Friday, 30 August 2013

Between Inhabited Worlds

"Now that her initial fear had diminished, something else had begun to emerge from her.  Something more strange.  And, he thought, deplorable.  A coldness.  Like, he thought, a breath from the vacuum between inhabited worlds, in fact from nowhere: it was not what she did or said but what she did not do and say."

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep? - Philip K. Dick

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Creative Coffee

Today I had a nostalgic lunch with a friend on our lunch break.  We went to a Thai restaurant near where our old work used to be in North Sydney. 

It was kind of sad being there.  I used to think the North Sydney office – at the top of a hill and a 10 minute walk from the shops – was in a bad location.  But by contrast, the new office is in the middle of a semi-industrial area, we’re in open plan, have no access to windows and barely any natural light. 

I think what makes it worse is that we didn’t have a choice: our old company was being wound up and all the operations transferred to a larger one.  We were lucky to be offered jobs.

But all that aside, I also took the opportunity today to get a snap of this cafe menu.  I hadn't been there in months, so I'm glad they still had it up.  It's a creative description of coffees that I just had to share: the Chocolate and Chocolate Hazelnut ones in particular.

Who knew chocolate had a soul?

I thought it was great that someone took a hum-drum task like writing a cafe menu and gave it a little creative flair.  Good on you, anonymous menu writer.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Shouldn't You Be Baking?

It’s a question I’ve asked myself a few times over the past week or so.  Almost completely unrelated to me actually making chocolate chip cookies from a refrigerated tube of cookie dough.  Rather it’s in response to the completion of a stressful project, and the sudden lull afterwards.
I used to experience a similar feeling at university, particularly following the completion of end of semester exams.  After such an intense period of study and stress, in which I was scrambling to get things done, having them always at the back of my mind, there followed a sudden influx of free time.  But instead of enjoying this newfound opportunity to engage in frivolous pastimes, my brain would react differently.  Shouldn’t you be baking?  I.e. shouldn’t you be studying?
The question comes from what some refer to as the ‘golden age’ of The Simpsons (around seasons 5 and 6), in an episode called ‘Fear of Flying’.  It’s probably one of my favourite episodes because really, who can’t relate to a fear of flying? (Even if it is only a little, healthy amount of fear) Marge is having a bit of a breakdown caused by anxiety over her fear of flying.  As a result, she starts behaving in a number of unusual, uncharacteristic ways, including baking at all hours of the night.  One night, Homer is awoken by the sound of banging and leans out the window to see Marge on the roof in her night gown and slippers, fixing tiles on the roof.  To this he responds by calling up to her:

It’s that feeling that’s almost like guilt, that I should be working, that the things I am doing to relax are inherently wrong because my brain has become used to that intense pace.  A kind of inverse version of procrastination.  
I suppose in a day or so I’m sure it’ll go away once the growing fear of my next deadline kicks in.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Biting Anorexia

I picked this book up for $1 at a remainder shop and boy, am I glad I didn’t pay much more.  It’s not that Lucy Howard-Taylor is a bad writer – I don’t think, truly, that she is – it’s just that this is a bad book.  There are parts where Lucy’s writing talent shines through – particularly in the poetry sections – but those are overshadowed by the inane teenage whinging and lack of real narrative cohesion.

“I am writing from the bedroom: my solitary life punctuated by annoying family members.  They just won’t leave me alone.”

The only reason I read the whole thing was because I wanted to review it – otherwise I probably would have stopped before I was even halfway through.

The first part of the book takes place when Lucy is in high school and is a series of short memories interspersed with diary entries.  Later at university she continues to provide diary-like entries.  Here is where I think Lucy really let herself down: by including diary entries from when she was a teenager.  A lot of girls keep a diary when they’re a teenager.  I had one too and let me tell you, it is very embarrassing and something I would hesitate to show my partner let alone have published.  I can understand that she wanted to show what it was like, what she was really thinking at the time, but a bit of distance and editing will come a long way.  As a teenager you obsess over stupid things, things that in the long run don’t matter.  We didn’t need to hear about all these things.  For instance, she falls in love with someone she meets over the internet, but this eventually fails – we aren’t exactly told why.  This little story didn’t add anything to the overall narrative, and the book probably would have been better if it was taken out.  There didn’t really seem to be any real ramifications – it was just something that was happening in her life at the time.

The fact that we weren’t really told what happened is another thing that irked me.  At once Lucy is open about her eating disorder and reveals very personal things about herself.  Yet at the same time, she guards her privacy.  The decision to reveal some things but not others is very frustrating.  For example, would it really matter if she told us the names of her friends? I don’t think so.  We can probably work out who they are from the names in the acknowledgements anyway.  How about using pseudonyms instead?  It gets very confusing reading A– did this and L– did that all the time.  It further contributes to the lack of characterisation and narrative.

If I met Lucy, I would probably suggest she read Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.  She seems like a smart girl, and some of her poetry and prose is very beautiful, but she doesn’t know how to write a satisfying non-fiction piece.  I read Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness – also about anorexia – which is a much better work.  In de Rossi’s book, we get a sense at the end that the character has gone on a journey, and we are given reasons why.  Instead we are left to guess at Lucy’s motivations, and it’s never really explained what helped her to move on and what happens to her love interests.  For example, at the end of the book, Lucy gives advice to readers who have an eating disorder, yet merely two pages prior she is still going on about how she considers herself ‘a flob’ (which I guess means fat).  Further, during the last chapter I was still getting new information about the character and thinking, oh, so that’s how she helped herself recover.  Or, that’s interesting, she never mentioned walking around the block a million times.  The final chapter is not the place where one should be revealing new information about a character.  Because like it or not, Lucy is the character in her own book, and she has not given herself a proper character arch.

The poetry in the book is really the best part.  I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better had she written the entire narrative through poems.  She seems to be able to convey a lot more that way.  It would also enable her to keep her privacy without feeling like she’s divulging too much to the reader.

“The darkness is sulking.
I poke it with my pen.
It cringes and crawls into a corner
Leaving greasy grey footprints.
Letters cuddle the nib and glue as one
Into crooked meaning;
Lone words
That dissolve in leaden circles
Lob into shadow and seldom return.
… they do
Another jab,
Another prod,
Another wheezing pink pit.
A stab in the back
A blinding fissure in black –
… I win.”

The rich, privileged girl (one from the north shore of Sydney who went to a private girls school and studied arts/law at Sydney University, mind you) with an eating disorder can’t really get any more clich├ęd. I found there were a few sections in the book that sound rather pretentious.  For example, having an author’s note at the back explaining that ‘anoretic’ is the proper noun is, to me, like assuming that the reader is dumber than she is.  Personally if I didn’t know what a word meant, I would probably look it up, but it’s almost here in a defensive manner – no, it’s not a typo, it’s the correct usage.  If she was worried about how she would look as a writer, that is the least of her worries.

I can only review this book from the perspective of somebody who isn’t a teenager with an eating disorder, so I cannot say whether it truly achieves its purpose: helping those with anorexia/bulimia to overcome their disorder.  I’d say the last few pages of the chapter ‘The Light’ is where it is most effective as she actually speaks about how she recovers.  It’s too bad she wasn’t able to intersperse this throughout the book.

Unfortunately, I probably wouldn’t recommend this book.  If I wanted to recommend a book about anorexia, I would suggest Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness.  If Lucy were to write a book on poetry, I suspect that it would be fantastic.

Friday, 16 August 2013

And so it begins...

What better time to break the ice on my Top 100 challenge than when I am laid up in bed with a cold for days?

And so, in no particular order (other than the fact that it's on loan from a friend) I am beginning with ...

#21 - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Here I am, pondering the title question.

I remember being in English class - I think it was year 11 - when all the students from both classes had been called together to announce the next unit of study (I went to a small-ish high school, only about 50 people in my year, so there were only 2 classes).  Our English teachers informed us that for the next few weeks, all the girls would go together in one classroom to study Jane Austin's Emma and the movie Clueless, while all the boys would study the book Brave New World and the movie Blade Runner.  'What kind of BS is this?' I thought to myself.  I put my hand up.  'Do I have to study Emma and Clueless?' I asked.  I could think of nothing more tedious than having to read Jane Austin.  Why did the boys get to study the cool stuff?  'No, you can go with the boys.'  I was pleasantly surprised.  I had expected to be forced into the Emma/Clueless class.  So thankfully they allowed me to spend the next few weeks in the boys' class studying Aldous Huxley and Blade Runner.  I was the only girl - or boy - who asked to switch classes and I still don't regret my decision!

So that's how I came to know the movie Blade Runner, which I hear is based on this book, but differs somewhat.  Although I've not seen the movie for 10 years, from what I remember, I wonder if the title should be 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Unicorns?'  I guess I'm about to find out.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

50 Facts About Me -- Part I

I've been seeing a lot of Youtube videos with the '50 Facts About Me' tag and thought it would be pretty fun to transfer the same idea to Our Daily Prose.  So here goes Part 1...

1. My name - Jannali - is an Australian Aboriginal word meaning 'moon'.

2. I am quite literally allergic to stress.  If I stress too much I break out into hives!!

3. I made it to diploma level flute before stopping lessons to focus on my writing.

4. My favourite tea is Twinnings Irish Breakfast tea.
Image (c) Alexandre Dulaunoy 2008
Mmmmm tea.
5. I can sing an E6.

6. I am currently obsessed with Park Bom of 2ne1.
Image (c) the.angrycamel from Singapore, Singapore

7. I love the colour purple so much I asked for an amethyst instead of a diamond engagement ring.

8. For a time I went by Jannali Harrison ... long story.

9. I like to tell people my favourite food is spanikopita, but it's really hot chips.
Image (c) Indirect Heat 2010
Spanikopita just sounds like a more sophisticated favourite food.

10. I have nightmares about tsunamis.

To be continued ...

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Get Up and Bar the Door

Get Up and Bar the Door
It fell about the Martinmas time,
And a gay time it was then,
When our goodwife got puddings to make,
And she ’s boild them in the pan.

The wind sae cauld blew south and north,
And blew into the floor;
Quoth our goodman to our goodwife,
“Gae out and bar the door.”

“My hand is in my hussyfskap,
Goodman, as ye may see;
An it shoud nae be barrd this hundred year,
It ’s no be barrd for me.”

They made a paction tween them twa,
They made it firm and sure,
That the first word whaeer shoud speak,
Shoud rise and bar the door.

Then by there came two gentlemen,
At twelve o clock at night,
And they could neither see house nor hall,
Nor coal nor candle-light.

“Now whether is this a rich man’s house,
Or whether is it a poor?”
But neer a word wad ane o them speak,
For barring of the door.

And first they ate the white puddings,
And then they ate the black;
Tho muckle thought the goodwife to hersel,
Yet neer a word she spake.

Then said the one unto the other,
“Here, man, tak ye my knife;
Do ye tak aff the auld man’s beard,
And I ’ll kiss the goodwife.”

“But there ’s nae water in the house,
And what shall we do than?”
What ails thee at the pudding-broo,
That boils into the pan?”

O up then started our goodman,
An angry man was he:
“Will ye kiss my wife before my een,
And scad me wi pudding-bree?”

Then up and started our goodwife,
Gied three skips on the floor:
“Goodman, you’ve spoken the foremost word,
Get up and bar the door.”
-- Anonymous
Hmm ... so if I change my pen name to 'Anonymous', I will instantly have a body of work ...

Here is another poem that I came across in high school.  It’s pretty self-explanatory – just a bit of fun.  Nice to get a break from intensely introspective and depressing poetry every now and then.

It’s really a shame that this one is anonymous, because it has lasted the distance.  It’s believed to have been penned in the 17th century.


Friday, 9 August 2013

Top 100 Challenge

The other day a friend on Facebook linked a Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books list: a reader-voted compilation.  I was appalled to discover that I've only read 6 of them (not counting movies I've seen based on books or books I started but didn't finish), despite the fact that I consider fantasy to be my favourite genre.

So I've decided it's time to really get to know my genre, not just stick to my 4-5 beloved fantasy authors.  As soon as I've finished my current book (which is terrible by the way, and I will tell you why in another blog), I'll start cracking that 100 list.  I'm actually really looking forward to it.

I'll be reading them in no particular order, as I will start with books I have at home that I've been meaning to read, like 'I, Robot' and also re-read others that I have read in the past, like 'Brave New World'.  From then I hope to scour some cheap book stores, itunes or dust off the old library card to find the rest.
You mean ... they let you just take books for free?
In case the original site goes down, as the list is a couple of years old, I'm reproducing the list here:

1. The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
2. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
3. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card
4. Dune - Frank Herbert (the original list says 'the Dune chronicles', but I think they're still writing those books (?) so I'm just going to stick to re-reading the first one by Frank Herbert)
5. A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin (another 'series' still being written that I will restrict to the first book)
6. 1984 - George Orwell
7. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
8. The Foundation Trilogy - Isaac Asimov
9. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
10. American Gods - Neil Gaiman
11. The Princess Bride - William Goldman
12. The Wheel of Time - Robert Jordan (limiting to the first one)
13. Animal Farm - George Orwell
14. Neuromancer - William Gibson
15. Watchmen - Alan Moore
16. I, Robot - Isaac Asimov
17. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A. Heinlein
18. The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss
19. Slaughter House Five - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
20. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
21. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K Dick
22. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
23. The Dark Tower - Stephen King
24. 2001: A Space Odyssey - Arthur C. Clarke
25. The Stand - Stephen King
26. Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
27. The Martian Chronicles - Ray Bradbury
28. Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
29. The Sandman Series - Neil Gaiman
30. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
31. Starship Troopers  - Robert A. Heinlein
32. Watership Down - Richard Adams
33. Dragonflight - Anne McCaffrey
34. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress - Robert A. Heinlein
35. A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller
36. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
37. 20,000 Leagues under the Sea - Jules Verne
38. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
39. The War of the Worlds - H.G. Wells
40. The Amber Chronicles - Roger Zelazny
41. The Belgariad - David Eddings
42. The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
43. The Mistborn Trilogy - Brandon Sanderson
44. Ringworld - Larry Niven
45. The Left Hand of Darkness - Ursula K. Le Guin
46. The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien
47. The Once and Future King
48. Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman
49. Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke
50. Contact - Carl Sagan
51. Hyperion - Dan Simmons
52. Stardust - Neil Gaiman 
53. Cryotonomicon - Neal Stephenson
54. World War Z - Max Brooks
55. The Last Unicorn - Peter S. Beagle
56. The Forever War - Joe Haldeman
57. Small Gods - Terry Pratchett
58. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - Stephen R. Donaldson
59. Vorkosigan Saga - Lois McMaster Bujold
60. Going Postal - Terry Pratchett
61. The Mote in God's Eye - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
62. The Sword of Truth Series - Terry Goodkind
63. The Road - Cormac McCarthy
64. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke
65. I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
66. The Riftwar Saga - Raymond E. Feist
67. The Sword of Shannara Trilogy - Terry Brooks
68. Conan the Barbarian - Robert E. Howard and Mark Schultz
69. The Farseer trilogy - Robin Hobb
70. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
71. The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson
72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth - Jules Verne
73. The Legend of Drizzt Series - R.A. Salvatore
74. Old Man's War Series - John Scalzi
75. The Diamond Age - Neal Stephenson
76. Rendezvous With Rama - Arthur C. Clarke
77. Kushiel's Dart trilogy - Jacqueline Carey
78. The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin
79. Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
80. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West - Gregory Maguire
81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen series - Steven Erikson
82. The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde
83. The Culture Series - Iain Banks
84. The Crystal Cave - Mary Stewart
85. Anathem - Neal Stephenson
86. The Codex Alera - Jim Butcher
87. The Book of the New Sun - Gene Wolfe
88. The Thrawn trilogy - Timothy Zahn
89. Outlander Series - Diana Gabaldon
90. The Elric Saga - Michael Moorcock
91. The Illustrated Man - Ray Bradbury
92. Sunshine - Robin McKinley
93. A Fire Upon the Deep - Vernor Vinge
94. The Caves of Steel - Isaac Asimov
95. The Mars trilogy - Kim Stanley Robinson
96. Lucifer's Hammer - Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
97. Doomsday Book - Connie Willis
98. Perdido Street Station - China Mieville
99. The Xanth Series - Piers Anthony

100. The Space Trilogy - C.S. Lewis