Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Very brief cover story

A blog, called Bookninja (got to love that title), challenged readers to redesign the covers of the classics. The results are in. Seriously, I can't pick a favourite.

Question is, do you think the cover effects your reading experience?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Writing, whether it's fiction or fact

Joe Fiennes sporting Shakespearean inky fingertips

A couple of comments about writing today.

First, academic writing always goes through periods of change. Today, the realities of how people conduct research has an impact on how academics publish their work. This leads to the topic of a piece in the Guardian about online journals 'narrowing study'. Academics are increasingly acting in parallel ways to journalists and there's good and bad to this. When doing my Masters, I was told to stop writing like a journalist, a habit I happily revived in my PhD - and it didn't hurt me. I won a medal. (Yes, even academics can win medals.) How was I writing like a journalist? I tried to be catchy, to inject humour, to keep up with current trends and events, all while juggling a thesis-load of theory and critical analysis. However, at times, the constant need to publish in a timely fashion is stressful and there are moments when I sit at my desk passionately wishing I could take a decade to refine my ideas before publishing. This is a luxury that has all but disappeared.

On the bright side, journalists are also feeling increasingly pressured to produce content quickly. It's just the way it is today. The Internet has its downside for those of us in the writing professions.

But, then, it also offers a support network. Moving on to fiction and next month is the beginning of NaNoWriMo. While it's American in origin, it's worth having a look at for those of you interested in writing novels. Authors like Neil Gaiman and Meg Cabot support it and even go on the journey. There are many tips available on the site. The important thing for creative writers is to write. This is the spirit of NaNoWriMo. I may even unofficially participate.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I get to blog about shoes!

Okay, I'm sort of excited about that. I'm not really that much of a shoe-person, but I still find shoes interesting. Particularly from a fairy tale perspective. Cinderella, after all, is all about reminding us about just how long women have been thinking about shoes.

So, when Sur La Lune branches out into this, I just have to report it. I just really want a pair.

Writing for children

I caught this comment by Neil Gaiman:

"I don't think about age groups when I write, although I think if I know I'm writing for Children I'll be a bit more ambitious, and think more about every word, because I know that they pay closer attention when they read than adults do."

The full interview transcript is here. Why do I love this comment? Because it stresses that writing for children isn't about 'dumbing down' or 'teaching'. Thankfully, that perception really is waning.

By the way, he has another great journal entry today. Take particular note of his comment about the science fiction genre and have a look at the video from the National Book Festival - I have some students who would be amused by the Rushdie appearance.

Inkdeath is finally out. I'm really looking forward to it, although... I wish I could have this edition.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Words: Out of Obscurity

New words are always interesting. I often think I should collect all the new words invented in seminars by myself and students. We'd easily have a dictionary-worth. Although, I've been trying for ages to have 'stuff' accepted as a theoretical concept, too...

But this just makes me happy. The Yarn Harlot is queen of knitting bloggers. She is seriously wonderful. And she invented 'Kinnearing'. You can see her invent it here. You can see The New York Times validate it here. And then you can see Greg Kinnear talking about Kinnearing here. Oh the joys of the internet!

In other news (okay, yes, originating from Neil Gaiman's journal again), in an interview with Neil Gaiman, Euan Kerr notes: "While posting his work for free viewing raises questions about potential copyright infringement, the author says the biggest problem facing authors is not piracy, but obscurity."

I think that's one to jot down in one's memory. Often new writers are very obsessed about people stealing their ideas. They should be more obsessed about people reading their ideas to begin with.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No one's keeping score, right?

Because I'm about to direct you all over to Neil Gaiman's journal again for his "Ethel the aardvark..." entry. The reason I direct you all there is that it's an interesting insight into how authors are using the internet to manipulate the sales of their books. I mean this 'not in a bad way.' Also, in teaching fantasy and children's lit., I often query students on where they found their copies of The Eyre Affair or The Book Thief. We speak a great deal of genre, but watching genre work in practice, upon the bookseller's shelves, is often enlightening and a little... well, mad at times. So I'm thoroughly delighted with the madness occurring around The Graveyard Book. Only, now I'm trying to fathom if I have any space in the curriculum for The Graveyard Book... I don't think I do... unless... oh I know! There is one unit where I'm not currently teaching any Neil Gaiman...

After that little tangent, the appeal of the madness to me is that I teach what is often labelled 'genre fiction'. The label annoys me. It provides too many people with an easy out with which to dismiss the bubbling energy of the fiction that occurs beneath the label. Likewise, it readily biases value judgements of genre fiction against literary or general fiction (and if you think about it, literary fiction is a redundent label). The greatest irony is, of course, that most of the great works of English literature (and I'm revealing a Western bias here) would be categorised as genre fiction today. Of course, that's so evident an argument, it's hardly worth making. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your genres (sorry).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Today's entry courtesy of...

...Neil Gaiman's latest journal entry. Either from this entry or from You Tube itself, you can access the HarperCollins trailer for The Graveyard Book. Trailers for books? Not that unusual these days. In fact, let me know if you find a particularly wonderful trailer. Cross-media promotion of books is intriguing, since books are, of course, one of the older forms of media. More research is needed into how books are branching out, so to speak, into new media.

While at You Tube, I found the film trailer for Inkheart. Inkheart is a wonderful book by Cornelia Funke (and doesn't she just sound like a children's author?). It is a book for lovers of books, written originally in German (the second book, Inkspell, is Inkblood in German). I wrote about it in an essay that has been published pretty recently in Haunting the Borders. The film comes out next year, I think, and stars Brendan Fraser, which is fitting, because Cornelia Funke was thinking of his voice when she wrote the character, Mo. And that's not the only reason I like the book.

Back to Neil Gaiman's journal, one of his readers pointed out the list of top 100 books in The Sydney Morning Herald. American Gods appears! I'm still very amused that Harry Potter tops the list, followed - relentlessly - by Twilight. Followed by - inevitably - Pride and Prejudice. A special cheer for The Book Thief at seven, though! I thoroughly recommend Zusak's book (particularly if you plan to take Children's Lit. with me). It's... amazing. I can not say more. Although, I have. In Script & Print (31,2 if you're interested).

Neil Gaiman also draws attention to a recent incident involving a reader of manga. I won't go into detail here, because I'm not up to speed on the facts, but the implications appear to be worrying. Very worrying.

The Booker

We've just wrapped up teaching The Fiction Industry... it's kind of a shame we finished before the outcome of the Booker prize was announced for this year. The Guardian has had excellent coverage though.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


This piece about the future of libraries in the UK caught my eye today. Akbar's article neatly encapsulates some of the tension in book circles. Should books maintain the centuries of tradition that have accumulated around them? Or do we allow books to sink or swim in the commercial environment (I was tempted to write 'pool')?

Personally, I wouldn't be adverse to a coffee shop in a library... after all, I notice people often use Borders in much the same way as a library. And I always found the silence in libraries just a bit unnerving. Which may be why I enjoy the New York Public Library scene of Ghostbusters so much. However, I can see the other side of the argument... I mean, imagine finding that someone had spilled their latte all over the copy of Pride and Prejudice that you just borrowed? (Mind, imagine not owning a copy of Pride and Prejudice?)

One of the things I have noticed is how picture book authors and illustrators are reproducing the look of the library book. It's a curious twist. Shaun Tan's Tales From Outer Suburbia and Emily Gravatt's Little Mouse's Book of Fears are two examples. Wonderful, amazing books, both. Both are sold to readers (and sometimes their parents). Yet both look like old-fashioned library books with stamps and lending cards.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Political Yarn

I'll occasionally drift onto a knitting tangent, but one of the benefits of being an academic is that you have plenty of excuses to think critically about the things you love, which means you can - guilt-free - give yourself more time to contemplate the things you love. Like knitting, in my case.

With the election going on in the US, the knitting community has been abuzz with its own often perplexing, often really very amusing takes on the political agenda.

Over at the Panopticon (that's one for those of you now familiar with Foucauldian theory), there's a campaign in swing for Dolores, the sassy sheep. The Yarn Harlot has a different campaign in mind, involving candidates being photographed holding a sock in progress. She was inspired by another blogger's success with Barack Obama. Seriously, the photos are wonderful. Says the Yarn Harlot: "I'm not sure why this moved me so much, but I just can't stop thinking about it. Perhaps its because I think that politics sometimes does more harm that good in the world,or perhaps it is that the image of a person out to promote their own purposes being asked to momentarily have to serve ours - frankly, just charming. Perhaps it is simply the juxtaposition of a candidate for Head of State holding a sock is just so wholesome, that I am amused to no end. Perhaps it is simply that there is a part of me that really enjoys seeing powerful people befuddled and confused by a handknit ...." (October 4, 2008) Perhaps participants should be knitting their socks with these yarns from Schaefer Yarn. Yes, a range called 'sock the vote' that celebrates the women of the campaign, Cindy, Hillary, Michelle and Sarah. Personally, I love the Michelle colourway - make of that what you will.

The point is, many, many knitters are constructing their own political agendas and opinions with their needles, to stretch the obvious metaphor. There is much talk of limitations of niche media and while the online knitting community may be 'niche', I think it illustrates, too, the potential richness of such niches as they participate in - and even pervert - mainstream channels of communication. I really hope at one point there will be prime time coverage of a candidate holding a sock in progress!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Virtual Tour/Reading

I am really looking forward to reading Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book. In the meantime, you can catch Neil on tour doing readings from the book - even if you aren't physically there. The videos are fantastic (even if I can't get used to his hair...) and I'm personally a fan of listening to an author read his or her own work. Since Gaiman is an amazing storyteller, it's natural to hear and watch him deliver his tale.

Although, admittedly, some of us do have trouble setting aside a time just to curl up and listen to a good story. But give yourself that time! The best way to learn about story and storytelling is to read and listen to as many stories as possible. Don't mistake pleasure in a story for idleness or laziness. It should never be a luxury, but a necessity.