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Monday, July 26, 2010

The Blurb: 20th July

Book News Tuesday 20th July 2010

Melbourne Writers Festival
The 25th Melbourne Writers Festival is only a few weeks away. The festival dates are 27 August to 5 September. The festival will feature over 300 writers from around the world. Debates, readings, performances, film screenings and workshops are just some of the events to enjoy.
Go to for program details and to purchase tickets.

Rudd’s Way November 2007 to June 2010 by Nicholas Stuart
Rudd’s Way by Nicholas Stuart is now in bookstores. Rudd’s Way is the first book about Kevin Rudd, following his departure as Prime Minister. Rudd’s Way examines the way Kevin Rudd operated. It presents an in-depth critical examination and analysis of the way Kevin Rudd’s government worked and why Labor eventually decided its leader had to be removed. The book examines the key events and crucial moments leading to Rudd’s downfall.
The book offers a revealing picture of the way Labor has already changed the country.

Printed book, a fast read. A recent study has found it is quicker to read a print version of a book than it is to read on Apple’s iPad or Amazon’s Kindle. While electronic book readers are stampeding the market, printed books are quicker and some believe more relaxing to read.
The Nielsen Norman Group recruited 24 participants, who enjoy reading and frequently read books, to conduct a readability study. The study tested each participant’s skill of reading. Each participant was exposed to an iPad, a Kindle, a PC and a printed book.

The study required participants to read a short story. On average, the story took 17 minutes and 20 seconds to read. Study results found the iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book. The Kindle measured at 10.7% slower reading speed than the printed book. The study was unable to determine which tablet offers the fasting reading speed.

Interesting fact
Melbourne boasts more bookshops per head than anywhere else in Australia

Review of “The Pleasure Seekers” by Tiushani Doshi, rrp $ 30, 314 pp.

Isn’t it one of the great joys of reading that via our imaginations we can become immersed in a new culture with all its sights and smells and sounds, its food and music, its beliefs and attitudes….without leaving home? We have spoken before on this program about the recent emergence of novels in English from the once “Asia Minor ”. The Middle Eastern writers have long been around as have authors from equally-exotic Anglophone places such as Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Thanks to Salman Rushdie, Vikram Seth and Rohinton Mistry, we have lately come to enjoy the life of contemporary India. Today’s novel again takes us in to the life of a family in the subcontinent.

Here we follow the life of Babo Patel from Madras in Tamil Nadhu, from 1968 until 2001, quite a history when one plots in the events that affected India so dramatically in those decades. The cover blurb accurately observes that this book by first-time New Delhi-based novelist Dashi is about “the quirks and calamities of an unusual clan in a story of identity, family and belonging”. Social observers remind us the Australian family is in the midst of change of a pace never before seen, and so Dashi takes us on the journey of change of this aspiring middle-class Indian family….not all that different in many ways to some of ours!

In the first half of the novel, young adult Babo is off to London for work and study. Raised a Jain [ non-smoking, vegetarian, non-drinking, pacifist, celibate,etc.] he is quickly captivated by the wiles of a still-swinging London, and before long falls in love [ for life, as it turns out] with a Welsh girl, the lively Sian. In spite of the sly manipulations of his parents back home, he marries Sian – but only on condition the newlyweds agree to live back in India for two years where Babo will learn his father’s business. Once in Madras Sian proves quick [and amazingly tolerant ] to immerse herself into the local way of life. She and Babo, however, still manage to maintain an almost independent, ‘nuclear’ family life with their two daughters. What seems to keep Babo in balance is his continued query: “ Is that all there is?”

In the second half, Dashi focuses even more sharply on Babo’s family though inevitably his hapless brother, Chotu, takes on bigger role. While our attention is always on these interesting and very human characters, Dasi never lets the reader forget the social milieu in which they move – or the historic events [assassinations,etc. ] that are constantly plaguing India. It is this subtle blending of these dimensions that create the novel’s lasting impact: this is a narrative of “ Mother India” at the end of the millennium.

What about the title – “ The Pleasure Seekers”? Dashi dedicated her first book to her parents ….” The first pleasure seekers”. Now, Babo and Sian are ‘in love ‘throughout the novel, and generally there is great joy in their love-making. But this is not about HEDONISM, pleasure for its own sake. The REAL “pleasure “ derived by these characters is usually OTHER-centred. The only really miserable character is Babo’s father, Prem, who is a caricature of the work-obsessed patriarch. By contrast, I must mention the wonderful Ba, the grandmother, the de facto matriarch, to whom though she lives miles away all turn when in trouble. She is a saintly, perhaps mystical figure, helping all and surviving every disaster. She is the loving heart of the Patel clan……but I have probably given too much away.

I find anything to do with India quite enthralling, but this is a gem of a novel: beautifully polished, not a word wasted and written in the most fluent of prose.

Read this book.

FOUR out of 5 [I have to wait for The Book OF My Life for a 5.]

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Twilight Companion: The unofficial guide to the bestselling twilight series
By Lois H. Gresh, 1st edition, Pan Macmillian, 2008
Book review by Lizzy Bilogrevic

Lois H.Gresh writes pop science/culture books including those for the young adult market. In fact, she’s a very successful author of about twenty-one books. She writes speculative fiction (especially science fiction), or about it, published mainstream by Wiley and Sons, Random House and St Martin’s Press. She is the New York Times Best-Selling Author (2008 & 2009) and has received the Bram Stoker Award for "superior achievement" in horror writing amongst other prestigious awards. She has co-written with U.S author Robert Weinberg about superheroes, supervillians and Stephen King .Her short story titles suggest she has a quirky sense of humour—Let me Make you Suffer, Psychomildew Love, Algorithms and Nasal Structures and The Lagoon of Insane Plants . . .

Recently, Gresh pens unauthorised guides and The Twilight Companion is one. Clearly, she exploits Stephenie Meyers Twilight saga, and the romantic rapture fans harbour for Bella Swan’s fur and fang blokes. Some chapters are in unabashed Twilight debrief mode, with nifty tips about dealing with, or more preferably dating, stand-ins for Myer’s werewolf Jacob or vampire Edward. The chapters are also interspersed with morbid or alluring material from film and literary sources and adds to the gamut of factors for Monster Loving. These include using garlic other than for Master Chef creations, coffin management in vampire urban legend, black cape adornment that predated Harry Potter, and modes of decapitation. So hey, it’s a far cry from Mrs Beeton guiding us in Household Management!

Gresh’s great strength is her well-researched and at times scientific backtracking into iconic snippets of vampire and werewolf legends, history and their rendering in the media. These are generally intelligent and succinct. For instance, her linking the origin of the name Nosferatu and snake venom, the history of Vlad the Impaler and recounting of Haitian werewolf vampire beliefs are exotic and engaging.

But the turn off were those quiz fillers. Gresh’s humour is corny; the “guidance” is lame. Surely it is evident that a whopping supply of sunblock would be an essential for a vampire lover! Then there is the Sex Appeal Quiz of Werewolf versus Vampire. It poses inane questions about our monster preferences. Do you want two legs or four with that? And wearing plastic attire to combat werewolf blood splatter ran on empty for me. Then there was the Romance Quiz. Having to ponder the lengthy string of questions that asked if I was “a

submissive person,” or “a sweet and caring person” seemed like protracted water torture. I almost shouted, “Crikey! Here comes another drop!” Perhaps these quizzes were to keep the reader vigilant after the weary rehash of Twilight.

There have been are mixed reviews. Readers have complained about Gresh’s impeccable historical or folkloric inserts, the Twilight content being the same old same old, and that it took forever to read. It would appear then, that the book’s fragmented structure was not what they were after, despite the book’s brilliant marketing position. That is, pitched to a young, female Twlight fan base.

To be fair, though, Gresh’s guide is the forerunner of similar products such as Diana Laurence’s 2009 How to Catch and Keep a Vampire: a step-by-step guide to loving the bad and the beautiful. Laurence expounds on why normal people fall for such sinister beings. And more crucially, what should we do about it when we do. Laurence claims she is the guru to turn to in such pressing matters.
Maybe young women need to know how tough it is to date vampires and werewolves and be warned about their respective aversions to garlic and silver bullets. And that it’s for better or worse—in a different vein. Maybe the guide will console a friend who has everything except a diversion for her lovelife glitches.
Yet, despite Gresh’s book being humourless, I applauded the sheer audacity of it. Her attempt at melding the pieces together makes it innovative.
All the same, the guide didn’t help me solve the burning question of whether Monster Loving was a bonus or curse. Perhaps some readers could be forgiven then, if they try slipping into something more comfortable and warily dip their toes into Gresh’s Lagoon of Insane Plantts.
RRP $24.99

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Blurb: July 6th


Book News

This Floating World.
This Floating World, a book-length poem has been adapted for a forthcoming theatrical performance at The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne. Passionate Melbourne poetry writer Libby Hart created This Floating World, a collection of 76 poems during an Australia Council for the Arts residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.

This Floating World is not complicated poetry it represents a portrait of Ireland and captures the country’s landscape. The work is a narrative of Ireland through a myriad of voices that belong to people, animals, birds, spirits and nature. The work is focused on how we are connected to all things and to each other. How we live and the dilemmas we face. This Floating World was chosen from about 80 entries submitted to the Australian Poetry Centre to be adapted into a one hour theatrical performance.

The Australian Poetry Centre will host a performance by Teresa Bell and Gavin Blatchford in This Floating World at The Wheeler Centre at 176 Little Lonsdale Street, Melbourne, on Sunday 11 July, 5.00pm – 6.00pm. Bookings Or call 03 9094 7826 Tickets $10.

Welcome to "The Making of Modern Australia".
Here you can share your stories about life in Australia from 1945 onwards. They might be funny or sad, big events or the small details of everyday life. Your stories will become part of a lasting record of Australia's history as told by the people who lived it — you and me.
You can add photos, video, audio and even live webcam recordings. To help you tell your story better, the MOMA site has plenty of tips and inspiring examples. And you don't have to be a computer whiz to join in.

Readings Monthly
Readings publish a great monthly newsletter, Readings Monthly, go to to subscribe. Each month the Readings Monthly highlights book, CD and DVD new releases.

Publishing News

* David Marr’s “Quarterly Essay” on the ex-PM [discussed here three weeks ago] will become a collector’s item….

* The current “ Geelong Addy” series on the Pyramid collapse looks like excellent reading. What a chapter in our history.
On the 50th anniversary of publication, Harper Lee’s famous novel about 1930s Atticus Finch and his family has been taken to task by a Richard King, “ a Perth-based critic”. Obviously Harper Lee in the 50s was not as politically sensitive as we like to think we now are…so, of course, she doesn’t analyse Uncle Tom racism as a Richard Wright, a James Baldwin or a Toni Morrison has. Give her a break, Richard. What a book it is!.

*Books about reading. Recently, Brenda Walker’s. this week a Turkish-American – Elif Batuman tells us about her gradually-developing obsession with RUSSIAN novels. Unless you are familiar with the literature, just read the Introduction.

* FACT….or OPINION. How good are we at discerning the difference? [ It’s something VCE English student grapple with as part of their Yr11/12 assessment.] I have trouble when,eg, Nicolas Rothwell displays a very considered yet unchanging point of view on NT Indigenous politics in his writings for “ The Australian”…and then purports to be an objective observer in a book such as his very readable and entertaining “The Red Highway”. Am I being pedantic? After all, Dickens [ cf ABC 1 Sunday at 8.30 for “ Little Doritt” ] was the most didactic of writers and a social reformer of great effect.*

* My colleague John [ Bartlett] and I thought we could discuss another side of this debate in view of the current love some novelists have of “ mixing’ obvious autobiography with more conventional fiction [ eg J M Coetzee.etc.] Or perhaps it has always been so.
I mentioned books on our current wars earlier this year, told in the American context. Both have been extensively reviewed of late in our papers, etc. BOTH are excellent and available in our public libraries.

Lizzy’s Book Review

Now that the movie Eclipse has opened this month, there must be a resurgence of fans poring over their old imprints and new readers seduced by the film, hitting the print market. Needless to say, whoever skips down this path of enticement, the earlier novels of Twilight and New Moon are prerequisite reading. That way reader can be orientated to the drizzly landscape of Forks, Washington, with its ongoing machinations of supernatural hierarchy and teenage angst.

Ok, so everyone knows the Twilight saga, genre paranormal romance or romantic fantasy written for the young adult fiction market, was a publishing phenomenon. The author, Stephenie Meyers, supposedly tackled these immense texts after having had an intense dream. She apparently ordered take out dinners and rejected her former activities of scrap booking and running up Halloween outfits for her children. All in the name of writing.

In the Eclipse tome, the story of wilful teenager Bella Swan and her Adonis vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen, resumes. They reunite following their tortuous parting in New Moon and the final destination of the book is the setting up for Bella’s nuptials with Edward and subsequent transformation into a bloodsucking immortal for the next book, Breaking Dawn.

Yet Forks is fraught with menace. Bella’s best friend, the werewolf Jacob Black, simmers with his inherited ancient hatred against vampires and love for Bella. A rash of murders in nearby Seattle threatens to become a new vampire threat in the small town.
Certainly, Eclipse is a clever piece of work. It reworks stock horror into something fresh in a market awash with horror tales of the supernatural. Bram Stoker already set the bar in 1897 with his gothic novel, Dracula; Anne Rice’s Lestat had readers nibbling between1976-2003. Yet, part of Eclipse’s accessibility is that like Rowling’s Harry Potter series—Meyer’s fantasy is grounded in present time. And common vampire fiction tropes, including fur versus fangs, vampire apocalypse, superhuman strengths and vegetarian vampires, are securely

embedded. But then, Meyer mixes these in with insightful pictures of teenage emotional obsessions, issues and the supremacy of pheromones. The focus on Jacob at the end of the book and the passion between him and Bella works, ending with a rather tragic epilogue from Jacob’s point of view.

Meyer’s most powerful emphasis of all, though, is the romance of hooking up with bloodsuckers. As it should be. Vampire fiction is just that: a tale of getting loaded up with an irresistible and usually loaded vampire. No wonder Chelsea Quinn Yarbro created her vampire cycle (began in 1979), based on the historical character of Compte St. Germain. He enticed all he met by the romance, wealth and magnetism of his shadowy person.
The erotic undercurrent in Eclipse is also in keeping with vampire fiction. But it makes the snogging in Harry Potter look as mundane as a margarine sandwich. Bella swoons over Edward in the meadow or in her bedroom; she dallies with an overheated Jacob who is in dire need of a shirt and long johns.

This eroticism is not masked by Meyer’s moral hygiene either. The love triangle of Bella, Edward and Jacob dilutes the author’s somewhat shaky messages of not resisting to temptation, old soul connections and the inevitability and addiction of love.

Maybe the book does slide into soap opera. There are info dumps about tragic historical back-stories of characters, Bella’s vacillates between her two admirers and has a tendency towards histrionics. Everyone looks good and no-one takes out the rubbish. We experience the final battle too late and only in part with the major battle between the vegetarian vampires and their bloodthirsty counterparts described by third parties, skidding on thin ice when it comes to motive. The endless carping about Edward’s beauty and long tracts of teen banter kills the tension in parts of the book.

But, despite all that, Meyer’s formula sells. Perhaps, after all, we hanker for monsters in a realistic and dangerous world. But danger can be handled and we get to choose our own destinies. I am unsure, though, what part the erotics of abstinence play in the book’s success, but it does not detract from the fantasy of secret love trysts in the Twilight Zone.
Book in stock, new RRP $24.95, in Angus and Robertson but prices vary

Lizzy’s Film Review
Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart)
Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson)
Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner)
Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard)
Director: David Slade
Score: Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings)
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe (The Others)
Screenwriter: Melissa Rosenberg
Summit Entertainment

The movie Eclipse has made two hundred and sixty-one million dollars worldwide and successfully compresses Stephenie Meyer’s tome of teenage love with the Otherworld into a linear, one-dimensional tale. It does crank up the dramatic tension and mixes in a Walking Dead violence that its predecessors Twilight and New Moon did not have.

Maybe this is as good as it gets with the Twilight saga. David Slade has already directed a vampire movie: 30 Days of Nigh. He brings us some scary vampires in Eclipse: Riley and Victoria who are the quite unlike the cultured and powerful Volturi bloodsuckers we saw in New Moon. The vengeful Victoria creates a rabble of newborn vampires amongst the filth and shadows of the Seattle monorail; Riley carries her evil plan to fruition. On the other hand, we get to see the Cullen clan, (our favourite benign. “vegetarian” vampires who sport some beguiling hair dos), honourably defend Bella and strut their stuff alongside their enemies the werewolves in a brutal battle against the newborns.

As in the book, the story of teenager Bella Swan and her vampire boyfriend Edward Cullen, resumes after their split in New Moon. Bella, now obsessed with Edward, hurtles towards becoming a bloodsucking immortal and Edward’s wife by her own choice. Bella’s best friend, the werewolf Jacob Black, simply sizzles onscreen baring his abundantly muscled torso and unrelenting love for Bella. We get the real blast of the love triangle: scenes of chesty Jake carrying Bella to safety and keeping her warm at night, whilst Edward is somewhat simpering and reluctantly agrees with these arrangements. The weakest point of the story arc is the focus on characters urging Bella out of her self-destructive craving for vampiredom.

I must admit, though, the film beats the book. The torturous process of conversion to a newborn vampire, aptly described in the book is not fully depicted in the film. That is all what is needed here. And the flashback info dumps of back-story history such as the origin of the werewolf and vampire treaty, vampire Jasper and Rosalie’s conversion stories work better visually. Edward’s appearance deviates from Adonis to a coifed James Dean who captures us with his amber-coloured contact lenses. Best of all, there was no endless carping about Edward as eye candy or banal tracts of teenage banter. Rosenberg’s screenplay retains iconic lines and scenarios such as Charlie Swan’s sex talk to Bella. Quality cinematography tempers the soap opera aura of the book.

But Eclipse is not the greatest vampire movie of all time. Take the 1987 teenage vampire movie, The Lost Boys, directed by Joel Schumaker. Characters had big hair too but it had the star power of Dianne Weist, Edward Hermann, Keifer Sutherland and wicked humour of Barnard Hughes. Eclipse spins on its sober axis of warnings about pre-marital sex and star-crossed lovers and greatly differs in moral tone from the “sleep all day, party all night” mantra of The Lost Boys.

All the same, the young stars of Eclipse shine for its mostly younger audience. So far, it is the best screen adaption of the Twilight books and would appeal to most fans of the books.

Perhaps, though, the next big thing might be a rush on amber-coloured contact lenses and a revamp of big hair . . .