Thursday, March 31, 2011
In other reading news the new Jasper Fforde One of Our Thursdays is Missing I found dissappointing. WHY? WHY! Why do fabulous ideas and series become tired? Answer me that. I found myself not really caring how zany it was. Bad sign.
Also I finally read Freedom by Jonothan Franzen and if you have any interest in contemporary American culture you must read it. It is beautifully written and whilst none of the characters we particularly nice to each other it was an absolute pleasure.
Oh, and John Mortimer's The Sound of Trumpets scored for $2 was a fun and entertaining read with a last line that sat sadly and flat.
By Alana ValentinePresented by BOOBook Union House Theatre Thursday 24/3/2011 http://studentbodymelbourne.wordpress.com/ (Great website!)
Worthy is a word which has come to have unpleasant connotations and in relation to art/theatre/books it especially can sound cloying and judgmental. However it is without hesitation that I proclaim that the ideas, production and intent behind BOObook Theatre’s Student Body as worthy. Student Body was a play that grapples with what it means to be an International Student in Melbourne. Playwright Alana Valentine drew on the real-life experiences of students living in a foreign country and combined this around the Chinese dragon mythology.
Directed and choreographed by Dione Joseph this work is heartbreakingly important, not only for international students but for anyone who goes to Uni with these students, lives with, works with or teaches them with them on any level. Her use of dance really worked alongside the text to bring to life a rich performance.
It was clear from the production, the depth of commitment of the entire crew in this show; this was demonstrated for example with Tara Patwardhan subtle costume design. Little patches of scales appeared the various costumes of Kelly Ryan as the show progressed, aligning her visually with dragons. Also her bra costume was hilarious and a sharp contrast to the magical realism of the other designs. The set – designed by Felix Ho – was impressive, non-naturalistic and adaptable and worked well with the AV. The AV was also a useful and well used element in the set, far to often it distracts from the actors, but on this occasion it worked really well. Composer Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh provided a wonderful soundtrack for the work and Jonothan the cellist stuck a great balance between complementing the action and captivating the audience with his own performance. Altogether this was a show with great production values.
Student Body was a very well cast play and every actor had a depth to their performance that worked in nicely with the movement and mask work. The four characters are Kai Chai (Keith Brockett), Fon (Sheena Rayes), Aditya (Ash Kakkar), Song Ye (Rachel Fong), Dragon/Various (Kelly Ryan). Each of these characters was given a moment in the work to reveal their story and their difficulties of surviving in an unwelcome country. Song Ye’s bewilderment and anger at having a beautiful day ruined by racial abuse was a simple and yet undeniably powerful example of these difficulties.
In regards to the writing and structure, pacing was a little bit of an issue for me in this play; it seemed that the entire work shifted up three gears in the second act. Perhaps a condescended first half might have still established characters and tone without feeling such a ‘set up’ for what was to come. The love story of this play was nominally between Fon and Kai Chai but the real dramatic relationship in the group of friends was realised between Fon and Song Ye as they confronted each other about adapting into the mainstream culture or maintaining their traditional values. The climax in the prolonged argument was explosive and a high point of the show. It left me and the people I was sitting with gasping.
Considering the content, this play was written to be performed at a University. However, the play in the Union House Theatre felt rather small in comparison to the seating bank; I feel it would be suited to a more intimate experience in a smaller black-box venue – a longer season perhaps compensating for the reduction of audience capacity. But certainly even in a larger space the performance filled the stage and was most definitely worthy.
Monday, March 28, 2011
Much of that on show came from Moreau's personally established museum in Paris, so many works were in these delightful hinged frames that would have been collated together for patrons/art admirers to flick through. I know that when I eventually get to Paris a visit his museum will be high on my list of priorities.
Curating-wise, it was pretty good, although there wasn't a neat line through the rooms AND there was little or no discussion of the 'feminine' and the gaze of the artist apart from the fact that he liked painting nudes. REALLY! There was a lot of potential for a more interesting interpretation especially as they were often maligned classical figures. This annoyance aside, it just goes to show that even outside the Winter Masterpiece series we get hidden gems of touring exhibitions.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Recently I had an epiphany! In the debate over pricing and availability in the Australian Book Industry there has been much said over the expense of books in this country. Until recently I have always accepted that this may be a little true but as our paper is better quality in the US and our industry is smaller there is explanations for this that make sense. We need a viable industry and books are priced accordingly. But recently I was talking to my boss, recently back from the Leading Edge conference for Independent Booksellers and they mentioned a highlight was Henry Rosenbloom – head of Scribe and an important voice for Independent Retailers. He made the point that the claim that books are expensive in Australia should be countered by the simple question:
COMPARED TO WHAT?
And there is the epiphany. Right there! See, what he was saying and what I now am realising is that books aren’t that expensive. Bear with me here.
You pay $30 for a CD; for an adult to go to the movies it is at least $15 and if you want a 3D experience you can ad on top of that – and as for popcorn? A drink? Then a $5 choc-top; a half decent pub meal is at least $20-$30; people are guilty of spending much, much more on ‘a good night out’; a mediocre bottle of wine is up to $30; some DVDS hit $40.
Shall I go on?
Do people often complain about the price of crockery; or furniture? No. These prices are justified for the amount of use one gets out of them. The same people who spend $3000 on a designer handbag or even $45 on a nice canvas tote are often the same ones who are whinging about book prices. I mean, really!
A standard large format Trade Paperback averages at $33. When these drop down to smaller format they range between $21.95 and $26.95 and then when they get reprinted they go down in price again. Many classics are available for under $15, the Popular Penguins for under $10. Paperback children’s fiction and teen fiction rarely goes over $20. Hardbacks are a different price range, but again, prices come down with format.
Now, I’m a fast reader. It might take me four hours to polish off Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with no gaps or a couple of busy days to finish Never Let Me Go on the train. (Don’t talk to me about The Female Eunuch it is still being unread). Most people take much longer to read a book and get an extended enjoyment out of it. There is a consistent, lasting reliable form of entertainment in a book.
You might argue this is value for money. A film lasts a couple of hours; most CDs are under an hour; a meal often less. And you know? Best of all, you can read it again. It is your right to do that, or read a favourite passage. A book will sit on your shelf and be your friend whenever you might need it. Or alternatively buy second hand (score!) or visit your library. As long as you are reading, you are growing.
“A terrible taboo” is how playwright Raimondo Cortese describes the subject matter of the play. In fact it is a terribly sad, but quite real story. That a huge dramatic importance has been placed on the significance of then “taboo” does not really do justice to the story. Also the “betrayal” is not any betrayal in the normal sense of understanding of the world. These women share a common secret but to judge either of them is superficial and clearly does not reflect the depth of understanding and connection that they have.
The supposedly “charged silences” of this play were not as charged as they were intended to be. They sat uncomfortably not between the characters and in the space. Incidentally the setting, the “room” in a huge space was also unhelpful in this respect. The action was displaced onto this bare and minimal set with benches rather than couches and it removed it from the domestic reality of the women. That is not to say that Marg Horwell’s design was not aesthetically pleasing, it was, it just did not seem to fit with the rest of the play. This was true in respect to most of the elements of the work.
It might be a wee bit old-fashioned, but I feel that within itself that a piece of theatre should be connected. This performance much like its characters was not at all. The (admittedly very beautiful) live music played on the harpsichord by Anastasia Russell-Head seemed completely detached from the action, the story and the people. It was almost entirely extraneous and this was a real shame, for if it had been integrated a little into the action, or referred to there would have been a layered meaning to the piece. Perhaps the strange neighbour plays the music; perhaps Marco used to play the harpsichord; perhaps Charlie is connected; perhaps their mother. I don’t know but it felt completely random.
Put simply The Dream Life of Butterflies would probably have made an excellent, very intensely dramatic short story or short play. But over one-and-a-half-hours it lagged and it was unsustainable in tension, story and character. The actors worked hard in a production that did little to assist their performances. Condensed in scale of both setting and length it would have been a much stronger work that may have been more successful in allowing them to present their “core problem” to a more receptive audience.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Oscar Wilde is one of my absolute favourite writers, people and I adore his plays. And his words, sigh, what words!! Although to be fair, living with such a wit would be a challenge even if he wasn't interested in you as a woman.
There is a play in there somewhere, surely?!
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
So within this context on International Women's Day she came to Melbourne University for a talk and I bought her signed CD Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under. It is great! There is cute-ness; there is hilarity and then there is poignancy. And a smidgin cannibalism. But there you go! We can't all be vegetarians.
Below is a song she performed for us, that isn't on the CD but is great. She does these ninja gigs all over the world when she is touring via twitter. Anyway, enjoy and totally check some of her other things out. Not just because she is married to Neil Gaiman but because she is fabulous in her own right too!
Monday, March 14, 2011
In response to these assertions the Australian Booksellers Association has been slow to defend the industry. In the media there has been a consistent campaign to discredit the trade and in the face of this so-called popular discourse there has been especially little or no public support for Independent booksellers. Australia has a unique industry where unlike anywhere else in the world over 20% of the shops are Independent Retailers.
Debate is a good thing, no one is disputing that. But for an accurate and informed discussion to be taking place there needs to be two sides. It is time for the Australian Booksellers Association to take a strong stance on this issue. Consumers might have a right to source books from wherever they desire but this right should be informed. The current one-way traffic is misleading for online experiences and e-readers are not as fabulous or choice-educing as we are being led to believe. It unsurprisingly can be much more rewarding to head to on down to a local bookshop to have a chat, get a recommendation and fabulous service with a smile.
The REDGroup might be taking the line that their failure is all to do with people sourcing cheaper books online and e-readers but this is clearly spin that distracts from their shops not catering for customer needs. But of course, when your business has millions and millions of dollars owed to creditors, blame the government! Stock in these stores had become so diversified that it diversified into nothing. Do we as customers really want a bookstore that sells kitchen appliances? Or to be frank, do we really want the Recommended Retail Priced raised on most stock to subsidise unrealistic specials? In times when the retail market gets tough it is most often the poorly run businesses that fall. A large part of working in the book industry is about reading and sharing your reading with others. It is not about grabbing market-share and launching failed attempts at monopolies.
Buying online is not necessarily cheaper, it fluctuates. There is not the opportunity to see the book you are buying and if you need to return it for any reason, good luck with that. It is a complete fallacy that people have always an improved shopping experience online. Apart from anything else, Borders has an extensive online presence and their own e-book business. Maintaining that it was increased online sales that busted their business is untenable. It may be a contributing factor to a changing industry but is not the root cause of their voluntary administration. Secondly, in regards to industry publishing protections the REDGroup supported the 30 day overseas embargo even under their proposal to ease import restrictions. The Rudd Government was right to reject the Productivity Commission recommendations to allow parallel imports of books. It would not have reduced prices for consumers and it would not have prevented the business failings of Angus and Robertson and Borders.
E-readers are the other ‘life-changing’ and exciting technology that is certainly challenging our book industry. Or becoming an integral part of our book industry, depending on whose spin you are buying into. Clearly they do have a role, but the extent and popularity of e-readers is generally overplayed. There are many situations where they are completely impractical and the quality of the print, backlighting and ink has yet to match the quality of the printed text.
There is no replacement for the tactile feeling of turning a page, of breathing in that simultaneously fresh and musty smell of a new book. As you flick through, inhale and savour those pages that hold the story. Remember that iconic image ingrained into our collective consciousness of a lady on the beach, with a big floppy sunhat, lying back on a towel with a paperback bent open. This might sound a trifle nostalgic, but it is also practical. Sand does not agree with technology. Neither does water. Or for that matter young children. The e-book you bought might have been cheaper but the e-reader you have to replace is a whole lot more expensive.
Where is the Australian Bookseller’s Association voice here? It is time that our industry body advocated for the book industry in all its forms. The amount of discussion with customers in the shop about Angus and Robertson and Borders going into administration has been enormous. Contrary to the persistent mutterings in the media about prices, internet and e-readers the majority of consumers are genuinely concerned about the book industry. You do not get a many opportunities for a face to face gossip on the internet. Nor will you also receive cheerful advice on what to buy for an eight-year-old or your mother-in-law, before having your chosen gift wrapped in pretty paper.
We need to move beyond the spin of REDGroup and their so-called justifications for their collapse in order to preserve the integrity of the remaining businesses in the book trade. A bit of love and a positive attitude for books would go a long way to reminding people of how lucky we are in Australia to have many alternatives to Angus and Robertson and Borders. Perhaps what our industry needs is more creative solutions and responses to the changing market. The recent release of the Popular Penguins range is a casing point of a publisher responding to a need and then capitalising on a gap in the market. The incredible reception of these retro-style paperbacks has excited much interest overseas with the idea gaining traction with Penguin in the UK as well as the US. Popular Penguins have fast become amongst the biggest sellers for the United Group. Let us creatively respond to the shifting dynamics in the book trade rather than blaming the internet, technology and the government.
Personally I think that whatever happens we will not stop reading, people instead will read in different ways all at the same time. People love books and there is something inherently human about escaping into the pages into another world. Some consumers may choose access this from a screen; others might ship it in from overseas, but a substantial number of them still really love the opportunity to pop back into where they bought the book and share how much they loved it. And you know what? We love that interaction too. It informs our hand-selling; our buying; our knowledge of books and ultimately our service.
Currently our representatives are underestimating the wonder and uniqueness of what lies within our Australian book trade. Fortunately like books you cannot judge an industry by its cover.
I wrote this for my boss at work, you might end up seeing it somewhere else too. Who knows? Also I feel I should mention that knowing people who work in Angus and Roberson and Borders makes this harder. Companies have to take responsibility for what their staff have to endure.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Another side issue is complicated things are almost impossible to summarise. You ask someone what they are writing their PhD on. Go on! Do you have a spare half hour? The good thing though, about having to write a synopsis is that you have to know what you are writing about. An excellent thing to know; a useful way of consolidating ideas and potentially tie-ing everything together in a little pretty bow.
And that dear reader, is the ultimate satisfying reading gift.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
This is Alfie. Alfie is one of my oldest friends. We grew up together, I had The Alfie Great Outdoors book which was a collection of stories and poems and also an alphabet book. I love Shirley Hughes' artwork and stories. They are fabuluous and she is very talented as demonstrated by the picture above. Today at work a lady bought an Alfie book on my recommendation and it made my day.
Head on to this website to meet Alfie for yourself!
Is it a little strange that I nevertheless have the pretention to own a bag proclaiming 'Starving; Hysterical; Naked' ?
Is it also strange that reading about this movie, makes me plan outings to see it and makes me want to read the thing again?
Perhaps I want to love it. Know I should love it. And really do.
Monday, March 7, 2011
Tripple Ripple by Brigid Lowry is by all accounts a book that I should champion. It has three entwined stories. The Writer writing the fairytale; the fairytale itself and the Reader reading the fairytale. To put it bluntly, it is a very neat idea but conceptually it falls a little short. There is always a risk when embracing the meta of clunky and forced interaction between the strands. The book unfortunatly starts like this. Jarring and annoying you don't really get the opportunity to know the characters in any strand. This fortunatly weaves together much better as the book progresses. The writer's life changes and so does the story. It starts to connect all together in a very satisfying way. AND THEN. It goes and falls apart again. Pooh! I think sadly this is the fault of the Reader Character/story. There is way too much happening in her life and for it to tie in properly it should have really connected to the fairytale and the writer more.
I totally get that the entire thing is constructed to be like this and there are continually endearing reminders of this with the incredibly adorable chapter headings. But really. Ultimately finishing this book was frustrating. The would-be-glorious-meta-structure was only partially successful and ultimately I think would have perhaps worked much better with only the writer and the fairytale. These two stories were much more engaging, entwined and entertaining than the token teenage woes that seemed to distract.
Side note: Cover not all that great at a closer look, but interal design really awesome; different fonts worked surprisingly well!