Monday, 27 January 2020

The Tempest | William Shakespeare


I wanted to read The Tempest at some point for two reasons. 
  1. I would like to read Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed one day. But I have never seen any productions of The Tempest and don't really know the story very well.
  2. I have never read a play before that I had not already seen a theatre, movie or TV production of (I don't count seeing Return to the Forbidden Planet in 1991 at the Cambridge theatre, London, as I remember absolutely nothing about it!)

So I added it to my Classics Club List #2 and it came up during the last CC Spin.
I was curious to know how easy it would be to read an unknown play.
It was not.

Easy, that is.

I struggled to gather any information about the characters. I couldn't pick up any inflections, tone or tempo from the bare words on the page. I didn't know if the various speeches were meant to funny, sad or ironic. There were simply not enough clues for me to work it out on my own.

In the end I let the words just wash over me. I gave up trying to remember who was speaking to whom, except for Prospero, Miranda and Ariel.

Early on I picked up on the hag-seed reference to Caliban though,

Save for the son that she did litter here,
A feckled whelp hag-born.


and realised this must be the point of entry for Atwood's version of the story. But again, who was Caliban? I couldn't work it out from the text in from of me. 
Was he a hero or anti-hero, a bad guy or just misunderstood? Was he an 'other', a victim or villain, foolish, naive or tragic? 
Does he represent the natural world as being uncivilised? Or does he show up the civilised world as being cruel and domineering? Is he inhuman or beast, untamed or rebel, monster or noble savage? 


Perhaps, though, it is this very doubt and openness to interpretation that makes Shakepeare's plays so great. Caliban can be any or all or none of these things, depending on the reader, the director, the times or the lens.

This island's mine, by Sycorax my mother, 
Which thou takest from me. 
When thou camest first, 
Thou strokedst me and madest much of me, wouldst give me 
Water with berries in't, and teach me how 
To name the bigger light, and how the less, 
That burn by day and night: and then I loved thee 
And show'd thee all the qualities o' the isle, 
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile:Cursed be I that did so! 
All the charms Of Sycorax, toads, beetles, bats, light on you! 
For I am all the subjects that you have, 
Which first was mine own king: and here you sty me 
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me 
The rest o' the island.

The only thing I really gleaned about Caliban is that his mother was called Sycorax and she was banished to the island pregnant and unmarried. I'm not sure who the father was, but Caliban is certainly the quintessential bastard son. He was living on the island alone, when Prospero and Miranda arrived. They took him in, cared for him, used his knowledge of the island, then took offence when he wanted to make babies with Miranda ['Thou didst prevent me. I had peopled else this isle with Calibans.'] It would be very easy to view this play through a post-colonialism lens.

There is much speculation about the name Caliban. The predominate one being that it is an anagram of canibal (Spanish spelling) with more than a passing nod to Montaigne's essay Of Cannibal.

One of Caliban's most famous speeches (below) was the inspiration behind Caliban's Dream as performed by Sir Kenneth Branagh at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics.

Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not. 
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments 
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices 
That, if I then had waked after long sleep, 
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming, 
The clouds methought would open, and show riches 
Ready to drop upon me, that when I awaked, 
I cried to dream again!

Literary references also abound, with the most well-known one coming from Oscar Wilde, 'The nineteenth century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. The nineteenth century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.'

The Tempest was first performed at Court in 1611 and was probably the last play written by Shakespeare.

My version of the play was an EMCP access edition PDF.

I'm not sure I will ever read an unknown play again. I'm obviously one of those people who needs to see a play to make sense of it. There is an art to reading a play that I do not have the skill to unpack.
The only real satisfaction I got from this one (besides spotting the famous quotes and making the Caliban/Hag-Seed connection) was the post-reading research.

Our revels now are ended. These our actors, 
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and 
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision, 
The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself, 
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Moby-Dick Chapters 71 - 80


It's time to climb aboard the SS Pequod once again to catch up on my Moby-Dick (mis)adventures. Despite a week of watery mishaps and visitors on the bridge, I've managed to stay abreast of my 4-5 chapters each week, however the blogging schedule is woefully aground.

Time to grasp the tiller firmly and head out into deep waters to see (sea) what we can see (sea). No more nautical puns I promise.

Chapter 71: The Pequod Meets the Jeroboam ● Her Story

  • I learnt something new in this chapter - every ship has it's own private signal by which other vessels can recognise it. I wonder if the Pequod's was a white whale?
  • Another prophet in the guise of (Archangel) Gabriel.
    • 'originally nurtured among the crazy society of Neskyeuna Shakers' (refers to the original Shaker community in north Albany who became known by the Native American name for the area. They believed in the second coming of Christ. They practised celibacy, communal living, confession of sin, egalitarianism, pacifism and charismatic worship (which is how they got their name apparently - Shaking Quakers!). New recruits were found by conversion and adoption of orphans. They were a Utopian gospel and preachers within their community could be of any gender, class or educational background.)
    • Another example of Melville fascination/suspicion/obsession with evangelical, prophetic religious sects (his strict Calvinistic childhood really messed with his head!)
    • And yet more discussions around fate and destiny, with Moby Dick as 'the Shaker God incarnated'.
    • 'Gabriel, ascending to the main-royal mast-head, was tossing one arm in frantic gestures, and hurling forth prophecies of speedy doom to the sacrilegious assailants of his divinity.'
    • His prophecy came to pass, with Macey's death by Moby Dick' tail, yet of these 'fatal accidents in the Sperm-Whale Fishery, this kind is perhaps almost as frequent as any.'
    • Is it prophetic or just the most likely thing to have happened in the circumstances?
    • 'his credulous disciples believed that he had specifically fore-announced it, instead of only making a general prophecy, which any one might have done, and so have chanced to hit one of many marks in the wide margin allowed.'
    • Ahab's letter from Macey's wife "Nay, keep it thyself," cried Gabriel to Ahab; "thou art soon going that way."
    • Prophecy or the most likely outcome of this chase?

Chapter 72: The Monkey-Rope
  • More lines and ropes and the things that bind us together, for good and bad.
  • And more information about 'cutting-in' a whale (see chapter 67).
    • The harpooner (in this case, Queequeg) is 'half on the whale and half in the water, as the vast mass revolves like a tread-mill beneath him.'
    • To keep him from drowning, he is tied, by a monkey-rope that 'was fast at both ends; fast to Queequeg's broad canvas belt, and fast to my narrow leather one. So that for better or worse, we two, for the time, were wedded.'
  • Stubb sends Aunt Charity's gift of 'ginger-gub' to the bottom of the sea.

Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk over Him
  • An unusual event - the Pequod is commissioned to catch Sperm whales not Right whales.
    • the crew considered the Right whale 'inferior creatures'.
    • they had passed others schools of Right whales 'without lowering a boat.'
    • 'yet now that a Sperm Whale had been brought alongside and beheaded, to the surprise of all, the announcement was made that a Right Whale should be captured.'
  • What follows is a fairly graphic depiction of whale hunting - not for the faint-hearted.
  • An old sailing lore? - Flask informs Stubb -
    • 'that the ship which but once has a Sperm Whale's head hoisted on her starboard side, and at the same time a Right Whale's on the larboard; did you never hear, Stubb, that that ship can never afterwards capsize?'
    • But it turns out he only overhead Fedallah saying so and 'he seems to know all about ships' charms.'
  • Fedallah - 'the devil in disguise.'
    • 'the old man is hard bent after that White Whale, and the devil there is trying to come round him, and get him to swap away his silver watch, or his soul, or something of that sort, and then he'll surrender Moby Dick.'
  • The philosopher analogy - Locke on one side (the tabula rasa/blank slate idea) and Kant on the other (the world cannot by understood until we understand the limits of man's understanding!)
  • Mule analogy - the lowest of the low - beast of burden used by others - a symbol of victimisation?
  • Fedallah appears to have no shadow 'Ahab chanced so to stand, that the Parsee occupied his shadow; while, if the Parees's shadow was there at all it seemed only to blend with, and lengthen Ahab's'. 
  • The crew speculate about witchcraft.

Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale's Head - Contrasted View
  • A curious chapter all about the head of the whale.
  • Ishmael has a LOT to say about it's eyes and ears, jaws and teeth, in particular.

Chapter 75: The Right Whale's Head - Contrasted View
  • The Right whale gets an up close and personal, in particular, the spout-holes, his sulky, pouty lower lip, the hogs' bristles in his mouth, and his tongue.
  • Melville/Ishmael saves the best idea to the very last though as he compares these two whale heads with ancient philosophy.
    • The Right Whale as Stoic - earthly suffering is the reality to be submitted to with patience 'does not this whole head seem to speak of an enormous practical resolution in facing death?'
    • The Sperm Whale as Spinoza/Plato - 'I think his broad brow to be full of a prairie-like placidity, born of a speculative indifference as to death.' (Spinoza practised tolerance and benevolence. He viewed God and Nature as the same thing.)

Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram
  • A whole chapter devoted to showing us how it is possible for a whale to use it's head as a battering ram. Various sites suggest that this is something we should remember for later on down the track.
    The head this envelope, though not so thick, is of a boneless toughness, inestimable by any man who has not handled it. The severest pointed harpoon, the sharpest lance darted by the strongest human arm, impotently rebounds from it. It is as though the forehead of the Sperm Whale were paved with horses' hoofs. I do not think that any sensation lurks in it.
  • The chapter finishes with a warning tale about a 'weakling youth' who travels to Sais in Egypt in search of the Truth. Based on a poem called The Veiled Statue at Sais by Friedrich Schiller, the youth in question is utterly stricken by what he learns and never reveals it to anyone.
    • The lesson learnt is not to seek out the Godhead's truth; you have to wait for it to be revealed 'Let none/ Venture to raise the veil till raised by me.'
    • Another reference to Ahab's obsession with Moby Dick as a search for God/Truth.
What had been seen and heard by him when there
He never would disclose, but from that hourHis happiness in life had fled forever,And his deep sorrow soon conducted himTo an untimely grave....
'Woe to that man who wins the truth by guilt.'

Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun

  • A chapter about whale oil.
  • A Heidelburgh tun refers to the vats in which wine is stored in Heidelburgh Castle.

Chapter 78: Cistern and Buckets
  • On the surface this is a chapter about how to extract oil from a sperm whale's head.
  • It's a dangerous business and Ishmael describes in detail 'a queer accident' that happened to Tashtego who had the misfortune to fall into the oil vat within the whale head - 'heedless and reckless' OR 'whether the place he stood was so treacherous and oozy' OR 'the Evil One himself' - fate, destiny or chance?
  • To make matters worse, the suspended whale head then tore free of it's hooks and fell into the sea with Daggoo 'clinging to the pendulous tackles, while poor, buried-alive Tashtego was sinking utterly down to the bottom of the sea!'
  • Thankfully Queequeg is around to save the day.
  • As the head slowly sinks, Queequeg cuts a hole in the side of the head, reaches in a pulls Tashtego out.
  • Melville gives us lots of death and rebirth images to unpack here. 
  • It's telling that this story of rescue and rebirth is given into the hand of the Pagan or non-Christian members of the ship. 
    • Did the Christians fall short here or are we meant to see that courage, renewal, rebirth and fellowship are not concepts unique to Christians, but universal acts that then have religious significance attached to them by the various religions?

Chapter 79: The Prairie
  • A lesson on phrenology as Ishmael tries to get inside the head of a whale.
  • He realises that this is an impossible undertaking - we can decipher hieroglyphs but not 'the simplest peasant's face in its profounder and more subtle meanings.'
  • Human and animal consciousness is a mystery.

Chapter 80: The Nut
  • More whale anatomy with a discussion on the brain and spine.
    • For I believe that much of man's character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are.
  • The sperm whale may have a small brain but it is 'compensated by the wonderful comparative magnitude of his spinal cord.'
    • Brawn over brain; might over mind.
  • Foreshadowing - 'And that the great monster is indomitable, you will yet have reason to know.'


Phew! I hope that means we're done with the anatomy of the whale.
What I enjoy is how Melville is obviously preparing us thoroughly and intimately with the capacity and capabilities of a whale, so that whatever happens, we the reader, have realistic and plausible expectations and are fully prepared.

A surface reading about whale anatomy could be quite tedious, but my slow read is allowing me to see all the philosophy that Melville has packed into each chapter. It's not just an adventure story, but one that allows Melville to unpack his thinking about Christianity, politics and that state of the world.

Melville is a big picture guy who often gets bogged down by the details. He can also get sucked into the wormhole of his own thinking. His desire to know everything it's possible to know about his topic - his research, the spent uncovering all the information and facts to hand, reveal a man desperate to find the Truth. A truth that would not only give his life meaning and purpose, but a truth that could allow all of us around the world to live more peacefully and kindly and thoughtfully. Religion, as he knew it, was unable to provide that solace. Science and story telling became his way. He couldn't buy into the magic and miracles, but he was in search of a personal spirituality.

A complicated, complex man indeed.

I'd love to hear from you and please remember to add any new posts about the book or Melville to the linky in the original post.

Extracts - Chapter 7
Chapters 12 - 16
Chapters 17 - 20
Chapters 21 - 25
Chapters 26 - 30
Chapters 31 - 34
Chapters 35 - 40
Chapters 41 - 44
Chapters 45 - 49
Chapters 50 - 60
Chapters 61 - 70
Chapters 71 - 80

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Shelf Life #1

Photo by LAUREN GRAY on Unsplash

Shelf Life is a new personal meme to help me in my ongoing attempt to declutter my bookshelves.
It's more than a Marie Condo of my books though.
It's aim is to reflect, honour and let go as many books as possible.

Most likely, in the next 12 months or so, Mr Books and I will be on the move. The thought of packing up everything we own again, gives me the horrors.

Therefore as time permits, I will reassess the many, many READ books stacked on my bookshelves. (The unread TBR pile is another story all together!)

The aim of Shelf Life is to let go those books that I know I will never read again and to give them a proper send off.

My assessment criteria includes:
  • Does this book spark joy?
  • Honestly, will I ever reread this book?
  • How and why did this book come to be on my bookshelf anyway?
  • When and where did I read this book?
  • What are my memories of this book?
  • Is this book part of a series, a signed copy or a special edition?
  • Do I want to pack and unpack this book one more time? Or several more times, during what's left of my lifetime?
  • If I were to let this book go, would I feel regret, remorse or relief?

Let Shelf Life begin...

The top shelf on my main bookshelf is devoted to Australian authors and my first book may actually challenge the whole rationale behind doing this.

You may also be shocked to discover that I no longer stack my shelves in alphabetical order! A number of years ago, to make everything fit, I had to resort to stacking by shape and size of book. To help me find books though, I classified shelves by continent or region.

  • The Great World by David Malouf was a reread five years ago for a Classics Club Spin. Rereading my response to it only highlights why rereading at different ages and stages is such a wonderful, worthwhile thing to do. It's why I've held onto so many books for so long. It also reminds me of all the small, but personally significant feelings and details that are attached to every single book on my shelf. I can still picture myself reading this book, seated in my large blue wingback armchair, by the window of my second home in Mudgee. I remember the ahhh moments I enjoyed as I savoured Malouf's use of language. I don't remember where I sat to read it the second time though. And curiously, I recall very little about the actual story. After two read-throughs, I still can't tell you what the story is about in any detail, except for the lingering after effects of war. I will not go there for a third time.

  • When I find a new-to-me author I tend to get excited and seek out more books by them. During the same summer holiday in December 1997 that I discovered The Great World, I also picked up a copy of Remembering Babylon by Malouf at Gleebooks. I now know that it won the inaugural International Dublin Literary Award and was shortlisted for the 1993 Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award. However, I cared little for those things back then. I read for pure pleasure not prizes. I still read for pleasure (the majority of the time) but now use the many literary prizes from around the world to help me find new authors. The internet has made it much easier to keep track of such things. In 1997, the main way I found new authors was to browse, for lengthy periods of time, in bookshops and libraries. Remembering Babylon marks the beginning of my active interest in Australian literature, especially the colonial versus Indigenous perspectives.

  • Ten months later, I was back in Sydney, browsing through the fiction section of Dymock's, when I obviously decided it was time for another Malouf. How do I know this? Because back then, I used to write my name, the date (I purchased the book) and where, onto every title page of every book. Antipodes came into my life on the 6th October 1998. At this point in time, I wasn't a big fan of the short story, so it's interesting to note that Malouf not only started me down a more literary reading path, but also the short story path that I now enjoy so much. Flicking through the pages revealed another unexpected gem - an old travel ten Sydney bus pass that I had been using as a bookmark.

  • One person can have an extraordinary impact on one's reading journey. It wasn't until I read the dedication in the next book, that I realised why my reading tastes started to change from 1995 onwards. Around that time, a new English teacher arrived at the local high school. She ended up renting an apartment across from me. We became friends. She had very strong opinions about Literature with a capital L. In fact, it is thanks to her that I first read Middlemarch in 1995, one of her all-time favourite books. For my birthday in 1998, she gave me a copy of Robert Dessaix's Night Letters. It was one of the first LGBTQIA books I can remember reading. It was a time before the acronym and it seemed a pretty daring thing to do. I was never quite sure if I was reading fiction or memoir and I loved every word. I also came away with a long list of authors and books I wanted to read, including Midnight's Children by Rushdie and Bruce Chatwin's Songlines.

  • In 1999 I picked up a lovely hardback edition of Dessaix's (and so forth). It was the summer holidays and I was visiting family in Bathurst. I dived into this collection of essays and journalism, barely coming up for breath. He touched on so many things that obsessed interested me too - Russia, art, literature, Indigenous culture, travel, China and words, glorious words. I was hooked.

  • However, I waited until 2003 for my next Dessaix fix. It was midwinter in Mudgee and to cure my June blues, I was tempted by the gorgeous sunny cover of Corfu: A Novel. It was part fiction, part biofiction with oodles of travelogue, set on the magic little island of Corfu. An island that I had visited, oh so briefly, back in 1991. They only way to return was via Dessaix's story. Like (and so forth), Corfu is a lovely small sized hardback that fits nicely into one's hands as you read.

As I've been writing this post, my ideas about the purpose of Shelf Life have evolved. I started this
thinking I would be passing on all six of these books to new readers. But I now realise that I'm not ready to let them all go just yet.

Two of these books are still sparking joy. 

The act of handling them and flicking through their pages has created an urge to reread them. They still feel like they are a part of my journey or my story somehow.

Can you guess which two are staying?

Monday, 20 January 2020

In Love With George Eliot | Kathy O'Shaughnessy


Kathy O'Shaughnessy has written an utterly delightful and immersive story about the extraordinary Marian Lewes, otherwise known as George Eliot. The book follows Marian from the early days of her unconventional 'marriage' to George Lewes through to her writing days, fame, second marriage and eventual death.

In Love With George Eliot not only refers to the people that surrounded and feted Marian throughout her lifetime but also three modern characters who love her work and are fascinated by her story. O'Shaughnessy herself, as well as her modern-day inventions, Kate, Ann and Han are just as immersed in Eliot's life story as we are. In a few brief chapters, inserted amongst the main story about Eliot, these three organise an Eliot conference in contemporary London and Venice, as they explore their own ethical quandaries. I wasn't completely sure that we need these chapters, but they irked me less as we went along.

As a fiction writer, O'Shaughnessy is able to enter areas considered no-go to a regular biographer. She is able to get inside Marian's head to speculate and wonder. She can imagine conversations and occasionally put people in the room who weren't really there. But it's not all supposition and imagination, the story is littered with direct quotes from Marian's letters and diaries as well as those from others. The research is there, as is the reverence and the curiosity.

I read Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss a lifetime ago. I've always wanted to read more and I hope to one day revisit Middlemarch in particular. My sense is that O'Shaughnessy, not only loves Eliot, but has written a homage to her. In Love With George Eliot feels like reading an Eliot novel. There is perceptive insight, a careful pacing and elegant set pieces with the characters moving and talking amongst each other, sometimes with great insight and sometimes at a complete loss to explain themselves.

Dear Sara,
There is always an after-sadness belonging to a brief and interrupted intercourse between friends - the sadness of feeling that the blundering efforts we have made towards mutual understanding have only made a new veil between us.... We are quite unable to represent ourselves truly - why should we complain that our friends see a false image?
...I have blundered, as most of us do, from too much egoism and too little sympathy. If I am too imperfect to do and feel the right thing at the right moment, I am not without the slower sympathy that becomes all the stronger from a sense of previous mistake.

In Love With George Eliot is a rich, immersive read, best enjoyed slowly and thoughtfully. It's not a story to rush, but to savour.

Now I just have to work out how I'm going to read more Eliot sooner rather than later!

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Stories & Shout Outs


My Week: didn't really go to plan.
  • The dishwasher died last Friday. 
  • Not a huge drama in the scheme of things, except we had visitors for the weekend, then midweek visitors as well. Everyone concerned revisited the lost art of washing up by hand with good grace, and Mr Books and myself even rediscovered how nice it can be to wash and wipe up side by side, chatting as we go.
  • On Monday B19 left for Canberra to return to his part-time job, and in a few more weeks, the start of his new university year. The usual bittersweet emotions accompanied me with this departure.
  • An hour before our midweek visitors arrived, I unexpectedly felt a drop of water on my head as I was sitting at the dining room table. I raced up the stairs, squelched through our sodden bedroom carpet to discover the hot water pipe under our ensuite vanity basin had burst. Hot water was gushing everywhere.
  • Amazingly a plumber turned up within the hour, my work place let me borrow their wet/dry vac and we introduced my young niece and nephew to the joys of a sushi train.
  • A professional carper cleaner/dryer turned up the following day with dehumidifiers and blowers. Mr Books & I have been camping out in B19's bedroom ever since.
  • Rain returned to Sydney on Thursday, along with thunder and lightning and a power surge that took out the air conditioner unit.
  • The rule of three says we should now be done!
  • Needless to say, all my chapter-a-day reads fell by the wayside this week. 
  • The good news is that thanks to the rain of the past two days, most of the bushfires are now out or completely under the control of the RFS, CFS and other agencies. The mop up begins. As does the political blame-game and buck-passing.
The end of Hat Hill Rd, Blackheath, NSW Dec 2019

What I'm Reading Right Now?
  • Moby-Dick | Herman Melville | #slowread
  • War and Peace | Leo Tolstoy | chapter-a-day
  • Bridge of Clay | Marcus Zusak | book group
  • In Love With George Eliot |  Kathy O'Shaughnessy | pure pleasure
  • Such a Fun Age | Kiley Reid | pleasure
  • Yellow Notebook: Diaries Vol 1 | Helen Garner | a dubious pleasure
  • The Cloud Spotters Guide | Gavin Pretor-Pinney | non-fiction comfort read after all the bush fires 
  • The Tempest | William Shakespeare | CC Spin

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
  • So, I'm reading The Bridge of Clay for my February book group meeting. 
    • I'm loving the language. On almost every page, there's a gorgeous turn of phrase, or a line that makes me stop and smile for the pure pleasure of it. At every turn, you can sense how important this book was to Zusak. 
    • Yet I'm struggling to feel invested in the story or the characters. The back story of the parents has been interesting, but I have to regularly remind myself to give BoC some of my spare reading time (and not just pick up one of the other books that I REALLY want to read).
    • I've made it to the 30% mark.
    • Sound I stay or should I go?
  • Yellow Notebook. Hmmmm. 
    • Like Garner, I wrote a journal for most of my twenties and thirties. It was a pretty angst filled journey as I worked out how to become an adult and live in the adult world. In amongst the emotional dross, were some interesting (most likely only to me) observations, commentary and personal milestones. 
    • During a major upheaval in my life in my late thirties, I decided it was time to jettison the numerous journals clogging up my life office. They were not only clogging up my physical space, but they also felt like an emotional burden I didn't want to have with me any longer. But before I tossed them, I decided to read them one last time, looking out for any interesting, important, significant sections. I then typed these snippets up over a period of about a year. I'm in no way suggesting that I am a writer of Garner's calibre or experience, but my snippets look and sound just like hers in the Yellow Notebook.
    • I completely understand how it's an interesting exercise for the individual to go through this process, but I'm not so convinced that it's such an interesting exercise for the reader.
    • I've ho-hummed my way to the 10% mark.
    • Should I stay or should I go?

New to the Pile:
  • The Year Without Summer | Guinevere Glasfurd
  • Coventry | Rachel Cusk
  • Murder in Midsummer | selected by Cecily Gayford
  • Nothing to See Here | Kevin Wilson
  • Hamnet | Maggie O'Farrell
  • Middle England | Jonathan Coe
  • The Water Dancer | Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Shadow King | Maaa Mengiste
  • Cherry Beach | Laura McPhee-Browne
  • The Night Watchman | Louise Erdrich
  • The Girl With the Louding Voice | Abi Dare
Yes, I know I have a problem!
I want to read ALL of the books right now.

On My Radar:
  • A Margaret Atwood Live event is happening in Sydney in February. Mr Books & I have booked our tickets. I can't wait.
  • The Little Women movie - Sunday - fingers crossed.

Shout Outs:
  • A timely reminder/discussion by Laurie @Relevant Obscurity of the pleasures of reading for pleasure, slow, thoughtful reading  and ditching reading goals.
  • Check out Bill @The Australian Legend's Gen 3 reading week to learn all you ever wanted to know about Australian Women Writers from 1919-1960.
  • January is the month when all the editors @Australian Women Writer's challenge offer up their year in review stats and thoughts, including yours truly for the non-fiction/poetry page.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

The Dyehouse | Mena Calthorpe

Written with unerring skill and insight, The Dyehouse is a masterly portrait of postwar Australia, when industrial work was radically transformed by new technologies and society changed with it. Mena Calthorpe—who herself worked in a textile factory—takes us inside this world, vividly bringing to life the people of an inner-Sydney company in the mid-1950s: the bosses, middlemen and underlings; their dramatic struggles and their loves.

The inner-city Sydney suburb of Macdonaldtown is the setting for Calthorpe's story about workers in a fictitious textile dyeing factory in 1956. And as Fiona McFarlane reminds us early on in her Introduction: The Art of Work, 'Calthorpe was a socialist, and it's impossible to read The Dyehouse without noticing its political commitment.' This might make for a dry, earnest sort of story in some hands, but Calthorpe is also a humanist. Her characters come alive in a convincing, sympathetic manner. Therefore, this becomes a story about everyday people and how they approach a working life. What it means to them, how it affects them, financially, physically and emotionally and the conditions and expectations that are placed on them by society, religion, family and friends.

Image Source
Every strata of the factory is covered. We meet the bosses, the managers, the office staff, the workers and the cleaners. We see them at work and at home. Calthorpe gives us insights into their thoughts and emotional states. We see their poverty, their dreams and hopes, their despair, fear and pride.

Reading this with a modern sensibility, it comes as a shock to be reminded of times gone by when one's working life was so inflexible and all-encompassing. The days were long, the work was hard, often physically demanding, and the weeks were even longer. It was a time when the worker had almost no rights and no recourse for compensation, compassion or simple leave. A time where all the power was on the side of the bosses, who were more concerned about the bottom line, than the daily lives or well-being of their workers.

This example of the 1950's class and gender divide also reminds us that times may change, but
human nature doesn't. The double standards that applied back then are different now, less obvious perhaps, but they still exist for those who want to see them.

The idea that all progress is good and that growth is inevitable still dictates the way we approach work and our economy. Technology, change, economic rationalisation and personal advancement at the expense of others still divides the bosses from the workers; the haves from the have-nots. Modern worker's may have more rights and avenues for compensation, but loss of work is still the financial and psychological devastation today as it was for Hughie.

I'm extremely grateful that Text Classics rediscovered this lost story about a time and place in Sydney that is now also lost. The old slum terraces may still exist, but they are slums no longer. The occasional smoke stack may still grace the horizon of many an inner-city skyline, but they are now ensconced in modern refurbished, re-purposed renovations. An aesthetic reminder of our industrial past surrounded by coffee shops, restaurants and modern art.

The Dyehouse was a perfect example for Bill @The Australian Legend - Gen III - 1919-1960 - reading week. This era of Australian literature is defined by social realism and modernism. Social Realism 'depicts the harshness of working life in order to critique the forces giving rise to it....By contrast Socialist Realism, which was the mandated style for Communists around the same time, idealises the (post-Revolution) Worker' (wikipedia). Modernism focuses on the decay and alienation of the individual, in direct opposition to the earlier Romanticism that embraced an idealised version of progress and growth, love of Nature, beauty and imagination.

Oliver, the new vat worker, sums up this disconnect between worker and boss, reality versus idealisation, when he says,
'We ain't got much. But some of these bastards want to strip us down. Maybe after a while they get to feeling that we aren't built like them either. Where they've got lungs and heart and guts, and blood in their veins, maybe we've got wheels and gears and cogs. Maybe they don't mean to be bad. We're just not human. Not in the way they are. They'd strip us down, all right. And mainly we let them.
King St, Newtown 1950's - note the chimney stacks at the end of the street.

Philomena (Mena) Ivy Bright Calthorpe was born in 1905 in Goulburn, NSW. Her father was a droving contractor and Catholic. Her mother was a Protestant. It's hard to imagine now, how disturbing and unusual that was considered at the time.

After school, Mena taught in small country schools for a decade before marrying Bill Calthorpe, a sheep farmer from Yass. His family were forced to sell the farm in 1933, so Mena and Bill moved to Paddington to start up a shop. It was unsuccessful. Mena joined the Communist Party in 1933 while Bill became involved in the trade union movement. Mena worked in various office jobs, including in a textile factory, and wrote in her spare time.

She left the Communist party a few years later because she couldn't afford the cost of being an organiser and joined her local Caringbah branch of the Labor Party instead. Another factor for joining the Caringbar branch was B. A. Santamaria's Catholic faction, the Groupers. They were also based in Caringbar. They actively opposed Communist involvement in the trade union movement and Mena actively opposed them! (I would be keen to read her second book, The Defectors (1969) that goes into branch and trade union politics.)

She joined a writers group which included Katharine Susannah Prichard, Sally Bannister and Dorothy Corke. Mena also attended meetings of the Fellowship of Australian Writers with Dymphna & Mary Cusack and Florence James.

The Dyehouse was the first of three novels. Mena died in Sutherland, Sydney in 1996.


It might be easier for the boy,” Barney thought. “Sixteen or seventeen years is a long time. And the future could be different. Yes, a man could bank on that. The future would not be the same.”

“I’d like to have a lot to give you, Patty. A new house in one of the outer suburbs. Lovely clothes. We haven’t got much. All our lives we’ll be working and just trying to hang on to what we have. Blokes with money will make more and more. People like us will make it for them. And all the time we’ll be lucky if we can just hang on.”


Time has been kinder to The Dyehouse, than some of the reviewers of the time. R.R. from the Canberra Times | Formula Story set in Factory Scene | 16 Sept 1961 | said,
Yet the book is badly overwritten and pretentious. It needs ruthless pruning of its "literary" passages. Even moderate editing out of such schoolgirl words as "clatter," "click clack," and "tic tac," which jangle irritatingly through it, would improve it immensely.

The numerous vulgarities are forced and unnatural.
She has considerable skill as a writer, her great strength appears to be story construction. When she stops fascinating herself with her own clever prose, throws away her thesaurus, and gets down to telling a story simply, economically, and honestly she may well be a force to be reckoned with on the Australian literary scene.

Thankfully, Fiona MacFarlane is able to see the value of Calthorpe's 'restrained lyricism' and the 'playful attention to sound' when referring to these same aspects of the writing. As for the vulgarities, I have to assume that they referred to all the 'old bastards' and 'poor bastards' littered throughout the worker's dialogue. Unnatural perhaps, insofar as these curses have been watered down by Mena so as not to really offend the reading public!

It's hard to believe that this Miles Franklin Award shortlisted book and author could have been forgotten or overlooked for so long.

Sali Herman (1898 - 1993)
The Women Of Paddington, 1950
Favourite Quote:
Past Redfern, where they changed, the cottages with their little squares of gardens flashed past. The backs of the houses faced the railway lines. The sun beat on the sloping roofs of rust-marked corrugated iron, slates or grimy tile. Between the paling fences rose a medley of of clotheslines. Choko vines screened verandahs and outhouses with their cool green. Pumpkins were ripening on the tops of skillion roofs, their green skins flecked with yellow and orange.

Facts:
  • Shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award 1961
  • 100th book in the Text Classics series

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Life According to Literature Tag


I first saw this little meme back in 2015. 
Given my ongoing blogging malaise, I thought I'd revisit it to see what my 2019 reads might reveal.

THE RULES: Using only books you have read during the year (2019), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title. Let me know below, if you've joined in too.
  • Describe yourself: There Was Still Love | Favel Parrett
  • How do you feel: Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope | Mark Manson
  • Describe where you currently live: How Green Was My Valley | Richard Llewellyn
  • If you could go anywhere, where would you go: City of Trees | Sophie Cunningham
  • Your favourite form of transportation: The Painted Ponies | Alison Lester
  • Your best friend is: Family | Hetty McKinnon
  • You and your friends are: Ordinary People | Diana Evans
  • What's the weather like: Strong in the Rain | Lucy Birmingham & David McNeill
  • You fear: Flames | Robbie Arnott
  • What is the best advice you have to give: Create Calm | Kate James
  • Thought for the day: To Die But Once | Jacqueline Winspear
  • How would I like to die: My Sister, the Serial Killer | Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • My soul's present condition: Girl, Woman, Other | Bernadine Evaristo

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Girl, Woman, Other | Bernardine Evaristo


I'm still trying to catch up on posts leftover from my magnificent Christmas reading binge.

Girl, Woman, Other: A Novel by Bernardine Evaristo is the final one. It is certainly not the least though. In fact, it very nearly overtook The Yield as my favourite book for 2019.

What stopped it from doing so?

Mostly time.

I have lived with and loved The Yield for many months now. It's wonderfulness has been a part of me for a much longer period of time than Girl, Woman, Other. It also has the advantage of being home grown. Poppy's very special Indigenous language dictionary is another stand out feature that I think about often.

But this is about Girl, Woman, Other and it definitely deserves it's own time in the sun to shine.

The twelve interconnected stories about growing up, living, working and loving in London by mostly black British women of various ages, had me hooked from the very first voice, Amma. Via these women, Evaristo talks about feminism, double standards, gender, racism, sexism and ageism.

The twelve chapters read like twelve separate portraits, with Evaristo revelling in the characterisations of each and every one. Her loose-flowing poetic prose was full of vitality and complexities. I was engrossed by each and every story, not wanting them to end, but then getting caught up in the next biography and wondering how they might interconnect.

The diversity and otherness suggested by the title, was explored on many levels. Part of my enjoyment came from reading such a fresh perspective and experiencing a reality different to my own. Note to self, read more diversely in 2020 (most of my 2019 reading was Australian and Indigenous).


Evaristo, herself, said:
I wanted to put presence into absence. I was very frustrated that black British women weren’t visible in literature. I whittled it down to 12 characters – I wanted them to span from a teenager to someone in their 90s, and see their trajectory from birth, though not linear. There are many ways in which otherness can be interpreted in the novel – the women are othered in so many ways and sometimes by each other. I wanted it to be identified as a novel about women as well.

Finally, I will tackle the co-winning of the Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood's The Testaments. I have read both and enjoyed both, but Girl, Woman, Other is by far the richer, more interesting and certainly the more original of the two. Labelling a book 'the best novel of the year', obviously leaves things very open to individual interpretation, but to my mind, Girl, Woman, Other stands head and shoulders above any of the others shortlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize and deserved to win in it's own right.

Facts:
  • Joint Winner of the Booker Prize 2019
  • Shortlisted for the Gordon Burn Prize 2019
  • Named one of Barack Obama’s Favourite Books of 2019

Thursday, 9 January 2020

In Midland Where the Trains Go By | Dorothy Hewett



In Midland still the trains go by.
The black smoke thunders on the sky.
Still in the grass the lovers lie.
And cheek on cheek and sigh on sigh
They dream and weep as you and I, 
In Midland where the trains go by. 

Across the bridge, across the town. 
The workers hurry up and down. 
The pub still stands, the publican 
Is still a gross, corrupted man. 
And bottles clinking in the park 
Make symphonies of summer dark. 

Across the bridge the stars go down, 
Our two ghosts meet across the town. 
Who dared so much must surely creep 
Between young lovers lips, asleep. 
Who dared so much much surely live 
In train-smoke off the Midland bridge. 

In Midland, in the railway yards, 
They shuffle time like packs of cards 
And kings and queens and jacks go down. 
But we come up in Midland town. 
O factory girls in cotton slips 
And men with grease across your lips. 
Let kings and queens and jacks go down 
But we'll still kiss in Midland town. 

An oath, a whisper and a laugh. 
Will make our better epitaph. 
We'll share a noggin in the park 
And whistle songs against the dark. 
There is no death that we can die 
In Midland, where the trains go by.


In Midland Where the Trains Go By | 1959 | Dorothy Hewett


Dorothy Hewett was born in Perth, in 1923 and grew up on a farm in the wheatbelt area until being sent to Perth to finish her schooling. She joined the Communist Party in 1946 and was active in their volunteering work. She moved to Sydney, with her second husband and young family, where she worked in a spinning mill and wrote under a pseudonym for the Communist Party paper.

When this marriage also ended she moved back to Perth in 1958 to take up a teaching post at the University of Western Australia.

In 1960, she married Merv Lilley and two daughters, Kate and Rose.

Hewett left the Communist Party after the 1968 uprising in Prague. She was an atheist all her life. She often challenged the social, sexual, religious and political norms of her time.

She died in 2002 in the Blue Mountains of NSW.

John Kinsella said in her obituary in the SMH, 26 August 2002;
Hewett's writing is about freedom and equality, linked with a deep respect for the vagaries of the individual.

I chose this Poem For a Thursday in preparation for Bill's Gen III Australian Women Writer's week from the 12th - 18th January.

Monday, 6 January 2020

The German House | Annette Hess


The German House by Annette Hess was a fascinating read.

Translated into English by Elisabeth Lauffer, it's essentially a coming-of-age story about a young woman who works as a translator during the Frankfurt Trials of 1963-65. Her story is complicated by childhood memories that her parents gloss over, a controlling fiance, a co-worker with demons from his past and a sister who is completely disturbed and dangerous, yet works in the maternity ward at the nearby hospital. So many secrets, psychological problems and unresolved issues. All these individual and personal stories of guilt, culpability and responsibility echo the larger drama being played in the court room and across the country.

Hess covers this murky period of time, post-war, where the German people tried to forget the war, with a great deal of perception and sensitivity. The older generation's collective amnesia and motto of 'let the past lie' haunted the next generation as they grew up during a time of peace and well-being, completely unlike that of their parents. What their parents did during the war and how much did they know tainted and divided families with guilt, distrust and shame.

In the 1960's, Germany was enjoying a post-war boom and didn't want to be reminded of its past. The Nuremberg Trials, immediately after the war, had dealt with some of the big names of the Reich leadership, and for most Germans this was enough. The defendants were tried under the international crimes against humanity law. Everyone else was considered to have been just following orders, without really knowing or understanding what was happening in the camps.

In 1963, KGB assassin Bohdan Stashynsky was found not guilty of murder by a German court. Instead he was found to only be an 'accomplice to murder' as the ultimate responsibility lay with his superiors in the KGB.

According to Wikipedia, the implications for this meant that:
in a totalitarian system only executive decision-makers could be convicted of murder and that anyone who followed orders and killed someone could be convicted only of being accomplices to murder. The term executive decision-maker was so defined by the courts to apply only to the highest levels of the Reich leadership during the National Socialist period, and that all who just followed orders when killing were just accomplices to murder. Someone could be only convicted of murder if it was shown that they had killed someone on their own initiative, and thus all of the accused of murder at the Auschwitz trial were tried only for murders that they had done on their own initiative. 

The Frankfurt Trials attempted to bring to account many mid to lower level officials from the Aushwitz-Birkenau camps. Under state law, the judge could only indict for murder if there was a clear case that showed an individual had murdered on his own initiative. Those, for instance, who had operated the gas chambers, could only be indicted as accomplices to murder because they had been following orders.

No wonder the whole issue around complicity and culpability created tension between generations. How to come to terms with supporting and adoring, right to the bitter end, a charismatic leader. Where did his madness and evil end and individual responsibility begin?

The Germans have spent the past 70 years working through this concept of German collective guilt, or Kollektivschuld. I believe there are levels within levels that describe the various phases of this guilt over time.

One such idea is Vergangenheitsbew√§ltigung, the 'struggle to overcome the past' or 'work through the past'.

Modern generations today may wonder about the extent of this generational collective guilt. Young Australians and young Americans seem to have very little concept of historical legacy. They seem to have completely drawn a line under anything that happened in previous generations as having nothing to do with them. The Gen Z's I know have almost no interest in anything older than them. George Santayana's famous and oft-quoted observation that 'those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it', is completely lost on them. I have been told numerous times that this history is not only forgotten, but irrelevant. They would never fall under the charm of a magnetic, yet dubious personality or do anything that they didn't want to do.

Oops. I didn't mean this post to become a soapbox rant about generational attitudes towards history. I've obviously been holding onto that one for a while!

As you can probably guess, I feel very strongly about historical precedent, bias, revisionism, lenses, patterns, cycles, who gets to tell the story of history, which bits get left out and what lessons can be learnt, if any. As Hess implies in her story, the contemplation of history is both a bitter and healing exercise.

The German House was meant to published in Australia on the 3rd December, but we are still waiting for it to appear on our shelves. I'm not sure why it has been delayed.

Facts:

  • Lauffer was the recipient of the 2014 Gutekunst Prize for Emerging Translators.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Moby-Dick Chapters 61 - 70


Oh boy! Is my Moby-Dick blogging behind schedule! Thankfully, my reading schedule has stayed pretty much spot on the entire time, though - a testament to not only the utterly absorbing storytelling, but also the pleasure of a #slowreading schedule.

In an attempt to get caught up, I will post ten chapters at a time. Curiously, I'm looking forward to this 'five minutes ago' backward glance at the chapters I was reading in the lead up to Christmas.

Now that I have given up on expecting a whaling adventure narrative and have accepted that all the so-called digressions are actually a part of the story and there for a reason, I'm enjoying the chapters of how to use a harpoon, the crotch, the dart, the blanket etc much more.
These digressions further Melville's development of obsession - not only is Ahab obsessed with finding and avenging himself on Moby-Dick, but Ishmael is also equally obsessed with the whaling life.

I have now joined the obsession in exploring why Melville felt these chapters were necessary. What little pearls of wisdom did he slip into these chapters? Can I find them? What do they mean?

Chapter 61: Stubb Kills a Whale
  • Lazy, drowsy, dreamy days at sea 
    • The waves, too nodded their indolent crests; and across the wide trance of the sea, east nodded to west, and the sun over all.
  • until a whale is spotted 'lazily undulating in the trough of the sea' and the chase is on!
  • Stubbs all action and excitement, infecting the crew with his passion.
  • Melville finds beauty even in death
    • The slanting sun playing upon this crimson pond in the sea, sent back its reflection into every face, so that they all glowed to each other like red men.
  • (from his own pipe, Stubb) scattered the dead ashes over the water: and for a moment, stood thoughtfully eyeing the vast corpse he had made.
Chapter 62: The Dart
  • A quick chapter discussing the harpooners skill and the likelihood of actually being successful
    • it is the harpooner that makes the voyage.
  • Work ethic/philosophy?
    • To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet from out of idleness, and not from out of toil.
Chapter 63: The Crotch
  • It turns out that the crotch is a 'notched stick' that deserves a whole chapter to itself!
  • The crotch provides a resting place for the harpoon, so it is 'instantly at hand to its hurler'.
  • There is a space on the crotch for two harpoons, 'called the first and second irons'.
  • Melville once again reminds of how dangerous it is to be at sea chasing whales.
  • He also stresses that it is important for us to understand the dangers of this particular action as they will be relevant 'in scenes hereafter to be painted.'

Chapter 64: Stubb's Supper
  • Back to the main action as 'we commenced the slow business of towing the trophy to the Pequod.'
  • Ahab 'some vague dissatisfaction, or impatience, or despair, seemed working on him; as if the sight of the dead body reminded him that Moby Dick was yet to be slain.'
  • Stubb enjoys a piece of whale steak 'his small' - a part of the tail near the fluke - while the sharks feast on the whale carcass suspended on the side of the ship.
  • New character - Old Fleece, the cook, who appears to be the butt of Stubb's humour. 
    • Sadly, Old Fleece also appears to be a black caricature created by Melville.
    • This little one act comedy reminded me of some of the scenes in Gone With the Wind when Scarlet is lording it over Mamie, but Mamie is quietly, under her breath having her say and in a roundabout way speaking her mind in such a way that Scarlet doesn't fully comprehend.
    • Fleece's sermon to the sharks - where he acknowledges that, yes, they are sharks by nature, but if they learn to govern their shark-like natures, then they can be angels, for angels are nothing but sharks well governed. He invokes them to just once, to try and be civil, to share and think of others less fortunate or able. He concludes that there is no use to preach to gluttons, who don't listen. His final benediction to the sharks is to fill their bellies until they bust; then die!
    • Stubb and Fleece then discuss what happens when you die. By discuss, I mean ridicule. Stubb finds it's funny that Fleece thinks that angels will take him to heaven when he dies. Stubb, the white man, is shown to be far less Christian in word or deed than the man he is demeaning throughout this chapter.
    • Stubb leaves off by giving instructions to Fleece on how best to cook his steak.
    • Fleece offers up his final sage aside that perhaps Stubbs 'ain't more of shark dan Massa Shark hisself.'
  • Although the Pequod is a multicultural, even democratic working vessel, class and racial differences are as casually observed at sea as they are on land, when the crew are at leisure. 
Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish
  • While Stubb is enjoying his small steak, Melville gives us a whole chapter on the history of eating whale.
  • There are allusions to cannibalism and eating rituals - Stubb eats his whale steak by the light of whale oil. We eat our ox with a knife-handle made from ox bone. We write our animal rights notes with a quill from a goose.
    • Go to the meat-market of a Saturday night and see the crowds of live bipeds staring at the long rows of dead quadrupeds.
    • I suspect if Melville was alive today, he would be a vegan.
Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre
  • To prevent the sharks from eating the entire whale, Queequeg and another seaman, set about killing as many sharks as possible by 'darting their long whaling-spades.'
  • This is another example of a dangerous occupation on board a whaling ship.
  • Even a dead shark brought on board to be skinned, nearly took of Queequeg's hand, when its jaw snapped shut unexpectedly.
  • Queequeg philosophy or divine inscrutibility
    • “Queequeg no care what god made him shark,” said the savage, agonizingly lifting his hand up and down; “wedder Fejee god or Nantucket god; but de god wat made shark must be one dam Ingin."
Chapter 67: Cutting In
  • Or how to strip a whale of its blubber.
  • The Sabbath is not observed on a working whale ship.
  • More danger as the swaying blubber, strung up to dry, has the potential to 'pitch him headlong overboard.'
Chapter 68: The Blanket
  • Is the blubber the whale's skin or not?
  • Melville spends a whole chapter discussing this vexing issue.
    • Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it....Like the great dome of St Peter's and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.
Chapter 69: The Funeral 
  • Death, ghosts, vultures.
  • Old ideas, old truths, old beliefs that no longer hold any relevance to modern life, still influence our behaviours, though they are empty of meaning. Mindless rituals keep us stuck in the past. What we think is real - shoals, rocks, and breakers - is nothing but a dead, floating whale carcass.
    • There's your laws of precedents; there's your utility of traditions; there's the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth....There's orthodoxy!
Chapter 70: The Sphynx
  • Or how to behead a whale.
    • Ahab soliloquy - Speak, thou vast and venerable head...and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest....O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!
    • O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies! not the smallest atom stirs or lives in matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind.
    • Now I just have to unpick what on earth Melville is trying to say here about knowledge, knowing, not knowing and the unknown!

How is your #MobyDickReadalong journey going?
Have you had a break? Powered ahead? Or put it aside?
Did you get sidetracked by a side project?

Have you had any major or minor revelations or insights?
I'd love to hear from you and please remember to add any new posts about the book or Melville to the linky in the original post.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

A Poem for a Thursday | Claire G Coleman


The Peter Porter Prize is a literary prize for a new poem run by the Australian Book Review. It's an annual prize, running since 2005. It's worth a total of $9,000. This year, the judges – John Hawke, Bronwyn Lea, and Philip Mead – have shortlisted five poems. The winner will be announced on 16th January. For anyone living in Melbourne, the award night is a free night where the shortlisted poets will present their poems to the audience in the led up the announcement.

The Longlist and Shortlist:
  • Lachlan Brown (NSW), 'Precision Signs' – Shortlisted
  • Claire G. Coleman (Vic.), 'That Wadjela Tongue' – Shortlisted
  • Diane Fahey (Vic.), 'The Yellow Room' – Longlisted
  • S.J. Finn (Vic.), 'A Morning Shot' – Longlisted
  • Ross Gillett (Vic.), 'South Coast Sonnets' – Shortlisted
  • A. Frances Johnson (Vic.), 'My Father's Thesaurus' – Shortlisted
  • Anthony Lawrence (QLD), 'Zoologistics' – Longlisted
  • Kathryn Lyster (NSW), 'Diana' – Longlisted
  • Julie Manning (QLD), 'Constellation of Bees' – Shortlisted
  • Greg McLaren (NSW), 'Autumn mediations' – Longlisted
  • Claire Potter (United Kingdom), 'Of Birds' Feet' – Longlisted
  • Gig Ryan (Vic.), 'Fortune's Favours' – Longlisted
  • Corey Wakeling (Japan), 'Drafts in Red' – Longlisted

All five shortlisted poems can be found here at the Australian Book Review.
I was particularly struck by Coleman's poem, That Wadjela Tongue, and I hope you take the time to duck over to read all five.
But for today, I will share one of Coleman's earlier poems.


I Am the Road | Claire G Coleman
              Highly commended for the 2018 Oodgeroo Noonuccal Poetry Prize.


My grandfather was the bush, the coast, salmon gums, hakeas, blue-grey banskias

Wind-whipped water, tea-black estuaries, sun on grey stone

My grandfather was born on Country, was buried on Country

His bones are Country

I am the road.


I was born off Country, in that city

I hear, less than two-weeks old I travelled Country

A bassinet on the back seat of the Kingswood

I remember travels more than I remember a home

I am the road.


My father is the beach, the peppermint tree, the city back when, before it was a city

My father is the ancient tall-tree country, between his father Country and that town

My father is World War II, his father was a soldier

My father wandered, worked on rail, drove trucks

I am the road


Campgrounds up and down that coast were the childhood home of my heart

Where my memories fled, where my happiness lived

Campgrounds in somebody else’s stolen country

I am the road


The road unrolls before me

My rusty old troopy wipes oily sweat from its underside on the asphalt

Says ‘I am here, I am here’

The engine breathes in, breathes out, pants faster than I can

Sings a wailing thundering song

Wraps its steel self around me and keeps me safe, a too large overcoat

I am the road


I slept, for a time, on the streets of Melbourne

No country, no home, as faceless as the pavement

I was dirt on the streets, as grey as the stone, as the concrete

I am the road


We showed explorers where the water was

They lay their road over our path, from water to water

Lay a highway over their road, tamed my country with their highway

I am the road


My Boodja has been stolen, raped, they dug it up, took some of it away

They killed our boorn, killed our yonga, our waitch, damar, kwoka

Put in wheat and sheep, no country for sheep my Boodja

My Country, most it is empty, the whitefellas have no use for it

Except to keep it from us

Because we want it back, need it back, because they can

I am the road.


People ask where I am from, I cannot, simply answer

To mob, I am Noongar, South Coast. I am Banksias, wind on waves on stone

To travellers, whitefella nomads, I am from where I live – that caravan over there

To whitefellas from Melbourne who see how I drink my coffee

I must be from Melbourne, I am not Melbourne

I am the road


One day wish to, hope to, dream, buy some of my grandfather’s country back

Pay the thieves for stolen goods

Theft is a crime, receiving stolen goods is a crime

Until one day

I am the road. 


Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin Noongar woman whose ancestral country is on the south coast of Western Australia. She has written two novels, Terra Nullius and The Old Lie.

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

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

First Book of the Year 2020

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

2019 was a year of working hard, staying close to home and change.

Mr Books and I have both had significant changes in our work situations throughout the year. Ultimately positive for both of us, but stressful in the lead up and execution of said changes.
B22 and B19 left home within 6 months of each other (one because he was ready to be independent and the other to go to uni - so he will still be coming and going for the next few years). Mr Books and I are adjusting to the empty nest.

I finished 2019 with a magnificent reading binge, but my blogging mojo is sadly still on holidays!
I have three reviews outstanding plus several Moby-Dick posts to catch up on.
Oh well, as Scarlet O'Hara would say, tomorrow is another day.

But one thing that doesn't change is The First Book of the Year hosted by Sheila.
For a trip down memory lane, here are my First Book of the Year collages (as collated by Shelia) from the past five years. Can you spot me in each one?

2015 | Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History

2016 |  The Story of a New Name

2017 | Salt Creek & Our Man in Havana

2018 | Les Miserables

2019 | Boy Swallows Universe & Don Quixote


2020 sees me finally emerging from behind my books into the full glare of a Sydney summer's day! I will be starting War and Peace (chapter one) and Bridge of Clay | Marcus Zusak today.

Happy New Year!