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Review: ‘Fortunately, the Milk…’ by Neil Gaiman

28 Oct

milk

Rating: ★★★★★

Earlier this month I was privileged enough to attend an exclusive Waterstones bookseller event. This is one of those nice little perks that I just didn’t know came with the job — but I’m glad it did!

The event was an audience with the lovely Neil Gaiman, author of masterpieces ‘Coraline‘, ‘Stardust‘ and ‘American Gods‘, among others. He read from his latest book, ‘Fortunately, the Milk…‘, talked a bit about its conception and the surprising way it mirrors his previous book, ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane‘.

Apparently, the main reason that Gaiman wrote ‘Fortunately, the Milk…’ was because he thought that there generally weren’t enough dads in books for kids.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT6RpDl9bXc] Continue reading

Books Are My Bag

13 Oct

Books Are My Bag is a UK campaign to celebrate bookshops. For many people, bookshops conjure fond images of book readings, in-store cafes and delight at the discovery of a new author. In fact, 56% of all book buying decisions are made by bookshop customers, and high street bookshops (both chains and independents) still account for almost 40% of books bought by consumers! Yet, many high street bookshops are under threat, especially from online retailers.

I suppose these bags are good reminders to people to buy more books. After all – orange is the most impulsive colour! However, there are certainly more stylish solutions out there if you want to show off your inner bookworm.

Continue reading

An evening with David Levithan at Waterstones Piccadilly, the Place Where I Work Now (I Work At That Place)

3 Oct
Photo by Selma.

Photo by Salma.

David Levithan is the best-selling US author of over 15 books for young adults, including ‘Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist’ (upon which the twee film starring Michael Cera was based). Last night he appeared in conversation with fellow author Phil Earle, discussing his career and new novel ‘Every Day’. The event took place at Waterstones Piccadilly – where I now work as a bookseller.

(Did I mention that I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now? I work at Waterstones Piccadilly now.)

The two writers were super likeable, making jokes about ‘The Hunger Games’, fellow writers and Justin Bieber, and obliging their fans by staying to sign books at the end of the event. They even coordinating their checked shirts and blue jeans! I think I saw Patrick Ness in the audience as well, dressed in a similar attire, so I guess it’s the required uniform for male YA authors attending London book events.

The two hour event just breezed by, helped in part by the elderly woman sitting in the front row who provided much comic relief. The discussion and Q&A were bookended by chapter readings from ‘Every Day’ and ‘Two Boys Kissing’; both passages were really effecting and beautiful and I could tell immediately that Levithan is going to be one of my new favourite writers.

levithan2Earle and Levithan talked a little about his method, his penchant for blasting Tegan & Sara when writing, and his day job. It’s refreshing to hear of a best-selling author who still works a 9-to-5 and writes on the weekends!

I found the discussions of the politics surrounding queer identities in YA fiction particularly interesting. Some of Levithan’s books aren’t named too subtly, but he does this intentionally so that the young gay boy who sees ‘Two Boys Kissing’ in the library knows it’s there. Maybe he doesn’t check it out, but just seeing it on the shelf could give him the strength he needs to get through the day. I think that’s a nice sentiment.

levithan1

On the other hand, ‘Every Day’ has a vague and ambiguous title, but I suspect that pertains to the vague and ambiguous protagonist. He says he wrote the novel with two questions in mind:

  1. Who would you be if you had no body?
  2. You fall in love with the person from the last question. Can you?

A, the protagonist, is a genderless being who wakes up each day in a different host body. It’s a pretty neat concept. Almost all of the discourse in the novel is about gender, and there’s even a secondary transgender character in the book which is pretty spectacular. And it’s not just a one off! Even in ‘Lover’s Dictionary’ the gender of the lover is never specified.

It seems Levithan likes experimenting with style like this. In ‘Two Boys Kissing’, narrative is delivered from a chorus of last- and next-generation gay men. In ‘Lover’s Dictionary’, chapters were improvised from words picked at random from a dictionary. Levithan is also no stranger to collaboration either, having worked with a handful of other authors during his career.

According to Levithan, he realised he was a writer in the third grade when he felt disproportionately pleased with himself to have one of his characters “scamper” through a hotel lobby in one of his many chase scenes. I’m glad he’s still writing all these years later. He’s an important voice, not only for the queer community, but for anyone who likes plain old good fiction.

Book Porn: Armpits4August Edition

15 Aug

Day 14: Not a lot to see here.

If you haven’t noticed the trend of underarm follicles blossoming into fruition this month, I wouldn’t blame you. Despite Dove’s marketing campaign to try and sell us the ‘beautiful underarm’ as a thing, we just don’t spend a lot of time looking at each other’s pits! Unless you’re Amanda Palmer or Julia Roberts, the sad fact of life is that nobody will pay very much attention to your underarm tresses if you do grow hair under there, and if you’re bare under there you probably haven’t ever given much thought to why you shave in the first place. But for some women and trans* men with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), the battle against body hair can be a complicated, emotional, and embarrassing experience.

A common symptom of PCOS is hirsutism (excessive hair growth). Inspired by this, Armpits4August began as a month long charity event in which participants grow underarm hair for one month and ask friends and family to sponsor them to raise money for Verity, the charity for people with PCOS. Armpits4August believes the shame a lot of people feel about their body hair is a consequence of living in a society which dictates that female-assigned bodies must conform to incredibly narrow beauty standards, and which upholds a rigid gender binary that deems body hair a ‘masculine’ trait.

These beautiful and bizarre book covers are my own contribution to the movement (as well as my participation in the event, of course). So without further ado, let’s take a look at the lovely limb locks! Continue reading

Happy Birthday Maurice Sendak!

10 Jun

google

Google marks what would have been Maurice Sendak’s 85th birthday with a delightfully interactive tribute to his most famous work, ‘Where the Wild Things Are‘.

Sendak is pretty much the coolest picture book writer of all time, even if he had a bit of internalised homophobia going on. He didn’t believe in fairytale childhood, and while my favourite story of his has a very clear moral (“care”), most of his work didn’t. He simply believed in telling the truth. Sometimes the truth involved man-eating lions, sometimes it involved death, sometimes it involved a penis or two.

This bluntness was the central message of his documentary with Spike Jonze, ‘Tell Them Anything You Want’. If you’ve never seen it you should make time for it today. Right now, actually.

Come on. It’s only forty minutes long!

Surrey Poetry Festival 2013

10 Jun

Here’s the University of Surrey’s poet in residence, Stephen Mooney, talking about the annual Surrey Poetry Festival which took place on Saturday. (Recognise him? He headlined our LGBT+ Arts Night last year!) The festival was held in the super historic Guild Hall on Guildford High Street this year, and included several book launches from Veer Books and Contraband, as well as an interactive installation, and readings and presentations from some really amazing contemporary poets.

yeah1 yeah4 yeah3

The first performer we saw give a reading was David Ashford, who was launching his collection of poetry ‘Xaragmata’. In my opinion, Ashford is the best candidate to be Steven Moffat’s next Doctor. Holding his book for the first time, he jokes about object fetishism and we laugh – his stage presence is endearingly awkward. Ashford was one of my lecturers for the entirety of my university education so I don’t really feel entitled to critique his performance, but the truth is that there’s not much to critique. His unique brand of poetry, which draws inspiration from mathematics, science, mythology and history, is really engaging and almost hypnotic to hear spoken. One of the audience members told me that he entered a trance-like state, in which the boundary between abstract and visual, numbers and colours, lost all meaning. If that’s not impressive I don’t know what is.

Nat Raha‘s book ‘countersonnets’, out with Contraband, was the first thing to catch my eye when I entered the Guild Hall. With a cover photograph by Del LaGrace Volcano I knew that this poet was going to be pretty radical, and it turns out that we saw her read at the very first Poetry Festival a couple of years back and she was just as engaging then. Raha is a super cool queer girl and the way she rocks on her heels when she’s speaking, her sporadic breaths, tasty choice of words, and sparing use of the word “fuck” in her poetry are all totally captivating. I hope she comes back to Surrey for next year’s festival!

The last poet that we saw was Karen Mac Cormack, who was launching her book AGAINST WHITE with Veer Books – quite a hefty tome. I liked a lot of her poetry, especially the piece she chose to close the session with, which was a kind of experimental use of alliteration and wordplay. My favourite groupings of words were the most sibilant. I love that sharp “ss”.

We only bought tickets for one ‘session’ and I was sad to miss Sophie Robinson, as I really enjoyed her readings at the very first Poetry Festival. I was also disappointed to miss Stephen Mooney and the student showcase, both of which were happening right after we had to go — Sophie Goodman in particular looked like she’d be really exciting to hear.

I really love student poetry, because I think that there’s a tendency from academic poets to be really inaccessible and/or experimental and while that might be good on a page when you have time to absorb the language and syntax, I think something might be lost in performance. Student poets and amateurs are just a little bit more raw, a little bit more honest or truthful which I think is what poetry is supposed to be, ultimately.

Conversely, I’d love to see some people at a future event who do performance poetry as a thing, e.g. Emilie Zoey BakerJeanann Verlee , Kai Davis. I know none of these ladies are British — maybe England is too ‘English’ for slam poetry?

Anyway, check out our haul from the event:

this one

I’m so gutted we forgot to get people to sign their stuff!

Incidentally, this free  copy of Potlatch was put together by a bunch of my talented uni pals, and also featured David Ashford’s work (among others). You might be able to get a free copy by emailing the potentially-defunct address at the back of the booklet, but no promises. It was designed by Emma Thomson, whose collage skills are incredible — she also makes some adorable handmade mascots for her roller derby team now, which you can buy.

Back in the day, Potlach was co-edited by Christina Manning, who just got married (congrats you guys!!), and Sarah Tuckwell, who recently helped me out at a craft fair by selling incredible cake while I tried to unload my Gliterature products onto strapped-for-cash students. Sarah runs a blog for Contraband called Black Market Modernist, and she is also available for human trafficking.