like a moth to a light

Over the week-end, I finished reading ‘Northern Lights’ by Philip Pullman. It’s a book/series that I’ve wanted to read since I was a kid, but just never got around to it for one reason or another. Yep, it seems that even as a kid I had an impossibly long and ever-growing TBR list. And while I kind of forgot about the series as I grew up and moved on to other books, when I saw a shiney new copy at the library the other week, I just could not resist!

In a way, it was kind of refreshing – to the mind and the imagination – to read a YA fantasy novel again. I regretted never reading it when I was younger (it’s exactly the kind of book that younger me would have loved), but I don’t think my enjoyment of ‘Northern Lights’ was lessened at all by all these years of intending to read it.

I kind of wondered about writing a post/review for ‘Northern Lights’, seeing as it’s certainly not a new book, but I figure that people discover “new” books all the time. A colleague of mine, who I consider to be quite well-read, said she’d never heard of ‘Northern Lights’ before I started bringing it to the lunch room every day.

Well, anyway, I did thoroughly enjoy reading ‘Northern Lights’. I liked the premise of the story, especially the whole “daemon” concept, and having a constant companion (in the form of an animal) that you live and die with. I reckon Pullman did well with explaining about daemons throughout the story, in ways that made sense, rather than overloading readers with facts and background information at the start. The book made me want to have a daemon, and more than once led to day-dreams about what sort of daemon I would have… That’s the sort of thing that good fantasy novel does!

I also liked that he used a female protagonist in Lyra Belacqua. (I also have a certain admiration of fantasy/sci-fi authors who are good at coming up with really cool names, or names that really suit the character they belong to.) She’s a bit tomboy-ish, a bit brazen and daring, but still human and overall reasonably relatable.

There’s actually not much that I didn’t like about ‘Northern Lights’. Well, except maybe the ending. The ending wasn’t bad, but it felt kind of random and rushed, and not explained properly. At first I thought that this impression was born from my rush to finish reading it before it was due back at the library, but I actually re-read the ending the following morning, and was only slightly less dissatisfied…

I think there may also have been a few instances where the conversation didn’t seem to flow as naturally as it could have, but it was never anything really major. The overall writing style, however, was energetic where it needed to be, and smooth everywhere else. It was just incredibly easy to read (and not just because the font’s a bit larger than your average adult novel).

However, as much as I’d like to get on to reading the sequel, I kind of feel like I need a break from YA fantasy for a little bit. You know, just to allow my imagination to have a bit of a breather or something. Nevertheless, if I never get around to reading the rest of the series (which is quite possible at the rate I’m going), I’m perfectly content with having read the first instalment anyway.

reading quirks

In the last few months, I’ve been reading a lot of book-related blogs, and I’ve read about other people’s various reading quirks. This has subtlely prompted me to mentally catalogue my own quirks. Of course, the natural progression from this, me being me, is to do a post on it! So here we go…

Paperback vs Hardcover

This is one that’s stood out for me because although most people seem to prefer hardcover, I would much rather paperback. I will admit that I reckon hardcover probably looks better – on a desk, on a shelf, in one’s arms – but paperback novels are easier to read (in a practical sense). Also potentially a sentimental thing going on here, since I’ve grown up reading paperback novels; they’re just easier to take anywhere and read anywhere. Perhaps if I grew up reading hardcover, my preference would be different…

Concurrent reading

I used to never read more than one novel at a time. However, I think this changed when I read ‘The Name of the Wind’ (by Patrick Rothfuss). This is definitely not to say that it was dragging on or anything like that (I thoroughly enjoyed reading TNOTW!) but the actual book was so big that it was difficult to read on my daily commute, so I just read it at home. However, since I didn’t want to waste commute time by not reading, I started reading a second book, which may or may not have been ‘Great Expectations’. I don’t really remember; I just think this is how it started. Anyway, point is that I now tend to have at least two books on the go at any one time. You know, just to mix it up a bit. I do find, however, that I will still tend to focus more on one book over the other(s).

Re-reading

Speaking of ‘Great Expectations’, it is actually the only book that I’ve intentionally re-read (technically, I’m still in the process of re-reading it, but I’m almost done…) There are plenty of books that I intend to re-read one day, but there are so many wonderful books that I haven’t read! As far as I know, I’ve only once accidentally re-read a book. It was in my high school years, and I was a fair way into the book before I realised. By that time, I figured I may as well finish it before moving on. For interest’s sake, some of the books I’d like to re-live include ‘Vanity Fair’, the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, and ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’.

Reading on the go

As already alluded to, I am lucky enough to be able to read on the bus/train without getting motion sickness. Unfortunately, there are random days when I do get a bit nauseous, and I don’t really know why. Cars are definitely a resonant no for reading. Planes are fine. I have not yet tried boats, but I don’t like my chances.

Mint condition

I like keeping my books in near-perfect condition. This becomes hard when I have to take – wait, “have to”? Well, not really have to, but kind of have to, anyway; I’d rather pull out a book when I’m bored than pull out my phone. Does that put me in a new category of anti-social? Well, anyway, it is hard to keep a book in mint condition if I’m transporting it everywhere in my backpack. I’ve come to accept that a book that looks like it’s been read a hundred times in a hundred different places can be as beautiful as a book that is fresh from the store. I do, however, have an irrepressible need to straighten out folded corners, and people who fold in the corner of a page to mark where they’re up to really bother me. Please use a bookmark or something.

Is it just me…?

I don’t know how/when this developed, but usually when I read and come to turn the page, I will glance at the page numbers to ensure that I’m not accidentally skipping a page. A friend once pointed out that I’d probably notice if I skipped a page just by the obvious fact that the sentence/paragraph would not make sense. A good point, but that still doesn’t stop me from glancing at the page numbers.

Happy places

My favourite place to read is at home: in the comfort of my bed, on the sofa, or at my desk. It’s best if there’s just a bit of background noise, but not enough to grab my attention and distract me. Music can be helpful or unhelpful, depending on the song, what I’m reading, and what sort of mood I’m in. I also like to read outside: in the park, by the river, or under a big tree – or perhaps all three! A bit of sunlight, a gentle breeze and a good book. Perfect.

what’s in a name…?

Recently I’ve been thinking a bit about the songs I used to listen to “back in the day” (does that make me sound old? Am I old enough to be able to use that expression?) Well, I mean mostly the ’90s and early ’00s (but since I don’t remember when various songs were released, and I clearly can’t be bothered looking it up, there are likely to be songs outside of those years as well).

I wanted to do a post about all of these nostalgic songs, but quickly realised that that would inevitably result in a ridiculously long post that would never get published because I’d be constantly thinking of songs to add to the list. A possible solution to this: break it up into several, smaller posts. But how? I need criteria or something.

I was thinking about this as I browsed YouTube, and came across ‘Foolish’ by Ashanti. This reminded me of a particular game/challenge KR, LR and I played on our recent trip to NZ, which basically entails thinking of as many songs as possible that do not have obvious titles – basically the title isn’t part of the chorus, and isn’t repeated (more than a couple of times) elsewhere in the song. Another good way to think of it is that if you heard the song for the first time and had to guess the title, there’s practically zero chance of ever guessing correctly.

Well, since it was kind of the inspiration for this post, ‘Foolish’ (by Ashanti) gets to be first on the list. I was actually watching the MV for ‘Always on time’ (by Ja Rule ft. Ashanti), and this song was one of the related/suggested videos on the side. From the title alone, I couldn’t remember what it sounded like, so, of course, I clicked the link. My almost instantaneous reaction (after the opening scene, when the music actually started) was kind of like “Ahh.. yeah, I remember this”. You know, kind of like that feeling you get when you’re listening to the radio and you can’t quite think of the name/artist of a song for a bit, and then it suddenly dawns on you.

While I’m on it, ‘Mesmerize’ (Ja Rule ft. Ashanti) also qualifies for this list. Those two released some good songs. I can’t remember if I was old enough to fully comprehend what their songs were about, but I remember I liked their music.

One of the first songs I thought of for the non-obvious-title challenge was ‘The scientist’ by Coldplay. Such a lovely, haunting sort of song. (I also liked the ‘Glee’ cover of it.) I vaguely remember watching an interview with Chris Martin around the time of the song’s release, and he said he actually had to learn how to sing the song backwards so that the singing would look normal when played in reverse. Fun fact.

And sticking with the “haunting” theme (is it just me, or do I have a thing for sad/poignant songs?), I also really like ‘Iris’ by the Goo Goo Dolls. I remember watching the MV as a kid, and for some reason I liked the whole concept of having a room at the top of a tower with a bunch of mismatched telescopes pointed in all directions. Not stalker-ish at all…

By now you’ve probably established that my music taste was pretty mainstream. I am not going to dispute that, and will actually finish this post off with another mainstream pop song: ‘Affirmation’ by Savage Garden. This is one of my most favourite songs ever. It just has such a good uplifting quality to it. And maybe I didn’t appreciate every line when I was a kid, but I appreciate it now, and could easily listen to it over and over again.

I know there are a lot of other songs that could be included in this, but I simply do not have the time to keep adding them in. Also, history tells me that if I start a post, and then save it as a draft to finish at another time, it will probably never get posted… But if you can think of more songs – whether in this same sort of era or not, but preferably songs that you at least like(d) – you are more than welcome to leave a comment about it!

on the road

For some reason, I have been unbelievably tired these last few days. Well, mostly just today and yesterday (Tuesday and Monday, respectively). I felt fine on Sunday, which was weird because I spent most of Saturday in a car going to/from Bundaberg…

That was probably the longest road trip I’ve ever been on, and I’m surprised that I wasn’t overly tired from the trip; I didn’t even yawn once throughout the whole thing (I was about to write “ordeal” but that has negative connotations, and it certainly wasn’t a bad trip). I suppose the trick to surviving long drives like that is to have good music and good company – both of which are conducive to good conversations, which in turn helps one stay awake and alert.

It was actually kind of a work-related trip, so we didn’t stay in Bundaberg for very long, but it was all worthwhile.

I kind of want to go on more road trips now. I have a certain curiosity about small towns. Perhaps it’s because I’ve lived in a big(-ish) city my whole life… I reckon it’d be cool to do a road trip around the country and just visit all these random small towns in the middles of nowheres, or perhaps, even, to just do a trip around the state.

Beaches, countryside; mountains, plains; forests, outback… I can’t say I have a huge preference of one over the other. It is incredible that we can have such varied landscapes within a reasonably small area of land.

old fears, new deaths

I’m not really sure where to begin this post, so I suppose I may as well go back to where it all began.

I’ll begin with a thank-you to Buffy for this review of ‘Who Fears Death’ (by Nnedi Okorafor) that so inrigued me and compelled me to seek out a copy. I quite possibly would have never read it, or even come across it otherwise.

Ironically, there’s so much I want to write that I don’t know what to write first, yet if I had to, I can sum up WFD in just three words: graphic, confronting and unique. And I mean “unique” in a good way; it’s probably a story I’ll remember for a long time. I’m not entirely sure what I actually expected from WFD but it’s certainly unlike anything I’ve read before – granted, I haven’t really read post-apocalyptic fantasy novels before, but I feel like I’ve read my fair share of the fantasy genre.

I’m also struggling to think of any novels I’ve read in recent years that were set in Africa, or had some significant link to that continent. Admittedly, I don’t have a particularly great understanding of African culture and history, so my appreciation of underlying themes and messages mightn’t be the best. Not that WFD is overly subtle or anything. As I said, it’s confronting and not shy about big issues like rape, oppression, genocide, ostracism, etc. (Onyesonwu, the protagonist, is born from rape. Although this makes her “evil”, she eventually finds a way to realise her role in ending the conflict between the two races that have both ostracised her.)

Something I really liked about WFD is the “magic”, particularly the shape-shifting. The other forms of magic, or “Bushcraft”, also had a sort of fascinating quality about them, although the “going to the wilderness” thing kind of reminded me of the Eon/Eona books (by Alison Goodman). Again, I’m not well-versed in African mythology and novels of this genre, so I’m not sure how accurate it is to say that the magic in WFD was very original. However, I will commend Okorafor for her descriptions of not only the magic itself, but of the actual experience of performing these feats and the repercussions on Onyesonwu herself.

Ok, now, I don’t want to spoil these positive vibes, but there is a “but” that I feel obliged to mention. As I read WFD, I did come across a few grammatical errors and other small mistakes that seem to have been missed in the editing process. Never major things, but I feel like as soon as I found one, I was subconsciously hyper-alert for more. It kind of saddens me to think that this may have detracted from the overall reading experience (even a little).

The other thing that kind of bothered me was the references to tigers. Based on the various descriptions of the landscapes (mostly sand and more sand) it doesn’t seem like somewhere you’d find a tiger, especially considering that it’s post-apocalyptic, and tigers are already endangered as it is. Maybe tigers of this future are different to the ones we know now. Maybe I missed something in the description somewhere.

Having said all this, I don’t think that ‘Who Fears Death’ is a book that I’d read again (keep in mind here that I rarely re-read novels (because there simply isn’t enough time!) but there are a number of books that I intend to re-read one day). However, I’m definitely open to reading more works from Okorafor, or other dystopian/post-apocalyptic fantasy novels.

foliage, roots & constancy

If you’ve glanced over at my Twitter feed today, you may have noticed that I’ve tweeted a photo of one of my most favourite trees. I felt compelled to take the photo not because it’s particularly awe-inspiring, but because I realised that I’m hardly ever walking past it at that time of the day (while the sun is setting), and I then realised that I’ve never taken a photo of this tree.

It’s the tree across the road, on the hill. It would be a sad day if this tree was ever taken down – either by machine or by nature (although it would be no easy feat either way).

I’ve seen the odd episode of ‘Gardening Australia’ but I don’t know enough about plants to tell you what kind of tree it is, other than that it is really big and really old (well, I assume it’s old because of its size, which has never changed in all the years that I’ve known it). Yet this tree is special nonetheless.

I like how its small leaves turn into confetti in autumn, even if they do have a tendency to blow in through the window, light as they are. I even don’t mind those big clunky seeds it drops (I assume they’re seeds – not sure what else they could be) because they’re fun to step on and kick around. Some things from childhood still haven’t left me.

More than all that, when I look at this tree, I remember those times as a kid when I’d daydream, ponder, or just think about nothing while looking at this tree – sometimes marvelling at it, sometimes just staring into space.

The question now, of course, is if this tree isn’t the favourite, then which one is?

Well, I don’t think I can pick a clear favourite, but there are two other contenders: the tall evergreen in the front yard, and the young apple tree out the back.

The evergreen has a similar pensive quality about it as the tree on the hill. We had to have it trimmed one year before storm season, and I remember being quite sad about that. I got over it, of course; the tree didn’t really lose anything from it.

As for the apple tree – my mum, sister and I planted that when I was about seven years old (that’s really just a rough guess – I don’t remember exactly when). We watched it germinate and grow; we saw it bear fruit (albeit small fruit) and lose it to birds and who knows what else. I still vaguely remember the day I realised it had grown taller than me – it’s like it was all grown up and getting ready to fend for itself…

I suppose some people might find it strange that I seem to have such an attachment to these trees. They’re just trees, right?

Well, maybe they are to other people, but to me they represent strength, wisdom and constancy.