“Fiction becomes a weird way to countenance yourself and to tell the truth instead of being a way to escape yourself or present yourself in a way you figure you will be maximally likable.”
- David Foster Wallace (pictured below) from his essay on writing, The Nature of Fun
They say no (wo)man is an island and I was thrilled to stumble across this morsel in my readings this week: A survey of 1,983 US e-reader users has discovered that more than one-third of users only used their device once before shoving it in the bottom draw or selling it.
When asked why, the majority (57%) said they didn’t have time to use it; 22% received it as a gift and didn’t need it; and 25% responded they simply preferred to read traditional print books.
I have never downloaded a single item onto my Kindle. It sits right here next to me on my desk with its pretty pink cover and hums to itself all day long. Ha! Let’s talk about some real books, the ones that smell nice.
I Made Lattes for a Love God, by Wendy Harmer
Fifteen-year-old Ellie Pickering has just found out the most exciting news of her life. Hollywood is coming to Britannia to film the third instalment of the hit movie series Monster Class, which means heart- throb Jake Blake will be spending two whole weeks at Oldcastle High.
Even better, her mum is handling the publicity, which means Ellie will probably almost certainly meet her teen idol. But of course, this is Ellie. Well meaning nice girl she might be, but she does have a habit of turning a golden opportunity into an abject failure.
It only takes one mobile phone charger for Ellie to find herself back in trouble with her mum and relegated to working a sardine tin of a catering van whilst her bestie Carmelita and her worst enemy Bianca Ponsford are both extras in the movie.
Ellie Pickering is so perfect a creation; it’s almost as if Wendy Harmer is channelling her.
Teenage-hood is a rich vein of material for any writer but it is so nice to meet a character who isn’t fighting vampires or engaging in battles for supremacy in the Queen Bee stakes.
Harmer introduced the world to Ellie Pickering in the bestselling first book, I Lost My Mobile at the Mall. What’s great about Ellie is that she is a normal suburban girl growing up in a standard suburb tackling normal everyday teenage problems.
Ironically, it is her normality that makes her so interesting. Within the microcosm of her world, battles rage large. She has a bossy brainy older sister Tilly, her parents are excruciatingly daggy and Bianca Ponsford posts snarky comments about Smelly Ellie on Face Place all the time.
And then there is her lovely surfie boyfriend Will who Ellie adores but frets about his seeming lack of depth and definite lack of conversation.
But Harmer does not set out just to entertain the reader, which of course she does with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back. Hollywood coming to town is a scenario that allows for plenty of conflict, broken promises, revealed secrets and a reality check.
Having a crush on a mega-star is not the same as meeting that person face to face. And what do you do when your BFF gets a role in the movie and you don’t? How do you turn failure into an opportunity? And the ultimate question in the book, what’s the difference between a dream, a wish and a miracle?
As Ellie careens through two weeks of madness, she must manage her frustrations and failures and practice rejoicing in the success of others, recognise which secrets are worth keeping and which ones only led to trouble and realise that even love gods have feet of clay.
Humour may be Harmer’s tool but the truths of travelling through teenage angst shine more brightly with a smile on your face. I Made Lattes for a Love God is perfect reading for anyone in your life who is almost a teenager or maybe just wants to read a story that sounds a little like their life and lets them laugh at it, ever so gently.
* To win one of ten copies of I Made Lattes For a Love God go HERE.
The Roald Dahl Funny Prize
A book about a dark lord who unwillingly inhabits the body of a chubby teenager won this year’s Roald Dahl Funny Prize. Dark Lord: The Teenage Years by Jamie Thomson, centres on the trials of Dirk Lloyd (get it?) in his bid to be taken seriously as an evil force on Earth and to return home to his reign of terror.
Children’s author Michael Rosen created the The Roald Dahl Funny Prize in 2008 to honour those books that make young people laugh. The judging panel includes leading children’s authors, illustrators and comedians and this year over 500 pupils from across the UK read the shortlisted titles to pick their favourite book. Their votes were combined with those of the judging panel to find the two winners for 2012.
The Hunger Angel, by Herta Müller
In the shifting nation states and allegiances that marked the formation of Eastern Europe, Romania was a Fascist ally of Nazi Germany. The arrival of the Red Army in 1944 and the consequent overthrow of the Fascist dictatorship saw Romania change from a German ally to her enemy.
In January 1945, Stalin insisted all German-Romanians aged between seventeen and forty-five be “mobilised” and deported to labour camps in the Soviet Union as part of a rebuilding project.
When they came for seventeen-year-old Leopold Auberg, his grandmother said, “I know you’ll return.” Those words were often all that kept Leo alive.
But the Leo that returns five years later no longer belongs. He is haunted by memories that are more alive for him than reality. He still sees the hunger angel that lives inside people’s mouths and has no words to explain the fear and deprivation that has invaded his brain and refuses to leave.
No one in his village wants to talk about what happened in a Soviet gulag, too ready to put their own ignoble Fascist past behind them. Survivors like Leo are left without a narrative for what they have been through and no one to listen to it anyway. An awkward, somewhat despondent silence prevails.
Herta Müller has written a remarkable, brutal and yet poetic account of life in the forced labour camps. Her own mother was there and this novel began as a joint project with another camp survivor who came from Müller’s village. When he died unexpectedly, Müller was left with four notebooks crammed with his recollections and she turned what began as an historical account into a work of fiction.
But for all the worthiness of the subject matter, it is the language that is breathtaking – in its use, its re-creation and its structure. Where no word existed to explain a feeling or a moment, Müller invented it.
Her skill at creating spaces and vivid word pictures takes the reader right into the sparse despairing world of the labour camp. The hunger angel is omnipresent and mutable, occupying the mind and invading the hollow bodies leaving a down of white hair on the cheeks of those it has marked out to die.
Leo says, “It was the skinandbones time, the eternity of cabbage soup,” and his emotional connection to the circumstances he finds himself in is always through food. It is something that never leaves him, even sixty years later.
This is a work of exceptional scope by Nobel Prize winning Müller. Out of bleakness, she finds great beauty.
International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award
A 154-book long list has been announced for the prestigious International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award. The €100,000 (AUS $121,740) prize is organized by Dublin City Public Libraries to honour a single work of fiction published in English as voted for by librarians in 120 cities, 44 countries and in 19 languages.
This year’s list includes 43 American, 22 British and 12 Canadian novels, as well as 42 books translated into English and 47 debut novels.
Australia has 11.5 nominations (the half is because Indian born writer Aravind Adiga holds dual Indian/Australian citizenship having lived in Sydney during his high school years, so he’s ours too, right?)
The nominees are What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam, Estuary by Sam Bunny, Spirit of Progress by Steven Carroll, All That I Am by Anna Funder, Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga, Five Bells by Gail Jones, Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears, Autumn Laing by Alex Miller, Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse, Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett, and The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman.
The most nominated book is The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which received fifteen nominations. Other books nominated by multiple libraries are The Sisters Brothers by Canadian writer, Patrick de Witt, and two debut American novels, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, and The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. The most nominated Australian titles were Autumn Laing and All That I Am.
The shortlist for the IMPAC award will be released April 9, 2013, with the winner named June 6. That’s good. I don’t know what I’ve been doing with my life as I’ve only read four of the 154 titles. Now I have 5 months to catch up on the rest of the list!
On My Bedside Table Are…
The much-anticipated second instalment of Laini Taylor’s amazing trilogy, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is here! The blurb for Days of Blood and Starlight is so good; I can’t improve on it, so here it is.
“Once upon a time, an angel and a devil fell in love and dared to imagine a new way of living – one without massacres and torn throats and bonfires of the fallen, without revenants or bastard armies or children ripped from their mother’s arms to take their turn in the killing and dying. Once, the lovers lay entwined in the moon’s secret temple and dreamed of a world that was like a jewel-box without a jewel – a paradise waiting for them to find it and fill it with their happiness. This was not that world.”
Makes you want to read it, right?
Reading is a bit like food: sometimes you feel like a five star gourmet feed and sometimes you feel like fish and chips. And sometimes you feel like a slice of mud cake with lashings of whipped cream on the side.
So if you’re in the mood for something delicious and gooey, it’s hard to go past Rebecca Chance. Her latest offering Bad Angels opens with actress Melody Down regretting her recent decision to have a face-lift. Despite refusing to take her clothes off and donning a one size too small bikini and Perspex heels, she won GQ’s Sexiest Woman of 2010, but now she finds herself holed up in a recovery facility and facing a very lonely Christmas.
Little does she know that also staying in the lush complex is a convalescing assassin for hire AND the football team owning oligarch, Grigor Khalofsky. It seems Christmas is about to become scandalous, glamorous and maybe a teensy bit dangerous. Escape away!
Top Book Club Books
Are you looking for inspiration for your book club? Well, look no further. Introducing our monthly Top Ten of book club books as rated by book club site Bookmovement.com. The following were the most popular picks during October based on votes from readers from more than 80,000 book clubs.
1. Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn BUY THE BOOK
2. The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman BUY THE BOOK
3. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed BUY THE BOOK
4. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand BUY THE BOOK
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot BUY THE BOOK
6. Defending Jacob: A Novel, by William Landay BUY THE BOOK
7. The Casual Vacancy, by J.K. Rowling BUY THE BOOK
8. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern BUY THE BOOK
9. What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty BUY THE BOOK
10. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak BUY THE BOOK
That’s all from me for another week. What about you? What have you been reading? Do have any thoughts on any of the books we’ve mentioned today? As always, leave a comment in the thread, we love to hear from you.
Until next week! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.