Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reflections on Canberra

I was in Canberra for a few days in late November. I was interested to see the city for the first time and visit some of the political and cultural institutions.

In a couple of days we visited the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, The National Library of Australia's Mapping our World exhibit, Questacon, Parliament House, Museum of Australian Democracy (Old Parliament House), National Archives, National Museum and the inside of the 100 bus. Rather busy. I am not going to chronicle all of that but I do have a few reflections and photos.

The Australian War Memorial was well worth the visit and we spent a couple of hours but it needs repeated visits over many days and seasons - as do all worthwhile cultural places. The view shown above is looking out from the resonating and movingly simple Hall of Memory (resting place of the unknown soldier) across the breadth of the city to Parliament. It is a striking use of landscape in the design.

The red poppies on the Roll of Honour are visually striking; red on slate grey. We found the name of my uncle who had perished in the second world war near Singapore with the intention of placing a poppy. As it turns out the poppies are forced into a gap between the panels, not a feature of the original design! and there was no gap near his name. I took a photo and kept the poppy.

The National Gallery was excellent. I had recently watched Edmond Capon's The Art of Australia series and was well prepared to appreciate the collection. I eavesdropped (as you do) on a tour guide talking about Blue Poles and that was an added bonus. If I lived in Canberra I would visit often. However the unexpected bonus was a Skyspace construction by James Turrell called Within without, 2010. I can't even begin to describe it except to say it used walls and water and light in the most remarkable way. The photo above doesn't even begin to do it justice. This short ABC Art Nation video about it and James Turrell is worth a look. This is a must see if you are Canberra.

The architecture of the National Museum was striking and the photo above shows The Garden of Australian Dreams a visual, tactile interpretation of the Australian landscape.

Parliament House was very interesting, though not surprisingly Old Parliament House is more accessible and has a stronger sense of history. The portraits of past Prime Minsters was as you might expect, except for the Clifton Pugh portrait of Gough Whitlam which was strikingly less traditional but somehow appropriate.

Unlike Old Parliament House the blood of democratic contest still runs through new Parliament House even when the house is not sitting and I captured this Christine Milne press conference happening below on the lawns. I think education funding was the main topic.

My overall impression of Canberra is one of art and culture, buses and bikes and striking public installations. Perhaps another hundred years will see a little more texture and less sense of artificial construction.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Conrad's Fate - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Hundred-and-second in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

One of the characteristics of Jones' writing is that her villains have a certain beguiling, almost attractive quality but as you dig deeper and deeper you realise that they are really rather unpleasant and despicable persons. Not super villains but normal unpleasant persons whose bad qualities are amplified by circumstance.

Jones always has some naive and gormless characters who grow on you over time and may even turn out to be heroic in the end. Will Conrad be one of those?

And as always there is magic!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mixed Magics - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Hundred-and-first in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Humph. Not a big fan of short stories. Will make exception here :)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Pinhoe Egg - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Hundredth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

What a great title for the hundredth book in my one book at a time bookshelf. Enigmatic and puzzling, giving no meaningful clue to the story, enticing cover images on which the imagination can run wild. This is Jones on top form.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Magicians of Caprona - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Ninety-ninth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Foreign setting for this delightful tale of tradition, magic and ancient mischief - and the ever resourceful Christopher Chant (and friends) whose appearance is always welcome when bad has gone to worse.

One of my favourite Diana Wynne Jones books.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Witch Week - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Ninety-eighth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The bizarre happenings depicted on the covers of Diana Wynne Jones books are, fortunately, accurate depictions of elements of the story contained within.

There were witches at schools before Hogwarts. True fact. And flying broomsticks.

The renown Chrestomanci does appear in this book, fortunately for everyone concerned.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Lives of Christopher Chant - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Ninety-seventh in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The published order of Jones' Chrestomanci novels is clear but the reading order isn't so clear cut. In my opinion it doesn't matter. They are sufficiently well crafted that it doesn't really matter, especially as one doesn't know what is going on a lot of the time anyway. Read them in whatever order you like and re-read them in whatever order you wish.

This book tells the story of the early years of Christopher Chant and has delightful characters that appear many times. Enjoy.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Charmed Life - Diana Wynne Jones

This is the Ninety-sixth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I grow weary of adult tales, full of meaning and the sorrow of life. Time to indulge in my real passion, tales for children - uncomfortable but ultimately safe (or largely safe or mostly safe).

I overlooked Diana Wynne Jones for many years and I owe my children for discovering her and growing  my bookshelf with many of her works - though I have become chief financier in recent times as I have become attached to her particular charms.

There is an inherent logic to Jones imagined worlds, including the rather cluttered worlds of the Chrestomanci, but that doesn't mean all is revealed to the reader. In many ways she is reminiscent of Cherryh in that regard though her touch is lighter and accessible to the younger reader.

This is the first of her Chrestomanci books and she writes as if you should know all about what is going on - delightful. Beware of misdirection and expect a cracking finish.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Goblin Mirror - C.J. Cherryh

This is the Ninety-fifth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Cherryh is a bit unusual in that she writes in science fiction and fantasy. In my own mind these are mutually exclusive genre and she treats them that way. However she has an even spread of works across both realms. This is fantasy.

In some novels the protagonist is kept in the dark about what is really going on but in typical Cherryh style we are also kept in the dark! After a few readings one might glimpse the underlying reality of the plot, or not. Cherryh never patronises the reader by spelling out the detail but it might be nice if she dropped a few breadcrumbs - hard work but overall worth while. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Bone Forest - Robert Holdstock

This is the Ninety-fourth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The last in the collection of Robert Holdstock on my bookshelf. This novella and collection of short stories backgrounds the first book in the cycle.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Lavondyss - Robert Holdstock

This is the Ninety-third in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Robert Holdstock provides, not so much a sequel, but another story set in his ancient English forest. Quality fantasy writing and while not pitched at the masses will reward the discerning reader.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Mythago Wood - Robert Holdstock

This is the Ninety-second in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

Robert Holdstock is the second fantasy author on my bookshelf to whom I was introduced by my better half. This novel could be awful - a pastiche of fantasy characters and themes clumsily thrown together in the hope of creating something interesting - but it isn't awful. It is beautifully written, enchanting and moving. Well worth a leisurely read.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Darkest Road - Guy Gavriel Key

This is the Ninety-first in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The final volume in The Fionavar Tapestry draws the complex threads to a satisfactory climax.

Lots to like in these books and as I have added them to the blog I realise that, unlike many other favoured books, I don't know them inside out. That leaves me itching to read them again - soon.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Wandering Fire - Guy Gavriel Kay

This is the Ninetieth  in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

The second in the richly imagined The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. The series is a bit dark in parts but uplifting overall, which is what I look for in a fantasy novel. If I wanted a depressing story I'd turn on the news!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Summer Tree - Guy Gavriel Kay

This is the Eighty-ninth in my one-book-at-a-time bookshelf.

I am continuing my run of fantasy with two authors to whom I was introduced by my better half. These may not have been my purchased copies and I have come late to the party but I would certainly include them on my bookshelf.

The first author is Guy Gavriel Kay, famous for having worked with Christopher Tolkien on the preparation of his late father's manuscripts for publication into what became The Silmarillion. This was not a trivial task and Kay was deeply influenced by Tolkien. However it would be disrespectful to both Kay and the Tolkiens not to acknowledge the quality of The Fionavar Tapestry.

If you've not explored this world then I would recommend you start here.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Learning - a state of mind

Life is not a constant thing. Change is actually the normal, inevitable and unavoidable nature of the universe. Stability and predictability, while nice to have, are illusions easily shattered when life intrudes. You can fill in your own examples to illustrate my point [birth, death, illness, accident, new iPhone].

One aspect of living in a changing universe that I have been thinking about recently is on which side of the training/learning coin do I sit. Do I look at  every new thing as something to be learned or do I expect life to come with a manual and a trainer?

My own view is that I prefer to look at every new thing as something to be learned, something to pull apart, press all the buttons - a new toy to occupy my mind. Not just because I don't want to read the manual but because I learn more that way and it is more fun - though sometimes I read the manual as well! In fact reading the manual or asking someone for help is just another way of learning - it just depends on how you look at it.

I'd encourage you to consider your perspective on new things. Do you learn or want to be trained?