Wednesday, 31 October 2007

(Disneyland jack-o'-lanterns)
One more sleep!

:: All the fabulous kids young people who work at the Bondi have really got into the mood of the week, with no-holds-barred decorations ...

... and lots of worrying about costumes, and tongues wedged firmly in cheeks.

:: I, meanwhile, have been concentrating on knitting for all the Bondi babies. The first to appear was the very beautiful Aivry (I think that's how she spells it), who is the daughter of two very good friends of the Bondi, though they don't actually work there. Kirsten and Andy are both surfers, and both Australians who call San Diego home. But I'm counting Aivry as a Bondi baby anyway, and this is one of her socks:

:: Eric Clapton's autobiography is number one in the LA Times' non-fiction best seller list, and number two in the NY Times'. And there's an audio book of it, read by the lovely Bill Nighy, whom I've loved since seeing him play the ageing pop star in Love Actually.

It's so tempting to explore the whole audio book universe - especially as I'm such a slow reader. Will is listening to George Orwell's 1984 before he goes to sleep, and, not much of a reader, he said he really enjoyed reading the book along with the CD. I'm so ecstatic that he's doing this, and almost off his own bat, too - I think he said a lot of Radiohead lyrics were inspired by 1984. L-o-v-e that band. We are now gently suggesting he go on to read Animal Farm, a copy of which we just happen to have quietly put in the bookcase. Ssssh.
Following the text while class members took it in turns to read out loud was always the way we read the books we had to spoil study in Eng. lit. back in school, though that was in the dim, dim past and may no longer be acceptable.

(More pumpkins at Disneyland)

:: The power of Oprah indeed: since she named
Love in the Time of Cholera as her book club pick for October, it has been on sale everywhere, even in the supermarket, alongside all the Nora Robertses and whatsisname Grishams. And last weekend, I saw it was number one in the NY Times' (paperback trade) fiction best seller list and the LA Times' as well.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Pipkins and pumpkins
Sunday arvo, Dave's dozing on the settee, having watched the Chargers (our local American football team) beat Houston, and I've been listening to BBC Radio 4's Afternoon Reading while knitting booties. The perfect afternoon!

These are for brand-new baby Rohan, son of our chef, Chris, and his gorgeous wife Amanda.
I knit them out of Manos del Uruguay hand-dyed 100 % wool, with chunky size 10.5 (6.5mm) double-pointed needles, to a pattern recommended on someone's blog recently (I'm so sorry, I forget whose!). The pattern, by Uniform Studio, is available free if you click here. It's very simple, but after just finishing Mum's socks in fine wool and on fine needles, I felt like a giant manipulating these tiny boots on such thick needles!
I'm also tossing up whether to thread a little tie round the ankles, as they look as though an active baby could kick them off quite quickly.

:: The pumpkins were part of a fabulous display at Disneyland, a couple of weeks ago. Some of the Bondi staffers dragged me along (like I needed much persuasion!) and even forced me on some of the wilder rides. I couldn't move the next day, after spending every roller-coaster-type ride with every muscle tensed, teeth gritted, and eyes screwed shut. I felt as though I'd spent the day being pummelled!

:: Just watching Bill on the telly, wishing Hillary a happy 60th birthday - he's sounding a bit croaky. Must be that multi-million-dollar public speaking circuit taking its toll.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Indoor activities

Dave and I are home alone this weekend and we're staying put. R-e-l-a-x-i-n-g after the madness and chaos of the past week. Reading, telly, coffee, newspapers, chocolate, tea, knitting, and cooking.
Yesterday, Netflix (how I love you, how I love you) came through with the goods: two DVDs of The West Wing, to which we are totally addicted. We never got to watch it while it was new — it was always on a bit late for us in Australia. But this is the way to go, with non-stop episodes, no ads, high-def wide-screen viewing. I love everything about this show; it's perfect weekend viewing.

:: Finished Mum's socks last night, and they're ready to be sent asunder down-under. They're a bit small for me - Mum has teeny-tiny feet. Knitting them kept me going through the unknown on Monday and Tuesday - a day and a half spent knitting, watching fire updates on the telly as the news just kept getting worse and worse, and speaking on the phone to family and friends all over the place anxious for news of us. You can't wring your hands while you're knitting!

:: We've packed Will off to Las Vegas for a rock festival, with a lot of bands I've never heard of, as well as Queens of the Stone Age and Muse (which even I would love to see, though the volume and crush would be more than I could stand - I'd go to a rock concert if I could sit on a patch of grass, in the breezy shade, with a folding chair and a picnic, tea and good coffee available just over there, the band pretty close but not very loud, and big video screens so I could keep a dignified distance. Oh, and it would all be over by 9.30 pm).
Will's gone to Las Vegas with Stephanie, a friend of our eldest son, Simon, and now one of our much-loved managers at the Bondi. After the tensions and restrictions of the week, it'll do these young'uns good to get out of the smoke and ash and haze and dust for a weekend, into the (relatively) clean air of Nevada, for two days of screaming and yelling. We shouted them two nights at a hotel on the strip, and Steph's driving and being The Boss. I can't wait to hear all about it when they get back!

:: At some stage, we're going to call in at the Carmel Valley fire station where they are distributing free masks so you can more safely go outside and attempt to clean up some of the ash and other muck that has settled over everything since last Sunday.
It's a worry, though, whether or not to leave it and wait, because as fast as you sweep it up, more of it will settle. And the news reports about the dust are scary, saying that while the burnt plant material the ash contains won't hurt us, there will also be traces of hazardous substances that we really ought not to breathe in. Impossible!

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Misty moisty marvel

Well, this was the glorious sight when we got up this morning: the promised marine layer had rolled in and everything was drenched and soothed in its dense, white moisture. Such a change from Monday at the same time (a few posts below this).

Let's hope this really helps to slow things down on the fire front. And cools us all down.

:: The TV news broadcasts have started showing interviews with some of the hundreds of poor souls who have lost everything in the fires. They've talked about what they lost, but also about the things they'd managed to save, and on Wednesday there was an interesting short article in the LA Times discussing exactly that: when told to get out of harm's way, what do you grab to take with you?
Of course, I can't find the article now I want to quote from it, but one woman said the first thing she packed was a $1000 pair of shoes she'd just bought, which she put in her Porsche with her dog. And a man had to be forcibly restrained when he tried to push his piano outside. The stress of the moment, and the overwhelming sense of urgency, do play their part in these decisions.

For us, things were greatly simplified by the knowledge that all our real, significant family treasures are safely in storage in Shenton Park (oooh - must pay that bill today!), in Australia. All our boxes of photos and kids' art and kids' first shoes and s-t-u-f-f we'll keep forever. So here, we could quickly think of the few bits and pieces we wanted to save. We had also taken the precaution, earlier on the Monday, of packing a small bag each, with clothes and toiletries for a couple of days. So when we had to get out quick, we just had to pick and pack the important stuff.
For me, that was my mum's pearls, which I wore on my wedding day and which she eventually gave to me; the goldminer's brooch that she gave to me, and other bits of jewellery from Mum and Dave. I briefly toyed with the idea of saving my reference books — Macquarie dictionary, Aust. Government style guide, Oxford book of quotations, etc — several hundred dollars' worth in half-a-dozen books. But they stayed, and instead I took all the paintings off the living room wall, wrapped them in sheets and stashed them in my car. Then I filled a grocery bag (photographed just before I unpacked it on Wednesday) ... ... with the big plastic wallet in which we keep our passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, Dave's Social Security card, my Australian citizenship certificate; two smaller Australian paintings; our cheque book; a Bach CD; the new registration sticker for Lily's car; four paid bills; some referral forms from my doctor for some routine hospital tests; and a bottle of perfume.

Meanwhile, Dave had rushed upstairs to grab ...
... Lily's battered and much-loved, coverless and almost spineless copy of The Lord of the Rings, and the teddy, also a bit battered, now, that he gave her the morning after she was born. These two precious items got hurled into the laundry basket with five framed photos of the kids, the dogs' leads, their bowls, and a bag of dog biscuits.

By this time, we had managed to get Will out of bed, and he came thumping down the stairs with one of our enormous long-haul suitcases, absolutely crammed with stuff and weighing a ton. Inside was all his camera gear, a few clothes and his X-box. He also filled his art portfolio with his drawings and threw in all his drawing gear.
We packed the dogs' beds, our pillows, our assorted bags and the laundry basket and we were off.

:: Here's how our swimming pool looked on our first day back:

There's a layer of ash, leaves and twigs — and bougainvillaea petals, oddly enough — on the surface, and also on the bottom. I started scooping it out, and even though it's been wet a few days, it still stinks of burning. Very spooky.

:: The air quality is pretty bad, with fine ash everywhere that gets in your throat and even your eyes. Everyone has been warned to stay indoors and wear masks outside if they need to be outdoors for any length of time.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Home again, home again

We got the all-clear on Tuesday night, so very happily drove home at 11pm. Dave was following me as we drove through Carmel Valley, and he said my tyres threw up clouds of ash all over the road, illuminated in his headlights.
We are very, very happy to be back at the house, with nothing more to worry us than a fine coating of ash over everything. We are so very lucky to have been on the edge of things.
I couldn't bear to have our bags still packed and the paintings wrapped in sheets and stacked against the wall, so - hoping I wasn't tempting providence - I've unpacked it all and restored home-iness, and that feels better. I've kept the TV on, to keep up with it all.
Fortunately the Santa Ana winds that were expected to howl in from the east for two more terrifying days have weakened, so everybody gets a bit of a breather and the fire crews a window of opportunity.

:: In keeping with getting back to normal, how about a bit of

Booking through Thursday

This week's question:

I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

Well, the title that immediately springs to mind (and I might have dissed this one already to some of you), is Perfume, by Patrick Susskind, which I attempted maybe five or more years ago.
I stuck it out until about three quarters of the way through, so I gave it plenty of opportunity to redeem itself. But eventually I decided it was so loathsome, so cumulatively dire, that I actually flung it across my bedroom into the wall.

But people rave about this book. And there's a movie coming out. Should I try again? Hmm.

My theory is that there are bad books, to be sure; but more often than not, there are pretty good books that you read at the wrong time, or for the wrong reasons (like school). Hence the giving up on Ulysses, Kerouac, and other worthy stuff.
And I haven't been a re-reader, though my friends chide me on this for the very reason I elaborate on above.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Thanks for all your emails and messages. We had to evacuate yesterday morning, but have been quite safe, staying Monday night with one of the managers at the Bondi, at Ocean Beach, where the sun is almost shining and the air is almost fresh!
The scale of this disaster is astonishing. 513,000 people have been evacuated.
The Witch Creek Fire is the one that has been threatening our neighbourhood. It has devastated 230,000 acres and razed over 500 homes. And it is just one of the fires the county is dealing with.
So impressed by all the organisation. Refuges have been et up everywhere, and there are volunteers doing wonderful work, proviing beds and drinking water and meals. There are 10,000 staying at the Qualcomm football stadium, for example.
The Santa Ana winds seemed to have let up today, so tanker planes and helicopters have been able to fly in and drop waterbombs. There's even a bit of a sea breeze, so the humidity will increase slightly, and that may help.
It remains very scary, though.

Monday, 22 October 2007

We first smelled smoke yesterday arvo, about 2pm, and from then on the skies have been filled with ash and smoke. There are five eight big fires north and east of the whole county, with incredibly high Santa Ana winds blowing everything into a frenzy.
Pics are from the windows upstairs, looking north and north-west. The sky is like chocolate milk.
I can't imagine what the firefighters are going through - it's scary enough sitting indoors with the doors and windows tight. It's like sitting in a cyclone, except the wind is hot and dry, in powerful gusts that bend trees make the house wheeze and groan.
Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from areas east of here, and there's a big fire out near the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Eleven and a half inches of Harry
That's what's on my bookshelf now I've finally worked my way through the Potters I to VII. Great fun - though, strangely, I'm not sorry to be over it. I kind of muddled my way through the last volume - honestly, I couldn't follow most of that stuff about the hallows and the horcruxes and who had whose wands and what was in them and where they'd been and what that meant. And I was nostalgic for the freshness and vivacity of the very first book, but hey! I'm not really complaining.

**SPOILERS**: Though someone let it slip that Mrs Weasley was killed in VII, and that almost ruined it for me, as with every page I feared her sticky end. Thanks so much.
And I'll always associate Dumbledore's death with the start of Radiohead's Knives Out - 'I want you to know / he's not coming back ...' which I was listening to an awful lot while reading VI.

:: After Harry I turned to a far more elegant and grown-up novel, which I first got wind of on some of the excellent bookish blogs I read. I'd never heard of William Boyd before this, and it's such a great thing to have found an author I enjoy who has seven or eight other books I can get stuck into. And winter is (supposed to be) coming, which means lots of reading time.

I'm always a bit fascinated by men who can write convincingly in the first person as women ... I kept examining what his women were doing and seeing if I agreed with their actions and responses, or whether the man writing it was merely making odd assumptions about women and their feelings. WB did a good job. It all sat well, I thought.
His prose is crisp, and articulate, and he keeps the narrative cool and uncluttered, so you can concentrate on who's who and who's doing what in all the cloak-and-daggery. The basic plot's quite simple: Ruth, a young English woman, finds out her mother, Sally, had been a WWII spy, writing and disseminating propaganda for a small British intelligence organisation. Sally has been compelled to tell Ruth because she suspects someone's still out to get her.

WB alternates chapters from Sally's memoir, which she has written in the third person, with chapters from the daughter's life, written in the first person. It heightens the drama to swing from Ruth's humdrum but benign life in 1970s Oxford to the tension of Sally's derring-do thirty to forty years before — from her recruitment in pre-war Paris to missions in the US as it tries to withstand pressure from Britain and Russia to enter the war.

Like all great spy stories, the tension builds beautifully with twists and intrigue and subterfuge. And the plot thickens but never bewilders (unlike Harry).

I enjoyed reading about Sally's recruitment and training, loved the sense of atmosphere of '40s London and New York, and sympathised with both women as they had to deal with the outrageous skeletons in Sally's cupboard.
A ripper!

The three of us stood in the kitchen last night and each of us had a real American experience to boast about.
Dave had bought three beautiful cobs of sweetcorn to have with dinner; Will had just come downstairs having had cookies (Oreos) and milk; and I had had to stop driving in the street near home that afternoon behind a big yellow school bus, with all its red lights flashing, stop signs winging, and children running everywhere — my first time!
Counting down ...
... as the October 31 frenzy continues. These pumpkins are stacked outside one of our neighbourhood supermarkets. California, I read in a mag, with Ohio and Pennsylvania, produced more than 9000 lbs (4000 kg) of pumpkins in 2005.

They're not exactly cheap, are they? Considering you hollow them out, chuck all the guts away (you can dry and eat the seeds), and eventually throw the carved shell away.
You have to time it right, too, because after all your hard work, the hollowed pumpkin soon starts to go mouldy and rot, especially on Santa Ana days here when it's very warm and sunny. So you try to do it early enough to take part in the pre-Halloween fun, but no so early that you greet your trick-or-treaters with a mess of blue fur and slime at the front door.

:: You can get creamy white versions of these golden pumpkins this year - a real decorator touch.

:: These are play-tombstones, from Target, that you can erect in your front garden ...

:: Must fly! Work to be done!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Booking through Thursday

This week's question is:
What’s the worst typographical error you’ve ever found in (or on) a book?

Well, as a proofreader and editor, perhaps I should steer clear of this one.
Siht happens.

But since you ask ... this morning, I finished reading William Boyd's spy novel, Restless. It was superbly written, but so badly punctuated I frequently found myself re-reading passages to make sense of them.

And three or four years ago I read a book (title forgotten) which I don't think had been edited at all, despite a reputable publisher's imprimatur.
So I got out my red pen and began marking it up, with the vague idea of sending my corrected copy to the publisher and asking for a job. But in the end, the story won me over and I abandoned the project.
There were errors all through the Harry P books, too.

There are lots of people involved in getting a book to the shops.
By the time a proofreader gets her or his hands on a manuscript, it will have been worked over by a structural editor, and then a copy editor. The proofreader may mark up an error on a manuscript, and then someone else will have the job of making that correction - or disagreeing and not making that change - and then it may go to yet another proofreader for a final read-through. The author gets a say in it all as well. And then there is the team working on the cover artwork, which may be perfunctorily checked by yet another editor or proofreader ...
Every time the manuscript changes hands, there is potential for slip-ups.
All the people I have ever worked with, in newspapers or books, have always been caring to the point of fastidiousness over their work, and mortified to find errors, however minor.

One final point: it would have killed me to let Joan Didion get away with 'Play it as it Lays'.
Lays what? Bricks? Eggs? Carpet? Some pick-up in a bar?

Monday, 15 October 2007

Blog Action Day ... Plus One
For many reasons, I didn't get home to my computer till after 11pm. But I had most of my B.A.D post saved in draft form (hence Sunday's date, above), so thought I'd run with it today, even though it's actually Tuesday, October 16. Better late than never, hey!

... the mighty waters rolling evermore

This picture, which I took outside a service station by the side of the interstate 5 freeway, just north of LA, sums it all up for me: much of Southern California is dry, almost desert country (see the hills in the distance) and has to get over this crazy predilection for growing grass by pouring drinking water all over it.

• There's been a drought in the south-west of the US for almost a decade.
• Near the coast, San Diego's average annual rainfall is about 10 inches. In the 2006-07 rainfall season (December to March), we got 3.85 inches.
• Southern California gets its water from the Colorado River, which is filled by melting snow in the Rockies. It supplies water to tens of millions of people living in California (biggest population in the US), Arizona, Colorado, Nevada (Las Vegas, the fastest growing city in the US), Wyoming, Utah (rapid growth in cities) and New Mexico.
• The river is running low. The combination of an increasing population drawing on it, less rainfall, and warmer winters that mean the mountain snow melts and evaporates too quickly to get to the river, will, experts say, see the Colorado River unable to meet the demand for water within the next five years or so.

That's the big picture - and in keeping with the 'think globally, act locally' environmental maxim, I'm focusing on what happens in my street, because if you multiply it by thousands you can imagine the sort of horrifying waste of water that must occur all over San Diego, 24 hours a day.

In our street, you wouldn't know water was at a premium:

Walk out of my front door, at any time during the day or night, and I guarantee that eight times out of ten you'll see a rivulet of drinking water snaking along the gutter from sprinklers.

Sprinklers in my street go on too long and too frequently — automatic reticulation is a 'convenience' that comes as a package with the houses in cookie-cutterville - you don't have to think about it. One of my friends (a few blocks away, I admit) has a back lawn that is always so wet, muddy and boggy it wouldn't be out of place in the Congo. I asked her how often she watered it and she just shrugged. No idea.
Sprinklers here also spray a fine mist that blows all over the place, seldom reaching its target, and they are often inaccurately positioned, spraying all over the pavement and into the road.

Drinking water is poured on lawns and gardens regardless of the weather, or the time of day. In sunshine, most of it evaporates - but people still water their lawns in the middle of the day.

So drinking water ends up being sprayed over front paths, across driveways and the road and runs, gurgling, down the gutters, around the corner and into the drain ...

... where, replete with the pesticides, fertilisers, weedkillers necessary to keep lawns so healthy and green, it makes its way to the sea. And that, of course is another problem.

So much water runs down our street and the gutter, that tussocks of grass grows in the cracks and crevices ...
... helped, no doubt, by all the topsoil and fertilisers that flow in this land of plenty.

And it happens day and night ...

... and I haven't even touched on the drinking water that gets poured on public gardens and nature strips; nor on the fact that sometimes the water that flows past my house is bubbly (someone's washing their car); or that Dick up the street is using his hose to sweep out his garage ...

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Re: insect forecasting

Those pesky ants — and the Latvians — were right!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Bodice ripper
From the trailer, I thought The Golden Age, the new movie about Elizabeth I, starring Cate Blanchett, was bound for glory.
But I've read two reviews today - and the NY Times - that, while not exactly damning it with faint praise, do tend towards the scathing.
'Textile porn' was how's reviewer rather clumsily labelled it, an obvious acknowledgement of the movie's lavish cozzies.
Both reviews, however, were full of admiration for our Cate's performance, thank the stars.
Here's a well-turned quote from the NY Times piece:
'The blurring of fact and fancy is, of course, routine with this kind of opulent big-screen production, in which the finer points of history largely take a back seat to personal melodrama and lavish details of production design and costumes. In this regard "The Golden Age" may set a standard for such an adulterated form: it’s reductive, distorted and deliriously far-fetched, but the gowns are fabulous, the wigs are a sight and Clive Owen makes a dandy Errol Flynn, even if he’s really meant to be Walter Raleigh, the queen’s favorite smoldering slab of man meat.'
If you want to read more, click here.
Chuffed ...
... to see my old pencil box (above) being used by Will, who has discovered drawing in a big way since he enrolled in extra-curricular classes at his school, run by the local community college. Combining that with his daily digital imaging course and his normal art classes at school, he's starting to think that maybe art school is an option he needs to explore.

:: Classes at my art school begin Monday week - I have yet to choose a lecturer, but I'm so excited at the thought of starting again. It's just an adult-ed sort of course, but all the teachers I've had there have been excellent, and take it very seriously.

:: I just read about a French woman being hauled over the coals for kissing a $2 million-plus painting on exhibition, and leaving an indelible lipstick smear that restorers and conservators cannot budge, even after applying 30 different chemicals! Doesn't help that the painting was an almost all-white canvas by Cy Twombly (who I always thought was English, but it turns out he's from the US).
The silly woman thought the artist would appreciate her expression of love for his work - and well he may, but the owner is furious and threatening to sue for the full worth of the painting plus repairs.

:: Two puppies:
Whenever I sit down in the evening, I get the full treatment: Yoshi jumps on to my lap, climbs up and puts a paw either side of my neck and leans against my face. It's a real cuddle. Here, he's delivering a similar hug to Will, who was lying on the floor, for some reason, when Yoshi walked all over him.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain
There are ants on the move in my kitchen. Thousands of the buggers - omnivores - in regiments an inch wide, marching in from outside, through the ant-traps I've left out, up cupboard doors, across the kitchen bench, and into the pantry. Until I wipe everything down with eucalyptus oil - that sorts out the officers from the enlisted men.
I remember Dace telling me decades ago that Latvians reckon when ants are marching like that, there's a change coming in the weather. Rain, in particular. So keep on walking, wee ones - just not across my kitchen, please.

:: These are among the many hundreds of Halloween costumes you can buy at Target:
There are racks and racks and racks of them - and you should see the bulk lollies, all at the front of the store near here in Encinitas. Two-pound bags, three-pound bags - and special receptacles for your little trick-or-treaters to carry from door to door to collect their goodies. It's h-u-g-e.
And when you've got your family's costumes all ready and waiting to go, you can turn your attention to Fido:

:: The Hallmark shop has had its Christmas stuff out since late July - incredible, yes? - and I noticed today that our local hardware store was also looking a bit yo-ho-ho. But before we all start wallowing in Yule, we've got not just Halloween but also Thanksgiving to keep us entertained, and 'fall' to inspire our decorating moods.
Unfortunately, we don't have much sense of the autumn here in SoCal, especially on days when the Santa Ana winds blow and the temperatures rise again.
To compensate, our local city authority has planted liquidambars everywhere in our neighbourhood ...

... to give us a change of leaf colour and trick us into thinking we live somewhere cool and northern. This is the liquidambar forest in the lovely park just round the corner from our street:
I love all trees, but these are among my least favourite. They're fleshy of leaf, scrappy of shape, not very tall, not shady enough. In a word, lacking. And because we don't live somewhere cool and northern, the leaves turn an unappetising brown instead of the outrageous fluoro-reds and coppers and yellows of their more flamboyant relatives.

:: The posts have been a bit pedestrian this week - sorry - but I've been flat out with some editing for the Bondi, plus a lovely 80,000-word manuscript to work on, plus all the usual family and doggy stuff. On top of that, I've only just recovered completely from the cough, headaches and all-round listlessness after the dreadful cold that hit me almost two weeks ago. Not good.
Onwards and ever upwards!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Booking through Thursday
This week's question:
  • Have you ever met one of your favorite authors? Gotten their autograph?
  • How about an author you felt only so-so about, but got their autograph anyway? Like, say, at a book-signing a friend dragged you to?
  • How about stumbling across a book signing or reading and being so captivated, you bought the book?
Book signings, like rock concerts, are rare things in the part of Australia I come from, Perth, which is a shame because it's a very literate, sophisticated and affluent city. But it's also a long way from anywhere. It's the most isolated major city on the planet - nearer Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, than Canberra, the capital of Australia.
So 'stumbling across a book signing or reading' is unlikely, and most authors on book tours really prefer to feel they've 'done' Australia by spending a couple of afternoons at chain bookshops in Melbourne and Sydney. Perth? Forget about it!

1. However, I did meet Germaine Greer* in the 1990s, after attending one of her lectures (with you, Karen!) publicising her book, The Change, about menopause.
A quotable quote came during public question time. Q: Is there such a thing as the male menopause? GG: No, and if there were, who'd give a shit?
I couldn't afford to buy her book - and the dreaded Big M was a long way off at that point - but Karen and I queued to get her to sign a piece of paper each, during which she managed to tell us that she'd seen Barry Humphries naked and 'You know the strange thing about him? He doesn't have a hair anywhere on his body. Not a single hair. Anywhere.' I still have her autograph.

2. I heard
Louis de Bernières talk about his novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin (again, with you, Karen! this time with you, Susan!), but didn't queue to speak to him afterwards for fear of prostrating myself across his desk, vowing to follow him anywhere and offering to be his slave.

(*Germaine Greer is an Australian-born UK academic who wrote The Female Eunuch, the seminal text of the so-called second wave of feminism in the 1970s; brilliant mind, massive ego, tendency to be shrill; attitudes towards her outspokenness on topics ranging from Australian society to men have changed from 'Trust Germaine to tell it like it is' to 'Would someone please shut that bloody woman up?' as she has become more strident and, occasionally, spiteful.)

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Now do let's have a nice chat, Alan

I'd so like to have Alan Bennett sitting in an armchair in the corner of my sitting room, chatting away in his Yorkshire accent, filling the room with his finely-tuned observations of life ...

This is such a perfect gem, a novella you can whiz through in an afternoon, as I did on the weekend while I waited, patiently, for David to finish Harry 7 so I could grab it.
Mr Bennett plays with the notion of what would happen to Queen and country should Her Majesty become a serious reader. And what would she read?
He's captured her personality and voice to a T, and you can hear those regal, brittle vowels in her conversations with Prince Philip, her New Zealander private secretary Sir Kevin, and her friend, Norman, a fellow reader whom she whisks upstairs from the Buckingham Palace kitchens to be her 'amanuensis'.
There's much that will make you laugh, but also more wistful passages in which HM regrets, in her old age, the decades of opportunities she has wasted in meeting so many famous and important writers, without having had the faintest interest in them or their work.
As he did so skilfully in Talking Heads, Mr Bennett pokes gentle fun at his characters and their opinions, and shoots barbs at the bizarre social mores of the British class system. But the wit is sharp rather than acerbic, born of intelligence and affection rather than any desire to be cruel.
I loved it - there has to be a movie. They should get Helen Mirren to play this Queen, she'd eat it up!

Monday, 8 October 2007

Gold and then some

Congratulations to my Mum and Dad on their fifty-seventh wedding anniversary!
I took this pic in April this year, outside their new cottage in their fabulous retirement village (Club Med) in Albany, on the south coast of Western Australia. They hadn't been there long, but Mum had already made a start on the rose garden - this weekend she told me she'd actually taken over their neighbour's front garden as he wasn't keen, so this part of the village will be looking pretty lush by now!
Mum and Dad were married in London, at a registry office, in 1950. Soon after, Dad spent two years in hospital, having contracted TB in Malta, when he was in the Royal Air Force on his way to Korea.
Not an auspicious start to married life - but it doesn't seem to have mattered!
Dad is from Norfolk, but Mum is a Hertfordshire girl who grew up in the tiny village of Sarratt. During the war, as a girl of 11 or 12, she was evacuated to Southampton (you do have to wonder why!) and lived in appalling conditions in a house there whose owner treated her as little more than a servant.
Anyway - happy days now in their resort in Australia, with loads of great friends, parties every week, quiz nights, walks with Jenny (the Jack Russell), Sunday roasts and DVDs on their huge wide-screen telly.
I love them lots and wish I was closer ...

Sunday, 7 October 2007

The Oprah phenomenon

I read in the LA Times today that Oprah has chosen Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Time of Cholera as the new pick for her book club.
Accordingly, his publisher has announced a new print run of 750,000 copies and 30,000 of the original Spanish text.
Perhaps we could get Oprah to come and hang out in Bondi for a bit!

Friday, 5 October 2007

Booking through Thursday

This week's question is:

Do you have “issues” with too much profanity or overly explicit (ahem) “romantic” scenes in books? Or do you take them in [your] stride? Have issues like these ever caused you to close a book? Or do you go looking for more exactly like them? (grin)
Can anything be overly explicit? Isn't it explicit or not explicit?
But I digress.
By 'romantic scenes' I think you're referring to a jolly good rogering - let's be adult here!
Sex is perfectly okay in books, even explicit sex, so long as it's well written and not just there so the author gets his or her rocks off, or reckons the reader will.

I don't have 'issues' with reading explicit sex scenes. But I abhor gratuitous sex in books, explicit or not. It reflects badly on the author and is just plain tiresome.
For example, I enjoyed two or three Carl Hiaasen novels. They were so funny at first, and he was on a laudable mission. But then the incidence of sex between his singularly unattractive and unappealing, world-weary hero and some hot babe just became so formulaic I couldn't be bothered reading anymore - it all suddenly looked so undergraduate.
The same with Lee Child and his Jack Reacher novels. Loved them at first, until I realised Reacher, laden down as he was with issssues and problems and His Hurtful Past, still got his leg over some willing wench in every story! Bye Jack! Bor-ing!

The subjects I do have 'issues' with are far less trivial than sex. Things like ultra-violence, cruelty, and anything horrible involving kids. Shudder.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Lazy Cow got me started on this - it's a list of the top 100 or so books on LibraryThing that are most often tagged as 'unread'.
LibraryThing is a website that catalogs people's libraries, their lists of books to read, books they've read, reviews, and so on - it's a fascinating place to explore (and a little confusing, I have to add).
Anyway, the point here is to copy this list and then mark the titles:
  • bold for ones you've read
  • italics for ones you've started but haven't finished
  • strike through those you couldn't stand
  • an asterisk for those you've read more than once
  • underscore for those you intend to read
I also put in my two bobs' worth: I put in red all those titles I'd never even heard of!
It is an odd list - by its very nature it's totally random, instead of being a show-off list of books we all ought to have read. I think it's also US-oriented. But what the hey - it's fun!

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Anna Karenina
Crime and Punishment
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Wuthering Heights
Life of Pi
The Name of the Rose
Don Quixote
Moby Dick
Madame Bovary
The Odyssey
Pride and Prejudice*
Jane Eyre
A Tale of Two Cities
The Brothers Karamazov
Guns, Germs, and Steel
War and Peace
Vanity Fair
The Time Traveler's Wife
The Iliad
The Blind Assassin
The Kite Runner
Mrs Dalloway
Great Expectations
American Gods : a novel
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Atlas Shrugged
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Memoirs of a Geisha
Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
Canterbury Tales
The Historian: A Novel
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Love in the Time of Cholera
Brave New World
The Fountainhead
Foucault's Pendulum
The Count of Monte Cristo
A Clockwork Orange
Anansi Boys: A Novel
The Once and Future King
The Grapes of Wrath
The Poisonwood Bible
Angels & Demons
The Inferno
The Satanic Verses
Sense and Sensibility
The Picture of Dorian Gray
Mansfield Park
One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
To the Lighthouse
Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Oliver Twist
Gulliver's Travels
Les Misérables
The Corrections
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
The Prince
The Sound and the Fury
Angela's Ashes
The God of Small Things
A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present
A Confederacy of Dunces
A Short History of Nearly Everything
The Dubliners
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Beloved: A Novel
The Scarlet Letter
Eats, Shoots & Leaves
The Mists of Avalon
Oryx and Crake: A Novel
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Cloud Atlas: A Novel
The Confusion
Northanger Abbey
The Catcher in the Rye
On the Road
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
The Aeneid
Watership Down
Gravity's Rainbow
In Cold Blood
White Teeth
Treasure Island
David Copperfield
The Three Musketeers
Cold Mountain

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

On a mission

David and I just enrolled to be able to vote in the forthcoming Australian federal election. Apparently, when you're living overseas and are no longer resident at your previous address, you get put back on the roll in your last electoral division. So we had a lovely letter from the Curtin electoral office explaining that though we couldn't vote at all in state elections, we were obligated to do so in federal ones by applying for a postal vote or turning up in person at the 'nearest Australian Diplomatic Mission'. No worries.

And that led Dave and me to think that perhaps we should apply to have the Bondi classed as an Australian Diplomatic Mission - after all, the consul general drops in from time to time when he's not in his mansion in Los Angeles (it backs on to the grounds of the Getty Centre - to die for!)
We thought we could rope off a bit at the back of the public bar, over near the kegs, and when Aussies come in to vote we could offer them a pie and a pencil, with the promise of an icy-cold one after they'd voted - for the right mob, of course!

:: Halloween's coming (October 31) - and it seems the entire country simply cannot wait! Let's get the cozzies organised, the pumpkins carved and on with the party. It's wonderful - one of the best things about living here.
As a measure of the seriousness with which my fellow Americans apply themselves to this annual brou haha, consider the following: my local supermarket has had cartloads of the most enormous orange pumpkins outside for the last fortnight; 'Halloween superstores' have sprung up in almost every shopping centre; Halloween M-and-Ms are on sale; you can book now for pumpkin-carving lessons and costumes are available at hire outlets - and they're for all ages.

I took this pic of a Halloween store in LA the weekend before last (not even in October!) ...

... not a very good pic as it was late afternoon and I pointed the camera through the car windscreen - but you get the idea.
And then even earlier - in the middle of September - this was a little part of Target in Olympia, in Washington:

It'll rise to a fever pitch as the countdown starts - I'll keep you posted!

:: Went shopping last week at Costco, which is a phenomenon and a half ...

I hadn't actually been inside a Costco store before - though I'd heard plenty about these nationwide retail giants, so Cindy (a fellow Bondite) invited me to go with her when she went to stock up for the impending visit of her in-laws.
You pay $50 a year and get an ID card with your picture on it, and then you are let loose with a mega-trolley. There are no frills at all, but everything seems to come in giant-size jumbo containers and at unbelievably low prices. And you can buy anything, it seems: electrical goods, soft furnishings, household goods, car stuff, hardware ...

... food (including top-quality Australian lamb, c-h-e-a-p), spectacles, clothing, pet food, toiletries and medicines. And - right in the middle, unannounced, I hit the mother-lode ...

... vast tables of books. Yum! There was plenty of kids' stuff, and piles of remainders, but the jewels far outweighed the dross. I picked up four current novels that I'd been looking at in B&N, and the dearest of these was $8.
Oh boy - I'll be back with my fifty smackaroos and some more browsing time!