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When we got the call saying we were going to be on the show, Mom went nuts. She kept saying, “I knew they’d pick us!” It was kind of sad – does she think they chose us because we’re so fascinating? But I know the truth. They picked us because they think we’re this big mother-daughter bomb ticking away with secrets and they’re just waiting for  us to explode.

The other night I was still looking for book recommendations and I found this list on Popsugar about titles currently being adapted to. The seventh out of the fifteen books listed is The Dogs of Babel, the first book by author Carolyn Parkhurst. Once again sadly my library did not have a copy, but thanks to the Wollongong council online  service I reserved this book.

Which was handy.

We join a number of contestants participating in a globe-hopping reality television show that bears a strong resemblance to The Amazing Race. The fictional show is called ‘Lost and Found’ and also features teams of two competing in a race around the world, having to solve riddles and race down foreign streets yelling at the native passersby for location of certain landmarks. They also have to carry an increasing number of exotic objects, including some cacophonous parrots, from city to city.

Yes it all seems somewhat familiar. There are also questions as to how ‘real’, all of this is. Laura and her daughter Cassie are dealing with what appear to be typical parent and child dilemmas. Christian evangelist couple Justin and Abby have gone on the show to preach the joys of abandoning a homosexual lifestyle for the love of Christ. Brothers Jeff and Carl are the comedians of the group, although both have recently been divorced from their respective wives. Finally Dallas and Juliet are former child stars making one last break for fame. A million dollars is at stake for the contestants, but their dignity is also at risk, their lives being exploited for entertainment value.

Each of the people involved in the Lost and Found contest are hiding secrets. As time passes, the stress mounts and alien cultures are boiled down to a series of travelogue pre-scripted moments for the viewers back in the States. What constitutes a genuine ’emotional journey’, for the individuals on camera and what is nothing less than the callous exploitation of people, reduced through the show to one-note clichés.

Parkhurst cleverly tells the story from the perspective of each of the individuals taking part in the show. Often the differing accounts reveal more about the events described and the reader learns more about each of the people’s past, including repressed sexuality, infant illness, hidden pregnancy and hypocrisy. At base, however, this story begins and ends with the relationship between a mother and her daughter.

What I admire most about this book is how neatly the author avoids the trap of pointing the finger of blame at reality television for being an entirely corrupt and exploitative  medium. Juliet and Dallas are not the only actors – everyone on the show is performing, to some degree or another, pretending to a sense of normality that does not exist. The book is hopeful where others might be snide, or cynical, which is something I find greatly endearing.

Yes the issues featured here are quite emotionally draining, but at the same time there is a surprising sense of positivity throughout.

Timely and mature storytelling.

‘She’ll be right. No worries.’ It was an amazing phrase. It was practically magical all by itself. It just…made things better. A shark’s got your leg? No worries. You’ve been stung by a jellyfish? No worries! You’re dead? She’ll be right! No worries! Oddly enough, it seemed to work.

Wow folks. What a fantastic afternoon. We are just back in the door from seeing Terry Pratchett be interviewed by Garth Nix at the Bugarup Opera House. We even sang him Happy Birthday, but first, we were talking about The Last Continent

In attempting to rescue the Librarian from his morphic dissonance, Archchancellor Ridcully and his motley crew of academic wizards find themselves transported to a far-off land through a mysterious portal. The island presents certain mysterious phenomena, such as plants that produce pre-rolled cigarettes, which seems to be an example of a very literal form of evolution.

Meanwhile Rincewind finds himself corralled by a talking kangaroo into saving the land of EcksEcksEcksEcks from the oppressive heat, where the people living there (who all claim to be descended from folk who were washed up ashore on a piece of driftwood) believe that rainfall is a myth. Talking Gator bar-men, trampolining spiders and magic sheep-shears are just some of the strange things Rincewind has to get used to, while desperately attempting to run from his destiny, which as usual only serves to land him straight right back in the middle of it.

Yes there are a lot of jokes at the expense of Australian culture, including town names such as ‘Dijabringabeeralong’, or ‘Bugarup’. There’s even a supercharged vehicle driven by someone who self-applies the term ‘Mad‘. Pratchett does not poke fun in a condescending manner, however. The tone is affectionate throughout.

I also love the notion of Rincewind being the ‘eternal coward. The hero with a thousand retreating backs‘, a nice reversal of the Hero with a Thousand Faces.  Ridcully’s complete refusal to be confused by the vagaries of time travel, due to pure ego, as well as the notion of an ‘atheist god’, attempting to study evolution is just pure Pratchett.

This is a fantastic piece of comedic satire, an absolute laugh riot.

Right, let’s talk about the Sydney Opera House gig.

Firstly I think Stephanie and my mother-in-law were converted into genuine Pratchett fans by the experience. Garth Nix and Pratchett came out on stage, greeted by a huge applause. After introductions, the audience was treated to a reading from the next Discworld novel – Snuff. Pratchett described the book as a pastiche of Agatha Christie, with Duke Vimes going on a trip to the countryside and in typical Poirot-fashion discovering a murder mystery. The crowd were falling about laughing during the reading.

Nix had a series of questions from members of the audience, but Pratchett, ever the digressive raconteur, only managed to get around to two of them. A question relating to the satirical content of the Discworld novels resulted in a discussion of religion. Amusingly Pratchett argued that all of Christianity could be boiled down to Bill & Ted‘s catchphrase ‘be excellent to each other‘. He also questioned whether a religion should choose as its symbol ‘a torture device‘. On the other hand, he criticised atheism as evidencing ‘too much certainty‘, a form of extremism equal in intensity to religious fundamentalism. As a humanist he even campaigned to rescue an old church in his community, for the sake of ‘hedging his bets‘.

Nix as the author’s interviewer seemed at once awed at the opportunity to speak to Pratchett, referrring to him as a literary master, although he in response insisted that he is only a journey-man writer. A status he claims he only graduated to with the publication of I Shall Wear Midnight. Nix was also visibly affected by the toll of the author’s early onset Alzheimer‘s. The Australian media pounced on the opportunity to run a story about Pratchett vis-a-vis his status as a spokesperson for assisted dying, which he ruefully stated was an odd position to be placed  in by reporters. He’s busy enough arguing with his own government, so getting into it with the Australian government too seems absurd.

For me though the most emotionally resonant portion of the evening was Pratchett talking about his early days as a local journalist. His bio often refers to how he saw a dead body on his first day on the job, but here he elaborated on how having to report from the scenes of gruesome suicides and deaths left him devastated. He remains haunted by the image of a woman who smoked six cigarettes before jumping in front of an express train, which he managed to piece together when he discovered the discarded butts near the scene of her death.

Sir Terry Pratchett proved to be a wonderful soul. I am grateful for having had the opportunity to finally see him in person.

My friend Carol just let me know the link to the video is up – enjoy!

Discworld is a world and a mirror of worlds. This is not a book about Australia. No, it’s about somewhere entirely different which just happens to be, here and there, a bit…Australian. Still…no worries, right?

Tonight is a very exciting night. Stephanie and I are travelling down to Sydney to see Terry Pratchett speak at the Sydney Opera House. In fact we are about to leave in the next twenty minutes. So here’s the deal. This is going to be an abridged review. I am posting my initial impressions of the book and then this evening, when we eventually arrive home, I will throw up some more of a review, as well as some thoughts on the talk itself.

With added Garth Nix (that fellow gets around…which reminds me, I also need to write up something on Zombies Vs Unicorns.)

First off, this is a Rincewind book. My very first Pratchett novel featured Rincewind and each title has continued that initial Fritz Leiber-esque fantasy pastiche of The Colour of Magic. These Pratchett novels are vaguer than the Ankh-Morpork novels, filled with the exciting stuff of pure Pratchettian imagination (is that a word?….it is now).

The book opens with the wizards of the Unseen University concerned over the state of the Librarian. Originally an ordinary wizard transformed by a random magical event into an orangutan (one that happened to involve Rincewind) and who has since come quite to like being a hairy biped, thank you very much. Unfortunately the magical morphic field of the Librarian is in flux and he is being transformed into sundry other shapes and objects. The wizards decide the best solution is to find Rincewind, who might be able to help them stabilise the Librarian by providing them with his original name – unfortunately he is far away on the land of Ecks-Ecks-Ecks-Ecks.

Rincewind himself has somehow managed to survive the typical (and oddly Australianish) flora and fauna. In fact he continuously finds water and something seems to be protecting him from any harm.

Could he be destined to save the land of Ecks-Ecks-Ecks-Ecks? And what does a god who believes in Evolution have to do with this?

Later folks – ride is here!

This is one of the greatest books ever written. To say that Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE- 17 CE) known as Ovid, was possessed of a monumental genius, is to somewhat understate his influence on writing, painting, sculpture, music and poetry for the last two millennia. There are few if any artists of worth, certainly of the western tradition (indeed other traditions have such geniuses from whom we could all learn), who have not been enthralled by his brilliant imagery, his insight into the human condition, the sweep of his epic narrative, his capacity to depict the depths of human depravity and the heights of love.

The cover of this Penguin edition, with its very clear and lyrical translation by David Raeburn, has a picture of Bernini’s incredibly beautiful sculpture of Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne (1622), a scene from the dozens of stories in the Metamorphoses that are all threaded together by the theme of change, as life is indeed change, capturing the touching moment of Apollo and Daphne’s agonized frustrated lovemaking as she is transformed into a tree. The Metamorphoses weaves a difficult path brilliantly through Ovid’s vast knowledge of history and mythology, borrowing and rewriting Virgil, Lucretius and Homer to suit his own ends. This makes a great deal of sense, for in the life of an artist there comes a point of re-evaluation – an assessment and acknowledgement that she or he has arrived at the point they have through the influence and insights of others.

Ovid’s Metamorphoses, reacting somewhat to the Roman idolized image of the gods, depicts them as deeply ambivalent beings. Some of the stories show them as monsters, vicious cruel murderers and rapists. Jove or Jupiter, is a dreadful being. As the king of the Gods with weighty responsibilities on him, he is also a psychopath, a serial rapist who uses his power to tryst with females of his fancy, fathering countless offspring to his wife’s horror and vengeful rage. This is hardly a sterling example of a moral life, an example of the kinds of godly behaviour in the Metamorphoses that leaves much to be desired.

So we are left with a dilemma. The world order, the nature of existence, is terribly out of joint. How does one live? What constitutes a moral existence? What hope is there for humanity when the gods are mad or corrupt or all too human? Ovid describes the world and leads us to the doorway of moral choice. He describes these beings, these gods, largely products of a complex evolutionary cultural anthropomorphosis, as being as capable of horrible acts as they are equally capable of heartbreaking tenderness. When the sun god, (Helios to the Greeks, also Apollo to the Romans, but Phoebus to Ovid) allows his all too overconfident ambitious son Phaeton to take the reins of his sun chariot on its daily journey round the Earth, things go terribly wrong. This is when Phaeton, filled with cock-sure ignorance, loses control of the sun-chariot and sets the world on fire, almost burning the earth, is killed by a bolt from Jupiter to stop the destruction of everything. Thus the Earth is shrouded in darkness as the heartbroken Phoebus covers his radiant being with his cloak in inconsolable sorrow at the loss of his beloved son. It is a terrible time, a tragic moment, handled with incredible tenderness by Ovid.

Pain, joy, ambition, jealousy, longing, loneliness, the burden of giftedness, overwhelming infatuation, the loss of love, lies, deceit, moments of hilarity, power politics and horrific acts of revenge – in other words the full sweep of the human condition – mark his subject matter, and in the Metamorphoses, Ovid deals more than anything else with what it means to be a human being, trapped in time, a mere plaything of the fickle and vengeful gods. He deals with this subject with a level of emotional and psychological accuracy that leaves an unforgettable mark on the reader. It’s not without significance that Shakespeare was a lifelong reader of Ovid, and returned to him over and over to seek new themes for his plays and poetry.

Rome remains the cultural centre of Ovid’s personal universe, and the glory of Rome is his joy and love. Despite all its horrors and imperial cruelties it remains his personal point of reference. It is a mark of the poet Ovid’s truly extraordinary self-assurance that at the end of this very large and very readable book, filled as it is with super heroes and gods, monsters and victims, saints and mystics, he modestly asks Emperor Augustus to immortalize him. After all, he argues, he has written the Metamorphoses. This same emperor, disdaining Ovid’s tendency to write rather explicit poems about sex and seduction and taking lovers and, moreover, how to keep ones lover, as in the Amores and the Ars Amatoria, had exiled the heartbroken poet (a banishment celebrated by Turner in a painting in 1838). Ovid, who found the world of Rome his inspiration, never got over his exile and he never stopped wanting to go home. The cliché of an artist never being fully understood in his own time is very true of Ovid, who died in what is now Romania, where he is celebrated as one of their own.

BIO ORAN RYAN

Oran Ryan

Oran Ryan is a novelist, poet and playwright from Dublin.  His poetry, short stories and literary criticism have appeared in magazines worldwide.  His novels The Death of Finn and Ten Short Novels by Arthur Kruger, both published in 2006, and One Inch Punch, his third is to be published in 2011.  His work has also appeared in the anthologies Census 1 (2008), Census 2 (2009), Living Streets, Anthology of the Ranelagh Arts Festival (2009), Dublin 10 Journeys, One Destination (2010).  His play Don Quixote Has Been Promoted was performed at the Ranelagh Arts Festival 2009; his has been shortlisted for the P J O’Connor Award; his words were performed on stage at the Stone Theatre in Manhattan, New York in 2008 and in 2010 his Radio Play Christmas 1947 was performed live as part of KRCB FM 91.1 Twisted Christmas 8 Live performance in California, as well as broadcast on KRCB over Christmas 2010.

Some preamble: I was fairly daunted when I was asked to jump in and cover A Book A Day… for a post. As a habitual reader of his site, I was intent on ensuring that I got the full Emmet O’Cuana experience by following the house rules and reviewing a book that I had completed over the course of a twenty-four hour period (this was despite Emmet giving me close to a month’s notice to put this post together). With that, I diligently set about settling down to enjoy Fred Hoyle’s science-fiction standard The Black Cloud; before abandoning it in a fit of disinterest as I moaned to my wife about ‘diagrams having no place in a novel’. I’m being harsh – The Black Cloud is undoubtedly a good book, but I was struggling to keep focussed on it enough to finish it in a day.

With this realisation, things were looking grim for my contribution to ABADTICS (which is a great acronym), and I soared dangerously and embarrassingly close to turning in a review of Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man, knowing that I could at least cover it in one afternoon, possibly fifteen minutes if I didn’t stop for tea and biscuits. Scanning my book shelves, I was drawn to John Colapinto‘s About the Author – a book I picked up in my teens, read once and then recommended to everyone else for the next eleven years. For all the books that have come and gone in my personal library over the years I’ve never considered parting with it, based on one memorable reading of it in what seems an age ago. With that in mind, I was interested to see how an older, wiser and infinitely more cynical version of my young self would find it.

For reasons that will become obvious, I find it difficult to write about Stewart. Well, I find it difficult to write about anything, God knows. But Stewart presents special problems. Do I speak of him as I later came to know him, or as he appeared to me before I learned the truth, before I stripped away the mask of normalcy he hid behind? For so long he seemed nothing but a footnote to my life, a passing reference in what I had imagined would be the story of my swift rise to literary stardom. Today he not only haunts every line of this statement, but is, in a sense, its animating spirit, its reason for being.

About the Author tells the story of lothario bookstore clerk Cal Cunningham. Cal prides himself on his aspirations of bestsellerdom but lacks the literary inspiration to achieve it, so when the opportunity to pass his dead roommate’s manuscript off as his own work of genius, he does so with little hesitation and to wild success. In true ‘…but the  past ain’t through with you‘ fashion however, the decision haunts the rest of this story. Wielding themes of identity, envy and ambition, in hindsight it shares much in common with Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley, but differs in that this thriller expands to more psychological Hitchcockian proportions. As our hero spirals further out of control in his quest to keep his misdeeds secret, he finds himself living a proxy of the life of the man whose work he stole, and refreshingly things escalate in a way that never seems forced or trite. Most of the supporting characters are lightly sketched to varying degrees of effect – a rambunctious literary agent comes across just right in his one-note shallowness, but he’s the only character that truly works in spite of not being fleshed out. That said, there’s enough conflict in our main character’’s actions and thoughts – the story is told from Cunningham’s viewpoint – for Colapinto to sink his teeth into, and it makes for a compelling read overall.

The envious and ambitious traits of the lead character certainly struck a chord with me in my latter-day blogger guise. One thing that surprised me as I reviewed this retrospectively was how I interpreted the protagonist’s actions when I was younger – Cal Cunningham is no longer some enfant terrible anti-hero as I once saw him, in fact now he just strikes me as a pretentious jerk. Whether this is a concious choice by Colapinto or not, I’m not sure, but the fact that the book works despite my dislike of its hero is testament to the author’s plotting and ability to ratchet the tension from zero to panic in a stroke. Hollywood agreed to an extent – a film adaptation has been languishing in development limbo since publication despite a script from the reliable Patrick Marber.

About the Author remains to this date John Colapinto’s sole fictional novel, and that in itself is a shame. A substantial cut above your beach holiday thriller fare, it’s well worth seeking out and heartily recommended. However, heroically reading a book in a one day and then blogging about it I’ll leave to the professionals.

Colin Bell writes over at It’s Bloggerin Time – go pay him a visit.

First of all, flick that Doubting Thomas switch. Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse, by current X-Men writer Victor Gischler, is an insane train ride full of Go-Go Girls, home surgery transexuals, cannibalistic hicks and … train rides. The situations are so incredibly unbelieveable that it walks the fine line between absurdity and genius.

Thankfully Mr Gischler manages to dance on both sides of that line, making for a fantastic character driven story which is silly, ridiculous, sexy, moving and horrifying all at once. The post-apocalyptic world that Gischler has created may not be believeable but it certainly is plausible. The world is in chaos. Fuel and food are in very short supply. Governments have fallen. All that remains are the most important of things, booze and nudey girls. Nowadays, boobies make the world go round.

Insurance salesman Mortimer Tate runs away from his wife so that she can’t serve divorce papers on him. Fearing the end of the world if his marriage were to dissolve he flees to a mountain cabin, just in time for the world to end. Governments have crumbled and society has all but destroyed itself. After spending nine years by himself, living of canned food and a coffee a day, he leaves the cabin only to run head long into trouble. It’s at this point that we are introduced to Buffalo Bill. Bill is the rootinest, tootinest gunslinger that Mortimer has ever met. Bill has taken on the appearance and personality of THE Buffalo Bill. Bill and Mortimer wade through an endless sea of psychopaths and backstabbers all in an effort to reach his ex-wife, to ensure her safety and face the music.

Gischler’s wry and sardonic wit make it incredibly enjoyable to watch our players battling flesh eaters and rapists. Such dark material could easily have set the tone for the entire story, however, Gischler has managed to create some very believeable characters. Rumour has it that a feature film is in the works which is no great surprise. This novel reads like a gritty, high budget action film full of action and adventure, freaks and geeks, cannibals and sexy gals. The story is filled with some really great dialogue and I can only hope that the film reflects this. This is where the stories heart lies, in those quiet moments away from the madness and mayhem. A moment of peaceful reflection shared between two characters in a world gone mad.

Part homage, part satire of the post-apocalyptic genre, Go-Go Girls… is a wonderfully written piece of modern fiction comparable to the work of Vonnegut and to a lesser extent Douglas Adams. It’s rather tricky to locate here in Australia so perhaps a visit to Amazon would be easier. Regardless of how you get it, this is a fantastic read for those who don’t mind having a laugh at the sick and twisted. If you’re easily offended… read it anyway.

Ryan is the award-winning author of such instructional videos as “How to Repulse Women and Attract Gay Men” and “An Idiots Guide to Urinal Etiquette Volume 2”. He loves children but has never managed to eat a whole one.

GeekOfOz.com is Ryan’s illegitimate and neglected baby. A blog full of comic book, anime and manga news, reviews and interviews. Rumour has it that visiting GeekOfOz once a week makes you more attractive to the opposite sex… or the same sex… whatever floats your boat.

A Spot of Bother is Mark Haddon’s unforgettable follow-up to the internationally beloved bestseller The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Here the madness (literally) of family life proves rich comic fodder for Haddon’s cracling prose and bittersweet insights into misdirected love.

Unnoticed in the uproar caused by his daughter’s controversial nuptials, sixyt-one-year-old George Hall discovers a sinister lesion on his hip, and quietly begins to lose his mind. The way these damaged people fall apart–and come together–as a family is the true subject of Haddon’s distrubring yet amusing portrait of a dignified man trying to go insane politely.

Are you familiar with the term “you can’t choose your family?” I am. And I am reminded of it every time I’m forced to attend dinners, parties, funerals–and the absolute worst: weddings.

(Just a reminder, happily married aunts and uncles, single people don’t like being reminded that they’re single. And for the record, having “you’ll find someone” said to you just makes the situation all the more sad.)

This, I think, is one of the reasons why I related so much to Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother, where everything starts falling apart for the Hall family when daughter Katie announces she’s marrying again–to a man no one thinks is right for her.

When I bought the book, and before I started reading it, I thought the whole thing would be told from the perspective of George, the person who is “trying to go insane politely”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the point-of-view revolves around the four members of the Hall Family.

I’m not always a fan of multiple perspectives when it comes to books. I like having an anchor when reading, not minding if I don’t know what’s happening somewhere else because it makes me feel all the more involved in the fictional (or non-fictional) world I’m reading. But with A Spot of Bother, I thought the fact that the point-of-view went around the main characters made them feel more complete, more real–more complex.

Characters lie. When you read a book with a perspective, your main character is always described with rose-tinted glasses. Sure, they can be flawed–who likes perfect protagonists anyway? But they’re always doing things that are explainable. But that’s not the case in A Spot of Bother.

When we’re reading with George, we see him as a man who just wants to be a better father than his dad; someone who likes the quiet, and for life to be as uneventful as possible. But when we switch to Jean, the wife, we see him as someone who doesn’t appreciate having a wife. From Katie’s point-of-view, he’s someone who never cared–because he’s always so reserved. And for son Jamie, George is someone who can never understand what it is to be gay–and to be happy about being gay.

Having met George through these points-of-view, he is suddenly more than just someone who wants to be a better dad. We see the life choices he made, the mistakes he will commit–we really get to know George. And while we root for him not “to go insane politely”, we’re also wishing that he’d make an effort to save his family.

Reading A Spot of Bother, I find that I like the book a lot for its character studies. Mark Haddon populated the book with almost stereotypes, but gives each character such color that you feel you’re reading about actual people.

And as for the story… Well, it serves its purpose. It takes these five characters who could’ve been one-dimensional and boring, takes them on a journey, and makes them realize that sometimes doing the polite thing just doesn’t cut it.

A highly enjoyable quick read.

Jason Lim blogs at Blurred Lights.

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