Page Turners returns to blogging

It has been a big break, but with two book reviews under my belt, I think I am back.

It was good to have a break from the blogging. I have learnt how easy it is to allow technology to play too significant a role in our lives. It wasn't until I stopped posting for awhile that I realised how much time I was spending in front of the computer. The break was also good just to give me some personal space to focus on other things for awhile.

I do enjoy writing my reviews, though, so I am back to do some more.

Having said that there are going to be some changes on Page Turners, the biggest being that I am going to focus a lot more a book reviews in the future. Then there is also the new colour sheme!

Memes

I think that the additional blogging activities were distracting me from what I really want to do, which is write about the books themselves. So, although I might participate in a meme every now and again, it won't be doing so regularly. I know that the majority of my audience comes from the weekly memes, but I have decided that the blogging needs to be more about my interests than having an audience.

Features

Lights Camera Blog Action - I won't be running this anymore, although I have loved meeting you all very much. Thank you to everyone who participated - i hope other bloggers found more blogs to love through this feature.

Book Beginning on Friday - This was a very short lived feature, but again one I loved. Thank you to everyone who participated every week. I still love reading the opening lines of books, but I can't prioritise the meme anymore.

Having said that, is there anyone interested in taking over from me? It is lots of fun. If you would like to be the new host of Book Beginnings on Friday send me an email to pageturnersbooks at gmail.com with a link to your blog and why you want to host BBOF. I will read through and decide who will be the next host.

A big thank you

Finally, a big thank you to all my loyal followers. I was so pleased when my first review back attracted close to 20 comments (a lot for one post at Page Turners). I will be around the place as usual leaving comments and I hope that you all still enjoy reading the slightly altered blog.

Lights, Camera, Blog Action!

This is a special feature dedicated to spreading the word about the other great blogs that are out there! I have found a lot of great blogs through such features and I want to be able to share some book blog joy too!

After almost one year of Lights Camera Blog Action, I won't be continuing it in the near future. Thank you to all those lovely bloggers who have participated.
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Today I am featuring Isaac from Tower of Stories.  Isaac is a relatively new blogger, but who has lots to offer and I have enjoyed reading his blog. I hope you all check it out.
Tell us something about yourself

I love hats. Ever since I was a junior in high school I've been wearing hats whenever possible. Usually they're flat caps or my leather driver's cap, but I also have a fedora and I got a bowler hat for Christmas from my girlfriend of which I'm quite proud. I'm wearing it right now, in fact.

What was your favourite book as a child or young adult, and why?

I read "The Hobbit" by JRR Tolkien when I was in fourth grade and it made a big impression on me. I loved immersing myself in the story and its world. Two years later I read "The Lord of the Rings" and loved that, too. I loved adventures and epic tales of warriors and wizards, and these books by Tolkien werere the best I'd ever read then or since.

Why do you love to read?

I've always loved to read because I love to use my imagination and to immerse myself in a story. The phrase "get lost in a good book" is a bit of a cliché, but it's a good phrase for what I like to do with books. The sign of a really good book or story to me is that when it's finished I feel like I've just come out of a good dream and get that slightly disappointed feeling you get when you wake to realize that it didn't really happen. That experience motivates me to seek it out in more books and stories.

How do you choose your books?

There are a variety of reasons why I choose the books that I read. Sometimes it's the book's reputation and things I've heard or read about it that make me think it will be a book that I'll like. Sometimes it could be written by an author I've liked before, or one whose books I've heard I should read sometime. Other times it could be plain curiosity. I recently reviewed a book of short stories just because it was by Gene Wilder, one of my favorite actors growing up (he is not, I discovered, one of my favorite writers). These are all things I take into account when choosing a new book to read. Plus, since my blog is dedicated to short fiction, I been reading a lot of that so I can review it.

What are you currently reading and what's been the best book you have read in the last 6 months?

Right now I'm dividing time between a number of different books. "The Stories of John Cheever" is taking up most of my time. I'm also picking my way through "The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman, and "Rabbit, Run" by John Updike. I'm on a bit of a hiatus from "All the Pretty Horses" by Cormac McCarthy, "The Swimming-Pool Library" by Alan Hollinghurst, but plan on returning to those sometime, and I'll start in on another book of short stories to review soon. The best book I've read in the past 6 months would have to be Gaiman's "American Gods." He is one of my favorite authors, and this is my favorite book that I've read by him. A true classic.

When and why did you start your blog?

I started my blog in late June. I'd been doing a lot of reading as I worked on my dissertation, and I thought that doing a blog would be a good way to talk about the books I was reading and my thoughts about them. Also, my friend Liz of Consumed By Books had a blog that I enjoyed reading, so I thought 'Why not?' I've had trouble in the past with keeping journals and blogs, but I thought that since this one is about reading, which I do a lot anyway, that would keep me motivated to write more often. Also, my blog focuses on short stories because it's a form of writing that I love and there aren't many bloggers who write about it. So I read and review short fiction to help fill in that gap a bit.

How did you choose your blog's name?

Originally my blog was going to be "The Tower of Books" and make a play on the word tower as both a tall structure and someone who tows things, like in a wagon. Then, after looking around for blogs about short fiction and not finding much, I decided to focus my blog on short stories, and changed the name to "Tower of Stories," which also carried the clever wordplay, since usually people usually think about the height of a building in terms of how many "stories" tall it is. The tagline "Standing Tall with Short Fiction" just came to me, and is meant to be a bit humorous because I am not a tall person.

What do you love about book blogging?

I love talking about books and stories and recommending them to people, or warning them away as the case may be. I've also really enjoyed getting to know other people in the book blogging community. It's been great getting comments from people, reading other's blogs and commenting on them, participating in memes, and everything else. It has just been a lot of fun.

What tips do you have to offer to other book bloggers?

I haven't been doing this for very long and could certainly use some tips myself, but my advice to other newbies would be for them to just be as active as they can be. Write often. Comment on other blogs. Take part in things hosted by other blogs. And, of course, read often, too. There are those who say you should read outside your comfort zone in order to be a better reader, and there are those, like me, who focus on the kind of literature that appeals to them. You alone know what kind of balance you want to strike. Just go for it, and have a good time.

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I read The Hobbit when I was about in year 4 as well and it had a very big impact upon me. It is the first book I remember reading and being totally wowed by it. I didn't move onto the Lord of the Rings so quickly, but I will always remember The Hobbit fondly for really helping me to realise the fun and joy of reading

I hope that everyone enjoyed finding out a little bit more about Isaac. Make sure you check out his wonderful blog if you haven't been there before. Did anyone else discover Tolkein early in their reading years and really fall in love?

Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor (a contemporary Australian literary novel)

Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor was heralded as Sydney's version of The Slap, but whilst it is very authentic in come respects, it fell a little flat for me.

I had ready many wonderful reviews of Indelible Ink and so I was pleased when it was chosen as the book for my August book club. I think that contemporary Australian literary fiction is rare, and good fiction of this kind is even rarer. I was even more excited (and slightly nervous) when I heard that the author herself would be attending.

Unfortunately, the book did not meet my expectations.

An authentic main character

The main character of Indelible Ink is a middle aged, recently divorced, upper class, mother of adult children (with grandchildren), named Marie King, who beings tattooing her entire body after getting single tattoo on a whim after an alcohol fuelled long lunch. She is drinking too much, spending too much money and contemplating selling her $6.5million harbour side mansion.

Marie King is a very authentic character. She has gone from a wife and mother, to a woman alone in her once family home, with no children to look after and nothing to occupy her time. She starts drinking too much, and after spending her money begins living the high life on credit cards, sometimes to the point where is doesn't have the money to pay for groceries. I can absolutely imagine many other women in her position out there in the world, struggling to come to terms with who they really are as an individual, without their children and partners around to define them.

The concept of the tattooed woman

Having said that, I found the concept of Marie, an upper class North Shore women, getting full bodies tattoos just a little too unbelievable. I think that the tattoo's themselves were supposed to be a metaphor for Marie taking control of her life and her body and coming to know her real self for the first time. On another level, the tattoos themselves appear to be a metaphor for Sydney itself; the way Sydney sprawls across the landscape, constantly growing and changing.

But when it came down it, I just couldn't accept the reality of a 50-something upper class North Shore woman tattooing her entire body. Not only can I not imagine the look of the person, I can't imagine a person like Marie wanting to be tattooed. Maybe colouring her hair a bright colour in a crazy moment but full body tattoos.....?

Marie's relationship with her children

Since the book has been published and is being increasingly reviewed, I have heard a lot of criticism of Marie's adult children and they way in which they treated their mother. I on the other hand absolutely empathised with them, and didn't find anything malicious in their behaviour. They found themselves in a predicament where their mother was doing nothing productive with her life; instead she was spending too much money on credit cards and drinking way too much and generally not taking an active role in her own life. What could Marie's children do about that? They can only encourage her so much before it becomes apparent that Marie has to take control of her own life. So in the meantime her children complain to each other and treat her with disdain. But how would we react differently in their situation? I think that this criticism of the children being unfeeling toward their mother doesn't really take into consideration personal agency and family dynamics. I actually felt that McGregor's depiction of Marie's relationship with her children was very realistic.

Fiona McGregor wrote Indelible Ink as a third person narrative, exploring the events from the perspective of Marie and her children. Sometimes though I did find the jumping between all the different perspectives a little distracting.

Sydney as a character in the story

McGregor's book certainly effectively evoked the feel of Sydney. The descriptions of the landscape and the people leave no doubt in your mind that it could anywhere but Sydney. I particularly identified with the volume of real estate discussion in the book. My experience of Sydney at the moment is that it is very much preoccupied with property and mortgages and interest rate rises. This was reflected really well in the discourse between the characters about the sale of Marie's property and the purchase of a new one.

There has also been a lot of discussion about class in relation to this book. I have heard it described as being an in depth look into middle class Sydneysiders. Certainly at my book club everyone discussed the book as an exploration of the lives of the middle class in Sydney. I don't know about you, but I don't too many middle class Sydneysiders who own $6.5 million harbour side properties in Mosman. If that isn't upper class, then what is?

Some final thoughts

Approximately half way through the book Marie receives news that will change the direction of her and her children's lives. When this event occurs, I really wanted to feel something for Marie and her new challenges, but by then I was already thoroughly uninterested in the story and I couldn't revive an interest.

I think that the barrier to enjoying this book lies in the characters. The characters were so normal, so everyday. Creating such realistically ordinary characters is in and of itself an achievement, but the ordinariness of the characters combined with the lack of any significant plot just left me wanting more.

I also didn't appreciate the end of the book. Despite hearing others say it was their favourite part of the book, I just found it too abrupt. None of the characters had any real closure (except perhaps Marie) and it felt as though the book stopped before the story has actually ended.

All in all, I felt that the story meandered between all the different characters without any real purpose. The characters were ordinary enough to be boring to read about. Whilst I found Marie to be a a very authentic character I think that to really enjoy the story you need to accept the idea of a 50-something upper class Mosman woman becoming addicted to full body tattooing, and I just couldn't do that.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
Contemporary Australian book, with an emphasis on conversation rather than description. An easy read, but it takes longer to read than you might expect.

Do I recommend this book?
Not really, not unless you have been caught up in the hype about it recently.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
No, save your money for something a bit better.


Star Rating

4.5 / 8


Alright, no need to prioritise it.


Have you read this book? I would be interested to hear what you thought of it. I also wonder if anyone from Sydney agrees that there is a preoccupation with real estate at the moment and what, if anything, that might mean for the city?




The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

I wanted to like The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, but it just didn't meet my expectations.

I had heard so many good things about this book that I was so disappointed by it when I finally got around to reading it.

Perhaps it is just that my expectations were too high to begin with, or maybe the story and the characters were just a little 'too American' for me (an Australian) to really identify with them.

The reality is, it was just so boring. I was bored. There is no other way to say it.

About half way through the book I suddenly thought to myself, "has anything actually happened yet?" I felt as though I was reading a book of back story rather than a book with any plot, and the characters just weren't interesting enough to keep me interested in their back stories alone. I needed story and I wasn't getting any.

So I gave up. I didn't finish it, and that is a big step for me. It is only the second book this year I have failed to complete (the first being the longest novel ever written in English if that gives you some idea of how I try to finish every book I start).

Star Rating

1 / 8


Couldn't even finish it.

So, what have I missed? Has anyone read it and loved it? I would love to hear what you all think of this novel that has been heralded as a modern American classic.