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27 February 2008

Garfield minus Garfield

What is reading?

I was listening to the audiobook of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope this morning on the bus, and I thought Is this reading?

My immediate thought was no. Reading has to have words printed on a page. Then I thought of Shaun Tan's The Arrival, which has no words, but is definitely read.

But you don't read a painting in a gallery. Do you?

You do read:
-sheet music

Wikipedia says: Reading is the cognitive process of deriving meaning from written or printed text. I am not so sure.

23 February 2008

Saturday morning rant (story v language)

I've been thinking a lot about the war that is being fought between story and language.

It shouldn't be a war. Language and story should work together. But people don't seem to want to let them, and so they fight.

I heard someone say recently that they didn't like books they couldn't put down. This person felt manipulated by a gripping plot. I found this astonishing.

It goes hand-in-hand with the snobbery towards mass-market fiction, chicklit (see Maureen Johnson's awesome post for more on that) and, of course, YA.

Nick Hornby has this to say:

“In a way, I think all books should be teen books. I can read them quickly without getting bogged down, and feel I’ve read something that was meant in the way literature’s supposed to be. They’re very digestible, designed not to bore people.”

But if you have a look at the kind of books that win the Miles Franklin and the Booker, it seems pretty clear that the literati don't agree. Literature needs to be dense, beautiful and obfuscating.

I love beautiful language. Writers like Margaret Atwood (pre-Oryx & Crake), Jorge Louis-Borges and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And of course the beautiful-language YA writers Ursula Dubosarsky, Margo Lanagan and David Almond. But as well as having a truly magical control over language, all these writers also know how to tell a cracking good story.

Making stories is an art. It's difficult and complex and there are rules and structures, and if you don't want to stick to those rules and structures, then fine, but you'd better have a damn good reason. In my four years of studying creative writing at Uni, not one class mentioned the importance of structure, except of course, for my screenwriting class.

The story vs language brawl spills over into visual media as well. Film can be loved by our intellectual elite because of its 'language' - the cinematography, metaphor and mood. Television, however, is much more reliant on story. Smaller screens, heavily prescribed time limits, and a need for continuity mean that TV shows have more rules and structures.
But that doesn't mean they can't be art, too. There is often more thought, care, craft, put into an episode of The West Wing, Six Feet Under or Veronica Mars, than into a feature film of the kind that our intellectual elite favour.

I'm not really sure where this rant is heading. I suppose it's a plea. Don't be ashamed to read The Da Vinci Code just because it's mass market fiction. There are plenty of other reasons to be ashamed (ie: it's crap). Embrace your love of chicklit (and its cinematic equivalent, the romcom). Read a fantasy novel. Watch Battlestar Galactica.

Yes. There is bad chicklit. And bad fantasy novels. And books like The Da Vinci Code.

But here's a revalation: there's a lot of bad books, full stop. Some of them have won prestigious literary awards.

You will judge a book by its cover - everyone does. I certainly do. But I try not to judge books by what section of the bookshop they are shelved in*.

Send in the peacekeepers! End the war! Give story a chance.

*This isn't entirely true. I tend to avoid self-help and true-crime. But in terms of fiction, I'm showing the love for all shelves.

13 February 2008


Over at insideadog, Maureen Johnson is putting to the test the theory that all books are made better with a zombie.
And you're invited! Transform a work of existing literature by adding a zombie. You might even win a prize...
Here's examples from Maureen, Justine and Scott. And here's mine, with apologies to Walt Whitman:

O ZOMBIE! my Zombie! our fearful trip is done; 

Our bodies weather'd every whack, the brains we sought are nom nom nom; 

Our lunch is near, the bells I hear, the people all screaming, 

While follow eyes the zombie reel, our onslaught grim and daring: 

But O brains! brains! brains!

O the bleeding drops of red, 

Where on the deck my dinner lies, 

Fallen cold and dead.


Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

(the rest is here)

09 February 2008

Santos for President!

Er, I mean Obama. Are they actually different people?

There's been much Debate amongst the troops about whether we like Santos Obama or Hillary better. And I know there must be many Americans who are also struggling with this decision. So, for all of the THOUSANDS of Americans that I know read this blog, here is my helpful guide:

Candidates as gaming consoles (Hillary is the well-funded and experienced Xbox 360, Santos Obama: "Yes Wii Can!")

Candidates as D&D characters.

Candidates as Muppets (thanks, Snazzy!)


This is a really useful website that has a QUIZ to match your priorities against the candidates'. Environment and Education make me squarely on the Santos Obama train.

08 February 2008

Overheard in Melbourne Central

Skanky Teen Girl #1: Ohmigawd, have youse read that book Twilight?

Skanky Teen Girl #2: Huh?

STG #1: Twilight? It's Stephanie Meyer? It's the BOMB.

STG #2: Books? Yuck?

STG #1: No, I know that, you know, teachers say you fall in love with a character in a book? And I'm all like gross? That's so dumb? But I swear, chapter one of Twilight and I just... you just... he's so...

STG #2: Shut up. Let's go to Supré .