You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

The Hardest Years Shall Not Be Forgotten Years

So tomorrow brings the end of another year. I know I've fallen totally out of the blogging radar, but I am determined to get back on track to publish my Year of Books tomorrow. So here I am.

I know now why I haven't been blogging these last couple of years. The truth is, I was living in a bad situation, and really, it's for the best that I wasn't blogging during that time.

Sometimes I wonder how I could have gotten myself into such a situation. But I knew what I was doing. I knew the risk I was taking. And I know why I did it - for the same reason that most people get themselves into terrible situations with the best of intentions. I loved someone, with a love so huge it split my heart wide open until it was bigger than the whole world, and my own life just didn't matter as much as this love. And of course, when you love someone that much, you have given a hostage to fate, and you are at the mercy of the trials of their life as well as your own. That's how I fell prey to the tyranny of a really crazy person. There's a saying in the mental health industry - there are people who have a mental illness, and then there are people who are just crazy. This one turned out as mad as six hatters and a cut snake. It wasn't pretty.

But that was then, and now I have moved on and gotten my life back. It cost me a broken heart, but I've had plenty of practice with those by now, and I'm getting better at it. I've promised myself that I will never love someone that much again, and damn the temptation to fate that comes of saying 'never'.

There's no point me trying to be discreet about my new location, because as soon as I publish a photo that I've taken anywhere in the main street, it will instantly be recognised by thousands of people across the world. I live in Nimbin! I never would have thought that I would end up here, but once I did, I just felt like I'd won the lottery. This place is just amazing. There will be plenty more on that subject, but whatever you've heard, it's probably true.

I'm still caring for Mr CJ. Honestly I would have thought that he'd be dead by now, but he's still hanging in there, probably mostly just through sheer stubbornness. It does help that we're living in such a beautiful place now.

It will be a slow start, as I don't have Internet on at home yet, and I'm working at Internet cafes and suchlike, which is a lot harder for me than working in the comfort of my own home. Or even my own bed. But I'm getting there. I can't wait to see my Year in Books typed up myself.

Monday, 27 April 2015

on the Discovery of the Art of Altering Books

I dabbled in many forms of visual arts during my youth, but I didn't discover the one that really captured my heart until I was about 26 years old. It was quite an auspicious beginning, really.

I was modelling for a life drawing class. We were in an art studio, and there were several art books generally lying around. I was holding a 20 minute pose when I found myself facing a stack of books on a table. Anyone who has ever done life modelling will know what it's like to have a single perspective of a particular space for an extended period of time. Mostly, it's really boring. And so, of course, I made the effort to read the titles from my almost-upside down sideways perspective (relative to the books, not the floor. I was just standing there. It was the books that were askew.) One title really intrigued me. It was Altered Books Workshop by Bev Brazelton. I couldn't wait for the break so I could look at the book. And the few minutes I had to flip through that book turned out to change my life.

Fortunately, my local library had a copy of it, so I was able to take it home and go through it at my leisure. I had never even heard of altered books before. And wow, I was so in love. I wanted to try this. But here, I had the dilemma that many altered book artists encounter in the early days. We are taught from our earliest years that we should never deliberately damage or deface a book. It's hard to break that, even for the love of art.

It was then that, most fortuitously, I was given an unexpected gift from a friend. It was a copy of a 1958 edition of Droll Stories by Honore de Balzac, but significantly for me, it was already damaged. A section in the middle of the book had a corner ripped out through several pages, enough to remove a small amount of text. It was the green flag that gave me permission. I started tearing pages out, in the name of creativity, not destruction. It was absolutley thrilling. And this is what I have ended up with.

I never got around to doing any decoration on the cover. It looks pretty sad and beat-up from the outside. But there is a clue that treasures lie inside - ribbons and papers and bits and pieces poking out the edges.

I kept most of the title pages and the information about the book reasonably intact.

Did you know that there is actually a word for those brown spots that grow on books as they age? It's called foxing. Isn't that lovely? I'd much prefer to think that my hands and forearms are foxing as I age, rather than growing liver spots.

And after that, pretty much anything goes. These are some of my experiments in my first altered book.

The spread above includes one of my favourite photographic images ever. It's one of those free postcards, from a brand called rose&dressed, that I found on my travels in Switzerland. To me, this is a modern archetype, an ultimate essence of feminine power.

It's also a place to keep my treasured cards and postcards from loved ones.

I'm now on my fourth altered book, and I've done lots of other interesting things with books since then, such as using them for wallpaper. But this book remains one of my most treasured special possessions.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Lady Demelza's Year in Books 2014

Hello and welcome to my annual Reckoning of the Books!

Since Moonwave's excellent comment on last year's Year in Books, I have discovered Goodreads and joined up, so you can see a really, really long list of books if you check out my profile there. And here, each title on my list links to that book's page on Goodreads, so you can find out what kind of a book it is pretty quickly. In some cases, where the author has their own website or blog, I've linked the author's name to their home sites.

1. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie 1990
2. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith 2013
3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver 2007
4. Whole Larder Love by Rohan Anderson 2012
5. Opal - The Journal of an Understanding Heart by Opal Whiteley 1920, adapted by Jane Boulton 1976 (re-read)
6. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman 2007
7. The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris 2007
8. Peaches for Monsieur le Cure by Joanne Harris 2012
9. Doomsday Book by Connie Willis 1992
10. Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery 1909 (re-read)
11. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 2001, English translation by Lucia Graves 2004
12. Aspergirls by Rudy Simone 2010
13. Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin 2007
14. Madness by Kate Richards 2013
15. The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter 1976
16. Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas 2010
17. Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres 2001
18. New York by Edward Rutherfurd 2009
19. Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee 2011
20. The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks 2010
21. Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall 2008
22. The Tent by Margaret Atwood 2006
23. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds by Alexander McCall Smith 2012
24. Poems and Songs by Leonard Cohen 2011
25. The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson 1998
26. Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson 2005
27. Holy Fools by Joanne Harris 2003
28. Poems 1972 - 2002 by Michael Leunig 2003
29. Escape by Carolyn Jessop 2007
30. Triumph by Carolyn Jessop 2009
31. The Lot: In Words by Michael Leunig 2008
32. The House in Via Manno by Milena Agus 2006, English translation by Brigid Maher 2009
33. The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato 2012
34. Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt 2011
35. Geisha: Women of Japan's Flower and Willow World by Tina Skinner and Mary L. Martin 2005
36. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter 1979
37. Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin 1995
38. The Princess Bride by William Goldman 1973
39. 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood 2008
40. Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos 2010
41. The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran 2011
42. Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda 1957, English translation by G.G. Rowley 2003
43. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt 1994
44. DIY Fashion by Selena Francis-Bryden 2010
45. The Math Book by Clifford A. Pickover 2009
46. The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox 2013
47. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick 2007
48. Good Bones by Margaret Atwood 1992
49. Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls by Danielle Wood 2006
50. The Neurotourist by Lone Frank 2007, English translation by Russell Dees 2009
51. The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson 1949
52. Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo by Margot Mifflin, rev. ed. 2013
53. The Witness Wore Red by Rebecca Musser 2013
54. The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger 1999
55. The Leaf and the Cloud by Mary Oliver 2000
56. Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub 2014
57. Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer 2011
58. The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger 2010 (re-read)
59. Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger 2013
60. Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky 2002

Choosing a 'best book' from this list provided something of a classification dilemma. If I were to choose the best book on this list, it would have to be Opal by Opal Whiteley, which as far as I'm concerned is one of the best books ever written by anyone, anywhere. But I can't very well go giving it my 'best book' award every year that I re-read it. That wouldn't be fair, would it? This also rules out The Night Bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger, which is one of my favourite stories, but also a re-read for this year. So I've decided to belatedly award Opal my Best Book for 1998, and move on to the present. And the Best Book of 2014 is... ta da da-da... Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is a really important book that should be read by anyone who eats anything that they didn't grow themselves, but also, it's written by Barbara Kingsolver, who is absolutely brilliant and has turned all these facts of life, the miserable and the miraculous, into an immensely enjoyable story.

Special Excellence Awards for the runners-up go to Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub and Alex's Adventures in Numberland by Alex Bellos, and the special award for making me laugh out loud goes to Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres.

The crappiest book I read this year was 90-Day Geisha by Chelsea Haywood. Now, come on, Lady Demelza, shouldn't the title have tipped you off that this book is written by someone who has no idea what they are talking about? Shouldn't you have known better? The answer is yes and yes, but I was sucked into this one because it was the first time I came across a published personal account of a Western woman's experiences working as a hostess in Tokyo. I really wanted to read about this, because there was once a time, when I was younger and hotter, that I seriously considered going to Tokyo to hostess. I reckoned I'd be good at it - I'm a qualified English teacher, and clever conversation is totally my thing. Of course I soon had to admit the reality that my epilepsy wouldn't let me survive in Tokyo anywhere, let alone in nightclubs. I never went. But when I found this book, I saw it as a 'sliding door' into a reality that could have been mine, if things were different. I started off feeling really excited to learn all the little backstage details of the industry, but as the facts gave way to personal reflection, it became clear that the author is just a vain and selfish little brat and I couldn't care less how she goes about fucking up her life. I was already more than halfway in before I realised where this book was going - which was nowhere - and so I stuck it out 'til the end. That's a few hours of my life I'll never get back. Though at least I can now be glad that my epilepsy stopped me from going to Tokyo and I can stop wondering about what might have been.

Special crappy awards go to Holy Fools by Joanne Harris and The Venetian Contract by Marina Fiorato, just for the abysmal endings. Both these books were happily cruising along as some nice historical fiction until they got to the end. Then The Venetian Contract suddenly took a ridiculous turn for the absurd, and Holy Fools ended so badly that I actually felt emotionally angry with Joanne Harris for choosing to publish such an idea.

You can also check out Lady Demelza's Year in Books for 2013, or for 2012.

I'm linking in with Click Clack Gorilla's Book Lovers' Blog Hop.