November 2008


     Well, December is almost upon us. But before you scream, “Dear Crossdressing Fish on a Motorcycle!” and panic about presents, make yourself a cuppa, and sit yourself down with the Wordgardener for a wee bit of advice about book-giving in the festive season.
Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith

For Grandmothers and Alexander McCall Smith fans: La’s Orchestra Saves the World

          This one’s a gentle, occasionally humorous book detailing the minutae of  La’s move and subsequent settlement in a little cottage house in Surrey. My only quibble is that there are a few things unresolved, and the ending is a bit hasty, but it’s otherwise lovely. Set during World War II, there’s a little romance, a little music, a little gardening, small doses of mysterious trepidation, and much simplicity. It’s a nice little hardback in pale blue with a swallow (I love the jacket design) so it will sit pretty on your (or your grandmother’s) bookshelf.  ($34.95 isbn:9781846970924)

 

Mary Ann Schaffer (Allen and Unwin)

Mary Ann Schaffer (Allen and Unwin)

For Mums, cousin Janets, Aunties, and the entire population of the earth: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Schaffer.

            This is another one set around World War II, and is also very gentle. It’s all written in letters, (each one by our heroine is signed off, Love, Juliet Ashton {Miss}) which I thought would grow tedious, but is amusing, sweet and novel the whole way through the book. Juliet Ashton, a columnist during the war, finds herself at a loose end when peace is declared. She is trying to find something to write about, and something to feel passionate about, when she recieves a letter from a man on the island of Guernsey who has an old book of hers with her name and address written on the inside. Juliet finds herself intrigued by the story Dawsey tells of the literary society formed during the occupation of Guernsey. Also a lovely romance, some amusing herbal escapades, and the kind of hope that can only be conveyed through tragedy. Glorious, glorious, glorious. Buy it for yourself for Christmas! Don’t expect a follow up though, as poor Schaffer didn’t live to see her book published. Hope through tragedy, people. ($29.95 isbn:9781741751680)

 

Alexie Sherman (Random House)

Alexie Sherman (Random House)

For teens: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Alexie Sherman

                  This is a brilliant and humorous evocation of what it feels like to be a teenager. Except that Junior has to deal with living on a reservation, having a soft (and easily damaged) skull, and being the smartest kid to have come out of a reservation school. When Junior makes the decision to leave the reservation every day to attend the white school in the town nearby, he has to deal with bullying from his own people as well as the white kids at school. He forges forward, though with his own special brand of humour, cartooning, smarts and nerdy charm. At turns tragic and hilarious, Part-time Indian is an enjoyable and fast-paced read. It does contain a lot of swearing, though, as it’s quite realistic. This one’s already winning awards, and quite deservedly too! ($19.95 isbn:9781842708446)

Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)

Isobelle Carmody (Penguin Group Australia)

For the kids: A Riddle of Green: The Legend of Little Fur by Isobelle Carmody

             This is the fourth in the series of velvet covered books. These books have an environmental message, but aren’t didactic. Little Fur is a half troll, half elf healer, whose attachment to the earth-magic has lead her into many adventures. She has a band of animal friends, but this series isn’t sentimental. The characters are damaged (Sorrow the fox has no self esteem having been brought up in a science laboratory and escaped into the wild), and tragic, but the endings are always redeeming. In this adventure, Little Fur learns about where she came from, and where the future of the trolls lies. These books are to be read in order from 1. ‘Little Fur, The Legend Begins’, 2. ‘A Fox Called Sorrow,’ 3.’A Mystery of Wolves’. I highly recommend them, and the velvety covers are lush and make them very gift-worthy. They are a bit reminiscent of ‘The Dark Crystal’ movie to me… (Series retails at $24.95 isbn of Riddle of Green: 9780670040957)

I hope this helps you all out with your Christmas shopping!

Cheers bookworms,

The Wordgardener

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  Even though I tend to grind my teeth at the mention of literary theorists, I secretly enjoy everything about them; their mulish stubborness to engage with reality; their longwinded unreadable essays employing words that have been out of vogue for centuries; their amusing, unpronounceable names, (my highschool English teacher used to sing ‘Fish, Fish, jump into my dish’ whenever we were discussing Stanley Fish’s reader-response theory). And my favourite litty guy is good old morbid Barthes, who proposed that once an author publishes his/her work, it’s gone, poof, out of their hands and into the public’s sweaty little fists to do with as they will. Hence: the author is dead. I love this idea so much, but not for reasons Barthes would like. You see, the ‘author god’ as Barthes proposed that authors are, is not dead to me but alive and well. When I read a book, I don’t flip to the back to see the picture of the author. Until I started working in a bookstore where memorisation of titles, cover colours, vague descriptions and author names is a useful, nay, mandatory skill, I often didn’t even pay attention to the names of those hallowed ones who wrote my reading material.

  My problem is this: I can love a book. Take, for example, A Million Little Pieces, the ‘autobiography’ of James Frey, and have such a complete picture in my mind of who and what the author is that when I actually meet said author, and my visions are skewed by reality, it sends me into an existential crisis which ends up with me not liking the book so much anymore.

  But I have taken heart! Chris Cleave, author of ‘The Other Hand’ was so wonderfully nice, and such a talented and subtle authorial voice, that when I met him it just drove me to want to read his backlist, and one of my co-workers to consider polygamy.

  And there is one author who I would give a lot to meet. I wouldn’t speak to him – it would take much more courage and ego than I have to do so – but would bow at his feet, and simply bask. Oh, author god Gabriel Garcia Marquez, don’t ever die.

(check out the new biography on Gabriel Garcia Marquez by Gerald Martin, beautiful photos and all- http://www.bloomsbury.com/books/details.aspx?isbn=9780747594765 )

Cheers

The Wordgardener

Having just finished reading two books in the space of twelve hours, I felt a bit bereft. All those characters I’d just met had been soaked into my consiousness, but now their stories were over what was I supposed to do? This is my solution. This will be a blog dedicated to the love of all things writing and bookish. And since so many books are devoted to writing about food (think Chez Moi, Chocolat, Pomegranate Soup) so will I be. And since my favourite foods come from my own garden, so will some of the topics in this blog (so watch your feet, be careful of falling clods of dirt, freshly shaken from my topics…)

For me, all of these things (and the occasional bit of crafting with felt or sewing) equal comfort, so pop in anytime with a cup of French Earl Grey, or Bluemountain tea – especially on rainy days – for a chat.

Cheers Chickens,

The Wordgardener