then of course there are the bad B and C grade films I love... *sigh* I always say I am more of a fantasy fan, but science fiction still holds sway in my heart! I mean, favourite TV shows are Firefly and Dark Angel! ;D My favourite science fiction novel is definitely Dune by Frank Herbert. I did read another three books in that series, but I think as a stand alone book it was brilliant with a message that I identify with. I finally bought my own copy earlier this year, as I was reading my mother's books.

The reason for my post is that I want to bone up on my science fiction and dystopian tales. But the thing is, I want to concentrate on books that are classics of the genre. By that I do not mean old classics, but books that you recommend to everyone because they are so fucking good you just couldn't put them down. Books that you reread over and over and you know will never become dusty and covered in cobwebs on your shelves.
So far on my TBR list:

  • Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • A Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

I will probably go back and read some of my favourites like Dune, The Host, War of The Worlds, Time Machine and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as well.

Can you recommend any others for me to read? What are your favourite novels or authors of science fiction and/or dystopian tales? What novels are you constantly returning to? What books are on your TBR list? I would love to hear what you think!

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