2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part four

Whew! It’s time for part four of my Literary Exploration challenge reading list for 2013. Nine (that’s nine!) genres today means nine new books. Some of my favourites in here, so let’s get rolling!

19. Literary Fiction

Richard Ford. Canada.

The best way to introduce this novel is with the opening lines: “First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.” I read quite a lot of literary fiction (though I’m still quite hard pressed to define it), but nothing of Richard Ford’s yet. He’s considered a master author, and I’m very excited about Canada.



20. Magical Realism

Erin Morgenstern. The Night Circus.

Magical Realism archetype One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite novels of all time, not least because of its style. While stumbling around trying to find something with the same magic as Solitude, I came across this review, and my mind was made up. Another one I’m very much looking forward to.


21. Mystery

Dennis Lehane. A Drink Before the War.

This was an easy choice, actually. My mother is a big mystery/thriller fan, and gave me Lehane’s Sacred to read early last year. I really enjoyed it, but there was a lot of backstory for detectives Kenzie and Gennaro which I didn’t have. A Drink Before the War is the first Kenzie and Gennaro novel, so it made sense to start there.



22. Noir

James M Cain. Double Indemnity.

Boy, this list has a few huge/vague genres (that’s you, fantasy) and a bunch of overlapping small ones. To me, noir, hard-boiled, and mystery share a lot of titles. For my noir outing, I chose the best (or, at least, most famous) pulp noir I could find. That fantastic cover simply sealed the deal.



23. Non-Fiction

Stephen D Levitt & Stephen J Dubner. Freakonomics.

What did I just say about gigantic genre categories? Counting non-fiction as a genre indicates that ‘fiction’ should be one too, which the 35 other entries on this list suggest is a bit general. Anyway. I’ve been meaning to read Freakonomics for some time, and so… now I will. Honestly, though, this is the genre I’m most open to suggestions on – I don’t read much non-fiction. Drop me a comment!


24. Paranormal

Cassandra Clare. City of Bones.

About 90% of books filed under ‘paranormal’ on Goodreads have a suitably intriguing/mystic/magical looking late-teen girl on the cover, which is a great way to make sure I never pick up a  book. But we’re here to explore! I chose the one with the coolest-sounding series name (“The Mortal Instruments”) and some kind of buff tattooed guy on the cover. Can’t lose!


25. Philosophical

James Gleick. The Information.

As mentioned above, I don’t read a lot of non-fiction. None, really. So, I don’t have a lot to base my decisions on, here in Nonfic Land. This book, though – about why information is so important to civilisation, and how it came to be so – sounds interesting. And, I like the cover.



26. Poetry

Stacie Cassarino. Zero  at the Bone.

One of my goals for 2013 is to learn to appreciate poetry. But I know nothing – nothing – about it. I’m basically afraid of it. Zero at the Bone comes on the recommendation of a few friends who are much more poetic than me. So… I’ll keep you posted!



27. Post-Apocalyptic

Hugh Howey. Wool #1-5.

Well. You can have a dystopia without an apocalypse, but you can’t have an apocalypse without a dystopia! I’ve read so, so many of the “best” books from both of these genres that it’s hard to find something I know about but haven’t already read. This basically limits me to something old or something brand new. I’ve got a lot of classics and older books on the list, so it’s time for a new release. This is another genre which is heavy on the mystic-girl cover, which I managed to avoid by choosing Wool (the first five stories, collected).




Whew! Big list today. Come back tomorrow for the last lot – there’s some big names, with things like Thriller, Romance, and Science Fiction.

For the rest of the list, here’s part one, part two, and part three.

As always, if you have any suggestions, drop a comment. Have I missed something? Am I really handsome? Let me know!



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2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part three

It’s part three of my Literary Exploration challenge reading list for 2013! Here’s part one (with a little bit of background on the challenge), and here’s part two.

Today brings six more genres and six more books. We’re at the halfway mark! How exciting.

13. Graphic novels

Jan Strnad & Richard Corben. Ragemoor.

I’m out of the loop with comics these days. My dad used to collect them, and taught me a little bit about Alan Moore, Carl Barks, and Grant Morrison, but I haven’t paid much attention in the last few years. So, when I read about a Lovecraftian horror comic about a living castle, fueled by blood and beseiged by armies of worm-men, it went straight on the list.


14. Gothic

Charlotte Brontë. Jane Eyre.

Wuthering Heights was the last book I finished in 2012, and by all accounts, Jane Eyre is better in many respects. I don’t feel qualified to analyse – or, to be honest, even have opinions on – classics like this. But Jane Eyre is firmly in the ‘should have read by now’ list, and so it appears here.




15. Hard-Boiled

Dashiell Hammett. The Maltese Falcon.

Oh, how I do love a bit of hardboiled detective fiction. I happily read all of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels in a row (and if you haven’t read The Big Sleep or The Long Goodbye, do yourself a favour) and so spent some time searching for something similar. Dashiell Hammett’s name kept coming up, with The Maltese Falcon generally agreed to be his best. This could be the beginning of another beautiful friendship.



16. Historical Fiction

Hilary Mantel. Wolf Hall.

Hilary Mantel is the literary name of the moment, with her latest Bring up the Bodies winning awards and critical acclaim all over the place. Historically, I don’t have a great deal of interest in historical fiction (see what I did there?), but I didn’t have much of a choice here. By all accounts, Wolf Hall is fascinating, gripping, and very, very long.



17. Horror

John Ajvide Lindqvist. Harbour.

Well. Apart from World War Z, Frankenstein, and Dracula, everything in the top horror books on Goodreads is by Stephen King. I won’t give him the satisfaction, so I chose Harbour, John Lindqvist’s followup to the amazing(ly terrifying) Let The Right One In and Handling the Undead. Both of those novels gave me shudders for days, so I have high hopes for Harbour.



18. Humour

DBC Pierre. Vernon God Little.

A fellow Achewood aficionado put me on to Vernon God Little, so I feel safe in assuming that we share a similar sense of humour. The combination of dark humour, postmodern style, and sadly timely theme of school gun violence should be very interesting. And… funny. Um.





That’s it for today! I think I’ll finish my list over the weekend.

Did I miss anything? Do you have a better suggestion for any of these categories? Did you love a book I’ve listed – or hate it? Let me know in a comment.

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2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part two

Wot ho, fellows! Six more genres today means six more books! What am I talking about? It’s the 2013 Literary Exploration challenge!

Are you ready? Here we go!

7. Drama

Arthur Miller. Death of a Salesman.

“Drama” is a pretty big umbrella. Really, to be interesting, fiction generally needs to contain drama in some form. With that in mind, and running off the variably-useful Goodreads genre categorisations, I chose this. It’s been on my ‘should have read by now’ list for a while anyway.



8. Dystopian

Stephen King. The Running Man.

ADMISSION: I haven’t read anything by Stephen King except the Dark Tower series. Which seems odd, when I consider it, because the Dark Tower apparently references everything else he’s ever written. Anyway. I love dystopian fiction, but I was hard-pressed to find any that a) wasn’t classified primarily as YA, and b) I hadn’t already read. The Running Man seems like a good way to kill two birds with one stone.


9. Educational

Nicole Moore. The Censor’s Library.

Another huge umbrella. I took ‘educational’ to mean ‘non-fiction which teaches you something’, which narrowed it down a little. I’ve been interning at the University of Queensland Press lately – the publisher of The Censor’s Library – and one day I went through the as-yet unreleased eBook format, checking it had converted correctly from the hard copy. I had a very hard time stopping myself from just reading the book cover to cover. So here it is. (The eBook was perfectly converted, too)


kittens-in-crisis10. Erotica

Krissy Kneen. Triptych.

(The actual cover includes a nipple and as such may N be SFW. Click that kitten’s button nose to see the real, brilliant cover)

I heard Krissy Kneen in a panel on pornography and censorship at the Brisbane Writers Festival last year, and I really liked her way of thinking. Inspired, I bought Triptych, and even briefly met Ms Kneen. As she signed my copy, she mentioned that I shouldn’t be discouraged by ‘the pony part’. I was a little bit discouraged, but in service to literary exploration, it’s time to read the whole thing instead of just looking for saucy parts. (It’s all saucy parts)

11. Espionage

John le Carré. Call for the Dead.

I’m looking forward to this. Late in 2011 I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and was surprised to find myself absolutely loving it. I was delighted to find that not only was it based on a well-regarded book, but Tinker Tailor was actually main character George Smiley’s fifth outing. Call for the Dead is the first Smiley book and I can’t wait to read it.



12. Fantasy

Brandon Sanderson. The Way of Kings.

Fantasy is another huge category, so I took it as ‘epic/high fantasy’, though I’m not sure if that really means anything. According to my fantasy-expert contactThe Way of Kings is Brandon Sanderson’s answer to Robert Jordan’s zillion-page Wheel of Time saga, and since WoK is only one book, how could I argue?



Six more tomorrow, lovers! Or is this stretching out too much? Maybe twelve! Maybe… twenty-four. Thrilling stuff!

Got some ideas? Did I miss something obvious or obscure? Should I shut up? Drop me a comment!

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2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part one

So a friend put me on to a cool little booky group: Literary Exploration. It started as a group on Goodreads and is now a rapidly-growing book blog/review hub/source of entertainment.

Anyway, it all started as a challenge to read more books from varying genres. In that vein, a new yearly challenge has sprung up.

Choose easy (12 books), hard (24), or insane (36), select a book from each genre in the list, and read it before the year is out. Seems simple enough, right? I feel pretty confident, so I chose the Insane challenge. Thirty-six books in a year is a good milestone!

Anyway, over the next couple of days, I’ll show you my list.

1. Adventure

Cheryl Strayed. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I always loved reading Dear Sugar, especially her advice to write like a motherfucker, and so I wanted to read her novel. To be quite honest I don’t know too much about it, but that’s why we’re here, right? (right)

2. Autobiography/biography

David Sedaris. Me Talk Pretty One Day.

I’ve been meaning to read this all year – people keep telling me I’ll love Sedaris. I really haven’t read a lot of biography, so a quirky/humorous one is maybe cheating a little, but, you know. Baby steps.


3. Chick-lit

Kathy Lette. How To Kill Your Husband.

Now here’s a genre I really do know next to nothing about. It seems like a lot of people in the challenge are reading Bridget Jones’s Diary, but I got the feeling that the movie was enough for me. Upon reputable advice, I decided on this one. Seems like it might contain… intrigue

4. Children’s Book

Katherine Paterson. Bridge to Terabithia.

I was sad to discover that I’d already read every Roald Dahl book. More reputable advice led me to this. Based on a half-remembered movie trailer, it has monsters from other dimensions? Works for me.




5. Classics

Fyodor Dosoyevsky. Crime and Punishment.

Tried to read this when I was thirteen; my incomplete juvenile brain could not comprehend it. Now, twelve years later, my brain is still pretty busted, but… uh. Second time’s the charm. (?) And anyway, will you just look at that cover?




6. Cyberpunk

Neal Stephenson. Cryptonomicon.

From the synopsis, this doesn’t sound particularly cyberpunky. However, Snow Crash was fucking brilliant, and this is allegedly Stephenson’s next best, and so…

That’s the first six. Six more tomorrow, including delights such as Dystopian and Erotica. I haven’t found any dystopian erotica yet, sadly.

If you know of any, or you have any suggestions re grave oversights, sling me a comment.


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furze and whinstone, or, fine literary insults

There’s a pretty funny list of 50 Best Literary Insults over at the Shortlist right now. Not long after I read that, I was continuing my slog through Wuthering Heights (longer post on THAT coming soon). I came across this beautiful passage from Catherine, speaking to Isabella.


‘Nelly, help me to convince her of her madness. Tell her what Heathcliff is – an unreclaimed creature, without refinement – without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone… Pray don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond – a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.’

Isabella, being eighteen and thus hopelessly in love with useless, grumpy, handsome Heathcliff, responds:


‘You are worse than twenty foes, you poisonous fiend!’

And she turns out to be right, because three pages later, Catherine has a great old time telling Heathcliff that Isabella is hopelessly in love. Kind of a dick move.


Anyway, next time you want to tell someone that you don’t care for them, perhaps you should refer to them as a desert of worthless scrub and rock.

What are some of your favourite literary insults?

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thon thinks thon’s just great, or, gender-neutral pronouns

Ever since the use of inclusive language became an important element of writing in English – that is, in the last thirty years or so – there has been a huge number of ideas for gender-neutral pronouns.

Originally, a writer could refer to man and mankind with impunity. He (and, invariably, he was referred to as he) was safe in the knowledge that nobody could complain about that generalisation. The late Neil Armstrong’s ‘one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind’ is possibly the most famous usage.

As using inclusive language came into style, a number of awkward constructions arose. Replacing man and mankind with human and humankind was simple enough. But then the writer must come to talk about… himself. Or herself. How to proceed? How to refer to the human writer without assuming their gender? Or, at the very least, how to include the possibility that the person being referred to could be another gender?

And so we come to the rather clumsy constructions of he/shehis/hers, or the especially awkward s/he. These are cumbersome in written language, and even more so when spoken.

But wait! one exclaims. Can one not simply use one as a pronoun, rendering all of one’s problems moot? Certainly. But as one sees, the use of one as a pronoun can rapidly get out of one’s control. This is not to mention the archaic tone which arises from its use, certainly not suitable for one’s academic or corporate documents.

In Australia, the Style manual for authors, editors and printers suggests that it may be suitable to use the ‘singular they’. This simply refers to replacing the cumbersome he/she (or similar) construction with they, allowing that word to function as a neutral pronoun, as in ‘When someone is happy, they laugh’.

The use of the singular they is not embraced by all writers of English, however, and so we arrive back at the usual problem in this language: competing standards. The United States, which produces a great deal of the language we read each day, generally prefers the use of he or she or similar.

A huge number of pronouns have been invented in an attempt to fill the gap. A few have entered common knowledge, including zheco, and my personal favourite, thon – though none have actually reached common usage. As before, each attempt to create a standard gender-neutral pronoun simply adds to the long list of alternatives. Illinois English professor Dennis Baron has compiled a (long, long) list of such failures.

Most recently, news of an organically-generated gender-neutral pronoun surfaced in the US. According to the article, linguistic researchers in Baltimore investigated claims that children of the area were using the word yo to refer to themselves and each other, regardless of gender. After performing a battery of tests, the researchers concluded that young people indeed used the word in that sense.

Whether invented specifically, like thon, or evolving naturally, like yo, gender-neutral pronouns are an interesting case of speakers and writers trying to adapt their language for modern needs. It remains to be seen whether any of these useful, inclusive pronouns catch on in any significant sense.


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What I read: The Long Earth; Telegraph Avenue

A few little catchups.


The Long Earth.


Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

Doubleday, 2012.

It had potential. The context is really cool: the Long Earth is the possibly-infinite lines of parallel Earths. Humans learn how to ‘step’ between these Earths, which are generally similar to the ‘main’ earth, except without humans. I’d really like to read a story set in this world – I think it’d work well as a game as well. But this novel felt like nothing more than a proof-of-concept. There aren’t many characters to get attached to or conflicts to care about. I can’t help thinking that without the authors’ star power, this book would have had a lot of trouble getting published.




Telegraph Avenue.

Michael Chabon.

HarperCollins, 2012.

I love the way Michael Chabon writes. Kavalier and Clay was one of the first ‘grown-up’ books I ever read, although I don’t remember enjoying it much the first time through. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union remains one of my favourite books of all time. There’s always so much happening in Chabon’s stories; subtleties of pace and demand are masterfully and inexorably woven. His style is literary – wanky, if you’re feeling less charitable. But I love it anyway.

That said, Telegraph Avenue seemed to meander much more than other Chabon novels. The first third, in particular, feels like a bunch of incredibly well-characterised people just… bouncing off one another. It’s an epic, with any number of colliding plots and complications, but I just didn’t feel as connected as I have with Chabon’s other books.

Other notes: the third part (of five) is twelve pages, and consists of one sentence. That section should be compulsory reading for anyone wanting to learn how to use commas properly. Barack Obama appears – but it’s 2004, and he’s an ‘obscure Illinois politician’. Oh, chortle!


More to come.

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what I read: Leaving, by Timothy Ativas


Timothy Ativas.

Skyline Press, 2012.

The first half of this book was a real slog. The toil turned out to be worthwhile, though: the second half, especially the ending, is fantastic.

‘Leaving’ is mostly the story of Sam, a middle-aged man, as he travels across the continental United States, east to west. He leaves his home in Boston  in pursuit of his daughter, who moved to San Francisco some years before. The whole country has suffered some kind of (frustratingly underdescribed) calamity, which has led to most of the population emigrating.

The story follows Sam as he travels, mostly walking, and deals with the runins with bandits, shut-ins, and kind samaritans that you would expect in the post-apocalyptic setting. However, most of the action, such as it is, occurs in Sam’s head. As I mentioned before, this part of the book is rather plodding; Sam has plenty of time to mull over the many, many failings of his life. His laundry-list of mistakes and bad decisions is fun for a while, but becomes repetitive quickly. When it comes to stories like this, it can work when flashbacks are interspersed.

His relationship with his daughter isn’t explored too deeply in these sections, which makes their meeting all the more interesting. The meeting itself is rather abrupt, but the relationship which emerges afterwards is poignant and heartbreaking. She has been working in the rapidly-fading seaside city, unable to leave, while seemingly everyone else is fleeing the country.

As a fan of apocalypses and related ephemera, I was disappointed by the lack of exploration of the calamity itself. Like The Road, the event and its causes are alluded to only vaguely. The important part is what happens afterwards.

I don’t want to spoil anything: you’ll just have to read it yourself.

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what I read: The Ottoman Motel, by Christopher Currie

The Ottoman Motel.

Christopher Currie.

Text, 2012.

Admission: I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I wanted to.

Possible reason for my dissatisfaction: based upon blurb-skim in the bookshop, I was prepared for a creepy paranormal story about missing parents, uncaring townsfolk, a boy lost and alone, a (literally) shadowy conspiracy.

I was wrong. This is a story of old crimes: unsolved mysteries, haunting memories. A small town with a long history of tragedy and lies. A thoroughly human, scarily plausible story.

Looking back, the blurb doesn’t actually point to a a creepy supernatural story – way to jump to conclusions, self! – so I needed to do a little bit of mental rebalancing.

The Ottoman Motel wasn’t a bad read. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t much care for unreliable child narrators (though I do seem to keep reading books featuring same). However, the protagonist Simon is a convincing picture of a confused kid with traumas both old and new. His interactions with the slightly ‘off’ town of Reception and its similarly haunted inhabitants are evocative and realistic.

I was less satisfied with the overall story, however. The overarching mystery – the disappearance of Simon’s parents – is approached from a number of different angles, but none of them seem to really stick, and are lost in the sea of complications the other characters bring. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s all interwoven almost perfectly. But the breadth of the story elements ultimately leaves the book as a whole feeling a little shallow.

The creepiness of the setting, and most of the town’s inhabitants, is communicated very well; overall, the writing is excellent. I’m really excited to see where Currie goes next.

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what I read: Past the Shallows, by Favel Parrett

Okay, fair reader, it has been several months since my last post, but I think a lot about abandoned blogs, and rather than build on that (to open blogging, perhaps?) I’ve decided to resurrect this one, instead.

(Also, I like the name.)


Since my last little book review (Threats, by Amelia Gray) I’ve been eating up as much new fiction as I can get my hands on. My old plan of reading all the ‘books I should have read by now’ is on hold for a while. I have bunch I want to talk about, but that’s for later. For now:

Past the shallows.

Favel Parrett.

Hachette, 2012.


The first thing that hit me about this novel is the setting. The remote Tasmanian coast is immediately shown as a place of wild beauty, both deadly and life-giving. The abalone that live out in those black waters – past the shallows – is given a new name on the first page.



Head time is split between eleven-year-old Harry and his older brother Miles as they struggle through life after their mother’s untimely death. Their father – referred to but once simply as Dad – is a near-voiceless figure of malevolence. Throughout, Dad and the ocean are drawn as a parallel; unpredictable, dangerous, inescapable. Harry fears the ocean. Miles understands its movements, its shifting currents, its treachery, and does not trust it.

Harry’s point of view is understandably naive – though he’s been through a lot, he’s still young. As with most (all?) unreliable child narrators, many scenes are much more tense and emotionally striking when seen through the eyes of an uncomprehending child. I did find some of his more obsessive and jubilant sections somewhat grating, but his fundamental kind and friendly nature won through.

I found Miles and his interactions with his brothers – younger Harry and older Joe – were much more interesting. We see him  try to protect Harry from Dad’s unpredictable moods. We share his desire to extract them both from the future that seems set in stone for both of them – working on the boat with Dad, fishing for abalone. Throughout, there are signs that Joe tried to hold a similarly protective role, but his methods are vastly different.

The writing itself is beautiful and evocative. Many reviewers have compared Parrett’s writing to that of Tim Winton, and I tend to agree. I’ve never visited Tasmania, let alone its remote coast, but those storm-thrashed beaches are clear in my mind’s eye. The characters are almost universally well-drawn and emotive. All the excitement, uncertainty, and fear of the family is communicated flawlessly, and every adrenaline rush and heartbreak is resonant and haunting. I am not too proud to admit that I shed a manly tear or two at the end of the story.

After recovering, I was left with a few unanswered questions, and there was one spelling mistake (a confusable pair – thanks a lot, university!) that dragged me out of the story. But in all, Past the Shallows is a superbly written exploration of family and brotherhood.


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