Saturday, September 29, 2007


Thanks to Stacy for her latest tagging, of this book meme.

Total number of books? Unfortunately I can't answer this one because almost all of my books are at home in New Zealand while I'm over here in Oz. I had to be ruthless when packing so I brought with me only about three books, to read on the plane. Since I got here, I've bought about ten to fifteen books, mostly secondhand Agatha Christies! I would guess I probably have at least two hundred at home.

Last book read? One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This was a book that my former history lecturer who will next year be my supervisor said I really should read if I want to study the Soviet purges, along with a few others. I find Russian lit so daunting that it took me a long time to get around to it, but when I eventually did get it out of the library, I found myself really engrossed. I had to interrupt my reading a few times for lunch or dinner and found myself absolutely amazed at how delicious the food was, even the most basic snack such as carrot sticks, because I had become so caught up in this portrayal of a gulag (especially its food).

Last book bought? This was actually the book I wrote about last post (Lost in Austen) so I'll mention the book I bought before that - First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde. This is the latest Thursday Next novel released, and it's no disappointment. I don't know how to even start describing this series of books because it's just so wild - all I can say is, if you're a fan of literature and comedy, you really should read these books, starting with The Eyre Affair.

Five meaningful books?

1) The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. We had to read this book for school in Year 13, and ever since then, this has been one of my benchmarks for how a book should be written. I don't know if everyone would agree with me or not, but it seems to me Fitzgerald captured the perfect tone.

2) Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Something I find quite strange is that this is one of the least popular Austen novels. Stacy wouldn't agree with me! But personally, I think this book is Austen's most thoughtful and mature work, with some of the best characterisation. Being more mature doesn't mean it loses any of its humour, either. As Jane Austen is my favourite author and I want to be Just Like Her (well, actually, I don't want to be exactly like her but that's another story), this novel is very important to me and my favourite novel full stop.

3) The short stories of Katherine Mansfield. I am sad Mansfield never wrote a novel but her short stories, especially those set in New Zealand, are some of my favourite pieces of literature. I love her style and tone and subject matter - she doesn't make a big deal of plot but somehow her stories are irresistible anyway. Most of all, I love that she is an author who wrote from a New Zealand perspective and also wrote really well - there are not a huge amount of good (or at least well-known) New Zealand authors out there but I would like to be one of them one day, and Mansfield's work encourages me that it can be done.

4) The Collected Short Stories of Roald Dahl. These creepy and rather macabre stories are so clever and so well thought out that I can't seem to get enough of them. Dahl was a master of The Twist, and I really love how he avoids telling us exactly what happens, and how this seems to make it even creepier. I wish I could one day be clever enough to write like him.

5) The Ordinary Princess, by M. M. Kaye. I haven't exactly chosen a genre yet but I think that if I ever make it as an author, I'd really like to write at least one children's book. Children's lit doesn't seem to get a lot of serious attention, but this fantastic little fairy tale taught me that just because a book is written for children doesn't mean it has to be any less well written or clever or funny.

Friday, September 21, 2007

lost in Austen

I have just made my very first purchase from Amazon (bear in mind that I do not live in the States and in so doing regulate your astonishment), which arrived today, O excitement of excitements! I saw this book talked about on the fantastic Austen fansite Tilneys and Trapdoors, and immediately knew I had to have it, whatever the cost (within reason, I suppose). To my delight, even with postage this was very reasonably priced, and I got stuck into it as soon as it arrived.

Lost in Austen: Create your own Jane Austen Adventure, by Emma Campbell Webster. This is a lot like those great Create Your Own Adventure books that I used to read at age ten, but obviously written for psycho, immature Austen fans such as myself. You can follow through with the major Pride and Prejudice storyline, or pick little offshoots which may introduce Elizabeth Bennet to Mr Knightley of Emma or other Austen characters, or which introduce an alternate ending to P&P. On the way, you collect points for Intelligence, Confidence and Fortune, and also Connections (both Superior and Inferior), Accomplishments and Failings. Depending on how many you get, this may affect your ability in the end to make a happy and successful marriage.

Emma Campbell Webster does a great job at paraphrasing Austen in second person, and it is written and developed with tongue firmly in cheek, not trying too hard to sound nineteenth century all the time (as this is obviously written for a twenty-first century audience) but also maintaining the feel of the narrative and of Jane Austen's spirit. There are no ghastly mistakes that make me grit my teeth and wonder if she's read the original more than twice. Some of the alternate endings are hilarious, although I haven't read them all yet, with the result that you don't actually mind dying alone in abject poverty because it's really funny. She has also managed to get Jasper Fforde to endorse the book, which I think is fantastic, as he has done some really creative and amusing fiddling with Austen and literature in general.

This book is so much fun. I highly recommend it. This will be on my list of official government-sanctioned books when I am a tyrannical dictator.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Perhaps I just need to get out more. Every time I've watched TV over the last week or so, I've been mentally summing up the message of each advert in one sentence, an exercise that may sound a bit lame but made me laugh, for one.

My sister started me off with this one: "If you use Solagard solar heating, cute little frogs will come and live in your bathroom."

Schick Quattro razors for men: "Whenever you use this razor, women will fall off treadmills."

My favourite so far was advertised on the rural Australian channel while I was in the countryside, for Statewide Steel. Basically, "at Statewide Steel, we employ hot girls wearing next to nothing, because steel is sexy and manly".

V50 shampoo: "Bad hair is just as much a medical emergency as a coma or heart attack."

Lamb: "If you can only find a partner who loves eating lamb as much as you do, you will live happily ever after."

Sleepyhead beds: "If you wake up in the morning looking fresh, well-rested and fabulous, immediately go and purchase a new Sleepyhead bed."

Particularly sentimental ads in New Zealand tend to come from insurance companies, such as State: "Buying insurance at State means you will have a very long, fulfilled and balanced life."
or AMI: "At AMI, we are responsible for every smile that passes from one person to another in New Zealand."

Special K breakfast cereal: "If you are one of those annoying freaks who must needs take part in every health food fad, we are the cereal for you."
"If you eat Special K [and exercise and diet and have lipo] you could lose 1kg every week! Miraculous!"

Telecom Broadband: "If you don't get your children highspeed broadband internet with Telecom, you are failing them in their educational needs, and they will never get to university."

Well, I'm sure you've got the picture after that and have seen basically the same ads for many different products, many different times. What else do the ads on your television channels tell you?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

living the good life

Yesterday my sister, Ruby and I drove down south a couple of hours to Bunbury, a town that apparently doesn't really have any special about it but which I am disposed to like because it has the same name as the fictitious invalid in The Importance of Being Earnest. We are staying at the Sanctuary Golf Resort at which my sister is taking a refresher course in some aspect of paediatric medicine and I am doing the babysitting during the day. It's SO much nicer than a backpackers with squeaky bunk beds - instead, I have my own room and my own bathroom - phwoar! There's a pool and a spa (as in, Jacuzzi) and a golf course. I could get used to this.

And recently in Australian news (and world news so it’s quite likely you’ve already heard this): in Sydney at the moment the APEC conference has just finished. Security has been very, very high, as there are 25 world leaders there such as the Chinese President and Vladimir Putin and none other than George W. Bush. (And New Zealand’s Helen Clark, who is, naturally, just as much a security priority as any of those. Perhaps.) There happens to be this show called The Chaser on Australian TV which I have become thoroughly addicted to since I got here. The show is presented by five comedians who target other TV shows or politicians or just ordinary people, and is – not to exaggerate at all – the most hilarious show on television. Last week on the show they spent some time trying to get past APEC security, but on the news this week we found out what was planned for Wednesday’s episode. On Thursday, the boys from The Chaser got themselves a motorcade, put some Canadian and American flags on the limousine (note that Canada is not even an APEC country), got past about three or four security checkpoints, and finally managed to get somewhere near George Bush, when one jumped out of the car dressed as Osama bin Laden.

It was inevitable that they get arrested, all five comedians and six other people in their crew. But it really makes the whole APEC thing a lot more fun, don’t you think? And of course the television shows which have been targeted in the past by The Chaser are having a field day, with great headlines such as "This time The Chaser goes TOO FAR!!!" in deathly serious voices. Personally, I think that perhaps instead of blaming The Chaser for being irresponsible, they should instead look at how somehow some pranksters managed to get through that many checkpoints that were touted as being so high in security without being stopped.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

my wonderful weekend away

Well - I apologise to all who took the poll - I did not end up following your advice. Monkey Mia, the clear winner, was rejected in favour of a road trip up to Kalbarri National Park and the Pinnacles. To explain myself, next week I am going to Bunbury, in the south, with my sister, where I am almost certain to encounter dolphins. Also, going to Kalbarri meant I could borrow the car and save money. (Of course, it also meant driving for hours. Australia is much too big.) I stayed at backpacker hostels for three nights, in the dorms, which was an entirely new experience for me - I can't say I liked having no private space and having to be sociable 24/7, but I'm glad I tried it, and it certainly saves money.

Here I am at "Nature's Window" in Kalbarri National Park on Sunday, one of The places you have to go to have your photo taken in the park. I don't mean to make it sound touristy, because it's amazing. Red, red earth, huge cliffs and whopping natural formations. Fossilised remains of creatures that could be over 450 million years old. And a heck of a lot of flies. To be fair, I chose the right time to come; in February or March, it's much worse. But even in September there are enough to seriously bug you. No pun intended. Unfortunately, I chose an inopportune moment to open my mouth, walking back to the coach, and a fly flew right in there - I had no choice but to swallow it in the end, and I cannot describe how disgusting that is. Probably I don't need to, you will all be gagging away happily at the thought of my suffering. I took a small coach tour in, which was a good idea, because the roads are very rough and it was nice to do it with some other people. Apart from the fly incident, it was absolutely fantastic.

In the early afternoon, an Aussie girl in my dorm cornered me and got me to drive her down to the local surfer's beach near the Kalbarri township. I wasn't too keen at first but I am so glad I went because it was beautiful. Apparently a low moving up the coast meant there was some pretty awesome surfing to be had, and this beach was remarkable because these huge waves were crashing right by the shore - this photo doesn't show the biggest one but if you look closely you might be able to see the little surfer riding the wave. It was also an amazingly interesting beach to take photos of; as well as the predictable sand and dunes there was this big flat rocky bit right by the sea, with these little pools in it.

Later that afternoon, I drove around the Kalbarri coast for a couple of hours (after having shaken the Aussie girl because I wanted some alone time), stopping at all the viewing platforms for the coastal gorges. I hadn't expected them to be that special because some people at the backpackers had been a little dismissive of them, but they were wonderful. It's hard to show in a photo how colossal that cliff is, and how massive those waves are, hurtling in.

In the evening I went and got pizza in the township and then spent a relaxing evening reading books and checking email, etc etc. The next morning (Monday), I got up as early as possible, resisted all hints from Aussie Girl that I drive her south (this may seem mean and antisocial but she wasn't even out of bed yet), and I drove to Cervantes, a very small township about four or five hours down the coast. Cervantes has a quite nice beach which I spent an enjoyable half hour fooling around on, but the real attraction behind the town is the Pinnacles Desert, about a 20km drive away, and I went out there in the late afternoon/dusk (the recommended time if you want to take photos). It was very hard narrowing it down to only two photos because I took so many, but here they are:

It's small as deserts go - I could easily have walked around it - and it wasn't scorching hot, but the thing that makes this desert special is the eerie mounds that rise up out of it. Some are not big while others are about twice my height or more, but they all look very odd, perhaps like an army of trolls that got themselves turned to stone or some prehistoric aliens that found they couldn't live with earth's air. I really should have found out something about them and why they are how they are, but it's much more interesting to make something up, I think.

There was not a lot of choice at the Cervantes general store so for dinner on Monday night I ended up having chip sandwiches on the beach. Unhealthy, perhaps; uninteresting, perhaps; but very satisfying. And today (Tuesday) I drove back to Perth!

It seems like I've been away for days - probably the fault of all that driving. It didn't help that on Saturday when I was driving up to Kalbarri, I managed to get seriously lost on the Perth highways, taking the wrong exit about three times so it took me about three hours just to get out of the city. Silly me. Luckily, today, nothing went wrong, and I was back in Perth by lunchtime. And now, I'm eating marshmallows and recovering. :)

[plug]And it's that time of year - Halfway Down the Stairs is out again, which is of course the biannual literature e-zine that Stacy and I are both members of the staff on. The theme this time is 'Notes' and you should definitely visit and admire the beautiful work Avis did on the web design and the stories/poetry/interview we feature this time![/plug]