Monday, 21 October 2019

AusReadingMonth Bingo

It's that time of year again.
Time to start thinking about how many Australian books we can read before the end of November.

Given how many of my favourite reading events now seem to be congregating around this time of year, I will make joining in AusReadingMonth as easy as possible.

So let's pack our bags and travel this big, beautiful land by book.

Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, travel guides, short stories, audio and children's book can transport us to every state, city and major town in Australia.

Our AusReadingMonth BINGO card will help us plan our journey around Australia.

Flyby Night
If time is of the essence, one book from the BINGO card may be the prefect option for you.
A quick getaway is better than none!

With their compact swags, backpackers need to travel light.
If this is you, simply select one line (horizontal, vertical of even diagonal) on the BINGO card and read three books about our country.

Grey Nomad
If you have more time up your sleeve join the grey nomads in their self-contained campervans as you travel around this big, brown land of ours. 
With every crossroad on the map, there's a choice to be made; you cannot do it all, so select two lines on the BINGO card to be eligible for Grey Nomad status.

The Whole Hog
If you're feeling a little touched by the sun, then the Whole Hog may be for you.
Read NINE books this November from all of the 8 states and territories plus one freebie.
The FREEBIE can be any book by an Australian author or a book written by an overseas author but set entirely in Australia.

Uluru, Nov 2010

Time is of the essence for most of us, yet how many times do we find ourselves combining multiple reading events! If this is you, perhaps the following AusReadingMonth reading suggestions will help.
Many of the books below are essay collections or memoirs, perfect for your Non Fiction November lists. 

Short Story Collections 

  • Ellen Van Neerven (Heat and Light) Indigenous author
  • Robert Dessaix (Twilight of Love, (and so forth), As I Was Saying) has some fabulous short stories collections featuring fiction, essays and articles. He has also studied and taught Russian Studies throughout his career. Some of his work could help you complete AusReadingMonth, Non Fiction November and Russian Lit Month.
  • Helen Garner (Stories: The Collected Short Fiction, Everywhere I Look, True Stories: The Collected Short Non-Fiction)
  • Robert Drewe (The Bodysurfers, The Bay of Contented Men, The Rip, The True Colour of the Sea)
  • Cate Kennedy (Like A House on Fire)
  • Tim Winton (Island Home, The Boy Behind the Curtain)
  • Henry Lawson
  • Lily Brett
  • David Malouf
  • Tara June Winch (After the Carnage)
  • Bruce Pascoe (Salt: Selected Stories and Essays)
  • The Best Australian Science Writing 2019
  • Quarterly Essay
  • Griffith Review
  • Meanjin
  • Overland
  • The Monthly


  • Omar Sakr
  • Alison Whitaker
  • Les Murray
  • Judith Wright
  • John Kinsella
  • Dorothy Porter
  • David Malouf
  • Oodgeroo Noonuccal (aka as Kath Walker)
  • Clive James
  • Kate Lilley
  • Omar Musa
  • Australian Poetry Since 1788 edited by Geoffrey Lehmann & Robert Gray
  • Australian Poetry Review
  • Australian Poetry Journal

There are OODLES more to chose from, but I've focused on the authors and/or journals I've read, for now. For my fellow Aussie bloggers - can you recommend any other collections of essays, short stories or poets for our overseas friends?

What will you be reading during this year's AusReading Month?

Friday, 18 October 2019

Moby-Dick Chapters 41 - 44

My Moby-Dick discovery this week, was finding the art work of Matt Kish. Back in 2009 Matt decided to 'create one illustration for every single one of the 552 pages in the Signet Classic paperback edition.'

It took him 543 days, but he did it. I love seeing which quotes or ideas excited him enough to illustrate. I've included a couple of his images in the post below.

Chapter 41: Moby Dick
  • Finally! The titular whale gets a chapter to himself.
  • And we're back to a chapter narrated by Ishmael. Even though Ish-baby has a tendency to waffle, is pretty full of himself and tell us absolutely EVERYTHING he knows, I love these chapters in his voice.
    • A wild, mystical, sympathetical feeling was in me: Ahab's quenchless feud seemed mine.
  • Ishmael fills us in on ALL the rumours, superstitions and speculation surrounding Moby Dick - what he looks like, his nature, his habits etc.
  • And lots of stuff about the nature of Ahab's madness.
    • All that maddens and torments; all that stirs up the lees of things; all truth with malice in it; all that cracks the sinews and cakes the brain; all the subtle demonisms of life and thought; all evil, to crazy Ahab, were visibly personified, and made practically assailable in Moby Dick.
  • The inscrutable nature of Moby-Dick = the inscrutable nature of god.

Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale
  • Naturally, Ishmael now gives us a chapter all about the colour white - it's symbolism, virtues, associations - which should include a trigger warning for any people with albinism and a major racism alert. 
    • If the state of modern politics and social discourse make you wonder how civilised we really are, reading books from 150 years ago remind us that times have indeed improved. We (generally speaking) treat ALL people far more considerately and respectfully than of old. 
    • It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me.

Chapter 43: Hark!
  • Noises in the dark!
  • Archy, during the middle-watch hears the sound of coughing under the hatches.
    • there is somebody down in the after-hold that has not yet been seen on deck.
  • Ohhhh, a mystery at sea!

Chapter 44: The Chart
  • Bet you can't guess what this chapter is all about?
    • in the solitude of his cabin, Ahab thus pondered over his charts....For with the charts of all four oceans before him, Ahab was threading a maze of currents and eddies, with a view to the more certain accomplishment of that monomaniac thought of his soul.
  • Continues the idea that Ahab and Moby Dick are somehow connected or in tune with each other. 

How are my shipmates going so far?
Is it smooth sailing, or have you had some choppy waters?

Personally, I've been pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying this book. Life has occasionally got in the way of my schedule, but my enthusiasm continues unabated.

Don't forget to check us out on twitter with #MobyDickReadalong and on instagram with #MobyDickintheWild

Until next week,
Happy Sailing!

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is one of those books of the moment, and one that I have actually managed to read during it's moment! And I can see why so much buzz has attached itself to this book.

It's about sex, desire and what it means to be a woman, told from the perspective of three women that Taddeo has spent years and years getting to know. Years and years of trawling through diaries, text messages and legal documents. Years and years of interviews with the three women and their family, friends and colleagues.

It's an extraordinary, personal and universal journey.

One can recognise aspects of one's younger self in each of the women - their thinking, their actions, the external forces that have influenced them. Fortunately most of us (I think) are spared the traumatic episodes that have come to define the lives of the women in this book. Most women I know have had icky episodes in their lives, but another group of women, live with much larger, darker secrets. This is a book about those women.

'And there but for the grace of god go I' was a common refrain that ran through my mind as I read this book. My family has used this phrase all my life, so much so, that we now abbreviate it to a simple 'there but' and the rest of us then automatically, silently, finish the phrase in our heads.

These women were on the other side of this phrase.

Most young women just want to be loved for who they are, messy bits and all. Getting a boyfriend can become such a huge part of our teen years. This desire can often lead to bad choices being made. These young women just want to be accepted, they want to belong. Like boys of the same age, they often want to break out from their parent's world. They want to experiment, have fun and dabble with bad boys, good boys, girls, whoever will show them some love and affection and desire. They want to find their power, even as they can have it taken away by others or as they give it away not realising what it is that they have. The trouble is the trouble that can happen to girls during this phase is often devastating. The double standard still exist and these girls bear the brunt of social scorn, ridicule and censure.

After almost binge reading the first half, I had to put this book aside for awhile. I was starting to feel impatient and annoyed - at the women in the book, at the world we live in, at men who take advantage, at foolish young girls who make bad choices, at families who don't take better care of their teenagers.

A couple of weeks later, I jumped in again. Once again I was utterly absorbed by Taddeo's amazing story-telling  - but there was also a part of me that was repulsed. The roller coaster ride of compulsive empathy followed by pulling away with annoyance was quite exhausting. Exhilarating and exhausting.

So what did I learn?
Or what did I get out of this all-consuming reading experience?

Firstly, that it is possible to find a book utterly engaging, authentic, intricate, insightful, thoughtful, supportive and non-judgemental, yet aggravating at the same time.

Secondly, that it's possible to describe a book as narrative non-fiction at its finest and utterly pointless at the same time. I say pointless, not because I think these women and their desires are pointless, but because I'm not quite sure what Taddeo was hoping to do with the book.

Thirdly, what you get out of this book, will depend on which lens you view it through. A feminist lens will leave you feeling enraged. A diversity lens will leave you feeling disappointed. A psychoanalytical lens will appreciate Lisa's ability to get her three women to reveal so many intimate details about their lives, but I'm not sure anyone of these women could be considered archetypes. A Marxist lens will see class and social inequalities confirmed by the different desires that drive these women.

Finally, I learnt that the beginning, middle and the end of a book can produce very different reader responses, in just the one reader! It was exhausting at times, at other times I empathised and recognised certain universal thoughts and beliefs and at others I wanted to shake them all until I could make them see sense, take control of their lives and stand up for themselves.

I also wondered if the one thing these three women had in common were parents, who despite loving their children, were somehow absent or guilty of not paying close enough attention. Whether it was alcohol, mental illness or emotional distance. As Taddeo says is her Prologue,
how much of what I thought I wanted from a lover came from what I needed from my own mother. Because it's women, in many of the stories I've heard, who have a greater hold over other women than men have.

This is not another book that blames women for the problems of other women. It's rawer than that. And more encompassing. It's life;
the beast of it, the glory and brutality. [The] blood and bone and love and pain. Birth and death. Everything at once.

Three Women was my latest book group choice. It generated lots of discussion, although no-one was prepared to be the first to talk about her desires! And maybe that's why Taddeo wrote this book - as a way to provoke a group of women into talking about desire, love and sex.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Moby-Dick Chapters 35 - 40

This past two weeks has been as crazy busy as I predicted, and despite best intentions, I have fallen behind with my Moby-Dick schedule. Today I had a mini-binge read, and I'm now only 4 chapters behind.

I could be using this time to read those four chapters, but have decided instead to finish this blog post. I'm enjoying writing up these mini recaps of the chapters. At first is was to record my experiences, favourite quotes and first impressions. But as my chapter reading has moved ahead of my blogging, the recaps now reflect the foreknowledge of the chapters to come as well as my extra research of the various notes I have made in the margins.

This led me to the discovery of The Beige Moth blog - an entire blog dedicated, chapter-by-chapter to Moby-Dick. Hosted by Robin VanGilder, the blog involves,
chasing down stray biblical and cultural references from the 1840s, examining specific moments in depth, piecing together broad themes. Early on, I got caught up a lot in summarizing the chapter, but I’ve been focusing more on reacting to it lately.

Robin is currently up to chapter 57, so I suspect I will catch up before too much longer, much like the Whale, Whale, Whale podcast, now floundering at chapter 32. Cetology was obviously too much for them to continue!
Or perhaps Moby-Dick is just too big a book to maintain one's enthusiasm and energy for an indepth discussion of every single chapter (without being paid to do so)!?

My competitive streak has me thrilled that with this post I've flown well past the podcasts last episode. And I'm only two weeks away from catching up to The Beige Moth! Whatever it takes, I say, whatever it takes.

But now for my chapters...

Chapter 35: The Mast-Head
  • I was feeling happy to have Ishmael back as narrator...until I realised we were going to get a whole chapter about the history of mast-heads! He claimed that,
    • the business of standing mast-heads, ashore or afloat, is a very ancient and interesting one.
    • But I had my doubts!
  • Starting with Saint Stylites from 390-459 AD who sat upon a stone pillar in the desert to modern day statues of famous men (naturally there's a list!)
  • Eventually we get to the act of standing to mast-head -
    • manned from sun-rise to sun-set
    • relieving each other every two hours.
    • in the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedlingly pleasant.
    • There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves.
    • everything resolves you into languor.
    • you hear no news, read no hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks.
  • A lengthy discussion about the types (or not) of permitted coverings or shelters in mast-heads.
  • Ishmael's confession...
    • I kept but a sorry such a thought-engendering altitude, - how could I but lightly hold my obligations.
  • ...followed by loads of Ishamel philosophy! 
  • Some interesting stuff about what we know versus what we don't know and what we make up in the middle.
  • Ishmael leaves us with a friendly warning though to not 'move your foot or hand an inch' or 'slip your hold at all' unless you want to 'with one half-throttled shriek...drop through that transparent air into the summer sea.'
Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck (Enter Ahab: Then, all.)
  • Stage directions in the subtitle for this chapter.
    • Adds a theatrical element to the story. 
    • We are watching a drama unfold in front of our eyes. A drama we have no ability to change or alter. All we can do is go along for the ride.
  • Ahab reveals his dastardly plan to the entire crew, as well as his manic obsessive personality.
  • Starbuck tries to resist but is confounded by Ahab's rhetoric.
  • Money and mania wins everyone over, one way or the other.
  • The word 'inscrutable' appears regularly in this next few chapters - to describe Ahab, the whale and their purpose. 
    • All my reading also suggests that it was God's inscrutable nature that Melville struggled with the most.
    • The inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate.
  • The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect.
  • Ahab sees Moby-Dick as his fate or destiny. They are linked by forces beyond their control. 

Chapter 37: Sunset (The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.)

  • poetic, romantic, tragic image of Ahab.
    • all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne'er enjoy.
    • compares Ahab's burden to that of Christ's on the cross (Iron Crown of Lombardy)
    • I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!
    • he's mocking the gods.

Chapter 38: Dusk (by the mainmast; Starbuck leaning against it.)

  • stage directions in the chapter sub-headings continues.
  • This is Starbuck's chapter.
    • Ahab is alone in and staring moodily in his chapter; Starbuck is shown at work, in position, relaxed, reflective.
      • But he drilled deep, and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him too it.
    • Sense of destiny, compulsion.
    • (A burst of revelry from the forecastle.)
    • Stands separate to the masses, isolated, above and looking on.
      • Oh, God! to sail with such a heathen crew that have small touch of human mothers in them!
    • refers to the white whale as as a demogorgon - an underworld demon or deity with formidable, primordial powers - think of the monster in Stranger Things.
      • the long howl thrills me through!
    • and with the soft feeling of the human in me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim, phantom futures!

Chapter 39: First Night-Watch - FORETOP (Stubb solus, and mending a brace.)

  • Stubb is busy, at work, philosophical.
    • a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer...that unfailing comfort is, it's all predestinated.
    • I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.
  • a man who follows orders and thrills to the hunt of the chase.

Chapter 40: Forecastle - Midnight
  • The Play, complete with Chorus.
    • I wonder why Flask didn't get a chapter here?
  • the aftermath of Ahab giving the crew alcohol during his famous speech.
  • sea-shanties galore!
  • diversity of the crew highlighted again.
  • disputes and differences of opinion build up, then -
  • stormy weather - and they work together to get through it.
  • Pip - despite the frivolity, the tension and the team work, Pip is worried.
    • Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!

What a fascinating story this is and what a truly curious man Melville must have been. His mind worked in such mysterious, ingenious ways. I'm captivated and astounded with each chapter. What will he do next?

Thursday, 10 October 2019

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch

Just as well I've been reading Moby-Dick in the lead-up to starting this book. Just like Melville, Murdoch loves to list and categorise things. In this case, Murdoch spent the first part of The Book and the Brotherhood listing all the characters, what they were wearing and how they were related or linked.

I had to draw myself a character tree to keep everyone in their rightful place!

It was kinda we watched a bunch of ageing college friends run around their old campus in a weird, debauched summer-time fling at their lost youth. We quickly realise though that they haven't really evolved emotionally very much from their youthful passions - with lots of whose sleeping with who, she said what? and he looked at me the wrong way kind of shenanigans.

I'm always amazed how Murdoch can create a story full of pretty unlikable characters, yet hold your interest at the same time. I guess it's her ideas and philosophy that intrigue. Maybe Oxbridge really is full of people just like the ones in this book, but it's hard to credit that there could be so many dithering, ineffectual intellectuals running around England, not really doing anything with their lives.

A couple of the men seemed to have some kind of vague government job, and of course, Crimond had his book to write, but everyone else just swanned around doing nothing but overthink, well, everything.

The entire cast of characters were so caught up in themselves that they constantly bounced from one catastrophic emotional drama to the next, inflicting harm on each other at an exhausting rate, with very little self-awareness and barely a public observance of contrition.

It's frustrating to get the end of this rather huge book, to find one of characters still saying 'other people are so mysterious'. No-one seems to have worked out anything. They all just keep on fluffing along, drifting in and out of things with very little purpose or decision.

But, perhaps, that's what we all do in the end.

During our lives most of us only have a few significant times when we might make conscious choices to change or do something differently. I suspect that many of us, do indeed, just drift along, waiting to see what will happen next, rather than acting decisively.

I could waffle on for several more paragraphs about the ideas and Murdochian tropes at play in The Book and the Brotherhood, but I'm too tired and I've had enough.
Today's conscious, purposeful act is to end this response here!

Favourite Character: Jenkin

Favourite Quote: that sums up my reading experience perfectly!
It was possible, he knew, to esteem and admire people and enjoy their company and dislike them heartily. It was also possible to be irritated, maddened and bored by people whom one loves.

Favourite of Forget: My favourite Murdoch so far.

Folly: I spent the entire month of September calling this book The Brook and the Butherhood. The spoonerism queen strikes again!

Fact: read for Lizzy's #IMreadalong @Adventures in Reading. This is her book review.

Monday, 7 October 2019

FranKissStein by Jeanette Winterson

I have spent a ridiculous amount of time wondering how best to write the title of this book - FRAN KISS STEIN like the cover, FRANKISSSTEIN like the title page of the book or Frankissstein like Goodreads.
FranKissStein appealed to me, but it's not a version I've spotted anywhere else.
Whatever you call it, though, Frankissstein: A Love Story was fascinating stuff.
  • I was never bored except in the company of others.

After reading McEwan's Machines Like Us earlier in the year, I was in the mindset to be thinking about AI, robots and what our future world might look like as technology takes hold or even takes over. It was very interesting to be able to compare and contrast two such prominent authors and their approaches to the topic and their different ways of weaving a story around it.
  • The timeless serenity of the past that we British do so well is an implanted memory - you could call it a fake memory...where the turbulence of the past is recast as landmark, as tradition, as what we defend, what we uphold....History is what you make it.

Last year I also read Shelley's Frankenstein and a bio about her and her mother (Romantic Outlaws). All of this gave my reading of Frankissstein a much richer experience as my knowledge of the original story and details about Shelley, and her mother's life, were still fresh in my mind.

Winterson weaves together several strands of story. We start with a reimagining of Shelley's time in Italy with her husband, Percy, her sister, Claire, Lord Byron and Dr Polidori where she first develops the idea for her story Frankenstein.
  • Percy - the mystery of life is on earth, not elsewhere.

We then jump to now, or perhaps a now just minutes away, where sex bots, AI, cryopreservation and cephalic isolation are becoming the norm. Our modern characters are called Dr Ry Shelley (a transgender doctor/journalist), Ron Lord (the sexbot king), Claire (the admin assistant who keeps popping up everywhere in different roles), Poly D (the Vanity Fair reporter) and Prof. Victor Stein (a TED talking scientist).
  • Victor - I want to live long enough to reach the future.

Later on, Winterson also brings in an alternate ending for the original story, with some time in the lunatic asylum, Bedlam. Frankenstein has been admitted by Captain Walton, after he found him floating by his ship on an ice floe. To make it even more interesting, the director of Bedlam, Mr Wakefield, then invites Mary Shelley to his facility to talk with the patient who claims he should have 'perished on the ice'. Love it!
  • Ry - I am what I am, but what I am is not one thing, not one gender. I live with doubleness....I am in the body that I prefer. But the past, my past, isn't subject to surgery. I didn't do it to distance myself from myself. I did it to get nearer to myself.

To round out the tale, we finish with a glimpse into the life of Ada Lovelace, Byron's mathematician daughter.
  • Ada - It was hoped that numbers would tame the Byronic blood in my veins....My life in numbers has been as wild as any life lived among words.

There are so many ideas to explore within these pages - gender, duality, consciousness, religion, soul, history, change and knowledge - just to name a few. What's real and what's false? Does history repeat itself? What's the difference between privacy and secrecy? Is history memory or fact? Are inventions dreams or machines? What does it mean to be alive? Can technology be bad or good, or is just the use it gets put to?
  • Byron - we are haunted by ourselves, he says, and that is enough for any man....The human race seeks its own death. We hasten towards what we fear most.

We also have books in books, with references to Albert Camus, Virginia Woolf, Margaret Atwood and Ovid.

Winterson's delicious imagery emerges from page one and draws you into the various strands of story, with a poetic, Romantic writing style for the 19th century sections morphing into a more jarring, rapid speak for the now.
  • every solid thing had dissolved into its watery equivalent.
  • We were all around the fire that night, the room more shadows than light, for we had few candles.
  • We update ourselves individually and generationally. We can adapt within a generation to a changing world.

Ultimately, I found Frankissstein to be the more satisfying, complex read. Machines Like Us failed to excite me or fully engage me in the discussion that McEwan was aiming to stimulate. Whereas Winterson stimulated me from start to finish. But, I've just realised, none of that really tells you why I enjoyed this story so.

The technical stuff obviously played its role, but the stuff I'm still thinking about two weeks later is all the discussion around gender, personality and who we really are.

What is it that really makes us human? From the stories well tell about ourselves to the way we chose to present ourselves to the world. It's an age-old process that flows over into the kind of future we end up creating for ourselves. We merge fact and fiction, dreams, beliefs and misconceptions, until we have something that makes us unique. Or does it?

Favourite Quote: Humans: so many good ideas. So many failed ideals.

Favourite Character: Ry Shelley, who seemed to inhabit quite a bit of Winterson's own persona, and certainly captured my own doubts and questioning way of viewing pretty much everything.

Favourite or Forget? Loved it. It would make for a great book group discussion.

  • Longlisted for 2019 Man Booker Prize

Friday, 4 October 2019

Two Birds; One Stone.

In preparation for #AusReadingMonth in November, I will create a few posts full of Aussie books to help inspire and expand your true blue wishlists.

Today we start with Non-Fiction.

November has become one of my busiest reading and blogging months of the year. In 2013, not only did I start hosting #AusReadingMonth for the first time, but Kim & Leslie began the very first Non-Fiction November. Doing two reading challenges in one month is certainly not unheard of for me, but it is a juggle!

This year, to make life easier for myself, I'm determined to combine both events by focusing on Australian non-fiction.

This is harder than it sounds.

I love Australian non-fiction, but only a few Aussie bloggers participate in Non-Fiction November, so what happens as I go around visiting everyone else's posts, is that I get excited and tempted by a whole stack of international non-fiction titles and suddenly my TBR wishlist explodes with non-Australian titles.

However, this year, I'm going to be strong and stick to my Australian non-fictions goals.
It's not like I don't have enough choices.

Below are all the Aussie non-fiction books on my real-life TBR pile.

If you're looking for #AusReadingMonth inspiration that combines with #NonficNov, then look no further!

Agamemnon's Kiss by Inga Clendinnen
Almost French by Sarah Turnbull
The Art of Reading by Damon Young
The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths
Arthur Phillip by Michael Pembroke
Australia Day by Stan Grant
Australian Notebooks by Betty Churcher
Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin
  • Winner of the 2018 Melbourne Prize for Literature’s Best Writing Award
  • Shortlisted for the Stella Prize 2019
  • Shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Non-fiction
Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford
The Bush by Don Watson
The Cost of Courage in Aztec Society by Inga Clendinnen
Craft for a Dry Lake by Kim Mahood

Dancing With Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
Darwin's Armada by Iain McCalman
Dragon and Kangaroo by Robert Macklin
Dymphna by Judith Armstrong

Elizabeth Macarthur by Michelle Scott Tucker

The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes
From the Edge by Mark McKenna

Georgiana by Brenda Niall
Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler
The Great Barrier Reef by Bowen
Griffith Review #63 Writing the Country
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia edited by Anita Heiss
  • Winner of Small Publisher’s Adult Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards
Gum by Ashley Hay

Inner Worlds Outer Space by Ceridwen Dovey
Island Home by Tim Winton

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
Journey from Venice by Ruth Cracknell

Modern Love by Lesley Harding & Kendrah Morgan

Napoleon: Passion, Death and Resurrection 1815 - 1840 by Philip Dwyer
No Friend But the Mountain by Behrouz Boochani
  • Winner of General Non-Fiction Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards
  • Winner of the Prize for Non-fiction and the overall Victorian Prize for Literature at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Winner of the Special Award at the 2019 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Winner of the National Biography Award 2019
Not Drowning, Reading by Andrew Relph
Notebooks by Betty Churcher

Only in New York by Lily Brett
Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian

Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood

Quarterly Essay #73 Australia Fair
Quitting Plastic by Clara Williams Roldan & Louise Williams

Reading by Moonlight by Brenda Walker
A Reef in Time by Charles Veron
Resilience by Anne Deveson
Riding the Trains in Japan by Patrick Holland

Sagaland by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason
Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta
Silent Invasion by Clive Hamilton
A Single Tree by Don Watson
Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters by Margot Neale
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
Sydney Harbour: A History by Ian Hoskins

Thirty Days by Mark Raphael Baker
Tiger's Eye by Inga Clendinnen
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
  • Joint Winner of the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Winner of the Victorian Prize for Literature 2018 and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Writing for Non-fiction 2018
  • Winner of the Dobbie Literary Award 2018
  • Shortlisted for the National Biography Award 2019
True North by Brenda Niall
True Stories by Helen Garner

The Unknown Judith Wright by Georgina Arnott
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung

Welcome to Your New Life by Anna Goldsworthy
Women Kind by Dr Kirstin Ferguson & Catherine Fox
The Writing Life by David Malouf

You Daughters of Freedom by Claire Wright
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Australian History

YES, I have a problem!
I grant you, it's a good problem to have. Although a little overwhelming when I see all these wonderful books lined up in one place, waiting for me to read them.

However, if that was not enough list for you, let me tempt with this year's award winning Australian non-fiction titles!

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee
  • Winner of the Davitt Award for Debut 2019
  • Winner of the Ned Kelly Award for True Crime 2019
  • Winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Award for non-fiction

Family: New Vegetable Classics to Comfort and Nourish by Hetty McKinnon
  • Winner of Illustrated Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Award for illustrated non-fiction

Deep Time Dreaming by Billy Griffiths
  • Winner of Book of the Year at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Joint Winner of the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards
  • Winner of the 2019 Ernest Scott Prize
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Australian History

The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie
  • Winner of the 2019 Stella Prize
  • Shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper
  • Winner of the Davitt Award for Non-fiction Crime 2019
  • Winner of the 2019 Indie Book Award for non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Non-fiction

Welcome to Country by Marcia Langton
  • Winner of the 2019 Indie Book Award for illustrated non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for General Non-fiction Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

Sorry Day by Coral Vass and Illustrated by Dub Leffler

  • Winner 2019 CBCA Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Award for non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for General Non-fiction Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Award for non-fiction

  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Award for illustrated non-fiction

A Painted Landscape: Across Australia from Bush to Coast by Amber Creswell Bell
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Indie Book Award for illustrated non-fiction
  • Shortlisted for Illustrated Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

Teacher by Gabbie Stroud
  • Shortlisted for Biography Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

Boys Will Be Boys by Clementine Ford
  • Shortlisted for General Non-fiction Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

  • Shortlisted for Illustrated Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

Special Guest by Annabel Crabb and Wendy Sharpe
  • Shortlisted for Illustrated Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

The Cook’s Apprentice by Stephanie Alexander
  • Shortlisted for Illustrated Book of the Year at the 2019 ABIA Awards

Tracker by Alexis Wright
  • Shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

Sagaland by Richard Fidler and KΓ‘ri GΓ­slason
  • Shortlisted for the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction at the 2019 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards

A Certain Light: A memoir of family, loss and hope by Cynthia Banham
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Non-fiction

Half the Perfect World: Writers, dreamers and drifters on Hydra, 1955–1964 by Paul Genoni & Tanya Dalziell
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Non-fiction

  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Non-fiction

Dancing in Shadows: Histories of Nyungar performance by Anna Haebich
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Australian History

The Bible in Australia: A cultural history by Meredith Lake
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Australian History

The Land of Dreams: How Australians won their freedom, 1788–1860 by David Kemp
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Australian History

Staying: A Memoir by Jessie Cole
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Non-fiction

Miss Ex-Yugoslavia by Sofija Stefanovic
  • Shortlisted for the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards Non-fiction

Dr Space Junk vs The Universe: Archaeology and the Future by Alice Gorman
  • Shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award 2019

An Unconventional Wife: The Life of Julia Sorell Arnold by Mary Hoban
  • Shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award 2019

Shakespeare’s Library: Unlocking the Greatest Mystery in Literature by Stuart Kells
  • Shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award 2019

The Eastern Curlew by Harry Saddler 
  • Shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award 2019

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson
  • Shortlisted for the University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award 2019

Are you tempted?

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay was a tremendous read. Fascinating, absorbing and eye-opening.

I say eye-opening, because even though I've read a lot of Indian literature over the years, I don't believe I've read many that cover the conflict in Kashmir. Vijay doesn't answer all the questions or provide all the answers, she doesn't even fill in all the blanks, yet somehow this seems like a much truer, more accurate rendering of this constantly shifting, long-ranging, complex conflict. How these things started, who is right or wrong, who did what to who, all get lost in the murky details of history.

The job of historical fiction is to create dialogue between the basic facts (dates, places, names) and interpretation and to give them both meaning and a human face. Historical fiction adds possibility - in the details, the moods, the conversations, the interactions, the daily routines - all that ordinary stuff of our regular lives that usually gets lost in the columns of historical facts.

Vijay has given us one such story, one such possibility, set in and around a small town in Kashmir.

Shalini is from Bangalore but when her mother dies suddenly, the grief she is left with feels like too heavy a burden. So she takes off to Kishtwar, in Kashmir, in an attempt to find the charming travelling salesman that used to visit their home regularly when she was a child.

Bashir Ahmed not only charmed Shalini, but also her mother. A long distance, long-term flirtation existed between them. Ahmed's back story is filled in gradually via snippets of memory and conversation as the southern Indian view of the the conflict in the north is challenged by their friendship with him.

During her time in Kashmir as a grieving adult, Shalini is confronted by a whole region in the grip of grieving. Although the backdrop is war and political unrest, the story is deeply personal.

Shalini is not the most likeable character I've ever read. She's rather spoilt, selfish and naive. However, the journey she goes on, both physical and emotional is compelling stuff, and I for one, could barely put this book down.

Epigraph Philosophy:

Something else is yet to happen, only where and what? 
Someone will head towards them, only when and who,
in how many shapes and with what intentions?
Given a choice,
maybe he will choose not to be the enemy and
leave them with some kind of life.

A poem by Wislawa Szymborska, "Some People"

I unearthed the entire poem and found two rather different translations that I discussed in this previous post. Given it was very easy to find both translations, I'm curious why Vijay (or her editors) chose the less satisfying (to me) and less grittier version of the poem?

Either way, it highlights the elusive, changing nature of conflict and historical truth.


Saturday, 28 September 2019

Moby-Dick Chapters 31 - 34

Ongoing changes at work have taken up quite a bit of my time in the past couple of weeks, and will probably do so in the next few weeks as well. Thankfully, I've got a number of almost completed posts waiting in draft to tide me over this hectic and tiring time.

So far I'm staying up to date with my Moby-Dick reading schedule, but my twitter activity may be a little quieter, or sporadic, for a while. Visiting your blogs and leaving comments may also lag behind. But I'm here, plugging away, slow reading, thinking of you all, trying to use my time wisely and staying optimistic and focused on what's next.

Sadly, Melville, by all accounts did not reach the end of his days in such a positive frame of mind.

He was lonely, most likely depressed, maybe even slowly losing his mind, and all but forgotten by the world.

On this day in 1891, he died at his home in New York City from a heart attack, aged 72. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.

In the 128 years since his death Melville's literary career has been revived and revised numerous times. One of the articles I read earlier, claimed that his fall from public favour during his lifetime, came about thanks to his outspoken views about Christian missionaries as well as his oft-voiced doubts about other religious practices of the time.

Various church groups and leaders were outraged by his comments and used their influence to publicly criticise him and belittle him at every turn. Their influence, and Melville's genius, could not be denied forever though.

By 1919, the centenary of his birth, his oeuvre was being reassessed and reconsidered.

He is now revered as one of the greatest American writers, and Moby-Dick as one of the great American novels of all time.



Herman Melville died yesterday at his residence, 104 East Twenty-sixth Street, this city, of heart failure, aged seventy-two. He was the author of Typee, Omoo, Mobie Dick, and other sea-faring tales, written in earlier years. He leaves a wife and two daughters, Mrs. M. B. Thomas and Miss Melville.


There has died and been buried in this city, during the current week, at an advanced age, a man who is so little known, even by name, to the generation now in the vigor of life that only one newspaper contained an obituary account of him, and this was but of three or four lines. Yet forty years ago the appearance of a new book by Herman Melville was esteemed a literary event, not only throughout his own country, but so far as the English-speaking race extended....he has died an absolutely forgotten man...
In its kind this speedy oblivion by which a once famous man so long survived his fame is almost unique, and it is not easily explicable. Of course, there are writings that attain a great vogue and then fall entirely out of regard or notice. But this is almost always because either the interest of the subject matter is temporary, and the writings are in the nature of journalism, or else the workmanship to which they owe their temporary success is itself the produce or the product of a passing fashion. This was not the case with Herman Melville. Whoever, arrested for a moment by the tidings of the author's death, turns back now to the books that were so much read and so much talked about forty years ago has no difficulty in determining why they were then read and talked about. His difficulty will be rather to discover why they are read and talked about no longer. The total eclipse now of what was then a literary luminary seems like a wanton caprice of fame. At all events, it conveys a moral that is both bitter and wholesome to the popular novelists of our own day...
Melville's pictorial power was very great, and it came, as such power always comes, from his feeling more intensely than others the charm that he is able to present more vividly than others. It is this power which gave these romances the hold upon readers which it is surprising that they have so completely lost.


Richard B. Sewall's Vision of Tragedy comes to us this week with thanks to Rick for a copy of the chapter relating to Moby-Dick.
  • This book discusses various literary greats via the lens of tragedy.
  • tragic truth
  • in Ishmael's experience whatever had been grave had not been constant, and what had been constant had not been grave.
  • somewhat before this first startling encounter [Ahab & Ishmael], Melville had begun to shift his method from the narrative mode to the dramatic.
  • Ahab is more than man, and more than tragic man; he is a self-appointed God.
  • tragedy is witness to the moral ambiguity of every action.
  • we see the nature of each, how far towards good-and-evil each can go.
  • the ending seems too dire for tragedy.
  • there is no further comment, no fifth-act compensations to let in a little hope.

I'm fascinated by all the lenses through which one can view Moby-Dick - American archetypes, Marxist, religion, anti-religion, feminist, post-colonialism, good vs evil (morality) and LGBTQIA just to name a few.

But enough of the theory, lets jump into the story.

Chapter 31: Queen Mab
  • Queen Mab is a Shakespearean bringer of dreams (from Romeo and Juliet).
  • Stubb tells Flask about his queer dream.
  • what's real and what's false?
  • Stubb's lesson learnt:
    • the best you can do, Flask, is to let that old man alone; never speak quick to him, whatever he says.
  • First sighting of whales
    • if ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!
  • Stubb's premonition:
    • A white whale - did ye mark that, man? Look ye - there's something special in the wind.

Chapter 32: Cetology
  • The chapter I've been warned about; the chapter that has put people off this book for good. Do I dare go on? Will I become another lost reader left floundering in all these whale facts?
  • No. I survived. I even (almost) enjoyed Melville's lists and definitions and categorising.
  • I can see what people call this chapter, the first Post-modern chapter.
  • Whales are fish? Hmmm. I know that scientific thinking wasn't back then what it is today, but even Melville knew that he was flying in the face of science by stating that whales were fish. I now wonder if Melville would have been a climate change denier as well.
  • It shows how hard it is to change people's mind about something that they think they know because it's their life, their job, their experience. Scientific research that challenges these preconceived ideas has a hard battle to fight.
  • God keep me from every completing anything. This whole book is a draft - nay, but the draft of a draft
  • The mystery remains. Not everything can be explained or understood.

Chapter 33: The Specksnyder
  • more sailing terms and social class distinctions explained.
  • However they all, high or low, depend for their profits, not upon fixed wages, but upon their common luck, together with their common vigilance, intrepidity, and hard work.
  • And some stuff about the Divine Inert (a Gnostic idea), Emperors and Kings, sultans and Ahab = Ahab having supreme (even divine) rule over the crew whilst on board the Pequod.

Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table
  • Ahab's dinner ritual - more division of life on board a whaler & some scenes of domestic life.
  • Dough-Boy, the steward.
  • Ahab's power - even though he doesn't forbid chatting at the table, no-one does.

That's it for now shipmates.
Until next week, I hope this finds you in calm seas with plain sailing ahead.

Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Spring TBR

During the week, I spotted that oodles of Northern hemisphere bloggers were sharing their autumnal reading lists for various memes. I try to not feel left out of these seasonal events by jumping in with my very own Southern hemisphere version!

So I hereby present my Spring Reading List for 2019.

I invite all other Aussies, New Zealanders, Pacific Islanders, South Africans, South Americans, Indonesians, East Timorese, New Guineans and Antarcticans to join me in sharing their Spring reading lists.

Image Source: Floriade Canberra

Which books are you looking forward to reading now that the weather is starting to warm up? Which books on your TBR pile are like blossoms and bulbs brightening your days? As the evenings lengthen, so that we're no longer coming home from work in the dark, which books invite you to linger on the verandah for one more chapter?

I could make life easy for myself and ONLY include Australian titles on this list. This would make my run into #AusReadingMonth in November full of many, many options and reviews. But I have recently been given some delicious ARC's from my reps at work and I simply had to show some of them off, regardless of country of origin.

The Breeding Season by Amanda Niehaus was a September release for Allen & Unwin. I'm always drawn to books that explore loss and grief. Sounds like this one has that going on for it in spades!

The rains come to Brisbane just as Elise and Dan descend into grief. Elise, a scientist, believes that isolation and punishing fieldwork will heal her pain. Her husband Dan, a writer, questions the truths of his life, and looks to art for answers. Worlds apart, Elise and Dan must find a way to forgive themselves and each other before it's too late. 
An astounding debut novel that forensically and poetically explores the intersections of art and science, sex and death, and the heartbreaking complexity of love. The Breeding Season marks the arrival of a thrilling new talent in Australian literature.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout will be published by Penguin Books Australia in October 2019. My lovely rep knew how much I loved the original Olive Kitteridge, so he arranged for a reading copy to land on my doorstep asap. The least I can is read it asap!

Olive, Again follows the blunt, contradictory yet deeply loveable Olive Kitteridge as she grows older, navigating the second half of her life as she comes to terms with the changes - sometimes welcome, sometimes not - in her own existence and in those around her.
Olive adjusts to her new life with her second husband, challenges her estranged son and his family to accept him, experiences loss and loneliness, witnesses the triumphs and heartbreaks of her friends and neighbours in the small coastal town of Crosby, Maine - and, finally, opens herself to new lessons about life.

The Bee and the Orange Tree by Melissa Ashley is Melissa's second novel with Affirm Press and will be published in Australia, November 2019.

It’s 1699, and the salons of Paris are bursting with the creative energy of fierce, independent-minded women. But outside those doors, the patriarchal forces of Louis XIV and the Catholic Church are moving to curb their freedoms. In this battle for equality, Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy invents a powerful weapon: ‘fairy tales’.
When Marie Catherine’s daughter, Angelina, arrives in Paris for the first time, she is swept up in the glamour and sensuality of the city, where a woman may live outside the confines of the church or marriage. But this is a fragile freedom, as she discovers when Marie Catherine’s close friend Nicola Tiquet is arrested, accused of conspiring to murder her abusive husband. In the race to rescue Nicola, illusions will be shattered and dark secrets revealed as all three women learn how far they will go to preserve their liberty in a society determined to control them.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville is my current on-going slow read readalong book. This will travel with me for the entire antipodean spring and summer.

The Wonder Child: An Australian Story is my latest CC spin book. I had thought this was one of Turner's adult fiction titles, but after searching google quite a bit trying to find a blurb, I eventually discovered this was one of her juvenile stories about a child prodigy who is taken to Europe by her mother to train and perform, leaving behind the rest of the family to get by without them for years. This is their story.

Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta was published by Text Publishing earlier this month. I've started it and plan to finish it by November . It's fascuinating the little I've read so far.

This remarkable book is about everything from echidnas to evolution, cosmology to cooking, sex and science and spirits to SchrΓΆdinger’s cat.
Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from an Indigenous perspective. He asks how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation. How does this affect us? How can we do things differently?

In Love With George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy will be published in November by Scribe. It sounds very promising.

Who was the real George Eliot? In Love with George Eliot is a glorious debut novel which tells the compelling story of England’s greatest woman novelist as you’ve never read it before.
Marian Evans is a scandalous figure, living in sin with a married man, George Henry Lewes. She has shocked polite society, and women rarely deign to visit her. In secret, though, she has begun writing fiction under the pseudonym George Eliot. As Adam Bede’s fame grows, curiosity rises as to the identity of its mysterious writer. Gradually it becomes apparent that the moral genius Eliot is none other than the disgraced woman living with Lewes.

Inner Worlds Outer Space by Ceridwen Dovey will be published by Penguin Australia in December. I adored her earlier short story collection Only the Animals so I'm keen to try her non-fiction.

What does it feel like to be passionate about your daily work? How do people find their way into fascinating, unusually fulfilling careers, even against the odds? 
Space lawyers and bibliotherapists; euthanasia activists and women’s rugby champions; shark experts and solar power visionaries; a master perfumer and a moon dust maven, among many others. What all of these people have in common is the courage to pursue their dreams and obsessions, no matter how niche or particular, and transform them into their life’s work. In the process, they’ve enacted lasting change in the world around them.

A People's History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramanian is a OneWorld book, published this month. It sounds uplifting and joyful - the perfect spring time read.

A dazzling tribute to the resilience and determination of a remarkable community of women. 
Nestled between the luxury high-rise blocks of Bangalore is an ironically named slum called Heaven. It's here that five girls - Muslim, Christian and Hindu; gay and straight - forge a binding friendship. 
But when Heaven is threatened by government bulldozers, the girls must come together to save the home they've built from nothing.
Sparkling with passion and humour, A People's History of Heaven is the story of these unforgettable young women and their determination, not only to survive, but to triumph in a city that would prefer to forget them.

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin was published by Brow Books. They are a local, not-for-profit, literary organisation that promises to publish ‘writers whose work sits in the literary margins’. It first came to my attention when it was shortlisted for this year's Stella Prize. I've been meaning to read it ever since.
Maria Tumarkin's Axiomatic is a boundary-shifting fusion of thinking, storytelling, reportage and meditation. It takes as its starting point five axioms:

‘Give Me a Child Before the Age of Seven and I’ll Give You the Woman’

‘History Repeats Itself…’

‘Those Who Forget the Past are Condemned to Repeat It’

‘You Can’t Enter The Same River Twice’

‘Time Heals All Wounds’
These beliefs—or intuitions—about the role the past plays in our present are often evoked as if they are timeless and self-evident truths. It is precisely because they are neither, yet still we are persuaded by them, that they tell us a great deal about the forces that shape our culture and the way we live.

What will you be reading this season?
Spring, autumn, wet or dry, I hope you've enjoyed browsing through my seasonal selection.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Jokes For the Gunmen by Mazen Maarouf

I wanted to like this collection of short stories more than I did. The cover of Jokes For the Gunmen was eye-catching; the topic interesting, important even. The writing and translation were fine too, but surreal and absurd doesn't always work for me. And in this case, I was left scratching my head too often to claim this book as a successful reading experience.

All the stories cover the common themes of loss and the effects of war, especially on children. Often the only response to such horrific events is to laugh darkly, which is what Maarouf has done in every story. His gallows humour twists and turns between being absurd, bizarre and just plain weird.

His cities are unnamed but obviously situated in a middle eastern war zone. This allows the reader to place the action wherever they imagine. Personally, I pictured Aleppo in Syria, as this was the place that featured most on the news as I was reading through the various short stories.

My favourite story was the first one, the titular story of the collection. It was also probably the longest. It's a perfect example of Maarouf's writing style with cruel twists, bizarre thinking and odd survival techniques.

Favourite Quote:
Your story has to be convincing, enjoyable and very short, and it has to make people laugh. Not like this story, for example.

Favourite or Forget:
  • Some of the scenes and situations are unforgettable, but not a favourite in the end.

Fess Up:
  • I didn't read the last four stories. 

  • Mazen Maarouf born in Beirut 1978.
  • Longlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2019.
  • Translated by Jonathan Wright.
  • Also reviewed by Meredith @Dolce Belleza.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Moby-Dick Chapters 26 - 30

Goodness gracious me! This book is consuming me.
Have I become like the manic Melville or the obsessive Ahab?
Can I possibly maintain this level of enthusiasm and effort?

Who knows!

Like Ishmael, all I can do is go along and go along, to see how this things ends...and hope that I'm one of the ones still left standing at the end.

Chapter 26: Knights and Squires
  • Starbuck - chief mate and all round good guy. A Quaker, a Nantucketeer, 'long and earnest.'
    • His pure tight skin was an excellent fit; and closely wrapped up in it, and embalmed with inner health and strength.
    • interior vitality
    • staid, steadfast man
    • hardy sobriety and fortitude
    • uncommonly conscientious
    • superstitious
    • "I will have no man in my boat," said Starbuck, "who is not afraid of a whale."
    • lost his father & brother to whaling.
    • a man who acknowledges his own limitations and is guided by his own inner compass.
  • An utterly fearless man is a far more dangerous comrade than a coward.
  • Melville waxes lyrical about ideal man 'so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature.' 
    • It's nice to have a dream Herman. But I fear that 'democratic dignity' is even further away from our lives than it was in 1851.
    • Three examples - John Bunyan, Miguel de Cervantes & Andrew Jackson - three men who rose above their disabilities and circumstances, with God's help, of course. Free will or destiny? Melville's Calvinistic upbringing would have him believe in predestination (i.e. that God will save some souls but not others), but Melville's life experiences were moving him away from this belief. Ishmael is clearly striving to create his own fate; Ishmael has free will and uses it with intelligence and a sense of self-awareness. Whereas Ahab believes that his fate is predetermined by a force outside his control and that everything that has happened to him is for a reason and all he can do is follow it to it's (logical) end point. 
    • Is Starbuck's name meant to suggest that he is someone who can 'buck' fate? That his future is not written in the stars, but of his own making?

Chapter 27: Knights and Squires
  • Take two!
  • The title of these 2 chapters made me think of Don Quixote, so I was delighted to see that Melville also went there with his reference to Cervantes. 
    • These men are not just mates and harpooners; they are grander, more heroic, more noble than mere sailors or whalers - they are sailing nobility!
  • Stubb - second mate, happy-go-lucky guy. A Cape-Cod-man who loved to smoke his pipe.
    • good-humoured, easy and careless
    • impious good-humour
    • his non-stop smoking kept him healthy, chilled and relaxed - I wonder if tobacco was all he smoked?
  • Flask - third mate, who hated whales with a passion. From Martha's Vineyard.
    • pugnacious
    • seemed to think that the great Leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him.
    • ignorant, unconscious fearlessness
    • waggish
  • Flask is reckless and passionate compared to Starbuck's steady, cautious, calm. Stubb is the 'whatever' guy in the middle.
  • Each mate is accompanied by a 'boat-steerer or harpooner'.
    • Starbuck and Queequeg
    • Stubb and Tashtego 
      • 'an unmixed Indian from Gay Head' (on Martha's Vineyard).
      • from a long line of 'daring harpooners'.
    • Flask and Daggoo
      • a volunteer from Africa
      • a gigantic, coal-black negro-savage
      • with 'two golden hoops' in his ears.
      • erect as a giraffe
      • imperial
  • For all of the democratic dignity and equality idealism of the previous chapter, Melville (or Ishmael) reveals the strict class system that actually exists on board the Pequod.
    • The rest of the crew 'not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast...are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are.'
    • the native [white] American liberally provides the brains, the rest of the world as generously supplying the muscles.
  • Black Little Pip - poor Alabama boy  
    • Melville suggests we will get to hear more about this lad before he is 'sent for'.
    • called a coward here, hailed a hero there!

Chapter 28: Ahab
  • Finally!
    • Reality outran apprehension; Captain Ahab stood upon his quarter-deck.
  • Ishmael is clearly our narrator again. The last 2 chapters felt like Melville getting in the way of Ishmael's story. Who has the authorial ascendancy?
  • Ahab
    • seemed made of solid bronze
    • a huge lividly whitish scar ran down one side of his face and neck
    • how he got this scar has become an old sea-tradition
    • overbearing grimness
    • barbaric white leg
    • firmest fortitude, a determinate, unsurrenderable wilfulness
    • as the weather warms up, Ahab spends more and more time on deck
    • more than once did he put forth the faint blossom of a look, which, in any other man, would have soon flowered out in a smile.

Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb
  • Our first complex chapter heading.
  • A few days have gone by & we are now sailing near the Equator
    • the warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, over-flowing, redundant days
    • such winsome days and such seducing nights
    • the calm before the storm?
  • Ahab is 'wakeful' and views his cabin as a tomb.
  • Most nights he is considerate of his shipmates and refrains from 'patrolling the quarter-deck' to avoid the 'reverberating crack and din of that bony step.'
  • But one night he forgets and Stubb is unable to sleep.
  • with 'a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness', Stubb hinted to Ahab about ways to muffle the noise.
    • Ah! Stubb, thou did'st not know Ahab then.
  • Ahab calls him a dog in no uncertain terms.
  • Stubb is offended...and says so.
  • "Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I'll clear the world of thee!"
    • I know this is a clear case of work-place bullying, but it's also rather funny!
  • Stubb wonders for the first, is Ahab mad?
    • Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out.
  • Stubb philosophy: 
    • Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.

Chapter 30: The Pipe
  • Ahab gives up smoking:
    • this smoking no longer soothes
    • a sign of an unquiet soul?
    • Can what happens next be blamed on nicotine withdrawal?

Thursday, 19 September 2019

Some People a poem by Wislawa Szymborska

Some People a poem by Wislawa Szymborska was referenced in my most recent read, The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay. The epigraph used the final stanza to suggest what the theme of the book would be. I quickly discovered the entire poem on the Poem Hunter site as seen below.


Some people fleeing some other people.
In some country under the sun
and some clouds.

They leave behind some of their everything,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now sees itself reflected.

On their backs are pitchers and bundles,
the emptier, the heavier from one day to the next.

Taking place stealthily is somebody's stopping,
and in the commotion, somebody's bread somebody's snatching
and a dead child somebody's shaking.

In front of them some still not the right way,
nor the bridge that should be
over a river strangely rosy.
Around them, some gunfire, at times closer, at times farther off,
and, above, a plane circling somewhat.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or even better, non-being
for a little or a long while.

Something else is yet to happen, only where and what?
Someone will head toward them, only when and who,
in how many shapes and with what intentions?
Given a choice,
maybe he will choose not to be the enemy and
leave them with some kind of life.

Photo by Randy Tarampi on Unsplash

But then I realised there were more options thrown up by my google search. Which was exciting, as it led me to the original poem in the New Republic Magazine, December 30, 1996 issue.

Joanna Trzeciak translated the version above; the 1996 version was translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. There are subtle differences between the two, but I find the bottom one more graphic, grittier somehow. There is an aggression that feels smoothed over in the version at the top.

I'm fascinated by the very different meaning given to the line about the mirror. One mirror merely reflects, while the other shows off the fire.

In the final stanza we have the choice between someone coming at us (aggression) or someone heading towards us. But is our choice 'given' or only an 'if'?

Personally, I prefer the translation below.


Some people flee some other people.
In some country under a sun
and some clouds.

They abandon something like all they’ve got,
sown fields, some chickens, dogs,
mirrors in which fire now preens.

Their shoulders bear pitchers and bundles.
The emptier they get, the heavier they grow.

What happens quietly: someone’s dropping from exhaustion.
What happens loudly: someone’s bread is ripped away,
someone tries to shake a limp child back to life.

Always another wrong road ahead of them,
always another wrong bridge
across another oddly reddish river.
Around them, some gunshots, now nearer, now farther away,
above them a plane sort of circles.

Some invisibility would come in handy,
some grayish stoniness,
or, better yet, some nonexistence
for a shorter or a longer while.

Something else will happen, only where and what.
Someone will come at them, only when and who,
in how many shapes, with what intentions.
If he has a choice,
maybe he won’t be the enemy
and will let them live some sort of life.


Maria WisΕ‚awa Anna Szymborska was born in Poland on the 2nd July 1923. She died on the 1st February 2012. In 1996 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality."

In Oct 1998 Helen Vendler in NY Books, Staring Through the Stitches, wrote that Szymborska’s poem “Some People,”  
Is a list; she likes lists. It is rigorous; she believes in facing the truth. It involves social experience; life for her is rarely one of individual isolation…. It is both objective and subjective, both documentary and empathetic…. Her restless skepticism questions a categorical statement even as she makes it.

And finally, a note on the translation, also from NY Books. Edward Hirsch's Subversive Activities, 18th April 1996:
Szymborska comes through well in translation, but Baranczak and Cavanagh are the first to convey the full force of her fierce and unexpected wit. Their versions reproduce the rhythm and rhyme schemes of some of her early poems. They have come up with deft equivalents for her pervasive wordplay, and have recreated the jaunty, precise, deceptively casual free verse of her late work.

I agree with Ed!

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I enjoy sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her whenever I can.