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Narrelle’s 2016 Holiday Reading Rec List

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Whatever the end of the year means to you, generally it means a few lazy days and grabbing some time for a bit of reading. Whether you’re preparing to soak up the sun in the southern hemisphere, or rug up warm in front of the fire (or frolic how you please somewhere in the middle) it’s always a good time for a new book!

Naturally, I have some recommendations for you!

Narrelle M Harris has a bumper year

If you’ve somehow missed the excellent year I’ve had, may I draw your attention not only to The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance set in Australia in 1893, but also to Wilderness, the third of my sexy spy thrillers about Martine Dubois and Philip Marsden.

In addition, there are the many wonderful anthologies in which my work’s appeared this year: Intrepid Horizons, A Certain Persuasion (queer interpretations of Jane Austen), The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes stories Part V: Christmas Adventures (traditional Victorian era Holmes and Watson) and A Murmuring of Bees (queer Holmes/Watson romance and erotica). In the next few weeks, Clan Destine’s And Then… anthology will be joining them with my 1851 fantasy, “Virgin Soil”.

That’s enough variety to keep you going for a few weeks, but if you’ve already been a champion and supported my work throughtout the year, I can also recommend some other fantastic books.

Narrelle’s 2016 recommendations

GoodReads stats tell me that I read 84 books this year, so I was clearly reading as fast and hard as I was writing.  So many good books too! Here are some of my favourites:

Romance and Erotica

alberts wars 2Herotica Volume 1 by Kerry Greenwood. Full of delicious queer love stories throughout history.

Albert’s Wars by Stewart Jackel. A bittersweet wartime love story. I cried. 

Definitely Naughty by Jo Leigh. Short, fast, fun, sexy read!

Science Fiction

THRIVE coverThrive by Mary Borsellino. This is the review in which I sang songs of praise to this book.

Are you there, God? It is I, Robot by Tom Cho. Tom’s work, like Mary Borsellino’s, is always an absolutely brilliant, brain-opening treat.

Trucksong by Andrew Macrae. Sentient trucks. Post apocalyptic Australia. So Aussie. So gritty. So good.

 

Fantasy

12th nightMonstrous Little Voices: These five novellas set in and around Shakespeare’s plays and life were an early gem and utterly brilliant.

  • Coral Bones by Foz Meadows;
  • The Course of True Love by Kate Hearfield;
  • The Unkindest Cut by Emma Newman;
  • Even in the Cannon’s Mouth by Adrian Tchaikovsky; and
  • On the Twelfth Night by Jonathan Barnes

Lady Helen and The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman. Regency-era demon hunters, deft and fast-paced with fabulous frocks, manners that are not always impeccable and sexual tension you could cut with a knife!

The Time of the Ghosts by Gillian Polack. I didn’t think anybody could make me find Canberra interesting, but I was mistaken. Gillian Pollack does it effortlessly with the intriguing and marvellous tale of three older women, their protege Kat and all the kid-darkghosts becoming corporeal and dangerous in the ACT.

Tansy Rayner Roberts’ delightful novellas Glass Slipper Scandal: A Castle Charming Story, Unmagical Boy Story: a Belladonna University novella and Kid Dark Against The Machine. This woman keeps writing winners.

Young Adult

Pin Drop by Roz Monette. Life on the street for a young woman in America. Realistic but hopeful, with a positive ending.

fast pitch coverFast Pitch by Tim Martin and J Creighton Brown. I don’t normally go for sports books. I really loved this one.

Thyla by Kate Gordon. Tasmanian YA. An amnesiac girl is found in the wilderness. As her memory slowly returns, we learn why Tessa is a bit unclear on modern technology and what’s really going on with some missing girls from the school she now attends. Loved this one. Looking to get my hands on the next, Vulpi.

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Crime

DrownedVanillaGhost Girls by Cath Ferla. Set in Sydney’s Chinatown, it’s crime in a transient Australian community and it’s fantastic.

Livia Day’s Cafe La Femme series:  A Trifle Dead, Drowned Vanilla and The Blackmail Blend novella. Set in Hobart. Tasty, tasty crime! (Livia Day is another name for Tansy Rayner Roberts, just going to prove that everything she writes is perfect)

The Astrologer’s Daughter by Rebecca Lim. Another crime novel exploring more diverse sections of Australia’s community. The splash of paranormal with the astrological charts just adds piquancy to the fantastic whole.

Non Fiction

Richard III: The Maligned Kingthe-maligned-king by Annette Carson. I’m convinced. I’m now a committed Ricardian. What’s more, I think Henry Tudor is the one who did for the kids. Boo. Hiss.

Reckoning: A Memoir by Magda Szubanksi. Powerful and deeply moving.

Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex. Lucy breathes vitality and wry humour into this biography of a book.

Lives Beyond Baker Street: A Biographical Dictionary of Sherlock Holmes’s Contemporaries by Christopher Redmond is an incredibly useful book of the prominent, the famous, the influential and the infamous of the Victorian era. Handy if you’re writing Sherlockian fiction.


That’s probably enough to be getting on with!

Enjoy your reading, one and all, and I hope you have a relaxing break as we head into 2017, filled with excellent reading!

And please share your recommendations in the comments for holiday reading.

Review: Reign of Beasts by Tansy Rayner Roberts

0117HARP_ReignBeasts1I’ve been on a Tansy Rayner Roberts jag lately, reading the entire Cafe La Femme series she writes under the name Livia Day and finally getting to the third book in her fabulous fantasy Creature Court trilogy. I have no idea why I waited so long to get to Reign of Beasts, but it was worth the wait!

I have previously waxed exceedingly lyrical about Tansy Rayner Roberts’ skills as a storyteller, particularly with her plotting. You can never tell where the story’s going to go (in an entirely good way) and each revelation unfurls a dozen possibilities with it. Like the seers seeing a multiverse of futures, it takes a while for the possibilities to be narrowed down – and even then, there’s really no predicting the outcome.

Except that it’ll be satisfying. Oh yes, it will.

Reign of Beasts continues in this magnificent trend, as we run fleet-footed in the wake of everyone’s terrible decisions and rapid beating of their fragile, mistrustful hearts, towards an ending that is epic and utterly satisfying.

This novel brings to a conclusion the beautifully and densely crafted world where humans with incredible powers, gifted to them by a nebulous energy called animor, can turn into animals – hence their name of the Creature Court. Every night they fight a little known enemy from the sky, and by day conduct themselves and their courtesi like it’s the last days of Rome. Which it sort of is, as the Creature Court of Aufleur (and the courts of other cities) are slowly losing their war. The city of Tierce has already been swallowed by the sky, and the people of the daylight don’t even remember it existed.

And now we have the tyrannical Garnet – perhaps worse than Nero ever was – who has returned with dressmaker and surprise Power and Majesty (head of the Court), Velody. They’d both been swallowed by the sky and their return throws the Creature Court into disarray. Well. More disarray than usual.

But the final battle with the sky is coming, and everyone has to work out where their loyalties lie, and it may not be in the same place as where their love resides. Distrust, betrayal, prophesies, love triangles (and pyramids – some of this is much too complex for 3D geometry) and desperation are the obstacles. Not to mention the greatest mystery of them all: why is there a sky war at all?

Reign of Beasts begins in the past, with the Creature Court oddity, Poet, telling the story of his beginnings as an orphan in a theatre show and how he came to join the Creature Court. His story is interwoven with the current troubles and machinations of the Court, until it’s very clear exactly how much he’s had to do with the mess they’re all in, and the schemes surrounding what’s to come.Power and Majesty cover

Once we’re all caught up, the story barrels on ahead at breakneck speed once more. Even the quiet parts are somehow vibrant with the waiting for what happens next?! We’re also never entirely ‘all caught up’ because Roberts continues to cleverly weave in the history of characters and cities that are utterly in tune with everything we’ve known to date, but shed fresh light on current events and coming conclusion.

And even when we finally understand the war and its cause and how it ends, nothing ends obviously. Not everyone gets a happy ending, but perhaps everyone gets a satisfying one. One that makes sense within who they are and what they need.

I could blather on for a bit, but that would be taking up time you should be spending on reading this trilogy. Go. Go now. Off you go. Read this award-winning magnificence! Shoo!

Buy Power and Majesty:

shattered cityBuy The Shattered City:

Buy Reign of Beasts

Other reading while you’re waiting for your books to download

 

2015: A Reading Restrospective

Screenshot 2016-01-06 09.50.56I really like Goodreads. I love keeping track of the books I’ve read (and reread) just for my own interest.

My stats this year say this is the most books I’ve read in  a year since starting to keep track – 63! Looks impressive, and I’m pleased to see it’s a good mix of classic and contemporary work, reading in crime, romance, horror, fantasy, humour and graphic novels.

Twenty-nine of the books were written or edited by women. Of the books by blokes, most were either by PG Wodehouse, Arthur Conan Doyle or the comic book team of Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum, the guys behind Unshelved, a comic set in a public library. (I read 10 of their collected editions, having backed the digital publication of same in a Kickstarter.) And not to be too wedded to binary genders, I’ve added a lot of new writers to my lists this year, particularly in the anthologies I’ve read.

Highlights of the reading year

blackbirdsI seem to either have good luck in the books I choose to read, or I’m very easy to please, as I thoroughly enjoyed most of my reading this year.

I have my favourites of course, the cream on top of the creme de la creme: Treasure Island, which I read for the first time ever, and PG Wodehouse’s hilarious and extremely unreliable memoir, Bring on the Girls, co-written with Guy Bolton. A Pride of Poppies, an anthology of queer love stories set in WWI, was beautiful and touching and sometimes funny and sometimes so sad and all of it was amazing.

In non-fiction, I loved Ruth Goodman’s How To Be a Victorian for its insights, as I’ve been writing a book set in the era. I also finally got around to Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments, a book about the Milgram obedience experiments by Gina Perry, which I picked up years ago at Clunes Book Week. It uncovers the circumstances behind the experiments, how they led to stricter ethical guidelines for psychology studies and how they don’t really teach us anything that we’re told they teach us.

In crime, Livia Day’s The Blackmail Blend is a terrific short story and I must read the novels in the series, and Emma Viskic promises to be a great new Australian crimewriting talent with Resurrection Bay and her deaf protagonist, Caleb. I also loved Alison Goodman’s A New Kind of Death, an SF/crime hybrid, and I aim to read more of her work too.

I also finally read a Chuck Wendig novel, Blackbirds, and found it as profane and funny as I find his excellent blog, Terrible Minds. I’m looking forward to more of his work (I have three on the Kindle for 2016!)

The Day/Night They Met

nightAnd two of my very favourite books of the year? Companion pieces by the same author, Wendy C Fries. In Sherlock Holmes and John Watson – The Day They Met, Fries gives 50 new ways for the famous friends to have met for the first time, across eras from the Victorian to the modern day.

Writing as Atlin Merrick, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson: The Night They Met the same author gives us 19 ways those two men met and fell in love. It’s the first Holmes/Watson romance to  come out of Improbable Press, and it’s a marvellous start for a publisher that aims to celebrate queer readings of the Holmes-and-Watson legend.

How else was my reading year broken up?

Twelfth Planet Press

cherryAmong the books by Australian women, I read the final three collections in the Twelve Planets series, Secret Lives of Books by Rosaleen Love, The Female Factory by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett and Cherry Crow Children by Deborah Kalin – all three showcasing remarkable talent in specfic and horror. Twelfth Planet Press always produces amazing books, and if you’ve missed this twelve-book series I recommend you hunt it down or get the books in digital format (including my own Showtime, number 5 in the series.)

The Classics

Adventures_of_sherlock_holmesAs part of my research for writing The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, a Holmes/Watson romance due out this year with Improbable Press, I reread the entire Sherlock Holmes series by Arthur Conan Doyle, which is an education in going back to the source material.

The same could be said of my first-time reading of Treasure Island, which I’d only seen in screen versions before, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which I haven’t read since I was a kid. I also read a lot of PG Wodehouse, who is always a great comfort in times of stress, and finally a Jane Austen that wasn’t Pride and PrejudicePersuasion. (I began this year with Mansfield Park, which I didn’t particularly enjoy – I want to slap everyone in it. Do other people have this reaction?)

Forensics and True Crime

nutshellIn further pursuit of research for my Holmes/Watson novel, I also spent a lot of the year reading up about the history of forensics and other related non-fiction books, primarily The Nutshell Studies, The Science of Sherlock Holmes, the three volumes of The Century of the Detective by Jurgen Thorwald (The Marks of Cain about fingerprinting, Dead Men Tell Tales about forensic science and Proof of Poison about toxicology), now out of print – I was lucky enough to pick up two of them at Clunes and found the third on eBay.

I ended with A Very British Murder, by Lucy Worsley and based on her TV show about how murder became such a national obsession for the Brits.

Romance

poppiesI thought I’d read more romance this year, but perhaps it’s just that I have read a lot of books where romance is part of a crime plot or some other fusion. Besides Persuasion and the aforementioned The Night They Met, I also enjoyed the unconventional princess-in-the-tower story, Her Silent Oath by Julia Leijon, and some excellent queermance.

A Pride of Poppies, as also mentioned, was very moving, while Jane Elliot‘s Smoothie, an action-romance for a lesbian couple, was a lively read. Tyler Knoll’s Just for Fun by AB Gayle was just sheer silly-crazy fun.

How about you?

I hope your reading year was also filled with old favourites, new discoveries, unexpected knowledge and ideas to spark other reading or your own writing. Feel free to share your favourites in the comments!

June 2015: The Mid-Year Review

upcoming Improbable booksWith the recent zhuzhing up on my blog, I thought it was time to do another of my Mid-Year reviews as a round up of what’s been happening this year, and what’s coming up in the next twelve months.

If you’ve come here from one of my other blogs, you’re aware that I’m trying to streamline all my social media (of which I have way too much) so that I can spend less time on social media admin and more time on writing the very many writing projects I have lined up like ducks at a shooting gallery. Or like tequila shots at the bar. (Either way, it’s going to be messy.)

So welcome to the new-look Mortal Words blog, where I will write about the usual writing/reading/Melbourne/travel/as-the-whim-takes-me stuff – and to which I will add posts on music, Kitty & Cadaver related projects, stuff related to romance and erotica (which I also write) and more stuff-as-the-whim-takes-me. I may also repost some of the posts from the other two blogs here, for consistency and linking purposes and the like.

The first bit of housekeeping news to share is that my publisher, Clan Destine Press, and I are in the process of changing the name under which I publish my romance fiction from NM Harris back to the full, real me – Narrelle M Harris. Apart from the extra social media work generated by the split, we figured that since I usually write very action-oriented plots for my romance and erotica, it’s not really that different from my usual work (except raunchier in parts).

We’re also talking about getting some of my out-of-print work tidied up and more easily available too. I’ll announce those when the details are worked out.

TandB A Paying Client smallestSpeaking of my erotic romance stories – two have been released so far this year! The second story in the Talbott and Burns Mysteries, about the two-man Scooby gang of Elliot Talbott and his boyfriend Jack Burns was released in February. A Paying Client sees the lads investigating possible witchiness on behalf of their first-ever paying client, a housewife from Reservoir. Naturally, things don’t run at all smoothly.

BirdsFinal_v_smlIn May, Birds of a Feather was released – the first of the Hammer and Tongue series about Alice, an engineer, and her linguist girlfriend Nerida.

There will be more stories for both series in due course, and more for my sexy spy couple, Philip Marsden and Martine Dubois (including one set in Canada in the wilderness!).

I also had a short story, The Birthday Present, published in the Queermance 2 anthology, (last year, Late Bloomer was published in the first Queermance anthology). The anthology was published in partnership with the second Queermance Festival, held in Melbourne in February 2015.

(You can find buy links for all of those stories and my other books on the Shop page!)

I’m waiting on feedback before completing the final draft of my first erotic romance novel, Ravenfall – paranormal action adventure with vampires, precognitive dreamers, a fox spirit and a spate of murders. That one features James Sharpe, vampire, and Gabriel Dare, an artist.

ImprobablePressI’m also absolutely delighted that my pitch for a Holmes/Watson canon-era romance adventure set in Australia was accepted by new Holmesian imprint, Improbable Press – because queer readings of Holmes are not at all new, but a publisher for those kinds of stories is. The Adventure of the Colonial Boy will come out in 2016. Now to write it! If you want to keep track of that, and the other books being released (starting with The Six Secret Loves of Sherlock Holmes by Atlin Merrick, launching in October) you can Like the Improbable Press Facebook page. IP will run a variety of competitions, too.

EncountersKindleCoverIn Short Story news – my story Show and Tell will appear in a digital anthology, Encounters, later this year. I’ve also been writing short stories to submit to other anthologies, including Clan Destine’s And Then… due out next year. I’ll post as and when (I hope) those are accepted!

Alongside all of these projects, I have notes for more books (including a third book in the Gary and Lissa vampire series – I haven’t forgotten! – and a second book in the Kitty and Cadaver series).

Kitty and Cadaver itself is with an agent, but I am slowly working on scoring the melodies for the songs used in the book, and looking to collaborate with musicians to arrange, perform and record them. Already Ann Poore has done a lovely version of Gretel’s Lullaby on the harp. Those who were at Continuum 11 last weekend saw (and bought) the beautiful jewellery that was created from broken musical instruments, too.

omnivoreNot content with writing books, short stories and music – I’ve also been experimenting with design at Redbubble. I have a range of designs available, some of which include song lyrics, or personal mottos, or text relating to the romance writing (the Adventurous Hearts line).

And finally, I recently spent a few days in the Wimmera region of Victoria, visiting libraries and talking about Growing Up Reading or doing writing workshops on Killer Opening Sentences. But that’s a post for another time.

Never say never (almost)

13186868_sA long time ago now, I spotted a post on Twitter from a bookseller who had overheard a male customer saying “I would never read a book by a woman”. It struck us as an odd thing to say. Why cut yourself off from half the books in the world, regardless of quailty or subject, because of the (apparent) gender of the writer?

Another contributor to the discussion added the amusing story of a man who said who never read fantasy by women but only by men – men like Robin Hobbs.

Oh, how we laughed and laughed.

The discussion moved on, however, to declarations of the books we ourselves might never read, and some fairly blanket terms came up, culminating in: “I’d never read a book by a footballer!”

I thought about this. I’m not very interested in sport, and might have declared I’d never read a book about football – but I had enjoyed Angela Pippos’s Goddess Advantage – One Year in the Life of a Football Worshipper. It was funny, clever, insightful and, yes, about football, but much more about family and community and one person’s life. But it also made me quite like football, through her eyes.

Would I refuse ever to read a book by a footballer, I wondered? I couldn’t imagine what they might have to say that would interest me, but that was just about being selective about what I read in my limited reading time.

I had decided a while back that I wouldn’t read books by certain authors because I found aspects of their very vocal opinions (one a rampant homophobe, another a convicted violent criminal) so repugnant that I was reluctant to contribute to even the price of a cup of coffee for them from my purchase. But there are maybe three writers on that list.

But that’s not a blanket ban on a type of person or on any particular subject. There’s always the chance that a good writer, or a good story, can come from anywhere.

So… as an experiment, I tried to find a book written by a footballer that I might like to read. My call for assistance ended in a friend lending me a copy of Jason McCartney’s After Bali (co-written by Ben Collins, who is credited in the fly-leaf, though not with his specific role in the creation of the book).

That was maybe two years ago. I’ve been putting off reading it in favour of books I was much more committed to reading, in my relatively limited reading hours.

This weekend, I finally opened it and gave it a whirl.

The book is written interview-style, with Jason McCartney’s story of being caught up in the bomb blasts in Bali in October 2002, his injuries and recovery, interspersed with quotes from family, friends, medical staff and others.

I tried and tried and tried to like it.

Half way through, I gave up. I just don’t have the time to keep reading books I’m not enjoying.

I feel bad about it. McCartney endured much, suffered much, achieved much, and it’s a rude of me to want the account of his experiences to be more articulate or more insightful or more… something. But the truth is, I found the writing awkward, repetetive and ultimately a bit dull. I wish him and his well, I do, and I feel awful that I was not sufficiently ‘engaged’. But I wasn’t.

What do I conclude from this experiment?

It isn’t that I will never read a book by a footballer. It isn’t that I will never read a book about personal suffering and endurance, or one about football, or any of those things.

I conclude mainly that not every writer or every subject or every writing style is my cup of tea, and that’s okay. I may choose not to continue a book, or not to read particular authors because I don’t particularly enjoy their work (or their personal politics) or because there are just so many other books that engage me much more at the time.

Never say never, or at least almost never, is what I conclude. I don’t want to close myself off from books and ideas that may be unexpected and brilliant, or at least educational.

But I’ll continue to be discerning in my choices, because I only have so much time, and there is ever so much in the world to read!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, smartphone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

[Image by ponsuwan at 123RF.com)

Five by five by all the books

Reading paper books over breakfast can be problematic.

I was having the usual ‘physical books versus e-books’ discussion with someone on the weekend, and I came to my usual conclusion: that the worst book in the world cannot be made better by being made of paper, and the best book in the world isn’t diminished by being electronic. I think I always end up sounding like I don’t like regular ol’ books, when I’m really very fond of them. It’s just that I also like e-books. I’m fond of them, too. They suit aspects of my life admirably, moreso than ink and dead trees. Yet. Ink and dead trees can be SO LOVELY.

So here’s my top 5 reasons for loving e-books; and my top 5 reasons for loving paper books.

Traditional papery paper books with shiny covers? I’ll give you five reasons why you make my heart go pitter-pat.

  1. SHINY COVERS. Not all covers are lovely of course, but oh, those little artists’ impressions of what your innards are like? I adore them. I like to look at you and guess if I’m going to love you from your wrapping. Or if you’re going to disappoint me terribly. Or if you’re going to be an ugly ducking that grows up, by page 87, to be the bestest, most beautiful swan in the ‘verse. You’re tricky, cover art, but I love you.
  2. THICK PAPER. Some books, usually those with hard covers, have gloriously thick paper. It’s lush. It’s gorgeously tactile. I love the feel of turning a page of thick, textured paper. It takes reading from an intellectual and emotional exercise to one of physical sensation as well. Most books don’t have really lovely paper like this, but those that do… it’s a sensual experience. Even when the book sucks (which is a bit like fancying someone who dresses beautifully but turns out to be an arse, sadly).
  3. I CAN SPY ON WHAT YOU’RE READING. I confess, I’m a snoop. My husband tells me it’s perfectly natural, because I’m a writer. He sometimes threatens to make me a License To Be Nosy to flash around on the tram. Maybe I could use it to find out what people are reading on their sneaky e-readers. Hilarious erotica, possibly. I like peeking at what people are reading, though, either at the cover or, if I’m well positioned on the tram, over their shoulder to see what’s in the header. Maybe a couple of paragraphs. Yes, I know. I’m creepy. But I love how paper books conspire with me in public places like that.
  4. TANGIBLE PROGRESS. It’s quite nice to see my bookmark moving along the pages in that steadfast, inexorable fashion. My e-reader shows me a little dotted line; sometimes a percentage. Doesn’t seem quite so satisfying, somehow. Which leads me on to…
  5. BOOKMARKS! I have a nice little selection of bookmarks. Some of them I’ve had for years. Some of them I even remember to USE, instead of the bus tickets, cafe receipts, chopsticks wrappers and occasional bits of torn envelope.

E-books, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways!

  1. I CAN READ YOU WHILE EATING. I can open you to a page and pick up my knife and fork and you will not flow determinedly shut from the force of your excellent binding. You will allow me to rend my eggs and bacon into bite-sized pieces and simultaneously get on with the awesomeness of the story I am currently so steeped in that frankly, it’s lucky I remembered I need to eat. And I can change pages with a press of a button that only takes one finger! No more having to lay down arms, move the glasses case/travel guide/brick/cat I’ve been using to hold the pages down so I can either see the obscured paragraph or turn the page!
  2. YOU ARE SPLASH RESISTANT! And no sauce stains on The Hunger Games, or the Return of Sherlock Holmes, or anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, because I can wipe away the evidence of my grubbiness.  Take that, inability to eat tidily!
  3. DICTIONARY! So that when I’m reading, and there’s a new word, I can just highlight you (or tap on you if I’m reading on my iPhone) and my vocabulary E-X-P-A-N-D-S with hardly any effort. Ah, little e-book, whisper brand new words into my ear as often as you like. I can’t get enough of you. I sometimes find myself tapping at words on a printed page in vain, and then I get pouty. Paper books should have inbuilt dictionaries too. *sulk*
  4. E-BOOKS, LIKE GOD, ARE EVERYWHERE AT ONCE! I start reading a book on my Kindle at home! The battery goes flat while I’m out, OH NOES! but hello there, little iPhone, with your synchronised Kindle cloud, remembering where I am up to! Bless you! When I’ve recharged my Kindle, LO! the synch has spoken to you and you take me to the right place again. And if I give up on both of you and turn on my computer – WELL HELLO KINDLE APP ON MY DESKTOP.  So versatile.
  5. A HUNDRED BOOKS WEIGH THE SAME AS ONE. When I travel, I can take every book I want to read. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Even though I only ever travel with a small backback and a handbag. Because all the books fit into my one, petite, handy-dandy, purple-case-wrapped lovely little Kindle. I love you, compact little Kindle!

Got any loves of your own, for either format? Share the delight!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Yvon’s Adventure with the Lifetime Reading Plan

Ennovy the black dragon

My friend Yvon Hintz – an artist and writer, among many other things – started a reading plan a few years ago. When I heard she was reading The Book of Ramayana as part of the plan, I thought it must be an interesting reading list! I knew it included Greek classics as well as books by Chinese writers, and I liked the cultural spread of books the plan contained.

I’ve asked Yvon to share more about the reading plan and what she’s getting out of it.

Yvon’s Adventure with the Lifetime Reading Plan

I always felt that I had missed out on a lot of good reading because I left school fairly early to help my parents run a shop, so when I stumbled on the Lifetime Reading List on the web, it struck me as a great idea.

Being a Virgo, I love lists and working my way through a chronological list of great writing seemed like a wonderful way to go.

By following a list I got suggestions as to what to read and a structure for that reading. If I had simply dipped at random into literature from the past I might not have read some of the titles, either through not knowing that they existed or because I didn’t fancy the sound of them. Sticking to the list, I ended up reading some works that turned out to be wonderful.

I also read some works that  were not so wonderful, but they were not a waste because  I still got something out of them… even if it was just a working knowledge of their contents so that when later authors made reference to them I knew what they were talking about.

Of the titles I’ve read so far,  it’s hard to say which was my favourite; most were enjoyable in one way or another, but  the one I probably enjoyed the most was  the Mahabharata. For one thing I was really proud of myself for just getting through it! It’s eight times longer than the Bible and took me seven months to read. But what an adventure!  The granddaddy of all soap operas!

What I’ve gained from all this reading, apart from the individual entertainment of each title, is the understanding of what a marvellous, rich literary history we have and how much of it rests on what has gone before.  I am so pleased that I chose this list, which starts with the oldest book – The Epic of Gilgamesh (possibly the oldest written story on Earth) – and goes through to more recent works.

The Mahabharata, also on the list.

To begin with, I would buy the hardback or paperback versions of the books. I had a nice little collection in my bookcase when I sold my house, and the bookcase and I moved into a caravan. With a much reduced-in-size bookcase I decided to keep only a few really special books. The copy of David Copperfield in which my mother kept locks of all her children’s hair; the  original copies of the first three SF novels I ever read; some illustrated books that I would not be able to get in ebook form; a copy of The Little Prince given to me by a friend; as well as a small collection of books written by my other clever friends.

All other books I obtained in ebook form. I was able to get most of them from the Project Gutenberg site. A few I had to buy in ebook form.

So far there has been only one book I have had to skip. Sima Qian’s Records of The Grand Historian. It’s a BIG book… usually comes in two volumes.  It came up on my list about the time I was moving house so I didn’t want to buy a physical copy and didn’t really have the money to spare for the ebook version.  I thought I would do the smart thing and borrow it from the library. To my pleasure, they were able to get a copy in for me… from the main library… but because it’s the only copy in Western Australia they wouldn’t let it out of their clutches! I had to sit in the library to read it.

I did for a while, but that got to be impractical, so I reluctantly gave up and moved onto the next title. One day I’ll go back and fill in the gap.

In addition to reading the titles in the Lifetime Reading Plan I research on the Web, get information about the work and the author and add it to a scrapbook I’m creating. It’s getting to be a fascinating book in its own right.

I am currently up to the start of Part three, working my way, with great pleasure, through the works of Shakespeare.  As with some of the titles in the Parts to come, I have read a good number of Shakespeare’s plays before, but it’s always good to read them again, and in the order in which they were written (roughly.)

I don’t know if this exercise has made me a better or more learned person. I never recall books well enough to quote them, but I do remember them and I feel that I am a more well rounded person for my literary feast.

Yvon*)  Dec 2011


So there you have it! If you’re after a new project for 2012 (the National Year of Reading, no less!) this might be the reading plan for you!

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.

Short attention sp… oh look! A bird!

A long while ago, a friend sent me a link to a long article about how the way we use the Internet may contribute to decreasing our attention spans. We’re forever darting in and out of Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, news sites, YouTube, livejournal, you name it. Studies indicated that people were losing the ability to focus for more than a few minutes.

Still with me?

The ironic and tragic thing is that the article was so long, I dipped out half way through reading to check on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and only remembered to go back to the article a week later.

As that embarrassing incident shows, it may well be that my habits with regard to the Internet are in fact retraining my brain to have a shorter attention span. Let’s face it, I’m easily distracted as it is. (I have a novel to write. Oh look, the dishes need doing. No really, write the novel. Hello kitty, would you like a cuddle. No, seriously, write the damned book.)

Reduced concentration spans are a problem, though. For a start, you need some ability for sustained research and analysis if you are going to think through problem. Or develop a plot for a novel. Or think up coherent arguments for issues you believe in.

This weekend, the issue of how constant connectivity seems to affect my concentratoin span was highlighted for me. Tim and I had one of our irregular ‘tech detox’ breaks.  In this instance, I had won an overnight stay at the Rydges Hotel in Carlton, so off we went for just a little break away from home. No computers. No phones. I had my Kindle, because I was reading Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series on it, but it is not web enabled outside of a wireless connection, so it didn’t count.

We took a few books and we went to Carlton early for breakfast while we read the paper over a few hours, before we would be allowed to check in. ANd I noticed that if Tim was placing an order at the counter or left the table for a minute, my instinct was to reach for the phone.

Seriously. Couldn’t  I be alone with a thought for five second without needing to distract myself?

As the day wore on, the itchy-trigger-finger reaction slowed and disappeared. In those quiet moments I instead looked around – at the rain outside, at the people inside. I reflected a little on the articles I read and then discussed salient points with Tim on his return.

At the hotel, we set up camp with our books and a cup of tea and read. I finished three books I had been part way through and started a new one. No stopping to tell the world every half-arsed thought in my head, or to read what everyone else thought of the dismal weather. It was nice.

I read a lot, so obviously I haven’t completely lost the capacity to concentrate for more than 90 seconds, but it was surprisingly relaxing to abandon short-term thinking for the day, in favour of focus and savouring the quiet moments.

And if you’re still reading at the end of this blog, thank you, and I hope I haven’t kept you away from your status updates for too long. 😀

 

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.