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The Tall Man: Death and Life on Palm Island, by Chloe Hooper

2008; Penguin Books

278 pages; $24.95

I read The Tall Man for the ‘true crime’ genre in the Literary Exploration reading challenge. I don’t read much crime, true or otherwise, and wasn’t sure what to expect. I was blown away.

Chloe Hooper’s The Tall Man has won countless awards since its publication in 2008, but I would take that further and say that it should be required reading for every Australian. I knew embarrassingly little about the case before I read this book.

The 2004 death of Cameron Doomadgee, in custody on Palm Island, the subsequent riot on the island, and the inquest into his death – allegedly at the hands of Senior Sergeant Christopher Hurley – are explored by Hooper, who followed the case for nearly three years. She interviewed many of the major players on the island, and even traveled to the remote Queensland outback to speak to Doomadgee’s family. 

The book drew inevitable comparisons to Truman Capote’s true-crime masterpiece In Cold Blood, though the approaches are quite different. The Tall Man is gritty and rather depressing, but has a more journalistic voice than Capote’s. The text is spotted with evocative, and at times beautiful, turns of phrase, however. Of the accused, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, and his history of requesting remote posts: ‘Perhaps these communities drew him with their power – the proximity to sex and death and beauty and horror; to songlines that are badly frayed but still give off some charge; to what is ancient, our deepest fear that good and evil spirits make sport with us.

Systematic racism in the Queensland police force is something that almost every Queenslander is aware of to some degree. Even more so is the novel’s setting – the scene of the crime. Mention the name ‘Palm Island’ to anyone over the age of twenty-four and you’ll get knowing, but perhaps dismissive, nods. The inquest into Doomadgee’s death was marred by racism, corruption, and a general lack of interest from the rest of the country. From Hooper’s account, it’s clear – despite the inquest’s findings – that Cameron Doomadgee was killed by Chris Hurley.

The triumph of The Tall Man is not in the suspense of waiting to see what happens – the reality of the story can be found in the news or Wikipedia articles. What draws you in here, and what holds you there, is the weaving of the myriad threads – most of them frustratingly unresolved – into a cohesive whole. Particularly affecting is the story of the local evil spirits – the Tall Man – who ‘will bash you, but they won’t kill you. That’s all they do to you.‘ The reference to Chris Hurley – who is two meters tall – is clear. Hurley may not have meant to kill anybody – but he did.

This is an engrossing and affecting read. The story is almost ten years old, but sadly remains as timely as when it was published. It would be suitable for anyone with an interest in Queensland politics, police racism, or general true crime.


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“I know what you can do, I’ve seen it. You hold no mysteries, Thaddeus Blaklok.” Kultus, by Richard Ford

2011; Solaris Books

288 pages; ~$9.99.

A friend bought Kultus from the estimable Pulp Fiction Books based purely on its ridiculous cover and blurb (its ridiculosity). I borrowed it afterwards and read it as part of the Literary Exploration 2013 challenge for my Steampunk genre selection.

Needless to say, neither of us were disappointed with Kultus‘s ridiculosity.

Protagonist Thaddeus Blaklok is an occultist mercenary and all-round badass who operates in the grimy steampunk city of Manufactory. The story starts with a gory demonic murder and pretty much stays on that level for the rest of the book. During his quest to get a hold of the Key of Lunos, Blaklok punches and shouts his way through waves of cultists, street rats, and demons. There’s a few hints at some kind of backstory for Blaklok; he seems to have been an important member of ‘the Community’ of occultists in Manufactory, and there are a few references to a tortured past. For the most part, though, Thaddeus is a one-trick pony. He sees no avenues of social interaction beyond hitting and shouting; to him, everyone is either a hapless authority figure (who get in the way, and so must be avoided) or an idiot (who can safely be hit until they stop moving).

So, in all, it’s dumb fun. Dumb – because the characters are one-dimensional at best – but fun nevertheless. There’s demons, “snappy” one-liners, and plenty of steam-powered violence. Manufactory is a pretty standard dirty, zeppelin-dotted steampunk city, although there are a few nods to imagination (the Spires, certain radioactive wastelands). I’m led to believe that demons are fairly standard in steampunk, but Kultus adds angels as well, which stirred things up a little. There’s also the requisite cast of simpering gutter-dwellers, cowardly slumlords, and even a team of hilariously-named superpowered assassins.

The writing itself is… dreadful. I know I’m used to literary fiction (whatever that is); I know I’m a snob when it comes to this kind of thing. In genre fiction, the writing doesn’t have to be groundbreaking. It’s the strength of the ideas which can carry the story. However, not only is Kultus pretty bog-standard in its ideas, the writing is really, really bad. As in ‘I’m not sure how this got published’ bad. I counted three – three! – instances of confused pairs (peel/peal; brake/break; breech/breach), any one of which would be painful enough, but three? Anyway. I think the best way to demonstrate the quality of writing is with a quote.

“Any advantage he could get might give him the edge he needed, and he was sorely in need of an edge.”

Says it all, really.


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“And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise.” The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

2011; Harvill Secker.

387 pages.


Note: A few minor spoilers below.

I chose The Night Circus  as my Magical Realism book for the Literary Exploration challenge. Magical realism is traditionally the genre which I enjoy the most. By nature it’s difficult to define, but essentially the ‘magical realism’ tag can be applied to stories which are generally realistic, but which contain fantastical elements. The archetypal One Hundred Years of Solitude blends magic and reality perfectly. Or, for a more recent example, look to Life of Pi, which contains scenarios unlikely enough to count as magic, though from a distance the world appears to be the same as ours. As it turns out, I probably wouldn’t count The Night Circus as part of this genre, though such categorisations are nebulous at best. Better to take the book on its own merits.

The story of The Night Circus jumps around in the decade surrounding 1896, and I enjoyed the novel’s use of nonlinear time. The titular Circus appears without warning, is open only at night, and disappears just as suddenly. It’s a magical, monochrome realm, where everything is always perfect – quite the opposite of a real circus. In the Night Circus, there are wondrous, impossible displays, true magicians, and all manner of subtle sorcery which ensure a wonderful evening. I found this infinitely preferable to my experience of real circuses, which involve a lot of noise, impolite crowds, and, not to put too fine a point on it, the smell of shit. This magical, dreamlike circus immediately drew me in. “This is the precise flavor the circus should be. Unusual yet beautiful. Provocative while remaining elegant.”

As always, all is not as it seems, and the Night Circus is actually just an arena for a contest. Two magicians, Marco and Celia, are bound to each other by their masters, and pushed into a competition. I was really excited by this – a magical duel, stretched over years, sounded awesome. Each master delights in being vague, and the rules of the contest even more so. In fact, for two thirds of the novel, one of the contestants is not even aware who they are up against. Sadly, a game which nobody is sure how to play – not the contestants themselves, and certainly not the reader – is not a good recipe for conflict.

So let’s talk about conflict.

The two main characters, Celia and Marco, are magicians, able to influence reality in a number of impossible ways. They’re pitted against one another from a young age, and quickly dedicate their lives to the contest. However, the stakes are never clear, and each magician spends a lot of time trying to find out for themselves. It’s nearly impossible to engage with the contest or the players within it, because there’s no clear goal or rules. Naturally, the two young magicians fall in love. Even this felt arbitrary and unconvincing, despite the surface beauty and wonder of their blossoming relationship (such as it is). The love subplot is also intended to increase the conflict between the magicians and their masters. However, with the stakes so low, there was never the sense of rebellious desperation you might expect. Each sinister master remains quietly benevolent, in action if not speech.

The closest thing The Night Circus has to an antagonist is Marco’s trainer and father figure, the shadowy Alexander. His motivations are generally unclear, beyond his desire for Marco to win the contest (although, again, this desire doesn’t stretch to actually telling Marco what constitutes winning). He’s sinister, apparently omniscient, and appears to contribute to the death of a character – but it’s a minor, undeveloped character, so even this fails to increase the tension or sense of urgency.

There’s also a number of subplots involving other people connected with the circus, especially Bailey, who is torn between his family’s pressure to stay home, and his own desire to leave and be part of the circus. The story visits him at various stages of his child- and young adulthood, where he becomes enamoured with one of the circus performers and is eventually called upon to save the Circus. However, even this subplot lacks much tension, because in the Circus, everything is perfect.

Bear with me here. The biggest draw of the circus setting is its difference to a real circus – that is, it’s clean, beautiful, and fun. Visitors experience events and displays which could only occur in dreams. Despite the wonder this implies, this is where The Night Circus falls down. In the real world, nothing is utterly flawless. The Circus is – and so becomes unreal. Things are unusual, certainly, and of course the reality-warping conjuration is obviously not just sleight of hand. I couldn’t help feeling that if only the Circus had gone further one way or the other – been more real, or more fantastical – it could have worked. It’s beautiful, yes, but when every setting and feature is perfect, it becomes oddly drab. Everything feels constructed, the conclusions foregone. With no character conflict to speak of, and a one-dimensional setting, the story quickly dropped into tedium.

I did my best to focus on the wonder. I tried to open my mind to awe and surprise. I wanted something magical, but still real; fantastic, but subtle. The Night Circus had some wonderful imagery, likable characters, and an interesting structure – but in the end, it felt shallow and cold.


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“Your life’s going to go a lot of exciting ways before you’re dead.” Canada, by Richard Ford

2012; Bloomsbury.

432 pages; $29.99.


First, a note: this is the second book I’ve read for the Literary Exploration 2013 challenge. It’s under the category of ‘literary fiction’. I already read a lot of that, so it’s not exactly exploration, but anyway:


First, I’ll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.”

That’s the first couple of sentences of Richard Ford’s Canada, and it hooked me right away. Impossible to resist.

That opening sets quite a scene, doesn’t it? We’ll hear about a robbery, then some murders – sounds like a thriller.

Well… not really.

Our protagonist is Dell Parsons, fifteen years old at the time of most of the story. He’s nerdy, interested in chess and bees, but it’s his parents who define him. His father is a cheerful ex-Air Force bombardier. His mother is a tightly-wound Jewish schoolteacher. As we learn right away, they robbed a bank, and that’s what the first half of Canada looks at.

Robbing the bank, for Dell’s parents, is suicide. It makes perfect sense at the time (even to his usually-sensible mother); it ends the lives of those who carry it out (their free lives, anyway). Much is made of the sense of weightless freedom the parents feel after deciding to rob the bank. It’s the last decision they’ll ever have to make. Of Dell’s father: “He always believed he wasn’t the kind of man to rob a bank. This was his great misunderstanding.” There’s a sense that they unconsciously know what they’re getting into – looking for a way out of their lives – but going about it in an indirect, roundabout way. It’s obvious from the narrator’s fifty-year distance, but too huge for anyone to see at the time.

The pace of this section is slow but incredibly deliberate. Chunks of information are interspersed throughout Dell’s reflections on his parents’ natures, the workings of the world, and other metaphysical quandaries of interest to a teenager in 1954. Those chunks, though, often have a huge impact on the story being told, and are mentioned only in passing. Every time something pops up – such as a chapter ending with, ‘I was never there again.’ – it requires a quick rearranging of the reader’s beliefs and expectations.

Something like that, anyway.

At first, I didn’t like the second half of Canada. It felt peaceful, dreamlike – nothing like the burning build of the first half. Eventually I decided that it’s supposed to. The second part, which takes place in Canada (finally) represents Dell’s quiet acceptance of his new position in life. After spending the first part reminding readers how aware children can be of their parents’ true intentions, and how readily they adapt to difficult situations, Dell proves it in the second. It’s a big gear change, from theory and introspection to practice and consequence – but it works.

The third part is a coda, which rejoins Dell in the present day, fifty years later. It’s used to wrap up the few lingering loose ends – most notably, for me, the question of what happened to the narrator’s disappearing twin sister. But I found it unsatisfying because, earlier in the book, so much information is presented in asides and digressions. From the first lines, the reader begins to build an idea of what happened and what’s going to. Part three wraps up the story a little too neatly, though it’s still masterfully told. With the theme that life is messy, that you can’t always predict what will happen – “no matter the evidence of your life, or who you believe you are, or what you’re willing to take credit for or draw your vital strength and pride from – anything at all can follow anything at all.” –  I found it a little jarring to be simply told what happened to everybody. (The last few sentences, though, are wonderful.)

As in many American novels, the setting is integral. Canada reminded me of Annie Proulx’s Wyoming stories (though not quite as desolate as all that). The scenery – Montana’s prairies, Canada just to the north, the small towns of North Dakota – all push Dell’s father into the bank robbery scheme. In the end, Dell’s parents’ personalities, history, and location make such a scheme all but inevitable.

Here in Australia we don’t really have anything like the US-Canada border, especially in 1954 when the border was not so tightly controlled. It’s just a step away. With the wide-open spaces of Montana pressing down, making people feel lost and invisible, and that huge unknowable country resting gently to the north, is it any wonder that Americans felt isolated, yet somehow beseiged? Is it any wonder that Dell’s parents feel the unconscious need to escape, to be away, no matter the consequences?

Well – I don’t know. I’m young, poorly traveled; a naive child, really, at this scale. But it’s a testament to Ford’s writing that I have these ideas at all. I was transported slowly but seamlessly. I got a glimpse of the small-town life I’ve never experienced, and I got a flash of how that life can exert silent, grinding pressure on people.

That’s the joy and the melancholy of this book. You’re swallowed up by the wide-open spaces of the prairie and the disintegrating ghost towns of the Saskatchewan wilds.

That’s the reason I read so much American literary fiction, I think. Wide spaces. Woods. Colleges. Highways. The long, slow burn of lives, in four hundred pages. If you liked the feeling you got from Bad Dirt, or you just like really good fiction, I think you’ll like Canada too.

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2013 Literary Exploration challenge, part five

This is it.

We’ve reached the end. Today, I’ll list the last nine books for the Literary Exploration reading challenge this year.

28. Romance


There’s plenty of novels which are romantic. But for my romance selection, I’m going to go to the bookshop’s Mills & Boon/Harlequin section and pick the pulpiest thing I can find – bonus points for muscular, hairless torsos on the cover. Then I will read it, and I will blog about it. Actually, the only pulp (or ‘category’) romance I’ve read was in the Historical category, and it was very bad. I know they’re not really for me, but I’ll give it a shot! Exploration.

29. Science Fiction

Reader’s choice.

Science Fiction is a gigantic genre. There’s so much ‘classic’ scifi which I’ve never read – things like Asimov, Wells, and Card – so I could choose something from that region. I’ve loved the cyberpunk I’ve read too, so I could pick something else by Stephenson or Gibson. Then there’s spec fic; although a lot of those seem to be in the ‘magic-girl-cover’ region, there’s potential there too. In the end, it’s too hard. So I’m opening it up to you, reader. What’s the best sci-fi book you’ve ever read? If I haven’t already, I’ll read it this year. What will you do with this power?

30. Steampunk

Richard Ford. Kultus.

I love steampunk books which don’t take themselves too seriously. I read one last year which had tesla coil walking sticks, zombies, and a steam-powered Queen Victoria, but it was so earnest as to be silly. So, for my next foray into steam and gears, I’ve chosen Kultus, by Richard Ford (not that Richard Ford). It’s about a mercenary trying to stop a cult from opening the gates of Hell. His name is Thaddeus Blacklok. I’m sold.

31. Supernatural

Glen Duncan. Talulla Rising.

I’m cheating a little bit on this one (can you tell we’re getting to the end of the list?). I read Glen Duncan’s The Last Werewolf last year, and thought it did a fine job of making an interesting story out of everyone’s second-favourite overdone supernatural creatures: werewolves. It ended suddenly, with a note of hope (for the werewolves, anyway – maybe not for soft, slow, edible humanity). I thought it was a great ending. Naturally, a sequel appeared last year, and I believe there’s a third and final part coming out in 2014 as well. Despite a sequel seeming a little unnecessary, Talulla Rising should be a good read.

32. Thriller

Gillian Flynn. Dark Places.

After reading Gillian Flynn’s latest, Gone Girl, I always intended to check out her earlier ones as well. Dark Places is considered on par with Gone Girl, so I’m excited to read it. Sadly (?) it bears no connection to the other Darkplace.



33. True Crime

Chloe Hooper. The Tall Man.

I had trouble picking a True Crime book. It’s another genre that I don’t have a lot of experience in. It made sense to look at something Australian, and I remember the story from 2004, so I’ll be reading The Tall Man.




34. Urban Fantasy

Jim Butcher. Storm Front.

Okay. Let’s take a little walk down Memory Avenue (that’s the phrase, right?). At the beginning of 2011, I was trying to decide what to do with my life. I’d signed up for the National Novel-Writing Month, but was terrified about actually having to write anything. So I searched online for writing guides, and found one from Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files series. I read it front to back, and felt really confident about writing a novel.

November rolled around. I mostly ignored the writing guide, churned out fifty thousand execrable words of dystopian sci-fi ghost story, realised I needed some direction, and went back to university to study writing and editing. Despite his influence in helping me develop life goals, I’ve never actually read any of Butcher’s novels. Which is strange, because they’re occult/supernatural hardboiled detective stories. I can’t wait.

35. Victorian

Charles Dickens. David Copperfield.

I had a lot of options here, so, as I’m inclined to do, I tried to hit the best of the best. I’m ashamed to admit that the closest I’ve come to reading Dickens is A Muppet Christmas Carol, so it made a lot of sense to read Dickens’ own favourite.




36. Young Adult

Paolo Bacigalupi. Ship Breaker.

Last year I read Bacigalupi’s breakthrough novel The Windup Girl, and although the story didn’t really grab me, the setting was one of my favourite dystopian futures yet. I’m not sure if Ship Breaker is set in the same universe, but with Bacigalupi’s expertise in environmental-apocalypse writing, I’m looking forward to finding out.

Well, that’s about it! I’m still looking for feedback and suggestions for these categories, so let me know if anything comes to mind.

I’ve already finished one book on my reading list so far – Krissy Kneen’s Triptych. It’s a confronting read, and very, very interesting, so I’ll try to get my thoughts straight and post something about it soon.


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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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