final book of the year

Please excuse the language but, seriously, today was so freakin’ hot. I stayed inside all day in the comfort of good aircon. Probably the only good thing was that it was a good chance to get some reading done.

I’ve been reading “The Book Thief” (Markus Zusak) for a while, and I finally finished it today. I think that it’s taken a while mostly because I’ve been reading other books at the same time, but also because it’s the sort of book I wanted to read slowly and savour. It was one of those stories that I really wanted to find out the ending of, but also didn’t want to end.

Following from that, you can probably tell that I really enjoyed it. I really liked the writing style used. Yes, I like all sorts of writing styles but there was something about the way “The Book Thief” was written that just really drew me in. It’ll be interesting to see what the movie is like because the novel isn’t just a story that someone tells and that’s it. The way that it was narrated was what I found to be really captivating.

Despite my interest in modern history during high school, I don’t think I’ve read many novels about World War II. I’ll read practically any genre, but war stories aren’t really my thing. “The Book Thief”, however, isn’t really a war story, as such. Well, it’s focus is on the people left at home, not on the frontline. I suppose you could say it’s a novel about humans and the human experience, since it’s narrated by Death, who provides observations, commentary and insights.

It’s been a good year of reading for me, even though I haven’t really read that many books. “The Book Thief” is definitely one of my favourites from this year, alongside “Catch 22” (coincidentally another WWII novel) and “Life of Pi”. They’re the books I wish I could get everyone to read. “Life of Pi” was actually borrowed from a friend, and I did end up buying a copy of “Catch 22” and lending that to another friend, so at least I know I’m helping those two get circulated.

There’s a certain joy that can be derived from sharing good books with others, and I reckon that the discovery of this happiness probably qualifies as one of my highlights of 2013. (I’m still undecided about whether or not I can be bothered doing a 2013 recap/highlight post. We shall see…)


fact: there are still good shows on TV

I never expect there to be particularly good shows on during this time of the year because (1) it’s the ratings off-season and (2) the majority of shows/movies on TV are Christmas-related and cliched.

However, to my good fortune, I happened to be watching ABC2 the other night (can’t remember if I was channel surfing or it was already on for some other show) and I happened to watch a show called “Would I lie to you?”, which, I gather, is produced by the BBC. I don’t think the show itself is new but, damn, it is funny!

If you haven’t seen it before, you could probably just Youtube it and find out what it’s all about, but if you can’t be bothered (do it anyway!!), then I suppose I can just explain it. Basically, it’s a game show where people tell random anecdotes, etc and people in the opposing team have to figure out if it’s actually true or a lie. It’s a good show to watch if you’re after some good laughs.

As it happened, I liked “Would I lie to you?” so much that I kept the TV on ABC2. The next show, if I remember correctly, was “Life’s too short”, which might sound like a serious sort of show but is actually a funny documentary-type show about the life of Warwick Davis, who supposedly played something (Ewok?) in “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi”. Some parts are very wrong (as in politically incorrect) but overall I found it quite funny.

And, finally, since ’tis the season, I’m going to share a Christmas show that I actually really liked. Well, it’s one of ABC’s “Xmas Quickies” and, as the name suggests, it’s only a short clip (less than seven minutes) but it’s probably the best Christmas documentary I’ve ever seen (to be honest, I don’t think I’ve seen that many, but that doesn’t matter).

It was created by the Van Vuuren Brothers and explores the existence of Santa. I could try to explain it more, but it’d just be easier (and funnier) if you just watched it. Merry Christmas.

busy, busy, busy

Yesterday I finished reading ‘Cat’s Cradle’ (Kurt Vonnegut) and I must say, it has got to be one of the strangest books I have ever read. That’s not to say it wasn’t good. I kind of liked it despite, or perhaps because of the strange storyline and the strange way in which it was written.

I’m really not sure how to start explaining or reviewing ‘Cat’s Cradle’. I felt that it was written in a kind of mechanical/robotic sort of way with none of the flowery descriptive language that some books are overflowing with, but I liked it like that. This was one of the first things I noticed about it.

Probably the second thing I noticed about it was that there appeared to be a lot of random details about random events and whatnot that did not seem important to the overall story. But I read and absorbed all of these details anyway. I suppose some of them were important in the end.

For such a short book, I actually took quite a long time to finish it. This was probably because I only read it in snippets on the bus when I felt like it, and because I had to keep pausing to think about what the heck I’d just read.

If you’re looking for something a bit different, it’s great. If you’re looking for a novel that’s logical and makes sense all the time, then probably not so great for you. But, then again, that might just be me not having a lot of context for the story or something.


rewriting the classics

The other day, I was skimming over the book reviews in the newspaper (yes, I’m probably one of the few people of my generation who still read newspapers in this technological age), and noticed that one of the books being reviewed was titled “Sense and Sensibility”. My first thought was that maybe this was some sort of special edition with new introduction and notes and stuff in honour of some sort of Austen anniversary. Fair enough. But then I looked at the author’s name, which turned out to be not Jane Austen (can’t remember the actual author’s name now – too much shock).

Two more thoughts occurred to me: This person was either doing one of those adaptations of a classic (like making the setting and characters all modern while keeping the basic skeleton of the story the same), or they were outright stealing the name of a famous novel for their own, unrelated novel.

The review started with a warning – something along the lines of “if you don’t like people re-writing classics, don’t bother reading the rest of this review or this book”. I stopped reading at the end of that sentence and turned the page.

Why would anyone want to attempt to rewrite a classic novel? They’re classics because they’re timeless and they should be read as they were originally written.

Ok, sure, the author of this new version is probably a hardcore Austen fan who probably wants to modernise the language a bit (or whatever – remember, I didn’t read the review) and make the story more accessible to current generations. That’s probably an admirable thing to try to do. But, even then, I still couldn’t stop the question playing over and over in my mind: Why would you rewrite a classic?

And then it occurred to me that people remake classics all the time. Well, they seem to nowadays. People are always remaking classic songs, giving them a new voice, a new beat, a new audience. The lyrics may be the same, or they may be mixed with other/new lyrics, but the original source is clear. Some of the songs I really like were remakes that I didn’t even know were remakes. “Summer rain” and “Boys of summer” are two examples just off the top of my head (probably just thought of those because it’s getting pretty hot around here).

I wonder if true fans of the originals approve of the remakes of those songs. It’s like how, several years ago, I heard a remake of a Savage Garden song (can’t remember which one – I think I’ve successfully blocked out that memory) and I really didn’t like it because I thought it was nowhere near as good as the SG version. And now I’m wondering, if some of the “classics” from, say, the mid ’90s to now were remade and re-released in 20-30 years’ time, would today’s fans be fans of those too?

Remaking classic movies seems to be a bit of a thing now, too, but I’m not sure that this is a good thing. I recently watched a remake of “Carrie” and found it to be a bit boring and predictable – not because I already new the story, but the whole thing just didn’t seem worthwhile. (But I bet it was original and exciting when it first came out…)

Going back to books, I just want to say that I am certainly not against those books that add zombies and random stuff into classic novels that are otherwise relatively voilence-free. I’m even ok with those parody books and people who write fan fiction and stuff like that. I can understand if people want to make a movie or TV mini-series based on classic books. But plain rewriting a classic? I can’t say that I’m entirely ok with that.

thanks guys

(Just a quick post in recognition of some good customer service I received today)

Went to Guzman y Gomez in the City today (my restaurant of choice for fast food) and they gave me a free bowl of corn chips and guacamole to eat while waiting for my burrito because it was “taking too long”, according to the staff. Apparently 10 minutes is “too long” for their standards. I actually hadn’t really noticed (I noticed a little bit – they’re usually pretty quick with orders) but I was grateful all the same.

I’m not sure if this is part of their usual policy or something, but it is nice when businesses, etc do these sorts of things to show that they care about their customers (and not just at a basic, transactional level (is “transactional” even a word?)). And I like sharing these sorts of positive experiences. Give credit where credit’s due.

This reminds me – I’ve been meaning to give a mention to Peel Street Kitchen for their outstanding hospitality. Had dinner there with friends a couple of weeks ago (?) and the staff were all very attentive and friendly and helpful. I think this is the first restaurant I’ve been to where the staff asked how the drinks were. Most places you’d expect the waiter to check that the food is ok, but asking specifically about the drinks is something else.

For the record, drinks and food were all awesome. And I suppose prices were ok too, since we got there in time for cocktail happy hour.

I feel extra obliged to give them a good mention (albeit just to my limited readership) because I was going to vote for them in the “Weekend Edition” Eat/drink awards, but I kept forgetting and missed the deadline by a day or two… Not sure if my one vote would have been that significant, but it’s the thought that counts, right? Well, there’s always next year, I suppose…

tuning in

It feels kind of weird that today is Monday and I just spent the day at home. Don’t worry, I’m not feeling unwell, and I haven’t been made redundant or something. I just have another “holiday”. I was going to go to Sydney but, after the Melbourne trip a few weeks ago, I felt like I’d had enough flying for one year, so scrapped that idea. And since HR politely declined my subtle offer to cancel my annual leave and go to work, I have a week off to spend at home.

The situation is made all the more odd by the fact that most people I know are at work Monday to Friday, or are out of town, it being December and all. (Speaking of which, can you believe it’s December already?) So that means “going out” options are a bit limited, unless I go solo (which I don’t mind now and then but not all the time).

Since there’s really not much to watch on daytime television (apart from “Ready, Steady, Cook”, of course), and I prefer not to have my laptop on during the day (I think this is partially out of habit and partially out of some delusion that that will save a significant amount of electricity), I have started listening to the radio again. Not all day, but if I’m preparing lunch/dinner or doing the dishes, I’ll put the radio on.

And, you know, I’ve realised one of the great things about listening to the radio is that you get to hear songs that you (almost) forgot you loved. I don’t know if some people would think it’s daggy or something but I actually listen to 97.3FM because they play older songs (’80s and ’90s) in addition to more recent ones. And they tend to have good variety (although I do find they have a particular liking for Kelly Clarkson songs – not that I have a problem with that).

Other things that are good about being at home so much is that I get to cook more, I get to eat more, and I get through a lot of CPD quizzes. I can also do a lot more reading. I’m hoping to finish both ‘The Book Thief’ and “Cat’s Cradle” by next week, but we’ll see how I go… There’s a lot to do – can’t be sitting around reading all day!