Melbourne Central Little Library

How’s this for a neat idea? I spotted this cute Little Library when I went for a walk through the shops at Melbourne Central today.

Readers are free to borrow books and then either return them when they’re done or replace them with another book.

The unstaffed library, which opened recently in a newly developed corner of the mall, is little more than a few shelves but already there is a reasonable selection of reading materials, all donated second hand books.

Great stuff!

Still Unconvinced by the Kindle

Standing in the garden with my handful of crushed gum leaves, I remembered a story by Paul Jennings about two feuding neighbours in the outback who could transfer injuries onto each other by playing a tune on a folded gum leaf. I absolutely adored Paul Jennings’ stories when I was a kid. They were quirky and funny and clever and always ended with a twist. I had every single short story collection (at that time – a new one was published in 2002) and I read them over and over again.

It never occurred to me that I would one day be living in Australia, where the books are set. Suddenly all I could think about was those stories and how desperate I was to read them again now that I was closer to the places and the people they described.

Shortly before coming out here I bought a Kindle, thinking it would enable me to travel light with all the books I wanted. I’ve been let down on that score. Most of the books I want to read aren’t available on Kindle yet. Paul Jennings’ books, for example, Ali Smith’s Hotel World, Nicola Barker’s The Burley Cross Postbox Theft. I don’t really consider this a reason not to buy an e-reader. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before the huge backlog of printed books gradually appears in e-book form.

What is a huge disappointment as far as the Kindle is concerned are the typos. You so rarely see errors in printed books that on the few occasions that you do, they are burned into your memory forever (‘tina of fish’ in one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books is one that has stuck with me since I was seven years old). I’ve only read two books on the Kindle, How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran and Down Under by Bill Bryson, but both were littered with typos: missing letters, two words joined together, a hyphen in the middle of a word from where it’s been wrapped over two lines in the printed text but appears on one line in the e-book version. Some examples from Down Under which I noted during my last reading session: ‘battered portion offish’, ‘accli-matizer’, ‘bom-bable’. It’s absolutely unforgivable.

So far no typos in my e-book version of the Lonely Planet Guide to Australia, but the maps are shocking (I think I just have to wait for technology to catch up) and the links infuriating. Any time I click on a link it takes to me to somewhere completely random in the text which has nothing to do with what I’ve just been reading. There was one time that clicking a link took me to the right section of the book, but since it only happened once out of dozens of clicks, I have to conclude that it was just a lucky accident.

Another disadvantage: I can’t flick through pages to see how long till the end of the chapter. This is important to me since I usually read in bed. I have to know how many pages in a chapter so I can decide whether or not I’m going to be too tired to finish reading it.

All these bad points aside, I genuinely believe that e-readers will save the publishing industry. It’s so easy to buy books with the Kindle – one click and you’re away, any time any place – that book buying is bound to increase. I just hope it doesn’t mean the death of libraries. Bendigo Library came to the rescue the other day when I had reached the height of my despair about not being able to download Paul Jennings’ short story collections onto my Kindle. I sat in the kids’ corner with a pile of his books at my feet and devoured story after story. It’ll keep me going for a little while until I get a permanent address, then I can borrow all the books I want.

Why I Love Edinburgh

Today Talli Roland posted Why I Love London, then Ellen Brickley followed it up with her list of Things I Love About Dublin so now I’m going tell you why I love Edinburgh:

  • The Book Festivals - How can I express how absolutely amazing the Edinburgh International Book Festival is? I was bubbling with excitement the whole seventeen days of this year’s festival. Sometimes I felt my head would explode. Then there is the more intimate but equally exciting West Port Book Festival which brings together authors, readers and cup cakes in characterful book shop settings. Of course there are plenty more book festivals in and around Edinburgh but those two are my favourites.
  • The literary and spoken word events -  wine and gossip at the monthly Literary Salons, wine and talks at Edinburgh City Reads, wine and poetry at The Golden Hour. I go to these things for the literature, honest.
  • The Art Galleries - In September I went to see Down Over Up, a Martin Creed exhibition at the Fruitmarket Gallery. The exhibition focused on things that went up or down in increments, for example, there was a row of cacti arranged in order of height, stacks of chairs with the largest on the bottom and the smallest on the top and sheets of A4 paper completely coloured in with felt tip pen wrapped around the wall in order of the darkest to the lightest shade. By far the funniest piece was the staircase, which had been tampered with so that the steps emitted a tone when you stood on them. With each ascending step the tone grew higher and higher so it was like you had your own personal cartoon soundtrack as you climbed the stairs to the next level. PLINK! PLINK! Plink! plink! Then last month I visited the Modern Art Gallery which is currently rotating its collection so that pieces that have been in storage for a long time are finally on display again. Robert Therrien’s giant table and chairs were hilarious. I was desperate to vault myself up onto the chair so that I could dangle my legs over the edge, but even if I had been able to get onto a chair, the seat of which towered above my head, I realised that I still would not have been able to see over the top of the table. I felt like a Borrower. I like modern art, I particularly like modern art that makes me laugh, and Edinburgh has plenty of both.
  • The tea rooms - I overheard someone say the other day that there aren’t that many tea rooms in Edinburgh. Absolute nonsense. Check this out. And there are still loads more to be explored.
  • The sky – look at my masthead. That’s an Edinburgh sky. Beee-ooo-ti-foool.
  • The City of Literature Trust - All hail the wonderful Anna and Ali at the City of Literature Trust who are responsible for the above mentioned Literary Salon, Story Shop (my first paid writing gig, yay!) and the annual One Book – One Edinburgh campaign (among many other wonderful literary things). I cherish my beautiful Carry a Poem book which I got free as part of this year’s One Book – One Edinburgh.
  • The Royal Mile - This is where you will find the oldest buildings in Edinburgh, huddled together like crooked teeth. The Royal Mile extends from the castle down to Holyrood Palace and is riddled with closes and alleyways. February on the Royal Mile is bloody baltic, but also clear and sharp glittery. It was on one of those February evenings that I realised that I really had to move to Edinburgh.
  • The castle - Edinburgh castle is like a village, a jumbled collection of buildings which you can easily spend all day exploring. From the grassmarket and Princes street it looks magnificent and imposing, particularly at night when it glows fiery orange.
  • The libraries - There’s a copyright library, the university libraries, public lending libraries and the Scottish Poetry Library. A wealth of books, journals and magazines to leaf through.
  • Leith – The first time I went to Leith was for a job interview. I was very surprised when the bus turned off a main road onto a cobbled street on the edge of the river. It used to be a separate burgh but now it’s been swallowed up by Edinburgh. A curious mix of very old and very new buildings makes Leith a charming and glamorous setting for a night out. It’s also at one end of the  Water of Leith walk, a riverside stretch that takes you right across Edinburgh passing six Anthony Gormley statues on the way. I did that walk a few weeks ago but I only managed to spot two statues. I think I will wait for spring before I try to find the other four.

Postcards and Poetry

I love collecting postcards, especially the free ones you get in cafes and youth hostels. They make good souvenirs.

My collection started when I was a baby on holiday in Italy with my parents. As well as the two droll postcards they sent home for me (Dear Helen, You won’t remember being here but I carried you over these ancient stones. I hope you will do the same for your old mother some day! Dear Helen, Here is a picture of your hotel where you are having a marvelous holiday. Some day you must bring poor Mum and Dad back!), there was also the handful I grabbed off a display stand at the market while no one was looking and shoved down the side of my buggy. I never liked to pay for my postcards.

I picked up the most recent addition to my collection, a postcard advertising the BBC’s Poetry Season website, at the library today. Well, I thought, if the BBC is going to hand out free postcards, the least I can do is have a look at their website.  It was well worth stopping by. I enjoyed reading poems by Carol Anne Duffy and Roger McGough (to name only two), found out about slamming events happening around the country, and watched videos offering advice on reading, writing and performing poetry. I’ve posted Dreadlock Alien’s video on performing poetry below because I think it has some useful advice for anyone who has to read their work before an audience and because I think that poetry in particular can be made much more accessible when it is read in an engaging way. I loved hearing Mark Thomson perform his poems and although I’ve enjoyed reading them too, they don’t sound quite as good in my head as they did when they were read out loud by the poet.

more about “Performing Poetry“, posted with vodpod