The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Non Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.

A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

I picked up this book because there were stories from authors that I love to read and the premise sounded really interesting. There’s always a risk with anthologies that a reader won’t enjoy all the stories equally and unfortunately this was the case for me. Sometimes it is only a few but I found with this collection I couldn’t engage with a lot of the stories. I wanted to enjoy them, I wanted to read about what books had an impact on these writers but I struggled to get through many of the stories. This may be my own personal issue and perhaps it was because they were personal essays and not fictional stories, but I kept putting the book down and finding reasons to skim.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, there are 32 stories in this anthology and some certainly were engaging; they were humorous and fascinating stories about how a single book, whether it was a massive dislike or a fascination with a concept, changed how the author saw the world and shaped who they wanted to be. Will Kostakis told how his hatred of a set book in primary school inspired him to write his own story, Benjamin Law wrote how he fell in love with Roald Dahl and reading things ten year olds probably shouldn’t be reading, while so many more mentioned that books were their treasures and offered them an escape. There were stories from indigenous authors and how their culture and stories impacted them, and there’s also voices from minorities in Australia who talk about never seeing themselves in books and how the culture of their parents affected the books they were exposed to.

These stories opened my eyes to how different people had access to different books, some read the same books I had read as a kid, and certainly the age ranges between these authors offered a wider range of books again. The reasons how and why these books made an impact were interesting in themselves. I’ve certainly felt this way about books I’ve read. My book was Checkers by John Marsden. I read that when I was in high school and it cemented my decision to want to write so I understand why these essays exist, I only wish I enjoyed more of them.

The format was not only essays, there were lists, comics, dot points, poems, and a few people had more than one book that shaped them. A nice surprise were the Shaun Taun illustrations sprinkled throughout. Tan asked random strangers why they read and seeing the responses sprinkled throughout with an accompanying sketch was an adorable and entertaining way to break up the stories.

Even though it wasn’t my favourite anthology, I still enjoyed seeing how so many books, especially ones I had read myself, had such an impact on these authors. Just shows you the true power of reading and how people can read the same book in so many different ways.

You can purchase The Book that Made Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Long Lost Review: Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology edited by Danielle Binks

Long Lost Reviews is a monthly meme created by Ally over at Ally’s Appraisals which is posted on the second Thursday of every month. The aim is to start tackling your review backlog. Whether it’s an in-depth analysis of how it affected your life, one sentence stating that you only remember the ending, or that you have no recollection of reading the book at all. 

Published: 24th April 2017Goodreads badge
Publisher:
HarperCollins Australia
Pages: 322
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/ Young Adult
★   ★  ★  ★  ★ – 5 Stars

With Anthology August underway I was fortunate to even have an anthology in my “read but not reviewed” pile. Begin, End, Begin is a fantastic example of Australia’s talent and YA capabilities. I loved all of these stories which is so rare with anthologies and I found some great new authors that I may never have discovered.

With a theme “Begin, End, Begin” there are so many ways it can be interpreted and I was astounded by the creativity of these authors. I think I loved almost every single one of these stories which is so rare with an anthology but with this calibre of talent who can really be surprised. I knew of, but had not read, a lot of these authors when this was first released and it was a great chance to see their writing style in small snippets, with a fabulous and engaging story. I still think about a lot of these stories two years later and is a testament to the quality and imagination of these writers. I’ve definitely read a lot more of their works since and it was a real benefit getting a chance to see their styles and fall in love with them first.

Some of my favourites would have to be ‘One Small Step’ by Amie Kaufman and ‘I Can See the Ending’ by Will Kostakis; both are amazing and certainly ones I have thought about often since. They aren’t the only great ones as there are some beautiful stories in here filled with heart and imagination.

There’s only ten contributors so there is a chance at a longer story from them all, but even so with a few short pages you are brought into these worlds or science fiction, contemporary, romance and diversity. If you are new to the #LoveOzYA phenomenon this is a fantastic way to get introduced to some great authors and see their talent in small, entertaining snippets.

Book Event: The ‘Gay’ Book with Will Kostakis and Benjamin Law

P1200565Last night I attended a book event at Kinokuniya bookstore with Will Kostakis and Benjamin Law discussing The ‘Gay’ Book. Benjamin Law, according to his Twitter bio, is a writer, raconteur, and local homosexual. In 2012 he published Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East as well as The Family Law, the latter of which was made into a TV series for SBS. He is currently writing its second season. Will wrote his first novel aged 19, called Loathing Lola which, I discovered, is very hard to track down and basically out of print. He was the 2005 Young Writer of the Year, he published his second novel The First Third three years ago, and has recently published The Sidekicks.

It was quite a turn out to hear the two speak; chairs were packed in with a few people opting to stand at the back. From the start it was humorous with jokes abound, Benjamin telling us it was the gay wedding of the year and we were divided into the groom side and the groom/bride side. The pair interviewed each other, asking questions back and forth, ribbing off one another, and hilarious discussions and confessions were told such as Ben seeing Will in a Speedo (which we were never provided context or explanation for), and Will wanting to be like Benjamin when he grew up.

P1200570Will spoke about how the controversy around The Sidekicks and his experience coming out was unexpected but something he couldn’t ignore. He was thrust into being ‘the gay writer’ overnight which was a shock. He made the decision to respond himself to the school and publically (names omitted) because if he responded in the dark, it would keep happening. He never expected it to spread as it had, saying the international response was disbelief that it had happened, while the Australian reaction recognised it as an ongoing problem. I love though that none of this has stopped people not only loving the book, but finding out ways to discuss it in places where it cannot be discussed, and Will told us some great stories of his experiences in schools.

Even though I’ve heard Will speak before about his work and his experiences, it’s always different and new. He told us he got into writing because he was reading books that felt like the author was holding back. His books try to be honest, something that comes across well according to his agent so that’s a good thing.

P1200571Having never heard Benjamin speak it was interesting to hear his story. Doing his PhD in Creative Writing he had to write everything, from stories, to memoirs, the journalistic pieces. In doing so he discovered he enjoyed writing memoir, it felt natural doing so. Like Will, Benjamin didn’t position himself as the gay writer, but he said you tend to identify with what separates you, in his case being gay and Asian; he joked he was basically a turducken of minorities. It was an interesting discussion because it was something I hadn’t thought much about. Benjamin told us that you really can’t disentangle yourself from those parts of you, and while he hoped his generation would be the last to be persecuted for being different, he was sad to see it hasn’t changed.

Benjamin spoke about growing up in a family of five and dealing with family issues such as his mother suddenly becoming a single parent. He said everything is about perspective, quoting one of my favourite sayings by Mel Brooks, ‘Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die’. Will asked him whether there was any hesitation in writing memoir, because while fiction can be filled with the writer, there is a barrier there. Benjamin said when you write a story you become the custodian of the story and you tell your story. He said readers should be smart enough to know that it wouldn’t be an expose or revenge letter, and know that it’d be a different story if his mum wrote it or his sister. As Will pointed out Benjamin’s books are great ‘what ifs’, what would have happened if his family had stayed in Asia, what his life would be like and what anyone’s would have been if they grew up somewhere else.

Will asked Benjamin about his show, The Family Law, and asked whether he was different now and whether it influenced the characters he writes. Benjamin made a great point about how characters and people are complex and flawed, no one is a villain. His character isn’t put on a pedestal nor is he perfect, Benjamin didn’t set out to make an Asian role model, he needed grit to them.

Amidst the humour and personal stories there were some brilliant points made about representation and how things like homosexuality is presented in books and the media. Will brought the ‘gayness’ forward in The Sidekicks because even in The First Third the gay character was trivialised in his opinion. Benjamin pointed out that we don’t talk about white heterosexual stuff like we do gay stuff. One of the important things that Will mentioned was that when people write a ‘gay’ book, they are not trying to convert people, they are just trying to show how other people live. And not only that, just because there is a gay character does not mean it is a ‘gay’ book. This was something that was also brought up by a brilliant audience question who asked why people can read about M/F kissing, but somehow if there is a M/M kiss somehow it becomes hypersexual and an issue.

P1200569

Another question from the audience was asking the first place the boys came across a queer character and both gave quite different answers. Will’s was in year 9, reading Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, a sonnet where the author’s beloved is compared to both a man’s and a woman’s, raising question over the author’s sexuality. Will was afraid of being out and a successful author but he realised if Shakespeare could do it, then so could he. Such is the power of representation. Benjamin’s on the other hand was Melrose Place, no less profound than Shakespeare’s of course, but slightly different. The character in the show was barely a character, a sidekick of a sidekick, but it was something.

It was a fantastic evening and getting to listen to Benjamin and Will discussing their experiences, their work, and laughing at the ongoing witty and hilarious banter made it so enjoyable. Benjamin had filled us with his greeting card wisdom and both Will and Benjamin told us about the support they’d gotten from their families as well as cheeky anecdotes about them. It was wonderful because between the two of them they talked about some important and serious issues but they didn’t stand on a soap box, they used their experience and their own stories to open the conversation about what matters, what’s relevant right now, and why representation is important.

I got my copy of Loathing Lola signed by Will which was exciting. I had been chatting with him on Twitter that afternoon about the book and then via direct message and it was a fascinating discussion about where Loathing Lola came from, where is began, and a few surprises about his new book The Sidekicks and how it connected with his first book. If you can track down a copy it’s a pretty great read. Overall it was a brilliant bookish night out and I can’t wait for the next one!

I’ve included some links below if you want to find out more about Will and Benjamin and their work.

 

All Your Bits and Pieces Needs

Benjamin’s Twitter

Benjamin’s Instagram

Benjamin’s Website

Will Twitter

Will’s Facebook

Will’s Website

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

Published: 29th February 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Penguin Australia
Pages: 272
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

The Swimmer. The Rebel. The Nerd.

All Ryan, Harley and Miles had in common was Isaac. They lived different lives, had different interests and kept different secrets. But they shared the same best friend. They were sidekicks. And now that Isaac’s gone, what does that make them?

Will Kostakis, award-winning author of The First Third, perfectly depicts the pain and pleasure of this teenage world, piecing together three points of view with intricate splendour.

THIS BOOK. Let’s talk about Kostakis and his book that’s going to send me into a cardiac arrest because my nerves can’t take it and my heart can’t cope.

There is so much to love about this story, the boys themselves in particular. I fell in love with Ryan from page one. Through his entire story I rooted for him, feared for him, practically fell in love with who he is and I regret nothing.

Harley was different. Harley got a gradual and slow leak sympathy that turned my affections to him by the end. I never disliked him, there’s always reasons why someone is they way are, reasons we see early on in his perspective. But even from those understandings there becomes something more that makes you adore him ever so slightly. Harley is rebellious and doesn’t seem to care, but there are moments, brilliant moments, and it’s clear he’s just a kid and he’s lost and he’s a teenage boy.

Miles, oh Miles. He comes off as so standoffish and no one seems to like him and it is torture you have to wait until the final section to hear his story, but when you do, oh my goodness. I don’t want to pity miles, he doesn’t make you either. But in a way he is almost his own worst enemy but at the same time he isn’t. He is just Miles. Like Harley is took a bit of warming up to him, his style, but getting inside his mind breaks your heart and having Miles tell his story after the other two is a divine and perfect move by Kostakis.

What I adored about this book was how we got to see each guy deal with what happens. We see their coping mechanisms, their mistakes, and their grief. Each boy does something different and learning how to live in a world without Isaac is a learning curve for them all in many different ways.

If I could shove this book into the hands of every one I passed on the street I would be happy. This isn’t a book that will automatically change your world or your opinion or try to teach you anything. It may do that, I don’t know, but this book is a fantastic and invigorating experience. You become so invested in every little aspect of this book and these three guys and their lives, even Isaac. I was invested in his life and who he is and technically he isn’t even in it!

Isaac comes to life on the pages, we see who he was through his three friends, see his relationship with each of them, what he meant to them. As much as you fall in love (granted of varying degrees) with each of the boys, you fall in love with Isaac as well.

The structure has to be addressed because breaking the story into the three perspectives was not only marvellous, but each section is like a mini cliff hanger that sends you into a cascade of emotions and stress. Each of the boys start their story from the same time point give or take, and we see overlapping moments to previously mentioned conversations or events, but Kostakis does not make it feel like a recap, it’s seamless and fits so incredibly well. By the time we hit part three with Miles we have many of the same events retold differently again, but the time frame continually jumps and even after the third retelling it’s a totally new experience. Miles tells his story in his own way, one that suits the kind of person Miles is, and it is fantastic and a total favour to the story.

Miles is the perfect conclusion to this story and Kostakis makes it suit his personality brilliantly and it concludes the book and the emotional experience you’ve endured in the most fitting way (I was an emotional wreck but I was through most of it so it doesn’t count for much).

I want to give details about so much of this book but I refuse to spoil anything.  It’s so bitter sweet, you’re crying but you’re happy and it’s perfect. You become attached to these characters almost immediately and you feel and understand every aspect of their lives, even when it can be so different from your own. The way Kostakis writes and gets inside the mind of these boys makes us understand without it being pushed on us, or even whether it was intentional. Kostakis makes your heart skip and tears well in your eyes, and the ending (and this novel) is everything you could ever ask for. It’s bumpy yet seamless and every other word for perfect there is.

You can purchase The Sidekicks via the following

Booktopia | Amazon Aust

Book Depository | QBD

AmazonDymocks

Readings | Publisher