Reader’s Block

So we’ve all heard of writer’s block, but only recently did I come across the much more mysterious ailment known to some as “reader’s block”.

Generally it involves an inability to start, persevere with, or finish a book, but mostly it just means not being able to sit down and take pleasure in the long loved pastime of reading. Truly, it is as repulsive a condition as it sounds.

And for the last several months I have been a sufferer.

To none other than myself does this come as more of a shock. I, who my entire life have prided myself on finishing every book I start, no matter how awful, “just in case” the ending redeems it. I who must read to better my craft. I who enjoy a good book above all things.

But alas, as the end of the year draws nigh along with the deadline to my 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, I find my bookshelves spilling over with beautiful, glorious, new books, most with bookmarks poking out at about page 80.

I attribute this unhappy chapter of my life to several contributing factors. Those being:

  1. Writing. This year my writing has taking precedence over all else as I’ve grappled with recurring deadlines and the seemingly-impossible task of writing a novel for assessment. I’m sure I’ll post more about it later, as it’s been the primary reason for my blogging absence these past months.
  2. Working. This is a bit of a conundrum. At the beginning of the year I scored myself a job at a lovely little independent bookstore. One would assume that such a position would generate increased reading. Sadly, the opposite ensued. 9 hour work days on top of uni have resulted in earlier bed times and less brain power when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
  3. Greed. Working in a bookshop certainly has its perks, but my inner greedy reader has been unable to cope with the continuous arrival of new and wonderful books. I get one chapter into a book before another one comes into the store looking all sultry and readable, and I get distracted. As such, I have purchased many books this year, but most of them remain unfinished.
  4. (In)Sanity. The combination of the above factors have together tested my sanity. Reading for work and reading for uni have at times made the activity seem a chore, and let’s face it, who likes chores? Any free time I’ve been able to pilfer, I’ve dedicated to sleeping, eating, or the peaceful enjoyment of staring quietly at blank walls.

The whole thing has been mildly traumatic, but in the meantime I’ve discovered a few gems. Yes, a handful of books actually managed to bulldoze through my reader’s block and give me hope. It’s not that the other books weren’t any good, in fact when (if?!) I get over this ridiculous phase, I’m sure I’ll love them to bits.  It’s just that they weren’t totally, absolutely, incredibly phenomenal. And really, how many books are?

With standards like that, I was destined to be disappointed, but a few shone brightly in the darkness nonetheless. Without further adieu, allow me to share with you the top five books that prevailed over the dreaded reader’s block and made my reading year:

5. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold. 

The second part to the third in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This is my favourite book in the series so far. I heard along the grapevine that the series was originally intended as a trilogy, and I could tell by the end of this book that for many of the characters things were wrapping up nicely (or bloodily, depending on the character). I haven’t yet been able to move on to the fourth book, knowing that it’s now time to introduce many new characters and saddened that some of my favourites won’t be there to carry the story through. Nevertheless, I look back on this instalment with great fondness.

4. The Hunger Games.


This was a bit of a surprise. I watched the movie and whilst I enjoyed it, I wasn’t all that fussed. When I finally got around to reading the book it sucked me right in and I didn’t put it down until I’d finished. I then went on to read the next two in the trilogy and while I didn’t enjoy them as much as the first, they were still pretty amazing.

3. A Casual Vacancy.

Not the most enjoyable read of the year, given the dark and depressing themes throughout, but even despite that I still managed to finish this 500 page corker of a book in a matter of days (quite a feat for a reader’s block sufferer). It even inspired me to write a review.

2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 

When in doubt, go back to a classic favourite. If I’ve read it once I’ve read it a trillion times, but I’m currently re-reading this Tolkien masterpiece and haven’t been able to put it down yet. Beautiful prose, characters and story: what more could you ask for?

1. Ready Player One. 

READ IT. Seriously. If you know what’s good for you, read this book. It’s an absolute nerd fest with a nostalgic appreciation for 80s pop culture, old school video games, RPGs, anime, and a firefly called Serenity. The blurb describes it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix” but I don’t think that does it any justice. Yes, there is a “golden ticket” aspect to it and certainly it takes place in a dystopian not-so-distant future where we spend most of our lives in a virtual reality simulation, but the premise itself is totally original and SO MUCH FUN. In fact, it’s so awesome, Warner Bros have already bought the film rights to the book. If you need further convincing, check out Patrick Rothfuss’s Goodreads review:

Need I say more?

There you have it. The books that got me through nothing short of a peculiar reading year.

Have you ever suffered from “reader’s block”? If so, which books, if any, have pulled you out of it? And for those of you who think reader’s block is as silly as it sounds, tell me instead what books you loved this year. Go on. You know you want to…

The Casual Vacancy – Review

I may be on a temporary blogging hiatus, but how could I resist the temptation to briefly return and share my hot-off-the-press thoughts on The Casual Vacancy, the latest from one of my favourite authors, JK Rowling?

There’s been much speculation in the book world over her first adult novel. Will it live up to Harry Potter? Will she fail miserably? Why is she writing a book for adults? Why is she writing at all? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

With little to go by but a fairly inscrutable blurb about a dead man named Barry and a town “at war”, I set my expectations as low and as neutral as they could possibly go, the Harry Potter fanatic inside me squealing desperately at the opportunity to once again get inside JK Rowling’s brain, and eagerly anticipated the hour in which we were allowed to open the embargoed boxes at work and start reading.

Two and a half days and little sleep later, I finished the last page of the book and sat down to make some sense of my thoughts:

A dark but fascinating social commentary by an exceptional writer. 

Barry Fairbrother’s death is the precipice on which we, the reader, meet the inhabitants of the small town of Pagford, each self-righteous in their perception and judgement of everyone around them. The only decent person in town seems to have been Barry himself, which is the standard by which the rest of the characters are measured, all of them falling short in their own way. The story itself follows the lives of these characters, as they move from Barry’s death, to his funeral, to the election to fill the council position he so “casually vacated”, and the aftermath of every complication along the way.

There is no real plot that I could identify, just the simple act of observing a town in crisis and sensing the rising tension as families and relationships unravel. I suspect this lack of discernible storyline will be its undoing for many readers, but in many ways it is the novel’s greatest strength; relieving the reader of any misplaced presumptions that things will be okay, that a hero/heroine will save the day, that things will wrap up nicely. Instead it frees the reader to just go with it, get to know the characters, and watch them fumble about in the mess that is their lives.

Whilst The Casual Vacancy may show no evidence in subject matter of the JK Rowling we are so used to – preaching hope and goodness to the masses, comforting readers that good will always overcome evil – it is no small consolation that in the writing itself, Rowling excels. There were hints of Dickens, Austen and other wordsmiths of centuries past in the darkly comic tone and particularly unhurried pace of the narrative. Quite simply, the writing was magnificent and never fell short of the expectations placed on her by the simple but sophisticated standard set in Harry Potter.

With the ugly realities of poverty, rape, suicide, abuse, pedophilia, politics, class struggles and mental illness* setting the sombre tone of the narrative, I don’t think this is a book any reader can “enjoy”, so much as appreciate for its stark candidness, captivating characters, and wonderful writing.  It is a brave novel, an almost cruel reminder of how easily we judge those we perceive to be “below” us, the self-sabotage we envisage got them there, and the vicious cycle that ensues when it appears that something, or someone, is beyond help and therefore not worth the time to help.

I don’t think The Casual Vacancy will be for everyone; it’s comfortless and often downright depressing, something I usually steer well clear of in my reading (and had me certain for at least the first 200 pages that I wasn’t going to like it). But despite all that, it turned out to be one of those rare books that on the last page had me mourning the characters I had come to know so well and sitting in silent awe at all the extraordinary things they had to say.

Have you read/will you be reading The Casual Vacancy? Tell me your thoughts, dear readers!

*They really do mean it when they say “adult novel”. No wizards or dragons here. Move along, kids.

An inside look at Pottermore

Last month I received early access to the beta Pottermore website after participating in a Magical Quill challenge, which basically involved answering a question that related to something in the Harry Potter books.

I was pretty excited when I found out that I would be one of a million rewarded with early admission to the elusive site, partly because I really had no idea what Pottermore actually was.

The home page had described it as so:

Pottermore is an exciting new website from J.K. Rowling that can be enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books. You can explore the stories like never before and discover exclusive new writing from the author.

So the new content bit sounded pretty damn exciting, but as for the rest of it…”enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books” and “explore the stories like never before”.  What the hell does it all mean!?

Well, let’s start from the beginning. First thing I had to do was choose a name for myself.  Because it’s all child friendly for the little people fans of the series, everyone gets a Harry Potter inspired pseudonym, so that the only way you can add your friends is by asking them what their pseudonym is.

Now, you don’t actually get to make up your pseudonym; you instead get a choice of five to pick from.  I chose DragonSpell167, but also had choices along the lines of UnicornHolly and SpellPatronus, both with random numbers at the end.

So with that over with I was introduced to the site.  And wow.  Really, WOW.

The first thing that hit me was the graphics, which are simply spectacular.  The site takes you though each of the books, chapter by chapter, through a number of images.  The beta version only has book one for now.

At the start of each chapter it looks something like this:

Pottermore: Chapter One

You get a small snippet of the chapter and below it three images of three scenes that are significant to the chapter, which in chapter one are entitled “Number Four, Privet Drive”, “Something Peculiar is Happening” and “Harry is Delivered”.

You then click on one of the scenes, and it takes you to that interactive image.  I say interactive, because that’s what they are.  The pictures are very subtly animated; car lights will flicker if you run your cursor over them, or owls will fly away if you do the same.

Beautiful Hagrid image in Chapter One

Each image also has three layers, and by double clicking you move further into the image from the foreground, to the middle, to the background.  In each layer, you might find objects which you can add to your trunk, or which might offer you extra character, place or scene information, content that did not make the books, or previously unknown backgrounds.  You get to collect Chocolate Frog cards, potions and spells.  Very cool.

So you go through each chapter the same way, exploring the images and finding things within them.  Some chapters may have only one or two images, others three or four.

What a lot of people have been talking about though, is being sorted into a Hogwarts house, and receiving your wand from Olivander.  The very cool thing about this, is that you get to do these things as Harry does them.  If Harry doesn’t get sorted into a House until Chapter 7, then neither do you.  But when you do, it’s a matter of answering a number of mysterious questions that really don’t allow you to cheat in order to get the house you want.

I consider myself proud (and lucky!) to have been sorted into Gryffindor!!! Woooo! You knew this already though, when I told you a while back about my time at Hogwarts.

Being sorted into the COOLEST Hogwarts house...naturally.

You can keep track of your house points, what’s in your trunk, what chapter you’re up to, your Chocolate Frog cards, your wand and everything else on your profile page, which looks like this:

Profile Page

There’s more to it as you scroll down, which unfortunately I couldn’t capture in one image, but basically it just shows your progress and gives you easy access to the rest of the site. The line of yellow dots represent each chapter in the first book, the other larger red circles to the right being the remaining six books which are yet to be opened.  The highlighted yellow dot with the cat avatar pictured above it shows the chapter I’m up to.  The cat is the pet I chose for myself (only when Harry goes to Diagon Alley of course) and which is used as your avatar.  This page also shows the details of my wand, which was likewise chosen for me after answering a number of questions.

An example of the extra content that you might discover is shown here with Professor McGonagall’s background and extra tid bits of information:

Extra content from J. K. Rowling: Professor McGonagall

It goes on to give a particularly interesting history that explains her interest in scouting Harry for the Quidditch team and her eagerness to beat Slytherin.

Finally, the other activity worth mentioning is Wizard Duels.  You can gain house points by duelling with your friends!  You can also go to the Great Hall to see how all the other houses are going in their house point tallies.

All in all, I think it is a very cool concept.  The graphics truly are amazing, and it really is a great accompaniment to the reading of the books.  It’s not until you actually get into the site that you realise how accurate the original description of it was; “an exciting new website from J.K. Rowling that can be enjoyed alongside the Harry Potter books. You can explore the stories like never before and discover exclusive new writing from the author.”  As confused as I was before, it really does make sense now.

I’ll leave you with a few more images to peruse over, including an example of how the multiple layers work in the Diagon Alley scene.  Give them a click to see them full sized.  I honestly can’t get over the graphics and their multiple layers.  In the meantime, hopefully see you there in October when it becomes available to all!

Harry recieves his letter: In this image, the letters are actually moving around the page

The Forbidden Forest with the Whomping Willow in the foreground

A unicorn slain in the forest

Diagon Alley foreground graphic

Diagon Alley middle layer graphic - the foreground images become slightly unfocused and move aside slightly to reveal what's beyond them.

Diagon Alley Background graphic - the other characters have moved aside to reveal Gringotts Bank, which you can now click on and enter

~storytelling nomad~

The Versatile Blogger Award

The wonderful Maryann over at My Reality Show recently bestowed upon me the prestigious Versatile Blogger Award.  Hoorah! Thanks Maryanne! I feel most honored!

There are four simple rules for The Versatile Blogger Award:

  • Post a link to the person who gave you the award.
  • Tell your readers seven random things about yourself.
  • Award 15 newly discovered blogs.
  • Send them a note letting them know you nominated them.

Seven random things about myself:

  1. I do an awesome pterodactyl impression.  For the best effect I like to make this noise in unsuspecting echoing stairwells.
  2. I have a younger brother called Harry who lives in Germany.  He’s pretty cool actually, although we talk more and get along far better when we live in different countries.  Hi Harry!
  3. I only drink water.  For no other reason than it tastes reallllllyyyyy good and I don’t like anything else.
  4. I will judge you if you mispronounce ‘mispronunciation’.
  5. Although I have strawberry blonde hair, I am under the constant delusion that I am actually just blonde, while the rest of the world believes I am simply a red-head. I am often referred to as a ‘ranga’, an Australia term alluding not so subtly to orangutans.  Other recent friendly names include strawbs and ginger.  At least ‘strawbs’ is relatively accurate.
  6. I am a chocaholic.  I cannot remember a time that I wasn’t, and I believe I always will be a chocaholic.
  7. I can hula hoop like a rock star.  No seriously, I can do that shit for hours.

15 newly discovered blogs:

Ok, so they’re not all ‘newly discovered’, but they are all awesome.  Check them out.  Like, now.

  1. You’re a Writer! – Fantastic encouragement and support for new writers.  I really recommend reading this.
  2. The Bailey Daily – I not long ago reposted one of Shawn’s posts for its hilarity.  I’m a fan of his work.
  3. Sarah Leaps – Recently Freshly Pressed, Sarah’s blog is not your average writers’ blog.  You see, Sarah has some wicked skills with a paint brush….the electronic kind…that you find on programs like ‘Paint’.  She complements her posts with these original artworks, which I believe are extraordinarily entertaining.
  4. The (Writer’s) Waiting Room – Hannah recently provided a run down on how she came to write her first book, in response to my post on how many writers sneakily avoid revealing their method.  Thumbs up!
  5. Divertir Publishing – An independent publisher, this blog gives an invaluable insight into the sort of things writers can do to help get their work published, and the processes that happen behind a publisher’s doors.
  6. The Wuc – This blog is absolutely freaking HILARIOUS.  I get a good chuckle out of it every. single. time.
  7. Just Coop It – I’m a big fan of this talented writer/actor/choreographer, whose book ‘The Song of Earth’ is about to hit a bookshelf near you!
  8. Angela Wallace – Believe, Dream, Awaken – Author of ‘Phoenix Feather’, Angela is a talented writer with a blog filled with book reviews, writerly musings and inspiration.
  9. That Book You Like – Chosen as one of 5 official ‘unbloggers’ for the Melbourne Writers Festival, where I was recently a volunteer, this blog gives some excellent accounts of a whole host of events, authors and sessions that made up the literary festival.
  10. She Thinks Too Much – Currently taking part in the 30 Day Book Challenge, which I had so much fun with.  Worth a read.
  11. Dodging Commas – Check out Stef’s wonderful grammar tips and writerly musings.  It was only today that she passed on this amazing link on semicolons, which I have endlessly struggled to understand.  No more, I tell you!
  12. MJCache – Hysterical blog.  Ends each post with something along the lines of, “I totally klepto all images” or “All images swiped, snatched and nabbed from dear old Google when he wasn’t looking.”
  13. Nitpickers’ Nook – I loved the post on this blog entitled ‘The (non)word that drives me nuts’.  You’ll have to head over there to find out what it is.  If you’re a nitpicker of words, grammar, language and communication in general like me and have been looking for a community of nitpickers to share your woes, then head over to this blog.
  14. Bunny Ears and Bat Wings – Lex shares some fantastic advice and thoughts on writing.  Also, this blog has an awesome name.
  15. The Happy Logophile – A logophile is a lover of words, and you will find just that at the Happy Logophile.  Jo also wrote a superb piece of flash fiction for the revenge 100 challenge.  Check it out.

~storytelling nomad~

 

Lessons Learned

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island. -Walt Disney

With the 30 Day Book Challenge now done and dusted, I find myself missing the daily mission of scouring my bookshelves and digging deep into the recesses of my mind in a hunt to find the appropriate book for each task.  It was a literary treasure hunt for my book-lover mind, and I took great pleasure in reliving my reading history and rediscovering what books mean to me and the influence they’ve had on my life.

Throughout the challenge I contentedly reacquainted myself with some old favourites, relived memorable childhood reading moments, and crooned over some literary heartthrobs.  I confessed some secrets, pledged my eternal allegiance to a certain author, and had many an inner battle in futile attempts to choose ‘favourites’.

Frankly, I found the whole challenge a wonderful exercise and am happy to see so many of you taking the challenge too.

Before I leave you to it, however, I thought I might share with you the top three things I’ve learned about myself and my reading habits from this literary pilgrimage.

  • I read a lot of fantasy.  I mean, a lot.  I can’t remember the first fantasy book I read, but I do remember my reluctance due to having always associated fantasy with sci fi, which I was not at all interested in.  Even after having read a few fantasy novels, all of which I surprised myself in thoroughly enjoying, I recall it taking me a while to actually start looking forward to starting a new one or seeking out more.  For some time I had this unfounded suspicion that something resembling Star Trek was going to sneak its way into my impressionable reading mind, and put me off reading forever.  I’m still not a fan of Star Trek or sci fi, but I now know the differences between the speculative fiction sub genres, and can proudly profess my love of fantasy without fearing pointy-eared men and beam-me-up-scotty’s scaring me away.
  • My memory is as poor as I suspected.  I anticipated the challenge would be difficult for this reason, and truly it was.  I’m certain I’ve forgotten a great deal of the books I have read and am positive that many of them could have been used over the course of the 30 Day Book Challenge.  I have learned my lesson though.  As they say, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’  As far as I’m aware, my memory isn’t going to improve any with age, so I’ve set myself an undertaking.  From 2011, I have started a reading list, documenting all the books I have read since the start of the year.  I am particularly interested to see how many it totals up to by December 31st, but mostly content to know that I will have something to refer to in the future.
  • I have a potentially unhealthy obsession with a certain author who has consumed the last several months of my reading life.  I mentioned her or her books in seven out of the thirty posts, have referred to her as She-God, Perfection, Wonderful, and Writing God, and suspect that many of you now believe me to be a Robin Hobb stalker.  I’m sorry about that and deny all such claims.  I am, however, seeking help for this matter and hereafter vow not to mention her name again for some time unless it is profoundly necessary* or unless a substantial Hobb-free interlude has passed.  *Profound necessity could refer to: Author contact; Financial ruin due to Hobb book purchases; Discovering the Farseer characters are real; Collapsing bookshelves due to TMHS (To Many Hobbs Syndrome).

So there it is.  My lessons learned in a nutshell.  Thanks to all of you who commented and participated in the challenge with me.  I’m looking forward to *one day* getting to all the books you’ve recommended, and eagerly anticipate the posts of those of you who are now taking part in the 30 Day Book Challenge.

Happy reading fellow bloggers.

~storytelling nomad~

Book you’re currently reading

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 29

Oh no! I should have looked ahead, because I only the other day wrote about what book I’m reading in my Feeding My Book Addiction post.  My bad.

For those of you who missed it, however, I’m currently reading The Golden Fool by Robin Hobb.  It is book two of the Tawny Man Trilogy, and follows on from the much acclaimed Farseer Trilogy.

I’ve found that Robin Hobb loves to dedicate much of her time to character building in her books, which often means that a lot of the action doesn’t take place until quite a way into the novels.  I don’t mind at all, because a) her characters are interesting and b) it makes later plot advancements and drama all the more compelling after spending so much time getting to know the characters, their motives and desires.  Despite this, she doesn’t fall into that dreadful trap of rushing the action at the end.  The stories are all well paced and never bore, at least not me.

This book is no different, and I am currently still caught up in the character building stages, but sense that the action is not too far away…

~storytelling nomad~

Favourite Fiction Book

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 27

I don’t want to frighten you all away with my Robin Hobb obsession, but I can’t seem to escape the Robin Hobb Love Bubble.  She has me bewitched I tell you!

Day 1 of the 30 Day books challenge saw me mention Assassin’s Apprentice as my favourite book, and I will stick by that choice for my favourite fiction book.  More about my Hobb addiction can be found here, where I talk about my love affair, and here, the most joyous of days when I awoke to an email from the writing god herself.  Bliss.

~storytelling nomad~

Say no to drugs! But say yes to this book about drugs.

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 26

Favorite nonfiction book

I have to say, I’m not often found perusing the non fiction section in the book store.  I read to escape reality, not to be reminded of it, which I realise is a fairly narrow-minded point of view of the genre.  Yet, despite my aversion I’ve somehow managed to read a number of excellent nonfiction books in recent years.  Humorous coffee table books, kids books on ‘how things work’, travel books and biographies.  Within me there obviously lies a dormant desire to read nonfiction, because it’s succeeded in sneaking into my reading list without my even being consciously aware of it! Go figure.

It wasn’t until last year during my writing course, however, that I had that light bulb moment and realised that nonfiction also has to incorporate all the elements and styles of a fiction novel, just without the made up parts.  An epiphany!  (Note: I am regularly prone to ‘blonde moments’ such as these.  It’s nothing to worry about, really).  Travel writing especially, caught me unawares when it registered in my head that just because the events happened one after another, it didn’t mean they had to be written in that order.  I had simply assumed that nonfiction was a chronological record of interesting events.  No beginning, middle and end, no conflict, no resolution as there is in a fiction book.

Of course, It all seemed quite obvious after I really put some thought into it.  I’d been quite ignorant of the genre and unjustifiably harsh on the poor old nonfiction section.  In fact, it seems so silly to me now that I’m almost wondering if I should have admitted to such foolishness at all.  Should I go back and delete the first two paragraphs of this post?  I could have started with something more like:

Non-fiction, *pause while I inhale from my pipe* a genre I both treasure and admire.  It is simply too hard to choose from the many literary masterpieces I have read and studied.  The genius of writers such as [insert nonfiction author here] and [insert another nonfiction author here] continue to astound this humble reader.

Nope.  I don’t think I could have pulled it off.  In any case, fortunately for me (and for you), I don’t have to fabricate an alternate life where I’m a high brow reader of every genre known to mankind, because there is a nonfiction book that comes to mind as a favourite AND I even know the author’s name.  Success!

Marching Powder by Rusty Young.

From Publishers Weekly on Amazon.com

This memoir of a British drug dealer’s nearly five years inside a Bolivian prison provides a unique window on a bizarre and corrupt world. McFadden, a young black man from Liverpool arrested for smuggling cocaine, finds himself forced to pay for his accommodations in La Paz’s San Pedro Prison, the first of many oddities in a place where some inmates keep pets and rich criminals can sustain a lavish lifestyle. The charismatic McFadden soon learns how to survive, and even thrive, in an atmosphere where crooked prison officials turn up at his private cell to snort lines of coke. By chance, he stumbles on an additional source of income when he begins giving tours of the prison to foreign tourists, a trade that leads to the mention in a Lonely Planet guidebook that attracts the attention of his coauthor, Young, who was backpacking in South America at the time.

I’m typically put off by stories of true crime, drugs and criminals, so to say that this one captured my attention, held it, AND became a favourite, is truly testament to the book.  I mean, the man had to pay for his own prison cell for goodness sakes!  Remarkable.  It really is a fascinating read.

~storytelling nomad~

Book that contains your favourite scene

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 24

I realise that this is going to sound sort of bizarre, but I’m nothing if not eccentric in my ways.

I recently finished reading Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Errand (I know, I know, I’m still stuck in the Robin Hobb love bubble), and I was on a plane when I read this particular scene.  Now, I’m not usually prone to public displays of relative instability and unsoundness, but I honest to God was crying like a baby when I read this scene.  I mentioned I was on a plane at the time, right?

I then arrived at my destination, hopped in the shower and booed again.  A week later I was walking through town with my mum, explaining how I had teared up on the plane AND in the shower, and as I related the scene to her I choked up again.  Mum was a little concerned, but once I managed to get it out through the sobs, she understood.

So my favourite scene is one that has me wailing like a banshee?  Yes, it is.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so emotionally connected to a character/s and his/their quest, as I have with Fitz and co. in both The Farseer Trilogy and now The Tawny Man Trilogy.  I think the sheer fact that I got so upset by this scene is a testament to the author and her writing.  When I’m reading these books, I’m there and the characters are real.  I experience their joys and their sorrows, their desires and their concerns.

The scene in question is at the end of the book after the final battle, when the protagonist, Fitz, lays down by his wolf, Nighteyes, with whom he can communicate with and is essentially bonded to in mind, heart and soul.  Those who have this ‘magic’ are known as Witted, or as having the Wit.  In this book, Fitz and Nighteyes undertake a quest to save their Prince Dutiful from a band of Witted folk with evil intentions.  Throughout the story it becomes apparent that Fitz and Nighteyes are not the youthful heroes they once were, with Nighteyes in particular showing signs of fatigue and aging.  As they fall asleep after the final fight, exhausted, they share thoughts and dreams.

*spoiler alert*

I could not sort out which thoughts were mine and which were the wolf’s.  I didn’t need to.  I sank into his dreams with him and we dreamed well together.  Perhaps it was Dutiful’s loss that put us so much in mind of all we still possessed, and all we had had.  We dreamed of a cub hunting mice beneath the rotting floor of an old outbuilding, and we dreamed of a man and a wolf pulling down a great boar between them.  We dreamed of stalking one another in deep snow, tussling and yelping and shouting.  Deer blood, hot in the mouth, and the rich soft liver to squabble over.  And then we sank past those ancient memories into perfect rest and comfort.  Healing begins in deep sleep such as that.

He stirred first.  I nearly woke as he rose, gingerly shook himself, and then stretched more bravely.  His superior sense of smell told me that the edge of dawn was in the air.  The weak sun had just begun to touch the dew-wet grasses, waking the smells of the earth.  Game would be stirring.  The hunting would be good.

I’m so tired, I complained.  I can’t believe you’re getting up.  Rest for a while longer.  We’ll hunt later.

You’re tired? I’m so tired that rest won’t ease me.  Only the hunt.  I felt his wet nose poke my cheek.  It was cold.  Aren’t you coming?  I was sure you’d want to come with me.

I do.  I do.  But not just yet.  Give me just a bit longer.

Very well, little brother.  Just a bit longer.  Follow me when you will.

But my mind rode with his, as it had so many times.  We left the cave, thick with man-stink, and walked past the cat’s new cairn.  We smelled her death, and the musk of a fox who had come to the scent, but turned aside at the smell of the campfire’s smoke.  Swiftly we left the camp behind.  Nighteyes chose the open hillside instead of the wooded vale.  The sky overhead was blue and deep, and the last star fading in the sky.  The night had been colder than I had realised.  Frost tipped some of the grasses still, but as the rising sun touched it, it smoked briefly and was gone.  The crisp edge of the air remained, each scent as sharp as a clean knife-edge.  With a wolf’s nose, I scented all and knew all.  The world was ours.  The turning time, I said to him.

Exactly.  Time to change, Changer.

There were fat mice hastily harvesting seedheads in the tall grass, but we passed them by.  At the top of the hill we paused.  We walked the spine of the hill, smelling the morning, tasting the lip of the day to come.  There would be deer in the forested creek bottoms.  They would be healthy and strong and fat, a challenge to any pack let alone a single wolf.  He would need me at his side to hunt those.  He would have to come back for them later.  Nevertheless, he halted on top of the ridge.  The morning wind riffled his fur and his ears were perked as he looked down to where we knew they must be.

Good hunting.  I’m going now brother.  He spoke with great determination.

Alone?  You can’t bring a buck down alone! I sighed with resignation.  Wait, I’ll get up and come with you.

Wait for you? Not likely!  I’ve always had to run ahead of you and show you the way.

Swift as thought, he slipped away from me, running down the hillside like a cloud’s shadow when the wind blows.  My connection to him frayed away as he went scattering and floating like dandelion fluff in the wind.  Instead of small and secret, I felt our bond go wide and open, as if he had invited all the Witted creatures in the world in to share our joining.  All the web of life on the whole hillside suddenly swelled within my heart, linked and meshed and woven through with one another.  It was too glorious to contain.  I had to go with him; a morning this wondrous must be shared.

‘Wait!’ I cried, and in shouting the word, I woke myself.  Nearby, the Fool sat up, his hair tousled.  I blinked.  My mouth was full of salve and wolf-hair, my fingers buried deep in his coat.  I clutched him to me, and my grip sighed his last stilled breath out of his lungs.  But Nighteyes was gone.

Robin Hobb Fool’s Errand pp.604-606

And yes, typing this out had me in tears yet again! It’s so sad, and yet so beautiful.  I think Robin Hobb is a truly wonderful writer.

~storytelling nomad~

Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 18

Oh please don’t judge me, but this one is a bit of a doozy.

I’m more than aware that it’s poorly written, there are ‘to’s where there should be ‘too’s, appalling grammar and some suspicious word choices *cough chargrin cough*.  For those of you who haven’t already seen it, there’s even an entire website dedicated to this book and every possible error known to the English language, which can of course be found in this novel.  Check out the website Reasoning with Vampires, it’s really quite enlightening.

And yet, somehow I just loved reading it, and the three sequels.  And not just one time.  I read them over and over and…

Okay, don’t make me go on.  I’m not even going to name the book, because I know you have already guessed it (you guys are so clever!).  Also there happens to be a large picture of the cover just a few lines below this one.  Yeah that probably helped too.

Team Edward!

~storytelling nomad~

Facebook and Twitter’s shiny new lovechild

The result of a forbidden love

I recently had the pleasure of being invited by my blog buddy Kate, to trial the new social networking site Google+.

I have to say, when I got the invite I was fairly excited.  I don’t like to be behind with new technology and for a number of weeks previous to my royal invitation, it seemed that everyone was talking about their exclusive participation on Google+, with me behind the red carpet ropes, jumping up and down screaming “pick me! pick me!”

It wasn’t that I had heard anything particularly special  about Google+, with some people happy, others not and a decent amount of expected new technology confusion.  It was more the exclusivity of the whole thing.  By not offering it to everyone but leaking out enough information to set chins wagging, people (myself included) got curious.

Well played Google. Well played.

So, now that I’m a member of this cool new club, what do I think?

Well, at first I was confused.  It sort of looked like Facebook, but with more colours true to the Google logo style, so I felt slightly deceived when I tried desperately to communicate on someone’s wall, only to discover that walls don’t exist in Google+ land.

After much exploring, tinkering and many scratches of my head, I finally figured it out.

Facebook and Twitter defied the odds, fooled everyone into thinking they were arch enemies, grand rivals, wild adversaries!  When in fact, they were snogging in the back seat of the car, concealing their unrequited love, and stealing passionate embraces in the deep of the night.  One thing led to another and then it happened.

Facebook and Twitter had a baby, and they called it Google+.

As is customary with brand new celebrity babies, it was bestowed with a ‘unique’ name, following the likes of Sunday Rose and Suri, and hidden from the media spotlight until it could be all but guaranteed that its first public appearance would bring great profit, stardom and popularity to said VIPs.  I know you’re wondering how this is different to any other superstar couple popping out an overindulged lovechild, and I’m not sure that it is. I can say with confidence only that I’m neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed by this new celebrity rug rat.  I’m just, whelmed?

From the onset you can see that it’s all very sleek and pretty.  Like Facebook, you can update your profile information and provide more about yourself than twitter has ever consented to.  The design closely resembles Facebook, with a few tweaks and changes, such as the +1 button where Facebook instead has the like button.  But for the most part, it acts like Twitter.  You can post on your own ‘wall’ but not on others.  You can add friends to circles (the Google+ equivalent of ‘following’ people on Twitter), meaning you will follow their posts (the ones they make public or available to your circle, anyway), without their having to reciprocate the friendship.

There is a new feature called Circles, which essentially requires you to compartmentalise your friends into categories, which I’m still a little shady about.  I haven’t yet figured out if those people can see the name of the ‘Circle’ you place them in, so be wary about your labels (I’m thinking ‘enemies’, ‘boring’ or ‘losers’ are probably not appropriate).   Truth be told, I still don’t know much at all about the ins and outs of the Circles yet, unsure what happens when you have friends in more than one category and what exactly their purpose is, but I think it comes down to your posts and being able to easily manage what groups, or Circles, can see each of them.

As with any newborn, Google+ is experiencing the usual teething problems as he tries to make his mark on the world, but I haven’t found it too painful to deal with yet.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether Google+ is heading for the bright lights of fame and fortune that it’s famous parents have been blessed with.  I love how clean it is, the simplicity, but as with anything, without the people there really isn’t much to look at.  Currently, I have five lonely Google+ buds, which makes for a pretty slow and dreary post feed as we all walk around aimlessly in circles, bumping into walls and occasionally each other, trying to figure it all out.  There is a distinct echo in the room.

There are a few other features, including the new group video chat ‘hangouts’, which I haven’t yet had the chance to experience, probably due to the aforementioned unremarkable number of Google+ buddies, but if you would like to know more about it, and other various features of Google+, you should definitely check out this very entertaining post at terribleminds.  Here is an excerpt:

I’m also afraid that if I somehow turn on my webcam, the first thing I’m going to see is someone masturbating at me. Which is why I am prepared instead to masturbate at somebody. Fight fire with fire. Fight Onanism with Onanism. I have a very clear “first strike” policy on webcam jerkoffery. Once again, the need for “Circle Jerk” to enter the Goo-Plus parlance is dire. Dire.

Continue reading here

Meanwhile, I’m feeling optimistic enough to stick it out for the time being, although I’m mildly aware that having three platforms to post on is somewhat absurd, and that somewhere along the line, something will have to give.

N.B.  I think it should be noted that I’m resolved on one thing further; at the slightest whiff of a Farmville, Zombieland, Vampire eating, sheep throwing, masterchef making, pirate ninja war battling piece of spam making game, I can safely say that I will lose all respect for this royal lovechild.  I’m hoping his parents will have the decency to teach him the error of their ways and save us all the spammy theatrics.

~storytelling nomad~

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 8

Book that scares you

The Lord of the Rings - The Fellowship of the Ring by J R R Tolkien

This is one of my favourite books ever, direct from the gifted mastery of J.R.R. Tolkein.  Certain suspenseful scenes, however, would often leave me no choice but to put the book down during the night and wait until the light of day to continue reading.

The scenes I refer to are those of the Black Riders, the Ringwraiths…the Nazgûl, and they terrified me with their screeching in the night, the sounds of them sniffing out their prey, and their hooded cloaks hiding the grotesque faces that lay beneath.  I have also since had the pleasure of watching the Peter Jackson film adaptations, which in my opinion, quite aptly represent the Nazgûl’s literary counterparts, but which left me with further sensory images of these frightening figures.  *shudder*

Here are some of the scary scenes from my 1993 Harper Collins edition of LOTR:

“Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible.

When it reached the tree and was level with Frodo the horse stopped. The riding figure sat quite still with its head bowed, as if listening. From inside the hood came a noise as of someone sniffing to catch an elusive scent; the head turned from side to side of the road.”

Fellowship of the Ring, p.108-109

“On the far stage, under the distant lamps, they could just make out a figure: it looked like a dark black bundle left behind. But as they looked it seemed to move and sway this way and that, as if searching the ground. It then crawled, or went crouching, back into the gloom beyond the lamps.”

Fellowship of the Ring, p.140

Creeeepppyyyyyy!  And yet, it is a testament to Tolkien that I would read these books over and over again, because typically I shy away from scary movies, thrillers and anything remotely suspenseful.

~storytelling nomad~

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 4

Book that makes you cry

As a rule, I like to read books that make me feel good, not sad or unhappy.  It’s partly why I love fantasy fiction so much, in that it allows me to escape the harsh truths of reality and enter worlds where magic happens.  It’s also the great thing about fiction, where the author has the creative license to make sure that everything turns out okay in the end, and generally speaking, it does.

In any case, every now and then I hear so many good reviews about a book not of the fantasy genre that I decide I simply must read it and see what all the fuss is about.  Sometimes this results in me being glad I spread my literary wings as I discover something amazing outside of fantasy.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  A great deal of the time it sends me running to my bookshelf, grasping desperately for a Harry Potter book or The Lord of the Rings, ready to re-immerse myself into lands where “stupefy!” will render my enemy temporarily immobile, or where I have a guardian wizard by the name of Gandalf who makes cool fireworks to brighten the night sky.  Happy days.

One such time that sent me running to my bookshelf, but not before I cradled my knees in the corner, rocking back and forth and weeping with sorrow, was Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.  I have great respect for this woman after discovering that she wrote the book during NaNoWriMo, something I’m looking forward to participating in this year.  It really is a beautifully written story, but honestly, I just couldn’t get past the cruelty to animals part of it.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand in this world, it’s the abuse and/or neglect of animals, and I find reading/watching/hearing about it very difficult.  I can’t even watch animated movies about animals because I know there’s always one that will be trapped or hurt or die and will have me blubbering like a baby.

The cruelty to the elephant in this book was just too much for my weak, animal spirited heart to bear.  And it was one of those things where I just knew that even if everything turned out okay in the end, the damage was already done.  *Cue more weeping*

So yes, this book made me cry, a lot.  And by the end I didn’t feel much better about it either.  *Spoiler Alert* The old man got to go back to the circus, but ultimately he was still rejected and abandoned by his family! Too sad…too sad I tell you!

~storytelling nomad~

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 2

Least Favourite Book

You’re kidding right? I have enough trouble remembering my faves, let alone the ones I’d rather not remember at all.  Okay restorative brain power, come to me now.  Go go gadget memory!

In the vague mist of my long term reading memory (that would be, oh say, the last 5 years or so) I do recall reading a book that I thought was pretty good, light enterntainment.  Excitement, joy and happiness ensued at discovering an author who had written other potentially good books to occupy my twilight reading hours.  I sourced out another of her novels and set myself up in sweet anticipation.  But hark? What’s this? The first story told of a woman moving from Australia to Ireland, and this one now tells of a woman moving from Ireland to Australia?  The characters are different but some of the names are the same? Gees woman, in need of new material much? This royally pissed me off.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about the books other than that, and perhaps on re reading I wouldn’t be so harsh.  The author was Monica McInernay, and I think the two books were called Spin the Bottle and Upside Down Inside Out.  I’ve never read anything else of hers since, although that’s not to say nothing else of hers is any good.  Like I said, I enjoyed the first book I read, but didn’t appreciate reading such a similar story with the second.

On a side note, this book challenge business is obviously entirely subjective.  One person’s favourite is another’s least favourite.  I nearly went with Water for Elephants, because although spectacularly written and a moving story, it really was just too sad for me.  I could never bring myself to read it again.  But in fear of grand retribution, I thought it best to go with something a little less mainstream bestseller.

~storytelling nomad~

Scrivener – The Writer’s Tool

So in a further attempt to move the novel along, or more accurately, get it started, I purchased the well reviewed Scrivener program today.  I had heard many good things and after watching a few video tutorials on the Scrivener website and seeing some of the nifty things I could do with it, I was sold.  I was also pleasantly surprised at the $AUD38.04 education price tag … which for any program, not to mention one so highly regarded, is pretty amazing.

Check out the video below to see all the basic fun things Scrivener does.  Obviously I’ve had only a little time to play with it yet, but I especially like the split screen editing tool, being able to have your research all in one program i.e. not having to click on multiple browsers/windows to access all your information, and the ability to create ebooks (check out that video tutorial here), which seems very cool to me.

As a writer’s organisational tool, this program seems invaluable.  I was only today reading an interesting blog discussing the different organisational and methodical approaches writers use when they are drafting their stories, whether it be freestyle or intense plotting.  Either way, I figure it would be more a help than a hindrance with an 80,000+ word novel to have a program that helps organise, streamline and keep everything neatly together.

Most importantly, however, is that so far it’s all been very simple to pick up and use.  There’s nothing worse than a program that offers to clean the car, do the washing and write your story for you, only to discover that the damn thing is so hard to operate that any person with an ordinary sized brain never gets to utilise any of those functions.  Scrivener doesn’t seem at all pretentious in that way, which is good news to my cerebrum.

~storytelling nomad~

My love affair continues…

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

I think I’m in love.  The subject of my affections? Robin Hobb and her Farseer Trilogy. It’s a fairly recent love affair but I can just tell it’s going to stand the test of time.

I only yesterday started the final book in the series, Assassin’s Quest, so perhaps this might be a little preemptive, but honestly, I simply couldn’t imagine being disappointed by this writer.  She has such an economical use of language, nothing too flowery or long-winded, and yet the writing is still so amazingly colorful, intelligent and imaginative.  While I was waiting for Assassin’s Quest to arrive in the mail from The Book Depository, I started on another of her series – The Rain Wild Chronicles, and although I missed Fitz, the Fool and Burrich from The Farseer Trilogy, I found her writing equally impressive.  Not to mention, all her books have been recently re-released with beautiful covers, and although you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, feel free to judge away with these.

These books really have been a pleasure to read…easy reading without the simplicity.  It’s not one of those books where you find yourself reading a paragraph over and over to make sure you’ve understood what is going on (insert frustration here), but neither does it make the mistake of underestimating its readers’ intellect.  I believe these books to be an excellent example of how to ‘show not tell’, a writing principle that makes all the difference in a good book.

I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre…and even to those who don’t.  This is not a point-your-wand/alohamora/Hogwarts type fantasy, for anyone out there put off by that sort of thing.  It’s fantasy for adults, a story of intrigue, loyalty and a boy’s often agonising journey to becoming a man.

In conclusion, read it! You know you want to…

~storytelling nomad~

Review: Inception

Inception
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Rated: M15+

I am mildly curious at the anxiety that creeps up on me when I consider expressing my opinion of the film Inception, foreseeing riots, hate mail and possible exile. My concern is that the majority will poorly receive my theory that this recently released American blockbuster is, well, grossly overrated.

There, I said it.

Now, before you start steaming from the ears and shaking your fists at me in rage and disbelief, perhaps you might ask what would bring me to such an outrageous notion?

Firstly, you would probably be delighted to know that the aforementioned sentiment in no way signifies that I either disliked or felt great aversion to the film. Rather, I enjoyed it and was only acutely aware of the loss of feeling in my backside during the near two and a half hour mind-marathon. There is no denying director Christopher Nolan’s film-making talent. Most recently praised for his excellent execution of Batman: The Dark Knight, he loads Inception with rich scenes of roads folding upon themselves as the characters actively build and transform their dream world in their minds. The laws of gravity are excitingly absent as fight scenes take place on corridor walls and ceilings, making it fascinating to watch.

All this as we follow a fine performance by Leonardo Di Caprio as Dom Cobb. His job is to enter dreams and steal ideas from them, a process known as extraction. The trickier part comes with the planting of an idea in a dream, known as inception. A sub plot surrounding his wife (Marion Cotillard) leads us to discover the reason behind his spinning-top obsession, essentially used as a ‘totem’ to determine whether he is still stuck in a dream or not based on the spinning-top continuing to spin, or not, respectively. Back-up performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock from the Sun), Tom Hardy (Star Trek Nemesis) and Ellen Page (Juno), are impressive, even if their scripts offer the viewer little in the way of empathising with any of them. As far as sci-fi thrillers go, this one was certainly worth the meagre $8 I spent on my ticket.

Nevertheless, now brace yourselves, I am genuinely mystified by declarations of “masterpiece”, “genius!” and “instant classic”, in reference to Inception. Perhaps being one of the more superior cinematic mainstream blockbuster releases of late, people are rather taken aback at the notion of not being spoon-fed their entertainment and find that their brains getting a work out during a causal trip to the movies quite a remarkable concept. Furthermore, despite the fact that having the masses leave the theatre with the incredible urge to discuss at length “what the hell just happened!” with great delight being a feat in itself these days, I am still unconvinced that this all amounts to an “instant classic”.

The question ‘what is a dream?’ is not a new one. Neither are movies that rack at the brains before the slightest inkling of comprehension settles in. The Matrix amazed us all at the end of the last millennium, pushing the boundaries of cinematography and profoundly amazing audiences with a complex and solid plot. Mulholland Drive comes to mind as another exceptional but particularly baffling movie which required more than one viewing to ascertain what had gone on and to pinpoint exactly at what stage I had been fooled. Even another of Nolan’s movies, The Prestige, with exceptional performances by Hugh Jackman (X-Men) and Christian Bale (Batman), offered a tricky plot with a superb twist at the end to make the audience “ooo” and “ahhh”. The point is, there are more than a handful of movies out there which make you really think, ask you ‘what is reality?’, and which require a second viewing because of a sly twist or unresolved clues. I just don’t think Inception is up there with the best of them.

To begin with, the levels of the dream are so over-explained that it leaves little work for the average mind, even if you’re only half paying attention. I’ve heard many people announce proudly that if you don’t think the movie is utter genius, then it’s simply because you haven’t understood what’s going on. Although I was not aware that the ultimate motion picture of all time is defined by its ability to render an audience utterly clueless, my primary concern is, that I’m fairly certain that I have understood what’s going on. The inception team are hired by big shot Saito played by Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Batman Begins) to enter the layers of a man’s dream one by one to plant a seed of an idea in the deepest level, so that when he wakes up he thinks he came up with it himself. The three levels of the dream in question were easily identified by a van, a corridor and a lot of snow. On top of all that, there’s a limbo land where you get stuck if you don’t come out of the dream, or you die in the dream.

Blah blah blah. We get it! And I think most people don’t give themselves enough credit to realise they get it too, or, if they do, they are inexplicably fooled by the very last scene which in my opinion is not an extraordinary twist, but your average cliff-hanger, which with a little thought people may realise really could only result in two scenarios, neither particularly impressive or mind-blowing. Unfortunately, I think more worthy of discussion is the comment Nolan makes on how we know what is reality, which is eclipsed by the majority of audiences who see the ending as a magnificent twist that puts the entire two and a half hours, rather than the more applicable final five minutes, into question.

I’m sure there will be die hard fans lining up to tell me exactly what it is that I have missed. But, until a more convincing argument than “I had no idea what just happened…genius!” comes along, I am prepared to remain relatively entertained, mildly thought-provoked, and most of all mind-blown, but less by the film than by the hype behind it.

~storytelling nomad~

Review: The Khareef by Pico Iyer

Travel literature is often regarded as boring and unvaried. Personal tales of “getting off the beaten path”, discovering the “inner journey”, finding romance on a moonlit night in Paris, or being rendered speechless by one of the many colossal icons across the globe have been overdone, and the small shelf allocated for travel literature in bookstores bears testament to its limited demand. With readers often slightly bewildered by a genre that offers an obscure mix of fiction and non-fiction and few fresh ideas to spark interest, travel literature seems to have been becoming a forgotten genre.

Thankfully, Pico Iyer offers a refreshing change amongst the underdogs with his enchanting tale The Khareef. This piece, from his collection of travel stories Sun After Dark, details Iyer’s 2001 trip to Oman. As he reflects on the Oman as it was, as it is, and later as it will come to be, Iyer illustrates a place far removed from the rest of the world, triggering colourful images of a magical, otherworldly and far away land, somewhat stuck in the past, but juxtaposed with snapshots of contemporary influences.

Those unfamiliar with the travel writing genre, may be unacquainted with the British born novelist, who in 1995 was named by the Utne Reader as “one of the 100 visionaries worldwide who could change your life”, next to the likes of Noam Chomsky and Václav Havel. A regular essayist for renowned Time magazine since 1986, Iyer has also made a name for himself contributing to prominent publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic and Harper’s. He is also the author of Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul, to name a few.

With all this behind him, The Khareef doesn’t disappoint as a travel piece to outshine travel pieces. The word khareef refers to the south-western monsoon that passes through the southern tip of Arabia each year, and it is with this image that begins visions of a “heavy chill mist” falling over Oman with its veiled women, “only their mascara’ed eyes looking out”.

There is a distinct feeling of isolation highlighted through vast desert images, abandoned hotels and little to no connection or intimacy with any people or of the place itself. Little dialogue gives the impression that Iyer is simply observing and reporting what he sees rather than interacting or becoming a part of it. He describes a place somewhat resistant to receiving foreigners as its own, stuck in an odd limbo between past and present, yet ironically destined to continually and dramatically change and transform within the restrictions of its isolation. There is little magic in Oman, but Pico Iyer shares with his readers the enchantment that veils this far away place.

Without warning, readers are led on an unexpected path of deeply thoughtful explorations as Iyer begins his piece far from where it finally ends. Late night encounters with young boys and their guns “guarding their turf as in East L.A.”, black veiled women tapping away on their slow computers “linked to a world no one really believes in.” Curiously, his detached voice offers a distinct undertone of discontentment with Oman as Iyer passes through, observing but never engaging. He evokes the feeling that foreigners are from too different a world to ever truly belong there or understand it, and yet despite this, sanctions a deep appreciation for its uniqueness, antiquity and detached charm.

Iyer’s command for language is flawless. The words roll off your tongue like poetry, each line evoking an image that draws you further into the desert, carrying you along as if swept up in the khareef. In an interview with travel writer Rolf Potts, Iyer stated that the writing process for him involves trying “to catch the feelings — the sound, the smell, the tang, of a place” (cited in Potts n.d. ⁋10) Indeed, colourful images of the landscape, the sounds, the people, all contribute to a read which takes all the senses on a memorable ride.

The Khareef liberates itself from the more mundane in travel writing. In a rare moment, it succeeds in delivering a place both desolate and neglected, yet also alluring and irresistible. It is hard to say how exactly Iyer manages to make his readers both distance themselves further from Oman and at the same time yearn a closeness to it.

If you are looking for a travel story that strives valiantly to set itself aside from the rest, look to The Khareef. Let Iyer take you on a magical journey to a particular kind of cheerless hell that leaves you wanting more, without suffering the reality of it. And brace yourself for the ending. It will undoubtedly remind you that despite our absolute dislocation from Oman, it really isn’t that far away at all.

~storytelling nomad~