My 2014 Reading List!

January 5, 2014 in Book Reviews, On Writing, Reviews

books

Finally, I’ve accomplished something I set out to do. 2013 was a big year of reading by my pathetic standards. As a father of two young’ uns working a full-time job plus freelancing on the side and loads of TV shows and movies to watch every night, reading time is hard to come by, but I set a goal to read 20 books last year and I did it, finishing with an overall total of 23.

It was a healthy diet of books for review I received from a trade publication, a lot of sports biographies (went through a binge phase), some recommendations, a few writing manuals and a few bestsellers. They were (in reverse chronological order): And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Housseini, Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck, Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn, Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, 13 Ways to Steal a Bicycle: Theft Law in the Information Age by Stuart P Green, Party Time: Who Runs China and How by Rowan Callick, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Justice by Michael J Sandel, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White, Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty, The War for Late Night by Bill Carter, Cybercrime in the Greater China Region by Lennon Yao-chung Chang, Dream Team by Jack McCallum, Inferno by Dan Brown, The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, Tokyo Sketches by Peter Hamill, Bird by Bird by Anne Lammott, and Fifty Shades Freed by EL James (I had read the two books in the series the year before).

To avoid disappointment, my goal is to hit 20 books again for 2014, and I’ve already got a preliminary reading list at hand. This year I hope to get to more fiction and classics, and I intend to read a couple of fantasy and horror classics to get myself in the mood for my own fantasy novel. I’ve also dedicated some time to non-fiction as well as spiritual learning by setting aside a few pro-Christian and anti-Christian books, just to balance things out a little. There will likely be more additions as I receive them in the mail for review and other bestsellers and recommendations that come up throughout the year, but for now, this is (in no particular order) my reading list for 2014!

Stoner, John Williams

Simply Christianity, John Dickson

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan

Misquoting Jesus, Bart Ehrman

My Story, Elizabeth Smart

Sycamore Row, John Grisham

Dracula, Bram Stoker

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

All That I Am, Anna Funder

Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

Magician, Raymond Feist

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

Dreams from My Father and/or The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama

Can’t wait to rip into them.

New Year’s resolution 3: read more (classics and fantasy)

January 25, 2013 in Fantasy, Misc, On Writing

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted to last year, but I blame that on the life-draining force that is parenthood, which makes sleep a priority over anything not baby-related. I blame that as well awesome TV series such as Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. Most of all, I blame the turd that is the Fifty Shades Trilogy, which wasted a good part of my year and just about turned me off reading altogether.

This year, I am glad to say, I have already read two books (though I started one of them last year) and am halfway through a third. Reading really does help your writing in so many ways, including expanding your imagination and ability to visualize scenes, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can. I feel like I am already way behind because I didn’t read all that much once I hit high school, which I blame entirely on Sony (Playstation) and basketball.

Anyway, this year one of my resolutions is to read more. A lot more. I have already started executing my ‘no smartphone and read instead before bed’ plan, which is kind of working. I’m also trying to read whenever I can on public transport and even during lunch breaks at work.

A subset of that plan is to read more classics. I always find them daunting and often put them off in favour of trash like Fifty Shades or whatever commercial fiction is in fashion, but it’s time for me to discover why classics are classics. The last modern classic I read was probably Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (which I loved) and the last classic of any era I read was Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (which, despite being told repeatedly that it was probably the most technically perfect book ever written, bored me to death).

The good thing is that many older classics are now out of copyright and free to download. My guess is I will attempt to tackle the easier ones first, like say Frankenstein or Dracula, or perhaps some Dickens. War and Peace and James Joyce will probably have to wait a few more decades.

The other of part of the goal is to read more fantasy to prepare myself to get back on the fantasy writing wagon. I have A Game of Thrones ready to go, and if that isn’t enough I might finally (re)try the original Sword of Shannara trilogy or Feist’s Magician.

I doubt I’m going to get through anywhere near what I’ve planned for myself but I sure am going to try.

Happy reading!

I Need a Good Page-Turner!

July 13, 2011 in Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, On Writing, Reviews, Study

Source: http://howtowriteshop.loridevoti.com

Sorry if things have been a little slow lately.  Have some family visiting and it’s been craaaazy.

Anyway, I’m reaching out to see if anyone can recommend a good page-turner for me.  Actually, not just a good one, a great one.  An all-time best.

For whatever reason I haven’t been getting into books as much as I should be recently.  When I had been working on my major writing project I had to read stacks of books and articles to help me with my writing — and while they were helpful I didn’t necessarily enjoy them.  Nevertheless, I had to churn through them for the sake of my writing.

Now that I’m done with all of that, I feel like I need a ripper of a book to get me back in the groove of reading for pure pleasure.

I started reading Peter Temple’s Truth (winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award) on the iPad recently but haven’t been able to really get into it yet.  Temple has a unique style that almost feels like he’s cutting corners with words to make his prose punchier, and it takes a while to get used to.  And so far the progression of the plot and dialogue reminds me of one of those classy Hollywood detective movies where you don’t really understand what the heck they’re talking about (at least at the start) but you know it’s good dialogue.

I also started reading my fourth John Grisham novel (after The Innocent Man, The Associate and The Firm), A Time to Kill, his debut work.  After I expressed my disappointment in The Associate some recommended that I check out his earlier stuff (before crap like ‘Theodore Boone — Child Lawyer!!’).  I’ve never seen the film with Samuel ‘Maryland Farmer’ L Jackson and Matthew ‘I have good genes!’ McConaughey, so I’m finding it quite an enjoyable read thus far, but as Grisham admitted in the intro, he does ramble on a fair bit.  Thus I would call it a good page-turner but not a great one — something that could keep me occupied on a train but nothing that would keep me up late at night.

A third book I barely started is Everyone’s Pretty by Lydia Millet, a dark comedy about the porn industry.  This was one of the books recommended to help with my writing but I thought it would be an interesting read too.  A few pages in and I’m somewhat intrigued, but haven’t gone back for more in days.

Not sure if have time to finish all these books in the short term as I have another book review to do for a trade publication.  It’s called Lives and Letters by Robert Gottlieb, a series of profiles on fascinating public figures, artists and entertainers including Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, and so forth.  Being a published profile writer myself (ahem), I’m looking forward to this one, though the fact that I have to read it dampens my enthusiasm somewhat.

Am I just too picky here?  Some might say these are all perfectly good page-turners, but I’m not satisfied.  I need something to blow me away.  I’m not necessarily talking about a wonderfully written book (from a technical perspective — I mean, Madame Bovary is supposed be to ‘technically’ perfect but her ‘bovaries’ kept putting me to sleep).  I have pretty pedestrian tastes, after all.  I just want a read that will make me want to tear through it in a couple of days and inspire me to read more.

Help.  Anyone?

Farewell, Borders

June 5, 2011 in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary, Technology

I had been wanting to write about this ever since news broke a few days ago but for whatever reason held off — maybe hoping that it wasn’t true or that it was a mistaken report.

Oh well.  There’s no use denying it anymore.  The last remaining nine Borders bookstores across Australia will close down over the next six to eight weeks.  The fate of the Angus & Robertson chain, also owned by the in-administration REDgroup, remains uncertain at this point.  The only good news is that its online bookstores will remain open.

I still remember the first time Borders opened up in Australia years and years ago.  I loved them.  They had the broadest range of books and I could spent literally hours and hours browsing from one end of the store the other.  It was perfect for people with short attention spans like me, who just want to read the back cover, maybe read a few pages, and move on if it doesn’t interest me.

When I was living in Cambridge (which had all the big booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmith, Heffers, etc), I pretty much camped out at Borders.  Nothing to do?  Let’s go to Borders and read all afternoon!  Books, comics, manga, magazines, whatever.  It was better than any library.

But that was the problem.  People loved to browse Borders but not buy from them because their books were so bloody expensive, particularly in Australia (I’ll get to that in a sec).  If they were on super duper special, then maybe, you’d consider buying a book or two, but everybody knew that Borders was a place where you went to do your research, not the place you’d ultimately purchase the books from.

These days, especially, it’s all online.  Not just e-books but also paper books from places such as The Book Depository and Amazon.  Yes, if all things were equal, Australian consumers would no doubt want to purchase locally — but when prices were, excluding GST, 35% higher, or in many cases, 50% higher, financial considerations always trumped loyalty.

No wonder Borders struggled so much.  The stores tended to be in areas where the rent was ridiculous.  They required loads of staff and the wide range meant stacks of inventory.  Without competitive prices, they really had no chance.

Interestingly, the online chatter that has come out of the closures have been similar to my sentiments.  Most bemoan the loss of a terrific place to ‘browse’ books, but not much more than that.  Some were even glad that these evil big book chains which bully the independent booksellers have gotten their comeuppance.

Does this represent a fundamental shift in the publishing industry?  If supposedly mighty bookchains such as Borders are collapsing, it makes me wonder what the future holds for other chains such as Angus & Robertson and Dymocks, and to a lesser extent, Kinokuniya.

Is it finally time for the parallel importing restrictions to be lifted?  For those who don’t know, Australia has in place restrictions intended to protect local publishers and writers.  If an Australian holder of publishing rights to a particular title decides to publish it within 30 days of the book becoming available elsewhere in the world, then Australian booksellers are prohibited from importing the title from overseas.

A Productivity Commission report in 2009 recommended that these restrictions be lifted, partly because the bulk of the benefits stemming from the restrictions flowed to offshore publishers and authors, rather than local ones.  The recommendation was never acted upon because of campaigns from domestic publishers and authors, who also have very valid arguments.  Opening the already fragile Australian book industry to the rest of the world has potentially frightening consequences for everyone.

No easy answers, unfortunately.  I just hope the remaining bookchains in Australia have enough support to keep battling on.

Farewell, Borders.

Book Review: ‘Room Service’ by Frank Moorhouse

May 27, 2011 in Book Reviews, Reviews

I’m a big fan of comic writings and I have been reading a fair bit recently because I am trying to write a comedic novel myself.  One of the recommendations from my supervisor was Frank Moorhouse, a gifted Australian writer I can certainly learn from.

I picked up one of the thinnest Moorhouse books I could find from the library, Room Service, a collection of short stories and essays first published in 1985 and predominantly featuring Moorehouse’s alter ego, Francois Blase.

Room Service is seriously funny stuff, particularly the first few pieces.  Blase is a quirky, neurotic, somewhat disturbed individual who gets himself into bizarre and compromising situations.  In many ways he reminds me of a less abrasive, classier George Constanza or Larry David, both of whom I adore.

The first piece, for example, is all about how Blase, not wanting to pay for ice that is always half melted by the time it gets to his hotel room, leaves his beers outside the window and then suspects the hotel staff of purposely altering the beers’ position so that he will accidentally knock them off the ledge.

There are many other hilarious pieces, such as one about Australian vs Chinese culture and stereotypes and another satirical piece on the love affair between Australian men and sheep throughout the ages.

Each piece is self-contained (and I discovered at the end that most of them had already been published elsewhere separately) and crafted with a keen eye for detail and punchlines that you don’t always expect.  Moorhouse has this uncanny ability to be self-deprecating while retaining a dead seriousness about his justifications and world views.

What impressed me the most was his ability to create so many varied pieces, many with completely different styles, but somehow making them all fit together in this tight little book (around 174 pages).

That said, I wasn’t captivated by every piece.  As often is the case with collections and anthologies, there were a few a simply didn’t get or enjoy, and there were some others that didn’t sustain my interest the whole way through.

3.5 out of 5

 
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