Women In Translation Month (and my own ramblings)

August may be Blaugust, but it is also Women in Translation Month! Which is a joyous and important event, started several years ago by my (brilliant and generous) internet friend Meytal (blog here, twitter here).

I’ve never really participated in the month.

When I was little, I was a bookworm. I borrowed piles of books from the library and read them one after the other until I was sick, grumpy and dehydrated. I lived to consume books. But moving to adult fiction put me off again and again and again. In between occasional authors I loved, reading was awful. I hated books I was given as gifts. I got halfway through other books just to put them away because I was immensely bored. Some books seemed to exist just to hurt me. Other books seemed poorly crafted. Over time my reading rate slowed significantly, because I had no idea how to figure out if I would enjoy a book or not, and it usually seemed easier not to bother with the emotional effort of finding out. I stopped thinking of myself as ‘a reader’ and even the concept of reading tended to make me sad. I never stopped reading altogether. There was a lot of re-reading of books and authors that I knew.

But I’ve got a new love of reading in the last year or so. I started reading non-fiction, and enjoying it. It’s different. Sometimes I need more time between books. Sometimes I need time between chapters. But here are some new favourites:

  • Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe,
  • Saga Land by Kári Gíslason and Richard Fidler,
  • The Bagel by Maria Balinska, and
  • We Were Eight Years In Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

I’ve also been enjoying art gallery books. This whole non-fiction thing might really have all started with the NGV’s Van Gogh and the Seasons in 2017. Or it might have been Ta-Nehisi Coates, lent to me by a friend. It probably doesn’t matter.

I even started reading some poetry and short stories (for which I thank Mary Oliver and Maxine Beneba Clarke respectively). I’m still reading some novels too, at the same sporadic level I have been for years now.

This year when WIT Month came around, I was still thinking ‘Oh, I don’t really read, anymore. I wish I could participate but I guess I can’t because I hate reading, unfortunately.’ But actually it turns out I do read, and I do love it still. It’s not like it was when I was a kid, voraciously devouring entire rows of books. And sometimes I’ll buy or borrow books that I don’t get on with at all. But that’s the risk, and that’s okay.

All this to say, I’ve put two books on hold at the library, by women in translation. They are:

  • Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata (tr. from Japanese)
  • Extraordinary Insects by Anne Sverdup-Thygeson (tr. from Norwegian)

Convenience Store Woman was recommended by a friend, when I asked if she had any favourite novels by women in translation. I was trying to take part in the month in some sense even before I had my tiny epiphany… And Extraordinary Insects just seems right up my current interest alley.

I’ve also bought Murder Duet: A Musical Case, by Batya Gur (tr. from Hebrew). This one’s on the list because I just really wanted a detective novel.

Only one of those books is likely to get to me during August, but I’m planning to be ready in advance next year. I’ll be reading WIT through the year so I can give recommendations and discuss books and generally be a part of it all 🙂

week 2 of nanowrimo

Okay so I will confess that this week has been harder. I didn’t write on Friday or Saturday or Monday and yesterday I didn’t manage the 1,667 words needed to stop falling further behind. But do not lose hope! We had a friend visiting on the weekend and I plan to fully make up for all the non-weekend writing of last weekend, this weekend. (Also, I discovered the Supernatural transcripts online and accidentally read three seasons in three days but I’m sure that’s irrelevant…)

So on this magical non writing weekend, what did we do? Mostly we spent our time hiding in bookshops in Fremantle (where it unexpectedly rained!) and in Kings Park which was delightfully sunny. It was also Remembrance Day and the War Memorial is in Kings Park so we got to hear The Last Post played by someone from army.

age-banding books

There are two things I want to start off with:

1. When I was 13 I wrote a story that horrified my teacher. In fact, she was horrified by the whole class, a big fuss was made and we were all told to write about more appropriate things from then on.

2. I hate picking up library book after library book to discover that what was pretending to be fantasy is really just erotica in disguise. When I was 14 I accidentally read a book with a graphic rape scene and I found it quite disturbing. I also would have liked some warning that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was way more violent than the back cover indicated.

Moving on.

I agree with the vast majority of people involved in chidren’s fiction when they say that age-banding is ridiculous. You don’t want to lock kids into a set “reading bracket”. But it would be nice if everyone could choose the level of gore they want when they want. At the very least it would be nice to get a warning so you can prepare your mind.

In Sylvia’s perfect world we would put a little sticker on the back of every book with the checkboxes:

  • Violence
  • Sex
  • Sexual violence

That way everyone would have a greater level of autonomy regarding their reading choices.

Now I know this wouldn’t work in real life. Many children would be stopped from reading a book just because it had violence in it. Many parents would kick up a ruckus if a book with subtle sexual innuendo wasn’t tagged with sex. But I can dream, okay?

favourite books.

In 3rd year uni I had a knee reconstruction right before my mid-year exams. The heay load of study combined with strong painkillers meant that the familiarity and easy reading of Harry Potter was about all I could cope with in terms of leisure activity. I read the whole series through three times. (I’m pretty sure it was three… might have been five though…) I began to think that I knew the whole thing off by heart. Although, to be fair, even before that reading spree I knew the series fairly well.

I was given the first two books for my birthday (tenth, perhaps), we bought the 3rd soon after, and the remaining 4 as they came out. Each time a new book came out I read it all the way through, without pausing, before passing it off to one of my siblings or parents. Along with this quick read through, my parents also started a tradition whereby we read Harry Potter at dinner time. Every night, after tea, a chapter or two would be read aloud. My mum read most often but I think all of us read sometimes. We kept this up until Deathly Hallows, when dinner was not a consistently five person affair.

And so I say that the Harry Potter series are my favourite books. I’ve never thought, before now, that I had a favourite book. A year or two ago I tried to decide and came up with a list that included Ender’s Game, Sherlock Holmes and Anne of Green Gables. It didn’t include the Book Thief but only because I hadn’t read it yet. So what changed my mind?

I have just spent a year without Harry Potter books. I moved to Perth and let my Harry Potter books remain with their set in Adelaide. And I have missed them terribly. Numerous times in libraries and bookshops I’ve swooned over them and wanted to take them home with me but something always stopped me: a new book I’d been recommended, or the fact that I’m meant to be saving money… whatever. Yesterday I gave in. Yesterday at the library I decided that I had missed Harry Potter for long enough and I was going to read them all again. Of course the library didn’t have Philosopher’s Stone in so I had to pick up Chamber of Secrets instead but no matter.

I loved it.

In memory I’ve always thought of Chamber of Secrets as the weakest of the books (certainly the weakest of the first 3) but it just made me so happy. I don’t know if I can really explain how happy I was to go back and remember it all. Nonetheless I am now convinced that Harry Potter is my favourite and possibly will remain so forever.

Books I don’t own.

Do you ever go to your bookshelf to pick up a particular book and realise with sudden shock that you don’t own it?

Well perhaps it has never happened to anyone else but it happened to me today. I wanted to skim through Pride and Prejudice to check something. Note: I wasn’t even going to read it because I’ve read it so many times, I just wanted to check a detail. I was sure I owned it. If anyone had asked me this morning which Austen books I own, I would have listed it. But then, as I tried to recall the physical book I realised that I’d read several different copies of it: one a large print from the library, one a small print from the library, one on my kindle* and one on wikisource. How had this happened? More importantly, how was this not the first time this had happened? A few months ago I looked for Ender’s Game and realised I didn’t own a copy of that either.

So I’m going to make a list of books that I should own – books that everyone should own – and that I think I own but actually I don’t.

For starters:
Pride and Prejudice
Ender’s Game

Anyone got any other suggestions?

*Yes, I’m aware that owning a book on kindle is one form of owning a book but I like to own books in physical format too.

the last dragonslayer

I don’t really mean to be a book review site because I prefer reading books to writing critically about them. Nonetheless, I read The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde and it’s a pretty amazing book so I thought you all should know. I really like Jasper Fforde as an author but I’d never read anything he’d written specifically for YA. This one definitely felt more like it was aimed at middle grade or YA but his humour worked just as well. I feel like most of his books are equally accessible to adults and teens, though, so it wasn’t too surprising.

One of my favourite things was the creation of a world in which people are judged by their maturity and so the main character was considered mature enough to get a drivers licence at 13. I always wished I could be judged purely on my maturity, rather than my age, so it was just the kind of idea that made me smile.

I loved the main character and her side kick. I loved all of the bit part characters. I really just loved the whole thing.
Yep. That is all.

a curious piece of advice

“write people you would want to spend time with – even the nasty ones” – Neil Gaiman

Look, I’m obviously a Gaiman fan but I’m fairly sure I would find this piece of advice intriguing even if it didn’t come from him and here is why…

I love to read. I have always considered myself a bookworm. I really think books are one of the greatest things in the world. But there are books I dislike, books I hate and books I never finish because I don’t think they’re worth the small amount of time they would take me to read. And books I dislike tend to fall into one of two categories:

1. They are too wordy with long sentences I get lost in and paragraphs about nothing, or

2. I don’t like the characters.

And, if I’m honest, 2 is a much bigger problem for me. I made it all the way through Les Miserables despite finding large chunks of it fairly boring. I loved War and Peace despite, well, all the detailed War sections. I can deal with boring paragraphs if I care enough about the characters.

But if I dislike the main character the chances of me finishing the novel are slim and the chance of me liking it is basically non-existent.

Can any of you think of a novel you like with a character you dislike?

reading adventures

I never go in to a library and pick up what I expected to when I walked in.

On my most recent trip I grabbed some Diana Wynne Jones, Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman and (the one planned novel) a Teen Power Inc book by Emily Rodda.

The strangest pick of the bunch was the Neil Gaiman book, (well, “graphic novel”): one of the Sandman series. I knew these were what had made Gaiman famous but I’d never really thought of reading them. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Asterix and Tin Tin while growing up (ok, I still do), but that’s been about the limit of my comic book/ graphic novel intake.

Well, anyway, it was fantastic. It was fun and funny and exciting and mysterious and now I want them ALL. That’s the problem with picking up one book in a series… You get hooked and then have to search the world for each and every episode. But the characters were fascinating, I enjoyed having pictures while I was reading and it was a nice change from my normal reading habits.

The other three novels I had already devoured when I was somewhere in the vicinity of late primary school and it is interesting to go back and read them just to note how much I have changed.

They are three very different books and even back then I knew that parents, teachers and librarians had a ranking system in their minds regarding which were “better”. I have it now, too, but I didn’t back then. Back then, I loved the words of Lemony Snicket, I loved his cleverness and his characters. I loved the worlds of Diana Wynne Jones and her imagination. I loved the high-stakes adventures of Emily Rodda’s gang and the way she told me that no two people are the same.

I only saw the things that held my attention. If a book was good enough in one aspect it didn’t matter if it was lacking in others.