On book launches, book reviewing as a writer and The First Third by Will Kostakis

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Life is made up of three parts: in The First Third, you're embarrassed by your family; in the second, you make a family of your own; and in the end, you just embarrass the family you've made. 

That's how Billy's grandmother explains it, anyway. She's given him her bucket list (cue embarrassment), and now, it's his job to glue their family back together. 

No pressure or anything. 

Fixing his family's not going to be easy and Billy's not ready for change. But as he soon discovers, the first third has to end some time. And then what? 

It's a Greek tragedy waiting to happen.

I have attended two book launches in my entire life, not counting events that I attended without the prior knowledge a book launch would be included in proceedings (you think it's just a party then bam! surprise book launch. Which is preferable to bam! surprise zombie outbreak) which would bring the total to about five. Still, not a lot, especially considering the fact that I know lots of writers and they often write books which they feel compelled to launch. Good on them! I am far too introverted for such things. (I do dream of one day having a book launch, and not being reduced to hiding in the corner for the duration of it. Probably no one would show up, which would be for the best.)

The first book launch was for Emily Gale's Girl Aloud a million years ago (okay, four years ago), and the second was the Brisbane launch of Will Kostakis' The First Third seven months ago (I never know how to place an apostrophe in names ending in S. Correct me if I'm wrong). It was held at the very lovely TLC Books in Manly, which is such a cute little bookshop and I would go there more often if I did not live quite so far away. I had not previously realised there was a Manly in Brisbane. It's a nice place, by the sea. You learn something new every day. I read almost the whole book on the train trip home (it's a long trip), and yet it's still taken me this long to get around to writing a post about it. I'm genuinely terrible.

Of course there's all these issues with reviewing books when you know the authors (and I'm not especially great at reviewing books to begin with - my style is basically: here's some stuff that happened! here's what I thought was good! here's what I thought was bad! you decide based on that whether it's a book for you! I'm not an expert on structure or construction or the literary tradition. I just really like stories.), and I'm very fortunate to know lots of Australian YA authors.

I've never said I liked a book I didn't like (okay, not counting Catcher in the Rye, but that wasn't because I didn't want to offend Salinger) and I'm largely fortunate that a lot of the people I think are stellar human beings I also think are stellar writers. It's hard to say whether the fact you like the writers as people affects how you see their work. There are writers who I like as people whose work I don't like, so I just don't talk about their work. It's personal preference rather than anything problematic in the work itself.

The whole thing with blogging/reviewing/etc is that the internet allows a certain level of anonymity and the internet allows writers to connect with readers, and this is great and this is also not great. By which I mean there is no guarantee of objectivity. Personal opinion is patently not objective - how we feel about what we read is very much shaped by who we are and our experiences and nothing inherent in the work. Also, there are tons of non-writer bloggers and aspiring-writer bloggers and bloggers who are mates with writers whose relationships with those writers will shape their perspective. The best way to get a good perspective on a book (if you're the sort of person for whom reviews inform whether you'll read) is to just read a lot of reviews.

tl;dr - I'm friends with writers. But I'll only talk about how much I enjoyed their work if I actually did. Will was the first person to really welcome me into the whole bein' an author thing (before I even was an author, too) and is one of my favourite young writers (always nice when a writer is a stellar human, too. Luckily I have not encountered particularly many mean people who write good books. I'm not sure how I'd cope with that). And now this post is getting long and I've not at all spoken about the book, terrible.

Now: The First Third.

I read and loved Loathing Lola five years ago (six?). I'm not sure I would love it as much now - you know, reading particular books, being a particular age. (I was enamoured with Twilight when I was thirteen.) So, The First Third was a novel I was waiting to read for a very long time (comparable to the agonising wait for Simmone Howell's Girl Defective after I read Everything Beautiful).

I found The First Third to be not only profoundly funny but very genuine and insightful, and if you like contemporary YA fiction, it's well worth a look. The debut novel is usually the autobiographical one, but while Loathing Lola was hilarious, The First Third is also gorgeously earnest and heartfelt. I like stories about families - Billy's family functions better than most in YA novels, and a great deal of it rings true (you know what I mean about your subjective experience shaping how you view novels? I have a close family, their happiness is as important to me as my own, and so when I read a book where teenagers barely speak to their parents, I can struggle to relate).

I think it was worth the five year wait. (I'd rather not wait until 2018 for the next one, though. Must it take so long for people to write books? Gosh.)
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