School Finds: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

imagePublished by Penguin Books, 1966 ISBN 978-0-141-18257-5

In 2011 I had very few choices.  When you allocate text to a VCE class there are lots of factors impacting that decision.  Unfortunately the first is not ‘Do I like, or even know, any of the books that are listed?’ The first decision is usually ‘What books are new to the list?’  See, books are only on the list for four years so you want to get bang for your buck.  Preparing a text for VCE Literature is a lot of work and I want a full four years to milk all the reading, preparation and, hopefully, knowledge and insight gained.

But in 2011 I had very few choices.  I was not able to choose a play or a novel.  I already had one of each and having another of either text type limits the students’ choices for the exam.  I could put on some poetry but it tended to be very challenging to do well and, to be honest, I was only just wrapping my head around how to teach it in an analytic way. There were some great options but they were all in List A (the non-examinable list) and I had to replace a List B (examinable texts).  I had a collection of short stories by Peter Carey, a non-fiction text about bushfires and a novel that they seemed to have placed accidently in the ‘Other Literature’ category.  It was by Truman Capote. Continue reading

School Finds: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

While we are at school we are made to study texts that we did not choose.  As both student and teacher alike I have encountered novels, plays and poetry that I have despised to the point of once burying a novel in my back garden.  Happily, I have more often found a gem that sits proudly in a sacred place forevermore on my shelf rather than being relegated to the compost.

In 1996 I was shackled to a desk and force-fed a tale of the distant and, to me, irrelevant 1920s.  A land of flappers, prohibition and openly racist millionaires.  The characters of old New York had no redeeming features to me and to be honest I did not even finish reading it.  I, rather ironically, felt the novel was a car crash of storytelling and couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to follow the exploits of someone that called everyone ‘old sport’ far too often. Continue reading

Come, Ye Children, Come Along; With Your Music, Dance and Song

THE SECRET WORLD OF POLLY FLINTThe Secret World of Polly Flint

Helen Cresswell

Published 1st January 1982

Once upon a time in the 80s, in a small public primary school in the north-western suburbs of Melbourne, I was chatting with my favourite teacher about a TV show I was watching after school—The Secret World of Polly Flint*. She went on to blow my tiny little mind when she told me that the show was based on a book, one of her daughter’s favourites, and would I like to borrow it. Hell yes I wanted to borrow it.

Continue reading

Strange Wrecks Turning Silently In The Velvet Dark

spacewreckSPACEWRECK: GHOSTSHIPS AND DERELICTS OF SPACE

Stewart Cowley (ISBN 0 600 32990 9)

One of the great joys of being my age is that the books I remember with fond nostalgia from childhood libraries have been appearing in secondhand bookstores for a few years now. These dimly remembered tomes are either library cast-offs or the result of persons older than me culling their shelves I suppose, but I am happy to be the beneficiary either way. I was recently rooting through the shelves of a secondhand bookstore in small town New Zealand to discover my favourite of Stewart Cowley’s Terran Trade Authority books. Yes, I realise I could have bought a copy online long ages ago, but that undermines the joy of unexpected discovery now doesn’t it? Continue reading

Becoming A Writer Reread #4

becoming_a_writerThis is the fourth instalment in my reread of Dorothea Brande’s remarkable 1934 book, Becoming a Writer. You can find part one here. In part one Dorothea Brande described the four key difficulties that prevent a person from writing. In the second chapter, she takes a closer look at what functional, professional writers are (generally speaking) like as a group. In part three, Dorothea takes a closer look at the advantages of splitting yourself into two people in your writing life. Continue reading

Becoming A Writer Reread #3

becoming_a_writerBECOMING A WRITER

Dorothea Brande

This is the third instalment in my reread of Dorothea Brande’s remarkable 1934 book, Becoming a Writer. You can find part one here. In part one Dorothea Brande described the four key difficulties that prevent a person from writing. In the second chapter, she takes a closer look at what functional, professional writers are (generally speaking) like as a group. In part three, Dorothea takes a closer look at the advantages of splitting yourself into two people in your writing life. Continue reading

Becoming A Writer Reread #2

becoming_a_writerBECOMING A WRITER

Dorothea Brande

This is the second instalment in my reread of Dorothea Brande’s remarkable 1934 book, Becoming a Writer. You can find part one here. In part one Dorothea Brande described the four key difficulties that prevent a person from writing. In the second chapter, she takes a closer look at what functional, professional writers are (generally speaking) like as a group. Continue reading

Not The New Gallipoli

birdsong

BIRDSONG

Sebastian Faulks (Vintage, 1994, ISBN 0099387913)

It might seem a strange choice for a 14-year-old girl, but Sebastian Faulks’ WWI period piece Birdsong was one of my favourite books through high school.  Possibly the first properly ‘adult’ literary novel I ever read, it provoked a deep emotional response and stoked a brief obsession with the distant horrors of the 20th century.  I am also quite certain it rekindled my childhood terror of birds, a fear I share with the novel’s chief character, Stephen Wraysford.  I recently reread the book and was pleased to discover that most of my initial impressions of it remain true: the book is not a light read, but it is a marvellously fluid one.  It is evocative and heartbreaking.  Most importantly, like any good historical novel*, it works to reveal new aspects of a well-studied time period and of the people who endured the First World War.  It does not glorify the war or its soldiers, both official and unofficial.  As we near the hundredth anniversary of the war’s commencement, Birdsong still holds an important message about the nature of the First World War in the historical imagination. Continue reading

Becoming A Writer Reread #1

becoming_a_writer

BECOMING A WRITER

Dorothea Brande

I first read Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer after looking through a set of short writing advice pieces and noticing that at least three well-known authors advised it was essential reading, while no other book even got a mention. I remember one of those authors was Susanna Clarke, though I do not recall the other writer names. It doesn’t matter a great deal who they were – what matters is that they were right. I read Becoming a Writer and I felt immediately as if I were reading about all the secrets of writing that somehow I’d never noticed or heard mentioned. I’ve been intending to reread it for a couple years and this is as good a time as any. Continue reading

Becoming A Writer Reread

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BECOMING A WRITER

Dorothea Brande (1934) ISBN 978-0-87477-164-0

Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer is one of the earliest and one of the best books published on how to approach life as a writer. It is not so much a book on style or craft or writerly technique, but rather a book about finding your way around the problems of writing as a lifestyle. It is one of the few books that is regularly cited by published writers as something that all aspiring writers should go read.

In weekly instalments we will be rereading Becoming a Writer and summarising and discussing one chapter at a time. The first instalment will be along later this week in which we will reread In Introduction and Chapter One: The Four Difficulties.

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      THIS HOUSE IS NOT FOR SALE E.C. Osondu Granta, June 2015, RRP $29.99 E.C. Osondu second story collection, This House is Not For Sale is a collection of short stories surrounding the residents of the Family House.  It is a slim volume that packs a punch, provoking thoughts about the nature of truth … Continue reading