Sunday, 10 December 2017

On Love and Barley: Haiku of Basho

I wish I could draw or paint.
Every time I read Basho's haiku I feel the urge to create (or recreate) the beauty I sense in his words.
Others have tried before me as the internet is full of such examples.

I've been wanting to get back into my cross-stitching for some time now and haven't felt inspired...perhaps I could try my hand at a haiku sampler with some simple blossoms or leaves as a border? 
I'm curious to discover what might be revealed when one sits for a period of time with just one haiku.


I recently read On Love and Barley - the Haiku of Basho translated by Lucien Stryk (1986).
During his lifetime (1644 - 94), Basho wrote over 1000 haiku.
This slim volume contains just 253 - a lovely accessible way to discover the beautiful simplicity of his life's work.

Zen, as an aesthetic, is something I feel very drawn to.
Basho aimed for the 'calm realisation of profoundly felt truths' according to Stryk in his Introduction.
Superficiality, trickery and artifice were to be avoided.
The solitary experience, lightness and honouring the humble were Basho's tools.
His inspiration was daily life, observation, stillness and nature.
Moments in time, 'distilled, snatched from time's flow' were enough.

8

Stryk provides the reader with some guidelines and explanation for the structural development of haiku: 'two elements divided by a break (kireji, or 'cutting word', best rendered in English by emphatic punctuation), the first element being the condition or the situation - 'Spring air' - the other the sudden perception, preceded by kireji (in these pieces a dash).

Spring air -
woven moon
and plum scent.


Basho encouraged muga, 'so close an identification with the things one writes of that self is forgotten.'
Zen philosophy was part of Basho's life but only occasionally was this specifically stated in his haiku.
 He preferred the reader to experience revelations through the things we know, like nature.

132
I have tried to source the original artist/s for the two haiku above, but get lost in a maze of pinterest pages each time.
I am happy to acknowledge the original artist if anyone can point me in the right direction.

On Love and Barley itself is dotted with black and white versions of original illustrations by Ike no Taiga (1723 -76) like the one below.

Untitled - Mountains (public domain)

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

I am a fan of the Moriarty sisters -  Liane, Nicola and Jaclyn - they have all gone off in different directions, genres and target audiences but the one thing they have in common is thoroughly engaging stories, believable characters and the ability to suck me into their world.

Jacyln's previous series that wowed my socks off was The Colour of Madeleine trilogy. These books were aimed at an older teen audience - light fantasy, a little romance and a great concept. The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone is for younger readers - about 10 plus. It's another light fantasy with a great concept, but more concerned with family and friendship than romance, although I'm still wondering about Aunt Isabelle and the Butler!


Bronte begins her story with the sudden death of her parents. This is not as sad an event as you might expect as Bronte was left by her parents on Aunt Isabelle's doorstop when she was a baby. Bronte's feelings about her parents, are therefore, complicated.

Things quickly become even more complicated when the terms of their wills are revealed. Bronte is to go on a quest, an adventure no less, to visit all her aunts (there are ten more besides Aunt Isabelle!) The timing for each visit is very specific as are suggestions for places to eat, gifts to give each aunt and the very definite condition that Bronte travels alone. She is only ten years of age. Aunt Isabelle is horrified, but the will is cross-stitched in faerie thread which means that if Bronte doesn't follow the instructions exactly as stated, if she breaks the terms, then her home town will also break.

This is pretty serious sounding stuff you have to agree. But Bronte heads off on her quest with oodles of optimism, trust and commonsense.

She encounters dragons, rescues water sprites and goes on the run from pirates. She saves a baby in danger of drowning, befriends a girl running off to join the circus and meets a mysterious boy with no shoes.

Each aunt has stories to tell Bronte about her parents. She gradually learns some of their secrets as well as learning some startling new things about herself. Moriarty does all of this with a lightness of touch and a great deal of charm.


Kelly Canby's quirky line drawings are scattered throughout the book. They highlight the sense of fun that permeates the whole story as well as giving this lovely hardback edition a dash of style.

This would be a fabulous bedtime read aloud book to enjoy together as a family. Highly recommended.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Maybe by Morris Gleitzman

Morris Gleitzman's Holocaust series for younger readers has already attracted much praise and many accolades. His stories carefully balance the reality of what actually happened with modern day sensibilities. Sad, bad things happen to his characters, but he doesn't describe them in gory detail. There is bleakness and injustice and cruelty, but there is also hope, love and mercy. And we all know that Felix survives the war, thanks to book number 3, Now.


Once is 10 yr old Felix's story about trying to find his parents. He is befriended by the spunky, Zelda and sheltered by a dentist called Barney, who is modelled on the real life Polish Jewish doctor who took in and cared for war orphans. Felix uses stories to make sense of the crazy things going on around him and to protect the traumatised Zelda. But, ultimately, Once is the story of lost innocence as Felix finally realises and accepts what is really happening.

Then is the heart-breaker.
The reality of the war and the horror of the Holocaust are really brought to bear in book 2. Gleitzman doesn't shy away from tough details or sadness, but then, how could you write a meaningful story about the Holocaust without them? The magic ingredient in all these books is hope. Felix is always optimistic and despite what awful things might happen, he always finds his way back to a position of hope.

I read the first three books of this series in a huge binge session one rainy, cold weekend. After wiping away my tears at the end of Then, I picked up Now straight away, desperate to find out what happened next. I cannot begin to tell you the huge relief I felt, as I realised that Felix not only survived the war and all the terrible things that happened to him, but fathered at least one child!

Now jumps forward 70 years and we meet an 80 yr old Felix living in Melbourne. He is spending time with his granddaughter, Zelda. But bushfires threaten to disturb the peaceful life that Felix has made for himself as a doctor in Australia. Now is a story about closure, memory and forgiveness.

And Felix's story could have finished there. That was the plan.

But Felix had other ideas.

After takes us back to the war. Felix is now 12 yrs old and has been hiding out in Gabriek's barn for 2 years. When things go bad, he finds himself in the forest with the partisans learning to fight. They also teach Felix some basic doctoring techniques and he quickly realises that he has a knack for it - more so than for fighting and killing. This is a story about the choices we make.

Soon is the tragic tale of what happens when the war finally ends. The horror, the cruelty and the hunger do not disappear just because the war is over. New threats and new fears throw out any ideas that Felix may have had that he only needed the war to end to feel safe and secure again. Instead his post-war life is filled with worry and despair. How can he stay hopeful when everything seems absolutely hopeless? Soon is a story about dreams and imagination.


Maybe is the refugee story that I thought Felix would want to tell us about. He is now 14 yrs of age and in the process of emigrating to Australia. This is his chance to live a in safe, modern world, where he can put his past behind him. But not all Australians welcome the idea of accepting an influx of war orphans and sadly, orphanages can be good - or bad - in any country.

Felix has had to grow up fast and the only thing that bugged me about this book was his voice. At times I wondered if Gleitzman was going to suddenly tell us that Felix was on the autism spectrum. The naive, childish voice didn't match Felix's life experience at all. It jarred. It was like he'd been allowed to grow up physically and intellectually, but not emotionally. The trauma of war, can do that to a person for sure, and maybe that's what Gleitzman was trying to get at. But it felt like a flaw in the story that Felix did not sound like a 14 yr old.

The simple storytelling style of 10 yr old Felix has not been allowed to mature and evolve into a teen story. Yet....

This reader, for one, is always hopeful and optimistic.

Gleitzman's webpage is a treasure trove of information about his books - for dedicated readers, teachers and parents. He also has lists of books that inspired or helped him with his research for this series.

Gleitzman's list of books about bushfires
Gleitzman's list of books about the Holocaust
Book 7 Always (to be published)
Book 6 Maybe
Book 5 Soon
Book 4 After
Book 3, 2 & 1 Now, Then & Once

Friday, 1 December 2017

Stories and Shout-outs.

So, the 1st of December, time for the silly season to start!

As many of you know already I don't really do many/any yearly reading challenges, but I do love a good readalong. And there are two beauties that have caught my eye recently.


Liz @Adventures in Reading is planning a HUGE 18mnth readalong of the entire Iris Murdoch oeuvre...in chronological order. That's one book per month for the dedicated and fanatic!

When I first spotted Liz's post I only had The Sea The Sea, on my TBR pile, which menat that I wouldn't be joining in the readalong until May 2019!! But since then I have been acquiring (shhhh don't tell Mr Books!) more of her books. I now have Under the Net, The Book and the Brotherhood and The Flight From the Enchanter.

I'm now in catch up mode.

Under the Net was Murdoch's first book, written in 1954, and a November read. The Flight From the Enchanter is the December read. The Book and the Brotherhood is slated for September 2019! All my editions so far are Random Vintage Classics.

The second readalong to pique my interest is Nick @A Catholic Life's year long readalong of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. There are 365 short chapters in the unabridged edition of this chunkster classic - so that's one a day. Sounds like the perfect leisurely read doesn't it? For more details and to sign up pop over here.

I've never read Les Mis before or seen the movie, stage production or any other format of the story. I'm not quite sure how that has happened. All I know is that it's set during, in or around the French Revolution, one of the periods of history that I have a particular obsession with.

My edition of the book is the Penguin hardcover translated by Norman Denny. A bit of a brick, but it has a pretty ribbon marker to keep my place :-)


Have you spotted any interesting readalongs for 2018? I could be tempted!

Thursday, 30 November 2017

#AusReadingMonth Wrap Up

Well, here we are.
At the end of our fifth #AusReadingMonth...and I feel rather bittersweet about the whole experience.


November turned out to be a real mixed bag of emotions and events that distracted me from all of my fine reading goals.

I feel reluctant to let go of November. November was the month that my wonderful father-in-law was still alive in, although all too briefly. The days without him in our lives, has too quickly become a week, and before we know it, we'll have gone a month without him. In a blink of an eye we'll be saying 'last year' and the space between when he was with us and when we've been without him gets further and further apart.

We still feel the possibility of his presence with us all the time. We have moments when we forget and it feels like it's been nothing more than too long a while since we last spoke on the phone. Because we didn't live in the same city, we can almost pretend that he's busy with stuff and we'll catch up soon. But with each passing day, this sense of his living presence grows less and the space is filled by memories instead. Wonderful, fun, loving memories they are, we're lucky in that, but we'd all rather a hug and a good old chat instead. The sound of his voice is still in my ears, his body gestures and mannerisms are still familiar, it still feels like he exists in a space in this world. Instead there is a Bruce-sized hole in our universe that hurts to contemplate.

But Bruce would want us to carry on and embrace the joyful times in our lives. He was so proud and excited for me about my first photographic exhibition. He would have enjoyed hearing about my niece's first experience at the School's Spectacular. He would have been thrilled to hear about B20's new job and new car this week. He'd have some wise words for B17 who is feeling stressed with his HSC studies. And he would have been thrilled to hear about Mr Books' recent nomination to be President of our local soccer association (the largest in Australia).

I'm now beginning to wonder how on earth I actually managed to read anything at all all this month!

But it takes a lot to put me off books.

I need books to help switch my brain off work and life mode, when I go to bed each night. That never changes, but the type of book does. If I'm not too tired, I enjoy reading non-fiction before bed, but when tired and flat, I need easy, comforting stories - classics, historical fiction, or if I'm really overwhelmed, then junior fiction is the way to go!
Sadly, this meant that Non-Fiction November was a complete and utter fizzer for me this year, although I did enjoy catching up on everyone else's posts. As for my AusBingo Card....well, all those states I had planned to read, disappeared one by one as I reached for comfort read after comfort read.

I may not have completed my personal challenge, but I did read some amazing stories (esp. The Commandant and Sisters) and found myself a new author whose back list I want to explore (Gerald Murnane).
Nancy's review of Into The Heart of Tasmania has me intrigued as well. It has now won the Queensland History Book Award and the Tasmanian Book Prize for this year.

How did you fare?
Was it easy to fit in reading an Aussie book or two, or did you struggle?
Did you find any new books or authors that you've already added to next year's #AusReadingMonth wishlist?

I'd love to hear from you about your month of reading.


Finally, a HUGE thank you one and all, for your enthusiasm and interest once again this year and please accept my HEARTFELT blessings for your kind words and understanding during this oh so difficult time.

If you forgot to link up your #AusReadingMonth review, don't panic! The Linky is below and open for another week. Pop around to visit our other participants to give you some great ideas for what to read next November :-)

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton

I've had a lovely run of Text Classics during this year's #AusReadingMonth. It wasn't what I had planned though. Unexpected sad family news threw every plan and good intention out the window. As for reading matters, I fell back into the waiting arms of my comfort genre - classic/historical fiction. Text Classics softened the landing!

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Dalton read like historical fiction (being set in Kings Cross, Sydney between the wars) but it was in fact a memoir. Perhaps because Dalton wrote the book in the 1960's, and was therefore looking back on her life from a bit of a distance, there were romantic, nostalgic, story-like elements to it.


Dalton's childhood sounded fairly chaotic and madcap. A bevy of elderly aunts and uncles, a cast of weird and wonderful characters and some bizarre deaths. Her dad was the local GP which meant he had a nodding acquaintance with many of the eccentrics who lived in the area. A large number of these would turn up on the doorstep seeking treatment at all hours of the day and night. 

Death was always present, cosily accepted, in my life.

In the large old house they all called home, strained relationships between the generations were the norm. Regular blow-ups kept everyone on their toes and oodles of passive-aggressive behaviour made for great storytelling, but must have been a nightmare to actually live with.

Looking back from the midst of my own ordinary adult life, it seems to me that a vein of quite extraordinary eventfulness enlivened the everyday existence of my mother's and father's lives and the lives of all my numerous great-aunts and -uncles and grandparents.

Sydney, itself, also became a larger-than-life character in Dalton's book. Her descriptions of Kings Cross, the buildings, local politics and the weather were evocative and realistic.

Our house was the only private residence in Kings Cross, the city's 'European' quarter - the 'Montmartre' of Sydney, people called it, with flattery and nostalgia. Actually, it was fairly hideous; like all of urban Sydney being a dusty hodgepodge of low-built builldings, all in need of a coat of paint-the upper halves flats and residential rooms and the lower halves shops, offices and cinemas. Between the two, cutting off the dirty stucco and dingy brickwork from the glaring neon signs, were the ubiquitous iron or concrete awnings, the characteristic features of Sydney's dim architecture.


Dinah Dryhurst's black and white line drawings are scattered throughout the book adding interest and charm.

However, I confess that I found the level of eccentric behaviour and chaos exhausting by the end. I understand that Dalton was retelling her childhood stories for her own children after the early death of her husband, their father. Perhaps she was subconsciously trying to make a point or insert a life lesson that would help them accept the sudden change in their own lives, by showing that change and disruption is a normal part of all our life stories.

Compared to the modern day memoir where much navel-gazing and introspection is the norm. And where whole chapters are devoted to working out why people behaved the way they did or what flow on effects the childhood experiences may or may not have had, Dalton's memoir is, on one hand, delightfully free of such analysis, but on the other, lacking in the personal insight that can give a memoir universal meaning.

Aunts Up the Cross was a fun, rather bizarre romp through depression era Sydney. A delight to read but easily forgotten.

#AusReadingMonth (remember to link your reviews)
#Australian Women Writers Challenge

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Top Ten Tuesday - Summer Here We Come!

The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.
Each week they nominate a topic to encourage those of us who love a good list to get all listy.


This week it's all about summer (in Australia).
Wahoo!

There's only three more calendar days until the start of the Australian Summer, but it feels like its here already. Muggy days, over 26°C with the incessant sound of cicadas, warm nights buzzing with mosquitoes. It could a long, hot summer!

I love summer dresses, evening walks after dinner, cold beers and trips to the beach.
And I love lazing around on a hot, hot day, under the fan, with a good book or two. 

Rose Bay, Sydney

My Top Ten Books to Read Over the Australian Summer

1.
Pompeii by Robert Harris

This is my new book club read for the summer. 
I've always wanted to read one of Harris' historical fiction books as they are popular with our customers at work.
Erupting volcanoes are on my mind lately too.


A sweltering week in late August. Where better to enjoy the last days of summer than on the beautiful Bay of Naples? But even as Rome's richest citizens relax in their villas around Pompeii and Herculaneum, there are ominous warnings that something is going wrong. Wells and springs are failing, a man has disappeared, and now the greatest aqueduct in the world - the mighty Aqua Augusta - has suddenly ceased to flow. Through the eyes of four characters - a young engineer, an adolescent girl, a corrupt millionaire and an elderly scientist - Robert Harris brilliantly recreates a luxurious world on the brink of destruction.

2.
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

My Classics Club spin for the summer.
Happy dance!


3.
Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills

A February 2018 new release from Picador.
One of my reps gave it a HUGE rap, and that's all I need to give this one a go.


One morning, the residents of a coastal small town wake to discover the sea has disappeared, leaving them 'landlocked'. However, the narrator has been seeing visions of this cataclysm for years. Is she a prophet? Does she have a disorder that skews her perception of time (the 'Dyschronia' of the title). Or is she just a liar?

Mills' novel takes contemporary issues of resource depletion and climate change and welds them to one young woman's migraine-inducing nightmares. Her narrator's prevision anticipates a world where entire communities are left to fend for themselves: economically drained, socially fractured, trapped between a hardscrabble past and an uncertain future.

4.
Let Go My Hand by Edward Docx

Highly recommended by one of my colleagues.
And I like the cover :-)


Louis Lasker loves his family dearly – apart from when he doesn’t. There’s a lot of history. His father’s marriages, his mother’s death; one brother in exile, another in denial; everything said, everything unsaid. And now his father (the best of men, the worst of men) has taken a decision which will affect them all and has asked his three sons to join him on one final journey across Europe.

But Louis is far from sure that this trip is a good idea. His older half-brothers are wonderful, terrible, troublesome people. And they’re as suspicious as they are supportive . . . because the truth is that they’ve never forgiven their father for the damaging secrets and corrosive lies of his past. So how much does Louis love his dad – to death? Or can this flawed family’s bond prove powerful enough to keep a dying man alive?

Let Go My Hand is a darkly comic and deeply moving twenty-first-century love story between a son, his brothers and their father. Through these vividly realized characters, it asks elemental questions about how we love, how we live, and what really matters in the end. Frequently funny, sometimes profound, always beautifully written, this intimate and life-affirming novel shows the Booker-longlisted author of Self Helpat his brilliant best, and confirms his reputation as one of Britain’s most intelligent and powerful writers.

5.

I've read the previous five books in this series.
They're fabulous junior fiction about the Holocaust.
Despite the tragic subject matter, Gleitzman brings a sense of humanity to this difficult to understand topic.
Every time he thinks he is finished with Felix's story for good, he finds out later that Felix still has more to say.



A powerfully moving addition to Morris Gleitzman's bestselling series about Felix and Zelda which takes place in 1945, following directly on from the story told in Soon. 


This intensely affecting story will move readers of all ages. It will be welcomed by the many Holocaust educators who use Once, Now, Then, After and Soon to teach upper primary and lower secondary children and embraced by any reader who loves passionate, moving and brilliant stories.

6.
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

My relationship with Carey is a bit hit or miss.
The reviews are suggesting that this one could be a hit.
Only one way to find out....


Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in rural south eastern Australia. Together with Willie, their lanky navigator, they embark upon the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the continent, over roads no car will ever quite survive.

A Long Way from Home is Peter Carey's late style masterpiece; a thrilling high speed story that starts in one way, then takes you to another place altogether. Set in the 1950s in the embers of the British Empire, painting a picture of Queen and subject, black, white and those in-between, this brilliantly vivid novel illustrates how the possession of an ancient culture spirals through history - and the love made and hurt caused along the way.

7.
Every Third Thought by Robert McCrum

Like McCrum, I'm getting to an age when losing people seems to be happening more and more. Certainly far more than I would like!
And like McCrum I share a preoccupation with all things life and death.
Be prepared is my motto; or perhaps forewarned is forearmed is closer to the heart of the matter.


In 1995, at the age of forty two, Robert McCrum suffered a dramatic and near-fatal stroke, the subject of his acclaimed memoir My Year Off. Ever since that life-changing event, McCrum has lived in the shadow of death, unavoidably aware of his own mortality. And now, twenty-one years on, he is noticing a change: his friends are joining him there. Death has become his contemporaries’ every third thought. The question is no longer ‘who am I?’ but ‘how long have I got?’ and ‘what happens next?’

With the words of McCrum’s favourite authors as travel companions, Every Third Thought, takes us on a journey through a year and towards death itself. As he acknowledges his own and his friends’ ageing, McCrum confronts an existential question: in a world where we have learnt to live well at all costs, can we make peace with what Freud calls 'the necessity of dying'? Searching for answers leads him to others for advice and wisdom, and Every Third Thought is populated by the voices of brain surgeons, psychologists, cancer patients, hospice workers, writers and poets.

Witty, lucid and provocative, Every Third Thought is an enthralling exploration of what it means to approach the ‘end game’, and begin to recognize, perhaps reluctantly, that we are not immortal. Deeply personal and yet always universal, this is a book for anyone who finds themselves preoccupied by matters of life and death. It is both guide and companion.

8.
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I've really embraced my inner creative in recent years; it's time to let it out more!



Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. 



With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. 

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

9.

Another book that has come highly recommended to me via one of my reps.
Outside my comfort zone, but intriguing nonetheless.


National Book Award winner M. T. Anderson returns to future Earth in a sharply wrought satire of art and truth in the midst of colonization.

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth - but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents' jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv's miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem "classic" Earth culture (doo-wop music, still-life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it's hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he's willing to go - and what he's willing to sacrifice - to give the vuvv what they want.

10.
Basho: The Complete Haiku by Matsuo Basho

In preparation for my BIG 5-0 trip to Japan next year, there will be many more Japanese writers and stories appearing on these pages. 

I've loved Basho's haiku's for years now, so when I spotted this beautifully illustrated complete volume of his work, I knew I had to have it. 

Last night I booked our onsen accommodation for Yamagata so that the unsuspecting Mr Books can share my passion for Basho by visiting the region made famous by Basho in his pilgrimage classic, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (1689) - also on my TBR yama!


Basho stands today as Japans most renowned writer, and one of the most revered. Wherever Japanese literature, poetry or Zen are studied, his oeuvre carries weight. Every new student of haiku quickly learns that Basho was the greatest of the Old Japanese Masters.

Yet despite his stature, Bashos complete haiku have not been collected into a single volume. Until now.

To render the writers full body of work into English, Jane Reichhold, an American haiku poet and translator, dedicated over ten years of work. In Basho: The Complete Haiku, she accomplishes the feat with distinction. Dividing his creative output into seven periods of development, Reichhold frames each period with a decisive biographical sketch of the poets travels, creative influences and personal triumphs and defeats. Scrupulously annotated notes accompany each poem; and a glossary and two indexes fill out the volume.

Reichhold notes that, Basho was a genius with words. He obsessively sought out the right word for each phrase of the succinct seventeen-syllable haiku, seeking the very essence of experience and expression. With equal dedication, Reichhold sought the ideal translations. As a result, Basho: The Complete Haiku is likely to become the essential work on this brilliant poet and will stand as the most authoritative book on the subject for many years to come. Original sumi-e ink drawings by artist Shiro Tsujimura complement the haiku throughout the book.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

The Plains by Gerald Murnane

Well!

Gerald Murnane!

What on earth am I going to say about you and this amazingly, stupendous, spectacular display of writing?


How do you sum up or explain your experience with a book that pushes, exposes and plays around with so many ideas in one compact little piece of speculative writing? Where do you even begin to describe just how profound an effect it has had on you? And how delighted to have a discovered a new-to-me writer with at least another nine books to dive into?

The blurb on the back of my Text Classic says,
Gerald Murnane's The Plains tells the story of the families of the plains - obsessed with their land and history, their culture and mythology - and of the man who ventured into their world.

Okay, The Plains is that - on the very tip of the surface - but how to adequately describe the layers and depth?

Goodreads goes a little further with their synopsis,

On their vast estates, the landowning families of the plains have preserved a rich and distinctive culture. Obsessed with their own habitat and history, they hire artisans, writers and historians to record in minute detail every aspect of their lives, and the nature of their land. A young film-maker arrives on the plains, hoping to make his own contribution to the elaboration of this history. In a private library he begins to take notes for a film, and chooses the daughter of his patron for a leading role. 
Twenty years later, he begins to tell his haunting story of life on the plains. As his story unfolds, the novel becomes, in the words of Murray Bail, 'a mirage of landscape, memory, love and literature itself'.

This brings us a little closer, thanks to the use of words like 'distinctive', 'minute detail', 'haunting' and 'mirage'. However, to really pin down the elusive, yet elaborate nature of this story will take a much better writer and thinker than moi!

Let's try Shannon Burns' 2015 article in the Sydney Review of Books, Gerald Murnane: An idiot in the Greek Sense:

I noticed the obvious things first: his sentences, above all else, were pristine; his tone was direct; his narrative control was stupefying; and he seemed to be writing about something that was at once totally unique to him and recognisably Australian. Over the following weeks and months Murnane’s other novels and collections of fiction – most of which were out of print and difficult to find at the time – revealed to me a local writer who could be mentioned in the same breath as literary greats (and eccentrics) like Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka. Here was the kind of Australian writer I’d never dreamed of encountering, yet none of his books had received a major literary award.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part read like a parody of serious literature. It was quite funny at times, in a satirical way, as culture, philosophy, religion and love of nature were exposed and extolled in the same breath.
It was as though each plainsman chose to appear as a solitary inhabitant of a region that only he could explain.

The middle part was pretty dense with ideas and could almost be described as a monologue by Murnane through his characters. I'm not sure I understood what he was trying to do here. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry!
So I keep away nowadays from the volumes in which Time itslef is made to appear as one more sort of plain. I have no wish to be seen...as a man in sight of Time, the Invisible Plain, or approaching Time, the Plain Beyond Reach, or finding his way back from Time, the Pathless Plain, or even surrounded by Time, the Boundless Plain.

The last section seemed to sum up Murnane's ideas on seeing and perception, light and dark, memory and time. I felt like I had missed whole layers of thought and philosophy though, that where just within my grasp, but not quite knowable in the end.
I lifted my own camera to my face and stood with my eye pressed against the lens and my finger poised as if to expose to the film in its dark chamber the darkness that was the only visible sign of whatever I saw beyond myself.

See what I mean?


Intellectual, almost obtuse, experimental books can often leave me cold, but I found myself ridiculously excited by The Plains. There was something so compelling and captivating about the whole inner and outer Australian concept, that turns the way we see ourselves as Australians on its head. The incredible depth of detail that Murnane developed about this way of life and the people who populated this world - the plainsmen - who were so gob-smackingly self-absorbed, left me breathless. And bewildered.

A reread is definitely on the cards!

#AusReadingMonth
Winner of the Patrick White Award 1999

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Commandant by Jessica Anderson

The Commandant came recommended to me in a roundabout fashion. Earlier on in the year, I attended an 'Honouring the Author' event at the State Library, NSW. The author in question was Jessica Anderson.


Anderson won the Miles Franklin Prize twice (in 1978 & 1980), but not for The Commandant.
By the end of the honouring event, though, I was convinced that The Commandant was the book for me to start my Jessica Anderson journey with (and not one of her two more contemporary award winning books). Historical fiction based on real life events and people will always win me over.

The Commandant is based on Captain Patrick Logan, the man in charge of the Moreton Bay convict settlement on the present day site of Brisbane.

Moreton Bay Settlement 1835
He was a cruel task master, feared by all the convicts.
But the story is told mostly from the point of view of his young (fictional) sister-in-law, Frances, recently arrived from Ireland.

In some ways, this story could be seen as a simple drawing room story about two sisters, but of course, the outside world intrudes regularly on their domestic dramas. There is a strong message about the role of women in the early years of colonisation and how they coped with the isolation, the lack of modern amenities and the constant fear of the unknown. Frances is told by one of the other women,
'Whatever course you take,' she said, half-shutting her eyes, 'no doubt in ten years or so you will arrive at the state of the most of us - simply of making do with what one has. Surprisingly enough -' she opened surprised eyes - 'it is an art in which one may progress. I thought I knew all about making do with what one had, but now I find I can do more with it than I dreamed.'


Anderson's deceptively straightforward plot also hides many viewpoints and tensions.

We see the doubt and confusion that the soldiers and their wives feel about Logan's actions. The young doctors, who have to tend the battered backs of the recently whipped convicts, have another story to tell. The threat of a highly publicised court case in Sydney to deal with the rumours of Logan's cruelty bubble away underneath the surface, only to rear up every time a ship arrives with mail. The menace of the convicts, who far outnumber the soldiers, is felt throughout the story. How the convicts view the settlers and how they, in turn, view the convicts is a tension that Anderson plays with deftly. 


Underlying all this, though, is another viewpoint. The local Aboriginal population are spoken of and seen fleetingly by our main characters. They know they are being watched, rumours and myths are rampant. Yet the reader can also see this little settlement, barely clinging onto the land around the Brisbane River, through the eyes of the Aboriginals, wondering who on earth where these strange people with their stone walls and inappropriate clothing and guns. 

Image source

Even further away, are the Sydney based journalists and intelligentsia who are driving social change and asking questions about reform, mercy and justice for the convicts. Frances represents this new world order while her brother-in-law represents the old world order of duty, a firm hand and punishment. Logan is understandably confused and even, hurt, by the possibility of change. Anderson portrays his loneliness and brooding behaviour in a sympathetic light, thanks to the tender, loving concern he evokes in his young wife (a woman with a lisp not unlike the one that Anderson, herself battled with all her life).

It is not just Logan's right to rule that is called into question here. Anderson also leads us to see how tenuous and uncertain these early settlements actually were. A so-called civilisation perched on the edge of wilderness, halfway round the world, for the spurious idea of containing the poor and dispossessed of England, was always going to be fraught with danger. Most of the poor and dispossessed ended up on the wrong side of the law as a result of the Industrial Revolution. So many of the convicts were shipped off to Australia for one single offence, often stealing food or clothes. The colony of Australia became the dumping ground for a problem the English didn't want to face. Instead of dealing with the problem of a growing divide between the haves and have-nots at home, they shipped as many of the have-nots off to the other side of the world to basically fend for themselves.

Image source

Anderson's story brings to vivid life this period of history. There are fabulous, meaty characters, shifting points of view and a pervading sense of mercy. Logan's demise is deliberately left as confused and murky as the official reports of the time. Anderson doesn't try to give us the answers that weren't available to her characters at the time.

The story ends, as it began, with Frances on board a ship, musing about her fate. The innocence and conviction of her beginning has been tempered by experience and sympathy.

I'm so grateful to Text Publishing for bringing such tremendous Australian stories back into print. I hope they never go out of print again.

#AusReadingMonth
#Australian Women Writers challenge

Thursday, 23 November 2017

On Doubt by Leigh Sales

Touted as a pocket-sized antidote to fake news, Leigh Sales essay On Doubt has been re-released eight years after it's initial 2009 publication in the Little Books on Big Themes series. With the on-going, even increased need for a discussion on self-doubt, balance and truth in our modern lives, this little book has struck a chord with it's 2017 readers, becoming a best seller at work in recent weeks.


Leigh Sales is an ABC journalist and current affairs presenter who has been curious and sceptical all her life. She was the quintessential, questioning, ever-doubting teenager that grew up to do the same thing throughout her career.

She aims to challenge blind faith and over-confidence, but living life with a doubtful mind has it's own pitfalls including anxiety and a lack of an all-consuming passion to name two.

The essay is dotted with fascinating little stories about her childhood, George Bush, Sarah Palin, old style journalists and public disputes between journalists & historians. 

There's even a 12th century philosopher, Pierre Abelard who taught,
that the path to truth lay in the systematic application of doubt. Not only should doubt be brought to bear on external issues, but it should also be turned inwards to test one's own assumptions.

Sales discussed the perils of what she called 'niche news' in 2009. This is the news of telling consumers what they want to hear and it is, of course, interesting to see how this has now morphed into the fake news of today's mad, mad world.

The state of our political system is discussed. Our need for strong leaders to provide electoral certainty has given rise to absolutes. Any leader that changes his of her mind, prevaricates or takes too long to make a decision is seen as a poor leader. Complex issues are not debated, nuance is avoided at all costs, while black and white thinking reigns supreme.

It's easy to see why so many people found Trump attractive when viewed in this light.

Sales finished her 2009 essay poking a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at herself, clearly showing that she didn't take herself too seriously after all:

I feel that without a doubtful mind, I wouldn't learn as much or have as much fun. But I could be wrong.

The 2017 postscript added another 20-odd pages to her original essay which brought us update with Trump, Turnbull, Shorten and social media, all 'neatly manicured to show our best possible selves to the world'.

Sales believes we have now become so used to distortion in every part of our life that people, especially those in public life, 'no longer bother to hide their deliberate skewing of reality'.
She claims that we've stopped caring about the facts and don't trust any organisation or politician to tell us the truth or anything genuine.

But we can do better than double speak and political correctness - the secret is authenticity.
the reality is there are not two equal sides to every issue...There are not two sides to racism or bigotry....When the facts are overwhelming, they should be presented as such.
Facts matter. Integrity matters. Honesty matters. It's important to understand that your own opinion is not always right and it's vital to be open to the views of others.

I read On Doubt late in the day during the 24 hr #DeweyReadathon in preparation for #AusReadingMonth and #NonFicNov. 

It was a quick, easy read with nothing particularly new or startling to reveal, but it was a timely reminder for us all to check in with our own certainties and black and white thinking, to exercise some doubt and caution and to question those who claim to tell us the truth.


I'm not quite sure what koala's have to do with a French philosopher, however this was the quote that Sales used as her epigraph. Since it's #AusReadingMonth, what the heck! Perhaps this can remind that the first thing you should doubt is the notion that koalas are cute and cuddly. Cute they may be; cuddly they are not!

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Sisters by Ada Cambridge

Happy Birthday Ada Cambridge!

My copy of Sisters by Ada Cambridge (21st November 1844 - 19th July 1926) was a fairly recent find in a second hand book shop. It's a 1989 Penguin Australian Women's Library edition which was apparently the first time this glorious 1904 book had ever been reprinted.

With wealth and good birth behind them the four Pennycuik sisters expected to marry well and live happily ever after, but Ada Cambridge, in this turn-of-the-century novel, dispenses with conventional romantic notions about marriage. 
Deborah Pennycuik refuses three proposals in one day; Mary invents one to last her whole life; Rose marries for love and into poverty; while Francie marries for money. 
Whatever the motive and how ever careful the choice, marriage is no guarantee of happiness. Instead, Ada Cambridge presents a cutting satire on the institution of marriage.

The title appealed immediately as I am also, one of four girls.


According to the brief bio in the front of the book, many of Cambridge's 25 novels were serialised in the Australiasian and The Age and she was one of Australia's most successful and best known writers at the time. Really?

How is it then, that a review by Ali @Heavenali a few years ago, was the very first time I had ever heard of this extraordinary Australian writer?

Where did she go? Why did she fall out of favour? How did she fall out of favour?

And who was she?

Cambridge's online biography says:

Ada Cambridge (1844-1926), writer, was born on 21 November 1844 at St Germans, Norfolk, England, daughter of Henry Cambridge, gentleman farmer, and his wife Thomasina, née Emmerson, a doctor's daughter. She grew up in Downham, Norfolk.

On 25 April 1870 at Holy Trinity, Ely, she married George Frederick Cross, a curate committed to colonial service; on 19 August they landed in Melbourne.
 
In the following years pastoral work took them to Wangaratta (1870), Yackandandah (1872), Ballan (1875), Coleraine (1877), Bendigo (1883), Beechworth (1885) and Williamstown (1893).
Ada was centred on but not confined by home and family in those decades and the busy life of their different parishes gave her a wide range of colonial experience which she later recalled in the engaging and valuable Thirty Years in Australia (1903). 
This and her childhood reminiscences, The Retrospect (1912), inspired by a return visit to England in 1908, show to what extent she drew upon personal experience and private dream-world for her novels. 
She herself emerges as frail and charming, never robust after a carriage accident in the 1870s; her ideas were considered a little daring and even improper for a clergyman's wife.

She sounds utterly fascinating. As does her very pragmatic, class-conscious story about marriage.

Ada Cambridge, c. 1920, by Spencer Shier

Sisters is the story of four young women coming of age on a rural property in northern Victoria. But it is also the story of Guthrie Carey, a young sailor whose life crosses paths with the sisters at various points.

The perils and pitfalls of love and marriage dominate the story. It would seem that Cambridge had a pretty cynical view and very low expectations for happiness within the confines of marriage.

Poor Mary married in a fit of madness, an older man beneath her in every way, even though he was a man of the cloth. Her marriage was one of quiet desperation; her only joy an ungrateful son and the eventual death of her husband.

'I am happy. For Debbie...I'm clean now - I never thought to be again - to know anything so exquisitely sweet, either in earth or heaven - I'm clean, body and soul, day and night, inside and outside, at last.'

Ouch!

Rose, also married beneath her - way beneath her - a draper no less, but she married for love. To the modern reader, it seems like she has a pretty happy marriage. There's enough money to live very comfortably, they appreciate and feel grateful for their good fortune and they have eleven healthy, adoring children! Rose doesn't miss the society life of her childhood, but her sisters still judge her and deem her marriage unsatisfactory due to the taint of 'new money'.

Such a sordidly domestic person she was!...Love - great, solemn, immortal Love, passionate and suffering - was a thing unknown to comfortable, commonplace Rose....Was it come to this - that marriage and family were synonymous terms?

Frances, pretty and wilful, the baby of the family, shockingly marries a much older man for his money. They quickly head off to the Continent to live the society life deemed necessary back then. Just as quickly, she begins an affair with an old family friend.

Poor Francie! she was born at a disadvantage, with that fascinating face of hers set on the foundation of so light a character

Deb, the beauty, stayed defiantly single for most of her life, until she succumbed to the charms of her very first lover in his dotage. She is lonely for children, but consoles herself with some kind of high-minded ideals about pure love. But basically she's left nursing a grumpy, old man!

Young Carey's first wife tragically dies in a boating accident after five weeks of married life together. Lily's ghost and their brief marriage becomes his ideal. He falls for the beauty of both Deb and Frances and nearly gets ensnarled in a romantic fantasy gone wrong with Mary. Eventually he marries an English country cousin, after finally attaining everything he ever dreamed of, yet still idealising his love for Lily, instead of being grateful for what he has.

Lily in the retrospect was the faultless woman - the ideal wife and love's young dream in one...'Whatever is lacking now, I have known the fullness of love and bliss - that there is such a thing as a perfect union between man and woman, rare as it may be.' It will be remembered that he was married to her, actually, for a period not exceeding five weeks in all.

Cambridge finishes her tale about love and marriage with Jim, the station manager, who has secretly pined after Debbie all his life, listening outside the window to her play the piano to her slumbering husband.

He did not know what a highly favoured mortal he really was, in that his beautiful love-story was never to be spoiled by a happy ending.

A rather twisted version of the 'it's better to have loved than lost, than never to have loved at all' idea perhaps? We have an unhappy marriage with a power imbalance, a domestic goddess whose life is taken up with child bearing and child rearing, an adultress, a nursemaid, a man still in love with his former wife's ghost and a lonely old, man dreaming of a love that will never be!

I'm certainly very curious to know more about Cambridge's own marriage now.

If Sisters is a fair example of her work, then I will certainly be seeking out more. She doesn't write with the same breadth and depth as Henry Handel Richardson, but she does tackle women's issues and class consciousness head-on in a time when this was not really the done thing in literature.

Sisters features some fabulous dialogue and memorable descriptions. Debbie and Carey in particular, are fully realised characters that will live with me for a long time to come.

Bill @The Australian Legend is planning an Australian Women Writers Gen 1 Week. Cambridge is considered to be Gen 1 writer according to Bill's list of generations. Pop over to his page to join in the discussion or to check the list for your own reading pleasure. The idea is to read and link up Gen 1 AWW on his post that will go live on the 15th Jan 2018, to create a fabulous online resource for all of us.

Bill's post alerted me to the fact that the AWW Gen 1 women, including Cambridge were dismissed by the (mostly male, Sydney-centric) Gen 2 writers. In much the same way that many men still try to dismiss Jane Austen as a romance writer for women, it appears that Cambridge was relegated to the status of being nothing more than a writer for women, writing about female domestic concerns. And therefore not worthy of male attention.

Have you ever read any books by Ada Cambridge?
#AusReadingMonth
#AustralianWomenWritersChallenge

Sunday, 19 November 2017

The Ladies of Missalonghi by Colleen McCullough

Regular followers of my blog will already know how much I love The Ladies of Missalonghi. It's not only a deliciously light, confectionery offering of a book, it's also a murky story mired down in a controversy involving plagiarism and L. M. Montgomery's The Blue Castle. A recent readalong for The Blue Castle was all the convincing I needed to not only reread it, but also to tack Missalonghi onto my #AusReadingMonth TBR pile.

The last time I read the books, TBC was read after TLOM, and The Ladies came out slightly ahead in personal preference, so I decided to reverse the order this time. And guess what? This time The Blue Castle was the preferred story.


I love the setting of TLOM. The Blue Mountains is one of my favourite places in NSW, in fact, Mr Books and I were married 8 years ago on a Blue Mountains clifftop overlooking one of the beautiful valleys mentioned in the story. It's wildness and grand views are perfect for a BIG romance and the cool nights seem designed for snuggling up with a cosy book and someone you love. But I could be biased! (FYI - Byron is a fictional Blue Mountains village, but it could also be any of the gorgeous villages that do actually hug the line of the cliffs and the railway).



On winter mornings the valley was filled with brilliant white cloud that sat like milk below the level of the cliff tops, and suddenly as the sun increased in warmth it would lift up in a moment and vanish. Sometimes the cloud would come down from above, fingers seeking out the tree tops far below until it succeeded in covering them from sight under a spectral blanket. And as sunset approached, winter and summer, the cliffs began to take on deeper, richer colour, glowering rose-red, then crimson, and finally purple that faded into night's mysterious indigo. Most wonderful of all was the rare snow, when all the crags and outcrops of the clilffs were picked out in white, and the moving leafy trees shook off their powdering of icy moisture as fast as it fell upon them, unwilling to accept a touch so alien.

This is the mountains to a tee!



I also love that Missy's immediate family in TLOM are much kinder and more loving than poor Valancy's in TBC. Missy has grown up poor with a strict but loving mother. She knows what poverty and love  feels like. Poor Valancy only knows poverty.

Both novels can be seen as fairly classic examples of the romance genre - with a down trodden, plain heroine-to-be, a family that gets in her way/puts her down/hides her away, a mysterious, stranger hero-to-be, a misunderstanding that becomes the agent of change so that our 'to-be's' finally become fully fledged heroine and hero, in love and living happily ever after!

It has been suggested by some reviews I've read online, that McCullough's story is in fact a parody of the romance genre, but for a parody to work, there have to be clear signs for the reader to pick up on. Having read both books more than once, I couldn't find any evidence of parody or spoof, although McCullough does seem a little self-conscious at times.

The mystery in TLOM is more modern, and dare I say a more believable story (despite the ghost!) than Valancy's mere wondering about what on earth it is that Barney gets up to in his locked room. The satisfaction the reader gets when Missy's extended family get their comeuppance is far more thrilling than the mild pleasure we feel when we eventually discover what most readers have already worked out about who Barney really is and what he is doing.

As for the ghost in TLOM!
Where did that come from? 
I don't think that McCullough gives the reader anywhere near enough clues and it isn't resolved very well, but it does inject a lovely bit of fairy tale-like magic into this romance. And it's the feel of this story that people respond to after all, not the logic.

The main thrill for readers of TBC is Valancy's blossoming. In true Cinderella style, Valancy overcomes parental and societal restrictions to finally come into her own and be happy in a life of her own choosing. She does it all by herself and we couldn't be prouder! Whereas Missy is guided and encouraged by Una to do the same.

The deception at the heart of both stories is one that Valancy also visited on herself. She is totally unaware that the doctor's letter was not meant for her. Whereas Missy sets out to deceive to get her man. And that's where TLOM loses a little of its charm, but gains some in moral complexity.

Did McCullough plagiarise The Blue Castle?
The jury still seems to be out on this.

Both Montgomery and McCullough are frequently associated with national stereotypes: as McCullough ruefully acknowledges, part of her problem seems to be that she has interfered with an author who is a ‘Canadian icon’. Montgomery’s writing is recognised as playing a major role in establishing one of the most persistent images of Canadians—as wholesome, vigorous, close to nature. On the other hand McCullough’s own brashness and sense of herself as a tall poppy under attack draw upon a stereotypically Australian set of images. The authors in play in this controversy, then, are recognisably national, if quite dissimilar.

                                                   (Double Trouble: One or Two Women? Gillian Whitlock, March 26 2015, Meanjin Quarterly)

McCullough always denied any plagiarism. However her theory that she was merely using the known tropes of romantic fiction doesn't really hold up either. There are just too many similarities.

I suspect the truth, as always, lies somewhere in the middle.

As an Anne fan, McCullough no doubt read The Blue Castle at some point in her childhood, but didn't remember doing so. Instead it stayed, tucked away, cosy and warm in her subconscious, until she was ready to write her very own fairy tale romance. The controversy doesn't diminish either story, and can actually be seen as a bonus. Thanks to the debate, both books have now been read by a much wider audience than what may have happened if they'd just been left to their own devices. I, for one, would never have discovered TBC if not for the controversy and I will always be grateful for that.

Both books are light, sweet, fluffy reads, just like a box of chocolate or a glass of bubbles! They're perfect in small doses or as a tonic to lift you out of the blues. And together, they are a splendid way to spend a rainy weekend, comparing and contrasting, til your heart's content!

LyzzyBee's 2017 TLOM review
My 2017 reread of The Blue Castle
Naomi @Consumed by Ink's review for the 2017 The Blue Castle re-readalong
My very first read of The Blue Castle in 2014
My original 2013 flashback post for The Ladies of Missalonghi that got me started on this journey.