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writing of readerly reviews of writings

Month: March, 2013

Review: Edward Hirsch’s “How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry”

edward hirsch how to read a poemThis has been a long and delightful read. When I first started it, ooh, over a year ago, I’d industriously tag all the pages that had profound or beautiful words on them, but after flipping every few pages, I thought it better to assume that the whole book was pre-tagged. Hirsch, poet and critic, provides explanations, samples, analyses, elucidations of powerful words, and why the poetic craft ought matter to the logophilic (word-loving?) reader. So many gorgeous poems, with such crafted thoughts attached to them: a must-read for poets and loving readers. Delighted to recommend it.

Where it came from: Gift from HG: “Good luck with getting your hands dirty”
Time and manner of reading:
Months and months and months of kaleidoscopic samples, a few deep pages at a time
Where it went: Keeper Shelf
Reminds me of/that: Forgive the triteness, but: the power of poetry
Who I’d recommend it to: Word-lovers
Also reading: Rabbit #4; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; The Seven Sisters of the Pleiades by Munya Andrews

Review: Murray Bail’s “The Pages”

murray bail the pagesOpshopped because I’d both loved and loathed Eucalyptus (remember to leave your feminism at the door with that one, folks), I must note here my admiration of the very attractive, savvy hardback edition I was lucky enough to score. Printed and dustjacketted in an image of paperbark, lovely calligraphic title and author name, smartly deckled edges to the creamy stock – a sophisticated reminder of the aforementioned novel, and a good dose of Australianism to get in the Ocker Lit set. Nice publishing work, that, damned good design.

But anyway, to the contents of The Pages. Philosopher Erica is sent to country NSW to assess the philosophical life’s work of reclusive Wesley Antill. Her smart-bimbo friend Sophie accompanies her; they stay with Antill siblings Roger and Lindsey (female). Words are exchanged, silence is experienced, philosophy is contemplated.

I think this is a solid but not a profound novel. I was absorbed by it, Bail has a way with words, his characters and settings are artful, but I don’t think anything from this novel will stay with me. I’m not even sure what it was *about* – the best I can come up with is an analysis of barriers or separations, created by words, distance, land, proximity, thoughts… diverse definitions and manifestations of philosophies in life… But to what end, I have no idea. A pleasant read (though the “rescue” was a bit tossy), not an evil way of spending a few hours.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
A kaleidoscope bed-sample, then an absorbed armchair evening
Where it went: UPB
Reminds me of/that:
Who I’d recommend it to: Seekers of a nice bit of lit-fluff
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Philippa Stockley’s “A Factory of Cunning”

philppa stockley a factory of cunningUnderway for the last four days, the Factory is set in 1784 London, written in high Georgian English, telling of the manipulations and cunning of the aptly named femme fatale for fun, Mrs Fox (ah, so much unintended alliteration!). Whorehouses, seducations (typo intended), theft, murder, defamation, games, poison, it’s all there, in this epistolary/journal-based book that suffers only fools and fraudsters (more alliteration!). I think my summary would be that this novel is a virtuoso performance, terribly adroit, well-researched, tightly plotted and skilful, but I didn’t really like it. I think Stockley was writing too “hard”, in the sense that KAM says that poor actors act so damned hard. Too writerly, too clever, it never felt effortless. It did, however, have a satisfying number of dog-eared pages with nice fat vocabulary on them, which is always a pleasure.

Where it came from: Opshop
Time and manner of reading:
Various bed and armchair and wait reads – not too fast, though, it’s too dense to strip through
Where it went: ?
Reminds me of/that: Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Chaderlos de Laclos
Who I’d recommend it to: Those in search of skilled historical debauchery
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Diane Setterfield’s “The Thirteenth Tale”

diane setterfield the thirteenth taleA second reserve-and-snaffle from the library, and my second Jane-Eyre–focussed book in as many days, this one was as gripping this time as the first. I first read this in a whirlwind just before moving o/s ‘x’ number of years ago, and for some reason it wafted back into my consciousness just recently – so fortuitous, it’s the perfect light literary gothic for the current circumstances.

Miss Vida Winter, reclusive writer of dazzling fame and beauty, asks biographer and antiquarian bookseller Margaret Lea to listen to the story of her life, only mythologised until now. The haunted Angelfield hall, wild twins Adeline and Emmeline, tragic fires at the crux of so many lives… It clearly bounces of James’ The Turn of the Screw, and does so well, and Setterfield’s tone is both 19th-century formal and absorbingly fluid. Great book, damned impressive first novel. Don’t miss it.

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Beddy, armchairy reads, with it misting up my head as I tried to carry on non-reading activities
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: But sometimes love lasts to the second glance.
Who I’d recommend it to: Bookclub; and readerly readers after a good bit of lit gothic pleasure
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; A Factory of Cunning by Philippa Stockley

Review: Jasper Fforde’s “The Eyre Affair”

jasper fforde the eyre affairReserved and snaffled from the library as a guaranteed smart, fun read, I rushed to my reading corner with unseemly haste once I was home from town. Plot: in a parallel 1985 UK, LiteraTec Special Operative Thursday Next must defeat the dreaded Acheron Hades, save Martin Chuzzlewit and Jane Eyre from oblivion, and reclaim the love of Landen Parke-Laine. I was simply dazzled by this book the first time around, all its witty litty in-jokes and smart-arsery, and I’d been dying for it to finally be delivered to bookclub. Since we’d been waiting a year, I cut to the chase and hunted it out – and while it was good, I wasn’t blown away this time. Sigh. Guess it’s a first-time only enrapturement, but one that’s highly recommended for those who have yet to enjoy the experience. I’ll still keep my eye out for his new colour series, also.

And PS, no Miss Havisham! She must be in one of the sequels! I finished wretched Great Expectations largely for the sake of the wrong book!

Where it came from: Library
Time and manner of reading:
Afternoon and evening armchair reads, as soon as I could decently escape human company for the sake of an inanimate object aka book
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: Love at first sight only happens the once
Who I’d recommend it to: Readerly readers after good fun
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley; A Factory of Cunning by Philippa Stockley

Review: Gail Jones’ “Dreams of Speaking”

gail jones dreams of speakingSelected as a faithful author on the To Read Shelf, this was another sound offering from Gail Jones. Alice is writing of the poetics of modernity, the beautiful of electrical tools and toys. She meets Mr Sakamoto, Nagasaki survivor, on a Chartres–Paris train and he tells her biographies of tele- inventors e.g. Alexander Graham Bell. Jones uses their friendship to explore communication and concealment, revelation and reticence. A fine novel. Recommended, and I’m still on the look out for more.

Where it came from: Library reject shelf via MM
Time and manner of reading:
Stormy armchair and rainy folk-club reads
Where it went: MM
Reminds me of/that: The gulf between decent novels and actual good ones
Who I’d recommend it to: JH
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley

Review: Stefan Merrill Block’s “The Story of Forgetting”

stefan merrill block the story of forgettingThe second of AJ’s book parcel, she considered it bound to be a modern classic. I wish I could agree. It’s the story of 15 y.o. narrator Seth dealing with his mother’s devastating hereditary early-onset Alzheimer’s, with interplaited stories from the family hunchback and the mythical world of Isidora. It just seemed to me such a writing school first novel, including the precociously awkward teen, the quirky freak narrator at the heart of the tale, the compassionate addressing of serious illness, the story of how we’re all human. I imagine that for sufferers and families of Alzheimer’s this book comes as something of a balm to their humanity, but I’m not excited or inspired by it as a novel. Missable.

Where it came from: AJ’s Bookshelf
Time and manner of reading:
Bed, armchair and gas-shop waiting reads, with decreasing enthusiasm
Where it went: Home
Reminds me of/that: I have less and less respect for New York Times reviews and lists; their taste is considerably naffer than mine
Who I’d recommend it to:
Also reading: Rabbit #4; How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch; The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; Being Alive edited by Neil Astley