Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Top Ten Tuesday

Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging

I started this meme with the hope that this venture into my TBR pile from years gone by would inspire me to finally read some of those books that have languished at the bottom of the pile through no fault of their own, except that they were bought a long, long time ago.

Upon closer inspection, though, those books may have been languishing for other reasons.

My unread from long ago tend to be chunksters - worthy books weighed down by their heavy topics. Books that I really want to read, but also ones that I'm waiting for the right to time to tackle.

Now that I've checked them out again, I suspect that these unread books will be languishing a little while longer. Perhaps, waiting for my retirement years?

Charles Darwin 
The Origin of Species

Before I bought my first home (16 yrs ago! where did those years go?) I used to subscribe to the Folio Society. Over a number of years I gradually built up a wonderful array of beautiful hardback illustrated editions of some of my favourite books as well as a few titles I felt that I should have because I wanted to read them...one day.

I read a great bio about Darwin in my twenties and had always wanted to read The Origin of Species for myself. And one day I will!

Christopher Hibbert
Cities and Civilisation

Another Folio Society edition that I had forgotten about completely until Cirtnecce mentioned Hibbert and his fabulous historical non-fiction books in a recent post.

I will never forget though, the thrill of receiving my FS books.
They always arrived well packaged, wrapped and protected. The boxes were then placed in a large mail bag and security sealed. Collecting this huge mail bag from the post office was a pure delight - it felt just like a childhood Christmas day!

Truman Capote
Breakfast at Tiffany's

I know!
How have I not read this iconic story?
I loved the movie of course but somewhere along the way I have heard that the book is quite different to the movie. Different good or different bad though I do not know.

Lewis Carroll
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

My mother had this book on her shelf from her childhood.
As an avid reader I went through my parent's bookshelves with a fine tooth comb at a very early age. But I could never get into Alice. 
I tried a few times, but it was simply too weird for this reality loving, historical fiction buff.
This new illustrated edition at work might inspire me to try again.

Charles Dickens
Little Dorrit
I've been reading Dickens since my teen years & acquiring the ones I haven't read at odd times ever since. I have no idea how long this one has been sitting on my shelf, but its yellowing edges would suggest a while!

Karen Blixen
Out of Africa

I've been through a couple of editions of this book for some strange reason (the previous edition may have been culled in the great get-rid-of-all-my-unread-movie-tie-in-cover purge when I moved to Sydney).
This lovely cover is the one currently presiding on my TBR shelf.

Rohinton Mistry
A Fine Balance

A lover of Indian literature from way back, I have no idea how this modern classic has stayed unread for so long, except for maybe it's size.

Edward P Jones
The Known World

I have good track record with Pulitzer Prize winning books, so again, I have no idea why this one has remained unread, except perhaps for it's weighty size and topic.

Astrid Lindgren
Pippi Longstocking

Another book from my mum's childhood bookshelf that I never got around to reading. 
Maybe it was all that red hair!
I recently acquired a new edition (& a red-headed niece with it)! 
Hopefully I will now be inspired to tackle this classic that has been lurking in my background for way too long.

Richard Yates
Revolutionary Road

I read a fascinating review about Yates years and years ago. I remember nothing about the review except for the desire it left me with to read some Yates.
Over the years I have been acquiring his backlist, but so far, I have only read one of them.
I'm glad I managed to acquire an edition for Revolutionary Road that wasn't the movie-tie-in one!

Have you read any of the above?
Can you give me a rave reason why I should drop everything and read one of them now?
Which book has been languishing on your shelves the longest?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Monday, 22 August 2016

The Santiago Pilgrimage by Jean-Christophe Rufin

One of the reasons I love the Sydney Writer's Festival so much, is the way that it introduces me to new authors that I may not have otherwise come across.

Rufin is a doctor who co-founded Medecins San Frontieres and has worked as an ambassador for France, which is interesting enough on its own. But he is also a writer and one of the growing band of pilgrims who has walked the North Route of the Camino Way.

I'm a walker. I prefer to walk to work, the shops, to the park, out for dinner or just for a Sunday afternoon stroll. I have completed the 27km 7 Bridges walk in Sydney, but I baulk at the idea of walking hundreds of miles through all weathers just to end up at a church that supposedly contains the relic of some saint I don't believe in.

Rufin's book, The Santiago Pilgrimage, attracted my attention though, as he also approached the religious aspect of this pilgrimage with a great deal of scepticism. Instead, after a very busy period of his life, he simply decided he needed to go for a long walk to clear his head.

His travel memoir, provides a little background information about the pilgrimage, but then he goes on to outline his approach to this long walk with humour and humility.

Rufin tells us about the 'real' pilgrims from the 'fake' ones, the various ways to travel, ones choice of baggage (physical and emotional) and how you do 'not take the Way, the Way' takes you.

I learnt that the various Way's are not necessarily lovely scenic, wild tracks - 'the wonders of the Way do indeed exist but they are not constant'. At times the pilgrim has to walk 'through charmless suburbs and alongside motorways'.

Rufin's descriptions of the joys and woes of the solitude of walking brought to mind the various phases I went through when I lived alone for many years.

I enjoyed his tale. The translation was easy to read and entertaining. At various times I felt the urge to join him on his pilgrimage, but by the end, I felt less inclined to attempt this particular walk. If I ever head off on a big walk, I have plenty of beautiful walks much closer to home.

16/20 Books of summer (winter)

P.S. I'm quite keen to try one of Rufin's works of fiction. Have you read any? Which ones have been translated into English?

I also noted on the back cover that Rufin won the Prix Nomad in 2013 for this book. I couldn't find anything about this award anywhere on google, so have to assume it's a book award for travel books?

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Hate Race: A Memoir by Maxine Beneba Clarke

I've been trying to write my review for The Hate Race over the past few days. The problem has been not what to say, but what not!

The other thing I have found difficult has been taking myself out of this review to make it all about the book and what Clarke has to say rather than being all about me.

After much dithering, I realised that my strong reaction to this book is a big part of its importance.

Clarke has written a powerful, poignant memoir.

The Hate Race is a searing portrayal of growing up black in the suburbs of white Australia in the 1980's.

So many of her childhood stories crashed up against things I had seen and heard and experienced during my own white suburban childhood. My schooling years were ten years before Clarke's. I often felt despair as I read her book, to see that nothing had changed in the Australian schoolyard a decade after mine, let alone what may still be happening forty years later.

I remember the primary school positive affirmation lesson of 'what I like about...' that so many well-meaning teachers inflicted on their classes during those years.

It was an agony of pleasure and pain when it was your turn to be featured, waiting for the slips of paper to come in, wondering who had said what. Trying to take pride in all the "I like Bronwyn because she's quiet' comments but eventually realising that I was surrounded by a class of others who didn't know anything about me at all.

My dad was a bankie - we moved every few years or so. Being super shy and quiet made it hard for me to make friends. It took so long to work out the new rules at each school. I was always worried that I was wrong. Belonging and fitting in and staying out of sight became my survival thing.

Sitting on the sidelines allowed me to watch what the other more popular kids got up to. I saw that belonging to those groups could be just as hard as being on your own or not fitting in. The constant checking and searching for approval and just how quickly it could turn against you. Belonging was hard work for most of them. Their apparent confidence was often only skin deep. To maintain their popular position meant keeping those different others firmly in their place - way down the school yard pecking order.

I was on the low priority teasing list at school. My difference was my newness and my shyness and most of the time I was not worthy of notice. There were others, who were more different, who were much easier targets.

The kids who had disabilities, those who came from poor families or those kids who were non-Anglo were the prime targets in all the playgrounds I've ever been in.

And they had it really tough.

The subtle and not so subtle taunts, the 'funny' comments (come on, can't you take a joke? Don't be so sensitive), the deliberate ostracism and the really cruel joke where they pretended to be your friend for a while so they could find out more stuff about you that they then told everyone at school about to use against you.

There was a rhyme my mother had told me at home which always confused me, about sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Names did hurt though. They hurt deep inside my chest. they hurt inside my head. They hurt inside my heart.

My mother used to tell us the same thing and my internal reaction was exactly the same as Clarke's.

Like Maxine I heard this comment so often, "you're so sensitive...just ignore them."

And like Maxine, "I learned to stay quiet."

Obviously the 'teasing' I was subjected to was much less than what Maxine and her siblings suffered. But I know how awful that little bit of hurt was and how long the effects have lingered for me and my siblings.

Trying to imagine what it would be like to times my experience by 100, by a 1000, just breaks my heart.

I would love for The Hate Race to be put on the school curriculum. But I suspect the people who really need to read this book, those folk who could really benefit from the chance to walk in someone else's shoes for a while, never will.  

It turned out to be an impossible ask for me to stay out of this review.

But, I think, that's where the real power of Maxine's memoir lies.

We're ALL in this story one way or another.
This is our story too.
This is how it happened, or else what's a story for.

We are the bullies and the bullied and we are those who stand on the sidelines staying silent.

I'll finish with Maxine's final, hopeful words -
This book is dedicated to the children of Australia, including mine. May all your classrooms and playgrounds be kept safe.
15/20 Books of Summer (winter)

Monday, 15 August 2016

The Home and the World Read Along

I wasn't sure I was going to make it in time to join in this wonderful The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore readalong being hosted by Cirtnecce @ Mockingbirds, Looking Glasses and Prejudices during August.

I've been reading a couple of books this past week or so and I was determined to finish them before starting any more books. I was also keen to finish my 20 books of Summer (winter) challenge.

I finished the books last night. And today, I realised that my 20 books of summer challenge should work FOR me not against me. I'll just change one of the unread books on my list for this one and everyone will be happy!

Cirtnecce states in her sign up post,
In the year of 1916, exactly 100 years ago, 3 years since he became the first Non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Rabindranath Tagore, one of the most prolific artistic geniuses to come from India, published his extremely controversial and then much contested The Home and The WorldIt was a book that broke the mould and brought out women from the “anter mahal” (the inner chambers where women led secluded lives in 18th-19th century Bengal, albeit with consequences) and put a spin on on the Indian National Movement by defining and defying at the same time what a true patriot is/was.
She has also taken the time to present a three part potted history of India here to help us understand the world and time in which this book takes place.

My edition is a 2005 Penguin Classics.

The translation is Surendranath Tagore's 1919 version.

Surendranath was Rabindranath's nephew and they worked together to produce this translation.

The original title was called Ghare Baire.
When Bimala's husband, Nikhil - a wealthy yet enlightened and charitable Bengali landowner - encourages her to emerge from the traditional female seclusion of purdah, he introduces her to his old friend, Sandip. Rutheless and charismatic, Sandip is a radical leader in the nationalist Swadeshi movement, and Bimbala is soon caught up by his revolutionary fervour and expereiences a profound political awakening. 
Torn between her duties as a wife and a passion for her cause, her attempts to resolve the conflict between home and world lead to violence and, ultimately, tragedy. Vividly depicting  the clash between old and new, realism and idealism, The Home and the World (1916) is a haunting allegory of India's political turmoil in the early twentieth century. 
This edition includes an introduction by Anita Desai, while William Radice's new preface examines its critical reception, Tagore's modernism and the relationship between Surendranath Tagore's translation and the Bengali text. 
It's never too late to jump on board a readalong! Especially when the book is only 200 pages long.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days by Stephen Michael King

I adore snail and turtle, their friendship is so delightful.

They display kindness, generosity and tenderness towards each other and Rainy Days continues this theme.

Poor snail is unable to come out to play due to the rain. No matter what turtle says or does, snail refuses to come out of his shell.

Turtle accepts snails situation and doesn't push him to do what he simply cannot do....until turtle has a bright idea!

With a bit of planning and building and thoughtfulness, turtle comes up with the perfect solution to help snail deal with the inclement weather.

A lovely story that encourages us to think about the needs and feelings of others.

Snail and Turtle Are Friends by Stephen Michael King.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Joan of Arc: The Story of Jehanne Darc by Lili Wilkinson

I haven't read anything about Joan since I studied George Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan for my HSC. I'm now tempted to reread the play as well as search out any other stories that fictionalise her life.

The facts that did exist about Joan's life are scarce and sometimes conflicting. They are now also so clouded in all sorts of religious mystery and fervour that the real Joan will probably never be fully realised ever again.

But that's part of what makes her story so fascinating generation after generation.

How did a poor, uneducated young girl from the country command her king's attention and then lead her country's army into battle against the English?

After reading Wilkinson's Joan of Arc I still don't really know the answer to that question.

But I'm not sure we ever will.

There are simply not enough primary sources.

Jehanne couldn't read or write and therefore left no personal journal or letters. Most of the testimony given by family and friends was done so twenty years after she died. Twenty years during which the facts of her real life could be revised and edited to fit into the rehabilitation process. Let alone what happened to the facts four hundred years later when the church decided to beatify her on the road to becoming a saint!

At the end of her fascinating, well researched bio for young people, Wilkinson says,
The extent of her involvement in the strategy and implementation of the battles is something that is hotly debated amongst historians. But the one thing they all agree on is that Joan inspired people. She inspired the French to fight back, when hope seemed lost.
How and why she did this may be obscured for all eternity.

One of Wilkinson's primary sources was the translated verbatim report on the proceedings of Joan's 1431 trial. This is available from the International Joan of Arc Society along with other links to papers and earlier works.

Have you read any other historical books about Joan that attempt to reveal her real life? I'd love to know where to continue my journey.

Louise @ A Strong Belief in Wicker listened to the audio version of this book here.

14/20 Books of summer (winter)

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Truly, Madly, Guilty starts off as the type of chick-lit I tend to avoid. It was what I had initially feared (snobbishly) that all of Moriarty's work was like.

However that was before Big, Little Lies!

Sixteen chapters of waiting, with very little suspence or enticement to keep going, before the first big reveal occurred. That's fifty pages more than I give most books that haven't grabbed by that point. If not for my love affair with Moriarty's backlist and for Mr Books encouragement to keep going (he'd already read it), I would have abandoned ship.

My ARC cover has the tag "the novel we've all been waiting for." And I had. I had been so excited and had such high expectations that Moriarty would continue to raise the bar and write another funny, heart-warming, endearing story about some of my bestest friends.

When I first read the blurb on the back, I thought, 'oh no, it's The Slap all over again! How could she?'

I failed to connect to Clementine or Erika from the get-go and their husbands felt like blank cut-outs. Vid and Tiffany were interesting, but they seemed to be stereotypes rather than real people.

One of the things that Moriarty does really well though, and did so again in Truly Madly Guilty, was social discomfort. She captured perfectly all the weird, awkward, nuanced moments that make up our daily interactions with others. Guilt was obviously a big theme this time around and Moriarty displayed guilt in all its guises, big and small.

Normally I finish a Moriarty with an equal measure of delight and melancholy. Delight at how she spun all the threads together at the end and sadness at the thought of leaving behind all my new best friends.

In Truly Madly Guilty all the loose end were tied up with a degree of satisfaction, it just took too long to get there. Her twists and turns that I normally enjoy, came across as manipulation this time around. The pleasures weren't pleasurable enough for the amount of time you had to wait around for them.

This won't put me off reading Moriarty in the future though.

I have read enough of her backlist to feel a great deal of affection and hopefulness towards her body of work as a whole as well as anything she may do in the future.

Mr Books also struggled his way through Truly Madly Guilty for similar reasons. It prompted us to rate her books (that we've read so far) from favourite to least favourite.

My favourite Moriarty's are:

Big Little Lies
What Alice Forgot
The Husband's Secret
The Last Anniversary
Truly Madly Guilty

Mr Books favourite Moriarty's are (yes, Mr Books is one Moriarty ahead of me!):

Big Little Lies
What Alice Forgot
The Hypnotist's Love Story
The Husband's Secret
Equal last The Last Anniversary & Truly Madly Guilty

What's your favourite Moriarty?

13/20 Books of Summer (winter)

I've just realised that this review was my 900th blog post!

Friday, 5 August 2016

Desert Lake: The Story of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre by Pamela Freeman

Desert Lake by Pamela Freeman and illustrated by Liz Anelli follows the dry/full life-cycle on and in Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

It is possible to read Desert Lake as two separate stories. A descriptive narrative runs parallel to information text (in a different sized font) on each page.

The non-fiction story takes us through the life cycle of rain, abundance and drought that occurs in this area of South Australia every ten years or so.

"The skies above the lake are alive with birds."

While the information text gives us detailed information about the various animals, plants and unique features particular to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre.

I've always been fascinated by how the animals, particularly the pelicans, know when the lake is full again.

Anelli's mixed media illustrations are a beautiful homage to the colours of the Australian outback. She received a grant to visit Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre for the purposes of illustrating this book. The details, colours and textures in her magnificent double page spreads feel authentic for a very good reason!

Desert Lake was a six year collaboration between Freeman and Anelli. Their shared enthusiasm and passion for this project shows in every word and every picture. It will be a sure-fire hit in every school library and it's another beautiful addition to the growing market in children's books that feature the grand, majestic and unique Nature of Australia.

I suspect this will be a CBCA shortlisted book for 2017.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

The Course of Love by Alain de Botton

The Course of Love is a difficult book to pin down.

It's a brief but believable narrative about a couple - their childhood, first meeting, falling in love, marriage, children and growing older together interspersed with pertinent insightful tit-bits from de Botton about the psychological nature of love and relationships.

For someone like me, in a loving, long term relationship and closer to 50 than she would like to think about, this book felt a little like old news.

It was nice to be reminded of some of the hard won realisations we had worked out for ourselves over the years. But part of why these hard won truths are so meaningful to us, is because we worked them out ourselves.

Which isn't to say, that some of the profound insights into our own characters and how we act in significant relationships didn't stem from a chance comment in a book, or the lyrics in a song, or via the help of a counsellor. But most of the really tough, nitty gritty knowledge about our deep dark desires and failings, came about through difficult conversations, sleepless nights and desperate soul-searching.

Therefore, in lots of ways, The Course of Love felt redundant for me, especially as Rabih and Kirsten's story didn't continue into the trying teen years, that joyously sad time of empty-nesting, failing health, retirement, down-sizing and loss of a spouse.

De Botton and his characters also seemed to forget about humour.
Being able to laugh together and amuse each other can get you through, over and around any number of life's hurdles.

The Course of Love will no doubt spawn quotes that will end up in greeting cards, marriage vows and Instagram accounts. But the book itself didn't quite hit the mark, as fiction or as informative non-fiction.

Interesting, easy to read, but not riveting.

A few quotes that I highlighted along the way....

Love is a skill rather than an enthusiasm.

What we typically call love is only the start of love.

Love means admiration for qualities in the lover that promise to correct our weaknesses and imbalances; love is a search for completeness.

Everyone will have something substantially and maddeningly wrong with them when we spend more time around them.

The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who can negotiate differences in taste with intelligence and good grace.

Compatibility is an achievement of love.

12/20 books of summer (winter)

Sunday, 31 July 2016

The Catherine Wheel by Elizabeth Harrower

The Catherine Wheel was my latest #CCSpin read.

I found it quite a tough read at times.

Harrower's only novel to be set in post war England focuses on young Clemency Jones. Brilliant writing evokes a tangible sense of the cold, deprivation and chaos that existed in London at this time.

But it is Clem's chance meeting with the charismatic window cleaner, Christian Roland that proves to be the central focus.

The reader is quickly alerted to Christian's more disturbing, dangerous nature. Tell-tale comments and behaviours build up a picture of a young man careless with the truth, irresponsible with money, relationships and work and somehow able to suck people into taking care of him.

Clem is smart enough to see this too, but for some reason I could never quite fathom from the story, she too allows herself to be sucked into his chaotic world.

This came as his opinions always did with an air of tremendous authority. Considering how bizarre, prejudiced and just plain wrong they often were, I thought his confidence all the more charming.
He had a way of distributing virtues, vices and histories where and how he would. He rarely asked: he told

I nearly gave up on the story a couple of times as I found the descriptions of Christian's rages and manipulations too chilling and too close to home at times (we know someone with Borderline Personality Disorder who is a female version of Christian).

I would love to know who and what Harrower experienced in her life to give her such intimate insights into living with people who have a personality disorder.
The Watch Tower was a powerful exploration of a control freak and A Few Days in the Country also had a number of stories detailing psychological abuse and emotional manipulation.

The effect this has on the reader (or this reader at least) is one of suffocation and frustration. Like Clem, I felt a growing sense of helplessness. But unlike Clem, I just wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.

As a result, I read the last part of the book very quickly, to be done with it as soon as possible and to get Christian out of my life for good!

Extraordinary writing and characterisation indeed, to evoke such strong emotions and reactions!

11/20 Books of Summer (winter).

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Little People Big Dreams

The Little People Big Dreams series is published by Frances Lincoln Children's Books.

Written by Maria Isabel Sanchez Vegara and translated into English by Emma Martinez, this biographical series featuring iconic women for young readers is set to capture our hearts and imaginations big time.

Starting with Coco Chanel and Frida Kahlo earlier this year, we can look forward to seeing Amelia Earhart and Maya Angelou (written by US author Lisbeth Kaiser writing her first children's book) next month and Agatha Christie and Marie Curie early next year.

I see on Goodreads that Vegara also has a Spanish edition of Audrey Hepburn that I hope we see translated into English very soon.

Vegara is from Barcelona. According to the Quarto webpage, she aims to "combine creativity with learning, aiming to establish a new and fresh relationship between children and pop culture."

Coco Chanel is illustrated by Ana Albero. She grew up in Spain, studied art in Paris and is now based in Berlin. Using graphite and coloured pencils, Albero's illustrations reflect her graphic art experience with Biografiktion, which features comic-style stories about real people. (One of her previous projects was on Abba - I would love to see a Little People, Big Dreams treatment about that!)

Having read many, many bio's on Chanel over the years, I can tell you that her story here has been romanticised and sanitized to suit its intended young audience. Something that Chanel, the mistress of reinterpretation, would approve of wholeheartedly.

The moral of Chanel's story is that being different is okay.

Frida Kahlo is illustrated by Gee Fan Eng, a Malaysian based illustrator.

Difference, or 'specialness' is one of the main themes again, although Kahlo's courage and determination is also stressed. Her ability to overcome and persevere against such extreme adversity is one of the truly inspirational elements to her story. As Kahlo was famous for saying, 'viva lavida' - live life!

Thanks to an exhibition currently on display at the Art Gallery of NSW, the Frida book has been spotted everywhere.

(My post about my visit to the Kahlo - Rivera exhibition is here).

We have had a copy in our window display at work for over a month now.

I love hearing young kids walk by and exclaim loudly to their slightly bemused parents, "that's Frida Kahlo!"

As someone who happily courted and collaborated in projecting a very specific image of herself out into the world, I'm sure Kahlo would be delighted to see the cult of Frida (Los Fridos) continues through a new generation of devotees on the other side of the world.

Both books contain a timeline at the back to give the young reader a little more detail.

Thanks to the research I did for this post, I am now following several new illustrators on Instagram.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Mrs Dog by Janeen Brian

Mrs Dog by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall touched me to my childhood bones.

Growing up in rural NSW meant that the story featured in Mrs Dog was not unknown to me. So many of my friends who lived on farms had a story about a dog and a lamb not unlike Freeman's one.

Mrs Dog is a retired farm dog that takes on the care of an orphaned lamb.

Lamb learns to act like Mrs Dog around the yard and with the other animals. Mrs Dog teaches her how to be safe around the farm. But the only thing lamb can't do is bark like Mrs Dog.
Until one day, when Mrs Dog finds herself  in grave danger, and lamb discovers how brave she really is.

The illustrations have a gentle, nostalgic feel and combined with the text created, for me, a connection to the heart-warming movie, Babe.

The Babe connection was made with the naming of the creatures from Mrs Dog's point of view - there are 'woolly-heads', 'tall-one', 'tall-two', 'baa-rah' and 'beaky-wings'.

Mrs Dog is a tender, touching story. It's full of hope, courage and kindness in all guises.

Dog stories like this resonate so strongly because they are not only based on true stories that we can relate to, but because they also remind us of our better natures.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner is a book to savour slowly.

And I did.

And I will again many, many times as time goes by.

A friend recently told me that she doesn't buy many books (she works in a library and doesn't really need to) but she bought a copy of Everywhere I Look (after reading the library copy) for two reasons.

One - the book was so wonderful that she wanted to support the author and her 'luminous writing'.

Two - she wanted to have her own copy so that she could dip in and out of it again and again whenever she wanted. And she felt that she was going to want to do this very often.

Everywhere I Look is that kind of book.

Despite the number of years this book spans, Garner's various essays, diary entries, letters and observations hang together gracefully. They range from thoughts on moving house, her friendship with Tim Winton, her reaction to the movie Red Dog, meeting Rosie Batty, a wonderful section on literary appreciation to hilarious observations on ageing.

There is so much to love and ponder. So much to connect to. So much of the personal Garner, warts and all.

One of the endearing qualities of this collection is how Garner imbues the familiar and everyday with a touch of beauty and charm, even when she is being scathing. She also gives us hope that the passing of time can finally bring us some form of healing and wisdom.

It's tempting to fill this review with all the wonderful Garner quotes I noted in this book as I read it. However I think you should discover this lovely little gem for yourself and discover the particular sections that resonate with you.

This book really spoke to me at a very female level. I don't mean feminine or even feminist. Garner actually spoke to me at some kind of deep-seated genetic, chromosomal level.

Even though our lives and life choices are vastly different, I saw and I understood and I felt seen and understood in return.

10/20 Books of summer (winter)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Why I Love Pokemon Go?

Before you judge me, read on!

For the last two weeks, our two booklets (now aged 19 and almost 16) have been talking a lot about this whole pokemon go thing.

It's been lovely for two reasons.

One, over the past year or so, they actually haven't been bonding very well (B19 is oblivious to this problem which is, of course, part of the problem), however pokemon go has become a thing that has brought them together again. It's a tad competitive as they compare how many pokemon they have, their combat power (CP) and what rare ones they've managed to catch, but they're talking nicely to each other and they seem to enjoy sharing their tips and hints and adventures with each other.

Two, in the middle of our recent winter school holidays, when it turned really cold, B16 spent several hours each day, outside, walking and exploring our local area in an attempt to catch more pokemon. He still can't tell me the names of any of the local parks, despite visiting them several times for pokestops, but he at least knows that all these little parks now exist!

Over the past two weeks there has been lots of social media coverage (good and bad) about the pokemon go phenomenon. During the week, a young customer in our bookshop, caught two pokemon. Her excitement was contagious and we had a lovely chat about how many, what kinds and where.

So this weekend I decided to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.

B19 gave me a quick lesson on how to catch pokemon and what all the various symbols and icons in the app meant.

With this little bit of knowledge, a healthy dose of scepticism and a little bit of embarrassment, I headed off into the wilds of Balmain yesterday to find me some pokemon!

The first thing I had to do was stock up on some balls at a pokestop. Fortunately we have a park nearby with about five pokestops in it. You need the balls to catch pokemon. Pokemon with small CP levels can usually be caught with your first ball, as long as your aim is accurate.

My first couple of captures used up several balls, but once I got the hang of it, it was easy.

Pokemon with high CP are good if you want to do a battle in a pokemon gym. There are about four or five gyms in my suburb.

On my first pokemon walk though, I didn't have enough pokemon or a high enough level to do anything with the gyms.

After 45 mins, I came home with about 12 pokemon in my bag and a stack of balls up my sleeve!

Later on in the afternoon, we had to do a trip to the airport. Mr Books was driving - lets be clear about that upfront! After seeing a few people in the street catching pokemon, I wondered if you could also catch pokemon in the car. Turns out you can!

There was quite a bit of traffic on the road to the airport and we weren't moving very fast - I not only stocked up on loads of pokeballs and other icons, but I also caught quite a few pokemon.

On Sundays, I walked to B16's soccer game. It's an hour walk around the bay - the perfect way to spend a wintry Sunday afternoon. Today I also caught a few pokemon along the way.

I learnt that the higher the CP value of the pokemon, the harder it is to actually catch them. Several of today's captures actually had to be caught two or three times before they stayed caught!

I also saw lots of families with young children and small groups of tweenies walking and cycling around together capturing pokemon.

I learnt that there are no pokespots in schools or in front of people's homes.

When B16 learnt that I had been pokemoning this weekend, he was thrilled. He asked to see what I had caught and was impressed that I had caught a rare-ish Electabuzz. He explained about lures and showed me that there was one just around the corner.

We looked at each other, quickly put on our shoes and headed off into the cold wintry evening to catch more pokemon.

A lure, lures rarer pokemons to a certain area for half an hour. We caught a couple before the lure vanished.

We decided to keep walking to see what we could see.

And this is the main reason why I love pokemon go.

For the first time in months, B16 and I spent a wonderful, relaxed, easy hour together. We walked and talked and explored. We laughed and bonded and caught stacks of pokemon together.

I learnt that before they released the app, pokemon sent out teams of photographers around the world to take photos of all the plaques, signs and monuments that feature in the pokestops. And I levelled up enough to join a team. B16 and I are now on the same team :-)

We had a lovely evening. And we plan to do it again tomorrow after we finish work and school.

Once upon a time, families sat around the dinner table playing card games and scrabble and monopoly together.
Now, if you play your cards right, you can now spend time having the same kind of fun with your modern teenagers by playing pokemon go together.

And you can get some exercise together at the same time.

(Updates & new information about the game stats are included in the comments below.)

Friday, 22 July 2016

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

Angle of Repose is Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer prize winning novel from 1971.

Stegner created a part fact/part fiction story of life in 1880's America based on the real letters and journals of Mary Hallock Foote. After his book was published, a controversy brewed with some of Foote's descendants about how Stegner went about this merging of fact and fiction and his use of Foote's letters.

My edition of Angle of Repose carried Stegner's brief note explaining that,
though I have used many details of their lives and characters, I have not hesitated to warp both personalities and events to fictional needs. This is a novel which utilises selected facts from their real lives. It is in no sense a family history.

To my mind then, it was pretty clear, as I read the book, that this would be a kind of fictionalised biography.

Stegner combined real life people with fictional characters. His fictional characters spoke the words of real life people and the letters written by the real life Foote were liberally used (with minor changes) to tell the story of her fictional counterpart - Susan Ward.

Real and imaginary events existed side by side.

As the fictional Lyman Ward re-imagined his grandmother's life to suit the needs of his own personal narrative, so too, did Stegner, re-imagine this amazing story of a New York artist living life in the wild, wild, West with her adventurous, engineering husband.

The Irrigation Ditch, 1889, Mary Hallock Foote

Past and present informed each other as the fictional Lyman looked for lessons or clues to help him come to terms with his own life and failed marriage.

It was also very clear that Stegner (and his character Lyman Ward) had a great deal of affection and respect for Mary Foote/Susan Ward.

The time spent in Boise, Idaho, planning the building of a new dam, that could transform the barren desert, was particularly evocative - you could taste the dust and heat and feel Susan's growing isolation.

The Foote home, 1885, Idaho

The Angle of Repose is also a story about marriage.

The choices we make for love and for security and the courage required to see it through.
Stegner explores loyalty, hope, frustration and how to maintain a sense of self and independence.

We see the importance of open communication, but also how to turn a blind eye and hold your tongue at times. He delves into the daily negotiations and the battles of will. He shows how the small discontents can build into seemingly insurmountable mountains over time, so that guilt and forgiveness become the thing that keeps a couple together.

Angle of Repose was a tremendous read. It's another example of a fabulous Pulitzer winner that completely embraces and encapsulates a period of time and way of life in American history.

It felt like this book has taken me ages to read. But it was only 3 weeks in the end.
Angle of Repose was a book to savour slowly. At 557 pages with small font and minimum line spacing, it wasn't a small undertaking, however it was worth every minute, every page, every letter. In fact, for me, it was Mary's many original letters that made this story such an absorbing gem.

9/20 Books of Summer (winter)
57/110 Classics Club

Addendum, or the dangers of writing a review too soon.

As some of you know, I avoid reading reviews about the book I'm currently reading. I like to write my own review unfettered by anyone else's opinions.

However, every now and again, a book does cause me to do some research on it as I'm reading it. 

Angle of Repose was one of those books. I felt the need to find out about Mary Hallock Foote and where the fact and fiction existed in this story. I found a fascinating PDF of Foote's life at the Newsletter of the Idaho State Historical Society.

Reading this brief bio about the Foote's made me realise just how much of Mary's life was actually in Angle of Repose.

The main facts and figures and people are straight from Mary's real life. Stegner imagined conversations, motives and feelings to suit his literary purposes. When questioned afterwards, Stegner never denied his use of Foote's diaries and letters but it is curious that he didn't chronicle this properly at the time as one would expect of such a well-regarded academic.

The Newsletter above states at the end in it's bibliography that Angle of Repose is "A fictionalized telling of Mary Hallock Foote’s life, Angle of Repose is a great book, but don’t look to it for historical accuracy".

In the reviews and articles I've now read, I've come across a lot of literary regard for the character of Lyman. To my mind, as a character, he was nowhere near as interesting as his grandparents were. And I've now been wondering about the patriarchal attitudes that were still alive and kicking in the 70's, that not only saw Lyman's story as more relevant than Mary's, but also allowed Stegner to claim and bend a little known female writer's life to his own purpose, without any consequence.

I'm surprised that new editions of the book haven't rectified this oversight. Stegner clearly held his female characters in high regard and he wrote about them with warmth and affection. Yet, the more I read, the more it feels like something a little dishonest has happened here.

Should I have left my initial enjoyment of Angle of Repose alone?
Or does my new found knowledge, although tinged with shadows, allow me to view the book and the author(s) and the controversy in a more correct context?

The Pulitzer Project has several reviews for Angle of Repose which you can find here.
Jean @ Howling Frog Books review.
Rosemary and Reading Glasses' review.
Lisa @Bookshelf Fantasies review.