Ultimate book Q&A … on it goes

Lovely Michelle who writes a beautiful blog, Book to The Future has tagged me in a lovely Ultimate Book Q&A.

Here are the Ultimate Book Q&A Rules

1. Post these rules
2. Post a photo of your favourite book cover
3. Answer the questions below
4. Tag a few people to answer them too
5. Go to their blog/twitter and tell them you’ve tagged them
6. Make sure you tell the person who tagged you that you’ve taken part!

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There be monsters – in praise of wild things and the darkness of childhood

‘Childhood is cannibals and psychotics vomiting in your mouth!’

Maurice Sendak died this week. As a child, his books were like sacred objects, which to me, is against the spirit of his work completely. Not only did I have to wash my hands before I touched them, I was not allowed to pore over these books without supervision. This is because almost all the copies we had were hardbacks, neatly covered in opaque library plastic, carefully hoarded by my teacher-librarian mother and protected by her from the sticky, dirty, page bending hands of children. They are even now, more than 30 years later, still in pristine condition; withstanding three children and five grandchildren.

As an adult, with my own sticky, dirty, page bending, book chewing child, this makes me incredibly sad. So I let him have them, all of them. And they are all paperbacks, and if we have to have two copies of each to see us through his childhood, then so be it.

Of course, being forbidden, only increased their cachet. More than once, I read them on the quiet, hoping I wouldn’t get sprung. Aside from being well looked after, they were also beautiful and subversive books, featuring imagery and themes, seldom dealt with in children’s literature.

I still remember the mild scandal that erupted about In the Night Kitchen, which features Mickey’s naked bottom, not to mention the rest of him. This was the cause of some consternation among librarians, although it was fair to say not my mother, who had bought it for the school library. In The Night Kitchen deals with falling into the dark, and indeed the bakers all have strangely even, square and short moustaches. The oven imagery is thinly veiled, in my opinion, and Sendak confirmed in interviews, that the references are indeed a comment on the Holocaust. Much more concerning you would think, than a naked bum or the full frontal Mickey.

A baby is snatched away by goblins in Maurice Sendak's Outside Over There. The beloved author and illustrator — who took a darker approach to children's storytelling — died Tuesday at the age of 83.

A baby is snatched away by goblins in Outside Over There. Image: Harper Collins.

Outside Over There, less well-known than Where the Wild Things Are, features incredibly distracted parental figures, who so preoccupied with themselves and their love, leave their eldest daughter in charge of her younger sibling. Young Ida is initially no match for the goblins who kidnap her baby sister while she plays her wonder horn. An allegory for children everywhere, that sometimes you just have to fix it yourself and be courageous and brave. Rescuing your little sister, what higher achievement could you wish? The dark themes of this book have so far washed over my toddler, although he recognises that the baby is in trouble and needs saving. In the middle where the illustrations are of all the crying babies the goblins have kidnapped, he shouts loudly about how sad they are.

I let him have Higglety Pigglety Pop! too. Subtitled There must be more to life, it tells the story of a dog called Jennie who has everything, but is desperately unhappy. It is the story of how having everything handed to you can make you unhappy, and that to be fulfilled, you need to pursue your own dreams – even if that means saving baby from being eaten by the lion and joining ‘The World Mother Goose Theatre’. This book too, features distracted, ill-attentive adults. In Higglety Pigglety Pop, the parents of the baby move house, and forget to take her with them. It is a book for older children, and yet despite the density of the text, the story carries Benedict along, just not in a single sitting, yet.

Sendak understood how frightening childhood could be, how images and ideas, without comprehension of context, could loom large; being considered wild, being naked and having grand plans, could all get you into trouble with adults. Could lead to being sent to bed, which for some children was a blessing, as it meant getting out of eating your dinner, a torture all of its own. The sadness a child feels when she realises that these adults have no idea what they are doing, is a sadness that never leaves a person. What Sendak’s books give you is a sense that it doesn’t matter if the world is a confusing mess, you can work it all out for yourself and that sometimes the monsters are just that little bit closer than you imagine.

Amanda Katz writes in an essay for NPR books, that it is the adults who are scared of Sendak’s books, not the children. She writes:

‘Meanwhile, he [Sendak] reminds adults — even those of us who were once those young and fascinated readers, but who are grown now — to trust our children, who may in the end be less fearful of climbing outside than we are to watch them do it.’

Fortunately, while my mother was over-protective of the precious books, she let us climb out of the windows and be wild things. Sendak reminds us, and we need reminding, that children need to be wild, they need to allowed to express themselves, and tell their stories, even when these stories are too difficult for adults to hear.

‘I knew terrible things, but I knew I mustn’t let adults know I knew … it would scare them.’

On reading

On Reading

The collision of the book and digital reading

The internet has not impacted upon my reading habits in the slightest. I still pass my eyes from left to right across the lines of text, just as I always have. I still read line by line, turn from page to page; just as I always have. I still pick and chose. I still seek inspiring texts (to read). The internet has no impact on my reading habits, but the book says the internet is ambitious, and the book is honourable. The book fears there will be worse come in its place, that will lay waste to its carefully nurtured kingdom of readers and writers.

Books are my friends, faithful and just; they line up in my study like soldiers. They look down on the interloping screens from their posts on the battlements high on the walls.

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Sydney adventure – the book launch – part one

Read this first. Here is my ever cavet on a blog post. This post is massively self-indulgent; don’t say I didn’t warn you. Also, if you are on twitter and I fail to mention you, and I did in fact see you – I cannot apologise enough. I should have kept notes, but I didn’t. Sorry in advance. Please don’t be mad. Note also that I have referred to peeps by the Twitter ‘handle’ so you can look them up.) It will be in two parts – because it is so long and is taking a long time to write due to ‘fact checking.’

When you have a very intense experience, and you pack a lot into 53 hours, it can be hard to write about. Where to start? Favourite bits? Chronological order? Funniest bits? Best alone in a big bed bits? Best I’m away by myself and I couldn’t be more pleased bits?

I have recently returned from Sydney, the town that I know and love. I went by myself. I left my lovely man and my love child to fend for themselves. I left NO notes. They will figure it out, I reckoned. After all here’s what the Commentator General had to say about it:

Preparations well under way for three days looking after baby with no @ . Surely 16 months is old enough for pizza and DVD night
Robert Gotts

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The Finkler Question – part one – why I hated the Man Booker 2010 prize winner


Books. Notice how close they are to the drinks.

It is not often I do not finish a book that I commence. Once I start, I am committed to finishing. I have finished one or two books I really didn’t enjoy. I have finished some of the most difficult books in the English language or in translation to English. War and Peace, Ulysses, Infinite Jest, Fox in Sox, to name but a few. I mean I’ve finished Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon. I have finished books that are emotionally difficult to read. Books like What is the What, The Book Thief, Outside Over There by Sendak.  Late last year, I read Room by Emma Donoghue (incidentally also shortlisted for the 2010 Booker). That’s a difficult book, at an emotional level, yet I finished it in two days. I have rarely started a book and abandoned it. Dead Air by Iain Banks, looms as one I can immediately recall not finishing.

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Friday – this week I am grateful for …

Whimsy, books and parity with the US dollar

This week I received a lovely parcel. It contained the following wonderful books; The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson), Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (Dai Sijie), Sir Vidia’s Shadow (Paul Theroux), and Room (Emma Donoghue). All of these books I have looked forward to reading. I have been searching for copies of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and Sir Vidia’s Shadow, in Australia for well over a year. Now maybe I wasn’t looking in the right places or maybe I was distracted, but parity with the Australian dollar and the search for music by Elizabeth Mitchell threw me into the giddy world of Amazon.

On a whim I searched for all the books from the list in my notebook. The notebook that goes everywhere I go. It is full of dreams, notes, little reminders. It has lists of books I want to read – to remind me to look for them. Two of the books in the parcel where on the list, but I couldn’t find them. So I searched Amazon for all the books on the list and I found them all. And they were cheap. A completely beautiful hardback of the Balzac for less than I would have paid for a paperback here. Also 2010 Man Booker Prize winner, The Finkler Question for $5.99. Ridiculously cheap.

So I am grateful for books and online shopping this week. I look forward to plowing my way through them. I finally feel like I have a little bit of time for reading. I feel too, that my maternity leave (seems ridiculous to call it that now that the baby is nearly a year old – maternity seems a lifetime ago) is slipping away. I need to start to think about re-entering real life. Working life. But it will never be the same. I am already starting to look for options, for ways out!

I am grateful that my books were so cheap. I am grateful for having found Elizabeth Mitchell and her music which my boy just loves. And I grateful for a few more afternoons after 2pm where I might be able to snatch a few precious moments to read and enjoy some books.

The New Yorkers are piling up

I’ve had a subscription to the New Yorker since 2006. I love them. Often there have been periods where, due to their frequency of publication, I have had a couple of weeks pile up. OK so sometimes when I was really busy it may have been 6 or 8 weeks. Now below is a photo of the pile of unopened New Yorkers resting on the cross-bar of the bedside table. There are probably 15 magazines in the pile. There are a few that are optimistically opened but most of them are in their plastic. Even with the housework ban, it is hard to keep up!

The New Yorkers

This is the sort of thing that people mean when they say things are different after they have children. I can still do the SMH quiz every Saturday, I still get the ‘Get It?’ every week, (that’s my litmus test to see if I’m losing my mind) but if I make it through the first couple of pages of Spectrum or the mag, I’m doing really really well. I started reading March of Patriots in February. I’ve read only 100 or so pages. The concentration required fails me. The interest is there; but fatigue beats me every time. I have finished a couple of books, at the expense of the New Yorkers. Things are different now.