So this post is primarily about the Melbourne Writers Festival, and the all too limited amount of time that I spent there. It did lead me to thinking about the books that sit forever unread on my bedside table, important enough to stay there, but not current enough to be a priority for work so I’ll wrap up with a list of what they are and why I think I need to read them at the end for anyone who cares.
This year I had the very exciting pleasure of being asked to be on a panel at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
The panel was part of the schools program and was a friendly debate addressing theTwilight phenomenon and discussing whether or not it was fading.
Now, intentional or not, the teams had been divided into men and women. On the negative side, that is, thatTwilight is NOT fading were myself, Van Badham and Kate Forsyth. On the positive were our esteemed male counterparts; Ben Chandler, Jeff Sparrow and Glen (whose last name I’m ashamed to admit I don’t recall and which does not actually appear on the program, but who is pictured below).
Now I do have to be honest here and say something a little controversial. I don’t love Twilight. I know. Sorry everyone.
I did read the first book and found the story generally compelling and addictive in the same way that most pop songs are. You know, you wouldn’t buy the album, but if the song comes on in the car you can’t help singing along. However, by the fourth book I was fed up, skipping forward just to find out what happened so that I could have some closure, but not really interested in what was going on in the story.
Having said that, the phenomenon surrounding the books is something that I couldn’t support more. What I love about books like Twilight is that they have boosted the once solitary activity of reading into the mainstream, into the popular culture, into the hands of the ‘cool’ crowd. Like never before, young adults are devouring series, talking about books and interacting with their favourite authors. And you know what? Even hating Twilight is a good thing. Because if you read it and thought it was rubbish, then you are that much more inspired to find something to read that is not.
People are reading on trams, at busstops, in sneaky coffee breaks at work. And although I did seem to push a few buttons when I suggested that younger readers were reading Twilight, it’s true. It certainly isn’t intended for an audience of 8-10 year olds, but if they’re reading it, and talking about it, then surely they’re connecting with the very purpose of reading, which is to gain new experiences, to help us grow, and to transport us to another land.
For those of you who read my very first post on this blog, you will already know all the reasons that I thinkTwilight is worthwhile. And I don’t want to get off track in this post, which is really about the session overall.
I did love the debate that we had. It was heated and interesting and raised many valid points of view, as well as a few eyebrows. I would like to say that the boys were funny and charming and congratulate them on their win. For me, losing was entirely acceptable, because like any good debate, the point was to start a discussion, and judging from the heated audience responses, I think we can safely say that on that note, we were a massive success.
Unfortunately I didn’t have the time, the money or the headspace to get to as many sessions as I would have liked at this years MWF. Recently though, I lent a good friend of mine my (as yet unread) copy of A Fraction of the Whole and she loved it so much that when I saw that Steve Toltz was going to be doing an in conversationsession at MWF I knew that we couldn’t miss it. For the record, I am now well into the book, and it is deserving of every bit of praise that it has received.
Steve Toltz was wonderfully candid. For someone who has skyrocketed from anonymity to the Booker shortlist and all of the attached fame, he was so warm and genuine, that I think I could have listened to him talk all night. Which explains why people are so willing to read such an epic book.
If you haven’t read A Fraction of the Whole do. You can read some samples here:
and I’m afraid if that doesn’t convince you to read it, then there is no hope for you.
Now again, there was no name for the lady who conducted the conversation on the MWF site. I know that she was an editor, but I was so enchanted by Steve that her name completely escaped my attention. She asked all the questions that I wanted to know though, and quite rightly describes the book as ‘relentlessly funny’ a description that I couldn’t agree with more. And for a book that weighs in at over 800 pages that amount of humour woven in to every page with such skill is quite a feat.
As a writer about to embark into the fairly daunting world of pitches and query letters, it was both reassuring and terrifying to hear that someone like Steve Toltz had received sixteen rejections before landing a publishing deal. And one of the things that really stayed with me from his conversation was the reminder that to write, you need to soak up as much knowledge as you can. Steve shared a wonderful quote which was that the only character that an author cannot write is an author better than himself. As writers, we can write fiction, but the more knowledge that we have behind us, the more expansive our writing will be.
So, the reason that this brings me to the pile of unread books on my bedside table is this. I have had an ARC of A Fraction of the Whole since before its publication. I knew it was good, I knew I wanted to read it. But I need to read so many books a week to stay up to date with my own reviews, and to keep my knowledge current for work, that all too often, the books that aren’t brand new, that I just want to read for my own enjoyment, get left by the wayside.
I’m trying to fix that. Starting with A Fraction of the Whole, these are the ten books that I will endeavor to read by this time next year. By then of course, I’m sure that fifty more will have taken their place, but it’s a start.
1. A Fraction of the Whole Steve Toltz, (as above)
2. The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood (I need to shamefully admit here that I haven’t gotten to any Atwood yet, and I am quite desperate to honestly, plus I need to return this copy to the friend who lent it to me)
3. Perdido St Station China Mieville (and congratulations to China on winning the Hugo at this years World Con. I have read plenty of his work, but not to have read this seems like a gross oversight on my part, especially given my love of steam punk)
4.The Corrections Jonathan Franzen (I actually have a signed first edition of this. Aside from the fact that I know it will be good, it would be almost rude to own that and not have even read it.)
5. A Fine Balance Rohinton Mistry
6. Dog Boy Eva Hornung (one of the new releases recently (ish) that has really grabbed my attention. I don’t know why, I’ll tell you when I’ve read it.)
7.The Maggot John Fowles
8. The Vintner’s Luck Elizabeth Knox (I’m told that it’s beautiful and a must read. I’ve been carrying around a copy in my handbag for about a month now, and I WILL get to it soon.)
9. Carter Beats the Devil Glen David Gold
10. A Confederacy of Dunces John Kennedy Toole
There are no YA novels on there because I generally get to them pretty quickly because of work. Also, they are quicker to read. On that note, I will be posting a review of White Crow, Marcus Sedgwick’s new novel soon, and some brief thoughts on the 2010 Inky’s longlist.