Review: Kogan eBook Reader

At this year’s Willylit festival, Chris Flynn made a convincing sales pitch for eBook readers. Not only are eBook readers ‘libraries-in-hand’, they’re also tree-savers, since only a small part of a book printed in the US is made from recycled paper.

I was reluctant to rush out and buy a Kindle however, since it would limit me to DRM material from Amazon, and I hate monopoly, especially in the publishing industry where it affects both authors and consumers. There’s a few other low-end eBook readers out there, such as the Kobo, but I thought I’d give the Kogan a go. Kogan is an online store, and there was no opportunity to play rough on a demo device, so I ruminated before clicking the ‘shopping cart’ icon. I bought it in the end because the Kogan supported an amazing range of eBook formats as well as being Adobe DRM-friendly.

My Kogan eBook Reader arrived on Monday. It’s teeny-weeny bit smaller than a DVD cover, and the screen is six-inches, same as a Kobo. The buttons feel a bit plasticky and unresponsive (think of the old Nokia 3210s), but the e-ink screen is easy on the eyes. Size of the font was not an issue for Kogan’s preloaded material, but my uploaded Adobe books sported newspaper-print, which can be a problem for the visually impaired. One can zoom in and reformat pages of course, but then one ends up with widow text.

One major flaw with the Kogan is that it doesn’t have a ‘last page’ function. On one occasion, my Kogan switched off after being idle for too long. I forgot to bookmark my page, so on my return, I had to trawl through half of the book to find my spot again.

With a potential storage capacity of 34G (using a 32G SDHC card to shore up the built-in 2G memory), the Kogan can store images and music as well. I’m not sure why anyone would want to look at images in greyscale, but an eBook reader that also works as a basic MP3 device would be muchos useful for travellers. One less gadget to fit into your hand luggage.

In regards to Mac/PC compatibility, Kogans seem to be Mac-unfriendly. I got around this hiccup by uploading books onto my SD card, but this is frustrating, especially when I know my Kogan can sync with Adobe Digital Editions.

Nevertheless, I’m pleased with my purchase. When it comes to buying books, bookshelf space has always been a limiting factor for me, and it’s nice to have a home for closet publications (i.e. trashy fantasy). I know this is very ‘Stuff White People Like’**, but, hey, you’ve got to agree with me that fantasy books take up a lot of space. Stephanie Meyer*, anyone?

To find out more on Kogan eBook Readers, visit Kogan’s website here. For eBook reader geeks, I’d suggest looking at iTWire’s more comprehensive review.

*Note: I was so ashamed of my Stephanie Meyer collection, that I donated the whole lot to the Borders Bushfire Appeal. I really should borrow books first before buying them.

**Second Note: I suppose that makes me a wannabe white person? Okay, let’s not go there…

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The Karate (Kung Fu) Kid

When I first saw the trailer for The Karate Kid remake, I couldn’t conceive of anything more distasteful. A movie produced by Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, starring their son, Jaden Smith? A remake, cashing in on the 1984 franchise? A title that deliberately ignores the fact that karate and kung fu are two completely different martial arts? Lame. Lame. For shame, LAME.

But after having said that, I still went to see it. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. There were homages to the original film: Jackie Chan swatting a fly instead of using chopsticks, the first fight, the waxing of the car, and the distinctive crane move. The story was essentially the same, but setting and the age of the characters freshened the franchise.

Based in China, the new Karate Kid explores the racial, national, and cultural conflict between East and West through its young cast. Jaden Smith is Dre Parker, a twelve-year-old African American boy who has been uprooted from Detroit and brought to Beijing. He doesn’t want to learn the language, he doesn’t want to embrace anything  Chinese, he wants to go home. Initially, Cheng (Zhenwei Wang) harbours good intentions when he stops Dre from flirting with his family friend, Mei Ying. Cheng does not want her to be distracted from her studies or get in trouble with her parents who would disapprove of the match. Through kung fu, Dre learns to appreciate Chinese culture and Cheng begins to respect Dre.

While the 1984 original featured a teen cast, the 2010 remake centres around younger characters. I watched the original Karate Kid years ago and was unaffected by the violence but it was disturbing to watch similar bullying scenes recreated with kids. Cheng is full of inexplicable malice. In one scene, on the school bus, Cheng swaps seats with his cronies so that he can sit behind Dre and make him squirm. And yet he is too young to understand that he’s doing wrong. Mr Miyagi/Han’s words, ‘No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher’, ring doubly true in this 2010 remake. Cheng’s teacher has taught him ‘no weakness, no pain, no mercy’ and he embraces this philosphy with a child’s unquestioning enthusiasm. In staged fights, Cheng zealously punches, kicks, and maim his opponents, glancing at his teacher each time, seeking his approval.

To sum up, 2010’s The Karate Kid is an interesting interpretation of the original, though I wonder how the Chinese will react to a movie about an American kid winning a kung fu tournament in China. Despite the film’s attempts to advertise PRC, will it be remembered as another example of American ignorance and imperialism’? If only they had changed the name.

Review: Ampersand Magazine’s Issue Two (aka ‘Janus Faces’)

I picked up this pocket-sized magazine with its ‘Penguin novel gone wrong’ cover not knowing what to expect apart from ‘good’.

It was better than good: I actually enjoyed all of it, even things I usually fail at like visuals and poetry.

The illustrations peppered throughout the magazine range from outsider art to portraits from military hospital archives to tourist pics of the Mexican-American border. There are various time travel advertisements by Simon Greiner that are interspersed with real ads, nicely complementing the text ‘A Time Traveller’s Guide’.There’s also a particularly disturbing series of ‘found photos’ by Erik Kessels, following one woman over several decades. In each photo, she’s holding the same pose, eying her target while staring down the barrel of her gun.

Erik Kessels' 'In Almost Every Picture: Found photographs of Ria Van Dijk, 1936-2008', published in Ampersand's Issue Two (Autumn 2010)

In terms of words, Ampersand Magazine is mix of non-fiction and the nonsensical. Its non-fiction reflects on fascinating subjects such as interstellar messaging, facial surgery in the early twentieth century, the invention of inflatable costumes, and the Rapture. Sometimes, I felt like I was reading a collection of How Things Work for adults. Of particular note, I thought, was Lisa Pryor’s ‘Twin Cities At War’. Tightly written, Pryor’s reflections, comparing and contrasting Australia’s and America’s insularity and the illegal immigrant situation, overturned my ennui towards ‘travel narratives’: it’s a highlight in a selection of very strong non-fiction pieces. Have I mentioned the review by Christos Tsiolkas…?

Nonsensical pieces are printed in portrait rather than landscape format: some playful poetry, a eulogy written in the first person, and a violent Bollywood soap-opera. There’s also an ‘Adventure Story’ by Jazz Andrews that comes across as veering left of normal. Think penises imprinted into tubs of ice cream.

Throughout Ampersand, there are rewards for the observant reader. Briohny Doyle’s footnotes are not to be glossed over: ‘Check out the Left Behind series of post-Rapture Christian bestsellers by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ and ‘Mum was right! Apart from Hobart, Melbourne is the most irrelevant city on Earth!’

The Ampersand index is often poetic:

life,

as affirmed by points of cruelty, 133

as a train wreck 52

as conveyed through a biopic, 29

as degraded by forms of cruelty, 133

as improved by moving to a first world country, 40-1

as scarred forever by seeing a naked man smoking and holding a knife in the supermarket ice-cream section when you are a kid, 105

that grief makes a warren under it, 51

And I had a giggle when I spotted the note under Abhishek Chuadhary’s bio: ‘Ampersand received this unsolicited submission from Chaudhary and was thereafter unable to get in contact. *Ampersand is not officially outsourcing content* – Ed.’

Anyhow, I am now approaching the 500-word mark. This review is getting hairy. I always preferred short and sweet rather than long and unkempt, so it’s time to cut it.

Ampersand is like a compact Lifted Brow. There’s a wonderful miscellaneousness to it. There’s also a willingness to look beyond geographical borders; the writing isn’t limited to purely Australian concerns or the Australian literary scene, which is rare for a local journal. Three cheers to Ampersand. Or three f@$%s for free, whichever you prefer.

Review: [untitled] – Issue Two

When I ran out of fresh literary journals to munch on, A.S. Patric was kind enough to give me a review copy of [untitled]’s second issue. [untitled] is a new Melbourne literary journal headed by Blaise van Hecke and Les Zigomanis from Busybird Publishing & Design.

Issue Two and Issue One getting cosy

The cover is stylistically similar to the previous issue’s, again using work from Busybird’s inhouse illustrator, Kev Howlett. The cartoon figure reminds me of Principal Skinner for some reason, and I think this has coloured my expectations of the stories inside. For instance, I couldn’t switch into a serious enough mood to take in Bella Ellwood-Clayton’s earnestly penned relationship-dance, especially after reading the journal’s tongue-in-cheek editorial. And again, Camilla Nurka’s delicate rendering of white man’s guilt and Indigenous Dreaming in ‘The Beach House’ felt more Etchings than [untitled]. I would have preferred more light, humour, and suspense, and a little less shade.

Thankfully, the second half of the issue felt more [untitled] and less [insert random literary magazine here]. The stories did manage to ‘take you away in the reading, …engross you, maybe even make you forget the world around you…’ They had ‘no pretensions’ and were ‘not on a mission to enrich the literary community’; instead, Therese Mobayad’s ‘Blonde Appetit’ made me laugh, van Hecke’s ‘An Unfortunate Series of Redheads’ and Hilaire’s ‘Out of Kilter’ kept me entertained, while Lee D Gordon’s ‘Coffins’ punched in the gut.

So what’s my verdict on [untitled], the Second? A mixed bag of short stories and poetry that might read better out of order. There are some great pieces that don’t belong in this publication, and some great pieces that definitely do. This is something that will undoubtedly be rectified in future issues once the editors and contributors finish nutting out a distinct voice for the journal.

[untitled] is available at selected bookstores (Readings!) and on their website. For those who want sneak peek, Violet Kieu has posted her story ‘Chardonnay’ online.

Review: Voiceworks Issue 80 – ‘Missionary’

For those of you who haven’t already heard, Bel Monypenny is leaving Voiceworks and Missionary is her last issue as editor. Having only recently rediscovered Voiceworks, I am ill-equipped on comparing Monypenny with past Voiceworks editors, but Literary Minded describes her as ‘steer[ing] a less-showy ship, still understandably finding its path’ and choosing work that is ‘happily not as abrupt as pieces have been under previous editorship’ (24/6/09).

Missionary fits this description. The cover is a sleek black, white, and orange; the words inside are quiet yet articulate, barring the few shouts like ‘In the Name of the Father’ by Chancier Blame and ‘We’re Not That Bad?’ by Liam Wood.

Like its predecessor, Classic, Missionary has a strong selection of non-fiction and regular columns, and I found myself preferring these to the rest of the content. While fiction’s grasp on the theme seems tenuous at times—’Forrest Hump, Full Metal Jack-off, Missionary Impossible’ (Christopher Glenn’s ‘Typewriter: a Story in Four Parts’)—non-fiction seizes upon the religious, the ritualistic, the moral, and the ethical and plays rough like the Spanish Inquisition.

In ‘Videogames: a Virtual (and Violent) Reality’, Giles Fielke discusses how video games preach rule-breaking and the irrelevance of ethics, citing Rapeplay as an example (see Virgule’s excepts here). Liam Wood writes introspectively about being a white, middle-class tourist in Leonora, a (post) colonial frontier in WA. Claire Marshall recounts ritualistic shopping and the guilt that ensues at Arthur Daley’s Clearance House. These and other pieces are competently engaging like much of the fiction and poetry.

But it is Joseph Brennan’s ‘Not Before Dinner’ that eclipses all. Through prose bordering on poetic, Brennan replicates the reverence surrounding a dinner at Berowra Waters Inn, something that later is revealed as being quite ordinary. It’s a beautiful piece that marries fact with techniques borrowed from fiction and poetry, something that is often attempted but not always successful.

Overall, Missionary looks smart and its non-fiction is smart. It could have been smarter with more adventurous fiction/poetry cohabiting its pages, more of ‘In the Name of the Father’ which is full of contradictions like one particular religious text, but that would be bordering on miraculously smart and I am not one for miracles. Is it worth the eight dollars I paid for it? Hell, yeah.‘Missionary’ is available at the usual independent bookstores or you can subscribe to Voiceworks at their website here.

Guest Review: Christine Priestly on Etchings Dust Till Dawn

Usually I approach journals by letting the pages fall open, meandering to whatever tugs and pulls. After devouring Ilura Press’s Etchings 7: Chameleons this way, I set out to experience Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn in its entirety and in order, like listening to new LP. No skipping to the singles, but absorbing the shape, the flavour, letting the theme emerge—even if I had the urge to skip a track or two.

First I took in the equivalent of the album artwork: the journal’s overall look and feel. I was drawn to its size and shape, the appropriately varied type face, which accentuates without jarring. I was left thinking, I’d like my work to appear in something this sexy.

Next, the small print: who featured, and where are they from, are there any hidden tracks, emergers, nobodies like me, alongside seasoned writers, offering something edgy, raw even, a thing I savoured in Etchings 7? Dusk Till Dawn offered a surprising number of international contributors and a notable scarcity of unknowns.

Then the composition—was there a good balance of fiction, poetry, artwork and essays? Predominantly traditional fiction and poetry, interspersed with artwork and essays. Only a few experimental pieces made the cut, including Christopher Linforth’s essay (really a list): ‘Stalking Woody Allen: Your Guide in 54 Parts’ and Warwick Sprawson’s satirical and bitter insight into the rivalry between emerging writers, ‘_iH_ttocS_’ a piece layered with kooky formatting and typeface (check out p.133 – I nearly missed the bold letters A – R – S – E – H – O – L – E embedded across the page).

As to the theme, there was a refreshing scarcity of vampires and creatures of the night, but the selected pieces didn’t seem altogether cohesive—more like a best-of compilation than an album.

The tracks I would come back to:

  • Ben Goldsworthy’s peculiar narrative confession of unreliability and dishonesty, ‘Movements and Calculations’;
  • A.S. Patric’s ‘The Wife’ whose narrator has no identity and possibly no reality: ‘Was he mad before, or is he mad now? The thing is to go along with whatever the reality is. He has to work out what that is, and then stick to it.’ (p. 154);
  • William McCormick’s darkly haunting artwork, ‘Masks’;
  • Kate Murfett’s tantalising poem, ‘The Red Queen’;
  • Poet Benjamin Dodd’s slightly paranoid, ‘Remnant;’
  • Maria Pavlova’s sensual ‘The Touch’, translated from the Bulgarian, which captures the consuming intensity of love, lust and loss;
  • Anthony Kane Evans’ murder mystery ‘The Problem With Castles’;
  • Scathing rants like the aforementioned ‘_iH_ttocS_’ by Warwick Sprawson: ‘You use words like pellucid and roil and exculpate without the faintest awkwardness that comes from a lexicon source book… Your level of control throttles the life out of words, leaving pages littered with lines like mangled ants.’ (p. 132)
  • The cruel variation in interpretation and intention between a husband and wife, in Ashley Cowger’s ‘Interpretations of Aurora’;
  • Alysse Near’s ‘caustic’ (p. 188) ‘Venus in the Twelve House’;
  • An unfortunate misconception of beliefs and human responses in Georgina Luck’s ‘The Butterfly Shawl’; and
  • An exploration of genocide in Rwanda in Ryan O’Neill’s, ‘The Cockroach’.

Dusk Till Dawn offered variety in length, flavour and colour, a definite must-read, if not quite as can’t-put-down as its predecessor.

Copies of Etchings 8: Dusk Till Dawn and its predecessors are available online from http://www.ilurapress.com, plus check out the ‘Submissions’ page for details on submitting to the upcoming issue, Etchings 10: The Feminine – La Femme.

________________________

Christine Priestly is currently studying for her Master of Arts in Writing and Literature at Deakin University. She writes fiction and creative non-fiction and knows you can never own too many pairs of stilettos or love enough cats.

Real Review in Killings

Some of you have enjoyed my mock review of Kill Your Darlings. Some of you are also probably wondering if I can actually write a serious review. I wonder too sometimes, especially since I haven’t reviewed anything since said mock review. But I can critique if I put my mind to it and I can prove it too. Estelle Tang asked me to write a review for Kill Your Darlings’ Killings blog, so I wrote one for Narrelle M. Harris’ The Opposite of Life. Check it out here.

(Mock) Review: Kill Your Darlings Issue One

Far easier to summarise the contents, recapitulate the blurb, describe the author’s reputation, or examine the author’s politics in a thinly veiled op-ed—is he or she ‘one of us’? After all, the author might be reviewing us one day, or perhaps already has. In which case, it may, of course, be payback time. (Gideon Haigh in ‘Feeding the Hand that Bites’)

1) Summarise the contents

Kill Your Darlings, the First, is a collection of non-fiction, fiction, reviews, and one lengthy interview. The non-fiction ranges from the opinionated ‘Feeding the Hand that Bites’ from Gideon Haigh, to introspectives from Tracy Crisp and Paul Mitchell, and wit from Justin Heazlewood and Clementine Ford. Georgia Gowing’s ‘Talk Derby to Me’, a romp around the roller derby circuit, is the most informative of the pieces on offering, but what the others lack in encyclopaedic content, they make up for sass.

Some of the reviews are microscopic, some are not (like Anthony Morris’ dedication to The Wire), there’s a Ricky Lee cartoon from Oslo Davis, and the interview with Sarah Waters examines the historical genre as well as the usual writing process.

Fiction is honed to a dark edge, which is unsurprising for a literary journal titled ‘Kill Your Darlings’. ‘Theories of Relativity’ is particularly commendable. It rocks. It’s awesome. Yeah. I have never watched an episode of Beavis and Butthead, so I am going to stop here.

2) Recapitulate the blurb

Um. There’s an inkblot. And a whole bunch of names like Gideon Haigh, Emmett Stinson, Kalinda Ashton, Chris Flynn…

Apparently such names speak for themselves, though, to be fair, I believe name-dropping is commonly practised by literary journals.

3) Describe the author’s reputation

Why bother when you can quote author bios? i.e. ‘Patrick Cullen’s book, What Came Between, includes five stories published in The Best Australian Stories between 2005 and 2007.’ Bios are much more fun to regurgitate, especially when they reveal quirky phobias or the number of pets the author has.

In truth, I was disappointed by Kill Your Darlings’ selection of author bios. Apart from Clementine Ford’s ‘writes from the comfort of her bedroom while daydreaming of bearded men’, they had the creativity of a stapler. This must be rectified!

4) Examine the author’s (editors’) politics. Is he or she ‘one of us’?

Do I know any of these editors? Not really. That was obvious when I turned up at the launch, and found myself pressed against a whole lot of bodies I didn’t have names for.

If I write a really nice review, will they publish my work? Most likely…not.

Why am I writing this review? To make me read another lit journal. (And it worked, didn’t it?)

The Kill Your Darlings 'blurb'

Review: Verandah 24

It’s weird reading the subsequent issue of something you’ve been published in.Your issue was a darling, perfect child: you loved its aesthetic, the words that were yours, the words that weren’t yours…And then, a year later, you are sitting at your desk, looking down at this upstart publication that has nudged your pet issue off Readings’ shelves, and you’re feeling disgruntled. Verandah 24, eh? What’s with the squarish pages? The pixelated cover?

Okay, so I am a little bit biased. Verandah 23 was my first reading. It’s special. But Verandah 24 is still a decent publication. Opening with a story rife with sexual confusion and teen-angst, it showcases poetry, literary and genre fiction, and art. Like most anthologies, some of the work wasn’t to my taste, but I did like Deb Wain’s ‘Morning Stranger’ and Adam Tucker’s ‘The Boy, His Mother, the Father, and a Dog’. Both stories were suggestive, alluding to backstage events: the disappearance of a girl, the death of a dog. I also enjoyed the lean feel of ‘First Date’ by Jacinta Butterworth, the exaggerated ‘bureaucration’  of ‘In Paper Hallways’ by Rhett Davis, and the Rhys Tate’s compact yet fleshed out ‘Something We Have Lost’. Slotted in between the stories are poems and artwork: my favourite was Erica Hurrell’s photo with its cheeky title and vibrant colours.

Apart from an interview with Tom Cho and a microscopic interview with Ross Hunter (why interview only one prize-winning contributor?) Verandah 24 stays clear of non-fiction. Like the artwork and poetry, the interviews helped break up the fiction monopoly but I would have liked to see an opinion piece or maybe a script thrown into the mix. It’s a bit much to ask, since the journal is entirely made up of unsolicited submissions, but something that future contributors might consider taking advantage of.

Verandah 24 is available at Readings and DUSA bookshops or can be purchased from its website.

Review: Voiceworks Issue 79 – ‘Classic’

The last time I subscribed Voiceworks, I was twenty-four and spending most of my salary on clothes from high-end-fashion chain stores. When my subscription and my submission eligibility ran out, I bagged all of my old issues and donated them to a local high school. What was inspiring for other subscribers was depressing for twenty-five-year-old me: these ‘youngsters’ were creating work that I had no hope of emulating.

Two years on, and I’m ready to grapple this journal bitch. Lured to the Wheeler Centre by speak of a guest appearance from Nam Le, I went to the Voiceworks ‘Classic’ launch and picked up my copy of Issue 79.

In her editorial, Bel Monypenny writes about Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson and her failed attempts to mimic their bush poetry style. Issue 79 isn’t about reworking what has come before in style and genre, but more ‘classic moments made new and intriguing by fresh eyes, distinctive voices and unique perceptive detail’: ‘familiar moments—drunken teenage rebellion, questioning the life you’re born into, your first big night out, the death of a loved one.’ However, as I read through ‘Classic’, this theme did not seem present in any of the pieces, which suggests that Issue 79’s writers have managed to avoid what is easy and cliché.

There’s some striking fiction in this issue: Luke Rule’s ‘Pulling Down the Sun’ stands out as an example of literary speculative fiction; dealing with the supposedly banal themes of death, sex, and violence, Claire Marshall’s dark piece, ‘The Edwardians’, also grabbed my attention; and prize winner, Amelia Schmidt has created beautifully fluid, dreamlike work in ‘House-sitting for My Mother’—‘my mother and father disappear in an aeroplane and I pack myself into a suitcase’.

The non-fiction is also particularly strong: Michelle Walter’s ‘Getting Off the Staircase’ is evocative enough to work as either fiction or non-fiction/memoir; Sam Cooney’s column on writer workspace meanders from Roald Dahl to Jonathan Safran Foer, whilst Kate Leaver’s column tackles incest and society’s fascination with sexual violence.

What I enjoyed most, however, were the interviews. I’m not sure if this a recurring section, but Voiceworks talks to a few of its contributors in Issue 79. There’s also a conversation with emerging writer Jessica Au who discusses working on her novel, interning at Sleepers, and her writing process.

And so, despite its youthfulness, and my twenty-seven-year-old bitterness, I took a liking to Voiceworks or at least its current manifestation. ‘Classic’ is available at the usual independent bookstores or you can subscribe to Voiceworks at their website here.