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I Need a Good Page-Turner! July 13, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, On Writing, Reviews, Study.
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Sorry if things have been a little slow lately.  Have some family visiting and it’s been craaaazy.

Anyway, I’m reaching out to see if anyone can recommend a good page-turner for me.  Actually, not just a good one, a great one.  An all-time best.

For whatever reason I haven’t been getting into books as much as I should be recently.  When I had been working on my major writing project I had to read stacks of books and articles to help me with my writing — and while they were helpful I didn’t necessarily enjoy them.  Nevertheless, I had to churn through them for the sake of my writing.

Now that I’m done with all of that, I feel like I need a ripper of a book to get me back in the groove of reading for pure pleasure.

I started reading Peter Temple’s Truth (winner of the 2010 Miles Franklin Literary Award) on the iPad recently but haven’t been able to really get into it yet.  Temple has a unique style that almost feels like he’s cutting corners with words to make his prose punchier, and it takes a while to get used to.  And so far the progression of the plot and dialogue reminds me of one of those classy Hollywood detective movies where you don’t really understand what the heck they’re talking about (at least at the start) but you know it’s good dialogue.

I also started reading my fourth John Grisham novel (after The Innocent Man, The Associate and The Firm), A Time to Kill, his debut work.  After I expressed my disappointment in The Associate some recommended that I check out his earlier stuff (before crap like ‘Theodore Boone — Child Lawyer!!’).  I’ve never seen the film with Samuel ‘Maryland Farmer’ L Jackson and Matthew ‘I have good genes!’ McConaughey, so I’m finding it quite an enjoyable read thus far, but as Grisham admitted in the intro, he does ramble on a fair bit.  Thus I would call it a good page-turner but not a great one — something that could keep me occupied on a train but nothing that would keep me up late at night.

A third book I barely started is Everyone’s Pretty by Lydia Millet, a dark comedy about the porn industry.  This was one of the books recommended to help with my writing but I thought it would be an interesting read too.  A few pages in and I’m somewhat intrigued, but haven’t gone back for more in days.

Not sure if have time to finish all these books in the short term as I have another book review to do for a trade publication.  It’s called Lives and Letters by Robert Gottlieb, a series of profiles on fascinating public figures, artists and entertainers including Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn, and so forth.  Being a published profile writer myself (ahem), I’m looking forward to this one, though the fact that I have to read it dampens my enthusiasm somewhat.

Am I just too picky here?  Some might say these are all perfectly good page-turners, but I’m not satisfied.  I need something to blow me away.  I’m not necessarily talking about a wonderfully written book (from a technical perspective — I mean, Madame Bovary is supposed be to ‘technically’ perfect but her ‘bovaries’ kept putting me to sleep).  I have pretty pedestrian tastes, after all.  I just want a read that will make me want to tear through it in a couple of days and inspire me to read more.

Help.  Anyone?

Farewell, Borders June 5, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging, Misc, On Writing, Social/Political Commentary, Technology.
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I had been wanting to write about this ever since news broke a few days ago but for whatever reason held off — maybe hoping that it wasn’t true or that it was a mistaken report.

Oh well.  There’s no use denying it anymore.  The last remaining nine Borders bookstores across Australia will close down over the next six to eight weeks.  The fate of the Angus & Robertson chain, also owned by the in-administration REDgroup, remains uncertain at this point.  The only good news is that its online bookstores will remain open.

I still remember the first time Borders opened up in Australia years and years ago.  I loved them.  They had the broadest range of books and I could spent literally hours and hours browsing from one end of the store the other.  It was perfect for people with short attention spans like me, who just want to read the back cover, maybe read a few pages, and move on if it doesn’t interest me.

When I was living in Cambridge (which had all the big booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmith, Heffers, etc), I pretty much camped out at Borders.  Nothing to do?  Let’s go to Borders and read all afternoon!  Books, comics, manga, magazines, whatever.  It was better than any library.

But that was the problem.  People loved to browse Borders but not buy from them because their books were so bloody expensive, particularly in Australia (I’ll get to that in a sec).  If they were on super duper special, then maybe, you’d consider buying a book or two, but everybody knew that Borders was a place where you went to do your research, not the place you’d ultimately purchase the books from.

These days, especially, it’s all online.  Not just e-books but also paper books from places such as The Book Depository and Amazon.  Yes, if all things were equal, Australian consumers would no doubt want to purchase locally — but when prices were, excluding GST, 35% higher, or in many cases, 50% higher, financial considerations always trumped loyalty.

No wonder Borders struggled so much.  The stores tended to be in areas where the rent was ridiculous.  They required loads of staff and the wide range meant stacks of inventory.  Without competitive prices, they really had no chance.

Interestingly, the online chatter that has come out of the closures have been similar to my sentiments.  Most bemoan the loss of a terrific place to ‘browse’ books, but not much more than that.  Some were even glad that these evil big book chains which bully the independent booksellers have gotten their comeuppance.

Does this represent a fundamental shift in the publishing industry?  If supposedly mighty bookchains such as Borders are collapsing, it makes me wonder what the future holds for other chains such as Angus & Robertson and Dymocks, and to a lesser extent, Kinokuniya.

Is it finally time for the parallel importing restrictions to be lifted?  For those who don’t know, Australia has in place restrictions intended to protect local publishers and writers.  If an Australian holder of publishing rights to a particular title decides to publish it within 30 days of the book becoming available elsewhere in the world, then Australian booksellers are prohibited from importing the title from overseas.

A Productivity Commission report in 2009 recommended that these restrictions be lifted, partly because the bulk of the benefits stemming from the restrictions flowed to offshore publishers and authors, rather than local ones.  The recommendation was never acted upon because of campaigns from domestic publishers and authors, who also have very valid arguments.  Opening the already fragile Australian book industry to the rest of the world has potentially frightening consequences for everyone.

No easy answers, unfortunately.  I just hope the remaining bookchains in Australia have enough support to keep battling on.

Farewell, Borders.

Book Review: ‘Room Service’ by Frank Moorhouse May 27, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Book Reviews, Reviews.
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I’m a big fan of comic writings and I have been reading a fair bit recently because I am trying to write a comedic novel myself.  One of the recommendations from my supervisor was Frank Moorhouse, a gifted Australian writer I can certainly learn from.

I picked up one of the thinnest Moorhouse books I could find from the library, Room Service, a collection of short stories and essays first published in 1985 and predominantly featuring Moorehouse’s alter ego, Francois Blase.

Room Service is seriously funny stuff, particularly the first few pieces.  Blase is a quirky, neurotic, somewhat disturbed individual who gets himself into bizarre and compromising situations.  In many ways he reminds me of a less abrasive, classier George Constanza or Larry David, both of whom I adore.

The first piece, for example, is all about how Blase, not wanting to pay for ice that is always half melted by the time it gets to his hotel room, leaves his beers outside the window and then suspects the hotel staff of purposely altering the beers’ position so that he will accidentally knock them off the ledge.

There are many other hilarious pieces, such as one about Australian vs Chinese culture and stereotypes and another satirical piece on the love affair between Australian men and sheep throughout the ages.

Each piece is self-contained (and I discovered at the end that most of them had already been published elsewhere separately) and crafted with a keen eye for detail and punchlines that you don’t always expect.  Moorhouse has this uncanny ability to be self-deprecating while retaining a dead seriousness about his justifications and world views.

What impressed me the most was his ability to create so many varied pieces, many with completely different styles, but somehow making them all fit together in this tight little book (around 174 pages).

That said, I wasn’t captivated by every piece.  As often is the case with collections and anthologies, there were a few a simply didn’t get or enjoy, and there were some others that didn’t sustain my interest the whole way through.

3.5 out of 5

Dictating a novel? May 20, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study, Technology.
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I’ve really been struggling trying to get my novel project into shape the last few days.  When I’m away from the computer I have a million thoughts running through my head, and I feel like I am ready to write the best shit ever.  But as soon as I sit down and start typing, I’ve got nothin’.

The other day, just before heading out, I was taking a shower when I pretty much planned out an entire chapter of my novel in my head, or so I thought.  I was really excited, but I didn’t have time to write anything down because I had to head out immediately.

I was driving when I had an idea.  Using the recording app on my iPad, I started dictating the chapter to my novel that was in my head during the shower.  It was surprisingly effective.  In about 25 minutes, I had more or less dictated the entire chapter.

That night I went home and transcribed it.  It wasn’t great, but at least I got it out of my system and it allowed me to fix it as I went along, almost like editing a rough first draft.

All of this amazed me, considering as a lawyer I never used the dictation systems they had in place because I found it all too hard and awkward.  I also wasn’tMaybe it was just because I didn’t know what to say.

Could this be a new way for me to write?  Has anyone else tried it?

Unfortunately for me, writing first drafts of chapters is no longer my concern anymore.  I now have to actually shape the drafts into good shit, which I have discovered is even harder.  D’oh.

Forcing yourself to finish movies and novels September 20, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Blogging.
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That's James Franco, by the way

Here’s a random one.  Do you force yourself to finish a film or a novel simply because you started it?

I do.  As far as I can recall, I have never started a novel without sticking with it through to the end (case in point: I was stuck on a single page of The Fellowship of the Ring for a whole month — every time I started reading it before bed I would fall asleep before I hit the end of the page — and yes, it was Tom Bombadil.  I still ended up finishing it and the other two eventually).

Similarly, I have never walked out of a movie or turned off the TV either (I have fallen asleep before but I consider than an involuntary act).  No matter how boring or crap it is.

Is this rational?  Probably not. My logic is that since I have already spent so much time on something, I might as well finish it off.  There’s also a hope (almost always a stupid one) that the book or the film will get better — especially if it has been well-received or recommended.

Others remind me that the time already spent on a crap movie or book is a sunk cost.  You’re not going to recover that time, so why waste more time?  I actually know quite a few people that have walked out of a movie within the first 10-15 minutes and requested a refund (which apparently you can get).  I’ve seen people walk out even halfway through the movie, never to return.  Books go without saying — I know plenty of people who finish about 1 in 10 books, if they’re lucky.

What do you think?  Which camp do you belong to?

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