How long have you been participating in CBR? Has it changed the way you read?
I’ve been participating for three years now. I started back in 2018 when I was feeling a little burnt out after writing my PhD thesis.My motivation for joining Cannonball Read — well apart from the charity aspect — was sort of two-fold: 1) it made me set aside time to read for fun. If I didn’t, I would suffer the embarrassment of not reaching my review goals and 2) to keep up the writing habit and perhaps help me with my self editing.
Since Cannonball Read seems to have helped with 1), I’d say it’s changed my reading habits for the better. It’s also given another source of recommendations too, which is fantastic!
But 2) though? No. Sadly no. I am still the world’s worst proof-reader and editor when it comes to my own work. Other people’s I can do. Mine, no.
(And as it turns out, burn out might be more of a feature than a bug right now — its good to be able some retain some hobbies in this COVID omni-shambles.)
You’re one of our international Cannonballers. Is there a book written about or set in your hometown/local area that you think does it justice?
Haha, the Melways? It is the most Melbournian book I know of!
I think with this kind of question, a lot of Australians would be sitting there hoping I don’t do
anything to embarrass them, and go ahead and nominate something literary, like Picnic at Hanging Rock.
But I can’t. Sorry. Instead, for some Very Melbourne books, going to pick the Murray Whelan series by Shane Maloney. They’re a set of crime novels set in the eighties where the protagonist is not a cop, or a detective, but a political fixer for the Australian Labor Party, and they display the character of Melbourne very well. Apart from having a very droll sense of humor, these books feature two things that Melbournians mightn’t want you to remember the city by, but are prominent features regardless: the amusingly petty political bullshit and the amusingly dumb criminal bullshit.
I also probably shouldn’t answer this question without mentioning The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas either. It really is a furious dissection of Australia emerging ‘champagne on beer money’ middle class. It is painfully on point, but frustrating to read, because most of the characters are absolute arseholes. Which was his intent, I think.
(Quick aside on Hanging Rock: last time I was there on a school trip, it wasn’t for a picnic. It was the day after my graduation, it rained horribly, and we were all as hungover as hell. No one got lost, but most of us were nauseous and wet. Our teachers thought the whole affair was very funny.)
As for my current residence, Barcelona, The Shadow of the Wind (La Sombra del Viento), by the recently deceased Carlos Ruiz Zafón, is a good showcase of the city. I read it in English though. I don’t have the patience skill or the time to try otherwise.
Your Shane Black Filter is great, recognizing that it’s a reader’s responsibility to decide how much misogynistic hogwash they’re willing to put up with for the sake of a good story or good writing. But you outed yourself as cheesy 80s action movies! What’s your favorite?
Ooh, this wasn’t much of a competition: Predator! Mostly because it started off as any other cheese-ball action film from that time, but then it got subtle and clever. Also, I just love the Predator himself — such an awesome design.
I’m going to share with you a little ritual from my Masters that would probably give a a therapist a bit to chew over if it ever got revealed to them, but there was a period where I was going into the lab at 6:30 or 7 in the morning to set up some DDT assays on fruit flies — a pretty miserable thing so early in the morning. So I used to take my laptop to work, pop in the Predator DVD, sit it in the fume hood, and listen to the movie just to pump myself up a bit. Because I needed pumping up. For killing small flies with pesticides…
You’re an evolutionary biologist? Does that make you extra judgmental about books about aliens, like a doctor reading about medical stuff? (“It doesn’t work like that!”)
I try not to be, really I do! I gave Adrian Tchaikovsky plenty of leeway for his super virus and spider-inheritance hand waving in Children of Time, and I only raised my eyebrow slightly at the genetic-y stuff in the Vorkosigan saga. And if we skitter into the TV realm, I watched all of Orphan Black without rolling my eyes that often, I swear! But sometimes id does get to me: I did get a bit frustrated with the last third of Seveneves; and a couple of things in The Wind-up Girl, such as the spread of the cheshires or deducing the mutation rate by looking down a microscope, made me cringe.
It’s hard to articulate but I think my reaction depends on a number of factors: on how critical these things are to the plot, the consistency of the the ideas (either its all hand waving nonsense or it is not) and how seriously the author is taking themselves.
What’s your least favorite literary trope?
Manufactured drama in romance plots! I don’t know what we’d call this trope – the second act break up? Anything that telegraphs to me that the author wants this relationship to occur, but they only want to deliver the package, wrapped with a bow, right at the very end. So they decide to draw things out via some really contrived, cringe worthy means.
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, what?
I play the iPod? Sorry, I am very musically untalented! I can’t sing either.