The World According to Renee

Views, Reviews, Short Stories and More…

Water for Elephants

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen tells the story of an old man recalling his life. Now aged “90 or 93”, Jacob is living in a nursing home, feeling trapped because he still has most of his marbles and his family has forgotten him. The highlight of his week is the promise of seeing a circus which has come to town, sparking recollections of his own circus days during the Depression.

Sara Gruen started writing the novel as part of NaNoWriMo- a month long venture in which budding authors are encouraged to write 50,000 words during the month. She was inspired by a Depression-era photo of a real circus. She did extensive research into the behaviours of animals and also circuses of the time. She’s included interesting anecdotes into the novel: truth is often stranger than fiction.

Water for Elephants is cliched on so many levels. Not that I’m particularly familiar with the Bible, but  apparently the story is closely related to that of Jacob from the Old Testament. The old man recalling an interesting past reached a peak (for me at least) with The Green Mile. The usual plotlines of love and betrayal are mindlessly explored. What struck me is the lack of emotion within the writing. Jacob himself narrates the tale and although he’s hot headed and temperamental, there’s no real emotion pouring through the pages. The parts one is expected to be sad in, didn’t happen for me (whilst I’ve never cried during a movie, a good book will bring forth tears). Whether that was an intentional device used by Gruen to highlight the ‘strong man’ Jacob is or whether she’s just not good enough at illiciting an emotional response, I don’t know.

Several plot points weren’t tied up. The reason Jacob starts the tale is because he’s sitting next to a man at the nursing home who says he too worked for a circus, bringing water to the elephants. Jacob calls him a liar (“and an old coot!”) and thus begins the tale; but exactly why he was being called a liar is never explored. I’m sure elephants need to drink too… Why certain characters were redlighted (thrown from the moving train because they were considered a burden) has no reason although serves as the plot point for the climax. The reasons behind events remains largely ignored, forgotten in favour of moving the story along.

And move along, it certainly does. It was interesting enough for me to finish the novel in two days, and the end is appropriate, but I’m left wanting more answers and depth to the novel. Although a fitting end, it was largely unsatisfying. Hopefully these holes can be filled with the film adaptation: the movie is being filmed as I speak and due out next year.

Water for Elephants is definitely interesting and shows Depression-era America as both pathetic and glamourous. Several characters are physically weak and pathetic, contrasted against the grandeur of the performers and the Big Top. There’s no reason to become attached to the characters, a result of a lack of emotional bonding between the author and the reader.



June 28, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | Leave a comment

The Kobo E-Reader

I love to read. I can easily read a whole book (not a Mr Men, but a 300 page novel) in a day. I don’t know how many books I currently own, but I’ve at least started them all… and will finish them one day. I write this and look at His Dark Materials, which I got three Christmases ago and still haven’t gotten past the first page…

During a frequent trip to Borders, I saw their new e-reader, the Kobo (an anagram of Book). It was love at first sight. It’s priced at $199, which beats the Kindle by some $60, comes with 100 pre-loaded books (all classics on the public domain, which suits me just fine!) and it’s lightweight and easy to read.

I finally got one this week, thanks to my lovely boyfriend. Here are my thoughts on the Kobo:

Easy To Read
I like the contrast of the e-ink. It’s like reading a book printed on slightly darker paper. The font can be changed and so can the size. I’m happy to read the smallest print but my mum reads the largest. With the small font, it holds as much text as a regular paperback. The thing about the iPhone app is that it only holds 16 lines of text, which makes it unreadable for a fast reader like me.

Response time is a little slow
It takes a moment to do something after you press a button, but thus is the nature of e-ink and the small processor it would contain. It’s not touchscreen, which I’m happy about because it means the screen doesn’t have grotty fingerprints all over it.

Good Choice of E-Books
What they don’t tell you is, there are several sites to buy Kobo e-books. I got my Kobo through Angus & Robertson, who install their own app onto your PC desktop. I also installed the Borders Kobo app and bookmarked , all of which are compatible to download books onto the device. A&R have more e-books than Borders, and I found the Kobo books website to be difficult to look around as it only shows recommended reads and not a full browsing section. The prices between the three also differ. The first e-book I bought was Jane Slayre. The original Jane Eyre is on the public domain (i.e. out of copyright) and someone has re-written passages to make Jane into a vampire slayer. On Kobo books, it was about $15. A&R had it for $13.95 and Borders had it for $10.95. It pays to shop around, although I found A&R have more books than Borders. It’s easy to browse and buy, it’s basic point and click stuff and saves your details for the next time you use them. The advertising I’ve seen promises 2 million titles… but you gotta know where to look.

The reasons I wanted an e-reader:
Well, I read a lot, and books are heavy. The Kobo weighs less than the average paperback and slim enough to fit into any handbag.

The books I read a lot are now worn 😦 I have books from when I was a teenager which are now held together with sticky tape. It shows how loved they are. E-books won’t degrade and won’t be stained with coffee cup rings, dog drool or dog-eared pages. Mice won’t nest from the pages when in storage (I’ve lost a lot of books that way 😦  ) and I can delete books from the device while keeping them in my library on the computer. I can store up to 1000 books on the device and up to 4000 if I get a memory card (a generic one will do).

Downloads are instant; no more waiting two weeks for Amazon to ship an order. If I’m reading more than one book, I don’t need to go back to the menu to find a book- everything I’m reading is listed on one page which is accessed with a push of a button. It saves the page I’m up to as well, so I don’t need to scroll to find the last page I read.

The books are also much cheaper than printed copies. A hardcover is often over $40. E-books range from free (public domain pieces such as Jane Eyre or Alice in Wonderland) to $30 for a recent and popular release. However it’s rare for an e-book to be that expensive. The prices really have a wide range which differs between stores.

Obviously, e-books don’t need paper, so they save trees from certain death. You do have to charge the Kobo using a computer and USB cable, so it’s not entirely free from environmental guilt.

All in all, I love my new Kobo. There was an adjusting period where I tried to flip a page by going to the top right hand corner of the device and trying to flip it manually… but I really think e-readers are the future of reading. It will save money for schools. Remember being handed a novel in high school? I imagine children having an e-reader and just downloading the required novel, then deleting after use if desired. There’s probably a link in the fancier e-readers so you can read the plotlines, themes and characters on wikipedia…

June 25, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | Leave a comment

Competing with the LOLs

I recently read a book called the Online Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert Bly. Bly is one of the highest paid copywriters in the US, so one would hope he knows what he’s talking about.

One early chapter in the book was about our beloved English language and how the language is still the same on the internet (in comparison to printed media). This book was written in 2002 but it seems outdated, even now.


Internet speak has become its own language. Abbreviations rule, along with a general disregard for spelling and grammar. I understand the desire to write abbreviations (within reason- I’m looking at you, Alex!) and I also understand the desire to get thoughts out quickly without censoring or editing information. But when did we lose the ability or desire to spell correctly? I’m lucky to have had adequate schooling and a thirst for reading, so usually I can see a word and know instantly whether or not it is spelled correctly or written in acceptable grammar. Spelling mistakes I make are usually typos or the Aussie way of spelling (which triggers my US-based spell check into the red squiggly underlines).

My pet peeves with regard to spelling are:
1) lose – loose.
2) their – there – they’re
3) know – no – now

There are more, but even as I write these, my heart is beating with increased adrenaline with sudden annoyance so I should stop before I give myself a heart attack.

I’m lucky in that the majority of people I interact with over the internet spell properly. There are a few exceptions (such as someone I went to school with and sat next to, who thinks that “threw” means “through” and “phew” means “few”) but on the whole, I am happy with the intelligence of my friends. I am under the impression that people as a whole are able to read and understand proper English.

This cosy little world was shattered one day as I watched a woman reading a brochure. She came across the word “know” and argued with the man sitting with her that when you know something, it’s spelled “no”. I was flabbergasted! After a few minutes of this increasingly heated argument, he decided to tell her about silent k, like knee. She responded by arguing that knee is spelled neey. I almost fainted.

So, the other night whilst having a Copywriting Coaching Call, my coach asked for questions. I asked how the copywriter competes on the online world with the rise of internet speak, death of the English language and general disregard of grammar. Luckily, my coach is just as appalled at the lack of care as I am and basically said that we are professional writers and need to uphold the nuances of the language, with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. I only hope that people will continue to be able to comprehend proper English and not start heated debates about spelling.

A couple of years ago, before the Queensland elections, there was a radio ad for a candidate which I thought was appalling. The ad was aimed at the barely-able-to-vote group which are the heaviest users of LOL, ROFL, WTF and the like. The narrator, over the course of the ad, actually pronounced these abbreviations. OMG!

In conclusion, if you want me to read your stuff, don’t write in lolcatz.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | Leave a comment

What is Copywriting? Or, The Sushi Pizza

Rule #1 when you start a new business, start telling people what you’re now doing. When you’re a copywriter, a blank look crosses their face while their brain searches for what that could possibly be. So, what is copywriting?

Classic European cuisine, married with traditional Japanese dining. Thin slices of smoked salmon (an excellent source of Omega 3), lovingly layered on a sourdough base and topped with salted seaweed leaves for the authentic sushi taste. Add a splash of wasabi sauce for a truly authentic tingling for your bored tastebuds.

The above is copywriting; convincing you, the consumer, that ‘my’ product or service is fresh, new and better than the competition. Your mind is not loving the idea of a sushi pizza, but your mouth started watering.

Copywriting is essentially advertising. Statistics say our brain is exposed to insane amounts of information; something like 5 exabytes every day (a billion gigabytes or 1 million terabytes).  Any trip into a major city will shower you with advertising. Neon signs, print media, shop fronts and music are all competing for your dollar. Copywriting is the art of convincing you to part with your money on the basis that what I’m selling will solve a problem for you (this is also the basis of infomercials on daytime television).

In short, everything you see written on websites, brochures and on a Mars Bar packet was written by a copywriter. We write words to sell a product or service. We are sneaky and will use any method available. You have definitely fallen for our tricks of the trade: you wanted that sushi pizza.

June 15, 2010 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | Leave a comment