Sunday, 1 May 2016

Dubliners by James Joyce

Dubliners by James Joyce was my selected book for the latest Classics Club #CCSpin.

This was my first attempt at reading Joyce, who I felt somewhat nervous about tackling, so I felt fortunate that my first would be a slim volume of short stories.

Over the years I have read quite a bit of Irish literature.

From the glorious short stories of William Trevor to Anne Enright and Colm Toibin's painful stories about growing up in Irish families.

I also read Frank McCourt's desperate coming of age memoir, Angela's Ashes when it first came out.

Furthermore thanks to writers like Roddy Doyle, Emma Donoghue, Colum McCann, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald I appreciate that the Irish seem to have this weird love/hate thing going on with misery, bleakness and grinding poverty.

All this is to let you know that I knew what to expect from Joyce as far as godforsaken, woeful Irish stories goes. Joyce even declared it as his intent in the afterword written by J.I.M. Stewart in the back of my copy of Dubliners -

My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country...I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness.
Joyce was very successful in realising his intent!

I have no problem with stories that highlight the miserable existence of the human experience. I don't need everything to be rosy and positive and uplifting. But right now, misery stories are not working for me no matter how wonderfully well they are written.

And so I struggled my way through Dubliners.

I felt completely weighed down by words and phrases like -

mourning mood
agitated and pained
melancholy (Joyce's favourite word in this collection)
note of menace
dull resentment
tears of remorse started to his eyes
full of smouldering anger and revengefulness
coloured with shame and vexation and disappointment
he was outcast from life's feast

It was relentless and hopeless and just so joyless. Even the elegantly wrought sentences were tinged with such sadness and despair that it made me wonder how on earth the Irish continue on with anything at all!

Her dress swung as she moved her body and the soft rope of her hair tossed from side to side.

My eyes were often full of tears (I could not tell why) and at times a flood from my heart seemed to pour itself into my bosom.

He had dismissed his wife so sincerely from his gallery of pleasures that he did not suspect that anyone else would take an interest in her.

Writing appreciation 5/5 but personal enjoyment only 3/5.

How did you go with your CC Spin book?

My previous spins were - 

#1 The Magnificent Ambersons with Cat @Tell Me A Story.

#2 Tess of the D'Urbervilles with JoAnn @Lakeside Musings & Several Four Many.

#3 My Cousin Rachel.

#4 The Brothers Karamazov with Bree who also read a Dostoyevsky novel for this spin. I gave up on this chunkster about halfway through, then I lost the bok during our move earlier in the year...serendipity, I say!

#5 The Odyssey with Plethora of Books. This one was a bit of a cheat as I had started it for another readalong, but struggled to finish. I added it to my list to motivate me to finish it. When no. 20 spun up it seemed like the gods had decreed it so!

#6 No Name by Wilkie Collins with Melbourne on My Mind.

#7 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson with Booker Talk - my first classic non-fiction spin.

#8 Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh has been my one and only dud Spin read so far.

#9 The Great World by David Malouf my first Australian classic spin.

#10 A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.

#11 So Big by Edna Ferber with Christy where we both experienced the joy of rediscovering a forgotten award winning classic.

#12 Dubliners by James Joyce.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The After-Room by Maile Meloy

I decided to finish off The Apothecary trilogy this past weekend during Dewey's 24 hr Readathon.

It was a great readathon choice.

The After-Room was a quick, easy, entertaining read.

It started off terrifically and I raced through the first half. Conversations with the dead, a mind-reading magician and a trip to Italy kept the action and the drama intense and suspenseful.

But, just like the second book, the ending fell away.

Too many things happened at once, and in this case, for this adult reader, there was too much romance. As a teen reader, I probably would have adored the lovely romantic ending - it was neat and sweet.

I suspect Meloy lost focus at the end and forgot what the book was meant to be about - was it romance, was it mystery, was it magical or was it historical? It's reason for being just seemed to fizzle out. By the end I was even confused about who the intended audience was. So many elements were obviously junior fiction and the writing style was junior fiction, but the content was veering towards teen/YA.

However, the black and white illustrations by Ian Schoenherr were tremendous.

My review for The Apothecary and The Apprentices.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

WWW Wednesday

WWW Wednesday is now hosted by Sam @Taking on the World of Words.

I haven't joined in this meme for a long time but (thanks to various changes in my family and work life) midweek has now evolved into a good time for me to reflect on my reading plans for the week.

The Three W's are: 

What are you currently reading? 

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf

I'm half way through this tremendously good classic read for #Woolfalong.

Dubliners by James Joyce

I'm slowly working my way through these misery Irish short stories for my #ccspin read *sigh*

The After-Room by Maile Meloy

Only a few chapters left in this terrific page turner that I started during Dewey's 24hr Readathon.

What did you recently finish reading? 

River of Ink: Genesis by Helen Dennis
Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick
Australian Classics by Jane Gleeson-White

I finished these three books during the Readathon on the weekend.
Reviews to follow.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Next month brings us the Sydney Writers Festival.
So far I have booked myself into four events and hope to attend a few of the free ons as well.
One of the chats is with Gloria Steinem, therefore I hope to read her latest book before then!

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem—writer, activist, organizer, and one of the most inspiring leaders in the world—now tells a story she has never told before, a candid account of how her early years led her to live an on-the-road kind of life, traveling, listening to people, learning, and creating change. 
She reveals the story of her own growth in tandem with the growth of an ongoing movement for equality. This is the story at the heart of My Life on the Road.

Although I'm not attending the opening night featuring special guest Kate Tempest, I am curious about her book, her style and her rap poetry. 

The Bricks That Built the Houses by Kate Tempest

It gets into your bones. You don't even realise it, until you're driving through it, watching all the things you've always known and leaving them behind.  
Young Londoners Becky, Harry and Leon are escaping the city in a fourth-hand Ford Cortina with a suitcase full of stolen money. Taking us back in time - and into the heart of London - The Bricks that Built the Houses explores a cross-section of contemporary urban life with a powerful moral microscope, giving us intimate stories of hidden lives, and showing us that good intentions don't always lead to the right decisions.  
Leading us into the homes and hearts of ordinary people, their families and their communities, Kate Tempest exposes moments of beauty, disappointment, ambition and failure. 
Wise but never cynical, driven by empathy and ethics,The Bricks the Built the Houses questions how we live with and love one another.

I've been having a discussion on another blog about commenting and the best ways to be able to comment on all the blog types. In recent times, I've only come across one blog that I simply cannot leave a comment on no matter which account I use.

I have a google, wordpress and discus account so that I comment everywhere I go, but was wondering about OpenID? It looks like it's a way to combine all your account details so that you just use the one password etc. 

Does anyone use this? What do you think? 

Monday, 25 April 2016

River of Ink #1 Genesis by Helen Dennis

For work, I really should read more junior fiction and YA books, but I don't always make time for them. At nearly 50 yrs of age, I am not the target audience for these books and I find reading grown-up books so much more satisfying and relevant.

But when I do make the time (i.e. for Dewey's 24 hr readathon) to read some JF and YA titles I am always pleasantly surprised.

Yes, they're quick and easy to digest and they usually focus on teen issues, but the stories, the characters and the writing can be tremendous.

In the case of River of Ink: Genesis by Helen Dennis we have a fast-paced story with lots of diversity (deaf brother, OCD mum, dead dad and a missing boy who has no memories), okay so maybe a little bit too much diversity, but somehow it kind of works and doesn't feel too obvious.

There's a whole lot of stuff do with alchemy and the elixir of immortality and an ouroboros which is interesting. The mystery elements are suspenseful enough to keep you turning the pages quickly to find out what happens next.

There are interesting black and white photographs between the chapters that provide some clues and information for the curious. And there are lots of great descriptions of London as they move around the city. Dennis blends a fascinating mix of history, philosophy and futuristic ideas.

The adult reader is required to take a few leaps of faith to accept the direction the story ends up taking. A leap of faith that the adult characters in the story make a little too quickly and too easily to this adult readers mind.

An Ouroboros
I will finish with the Seneca quote which Dennis prefaces her story because it spoke to me. Our youngest booklet is unable to comprehend how Mr Books and I managed to have a happy childhood without a mobile phone. He is genuinely puzzled to know how on earth we arranged to meet our friends or go anywhere without a mobile phone!
The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject...And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them...Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced. (Natural Questions)

Book 2 - Zenith - is due out in Australia in June.
Recommended for mature 11+ readers

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Dewey's 24 Hour Readthon

The Dewey 24 Hour Readathon begins in Sydney, Australia at 10pm on Saturday 23rd April.

Most years, no matter how well I plan, something always crops up on the day of the #readathon to spoil my all day binge reading plans.

With only a few hours to go until start time, I'm feeling fairly confident that finally, this year - this #readathon, I will be able to devote the whole 24 hours to reading *big happy bookish sigh*

Although, when I say, 24 hrs, I really mean the part of 24 hrs that doesn't require about 7-8 hrs sleep! Yes, I am a wuss.

The time zone difference actually works really for me and the #readathon. I get to join in the start and feel a part of the whole vibe. I read for a couple of hours before falling asleep. Then when I wake up, feeling refreshed and eager, I jump back in to help those who might be flagging at the half way mark.

It also looks like the weather will help me out this weekend.

After a glorious long, warm, sunny autumn in Sydney, a cool change finally blew in last night, with blustery winds, driving rain and plummeting temperatures. The perfect weather for snuggling up with a good book or ten.

My companions for the #readathon will be the very fine folk on #TeamOwl led by our illustrious, studious and very owlish captain, Andi.

I will also be accompanied, personally, by the one and only Prince.

One of our local digital radio stations - Double J - is playing non-stop Prince all weekend.

I have been a huge Prince fan ever since my teens years when I first saw Purple Rain when it was released at the movies (now that ages me doesn't it?!)

I managed to see him live in concert once and for that I am eternally grateful, but, oh, how I wish there were still more Prince concerts to look forward to.

My other companions, of course, are the books.

I've gone for a selection of junior fiction and YA titles in the hope I might finish one of two of them during the #readathon. I also have several half-read books by my bed and a few poetry options for Poetry Appreciation Month.

So what will I be reading?

The Dubliners by James Joyce (short stories and my #CCSpin12 read) PART-READ 17 pgs
The Road to Ratenburg by Joy Cowley.
Monty & Me by Louisa Bennet
River of Ink by Helen Dennis READ - 359 pgs
Maresi by 
The Stars at Oktober Bend by Glenda Millard
A Tangled Web by L M Montgomery
Hour of the Bees by Lindsay Eager
Joan of Arc by Lili Wilkinson
Poems to Make Grown Women Cry edited by Anthony and Ben Holden
Poems to Make Grown Men Cry edited by Anthony and Ben Holden
Wild Lily by K M Peyton
Another Night in Mullet Town by Steven Herrick (verse novel in manuscript form) READ - 224 pgs
Graphic Classics: Louisa May Alcott (ordered during the Little Women readalong, but turned up too late.) Turns out this book has 7 of Alcott's stories in it. READ - Little Women - 50 pgs. Not sure if I will read the rest. The whole classic graphic novel experience was rather unsatisfying.
The After-room by Maile Meloy PART-READ 154 pgs

By my bed, half-read, I also have Australian Classics by Jane Gleeson-White (my starting page will be pg 280) FINISHED - 48 pgs
The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf (starting page 237)
Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson (starting page 134)
Wallpaper City Guide Havana (starting page 60)
If This Is A Woman by Sarah Helm (starting page 68) PART-READ 110 pgs

That should keep me out of mischief!

I will update page counts and answer any Dewey related questions as the day progresses and as the mood takes me. Updates will be in red.

Any fellow Aussie #readathon participants please say hello, so that we can support each other - tomorrow afternoon especially - when many of the US participants go to bed for a while and #readathon social media land goes quiet.

I am on twitter @bronasbooks and facebook and goodreads. Just look out for the purple dragonfly icon!

We are now going out for dinner with friends tonight (told you, something always happens!) so I'm going to post this now in case we're not back for the 10pm start.

UPDATE - Hour 14 - total pages read so far 322.
Hour 24 - Grand total of pages read this readathon - 962 pgs.

Happy Readathon and may Dewey look over our reading stacks with a smile on her face.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Cure: A Journey Into the Science of Mind Over Body by Jo Marchant

I have always been fascinated by the workings of the brain.

Not only the physical, measurable stuff about what our brain can do and how, but also the psychology of our minds - the stuff that's harder to measure.

"It's all in your head" or "you're imagining things" are two of the phrases we dread to hear when it comes to talking about our problems or our pains.

It is these two phrases that Marchant deals with in short shrift in her book, Cure.

She is not suggesting that all illness is in our mind or that illness can be cured by positive thinking. Instead, she thoroughly explores the idea that our minds can play a significant role in our overall well-being and health. In ways that we're only just beginning to understand and appreciate.

Marchant discusses placebo's and nocebo's (the negative effects of taking a placebo),
we experience placebo effects every time we receive a drug. Any benefits we ultimately feel are a combination of the active effect of the drug, plus its placebo effect.
Fatigue, exercise, depression, chronic fatigue, hypnotism, labour and birth, MS, autism, burns victims, meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy, faith and ageing all come under close scrutiny to discover how and why our minds affect our bodies.

From the simple (and dare I say, obvious) findings,
When we're receiving medical care, our mental state matters. Those who feel alone and afraid do not fare as well as those who feel supported, safe and in control.
To the fascinating,
It turns out that experiences of social exclusion or rejection...activate exactly the same regions of the brain as when we are in physical pain. When we're socially rejected or isolated, we don't just feel sad. We feel injured and under threat.
She exercises caution when she reminds us that "just because the mind plays a role in health, this does not mean it can cure everything....(however it is becoming clearer that) our thoughts, beliefs, stress levels and world view all influence how ill or well we feel".

If you want to find out more, check out Marchant's research on her webpage.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning by John Donne

During my HSC year, I studied John Donne's poetry.

At first glance, it seemed challenging and ye olde worlde and irrelevant but as the year progressed and we studied our set pieces more thoroughly, I came to adore Donne's work.

There was something about the metaphysical poets that appealed to me (we also studied Andrew Marvell). I liked their wit, their hint of sexual innuendo and their unusual and unlikely use of metaphor and simile.

A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning (1611-12) has become the ultimate ode to long distant relationships.

Written for his wife, Ann, as Donne was leaving for a long European trip, he managed to compare their love to a mathematical compass. You know, one of those two pronged tools that help you trace a perfect circle, of any size, depending on the angle of the two prongs? Romantic huh?

As it happens, I think this is a very romantic poem and dare I say, sexy (with all those references to stiffness, growing erect and firmness, I think we can safely say that Donne was missing his wife!)

But this is a missing you, that is based on a mature, adult relationship. Being apart doesn't have to be a drama full of angst and tear-floods.
The Donnes' love is so deep, steady and refin'd, they can part calmly and make no noise, knowing their love will always keep them connected despite any harms and fears.
The relationship and the love is not broken or severed, just stretched to airy thinness beat until they can meet again where I begun.

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls, to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
'The breath goes now,' and some say, 'No:'

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refin'd,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begun.

With thanks to Hamlette @The Edge of the Precipice for hosting Poetry Appreciation Month.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Stories and Shout Outs

It has been quite some time since I wrote a housekeeping post and I feel the need, the need to read...and to chat about it some.

During the week Melissa @Avid Reader Musings put me onto a new book app called Litsy.

I know, I know! We all need a new app like a hole in the head.

Apps already take away too much of my precious reading time.

But this one looks like it might be useful to me.

I have been using Goodreads more and more to keep track of what I actually read each year (there are always a few books I fail to write a review for, which means my blog stats are not 100% accurate for my reading year).

I like Goodreads' ability to keep track of pages read and how easy it is to add favourite quotes and passages as I read them. It is also a great way to keep track of reading challenges and for events like Dewey's Readathon (by the by another readathon is fast approaching if you haven't already signed up).

However I abandon a lot of books along the way.

I rarely blog about the abandoned books - I'm too busy enjoying the books I actually want to read!

Nevertheless my reading year is littered with the forgotten, the ho-hum and the couldn't-be-bothered's. Goodreads doesn't make it easy to track these books that have failed to get past second base. But Litsy does.

Litsy has a 'bailed' button. It also provides a 'review', 'blurb' and 'quote' button. If you'd like to follow me, you can find me under my usual tag of Brona's Books. You'll also find lots of familiar blogging faces on there already.

I wonder how this pervasive app-time will affect us all as time goes by?

I find it's a real struggle to maintain a semblance of control. I use social media apps for work and for play. They're everywhere. It's fun, but it's also mind-numbing. It sucks time and my ability to be present in the here and now. It's addictive. And despite all the talk about 'social media' and 'connections' and 'friends', apps are actually anti-social towards the people you're actually with right now.

I do wonder how the booklets and their friends (who have grown up knowing nothing else) are going to move forward into this brave new app world.

Perhaps it is simply the same scenario and the same concerns that surrounded the advent of television...and before that, radio...and before that, cars...and before that, steam engines...?


Catherine @Victorian Geek created The Life According to Literature meme that she uses each year to highlight her reading year that was. I've just discovered it - better late than never I say.

THE RULES: Using only books you have read during the year (2015), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.
Describe yourself: Yes, Please (Amy Poehler)
How do you feel: The Doldrums (Nicholas Gannon)
Describe where you currently live: The Great World  (David Malouf)
If you could go anywhere, where would you goGone With the Wind  (Margaret Mitchell)
Your favourite form of transportation:  A Motor-Flight Through France (Edith Wharton)
Your best friend is: My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferante)
You and your friends are: A Year of Marvellous Ways (Sarah Winman)
What's the weather like: You're Still Hot to Me (Jean Kitson)
You fear: Being Mortal (Atul Gawande)
What is the best advice you have to give: Tiny, Beautiful Things (Cheryl Strayed)
Thought for the day: Stand Up and Cheer (Loretta Re)
How would I like to die: Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh)
My soul's present condition: Heat and Light (Ellen Van Neerven)

Does your current reading matter fit into any of the above questions?
I've just started The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf which fits nicely into 'If you could go anywhere, where would you go'.

Thanks for listening and happy reading.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein

I started reading This Changes Everything way back when in November 2015 in preparation for Cop21 in Paris. Not that I planned to go or even had any high hopes for the outcomes, but I wanted to have more knowledge about the main issues and catch up on the latest thinking about climate change.

I knew this would be a slow read and a slow burn.

There were a lot of facts and information to absorb. A lot of rhetoric and statistics to wade through and weed out.

I spent quite a bit of time trying to work out how and why people could say that climate change is not happening or is not real. That somehow it is a belief rather than a fact that you can choose to accept or not.

The scientists sometimes get the details and specific projections wrong, but the overwhelming data on climate change is undeniable.

Reading the first few chapters in Klein's book sheds some insight into this phenomenon.
A great many of us engage in this kind of climate change denial. We look for a split second and then we look away. Or we look then turn it into a joke....Which is another way of looking away.
Or we look but tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever and will come up with a technological miracle that will safely suck the carbon out of the skies or magically turn down the heat of the sun. Which, i was to discover while researching this book, is yet another way of looking away....
Or we look but tell ourselves that all we can do is focus on ourselves. Meditate and shop at farmers' markets and stop driving....And at first it may appear as if we are looking, becasue many of these lifestyle changes are indeed part of the solution, but we still have one eye tightly shut.
Or maybe we do look - really look - but then, inevitably we seem to forget. Remember and then forget again....We deny because we fear that letting in the full reality of this crisis will change everything. And we are right.

Klein reminds us that governments and countries are historically capable of great change and huge shifts in ideology from the abolition of slavery, the civil rights movement, the overturning of Apartheid and sex discrimination (still a work in progress, I feel).
We are also capable of finding incredible wealth reserves to tackle major events like terrorism and super storms and other weather related disasters. At times like this, all the old excuses get thrown out with the grey-waste dishwater.
The real trick, the only hope, really, is to allow the terror of an unlivable future to be balanced and soothed by the prospect of building something much better than many of us have previously dared hope.
One would have to say though, that the current plethora of end-of-the-world dystopian YA books in the market right now, indicates that this part of the message is not getting through. According to the dystopian authors, our collective futures are not looking very rosy or bright at all.

Klein tells us who the deniers are and why denying benefits them and their world view. They "believe that they and theirs will be protected from the ravages in question" for now. That they will be able to buy their way out of any difficulties that arise.

She brings to light many of the myths surrounding this topic and shows where they come from and who they benefit.

I got bogged down by the chapters on US politics and the corporate world. It was hard not to feel numb and hopeless at this point of the narrative. How could these traditional, self-serving entities ever grab hold of the "bold long-term planning" required by Klein.

The section on the history of Nauru was heart breaking. Australia's tragic use of this island to house the refugees coming across our seas is but the last in a long line of greed, denial and self-interest. 

The few died-in-the-wool capitalists who actually read this book, will probably attack the ideas in this book as being dangerous, irresponsible, socialist or communist.

Not being an economist, I cannot say much about her discussion on the global markets and how big money looks after it's own, except that it felt right. It reflected what I see happening in the news and in some of our local issues (from a coal mine trying to open in my old home town to getting playing spaces for kids in the suburb I live in now).

There was a lot in Klein's book to make us feel pessimistic about our ability to effect any meaningful change.
Our faith in techno wizardry persists, embedded inside the superhero narrative that at the very last minute our best and brightest are going to save us from remains our culture's most powerful form of magical thinking.
However, the main problem that I had with This Changes Everything, is that in so many ways it changes nothing.

It was a huge brick of book that only the dedicated will ever read word for word. People like myself, who already accept that climate change is real are looking for something practical to do about it. Sure I can attend another grass roots demonstration and divest our family portfolio of non-renewable energy stocks (both of which we've already done to the best of our ability), but what else?

We can protest and change some of our behaviours but unless the big end of town joins in too, then really, the whole thing feels pointless and hopeless.

In the end, the best I idea that I came away with is actually an old one - Pascal's Wager - except in this case, it's in our best interests to believe in climate change because if we're wrong, then the worse thing that can happen is that we have a better world to live in with less pollution. But if we deny climate change and we're wrong, then we're all completely stuffed.

For a more day-to-day practical book about what you can do try The Handbook by Jane Rawson and James Whitmore.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Inklings - A Lady in Literature

I love finding new memes and new-to-me blogs.

Thanks to Hamlette's Poetry Month, I've been visiting quite a few new-to-me blogs and discovering lots of hidden gems.
One of those little gems is Heidi's Sharing the Journey blog and her meme, Inkling Explorations.

Each month, Heidi posts a literary subject for us to explore on our own blogs.

Some of the previous topics have included a gripping opening scene, a scene at a train station, a scene involving a letter, package or post office and violets.

This month the subject is - a description of a lady in literature.

I immediately thought of the two main ladies in one of my all-time favourite books, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.

The initial description of the two young ladies, May Welland and her cousin, Countess Olenska tell us a lot about Newland Archer and even more about the social mores of old New York.

Archer does not "wish the future Mrs Newland Archer to be a simpleton." He plans to "read Faust the Italian Lakes..."

At the theatre, Archer spies May Welland across the room,
slightly withdrawn behind those brocaded matrons sat a young girl in white with eyes ecstatically fixed on the stagelovers. As Madame Nilsson's "M'ama!" thrilled out above the silent house (the boxes always stopped talking during the Daisy Song) a warm pink mounted to the girl's cheek, mantled her brow to the roots of her fair braids, and suffused the young slope of her breast to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with a single gardenia. She dropped her eyes to the immense bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley on her knee, and Newland Archer saw her white-gloved finger-tips touch the flowers softly. 

Soon after "poor Ellen Olenska" enters the box. She is the black sheep of the family, returned from an unhappy marriage in Europe. Her appearance creates a sensation.
Newland Archer, following Leffert's glance, saw with surprise that his exclamation had been occasioned by the entry of a new figure into old Mrs Mingott's box. It was that of a slim young woman, a little less tall than May Welland, with brown hair growing in close curls about her temples and held in place by a narrow band of diamonds. The suggestion of this headdress, which gave her what was then called a "Josephine look", was carried out in the cut of the dark blue velvet gown rather theatrically caught up under her bosom by a girdle with a large old-fashioned clasp. The wearer of the dress, who seemed quite unconscious of the attention it was attracting, stood a moment in the centre of the box.
The classic 'good girl' in bashful white versus the 'fallen women' dressed confidently and wantonly in diamonds and velvet. Or so we believe!

Part of the enjoyment of course, in reading The Age of Innocence, is how Wharton plays with these conventional ideas about the role of women not only in old New York, but in literature, and turns them on their head.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe

In 1998 I read Philip Gourevitch's harrowing, detailed account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide of the Tutsi population called We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.

For some reason which I couldn't fathom back then, there seemed to be some doubt in some people's minds that this event was somehow not our problem or not really a genocide. That somehow this was just a local dispute that was none of our business.

I made myself read this book to try and understand what really happened. Gourevitch's writing was compassionate but brutally honest.

As I read the book, I regularly felt sick with horror and disgust and often had to put the book down to regroup, all the while painfully aware that none of the Tutsi in this book had that privilege or recourse available to them.
They had to live through this. The survivors would never be able to put the things they saw and heard out of their minds. How do you regroup and move on from something like that? Especially when 'moving on' means becoming a refugee in a world that struggles to deal humanely with those who can never return home.

Noel Zihabamwe and James Roy in their new YA book called One Thousand Hills give us hope that it is possible to move on from such tragic events.

Zihabamwe is a survivor. He was ten years old when his parents were killed in the Rwandan genocide. He has been in Australia for eight years. He learnt English, went to TAFE and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Community Welfare and International Social Development from the University of Western Sydney in 2012. He now works to improve the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph last year, Zihabamwe said that his personal philosophy was "We can't be held back by the past to change the future."

Writing One Thousand Hills with Roy must surely count as another action to further the cause of future change.

Telling the story of young Pascal and his family in the week leading up to the massacre meant reliving his own past, but
we wanted to tell this story because we believe it's only by understanding the terrible and tragic events of the past that we can prevent similar events happening again in the future. (Authors' Notes)
Zihabamwe and Roy have crafted a well-paced, easy to read story. The emphasis is on family life with the build up of tensions being told through the child's eyes. They also use a flash-forward interview device between chapters, that show Pascal chatting with a counsellor in Belgium in 1999. These sections give us a glimpse of the lingering after effects on Pascal.

A worthy read and a very worthwhile one too.
Highly recommended for mature 12+ readers.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

A Few Days in the Country by Elizabeth Harrower

A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories has been shortlisted for this year's Stella Prize.

I find short story collections a curious choice for a major award (and this year, the Stella has two short story collections) and I'm trying to work out why.

I really enjoy a good short story - over the years I've loved the short stories of Alice Munro, William Trevor and Katherine Mansfield in particular. I'm fascinated by their ability to capture the everyday details of life and give them meaning. I like their snappy emotional energy. And I adore how they can embrace the unexpected.

I had very high hopes for this collection of short stories after reading The Watch Tower a while back, especially in the emotional energy area. I was also a little in love with the fabulous cover portrait of Harrower on the new paperback edition painted by W.H. Chong. Her piercing blue eyes followed me around the house the whole week I was reading this!

Some of the stories contained the emotional punch I was expecting and hoping for - especially the stories that examined the mother/daughter or older/younger woman dynamic (Alice, Summertime and The Cornucopia).
Most of us have experienced or witnessed toxic female friendships and we have learnt to keep those people at a distance. The hard part, of course, is when that toxic female is your mother or your boss and escape becomes very difficult. That's what makes Harrower's stories so disturbing. That sense of entrapment and 'stuckness' can make the reader feel suffocated and frustrated.

However, there weren't enough of these emotional moments to keep me fully engaged. I was able to admire the writing, but failed to connect at a deeper level to many of the stories.

What's your relationship with short stories? And Elizabeth Harrower?

Monday, 11 April 2016

Poetry Month Celebration

I've just spotted this wonderful month long poetry appreciation group over at The Edge of the Precipice with Hamlette.

My relationship status with poetry is complicated but hopeful. It is also a very neglected relationship.

This seems like the perfect chance to do something about that!

Hamlette has provided some questions to get us thinking about our relationship with poetry. So let's see what issues come to the surface.

What are some poems you like? 

Straight away I'm a little stumped.
I like bits of poems. 
You know, those random snatches of poetry made famous in a movie or a book.
Like Auden's Funeral Blues in Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Or The Highway Man by Alfred Noyes thanks to Anne Shirley's exciting recitation in the 1985 movie.
A Robert Frost poem was used to help solve a murder in the cult TV series Roswell - the words /And miles to go before I sleep/ will stay with forever.
And I will always love Shakespeare's, Sigh No More, Ladies, Sigh No More because of the Branagh/Thompson version of Much Ado About Nothing.

I love the first line of Keats' Ode to Autumn, which I've been thinking about today thanks to our weekend drive through the Blue Mountains

/Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness/

As a true-blue Aussie I will always love sections of Banjo Patterson's The Man from Snowy River, the final stanza of Five Bells by Kenneth Slessor and Dorothea Mackellar's My Country
(the above links will take you to my previous reviews of these poems.)

What are some poems you dislike?

I'm not so fond of the epic poems.

Are there any poets whose work you especially enjoy?  If so, who are they? 

Thanks to studying their works for school, I have learnt to love Andrew Marvell, John Donne and Judith Wright. Dorothy PorterRobert Frost and T. S. Eliot I discovered on my own!

Do you write poetry? 

In my younger days, yes, yes, yes.
It was angst-filled, heart-breaking and rather pathetic.
But it made me feel better at the time and now provides me with a curious record of my break-up history!

Have you ever memorized a poem? 

My Pop was famous in our family for his ability to recite the poems he learnt at school up until the day he died. In his honour I have tried to remember and recite some of my favourites over the years.
When I was a child, I learnt The House That Jack Built off by heart (my Pop could recite the harder version - The Domiciliary Edifice Erected by John.)

I used to be able to quote Sigh No More, Ladies, Sigh No More, but only the hey nonny nonny's have stuck with me.

For fun, and to prompt my memory, here's the whole of it...

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
    Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
    To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
    Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
    Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
    And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
    Into hey, nonny, nonny.

Do you prefer poetry that rhymes and had a strict meter, or free verse?  Or do you like both? 

I'm open and eclectic.
My main criteria for liking poetry is that it moves me somehow.
It could be because of the association.
It might be thanks to my mood or the power of a good teacher.
I also love poems for their beauty and for their ability to be "elegant distillers of language" (I heard that phrase in a conference years and years ago, but failed to write down who said it).

I'm also a fan of the verse novel.

Do you have any particular poetry movements you're fond of?  (Beat poets, Romanticism, Fireside poets, etc?)

I do have a thing for the metaphysical poets and I love the simple beauty of haiku.

It's not too late to join in Poetry Month and share the love. 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Being Mortal was one of my best reads for 2015.

When I spotted Atul Gawande's quote on the front cover of When Breath Becomes Air, I was, therefore, instantly attracted.

I'm not sure why I'm so compelled to read about death and dying right now, although, perhaps like Paul Kalanithi, it would be truer to say, that death, dying and the meaning of the life have been lifelong fascinations for me, not just a once off flirtation.

Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn't know when. But now I knew it acutely.
When Breath Becomes Air is a beautiful written, intelligent and very human discussion on the meaning of one person's life and the internal struggle that ensues when that person realises that their time on earth is suddenly very limited.

Kalanithi covers religion, faith and callings. He wonders what it means to have the ability to do good and what our legacy ought to be. He questions meaning and purpose and values. His personal search connects us to greater universal themes.

Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.

Kalanithi was a reader. He devoured books and ideas from a young age.
The Death of Ivan Illyich, Andrew Marvell, Dickens, Twain, Austen, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Last of the Mohicans - all these shared books and authors somehow made me feel closer to Paul, that somehow we had created a relationship of 'human knowledge' that reached beyond the grave. By sharing these ideas and words, I could help to keep a small part of Paul alive. The ideas and books that fired him up and inspired him, have had a similar effect on me. Maybe one day, when I am gone, the people who read my words and share my book loves will also carry a little bit of me onwards - 'it is never complete'.

When Breath Becomes Air is poignant and sad, yet also uplifting.  It is one man's deeply felt and contemplative search for meaning and understanding.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Trixie Belden #3 The Gatehouse Mystery by Julie Campbell

I think I can now safely say that my little trip down Trixie memory lane is done and dusted (for now!)

The Gatehouse Mystery sees Trixie, Honey and Jim safely back in Sleepyside. The summer holidays are drawing to a close and we finally meet Trixie's older brothers, Brian and Mart.

The mystery of the gatehouse is also the genesis for the 'Bob-Whites of the Glen' - the name the kids give themselves and their little group. The disused gatehouse on Honey's family property makes the perfect meeting place. But before it can be a clubhouse, the bob-whites have to solve the mystery of the lost diamond.

A sense of belonging is very strong in this book. For someone who moved around quite a bit as a kid and never felt liked they belonged anywhere, this aspect of the Trixie books was very, very appealing and satisfying.

My childhood self had also written notes inside the cover detailing all their birth dates and ages. They Bob-whites became my surrogate (book) group and I did everything possible to be a close to them as possible.

I loved the little romances that eventually developed between the various characters as the series progressed, but I always had a soft spot for Mart. His big words, snappy comebacks and cheeky, sunny, sensitive nature that could be annoying or charming in equal measure appealed to me.

My adult self was delighted to realise that I had actually married my very own Mart Belden!
Northern Bob-white

In my previous Trixie post, Jean asked about the bob-white. As a kid I was so completely not interested in birds that it never even occurred to me to check out what a bob-white looked like.

Now I know!
I'm also very impressed that Jim was able to teach them all the bob-white call to use when they needed help.

It has been delightful rediscovering my love for the Trixie books. But I am now ready to hand the first three over to my niece in the hope of instilling Trixie-love into the next generation.

Trixie Belden #1 and the Secret of the Mansion
Trixie Belden #2 The Red Trailer Mystery