Friday, November 28, 2008

A year of blogging

Around a year ago, I wrote a post about my favourite reads of 2007 and then – holding my breath and peering out one eye – bravely hit the upload button.

It was the first instalment of a blog I’d optimistically titled Great stories, having no idea if anyone other my friends would read it or be interested in what I’d have to say on the subject of books, narrative and storytelling.

I decided to start this blog as a way to talk about books (and, at times, films and television) with anyone who might share a similar – or contrary – view on what worked and what didn’t when it came to telling great stories.

I found I was having discussions with a number of my book-loving friends on similar topics, and thought a blog would be the perfect way to have those discussions at the same time.

But what’s grown from that has been even better than I’d hoped. Who knew the blogsphere was such an interesting and generous place?

I still remember the excitement the first time I found a comment from someone I didn’t personally know (thank you Salty Letters!).

To be honest, I still get a buzz whenever anyone leaves a comment on my blog, even more so if they’re a new contributor (and aren’t you always curious how someone comes across your blog?).
Over the past year there have been some witty, insightful, clever and - yes, Ink-stained Toe-poker - cheeky comments left on my posts. All have been appreciated.

Some posts generate lots of comments, some only a few, and I still haven’t pinned down the differences between the two.

And then there was my brief addiction to meme, when I was first introduced to Booking Through Thursday (BTT).

When I found myself racing home from work to knock up a response to that week’s questions so I could make it in the first dozen comments, I realised I’d moved away from my aim of writing posts that were thoughtful and well considered. The only answer was to go cold turkey… If I was posting daily, or even a couple of times a week, the occasional BTT response would’ve been fine. But when I only post around once a week, those abrupt posts seemed out of place in the context of the rest of the blog.

Still, Booking Through Thursday remains a fantastic source of topics and bloggers, and I will be forever grateful to that meme for helping me find a whole new world of literary bloggers to exchange ideas with – on their blogs and mine.

Great stories has given me a chance to express some of the thoughts, ideas and questions bouncing around in my head, and I'm so so appreciative of those people who return to the site on a regular basis to join discussions.

I’ve met some wonderfully intelligent and thoughtful bloggers in cyberland, and blogging has added a new dimension to friendships with people who also inhabit my life away from the computer.

So, for fear of this sounding like some sort of Oscar speech, I’d just like to thank all of you who post regularly, and those who just visit.

I’ve got quite a few extra projects going on my life at the moment (in addition to my full time job), but I love writing this blog and reading other people's blogs, so I’m going to attempt to keep this going.

My posts my not be exactly weekly, but they will be regular.

And, hopefully, they’ll be worth waiting for!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A skewed view of the world

Last week I mentioned there was a particularly great line in High Fidelity I wanted to explore.

Bec, in her comment on that post, was on the same wave length, beating me to my follow-up post! (Just trying to squeeze two blogs out of one book :) )

The line involves Rob’s musings about how people whose lives are closely bound by music (or other forms of emotive storytelling) can end up with a skewed view of the world, particularly when it comes to relationships:

Maybe we all live life at too high a pitch, those of us who absorb emotional things all day, and as a consequence we can never feel merely content: we have to be unhappy, or ecstatically, head-over-heels happy, and those states are difficult to achieve within a stable, solid relationship.

Is that true?

Do great stories skew the way you see the world and live your life?

Whether it’s because you’ve read too many romances and no partner can ever measure up, or one too many crime novels, and you live in a constant state of fear, or one too many downbeat literary novels, and you feel there’s no hope to ever find happiness because the world is so flawed?

I know the books I read can colour my mood for hours, even days, afterwards (rarely more than that, unless I’ve deeply connected with the story), but I think my reading material is so eclectic that I’m generally not overwhelmed by one particular emotional theme.

I have a tendency to over-analyse most things, and I tend to experience emotions in their extremes, but I don’t think that’s because of my reading material, but more something in my own personality (or was it created from absorbing so much emotional material vicariously, in addition to my own emotional reality?)

OK, I’m going to stop now, before I hurt myself with over-analysis…

Anyone else given much thought to this topic?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Relating to High Fidelity

Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity is a much-loved classic, not least because it was the Brit lad lit equivalent to Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Diary chick lit in the '90s.

It’s a great mix of wry humor, unpretentious intellect and blokey sentiment (a Hornby trademark that’s since inspired countless writers).

It’s also a call to nostalgia for anyone who’s ever turned to a favourite song/album to deal with a particular occasion or emotion.

High Fidelity, as well as offering an insight into one particular male mind, asks a few of life’s big questions:

- Is it possible to share your life with someone whose record collection is incompatible with your own?

- Can people have terrible taste and still be worth knowing?

- Do songs about broken hearts and misery and loneliness mess up your life if consumed in excess?

For Rob Fleming, a 35-year-old pop addict and owner of a failing record shop, these are the sort of questions that need an answer.

His girlfriend has just left him, prompting the dilemma of whether he can go on living in a poky flat surrounded by vinyl and CDs or should he get a real home, a real family and a real job? Perhaps most difficult of all, will he ever be able to stop thinking about life in terms of the All Time Top Five bands, books, films, songs. Even now that he's been dumped again, his first reaction is to create an All Time Top Five Break-ups list.

I had a couple of reactions to this book, but perhaps the strongest was that it took me back to my late teens, when my entire life revolved around music ... When the choice of cassette in my HK Premier was more important than my choice of outfit.

Regular poster, Bec C, one of my oldest, dearest and coolest friends, will remember this era vividly.

How many hours did we spend discussing whether ZZ Top was better in the '70s (Tres Hombres era) or the '80s (Eliminator era)? Or working out the lyrics to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid? Or compiling the ultimate '70s and '80s heavy metal cassette, on which Rainbow, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin could co-exist with Bon Jovi, Def Leppard and Whitesnake?

Our debates about top five lists were along the lines of best rock drummers of all time, coolest Angus Young guitar solos, best Aussie pub bands... We definitely made judgements about people based on their music tastes (and, as is apparent from last week’s blogs, I still do this to a degree with people’s reading tastes. Bec, of The Small Stuff, was also bang on a few weeks ago when she suggested I would “get” the appeal of the lists in Hornby's book).

For High Fidelity’s Rob, the ability to compile those lists and solve musical dilemmas of his own devising is central to his identity.

It’s one of his excuses for not growing up, as the “adults” in his life keep urging him to do (and by adults, I clearly don’t mean his offsiders in the record shop).

He equates growing up with having to give it all up – believing that maturity leaves no time to focus all one's energy on a single passion.

My experience with blogging this past year has revealed there are countless people who live and breathe stories (for Rob it's stories in songs – for us literary bloggers, it’s stories in books).

Book-loving bloggers are more adept than most at creating a list at the drop of a hat because the subject matter is always at the front of their minds.

But are they as obsessed as Rob is about music? Has their depth of trivial knowledge and passion shaped their lives at the expense of other things?

Are they still functional adults?

Well, are you?

(I’d like to think I am, but others may disagree…)

There’s a particularly great line in High Fidelity I also want to explore, but I’ll leave that till next time.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Judging people by book covers - do you do it?

When packing for a recent trip to Melbourne, I found myself spending as much time choosing my reading material for the flight as I did on the rest of the packing.

I could tell you it was all about finding the right book in my to-read pile best suited to a plane trip, but that’s not telling the whole story. Because, in truth, I was also making my choice based on what it would to say about me as a reader.

This is based on the irrational – and somewhat self-indulgent – assumption that complete strangers are as interested in my reading choices as I am in theirs.

I realised, on reflection, that I was putting more thought into the choice than I might if I was just going to carrying the book into the next room. So my selection wasn't just about what I felt like reading (and what would be a good distraction on a two-and-a-half hour flight), but what judgements other people might make on seeing the book in my hands.

I probably should clarify (as I suspect this may be one of those “honest reflection” posts I come to regret!) … I don’t spend every waking moment worrying about what other people think – I’ve happily outgrown that level of self-consciousness – but there’s definitely still a small, quiet voice in the background that speaks up when I pick a book off the shelf.

Most people make almost sub-conscious judgements on people based on clothes or appearance (remember Josh Weinstein’s documentary?). Some of us also do it with reading material (for others, it’s the DVD a person is holding in the shop, or the CD playing in their car).

It’s a single choice in a moment of time, which shouldn’t define us – but often does.

Regular readers of this blog will – I hope – know that I’m not a literary snob. I have wide and varied tastes in fiction. But, I must confess, if someone is going to make a snap judgement about my reading habits, I’d rather it be while I’m clutching a book closer to the well-written end of the literary scale, rather than something I’m reading out of curiosity or experimentation.

Is that wrong?

I wouldn’t read a book just for the sake of being seen with it, but I found it interesting how much of my view of myself these days is linked to my literary life – and how I want that literary life to be perceived by others.

In case you’re wondering, I resisted the urge to attempt to finish Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (which has set half-read on my bedside table for about a year now), and chose Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity – the repackaged Penguin edition (post to come on my thoughts) for the flight down.
For the trip back, it was Mark Abernethy’s Second Strike (sequel to The Golden Serpent, which I’m still reading due to its size and my available reading time.) Both kept me entertained and kept my self consciousness to a minimum, even though the latter has a very blokey cover...

So, the questions then, for those who wish to join me in this little exercise:
- Do you judge people by the books they read?
- Are you self conscious about what you read in public?