Friday, 17 November 2017

Non-Fiction November: Be the Expert

This week's topic for Nonfiction November is Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Hosted by Kim @Sophisticated Dorkiness, head on over by the end of today to link up and/or read all the fabulous responses.

I've had a Holocaust fixation for a very long time.

It goes back to Yr 9 at high school when I studied the causes and effects of WWII for the first time. We read Anne Frank's Diary as part of our studies. I was appalled, horrified and fascinated in equal measure. I simply couldn't understand how it happened. How did the German people get caught up in such a huge and obviously wrong situation? How did the rest of the world let it happen? And could it happen again?

The conditions and treatment of the Jews inside the concentration camps gave me bad dreams and bad feelings for years. How could human beings treat other fellow human beings so awfully? What did this say about man's inhumanity to man? Not only on a universal level, but also on a more personal, day to day level? What is in our human psyche, our human hearts and souls that could allow something like this to happen? Why did so many people participate knowingly in such events?

Over the years I have read many, many books about the Holocaust - histories, memoirs, commentaries, eye witness accounts, fiction, diaries and the occasional denial piece.

I still don't understand, but the three books that brought it tantalising close are:

Mein Kampf is an awful book, poorly written, full of hideous thoughts and ideas. But to understand evil you need to know what it looks like. Skim read it if that's all can you manage, but the early parts about his impoverished childhood give the modern, more psychologically aware reader some inkling into why Hitler and many German people like him, where able to think and act the way they did.

I felt dirty and guilty the entire time I was reading this book, but it reminded me that Hitler was not necessarily born evil. He acted like a monster, but he was in fact a human being, just like you and me, and that's the bit I still struggle to understand.

Gitta Sereny's biography on Albert Speer is a masterpiece in psychology, trust and truth. This huge book is a commitment, but it is worth every word and every page. Sereny wears down Speer's defences slowly but surely in this compassionate yet relentless search for truth, responsibility and conscience.

If you only ever read one book about the Holocaust, make it this one.

I read Reading the Holocaust about 15 years ago. It was hard going. Intellectual, exacting, in your face accounts from survivors and perpetrators that explored the Holocaust from ever angle. Clendinnen used her historians gaze to examine the stories and literature surrounding the Holocaust. Like me she was on a search for the human amongst the inhumanity. It was gut-wrenching, thought-provoking stuff, some of it not for the faint-hearted. But I've always figured that if people actually had to live through such unspeakable, unthinkable things...and survived, then the very least I can do is read about them and bear witness.

Perhaps not the lightest or easiest topic to be an expert on, but if you've ever wondered why or how such a thing could have ever happened, then these three books may help you come a step closer to understanding.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

barrangal dyara (skin and bones) Jonathan Jones

I had a rather unexpected, almost obsessive response to Jonathan Jones' installation at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney last year. 
It touched me in ways that I'm still finding hard to catch and define.

My fascination kicked in at several levels:
the fire
the architecture
the history
the cultural aspect
the loss
the healing
the blending of histories
the time & place....

In 1879 Sydney hosted the International Exhibition. 
A specially designed building was erected on the edges of the Botanic Gardens to house the exhibition. It was grandly called the Garden Palace.

Tragically the Garden Palace and everything inside was destroyed by fire in 1882.
Stored inside was a huge collection of Gadigal artefacts of cultural and historical significance.

Over a hundred years later, Jones went searching for some of the cultural material from where his family came from. He discovered that most of it was destroyed in the Palace Garden fire.
The sense of loss and forgetting around this event spurred Jones on to find a way to reconnect and understand what happened here.

" Perhaps the fire was a kind of cultural burn, regenerating the site for future generations."

The outline of the Garden Palace depicted in white shields.

The project put together an information booklet for visitors.
In it Jones said,

"as I've worked on the project, the garden palace has become a symbol for the repercussions of forgetting. So many people I've spoken to about the project hadn't known the history of this enormous building that once dominated Sydney's skyline both physically and conceptually. I've begun to question what else we can forget as a community, if something so grand and visible and spoken about has disappeared from our vision. Aboriginal communities have often been the victims of Australia's ability to forget. In this way the Garden Palace became a fault line in the nation's memory, which has enabled the project to bring to the fore other forgotten histories."

Barrangal dyara means 'skin and bones'.
The project consisted of three components - a native meadow of kangaroo grass, thousands of white shields and several soundscapes.

The four different types of shields marked the boundary of the original building.
They also "echo the expansive rubble that remained after the fire."

These shields are "void of unique markings or personal designs, speaking to the erasure of cultural complexities through collection."

The exhibition ran from 17th Sept - 3rd Oct 2016.
I visited it three times, as well as the concurrent exhibition at The State Library.

Shortly afterwards I spotted this lovely cloth bound book commemorating the exhibition.
I knew that I had to have it!

It combines photographs and archival information from the Botanic Gardens site and the Library exhibition as well as essays from various people involved in the project, Aboriginal elders, architects, artists and historians.

It was utterly fascinating and absorbing.
The exhibition felt like an important moment in our Australian consciousness as well as a personal journey that I'm still exploring.


Monday, 13 November 2017

#CCSpin 16

I'm sure you all know by now how much I love a Classics Club Spin. I can proudly say that I have participated in all 16. At the end of a really, really heart-breaking week, to suddenly discover #cc spin posts popping up all over the place in my neglected feedly feed, helped to lighten the gloom.

Thank you dear Classics Clubbers for such a timely and much needed boost to my morale!

For details on how to join in a #CCSpin, click on the link here.
The main thing you need to know though, is to compile your list of 20 books by this Friday - the 17th November.

On that day a number will be randomly selected.
That's the book you read.

You have until the 31st of December to finish your book and review it.

Join in the fun by visiting the other players and commenting on their lists.
It's a great way to meet like-minded bloggers and explode your TBR classics wishlist!

My previous spins have been mostly successful and/or enjoyable.
I've also made my own fun by trying to read my books with other Classic Clubbers during many of the spins.

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

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

#3 My Cousin Rachel - hope to watch the movie soon.

#4 The Brothers Karamazov - I floundered about halfway through this chunkster, then I lost the book when we moved two years ago...serendipity, I say!

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

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

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

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

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

#10 A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark.

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

#12 Dubliners by James Joyce - too depressing and hopeless for my state of mind at the time.

#13 The Catherine Wheel by Catherine Harrower - my second Aussie #ccspin classic.

#14 The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet - it's weird how books remind you not only of the time or place within the book but also the time and place where you read them. This spin book was read one weekend whilst visiting my father-in-law. Seeing this cover on my list today made me tear up straight away and took me back to the lovely weekend we all enjoyed together last year.

#15 Out of Africa by Karen Blixen - a disappointment in the end. The movie was better.

#16 The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield.

Now that my Classics Club List is finally getting smaller, it is also getting harder for me to match all 20 books with another reader.

If you spot a match with your list, please let me know before the magic number is selected on Friday, I can then tweek my list to suit.

1. Villette by Charlotte Bronte

2. Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis

3. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath with Elley the Book Otter

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

5. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn with Katrina @Reading Record Blog

6. This Side of Paradise by F Scott Fitzgerald with Jillian @In Her Books

7. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

8. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe with Laurie @Relevant Obscurity

9. The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck with Elley the Book Otter

10. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

11. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde with Amanda @Simpler Pastimes

12. Pere Goriot by Honore de Balzac

13. Indiana by George Sand

14. Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington with Jillian @In Her Books

15. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor

16. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather with Allison @Climbing Mount To Be Read

17. War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells

18. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

19. Corinne by Stael

20. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Friday: The lucky spin number is 4 which means that I'll be reading my oh so pretty VMC designer edition copy of The Diary of a Provincial Lady. After the month I've had, I cannot tell you how delighted I am the I have spun such a beautiful, charming, gentle book to ease me into the Christmas.

How did you fare?

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros by Meg McKinlay

Once Upon A Rhinoceros is my kind of picture book.

As a child I dreamed of setting off into the big, wide world to explore. I've always wanted to see what there was to be seen. I couldn't wait to be grown up so that I could finally just go.

Small rhinoceros has the very same dream; she wants to see the world. She patiently waits until the time is right, and as you can see by the glorious cover designed by Leila Rudge, she succeeds.

She sailed on...through the woolly wild of winter and the smooth sweep of faraway lands and beyond.

On her return home, her family and friends are happy to see her, but unimpressed by her tales...all except for one quiet voice who asks,
'Did you get lost?'
'Many times.'
'And was it...wonderful?' 
'Oh yes!'  

Oh yes indeed!

With themes of independence and freedom, pushing the boundaries of what is considered 'normal' and daring to be different to fulfil your heart's desire, Once Upon A Small Rhinoceros will charm you and inspire you in equal measure.

Meg McKinlay has written some of my favourite books for teens and children, including the CBCA award winning A Single Stone, No Bears and Ten Tiny Things. She has a wonderful blog post describing her creative journey with this particular story here.

Leila Rudge adds collage elements to her pencil, paint and paper 'hand snipped' illustrations. She has written and illustrated the wonderful CBCA Notable book Ted, the very popular CBCA shortlisted book, Gary as well as No Bears with McKinlay.

#AustralianWomenWriters Challenge

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

This Blogging Life

I don't normally share personal family stuff on my book blog, but I want to explain my recent absence from this blogging life.

On the weekend, out of the blue, my wonderful, loving father-in-law died. He was a dynamic, fun loving, warm-hearted man. He loved life and everyone in it. We will miss him so much.

Mr Books with his father, an ultra-light pilot at 81.
This week is about family time - being together, supporting and loving each other as we prepare to farewell a man who so thoroughly lived every minute of his life right to the very end.

He flew his plane early on Saturday morning, called us briefly between meetings at his beloved ultralight club, before suffering a massive heart attack later in the day. His fellow pilots performed CPR which allowed all of us who were far away, time to get to Melbourne to see him one last time before he passed away on Sunday afternoon.

He was doing what he loved right to the last. An inspiration to us all.

Which is why I will post my AusReading challenge for this week. He wouldn't want our grief at losing him to stop us from doing what we love to do.

This week will be a nice simple photo challenge. Post a photo (or ten) to show us where in the world you are reading your Australian books. Post on Insta, Litsy, twitter or your blog. Link back to the masterpost here.

I may not be around much this next week, but I look forward to seeing your photos and reading your posts when I come back on board.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

#6degrees November

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is a controversial bestseller by a member of the eighties ‘literary Brat Pack’ – Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

This was a tricky starting book for me.
Not only had I never read it, but I had never even heard of it.
Nor do I plan to read it now I know a little more.
Amoral twenty somethings have never appealed to me, in real life or in book form!

So where to go to next?

A quick check of the wikipedia entry for 'Literary Brat Pack' tells me that many of the authors were inspired by Raymond Carver - another author I have never read.
But I have read Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which is a homage to Carver's well-known book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.

I made the link.

Murakami's memoir was tremendous and has stayed with me for years.
I'm not a runner, but I am a writer and I am someone who seeks out peace & quiet & solitude.
Murakami talks about all three with equal passion.

Another memoir that brims over with shared passion, is Julia Child's My Life in France.

I love a good foodie book. This one also has Paris!

Paris, passion and food make my next link easy.
Jonathan Grimwood's The Last Banquet had all three as well as being a captivating read full of surprises.

It explored taste, texture and smell, just like Perfume by Patrick Suskind.
Both books were also set during the French Revolution.

One of my favourite French Revolution stories is Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities.

Another city; another time brings us to modern day New York for our next link, with Bill Hayes' Insomniac City.
It's not only a love letter to a city but also to a recently deceased lover.

Insomniac City is presented in a gorgeous package - original photography, creative sensory dust jacket and pages with deckled edges.

I started with amoral twenty-somethings but finished with love.
Where did your #6degrees take you?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

AusReadingMonth Q&A

My attempt to answer my own questions for #AusReadingMonth!
(with gratuitous use of holiday photos)

Start of the Sydney to Hobart boat race, Boxing Day - From South Head looking towards North Head as the boats head out to sea.

1. Tell us about the Australian books you've loved and read so far.

So many to choose from!

But some of my all time favourites are:

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson

Dirt Music by Tim Winton

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Rowland Sinclair Mystery series by Sulari Gentill

Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

The Monkey's Mask by Dorothy Porter

Shark Net by Robert Drewe

The Reef: A Passionate History by Iain McCalman

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia by Bill Gammage

And some children's books that I either read as a child or read to my classes over the years -

The Deep by Tim Winton

Rivertime and Rockhopping by Trace Balla

Ash Road by Ivan Southall

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

Pastures of the Blue Crane by Brimsted

2. When you think of Australia, what are the first five things that pop into your mind?

The five things I love about Australia are our beaches, the weather, our way of life, our sense of humour and gum trees.

3. Have you ever visited Australia? Or thought about it?
What are the pro's and con's about travelling to/in Australia for you?
What are/were your impressions? 

One of the con's about travelling anywhere in Australia is the long distances involved, but it's also one of the pro's - I love a good road trip!

Pro's are our gorgeous and unique wild flowers and our beautiful, sandy beaches.
Con's are the hot summer's days that make even going to the beach unpleasant (sand too hot, sun too hot, water too crowded!) and the rips and the bluebottles and the sharks!
Although I've seen a lot of dangerous rips and hundreds of bluebottles in my lifetime, I've never seen a shark.

Milk Beach, Sydney Harbour

Pro - the multicultural aspect of our society - we can eat food from anywhere in the world - either in a restaurant or at home as we can buy all the (once) exotic ingredients in most of our supermarkets now. We can see shows & movies, attend festivals and buy books in many, many languages.

Con - the underlying racism that still lingers in many sub-strata of our society and our on-going appalling treatment of the Aboriginal issue and refugees.

Cape Tribulation, Qld

4. If you have been or plan to visit, where will you be heading first?
If you already live in this big, beautiful land, tell us a little about where you are, what you love (or not) about it and where you like to holiday (or would like to visit) in Australia.

Some of my favourite places to holiday in Australia are:
The Blue Mountains (NSW),
Mudgee (NSW),
Mornington Peninsula (VIC),
Port Douglas (QLD),
Port Stephens (NSW),
The Barossa Valley (SA),
Margaret River (WA)
- hmmmmm a theme is developing here -
a number of these places are famous for their wines!

Indian Ocean, Cape Naturaliste, WA

5. Do you have a favourite Australian author/s or book/s?
Tell us about him/her/it.

I'm a huge Tim Winton fan, even when I don't particularly like his book or characters.
He was the first Australian author that made me feel proud to be Australian (in a literary sense).
He was literate, passionate, erudite yet reserved.
Thanks to Tim, I sought out other Australian authors...I've never looked back!

6. Which Aussie books are on your TBR pile/wishlist?

So many!
But to name a few:

Ghost Empire by Richard Fidler
Notebooks by Betty Churcher
The Bust by Don Watson
Modern Love by Lesley Hardng & Kendrah Morgan
Thirty Days by Mark Raphael Baker
Gum by Ashley Hay
Island Home by Tim Winton
Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner
A Reef in Time by Charlie Vernon
Agamemnon's Kiss by Inga Clendinnen
1788 by Watkin Tench
Dancing With Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
Saga Land by Richard Fidler & Kari Gislason
True North by Brenda Niall
The Unknown Judith Wright by Georgina Arnott
Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood

Coonardoo by Katharine Susannah Prichard
Whipbird by Robert Drewe
The Swan Book by Alexis Wright
First Person by Richard Flanagan
The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley
It's Raining in Mango by Thea Astley
Journey to the Stone Country by Alex Miller
Benang by Kim Scott
The Slow Natives by Thea Astley
The Turning by Tim Winton
Maurice Guest by Henry Handel Richardson
A New England Affair by Steven Carroll
Everyman's Rules For Scientific Thinking by Carrie Tiffany

7. Which book/s do you hope to read for #AusReadingMonth?

The Commandant by Jessica Anderson (QLD setting)
A Rightful Place: A Roadmap to Recognition edited by Shireen Morris (FREE)
Mirror Sydney by Vaness Berry (NSW)
Wishbone by Marion Halligan (an author based in the ACT)

8. It came to my attention recently (when I posted a snake photo on Instagram) that our overseas friends view Australia as a land full of big, bad, deadly animals.
Can you name five of them?
What about five of our cuter more unique creatures?
(For the locals, which five animals from each category have you had an up close and personal with)?

Obviously I've been up close and personal with a Highland Copperhead (see photo), I've seen a red-belly black snake from safe inside the house as well as lots of red-backed spiders. I've had to leave the water twice thanks to shark sightings and several times thanks to stingers, but I didn't see them myself.

Whilst on camping trips & friend's farms I've spotted kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus, goannas, platypus and untold number of native birds.

9. Can you name our current Prime Minister (plus four more from memory)?
No googling allowed!

Malcolm Turnbull is our current PM
The most recent others are Tony Abbott, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and John Howard.

10. Did you know that Australians have a weird thing for BIG statues of bizarre animals and things?
Can you name five of them?

So far I've visited the BIG Gold Panner in Bathurst (NSW),
the BIG Banana in Coffs Harbour (NSW),
The BIG Merino in Goulburn (NSW),
the BIG Ned Kelly in Glen Rowan (VIC),
the BIG Rocking Horse in Gumeracha (SA),
the BIG Cherries in Young (NSW)
and the BIG Murray Cod in Tocumwal (NSW).


Wednesday, 1 November 2017

AusReadingMonth is Here!

Welcome one and all to the fifth year of #AusReadingMonth.

Each year I promise to be more organised, but each year November sneaks up on me and I'm suddenly scrambling to get posts written.

One of the changes this year will be a weekly challenge (to be posted every Wednesday).

Week 1 starts with the Q&A below plus some brief getting to know you stuff.
If Q&A's are not your thing, but you'd like to flag your intentions to join in #AusReadingMonth, then please add your URL link below to whatever 'joining in' post you'd prefer to write.

Who are you? And where in the world are you?

My name is Bronwyn and I've been blogging for 8 years.
In 2015 I joined the editorial team at the Australian Women Writers Challenge. My first role was to edit the History, Memoir, Biography page, but I recently became the editor for the General Non-Fiction page.

I live in an inner city suburb of Sydney, but have lived most of life in country NSW.

To keep life even more interesting, I'm also preparing for my very first photographic exhibition this month.
If things suddenly go quiet here in the middle of November, you'll know why!

I love reading books set in my own country & hope to infect the rest of the world with this love.
My blog is full of Australian book suggestions and reviews (as is the AWWC blog linked above) - please feel free to explore both 'til your heart's content.

What are your reading goals for this year's #AusReadingMonth?

I'm starting with The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough.

It will be a reread for me that began when I spotted a readalong with Naomi & Sarah last month for The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery.
I can't read one without the other.
My desire to compare and contrast and ponder the controversy once again was simply too strong.
I declared my intentions and found that a few others were also keen to readalong.

The Ladies of Missalonghi is set in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, thereby ticking off the NSW square on my BINGO card.

My next read will be The Commandant by Jessica Anderson, an historical fiction set in the convict settlement of Moreton Bay, QLD.

After that I will have to search out a book set in the ACT/Canberra area (or written by a Canberra based author - Marion Halligan or Cold Light by Frank Moorhouse perhaps?) to complete my first row on the BINGO card below.

Read one square, one row or two, or go the whole hog and read nine Aussie books this month.
For more details about the BINGO card challenge see my earlier post here.

Aussie Q&A

1. Tell us about the Australian books you've loved and read so far.

2. When you think of Australia, what are the first five things that pop into your mind?

3. Have you ever visited Australia? Or thought about it? 
What are the pro's and con's about travelling to/in Australia for you?
What are/were your impressions? 

4. If you have been or plan to visit, where will you be heading first?
If you already live in this big, beautiful land, tell us a little about where you are, what you love (or not) about it and where you like to holiday (or would like to visit) in Australia.

5. Do you have a favourite Australian author/s or book/s?
Tell us about him/her/it.

6. Which Aussie books are on your TBR pile/wishlist?

7. Which book/s do you hope to read for #AusReadingMonth?

8. It came to my attention recently (when I posted a snake photo on Instagram) that our overseas friends view Australia as a land full of big, bad, deadly animals.
Can you name five of them?
What about five of our cuter more unique creatures?
(For the locals, which five animals from each category have you had an up close and personal with)?

9. Can you name our current Prime Minister (plus four more from memory)? 
No googling allowed!

10. Did you know that Australians have a weird thing for BIG statues of bizarre animals and things?
Can you name five of them?

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Guggenheim Mystery by Robin Stevens

The Guggenheim Mystery is the follow up story to Siobhan Dowd's 2007 The London Eye Mystery. Dowd sadly died of cancer at the end of 2007. She had been contracted to write two Ted Spark mysteries, but other than selecting the title of book two, she died before planning any of it.

The Siobhan Dowd Trust (established by Siobhan herself in her dying days) set out to find someone to finish her stories. Patrick Ness took over the half conceived A Monster Calls while Robin Stevens was given a title!

In her Author's Note at the end of the book, Stevens says,
I realised why Siobhan had chosen it (the Guggenheim) as the setting of Ted's second adventure. If Ted is a different detective, the Guggenheim, with its curving ramp, its rotunda shape and its insistence on viewing art from all angles at once, is a different sort of museum. Ted would be perfectly at home there - and if anything were to happen to one of the paintings, he would be the perfect person to solve the mystery.

It turns out that Stevens, like Ted's cousin, Salim, also grew up with a mother who worked in a museum. In fact, her mother was working at the Ashmolean in 2000 when thieves stole a Cezanne using smoke bombs. Steven's The Guggenheim Mystery is the perfect example of art imitating life!

The mystery was relatively easy for an adult reader to work out, but of course, I'm not the target audience. The three main characters are likeable and believable. The use of logical reasoning and deduction techniques appealed to my practical brain. There was a quest-type element to the detective work as each person who was questioned and eliminated, then gave them clues or advice on who to proceed to next.

Dowd created a love letter to London in The London Eye Mystery, in The Guggenheim Mystery Stevens has created her own love letter to New York.

Highly recommended for 10+ readers who love detective-type stories and diverse characters.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Non-Fiction November

Who knew five years ago when the wonderful hosts of #NonFictionNovember dreamed up their annual celebration of all things non-fiction, that on the other side of world I'd be dreaming up my very #AusReadingMonth for exactly the same month!

Over the five years I have tried to juggle both challenges by highlighting as many Australian non-fiction reads as possible, but things tend to get a little crazy weird by the end of the month!

Undeterred by past blogging madness, I once again embark on two of my favourite reading challenges at once (the other two favourites being Paris in July and Austen in August).

JulzReads is hosting the first week of Nonfiction November and has asked us to complete a few getting to know you type questions.

My Favourite Non-Fiction Reads of the past year:

A lot of my non-fiction this year has been of a political or historical nature.
At home, my reading has mostly been about our inglorious history with the Aboriginal population.

Dark Emu, Black Seeds by Bruce Pascoe

I've also been tempted by Australian design and health books.

The Case Against Fragrance by Kate Grenville

Keeping It Off by Michelle Bridges

In anticipation of my trip to Cuba and Mexico in January 2017, I read some travel stories, histories and oodles of travel guides.

Cuba Diaries by Isadora Tattlin

Travelers' Tales Mexico edited by James O'Reilly & Larry Habegger

My Recommendations:

I would happily recommend all of the above if the topic is of interest to you, but the few that I have been raving about to anyone who will listen are below.

Travels With Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

This was one of the books I travelled through Cuba and Mexico with.
If you're a traveller, or have a love of Herodotus, or enjoy memoirs by foreign correspondent journalists then you will ADORE this book too.

I love Tim Winton's books, even the ones that don't quite work.
However this gorgeous book of essays was delicious and engaging from start to finish.

A challenging read full of passion and thoughtful writing, Gleeson tackles the vexatious issue of the worldwide refugee crisis and how we in Australia are dealing with it (or not).

Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster

Another Aussie abroad! We're everywhere!
But this one was different.
Dempster attempted the Japanese 88 Temples Pilgrimage a decade ago.
This is her tale.
Immensely readable with lots of great stuff about Japan, Buddhism and personal courage.

Genre I Haven't Read Enough of this Year:

I love memoirs, but haven't been tempted by very many at all this year.
Do you have a favourite you could recommend to me?

My Hopes & Goals:

1. To explode my non-fiction TBR wishlist!
Go on! Tempt me!

2. I'm travelling to Japan in 2018 & would love some suggestions for more reading material.
I've read Neon Pilgrim, Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey & most of the Japan Lonely Planet.


Sunday, 29 October 2017

Sully Prudhomme - Poet

I'm (very) slowly making my way through the Nobel Prize winners. Reading the Nobel's hasn't been as enlightening as I had first hoped. I'm still trying to work out why. So I thought I'd start at the very beginning to see if that helps.

It turns out that Alfred Nobel's family contested his will after he died in 1895. They were very unhappy that he had left most of his wealth to the establishment of the prize. It took five years for the issue to be resolved and the prizes awarded.

Alfred Nobel's will:
dictates that his entire remaining estate should be used to endow "prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind." part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.

 Sully Prudhomme was the very first recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1901.

He received the award,
in special recognition of his poetic composition, which gives evidence of lofty idealism, artistic perfection and a rare combination of the qualities of both heart and intellect.
Sully Prudhomme has an introvert nature as sensitive as it is delicate. His poetry is rarely concerned with images and exterior situations as such, but principally with the extent to which they can serve as a mirror of poetic contemplation. The love of the spiritual, his doubts, his sorrows, which nothing earthly can dissipate, are the usual subjects of his work which, in its finished form and sculptural beauty, suffers no useless word. His poetry appears in exuberant colours and only rarely takes on the character of melodious music; but it is all the more plastic in the creation of forms suited to expressing feelings and ideas. Noble, profoundly pensive, and turned toward sadness, his soul reveals itself in this poetry, tender yet not sentimental - a sorrowful analysis which inspires a melancholy sympathy in the reader.
The Swedish Academy has been less attracted by his didactic or abstract poems than by his smaller lyric compositions, which are full of feeling and contemplation, and which charm by their nobility and dignity and by the extremely rare union of delicate reflection and rich sentiment.

Enough said!
Here are three of his poems and you can decide for yourself.


The sound of bank and water is all I hear,
The sad resignation of a weeping spring
Or a rock that hourly sheds a tear,
And the birch leaves' vague quivering.

I do not see the river bear the boat along
The flowering shore flits past, and I remain;
And in the watery depths that I skim,
The reflected blue sky flutters like a curtain.

Meandering in their sleep, you might say the waters
Waver, no longer sure where the bank lies:
And the flower thrown in hesitates to choose.
And like this flower, all that man desires
Can settle on the river of my life,
Without teaching me which way my wishes lie.


The vase where this verbena is dying
was cracked by a blow from a fan.
It must have barely brushed it,
for it made no sound.

But the slight wound,
biting into the crystal day by day,
surely, invisibly crept
slowly all around it.

The clear water leaked out drop by drop.
The flowers' sap was exhausted.
Still no one suspected anything.
Don't touch! It's broken.

Thus often does the hand we love,
barely touching the heart, wound it.
Then the heart cracks by itself
and the flower of its love dies.

Still intact in the eyes of the world,
it feels its wound, narrow and deep,
grow and softly cry.
It's broken. Don't touch!


Never to see or hear her,
never to name her aloud,
but faithfully always to wait for her
and love her.

To open my arms and, tired of waiting,
to close them on nothing,
but still always to stretch them out to her
and to love her.

To only be able to stretch them out to her,
and then to be consumed in tears,
but always to shed these tears,
always to love her.

Never to see or hear her,
never to name her aloud,
but with a love that grows ever more tender,
always to love her. Always!

Rene Francois Armand (Sully) Prudhomme was born in Paris in 1839 and died there, after a long period of ill health, in 1907. He originally studied to be a engineer, and briefly worked in a solicitor's office, but eventually turned to philosophy and poetry. He intended to create scientific poetry to suit modern life.

He was part of the Parnassian school of writing which arose in reaction to the excess emotions at work in the Romantic movement. Parnassian's represented restraint, objectivity and precise wording. Technical perfection was the aim; elegance and balance the objectives.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Neon Pilgrim by Lisa Dempster

Neon Pilgrim: A Memoir of Walking Japan's Henro Michi seemed to be designed to appeal just to me right now, being in the middle of holiday preparations for Japan, as I am. Not that I'm planning to walk around any of the 88 Temples in Shikoku or run away for two months to find myself, as tempting as both options might sound at times!

Neon Pilgrim is a travelogue and a memoir in one. Wikipedia defines a memoir as:

"a story from a life", such as touchstone events and turning points from the author's life.

This is what Dempster has presented us with - a moment from her life that proved to be a major turning point for her. It also happens to be a very engaging, easy to read account of her time walking the 88 Temple pilgrimage in Shikoku, Japan.

We don't learn a lot about Dempster's back story. We know she is twenty-something with some issues - depression, no job, over weight and living back at home. Back in her school days, she completed a year long exchange program with a school in Shikoku. She became aware of the 88 Temple pilgrimage at this time. In her time of need a decade later, it came back to her as a way of solving all her present day problems.

We don't really understand how Dempster got to this point in her life. But I guess we don't really need to know. The point for us, as well as Dempster, is the walk, the pilgrimage, the experience.

Temple 44 - Source: Simon le nippon
It was obviously a hard slog for Dempster - a real physical and mental challenge. Walking in the middle of the Japanese summer may not have been the wisest decision she ever made, but sometimes when you need to make a major change, you just need to get started, obstacles be damned!

Part of the tradition of the henro michi is gift-giving - offerings or settai. By giving drinks, food, shelter, lifts or clothes to the pilgrims, settai offerers are honouring the monk Kobo Daishi as well as those who walk in his footsteps. It can be seen as their way of participating in the pilgrimage themselves and acknowledging the importance of the pilgrimage in general.

For Dempster, the settai giving, and on her behalf, the accepting, played a significant role in her experience. The help was often timely and much needed. It took her quite a while to accept the generosity generously, but as with most things associated with the pilgrimage, there was a ritual to smooth the way.

It's possible to be a part of the 88 Temple pilgrimage in various ways. You can be a henro, pilgrim who walks the entire route with your backpack and sleeping gear on your back, sleeping wild or in the various small shelters along the way. Some people cycle the route, or drive themselves around or join in a bus group. Some henro's walk the distance but stay in B7B's or hotels. Some people do the walk in stages throughout a lifetime, while some have walked it hundreds of times already. A few do it in reverse.

Dempster went the whole hog, sleeping out or in tsuyado, the free shelters scattered along the route. It was considered unusual for a foreigner to do so, which made her an object of much fascination and discussion along the way. Obviously this was not the easy choice either. Wild animals, no toilets or showers and creepy crawlies in the middle of the night where just some of the hazards. Dempster was constantly facing her fears and challenging her self-doubts.

Photo by Wayne Emde.

Her pilgrimage was also a time of great beauty, kindness and exhilaration. She had some glorious days and profound moments. She met some inspiring fellow walkers and found joy in things large and small. She also had some really shitty days where everything seemed to work against her - the weather, her body, her mind. Dangerous urban sprawl sections of the walk, over exuberant temple tourists, curt temple workers and unknown noises in the night were all part of the bad days.

I would have loved seeing some photos of the various temples, but I guess carrying a camera is not part of the pilgrimage experience.

The cover doesn't really do justice to this story and I never found out why she was a 'neon' pilgrim. Perhaps I missed that bit? But I found the story inspiring and fascinating. If I ever get to one of those desperate crossroads in my life or find myself stuck in a huge rut that can only be got out of by doing something drastic, then this will be the pilgrimage for me. Although I will walk and sleep comfortable in a cosy, warm B&B every night thank you!

Neon Pilgrim was originally published in 2009. This updated edition includes an Afterword by Dempster where she briefly detailed how much her life changed after completing her pilgrimage. She still had some dark times, but
the henro michi is a gift I can return to anytime, something to remind me that within myself I have the spirit and strength to get through anything.

In anticipation of #AusReadingMonth #NonFicNov