Saturday, June 7, 2014

Collecting Words



Once upon a time, this post appeared HERE. Things changed there and it was taken down as too old, but I wanted it to be available again, so here you are.

I am a hoarder. Of all kinds of things. My cupboards hold some of the most mind boggling collections. But, this is a blog post for the National Year of Reading (i.e. 2012), so I thought I would put on show a sample of a different kind of collection: my collection of quotes.

Ben wondered if he was a curator. He had never stopped to think about why he collected things. It was just something he'd always liked to do.
- Wonderstruck, Brian Selznick

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan



I realise that I've let my blog slip into disuse in the last year or so, it was the typical story of too much vying for my attention and, sadly, the inessential being trimmed.


This weekend gone I read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan and suddenly, even if only for this one book, blogging became essential. I don't even know if anyone reads this long dead blog, but that's not what's important here. I need to write about this book regardless of how many people happen to stumble upon this dark corner of the internet.


Each book is a story, obviously, but I'm also strong in the belief that the reading of each book is a story in itself. True, not always an interesting one, but there's always something that led us to chose that particular book at that particular time. If you want to skip to the review of the book itself, I understand. Jump down to where it starts... It's the most important part anyway. I think I've rambled a bit. But, my blog, my rules.


My 'Two Boys Kissing' story starts long before it was even published, not that I knew it. The last 3 years I've been working towards my Masters in Children's literature, and towards the beginning of last year I made an important decision: What to do for my thesis. I'd tossed around a couple of ideas, a research paper analysing Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Series, or an exploration of gay teen YA, a few other ideas, but what I really wanted to do was write a novel. So I decided to do a creative work: write and submit a novel along with an exegesis about it. So, I stopped writing the steampunk fantasy bizzo that I was working on, and undertook the book I've always known I've had in me. I'll leave the details about that for another time, but I should say that it is a gay teen YA novel. 
I got to writing...


One thing I often hear authors say is that while they were writing any given novel, they read widely, but stayed well away from the same genre as what they were writing. I've had editor friends give me the same advice directly. So, for nearly 18 months, all books with a gay YA theme were hands off. This has been difficult, as, through my studies I've become aware of more books than I ever knew existed. Not only that, but then David Levithan (by all accounts among booksellers the go-to-guy of gay YA) releases a book proudly called Two Boys Kissing with a cover that reinforced its subject matter unapologetically. Further, people who's opinion I trust and are usually aligned with asked me regularly if I had read it yet, because it's so good.


But, alas, I was still only halfway through my own novel and was abstaining.


Then (let's skip forward 6 months) I finally finished my novel (enough for uni, at least). Yet, I still have my exegesis to write before I can hand it in. AND because an academic discussion of a novel isn't really complete without comparing it to others in the genre, I found that the long list of gay YA novels of which I'd been taking note, had to be read all of a sudden in order to be analysed.


Now I know my own book isn't completely polished, and I probably should have held off until I knew it was done and dusted, but uni called for it. Who was I to argue?


So, letting go, I succumbed to the inner urge I'd been denying for months and finally started reading the books I wanted to. The first cab off the rank was one called 'The Boy's Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew' by Eli Glasman. It's not out until July, but a friend scored me an advanced proof because she knew the subject matter of thesis. I won't go on about it, other to say I read it in one sitting and it's great! Definitely look it up.


Then, I reached for my copy of Two Boys Kissing. I'd bought it when it came out, knowing that I had to own it, regardless. (My only grief now is that I will have to buy it again in HB, as you'll find out why)




So then... My Review...





I have to admit that when I began reading I was really worried I'd find the whole thing a bit pretentious. It's not, but I want to say this upfront for those of you who start it and think the same thing and wonder if you should give up. Do not give up. Press on (if indeed you need to be pressed). The reason for my reaction is that the narrator is a collective 'we' made up of the generation of gay men who lived (and died) through the height of the AIDS epidemic. I quickly learned that this is a very effective narrative device. It powerfully brings to light what often remains unspoken or even unknown about their suffering, without the book being about their suffering.


Instead, we follow an assortment of gay teenage boys each trying to find their way through varied levels of acceptance from their families, their friends and their communities. The main story that ties most of them together is that of Craig and Harry who are attempting to break the world record for the longest kiss. They see this as a form of advocacy in light of the recent homophobic assault that put one of their classmates in hospital. This, essentially, is the two boys kissing of the title. Yet, as we also follow Peter and Neil who have been dating for a year, and Avery and Ryan who have only just met and feel those first stirrings of something special, we realise that there are many types of kisses, many types of relationships. There is more, but I'm sure other reviews and blurbs will fill you in. Really, it's even better going into it knowing as little as possible.


I was so utterly moved by this book. Those who know me well will know that I rarely cry (I mean actually cry) in books and films. Sure, I can get teary, sure I get emotionally invested, but actual tears come so infrequently that I can be quite astounded by the books that do manage to get me weeping.
I was crying all the way through this book.
Tears of joy; tears from hard personal memories; tears from sweet personal memories; tears of shared pain in what others have gone through; but, most frequently, pure tears of hope that things are changing, and things can change; get better. That we are moving in the right direction. One particular character brought on these tears of hope more than any other, and he only exists in only 3 paragraphs. I just re-read those paragraphs as I write this, and cried again. He is Max, and I'll let you find him for yourself. (Thank you, David Levithan, for Max).


I finished this book (in fact, it was well before I finished) and knew that it was perhaps one of the most special and important books I had read. I found myself sad that it had not been written 15 years ago so that I could have read it as a teenager and maybe had a much happier time of it. I found myself happy that such a book existed and was now available for anyone to read. Which they should. Anyone. While it is truly a spectacular work of fiction that practically any gay teen in the western world will most likely connect with, it is also one that offers so much insight into what has gone before, and how much further we have to go, and we will never get there if it is only gay teens reading this book. This is a book for everyone. I will try not to get carried away and say that to disregard this book because of its themes is to wantonly perpetuate closed-minded bigotry, but that is how I feel.


If someone had told me that they were attempting to write a novel that encapsulates so much of the joint experiences of multiple generations of gay men, I would have told them that it could not be done. David Levithan has proved me wrong, and I am so happy for it.


So go out and share it. Share it with your partners, your boyfriends and girlfriends. Share it with your teenage children or nieces and nephews. Share it with your parents, with your friends. Because if this book has even a fraction of the power that I feel it has, it will only be realised by people sharing it.

 
(Can I give it more?)

Find it on Goodreads
 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Blog Tour: The Tribe Series by Ambelin Kwaymullina

thefirstwood.com.au

Hi Readers!

Today I've got the pleasure of being the first stop on Ambelin Kwaymullina's blog tour.

While readers might be dying to know all about the series, I'd rather start with some fun questions in getting to know you! And, as this is by blog, it's my rules. So when I say let's have fun, you do as you're told!

Well, perhaps if I lose the totalitarian tone, we can begin...




What was the last book you read?
Unravel Me which is the sequel to Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen



 
Many of us were introduced to Jon Klassen’s illustrations with his debut picture book, I Want My Hat Back (picture book gold, by the way). This was followed with This Is Not My Hat, which I’ve yet to review, but as it was recently awarded the Caldecott Medal, it goes to show that it wasn’t just me that thought it was brilliant. 

So, you can imagine that I was pleased to see that there was yet another picture book illustrated by Jon Klassen in the market. (I know it’s been out a while now, ‘Life’ has been keeping me from writing reviews).
The fact that it’s illustrated by Jon is enough for me to love it already, but it shouldn’t overshadow Mac Barnett’s writing. This is a smart and snappy book that delights in play between words and pictures. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Top 10 for 2012



As I said in the last blog post, I wanted to do my highlights of 2012. Now I’m going to start off by saying that these are not necessarily books published this year, but I read them this year and so they have helped make up my Year of Reading.
I understand that the year isn’t over, but If I read anything stand out between now and New Year I’ll be sure to let you know.

I figured I’d give you my Top 10. Now, these are only in a loose order, it can be very hard to rank several different kinds of genius, and so I’ll do my best.

# 10

The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas by David Almond and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This is a tame book for a David Almond Title, but for me, that will give it more general appeal. It’s quirky, fun, and tender at its core. There is one passage that won me over. He basically describes techniques writers use to tell stories, to jump from place to place and back and forth in time, while actually telling you the story! It was brilliant! I’d quote it, but it goes on for a few pages, so I’ll let you read it for yourself.


Apologies and Happenings



So, I should apologise, first and for most for going dark for the last three and a half months. I had such good intentions, that I had written and scheduled blog posts for weeks  ahead, knowing that the move interstate would really slow me down, but I really didn’t anticipate what was waiting for me when I got to Melbourne.

For starters, my work load almost doubled from what it was in Sydney. Add to that that I’d never really been to Melbourne before (once for a weekend, 8 years ago, and when I was 6 or 7 and my only memory is Port Melbourne and getting on the Able Tasman) and so getting to know the area was also an issue. Oh that’s right, I was also enrolled in two subjects for my Masters, which due to the move I had to change to external. And I don’t know if it’s just me, but external seems SO much more work than internal. Internally you can do your readings and assignments, then in class you join in the discussion for 2 hours a week. Externally, it all online discussion which requires a lot of reading (other people’s posts) careful crafting of your discussion points (you can’t um, and ahh, and ‘you know what I mean?’) and then checking back to respond to responses.

In any event, after work (paperwork often not being finished till 6-7 at night, sometimes much later) and then Uni taking up my weekends and any other free time I found myself with, I was struggling to find time to spend with my partner and explore our new home city. Needless to say, my blog took a hiatus while the insanity passed. When my final assignments were in (thrilled with two Distinctions, under the circumstances) I was able to breathe a bit, and then I finished up work last Friday and I have three weeks off and I am loving it! Reading when I want to, writing a bit, swimming every other day, picnics, watching movies, watching Smash (my latest favourite show) playing Lego Star Wars on the play station, lounging around… it’s fantastic. The other day I had a 3 hour nana nap for the first time in I don’t know how long! I’ve only been on holidays for 5 days and I feel like it could have been two weeks. Who knows if I’ll even remember what work is by the time I go back on the 7th of January.

I’m absolutely loving living where we have moved. It’s a beautiful heritage place that’s been converted into units. But the main point that will be of interest to you, bookish people, is that we now have the wall space to have continuous bookshelves! See how beautiful they are! It makes me so happy to walk through the door and see that every day.



So, where to from here? I know there’s that statistic that most blogs die off in less than a year, or whatever it is, and I didn’t want that to happen to mine. I’ve put a whole lot of effort into it, and I’m still getting around 1200 hits a month even though I haven’t posted in nearly 4… But in all honesty, with full time work, uni, life in general, and my much neglected writing, posting 5 entries a week just doesn’t seem viable. So for next year, I’ll be looking for a new formula. I think it might be more like 1 or 2 posts a week which are more substantial and talk about the books I choose in more depth. With more things like “Genre Favourites” or something where I post about a genre and give my personal highlights from it. If anyone has any suggestions for topics or genres they would like me to talk about, ask away. That’s if anyone is still reading this. I know I’ve been terrible with my audience.

I’m going to start with a highlights of 2012. I’ll post that separately .
Hope someone’s still reading. 

-LittleElfMan
(Michael)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wolves by Emily Gravett


Emily Gravett is wonderful! I love the way she uses book conventions to make her stories truly irreverent.

In this book, for example, We follow Rabbit, who goes to the library and borrows a book about wolves. Oh what's this? The reader in now holding a book called wolves which contains a rabbit holding a book about wolves... we read together...

Gray wolves live in packs of between two and ten animals. 

We find out more and more about them, as the rabbit walks home, too engrosed in the book to notice that a wolf has come out of the pages. He even walks right up the tail and along its back.


Then we learn, at the same time as the rabbit, that it eats lots of kinds of animals, both large and small... like beavers, voles and ...

We turn the page to see a viciously ripped and clawed back over and the torn remnants of a page saying "rabbits."

We turn the page again to read:

The author would like to point out that no rabbits were eaten during the making of this book.
It is a work of fiction.
And so, for more sensitive readers, here is an alternative ending. 

I'll leave it to you to read the alternative ending for yourself, but it's much happier and unrealistic. but it clearly illustrated by torn scraps from earlier in the book. 

She's just too good! I wrote a review a little while ago on one of her other books and I just love everything she does.


 

Find it on Goodreads