Thursday, 14 December 2017

My Life in Books (2017)

I'm struggling to settle to anything today. 
I'm bouncing from one thing to the next in a blur of summer heat and seasonal silliness. 
But then I spotted Adam's fun end of year meme, My Life in Books and I knew what I was doing for the next 20 mins!

Image source: Fotolia.com

The rules? Pretty simple: answer the questions with books you read this year!

In high school I was: Children of the New World (Alexander Weinstein)

People might be surprised (by): What I Loved (Siri Hustvedt)

I will never be: The Ladies of Missalonghi (Colleen McCullough)

My fantasy job is: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (Arundhati Roy)

At the end of a long day I need: Solitude (Michael Harris)

I hate it when: (I feel like) The Boy Behind the Curtain (Tim Winton)

Wish I had: A Dangerous Language (Sulari Gentill)

My family reunions are: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck! (Mark Manson)

At a party you’d find me: Exit West (Mohsin Hamid)

I’ve never been to: Insomniac City (Bill Hayes)

A happy day includes: Reflection (Rebecka Sharpe Shelberg)

Motto I live by: Love and Friendship (Jane Austen)

On my bucket list is: (a) Journey to the River Sea (Eva Ibbotson)

In my next life, I want to have: Breakfast at Tiffany's (Truman Capote)

If you'd also like to avoid cleaning up the kitchen, writing a book review, or checking the mail, then join in the end of year, life in review, what books did I read this year fun with Adam @Roofbeamreader. 

I feel better already!

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Top Ten Tuesday My Favourite Reads of 2017

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.
Each week they nominate a topic to encourage those of us who love a good list to get all listy.
This week it's all about our favourites.

My Top Ten Favourite Reads for 2017


It's always difficult to narrow down all those glorious books read during one calendar year into just ten stand-outs. So I have to have a few rules to help.
  • The book must have been read entirely in 2017 (which automatically cut two books from my possibilities - Tim Winton's book of essays, The Boy Behind the Curtain and Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar).
  • The book must not be a re-read - that's too easy (obviously if I'm re-reading, it must be a book I enjoyed enough to want to go round again) - which counts out The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and Northanger Abbey.
  • No picture books or coffee table books allowed (bye bye Rockhopping by Trace Balla).
Which leaves me with 16 books that were a four or five star rating on Goodreads.


10.
Children of the New World by Alexander Weinstein

A fabulous taste of speculative fiction by a debut writer, enjoyed by myself and Mr Books.



9.
The Fortune of the Rougons by Emile Zola

After reading Germinal & Nana, I enjoyed going back to the start of the series to see where it all began.


8.
Sisters by Ada Cambridge

A new-to-me Australian author from the 1800's who deserves to be more widely read.


7.
The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Winner of the Stella Prize and shortlisted for many more.
This book started a run of art and love in New York stories for me.


6.
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

More art and love in New York.


5.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Fascinating stuff about love, doors, wars and belonging.


4.
Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Love and art in New York part three!


3.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

If you know the story of Antigone, you know how this will end, but Shamsie still keeps you second-guessing all the way through.


2.
The Murderer's Ape by Jakob Wegelius

It's not often that I include a junior fiction book in my top ten, but I loved this book so much, I want every one to read it.
I haven't stopped thinking about it or Sally Jones, the ape in question, since July.
This is a story for all readers aged 10-110 years.


1.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Yes, I really do think this book deserves all the hype and the awards and the accolades being heaped on it.
I'm already looking forward to the re-read.


What was your favourite read for 2017?
Go on - tempt me!

Sunday, 10 December 2017

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho

I wish I could draw or paint.
Every time I read Basho's haiku I feel the urge to create (or recreate) the beauty I sense in his words.
Others have tried before me as the internet is full of such examples.

I've been wanting to get back into my cross-stitching for some time now and haven't felt inspired...perhaps I could try my hand at a haiku sampler with some simple blossoms or leaves as a border? 
I'm curious to discover what might be revealed when one sits for a period of time with just one haiku.


I recently read On Love and Barley - the Haiku of Basho translated by Lucien Stryk (1986).
During his lifetime (1644 - 94), Basho wrote over 1000 haiku.
This slim volume contains just 253 - a lovely accessible way to discover the beautiful simplicity of his life's work.

Zen, as an aesthetic, is something I feel very drawn to.
Basho aimed for the 'calm realisation of profoundly felt truths' according to Stryk in his Introduction.
Superficiality, trickery and artifice were to be avoided.
The solitary experience, lightness and honouring the humble were Basho's tools.
His inspiration was daily life, observation, stillness and nature.
Moments in time, 'distilled, snatched from time's flow' were enough.

8

Stryk provides the reader with some guidelines and explanation for the structural development of haiku: 'two elements divided by a break (kireji, or 'cutting word', best rendered in English by emphatic punctuation), the first element being the condition or the situation - 'Spring air' - the other the sudden perception, preceded by kireji (in these pieces a dash).

Spring air -
woven moon
and plum scent.


Basho encouraged muga, 'so close an identification with the things one writes of that self is forgotten.'
Zen philosophy was part of Basho's life but only occasionally was this specifically stated in his haiku.
 He preferred the reader to experience revelations through the things we know, like nature.

132
I have tried to source the original artist/s for the two haiku above, but get lost in a maze of pinterest pages each time.
I am happy to acknowledge the original artist if anyone can point me in the right direction.

On Love and Barley itself is dotted with black and white versions of original illustrations by Ike no Taiga (1723 -76) like the one below.

Untitled - Mountains (public domain)

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

I am a fan of the Moriarty sisters -  Liane, Nicola and Jaclyn - they have all gone off in different directions, genres and target audiences but the one thing they have in common is thoroughly engaging stories, believable characters and the ability to suck me into their world.

Jacyln's previous series that wowed my socks off was The Colour of Madeleine trilogy. These books were aimed at an older teen audience - light fantasy, a little romance and a great concept. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is for younger readers - about 10 plus. It's another light fantasy with a great concept, but more concerned with family and friendship than romance, although I'm still wondering about Aunt Isabelle and the Butler!


Bronte begins her story with the sudden death of her parents. This is not as sad an event as you might expect as Bronte was left by her parents on Aunt Isabelle's doorstop when she was a baby. Bronte's feelings about her parents, are therefore, complicated.

Things quickly become even more complicated when the terms of their wills are revealed. Bronte is to go on a quest, an adventure no less, to visit all her aunts (there are ten more besides Aunt Isabelle!) The timing for each visit is very specific as are suggestions for places to eat, gifts to give each aunt and the very definite condition that Bronte travels alone. She is only ten years of age. Aunt Isabelle is horrified, but the will is cross-stitched in faerie thread which means that if Bronte doesn't follow the instructions exactly as stated, if she breaks the terms, then her home town will also break.

This is pretty serious sounding stuff you have to agree. But Bronte heads off on her quest with oodles of optimism, trust and commonsense.

She encounters dragons, rescues water sprites and goes on the run from pirates. She saves a baby in danger of drowning, befriends a girl running off to join the circus and meets a mysterious boy with no shoes.

Each aunt has stories to tell Bronte about her parents. She gradually learns some of their secrets as well as learning some startling new things about herself. Moriarty does all of this with a lightness of touch and a great deal of charm.


Kelly Canby's quirky line drawings are scattered throughout the book. They highlight the sense of fun that permeates the whole story as well as giving this lovely hardback edition a dash of style.

This would be a fabulous bedtime read aloud book to enjoy together as a family. Highly recommended.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Maybe by Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman's Holocaust series for younger readers has already attracted much praise and many accolades. His stories carefully balance the reality of what actually happened with modern day sensibilities. Sad, bad things happen to his characters, but he doesn't describe them in gory detail. There is bleakness and injustice and cruelty, but there is also hope, love and mercy. And we all know that Felix survives the war, thanks to book number 3, Now.


Once is 10 yr old Felix's story about trying to find his parents. He is befriended by the spunky, Zelda and sheltered by a dentist called Barney, who is modelled on the real life Polish Jewish doctor who took in and cared for war orphans. Felix uses stories to make sense of the crazy things going on around him and to protect the traumatised Zelda. But, ultimately, Once is the story of lost innocence as Felix finally realises and accepts what is really happening.

Then is the heart-breaker.
The reality of the war and the horror of the Holocaust are really brought to bear in book 2. Gleitzman doesn't shy away from tough details or sadness, but then, how could you write a meaningful story about the Holocaust without them? The magic ingredient in all these books is hope. Felix is always optimistic and despite what awful things might happen, he always finds his way back to a position of hope.

I read the first three books of this series in a huge binge session one rainy, cold weekend. After wiping away my tears at the end of Then, I picked up Now straight away, desperate to find out what happened next. I cannot begin to tell you the huge relief I felt, as I realised that Felix not only survived the war and all the terrible things that happened to him, but fathered at least one child!

Now jumps forward 70 years and we meet an 80 yr old Felix living in Melbourne. He is spending time with his granddaughter, Zelda. But bushfires threaten to disturb the peaceful life that Felix has made for himself as a doctor in Australia. Now is a story about closure, memory and forgiveness.

And Felix's story could have finished there. That was the plan.

But Felix had other ideas.

After takes us back to the war. Felix is now 12 yrs old and has been hiding out in Gabriek's barn for 2 years. When things go bad, he finds himself in the forest with the partisans learning to fight. They also teach Felix some basic doctoring techniques and he quickly realises that he has a knack for it - more so than for fighting and killing. This is a story about the choices we make.

Soon is the tragic tale of what happens when the war finally ends. The horror, the cruelty and the hunger do not disappear just because the war is over. New threats and new fears throw out any ideas that Felix may have had that he only needed the war to end to feel safe and secure again. Instead his post-war life is filled with worry and despair. How can he stay hopeful when everything seems absolutely hopeless? Soon is a story about dreams and imagination.


Maybe is the refugee story that I thought Felix would want to tell us about. He is now 14 yrs of age and in the process of emigrating to Australia. This is his chance to live a in safe, modern world, where he can put his past behind him. But not all Australians welcome the idea of accepting an influx of war orphans and sadly, orphanages can be good - or bad - in any country.

Felix has had to grow up fast and the only thing that bugged me about this book was his voice. At times I wondered if Gleitzman was going to suddenly tell us that Felix was on the autism spectrum. The naive, childish voice didn't match Felix's life experience at all. It jarred. It was like he'd been allowed to grow up physically and intellectually, but not emotionally. The trauma of war, can do that to a person for sure, and maybe that's what Gleitzman was trying to get at. But it felt like a flaw in the story that Felix did not sound like a 14 yr old.

The simple storytelling style of 10 yr old Felix has not been allowed to mature and evolve into a teen story. Yet....

This reader, for one, is always hopeful and optimistic.

Gleitzman's webpage is a treasure trove of information about his books - for dedicated readers, teachers and parents. He also has lists of books that inspired or helped him with his research for this series.

Gleitzman's list of books about bushfires
Gleitzman's list of books about the Holocaust
Book 7 Always (to be published)
Book 6 Maybe
Book 5 Soon
Book 4 After
Book 3, 2 & 1 Now, Then & Once

Friday, 1 December 2017

Stories and Shout-outs.

So, the 1st of December, time for the silly season to start!

As many of you know already I don't really do many/any yearly reading challenges, but I do love a good readalong. And there are two beauties that have caught my eye recently.


Liz @Adventures in Reading is planning a HUGE 18mnth readalong of the entire Iris Murdoch oeuvre...in chronological order. That's one book per month for the dedicated and fanatic!

When I first spotted Liz's post I only had The Sea The Sea, on my TBR pile, which menat that I wouldn't be joining in the readalong until May 2019!! But since then I have been acquiring (shhhh don't tell Mr Books!) more of her books. I now have Under the Net, The Book and the Brotherhood and The Flight From the Enchanter.

I'm now in catch up mode.

Under the Net was Murdoch's first book, written in 1954, and a November read. The Flight From the Enchanter is the December read. The Book and the Brotherhood is slated for September 2019! All my editions so far are Random Vintage Classics.

The second readalong to pique my interest is Nick @A Catholic Life's year long readalong of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. There are 365 short chapters in the unabridged edition of this chunkster classic - so that's one a day. Sounds like the perfect leisurely read doesn't it? For more details and to sign up pop over here.

I've never read Les Mis before or seen the movie, stage production or any other format of the story. I'm not quite sure how that has happened. All I know is that it's set during, in or around the French Revolution, one of the periods of history that I have a particular obsession with.

My edition of the book is the Penguin hardcover translated by Norman Denny. A bit of a brick, but it has a pretty ribbon marker to keep my place :-)


Have you spotted any interesting readalongs for 2018? I could be tempted!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

#AusReadingMonth Wrap Up

Well, here we are.
At the end of our fifth #AusReadingMonth...and I feel rather bittersweet about the whole experience.


November turned out to be a real mixed bag of emotions and events that distracted me from all of my fine reading goals.

I feel reluctant to let go of November. November was the month that my wonderful father-in-law was still alive in, although all too briefly. The days without him in our lives, has too quickly become a week, and before we know it, we'll have gone a month without him. In a blink of an eye we'll be saying 'last year' and the space between when he was with us and when we've been without him gets further and further apart.

We still feel the possibility of his presence with us all the time. We have moments when we forget and it feels like it's been nothing more than too long a while since we last spoke on the phone. Because we didn't live in the same city, we can almost pretend that he's busy with stuff and we'll catch up soon. But with each passing day, this sense of his living presence grows less and the space is filled by memories instead. Wonderful, fun, loving memories they are, we're lucky in that, but we'd all rather a hug and a good old chat instead. The sound of his voice is still in my ears, his body gestures and mannerisms are still familiar, it still feels like he exists in a space in this world. Instead there is a Bruce-sized hole in our universe that hurts to contemplate.

But Bruce would want us to carry on and embrace the joyful times in our lives. He was so proud and excited for me about my first photographic exhibition. He would have enjoyed hearing about my niece's first experience at the School's Spectacular. He would have been thrilled to hear about B20's new job and new car this week. He'd have some wise words for B17 who is feeling stressed with his HSC studies. And he would have been thrilled to hear about Mr Books' recent nomination to be President of our local soccer association (the largest in Australia).

I'm now beginning to wonder how on earth I actually managed to read anything at all all this month!

But it takes a lot to put me off books.

I need books to help switch my brain off work and life mode, when I go to bed each night. That never changes, but the type of book does. If I'm not too tired, I enjoy reading non-fiction before bed, but when tired and flat, I need easy, comforting stories - classics, historical fiction, or if I'm really overwhelmed, then junior fiction is the way to go!
Sadly, this meant that Non-Fiction November was a complete and utter fizzer for me this year, although I did enjoy catching up on everyone else's posts. As for my AusBingo Card....well, all those states I had planned to read, disappeared one by one as I reached for comfort read after comfort read.

I may not have completed my personal challenge, but I did read some amazing stories (esp. The Commandant and Sisters) and found myself a new author whose back list I want to explore (Gerald Murnane).
Nancy's review of Into The Heart of Tasmania has me intrigued as well. It has now won the Queensland History Book Award and the Tasmanian Book Prize for this year.

How did you fare?
Was it easy to fit in reading an Aussie book or two, or did you struggle?
Did you find any new books or authors that you've already added to next year's #AusReadingMonth wishlist?

I'd love to hear from you about your month of reading.


Finally, a HUGE thank you one and all, for your enthusiasm and interest once again this year and please accept my HEARTFELT blessings for your kind words and understanding during this oh so difficult time.

If you forgot to link up your #AusReadingMonth review, don't panic! The Linky is below and open for another week. Pop around to visit our other participants to give you some great ideas for what to read next November :-)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton

I've had a lovely run of Text Classics during this year's #AusReadingMonth. It wasn't what I had planned though. Unexpected sad family news threw every plan and good intention out the window. As for reading matters, I fell back into the waiting arms of my comfort genre - classic/historical fiction. Text Classics softened the landing!

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton read like historical fiction (being set in Kings Cross, Sydney between the wars) but it was in fact a memoir. Perhaps because Dalton wrote the book in the 1960's, and was therefore looking back on her life from a bit of a distance, there were romantic, nostalgic, story-like elements to it.


Dalton's childhood sounded fairly chaotic and madcap. A bevy of elderly aunts and uncles, a cast of weird and wonderful characters and some bizarre deaths. Her dad was the local GP which meant he had a nodding acquaintance with many of the eccentrics who lived in the area. A large number of these would turn up on the doorstep seeking treatment at all hours of the day and night. 

Death was always present, cosily accepted, in my life.

In the large old house they all called home, strained relationships between the generations were the norm. Regular blow-ups kept everyone on their toes and oodles of passive-aggressive behaviour made for great storytelling, but must have been a nightmare to actually live with.

Looking back from the midst of my own ordinary adult life, it seems to me that a vein of quite extraordinary eventfulness enlivened the everyday existence of my mother's and father's lives and the lives of all my numerous great-aunts and -uncles and grandparents.

Sydney, itself, also became a larger-than-life character in Dalton's book. Her descriptions of Kings Cross, the buildings, local politics and the weather were evocative and realistic.

Our house was the only private residence in Kings Cross, the city's 'European' quarter - the 'Montmartre' of Sydney, people called it, with flattery and nostalgia. Actually, it was fairly hideous; like all of urban Sydney being a dusty hodgepodge of low-built builldings, all in need of a coat of paint-the upper halves flats and residential rooms and the lower halves shops, offices and cinemas. Between the two, cutting off the dirty stucco and dingy brickwork from the glaring neon signs, were the ubiquitous iron or concrete awnings, the characteristic features of Sydney's dim architecture.


Dinah Dryhurst's black and white line drawings are scattered throughout the book adding interest and charm.

However, I confess that I found the level of eccentric behaviour and chaos exhausting by the end. I understand that Dalton was retelling her childhood stories for her own children after the early death of her husband, their father. Perhaps she was subconsciously trying to make a point or insert a life lesson that would help them accept the sudden change in their own lives, by showing that change and disruption is a normal part of all our life stories.

Compared to the modern day memoir where much navel-gazing and introspection is the norm. And where whole chapters are devoted to working out why people behaved the way they did or what flow on effects the childhood experiences may or may not have had, Dalton's memoir is, on one hand, delightfully free of such analysis, but on the other, lacking in the personal insight that can give a memoir universal meaning.

Aunts Up the Cross was a fun, rather bizarre romp through depression era Sydney. A delight to read but easily forgotten.

#AusReadingMonth (remember to link your reviews)
#Australian Women Writers Challenge

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Summer Here We Come!

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.
Each week they nominate a topic to encourage those of us who love a good list to get all listy.


This week it's all about summer (in Australia).
Wahoo!

There's only three more calendar days until the start of the Australian Summer, but it feels like its here already. Muggy days, over 26°C with the incessant sound of cicadas, warm nights buzzing with mosquitoes. It could a long, hot summer!

I love summer dresses, evening walks after dinner, cold beers and trips to the beach.
And I love lazing around on a hot, hot day, under the fan, with a good book or two. 

Rose Bay, Sydney

My Top Ten Books to Read Over the Australian Summer

1.
Pompeii by Robert Harris

This is my new book club read for the summer. 
I've always wanted to read one of Harris' historical fiction books as they are popular with our customers at work.
Erupting volcanoes are on my mind lately too.


A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.

2.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

My Classics Club spin for the summer.
Happy dance!


3.
Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills

A February 2018 new release from Picador.
One of my reps gave it a HUGE rap, and that's all I need to give this one a go.


One morning, the residents of a coastal small town wake to discover the sea has disappeared, leaving them 'landlocked'. However, the narrator has been seeing visions of this cataclysm for years. Is she a prophet? Does she have a disorder that skews her perception of time (the 'Dyschronia' of the title). Or is she just a liar?

Mills' novel takes contemporary issues of resource depletion and climate change and welds them to one young woman's migraine-inducing nightmares. Her narrator's prevision anticipates a world where entire communities are left to fend for themselves: economically drained, socially fractured, trapped between a hardscrabble past and an uncertain future.

4.
Let Go My Hand by Edward Docx

Highly recommended by one of my colleagues.
And I like the cover :-)


Louis Lasker loves his family dearly – apart from when he doesn’t. There’s a lot of history. His father’s marriages, his mother’s death; one brother in exile, another in denial; everything said, everything unsaid. And now his father (the best of men, the worst of men) has taken a decision which will affect them all and has asked his three sons to join him on one final journey across Europe.

But Louis is far from sure that this trip is a good idea. His older half-brothers are wonderful, terrible, troublesome people. And they’re as suspicious as they are supportive . . . because the truth is that they’ve never forgiven their father for the damaging secrets and corrosive lies of his past. So how much does Louis love his dad – to death? Or can this flawed family’s bond prove powerful enough to keep a dying man alive?

Let Go My Hand is a darkly comic and deeply moving twenty-first-century love story between a son, his brothers and their father. Through these vividly realized characters, it asks elemental questions about how we love, how we live, and what really matters in the end. Frequently funny, sometimes profound, always beautifully written, this intimate and life-affirming novel shows the Booker-longlisted author of Self Helpat his brilliant best, and confirms his reputation as one of Britain’s most intelligent and powerful writers.

5.

I've read the previous five books in this series.
They're fabulous junior fiction about the Holocaust.
Despite the tragic subject matter, Gleitzman brings a sense of humanity to this difficult to understand topic.
Every time he thinks he is finished with Felix's story for good, he finds out later that Felix still has more to say.



A powerfully moving addition to Morris Gleitzman's bestselling series about Felix and Zelda which takes place in 1945, following directly on from the story told in Soon. 


This intensely affecting story will move readers of all ages. It will be welcomed by the many Holocaust educators who use Once, Now, Then, After and Soon to teach upper primary and lower secondary children and embraced by any reader who loves passionate, moving and brilliant stories.

6.
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

My relationship with Carey is a bit hit or miss.
The reviews are suggesting that this one could be a hit.
Only one way to find out....


Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in rural south eastern Australia. Together with Willie, their lanky navigator, they embark upon the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the continent, over roads no car will ever quite survive.

A Long Way from Home is Peter Carey's late style masterpiece; a thrilling high speed story that starts in one way, then takes you to another place altogether. Set in the 1950s in the embers of the British Empire, painting a picture of Queen and subject, black, white and those in-between, this brilliantly vivid novel illustrates how the possession of an ancient culture spirals through history - and the love made and hurt caused along the way.

7.
Every Third Thought by Robert McCrum

Like McCrum, I'm getting to an age when losing people seems to be happening more and more. Certainly far more than I would like!
And like McCrum I share a preoccupation with all things life and death.
Be prepared is my motto; or perhaps forewarned is forearmed is closer to the heart of the matter.


In 1995, at the age of forty two, Robert McCrum suffered a dramatic and near-fatal stroke, the subject of his acclaimed memoir My Year Off. Ever since that life-changing event, McCrum has lived in the shadow of death, unavoidably aware of his own mortality. And now, twenty-one years on, he is noticing a change: his friends are joining him there. Death has become his contemporaries’ every third thought. The question is no longer ‘who am I?’ but ‘how long have I got?’ and ‘what happens next?’

With the words of McCrum’s favourite authors as travel companions, Every Third Thought, takes us on a journey through a year and towards death itself. As he acknowledges his own and his friends’ ageing, McCrum confronts an existential question: in a world where we have learnt to live well at all costs, can we make peace with what Freud calls 'the necessity of dying'? Searching for answers leads him to others for advice and wisdom, and Every Third Thought is populated by the voices of brain surgeons, psychologists, cancer patients, hospice workers, writers and poets.

Witty, lucid and provocative, Every Third Thought is an enthralling exploration of what it means to approach the ‘end game’, and begin to recognize, perhaps reluctantly, that we are not immortal. Deeply personal and yet always universal, this is a book for anyone who finds themselves preoccupied by matters of life and death. It is both guide and companion.

8.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I've really embraced my inner creative in recent years; it's time to let it out more!



Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. 



With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. 

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

9.

Another book that has come highly recommended to me via one of my reps.
Outside my comfort zone, but intriguing nonetheless.


National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson returns to future Earth in a sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth - but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents' jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv's miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem "classic" Earth culture (doo-wop music, still-life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it's hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he's willing to go - and what he's willing to sacrifice - to give the vuvv what they want.

10.
Basho: The Complete Haiku by Matsuo Basho

In preparation for my BIG 5-0 trip to Japan next year, there will be many more Japanese writers and stories appearing on these pages. 

I've loved Basho's haiku's for years now, so when I spotted this beautifully illustrated complete volume of his work, I knew I had to have it. 

Last night I booked our onsen accommodation for Yamagata so that the unsuspecting Mr Books can share my passion for Basho by visiting the region made famous by Basho in his pilgrimage classic, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1689) - also on my TBR yama!


Basho stands today as Japans most renowned writer, and one of the most revered. Wherever Japanese literature, poetry or Zen are studied, his oeuvre carries weight. Every new student of haiku quickly learns that Basho was the greatest of the Old Japanese Masters.

Yet despite his stature, Bashos complete haiku have not been collected into a single volume. Until now.

To render the writers full body of work into English, Jane Reichhold, an American haiku poet and translator, dedicated over ten years of work. In Basho: The Complete Haiku, she accomplishes the feat with distinction. Dividing his creative output into seven periods of development, Reichhold frames each period with a decisive biographical sketch of the poets travels, creative influences and personal triumphs and defeats. Scrupulously annotated notes accompany each poem; and a glossary and two indexes fill out the volume.

Reichhold notes that, Basho was a genius with words. He obsessively sought out the right word for each phrase of the succinct seventeen-syllable haiku, seeking the very essence of experience and expression. With equal dedication, Reichhold sought the ideal translations. As a result, Basho: The Complete Haiku is likely to become the essential work on this brilliant poet and will stand as the most authoritative book on the subject for many years to come. Original sumi-e ink drawings by artist Shiro Tsujimura complement the haiku throughout the book.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Plains by Gerald Murnane

Well!

Gerald Murnane!

What on earth am I going to say about you and this amazingly, stupendous, spectacular display of writing?


How do you sum up or explain your experience with a book that pushes, exposes and plays around with so many ideas in one compact little piece of speculative writing? Where do you even begin to describe just how profound an effect it has had on you? And how delighted to have a discovered a new-to-me writer with at least another nine books to dive into?

The blurb on the back of my Text Classic says,
Gerald Murnane's The Plains tells the story of the families of the plains - obsessed with their land and history, their culture and mythology - and of the man who ventured into their world.

Okay, The Plains is that - on the very tip of the surface - but how to adequately describe the layers and depth?

Goodreads goes a little further with their synopsis,

On their vast estates, the landowning families of the plains have preserved a rich and distinctive culture. Obsessed with their own habitat and history, they hire artisans, writers and historians to record in minute detail every aspect of their lives, and the nature of their land. A young film-maker arrives on the plains, hoping to make his own contribution to the elaboration of this history. In a private library he begins to take notes for a film, and chooses the daughter of his patron for a leading role. 
Twenty years later, he begins to tell his haunting story of life on the plains. As his story unfolds, the novel becomes, in the words of Murray Bail, 'a mirage of landscape, memory, love and literature itself'.

This brings us a little closer, thanks to the use of words like 'distinctive', 'minute detail', 'haunting' and 'mirage'. However, to really pin down the elusive, yet elaborate nature of this story will take a much better writer and thinker than moi!

Let's try Shannon Burns' 2015 article in the Sydney Review of Books, Gerald Murnane: An idiot in the Greek Sense:

I noticed the obvious things first: his sentences, above all else, were pristine; his tone was direct; his narrative control was stupefying; and he seemed to be writing about something that was at once totally unique to him and recognisably Australian. Over the following weeks and months Murnane’s other novels and collections of fiction – most of which were out of print and difficult to find at the time – revealed to me a local writer who could be mentioned in the same breath as literary greats (and eccentrics) like Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka. Here was the kind of Australian writer I’d never dreamed of encountering, yet none of his books had received a major literary award.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part read like a parody of serious literature. It was quite funny at times, in a satirical way, as culture, philosophy, religion and love of nature were exposed and extolled in the same breath.
It was as though each plainsman chose to appear as a solitary inhabitant of a region that only he could explain.

The middle part was pretty dense with ideas and could almost be described as a monologue by Murnane through his characters. I'm not sure I understood what he was trying to do here. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry!
So I keep away nowadays from the volumes in which Time itslef is made to appear as one more sort of plain. I have no wish to be seen...as a man in sight of Time, the Invisible Plain, or approaching Time, the Plain Beyond Reach, or finding his way back from Time, the Pathless Plain, or even surrounded by Time, the Boundless Plain.

The last section seemed to sum up Murnane's ideas on seeing and perception, light and dark, memory and time. I felt like I had missed whole layers of thought and philosophy though, that where just within my grasp, but not quite knowable in the end.
I lifted my own camera to my face and stood with my eye pressed against the lens and my finger poised as if to expose to the film in its dark chamber the darkness that was the only visible sign of whatever I saw beyond myself.

See what I mean?


Intellectual, almost obtuse, experimental books can often leave me cold, but I found myself ridiculously excited by The Plains. There was something so compelling and captivating about the whole inner and outer Australian concept, that turns the way we see ourselves as Australians on its head. The incredible depth of detail that Murnane developed about this way of life and the people who populated this world - the plainsmen - who were so gob-smackingly self-absorbed, left me breathless. And bewildered.

A reread is definitely on the cards!

#AusReadingMonth
Winner of the Patrick White Award 1999

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Commandant by Jessica Anderson

The Commandant came recommended to me in a roundabout fashion. Earlier on in the year, I attended an 'Honouring the Author' event at the State Library, NSW. The author in question was Jessica Anderson.


Anderson won the Miles Franklin Prize twice (in 1978 & 1980), but not for The Commandant.
By the end of the honouring event, though, I was convinced that The Commandant was the book for me to start my Jessica Anderson journey with (and not one of her two more contemporary award winning books). Historical fiction based on real life events and people will always win me over.

The Commandant is based on Captain Patrick Logan, the man in charge of the Moreton Bay convict settlement on the present day site of Brisbane.

Moreton Bay Settlement 1835
He was a cruel task master, feared by all the convicts.
But the story is told mostly from the point of view of his young (fictional) sister-in-law, Frances, recently arrived from Ireland.

In some ways, this story could be seen as a simple drawing room story about two sisters, but of course, the outside world intrudes regularly on their domestic dramas. There is a strong message about the role of women in the early years of colonisation and how they coped with the isolation, the lack of modern amenities and the constant fear of the unknown. Frances is told by one of the other women,
'Whatever course you take,' she said, half-shutting her eyes, 'no doubt in ten years or so you will arrive at the state of the most of us - simply of making do with what one has. Surprisingly enough -' she opened surprised eyes - 'it is an art in which one may progress. I thought I knew all about making do with what one had, but now I find I can do more with it than I dreamed.'


Anderson's deceptively straightforward plot also hides many viewpoints and tensions.

We see the doubt and confusion that the soldiers and their wives feel about Logan's actions. The young doctors, who have to tend the battered backs of the recently whipped convicts, have another story to tell. The threat of a highly publicised court case in Sydney to deal with the rumours of Logan's cruelty bubble away underneath the surface, only to rear up every time a ship arrives with mail. The menace of the convicts, who far outnumber the soldiers, is felt throughout the story. How the convicts view the settlers and how they, in turn, view the convicts is a tension that Anderson plays with deftly. 


Underlying all this, though, is another viewpoint. The local Aboriginal population are spoken of and seen fleetingly by our main characters. They know they are being watched, rumours and myths are rampant. Yet the reader can also see this little settlement, barely clinging onto the land around the Brisbane River, through the eyes of the Aboriginals, wondering who on earth where these strange people with their stone walls and inappropriate clothing and guns. 

Image source

Even further away, are the Sydney based journalists and intelligentsia who are driving social change and asking questions about reform, mercy and justice for the convicts. Frances represents this new world order while her brother-in-law represents the old world order of duty, a firm hand and punishment. Logan is understandably confused and even, hurt, by the possibility of change. Anderson portrays his loneliness and brooding behaviour in a sympathetic light, thanks to the tender, loving concern he evokes in his young wife (a woman with a lisp not unlike the one that Anderson, herself battled with all her life).

It is not just Logan's right to rule that is called into question here. Anderson also leads us to see how tenuous and uncertain these early settlements actually were. A so-called civilisation perched on the edge of wilderness, halfway round the world, for the spurious idea of containing the poor and dispossessed of England, was always going to be fraught with danger. Most of the poor and dispossessed ended up on the wrong side of the law as a result of the Industrial Revolution. So many of the convicts were shipped off to Australia for one single offence, often stealing food or clothes. The colony of Australia became the dumping ground for a problem the English didn't want to face. Instead of dealing with the problem of a growing divide between the haves and have-nots at home, they shipped as many of the have-nots off to the other side of the world to basically fend for themselves.

Image source

Anderson's story brings to vivid life this period of history. There are fabulous, meaty characters, shifting points of view and a pervading sense of mercy. Logan's demise is deliberately left as confused and murky as the official reports of the time. Anderson doesn't try to give us the answers that weren't available to her characters at the time.

The story ends, as it began, with Frances on board a ship, musing about her fate. The innocence and conviction of her beginning has been tempered by experience and sympathy.

I'm so grateful to Text Publishing for bringing such tremendous Australian stories back into print. I hope they never go out of print again.

#AusReadingMonth
#Australian Women Writers challenge