July 01, 2020

Brian Bilston's "Diary of a somebody"

This book can be found here.

This book is filled with poetry. And you know what? I wasn’t too bothered.

Bilston is known for his poetry; starting there and gaining a huge following on social media. This book was his first novel and it is interspersed with his poetry as well. And as I said, I didn’t mind the fact that I was reading poetry as I was reading this book.

So, let’s talk about the poetry first, and bear in mind I am no expert (on anything probably, and yet here I am). There was a lot of humour in the poetry (some I didn’t get), but most I did. I enjoyed the linguistic jokes and the cultural references and I am sure anyone who enjoys his social media presence (check out his website here) that you would not be disappointed.

Since that’s all I know about poetry, let’s get down to the novel. The book is about a life; a “somebody” if you will. The character, Brian (possibly written because it reflects his own life? Hard for me to say, but it is interesting they share the same name), is a regular human. Maybe even less than regular as there is a typical dejection that follows him (or is created by him). The character; therefore, may be unlikeable to a lot of readers because of this naturalness of the character. Brian is unable to enjoy life, unable to see the good side, and often blames anything else but himself for his situation. What I found with the character however; is this didn’t bring me closer to Brian, it distanced me. However, there is a lot of humour and development of the story (not necessarily the character); that kind of ties it together. There’s almost a “Gumpness” to the character – but in a less positive way.

The remaining characters in the novel also do not seem to develop much, and as the story is told in the first person, you cannot fully understand what happens behind the minds of any of the other characters. 

In terms of story; it is rather slow. It basically follows the year in the life of Brian. There is not a lot of conflict or heart-racing moments; just like real life. The story itself is crowned by the poetry (this being its centrepiece and the story flowing around it). It may take some time to get into the story (for example the days about garbage); but every day is not full and exciting, and so it at least reflects life the way it should be. Or is.

I do think the novel is fun. It’s a short, quick read; even when there is no real pace. I will say that the poetry was great. Brian was interesting because he was so average, and it is nice to have a break from Adonises and Herculeses (if these can be the plurals?). If you don’t want an almost anti-heroic protagonist who is too human, don’t read the novel. But, you should definitely read it for the wordplay and poetry. If you must, skip the story … though I suggest you give it a shot anyway.

Links for you:

Title read-a-likes in the library:

Andrew Sean Greer

Author read-a-likes in the library:

Tom Hanks

This author was chosen for their use of dialogue and tone.

June 26, 2020

How to ... Trove!

What is Trove, I hear you ask?

Trove is an online resource that was created by the National Library of Australia. It collects information on Australian resources and allows people to have access to read and view these items, or shows you which libraries have them for you to view in person.

These collections come from all across Australia to represent communities, cultures and research. For example; you can look for items about and created by First Australians or you can look for newspapers from the 1800s. There are even digital versions of maps, images, journals and sheet music that can be viewed and explored by you!

If you were feeling incredibly interested in these newspapers also, for example, you could also spend time trying to transcribe what was written down for future generations to read.

Not only does it sound fun; Trove has also relaunched itself today!

So ... tips?

  • For starters, if you want to get the most out of your site visit, you could use their "How to use Trove" video.

  • No matter whether you choose to "Explore", "Categories", Community", "Research" or "First Australians" when looking for information, you can narrow your search by clicking on "all categories" beside the search bar to choose book and libraries; newspapers and gazettes; or websites, to name a few.

  • If you are on the homepage and scroll to the bottom, there is a pink highlighted bar that shows more you can do on Trove. This includes investigating your family history through state and territory and overseas links to archives and resources. If you had spare time and wanted to take up a new hobby you could edit and read news articles from the past. You could spend time discovering more about Australian culture. Or last, but certainly not least, by clicking on the final option, find new, interesting or quirky information that Trove has uncovered to share.

There is a lot to discover on Trove that relates to Australian and First Australian history and culture. Take your time exploring this site and stay in the know about events and news they have coming up in the future. 

Whatever the reason for looking at Trove ... you won't be disappointed with the opportunities and information available to you. So go ahead, visit today!

June 24, 2020

How to ... Hobbies! Wait, hobbies?

Interested in starting a new hobby? Want to increase your skills of a current one? Just want to grab that pattern or find out just "how to" ... do whatever it is you want to do?

Introducing Hobbies and Craft Reference Centre. This is an online resource that offers information, how-tos, patterns, videos and articles on a range of topics that people know a lot about, know nothing about or would like to know more about for educating and entertaining themselves.

Sounds like a lot of fun!

To access this resource, it can be found down near the bottom of our eResearch page on our website.

Clicking on the link to Hobbies Centre will open up a log in page. Add your library card number on the back of your card (don't forget the C and D) and you are in.

This front page then separates hobbies and crafts into different subjects to help you break down your search: Arts and crafts; Collecting; Home and garden; Indoor recreation; Kids' craft; Model building; Needlecraft and textiles; Outdoor recreation; Performing arts; Science and technology; and Scrapbooking and papercrafts.

By clicking the topic of your choice, it will take you to a page where it is broken down into smaller subjects. 

So give it a try. And, of course, if you need help in any way, don't forget to contact a library staff member who will be happy to help you.

What hobby can you start today that could impact you or others tomorrow?

June 17, 2020

Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's "Good omens"

This book can be found here.

If you haven’t seen the show on Amazon Prime by now, you might have already read this one. It’s a classic (so the people say). Even the introduction from the authors mentions the dog-eared copies that fell in the bath so often from all the re-readings people do. So, this review could be irreverent, given the hype and popularity of this book. Though there might be a single individual out there not yet experienced either with the writings of Pratchett and/or Gaiman … maybe.

This book has multiple characters and their perspectives: so, there is no one main character, though you could argue both Aziraphale and Crowley could be those (and given the focus of them on the title for the television series … Michael Sheen and David Tennant … of course!). These two characters (one a demon, one an angel) have been on Earth so long that they enjoy it too much to give up being there, even for the Apocalypse. And these two characters are a lot of fun. Particularly Aziraphale (to a librarian anyway):

“Aziraphale collected books. If he were totally honest with himself, he would have to have admitted that his bookshop was simply somewhere to store them. He was not unusual in this. In order to maintain his cover as a typical second-hand book seller, he used every means short of actual physical violence to prevent customers from making a purchase. Unpleasant damp smells, glowering looks, erratic opening hours - he was incredibly good at it.”

I really don’t want to delve too much into the quirkiness of every character, because it is so much fun to read that I want you to discover it all for yourself (for the first time or again). Though the two characters I have mentioned predominantly are the most three-dimensional of the lot, so these may be the ones you will connect with the most.

The setting is urban London, but not as modern as say yesterday is, so younger audiences may not understand or get every reference. But there is enough notable pop culture to either smile or laugh out loud at. Do be aware that the book’s beginning is fast-paced, but really slows down near the end. Whilst it is important for this to happen for the progress of the story, this may bother some readers as it feels less like a proper and complete ending.

I should mention the writing style also. This is two authors coming together in their early days of writing to create something fun with each other, and not expecting it to become as large as it did. They both have slightly different styles that they have tried to entwine into one book. I could tell parts that were more Gaiman and Pratchett, having read other works of theirs; but if you haven’t read some of these, I don’t expect you to notice. Some may suggest that you cannot notice the difference, in fact the authors in an interview at the back of the novel suggested that they even thought some lines were written by the other it became such a complete tale on its own. I can see parts where this occurs, which continues the fluidity of the writing.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I can see why fans reread it so many times. There are a lot of jewels as you read, and obviously you reread to find them all over again or new ones you missed the last time. Whilst you may not consider it as good as later individual works by the same authors, if you like comedic discussion on social and religious aspects: “It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism”  (think 'HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy' if you would like a similar book), then this book should be on your list.

Links for you:

Pratchett in the library:

Anything from the Discworld series

Gaiman in the library:

As a note, Gaiman started in graphic novels, which is why I have put this last one up.

Gaiman in cloudLibrary:

Title read-a-likes in the library:

Thomas Pynchon

Whilst this is darker, the themes resonate between the two works.

June 10, 2020

Layla AlAmmar’s “The pact we made”

This book can be found here.

This debut novel follows the character Dahlia as a woman living in Kuwait that straddles both modernity and traditional cultural values in her life. This is a very strong theme within the novel as Dahlia is almost thirty; which is the cut-off point for being a worthwhile wife and bride for a man to choose.

This can be seen within the title, which refers to the fact that when young, Dahlia and her two friends all made a pact to be married by twenty-seven. This itself; though Dahlia wanted out of the pact, shows the pressures of women and their roles even in modern Kuwait that Dahlia is expected to live up to.

So, this novel is all about self-discovery, self-identity and #metoo; but also the trials of just existing within society. A lot of the characters tend to struggle with life and its choices (most humans could); whether from Kuwait or not. The added layer of this novel? AlAmmar’s Kuwaiti traditional roles and ways of thinking adds dimension and struggle that I as a Westerner may not have ever encountered if in similar situations. This made parts of the novel much more difficult for me to read as I struggled with such traditional views; which Dahlia seemed to have to manoeuvre through as well.

Saying that; the plot is slow-going. This is about Dahlia’s progression through this almost “final” year of her life (or the beginning of her new one if it works out … not telling you though). It means that even for the secondary characters there is a sense of claustrophobia to their lives that can’t be escaped (possibly) and this can also slow the book down. 

Character is the driving force of the novel. It is mostly all about Dahlia and her processes and this, again, becomes rather claustrophobic. This is because it is first-person and so her voice and thoughts become sometimes a little overpowering outside of the story. Whilst this lends itself to strengthen a character trying to cope with trauma, some of it may push readers to the side.

In truth, this could be another layer to the novel: everyone is selfish and focussed ultimately on their own thoughts, goals and issues and trying to get out of, or through, them (generally). This would play well for a young adult audience, even with Dahlia almost pushing thirty (given the traditional values of the family in this novel, she is treated like a child and so definitely still fits). However, it might be a tough read, not in terms of language (though Arabic is used at times – well too, I might add), but because of Dahlia’s consuming thoughts. However, overall, the insight into the culture and an individual trying to balance and find their place in it was very well done.

Links for you:

Okay, so I am starting with an interview by AlAmmar with this blog “Reading women”. Probably a little controversial connecting between blogs, but this gives insight into AlAmmar’s writing processes.

Read-a-likes in the library:

Jing-Jing Lee

Read-a-likes in cloudLibrary:

Mohsin Hamid