“Fun Home”, by Alison Bechdel

Graphic Memoir, published 2007, available from Amazon.

I tell people I don’t like comics or graphic novels, but really that’s not true. Tintin, Asterix and Pogo were among my best friends growing up, and as an adult I’ve stumbled over several graphic novels and loved them. But for some reason I have continued to bypass that section of the library and book stores.

Fun Home just blew that bit of bullshit clear out my intellectual attic window.

I’m not going to bother to review it. Nanna Prawn says all that needs to be said over at Tipsy Lit. Go on over, have a read, and then … don’t do what I did; do what I’m going to do. Don’t take it out of the library. Just buy a real paper, hardback copy of the book. It’s what you’re going to want to do anyway.

“The Significant Burden of Being a Grownup”, by Andrew Smith

I don’t know Andrew Smith’s work but will definitely be looking out for “Grasshopper Jungle”. Because I LOVE reading YA literature, firstly – not all of it; I dislike the really dark stuff (and it’s out there), and I REALLY dislike the stuff about nasty girls doing mean things to each other. But beyond that crud, you’ll often find the most creatively adventurous out-of-the-box imagining in YA lit.

What particularly encourages me about Smith’s comments here, however, is his statement that YA is a genre, it’s not about the age of the readers. That is so true, yet it had literally never occurred to me! It gives a whole new perspective to my own book, “Raven’s Way”, and for the first time in a long while I feel inclined to dig it out, throw off the restrictive bs I’ve “learned” about “writing for kids”, and get serious about rewriting the story I want to tell, the way I want to tell it.

Nerdy Book Club

In the summer of 2011, an awful lot of terrible things happened to me. It was kind of like the end of the world in many ways (cue apocalypse inspiration). My son, who was only 16, was getting ready to leave home and go away to college, and then one of those predictable and periodic internet/social media firestorms erupted over an opinion piece published by the Wall Street Journal describing the harm inflicted on young people by the dark and negative content in Young Adult literature.

You know the piece, I’m sure. The author happened to name me first, quoting from my novel The Marbury Lens, as though I were some sort of apex predator in the Axis of Child-Damaging Literary Evil.

I take things like that really personally. I know I shouldn’t, but as a parent, and as someone who is very involved with young people, being labeled…

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Raising Steam, by Terry Pratchett

Discworld fantasy, published in 2013, available from Amazon.

I was so saddened, a few years back, to learn that Terry Pratchett had developed Alzheimer’s Syndrome. I assumed that would be the end of the Discworld, of which there was so much more still to explore. It’s great to be able to report that I was wrong! “Raising Steam” is the best fun read I’ve had in a while – absurdly complicated subplots, witty word plays, and fully three-dimensional characters, And yes, as always, there’s playful satire so it carries a wee bit of a message – enough to tweak the reader’s attention without burdening one too heavily. (No apologies here for intellectual laziness. Sometimes one just wants a chuckle.)

This installment from the Discworld takes us first to Sto Lat, where we meet bashfully obsessive young Dick Simnel, his slide rule, and the gleamingly beautiful Iron Girder. Then on to Ankh Morpork, where Lord Vetinari offers Moist von Lipwig a choice: add another hat to those he already wears – responsibility for the new railway, in addition to charge of the Royal Bank, the Mint, and the Post Office – or lose the head you wear your hats on. The story quickly builds up a head of steam and takes the reader on a twisting track that takes in rebel dwarfs, mechanically inspired goblins, talking golem horses, conspiracies and coups, politics and even the occasional hint of romance.

Just a taste…

“When it came to looks the Quirm goblins seemed exactly the same as the ones over the border in Ankh-Morpork. However, unlike the Ankh-Morpork goblins, the Quirmian goblins were dressed in a way that could only be called snazzy. They had a certain panache unavailable to their Ankh-Morpork brethren, and a whiff about them of what was probably eau de snail. Admittedly, the materials on show were effectively the same – bits of animal skin or indeed the animals themselves, birds, feathers – all embellished with sparkling stones. It was as if goblins had discovered taxidermy, but hadn’t quite got the important, nay, essential point of scooping out the messy bits first. But trust Quirm goblins to make their own haute couture.”

Seriously, how can one not just love such icky imagery? Makes me want to go back to the beginning of the series and work my way through it again, just for the sheer pleasure of watching his world take shape.

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

Fantasy, published in 1972, available from Amazon.

I first read this book as a teenager and enjoyed it enough to look for more by Richard Adams, but although I have had it on my shelves on and off over the years I’ve not wanted to read it again until recently. I am not generally big on anthropomorphism. But I am so glad I opened it again the other day. It is a delight!

Watership Down is a story about a group of rabbits who leave their warren and travel several miles (a great distance when you’re small and low to the ground) to find a safe place to live. During their travels they have to overcome challenges, such as predators, weather, terrain, humans (of course), and other rabbits. Woven through the book are the old legends the rabbits tell each other, and these reinforce the fantasy element introduced by Fiver, physically the weakest rabbit, who has second sight.

The book has a strong conservation and animal rights message, but one doesn’t feel bludgeoned by it. The message gets across because Adams does such a darn good job of shrinking the reader down to rabbit size and showing you what the world looks like six inches above the ground. Yes, it’s anthropomorphic in that the rabbits interact with each other and meet challenges in decidedly non-rabbity ways. But they’re not little short furry humans, either. Adams never loses touch with the essential rabbitness of his protagonists.

The quality of the writing is good. Adams sometimes gets a tad lyrical when describing the beauties of the English countryside, but he doesn’t overdo it. So although that has the effect of slowing the pace of the book, what one has is a pleasantly leisurely read, with enough pace to keep one engaged without feeling you can’t put it down. That said, this morning I was two-thirds of the way through and actually I didn’t want to put it down. So I took pretty much the whole day off to hang with a bunch of bunnies. There are lots of worse ways to spend time!

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