Friday, December 18, 2009

Change the world

Henry Jenkins has just blogged about how fictional, fantasy worlds can change... well, the world.

"The idea may seem radical at first -- breaking with the largely rationalist drive of most contemporary activism. We have had less trouble accepting the premise that works of realist literature -- Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, The Grapes of Wrath -- can become the focal point for movements for social change than we have buying the idea that fantastical realms may do so, even though there is a long history. As someone who has spent much of my life in fandom, I have long seen examples of science fiction inspiring fans to rally support around NASA and manned space flight, say, or more recently, slash fans being moved to actively engage with issues of concern to the gay-lesbian-bisexual-transsexual community or to join fights against censorship and for free expression."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Paddington Bear weighs in on immigration policies

In the UK, Michael Bond has spoken out about the treatment of refugee children. In a letter to the PM, Paddington notes: "Whenever I hear about children from foreign countries being put into detention centres, I think how lucky I am to be living at number 32 Windsor Gardens with such nice people as Mr and Mrs Brown. Mrs Bird, who looks after the Browns, says if she had her way she would set the children free and lock up a few politicians in their place to see how they liked it!"

Literary Ghettos

Just read a great blog post via one of Neil Gaiman's tweets. Julian Gough is reflecting on a review for The Opposite House, noting of the reviewer, herself an author of literary fiction:

"She really thought that her stablemate at Bloomsbury was probably "the first to contend" that migration "afflicts no one so profoundly as the gods". And editors and sub-editors had let this stand. Which means that nobody involved in the whole process was aware that Neil Gaiman had spent nearly six hundred pages, in his novel American Gods (which is not "literary", nor published by Bloomsbury), writing about nothing but how migration profoundly afflicts the gods."

Gough's point is that literary fiction exists in a ghetto, but there is little recognition of this. Writes Gough: "most SF reviewers are also stuck in their ghetto: and most crime reviewers: but they at least know they live in a ghetto, and that what they read is a genre. The problem with the literary novel is that it is becoming a genre again, and doesn't know it."

Just something to muse upon when considering the study of literature.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy Holidays!

I've just gone on leave and since I'm already thinking about how I can fit Princess Leia's hair buns into my chapter on fairy tale hairstyles, I thought I'd leave you with one of my favourite seasonal treats, "Happy Life Day." And if that weren't enough to entertain you, there's always the Star Wars Christmas album, snippets available here.

Have a good Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Something to astonish

I've seen quite a bit of book art popping up, but this video, passed on by a colleague, is incredible. Trust me, click the link.

One of my other favourite links to amazing art made from books is here. The Alice's Adventures in Wonderland page, with cut out table and Alice, is beautiful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Jingle Bells and Hellboy

I'll shortly be going on research leave. For the first half of 2010, I'll be working on a book. As I begin to pile up all the books and articles I need - into truly terrifying stacks that begin to sway when a breeze strikes them - I'm also taking a little time to enjoy myself now the marking and paperwork is subsiding.

I've discovered Hellboy. I like Hellboy. I saw the first film on the plane while flying to a conference in the UK. It was a guilty pleasure. I've just started reading the comics. My favourite so far is the pancakes comic. Someone actually tattooed it on their leg. I don't love it quite that much, but I can applaud the decision! I love the mix of paranormal activity and myth with a little fairy tale thrown in. I love the design of Hellboy too, with his sanded off horns and little legs.

The Dark Horse site for Hellboy at the moment has a rather cheery Christmas theme, too.

Speaking of comics, have a look at the Lovelace and Babbage comics from 2D Goggles if you haven't already (I have linked them earlier). They're brilliant. Lovelace is - in terms of actual history - the daughter of Byron. She's a fascinating math whizz. She inherited her talent from her mother, Annabella, known as "the princess of parallelograms" by Bryon.

One of my favourite entries from 2D Goggles concerns the reality of fashion in their time. Ada doesn't look quite the intrepid mathematician in that get-up.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fancy an Austen first edition?

Possibly the place to start isn't Emma, which just recently sold for $104,500. Here's a blog post about the auction of Jane Austen's novels.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The future of booksellers

I found a really thoughtful piece on Boing Boing today about the future of bookshops. It's worth clicking through to Clay Shirky's original essay too, titled "Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization."

What particularly struck me were Cory Doctorow's thoughts on bookshops printing Google Books on demand:

"I can even imagine the profs across the street producing annotated versions -- say, a treatise on Alice in Wonderland with reproductions of ten different editions' illustrations and selling them through the store's printer and shelf-space, restoring the ancient bookseller/book-publisher role."

Not only is there a satisfying link back to the heady days of publishing in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the idea of producing my own annotated versions of Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Basile's Il Pentamerone for students. Imagine. Books especially designed for the students doing my courses! How amazing would that be? One step up from the unwieldy unit guides. [Just been pointed out that I can... now all I need is the time to figure it out and produce it...]

Monday, November 30, 2009

What to do with an old phone box?

I read today in The Guardian about the upcycling of a village phone box into a village library (link).

I've been really interested in the rise of the digital book (this link takes you to a great comic about online reading), but I have to admit, there are advantages to the old paper and ink. For a start, you can convert an old phone box into a spontaneous library where people simply drop off their old books and 'borrow' new ones.

The Times has released a list of sci-fi and fantasy novels for Christmas. I was amused that of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians it was noted: "It could be described as Harry Potter for grown-ups." Still? We're still going with that comparison? Never mind... I should probably look that one up myself.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of Peter Pans and Harry Potters

The Charles Vess illustrated edition of Peter Pan just arrived at my door. I love Vess's illustration and although his Peter looks a little older than the Peter described and not quite so creepy and the paper isn't the best, it's a terrific little book. I'm a particular fan of Vess' title pages where, as on The Ladies of Grace Adieu, you often see the magical creatures and characters of the tale bursting forth from a book.

Regarding Harry Potter... what did you make of the Epilogue of The Deathly Hallows? I'll admit to not being such a great fan of that particular part of the series (the name given to one of the children in particular...), so I wasn't that upset with Grossman's remarks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Getting the dialogue right

I'm beginning to find my way out from under essays and exam papers, but I spotted this piece today at i09 about writing dialogue. It's great advice for those of you working on your short stories and novels.

And don't forget, it's National Novel Writing Month. It's based in the US, but this is the internet, so if you're having trouble getting down to the writing of your best seller, this is a terrific scheme to help keep the motivation ticking over.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Time for some Klingon fairy tales

It's that time of year when academics disappear - or at least seem to. In actuality, we're buried under piles of marking.

So I took a break to look at this list of Klingon fairy tales.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Who said study and dessert don't mix?

Inspired by The Graveyard Book Dessert Challenge, and since The Graveyard Book was our students' pick for Week 12, my Honours class brought in dessert this week. Including little graves with our initials, a tangy mousse with fantastic gravestones, mocktails with eyeballs and hearts, and ghostly class rings. I was thrilled!

Bidding for Shaun Tan original artwork

And it's all in a good cause, raising money for War Child. See here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Eating Max

I teach Where the Wild Things Are in Children's Literature and it's always great fun, even if I secretly like In The Night Kitchen better (big scary bakers). One of the wonderful things about Sendak is that he captures the thrill, both delightful and terrible, of being eaten, a theme that runs through nursery rhyme and fairy tale. Many have attempted to account for this theme (see Maria Tatar or Marina Warner for example), but I don't think I've hit upon a rationale I quite relate to yet. In some ways, I think it is simply the play of the horror of being consumed co-existing with the idea that eating is frequently pleasurable. It's the ol' eating fish at the Aquarium or venison at the deer park dilemma.

Still, when I saw these little Maxes for a bento box, I just had to share.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Academic lists

In the Wall Street Journal, Holly Tucker lists 5 "revolutionary studies of fairy tale." Lists are always a bit idiosyncratic, but it's worth consideration and certainly includes a range of texts that should be on any fairy tale scholar's reading list (and I know there'll be some who see this who will just know I'm refraining from saying anything about the absence of Marina Warner on the list).

More on what's banned

I saw this stunning window display on Boing Boing this morning. I love the banner: "Shocking Literacy."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Disney Princess Style

One of the tricky aspects of working with Disney material is that the material itself is often taken for granted simply as 'Disney.' This ignores that Disney really isn't a cohesive, monolithic entity (although at times it may appear so). It really is a group of artists and writers etc who come together from disparate backgrounds to produce often amazing animation.

I just got my copy of The Art of the Disney Princess. It's a gorgeous collection of artwork that "re-imagines" Disney princesses like Belle and Jasmine and Mulan et al. The artwork gives a sense of the range of possibility in the stock standard images, revealing that what may at first appear immutable and homogeneous can so easily be adapted and transformed. One of my favourites in the book is a layout by Tokie Esaka, inspired by kokeshi, of Snow White. In the end, Snow White gets an apple pie, because, you know, she loves apples.

Dorota Kotarba-Mendez notes in the book, "Each morning when I wake, I dress in my ball gown and glass slippers and travel by horse-drawn carriage to a palace on a hilltop in a fairy-tale kingdom. Actually, it's an office building in Glendale, California, but it is pretty magical."

While of course the book reflects Disney's grasp of image control, it's interesting to see the number of female and non-Anglo names among the contributors and to see the breadth of media that goes into conceptualising and realising animation for the corporation.

And Ray Leoncio's portrayal of Beauty and the Beast, with a nod to Transformers, is definitely worth a peek into the pages of the book.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A helpful mash-up of best sellers

The Reading Radar site is a very useful tool - it combines the New York Times bestseller lists with Amazon ratings. It gives you an opportunity to look at what people think of the books that are selling well. After all, it's not always necessarily true that people like the books they buy!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Some fairy tales with your paper, ma'am?

The Guardian is currently running a fairy tale series. Authors like Philip Pullman and A.S. Byatt have been contributing essays to mini-collections sent out with the daily news. Fortunately, we can access most of it online, here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

One of the most useful sites ever on the Web

There's a site on which authors pronounce their own names. It's here. It's excellent.

I'm notorious for mispronunciation. I've managed Goethe in a variety of ways. Yes, I know how it is pronounced, but if I glance at the sheet with the name written on it, I still manage to mispronounce it.

When I read Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men, I completely related to Tiffany. She reads the dictionary. She can use all the words correctly. But she's never heard the words. So she tends to pronounce them in odd ways.

I read a great deal as a child and teenager. I have not yet broken the habit of randomly pronouncing authorial names.

It's something I'm working on. I do make a point before lectures of checking on any name I haven't heard pronounced in a while. If I'm not 100% sure, you'll usually see that 'oh geez' expression on my face as I reluctantly pronounce it!

For your viewing pleasure

If you feel like watching a little film, I'd recommend this available snippet of Granny O'Grimm or an Edward Gorey inspired animation.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Princess and the Frog

It's been a long while since Disney has produced one of the more traditional, animated, musical features, so I've been watching for The Princess and The Frog.

There has been a fair amount of negativity around the new feature. Much is based on the little snippets that have been released so far and, in the end, it is quite difficult to make a judgment call on ethnic sensitivity - one way or the other - on such evidence. There was today a positive response, though, and I thought that worth noting. Here it is.

Also, just a little note, don't worry too much if it isn't 'like the Grimms' version'. The Grimms actually didn't even present a consistent version. In their first recorded version, the princess throws the frog against a wall and then he turns into a handsome prince. And, after all, the Grimms were much like the Disney of their day. The tales go back earlier.

In the end, I enjoy Disney animated features. I'll admit that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just a great book trailer

There's a fantastic book trailer here.

I particularly like the bit about the feeling-words.

Curiouser and Curiouser said Doctor Alice

One of my postgrad students pointed me in the direction of this excellent column by David Mitchell, responding to the announcement of a panel in the UK that will determine whether to fund research based on economic viability etc.

On the surface of it, it sounds like a reasonable proposition to financially support work that shows evidence of a future return of some kind.

However, if you understand the academic business, you know this isn't always how it works. The best research often develops from silly propositions, accidents, mistakes and so forth. The push to have research ends articulated before the research takes place is not necessarily wise. We research so we can find out where the ideas will take us - not so that we can meet a pre-determined objective.

Writes Mitchell: "What separates us from the beasts, apart from fire, laughter, depression and guilt about killing the odd beast, is our curiosity. We've advanced as a species because we've wanted to find things out, regardless of whether we thought it useful."

Alice would understand.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Privacy and Google Books

Just a little something to muse upon in respect to how private we want our reading and research habits to be. Click the link here.

Of course, it doesn't hurt to make our reading habits at least marginally public. Shelfari is quite fun - although I need to find more time to really do much with it. People often scan the bookshelves of those they visit or of authors photographed standing in front of said bookshelves (what is J.K. reading anyway?). When students come to my office, they always check out the bookshelves (of course, my 'real' collection is at home, since most of my research is done at night).

But at times, research can be misconstrued.

When teaching a unit that looked at terrorism, I was a little nervous getting on a plane with that week's readings (but I did need to read them before class and the plane trip was the only opportunity available). Happily, no one paid me any mind.

I can, however, see the potential problems of Google Books searches being used in ways that will make us think twice about what we research.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Banned Books Week

It's Banned Books Week in the States. Of course, we all know that the banned books are the coolest. Which is why I have this bracelet to prove it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A bit of spam from Thorin

"Dear MR BAGGINS, Fellow Conspirator,

I am Thorin Oakenshield, descendant of Thrain the Old and grandson of Thror who was King under the Mountain. I am writing you to discuss our plans, our ways, means, policy and devices for rescuing our treasure from the dragon Smaug..."

Who doesn't need a little spam from Middle Earth? See the whole here.

Finding the Wild Things

This blog has kept me entertained all morning so far (it's still only 9:07am). "We Love You So" features a range of posts in anticipation of the upcoming film, Where the Wild Things Are. There are some wonderful photoshopped images of wild things and Max himself in unexpected places. Have a look. It will make you smile.

There are also some fantastic reflections on the picture book and other topics of interest.

I'm off to get another cup of coffee before working on book proposal. Note: much easier to write book than write the proposal.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Darker Side of Disney

A while ago, I might have mentioned The Fallen Princess project by Dina Goldstein. An interesting concept, but, I felt, a little too negative. Goldstein explains: "I began to imagine Disney's perfect Princesses juxtaposed with real issues that were affecting women around me, such as illness, addiction and self-image issues." Yet, there are positive, real issues affecting women too. And, after all, Disney's princesses weren't always perfect.

I have to admit, I rather enjoyed this darker side of the Disney princess though! Jeffrey Thomas' images are incredible and being drawn, relate directly to the animated originals. I love the Beauty and the Beast panel in particular.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Austen and monsters

I can do nothing but report the continuing madness with Michael Thomas Ford's Jane Bites Back: "The novel presents an undead Jane Austen, frustrated by nearly 200 years of writer's block and 116 rejections of an unpublished novel she finished just before turning into a vampire."

It's enough for any writer accumulating rejections to sympathise with.

On a side note, read Basile's "Violet" if you have a moment:

"The King's son was burning with love of her, and every time he passed by the little cottage where these three sisters sat at work, he took off his cap and said, "Good-day, good-day, Violet," and she replied, "Good-day, King's son! I know more than you."

I just put that in bold - I love her spirit!

Friday, September 11, 2009

A little light reading

We're all wondering how the internet, digitalisation... google... will change the nature of books. Here's a little fiction that entertains on the theme: Mr Perumbra's Twenty-Four Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan.

Also contains a riff on immortality.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

If you like Pinocchio...

... try the forthcoming graphic novel from Van Jensen, Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer. The link provided here takes you to the author's blog post about the book.

In the meantime, I'm going to try to snatch a few straight hours to do some work on an article about Prince Charming.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Impact of Google Books

There has been much debate about the digitalisation of books by Google. Frankly, much of the debate has been alarmist and a little counter productive. Google Books is extremely useful and the quirks in the system largely manageable by simple double-checking. There are obvious flaws, but in the absence of anyone else stepping up to take on such an enormous task, excusable (although, we should keep an eye on them).

One of my colleagues, Patrick Spedding, blogged very eloquently about some of the issues here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


I did not know about this site, but I do now and am currently awe-inspired by Neil Gaiman's basement library. Have a look. It's incredible. And it has comfy chairs, which are so important to any amazing library.

Judging Scholarly Books By Their Covers

Let's face it, scholarly books are rarely 'pretty.' All too often, librarians whip the dust jackets off, leaving them naked and nondescript in the stacks anyway. Only a title hints at delights to be discovered.

I admit, I bought this book because I love the dust jacket. It's not an expensive production, but the simplicity and tonal influences are beautiful... plus, it has Puss in Boots and a title like From Court to Forest. The book is part of my current nesting activity for a new manuscript I'm working on. Don't you love Puss's boots?

Monday, August 31, 2009

A Good Story

Lev Grossman begins his essay in The Wall Street Journal: "A good story is a dirty secret that we all share. It's what makes guilty pleasures so pleasurable, but it's also what makes them so guilty. A juicy tale reeks of crass commercialism and cheap thrills. We crave such entertainments, but we despise them."

Grossman writes about the impact of Modernism upon plot and the guilty return of story via YA fiction and the supermarket. Coming from the fairy tale angle, I can't wait for plot to return to its proper place.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Some wild writing

A student from last year's Children's Lit. classes sent me this link about Where the Wild Things Are from The New Yorker (thank you, C!).

I long ago gave up being skeptical about derivations of classic texts - and Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is certainly a classic piece of literary and visual genius (although I like In the Night Kitchen even better). Yet, every so often, it just works - here's hoping in regard to Eoin Colfer's Hitchhiker's sequel. So I enjoyed this snippet from Dave Eggers. I've always kind of admired Eggers since he called his first novel A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Deadlines: things not only students have

We've been grading papers. This means we've heard students complaining about writing to deadlines (and word limits, but that's another story). Do you know the worst thing? When I finished my PhD, I thought, 'there, that's the last deadline I'll ever have to deal with in my academic career.'

But no. My diary is full of deadlines. The self-imposed ones sometimes seem the worst - I can only blame myself for how horrid they are. At least I can rant at the deadlines others set in the 'what were they thinking... don't they know I have better things to do' way. More and more deadlines crowd in...

So I found some satisfaction in Stephen Fry's latest mini-blog. He quotes Douglas Adams on deadlines. I may pin that quote to my office door.

Although, I will disagree on one point. I love to write. I just hate writing to a deadline.

I also hate trying to write conclusions that are messing up my deadline.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tell me a story

"You are at one of London's chicest boutique hotels, drink in hand. Everyone is wearing glamorous nightdresses and pyjamas. A tall dark stranger enters the room and asks you to curl up on cushions on the floor. No you haven't stumbled on an upmarket sex party, this is the Bedtime Story Night at the 40 Winks hotel — a restored 1717 townhouse in the East End."

The Evening Standard has just reported on the rise of storytelling. I have the urge to go and collect my pyjamas and a pillow!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Happy Endings

There is always debate about whether children's books are too happy, too bleak, too... well, anything.

I rather like Stephen Moss's approach here to rewriting the classics to be happier.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Looking for frog princes

I have an affection for the tales of the Frog Prince, so I'm really pleased the marvelous creator of the Sur La Lune website (link on the sidebar) is now producing her own series. And one of her first books? A collection of Frog Prince tales.

If you'd like a little spoiler to the 2010 fairy tale classes I'll teaching, I'd suggest reading this version. And, of course, most of you know that Disney will be releasing its version sometime soon. It's been steeped in controversy, but the girl does get an absolutely gorgeous dress.Still, I'm not sure it'll beat Bill Willingham's Frog Prince in the Fables series. That prince really is a charmer.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fairy tale themed jewelry

Those who know me, know I enjoy scanning Today I spotted a Peter and the Wolf necklace that is simply amazing. However, I'd just bought a Coraline inspired bracelet.

One of the slightly intriguing aspects of such Etsy searches is the discovery of the vast number of Twilight themed products. Love or hate Twilight, it has certainly inspired the handmade community.

The Pig King

Sometimes, you simply find new fairy tales to love. And how can you not love anything that comes from a collection called The Facetious Nights of Straparola? Thus I found 'The Pig King'. 'The Pig King' is my current favourite tale. Just as a teaser: "One day he came home covered with mud and filth, as was his wont, and lay down on his mother's rich robe, and said in a grunting tone, 'Mother, I wish to get married.'"

And I'm putting Susan Redington Bobby's new collection of essays on order. Heidi Anne Heiner's review on is very helpful, with information such as: "
This book helps to fill the large gap--at least a little--with analysis of works by Neil Gaiman, Emma Donoghue, Jane Yolen, Pegg Kerr, Gregory Maguire, and Shannon Hale among others."

Analysis of contemporary tellers is always a must.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Still on Austen

I wonder why mash-ups with Austen have become so popular? As attested to in this article in The Independent. I don't believe it's simply the incongruity.

But it's nothing new. Terry Pratchett tells us that when he was thirteen: "I wrote a crossover short story, Jane Austen meets J.R.R. Tolkien. It was great, especially the bit where the orcs attack the rectory.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What happens when we choose our own endings?

This piece in Boing Boing about an analysis of paths and outcomes in a choose-your-own-adventure book made me wonder what would happen in the case of a similar analysis of Lost in Austen (the book, not the excellent TV series, which is brilliant if only for Amanda's "postmodern moment"). My Honours class recently looked at the book and oddly... or not... "unfavorable endings" abounded. The path of true love never did run smooth.

There is also a graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice due out. And word out on the street, a graphic novel version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Something you couldn't do with an e-book

With an e-book, you couldn't make a handbag - see these great handbags on Etsy. One of the joys of the physical book is the creativity that comes into re-using the book. Who said books are only for reading? You can hide many things in them, as another Etsy site shows us. Of course, there is also the pang of remorse related to such operations upon a book. However, spoonfulofchocolate assures us: "No pages are harmed during the purse making process.. I take gently used books and only use the covers. I then take the sleeve and wrap it back on to the fully in-tact book and donate it to a Refugee Center here in Arizona called the IRC."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Lizzie fights zombies, Darcy's a vampire...

Pride and Prejudice may never be the same. First we had Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Now... Mr Darcy, Vampyre.

Since most vampires in popular culture are wealthy and aristocratic, the latter makes much sense.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Why the Internet isn't an intellectual vacuum

Often, academics find themselves in discussions about the media and new technologies and how all these gadgets and gizmos and things like the WWW have a negative impact on our intellectual lives.

I don't agree.

In just the last few days, I read about 18th century whore biographies on Jezebel, after having seen an excellent paper on Con Phillips by Caroline Breashears at the "Limits of the Book" conference in Brisbane (look Con Phillips up - it's worth it), and on Boing Boing, a piece about the Fortsas Hoax of 1840. There's been much more. There is a fair share of awful material online, but there's also a lively intellectual engagement with the past, present and future. The internet is as good as the people who supply it with material - and there's some really good people supplying it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cutting up books

Usually defacing, tearing, cutting and so forth of books is regarded as near criminal - if not actually criminal. In one of our recent classes, there was active debate about the question of dog-earing pages and cracking spines and whether we mistreat some books out of love or simple carelessness. Too rarely in literary studies do we stop to think about the books as physical materials, which is where artists like Su Blackwell take away my breath. You can see articles and examples of her work here and here. The latter link takes you to her copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the effect is amazing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Emperor Has a New iPhone

"In a move expected to revolutionize the mobile device industry, Apple launched its fastest and most powerful iPhone to date Tuesday, an innovative new model that can only be seen by the company's hippest and most dedicated customers." The Onion

Monday, July 13, 2009

A challenge

One of the great challenges of teaching Fantasy Literature is that most fantasy works tend to sprawl across a range of very thick books. In the middle of a semester, when there are countless books to be read, notes to be taken and studied, this just isn't feasible. However, that is just one aspect of fantasy. Fantasy is an incredibly varied genre in which you can read Fforde side by side with Hobb. Nevertheless, the heart of fantasy remains the great quest with someone riding into danger.

In The Guardian, there is a series on reading all the winners of the British Fantasy awards. This might be one of the 'cheat's' ways of getting a grip on the genre!

Not great literary tourism

However, the real town of Forks is experiencing a boom thanks to the Twilight novels. You can read about it here. I was particularly amused to read about the literary symposium/prom. There's a thought to store away for the future...

Even better, though, after our last vampire lit. symposium, our venue was struck by lightning.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Coraline - 21 July

I have the worst conference timing... I'll be missing this event.

The Melbourne Writer's Festival is having a special viewing of Coraline, introduced by Shaun Tan.

I may now mumble 'life isn't fair, it's just fairer than death, that's all' for the rest of the day.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night.

I love it when the Bulwer-Lytton awards roll around. Inspired by Bulwer-Lytton's classic opening line, staring with "It was a dark and stormy night" (read the whole sentence - it's worth it), the award goes to the worst first sentences that can be invented.

My favourite this year is Stuart Greenman's take on a fantasy epic: "A quest is not to be undertaken lightly – or at all! – pondered Hlothgar, Thrag of the Western Boglands, son of Glothar, nephew of Garthol, known far and wide as Skull Dunker, as he wielded his chesty stallion Hralgoth through the ever-darkening Thlargwood, beyond which, if he survived its horrors and if Hroglath the royal spittle reader spoke true, his destiny awaited – all this though his years numbered but fourteen."

I really, just really really, want him to write more so I can find out about royal spittle readers!

Andrew Manosk is also a worthy runner-up, although I think he's been watching The Simpsons: "Towards the dragon's lair the fellowship marched -- a noble human prince, a fair elf, a surly dwarf, and a disheveled copyright attorney who was frantically trying to find a way to differentiate this story from Lord of the Rings."

Friday, June 26, 2009

Fairy Tales Sell Burgers

The German Burger King commercials that you can view courtesy of YouTube and the Sur La Lune Blog here may enlist fairy tale in corporate spin, but you have to love the puppets.

Little Women

I teach Little Women. So I was amused by this piece in Jezebel. Laugh at the March girls? Never!

Although, my own frustration with the novels (for I read all in the series) was that Jo so readily gave up her scandalous, salacious writing. She enjoyed penning these tales. Why should she have to write 'realistic' tales? It always struck me that the narrative's attention to Jo's trash was a bubbling undercurrent of rebellion encouraging readers to ignore the Professor's advice. After all, Alcott herself liked to write trash.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The New Alice Film

One of my most vivid childhood memories is of sitting in front of the television watching The Wizard of Oz and the wonder as the black and white of Kansas turned into glorious technicolour.

Of course, we had a black and white television back then.

Anyway, I had a similar feeling when I saw the stills of the new Alice in Wonderland film. And although initially, I hadn't been paying it much attention, I just noticed. Linda Woolverton, screenwriter of Beauty and the Beast, worked on it. And aside from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter... Stephen Fry and Alan Rickman. This is a must see.

Still some work to do

This bookblog in The Guardian - "Let's stop sneering at fantasy readers" - disappointed me a little. Mostly because my reaction was: "we still have to tell people to stop sneering at fantasy readers?" Part of the problem of working in genres like fantasy is that everyone feels they have to apologise or defend the work being studied. Why? People don't apologise for studying Joyce or Beckett. I'm an advocate of not apologising and focussing on the study at hand. After all, I've not found any particular stumbling blocks for students embracing a study of fantasy, beyond the lack of critical resources (hence the need for putting our heads down and getting critical writing out). I'm not altogether sure people really do sneer at fantasy readers in general. No one has sneered at me recently. Mind, my experience is not everyone's.

One of the problems in the blog, though, I felt, was that it again privileged a kind of fantasy that, yes, often is sneered at. The "elves, witches, swords etc" branch of fantasy. It's just a little too easy to skewer. The pointy ears and buxom warriors give it away. The trick, I believe, is to fully embrace and promote the diversity of the genre.

Not that I would sneer at a good epic about elves. I've read quite a few.

And, let's face it, if you're going to accuse fantasy of harbouring a great deal of dreck, you could just as readily stop by the literary fiction shelves and also locate more than a fair share. Perhaps it's just a little easier to identify in the fantasy genre? And that may be a good thing.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Adults need guidance too...

I perked up this evening, seeing a piece in The Guardian by Alain de Botton. When I lived in the UK, I read all three of his early novels in quick succession. I've just bought my copy of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, which has a particularly beautiful dust jacket.
In the piece, he writes about how often people are concerned about the impact of advertising upon children, but how rarely they are concerned by the impact upon adults. It has an interesting parallel to literature. All too often, children's literature is awash with anxiety and apprehension, while few ponder the inherent dangers and delights of what adults read. Unless, of course, you're discussing chick lit. Or fantasy. It's worth thinking about.

Particularly for those of us always reading those heady, dangerous books.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Harry Potter as Romance Fiction

Meg Cabot's analysis of the new Harry Potter film posters is, I think, quite brilliant! It made me smile. In teaching literature, you're always dealing with questions of genre, but when it comes down to it, marketing can turn any genre into another genre altogether... or it can fail miserably under a pall of genre-confusion (as happening with The Princess Bride). Mind, the raging hormones at Hogwarts do really kick in around book six.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Needlepoint dustjackets

I love Leigh-Anne Mullock's cover design for Austen's novels. It features needlepoint. Perfect.

And who wouldn't want a Jane Austen T-shirt? The following is from Cool Custom Design.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Harry Potter fandom - a personal narrative

This assignment, published on Henry Jenkins' blog, simply made me happy.

Bring back the light

In the last few days, I've come across a couple of pieces of interest. Today on Jezebel, Intern Katy blogged about Fairy Tale Heroines Return to Dark Roots in Modern Setting. I am intrigued, but I still have a few doubts about the projects on this theme.

One of the doubts is that the 'return' isn't really a return. Fairy tales have always had a mix of dark and light (yes, even Disney's versions) and some of these images wearied me to a degree - they seem a continued victimisation of the princess. Beauty was never really obsessed with her Beauty. Snow White didn't seek a Prince - he turned up, she became Queen. And having watched Disney's Cinderella, I've always been amused by her desire for the castle... the Prince simply came with it. Of course, it's difficult to get to the heart of these discussions in a blog post, but why do so many want the princess to 'fall' (although, I kind of liked the image of Cinderella in her great dress sitting in the bar - I wonder if she was wearing cowboy boots underneath instead of glass slippers, ready for a chance to line dance?)? Do they really understand the princess? Or the power of a victorious ending?

Then Meg Cabot blogged about trauma porn. The article she links to reminds me of those I read in the 90s. Why is a book more realistic if it's grim? If it deals with sexual abuse, drunkeness, domestic violence, drugs etc? This goes pretty much hand in hand with the argument to return fairy tale to its darker roots (although its darker roots were always laced with comedy and with a healthy dose of victory, justice and revenge too). There seems to be a preoccupation with the idea that reality is awful. That anything with a happy, joyous or comic turn must be 'fantasy' and children and teenagers should be taught that.

That troubles me.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Going online with your novel

There are different schools of thought on whether or not this is the right way to go, but Catherynne M. Valente is publishing her novel chapter by chapter here online, with a facility for donations. I haven't yet read the first chapter, but the first sentence is very promising: "Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her father's house, where she washed the same pink and yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog."

And she's not alone. Freely available children's fantasy short stories can be found here.

Of course, the problem is, if we all get used to free content, how will the writers be paid? Will opportunities to be full-time writers dry up? Will what is effectively busking online really generate income?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Women writing

The thinking around women writers has always intrigued me, possibly because I am one (rather obvious, I know). Yet, there are questions raised in respect to the females of the author species that are rarely raised in respect to the males. Jezebel is debating a twitter post by Susan Orlean in respect to female literary non-fiction authors. It did make me think about my female colleagues. Female academics are in a similar situation, surely? Yet our output is rated alongside our male colleagues without discrimination. I know quite a few women who have started families while working on PhDs. I know quite a few men who have done the same. Is there a significant difference that leads to a further difference in output?

I did like Anna N.'s point at the end of the piece, though: "It would be nice for female writers to be able to shut themselves off from society from time to time, without guilt. And it would also be nice for everyone to embrace a variety of different processes for writing and for work in general, and not to privilege one single-minded and traditionally male-associated approach."

I think that single-minded approach is in its last gasps anyway. We're increasingly merging aspects of our lives - skipping from Facebook to the laundry to an article to a student consultation to a few rows of knitting.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Knitting and Lit.

An article here in The Times begins: "Who knew that hat-making was really the secret to happiness? At the Hay-on-Wye literary festival last week, in addition to the usual maelstrom of novelists, historians, philosophers, environmentalists, comedians and religious leaders, there were also classes on knitting and hat-making."

Knitting? I smiled happily. I always knew knitting and literature go together.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Finding the quote

I've just had the intense pleasure of finally locating a quote that I've been searching for. It's from a speech Neil Gaiman gave in Melbourne in 2008 and is from his poem, 'Boys and Girls Together,' talking of the princesses who give up their disguises and "gleam and shine in all their finery. Being princesses." It can be found in Kate Bernheimer's anthology of "men on fairy tales" called Brothers & Beasts. I haven't yet read it all, but I'm enticed by the snippets I've been snatching while finishing my Wrock paper (to be given at that Collaborations conference on Friday).

Yesterday in reading group I mentioned that I'd love to write about the Prince Charmings who do such inexplicable things as set off for castles that could contain ogres or sleeping princesses, who collect girls in glass coffins, who get bedazzled by a really pretty dress on their dancing partner. Maybe I should keep that under wraps? It would make a terrific book... shhh... you don't remember what you just read, you don't remember what you just read, you don't remember what you just read...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where are the good fathers?

For decades, fairy tale scholarship has sought to overturn the wicked stepmother and bad mother stereotypes, now there's a piece about the lack of positive father figures in children's literature.

Of course, finding any positive parental figure is difficult in children's literature. As a genre, children's literature has a habit of making children look much more sensible than adults. In class, we've played with the theory that the difference between adult and children's lit. with child protagonists is that in children's lit, the child will act as the adult, the adult as the child. Massive generalisations aside.

One of my favourite father figures in children's lit. at the moment is the father in The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean. He's not a very observant father, but there's something endearing about his obliviousness to what his children are doing with him. I loved Matthew as a father figure in Anne of Greengables, though. While not her natural father, could you go passed a better father? Mo in Cornelia Funke's Inkheart is flawed, but pretty magnificient. The good fathers are there.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Violence in children's illustration

There's a terrific piece over at the BBC about putting the violence back into children's illustration. There's some excellent points made (although, it's disturbing how gender stereotypes continue so strongly - there is an element of truth, I guess, but surely there are girls who draw scenes of bloody mayhem too?). My only concern is that there are a lot of articles and essays today about 'returning' violence to children's literature. Of course, violence has always been there. It never went away - we simply grew older and more forgetful. And just as children's literature needs violence, it needs hope, joy, kindness, compassion and so on. The problem is, in the focus on sex and violence, people often forget the balance. This happens in respect to fairy tales. Yes, they should be darker, but they should also retain their lightness. The really good fairy tales always had both.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ever read Peter Pan?

Have you ever actually read Peter Pan or, more to the point, perhaps, Peter and Wendy? I teach the novel in Honours classes and students are frequently surprised by its... ah... strangeness. It begins:

"All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this for ever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end. "

Just as it is important that Peter does not grow up, it is important that Wendy knows she must.

And Peter's first appearance?

"She started up with a cry, and saw the boy, and somehow she knew at once that he was Peter Pan. If you or I or Wendy had been there we should have seen that he was very like Mrs. Darling's kiss. He was a lovely boy, clad in skeleton leaves and the juices that ooze out of trees but the most entrancing thing about him was that he had all his first teeth. When he saw she was a grown-up, he gnashed the little pearls at her."

The teeth are a little creepy, as is the 'ooze'. The full text is available through Project Gutenberg. It is a magical reading experience, but much darker and disturbing than many have come to believe, as is the usual case with iconic children's stories.

Of course, the novel didn't come first. The tale was first spun in Kensington Gardens and then there was a play. It was with great interest that I read that the play was coming back to Kensington Gardens (here's the link). I'm not sure why a cast of 20 year olds is preferable, but I wish I were in London to see this.

Those banned books...

There's a great piece in Boing Boing about a high school student creating their own lending library of banned books that you can read about here.

I may have said this before, but while age-appropriateness is often tied to the fiction children and young adults access, I think it should likewise be discussed in terms of adults. It is, after all, just as ridiculous to say that only those 29 and above should read, say, Persuasion, as it is to say only those 15 and up should read Catcher in the Rye.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Part of the wonder of working in children's lit. and fairy tale is the illustration. I often encounter students who don't like illustrated books - as though the art 'limits' the imagination. To a certain extent, I can see where they're coming from. Yet the art leaves an indelible impression and the meaning can be profound. Not so long ago, Margery Gill died. It wasn't until I read about this event in the Guardian that I realised she was the illustrator behind many of my favourite books (as in, actual books... editions of the classics that I grew up with). Her little women were my little women. Sketched, with prim little mouths and messy hair, I loved them. I copied her illustrations as I learned to draw. The pen and ink was a revelation. The sadness of her little princess made it my favourite novel for a long time.

What inspired this thought? A little blog in which the artist is 'directed' by his four year old daughter. He's just gotten a book deal. Fantastic. I particularly liked his print of a duck biting a dinosaur's tail!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Neil Gaiman talking

Neil Gaiman on the Jonathon Ross show here. Am currently copying it to my iPod.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Anthropomorphism - it's about being human

In teaching the range of books that feature anthropomorphised characters, like Winnie-the-Pooh or Peter Rabbit, one of the issues has always been that these characters tell us more about humanity than about their actual species or otherwise.

Thus I delighted in this tale of a little tweenbot making its way through the park with the help of passers-by. As Kacie Kinzer remarks: "But of more interest to me was the fact that this ad-hoc crowdsourcing was driven primarily by human empathy for an anthropomorphized object. The journey the Tweenbots take each time they are released in the city becomes a story of people's willingness to engage with a creature that mirrors human characteristics of vulnerability, of being lost, and of having intention without the means of achieving its goal alone." With a smile on its little cardboard face, who could resist helping the tweenbot out? Even if it was just a bit of technology and cardboard?

How else to get people to read an early Bonaparte romance?

Napoleon Bonaparte was, essentially, a failed novelist. An English translation of one of his early romances is about to be released. Somewhat surprisingly, it's been dubbed, 'chick lit' by The Guardian.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Granger Danger - it could catch on

There's a great piece over at Jezebel about catch phrases inspired by the heroines of children's literature here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fairy tale - fear and sweetness

There's an excellent piece in The Guardian about fairy tale fear. Notably, while there is an initial sad reflection on how fairy tales became too sweet, Ryan Gilbey also acknowledges that Disney - often accused of candy-coating fairy tale - did indulge in animated sequences of unsettling tension and fear. I suspect that many who glibly reference Disney as a prime culprit of the whitewashing of fairy tale have never really rewatched Disney. Snow White's flight through the forest from her stepmother, herself intent on putting Snow White's heart in a pretty jewelled chest, gave me the shivers, as did Scar's speechifying to the hyena population.

The catch, I believe, is that the best fairy tales are both fear-invoking and happily triumphant. It is the roller coaster emotional ride that gives them their greatest punch. The problem with raising the accusation of fairy tale censorship and then reasserting the darkness of fairy tale is that sometimes the happily ever after is forgotten. The moments of triumph, of joy, of overcoming the odds and defeating fear itself are just as important as the darker elements.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What isn't wonderful about a fairy tale conference?

One of the joys of the job is that I can cheerfully tell people I've travelled to the UK for a fairy tale conference.

And it was a fantastic conference. The After Angela Carter conference at UEA in Norwich. There were presenters from all over the globe, some of the 'big names' in fairy tale including Warner, Haase, Zipes and Bacchilega (all keynote speakers), and a very packed programme. In fact, it was so packed, I'd have to seriously hesitate to name highlights. Actually, I don't think I can. Most of us repined that we couldn't be in two or three places at once to catch all the panels and coffee breaks began to look like mad dashes to exchange business cards (I really do need to get some made up!) and email addresses. The final lunch was a prolonged affair of people calling out 'yes, I will email you soon!'

We did have a terrific evening of puppet theatre too, which featured a version of Sleeping Beauty told with a doily princess and prince of thimbles and a version of Little Red Riding Hood told with tomatoes, cabbages, a big red pot and a sinister grater. (Figuringa: Grim/m/aces)

Many of us also noticed that it was one of the best dressed conferences we'd been to. In fact, during the breaks, I often heard people talking about vintage discoveries. All of this boded well for my own paper - which was about princess dresses. I do think there is an inate link between fashion and fairy tale that has yet to be fully exploited. However, I would like to get a head start on that exploitation.

I also got to see Marina Warner, which I was very excited about. From the Beast to the Blonde was one of those pivotal books on my road to academia. And she was wearing a great purple dress with a slim yellow belt and multicoloured cardigan. Sorry, I had to mention that. For those interested, she gave us a preview of her next book on the Arabian Nights, one I'm seriously looking forward to reading.

The only problem about fantastic conferences such as this is the travel involved. Although, there were a couple of amusing moments on the way back. At Heathrow, I was asked at check-in about being a 'Doctor.' When I explained I wasn't medical at all, I was asked what I was a Doctor in. I couldn't resist. "Fairy tales." "Oh!" her face lit up. "That explains the dog on your necklace, the pig on your ring and the dog on your suitcase..." Okay...

Then at Sydney, after hours and hours in the air, I had to declare the chocolate I'd bought at customs (Montezuma's orange & geranium organic dark chocolate - seriously delicious).

"What do you have to declare?"
"Some chocolate."
Customs chap pulls face and is about to wave me off, then looks at my customs/immigration card.
"What are you a lecturer of?"
"Children's literature, actually."
"J***s C****t! Just go through!"

Now, of course, I just have to shake off the last of the jetlag. I've already sorted through all the email that accumulated and taught a class. The terrifying thing is that I have two more conferences (June and July) to write papers for...

One is on Wizard Rock, so if anyone has any suggestions, they'd be more than welcome.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Amazon and the rankings

Most of you will have already heard all there is to hear about the latest at Amazon, with many books, mostly those related in any fashion to homosexuality, being removed from the rankings. I particularly liked Meg Cabot's blog about it, which, after all the serious reports, was rather fun. Then, this is the author who was desperate to have a banned book.

What struck me, though, was that with Facebook, Twitter etc, there's a fantastic opportunity for scholarship to get immediately involved in these situations. We are seeing the world in action - in real time, so to speak - to stop discrimination in book retail. It's pretty wonderful. And if I did have more time today, I would blog more seriously about it.

That's the catch. Time. Scholarship usually involves the taking of time to ponder the situation and its implications. Scholarship works against the immediacy of the online environment. Some academics are finding ways to juggle the two timescales, but I foresee much more to be done in reconciling how scholarship can fully embrace the instancy of new digital technologies.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Zombie Darcy

Many of you by now should know about the version of Pride and Prejudice with zombies. There's a very good piece in The Times about it. Only, opening with "So brazen a perversion of the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, one of Britain’s best-loved novels, will doubtless give Jane Austen fans more than a touch of the vapours" is a little predictable. Many, many Jane Austen fans are only having the vapours out of amusement and anticipation. Not that I, personally, am a horror or zombie fan, but Lizzie as a ninja zombie killer? That's diverting.

Of course, the problem is that some see this as somehow devaluing Jane Austen. I actually think Jane Austen can survive.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Celebrating being Geek

This was one of the funniest items I've read of late. To quote, "According to sources in the White House, President Barack Obama has been uncharacteristically distant and withdrawn ever since last month's two-hour series finale of Battlestar Galactica." But you have to read the whole - seriously.

One of the things I've noticed of late is that some people are slightly incredulous that an English Lit. academic will spend time online instead of reading books. This baffles me a little - beyond the fact that yes, I also read books. There is much material online that is worthy of discussion and analysis. Authors go online all the time. Readers are forever online. The online environment is a hive of activity that must be of interest to English Lit. academics. A general, somewhat vague analogy would be to the early days of print. All sorts of fascinating things were occurring as people experimented with what could be done with some ink and a printing press. I guess I'm simply amazed that more English Lit. academics don't spend as much time online.

Because they miss things like "Obama has reportedly brushed off key budgetary decisions, ignored his wife and children, and neglected his daily workouts, claiming that he no longer cares if he lets himself go "just like Lee did before the rescue on New Caprica."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stop nibbling books!

Seriously... legislation regarding lead in ink is proving problematic in the US. Here.

Where the Wild Things Are

I think I love this trailer for the film. The monsters are giant puppets! I love giant puppets. I love giant puppets so much more than I love CGI.

I mean, remember the Muppets? They appealed to the child/adult audience long before Shrek. Jasper Fforde once said in a reading that his father, who was very serious and intellectual and the UK's 24th chief cashier (he signed the bank notes), would always stop everything for 'Pigs in Space.'

I just liked that anecdote and wanted to work it in somewhere. Now I just hope I have it right.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Stories for free

For those interested in science fiction short fiction (a mouthful), an issue of Shimmer can be downloaded for free.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shaun Tan Visit

Shaun Tan, one of my all time favourite children's authors/illustrators, is coming to speak at Monash University: 10:30am Tuesday, March 31 at the Japanese Studies Centre (it's just left of the bus bays as you enter the campus from the bus). He's also kindly agreed to sign any books that people have!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SciFi Channel

Xeni Jardin's list of possible names for the SciFi Channel is great. Some may be possibilities for the science fiction collection in Monash's Rare Books collection.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sometimes, the universe is in my favour...

If you're in my Children's Lit class, don't look, because this is going to be unashamedly utilised in next week's lecture.

I'm not teaching The Graveyard Book this semester. But Colbert opens his interview with Neil Gaiman by comparing The Graveyard Book with The Flopsy Bunnies. I am teaching The Flopsy Bunnies. I knew there were more reasons to teach The Flopsy Bunnies than "it's fun to say 'flopsy bunnies' multiple times at a lecturn."

Those pesky author shots...

Jezebel reports on the issue of how female authors are photographed for their book jackets. We talked about this in class last year. We noted, particularly, the prevalence of 'beauty' shots of female authors of Middle Eastern descent, adding to the general exoticism of their work. I also pointed out my favourite example of an author shot, which I just located in the oddest place. It's of Amanda Foreman when she first published Georgiana. The latter is a work of history, so the decision to promote Foreman as an attractive author is even more startling, perhaps.

We did try to think of male authors who had been photographed in similar ways. We couldn't think of any. We were a little disappointed by that. If anyone can think of any, please let us know.

In the meantime, I have to produce a photo for a conference website. This is the first time I've encountered the request and it's making me a little nervous. I guess the old boots next to a pile of books shot won't do the trick?

Saturday, March 14, 2009

One of the most popular books ever...

There's an interview in the Guardian with Eric Carle. The tales of his life in Germany in WWII, his anecdotes about children's letters... wonderful stuff.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Funding - science fiction writers' workshop

Australia's Clarion South needs financial help to keep running.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Not a statement of academic feeling in Week 2

My copy of Wishful Drinking just arrived. I've been really looking forward to this book. And no, not simply because Princess Leia has a martini glass on the front cover (although, I personally think this may have led to said martini glass). However, the cover is particularly wonderful. But I've also been looking forward to it because I read Postcards from the Edge a scary number of years ago and have happily reread it (developing a brief compulsion to overdose on MSG and diet cola) and her other novels since.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Storybook Fashion

How could I not love this? Follow the link and blogger, Blaze Danielle, offers you fashion for your favourite childhood lit., including Mary Lennox, Lucy Pevensie and Nancy Drew.

Oh, and while I was inspecting Jezebel this morning, I also spotted this piece about the reading of college students. I wonder how you all compare? I particularly liked this bit: "Charles relies on data from the Chronicle of Higher Education about the best selling books on college campuses, which are 'mostly about hunky vampires or Barack Obama.'"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Anyone going to Paris?

If you are going to Paris, Shakespeare & Co is worth a visit - it's really just about opposite Notre Dame. There's a current article in The Guardian about it. The idea of the author of the article - in fact, Jeanette Winterson - being conked on the head with a book by the owner is not unremarkable. I've been to Shakespeare & Co a few times and each time, managed to happily avoid him. Yes, some may wear being hit on the head by him or yelled at by him as a badge of pride - I just wanted to get out in one piece.

But it is a remarkable book store. In fact, I found there a book that became the basis of both my Masters and PhD theses. It wasn't until my third visit, however, that I managed to actually get the Shakespeare & Co stamp in a book bought there. People kept stealing the stamp.

The store itself is a motley collection and I've always loved the uneven flagstone floor. I've never had the urge to stay there, sleeping among the shelves, though. I guess I lack the spirit that makes a true Shakespeare & Co initiate.

I'd just take myself off to Les Deux Magots for hot chocolate (they serve it from a little jug). Writers often met there. In fact, I went in the memory of F. Scott Fitzgerald, though he's rarely mentioned in connection with the cafe now. The honour appears to go to Hemingway. Fitzgerald has become a bit obscure now (despite Benjamin Button), which is a shame. I love his glittering prose and brittle characters. I wanted for a while - at seventeen - to be Fitzgerald, so to speak. Well, not to be a guy living in the roaring 20s... but you know what I mean.

Living in the roaring 20s, yes.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rights and Covers

Thinking about children's literature shouldn't occur in total isolation to thinking about the status of children: their rights and how childhood itself is legalised. This piece on how children in England are represented in the media is therefore important to think about.

In another note, if you're interested in how book covers are designed, I discovered a fantastic blog called FaceOut Books. They interview designers and talk about how the look of covers are created.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hope at the check out

I'm not even going to comment on the implications regarding the fate of literature students in this piece in The Times. However, the outcome is very happy and worth sharing.

Not so guilty secrets

The Guardian has a piece discussing a survey showing that people often say they've read books they actually haven't. That didn't surprise me. Seriously.

What did amuse me was that the survey, run by World Book Day, found that "When asked to name the writers they really enjoyed, 61% of people ticked JK Rowling and 32% John Grisham." This information was, I think, more to the point. People lie about having read books they think they ought to have read in order to be considered intelligent and well educated. Hence the numbers lying about having read Nineteen Eighty-Four. It's not that they find the book too difficult to read, I'll guess, but that they've simply not had the inclination to read it, but sometimes feel guilty about that. On the other hand, they actually do have the inclination and enjoy books by Rowling and Grisham. Is this bad? Does it mean that these particular people are less well educated or intelligent?

For I admit to a little smile about anyone going by the moniker 'babybooshchick' writing "I am a bit of a book snob and refuse to read any Rowling." Rowling is a wonderful story teller. Why would a 'book snob' not read Rowling?

As for Nineteen Eighty-Four, I've been trying to remember if I have read it. I think I have. Alas, I have no memory of it, other than the niggling feeling that I did at some point read it. That doesn't mean it's not a wonderful book. Simply that at the time I read it, it didn't have as great an impact upon me as other books. I think I was a bit weary at the time of the whole pessimistic future schtick (which may reveal I didn't read it and simply put it aside because I had the suspicion it was like that). We are individuals. We do not all respond to books in the same manner. And sometimes we read a book at the wrong time. Hence, if I do get around to reading or rereading Nineteen Eighty-Four, I'm sure I'll have a different opinion. But there are other books I want to read first.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Baba Yaga's houses

There's a wonderful plushie realisation of Baba Yaga's house here. You have to admire a house that gets about on chicken feet!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Making books

There's an excellent short piece on the importance of children's books that links to tutorials for making your own children's books here.


The German edition, Das Graveyard Buch. Complete in the shiny tin of a graveyard stone.

I am curious though... 'graveyard' is not a German word.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Warning! Children's books can kill!

Your copy of Beatrix Potter may be lethal if ingested.

This is something that swept through and horrified the Etsy and handmade community just a couple of months ago, but I honestly didn't even think it might effect second hand books. Because print before 1985 may contain small quantities of lead, sales of second hand children's books face the possibility of banning in the US. Apparently, the fear is that children may eat the books...

And as Daniel Kalder notes in The Guardian, children may not restrict themselves to children's books: "And on top of all that, the law is incoherent: what's to stop a child from being exposed to books for adults published prior to 1985? Why not ban them all?"

Fortunately, there is some sanity and most of the fears of the Etsy community were assauged. Let's hope it's the same for the second hand and library book community.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Just my cup of tea

During the morning, I'm usually drinking too much coffee while writing up articles and other papers etc. During the afternoon, I'm usually drinking too much tea, so I think I could actually use this. If you click the link, it's a photo of a Little Red Riding Hood tea cosy. I particularly like the red trees the wolf is winding his way through. Nicely sinister.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

More writing advice

We can never have enough writing advice, right? Whether it simply be a reminder to sit down at the laptop or with pen and paper and actually write or whether it be the chance to share the writing experience of another author.

Cory Doctorow provides a link to a discussion about writing between two great science fiction authors here. Now, science fiction isn't really my area. Which may sound odd, since I work in fantasy and the two always seem to go together in the bookstore, right? I've read a little science fiction, but not nearly enough to really qualify as knowledgeable. I tend to watch science fiction instead.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What happens when you win a literary award?

There's a wonderful video here where you can listen to sleepy authors being phoned up about their wins. Authors on the video (or, at least their voices) include Terry Pratchett, Beth Krommes and Neil Gaiman.

Remember how I mentioned writer's rooms in another post? Here's a video tour of Roald Dahl's hut.

Because I was reading Boing Boing this morning and I also noted this post from Cory Doctorow. One of the more exciting aspects of literary studies is having the chance to work with original manuscripts - to pour over annotations and pencil marks the author made. Some authors still have these manuscripts. Neil Gaiman famously writes in fountain pen in books. You can see some of his draft manuscript of American Gods online, in fact (at least, I think you can - I haven't checked yet). But with more authors working on notebooks, laptops, Macs and PCs, these working manuscripts in progress seem to be lost forever to future literary students. Not so. Software is now giving us chances to discover ever more interesting information about how manuscripts are authored. Even what the weather was like at the time of writing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Speaking of re-using text

These shoes are kind of cute. I'd love to see a pair papered over with pages of 'Cinderella'. I can picture them now. Unfortunately, I'm not about to sacrifice any of my editions of 'Cinderella' or any of my shoes. Although... I could think about a pair of cheap second hand shoes and a cheap second hand 'Cinderella' I guess...

Back in the real world

If you are looking for me, you'll find I'm not where I used to be. I've just changed offices. I'm not unpacked yet and my desk is still en route, but the above gives you a clue as to my current location.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Knitting from the film of the book

Coraline's gloves, here. Bella's mittens, here. Pippin's scarf, here.

And that's not even the tip of the iceberg concerning what is out there.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Okay, in Australia, Valentine's Day is not quite such a big deal. But this is a cute idea for Valentine's Day cards from The Guardian and the re-use of text (she suggests cutting out newspaper or magazine headlines and pasting them onto a blank card) tickles my scholarly fancy, so to speak. So I discovered that my glue stick is nearly dried out and that I have rather corny tastes in terms of headline selection...

Incidentally, students should note that Monash has lots of support channels open to those affected by the fires. Don't hesitate to get in touch if you need to.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Odds and ends

I always find the most useful advice on how to get published comes from those who have been there (i.e. trying to get published), succeeded, but are open enough to be honest about the process. You want to find an agent? Check Meg Cabot's blog today. I thought this was a particularly good example of the process:

"So when I’d exhausted every agent in Jeff Herman’s guide who seemed decent (meaning, when they all eventually either said no or just never got back to me) on one manuscript, I went right back to the front of the guide (sometimes the next year’s edition), and started over sending out a new manuscript."

Also, a happy birthday to Neil Gaiman's blog! Yes, I know that those of you reading this blog regularly will be well aware I keep up with that blog. The eighth birthday blog post not only has a Milne-inspired name (kudos), but is a brilliantly insightful essay into the issues of locating a cup of chamomile tea.

Which reminds me that I want to locate a cup of coffee... and not the mound of paperwork that I still have to get through.

Speaking of judging a book by its cover

There's a fantastic challenge over at Weekly Geeks. Basically, to quote, "Pick a book - any book, really - and search out multiple book cover images for that book." There are a list of links to people who have taken up the challenge. Some chose classics, some chose contemporary literature, some chose vampire romances (which amused me). If it weren't for the fact that I'd like to sleep tonight and I still have a pile of paperwork and an article draft to complete, I'd be participating myself.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Writer's Space

I always enjoy little snapshots of where writers and illustrators work. Literal snapshots. Photos of desks, tables, bookcases, scattered pens, mugs of half drunk tea...

The Guardian has a special series of such snapshots and today I spotted Lauren Child's workspace. She is one of my favourite picture book authors. Her version of The Princess and the Pea is gorgeous, right down to the tiny peas.

Jonathan Stroud has a particularly good snapshot of his workspace on his website, too. I love that he has the packet of unhealthy biscuits half hidden by the computer, but still labels them. He outs himself.

And just to say, it's been a bad couple of days in Victoria. Our thoughts are with those who have lost so much and with those who have risked everything to save as much as possible.