Monday, April 19, 2010

links for a rainy day

I feel that after ranting it is good to add some balance to the blog by posting about cheerful things. What the world needs is more colour and cuteness and kindness. These things make me smile:

Definitely check it out at Colour Me Katie

And Bakerella always appeals to my sweet tooth.

Hope all is well with you, readers!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

harry potter is overrated (and also underrated)

I had an assignment yesterday, and all I wanted to do was write a blog post. Now it's handed in, and my motivation is flagging. Still! I did have all that time to think about what I wanted to say, so here goes...

I remember first reading Harry Potter. I believe it was 1999, my parents were in the UK and when I went to visit they had Harry Potter, which was being reviewed at the time in the papers. But I hadn't really heard of it before. To my family, children's and young adult fantasy is pretty standard reading, and it was pretty natural for us to all read any book that came into the house. So, enough of setting the scene, I read Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone and I really enjoyed it. It had a great world, and it was a lot of fun, the language was so bubbly, it had a great humour to it and the story was a great adventure. But then the trouble started- I read the first review. And here follows the account of my continuing encounter with People's Reactions to Harry Potter.

If my memory serves correctly, the first review I read of Harry Potter praised it highly for it originality- particularly for having the amazing idea of a school for wizards. Fancy! Which made me grind my teeth, why would someone review Harry Potter having apparently no idea of the fantasy genre? Here are some wizard schools predating Harry Potter: the Roke academy in 'The Wizard of Earthsea', Unseen University in the Discworld books (it is a university, but similar concept), 'the Worst Witch' (both book and tv), I've heard Dianna Wynne Jones has written some and I think Margaret Mahy may have too. There are probably others, these are just those that spring to mind. Not that JK Rowling hasn't written her own unique take on the subject, but the idea of a wizard school is not what people should really focus on if looking for originality here.

But things have not really gotten any better. JK Rowling now has a large array of fans, who are keen to point out her amazing achievement, and how the books are flawless, every detail accounted for, every happening foreshadowed. Also, reading a lot of comments floating around from fans about their favourite book the early ones don't get a look in, the middle ones are preferred because they are 'darker'. OK, so here are my thoughts about that:

My favourite book is the first one! I feel that as they go on, and become darker, and longer, they also become slower, and start to make less sense. JK Rowling's writing perfectly suited the first book, I thought it was well written, light-hearted and conveyed a sense of wonder. I just don't think her writing performs as well with heavier subject matter, as the series goes on it becomes more and more workmanlike, less fun. The teenaged characters can be annoying, I think the love stories are not very well developed and the consistent repeating of mistakes and mistrust of characters (and having recently read Ronni's blog post on authority in Harry Potter, I will clarify that my annoyance is at the way the lose trust so quickly in adults who have previously gained their trust) gets annoying. The world stops making sense to me when I look closer- there don't seem to be many limitations on magic, yet there is poverty? Why? And above all I just don't think the books are that dark. Just because people die, doesn't make it dark. Dark how? I don't get it. There are some scary moments, some (well, at least one) ambiguous characters, and some death. But there are scarier books that get thrown into the 'children's literature' category (Susan Cooper and Alan Garner write some fairly menacing scenes), and the death of major secondary characters is a standard trope. To my mind, the later books are less well realised and not particularly dark. And books don't have to be dark! I think JK Rowling does light better than dark.


I guess to summarise, I think that reactions to Harry Potter fall into one of two camps. Either people haven't read it and dismiss it as 'a kid's book', or they have and won't hear a word against it. I think the series deserves a more considered approach- it was a massive phenomenon and very hard to put down. To be fair, I have read some more thoughtful reactions (I mentioned Ronni's post, and The Last Muggle to Read Harry Potter has had some interesting reactions when finishing the series). I read them all, and quickly. I think JK Rowling is good at creating suspense, and one of her major achievements was the way she engaged with fans- feeding them clues while they waited for the next installment and so on. But it's not perfect, and the reactions often just make me feel that so much of the fantasy genre is unappreciated. But I guess I should be more understanding. It's a whole different story if anyone criticizes LOTR...
Tuesday Teaser

"Everyone looked up. Swooping down in a shadowy cloud of broken umbrellas, Mr Brokkenboll was dropping towards them out of the sky."
China Mieville, Un Lun Dun, p. 259

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


On Monday it was Andrew's and my second wedding anniversary. It was also the Easter long weekend. In celebration, we left town and headed for the mountains, staying in a place just outside Lithgow. It was a really awesome weekend. We got to relax, see some sights, sleep, and eat nice food. So, some highlights...

Instead of going to Jenolan Caves, which turned out to be packed, we went for a walk elsewhere, and found this spectacular view. Also a lot of very steep stairs.

I read a lot in the leaflets in our cabin about a walk to the 'glow worm tunnel', accessible only after a 37 km drive down a dirt road. Lured by the promise of glow worms, but wary of disappointment, we made the trek and behold! There were glow worms. Unfortunately it's a bit tricky to get a photo of the things, so you will have to make do with these photos of the end of the tunnel, one from the inside and one from the outside. Apparently it is an old mine shaft which the glow worms took a fancy to after the place was mined out. Very pretty, but very very dark in the middle. Apart from the glow worms of course.

We did this walk on Sunday, and went out to dinner the night before at Vulcan's in Blackheath (I brought my free 2009 Good Food Guide with me to scope out the restaurants). It was very good, but somehow we felt it failed to really impress us. But it was difficult to fault the food, the flavours all balanced nicely. My slow cooked beef with lemongrass and thyme was very tender, the flavours just right. Anyway, we enjoyed it, but our expectations were very high.

Back to Sunday, and after our walk into the glow worm tunnel we drove back through Lithgow. We just had to check out the ruins on the hill, which turned out to be an old blast furnace, shut down in the 1920's (or 1930's?). If you're in Lithgow, I definitely recommend this place. But then, I do love old ruins. It was fantastic, with explanatory signs but no real limitations on your own exploration. And the way the ruins blended into the landscape was amazing. I tried to get a photo that showed it but I think I mostly failed. I haven't seen a historical sight that was this much fun for ages, and with the cool crisp air and rabbits hopping around I almost felt like I was in England. Except for the magnificent hills that made up the background. And the fact that the building was just around 100 years old. My point is: it was fantastic in its own right. I loved exploring it. I've never heard Andrew use the term 'happy as a kid in a candy store' about me quite so frequently in such a short space of time.

At the book shop in Blackheath (Gleebooks- what it is doing so far from Glebe I don't know) Andrew bought me my anniversary present- Point Omega, Don DeLillo; Brooklyn, Colm Toibin and Un Lun Dun by China Meiville, as well as the Ponyo DVD. We watched Ponyo on Sunday night while drinking champagne by the fire (fine, sorry to rub it in, but it was a great weekend, ok?), and I'm excited to have all these books lined up.

Anyway, back to work now, and I have a whole lot of blog post ideas buzzing round. Another book review? A discussion of favourite childhood books? A rant about Harry Potter? Something about writing styles? A post about why I love Sydney? Can't decide just yet, will have to wait and see... And who knows? Maybe I'll get too busy, forget them all and write something completely different in a month.

Teaser Tuesday

I came across this meme at The Captive Reader (my exploration of the world of book blogging continues!) which apparently originated with MizB at Should Be Reading, it goes like this: 
        Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page.  Share with us two (2) “teaser”             sentences from that page. You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

So here goes:
    There was another thing she said, my wife, sympathetically, referring to the way I regarded life on the one hand and film on the other. "Why is it so hard to be serious, so easy to be too serious?"

Don DeLillo, Point Omega p. 55

Thursday, April 01, 2010

the blogosphere and me

Finding a new blog is usually a fairly haphazard process- it occurs through one of the three following ways: someone I know starts a blog and I find out about it, someone I know recommends a blog/blog post OR I stumble upon it through a trail of links. For that reason the blogs I read represent a fairly diverse (and unrepresentative of me) range of interests, here are some I probably haven't mentioned before:

Ronni's blog from Cambridge, which I have just added a link to in my sidebar.

Style Bubble- A fashion blog from the UK

Pioneer Woman- A blog about life in rural America + cooking + homeschooling

Smart Bitches Trashy Books- A blog about Romance novels

I enjoy these blogs, I really do, different as they are. Though they don't have much in common, I guess I could say that a good blog has personality, and these do. But I feel there is something missing in my life, and that something is book reviews. I can't seem to find them on online newspaper sites (or even in the weekend paper). I want reviews of all kinds of fiction, things that I want to read. Ronni writes about books sometimes, but that is not really the main purpose of her blog. Smart Bitches reviews books all the time (when it is not reviewing e-book devices), but it exclusively reviews romances, and I don't read romances (or use a Kindle). Don't ask why I read the blog, I don't think I can explain. 

Why, I wondered, since I like books more than cooking or fashion or homeschooling, do I read no blogs devoted to book reviews? So I am on a quest. A quest for book review blogs. I started at technorati, since they list popular blogs, amazingly finding a book review blog that doesn't focus on romance is harder than it looks, but I have found Stuck In A Book, and that's looking good so far. If you have any other recommendations, please let me know! I love to read about books (I also love to read books).