by Catriona Mills

Fabulous Children's Books: A Ranty and Disconnected Introduction

Posted 10 October 2008 in by Catriona

(I’d intended this as a piece on some of my favourite children’s books, but I’m a little cranky, and it ended up a long rant. It also became a little disconnected and rambling, but that’s nothing new. Add in the book pictures, and it would have been longer than the live-blogging posts. So I’m doing this in two parts, with a much calmer piece, with lovely illustrations, to follow this.)

I’m not sure what made me think of this at this moment, but it’s always annoyed me when the discussion about what adults gain from reading children’s books starts up again.

The keenest example of this recently has been the Harry Potter series, of course: Harold Bloom and A. S. Byatt both criticised these books, and both articles irritated me immensely.

(On a sidenote, I’m also bewildered by this comment in Bloom’s article: “It is much better to see the movie, ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ than to read the book upon which it was based, but even the book possessed an authentic imaginative vision.” I wish he had qualified this statement. The Wizard of Oz, the book, is a gorgeous fantasy, as are most of the sequels, though some, notably the fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, are somewhat mean-spirited. This statement, positioned as an inarguable fact, thoroughly confuses me: I can’t find the justification for it.)

I’m partly irritated, of course, by the way in which criticism of these books in these articles is collapsed into a distaste for cultural studies: Bloom casually employs the term “dumbing down” in discussion of “the ideological cheerleaders who have so destroyed humanistic study,” while Byatt talks about “the days before dumbing down and cultural studies.” I’m not even a cultural-studies practitioner, and this frustrates me. I don’t see the necessity for anger when, firstly, cultural studies is a well-established discipline that, like every other discipline, produces extraordinary and insightful criticism and, secondly, when cultural studies exists alongside literary studies, rather than being the latter’s replacement. But that’s another argument for another time.

Do I think the Harry Potter series is flawless? Of course not. But I enjoyed them.

And I recognised, as I read them, that they were written for children. J. K. Rowling has never claimed to be writing for adults, nor has she claimed that the books works on more than one level as, for example, Alice in Wonderland and The Simpsons are often described as doing.

But this entry isn’t about Rowling. I’ve mentioned before—probably ad nauseum, if I know myself—how my own appreciation of the Harry Potter books is filtered through the experience of giving them to a group of children highly uninterested in reading at all. No amount of criticism (no matter how cogent) can influence me more than that group of absorbed children.

No, my response here is to whether adults who read Rowling—and, by extension, other children’s fiction—are “childish adults,” as Byatt’s article puts it.

Well, I wouldn’t have thought so. But I’m not a disinterested party here.

I have shelves crammed with children’s books, and I buy more regularly. Some of them, admittedly, are books that I read as a child, so my reading of them now is a re-reading, with all the nostalgia that such a process implies. But I also regularly buy new children’s books. Gath Nix, for example, I didn’t discover until I was an adult and, in fact, his first book—excluding the Very Clever Baby series, which is too young even for me—wasn’t published until I was fourteen.

And Garth Nix is coded “young adult.” The books are shelved in the “young adult” section of bookstores and libraries, and the assumption is that they will be read by young adults—and, apparently, I no longer count as one, now I’m in my thirties.

(And that’s fair enough. I suppose. I should never have admitted to turning thirty.)

I bought my sister—six years my senior—two young adult fantasy novels for her birthday last year, having them sent to her directly through Dymocks. One of them, Garth Nix, was fine. But the other—I’ve forgotten the title, now—wasn’t available, and the lovely girl in the store rang me to suggest some alternatives, which led to the following conversation:

LOVELY SALES ASSISTANT: Well, I’ve heard good things about this book [also now forgotten], but it might be a little younger than the Nix. It’s aimed at seven to eight year olds.
ME: Oh, yes, that might be a little young.
LOVELY SALES ASSISTANT: How old is your sister?
ME: Thirty-seven.

I can understand the lovely sales assistant’s confusion: she legitimately assumed, given my selection, that I was buying for a younger sister.

But I don’t understand the disdain and, sometimes, outright scorn and anger that often accompanies diatribes about adults enjoying children’s books, or the same diatribes that always arise about genre fiction.

I don’t understand the rebranding of the Potter books in “adult” covers. I just bought the colourful children’s ones.

I don’t understand Byatt’s assumption that to enjoy children’s books, one must have a childish brain or be immature.

And, above all, I don’t understand why it matters.

I understand why books are coded “children’s” or “young adult.” (I’m less certain by the bookstore distinction between “literature” and “literary fiction.”)

But I don’t understand why people should feel pressured into saying, “Oh, I know it’s a children’s book [detective novel, romance, fantasy novel], but . . .”

Putting Knowledge Of Classic Books To Use in Pubs

Posted 10 October 2008 in by Catriona

Several years ago, now, but alas, not in a trivia competition:

SLIGHTLY INTOXICATED GENTLEMAN AT BAR: You celebrating something, love?
ME: Yep.
ME: Oh, I just graduated with my Honours degree.
ME: English Literature.
SLIGHTLY INTOXICATED GENTLEMAN AT BAR: Great! Can you give me a synopsis of James Joyce’s Ulysses in a single sentence?
ME: I . . . can try.

True story.


Posted 9 October 2008 in by Catriona

I discovered an interesting fact today, while reading an Encyclopaedia of English Literature during a quick lunch.

Arthur had a sword called Excalibur.

No, that’s not the interesting fact I’m trying to impart here. I’m just establishing the well-known details first.

In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account, Excalibur was called “Caliburn.”

Arthur also, in this account, had a shield called Pridwen, on which was painted an image of the Virgin Mary.

He also carried, in his right hand, a spear.

Called Ron.

Don’t believe me? Geoffrey of Monmouth’s account is quoted here, which is convenient, because I can’t find my copy:

Arthur himself put on a leather jerkin worthy of so great a king. On his head he placed a golden helmet, with a crest carved in the shape of a dragon; and across his shoulders a circular shield called Pridwen, on which there was painted a likeness of the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, which forced him to be thinking perpetually of her. He girded on his peerless sword, called Caliburn, which was forged in the Isle of Avalon. A spear called Ron graced his right hand; long, broad in the blade, and thirsty of slaughter.

Now, I don’t know the etymology of the word “Ron.” If anyone does, I’d be thrilled to hear it. At the moment, I’m too busy giggling to look it up.

I do know that if I were Pridwen, I’d be pretty annoyed that Excalibur hogs all the glory while no one remembers my name.

But if I were Ron?

Ooh, I’d be furious with whoever named me.

Magical Mystery Bookshelf Tour Stage Ten: The Living Room, Small Bookcase Edition

Posted 8 October 2008 in by Catriona

This is one of my smallest bookcases, so this is only a brief pitstop on the tour. Although it is worth noting (continuing my current obsession with anything to do with my camera) that I kept the camera settings on Portrait this time, so rather than normalising the light, it’s keep that yellowy sunset light that’s filtering in through the living-room windows, which is rather a nice effect.

The top shelf is my beloved reference shelf:

I can’t fit all my references books on here, despite the large gap: that’s for my copy of The Oxford Concise Australian Dictionary, which, since I’ve been marking, is currently on my desk. (Ideally, I should have a dictionary on my desk permanently, but there’s no room for one. My Oxford Concise English Dictionary, however, is on my desk at work.)

But there are lovely books here, including four companions to literature: The Oxford Companion to English Literature, The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, and The Feminist Companion to Literature, which I bought for $4 at a Brisbane City Council Library book sale, and adore.

I know all this information can also be found on the Internet, but at least these books are written by recognised figures in the field.

Plus, they look impressive.

This is also the shelf where I keep my two primary go-to reference books: Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopaedia. If it isn’t in Brewer’s, then it’ll be in Benet’s, and the latter, at least, has a comprehensible indexing pattern.

(I’ve never quite recovered from the time I tried to look up a simile in Brewer’s. A student wanted to know where the phrase “as dead as a doornail” originated, so I looked up “doornail.” Plausible, right? But Brewer’s told me to “See under AS.” Who indexes similes under their conjunction? That makes no sense!)

I could spend the rest of this post raving about reference books, so I’d best restrain myself now. But I will point out that English Through The Ages is a chronological dictionary, listing words under their earliest-known use in the language (cool, huh?) and the battered-looking volume on the left is my lovely Victorian dictionary, in a crumbling leather binding.

(My parents bought that for my birthday a couple of years ago. But it was part of a job lot, so my birthday that year also brought me a dozen other books, a pair of matched, khaki-coloured flower vases (which are now in the spare room, holding up a green bob with a pirate skullcap on top of it and a baseball hat with a propeller attached to the top), and a set of brass canisters, battered but with a lovely patina. My parents are a little like that, now they’ve discovered the joy of auctions. It’s analogous to the time they bought me a gorgeous brass-bound trunk for Christmas, discovered it had three dozen items stacked inside it, and wrapped those up for Christmas, as well. One of them was a ceramic elephant. Enough said, really.)

(I keep the ceramic elephant in the living room. Next to the Dalek.)


The second shelf in that picture is almost all mid-twentieth century Everyman reprints of Victorian novelists who might have been read from the 1920s to the 1950s, but are a little hard to track down now. There’s some Charles Reade, some Clara Reeve (though she was eighteenth century) and Edward Bulwer Lytton.

I must own three dozen Lytton. I’m not sure why, but it does mean I own a copy of Paul Clifford—which I’ve just found in the study with a stuffed Snoopy figure in front of it, which would be hilarious if it had been intentional. And that means I own a copy of the worst opening sentence in English literature.

People know Paul Clifford starts “It was a dark and stormy night,” but do they know it actually gets worse from there?

It was a dark and stormy night, the rain fell in torrents except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Nice comma splice, Sir Edward. It also looks to me as though someone pointed out to him at some point that places other than London also have streets.

But leaving Lytton behind for a moment, the next shelf is yet another of the dozen or so places in the house where I keep my detective fiction:

This, at least, is the only place where I keep my Rex Stouts. I can’t explain how fabulous Stout is (with the proviso, of course, that you actually like detective fiction). And one of the great joys of my life is the fact that the Canadian adaptations were both fabulous and accurate. I know that does happen (the BBC Pride and Prejudice springs to mind, and their Vanity Fair was good, too), but it doesn’t happen often enough.

Yes, I’m looking at you, recent adaptations of Agatha Christie novels.

I’m also rather enamoured of how all the Harry Potter novels look lined up together. I also like the books (really, though, would it have hurt for the last book to have a little less whingy, rainy summer holiday and a little more of what the fabulous and lovely Neville was doing at Hogwarts?) but I’m happier when a book I enjoy also has a pretty cover.

On that note, that is the ugliest of the four or five copies of Dracula that I own.

Sadly, my verbosity is running to an end (convenient, since I still have to cook dinner), because the last shelf is mostly Nick’s books.

Iain Banks (and Iain M. Banks), Lois McMaster Bujold, Julian May, and Bruce Sterling: all are Nick’s.

That is my hardback copy of the Hitchhiker’s trilogy, though—well, the original four volumes of the trilogy, anyway. I’ve been trying to forget the fifth book: so depressing. Even Adams admitted it was a bit much. But Nick tells me someone is planning on writing a sixth addition to the series; since that person obviously isn’t Adams, I have no interest in such a project.

We’re all sad that there’ll be no more Douglas Adams books, but if you bring in someone else to write them, then there still won’t be any more Douglas Adams books.

Am I being too cranky about this?

Never mind me: I’ll solace myself with my copy of “City of Death”: “What a wonderful butler! He’s so violent.”

Okay, I Know I Promised Not To Post Any More Lizard Pictures . . .

Posted 8 October 2008 in by Catriona

But I have to ask people’s opinions.

Is it my imagination, or is this lizard actually eyeing me with contempt?

I know lizards are enigmatic creatures, but there’s just something in this one’s eye that says, “You? You are so not worth moving for.”

I suppose spending your days lying around in the sun pretending to be a dragon would generate a certain arrogance.

Strange Conversations: Part Fifty-Three

Posted 7 October 2008 in by Catriona

While watering my bamboo, the only plant I’ve ever been able to keep alive, for the second time tonight:

(It’s worth noting that the only reason I’ve been able to keep it alive is because bamboo is so tough, not thanks to any undue care on my part.)

ME: Oh, someone’s a thirsty little plant. Because Mummy’s been neglecting you, hasn’t she? Because Mummy doesn’t really deserve plants, does she?
NICK: Treena?
ME: Yep?
NICK: Don’t let the plant see the crazy.
ME: The plant’s not going to tell anyone.
NICK: I repeat my objection.

Lessons I Have Learned From Playing Lego Star Wars

Posted 7 October 2008 in by Catriona

1. Blowing up Star Destroyers is improbable, but fun.

2. Life in space comes complete with entirely irritating camera angles. This makes jumping in any environment or running along the edge of a platform on the Death Star fraught with danger.

3. There are many excellent reasons to spend all your money buying invulnerability (see point two). But the best reason is that when you’re playing as Bounty Hunter Leia, don’t quite get close enough to a lever to pull it down correctly, and instead drop a thermonuclear device, you don’t die.

Of course, that begs the question of who thought it would be unproblematic to have the actions “pull lever” and “drop thermonuclear device” controlled by the same button.

4. Ewoks run like girls.

I know, as a good feminist, I shouldn’t use phrases such as “run like a girl.” But it’s true: the female characters (which is to say, Leia) and the Ewoks have the same odd, splay-legged run, as though their knees flick out ninety degrees when they move.

I’m uncertain as to the significance of this, but I’m sure it can’t be good.

5. Girls are a bit rubbish.

Oh, sure, Leia has thermonuclear devices and can open bounty-hunter specific doors. That’s helpful. And if you play as Lando Calrissian and let Leia get too close to him, she’ll slap him in the face, which is frankly hilarious (if a little inconvenient when it happens in the middle of a battle).

But she’s not a great shot. And if you leave her standing around, she’ll put a hand on one hip, throw the other hip out, and stand there posing while stormtroopers try to kill you.

Of course, there aren’t any female Jedi characters, either, but I can’t blame the game for that—George Lucas doesn’t believe in female Jedis, either. (Oh, wait: there was that one in Revenge of the Sith, wasn’t there? The one who got cut down from behind without even having a chance to draw her lightsaber? Yep: I remember her.)

6. Nobody respects Darth Vader.

You’d think he’d be a force (ha! I crack myself up) to be feared throughout the galaxy. And at points, to get through stormtrooper-specific doors and to move objects that are only susceptible to the Dark Side, you have to play as Vader.

And the stormtroopers shoot at him.

The temptation to shout, “I am Darth Vader, your lord and master! Stop shooting me, you daft gits!” is overwhelming.

I think their helmets must affect their hearing, though, because they don’t stop.

7. Allies are more trouble than they’re worth. Really. They get in your way while you’re trying to kill stormtroopers (or when you’re jumping, and then you fall in a pit of lava and die, and there’s crankiness all round).

And then you catch them on the backswing with your lightsaber, and they die.

And, really, they deserve it for getting in the way. If they only stood behind me, it wouldn’t be a problem.

But . . .

Some of them make horrendous noises when they die. The Ewoks and R2D2 are particularly plaintive.

And who want to be the person who slices R2D2 into spare parts?

(Special Additional Lesson I Have Learned While Blogging About The Lessons I Have Learned Playing Lego Star Wars: when you microwave a cup of coffee, it doesn’t just make the coffee hot. It makes the cup hot, too. I feel this is a serious design flaw. Or, just possibly, my failure to realise this is a serious design flaw in me.)

8. Most spaceships have low ceilings, which makes it impossible to do the patented Jedi double jump then forward roll in mid-air.

This in turn negates any value in being a Jedi Knight, at all.

(Nick was showing me his barbarian character in Diablo yesterday, and pointing out how awesome the character was, since he can jump enormously high. “I can do that,” I said. “Plus, I have a lightsaber.”)

9. General Grievous really is a dreadful character. (A four-armed robot with four lightsabers? Gee, George Lucas, why not just give everybody lightsabers?)

Similarly, his level in Lego Star Wars is rubbish.

Possibly, I’m only saying that because it’s my least-successful level, even though it’s only one giant landing platform with some vague rocky landscaping around it. (And yet I can’t work all the way through it. It’s a blow to the ego, that’s for sure.)

But I prefer to blame it on Grievous. He’s no Jar Jar Binks, but still . . .

10. Few things on earth are quite as much fun as watching a Lego version of Darth Vader push boxes across checked surfaces. He really puts his little Lego back into it.

I make Vader do all the required box pushing.

He has to expiate his crimes somehow.

Thank You For The Nightmares, Cadbury

Posted 6 October 2008 in by Catriona

I’ve just seen the new advertisement for Cadbury Brunch Bars (fruity muesli bars with a chocolate coating).

In this ad., two cannons face one another.

An angel is shot from the cannon on the left.

A clown is shot from the cannon on the right.

I said to Nick, “Oh, this is going to end badly.”

Sure enough, the two collide in mid-air, explode into a cloud of white dust, and magically transform into a Cadbury Brunch Bar.

Then the tagline flashes up on the screen: “Goodness mixed with happiness.”

And I shouted at the television, “CLOWNS DON’T MEAN HAPPINESS!”

(Oh, yes: I shouted in capitals.)

I know for a fact that I’m not the only person in the world who suffers from fear of clowns, which the Internet tells me is called “coulrophobia” (although my browser dictionary doesn’t recognise that word, and Wikipedia tells me that coulrophobia is an exaggerated or abnormal fear of clowns).

I need to make this point: no fear of clowns is exaggerated or abnormal. Clowns are freaky.

I can trace this in my own experience to three distinct factors.

I watched It at a sleepover, and have never entirely recovered from the experience. I’m not a big fan of Stephen King at the best of times, and not because he’s a bad writer: frankly, he’s too good a horror writer, and scares the pants off me. And Tim Curry as Pennywise the Clown scared me even more.

I was in Year 12 when John Wayne Gacy was executed, and what really freaked me out about Gacy was his tendency to dress up as a clown during block parties. Yes, his crimes were what horrified me, but what’s stuck with me, as a disinterested party, was the Pogo the Clown persona.

And, finally, I blame my coulrophobia on Doctor Who‘s “Greatest Show in the Galaxy,” and those psychotic robot clowns. Those were terrifying.

So, thank you, Cadbury, for the nightmares.

Clowns are bad enough.

Clowns combining with angels in mid-air and then becoming edible?

Oh, that’s not right.

Still Playing With The Super Macro Function. Sorry!

Posted 6 October 2008 in by Catriona

I realise that this doesn’t count as a real update but, thanks to the advice Heretic gave on the super-macro post, I’m getting better at using the function.

It is a volatile function, highly susceptible to shaking and losing focus. But these were taken on the Portrait setting, rather than Manual, so the camera dealt with its own shutter speed and ISO setting, and by using a bag of rice to help stabilise the camera.

A small print:

(The entire print is 10 by 15 cm, but the section included here is roughly 4 by 6 cm.)

My watch:

(I love the detail on that one, especially on the second hand, which was moving as I took the photograph.)

And, finally, some funky beads, in two different levels of close-up:

Some day, I might become bored with my camera and stop posting pictures of irrelevant objects on the blog. But, for now, I can only say, “Sorry! I’ll update properly soon.”

How Could You Reject Such A Thoughtful Supervillain?

Posted 5 October 2008 in by Catriona

My current favourite song lyrics are from Jonathan Coulton’s “Skullcrusher Mountain,” which I only discovered today:

I made this half-pony half-monkey monster to please you
But I get the feeling that you don’t like it
What’s with all the screaming?
You like monkeys; you like ponies
Maybe you don’t like monsters so much
Maybe I used too many monkeys
Isn’t it enough to know that I ruined a pony making a gift for you?

Oh, and I’m so into you
But I’m way too smart for you
Even my henchmen think I’m crazy
I’m not surprised that you agree
If you could find some way to be
A little bit less afraid of me
You’d see the voices that control me from inside my head
Say I shouldn’t kill you yet

How could you turn down such a sweet-talking supervillain? Especially one who has a golden submarine.

And who ruined a pony making a gift for you.

Strange Conversations: Part Fifty-Two

Posted 4 October 2008 in by Catriona

Preparing for a D&D session:

NICK: So I’ll grab those clothes off the line, and then I’ll take a quick whizz through the bathroom.
NICK: And then I’ll probably clean it.
ME: I was going to say something, but then I thought, “Do you really want to encourage him?” And I thought, “No. No, I don’t.”
NICK: I encourage myself!

And I Thought The Macro Function Was Cool . . .

Posted 3 October 2008 in by Catriona

Thanks to a conversation with my baby brother, who has the same camera as I have, I’ve been made aware that my camera has a super macro function.

So, naturally, I immediately took some pictures of the Warhammer miniatures. I mean, what else was super macro invented for?

For the record, this miniature measure 4 cm from the top of the axe (which isn’t even visible in these pictures) to his feet.

The section of him visible in these pictures is 2.5 cm, total.

Sure, they’re not the best super macro photographs around. The super macro function is only available as a manual setting, which means I have to play around with the shutter speed and the ISO setting myself—and I’m not familiar enough with either the camera or with manual photography to be confident with doing that.

But I’m still fairly impressed that the camera can do this. (Mind, I need a tripod. My hands aren’t steady enough to manage super macro without some support.)

I mean, I took one look at these, and said to Nick, “Wow, this miniature is quite dusty.”

And it is.

If you look extremely closely.

Magical Mystery Bookshelf Tour Stage Nine: The Living Room

Posted 3 October 2008 in by Catriona

Every time I look at the bookshelves in the living room, I wonder whether or not I should arrange them so that the most intellectually impressive books are in there (why, yes, I am secretly pretentious) or, at least, the books that I read most often.

But, then, I suspect that the Magical Mystery Bookshelf Tour has, if nothing else, revealed the fact that my bookshelves have absolutely no organising principle behind them, at all.

But I do have a reason for showing the top shelf of this bookcase:

A reason apart from the fact that it shows a number of books, that is.

I feel my poor little donkey, over there on the far right, deserves his own picture on the blog. Yes, his legs are actually kept on with packing tape. I bought him twenty-two years ago (well, at that age, I had him bought for me by my parents) in a shop in Jerusalem: he’s made of olive wood. He’s lovely—a little naive in style, perhaps, but a lovely donkey. But his legs are highly fragile: they’ve been glued back on more times than I can remember. Eventually, I just gave up: hence the packing tape. One day, I fully intend to actually take that tape off and glue his legs back on. Again.

In the interim, I think he deserves a small degree of Internet celebrity.

What? Oh, the actual books.

This top shelf, actually, is a straightforward mix of the absolutely essential (Douglas Adams); the unread and occasionally embarrassing, if seminal (Brian Aldiss); Nick’s books, which he keep bullying me to read, but I never seem to get around to it (Steven Brust); and the fascinating series that I started and enjoyed, but gave up because I became inappropriately fond of the brainwashed rapist, could see his eventual fate coming, and didn’t really think I could face it (Lois McMaster Bujold).

That last category is, I grant you, rather specific.

Ooh, speaking of books that are seminal and yet rather embarrassing since I’ve never actually read them:

There’s C. J. Cherryh! My sister is something of a devotee of Cherryh’s work, and I myself have to admire the the fact that she became irritated with the way in which her strong heroines were always depicted on the covers in gold bikinis, and wrote a series about giant cat people as a way of saying, “Right. Stick that in a gold bikini.”

(I bet there’s an edition of the Chanur series somewhere where the characters are depicted in gold bikinis.)

But I find her books incomprehensible. And I say that in an admiring way: she throws the reader in the deep end of an entirely fictitious world, complete with plausibly alien language patterns, and you have to struggle to the surface before you can even figure out the plot.

Well, I’m not a good swimmer, apparently.

(How was that metaphor? Too tortured? Also, don’t tell the people whom I want to award me a Ph.D. in English Literature what I just said. Okay?)

At least, I can’t seem to stick with the books long enough to slip into their mode of thinking. But I want to, so I keep buying them. Hence the huge number of unread, secondhand paperbacks on that shelf.

Actually, speaking of just plain embarrassing, there are some Michael Crichton books.

Can I get away with blaming those on Nick? Nope, didn’t think so. They definitely shouldn’t be out in plain sight. (Though, I have to say, the Jurassic Park ones are miles better than the movies, especially in terms of strong female characters.)

I do like those Diane Duane young adult books, though: the So You Want To Be A Wizard series. Unfortunately, Duane suffers from similar-name syndrome, probably because she writes Star Trek novelisations, and so does Diane Carey, whose work is not nearly as good.

Another example of similar-name syndrome is Elizabeth Moon (good) as opposed to Elizabeth Lynn (not so good). There’s another example, but I’ve forgotten it. And Nick’s not helping:

ME: Can you think of that other example of authors with similar-name syndrome? I’ve forgotten.
NICK: Male or female?
ME: I’ve forgotten!

The Philip Jose Farmer books are others that I haven’t read in years, and may never read again. I’m keeping them, though, because the concept of the Riverworld fascinates me. As far as I can remember, though, they went a bit pear-shaped at the end. Maybe there were dinosaurs? And Hitler showed up at one point, I seem to remember. Odd. But clever world-building.

In my defense, I should point out that the Laurell K. Hamilton books actually are Nick’s. No, seriously: I’m not trying to blame him for something embarrassing that’s actually mine. I have read most of those, though: I think I gave up before Obsidian Butterfly. We both gave up: they started shakily, with an interesting premise but a tendency to info-dump in a frustrating fashion, then steadied up for a little while, then took an entirely unexpected (unexpected by me, anyway) turn into out-and-out porn. At least the Merry Gentry books started out as porn.

Still, at least there’s nothing to be ashamed about with Ursula K. Le Guin.

I think I’ve mentioned before how much I enjoy Garth Nix’s books, perhaps during the spare-room portion of the tour, which is where my copies of the Keys to the Kingdom series are.

And then we just slide straight into Terry Pratchett, and there’s not much I can say about him that I didn’t cover in my post about how much I hope to grow up to be Granny Weatherwax.

The next shelf, though, is almost al Nick’s, including the E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith (already canvassed over at Smithology more comprehensively than I could manage here), the S. P. Somtow, and the Vernor Vinge.

Those are my Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, though. Ah, Cimmorene: you were a proper princess, but I never did figure out how you worked out the age imbalance at the end of the last book. (How’s not for an entirely obscure non-spoiler?)

I also loved Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country (now that’s a good title), which she wrote turn and turn about with Caroline Stevermer (whose A College of Magics I have somewhere, but, surprisingly, haven’t read yet.)

That reminds me: I have the sequel to Sorcery and Cecilia—I must (no, you know how this goes) get around to reading that.

And then there’s nothing left but Diana Wynne Jones:

Well, Diana Wynne Jones and Phillip Pullman. I had a (friendly and intellectual) disagreement with my sister about these. She felt that the His Dark Materials trilogy was anti-humanist, if I haven’t misrepresented her: that, essentially, he didn’t seem to like people. Similarly, she couldn’t read further than The Ruby in the Smoke in the Sally Lockheart series, because she disliked the way in which he constantly tore down and devastated the heroine.

Now, I’m not going to touch the argument about His Dark Materials, but I can’t say that I entirely disagree with the one about Sally Lockheart.

And yet, to a certain degree, that’s why I liked them. True, I had to stop reading halfway through The Tiger in the Well because my entire body was crunched up into an agonising ball at the thought of what horrible thing could happen next.

But isn’t that something extraordinary?

I read. I read an enormous amount. And few of the books I read inspire that sort of visceral response (though that may have something to do with the books that I select).

Basically, I’d sum the Sally Lockheart Mysteries up this way:

I’ve spent three years reading and researching penny-weekly serials. And most penny-weekly serials are bad.

Awesome, yes. But bad. Because they’re written under enormous time constraints for little remuneration.

Even when they’re doing something intriguing with the conventions of the form, they’re often bad: verbose, implausible, and silly.

The Sally Lockheart Mysteries are penny-weekly serials (not penny dreadfuls: chronologically, they take place between the great days of the penny dreadfuls and the late, boys’-own-adventure-style penny bloods) written by someone who can actually write.

And when that happens, you can’t giggle at the travails of the heroine, once again kidnapped by her own father who doesn’t know who she is and has already failed (twice) to seduce her. (This doesn’t happen in any Pullman novel, but does happen in Eliza Winstanley’s “The Strollers.”)

When that happens, you’re forced into accepting that the heroine’s travails are terrifying.

That doesn’t mean they’re easy to read, though.

On a lighter note, those tiny little figures on the shelves are, in fact, Warhammer figurines.

That’s really just an excuse to exploit the macro function on my camera again.

No shelf is complete with dwarfs wielding fearsome weapons.

More Posing Wildlife

Posted 2 October 2008 in by Catriona

I call this series “World’s Most Awesome Lizard, Who Was So Busy Sunning Himself On What Might Be Charitably Called A Barbeque That He Didn’t Care How Close I Came With The Camera.”

Too long?

Today's Random Wildlife Photograph

Posted 1 October 2008 in by Catriona

Spotted in the back garden while I was having an early morning cigarette:

Who’s a pretty boy, then?

Would you like a cracker?

Would you like me to stop patronising you? Okay, then.

And I had to include this one:

Because a bird eating with its feet is adorable.



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