Archive for January, 2010

Bookseller Rating: 5-star rating
Quantity Available: 1

Book Description: AN EXPRESS MEDIA PUBLICATION. ‘CLASSIC’ ISSUE. VERY GOOD, COVER TEAR UPPER RIGHT QUAD, GIFT QUALITY. Slight separation and fold between cardboard layers in bottom right quad. Ed.: Bel Monypenny. Contents include pieces by 2009 winners The John Marsden Prize for Young Australian Writers 2009. Inscription from Nam Le to Estelle Tang reads: ‘To Estelle – If you really [underlined] wanted to meet me – why are you fleeing/flying?’ and signature. Upper right quad. First printing. Front hinge is cracked. Gloss card cover with white and red lettering on spine. Black boards with gold lettering on the spine. Off-white pages and brown print. The text is clean and intact. Flush cut pages. Binding is PAPER BACK. DATE PUBLISHED: 2009. 210 x 297 mm.

Bookseller Inventory # 150098

Bookseller contact: 3000 BOOKS

Thoughts before reading: It’s got a family tree. I hate books with family trees. If I can’t remember who the characters are, you’re not doing your job properly, Author. Is that a typo I see? This book looks dense. I guess I’ll just borrow this one from Maddie and see how it goes.

Thoughts at page 90: This is is quite good. Bit draft-ish, which is not surprising considering Larsson passed away just after handing in the manuscripts for publication. The characters are totally insane. I’ve always loved a heroine with her own odd sense of morality outside that imposed by society, and Lisbeth Salander is exactly that. Odd, attractive, with a penchant for slogan t-shirts (‘Armageddon was yesterday – today we have a serious problem’), mistreated by a government welfare system that doesn’t understand her and governed by her own fierce independent intelligence, Salander is such a sympathetic character. I like Mikael Blomkvist, too: a journalist down in the dumps after being found guilty of libel. But of course, Larsson shows the depth of his integrity by making him the author of a book on the incompetence of Swedish financial journalists. This will be a pretty good ride.

Page 194: Hilarious Apple computer fetish. ‘Unsurprisingly she set her sights on the best available alternative: the new Apple PowerBook G4/1.0 GHz in an aluminium case with a PowerP.C. 7451 processor with an AltiVec Velocity BlueTooth and built-in C.D. and D.V.D burners.’ Also, quaint punctuation.

Page 201: There’s a section explaining the Swedish government’s social welfare protection system, which Salander is subject to as someone under the social and psychiatric guardianship of the state. It’s oddly placed and reads like a footnote, but it’s fascinating. There’s no doubt what Larsson thinks: ‘Taking away a person’s control of her own life – meaning her bank account – is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose, especially when it applies to young people.’ It’s a sobering portrait of the weaknesses of the Scandinavian welfare states. Another thread that runs through the book is the cruelty of violence against women, represented through the vicious rape of Salander by someone who should be protecting her. Each part of the book begins with a statistic: ’18% of the women in Sweden have been threatened by a man’, and the original Swedish title of the book was ‘Women Who Hate Men’.

Page 470: Shit, what time is it? I can’t feel my legs.

Page 504: THIS IS AMAZING.

THE END: Nooooooooooo holy mother of Beatrice. That was SO GOOD. Bring on the next one.

January 22, 2010

…then everything has worked and 3000 BOOKS is no longer hosted at Blogger, but at its very own domain: www.3000books.com.au. If you are reading this in a feed, please click through to have a look at the new site, because it’s a cubular pastel dream. Everything I’ve ever wanted in a blog layout. The person responsible is my friend Rowan McNaught, professional hand-holder, perceptive computer psychic and dude of artistic proportions.

I think Rowan engineered the changeover to ensure that no one has to manually change their feeds over or do anything too big to keep hanging out. Small administrative tasks are bad. But. If there have been any problems with the switch over to the new site, like you somehow stumble across this site in three years having suddenly lost your feed, and subsequently lost interest in favour of The Wire, or if I have accidentally flooded your RSS reader with every single post I’ve ever written – sorry! I’ll give you a cuddle later. Okay, not really. I’m not the hugging kind. More a smack on the bottom. In the good way.

Have a good weekend! I will – I’m reading the second Stieg Larsson book. And probably the third as well.

January 20, 2010

Indian mynas: what a pest. Picture from here.

It’s been a little bit quiet here since I got back from my holiday. But I’ve been working on some big stuff, so bear with me. Until then, here are some reviews of other stuff (i.e. not books).

Being so confounded by the early morning start to realise that one of my hosts yesterday, when I did a book review on Breakfasters, was none other than Dave Lawson of the tighty-whities: Stupid, but not surprising. I’m not a morning person.

‘The Sock Shop’ polka-dot tights: I wear tights a lot. Most Melbourne girls do, even in summer. I think we have a Zooey Deschanel complex. So, polka-dot tights = good. But The Sock Shop tights = bad. Baggy at the knees after two washes, and I take fairly good care of my tights. I wash them in nice detergent. I wash them in cold water, because water that’s hotter than thirty degrees ruins the elastic. Sometimes I even handwash them, for the love of lycra. But no amount of coddling can make this crap vestment a good investment.

‘Razzamatazz’ vintage lilac pantihose: Contains almost the whole of the word ‘panties’, which is my least favourite word in the world, partly because it represents the convergence of two vastly different vocabularies: that of nice old ladies and that of gross old dudes. In addition to that, tore at the big toe after one wear. Verdict: bad, but it’s okay because they were a dollar.

The word ‘sesquipedalian’: For use only by people who are ‘smug’ and ‘annoying’.

Joanna Newsom anticipation: I don’t give a crap if you think that liking Joanna Newsom means I would like to be friends with a squirrel. In fact, I would love to be friends with a squirrel. Have you seen Snow White? Anyway, my animal friends and I are going to eat some pizza and then go freak out about harp music tonight. Verdict: I’m long-toothed, but with excitement.

Having a cold: Sucks.

Cheekbones of the girl on my tram today: Impressive, tapering.

‘Lucky’ Fruit & Nut Mix – Nuts, Seeds & Cranberries: Invaluable for feeding my squirrel friends (and me).

Soy chai at Laurent: Worst beverage partaken of since I inadvisedly ordered orange juice at our crappy hotel in Mirissa. Also came with an overweight indian myna (or was it a pigeon?) fluffing around in the leftovers of the frangipane tart on the table next to us. Verdict: Soy BYE, more like it.

First 300 pages of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Makes it rather difficult to pay attention to the traffic these last couple of days. I was supposed to go to bed early to nurse myself through my cold, but ended up just reading a massive chunk of this thing. I regret only borrowing one of the three books from Maddie. These books are like heroin, only cheaper and less life-destroying.

My fringe: A board of critics composed solely of Dulux dogs agree that it is the exact correct length for good aesthetics but poor vision.

Johnny Depp handbag I saw on a lady a Parliament Station: An inexplicably literal way to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve, no?

January 18, 2010

I’m as little physically intrepid as it is humanly possible for a person to be. I do not like rollercoasters. I do not like to change hairdressers very often. God forbid that I go on some kind of orienteering foray of an afternoon. And I detest horror movies. A girl like that needs to get her kicks from somewhere, and I am lucky to be able to satisfy my minimal urges for life’s tasty variety through…can you guess? Books? Oh, you’re so smart. Let me buy you a drink.

You may scoff, but if you don’t think that words can help you can swim in adventure straits, then you haven’t read Crime and Punishment. Or Memoirs of a Bugatti Hunter. Or Liar by Justine Larbalestier. Reading this book is like walking a tightrope. I’m not saying it’s some kind of literal safari or anything. But Liar is certainly a masterful exercise in maintaining reader tension: it’s tight, then lulled, then tight again, all the way to its extraordinary end. And even then, I wasn’t quite sure whether I was off the ride yet.

My father is a liar and so am I.
But I’m going to stop. I have to stop. I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight.
No lies, no omissions.
That’s my promise.
This time I truly mean it.

‘Telling the Truth’: such is our introduction to Micah Wilkins. She’s a liar, and we’re duly warned. So we stick with her through all the stories she tells, and there are a lot. Micah starts off with the time she perpetuated the fiction that she was a boy at school. Then, she tells you about her half-black, half-white family, which includes a strange branch of reclusive folk on a two-hundred acre farm. There’s her brother, Jordan. And there’s Zach, her boyfriend. Two pages in, though, and Zach is missing. Three pages, and Zach is dead.

The death of a young boy is a tragedy anywhere, but in a high school, it’s a trigger. Even at a progressive high school like the one Micah attends, the news is a spritzer pill in a glass of water. Zach’s ‘real’ girlfriend, Sarah, is surprised that he had anything to do with Micah, as is everyone else. Micah is a ‘freak’, a loner. The tacit avoidance Micah usually countenances in her school days becomes full-blown hostility as people begin to suspect she had something to do with Zach’s death. But some of the people around her realise that there’s more to her than strangeness and untruths, and as all this unravels, so too do Micah’s stories. ‘I haven’t been entirely honest,’ she says. Perhaps the liar is becoming a truth teller? If so, then who is Micah really?

In Micah, Larbalestier has created a character whose reliability is inversely proportionate to her appeal. Excruciating though Micah’s physical and psychological instability is for her, she is also a deeply fascinating and vital character. The danger with a book focused on the dichotomy of truth and lies is the potential prioritisation of a moral axis of some kind, but we’re never in any danger of that in Liar. Sensitive exploration of the adolescent spikes of identity is what we get instead. Identity is a popular topic in young adult fiction, and it’s well explored here, with fantasy, metaphor and reality holding hands. Micah is a rustling, sparking ball of falsehood and confusion in the midst of youth’s mysterious hot heat, which Liar evokes superbly. Larbalestier shows how the distinction between reality and fantasy becomes moot in that context, because thinking and feeling is just that difficult, alien and animal. It’s this insight and compassion that makes Liar a riveting, supremely put together book about the addictive utility of saying things that are not true.

My friend Jonathan, who accompanied me on my holiday in Sri Lanka, is a keen photographer, so I thought I’d ask him how to take a good shot of Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family. ‘You want an awesome shot?’ he asked. ‘Okay.’


Not exactly what I’d had in mind.

What I did have in my mind after reading Running in the Family, though, was a wonderful, intimate portrait of 1920s Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon. Though Ondaatje is well known for his fiction, including Booker Prize winner The English Patient, he is also a poet and non-fiction writer, and now lives in Canada. Running in the Family was a product of multiple visits Ondaatje took to the land of his childhood and is the product of his attempts to comprehend and reconstruct those years. Though it can be classed as a memoir, Ondaatje alludes to his process of storying the material: ‘I must confess that the book is not a history but a portrait or “gesture”‘. If it is to be termed as such, then this book is a gesture of grace and colour; a promise to bear, carry and perform history as if drunk on memory.

Oft-colonised Sri Lanka has a fascinating and tortuous history, and its parapets and creoles multiply with alarming alacrity for a reader unversed in that history. It’s pleasing, then, that while this book has a personal, familial focus, it can also illuminate certain aspects of the events that shaped the island nation. Ondaatje, as a scion of a well-known Burgher family, is well positioned to cast light on some of those events. At one point, he visits with John Kotalawela, Sri Lanka’s third Prime Minister, who served in the Ceylon Light Infantry with Ondaatje’s father, Mervyn. But this is not a political memoir; it is a personal one, and Ondaatje’s telling of the meeting is dominated by the fact that the animals in the household were fed before the people, while the meeting itself centres around the wildness Kotalawela remembers in Ondaatje’s father.

Of all the memorable personalities that appear in Running in the Family, and there are many, Mervyn Ondaatje is one of the most arrestingly portrayed. Sent down from Oxford University for a prank, Mervyn was a ‘veriest rogue’ kind of fellow: wilful, changeable and a terrible dipsomaniac for a good part of his younger years. Thoughtful and loving when sober, and unstoppably manic when inebriated, Mervyn once took off all his clothes on a train and threatened the driver with death unless he stopped the train. He proceeded to then go through all the passengers’ luggage, claiming that bombs were secreted there. When he lined up the ‘bombs’ outside, they were pots of buffalo curd, a common Sri Lankan foodstuff. Tales such as these are not told with bitterness or aggression, but rather keen curiosity and tenderness.

Just as Running in the Family is not a political memoir, neither is it a linear one. Short chapters with headings like ‘The Courtship’, ‘Monsoon Notebook (i)’ and ‘St. Thomas’ Church’ are interspliced with pictures of the Ondaatje family and their friends, including the only picture the author has of his parents together: an expensive black-and-white portrait in which they are both making mischievous monkey faces rather than the staid smiles dictated by the age. In some instances, Ondaatje chooses to interpret his recollections through the medium of poetry, and though his poems are strikingly heart-on-sleeve (or they were for me, obedient denizen of a satirical age), they are also strikingly, heavily evocative and often sensual, as in ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’:

I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers

And of course, through the filter of Ondaatje’s anecdotes, the wondrous splendour of Sri Lanka itself is radiantly apparent. Despite its political troubles, it is a land of diverse beauty and the source of innumerable stories. Whether detailing the procedure with which he would, as a young boy, ride the giant kabaragoya and thalagoya lizards over a wall; or writing about ‘the most beautiful alphabet’ of the Sinhalese language, ‘created without straight lines because the locals wrote on brittle Ola leaves that would fall apart if a straight line was wrought through it’; or explicitly treating the many names and identities – Serendip, Ratnapida, Taprobane, Zeloan, Zeilan, Seylan, Ceilon, Ceylon – of his home country, Ondaatje continually adverts to the multifaceted allure of Sri Lanka. Since it is Ondaatje, this is done, as are all other tasks in this book, with deceptively casual grace.

In Running in the Family, Ondaatje writes of ‘a house that is an island’, and this book could easily be subtitled ‘an island that was many lives’. With prose – and sometimes verse – that easily echoes the gravid air of Sri Lanka and the lyrical anarchy of his parents’ social set, Ondaatje uncovers a series of familial narratives with sweetness and a meandering intent that are lovely to behold.


It’s safe to say that we’re used to thinking of the living and the dead as pretty different creatures. Leave it to Neil Gaiman – winner of winner of 3 Hugos, 2 Nebulas, 1 World Fantasy Award, 4 Bram Stoker Awards, 6 Locus Awards, 2 British SF Awards, 1 British Fantasy Award, 3 Geffens, 1 International Horror Guild Award and 1 Mythopoeic – to bring members of the two camps together in his newie, The Graveyard Book, which has wonderful illustrations, just this side of spooky, by Chris Riddell.

Nobody Owens is just a baby when the man Jack enters his home and kills his family. Nobody – Bod – escapes the same fate, having wandered out of his cot, and his room, out into the night and into a graveyard. A plump and shimmering woman, Mrs Owens, is surprised to see him there. She is, after all, a ghost, and babies fleshy with life don’t often stumble into graveyards at night. Her bafflement doesn’t last long, however, and Mrs Owens persuades her husband, Mr Owens, that they should take care of the baby. They ensure that his childhood is safe and loving, and the Freedom of the Graveyard enables him to see in the dark and walk some ways that living usually cannot.

But it is Bod the man Jack was after, and even in the graveyard, he is not safe, for Jack is still searching him out. To make sure Bod is prepared for the Outside, his guardian, Silas, seeks out an education for him that covers everything from his letters to Fading and Sliding and Dreamwalking. These lessons prove useful, whether to escape the company of Ghûlheim’s ghouls, Victor Hugo and the Thirty-Third President of the United States (they take their names from the last meal they had), or the mysterious fright of the Sleer, which slumbers in a tomb beneath the graveyard. Of course, it’s not only the lessons he received that helps Bod to emerge from these otherworldly encounters unscathed; often, his survival depends on his thoughtful nature and his quick wits.

In The Graveyard Book, like many of Gaiman’s other works, we see what might happen if our ‘normal’ world was revealed to have fantastic elements operating throughout it. Gaiman is adept at adopting various mythical characters – witches, werewolves, ghouls, ghosts – and creating circumstances for them to collide with regular people. He also throws in a couple of his own creations, and other novelty in his storytelling comes from playful cross-history tension – when quizzed about his education to date, Bod says: ‘Letitia Borrows teaches me writing and words, and Mr Pennyworth teaches me his Compleat Educational System for Younger Gentlemen with Additional Material for those Post Mortem.’ It’s always a pleasure to see how Gaiman tumbles wondrous creatures free from their historical binds, and The Graveyard Book‘s recombinant mythmaking continues his track record of creating delightful otherworldly entertainment.