Kafkaworld's Blog

January 16, 2012

On Guilty Pleasures

Now I know what you’re all thinking.  She’s going to put up a list of beautiful gormless young men and shouldn’t she know better at her advanced age and I don’t even want to THINK about elderly women having sex and can we get back to a safe subject like literature … or cupcakes.  Well no, we can’t.  But fear not people.  The adorable Bradley James  is just there due to his role as Arthur in the most delightful television series, Merlin.  I really love this series.  I like the writing, the characters, the cast, the dragons, and of course, the magic.  I like the idealism of people who try to create a kingdom based on justice and chivalry but I also like the human failings which continually threaten to thwart these noble ideals.  And the dragons …  did I mention the dragons?

Many years ago I read “The Once and Future King’ by T.H.White which was itself based on ‘Le Morte d’Arthur’ by Sir Thomas Mallory.  Camelot has lived, aglow in my imagination, ever since.  In ‘The Once and Future King’, Arthur is depicted in boyhood being instructed by Merlin who is, somewhat confusingly, living his life backwards from old age to childhood.  Merlin magically transforms the young prince into all sorts of birds and animals to instruct him in the arts of life and kingship. I have been captivated by the Arthurian legend ever since and ‘Merlin’ happily, has not failed me.

One small quibble; there is much swashbuckling swordplay in ‘Merlin’ and it’s good to see the women, Guinevere (Gwen), Morgana and Isolde fighting right along side the boys and slaying more than their share of baddies.  But is it altogether fair that the knights are protected by heavy chain mail while the women fight in long dresses with very low cut necklines and have no armour at all?  Of course I’m aware that we are the stronger gender in many ways but I just don’t think it’s fighting fair.  Poor Isolde stood no chance although maybe she was hoping that enemy would be transfixed by the sight of her comely breasts almost falling out of her top.  Sadly, this strategy, gamely pursued to the bitter end, ultimately failed.

Anyway, give ‘Merlin’ a look if you’re not doing anything next Sunday night and get hold ‘The Once & Future King’.  This is a good read for children too.  As always, my library is open should anybody wish to venture in.

Does anybody else share Guilty Pleasure Number 2 which is the english radio comedies broadcast on Radio National at 5.30am on weekday mornings?  If so, be aware they are moving to 5am from next Monday.   They include ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’, ‘My Word’ and “the Goons’.  Great for insomniacs.

Number 3.  All that talk about poetry last week reminded me of this one, by the Irish Poet, W.B. Yeats.  It is so astonishingly beautiful, almost beyond belief.

                                                                                       He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven

                                                                                               Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

                                                                                               Enwrought with golden and silver light,

                                                                                               The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

                                                                                               Of night and light and the half-light,

                                                                                               I would spread the cloths under your feet:

                                                                                               But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

                                                                                               I have spread my dreams under your feet;

                                                                                               Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


January 13, 2012

On Books For Girls in the Fifties

Born in 1949, I began my voyage into the world of books, predictably enough for those days, with A. A. Milne’s books about Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Piglet and all the rest of the menagerie.  My mother, who never lacked dramatic talent in anything she did,  read the stories to us and we all sang the songs.  Despite growing up in Townsville where we had no chance of ever experiencing snow, “The more it snows tiddly pom” was a big favorite as was the poem about Christopher’s mother going down to the end of the town alone, and coming to a bad end.  Those poems and stories were whimsical, perhaps even twee by today’s gritty standards, but we laughed uproariously.  

It was after that toddler age, about 7 to 12, that suitable books became harder to find.  Queensland schools at that time published a reading book for each year.  Being a voracious reader, I would usually have finished that after the first week back at school.  Looking back on the contents of those books, I’m quite appalled.  The poetry was good old classic stuff and none the worse for that.  Everyone’s life is improved by a passing acquaintance with the Ancient Mariner, Kubla Khan, Wordsworth’s hosts of daffodils and a myriad of other treasures but it was the stories that were so bizarre.  I think they were meant to be improving but there was certainly a lot of violence and unspeakable cruelty.  Perhaps the Queensland Eduction Department was trying to frighten us into placid conformity.

Books for girls suffered from the same problem.  They all had a barely concealed agenda aimed directly at turning us all into good wives and mothers.  If you were looking for a role model for being an independent and strong minded woman, you would be unlikely to find one within their pages.  Girls would often start out  as spirited or rebellious, but this was all sorted out by the end of the book.  Katy, from Susan Coolidge’s Katy books, was intelligent, lively and ‘difficult’.  Then she fell off a swing, hurt her back, became an invalid and soon progressed to a vision of womanly saintliness.  Even the irrepressible Anne Shirley, who lived at Green Gables, eventually becomes a stereotypical wife and mother.  I was so in love with Anne and mourned her tragic transformation to Stepford Wife conformity over many years.  

The only other books I was given were animal stories.  These never ended happily either.  Black Beauty, Big Red, Lassie and various other innocent animals suffered through the most awful traumas and many of them died.  I hated those books and eventually refused to read any more of them.  Why anybody would consider giving this sadistic rubbish to children is quite beyond me.

Meanwhile, back in the world of books for girls, I observed  sadly as all my intelligent and rebellious heroines grew up to be responsible and selfless ciphers.  They rarely had sex or careers and they never became lesbians.  This was problematic for me as I used to etch the initials of the women and girls I adored into the top of my wooden school desk and by the time I was 17, my final school year, it was a very long list.  I had no interest in boys apart from their libraries, and was certainly not prepared to entertain the idea of kissing one.  My reading had let me down badly in this area.  I was unsure what a lesbian was except that it was A Very Bad Thing so I couldn’t talk to anybody about it.

The third category of literature which helped me survive adolescence was comics – I read all I could beg borrow or steal.  Boys were quite useful for Superman, Batman and all the other superheroes.  While we lived in England for a few years, I became addicted to Beano where Dennis the Menace created joyous havoc every week and the Disney comics were good for approved holiday reading.  By the time I was 14, I was best friends with one of the local newsagents who made sure I received my Beatles Monthly magazines and anything vaguely associated with ballet.  He was a great friend to me, despite receiving endless improving lectures about whether or not he should be selling porn; not that Queensland porn was up to much in those days.

By the time I became a mother,  both the variety and quality of children’s books was vastly improved.  It was enormous fun to read them Dr Seuss, Captain Pugwash and all the rest and I’m sure that girls’ books now have real girls and women in them.  Not only that but books by and about lesbians are all over the place and they don’t always have to die of some terrible disease or kill themselves.  Who would have thought that lesbians too are allowed to live happily ever after.  Three cheers for that.  One day, lesbians might even be permitted to be married – like ‘normal’ people. I can’t wait to go to the wedding!

I’d be really interested to hear about what everyone else read in their childhood.

Colonoscopy Update:  Unfortunately, I was only ableto give this DVD 2 stars (out of 5).  One star was for the absence of any sinister lumps and the other for the excellent party drugs they gave me.  But apart from that, the lighting was appalling, the direction amateurish and the main character was boring as bat shit with no attempt made at character development.  Don’t bother.

August 24, 2010


Filed under: books and reading — kafkaworld @ 1:34 am
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The Pile

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  My favorite book blogger dovegreyreaderscribbles, sets herself a task every year – to read the entire long list of the Man Booker Prize so that she has an informed opinion about the eventual winner.

I really enjoyed some of the books from last year, particularly ‘Wolf Hall’ which won in 2009, so I thought I’d follow in Lynne’s footsteps.  I quickly found out that the most enjoyable part of this project is buying the books.  Hours of my day were whiled away in various on-line bookshops but then the books began to arrive.  To be confronted by that TBR pile every day is quite confronting and I can’t quite seem to get started.

Today this ends.  Having confessed my sins to the blogosphere, I’m about to close my eyes and dive in.  Heaven knows my tenacity needs lots of work.

May 13, 2010

This really is good news

Filed under: books and reading,Uncategorized — kafkaworld @ 7:37 am
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Forget about miracle cures, winning lotto or being awarded a Nobel Prize, because all that pales into insignificance compared to this excellent news for writers.  According to those who know about these things (the Book Show on Radio National), looking up synonyms in the thesaurus is no longer immoral, debauched or unprincipled.  How much simpler, direct and resolvable life will be.  Instead of sitting for hours, desperately, despondently and despairingly trying to recall another way of saying immoral, simpler or desperately, I can just look it up.

Thank you important and wise people who make up the rules of writing.  Thesaurus used to be a dirty word and using one just showed what a pathetically small vocabulary you had.  But now, it’s simply an aide de memoire.  Why do I keep breaking into French when I can’t speak a word of the language.  Possibly I enjoy making an idiot of myself on the internet. However, to continue.  It is now assumed that all the words are securely stored in the brain, but sometimes our information retrieval processes become faulty, whether due to age or alcohol is immaterial.  The thesaurus is deemed to be simply a tool to assist the struggling wordsmith.

I may be alone in my joy, but how wonderful, awesome and and sublime that I can now, at my leisure, never use one word when three would be perfectly adequate, sufficient and fulsome.  Perhaps I should cease, stop and bail out now.  I fear I’m becoming verbose, longwinded and tedious.  But what fun it was!

April 18, 2010

Full of Life

Filed under: books and reading — kafkaworld @ 9:05 am
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Dorothy Porter was a writer, a poet whose work was full of life’s joy, beauty and despair.  In 2004, she was hit with the poison arrow of breast cancer, to which she finally succumbed four years later. She was only 54.  This tiny jewel of a book was published in March this year and I recommend it unreservedly.  It is written with the unalloyed passion of a woman with death sitting on her shoulder, reviewing every word she writes.

“I wonder if some of the most deeply passionate experiences of my life have happened between the cover of a book”.

She goes on to give examples of her reading covering writers from Sappho to Peter Singer to illustrate the objects of her passion: music, religion, erotic love, food, animals.  It’s enough to make a try-hard reader like myself feel totally inadequate, but what an excellent list of further reading I have now.  Included are excerpts from poems, her own and others which linger in the mind.

“Day in, day out

I hunger and
I struggle”

Thus, a scrap of Sappho calling from thousands of years ago, encapsulating the daily grind of human existence.  There is more, much more.  Read it for yourself and warm your soul at the fiercely burning fires of Dorothy Porter’s searing parting words.  Anyone is most welcome to borrow my copy.

This book is part of a series which includes many interesting Australian writers covering topics including humbug (Robert Dessaix), indignation (Don Watson), rage  (Germaine Greer) and obsession (Malcolm Knox).  Well worth collecting I should think.

March 31, 2010

Chuckling With Major Pettigrew

Filed under: books and reading — kafkaworld @ 10:09 am
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I’m going through a rather esoteric stage with my reading at present.  I’ve developed an obsession with women’s writing from the United Kingdom from the beginning of the 20th Century up to the fifties and sixties.  My main focus is domestic and literary.  Firstly, how did women live and manage their lives, and secondly, how did they manage to write while doing all that and even more importantly, why did they bother?  This has all led to a brisk trade with Persephone Books, who specialise in this area.  Their books are veritable jewels with their distinctive silver covers and beautifully selected endpapers; and they come with a matching bookmark – heaven between two covers.

However, that is all bye the bye.  Major Pettigrew is Helen Simonson’s first novel and is set in an English village, but is very much in today’s England of predatory development and multi-culturalism.  It is the most delightful book I have read for some time, essentially a love story but unsentimental and full wickedly dry observations of the village’s inhabitants.  It is chock full of quotable quotes, but this is my favorite.

“Life does often get in the way of one’s reading,” agreed the Major.  They drank their tea in silence as the logs cracked and spat in the flames of the fireplace.

Ain’t that the truth.

March 14, 2010

‘Marley and Me’ and Me

Filed under: books and reading — kafkaworld @ 7:19 am
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I went to see this when it was a movie, and loved it, even though Jennifer Aniston usually irritates me beyond belief.  I forgave her all the irksomely self-conscious tics and twitches because she interacted so well with the dog.  If a dog loves you, you’re okay by me.  Marley was funny and sad and made me realise that my dogs aren’t so weird after all.

Then, for my birthday, somebody who knows I’m a sucker for dog stories bought me the book.  He’s the kind of person who wouldn’t be seen dead reading the book or watching the movie, but I can reveal to you, exclusively, that this is because he is secretly hankering for the day when he retires (not in the forseeable future!) and is able to bring home his very own adorable golden retriever.  So his opinion doesn’t count.

I immediately dived into ‘Marley and Me’ and resurfaced several days later, wiping the tears from my eyes.  Damn dogs.  How do they worm their way into your heart the way they do, simultaneously costing you a fortune in vet fees, puking all over the carpet and barking savagely at falling leaves thus waking you up at 3am?  Author, John Grogan, makes the point that dogs teach you all you need to know about unconditional love.  To your dog, you are everything, you make the world go round.  The most wondrous part of his day is when you come home and his life can resume where it left off when you left him (no, deserted him!)  in the morning.  I don’t care how supportive your partner is, how much your children love you or you them, none of it comes anywhere near how much you mean to your dog.

So, rather reluctantly, I recommend this book, even though the writing disappointed me rather.  Grogan is a professional journalist so I did expect more tightly written prose.  He seems to ramble off looking for imaginary rabbits at times, much like Marley does, instead of keeping the focus firmly on the plot.  None the less, Marley is brilliantly and lovingly brought to life in these pages.  You will fall in love with him as I did.

January 17, 2010

Beautiful Kate

Filed under: books and reading — kafkaworld @ 5:07 am
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I was looking forward to this movie because it was so well reviewed but I found it profoundly disturbing, and not for the reasons you might think.  I should have learned by now that any movies set in the outback involving white males is going to be terrifying.  It’s the rampant masculinity, untrammelled by any of the usual checks and balances which is never good news for women, children, animals or the weaker males.  Any time a movie is set in the Australian outback, I’m scared.  It’s more than likely going to be ugly.  Think of ‘Wake in Fright’, a movie hailed by stronger minded individuals as an Australian classic, but I have been haunted by the kangaroo hunting scene for decades.

A notable exception is ‘Samson and Delilah”, which is human and hopeful.  As I said, perhaps it’s just the whitefellas in the outback.  I hate ‘The Drover’s Wife’  as well, and ‘The Man from Snowy River’.  Why couldn’t they just let the colt from Old Regret go on its way?  Ah – it was worth 1000 pounds, I forgot.  So they have to get up a posse of idiots to yahoo round the bush putting the lives of themselves, their horses and assorted woldlife at risk.  Bastards.

On the other hand, what’s that other one? … “Clancy’s gone a drovin’ and we don’t know where he are”.  Cute, but I still blame the myth of the heroic Australian pioneers for putting me off male novelists for many years.  Women just weren’t there, apparently.  Even if they were, they never did anything heroic, like chopping down trees, shooting anything that moved or drinking themselves into a stupor.  Oops – my prejudices are showing again.

I shouldn’t be writing this while simultaneously watching bridge online, and arguing with HB about the merits of ironbark vs Canadian cedar shingles on the prospective gazebo which he hopes to build on top of the ugliest watertank in South East Queensland, if not the world.  Talk about multi-tasking.

January 7, 2010


Filed under: books and reading — kafkaworld @ 3:12 am

HB has read James Joyce ‘s ‘Ulysses’ three times, and has reached page 536 on his fourth run through.  I have read page 1 once.  He loves that book.  I think he goes into a state of suspended animation as he reads and just lets the words flow over him.  I am incapable of reading in that manner.  Any word I don’t understand must be looked up in the dictionary, ideas must be analysed and, during my current read (A.S.Byatt’s ‘A Children’s Book’) copious notes on the relationships and links between far too many characters must be consulted as I can’t remember all their names from one page to the next.

Ramona Koval interviewed John Sutherland on his book ‘Magic Moments’ today on the Book Show.  He told a story about going to a library in his youth to read the then scandalous ‘Ulysses’.  Page 602 had been removed with a razor blade as it was deemed too immoral for young eyes.  Obviously, he went straight to a bookshop and read the offending page.  Obviously, so did I.  HB’s copy, being very well thumbed, has long ago lost it’s covers and, I feared, many of the offending pages but I was in luck.  It begins at page 47 and ends at 716!

Alas, my search for James Joyce porn came to nothing. Perhaps Ramona has a different edition, but I was diverted by this paragraph.

“What, reduced to their simplest reciprocal from, were Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom and Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen’s thoughts about Bloom’s thoughts about Stephen?

He thought that he thought that he was not a jew whereas he knew that he knew that he knew that he was not”.

It struck me as redolent of what passes for journalism in these times of far too many words used to express far too few original ideas.  I really must try ‘Ulysses’ again.  Maybe I’m grown up enough to understand now.

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