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Where oh where has my reading time gone?

Not since April, when I found two brilliant books in the same month – Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey) and After the Fall (Kylie Ladd) – have I read a novel from start to finish. It’s incredibly frustrating, because I love curling up on the sofa for a regular dose of escapism, but my problem is not going away any time soon, because my two-year-old has decided she doesn’t need a nap. My lunchtime to do list has now largely moved to the evening, and all those books I’m desperate to read are piling up on my shelves.

I don’t want to start anything that’s important to me until I get a good run at it. Therefore, I’ve been getting some rather random and ill-chosen things out of the library, literary heavyweights that I start at about half past ten at night, and struggle through approximately three lines before my eyelids betray me. However, while I attempt to fix this problem and rediscover my reading time, I have been doing plenty more reading of another kind. If it’s by Mick Inkpen, Eric Hill, Lucy Cousins or Julia Donaldson, chances are not only that I’ve read it, but that I can recite it to you verbatim. And the squeals of excitement and enthusiasm they engender in my daughter make these books rather special. I’ve been asked before what books we read together, so here, in honour of my new toddler-imposed reading regime – are some of our favourites right now:

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Schiffer. The ending makes me well up every time.

Watch Out Little Wombat by Charles Fuge. We particularly love shouting SPLAT and CROC-O-DILE!

The Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Everybody’s favourite – but one of mine because I love hearing my daughter name the foods, and the cute way she says ‘pickle’ and ‘alami’ for ‘salami’, and the satisfaction on her face when she gets them all right.

Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough. Despite it’s questionable moral ending when Duck leaves all his helpful mates completely in the s**t, my little one loves it and has great fun getting things ‘stuck in the muck’ in the back garden.

Snore by Michael Rosen and Jonathan Langley. My little girl loves to imitate the snores and animal noises.

Tiger by Nick Butterworth. The illustrations are gorgeous and make me want another kitten!

The Great Pet Sale by Mick Inkpen. We also love Kipper and Wibbley Pig, but this book is brilliant, and the quick-tongued rat makes us both laugh.

If You’re Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera. The illustrations are lovely and there are lots of great simple actions for little ones to sing and dance to.

Shhh Little Mouse by Pamela Allen. We do lots of finger to mouth and whispering until the cat wakes up and it all breaks loose.

Follow the Kite by Anna Nilsen and Mark Burgess. A really unusual book with a kite that you can lace through the pages as it blows up and down in the wind.

I’d love to hear your favourites too?

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Perth Writers Festival #2: The death of print?

On Sunday morning I attended a Perth Writers Festival session discussing the future of printed books in this world of rapid, almost rabid, technological change. I was completely engrossed listening to the panel of Geordie Williamson (chief literary critic of the Australian), James Bradley (novelist), Lev Grossman (novelist) and Angela Meyer (writer, Literary Minded blog) as they contributed a wealth of suggestions and observations. There were a few differences of opinion, but one thing was for certain: change is already upon us, whether we are prepared for it or not.

I came away feeling reasonably positive. James Bradley noted that, as happened with the music industry, the restructuring of the book industry would engender a new wave of creativity. Lev Grossman suggested that the new technologies need not mean the death of the old ones, but rather the advent of something ‘more complex and interesting’. And Angela Meyer proposed that the bookstores who prevail will be the ones who create a culture around themselves, such as the Readings chain in Melbourne (which I’m excited to be visiting for the first time next week). Geordie Williamson observed that we may end up seeing a more diverse industry, akin to the way things operated before conglomerate consolidation.

One question raised was whether the enhanced e-book is a good or bad thing – or indeed if it is possible to authentically translate all books into standard or enhanced e-formats.  I loved Lev Grossman’s statement that ‘just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should’ (something that sprang to mind again as I looked longingly at the scones in my local cafe this morning). Geordie Williamson’s related comment, that in our excitement we may begin to see technology as a virtue in itself instead of a tool, also rang bells with me – because my fiction books are written with the aim that I want you to lose yourself in them. I don’t want you to pause to click on words to find out their meaning unless you absolutely have to. I don’t want your e-reader battery life to run out just before the final chapter. I don’t want you to accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself reading a random page. I guess in some ways my novels (and, heaven forbid, me?!) are a little bit old school, so I’m happy I am writing at a time when I can see them in print.

I got home that night and saw on Twitter that the publishers of the Oxford dictionary have conceded there is no point in publishing the printed version any more. From now on it will be online only. I thought of my enormous dictionary in the study, which I frequently don’t bother to haul out, since I can look up a word much faster on the internet. And yet… to flick through page after page of minuscule text and find random words you never knew existed … to be able to feel the English language as a weight in your hands… The loss may not be registered by future generations, but at that moment I began to feel it.

However, on the panel, James Bradley told us that Socrates apparently deplored the coming of the written text as he said we’d no longer have to remember things. It’s a reminder that many fears prove unfounded, and that change, loss and adaptation are part and parcel of life. So while I may get nostalgic for the vanishing worlds of this wonderful business, I’m also looking ahead with optimism and excitement at what may come next, and enjoying being part of it all.