Thursday, 15 November 2018

Motherhood by Sheila Heti

When I was in my twenties and thirties, my friends and I spent a lot of time discussing and dissecting each others dreams (#lifebeforesocialmedia)! We read books, kept dream journals and wondered about the significance of what happened in our heads in the middle of the night. We were searching for meaning and trying to make sense of our emerging lives. We were confused and bemused by adulting (not a term back then) and looking for answers anywhere and everywhere. Mostly we simply found more questions and more angst. It's a weird time that feels like forever; thankfully it's not.

As the years have gone by, those levels of turmoil, doubt and self-reflection have eased up (#hallelujah)! At some point most of us discover a place of relative calm and peace. Our search for meaning and purpose finds something to latch onto and we've worked out what's important and what's not. Everyone gets there at different times, in different ways, but I do believe that we all have the ability to get there eventually. 

Reading Shelia Heti's Motherhood brought all those days and nights of angst and yearning rushing back. I finished it last night and for the first time in a very long time, I had a dream that felt significant and that I still remembered upon waking. 

It was a tsunami dream. A double tsunami. It felt like I'd had this dream before and was replaying an old tape. 

I was standing on an isthmus with a lots of others. We could see the waves coming, getting more intense and more overwhelming with each surge. Everyone knew what was happening, yet so many people chose to stay low on the beach as I raced up to the pinnacle of the isthmus. Others were playing a russian roulette, trying to see, get the best photos, before racing up just in time. People were being swept away in front of my eyes because they had stayed on the beach too long. I looked behind me which is when I realised I was on an isthmus, with more water behind me, but no tsunami.

The dream suddenly reset, I relived the race up the beach to the top of the hill and looked behind me to see a second wave of tsunamis coming up the beach behind me as well. Water began to swirl around my feet. Flotsam and jetsam floated by; it felt dangerous and scary, but I was on high ground and could go no further and trusted it would have to be enough. 

Suddenly (as often happens in dreams) we were rebuilding part of the house that had been destroyed by the tsunamis. The owners, a young couple, proudly showed me the work done on the new en suite - I admired the new toilet, shower and hand basin and congratulated them on getting it back to normal so quickly. In the living room, a miniature cow was being held by one of the couple, they passed it to me. It had been washed up by the tsunami. It was soft and shivery from fear. I cuddled it gently to my chest, cradling its udder in my left hand, and felt myself calm down and re-centre as it nuzzled me.

As my friends used to say, my dreams were about as subtle as a sledgehammer! Water represents emotions and tsunami's are obviously and overwhelming amount of emotions. Houses are our minds and the rooms represent the various sections of our minds. Bathrooms represent cleansing and expressing emotions. Cows are a feminine symbol of fertility, motherhood (see the link here), creativity, beauty and wisdom. The left side is also feminine representing creativity and nurturing.

Given that I've been feeling overwhelmed by emotions this year, have just come to the end of my 'official school step-mothering duties' with B18 finishing his final exams last week and feeling frustrated for quite some time at the disappearing of my creative space, this dream is a pretty clear message.

If I'd read Motherhood in my twenties and thirties, I'm sure this book would have felt so personal and so pertinent, it would have been painful. As it was, I remembered some of those feelings and thoughts, but they felt like a dream. A little unreal and far away and intangible. There was also a huge sense of relief to see how far I had moved on from that time of angst. I'm not surprised I had a powerful dream experience at the end of it.

Motherhood is billed as a novel but reads like a private journal. Heti's protagonist is probably as petulant, self indulgent and tormented as I was at times at that age. She dabbles in coins, tarot, dreams and psychics to find meaning and symbolism in her life. 

As someone who chose, deliberately and consciously, at a young age not to bring children of my own into this world, many of her to-ing's and fro-ing's were familiar, although, I'm fairly sure that I didn't torture myself over it quite as much as Heti's protagonist did. I always said that if my 50 or 60 year old self regretted the decision that my 20, 30 and 40 year old self made, then that 50 or 60 year old self would just have to put up with it. So far, no regrets.

Perhaps 18 years of early childhood teaching and a decade of step-mothering was enough of a foray into the world of nurturing?

There were lots of provocations within Heti's story worth discussing, including various feminist assumptions and ideals, societal and cultural expectations, creativity, choice, non-choice and freedom. But one of the comments that really landed for me was around the protagonists experience with depression and the change she felt when the drugs finally kicked in. 
Yet I fear I don't have the right to speak anymore, given the drugs. I can't pretend I have come to any, or any great wisdom. I think the drugs are the reason I' am feeling less bad, not something I realised....Am I disappointed? A little bit, yes. I wanted my own magic to get rid of the pain....What kind of story is it when a person goes down, down, down and down - but instead of breaking through and seeing the truth and ascending, they go down, then take the drugs, and then they go up?

As someone who didn't go down the road of drugs for the very reasons that Heti hinted at, I sometimes wonder if I extended my pain unnecessarily for longer than I needed to. Yet at the same time, I feel a weird sense of achievement and a fierce independence and strength from having worked out how to go up and stay up all by myself.

There is no right or wrong way to get through this life; there is only your way.

This has ended up being a very personal post; Motherhood is that kind of book. It will elicit strong feelings and personal responses. We all make choices and non-choices; we all make decisions and non-decisions and occasionally we have our ability to choose taken away from us. Yet there are choices and decisions to be made even within that space.

Motherhood would be a courageous book club choice leading to a robust, revealing and emotional discussion.

Canadian Giller Prize shortlist 2018

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Non-Fiction November - Week 3

Week 3: (Nov. 12 to 16) – Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Julie @ JulzReads): 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).

This year I've been reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo one chapter at a time with Nick and his band of merry followers. The whole chapter a day thing hasn't always gone to plan - Les Mis in fits and starts would be a better description of my reading year!

I find myself constantly fascinated by this period of history - the various stages of the French Revolution, the wars with England and Spain, the art and writers from this time. I was one of the few readalong participants who enjoyed Hugo's two week diversion back in time to 'witness' Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo!

In the past I've read two of the four Max Gallo Napoleon books (but ran out of steam).

I have The Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Miserables by David Bellos by my bed to start very soon (I've waited until this close to the end in case there were any spoilers in it, which I believe there are!) so I'm hoping it will flesh out some of the history for me.

But I still get the Second Empire, Second Republic and Third Republic stuff all mixed up. Reading my way through Zola is helping with this, but I'd like to know more.

This is where I ask for your help.

Have you read any really good (non-fiction or fiction) about the French Revolution through to the Third Republic era?

Or perhaps something more general that brings that time (the mid 1700's through to the late 1800's) in Europe to light?

Help me become a French Revolution/Republic expert in the future.

2017 Be the Expert - Man's inhumanity to man/Holocaust literature.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper

On the scorching February day in 2009 that became known as Black Saturday, a man lit two fires in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, then sat on the roof of his house to watch the inferno. In the Valley, where the rates of crime were the highest in the state, more than thirty people were known to police as firebugs. But the detectives soon found themselves on the trail of a man they didn’t know. 
The Arsonist takes readers on the hunt for this man, and inside the strange puzzle of his mind. It is also the story of fire in this country, and of a community that owed its existence to that very element. The command of fire has defined and sustained us as a species – understanding its abuse will define our future.

A powerful real-life thriller written with Hooper’s trademark lyric detail and nuance, The Arsonist is a reminder that in an age of fire, all of us are gatekeepers.

The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire by Chloe Hooper was a fascinating investigation into what happened one very hot, windy Sunday in February 2009.

Starting with the Arson Squad and their incredible ability to pinpoint the starting point/s of the fire within an eight square metre section, Hooper details the progress of the fire, it's effects on individuals and the later findings of the Royal Commission into the tragic blaze.

This blaze had been so intense the aftermath was like stepping into a textbook on wildfire investigation. Heat was rising off the burnt trees and smoke hung low around the boughs.... 
Fire is a strange craftsman. It can bevel branches, blunting the wood on the origin side and tapering it back as it advances; it can 'crocodile' a tree's bough, leaving charcoal scales on the point of impact. White ash is the hallmark of complete combustion, and objects directly hit may appear lighter....
Rocks and larger trees often shield finer fuels, such as twigs...the scorch pattern on a tree trunk facing the fire's origin was low, whereas there was a steep angle to the burn mark on the sides and back of the trunk as the flames leapt forward.

173 people died during the blaze, the worst bush fire in modern Australian history. It is easy to understand the frustration of fire scientists who see the public continuing to dump rubbish in the bush, with no understanding that,

their own future was intricately connected to the forests' health. That was what no one seemed to have learnt from Black Sunday. Fire science wasn't some obscure area of academia, it was intrinsic to our understanding of the country and our safety within it.

Some of the personal stories were harrowing to read, while the facts, figures and logic used by the various detectives were compelling. Hooper takes the time to get know the back stories for some of the detectives, the lawyers as well as the arsonist and his family. And in Helen Garner-esque style, she leads the reader towards feelings of compassion for the arsonist and his family -

fire-setters were more often than not male; they were commonly unemployed, or had a complicated work history; they were likely to have disadvantaged social backgrounds, often with a family history of pathology, addiction and physical abuse; and many exhibited poor social or interpersonal skills.

Hooper herself, was in central Victoria the day the bush fires raged and but for the luck of the wind, was spared direct contact with it. The images from that day, have left permanent scars on all of us who witnessed them via our TV screens. The scars left on those who survived that day are brought to light and honoured in Hooper's investigation.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Dog Stories

I delightful batch of dog stories have turned up at work this month. I loved all three for different reasons, but my favourite of the batch was The Tales of Mr Walker by Jess Black.

Based on a true story, Mr Walker is a delightful illustrated chapter book about the Labrador Ambassador at the Park Hyatt in Melbourne.

The books is full of charming, funny and heart-warming tales. Featuring his first day in the hotel to helping out with a marriage proposal, to preparing for a charity ball, stopping a gang of thieves and entertaining a celebrity pianist. Mr Walker spreads love and happiness wherever he goes.

It's a wonderful family read aloud book or a treasure for your favourite 7 yr old to curl up with.

Royalties from the sale of this book go to Guide Dogs Victoria.

The Dog Who Lost his Bark by Eoin Colfer is a darker dog tale for a more mature reader.

When I was little, my mum had to ban me from watching Kimba the White Lion and Lassie as I used to get too upset whenever Kimba or Lassie got lost, scared or in trouble (which seemed to happen every episode!) Even now, I struggle with books or movies that feature animal violence or cruelty in any way (The Lion King makes me blubber every time).

So the first two chapters of The Dog Who Lost His Bark were very tough going for me. P. J. Lynch's sweet black and white illustrations helped me keep going though...a dog this cute and adorable had to be okay in the end surely.

Sensitive souls beware though, the first two chapters are harrowing.

However the pay off is worth the initial angst. Without giving anything away that the cover doesn't already tell you, our cute adorable dog finds a happy home AND finds a way to show his gratitude for being rescued and loved so well, when things go wrong for young Patrick.

Colfer has created a heart warming, gentle story that is perfectly complemented by Lynch's realistic drawings.

I loved it.

Good Rosie! by Kate DiCamillo is a picture book suitable for younger readers.

Rosie is a good dog, but she's also a little shy and nervous about leaving the house and playing with other dogs. The park is a bit too busy and the other dogs too noisy and active.

This is the story of how Rosie overcomes her fears and embraces new friends. Charming and delightful with some slightly odd-ball moments, Good Rosie! is a picture book designed as an early graphic novel with nine short chapters.

All three books have illustrators who have captured the movement and poses of the dogs to perfection. The dogs are portrayed in such an authentic, loving way, that it's impossible not to love them simply from their front covers. As you get to know each one via their stories, the pictures highlight their adorable little quirks and ways that make them unique.

I have spent most of my life being scared of dogs - too big, too boisterous, too many teeth. But I have always responded strongly to dog stories (as long as they don't talk! But that's another story). These three dog books celebrate a dog's life through the eyes of the dogs themselves. When the world seems like a cold, harsh, unloving place, a good dog story can save the day.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Non-Fiction November - Week 2

Week 2: (Nov. 5 to 9) – Fiction / Nonfiction Book Pairing (Sarah’s Book Shelves): 

This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. 
It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

I love any meme or tag that helps me to address my out of control TBR, so I've used this pairing idea to trawl my TBR pile for books that go together or remind me of another book I have already read, in the hope it will put them front of mind and therefore, closer to being read soon!

The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper (review to come soon) with Kinglake-350 by Adrian Hyland (read by Mr Books a couple of years ago).

Both books give accounts of the Feb 2009 Black Sunday bushfires in Victoria.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon (review to come soon) with Frankenstein by Mary Shelley & A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft.

Hopefully the link between these three books is obvious!

October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville with A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.

The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton with Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder.

The House by Helen Pitt with Shell by Kristina Olsson

I could have found a lot more just from my TBR pile, but I didn't want to overwhelm this post!
This is the first time I've actually participated in this particular question, so I'm curious to see what comes of it.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

#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 Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray..
Are you game?

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

I think I started readng Vanity Fair in my early twenties, but I'm not sure I finished it.
I was inspired to give it a go by the BBC production doing the rounds at the time starring Eve Matheson.
I enjoyed the TV series but found the book a bit long-winded.

This is not the first time a TV series or movie has encouraged me to try a book that I may not have otherwise tackled.
Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad seemed too dark and too naval to attract my readerly attention, but then one rainy Sunday afternoon in my late twenties, I decided to watch the 1965 movie starring Peter O'Toole.
The book followed not long after.

A few years later, when I read a rave review about Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series, I didn't dismiss it outright.
Lord Jim showed me I could read a story with a naval setting and even enjoy it.
I loved the first Master and Commander book so much, I went on to read all 21 books in the series...and watch the Russell Crowe movie when it came out in 2003.
 Although I'm still not sure I can explain the difference between a jib and a mainsail!

Another series that I've read every single book all the way through to the bitter end, was the Anne of Green Gables books by L.M. Montgomery.
I say the bitter end, because as with any long standing series, some of the titles were better than others.

Which has certainly been my experience of the Maisie Dobbs series.
The 14th book in this mostly delightful cosy crime series set between the wars in London, has just been published this year.
Winspear nearly lost her way a few books ago, when she finally allowed Maisie to fall in love.
The love story nearly killed her series.
Drastic action was required - main characters were killed off and a time jump occurred to give this series fresh blood.

Speaking of time jumps, the book that used the time jump effect to perfection was The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.
Being able to go back in time to 1980's Detroit to see a Violent Femmes concert sounds like a good use of one's ability to travel in time!

Although Stephen King fans might dispute this, claiming that being able to go back to 1963 to prevent the assassination of JFK is a worthier use of time travel.
However 11/22/63 showed us that changing history has it's own consequences.

I started in 1847 England, travelled via sea to Prince Edward Island, London and a Violent Femmes concert, to finish up in 1963 on the trail of Lee Harvey Oswald.
Where did you end up?

Next month (December 1, 2018), we’ll begin with A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

William Trevor Last Stories

It's very sad to think these are the very last William Trevor short stories ever. Except I still have so many of his earlier books to read as well as the short stories he wrote after 1993 (I have a copy of his HUGE Collected Stories from 1993. It took me nearly two years to read and savour all the short stories it contained. I cannot imagine how long it will take me to get through Vol 2 of his Selected Stories published in 2010.)

The ten stories in this collection may not be the finest examples of Trevor's abilities, but there was enough here to remind me why I love his writing so much.

Human emotion, introspection, deception, betrayal, loneliness, loss, melancholy and courage were just some of the words I jotted down as I read these stories. Most of his characters were marginalised or living life on the sidelines. They were often vulnerable and confused.

Many of the stories also felt unresolved, vague and unsatisfying rather than complete and replete. I wasn't as deeply moved by these stories as I remember being by the ones in the 1993 Collected Stories and I missed the ah-ha moment or the reader reward at the end.

Yet some of the phrases shone out brightly with an authenticity of emotion and a sharp reality -
Between childhood and the death there was a life that hadn't been worth living.
She knew she was living in the past, that the past would always be there, around her, that she was part of it herself

It was only after reading Trevor's obit, that I realised that several of his stories have been turned into movies or TV shows. I must hunt them down.

I also found an article in The New Yorker 2016, called William Trevor's Quiet Explosions that described perfectly the way he had with characters and what it was I found to be missing at times from his last ten stories.
Trevor’s characters do not like to reveal themselves, and what is left unsaid holds as much weight as what is expressed. He is, above all, an author of human consciousness, and many of his stories end as a character becomes aware of the sacrifice he has made in order to shoulder guilt and shame, and to make way for the possibility of hope. It is in these moments of revelation that the most ordinary life takes on a kind of grandeur.

 I enjoyed spending time in Trevor's world again, but if you've never read any of his work before, then I suggest you start with his earlier work, fall in love with what he does, then come back to his final stories to say your fond farewell.

William Trevor: 24 May 1928 – 20 November 2016

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Non-Fiction November - Week 1


Here it is - Nonfiction November - one of my favourite times in the book blogging year.

Hosted this year by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) — Nonfiction November is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction. Each week, there will be a different prompt and a different host looking at different ideas about reading and loving nonfiction.

Week 1: (Oct. 29 to Nov. 2) – Your Year in Nonfiction 

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions: 
What was your favourite nonfiction read of the year?

Good question
I haven't read as much non-fiction this year as previously, only 14 titles in fact.
 But my favourite book this year has been Richard Lloyd Parry's Ghosts of the Tsunami.

In preparation for a trip to Japan to celebrate my 50th birthday, I read a lot of books set in Japan.
This account of the 2011 tsunami was moving, informative and absorbing from start to finish.

Huge tsunamis recur along the Sendai plain every 800-1000 years, but lesser ones can occur every decade. The most destructive, with 22 000 deaths, was the 1896 Meiji Sanriku Tsunami. Another one in 1933 killed 3000 people. The 1960 tsunami that was result of the largest ever recorded earthquake off the coast of Chile (9.5 magnitude) killed 142.
'Tsunami stones' mark the high water point of previous tsunamis. However the 2011 undersea megathrust earthquake was the biggest to ever hit Japan (9.0-9.1 magnitude). It was also, 'the fourth most powerful in the history of seismology. It knocked the Earth six and half inches off its axis; it moved Japan thirteen feet closer to America. In the tsunami that followed more than 18 000 people were killed. At its peak, the water was 120 feet high.'

The tsunami was not just one big wave like the painting above (or even the design on the front cover of the book) suggests, but a series of pulses, 'washing in and washing out again, weaving over, under and across one another.'
The elderly were more likely to die than the young - 54% of the dead were over 65 years of age.
All but one school in the area got all their children to safety.

Normally I read a lot of memoir and biographies, but somehow I've managed to get through this last year with only a couple to my name. The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman was the stand out, although I also enjoyed Raina Tegemeier's Smile and Sisters. It's a curious thing that the 3 memoirs I read this year were also all graphic novels. One of the things this meme has shown me over the years, is that graphic can be a great way to access non-fiction.

And in case you were wondering, my LEAST favourite non-fiction title this year was David Sedaris' Calypso.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

Travel and Japan featured strongly this year.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

The book I've recommended the most at work this past year is Rosamund Young's reissue of The Secret Life of Cows - a delightful little book full of anecdotes and illustrations about cows.

I was expecting a light-weight self-help book with lots of swearing, but it's more than that.

TSAONGAF is not only Manson's hard-won journey into becoming an adult, but also Buddhism 101 heavily laced with the F-bomb! 
Manson's wraps up Buddhist thoughts about suffering, attachment and letting go ever so sweetly and succinctly in his title. The rest of the book expands on these ideas with humour, clearly articulated anecdotes and catchy phrases.

For all the young women in your life, I highly recommend The Wonder Down Under by Nina Brochmann & Ellen Stokken Dahl. Not, as you might first think, a book about Australia, but a fun, engaging book about women's health.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

My main wish this year is to finally finish several of the half-read non-fiction titles by my bed -

  • Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon
  • The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne
  • Eden's Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father by John Matteson
  • Basho: The Complete Haiku by Matsuo Bashō and Jane Reichhold
  • Rusted Off: Why Country Australia Is Fed Up by Gabrielle Chan

Waiting in the wings, I also have Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales.

Join in by answering the questions above, via the Instagram photo challenge for Nonfiction November, co-hosted by (@kimthedork) & Leann (@Shelf_Aware_) and/or tweeting your thoughts with #NonficNov

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Scary Books for Preschoolers

As many of you know, I was a preschool teacher for 18 years. I read a good number of picture books to a good number of students during that time. Some of those books I could probably still recite, word for word, to this day.

Every now and again, depending on my class and their various temperaments, we would dive into the deep, dark world of scary picture books. Presented in the right way, at the right time, a good scary book, can lead you right up to the edge of not being able to take it before tipping back over into simple pure spine-tingling fun. There's nothing nicer than getting all creeped out whilst safe and warm with your friends in a brightly lit classroom.

Our favourites over the years included:

The Hobyahs retold by Brenda Parkes

A traditional tale with scary creatures that only come out at night, to avoid being attacked by little dog Turpie, who gets tied up a night. They sing a scary, rhyming tune each time that drives little dog Turpie nuts -

Tear down the house, Heh! Heh! Heh!
Tie up the old man, Heh! Heh! Heh!
Tie up the old women, Heh! Heh! Heh!
Then we'll put the little girl
in our Hobyah machine.

But his barking annoys the little old man, so they shut him up in a bag one night with devastating results:

Gleefully the Hobyahs tore down the stick house.
They tied up the old man.
They tied up the old woman.
Then they put the little girl in their Hobyah machine.
They took the little girl into the deep, dark, damp swamp.

"Hobyahs! Hobyahs!
We're slimy and green
We've got the tiny girl in our Hobyah machine"

If that doesn't get a tingle going up and down your spine, then nothing will!
Needless to say, little dog Turpie saves the day.

In a Dark Dark Wood

A traditional poem that I used to recite on rainy days.

In a dark, dark wood there was a dark, dark house;
And in the dark, dark house there was a dark, dark room;
And in the dark, dark room there was a dark, dark cupboard;
And in the dark, dark cupboard there was a dark, dark shelf;
And on the dark, dark shelf there was a dark, dark box; 
And in the dark, dark box there was a

The Gingerbread Man retold by Bonnie & Bill Rutherford

This Golden Book version was the one I had as a child. 
It was also the one in my preschool library.
I loved reading it out loud - it had a lovely cadence and rhyme.
And the moment when the gingerbread man got his comeuppance with the fox, was beautifully choreographed to allow me to do a very LOUD clap as I turned the page for,

That sly old fox gobbled the gingerbread man right up! '

Naturally this story always led us to making our very own gingerbread men.

The Spooky Old Tree by Stan & Jan Berenstain

A truly spooky tale of three bears venturing into a spooky old tree in the dark!
What could possibly go wrong?

Depending on my class, I could ramp up the scare factor with a quiet, breathless, drawn out retelling or I could simply read it straight to minimise the fright.

One class became obsessed with it and I had to read this story 2-3 times a day for about 5 months. 
The local bookshop had to order in 20 copies of the book as everyone wanted to take one home. 
I made a board game of the spooky old tree and we re-enacted the running home safe to mother's arm over and over again. 
Then, suddenly, one day the need was met and the book was relegated to the bottom shelf.

Funny Bones by Janet & Allan Ahlberg

A deliciously creepy beginning that quickly turns into a lot of fun and silliness.

The Lion in the Meadow by Margaret Mahy

Lions and dragons lurking in the meadow behind your house are scary enough, but Mahy messes around with what is true and what is not, in a way that leaves most children scratching their heads.

Alexander and the Dragon by Katherine Holabird

Alexander is scared of the dark and the shadows under his bed at night.
Despite it's scary beginning, this book turns out to be a lovely story about facing your fears, empathy and kindness.

But the one that scared me the most when I was young was 
Rumplestiltskin by Tadasu Izawa and Shigemi Hijikata.

This version with its doll-like characters totally creeped me out. Their vacant faces and Rumplestiltskin's cunning plan to take the baby horrified me (don't get me started on the impossible task of spinning straw into gold just to get a husband task)!

As for the older readers:

Coraline by Neil Gaiman wins hands down every time (maybe its the doll thing again - those button eyes!)

but Patrick Ness' A Monster Calls runs a pretty close second - Jim Kay's illustrations are amazing!

What scary books did you like to read when you were a child?

Friday, 26 October 2018

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Reading Frankenstein for the first time was a curious thing. We all think we know the story. At least, I thought I did. I was expecting a slock-horror story full of scary, lurking, creeping monster moments with lots of people screaming and fleeing his terrible claws. I didn't get this.

I also hadn't appreciated that it would be an example of Romantic era thinking. I'm not a huge fan of romanticism, described by wikipedia as,
an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, Rationalism and Classicism of the Enlightenment

I'm all for exploring character emotion and psychology, but I often feel that Romantic writers are out of touch with own their times and their story often suffers for it's lack of reality. Frankenstein was certainly a curious and unexpected mix of nostalgia, scientific advancement, individualism and gothic melodrama.

I didn't expect that the monster would learn to talk in the same cultured tones as the narrator. I didn't expect all the murder scenes to be off-page. I didn't expect that Dr Frankenstein would be so self-absorbed and so unaware and so thoughtless. His utter lack of responsibility or understanding about his role in the monsters maturation, right to the very end, was astounding.

Shelley obviously had a lot to say about absent parents in this story. I'm finding the bio on both her and her mother by Charlotte Gordon fascinating and revealing...thoughts and review to come later though.

Like Shelley, the monster just wanted to be loved and to belong. Dr Frankenstein and the wider society denied him that opportunity. His reaction can, therefore, be seen as a normal response to such an all-encompassing rejection. Except that these actions then meant that he would forever be on the outside of the regular society he desired to be in. Just like Shelley herself, perhaps?

Dr Frankenstein meddled with science without thinking through the consequences. He was after personal glory rather than thinking about the betterment of society as a whole. The individualism admired by the Romantics has negative consequences when viewed through the prism of the larger community. One man's selfish actions can have ongoing and tragic effects on the people around him.

Dr Frankenstein and his monster were two tragic cases of misunderstanding, miscommunication and lack of personal responsibility. The reader is given more than enough detail to understand how both got to the point that they got to, but you're also left with a sense of frustration by their inability to walk in the others shoes. They might follow and track each other all around Europe, but it's a physical journey not a journey of discovery or enlightenment.

I did enjoy my #Frankenfest reading experience, but it wasn't what I expected. It felt quite juvenile and self-indulgent and certainly not the horror story I was anticipating. I'm now more inclined to agree with Gremaine Greer's opinion that I noted in my Preface post (link below). Frankenstein is not a great novel, but it was a fun October read for the Classics Club #ccdare.

As noted in previous posts, I'm noticing lots of bookish references to grief and loss, that reflects my own personal journey right now. Frankenstein revealed this,
'but is it not the duty of survivors, that we refrain from augmenting their unhappiness by an appearance of immoderate grief? It is also a duty owed to yourself; for excessive sorrow prevents improvement or enjoyment, or even the discharge of daily usefulness, without which no man is fit for society.'

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley
by Charlotte Gordon

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Top Ten Tuesday Villains

The Artsy Reader Girl is the new host of the weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.
Each week she nominates a topic to encourage those of us who love a good list to get all listy.
This week it's all about the Villains.
Those bookish characters you love to hate or hate to love.

My Top Ten Villains:

Dr Frankenstein and his monster.

Both misunderstood, unable to communicate to each other, but ultimately unable to accept personal responsibility for the way things went pear-shaped.

"Hateful day when I received life!' I exclaimed in agony. 'Accursed creator! Why did you form a monster so hideous that even you turned from me in disgust? God, in pity, made man beautiful and alluring, after his own image; but my form is a filthy type of yours, more horrid even from the very resemlance. Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred."

Rachel from My Cousin Rachel

“How soft and gentle her name sounds when I whisper it. It lingers on the tongue, insidious and slow, almost like poison, which is apt indeed. It passes from the tongue to the parched lips, and from the lips back to the heart. And the heart controls the body, and the mind also. Shall I be free of it one day? In forty, in fifty years? Or will some lingering trace of matter in the brain stay pallid and diseased? "

Hannibal Lector from Red Dragon

"Oh, he's a monster. Pure psychopath. So rare to capture one alive. From a research point of view, Lecter is our most prized asset."

Cathy Ames from East of Eden
A women who made an art of manipulation, lying and uber-selfishness.

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible, with huge heads or tiny bodies. . . . And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or a malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul?

Big Brother and/or O'Brien from 1984

"There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science."

Randall Flagg, the Walking Dude, the Man in Black from The Stand and several other Stephen King books.

“He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall dead off telephone lines. When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad and your urine burns. The grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He’s always outside. He came out of time. He doesn’t know himself.”

Alex D'Urberville from Tess of the D'Urbervilles.

"He watched her pretty and unconscious munching through the skeins of smoke that pervaded the tent, and Tess Durbeyfield did not divine, as she innocently looked down at the roses in her bosom, that there behind the blue narcotic haze was potentially the “tragic mischief” of her drama – one who stood to be the blood-red ray in the spectrum of her young life."

John Wyndham's triffids

“Granted that they do have intelligence; then that would leave us with only one important superiority--sight. We can see, and they can’t. Take away our vision and our superiority is gone. Worse than that--our position becomes inferior to theirs because they are adapted to a sightless existence and we are not. In fact, if it were a choice for survival between a triffid and a blind man, I know which I’d put my money on.”

J. K. Rowlings' Voldemort

"He disappeared after leaving school ... traveled far and wide ... sank so deeply into the Dark Arts, consorted with the very worst of our kind, underwent so many magical transformations that when he resurfaced he was barely recognisable."

Sauron from the Lord of the Rings trilogy

"But Sauron was not of mortal flesh, and though he was robbed now of that shape in which had wrought so great an evil, so that he could never again appear fair to the eyes of Men"


Saturday, 20 October 2018

24 Hour Readathon

Can you believe it's time for another Readathon? 
Where does that time go? 
All the details for how to join in are over at Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon
The rules are very relaxed, join in as little or as much as you like. 
Read for all 24 hours or fit in as much reading as you can, when you can.
The idea is to read as much as you can with a supportive, fun group of bookish friends.

Any Australian or NZ readathoner's who'd like to keep in touch, especially during the long dark-night time of the northern hemisphere (ie our Sunday afternoon) when it feels like we're reading all alone, use the #ANZreadathon tag on twitter and say 'hi'.

I'll be using this post to update my reading stats and join in any memes or quizzes.

My Books:

Les Miserables
Starting pg: 954

Romantic Outlaws
Starting pg: 310

Starting pg: 78

William Trevor: Last Stories
Starting pg: 122

The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars (Bronte Mettlestone #2)
Jane Doe #1
The Restless Girls
The Afterwards


Opening Meme:

1. What part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm in Sydney, Australia.
Which means my start time is 11pm Saturday - most of my readathon will actually fall on my Sunday 21st October.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I like to use the readathon to help me finish those half-read books that have been lurking by my bed for too long - it's very satisfying to finally finish a few of them. And when I get tired late Sunday afternoon, I love jumping into a few kids books. Their always fun, quick and easy to read, but also help me feel virtuous about getting some work reading done :-)

(I work in an Indie bookshop as the children's buyer)

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

My nan's famous choc slice (which I made to help B18's HSC study plans, but I'm sure he won't mind if I have a few slices myself!)

4. Tell us a little something about yourself.

I'm also a pokemon go player (my why I love pokemon go post is here). 
I will probably disappear for a couple of hours Sunday afternoon to go and join in the latest Community Day event.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
Every time I promise myself not to get distracted by external things like twitter and instagram and every time I do.
My plan this time is to limit SM time to 10 mins at the end/beginning of each hour.
I also need to go for regular little walks to clear my head.



11pm - midnight
36 pgs of Frankenstein

Midnight - 8am

8am - 9am
5 pgs of Frankenstein with breakfast

9am - 10am
morning walk & 7 pgs of Frankenstein

10am - 11am
15 pgs of Frankenstein with coffee and banana bread

11am - midday
family time

Midday -1pm
It may not look like I'm making much progress with Frankenstein...but look how small the font is and how close set the type is on each page!

12 pgs of Frankenstein

1pm - 2pm
17 pgs of Frankenstein  - FINIS 
(92 pgs in TOTAL)

2pm - 5pm
Pokemon Go Community Day
In which I caught several shiny Beldum, met several new local pokemon-ers and read nought :-)

5pm - 6pm
30 pgs of Les Mis - all caught up on my chapter-a-day challenge

6pm - 7pm
11 pgs of Romantic Outlaws, snacked and prepared dinner

7pm - 8pm
Family dinner & watched the news - no pages read.

8pm - 9pm
Bubble bath & 22 pgs or Romantic Outlaws

9pm - 11pm
Started & finished The Afterwards by A. F. Harrold - 224 pgs



8 hr overnight & 1 nap

3 walks
1 bath
1 Pokemon Go Community Day
1 longish phone call
1 TV break to watch the news