....and sometimes watches.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Ancient Egyptian Love Poetry Friday

mr.wt (pronounced mer wet)
love (noun)

How well She Knows to Cast the Noose

How well she knows to cast the noose,
And yet not pay the cattle tax!
She casts the noose on me with her hair,
She captures me with her eye;
She curbs me with her necklace,
She brands me with her seal ring.

Third Stanza, from The Nakht-Sobak Cycle of Papyrus Chester Beatty I

Friday, April 07, 2006

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Dai Sijie Anchor 2001 PB 184pp

“The village headman, a man of about fifty, sat cross-legged in the centre of the room, close to the coals burning in a hearth that was hollowed out of the floor: he was inspecting my violin.”

I went home from work early again last Friday with a bad headache – but not so bad that I didn’t stop off at my tiny local op-shop. It has only been open a couple of months and have only recently begun stocking books. Although it was a mistake to try to deal with the noise of the little shopping centre it is located in, I did pick up this little gem for 20c – the cover is so beautiful, I would love a print of it on my wall.

I had just enough time for a bath before I would had to pick up the kids and at a slim 184pages, I was able to read all this in my window of opportunity as well.

2 boys, sons of intellectuals are sent to the country side of China to be ‘re-educated’ during the Cultural Revolution. There they discover – no secret from the book’s title - a hidden cache of forbidden Western classics and the beautiful seamstress. It is told in a series of vignettes and is so fine and light that I imagine the recently made movie must involve a lot of beautiful scenery and music and close ups of the lovely Xun Zhou.
It is very sweet but it just ends without any real resolution. I presume this is a comment on life and its pesky way of not providing closure, but I did feel I came down to earth with a bit of bump.

Also a word of warning from this little experience – if you are sick and sooky do not try - through any kind of mistaken thriftiness - to put half of a bath bomb into your bath. Not only will a third of it end up in fragments all over the room, your hair and your toothbrush, but you will only have to get back out of the bath again to put the other half in, when you finally realise that it smells so lovely and you are sick and sooky and so what are these things for if not to make you happy on days like that.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Player of Games

Iain M Banks Orbit 1988 this ed:1997 309pp

“This is the story of a man who went far away for a long time, just o play a game”

Ian M Banks is one of my favourite SF authors. ‘The Algebraist’ was abit weird but his other novels in this genre are stunning. I had not read this book for a long time and so sneakily purloined it from my visiting sister’s bag (well, swapped it for ‘Pecked to Death by Ducks’) and have really enjoyed revisiting it.

Note to young players – the use of a middle initial in Mr Bank’s name denotes the GOOD books as even though he still writes well, I don’t really like any of the stories that he publishes without this ‘M’. ‘Dead Air’ was frankly crap – I really hated the main character and all that he stood for – I only finished it out of some misguided loyalty. ‘The Business’ is okay – ending abit lame though. The first book by Iain Banks that I ever read – many many years ago - was ‘The Wasp Factory’ – which I remember was very disturbing and upset me greatly at time – and so I have never re-read it.

The ‘m’ however rocks!! Most of the books – as is this one – are set in a universe with the ‘Culture’ as the main society. Imagine fully sentient computers, amazing technology, unlimited wealth and freedom for its citizens and the ability to not grow old, to change gender and to gland all the mind-altering substances that you want – whenever you want. It’s a Utopia, but every once in a while someone suffers ennui and a strange sense of dissatisfaction and then Mr Banks writes a book about them.

The characters are all very engaging and the situations believable. I always develop a bit of a crush of whoever the main character is and always find these books to ‘haunt’ me for along time after I have read them. ‘Consider Phelabas’, ‘Against a Dark Background’ and ‘Inversion’ are so very good and so very sad – not a weepy kind of sad, just a lingering melancholy of the good ending unhappily and the bad ending unluckily kind that sticks to my skin and to my thoughts and won’t leave me alone.

‘Haunting’ is a good word – I always continue to think about these books long after I have finished reading them. A continuing theme that runs through his novels is that of human nature and suffering – similar to that explored more visually in Von Trier’s ‘Dogville’. Are humans inherently bad or is it their circumstances that make them so? Is freedom the answer to all our woes, or does happiness and peace always come down to something internal – however much we search for the external panacea? All this and robots and lasers and spaceships and aliens

Highly Highly recommended - but you can’t borrow mine – I am only just now building up the set again

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Shadow of the Wind

Carlos Ruiz Zafon 2001 Text Publishing PB 521pp

“I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time.”

This was a birthday present from Beloved Sister C and the perfect thing to take to the bath after sleeping half of Monday last through with a horrible headache. Yummy Lush thing, sore head and a charming book involving people much worse off than me.

Daniel’s dad is a bookseller in Barcelona just after World War 2. The city has suffered greatly and there are many dark and dreadful secrets out there. Daniel stumbles upon just one – a tragic tale of love, lust, betrayal, regret and loyalty across the generations - and with an eccentric circle of friends, is determined to solve the mystery of the author Julian Carax and his incedinary back catalogue.

The language is so evocative – all depth and shadows and adjectives and melancholy walks in the twilight. I love this style – like Garcia Marquez without the ‘magic’ – the story just wraps around you like a snuggy warm blanket and draws you in completely.
The only time Mr Ruiz Zafon stumbles in his writing I feel is when he tries to put the same richness into the mouths of his characters, which results in a sense of melodrama and falseness.

Lots of love and heartbreak in this rich romantic tale
Recommended with a good glass of red and a sooky heart

Friday, March 24, 2006

Studio Ghilbi

I should premise this post by saying that I am a huge fan of Studio Ghibli and their wonderful stunning completely hand-drawn animation. They leave Disney for dead in every category you care to name. The movies are so good for children and for adults. Even after watching ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ a dozen times in the first fortnight we had it, I was still happy to have it on in the background.

Spirited Away
The very first one that we watched. And watched and watched. Chihoro’s parents are turned into pigs when they greedily eat food meant for the Gods and Chihiro must rescue them. Chihiro is a wonderful character, scared to begin with but then becoming braver and more confident. Tender, funny, loving – full of friendship and cool monsters. The bathhouse is amazing and that train going over the water…sigh, it is so beautiful......

My Neighbour Totoro
This film has to win some kind of award for best kid’s film ever. My 11yr old son still loves it - I still love it. Great for the little ones too. Two sisters (I want a ‘Mei’ for my own!) move with their Dad to the country side to be closer to their mother who is in hospital and very sick. The girls discover Totoro: a tree spirit and met CatBus and other wonderful characters and have adventures and fly and everything. So Very Good
Nausicaa The Valley of the Winds
My son’s favourite. Includes voices by Patrick Stewart and Edward James Olmos. Nausicaa is a young princess living in a world ravaged by war and environmental destruction. Her father is murdered by an invading army and Nausicaa must rescue them all. Strong Environmental message. Gorgous pictures. Quite nail biting in places. Maybe not for the very small

Laputa Castle in the Sky
A princess falls from the sky holding the key to an ancient mystery. Cool Pirates and Scary Robots. I find this a very poignant film with the lost floating kingdoms and once again the animation is gorgeous.

Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kiki is a young witch who must leave home and find her own town to a witch in. Phil Hartman does the voice of her black cat. No messages here other than ‘believe in yourself’. Very sweet

Princess Mononoke
Not for the littlies. Demons and monsters and evil men with a powerful be-good-to-the forests message. It is quite scary and graphic in places. Strong main characters and stunning animation. Does anyone anywhere do better water and sunlight and trees. The kids and I watched it twice on the day we first bought it. A big fave with my son

Howls Moving Castle

Last night, my daughter and I went halves in the new 2 disc set of this film that had a theatrical release last year. It is an adaptation of the book by Dianna Wynne Jones, a book which completely rocks. The movie strays from the plotline of the book but stays true to the spirit. Sophie Hatter is turned into an old woman by the Witch of the Waste and having nothing to lose, has the courage to leave her home town and have some adventures. She moves in as cleaning lady to the castle of Howl, evil heart-eating wizard, who is really a big spunk. Calcifer the fire Demon is so very funny and there is a subtle anit-war message. Once again, the animation is gorgeous. Read the book too

These are all the movies we own and having them all is just a matter of time, just as saving up to go the Studio Ghibli in Japan is. I hear they are doing ‘Wizard of Earthsea’ next, so that will be interesting. Well, we can garentee that is will have strong female characters, super cute sidekicks, humour, kindness and the most beautiful scenery in the history of....history

Alias Grace

Margaret Atwood Virago Books 1996 PB 545pp

“Out of the gravel there are peonies growing”

I finished this book a couple of days ago and continue in two minds about this “extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery”.
This is the first book by Margaret Atwood that I have read, having been so disturbed by the movie version of ‘The Handmaidens Tale’ all those years ago. I do not dispute that she writes well, but I hesitate to say that she writes what I want to read.

True Crime History – icky double murder in the mid 1850’s Canada. Young Grace Marks and surly James McDermott tried, found guilty and James swings for his crimes. Pretty little Grace spends 30 years in the gaol before being released and disappearing off the face of recorded history. There is so little known about this pair and their story that is could easily be construed as a authorial blank canvas. The voice of the author is heard strongly and the constant stories of abuse and mistrust and betrayal of women and children at the hands of men seem to be the point for the whole book rather than an examination of politics or the judicial system or an interesting story about a young girl or any of the many spins that could be been taken.

‘Alias Grace’ tells the imagined story of Grace’s life, from poverty in Ireland to Domestic Servant in Canada. The crime is recounted towards the end in flashback. Then there is a happy ending. Miss Atwood does write well – I was quite disturbed by this book - I would read it for a while and then lie there thinking ‘Are all my relationships based on greed and selfishness and weird sexual intrigue? Is there nothing honest and kind and true about any of the people that I know? Are my children doomed to unhappiness and loneliness and cruel manipulation?’

While there is not a female character in this book that you would happily invite for cake and gossip, I would not hesitate – even for a second – to send every single man in a rocket ship straight into the sun. No-one could ever accuse me of not being a card-carrying Feminist and supporter of Girls Who Write, but I do not see that all the men in such a genre have to be so very very very awful. It reads to me like whatever the girl equivalant of Misogyny is and is equally as distasteful.
The happy ending just feels tacked on and there really is no resolution of the ‘mystery’.

Back to St Vinnies for you, my dear

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The New World Order

Ben Jeapes Random House 2004 PB 441pp

“The castle stood alone and aloof at the top of a hill, surrounded by a hostile army.”

There are some days when you visit the library and you feel the best, the very best that you can hope for is a book NOT part of a trilogy.

With a cool front cover and a decidedly dodgy back cover – boys looking as uncomfortable in Cav as only boys uncomfortable with their sexuality can – somedays readers cannot be choosers.

Surprisingly this book was good – not great, not great by any means, but as brain candy goes, enjoyable enough.

Lumpy ol’ Cromwell and stuttering Charles are battling over Britian and in comes an invading force from another dimension. Looking like us – a bit stronger, better hearing etc – they are advanced enough to have zepphilins and machine guns which is enough to conquer the land, but not such a gap in technology there is no chance they will ever lose. They are lead by Dhon Do which is a stupid name but he is quite cool and I had the teeniest crush on him. Which then meant I wanted the invading force to win. It is left open for the sequel, but I am not sure if there is one.

Also fun is saying ‘jeapes’ - Try it – ‘jeeeeapes’ . I have included the picture of him with a cyberman ‘cause I have always held true to the tenet that if you are going to look like a nerd, then look like a nerd with a large silver robot by your side.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Orley Farm

Anthony Trollope 1st Pub:1862 This ed: (a replica reprint )Dover 1981 320pp
Illustrations by John Everett Millais

“It is not true that a rose by any other name will smell as sweet”

Ha Ha – all my esteemed literary readers will laugh along with me I am sure. I read this book because a) I do so love a good Victorian melodrama and b) I thought it was by one on my favourite authors – you know, that guy who wrote ‘Vanity Fair’ one of my favourite all time books. *Ha Ha* I can hear you all laughing now – imagine getting Trollope mixed up with Thackeray. Anthony with William Makepeace – I chortle still.

This was still a very enjoyable read – despite it having come to my bedside table under false pretences. A dense courtroom drama – perhaps not for the nervous beginner - revenge, love, retribution, lawyers, goodness and badness and several sweet romantic sub plots.

I think there is a vision of Victorian England as being very moralistic and hypocritical – fundamentalist even – in its views of right and wrong. I am sure that was true in the majority of cases, but books such as this delve deeply into the complex human psyche and no one is allowed to be simply all good and all bad. Our heroine, Lady Emily Mason should be a criminal but many work to save her from this fate – feelings of lawyerly professional pride or friendship or an innate sense of justice inspire them but in the end, Trollope asks us, who can be said to be good and who bad? Who should judge? And who decides the standards that we judge by?

Sitting somewhere between the serious social commentary of Elizabeth Gaskell and the more sugar-coated Dickens, despite not being by Thackeray, this novel is definitely worth the effort.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sandman Vols 1-4

Preludes and Nocturnes
The Doll’s House
Dream Country
Season of Mists

Neil Gaiman and a highly talented group of artists, DC Comics early 1990’s

Now, I once owned a number in this series, but alas they went the way of many ‘negatively charged’ items during those bright & shiny days before my son was born. I of course now regret this – if only because they are so expensive to replace and I have to borrow them from my sister. And then when I do borrow them, I am so polite that I only take the first four – and then of course I read them all quickly and now have to wait a long time before I have a chance to borrow the rest.

Dream takes the centre stage in these stories and is so very cool – all dark and brooding – as he charts the hero’s journey from his imprisonment and the subsequent path through freedom, loss, retribution and eventual forgiveness. He is not alone – the rest of his family ‘The Endless’: Death, Destiny, Despair and Desire do what siblings do best – help or hinder according to their nature. Of course, they all look stunning at the same time. Especially Death – I want to grow up to be her!

They are called graphic novels for a reason – Book 2 ‘The Doll’s House’ has ‘adult themes’ that have haunted me for the last 15 years. The art is amazing, from the traditional cartoon line drawings to the eerie/creepy/spooky/seriously weird-me-out photomontages at the beginning of each story. Definitely not for kids!

Grown up fairy stories – the old fashioned kind where Red Riding Hood gets eaten and the Prince slips on all the blood after stepsisters chop off their heels to fit the glass slipper.

Highly Recommended

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Pecked to Death by Ducks

Tim Cahill Vintage 1993 PB 375pp

“During the occupation of Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers often defecated in the finest rooms of the finest houses they could find”

This collection of 42 articles by the esteemed author of such classics as ‘A Wolverine is eating my leg’ and ‘Jaguars ripped my flesh’ originally appeared in such magazines as ‘National Geographic’ ‘Rolling Stone’ and ‘GEO’. An edgier more adventurous Bill Bryson – same humour value.

If I was richer and had some kind of fitness, it would be very cool to work my way through this book – sea kayaking off Southern California, rescuing giant sea clams in Tonga, being laughed at by apes on Mount Karisimbi, discovering the pristine gypsum caves of Lechuguilla – it just goes on and on.

Very funny, very enviable. Inspiring to keep me saving so I can trek that Inca Trail in 2009!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Three Men in a Boat

Jerome K Jerome Wordsworth First Published:1889. This Ed: 1993 185pp

“There were four of us – George and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency

In the days before we relied on ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Seinfield’ to show us the great truths of our age given life in comic form, there was ‘Three Men in a Boat’. It will outlast them all

I could quote some of the funny bits, but that would involve typing out the whole book and it would hard on your eyes at work to read it all. Buy it – it’s only slim, and if you thought Mr Pratchett was perfect for annoying a whole carriage full of commuters with your incessant snorting and guffawing, you ain’t seen nothing with this little beauty.

Also good on snowy Tasmanian camping trips

Time of Trial

Hester Burton Oxford University Press first Published 1963. This ed: 1973 PB215pp

“On that unlucky Monday late in the summer of 1801, Margaret Pargeter awoke to the chimes of the City churches striking six.’

This book from the condition of the lovely thick pages was read once and then put away on a dark shelf somewhere It was the winner of the 1963 Carnegie Medal, which in 2001 Terry Pratchett won for ‘The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents’. As award for children’s literature, I think ‘Time of ‘Trial’ book must represents a kinder gentler age in books for kids as even I was abit scared reading the Mr Pratchett’s scenes with those rats with their tales joined together.

Margaret lives with her naïve, scholarly father and her rebellious brother above the family bookshop in London. Her father, after a nearby tenament fire, publishes a pamphlet about the terrible conditions of the poor and this being English – land of the free – is promptly thrown in jail. The sullen brother has just run off the army and she is left without home or income. Luckily, the spunky medical student boarder is able to help, but I don’t think for a second Miss Burton forgets what a dangerous place the world has become for our heroine. She has little money, few connections or prospects and being female can hardly work. Although Mag’s is quite stoic about being sent to the country as a charity case, it also makes her very cross and sad at times, but luckily she never gives up hope and it has a very pretty ending and I cried, but once again that was probably because I was very tired at the time. (and not because I am a big sook)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Rats and Gargoyles

Mary Gentle Corgi 1990 PB 510pp

“In the raucous Cathedral Square the crowd prepared to hang a pig”

This was my light reading alternative as I am currently attempting to work my way through a book on ‘time’ which has lots about neutron stars and quantum physics and which I can read for about 30mins at a time before a)my head is done in and/or b) I drift off thinking about a cool SF plot time.

I was sure that I had read this before. Had not bought it in 2nd hand shops before as I was sure I had read it. It’s the cover and that big spooky bird. Anyway, I had not read it. Not even vaguely.

A book in which adjectives far outweigh both nouns and verbs (and all those other little joining words) combined.

A world in which all those funky medieval type woodcuts with gods and demons and Egyptian headdresses and Templar style glowing eyes on pyramids hermetic magia thingies are Real. Magic is Real. Humans at the bottom of the social ladder. Aristocrats, those with big houses and the good jobs are RATS (which freak me out even when they are walking upright, cool & funky and well dressed) and above them all are the Decan. The Decan are Gods, Gods on Earth. Gods that have gotten bored and grumpy and the plot is basically trying to save the world from a God with a Death wish.

It has a bibliography at the back, which is cool and although I didn’t always understand what was going on, I did enjoy the ride.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Human Stock

Vaughan Whitlock Temple
House PB 2001 396pp

“Eight years into the third millennium, the Australian Government, increasingly alarmed by recent escalations in world conflict, had not yet conceded there was nay real ganger to itself of Darwin, - a self-sufficient, but relatively small city with a population of just over one hundred thousand.”

I read this book last Friday night, after having bought in on the last day of my local Red Shield’s ‘All books 10c’ sale. I was ripped off

I am a girl very into ‘suspension of disbelief’. I love my unicorns and space ships and time travel and true love. All I ask is a well written story and cool characters. All we ever ask Mr Whitlock, is a well written story and cool
characters!!! What we have in ‘Human Stock’ is neither, and only makes the following all the more horrible

  • An apologist prologue by the editor explaining the bizarre contention of a world ruled by women
  • An underground city would be built in which to house people to outlive the coming Armageddon
  • It would house only about 200 hundred people
  • It would be in Darwin
  • It would be called ‘Bunkertown’
  • Family groups would be split up into mens, womens and childrens dormitories
  • Couples would be split up because there were not the medical facilities in ‘Bunkertown’ to deal with births and so everyone has to be celibate whilst living in ‘Bunkertown’
  • Not one women in ‘Bunkertown’ (ie chosen to be humanities last best hope) has any kind of skill or profession or indeed personality (oh, apart from the grumpy frigid ones who later grab power)
  • Uranuium having a half life of a year means people came come out of ‘Bunkertown’ after two years
  • A new town site is chosen after a conversation with the ‘town planner’, the ‘doctor’, the ‘builder’ and the ‘waste disposal engineer’
  • Because everyone was celibate for 2 years, anarchy and selfishness run riot in the new settlement. Families break down and what with all that rape and gratuitous coupling, babies are born that put pressure on the medical supplies
  • China survived nuclear war and refugees bring cloning technology to Darwin
  • We care about any of these horrible characters or the stupid society they build.

This is all in less than the first 100 pages. It gets so much worse. There are ‘plot’ devices that boggle the imagination. Maybe it made sense somewhere. It was just so icky and so very silly. If it hadn’t already been done, I would cheerfully say ‘nuke the site from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure’ and try and get on with
my life

I did not understand *and* I did not care!

ps the cover art is also truly horrible

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Foundling

Georgette Heyer 10th printing 1974 Pan Books PB 350pp

“When the young gentleman strolling through the park with his gun on his shoulder and an elderly spaniel at his heels cam within sight of the house it occurred to him that the hour must be farther advanced that her had supposed, for the sun had sunk below the great stone pile, and an autumnal mist was already creeping over the ground.”

Mmm, after having seen a thousand books by Miss Heyer and never having read one, I admit my interest was piqued by her novels being a category on the ABC’s Einstein Factor last year. However, I was mindful of the time several years ago when I was burnt badly by reading a Barbara Cartland omnibus. One ‘Duke’ book; kind of cute, two a little twee, and three…..well I remember I had to read some China Meiville to recover.

I think a single novel is a much more civilised way to approach this type of fiction. I admit Miss Heyer is cleverer and considerably more sly than Miss Cartland. Not so saccharine and maybe even alittle ‘unpredictable’. I found the habit of her characters to suddenly break into unintelligible Regency slang a little disconcerting and nobody went to the ‘Pump room’, but as this genre goes, I thought it quite sweet.

Good for train trips or those lazy days when you have enough of a cold not to go to work but are still to be able to justify not doing any housework.

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