Thursday, 31 December 2020

I've Moved!

After 11 years of blogging at Blogger and many years recently, agonising about lost comments, it took losing three posts, to help me make the switch.

A new year - a new me!

Come and find me at my new Wordpress blog - The Reading Life - and feel free to leave a comment :-)



Monday, 28 December 2020

The 12 Days of Christmas, or the End!

 

It all started with a 12 days of Christmas book tag.

Although, not really.

However, it's as good a place as any to start.

The lead up to Christmas is pretty hectic for me. I work right up until the last minute, in the busiest week, in the busiest month of my work year. If we go away to be with our extended families, it also involves lots of planning and food prep...at a time when I am feeling most pressured and exhausted to boot. But, it's what you do.

It's not easy to also fit in a couple of scheduled blog posts to come due over the silly season.

This year, I managed to organise one and half such posts.

The Tailor of Gloucestor went live on Christmas Eve and I was planning a 12 Days of Christmas book tag for the 26th. All I had to do was add a few more hyperlinks to complete the deed.

But as I went to add the last link, blogger did it's new/weird thing and accidentally deleted the whole post. The even newer/weirder 5 second autosave kicked in...and the post was gone...forever.

This was the third time in as many months that I had lost a hard won post during a crucial blogging phase.

I may have swore a little.

Over the next few days, I mulled and stewed and steamed.

I have contemplated moving to wordpress many times, but the loss of ALL my hyperlinks was too much to cope with.

This time, I was ready!

All my previous hyper links will continue to exist on my original blogger site. It is too hard to change them, so I will simply have to live with it. Given everything we have had to learn to live with this year, a little hyper link angst no longer seems so bad!

So I moved to Wordpress.

Still Brona's Books, but with a slight change in emphasis to celebrate the switch. The old byline is now the main heading and This Reading Life is born!

Farewell Blogger!

Thursday, 24 December 2020

The Tailor of Gloucester | Beatrix Potter #ALiteraryChristmas

 

Feeling very grateful, right now, that Tarissa @In the Bookcase is hosting A Literary Christmas this year. It made me search my shelves for something Christmassy that I hadn't read yet. It led me straight into the delightful and utterly charming arms of Beatrix Potter.

I confess that I did not read any of the Peter Rabbit stories when I was a child. I had to wait until my early childhood teaching years to discover them. The first time I tried to read one aloud, I stumbled with the phrasing and pacing of Potter's writing. The story has plenty of drama and suspense, but it isn't immediately apparent. You have to read it several times to find the most dramatic way to read it out loud, in a way to keep the attention of twenty, very modern, 4 year olds.

It is twelve years since I taught my last class (I was reminded just yesterday of how that final class has grown, when one of them popped into the bookshop to buy books for her mum for Christmas. She is now in her final year of school, and has matured into a thoughtful, gracious young woman). Which is my long way of saying that it is also twelve years since I last read The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902). 

I now have a beautiful hardcover copy of Beatrix Potter's Complete Tales. It contains a lovely map of Hawkshead and Sawrey, showing where many of the stories take place, including the Tailor of Gloucester sitting next to the road to Gloucester and South Coast, with Pig Robinson. This collection then lists all the stories in chronological order. The Tailor of Gloucester is the third story. To get to it, one has to go past the original Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin (1903).

However, I couldn't skip past so glibly. 

I settled down, with the memories of classes past arrayed in front of me, and read Peter Rabbit, then Squirrel Nutkin out loud. All the old phrasing and pacing came back to me. I knew where to pause for dramatic effect and how to milk the tension. I was transported to another time and place. These two mischievous characters are drawn so sympathetically, it's hard not to love them and their naughty ways. However, Potter was writing these stories for the children of her former governess, so she was careful to give both Peter & Nutkin a proper comeuppance, for after all, bad behaviour should come with natural consequences.

The Tailor of Gloucester is a longer story and was considered by Potter to be her favourite from amongst all her books. It is based on the true story of a tailor in Gloucester, John Prichard, who was commissioned to make a waistcoat for the local Mayor. He had to leave it unfinished on Saturday evening, but when he turned up to work again on Monday, it was finished, except for one buttonhole for which there was 'no more twist'. In real life, it was his two assistants who secretly helped out. In Potter's imagination the helpers turned into little brown mice and the setting became Christmas Eve. 

Our hard working tailor becomes stricken with a fever. In his delirium he keeps muttering about needing 'one more twist', and 'where is my twist'? He is ill for three days, until it was Christmas Eve. Everyone else was buying geese and turkeys and baking Christmas pies, but not our poor tailor. His only company was his mean old cat, Simpkin.

But it is in the old story that all the beasts can talk, in the night between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the morning (though there are very few folk that can hear them, or know what it is that they say).

Rather like the Grimm's Brothers fairy story, the Elves and the Shoemaker, the tailor's hard work and dedication is rewarded when he needs it most. Even Simpkin, sees the errors of his ways, and does his bit to help out too.

A review appeared in the trade journal, The Tailor and Cutter, on Christmas Eve 1903. One hundred and seventeen years later, it is hard to top!
we think it is by far the prettiest story connected with tailoring we have ever read, and as it is full of that spirit of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, we are not ashamed to confess that it brought the moisture to our eyes, as well as the smile to our face. It is got up in choicest style and illustrated by twenty-seven of the prettiest pictures it is possible to imagine.

Epigraph:

  • I'll be at charges for a looking-glass; and entertain a score or two of tailors. Richard III

Christmas Eve at Coogee Beach - even the tree is in quarantine this year!


Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The Salt Path | Raynor Winn #UKNonFiction

 

It has taken me a while to finish The Salt Path by Raynor Winn, not because I wasn't enjoying it, but simply because it became my walking backpack book. It was the perfect choice. It was a slim paperback (i.e. lightweight). It was about going for a very long walk. It was non-fiction and therefore easy to pick up and put down without needing to remember complicated plot points or narrative arcs. And the gorgeous cover design by Angela Harding was a thing of beauty to savour as a drank my coffee, in my favourite coffee shop. at the end of my walk.

The early pages are a tale of woe and misfortune. Winn and her husband, Moth, are in the 50's and suffer a serious of life-changing blows. From financial ruin, losing their home and discovering that Moth as a life-threatening illness, corticobasal degeneration or CBD. I occasionally felt frustration at their level of trust in the goodness of others (and institutions) and their lack of proper planning and forethought, but there was no denying their deep love and commitment to each other. 

After being made homeless, their young adult children were unable to take them in or support them, as they will still at the university/study phase of life. Some friends helped out for a while, but they did not want to be a burden to anyone. Moth's terminal diagnosis hung over them and memories of the life together in Wales on their farm, were too painful to face every day. So they packed up the few things they still owned, stored some, converted others into walking gear and backpacks, and decided to walk the south-west coast path around Cornwall. A mere 630 miles!

They used Paddy Dillon's little brown book, The South West Coast Path: From Minehead to South Haven Point as their guide. Which meant they had to start their walk, at what is considered, the hardest end first so that they could read the book front to back rather then back to front.

Raynor & Moth quickly discovered that they would not be walking as quickly as Paddy and that his idea of a slight incline was very different to theirs!

Sharing their story with other walkers, was also an eye-opening experience. If they mentioned they were homeless and basically penniless, they were treated as hobos to be avoided and looked down upon. But if they tweeked their story a little they could be seen as heroic, adventurous types to be admired or envied. 

The scenery along this walk is obviously amazing, and I do wish they had included some photos so that those of us on the other side of the world could picture it as we read. Of course, google provides the same service these days. 

The walk was also a lot harder than they thought it was going to be. From blisters, to extreme cold (even in the middle of summer), storms in a barely waterproof tent, and the price of food in many of these scenic, touristy seaside villages. Moth's illness slowed them down as well...for a while. Several weeks into the walk, they both realised that he was moving better, experiencing less pain and seemed to be improving. 

In the end, they had to do the walk in two stages, thanks to the onset of winter. 

Many things were left unsaid.

Did they discover a possible cure or at least, a way to slow down the onset of CBD, by doing this hike? Were they able to find work at the end of the walk? And somewhere to live?

I have to assume that many of these queries will be addressed in her latest book, The Wild Silence, or in the Conversation she had with Sarah Kanowski on ABC radio.

  • Shortlisted Costa Book Awards 2018

Monday, 21 December 2020

How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic | Bill Hayes

 

I had no idea that Bill Hayes was working on another scenes of New York book that would focus on the March-April Covid-19 lockdown of 2020. If I'd known, I may have experienced fewer angsty days of my own, knowing that Bill was going to somehow make it all right!
It’s a little like losing your life while still being alive, this experience.
How We Live Now is presented in a very similar way to Insomniac City from three years ago. A lovely hardback edition, with black and white photographs scattered throughout. Photographs, or more precisely portraits, that Bill takes of strangers as he is out walking around New York (with their permission). You can see some of them here. The photographs are usually accompanied by a vignette - whether it's what was happening on that particular day or a little personal story about his meeting and conversation with the stranger in question.
Behind me a small line had formed....A family was looking for books for their kids to read. I felt like I was in a metaphorical breadline - a breadline for feeding the brain and the soul.
Insomniac City was a love letter to New York and to his recently deceased partner, Oliver Sacks. How We Live Now continues this theme. Losing Oliver is obviously still a painful memory for Bill, but three years later, his stories are fond reminiscences rather than emotional outpourings. While his love for New York continues unabated, despite the changes that lockdown brought.
When you look out & see the empty streets & sidewalks & shuttered shops, a friend tells me, see it as solidarity - everyone doing their best to keep themselves & everyone else healthy....Even so, I can’t deny how sad & disorientating the absence of life in these once busy streets seems.
It's only a small volume. A slim slice of life as we are living it now, by someone who has a tender eye for detail, for the unusual and the routine. Hayes is a thoughtful man who reflects on how is feeling throughout this time as well as documenting the impact on some of those around him.
In the enforced solitude and silence, you can sometimes hear yourself replaying moments in your life, things said or not said, done or not done, love expressed or not expressed, all the gratitude you’ve ever received, all the gratitude you’ve ever felt.
He captured some of the feelings and moods that I also experienced during our Sydney lockdown. The moments of anxiety as well as the odd moments of peace - being able to listen to an individual bird sing, watching a skateboarder roll down an empty street from his apartment window...
Because I’ve worked at home for years now, the mandate to stay home and work from home is, I imagine, a little easier for someone like me. I’m also a loner and an introvert (except when it comes to strangers), which helps too.
Even so, there are times when I feel spooked - not scared but spooked.
However, what I found most endearing or comforting as I read How We Live Now, was the sense of solidarity that we are all in this together, and the reminder to live our lives now. Our collective here and now may not be the one we planned for or expected, but this is what we have right now. 
Because what IS is what matters most. What was will only make you blue in New York.

This is our life. We are living it. And that's all we have ever been able to do - to live in the world we are in.

Wishing that things were 'normal' or talking about when things go back to 'normal', will only lead us to despair. This is our normal now. We're living it. Whatever happens afterwards, will be different to what went before. This experience will change us all, in big ways and in small. We don't know what or how yet, but change is one of the few things guaranteed in life. Covid-19 has simply been a real in-your-face reminder that this is so. If we fight against it, we can become bitter and disappointed. However, if we accept it, and let go of our desire to control everything (one of the hardest lessons I've certainly had to learn as an adult) we can learn to roll with the punches and find some grace in just being, here, now.

And like Hayes, I am curious to see what's on the other side. 

I am climbing the walls here. But I also know I am among the most fortunate: I have a roof over my head, food in my fridge, and my health to be thankful for. So, if this is how we have to live - with masks and gloves and almost no human contact for several more months - then so be it, this is how we have to live. I just want to see what's on the other side of this f***ing mountain.

My Previous Plague/Pandemic Reads:

My Current Plague Reads:
  • A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century | Barbara Tuchman (non-fiction The Black Death)
  • How We Live Now | Bill Hayes

Up Next:
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider | Katherine Anne Porter (Spanish Flu)
  • The Decameron Project: 29 Stories from the Pandemic | The New York Times (Covid-19)

Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Covid Chronicles #9

I cannot believe the last time I sat down to write a Covid Chronicle was back in July.

Melbourne was at the beginning of it's second wave, while the rest of the country held it's collective breath. Would the outbreak spread? Would we all have to go into another lockdown?

Numbers steadily increased around the three hotspots in Sydney and by August most of the states had closed their borders to each other. Anyone coming or going from one state to the next, would have to self-isolate for two weeks. A very tricky situation for long haul truck drivers, in particular, to manage.

Melburnians went into a hard stage 4 lockdown on the 2nd August when their Premier announced a state of disaster. They had a week or so of 600+ positive cases a day, before the restrictions started to take effect and a steady decline in positive cases set in.

I began wearing a mask to work and anytime I had to be in a shop. It wasn't mandatory in NSW, just highly recommended by health officials. I was dealing with the public every day, so it seemed like an easy and simple thing to do to keep me from catching a virus that I'd rather not catch.

By the end of August the few hotspots in Sydney were all under control, with contract tracing and self-isolation doing the trick.

Interstate travel was still almost impossible, so we all enjoyed our spring break closer to home. Mr Books and I had a lovely week in the Port Stephens area, walking along the beach, reading and relaxing. We have been holidaying in this area for over 20 years now; it was the busiest we have ever seen it. 

Our holiday home in the Blue Mountains has been booked out every single weekend since July when state-wide travel reopened. We have never been busier.

By the middle of September, NSW basically had zero community transmission. I was able to leave the mask at home again, much to the relief of my hearing impaired colleague who had been unable to lip read during the whole mask-wearing phase.

Melbourne was getting on top it's second wave and it seemed like their tough approach was turning things around. By the end of September, they were able to finally ease restrictions.

A Trans-Tasman bubble came into effect in October between New Zealand and NSW, the ACT and Northern Territory. There were a couple of hiccups at the start, but it seems to be working well now.

On the 24th October, Victoria recorded 98 active cases; this was the first time since the 19th June in which Victoria had under 100 cases. Two days later they recorded zero new cases and zero deaths - a double doughnut day - as another new phrase entered our Covid-normal world!

November saw most of the states reopen their borders to each other as state by state we continue to achieve days and weeks with no new locally acquired cases. Melbourne has had no new cases since November 23rd and Sydney has enjoyed a similar story...until this week (see below).

A scare in Adelaide a couple of weeks ago, reminded us how quickly things can change. Lockdowns were announced and borders closed, before officials discovered that one of the key new cases in their cluster had lied about where he was and for how long. They were not dealing with a new, more virulent strain of the virus after all; just a quarantine hotel worker who didn't want to declare that he had a second job elsewhere.

Once again, government officials, and the media, were caught unawares by the economic realities of one of our citizens. 

But we can never completely breathe a sigh of relief. 

We watch in horror as Europe and the US descend back into a Covid disaster zone. We may grumble about our government officials at times, but most Australians are happy with how our Covid crisis has been handled. Overseas travel may not be a sensible thing to do right now, but as long as we can travel interstate, we're happy. Business is booming in every single holiday area - coastal, mountains and the outback. Towns known for their wineries, food, water activities or bushwalking are booked out months in advance. The local tourism industry is back in business with a vengeance. 

Will this last?

No.

Three days ago, a community case of Covid popped up in and around Avalon and Palm Beach, on the northern beaches of Sydney (home of 'Home & Away' for those of you in the UK). 

Yesterday, the number of positive cases jumped to 28 with the areas of concern stretching into Cronulla (down south), Penrith (western Sydney) and Woolloomooloo (city). Residents of the Northern beaches area are being urged to get tested and stay at home for three days, to give the authorities time to track down the source and ramp up the contact tracing for those being identified as positive.

Our fragile borders with other states became apparent once again, as WA quickly quarantined any incoming flights from Sydney while the other states nervously consider what to do next. Our Christmas guests from Victoria, planning to stay in our holiday home, cancelled last night due to the uncertainly of the situation once again. Northern beaches residents planning to go interstate for Christmas, will no longer be granted entry to other states. Anyone who has booked a holiday house to play in 'Summer Bay', will no doubt be seriously reconsidering their options too. 

This is how we roll now. Plans can change in the blink of an eye. We are all learning to be uber-flexible. Any reprieve is short-lived. We all live in hope that the new vaccines will be successful, with no side effects. Although, it will be March 2021 before we start any vaccination proceedings in Australia.

Until then, 

Take care; take heart.

And please let me know how you're going, wherever you are in the world.

The Northern Beaches suburbs:
  • Allambie Heights
  • Avalon Beach
  • Balgowlah
  • Balgowlah Heights
  • Bayview
  • Beacon Hill
  • Belrose
  • Bilgola Beach
  • Bilgola Plateau
  • Brookvale
  • Church Point
  • Clareville
  • Clontarf
  • Coasters Retreat
  • Collaroy
  • Collaroy Plateau
  • Cottage Point
  • Cromer
  • Curl Curl
  • Currawong Beach
  • Davidson
  • Dee Why
  • Duffys Forest
  • Elanora Heights
  • Elvina Bay
  • Fairlight
  • Forestville
  • Frenchs Forest
  • Freshwater
  • Great Mackerel Beach
  • Ingleside
  • Killarney Heights
  • Ku-ring-gai Chase
  • Lovett Bay
  • Manly
  • Manly Vale,
  • McCarrs Creek
  • Mona Vale
  • Morning Bay
  • Narrabeen
  • Narraweena
  • Newport
  • North Balgowlah
  • North Curl Curl
  • North Manly
  • North Narrabeen
  • Oxford Falls
  • Palm Beach
  • Pittwater
  • Queenscliff
  • Scotland Island
  • Seaforth
  • Terrey Hills
  • Warriewood
  • Whale Beach
  • Wheeler Heights

Thursday, 17 December 2020

A Year in First Lines


A number of years ago I joined in this meme that takes the first line of each month’s post over the past year to see what it tells you about your blogging year.

I do like an end of year wrap up post that helps me to reflect on what I've read. A Year in First Lines has the added bonus of checking in on the state of my blog.

January

Can you believe it's this time of year again?!

2019 was a year of working hard, staying close to home and change.
  • It was curious to read this. 2019 was a laying low kind of year thanks to changes in our working and family life. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I haven't found the restrictions now in place thanks to Covid too hard to handle. I had a whole year beforehand to practice!

February

I had no intention of reading Such A Fun Age. The premise sounded only mildly appealing/interesting.

But really, I'm rather over the whole adulting trope with a world peopled by no-one but twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings. Yet it was hard to completely resist the buzz surrounding the release of this book.
  • I'm a little disappointed that this was the first book review to make this list. It was fun, but not particularly memorable. Ten months later I can barely recall anything about it except the supermarket scene. The things I do for work!

March

I wanted to love The Forest of Wool and Steel far more than I did in the end. 

A coming-of-age story about a piano tuner from a remote mountain region in Hokkaido had all the right ingredients for me - one as a former (very amateur) piano enthusiast and two, as a recent visitor to Japan. It was beautifully, elegantly written, with gorgeous chapter illustrations showing a piano slowly being returned to the wild. Nature, naturalness and nurturing were ideas that ran through the piece. It's tone was pianissimo (softly, softly), it's tempo larghissimo (as slow as possible).
  • Oh dear. Another forgettable book that failed to really capture my imagination. Although, as we now all know, March was the month that the news about a certain virus racing around the world, hit the headlines. We had also had a mini-disaster at work with a flood in mid-Feb. I was off work for just over a month while everything was being renovated.

April

I left you at the end of The Covid Chronicles #1, heading off into the wild, wild west with Mr Books.

Our first stop was to visit my parents. This was the first time we found ourselves considering how social distancing might work in the real world. As we drove into town, we realised that we shouldn't hug my parents hello, or even shake their hands. The news was full of images showing Prince Charles bowing to people to avoid shaking hands. So we waved and bowed too!
  • During my time off work thanks to the flood (see March), Mr Books and I decided to go on a roadtrip to the South Australian wine regions. Concerns about a certain virus kept us from going overseas and our roadtrip consisted of listening to Dr Norman Swan's Coronacast updates. During the final days of our trip, we had to do a sprint to get back across the stateline into NSW, just hours before the borders closed. At this time, I had the idea of writing my own Covid updates...The Covid Chronicles were born!

May

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy took me AGES to finish...and now even longer to review!

I want to be the kind of person that is informed about financial stuff, but honestly, the word economy just makes my eyes glaze over and my brain go numb. Keeping daily accounts and a family budget - yep, got that. Managing things like home loans, savings accounts, superannuation, paying bills - yep, can do. But as soon as you go down that old rabbit hole of world markets, capitalism and economic stimulus, you lose me. Every single time.

  •  Yikes! Yet another book that failed to live up to expectations. My aim for 2021 is to post reviews about books I love at the beginning of the month instead!

June

Given that we cannot travel outside our home state, let alone the country, at the moment, I thought I might indulge my bookish instincts with my itchy feet and explore the world via bookshops.
  • A new meme was one of the many ways I tried to beat the blogging blues this year. I've only managed to post two Book Stop editions so far, but I have three more in the wings.

July

Every time I see these very chic, very elegant picture books, I want to say Cla-reece. I have an acquaintance called Cla-reece. However to read these stories, I have to make a huge mental effort to say 'Paris-Claris' in my head a few times to find the rhyme.
  • Picture books are my cheats way of joining in a blogging event when I have not planned ahead well enough. In 2021 I will do better - I will plan ahead!

August

A big part of the reason I love reading Maigret's so much is the glimpse into life in Paris in the middle of the 20th century. Maigret and the Killer opens with Mrs Maigret and her man, dining out with friends discussing the merits of the Madame Pardon's 'unparalleled boeuf bourguignon...filling, yet refined', provincial cookery that was 'born of necessity', whilst finishing off the meal with the obligatory 'coffee and calvados'.

  • I have come to love my time with Maigret during Paris in July. Thankfully there are so many titles in the series, I will be able to participate in this particular blogging event for many more years to come!

September
of 20 Books of Summer Winter.

  • Another community blogging event completed, even if I do feel seasonally challenged the whole time!

October

My edition of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die is a 2009 reprint by Harper Collins Australia with a Preface by Australian journalist and book lover, Jennifer Byrne. Back in February 2016, I spent one ghastly heatwave weekend, going through this book and compiling my read and to-be -read lists with the idea that I would constantly refer back to it and update it.
  • Another post reflecting my ongoing Covid blogging malaise. I read steadily throughout the year, but I struggled to maintain my blogging mojo. Recycled posts featured more than ever during the later half of 2020.

November

Welcome to AusReading Month 2020!
Now in it's eighth year, AusReading Month is all about reading and talking about Australian literature.

  • November is my biggest blogging month, with AusReading Month, Non-Fiction November, Novellas in November and Margaret Atwood Reading Month. 

December:

As they say in show business, that's a wrap folks!
AusReading Month is tucked away for another year. 

  • AusReading Month is a huge time for me. I start planning for it in September, so that I can have enough posts for every second day (leaving some spots for the weekly Non-Fiction November posts). The first week of December has become a time of putting my feet up and having a little blogging break. And as you can see here, the rest of the month becomes a time of reflection and meme participation!
What do your first lines reveal about you?

Tuesday, 15 December 2020

My Life in Books - the 2020 edition


Annabookbel has posted her annual My Life in Books meme. It's a fun way to finish the reading year and a nice opportunity to look back over all the books read during 2020.

The rules are simple: using only books you have read this year (2020), answer these prompts. Try not to repeat a book title. (Links in the titles will take you to my reviews where they exist.)

In high school I was: Some Tame Gazelle
People might be surprised by: Life After Truth
I will never be: The Parisian
My life in lockdown was like: One Hundred Years of Solitude
My fantasy job is: Elizabeth and Her German Garden

At the end of a long day I need: The Spare Room
I hate being: The Red Head by the Side of the Road
Wish I had: The Pull of the Stars
My family reunions are: The Tempest
At a party you’d find me with: Girl, Woman, Other

I’ve never been to: Cherry Beach
A happy day includes: Humankind
Motto I live by: How We Live Now
On my bucket list is: A Month in Siena
In my next life, I want to have: The Secret Library of Hummingbird House

Sunday, 13 December 2020

Life After Truth | Ceridwen Dovey #AWW

 

I had the pleasure of hearing Ceridwen Dovey talk about her latest book, Life After Truth at a recent work event (the YouTube recording of the event can be found here). By the time she had finished speaking, I knew this would be my next read.

I'm not sure why I've found it so hard to write up my review for this book though. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it as a great holiday read. So instead of talking about my journey with the book, I will focus on what I learnt from the author talk, which then informed how I read the story.

Ceridwen evoked a lovely reading memory for me when she talked about one of her inspirations for writing a story about a 15 year reunion at Harvard University. Like me, she had devoured Erich Segal's Harvard stories, The Class (1985) and Doctors (1988) way back when.

I read The Class in the early 1990's. I remember loving the huge rollicking epic nature of the story as we followed the fates and fortunes of five or six Harvard undergrads during their college days and into their adult lives. Back then, the chunkier the book, the better, was my motto! When I googled the book to refresh my memory, I was amazed at how simply seeing the names, Andrew Eliot, Jason Gilbert Jr, Theodore Lambros, Daniel Rossi and George Keller again, brought back so much of the story.

The second inspiration for Ceridwen was her very own 15 yr, class of 2003 reunion, in 2018. All her friends and class mates were approaching 40 and various mid-life crisis were on show -  emotional, hormonal, intellectual, financial and philosophical. 

The class of 2003 had some interesting graduates besides Dovey. Natalie Portman and Jared Kushner for starters. Mark Zuckerberg was in the following year.

Ceridwen stresses that none of her characters are based on real life people.  However, she was drawn to using the polar opposite characters, of a movie star and the son of a President in her story, as she found the contrast appealing. Thanks to her social anthropology background, she likes to write not so much what she knows, but towards what she wants to know. Which is, 'how do people make meaning from their daily lives.' Or how do live the second half of your life differently to the first half.

For anyone who has read Dovey's earlier books, it is noticeable that the voice is very different in this story. It was a deliberate choice, although, also slightly out of Ceridwen's hands, as she finds that writing in different voices and styles comes naturally to her. She considers Life After Truth to be some kind of self-help novel, written in a fog of insomnia. 

She tried submitting and getting one of her books published under a different name to reflect the different voice she had used. But the publishers were not keen for a pseudonym, and neither was Dovey, as she feels that what she does is closer to the literary concept of heteronyms. The publishers were even less keen to go with this idea!

Recently she got around this by creating a story for Audible Originals called Once More With Feeling. It was a story she wrote, in what she describes as a 'warmer more accessible voice', purely with how it would sound, read aloud, in mind. Apparently she has a whole linen cupboard full of such stories, written in different voices, that she doesn't know what to do with.

As for Life After Truth, Dovey considers this her attempt to document the post truth world we all now live in, as well as a little nod towards the Harvard motto, Veritas, and what life is like for it's students after graduation.

Epigraph: 
...the Love-god, golden-haired, stretches his charmed bow | with twin arrows, and is aimed at happiness, | the other at life's confusion.

Euripides, Iphigenia in Aulis 


First Line:
JOMO GÜNTER-RIEHL. Address: 200 Church Street, Apartment 7A, Tribeca, New York 10013. Occupation: Founder & Director of Gem Acquisitions, House of Riehl Luxury Jewelers. Gradutae Degrees: MBA, University of California, Berkeley '13.

Last time I wrote one of these updates it was to brag about my life. 


Facts:
  • One of Dovey's favourite poets is Fernando Pessoa - famous for his use of heteronyms.
  • She studied social anthropology at Harvard

My Reviews of her Other Works (so far):
#AustralianWomenWriters

Thursday, 10 December 2020

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams | Richard Flanagan #AUSfiction

 

I know there is a lot of love for The Living Sea in Waking Dreams out there already. 

It's not that I didn't love it, or even admire what Flanagan was trying to achieve, but it's not easy to read a book where you feel like you're being smashed over the head, not just with a hammer, but with the biggest, heaviest mallet that Flanagan could find, on every single page, at every single turn. With such a convoluted title, I was expecting more nuance and intellectual word play. Instead I got whack after whack of anger.

Flanagan has a lot to be angry about.

Last summer was ghastly for all of us in Australia. The bush fires were the worst we'd ever experienced. Our skies were grey with smoke and ash for month after month. The smell was inescapable, the heat was oppressive, the news catastrophic. It was easy to feel like it was the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning.

Writing a book while all of this is happening around you, can take its toll. It can be hard to find perspective. It can be hard not to rave and rant in absolute frustration. It can be hard to resist a good old preachy sermon. Flanagan did not resist.

There was nothing subtle in his story about vanishing body parts, a dying mother and a world in flames. The ghastly siblings, Anna & Terzo, who refused to let their mother die with any dignity or grace, were so implausible, I struggled to spend my time with them. Their brother, Tommy, was much nicer company and more realistically drawn, as was Anna's son, Gus. But then, Tommy was the actual carer. He was on hand in Tasmania to care for their ailing mother, while the other two simply jetted in and out whenever there was a problem to be solved. And Gus' response to a world on the brink of catastrophic climate change is to withdraw into a world of gaming and Youtube videos. 

Flanagan ranted several times about social media and smartphone use. Clearly he is not someone who properly understands these online tools. Nothing about the way his characters engaged with their online world actually reflected anyone I know. He had all the right words, but just like Mr Books & I discussing Tiktok or Snapchat or memes with our boys, we show our ignorance at every turn, much to their amusement.

I feel like I'm the one ranting now!

I didn't not like the book. 
It was an interesting read and an interesting concept, with all the vanishings that nobody noticed, that spoke for, or to, something even bigger and scarier that nobody is noticing either. However I felt no emotional connection to anyone in the story, except pity - a huge amount of pity, in fact - for the undying, lingering, suffering, decaying mother. I found myself talking out loud to Flanagan throughout the book, telling him to get out of the way of his own story.

I love it, though, when I discover the title in the story.
It wasn't enough for Terzo that their mother had not died. It wasn't enough that she lived in her sea of waking dreams. In Terzo's view, she had to live like us, rationally, in a rational universe.

Except of course, Terzo's world, or his idea of living, were not as rational as he thought.

In the end, though, the occasional insights and beautiful writing were not enough for me to rate The Living Sea of Waking Dreams particularly highly. 

It astonished her that he had a view as deeply held felt as hers and yet entirely opposite, and which he held with an equal conviction. And in the face of someone who would not be persuaded by her, she did not seek to see the world for a moment as he saw it but instead was simply angry with him that his world was not her world.


I'm in the process of putting together my best 20 reads of 2020. This one will not make the cut.

Epigraph
John Clare | Remembrances
To the axe of the spoiler and self-interest fell a prey;
And Crossberry Way and old Round Oak's narrow lane
With its hollow trees like pulpits, I shall never see again:
Inclosure like a Bonaparte let not a thing remain,
It levelled every bush and tree and levelled every hill
And hung the moles for traitors - though the brook is running still,
It runs a naked brook, cold and chill.

Opening Lines:

1.

Her hand.

2. 

It's impossible to say how the vanishing began or if it was already ended, thought Anna.


Other Opinions:
  • The Conversation | 8th Oct 2020 | Tony Hughes-d'Aeth
  • The brilliance of Flanagan’s story and the deep power of this novel is in our witnessing of the end of the world. The death of Francie opens up a black hole in the family drawing Anna, Terzo and Tommy into its implacable singularity.
  • The Guardian | 16th Oct 2020 | Beejay Silcox
  • The Living Sea of Waking Dreams [is] at its best when it balances its vehemence with its beauty, when it leaves space for the reader to wander and wonder – eucalypt leaves swinging down like “lazing scimitars”; a moth thrumming its “Persian rug” wings.
  • Lisa @ANZ Lit Lover found more to like than I did.
UK Cover

I've been trying to take a photo of the beautiful green textured feather design on the hard cover underneath the glossy black dust jacket, that would do it justice. You'll have to take my word for it. It's much more interesting than the dust jacket image. The next time you're in a bookshop, carefully open the jacket and take a peek for yourself.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Stories & Shout Outs #35

 

My Week:
  • An ordinary few days as my hayfever symptoms ramp up another notch.
  • Enjoying our mini-wine bottle Advent calendar - a lot!
  • Restacked my TBR piles into a semblance of order and jettisoned a few old ones I will never read now.

I Am Reading:
  • The Living Sea of Waking Dreams | Richard Flanagan | 65% done
  • My Love Must Wait | Ernestine Hill | introduction read
  • Dearly | Margaret Atwood | 41% done
  • Throat | Ellen van Neervan | 75% done
  • How We Live Now: Scenes from the Pandemic | Bill Hayes | 34% done
  • The Salt Path | Raynor Winn | 46 % done
  • War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy | 87% done 

Read But Not Reviewed

  • Life After Truth | Ceridwen Dovey
  • Homeland Calling | edited by Ellen van Neervan

New To the Pile:
  • A Cheesemonger's History of the British Isles | Ned Palmer
  • Women | Mihail Sebastian
  • To Calais, In Ordinary Time | James Meek
  • The Decameron Project: 29 Stories from the Pandemic | The New York Times
  • Yolk | Mary H K Choi
  • A House For Mr Biswas | V S Naipaul
  • Klara and the Sun | Kazuo Ishiguro (with HUGE thanks to my wonderful A&U rep!)

On My Radar:
    • But how will I fit this into my schedule?
    • One of my all-time favourite series, read before I started blogging.
    • I'd LOVE to reread them all again (even the one or two duds) just to be back in Aubrey and Stephen's world...
    • And so I can blog about each one as well.
    • Oh, what to do!

Friday, 4 December 2020

2021 Here We Come!

 

2020 was the year of many things. Some planned and expected, like the War and Peace chapter-a-day readalong. But many things unexpected and impossible to plan for as well. 

Who knew that Plague-Lit would become a thing? 

Or that I would waste one whole perfectly good reading month by feeling weird and distracted about a certain virus to the point of being unable to read or blog or focus on anything productive except for another 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle!

How can 2021 possibly compare?

2021 will still be a year dominated by Covid-19 - it's not going anywhere in a hurry folks. Any new vaccine will take time to get out there and there are no guarantees about mutations or other unknowns. I cannot see any overseas travel on our immediate horizon. Even inter-state travel is fraught with uncertainty and quickly changing border rules.

2021 is looking like another quiet, stay-close-to-home year. Which is perfect for tackling some of those reading projects I've been meaning to get to for ages.

Therefore 2021 will be Project-Read-My-Own-Books (PRMOB).

A number of possible reading challenges have already come to my attention and I am creating two of my own.

  1. The Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall Readalong: Feb - May 2021
  2. The Edith Trilogy Readalong: Oct - Dec 2021

Nick @One Catholic Life is once again hosting his now-famous chapter-a-day readalong. This year we are reading several different books to make up the 365 chapters. 

The schedule looks like this:

  • The Divine Comedy: January 1 to April 10 (100 cantos, or chapters= 100 days)
  • Quo Vadis: April 11 to June 23 (73 chapters and an epilogue = 74 days)
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame: June 24 to August 21 (59 chapters)
  • David Copperfield: August 22 to October 24 (64 chapters = 64 days)
  • The Three Musketeers: October 25 to December 31 (67 chapters and an epilogue = 68 days)
I only own two of these books -The Hunchback and DC. Which is perfect for filling in the gap between my two proposed reading projects! David Copperfield will be a reread, but since I last read it in 1988, I'm sure it will be like reading it anew.

Nick is also about to embark on a 4 year odyssey with lucky Jack Aubrey aboard the HMS Surprise. Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series, or the Aubreyad, is one of my all-time favourites. I first read the series around 2003, when the movie starring Russell Crowe was released. It took me several years to complete, finishing with a huge nautical themed party hosted by my book club! (The series was not a group read, but each meeting, for about three or four years, I began with my Jack update. We all felt it was worth celebrating, with a big HUZZAH, at the end.)

I have no idea if I will be able to keep to Nick's schedule and read the other stuff I want to read, so I will pencil the books in for now and cross my fingers!

What does my reading year ahead look like?
A little like this.

December 2020:

  • Tarissa @In the Bookcase: A Literary Christmas 
    • The Tailor of Gloucester | Beatrix Potter (1902)
    • Christmas at High Rising | Angela Thirkell (2013 - a collection of stories written during the 1930's & 40's and published together for the first time by Virago)
    • Plus a few assorted Christmas cook books
  • CC Spin #25
      • My Love Must Wait | Ernestine Hill (1941)

    January 2021:

    February:

    • Wolf Hall | Hilary Mantel (2009) | reread

    March:

    • Post Captain | Patrick O'Brian (1972)
    • Bring Up the Bodies | Hilary Mantel (2012) | reread

    April:

    • Zoladdiction Month with Fanda @ClassicLit 
      • The Sin of Father Mouret | La Faute de l'Abbé Mouret (1875)
    • 1936 Club with Simon & Kaggsy, 12 - 18th April
      • All that Swagger | Miles Franklin (1936)

    May

    June:

    July:

    August:

    • The Mauritius Command | Patrick O'Brian (1977)
    • David Copperfield | Charles Dickens (1850) | reread

    September:

    October:

    • Desolation Island | Patrick O'Brian (1978)
    • Grand Days | Frank Moorhouse (1993) | reread

    November:

    • AusReading Month
      • Dark Palace | Frank Moorhouse (2000) | reread
    • Non-Fiction November
    • Novellas in November
    • German Literature Month
    • Margaret Atwood Reading Month
      • Hagseed (2016)

    December:

    • Cold Light | Frank Moorhouse (2011)
    January 2022:
    • First Book of the Year with Sheila 
      • The Fortune of War | Patrick O'Brian (1979)

    The Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall Readalong: Feb - May 2021
    • I read Wolf Hall in 2011 and Bring Up the Bodies in 2012.
    • 2021 will make it nine years since I read the first two books. 
    • Before reading the final instalment, I want to revisit the first two, to refresh my memory and to see if I still love them as much as I did the first time. 
    • I would be delighted if anyone would like to join me on this journey back in time to Tudor England.
    • #WolfHallReadalong2021

    The Edith Trilogy Readalong
    : Oct - Dec 2021
    • I first read Grand Days and Dark Palace in my late twenties and adored them, particularly Edith and everything about her.
    • I reread GD in 2006 and sadly found that somehow Edith and I had gone our separate ways. 
    • The books ended up in the big book cull of 2007 as I prepared to move from the country to the city.
    • But then in 2011, Moorhouse published the final, long-awaited book in the trilogy and I knew straight away that I wasn't done with Edith after all.
    • This trilogy has been patiently waiting to be read complete since 2011.
    • If you have a hankering for the League of Nations or would like to read a book set in Canberra and the ACT for AusReading Month, then Cold Light is the book for you!
    • Who's in?
    • #TheEdithReadalong2021
    #PRMOB
    #AttackMyStacks

    Tuesday, 1 December 2020

    AusReading Month - Wrap Up Post

     

    As they say in show business, that's a wrap folks!

    AusReading Month is tucked away for another year. 

    In a strange year of uncertainly, Covid-19 and change, it has been wonderful to pause a while to read, blog and celebrate Australian literature.

    Thank you to everyone who contributed with reviews, comments and social media activity. Congratulations to the many who managed to combine two or three reading events in November with the one book - bravo!

    A very special thanks goes to super-contributors, NancyElin and ShelleyRae for their outstanding reading and reviewing efforts across such diverse genres. The Fairy Bread Award goes to both of you, for your hundreds and thousands of AusReading Month words!

    (incidentally International Fairy Bread day is celebrated on the 24th Nov)

    For the first time ever, I have been organised enough to list all the incoming reviews in one final post, for future reference. I hope you find something inspiring in the list below, when next you wish to read an Australian book.

    While you're waiting for next November's AusReading Month, you can cultivate your Australian reading habits by joining in these upcoming Australian reading events:
    • Bill @The Australian Legend will be hosting Australian Women Writers Gen reading week January 17th - 23rd, 2021. We're up to Gen III, Part II. It is not necessary to have been involved in any of the previous reading weeks to join in this one. A list of possible reading choices are available via the link on Bill's name.
    • Every July, to coincide with Naidoc Week, Lisa @ANZ LitLovers hosts Indigenous Literature Reading Week to encourage us to read and learn from Indigenous authors.
    The List:

    Susan Allott | The Silence (crime fiction) | reviewed by Grab the Lapels
    Robbie Arnott | Flames (fiction) | reviewed by Reading & Viewing the World
    Thea Astley | An Item From the Late News (fiction) | reviewed by Nancy

    Capel Boake | Painted Clay (classic fiction) | reviewed by The Painted Garden
    Karen Brooks | The Lady Brewer of London (historical fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out
    Ben Brooksby | The Naked Farmer (non-fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out

    Ada Cambridge | The Three Sisters (classic fiction) | reviewed by Adventures in Reading, Running & Working from Home
    Gabrielle Carey | Only Happiness Here (biomemoir) | reviewed by Brona's Books
    Lauren Aimee Curtis | Dolores (novella) | reviewed by Nancy

    Antony Dapiran | City On Fire: The Fight For Hong Kong (non-fiction) | reviewed by Nancy
    Tom Doig | Hazelwood (non-fiction) | reviewed by Nancy
    Ceridwen Dovey | Life After Truth (fiction) | reviewed by ANZ LitLovers

    Ali Cobby Eckermann | Ruby Moonlight (poetry) | reviewed by Nancy

    Nigel Featherstone | Fall On Me (novella) | reviewed by Nancy
    Richard Flanagan | The Sound of One Hand Clapping (fiction) | reviewed by Booker Talk
    Kate Forsyth & Belinda Murrell | Searching For Charlotte (memoir) | reviewed by Book'd Out

    Helen Garner | The Spare Room (novella) | reviewed by 746 Books and Brona's Books
    Dennis Glover | Factory 19 (fiction) | reviewed by ANZ LitLovers
    Anna Goldsworthy | Melting Moments (fiction) reviewed by Whispering Gums
    Lisa Gorton | Empirical (poetry) | reviewed by Nancy
    Charmaine Papertalk Green | Nganajungu Yagu (poetry) | reviewed by Nancy
    Lana Guineay | Dark Wave (novella) | reviewed by ANZ LitLovers
    Stephanie Gunn | Icefall (novella) | reviewed by Nancy

    Rosalie Ham | The Dressmaker's Secret (historical fiction) | reviewed by ANZ LitLovers

    Gail Jones | Our Shadow (fiction) | reviewed by Brona's Books

    John Kinsella (Displaced: A Rural Life (memoir) | reviewed by Whispering Gums
    Dominic Knight | Dictionary (non-fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out
    Dr Karl Kruszelnicki | Dr. Karl’s Surfing Through Science (non-fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out

    Penelope Layland | Things I Thought To Tell You Since I Saw You Last (poetry) | reviewed by Nancy
    Bella Li | Argosy (poetry) | reviewed by Nancy
    Melissa Lucashenko | Too Much Lip (fiction) | reviewed by Grab the Lapels

    Charlotte McConaghy | The Last Migration (fiction) | reviewed by Brona's Books
    Fleur McDonald | The Shearer's Wife (crime fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out
    Sophie McNeill | We Can't Say We Didn't Know (non-fiction) | reviewed by Nancy
    Wayne Macauley | Simpson Returns (novella) | reviewed by Nancy
    Melina Marchetta | The Place on Dalhousie (fiction) | reviewed by The Australian Legend
    Lucie Morris-Marr | Fallen (non-fiction) | reviewed by Nancy
    Les Murray | Dog Fox Field (poetry) | reviewed by Typings
    Les Murray | Waiting For the Past (poetry) | reviewed by Nancy

    Joanna Nell | The Great Escape from Woodlands Nursing Home (fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out

    Henry Handel Richardson | The Fortunes of Richard Mahony (classic fiction) | reviewed by Journey & Destination
    Mirandi Riwoe | Stone Sky Gold Mountain (historical fiction) | reviewed by Brona's Books
    Tansy Roberts | Girl Reporter (novella) | reviewed by Nancy
    Josephine Rowe | Writers on Writers: Beverley Farmer (non-fiction novella) | reviewed by Brona's Books

    Kirli Saunders | Kindred (poetry) | reviewed by Brona's Books
    Margaret Simons | Penny Wong: Passion and Principle (biography) | reviewed by Nancy
    Suzanne Smith | The Altar Boys (non-fiction) | reviewed by Nancy

    Angela Thirkell | Trooper to the Southern Cross (historical fiction) | reviewed by The Australian Legend
    Nicole Trope | The Girl Who Never Came Home (crime fiction) | reviewed by Book'd Out

    Elizabeth and Her German Garden | Elizabeth von Armin (classic fiction) | reviewed by Brona's Books

    Jessica White | Hearing Maud: A Journey For a Voice (memoir) | reviewed by Grab the Lapels
    Anne Richardson Williams | Unconventional Means: The Dream Down Under (memoir) | reviewed by Grab the Lapels
    Charlotte Wood | The Natural Way of All Things (fiction) | reviewed by Consumed by Ink

    Georgina Young | Loner (YA) | reviewed by Brona's Books

    Please let me know if I missed your AusReading Month review, so I can add it in.
    See you next year!