Romance Is Not Dead.

Today I was browsing in a bookstore when a guy nearby did the most romantic thing I’ve witnessed in quite some time. 

He took out his phone, made a call and said, “Hi sweet, I’m just at the bookstore… do you need anything?”

I was overcome with “all the feelings” and I’m sure I had a goofy smile all over my face, despite the realisation that my dream man was a complete stranger and in a relationship with someone for whom he is willing to buy books. 

And they say romance is dead. 
What I saw and heard today proves otherwise. 

What a guy!

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Absurdity.

Am I missing something? Is there a new ‘Absurdity’ genre of stories that are not intended to make sense? 

I have read two books this week that promised much but delivered nothing other than almost complete bewilderment. They didn’t make sense at all. 

Yet both had received four and five star reviews. I have absolutely no idea how. 

Surely a basic requirement of writing a story for someone else to read is that it needs to make sense? It needs to mean something, to communicate an idea, or to at least not leave the reader perplexed.

I don’t understand how those books are meant to be enjoyable.
If someone else likes them, that’s great, but they are not for me.

Misunderstood Shakespeare: The Balcony Scene

Pretty much anywhere you go, whoever you talk to, if they know only one thing about any play by Shakespeare, it’s the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. It’s possibly the most famous scene ever written. 

There’s just one problem with that:  there was no balcony. 

That’s correct. 

There. 
Never. 
Was. 
A.
Freaking.
Balcony. 

In the script, the stage direction is clear: JULIET appears above at a window. 

Not a balcony. A window. 

You can read the entire scene and see that not once is a balcony mentioned. 

I don’t know who invented it, but it was a killer idea that I bet Shakespeare would wish he had thought of, were he still alive today. 

Of course, directors can stage a play however they like, and make use of whatever structures and sets the theatre provides.

Filmmakers can do likewise, but one must keep in mind their tendency to just change whatever they want. Hollywood is notorious for that. The mayhem that comes from mass misunderstanding occurs when directors think they know better than the author, and when people watch a movie instead of reading the book.

It makes people and their assumptions about the original text wrong, and leaves them marinating in their wrongness until their wrongness is so commonly accepted that most people think it’s right. 

It just goes to show that what your English teacher always said is true: there really is no substitute for reading the book.

Well… That Ended Badly.

I read a book this week that I was really enjoying. It kept me hooked right to the end, and then came the death blow: a sudden, out-of-nowhere, poorly executed ending. Without warning, or even the slightest hint that it was coming, the story just stopped. 

I hate that. I hate it so much that I am deferring writing my review until I’ve got over my annoyance at it. The story was so good, and the characters so interesting, that I was completely absorbed in it. And then? Suddenly, POOF! It’s all over. 

I dislike cliffhanger endings to books at the best of times. 
This one was not even the best of times.
It wasn’t really a cliffhanger, either. It was more like the whole book got snatched out of my hands and thrown over the cliff, and might never be seen again. 

It was possibly the worst sudden ending to a story I’ve ever experienced. It made me think that maybe the author did not know how to properly end a story, even though they obviously knew how to write the rest of one. 

I fully understand why authors design those suspenseful endings – they want to keep readers guessing and anticipating what comes next so they’ll read the next book. 

Here’s the thing, though: if the book is good, I’m going to buy and read the next one anyway. If the writing or editing is poor, or the storyline is weak, a cliffhanger isn’t going to make me buy or read the next one. 

If there has to be a sudden ending, or a cliffhanger, there should at least be enough resolution in the final chapters to answer some of the questions raised in the book. By all means, leave questions unanswered. Just— not all of them. 

I do quite like suspense and anticipation.
I love the sensation of looking forward to the next book.
I do not enjoy an ending that leaves me wondering if the author’s computer crashed and the final chapter was irretrievably lost. 

I read a lot of books, and for me, a quality conclusion is as important as the opening paragraphs. You can win or lose readers right there, regardless of how good the rest of the book might be. 

A Favourite Shakespeare Play: ‘Julius Caesar’

‘Julius Caesar’ is a brilliant play in which Shakespeare demonstrates his genius is in taking a story we all know and making the characters familiar in a personal and almost tangible way. Shakespeare takes one of the most famous men in history and portrays him as fully human, flawed and even vulnerable in different ways. It’s not the way we’re accustomed to thinking about ‘historical giants’ like Caesar., but Shakespeare makes it all seem quite natural. 

At the beginning of the play, even while he is being celebrated as Rome’s all-conquering hero, his first interactions cast him as a husband who is acutely aware of his wife’s childlessness. We don’t know if his instructions to Calpurnia and Antony are motivated by sorrow or by his desire for an heir to whom he might pass his empire, but either way, Caesar doesn’t miss an opportunity that might make a difference.  

Before long, we see him as a man afflicted by disease when he is struck by a seizure, and is obviously bothered by the fact that is happens in public. He may control all of Rome and its empire, but he cannot control his illness. 
We also see him as a man keenly aware of popular opinion, sen in his public refusal of the crown not once, but three times, yet ignorant of the way his own senators feel about him personally. Regardless of his aspirations, he is astute enough to know that actually accepting a crown as Emperor is not the best move for him at this point in time. 

In these things, the audience begins to see the great historical hero Julius Caesar as a complex, thoughtful man, one who holds a variety of responsibilities and obligations that he takes very seriously. He is very much human, in contrast to the Roman tendency to venerate their heroes almost as gods. We see his humanity rather than his pride, although we know that exists because it is his hubris that brings about his downfall. 

Shakespeare’s portrayal of other characters is equally powerful.

Caesar’s assessment of Cassius is profound: “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” In those few words, Shakespeare establishes a vivid image that shapes our perception of the man and positions the audience to distrust the character. 

Brutus is shown as a moral man struggling with a dilemma that weighs heavily on him. A strong sense of foreboding settles on the audience when he puts his trust in Cassius, making himself vulnerable to a man whose thoughts and conspiracies are indeed dangerous, particularly for Caesar. At this point, even though both Caesar and the audience like Brutus, his destiny as one of the conspirators is sealed. 

In all of this, Shakespeare makes expert use of dramatic irony and foreboding to keep the audience in suspense as Caesar’s train speeds ignorantly toward its derailment. This is established right at the start of the play with the mysterious soothsayer who delivers the warning, “Beware the Ides of March”. 

While it is a history play, it has some elements of  a tragedy in that Caesar is completely oblivious to the fact that his actions are contributing to his own eventual demise at the hand of the conspirators whom he still perceives as friends and allies. The pathos of his question to Brutus: “Et tu, Brute?” — “You too, Brutus?” makes the moment of his all-too-late realisation one of almost palpable betrayal and sorrow. In that moment, Caesar dies knowing that he is truly friendless and alone.

It’s important to note that the play makes it clear that assassinating anyone is not a good idea, and the assassins do not prosper as the result of their actions. It wasn’t in Shakespeare’s interests to be seen to promote or condone assassinating the established ruler, as he was reliant on the good favour of Queen Elizabeth I and, after her, King James. He wasn’t encouraging anyone to try to kill their leader: he was showing that, historically, doing so didn’t actually achieve what the conspirators hoped it would. 

It’s a very direct and straightforward play – there are no real subplots and the political undercurrents are all really obvious because they are what drives the play. This makes it a great play for a “first Shakespeare play” for those who are just beginning their Shakespeare journey. 

For the word-nerds, this is the text from which we get great, still commonly used phrases like “It’s all Greek to me” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”. It’s also the source of the title of John Green’s enormously popular novel ’The Fault In Our Stars’. 

Why I Started Book Blogging

I discovered this post on the abooknation today. It reminded me of starting my own book blog, although my reasons were slightly different.

Like this blogger, I have always been an avid reader, but it was really only when my first book was published that I began to understand the true value of a review for an author.

It’s really the only feedback you get from readers.

A negative review can crush your soul until you think about the fact that you haven’t liked every single book you’ve picked up, either. Sometimes it’s a matter of taste.

A thoughtful review helps you improve your writing and motivates you to keep going. And if someone praises your work, it’s incredibly satisfying and fulfilling because you know you’ve connected with a reader’s soul.

The fact that such a small proportion of readers leave reviews does not really surprise me, because I had never done so before, either.

Once I recognised the need for reviews of Indie books, I saw that this was an opportunity for me to use my love of reading to help other Indie authors by leaving an honest, constructive review.

Thus, Book Squirrel was born.

After developing my confidence with book reviews, Book Squirrel’s blog extended to include author spotlights and interviews, book events and, recently, a range of integrated Indie book promotion services.

I love blogging about books and supporting other Indie authors. I enjoy giving back to the Indie author community and showing others how positive and proactive Indying is done.

Book Squirrel brings me, and others, joy.
And that is the best reason ever to keep going.

abooknation

I’m not sure if I’ve actually ever mentioned why I got into book blogging but if I did I don’t think I made a blog post about it so… HUR WE GOO:

I’ve always loved reading but I feel like I went through phases where I went on a bit of a (very) long slump until I read a book that hooked me back into reading! I’m someone with the shitest memory, even now when someone asks me for book recommendations I have to skim through my posts to jig my memory of what books I’ve read. So around 4/5 years ago when I got back into reading, I had no idea that book blogging was a thing, I thought why would anyone want to hear my rambling thoughts about a book I’ve read??????

Whenever I finished a book I would write up a review and literally just leave it…

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Thursday Thoughts: I’m Textually Active.

If you’ve been following my blog for any amount of time, you’ll probably know that when I’m not blogging, reading or writing, or strutting my stuff on stage in musicals, I’m a teacher. 

Teaching is demanding and tiring and stressful, but I am always up for a great booknerdy discussion with my students, who I happen to believe are some of the coolest kids on the planet. That is one of the parts of my job that I really love. 

Last semester, my Year 9 English class studied ‘Beowulf’ and Year 11 studied both ‘Richard III’ and ‘A Christmas Carol’

The fun continues this semester. I’m excited to be teaching four more texts I really enjoy. 
My Year 9 English class are going to study ‘Much Ado About Nothing’  and ‘Treasure Island’
My Year 11 English class will be studying ‘The Complete Maus’ and ‘The Book Thief’. 

Teaching teenagers can be a tough gig sometimes, but it also has its perks.

If you had a teacher you liked, I’d love to know what it was about them that appealed to you or inspired you. Leave a comment and inspire me!

How to Talk to Your Cats About Shakespeare

I Never realised how lacking my relationship with Scout Kitty and Abbey the Labby has been.

I’ve been selfish. I’ve been keeping the Shakespeare all to myself.

After reading this fabulous post that I discovered today, I have just apologised to them both, and told them that it’s all about to change.

The cat yawned and went back to sleep, but the dog shall have her day.

Gerbil News Network

My cats are big Shakespeare fans; in the case of Rocco, who’s been letting himself go a bit, a huge devotee of the Bard–fifteen pounds at his last checkup.  We have assembled on the patio for a reading from Julius Caesar.  Titus Andronicus was checked out of our local library, and my wife, the family Shakespeare-hater, is out of town.

“This foul deed shall smell above the earth/with carrion chipmunks, groaning for burial.”

I’ve told them the best way to read Shakespeare is that taught to me by Merlin Bowen, my freshman humanities teacher; once through quickly without checking the footnotes, then the second time more slowly, and thoughtfully, looking up the buskins and petards as you go.  Easy for him to say since he didn’t have chemistry and social studies and phys ed and French and drugs to take at the same time.

“I didn’t finish the reading assignment–okay?”

Rocco is…

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My Kind Of Person.

Today my brother, sister-in-law and I took our elderly and increasingly frail Dad out for lunch. 

We went to one of our favourite local places: Lake Edge Cafe on the shore of Lake Purrumbete. The view is lovely in any weather, but it was nice and warm inside. 

While we were waiting for our lunch, another family group came in and took the table next to ours. It looked to be a man around my own age, three boys, and the boys’ grandparents. 

“Shall I tell you a bit about the menu?” the waiter asked. 

“Could you wait a bit, please?” the guy responded. “My wife will be in in a moment… she’s just finishing the final few pages of a book.” 

I smiled. Anyone who stays in the car to finish a book before lunch is my kind of person. 

In case you were wondering, I ordered the pumpkin, prosciutto, pine nut and cherry tomato fettuccine. It was amazing. 

A Big Thing For An Indie.

Yesterday afternoon I took some friends to one of my favourite bookstores — which I lovingly refer to as book rescue shelters — in Bendigo. 

While looking through the Historical Fiction section, I was delighted to find two books from the ‘Plantagenet Embers’ series by Samantha Wilcoxson that I really enjoy. 

What made that such a cool thing for me is that Samantha is an Indie author from Michigan with whom I have interacted on social media. I have read several of her books on Kindle, and they are really well written. 

As Indies, most of our sales are on Kindle, Kobo or other ebook stores. We don’t get big, fancy distribution via a global publishing company. so it’s great to see that Samantha’s papaerbacks have made it to Australia! That’s really exciting! And now I own two of them, because I knew right away I couldn’t leave them there. 

These are excellent books that I am proud to have in my collection.
And now that I have books 2 and 3, I may have to see if I can buy a signed copy of book 1 direct from the author. That would be an awesome addition to my bookshelf!